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.