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Something Rotten at the University of Virginia

“Still Your children wander homeless;
Still the hungry cry for bread;
Still the captives long for freedom;
Still in grief we mourn our dead.
As you, Lord, in deep compassion
Healed the sick and freed the soul,
By Your Spirit send Your power
To our world to make it whole.”

The Next Great Adventure


I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2012.  I can’t help but grin when I reflect on my time in Charlottesville, remembering a vibrant academic atmosphere that included lasagna dinners at professors’ houses and debating with Senator Bob Barr while swilling bourbon in Room 7, West Lawn, with the Jefferson Society.  And then there was the social environment, just as robust, which included “Friday Wineday” car rides over the rolling Blue Ridge hills to go “vineyard hopping,” streaking the lawn, date functions, and belting “God Bless the USA” while swaying atop tables at the Virginian on Thursday nights.

And did I mention Thomas Jefferson?  Each day I walked past the Rotunda on my way to class or to grab some Bodo’s, I swelled with pride, gawking at the centuries-old architecture that was supposed to be Jefferson’s answer to the Pantheon.  Nevermind those bricks were…

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this is it

“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

This fall is the best fall. Today is the best day.

nh1 nh3 nh4 nh5nh2

I went on a meandering walk through my neighborhood this afternoon and discovered the loveliest views. It’s 65 and sunny. Neighbors are raking leaves, listening to music, and taking walks. The roads are quiet and the squirrels are out in crowds stocking up for winter. I was under the impression that most of the houses in my branch of the neighborhood were built in the early ’60s, but a few steps off the main road I discovered a Free Will Baptist Church and houses that must have been built around the turn of the 20th century.

april flowers

white flowers spring flowers dogwood pink dogwood purple flowering tree sp6 sp7purple flowering tree and lightThis journal has turned into a place for photos and little else. I talk plenty in everyday life, but I haven’t felt the need to reiterate here. I’ve always journaled in some form or the other, but with access to various social media platforms, I have so many ways to have my voice heard or reflect on my day in small phrases and brief conversations. Maybe I need long form, but maybe the quiet is fine, too.

Charlottesville went from black and white to vibrant technicolor in the past few weeks. I’m enjoying the spring blooms as much as I can because I know they’ll give way to lizard green leaves in a few short weeks.

one word photo challenge: yellow

instagram one word photo challenge

This week I kept forgetting what color we were going for, so I never specifically pinpointed yellow tones. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had exactly one instagram photo and one DSLR photo with clear pops of yellow. These pretty little flowers appeared in the planter outside our door this week; they didn’t bloom last year and we certainly didn’t plant them, so I guess it’s a bit o’ nature magic.

My DSLR photo captures the fine details of my mustard yellow sweater, which I wore on a walk last Friday afternoon.

yellow sweater macro

book review: Flight Behavior


This was a living flow, like a pulse through veins, with the cells bursting and renewing themselves as they went. The sudden vision filled her with strong emotions that embarrassed her, for fear of breaking into sobs as she had in front of her in-laws that day when the butterflies enveloped her. How was that even normal, to cry over insects? (Flight Behavior, p. 215)

Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior describes the plight of the monarch butterfly in an extensive and complex narrative. Dellarobia, the tale’s protagonist, discovers a migratory flock of monarchs living on her Tennessee property by mistake, but takes their presence as a sign to turn her life around. Millions of orange bodies pulsate against trees and fill the air like fire, like a burning bush. Soon she and the butterflies gain local and then national attention and the area is flooded with tourists, news crews, and scientists.

Though the story is about Dellarobia’s personal transformation, it’s just as much about the impending devastation of the earth due to climate change and other man-made obstacles. The butterflies aren’t supposed to be here; their presence is an indication of the ultimate decay of earth’s natural wonders. As Dellarobia and Ovid Byron, an ecologist, work together to answer the “whys” of the Tennessee monarch phenomenon, they also come to terms with the cultural barriers that keep academics and farmers from working together. The narrative held my attention for all 464 pages and it taught me about monarchs through the gripping lens of character conflict and conversation. It’s a brilliant example of narrative ethics; it demanded personal, emotional investment in monarch survival as I measured, observed, and discussed alongside Ovid and Dellarobia. It worked its way into my heart; it refused to leave me unscathed.

Monarchs don’t roost in Tennessee. This part is fictional. But it’s clear that monarchs are dying out and that we have a lot to do with it. According to a recent Washington Post article, “deforestation in Mexico, recent bouts of severe weather, and the growth of herbicide-based agriculture destroying crucial milkweed flora in the Midwest” are significant factors in their decline. From 2012 to 2013 – that’s one year – butterflies overwintering in Mexico declined by nearly half (60 million versus 33 million).

I’m ultimately disturbed by what feels like the inevitability of their demise. It’s a well known fact that Monsanto products obliterate native ecosystems in North America, but lobbyists have had very little success convincing the government to ban their products. Activists would also have to convince Mexico to halt deforestation at monarch roosting sites. I want to think we can do it, but we’re so perverse, so corrupt, so bent on taking the easy way out, I don’t know if we can reverse it in time.

Monarchs are beautiful creatures, welcome sights. And their dauntingly complex migratory path is inspiring. It forces you outside your tiny, day-to-day concerns. When I first saw video footage of their post-winter departure in Mexico, I cried, just like Dellarobia. We can’t let this happen. We can’t let them die.

*Book cover image via NPR

one word photo challenge: neon


For this week’s challenge, I focused on bright spots amid the gray rather than on authentic neon tones. Still, I think I came pretty close. My instagram photo depicts the quaint yellow building in which I reunited with my friend, Taylor, for country cookin’ before thrift shopping in Ruckersville. The DSLR photo, taken in the back yard with my 50 mm lens, is a partially eaten rotting tangerine that Daniel threw in the yard hoping to attract wildlife.

neon1If you’d like to participate in the one word photo challenge, visit my sister’s blog.

old charlottesville

John Shepherd is a Charlottesville local who focused his early photography efforts on “people on the street.” These 1970s film photographs of downtown Charlottesville fascinate me because they’re simultaneously familiar and foreign.


Where could you get a huge wig dyed all colors of the rainbow? Try the Love Wig first. That’s Batten’s Auto Parts on the left, now a consignment shop.


I don’t know who are at the counter but that’s Pearl behind the cash register. I gave her a copy of this when she retired.


Click the image to be redirected to the etsy listing. All images used with permission from the photographer.

madison county, va

mad10mad2 mad4 mad5 mad7mad13 mad8mad11 mad9We took a trip out to Madison to meet up with my friend, Taylor, before heading to a local peach festival. She lives with her mom, three dogs, a couple cats, and some feisty goats on a few acres surrounded by mountains and lush Virginia countryside. I’m so glad I got to see it before she moves to Georgia next week. I’m going to miss her a lot. But it’s ok because we bought friendship crates at the (otherwise lame) festival!