Life in the Ruka

By Claire Coulter

This post has been a long time coming.  But for all of you Ruka followers, here you go!

I was so excited to move into the Ruka, I mean why wouldn’t I be?  I had the chance to live with 4 of my closest friends and spend every waking moment with them.  What could be bad about that?  The first two months were hard.  We missed Lauren who was still studying abroad in Chile.  The rest of us were all over the place with our summer jobs.  Our schedules were crazy and we barely had time to hang out.  We were trying to live intentionally, but increasingly became aggravated with one another.

Soon enough, Lauren returned and classes started again.  In one of our meetings with Professor McNary-Zak, we decided to start this thing called ‘intentional buddies’.  This would be a time we would break into pairs for the week and spend individual time with our ‘buddy’ for the week.

At first I was somewhat skeptical.  How would this help?  Why would I need to spend an hour with one of my housemates?  I already see them all the time.  I don’t need this.  Oh I was so wrong!  The time I have spent with my intentional buddy each week has been the greatest blessing.  It forces me to take time out of my week to listen and hear what is happening in my roommates’ lives.  It causes me to not be completely selfish for once and really practice living in community. Sure we all live together and have meetings and such, but is it true community if you don’t take time away from yourself to care for others? Of course, these weekly meeting aren’t always serious.  I’ve had many a Frida’s date with some yummy margaritas to some late night pillow talks.

Overall, I have begun to learn what it is like to live in community.  I’m not going to lie – it can be rough.  But the time we spend together as friends reminds me why it’s worth living with such amazing people.  I am looking forward to finishing out the year in the Ruka with all the blessings and struggles that brings!

New Semester, New Vibe

Returning to the Ruka during winter break set the tone for this semester. Although we had all moaned at the prospect of returning early as we planned for our Spring Semester Retreat, there was a definite peace that we all returned. Last fall and summer we had been adjusting to one another, Caritas, our busy schedules, and the impending uncertainty of what it means to be done with our undergraduate experience. There was a shift over break in all of us that has brought a different energy and joy to living in the house.
In our first meeting Sarah had set the tone by establishing the group norm of having fun together. From that moment all of our previous frustrations and stressful relationships have thawed out to present some hilarious moments, new found trust, and energy in this final semester. We mapped our life as the Ruka on a giant roll of butcher paper by drawing the events, food, and times we have shared. Some images include cupcakes, passive aggressive sticky notes, and bicycles to give you an idea of our collective artistic talents. After our retreat we were able to enjoy a meal together with BMZ and laugh. We Really laughed. Thankfully that laughter has continued.
This week we are facilitating story circles at Caritas as a part of the US Department of Arts & Culture’s People’s State of the Union. While in the past an event like this might have been stressful, under the current circumstances I am so excited to share this with other community members and do it as a group. Our relationships with Caritas are growing despite the cold weather.
It has occurred to me that every relationship we have has the capacity to get complicated and frustrating. As housemates, we have all hurt one another to certain extents and we have the option of letting that determine how we treat or think about one another. It feels as if we perpetually decide whether or not to forgive one another and choose to love. In spending time with Onie, and others at Caritas, it would be really easy to be overly sensitive to rejection when it is your mission to be present for a community. However, in this dedication to live together I have found it hurts to be in relationship, but by continuously electing to live in community we are dredging up a deeper part of ourselves that is both challenged and grown through the process. I am so thankful for these women, BMZ, and Caritas. I am learning how to love and care deeply.


Community around our table

This time of the year everything is running at maximum speed, our schedules, classes, jobs, and our appetites. I feel as if my own appetite for delicious food increases in proportion to the cold weather as the days get shorter and my desire for warmth gets bigger.

Warmth for me includes a busy kitchen and a house full of my roommates (and best friends) ready to be my taste-testers, critics, and supporters. As a Religious Studies major, I have been studying the intersection between food and faith for the last three years. I’ve always loved food (let’s be honest, who doesn’t), but after coming to Rhodes and learning about the problems and specifics of our food system in America, my vague interest in food became an academic pursuit. I was able to study things such as vegetarianism throughout the Christian church, the way that religious institutions use food in ministry programs, and most recently, I’ve had the opportunity to study life around the table.




A recent community dinner with some wonderful Rhodes professors: Dr. Thomas, Dr. Maddox, and Dr. White. (Anyone want to sponsor a GoPro, so we can take professional selfies?)


What a wonderful phrase, life around the table. This has been one of the most tangible ways that I have seen community acted out in our Ruka, as we have hosted friends, strangers, professors, and neighbors around our table. We have welcomed them into our kitchen, our dining room, even the coffee table in our living room, each time thrusting food into people’s hands, asking them over and over if they want more to drink, if they’ve had their fill of whatever we were serving that day.

There is nothing more satisfying than feeding someone. I’m not sure if that is the part of me that has always wanted to be an Italian grandmother, but to feed someone is to act out hospitality in a way that is tangible and accessible for the group of college kids that we are.

When my roommates wonder why I’m making another pie crust, baking another cake, or seeing how many vegetables I can use up in one recipe, what I have a hard time explaining is how giving food to them is a way I’m showing love, a way that I’m reaching out to them on the most basic of levels. To feed, and to have them enjoy it, is something that brings me joy; it feels as if I’m sharing with them something that goes beyond words. They get a glimpse into my day, aka why I chose to bake enchiladas/roast veggies/cook yet another serving of rice, or they might see that I’m stressed and resorted to chocolate for dinner. It’s a moment to stop in our busy days, and catch up, to discuss what’s going on in our lives and take care of our bodies at the same time. A way to share life.

So, here’s to many more moments of life lived around the table…or the kitchen counter, or the dining room, or the breakfast nook, or even the couch when all we want to do is curl up with a bowl of cereal and a friend to talk to. It is during the moments of sharing life in the kitchen, around the table, and in the everyday routine, that the hospitality of the Ruka is most visible to me, and I hope, to others as well.


Our recent s’mores night at the Ruka, Abbey and Sarah hard at work making some delicious noms. *Photo cred to Iris.

Much love,



Festivities at the Ruka

The Ruka has been a-buzz this last week with the Open House last weekend, our first Community Meal on Wednesday, and Lauren’s 21st birthday yesterday. It’s been so much fun to have so many people, from Caritas volunteers to Crew teammates to PA friends to Rhodes professors to best friends in and out of the house. There’s so much I can say about all the people we’ve had over and all the conversations we’ve had, but I want to focus on the Community Meal because it was such an exceptional experience.

As members of the Ruka, we have agreed, as part of our fellowship, to host one community meal per month, for which we’ll invite between 2-3 community members and/or Rhodes professors to our house for dinner.  For our very first community meal, we hosted Professor Gray, a religious studies professor at Rhodes, who has taught several of us in class, and Beverly Pfluger, one of Rhodes’s excellent Career Services counselors and the co-director of the Summer Service Program that Abbey and I were a part of this past summer. Abbey, Lauren, Claire, Iris, and I cleaned up the house and prepared Italian herb chicken and baked sweet potatoes before they arrived, and P.Gray and Beverly brought focaccia bread, salad, and the lively conversation. We had a great night, all gathered around our circular table in the dining room, learning how we all wound up at Rhodes, reminiscing on Search and Life classes with P.Gray freshman year, and listening to Beverly’s wise advice on how to live together in a community. (She recommends focusing on the positives and reminding ourselves why we love each other, rather than obsessing about the negatives (e.g. So-and-So hasn’t washed her dishes again!). We all found this to be rather timely advice.)

And that brings me to my final thought for the week. It’s not always easy living with good friends. Already, we’ve experienced frustration with one another. I’ve harbored resentment towards others, like Beverly was alluding to, and kept my feelings bottled up inside when I really just needed to let someone know how I felt. And that’s not how it should be. Walking on eggshells around delicate subjects isn’t fun for anyone, and just because we’re close friends, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t tell one another how we truly feel for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. I’ve learned that I need to be more open to my sharing my own feelings and listening to others’ as well because loving one another and listening well to one another is what community is all about, even through difficult conversations.


First Open House

After all the hard work (and fun) that was needed to establish the expectations of our fellowship, move in to our lovely house, and settle into our hectic semester schedules, we have finally arrived at this day: the day of our first open house, the day when we officially welcome the community into our home.  We’re all excited!  As the first Ruka residents in two years, one of our goals, this year, is to increase publicity and awareness about the Ruka so that we can maximize the impact of our house, as a place where ALL Rhodes students and members of the Memphis community feel welcome.  The invites have been sent, the compost started, the house cleaned, the cookies and lemonade purchased.  Now, we’re simply awaiting the guests.  See one of our many invitations below.  More pictures of the open house to come!

rhodes ruka

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.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.