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Archive for places

sojourn . Itta Bena, Mississippi

Back in May as our summer plans were just starting to materialize, I knew I wanted to take some opportunities to explore. We had already planned trips to the beach and Memphis, but I was determined that we would spend at least a few days on sojourns to Mississippi places we hadn’t seen before. I felt very blessed to have the children hanging out at home while school was out, and to have the flexibility in my freelance work to “schedule in” some unscheduled time.

So, on a Wednesday in the middle of June, we picked up breakfast donuts and headed west on Highway 82. It was the first day trip in our new car, which made for excitement with the kids in checking out all the bells and whistles, and I had heard that the B.B. King Museum in Indianola was pretty cool. Even though I was born and raised in Mississippi, I really haven’t spent a lot of time in the Delta, and the kids had never been to that part of the state. I was eager to take time without an itinerary, to soak up my little ones on the journey, and to explore some of that storied part of my home state.

There’s something mesmerizing about the sudden flatness of the land as you move out of the “hills” region of Mississippi. The sprawling farm fields, the succession of small towns popping up along the way, and so many broken down structures out of time. My children have tagged along on enough adventures to know my tendency to wander down side roads and stop on various Main Streets to capture photos of historic buildings, hand painted signs, and the curious sights of the small town South. This day trip had its share of those kinds of stops!

After pizza and visiting Indianola’s homage to Riley B. King, the kids indulged me in the short right turn onto Mississippi Highway 7 in Leflore County, down to Itta Bena. We wound past fields and water towers to a small square of a downtown with a city park surrounded by half cobblestone streets and nearly vacant storefonts – no evidence of the fast food spots and quaint downtown shops found in some of the other Delta towns we saw. It was late in the day and not many businesses were open. Not many businesses were there. We saw cars gathered around a few storefronts including a small convenience store, and a few folks were gathered on benches near the park. We drove around the square several times, across the railroad tracks and through the surrounding streets, stopping to capture the “place” of the place through my camera lens, and trying not to look too conspicuous.

Itta Bena seems to share part claim to Mississippi Valley State University with its neighboring county seat, Greenwood, just twelve miles East. The community also stakes claim to the birthplace of B.B. King, technically in Berclair, three miles to the West. I learned that Itta Bena comes from a Choctaw phrase, “iti bina,” meaning “forest camp,” and was named by a state senator who relocated his plantation there and built a home in the mid 1800s. He called it “Home in the Woods.”

We didn’t see much “woods.” We’ll seek that out for the next trip, but I enjoyed the glimpses into shops and businesses gone by and what I most often seek out on these adventures – the haunting and beautiful blight common in so many rural Mississippi towns. The gutted gas station. The vacant lunch counter featuring “Southern Cuisine”. The old structures you find give a hint to entrepreneurs and business folk who once made downtowns like these thrive. So that what you see is indelibly tied to what you imagine you would have seen twenty or fifty years ago. And sometimes the make and model of parked cars blur the difference.

The bricked pavement. The railroad tracks. There always seem to be railroad tracks. Military cannons and statues in the park memorializing one conflict or another. Buildings bear the remnants of their last use, sometimes overcome by weather and decay, but still vibrant with color. Sometimes the structures are just a shell with no roof remaining, and their own rural garden of weeds growing where countertops and store shelves used to be. Mom and pop restaurants, corner convenience stores and beauty salons are often the last hold-outs of downtown commerce, displaying store windows with the current price of a six-pack or posters of the latest beauty inspiration. Churches and public buildings are well-kept, but the interesting finds are those structures with a tell-tale hodgepodge of styles revealing their changes through the years. The boarded up remnants of stained glass windows and worn plaster ornament.

And, I love the signs. In addition to the faded out brands – logos that have since been updated to meet today’s visual appeal – small towns often show great examples of hand painted signs and repurposed banners showcasing a business owner’s pride. Somebody’s initials. Somebody’s name. Somebody’s stamp on the world. The local Big Star grocery became Big Star Tobacco, and even that has since gone defunct. Warehouses and old train cars usually provide an overlapping series of letters as the sun fades one generation of signage into the one before. The past, present and a citizen’s ingenuity.

Those glimpses of a small town – like the ones we captured in Itta Bena – are interesting and layered and sad and curious and indicative of how time passes. And sometimes passes by. Looking back through the images of our drive made me wonder what I keep trying to capture. When I seek out these broken and aged views of the small, worn South. I think maybe they are a glimpse of the greater challenges we have in our state. The wrestling of past and present, of sustaining opportunity, of growing and overcoming, of how we clean up our messes. Of capturing the moment in time. Or letting it go. All told, we spent less than an hour on our drive down to Itta Bena. That’s not enough time to know the place. Not enough to see what’s really gone and what remains. Not enough to see what might be emerging.

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There is big excitement with my crew because later this week, we are heading out to spend Fall Break in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! At least in a cabin right outside the park. We haven’t been there since before Baby Girl was born, so I’m looking forward to letting her see one of my favorite places. I hope we will see some great fall color on the leaves. We’re planning to explore Gatlinburg, visit Cades Cove as an entry adventure in the park, and I’m most looking forward to a lot of down time soaking up my babies in this new experience. I’m not sure if we’ll actually get to climb a whole mountain, but we’ll explore whatever rocks and streams we can find!

go . A Drive Through the Pass

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I’ve been organizing some photographs this week, and looking back through what I captured during our summer adventures. As I wrote a few weeks ago, we tacked a few days onto the beginning of our annual beach trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama to explore the Mississippi Gulf Coast again for the first time in quite a few years. It was fun to go driving through the area again, and I think we must have hit about every downtown area along Highway 98 from Bay St. Louis over to Ocean Springs. I do a lot of design work for the Main Street development organization in Starkville, and it’s always neat to see what other towns are doing to preserve their core areas. Downtown districts often have a lot of history and character — sometimes some blight, but they are areas where I think we can see some of the personality of a place. I thought I would share some of the sights from our trek over a few different posts.

On the Fourth of July, we spent the afternoon taking in Long Beach pier where my husband spent so much time during his younger years, and we also enjoyed a little driving and shopping in Bay St Louis. In between those two coastal towns, we took a much-needed snack break in Pass Christian! We didn’t spend much time there, but it only took a short turn off the beachfront highway to find some neat sights.

Our favorite stops included a quick photo op at the “Our Lady of Guadalupe” shrine at St. Paul’s Catholic Church — a sculpture created by Harry Reeks. I love the vibrant colors and the ruff-hewn look of the piece.

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We also found one of our new favorite cool-down places — the Pink Octopus, a decidedly “mod” little froyo shop on Davis Avenue. Coastal art, 60s-ish sphere seats, hot pink yogurt cups, metallic silver and turquoise, and of course, the yogurt! Can you tell we were excited? I know we’ll stop there again on our next trip to the Coast, and I hope we can explore a little more of what The Pass has to offer!

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see . Our First Nutcracker in Memphis

We were so excited to spend a three-day weekend in Memphis, Tennessee last week, and I thought I would share some of my favorite wonders from the trip! I’ve shared glimpses of our Memphis visits before, but we’ve never traveled there during the Christmas season. We were there mainly to see Ballet Memphis’ performance of The Nutcracker, accompanied by the Memphis Symphony. It was our first time to see the Nutcracker, and we had been planning the trip since we were in Memphis for another ballet last April. The ballet is a must-see experience of such wonderful costumes, sets, sounds and, of course, stellar ballet for all ages, and the 20’s gilt of The Orpheum makes it more special. Baby Girl (my own budding ballerina) was enthralled, but my boys had just as much fun! They all had their favorite parts… the death of the Mouse King, Godfather Drosselmeyer’s magic, the way the christmas tree grew for the soldier/mice battle, the snowflake scene, and my personal favorite, the amazing dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier!

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[ looking for the marquee ]

Our fave rides on the Main Street trolley were cancelled this trip because the lines are shut down for about another year for repairs, but we were fortunate to find some horse and carriage rides to take us to the Orpheum. In addition to an amazing performance of the ballet, a trip to the zoo (twice) and the Children’s Museum of Memphis, we also enjoyed some fun walks Downtown, a few games of hide-and-seek in Court Square across from our hotel, some personal attention from Mr. Ridda — owner of the renown Peanut Shoppe on Main (more on that later), and we even found two new restaurants that we’ll add to our list of favorites. Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip…

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[ restored lobby of the Kress building on Main — I have an ongoing love affair with this old Art Deco building. I’ll share some of my photo collection in another post! ]

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[ Blue Plate Cafe at Court Square — a mean french toast ]

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[ Memphis Pizza Cafe at Overton Square on Madison Ave — now tied with our beloved Aldo’s for the Montgomery “Best Pizza in Memphis” cred with a yummy blackened chicken sandwich as well! ]

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[ blue lights replacing the water in the Court Square fountain — why am I hearing Elvis sing “Blue Christmas”? ]

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Another building in the Cotton District in Starkville

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Corner of University Drive & Maxwell Street in the Cotton District — Starkville, MS

photo essay . At the Speed of Summer

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Is anyone else in shock that summer vacation is over? My kiddos begin school tomorrow, and this year, all three are in “big school.” Our lazy, hazy days of summer have been filled with fun activities, swimming, yard work, relaxed schedules and our own brand of daily celebrations. Never is there another time when relaxing activities move so fast!

One of those week-long celebrations was our second annual trip to Gulf Shores, AL for plenty of sun and waves. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an amusement park, but we were actually able to spend a couple of evenings at one in Gulf Shores. I had almost forgotten how alive they are with sights and sounds and movement. In between bumper boat showers, go cart races and carnival rides, I took a few snaps. Most of them have some blurred elements, as I tried to capture what you couldn’t possibly grab hold of… Life at the speed of summer. Enjoy!

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Peace on Earth

Small pond views are always a little wacky and endearing all at the same time. I love this photograph. I took it several years ago in Macon, Mississippi. Macon is a typical small Mississippi town, and I happen to know it well because my parents live there. The photo was taken from the second floor of the old Noxubee County Jail. The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and was beautifully restored and converted to the county library. It’s quite an experience to visit the stacks inside the old jail cells and see the remains of gallows when walking through the hallways.

The back view of the lighted tinsel “Peace on Earth” spanning Jefferson Street captured from one of the jail cells’ barred windows is an ironic and poignant juxtaposition.

Small Ponds: Northport, Alabama

I few weeks ago, I was in Tuscaloosa, AL at a client meeting. On the way home, I took the opportunity to stop by one of my favorite little downtown areas — Northport, AL. This small town is adjacent to Tuscaloosa. You wouldn’t know you were leaving one and driving to the other if it weren’t for the city limit signs. Northport offers a very well-done historic downtown area, and I try to stop in whenever I’m close.

Filled with shops, restaurants, and galleries, Northport has preserved a downtown that offers what my architecture school days termed “walkability.” The area is very pedestrian-friendly, one of the qualities that makes a downtown worth visiting and re-visiting. The scale of the streets is close so the storefronts offer a nice sense of enclosure on the main avenue. Brick pavers covering the sidewalks lend a tactile and visual texture to a leisurely walk. Plus, tree and window box plantings give the area a welcoming feel that minimizes the presence of concrete and pavement. In fact, during my walk up and down the street, I barely even noticed the cars even though all the parking spaces were filled and there was a continual flow of traffic. The layout of streetside parking included large plantings repeated down each side

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of the street. Sets of three of four parking spaces were offset by landscaped areas that extended into the parking zone. It had the great affect of making me almost blind to the chrome and metal.

The downtown area was filled with colorful imagery, from fun store window displays to unique signs. Of course, I couldn’t resist snapping a few shots of hand-painted signs for the “Signs of Life” series. I’ll share a few others later, but this one was found on an alley off the main avenue in a path leading to other restaurants and shops.

For me, no trip to Northport is complete without a stop at my very favorite shop, The Potager. The store is a fun combination of garden elements, home accessories, bed and bath items and old postcards and prints. It shares space with an antique shop if that strikes your fancy as well. A stop inside offers a breath of fresh air for the senses. Bare concrete floors give the store an outdoor feel that makes it seem like you’ve just stepped into someone’s private garden. The owners keep several birds in a large wire cage by the counter–one of those traditional Victorial styles. The sounds of the birds chirping and flitting add a nice backdrop for shopping along with classical music. One reason I stop into The Potager with each visit to Northport, is the lavender. The store sells dried lavender buds by the ounce along with linen or starched cotton sachets ready to be filled–a very nice gift to myself and my chiffrobe drawers. They also carry one of my favorite lines of bathing products, Pre de Provence. This trip I picked up a set of guest soaps in assorted spicy scents and a tube of Verbena hand lotion. Very nice.

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