Thursday, October 23, 2014

orphaned orchids

What a beautifully odd day!

But I wont start with that. My initial question for you is this-- now that you're older (and you are all older than you were a few years or decades ago), knowing what you know about your habits, fears, strengths and eccentricities, do you ever think about the job you may have been well suited for, but somehow never followed?

When I was twelve and had to fill in the first pages of my autograph book (remember those?), I wrote, in answer to the question -- what do you want to be when you grow up? -- reporter. I was thinking today how, in fact, maybe that's not altogether a bad insight. Possibly wrong, but possibly not so wrong after all, especially if I think expansively about the term.

Alright. Back to the order of the day. It began before breakfast, with the morning shower. I realized that my hair is getting too long. So I asked Ed, even though he had yet to study up on this new for him set of skills -- could you cut my hair please?


He did. I asked for an inch and a half, he took off three and then asked -- was that too much? 
No. Hair grows back. Nearly all that you mess up in life has some lasting effect on someone or something, but hair -- it grows back.

After breakfast (in the front room today!)...


...I went out to do my weekly grocery shopping and, too, I went to Orchids by the Ackers (a place that  -- you guessed it, sells orchids) to re-pot my very huge cymbidium. I'd been a visitor to this nursery for decades. Indeed, the orchids I was bringing in were originally from there and they had already been repotted by them once before, some years back.

I offered them the greater chunk of my cymbidium plants. They really bloom profusely come spring, but I'm not a strong fan of the flower. I don't want many pots of this same bloom: it has a brown and green edging. Quaint, but not as cheerful as, say, pink and yellow. But, the orchid growers declined. Indeed, they told me, they were moving away from selling cymbidium orchids altogether.

Why? Why?!? 
Because no one wants to buy them.

I imagine it has something to do with instant gratification. You wont have it with these plants. You need to do stuff before they bloom for you. Feed them, and more importantly, give them night after night of cold temps. But not really cold temps. Just like between 44 and 48 degrees f. Weeks on end of that.

And so what do I do? Instead of offloading my huge plants (or portions of them), I take home three of their own...


....knowing that I will never be buying cymbidium, or most likely any orchid from them again. First, foster chickens...

("is she talking about us?")

("no, me.")

("how could anyone say bad things about you, oreo?") orchids. When will I learn?

Evening. We go to our local farmers market. I have to say, given the temperatures, the wetness, the lack of crowds, I think all vendors will be glad when the outdoor markets are done for the year (next week).


At home, I scramble cheeper eggs. The hens are all laying again, though with less enthusiasm and less regularity. It's as if they, too, really want the break that winter affords.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


If you weren't a fan of the upper Midwest before, surely after this Fall you've come around -- it's been such a glorious set of weeks!

But this morning, we did finally wake up to a significant frost. The leaves of the geranium outside were cold and brittle. I felt I had let the big potted plants down by leaving them outside.


Most of the spreading nasturtium folded over and gave up.  But on the upside, it was a beautifully foggy morning...


Hoarfrost. Always breathtaking.


...even as the trees still scream Fall!


[Inside the house: Ed, I think we finally caught that mouse!
Is the trap shut?
It is!
Did you shake it to see if it's there?
I can't! You shake it!

What, first crippled chickens and now mice? 
Fine. I'll shake it.   ...I feel it! It's there!
Ed picks up the trap and looks inside. No it's not. Failed again.]

I coax him into running an errand with me. I need his ratty pickup truck...

[Inside the truck: Well, I think the mice have found the cabin of this truck too...
We look at the shredded New Yorker on the floor. Yep.
Check the glove compartment, will you?
Fully expecting a mouse family to come scampering into my lap, I gently open the latch... Nothing.
We'll have to set a trap here too.]

I need his strong arms too,  to help me with the lifting of someone's treadmill off of Craigslist. Goodbye, old stationary bike with broken electricals (hello buyer who picks it up this afternoon anyway), hello new and equally boring equipment for increasing the level of activity around here during the bad weather days.

But this is not a bad weather day. Breakfast bathed in sunshine!


And so long as we're doing things together today, Ed -- how about a walk in our the park just east of us?


We talk about entrepreneurial ideas and ventures. This is my weakness -- I don't think in those terms, ever, even as he spins in his head what ifs and ventures and adventures in ways that boggle certainly my mind. Every once in a while, he nudges me and I try to think broadly and turn small projects into big plans and this is indeed what happened today.  Remember this post next year, as I unveil my small idea turned large by Ed! It will have been shaped by the walk we took today.

In the meantime, since I try hard to write about things that are, today, now, rather than about things that will be, let me end with one more photo from today's walk. Glorious indeed!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

in the matter of hair

When a topic comes up in three different ways in the comments to your previous post, you know you have to address it head on. Or more accurately -- on the head. My topic for today is, therefore, hair.

There was a time when hair styles were firmly drawn. You remember: guys got haircuts before visiting home, otherwise there'd be trouble.  Oh, but those years have passed! I can't think who, except perhaps the military would even care about the length of your hair these days. (It's especially common in Europe to see exquisitely attired men with pony tails -- so devilishly good looking and completely blending in with the rest.) Hair simply doesn't matter any more.

Unless you're me and you meet an Ed. It's shocking how two people may have completely divergent approaches to an issue that is so small!

First, the background: Ed has never in his entire life taken a razor to his face. Ever. Electric or otherwise. When I met him, he told me he was on a monthly schedule to have his beard trimmed at the cheapest place in town. And he was on a bimonthly schedule to have his hair trimmed. At the same cheap shop in a strip mall.

Sometimes, he would come out looking like Harpo. Other times, he'd walk away with a mullet. You never knew. It all depended who cut his hair and believe me, in those cheapo places, a good cutter did not linger. The tips of a buck max just don't tally up to a living wage.

I intervened. Equipped with a razor and scissors, I became a one person hair salon. But ironically, with the disappearance of the trips to the hair cutter, Ed lost interest in regularity, so that my periodic question -- Can I trim your beard please? -- is usually met with not today, gorgeous.

Ah, but on our anniversary, I could whip out the tools of the trade and, as soon as he came back from the DMV, set him down and trim away. At least the beard. No, I never do a clean shave. That would go against the image of an unkempt man. Still, for a day or two after, I get to admire his face. At all other times, it hides itself behind a cloak of Santa hair.

There is a flip side to this topic -- my hair. Ed met me when I was especially tight on money. Divorce, debt, new home to put in order -- the usual. So much so, that in order to travel (for there shall always be travel), I took on extra work in the evenings and weekends selling French body lotions at l'Occitane, just to boost my spending power. But despite this tightness in my budget, I shocked Ed by admitting that every six weeks I went to a hair cut place where Jason, that superb mixer of wonderful hair dyes would apply miraculous stuff to my hair and I would walk away a golden brunette -- sort of what I had on my head when I was maybe the age of six. (Did you know that your best color was, in fact, at around that age?) And I paid close to $150 for this (with cut). I believed in Jason. I loved his transformative magic.

$150??? -- Ed was dumbfounded. I did not admit that this was before the tip, though it did include hair product. Because yes, Jason always talked me into shampoos and conditioners that purported to be absolutely essential to my well being. Even though I knew the hype (selling French creams at l'Occitane teaches you a few things), I could not say no to Jason.

But over time, as I embarked on a path toward minimal spending and maximum travel, the stupidity of this expense became evident. Oh, sure -- they tell you that looking younger (with painted hair) is really something that YOU want for YOURSELF. So that even if the man in your life doesn't care, it's YOU who is enjoying the delightfully younger looking self.

It took me a few years to understand that I didn't care either. Or at least that I cared at such a low level that practically anything was a better investment than a hair session with Jason. So I dropped the hair color and eventually the hair cuts. Well, almost dropped them: I still go twice a year for a trim -- not quite to the cheapest place in town, but I'm now in the $40 range and even so, Ed has been looking through youtubes on how to cut a woman's hair. The other day he asked -- what do you want, a bob or a layered look?

In other news -- the day got off to a dazzling start. Breakfast in the sunroom!


Cheepers, clamoring for seed treats!


And then we just sort of lost it. It turned cold, cloudy, uninviting. Too, Oreo is still up to his old tricks, Ed is still distressed about the rooster's imminent departure and the chicken mama has yet to shop up to take him away. And neither of us wants to call her.

So we're stuck, waiting, I suppose for the frost that has yet to come. Ed is thinking about coop designs (we need a bigger one for the winter), I'm waiting to hear about my writing. Stuck.


But not unhappy. No, not unhappy!


Monday, October 20, 2014


First, sunrise, beautifully visible now from our upstairs window.


Then, a handful of different views of the farmhouse. Not your usual straight up, from the courtyard photos. This next one is from the road --  the house stands mysterious, nearly invisible, a little scruffy looking, with an unfinished front entrance (because we can't decide if and how to finish it) that you can't even see and that no one uses except the occasional person who does not put two and two together well. (There is no path, just untrampled weeds, crumbling steps, not much of a doorframe.)


Then the real deal -- the path to the entrance we all use and love, with morning sun coming in strong from the east.


And one more view -- the more standard one, from the porch, looking out, just to show off this magnificent crab apple that is beautiful in every season.


Okay, now a story for you:

It's an old story by now -- and that in itself is remarkable: that the story is old, dated, as in  -- time has passed, it's ancient! And still, I want to retell it, put down a fresh version of it. So that I can smile again and again at the quirky way life sweeps you along into the untried, the new, the weird and unpredictable.

Roll back nine years. It's Fall and my then husband and I are ending, by mutual agreement, for the most part a pretty darn good chapter in our lives -- our marriage. Tiding up the details, waiting for the court proceeding to put a rubber stamp on the split that we both have fashioned for ourselves.

I don't want a new relationship. I'm not looking for a replacement. Not even a partner in life. But I want company. I want to meet people. If that means I have to date, I'll date. I go on

A few days later I get an email from Ed. Something like this -- well, I have to give you credit for describing what you want in a guy. It's certainly not the usual "walk into the sunset together." Congratulations for being offbeat. I should say that honestly, we have nothing in common, so I'm not writing to suggest a "date," I just want to say congratulations.

After several emails back and forth -- mine, written from Vienna, where I'm meeting my daughter for a few days (here I am, in a Viennese funky jewelry shop, thinking whether I should respond to this guy's message...)

Vienna Oct 05 087

And I finally do respond to him, asking for a clarification as to why he thinks we have nothing in common. (He found Ocean, he knows my passions; he writes back --  you like travel to the great cities of Europe, you're urban, wordy, food focused.) I come back from Vienna. We decide to meet up. He suggests an apple orchard. He sends a very considerate email explaining where we would go and who his friends are, in case I am uneasy about taking off with a stranger. It hadn't struck me that I should be uneasy.

On October 20, 2005, he drives up to my new apartment home and as I come downstairs, I have my first glimpse of him: a tall guy, pacing the railroad tracks that run to the side of the building. His car is parked nearby. What a car! A Chevy Geo. Just about the cheapest on the market. Ancient and rusty, red, with a few pink stripes on one side. My first thought is -- my, he's tall and my second thought is -- what kind of a guy drives a junky car with pink stripes on it? It piques my interest. All men I know like powerful, nice looking cars.

From that day on, we do nearly everything together.

That was, of course, to the day, nine years ago. In so many ways, Ed's first email was spot on: my kids, my travel, my writing -- they drive my life. They surely are not his defining interests (though to give him credit, he is really fond of my daughters and they are fond of him). In fact, if we were to draw up the top ten things that we look for in a day, there would probably be no overlap.

And yet. At the core, we are so very solid. Different, YES! So much so that I'm sure his friends stop by just to take a look, because they can't believe it: it doesn't fit! Many -- mine, his -- scratch their head in disbelief. And some, who stuck around to see this thing unfold, come to see this simple truth: it is, in fact, possible to figure out how to navigate the waters of the "no overlap." For both of us, they are insanely happy waters, calm waters, sparkling bright waters. (Funny choice of words here, as he loves sailing and I get sea sick on anything that sways, including swings and most certainly sailboats.)

So on this beautiful October day, I'm thinking back to nine years ago and the apple orchard and my invitation afterwards to come up and have a glass of wine, not thinking that there could be someone out there who hates wine.

Madison Oct 05 177

Hi Ed.

Loire Dec 05 013
(My first photo of Ed, taken six weeks after we first met: we're on our first trip together. I'm dismayed to see him read rather than eat lunch in a cafe; go ahead, you eat - he tells me and takes out his book; these days, we both will, quite often, take something to read to cafes or restaurants. We don't need private time. We have a lot of it at the farmette.)

And now it's Monday, October 20, but 2014. This day happens to also be his birthday (something that I learned much later, as he refuses to recognize the significance of it) and since Ed likes to postpone boring chores, such as renewing your driver's license before it expires, he has waited until today (the day of expiry) to head out to our Dept of Motor Vehicles. That's a half day event (long lines) and so right after breakfast...


... off he goes, while I indulge in a walk along my favorite rural roads.

(the market farmers have cleared the fields to the east of us)

All the way to the Nature Conservancy Trail...


....and back.


And in the evening, as the brilliant last light of the day makes jewels of every remaining bloom at the farmette...



....we head out to our local Italian Place, where we sit side by side at a booth, in the way that we like and the food  (pizza!) is just fine but more importantly, the evening is as we like it: the two of us, kind of weirdly matched, though you wouldn't have guessed it. Not until that day at the orchard, nine years ago today.

(dinner tonight; earrings from  the little shop in Vienna nine years back)

Sunday, October 19, 2014


It's been a while since Ed and I have hiked. My travels, summer mosquitoes, spring sore back issues, and farmette restoration -- all these have kept us off the trails. In fact, the last longer hike together was, to the best of my recollection, the one we took into the canyon in central Turkey. The one where the pack of wild dogs attacked us.

And so it was especially poignant to head out today. After breakfast of course.


And after a secret cuddle with Oreo.


Not too far, south of where we are, there is a segment of the Ice Age Trail that has been a reliable hiking path for us. And while working on prairie restoration in that area during my absence, Ed discovered another segment of the trail
 and so this was our destination. It's not a particularly arduous hike -- but perfect for a moderate Fall afternoon.


Barking dogs at the trail head notwithstanding. (It brought back memories.)


And hunters: forgot about those. I left my blaze orange vest  at home. Oops. (This hunter was after squirrels. You can see in his pocket the tail of success...)


It's good to be walking these Wisconsin hills again. They are such familiar trails for me! Even new segments  aren't really new: I know this terrain -- the oaks, birches, the occasional white white pine or maple -- they repeat themselves in ever beautiful patterns. Novel, but familiar. With the glimpse of the farmlands beyond, peaking through, now that the leaf cover is nearly gone.





Afterwards, Ed suggests a beer in nearby Paoli. This is my guy, feeling himself to be thoroughly entrenched in our life in the Midwest. After all, it's Sunday afternoon, the Packer game is on, people head to the local bar. Of course, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times he and I have grabbed a beer at one of our local bars. And you could not get us excited by a football game ever.
And yet, he sips his amber ale and I sip my spotted cow and eventually he strikes up a conversation with a long-haired gentleman to his right.  The guy is there with his wife and they both bear symbols of Packer devotion. They've come to catch the tail end of a Packer win. And to put down a few dollars down for a chance at the prizes (packages of meat!) that are being given out at the bar.


Did you ever hit the jackpot here? Ed wants to know. (Ed would not eat red meat if you paid him.)
Oh sure. Every now and then we win the meat. There are cheeses too. And then cash prizes.
Is it legal? Ed asks, because he is amused at all instances where the law attempts to set a moral standard and fails to do so.
I don't know, but every bar does it! The guy knows darn well we're not from this particular village, so he throws in -- even in Madison!
Ed grins as the guy's luck percolates again to a win -- of four fat sausages and some ground beef patties.

We stop by the Chicken Store across the street. Blasted place. It's what caused me to day dream about raising chickens in the first place. But I know they're not in favor of keeping mean roosters, so I feed the owners (and various sundry people who come and hang out there) stories about Oreo attacks. Just as I catch their sympathy, Ed describes how much Oreo adores being held and coddled by him, to the point of purring as he, Ed, rubs the rooster's little red temples and the ladies at the store melt and say awwww... and I pull Ed away before he has them purring equally loudly at his tales of chicken bonding.

In the evening, my girl comes over with her husband for a spaghetti dinner.


Last time I was pregnant was exactly thirty years ago, almost to the week tracking my older daughter's current pregnancy (she is due in January and, too, my youngest was born in January). But you know, we live in such different times that I'm in no position to dig into my own reservoir of lessons and recollections. I watch these guys and I learn from them.
Hey, good to see you! -- I say when they come in. Now, could you show me what I'm doing wrong with my iPhone? It's refusing to.... (etc.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

blast of the real thing

Oh, that was a cold walk! I must have somehow assumed that it would always stay near sixty. Not summer? Fine. Fall. Sixty. And so after breakfast...


... I set out with my daughter to the market.
Not so fast -- she reminds me. She's starting to carry a nice little load in her belly.


Oh, but it's cold! Windy, cloudy, cold. Forties are not sixties. Still, we slow down. And I make that mental adjustment: dress warmly henceforth!

At the market now. I have to stock up on maple syrup for Ed's pancakes for the winter and, as always, oyster mushrooms.

These are the last markets of the year. We don't have year round weather for it. We're not Nice or even Brittany. We're northern types.


Tonight, there's threat of frost again. I take a gamble with most plants, but bring in the super sensitive ones.

And Ed and I play tennis. Let me tell you how gripping these games are -- they're not just about tennis. They're our moment of no distraction, of the passing of time, of trying to improve, even as much within you resists the challenge, of patience, of unity of purpose. In other words -- lots of good stuff, just from hitting that well worn set of balls, back and forth, back and forth, as we move closer to dusk.


We come back and I toss the oyster mushroom, the home grown garlic, the cheeper eggs into the frying pan for a typical farmette supper. The last of the garden tomatoes go into the salad. We've been warned. We're ready for the frost.


Friday, October 17, 2014


Ed can't let go of his rooster, I can't let go of my writing project.

Here he is, taunting me with the (alleged) sweetness of Oreo (who is yet to be picked up by the chicken mama).


At the same time that he quietly places the scrappy sleeping bag by the door, so that I can exit the house without fear.

(Exiting the house -- how Fall-ish the pathway looks right now! Like a steamy jungle of yellowing flora...)


(...ah, Butter has spotted me; here she comes!)


Well, I understand. For him, it's Oreo. Me, I'm attached to my keyboard and my Word text.  so that after a lovely breakfast in the sun room, though without the sun (it was there when I started to set the table, I swear it was!)...


...and after a lovely walk in the park just up the road -- that same park that is our go to spot for cross country skiing...


...where the sun did come out, if fleetingly...







...after all that, I sit down and rewrite three separate paragraphs, even though I had already sent this thing off and should be putting my mind to the next project. I have lived with my text for so long (eight years), that it is forever drawing me in. Forcing me to reconsider sentence choices, vignette inclusions, on and on, until the day I die.

Well, maybe not that long.