Category Archives: Travel

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?

Pursuit

I want to give a shoutout to a few random things that happened during those final three moons of 2015.

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The beautiful people at Blue Moon Farm sold me a buttload of tomatoes so we could taste summer once in awhile.

 

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That’s me on the left, talking with badass Jessica Hopper during a panel we were both on at the Pygmalion Tech Festival (you can watch the entire discussion here). I can’t properly convey how hilarious and awesome this photo is to me on several levels…

…nope, I can’t. (photo by Mike Thomas)

 

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Some friends of mine who shall remain nameless gussied up this statue (“Marker”, by Peter Fagan) at Meadowbrook Park – it gets cold out there. I like random acts of yarnbombing.

 

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Lily and I roadtripped to Minneapolis-St. Paul again in October for more college visiting. We did the Airbnb thing (that’s my room in the photo), and I read most of Patti Smith’s latest memoir. I was inspired by her Polaroids from the book; actually, all of her work has taken on heightened meaning for me as my kids grow up and I move through middle age and am always asking myself THE most important question: WTF? Aside: I wrote this little piece about her influence on me for her birthday, which was a few days ago.

 

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It’s not often we get the band back together, and the dynamic will change again when Lilly makes her move this fall. I’m not ready for that just yet, so I’m going to enjoy this photo from Xmess Eve 2015 while easing my way into 2016.

Happy New Year, friends. You’ve got 2016 in the palm of your hand.

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.

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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.

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.

Spring’s Broken

I love the smell of motorboats in canals and of chlorine pools. I love the feel of hot pavement and longleaf pine needles under my feet. I was a little kid in Florida, and it is the place every cell in my body remembers most.

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Yep, that’s me on the right, with my little brother. 1976. Orlando, FL.

I told my friend Kaya the Cake Guru that, in the 70s and early 80s, Florida was the place where my only business was that of being a kid, of learning how to be alive outside and in the world. Botany, zoology, neighborhood cartography, physical fitness (swimming, biking, tree-climbing), neighborliness, resilience, problem-solving, etiquette, curiosity, independence, troublemaking, and consequences were all taken care of by my Florida neighborhoods – the kids I played with there, plus their parents and their cigarette-smoking memaws and the old military guys with tattoos under their hairy forearms whom you always called “sir”, no matter what.

By the time we moved to the midwest, when I was almost 13, it was obvious some things were changing. It was clear that the culture was going to demand, if it hadn’t already begun demanding, different things of its young men and women than the trees we were climbing together or the forts we were building out of magnolia branches and palmetto leaves and Spanish moss in vacant lots. I know the rip tide that was Southern culture at that time was at least part of the reason my mother insisted we leave it. And she wasn’t wrong to want to leave – difficult questions and experiences regarding race, sex, religion, and class started tripping up us junior high schoolers more and more. Corporal punishment (“paddling”) was a much-discussed thing at our school. I was keen to be a cheerleader (the height of cool and acceptable/desirable female athletic accomplishment), but also wanting to play baseball like Zanboomer (still rather unacceptable for a young Southern lady in 1981). There were… interesting interactions with neighbors. Eventually, we left for Minnesota. No one got paddled at school and the coolest girls all played basketball and soccer, but my Southern accent and other quirks in 8th grade were liabilities. I lived in Minnesota for 10 years, and I loved my time there, but I’ve been moving progressively more to the south since 1991.

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We were on the road the day spring 2015 arrived in the northern hemisphere. We started off as soon we could after waking up and getting coffee in foggy & cool Tennessee, and continued south. We ended up in muggy & hot central Florida twelve hours later for a visit with my dad, who lives in a place where the orange groves of my childhood have given way to RV campgrounds and strip malls.  The next day, we were on the road again, cutting directly through west central Florida to Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast, where it feels like it is, or at least could be, summer forever. Those three traveling days felt like a week – in the best way – and then we had six days of staying put before having to return north.

People comment on the fact that we’ve returned each year – since 2004 – to the same coastal place in Florida each late winter. Why not try someplace new? Go with what you know is always my answer. Anna Maria Island isn’t where I was a kid – that was central FL and NW Florida – but it is a place where young me would have happily spent most days. Current me can literally unclench my stiff, tight body there because I don’t have to do anything except exist. We don’t plan much beyond eating food, drinking beer, and spending time outside. It’s pretty delicious, if you’re into that kind of thing. No one in my little family grew up there, but they’ve grown accustomed – to a week and change in March, anyway.

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I’m not sure how they’d feel about July. And Southern culture, especially politics, remain a serious conundrum.

We’re back now. We came home yesterday to a busted furnace, cat barf on the bed, and cold windy rain (or windy cold rain, or rainy cold wind – whatever, it sucked). Please send sunny days and 75° (more degrees welcome). Thanks.

Road Trip Needed

Florida, Austin, Asheville, Athens G-A, Little Rock, wherever. I feel a need to hit the road and find an outside environment that doesn’t look like Hoth. This landscape is preferable:

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We must road trip this summer – Madison, MPLS-STP, even a couple quick jaunts up to CHGO would count – to fill two purposes: To scratch this nagging travel itch I seem to have going on, and to get Lilly to visit a few schools. Schools as in, colleges and universities. Yes, we’ve arrived at that point. I can’t believe it either, but some very good friends of ours (and they’re our age) have one offspring finishing college and another offspring who, with his partner, just made them grandparents, so clearly that sands through the hourglass thing applies universally. Lesson here is positively BuellerianLife moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. He’s right.

Speaking of stopping and looking around, here’s something I witnessed this past Monday as I was walking the two blocks from where I park my car to my office.

[Sidebar: I enjoy this walk very much, even on the coldest/hottest of days; it’s a buffer between worlds. For those two blocks, I’m preparing to enter a different headspace, and even though it’s just two average residential/campus blocks, it’s still outside, still the natural world. There are lots of trees and squirrels and birds on this block – late last spring, a pair of house finches sang me to work most mornings. There they were, pretty much every day without fail, perched in the same tree, just chirping away. I’m sure they annoyed the living shit out of anyone on the block trying to sleep in, but I was delighted.]

Anyway. I was walking those two blocks to my office. It was cold, but not unreasonably so. It had snowed quite a bit over the weekend, but the sun was out and the sky was cloudless. I lifted my head to take in as much as I could before crossing the street and heading into my office, and when I did, I noticed… bits of snow? Bark? Leaves? Ash? Gray things, with a touch of red, floating down and resting on top of the new snow… down feathers, I suddenly realized, and there were lots of them.

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I looked up. A mid-sized hawk was on the branch just above, poor dead male cardinal in its talons. He/she regarded me, pulled out one last, long, bright red feather, and then decided to eat is meal in peace elsewhere. I probably stood there for 10 seconds before I stooped down, took that last feather, and walked the rest of the block to work.

I love birds. Hawks fascinate me. Cardinals are so gorgeous, especially against new snow – but the snow that throws them into such brilliant, beautiful relief is also what makes them more visible to hawks and other predators. That cardinal’s luck had run out… because the hawk was hungry. I’ve watched (hawk-like) the hawk that lives in our neighborhood and have marveled at its patience. I don’t enjoy seeing it rip a smaller bird apart, but I reckon it’s entitled to enjoy its food after waiting so long, strategizing the entire time.

Hmmmm.

Butter Can Make Your Life Better

 

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We were still in Ireland when the Time magazine article entitled “Ending the War on Fat” (only a partial article – ya gotta subscribe for the rest) was published.

Butter was the sexy cover star, though it looked a bit like a piece of pasta to me:

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The story coincided with my desire, on this trip, to demonstrate to my daughter and nieces that everyday dairy products in Ireland – the stuff you could buy at a supermarket or even the Irish equivalent of a convenience store – were way tastier than the products we could get at home in the same types of places. Backing up a bit:

Back in April, as I lay on the grass on some soccer fields in Rochester, IL watching my husband and the younger nieces fly kites, I asked the two older girls (they’re both 15) what they wanted to do while we were in Ireland. We talked about the ghost estates and some shopping, but then my niece Annie piped up: “Remember how you told us the chocolate tastes different over there? I want to find some chocolate.”

Right, I had mentioned that. On my first trip there in 1997, the dairy products had been a total revelation to my very inexperienced, Midwestern, nothing-weird-please palate. Everything, including the mass-produced chocolate, tasted richer, deeper, and farmier than anything I’d had at home. I noticed milk trucks everywhere – they were driving from farm to farm, picking up milk. Aw! So quaint! But it also seemed to explain, in some way, what I was tasting. My biggest regret at the end of that trip was not bringing enough chocolate home with me. Something a former Irish boyfriend had said to me years before, when he’d turned up his nose at Hershey bars, rang in my ears: “This isn’t chocolate. This is… CANDY.”

We ended up buying some chocolate when we stopped for gas on our first day in the country – several Cadbury bars (my favorite and best: Fruit and Nut). I didn’t want to make a big deal about it to the girls. I didn’t want to hover expectantly over them as they tried it, saying, “WELL? WHAT DO YOU THINK? IT’S AWESOME, AMIRITE?” I just sat in my seat in the van and watched them on the sly and enjoyed my Fruit and Nut. I could tell they were pleased.

Within a day of our arrival in Killarney, we discovered the Lir Café and their chocolates. Then Cody mentioned a friend of his told him some of the best ice cream she’d ever had was at Murphy’s in Killarney. The milk they use for their ice cream is specific to the Dingle Peninsula. Their tag line: Ice cream that knows where it’s coming from. Say no more! Off we went.

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It went over well, though, man, do I wish I could have done a blind taste test with some family members who deemed it “good, but not as good as (insert name of ice cream shop at home)”. Really? Hm. I thought it was damned delicious, especially the Dingle Sea Salt vanilla. 10/10, would eat again.

But… butter. Ice cream and chocolate were great, obviously, but butter was the delicate, delicious glue holding mealtimes together. The entire time we were in Ireland we bought huge hunks of Irish butter for cooking and for slathering on bread. It is insanely good, and you can buy it anywhere. Even the butter pats at the visitor center cafés, like at Newgrange and the Cliffs of Moher, are excellent. That’s just how it is. Good butter forever and ever, amen. It makes sense – wherever you look or listen, there are cows. Cows everywhere. And they’re on this gorgeously lush and green Irish grass, eating the food they’re meant to eat, over 90% of the time. For example, here I am with a cow, who really wasn’t having it because she was too busy eating grass to make milk for our butter.

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I thanked her, of course.

I’m not saying that American dairy products suck across the board. They don’t! What I am saying is that good dairy products are a lot harder to find in the US, and they’re quite expensive when you do find them, depending on where you live. Most dairy cattle in the US don’t live on grass; Irish cattle graze outdoors almost year-round. The milk we find at the grocery store is often ultrapasteurized; milk there isn’t. There are no growth hormones in Ireland’s milk. It’s just… milk. And since dairy cows are omnipresent in Ireland and the Irish dairy industry is committed to raising them this way, the end product isn’t as expensive as it is here.

I have a lot of thoughts about the cost of good, clean food in the US, who can afford it and who can’t and why, the psychology around food in the US and what we think we deserve (this includes labeling), US foods and habits making their way into and through other countries , etc. This trip wasn’t about food tourism, so I was mostly observing and thinking and comparing and contrasting and eating whatever I ran across. I wish I’d asked more questions of our driver, Austin, who told me on the last day of his trip that his wife grew vegetables and kept chickens, something I didn’t notice a lot of on our drives through the country. Maybe next time.

At the end of the trip Annie spent her last Euros on several bars of chocolate and I bought some cookies. I smuggled my airline-issued Irish butter pat off the plane. But when we got home, Jim reminded me that he’d packed this:

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Time for toast.

If You’re Irish

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I’m the least Irish person I know, but I married into a family of serious Irish extraction – serious enough to have resulted in not one, but two family trips there, the first in 1997 and the second just these last 10 days. The first time, as we flew into the Dublin airport, I forced myself to look out the window (I dislike air travel) and was stunned to see that, yes, it was DAMNED green, as green as the songs said. We were meeting my in-laws in Shannon, so we flew back west in a mostly-empty plane at a relatively low altitude and I continued to stare, agog, out the window. The plane landed on a runway in the middle of a field of grazing sheep. The air was damp and smelled of ocean and moss and there were palm trees. PALM TREES. (Palm trees?)

This last time, we flew (eleven of us, ranging in age from 8 to 71) into Dublin and disembarked there at 5 AM. It didn’t smell as strongly of ocean and moss; Dublin is on the Irish Sea, but it’s a city. We were whisked out of town and went straight to Newgrange, a place we’d visited on the first trip. After running into the president of Mozambique (true story), we finally got to the monument. The B-Ks were at full derp due to lack of sleep and general excitement:

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It was an amazing trip. I’ll have more observations about farms (plentiful), food (especially the dairy products), and gardens (fewer than I thought there’d be) soon. For now, have a foxglove, which grows wild along the roads up in the hills.

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