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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Exteriors

There are days when I wake up full of dread. Six o'clock in the morning and I'm anticipating the passive aggressive meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. I try on three tops and two pair of pants, only to pull that same old dress from the dirty clothes hamper and hope no one remembers I wore it earlier in the week. I know that we are out of groceries, but there's no time to get to the store, so we'll have to improvise and that won't make for a happy home. Oh damn. I haven't even thought about what we'll do for lunch. At least the car has a quarter of a tank.

I'm a pro at putting up exteriors. So by the time I get to work, I manage a smile and muster morning greetings. All the while, I'm pushing the dread down, away from my psyche and into my body. Down. Deep down into that hole between the throat and the chest, deep enough to keep it at bay but still feel the hollow ache. A strange comfort it is, that hollow ache. It makes me recognize something is not right, that I need change, but it is a pain I'm not ready to shake. Hell, it is a pain I'm still struggling to identify.

I scroll through Instagram and the ache bubbles a bit, tickling my throat. All those images from everyone who has their shit together. The healthy breakfast plate, situated next to fresh flowers atop granite counters. A snap of someone's Apple watch, "5 miles. Check! Ready for a great day!" My desk phone starts to ring and I glance at the number. Can't take that call right now. No sooner than it goes to voicemail does my work cell begin to chime. It must be urgent. I take the call. It is not urgent.

I want a cigarette, but I don't smoke at the office, because, you know, exteriors.

Push it down again. Out of the throat and back into the hole where it belongs. Hopefully I'll get too busy to notice. Maybe I'll take a nap at lunch. Perhaps I'll leave work early and go for a walk. None of this will happen, but I'll return home sometime around 6 p.m. and, usually, it will melt away.

Sometimes the dread lingers and makes it's way back to my brain. I'll fixate on tomorrow or next week or next month, but I won't dig to see just why it returns. That would mean chipping away at the wall, opening a door that I like to keep closed. Because ultimately, the exterior is so much easier to maintain than the interior. That's where the real work begins.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Best of the Arts Hour (2011-2012)

From December 2008 until August 2013, I served as the Folk and Traditional Arts Coordinator at the Mississippi Arts Commission. I loved this job. I learned a great deal about grant making, special programming and project development. My 2001 Subaru logged many a mile traversing the state to meet with musicians, basket weavers, potters, blacksmiths, artists and everyone in between. It was a magical way to spend my post-graduate school years.

One of the greatest opportunities afforded to me while I was at the MAC was to host the Mississippi Arts Hour one Saturday a month on Mississippi Public Broadcasting Radio. You can still hear my colleagues Larry Morrisey, Diane Williams and Malcolm White on the show regularly, as well as other MAC staffers like my friends Melia Dicker and Turry Fluker. Since my freshman year at Ole Miss, I have been obsessed with National Public Radio, so the opportunity to host a show on our state's public airwaves was one of the greatest perks of the job.

It has been a lot of fun for me to peruse the well-kept archive of Arts Hour episodes (thank you to the diligent Larry Morrisey for this labor of love), and share with you a "dirty dozen" of my favorite interviews from 2011 and 2012. I hope you enjoy!

For a full listing of the Mississippi Arts Hour podacasts, click here.

*Note: All show descriptions and links are made possible via MAC website.

Documentary Filmmaker Joe York (Dec. 2, 2012) A nice visit with Joe York, a documentary filmmaker with the University of Mississippi's Media and Documentary Projects Center. We talk about York's interests in southern culture that led to his current work, as well as his most recent film projects, including Mississippi Innocence and Pride & Joy 

Delta Magazine Editor Melissa Townsend (Nov. 4, 2012) An interview with Melissa Townsend, then Editor for Delta Magazine. We talk about the origins of the magazine, their strong focus on local food and culture, and "The Delta," a new book containing photos and essays from the first decade of Delta Magazine.

Painter Jerrod Partridge (September 30, 2012) Conversation with friend and painter Jerrod Partridge from Jackson. We talk about his artistic development, his day-to-day work as a full-time artist, and his current one-person show at the Marie Hull Gallery at Hinds Community College in Raymond.

Singer/Songwriter Jimmy Phillips (August 5, 2012) A special remote recording from Tweed Studios in Oxford, talking with singer/songwriter Jimmy Phillips. We talk about his Delta roots, his circuitous route back to performing via a bootleg recording, and his latest album, Desperate Moon.

Saxophonists London Moffett & James Evans (July 8, 2012) An interview with saxophonists London Moffett and James Evans. The two have played together in several blues and r&b bands around Mississippi. They have also toured with many legendary blues performers, including Z.Z. Hill and Little Milton.

Fiddler Harry Bolick (June 10, 2012) A visit with fiddler and fiddle researcher Harry Bolick. Bolick is a native of Carroll County and has done extensive research on the music of that region. He is also an active old-time fiddler and released a CD highlighting the music of the Carroll County duo Narmour and Smith.

Chimney Choir (May 13, 2012) A fun convo with Chimney Choir, a Colorado-based musical group (featuring former Mayhem String Band member Kevin Larkin) that brings together multiple acoustic musical styles. The band talks about their new recording and performs live in the studio.

Jimmy King from the Subway Lounge (March 11, 2012) Fascinating chat with Jimmy King, formerly of the manager of the (now closed) Subway Lounge in Jackson. We talk about his origins as a blues singer and his many years running the Subway, one of Jackson's most legendary blues clubs..

Cigar Box Guitars by Archie Storey (Jan. 15, 2012) Interview with Archie Storey, a Jackson-based cigar box guitar builder. He tells about who influenced him in getting started and the unique aspects of his instruments. 

Artist H.C. Porter (Dec. 11, 2011) A talk with artist H.C. Porter about her early years working in the Millsaps Arts District, her series of work related to Katrina, and a new series on Mississippi blues musicians.

Musician Tommy Bryan Ledford (Nov. 13, 2011) A native of Louisiana, Ledford played in bands in Oxford for many years and was one of the founders of the Thacker Mountain Radio program. Ledford talks about his musical childhood in Louisiana, his years in Oxford, and his new CD, "Butcher Bird."

Bluesman Big Joe Shelton (Sept. 25, 2011) Big Joe Shelton is from the Black Prairie region. We talk about his musical roots, his current work as a touring musician and they play samples from his latest CD, "The Older I Get, the Better I Was."


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sick Days

Before I had Weezie I was always a bit jealous of colleagues with kids. They'd phone in on a random Thursday saying Junior had fever an they wouldn't be able to come into work. It sounded so nice, a day at home with your child and away from the office. I imagined long mornings in pajamas with the Price Is Right in the background as parent and kid lazily put together puzzles. Perhaps there would be a grilled cheese for lunch, followed by a nap and, undoubtedly, orange sherbet.

Today is my first sick day as a parent. Weezie woke with a fever, grumpy and lethargic. I immediately decided to stay home because, 1. It is school policy that no child with fever can come on campus until 24 hours after a fever breaks, and 2. I have realized of late that I'm a bit of a workaholic.

Just last week I put more than 700 miles on my mother's new Prius in an attempt to be everywhere at all times. I spent nearly four hours in a conference room in Alabama, realizing halfway through that the meeting was not a collaborative session as described, but an extended sales pitch disguised as a working committee. As I fired up the Prius and made tracks on the Natchez Trace back home to Mississippi, I was angry with myself for overextending and hyper-focused on all the things I should have accomplished with the day. As a result, I stress ate chocolate and Cheese-Its all the way to Tupelo. This, friends, is not a healthy way to cope. But I must say, Alabama Public Radio has excellent afternoon programming and my sanity was restored by their symphonic segment.

By the time I reached Enid Lake, where my mother, Weezie and our friend Mrs. Ford were stationed as my support unit, Weezie had been put to bed and I didn't get to see her at all that day.  Mama and Mrs. Ford (age 84) were worn out from chasing the baby, but full of stories about Weezie's adventures around the cabin. Mrs. Ford, whose hearing aid had died the day before, was incredibly tickled by Weezie's perpetual dancing, not realizing the baby was bumping along to the tunes created by her little toy scooter. I was grateful for the conversations, as well as the wine, broiled pork chops and freshly sliced tomatoes, the first of the season.



A year ago I would have never cancelled work with three meetings on the books. Just the sound of my work cell pinging from email would send my blood pressure to the moon. Even on days off, I checked email on the sly, knowing it bothered Barry, and became easily distracted by work matters, an unresolved project or conflict with a coworker. To use Raney-Mills terminology (my best friend and licensed therapist), I am "doing some work" to better understand why I put so much energy into my job when other aspects of my life are so much more fulfilling.

Today, I assigned a meeting to each of my incredibly talented teammates and put my work cell on silent. Barry hit the door around 8 a.m. and Weezie slept in my arms until 10 a.m. And it was just like I'd always imagined. I sat down in the big chair with a cup of coffee in reach, as well as a remote and a snuggly baby to boot. I don't even recall what was on TV (it was only 5 hours ago) but I won't soon forget how great it felt to be in the sunlit living room, no lamps on, just shadows dancing from the budding leaves outside. Weezie's feverish head stuck to my chest and a sense of calm about the house.

I once heard the comedian Chris Rock say in an interview that there was no sweeter sound than that of a quiet house once the kids have been put to bed. He didn't mean it in the "thank God the chaos has subdued" sort of way, he was describing that full-heart joy of having a safe and happy home where kids can grow and play. It is so cliche to say, but children really do change your life. I know that Weezie has nearly saved mine, as I have been able to open my eyes to what matters most in a way I couldn't before she arrived.

And, let's be honest, it is pretty great to pen this blog on a random Thursday afternoon while Weezie naps and it rains outside.  


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lunch Break

What ever happened to the lunch break? That elusive 60 minutes set aside midday for nourishing your body, stepping away from work and enjoying simple food? Most of my lunch breaks are in the form of business meetings, and if they aren't in a group setting then I'm scarfing leftovers in between emails from my desk. Someone could win a Tony with a play about the 21st century lunch break, because there is nothing sadder than sitting in a cubicle while eating from tupperware with plastic utensils. And in my case, utensils that have been used over and over again, only to be wiped clean by a paper towel from the ladies restroom before being shoved back into a drawer.

A lot of people use their lunch break to take care of those things that just can't be accomplished outside of normal business hours. The bank. The post office. The dentist. The cleaners, the gift shop, the salon. You get the idea. My friend Jenny can get more accomplished in between Noon and 1 p.m. than most folks do in a week. They say if you want to get something done, then ask a busy person, but I say, if you want to lose your mind and put on 10 pounds in the process, work through lunch.

Here in Mississippi, we have a short window of wonderful weather. March and April are by far our nicest months. The mosquitos are still plotting their wrath but have yet to emerge and the world is full of blooms. Today, as I sit on the deck during my LUNCH BREAK, Google tells me the temperature is 82 degrees. The meteorologist in me gauges the humidity is damn near zero. I'm honestly not sure you can get better weather than what the good Lord has provided today.

So, how do you normally spend your lunch break? At an 8-foot, round table of strangers for a conference luncheon? (Wishing someone on the opposite side would pass the rolls already!) Running stoplights so you can get to an appointment on time, only to be back at work within the hour? Scrolling your Instagram feed only to see the same images you viewed earlier in the morning?

I say let's stop the madness, friends, and take back the lunch break!



Monday, April 17, 2017

Cooking from the Hip

The good fortune of having a full-time, salaried job, complete with health benefits and a retirement plan is not lost on me. I'm one of those gals that signed on at an early age with the most reliable employer in the state. The State. They can't seem to fire anyone no matter how poorly the perform or behave on the job.

The better part of my late 20s and early 30s has been spent on one floor or another of the E.F. Woolfolk State Office Building in downtown Jackson. It has a dramatic presence on the corner of West and High Streets, an art moderne architectural style, my husband tells me, that emulates the trend in transportation, travel and movement when it was erected in 1949; a marked response to the neoclassical styles with which Mississippi is mostly associated.

The facade is crafted wholly of glass, with metal images representing industries like agriculture, aerospace and energy, yet a quick Google search will tell you the building was designed to "celebrate Mississippi's culture and heritage". (Does this level of irony only exist in Mississippi?) The central atrium is a site to behold, bedazzled in marble and metal with a bank of quaint telephone booths in the front lobby where legislators privately discussed "important state business" over secure lines. They stand today largely unoccupied, except for the occasional, bored state employee, hiding from his responsibilities while talking on a cell phone.

Despite my slow progression up the proverbial ladder of the Woolfolk, my bank account always gets anemic around the third week of the month. Hence, my need and, admittedly, love, for cooking from the hip.

As I shared yesterday, Saturday brought the annual Rolling Back the Rock crawfish boil to our home. After five years, we've finally gotten the formula down in terms of the crowd. We don't just have just the right amount of people, we have the right type of people. And by "type of people", I mean people that can seriously get down on some crawfish. Of the 160 pounds that Pat so lovingly boiled, the only leftovers were the lagniappe, the veggies he tosses in with the mudbugs. The veggies are my favorite part, so when I came away with a gallon Ziplock full of green beans, brussel sprouts, onions, carrots, garlic, corn, potatoes, mushrooms, pineapple and, well, sausage, I knew some recipe devising was in my future.

My first thought was to make a simple bechamel sauce with butter, flour and milk, then fold in the veggies (sans pineapple & potatoes) and pour into a Pilsbury refrigerated crust for a pot pie of sorts. After consulting with Mama, though, we decided that approach might be a little too much decadence for a post-holiday Monday. Rather, I stuck with the original idea, creating a quick white sauce for the crawfish lagniappe, adding a handful of Weezie's peas and carrots for color and serving over brown rice. The recipe needed zero seasoning, as the flavors from the boil shined through. We served it with bagged salad for a low-intensity kitchen clean-up and aim to be in bed by 9 p.m.

I have a feeling this dish will be even better tomorrow, which is good, because it is still 11 days until payday.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rolling Back the Rock

Shortly after Barry and I got married, we inherited a crawfish boil. Now this may sound uncommon, but I imagine in Mississippi and throughout the South, parties are passed down pretty regularly. One year, green bottled beer in the form of Rolling Rock was the beverage of choice, and as a good buzz and healthy dose of sacrilege will do you, the boil became known as the Rolling Back the Rock party, always the Saturday before Easter.

We've had bluebird days on most years, those dreamy spring afternoons when the wind chimes sing, the grass is a fresh shade of green and the bugs are still at bay. A friend from New Orleans sometimes brings a sack of oysters to compliment the 160+ pounds of crawfish. Masterfully and patiently he shucks while the not-so-patient oysterphiles stand in line, waiting to be handed a shell, wet with the indescribable goodness that only comes raw and from the Gulf of Mexico. We put out the Crystal and the horseradish as a courtesy, but it seems most everyone just shoots them straight with no hesitation.

My girl friends are always kind to do their part. I put down a tablecloth in the dining room and we reserve the conditioned air for foods that might spoil or tempt the ants. We don't plan a menu or assign dishes. Nothing will go untouched and everything is appreciated. The first year we hosted, I cooked my ass off. Three types of deviled eggs (traditional, olive and avocado), hot tamale dip and finger sandwiches. When folks started to arrive with their McCarty trays piled high with pimento cheese, shrimp dip, deer sausage and the latest Pinterest craze, I quickly learned that my efforts in the kitchen were for naught. This year, I turned on the crockpot and threw in meatballs and equal parts grape jelly and cheap barbecue sauce. And like I said before, nothing goes untouched.

I'd be remiss not to mention the sweets, as 2017's Rolling Back the Rock was a banner year for desserts. Jackie's fresh strawberry cupcakes with heavy cream whipped icing had folks hiding in corners to enjoy the second (maybe third) baby cake they'd snuck from the table. Martha's flourless chocolate pound cake went untouched for a while, but as soon as it was sliced it disappeared. The true sleeper hit of the party, though, was Anne Chandler's lemonade pie, complete with a pecan crust, situated next to a 2-cup measuring cup of fresh whipped cream. I loved the fact that she didn't cover the glossy beauty of the custard pie with the cream, but allowed us to "choose our own adventure" on how best to consume that beautiful concoction.

But don't be confused, the crawfish are the star of the show, and that starts early.... much earlier in the morning than I once preferred. But that was before Weezie, when waking at 8 a.m. was way too early on a Saturday. Little did I know then that a 6:30 a.m. wake up call would be considered sleeping late.

Not to be a genderist, but cooking the crawfish, at least with this bunch, is a man's world. For the most part, it requires a corral of diesel-engine trucks, at least three propane-propelled burners and more citrus than you'll find at any juice bar in Jackson. (Are there juice bars in Jackson?) Led by my brother-in-law Patrick, our friend Ted shares the load with a gaggle of other guys including Matthew, Jeff, Barry and Bean, all standing around and taking orders. But mostly just watching Pat and Ted prep their station. And, oh, what a station.

First things first. Set up the tent for shade and arrange two 8-ft. tables in an L shape to create a secure work zone. Place the burners, pots, paddles and lids behind the galley and open a beer. Arrange the Zatarans crab boil, Crystal hot sauce, Syracha and Rebel Rub (whatever the hell that is) on the table and open the lids as you unpack. Slice the oranges and lemons then light a cigarette while you roughly peel the garlic. Tell some bull shit story about turkey season as you squeeze oranges into the pots and get one of the helpers to find the Jerry Jeff Walker station on Pandora. Wrestle with the water hose until you get the slack you need to let it fill the pot. Prepare for battle as you attempt to scoop those live little devils into the basket, plunging them to their death and to our delight. Boil long enough for some other bull shit story about a long night in a dark bar and transfer to a cooler to steam for 40 minutes. Bless the boil and dump those bad boys on the plywood table, which sits atop two heavy duty garbage cans, holes in the plywood above the cans where you can easily toss the broken and empty bugs. It's really that simple.

The party technically starts at 2 p.m. and ends at dark, but it never happens like that, even with a one year-old in tow. We stay up til midnight at least, emptying the coolers of any leftover beer and generally closing up shop when we run out of smokes. Then, drunkenly, we pack the chairs, fold up the tables and attempt to carefully wash the McCarty without slamming around it on the kitchen sink. And, for the most part, it all works out pretty well. If I can offer one word of advice to the budding host or hostess, do the dishes when you are drunk. It is so tempting to go to bed and face the mess in the morning, but it is so glorious to wake on Easter day with a clean kitchen and crumb-free dining room.

And that, my friends, is how we celebrate the Risen Lord.






Monday, October 10, 2011

MAC goes YouTube

Thanks to our in-house, multi-media genius, Susan Dobbs, the MAC now has a YouTube Channel. Check out our channel and stay in tune with all the fun video projects taking place at the MAC.