Saturday, April 20, 2013


It's gorgeous outside, the birds are chirping, the kids are adventuring within earshot, and I'm pooped.  Sitting in our lovely white bedroom, doors to the porch open, the wind blowing the pig smell away from the house, it's a perfect setting.  One hour before Alexe gets hoe to start our weekend.

The photographer and stylist have been and gone, shooting for a solid week with Dixie in the kitchen of the blue house.  A side effect of Dixie making a dozen dishes each day to be photographed for the cookbook: amazing leftover meals all week.  It's not often one gets to sit down to a plate of shrimp and grits, with a heaping side of corned beef.

I took a weekend trip to a conference in New Orleans, speaking in a session on creative economic strategies for American towns and cities.  Alexe's father and sister came for a visit.  The roof is mostly on, waiting on a few extra pieces of trim.  The cedar siding is showing up on Monday.  The old kitchen has been demolished, and there's one wall left to add 2 sets of french doors to, a set of double windows, and then the sunroom will need paint and floor-refinishing, and voila, that'll be the last of the major work here.  Everything else will be finish work.

The kids are great.  Alexe is tired.  We're gearing up for a fun, busy summer, with a 50s style beach vacation to a motel on the gulf coast, a longer trek to Vermont for family and Natalie and William's wedding, and then who knows what the fall will hold for us.  I' hoping to wrap the house here in the next 6 weeks, and have some time to put up fencing before heading north.  

I took the advice of a friend, and after 30 minutes of taping up plastic, I used the paint sprayer to spray the kitchen, and then upstairs bedroom, ceilings.  No cramped hands, no hours of looking up, 30 minutes of prep, 30 minutes to spray, (15 minutes per coat,) and another 10 minutes to clean out the sprayer.

And they look nice.

Andres came over to take some photos with a cool old black and white camera.

He's landed a teaching position at Ole Miss, and is getting in some picture-taking before his schedule fills up.  Talented guy:

I took a break from the house to expand the fields, and wandered into one of the best afternoons I've had here.  Started with another brush burn, which is always gratifying.  

Four hours later I picked the kids up, and we came back to carry on the brush clearing.  The kids stripped down to the waist to match me, and for 3+ hours worked as a team, taking turns working the clippers while the other scouted out the next piece to cut, and ran the clipped piece to the fire.

With water and posing breaks.

And a longer interlude to watch the turtle Olive found in the woods and yipped at until I came to see what she was up to.

I love turtles.

The afternoon wrapped with the kids playing in a mud puddle.

Despite the gritty end, this was exactly why I wanted to have a farm.  Hanging out with the family, (missing Alexe, but brush clearing is not her cup of tea,) and having the time to look up and take it all in.

What is Alexe's cup of tea: her garden.  I haven;t had time to build her the proper garden she will get to putter away in over the coming years, but she's making do.  Last Wed. we had a morning date while the kids were in school, just the two of us, for the first time in months, and we threw our boots and shovels in the back of the truck and went hunting.

For Gold.

My bride has taken on a lot of responsibilities in the past couple years, and grown to meet those challenges.  When I'm around, she still manages to find her inner teenager.

Kitchen floor, patched where the carpet nail strips were hammered straight into the concrete, ground smooth around the brick and over the channel cut for electric and gas lines, and sanded with a floor sander, then sealed twice.  

This town has been hopping, with excellent music, gallery openings, the Crappie festival coming up, another house concert coming to my office...  Last night's set at the Fiddler's Loft ( was incredible, first set a pair of young ladies with the most playful, relaxed, and rich voices weaving in harmonies, (Buki and Immie, from Nigeria and England respectively), followed by a very talented modern classical composer finishing her PHD in Montreal, (,_composer/Biography.html) here with her boyfriend, who teaches at Ole Miss, is from french speaking Quebec, and just bought a house in Water Valley, and the last set, an amazing guitarist from New Orleans.(  I had fun watching people who I know are very skilled guitarists in the audience watching and shaking their heads in wonder.  

I was in New Orleans last weekend, and I never would have known to track this guy down.  And yet, here in our little corner of the world, I can drive (literally) five minutes out in the country, climb upstairs in a loft filled with friends, and the most amazing talent is there to play to and for and with us.  Please see the previous post here for further gushing about our little corner.

Mickey, at Bozart's opening last Friday night.

The next morning we hit the road for New Orleans. 4+ hours late, and a few miles before arriving, Mickey confessed he had waited to long to look for hotel rooms, so the first night we would be crashing at his brother's house.

I'm tempted to say don't ever get roped into traveling with Mickey.

However, if you're going to NOLA, where Mickey grew up, he's a decent tour guide.  You just have to lean on him constantly to do simple things like stop talking and move on to the next thing, pick an open restaurant or make a reservation so you can eat before 10 pm, etc.

Looking out over Lake Pontchartrain.  Julia, seamstress with a shop next to the BTC on the right, Christy, Main Street Director from North of Boston that we met and brought with us for lunch, which turned into a five hour sight seeing trek.

The graveyards, with above ground burial to avoid the embarrassing problem of the swamp pushing coffins back up when they're buried, are beautiful.  The many angels, with the sun shining behind me, had me humming Doctor Who music as we strolled along.

"Closed forever."

I took five hours on Sunday night to walk the French Quarter alone.  The French Quarter Festival was just wrapping up, and there were remnants of bands playing all over the place.  My biggest expense on this trip was tipping these amazing people.

Breakfast in a cafe before heading home, I saw this on a bulletin board.  Fun to be part of such a productive generation.

I came home and decided to wrap this house up so I can move on to other things.  Three days on the roof, and it's 90% done.  I managed to miscalculate my trim pieces, because I forgot about building crickets for each chimney.  (We have three.)  Metal roofing doesn't allow for traditional flashing around a chimney, so you have to build these:

Simple enough, but it used up a bunch of my valley metal.  A few ore pieces will come in this week, and I can finish that up.

My little helpers, with me wherever I go.  We grabbed the kiddie pool from the blue house, but that just isn't as fun and chilling with me on the roof.

Nothing being simple, the porch roof had to be squared off before the metal could go up on this side.

Rafters extended.

Three hours later, I could get back on the roof.

So the house project continues.  

And the kids are still heart-achingly beautiful, especially when they're like this:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I love our life.

This is the thought I had last night, toodling along in the old blue station wagon, kids and Alexe chattering away, as we headed over to the ag-center for our first rodeo.

The previous night we had toodled out to a farm in the county to listen to some amazing country blues and a young elvis-type character from Tupelo, sitting in the tight quarters of an upstairs loft, snacking on things from the table of homemade refreshments and exchanging smiles with friends as our kids made the rounds from lap to lap.

Alexe and I have lived many different sorts of lives.  We have been graced with opportunities at every turn, and at this point we could be living almost any type of life we choose, anywhere in the world.

And we pick here, small town, rural Mississippi.  We choose friends gathering to eat in backyards over fancy restaurants, canoeing and bike riding and walking in the woods over amusement parks, and walking to our daily work rather than spending chunks of this precious life commuting. 

There will be more, we will travel, take on new and larger projects, etc., and that only makes this time, right now, more belly-settling-ly happy. 

In the meantime, last section of brickwork in the kitchen for the section of counter to the right of the sink.  Copper piece is being shaped, will pick that up on Monday. And this means, after the ceiling paint goes up, (drying right now, as I sit in a BTC booth with the kids for Sunday brunch,) the floor can be sealed. 

Friday we had a mid-day play date.  Every now and again it's fun to play super-dad, but wow, we're good with the two we have.

Another part of living in a great community, kids are comfortable wherever.

With four I had no luck getting anything productive done, so I focused on tuckering them out.  We took a long walk around the back fields, hiked to the top of the hill through the oak forest: 

And each kid had four turns on the tire swing.

Friday night at Fiddler's Loft.  Kenny Brown, and Daniel Lee Perea headlining.

Caspian was happy as a clam, and made good friends with all sorts of folks, his biggest win a new young lady in town, a cellist and composer.  (This town is taking off.)  

Annaliese was slow to get over her disappointment when her friend didn't make it, but she soon worked her way around the room to the front, and came back to our seats only when she had a question.  (Such as, Daddy, can we go up on stage?  We're going to have to wrap the house up and dust off the guitar.)

Miss Dixie came by yesterday with Ole Miss paraphernalia, and the kids still haven't taken it off.  It was perfect gear for the rodeo.

The rodeo.  I don't know why we are so tickled by this culture, but we are.  The new john deere tractors parked out front and around the arena, the hats and boots and button up shirts and huge belt buckles, the smiling faces everywhere.  I have my guesses, the absence of pretension, the genuine desire to be seen as a man, or a cowgirl, that doesn't have any of the posing or embarrassment that seems to be everywhere.  It's refreshing, clean and clear, a world with challenges, hard work, and pleasures, all in their time and place.

This is an awesome view:

But this has a depth that is easy to criticize, and completely miss the excellence.

The first annual Bulls and Barrels rodeo, held by the local Rotary club.  

We had a blast.  The kids were mostly off in the crowd, visiting friends, or going down to the rails for a closer look.  Alexe was beautiful and happy to be out of the kitchen.

Annaliese may have been the most thrilled to be there.  She screamed and shouted for every rider, the clown, the fighters, and the cowgirls racing around the barrels (on horseback.)

The beasts were impressive.  

The MC made three jokes that I remember, one at this point, when this bull was refusing to be budged by the horse.  "This bull is like Obama, we just can't get him out."  

At another point, during a game of Poker, (volunteers from the crowd sit at a plastic table in the middle of the arena, bulls are released, the last person to keep their seat while being run down wins $250,) said of a larger fellow who left his seat the moment the bulls were released, "Where'd that big boy go? Did he smell a pan of cornbread up in the stands?"

Third one, when a rider was thrown immediately after the bull was released, "That ride was shorter than Lindsay Lohan's last trip to rehab."

There's a clown in that barrel.

This team of three, fighters in blue and clown in the barrel, did an amazing job of keeping the riders safe after they were thrown.  The moment the bull tosses the rider, they turn to find and trample him, and these three dive in, put themselves between the bull and rider, and distract him until the rider can get to the rails.  

Happy.  Alexe caught a John Deere hat thrown into the stands by the clown, (in her words, "I won a hat!") and she's wearing it in the BTC kitchen right now.

This picture takes some explaining. At one point the MC called all the kids down into the arena, and we let Annaliese and Caspian race down along with 100+ other kids.  

The hoard gathered around the clown in the arena, and then they released two calves.  The hoard of kids, ranging from very young toddlers to 12 year olds, went nuts chasing these little cows.

I lay it out that way, to build up a defense for our parenting.  We did not put our kids into an arena with freaked out cows with advance knowledge of what was going to happen.  And yet, there they were.

And they had a great time, until one of the calves ran down Caspian.  I have it on video, it's not pretty, and it scared the shit out of us.  I was on the far side of the arena, where I had followed Annaliese to make sure she figured out how to get into the arena.  (Again, before we knew why they were going.  Lame, but our only excuse.)  Alexe was over the rails and had Caspian in her arms in seconds, and the calf came barreling at her.  She caught his head between her legs, and held him as he kept trying to fight her, until one of the bull fighters came and pulled him away.

Caspian was very upset, but after making sure he was physically ok, we fixed the tears with a lollipop, and he was back cheering and climbing through the crowd a few minutes later.

Overlooking the trampling, we had a great time, and took two very snoozy kids home around 10 for bowls of cereal, (it had been hours since dinner, after all, and the popcorn and lollipops only go so far,) and straight to bed.

I am more than satisfied with the childhood we've picked for these two.