Saturday, December 10, 2016

getting there

The getting there is easy enough -- I think to myself. It's the leaving part that's hard.

Why leave?-- the usual Ed question.
I can't live just in the shadow of the people I love (though sometimes that sure seems like a fine way of living).

Hello snowman. Give up your hat and scarf -- you're going to get a big fat layer of snow soon!

farmette life-1.jpg

Breakfast. Yes, yes, Snowdrop and I gave ahah a haircut last night!

farmette life-4.jpg

As I pack and get the farmhouse prepared for a week of neglect (Why not wait to tidy it when you come back? Don't you want me to leave you a neat space? You are seriously asking me this?), I glance out the window. No sign of snow yet, though the parade of hungry winter visitors has begun. It's really cold out there!

farmette life-8.jpg

And then I'm at the airport and it all should go smoothly enough, though I have a tiny bit of unease, since online check-in was not available for me for inexplicable reasons.

The Delta agent has the answer for the block on check-in and it isn't one I expected.
Your passport expires soon.
I know that. I just haven't had time to renew it. I've been on the road a lot. But it doesn't expire for another two and a half months.
Unfortunately, the countries you chose to travel to do not grant entry if you have a passport expiration within the next three months.

I knew this to be true for China. But for Europe??

Of course, I'm saved. I have my Polish passport. I whip that out and am safely checked in.
What if I hadn't had a Polish passport?
We would have sent you home.

Smooth from now on, right? Yes, until I arrive at the TSA for luggage screening. As I have TSA precheck, this should be straightforward.

It isn't. My carefully packed carry-on is completely unpacked as the agent (having not a whole lot to do as I am the only one in line) searches for the "suspicious item" she identified on her screen.
There! She says with satisfaction. Open it!
It's a present...
You have to unwrap it.
They're chocolate bars. Plain old chocolate bars (I am very unimaginative in the type of small gifts I take with me to Poland these days... gone are the days when something from America was coveted, unique, unobtainable otherwise).
Unwrap it please! -- the TSA agent says this impatiently and I am tempted to remind her that she has no one else to attend to but I bite my tongue and do as I'm told. She examines each Gail Ambrosia chocolate bar very carefully. (Gail is our local chocolatier... I assume her bars are wrapped in normal stuff!)
Okay, you can wrap and pack up your suitcase. Unless you want me to do it.
I look at the mess before me.
Thanks, I'll do it myself.

And now I am once more so very lucky, because my flight takes off minutes before the official storm warning goes up in Madison and as we land in Detroit, I see on the screen that the later flight I should have been on is now greatly delayed, so that I would have missed my connection to Europe for sure.

But this is travel. You always learn something, you're sometimes inconvenienced, and if you're me, you miss your people back home terribly.

And yet, tomorrow I'll be in Warsaw and yes, it is worth all this to get there.

Friday, December 09, 2016

the day before

It's really interesting how things work out there in the vast empire of flights, trucks, and chicken coops.

Take the first item -- flights. I'm to leave for Warsaw tomorrow afternoon (I'll be away eight days, the time split between Warsaw and Paris). We know there is a winter storm slated to hit Madison just before my scheduled departure. There isn't a question as to if the storm will come here, though there's some debate as to how much snow it will dump on us. (Don't even ask about the second, more powerful winter storm that's slated to come for the weekend of my return.)

I thought I'd be proactive and try for an earlier departure out of Madison. I call, I wait, the agent says she can't do it and in any case it will be a schedule change so that it would, hypothetically,  cost me money. I remind her that a missed international connection will ultimately cause them headaches as well, but she is unrelenting.

So I call again, an hour or so later and I suggest my earlier flight out and the agent is terrific, congratulating me on being forward looking. Boom, no charge. Have a good flight! This is not the first time that I've had this experience with airlines. One agent says no I cannot, the next one says -- just give me a few minutes and we'll see what I can do!

And now take the last item -- a chicken coop. Ed and I have divided the task of unlocking and locking the coop each day: I do the mornings, he does the evenings. It's a chore to get up with dawn and sometimes Ed does it for me, but mostly I'm the one walking the land at sunrise. In the summer this happens painfully early. In the winter, dawn comes later, but it's so very cold, and the job is made more unpleasant by the fact that this is when I also clean the coop and give the cheepers their daily grub. I spend a good many minutes willing myself to get up and out of bed knowing that it's near ten or twenty degrees below freezing outside.

Ed has toyed with the idea of engineering a time release on the coop door. At a preset hour, the coop door would fly open on its own.

He finally got around to installing just such a device the other day. And this morning it works like a charm. Sure, the cheepers have to wait a few hours for their daily maid service, but no one is complaining.

Finally, in the matter of trucks: a UPS delivery man flew to the farmhouse door this morning, dropped the package and ran back to the truck (only to return, poor man, because he forgot to scan the delivery). I asked him why the rush -- surely UPS does not require him to run! He tells me (hurriedly) that if he gets his load delivered, he'll get to see his boy's Christmas play today.

Oh my! We are tough on our co-workers and on ourselves, too. I want to tell him that he should slow down, that he'll get to see his grandson, but of course I can't. What do I know about his work pressures...

We are lucky, Ed and I -- we rarely are in a great hurry to get things done. Look how long it's taking me to finish my Great Writing Project, or how long it took for Ed to fix the coop door! You take things for granted in life. Time...

Here's our breakfast, nicely relaxed...

farmette life-3.jpg

When I do step out to feed the chickens, the skies are blue, the air is crisp. Perhaps too crisp for mid December, but at least there is sunshine!

farmette life-5.jpg

As I drive past the lesser lake, I note that it's nearly completely frozen already. A little patch of water.  The rest -- clear and pristine, to be covered by snow all too soon.

farmette life-7.jpg

I pick up Snowdrop and this time she keeps her cap on. Good job, little girl! Now, can I interest you in some mittens for the next walk out on such a cold day?

farmette life-9.jpg

At the farmette, she does greet the snowman but she is anxious to get inside. Possibly because her little fingers are like icicles, though more likely because she remembers that there will be a revisiting of her lunch box...

farmette life-15.jpg

As I melt some cheese on a whole wheat bagel, she takes her baby (remember, it's not a doll, it's a baby, gaga!) and reads books about babies with her.

farmette life-24.jpg

And because she is a balanced little girl, she spends a good bit of time on her truck and tower building projects.

farmette life-33.jpg

When ahah comes home from his techie meeting, she is delighted and ready for a second round of bagel with cheese. This is, after all, their special meal.

farmette life-37.jpg

Evening. It comes so early! And on these cold days, it looks golden and so very beautiful!

farmette life-1-2.jpg

Because I am going to be away for a week, I've invited Snowdrop for supper with ahah and me. Not her parents, just the little one. It's the supper I always like to have for her when she is just with the two of us -- a homemade mushroom pizza.

First though, we play. With airplanes. I tell her I'll be on an airplane tomorrow. She looks at me with a bit of surprise. At her age, her thoughts jump from one idea to the next. We move on to airplanes in general.

farmette life-9-2.jpg

Ed comes in and we play food and feeding and who knows what else.

farmette life-21.jpg

Finally it's time for me (with Snowdrop's enthusiastic help) to make the pizza.

farmette life-23-2.jpg

We eat it against the backdrop of the News Hour.

farmette life-30.jpg

But this shouldn't be the last photo of Snowdrop here for the week ahead. Let's look to the next minutes of play where Snowdrop is her (usual) exuberant self.

farmette life-37-2.jpg

I'm off tomorrow. Escaping the snows, missing my beloveds. This is what travel in December is all about. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016


Someone recently said to me that I see my grandchild more often than any grandmother he knew. I gave that some thought. And I realized that there is a huge disparity between time with grandchildren that grandparents spend in Poland and time with grandchildren here, in the U.S.

Is this an artifact of the kind of families I know here? They live in the American fashion: grandparents live far away from their kids and grandkids. Some grandfolk still work. And in a few instances, the familial relations are such that perhaps great distance between families is a good thing. But honestly -- I think there's more going on here: I think it's also a cultural thing. (I'm writing only about two parent families. I don't know very much about the involvement of grandparents here in single parent situations: I imagine even in America, their role is significant, though maybe not.)

In Poland, at least early on in a child's life, a grandparent will often look after the child. Moreover, children are frequently "dropped off" -- after school, for the weekend, or for longer visits. I saw that in my sister's apartment building, where the little ones came in to spend a few days with the grandparents who live below her. A routine occurrence. I see that in my architect's family, where it's a given that the grandparents step in when the young couple goes away for a weekend, or after school, or before preschool years. I recognize it in my friends' homes: the children know their grandparents well and the visits are numerous (even where grandparents still work), usually because the parents need to or want to get away for a bit.

And so it seems natural to me that if I live in the same town as my daughter (I do), and if we are great friends (we are), and if I am retired (I am), I would go in and out of Snowdrop's days fluidly, frequently and, too, with great enthusiasm. By my standards, this is as normal and obvious as anything. I find it interesting that by the standards of my adopted home country, it appears rather quaint and unique.

Breakfast. Lost in thought...

farmette life-1.jpg

Pick up of my granddaughter. I am the only gaga that does this on a regular basis in her "class."

farmette life-5.jpg

Snowdrop at the farmette is like the gift that keeps on giving.

farmette life-7.jpg

Raiding the lunch box with ahah. Let's make grilled cheese sandwiches out of leftovers!

farmette life-11.jpg

Can I play with the little chickens?

farmette life-13.jpg

I wake her from her nap. Unfortunately I need to hustle, because I have an appointment to get to. I do the unpardonable: I bribe her to get moving with a bit of a cookie (It's snack time after all!).

farmette life-4-2.jpg

The sleepy girl is puzzled and a bit discombobulated. But tell her she's going home to play with snowmen on her tree with mommy there and the world is a happy place again.

There is this the wonderful thing that grandparents do (in my mind): they teach a child to tolerate people who are not quite like their parents (older comes to mind). Too, they allow the child to believe that love happens outside the home, but that in the end, they will go home. How good is that!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

for the love of baguette

It's a good thing that I do not grocery shop more than once a week. Or at least that I do not bring home a baguette on a daily basis, like the French. Ed and Snowdrop -- they would live on that crusty bread alone if they could.

Because there is no baguette in the morning, I am able to put out foods for Ed that I have to believe have more nutritional value. (Or maybe it's one of those things that we'll learn decades from now, like we learned about the virtues of red wine and olive oil: maybe baguettes are what keep the French happy and socially inclined!)

Here's our breakfast today. No baguette.

farmette life-2.jpg

But then I do go grocery shopping and after, I rush to pick up Snowdrop. As she walks toward the farmhouse, she pauses for a conversation with the snowman but I am not sure he can fully appreciate her discourse, because, well, it's sounding a bit muffled.

farmette life-6.jpg

it is such a freezing day!

Once she learns there is a fresh baguette on the counter, nothing can hold her back.
Wait, Snowdrop, I have to change your clothing -- you're a little tomatoey right now! Okay, gaga, but only if I can keep on eating my slice of baguette.

farmette life-15.jpg

Ed comes over to survey her lunch leftovers. You can always tell when she is greeting him in a photo because her head has to tilt up, up up...

farmette life-19.jpg

He melts some cheese slices on the baguette while she admires (for the nth time) the "tree."

farmette life-22.jpg

And then they set to their baguette. (Looking at books while munching baguette with melted cheese -- heaven!)

farmette life-29.jpg

By the time they're done, there is only a tiny end piece of baguette left, but both Snowdrop and Ed are very content, in the way you get when you've had just the right amount of baguette.

(How about a sweater, Snowdrop? It's a little cool without one. Okay!)

farmette life-33.jpg

She naps. I study the play of sunlight on the farmette path just outside the kitchen window.

farmette life-2-2.jpg

When she wakes up, I give her a little gift that I am deliberately downplaying. She has a doll at home. I'm not one who would be a good doll playing compatriot. Why push her in this direction when she is now hell bento on building towers and deconstructing every construction within reach?

I'll tell you why: Snowdrop is not one to be pigeonholed. She may love rockets, trains, lego blocks, but she also really loves babies. In a way that I'd never seen in my girls when they were her age.

Here, at the farmhouse, all that I have offered her has been a one inch piece of plastic -- a Duplo baby that is barely recognizable as a baby.  Pathetic really. And yet she loves it. She loves giving it "mulk" and putting it in its "strollr" and you hear the word "baby" in her vocabulary so often that you begin to wonder -- where is she getting it from?

Baby dolls are cheap on Amazon and I finally order one for the farmhouse.

She takes to it as if nurturing a small one is somehow in her blood.

farmette life-9-2.jpg

And she keeps speaking those reassuring words over and over -- words that she certainly hasn't heard me say:
It's okay, baby! It's okay.

farmette life-13-2.jpg

I tell her it's a baby doll, but she is not happy with that characterization. No, not doll! It's a baby!
Okay Snowdrop.

farmette life-18-2.jpg

We listen to Raffi's holiday music as we play and she perks up at Jingle Bells. She tries to sing along and I can tell that this is something they must be singing at school.
I want jingle bells song again! -- she tells me when it's over.

I read her books about snow and forests and bears and snow and children and sleds and snowmen and snow and quite suddenly, she has this epiphany -- like there is something she needs to adjust outside to the farmette snowman.  A scarf and hat, that's it!

farmette life-23-2.jpg

Once outdoors, she wants to play with the sled. Not to be pulled in it but to do the pulling.

farmette life-28-2.jpg

Snowdrop, we can't go on the road with the sled, we just cannot!
She is disappointed but she is a girl who quickly recovers.

At home, she picks up the TV remote which she likes to pretend is her own personal cell phone.
Hi this is Snowdrop, adios! She sounds so earnest!

Oh, for the love of farmette life! For the love of Snowdrop! (When I heard it, I nearly stopped dead in my tracks. In the car: I wuv gaga! What did you say? I wuv gaga!) For the love of love! For the love of baguettes!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

what will it be like today?

Weather matters. If you pay attention to the outdoors (and who doesn't...), then you have to adjust your mindset, tailoring it to what you'll find when you step outside.

Our December weather this year is quite different from what we've had in recent times. December in south central Wisconsin (where I live), especially early December is mostly foggy, drizzly, cold, but not yet bitter cold. The snow that fell on Sunday, too, is atypical. We've not really had a white Christmas for a while and it's been even longer since we've had a white December 4th.

Unfortunately, the snow isn't good enough for skiing, but still, it gave me enough white stuff to build a snowman! How good is that!

Today did dawn foggy and not so cold, but I know this is just a brief respite. We're entering a really cold period. Really cold. On some days next week the high (the high!) is expected to be around 4F (-15C). I feel only slightly guilty that I picked next week as the week I'm away from Wisconsin.

Because of my forthcoming travel, I have quite the number of preholiday tasks to attend to and so right after breakfast...

farmette life-2.jpg

... Ed fixes the wheel on his car and I sit down to work.

Picking up Snowdrop is delightful -- it's not cold enough for a full snowsuit...

farmette life-8.jpg

She asks to go home (to her grand Christmas tree), but when I remind her there is a snowman with a carrot nose at the farmette, she is happy to bounce out of the car...

farmette life-19.jpg

... and go straight to him for a heart to heart talk. (Gaga, pinwheel for snowman!)

farmette life-13.jpg

(Okay, Snowdrop!)

farmette life-17.jpg

Inside, I show her the lovely little chickens that an Ocean reader sent for our Christmas "pine tree" (thank you!).

farmette life-5.jpg

farmette life-4.jpg

She loves them and she loves the bears and she loves the bells and she loves... Well, you really get to understand how much this holiday hits at the heart of a young one when you look at her infinite glee.

farmette life-31.jpg

Ahah comes in... (hi ahah!)

farmette life-32.jpg

farmette life-34.jpg

... and as is his custom these days, he attacks her lunch box and searches for unfinished food, especially the cheese slices which she often leaves behind (my feeling is that school lunch follows too closely on the heels of school snack and the hunger just isn't there yet for her: it picks up when she comes to the farmhouse). He toasts some bread, melts the cheese and he and Snowdrop share a feast.

farmette life-37.jpg

She makes sure that he has a bit of everything. Down to the last blueberry.

farmette life-45.jpg

It's a lovely afternoon and the three of us play, mingling her stories with his (which these days always include some tragic event to befall a Duplo character -- for example today a tractor rolls over a chicken) and with mine (which undo any harm that befalls a character endangered in Ed's telling of it).

farmette life-44.jpg

farmette life-55.jpg

As she naps and I sit down at the kitchen table to catch up on work, I notice that the skies clear...

farmette life-1-2.jpg

... and within minutes we have a beautiful winter blue sky.

farmette life-2-2.jpg

Our snowman may not like this turn of events, yet I can't help but smile at the delicate prettiness of the farmette now. Yes, it was beautiful yesterday after the big snow, but even with bare spots appearing here and there, it surely looks lovely now too.

In the late afternoon, I take Snowdrop downtown to attend her mommy's office holiday party. I linger for a while, not to crash their fun (though as an emerita, I too am invited) but to congratulate a colleague who is retiring this month. (Ann, with son.)

farmette life-13-2.jpg

I walk my familiar blocks -- ones I once walked so often to my former office and back again and I think -- wow! So much has changed in the last three years. Nearly all of it has been wonderful and kind. Gentle, like the skies outside.

Snowdrop is beyond joyous. Party! -- she says again and again. Going to mommy's party! She insists on running from the garage to the university building. Once there, she is full of her happy smiles. Especially since there is, predictably, a Christmas tree to admire.

farmette life-10-2.jpg

It's good to be downtown again in the evening. But it's even better to return to the warm farmhouse at the end of a winter day.