Sunday, October 12, 2014

Celebrating Birthdays

This was a pivotal birthday year for me so please forgive the personal nature of this post.

Although I am sure this will surprise many of you (LOL), I turned 60 in August. And, believe it or not, it was not the birthday that has bothered me the most.

That birthday was when I turned 40! Now, to defend my self, my 40th year was a HUGE year in my life. Consider this:

  • I had just become a Mother 5 years before and that changed everything for me. All of sudden it would matter to someone, so small and helpless, that I was alive and there for them for the next 20+ years!
    Lee Hall Travis (and Minnie)
  • We had decided to move back home to Memphis leaving our best friends of 10 years behind. We had all had our babies together and now they would have lives together that didn't include us and we would be so far away. 
  • I had taken a new job where I would be the one "in charge". It was about time, but I had no idea what I was really doing! I learned it quickly. My experience working with mentors, including Carol Moore, taught me what to do. But it was stressful and I knew that I had a lot to do and a lot to learn!
So much change in one year and add to that that turning 40 means you are not just over the hill (which happens at 30) you are way over the hill but not old enough to be revered and respected for the fact that you are still holding it together. You are just expected to be getting it done and, well, that is what I did.

Lee Hall Travis, the proud BSC graduate, 2012
Turning 50 was, on the other hand, a celebration. I had found my stride at work and at home. 10 years on the job and I had figured it out that I had to keep us fresh, relevant, and moving the market forward.

I had also figured out that I needed to let go a little. I realized I couldn't really micro-manage my son's life and that letting go meant I was giving him a chance to become who he needed to be. Sounds so obvious, but trust me, it took many mistakes to help me understand that truth and then to live by it! I am so proud of the young man he has become; graduating in 4 years; getting a job within a month of graduation; and living on his own. So many blessings.

Now, 10 years later at 60 I am celebrating even more. My Mother once told me that as we age, we distill.  I can definitely see that in myself. I always loved certain aspects of life including family, nature, activity, volunteering.

And all of these are even more important to me now than when I was younger. In the last (or best) 10 years of my life I have:
  • Reconnected with the Mississippi part of my life. I now have a place of my own in Rolling Fork, a mere 20 minutes from our land in Louise. I have not only reconnected with family and friends in Louise, MS, my father's birthplace, but I have made a home for myself in Rolling Fork, MS, loving my "Bottle Tree Bungalow" and all the friends that came with it! And, I have started showing off this special place to friends from MN, WI, Switzerland and more. 
    My Bottle Tree Bungalow, Rolling Fork, MS
  • A hobby - photography. I had dabbled with it before, but the advent of good digital cameras and easy software that allows creative post-photo editing made it a natural for me. I can do this on my own, which gives me a chance to be spontaneous and just head out with my camera when I want to go! And, of course, my favorite subject is the Mississippi Delta which never ceases to offer me new opportunities to capture its majesty.
  • Ventured out to new places. It is an understatement to say that my trip to Switzerland was the highlight, but I took side trips to Sedona, Gettysburg, Baltimore, Middleburg, Shiloh and more to be sure I didn't miss all those special places that were around me while I attended meetings or was passing through. I love going to Ladies' Weekend (which has become a week for me now) at Carolyn's cabin on Round Lake in Hayward, WI. After going for 5 years now, I am thinking about buying a cabin myself up there to be near Carolyn and Kris!
    Carolyn's lake toys at Round Lake, Hayward, WI
  • Become a grandmother and a great-aunt! What joy to see our daughter Keelin become a wonderful mother to Andrew and Charlotte and to see my oldest niece and nephew become parents themselves. It is as great as they say re: having all the fun and then passing them back to their parents! And, I am proud of Keelin and Doug, Jennifer and Will, and Jeff and Amanda for being such loving parents. I can't wait to see how these kids grow up!
    Our 2013 Christmas Card taken when we
     celebrated Pat's 70th Birthday!

  • Connected professionally with super, committed people. I won't go into detail, but I love it that my job requires me to work with people that are so committed to patient safety, quality health care services, equity for all, and understand how the health of a population impacts a community's economic vitality. I have learned so much from these professionals and count many of them as friends as well as colleagues. 
A 60th birthday celebration can't just happen once, it must take time and there must be many celebrations! One celebration was with my classmates from Hutchison. Twenty-two of us gathered at the Shack-Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS to renew friendships, celebrate the lives we had together back in the 1960's, and appreciate the people we had become. Most of all, we celebrated all turning 60 in 2014 (well, there were two who beat us to it in 2013) and committed to keeping in touch and getting together again before we all need wheelchairs or canes!

The RF gang gave me a Kay Shropshire Heller original!

I also celebrated my birthday with family and my friends from Rolling Fork. It was a special evening that ended up with an after party at my house. Finally they could see me in my element here in Memphis and that was fun for me.

I am so glad to be 60 and to be alive and to having a life full of work, fun, family and friends. Who could ask for more?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Looking Past the Vistas

Don't get me wrong, I love the beautiful, vast vistas of the Mississippi Delta. The swamps filled with majestic cypress that are called home by egrets, eagles, alligators, and turtles (on logs of course!). The farm fields that stretch from one horizon to the other, broken up only by the winding creeks or tree lines that mark their boundaries and provide protection from the southwesterly winds. The glorious sunsets that not only rival, but remind us, of sunsets over the ocean because there is nothing that stands between you and the setting sun except the flat lands of the alluvial plain known as The Delta.

Yes, I love those vistas. But those are the ones you see most often. Those are the ones that just naturally catch your eye. Those are the ones that, left to their own devices, will dominate your senses and absorb all of your attention, leaving nothing left to take in the subtleties of the Delta.

Over the past couple of years, as I head down Highway 61 South from Memphis and as I return home by Highway 49, I have spotted, out of the corner of my eye, the flash of yellow, purple, pink, or blue wildflowers that line the road and border the fields.

Exploring the creek banks on days where there are no Big Blue Herons taking off or wood ducks swimming by, I notice the lavender wisteria, the butterflies that can't resist the pale pink flowers, and flowering vines, resembling necklaces, that link the ever-present telephone poles that dot the landscape. And the layers of color as crops fade into yellow wildflowers that fade into the vines along the creek.

Ditches are filled with black-eyed susans and an occasional iris marks where a home once was years ago.

And, although they are usually grown as a crop or in gardens, the Delta's sunflowers bring a smile as we pass by.

The next time you are in the Delta, slow down and look past the vistas that usually absorb your attention. Look for the details, the smaller pieces of the Delta that add a richness to your experience, even if they are not your usual focus.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cristie Goes to Bern

There is a great back story to my trip to Bern, Switzerland this last August.

In reality, I invited myself, but it was in a joking manner. Never did I really think that they would invite me and I would actually go!

My blog post from 2012 tells the beginning of the back story (read it here). The back story ends when Johanna Anna Kremer Hovinga Strebel stopped off in Memphis in June 2014 on her way to a meeting (a congress as she calls it) in Milwaukee.

Me and Johanna at the
Tunica River Museum, Tunica, MS
Pat and I took her to dinner where she invited me to come to Switzerland for the 2nd Steering Committee meeting of the TTP Registry focused on Upshaw-Schulman Syndrome housed at the University of Bern. While taking Johanna on a whirlwind tour of the Top of the Delta (aka, Tunica) the next day, I accepted her gracious invitation in spite of my fear of heights, traveling to Europe, and being alone in an unfamiliar place. I knew this would be the trip of a lifetime and it was!

The highlight of my trip was having the opportunity to spend a few minutes on the first day of the meeting talking about Daddy.

Members of the Upshaw-Schulman TTP Registry Steering Committee are
from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Norway, Japan, Czech Republic,
United Kingdom, and USA
I am sure my personal reflections were not that interesting, but I wanted them to know more about him as a person, not just a physician. They indulged me and seemed happy with the gifts I brought:

A copy of my "Natural Beauty" photo taken in my favorite swamp near Tunica in the Mississippi Delta. My father was born and raised in the Delta and I now have a weekend home there myself. My two brothers and I still own the family farm near the small town where Daddy was born. So, it is a special place for us.

Reinhard Schneppennheim, Hamburg, Germany,
arrived late so sent a picture from home in his Bama
hat with his 16 year-old son
An Alabama cap. Daddy went to the University of Alabama to college and later to Johns Hopkins University for medical school. He was a passionate Alabama football fan. All of my brothers, as well as myself, my nephew, my mother, and my grandfather also went to Alabama. Everyone put the cap on at the meeting in Bern to remember Daddy.

Yoshi Fujimura, retired original member of the
steering committee, donned his Bama hat
 his colleagues gave him
And, of course, something "Elvis" (a mug from Graceland). Elvis is synonymous with Memphis which is where Daddy practiced medicine for 45 years and where I live now. 

The remainder of my trip was spent touring Switzerland, some days with Johanna and her husband Niklaus, and all days with my newfound friends from Oklahoma, Sara Vesely (one of the TTP Registry advisors from Oklahoma City) and her mother Marianna Vesely. They were so kind to let me tag along and I loved being with them and sharing our adventures together. 

I will not be so bold to invite myself to Bern again, but I do hope to stay in touch with Johanna about the progress of the registry and with the others as they continue to identify the best treatments for patients with Upshaw-Schulman Syndrome.

Here are some photos I took on my once in a lifetime trip to Switzerland!

Castle Chillon on Lake Geneva
Murren in the Swiss Alps

Murren in the Swiss Alps

Murren in the Swiss Alps

Bern with the Alps in the background above the clouds

Old City of Bern


Bern with the green Aare River


Ballenberg open air museum


Chapel Bridge in Lucerne


Lake Geneva village

Lake Thun

Saturday, March 15, 2014

On a Roots Tour in the Mississippi Delta

Life-long friends gathered to reconnect and kick-off the "roots tour"!
A high school friend of mine that has long-moved from Memphis came back home last weekend to take her college daughter on a "roots tour". Her daughter, who reminds me so much of my friend at her age, was about to be introduced to her Memphis and Mississippi Delta heritage. Definitely a life-changing event!

Rum Boogie on Beale was at capacity with a great blues band
The weekend started with their visit to the family cemetery, watching the ducks at The Peabody Hotel, and then dinner with friends. Of course we headed to Beale Street after dinner, if only for a little while, because what is a "roots tour" without hearing some real blues on the street that made the blues famous? The rest of the plan was for them to head to Clarksdale to see family and then drive to New Orleans to, well, you know what you do in New Orleans.

I woke up early the day after our dinner and realized I hadn't told her all the great places to visit on her drive down historic U. S. Highway 61 South through the Mississippi Delta to Vicksburg and then on to New Orleans. Quickly, because I was going to make us late to church, I sent a facebook message suggesting places where they could leave the main highway and see the true Delta, the one that I have grown to love over the past three years. I knew they couldn't do everything I suggested, but at least I wanted them to know what they were missing as they traveled south.

Here are some of the places I suggested, and some I sadly left out by mistake:

Blue & White Restaurant, U.S. 61 South, Tunica, MS
The Blue & White Restaurant in Tunica, MS: I can't believe I didn't tell them to stop in this old Pure Oil gas station and get my favorite, the catfish hoagie. The patty melt is good too and I hear the hamburger is their claim to fame. Some day I may try the donut tower! Sit in the lunch counter room and visit with the farmers and town-folk that fill this restaurant up daily.

Fall is my favorite time in the swamp near Tunica
My secret swamp just south of Tunica, MS: now, I couldn't tell them about this one because it is a secret, right? This is my favorite photo op place in the Delta. I love watching the wildlife (deer, ducks, egrets, cormorants, nutria, snakes, eagles and I bet some alligators), as well as the beautiful swamp flowers and cypress trees.

You can stay in original share-cropper shacks or
even grain bins at the Shack-Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS
The Shack-Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS: My friends actually spent the night here in the Pinetop Perkins shack. They sent me a picture when they checked in and said they loved it! I stayed in a shack once and will definitely aim for a grain-bin room the next time. But I do love this place and it is a must on your trek south out of Memphis.

Ground Zero in Clarksdale, MS: This one I forgot! Of course, it is best visited at night but my husband and I had a couple of beers there one hot summer Saturday afternoon when we had planned to go to a blues festival, but decided heading for the coolness of Ground Zero sounded like a better idea.

McCarty's Pottery, Merigold, MS: Don't expect to pay any less for this Mississippi Delta pottery just because you are at the place where it is made.  And, definitely use your voice-activated GPS as I literally drove around this small town for about 30 minutes before I found it! I bought my brother a replacement sea shell for the one that we chipped at Thanksgiving. McCarty's pottery is best known for their Mississippi River signature that tells you it is genuine.

Po' Monkey's is a short drive
 off HWY 61as you drive into Merigold, MS
Po' Monkey's, Merigold, MS: When driving into Merigold from Clarksdale, take the right at the Mississippi Blues Trail marker, keep to the left, and once on the gravel road keep going until you reach Po' Monkey's. This juke joint is only open to the public on Thursday nights, but worth the drive just to see the signs on the dos and don'ts about coming into the joint. In trying to get a picture once I was a little irritated that a caretaker was washing his car in just that position that was ruining my photo shot. Little did I know it was the owner and I missed my chance to beg my way into Po' Monkey's.

Deer Creek at Anguilla 
Deer Creek, winding throughout the Delta: You can stop by Deer Creek in Leland, MS, where Jim Henson grew up exploring the creek and imagining a life with the frogs (aka, Kermit) and other wildlife and animals along its banks; or in my favorite spot, Anguilla at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway14. Mallards, wood duck, big blue herons, beavers, egrets, turtles, alligators and even kayakers and canoers love Deer Creek. With all the wildlife and the ups and downs of the creek itself, no two visits are the same. A friend of mine from Minnesota and I watched a turtle try to get up on a log for about 5 minutes. We kept thinking he would make it but, alas, he never did. Now that is better than television any day!

Mont Helena sits on a ceremonial
Indian mound between Anguilla and Rolling Fork
Mont Helena, Rolling Fork, MS: Driving south on Highway 61 from Anguilla, look to the right and you will see Mont Helena, an colonial revival home built in 1896 on a ceremonial Indian mound. After an extensive restoration, Mont Helena now hosts private functions, tours, and is the home for the annual "Mont Helena: A Dream Revisited" a locally produced musical re-telling the true love story of the home's family. The play runs weekends in April and early May and tickets sell out in about an hour, reflecting the popularity of the show. Learn more about Mont Helena at

Visit the Onward Store to hear the
Teddy Bear legend and get a good Delta meal
(picture from
Onward Store, Onward, MS: Ever hear of the Teddy Bear? Well, of course you have and just 12 miles south of Rolling Fork on U.S. 61, you can relive the story of President Theodore Roosevelt's famed 1902 Mississippi Delta bear hunt when the President refused to kill a wounded bear tied to a tree in spite of the fact that he desparately wanted to get his bear on this hunt. The media picked up on the story and it quickly spread throughout the US and the "Teddy Bear" was born. In addition to finding souveniers, Delta art, gasoline and a few staples, you can enjoy fine Delta cuisine in the attached restaurant. Visit for more details.

 Margaret's Grocery, built by her husband the Rev. H. D. Dennis, is located
on Business 61 which is a right-turn before you get into Vicksburg
Out of the Delta: When you get to Vicksburg you are out of the Delta. The Yazoo River and the Mississippi River meet at Vicksburg and some of the worst flooding in the Great Flood of 2011 took place right here. You can read more about my experience in the flood in this blog post . But it is clear as you near Vicksburg that you are no longer in the "flat lands".

The Tomato Place, Vicksburg, MS: As you leave Vicksburg headed south on U. S. 61 toward Natchez, be sure you stop by The Tomato Place. It will be on your right and you are likely to see it only as you pass it. But rest assured there is a place where you can turn back not far past it and I urge you to do so. The Tomato Place is both a farmer's market and a restaurant and even a flea market at times. I had the best BLT ever during tomato season there. They also sell fresh baked goods and even smoothies. Be sure and stop by on your way south. Check it out at

As you leave the Delta and head toward New Orleans, there are many places you should stop by and see.

Port Gibson, MS survived the Civil War
 because Grant thought it was too beautiful to burn

The Windsor Ruins, 10 miles southwest of Port Gibson,
are all that is left of  Mississippi's largest antebellum  mansion
 that burned when a guest left a lighted cigar  on the balcony

Rodney, MS, located near Alcorn State University on Highway 552 W
off Highway 61, is often referred to as a ghost town. Access Rodney Road through the ASU campus
Natchez, MS is home to many antebellum homes open to the public.
Longwood, my favorite, was never finished since the Northern laborers
working on the home left when the Civil War broke out. The family finished
the lower floor and lived there. The upper floors are unfinished and you see them on the tour.

This is where I leave you. I haven't yet made the full trip from Memphis to New Orleans and may not do that anytime soon. But, as you can see, there is so much to see and do in the Delta and then south of the Delta toward Natchez. Take the time to stop and even go a little off the main highway to see what life in this special place is really all about. Trust me, you will never look at Mississippi again the same way.