Pole Shift

Man, it’s been awhile.

Why? I started a new job in September that’s consuming a lot of my time. I’m still busy with the radio freelance work. Lilly’s in high school and has activities like soccer and homework and almost-14-years-old-ness, which I enjoy staying on top of. Cody’s in CHGO and I like keeping track of him and his exploits. Jim and I are so often like ships passing in the night – so much so that even an unsuccessful trip to the DMV is quality time.

So. I haven’t thought about blogging in ages, dear whatever few readers I have left. For me, the times and the media have changed. Remember 2002? I BLOGGED TO LIVE. So many of us did. I was also homeschooling a 10 YO and a 3-almost-4 YO, there was no Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Tumblr or Instagram or whatever, I wasn’t working full-time, I wasn’t freelancing,  I was about to turn 34 instead of 44… so this is my way of telling you that, well, I won’t be posting here every three or four months anymore. This blog has run its course.

So – I’ll leave the blog up for now, but there will be no further posts. If you want to follow me somewhere on the internet, you can do so at Backyard Industry, the Tumblr I’m using for In My Backyard-related postings and musings.

Thanks, friends. See you here, there, and everywhere.


Backyard Living

The past holiday weekend was a bit of a mini-vacation for me. I worked the Market on Saturday, which meant today was Day 3 of my three-day weekend. The weather was hot, but DANG, has it been glorious to be away from the office. I’m not exactly looking forward to heading in tomorrow…but I’m not dreading it, either. That’s something.

Some photos from today, just a few minutes ago:

This is Mongo, a little black bunny who lives in the neighborhood.

Mongo is not fond of the paparazzi. At all.

Seriously, you guys.

That’s cool. I’ll take photos of the neighbors’ chickens instead.

What do we want? COMPOST! When do we want it? NOW!

NOT a rooster, OK?

Altogether, it’s been a satisfying last few days, and I’m squeezing the last bit out this evening while Jim does some heavy lifting for the grad students moving into our now-in-CHGO  friends’ house behind us.

Speaking of backyard living, you can access my most recent IMBY segment, “Crooked and Uneven: The New Black” for listening any old time you like. It’s about gardening with found and/or very cheap objects and how not having the stuff to create a million-dollar garden means total jack these days and should never be an excuse, which I was trying to make it into. I like to use this Nikki McClure image for inspiration:

Photo by Flickr user Meeldientje

Seriously. This is my current mantra as I wonder what’s next, as I try not to be lazy because, well, the million-dollar garden isn’t happening: Use what you’ve already got to make something awesome.

And with that, dinner.


It’s July-hot here in central Illinois on this Memorial Day weekend with a hot breeze. Hot. As in it’s-90-degrees-at-noon hot, with at least 6 more degrees to go. I did the garden tasks early (watering & weeding, plus replanting of sunflowers and cucumbers because we have a slug/squirrel problem) while I had my (hot) coffee and now I’m holed up in our air-conditioned indoors, watching a replay of Lilly’s soccer game from yesterday. The grocery store is my next victim. I feel wholly unproductive, but will soldier on and buy groceries and make pesto for dinner, even though it’s May.

Fun: My friend and former co-worker Millicent Souris, with whom I recently reconnected, is coming from Brooklyn to visit. She’s hitting the road in a couple of weeks to promote her new book, which is about pie, and will be all over the place. Here’s the book:

Hopefully we’ll be setting something up locally for her, but she is also coming to help me learn how to poach eggs perfectly every time and maybe we’ll make biscuits like the ones she demonstrates in this video. And probably a pie crust. I’m really excited about this because, well, I had no idea that Millicent was working in food – was kicking ass in food, actually – and could be that person who could tell me, in a most no-nonsense way, what to do with a leg of lamb. This is actually a real question I have: What do I do with this leg of lamb that Cathe from Seven Sisters Farm made me take that one time I was there for IMBY? She’ll be here in mid-June.

Here are some recent photos that are sort of descriptive of life around here for the last few days, taken with my phone and with a DSLR.

Calendula about to bloom, taken with a new (to me) lens.

Drawn by a young woman at the farmers market who was frustrated at having to wait in the heat to perform on her ukulele. All the market’s performer slots were taken.

Lettuce in my garden.

Last year’s pea/greens bed is fallow this season, but a volunteer persists. I think zinnias are going in here after the pea vine is done.

Local artists Deathtram slaying the audience at the first-ever CU Flea yesterday. Our pals Millie and Cole are the founders of CU Flea and it was slamming.


94 degrees now. Welcome, summer 2012.

I don’t know how I did it, but one of the eggs of the three I poached this morning is perfect. Unfortunately, I just ate the last, most photogenic bite, wrapped up in sauteed spinach from the garden and green garlic from the farmers market. This is what I did:

Brought water to a boil. Cracked three eggs into little bowl. Turned heat way, way down.

Swirled water rapidly to create a vortex and slid eggs in. Covered eggs.

Let them sit for about 3-4 minutes. Harvested spinach & chopped green garlic during this time and sauteed it in a little butter.

Turned off heat.

Put spinach and garlic into a bowl and slid the eggs on top. Ate breakfast. (The other two eggs, by the way, were good, but they were not perfect.)


Radio is still being made. Since the beginning of 2012, I’ve done segments about making mustard and food swaps, homemade mozzarella cheese, sheep shearing, Slow Money, backyard foraging, and the relationship between food and weather and insects. Forthcoming segments will include stories about the origin and history of the Horseshoe Sandwich in Central Illinois, gardening with found objects, a produce pedaler (I spelled it right), thinking about winter holidays during the summer, and probably a bunch more stuff I haven’t dreamed up yet. You can listen to each segment on your own time from the website, you can listen as a podcast, and you can listen on the air if you’re local. Speaking of local airings, it seems that in addition to my usual air time of the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at around 2:20 PM, IMBY is also airing the following morning during Morning Edition while people are getting ready for work or school or are getting their days going. Kind of cool. Oh, yeah. I suppose I should mention that I found out a couple of months ago that I won an Illinois Associated Press Award along with the gent who produces my work at WILL, Dave Dickey, which was totally unexpected and quite motivating in terms of continuing to create interesting segments. I still feel like I’m having trouble finding my voice because of the schedule I’m on, but I’m getting there. After (almost) two years I think I’m getting there.

Oh, and the other funny thing that happened recently with regards to media and me was Smile Politely choosing my Instagram feed as the best in C-U, for some reason. Again, completely unexpected and very cool.

I don’t know, all this stuff is kind of embarrassing, but I figured I’d let readers, if there are any left, know.

Speaking of photos, here are a few personal faves from the last month or so:

This poster has been slowly deteriorating in downtown Urbana.

I saw this swarm of honeybees getting organized a couple weeks ago and checked on them a couple hours later where I thought they might be. And there they were, in perfect shape. They now have a new, safer (for all) home.

Driveway cherries. Thanks, Jill!

Cody surprised me for Mother’s Day. I freaked out when he walked in.

We had a few people over to send off some friends moving to VT. Then all these excellent people showed up and it turned into a full-on party. Then everyone went home at about 12:30 AM and this is what was left.

I’m back on my market-season schedule of having Mondays off if I worked Saturday, which I did, and it was great. So here’s my list for today – it’s not everything, but it’s a start:

Must get cracking.

Off I go.

Spring Cleaning

At some point in the relatively near future, this blog and all its content (I hope) will be moved to an as-yet undisclosed location on the internet. Still trying to figure out how to make the whole migrating thing work. Hm. Anyway, in the meantime, please enjoy a few photos I dug up:

How about this freaking awesome photo of a few of my aunts and uncles in the early/mid 60s?


This photo of my Oma in the basement just kills me. It belongs in a magazine. Taken by my Opa, Jan Bralts.


2 uncles, 1 aunt, and my dad (far right). I'm calling this one 1959.

I know there are tons more of these photos (and movies, too) lurking somewhere in some attic of one of my aunts/uncles. I could get lost for days sifting through this particular brand of detritus, but first I have to deal with my own damn internet detritus. Keep you posted.



My grandmother, Miranda v't E. Taken sometime in the late 40s, I'm guessing.



One would think I’d be able to cobble together a blog entry more than once a month. Not, like, every day or anything. Maybe twice a month, like the IMBY series I do for the radio, is a more realistic goal.

Well, anyway. We went on vacation and just came back.

Wooden ship.

It was also almost a vacation didn’t happen. As it turns out, it’s kind of hard to rent a suitable (and remotely affordable) place on Anna Maria Island at the last minute for dates in March. Jim performed a miracle and found one. A great one.

We read, ate, had coffee, dried things, and generally lounged here.

The weather was phenomenal – into the 80s and sunny every day. The water temperature was almost 80 degrees, practically unheard of for this time of year. That’s the Gulf of Mexico there on the horizon.

Siblings at sunset.

Our kids got to hang out together, something that very rarely happens anymore. They conversed, just the two of them, down by the water. It’s something they’ve done since they were quite small.

Through the mangroves at Robinson Preserve.

My love for the water sports was completely reaffirmed on this trip. While kayaking alone in the Gulf, I saw a manatee about 30 feet away – this was something I put on my pre-trip wish list, and lo – one just sort of appeared before me, snout popping out of the water almost in greeting. I freaked out, a little, because those things aren’t small creatures. Anyway, I wanted to paddleboard, but it was too windy on the day I planned to go. We kayaked as a group and we swam and swam. I think my mid-life crisis might look like a Sea-Doo.

An amazing place.

After Anna Maria, we headed to central FL to see my dad and then to the east coast to visit one of my favorite beaches in the entire world – the Canaveral National Seashore. We flew some kites. We got tossed around by the surf. Eventually we had to leave.

Until next year.

My personal journal entries from the days leading up to our departure reveal an extremely stressed-out and slightly crazy lady; it’s evident that getting away was crucial. I certainly could have used more “away”, but it was also hilarious to come home and discover that spring had completely, unreservedly sprung in our absence. In eight days the trees had flowered and/or leafed out, the tulips came up, the greens I planted were growing strong, the asparagus was 5 feet high, and the garden was past unruly and into ridiculous territory. I spent a few hours back there yesterday dealing with the asparagus patch and weeding the greens and cutting dead growth. It was no trip to the beach, but it felt fabulous.

IMBY segments coming up – this week you should be hearing/seeing a piece about sheep-shearing. It was researched that last quite chilly weekend we had early this month – I thought maybe the sheep would be too cold. Next week (or maybe the next), a piece about the Slow Money concept and an interview I did in February with its founder, Woody Tasch, will air on the radio and online.

For now, I’m enjoying my last day off before heading back to work tomorrow. There’s a farmers market that needs putting together, but I don’t want to think about it until I need to. Over and out.


Graffiti on back door of Parasol Records - Urbana, IL

It’s Leap Day. The extra day means I can’t say that March has come in like a lion, but… come on. It totally has. When I woke up at 6:15 and checked my phone for the weather, the weather app cheerfully told me it was a balmy 60 degrees. In Urbana, Illinois, not on my beloved Anna Maria Island, whose weather I also check every morning. There were terrible storms a few hours south of here early this morning (O, southern Illinois, you really deserve a break) and the wind has been ferocious all day. But we’ve had other Marches start off this way – people forget the weather has been “weird” for years now. Tornadoes in March, freezes in April, 30 degrees to 80 degrees in a matter of hours. Maybe even in the same year.

In my inbox today, I received an email informing me that someone wants to bring a class of youngsters over to my house sometime during the growing season to, you know, check out my backyard, given the radio segments. It’s really to just show kids a garden that actually feeds people to some degree in action, which is very exciting, but I immediately overthought it; my mind went instantly to the yard and the mess back there and all the work that needs to be done.  To say that I would be mortified if anyone other than my neighbors saw the garden right now would be an understatement. I feel some guilt because a) I was a terrible steward late last year and so I have a lot of work ahead of me and b) I’m not starting many seeds (our vacation, plus other bad timing = I’m buying tomato and other starts from my friends Cathe and Joan) . Oh, and c) I’m not doing any seed ordering. My inventory is massive. I think Jim would hurt himself rolling his eyes if I did a seed order this year.

This all feels very 2006. That was the spring I was about to start working full-time for the first time in 8 years and everything was in a bit of disarray. 6 years later, everything’s cool, but… in a bit of disarray. Which, I have learned, is how it is for everyone much of the time. And 2006 was a great year.

For those of you interested in the actual things I do on the radio (and I very much appreciate your interest), my hiatus officially ended on February 9 with the airing of the 2012 growing curve piece, and the mustard potluck piece aired February 23.  I’ll have a piece about making cheese in your home kitchen on March 8, and March 22 … well, I haven’t decided yet between the two topics, but either way it’s going to rule. IMBY pieces are always available on the web for people everywhere, but… locals? These segments are still airing Thursday afternoons during the ag programming, but they’re ALSO airing Friday mornings during Morning Edition on Illinois Public Media (AM 580) and maybe even on Saturdays sometimes. I had to quit being so damn wordy in order for that to happen, by the way. The response has been fantastic – maybe it really IS better when I talk less!

Stacked Up

God, I was doing so well with the photo challenge and the blogging, but then it all came to a crashing halt, I guess. I’ve enjoyed the hiatus. HI.

Photos continued, even though they weren’t being posted. This is a photo from February, not January, and is not part of a challenge. It’s just a photo of some books I thrifted last weekend, after years of not thrifting books. If only I could thrift a nice fondue set from the 1970s.


So, work happened (and continues to happen), and then there was this frenzy of somewhat upset (on my part) activity around trying to figure out if we were going to be able to go on vacation this winter. It’s a long and very boring story, but the upshot is we’ll be on Anna Maria Island for 5 days followed by two days on the Canaveral National Seashore sometime in March. We don’t go on many vacations, and this will be the first time ever, in the 10 years we’ve been going, that we’ll be in FL on our own, without staying with Jim’s mom & dad, who hang down there in January and February. We’re all quite sad about it. Truly.

I love the beach so much.

Taken by Cody on AMI, 2009

Oh, hey – there’s some new excitement around In My Backyard (IMBY for short)!

1. My January hiatus is over, so segments are airing again. You can listen to “Ahead of the 2012 Growing Curve”, which WILL – AM just aired this afternoon on the old-timey radio device, by clicking here on your newfangled electronic device.

2. I was just informed today that my tightened-up writing will pay off in the form of  IMBY segments possibly maybe airing locally during Morning Edition some weeks. Wider audience!

3. I ALSO just found out today that the IMBY segments are now available to public radio stations statewide – these stations can pick up one or all of the segments and air them, if they’re so inclined. If you’re in Chicago, Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, Carbondale, Rock Island, Peoria, St. Louis, Macomb, or DeKalb, your Illinois Public Radio/National Public Radio station should have access to it. THIS IS TOTALLY AWESOME.

4. The next segment covers food swaps and will air February 23. I can’t wait to write that one – I have way more audio that I know what to do with, and homemade mustard was the swapped food. Um, hello, ten different kinds of mustard. I love you.

Spicy Stout Mustard, made for swapping

That’s about it from U-town on this chilly February evening. Illinois is losing to Indiana. Lilly’s reading in bed. Jim and Ed are planning to make beer this weekend. And it’s time for a cup of tea.

I hate it when things don’t work out they way I’ve planned them… because it takes a lot for me to actively plan something.

Plans are nothing without the planning, I get that. And this time I planned, but not enough.

I’m a reluctant planner, pressed into service thanks to motherhood. My planning ways are not native to me; I started hating surprises in earnest when the kids were small, so I started trying to direct things a little better. That isn’t to say that I/we are particularly good at it, a decade later. I still sometimes favor the bad choice because the alternative – planning – is boring. I’m REALLY bad at the long-term stuff, but that’s another story.

In any event, Plan B is in development. Sorry to be vague. It’s totally nothing big in life’s grand scheme.

OK. I need to get caught up on some photos here.

Photo a day #18: Something I Bought

[It was my supervisor’s birthday.]

Photo a day #19: Something Sweet

[This sits in a drawer at work and was a birthday gift from the aforementioned supervisor. One good turn deserves another.]

Photo a day #20: Someone I Love

[Jim picking up the check at Black Dog.]

Photo a day #21: Reflection

[Taken in the ladies’ room at the Extension office in Bloomington, IL before giving a presentation.]

Photo a day #22: Shoes

[Frye boots have been the best pal of my feet for the last 5 years.]

My friend Amy said today, on Facebook (and I’m OK reporting this type of interaction because we actually had lunch together today, face-to-face, and talked about so so many things), that even the cats are depressed by the weather. I laughed because it’s true. It was warm, then it was really cold, then we had some sleet, then a little snow, and it was still cold, and now it’s quite a bit warmer but we had this weird fog today and I just heard that we might get a thunderstorm and that there are tornado watches to the south of us. We all keep talking about the weather, and how this isn’t really winter, and isn’t it weird, so weird… but honestly? This is the new new normal, which is to say that the meteorologists have no idea.

Maybe this really is the worst winter ever … because one can’t plan around it.