Tuesday, April 30, 2013

like sugar

When a pal of Ed's took his heavy tractor out back of the farmette to create a field for Farmer Lee to plant, he said -- this is just the first step. They'll go over it with a hand tiller and then with a hoe. Again and again. They like the dirt to be like sugar!

That's a lot of work. We have weeds, quack grass and heavy clay soil every which way you look. Sugar isn't easily made of clay.

This day, which in practical terms was my last teaching day, dawns warm. Really warm. The storms have moved east and slowly most of the cloud cover followed.

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Breakfast, a very early one, is on the porch. No sweater needed. Warm.

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I set out to campus on rosie, despite the fact that I have to pick up boxes of treats for my very last ever Family Law class.

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One more class after that and then the teaching day is over! Sure, there's work ahead. The summer will have chunks of it throughout (I know: for this I took a pay cut?). But the regularity of it will not be there. With the end of classes, I regain control of my time. Time to concentrate on the essentials, like -- the weather! A high of 87 today. 87!

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People complain that it is too hot. How quickly we forget January, February, March!

Ed and I celebrate the end of my teaching semester. No, no party, no drinks downtown, no dinner out. We go to the Flower Factory where you can find just about any perennial that'll grow this side of the Mississippi.

Ed patiently waits while I drag a cart from one greenhouse to the next, picking out old favorites for the new flower beds we're creating.

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The hot winds howl and turn daffodils into leaning towers of Pisa. But I persevere.

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Back at the farmhouse, I do a celebratory supper of, well, our stuff. Salad. Market oyster mushrooms and scrambled eggs. Asparagus. Smoked salmon bits. tomato. Some ancient bagel for Ed. Our kind of meal.

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And as it is still so light, so warm, so delightfully summerlike, we go right back outside to work -- lay chips for the new bed, and rototill the parts chipped over last year. For this, Ed takes out his baby tiller and we work long and hard to get it started. As the sun sets, I plow on.

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...until it is too dark and I think that maybe I'm plowing under good rose bushes and budding coreopsis.  Not quite like sugar, but still, the beds are tilled and nearly ready for planting.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Perhaps if you are not a first generation immigrant, you wouldn't know this -- but for most of us who came here from an 'old country,' our identification with that 'old country' changes over time. It isn't been static. Or even linear.

Legally speaking, I'm a dual. I am Polish by birth, I am American also, as it turns out, by birth (my mother was born to an American citizen -- it's a complicated story). And except for the days I spend each year in Poland, I am right now closer to feeling American than Polish. I've let my Polish passport and ID card lapse. My Polishness isn't very evident. The farmhouse has little of it on display, for example.

In the last years of my father's life, I'd tease him that he is the most 'Polish' in our family of mixed up identities. He'd grunt and say -- I am a citizen of the world. He was not fond of displays of nationalism.

But the law does not acknowledge citizens of the world. And so, I remain a dual.

And here's a curious detail: in attempting to help my sister tidy up matters pertaining to my father's death, I find out that even if I am a dual, in Poland, I must act as a Pole.

Okay. I'll act as a Pole. Dzien dobry, jak sie masz! I know the vernacular.
No, not enough. I must also provide documentation that I am a Pole.
Say what? I have an expired Polish passport. Will that work?
No! Not enough. I must provide further evidence. Birth certificates. Papers, in Polish, attesting to my past Polishness. And I must present these in person in Chicago, at the Polish Consulate. Then they will deliberate. And determine whether my Polishness survived the years when it lapsed.
Ed grins -- someone is trying to justify staffing a Consulate. Why else require a personal appearance?

Well now, maybe he's right. Let me skip all this silliness. Forget about proving my Polishness! I'll settle matters having to do with my dad as an American!
Nuh uh. Cannot do that. If I'm Polish, I must appear as a Pole.
But I was just told that my lapsed passport puts me in the category of not assuredly Polish! 
That's between me and the Consulate. For purposes of my father's affairs, I am Polish and need to appear as a Pole. With supporting documents. Which I cannot readily get, or at least not without an interview with someone at the Polish Consulate. For a thumbs up or a thumbs down as to my Polishness.

I write all this because I am forever amazed at how unnecessarily complicated life can be in some places. Stay tuned. The subject of my Polishness is going to haunt me all year long as I struggle through other people's definitions of what it means to be Polish.

Otherwise, this Monday is a continuation of the beautiful, springlike week-end days.

Breakfast on the porch.

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Daffodils now officially exploding.

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I do still have to teach and rosie and I set out just as big droplets of rain come down, but we outrun them! I never quite get wet.

And in the early evening...

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(my welcoming committee) 

...the sun almost pokes through. It's warm and lovely and even though it's suppertime, I stay for a while in the yard, digging up weed roots, ripping out bits of old fabric in the soil.

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Ed asks -- what do you most like about gardening? The planting?
I don't have a quick answer. I love working outdoors, but no act -- clearing, planting, tending -- is somehow better, more likable than another.
I like the result! -- I blurt out. And I know this is the closest to the truth. I love perennial beds. I'll go to great lengths to add to them, to support them, to expand them. To create new ones.

The next three weeks are the most intense for any perennial nut here, in Madison. I'm so ready for it!

Sunday, April 28, 2013


We should have used sunscreen, I say to Ed. Say what? Was it really that warm today?

Yes it was. 73 degrees may not stir your insides much, but it surely is revolutionary for us.

You'll understand if I wont write much. The day flew too quickly. A gallop of hours well spent and before you know it's done.

 So, you know the order. Breakfast. This time before yoga.

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After? Oh, now, there are two words and only two words needed to describe the hours after: work outside.

Dig, weed, transplant -- all that. And sow. Peas today.

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We talk about what to do with the depleted raspberry patch (plant a new one). About whether to expand the flower bed by the sheep shed path (yes). And whether to turn over more land to Farmer Lee and her sister (yes).

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A pause from work to eat a lunch. PB&J, outside, on the porch.

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I've wanted this time of outdoorsiness, of porch life, of sunshine for so long! It's a pinch yourself moment of deep joy.

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In the evening my older girl comes over. Her husband has work obligations and so she is here alone...

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Like me, she is swayed by the sun. The warmth. The deliciousness of life outside in spring.

We eat, we discuss the state of the world.

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And now I'm just minutes away from midnight. There is a work week ahead of me. Not a full one (or at least teaching wise not a full one), but still, it's surely time to let go of this day. Windows are open, the night air is reminiscent of summertime.

It's good to know that summer is the next season. That we move forward. That there will be even more daffodils blooming tomorrow.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

face turned toward the delicious world of the outdoors

Perhaps my epithet will read -- "she never did publish that book, but her life was nonetheless forever enlivened and crushed by the written word." That would be accurate, no? I spend an enormous amount of time on reading, describing and communicating what others have said. (Isn't that what being a law is all about?) And more recently, I am spending not a small amount of time trying (and not yet succeeding) to reposition the way my family must redefine 'stuff' now that my father has died. It's awfully complicated.

I'll throw out a tiny piece of what I've discovered: it's very hard *not* to be a Polish citizen. Daughters, did you know that you are that by virtue of being born to one who was? Or, rather, is? Because once you are that, it's not as if it's easy to be not that (even if you wanted to be not that, though it's not clear why you would negate something that hasn't, it seems to me, any negative consequences associated with it).

Anyway, it's because so much of my non work time has been consumed by other paper shuffling activities that when good weather finally came, I threw it all aside and said -- let me be. It's glorious outside. I want to be outdoors.

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But first, I go to yoga. And let me make a note to myself here: Nina, try not to sign up for 75 minutes of power yoga before breakfast because, really, you'll struggle. And I did. Me amidst those young ones who can twist bodies into incomprehensible positions.

After yoga -- well, breakfast. And by then it is 10 o'clock and the temps have climbed to maybe 60 and isn't that an invitation to eat out (for the first time this year!) on the porch?!

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So now I am in the grip of the beautiful spring weather. I do the downtown market with my girl...

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...and then she and I take a hike at Indian Lake County Park...

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...where, I admit it -- it's not really fully exploding in the way you would want it to explode come spring time, but it's warm outside and the familiar path is welcoming in an early season kind of way.

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Later, at the farmette, I cajole Ed into cutting back dead branches and trees and, well, shrubs that may as well be dead. This is difficult for him: he sees cutting a branch that has any remains of growth on it as painfully destructive. So we proceed cautiously. First, out come the *for sure has not lived will not live let's get it out of here* stuff.

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And then I make suggestions: it really really really will be better for the tree if we take away these branches. Sometimes he'll agree, other times he'll be too concerned about destroying something for reasons of whimsy rather than necessity. He'll shake his head and I'll let it go. Because really, the goal is only to make things better. To be good stewards. To improve, to cause no harm.

In the evening I make soup. In the big pot the color of my pants. The color of daffodils.
Do the daffodils multiply? -- Ed asks.
Yes. They're naturalizing daffodils.
Do they live forever? 
No... thirty years maybe...
How come they don't crowd each other?
I don't know...

It's good to retain a hefty dose of mystery about the outdoors. To be thrilled with the unexpected.

Friday, April 26, 2013


It was the finest of fine days! (Even as at the end of it, I can hardly move: too much digging.) Warm, sunny, insistent: come out, come out!

Okay okay okay... But first, there's breakfast.

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A rushed meal. Ed has a meeting and I fuss to trim his hair so it looks as if the man has some modicum of style.

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I have work to do, but I can hardly concentrate.

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The day bees hover over my newly planted alyssum is the day that I must finally stop thinking that this spring is just a passing event.

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In between school tasks I put in solid time outside sawing off broken branches, digging up soil, making sense out of the chaos that rules at the farmette right now. I can never quite restore order to the place, but every small job brings me closer. That's all that we ever aim for really -- closer.

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Ed comes back in the early afternoon and we work together for a while. We do this so well, he and I. We fumble, we heave, we make wild guesses as to what should be where and in which order and inevitably things go a bit awry and I laugh so hard and he grins slightly and we try something else and eventually we pull out some semblance of a farmette cohesion -- or at least in some small corner of it and we did that today: we moved the pea and bean trellis to the far sunny spot .

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And now we have the whole planting season before us and much of it will be a failed effort, but so much more will be a wild success. Especially if you count the hours of hard work and the boisterous laughter. Do not forget to count the laughter.

In the evening I make chicken brats with local sauerkraut. And salad. It's the type of meal we'd have in the thick of summer. On the porch maybe. Not tonight. Not quite warm enough yet. But soon.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013


It's to the point where you don't want to think too much about how beautiful each day is so as not to jinx it.

Thursday -- the last teaching Thursday of the semester, but no less busy than all the Thursdays of the preceding fourteen weeks. It does not mean, however, that we cannot pause for breakfast.

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And that I cannot pause for a photo of the farmhouse. The sunlight, touching the yellow building at an angle from the east, is exquisite.

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Ed asks -- are you going to do something with all those pots?
I look at him pityingly: they need to be filled first. Arrangement comes last. Any planter knows that. 

In the end, I'm late for my 9:30 class. One whole minute late. I explain to them that I had to pause for a photo. How could I rush out and not take note of nearly flowering daffodil buds?!

Evening. There isn't much time to putz around the yard. We pull a weed here, a strand of quack grass. Isis watches.

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Ed shows me new buds. Peonies! I tell him. The thing about having a delayed spring is that when it comes, you notice everything!

Dinner. Last week's vegetables, today's fish.

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Late, very late, Ed tells me -- the moon is a great big ball. We go out to look at it -- he, barefoot, me in just a light sweater. It's cold still, but we shrug it off -- the night is beyond beautiful.

It's called (according to the Farmer's Almanac) the Pink Moon. Why? Pink and round like a newborn? Like a spring flower? Yes, that. From the Almanac: pink, like the wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring.

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We have an owl somewhere at the farmette and tonight we hear her loud and clear. She's there, in that tree. No, that one! Shhh, quiet, she's sniffing out the mice. The rhythmic call continues. Hoot hoooot hoot, hoot hoooot hoot.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Well now, this is worth waiting for.  We see the sunshine first thing. When we wake up. The upstairs rooms at the farmhouse are transformed by it. Suddenly, the day has energy. I have energy.

So before anything, I go down and bake granola. I know. A strange way to herald a sunny day. But it's the energy thing: you want to do it all.

Of course, we eat breakfast in the sun room.

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After, Ed asks -- will you water some of the recent transplants? 
I say -- I can't! Class to prepare! Work to be done! And it's true. I can't do much of anything in the morning. (Ed, quit being such a distraction!) Maybe admire the first of the daffodil blooms...

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And I do want to leave extra early so that I can again bike to work. I mean, if not today, on this sunny (though cool) day, then when?

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But in the early evening, I am home and outdoors again, fixing the damage of chipmunks (there are NO pansy blooms left after last night's pansy orgy), watering transplants, raking and clearing a space for an iris garden.

Spring was so long in coming and in many ways so much more difficult for me to navigate that I almost forgot how extravagant it can be -- how luxurious and electrifying. You may not think that there's magic in the air yet, but take a look at the daffodil and lily extravaganza exploding around the farmhouse.

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Gorgeosity. Look hard. It's so there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

this is it

Two photos from today and really, it came close to there being none. Early classes, late classes and a pointless wait in my office for a police officer who never showed up. That's my day. All cloaked in the cloudy skies of another (thankfully the last one) cold day.

Tuesday is always an exceptionally long work day for me, but today I had to leave home especialy early. Barely time for our precious (well, maybe only I think it's precious) breakfast.

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Then the classes. Then the wait for the police officer.

What now? -- you'll ask. Well, really nothing too consequential. Or at least I did not want to make the call as to whether it is consequential or not. I mean, is it consequential when you look out your office window, thinking maybe that you'd like to take a photo of the most beautiful sunny day (this was yesterday), except your view is cluttered by the presence of a hunched, older man, crossing the green grass and he corsses so slowly that you give up?

You pack up your things and you head home. Except outside, just by the Law School entrance, you see The Man again. And he catches your eye. And you know that he knows that you have identified him. He moves a little to the side and you see that his pants are open and things that should be possibly concealed are not concealed. And he knows that you saw this. And he glares defiantly and moves more to the side and now you know that really, you have to report. Not because you care if things are concealed or not concealed but because you know that his intentions are not good.

So then comes the wait (today) for the police officer who wants to speak to you except he doesn't show up and so you sit and wait and finally give up.

After work, I head to a dinner downtown with a friend. And so here is the second and last photo -- a 'selfie' done on a timer.

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And truly, that describes my day. Spring took a pause today and so did I.

On the upside, we are slated to have a string of sunny days. How beautiful is that!

Monday, April 22, 2013


Yes, indeed, finally. The weekend broke the impasse. Today was warm and wonderful.

Breakfast in the sunroom.

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And I say to Ed -- I really should bike to work.
It's not an easy trip. Going there is beautiful, invigorating. Forty-five minutes flies and I fly right with it.  Going back is a whole 'nother matter. Against the wind. Difficult. Fifty-five minutes, panting the last ten.

But I do it. Mustn't get soft at sixty.

And maybe to you it all looks rather drab still.

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But it isn't! The day you can throw down your gloves, unzip your fleece and feel warm outside is the day you know that winter is so yesterday!

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On the return trip, possibly because I am panting and peddling at not an extremely rapid rate, I look down and see the flowers along the side of the road.

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And at the farmette too, we now have multiple batches of crocuses popping up everywhere. (I can no longer show you the pansies as the chipmunk or some such critter has chomped off all the flower heads.)

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It is too late to work outside. But I do walk the farmette land, taking note of projects we may choose to take on this summer. There are many. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

vignettes, continued

Such a day! And yes, I am now 60 so I officially feel like middle age is behind me and I have joined the ranks of seniors. (For example: in many countries of Europe, I can start reaping the benefits of senior discounts!)

Such a day. I finished last night in dance mode...

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(In answer to a reader question -- the kids presented me with a beautiful, totally modern and terrific sounding stereo turntable and speaker set. They carted over my huge record collection -- locked in storage for years and years -- added a few new albums for me to consider and set up a place for me to listen to the wonderful music of decades ago. Much of it is the wonderful rock stuff I grew up on, but there is also a significant set of classical stuff and, too, the funky quirky albums that I accumulated with the funky quirky taste that I have for music.)

I started the morning in a cooking mode. Spinach mushroom potato frittatas, chicken sausages, juice, fruit, olive oil cake with almonds and chocolate chips. There is no better way to begin your next decade than to have these guys at the table, appreciatively waiting for brunch to begin.

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And here's another shockingly wonderful thing about this day: the forecast was for cool temperatures and rain. It did start off cool -- we noted that as we visited possible places where a future wedding could be held...

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But in the afternoon (after the kids took off), the sun chased the clouds away and suddenly, the day seemed as all April 21sts have always seemed to me to be -- sunny and spring like.

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And so I could do what I so love to do in early spring: work in the yard.

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Ed is my assistant. I have many many perennials that need to be moved and we move them all. Time flies in the way that it does when you are famously engrossed in what you're doing.

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There's no dinner to prepare. Not today. (Well, just a simple salad.)

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Ed picks up take out Thai and we reach for a library DVD and maybe that's not a very typical way to eat a 60th birthday dinner, but for us it is warm and wonderful and the glow from the weekend stays with me and I know that once the movie's done, I'm likely to put on a record and return to a simple dance around the room.

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To commenters and emailers -- thank you for all your kind, kind birthday greetings. I've said this before and it was true then and it's true now: your words mean a lot. I'm super grateful for them all.