Mourning in America

matt

Love and grief and pain and sadness and anger have dominated these last few days. The coming of Summer 2016 felt heavy even before this last weekend, but events both in Orlando and here at home, in lovely Urbana, IL, feel like the throwing of a gauntlet as the weather heats up and what is, in my opinion, a dangerous Presidential race gets underway. Communities (note: “community” can be defined in so many different ways) were completely leveled last weekend by overnight violence perpetrated by people wielding firearms and filled with… hate? Self-loathing? Grief? Will we ever know? Does it even matter?

To be 100% clear, I stand with Orlando, LGBTQ, and all affected communities worldwide, full stop. I am not into hate, “phobia” of any kind (including Islamophopbia), violence, and/or guns. My daughter eloquently offers her perspective here. Both of my kids are complete fucking badasses, beautiful and so intelligent and full of love – same as the people who died in Orlando the other night and who are dying all over the planet. That hate and violence still cut such a swath in the world in which my kids and Yours and Theirs are children/teenagers/young adults trying to make their way is boggling. What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

As life would have it, Jim and I attended an amazing wedding and reception Saturday night. The entire evening truly reflected the bride & groom’s love, beliefs, styles, families (bio and chosen), and communities. I felt privileged to be there, to see such honest and heartfelt actualization articulated in this way. It was a beacon, a lighthouse. It was affirming.

Then we woke up Sunday morning to Orlando, and a couple of hours later, as I drove through my neighborhood and down a street I take either on foot or on wheels several times a day, I became aware that something terrible had happened overnight just a few blocks away from 909. I saw cars, and police, and – as I slowed down – yellow tape creating an unthinkable perimeter. I knew the intersection very well, and I knew the house where people were gathering very well, and I hoped that the yellow tape read CAUTION and that there was a tree in the middle of the street, perhaps a broken water main. Instead, the tape read CRIME SCENE, and the house in question somehow looked like a shell of what it had looked like just the day before, though nothing had changed in its structure. I stopped and asked a friend what had happened. It was grimly relayed that they did not know, but that it was bad, and as I went on my errand, I tried to convince myself that, perhaps, maybe… it wasn’t bad. I couldn’t keep going. I turned around and went home, avoiding the intersection and the house whose light had seemingly been utterly extinguished.

It was bad. A young man named Matt, the son of my late friend Mel, had been shot and killed overnight, a victim of domestic violence at the hands of his father. The details are still not yet completely known and I’m not sure I ever want to know them. This absolute tragedy resulted in the loss of a much-loved young man from his family (my heart especially aches for his awesome sister, DeDe), and has left a family and community to struggle with the uniquely awful aftermath, like so many other communities have done, do, and, apparently, will continue to do until we address the root causes of this violence. I ask again: What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

Mel was strangely heavy on my mind in the days before Matt’s death, so in response I finally drafted a long-overdue post about Mel to eventually publish here. I’ll post it in its entirety another day, but here’s the last paragraph:

She spoke often of her children, and I always listened closely. She had mothered two creative, beautiful, singular children into adults, and I knew I could learn from her example, benefit from her wisdom. But I did not know all the details. If there was hardship, or sadness, or frustration, she never spoke of it – but as a mother, you know that nothing is perfect, that your journey with your children is yours; when she talked, I knew many things were left unsaid, and I acknowledged that, and so I joyed in it, the good and the not-as-good.

Yes, but. There is nothing to joy in anywhere in this story. There is nothing to joy in anywhere in Orlando’s story. Is there? I can’t see it, not right now. In the meantime, we do what we can to help, whether it’s offering moral support or financial support to DeDe, and moving forward with our lives while remembering those who are so suddenly gone by advocating, STRONGLY, for equality, understanding, and peace.

Seriously. What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

Last Day of May

Dear May 2015:

It’s not really like me to say this, but… I can’t say that I’m sad to see you go. There were highlights during your time here, but overall you were unpredictable, difficult, moody, and kind of a jerk (especially for giving us a high of 57° on your last day). But! I’m an eternal optimist, so I acknowledge that by being all of those things, you did provide a bit of clarity in a backassward way. Thank you for that… I guess?

As previously mentioned: Though you rather sucked, you weren’t entirely lacking in sweetness. Check it out.

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Salad mix 1.0.

 

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Strawberry lemonade cupcakes by Hopscotch for a colleague’s retirement bash.

 

Lone tomato given a good home out front.

 

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Cherry tree on the walk to work.

 

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Cute little mobile food operation in DT Urbana.

 

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The lindens are blooming in C-U.

 

Nevertheless, I’m pretty pumped for June.

*****

Here’s a micro-LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively):

Some roadblocks encountered by public media on the way to “digital first”

Provocative headline: “How Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Slow Food Theorists Got It All Wrong” (I have the book referenced in this piece and am STOKED to read it)

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.

ed

Mustn’t forget the viking helmet!

viking ed

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.

Ring It In

Jim and I welcomed 2015 yesterday with a walk at Meadowbrook and saw this bit of squirrel goofballery:

IMG_0488[Lone nut. Rather fitting.]

I’m usually the walker, especially on colder days, so it was nice to have Jim along… even if he was only in it for potential deer sightings. [We saw no deer.] Our forecast is calling for freezing participation off and on through tomorrow, followed by my favorite – sub-zero cold – for a few days, so it is doubtful I’ll be outside much in the near future… unless I’m forced.

OK. Enough about the weather. I’m pretty much done with winter in my mind. I dress in base layers and wear hats (even indoors) (ask my colleagues) and deal with it in my own ways, which include denial. It’s over for me, OK? Today is 43 seconds longer than yesterday, the vernal Equinox is in 77 days, and the Market opens in 120 days. THAT IS PRACTICALLY TOMORROW, YOU GUYS.

Also: The seed catalogs are rolling in. I gave in to temptation and drafted an order last night from the Baker Creek catalog – it is of epic proportions [sidebar: I’m so impressed with how the business has grown since I started following along in 1998] and I ended up with the most ridiculous pretend seed order ever.

IMG_0497See that at the bottom? “Molokai Purple“? I’M SO PUMPED. Thanks to last year’s garlic success, I’m throwing all caution to the wind and am trying sweet potatoes. Purple ones, you guys. I have no idea how to grow them, what they need, if I even have the space (as my friend/neighbor Jill says, “My eyes are bigger than my yard”), but I don’t care. Those are definitely staying on the list. I’ll figure it out. PURPLE SWEET POTATOES.

Here’s the thing – my fantasy order is from one catalog. I have at least 3 more favorites coming. I know there are a zillion catalogs out there that I’ve probably never heard of, so – if you buy seeds, from where do you procure them? I need you to help me feed my addiction. My enthusiasm for 2015’s garden/food was only fueled by a trip into the backyard yesterday and seeing how huge of a mess I’d left it this fall. I AM ALL ABOUT CLEANING THAT SHIT UP…

…especially when it’s too cold to do it today.

 

Up My Alleys

Back in the summer of 2007, which seems forever ago, I was fond of walking the alleys in east Urbana, which is also where I’ve lived, with my family, for almost 10 years.

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These aren’t the streetscaped alleys of downtown Urbana, the ones that have been paved and named and placemade with wrought iron archways and signage. Some are used traditionally – for deliveries to businesses. Others are blocked to vehicular traffic entirely and are used instead as seating areas, dining areas, etc. The alley between the Courier Café and Pizza M/Flying Machine Coffee boasts a huge mural painted by a local artist. Some walls have been tagged, others graffiti’d with stencil art. Basically, they’re public spaces providing shortcuts, a place to take a smoke break, and general respite in a small downtown area.

The alleys of east Urbana are un- or under-paved – they’re quaint, mostly-forgotten leftovers from the last century. Some are still used as thruways for cars. Others are choked with weeds and come to complete, unannounced dead ends. Back in 2007, the alleys in east Urbana were awesome for a slightly nosy person like me – here was this fascinating array of brief avenues letting me see what was behind the houses and small apartment buildings! Yeah, yards and gardens and garages, obviously, but I could also check out, up close, the kept spaces, the bits of earth between the alley and the garage that were planted with flowers like hollyhocks and sunflowers, trees providing shade and a natural archway, the occasional chicken coop. I took lots of photos.

alley_chickens

Over the long weekend, I went back to the alleys for the first time in 7 years. I started off a few blocks from my house and ran into a gentleman mowing the part of the alley that was directly behind his house, a cute little bungalow with a well-kept backyard. He shut off his mower and we started to chat. He wasted no time in telling me that the neighborhood (for him, his neighborhood comprised a couple blocks) was “going down” and had been for over two decades. He talked about a couple of drug houses that had been busted recently and remained vacant, how neighbors weren’t keeping up their properties, that people didn’t want to live in east Urbana anymore. I asked him where people were going, if they were moving. No, he said, people who had lived for decades in the neighborhood were passing away and the homes were then bought and rented out by landlords. He told me that people making what he considered a “good income” were choosing to buy homes elsewhere. I was curious as to how he defined a good income, so I asked. His answer: Household income of 50K a year. This was interesting to me, as buying a home in many other neighborhoods in Urbana would likely require a household income of at least twice that, not to mention that east Urbana, in my circle, is seen as a desirable place to live – affordable, diverse, and neighborly. He went on to tell me that people in the neighborhood have chickens, which he didn’t understand. “If you want to live in the country, live in the country,” he said. Ah, then. I told him I had to be on my way, shook his hand, and thanked him for his time. His mower roared to life behind me as I headed down the alley.

I was a bit deflated after this encounter, and what I saw in the alleys as I walked through several neighborhoods seemed to prove Alley Mowing Guy correct. Many of the gardens that had existed 7 years ago were gone. Several fruit trees had been cut down. There were no grapevines lining back chain link fences. Few flowers had been planted on purpose, though there were still perennials like daylilies and prairie sunflowers along some fences. There were no chicken coops. A dead, bloated animal lay in the middle of one alley, buzzing with flies. There were many more tall privacy fences and more mean (well, mean-sounding) dogs. Some fences were broken, and there was a fair amount of trash and abandoned furniture, though this could easily be attributed to the fact it was the first day of the month at the beginning of the school year in a Big Ten university town.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some good finds – alley raspberries were still around, there was still one apple tree, and a beautiful line of alliums were flowering and attracting dozens of pollinators. Squash and tomatoes had found their way outside fences. There was still plenty of beauty and food to look at and to discover.

berries

 

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Yes, the change that had taken place over the 7 years since my last visit was noticeable and unsettling and took up a lot of my brain space as I walked. I wondered about the vacant, uncared-for homes I saw. I wondered if the City ever talked about paving and/or gently placemaking the alleys as a way to encourage residents to explore the history of east Urbana. I thought about the reduced number of gardens I’ve noticed in town over the last few years, and I wondered why that might be,  and then I thought about the Great Recession, which came along a year after I stopped walking the alleys. I thought about the increase in the sheer amount of stuff we seem to have acquired since 2007. And I thought about the advent of smart phones – the iPhone was introduced in June 2007 – and how that has changed, quite literally, EVERYTHING, including our concept of leisure time.

And then I thought about people proudly buying or renting their first homes in east Urbana – like we did in 2005 – and wondered how they feel about their neighborhood. Do they think it’s in decline? Are they there to reclaim it? Are they moving in for the long haul or is it a quick stop on the Upward Mobility Trail?

I’m seeing a renaissance, myself. Maybe someday Alley Mowing Guy will see it, too.