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Raised in one of this country's most beautiful and historic cities — Natchez, Mississippi — I'm forever captivated by the South's splendid houses and gardens, vibrant parties, eccentric storytellers, and the region's "peculiar" history and culture that, for better or worse, has shaped us all.

The three-story Victorian home in which my mother, grandmother ("Nannie," aka "Freddie Bailey") and I lived near downtown was anchored by our family business: a clothing boutique with a smattering of antiques and a rack of Nannie's homemade jellies and preserves – to which the word "Famous" would be added to her "Aunt Freddie's Pantry" product line after celebrities such as Bob Hope and Lucille Ball began ordering boxes of it for their holiday presentry.

Above our small living space adjacent to the store, we rented apartments to a cast of characters who ambled in and out along with an array of customers – from the town's garden club president to the town's, well, madam. Needless to say, our corner of Commerce and Orleans Streets was perpetually buzzing — especially at sunset on our wrap-around porch, where an evolving mix of Natchezians and tourists could be found, drink in hand, and nibble or two within reach. (I, too, was there, perfecting the art of not being seen while savoring every brayed story and whispered bit of gossip.)

Deciding early on to be a writer, my first chance to help document Natchez' rich flavor and culture came as a teen, when Nannie nervously asked for my assistance. She'd been talked into producing a canning-focused cookbook by one of her biggest fans — renowned designer Lee Bailey (aka her nephew, and my cousin). Ultimately Loyd Lee (his given name – which to my ears sounded like "Lord Lee") became so smitten with Natchez that he ultimately produced the James Beard Award-winning Lee Bailey's Southern Food & Plantation Houses

Lee's don't gild the lily style not only became a design-for-living compass for me, but also for a generation of others, including the late writer-extraordinaire Nora Ephron (read her touching tribute to him here ) and Southern raconteuse Julia Reed (who toasts Lee's influence here). 

Fast forward a few decades and you'll find I've built a career focused on living the good life, both inside and out — from highlighting great home and party style for Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living and Coastal Living to joining the public relations team to champion "World Changers" at Southern Methodist University.

Over the past decade my journalism education has been bolstered by my ongoing studies involving human & civil rights, as well as early Southern history. The goal? To keep others from succumbing to what one SMU colleague calls "the most dangerous phrase in the English language: 'I didn't know.' "

Along the way I've also written and styled a number of well-received entertaining-themed books with my husband, photographer Robert M. Peacock (also a Natchez native); co-written the memoir of the founder of Peacock Alley (no relation, darn it); and most recently helped write the internationally award-winning book, No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland, for SMU's unique Embrey Human Rights Program.

When I'm not writing about or promoting good food, style or deeds, I'm typically at home with Robert in Dallas' historic Winnetka Heights neighborhood, known for its welcoming front porches. On breezy sunset evenings, we and our friends like to gather ... drink in hand, nibble or two within reach ... and engage in a lively conversation that almost always includes at least one "I didn't know ..."

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I’d like to add some beauty to life. I don’t exactly want to make people know more, though I know that’s the noblest ambition. But I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me ... to have some little joy or happy thought that never would have existed if I hadn’t been born.
— L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942), "Anne of Green Gables"
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See Better Homes and Gardens spotlight our book Porch Parties (David A. Land)