Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Kansas Souvenirs

Christmas delivered us to Prairie Village, Kansas. It's the town my sister's family calls home, just an hour or so from Lawrence, where I spent 6 ambivalent years pursuing a graduate degree, but also where I met some of the most important people in my life. Fortunately for me, more than a handful of those people still live there, so we always make a junket west to to reconnect with those good folks, which is nothing shy of a giddy elixir for both of us.

Here's a small sampling of the fortunes that came home with us . . .

One of the loveliest Christmas gifts ever: envelopes made by the multi-talented Leslie, who--despite the troops who adore her--will never be appreciated to the extent she deserves.

A small metal bird from a local shop where we had the accidental good luck of meeting Kendra, only two degrees of separation from us, both practically and virtually, and whose stunning photography can be seen here.

This beautiful (and ok, slightly macabre) Mel Kadel print from Lawrence's Wonder Fair Gallery.

A new manicure, compliments of my quirky, wonderful, 8-year-old neice Liza.

A framed sketch by my father, quickly becoming one of my favorite artists in the entire state of Maine.
Finally, memories of great and much-too-short chats with Max, Tim, Atty, Bea, Matt, Mom, Jen, Chad, and especially kindred spirit Amy and perfectly complicated David, each of whom is a kind of homecoming.

We returned to litter, new gang tags in the area, and a shooting three blocks away, but I'm feeling a little more steeled to handle it all after dipping at least a baby toe into the center of the center of the country.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

And a partridge in a pear tree

Through the brutal weather, merciless traffic, unbearable crush of disposable packaging, awkward family dynamics, overindulgence, and empty commercialism of it all, I wish you a handful of tender memories, a bit of quiet stillness, and at least one moment that makes you say, 'holy moley: I'm alive.'

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shake it and see what happens

The weekend hasn't been without its frustrations. But in the way my sweet friend Natalie says the universe gives you what you need when you need it, there were some nearly perfect antidotes in the mix.

Friday night brought an 11th-hour, super-secret show by the magnificent Andrew Bird, in a divey club just about a 10-minute bike ride from home in the slush. Andrew's playing Carnegie Hall January 28, so you can imagine the rare treat of seeing him in a tiny converted garage with a capacity of around 75.

Later he brought his violin on stage to back Baby Alright, the soul band headlining that night, and my friend Unsoo and I danced enough to let some of the cobwebs out. (Just as a point of reference, the African-American singer is local legend Marvin Tate; the guy with dark hair to his right is a mechanic at our neighborhood bike shop).

Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing the Redmoon Theater winter pageant with my adorable godson Diego. Redmoon used to be headquartered right here in the neighborhood, and every

Halloween they'd turn our boulevard greenways into what can only be described as a sort of bacchanalian 'happening.' Unfortunately, the theater's moved a little closer to downtown now, and these photos don't really do justice to the experience of seeing one of their shows. But the whole thing turned Diego into a wind-up toy for about 30 minutes afterward, so that probably says it all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Deck the halls . . .

Today, my cherished friends, I offer you an early holiday present: the right to mock me relentlessly. Because I've just come back from the winter equivalent of a Renaissance festival: Christmas caroling.

My neighbor Ann wanted to put this event together for our block. And as a person who's pushed plenty of boulders up hills hoping people would just get on board and show some enthusiasm, I found myself wanting to root for this project with several strikes against it: lousy weather, icy sidewalks, full schedules, and some pretty universal reticence about public performance (my own included).

It looked at first like it might just be me, John, Ann, and her awesome son Harold (named for Harold Washington), easily the most self-possessed 10-year-old I've ever met. We decided we needed a quota of at least two more people to brave the song-sheets. And just as we were about to give up, our neighbor Constanza showed up with five other people. So off, shyly, we went.

My new MO for things that make me feel like a dork is just to throw myself in with both feet. So that's what we did: a couple of atheists singing loudly and brazenly about all things savior-ish: the faithful, holiness, Bethlehem, lambs, and the coming of the lord. Harold and his neighbor Adriana split the task of knocking on doors: each of them running up staircases like this was a sacroscanct privilege, and very serious business. Two young girls tapped tambourines and jingle bells against their legs. Constanza shouted 'ho ho ho!' in front of each house as we passed. It started to pour and Harold coaxed me into the first verse of 'Singin in the Rain.' A woman we'd just sung to grabbed her coat and joined us for a block. And Ann would lean over periodically, take my arm, and say, "I can't believe it. This is working!"

And you know what? It was weirdly sort of a blast.

The two best quotes of the day came from the neighbors you see here. Fernando, there on the left in his shorts, yelled out from his side window just as we finished a song for a neighbor. "Hey John! I thought you should know I called the police on all this racket. They're on their way."

Then Mildred (who's made many a cameo on this blog), after enjoying our fairly lame bilingual rendition of Deck the Halls, offered: "I'm so blessed to have such wonderful neighbors . . . especially the ones I owe money to."

Happy holidays, everybody. I can't promise I'll have time to send cards this year, but rest assured I was out doing my part toward holiday cheer this afternoon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Saddest Day of the Season

This was our final weekend of CSA vegetables for the year, and I'm feeling wistful. No more Saturday morning divvying sessions with our share partners. No more root-vegetable roulette. And that familiar masonry of boxes? . . . 86'd until June.

As we speak, I'm cooking up a pot of potato soup with some of the last remnants: red and white potatoes, a small onion, and garlic that comes still attached to its stalk, heavy with soil.

It's pretty crazy how nature finds its way of getting you through the winter. The last couple of weeks have brought us cabbage, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, greens, carrots, and of course the potatoes, onions, and garlic currently simmering in a pot on my stove. If we were thrifty farm families, this would get us through until the baby lettuce and ramps start showing their heads in late spring. But we're not: we're urban borrowers, reliant on the organic farmers to the north and the kindly neighbors who offer up their porch as a drop site.

We still have some popcorn on the ear left from the 2007 season, and I imagine it'll be the same story for the dry cobs that started arriving this October. It's probably our way of keeping one baby toe in all things local(ish). Maybe some deference to the virtues of storage through the cold months and the promise of cycles eventually repeating themselves. Either that or we're just too lazy to make popcorn. But what can you do?

So for the next few months our vegetables will come from the local supermarket, and I guess the thought of out-of-season zucchini and broccoli has its illicit charm. But I'll miss the challenges of kohlrabi, celeriac, and Jerusalem artichokes. Six months and counting.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Penny wise?

You know you're getting batty when someone tossing out a 'perfectly good turkey carcass' sends you into such paroxysms of anxiety that you have to come back from the holiday, rummage through the crisper drawer, and simmer up a big pot of stock from all the peels and hirsute ends of root vegetables, just to restore a sense of equilibrium.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, good people

John's been encouraging me to be more earnest--to overcome my fear of preciousness or sentimentality, and maybe get over my cynicism a little. So this year (deep breath) I want to go on record with gratitude for the following:

-mornings with a lot less street noise

-generous friends and neighbors

-22 weeks a year when we can eat local organic produce, delivered just 3 blocks from home

-my sweet, sweet pooch

-thrift stores

-that Nick Cave continues to amaze, and will always be older than I am

-the many people in my life who've got my back

-good advice

-kind words


Have a lovely holiday and enjoy your various breathers, whatever form they may take.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Small (and not so small) favors

I'm this close, this close, to falling back in love with my neighborhood.

It's largely thanks to this guy . . .

and this guy on the right . . .

and this ravioli . . .

It's a long story, but that first guy--our good friend Thuan--staked out our corner at 5am last Tuesday to confront the horn honker (the driver who's been blaring her SUV horn before dawn every morning, including Saturdays, since August). Thuan got photos and a license plate number and even tried gently to talk with her, but in a repeat of what John and I got when we attempted the same, she rebuffed him through a closed window and drove off, horn blazing. Thuan lives several blocks away and doesn't ever hear the disruption: he just insisted on doing this out of the goodness of his heart. When I'm on my death bed hopefully decades from now, and someone asks me the kindest thing anyone ever did for me, this act will rank in the top three, guaranteed.

In a perfect stroke of kismet, that second guy you see above--whom you may recognize from an earlier post as my favorite member of the CPD--paid a visit the very same day to the house in question, where the tenant was being picked up every morning. Lo and behold, no car horn in the last ten days, and my insomnia seems to be subsiding.

Of course nothing gold can stay, Pony Boy, and we don't expect we're fully out of the woods yet. But if not, I'll retreat into the starchy euphoria of the homemade pasta now available from our local Mexican supermarket, also pictured above. We bought artichoke ravioli, wild-mushroom ravioli, and spinach tortellini, but those are only three of the dozen or so varieties they carry (including, wait for it . . . lobster. Oh yeah).

I know not to count on ravioli of any stripe as a permanent fixture. Things come and go at the Tony's Certisaver. Couscous and block parmesan have been fairly stable offerings. Recycled toilet paper and fresh baguettes, not so much.

For now, though, we have a freezer full of gourmet pasta. And some guarded hope.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Brushes with the Almost Famous

This Saturday we headed out of our noisy neighborhood to a party in north suburban River Woods, where Julie, an old friend of John's, was the guest of honor. Technically her new baby Maya--the baby that almost wasn't--was the star of the evening. After a miscarried twin early in the pregnancy, the remaining baby was given just a 20% chance of survival. Then, a couple of weeks from term, Julie had a front-first fall that left her nicked up and briefly unconscious. But four months later, there was tiny Maya: positively, otherworldly gorgeous.

I have to admit, as taken as I was with the baby, the real heart-stopper for me may have been when this woman walked in the door. No, your eyes don't deceive you. That IS American Gladiator Phoenix, also known as Julie's cousin Jennifer. Ok, ok, I'm not really assuming you watch the show. Just stay with me for a minute. She's actually much prettier in person, and I have to say incredibly warm, smart, and genuine.

I was going on about the general awesomeness of Phoenix in the car, until John finally said "You have a crush on the gladiator, don't you?" Gobstopped as charged. But I submit, it isn't every day you meet someone whose action figure is due out in April.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


It's been a banner week for nostalgia.

Sunday night found me in a small music hall listening to a former student's band, a two-piece outfit that owes a debt to vintage country, calliope music, murder ballads, and Southern blues, but mostly has its own thing going on. You can take a listen below to my favorite song from my favorite of their records (and as anyone knows who lives routinely with boom boxes and early-morning car horns, it's nice to have something that comes to your ears pretty). That's my student on the left in glasses; he's clearly not so much a kid anymore. I taught him about 14 years ago in a fiction-writing intro, and he was my only student in 10 years of teaching who never missed a class.

Then on Monday I met up with my old college friend Andy. Connecting with him required a 3-mile bike ride to the train station, followed by a 45-minute commuter train, followed by a $12 cab ride. But this was nothing compared to the 20 years it took for us to track each other down. Our last contact was in 1988, and though we've become very different people on the surface, nothing has really changed at the core. In an alternate universe we probably could have stayed up till 3 and ordered a pizza, like we used to do as untethered college kids in Bloomington, Indiana.

Now this next part is going to read like a non sequitur, but bear with me. I've noticed that every time I go to a job interview--and believe me, I've had way too many these last few months--someone always remarks how my resumé is all over the map. This always irks me a little, because I figure when you boil 20 years of professional experience down to a single page, it's probably (maybe even preferably) going to seem less than homogenous.

I've decided, in fact, that resumés don't go far enough to show what's really of value in a life, what truly defines a candidate's character. And shouldn't that be part of what's being sussed out by potential employers?

Resumés should be constantly reformed and reinvented, with placeholders for the experiences that define a person the most, which, for many of us, is superfluous to our professional histories.

So in addition to the many years of teaching; the hopeful but ultimately dashed forays into publishing; the awkward, ill-fitting position in a medical association; and the futile but defining years of community organizing; I'd argue for the following additions to my resumé:

1986-2000: hypochondriac

1980-present: insomniac

1989-present: reluctant jogger

2005-present: dogwalker

1995: teacher of Jeff

1984-1988; 2008- : friend to Andy

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Break out the spatula and measuring spoons

You may remember a post about William, a kid who breaks my heart a little. Shortly after that initial post, William disappeared for several months. Rumor had it that troubles had increased at home so he'd moved in with a relative. But he never said so much as good-bye to Mike and Diane, and we figured we might never see him again.

Lo and behold, just before Halloween, William resurfaced. He's back at home, but for how long a stretch is anyone's guess. This is a kid who seems destined, through no real fault of his own, to slip through the cracks. A person wants to guard against getting too close. And especially wants to guard against the arrogance that we have any control over his fate--that working together, we can somehow save his life.

But it's painful not to root for this kid.

Exhibit A is a letter he sent me by way of Mike and Diane. I'm sure it's tough to read, so I've transcribed it below:

Dear, Ms. Prahl I wooyld Love a cooking Lesson. I will Love to Learn How to Cook.

From: William Estrada

PS. I promise to rack your yard for you or or shovel.

I worry a little about what hanging out with a handful of aging nerds like us may do to William's street cred. But you can bet money that I'll be putting together this cooking lesson, probably along with a field trip to the grocery store and a vermicompost lesson involving our worm bins.

So I need to enlist your help, especially those of you with kids. What should I teach him to cook? My basic criteria are that it's something healthy, requiring no special equipment, with tasks that small and clumsy hands can manage. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Take Three

Wow, this is the third and hopefully final version of this post. I published two different iterations earlier, but ended up having misgivings about both. This goes to the heart of how difficult it is to write and think about race and class, especially in a neighborhood caught between gentrification pressure and a crumbling economy.

So here's the thing: Thursday night some neighborhood violence hit too close to home, and I decided in my initial post to let off steam and indulge some armchair analysis: wondering about Obama's victory, and whether its euphoria had reached as far as the Latino community. I suspected that some of our own neighbors might be feeling slightly left out of the party.

Suffice it to say, we've seen an uptick in crime, noise, and generally disrespectful actions lately that have me feeling both vulnerable and pessimistic. While these issues shouldn't be linked even remotely to presidential campaigns, part of me wonders how Latinos--who actually voted for Obama at a staggering 66% rate--are situating themselves in a presidency that's being framed in largely black and white terms.

The photo above points to some of the ambivalence that may swirl around Obama's victory, at least in communities like ours. It may not be easy to see, but that hand-painted sign--on a garage on the most affluent and desireable block in the area--has been tagged several times. Tiny scrawled 'yes'ses, and the more prominent strike-through across Obama's name, which appeared only since Tuesday's results.

I'm hopeful that the healing Obama's presidency represents will reach beyond black and white into richer and more complicated boundary waters. If Obama has the chance to make any policy at all, I hope he'll do so first in the interests of those who are struggling the most, which means class needs to be a key consideration. This seems to be our only chance for real and meaningful shifts that trickle down to the community level. For all too many, that's long overdue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So . . . what's new?


What an incredible day! For me this is less about a specific candidate than about a critical mass of marginalized, lost, and disappointed citizens--cautiously dipping a big toe into the waters of civic engagement--and waking up to feel that it actually matters. That's what's leaving me truly moved today. That, and the idea that the country said a resounding 'No more!' to leadership bereft of humanity.

The quote of the day came not from President-elect Obama himself, but courtesy of John, who noted the following while he waited for me to finish voting:

A young couple--obvious neighborhood toughs--were leaving the polling site after casting their ballots. Think of your standard hellraiser garb: oversized jerseys, baggy low-slung pants, lots of bling.

Guy: "I bet everybody up in this bitch is voting Democratic."

Girlfriend: "They better!"

Mildred, this one's for you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I'll take a burger, fries, and regime change please

In honor of election day, I'll share an anecdote about our wonderful neighbor Mildred: nonogenarian, world traveler, avowed Socialist, widow, and walking enthusiast (pictured below with our alderman).

The other day was unseasonably warm, so Mildred was enjoying a little time on her porch. She doesn't see well so I shouted a quick hello followed by, "It's Christy."

"Oh, Christy . . . come on over and join me for a moment."

She went on to say how excited she was about Obama's chances. "I think he's got it in the bag," she said. "And before you go, I have a new slogan for you. Let me know what you think of this . . . "
She got a wry look on her face and--with great panache and perfect comic timing--delivered the following:

"How about, 'McCain . . . and Unable'?"

I'll tell you what I think of that, Mildred. With age comes great wisdom. Let's hope you get to see history made tonight!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween in the Hood

Does anybody have a rake?

Check out my caddy . . . I mean daddy.

I can't pay the rent!

You must pay the rent!

Look at this tasty morsel I just harvested . . .

And is that Farmer Thuan, or one of those guys from the Village People?

No candy for me, thanks. I just ate.

We posed for a picture and all we got were these crappy, fun-sized Three Musketeers?

I'll put a spell on you. You better believe it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Part of Something

Forgive the decidedly orange theme of the last few posts. I seem to be swept up in fall.

I'd actually been planning an entirely different post for today, but last night was so charmed that I wanted to get it down for posterity.

It started with an impromptu dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant: a family-run place just around the corner, where the food is nothing spectacular, just good, hearty fare with a decent pinch of spice. We're regulars enough here that our favorite server (who's been there for years, and speaks very little English) always follows John's order for enchiladas Michoacanas vegetarianos with "and extra meat, yes?" Sometimes she'll sneak their premium tequila into our margaritas, no extra charge.

Last night the family was celebrating a birthday in the back of the restaurant. We caught up with the owner's son, Saúl, who now runs a successful dogsitting service (and always congratulates us on our orders; he's extremely proud of his mother's recipes). Periodically a hilarious toddler would approach our table, smile, and run away--just to do the whole routine over again a few seconds later.

On the way home we ran into a neighbor, one of the guys of the alley crew--a couple dozen men ranging from their early twenties to late sixties who hang out, play cards, and drink beer every summer night it's not raining too hard. When we first moved in these were challenging dynamics: They sized us up, we did the same, all of us trying to figure out if there were sufficient sympathies there to make for friendly relations. Over time, though, we've become--what to call it?--compatriots, maybe. It's true that there are probably no group dinners in our future. But sometimes we'll join the party for a while. They'll teach me a little Spanish or tease us about riding our bikes so often. And this guy we saw last night . . . he recently admitted he thought our biking was cool, and said if things ever got too loud back there, we should just ask him to keep it down and could consider it done. Last night he was walking his white pitbull Spot, who hates us, so we had a friendly and distant hello and went on our way, smiling and waving as he scolded Spot and just kept saying, "I'm sorry!"

We were home just a few minutes when the doorbell rang. There, with a plate of the cupcakes you see above, was sweet, 9-year-old Priscilla Borja from up the street. "Freshly baked!" she said as she made her offering.

These may seem like everyday acts or small experiences to some, but after a difficult couple of months in the neighborhood, there was something so deeply decent and human in each moment that the evening seemed weirdly bewitched. I think I was overdue for some reminders of the reasons I love where I live.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't try this at home . . .

So it was just a week ago that I enlisted your advice for my organic pumpkin.

Indecisive to the last, I thought I'd go for the best of both worlds . . . by simply carving half and cooking half.

I stewed for a while over whether the horizontal or vertical cut was the way to go, then settled on the vertical. I'd leave the base in tact for stability.

But guess what? The whole thing toppled over anyway! For a brief second I considered stabilizing it with an iron doorstop, and then I figured that's crazy talk. Let's make a big pot of soup.

Here you see the final product. Those of you who warned that a jack-o-lantern pumpkin doesn't make the best eating definitely had a point. I'll admit it took a lot of brown sugar, garam masala, coconut milk, wine, and salt to finally get this to something you might like to eat. But after simmering in the pot for a little while, the soup's a qualifed success (not to mention a voluminous one! There aren't enough plastic containers in the world).

So hats off to Brink for keeping me honest and waste-free. Of course we don't have a jack-o-lantern now, but given the surly teens and the fact that Halloween's on a Friday this year, I'm going to call that a stroke of good luck.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Autumn Dilemma

Ok friends, you've never led me astray before.

This lovely organic pumpkin was gifted to us by John's sister Colin. But we're torn . . .

In our shoes, would you 1) carve it or 2) cook it?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Community Policing

You know when something doesn't feel right? That's how it's been in the neighborhood lately. It's tough to describe, but I'm sure the economy's at least partially to blame. People are doubling and tripling up in residences, moving in family members who can't afford to stay where they are. The sardine effect can't be good for one's sanity, and I understand the need to blow off some steam on occasion.

Just not directly in front of my house, if you please.

Lately we've seen a slew of loitering teens on the block. A couple years ago these were nice little kids; now they're surly, hormonal adolescents with nothing to do but stir up trouble.

Last night, when I came home from work, four bricks were missing from my sad but earnest attempt to landscape the parkway. Where are they now? In the front seat of someone's car after going through a windshield? Waiting to be lobbed through a bay window? Needless to say, it doesn't sit well.

So I dutifully attend our community policing meetings once a month. That's Sergeant Mattson on the right. He's pretty much exactly what you'd ask for in an officer: smart, level-headed, reassuring, as quick to sympathize with victims of society as with victims of crime. He lacks the swagger of most police officials, which makes him aces in my book. Plus he's started calling me by name, and he's going to help me with our latest conundrum: a chronic car horn at 5am, Monday through Friday, from an SUV picking up one of our neighbors. After two straight months, it was time to call for back-up. Nice to have friends in high places, even if you're not keen on everything they represent.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Object Lesson for the New Economy

See this house?

As recently as two months ago, it had a hot-pink door, windows covered with plastic tarps, and fading wood shingles that looked like they might not survive another rain.

For the entire time we've lived around the corner, Marwen--the struggling architect and regular Joe who owns the place--has worked on renovations, little by little, until they took the shape you see here.

The house belonged to his girlfriend's parents, and it was only on condition of its completion that she agreed to move back in. They lived apart for seven years.

During that time, he took in a variety of immigrant handymen willing to work in exchange for free room and board, had a towering tree come down during a microburst and just miss the west wall, and cared for his pet rottweiler Storm, whom he eventually lost to old age (RIP, sweet Storm).

This was the house that no one ever thought we'd see finished. One neighbor used to cruelly joke that he should just tear it down already and call it a day.

But here's the thing: Marwen made improvements only as he could afford them. If he ran out of money, the place sat idle for a while. He didn't take out loans; he didn't run up credit cards. His second floor was full of buckets to catch leaks for longer than most of us would tolerate.

Now, after several coats of paint and a porch he had to replace twice, the place stands pretty regally on its corner. We've even heard the naysayers remark, "Wow, I never thought it would turn out so nice."

Kudos to you, Marwen, for showing that slow and steady can win the day.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Our Lady of the Underpass

About three years ago, after a particularly snowy winter, a salt stain appeared under the Interstate-94 ramp not far from our house. You may have heard about this--it made the national news--because the stain, to many who observed it, looked exactly like the Virgin Mary.

For months, devout believers flocked to the site with prayers and flowers. At one point the City, rattled by safety concerns, painted over the stain, but two intrepid workers from a nearby auto detail came by with a solvent and washed the paint away.

Nowadays, aside from the occasional visitor who pops by to light a candle or leave some artificial flowers (or in our case try to see the image up close for ourselves, at long last, and take a few photos for posterity), the site sits pretty much vacant. That'll be a different story at Christmas and Easter, when the predominantly Polish and Latino Catholics from the area come by to pay their respects.

I have to admit, were I the apparition of the Virgin, I'd choose a slightly more cheerful place to materialize than the grim Illinois interstate system. But that's just me. I have to say it's mighty nice to see such a colorful tableau against the backdrop of that underpass. It almost makes me want to drive more often.

Ok, I take that back.

But I have to hand it to the people responsible for reclaiming that space. Even the graffiti is a slight cut above.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Farewell to Summer Part III: Al Fresco Eats

My woes were premature! We've had such a beautiful week of
late-summer weather that I feel like Chicken Little. No sky is falling yet, good people. In fact nothing is even falling out of the sky, so we've been able to stretch the sleeveless shirts and bocce ball farther than I'd dared to hope.

Still, it doesn't take much to look ahead to the forecast and realize the upper 70s this week will be the lower 60s next (and not so long after that we'll long for the 60s as a reprieve from the 20s). Break out those puffy coats; winter's just a deep breath away.

To honor this last glimpse of summer, I thought I'd celebrate one of my favorite indulgences: eating outside. It doesn't matter if we cook ourselves or pop over to one of our neighborhood spots; al fresco dining is a splendid thing. Never mind the flies and mosquitoes. Never mind the loud music in our alley (which I've realized, if I just hit that tolerance button, is a pretty awesome soundtrack to the meals on our deck). There's nothing better than grabbing a bite as the sun goes down in the distance.

As a final swan song to the season, here's a snapshot of some meals taken right here in the neighborhood, sometimes as close as our very own home. (You'll notice we don't have quite the talent for plating--or medium rare--that some of our local restaurants do).