Monday, December 3, 2007

Rockin' Around the Crafty Tree

(to the tune of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree")

Rockin' around the Crafty Tree
At the DCDC Swap
Mistletoe hung where you can see
And people shoppin' til they drop!

For the last couple of weeks I have been heavily immersed in all things crafty, frantically trying to beef up my stash of goods for the DCDC Holiday Crafts Fair and Swap Meet (which I also organized). Yes, I've been burning that midnight craft oil, fashioning jewelry, and testing the limits of human patience by convincing myself I could knit a fingerless glove in a day. So needless to say, I've been busy. And thus, I haven't given as much attention to my other creative outlet--this blog. But I am happy to report that the fair is over, and with it my daily crafting quota!

I was one of 13 other vendors participating at the Crafts Fair. Many were other fellow DCDC members, looking for a chance to hawk their wares to the non-traditional crafts fair crowd. There were soap makers, potters, bakers, book artists, clothing designers, knitters (me!), jewelry makers (me!), and more! We all assembled under the pavilion at the Arboretum, for a beautiful day of holiday commerce and just pain old fun. The sounds of Charlie Brown's Christmas kept us in the mood, as we sipped mulled wine, and snacked on yummy baked goods! I sold a few a things at my table, including the felted bag you see in the foreground (one of my big ticket items). I also got commissioned to knit some more wristbands with the DCDC logo (if you look closely you can see one in the picture). And of course, I got some much needed external gratification! Watch Andy interviewed about DCDC on the Tusc Tube by clicking here.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Into the Wild

That's Kierra. She is one of the participants in the after school program I've been helping with at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. She along with the other two girls in the program, Terriana and Josalin, visited the Arboretum for the very first time on Friday afternoon. We took a nature hike, walked on a tree platform, visited the butterfly garden, and made some leaf rubbings. Aside from being a little chilly, the girls enjoyed exploring their surroundings. I could tell from their reactions to the landscape that they had not spent much time in the outdoors. It was fun to see them craning their necks to look at the towering trees and get excited about little things--like breaking open the fallen seed pods of a honey locust tree, discovering that thyme smells when you rub it between your fingers, and laughing at the acorns with their funny little "hats" on!

Kierra, Josalin, and Terriana at the top of the butterfly garden.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tomorrow they may wrap fishes in it...

But I was a star for one whole minute...

For those of you who do not hold the movie "Newsies" to the critical acclaim that I do, the title of this post may seem a little enigmatic (It's the musical story of the 1899 Newsboys strike in NYC, starring dreamboats Christian Bale and Bill Pullman! Cheesy I know, but what can I say...those little newsboy orphans with perfect pitch and rousing dance numbers enthrall me!). But the gist of it is that Andy Grace, like those striking Newsies making newspaper headlines, enjoyed temporary stardom last Monday night. In addition, our historic downtown theater shone his name in bright lights, and within her doors held a crowd of moviegoers eager to see Andy's latest opus. This was the second Alabama debut of his film "Backstage" (the first was at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Dude Abides

This weekend we tried our hand at social philanthropy, and I think we can safely say, we damn well succeeded. Andy's efforts to bring the Coen Brothers' film "The Big Lebowski" to the Bama Theater (as an official DCDC event) were finally realized, and met with wild triumph amongst many of Tuscaloosa's residents. We met early to imbibe in White Russians, or "Caucasians" as they are so cleverly called in the film, and listen to Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, Townes Van Zandt, and others on the film's soundtrack. The goal was to try and raise money for a local non-profit, the Hale Arts Project, which currently is teaching photography and creative writing to children in the Black Belt town of Greensboro. We were amazed at the turnout! 134 people showed up, thus contributing their admission dollars to our cause. After our costs were recouped, we ended up making $500 for the organization, which will enable them to buy several digital cameras for the kids. Cha-ching.

In other weekend news, my Mom and Dad came down for a quick visit on Thursday, and were able to join me for an evening of bluegrass at the Bama Theater. The event featured celebrated fiddler Ruby Jane Smith and main act, the Claire Lynch Band, as part of Alabama Public Radio's 25th anniversary. The next morning I was able to give them a tour around the Arboretum, where I've been working for the last couple of months.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Let's Make a Rock Video

Last weekend, Joey Thompson, an old friend and college roommate of Andy's, returned to his alma mater, but this time with band in tow. The Archibalds, named after the famed Tuscaloosa rib shack, made an appearance in T-town on Friday night, as part of their first rock-n-roll tour through the southeast. With two days off until their next gig in Atlanta, they decided to partake of Andy's film skills to make a little music video. The video posted here was envisioned, filmed, and edited all in an entire day. We enlisted our friend MC to play the female role, since she has a flair for pageantry, and seems to have quite the costume stash. If you look closely you can even see a gold necklace with her full name, Marie Christine. How classy is that? The dancing bride was a serendipitous addition to the video, as she just happened to be getting photographed in the park, and didn't mind playing along.

If you're interested in hearing the Archibalds, check out their MySpace page.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Scariest Pumpkin of All

Well, October has come and gone, and with it the holiday that encourages our creativity, and tests our ability to carve likenesses out of the sallowed flesh of pumpkins. Andy chose to use his blank canvas, as many an artist do, to offer us a subtle commentary on the powers-that-be, and perhaps a glimpse into his worst nightmares realized. The likeness of this pumpkin, in case you couldn't tell, resembles our current Vice President, Dick Cheney, and was modeled after last week's cover of the New Yorker, a sketch of what I'm sure many would agree, is the scariest pumpkin of all. And what's equally scary, and just a little weird, is the recent announcement that Cheney and Obama are somehow distantly related! What!?? Yes, according to a press release a couple of weeks ago, Lynne Cheney revealed that while researching the family tree for her recent book, "Blue Skies, No Fences," she discovered her husband and presidential hopeful Barack Obama were eighth cousins, both descendants of a French Huguenot named Mareen Duvall. Yikes, that's a little spooky. I wonder if this little piece of information will matter one way or another to American voters. And does this mean if we elect Obama that we've participated in the perpetuation of dynasties in American politics? Well, it's a stretch but they are related. And Dick Cheney has now been a part of four administrations--Nixon, Ford, Bush Sr., and W. And by the way, if we were to elect and then re-elect Hillary, the nation will have endured 28 consecutive years of governing by the same two families, the other of course being La Familia Bush. There's a Hendrik Hertzberg piece in the Talk of the Town of the aforementioned New Yorker issue that discusses the history of dynastic politics. Check it out, it's really interesting.

I chose a more light-hearted subject for my Halloween pumpkin, a simple black cat, Zooey's doppelgänger if you will.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Last Thursday, Andy and I played dress-up, and attended the College of Communications annual Hall of Fame-- a black-tie affair held at the North River Yacht Club, a stronghold of Tuscaloosa's wealthy businessman Jack Warner. Warner is the President of Gulf States Paper, but also dabbles in the Arts (as all well-respected billionaires do), owning one of the largest personal collections of early American art in the world. His museum, housed in a former hunting lodge, displays paintings from the 17th-20th centuries, and according to most is quite an impressive exhibit (I have yet to visit). Anyway, that's Warner in the painting behind us. We found it comical that he had a portrait made of himself as a free-spirited cowboy, servin' up coffee for all his "pardners" on the range. Oh, and I should point out that he is not even dead yet! Don't you think it's a little premature to have a portrait of yourself hanging in the entryway of one of the buildings you own? As for the rest of the decor, it was a mix of marine-related oil paintings, mounted deer heads, and more cowboy-themed art, all woven into a seemingly patriotic melange, a shameless display of opulence reminiscent of the Gilded Age.

But enough about Jack Warner. The event itself was a tribute to this year's inductees to the College of Communication's Hall of Fame. Every year, the college selects several noteworthy Alabamians and honors them for their work. It's quite a soirĂ©e, with a bonafide cocktail hour, which I might add included delicious appetizers and a snappy little jazz band, and a full blown dinner. This year's MC was even a celebrity--ABC News Correspondant John Cochran (apparently, he's from Alabama). In addition, the Center for Public Television (Andy's employer) produces a short video about each of the inductees. One of this year's most notable inductees was Charles Moore, the famed Civil Rights photographer, who captured so poignantly on celluloid the early fight for desegregation in Montgomery, the integration at Ole Miss, and the demonstrations in Birmingham (think fire hoses, police dogs). Andy produced the segment on Moore, and included some of Moore's most famous photographs, set to a background of one of the theme songs of the Movement, "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize". Needless to say, there were not a lot of dry eyes in the audience when the lights came up. If your interested, some of Moore's best photos of the Movement are collected in the book, “Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore”.
Also, you can see Andy's rough cut of the piece he made (without the professional narrator - see if you can spot the voice) below. Warning, though - it's 6 minutes and a huge file. Probably will take a few minutes to download (Dialup? Wait for the DVD...).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Kitty Thermometer

Well, according to our kitty thermometer it looks like the 'cat days' of summer have finally left us! Yes, the cold weather has arrived, and with that our cat Franny's transition from spread eagle pose under the fans, to cozy kitten pose on our bed. Our transition into fall has also been noticeable. Gone is the cacophony of the air compressors buzzing in the neighborhood. Gone are the hot and sweaty bike rides home from work, forcing Andy to traipse around the house shirtless. Gone are the days where we opt for cooking supper on the grill outside, in order to spare our house the 10 degree temperature rise that occurs when we use the gas range. We've swapped our shorts and tees for sweaters, boggans, and warm pantaloons. And we get to use our seat heaters in the Volkswagen!

Here's to sweatless days and cozy nights! Happy Fall!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Football, Art, and Sedaris...Oh, My!

Another eventful weekend has come and gone. And this time, we managed to pack in just about everything. From a celebratory low-country boil in honor of Andy's Uncle Reb's passage into his sixth decade, to a Saturday Crimson Tide victory over Tennessee, to an outdoor Arts Festival, and finally to a David Sedaris reading in Birmingham (ok, only I got to go to that). Whew. So you can see why this post is so late. I was recovering.

Yes, the third weekend in October is much anticipated by many Tuscaloosa residents. Every year some of the country's most celebrated folk artists gather against the woodsy backdrop of downtown Northport (our neighboring town), to wow us with their creations, and to tempt those with deep pockets. At this year's Kentuck Festival of the Arts there were over 250 artists offering their wares, many of which have national notoriety, like the Quilters of Gee's Bend and Annie T., the daughter of Mose T., who has taken up where her father left off. And of course there's always a couple of good bluegrass bands playing, and the opportunity to indulge in some good ole Southern Fried-ness. Who wouldn't be tempted by foot long corn dogs, and various other meats on a stick? And what about funnel cakes? It takes me back to my days at the carnival and various amusement parks, chowing down with all the other fat (excuse me, "heavy set") kids!

But in addition to Kentuck, the third weekend in October also brings arch rivals Tennessee (second only to Auburn in the nemesis line) and Alabama to the football field. This year the Vols came to us, so those loyal fans who also like Art, had to miss Saturday at the Festival to support the Team. And disappointed they were not. The upset that ensued renewed faith in those that thought our season was on the downturn.

And what can I say about my evening with David Sedaris? He was a hoot as always. Lots and lots of laughter all around.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Don't They Ever Stop?

Well, the conservative pundits are at it again. This time, they've decided to make an issue out of Al Gore's recent Nobel Peace Prize win. I mean I'm all for freedom of speech, but come on, this is just ridiculous! And of course leading the smear campaign with a fresh fist full of mud, is none other than (insert your own drum roll here)...the bastion of conservative politics, the kings of opinionated blather, and the downfall of the American media--Fox News. In what's sure to have taken up hours of programming, Fox News decided to challenge the Nobel Committee's selection and to undermine Gore's Peace Prize credibility. On 'Hannity and Colmes', Sean Hannity calls Gore a hypocrite for using a private jet, touting (as the evidential video plays for us viewers) that "[Gore] doesn't exactly follow or adhere to his own environmental preachings", and asking as the talking heads pop up for debate, "does [Gore] deserve to win the Nobel Prize?". In another segment, a commentator remarks smugly, "What do Al Gore, Yassar Arafat, and that crazy Jimmy Carter all have in common?" ("They all won the Nobel Peace Prize?" says the other commentator off-screen). Although, you can view any of the aforementioned clips on YouTube, I've chosen to feature the most outlandish of them all. Just when you think it couldn't get any absurder, some idiot (who happens to be a columnist for the New York Sun) goes on national television claiming that General Petraeus should have won the Prize instead. Oh brother, will they ever shut up?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Our Man Al

"Al, Al, he's our man, if he can't do it, no one can!"

Well, it's official. Al Gore has joined the ranks of history's most notable movers and shakers. When life handed him lemons, he didn't just make lemonade. He kept going, churning his 2000 presidential defeat into numerous tasty lemon desserts, which some may argue (based on photos of a post-election Gore of some girth), he subsequently ate. Anyway, I'm not here to make fat jokes, but I think we can all agree that being upstaged by a ninny like W. when the popular vote was in the bag, is enough to turn a man (not to mention a nation) to the proverbial tub of ice cream. His fluctuating weight aside, Al didn't let those hanging chads get him down. No siree. He made a step or two or thousand in the right direction, as he, along with his trusty PowerPoint, traveled from city to city, town to town, and country to country, speaking up and out for our endangered Earth.

Gore was first honored in February when the film "An Inconvenient Truth", which follows his climate change crusade, won an Academy Award for best documentary. And now, along with U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he has snagged one of the highest honors, the Nobel Peace Prize--a feat that although monumental, has many wondering "is there a glitch in the matrix"? Yes, finally there's a little vindication for our administration's dismissal of the climate crisis. An administration who pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol and started a war over oil. An administration that unfortunately has so many media mouthpieces that the truth gets spun into party-speak, modified and twisted into something politically expedient, so that half the country is confusing opinion with fact. One thing's for sure, this presidency has been an example of the power of repetition--if you say something over and over again and believe it to be true even if it's not, people will start to believe it if they hear it enough times. And I think that's part of what happened with climate change. There is a conservative rhetoric (just like with most issues) that is perpetuated by the 24 hour news pundits, and a very noticeable bias in reporting. But now, the Nobel Committee has made a nod in the appropriate direction. By honoring the work of Gore and the UN Panel, they've legitimated the issue and endorsed it as a real problem that needs tackling.

Any way you look at it, Gore's achievement has people talking. For many "Draft Gore for President" hopefuls, it is just more fuel to throw on the fire. I was surprised to find that a simple Google search of "draft Gore" brings up seven different websites whose mission is all the same--to convince Al Gore to run for President in 2008. The poster featured in this blog is from one such site ( And on the same site you can watch a cheesy promo called "Al Gore the Hope for America" that likens Gore to JFK, and evokes emotion b y using a duo of sentimental music and old black and white photographs of Al growing up in Tennessee, not to mention lots (and I mean lots) of pictures of him with children. It's an interesting request, and not a half bad idea. I guess we'll have to wait and see if he changes his mind. But for now, kudos are in order. Thanks Al for waking us up.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The March to Mount LeConte

This weekend we packed up and headed for the mountains, leaving the stands of Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa for the stands of hardwood and evergreen trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our hopes of solitude were quickly dashed however, when we encountered the droves of tourists on the slow march through Pigeon Forge, many I'm sure on their way to Dollywood or Splash Mountain, or some other terribly kitchy and over-priced activity promised to guarantee good old-fashioned "family fun". Pigeon Forge is unlike any other town I've been to on the outskirts of a national park. I'm not sure when exactly the town received its neon-light enema, but it seems entrepreneurs wagered well, setting up shop along a heavily traveled thoroughfare, hoping to lure in many a passers-by. At some point, I guess people stopped coming for the park, and went straight for the countrified ritz and glitz. But to be fair, it's not as if Pigeon Forge is the only place sucking up all the tourists, because there's also plenty of them within the park itself. After all, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most heavily trafficked (and thus, most polluted) of all national parks, which might have something to do with the lack of a park entrance fee (the only national park without one!). And just so I don't sound too pretentious and cynical, when I was a kid, I did make visits to both Dollywood and the Smokies, and as I recall enjoyed both of the experiences. Although for the record, I only went to Dollywood once and probably visited the Smokies more than a half a dozen times, and I have much fonder memories of jumping in swimming holes with my Dad, hiking Cades Cove with the family, and trying to catch glimpses of black bears in their natural and not so natural habitats.

Part of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain, the Smokies provide evidence of the ancient suture between the North American and African subcontinents, an event that occurred roughly 200-300 million years ago when the two landmasses collided, folding and faulting rocks, and uplifting the entire range to heights that at one time would have surpassed those boasted by the present-day Rocky Mountains. Our hike led us to the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third highest peak in the Smokies at 6,593 feet in elevation, by way of the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, a 10 mile trek from start to finish. The trail was lush with vegetation, and offered us a variety of tree species throughout our ascent. We began our walk through towering thickets of rhododendron, which were so tall that they formed a sort of topiary wall between us and the rest of the forest, and continued through huge stands of hardwoods like oak, maple, and American beech. Many of the dramatic vistas we encountered on the trail revealed the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges of the first few days of the fall season, but also the dying populations of the Eastern Hemlock, which is losing its battle with the woolly adelgid, a tiny non-native insect. At the highest elevations, we enjoyed the aromas of the Fraser fir and red spruce trees (christmas trees!) as we transitioned into a predominately evergreen stand, giving our finish a certain holiday feel. But don't be fooled, I wasn't only looking at the trees! As I hard-rock geologist, I was especially excited to be walking over, around, and beside Late Proterozoic (~600-800 million years old) metamorphic rocks , consisting mainly of slate and localized pockets of phyllite, schist, and quartzite (see below). We were hiking with two other geologists, so it was a lot of rock talk when we got to geologically interesting areas. One such spot was the Alum Cave Bluffs, which as the name might reveal, was once a site of heavy aluminum sulfate (or potash alum) mining. This site also gives evidence of the huge compressional forces that were at work during mountain building--large pods of metamorphosed sandstone bodies have been flattened and stretched during deformation, and tiny faults and folds can be seen throughout the overhang (see below).

When we reached the summit, we had a quick lunch break and tour of the surroundings before beginning our return descent. It was considerably cooler up top, and I celebrated the fact that I was wearing long sleeves for the first time in several months (I want it to be cold now!) Atop of Mt. LeConte, there are a handful of small guest cabins and a restaurant, which is for paying guests only. The modest and simple facilities were constructed in 1926 and are open from March-November. All of their supplies are either helicoptered in, or carried in on llamas. It's quite a place. But, the summit of Mt. LeConte still falls some 600 feet short of our home back in Laramie, Wyoming!

Rashmi posing on the (slaty) cleavage she'll never have.

Alum Cave Bluff, 2.8 miles from the Summit. Check out that huge quartzite pod in the background!

Taking it all in.

Almost there...

The LeConte Lodge, summit 6,593 ft.

A room with a view!

A Frasier fir leans within a hedge of mountain laurel at the summit.

Wish that I was on 'ole Rocky Top... (he he just kidding)

Aw shucks. That's a cute couple, even it they are all blurry.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blessed are the Peacemakers

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind"--M. Gandhi

Peace Ya"ll. No, seriously peace! The UN has declared today the International Day of Peace and Non-violence, which non-coincidentally falls on the day of the Mahatma's birth (October 2, 1869). And since we are in the midst of wartime, it doesn't hurt to stop and think about our peace pioneers, Gandhi of course being our premier guru in teaching the culture of peace and tolerance. As his beloved India struggled to break free of the British Raj, Gandhi preached the message of unity, and called his people to civil disobedience and peaceful protest. He walked. In one instance, 240 miles from Sabarmati (home of the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat) to the Dandi coast to protest the British salt tax. He fasted. Sometimes for as long as 3 weeks, to protest communal violence and governmental non-cooperation. He meditated. These were his weapons. Powerful, yet simple actions and reactions to injustice and violence.

To celebrate today's significance, the University sponsored 108 minutes of yoga on the Quad, and a lecture by a Political Science professor who recently returned from a Fulbright Fellowship in New Delhi. The slide show and discussion were followed by tasty Indian treats--samosas, channa masala, and chutneys galore! We ate. And then we ate again, toasting Gandhi and peace, somewhat ironically, with our plates full of food.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Backstage' to premiere at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival

Get your popcorn, cold drinks, Ju-Ju fruits! It's movie time! This weekend we're off to the Magic City for two days of film extravaganza at the 9th annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Yes, folks come from near and far to attend our homegrown film festival in Birmingham, which this year boasts some 150 films. Andy's recently completed documentary, 'Backstage', about a community theater in Guntersville, AL and their adaptation of "To Kill A Mockingbird", will make its world premiere on Sunday afternoon (September 30). For those of you who didn't know and wanna come, the show starts at 4:30 pm at the Birmingham Museum of Art (Google maps link here). It'll cost you $7 to get in, and you can buy your tickets at the door. Hope to see you there! If not, I'll have an update up next week. Check out the trailer to 'Backstage' below.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


It's time for another mid-week post. Just when you thought to yourself: "Well, there's no blog update, I guess Rashmi and Andy had another lame-o weekend", badda-bing I throw a curve ball at you from left field. And everybody knows you can't throw a curve ball from left field. Ha! See how I can turn my mumbled-jumbled colloquialisms into something usable, and more importantly something to chuck down the 'ole humor grist mill?

Another football game befell us this weekend, this time bringing with it our boys from the ATL--Ryan and Nate Judd. They joined us on Friday night for a little convivial drinking at the DCDC, before it was time for Andy to suit up for his filming gig on the Strip. For those of you who don't know, Andy's latest project is a cinema verite documentary about the Tuscaloosa band, the Dexateens. And as is the case many a time, the film's continuum demands his presence, even if it is on weekend nights, or a 10-day tour through Europe. Life's hard when your a university paid filmmaker! So off we all went, merrily down to the Club for an evening of rock and roll. Nate and Ryan and their baby blues almost made it through the first two bands, but in the end had to call it a night, after one too many head nods, and dreams of the Big Sleep. Unfortunately, their body clocks weren't cutting them any slack that night. I sat on, fighting sleep myself, until the Dexateens played, and Andy finished filming. Below you can see a promotional clip of Andy's new film about the band, composed of footage obtained from his UK/Europe trip. Beware expletives abound! (what do you expect, it's rock and roll?)

Well, in the interest of keeping this blog fresh, I'll cutback on my football talk this week. On saturday we took to our pre-game routine, also welcoming back into town Ma and Paw Grace, who joined us for Bama's first loss of the season against Georgia. That's all she wrote!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hog Tide

I'm a little out of order here, but I didn't want to leave Alabama's defeat over Arkansas last Saturday unaccounted for. As you can see (exhibit A far left), a few have deemed this victory one for the history books, and have taken to posting their used ticket stubs as souvenir kitsch on Ebay. Crazy, you say? Maybe, but the game itself was one that would make any Alabama fan, or even sports enthusiastic think of preserving evidence of their eyewitness. Alabama's initial 21-0 lead was slowly toppled as the Arkansas Razorbacks came from behind, gaining speed and touchdowns to eventually lead at 38-31 with 8 minutes to go in the game. If this was last year, or the year before that, or any other Shula-coached year, my story would stop here. An Alabama victory in the 4th quarter was not to be had in those days. But during this season, in the year Two-Thousand-Saban (that's the word on the street at least), the outcome would be different. In those last agonizing minutes, the Tide rallied, scoring a field goal and a final touchdown, bringing the score to 41-38 and the clock to an eight measly seconds. It was truly a spectacle, and even I was on the edge of my seat, doubled over, my stomach a mix of nervousness and excitement. I guess somewhere during the four quarters I tumbled off the precipice into Fan-Dom.

In attendance that weekend was La Familia Grace--Paw and Ma Grace, little Sis Sarah and hubbie Luke--and Uncles and Aunts from the Beck side (Reb and Diane, Murray and Diane). Reb and Diane drove (I don't know the proper verb to use here sorry) their boat from Guntersville to Tuscaloosa and tied up to a bunch of other boats on the lock wall of the Black Warrior River (Reb's usual Game-Day parking place). We had a great time brunching with everyone pre-game (see photos below), but were soon off to a friend's 'Hog Tide' tailgate where with the exception of a short jaunt to the Quad we spent the remainder of the day before the evening kick-off. We're up for some more of the same this weekend. The Georgia game will bring with it our friends from ATL, the Judd boys (we'll miss you Lane and Sarah)!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The 4 R's: Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Race?

For most of us, Governor Wallace's infamous stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama was just a piece of history that we learned about in social studies class--a reminder of our tortured past as Alabamians, and our tenuous relationship with race. Today in 2007, forty four years later, the ugly "R" word again rears its head in Tuscaloosa, as new school district rezoning has many community citizens outraged at what looks an awful lot like "resegregation". In an effort to assuage the overcrowding that has plagued Tuscaloosa City Schools, the powers-that-be have drawn up a suspiciously unequal rezoning plan, which is forcing mainly black students to relocate to low-performing schools. Naturally black parents are furious, and are turning to the Bush Administration's controversial 'No Child Left Behind Act' for legal recourse. The law itself gives parents the option of moving their child from a failing school to a better one, and as such renders the school board's relocation plan as somewhat illegal. Unfortunately, having not previously followed the local news coverage, I first read of the story when it was picked up yesterday in the New York Times (read it here). The school that was pictured in the article, University Place School, is actually just down the street from our house.

The majority of the low-performing schools in Tuscaloosa are found in an almost exclusively black part of town, called the "West End"--an economically struggling area that has only one grocery store and no bank, but is instead populated by numerous predatory lending businesses, and whose denizens fall mainly into the low-income bracket. Virtually all of these schools did not make what is called "Adequate Yearly Progress", or AYP, the Department of Education's standard for holding school's accountable, and had failing scores in reading and math testing. Today, as part of my second volunteer job at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships at UA, I visited one of these sub-standard schools in the West End, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, where we are implementing a reading initiative. Because MLK is a struggling school, it qualifies to receive "Supplemental Educational Services" under No Child Left Behind. Though today's trip was mainly reconaissance, the program will begin in full swing next month. I don't know yet if I'll be on the ground, working hands-on with the kids, but even if I'm not, my involvement with this type of educational outreach is really teaching me a lot.

Although there doesn't seem to be one good answer to fixing the race gap in education, the recent re-zoning legislation definitely seems like a step in the wrong direction. But to look on the flip side, the work being done by the Center and also organizations like the United Way, are real positives for Tuscaloosa schools. And at least somebody is making strides towards educational renewal, even if they are just baby steps.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thirty, Flirty, and Thriving

This weekend a few friends gathered in Baltimore to help their favorite Mississippi darling welcome in her thirtieth year. And what's more is, we decided to make it a surprise. While we came together to celebrate our friend, I couldn't help but think we were also celebrating the decade-long friendships that had begun their course while at Sewanee. We met Kelly when she was 19 years old, a wide-eyed gal with a contagious laugh, ready to take on the world (or at least some Art History classes) in those Abercrombie & Fitch corduroy shorts, paired with a matching tee or tank, tucked just so. In fact, the "front tuck" would become her signature look, and we all envied her knack for fashion forwardness. She was one of a kind, and we knew it instantly. Long story short, we've been spectators of and participants in her life for 11 years and counting. How could we possibly miss the big 3-0?

So like vultures on road kill, we descended upon the city (but not as expediently as our feathered foes, due to missed flights and long airport delays), and giggled with delight as we thought of our Kelly finding us hunched and huddled expectantly on her back porch. Mike, Kelly’s beau, had so exuberantly rallied us to the cause, and we the players—the Graces, Shaffers (long live the Queen!), and soon to be wed Foreman-Trahans—were ready for the task set upon us. However, our army was not quite complete and we missed the likes of our compatriots Monsieur and Mademoiselle Doss and of course Fraulein Martha Lynn (soon to be made an honest Frau herself). We made a note of our losses, and took to the front lines, vowing to throw ourselves whole-heartedly into the shock and awe campaign that was our surprise party. In the time leading up to Kelly’s arrival, we went over our plan of action many times, carefully working out our greeting, practicing voice cadences, and experimenting with pre- and post-surprise formations. Needless to say when our guest of honor finally arrived, tired and weary from her long day on the hospital floor, game-faces on, we launched our surprise attack with success.

The rest of the weekend was a happy blur. Once the initial surprise was out of the way, and Kell came to believe we were really there and not just a figment of her daze and moderate alcohol buzz, on came the next surprise--we would be kicking her out of her bed for 3 whole nights! Yes, we the players, her near and dear, forced the poor 30 year-old onto the floor. Alas, had we no scruples? But she obliged, and we allowed her generosity. On Saturday, we awoke to a glorious brunch prepared by the hands of Kelly's Baltimore gang, Mike and his roommate Tom, Maria and Lucia, and enjoyed it leisurely on the front porch well into the afternoon. The evening took us to Camden Yards, to enjoy America's favorite past time, and consequently America's favorite baseball team the Red Sox take on the hometown Baltimore Orioles . We stood, over-priced hot dogs and beers in hand, above the Bull Pen and watched as the score steadily climbed in favor of the Orioles. Rachel and Josh waited patiently for Matsuzaka, the famed Red Sox pitcher, to make his way into the Bull Pen, but were equally excited when the other Japanese pitcher, Okajima, took notice of their shouts in Japanese. The night wore on, and we bid adieu to Kristin and Shaffer, who left us for their warm bed awaiting them in DC. No sporting event experience is complete without a photo with a crazy fan. So before heading out, we jumped in for a shot with a Red Sox fan who painted his head like a baseball ("Baseball Head"), who seemed to be a popular photo sidekick the entire evening (see below). Sunday brought a new addition to our posse, my sister Shashi, who drove in from DC for an afternoon of lazy river tubing in the quiet town of Monkton, MD. We settled into our tubes, after acclimating to the very chilly waters, then reserved ourselves to a couple hours of floating fun, where we tossed the tennis ball, bumped into rocks, dodged some logs, enjoyed the picturesque landscape, and laughed at how slow Josh was floating. Oh, and Rachel even encountered a snake! The day kept lending itself to new opportunities--it was my first time tubing, and then later that evening I would also have my first go at breaking into some Maryland crabs. But then there was Monday. And as the familiar cliche reminds us, all good things must come to an end. And so it did.

So Kelly, thank you for your thirty years. And for enriching eleven of mine! Events like these remind me of my blessings, and perhaps my luck that friends such as these would have stumbled upon my path. Here's to more celebrations in the years to come! (P.S. Check back for the video later, Andy has got to figure out how to capture HD footage)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Roll Tide Roll

It's that time of year again. A sea of crimson-clad fans converged upon Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday ready to welcome in another season of Alabama football, and rally behind the man they hope can bring the Tide back to national prominence. Even though I've lived in Tuscaloosa for one full football season (the first fall we were here, I skipped out and went to India), it is always kind of overwhelming when I take my first step into the stadium and remember the enormity of it all. And I'm not talking just about the size of the stadium, but also about the weight that football holds in the region. Even as an Alabamian myself, I still look at football season in Tuscaloosa as a bit of an unknown quantity, a cultural gem that begs to be observed and studied and picked apart. And as such, I always feel a little detached during the first game--like an outsider with her anthropological notepad observing the species in their natural habitat...

Andy and I joined the ranks of the other 90,000 plus folks, and made a day of it. Living close to campus, we took our bikes first to a fun little Bloody Mary tailgate at a friend's house, then weaved through the hordes of people walking up and down and around the Strip and the Quad. We landed for our traditional pre-game drink and cheer at the watering hole of choice, Egan's bar. Then on to the stadium for an introduction to what folks are calling "The Great Saban Experiment" (Saban is the hyped new coach). Several touchdowns and Roll Tides later, and the damage had been done. The team had ushered in a new season and a new coach with a whopping 52-6 defeat over Western Carolina. And so it begins...