Tuesday, November 25, 2014

an outing and a quiet day

In the middle of the night, a story idea comes to me. I must remember it for tomorrow -- I tell myself. But I don't trust my memory from these wakeful hours of the night and so I take out my computer and start typing. And I continue for many hours.

Isie boy has been fetched and brought back to the farmhouse and he is happy to be on the big bed with the very puffy quilt. The night is quiet.

Until I hear the telltale sound of mouse feet downstairs.

Ed goes down to check -- the traps are now closed but empty. He resets them. In a few minutes, the noise is there again. This time I go down and sure enough -- we have ourselves two mice tonight! Surely we are now reaching for the last cousins of this very extended family!

We wake up to cold again. The snow outside is pretty, but not heavy enough to allow for skiing. Honestly, it is a perfect day to stay home and work on my essay ideas.

But I do have one task for today and it is a wonderful one: after breakfast with Ed...


...I go with my daughter to pick up a Christmas tree for her home. I wont be here to assist with the trimming, but at least I can keep to the tradition of helping her select one for this holiday that she loves so much.


As the tree is being tied to the roof of the car, I notice, to my dismay, that I have the two traps with the two mice still in the car. I was to release them in the fields. Predictably, I forgot.

Our next stop is at Clasen's Bakery -- the place of the wonderful chocolate covered gingerbread that truly does remind me of similar sweet treats in Poland (the bakery is German).



For a minute I entertain the thought of releasing the two mice just outside. While I'm remembering them. After all, there surely must be a litter of crumbs from the bakery. My saner side prevails. If a mouse slipped inside, what chaos it would bring to this world of candies, breads and cookies!

I leave my daughter with her tree and drive back to the countryside. Out you go, micies! Into the fields and through the woods.

The farmhouse is quiet today. Guests gone, cheepers stubbornly hiding in the barn. I don't see a single one the whole day.


I work on my essay, I make changes to my manuscript. Ed tells me -- why would you want to travel when you look so happy doing just this?
I have no explanation. For now I stay with the sweet clicking sound of my little laptop, not minding the cold, or the light cover of snow, or the quickly darkening skies outside.

Monday, November 24, 2014


My visiting friends areheading north and they know to leave the farmette before the big storm system brings flurries and winds to this part of Wisconsin.

We do eat a leisurely breakfast! Of course we do!


And because it is (initially!) a balmy 39F/4C outside, the cheepers come up to the farmhouse, as if to prove their strength, even in these late November days.



But as our Florida visitors pull away, the winds pick up and the snow showers begin. Everything freezes rapidly.


The cheepers are caught off guard. They trot into the garage and wait.

And wait.

I'm thinking -- this is not good. They're far from their roost, their food, their water. I tell Ed to pick up Oreo (and he happily obliges!)...


...while I hustle the hens back to the barn. But they will have none of it. Snow on the ground? Nope, we're not moving.

And the snow picks up and the landscape is transformed and the brood looks on.

I retreat to the farmhouse. Ed brings Isie boy over from the sheep shed. (The cat has been in hiding since Karma, the dog came to visit. )


The cat doesn't last. He is suspicious, distrustful. He hides under the bed, then begs to be let out so that he can go back to the sheep shed.

In the meantime, I worry about the cheepers. The snow is mounting. I try to brush a path for them to follow. No. They stay in the garage.

At dusk, End and I make our way to them. We figure that if they doze off there, we can pick them up and carry them to the coop.

But they're gone! I have visions of shreds of feather lining the garage floor, but in fact,  they're much smarter and braver than I would have thought. Sometime in the thick of the snow shower, they made their way, hugging the least snowed in surfaces, all the way to the coop.

Good night cheepers. So long to our Florida gang. Hello cold weather again. 


Sunday, November 23, 2014


The less said about a day where it rains nonstop from morning 'til night the better. Although my friend who is visiting with her husband and their dog, did point out that the noise of water dripping against some parapet or other is rather charming. That's a half full cup if ever I saw one!

We had breakfast together, all of us. They know the ropes. We eat like a team. Weird habit of mine -- can't leave people to their own morning devices!


And then, if you can believe it, I retreat into my world of rewriting as I had this exercise of reworking the "ten first pages" of my manuscript and the assignment needed to be completed by tonight.

(I do take a break to chat to my friends and, as well, to the cheepers who are delighted (initially, before it started raining) to find that the grown had thawed and they could trudge up to the farmhouse again without getting bits of snow on their yellow claws.)


So picture this: you are a couple, traveling hundreds of miles from sunny Florida, you arrive to a bleak November landscape where it rains and feels cold all at the same time, and then your host tells you "breakfast is being served" after which she loses herself behind a computer screen. Nice! Well, they're comfortable at the farmhouse. For this I am grateful.


I do come out of my cocoon to fix dinner for tonight -- a Sunday dinner that, as usual, includes my older girl and her husband.


Forgive this short post. What I do not want to do is spend even more time behind my computer as the rare and exquisite chance to be with the people who are here, now, at the farmhouse passes me by.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

like old times...

Today it was our turn to spiff up the farmhouse. It's a major cleaning job (made major by the fact that we haven't done it in several weeks) and I am super glad to have some help from my co-conspirators.

(I must admit I was surprised; Isie boy almost never enters the bathroom)

Note what a tremendous view we have from the toilet! Visitors from urban places always draw the curtain. They miss out on an opportunity for a reflective moment...


Okay, I get the seal of approval!


But breakfast is very very late again.


Though here's a pleasant weather fact: we jumped into the low forties (F) today!

Consequently, yes, you guessed it, the cheepers stepped out!


At first, I thought they'd merely hover near the sheep shed. I brought them stale bread and seeds and we chatted for a while. Scotch let me know that whatever bothered her yesterday was history.


But when I returned to the farmhouse, I noticed that the cheepers were on parade! Their first port of call -- the garage.


And soon after, they are at our front door. Hey, cheeper, step aside! I just bought a new welcome mat! You're not exactly the cleanest bird around!


Still, it felt like old times -- the cheepers ringing our sensor bell again and again, waiting, scratching and eventually settling for a nap under the bushes.

And speaking of old times, one reason to feel delightfully happy is that friends drove up today, all the way from Florida! You may remember them from Ocean -- Diane has traveled with me (sometimes with spouse, sometimes without) more than anyone else (family and Ed excluded). Too, you'll remember them from previous visits to the farmette. They come, as always, with their sweet faced Karma.


(Though I bet Karma doesn't do such a good job cleaning the toilet as Isie boy!)

My friends used to live in the Twin Cities, but that's in the past tense as well. They've gone south, as have all my good pals from days of yore -- lulled by the balmy winds and year round shorts weather. I remain rooted to the seasons, to the Midwest, to the farmette.

We do what we always seem to do the times we come together: we open a bottle of rose and let the evening unfold.

Friday, November 21, 2014


You can try for a smooth sail, for a clean day, a lovely day, a move-forward-with-your-projects day, but in the end, you have to be prepared to step back into the demands of regular old life, which always gives you plenty of mixups and puzzlers and annoying little rigamaroles and whosiewhatsies to deal with.


First thing to note -- bring out the whistles and confetti! We caught another (no.11) mouse! This one is as tubby as they come, leading me to ask if it is maybe a rat. (It's not.) Hurrah! We had had a lull in our captures and I worried that they were all outsmarting us now. Not so. We're still in business.

Then, on the amusing rather than annoying side of things, there was the sudden need to give Ed a haircut. I'd been offering, he'd been declining and I've been secretly happy, as I like the wild long hair that never behaves and that he allowes me sometimes to untangle with my hairbrush. But today, before he left for his techie meetings, he finally asked for a trim and so here he is, trimmed and buffed, at breakfast:


A hurried breakfast, after a hurried trim (you can tell it was very lawn-mowerish in the execution). Hurry, hurry. You can imagine how much I like THAT approach to any day!

Ed then goes off to his day long meeting of the mechanically inclined and I begin my activities with a visit to the cheeper hangout. It's gorgeously sunny and not too cold --  a decent 20F/-7C maybe -- and so they are out of the barn, tentatively surveying the landscape. Not too far from shelter, in case, just in case the heavens come down.

Worrying that perhaps any laid eggs would freeze with a whole series of single digit F lows, Ed came up with the clever idea of weaving a pipe warmer under the wood shavings in the coop. It doesn't emit that much heat and has no dangers associated with it. Indeed, it did raise the temps a few degrees inside. Very clever.

But as I chatted to the cheepers...


...and cleaned their coop, I saw to my great horror that one of the eggs in the roost was destroyed (another was fine). Crashed into smithereens. And truly, I am not imagining it -- Scotch, the layer of said egg (hers are the only brown ones) was to the side of the barn, wailing. I mean, really wailing.

Now, Scotch is our vocal girl. She jabbers and makes sounds and we love this about her! Always has something clever (if indecipherable) to say! But a wail?!

So I pull out the warming band that Ed had installed, fearing that maybe someone (an intruder? or worse -- one of the brood?) mistook this egg for something you should eat, it being nice and warm and special, or maybe they were trying to nuzzle the warm chord and accidentally crunched the egg -- whatever the explanation, my impulse was to take out what had just been put in.

And then I left to do ten days' worth of grocery shopping, which was tremendously expensive and tiresome because I never make a grocery list and I can only think in terms of seven days in advance and we're talking about ten here.

I was very glad to return to the farmette.


Though I can't say that it was smooth sailing thereafter. I went back to my big manuscript to think deeply about the first ten pages. You know the prevailing wisdom: you need to write the perfect first ten to crack and enter the refined world of published authors. So I studied. And considered further repairs.  I changed a comma or two. I have reworked these initial sentences so much over the years that I cannot see beyond the shadows the letters make on the screen before me.

Evening comes. (It always does, doesn't it?) The mouse trap is set again, the cheepers are tucked  in the coop. Supper dishes are put away, a glass of wine still lingers on my computer table. Time to write an Ocean post.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


No, really, I have not become a chicken farmer! (For one thing, that would be one tough job: working 'round the clock to make many chickens happy.) But my visual orbit remains small and without question, the most colorful, playful, indeed social minutes are going to be ones I spend looking in on our foursome.

I am again the one who opens the coop in the morning. (Wait a minute, Ed! Is this becoming a pattern??)


It's cold, but we know how relative it all is out there. 15F/-9C feels a lot friendlier than what's coming tonight, for example.

In any case, the brood steps out and I can tell they, too, feel like the day is going to do them the favor of producing some warmer moments!


Well okay! I like the sunshine too!


It becomes a rather irregular day for us: both Ed and I lose ourselves in our various projects and before you know it, it's after 11 and we have yet to eat breakfast! That is a marker of a good day -- when we are that distracted!


And the afternoon is no different. I revisit not one, but four separate writing projects, all in various stages of completion. I am really full of words all day long.

When the sensor bell rings, announcing someone at the front door, I almost cannot believe my eyes! Two of the hens have made it all the way across our frozen paths, recalling the many happy treats they used to get from me here at the farmhouse in warmer times.

I remind them that it's barely 20F/-7C outside, but they do not seem to mind today. It's the sunshine I tell you!


I usher them back to the barn area, where the others are tentatively poking about.

And they all hang out by the sheep shed and it all seems so retro, so "of another era!"


(I choose not to tell them that tonight will be the coldest yet. Let's just enjoy this afternoon of sunshine and great hope for a better future!)

We are so distracted today, that I put up my hand and select this evening as the one this week when I do not cook dinner. Take out pizza may not sound terrifically exciting to you, but with a homemade salad (we're getting Wisconsin winter spinach now and it is sublime!), it really is a fantastic meal. And a good cap to a full day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

in its grip

The Arctic blast continues its grip on our state. I know the rest of the country is suffering as well, but I just want to note that yesterday, the lowest reported temperatures in the continental US were in Wisconsin. I feel this gives me credibility here, on Ocean as I continue to take note of the cold.

There was a two part reprieve today: first, in the morning, we climbed, for a precious few hours, right into the twenties F. Who would have thought just a few weeks ago that this would be cause for celebration?! We always want to do just a little better than where we are right now and our "right now" is so poor that any incremental upswing is going to be well regarded.

And so when I went to let the cheepers out, I felt like winter was my friend again.

Breakfast was joyful, but then it always is that.


And shortly after, we got our second pleasant surprise -- a set of hours with sunshine.


Enough to bring the cheepers out again. Well, only the hens. Oreo was not cool with the  fact that the barn roof kept dripping chunks of snow and water onto the path right by the entrance.


I think Ed and I will have to come up with something clever to keep the snows from sliding off right on top of a cheeper when the storms pile heavier stuff onto the barn roof.

There is never a dull moment with cheepers.

My work progresses. These November days offer a last taste of a very gentle period in my life and though it leads to Ocean posts that seem a bit like a stream of water, slowly meandering along an ever flat landscape, I can't help loving the pace. By contrast, December will be a blur, January -- full of novelty. But right now, I am the small leaf floating with the current of that stream and everything, even the humble views before me, of emptied fields and naked trees are sheer magic.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the way things work

It was a brutal night. The temps hit the single digits (that would be minus teens in Celsius). I imagined frozen chicken thighs and wings in the coop and I nudged Ed several times at night to remind him that it was probably a really tough night for our cheepers. (We go back and forth on whether to get them a small radiant heating unit. I think we'll break down if this January repeats last year's cycle of bitter cold.)

The sun broke the horizon just after 7 a.m. and I volunteered to free the birds.



For once they were not clamoring by the door. No wonder. Their bodies generate good heat when they are up in the roost together. The three girls upped the thermometer there by ten degrees -- all the way to a nearly tropical 19 F/-7C for the night.

But, they came down slowly and once again I felt grateful that Ed hadn't ripped the crumbling barn out the year he moved to the farmette. The cheepers are fairly protected from the wind in nooks and corners of the old structure.

Breakfast is utterly brilliant. It's always so sublime to have sunshine on your table on a cold winter's day!


And then I sit down (figure of speech there -- I actually stand at my stand-up addition to the table) to take stock. I have very many projects that are just getting hatched and of course that is both exciting and energizing, but the way things work in these fields where there are many players and few of them with satisfactory outcomes (I'm thinking: writers, or very serious amateur photographers) is that you can leave too much of it to the stars and before you know it, you're sitting on your hands and puzzling over why nothing came of any of them.

What to do?

My first response nearly always is to get organized. To set up record keeping for future tax issues that will surely emerge whether or not I make a single other dollar with this stuff. To clean out my Word files (I know, so "important," right? Like cleaning your desk when you're a kid -- it makes you feel like you accomplished something even as you've accomplished nothing at all). And finally to organize in my head what the next steps should be.

Subject to change.

Of course.

I then sit down and write a draft of a children's story just because I have never done that before and I wanted to see what it would be like.

(Admission: great fun!)

And by now it's afternoon and it is still beastly cold, though the thermometer says something inspiring like 15F/-9C and I look up from the kitchen table (you surely don't think I use the standing desk all day long?!) and what do I see? A red comb way in the distance! A cheeper is standing in the barn doorway!

I'm out like a flash. With bread bits and seeds in my hand and a big grin on my face, like a mom who is happy that her kids are finally getting some Vitamin D from the winter sun (I doubt the cheepers get or need vitamin D from the sun, but you see my point).

I chat them up and slowly, tentatively, they all try to step out for a bit, one clawed foot at a time.



But only Butter has the utter audacity to strut all the way to the sheep shed door. I fling it open and ask Ed -- do you have anything, anything to give her for her efforts? 
Just cat food...
Forget it. Let me tell you right now that there isn't a cat food on the market that doesn't have some bits of chicken in it.


For a minute, Butter felt the warm air coming from the sheep shed, but then she recalled her loyalties and trudged back to the barn.

It was good to see them all enjoy a touch of sunshine! The farmette land will be theirs again, I can see spring already on their horizon!

Though the way things work with this polar vortex is that we have another bitter night ahead of us. Even as I know our cheepers will survive. They've got it in them! I can tell!

Monday, November 17, 2014


Ocean readers are an endless source of clever ideas and this morning I woke up to another one, coming at me all the way from Australia.

And so early in the day, I go out for just a breath of crispy cold air...


(some birds appear not to mind the snow that much)

... bracing enough to make me just so happy to be sitting down to a warm breakfast,


... and we talk about the chickens and how damn cold it must be in the barn (our outdoor thermometer is registering 10 F, or -12 C). We listen to the winds pick up outside and instinctively, I button up my super warm sweater -- maybe you knitting buffs will remember it? Purchased in June, on the Isle of Islay. Here it is:


... and after tidying up (can you work surrounded by clutter? I cannot), I sit down and explore a website suggested by a commenter --  redbubble.com, where selling your art is easy breezy. Well, perhaps not that breezy. It takes me many hours to understand my photo editing software (Lightroom5) enough to be able to export stuff to another website and then more hours to understand the little details of how redbubble works. But I did it. With only a little bit of help from YouTube and Ed. You can find me there by typing in my name.

I have to say, I am not a masterful photographer. I say this in my profile on that redbubble website: I am merely a very serious amateur. There was a time when Ed urged me to sell an occasional photo and if you go back far enough on Ocean, you'll see remaining tags on photos -- tags that right now lead to nowhere, but once led to my old website where I did make a good effort to sell pictures. And I did sell a few, every now and then, but when you do anything every now and then, you just don't get very good at it and after a while, the effort was so huge and the gain so small that I closed shop.

If I'm back in business again, it's only because I no longer have to be involved in the sale itself. And you should know that I'm not really looking to make money off of anything that I do here (Ed, quit cringing -- I am who I am). It's a question of having a presence and frankly, it's the backdrop to what I really love most of all -- writing. My photos help my writing on a daily basis and I hope will keep on doing that in years to come. And in the meantime, if you do want anything (for whatever whimsical reason) that appears here on Ocean, send me an email and with one click, I can fly it off to redbubble and they'll take over the transacting of it.

In the meantime, you should know that I did pick out what I think are the best 13 cheeper photos (or at least they're my favorites) and I put them into a calendar form. Here's a sample page:


Purchase it, or simply enjoy looking at the whole thing here. (I also posted 15 individual photos of cheepers which people can purchase in a number of clever and somewhat goofy shapes, sizes, forms, etc.)

In other news, I have a mouse update for you: the masterfully constructed appendage to the trap flew off as Ed carried it (after a release) on his motorcycle and so for the time being, we are without a effective trap. But, we do have an old, unmodified one. Last night we loaded it and then went upstairs to bed and immediately heard mouse noises from below. Ed ran down, but it was too late. He told me the mouse had gone inside and eaten the treat and left. He reloaded it for God knows what reason. We must be wanting to feed the entire local mouse family, down to the most distant relative.

This morning, Ed went down at dawn to release the cheepers and of course, found the trap to be  again missing the cracker. With no mouse inside.

Later, when I finally toddle down to breakfast, I look halfheartedly at the trap and lo! There is a mouse! Call her Ms. Clueless. Why enter an empty trap? Or is it that she felt bad that she had gone in, eaten the treats and not paid her dues? Sort of like the guy who turns himself in for a crime, even as the police can't quite catch him?

So, we have mouse number 10, bravely released by Ed, off his motorcycle again. How anyone can ride 55 mph in an open motorcycle in this weather is beyond me. Ed and I are very different.

Late in the afternoon, I walk over to the barn...


... to visit with the cheepers. There is a band of sunlight pushing in through the narrow doorway and they are huddled in it, looking out as if so wanting to venture forth but not daring to do so. I sprinkle seeds and pour some more hot water into their bowl and say comforting words.


And I thank them for "A Year of Chickens." It's their images that I played with all morning long and I'm hoping they will make it to at least one home of someone who will find beauty in their quirky cheeperish manners and habits.