For Leslie

#tattoo #leslieharpold

Six years ago this week, the world lost a treasure, and I sat at my desk at GSLIS mourning someone I never had the opportunity to really know. In previous years I’ve resolved to be more like Leslie – this year I put that resolution on my body. In her honor, do something unexpectedly awesome for someone in your life today.

About Leslie:


Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

All My Friends

I loved LCD Soundsystem before Sound of Silver, but I don’t know that I have words for the weight of this song hitting me as I drove through the mountains into Virginia in September of 2007.

So many aspects of a life I loved left behind. So many goodbyes. And no better way to do it than with New Order, Tim in the booth, DocD and the symposium crew on the dance floor. I stopped at a hotel two hours out, too tired and blurry-eyed to drive safely, and checked in via chat with a party that I was missing, with friends I’d seen that morning but already missed.

As the sun came up and I merged onto the Beltway, I turned the stereo in our new car way, way up and just let it all wash over me. All the sadness. All the longing. All the uncertainty. All the love.

1124 Thanksgiving Prep


We’re leaving in the very wee hours of the morning to drive to Iowa to spend Thanksgiving with my family and also with the Wadsgreens – so tonight was very much about clearing the fridge, packing the bags, and doing a bit of meal prep since we’re likely to roll into Davenport just in time for dinner.

I would say that my grandparents are getting up there in years, but that would be an understatement. They’re old. My grandma was born in 1918, so her first Thanksgiving would’ve been just after Armistice Day. My grandpa was born two years later – his childhood on a farm in very rural Iowa might’ve looked like this:

1920' ish Iowa
Photo by drivebybiscuits1

This year we’ll have eleven at dinner: the two of us, my grandparents, my parents and my aunt Nancy, Eric, Jenn, Bill, and little Max. Mark will be celebrating with friends in California, but will be home for Christmas. Uncle Tom, Aunt Ann, and the little cousins will be with Ann’s family. Uncle Rich will be in Iowa City. There will be turkey and stuffing and Grandma’s mashed potatoes and butterhorn rolls. We will drink wine out of tiny glasses, and Grandma will fuss over the dishes if we don’t get the dishwasher started before she can get up from the table. It will be very warm in the house. These things never change, though this year I’ll be introducing two new dishes: sweet potatoes with pecans and goat cheese and carrot cake, both from Smitten Kitchen.

Part of the reason I love friend Thanksgivings so much is the lack of codified traditions. We each bring our own things to the table – literally and figuratively – and discard the things that don’t work. I love this. But I also love the traditions. I love the fact that our family recipes – boring and predictable as they can be – are ties to the past, to the years of shrimp cocktail before dinner, of being sandwiched at the dinner table between my aunt and my mom, of sneaking sips of wine after the meal. I argued against having a turkey this year, but I know I’d miss it if it wasn’t on the sideboard along with Mom’s cranberry sauce and the small cut glass salad bowls.

Going home for the holidays is expensive and time consuming – hours in the car, money for pet sitters and expensive tanks of gas and food on the road. Moods run thin, we eat too much, and sleep is compromised by unfamiliar beds. I dread the drive and the stress, and part of me will be relieved when we don’t have to make as long of a trip. At the same time, I treasure the years and years of memories, and look forward to the brief amount of time we’ll have with my family around the table. I feel tremendously blessed.

0526 Roast Pork and Rhubarb

The notes in my cookbook indicate that I made this recipe for dinner with Carl in September of 2005.  While I recall little about the meal itself, I do remember that evening quite clearly.  I was in a weird place emotionally, coming off a dizzying summer of shows and dancing and heartbreak.  I was starting to feel the ground under my feet professionally and intellectually.  Things were about to shift, and I was feeling at loose ends.  After dinner, we laid on the paint-stained hardwood floors and talked and smoked cigarettes, and when he kissed me goodbye, I felt like a tremendous weight was lifted off my shoulders.

That’s one of the reasons I love cooking – and one of the reasons I’ve liked this project so far: that a note written in a cookbook can bring back so vividly the memories of a meal shared with a friend.  I don’t know that this note will have the same kind of effect several years from now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a good dinner.  Shane was a bit put off by the texture and flavor of the rhubarb – when it isn’t used in desserts, rhubarb is tangy and sour – but the pork was flavorful, and I’m kind of blown away by the fact that we roasted pork chops in our toaster oven.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Super Pork Fillet Roasted on Rhubarb from Happy Days with the Naked Chef

pay it forward

Five and a half years ago, I had a week of really terrible luck. While driving to Milwaukee to see Lords of Acid, I got a speeding ticket for ~ $165. My options were to pay on the spot or go to jail – so, of course, I paid. My then-husband was furious, and I remember him barely speaking to me the rest of the way to the show. Upon arriving, I tucked my ID and debit card in my pack of cigarettes, which I tucked into the top of my stocking – something I did fairly regularly, since I’ve never been one to carry a purse. Within five minutes of getting into the venue, the pack had fallen out of my stocking, leaving me with no ID, no debit card, and no cash. My ex continued to be furious with me – and mainly with good reason – though my friends helped me to make the best of the evening.

Less than a week later, driving to Milwaukee for another show, I got another speeding ticket. That’s over $300 in tickets in less than a week – at a time when we were both basically making ends meet, but not much more. I didn’t have any way of paying on the spot, so I was lucky that the cop was called away, and I was able to send in a cashier’s check.

About a week after the second ticket, a small white envelope arrived in the mail containing my ID, debit card, and a note. Someone had found my stuff while cleaning up the venue, smoked the rest of the cigarettes, and mailed my cards back to me with a note explaining as much.

It’s been 5 1/2 years, but I still have that note and envelope somewhere, as I always meant to write the guy and thank him. Instead, I’m hoping that I’m repaying the good karma dealt to me by mailing back the wallet I found this morning on my walk to school.

I’ve had kind of a rough day at work today, and sometimes the littlest gestures of kindness make everything better.

Give me a reason

I have a number of delicious memories associated with this album, not the least of which is the end of the Subversion Halloween party in 2005. Jim used to always end his sets with a Portishead track, and that night it was “Glory Box”. I was alone on the stage at the Highdive, wrapped in plastic, glowing under the blue-white lights. It was a perfect ending to a very, very fun night.


Lying in savasana, my hands weighed down by bags of sand, my eyes covered by a lavender pillow, I remembered vividly an afternoon in Poitiers with O. After kebab sandwiches, we walked to a little park on the grounds of what used to be a manor or a castle. We stood at an overlook point, the wind whipping about us, watching trains leave the station and snake through the valley below. We talked about S, and I remember a deep longing for N at a time when things were the definition of uncertain as he pursued his Camino a few hundred miles across the mountains.

Tonight as we stirred from savasana, Mary told us to breathe in pure oxygen, exhaling anything that didn’t come from love or grace. I don’t know where that memory came from – love or grace or longing or deep sadness – but when the weight was removed from my wrists, I felt that memory lift from my body as well, leaving me at peace.

Friday memory

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I love Third Eye Blind‘s self titled first album. It reminds me vividly of the summer between high school and college, which I can’t believe was 10 years ago (class of ’97, woo!). That was the summer I went to DC with church and hated every minute of it except for the parts where I was hanging out with Adam and James and being disgruntled. That was the summer I went to Vancouver with my family and counted microbuses. That was the summer I really rebelled against my parents for the first time, had my first real kiss, and met my ex.

I have no desire to be 17 again, but it’s sometimes pretty awesome to be able to flash back to an exciting and turbulent time of my life so effortlessly. Thanks, Third Eye Blind.

deja vu

This weekend was awash in deja vu.

Thursday night I drove to Chicago to see Metric at the Metro. I drove home alone through a wicked storm, my ears and heart full of a conversation late at night, driving home from the Nine Inch Nails show a year ago, tired from the end of the semester, from wandering around on Fullerton in clunky boots, from months of wondering what this particular phone call and the conversations to follow would bring. My ears and heart were full of the Camino that night, and of things that I so desperately wanted, and things that would never come to pass. On this night I drove home white-knuckled and quiet.

Because I see and know so many people, I am constantly doing double-takes, making sure the person I see is who I actually think they are. On Saturday I was working at the cafe when my breath caught in my throat at the mis-sight of a customer. She had her back to the counter and was wearing a long skirt, a lace-y, macrame-y sweater, and had her hair clipped up in a messy ponytail. When she turned around, I knew she couldn’t possibly be who I thought she was – she was at least 20 years too old, with graying hair and a darker complexion – but when I waited on her and smelled the familiar sweet and warm vanilla perfume, I found stinging tears in my eyes. “You remind me so much of someone I used to know that it’s freaking me out a little,” I said, lowering my milk pitcher to make the foam for her cappuccino. She just laughed.