Meal with Leslie

While we were extremely sad to no longer have Noel leading Peacemakers, a few weeks ago we were able to have a great dinner with the new leader of Peacemakers, Leslie  Barker. It was a great opportunity to sit down and get to know each other better since some of us see her twice a week! Starting the conversation about Peacemakers in general (we could probably go on about the kids for hours), we were able to learn more about Leslie, how she became so interested in theater, her involvement in Arts Memphis, and what direction they envision for the Peacemakers program. We were able to learn more specifically about Theater Memphis and Leslie’s role there. Also, we were able to give her some of our thoughts and ideas for our participation for the rest of the semester – including discussing a day to plant with the Peacemakers and the logistics for bringing the Peacemakers to rites to play this weekend! The dinner was equally enjoyable and productive, and we are all looking forward to a fun finish to the semester at Peacemakers!


Making the Most of Relationships

Last week we had the privilege of hosting Dr. Bette Ackerman for dinner and what an evening it was! As we are quickly coming to the end of another hectic semester, the last for Paula, Emily and I, I have been given the opportunity WAY too many times to think about the end of my college career that is rapidly approaching. And though it often seems like it will be such a relief to be rid of homework, papers, intense deadlines and finals, I was reminded during the evening with Dr. Ackerman of many of the other things that aren’t necessarily so bad. Be warned now: this post will likely be a bit on the sappy side.
The meal itself was one of my favorites that we have prepared for a community meal with so many fresh vegetables now that spring has FINALLY sprung, but it was also enjoyable for the conversation. Oh, and the brownies. As Dr. Ackerman reminded us—dessert is never worth skipping! We spent the meal discussing everything from our experiences in the Ruka and at Caritas, our DI projects, our mutual love and appreciation for the one and only Professor McNary-Zak, to Professor Ackerman’s adventures as dean of students, some of the major disconnects between Rhodes, students, faculty and administration and all the growth she’s seen in Memphis during her time here. The night was filled with much laughter and shared stories (Professor Ackerman had actually traveled to the vineyards near where Emily and Allison had studied abroad in Italy), but ultimately concluded with what it means to make the most of our college education.
I suppose it was this final aspect that got me thinking about my life at Rhodes. Not necessarily the education part, though that has been worthwhile too I suppose it its own way. When talking to Dr. Ackerman, I realized all the things that came to mind weren’t papers or projects or even things I’ve done (we all know the laundry list Rhodes kids can rattle off about their resumes). The highlights and meaningful events were all rooted in an experience with people or a specific person. That has included everything from relationships with professors who seemed so big and scary way back when but now some of whom are among the more caring people I know. So many of them are genuinely invested in the interests and success of their students. While, I can’t claim to be close with everyone I’ve ever taken a class from, and yes there are those I’d rather just forget, but there are also those that I consider to be such incredible resources and mentors in some capacity.
Outside of school I think about my teammates and roommates—the two groups of people I likely have had the most hate and love for over the years and how much I have learned from so many of them. Of course there are moments inextricably tied with both of these groups, but outside of some big games, or trips or meals, in both cases it is the collection of all the time I was forced to spend with these people and the inevitably resulted in something ridiculous, as well as my best friends, that has been so meaningful.
Furthermore, there are the relationships with the city of Memphis, Caritas, Onie, Noel and all the kids there. We talked at length with Dr. Ackerman about the city of Memphis, its reputation and all the great things we’ve found here. We also go to pick her brain for some new restaurant ideas etc. But this city was not a place I was excited about as a freshman. I missed my South Carolina comfort zone dearly. And though sometimes I still wish some mountains and beaches were closer, I have become both proud and defensive of the city of Memphis. I think that is a direct result of my living off campus and experiencing so many of the things this city has to offer with my roommates and through the Ruka. Caritas has become a place of comfort that can cheer me up on any stressful day, and I look to Onie and Noel as mentors on a regular basis.
I know this blog post was supposed to be about dinner, so even though I doubt I have done the evening justice, I think I owe a thank you to Dr. Ackerman for making me think beyond just the piles of work that lay ahead over these last few weeks to all the people I’ve met and will get to hang out with during that time instead. The whole “second semester senior year is a breeze” thing may not exactly be true, but its professors like Drs. Ackerman and McNary –Zak who have taught me how to take time to be reflective and reminded to do so in the chaos that is Rhodes. So instead of complaining or groaning when asked about being a senior over these next few weeks, I instead will explain how much I am looking forward to countless hours with my roommates (maybe a few will be studying, most will likely be baking), soccer banquets and dinners, a few plays at Caritas/Brewster and hanging out in the city that has become my second home.


Visit With Another Intentional Community

We’ve been incredibly busy over the last few months. As we were getting back into the swing of things, the semester has flown by. Although things have been hectic at times, we were really excited to have the opportunity to visit another intentional community. In January we drove to Conway, Arkansas and visited the Bonhoeffer House at Hendrix College. We started off the day bright and early at 7:30 and embarked on a hilarious car ride with Professor McNary-Zak. When we got to Hendrix we met Professor Williamson, their faculty advisor, as well as current and past Bonhoeffer House members. We took turns explaining each of our intentional communities (to the best of our ability) and then asked questions and discussed the differences in our versions of intentional living. The Bonhoeffer House is an intentionally Christian community, which entails prayer, devotional study, reflection, hospitality, and service. We were able to discuss in-depth the core values of our communities and what intentional living means in terms of our liberal arts education. We also talked about what a typical week looks like for both of our communities, and both found aspects of the each other’s practices appealing. While they really liked the idea of intentional buddies and professor dinners we thought that keeping a journal could be particularly beneficial for us and our reflections. Regardless of our differences, it was very encouraging to see other students engaging in intentional living during their college experience.


Additionally, meeting with multiple generations of the Bonhoeffer group was enlightening for us as it allowed us to see how their program, which has been around since 2007, has grown and transformed over time. As the Ruka is relatively new, it was interesting to see how dynamic their communities have been and how each year is different. After we had lunch and continued conversation, we walked across campus to the current living space in on campus apartments. Unlike Rhodes, most of Hendrix’s students live on campus all four years and thus integrating intentional community and on campus living is an added obstacle and opportunity. We spent time in their community space discussing our college lives and comparing both Rhodes with Hendrix and Memphis with Conway. At the end of the day we had a quick wrap up and reflection before driving back to Memphis. Overall it was a great experience for us to engage with other students participating in similar programs at another school. We hope to continue the dialogue between our two communities and hope one day the Bonhoeffer House can visit the Ruka!


Farm to Table Conference



On Tuesday Feb 12th Rhodes was a partner and host of the Farm to Table Conference. Emily and I were able to squeeze a couple of the talks into our academic schedule. The conference was sponsored by with local organizations and companies whose missions are sustainable food practices and hosted by the Rhodes Environmental Studies/Sciences and anthropology departments. We were really excited to participate in the conference given out interests in both sustainable living and investment in the greater Memphis community. At the lunch time panel focused on “Sustainable Food and the Future of Memphis” we were introduced to local professionals and farmers committed to furthering the green movement in Memphis. More specifically, the panelists included representatives from Ghost River Brewing, Grow Memphis, South Memphis Farmer’s Market and Green Girl Produce. Each person shared their company’s/organization’s contribution to the future self-reliant food culture in Memphis. Each panelist discussed the importance of local investment, the rich resources available in Memphis, as well as the value of collaboration and solidarity within this food network. The panelists also shared the specific goals of their organization and the role they have each played in the movement. They also briefly touched on how others can get involved.

Additionally, Emily attended a session where current research on the South Memphis farmer’s market was shared. Students from the University of Memphis had surveyed shoppers and presented their findings informing the community about who was using the market as well as suggestions/possibilities on how to reach a broader group, and how to expand the market to more efficiently meet community needs. Other sessions of the day included talks on growing practices in the Mid-South geared toward urban farming on both large and small scales. These included the titles “Top 10 Fruit Varieties that Work in the Mid-South” and “Best Practices: Farming in the Mid-South.” Other sessions focused on the business side of farming and included topics such as “High Value Markets for Maximizing Farm Profits” and “Establishing a Food Hub in Memphis to Increase Market Opportunities for Local Producers.” Additional topics included fun interest sessions on “ The Bee-ginners guide to Bee Keeping” and “Experiences Eating Local: Food Writing in the South.”

We were really glad to have gotten to participate, despite being unable to attend all the sessions (having to be students can really be a drag). It was particularly encouraging to hear how widespread the green movement is in Memphis, exciting to learn about further opportunities to become involved, interesting to discover new places/businesses to explore and support as part of this locally driven movement.  We even took away a few tips as we begin thinking about our spring garden here at the Ruka.

On that note, Lucy and Ethel have begun laying eggs again! They may have attempted an escape (and by that Lucy definitely took a field trip out of the coop), but all is back to normal (whatever that means) this week. Last Thursday was also the first spring semester production by the Peacemakers. We were glad to support them on stage and we are looking forward to our spring events with them. In other Ruka news, we are currently conducting interviews for our individual research projects. Check back in soon for more updates!


Up Next in 2013….

After getting back and catching up on everything we did over the break, we all had a meeting to discuss a few exciting things happening this semester as the Ruka! First of all, each of us are doing research with Professor McNary-Zak on a different topic that interested us based out of our experience in an intentional community. This research is exciting in that each of us will be able to help talk thoughts out with each other, while researching our own topic specific to our individual interests in intentional community. Below is a brief idea of what each of us will be studying this semester.

For this project, Emily will be spending time in some of Memphis’ many intentional communities. She is looking at how each of these different types of groups organize their community and define intentionality. Allison will be exploring the role a physical place plays in helping to create and sustain community. In doing this, she will be using Caritas Village as a case study. Shannon will also be focusing on Caritas for her project. More specifically, she will be telling the story of the formation and evolution of the Peacemakers program and the impact of the program to the greater community of the neighborhood. I will studying other communities as well. However, my focus is on the role Bonhoeffer’s works play in modern intentional communities and how these communities implement his ideas.  

Also, this weekend we are going to visit the Bonhoeffer House at Hendrix College! We are all really excited to find out how an intentional community looks on another college campus and having the opportunity to reflect on our own intentional community. We are really looking forward to being able to hear how they implement their intentional community into their campus, and how they interpret living intentionally. 

During our meeting we also discussed what new environmental aspect we want to add to the community, since we have been working on implementing something new each month. This month however, we decided that we want to really focus on quality over quantity. We each acknowledged that we have not been following each environmental aspect to its fullest, and we are more interested in doing a few things really well than half-way doing a lot of things. So for now, we’ll be refocusing on water and energy conservation, composting and looking ahead to our spring garden. 

We have a lot of exciting things planned with two different dinners set up (one with a community member from Peacemakers at Caritas and one with a Psychology professor), a different look to Peacemakers, and each of us doing our research. More to come soon!


Ruka Update

We kicked off last semester with a great meal with Regina Simmons, Director of New Student programs at Rhodes College. We had a wonderful conversation about ways we can better publicize the Ruka amongst our classmates and avenues we can explore to get involved as a community on campus. She brought a wonderful Reese’s pie to dinner—best that I have ever had!

We had a sad end to the semester when we said good-bye to our dear friend Noel Schwartz. Noel is the founder of Peacemakers, the after school program at Caritas, and recently moved to Ashville, North Carolina to be part of an eco-community. We had a lovely meal of white bean chicken chili paired with delicious cornbread made from Paula’s family recipe. We are so sad that Noel is no longer in Memphis but we are keeping in touch! Peacemaker’s will not be the same without her, but it is amazing to see all that she has done with the program and the way she has served the Peacemaker kids and the Binghampton community. This past semester, with the help of the Memphis Theater, the Peacemakers put on a play and performed it for the community. It was great seeing the kids on stage. We are all looking forward to another semester with the kids.

Our dear friend and mentor Noel Schwartz. We will miss her dearly.

Our dear friend and mentor Noel Schwartz. We will miss her dearly.


Before winter break the Ruka also participated in the Angel Tree program sponsored by the Salvation Army. We adopted a 7-year-old boy and bought Christmas presents for him. We got him a few basics, like t-shirts and pants, but we also got him a nerf ball, and cool new video games. We had a fun time shopping for him, and hopefully we helped bring smile to his face Christmas morning.

CHICKEN UPDATE! Lucy and Ethel are doing well. They started laying beautiful brown eggs. Between the two of them we usually get an egg a day. They stopped for a little while when it got really cold, and apparently hens don’t lay as regularly in the winter. The websites we read said chickens are usually killed in the winter and their meat is eaten—we didn’t think that was such a good idea. We have however cooked their eggs for breakfast and they taste richer and fresher than grocery store eggs.  Lucy and Ethel also inspired a new friendship in the neighborhood. Brian, a neighbor over our back fence, also has chickens and was kind enough to feed them during break.

Last semester was wonderful and we are looking forward to a great Spring semester.


New Additions to the Ruka

So many things have happened at the Ruka since our last post! In addition to a whole summer’s worth of adventures for all four of us, we have made some new additions to the house. It happened on one Saturday afternoon when Paula and Allison’s moms helped us take the initiative and get into contact with a local farmer who happened to breed chickens. The idea started back in the spring and grew when the Memphis Commercial Appeal ran an article about urban chickens and their growing popularity in Memphis. We also happened to meet a neighbor, who has three and routinely has organic fresh eggs. So that fateful Saturday, after chatting with Russell over the phone, we made the decision to commit, and we took a drive out to Collierville. After an adventure finding the farm, and establishing that it was in fact in the country, we hesitantly knocked on the door and proceeded to be shocked for the next hour. Not only does Russell have over 200 chickens of various ages, breeds and sizes, he also raises bees for their honey, has a donkey and owns one of the sweetest dogs ever!! Allison and I proceeded to be wowed by the entire experience because it was so far from anything we’ve ever done before—Paula and Allison’s moms took pictures. I think the most ridiculous (and craziest) part of the whole thing was when we were all prepared to select our chickens to take them home, Russell took the time to explain how to hold a chicken without it flying away, then put one in our hands! We thought he was going to put them in the box….I HELD A CHICKEN! He was the kindest person; he answered all of our questions (though I’m fairly certain he was fearful for the survival chances of his precious pets), gave us feed to last the weekend, explained the dangers of raccoon predators given our location, and taught us all about what to do to keep them happy so we’ll get the best eggs!  Finally, after thanking Russell for his hospitality, generosity, and getting his phone number for future questions/problems, we made the trek home still attempting to process what was actually happening. This was also when the names Lucille and Ethel were agreed upon for our newest family members. After putting them in the expertly fashioned coop (thanks Mr. Vasichko!) we introduced them to their new home and let them sleep for the night.

The next morning trying to check on them after their first night, we realized how appropriate these new names were. In the midst of trying to give them food, one got out of the coop and jumped/flew (still not exactly sure how that happened) up onto our back fence between our neighbor’s yards and ours. After running into their yard, scaling a fence to a third yard (to steer her back into our yard), 6 people and a half hour later, she was finally back into her coup. That day a new run WITH ROOF was added to their space!

Nonetheless, approximately one month later, our girls don’t run away from us anymore and have even laid their first three eggs! They have become a part of the daily routine and the family around here. We brag about them constantly and frequently just go visit them in the backyard when we get home from school! More updates coming soon about the community happenings and the hysterical CHAOS that is life in the Ruka…

Ruka love,


At Russell’s farm! Our first time holding chickens!!


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