Friday, December 15, 2017


Early, oh so early. Why not sleep in? I'm retired. Sleeping in is what you do when you're retired.

Too much to do. Clock still set to Europe. Ed is restless. All good reasons to be wide awake.

Breakfast. Unusual, because Ed says -- okay, I'll eat something more than just a bowl of fruit. And, too, it's all early. He has work, I have stuff to do.

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Food shopping. I go to my favorite grocery store and ask: can I reserve a bunch of endive for Christmas? I got a very quizzical look on that one, but hey, I want to braise endive and the availability of this beloved (by me) veggie is typically sketchy.

Afternoon: time to pick up Snowdrop. I enter the classroom. Everywhere there are little tykes sleeping and there's Snowdrop, parading up and down the room in bare feet, a little bit at loose ends.  Another no nap day for her. She must be so tired. Snowdrop is a girl who needs lots of sleep to keep those sails billowing forward.

Well, okay. We will keep to a tame schedule. 

(No coat again. By choice. Hey, it's 31F! -- just a tiny bit below freezing!)

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At the farmhouse now. We have left school but now we are playing school. Her babies are the students. I think I am, in her mind, that too. This is music class. Snowdrop has a nice, strong voice!

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Yes she does!

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And a good bang, with her entire soul into it.

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As always, the holidays just sort of creep up on us. Quickly, magically.

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I think about this as Snowdrop leaves, the restaurant up the highway delivers sushi and Ed comes back from a day at work. The day is aglow. Preholiday, December, Friday at the farmette aglow.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


We've had winters like this before: cold, snowless. I can't pretend that they're a favorite. I like snow! But I also do appreciate the sunshine that has popped in fairly regularly for us. A sunny cold day feels a lot warmer than a gray, less cold day.

Today, we wake up to sunshine. Well, one of us wakes up. We really are keeping rather different sleeping schedules this season...

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By noon, we've reached our peak for the day: 25F (-4C). Nonetheless, we both are anxious to get moving. Cold weather can turn you into a couch potato pretty quickly.

We aren't ambitious: a one hour spin through our local county park is perfect!

It's a lovely park -- trees, prairies, lakefront -- all just a couple of miles up the road. We go there often. Too often perhaps. (Why drive further when this landscape is so pleasing?) Yet it's always just a little different. Two weeks ago, for instance, we watched turtles sunbathe on the logs spilling into this pond. Today, the waters are frozen solid.

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And the big lake to the east (Lake Waubesa) looks to be a sheet of ice as well. We note an ice fisherman setting up shop. How does he know it's safe?

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We're in that early winter phase when the ice hasn't much snow cover. It's quite beautiful actually.

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In places where the creek flows into the lake, there are, of course, soft spots. This is where the ducks and geese hang out.

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Yes, it's a gorgeous day to be in south central Wisconsin!

And soon after, I'm picking up Snowdrop. I urge her to move quickly: she is at the moment without jacket (it's too confining to be strapped into her car seat in a bulky winter coat). Hurry, little one! Get in the car!

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At the farmhouse, she attacks her usual favorites which, these days, include a rousing song fest -- all of us playing instruments in rough accompaniment to her boisterous singing.

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(A pause to try on a decorative Christmas stocking. It fits!)

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I do sense that she is on the tired side of normal. (A second day in a row without a school nap.)

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Tired, but not unhappy.

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I share a little of that: I'm still somewhat on Europe time, falling asleep way too early each evening. Or is it that in winter, we all long to turn in soon after the sun sets? On the shortest day of the year, that sunset will be at 4:26 p.m. (but the sun rise will be later). Today, it set at 4:23 making it technically the shortest afternoon. We're getting there -- that wonderful moment when we flip the switch and the days start getting longer!

In the meantime, I'm hiding in the caves with the bears. Good night, good night! And let's dream about a good snow cover, so that Snowdrop (so aptly named!) and I can build a big fat snowman.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


It's a bit early to be up, but hey, I'm still one foot in Europe's time zones.  Too, if Ed always comes upstairs to sleep later than me, I'm always downstairs before him. This is my time to straighten things up and move the day forward.

I fix breakfast.

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And after, he works and I work, even as we share farmhouse space (it really is a small farmhouse) and so we step in and out of each other's work/project issues. All morning long. Side by side, with an occasional comment, or word of encouragement.

By early afternoon, I am out to pick up Snowdrop. Big fat flakes fall all around me, but the snow isn't really sticking.  I needed to stop at the post office on my way to her school and I imagined the line would be long. It isn't long. I am out of there in two minutes and so at Snowdrop's school I have time to sit in the car, listen to the classical music station and exhale. (I do not enter in advance of the set pick up time because this is supposed to be her nap hour and I don't want to interfere with that.)

I look up as I note a young child, accompanied by a teacher, going from one entrance door to another. The child is obviously carrying something. Fat snow flakes are coming down hard now. They must have been out on a quick errand. Wait! Is that Snowdrop??

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The pigtails transform the girl! I hardly recognize her. Oh, let's face it -- she is growing up!

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I quickly follow her in. She is ever hopeful. Can we please play outside?

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It is so unpleasantly cold! Just below freezing, gray, with that occasional flurry to really make the point that we are in the thick of winter.

Okay, Snowdrop, but just for two minutes!

Of course, it's never just two minutes. Not when there's a slide and a swing...

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Later, at the farmhouse, we listen to the Muppets songs from the Christmas Carol  (this is at the moment her holiday favorite). But if I thought she'd be rearing to go after the wrapped packages by the tree -- I was wrong. She admires them for a minute...

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... then returns to her animated play.

In the evening, Ed heads out to close the coop for the cheepers. I want to go too! 

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... And back inside again.

She tells us that she does like the new couch...

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I can see the attraction: it offers an easy climb!

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She spies her pajamas and does a very realistic rendition of a yawn. Grandma, I'm tired. I need to put on my pajamas...

Of course she's not tired at all, just in love with her play, her discoveries, her own take on life!

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Winter cold outside. Snowdrop warm inside. And happy grins all around.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday quiet

In the late afternoon, Ed looks over at my mess of paper, boxes, tape and ribbon and asks -- do you enjoy this Christmas wrapping?

Funny guy.

It's a super cold day. Unusually so. (Our high is 20F, or about -7C.) I have no interest in going out. Well, not beyond the trek to the barn to say hi to the cheepers.

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And after, it's all about staying put in the farmhouse.

Wait, what about Snowdrop? -- you ask. She is a busy girl: she has a cookie decorating date after school and so I am on my own today.

And so immediately after breakfast...

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... I set out to warp presents.

And it takes forever and this is good, because I never before felt that I had "forever" to get it all done.

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So, do I like wrapping? In my view, it's one of those things that you do to move more important things forward. And at least for me, it's worth the effort.

Now, when Snowdrop comes here tomorrow, will she be able to keep her sticky fingers away from the pile of gifts?

I'll let you know tomorrow!

Monday, December 11, 2017


A light dusting of snow lightens the winter landscape. Ed and I would love more than a light dusting, but we're happy to see even this little snow on the farmette land. (The cheepers do not share our enthusiasm for it, but they do sense that I am home again; when I look out the kitchen window, I see them stepping gingerly toward the farmhouse -- something they did not do in the week I was away.)

Here you go, girls -- bread. (Don't they look like they're gossiping?)

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Breakfast. Oh, how good it is to sit across the table in this way again!

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I ask my daughter if there are any special Snowdrop pick up instructions. No, she tells me, but Snowdrop did ask if I would be there this afternoon and when told I would be, she exclaimed -- "oh my gosh! My grandma is back from Warsaw and Paris!" There is nothing cuter than a two year old who begins her excited sentence with "oh my gosh!"

By the time I head out for her, the snow comes down again. Briefly, thickly, beautifully.

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Snowdrop greets me in her best sweet voice: you're back, grandma, you're back!

At the farmhouse, she is excited at the announcement of surprises. Finger puppets from my sister...

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Some baby paraphernalia for her dolls...

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It all makes her so happy!

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We resume our afternoon routines. We play, she plays, we read, she eats... There is nothing unusual about any of it and yet, after a few days' absence, it all feels rather magical!

Snowdrop's mom comes a little earlier, to catch up with me, to read her a story or two (this one obviously had a disconcerting story line)...

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Dinner, writing, and that deep craving for sleep that comes from jet lag. I have to smile: I've come to grips with many an inconvenience in my years of travel... I will not give in to jetlag!

Stay awake, Nina, stay awake!

Not gonna happen.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

going home

I wake up at seven. It's still dark outside. Ah, but I am in northern Europe. Sunrise at 8:35. Too, it's raining again. Europe has been wet for me this December.

It's wonderful to have an afternoon flight home. My morning is not rushed. I pack, enjoy a strong shower (I tell Ed our farmhouse shower is growing weaker each year... he laughs at that).

No need to go far for breakfast -- Les Editeurs on a Sunday morning, a wet Sunday morning no less will be quite empty.

(In Paris, these blocks are my home...)


Indeed, the entire neighborhood, perhaps all of Paris, looks like it's sleeping in today.


Over breakfast (just a croissant and coffee this morning) I play with my camera. I've had some fun with it on this trip.


And now all I have to do is pick up my bags and head out to the airport. Plenty of time, plenty of time... Ping! A phone message.

Well now. My flight to Atlanta is canceled. Or delayed. Not sure yet. But it's not looking good. I try calling Air France and quickly realize that I'm not going to solve this problem by phone. I call Ed to let him know that my arrival may fizzle into no arrival at all.

Yes, he tells me. I tried to call you earlier. I saw it on the news. Atlanta is experiencing incredible snow issues.

The irony! I mean the utter irony! I picked Atlanta (over Detroit or Minneapolis) as my US connecting airport because I was sure that city would not give me December weather problems in the way that the Midwest might.

You don't want to hear this, he continues, but we're experiencing perfect weather this Sunday here, in the Midwest. Rub it in, why don't you.

Well, time to persuade, cajole, beg. Time to head for the airport. Goodbye Paris!


You've been, as always -- beautiful.


A quick ride on the train and I am at the airport check-in counter. I spend a long long time at the airport check in counter. Air France tells me the flight is on! Departing this evening! I explain that it will give me a 23 minute layover which,  in an international connection, is silly. I will be spending the night on the floor of the Atlanta airport. I will surely miss the last flight out to Madison.

Do not worry, madame! Air France will give you a hotel voucher!

Again, an explanation is in order: Atlanta is in snow chaos. Many people will be looking for a place to stay. By the time I get there no voucher will help. I will be on the floor. Might you try booking me through Minneapolis or Detroit? (The irony!)
Those flights are all overbooked.
Try another city. 
The agent hesitates, then has a Eureka moment: we can maybe get you to Toronto and from there you can fly to Atlanta! 

We are at square one.

I try again. 

How about Chicago? Fly me there and I'll take a bus to Madison.

It takes forever. We must ask for permission to book you to Madison from Chicago. We and our partners -- we do not fly that route.
I know that. Forget the permission. Just let me get off at Chicago. I'll pay for my own bus.

But she is stuck on the call asking for permission. We must try that first.
I wait. And wait. And then I ask -- what time does the Chicago flight leave?
It strikes her that it leaves now. Go! We'll get permission by the time you get to Chicago. Go! Go!

I go alright. And I am grateful. Ed laughs that I am airline loyal. Oh, the perks are nice, but it is in moments of great chaos that loyalty really pays off. Thank you Air France. And thank you hotel in Paris! (Madame, if you can't get a flight today, we'll give you the nice room again for another night!)  Thank you thank you. And thank you all of you, who stick together and help your pals when things start to unravel.

In the air I watch Love Actually, the very finest movie about well, holidays and coming home and ... love, actually.

Post Scriptum:

It didn't all work out beautifully thereafter. In Chicago, I lost my seat on the final flight to Madison. United blamed Delta. Delta blamed Air France. I'm sure Air France would have blamed United if given the opportunity.

This is when you gather your wits and forge a solution. I hadn't fully believed in a perfect finale, so I kept my suitcase with me. When United said I hadn't a seat for any of the flights to Madison, I took my bags, waved goodbye to the whole lot of them and called Ed to get a recent bus schedule to Madison. With twenty minutes to spare, I walked over to the Hilton that stands by the bus terminal, bought an outrageously expensive snack for the bus ride (which I will submit to Delta for reimbursement -- that, and the bus ticket) and then sat back and exhaled.

Travel is easy, except when it's not.Then it's all on you: to stay calm, to appreciate the help that's offered, to find your own solutions when others cant find them for you. I cant say that I'm always perfect at doing any of this, but I try. It's hugely important to me do travel with kindness and patience and so, at the very least, at each and every turn, I try.

Home at last. Ed is waiting at the bus stop. My bags are with me. There's talk of snow tomorrow. There's music in the air.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Paris in December, continued

I open one of the three large windows of my beautiful room to a blue sky and a slowly receding moon.


It's going to be a fine day in Paris!

How should I begin? With the usual cafe breakfast? Or a hotel breakfast? Both are fine, but maybe I should venture out further?

Off I go, chasing what I hope is more than just the moon...


Lovely as that moon is!


There is a tea room that is appended to a bakery and in the recent decades both have earned a lot of local hand clapping. I'd always wanted to stop in for lunch, but I was never there at the right time. Now's the time to branch out and try it. For breakfast. Or call it brunch!

The name of the place is "Bread and Roses," which sort of makes you think of England, but in fact, when you enter, there isn't much that reminds you of England except perhaps for the roses.

(The corner building...)


(The table, the rose, and a time release selfie...)


And the food? Well, you can just have your croissant and call it a day, but I'm thinking that one doesn't have to wed oneself to the idea that every morning in Paris deserves a croissant. Indeed, fairly good croissants can now be found in spots all across the U.S.  But great brioche? Now that's special!  And let me go on record as saying that the brioche here (served with a slab of butter and a bowl of home made organic strawberry jam ) is out of this world! It's late, it's brunch and so eggs are a nice addition. And they're good eggs, with a lovely salad, but really, the star of the show is the brioche. (You can be sure I'll be experimenting with brioche at home.)


Had I been ravenously hungry, I surely would have added a pastry to my meal. Like form their window display of all cakes raspberry. Another time!


I am on Rue Madame -- just a skip away from the Luxembourg Gardens. Time to give it my smile again.


Oh that sunshine! It makes kids of us all!


Wonderful sunshine, against a pale blue winter sky...


On the streets of the city again, I once again come across a Christmas tree market.


No, you don't have to carry that tree home! Have a stroller? Use it!


The sun brings the French men and women out to the sidewalk cafes. It's just barely above freezing, but sunshine makes all the difference. (I'm sure you'll have noted the woman with a cigarette. The French still do permit outside smoking, but I have to say the number of smokers has gone down considerably. Which is such a good thing.)


Passing a local green grocer, I am tempted. Around the bend he has berries. They are yummy looking berries. But I'm decked out in my warmest coat, hood, mittens, parcels. And so I just look.


I walk down to the river. I don't have a firm destination in mind. I stroll along this ribbon of blue against a sky of blue all the way down to the Musee d'Orsay (on the opposite bank, you'll see the Tuileries Gardens).


That's the museum with the Impressionists and the special exhibition on Degas and his dancers. And I see that there is no line! Well, must be fate. I approach the revolving doors and then boom! A guard blocks my entrance (and that of the people lining up behind me). An announcement is made: someone left a suspicious package inside. Everyone must stay away until this is resolved.

Yes, it must be fate. No museum for me today. I walk on.

Past stores that remind me of little ones...


And now I am close to the Place des Invalides and I see scores of buses and hundreds of people getting out and walking across the bridge to... what? Where have these crowds come from? I've never seen Paris like this! As I start to cross the river, I ask someone -- what's happening here?

Oh, it's France, paying homage to Johnny Hallyday.

Well, I've been here enough times to know that he was this country's beloved pop artist. A colorful guy (see the link above). I hadn't known he died. Oh, I read online news when I travel, but right now, we're all rather fixated with the political spectacle going on within our own borders.

I never quite make it across to the other side of the river. One pause, to acknowledge the beauty of the Tower and then I turn back.


This will have been yet another trip to Paris where I never quite make it to the Right Bank.

(Here's a Hallyday fan, taking a break to eat lunch...)


Yet another bakery. They're really starting to tempt me.


I am now in the 7th Arondissement -- where my family and I had gathered for Snowdrop's first visit to Paris. I still think of it as her neighborhood.

And what's this? Music. Hundreds of people taking to the street... Is it part of the Hallyday tribute? No. These concerned citizens are marching on behalf of people with rare illnesses. It is at once moving and sad and hopeful and inspiring, all at the same time.


But how did it get to be so late? The sun sinks, the colors are deeper now.


And by the time I reach my hotel, it is completely dark. I had paused to pick up a raspberry financier (sort of like an individual pound cake). I have it now with a cup of tea.


And after I text with this family member and talk to that guy back at the farmhouse, it's time to head out to dinner.

I don't mess with Saturdays here: I book in advance. I had reserved a spot at the Breizh Cafe before I knew I'd be landing a spot there on my first night in Paris. Now that I have eaten here just the day before yesterday, you'd think I would want to cancel and go elsewhere.

Not so. I tell myself I don't have to eat buckwheat crepes. I can splurge on their Brittany oysters and munch on their pate, or smoked fishes, or fill myself with their wonderful North Sea langoustines (scampi).

But, the buckwheat crepe is just too tempting. I eat a half dozen oysters and then I devour this buckwheat guy, filled with mushrooms, cheese, smoked duck and an egg.


I'm seated at the counter and so I have a full view of the open kitchen. I know this guy is the chef. You're thinking  -- Japanese?

Indeed. Breizh Cafe has a big foot in Japan. Amazing how sharing cultures and foods can so often enrich us all.


This will have been my last day in Europe. Tomorrow I leave all of it behind -- all this (Poland, France...) that I wrote about with, I hope, the true amount of curiosity, admiration and love.

I'll be returning home. My next post should be from the other side of the ocean.