Acknowledging gratitude

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Writing a book makes you appreciate your friends more. Working with my dear friend and co-author, I struggled with the heartbreaking topic we were researching, but I also felt the constant nearness in spirit of the mentors who had shaped our intellectual growth. When it came time to write the acknowledgements for our book, we knew that our deepest gratitude went to two women, both eminent scholars, whose work and lives inspire us. And, of course, we thanked our families for loving and encouraging us. Where would we be without our partners and our children?

Then, as I considered who else I might acknowledge in our book, I could not help focusing on the women whose friendship sustains me, even though we may rarely have discussed the book itself. These women are the amazing fellow academics and mothers who teach, research, nurture the people around them, struggle with the illusion of work/life balance, and are obsessed with pop culture and social justice. These are the women whose children play with my children or who share a hotel room with me at an academic conference. They made me laugh when writing the book made me cry, they are silly and profound. We get caught in the rain together in Montreal, cook together, and commiserate around roundtables. We discuss theory and methodology along side potty training and Ryan Gosling memes.

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These women are from all over the world, from every walk of life. They are my soul mates because whatever I experience as an academic or a mother or a woman, they “get.” I am profoundly grateful for these fierce, fabulous women whether they realize they helped me during the writing of our book or not. So, while we are in this cultural moment of gratitude and one of them is sitting on my sofa next to me as our children dance, make music, and draw, I want to acknowledge them again for their friendship.

So, thank you, thank you, Leigh, Jessica, Stacie, Lori, Rosemary, Lindita, Ammina, and Robyn for absolutely everything. You are all my people.

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Under scrutiny

This article by Ta-Nehisi Coates will take one minute to read and it is well worth that minute. My concern with the notion that police cannot do their jobs under scrutiny is that it implies that their jobs require a lack of public oversight. How can we accept the idea that our society is to be policed by people and institutions beyond our view and above our criticism? If the so-called (and debunked) “Ferguson Effect” is that police are altering their behaviors out of fear that their actions will be recorded, this too implies that their behaviors all along have been something that they don’t want us to see. This is troubling in the extreme.

Members of my family are police officers and first responders. I have known truly upstanding police officers. My hope and belief is that their actions both on and off camera would remain consistent and above reproach. If every single officer of the law cannot live up to that standard, then we should all be deeply concerned that, as Coates writes, “A theory of government which tells citizens to invest agents of the state with the power to mete out lethal violence, but discourages them from holding those officers accountable is not democracy. It is fascism.”

Coates’ fellow writer for The Atlantic, David A. Graham writes that “The implication of the Ferguson-effect argument is that police can’t provide safe streets and low crime rates without massive civil-rights violations—aggressive use of physical force, racial profiling, searches that fall into legal gray areas, and so on—and without alienating black communities.” The impact is far-reaching, from brutalization of students in schools to over-policing of people of color, to racial profiling of innocent celebrities.

Video evidence allows us to know more about the actions of police. Whatever we choose to do with that knowledge, we should absolutely have it and place it under scrutiny. To deny the value of seeing is to wish for blindness, to turn a blind eye to oppression. I simply do not want to live in a society with militarized police forces that are deemed only capable of doing their jobs at the expense of our civil liberties. I don’t want them operating in the shadows and out of our view.

Pickles in jars




















Ah, the satisfying pop! of canning jar lids as they cool. A little music for the ears after a few hot hours of work.

Today, I made Ashley English’s Dill Pickle recipe. So, so simple. Compared to my Granny’s labor intensive sweet pickle recipe I usually make. Today was all about just getting the canning equipment out of storage, cleaning everything up, and making sure the stove in this house would actually heat the water bath to a rolling boil. It was touch and go for a while as the water just refused to ripple beyond a few little bubbles, but a thick rag on top of the lid for insulation seemed to help matters along.

When we moved back from Canada in early May, we were delighted to find a little slightly out of practice garden plot in the front yard of the house we are renting. It was late for planting, but we threw a few things in the ground in the hopes that our girls would at least have the fun of watching growing things maybe produce something to eat. The squash and tomatoes did not germinate and the corn is still a question mark, but the cucumbers were champs. Our few little late vines weren’t enough to make a batch of pickles, but that is what farmer’s markets are for, right?

My plan is to use up the jars I have already to make some tomato basil sauce (our four basil plants have not disappointed and the tomatoes will come from the farmer’s market) before school starts. We are also hunting for nearby orchards and I will definitely be putting up jars of all things apple and peach soon.

What are you canning this season?

Voices and votes

One side of the sign my daughter helped me make.
One side of the sign my daughter helped me make.

I heard the noise from blocks away, as I walked down the greenway with my homemade sign. Crowds usually make me nervous, but on that day I wanted the feeling of being part of something big and loud. IMG_1074 The mood on this bright sunny day was like a family festival, with children running around in the grass and friends laughing together. Elderly men and women, young parents and toddlers mingled in between the towering city buildings. It was so hot that several people passed out, even though organizers hurriedly carried around boxes full of cold water bottles and urged everyone to stay hydrated. Shirts and signs introduced strangers to each other as people declared the groups they represented and the issue they cared about: Voter suppression is wrong. It harms peoples of all faiths and walks of life. It matters. IMG_1076 The North Carolina conservatives in control of the state legislature passed some of the most sweeping voter suppression efforts in the nation as soon at the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and removed pre-clearance for this former Confederate state. The NAACP of NC has taken the state to trial in my town and organized the rally on the first day of court. This trial matters as it works its way through federal court and shapes the rights of voters nationwide. IMG_1084 The characters that turn out to a political rally can be so eclectic and inspiring. The Raging Grannies, the church groups, the militant activists, all gathered in solidarity around one issue: the right to vote. We were raising our voices to declare together the right for all people to perform the fundamental democratic act of voting. IMG_1079 It felt so good. It felt empowering and energizing in that cliched way that collective action can. As one in a crowd, you feel as if you are making a difference. And, with voting rights on trial, it brought home the feeling that every voice and every single vote counts. IMG_1088 In the face of recent horrific crimes, institutional racism, and crippling inequality, I have at times fallen prey to feeling paralyzed and powerless. What can one person do, after all? Well, one person can march as one of many. One person can vote and be counted. One person can commit to registering a hundred more to vote and then even help drive them to the polling place. One person can join with others and know that every little step matters when you are marching through the streets with a thousand like-minded souls.

The other side of my sign.
The other side of my sign.

Lingering in hatred for just a moment

My last post was simply to share a poem about peace that reminded me to seek solace in wild spaces when the darkness of the world encroaches. I hoped that reflecting a little light back out towards the darkness would help me and others. Perhaps it did. I have been trying to read, to meditate, to be with my family, and to take the tangible steps of donating to a food bank and joining a local grassroots group in the hope of contributing to solving social problems that I care deeply about.

But, yet, I have also lingered in the darkness a bit. I cannot stop myself from reading pieces of righteous outrage. Being outraged myself at violence and hatred and close-mindedness and insensitivity. As a child of The South who has always somewhat loathed the spaces and symbolism and culture and history and food of the rural southern Mississippi region, I feel a deep connection with this second poem as well. In its own way, it makes me feel better because it seems deeply true. When I read this poem, I know all the beauty and ugliness of every single line – the smells and tastes and vibrancy and decay that forms the place I once called home and always wanted to escape.

For the South

I hate your hills white with dogwood

or pink with redbud in spring

as if you invented hope, as if

in the middle of red clay,

limestone outcroppings,

and oak trees dead with fungus

something slight and beautiful

should make us smile.

I hate the way honeysuckle drapes

fences, blooms in the ditch

where everyone dumps garbage;

the evening air sweet with cedar

and fields of burley;

the way irises and buttercups

mark the old dimensions of a house

destroyed a hundred years ago;

how a span of Queen Anne’s lace

rocks the whole moon, and the sumac

runs dark against the hill.

I hate the drawl, the lazy voice

saying I’ve been away so long

I sound like I’m from nowhere;

the old hand gathering snowballs or peonies

or forking up an extra dish of greens,

bitter, just the way I like them.

~ Neal Bowers

Added: After posting this, I read a piece about the power of poetry that speaks exactly to how I’ve been feeling lately.

In search of peace

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry
These words have been speaking to me this week, reminding me to
search outdoors for peace in moments of turmoil.

{ this moment }


A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.


painted grass, planted trees

My girl looked outside this morning and said “Mama! Did you paint the grass?”

Her tone was lighthearted on this gorgeous spring Earth Day when the dewy grass is such a brilliant shade of green that it does almost look like fresh wet paint. But, she knows the difference between this natural brightness and the fake green of manicured “poison grass” lawns with their little “keep children and pets off for their own safety” signs. Oh, how we prefer the realness of untreated grass!

We talk often of protecting our Earth and taking care of the planet that takes care of us. Earth Day becomes then, for us, a day of celebration. It’s a sort of bookend to autumn harvest festivals that give thanks for the bounty of seasonal food. In spring, we come awake and give thanks for the beauty of our earth. We also reflect on what it means to be grateful and purposeful.

Since I so often post about books and libraries and reading, I thought today I would share a few favorite earthy quotes. The last one is my favorite right now, as I look towards returning to North Carolina in less than two weeks and set down some roots.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every [person’s] needs, but not every [person’s] greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

“When you realize the value of all life you dwell less on past and concentrate more on the conservation of the future.”  ― Dian Fossey

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a spectulator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” ― Henry David Thoreau

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  ― Rachel Carson

“It is our collective and individual responsibility to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live.” ― Dalai Lama

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking. It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” ― Wangari Maathai

Wine Country

So, we have been living smack in the middle of Ontario wine country this year and let me just say: The local/regional wines have gone a long way towards easing the harshness of this winter. As we drive around, exploring the parks and even taking a sugar maple tour hike through snowy woods, we have been astonished by the acres of vineyards and landscape dotted with wineries. Local wines go so very well with the salmon we’ve been eating more of and the regional veggies this greenbelt has to offer. Having spent almost a decade in southern Indiana and enjoyed having local vineyards to visit and wines to taste, it’s been lovely to sample what Ontario has to offer.

Update: I am one fortunate woman. After giving a keynote at a student conference I was gifted this bottle of local wine by the conference organizer. We are going to save it for the end of the month and use it to toast our last night in Canada!
Update: I am one fortunate woman. After giving a keynote at a student conference I was gifted this bottle of local wine by the conference organizer. We are going to save it for the end of the month and use it to toast our last night in Canada!


When we return to North Carolina (soon!) our mission will be to immerse ourselves in the local food and drink culture. Not only as consumers, but as community gardeners and food bank supporters. Finding our way into the food culture of a place helps us feel rooted and tastes oh, so very good.


The only flowers we see on this vernal equinox are the ones we gathered at the bustling indoor farmer’s market. This morning was decidedly gray, but the snow has almost all melted and the birds are filling the air with dancing and song. By noon, we were outside at a playground, basking in the relative warmth. I stretched, I swung, I lifted my face to the sun and saw the light dancing on my eyelids.

Though I am not so sure that the length of ours days and nights are equal at this moment, in this place, I am thinking about balance in life and self. There is no better time, with new life ready to burst from the ground, to purge the weary aspects of work and life. To embrace new experiences and resolve to be just a little more purposeful, a little more kind to ourselves and gentle with each other.  For me, this means making time for a little mani/pedi action with my girl today and to visit a new yoga studio tomorrow morning. These are such small things when written down, but feel big when lived and carried throughout our days. Balance is what I will strive for in the coming year, more than I ever have before, and I wish it for you, too.