Tag Archives: chicago

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.

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.

Departure

So. Nineteen years ago, we moved to Urbana. It was late May, 1996. Jim and Cody and I packed up the U-Haul in the alley of my apartment building near the intersection of Division and Damen in Chicago, and then it was time to… go? I didn’t know. Young adulthood = leaving plenty of apartments and roommates behind, but I had never left behind an empty apartment that would next house strangers, and I had only mostly moved alone in my 20s (except with Cody, who was on his sixth move at age three). I remember finishing the cleaning and loading the last box into the truck and closing it up and thinking, now what? Do we just leave? How do we leave, entirely, a place? A city where so much happened? 

Our close friends Ed and Janna are moving away this weekend, up to northern Illinois, almost exactly nineteen years to the day of our arrival. In 1996, they greeted us with 3 year-old Bronwyn and 3 month-old Tristan. The 7 (and later, 8) of us became thick as thieves pretty quickly – Ed and Jim and Janna all knew each other from school, so for them it was just a matter of getting reacquainted.

God, I could tell tales. So many tales. Here’s one, speaking only for myself: Janna taught me almost everything I know about growing food. There’s so much more – soccer and Halloweens and Harry Potter all-nighters and that thing that happened with those two geese (“Uh, those aren’t t-shirts”) and the hundreds of meals together.

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Mustn’t forget the viking helmet!

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Ed and Janna are grandparents now. Tristan, his partner, and their baby daughter are moving up, too. The house here will be inhabited by Bronwyn while she goes to grad school. Ed will telecommute and they’ll still come to town from time to time, but the reality is, our closest friends here – the family we grew up with – are about to leave Urbana for greener acres and a project house a couple hundred miles away.

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The truck leaves today. They’ll be back and forth for a few weeks, tying up loose ends, but after that, certainly by July, they will have left, entirely, a place. A town where so much happened.

We will still be here, missing them.

Same Difference

This is a photo of a photo that was taken by Cody’s father, Dan, in summer of 1991.

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That young woman in that photo – that’s me. I was probably weeks away from moving to Chicago from Minneapolis. It was probably hot. I was probably tired from being out too late the night before, or maybe I’d just gotten in from a night out. I had probably been mad at Dan for hurting my feelings, and I had probably forgiven him. It was a cycle that was to play out many times over the next 18 months in two cities.

Cody – not yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye at that point – would be born just over a year later. [As it happens, Cody’s the one who found this at his Dan’s the other day and sent it along – he’d never seen it before.]

What strikes me most about this photo, besides seeing my a bit of my daughter in my sleepface and the Star Wars pillowcase, is the dress. I remember the dress very well. I’m not sure what happened to it, but I currently own another dress quite like it and wore it just the other day; despite the passage of 24 years, my clothing preferences really haven’t changed. Why is that? Is there something about some of the music and clothes and habits and other personal touchstones from one’s early 20s that stay lodged pretty firmly in a person’s consciousness? Hmmm. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

These scientists died studying thin ice

Very nice music mixes by my friend du Nord

17 year-olds can vote in primaries and caucuses in half of the US!

IFTT recipes

These biscuits are the business

I might try this pancit recipe

Carrot Quinn is hiking the Continental Divide Trail

Mediashift splits from PBS

Sometimes it works to ignore your advisors