History, via the last dozen years’ worth of journals, demonstrates that I typically don’t do well the last week of July and the first ten days of August; my current theory is that my lizard brain is already sensing that we’re losing light, not gaining it. Also? The mosquitoes have been ridiculous this summer. They love me – REALLY LOVE ME – and I find myself avoiding the garden, which thanks to Jim is far more free of weeds than in years past. Still. This grumpiness about the outdoors is a very unsatisfying and unsettling feeling for me.
Yesterday’s weather was spectacular, however – sunny and warm and lacking the oppressive humidity that was literally hanging around earlier in the week. After work, I went to Meadowbrook Park to walk, commune with nature, get over myself, and catch up on the Dear Handmade Life podcast. It was a lovely way to spend 90 minutes, and I didn’t run into a single person I knew, which was OK by me.
Here are a few things I did see.
I saw an artist atop a ladder, working in the sunshine. Sorry about the backlighting.
I saw/smelled so much bee balm. I wanted to hug it.
And later, in downtown Champaign, I saw the moon rise above its friend, the lamppost.
My goal for the next ten days is to find more of these bits and pieces out in the world and to hold them close. I plan to listen to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue whenever the mood strikes. I plan to let my daughter chauffeur me around town so she can get her license this fall. I plan to note the exact time each night when the cicadas give way to the crickets and katydids. And I plan to sleep with the windows open whenever I can.
I look forward to stone fruit season the most. Every summer when I was a kid/teenager, my mother told me I ate too much stone fruit and that my habit cost too much, so I could only have 3 pieces a day. Does that mean 3 pieces a day of each kind, or…?
I still eat a lot of stone fruit and and invite my family to do the same, which they do. Straight up. With shortcake. Over ice cream. In yogurt. Whatever. It’s expensive, yes, but it takes a lot of work to grow stone fruit (some seasons there’s no crop at all, due to weather), and I’m glad we can support that. Also, the season is short – we only get to eat Illinois-grown for about 8 weeks.
I’m also delighted every summer by the appearance of Mark Schottman’s red pickup truck at the local farmers markets; it means there is delicious sweet corn aboard. I’ve been buying corn from him pretty much exclusively for well over a decade. Why is it the best? I don’t know. The corn is really damned good. I also just really like the guy; it’s clear he respects his customer base and enjoys seeing all of us during sweet corn’s regrettably short (8 weeks, if it’s a good year, 10 if it’s exceptional) season. He’s one of the farmers who always asks me how I’m liking my new job, even though it’s been almost 3 years since I managed the Market.
I love buying food from other people – people I get to choose, people I’ve become friends with, people whose places I’ve visited – but I love growing it, too. I grow way less food than I used to. But every year I grow more basil than we need. I always talk about freezing it or freezing pesto and I never get to it, so we eat a metric ton of pesto every summer. My recipe for it is simple – basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese – sometimes I go heavier on the garlic. This pesto (and, I assume, most pesto) is super-good on poached or scrambled eggs, especially if you have some fresh tomatoes just lying around, waiting.
Not pictured: The vast quantities of blackberries, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and beans that we eat during the summer. We eat them because they’re ready NOW, in the gardens and the markets and the stores. But I also eat them to charge up for The Season Which Must Not Be Named. Food = sunlight. I’ll take it wherever I can get it – all summer long and into the fall.
I struggle with the concept of “home” in the broader sense. Where is my hometown? When people ask where are you from, what do I say? How do I explain? What does it even mean? I left Minnesota in 1991 after 10 years, as did my younger brother. My parents split up in the mid-1990s and went to opposite ends of the country. I was born in New York; my young childhood was spent in two different parts of Florida. I spent some pretty formative years in Chicago as a young adult. I’ve lived in Urbana for 19 years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and I’m entrenched here. Home – as in where I’m from – could technically mean any of these places. But if we’re talking true affinity – old friends, depth, experience, strong memory, stuff like that – I’ll say it. Minnesota is where I’m from. I just haven’t lived there for a really long time.
[I never really intended to leave Minneapolis for so long. The move to Chicago was a statement move, the kind of move you make because, well, why not? I was 22 years old and ready, I thought, to test myself. I got my wish. Shit certainly got way more real in Chicago than I ever imagined it would. But when Jim and I arrived Urbana-Champaign for a weekend in March 1996 to see Mercury Rev and Hum play at the Blind Pig, I felt an enormous and immediate rush of familiarity. Something about the way the people at the show talked to each other and treated each other reminded me of… what? On the drive back up to Chicago, it hit me. The people there remind me of people in Minneapolis, I said to Jim. We should move to Urbana. He agreed. It took us three months, and we’ve been here ever since.]
It’s time for college visits chez B-K, so we planned a long-deferred trip to MSP so Lilly and her BFF could have a look at my tiny alma mater, Macalester College, as well as the behemoth University of Minnesota. Further incentives: Being able to stay with my longtime friend Chank and his wife, Heidi (and Max, their 9 YO), attending a Minnesota United soccer match (well, Jim, the girls, Chank, and Max), and Amphetamine Reptile‘s Bash15 party with Diane, one of my CFoAT (Closest Friends of All Time). Here’s what we crammed in:
1. When we arrived, we went straight to the new Surly beer hall. Not only was the beer terrific, the food good, and the space gorgeous, Jim and I also smeared a couple dudes at bags/cornhole.
2. We visited the schools on Friday; some of Lilly’s impressions can be found here. She’s in the info-gathering phase for post-high school activity and is “building her list”, as her college counselor Lisa Micele says. I wasn’t getting strong feelings either way from her. Macalester felt incredibly small to me, after all these years with the U of I campus practically down the street, and I had to laugh when the “sample” dorm room they showed us was a room in Wallace Hall I hung out in quite a bit my freshman year.
4. Then it was hours of punk rock, walking, talking, eating, and checking out the beer selection at Indeed Brewing. The beer scene in MSP is intense. I ran into two people from high school at the AmRep thing, which was weird. Saw a friend from college there, too – much less weird.
5. We drove the 7+ hours home in relative silence. We were all exhausted.
It was a little hard to come back. The budget situation in the state of Illinois is frustrating and embarrassing and serious. There are lots of people here working hard and making things and thinking and creating and putting in the time, but I see/hear about unfortunate things happening here bearing the indelible stamp of THIS IS DOWNSTATE, AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT. I also see/hear about things bearing another indelible stamp, this time of WE’RE NOT FROM HERE, BUT WE KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU. How to balance that in this very unique community? I don’t know. It’s hard to not be distracted by what’s happening 120/250/515 miles north and west, knowing that those places aren’t perfect, either.
But I came home with fresh eyes. Since returning, Jim and I sat in on a workspace negotiation between a property owner and an artist that’s kind of a big deal for both of them. I’m watching one of my beloved local hangouts expand into a second location. A good friend is about to jump in head first to a new venture (actually, new ventures seem to rule the day lately). We have coffee roasters and flower artists and cake artists and food truck rallies and farmers markets and guerrilla furniture and true public art and bold moves, which is a lot.
This is the place.
A senior year in high school and two fall soccer seasons are starting up soon for the B-K household, so some of my thinking is forced ahead, but the rest of me is all about high summer. The tomato blight that seems to be affecting most local gardens has really taken hold; I’ve already resigned myself to not having enough tomatoes to do anything with besides eat in the moment. The garlic is almost done curing. The basil is free thus far of the disease that killed it last year. Blackberries are off the hook. So much kale. So many coneflowers. The daylilies are almost finished. It’s too humid to hang clothes on the line. After yesterday’s hot atmospheric soup, I take back every negative thing I’ve ever said about central air. Cicadas rule during the day and katydids at night; the fireflies linger but are definitely on the wane.
I have 2 big things and one small things that need finishing before I can move on to this new idea I have floating around. The goal is to finish by the time school starts in 29 days. New season, new project. Maybe even a new workspace here at 909? Hmmm.
One of my favorite things to do after we bought 909 and put the garden in – pretty much everything that’s back there, the bones of it, anyway, was put in that year, which was 2005 – was to go out with a cup of coffee, survey the scene, and sigh happily. I still do it. Here it is today:
That kale on the middle left is OUT OF HAND. Every year I grow a ton of lacinato kale, and every year I’m like, what the hell am I supposed to do with all of this? (Give a lot of it away and make kale salads) The garlic, formerly planted just above my (drippy) coffee cup, has been harvested and is curing in the garage – which, speaking of the garage, I can see a couple of improvements there to be added to the list. I have lots of thoughts about our garage, which is enormous and loaded with a lot of stuff we haven’t looked closely at in years. While most of those thoughts have to do with clearing it all out, I also quite like it at night when it’s lit up from the inside and I’m in the driveway and it looks like a crazy painting or collage. I’ll have to post a photo. Anyway.
I’ve been doing some research from my own library, trying to wrap my head around a thesis/mission for a project I have percolating in my brain.
That second book from the top, Taking Charge of Our Lives, was a total gamechanger for me when I first ran across it back in the very early 2000s. It might have even been the late 1990s. How did I hear about it? Hmm. I have no idea. I still love it. It’s all the earnest optimistic goodness of the 1970s that I remember and benefited from in my childhood; it was published in 1981, so what we think of as “THE EIGHTIES” was barely visible on the horizon, like a duststorm of uncertain strength.
Anyway, it might be the punkest book I own, and my library is large. I keep returning to the ideas in these books again and again and have done so, in some way/shape/form, since I was in about 7th grade. Life protip, not that you asked: Find a way to honor that thing that grabs you and doesn’t let go, even if it grabbed you when you were a kid. Don’t push it away. It’s telling you something.
An online friend recently wrote about the beautifully absurd moment she decided she was done “playing small” with her life. And she was, most definitely, DONE. She’s gone on to do amazing things in the relatively short time that’s passed since coming to that sudden realization that it was time for her to ditch fear and shame.
Fear and shame are powerful business. It seems so much easier, most of the time, to retreat into what already is and opt out of learning the new thing, taking the leap, ditching the habit, making the hard choice even when it’s the better one. We all do it. But agency realized – having the power to just say f*ck it and get on with whatever amazing huge thing you want to do in whatever way you can, and then actually doing the thing because you KNOW it’s right – it’s a huge commitment. It fascinates me. I wrestle with it.
But I’m trying to honor that 7th grader. She knew what was up.