Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I lost a post. I worked on it in my spare (nonexistant) minutes, I tweeked it, corrected it , sensitized it because well, you know, people are prone to misunderstandings. And then, when I tried to bring it up, it disappeared.
Forgive me. I am spent. Tomorrow I will deal with my imperfect computer skills, Tonight I sleep.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


In a comment to the previous post a reader wrote: most of my friends are reclusive and therefore they live alone (or words to that effect).

Oh yes. I know about people who live alone. It used to be said of them that they turn weird after 40. That they are like only children – less competent at sharing time and space with another. Is this true?

In recent years I have met loners (those that live alone by choice) and I’m beginning to think that their single status is much underappreciated.

Oh now don’t start picking on me for being anti-coupling. I have lived far far more years as part of a couple than alone. So clearly I see its virtues. Someone cooks, someone cleans the dishes. Someone asks a question, someone answers it. Someone picks up the kid at school, someone picks up her medicine at the drugstore. It’s a project. So now that I have officially come out as one who favors couple-hood, let me get back to the loner.

Is there something to be learned from a person who rejects partnership? Is it like someone who rejects religion in that both view themselves quite capable of moving from corner one to corner two without additional assistance? Or are there other methods that loners incorporate into their game plan that are substitutes for the companionship of another?

The loner I know best these days would say that living alone allows him to eat milk chocolate whenever he wants to and sleep on the floor of a sheep shed if he so chooses. I believe he does both on a fairly regular basis. Of course, were I with a partner who wanted to eat chocolate and sleep in a sheep shed, I would probably insist that the shed be in the south of France and that we spend at least half a year in it. But that’s just me.

I called my loner friend just now to ask him what reason he would give for his, for the most part, loner status. It didn’t take him long to answer: I can get up at night and watch a bad video. I can hammer some and roast some chestnuts and then sleep a while longer.

Isn’t that selfish? I ask. I can also enter a situation, do some good and move on, he tells me. You think loners are weird? I think couples a weird.

I’m thinking about all this. I actually don’t think either are weird. I just think that loners get a bum rap in our world, that’s all.

Monday, November 28, 2005


There are only three of them: couples where I am a devoted fan and loyal friend of both him and her. [They are all a him and a her and I am speaking about this side of the ocean and still, I may have forgotten someone, so forgive me.]

How is it that you wind up not liking the partner of someone you hugely like? Easy. One can be a creep, the other a gem. But more often, you simply do not know much about the other person. They may be better than best – how would you know? They don’t connect with you, nor you with them. It could be situational, it could be intentional -- no matter. It's fine that way.

But these three couples are different. For the most part, I do stuff with the both and it is always tremendous and wonderful.

And through a magnificent confluence of circumstances, within this one week I will see, separately, all three. It’s as if Christmas is coming early to the loft: I am that happy.

Last night I spent time with pair number one. That’s like a trip to France right then and there. They have young children to whom they speak French (possibly because they themselves are French) and this positively thrills me, as my fluency in French is about elementary school vocabulary level (okay, add to it putin, merdre and a few odd words of that nature, but after that, it’s all about Je prefere le tarte, je n’aime pas le poisson and similar basic French phrases, these very ones overheard just last night, as a matter of fact).

So in spite of the French, I understand the dynamics and feel like I am for a minute sitting in a tiny left bank apartment and we’re discussing the school situation for les enfants. [I am told Paris left bank apartments are indeed small, which does not surprise me since every single hotel room I have inhabited in Paris has been on the left bank and the dimensions were never more than 6 by 6 feet or less. Or so it seemed.]

As these people are European, it is entirely pleasing to commiserate about upbringing standards and to applaud our own stricter European approach to matters of discipline, where the kid knows that “non” to les glaces is non-negotiable and where if you don’t eat some poisson you may as well kiss le tarte good-bye. My kind of people!

My own daughters accuse me of giving them the Stare of Deep Disappointment when they misbehaved and at that point they said they feared for their lives, even though my punishment never ever went beyond the Stare of Deep Disappointment. But it was enough to send them into states of great misery, as us European types know how to give very effective Stares of Deep Disappointment.

Last night, at the end of the evening (which had a delicious salad of fresh spinach and market tomatoes, a poisson baked in an intense broth with vegetables, then cheeses and le tarte below) I left feeling that I can now cancel my forthcoming trip to France. I felt that satiated. [Thankfully, that feeling left me by the time I pulled into the loft and my forthcoming trip remains forthcoming.]

Report on couple number two and couple number three will appear later in the week. Or not. Sometimes these evenings are too private or too saturated with cosmos or wine so that the recollections are paltry.

Madison Nov 05 442

Sunday, November 27, 2005

think before you leave

Saturday night, which happened to be my last night in Chicago, we chased food. Never mind that Evanston has plenty to brag about food-wise. We wanted to go to a place that was a 45 minute drive away, in a neighborhood far west of downtown, among warehouses and fast food eateries.

Why the effort? The place has the reputation of being the best “inexpensive” (this term is admittedly relative) restaurant in town.

The place happens to be called Think.

And this says mountains about who we are, our small eating foursome that has sat around a table and chomped its way through many a meal in the last decades. We are bound in our common love of eating together (at places that show a great respect for the food, the people who make it and those – us – who consume it).

Fresh and honest, lack of pretension, intimate, exciting – food presentation qualities for which we will travel far.

So this should have created a perfect moment.

And it did. Almost.

I have no complaints about the food. Smoked salmon with capers and caviar over crispy potato nests in a horseradish sauce, followed by pasta with frutti di mare in a spicy tomato sauce, finished off with a chocolate dipped cannoli with mascarpone cream and fresh fruits. All great stuff.

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think: in the beginning

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think: what matters in the end

But life does move beyond the dinner plate and this morning our small band had to take a breath and move on to the next moment in time.

I drove my youngest to the airport. O’Hare was starting to swell, even at the crazy early hour of 6 a.m. The drizzle changed to rain and as I switched gears, turning northward toward Madison, I played one CD over and over and contemplated the days behind and the days ahead. If I sound pensive, I am that and then some. In a calm way though. In a good way.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

tiny bubbles and rough spots

It could be put off no longer. A morning of pleasurable reading, followed by an afternoon of much-needed purchasing.

I had three helpful assorted types accompany me. A winter jacket of mine needed to be replaced. They’re good at that sort of stuff. I’m not. Me, I see the first approximation of what I need and I take out the credit card. Good enough – my favorite shopping words.

Someone stayed at my side at all times as I made my way through Bloomingdale’s until the right-fitting perfect-looking jacket was identified Sure you’re all right now? – they ask as I wait to complete the purchase. Yes, yes, off you go, attend to you your own needs, I’ll be fine.

But I wasn’t.

The salesperson tells me that I will be receiving two $15 gift cards because my purchase exceeds $200. If I dropped a few more tens, I could get one more $15 gift card, redeemable until the end of December.

Panic. That’s a bargain, right? I should look for another purchase. Where are my soldiers, my army of supporters? Okay, I can do this. Off to the lingerie department. A $30 undergarment and I am set.

I proceed smugly to the gift card acquisition desk waving my banners – receipts totaling to $302. Under my other arm – a coveted sweater, about to be reduced in price by three $15 gift cards. I am a whiz at this!

I pass other enticements along the way. Man, they really want you to shop here today! I don't need you to wine and sweeten me, I'm doing well.

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Bloomie's bribes

At the gift card desk I am slapped right across my knuckles. You’re short by $15. You can only get two gift cards. Wait, put away your calculator. $270 and $32 add up to $302, I know it for a fact! Your machine lies!

Before taxes. We add the amounts before taxes. You’re short $15.

It still pays for me to do this, right? I mean, there’s a bargain here, I must take advantage of it, I am so close! I should have taken the champagne. No soldiers, no booze, no idea what I am doing.

Okay. Black tights. I can always use a pair. But $11 each? Not enough! Oh, but two pairs are going for $17.50. Do I need two pairs? No. But heck, I am now just $4 short. Who cares about need when you have a bargain so close at hand.

I purchase the tights, get the cards and notice that my cell is ringing. Furiously. Where are you? Call my soldiers. We left you paying for the jacket, you said you were fine, that you’d meet us in five minutes.

Yes, but then there were gift cards and so I had to go back and purchase lingerie, two pairs of tights and a sweater. Such a deal though! You’ll be proud of me.

They weren’t proud of me.

I felt I needed time to recover. Another blogger pal was waiting for me at Evanston’s newest chocolate lounge. You need places like this to help cream over the rough spots. The selection was large, but hey, I knew what I wanted.

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Ethel's goodies

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Nina's choices

On my way home I stopped at Whole Foods to pick up wine for dinner. Ah. It is a trend. This day is about chocolate, champagne and shopping. This time I know to grab the freebies. Anything to smooth over the bumps.

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Whole Foods bubbles and sweets

Friday, November 25, 2005

windy city

It continues to be cold. Chicago feels like the capitol of Siberia. I don’t want this burst of frigid air, don’t need it, wish it would go away.

Maybe I am feeling surly for other reasons. Maybe it’s the shopping thing. A daughter tells me that several million have entered Walmart in the first hours of its opening after the holiday. Cool. I hope they found what they were looking for. Me, I hate being part of this buying madness.

I have no problem with laying down the credit card, nor with gift giving. I think commercialism (a euphemism for having warm and fuzzy feelings toward another as manifested by a burst of shopping on their behalf) in small doses is just fine. Sure it helps the corporate giant, but it also places a penny in the stocking of someone you care about. But I do not like milling around with a crowd of a million where half are sporting bags the size of large mammals. And sorry, but waiting in line just to get through the revolving door of Marshall Fields just isn’t right.

Still, I am surly only in short snippets. My daughters are in singing moods, Snowflakes are falling rapidly. I meet a blogging friend for a cosmo at the deco-ish Orrington Hotel Lounge. All good. Just take away the cold spell, please.

Oh Chicago, Chicago, you play with my senses way too much.

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madness: hundreds pouring in

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sanity: an evening cosmo with a blogger pal

Thursday, November 24, 2005

what a difference a day makes


The wind kicked the clouds around and now there are patches of blue.

Baking. Apple pastries, a spice cake, corn muffins, chocolate almond orange cake. Did Pilgrims do cake? Is this holiday about Pilgrims? The most American of American holidays. I remember when I was a kid, living in the States just for a few years (my father was with the UN), Thanksgiving meant nothing to my family. Jewish people do not celebrate Christmas. Polish people do not celebrate Thanksgiving. My only experience with turkey was when I occasionally made myself a Swanson’s turkey TV dinner. I thought the pasty gravy sucked.

Baking. It’s not my kitchen here in Evanston and so I do a lot of substitutions. No buttermilk? No problem! Let’s make some. No measuring spoons? No problem! Let’s free ourselves, get rid of the fine print, improvise. Pilgrims and Indians did not use measuring spoons or cooling racks.

Two million people are traveling through O’Hare airport this week-end. My older daughter is one of them. We drove over late last night to pick her up. Thousands of others were doing the same. The curb at the Arrivals terminals was packed five deep with waiting travelers. The cars squeezed in, plucked out their own loved one, moved on. You stand for more than 5 seconds, you get a $75 ticket. My arriving daughter is there, looking, looking and as she spots the blue car, her face turns into one huge grin. My younger one shouts out at the cars – leave ours alone! Don’t pluck her out! She belongs to us!

I hear the average American will consume 7100 calories today. That would be about five times as much as anyone needs. Butterballs, all of us.

I make use of mushrooms. I want our Madison Whole Foods to have these:

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Dinner. Chanterelles with corn, exotic mushrooms on the herbed salad. The turkey is rubbed with olive oil and herbs. The mashed buds are herbed as well – with basil and chives. The soup dumplings have tarragon and parsley. Herbs and mushrooms. And chocolate and cranberries. An American Thanksgiving. Right?

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baking for breakfast

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baking for dinner

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cooking for lunch

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predinner crostini

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I read in the Tribune: this will be the coldest Chicago Thanksgiving since 1956. That’s almost fifty years ago.

I took a walk by the lake today. Quiet, deserted. It was plenty windy already.

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no swimming, no lifeguard, no kidding.

I began my adult life in Chicago. I moved here to go to grad school when I was 21. I had been hanging out in northern Italy for the late winter months just prior to this, living off of the remains of my au pair earnings. That in itself should tell you that I wasn’t ready to be an adult.

So how was it that two years later I was engaged to be married? Ah, love. And friendship.

Such different times! Everything about those days was different. I go inside a café now to get warm. Cell phones, computers – newcomers here. Life-altering events.

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evidence of displeasure

In a city I am always anxious to walk, to pace the blocks. And so I am out again in the evening. Lights are on, a handful of people out walking their dogs during these predinner hours. Quick steps. It’s cold.

Love. I see one dog turning around, wanting so much to engage another. Other forces (the owner) pull at him. He has to leave. The encounter could have been different. It wasn’t though.

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the pull toward pleasure

mean streets

I used to live here, though on the south side. These streets were once my streets.

So I am back. My first twleve hours. Impressions? My mental notes include the following:

A long detour getting here because Golf Road was cordoned off for blocks. Something to do with a dead body.

A trip to the local Whole Foods (smirk noted, thanks) reveals the mark up on just about everything. Because, you know, it’s the city and people will pay.

I must remember to set the alarm at two hour intervals so that I can move the car. You are not allowed to do anything (eat, visit, have sex, take a nap -- just to give a few examples of potentially non-interruptable activities) for more than two hours at a time. Must move, must move, get up and get out of here, out you go! Switch places, musical parking places, what fun!

I'm watching the preciously lovely, Dickensian almost, view out the window at dawn, with the gentle snow lightly covering the buildings of the university across the street from where I’m staying …Only to pretty much have it melt on the hot urban sidewalk by the time I get out with the camera (to move the car, what else).

I do like cities! I do! Their grittiness challenges you to stay calm, unperturbed. Feet up, exhale.

Chicago Nov 05 002
(at dawn. note student-type pulling all-nighter with term paper)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

from torts to tortes

It is noon. My last pre-break meeting with my adorable Torts class. I want to prolong the moment of bonding before attacking them with questions about defective products. Defects are hard to get excited about on the day before the day before Thanksgiving. Coca-Cola bottles exploding in Glady Escola’s hand at Tiny’s Waffle Shop – is that happy news? Nothing to be thankful for there.

Twenty-seven times. That’s how often the word defect (or its derivative) creeps into my 55 minute lecture this afternoon. Cup half empty: defective products line our shelves. You cannot avoid them. Happiness is a day when a defective something or other doesn’t jump at you and scar you for life.

I asked the students if they expect to have a happy holiday this Thanksgiving. Three (15%) admitted that happiness was not on the plate before them. One expected supreme boredom (family issues I gather), two felt that Law School and the work ahead blew that bubble of bliss right from under them.

Surprisingly all but one (so 95%) are leaving town. Wow. It’s as if families and amorous pursuits suck the student blood right out of this town on the holiday week-end.

One went to the west coast, another is going to the east coast and the rest (i.e. 90%) are traveling within the Midwest. Are we a regional school? Not strictly speaking. Those amorous pursuits can make a sudden Midwesterner out of anyone.

I thought I ought not only pry. I should share. And so I told them what I am spilling out to Ocean readers now: that I myself am traveling down to Chicago (Evanston really) where my wee little family of four is gathering around the dining room table. I expect we will remain seated at this table a lot. I have been taught that the Thanksgiving holiday is all about eating (turkeys, tortes and pies come to mind). The Pole within me feels comfortable with that and so I see myself as being the mover and shaker of pots and pans for the next few days. So basically we will stay in and tub out.

Blogging will continue. I am sympathetic to the losers among us (me) who cannot pry themselves even during holidays from computer screens.

Chances are you’re traveling as well. Have a safe trip.

Monday, November 21, 2005

with a name like that you are destined to make chocolates

Face it, my name tells you little of who I am or what I do. It’s kind of foreign sounding, but otherwise uninformative.

But a year and a half ago, when I was making croissants and gougeres for L’Etoile’s Saturday market café, I met a then fellow baker, Gail Ambrosius.

Here’s a sad thought: since our time together baking at L’Etoile, Gail has commandeered her passions (for chocolate making) and is now establishing herself as (I think) one of this country’s leading chocolatiers...

Madison Nov 05 406 the same time that I have commandeered my passions (for writing) and am now establishing myself as an eccentric small-time blogger, restlessly surviving life in a Midwestern university town. Impressive.

Ah well, had I been born as Nina Chevre, I may have tried my hand at making goat cheeses. Nina Lewandowska? Slated to marry and settle in America, land of opportunity for hookin' up with someone with a nice, short last name. Timing is of essence: I needed to get to it early, before historic forces would pressure me to keep “my own” (i.e. my father’s) name and not offer, instead, a chance to flee from the oppressive and wicked fate of having such a horribly long and unattractive last name.

I had told Gail when she was just getting going with her chocolate passion a year ago that I would stop by and take a look at her chocolate making facility. Okay, so it took me a while to actually visit her there (I finally showed up this morning), but in the interim, I have been sampling her goods (now sold in Madison at Steve’s Liquor and Café Soleil, as well as through the Net here). If you have never eaten one of her truffles, you are no true chocolate hound. Don’t even pretend.

Gail merges flavors in ways few have dared. Her finest (in my opinion): maharajah curry with saffron in a dark Dominican chocolate; earl grey tea sprinkles with organic lavender buds in a Venezuelan chocolate; peony and rose tea also in a Venezuelan dark; and special for this holiday season: a dense dark chocolate with cranberry and meyer lemon. That’s MEYER lemon and if you’ve never sucked on a MEYER lemon then you are a babe in foodie explorations and should rush to your nearest purveyor while the season lasts.

But first, try one of these, made by the queen of the dark, heavenly stuff:

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earl grey tea and lavender buds

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cranberry and Meyer lemon

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my own box, traveling with me for the holidays

Sunday, November 20, 2005

banana fana fo fina

Most people tell me they like their names. I think that your name becomes somehow inexorably intertwined with your inner core in a substantial way. Looking at it with distaste would be like finding fault with the appearance of some aspect of your cardiopulmonary system or something.

I have often wondered, is it stressful, therefore, to be an Elizabeth or David or any other name that is frequently tossed around? Or do these people feel the same warm and tender stroke of their inner-personhood when they come across their special (but not really all that special) set of letters?

And, conversely, if you have an unusual name (without it being off-the-wall bizarre or off-putting), is there a less modest reaction when you hear or see it articulated or scribbled somewhere? Do you have a sweeping grin stretching from one organ to another as you think to yourself “wow, this one’s about me?”

I almost never encounter any Ninas. When a Nina does wind up in the same space as I am, I have a hard time believing she is a Nina. I see her more as a nina or maybe Nina, but never Nina.

Man, does my gut feel possessive about that little letter combo. And why shouldn’t it? Nina has stayed with me my entire life. It has followed me from the principal’s office (“Nina, you have to do as Miss Kaufman asks you to do in music class. You are not to drop the music book on the floor with a bang, no matter what you think of her request.”), to the county courthouse (“making an appearance, along with her attorney, Nina L.C.”).

It is, therefore, strange and disconcerting when I come across the name randomly, unexpectedly, brazenly. It happened this afternoon, at my local little Italian deli. I’m still recovering.

Madison Nov 05 405

Saturday, November 19, 2005

guy talk

I’m going to get beaten for this post, I know it. But what can I say, Ocean says it like it is and today I talked guy talk.

Qualification: I am in no way implying at any point that women do not make great carpenters nor that they don’t, can’t or wont design things with metal, or subscribe to computer magazines, or that they scoff at spectator sports and do not know how to banter with hardware sales people or tinker and fix things around the house, or that they are incapable of being slovenly in their personal habits. So don’t even try to get me on that one.

It’s just that I have this friend who has the above traits and then some and when I give him a hard stare for some particularly annoying habit, I get that shrug that says it all: guys do that sort of stuff and I’m a guy.


Today, though, I put it to good use. This friend, let’s call him Mr. Guy (Mr. G., as opposed to Mr. B.), has great mechanical abilities. I mean, he is talented in ways that I can’t begin to understand, since no one in my family – going up or down or sideways in lineage – has any such talents except for my maternal grandfather and he sure as hell did not pass it on to the next generation nor the one after. Oh, I can be somewhat handy and one of my daughters appears to have a nascent ability to put things together, but none of it has received any nurturance or support and so tell any of us to fix or build something and all we can do is retreat and hide under quilts in shame.

Mr. G., on the other hand, designs and builds computerized machines for guys to use (he tells me his business clients are 95% guys and 5% women buying presents for their guys). So if you sit around and say things like – God, I’d like to figure out a way to sit by the window and work on my computer there, you’re going to get solutions.

We’re at Menards. Of course. Guy land, ostensibly. Do you have a hack saw? He asks me. I have never sawed a hack in my life. No, of course I do not have a hack saw.

Get one.
Can I use it for my Christmas tree? I get the stare that tells me I should know better than to use a blade meant for metal on a tree stump.

We’re at the restaurant supply store. One look at Mr. G. and the man behind the counter is all over the place showing possible units, talking about support brackets and wires and who knows what else. Then he gives me a discount. Why? Because Mr. G. talked dirty with him: all about brackets, wires, with weird silences in between and questions throughout. Guy talk.

Madison Nov 05 296 clerk at K restaurant supplies

Oh, there were moments were I had to take a break. At the Winter Market I ran to my world of farmers and bakers and hid from the onslaught of guy-dom.

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And after Menards I insisted on a latte at Borders, where I got lost for a few minutes in the relationship between de Beauvoir and Sartre*. The world of relationships and rebels is a world I understand.

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But then we were at it again. Hold that in place while I saw off the ends. Have some varnish around? No? Not even a tack cloth? Get one.

Finally, at the end of the day, this:

Madison Nov 05 310 new writing solution at the loft

And so long as I was being sucked into this horror movie of tools and implements and metal and varnish, I agreed to the ultimate: those who know me will absolutely not believe this, but it’s true. In the evening, I got roped into going to the Field House to watch a game (it’s like ballet! – he tells me). At least it was women playing volley ball. I honestly would have said no had the sport been of the rough kind.

Ballet anyone?

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* Those who followed yesterday’s blog post commentary will appreciate my pull towards Sartre’s favorite words: “Naturally one doesn’t succeed in everything, but one must want everything.”

Friday, November 18, 2005


Lattes. Health Valley peanut butter and strawberry bars. Nouveau Baujolais (but only on the third Thursday of November each year, when it is introduced and stores make a big deal about it).

Borders, Mifflin Street Co-op, Whole Foods (I can't help it. Willie Street Co-op should replace Whole Foods, yet I remain loyal to the corporate giant).

Ocean blog comments, others’ blog comments, comments about blogs.

Mr. B in the morning, Mr. B in the afternoon, Mr. B at night.

Sex and the City, urban stuff, other stuff.

Stimulating conversation, funny conversation, oh!-I-haven’t-seen-you-forever! conversation (that happened, btw, in front of Whole Foods today, so there we have another reason to love Whole Foods).

Travel to Europe, traveling through Europe, leaving Europe but planning the next trip to Europe en route home.

Reading the first chapters of books, writing the first chapters of a book, skimming through the first chapters of books.

Cooking for people, eating with people, having people cook for me.

Madison Nov 05 289
given the comments to the previous post, I felt compelled to follow through: pureed squash soup, with goat cheese and fresh herb gnocchi.


Inserting “you should” into emails, inserting “you should” into blog comments, inserting “you should” into phone conversations.

Getting a kick from having my own washer & dryer (for 25 years now, kick is still going strong), getting a kick out of having indoor plumbing (for 49 years now, kick is still going strong), getting a kick out of entering a warm place where thoughtful hosts actually cranked up the thermostat over and beyond 65 (ever since I moved to Wisconsin).

Chocolate after dinner, cereal after dinner, really, a whole ‘nother meal’s worth of food immediately after dinner.

Cosmos with cosmo-lovin’ friends, wine with wine-lovin’ friends, ummm, I’m drawing a blank on a third here. So, I failed to keep the momentum going. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Posts should be short. Ocean has been a little out of control lately.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

chestnuts and jellies

In the late afternoon, after classes were done with, I engaged in a (frenzied?) email exchange about happiness. It was one of those one-upmanship things: who is more likely to search, and therefore find happiness – my email-respondent or me?

You aren’t entirely serious when you write about this sort of stuff. In fact, most people shrivel and hide if anyone even asks them about their happiness (what does it mean? there’s no such thing, etc etc). But insofar as we were able to conclude anything during this particular exchange, it was that he had small fluctuations (a little happy, a little sad) and I had great ones (a lot happy and less frequently for sure, a lot sad) and it all added up to pretty much the same bowlful of happiness.

But then we zeroed in to the heart of the matter: can a person who is a little this a little that ever fully appreciate the singular joy that comes with great friendship? Parenthood? Love? Companionship? An adorable Torts class?

I don’t get “little joys” people. My writer friend states: “if the chestnut is gone, there’s always a sweet potato.” (Meaning, there’s always something.) Well yes, but I am not ashamed to admit that I have a hierarchy of preferences on what foods I will place in front of me. Ahead of the pack come my two little chestnuts out in NHaven. It’s a given. But after that, I will chase down a truckload of foods before I settle for the sweet potato.

I look for them, I spend time on them. My friend says (by now the discussion has shifted to the phone) “I’m not a “more” person. I don’t need even more than I already have.” My heart goes out for you. More love and greater happiness seem infinitely better than an average amount. And why waste time on the potato, on the gray sky, on inertia, on fear of failure, when you can indulge yourself and revel in a heart-wrenchingly beautiful sunrise right there, outside your window, or a plateful of jellies at a café around the corner? But you need to crave them and expect to find them. Such joy when you do!

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this afternoon, around the corner, at Jo's

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this morning, out the loft window

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

(this post is dedicated to commenters no. 6 & 7 from the previous post)

Hey you! I know you love the Midwest. I know that you are not living here for reasons that have nothing to do with your feelings for this place. But come on, surely you do not miss days like today! Read on:

This morning it is confirmed. What touched my face with wet slobberishness late last night turned into an icy cold dusting of snow this morning.

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Some people, whom I have heretofore considered reasonable human beings, actually claim a fondness for this shift in climate (from nice to awful). I sort of don’t believe them. Show your love! Join me out there in barren expanse of snow, ice and frozen earth!

And yet, and yet, I want to challenge myself. I have time. The Torts class doesn’t convene until noon. I am going to peddle my way to the countryside! Mr. B, you and I are going to love this Wisconsin blast of cold air if it kills us!

It nearly does. The temperature is hovering around twenty, the windchill is in the single digits or less. There are icy patches on the road and the wind is kicking up a nice 30 mph gust as I push against it, heading south.

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(on Lake Monona, looking bewildered by the sudden freeze)

First, my nose disappears off my face. I can’t feel it, so it must be gone. Then my fingers, wrapped in Austrian leather (you guys mustn’t get the winters we do, is all I can say), freeze lovingly around the B. handlebars.

Ten minutes into the ride I do a nice 180 degree turn and head back toward the Square.

What I need is not a one-on-one with nature, but a one-on-one with a warm café. Preferably a welcoming space, painted in golden yellow tones. With gorgeous warm burgundy throw pillows. And a copper bar. Oh and please, find me a place with beautiful photos hung on the walls. A family-run café, where I can give the owners a hello kiss, because, you know, that’s how it’s done in glowing places where the espresso rocks and the croissants rule. Just one more request – a name that warms my soul on this cold November day.

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Cafe Soleil

I am filled with love and good will. My adorable Torts class needs a pick-me-up as much as I do: load up the boxes with croissants, brioche, and chocolate squares.

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Later in the afternoon, I set out home. Mr. B is grunting at me. Yesterday rain, today snow. I can hardly push him against the strong winds. I am undaunted: you will make it, so will I. You’re tougher than tough. Me, I’m just plain tough.

But I know our limits. I do want to see the fields dusted with snow. I want to take a look at the dogwoods and birches against the fresh powder coating the ground. But let’s be real here. I like the feel of my nose and fingers. I am resigned. I leave Mr. B at the loft, dust off the car keys and head out.

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construction workers, heading home

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outside the city: less snow, serene landscapes

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I called my mother today to wish her a happy birthday. She thanked me and mentioned in a by the way fashion that one way of becoming a millionaire would be to set aside money otherwise spent on lattes at Starbucks. I did not correct her misconception as to where I purchase my lattes.

But I did change my coffee source for the day, moving from the Electric Earth Café to Joe’s, to avoid EE’s long wait, as most before you in line order sandwiches and other foods requiring great thought and deliberation.

At Joe’s, not only did I spend $2.95 + $.35 tip, but I put the latte into the new gizmo I attached to Mr. B so that I could transport the cup and myself safely back to the loft each day. Juggling a steaming latte in my hand while crossing the railroad tracks and making sharp turns proved tricky, so I plunked down some bucks on a nifty yellow wire thing. No, of course it is not intended to hold down your latte, though I noted with some satisfaction that is was made in Italy. Fitting, considering Mr.B’s own Italian heritage.

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You might pick up from the photo that Mr. B is wet. I had neglected to take an umbrella in the morning and so I had my first taste of thirties temps, with rain and puddles throwing water against the black tights and the striped skirt number I chose to wear to work today, it being a heavy teaching day and this particular getup being my most ancient and resilient dress-up outfit, suitable for a November bike ride.

My mother did not mention the blog in the course of our talk. This was wise of her. Last time she noted it, in a letter to me, it was in a troubling context. I’m not sure she is entirely on board with the whole blogging phenomenon (an understatement, truly a whopper understatement) and most certainly she is not on board with her daughter blogging away as if there was no tomorrow.

Instead she talked about prescription drugs and Berkeley weather. She mentions California weather with frequency in winter months and especially when Madison’s weather is as it is today – cold, wet, dismally gray.

But in fact, I do not mind today’s rain. I have skylights at the loft and the rain against the roof here makes such a racket that a friend remarked recently that there must be no insulation up there. We looked up and indeed, it appears as if there are boards and then roof and then, well, sky.

Rain is not much of a factor in daily suburban life. When my daughters were little, they had slickers that were cuter than cute – with yellow ducks and blue polka dots. Their grandmother bought them the slickers and I took many photos so that their cuteness is forever recorded and future generations will maybe see the albums and say things like – wow, they wore cute slickers in those days.

But the fact is, they never wore them. Because slickers make sense only if you walk or bike in the rain. They do not make sense if you get in and out of cars and take a few steps through the parking lot to reach your destination.

I notice rain now, as I notice most everything about each day with an added twist of a sharper focus. I notice which sidewalks have cracks and which corners gather water in big puddles. I notice the color of the sky and I fully expect to go out and smell the wetness after the rain stops. I also notice when I am being snappish and when I am being calm and reasonable – as for example when talking to my mother in Berkeley today.

It’s too bad I did not notice the chestnuts in the oven last night before I fell asleep. FYI, chestnuts do not need 4 hours at 400 degrees to roast to a proper eating consistency.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Monday vignettes

I received a gift of chestnuts. I roasted some here, at the loft, yesterday. Some are at this moment baking. With the gift came these words: they are fattening. Is it better then not to eat them, demonstrating strong will and determination, or is it that someone wants me to fess up that I can have porker inclinations? Okay, you win: I have porker inclinations.


Finally I get around to mailing an on-line purchase back to the original store. Don’t want it, wont keep it. But wait! You can no longer throw packages with return items into USPS mail repositories. Anything weighing over a pound has to be processed at the station. I take it to the postal station. There I am subjected to additional security precautions. Someone asks me: is there something illegal or dangerous in here? I say no. The package gets tossed into the outgoing bin. I feel safer.


Someone said to me recently (we’re talkin’ days) “you are insane” and then proceeded to explain how in America, thems not fighting words.


I always thought that the distribution of turkey meat on the Thanksgiving turkey is odd. There’s not enough white meat (which everyone wants because, you know, it’s so much less fattening, never mind that everything else you eat that day is, well, fattening). Last year I “mistakenly” ordered only the breast of the turkey. Today I picked up the following message on the cell: rumors have reached me that you are again contemplating the purchase of only a turkey breast. Don’t go there. I will personally eat both turkey legs just to convince you that the whole bird is the way to go. Wow. There’s whole bird dedication for you. Not enough that it is a Whole Foods bird. Has to be whole. It will be whole.


A friend in Cambridge (MA) wrote this yesterday: I am to have lunch with (K) tomorrow. At the very least I can anticipate witty conversation. I wrote back that I never ever have witty luncheon conversation. I mean, when was the last time?


Nothing is as richly satisfying as a bar of Green & Blacks organic darker shade of milk chocolate milk chocolate. Nothing. Make of that what you will.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

who has seen the wind?

(very early Sunday) I want to go to Parfrey’s Glen today.
(I get a stare for that one. As well I should. It is cold outside. November cold. High winds, gray skies, an occasional release of rain.)
Wouldn’t you rather wait until there is a light coating of snow? Come on, wait for it: better contrast, better photos…

Okay, I suppose you can compare the contrast then and now. Okay… At least it wont be crowded…

Oh, it sure isn’t crowded. Driving there, the wind whips the car around. Maybe it is hinting at something? Like: you are nuts! Stay home!

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On the way we pass a small town. The kind that has one main street and then not much of anything. And that is assuming that the main street can be called much of anything.

You want to stop at a bakery? It’s not terrific. Not your éclair and napoleon type bakery.
(Why do people assume I am such a food snob?)
I happen to like all sorts of decently baked goods! (Even though none are to be found around here. Why aren't there any decently baked goods around here? Okay, I am a baked goods food snob.)

In a small town bakery: chocolate ducks (so says the sign) and sticky buns.

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Parfrey’s Glen.

Hey, older daughter (this is in a subsequent conversation), I know I have never taken you to Parfrey’s Glen, but I was wondering, have you ever been there anyway?
On a school trip, a long time ago.

I thought I went on every darn school trip ever suggested to me! Except for the cave one. I refused to go on that. Deliberately. Can you imagine something more claustrophobic than crawling behind some teacher’s butt down a narrow tunnel with (inevitably, one would think) some kid screaming - help! I’m stuck! ???

Parfrey’s Glen. Rock formations, trees, and the creek that runs through it.

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So tell me, you seem like you're such an outdoors nut -- have you really turned your back on camping?
The woods, the ravines, the streams, they don’t have Wi-Fi, do they?

Afterwards we pick up the Ice Age trail. I still don’t get it. It is not a trail that leads you to the Ice Age. It is not altogether clear to me if it leads you to much of anything. Google it all you want. I am satisfied that it is a trail that somehow weaves its way through Wisconsin and you can walk it or not, but if you do, you will not be sorry.

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A gray and blustery Sunday in Wisconsin. Winds blowing, trees dancing.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Strains of Borodin

The semester is nearly finished. Oh, not for the students. For them, life must be measured not by classes to be taught, but the exams to be written.

But for me, it’s almost done.

And the students will move on. They branch, settle into spaces and places that match their dispositions.

The Adorable Torts Section will disperse and I will never hear from half of them again.

But occasionally there'll be an email from one, a year or two later, announcing some turn of events, some milestone, or, simply, some concert.

And I go and listen and I think – wow! I’m glad I never heard her play before. I may have urged her to give up this law stuff and return to a full time commitment to cello.

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April F-S, Torts 2004