Elegiac

It was a tough week to lose Padme.

Padme Pattertis Paddingtail joined the B-Ks in September 2002. We were living at 1005 at the time and reckoned it was time for a kitten, plus it was Jim’s birthday. When we went to the kitten foster house and Jim noticed an energetic li’l badass trying to sneak out of the room, the woman in charge told Jim, No, you don’t want her – she’s the bad one. Jim responded by scooping the kitten up in all of her terrible and tawny badness, and thus began our lives together. She put up with a lot in her almost-15 years, including a Star Wars name, a move, the eventual addition of 3 other cats, undignified nicknames such as “Paddles” and “Squeaks on a Stick”, watching her favorite young humans grow up and eventually leave, and the vacuum cleaner. She hated that thing.

Things Padme enjoyed included shredding paper, hopelessly messing up balls of yarn, drinking/grooming loudly, eating plastic bags, chattering at birds out the window, her humans (in order: Jim, Cody, Lilly, me), belly rubs, and the sun. That cat enjoyed the SHIT out of the sun and the breeze on her face. In fact, a few days before she died – we had just discovered she was sick – Padme suddenly appeared in the kitchen and made for the back door. She had shown zero interest in going outside for weeks, given the weather and her heretofore-unknown-to-us illness, but that day was a bit warmer and I thought, OK, you can go out, and opened the door for her. She stepped out and sat on the back steps. A few minutes later, I looked out the window and she was still there, gazing over the driveway and into the neighbor’s yard with the breeze on her face and a look in her eyes that can only be described as “faraway”. I let her back inside when she was ready, she looked up at me as she passed through the kitchen, and she went and resettled herself on the couch. That was Friday, January 13; we said goodbye on Monday, January 16. This is how I imagine she’s spending her time:

She will live on in our garden, amongst the birds she loved/hated so much.

It’s kind of a crappy week when it’s bookended by the death of a friend and a Presidential inauguration that most definitely ushered in… something. However, Saturday was a new day, and a good start.

Protest is an excellent tool of rebellion and resistance, but what comes the next day? The day after that? The day after that? The weeks, months, years after that? Yesterday’s protests were global and sent a very powerful message, but the day-to-day work is in our heads, homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Here are 10 totally free activities we can consider integrating into our day-to-day, if we’re not doing some or all of them already. I know I’m not. They’re really small steps that will help us get ready for bigger steps, should we need to/want to take them.

talk to a neighbor about squirrels, the weather, whatever, and check if they need anything | go to the library, if you have access, and see what they have to offer, because it’s a lot, and get a card if you don’t have one | take five minutes to breathe deeply, because most of us are not breathing to full capacity | appreciate a work of art – music, writing, painting, etc – seriously, take it all in | read or listen to something that makes you uncomfortable (see: library) | find out more about where you live, even if you’ve always lived there or plan to leave ASAP | related: get a bead on your local elected officials and ask them why, when, and how | pet and say hello to a dog or cat or guinea pig or gerbil or bird or whatever and look them in the eye while doing so | while vigilance is ever-important, step away from the news once in awhile | take a page out of Padme’s playbook and enjoy the goddamn breeze on your face

Love, and luck, to all of us. Oh, and…

Do the Other Things

I can’t tell you how awesome it’s been to have a young astrophysicist in the house for the last few weeks. Not only that, but a young astrophysicist who’s willing to entertain the thought, read the book, see the movie, have the conversation, explain the concept, accept the hug, and make the pancakes.

Not to mention the young political scientist/photographer, who can parse the Constitution, by amendment, on demand, give context to every film, take photos of everything that leave one wondering how the…, give incredibly thoughtful gifts, and eat all the leftovers.

Films we have watched since mid-December:

The Right Stuff
Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: A New Hope
Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
Rogue One (twice)
Hidden Figures
Apollo 13
Snowden
Finding Vivian Maier
Operation: Avalanche

The Hobbit (fan edit)
Fellowship of the Ring*
The Two Towers*
Return of the King*

*in one sitting, 1/1/2017


The weather has been good in fits and starts, and when it’s good, I walk. Longtime readers know that I’m a huge fan of the local prairie preserve. Let me tell you something about that place: It is still magical, so magical. But the surrounding land is being developed within an inch of the park’s life, and the construction and resulting buildings have become a bit of a distraction for me – it’s really not that big of a park, you know? My feeling this way about the only quiet, natural, prairie-of-some-size within easy distance from my domicile leads me to wonder if it’s time to start thinking of other places to spend my time. But when I run across the sculpture there, a subtle part of the landscape yet so alien and apart from it, it forces me to review my perspective. I always walk around my favorites, because NEW ANGLES, Y’ALL.

This might be my favorite, because when you approach it from most directions, you don’t see the heart. Here it is, just for you.

 

There is our life when we’re around others, outside our primary four walls (AKA “home”), and then there is time alone, at home. Who are you when you’re at home? What do you believe? What do you do? Do you sing into a hairbrush? Do you get into comfy clothes the second you get home? Sit as though on a throne playing with dolls, like [SPOILER ALERT] Jenna Coleman’s Queen Victoria does on the day of her coronation? Watch TV? Think unpopular thoughts? Cook things and eat them? Or bring them to the neighbors? Pet the cats? Check for Facebook likes? Secretly play U2? Work?

Lately I see 909 as a retreat, an oasis, a fortress, a small-but-mighty enclave, vibrant and private, unassuming and welcoming, a destination. Home. It’s been home for 12 years… what’s different about 2017?

Stirring

JULY

 

Regal feline

 

Home to roost

 

Together v 1.0

 

AUGUST

 

Dumpling gang

 

‘Twas the night before college

 

SEPTEMBER

 

Championship match

 

Poster Children at Pygmalion

 

OCTOBER

 

Midterm

 

Kanken stash at Fjallraven, St. Paul

 

NOVEMBER

 

Meadowbrook

 

Studio space at Same Street Textiles & Scrap Yard

 

Fireplace upgrade at 909

 

DECEMBER

 

Love is all around

 

Together v 2.0

 

My sentiments exactly (photo source unknown)

 

Currently: Knitting a rectangle and patiently waiting for this year to come to a close. I’ve got a list of possessions and behaviors to jettison, and others to reclaim.  I’m also wondering, as we hurtle into a new calendar year: What does complacency mean to you? Is it something to be aspired toward? Or challenged?

 

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively):

Wondering how Perry Possum would respond to such overtures

How huge is your mammoth? Mine is enormous. And loud

Buying this shirt, brb

Carrie Fisher’s unofficial doctoring made the ESB script better. Way better

Discovering Donella Meadows

Wish I’d thought of this name

Always reading the comments at Archdruid Report

Granola Shotgun providing inspiration for the coming year(s)

I keep coming back to Nance Klehm

My friend Lisa writes AMAZING stuff

The sun rises and sets on Urbana, IL

Up On the Sun

I wish you could smell where I live once the Summer Solstice arrives, and I do mean that in the best way. The scent of high summer in the Midwest, especially during a sunny, hot, and humid summer like the one we’ve been having since late May, is its own heady cut-grass-and-clover beast. Or its own pungent warm-dill-breadseed-poppies-and-horse-manure beast. You pick.

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I love that about 1 mile away from 909 and our very cute neighborhood, we can see these guys in something approximating a natural habitat.

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Orange: It’s the color of joy and creativity, of warmth and determination… of FUN! No wonder it’s been Jim’s favorite for decades.

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O, these sunflowers with their pale-yellow petals and chocolate-brown centers against that as-yet-unhazed summer sky.

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Summer also = international tournament/cup soccer. I’m off today, having myself a little Solstice-fueled vacation, and I’m eagerly awaiting my family’s arrival home from work in a bit so we can prepare to watch the US Men’s National Team take on Argentina. 909 is all about the flags at cup time.

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I was thinking today: Why is the phrase “real life” or “the real world” or “reality” so often used pejoratively? My daughter is working a fast-paced restaurant job this summer. Oh, that’s good, that’s a bit of the real world for her. Really? Hm. Sure, I guess. But… what IS the real world? I mean, I say shit like that, but this morning I was examining some of the things I say and I thought, well, that phrase, used that way by me, has GOT to go. I’m defining “real life” differently this summer. Real life can include working and earning money and enduring stress and trauma and stupidity and traffic and people being assholes and being tired and wondering IS THIS ALL THERE IS?, but it’s certainly not SOLELY or even PRIMARILY those things.

Thunderstorms are beautiful and terrible and necessary, and they are real life. Beautiful, hopeful weddings are real life, and, sadly, death is also real life. Ripening blackberries are real life; so are the thorns we have to deal with to get at them (unless you have the thornless kind, which I do not, but am still eternally grateful to Tim for letting me dig some up at his old house). Enthusiastic discussion with Lilly about filling out her proposed schedule for college – just a couple of months away – is real life. So is pondering the unverbalized question what will it be like when you’re away at school? And… so is admitting I’m afraid to find out.

The backyard at 909 is my real world. So is driving along listening to this interview with two absolutely awesome guys (twins!) in Ireland. So is sitting down every morning to write and watching difficult truths emerge. Vacation and daydreaming with Jim are real worlds. So is working at my desk at my job. It’s all real… but some realities seem to have the wrong weight attached. Recalibration is required.

Welp. I’m going to go smell some tomato plants and basil leaves. More soon.

Mourning in America

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Love and grief and pain and sadness and anger have dominated these last few days. The coming of Summer 2016 felt heavy even before this last weekend, but events both in Orlando and here at home, in lovely Urbana, IL, feel like the throwing of a gauntlet as the weather heats up and what is, in my opinion, a dangerous Presidential race gets underway. Communities (note: “community” can be defined in so many different ways) were completely leveled last weekend by overnight violence perpetrated by people wielding firearms and filled with… hate? Self-loathing? Grief? Will we ever know? Does it even matter?

To be 100% clear, I stand with Orlando, LGBTQ, and all affected communities worldwide, full stop. I am not into hate, “phobia” of any kind (including Islamophopbia), violence, and/or guns. My daughter eloquently offers her perspective here. Both of my kids are complete fucking badasses, beautiful and so intelligent and full of love – same as the people who died in Orlando the other night and who are dying all over the planet. That hate and violence still cut such a swath in the world in which my kids and Yours and Theirs are children/teenagers/young adults trying to make their way is boggling. What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

As life would have it, Jim and I attended an amazing wedding and reception Saturday night. The entire evening truly reflected the bride & groom’s love, beliefs, styles, families (bio and chosen), and communities. I felt privileged to be there, to see such honest and heartfelt actualization articulated in this way. It was a beacon, a lighthouse. It was affirming.

Then we woke up Sunday morning to Orlando, and a couple of hours later, as I drove through my neighborhood and down a street I take either on foot or on wheels several times a day, I became aware that something terrible had happened overnight just a few blocks away from 909. I saw cars, and police, and – as I slowed down – yellow tape creating an unthinkable perimeter. I knew the intersection very well, and I knew the house where people were gathering very well, and I hoped that the yellow tape read CAUTION and that there was a tree in the middle of the street, perhaps a broken water main. Instead, the tape read CRIME SCENE, and the house in question somehow looked like a shell of what it had looked like just the day before, though nothing had changed in its structure. I stopped and asked a friend what had happened. It was grimly relayed that they did not know, but that it was bad, and as I went on my errand, I tried to convince myself that, perhaps, maybe… it wasn’t bad. I couldn’t keep going. I turned around and went home, avoiding the intersection and the house whose light had seemingly been utterly extinguished.

It was bad. A young man named Matt, the son of my late friend Mel, had been shot and killed overnight, a victim of domestic violence at the hands of his father. The details are still not yet completely known and I’m not sure I ever want to know them. This absolute tragedy resulted in the loss of a much-loved young man from his family (my heart especially aches for his awesome sister, DeDe), and has left a family and community to struggle with the uniquely awful aftermath, like so many other communities have done, do, and, apparently, will continue to do until we address the root causes of this violence. I ask again: What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

Mel was strangely heavy on my mind in the days before Matt’s death, so in response I finally drafted a long-overdue post about Mel to eventually publish here. I’ll post it in its entirety another day, but here’s the last paragraph:

She spoke often of her children, and I always listened closely. She had mothered two creative, beautiful, singular children into adults, and I knew I could learn from her example, benefit from her wisdom. But I did not know all the details. If there was hardship, or sadness, or frustration, she never spoke of it – but as a mother, you know that nothing is perfect, that your journey with your children is yours; when she talked, I knew many things were left unsaid, and I acknowledged that, and so I joyed in it, the good and the not-as-good.

Yes, but. There is nothing to joy in anywhere in this story. There is nothing to joy in anywhere in Orlando’s story. Is there? I can’t see it, not right now. In the meantime, we do what we can to help, whether it’s offering moral support or financial support to DeDe, and moving forward with our lives while remembering those who are so suddenly gone by advocating, STRONGLY, for equality, understanding, and peace.

Seriously. What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

Workhorse

This picnic table has been in our lives since the late days of our residence at 1005. We were there from 1998-2005.

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It’s a member of our family, and like all B-Ks, it’s been put through its paces. The picnic table originated with another household, and was not a small purchase for us at the time (great condition + broke-ass = hold yr breath and write the check). We were trying to build an outdoor life in a rental house, and a sturdy, beautiful picnic table with two benches symbolized how we would spend the coming years with our children and our friends and neighbors. It meant the lingering over a cherry pie at the Summer Solstice, elbows on the table. It meant workaday and it meant special occasion. Commitment Furniture.

I had every intention of preserving its heavy, 70s-vintage beauty by coating it in linseed oil (per my friend Jeanne) and also making sure it didn’t spend time out in the elements, but most of the time the table sat folornly in the rain, devoid of linseed oil or any other protectant, and baked in the sun as it dried. Thoughts of the linseed oil project seemed to invite more rain, and the cycle would begin anew.

But the table was fine. We ate there between storms all summer, pulling it into the yard or just eating in the driveway.

Then we moved to 909. The kids went to school. I went to work. Sunshine and lots of space to work with made for new and exciting gardening challenges. Everything was different! But the table remained constant, taking its customary place in the driveway. It’s stayed there for the last 11 years, except when we hustle it into the garage for the winter every November, prodded by a late fall storm. We then haul it out with great optimism and enthusiasm on that one really warm and sunny weekend that comes every March and get down to the business – or try to – of living around the table.

Outdoor life at 909 has waxed and waned. We still eat at the table. I also use it to repot plants and start seeds.

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The cats drape themselves over it and have found it delightful as a scratching post. Squirrels crack nuts and leave pieces of old pizza wedged between planks. I’ve composed many a blog post at that table (though not this one); we’ve had lots of beers with friends there. I’ve interviewed people at that table. [If that table could speak…] It’s also been a beautiful-then-trendy weathered backdrop for taking photos of vegetables and flowers and other stuff.

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arugula

Like everyone else chez B-K, it’s got a few years and a lot of mileage on it. Putting your elbows on the table now results in splinters. The benches got some new screws this spring because the other ones just… fell out. We’ve already had a graduation party at the table this year, and I decided recently to try to germinate a bunch of seeds from 2010 to see what would happen. I got them settled into the dirt at the table.

However, my vision of myself on a sunny day, lovingly coating the picnic table (which, in my vision, is sitting prettily on a thrifted vintage sheet in the driveway) still has not come to pass, alas.

*****

Giving your children wings so they can fly away from the nest and all that other corny stuff… can sometimes be quite literal.

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Mad respect to my daughter, Lilly, for rocking it out academically, coping with adversity, injury, and rehabbing that injury, applying to and getting accepted at a bunch of schools (she’s headed here in the fall), ending her high school soccer career with the finest of exclamation points in the post-season (one of these), landing a summer job and getting started almost immediately after graduation, and for having the guts to not just go up in an adorable little Piper Cub, but also to fly it. That’s her up there.

I’ll keep watching from down here, thanks. With great interest.

Harbinger

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

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?

terns

 

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

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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