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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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.

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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.