Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

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.


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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!

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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.

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Winter weather has finally arrived. It’s just a few inches of snow, but the wind is vicious and it’s cold and our blood has grown thin here in Central IL with our above-average temperatures this winter thus far. The timing of this blizzardette was also bad for me, personally, given that I was out of town driving a car that wasn’t mine, but I performed some complicated calculations and left at the right time and white-knuckled it home. There weren’t many other cars on the road, which was oddly comforting. I felt safest of all when the car or truck in front of me disappeared into the whiteout and I couldn’t see anyone behind me. I always cursed when a truck would suddenly appear in the rear-view mirror.

I was just past Decatur when I heard this In My Backyard segment. Even though it aired 3 months ago, I hadn’t heard it in its entirety, and even then I had only heard it through computer speakers. I kind of liked it, but Dave’s right – the writing needs to be tightened up. I have two stories in the hopper for February already – one about making cheese and another about what your farmers are doing now. Hint: Their feet are not up. In farming, there is no off-season.

Jar of "Artella" by Daniel Schreiber

My friend Dan made chocolate – superior bean-to-bar chocolate – in Urbana, IL under the moniker Flatlander Chocolate. (I didn’t realize the website was still live, and… well, damn.)

Anyway, he was a young guy and a super-idealist and felt really strong feelings about community and food that basically led to him to put his brilliant future in computer science on hold (he was a rising star as a grad student at the U of I) in favor of refining his chocolate and bringing it to a wider audience. In July 2010, he introduced his hazelnut chocolate spread to the world via Urbana’s Market at the Square, where it was received with wild enthusiasm. I bought a jar the first day it was offered – feeling lucky to do so – and it was gone within the week. Dan brought some more to the 5th Annual B-K Dessert potluck, but that was gone immediately. It was obvious he was onto something.

Dan died suddenly in late July 2010. We found out on a Tuesday, and when Saturday rolled around but he didn’t roll in to the Market, it was rough. I had cried a lot during the week, but held it together at the Market until a mutual friend brought me one of the last jars of Dan’s hazelnut chocolate heaven-in-a-jar. It still sits in my fridge. I can’t bring myself to open it, because then it would be gone and then what?

I know. He’d probably hate that.

Anyway. An organization exists to bring people in our community together around food, which is something Dan talked about all the time, to all of his many friends. After several months of  regrouping and working out the basics of what we want to do, we’re finally moving forward. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, you could follow the Flatlander Food Foundry on Facebook. Or – if you have an organization where you live whose aims are similar, could you let me know in comments? It can be a community kitchen or just a bunch of people getting together to eat and talk and try new things or an underground dinner club or.. whatever.


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Where I Sleep

Crowne Plaza, Springfield, IL

Tonight, anyway. After a long day of conferencing and meetings, this bed will do. I have a 7 AM (!) meeting tomorrow and then I’m getting the hell out of here – the internet is too damn slow and winter weather will be approaching and I miss my family and my own bed.


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Olden Times

Me. A leaf pile. A lollipop. Maine. Early 1970s.

I can see both of my parents in this photo of me, and my daughter, too. And my nephew.

We were living in Maine when this was taken. Maine happened between Florida and New York, I think, and we lived in a variety of places – a house, an attic, our VW bus at a campground (my favorite). My father was trying to make a living as a musician.  My parents were awfully young at the time – if I was 4 or 5 in this photo, my parents were 24 and 25, with me and my very toddler brother in tow. They spent my young childhood walking the line between doing their thing and making sure we were safe and having a good time. I can relate.

Eventually we left Maine. I might have started kindergarten there, but then we moved and I finished kindergarten in New York. Then we moved back to Florida. We lived in a house in Winter Park and my father went to work every day, like other fathers, and the bass guitar was quiet.

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Today I got up quite early for a winter Saturday, put on some clothes, gathered my things, and drove about 200 miles south of here to deliver Farmers Market 101. I put together a presentation for fledgling farmers about best practices that can help ensure success at farmers markets… from the market manager’s point of view. My big talky theme right now is about creating a culture of commitment within the local food system, and especially within the framework of preserving markets as public spaces and community resources, so I test-talked about this concept as well as giving quite a bit of nutsy-boltsy advice to these farmers (Nutsy-Boltsy Piece of Advice #1: Be cool to the market’s manager. Seriously. Even if that wasn’t my job it would be my #1 piece of advice.). It was a little weird and definitely awesome to see people writing things down as I spoke. I wanted to look at people’s notes – are you actually getting something out of all this babbling? I wanted to ask. Rather than give handouts with bullet points when I do presentations, I give them copies of my slides with room for notes because I want listeners to write down what they’re taking away, what’s important to them, rather than me tell them what’s important. It’s going to be different for everyone.  I gauged people’s reactions as I spoke, and will be tweaking the presentation for delivery to a similar group later this month. I am so not proficient at this, so the practice is good. But talking about farmers markets is one of my favorite things to do.

Over lunch, I talked with a woman who used the term “smart farm” regarding her operation and I’ve been turning the words over in my head since we chatted. The context was diversification within the operation – stop growing what doesn’t sell, start listening to what customers want, embrace technology, try new ways of reaching customers, be flexible. She totally rocked. I hope to run into her again.

I don’t love getting up in front of people and presenting, so when I have to do it, I tend to wear clothes I love and feel the most myself in.

My new favorite sweater by Sherpa, plus brown Levi's cords

Jim & Lilly found this lovely brown Sherpa sweater for me and surprised me with it for Xmess this year. I am not exaggerating when I say I wear it all the time and would wear it every day if I could; I’m currently trying to lay my hands on at least one more in another color so I can mix it up. It’s lightweight but warm, flattering, and generally very cool. I wore the sweater and my best-fitting brown corduroys today and felt pretty together.

Then I drove, and drove, and drove. Central and southern Illinois are not that much fun to drive through in the winter, even when it’s sunny and 50 degrees. When I returned, Jim texted and asked if I wanted to go to Black Dog for a beer, and I said YES. It’s one of my favorite places, period, in C-U.

Just another Saturday at Black Dog

So we went, and ordered some wings to go, and while we waited, had a pint of Shark Attack and talked with the owner, Mike. His baby daughter is almost 5 months old, and he offered me some baby-holding time.

I’m going to take him up on it.

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