Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 in Books

My goal of 40 books this year fell 10 short. Hey, I moved and started a new job and I also spent an embarrassing amount of time watching Peaky Blinders, Big Little Lies, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. You should watch ALL of those but only after you do some reading. Here were my favorites this year:


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Drew and I each bought a copy and read this together. It was the longest book I've ever read and we both LOVED it. I will likely not read any more of them because I liked the way this one ended and I didn't like what I read about the next few. Perhaps we will watch the show instead. You'll love Jamie, he's pretty much the perfect man.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Oh yeah, I watched this show too but first I read the book. You know all about this already but you should still read it. This was my first Margaret Atwood read and it did not disappoint. Last night I started Alias Grace so that I can watch that soon.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

An amazing young adult story about a young woman who witnesses her friend be shot by the police and the aftermath that ensues. Again, heartbreaking but raw and real for young adults.


Why I left Why I Stayed by Tony Campolo & Bart Campolo

Tony Campolo has been one of my favorite Christians for years, the work he does and his heart for justice are what I admire about him. This book is a dialogue between he who is still a minister today and his son Bart who left the ministry and Christianity. It is heartbreaking and honest and desperate but so relatable for those of us who find ourselves somewhere in between.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond 

The author lives in rentals throughout the city of Milwaukee to research this book and as sensitive as I have always been to the issues of poverty I had never put much thought into the urban poverty issue of lack of housing. I learned so much and it read like fiction-which is terrifying because it is real.

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming 

My only point of reference for Alan Cumming was as Floop in Spy Kids but we bought his audiobook and with his Scottish accent I'd listen to him read the phone book (do they still make phone books?) His complicated relationship with his father was both humorous and horrifying. Drew and I both cried and laughed out loud multiple times as we listened to this on a road trip.

One Day We'll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul 

A mostly light and funny read, it didn't get great reviews but I love books of comedic essays and this didn't disappoint.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer 

Yes, the title is misleading but I tend to think of all librarians as bad asses. People whose job it is to save rare pieces of culture and knowledge in one of the most notorious centers of knowledge in the Islamic world from a fundamentalist terrorist group? Yes please.

What books did you enjoy this year? I'm setting my sights on 50 books for 2018. Check out the Modern Mrs. Darcy's Reading Challenge for inspiration-that's where I'll be starting.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Community

I use the word community a lot for a person who doesn’t have a great definition for it. It’s more of a feeling in my bones than something I can put into words when called upon to do so. It is one of those education buzzwords that’s often given in job interviews, like differentiation or graphic organizers, “I want to build a community of learners.” Boom. You’re suddenly entrusted with teaching 75 teenagers the importance of democracy. But in my personal life community has come to be what I am constantly seeking.

I have found community in church and I’ve found it at work. I’ve seen community play out in small towns-the coming together in crisis or rallying around the local basketball team. I’ve been host to community over shared love of books, wine, or Jesus depending on the season of my adult life.

I was raised by community. Small and isolated. Community with big hearts for their own but that rarely extended far beyond town limits. I’ve left community and its comforts many times and inevitably experienced a pang of regret.

And with each move I’ve also experienced isolation, at parties where community is present and I am not a part of it. Having been in this new city for only a few months, my community is only starting to form. It could easily be lost as I attempt to build trust and share experiences. I am grateful for it but always hesitant.

Instead my community lives in Mississippi and Virginia. East Africa and Kentucky. Selfishly, I want community in my immediacy-next door for shared days and meals. But then I wouldn’t be able to experience and give love to a global community of people who do amazing work in their own cities, following their passions and extending our collective community by adding more-building a longer table and not a higher fence-as the saying goes.

Whatever community is I hope you find it and hold tightly to it. When you move or they move, through change and growth, differing opinions and seasons of prolonged absence. May you always come back to your community, not expecting too much of each other but loving each other just as hard when you reunite.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Laundry

My mom has a thing for laundry. It’s something of a holy sacrament to her. When I “moved out” I had never done a load of laundry before in my life. And I wasn’t a 17-year old college bound kid. I lived at home or with my grandmother for all 4 years of undergrad so at nearly 22 years old I got married and moved three hours away without the slightest inclination of how to keep myself in clean clothes.

And before you get the wrong idea, I wasn’t “doless” (a nice Appalachian phrase for someone who “don’t lift a hand at much,” I suppose that’s also Appalachian and not terribly helpful but you get what I’m saying, lazy). I wasn’t given a fair opportunity to learn how to do laundry, I was never taught. As the saying goes, knowledge is power- and mom was keeping that particular power for herself.

And I get it from both sides. When I asked my dad if he did his own laundry growing up, he said granny would never let him near it. Granny still washes her clothes to death and once told me that’s what attracted her to my Pap: “his clothes were always just so clean,” she said.  That’s all it took and she was head over heels.

Perhaps my mom didn’t have the patience to teach us the practice of laundry but I maintain that it was more about her affection for washing clothes. Each of my mom’s sisters shares this same attachment to laundering. The practices of letting things soak, stain removal, hot or warm water and the ever pressing question: when to use bleach are topics they discuss at length. When I was growing up mom would often lift the lid of our washing machine, which sat in the kitchen in our house, to watch the process in action before her very eyes.  

When my mamaw was raising 11 young’uns they had a Wringer washing machine (pictured below next to my papaw on the porch) but by the time the baby-my mama- came along they had built a bathroom where the washer sat while the dryer was housed in the kitchen. My mamaw enjoyed laundry too, she said that seeing all those white diapers hanging out on the clothesline made her happy. Mom said their water pressure was such that they rarely washed much besides under clothes and wash rags. They’d be lucky to get one load done in an evening by the time the washer filled up and didn’t have time to get it dried before papaw went to bed, and the dryer didn’t run when papaw slept.

As mom told me all of this it clicked with her at the same time it did with me: “Maybe that’s why we all love to do laundry now. It’s like a luxury.” So I don’t hold a grudge for my laundry inadequacies.
When I lived with my mamaw in college she would sometimes gather up a few of my things from the floor of my room while I was in class or working. Mostly it was jeans, which I later learned she never actually washed-she would wet the knees and put them in the dryer to make me think that she had washed them. Clever badger. Perhaps her love for laundry took a backseat to her belief that things were not dirty, especially jeans, if they were only worn once.

I called my brother while writing this to ask about his knowledge of laundry to see if at eighteen he was as clueless as my sister and I were when we left home. He is in high school and still at home and I asked him if mom was out of town and he absolutely had to could he do a load of laundry. He gave a confident “Yes!” which surprised me and I asked him to walk me through the process to which he replied, “I’d take whatever I need washed to granny or Wanda.” Problem solved. But I could relate, I would never have dared touch mom’s washing machine when I was at home without her guidance. When she and my dad moved into the home they are in now she only had space for a stackable washer/dryer and to add insult to injury the washer locked while washing, putting days of watching clothes soak and spin in the past.

I cannot say that I share in the enjoyment of washing clothes, although I am firm in the belief that anything can be a spiritual experience if you take joy in it. The being my clothesline, I delight in seeing my clothes drying on the line in the spring and summer months. I think of home and mamaw and mom and their love of it and I feel connected to some small part of their beloved practice of laundry.

Sidenote: my mom’s washers been broken for two weeks now so prayers are appreciated. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Oil Lamp

 sun sets across the mountain
hues of pink and orange
the end of a day’s light
a wick wet with oil
rests between fingers of a golden key
globe black with soot
 eyes squint
match strikes
flame illuminates
 hands grip carrying it nearer
the key rotates, the flame grows
a return to the tedium of a day’s work

still incomplete

Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Ya'll eat yet?" An Appalachian Greeting

Encouraging my teenage students to be in tune with and celebrate their home culture is something akin to what I imagine it’d be like to call up my central Appalachian granny and ask her to adopt a new culture for the rest of her life: worship Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu in place of Jesus, begin making and eating naan instead of biscuits and wear a sari instead of her blue jeans and Keds. In other words many of my teenage students seem terribly intimidated by recognizing their cultural norms and practices.  

My students tend to see culture as far-off exotic celebrations of fantastical clothing, precise rituals, beautiful artistic expressions and strange foods. Nevermind that my students live in one of the most inherently Appalachian culture-oriented towns in our region. I suppose it makes sense that an appreciation for your home culture often comes after you’ve moved on or meet others with different cultures to have a point of comparison. I certainly didn’t consider myself “Appalachian” until college and since then I have introduced myself as nothing else. 

The one thing I often succeed in helping students understand is unique to our culture is our relationship with food. The marriage of growing, cooking, and preserving of sustenance in the mountains is something many of them relate to and appreciate. Food also provides the basis for many conversations.

We Appalachians worry ourselves to death over whether or not each other has eaten. And we don’t go to visit friends or family without calling ahead first to see what they could use from our garden or pantry. My go-to wedding gift to friends and family is something we’ve canned. And I’ve traveled to the Pound many a time with rhubarb stalks, jars of moonshine, pickled peppers and more cukes than I could count. And come back with zucchini bread, canned beans, kraut, and slicing tomatoes.

And as soon as we arrive we can barely get in the door before being asked if we’re ready to eat. And even if the truth is that we ate on the road, we lie. Because they already have chicken fried or scratch-made biscuits in the oven. It’s our answer to any problem (much like the Golden Girls and cheesecake) except ours might just be a sliced cucumber which in my experience is just as effective as cheesecake.

 We attended a wedding this weekend and when I finally got a chance to hug the bride at the reception before I could stop it I heard myself ask, “Did ya’ll get to eat yet?” I guess it’s also Appalachian for congratulations.