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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!

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.

Water, Water Everywhere?

Yesterday, it was almost 60 degrees, which is unusual for this time of year. Our few inches of snow melted, leaving huge puddles and little rivers in the streets and what I call The Brown Ugly in its wake.

Last night, or rather at 2 AM this morning, it was still 60 degrees and we had a cracking thunderstorm with sump pump-inducing rain. Again, not the usual for this time of year.

The wind came this morning and dried the puddles and the rivers, though The Brown Ugly remains. The wind also brought the cold front, dropping the temperature from 51 degrees at 8 AM to 27 degrees at 5 PM. Now it actually feels like January, but we’re back to March-ish temperatures by the weekend.

Since the snow and the puddles were gone, I snapped a photo of the interior of my water bottle instead.

Photo a day #17: Water Bottle

The bottle’s been through the wringer. It replaced my old green one, which was left by accident in the ladies’ room at the Indianapolis International Airport after a trip to Tampa in August 2009. I still feel kind of bad about the stir it almost assuredly caused.

Morning

Photo a day #16: Morning

 

Poached eggs are THE BEST, especially when done right (which is, chez B-K, like capturing lightning in a bottle). Three things matter: the egg, the temperature of the water, and the cooking time. I always have great eggs on hand, but the other two criteria are not always met. I do, however, always follow Joy of Cooking‘s recommendation to create a “swirling vortex” (that’s probably not the term they used, but it’s the one I like saying in my head in the morning when I make the eggs) in the just-below-the-boil water. Then I close the lid and, usually, lose track of time.

I love eggs, so screwing up the poaching isn’t a big deal. They’re still so good. This morning’s slightly messed-up eggs were eaten with spinach from one of the farms I’m visiting today and a tiny bit of grated Parmesan and some fresh-ground pepper. It’s January and the spinach is sublime.

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I need to spend some time dumping audio onto my laptop, taking some test shots with the DSLR (woefully underused due to my fascination with Instagram, plus I only have one lens and could really use another), and prepare some questions for later today, but my mind is wandering to the garden, and what I’d like to plant this year, and the fact that this year is the year I can finally eat the asparagus I planted, and all the things I’d like to preserve this year, and all the things that went to waste last year. From there I wonder what home season extension in our part of the Midwest would look like, real season extension for home gardeners. From there my mind wanders to the pruning and espaliering of the apple trees against our garage that has to happen, the mess in our garage, this project, which would allow me to successfully start onions inside (I don’t think it’ll get made in time for this season), the condition of my garden tools (not critical, but getting there), what the garden/yard will look like when we have our Annual Dessert Potluck in July, host a dinner in August, and have the 2nd Annual Cornhole Tournament in September. Will it look good? Will I have kept up with things? Will Jim & I have made any new trellises? Will there be pollinators? How about rain? Too much? Too little?

Best for now to dump audio/take test shots/prepare. Chop wood, carry water.

Bag and Reading and Happiness

After almost a two-week run of posting every day – something I’m not even sure I did ten years ago when I was first blogging –  I had to take a time out. I was at a conference in Springfield, the weather was bad, I drove (you know all of this already), but I was also just wiped out for some reason. But here I am again, blogging at what is perhaps the least popular time possible. Sunday night. Dinner time. Football game. Golden Globes. Sorry. I’m crawling through this open window.

Tomorrow I’m heading out to Blue Moon Farm to talk to owner/farmer guy Jon Cherniss about seeds. Then, a couple hours later? Talking to Zack Grant, manager of the Sustainable Student Farm about the same stuff. City Hall is closed tomorrow for MLK, so I’m making radio hay while the sun shines, so to speak. Like Pa Ingalls, kinda.

I am having some envy with regards to this television show. I would love to be able to do something like this someday, either as the person onscreen or (much more preferably) as a writer or showrunner. I’ve informally pitched a similar-but-different idea to a couple of people, but no one has any money or time or the inclination just yet. Patience.

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Photo a day #13: Stuff in my teensy bag

I was at a local shoe store recently and was eyeing a pair of boots on sale when I discovered that the store also carried my favorite tiny bag. I had pretty much destroyed my brown one, so this time I chose black. The photo above shows what was stuffed into it a couple of days ago. (I didn’t get the boots).

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Photo a day #14: Something I'm reading

I love to read actual books, but this book is what I call a Bed Book. It’s hundreds of pages and densely-written and the kind of book I like settling into bed with. Unfortunately, a Bed Book can take months to read, as I now have a tendency to fall asleep almost as soon as I crack open any reading material. I’ve turned into my mother.

Anyway, this book belongs to the library, so I only have a couple of weeks with it, AND the photos are mixed in with the text, so I kind of have to read it if I want to see photos. Also, it’s Spence. I figure I can do my best for him, right? This photo, on the cover? Makes me feel feelings. This one does nothing for me, but was taken within seconds of the one on the cover.

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Today I experienced complete happiness. Not the fleeting winning-the-lottery kind or the getting-my-way kind, but the super-simple kind, the lasting kind that you only get when your partner and both of your children are in the car with you and are spending the day with you and this is not a usual thing, at all, because the older child has moved away. It was blissful. I’ll always remember it because it was so simple and uncomplicated and it’s just the kind of thing I like to have in my back pocket in case of a shitty day, which, well, we’re heading into the season of such.

I know. If you have more than one kid and they are both in the backseat of your car and there’s food everywhere and they’re bickering and no one is happy and the younger one has figured out how to escape from the prison that is her car seat and the older one has to go to the bathroom even though he said nothing when you asked five minutes ago if anyone needed a rest stop, it can seem sort of unbelievable that at some point, a family trip to IKEA will seem like some sort of heaven on Earth.

Photo a day #15: Happiness = Lilly, me, Cody

But give it a decade. It just might be.

Blowing, Drifting

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.

Thanks.