Monday, October 2, 2017

Late Summer Yellow Squash Casserole

We've recently subscribed to a weekly "farm pack" from Up in Farms, a local food aggregator here in Jackson. The farm packs (most folks know this sort of service as a CSA) are around $32/week and you never know what you are going to get. While the price is a little bit of a stretch for my budget, I'm justifying it in several ways. First off, we are supporting local farmers and that is awesome. Secondly, it helps me consume more variety in my vegetable intake (and up my vegetable intake in general). And lastly, it is inspiring creativity in my cooking. Here is a recipe for Squash Casserole that I adapted from a zucchini recipe on one of my favorite cooking sites, Skinnytaste.

Late Summer Yellow Squash Casserole 

3 yellow squash, cut into ribbons & patted dry with paper towels 
1 heaping cup of biscuit mix
2 large eggs, beaten 
1/2 red onion, minced
1 shallot, minced 
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 T grated mozzarella
1T olive oil
Ground black pepper, kosher salt to taste 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash into ribbons using a vegetable spiralizer, or a regular-old vegetable peeler. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, making sure biscuit mix is well incorporated (you want to moisten all the dry mix). Bake until golden brown and set in the middle, around 30 minutes. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

You Do the Hokey Pokey...

I was at a party over Labor Day weekend and didn't realize I was standing in the middle of the crowd, doing the hokey pokey until my friend Ryan pointed out that I had officially lost my last ounce of cool.

Cool has always been central in my life. I'm the youngest of two very cool older brothers, ones who listened to rock and blues and were continually named things like "Mr. Outgoing" and "Most Handsome." During my adolescence, having these two very cool older brothers helped launch my own coolness, a factor that led to seeing a lot of great music at a very early age. It also led to a lot of beer sipping at a very early age, which in retrospect really isn't that cool. But, alas, in the mid-90s Delta, beer drinking was the first commandment in the Book of Cool.

A photo of my cool self, c. 2006, at King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. 

The Book of Cool, however, doesn't seem to have a chapter on how to stay that way with a little one in tow. I dare to say that reckoning with the loss of my old self, my cool self, has been the hardest part of parenting thus far. I can't remember the last time I've been to see a band after 9 p.m., and more disturbing than that, I think it has been more than two years since I danced with reckless abandon. You know that soul-cleansing, mind-erasing, sore-the-next-day sort of shake down. Remember that? Yeah, just barely.

I'm sure I can find a book or a blog post on how to redefine cool. But now that I think about it, is everything I need to know about this new phase in life written in the final stanza of the hokey pokey?

You put your whole self in
You take whole self out
You put your whole self in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn yourself around
That's what's it's all about

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bad Weather Days

I recently heard someone say that folks in the South watch the radar on bad weather days like we do SEC football in the fall. Eyes glued to the TV for hours at a time. Watching the newscaster draw sharp and twisting lines across the screen, giving a play-by-play of how the storm will travel. Praying for no injuries. Trying to recall if we know someone from the given hometown of the redshirt freshman, or in today's case, the next map dot in the path of a tornado.

This morning, I saw something during my marathon weather watching that I've never seen before. Church got cancelled at First Baptist.  In this modern day era of weather alerts via cell phone and apps with real-time doppler data, it shouldn't surprise me that some deacon deemed it too dangerous for folks to get on the road.  And then had the media savvy to call WLBT to help get the word out to parishioners around the metro. As I write this to you, I must admit I'm impressed that the usual live service from the baptist church is re-airing a cantata special from last spring. Now that is what I called organized religion.

After 8 years on Redwing Avenue, we keep waiting for our true "initiation" into the Fondren neighborhood, which is when a storm gust drops a heavy limb on your house, your car or in the case of our friend Russ, your brand-new Green Egg smoker. From that bad weather day forward, you will share your testimony with anyone who will listen. Each year it will grow longer, stronger and more dramatic, until it is perfectly polished into the ultimate bad weather story. While my bad weather story does not involve a tree limb and homeowners insurance, it does involve a blues festival, government property and a gas light.

In August 2014, I made my way to Clarksdale for the annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival. My home for the weekend was the Gravy cabin at Shack Up Inn, and I couldn't be more excited to get there on Friday. That afternoon we had a hundred or more people arrive at Red's, a well-known, urban juke, to honor Big Jack Johnson with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail. There were songs, tears, kind words, beautiful remembrances, jokes and incredible joy. Big Jack's daughter was there with a spooky tattoo of her father etched into her arm, piercing white eyes. After the marker unveiling, I returned home to Shack Up, had a beer with a friend, made a few new ones and danced the night away in the Juke Joint Chapel to the Chuck Berry-styled sounds of Robert Bilbo Walker.

The next morning Barry and Jenny arrived in Clarksdale.  I welcomed them to the Gravy cabin and they settled in before we headed to the festival. It was a scorcher. Not too sunny but muggy and suffocating. We found air conditioning and solace in a bar we'd never seen called The Pink House. Icy margaritas and cold fence-post beers. Heaven. Later that night we returned to Shack Up Inn with a collective brood of blues enthusiasts and continued our revelry until midnight. Barry and Jenny had to leave early and get back to Jackson. My plan was to stay the afternoon and explore the Cathead Mini Blues Festival, taking place later that day.

I laid around the dark cabin for a while that morning, slipping out and into the lobby for a complimentary cup of coffee and Delta Donut.  I spent a good while at the mini blues festival, occupying a folding chair at the storefront of Cathead Folk Art & Records in downtown Clarksdale. The music was great, but when the sun emerged, I crossed the street to sit on the shaded side. I retuned to Shack Up late afternoon, feeling a little lonely and nostalgic, not noticing the weather until I hit the road. I had decided on a whim to go home to Jackson, but to take the long way, down New Africa Road and through my hometown of Drew. The state-issued, base model Nissan I had been assigned for the weekend crunched gravel and as I looked at the Shacks in my rearview mirror, I caught sight of the dark clouds percolating in the Western sky. No biggie.

I popped in a new CD by an artist from Ruleville we met by way of Oxford named Jim Ellis. It was the perfect soundtrack from my journey South. As I cruised up on the backside of Drew, the rain began to come down in sheets. The roads are bad in Drew. Just foreshadowing for what was to come when I arrived in the City of Jackson. I ejected Jim and punched up the FM. Flash flood warning. Severe thunderstorms. Avoid roadways if possible. Well, not possible.

Highway 49 has always been my friend, on this day she proved no different. The line of the storm seemed to stay about a mile behind me all the way through Yazoo. The gas gauge was getting low, but it seemed too risky to stop and let the storm catch up. When I banged a left on Northside Drive off Medgar Evers Boulevard, the bottom fell out. The gas light turned on. The street filled with water and went from its usual, passable, four lanes down to 1.5. Driving rain filling the growing potholes, the tiny Nissan batting back and forth between the bad road and the big wind. The National Weather Service kept beeping from the FM and telling me to "Turn Around. Don't Drown." I was afraid. Very afraid. But only a few miles from home.

By the time I made it to State Street, my fear had morphed into full-blown panic. The neighborhood's small ditch, that we politely call a creek, was lapping over the road. No sooner than I decided to forgo crossing the creek, rather turning into East into the neighborhood, did the car begin to drift and shut down completely. The water seemed to come out of nowhere and the side street now mirrored a small river. I was a mere vessel along for the ride.

It felt a bit like bumper cars. No movement, completely still, then a wave would thump me down the street a bit further. As I pulled out my battery-depleted cell phone to call Barry to the rescue, the murky water began to seep into the car from the bottom of the doors. Barry pulled up and plunged waist-deep through the water to push the car to higher land. His shoes slipping on the mud and muck dredged from the ditch. When I opened the door, water gushed out. I helped push the car over a small cut in the curb and into an abandoned department store parking lot. Adrenalin pounding in my veins, heartbeat in my head, tears mounding but refusing to fall.

The car wouldn't start. We didn't know if the battery was dead or if water had killed the engine. The only thing I was sure of was that I was going to lose my job for destroying government property. We locked the doors and left the Nissan overnight. When we got home, I pulled up the company's employee handbook and tried to find the section on fireable offenses. Certainly flooding a fleet vehicle calls for immediate termination.

I didn't sleep at all that night. We left the house early and were able to jump-start the Nissan, which as already smelling of mildew in the early August morning. I stopped at the nearest gas station and filled the tank. When I returned the keys to Bobby, the fleet manager, I told him what happened. That I was ready to fill out any accident report needed, or to let the big boss know about my neglect.

"Act of God," said Bobby, when I finally stopped explaining myself. "What?", I asked incredulously. "Act of God." Act of God?

I had never heard that term before, at least that I could remember, but those three words saved my soul on that bleak Monday morning. Act of God. The tears that mounded the day before began to fall. I think I embarrassed Bobby with my display of emotion, and you better bet I made him cookies when he retired.

So, I guess those Baptists were right to cancel services this morning. The Act of God I experienced on that bad weather day in 2014 is not to be confused with the Act of God most are looking for in a Sunday sanctuary. Now, back to the TV for more weather watching.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


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!