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.

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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.

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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.

Status Update

What if, instead of posting status updates to Facebook, I just posted them here?

Today’s reading material, at various times while reclining on various pieces of furniture:

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Confession: I desperately – DESPERATELY – want to hang out with Coco Moodysson, who wrote and illustrated the memoir Never Goodnightup there on the upper left. Her Tumblr is here. Her husband, Lukas Moodysson, made her memoir into a movie called We Are the Best!. He’s pretty cool, too – he’s made a couple other movies I highly recommend, like Show Me Love and Together; His Tumblr is here. [He hasn’t updated since September 2015 because, he says, the internet takes more than it gives. I’m inclined to agree.] Anyway, I’ve gone in and out of Moodysson fandom for almost 15 years and today I’m feeling it pretty hard.

In other news: My friend Kathleen recently posted this interview from 2011 with writer Tamar Adler by chef/writer/candidate for office Kurt Friese. From the intro (emphasis mine):

It’s unanimous these days: Cooking food from scratch at home is one of the best ways to eat sustainably without breaking the bank. It also enables eaters to easily support food producers who use environmentally sound, ethical, and humane practices. But most Americans can’t pull this off regularly.

Now, four years later, I’m trying to square that with this article from just a couple days ago. Here’s an excerpt – again, emphasis mine:

No one wants to think about farmers calling it quits. It muddies the heroic glow cast around our food producers. It cuts through all of the feel-good chatter about food systems and local economies. Each time a farmer quits, a little piece of our new agrarian dream dies. But however hard it is to discuss, the rate at which farmers are walking away from their farms—whether by choice or by force—may be the most important measure of whether or not our food systems are actually working. Because although farmers’ markets are springing up everywhere, the average small-scale farmer is barely surviving.

“Heroic glow”. “Feel-good chatter”. “New agrarian dream”. I have such incredibly mixed feelings about this terminology – so aspirational, so lifestyle, so mainstream. I freely admit to responding to this kind of marketing even as I hate it, though, because I want farmers to win, and I like to imagine that together, we can do this! I want to support local producers and am in a position – for now, anyway – to be able to do that. But we have to get real about it. More from the article:

Wendell Berry asks, “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: Love. They must do it for love.”

I have an immense amount of respect for Wendell Berry, but I am growing tired of this answer. Certainly it would be a mistake to become a farmer if you did not enjoy being outside doing, if you were not fiercely independent, if you did not enjoy the physical labor involved in food production. But a farmer cannot survive simply on love alone.

Related: This audio series by some local (to me) high school students about farming in 2015-2016 in Illinois. Full disclosure – these are my daughter’s classmates, though she didn’t work on this project, and they produced the series in partnership with my employer. I think they’re amazing.

Finally: Valentine’s Day brought us a couple of inches of snow.

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February is halfway over. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m cool with it.

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?

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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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Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

The new Greil Marcus book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I love it.

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I love its boldly-colored, comic book-style cover illustration of Marcus, its hefty 586 pages, its exhaustive, nerdalicious index, its endless lists.

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[It’s a compilation of Marcus’ “Real Life Top Ten” lists, which he began posting, as somewhat-but-not-entirely Zeitgeisty missives, in February 1986 in the Village Voice, which is where I first found it in college in the late 80sThe column continues to this day in the Barnes & Noble Review, but the book ends at September 2014. While much of his listy focus is on music (not necessarily current, either), Marcus’ RLRTTs also encompass film, books/articles, toys – whatever was bouncing around on Planet Greil at the time.]

Having a book such as this – so appealing to me! In so many ways! – arrive during the work day made for a confusing tug-of-war. It was in my mailbox when I arrived at my office in the morning. I tore open the box, flung the cardboard aside, held the book in both hands, and sighed. (I’m not kidding.) It was 8:30 AM. I had a lot to do. I put the book down.

Greil’s face stared me down from the cover. I decided to allow myself to savor one list: the first list in the book, dated February 18, 1986. By the time I got to #2, (Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”), I realized I could probably make a streaming playlist of at least the songs on the list (and additional playlists for all the subsequent lists) and listen to that while I worked. 6 of the 7 songs on the list were available; the other 3 items on the list included a toy (Godzilla), an article (about Little Richard), and a book (about Bascom Lamar Lunsford).

I went ahead and made the playlist (including the Billy Ocean song, because obviously each list must be “consumed” as fully as possible). I wondered if I should start looking up the article and the book (as well as track down the missing song, a Bette Midler cut from the Down & Out in Beverly Hills soundtrack), and it occurred to me that dealing with this book properly could be its own full-time job. I stashed it in my bag and grudgingly started answering email.

In February 1986, I was a high school senior in Minnesota; I was a princess, an athlete, a criminal, a brain, and a basket case. I’d applied to colleges, but hadn’t heard from them yet. I devoured my friend Laura’s treasured copies of Maximum Rocknroll whenever possible, listened to KFAI late at night, and knew, with absolute certainty, that there was way more out there than what I was reading/watching/hearing/doing, and that I was going to find it. All of it.

Meanwhile, Greil Marcus was starting his compilations – his written cultural mix tapes – which would eventually be compiled into its own giant compilation: this book, which I’m going to work my way through, playlist by playlist, library search by library search.

Why? Why not? There’s so much I’ve missed.

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

Down to the Studs

Rows and piles of cookbooks most often elicit feelings of happiness and pleasure from me, but occasionally there is guilt and recently, there is the sudden understanding that I WILL NEVER MAKE ALL THE THINGS, no matter how many years I live. I mean, I don’t even make dinner most nights, for Pete’s sake. I’ve thought about privately cooking my way through one of these books as a personal, unblogged homage to the Julie/Julia project (remember the early 2000s, when the Internet was not yet a full contact sport and the idea of getting a book deal from a blog seemed downright ridiculous? No? I barely remember those days myself), but then I realized cooking from one book would be terribly limiting.

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Behold how I (completely unintentionally) stuck the paleo cookbook on top of the baking cookbooks. Ha.

[OT: As I write, the sparrows are “singing” (I use the term loosely) at the feeder I filled just yesterday. While I enjoy the sparrows, I’m always hoping for other birds to show up at the feeder. Unfortunately, the only other bird to show up regularly at the feeder is a bird of prey, probably a red-tailed hawk. It plunges into the giant yew bush in front of our house, which is precisely where the sparrows go to hide. Definitely a case of be careful what you wish for.]

In any event, I am (literally) facing the shelf of cookbooks and thinking about all the recipes I haven’t tried. Personal schedules, household food preferences, and especially last year’s epic pickled asparagus fail (EPAF) have taken the wind out of my sails a bit.

Oh, wait. I didn’t tell you about the EPAF of 2015? Interesting. See, it wasn’t really the end result of failure that helped take the wind out of my sails as much as it was the idea, in the back of my mind, that my inattention to detail had caused the EPAF; that I wasn’t all there, that I was engaging in this activity despite my subconscious saying to me, why all this extra work? That you don’t reeeeeally want to be doing right now? 

I mean, really, why? Because we were subsistence farming and I had to? (No.) Because there was a glut of asparagus? (Nope.) Because I love pickling? (No. I love pickles, but am not as fond of the process.) Because I would feel like I was being lazy if I didn’t? (Possibly.) Because there was a “food person” pickling contest of some kind, of which I was obligated to be a part? (Not to my knowledge.)

Oh, that last one is interesting. Hmm. There’s definitely some fierce humblebragging about food on the Internet, mainly due to social media (see above about “full contact sport”), and that engenders this feeling of competition, of the desire to one-up, of the desire to be seen and acknowledged and understood and agreed with. I have totally participated in this. I probably participated in this yesterday (it’s still early in the day today). Online life has gotten that way in general, with the humblebrag or overshare or just plain update du jour countered by the defensive parry, which is neutralized by the passive-aggressive meme, which is responded to by declarations of “taking a break”, with others just agreeing all over the place to a) show solidarity or b) keep the peace. It’s not topic-agnostic – this occurs in conversations about politics, parenting, education, health, whether or not to have a capsule wardobe – and food, of course. Anything that involves people making choices is not just up for discussion – it’s up for angry debate, shaming, ridicule, echo-chambery agreeance, etc. It’s hard to avoid if you spend any time in these so-called “spaces” (which is, I guess, more accurate than “places”). I think it’s incredibly reductive; we’re so much smarter than that…aren’t we?

Anyway, I think my mentioning the epic EPAF now is my way of leaning into the admission of originally not wanting to post about it because it was a messy, gross, expensive failure instead of a (yes) humblebrag. It’s me telling you now: I’m never gonna do that again unless I really freaking feel like it, because it wasn’t fun; I felt obligated to do it as a so-called “food person”; I had to buy asparagus to even have enough for pickling because I’d eaten so much of it and given away more to the neighbors; I made a mistake with the jars and they broke in the canning pot and it was a mess and a complete waste of food, time, and money… and I felt like a jackass for falling prey to “what would the community think?”. 

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Basically, I cropped that whole ridiculous episode out of existence, and no one ever knew. Above is the only photo I took of the EPAF before I cleaned up and sulked about the mess and, embarrassingly, the fact I couldn’t even get a decent photo of the EPAF. (eyeroll)

Here’s the positive thing: I still absolutely want to read about what people are doing around food & culture. I still want to look at photos from trips to wherever, where people ate the most fantastic things; I want to read about the trellises fashioned out of rescued rebar and thrifted Christmas lights; I love seeing jars of pickled asparagus (no, really, I do) and bread dough rising on the counter and omelets made from the eggs laid by beautiful hens in bucolic settings. And I still want to write about my success growing watermelons, of the latest composting victory, of the joys of hanging laundry on the line. Isn’t that part of the reason why people took to the internet with such alacrity back in the day? To get a window into what life was like for other people? But I think it would be interesting to start talking more about what’s happening out of the frame. Mistakes, imperfections, clouds, setbacks… and then figuring things out. Getting on with it – which, by the way, does not mean forgetting about it. Just the opposite. I’m interested in the idea of putting those things out there and carrying on, not getting caught up in the past or in the comment wars. Moving forward, building change, starting in your own house. I was laughing at myself the other day because it seems so simple, yet it’s so hard to do in 2016. It was in 2015. And 2014. Obviously, because I’ve been writing about the same things for ages.

So. Let’s begin. Here’s an uncropped shot of where I usually write.

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RELATED: I was watching a documentary about Studs Terkel and I loved the pile of books in the background contrasted with the fresh flowers, that old lamp, the aging couch.

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I’ll write more about Studs another day, but… Studs. There’ll never be another like him. He definitely put it out there, got on with it, got people to talk about themselves and to each other face-to-face, and only stopped when he passed away at the age of 96.

He probably never pickled asparagus.