Friday, February 29, 2008

in my way

Why did we get an extra day in February? I would have liked an extra day in the month of May – unquestionably the most hope-filled month. Adding a few more hours of hope sounds good to me.

Last night, I barely made it across the Square. My evening companions were hardly bothered by the sting in the wind. Making me wonder if I am in the wrong state, with the wrong people. Or at least in the wrong season.

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Just to torture me, two eateries turned out to be closed. Perhaps forever. Still, we made our way to the third -- Muramoto, which is always special, always fresh and creative (and always just a tiny bit cold).

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So on balance? I can't complain. Good will and good food trumped the cold.

But the next day? Well, as is often the case, if you start with resolve, you end with resolve and nothing much happens in between.

I worked at home and brooded. Looking out my balcony windows, I was at first buoyed by the blue skies. And then? Let’s just say that clouds got in my way.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

what were they thinking?

It is an uncomplicated family. With just two sets of grandparents. No separations, abandonments, divorces leading to multiple sets, or additions. The two pairs? Different as can be. One set has stronger caregiving instincts. The other? Hard to tell. I’ve heard the words “selfish” and “difficult,” but really, who can tell.

They don’t get along with each other. Of that I am sure. I never hear sentences directed from one to the other. Think of all the possibilities: she can talk to the other grandmother, the other grandmother can talk to him and he to her, or to the other grandfather. But none of this happens.

And yet, to the amazement of all, the other grandparents, the ones with no caregiving instincts buy a cottage right next to the fence circling the home of the one set of grandparents. To taunt them? No. Too expensive a proposition.

What were they thinking?? Maybe – and no one thought this is possible, but maybe they had an itch. To be physically close, to their son, their granddaughters, even as nothing else in their nature, or perhaps in the circumstances, permitted the more intangible connection.

All four have died, some time ago, and so it's impossible to know for sure.

I was thinking of physical distance today. And of families. And of partnerships. And mostly of daughters. With whom I have multiple exquisite connections. But, because of circumstances, the physical distance is there. To taunt me.

No photos today.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


A student comes into my office to chat. He looks over my shoulder – you have over 9000 messages in your Inbox?

I shrug. Sometimes life gets the better of you.

My day? Like countless others. Consumed by work and thoughts of work and worries about work and dreams of less work.

In between various lectures, I sit not too far from the broken fireplace at Acora coffee shop (off the Square) and stare at the logs that refuse to light up. Behind me, a picture with a peace sign feels like it needs a prop to the right.

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Perhaps I’m not telling the story well. Okay. Start again.
The Square. Walking toward Ancora.

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After, I cut through the Capitol to get to State Street. You know, the street that, in a straight arrow, shoots you straight to Bascom Hill.

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Eventually, I lose any conception of time and place. Until the light fades and it’s time to leave and go home.

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Long day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

thinking about value

I’ve been thinking a lot about accomplishments today (and lack thereof). Some people give years to this kind of pensiveness, but I gave it only about an hour.

It doesn’t take me long to sort through puzzle pieces – I either find good fits, or I don’t and then I turn to something else. But today, I’m thinking maybe I found some good pieces. Figuratively speaking.

Much of this is about the value of work (not only the wage-earning type) and about whether, at the end of the day, you know you have delivered something of worth.

But beyond this, it's also about how differently people approach value. And that it shouldn’t much matter how others judge value, so long as you can understand what holds value for you. (For a very random example, I see value in a politician’s work ethic and political and personal accomplishments. As opposed to, say, a convincing speech. And I’m okay with that. But that may be just me.)

All this thinking, coupled with a substantial work load (of the wage-earning type) left little time for much else. But I did take a photo. And it reminds me in some small way of a painter. And her paintings remind me of “my own demographic.” Which in turn reminds of me of how sad it is that important work (for a random example – ascribed to one gender, or in the alternative, most often performed by one gender) is so often undervalued by others (for example – by members of a different gender – the one with the louder voice).

So enjoy the colors of the tulip. Think spring. In the alternative, just think. (Maybe about value?)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

leaving D.C.

I like planning a departure. I like arriving. I like staying. Leaving’s not for me.

Even though it is part of the American experience. Individual freedom, food in the grocery store and leaving. An American trilogy.

And so I learn to live with it.

The familiar wait for the Yellow Line (why is it always late?), the added burden of going to the barracks of the Northwest terminal, the delays, the flight over the city I’m leaving behind…

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...the Detroit layover and the short flight into cloudy, cold and on the verge of snow Madison.

Work. It will take over my days and I'll forget all. Add that to the trilogy. Or does that make it a quadrilogy?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

from D.C.: show or tell

Brilliant sky. Warmish even. A day for a long, scenic walk. Let me charge up the batteries.

Where’s my camera?

My last memory of it is when I used it to photograph a Georgia pecan pie. And shrimp piled on grits. And a pretty arrangement of roasted baby beets. That was last night.

So where’s my camera?

No one is picking up the phone at Vidalia (that’s right; the place is named after an onion). I set out to bang on some doors.

Lovely blue sky. Brisk walk. I knock on the front door. Nothing. I poke around the back alley and find their delivery door. Bang bang bang. Nothing.

Out front again, interspersed with lots of cell calls. The chef comes out. Big guy. Great talent there, in the kitchen. I tell him so. (Chefs make me feel small even when they’re short. This one – I can barely say one clever word, I’m so awed.) We poke around the office. No camera.

Maybe it’s in the safe. I don’t have the combo for that. I hope it’s here.
I’m totally apologetic for wasting his time. He should be slicing slivers of onion not searching for my little Sony.

I go out to brunch with my daughter. Great neighborhood place that serves eggs benedict on green tomatoes. With a side of cheese grits. I’ll order anything with grits.

Phone rings. My camera is safe, waiting for me at Vidalia.

Darn. I was getting used to imagining a walk without it. You take a disappointment, shake it around a little and adjust to the new parameters. Sure, I fretted. What if the perfect light threw itself at the perfectly expressive face of someone perfectly positioned before me? Eh, so what! I'll write it down. And I'll quit breaking the pace. I'll walk in step with my daughter. I'll be free!

Freedom is overrated. It’s good to reclaim my little guy. Nothing brilliant threw itself at me, but I could take out the reliable Sony and aim it straight at that gorgeous sky. And the still bare cherry trees. And the dad, sitting on the banks of the Potomac with his son. And the strawberry cupcakes. God, I love having my camera with me.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

from D.C.: good things

People like San Francisco and Seattle and New York. I’m saturated with New York and I can’t relate to the west coast. They have weather superiority issues. Every time I talk to my own mother (who lives in Berkeley), I hear about how uniquely special the skies are over there. When I am out visiting, all I notice is how crowded it is underneath their brilliant skies. And of course, Seattle isn’t that brilliant. (I haven’t ever traveled there, so I shouldn’t comment, but I’ve heard enough about the problems with their leaky skies.)

But this year, I have come to love visiting Boston and D.C. It may have something to do with two of its inhabitants, but there’s more to it.

I gave Boston its fair moment here on Ocean a couple of weeks back. Let me focus on D.C.

I go outside to pick up a couple of steamy coffee concoctions and I notice that I am not wearing gloves and it doesn’t matter. The air reminds me of Paris – cold, but nothing a scarf can’t take care of.

Around me, there is light. D.C., unlike any other city in the States, has no sky-scrapers. I think the tallest building (the Cairo apartment house, built in 1894) is 13 stories high – that’s just one more than my condo building in Madison. It caused an uproar when it went up and since then, structures are kept to more modest levels. You get to see a lot of sky. I like sky.

Food? Oh, like Boston, it reeks of good food. Low-end southern tinted, high-end perfectly composed and, what I tend to sample on our nights out – excellent fresh and honest (they list the farms!) middle of the pocket-book stuff.

Like last night, here (and yes, we devoured one of those pies):

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And did I mention museums? You know, the free ones? Where you can enter, not wait in line and walk straight up to a painting with your little ones and transport yourself to another place in seconds.

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Or, come back years later with the now not so little one and take in a visiting exhibit of mid-nineteenth century British photography.

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…And then watch a dad teach his kid to skate (in the Museum sculpture garden).

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You know, the sculpture garden with the big typewriter eraser. (Are you too young to have ever used these? Times were tough for writers of yore.)

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We cross the Mall to the metro stop. The Mall. My office looks out over a mall back in Madison. Bascom Mall. But the D.C. Mall is huge. With room enough for a game.

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In the late afternoon, we make our way back to Georgetown. Because it’s always so enchanting there. And because they have great cupcakes.

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On the way home Im taken (for balance) to a "favorite" rat-sighting places.

So okay, there are rats. I do indeed see one. Squirrels with less attractive tails. An animal-friendly city! Me, I hate pigeons and yet I still love Venice.

There isn't a city in the world without issues. And still, they draw me in. Complicated places. But beautiful too. You can't get too lazy in life and hide. D.C. wont let you hide.

Friday, February 22, 2008


It’s time to take a break. Wisconsin has forged some kind of weather alliance with northern Canada this year and I'm getting impatient with it all. Time to head south. Where a daughter lives. D.C. is south. D.C. hardly ever gets snow. D.C. is balmy now. Springlike almost.

I’m coming!

Say what? I'm bringing with me snow and ice to the east coast? I'm so sorry! But surely this would not include D. C… Could it??

The plane is full of people diverted from cancelled flights into New York and Boston. Lucky us. We’re heading south of that mess.

So it’s unfortunate to hear the pilot come on and say “folks..” (captains like that expression) “… we’re being diverted.” Why? -- I wonder. “Our landing gear isn’t working properly (something about no skid that or the other) and so we need an extra long runway. That means going back to Detroit or landing in Dallas. We’re choosing the latter.”

At least that’s what everyone heard. Dead silence. Then murmurs. (Wow, that’s really south!) Then another announcement. “Folks, there seems to be some confusion. We mean Dulles, not Dallas.”

The minute cell phones are permitted, the whole plane calls everyone they know to tell the story of Dallas, no, Dulles, and ha ha! isn’t it funny?

People like a happy ending.

But it’s icy and foggy here. I take the city bus from Dulles to DC downtown and I can barely recognize anything outside. The city is hiding behind a layer of cold, gray air.

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I am a bad weather magnet!

Still, I'm not discouraged. This is daughter-land! And weather patterns change. And walking from the metro stop to her place I see this:

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...and this:

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Perhaps not balmy. But warm enough for someone to be sitting outside. How about that! How spring-y!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

moon beams

Last night, I wanted to see my city bathed in a moonlit landscape of bronze and gold. I wanted to watch the skies warm up. I wanted to see the eclipse that was announced as being best witnessed from my home town. Not to be repeated until 2010.

I had a three-hour time span. The night was crystal clear.

I stayed home.

It's so cold outside!

But I did take a quick peek from my balcony. Good stuff. Up there, between my condo and infinity, there was a pretty moon all orange and, from one side, bright.

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The next day (today), I was lost in a universe of work from sunrise to sunset. And I couldn’t be bothered with moons or stars or lights bathing landscapes, or much of anything else, really.

Oh, how quickly moon beams fade.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


High of 6?? No, you don't feel my pain (you folks, south of here).

I wait at the bus stop. In the shelter hut. I’m not a fan of them. What can I say -- they are dirty. Still, they offer protection.

A couple sits on the bench. Very young. She snuggles into him. He’s detached, but it could be an image thing. She takes out a pack of cigarettes. Why you doin’ that? – he asks. I paid for them! –she protests. And look, I won $3 in the lottery! And then – hey, look at these! She takes from her pocket a crumpled strip of photos. Fetus photos.

He glances over, says nothing. Look here, you can see his wee-wee. He looks, says nothing. She lights her cigarette and only now do I notice that she could indeed be quite pregnant.

I also notice that she has a tooth missing and that she is wearing ankle socks. On this horribly cold day.

She snuggles into him again and lights her cigarette. I leave the shelter.

And the whole episode just shakes me on so many levels.

I get off on campus, pick up a cup of coffee at the bookstore and walk to the Law School. You know how you can tell it’s icy cold here? The guys are not only not in shorts, their heads are covered.

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My class ends late. I look out my office window. For a long time. Just a person or two out there, on Bascom Hill.

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I eat a sweet potato chip and head home.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Today, over coffee, a friend suggested that I break beyond the tame in Ocean. (Actually she did not use the words “break” or “beyond” or “tame,” but I chose to hear it that way.)
I thought about it for a second and then said this – Ocean is a leisure blog. It explores the possibilities of that component of your life.

I’m not sure I fully believe that, but it sounded good.

And so here I am, on a major political event day in my state and I walk away from it here, on Ocean.

Well, not totally. I’ll say this much: Ed and I cancelled each other out in the voting.

Other Wisconsin news? It was cold. Even the bus felt cold. But, I get off, I go vote, I walk home, open the door to my condo, and suddenly, winter feels like a small nothing.

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In the late afternoon, I drive to the café, passing a playground in a very small park. Everything is iced over. No kids here. What a surprise.

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Returning home again, I watch a guy walk a kid up toward a park trail. He points to the ice on the trees. The kid listens. They walk on.

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And that is today, political happenings notwithstanding.

Monday, February 18, 2008

from Door County: winter storm

We saw it coming. And sure enough, we wake up to the sound of ice pellets hitting the glass door.

It’s going to be a long day.

I lose myself in work.

The Inn is empty except for us and the innkeeper. We go downstairs to confirm that we will be staying an extra day. I don’t think this was in doubt. The weather looks…severe. Our innkeeper tells us that we may get snowed in by mid-day (the Inn is a couple of miles away from the main road). He’s urging us to think about food early, before the snow piles up.

By early afternoon, we’re restless. We borrow a shovel (just in case) and venture out to town. To stock up. To eat. To walk around a little.

Not bad so far, I tell Ed. The road by the Inn feels very manageable.

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We get bold. I suggest crossing the Peninsula to Bailey's Harbor. These are short distances and if the roads aren’t too bad, we can eat there. We can even head north along the coast. How about that! A peek at the wilderness in a snowstorm!

We go slowly, but really, it seems very drivable. Some businesses are still open, the main roads at least are being plowed regularly, even as the storm dumps more snow and ice with each hour.

Along the coastal road (Q), it’s very very quiet. We see the lake and it looks so very different today.

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The road bends into the forest. We’re surrounded by evergreens, now not so green, because of the snow. Sometimes the windshield is hit by pellets, at other times by the quiet flakes. No one is out playing in the snow today. Okay, almost no one.

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I remember this stretch of road well, from summer days of many decades past. Days of wildflowers and creeping rose bushes. I pick up the woodsy Rustic Road toward Cana Island – it’s where you can find Door County’s remaining lighthouse. We get out and hike to the island’s edge. You used to have to slosh through water to get to Cana and the lighthouse. But now, I can see clumps of growth through the snow. But just barely. It’s all being covered by torrents of snow.

The lighthouse looks lonely, out there, facing the full force of the storm. We walk around it, trying to keep our faces away from the gusts of sharp pellets of ice.

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It’s hard to say where the island ends and the water takes over. Much of the shoreline is under a winter cover. And there isn’t an edge, really. Just a swirling mass of water and frozen bricks of ice.

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And now the wind is really picking up. The snow is persistant and dense. One last look at the frozen waters of Lake Michigan…

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…and we start to head back toward the car, leaving behind an island completely buried in ice and snow.

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The Rustic Road is looking very rustic now. The snow covers tracks quickly and so movement is slow.

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Still, by the time we reach the village of Bailey’s Harbor, I'm sensing that the snow has again changed it's tone. It's become more gentle. There’s time for a late lunch/early dinner at the Harbor Fish Market. It feels good to shut the world of snow out for a while.

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We order the “catch of the day” (which, btw, comes, not surprisingly, from Maine) and mop up every last drop of sauce on the theory that you never know where your next meal will come from… And still no appetite for dessert.

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We cross the peninsula and pass one village, then another. Some eating places are actually opening for dinner, but we've had enough. I turn in toward our Inn, gun the engine and push our way up the hill, following someone’s tracks, assuming that the vehicle knew the road better than we do.

And we get back without so much as a slide.

It's Monday now. The drive back to Madison is like child’s play. Even though the 220 or so miles moves us from bright fields of glistening cherry trees to landscapes of blowing and gusting snow. All beautiful. Really, I forgive my state for being so cold. For now.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

from Door County: the peace before the storm

Such a calm beginning to the week-end! Wake up, look out the window, see this:

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The clouds disperse, the sky's blue, that blue that makes you not hate February quite so much. It's a fleeting moment of winter love.

It’s a perfect day.

We have skis with us. We have enthusiasm. We have a state park across the road, on the Green Bay side of the peninsula. We glide quietly through a winter forest.

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Magnificent. That alone was worth the drive. We watch others love this day equally energetically.

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And, we climb a lookout tower to get a different view of the coastline as it dips into the village of Ephriam.

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I tell Ed – this is the tower I climbed with daughters when they were little. It taught me to get my fear of heights under control.
It’s under control?
– the man knows my weaknesses.

Our innkeeper suggested that I stop in and say hi to Joel, over at the basement café of the Ecology Store. It’s in the old meeting house in Sister Bay.

Joel is from one my favorite spots in France -- Brittany. He’s been in Door County for about a dozen years – oh, what one doesn’t do for one’s sweetie! - but he speaks enthusiastically about the village of his kid years. And, remarkably, it is the village where I’m expecting to get to this spring. He’s thrilled. I always want to tell people to go there – it’s so beautiful, but it’s so far! Oh, I know. It’s at the very western tip of France. For me, that’s the attraction.

Joel makes a fantastic curried cauliflower bisque and a hot cheese and tomato sandwich. The coffee is best of best. Or, maybe it’s the setting – by a warm stove, after several hours on the trails.

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It’s late afternoon, but I still want a look at the Michigan Lake side of Door County. Newport State Park is a place I used to go to with daughters and I want to see it now, in the winter cold of a February sunset.

We give up on skis and hike along the coast, then through the forest, then out again until we see the islands around the northern bend.

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The wind is sharp now and the sun is almost gone. Ed leads me out onto the iced-over beach.

How do you know we’re not over water?
– I ask. It’s no secret that my adventuring quotient is far lower than his.
There are grass clumps here.
They could be underwater. Or sporadic islands.

But we forge ahead, because the waves, breaking against the ice are so loud, so beautiful, so harsh, that you want to get closer, just for that one spray, caught on your shivering camera (okay – shivering hand; the camera doesn't care).

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We better hurry back, Ed warns. He has this way of being calm, indifferent really, and then suddenly infusing an urgent note, making me think that we are in imminent danger.

But we’re not. The wind is strong, but the path is marked by snowshoes and we make our way through the darkening forest to the beach as the sun fades, throwing its inevitable red streaks everywhere.

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We’re exhausted. We eat dinner at a place just around the corner from our Inn. Solid Door County supper club fare. Our appetites are huge. But still no room for anything sweet.

I’ve been tracking the approaching storm system all week long and it looks pretty certain that it'll hit us hard enough, so that we will not make it out of Door County Sunday.

No matter. I have my books, my work materials, my chocolates and a half bottle of rosé from Cassis. And so another tempest begins. With pellets and fat wet flakes and most everything inbetween.