Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the trip (pt.3): almost there

 It is, of course, quite wonderful when a long flight lacks excitement. The overseas segment is not too long today - a scant seven hours - and not only is it a smooth ride, but it is, as the one before it, an on-time departure and an early arrival.

Ah, but what about the flight? Is it possible to train yourself to look at it differently than just a handful of hours to endure?

To a point. It is a fine beginning: instead of zoning out, I chat to people before boarding and feel great empathy for a flight attendant who is looking to unload his exasperation with a passenger who had suitcase issues. I spend a while, too, thinking about my seatmate -- a woman perhaps in her forties, from Colombia, who sits down with a large cup of coffee (an interesting beverage to consume just before a night flight) and a thick (and I mean thick) text book titled Christianity.

A flight from Detroit to Amsterdam is inherently interesting because you can assume that most people are not from Detroit and the vast majority are not going to Amsterdam. (The city is a gateway not only to any number of European destinations, but, too, to a large number of African and Asian capitals.) I remember myself traveling this way to get to Japan, just because I was intrigued by the idea of going, for once in my life, around the world. And so today I make a good effort at imagining myself to be only on the first step of a much longer journey. Time passes differently depending on how much you've allocated to a given project. Was I successful? As I said -- to a point.

The most important hour is, in the end, the one just before landing. When I first moved to the States, I traveled to Europe as frequently as I do now. It was a frugal set of trips then -- hard earned by countless moonlighting jobs. And then, after marrying and after the girls were born, the travels greatly diminished. A half dozen years passed before we found the time and money to pack the family for their first trip across the ocean.

That first trip after a dry spell was thrilling.  I truly could not imagine sleeping through the flight. And the final hour was indeed sublime, knowing that the adventure was now just a breath away from being real.

And so doesn't it make sense to concentrate on making those final flight minutes sublime again? To imagine all you've planned for your vacation, to think about the cultural shift that's about to take place, to finally realize this experience that had been only in the imagination thus far?

Dawn comes much later now in Europe. I haven't traveled in September for such a long time that I'd forgotten this. We land in Amsterdam just as the first wisps of light appear on the horizon (even though the landing time is 7:30 a.m.)

And I am, in fact, hugely excited to be here!

(posted while waiting for my final flight -- to Milan)

(Amsterdam airport breakfast)

Monday, September 15, 2014

the trip (pt.2): traveling

(two posts in one day!)

As I get older I tell myself that I must try to be more attentive to the details of travel. My mind is less cluttered with the mess of work, I have more time, and, too, a greater understanding that nothing in this world will ever be as perfect as the day that you wake up still moving, still thinking, still capable of smiling. Those are the prerequisites. Nothing else. So maybe I should think about making a day of air travel actually, dare I say it, fun?

First, let me not rush the trip. And let me not tune out during the travel hours.

Because honestly, that's been my modus operandi for many years: tap tap tap the foot until it's time to board, sigh deeply at the first sign of a delay, zone out once in the air, waiting, waiting until we're there already.

But to be, as the cool people would say *present* during the trip requires, for me, a major shift. I have to teach myself to be interested in the fellow passengers, in the details of the boarding, in the simple act of thinking broadly about the flights (rather than plugging in whatever recording device is available and distracting myself with endless movies and mindless TV episodes until gosh darn it, shouldn't it be time to land already?).

Let me tell you to what degree I am successful:

On the short flight to Detroit, I had a very pleasant set of minutes looking hard at each person who came off the plane and then at those who boarded. I imagined for them life stories. I studied their physique and wondered if they walked through the day with aches and pains or with energy and indifference to life's burdens.

During the flight, I read productively as opposed to mindlessly.

But it really helped that the flight was only 45 minutes.

Now comes the biggie: the flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. The challenge here is not to hate the overnight aspect of it. I'm coming on board with a restless night behind me (too many things that I still needed to do and they all rather swim within me when that happens, so that I can't sleep), so the challenge has suddenly doubled.

I remembered my worst overseas flights ever (at least as stands out in my memory): one when I was just twelve and the engines failed and so we made an emergency landing in Canada, and the second just about a year ago when we had to turn back (having gone one third over the ocean already) because a patient had a heart attack and the crew decided to take her back to Canada. In a sense, they were my most interesting flights too and I go back to them in various settings and story telling opportunities. You never hear me recalling the last flight which was absolutely without interesting dimensions (and true to form, I tuned out, like the zombie that I become in those instances).

So maybe I can approach things with an open mind?

I'll let you know tomorrow how it all went. For now, I have to run. We're boarding for Amsterdam.

the trip (pt.1): leaving

It's never fun to leave the people you love and so the day of departure, for me at least, has twinges of nostalgia. (But no melancholy! see previous post.)

It doesn't help that it's gloomy outside. Gray, cool, half drizzly.

These days, it takes me a full 24 hours to prepare for a trip. It's never the clothes packing. That takes half an hour of thought and two minutes of loading. But everything else has to be carefully considered. Which chords, plugs, currencies. What reading material. Any maps? And so on.

And, of course, I spend most of my hours just before leaving on tidying and setting up the farmhouse for Ed-use. Not that he needs it, but it still, there have been times when I did not discard bunches of flowers from the table -- to come back to something that resembled a bouquet of very limp, half rotten stems.

Finally, a glance at the early autumn garden...


...at the porch that serves us so wall all summer long...


...a breakfast with Ed, in the sun room, though without the sun...


...and I'm off. Glancing at my ticket, I see that I actually purchased a routing via Detroit and Amsterdam, to arrive at my first destination tomorrow, if all plane/train/bus connections work in my favor.

Until then, buona giornata!

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Very early this morning, instead of sleeping, I was browsing this site and the other, ending with a closer look at some of the more marginal stories of the NYTimes. One caught my eye: the title is about self-control and how you can learn to exert it and yes, that's all very interesting, but even more interesting is a fragment of an interview in it with Prof Mischel (of Columbia U) -- the guy who once tested little kids for the degree of self discipline they had over something so simple as a piece of confection.

Prof Mischel is getting older now (84) but I smiled as I read that he still made a point of spending every summer with his girlfriend in Paris. And, too, that he still writes. I pulled out just one quote for you from the interview with him. I suppose you could view it as an answer to the question -- and how do you manage in life? He answers -- [You need to be able] to distract constructively; to distract in ways that are in themselves satisfying; to do things that are intrinsically gratifying. Melancholy is not one of my emotions. Quite seriously, I don’t do melancholy. It’s a miserable way to be (bold added by me).

It was immensely pleasing to know that someone who has actually thought more than fleetingly about these things has pretty much the same approach to the everyday as I've historically succumbed to. Makes me feel better. Maybe it's not so weird after all to perfect the art of blocking and smiling your way through the day and saying leave me alone to the naysayers out there.

All that was in the predawn hours. Subsequently, as the sun rose clear and bright, I dug in and, with Ed's help, conducted a massive farmhouse cleaning operation. Because I like to come home to a tidy space.

And so breakfast got pushed back. Significantly. Until some afternoon hour. Like maybe 12:30.  On the upside, we ate on the porch. True, the temperature reading was a scant 57 F, but by then I was plenty warm from scrubbing floors and, too, I realized that it may well be the last porch breakfast we'll have this year. (I thought this without a trace of melancholy.)


There were several walks through the yard in between scrubbing, folding, sorting, etc etc...

(toward the porch)

(ripening grapes on the sheep shed)

(the yellow nasturtium are crazy blooming right now)

(the beloved farmhouse)

And in the late afternoon we had a sweet game of tennis -- poignantly so, because this, too, may be our last one this year. Though who knows - when I return from my trip (three weeks from now), we may be hitting a warm spell... Something to look forward to.

The day ends as so many Sundays end -- with a delightful family dinner.


Tomorrow I set out. As always, there is the chance that Ocean postings will be disrupted. Certainly, for the three weeks I'm away, it all will follow a different pattern. Which, I truly do think is a good thing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

over the ocean

As my small world of farmette rituals takes me from Thursday, to Friday, to Saturday and so on and so on, I keep an eye on the troubles brewing elsewhere:  in the country of my last European travels. I notice with some interest that today's New York Times talks of the terribly divisive vote on Scotland's independence (the vote coming up, this Thursday!) from the perspective of those living on the isle of Islay, and then, too, in another article, from the perspective of those living and doing business in Berwick Upon Tweed -- my two summer destinations. Is it that I pick representative spots to settle into when I'm in Europe?

And speaking of Europe, I am pleased as anything that I gave up this year on using Air France in crossing the ocean. That airline wont let me book a bulkhead seat and so I switched to Delta -- which does allow it. Well now, as I prepare for my departure on Monday, I see that Air France is about to go on strike this week. I am breathing a sigh of relief. (I do have an intra-Europe Air France connection, but once in Europe, it's quite easy to figure out how to get from point A to B, should your flight be called off.)

One more comment on things across the ocean -- they are having a pleasantly warm spell on the continent. I'll welcome that, especially since our own temps dropped down to a ridiculous 38 degrees overnight (that would be 3 C). When I woke up to free the cheepers, I felt it!

(old barn, morning moonlight)


Breakfast is inside alright and we move it to our favorite winter venue -- the sun room to the east.


There is, in fact, plenty of sunshine and so I have no complaints in my weekly walk to the market with my now visibly pregnant daughter.

(visibly pregnant)

(though a puffy vest hides things still.)

At the farmette, the mosquitoes have almost disappeared and Ed is working on replacing some rotten boards just at the level of the roof...


...and I am enjoying a somewhat more backseat view of the garden -- from our kitchen window. (Were I to be outside more, I'd see that there definitely are some strong-willed, long-lived flowers still holding their own.)

(with morning dew)



In the late afternoon, I take Rosie (my moped) out for a spin. The old girl has a "use it or lose it" attitude and she needs the occasional run around. True, it is a cold ride. I never remember to dress well for a motorcycle ride when it gets this cool. But the world around us is so beautiful! Let me again assure you how much I love where I live!


We eat chili tonight. Of course we do. We have another cold night before us. You have to warm your soul from the inside. It's the only way.

(Isie, in his winter position)

Friday, September 12, 2014

the same but different

Oh, I could really run with this blog post title!

Let's begin: the morning was the same, but different. It was the coldest of the nights thus far and so we slept deliciously well. And when I say we, I mean Isie too. He has now slowly morphed into his hibernating mode. Instead of being summer-restless (in, out, sleep, wake up, wants food, wont eat, will eat, walk, hunt, stay put, out, in -- etc) he is now more winter-sleepy. He has positioned himself on our bed and he rarely moves far from it. That cat has a bear gene running through him!

Breakfast? Ditto. Similar foods, but now indoors for sure.

(in a hurry; it's Friday)

Then, my weekly grocery shopping -- but I'm buying differently now. Since I'll be leaving on Monday, I stock up on snacks and foods that Ed can easily throw together, or not cook at all. The man eats in a very uncomplicated way when I'm not here.

Did I mention that it is dismally gray and wet? We were to go this evening for a boat ride with Ed's machining work friends, but the weather is so awful that at the last minute I bow out. I'd have been shivering all evening long.

(she's stepping gingerly over wet grass)

But let me get back to the theme: I finally wrapped up plans for a dinner in a few weeks. I'll be in Poland, albeit very briefly (and I mean *very* briefly), toward the end of this coming trip and I will definitely see my friends from university days. I am delighted that the whole pack of eleven can make it (they all know and love each other as well, so it's a pretty tight group) and as I begin work with the restaurant on the menu, I realize that not one person has voiced any food preferences/aversions, even though I pushed them to tell me what they ate/didn't eat.

Would you get that kind of compliance and uniformity if you asked a dozen of your good friends over? Would you? I'm genuinely curious. Is it a Polish politeness? The belief that you should do the best you can with what's before you? Or is it that the world of western allergies hasn't quite yet hit Poland in the way that it's commandeered the gut of Americans?

I still had a day full of bureaucratic details to work through today. Some, so frustrating that I threw up my hands and asked Ed, patient, placid Ed to step in (who then commented -- you're right... this is pretty impossible...)

But, I'm on my last days home right now and I'm getting to that point of nostalgia where I think-- must I leave so soon? Must I?

It's a rhetorical question. I know the answer.

Still a weekend before me. A cold, but sunny weekend, they say. Perfectly autumnal.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

days fly

After a day like this, I need a vacation!

If asked what took up most of the waking hours, I would have to admit it -- staring at the computer. Things had piled up. Emails, comments, transactions -- all of it, right there in front of me, keeping me glued to the kitchen table from breakfast until evening.

The flood of internet activity couldn't have come at a better time: it was the first of the suddenly cold days and I think it really gripped us all by the gut. That cold?! So soon?! Not only did I stay indoors, but I even turned on the heat. Fifty degrees outside is tolerable, but that translates to sixty inside, which is just a tad too cool for my summer warmed bones.

Breakfast was indoors.

(a fake grin, but a sincere good mood)

I have a few photos for you: of cheepers anxious for their daily allotment of stale bread and granola bits.


Of the pretty fall colors in the garden.


Of just 0.005 % of the tomatoes we picked today.


Of the market beans I bought when Ed and I went to our late afternoon local farmers market. (Because they're so perfect. I mean, what beans are that neatly formed?)


Of our beloved farmhouse.


I do not have photos of our tennis game, which hands down was the worst I played this summer (I blame it on the fact that I forgot my shoes and thus had to run in stocking feet, so to speak.) Nor of the meeting we attended this evening, for which I once again felt compelled to prepare a citizen's opinion on the matter of development that produces run off into our lakes. (It being Madison, we listened as well to arguments in favor of growing hemp instead of building more houses and, too, a professor assuring us that sperm count is on the decline so we should plan for smaller growth henceforth.) It just wasn't a photogenic opportunity.

Days fly, really they do. I thought they'd crawl in a delightfully slow fashion once I stopped teaching, but they don't do that. It's okay. I'm used to flying. Like it or not, we all have to fly to get to interesting places.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Let's start with the pleasant surprise: the much heralded overnight storms produced rain, but no great winds or thunder. Everyone more or less slept through the night and as an added benefit, Isie had no interest in going outdoors at some ungodly hour, giving us more time to wake up slowly. (Ed freed the cheepers. Surely it was his turn.)

And it is not yet so cold as to keep us indoors for breakfast. A very nice meal, even if the view is of a wet garden.



And then I plunge back into the pit of paper work surrounding various account changes and book- keeping manipulations. For one fleeting second I'm feeling sorry for rich people. Poor guys, they must have to do this all the time (as opposed to once every quarter century)! How terribly dull!

Nonetheless, my clever ideas and manipulations turned out to be all wrong and not feasible, proving once again that I am not cut out for managing accounts, no matter how puny they may be. In other words, I wasted a lot of time and accomplished nothing.

That's okay, it's nice to occasionally make forays into unknown worlds, just so you can settle back into your routines with that contentment that comes from realizing that the life you live is the right one for you after all.

If I am sounding unusually opaque, it's because I really think I did a lot of boring tasks today and they sound far better if there is a touch of mystery left to them.


In the evening, my daughter and her husband came for supper, to make up for a lost Sunday meal. It was just the three of us, as Ed is still biking on Wednesdays, but it was really nice to be sitting inside for a change and eating spinach gnocchi and talking about their own soon to be changing life.


Still later, the wind really picked up and the temperatures plunged into a polar vortex range. Since we are still technically within the summer season, we did not have snow and ice out there, but we are going to be henceforth at least 15 degrees below normal. I think I'm okay with that. Cold weather doesn't scare me. But it is rather disconcerting to see how quickly everything can change. That includes the weather.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


The trouble with spending many hours on the phone coordinating bureaucratic threads that defy coordination is that it leaves you with a lot of down time as you're waiting to speak to a live person or trying to figure out what the next step should be.

With my computer before me, I fill the hours reading about pilots using drugs in flight, Scotland's move to a cataclysmic independence, about travelers hiding their online information and people ignoring their symptoms of Diabetes 2.

How can you stay normal if you spend a day glued to such reports?

I don't have many photos for you. I did rise early to let the cheepers out...


...and this is really the only time that I kept my camera with me.



Well, breakfast, too, of course.


After, I watched the sun move from point A to point B and I stayed glued to my screen, trying to work through issues (credit card, banking, bla bla bla) that should have taken no time at all.

On the upside, I did receive my first agent rejection letter. That's great! It means that I am not really sending queries to a vacuum. There are people who actually read, or at least respond to new author letters! I'm encouraged!

In the evening Ed and I played a round of tennis. Like breakfast (though less certain), our game is a bookmark. Our day ends with it. A meal will still be cooked, cheepers will be secured, but after the game, everything is a wind down.

I read that there will be storms tonight. Violent and strong. Summer never ends without a big statement.

Monday, September 08, 2014


My dentist asks me today -- how are you dealing with the absence of structure in your days?
And I tell him quite honestly -- I felt put out today when I knew I had a 2 o'clock appointment that interfered with my structure free day!

Why is it that I get this question mostly from men? I mean, you could hypothesize that women, used to juggling care-giving and work, have been tied to the clock even more than men. You'd think they would worry about being set loose into the abyss of an unscheduled week. Yet I rarely (never?) hear them fret about retirement. Whereas so many men do ask and then inevitably I hear this response -- I don't think I'd like it.

Well, I do like it. Even as this morning I am up again with the cheepers...


But after, I retreat into a few more minutes of rest and so in fact, breakfast is late.


The bugs are out massively right now. The last big swarm of mosquitoes is passing through. Not as bad as some years, but certainly as bad as we've seen this year. And so again, yard work is not going to pull us away from our respective projects. We pick a few weeds and then retreat into our bubbles of self-imposed work.


You would not call this day beautiful. Or at least you'd have to qualify it as "unconventionally beautiful." And yet, these early hours of Fall sit well with me. Everything around us is so established! It needs no help, no stake. It moves at its own speed now.


This abundance -- a  summer's growth spurt, it is what the season has given us. And now, slowly, it is time to pack up and put it away for a rest.

But not entirely. No just yet.


We play tennis in the early evening. The best volley series ever! Two people, playing their crazy game even as the pine trees are dropping needles on the court and the sun sinks too low too quickly by my calculation.

Harvest moon tonight. It used to aid farmers in the completion of their work outside. Now, it's just there to love and behold.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

what if...

It is, in all ways, a perfect day for the porch. And I have to admit, I spent most of the daylight hours out there.

Predictably, for breakfast.


And thereafter.

Oh, I tried to be more expansive. It's time to trim back some of the spent flowers that will offer a quick rebloom this Fall if you let them. But the bugs hovered too close to my face, my legs, my arms and after a few armloads of dried stalks, I gave up. The garden may well have to stay this way until October, when the bugs will finally be gone.

(the Fall bloomers)

Too, I had a writer's chore to complete: a straight read through of my written work, concentrating especially on the first ten pages. Because what if someone did become interested in seeing a chapter or two? I should have something to send them, no?

So I sat all day long -- a terrible thing to do on a beautiful fall day, but there you have it. Two more days of this and I'm ready to stuff the pages in an envelope. In case someone asks me to do just that...

In the evening, perhaps worrying that I've become forever molded into a reclining position...
(not surprising, considering our earlier conversation:
We need a larger coop. It's hard for me to squat to clean this one.
Why don't you kneel?
Gross! There's chicken poop near the coop.

People in certain countries squat until the day they die.
We are not living in those countries.
Practice squatting more.
From a whole day of sitting to squatting practice. Just what I need... and so on)

...Ed suggests a more vigorous game of tennis. Ah, tennis! How it has come to save our days from the sedentary slough that both our projects have lead us to!


I take a deep breath in that thicket of pines and do my little dance numbers as Ed chases balls that have gone astray. We have only one more week left together before I go off on my solo voyages. I am so glad that it is a time of such gorgeous days! Absolutely gorgeous.

(the brood: Ed with Oreo, the hens, Isis, and a drying rug)

Saturday, September 06, 2014


A day does not get any more beautiful than this! (You may accuse me of being especially enraptured because I had a decent amount of sleep, but I think that is only in part what makes me giddy today. It truly is a gorgeous day!)

And cool enough in the morning that I overreact and reach for the first time for fall clothes. Leggings. Tunic. I'm feeling dizzy with excitement! Goodbye shorts and sundresses, time to turn the page!

Not so fast. After breakfast...


...as my daughter and I walk to the downtown farmers' market...


...I quickly discard the sweater. And when we walk back and I lug many pounds of cucumbers for Ed's pickling project, I'm thinking that I miss my sundress very much.

You can't rush things. And why would you want to? Summer is the season to love and to hold sacred.



Why this delight in cooler weather?

My daughter, of course, marks time by weeks of pregnancy. And by a vegetable measuring stick: right now, the baby is as big as a squash! -- she tells me excitedly. So I suppose we both have reason to look forward to fall.

At the farmette, it is warm enough for the cheepers to hide in the barn. In the terrible horrible dirt there.


I tell Ed that we don't have the cleanest pets in the world. He just smiles.