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.

Inspiracy of One

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. I rarely find it in pithy quotes or speechifying designed to “inspire” (there have been exceptions), but I do find it in the attention I choose to give to details that give me pause and then get me moving toward incorporating a little of that (whatever it is) into my own existence. I can be inspired by a technique, a color, a re-telling, something accidentally eavesdropped, a random act of something, a song, an argument, a photo… when I take the time to notice, I’m often overwhelmed by inspiration. (In that moment.) My thinking gets changed. (In that moment.) I’m spurred to a different way of seeing the world. (In that moment.) In the last few years I’ve rarely been spurred to a different long-term action or plan thereof. It’s like my ability to act on inspiration has become like my attention span while browsing the web, i.e., not very good. This disappoints me.

It’s a big world, which means inspiration often strikes from sources that are completely NOT ME… if I let them. It’s really easy in 2016 to filter out everything that isn’t “me” (see comment about attention span above), so I’m subconsciously trying to derive inspiration from not just the same sources over and over again, but any new sources seem to look suspiciously the same as me. BARF. I recently looked at the Pinterest boards I keep (several of which have done little to inspire anything in me except envy and acquisitiveness) with a fresh set of eyeballs and saw the same bloody ideas, the same way of looking at the world. This is not how I want middle age to go.

Enter Molly Crabapple.

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One of my favorite podcasts is She Does. It’s geared toward and about women who make media, but I think it’d make fascinating listening for anyone interested in the creative process. Anyway, I’m a devoted listener, and have discovered the work of some amazing women by listening every week, but I was not prepared to be so bowled over by Molly Crabapple’s episode.

Ms. Crabapple and I are nothing alike. On the purely superficial front, she looks like and has the story of someone who would have their own awesomely complicated and fantastic fragrance named after them at BPAL. (They should really get on that.). We have completely different backstories, we’re of different generations, we work in different media, she’s plied her craft (illustration/painting/visual art) for decades. This lack of obvious commonality doesn’t matter to me now, when so often it has mattered. I love her memoir, Drawing Blood, and her work so much. I love it not because I can relate to it… but because I can’t. It forces me to look at her subject matter (protest, war, politics, burlesque, the internet, gentrification) through a completely different lens, and her artwork is beautiful, colorful, disturbing, opulent, raw.

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It’s a striking book, both in illustration and narrative; this book and Patti Smith’s M Train (which I’ve written about) have deeply affected me this fall/winter season. Ms. Smith’s book got me interested in taking more photos, embracing who I can feel myself trying to become in middle age, and immersing myself in reading NYC punk retrospectives. Ms. Crabapple’s book got me interested in the seemingly-small-but-actually-huge idea of… not traveling to France alone, though that appeals… not pitching ideas to VICE, though I’m much more interested in their work now than I was… but learning how to draw. I’ve done other types of art, but have avoided learning how to draw.

Learning how to draw feels inexplicably important and terrifying to me. If I do this thing, a thing that I have been very specifically avoiding for decades out of fear and maybe even superstition, what will happen? What could it lead to?

Exactly.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively)

I haven’t even written about Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet

This PDF about emotional labor (a condensation of a thread on Metafilter) has been a tough read

A friend’s open letter to Oprah… and the rest of us

Inspiration, the BPAL way

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.

Flex

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2015 wanes. Has it really been three months since I’ve written? 3 full moons? A quarter of a calendar year? I just realized that I stopped writing at the Fall equinox and resumed just after the Winter Solstice. Coincidence? I think not.

I’m eyeing the exiting calendar year with an eyebrow raised. Our weather has been anything-but-wintry. The calendar and the culture tell me I should be packed snugly into my house, with tea and piles of books and candles everywhere, hygge-ing it up, but it feels incongruous. I’d rather prowl my garden and marvel at what’s still alive, so I do.

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Kale thriving.

 

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Chard surviving.

 

I fell asleep last night to flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder (I found this comforting, even in its weirdness; what I dislike is the water in our basement from the 2″+ of rain we’ve received in the last couple of days). As far as I’m concerned, winter is over, not just the year. (I know. January and February. I know.)

2015 felt like the film Groundhog Day (or perhaps Edge of Tomorrow), facile as that sounds. Much happened, as it always does, but it felt like it was happening around me. I frequently felt powerless to stop the bad things from happening, and often felt like a spectator at the good things that were happening. It wasn’t a terrible year by any means, but something felt off. I haven’t felt this rudderless in a long time, so I’m going to hang out with myself at a cafe in the coming days and do something I haven’t done for years: Figure shit out. I have some ideas. I’m grateful for that.

 

What I’m reading:

Drawing Blood

Out on the Wire

Robert Kennedy and His Times

Listening to:

These Spotify playlists for Star Wars characters are fantastic

Joe Rogan’s podcast

She Does podcast (on hiatus for a few weeks)

You Must Remember This podcast (also on hiatus for a few weeks)

Root Simple podcast

The New Yorker Radio Hour

 

So. Hello. And not in the Adele way.

Tell It

Head space: In canning, one must leave some in order to get a good seal. In life, one must to leave some in order to gain perspective, which is basically the same as getting a good seal. I mean, you want to be able to enjoy what’s in the jar, you know?

The Autumnal Equinox approaches – it’s this Wednesday. I’ve taken the day off and am giving it over to whatever (Canning tomatoes? Power napping? Writing?). The moon should be waxing under mostly clear skies this entire week, which thrills me. The signs of the change in seasons are everywhere in central IL – leaves starting to turn, squirrels acting stupid and running out into traffic, and the last of the peaches at the farmers markets.

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There’s nothing finer than the ultra-blue skies we get this time of year. ANYTHING thrown against that sky looks awesome, even (especially?) withering walnut trees.

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When I was a kid, I loved ladybugs and yellow was my favorite color. My love for ladybugs is now more about respect, and I’m not a huge fan of the color yellow… EXCEPT this time of year. I mean, look at it.

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It’s also a really birthday-heavy time in my circle of family and friends. Jim, Lilly, and I have birthdays between mid-September and early November. Our friend Douglas had a birthday yesterday, and invited people to his workspace in Tolono (he relocated Uptown Concrete there this summer) to check it out, play parking lot games, and witness a shopping cart bonfire.

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I made a rather sloppy carrot cake, per his request. I learned that it’s really important that the cream cheese frosting act as serious mortar to the bricks that are the cake layers (this is a TERRIBLE analogy), especially if you’re transporting the cake ten miles over bumpy and twisty county roads, so more powdered sugar is critical. It didn’t matter – it was delicious and it looked pretty with candles on it.

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It has not been the easiest 6+ weeks in the world. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around has been the death of my friend and neighbor, Mel Farrell. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 2015 and immediately started kicking its ass, but toward the end of the summer, her body tripped her up a few times, and at the beginning of this month, pneumonia claimed her life. She was a rock star in so many ways, and readers will likely be finding more about Mel later, but I’ll say this for now: Though I’d known her for about 10 years, and of her for 5 years past that, there was much I didn’t know about Mel. Since her death, I’ve come to realize that she was quietly expert at filling up any gaps in her life with more friends, more fun, more food, more… and it was the quality aspect of more, not the quantity. She was so very thoughtful and truly believed in the basic conviviality that goes missing from so much of modern life. Her laugh gave serious body to so many gatherings. And… and! She had stories. Sure, the whole legitimately-at-Woodstock thing was awesome, but I was electrified when she told me a few years ago that, when she was a kid growing up in NYC, her mother’s day job was, if I recall correctly, working for James Beard. That wasn’t my favorite part of the story, and I don’t think it was Mel’s either. No, we both loved the fact that her mom came home from working all day for Chef Beard and often had the following dinner, feet up: An onion sandwich (2 pieces of white bread slathered in butter with sliced onions in between) and a beer. I figured Mel and I had all the time in the world to eventually get some of these stories saved. We did not. I do wonder if she saved any of them herself.

Seriously. If you have food stories to tell – and we all do – write them down. Tell them to someone. You know what, though… don’t stop at the food stories (you don’t have to start there, either). Stories, period. Histories. Get them onto paper, or make some audio – just talk into your smartphone, if you have one. I truly fear real storytelling – the passing along of the big stories and the quotidian ones, the bare facts and the tall tales – is going the way of ultra-curated social media (which I feel sadder and sadder about with each passing day): Cropped and filtered just so for maximum effect, negative or positive, spun emptily one way or the other. We all seem to crave the unvarnished truth (witness the popularity of Storycorps), but we seem ever more reluctant to tell it.

Tell it.

Late Summer Blahs

History, via the last dozen years’ worth of journals, demonstrates that I typically don’t do well the last week of July and the first ten days of August; my current theory is that my lizard brain is already sensing that we’re losing light, not gaining it. Also? The mosquitoes have been ridiculous this summer. They love me – REALLY LOVE ME – and I find myself avoiding the garden, which thanks to Jim is far more free of weeds than in years past. Still. This grumpiness about the outdoors is a very unsatisfying and unsettling feeling for me.

Yesterday’s weather was spectacular, however – sunny and warm and lacking the oppressive humidity that was literally hanging around earlier in the week. After work, I went to Meadowbrook Park to walk, commune with nature, get over myself, and catch up on the Dear Handmade Life podcast. It was a lovely way to spend 90 minutes, and I didn’t run into a single person I knew, which was OK by me.

Here are a few things I did see.

I saw an artist atop a ladder, working in the sunshine. Sorry about the backlighting.

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I saw/smelled so much bee balm. I wanted to hug it.

 

And later, in downtown Champaign, I saw the moon rise above its friend, the lamppost.

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My goal for the next ten days is to find more of these bits and pieces out in the world and to hold them close. I plan to listen to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue whenever the mood strikes. I plan to let my daughter chauffeur me around town so she can get her license this fall. I plan to note the exact time each night when the cicadas give way to the crickets and katydids. And I plan to sleep with the windows open whenever I can.

The Teaches of Peaches (and Corn and Basil)

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Organic peaches from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, IL.

I look forward to stone fruit season the most. Every summer when I was a kid/teenager, my mother told me I ate too much stone fruit and that my habit cost too much, so I could only have 3 pieces a day. Does that mean 3 pieces a day of each kind, or…?

I still eat a lot of stone fruit and and invite my family to do the same, which they do. Straight up. With shortcake. Over ice cream. In yogurt. Whatever. It’s expensive, yes, but it takes a lot of work to grow stone fruit (some seasons there’s no crop at all, due to weather), and I’m glad we can support that. Also, the season is short – we only get to eat Illinois-grown for about 8 weeks.

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“Nirvana” sweet corn from Schottman’s in Effingham, IL.

I’m also delighted every summer by the appearance of Mark Schottman’s red pickup truck at the local farmers markets; it means there is delicious sweet corn aboard. I’ve been buying corn from him pretty much exclusively for well over a decade. Why is it the best? I don’t know. The corn is really damned good. I also just really like the guy; it’s clear he respects his customer base and enjoys seeing all of us during sweet corn’s regrettably short (8 weeks, if it’s a good year, 10 if it’s exceptional) season. He’s one of the farmers who always asks me how I’m liking my new job, even though it’s been almost 3 years since I managed the Market.

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Genovese basil from my own backyard in Urbana, IL

I love buying food from other people – people I get to choose, people I’ve become friends with, people whose places I’ve visited – but I love growing it, too. I grow way less food than I used to. But every year I grow more basil than we need. I always talk about freezing it or freezing pesto and I never get to it, so we eat a metric ton of pesto every summer. My recipe for it is simple – basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese – sometimes I go heavier on the garlic. This pesto (and, I assume, most pesto) is super-good on poached or scrambled eggs, especially if you have some fresh tomatoes just lying around, waiting.

Not pictured: The vast quantities of blackberries, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and beans that we eat during the summer. We eat them because they’re ready NOW, in the gardens and the markets and the stores. But I also eat them to charge up for The Season Which Must Not Be Named. Food = sunlight. I’ll take it wherever I can get it – all summer long and into the fall.

Enjoy the sun, however you get it.

You Can Go Home Again

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Detail from a painting by Chank Diesel

 

I struggle with the concept of “home” in the broader sense. Where is my hometown? When people ask where are you from, what do I say? How do I explain? What does it even mean? I left Minnesota in 1991 after 10 years, as did my younger brother. My parents split up in the mid-1990s and went to opposite ends of the country. I was born in New York; my young childhood was spent in two different parts of Florida. I spent some pretty formative years in Chicago as a young adult. I’ve lived in Urbana for 19 years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and I’m entrenched here. Home – as in where I’m from – could technically mean any of these places. But if we’re talking true affinity – old friends, depth, experience, strong memory, stuff like that – I’ll say it. Minnesota is where I’m from. I just haven’t lived there for a really long time.

[I never really intended to leave Minneapolis for so long. The move to Chicago was a statement move, the kind of move you make because, well, why not? I was 22 years old and ready, I thought, to test myself. I got my wish. Shit certainly got way more real in Chicago than I ever imagined it would. But when Jim and I arrived Urbana-Champaign for a weekend in March 1996 to see Mercury Rev and Hum play at the Blind Pig, I felt an enormous and immediate rush of familiarity. Something about the way the people at the show talked to each other and treated each other reminded me of… what? On the drive back up to Chicago, it hit me. The people there remind me of people in Minneapolis, I said to Jim. We should move to Urbana. He agreed. It took us three months, and we’ve been here ever since.]

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It’s time for college visits chez B-K, so we planned a long-deferred trip to MSP so Lilly and her BFF could have a look at my tiny alma mater, Macalester College, as well as the behemoth University of Minnesota. Further incentives: Being able to stay with my longtime friend Chank and his wife, Heidi (and Max, their 9 YO), attending a Minnesota United soccer match (well, Jim, the girls, Chank, and Max), and Amphetamine Reptile‘s Bash15 party with Diane, one of my CFoAT (Closest Friends of All Time). Here’s what we crammed in:

1. When we arrived, we went straight to the new Surly beer hall. Not only was the beer terrific, the food good, and the space gorgeous, Jim and I also smeared a couple dudes at bags/cornhole.

2. We visited the schools on Friday; some of Lilly’s impressions can be found here. She’s in the info-gathering phase for post-high school activity and is “building her list”, as her college counselor Lisa Micele says. I wasn’t getting strong feelings either way from her. Macalester felt incredibly small to me, after all these years with the U of I campus practically down the street, and I had to laugh when the “sample” dorm room they showed us was a room in Wallace Hall I hung out in quite a bit my freshman year.

3. Saturday morning, Chank and I hit the co-op and then Heidi and I took to Northeast. We checked out the Northeast Farmers Market, the Cultivate Northeast gardenChowgirls HQ, and their new, gorgeous event space at Solar Arts. I had a look at the Food Building. Activity and possibility everywhere I looked.

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4. Then it was hours of punk rock, walking, talking, eating, and checking out the beer selection at Indeed Brewing. The beer scene in MSP is intense. I ran into two people from high school at the AmRep thing, which was weird. Saw a friend from college there, too – much less weird.

5. We drove the 7+ hours home in relative silence. We were all exhausted.

It was a little hard to come back. The budget situation in the state of Illinois is frustrating and embarrassing and serious. There are lots of people here working hard and making things and thinking and creating and putting in the time, but I see/hear about unfortunate things happening here bearing the indelible stamp of THIS IS DOWNSTATE, AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT. I also see/hear about things bearing another indelible stamp, this time of WE’RE NOT FROM HERE, BUT WE KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU. How to balance that in this very unique community? I don’t know. It’s hard to not be distracted by what’s happening 120/250/515 miles north and west, knowing that those places aren’t perfect, either.

But I came home with fresh eyes. Since returning, Jim and I sat in on a workspace negotiation between a property owner and an artist that’s kind of a big deal for both of them. I’m watching one of my beloved local hangouts expand into a second location. A good friend is about to jump in head first to a new venture (actually, new ventures seem to rule the day lately). We have coffee roasters and flower artists and cake artists and food truck rallies and farmers markets and guerrilla furniture and true public art and bold moves, which is a lot.

This is the place.

*****

A senior year in high school and two fall soccer seasons are starting up soon for the B-K household, so some of my thinking is forced ahead, but the rest of me is all about high summer. The tomato blight that seems to be affecting most local gardens has really taken hold; I’ve already resigned myself to not having enough tomatoes to do anything with besides eat in the moment. The garlic is almost done curing. The basil is free thus far of the disease that killed it last year. Blackberries are off the hook. So much kale. So many coneflowers. The daylilies are almost finished. It’s too humid to hang clothes on the line. After yesterday’s hot atmospheric soup, I take back every negative thing I’ve ever said about central air. Cicadas rule during the day and katydids at night; the fireflies linger but are definitely on the wane.

I have 2 big things and one small things that need finishing before I can move on to this new idea I have floating around. The goal is to finish by the time school starts in 29 days. New season, new project. Maybe even a new workspace here at 909? Hmmm.