Happy new year! Lilly pointed out this morning that we’re finally in “good” satsuma season. I agree regarding the taste; the color has been spectacular all winter.

Icicles! Apple trees! Neighbor’s backyard! Wan sunlight!

Winter. It finally arrived just before Christmas, drawing attention from its lateness by making a big deal out of bringing snow and ice and wind and, for most of that time, bitterly cold temps to the party. Change was gonna come – it always does – and it has: We got down to one solitary degree last night and it’s been getting warmer ever since. As I write, it’s 22° at nearly 10 AM, and it feels delicious outside. This thaw will also involve wind and some icy precipitation, but no one cares. Cabin fever is DEFINITELY a thing.

Relatively tame reads.

One of my beloved places is Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. It opened in its original location on Damen Avenue in 1991, about 6 weeks after I arrived in Chicago from Minneapolis, and it was love at first sight (well, it was for me). Ownership and location changed over the course of the decade that followed, but the vibe remains the same: Cool, often transgressive books and magazines and zines and other stuff you won’t find anywhere else, alongside stuff you CAN find anywhere else (see my selections above). I was excited to get out of the city and into C-U back in 1996; losing access to Quimby’s was probably the bitterest pill I swallowed, and frankly I could have used a place like Quimby’s after I got here. [I still could use such a place.] Anyway. Whenever I get to Quimby’s, which is now maybe once a year because I don’t get to Chicago that often, I’m most often making a surgical strike. I do not browse. How come? Because I’m usually either a) with other people who do not totally share my enthusiasm for zines and comics and books about fighting fascism/the women of punk rock back in 1985/conspiracy theories and I try to be mindful of this, b) I’m on a schedule that does not allow for much in the way of browsing, or c) both. In spite of these constraints, whenever I walk into Quimby’s, I feel relieved. I feel empowered. It still exists! I can find out about anything! It is home, they are my people, and one day in 2018… I’m taking myself to Chicago for a day so I can spend several hours in Quimby’s by myself.

Oddly hefty little book, even without my new lists.

I’m glad the holidays are over. So glad. I love starting new calendars, clearing shelves, making lists, doing the things on the lists – especially when they do not involve a lot of shopping or unearthing holiday decorations from the garage. Knowing very well my affinity for interesting paper goods, Cody gave me these very cool Field Notes notebooks and one of them is dedicated solely to house projects. SOLELY. Why? 909 needs whole-notebook-dedicated-to-it work. It’s a small house – it comes in right around 1000SF,  was built in the early 1920s, and has some beautiful attributes, some questionable past decisions, and some aging appliances. I have the lists divided into two categories: Low-hanging fruit, which is basically getting rid of a bunch of stuff, cleaning, painting, and maybe some low-level DIY work; and boutique, way-up-there-fruit, which includes plaster work, new kitchen flooring, new appliances/windows/siding – work we really can’t do ourselves. There’s plenty in between that could go into either category depending on mood, motivation, and budget. It’s not all going to get done this year, that’s for sure, but major headway will be made and there is nothing I love more than major headway being made. Time is moving along dizzyingly fast and there’s so much to do. It took me 18+ months to adjust to having 909’s main residents be me, Jim, and the Lonesomes. Speaking of Lonesomes, Mattie says hi:

Anyway. I’m moving into the next phase of Being Here. On this lovely Sunday, Being Here means tackling some of that low-hanging fruit I was talking about above, putting together final seed orders from Baker Creek, Sow True, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and committing fully to an enormous, riotous flower and vegetable garden in 2018. And, yep, reading about psychedelics in the UK in the 60s.

How ’bout you?

Grateful for the illumination the light of January brings, y’all.

Status Update

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:



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.



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

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

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



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



[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.

Down to the Studs

Rows and piles of cookbooks most often elicit feelings of happiness and pleasure from me, but occasionally there is guilt and recently, there is the sudden understanding that I WILL NEVER MAKE ALL THE THINGS, no matter how many years I live. I mean, I don’t even make dinner most nights, for Pete’s sake. I’ve thought about privately cooking my way through one of these books as a personal, unblogged homage to the Julie/Julia project (remember the early 2000s, when the Internet was not yet a full contact sport and the idea of getting a book deal from a blog seemed downright ridiculous? No? I barely remember those days myself), but then I realized cooking from one book would be terribly limiting.



Behold how I (completely unintentionally) stuck the paleo cookbook on top of the baking cookbooks. Ha.

[OT: As I write, the sparrows are “singing” (I use the term loosely) at the feeder I filled just yesterday. While I enjoy the sparrows, I’m always hoping for other birds to show up at the feeder. Unfortunately, the only other bird to show up regularly at the feeder is a bird of prey, probably a red-tailed hawk. It plunges into the giant yew bush in front of our house, which is precisely where the sparrows go to hide. Definitely a case of be careful what you wish for.]

In any event, I am (literally) facing the shelf of cookbooks and thinking about all the recipes I haven’t tried. Personal schedules, household food preferences, and especially last year’s epic pickled asparagus fail (EPAF) have taken the wind out of my sails a bit.

Oh, wait. I didn’t tell you about the EPAF of 2015? Interesting. See, it wasn’t really the end result of failure that helped take the wind out of my sails as much as it was the idea, in the back of my mind, that my inattention to detail had caused the EPAF; that I wasn’t all there, that I was engaging in this activity despite my subconscious saying to me, why all this extra work? That you don’t reeeeeally want to be doing right now? 

I mean, really, why? Because we were subsistence farming and I had to? (No.) Because there was a glut of asparagus? (Nope.) Because I love pickling? (No. I love pickles, but am not as fond of the process.) Because I would feel like I was being lazy if I didn’t? (Possibly.) Because there was a “food person” pickling contest of some kind, of which I was obligated to be a part? (Not to my knowledge.)

Oh, that last one is interesting. Hmm. There’s definitely some fierce humblebragging about food on the Internet, mainly due to social media (see above about “full contact sport”), and that engenders this feeling of competition, of the desire to one-up, of the desire to be seen and acknowledged and understood and agreed with. I have totally participated in this. I probably participated in this yesterday (it’s still early in the day today). Online life has gotten that way in general, with the humblebrag or overshare or just plain update du jour countered by the defensive parry, which is neutralized by the passive-aggressive meme, which is responded to by declarations of “taking a break”, with others just agreeing all over the place to a) show solidarity or b) keep the peace. It’s not topic-agnostic – this occurs in conversations about politics, parenting, education, health, whether or not to have a capsule wardobe – and food, of course. Anything that involves people making choices is not just up for discussion – it’s up for angry debate, shaming, ridicule, echo-chambery agreeance, etc. It’s hard to avoid if you spend any time in these so-called “spaces” (which is, I guess, more accurate than “places”). I think it’s incredibly reductive; we’re so much smarter than that…aren’t we?

Anyway, I think my mentioning the epic EPAF now is my way of leaning into the admission of originally not wanting to post about it because it was a messy, gross, expensive failure instead of a (yes) humblebrag. It’s me telling you now: I’m never gonna do that again unless I really freaking feel like it, because it wasn’t fun; I felt obligated to do it as a so-called “food person”; I had to buy asparagus to even have enough for pickling because I’d eaten so much of it and given away more to the neighbors; I made a mistake with the jars and they broke in the canning pot and it was a mess and a complete waste of food, time, and money… and I felt like a jackass for falling prey to “what would the community think?”. 



Basically, I cropped that whole ridiculous episode out of existence, and no one ever knew. Above is the only photo I took of the EPAF before I cleaned up and sulked about the mess and, embarrassingly, the fact I couldn’t even get a decent photo of the EPAF. (eyeroll)

Here’s the positive thing: I still absolutely want to read about what people are doing around food & culture. I still want to look at photos from trips to wherever, where people ate the most fantastic things; I want to read about the trellises fashioned out of rescued rebar and thrifted Christmas lights; I love seeing jars of pickled asparagus (no, really, I do) and bread dough rising on the counter and omelets made from the eggs laid by beautiful hens in bucolic settings. And I still want to write about my success growing watermelons, of the latest composting victory, of the joys of hanging laundry on the line. Isn’t that part of the reason why people took to the internet with such alacrity back in the day? To get a window into what life was like for other people? But I think it would be interesting to start talking more about what’s happening out of the frame. Mistakes, imperfections, clouds, setbacks… and then figuring things out. Getting on with it – which, by the way, does not mean forgetting about it. Just the opposite. I’m interested in the idea of putting those things out there and carrying on, not getting caught up in the past or in the comment wars. Moving forward, building change, starting in your own house. I was laughing at myself the other day because it seems so simple, yet it’s so hard to do in 2016. It was in 2015. And 2014. Obviously, because I’ve been writing about the same things for ages.

So. Let’s begin. Here’s an uncropped shot of where I usually write.



RELATED: I was watching a documentary about Studs Terkel and I loved the pile of books in the background contrasted with the fresh flowers, that old lamp, the aging couch.



I’ll write more about Studs another day, but… Studs. There’ll never be another like him. He definitely put it out there, got on with it, got people to talk about themselves and to each other face-to-face, and only stopped when he passed away at the age of 96.

He probably never pickled asparagus.

Inspiracy of One

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. I rarely find it in pithy quotes or speechifying designed to “inspire” (there have been exceptions), but I do find it in the attention I choose to give to details that give me pause and then get me moving toward incorporating a little of that (whatever it is) into my own existence. I can be inspired by a technique, a color, a re-telling, something accidentally eavesdropped, a random act of something, a song, an argument, a photo… when I take the time to notice, I’m often overwhelmed by inspiration. (In that moment.) My thinking gets changed. (In that moment.) I’m spurred to a different way of seeing the world. (In that moment.) In the last few years I’ve rarely been spurred to a different long-term action or plan thereof. It’s like my ability to act on inspiration has become like my attention span while browsing the web, i.e., not very good. This disappoints me.

It’s a big world, which means inspiration often strikes from sources that are completely NOT ME… if I let them. It’s really easy in 2016 to filter out everything that isn’t “me” (see comment about attention span above), so I’m subconsciously trying to derive inspiration from not just the same sources over and over again, but any new sources seem to look suspiciously the same as me. BARF. I recently looked at the Pinterest boards I keep (several of which have done little to inspire anything in me except envy and acquisitiveness) with a fresh set of eyeballs and saw the same bloody ideas, the same way of looking at the world. This is not how I want middle age to go.

Enter Molly Crabapple.


One of my favorite podcasts is She Does. It’s geared toward and about women who make media, but I think it’d make fascinating listening for anyone interested in the creative process. Anyway, I’m a devoted listener, and have discovered the work of some amazing women by listening every week, but I was not prepared to be so bowled over by Molly Crabapple’s episode.

Ms. Crabapple and I are nothing alike. On the purely superficial front, she looks like and has the story of someone who would have their own awesomely complicated and fantastic fragrance named after them at BPAL. (They should really get on that.). We have completely different backstories, we’re of different generations, we work in different media, she’s plied her craft (illustration/painting/visual art) for decades. This lack of obvious commonality doesn’t matter to me now, when so often it has mattered. I love her memoir, Drawing Blood, and her work so much. I love it not because I can relate to it… but because I can’t. It forces me to look at her subject matter (protest, war, politics, burlesque, the internet, gentrification) through a completely different lens, and her artwork is beautiful, colorful, disturbing, opulent, raw.



It’s a striking book, both in illustration and narrative; this book and Patti Smith’s M Train (which I’ve written about) have deeply affected me this fall/winter season. Ms. Smith’s book got me interested in taking more photos, embracing who I can feel myself trying to become in middle age, and immersing myself in reading NYC punk retrospectives. Ms. Crabapple’s book got me interested in the seemingly-small-but-actually-huge idea of… not traveling to France alone, though that appeals… not pitching ideas to VICE, though I’m much more interested in their work now than I was… but learning how to draw. I’ve done other types of art, but have avoided learning how to draw.

Learning how to draw feels inexplicably important and terrifying to me. If I do this thing, a thing that I have been very specifically avoiding for decades out of fear and maybe even superstition, what will happen? What could it lead to?


LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively)

I haven’t even written about Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet

This PDF about emotional labor (a condensation of a thread on Metafilter) has been a tough read

A friend’s open letter to Oprah… and the rest of us

Inspiration, the BPAL way



2015 wanes. Has it really been three months since I’ve written? 3 full moons? A quarter of a calendar year? I just realized that I stopped writing at the Fall equinox and resumed just after the Winter Solstice. Coincidence? I think not.

I’m eyeing the exiting calendar year with an eyebrow raised. Our weather has been anything-but-wintry. The calendar and the culture tell me I should be packed snugly into my house, with tea and piles of books and candles everywhere, hygge-ing it up, but it feels incongruous. I’d rather prowl my garden and marvel at what’s still alive, so I do.

Kale thriving.


Chard surviving.


I fell asleep last night to flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder (I found this comforting, even in its weirdness; what I dislike is the water in our basement from the 2″+ of rain we’ve received in the last couple of days). As far as I’m concerned, winter is over, not just the year. (I know. January and February. I know.)

2015 felt like the film Groundhog Day (or perhaps Edge of Tomorrow), facile as that sounds. Much happened, as it always does, but it felt like it was happening around me. I frequently felt powerless to stop the bad things from happening, and often felt like a spectator at the good things that were happening. It wasn’t a terrible year by any means, but something felt off. I haven’t felt this rudderless in a long time, so I’m going to hang out with myself at a cafe in the coming days and do something I haven’t done for years: Figure shit out. I have some ideas. I’m grateful for that.


What I’m reading:

Drawing Blood

Out on the Wire

Robert Kennedy and His Times

Listening to:

These Spotify playlists for Star Wars characters are fantastic

Joe Rogan’s podcast

She Does podcast (on hiatus for a few weeks)

You Must Remember This podcast (also on hiatus for a few weeks)

Root Simple podcast

The New Yorker Radio Hour


So. Hello. And not in the Adele way.


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.

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.

Caught Up


About a month ago, my basil started to die.

The untimely death of basil in my garden isn’t a new thing, unfortunately. It’s caused by basil downy mildew, and I hate it because it kills the plants, it ruins my pesto plans,  and because it interferes with my idea of what happens when; I have journal entries from ten years ago/five years ago/three years ago where the basil is still going strong well into September. The new reality of basil in our part of the midwest is this: We have to work harder to just have it. We have to plant earlier and more strategically, cut more often, start new plants while we’re cutting, watch for disease, and eventually replant for what ultimately works out to be less basil. It’s a scourge borne on the wind, and while not everyone’s plants get it at the same time, everyone’s plants succumb eventually. And if you don’t grow basil yourself, you’re sure to notice its early absence from markets. I interviewed a couple of experts and whine about it here.


photo 1 (6)


I reviewed Ava Chin’s memoir, Eating Wildly, for Backyard Industry Radio this week. I don’t review books very often, but this one called out to me from a pile of things I meant to read over the summer. It’s a fine memoir about gain and loss and looking around your world with a new set of eyes; with foraging, there is always uncertainty about what you’ll find and whether you’ll know it when you see it, and she captures that feeling well with her uncomplicated, self-aware prose. Before the book came out in May 2014, Chin had been writing a column, “Urban Forager”, about her experiences foraging in the city and elsewhere – and then cooking what she ate – for the New York Times.

In the book, she addresses the issue of the legality of foraging in the city. This column about daylilies from 2010 drew a vigorous response from readers on both sides of the issue – some were fascinated with the concept of being able to eat them, and others were upset with the idea that someone would not only forage plants in public parks, but would write about it, encouraging (many) others to possibly do the same, stripping the parks of foliage meant to be enjoyed by everyone. In the end, the City came down on foraging in public parks.

I have mixed feelings about this. I love my time at my local prairie preserve and am definitely not into it when I see people trouncing on other foliage to pick flowers there; however, black raspberries? I’ve been known to carefully take a few as I walk. [Maybe, sometimes, more than a few.] Mosquitoes make me crazy when I’m out there; I don’t even think twice about looking for and harvesting plantain to take the itch away. While I would never take produce out of someone’s private garden at the plots there or anywhere, I’ve definitely brought home a breadseed poppy pod or two when it hangs over the public path. Are seeds and weeds any different from flowers and fruit? Should lambsquarter and plantain and garlic mustard (a much-loathed invasive here) be left alone to go to seed and fruit and flowers left for the birds, instead of going to a few people curious about what’s coming out of the ground, uncultivated? I personally tend to subscribe to the Scandinavian concept of Allemansrätten: Foraging for wild foods is allowed in public parks and even on private land, as long as nothing is disturbed and the foraging isn’t happening on farms or cultivated gardens. They seem to make it work there. I’m not sure it’d work here.

[It did surprise me that, in publishing that column, Chin broke one of the cardinal rules of foraging: Never share where you find something special. Don’t tell anyone where you got the wild asparagus or morels or poppy seeds. I guess I also just broke the rule, but I’m not a forager.]

Closer to home here in the midwest, we have Nance Klehm. She’s been foraging and experimenting in the urban environment for ages, though I’m not sure she’s living in Chicago full time these days. Her philosophy? A little more countercultural and a little less “foodie” than Chin’s – check out some of her writing here.