It’ll Get Done

Let’s talk about the weather for a sec, like people do.

[Wait, first… a photo of a peony about to bloom. If you follow BYI on Instagram, you might have already seen this:]


OK. I don’t know about the weather where you are, but the weather here in old central IL has been less than helpful in terms of partnering with me personally (because it’s all about me, right??) to get the garden into the ground. By mid-May, warm weather stuff – tomatoes, herbs, peppers – have typically been planted, the worst of the spring weeds vanquished, the flower seeds sown, and the few planters we do have lurking here at 909 have something in them that was actually put there on purpose.

Thanks to rain timed to coincide with the end of the workday and/or weekends, I’m 25% of the way there. OK, 40%. I’m kind of mortified. It really isn’t just the rain – it’s also working off the premises and taking care of other business. Time’s gotten away from me. I do way less for the garden than I used to – when I bought a bunch of vegetable and herb starts at the farmers market this past weekend, Jon from Blue Moon was all, hey, whatever happened with your home seed start production? And I was like, dude, I haven’t had the chance to start seeds in 5 years, so THANK YOU for making these available! – but I got in front of that by planting some food that basically grows itself every year, like asparagus, blackberries, apples, and perennial herbs. Garlic doesn’t grow itself, but I planted it last fall, so that counts. I love food that mostly grows itself. And I love farmers who start seeds and offer those starts at farmers markets.

Anyway. I’ve planted the planters (which helps psychologically because they’re cheerful, full of cheap marigolds and portulaca*) and I’ve bought/dug the starts I want,  and have planted some kale and beets and salad mix. Um, it’s not June yet, so I’m going to just be OK with it.

My weed patch and brush pile, though – let me show them to you. I call this photo “Still Life with Old Holiday Wreath and Creeping Charlie, Mint, and Aging Wheelbarrow”.

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The coolest part of working in the yard when I could over this past (sunny) weekend was seeing/hearing my neighbors do likewise. It’s been so damn rainy and I hadn’t seen anyone for weeks. Chris and Melony next door did some hard time in their yard. Virginia, an elder woman who lives behind us, was working on her lovely yard with a friend. I went a few houses down to my new neighbor (and old friend) Bruce’s house to ID some plants for him. And I saw Lara, a block over, being a TGB**. I’m not sure she left her yard the entire day. As a result of the damned hard work she and Phil have put in since they bought the place a few years ago, their yard/garden/chicken coop are among the most incredible-looking in Urbana. You can see what everything looked like last year in “Henthusiasm“, starting at 4:21. Seriously, if garden coaching were a thing (and maybe it should be) Lara would KILL IT. She has an artist’s eye for color and placement, much enthusiasm and fire, is fearless about trying things, does not believe one should have to spend a lot of money to have an awesome garden, and does not ever tire, apparently.

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

Tim (the other half of BYI Video) and I are experimenting with Slack as a collab tool

I’m interested in the concept of a mastermind group for some motivation

Ira Glass (This American Life) ruffled some public media feathers recently and came back with this explanation

Be kind

The challenges of editing while female

Crafting a pitch email (needed this a few days ago)

Widespread automation and resource depletion are my big worries – and both are happening faster than anyone truly realizes

Shit People Say to Women Directors is a most amazing/infuriating blog


*I am not a fashion planter gardener. I’m a “find whatever you can on sale and then stick it into whatever vessel you find in the garage” planter gardener.

**Total Garden Badass

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.


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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.

Two Thirds

We’re “most” of the way through a tolerable January – let’s high five! Here’s some actual January sky for you:

IMG_6735That little white dot in the middle – that’s a plane. I think you can see it better if you click the photo to make it big.

Nothing else to report – just that it’s January 21, the weather has been good, and I still have not yet ordered my seeds. It has to happen soon, and I cannot spend $100 on seeds and sweet potato slips. THAT IS RIDICULOUS.


Ring It In

Jim and I welcomed 2015 yesterday with a walk at Meadowbrook and saw this bit of squirrel goofballery:

IMG_0488[Lone nut. Rather fitting.]

I’m usually the walker, especially on colder days, so it was nice to have Jim along… even if he was only in it for potential deer sightings. [We saw no deer.] Our forecast is calling for freezing participation off and on through tomorrow, followed by my favorite – sub-zero cold – for a few days, so it is doubtful I’ll be outside much in the near future… unless I’m forced.

OK. Enough about the weather. I’m pretty much done with winter in my mind. I dress in base layers and wear hats (even indoors) (ask my colleagues) and deal with it in my own ways, which include denial. It’s over for me, OK? Today is 43 seconds longer than yesterday, the vernal Equinox is in 77 days, and the Market opens in 120 days. THAT IS PRACTICALLY TOMORROW, YOU GUYS.

Also: The seed catalogs are rolling in. I gave in to temptation and drafted an order last night from the Baker Creek catalog – it is of epic proportions [sidebar: I’m so impressed with how the business has grown since I started following along in 1998] and I ended up with the most ridiculous pretend seed order ever.

IMG_0497See that at the bottom? “Molokai Purple“? I’M SO PUMPED. Thanks to last year’s garlic success, I’m throwing all caution to the wind and am trying sweet potatoes. Purple ones, you guys. I have no idea how to grow them, what they need, if I even have the space (as my friend/neighbor Jill says, “My eyes are bigger than my yard”), but I don’t care. Those are definitely staying on the list. I’ll figure it out. PURPLE SWEET POTATOES.

Here’s the thing – my fantasy order is from one catalog. I have at least 3 more favorites coming. I know there are a zillion catalogs out there that I’ve probably never heard of, so – if you buy seeds, from where do you procure them? I need you to help me feed my addiction. My enthusiasm for 2015’s garden/food was only fueled by a trip into the backyard yesterday and seeing how huge of a mess I’d left it this fall. I AM ALL ABOUT CLEANING THAT SHIT UP…

…especially when it’s too cold to do it today.


Rain Reign

A delightful pop-up thunderstorm, whose lightning to the south put on quite the show as the storm slowly made its way across the prairie, visited last night. FINALLY.

It rained, hard enough, for about half an hour before lumbering on to the next town. This was good, as I’d only watered the plants in containers before succumbing to a severe case of the I-don’t-wannas and hoped for the best.

I got up this morning and went out, as I do almost every morning in the summer, to investigate the potential aftermath. Peony bushes always look like downed swans to me after a storm, the flowers gracefully drooping to the ground under the weight of rain. The weeds, as I’d expected, had rioted overnight. The sun was shining and the scent of the earth was heady stuff; I entertained rebellious thoughts of maybe skipping work for a garden-health day…

[The scent immediately brought me back to a very specific time in 2003, when we were living at 1005 and were being paid a visit by my friend Kristin and her family. They had been visiting relatives in St. Louis and asked if they could swing by our place on their way back to their home in New York. I said yes, of course. I had never met her in person – we had been online friends for a couple of years at that point, brought together by similar stories exchanged on the message boards at hipMama – the boards were a lifeline to many back then. Anyway, after saying yes, I was like what am I doing? What if it’s weird? What if they think we’re weird? What if it’s painfully awkward? It was awesome, of course. We had dinner and the kids engaged in a huge water balloon fight and the spouses (both tall guys named Jim) got on well. But my favorite moments were when Kristin and I visited several gardens – my small one out back, my friend Janna’s huge one down the street, and the plots out at Meadowbrook. I might have even had a plot out there that year – I can’t remember. I think Kristin was impressed with the utter fertility of the place. At any rate, it was the smell of the Meadowbrook gardens on that specific day that has stayed with me – humid air, warmed soil, the dill that ran rampant in all the garden plots every year…]

… but I sucked it up and went to work. I came home later and started tending to this.


When I planted the greens, I knew I’d be getting more than the seeds I was planting. I’m not one for neat beds, that’s for sure; calendula had lived in the bed the year before, lamb’s quarter lives EVERYWHERE in my yard, always, and I know from experience that if you let even one dill plant go to seed, you’re going to have it in unexpected places in the spring. And so it is with the greens patch this year. It smells delicious.

I did weed a huge patch of zinnias. I opened a beer and brought my radio out to help the task along. Jim came outside and chatted with me as I picked and pulled. Mattie Flicktail Lonesome settled into the garlic to observe the dogs in the yard behind us.

Garlic Cat

Mattie and her son, Teacups Nibbles Lonesome (not pictured), are quite fond, this year, of hanging out with me in the yard, just like the CSN&Y song. They’re mostly fond of rolling around on top of whatever I’ve just planted, but it’s still pretty cool to have them out there. Back in the Chicken Days, I talked to the girls incessantly while I gardened; now I mostly gruff at the cats to quit rolling around in the flowers or to stop eating the grass that inevitably makes them hurl.

Times have changed, obviously, but the calendula, dill, and lamb’s quarter still reign (and smell) supreme.

Backyard Wilderness

What I should be doing: Writing next week’s BYI Radio piece. What I’m doing instead: Enjoying a delightful night outdoors at the picnic table in the driveway at 909. Our entire lot becomes an extension of our quite small house once summer arrives, which it seems to have done. I could blog indoors, but why?

oak sprout

At the moment, the only visible and/or audible evidence of wild things in my yard are the June bugs (I think that’s what they are) flying blindly into the side of the garage. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started paying more attention than I usually do to the creatures that share the neighborhood with me. Tales of wild things in this decidedly residential, in-town neighborhood abound:

  • A fox had the run of this area for awhile this spring, stealing several neighbors’ chickens and, I think, efficiently killing a mourning dove in my backyard – only a compact pile of feathers remained (foxes are known for carrying their prey to an undisclosed location).
  • There’s a groundhog that’s turned up one street over, I hear.
  • One night last summer I had the disquieting experience of seeing 3 animals that were not my cats – raccoons – walk past my spot at the picnic table as I sat there, a fourth nearly brushing my leg as it sauntered under the table to join its friends/relatives.
  • Opossums snurfling around our backyard are common.
  • A few weeks ago, our friend Douglas saw a coyote chase one of his cats out of the woodsy area next to his house, which backs up against a very busy Dart beverage cup plant.
  • Then there was the afternoon this spring, as I started clearing out the garden, when I noticed all the dead lacinato kale plants that had been standing about 3 feet tall when we left for spring break in March… had been eaten down to about 2 feet tall. Further investigation in the garden, followed by, um, googling various types of poop, led me to believe that, at some point, a desperately hungry (and possibly lost) deer was eating whatever it could find in the days before spring truly arrived. A DEER. It was either a deer or equally desperate rabbits taking turns piling on top of each other, with the rabbit on the top getting the dead kale. I would have loved to see either.

All these animals – in addition to the usual array of rabbits, squirrels, birds (including hawks and vultures), toads, snakes, mice, voles, bats, and the occasional chipmunk – are living with us here at 909. Some variation of them are living with you, probably, wherever you’re located. Dealing with them as garden pests and possible predators is one thing. Dealing with them as neighbors is another, to say nothing (if you’re me) of dealing with a basic, childhood-based fear of animals that are not cats or dogs. [Raccoons freak me the eff out, you guys. We had one living in our chimney a couple of years ago, and there is nothing as terrifying as sleeping peacefully with the windows open only to be awakened by the frantic screaming of raccoons fighting and/or gleefully chasing each other around your house and you’re thinking, either those are aliens or something has killed one of the cats WTF do I do?]

I’m working on that by trying to notice them and then to observe them, even the annoying squirrels and the boring old house sparrows. Reading Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s The Urban Bestiary has been a revelation (I highly recommend it), as was a “trip” to a park blocks from downtown Champaign with my friend, Rob Kanter of Environmental Almanac, where we saw a freaking muskrat going about its muskratty business in the creek (swimming upcreek, grabbing a huge wad of some beautiful green grass on the bank, then swimming downcreek back to its home, presumably to feed its family – not unlike when Jim makes a Mirabelle run on Saturday mornings, I thought). There were also an awful lot of not-very-exciting Canada geese pooping everywhere, but I didn’t care! A muskrat! In downtown Champaign! I doubt I’d have been as excited if I’d seen it in my yard, but I’ll get there.

There’ll be more about this experience in the aforementioned radio piece, which should be online by June 4. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to co-exist and observe, but you can be damn sure I’ll also be protecting the food I’m trying to grow. There aren’t enough blackberries for all of us – at least not this this year.


Two Days Are Not Enough

I believe a 4-day work/school week would work to our advantage; two days is never enough time for this household to get its act together.


I want to be where these gull prints are. The photo was taken last March in Florida, and while we had winter here last winter, it was nothing like this winter has been. Ergo, we’re planning another trip. I’m already making shopping lists in my head and thinking about the fruit stands I’m going to visit and wondering if there are any new restaurants. We have been going to the same place since 2002 and have only missed one year, 2005, since then. We bought our house at the same time the trip was supposed to happen that year. It was worth it. 909 has been, and continues to be, good to us.

I was thinking that today might be the day I inventory my seed-starting stuff – the lights, the trays, etc. It’s been too cold in the basement to start seeds, though. I wish I was kidding. We’ve had so many days/nights in the single digits here that the basement is just cold all the time. Forget starting seeds – I barely want to go down there to switch the laundry. I haven’t ordered any seeds yet, partially because it’s so freaking cold down there and also because our food co-op does such a great job of bringing seeds in early, thus enabling my laziness and lack of adventure. But it also really saves time and it’s nice to support continued good behavior on the part of one of my favorite local businesses. Thanks, CGFC! I’m sure I’ll be in soon… and then ordering seeds for stuff I plant later in the season.

Oh! The first radio BYI of the year aired locally late last week and is now available on the internet right here. “Ramen Shaman” should be ready by the end of the month, and then we head right into shooting the next one, plus continued radio pieces… it’s a busy time, yet it still feels so hibernatey. There’s a warming trend in the forecast for early next week… I hope it thaws some creativity and motivation around here in addition to the snow mountains.

No Reason to the Season

January Rain


A week ago, we braced for a snowstorm and the polar vortex – and got it. Our lowest reading at home was -16 degrees Monday night; we covered all our windows with heavy quilts and hoped for the best. Yesterday, rain fell and was watched from many a home, office, and car window. Fog rose from disappearing snowdrifts. This winter’s weather, which started (ironically) with unseasonably warm temperatures and tornadoes in November, continues unpredictably on. I wonder what spring’s weather will be like. The idea of planting in this frozen much does not appeal, but, really, we’re just 10 weeks away, more or less, from planting spinach, 8 from planting peas, and starting seeds indoors in a month.

Unless something weird happens with the weather.