Harbinger

April 11, 2016

Tell me about the work you do because you can’t NOT do it.

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I’m talking about the work that so absorbs you that hours go by and you have no idea and now you’re starving and whoops the sun went down which is unfortunate but you’d do it all over again. I love hearing people talking about the work whose siren song they cannot resist. So… tell me about yours. Is it volunteer work? Is it building something? Is it sculpture? Is it ramen?

Confession: I’ve been without a real passion project for awhile. I get really excited about things, but the idea of even getting started on something deeper feels exhausting right now. I do think often about devoting myself to something the way Jim has devoted himself to soccer. (It’s really cool, the way he’s devoted himself to soccer.) A memoir. Multiplatform work involving three women practically no one has ever heard of but whose stories fascinate me. Helping a couple very talented friends launch their very good ideas. Completely transforming the backyard into a permaculture food landscape. Learning how to cook elaborate cuisines.

I have to start somewhere. That mention about the permaculture food landscape – which I think would be SO COOL at 909 – reminds me, uncomfortably, that I need to get with it regarding the yard & garden. Spring came early, but got taken off the boil, so to speak; it’s been cold and rainy. The wind has been from the north and west, making its presence deeply felt, so I’m leaning in and avoiding the garbage can lids.

Weather’s just part of it. Also contributing to garden avoidance: Work, college visits, soccer matches, nagging low back pain and a frozen shoulder (o, middle age; o, tight hamstrings) and waiting. Lilly’s about to decide what she’ll do after her high school graduation next month.

(Next month?)

The sticker price of college/university is absolutely absurd, friends. I have many thoughts, but I guess the one thing I’m coming away with is the realization that while our journey from public school -> homeschooling -> public school -> sort-of-public school has been maddening at times, my kids have pretty good perspective on education, the future, competition, debt, learning, etc. I’m glad for this, because they’re the ones doing the navigating of this brave new world as young adults. I cannot even imagine.

Note to self: Either way, it’s all good. Also? HAVE MORE FUN.

Feeling the Tern

March 27, 2016

As is often the case in late March, we B-Ks are just back from spring break in Florida.

So. Feel the terns, won’t you?

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O, Florida! No state mixes my feelings as thoroughly as you do.

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Photo of the B-Ks at Bean Point on Anna Maria Island by Connie Ger.

 

We did need a break, one involving sun and sand and surf and overly-friendly manatees. As things start to come together for this next phase of B-K life, the future becomes even less clear in every way, except for the assurance that it’ll be different than what we have now. This time as a family was crucial. We had a lovely time, even as Cody and I re-discovered that we do not paddle well together in a kayak.

But we do both like getting up early to walk and snapping photos of ibis in the bay when we do.

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It gets harder every year to say goodbye to Florida after this family vacation. During those days, I spend next to no time checking email or on social media. I’m outside, I’m with family and friends, I am relaxing into myself, and I’m just thawed out when it’s time to gather the towels and head north.

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We’re home now. The cold rain feels like punishment, but I’m just being dramatic. It was actually 67° with some sun today, and Jim and I uncovered his least favorite vegetable while weeding. Look at it. Such perfection.

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Then I went to the garage to unearth the garden’s good luck charm for display after the rain ends. Thanks, Chank.

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April is incoming. I’m looking forward to lots of time outside and in the garden, a college decision, several soccer games, and maybe a little regional travel. How about you?

Disruption

March 6, 2016

It’s been another Sunday spent watching the transport of cheap white bread, pre-packaged fruit pies, and old pizza.

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The sweet gum tree in the photo is the only one on our lot – it’s in the front yard. Ten years ago, when we bought 909, the fact that the only tree on the lot was in the front yard was a huge selling point for me. [Trees are awesome; I just don’t want them growing where I want to grow food.]

I hate picking up its goddamn gum balls off the front yard every spring, but I still love that tree. The infancy of those goddamn gum balls in the spring is ADORABLE. The tree has amazing bright yellow foliage in the fall. And it is most definitely some sort of environmental focal point for birds, squirrels, and Perry the Possum in a four-house area on our street.

I find this daily drama fascinating. Every day the sparrows hang around the feeders in our front yard, mixing comfortably with the squirrels, who rarely try to eat from the feeders anymore and are instead satisfying themselves, alongside the juncoes and cardinals, with whatever birdseed the sparrows drop out of the feeders (there’s plenty). When the silence outside becomes deafening, I look up into our tree’s lower branches. More often than not, a young hawk is watching like a … well, you know.

Let’s get back to the squirrels. The nest in our tree (see photo above) is home to some really active sciuridae-about-town. They spend a ridiculous amount of time going back and forth between our tree and the backyards of two houses across the street – they’ve worn a visible path on the grass between the houses – and the reason they’ve done that is the reason they no longer hog all the birdseed in our feeders.

The guy across the street is feeding them. He’s not feeding them peanuts, or chunks of apple, or stale bread, like one might every so often. He’s not feeding them stuff that would normally go in the compost, like lettuce butts and carrot peelings. Every day, he’s feeding them absurd amounts of old pizza, entire loaves of stale bread, Hostess fruit pies, ancient hamburger buns, and saltines. I watch these poor small mammals struggle up our tree several times a day, carrying pieces of bread as big as their torsos. They risk their lives in front of cars and bikes by going back after a half-bagel they dropped in the middle of the road. And, for whatever reason, they leave entire pieces of pizza and half-eaten fruit pies in our garage, on our back steps, and in our planters on our front steps.

Why? Why do they abandon their junk food in weird places? Is it because they’re full and somewhat disgusted with themselves and decide head off to my compost pile in order to undo the damage?

The other morning, as I was having my coffee and getting ready to face down another day at work, I saw something a bit different. The sun was up. It was just lovely outside, you could tell. And there was Perry Possum, heading across the street toward our house, from what can only have been a debauched night consuming processed white carbs. Perry Possum? In the daytime?

[I know a lot of people are not fond of possums, but I don’t mind Perry. It’s pretty clear Perry is known in the neighborhood, because our cats are just fine with him/her milling around while they hang out on the back porch at night. Perry is just doing his/her possumy thing.]

This isn’t good, this feeding of utter crap to the local fauna. It can make them sick and cause them to lose the instinct to feed themselves if/when the source of the junk runs out. I want to tell the gentleman across the street that he’s not doing them any favors, but I actually think he might actually live to feed these animals. I don’t know; in ten years he’s never spoken to us.

I thought about this today as I pondered the meaning of the word disruption in the context of work I do at my job and the culture we live in. Some disruption is very, very good; change is required for growth, and being able to discern, and then adapt, is critical. But I think about those squirrels wrestling with a Hostess fruit pie and I think, we can decide, at the end of the day, how we want/will allow ourselves to be disrupted; the local fauna really can’t. A bit less junk would be better for all of us.

There’s a lot to be said for continuity, too. Spring’s coming.

Welcome.

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Other Side

February 29, 2016

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This Meadowbrook crayfish paused in its quest to “cross the road” to tell you to enjoy your Leap Day, and to do your best to get to wherever you need to go. He/she looks pretty serious about it.

See you in March!

Blizzard Breath

February 24, 2016

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It’s a snow day. Life appears to be TOTALLY CANCELLED in C-U today. (Not pictured: 50 MPH winds)

Except for the U of I, where I work. WE NEVER CLOSE; they send an email to all faculty, staff and students before every snow event reminding us of this fact. I’m very lucky in that I have a job (and the gear) where I can work from home if need be.

So. Today’s weather coincided just so with my schedule. My technology has been working. Many of my colleagues opted to stay home as well, which means phone meetings (urgh) and lots of messaging. Because while I wish I could have taken the day off, today is not that day. I actually am working. My ass off. I mean, it’s not like I’m out there plowing snow, but still.

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:: Post title thanks to my awesome colleague Liz ::

Quaint

February 21, 2016

Basements: Shelter from severe weather, repository of the detritus from a bygone era.

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In the case of the B-K basement, that bygone era is little more than ten years ago. Looking around at stacks of CDs, magazines, books from the homeschooling years, boxes of files filled with magazine clippings from those same years, the knitting stuff, the piles of thrifted crap I meant to sell on eBay – it’s all kind quite unbearably cute and earnest and analog and quaint and very 20th century, as though my grandmother had kept all that stuff for us.

I think I like the idea of preserving this archaeological dig of a basement – FOR NOW – because the evidence of a decade-plus of change is in my face every day when I  a) look at my family and b) how I spend my days. (I’m also lazy-busy.)

Eleven years ago, I was feral in the backyard with my children; Neither they nor I had a smartphone or social media since they basically didn’t exist. Ten years ago, everyone went back/off to school because I was working full time at the Foodbank and wearing dress pants. Five years ago, I was preparing to spend my 4th season running the Market and building its social media presence. Now I do something else entirely.

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[The guy in the photo, Ryan – while interesting – was not the interviewee. The actual interviewee was running a few minutes late, so Ryan decided to hang out. My other colleague, Tim, must have taken this photo. Or did I?]

This trip was the second of three total we’re taking to Chicago within eight days to interview people for a project we’re working on. The first trip was to WYCC’s studios on the south side, this trip was to Lincoln Park, and this Thursday’s interview is downtown. As we left the city yesterday at sunset, I admired our view and felt feelings about my years there.

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About the project itself: There are lots of logistics around equipment and overall planning on the front end and back end, but that’s largely the purview of my colleagues.

Since I’m doing much of the writing and am conducting the interviews, my main role is to decide on the topics of conversation as they pertain to the project. Then I begin intelligence gathering. Read articles and books. Listen to podcasts, watch videos online, follow people on Twitter, read their tweets and digest their retweets. Cross out and rewrite. Order and reorder. Add and delete. Later on, Tim and I (mostly Tim) will color in the shapes we drew at the beginning of the project – we edit everything down into 26 minutes that hopefully gets the story right while also moving and inspiring viewers and/or listeners.

Projects like this aren’t my “real job”, but I consider it my favorite work. I’m so very glad it found me/I found it. I think 25 years of reading voraciously, teaching myself Internet, going to shows, working in music, nursing babies, blogging, facilitating my kids’ early education, planting gardens, taking photos, selling thrifted stuff on eBay as a side hustle, keeping file folders full of articles as “inspiration”, collecting vintage aprons, preserving food, wearing dress pants, strolling the aisles with my clicker at the farmers market, and always (always) talking and listening – all of that led me to doing what I’m doing in 2016. The evidence is downstairs.

Jim and I face an empty nest in less than 6 months. Our basement is like the late 1990s/earlyish 2000s preserved in amber for our family. I am loath to disturb it, so I’m not gonna.

Yet.

Status Update

February 14, 2016

What if, instead of posting status updates to Facebook, I just posted them here?

Today’s reading material, at various times while reclining on various pieces of furniture:

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Confession: I desperately – DESPERATELY – want to hang out with Coco Moodysson, who wrote and illustrated the memoir Never Goodnightup there on the upper left. Her Tumblr is here. Her husband, Lukas Moodysson, made her memoir into a movie called We Are the Best!. He’s pretty cool, too – he’s made a couple other movies I highly recommend, like Show Me Love and Together; His Tumblr is here. [He hasn’t updated since September 2015 because, he says, the internet takes more than it gives. I’m inclined to agree.] Anyway, I’ve gone in and out of Moodysson fandom for almost 15 years and today I’m feeling it pretty hard.

In other news: My friend Kathleen recently posted this interview from 2011 with writer Tamar Adler by chef/writer/candidate for office Kurt Friese. From the intro (emphasis mine):

It’s unanimous these days: Cooking food from scratch at home is one of the best ways to eat sustainably without breaking the bank. It also enables eaters to easily support food producers who use environmentally sound, ethical, and humane practices. But most Americans can’t pull this off regularly.

Now, four years later, I’m trying to square that with this article from just a couple days ago. Here’s an excerpt – again, emphasis mine:

No one wants to think about farmers calling it quits. It muddies the heroic glow cast around our food producers. It cuts through all of the feel-good chatter about food systems and local economies. Each time a farmer quits, a little piece of our new agrarian dream dies. But however hard it is to discuss, the rate at which farmers are walking away from their farms—whether by choice or by force—may be the most important measure of whether or not our food systems are actually working. Because although farmers’ markets are springing up everywhere, the average small-scale farmer is barely surviving.

“Heroic glow”. “Feel-good chatter”. “New agrarian dream”. I have such incredibly mixed feelings about this terminology – so aspirational, so lifestyle, so mainstream. I freely admit to responding to this kind of marketing even as I hate it, though, because I want farmers to win, and I like to imagine that together, we can do this! I want to support local producers and am in a position – for now, anyway – to be able to do that. But we have to get real about it. More from the article:

Wendell Berry asks, “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: Love. They must do it for love.”

I have an immense amount of respect for Wendell Berry, but I am growing tired of this answer. Certainly it would be a mistake to become a farmer if you did not enjoy being outside doing, if you were not fiercely independent, if you did not enjoy the physical labor involved in food production. But a farmer cannot survive simply on love alone.

Related: This audio series by some local (to me) high school students about farming in 2015-2016 in Illinois. Full disclosure – these are my daughter’s classmates, though she didn’t work on this project, and they produced the series in partnership with my employer. I think they’re amazing.

Finally: Valentine’s Day brought us a couple of inches of snow.

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February is halfway over. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m cool with it.

Partitioning

February 7, 2016

The weirdest thing, thus far, about this project I’ve embarked upon with the Real Life Rock book has been my desire to return to it every day. If only other habits I’ve tried to develop fared so well.

But…what better distraction from early February? What better misdirection from my middle-age frets and our unpredictable weather and Illinois’ budget impasse and that feeling of… spinning, like the beach ball, as we wait to find out which schools Lilly’s been accepted to, plus the decisions yet to come down from Mt. FAFSA?

None better. It’s the perfect casual late winter project for me; this revisiting my own unique experience – as a very impressionable and rather dumb young person – of music and cultural discovery has been an excellent time so far, if a little navel-gazey.

But – the music! Each morning I read the next list (the lists were published weekly, but in my current universe one 1986 week = one 2016 day), then search for the songs on that list; if I can find them in Spotify, I add them to a playlist. If Spotify searches bear no fruit, sometimes can I find songs on YouTube and listen. Here are some random thoughts I’ve had while performing this exercise:

Man, I remember those Sin Alley compilations when re-pressings came in to Cargo.

I’m amazed at how quickly I am returned to my freshman year at Macalester upon hearing any track from Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate.

I did not know who the Mekons were until 1990.

It is completely obvious that Steve Perry (from Journey) taught himself how to sing by listening to Sam Cooke.

80s Bryan Ferry!

I should be done with 1986 in a week, give or take a day. Then the playlist breathes for another week or so while I try to watch a few of the films referenced in the lists, or maybe track down a couple of the books/articles/magazines Marcus talks about. I’m not going to bother looking for Godzilla (2/18/86), but I’m definitely on the hunt to borrow a copy of Forced Exposure #10 (9/9/86). Anyone?

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Decisions have been made:

  1. I’m joining the local Audubon Society.
  2. No plants will be started indoors for the 2016 gardening season.
  3. Basic vegetable garden will still be planted, but…
  4. … there will be way (WAY!) more flowers…

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It’s going to be cold again, we’re probably going to get snow again, and there is still plenty of winter left, but something happens when the sun gets back up to a certain height in the sky and daylight starts winning out.

It gives the house the scent of spring.

On this last day in January:

The youngest’s college applications are finished.

The eldest is home for the weekend.

We went thrifting.

The week’s grocery shopping is now complete.

We’re in the middle of laundry.

I haven’t read enough.

I didn’t get back to the library for the Les Blank set my friend Ian told me about, and I feel like it’s important.

It was 61°. And so we began.

 

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The new Greil Marcus book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I love it.

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I love its boldly-colored, comic book-style cover illustration of Marcus, its hefty 586 pages, its exhaustive, nerdalicious index, its endless lists.

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[It’s a compilation of Marcus’ “Real Life Top Ten” lists, which he began posting, as somewhat-but-not-entirely Zeitgeisty missives, in February 1986 in the Village Voice, which is where I first found it in college in the late 80sThe column continues to this day in the Barnes & Noble Review, but the book ends at September 2014. While much of his listy focus is on music (not necessarily current, either), Marcus’ RLRTTs also encompass film, books/articles, toys – whatever was bouncing around on Planet Greil at the time.]

Having a book such as this – so appealing to me! In so many ways! – arrive during the work day made for a confusing tug-of-war. It was in my mailbox when I arrived at my office in the morning. I tore open the box, flung the cardboard aside, held the book in both hands, and sighed. (I’m not kidding.) It was 8:30 AM. I had a lot to do. I put the book down.

Greil’s face stared me down from the cover. I decided to allow myself to savor one list: the first list in the book, dated February 18, 1986. By the time I got to #2, (Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”), I realized I could probably make a streaming playlist of at least the songs on the list (and additional playlists for all the subsequent lists) and listen to that while I worked. 6 of the 7 songs on the list were available; the other 3 items on the list included a toy (Godzilla), an article (about Little Richard), and a book (about Bascom Lamar Lunsford).

I went ahead and made the playlist (including the Billy Ocean song, because obviously each list must be “consumed” as fully as possible). I wondered if I should start looking up the article and the book (as well as track down the missing song, a Bette Midler cut from the Down & Out in Beverly Hills soundtrack), and it occurred to me that dealing with this book properly could be its own full-time job. I stashed it in my bag and grudgingly started answering email.

In February 1986, I was a high school senior in Minnesota; I was a princess, an athlete, a criminal, a brain, and a basket case. I’d applied to colleges, but hadn’t heard from them yet. I devoured my friend Laura’s treasured copies of Maximum Rocknroll whenever possible, listened to KFAI late at night, and knew, with absolute certainty, that there was way more out there than what I was reading/watching/hearing/doing, and that I was going to find it. All of it.

Meanwhile, Greil Marcus was starting his compilations – his written cultural mix tapes – which would eventually be compiled into its own giant compilation: this book, which I’m going to work my way through, playlist by playlist, library search by library search.

Why? Why not? There’s so much I’ve missed.

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