When they were much younger, my daughter and her older brother spent hundreds of hours with tens of thousands of Lego blocks, building all kinds of crazy stuff all over the house. This work was Very Important.


They first built according to directions. Then they took whatever it was apart and built something else altogether that, to them, was infinitely cooler than the model, the first thing. They’d never get the model back, but that didn’t matter, because they’d made this NEW AWESOME THING. Which was then almost certainly replaced by THE NEXT NEW AWESOME THING, often immediately. And next to it would be THAT OTHER STRANGELY HUGE BUT STILL AWESOME THING. Etc.

So. Imagine you’re a Lego-friendly grown person who’s been turned loose into a room where someone has overturned two giant tubs of mismatched Lego – including people and wheels and trees and all the other cool stuff they include with Lego now – and you’ve been told, here you go. Make whatever you want. Nope! No blueprint, no directions, no rules! Just get in there and build. Construct to your heart’s content. It’s cool. These are your Lego. Have at it. Bye! Have fun!

What would you do? Would you sort? If you sorted, how would you sort? By color? By block type? By size? Or would you jump right in and just start constructing buildings and vehicles and spacecraft, revising as you went? Would you consult the Internet, looking for advice on how to deal with so many blocks, so much potential? Would you put the blocks back in the tubs, overwhelmed by all the possibilities, and wait for your handler to let you out?

Architecture implies planning and designing. The architect is only occasionally the builder of a building (Lego construction excepted). My style has always been to not so much plan as to just start and revise. Sometimes I force things along (I just had a conversation with a friend yesterday about how forcing what you think you want rarely gets the desired results). I’ve talked here about planning and goal-setting before, and now I’m “suddenly” (haha) finding myself at a critical point with personal/professional projects, our house, my own self, and especially our family. Lilly is graduating from high school in almost exactly one year and a lot – A LOT – is going to happen in those twelve months, never mind what happens after that. Basically, the bins have been dumped.

I can tell you exactly what I’m doing right now. I’m sitting in my huge pile of metaphorical Lego, hanging out amidst the chaos and abundance of color and shape and variety… but have you ever sat on Lego blocks? Dang, you guys. The sitting can’t last, so I’m looking forward to architecture – to planning, designing, and then building/rebuilding, working alone, with Jim, with Cody, and especially working with Lilly on crafting her own plans, too.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively)

At some point I’ll get to this article about Pound – new content sharing tracking tool

How food co-ops are bringing food access to lower-income communities

Create better copy by changing a word (this isn’t that great, but it’s in the tabs)

10 things designers apparently (freaking) hate

Trapped Creative


40 free modern fonts

Indiegogo for Nance Klehm‘s new project, The Ground Rules

Pondering the capsule wardrobe concept with Unfancy

Breakdown Break Down at the 2 Degrees Festival in London

Obsessed with the Mixte, but just looking for now



Challenge Challenge

From Google:
ˈrēˌsôrs, rəˈsôrs
  1. a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.

Who out there has done a SNAP challenge? For those who don’t know: People not receiving SNAP benefits eat for a week on a typical SNAP allotment, blog about it, make it through (or not), and end up with a better understanding of what it means to have limited access strictly to food resources.

I haven’t done it, at least not for a long time. My own challenge with SNAP was less experiment, more reality. 23 years ago, I was let go from my job, pregnant, and eventually a single, way underemployed mom to one in Chicago. I/we spent about 18 months on what were then called “food stamps”.

At the beginning of those 18 months, I knew NOTHING about budgeting, food, cooking, or nutrition. NOTHING. I never bothered to learn. I came from a household where food and access to it was a given, ate more than enough food in the dining hall at school, and once I was on my own, ate mostly fast food and rarely cooked. I had no idea how to shop for or cook anything except for boxes of pasta.

By the end of those 18 months, I knew more. Thanks in large part to my friend T, who was also an occasionally-employed single mom, I learned how to shop the bulk bins and make meals from what I bought, I learned how to deal with imperfect produce, I learned how to make soup, I learned to like some foods I thought I despised, and I learned how to swallow hard and budget. I also learned how to accept the generosity of others – among other things, my roommate let me use her pots and pans, and friends would invite us over for dinner. These friends, this education T dropped on me, that access to utensils – these were resources that food stamps couldn’t buy. Friends and knowledge and pots and pans are pretty much priceless when you’re broke and trying to feed yourself and your kid.

I was 24. I was angry and sad a lot of that time because of a breakup, and I had no idea what I was doing. I made some dumb mistakes along the way, for sure. But I had the resource of a tiny, supportive community, and I was determined my situation would eventually change, because I ALSO had the resource of a college degree. And my situation eventually did change. However…


… which is why I wonder whether the SNAP challenge would be an even more effective and comprehensive awareness-raising tool if, in addition to finding out what the SNAP allotment is for a week, those doing it also blindly draw a circumstance or two or three. Some suggestions:

Car in the shop means taking public transportation to work, plus however much the repair cost (if it got done).

Forgot lunch at home? Don’t eat lunch, plus throw away the food that went bad. 

Go home puking from food poisoning (see above), but if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

Go to an event you normally wouldn’t attend because the food is free.

Spend all remaining cash on diapers and detergent and toothpaste, which aren’t covered by SNAP. 

Someone lectures you, loudly, about how their tax dollars shouldn’t pay for the birthday ice cream in your cart.

Extended family does not want to know about your “situation”. It’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t know how to deal with it.

Break your only baking dish. Buying a new one would require a couple bucks and a trip to the thrift store, which will take 2 hours you don’t have right now.

The burners won’t fire on the stove and the landlord isn’t returning your call.

Your childcare provider abruptly decides they “can’t do this anymore” and suddenly you’re without someone to take care of your kid not just tomorrow, but for the foreseeable future.

[I should add these are far from the worst circumstances one could find oneself in.]

Food stamp challenges are solid, if basic, awareness tools, especially in terms of experiencing situational hunger, boredom with what’s available to eat, and deepening compassion for others. But what would a two week challenge look like? What about doing the challenge for a month, which is how benefits are distributed? I know – who has the time or energy to deal with that? Um, exactly.

Something else to consider: In terms of the social, cultural, educational, emotional, and other effects of wondering if you’ll have enough to eat – one week with limited access to strictly food resources doesn’t present a full picture. When I found the photo of the food coupon above – this is what they looked like in the early 1990s, before the EBT cards were introduced – I caught my breath. I looked at photos of other denominations of them. Unpleasant memories of having to count those things out at the checkout, followed by other unpleasant memories, came rushing back.  I felt my eyes well up. THAT WAS 23 YEARS AGO.

Anyway. My interest and work in food and learning how to grow it, prepare it, preserve it, eat it, share it? That doesn’t come from being a dyed-in-the-wool “foodie”, because I will freely admit I didn’t really give a shit about food until I didn’t have it; I cared about music and that was pretty much it.  My interest and work have branched in many different directions since then, of course, but it all stems from the experience of not having enough, feeling ashamed for asking for help, feeling completely disempowered in so many ways, and, now, wanting to help others NOT feel disempowered in whatever way I can.

Things are different now, for which I am eternally grateful, but for so many others, they are not, and it’s not getting any easier to climb out. HUNGER IS THE SYMPTOM OF A MUCH LARGER PROBLEM. We have a lot of work to do and problems to solve that have more to do with work and money and power than people not having enough to eat. Taking a food stamp challenge and giving to your local emergency food provider is a good starting place.

Please don’t let it be the finish.

Fraudy Cat

Despite a really interesting and very thinky/action-packed last few days, I’m having some fraudy feelings right now. *


Field of Debris. I mean, Dreams. 

Fraudy feelings. Ever have them? (I’m not hoping you have fraudy feelings – because I sincerely do not want you to – but I don’t want to be the only person with fraudy feelings, thus confirming that I am, in fact, a fraud) Fraudy feelings are the those feelings you have when you don’t feel up to the task, or you don’t feel you deserve what you’ve worked for, impostor syndrome, etc. Mostly my current fraudy feelings have to do with OMG it’s April 14 and I haven’t planted greens yet and the garden is a weedy mess and generally horrifying and I’m having tater tots for dinner and I am years away from having chickens again at this rate yet here I am talking to people about garden and food and livestock stuff like ‘I got this’ when really I got nothing and maybe I just kinda suck… WTF. There are other fraudy feelings, but we’ll just stay with those for now.

But, you know, I know a few things. Like:

I know the garden will get planted. Jeez.  Why the histrionics?! Jim helped me clear out the worst of it Sunday and now it’s all over but the pulling weeds and composting and planting.

Yep, I’m having tater tots for dinner. And a turkey burger and some salad mix from Blue Moon. It was all delicious. You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have… 

I’m years away from having chickens again, but… people still give a shit about keeping them; the “Henthusiasm” video is getting views, and I hear some Future Chicken Keepers of Bloomington-Normal, IL might even be inspired enough, thanks in part to the video, to try again to get them legalized with their City Council. Please share the video if you’re so inclined… it gets the word out and helps PBS Food and PBS Digital Studios love us a little bit extra. (Do people even bother with YouTube anymore? Or is it all Facebook video these days?)

I got this.

* I was having these feelings three days ago. It’s taken me that long to scratch together a few minutes to somewhat coherently finish this blog entry.


FullSizeRender (14)

Two books that have been floating to the top of my brainspace lately: The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Wendy Tremayne and The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life by Angelo Pellegrini.

These books have deeply influenced me; it really does matter when you read them that first time, though. The Good Life Lab came out a couple of years ago; I bought it for subject matter and amazing design. I read the whole thing in two days, coinciding with a week I was taking off in August/September 2013, and all I did after reading it was lay in my chair and feel despondent and fraudy. It was weird. I had a garden outside and food to deal with and a week off to get some quotidian home-life junk out of the way, and all I did was lay in my chair in the air-conditioning, hating every second of my fraudy existence.

I love Wendy (and Mikey’s) story, past and present. I follow their blog and thanks to them am now obsessed with living in a Honda Element (I spent some of my young girlhood living in a VW bus, so I know what’s up). I get it now, at a time where I’m feeling quite fraudy. I’m filing the info away while I commit to other things right now and that’s fine. Same with Pellegrini’s book; I love his unromantic romanticization of his youth. Dude eventually moved to the US, became a teacher, bought a place, and put in a jealousy-inducing garden.

[It was a different time, but seriously, this guy was incredible]

Pellegrini’s book crosses my mind often when I do the work I do outside. When I get grumpy about it, I shame myself a little by pondering the way he prioritized crafting and enjoying the simplest of food. I’m not subsistence farming or foraging. What I grow or find is not connected to my family’s survival. I live in an area of the world that has some of the best soil on the planet, so growing things isn’t even that hard. Both books are coming from a place of privilege, even though both books involve a lot of hard work o the part of the principals while coming from different perspectives. Both have “the good life” in the title, and in our current culture, that phrase means a lot of different things to different people.

What does it mean to you?

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

Got eaten by WordPress, along with the best edit of this entry. Super-sad.



April = satisfaction. Leaves emerge. Birds sing. Severe weather threatens. We survived winter, friends. WE PREVAILED.

Some things:

– I’m doing some writing about music – very amateur! I’m rusty as hell! – at Innocent Words. This link will take you to a thing I did about Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart. Another piece about (well, sort of) Donita Sparks from L7 was just published yesterday (language, y’all). I’m pretty insecure about my music writing because I’m not a critic. I’m not an academic. I just write about how music makes me feel, or how I remember it made me feel at a certain point in time, and describe those feelings through the lens of now. I don’t think about music as much as I used to. I don’t even listen to music as much as I used to, although that’s changing as a result of this assignment. I think about how old I was (25) when my dad was the age I am now (46) and how he was not even trying to understand “grunge” or Britpop because it all sucked and the music HE had in his 20s was better. JEEZ, DAD. But… while I totally love a lot of the stuff I hear in passing today, I find myself writing about the days of yore. You cannot take the Hugo out of the girl.

– Speaking of the days of yore and writing, I read Viv Albertine‘s memoir while I was on vacation and I loved it so much. I read it in 8 hours. I wanted more. I wanted five hundred more pages. And the device she uses as a “bibliography” – is brilliant.

– Speaking of brilliant, my daughter is doing some fantastic writing for Rookie. She’s a deeply-feeling athlete who doesn’t speak in coachy/jocky platitudes about “gutting it out” or “finding a way to win” – she’s writing stuff like I pour myself so wholeheartedly into the game that when my voice is silenced and my strength sapped I don’t know what to do with myself, how to react, how to adapt. I LOVE HER SO MUCH.

– Tomorrow is video release day and I’m pretty damn excited about it. I’ll post the link when it’s live! Yes!

I’m kind of excited about… everything! All the things! I have a lot to learn about saying yes and saying no and standing up for myself and holding my ground and managing my time and doing the work and basically figuring out what it all means. There are days when I freak out that I’m still doing this at my age, trying to get my shit straight, but I’m starting to realize that it’s never too late, and everyone’s always working on something.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

How to disrupt public radio

Being Boss is my new podcast obsession

I used to work at this bakery in St. Paul and I think this might be the ever-elusive bran muffin recipe

I’m making this for Lilly’s soccer team next week because Smitten Kitchen knows what girls like

My friends Brett and Bonnie talk about art, ecology, Scandinavia

Who’s read Good to Great?

Jealous Curator

Early days of the B-52s

Lessons learned from writing a cookbook

Case made for wearing the same thing to work every day – do you do this?

Rejection is awesome