Come Out to Play

I’m a massive fan of Meadowbrook Park, a prairie preserve maintained tirelessly by the Urbana Park District. Its sculpture installations are eternally absorbing. [The header photo was taken there about 5 years ago, at the park’s south end.] I gardened at Meadowbrook’s organic garden plots in the early 2000s. I’ve walked and skated and even run its trails hundreds of times – basically, it’s where I go when it’s time to get outside someplace that isn’t the backyard. So. As it is not often sunny and sixty degrees in December (and, for the record, it shouldn’t be), I thought perhaps it’d be a great day to go see some dogs and walk the trails and survey the now-beige prairie from my favorite vantage points.

I decided instead, at the last minute, to walk my neighborhood – to see it and to be seen in it – because it feels a bit lonely.

[The neighborhood has changed with the change in season, like it does. People have moved away and others have arrived. There have been conflicts, some unresolved. A new email list has sown some seeds of WTF, but one of the Facebook groups is still politely active. People (including us) seem too busy to gather often; over-the-fence chats have waned with the daylight. Our neighbor’s son, an engaging and persistent 5 year-old given to patrolling our street in this Halloween’s police officer costume, sometimes tickets the adults he sees.]

Anyway – I saw some things.

Leaf art on Anderson.
Lara and Phil’s fence.
Roger Ebert grew up in my neighborhood.
This lady was EXTREMELY friendly.

[NOT PICTURED: Hundred of squirrels, an awesome front door, and actual boughs of holly]

What I didn’t see: human beings. There were a few people out wrangling leaves into bags (Leaves into bags! In DECEMBER!), but only one even looked up as I passed. A young woman who has been doing epic work on her house was toiling away on its exterior, so I told her how inspiring it’s been to watch her progress. She smiled and said, “Well, thank you!” A young man walked down the next street, conversing earnestly with someone about his impending return to Eugene – Oregon, I assume. A couple blocks over, I asked a gentleman sitting on his front porch if it was OK if I cut through a small bit of his yard to get to the alley. He laughed and said, “Of course.” Then, as I started trekking through, “Thanks for asking!” As I rolled back onto my street, I saw my neighbors, The Bryans, and encouraged their dogs into bad behavior as we chatted about the unsettled feeling one has when one is putting up holiday lights in shirtsleeves.

That was it, though. No other people. Was everyone out at Meadowbrook? Shopping? Inside, watching sports? Where are we these days? Suddenly my neighbor 5 year-old’s desire to ticket the people he sees made all the sense. It’s genius! It’s about visibility and accountability and it makes me think we are just not either of those things enough.

I’m putting myself on a twice-weekly posting schedule. We’ll see how it goes.

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.

Segues

This week I started my part of finishing the Backyard Industry video series.

The biggest/hardest parts of this process, for me, are the writing of the episode and the logging of the footage. We shot a bunch of footage of people’s chicken coops last summer – here’s my friend/neighbor/now-mother-of-Cliff, Colleen, talking about their setup:

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I think Tim and I would agree that the way we’ve ended up working together on these things has been less than optimum for a lot of reasons; the overall lack of time sucks, but also the way we’ve divided up the workload (based mainly on skillsets, but also priorities/time) means that we each have our specific, siloed area of work. We rarely work together outside of the shoot itself. If we had it to do all over again, I think both of us would prefer to work more collaboratively from start to finish, but it’s also been a good experience with so many lessons learned. SO MANY LESSONS, Y’ALL. Anyway, we’re looking forward to finishing the series and moving into spring at about the same time. I’m pretty excited about spring, although… I still haven’t ordered my seeds. Am I OK?

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My brain is wired in such a way that I have to write stuff down or I’ll forget it.

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Occasionally I look at my notes and am perplexed. What the hell does that even mean? Was I asleep when I wrote this or what? I’m always writing little blurbs to myself about possible topics to cover here and eventually on the podcast, which I’m still planning to get to when the weather turns. Here are some of them:

The demise/”resurrection” of Modern Farmer magazine

At some point I’ll write a long piece about farmers markets and why I think they’re so important and it’s not just about food for me

The difference between being enveloped in a culture like a blanket and being part of the actual fabric of the culture itself – being the blanket, I guess – in the contexts of isolation and inclusiveness

How neighborhoods, and conversations among neighbors and small business owners are rarely part of the “brand” of most places that we see. Individuals, households, towns/areas are more connected with other individuals, households, and towns/areas than ever before, but getting out and conversing IRL is crucial; otherwise the “brands” dominate the conversation and places/people are not being represented truthfully. This happens all the time and everywhere and I’m not thinking up some new thought or anything, but I was struck by a conversation I had with two friends the other night, quite by chance, where this was apparent – the difference between what the 3 of us know to be true, what we see happening, vs various “talking points” we all hear – was amazing. The dominant narrative is so rarely what’s actually happening, and people do know this, and it erodes trust. Get out there and talk about it!

UGH, I’m all over the place. I should finish that shopping list and procure supplies before our (seriously downgraded) “weather event” makes its way here. But first… a little bit of LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

I found myself checking out the Lexington Market in Baltimore

I like analytics

And digital marketing stats, I like those too

Something great Jeff Johnson wrote at Medium about Marshawn Lynch

How the BBC is thinking about its future

Tour de Coop

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This chicken is thinking, “Hey – wouldn’t it be cool if someone organized a situation where people could get on their bikes and take a guided tour of some chicken residences in Urbana-Champaign, learning more about urban fowl and getting some outside time in the process?”

It’s on, y’all!

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You can hear more about the current state of the chicken-keeping union in C-U and get more info about the Tour by listening to the most recent ep of BYI radio here. You can go directly to the event’s Facebook page, too, and there’s even a blog. Vive les poulets!

(Not) One Direction

DucksI took this at Caveny Farm in Monticello, IL, back in early October 2013. I was there to see the turkeys, and they were impressive, but I was quite enamored with these geese living behind the barn. Connie Caveny gave me a bunch of heirloom tomatoes to bring home that day, too. She had too many – the plants were super-prolific into early fall. There was no hint, really, of what the winter would be like.

It is the midwest, and we know cold (and there is nothing colder than a big, swooping wind coming down through the prairie in January). But winters have been quite warm in our part of the midwest for several years, and the brutal cold (as I type, it’s 0.0 degrees and falling, and this is the second round of very cold weather we’ve had this month) has taken almost everyone aback. The windows here at 909 are the originals, so we’ve plasticked some of them and hung heavy quilts in others in an effort to limit the amount of cold seeping in.  Quilts! It’s like a freaking Laura Ingalls Wilder cave up in here! There is nothing like a super-cold winter to keep one inside, making a mental list of all the crap that really needs to be done to one’s house, slightly mortified about putting it off all this time. My list includes windows and a furnace. I have to stop there before I get the vapors.

The planning for “Ramen Shamen” is going nicely. We shoot Saturday and Tuesday. I’m working on Jim to help me with some graphic elements for the videos, for the site, for… whatever. Baseball hats? T shirts? Pint glasses? MASON JARS? Ooooh.