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.

Do the Other Things

I can’t tell you how awesome it’s been to have a young astrophysicist in the house for the last few weeks. Not only that, but a young astrophysicist who’s willing to entertain the thought, read the book, see the movie, have the conversation, explain the concept, accept the hug, and make the pancakes.

Not to mention the young political scientist/photographer, who can parse the Constitution, by amendment, on demand, give context to every film, take photos of everything that leave one wondering how the…, give incredibly thoughtful gifts, and eat all the leftovers.

Films we have watched since mid-December:

The Right Stuff
Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: A New Hope
Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
Rogue One (twice)
Hidden Figures
Apollo 13
Snowden
Finding Vivian Maier
Operation: Avalanche

The Hobbit (fan edit)
Fellowship of the Ring*
The Two Towers*
Return of the King*

*in one sitting, 1/1/2017


The weather has been good in fits and starts, and when it’s good, I walk. Longtime readers know that I’m a huge fan of the local prairie preserve. Let me tell you something about that place: It is still magical, so magical. But the surrounding land is being developed within an inch of the park’s life, and the construction and resulting buildings have become a bit of a distraction for me – it’s really not that big of a park, you know? My feeling this way about the only quiet, natural, prairie-of-some-size within easy distance from my domicile leads me to wonder if it’s time to start thinking of other places to spend my time. But when I run across the sculpture there, a subtle part of the landscape yet so alien and apart from it, it forces me to review my perspective. I always walk around my favorites, because NEW ANGLES, Y’ALL.

This might be my favorite, because when you approach it from most directions, you don’t see the heart. Here it is, just for you.

 

There is our life when we’re around others, outside our primary four walls (AKA “home”), and then there is time alone, at home. Who are you when you’re at home? What do you believe? What do you do? Do you sing into a hairbrush? Do you get into comfy clothes the second you get home? Sit as though on a throne playing with dolls, like [SPOILER ALERT] Jenna Coleman’s Queen Victoria does on the day of her coronation? Watch TV? Think unpopular thoughts? Cook things and eat them? Or bring them to the neighbors? Pet the cats? Check for Facebook likes? Secretly play U2? Work?

Lately I see 909 as a retreat, an oasis, a fortress, a small-but-mighty enclave, vibrant and private, unassuming and welcoming, a destination. Home. It’s been home for 12 years… what’s different about 2017?

Stirring

JULY

 

Regal feline

 

Home to roost

 

Together v 1.0

 

AUGUST

 

Dumpling gang

 

‘Twas the night before college

 

SEPTEMBER

 

Championship match

 

Poster Children at Pygmalion

 

OCTOBER

 

Midterm

 

Kanken stash at Fjallraven, St. Paul

 

NOVEMBER

 

Meadowbrook

 

Studio space at Same Street Textiles & Scrap Yard

 

Fireplace upgrade at 909

 

DECEMBER

 

Love is all around

 

Together v 2.0

 

My sentiments exactly (photo source unknown)

 

Currently: Knitting a rectangle and patiently waiting for this year to come to a close. I’ve got a list of possessions and behaviors to jettison, and others to reclaim.  I’m also wondering, as we hurtle into a new calendar year: What does complacency mean to you? Is it something to be aspired toward? Or challenged?

 

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

Wondering how Perry Possum would respond to such overtures

How huge is your mammoth? Mine is enormous. And loud

Buying this shirt, brb

Carrie Fisher’s unofficial doctoring made the ESB script better. Way better

Discovering Donella Meadows

Wish I’d thought of this name

Always reading the comments at Archdruid Report

Granola Shotgun providing inspiration for the coming year(s)

I keep coming back to Nance Klehm

My friend Lisa writes AMAZING stuff

The sun rises and sets on Urbana, IL

Workhorse

This picnic table has been in our lives since the late days of our residence at 1005. We were there from 1998-2005.

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It’s a member of our family, and like all B-Ks, it’s been put through its paces. The picnic table originated with another household, and was not a small purchase for us at the time (great condition + broke-ass = hold yr breath and write the check). We were trying to build an outdoor life in a rental house, and a sturdy, beautiful picnic table with two benches symbolized how we would spend the coming years with our children and our friends and neighbors. It meant the lingering over a cherry pie at the Summer Solstice, elbows on the table. It meant workaday and it meant special occasion. Commitment Furniture.

I had every intention of preserving its heavy, 70s-vintage beauty by coating it in linseed oil (per my friend Jeanne) and also making sure it didn’t spend time out in the elements, but most of the time the table sat folornly in the rain, devoid of linseed oil or any other protectant, and baked in the sun as it dried. Thoughts of the linseed oil project seemed to invite more rain, and the cycle would begin anew.

But the table was fine. We ate there between storms all summer, pulling it into the yard or just eating in the driveway.

Then we moved to 909. The kids went to school. I went to work. Sunshine and lots of space to work with made for new and exciting gardening challenges. Everything was different! But the table remained constant, taking its customary place in the driveway. It’s stayed there for the last 11 years, except when we hustle it into the garage for the winter every November, prodded by a late fall storm. We then haul it out with great optimism and enthusiasm on that one really warm and sunny weekend that comes every March and get down to the business – or try to – of living around the table.

Outdoor life at 909 has waxed and waned. We still eat at the table. I also use it to repot plants and start seeds.

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The cats drape themselves over it and have found it delightful as a scratching post. Squirrels crack nuts and leave pieces of old pizza wedged between planks. I’ve composed many a blog post at that table (though not this one); we’ve had lots of beers with friends there. I’ve interviewed people at that table. [If that table could speak…] It’s also been a beautiful-then-trendy weathered backdrop for taking photos of vegetables and flowers and other stuff.

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arugula

Like everyone else chez B-K, it’s got a few years and a lot of mileage on it. Putting your elbows on the table now results in splinters. The benches got some new screws this spring because the other ones just… fell out. We’ve already had a graduation party at the table this year, and I decided recently to try to germinate a bunch of seeds from 2010 to see what would happen. I got them settled into the dirt at the table.

However, my vision of myself on a sunny day, lovingly coating the picnic table (which, in my vision, is sitting prettily on a thrifted vintage sheet in the driveway) still has not come to pass, alas.

*****

Giving your children wings so they can fly away from the nest and all that other corny stuff… can sometimes be quite literal.

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Mad respect to my daughter, Lilly, for rocking it out academically, coping with adversity, injury, and rehabbing that injury, applying to and getting accepted at a bunch of schools (she’s headed here in the fall), ending her high school soccer career with the finest of exclamation points in the post-season (one of these), landing a summer job and getting started almost immediately after graduation, and for having the guts to not just go up in an adorable little Piper Cub, but also to fly it. That’s her up there.

I’ll keep watching from down here, thanks. With great interest.

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?

terns

 

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.

asparagus

 

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?

Disruption

It’s been another Sunday spent watching the transport of cheap white bread, pre-packaged fruit pies, and old pizza.

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The sweet gum tree in the photo is the only one on our lot – it’s in the front yard. Ten years ago, when we bought 909, the fact that the only tree on the lot was in the front yard was a huge selling point for me. [Trees are awesome; I just don’t want them growing where I want to grow food.]

I hate picking up its goddamn gum balls off the front yard every spring, but I still love that tree. The infancy of those goddamn gum balls in the spring is ADORABLE. The tree has amazing bright yellow foliage in the fall. And it is most definitely some sort of environmental focal point for birds, squirrels, and Perry the Possum in a four-house area on our street.

I find this daily drama fascinating. Every day the sparrows hang around the feeders in our front yard, mixing comfortably with the squirrels, who rarely try to eat from the feeders anymore and are instead satisfying themselves, alongside the juncoes and cardinals, with whatever birdseed the sparrows drop out of the feeders (there’s plenty). When the silence outside becomes deafening, I look up into our tree’s lower branches. More often than not, a young hawk is watching like a … well, you know.

Let’s get back to the squirrels. The nest in our tree (see photo above) is home to some really active sciuridae-about-town. They spend a ridiculous amount of time going back and forth between our tree and the backyards of two houses across the street – they’ve worn a visible path on the grass between the houses – and the reason they’ve done that is the reason they no longer hog all the birdseed in our feeders.

The guy across the street is feeding them. He’s not feeding them peanuts, or chunks of apple, or stale bread, like one might every so often. He’s not feeding them stuff that would normally go in the compost, like lettuce butts and carrot peelings. Every day, he’s feeding them absurd amounts of old pizza, entire loaves of stale bread, Hostess fruit pies, ancient hamburger buns, and saltines. I watch these poor small mammals struggle up our tree several times a day, carrying pieces of bread as big as their torsos. They risk their lives in front of cars and bikes by going back after a half-bagel they dropped in the middle of the road. And, for whatever reason, they leave entire pieces of pizza and half-eaten fruit pies in our garage, on our back steps, and in our planters on our front steps.

Why? Why do they abandon their junk food in weird places? Is it because they’re full and somewhat disgusted with themselves and decide head off to my compost pile in order to undo the damage?

The other morning, as I was having my coffee and getting ready to face down another day at work, I saw something a bit different. The sun was up. It was just lovely outside, you could tell. And there was Perry Possum, heading across the street toward our house, from what can only have been a debauched night consuming processed white carbs. Perry Possum? In the daytime?

[I know a lot of people are not fond of possums, but I don’t mind Perry. It’s pretty clear Perry is known in the neighborhood, because our cats are just fine with him/her milling around while they hang out on the back porch at night. Perry is just doing his/her possumy thing.]

This isn’t good, this feeding of utter crap to the local fauna. It can make them sick and cause them to lose the instinct to feed themselves if/when the source of the junk runs out. I want to tell the gentleman across the street that he’s not doing them any favors, but I actually think he might actually live to feed these animals. I don’t know; in ten years he’s never spoken to us.

I thought about this today as I pondered the meaning of the word disruption in the context of work I do at my job and the culture we live in. Some disruption is very, very good; change is required for growth, and being able to discern, and then adapt, is critical. But I think about those squirrels wrestling with a Hostess fruit pie and I think, we can decide, at the end of the day, how we want/will allow ourselves to be disrupted; the local fauna really can’t. A bit less junk would be better for all of us.

There’s a lot to be said for continuity, too. Spring’s coming.

Welcome.

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Other Side

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This Meadowbrook crayfish paused in its quest to “cross the road” to tell you to enjoy your Leap Day, and to do your best to get to wherever you need to go. He/she looks pretty serious about it.

See you in March!

Blizzard Breath

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It’s a snow day. Life appears to be TOTALLY CANCELLED in C-U today. (Not pictured: 50 MPH winds)

Except for the U of I, where I work. WE NEVER CLOSE; they send an email to all faculty, staff and students before every snow event reminding us of this fact. I’m very lucky in that I have a job (and the gear) where I can work from home if need be.

So. Today’s weather coincided just so with my schedule. My technology has been working. Many of my colleagues opted to stay home as well, which means phone meetings (urgh) and lots of messaging. Because while I wish I could have taken the day off, today is not that day. I actually am working. My ass off. I mean, it’s not like I’m out there plowing snow, but still.

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:: Post title thanks to my awesome colleague Liz ::

Quaint

Basements: Shelter from severe weather, repository of the detritus from a bygone era.

quaint_files

 

In the case of the B-K basement, that bygone era is little more than ten years ago. Looking around at stacks of CDs, magazines, books from the homeschooling years, boxes of files filled with magazine clippings from those same years, the knitting stuff, the piles of thrifted crap I meant to sell on eBay – it’s all kind quite unbearably cute and earnest and analog and quaint and very 20th century, as though my grandmother had kept all that stuff for us.

I think I like the idea of preserving this archaeological dig of a basement – FOR NOW – because the evidence of a decade-plus of change is in my face every day when I  a) look at my family and b) how I spend my days. (I’m also lazy-busy.)

Eleven years ago, I was feral in the backyard with my children; Neither they nor I had a smartphone or social media since they basically didn’t exist. Ten years ago, everyone went back/off to school because I was working full time at the Foodbank and wearing dress pants. Five years ago, I was preparing to spend my 4th season running the Market and building its social media presence. Now I do something else entirely.

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[The guy in the photo, Ryan – while interesting – was not the interviewee. The actual interviewee was running a few minutes late, so Ryan decided to hang out. My other colleague, Tim, must have taken this photo. Or did I?]

This trip was the second of three total we’re taking to Chicago within eight days to interview people for a project we’re working on. The first trip was to WYCC’s studios on the south side, this trip was to Lincoln Park, and this Thursday’s interview is downtown. As we left the city yesterday at sunset, I admired our view and felt feelings about my years there.

chgo_sunset

 

About the project itself: There are lots of logistics around equipment and overall planning on the front end and back end, but that’s largely the purview of my colleagues.

Since I’m doing much of the writing and am conducting the interviews, my main role is to decide on the topics of conversation as they pertain to the project. Then I begin intelligence gathering. Read articles and books. Listen to podcasts, watch videos online, follow people on Twitter, read their tweets and digest their retweets. Cross out and rewrite. Order and reorder. Add and delete. Later on, Tim and I (mostly Tim) will color in the shapes we drew at the beginning of the project – we edit everything down into 26 minutes that hopefully gets the story right while also moving and inspiring viewers and/or listeners.

Projects like this aren’t my “real job”, but I consider it my favorite work. I’m so very glad it found me/I found it. I think 25 years of reading voraciously, teaching myself Internet, going to shows, working in music, nursing babies, blogging, facilitating my kids’ early education, planting gardens, taking photos, selling thrifted stuff on eBay as a side hustle, keeping file folders full of articles as “inspiration”, collecting vintage aprons, preserving food, wearing dress pants, strolling the aisles with my clicker at the farmers market, and always (always) talking and listening – all of that led me to doing what I’m doing in 2016. The evidence is downstairs.

Jim and I face an empty nest in less than 6 months. Our basement is like the late 1990s/earlyish 2000s preserved in amber for our family. I am loath to disturb it, so I’m not gonna.

Yet.