All Is Not Lost

We are, after all, gaining daylight.

Stubbornly trying to keep indoor plants alive in 2018.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with someone I don’t often see a couple of days ago. The primary focus of our getting together was the book she’s writing – I relish this conversational topic, and I’ve been insanely curious about what she’s working on. As we talked, sitting on the stage of a very busy downtown Champaign record store, the conversation drifted into the area of primary source material, including ephemera. She mentioned that, at some point along the way, she and her bandmates had gotten rid of some of the memorabilia/letters/other records from the period of time about which she’s now writing.

I think ditching old paper is something a lot of people just do now; I do it myself. I’m especially fond of getting rid of administrative paper when the time comes. Recycle! Toss! Shred! Burn! I couldn’t tell how she felt about unknowingly getting rid of what could have been primary source material – whatever got jettisoned might not be germane to the story she’s telling, and I honestly don’t expect normal humans to feel the same way I do about what most people would think is garbage. But – since you asked, how I feel about it is this.

While I certainly would not classify myself as a hoarder, I definitely had a penchant for acquiring and saving letters, postcards, bits of paper, matchbooks (remember those?), receipts, writings scrawled on napkins, venue calendars, to-do lists, that sort of thing… and moving them around with me. [Many of] those scraps and bits from the 1980s and 1990s are still with me,  ignored (for now) and, by now, probably degrading in some old file cabinets in our garage. [I still lament the Dumpstering of tons of old British music magazines before we moved here. Oh, god, it still stings! What was I thinking?! It’s not like they were Michelangelo’s grocery list or anything, but… gah!]

Note to self from a small notepad labeled “REAL LIFE” [2014-ish]
I say had a penchant because, lately, I generate way fewer physical records than I do digital records – though I still do take copious notes and keep them (see above). I type a lot, but I actually write less, for example – my journaling and general faffing-around writing output, including doodling, is way less than it was even 10 years ago. So much of my own primary source material used to be physical, tactile, tangible. It seems like now I have less and less to save, and the work I generate – and the things I keep – are largely kept “safe” online or on drives somewhere.

Until they’re not. I (and others) recently experienced a catastrophic data loss for projects we were working on – hours of video, graphics files, etc that can’t be reproduced. Primary source material. Gone. Poof. Just like that. Epic fail. I’m grumpy when I lose tweets to the ether… and this was a whole ‘nother beast. I’m still crushed. The loss is real to me. I can walk away from the computer and read a book or talk to my family or watch the Australian Open or cook something, but that loss is still very real despite the fact I didn’t lose anything I could hold in my hands. In a way, it feels worse: Great God Technology couldn’t keep our work safe, but stuff we say via Twitter can follow us around forever. We live in weird times.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Have redundant redundancies for your redundancies? Be weird about saving things, then get even weirder about it? Let go of any illusions you may have about being able to hold onto anything? I have saved this draft at least 8 times. That should tell you where I’m at.

Temporary tomato cage installation on 909’s grounds.

I have two seed orders in front of me as I type, which should also tell you where I’m at, which is: Mid-January, which means it’s practically February, which means I need to whip 909’s Basement Seed Lab into shape. I imagine the day my orders arrive at my office, I’ll be like the hearts-for-eyes emoji, all squishy-feels about the eventuality of variegated collards, Easter egg radishes, Scotch bonnet peppers, black peony poppies, and the like.

And that’s why I plant, every damn year. Spring never fails.

Fresh

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.

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.

Harbinger

Tell me about the work you do because you can’t NOT do it.

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I’m talking about the work that so absorbs you that hours go by and you have no idea and now you’re starving and whoops the sun went down which is unfortunate but you’d do it all over again. I love hearing people talking about the work whose siren song they cannot resist. So… tell me about yours. Is it volunteer work? Is it building something? Is it sculpture? Is it ramen?

Confession: I’ve been without a real passion project for awhile. I get really excited about things, but the idea of even getting started on something deeper feels exhausting right now. I do think often about devoting myself to something the way Jim has devoted himself to soccer. (It’s really cool, the way he’s devoted himself to soccer.) A memoir. Multiplatform work involving three women practically no one has ever heard of but whose stories fascinate me. Helping a couple very talented friends launch their very good ideas. Completely transforming the backyard into a permaculture food landscape. Learning how to cook elaborate cuisines.

I have to start somewhere. That mention about the permaculture food landscape – which I think would be SO COOL at 909 – reminds me, uncomfortably, that I need to get with it regarding the yard & garden. Spring came early, but got taken off the boil, so to speak; it’s been cold and rainy. The wind has been from the north and west, making its presence deeply felt, so I’m leaning in and avoiding the garbage can lids.

Weather’s just part of it. Also contributing to garden avoidance: Work, college visits, soccer matches, nagging low back pain and a frozen shoulder (o, middle age; o, tight hamstrings) and waiting. Lilly’s about to decide what she’ll do after her high school graduation next month.

(Next month?)

The sticker price of college/university is absolutely absurd, friends. I have many thoughts, but I guess the one thing I’m coming away with is the realization that while our journey from public school -> homeschooling -> public school -> sort-of-public school has been maddening at times, my kids have pretty good perspective on education, the future, competition, debt, learning, etc. I’m glad for this, because they’re the ones doing the navigating of this brave new world as young adults. I cannot even imagine.

Note to self: Either way, it’s all good. Also? HAVE MORE FUN.

Feeling the Tern

As is often the case in late March, we B-Ks are just back from spring break in Florida.

So. Feel the terns, won’t you?

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O, Florida! No state mixes my feelings as thoroughly as you do.

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Photo of the B-Ks at Bean Point on Anna Maria Island by Connie Ger.

 

We did need a break, one involving sun and sand and surf and overly-friendly manatees. As things start to come together for this next phase of B-K life, the future becomes even less clear in every way, except for the assurance that it’ll be different than what we have now. This time as a family was crucial. We had a lovely time, even as Cody and I re-discovered that we do not paddle well together in a kayak.

But we do both like getting up early to walk and snapping photos of ibis in the bay when we do.

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It gets harder every year to say goodbye to Florida after this family vacation. During those days, I spend next to no time checking email or on social media. I’m outside, I’m with family and friends, I am relaxing into myself, and I’m just thawed out when it’s time to gather the towels and head north.

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We’re home now. The cold rain feels like punishment, but I’m just being dramatic. It was actually 67° with some sun today, and Jim and I uncovered his least favorite vegetable while weeding. Look at it. Such perfection.

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Then I went to the garage to unearth the garden’s good luck charm for display after the rain ends. Thanks, Chank.

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April is incoming. I’m looking forward to lots of time outside and in the garden, a college decision, several soccer games, and maybe a little regional travel. How about you?

Partitioning

The weirdest thing, thus far, about this project I’ve embarked upon with the Real Life Rock book has been my desire to return to it every day. If only other habits I’ve tried to develop fared so well.

But…what better distraction from early February? What better misdirection from my middle-age frets and our unpredictable weather and Illinois’ budget impasse and that feeling of… spinning, like the beach ball, as we wait to find out which schools Lilly’s been accepted to, plus the decisions yet to come down from Mt. FAFSA?

None better. It’s the perfect casual late winter project for me; this revisiting my own unique experience – as a very impressionable and rather dumb young person – of music and cultural discovery has been an excellent time so far, if a little navel-gazey.

But – the music! Each morning I read the next list (the lists were published weekly, but in my current universe one 1986 week = one 2016 day), then search for the songs on that list; if I can find them in Spotify, I add them to a playlist. If Spotify searches bear no fruit, sometimes can I find songs on YouTube and listen. Here are some random thoughts I’ve had while performing this exercise:

Man, I remember those Sin Alley compilations when re-pressings came in to Cargo.

I’m amazed at how quickly I am returned to my freshman year at Macalester upon hearing any track from Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate.

I did not know who the Mekons were until 1990.

It is completely obvious that Steve Perry (from Journey) taught himself how to sing by listening to Sam Cooke.

80s Bryan Ferry!

I should be done with 1986 in a week, give or take a day. Then the playlist breathes for another week or so while I try to watch a few of the films referenced in the lists, or maybe track down a couple of the books/articles/magazines Marcus talks about. I’m not going to bother looking for Godzilla (2/18/86), but I’m definitely on the hunt to borrow a copy of Forced Exposure #10 (9/9/86). Anyone?

******

Decisions have been made:

  1. I’m joining the local Audubon Society.
  2. No plants will be started indoors for the 2016 gardening season.
  3. Basic vegetable garden will still be planted, but…
  4. … there will be way (WAY!) more flowers…

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******

It’s going to be cold again, we’re probably going to get snow again, and there is still plenty of winter left, but something happens when the sun gets back up to a certain height in the sky and daylight starts winning out.

It gives the house the scent of spring.

On This Last Day of January

On this last day in January:

The youngest’s college applications are finished.

The eldest is home for the weekend.

We went thrifting.

The week’s grocery shopping is now complete.

We’re in the middle of laundry.

I haven’t read enough.

I didn’t get back to the library for the Les Blank set my friend Ian told me about, and I feel like it’s important.

It was 61°. And so we began.

 

boots

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Restoring Order

We’re just dealing with old snow here.

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Dude. What a mess. The birds and other fauna like it, though.

 

So! I’m daydreaming about 2016’s garden and the seeds I want to order, like I do most Januarys.

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[Perennial food not noted above: Blackberries, asparagus, apples.]

I’m considering this list of food to plant in my yard and, in some cases, start in my basement (which I haven’t done for 5 years). I’m having two thoughts.

The first is: This list is rather pedestrian.

Beans. Tomatoes. Peppers. Carrots. Part of that could be because I didn’t include any fancy variety names on the list (“Romano” [pole beans], “Solar Yellow ” [carrot], etc, although it could be argued that “Romanesco” is a fancy variety name. I mean, it is, but when I buy it, I never refer to it as broccoli. Only Romanesco. Anyway.), but this list is actually pretty, uh, garden variety

…which brings me to my second, related thought: This is the same garden I’ve grown for the last 15 years.

It’s the garden I grew for my kids when they were much younger and I just haven’t deviated much; I’ve been coaxing the same stuff out of the ground, year after year, long after it was necessary to encourage lots of fresh vegetable & fruit consumption or for them to understand how food grows. They’re 17 and 23 now. I think they get it.

Sudden third thought: It’s entirely likely that Jim and I will be the only permanent residents of 909 by September. 2016 will probably be the last year I grow a garden of this size, with this food, unless something happens and we have to grow more of our own food as opposed to supporting the indie farming scene to balance our own production.

I want more flowers, see. Big, weird flowers. I’m seeing flowers everywhere, even in the dead kale.

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Note to self: Manufacturing epiphanies & forcing transformative experiences ≠ any real progress for you. The question is: Are you ready to receive such things when they visit?

 

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively):

My Macbook charger is on its last legs, after almost 4 years

Aforementioned Macbook is also almost 4 years old. Years? Mileage?

Ira Glass wants more new voices in public radio

The Cactus Blossoms’ new record made me catch my breath

How the media blew Flint

Great piece about the business of Girl Scout cookies

Some of David Bowie’s favorite records

I’d love to do this, but the price tag is rather steep

The Teaches of Peaches (and Corn and Basil)

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Organic peaches from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, IL.

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.

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“Nirvana” sweet corn from Schottman’s in Effingham, IL.

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.

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Genovese basil from my own backyard in Urbana, IL

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.

Enjoy the sun, however you get it.

You Can Go Home Again

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Detail from a painting by Chank Diesel

 

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.]

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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.

3. Saturday morning, Chank and I hit the co-op and then Heidi and I took to Northeast. We checked out the Northeast Farmers Market, the Cultivate Northeast gardenChowgirls HQ, and their new, gorgeous event space at Solar Arts. I had a look at the Food Building. Activity and possibility everywhere I looked.

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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.