Thursday, August 25, 2016


I'm back in the saddle again, riding the routines of a farmette life. With Snowdrop galloping alongside. Well, at least for the day. The routines of the summer aren't here to stay. We're awfully close to a complete reset of everything, as Snowdrop will be starting school next week.

But that's not today's story. On this morning, I wake up to a somewhat buggy day, which means that I have little patience for outdoor work. One photo of the farmhouse at summer's end...

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Another -- looking toward the grand crab apple...

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... with a close up of two bees working the same flower...

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... and I'm done with the outdoors.

Oh, how grateful we are for the bug-free porch!


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And a photo of what we see, looking out to the side...

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And then I am in a bit of a rush, because today is Snowdrop's last gym class. She'd had a pause from going there in the weeks I was away, but she is happy to rejoin the group and plunge into the various activities -- including one she hadn't been sure of before but now likes just fine -- being rocked around in a great big parachute.

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As before, she is drawn to the balance beam. I can almost tell what she's thinking -- how did I get myself into this pickle? And more importantly: how do I get out of it?

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There are many large blocks and boulders for her to climb over and she is thrilled to do this again and again.

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The class always ends with balls and bubbles and she is a great fan of both.

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As it's the last class, Snowdrop gets a ribbon of achievement! (Not to worry, so does every other kid in class.) Ah, the girl is growing up so quickly!

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As is our habit, after gym we cross the street and go to the public library, where, as at other times, she loves to sit on this stool and "read."

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And we go to Paul's coffee shop where we pick up pickles for grandpa Ed. We have done this all summer long and I feel the significance of this being our last time. Oh, not forever. Just for this season.

As I get out of the car back at the farmette, I happen to glance toward the crab apples. And I catch sight of the end of summer colors in the big flower field. It's deeply satisfying to know that these flowers are here to stay. They'll come back next spring. They've surely had a good run of it this year!

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Snowdrop plunges into all her favorite play routines at the farmhouse -- with added new twists: really, Snowdrop? Did you pull off the table cloth behind my back? Ha ha ha.

She is by nature extremely playful (aren't all kids...) and though she isn't one to push boundaries and behaves very much within the parameters of the reasonable and good (you would call her a friendly and respectful little one if you met her), she does like to tease.

I have no photos to show any of this. Indeed, I'll give you only three from our farmhouse play and one of them (the first) was taken by Ed.

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In the very last photo, she finally gets what she wants. I had said -- lunch before cookies and she was willing to wait. Through left over shrimp salad (which she loves). Through yogurt (which she loves). Through her plate of fruit (which she loves). Once the last of the peaches, grapes, blueberries and strawberries disappeared (into a very full mouth), she pointed excitedly to yesterday's labors set out on a dish on the counter.

Yes, Snowdrop. Time for (half) a cookie with milk.

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Happiness is (half) a cookie and milk.

Later, much later, Ed and I ride his motorcycle to a cottage by the wetlands, where a small handful of us have been meeting rather regularly to strategize about how best to preserve this precious land that surrounds us. It was a productive meeting and also a beautiful little ride past our neighboring farms and prairies.

I waved to these guys and told them they had a special greeting from all their cousins in Scotland.

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And I took a "whizz-by shot" of this prairie. Meadows of gold.

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I'll leave you with that photo. I love its spectacular rush, even if at times we all yearn just to slow things down a bit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

farmhouse day

It rained last night. I had kept the windows wide open, optimistically, without thought to rain. I had to scurry and make amends at odd hours of the night.

At dawn, or thereabouts, I go out to open the coop. It's raining, the air feels sultry, my flowers are leaning heavily toward the ground.

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But by breakfast time, the storms have passed and at least some of the flowers of late summer perk up again.

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Breakfast is on the porch. Ed and I discuss what kind of learning is beneficial to save the human race.

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The bugs are still menacing our farmette land, but they have receded enough to allow me to occasionally venture forth into the thick of green growth. For example, after breakfast I clean up the front bed enough to let the remaining lilies (and yes, there are remaining lilies!) shine.

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And then Snowdrop comes over for a day at the farmhouse.

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I feel torn about letting her play outside. Initially, I let her run out and have her fill of outdoor freedom. But as she runs towards the denser areas where raspberry canes fill all available spaces, I see that she's heading for trouble.

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The mosquitoes will get her for sure. I redirect her toward the indoors.

Ah-ah comes over. She's delighted with his antics.

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Knowing that we may be stuck indoors all day, I've prepared a cooking station. Snowdrop, we're going to bake! 

I'm not ambitious. Cookies would be nice. I've just come back from the UK -- my yearnings stray toward ginger. What? No molasses in the cupboards? Ed: I'll get you some molasses.

He comes back. Snowdrop and I set to work.

What do I stir, gaga?

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Well, the whisk works better with the dry ingredients.
(Okay I'll do both!)

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In the past year, I've let Snowdrop smell various spices. She's become quite good at taking a whiff (rather than wanting to taste). Today, she watches as those fragrant particles are shaken into the cookie batter.

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Time to roll the ginger balls in sugar!

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Okay, we're done.  A few minutes later the cookies are ready -- to be tasted at the end of lunch.

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Meanwhile, the girl plays.

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Flips through books, chortles, dances, snuggles -- oh, it's nice to know she hasn't totally changed!

Lunchtime. It's easy today: leftovers from supper! Then her favorite -- fruit!

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And finally I remind her about the cookie. Served with milk.

Happy girl, happy gaga.

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In the late afternoon, just before her parents arrive to claim her, Snowdrop  eats her afternoon snack which includes -- watermelon!

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And then her parents arrive and I hand over a happy, well rested and well fed girl.

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 The sun recedes. In its last minutes, it always throws a beam of light just at the middle garden. I catch it today.

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And it reminds me of the fact that if you are lucky to be there at the right time, every single day of the year offers a magic moment of light, color and texture out on the farmette lands.

Someday, maybe Snowdrop and I will make a habit of looking for it, reveling in its fleeting beauty.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

first day back

If you count the nights I was away, this trip to Scotland wasn't especially long. When Ed and I used to travel in the summertime, we'd often be away for a month. I was gone only 12 nights. But because my garden was entering its transitional phase ,and because Snowdrop and her family had left town even earlier than I did, it felt that I'd been away from the usual routines far longer.

So I wonder: with my garden, what would I return to?

The mosquitoes had been at their worst when I left. What would I return to?

Snowdrop is growing in leaps and bounds. I hadn't seen her for a couple of weeks now. What would I return to?

I have answers to all those questions!

I begin with the morning. Ed is finally given his reprieve. I'm up at dawn to open up the cheeper coop.

So... what's with the flowers? Ed had said he had enjoyed many a moment on the porch, looking out at the butterflies and the bees that came to visit the gardens. But is anything still blooming?

It is.

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The cheepers were pretending to be annoyed that I waited until after 6 to let them out, but they "forgave me" and came rushing over when I brought out the corn.

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The mosquitoes are still here, but they're greatly diminished! It seems I really struck gold by staying away just as they were peaking, coming back to when their populations are receding.

(Looking toward the venerable farmhouse.)

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(Last year's new bed looks especially lovely at sunrise.)

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There's no point in going back to sleep after all this. I'm on Europe time still, so at sunrise,  I feel the day is half gone!

I clean house, do laundry, tidy a few garden disasters.  And I fix breakfast and it is outside on the porch and it is wonderful!

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And Snowdrop? Well, her other grandma is still with her today, so I do not want to intrude on their time. But I'm encouraged and prodded to stop by in the morning and so just before appointments/chores/shopping and all the rest of the travails of post travel, I drive over to see the ever wonderful (remember -- I am a grandma, I'm allowed to say those things) Snowdrop.

I only have a few minutes, but still, her mom and I take the little one for a short walk to the next door park. She is tickled by the unpredictability of life: one day, someone you love disappears, then, a few days/weeks later -- they're back! And you can see that befuddled but happy smile in this shot where her mom and I are walking with her...

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(In the park. Her hair just keeps getting longer!)

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(On a swing...)

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And then I scoot off and do all my errands/chores/appointments/cleanings/ and food preparations. Because in the evening, the little girl returns to the farmhouse (along with her mommy and daddy and her other grandma).

Snowdrop hasn't been here for many a day (it's been her longest break ever from the farmette). And she is so happy to rediscover all her beloveds! So happy! New clothes? Nice, nice, but hey, bises -- (what she calls her toy penguins) -- remember this book???

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I give her the little sheep from Scotland. I had showed it to her on FaceTime when I had still been not that far from the sheep that like to graze daze and amaze. Does she like it?

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We eat a shrimp dish because hey, I want to do a favorite for the little girl (and she is appreciative, eating way more than I could have imagined).

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And after, she is so very happy to show me how these days, she just likes to dance. Oftentimes with penguins...

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But it's all about moving to the music.

Well, it's about the penguins too.

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My first day back. I write the post even as, by my European clock, the dawn has long taken hold in Islay. For me, tomorrow wont be less busy, but it will be more of a routine, as I will have reclaimed by then my habits here. And I'll take the time to tell Snowdrop more about Scotland. And the sheep that leap and sleep and peep out at you from all corners.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Scotland, one last time

On your last day away, you either want to crazily pack in as much as you can, or you've had enough and just want to hang out in your room and chill.

At first, I thought I was more inclined toward the chilling. But after speaking to my hostess (who is a thorough Edinburghian and who, before undertaking the bed and breakfast project, had a practice in architecture), I changed my mind.

I've not done anything exploratory here. Last time at least I did several solid hikes around town. This time I seem inclined to buy tickets to shows that I then cannot get myself to attend.

So this morning, at breakfast (which is in the lovely living room and which has absolutely a top notch spread)...


...I spend a while thinking about where I might find beauty in this dark and brooding city.

As I set out, I notice that it really feels like a Sunday. Families are out and about.


And small wonder! It's actually turning out to be a gorgeous day! A few clouds, but they come and go. The air is brisk but on the warm side (for Scotland). What a pleasant surprise!

(This is the set of blocks where I'm staying.)


I see not a small number of dads out with their kids (notice there are two sets in this photo).


Maybe mum is taking a break? Fixing a meal?

The weather is a real spirit booster, but it's not just that. Perhaps I'm rethinking my attitude? Sue, my innkeeper, tells me she has always liked the very center of the city and plans to move there after she's done with the bed and breakfast (next week!). I ask her if she doesn't mind the crowds and without hesitation she answers -- not at all. I've always liked living in the thick of things.

Perhaps I've become too used to the farmette quiet. I used to live in city centers. Shouldn't I look for all the good that they offer?

I pass the ferris wheel, thinking today that it looks quite Sunday-ish and pleasant.


My first pause though is at the Scottish National Gallery. They have a special exhibition on how three Impressionist artists influenced each others work. Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh. That's just wonderful -- I like them all and I like the theme, too.

(Here's a clever set up: it's supposed to make you imagine how Daubigny and later Monet painted from a little studio boat.)


I actually never knew Monet used a studio boat. Here's his painting of it.


And this just reminds me how much within the familiar I do not really know. One habit I have when I visit the same city again and again is to try out secondary museums or walks just to tell myself I've really done my job in trying to discover as much as I can about the place. That's fine, but perhaps a different approach would be simply to return to the favorites and look at them differently. It's not unlike repeating walks on Islay. Why not simply go back to my favorite places in Edinburgh?

I do just that.

I go down to Stockbridge by the Water of Leith. And on my way, I enter an English creams store (you may remember from my moonlighting days at l'Occitane that I am somewhat foolishly drawn to botanical creams). I spent a wonderful set of minutes sampling their rose products because no one makes rose products better than the British.

I continue my descent, trying not to be tempted by the hills at the horizon.


Families. Everywhere, I see families out for a walk...


In tea shops, I see the typical British sweet: Richly heaped with things that surely would give you a sugar rush. But kind of lovely too.


I return to a store in Stockbridge where I pick up some Snowdrop stuff. In addition to fall and winter clothes to get her ready for the colder season, I find some more Maclary books. Snowdrop was just getting into them back home and I smiled as Andrew, my Islay innkeeper recited them by heart -- his daughters love them that much.


(The neighborhood.)


I remember that I was exactly here last year, on a Sunday no less, at the time of the market.

But last year, I passed over much of the produce and food stuff. I surely never considered taking home a jam. We have plenty of good jams and honestly, we hardly eat any. Still, there's a rowan jelly that's quite unique. These guys have won serious competitions with their jams. I sample a great number of them and I pack one into my bag.


And I buy local cherries.
It's the last of this season -- the vendor tells me.
Will I die if I eat them right now, without a rinse?
Okay then!

This guy is selling Welsh meade. I don't really like the sweetness of meade, but he assures me that the ones aged in oak sherry casks are anything but sweet. He proves it with many samples.


Here's a butcher's stall. Not your ordinary meats that we'll find at a market in Wisconsin (except for the venison).


I leave the crowded but chirpy (with music and people munching prepared foods) market.

The added benefit of this neighborhood is that it's quite close to the Botanical Garden and it's either pure genius or an insane amount of luck (probably the latter) because it is just 1:45.

(Here's a mom, heading to a park with two kids but only one stroller. Unbelievable what a parent will do to help a child along!)


So why is the hour so important? Because the Edinburgh International Festival (not the Fringe, but the real EIF) is offering something called "Songlines" in a few places around town at 2 o'clock and one of them is right in the Gardens.

The point is to listen to some excellent music and then, just for one song, join in with the musicians and give your own vocal chords a workout.

(What's blooming at the Gardens in August? Well, it's definitely less pink, blue and purple than at the end of June, but there's plenty to admire.)



I enter the greenhouse (the venue for the Songlines). People are scattered about, waiting for the performance to begin. There are a number of children. It's always nice to see them at more serious concerts.


I'm lucky because there is a small space on a cement edge right by where the singers are positioned. It's as if I have before me only their music and the plants.

Emilie Renard, a mezzo soprano, is the soloist and a small local choir is singing not with her, but inbetween her solo pieces.

Renard starts with Handel's Ombra mai fu. And I don't exactly know why, but I am overcome with great emotion, so that as she sings, this older woman to the side (me!) weeps.

Maybe it's that Ombra mai fu is such a beautiful aria!

Or maybe it's because this trip, more than many others in recent times, has focused so much on the natural world that I would be moved by a song that is dedicated to the love of a tree! One translation of the lyrics:

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Here, I picked Bartolli's version, which comes closest to Renard's. Perhaps you also find it hauntingly lovely?  You can listen as you read along...

(Renard, after her performance.)


The choir is also splendid, singing Rutter, Vaughan Williams-- choral music that I have always loved (stuff my daughters would have performed with their respective college choirs... oh! will Snowdrop sing in a choir someday?).

And then, in the middle of the concert, we are asked to join in and if you only have patience for one listening moment here, let it be this traditional Scottish song that we all sang together:

Wild Mountain Thyme. (And I give you a youtube version that appears closest to the traditional version.)

The tears come again, but not so much as to prevent me from singing this simple and beautiful melody, with lyrics (distributed to the audience) that put me back to the days of rambling over hills of purple hue.

And we'll all go together 
To pluck wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie go?

A few more pieces and the concert ends and I am deeply satisfied. And inspired, too.

In the end, my most moving moment came in Edinburgh after all. Look for beauty and you will find it!


But this little girl reminds me that I am so very ready to be home!


(This same field a year ago in June exploded with poppies among the yellow flowers. In August it fades and prepares itself for Fall.)


One more photo from the Gardens because it reminds me a bit of Giverny. How about that! Giverny in Edinburgh!


I'm back at the guest house. I sip a coffee, eat one of the home made oat cakes...


But I don't linger. Remember: the desire to just chill has been transformed into a great desire to find new ways of regarding great things about this old city.

I had purchased a ticket to a (sold out now) standup comedy show - the Best of Irish Comedy. And I plan on being there!

And it is good.  One comedian in particular has me laughing way too loud for polite company, but then, he himself is anything but polite.

The audience is mostly from the UK and Australia, and I get picked on relentlessly for being from the U.S. (doesn't help that I'm in the second row). And still, I can't stop laughing. Here's a photo of my favorite of the four comedians, Martin Mor:


[Much later, when I'm out getting dinner, a couple shouts out to me on the street -- hey, America!
Obviously they had attended the show.
He shouldn't have picked on your country so much. We feel bad. He didn't mean that stuff about America and guns...

I'm touched by this Scottish desire not to offend, but I assure him, I know it's comedy (with not a small amount of truth to the bite).]

I eat dinner at the Ox. It's coincidence that my host booked a table here, just like my hosts last year booked a table at the same Ox last year on my last night in Scotland. And the odd thing is that not then and not today do I see tourists there. In fact, on both sides of me, Edinburgh families -- all three generations  -- are having their Sunday meal.


I order two very Scottish dishes: Scottish wild mushrooms to start with and a fish pie for the main course.

They're both smothered in butter. As is the spinach, as are the beans and broccoli. At home, I cook mostly with olive oil. It's always interesting when you travel to a country (Poland is another), where olive oil is a rare preparatory tool. Everything immediately has a very different taste.

Here is the "pie:" bits of salmon, in a cream sauce, covered with mashed potatoes. A Scottish classic.


And no, I don't go home after dinner. I venture out to another standup comedy show, where we laugh our way through Mor's description of his trip to the Himalayas.

The next morning, I'm up fairly early, but not so early that I cannot have the wonderful breakfast offered by my host.

(A mirror! Can I make myself look as stately as the room?)


Porridge today.


And then I leave.

Sue, my host looks dubiously at my load. Should I call a cab?
I shake my head even though I have before me a fifteen minute hike to the tram and it's all uphill. I tell her -- there's an old Polish proverb that goes like this: she who carries gifts of clothes, blankets, whisky, plates, books and sea shells in her satchel must prove her sincerity by pulling her own load.

Past graceful houses...


Past parks, past posts and benches -- oh! I can do one last time release!


(Knowing my ambitions ahead of time, I packed an extra tote so that I wouldn't break my zipper trying to shut my wee suitcase.)

And here I am: at the tram stop.


And the flights are on time and I have no travel excitement to report and in a few minutes I'll be boarding my last flight -- from Minneapolis to Madison, where I expect Ed will be waiting with a wave and a very loud "hi gorgeous!"