Friday, December 19, 2014


A very long time ago, I fell in love with the choral Christmas music from Kings College, Clare College and, too St. John's -- all from Cambridge. There is one song from Kings that I do think should guide us through the post today.

(Title: In the Bleak Midwinter)

Honestly, I wanted to gather the cheepers in my arms this morning and reassure them -- this too, this cloud-filled period in your lives, it shall pass, my dear ones! But they're not huggable. Unlike so many chickens that modern folk get for their back yards, these guys are spooked and they're forever chasing us adoringly (or, in search of food, the cynic would say), only to retreat if they get too close.

I kept the lights on in the farmhouse all day long.


From breakfast...



It took a mighty large set of hours to complete my visa application (remember? I mentioned it yesterday) -- all ten documents! -- but I pushed myself and by early afternoon I was ready to set out (to mail the blasted set of papers).

(Do you have the music playing?!)


Much later, I drop in on my daughter to help her with one thing or another. It is hard to leave. Watching the cats play with ribbon is absolutely delightful!


And of course, watching her, especially as she moves to show me something on the tree is riveting! (As of today, three weeks short of delivery, her baby becomes "full term.")


At the farmette, I get the coop ready for the night. I fill the cheeper dishes so they'll have food when they wake in the morning. The very last cheeper act is one that I save for Ed. Most nights, our girls prefer to fly up on the fence and fall asleep there. Ed comes with a flashlight, scoops them up and nudges them up into their bed and breakfast.


When they're groggy with sleep, the hens do not protest the human touch. Their dreams (of worms? of digging up my garden come spring?) have carried them elsewhere, to a place without fear.

It is a good way to end the day -- for them, for us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


I was so dismayed at seeing a gray sky again today that I decided I needed to sign up for yoga to clear my head of grumpy thoughts about the meteorological conditions out there.

Perhaps you remember that not too long ago, I was a yoga fanatic. And like all phases and crazy devotions, the rigid adherence to a regular yoga schedule ended one day, just like that. It was an intended temporary lull but it turned into a permanent abstinence.

Right now, it's not the exercise I miss, but it's the twisting and turning in weird ways which seems to really help put me in good stead to face whatever skies I wake up to. In other words, the theory is: I will resume yoga and you will stop having to listen to my complaints about the dreary weather. That's the theory.

There are issues to confront: I have been with a frozen shoulder (for the second time in recent years, so I know the drill) for many weeks now and if you have ever had this tiny inconvenience of not being able to bend your arm in even the most useful directions, you'll sympathize. So I don't quite know how yoga works when you only have one functional shoulder. My reasoning is that if I could face travel and hoisting suitcases into overhead compartments with one functional arm, I can probably manage a class of yoga. I love challenges that don't have great consequences in case I fail!

I write all this not because I have now signed up for my yoga classes (maybe tomorrow!), but simply to let you know that I am doing something about my attitude toward the skies above and so if things go according to plan, perhaps this is the last time that I will write the following:

What a dreary day it is out there!

I again was the cheeper morning release girl today, as Ed has been working on his mechanical invention late into the night and I feel sorry for him come daybreak.





Our breakfast is very nice indeed, but again, you'll have predicted as much.


After, I ask him for help with forms. Ed is very patient with deciphering what bureaucracies expect of us and I am facing one of the most complicated bureaucracies out there in trying to apply for a visa to a foreign travel destination in August. I am a child born to bureaucracy (I would describe post war Poland as scoring high in this area) and yet this particular one (it shall remain nameless for now) really stumped me.

So we shuffled forms and papers and finally, at long last made progress. That was my morning.

Beyond that, I had two lovely outings today. You probably have those days as well when you hate to hoist yourself out of a chair to get going but when you do, you have no regrets. Indeed! A cup of tea with a friend (who used to be and will soon become again my yoga buddy) was more satisfying than I could possibly describe. And later, Ed and I went to the final local farmers' market of the year - indeed, the final one until spring. In many ways, it made me think that spring is not too far away. But in case it's longer than it seems, we stocked up on spinach, onions, beets and cheese -- the kind of stuff you can still find in a winter's market here.



And finally, now is the time to put on some chipper music and celebrate the wonderfulness of having a warm evening at home!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Never promise something that is on the high end of the range of possibilities, because if what's delivered is at the low end, the recipient is going to be grossly disappointed.

That's the way I feel about the sky today. You know, that great Midwestern sky that I like to brag about. That same one that has cast a shadow over our landscape for such a long time. The weather people promised it would give us sunshine today.

Bullshit. No sunshine. Just more of the same colorless sky, leading me to proclaim at breakfast...

farmette-7.jpg know, it really is quite ugly out there right now.
Ed is shocked. These are not words that I usually apply to our landscape. I backpedal right away: I mean, it's monochromatic. 


That it is. That's the farmette for you,  at dawn, as I step out to set the cheepers free.

(why is it so cold out there?)

It is cooler now, so that our brood hesitates for many hours before making the trek up to the farmhouse.


Never mind. Enough about them. Time to get mobile. It always surprises me how sedentary we become when the landscape isn't to our liking. Put a layer of snow on our terrain and I'm out, camera dangling. Strip it of any color or snow and I turn my back on it.

Today I force myself to head out.

To my daughter's.

(a more accurate rendition of my girl with her girl)

And then downtown to meet a friend for a drink. As I take a brief stroll along a city street (Madison is a city, right?), I think that these early winter weeks are the only time when the city does look better than the countryside.


Our seasonal blandness is hardly noticeable in the concrete and asphalt world of urban neighborhoods.


And still, I return home to the farmette with not a small amount of pleasure. In the country, you develop this fortitude -- an attitude of endurance. This drab stuff -- this too shall pass. In the meantime, let's fix a nice pot of winter chili and settle in for a warm evening at home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


We are such adaptive animals! The first time you find yourself on a new playing field, you panic, worry, feel ill at ease. You notice the bumps, the unfair play, the pain of being unprepared. The next day you maybe notice a bump or two, but the rest? You've grown used to it. If your shoes don't fit, you make them fit. It's like the crappy wall paper that you swore you'd change when you moved into the new home: change it right away because if you wait a few months,  you'll forget it's even there.

I have now grown used speculating which irritant might bother Ed (who, I should note, has had lifelong sensitivities to all sorts of stuff -- all of which he, in true Ed fashion, basically ignores). I'm used to my little Apple computer still not working (we're running a new series of diagnostics today). And I'm used to the gray skies that have descended over us like stubborn relatives who come and then refuse to leave.

It's only when the time comes for me to start thinking about the photos that I have for you from this day (almost none) and the sentences that will describe my hours of writing (and watching the pings on the Network Utility on the computer) that I recoil at the repetitiveness of our issues here this week and at how for the outside observer, it may look like we're sort of standing still.

Thank goodness for breakfast! It would put anyone in a happy frame!


And thank goodness for our chickens who have profited from the warmer temperatures and the absence of snow!


And, too, thank goodness for the very large amount of progress in my daughter's belly -- she is less than a month from her due date and when she and her husband came over for dinner tonight, I could not help but stare!


The warmest possible cap to a good, if repetitive, day.

Monday, December 15, 2014

reach for the chocolate covered raspberry gingerbread square

When you have one more day like the ones before it -- foggy, drippy, dreary, gray, this is when you go to the cupboard, take out a few chocolate covered raspberry gingerbread squares, make a wee cup of coffee and revel in the deliciousness of it all!


And the color! What, you don't have a golden tea towel to park underneath your afternoon treat? Get one! How else do you survive a colorless northern winter?

A few updates for you:

Do you ever read that column in the NYTimes where a person is described with symptoms, then you are given a bit of background, and finally the author invites you to comment on what might be ailing that person? Well now, I felt like we benefited from your thoughts and comments in much the same way here, with Ed's wheezy symptoms! I cataloged all your ideas and will put them into the pot of "things to consider" when Ed gets his next asthmatic flareup.

Right now, things have calmed down, leading us to think (and hope) that my thorough cleaning of dander and such in the basement and from all surfaces elsewhere did the trick. Keeping dust levels low and opening the windows now and then surely is a good thing, even without having a person who is sensitive to such stuff. I felt I had been too harsh with our farmhouse: it did not let us down. It continues to shine and sparkle for us. Perhaps the inhabitants are the real problem. It's we who are imperfect. We have our quirky organisms. We must learn to make changes and compromises as they get quirkier and quirkier over time.

And so it was a good day for us.

Beginning, of course, with breakfast.


And here are a few more items that were up for repair today (in addition to Ed's bronchial tubes!): after an overnight at the Apple Store and a replacement of a few vital organs, my laptop came home, only to tell me it still has trouble accepting the new Operating System. Sometimes it seems I will never have my nifty, reliable little computer again, but in more optimistic moments, I know that in time, Apple WILL fix the issue of the dropping WiFi.

Too, the gentlemen from the phone company came in response to Ed's complaint that his land line has a buzz to it. This happens every year, right about now. And as in years past, the repairmen, in opening the pedestal where the phone lines surface from below ground, found five mice having a ball with the wires. We may have driven the mice from the farmhouse, but they aren't gone from the fields around us.
We'd never seen so many in one place! one repairman commented. Tell me about it!
Ed asks -- you can't close it off from them?
We can send a man to the moon, but we have not been able to figure out how to keep the mice out of those pedestals. 

And so our simple days roll forward, one gently moving into the next and the next. The farmette, missing a snow cover, is still brown, but if you look hard, it  has its own gentle beauty.


The cheepers continue to lay eggs (at a rate of about two per day for the three of them), the mice, apparently continue to frolic. Just not in the spiffy clean farmhouse, where all is golden and bright.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

the old farmhouse

This was a day to take stock of our environment. Here's a key question that I posed to Ed -- it'll give you a sense of the kind of day I'm slated to have:

Early in the morning, I ask him -- do you think you're allergic to me??
He answers -- I don't know...

Ha! It grabbed your attention!
Well, here's the issue: this Fall, something in this farmhouse has been causing his old asthma to act up. Whatever it is, it's not present in the sheep shed, because when he is there (the days I was in France, for example), he is fine. (So Isie boy is not the culprit, as the cat follows him to the sheep shed in my absence.)

There are the usual suspects: we had a strong showing of mice this year. Stronger than ever before and we did not get aggressive about eliminating them until late in the season. (We seems to have caught the last one -- we've been clean for a whole week!) And so today, I did the awful, hideous job of vacuuming up every corner and surface and beam of the basement so that any mouse related matter would be sucked right out of there.

And he has changed the air filters. And I have vacuumed (with a different vacuum cleaner!) the entire farmhouse and all the upholstery. And aired out the place. The farmhouse shows no signs of mold, though of course, that's just a best guess at this point.

But it was early in the morning, before all this flurry of activity, when Ed admitted to the telltale asthmatic symptoms, leading me to ask -- what if it's me???

I can't tell you how hard we worked three and a half years ago, to restore this place to some form of glory. (Well, it probably never had much glory, but now it does! For us at least...) Ed spent days dismantling the old chimney -- chipping away at it, brick by brick. Every electrical outlet is a state of the art masterpiece fitted in by him. The floors were lovingly selected from the cheap options at Home Depot -- hickory here, pine there. Doors, wood trim, window frames -- all stained by me. It is a bit painful to see this place letting him/us down now.

Of course, part of me thinks this is just a rouse to get rid of the couch and bed -- both pieces of furniture he regards as superfluous and I'm sure if he could convince me that they are the source of his troubles, he would. (Though we may have to reconsider the heavenly quilt that keeps us warm -- it's filled with down and that's a possible trigger.)

It may take a while to figure out what causes his flareups. It could be that he'll have to take apart the ducts and wash them well, to get rid of traces of mice and men. In the meantime, I feel like our blissful moments at the farmhouse were made vulnerable today. So I post this photo with even sweeter recognition of the preciousness of it all. So sacred today, so vulnerable, too.

("you want me to take off my jacket, don't you...")

("oh, alright...")

And the cheepers? Oblivious to all the drama within the farmhouse, happy to be the beggars that they are, right at our front door again, adding color to a foggy, gray day.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

meanwhile, back at the farmette...

On the upside, it's pretty warm outside!

I start with this flash weather bulletin, because it really is a dismally gray and somber day out there. You can't help but think about it when you look out over the slightly shrouded brown terrain. A dense fog advisory is issued for later and I am so glad that it's not affecting my travels.

The trip yesterday was long but delightfully uneventful. Perhaps the most shocking thing for me was to be asked something by my American seatmate on the long flight over and to stumble in my response. It hadn't taken long for me to become unused to responding in English. I smiled to myself at the effortless way a conversation could proceed again. When speaking in French, there will always come a point where the person I'm talking to will assume that I know more than I do. When I say then -- sorry, I didn't understand that, I get that surprised look, as if the person wants to ask -- why not? I'm just speaking normal French, for God's sake. Yes but...

Still, I was a tired beast by evening, so much so that for the first time ever, I did not even open my suitcase (to see, for example, if there was any damage to the bottle of poppy petal syrup I lugged back). I fixed a light supper of cheeper eggs and quickly after, followed Isie the cat upstairs, leaving Ed to his computer work.

This morning, as I write out all that I have to do in the next week, I ask myself why I always choose to go away just before the holidays. Well, never mind. I put on good music and get to work.

And there is, of course, breakfast. Hi Ed, across the table again!


We go out to check up on the cheepers together. I want protection in case of an Oreo attack, but in fact, the attack never comes. In September, I had been gone three weeks. I came back to a raging rooster! This time, I was away only twelve days. I'm learning that a rooster's memory is good for twelve days!



Grocery shopping, errand running -- that takes up the better part of the daylight hours. One very pleasant errand is to take over some of the small purchased items to the expectant parents. I'm less than four weeks from becoming a grandmother. It feels very close!

(Yes, this is the place where I get to visit, too, with their very playful cats. Playful, but respectful of their beautiful Christmas tree, thank goodness!)



At home, the cheepers, noting that I am back at the farmhouse and remembering that I often give them treats just outside the farmhouse door, make the long trudge over and surprise me with their happy faces.


Inside, I put up our "tree" -- it takesonly five minutes!


And as I sit down to do some writing, I think for the millionth time how much I love being home and how strange it is that I really do have a burning urge to cross the ocean again and again. Even as these days and evenings at home fill me with such total peace and happiness.

In the evening I make broccoli veloute -- a smooth soup that tries to imitate one I had in France.


Within just these few hours, I'm fully immersed in my life back here,  but little bits of travel creep into the everyday. The best souvenirs are the ideas that I bring back home to try out here, in my own foggy corner of the world.

Friday, December 12, 2014

returning home

In the evening of my last day in Paris, I leave the warmth of my little apartment and head out to Pouic Pouic for dinner. It's only a five minute stroll, but I take a circuitous route, through the Bucci intersections where the cafes always, even in winter, spill out onto the streets, giving the impression of a canvas of the good life.

France December-2-2.jpg

It never fails to make me smile. This neighborhood is on the young side (I think of thirties as being young) and the energy level is high.

And when I then walk into Pouic Pouic, there, too, the energy level is high.

It's a good way to end a trip. For me, the familiarity of it all counts. At the restaurant, I know the informal tables that sometimes rock just a tiny bit. I know the chef (Nicolas), with his pony tail just so -- here he is, working the small open  kitchen, training the next generation of cooks:

France December-11.jpg

And the proprietors know me. I'm not a great guest -- I don't buy bottles of wine, I occupy a table with only one cover, but the French like familiarity too and so they make a point of greeting me as if I lived just around the corner rather than thousands of miles away. And this feels especially warm at the end of a trip when I've gone too long without friends or family or Ed.

They say -- Ah, here you are, always furiously writing something between courses! And with your camera! Yes, my date is my notebook, my friend is my camera.

The meal is excellent -- pumpkin soup, scallops, fruits and chocolate something or other. The price never varies. There are no surprises.

I leave happy.

I wake up an hour before my alarm goes off. I take care of some nonsense with online reservations -- that takes a good bit of time! -- and then I'm off, checking to make sure the apartment is in good shape, taking out the garbage to the bins in the back. (For my efforts here I get a huge reprimand from the building manager who comes out and reminds me (as if I knew) that you are not to throw garbage away before 8. Oops. It's only 6.)

The street is feel empty now, but only as compared to Paris at other times.

France December-1.jpg

There is always traffic, there are always a few people rushing somewhere. Still, it feels quiet.

I walk by the Luxembourg Palace that abuts the Gardens...

France December-2.jpg

...and then it's just a hop and a skip to the RER commuter rail, where I wait for my train to the airport.

France December-8.jpg

Here's my last photo from Paris. Predictable. I am that.

France December-10.jpg

In the air now. Over the ocean. Quite literally. Delta has received permission to put thingamajigies on top of the plane (that's how the flight attendant describes it to me) that allow it to pick up signals and give us WiFi in flight. I wont always splurge for this service (it's the price of a lunch in Paris), but I have nine hours worth of online work and so you get this post sent from way up high.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the last day

It seems to me that men in France (if employed) are a content lot. I'm not saying that women are not. I really am at a loss in making generalizations about women here. Yes, studies show that working moms are fairly content, or at least more content than working moms in the U.S., but overall, as a nation, France doesn't rank in the happiest top 10 (neither does the U.S. -- see last year's report here) and I'm guessing that the women here are pulling the numbers down.

Why do I assign a higher level of contentedness to French men? Obviously not based on scientific data. But do, please look around you when you're in France. The men here are socially connected. They have important things to say to their friends, to their colleagues, to the bar tender. And to the women in their lives.

Take this scene from breakfast: he told her stories with animation and passion the whole time I was at the cafe. She barely said a word. But she did nod and smile and give signs that she was listening and that she cared.

France December-17.jpg

For better or worse (in my opinion - probably worse), women still do appear to want to please men. They want to look good for them, for instance. You can tell (and literature confirms this). Whereas I can't really recall the last time I dressed with care for Ed's benefit. Women I know back home like to look good for themselves and not necessarily for some guy's approving glance.

Add to the male plate of goodies a promise of a long vacation, a good meal at work and at home and things are looking fine, aren't they?

I have read though, that Parisians are overall more angst filled than their fellow country men and women. I am reminded of this each time I walk down the steps of my apartment building here, because I pass a flat that serves as a psychologist's consulting office. I suppose if I lived here year round, I could run down and knock on her door with my crisis du jour. I think living in Paris, some of the angst my rub off.

I am on my last full day in France. I'm posting now, before the day is done and will finish off my French blogging tomorrow, sometime in the course of my travels.

The morning has clouds, but they move fast and occasionally reveal a patch of sky.

France December-1.jpg

I should be extravagant in my walking today, but I can tell I'm winding down because I mostly hover in the neighborhood. I go to breakfast, for example, to Les Editeurs -- an old favorite just a few blocks down -- where I eat too much bread products once again.

France December-20.jpg

After, I walk. Rather randomly. Past the pastry shop. To the park. Out again.

France December-8.jpg
(school girls, on the way to the park; young girls all have long hair, almost without exception)

France December-10.jpg
(meringue and raspberry and rose petals, at my favorite pastry shop)

France December-4-2.jpg
(an even more artistic creation at another shop)

France December-22.jpg
(Luxembourg Gardens once more)

France December-24.jpg
(high school girls jogging; she might be happier if she shed her scarf...)

France December-28.jpg
(Luxembourg Palace -- now housing the Senate -- under a beautiful sky)

Up one street, down another. I'm still curious about what I see and this tells me I'm far from having my fill of this city. But my curiosity stays close to home.

France December-30.jpg
(those chimneys!)

France December-33.jpg
(still collecting leaves in December: will she grow up to be content?)

France December-2.jpg
(is he content but anxious?)

I want a small lunch and so I enter a very very busy little bistro and tell myself that I can skip the dessert and just stick with two small appetizers. The plan fails completely as my little plate of herring turns out to be a big pot filled with herring and my salad with a warm cheese has indeed a whole melted Camembert on it. When did portions start being large in France?

I walk some more, resisting the urge to take a nap. Walking is a form of saying good bye to a city -- a city of content if somewhat anxious men and less anxious but maybe less content women.

France December-12.jpg

(to be continued tomorrow, on the other side of the ocean)