Monday, May 31, 2010

this day

I ask Ed if Memorial Day in America is a day of remembering all who have died or only those who have died in battle. And then I think – what does it matter? If you miss your loved one, you can choose this day to especially think of her or him.

Here’s my photo for this day. Different perhaps from what you might expect – no flags, monuments, or commemorative stones. My remembrance is of this kind – with peonies around a place to leave letters.


If you’re in Madison, then you know that the day began on the cool side. I wore a sweater and on the motorbike, I wondered if yet again I had underestimated my capacity to feel chilled.

On the farmhouse porch, my routine is now pleasingly familiar. I surround myself with exams, I grade a few, I stretch, consider the rest of the world, then grade some more.

And by late afternoon, I see that umbrellas are in full use.


Meaning, the clouds have dispersed and the sky is a cornflower blue. Our neighboring truck farmers are always very mindful of the sun.


For me, these days of steady work and calm outdoor hours are as valuable as the vacation days that are still ahead.

Ahhh, but all good things must end, or at least must be reconfigured. At dusk, I see my first mosquito. I'm hoping he's a stray.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Like the sweet william, buried in the blackberry branches, dwarfed by tiger lilies, I am hiding. On the porch at Ed’s farmette, with stacks of exams at the side.


I have three distractions (or excuses, if you will) to stop working.

One – I occasionally get up and offer help with some excruciatingly back breaking task that Ed might be doing. Like watering the tomato plants, or carting heavy items to the nearly fallen barn so that he can free up space in the storage shack (garage?) for his little boat.

Another – I am, as always, drawn to watch the work of the truck farmers on the adjacent land.


The day is hot and they work relentlessly and I can only be happy for them that the mosquitoes have not (yet) arrived.

Which brings me to point three: there are a lot of ants and flies in this world and although I have a outdoor person’s reasonably high tolerance for both, I also have the instinctive gesture of flicking them away when they come too close. And this makes me wonder – what would it be like to be like Ed, or like my grandpa, completely indifferent to the presence of, say, a dozen large ants around me, over me, below me?

There is a sky-high mountain of ants by the old farmhouse and, sensing a cleaner space inside these days (I’m guessing this), the ants have chosen to expand their ramblings and come indoors. I wish I could say – welcome! You and I can coexist! Pardon me, while I move the chair around you. But I can’t. I look up and see ants -- I want to redirect them to other places.

So, as you can see -- not many distractions. And that is a good thing.

Except at the end of the day. Larry, the troubled cat (whom I love because, being troubled, he prefers a quick pat to a climb over my computer and into my lap -- are you listening, Isis??) is sprawled next to the sling chair, Ed brings out to the porch the one wine glass in the sheep shed... That's it then. Until tomorrow, when I will attack the next dozen exams.



Saturday, May 29, 2010

from pink Henrietta, to bluegill, to green mustard greens, and orange nasturtium

We finished our celebrations with a breakfast at Henrietta’s Table. Our family first ate breakfast here when the girls were very small. We had paused in Cambridge on our way to the Cape. It was the first time someone said of the food there – it’s fresh and honest.

That it is.

This is also the place that taught me to love lattes (even though they call them large cappuccinos). I’m less happy about that. It’s an expensive habit.


We take one final stroll through the quieter streets of central Cambridge.


I note the discarded texts at someone’s door. Law Sschool work that now belongs to the past.


A sunny day on the east coast. A calm and happy way to say good bye to the city that was home for my little girl during the years when she could properly be labeled a young adult.

My time in Boston ends as it always does – with a ride on the T, over the river, into the tunnels, up in the air, hello Detroit, goodbye Detroit, hello Madison.

It’s evening. I find the car that I left maybe a half mile outside the airport. I drive away from the city – east to Lake Mills, where Ed is having a small reunion with his friends from coop days. (Ed lived in coops during his young adult years.) At the Lake Mils town beach, I see the first signs of true summer: evening splashers. The thermometer is close to ninety. Who can blame them...


But oh, is it really summer? I am reminded of the New Yorker cartoon from last week. A guy is walking through the park humming:

While strolling through the park one day, In the merry, merry month of -- WAIT a minute! It can’t be May already! That’s ABSURD! Oh my GOD! The summer’s almost over!! I might as well be DEAD!!!

Too fast. These weeks fly for me. I remember making summer lists of projects and ideas for the kids when they were young. We’d get through maybe half. I don’t have free summers anymore, but in my mind I still should be launching great ideas now, when my load is just a tad lighter.

Our host is frying bluegills from Monona Bay. With corn and slaw and potato salad at a picnic table.


The true pleasure of summer is to take your life outdoors. During the childhood summers I spent in my grandparents' house in the Polish village, we were inside the house only when it rained. In fact, my grandmother did not allow us to be underfoot in the kitchen during the day, and our bedrooms, too, were off limits. Go outside! - she'd say if we strayed in for a minute. Go outside!

The sun sets. The day ends. The men in our group had wanted to take the boat out, but the night is perfectly still.


By morning, I am with both feet into our Madison routines. Saturday shopping at the Madison Westside Community Market, where everything is so green right now!


But even here, the red and orange of summer is beginning to take hold.



Summer came in May this year.

We ride the motorbike to the farmette, were I settle in on the sling chair to finish up the grading of the second course (one more to go!).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Commencement Day, Harvard Law School

My littlest one walked off the platform with a law degree.


I hope she is proud and happy. I know she is modest and gentle.


It was perhaps Boston’s finest day. The skies were blue, with the occasional puffy clouds that drift in, as if to look down on a happy congregation, then out again. The temperatures were perfect, the air was crisp. Breezes caused leaves to rustle on the tall trees above us, but I don’t know that anyone noticed. We were so focused on the stage before us, waiting for that name, our girl’s name.

And finally, there she was, shaking the Dean’s hand.



Nothing left but to admire the fine print.


...and to pose for numerous photos. Including this one: of the three lawyers.


After the granting of the diplomas, her grandmother retired for a while and we strolled over to Harvard’s Tercentenary Theater, which isn’t a theater at all, but a large courtyard between the Widener Library and the Memorial Church.


We sat on the steps of the library, leaning back to listen to the beautifully delivered words of Former US Supreme Court Justice Souter.


Justice Souter was addressing the entire university community, but I think the young and old lawyers were especially listening. We, who throw around words “it’s constitutional” or “it’s unconstitutional” need these rare times where wise people remind us what meaning there is behind those words and what happens when principles and core values suddenly are threatened.

It was a good way to leave Harvard.

...and to proceed with the eating part of the celebration... Oleana – the place that blends flavors from the eastern Mediterranean – most notably Turkey and creates foods that we have loved during visits on blustery fall and winter days in Cambridge.


On Friday we disperse. But I’m okay with that. My girls are coming back to Madison this summer: the littlest one will be waiting for her Chicago job to begin in January, and the older one will begin her own teaching career at our Law School.

Milestones. This was a big one for all of us.


...but especially, of course, for her.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Class Day, Harvard Law School

The day is searing hot. I may be the only one in Boston delighted with the steam bath, but truly, I don’t mind.

We begin the day with a breakfast across the river, in Boston. It’s pleasant and breezy in the shade and so we sit outside. I tell my clan that from now until September, I’ll eat every breakfast outside (when possible). There is no better way to greet the world, no better way to begin a summer day.

My mother, being a Berkeleyan for more than a decade now (where she tells us it never gets hot or cold), is wilting a little and so we put her in a cab for the hotel. The four of us set out for a last sentimental stroll through Boston.






In the afternoon, all of us gather at my daughter’s apartment (another last time? I had so many happy visits here!), drink a toast to her future, their future really – both my girls, because, of course, it is their cohort that will set the terms and give us a different world.

And now the graduation celebrations begin.

Class Day. We sit under the tall trees outside the Langdell Hall of Harvard law School. It’s a time of speeches...

Samantha Power from the National Security Council, class speaker

...of many proud parents taking many pictures...

one of many

...of glimpses of our sons and daughters, the graduates...

my little one

...of sweet treats...


...of iced tea to cool off...


...and bouquets of flowers...


...of parents and their children.


On Thursday, she gets her diploma. On this day she is still a student. One last day of having a kid in school. One last day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

another short post from Cambridge

Record highs spread over the northeast states. I am completely in love with these summerlike days in Boston. A sunny last glance at a city that I have come to regard as intensely lovely to visit, and without the sharp edges of, say New York or Chicago.

We have a full day of events before us. But the day commences for me with a glance at the river, at the rowers on the Charles.


Let them exert their energies in the early hours. I’m sitting back and having a contemplative moment. Thinking about generations of family: daughters, a mother, a grandmother, and about the passing of time, about this coming together for a brief interlude, before we all retreat into our corners again, thousands of miles apart.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

a short post from Cambridge

A day spent getting places. For instance – to the airport. I could not get a ride, since my occasional traveling companion was in a reclining position at the time I needed to leave home (5:30). Besides, he’s of little value, as he can’t pick me up on the day of the return (Friday). So I had to drive.

My parking of choice is usually a side street close to the airport. Of course they decided to repave it this week. Of course.

So I had to park further, in a space that might or might not be for public use. We’ll see on Friday when I come to locate the car.

You see – it’s this level of trivia that constitutes a travel day.

Interspersed with phone calls from my traveling mother (who is old and who does not travel if she can help it – last time being in 2003, to her other granddaughter’s college graduation), and from various sundry other family members gathering for the big event.

In Boston, I’m staying in a hotel overlooking the river -- quite lovely, actually (closer places were prohibitively expensive; when Harvard does commencement, prices in Cambridge triple). My room has a view that is considerably better than the view from the apartment in New York.


And the bed does not deflate.

When Ed and I travel together, I hear a running stream of grumblings about maid service. (Probably because I make him clean up and pick up before the maid comes in; this is the way I am, I cannot help it.) In this splurge of utter luxury, I intend to enjoy maid service. I intend to leave the room neat for her and I will smile at a freshly tucked in bed each day.

Other notes from today?

We gather for dinner at Hungry Mother’s...


...the daughters, their dad, their grandma and me. Tomorrow their dad’s partner will join us, but today it’s just our small set of five. Beginning the week of proud reflections on how cool it is to have all kids out of school and up and running.

I'm also proud of the fact that my mother made it here on her own and seems to be quite up for the task of navigating a graduation. Were she a blogger type, she'd rant and rave about the travails of crossing the continent. But she does not blog. She does not even have a computer. She does have us to listen. And that's a good thing.


Monday, May 24, 2010

where the wild weeds are

The only time to enjoy a bike ride on a steamy day like this is early.

I was out early. Up Old Sauk hill, down again. (Errands.) It is a steep hill.


And then I packed my bag for a day of work on the porch of the farmette.

It was a day meant for Ed's motorbike. Most often, I’m cold on it and I huddle behind Ed’s big frame to avoid the wind. Today, in the 90 degree weather, I revel in the cooling effect of the ride.

By late afternoon, I’m done with my allotted work tasks. Ahead of schedule!

I suggest a quick walk on one of my favorite paths in the area – the Nature Conservancy trail just a little over a mile south from Ed’s farmette.


No matter what season we go there, it is lovely. Today, I think we may as well be walking with the poets in the lake region of England. The path, the meadows, the woods, allowing quick peeks of the lake in the distance – surely this is what writers need for inspiration.


What I find most humbling are the bunches of wildflowers: phlox, clover, bramble, and the always supremely lovely lupine. I've had at least two occasions to love lupine: one straight out of a story book about a "lupine lady" that I used to read to my little girls again and again, and the other -- straight out of the real book of happy events. My friend got married amidst a field of wild lupines. No one can convince me that lupines are anything but splendid.


Then there is the lesser phlox. How is it that we have come to scorn this sweet, airy flower?


I remember when phlox had overtaken a part of my flower bed some years ago (when I actually had flower bed). I hadn’t the heart to pull the purple flower out – it was so pretty! A friend said – oh, I see you haven’t gotten to weeding either this year... But that wasn’t true: I just could not accept that this was considered a weed!


We end out walk and head back to town, earlier than usual. Tomorrow I’m flying east. My littlest one is graduating from law school. Our family is congregating in Cambridge – indeed, my 86 year old mother is flying from San Francisco to join us for this. It should be a great set of days.

(Ed? No, he’ll stay at the farmette and tend to the tomato plants. One way to enjoy the company of an occasional traveling companion is to understand that sometimes, the companion is not well suited to a particular trip. One of the best lessons for continued companionship is to understand that sometimes it has to be “occasional.”)

Sunday, May 23, 2010


All my balcony flowers and tomatoes survived my ten day absence. The tomatoes on Ed’s farmette? Chomped down by the woodchuck. All but two: the two that I gave him. Obviously with cooties, from a woodchuck’s point of view.

The irises (also at the farmette) that were threatening to bloom in our absence did indeed unfurl their bulging heads. But they reserved the tail end of their best days for our return.


It’s all a bit chaotic at the farmette, but somehow, plants continue to grow and thrive. Alongside others – weeds, flowers, berries, tomatoes – they all somehow coexist.


(Note two tomato plants near the bottom; they're in the woodchip driveway; no place is off limits for planting.)

Here’s another interesting update – this one is for the Ocean readers who remember that on April 5th, my purse fell out of my backpack during an Air France flight. I submitted a lost in flight report in ten different places and waited. All I got were form emails telling me that if I didn’t hear back with news of recovery within eight days, I should assume that all was lost forever.

I waited. I did not replace credit cards and licenses and IDs believing that surely at least these would be returned.

After two weeks, I gave up. I notified my credit card companies, got a new license, new this, new that, swallowed the cost of it all ($200 and counting), swallowed my pride as well and moved on.

Of course, you’ve probably guessed the next stage of the saga. For lo, this week I got an email from Air France telling me (only six weeks later!) that my purse has been found! Do I want it back? I can go to their lost and found hangar somewhere outside Paris and claim it, or I can have it shipped for a “tiny” fee of 65 Euros (close to $100).

Now, here’s the dilemma: I think I replaced all but two of my various cards and IDs. And it was an old (though still usable) purse. And there was a change purse with about 125 Euros inside. Nothing else. I never carry much in a purse. So, have it mailed, right?

Ed says no. People are likely to give over property to the lost and found, but not cash, he tells me. If I do not need anything in that bag (except for the cash), let it go.

Is he right? Or, should I trust that all was left as I left it on the plane? Should I pay the 65 Euro merely because I’m so curious to see whether my faith in the honesty of others will be validated?

Sue, an Ocean reader who lives on Isla Mujeres in Mexico (we rented a lovely little apartment from her in January) wrote recently how honest people are (on Isla Mujeres), but I note how even she claimed that people are likely to steal the trivial, useful things. Cash is useful.

I’m truly of two minds on how to proceed.

And yet another update:

One class graded, two to go. On schedule. (Let’s for the moment not pay attention to the fact that I chose to start grading with the easiest of the three.)

And finally, no update, but just a note on today: for me, a day like this gets very close to some form of perfection: hot, summer weather, without the summer bugs. When else can you work outside in Wisconsin all day long and not swat at mosquitoes? I alternate between grading and planting replacement tomatoes at the farmette.

As the day shifts into the pre-dusk hours, Ed and I take a break and lean back on a pair of canvas sling chairs (my childhood was spent in these) on the front porch. I’m thinking how lovely it is to listen to any number of birds around us. Not pigeon birds either.


(Did I mention that my last New York moment was on the West 4th subway stop, waiting at 5 am for the train and watching a rat scamper from one side of track to another in search of a decomposing piece of fast food? )

In the evening, we ride the motorcycle back to town, with a rosebush in a freshly planted pot for my balcony.