Taking a Stand for Girls

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Meg and Gigi at the March on Monument

It’s MLK Day in our nation, during a time when our country is heartbreakingly fractured. On Saturday, January 14, 2017, the two of us took a stand and walked in the March on Monumenta peaceful coming together of the various social justice groups that serve the Richmond community.  Two thousand or so of our neighbors stood shoulder to shoulder chanting a call and response:

Show Me What Democracy Looks Like! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! 

What do we need? LOVE. When do we need it? NOW. What do we need? Unity. When do we need it? NOW. 

There were older women and men. Parents pushing strollers and carrying signs. Old Basset hounds. Seasoned activists and college students. Wheelchair users. Artists, writers, musicians. And, members of the faith community.

Looking around, we saw our community celebrating diversity and inclusion at the statue of Robert E. Lee asking, How do we knit ourselves together in strength? How can we make our community a place where all people are respected and cared for? What can each of us offer?

We had been thinking long and hard about Girls of Summer, our curated reading list for strong girls, now approaching its seventh year. To be frank, last year, we wondered if it might be time to let the list go. Exhausted and overscheduled, we could point to dozens of other reading lists for girls to choose from.

But then the world got upended in deep and disturbing ways, most notably in an infamous video and talk of grabbing women by their genitals. And we realized that now was not the time to stop. There is still so much work to do together to make this world safe, secure, and nurturing of girls.

So plans have changed.

For the next four years, not only are we not letting go of Girls of Summer, but we are going to grow it big. We’ll use every ounce of our strength as authors, mothers, and literary citizens to build it up as a resource to empower young women of all ages to become lifelong readers and learners, with the tools to find their voices, to stand up, and to protect themselves.

So, here is the first of what will be many exciting changes this year:

Our Girls of Summer team is growing. We are joined by new and dynamic friends with loving ties to our city. These are book women, strong women, and advocates who will be helping to choose our list, plan our event, and spread the word to girls here at home and around the country. They are:

Stacy Hawkins Adams

Stacy Hawkins Adams

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Amanda Nelson

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Aisha Saeed

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Maya Smart

In the coming months, you can expect to hear about new a partnership with Richmond Young Writers, too, as we develop new ways for young people to have access to our visiting authors. You’ll hear about a literary breakfast event organized by our longtime champions at the Richmond Public Library and about new schools and organizations who have asked to join us in this effort. And it’s our hope that you will, in fact, engage with us through attendance, donations, and support with new and urgent energy.

We linked arms as we marched on Saturday, in effort to stay warm and in thanksgiving for this friendship of ours. Encircled by thousands of new friends, we got caught up in the spirit of loving kindness and the spirit of justice that rolled down Monument Avenue. How did this happen, we wondered? Just two girls: one with roots in Cuba and one from Mississippi, two friends who have found that it’s our differences that make us strong and our shared values that keep us brave.

Our friendship is what sparked Girls of Summer, but we know that friendship alone isn’t what sustains this important project. For that kind of sustenance, we need a community filled with smart people who care about books and reading in the lives of every day folks. (Here’s looking at you bbgb books and Kris Spisak – champions from the start.) We need a community that is invested in respecting and empowering females, from ages eight to eighty-eight. We need neighbors who insist on equality and inclusion where we live, work, and play.

And in Richmond, Virginia, as it turns out,  we have found exactly that.

Stayed tuned.

Meg Medina and Gigi Amateau are authors of works for young readers. Among their many projects, they are the cofounders of Girls of Summer List, a curated summer reading list for strong girls. They live (proudly) in Richmond, Virginia.

1867: A Nod to Horses

Brotherhood

Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick

Brotherhood
by A.B. Westrick
Middle grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
Viking, 2013
978-0-670-01439-2

It’s been my pleasure to know A.B. Westrick for several years. We’ve worked together in school-based and community settings on many projects related to reading and writing. She is a stickler for details and likes to get things right.

Her middle-grade debut novel, Brotherhood, is a precise and compelling story about a community undergoing rapid-fire change. Set in Richmond, Virginia, just two years after the end of the Civil War, Brotherhood authentically depicts a boy’s struggle to change his heart and his ways.

It’s a dangerous venture to lead a double life, as the main character, Shad Weaver quickly finds out.  He runs with the KKK at night and secretly takes reading lessons from a young black teacher by day. Shad sees and participates in things that he shouldn’t. A burden of shame and secrecy binds Shad up with fear and confusion.  Yet, Shad does realize all that is at stake. People’s lives are in danger and only Shad can help, but he will have to speak the truth. Continue reading

RVA Police Horses!

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Look at these beauties!

At The Meadow last week, I caught up with the Richmond Mounted Squad. They have lots of great community events coming up, including a Police Stables Open Barn Day. If you’ve never met the officers and horses of the Richmond Mounted Squad, you are missing something special!

Here are scenes from a previous Richmond Ride:

Meet the mounted squad and their equine partners at one of the upcoming Friends of Richmond Mounted Squad’s events:

Saturday, May 18, Richmond Ride: Urban trail ride through the historic streets of Richmond. Departs near Barker Field at Dogwood Dell, 12 Noon

Sunday, June 9, Police Stables Open Barn: Meet the officers and horses of the Richmond Mounted Squad, 1-4 pm

Friday, December 13, Blessing of the Animals: Morgan Fountain in Shockoe Slip, recognizing working and companion animals, 12 Noon

Cicadas!

Yesterday’s Richmond Times Dispatch carried a piece by my favorite nature-writer, Rex Springston called Cicadas ready to emerge in Richmond area. I’ve never met Mr. Springston, but I love his writing and his heart for nature and the natural world.

Half the time, honestly, I’m not even paying attention to the byline.

Yesterday, I was just doing my usual slow mosey through my hometown paper, a meander I savor every morning with tea during the week and a Latte on weekends. His stories just draw me in, and about two lines down, I look back up to the headline.

“I wonder if this is Rex? Oh, yep!”

Like his story about the Cicadas, which I totally devoured. Can’t wait for Brood II to crawl up and out. When they arrive above ground, I’ll be ready to be still and sit and listen and watch.

Here’s a portion of an encounter I had with a cicada molting on my front porch in 2011. The whole event took about half an hour.

If you enjoy reading about the earth and our relationship with animals and if you relish the wild places that somehow stay wild even with our tampering, you’ll love Rex Springston’s work.

Here are some of my favorites from him this year:

Two Bryan Park birds make unusual duo

Ospreys offer clues on the environment

Herons return to island near Shockoe Slip

Hometown Culture and Cuisine

My husband, Bubba, and I spent Saturday being tourists in our hometown, Richmond, Virginia. It’s easy to fall into a weekend rut – eh…routine. Not a thing wrong with filling Saturday and Sunday with chores, errands, a movie, and a good book, but we decided to switch it up yesterday.

We started the morning out at the Library of Virginia, where we checked out a special cartography collection. Bubs studied geology in college, and the old maps really give a sense of the character of the land. We also saw a letter that Robert E. Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis declining an offer of a new horse. Lee wrote about his horse, Traveler, “My gray has calmed down amazingly, gave me a very pleasant ride all day yesterday. I enjoyed his gaits much.”

Lee and Traveler

Lee and Traveler

Reading about Traveler made us think of Bubba’s cousin, Jay, who passed away too soon. Jay loved history and, especially, Civil War history. He named his German Shepherd Traveler, after Lee’s gray horse. Jay was a beautiful, complex, loving spirit, a poet who delighted in making people laugh and feel loved. We really miss him so much, and I like to think that our encounter with Traveler in the special collections room of the library was not so much about Robert E. Lee as it was about our Jay, reminding us to have plenty of fun and keep close to each other.

So. In Jay’s honor, we bailed on the maps and headed over to Perly’s, where our courtship first started. Over curried split pea soup and a Harvey Hudson sandwich we did what we always do at Perly’s: talked about our dreams and hopes and our life together. Hands down favorite date place.

Happy in that special world of being together, we left Perly’s arm-in-arm and headed to our favorite downtown place: Kelly Justice’s Fountain Bookstore. Our book choices definitely reflect the sort of love bubble we were walking around in. I picked out Peace is Every Breath by Thich Nhat Hahn; Bubba chose Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World by Prince Charles.

We spent the afternoon touring Shockoe Slip in the witty, knowledgeable, gracious company of Real Richmond , lead by Maureen Egan and Leigh Ann McKelway [who used to be a Horton from Florence, Alabama, where my mom was born].

Mise En Place

Mise En Place

The tour started at Shockoe Slip’s Mise En Place, a private cooking school. Chef Christine, a New Englander, shared the recipe for her empanadas and cracked jokes about learning to make ham biscuits when she moved to Richmond ten years ago.

Off the Hookah, our next stop, surprised me the most of all the stops on the tour. Is it a hookah bar? A sushi bar? A sweet new outdoor dining spot?
Yes, all that in the most OTT way you could imagine.

Upstairs bar, Off the Hookah

Upstairs bar, Off the Hookah


By that I mean, beautifully over-the-top.
Off the Hookah VIP

Off the Hookah VIP

We cruised around the canal to work off some calories, then stopped by the Pipeline Look Out, and watched the herons.

Canal in Richmond

Canal in Richmond

From there, back up the hill to the Urban Farmhouse Market.

Urban Farmhouse Market

Urban Farmhouse Market

They had coffee and homemade donuts waiting!

Apple cider donuts

Apple cider donuts

From there, we welcomed the walk up to the Capitol. Maureen described Richmond’s use of ironwork and pointed out examples of iron ornaments. At the top of the stairs, she gave us a good history of the building itself. I had no idea it used to be brick red then later mustard yellow.

Iron embellishments downtown

Iron embellishments downtown

Throughout the tour, Maureen shared notable moments in Richmond’s history. She encouraged everyone to learn more about the Richmond Slave Trail and told the story of the blacksmith, Gabriel, who turned Patrick’s Henry’s liberty or death slogan on its head by raising an army of 1,000 fellow slaves, as well as artisans and free blacks determined to march into Richmond under a white flag with the words, “Death or Liberty” inscribed in red. Before heading over to Sin e` Irish Pub, we paused near the site where the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was signed into law in 1786.

Virginia's Religious Freedom Statute, First Freedom Center

Virginia's Religious Freedom Statute, First Freedom Center

At Sin e`, which we learned means ‘this is it’ in Gaelic, we sampled bangers and sliders and fried pickles.

Tastiness at Sin e`

Tastiness at Sin e`

Check out this wild ceiling mural at Sin e. Maybe it depicts the legend of Beowulf.

Wicked lovely celing at Sin e

Wicked lovely celing at Sin e

Our tour ended at Bistro Bobette. Earlier in the day, Bubba and I had pressed our noses against the window there and decided we’d like to try it, so we were excited to get a sneak peek and can’t wait to go back for dinner.

Bistro Bobette

Bistro Bobette

We don’t play tourists very often, but we should. We covered a lot of ground Saturday – The Library of Virginia, Perly’s, Fountain, Real Richmond, the James River – and were reminded why we love Richmond, and why we should make it a priority to get out into the community, out of our routine a little more.

For more information about Richmond cuisine and culture tours contact:
http://realrichmondva.com/
Tours@RealRichmondVA.com
(804) 840-5318

Rams on the Road

Shhh….hey, Richmond. I know you’re sleeping. We just got to Atlanta and will stop here for the night. Mom and I have had a great trip so far. Our first important business was to get black and white shakes from the Hardee’s in South Hill.

I’ll tell you what, Ram Nation is on the move to Houston. We stopped for gas in Charlotte and ran into about three cars full of Ram fans. Lots of hooting and hollering going on when we all saw each other’s Black and Gold. A local guy shouted over to us, “Hey, I used to play ball with Jamie Skeen every day at the Y!”

All the way through North Carolina, South Carolina, and into Atlanta we’ve seen so many Virginia cars decked out, heading to the Final Four. So, we’re up and out early in the a.m. I miss you already. Sleep sweet!

Road Trip

Hey, I’m dashing this post off, fresh and organic, straight from my brain to my blog. Highly uncharacteristic of me. Normally, I ruminate [thank you Terry Price for reminding me of this delightful word] for a good long little while before pressing the publish button. No such luxury today. First of all, it’s the last day of March, and I set a goal for myself to blog every week, at least once a week. If I don’t post today, I miss my goal. Secondly, (and I’m feeling extremely and increasingly nervous about exposing my raw, mistake-ridden command of grammar to the world by not allowing time to edit) Mom and I are leaving Richmond to drive to Houston in t-minus 59 minutes.

WE’RE GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR! Yep.

So, if you know me, you know that basketball season is a big season for us. Home games are date nights for my husband and me. Bubs and I share a bbq and split some MnMs and a blue gatorade – every game. That’s actually a winning combination. They have never lost a game where I ate a bbq and MnMs. Not once. We go to games with my mom and step-dad every week from November to March. Mom and I always take time off to attend the CAA tourney together, too.

If you know me, you know I’m a VCU alum. A proud VCU alum. Here’s the part where I tell you that VCU changed my world and my worldview. I think I’m a pretty smart person with a good work ethic, a creative work ethic. I had a less than mediocre academic record until I got to college. VCU accepted me provisionally. As a freshman, I could take only 9 credits my first semester and was required to take the 0 credit college math, just to get me up to speed. Not pretty, but true.

At VCU, I found out that I love cities. I love history. I love to write. At VCU, I sat next to little old ladies and strippers in my Russian classes and beautifully proud, out transgendered students, too. There we all were, reciting Russian poems together with Professora Dunn. Helping each other. At VCU, other students held me accountable for growing in academic pursuits and in life. VCU changed me and made me a better, deeper, more compassionate, more interesting and interested person. I’m lucky my state has such a school and, even when VCU rejected my application to study creative writing in the MFA program, the school helped me grow.

So. If you know me, you know I love Richmond, Virginia with everything I got. Like VCU, my city has treated me right. And if you know Richmond, you know we deserve to feel good about this city. You know that this Final Four is about more than basketball. To me, it’s about the thing that sports and music and art and literature can help do sometimes. Bring people together, create a common cultural experience, redefine how we think of ourselves, and how we treat each other.

We’ve been jonesin for change and goodness and a new day in Richmond for an awfully long time. Tasks forces and papers and speeches all designed to help us out of a 250 year funk do help. The Folk Festival helps. Center Stage helps. That squirrel who makes absolutely no sense in relation to baseball or the region really helps. Our river helps. And so do the 2010-11 VCU Rams.

I’m not saying basketball can make our problems go away. Basketball won’t change the fact that ours is a region of great economic disparity. A trip to the Final 4 will not solve our damn cooperation problems that have kept us behind other cities. Ok. I mean Charlotte, if you want to know the truth. Nope, not saying the VCU Rams can solve everything.

Going to those games every week though, does help me find a little more something to keep on trying and keep on smiling and keep on coming downtown. I sit beside my husband, whispering and giggling and singing along with the pep band and I relax. We watch pretty young things dance to PYT, and we smile and clap because even dance team members work hard at their craft and deserve praise. I work on manuscripts or read inspiring books by Stacy Adams during half-time. We ride home as a family through our beautiful city, all winter long, happy to have had a little bit of a break from the burdens we carry.

In a recent RTD column, beloved Richmond columnist, Michael Williams wrote about our Rams’ success in the tourney, “You cannot overstate the impact on our community psyche. We’re on a natural high. The region, if only for this bright shining moment, has shed defeatism and divisiveness. We see ourselves as winners.”

That’s it. Williams also challenged us – this means you and me – to keep this goodwill alive. Let this story serve as the spark, so we can finally, shine out.

Ok. I gotta finish packing. My boss let me off work. My mother-in-law, God bless her for real, gave me $100. My cousin who lives in Houston is letting us crash at her place. My cousin from Phoenix is meeting us there and we’re bringing him a Final 4 shirt, even though he was/is/whatever a Jayhawks fan. My friend Nylce gave me a pair of bird earrings to wear. Bubs and Judith are staying behind, while Mom and I take our road trip. We’ll be home Monday in time to watch the Championship game in Richmond, together.