Leaving His Mark: How this 7-ft. tall Masterchef contestant towered above the competition

eatdrinkmississippiDEC2012

eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013

Mississippians are known for their abundant hospitality, soulful blues music, and most importantly – delicious home cooking.  Delta tamales, Gulf coast seafood, Cajun and creole influences, and even Grandma’s fried chicken have all played a role in cultivating the Southern food culture.

Mississippi has influenced several well-known celebrity chefs, including twenty-five-year-old Josh Marks.  Earlier this year, Marks became the second contestant from Mississippi to compete on Fox’s competitive cooking reality show Masterchef.  Poplarville-native Whitney Miller took home the winning title on the show’s first season in 2010.

Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Marks came to Mississippi to play basketball for Tougaloo College.  However, it was during his time off the court that he began to discover another talent – cooking.

His reason for taking up the skill is simple.

“You have to eat every day,” he said.  “College was my first time being out on my own.  I started cooking by trial and error and realized that I was good at it.”

Marks has had plenty of inspiration, from his Panamanian father that developed his love for curries, to his Southern roots that taught him an appreciation for comfort food and Creole and Cajun cuisines.

After graduating cum laude in 2009 with a degree in economics, Marks decided to make Mississippi his home and took a job as a contract specialist for the U.S. Army in Vicksburg.  While he still continued to cook for family and friends, it wasn’t until he took a trip home to celebrate his sister’s birthday that he considered making it a career.

“A friend called me up while I was in town and said, ‘Hey, there is a casting call for the show Masterchef.  Are you going?’” recalled Marks.  “I stayed up all night cooking and preparing my dish.”

The next day, Marks, who stands 7-feet tall, towered –both literally and figuratively – above 30,000 other hopeful competitors.  His shrimp etoufee impressed the judges enough to help him win a spot on the show.

Season three kicked off on June 11, 2012, in Los Angeles.  For the next three months, Marks would face several challenges, such as preparing a meal for over 200 Marines and cooking with offal, a term used to describe the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal.  While he was initially eliminated in Episode 12, he would win a special challenge two episodes later, earning him a spot back in the competition and eventually becoming one of the top two finalists.

Since the show, Marks has made several public appearances at food-related events across the country and is working on a business plan to open a recreational cooking school in Chicago.  While he admits his time on the show was stressful, it was also a lot of fun.  Adds Marks, “It really inspired me to become a chef and pursue cooking as a career.”

In the Bloglight: Supermom Chef

eatdrinkmississippiDEC2012eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013

Mandy Davis has been cooking since before she was old enough to see over the top of her grandmother’s kitchen counter.  As a young girl, Mandy helped her grandmother prepare meals for the children she kept in her home during the week.  Mandy’s task – making cornbread.  It was a staple at every meal and like most Southern dishes passed down from generation to generation, there was no recipe.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that, mix everything together and bake.  After being put in charge of such an important responsibility, Mandy knew she had her grandmother’s approval and the confidence to continue cooking.

Mandy launched her blog, “The Supermom Chef,” in 2010 so that she could combine her love of photography with her love of cooking.  She and her husband Matt live in Canton with their three children – an 8 year-old-boy and two girls ages 3 and 6.  Seven years ago, Mandy quit her full-time job to care for her son, who has been diagnosed with a rare disease that has required numerous surgeries and a lot of time in the hospital.  Despite the situation, Mandy still manages to keep an upbeat attitude while caring for her family, resulting in her being given the nickname “Supermom” by her close friends and family.  Since cooking is also a passion, the title “Supermom Chef” just seemed like the perfect fit.

However, Mandy is quick to point out, “I am, by no means, a trained chef. I have absolutely no formal culinary training. I’m simply a busy mom who enjoys preparing delicious food for my family and sharing my recipes with everyone else.”

Mandy hopes her blog will inspire more people to make dinner at home.   “This day in time, as busy as most families are the dinner table suffers,” she says.   “So many families think they don’t have time to make meals at home.”  Mandy tries to share recipes that are delicious, easy to prepare, and contain ingredients that are easy to find.  She also enjoys posting recipes from her past that her grandmother shared with her.

“When I prepare these recipes, it takes me back to her kitchen when she was right beside me,” she says.

So far, the response has been positive.  Mandy loves hearing from readers who have tried her recipes and come back to tell her how much their family enjoyed it.  She’s even gained a little notoriety.  “I had a friend tell me that a girl she was talking to saw me and said, ‘Oh my gosh! That was the Supermom Chef!’ Things like this blow me away because I never realized I’d be recognized like that.”

As for the future of this supermom, she hopes to one day turn her blog into a cookbook.  “I can’t imagine how it would feel to have all of my photos and recipes on paper and actually walk into a book store and see my book on a shelf,” she adds.  “Until then, I’ll continue making delicious recipes and sharing them with all of my faithful readers because that is what makes me the happiest!

Mending a Broken Heart

550605_10151304491420530_2072594173_nMississippi Magazine
November / December 2012
View PDF of article here.

Sixteen-year-old Lilly Addy used to have a broken heart.

Not the traditional broken heart that so many young girls deal with at her age   Lilly’s broken heart wasn’t the result of a teenage heartthrob.  The sophomore at Newton High School was born with a congenital heart condition known as mild hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  It is caused by a thickening of the heart muscle, which caused a blockage to the inside of her left ventricle and disrupted blood flow to her body.

Brookhaven pediatric cardiologist David Braden, MD, has monitored Lilly’s condition since infancy.  While she has had to avoid participating in sports and other physical activities to prevent putting too much stress on her heart, for the most part Lilly has been able to lead a normal life.  However, the reality that one day Lilly would have to undergo surgery has always loomed in the background.  This past summer, alarmed by the increasing level of pressure present in her heart and a possible aneurysm of her aortic root, Dr. Braden decided the Addys couldn’t wait any longer.

Up until two years ago, a pediatric cardiac patient in Mississippi – like Lilly – would have had to travel thousands of miles to receive the life-saving surgery they required, usually at a great cost and at the family’s expense.  The state’s only pediatric heart surgery program, which had been a part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), became inactive shortly after the untimely death of Dr. Bobby Heath in 2000.  In 2008, recognizing a desperate need to get the program running again, UMMC and Batson Children’s Hospital contracted with Richard Jonas, MD, of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to help bridge the gap.  Once a week, Dr. Jonas flew to Mississippi, operated on the less extensive cases at Batson Children’s Hospital, and sent patients with the most severe conditions back to D.C.  It was a beginning, but Mississippi officials and the staff of UMMC knew they would have to do more.

In 2010, Batson Children’s Hospital recruited pediatric heart surgeon Jorge Salazar, MD, from Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston to lead the rebuilding efforts.  Because it had been nearly 10 years since Mississippi offered this service, Dr. Salazar would have to rebuild the program from scratch.  It was a huge undertaking, but something Dr. Salazar felt led to do.

“It was the opportunity to make a difference,” Dr. Salazar said.  “There was a tremendous need and it was so obvious how much work there was to be done in terms of children who were previously not able to get care and had to go thousands of miles away or more to get care.”

Dr. Salazar began small, pulling together a handful of clinicians, nurses, doctors, and therapists.  They began treating less severe conditions and escalating to the most difficult cases.

“Pediatric heart surgery is really a multi-disciplinary effort.  It’s not just about surgery.  Surgery is just a component of it,” Dr. Salazar adds.  “It is also about the support staff working together to help in the recovery.”

By the end of their first year, the staff of the Children’s Heart Center had graduated to treating some of the most sophisticated cases.  That summer, Daniel DiBardino, MD, joined the team.  Dr. DiBardino studied at Harvard Medical School and previously served as chief resident of the congenital heart surgery program at C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.  Through his extensive education, he is highly trained in a complicated surgical procedure known as the Norwood operation.  It is most commonly used to treat patients born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, also known as HLHS, a condition where an infant is born without the left side of their heart.  Not only is the procedure extremely delicate, but it typically must be performed within the first 7-14 days of life.

That includes patients like eight-month-old Kasey Terry from Columbus, Miss.  The day Kasey and his mother Tiffany were supposed to be discharged from the hospital, doctors discovered that the left side of Kasey’s heart was significantly smaller than the right.  Within two weeks, little Kasey was being wheeled into an operating room at the Children’s Heart Center for the first of three surgeries he would have to undergo.  The surgery went off without a hitch and after two weeks of recovery in the NICU, he was finally able to come home for the first time.

Had the Children’s Heart Center at Batson Children’s Hospital not existed, spending a month in a hospital thousands of miles away would have proved extremely difficult for Tiffany, who was not only recovering herself from childbirth, but also has a four-year-old daughter and a husband who was serving overseas at the time as part of the army national guard.

Tiffany says the staff at the Children’s Heart Center did their best to put her at ease.  “The staff was great,” she said.  “Everybody took the time to tell you exactly what was going on.  Even if they had to explain it fifty times, they let you know what to be prepared for.”  Kasey returned to the Children’s Heart Center in August for his second surgery.  Tiffany says he will have his final surgery somewhere between two and three years of age.

Lilly’s mother Michelle wholeheartedly agrees.  Lilly underwent surgery on August 22 to remove the muscle causing the blockage in her heart in addition to a valve sparing aortic root replacement to repair the aneurysm.  Her prognosis is good and the doctors say she should be able to lead a completely normal life with no limitations from now on.

“Lilly was in surgery from 6:30 that morning until 8:30 that night,” Michelle recalls.  “During that time someone called every hour to keep us updated on what was going on.  It was very comforting.  The entire team worked together like clockwork.”

In a little over two years, the Children’s Heart Center has performed over 700 operations, including four heart transplants.  What began as a handful of staff members and two beds in the corner of the pediatric ICU has now grown to a 16 bed pediatric cardiac ICU with a dedicated staff of doctors, nurses, and therapists.  They have also managed to beat the national average for patient survival.

“We are performing as well as some of the best children’s hospitals in the country.  And I cannot tell you how remarkable that is given the setting we started in,” Dr. DiBardino said.  “It has been a little overwhelming at times, but it has been worth it.  To be in a position where you are not just helping the patients you are operating on and their families, but really the whole state because we are offering something that they have never had before and that’s sustainable.”

Adds Dr. Salazar, “I believe this program will be the most important thing that I do.  Not only in achieving excellent outcomes, but bringing that same high standard to Mississippi and for Mississippi to be able to take care of its own in a way that’s equal to the very best programs in the country.  I feel really lucky to be a part of that.”

One Man Show: Ro Chez

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
September / October 2012
Article and photos

If you have ever cut through the Jackson Street District in Ridgeland, you may have noticed the small, one-story, salmon-pink wooden storefront on the corner of West Jackson and North Wheatley Streets.  The 1930’s-era building, with its hand painted signs in the windows, tin roof, and wraparound porch stands out among the modern New Orleans-inspired brick and mortar buildings across the street.  While Ró Chez Dining may look a little unassuming compared to its surroundings, any die-hard foodie will tell you that when it comes to finding the best place to eat, never judge a book by its cover.

Cooking has always been in Chef James Roaché’s blood.  His very first job was as a bus boy at a Steak and Ale in his hometown of Carrollton, Ga.  However, his employer had a hard time keeping him out of the kitchen.  As soon as Roaché finished cleaning tables, he would slip into the kitchen whenever he could to help with the cooking.

For the last six years, Roaché – who has worked under such notable chefs as Emeril LaGasse — has been single-handedly changing the way Jacksonians experience eating out.  By single-handedly, we mean he is the chef, the bartender, the waiter, and the maître-d.  Three nights a week, he treats diners to a five course meal.  The menu changes weekly and usually has a theme related to a specific food or region.  He refers to himself as a “McGuyver” cook, taking ordinary ingredients that one might think would never go together and turning them in to something extraordinary.

When someone makes a reservation at Ró Chez, the goal is to make them feel like they are eating at someone’s home.  Guests get that vibe as soon as they walk in the door.  The atmosphere – from the music playing in the background, to the mismatched furniture, to the rustic wood floors and eclectic art on the wall – is laid back and relaxed.  Roaché warns that his restaurant is not for people who are looking to get in, eat, and get out in a hurry.  Taking the time to relax and enjoy the food and the company of other diners is part of the experience.  Every course is cooked right before it’s served and nothing is made beforehand.  While Ró Chez’s does not serve alcohol, he does encourage diners to BYOB.

Back in the kitchen, things are heating up – literally.  If you are lucky enough to be invited back into his kitchen, you may notice one thing is missing – the lack of conventional electric appliances.  No food processors, no microwaves, not even a modern range.  Roaché chops all of his ingredients by hand and does all the cooking over a 100-year old wood burning stove.  Before the first diners arrive, Roaché stokes the fire in his stove by adding logs that he cut himself behind the restaurant just a few minutes earlier.  On a warm evening, the wood burning stove can cause the temperature in the kitchen to get quite hot.   An array of cast iron skillets in every size are stacked near the stove with a few heating up over the flames.  Roaché stands at the counter and a rapid tap, tap, tap like machine gun fire sounds as he runs a knife through fresh vegetables he purchased from the farmer’s market earlier that day.

That’s something else he says you won’t see at his restaurant – a food services delivery truck.  That’s because Roaché only uses local ingredients.  All of his beef is sourced from a farmer in Crystal Springs.  All his vegetables are locally grown.  Even his butter, milk, and mushrooms come from a farmer he has formed a relationship with.

“Once a year, I spend a day at the farm of every farmer I do business with,” he explains.  “I work on their farm, I get to know their practices and I see how they handle their food.  I have a relationship with them.”

Diners with specific food requirements or allergies should not hesitate to make a reservation.  Roaché says he is glad to adjust his menu to meet a diner’s specific needs.  In addition to serving dinner, he also hosts a cooking class on the second Tuesday of every month.  Ró Chez’s also hosts special events around the holidays, such as Thanksgiving dinner and private Christmas parties.

When he looks back on his career from his humble beginnings as a bus boy to the chef of his own restaurant, Roaché admits he is pretty fortunate.  “I am very lucky,” he says.  “This kind of restaurant has always been my dream and I am living it.”

Ró Chez Dining
204 West Jackson Street
Ridgeland, MS 39157
(601) 503-8244
http://www.rochezdining.com
Reservations only
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
6 p.m. and 8 p.m. seatings

Cooking All the Way to Washington: How one Mississippi middle schooler made it to the White House

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
September / October 2012

At twelve years old, you may not think Linda Martinez has a “bucket list.”  One thing is for sure, she can mark “meeting the President” off that list.

How did Linda get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?  This past summer, she entered the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by Epicurious.com, an online food and recipe website owned by Condé Naste.  Kids from all over the country, ages 8-12 years old, were asked to submit a healthy, original recipe that covered all the food groups.  One entrant from each state, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, was chosen to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.  In addition, each winner would have their recipe included in a compilation cookbook.  Linda’s recipe – Mississippi Tacos – was selected out of 1,200 total entries as the winning recipe to represent Mississippi.

The seventh grader at St. Joseph Catholic School has been cooking for a little over a year.  Her parents, Eddie and Kim Martinez of Madison, have made a point to teach both Linda and her older brother Anthony, how to cook for themselves.

“Cooking is an important skill to learn,” said Kim.  “Once a young person gets out in the real world, knowing how to prepare a meal means you are more likely to eat healthy and do not have to spend money to go out to eat all the time.”

Eddie encouraged his daughter to enter the contest.  “We have tried to encourage our kids to participate new opportunities.  They may not win every time, but they should at least give it a try.”

Linda, like most kids, loves tacos.  She decided to lighten up her version by using ground turkey instead of beef and substituting higher calorie Monterey Jack cheese for low-fat feta and mozzarella.

“A lot of kids eat tacos,” she explained.  “It is healthier than a normal taco, but it doesn’t taste any different.  Kids are more likely to eat healthy food if it tastes good.”

Linda was accompanied by her mother to Washington, D.C., where they met up with the other of the 53 winners.  The group got an exclusive tour of the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian, which opens to the public in November.  Later they were treated to a pizza party where each winner was asked to autograph a copy of the cookbook for Mrs. Obama.

The next day during the State Dinner, each child had the opportunity to meet and have their picture taken with the First Lady.

“She was very gracious,” recalled Kim.  “She welcomed us into her home and asked Linda questions about her recipe.”

The dinner began with a few opening remarks from Mrs. Obama.  Recipes from the cookbook were served.  Kim remembers all the press standing by to take pictures and shoot footage.  “It was very nerve-wracking to eat in front of all those cameras and I wondered why they were all still hanging around.”

Suddenly, Mrs. Obama stood up and announced the arrival of very special guest.  Much to everyone’s surprise, in walked the President.

“We were not expecting that,” Kim said.  “It was such a surprise!  He told us how proud he was of all the kids and then shook everybody’s hand.  I was a very proud mama that day.”

Obviously, all the excitement made Linda quite the celebrity among her classmates, who were watching the event live via satellite back home.

“They had lots of questions for me about it.  It was an awesome experience,” she said.  “It was pretty cool to meet the President and The First Lady, but really we were all just normal kids from different states.”

Copies of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook can be downloaded at http://www.epicurious.com/images/pdf/TheEpicuriousHealthyLunchtimeChallengeCookbook.pdf

Mississippi tacos
By: Linda Martinez

  • 1 pack of corn tortillas
  • 1 pound of ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • 2 teaspoons of parsley
  • 1 package of feta cheese or mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pack of baby carrots
  • 1 cup of applesauce

With adult supervision, cook the turkey in a pan until it is well browned, or roughly 20 minutes. When cooked, turn off the heat on the stove, then have an adult drain the grease from the turkey if there is a lot. Season with cumin, oregano and parsley. Return the pan to the stove.

Put the tortilla on a microwaveable dish and heat up in the microwave for 20 seconds. Place the tortilla on the plate and put around two tablespoons of the turkey in the middle of it.

Place feta cheese on top of the turkey and fold the tortilla in half.

Grab as many carrots from the bag as you want and wash them down good with water.

Put carrots and applesauce on the plate with the taco. If desired, add low fat mozzarella cheese onto the turkey instead of feta cheese.

If desired, add hot sauce or barbecue sauce for taste.

Servings: 4

A Story of Father-Daughter Survival

Mississippi Magazine
September / October 2012
View PDF of original article.

Cancer.

It’s one of the most dreaded words in our language. It’s that uninvited guest that everyone hopes will never make an appearance in their family. Country singer and television and radio personality Paul Ott Carruth and his family unfortunately know cancer all too well. Their story began in 1982, when Paul’s wife Alberta was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 42. After an 18-month battle, Alberta passed away, leaving behind Paul and their three children—Paul Jr., Carla, and Bert.

Carla Carruth Tigner was in college when she lost her mother. Since then, she remained vigilant in keeping up with her healthcare. When Carla reached her early 40s, she began experiencing some health problems. Because of her family history of ovarian cancer, Carla and her doctors decided a hysterectomy was the best course of prevention. The same week Carla was scheduled to have the hysterectomy, she discovered a lump in her right breast during a self-exam.

A mammogram showed no sign of the lump in Carla’s right breast. However, it did detect an anomaly in her left breast. A subsequent ultrasound determined the anomaly to be pre-calcification. Carla’s doctor’s decided to recheck her breasts in six months and proceeded with the hysterectomy.

Looking back on those events, Carla now wishes she had gotten a second opinion. Six months later, the lump in Carla’s right breast had grown. Twenty-one years after her mother received her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, Carla was told she had breast cancer. “I was the exact same age, and it was the exact same month that my mother received her diagnosis,” Carla reveals. “I remember I was so nervous about telling my father. He had already lost a wife to cancer and now I had to tell him that his daughter had cancer.”

It was determined that Carla’s tumor was estrogen-fed, meaning that the hormone replacement therapy she underwent immediately after her hysterectomy had allowed the tumor to grow. “I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to be a champion for their own healthcare,” she says. “Doctors are human, and they make mistakes. I should have insisted that my doctor conduct a breast exam and have the lump biopsied.” Carla underwent a bilateral mastectomy followed by aggressive chemotherapy. One year later, she received the news that she was cancer-free.

However, cancer would come knocking on the Carruths’ door again, only not in a way that anybody ever expected. A year after Carla’s recovery, while she and her father were recording an episode of Paul’s weekly television and radio show, Listen to the Eagle, he noticed a tender spot in his left breast. “Carla elbowed me in the chest and I commented that it had hurt,” Paul shares. “Carla joked with me about it. She said, ‘Oh Daddy, you don’t have breast cancer!’ and I said, ‘You better believe I don’t!’ I had never heard of a man getting breast cancer.”

Still, the tenderness concerned Paul’s wife Lynda enough that she strongly urged him to make an appointment with his doctor two days later. Unlike Carla, a mammogram revealed that a lump was indeed present in Paul’s breast. Even though Paul’s doctor wasn’t worried about it, he decided to remove the lump and have it tested just the same. “My doctor told me that he had biopsied around 100 men in my situation, and all the results had come back benign,” adds Paul.

However, as soon as Paul came out from anesthesia, his doctor shared with him that preliminary lab tests showed the lump was in fact cancerous. It was sent off for additional testing, and a week later the results were in. “My doctor said, ‘I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that it’s cancer,” Paul reveals. “‘The good news is that the tumor is dead.’ The medical term is ‘necrotic,’ meaning that somehow the blood supply to the tumor was cut off and it died. But I have another name for it—divine intervention.”

Paul had the breast removed and opted not to undergo any further treatment.  Lynda, Paul’s wife of 28 years, saw him through the surgery and the subsequent recovery.  “I would not have made it through this without her great loving care,” Paul says.  “My entire family – all my kids and 13 grandchildren – calls her the MVP of the bunch.”  Today, both Paul and Carla remain cancer-free.

It should come as no surprise that their tale of father-daughter breast cancer survival has attracted not only local but national media attention. In 2007, Stephanie Bell Flynt, healthcare reporter with Jackson’s NBC-affiliate WLBT, ran a series of stories on the pair and submitted the series to The Today Show. Paul, Carla, and Carla’s son were flown to New York City and given the chance to tell their story to Today Show host Matt Lauer on national television. “The day we taped the show was the same day that [Today Show host] Hoda Kotb returned to work after undergoing treatment for her breast cancer,” Carla says. “The entire show was dedicated to breast cancer and awareness.”

Paul and Carla were also given the rare opportunity to share their story in a music video for country music singer Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.” Because of the song’s lyrics, which tell of a woman’s fight with breast cancer, producers opted to include testimonials from actual breast cancer survivors throughout the video. While on the set of the video, Carla and Paul met hundreds of other breast-cancer survivors, including Good Morning America (GMA) host and Mississippi native Robin Roberts, who publicly shared her own battle with breast cancer in 2007. Roberts later premiered the emotional video during an episode of GMA.

“Daddy and I didn’t know if we would even make the video or not,” says Carla. “But as I sat there watching the video and seeing Robin get so emotional from it, I was just bawling by the end. It was amazing and so moving to see. There were literally hundreds of people there the day of the shoot, and it was mind-blowing to see so many people touched by the disease.”

Today, both Paul and Carla are active public speakers for breast-cancer awareness. Paul urges men to be proactive about their health. While the American Cancer Society estimates that only 1 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are in men, men are needlessly dying from the disease because they aren’t aware of it or are too embarrassed to get checked out. “When I was on the Today Show, Matt Lauer asked me if having breast cancer was considered less masculine,” says Paul. “I told him it’s a matter of living or dying. It doesn’t matter where the disease is located, cancer is cancer.”

Adds Paul, “There is a lot of awareness about breast cancer in women, but not a lot about breast cancer in men. Scientists have come a long way with treatment, so more women are surviving. But men are dying.”

Carla shares her story in hopes that she can not only create more awareness but also provide hope to other breast-cancer patients and their caregivers. “So many people who have had cancer don’t want to talk about it because they think either no one wants to hear about it or it is just too painful and emotional for them to share,” Carla says. “However, it is so important to share your story because you never know who you could help or provide hope and inspiration to.”

Adds Carla, “Having breast cancer was never something I would have asked for, but I wouldn’t give the experience back. It has changed me as a person and has allowed God to use me for the better.”

Pitching to a Blogger 101

GG logo

GodwinGroup Blog
August 14, 2012

Chances are, you know someone who blogs. Just in my little social circle alone, I have friends that blog about their family and their kids, friends that blog about current events and hobbies, and friends that blog as a way to promote their businesses. In this huge world of 6.9 billion people, blogging has given previously unknown people a voice. Just ask The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.

At the end of 2011, there were 181 million blogs in existence in the world according to NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company. CNET reports that two new blogs are created every second, meaning that number has grown exponentially in the last eight months. That doesn’t necessarily mean every single one of those blogs has something interesting to say. Out of that vast number, about a quarter update their blogs regularly and have a dedicated following. Those who have taken the time to carve out their niche in the blogosphere are often perceived to be a leading authority on whatever topic they choose to write on. In short, their readers listen to and value what they have to say.

Read the entire post here.

Tailgating: A Sport All its Own

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
August / September 2012

In the last few decades, the act of tailgating before a sporting event has become as popular, if not more popular, than attending the actual game.  Mississippi takes its tailgating pretty seriously.  Forget store-bought hot dogs grilled over charcoal in a stadium parking lot.  Tailgating in Mississippi is colorful tents, festive tablescapes, and elegant chandeliers under the shade of majestic trees.  Mississippi’s three largest universities – Mississippi State University in Starkville, The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and The University of Mississippi in Oxford – each have their own unique tailgating traditions.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend one of these social gatherings, you are not only in for a surprise, but a real treat in Southern hospitality and food.

 Mississippi State University
Mascot: Bulldog
Colors: Maroon and white
Tailgating spot: The Junction

Mississippi State University’s prime tailgating spot – The Junction – got its name from the Mobile and Ohio rail lines that ran through Starkville back when State was known as Mississippi A&M.  Later, the railroads gave way to congested streets, until 2005 when the university decided to turn the area into a campus gathering spot.  Tent cities begin popping up the evening before a home game and by game day, The Junction is a sea of maroon and white.  Visitors are greeted the bronze statue of Bully – the school’s mascot – and the smell of charcoal fills the air.  Prior to each game, the Maroon Band and Drum Line leads the football team through The Junction in a pre-game procession known as the Dawg Walk.

State graduate Bill Smith of Jackson has been tailgating for 30 years.  What began as six couples has now morphed into 45-50 couples and Smith estimates that around 250 people stop by their tent during the pregame festivities.  In the beginning, the spread was small, but over the years it has become more elaborate to include chandeliers, candelabras, and bartenders.

“Tailgating gives you the opportunity to see all the people you were friends with while you were in school,” Smith says.  “People from all different parts of the state come together to eat and meet with friends.  It is a great gathering spot.”

University of Southern Mississippi
Mascot: Golden eagle
Colors: Black and gold
Tailgating spot: The District

If you are looking for tailgating fun south of Interstate 20, look no further than the University of Southern Mississippi .  Touted by the University as “the biggest football party in South Mississippi,” tailgating festivities kick off the night before every home game with a pep rally at the fountain located in front of Southern’s most recognizable building, the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building.  Known as

Friday Night at the Fountain, the pep rally showcases the Pride of Mississippi Marching Band, the Dixie Darlings, the Southern Miss cheerleaders, the school’s mascot Seymour, and the Southern Misses, in addition to coaches and players.

Since the University was founded in 1910, the area in front of the university’s alumni house, referred to as The District, has served as a central gathering place for both alumni and students.  Here Southern Miss fans, donning their signature black and gold attire, can feast on yummy football fare while taking in views of the famous University rose garden.  Prior to the game, a cannon shot signals the start of the Eagle Walk, in which the marching band, the football team, and coaches, make their way from The District to the stadium, known as The Rock.

“Our tailgating has grown considerably over the years,” says Southern Miss graduate and Executive Director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, Jerry DeFatta.  “Of course, it helps that we have had 18 straight winning seasons.  There is nothing like the smell of smoke from a barbecue and the sound of the band warming up in the background to get people excited to support their team.”

University of Mississippi
Mascot: Black bear
Colors: Navy blue and red
Tailgating spot: The Grove

The University of Mississippi has earned the reputation far and wide of being one of the most unique places to tailgate.  Ole Miss fans pack tent-to-tent in the grassy, shaded ten acres that make up The Grove.  The close proximity turns this tailgating experience into one big party.

“People who have only heard about The Grove but never experienced it are usually expecting a pasture,” says Ole Miss alumnus Jody Varner.  “They are always surprised when they see it firsthand.  It’s much more elegant than that.”

Game day attire is not your usual t-shirts and sneakers.  It’s tradition to tailgate in your Sunday best and Ole Miss is probably the only place where it is perfectly acceptable to tailgate in heels.  It’s not uncommon to see men in khakis, polos, or possibly a few seersucker suits with bow-ties.  As you walk through the rows and rows of tents, you’ll find elaborate set ups with chandeliers, floral centerpieces, and flat screen TV’s.  Some tailgaters even hire their own live bands to play during the festivities.   Food usually consists of sandwiches and finger foods, since grilling is not allowed in The Grove.  However, some fans get around that by setting their grills up curbside.  Periodically, someone will shout, “Are you ready?” and you know the crowd is about to start chanting the “Hotty Toddy” cheer.  A few hours before the game, the fans line up eight-to-ten deep along the Walk of Champions to welcome the Ole Miss football team and coaches.

“Newcomers are usually surprised by how friendly everyone is,” adds Varner.  “Ole Miss is probably one of the few places where opposing teams are treated with as much hospitality as the fans.”

The City with Vision: The Jackson Chamber of Commerce Plans for the Future

Portico Jackson Magazine
Annual Jackson Now issue
July 2012

The city of Jackson not only has soul, it has loyalty, community, and determination.  Over the last few years, while other major metropolitan areas have been struggling to overcome hard times, Jackson has been working to improve its economy and quality of life.  Strategically situated at the crossroad of Interstates 55 & 20 and a stopping point between Chicago and New Orleans and Dallas and Atlanta, the city of Jackson is a prime location for starting a new business.  The staff of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce is working to keep it that way.

The Jackson Chamber of Commerce was launched in 2006 under the umbrella of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.  While the Partnership oversees economic development for seven counties that make up the Jackson Metropolitan area, the Chamber was organized to ensure that the city has the support it needs.  With its sole focus being the city of Jackson, the organization’s mission is to encourage diversity and cultivate a thriving and favorable climate for businesses and communities.

“The focus of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce is strictly on Jackson,” said Cynthia Buchanan, Executive Vice President of Jackson Chamber of Commerce.  “Our board members are individuals that live and work in Jackson and have a strong passion for the city.”

The organization has many exciting projects in the works.  Recently, it teamed up with Market Street Services, Inc., an Atlanta-based national provider of community, workforce, and economic development consulting services, to develop Vision 2022.  Through interviews and focus groups, Market Street conducted an extensive assessment of the economic status of the city of Jackson, evaluating both the strengths and weaknesses of the area.  The group released their findings in Fall 2011.  The Jackson Chamber is now working in conjunction with the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership to decide how best to implement these changes and promote the city as a great place to live and work and attract new businesses and development.

One of the projects already underway is the construction of the Museum to Market multipurpose biking and walking trail.  The project is being funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation in addition to support from The Jackson Bike Advocates, Bike Walk Mississippi, and the Greater Jackson Partnership.  Expected to break ground in 2013, the trail will begin at the Mississippi Farmer’s Market pavilion on High Street in downtown Jackson and follow the abandoned Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad line through the Belhaven community to the Agricultural, Children’s, Nature Science, and Sports museums on Lakeland Drive.  Once complete, it will be the only multipurpose trail in Jackson.  Plans are also in the works to eventually connect the trail to other trails in Ridgeland and Flowood.

“We are finding that people who are searching for a place to live and raise a family are looking for public amenities such as this,” explains Buchanan.  “The Museum to Market trail will not only encourage healthy living and promote a better quality of life for our residents, but it will also attract new residents and more tourists.”

The chamber also works to give back to the community.  Every two years, the organization hosts “Authenticity,” a fundraiser where the proceeds are donated to Jackson first responder groups.  In the last four years, the event has helped raise money for improvements to the Jackson Police Academy and purchase new furniture for the Jackson Fire Department.  Through the Adopt-a-School program, Chamber members serve as both sponsors and mentors for students and teachers at Lee Elementary School.  The organization provides volunteers for school functions such as science fairs and field days, monthly speakers and breakfast for teachers, and volunteers for the school’s Read Across America program.

“We feel by becoming actively involved with our schools, we are producing better students and eventually better citizens,” Buchanan adds.

Where There’s a Will, There’s Croquet

Mississippi Magazine
July/August 2012

Mississippians pride themselves on being avid outdoorsmen, fishermen, even football players.  Likely you know a local golf enthusiast and maybe your next door neighbor runs the occasional marathon.  What you may not know, is that tucked away behind the tall pines and magnolia trees is a little known culture of avid croquet players.

Mention the word croquet at your next social gathering and likely you will conjure up images that run the gamut – everything from childhood memories of playing the game in a suburban backyard, Victorian-era scenes depicted in a favorite movie, to the fairy tale version written about in Alice in Wonderland.  The game itself has been around for centuries, believed to have originated in 17th-century France from a game known as palle-maille.  It was introduced to Ireland and England in the 1850’s before arriving in America sometime in the 1860’s.

Believe it or not, croquet was not always a game for the elegant and well-mannered.  In the 1890’s, Boston clergy lobbied to have the game banned because it brought about a great deal of drinking, gambling, and other behavior considered unbecoming.  The opposition nearly threatened the popularity of croquet in American until it resurfaced in the 1920’s.  By the 1950’s and 60’s, nearly every household was playing a version of the game in backyards across the country.

Traditional American six wicket croquet became solidified within the American culture in 1977 when croquet champion Jack Osborn brought together five clubs to form the United States Croquet Association (USCA).  Their first order of business was to establish a clear-cut set of rules – known as American rules croquet – that are still used today.  The basic concept behind six wicket croquet is simple.  There are two sides – blue and black balls versus the red and yellow balls.

Teams can be played by two single players or in pairs.  The object is to maneuver the balls through a course of six arches, called wickets, and finally into a stake.  The first team to do so wins the game.   While that may seem easy enough, the game combines the physical skills used in billiards and golf with the strategic planning of always thinking one step ahead of your opponent found in a game of chess.  Truly understanding and mastering the game requires practice and study.

Croquet is a game that has always been rich with tradition and the croquet clubs across Mississippi are no exception.  One tradition that has been passed on through the years is the requirement that players wear all white.  There is speculation as to how this rule got started – some say it’s because the sport is usually played in hot weather and the white fabric reflects heat.  Others say it does not distract from the game and looks more elegant.

“It’s tradition,” says Jackson businessman Mike McRee, who was first introduced to the game in 1988 when longtime friend Grady Jolly presented him with a croquet set as a gift.  Jolly had just recently returned from a trip to California, where he played croquet with famous winemaker Robert Mondavi at the Meadowood Club in Napa Valley.  At first McRee was baffled.  He was accustomed to the poorly-constructed sets used for backyard games.  The set given to him by his friend was high quality.

“The set was too nice to play croquet in a pasture,” McRee recalled.  “I decided if we were going to do this, we needed to do it right.”

Tournament croquet is played on a lawn cropped to 1/8 – 1/4-inch high, similar to a golf course.  McRee’s first stop was the local library, where he checked out several books on building a golf green.  Before long, he had bulldozed a plot of land he owned in Pocahontas, MS, and within six months of building the court over 15 couples were showing up to play on a regular basis.

McRee has built several croquet courts since, his most recent in 2005 when he established the Highlands Mallet Club in Flora.  The group of about 15-20 couples meet every Sunday afternoon.   A bracket is created to establish partners and games usually kick off around three o’clock.

Ed and Hillis Becker have been members of Highlands Mallet Club for four years.  They were introduced to the game by Ed’s father Jim, who has been an avid player and a longtime member of the club.

“It is a very enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” said Hillis.  “There is usually a different crowd every week.  We have a great mix of people, both male and female, of all ages.”

The season traditionally kicks off in the spring and concludes in October with the annual Member/Guest Tournament.  Members are asked to bring a guest to the weekend-long event, which kicks off with a seated dinner at a member’s house.  Team assignments are made.  Each team is made up of one male and one female player and novices are paired with more seasoned players.  The tournament continues throughout the weekend with teams advancing to the quarter and semifinals.  The winners of the tournament receive the coveted Jim Becker trophy, named in honor of Ed’s father.

The weekend concludes with “high tea,” an elegant spread served right before the championship tournament.  A typical menu includes a variety of finger sandwiches including tomato, cucumber mint, and chicken salad sandwiches; fresh vegetable pate; French almond macaroons; petit fours; scones with lemon curd; chocolate dipped strawberries; and hot and iced tea and champagne.

When asked what advice he would give to someone interested in taking up the sport, Ed Becker suggests starting off by reading as much information available about the game.  “Croquet is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on an equal level, there is no upper hand,” he says.  “It’s a fun game that can be played quickly and really deserves more attention.”

Croquet Clubs in Mississippi:

Highlands Mallet Club
Jackson, MS
(601) 949-3103

Long Beach Yacht Club
Long Beach, MS
(228) 868-8279

Pocahontas Mallet Club
Jackson, MS
(601) 955-3353