Bringing in 30 Fabulously

Bringing in 30 Fabulously

Last week, I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina for my 30th birthday vacation. It was great to leave rainy gloomy cool Atlanta to see sunshine (and a little bit of rain which led to two adventures…). And it was great to unleash the explorer in me for a week. And by explorer, I really mean explorer. I went to this Spanish-speaking country without knowing a lick of Spanish (I always studied French). Well, let’s not say a lick. I knew the numbers 1-5 because of Sesame Street and I knew gracias means thank you. Oh, and I knew how to say I don’t speak Spanish. Good start, right? By Thanksgiving, I had a few things under my belt, including numbers up to 12, please, and how to communicate with the taxi drivers. I actually kinda want to learn a lil Spanish now.

So I think I’m going to do 2-3 posts since we did a lot in those 7 days.

Let’s start with the absolutely awesome.

1. It was soooooooooooooooooooooo great to have my mom around for an extended period of time. Since we don’t live in the same place I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like to, and sometimes you just need your mom around, yanno? Plus, it was cool to have her with me on a non-Thanksgiving focused birthday (lol), so why not let it be the big 3-0.?? It was cool to be able to tell her thanks for doing all the work 30 years before since she usually is the one that reminds me of that fact.

2. I am super uber mucho grateful for friends that enjoy traveling to new places for celebrations! My birthday was so special with those gals in the mix. So many laughs and experiences to share.

3. Our condo was the bomb.com. It was spacious, it was cozy, and it was in a pretty cool part of town (San Telmo). We had a rooftop patio, we had an ice cream shop right on the corner, and when we were coming back from a long, hard day of shopping in Palermo Soho’s weekend market, we walked right into a huge outdoor market right in our neighborhood! It was very cool.

And one of the best things about the condo was the house manager Ruben. He has to be the best, most versatile, nicest “den mother” you can have, especially in a foreign country. Ruben took great care of us. He a cell phone waiting on us with his phone number in it that we could take with us in case we had issues while we were out (of course the week was half gone before we started remembering to take it). And I arranged almost all of our “official” activities through him, and they were all great and a couple even had surprises built in.

4. As a show of my appreciation, one of the things I arranged for my traveling companions was a surprise traditional Argentinian asado (barbecue!) to take advantage of the pizza grill (that’s what we called it–I don’t know what the actual name of it is) in the condo. Ruben came over and prepared a 4-course meal (pics coming soon) for us. First, there was a cheese dish that you scooped out with a fork. Then we had pork sausage. Then we had steak and salad. Then Ruben surprised me with a cake! 🙂

5. My birthday dinner was grand. We went to the Piazzola Tango for tango lessons and a dinner and show. The tango lessons were very fun to me. Our whole group participated during the teaching but I was the only one who participated during the practice, lol. Partially because if you didn’t have a partner already, you had to wait for the male instructor to come around and scoop you up. But I’m always ready for the challenge. And my little swingee dress was perfect for practicing! (More pictures coming soon–so please come back and check!) The dinner was cool. The wine was free flowing, and we actually had as much water as we wanted (first time the whole week we could get water and soda refills!! lol!)! More empanadas (my mom became an empanada aficionado during the week, but I don’t have to ever eat another one) for the appetizer–the other choices were ceasar salad which I wanted until I saw “fowl bits” in the description :-/ and pumpkin soup, which I just wasn’t willing to try on my bday (What?? I was being adventurous all week!). Then we had steak (what else????) and potatoes for the entree. Half of us got the flan for dessert (which was ok but kinda not great) and the other half got some dish that had a scoop of ice cream and some kind of hard cake (they ate the ice cream). But the tango show… the tango show was amazing. It was much longer and way more involved than what I expected, which was just a couple doing some moves for a few minutes. This was a full performance! The orchestra was wonderful (y’all know I love live music and string instruments and I finally got to see accordions in person!). The dancing was amazing and the singing was cool (the singers were very very dramatic–probably more dramatic than the dancers, lol). Then after the show, our waitress brought our table champagne and a REAL dessert. It was a chocolate cake with this really delicious creamy icing. We devoured that thing (and yes, I have before and after pics). Ruben was the bomb for that surprise because before I was a smidge disappointed with my dessert. But the finale was right on point.

Ok, so I’ll be back with added pics and another post with more great moments of the trip! Hope everything had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Lessons Learned by Farmer Jo, Part 2

Lessons Learned by Farmer Jo, Part 2

Back to those doggone squash and cucumbers. Much of what I learned about trying to grow them applies to my life in general. It all started when I went to Chicago in June to celebrate the 30th birthdays of three compadres. I purchased an automatic sprinkler so that my plants wouldn’t be thirsty for a full weekend. Well… I called myself testing it the night before and setting the timer for every 6 hours. Didn’t work out like I thought it would.

My cucumbers were overwatered, while my squash was underwatered. Isn’t that what happens sometimes in our relationships? You put in way more effort than is necessary for some people and neglect others. Yeah… So after that it was making up time. I had to figure out what could be salvaged. Which isn’t always that easy. Last night, I realized that I really need to sit down and do what I do on a somewhat regular basis–a friendship evaluation. But later on that–let me finish talking about my poor plants. 🙂

So my squash was growing, but they were almost orange, instead the great yellow my first crop was. In addition, the actual vines/roots were turning a dark green and looking pretty ashy and almost dead (and some were dead) and starting to look mangled. I probably  should have abandoned ship then, but Determined Dejoi couldn’t just admit defeat. I started back to my original regime after cutting off all the dead parts. It was looking pretty sparse after I cut all the dead weight off. After that only one more squash grew.

Lesson: When there’s more death than life or more negativity than positivity, it’s time to let go. Some things aren’t worth saving.

On the other hand, my cucumbers were growing, but they were discolored in a different way and disfigured. (Have you noticed here that colors tell the story if you only pay attention?) These babies were yellowish (not green) and round, instead of long. So I added soil to the pot to try to soak up some of that excess water, and I moved the pot so that the plants would get more sun. But more than that, when I looked at the vines, there were some serious issues. There were black vines all over the place. So I cut all of those off, but the cucumbers never grew normally, and I was scared to eat the warped cucumbers (although they smelled like cucumbers and Smokie enjoyed the one that fell off the vine, lol).

Lesson: You can flood anything or anyone or any situation, which warps the fruit of whatever seed you planted. If you’re putting more into something or someone than you’re getting back,  you need to evaluate the situation. 

My first summer of gardening was great. I had some wins and some losses, but I learned from it all. My carrots and broccoli are still looking great so far. I’m even considering growing onions later in the winter. Here are some questions that I’m asking myself during my friendship evaluation:

  • Whose lives are you enhancing and who is enhancing yours?
  • In whom are you investing and who is investing in you?
  • Who do you prioritize and who prioritizes you?
  • Whose opinions do you value? Whose do you dismiss?
  • Who actively listens to you? Who do you think you waste your breath on?
  • Who keeps indirect tabs on you but doesn’t directly deal with you? Do they use that information to help or hurt you?
  • Who do you feel comfortable confiding in?

In all of this, it’s important to honor your instincts. Some friendships are for a season, some for a reason, and some for a lifetime. No, I don’t talk to all my friends every day–I have people I truly consider friends who I have confidence in even though they’re not on my normal rotation. So you have to consider all that. And you need to ask yourself if you spend more time and energy on the people who don’t add to you than who do. If so, you have some adjusting to do. I know I do.

Almost 30! Many lessons down, many more to go!

Black Power Mixtape is a Must See

Black Power Mixtape is a Must See

On Saturday, a group of us went to see Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and I’m telling you, if you’re in Atlanta, you need to make your way over to Midtown Art Cinema during its limited run. I may go see it again. This is a film I’d love to have in my DVD collection.

This film is the culmination of footage shot by Swedish journalists who came to the U.S. to get a first hand look at the civil unrest that was going on during that time. It was amazing to see that there was an article in a Swedish newspaper that questions the U.S.’s stances on several issues, particularly racism and war. In response, the editor of TV Guide wrote an article calling Sweden anti-American. This was of the highlights of the film for me (of MANY) because it just shows how the media was then and still is connected in various ways and can sway the reader if the reader doesn’t care to try to get a full perspective. This same guy who wrote this article for TV Guide was President Nixon’s right-hand man. There was another journalist, an American, who was interviewed who said that television is just a way of distracting people and it’s a useful tool. Isn’t it amazing that the some of the same things we say today were being said in the 60s and 70s?

That’s one reason I really enjoyed Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. Seriously, so many of the same issues that are going on now were issues then too. They were talking about the working class and the need for living wages, about equal opportunities, about the need for health care for all, about the need for quality education, about resources being wasted in war, the conditions of prisons, and the list goes on. The difference is that over that 30 year period since, somehow the powers that be have made some of this stuff seem like an afterthought–or like Erykah Badu said while narrating, that we should just be happy to have what we have and not focused on what injustices exist–or like Malcolm X said in the film, like people who respond to mistreatment are the extremists. The film also reinforced in this brain o’ mine how important community and organizing is. One of the things that has always made me sad about the portrayal of the Black Panthers is that so many people don’t know about the programs they created to help the poor communities they represented. They were the ones that started the free breakfast program for kids. They had community schools for students whose parents were fed up with subpar conditions. They had free clinics for people who couldn’t afford basic medical care. But they rarely ever get credit for that because people focus on the gun toting, on the most wanted lists parts. And most of the time you hear rumors that they were anti-anyone who wasn’t black, yet in almost every interview, they said they were for the disenfranchised, no matter what color they were, and were willing to work with anyone who had similar goals–but it’s so easy to put people in a box in order to downplay who they are and the influence they might have. YOUNG people got this done. And had such an impact that America’s favorite gangster J. Edgar Hoover ruled the free breakfast program a top threat to the country and launched COINTELPRO, which we know derailed the organization. Now, let’s think about this. How can a free breakfast program be a threat, let alone a TOP threat?? Because they were feeding and educating these poor kids. Starve a kid of food and knowledge, and you don’t have to worry about them ever questioning their position in life. During our discussion after the film, someone raised a really good question–what ever happened to those kids?? I’d love to know.

Other parts of the film that really stayed with me were seeing people I’ve heard about in different settings than usual. Stokely Carmichael speaking out of the country. Even more moving, Stokely Carmichael with his mom or just chilling. Eldridge Cleaver in Algiers–I’ve so often heard about Panther leaders being exiled or moving overseas, but I’ve never really known what it was like for them or what they did after they moved, so hearing him interviewed while exiled was like whoa! Also, y’all know I love me some Angela Davis, just because she is so unafraid to say what’s on her mind and because even when she was on the America’s Most Wanted list, she stuck to her guns. She was interviewed in jail, and she connected her childhood in Birmingham, which included knowing the four little girls who were killed in the famous church bombing, and her interviewer asking about violence. If I were to cry during the movie, this would have been one of the moments–she told him how crazy it was to ask her about violence when she grew up in violence that was almost unquestioned.

It made me really sad to see the last couple of chapters focused on the War with Drugs that later turned into the War on Drugs. It’s so crazy how our neighborhoods were flooded with heroine and later crack. And it’s amazing to know that there are people overseas who have seen what this nation has put black people through. It’s amazing to me to see all this footage and know that we’ve come a long way, but there’s no way anyone in this country should ever think that we’ve overcome our past. Black people collectively are where we are–little to no wealth esp when compared to our counterparts, still disenfranchised, still suffering–by design. But we have people like Herman Cain who really believe that if you are not wealthy it’s completely your own fault, and there’s no institutional component on the other side of the personal responsibility coin. And at the same time, we’ve lost some of our gumption to act collectively for a solution to our own issues. It’s sad, but I still wonder what we can do now together that can impact this world the way our predecessors did.

So, GO SEE THE FILM!! It’s playing here in Atlanta, as I mentioned before, and it’s also playing in Boston, Philly, San Fran, Seattle, and DC. And it will be in Detroit, Minneapolis, San Diego, and St. Louis soon.  Please go see it and tell me what you think!

Lessons Learned by Farmer Jo

Lessons Learned by Farmer Jo

So I was (am) Farmer Jo this summer, and I loved it. Back in May, I was inspired by my green thumb friends and family and planted my own deck garden. Recap: I bought railing planters, soil, seedlings, a few seeds, and went for it despite my failure at keeping a couple of houseplants alive. Here’s how I did.

First of all, the summer made me scared of seeds. I planted seeds in two pots: a lily and a sunflower. The lily never sprouted from the soil at all. Not sure what happened there. The sunflower came up and it was beautiful until I found out that sunflowers like sun but not too much. It was purty while it lasted but I allowed it to bake to death. So if I ever plant more sunflowers, I’ll put it in a place that gets a little shade during the day.

But you know, I don’t back down to any challenge. Seeds can’t punk me! Besides, it is something about checking every day and one day stepping outside to see a new wisp of green peaking out of the dirt. A sense of accomplishment peaks out of the soil with it. For the fall, I’ve planted broccoli and carrots and both have started sprouting. #winning! They look great, and I can’t wait to see how well they do.

All of my veggies this summer started as seedlings. I just didn’t want to take any chances with them. My peppers are banging. Nothing I’ve done have deterred their beautiful growth. Which makes me grin, especially since my fajita bell peppers looked to be on their last leg the day I planted her. They looked awesome the entire season and gave me plenty of peppers to cook. You can taste the heat in the cajun bell peppers. And you can smell the yumminess of the fajita bell peppers. As the cold weather enters, it has made me frown a bit to see them die, but that’s a part of the cycle of life. I’m very proud of my peppers. I’ll definitely make this my staple every year.

My okra was comme ci comme ca. Partially due to space, I only got one okra plant, so there was never any harvest that was big enough for me to fry up more than a couple of slices of okra. It was usually two at a time. It has gotten so tall though. It’s unbelievable. I’m not sure if I’ll plant another of these next year. I just don’t have the space to grow them in bulk that I can see. But my one lil solo plant has hung in there.

The serious lessons were with my squash and cucumbers, my pseudo disappointments. But that’s for my next post. 🙂

Feature Friday: Afrika Book CafĂ©

Feature Friday: Afrika Book CafĂ©

I hope all of you had a blessed Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, I visited the Afrika Book Café, located at 404 Mitchell Street in my hometown Jackson, MS.  This much needed black-owned book store is in the Fondren area and has books, African inspired jewelry, African clothing, music, incense, and oils at great prices.  I had the fortunate opportunity to talk at length with one of the store owners Dr. Sizewe Chapman, who is originally from Jackson and wants to see and help the city of Jackson grow and prosper.  After discussing economic development in Jackson, he recommended I read Black Labor, White Wealth by Claud Anderson.

Another book, The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke, caught my eye, so I purchased those two and look forward to reading them.

Now I wish I were flying back to Atlanta so I could get started!

After browsing through all Afrika Book Café has to offer, I sat on the porch with the store owners (a beautiful married couple!) and Skipp Coon and his wife (another beautiful married couple! Black love lives!).  One of the things I miss most about home is the simplicity but profundity of sitting on a porch learning from each other and talking about the world and what we can do and are doing to make it better.  Skipp, Sizewe, and I talked strategy, history, our reality, and dreams.  Sizewe, a former African history professor at Jackson State University, really inspired me to keep reading and finding historical significance and lessons as I move forward in trying to affect positive change in the black community.  Skipp, who is a rapper who speaks the truth (and someone whom you should support!), and I finished a conversation we had awhile back about colonies, and we shared stories about our experiences as blacks traveling in Europe.

Lemme tell you, my visit to Afrika Book Café is one of the highlights of my trip home.  If you’re in or near Jackson, I encourage you to check this treasure out.  It’s still a new business, so let’s make sure it stays open, serving our community by providing educational and mind-expanding resources and a space for community interaction.  Go support this small business! And while you’re at it, support Skipp Coon!

Feature Friday: Green Building

Feature Friday: Green Building

In preparation for our New Orleans’ volunteer trip, one of my group members helped me tremendously (and graciously!) by creating a card that gives green tips in building to give to organizations and residents who may be interested.  As a Feature, I’m giving Sirobe a shout out (soon to be one of less than 300 black women architects!!) and the tips in case any of you are doing any home improvements over the holidays.

Here are a couple of the tips:

  • Since appliances and electronics are responsible for 20% of the average energy bill, it pays to make your home more energy efficient.  You could receive up to $500 in rebates or $1500 in tax credits if you purchase Energy Star appliances.  Visit www.energysavers.gov for more information!
  • If you’re moving any time soon, remember that large trees are your friend.  They can help to shade your home from direct sunlight as well as block cold winds.

If you know any one building a house or anyone who is rebuilding on the Coast (or anywhere else), send them to my page.  They can contact Reads and Reels for more information.

My Time in New Orleans

My Time in New Orleans

Where were you when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc over the gulf coast communities and when the levees broke? I was in Atlanta, worried sick about my friends and their families and about the city I have had a sincere love for since I was a little kid—New Orleans. I remember not being able to get in touch with anyone for weeks because the network was down. And I remember feeling like there was nothing I could do. I did clothing drives for my friends, but it never seemed to be enough.

Well, five years have passed since that disaster that hit so very close to home and affected so many people that I personally know. And still, the city has not recovered. There are still empty but overgrown lots, houses that are abandoned, people that can’t return yet. There’s still so much to do, and this past weekend, I helped do it.

I led a group of 15 volunteers—3 traveling from here in Atlanta, 2 from Jackson, MS (plus a hubby–shout out to Trey), 1 from Vicksburg, MS, 8 from in and around Hattiesburg, MS, and 1 from Chicago, IL. We worked with Hands on New Orleans in two areas of town. And boy, were those two volunteer projects different.

On Saturday, we went to Harvey, Louisiana, which is on the West Bank of New Orleans. The project was with the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana to move their Esperanza Neighborhood Farm. Not just develop one—move it. From one parcel of land to another.  I walked into a land dispute that I had no knowledge of until we showed up to work. The organization had received an acre of land from a board member, but they didn’t go through the official channels of learning where the property lines were. Turns out they spent months creating a garden on someone else’s land—someone who didn’t want them there. So much in fact that the owner of the land showed up with police to make sure we were moving the garden, and not tending to it.

That whole situation was a mess.  Both sides were wacko.  She was wacko because she felt like the owner owed her something.  No ma’am.  Her organization should have done their due diligence to ensure they understood where the property was.  So she kept calling this man a bad person because he didn’t want to lease her the land for the three months it would take to reap the harvest.  It’s his land so he has a right to say no.  But going by her behavior and attitude when the owner pulled up (she was even rude to the police who weren’t at all mean when they pulled up), it’s clear that she was not pleasant ever in the situation.  So much for the attracting bees with honey because I’m sure when he (a black man) first pulled up to ask what they were doing, a group of white and Latino people working on his land, they probably acted like he was the one who is crazy.  He ordered them to move the garden asap. Now he’s crazy too, though.  First of all, she did him a favor really because the land was very much not taken care of before they made their mistake, so he really won out on that end of the spectrum.  However, he ordered her to move the land, but was threatening to charge her with trespass that morning (not us, her, lol–we 15 were not going to jail over voluntarism.  No. indeed.).  Well, sir, she can’t move the dang garden by osmosis.  We had to be on the property to uproot it all.  Once we, the sane and calm and unbiased black people, explained that to him and the police, though, he exhaled, still a little tightly wound, but just said it needed to be gone by the next day.

So my group of 15 had the task of moving a sign that had been cemented in the ground, uprooting a fence, clearing the land on the property that actually was for them (and by clearing I mean moving loads and loads of vines and trash), preparing it for soil, digging up and moving the soil from the original garden, and finally, moving and replanting the crops. It was very hard work, let me tell you, and the project leader was more like an overseer or slave master than a volunteer coordinator. She was barking orders at us and showed little to no appreciation even though we did in 5 hours what took weeks.  I think I knew it was a wrap when she asked us to relieve the Dillard students who had only been there for an hour compared to our four, and wanted us to stop planting to start back digging.  Oh, and did I mention she had stopped working because some students from Princeton had come to interview her for a study they’re doing about farming and community gardens.  Did I mention that the owner of the land of the first garden is attempting to sell it to a mechanic shop (we found that out from a neighbor)?  So… if that happens, surely the garden will not survive behind that. We left feeling borderline defeated and wondering if we had wasted a day.

The bright side of things is that the whole group felt some kinda way after leaving so we decided to unwind at a nearby daiquiri shop, where we played some New Orleans classics (so classic that the owner of the shop turned the music up louder and customers were coming in bobbing their heads–woot woot for the DJ (me)) for a friend who had never been to New Orleans, had Jello shots, played pool, and of course, drank daiquiris.  The girls left there and went to a nail salon.  We keep it pretty, yanno.  We have no idea what the guys were up to.  Later, we went to the Quarter, ate heartily, then looked at all the Halloween costumes on Bourbon St.  It was a great night.

Sunday was a totally different experience, however. We went to the Lower 9th Ward, which is one of the most affected parts of the city because it’s near the levees. When we arrived at the Lower 9th Ward Village (which I plan to feature this Friday), we were all wary, ready to leave the project, straight throw the deuces, as soon as we were done with our assignment. Turns out we stayed 2 hours longer than the project was supposed to be. The morning started with an inspirational introduction from the Village CEO Mac McClendon, who started the community center to help his neighborhood after losing all his material things, including a house he had spent months renovating with his own hands. He explained to us what he went through during the storm and its aftermath, looking for his family, dealing with the smell of death when he returned, finding out that silence is a deafening sound. He said that hearing a car was a treat because there were literally no sounds—no birds chirping, no dogs barking, no crickets chirping, nothing. Out of hopelessness, he found his purpose in life and now, he’s running this center, still rebuilding his own life, but giving to his neighbors. Because there’s a law saying that if the grass is over 18 inches, a lot can be seized, we spent our morning cutting grass and weeds. Although the project wasn’t as “glamorous” as creating a garden, we felt like we had become a part of this community. After we were done, we spent two hours talking to Mr. McClendon about his life and experiences, with his younger brother who is the Program Director at the center, and with a couple of elderly residents who just wanted to pick our brains and get us thinking. We didn’t want to go, but we had to so that we could get home.  Here’s a link to a clip of the convo we had with Mr. McClendon.

The difference between those two projects illustrates the true meaning of community building—we volunteer, but why? To do good, yes, but more importantly, to build and restore communities. When I go back to New Orleans again to work, I’ll definitely be going back to see what my new friends at the Lower 9th Ward Village need. I won’t give up on helping other parts of the city, but I definitely want to dedicate at least part of my time to the ongoing efforts in the Lower 9th Ward.  I hope that next time you will come with us. 🙂  Here are links to the pictures.  Oh the memories.

Ranada’s Reads and Reels FB Photo Album

J Photo Group’s Flickr Album