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.

 

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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.

Redoubling

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Entries Within Entry

Much has happened, like it does.

The rain has been epic. There are so many weeds. Our house is wearing a tutu made of flags. I went to Chicago and hung out. We went to Madison and hung out. Summer has arrived.

Rain.

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Oh my God, the rain. It has rained what seems to be incessantly, though it is not incessant in, say, the Pacific Northwest way. When it rains, it pours, the saying goes, and when it decides to rain in these parts, it does not mess around. Basements flood. Streets flood. If you leave your car window open an inch by accident, the entire interior of your car will flood (well, your neighbor’s car). Following these torrential downpours, the sun emerges and the temperature rises to about 85° and it “feels like” a swamp. Which brings me to…

Weeds.

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Jim and I have been surprisingly diligent about working in the garden when lack of rain and down time coincide. I still have a big round of beans to plant, and I’m disappointed in some seed germination rates (as in, zero germination for sunflowers. WTF?), but the food garden is mostly in maintenance mode now, which means the Big Bed (mostly flowers and herbs) needs weeding along with maintenance weeding in the food garden, and with the rain… it’s a ridiculous task. I loathe weeding, and some places have been neglected this summer, which means the crabgrass and mint and creeping charlie and bindweed are stubbornly squatting in those places. They are winning, for now, because the rain is on their side.

Flag tutu.

flags_juneIt’s World Cup season again, people. It’s the women’s turn this year and we loved last year’s flag décor so much, we decided to add more. They wrap, quite literally, halfway around our (small) house, making it, Cody remarked, “that” house. Which it kind of always has been.

Chicago.

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I decided the first weekend in June to drive up to CHGO to see Cody and to hit Reckless Records to hear writer/guitarist Jon Fine read from his new book, Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear). CHGO is only 2 hours north of here, a fairly straight shot up Highway 57, but it is a drive we rarely make these days, and it is even more rare that I make the drive alone. I’m a city driving lightweight; I haven’t made the trip more often because I’m intimidated. NO MORE. This time? I was like whatever and hopped into the car at 11:30 AM that Saturday morning and was parked in front of Cody’s dad’s place in Ukrainian Village by 2 PM after getting coffee and making a pit stop and dealing with road construction. [The most alarming thing about my drive up: The sheer number of deer carcasses, some in weird places. Like… what was a deer doing at the top of a bridge that close to the city? Anyway.] Cody got off work early, I met him in Wicker Park, we ate some food, got some coffee, went to Quimby’s, “ran into” Cody’s dad who just happened to be working in the area, marveled at all the Blackhawks jerseys (they were playing in Tampa that night), went to Reckless, listened to/watched Jon be interviewed by Rose Marshack, and then hung out in the park until just before 7 PM. It was critical that I get on the road by 7 PM because… deer carcasses, you know? I was home by 9. It felt so awesome to spend the better part of a day in one of the best cities in the world, a place I once lived and loved very much, even though the most difficult years of my life happened there. I did love coming home to a place where the stars are visible at night and one can hang 18 flags on one’s house without worrying about them – Urbana, where I’ve lived for 19 years and also love very much. But I’m glad CHGO isn’t that far away.

Madison.

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The B-Ks have reached the point where the youngest member of the household is old enough to be visiting colleges. While we live in a town that is home to a giant Big Ten university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is about 4 hours from here and offers some stuff Lilly is interested in (many foreign languages, some topography, bodies of water, etc), so off we went, with plans to crash with Jim’s sister and her family. We crammed a lot in – a session on the honors program, beer and food at Union South while watching the USA vs Sweden, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Geology Museum, a trip to the Dane County Farmers Market (OMG), some shopping, a full campus tour, more beer and food at Memorial Union on the lake, etc. I spent some time in Madison in the summer of 1990 (there was a boy involved). It was nothing like I remember. I think Lilly liked it. One school down, several more to go this summer and fall. Note to self: Do not drone on about the way it used to be when we visit Macalester.

Summer.

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I was thinking the other day about how I really OBSERVED the progress of the seasons when the kids were younger. I not only watched, I marked. The summer solstice is both a high point for me and a low one (as Cody liked to cheerfully remind us, it’s all downhill from here), and back in the day we’d have parties and… observe. Since my return to full-time work 9 years ago (NINE?!), that’s gotten much harder for me to do. The solstice is Sunday, which is also Father’s Day, and I think we’ll observe with tacos on the grill and maybe having a few people over.

If it doesn’t rain.