#changeforCHANGEinSTL – why we give

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When I moved to St. Louis twenty years ago this fall, I was excited to move to a midsized Midwestern city with beautiful neighborhoods and museums and gardens and parks. I still remember looking for my first studio apartment, settling into the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood within walking distance of Washington University where I would complete my graduate studies in architecture two years later.

Even now I can distinctly remember many of those first conversations I had with St. Louisans. Oftentimes, within five minutes of meeting someone, I was already schooled on this city – where to live, where to eat, where to explore – and, where NOT to go. I knew about the Delmar Divide long before I ever signed that first lease or walked into my first classroom. St. Louis sized me up upon arrival and presented itself to me in a neat little compartmentalized package. There was an organization to this city, and rules that should be followed.

When I think back to those early days, I force myself to imagine a variety of responses that I could have had to those initial interactions regarding how this city draws its boundaries along racial lines. I could have been grateful for the free advice. I could have allowed that insider information to guide my future choices, to shape my social circles, to inform me as I moved out of academia and into my early adulthood. I could have drawn upon it when making that initial call to a realtor, or when we filled out that first application for kindergarten. I’m grateful for that buffer period that graduate school afforded me – it gave me the space to listen and observe and draw my own conclusions about how this region is divided and what my role in that division could be, for better or for worse.

I draw on the language that was used in my family growing up that pointed out or explained these institutional and historical patterns of segregation and racism. These weren’t always lengthy in-depth discussions – oftentimes they were just observations (and statements) of our privilege – when pulled over erroneously by a state trooper on a Florida highway, or when noticing the redline lending maps framed and displayed on the wall of my grandparents’ bank. They were snippets of history pointed out on our annual trips to visit family in the south, and sometimes they were more heated discussions following the vitriol spewed from a visiting pulpit.

I draw on the friendships that I had in my later high school years, in a majority white school, but within a relatively diverse tightknit group of students in the college track classes, conversations around academics and affirmative action and race. I draw on the experiences at a large public university in the south, the way my ears were listening, the very names on the buildings giving me pause and then a reason to dig deeper into the history of the institution. I draw deeply on the mentor relationships that I had in the summers of my undergraduate education – strong women who invited me into their circles and conversations that brought a level of awareness and openness that really pushed me in ways I needed to be pushed.

These conversations might seem like small things on paper – bits and pieces here and there, insignificant. But they weren’t. In a childhood that offered me plenty of mirrors – reflections of what talent and success and hard work and passion could look like for people that looked just like me – I was also given windows to a bigger story beyond the small towns where I lived and traveled and studied. I craved the world outside those windows and knew that the only way I could be part of that was to understand the role I play in how those barriers are either strengthened or weakened / replaced.

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Our family supports We Stories because we see it as an actionable extension of our family’s mission to live within, and learn from, diverse communities. We live in a hyper-segregated city and region, and research tells us that conversations about race and racism are not happening equally across the board. The most important thing that we can do for our two girls is to challenge this system of division by rooting ourselves in diverse communities, teaching them to notice the systems of power and priority within them, and arming them to work diligently at breaking down those systems that divide us.

And as a white family, that work begins first and foremost within our own home; it sits squarely on us. Supporting We Stories means supporting this work in living rooms and kitchen tables and bedtime rituals throughout our region. The work can feel small in the moment, but I am a firm believer that those conversations are vital and lasting and important and necessary to changing the conversation in St. Louis. It challenges those very rules that were presented to me twenty years ago as a new arrival. It sets the stage for a more equitable future in the city where my girls were born. They will be the ones greeting newcomers to this place one day. I believe in them and the new story they will tell.

I hope you’ll join our family in supporting We Stories today.

#changeforCHANGEinSTL

Celebrate and learn more during this Give STL Day on the We Stories Facebook Page.

“super” raffle posters

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I haven’t been to bed before midnight in a week, and I’ve promised myself to be there by ten tonight. That’s in eleven minutes, so I’m typing at breakneck speed – I’ll do a quick edit in the morning and then post this. I’m just so excited to have a camera again, and so I’ve been playing around with it some this weekend. I shot some of these photos early this morning, and I was pretty rushed to get out the door to set up for the annual soiree at the girls’ elementary school. I’m glad I took the time to take the photographs though, I love to look back on these each year. There are a few process shots thrown in as well.

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This year’s theme was Super Soulard Soiree – it had a pop art / comic book / super hero kind of vibe to it. I decided to take this really bold, graphic approach with paper as my medium, which gave the posters a really nice handcrafted feel. The top poster above was the crowd favorite, and the last one that I completed. E punched green paper with a hole punch for an hour while I glued the dots on in a grid to form the planet. Then I used two shades of gray to make the buildings, assembling them around the globe. I wove curved rainbow streamers through the building, and this poster was called “Save the World”. It featured lots of civic and good citizen minded prizes, plus a large gift certificate to Peacemaker Lobster & Crab just around the corner from us.

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I loved this second poster – “Kryptonite”. The description asked “What’s your kryponite?” – carbs, beer, working out, etc. I drew inspiration for the background from Lichentstein’s Still Life with Crystal Bowl, and cut dozens of black strips of paper. Then I made dimensional green kryptonite exploding in the center. I love the way it turned out. A bird pooped on it at the end of the event, so maybe pigeon poop is your kryptonite!

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The idea I got most excited about was for this third poster, “What’s Your Super Power?” The prize was full of experiences – music, art, fitness – so many different things to try out and explore. I decided to take inspiration from Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, and opened three of them, with some comic book bubbles asking the questions Could I? Should I? Maybe I Will. At one point I entertained the idea of doing the Campbell’s logo, but even I have my limits. I actually like the simplicity here.

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The last poster was “Lightning Power for a Rainy Day” – it had so many awesome things to do in the summer when it’s raining outside. I had plenty of inspiration for this one last week. The BAM! in the center is dimensional with gold and red sticking out, and I love how the white dot pattern – stretched out into raindrops – turned out. Lots of measuring and marking on these four posters to get them to turn out right.

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The afternoon was perfect – sunny, 70, with a light breeze. The decorations were so much fun – my friend Becky orchestrated all of that, and there was a great crew there Sunday morning setting everything up.

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I’ve heard rumors it was the most successful soiree to date – which is really exciting to hear after all the hard work from everyone.

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I “borrowed” a few of the centerpieces, and tucked them around the house. I was seriously worn out by dinner time, but rallied to do a few more things before bed. My goal this week is to be in bed by 10pm each night – we’ll see how that works out! It was nice to celebrate and visit with friends on such a beautiful afternoon.

on moments of time: (story)time: eat this poem by nicole gulotta


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“As for food, simple cooking dominates most days, like jam spooned into thick yogurt, a bowl of popcorn left on the coffee table, or beans smashed on bread. None of it is particularly noteworthy. Leftovers are placed in glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and scraps are scraped into the trash bin. Whole plums, celery stalks, and bunches of carrots in the bottom of the crisper go soft before we can use them. The remains of our meals are discarded like poem fragments we put into a file to look at when we’re in need of inspiration.

A poem stops time, keeping a moment suspended until we’re ready to revisit it. A good meal stops us too, however briefly, reminding us to savor every bite.” – Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem.

I’ve had this book in my hands for a month now, but I wanted to read through it all first, and cook from it as well, before I shared it with you. The month has been very busy, but I’ve pulled this book into my lap for five and ten minute stretches here and there, and we’ve been cooking from it all month. To be completely honest, it wasn’t the first time I’ve read or cooked with Nicole. Her blog of the same name is a staple in my life, and I consult her Literary City Guides first before planning any trip. I even got to test out some of the recipes in this book last year as Nicole was writing and editing her manuscript. I had to dig a little to find the photos I took during that time, and finally found this one.

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Our family tested four of Nicole’s recipes, and the Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies could be reason alone to purchase this cookbook. But don’t let it be.

The only recipe I made for just me was a simple Caesar salad with paprika croutons. I saw this photo and I can remember all the details of that Saturday afternoon. I was home from yoga, and the sun was streaming in the back window of the kitchen as it likes to do on the weekends. Everyone else was eating at the table while I prepped the ingredients; they were scattered again when I finished. I pulled the latest issue of Dwell out of the mail pile, and filled a water spotted glass two-thirds high before sitting down to eat. I ate the whole bowl, and helped myself to seconds. The afternoon stretched ahead of me, glass-spotted, sun-spotted. I packed the leftovers into glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and ate the scraps, folded down the corner of the magazine page, and set it aside to finish later.

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Pairing Nicole’s own rich food stories and kitchen experiments with poetry is the magic here. One night I had beets, and I started in an ordinary place – the index, scrolling my finger though the b’s to find inspiration. But another night I first opened and began to read Billy Collins’ writing about a pear, and dinner inspiration started there. Food is temporary, fleeting. A few moments on our counter, and then spent – eaten, stored, discarded. It meets us where we need it, and can be nothing more than that. Which makes the memory of a salad on a Saturday that much more surprising – and comforting. What else did I do that day? I’m not really sure, but I can still remember standing there at the counter, scraping croutons off the baking sheet, and eating scraps as I went.

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BASKETS

By Louise Gluck

From The Triumph of Achilles (1980)

1.
It is a good thing,
in the marketplace
the old woman trying to decide
among the lettuces,
impartial, weighing the heads,
examining
the outer leaves, even
sniffing them to catch
a scent of earth
of which, on one head,
some trace remains—not
the substance but
the residue—so
she prefers it to
the other, more
estranged heads, it
being freshest: nodding briskly at the vendor’s wife,
she makes this preference known,
an old woman, yet
vigorous in judgment.

2.
The circle of the world—
in its midst, a dog
sits at the edge of the fountain.
The children playing there,
coming and going from the village,
pause to greet him, the impulsive
loving interest in play,
in the little village of sticks
adorned with blue fragments of pottery;
they squat beside the dog
who stretches in the hot dust:
arrows of sunlight
dance around him.
Now, in the field beyond,
some great event is ending.
In twos and threes, boldly
swinging their shirts,
the athletes stroll away, scattering
red and blue, blue and dazzling purple
over the plain ground,
over the trivial surface.

3.
Lord, who gave me
my solitude, I watch
the sun descending:
in the marketplace
the stalls empty, the remaining children
bicker at the fountain—
But even at night, when it can’t be seen,
the flame of the sun
still heats the pavements.
That’s why, on earth,
so much life’s sprung up,
because the sun maintains
steady warmth at its periphery.
Does this suggest your meaning:
that the game resumes,
in the dust beneath
the infant god of the fountain;
there is nothing fixed,
there is no assurance of death—

4.
I take my basket to the brazen market,
to the gathering place.
I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
Crates of eggs, papaya, sacks of yellow lemons—
I am not a strong woman. It isn’t easy
to want so much, to walk
with such a heavy basket, either
bent reed, or willow.

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Buy a copy of Eat This Poem for yourself, but then maybe for your mother next week, or the teachers who share poetry with you and your children, or the newlyweds just filling a first kitchen, or any others who feed your soul.


[Gift pairs well with the aforementioned cookies.]