Friday, April 30, 2010

the burden of ownership

I’m thinking of buying a (very old, very cheap, very small) sailboat. Would you sail with me around here, on local lakes? – Ed asks.

That depends. If the wind is just right, if the water isn’t too rough, if the air is warm, if...

So, maybe?

For Ed, ownership is emotionally taxing. He misses sailing, but to leap again into owning a boat is so oppressive that he’ll use any excuse to postpone buying.

It’s April still. The shower month. Today, we had grumpy, rumbling dark skies and bursts of clammy rain.


The kind you’ll run into any store to avoid.

I darted into the mall on my way to the last evening of moonlighting at the shop. I had been writing exam questions all day and for once I was happy that I could do nothing more on this day except sell, for one last time, creams and soaps from the south of France.

Passing an eyeglass frame store at the mall, I considered buying new frames. I thought how I truly would love new frames. I would feel no burden of ownership. Like Ed, I am not an acquirer, but unlike Ed, I like new designs in the same way that I love new destinations.

But filling my free days with new destinations (and maybe replacing old frames with new ones) is what forced me to take on extra work. Work I am finally letting go of.

I tell the eyeglass frame store person that I’ll come back tomorrow.

In the shop on the corner I try hard to forget how un-oppressive owning new glasses would feel.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

clean up time

It cannot be said that I have let things slide at home. That I haven’t cooked or cleaned in the last work-filled months. We’ve eaten well, I’ve kept up with the bills, I’ve gone after the dust balls every Sunday morning.

Yet on this first day of no class time, I look around and I see chaos. How do stacks of books and papers grow so fast? When did I get used to leaving frames for photographs in the middle of the bedroom floor? So that I no longer even notice them? And how is it that I have allowed myself, for the most part, to not respond to comments on Ocean?

Time to clean up.

From now on, at the same time that I put up a new post, I’ll put up an inclusive response to any comments left on the previous one. Even if it’s merely to say thank you. (Reminder: I still do not and will not post comments without a name. Or ones that demean or insult.)

And I’ll get rid of paper stacks. And I’ll be nicer to Ed’s cats.

But today, I’m still a little dazed. Waking up at 6 and realizing that I did not have to get up was almost too much for me to contemplate.

I spent a good afternoon hour merely strolling around the neighborhood. (It takes less than ten minutes to reach this spot...)


A crazy warm wind lashed out, tangling my hair, drowning out the sound of birds. The tulips held on to their petals, but just barely.


I snipped a branch of wild lilac and came home. Last two nights working at the shop. Last two night of a heady April.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

the final class

One quick look at the 71 faces in Property and it's over. My semester has ended, so has theirs. They'll not be 1Ls anymore (what we call first year law students). They are that much closer to destination points. Soon there'll be only vague memories of what it was like to go through law school.

Because this year was so tough for me (I took on a huge teaching load), I feel drawn to it too -- sort of like the climber who gets especially fond of her Everest. Precious faces, precious minds, sharp thoughts, quiet glances. I already miss them.

One last run down Bascom Hill for an espresso.


A look past the food carts, toward the Capitol...


...up the hill again. And then out. Close the door. Exhale.

I'll be teaching this summer again, but not until July. Until then, my work will be portable and I intend to take it places. Maybe far, or, maybe no further than Ed's farmette, or just my balcony. So long, Bascom Hill. See you in the heat of the summer.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

babcia's chickens and cakes

In the years when she made the greatest impression on me – her final years of life in a small Polish village (she later moved to California and died in a retirement home in Berkeley), my grandmother spent, in my mind, the bulk of her waking hours on food preparation and house cleaning.

These were formidable tasks. For the longest time the house was without running water and I have vivid memories of my grandmother carrying a metal tub of laundry outdoors. And food? Getting Sunday lunch on the table meant catching the chicken and hacking her neck off on a stump. Plucking feathers off took time and I rarely volunteered any help there.

My grandmother was not a cook who’d pay heed to nuanced flavor. She brought to the kitchen local foods and she cared about freshness. Her spice range was from salty to very salty to mildly peppery. But her stuff was good! Her poppyseed cake was lovely and her cabbage-mushroom pierogi where deliciously not doughy. Tell that to the pierogi places in Warsaw! None of them come close to hers.

The love of cooking (if my grandmother’s was even a love rather than merely a duty) skipped a generation in my family and by the time my sister and I dabbled in foods (we did dabble, a lot, in part because of that skipped generation), we turned away from pierogi and boiled chicken, in favor of, well, just about anything else.

When I came home tonight, I felt a tad cold – we are in the cooler side of April at the moment – and so I did what I always do to warm up on chilly evenings – I hit the stationary bike for a few minutes and indulged in a quick read of one of the much neglected this semester New Yorkers.

The article was written by a woman whose Turkish aunt (grandmother?) once cooked foods that no one else cooked anymore.

And it struck me that no one cooks like my grandmother did either. And maybe that’s a good thing, because she did use a heck of a lot of butter and cream, but still, those flavors are gone. Her white borscht? It’s no more. And how about that moldy cheese she put on farm bread and then toasted on the iron plate of her coal stove – I remember it well! I think.

Foods are fiercely evocative. No one cares, of course, that my grandmother made sugar cookies in the shape of ducks and that they were rather bland, even with the sprinkle of walnut bits on top.

But I care. I wish that someone cooked like she did. So that I could go back in time and imagine that I was in her kitchen, watching her push logs into the fire (and sweep up immediately after – she was a fanatic cleaner), and put on the table all the things that only she could conjure up.


Monday, April 26, 2010


It’s fitting to do a Bittman soup for supper. Anything that is minimal, simple. (He reminded me in the NYTimes this Sunday about the virtues of escarole. I did throw in rotisserie chicken and sprinkled it with parmesan, in addition to the toasted garlic chips.)


Eaten on the lap, with books open.

But the morning is so beautiful, so sweetly scented, that I cannot get myself to merely ride the bus to work. I walk most of the way to campus, hopping on the bus for just the last stops. It could not be helped. Who would not want to walk under a canopy of blossoms...




On a day when even the weeds look beautiful...


Provence may have its lavander, but we’ve got the lilacs.


After class, I walk again...


Until sanity nudges me a little. Woman, you’ve got work to do!

And so I cheat for a short bus ride during the more boring stretch of the road home.

Sitting now, I glance across at the three women and a girl. Lovely, dreamy faces of young life.


Outside, walking the last stretch, I think how only nature can pull of color combinations such as these.


I shouldn't pause, I know I have to hurry, but the fact is, only on a busy day am I likely to walk especially slowly. Who wouldn't. Really, who wouldn't.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

toward tomorrow

In reality, I'm panting. Until Thursday. My eyes are set on that day. I will regain minutes beyond when I brush my teeth. Real pockets of unconstrained free time.

For now, I work. Today, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday – I work. From waking time, til I can’t keep my eyes open anymore time.

But here, take a look at what keeps me going:


Nasturtiums. Wet, because it was a rainy day, but still, nasturtiums:

Have you ever watched this plant spill its loveliness across a path? If you have, you know that these leaves someday will bring such incredible Monet-like beauty...

Saturday, April 24, 2010


One look out my window this morning is enough. No trip to the farmers market for me. It’s cold and wet and I’m feeling suddenly very very frugal.

I settle in for a day of work. With one escape: with Ed, to Woodman’s – the mega store I love to hate.

By late afternoon the fog is dense.


I walk down to the corner shop. I owe them another evening of work this week. But tonight I'm apprehensive: yesterday I submitted my letter of resignation. By May 1st, my ten month stint of moonlighting comes to an end.

It’s funny that I should quit now, when my teaching demands are about to grind to a slowdown.

But this is what I want: work hard, then pause. And my gut tells me that now is the time to pause.

My boss at the shop greets me with a smile and I breathe a sigh of relief. This transition is going to be easy after all.

You could say that a weight has been removed, and the fog has lifted, etc etc, but you and I know that nothing's that simple: it remains foggy outside, and fresh concerns (lost income!) supplant old weights.

But on the up side...

...oh, I could list a lot here. Because truly, there is nearly always an upside.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I read somewhere that the weeks leading up to a birthday are often healthier than those immediately after. It’s as if you will away the possibility of ill health until a milestone passes.

Well, I’m a third day past a birthday and I haven’t yet capitulated to the ravages of disease.

But I have taken on the task of rewriting my future.

If in the first years of blogging I stumbled through a jungle of apprehensions and unknowns, right now, everything is very very stable.

And so I can set goals and make plans. Picture me sitting under a silvery green olive tree writing down insights in bullet points.

Nice image.

(The reality? My plans are hatched on the couch in my condo. Good enough. At least it’s olive colored.)

I walk home from a moonlighting stint tired. But I think – I have a plan! It’s spring, and I have a plan!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

a nod toward yesterday... and today

That day, that birthday day was as precious and delicate as an iris bloom. Or two. With ruffled petals.


April 21st, late afternoon. Classes end, my older girl steps off the Chicago bus and life turns idle and idyllic and really quite rosy pink and beautiful.

We stop for a champagne pomegranate cocktail at the Fresca bar and it strikes us as absurd that we should not eat something, even as we are in anticipation of dinner. Birthdays, after all,  are about opening up the palate, about using food to nourish and replenish and make us whole after a long season of too few evenings around a table with people we love.


On, then, to Porta Alba, the only authentic Neapolitan pizza place for scores of miles... And isn't it just so typical to go to a known pizza place and  not have pizza at all. We have such odd, albeit predictable habits...


I can tell you about the various pasta + seafood combinations I have eaten in my lifetime – and that lifetime is now remarkably long, particularly when I recall that in my teens I worried about not making it past the end of my forties.

The dish at Porta Alba is on the simple side,  and that suits me so well on this beautiful night. No fuss. Simplicity.

Ed joins us, wet from his evening bike ride (it rained south of Madison, but I know nothing about rain – it has been brilliantly sunny all week long in my home town).

There is a pause in the birthday-centered evening, as I do have to close the shop where I sometimes put in late evening hours, but it is an okay interlude. Work does not always disrupt the quiet joys of a celebration.

And finally, at home, my girl brings out a wonderful almond cake from Natalina’s in Chicago.


And we all stay awake until the last forkful. Remarkable.

Today? Well, you might conclude that time messes with prior use. That the season toddles forth and the winds move wisps of clouds in, then out again, and it is still April after all, and thus not so hot outside.

But why make that argument? After all, the outside world right now is a beautiful one indeed, a slight nip in the air notwithstanding. The early evening walk to reclaim the last of the winter CSA spinach is absolutely magnificent.

I'll end, as always these days, with a few photos of flowers from that walk home. And what flowers they are! Nothing can compete with the exuberance of this year's spring blossoms. Absolutely nothing.




Wednesday, April 21, 2010

this day

Bartosz, Feliks – these are the names that belong to April 21st. If I lived in Poland and I had the name of Feliks, I would celebrate. People would wish me well. It would be my name day.

My own name does not have a calendar day associated with it. My mother, somewhat defiantly, picked a name for me that was dateless. In my Warsaw high school I was the commie non-Catholic, two years younger than her classmates, someone who had spent a few years in the States and returned, someone without a name day. I stood out.

On the up side, I used deodorant and I had a solid if scratched collection of the early Beatles albums and I lent them out freely.

I learned early that there is nearly always an up side.

In Poland, birthdays didn’t count so much. Maybe it was meant to be that I should eventually leave Poland and live in a country where name days are out of vogue (except if you’re a Patrick, I suppose; everyone here knows that March 17th is yours) and birthdays are where the money is.

Step aside, Bartosz and Feliks – I’m in America and April 21st is my birthday. 57th, today.

I am thrilled that one daughter, already residing in the Midwest, is coming up for a birthday dinner. Ed may even join us, if his Wednesday night bike ride ends on time and he can forget for a minute the well rehearsed ditty – everyday is a birthday, everyday is a birthday, tra la la...

To my other girl, still stuck on the east coast, and also to those who keep coming back to Ocean, knowing darn well that sometimes a post is going to be nothing more than a few sentences about a birthday not being a name day – I’m posting a flower from my walk home yesterday.

A row of hearts, bleeding with love.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

balancing act

As the last days of the semester trickle away, I think my balancing skills are ebbing. I wake up at night and worry about what to make for dinner that day. And when to shop for the needed groceries. And what to do with my class during the time reserved for a special presentation. By a speaker who cannot come because she is stranded in England.

I need down time.

Of course, I understand that others face greater pressures and challenges. Though I’ve biked home precariously, with one grocery bag in hand, I’ve never tried pedaling and balancing two trays of food, for example.


Still, I’m ready for a pause. I knew that when I reached for my bus pass (no time this morning to bike to work) and then remembered that I left it at home.

I walked, and I enjoyed the delicate late day sunlight, the sound of a pecking bird.



But I worried about minutes lost. Absurd, isn’t it?

Ah, for a dejeuner sur l’herbe ... or a modern version of it...


...or at least a restful moment. Maybe with a straw hat and a good book. One without any reference to any case law.


Monday, April 19, 2010


This weeks begs for a bit of a step back and consideration of the alternatives. What would this day be like if... it had been a colder April? When did you last see lilacs bloom at this time in Madison?


Last year, I traveled to Poland for an April wedding. What if it had been this year? Would Iceland’s ashes leave me stranded somewhere? Would I mind?


When you inch closer and closer to your sixties (me! I’m inching!), you think more comprehensively about what you did and where you’re heading. None of this piecemeal dissection that skins you of any self worth.

When biking home, I veered off the lake path, because I did not feel like climbing one more hill, I did not give it another thought. I’ll push myself, but only so much.


My mother wrote me a note this week, telling me that these years of mine – the upper fifties – are to be treasured. The glorious years.

I don’t remember them as being necessarily such for her, but I understand that she is writing from a vantage of looking back. That was me then... I was merely setting myself up for where I am now...

As I said, it’s a reflective week for me. A most pleasant week, too. A flowering week.


Sunday, April 18, 2010


It’s inevitable. These are work-around-the-clock days for me. With two weeks of classes left and an exam season just after (spurring many student emails and pleas for extra office time), there is no downtime on the ten day horizon.

I’ll say this: I am not the only one with a plate full for the rest of the month. As I pull out a chair to do my work outdoors at Ed’s farmette (it’s nippy, but I cannot say no to the gorgeous sky), I look up to see Ed heave truckloads of wood chips into strategic places, and I watch the Hmong farmers who work the land to the south and to the east for their market crops.



And I think – I’m with you in spirit! My work is less back-breaking, sure, but I’m with you now! April is one hell of a busy time, but soon, we'll all reap the rewards -- the money will come in for the farmers, Ed’s wood chips miraculously will beget a hardier crop, and my own tasks will come to a recess point, at which time I will sit back and do absolutely nothing for perhaps two or three hours, without interruption.

Or, in the alternative, I'll retrieve unfinished projects. To be continued. Maybe in the writer’s shed.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

one person's pleasure...

If you are at all focused on fresh and local foods and you live in Madison, then you know today is a season’s first: the farmers set up their outdoor market stalls.

This, then, is the beginning of the grand months of good foods and beautiful bouquets.


But the farmers – are they truly happy to be here, during these early markets? It’s so often brutally cold early on an April morning. And the growing season has just begun.

And today, there was the wind.


...causing havoc at the Westside Community Market. Forcing vendors to hold on tightly to their tents and wares.


I’d like to not think too much about how long the hours must be on a cooler, windier Saturday when you’re a vendor, standing at the booth from 7 until 1. (They can, at times, seem very long for me at the shop down the hill, and I don’t have the wind blowing my products around.)

Because for us, the buyers, it was such a glorious morning! A new season, a fresh start. An old ritual: a basket in hand, a walk to the market.

(I did note that some farmers’ kids found plenty to giggle at. In the truck, on a day like today, it can seem pretty darn cozy.)


[All photos are from today's Westside Community Farmers Market]

Friday, April 16, 2010

...all things bright and beautiful

A blogging friend said to me recently – I’m concerned that my blog is becoming all photos of flowers!

Well yes, there is that worry...


But when we are running through days that properly belong to mid-May, warm days, days when blooms sprout in advance of any reasonable expectations...


...well then we become so mesmerized by it all, so enchanted, so energized, that the camera keeps spotting the flowers and almost inadvertently, it records the progress of Madison’s most beautiful early spring ever...


But just for balance, let me include something from today that's not a flower.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

perhaps I'm old fashioned...

...but as we continue with another unprecedented (this calendar year at least) sublime day of warm air and partly cloudy skies, I can’t help but wish that we all dressed in prettier summer fabrics.

The switch on campus to shorts (very short shorts for young women this year, it seems) is instantaneous. None of the pretty cottons that are showing up elsewhere in the country. We like denim.

And that’s a shame.

But that’s the extent of my complaining. It is splendid to be in Wisconsin today. Absolutely splendid.

The morning ride is for me, for the first time, outright warm.


And the ride back is extravagantly beautiful.


Gorgeous colors, don’t you think? Now, can we scrap the denim and see some skirts with maybe tulip prints on them? Or pansies? Or peonies?