Archive for March, 2012

nanny state blues

There was a long-winded rant here for a minute, but I’m really trying to be less negative these days… so we’re going to accentuate the positive for now.

On the upside of all the tumultuous goings-on now … we have a dog now… so it’s not all bad. No one else could take her or wanted her, so it was us or the pound. Aaannnd… she’s a rottie, which half our neighbors already think we have since I walk our neighbor’s from time to time… And now we do! She’s sweet, but not well-trained or very housebroken (and a crate-houdini, apparently, till we figured out how to keep the wire sides secure)… we’re doing groundwork and crate-training now and establishing pack structure a-la Leerburg… poor pup- daddy’s in the pen, and now it’s reform school for you! Not sure how long we’ll get to keep her, but for now I’m enjoying her company. Welcome, Bella! She came with me today to meet the coordinator of a community garden in the neighborhood where we’ll have a bed or two this year, along with our buddies from Patchwork Farms. Thanks, Safer Foundation! There are so many community gardens popping up in our neighborhood… it’s fantastic to see. Now that’s change I can believe in! The kale, broccoli, leeks, and other seed babies are poking their heads up upstairs under lights…. so we should have plenty of greens to go around. I’m planning to donate or share a lot of the stuff we plant in the community beds- kale for everyone!

Oh yeah, and did I mention that it’s EIGHTY DEGREES in CHICAGO in MARCH? What am I doing inside? I’ll catch you cats later- my bike awaits, and then some wholesome gardening goodness. Cheers!


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The Mayor (in Chicago, that’s capitalized) came to the farm today (the farm where I work, not our little smallholding). I was not there. I do not like the man- I think he is smarmy, slimy, and rude, a small man with a Napoleonic complex, who comes from North Shore wealth and has no concept or care of what an average citizen’s daily struggles are (note that these opinions are personal, and should not reflect on my place of work). However, I’m glad he came, to see the amazing things people have been working on, and hope that good things come of the attention… but I don’t have anything nice to say to Power right now. I am angry, and sad, at the way things work in The City that Works (but only if you have enough money and the influence of the Right People). I have friends who are teachers who want to burn the man in effigy downtown in protest of the way he’s handling negotiations with the teachers’ unions… we advised that this would be a very Bad Idea and would not help their cause, no matter how good it might feel.

We’ve been told by many people that the only way we’ll be able to buy the lot next to our house from the city is to bribe the alderman (err, make a campaign donation), because that’s how things get done here… always has been. A cyclist gets doored by an undercover cop and is palmed a twenty to not phone it in. Grease the wheels… and maybe they won’t grind you up and run you over.

I’m mad that it’s hard as hell to get anything done… and that I can’t just grow good food and sell it to people who want it without a million layers of bureaucracy and regulations to sort though first. I’m sad that the best solution to food access that those who get to make the important decisions can come up with is to bring in national chain stores to the “food deserts” rather than making it easier for small community-owned businesses to meet these vital needs. I know a lot of folks who are trying to start businesses to meet these needs and hitting roadblocks every step of the way, and that no one seems to have the answers. The food problem is just one little toenail of a great big problem faced by many of our citizens, and that problem is poverty, a crippled social structure, crumbling neighborhood schools, and in some cases, a misguided war on the young men who should be supporting families, but because of past mistakes, lack of education and opportunity, or just a dearth of any legitimate employment opportunities, try to support themselves in the only way they know how, in underground economies and street trades that our society has deemed criminal.

Every day on my ride to work, I have to go past the jail and county courthouse. A couple that I know was just arrested, and are somewhere behind those walls. My heart breaks to ride by, and to fathom how big that building, how thick and tall the brick walls, how many people are held there. Some of them for sure were doing Bad Things, violent things, and I’m glad they’re not out walking around. The folks I know were taking risks, bigger than I could have guessed or cared to know, and doing very illegal things. They are not the first or last to fall. There will be many more. No one was hurt by their actions, and they’re not bad people, or I wouldn’t have known them… but I may not see them for a very long time. Their dogs are orphaned, in the temporary care of a friend, and certainly confused- where are their people? A lot of money was spent, and will be spent, to arrest them, hold them, and charge them with “crimes”, all paid for by our tax dollars. I’m a little wary to even post this, because such is the culture of fear that our society has created, but I have nothing to hide. I grow only food, because I am not a risk-taker. I play it safe, and play it cool, and try to stay out of trouble. I just can’t help but think of all the resources that our society wastes on the drug war, while murders and rapists and all sorts of other nasty folks and things are walking around free, or getting slaps on the wrist. It makes me so mad I could spit vitriol and curse and swear… and it wouldn’t change a thing. I’m in a funk; nothing good comes out of my mouth… I want to be happy, and hopeful, and have confidence that things will get better; that reason will prevail. Hippy-dippy though it may be, I want to sit in the sun, watch food and flowers grow, to write, and feel a deep sense of righteousness, that all is well with the world, that this is a place that I could in good conscience bring children into and raise them with the one I love, but it’s not. It’s nasty, brutish, and hard all too often. How did we get here? How much farther do we have to fall before we say “enough”!

I go back to an old friend, a powerful poem I’ve revisited a million times when this place gets me down. You can hear Lew Welch read it here (four minutes in) or read below:

by Lew Welch

I lived here nearly 5 years before I could
meet the middle western day with anything approaching
Dignity. It’s a place that lets you
understand why the Bible is the way it is:
Proud people cannot live here.

The land’s too flat. Ugly, sullent and big it
pounds men down past humbleness. They
Stoop at 35 possibly cringing from the heavy and
terrible sky. In country like this there
Can be no God but Jahweh.

In the mills and refineries of its south side Chicago
passes its natural gas in flames
Bouncing like bunsens from stacks a hundred feet high.
The stench stabs at your eyeballs.
The whole sky green and yellow backdrop for the skeleton
steel of a bombed-out town.

Remember the movies in grammar school? The goggled men
doing strong things in
Showers of steel-spark? The dark screen cracking light
and the furnace door opening with a
Blast of orange like a sunset? Or an orange?

It was photographed by a fairy, thrilled as a girl, or
a Nazi who wished there were people
Behind that door (hence the remote beauty), but Sievers,
whose old man spent most of his life in there,
Remembers a “nigger in a red T-shirt pissing into black sand.”

It was 5 years until I could afford to recognize the ferocity.
Friends helped me. Then I put some
Love into my house. Finally I found some quiet lakes
and a farm where they let me shoot pheasant.

Standing in the boat one night I watched the lake go absolutely
flat. Smaller than raindrops, and only
Here and there, the feeding rings of fish were visible 100 yards
away – and the Blue Gill caught that afternoon
Lifted from its northern lake like a tropical! Jewel in its ear
Belly gold so bright you’d swear he had a
Light in there. His color faded with his life. A small
green fish…

All things considered, it’s a gentle and undemanding
planet, even here. Far gentler
Here than any of a dozen other places. The trouble is
always and only with what we build on top of it.

There’s nobody else to blame. You can’t fix it and you
can’t make it go away. It does no good appealing
To some ill-invented Thunderer
Brooding over some unimaginable crag.

It’s ours. Right down to the last small hinge it
all depends for its existence
Only and utterly upon our sufferance.

Driving back I saw Chicago rising in its gases and I
knew again that never will the
Man be made to stand against this pitiless, unparallel
monstrosity. It
Snuffles on the beach of its Great Lake like a
blind, red, rhinoceros.
It’s already running us down.

You can’t fix it. You can’t make it go away.
I don’t know what you’re going to do about it.
But I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m just
going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I’m not around.

feeding it anymore.

Sometimes I feel like that fish out-of-water here, the only home I’ve known for my adult life. I want to be somewhere where I can walk barefooted without fearing broken glass, spent syringes, and junkie shit. Somewhere where the dirt is not toxic, the sirens are not constant, and the gunshots in the distance are deer hunters. Where I can shoot a .22 off the back porch at the squirrels in my tomatoes or just at tin cans without taking out a neighbor or their window, where windows don’t need iron barricades, and only get broken by kids playing baseball instead of throwing rocks… where neighbors aren’t quite so close, and you can go out for a walk without seeing another human soul if you choose. I do love the community here, have friends I adore and in some ways can’t imagine being anywhere else. But there are days when I really want to be anywhere else but here. I miss hills, and trees, and craggy rocks wet with clinging moss, clean air and stars so bright they light your steps though the truly dark dome of sky, not the sickly orange-sherbet glow which hangs heavy over our night… but I do like something about the bigness and anonymity of the city… the freeness and openness of the folks I know… and there’s a lot of good here. I just wish that I could make my peace with the rest of it.

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juicy mornings

Start with this (plus a shriveled blood orange not pictured, which I bought in Arkansas at the end of December and has valiantly and ever less brightly garnished the fruit bowl ever since):

One wooden spoon, two glass measuring cups, and two pulpy small strainers later, get this. Sample first before handing sweetheart his glass,

The auto-start function on the coffee pot that came with our house (thank you neighbors, for leaving it when you moved) is a GLORIOUS thing. 7 am, and you wake to the gentle perk and steam of coffee, being made by magic, while you still sleep, snug in your warm things and thick covers. It is cold in the house, though you aired it out the night before with freakishly warm gusts- 30-45 mi/hr gusts are sending chip wrappers and plastic bags and clouds of fine grit through the air with surprising force, but you welcome the warmth along with the first crocuses, sun-yellow ones, this morning. It is early March, but feels like May. Plant peas!

The chickens are fed, no early eggs but you’ll check for them later. The list is made, the reading done, and now off to tackle each little thing, one by one.

Starting with this.

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bloomers=freedom. I mean, bikes=freedom... whee!

Very old advice for ladies in the saddle! This begs sharing… some dated, some still true (don’t forget your toolbag, sure, but I think it’s ok to leave the needle, thread, and thimble at home- mending will wait)… says the woman currently wearing a “man’s cap” and who is probably a fright more often than not. I do not, however, scream when I see cows, unless they are charging at me (trust me, sometimes that works, as does holding out your arms to seem bigger- but have excellent balance before attempting that while astride two wheels in a rutted pasture… and if that fails, get to the other side of the nearest fence as soon as possible!). Read on, and ride on, ladies (and gents)!

* Don’t be a fright.
* Don’t faint on the road.
* Don’t wear a man’s cap.
* Don’t wear tight garters.
* Don’t forget your toolbag
* Don’t attempt a “century.”
* Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
* Don’t boast of your long rides.
* Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
* Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
* Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
* Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
* Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
* Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
* Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
* Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
* Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
* Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
* Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
* Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
* Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
* Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
* Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
* Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
* Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
* Don’t without a needle, thread and thimble.
* Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
* Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
* Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
* Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
* Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
* Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
* Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
* Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
-> which is ok, unless she runs *toward* you. Cows aren’t very bright, and if they’ve got babies, can go from docile to downright murderous in a moment.

A few more tips at the source:

I’m sorry, did you say something? I was working on cultivating my “bicycle face”. I think it goes something like this, although it does not necessarily connote one as being a Bourbon Democrat of yore, riding on the gold standard (while being chased by the silver) and espousing laissez-faire conservative capitalism:

John Griffin Carlisle (September 5, 1834 – July 31, 1910)

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Still working through that epic-ly optimistic to-do list from Wednesday… there are currently 18 jars (17 pints) of split pea soup with ham in the pressure canner building up steam, and a steaming bowl of goodness in front of me as I type… I think I’m coming down with something (fatigue?  grey sky blahs? or just a cold?) and the hot soup with a mug of milky coffee and honey is just the thing. The dishes are done, laundry washed and hanging, and what was hanging is put away.  The fresh shellac is drying on the Vicount’s bar tape and twine… still have to locate the original fork somewhere in this cavern of clutter (or perhaps it’s in the shop… shudder) and I’ve started packing up some of my soap and other things for tomorrow as well, and started soaking a batch of sprouts- Alefellow loves them, and we’ve been so spoiled by all the fresh greens from work that I haven’t made any sprouts this winter… until now. I’ve got an hour and a half to kill around here before heading down to work, and will finally make that body balm (the jars are washed and drying on the counter), maybe put a few seeds in some soil, then swing over to check on the chickens, make sure their feed and waterers are full and gather eggs.  Good times! 

Here’s the recipe I used (more or less) for the pea soup:


Pictures later tonight when the canner cools down!

You can't see it, but the soup in those jars is still boiling! Let 'em cool down a bit before you jostle and unload them if you can.

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