Friday, May 31, 2013


All this sunshine! Do people tire of it? My mom, raised in the northeast and Poland, could never tire of it. The draw here is the weather, that's for sure.

But let me give a plug to the Midwest: the lushness, the dense green foliage, the richness of the daffodils, the lilacs in spring -- these cannot be had in a climate with so little rain!

And yet -- ah, that sunshine!

I'm leaving it today to return to storm center, USA, thanking my stars that life did not place me in, say, Kansas or Oklahoma.

I have an early afternoon flight and I toy with the idea of going back to Berkeley for a last breakfast with my mom, but she preempts me right there: I'll come downtown to meet you in SF for breakfast!
No, no, no! That's too much for you! You cannot do this. She hasn't made the trip to downtown SF for a long long time.

Of course, I'll allow you to guess who won that one.

We set 9:30 as the meet up time. I think -- maybe it's okay. Maybe it's not a terribly hard trip for her: Bart train to downtown, comfortable ride, one block walk to my hotel.

She arrives at 9:35 -- unusual for her. She is never late. You wont believe it! Worst Bart ride EVERForty-five minute delay, then standing room only! A thirty minute trip turned into ninety. We find out an accident of one sort or another caused the delays.
They didn't give you a seat? She's nearly ninety. I'm thinking California people are heartless.
You couldn't move, let alone get to a seat! Stop and go, stop and go. But I learned something about myself -- I'm stronger than I thought I was.

I remember when my traveling pal, Diane, got lost on the mountain in Italy and a one hour hike turned into five hours. She, too, learned that lesson then. So -- what challenges do I avoid, thinking that they're beyond my capabilities?

We walk to brunch in all that superb sunshine, warm but not hot, delightful, all so delightful. We get a table outside at the Cafe de la Presse -- just here, by the Chinatown gate.


(As a result, we watch bus after sightseeeing bus come to a stop right by us, so that tourists can take their photos of the gate. One thousand photos a day of the gate. I'll add mine to it!)


We could linger over my cappuccino, we could window shop, we could do all that, my mom and I, downtown in SF, as if we were here, meeting casually on lunch break...

DSC02874 - Version 2 if we did this on a regular basis -- we could, but my flight takes off soon, too soon and so I have to turn away from her and from all that sunshine and head home, where the storms rage and the clouds keep tumbling over each other as if some machine that generated the storms and clouds could not be powered off. Stuck. Day after day of storms.

But the flight from west to midwest is beautiful.

SF, Golden Gate to the north, the Bay to the south

It is on this stretch that you come to appreciate how vast, often empty and remarkably varied the landscape of America is.

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somewhere in Nevada... or was it Utah?

And we come in just as one storm ends and the next has not yet begun and in Detroit there are rainbows, as if begging for forgiveness -- we're good here, we're good! Look at us, sunshine and rainbows!

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Ed is waiting for me in Madison. By 10:30 p.m. I am at the farmhouse.

hats on, hats off

First, hats off to my most superb hotel staff (of the Palomar, in SF). I asked -- where can I get a memorable cup of coffee and they directed me to the Blue Bottle, just a few blocks from here. Hidden, lovely, sort of pricey, or maybe that's just the SF factor, but it was interesting to see for just this brief minute what the cool people drink in the mornings.

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I couldn't resist ordering my usual, only with California strawberries from some small farm or other and a heavenly yogurt over that crunchy granola. I took it to a table outside.

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I may be pleased with my hotel staff, but I'm less pleased with myself because here I am, on a beautiful morning in the city (me, who goes for days without even seeing a sidewalk) and I spend a good three hours of it attending to stuff on the computer in my hotel room. Mind you, some of it necessary, but most of it could have waited.

When a commenter wrote -- next time, can you take us on a little spin through the city? (or words to that effect), it struck me that I take the city for granted in the same way I take for granted all the wonderful places I pass through more than once. Next time I'll pretend I'm a tourist! For now, I side stepped to Union Square and back. So you get almost no photos from that walk, because that walk was mightily inconsequential.

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(Did you ever notice how creamy clean the buildings are here? is it because they're cleaned, or is it that there is less pollution, or is it that the sun is so strong that everything looks, well, brighter?)

Back to hats. And now they're on again! I'm in Berkeley...

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... helping my mom with more paper work. As we're about to set out, she places a head cover on me. California sun! -- she warns. But, but, I put on lotion with an SPF 30 in a shop (free sample) on my way over! I say the words, but I know my hat will stay on. Cool on her, a little funky crazy on me.

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two seniors, exactly thirty years apart

Lunch at.... oh, I don't remember the name: that place behind the public library.

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Deliciously sublime and... outside!

A stop here, a document to notarize there and we're home. Only to realize that said notarized document is not with us. Left behind somewhere in our journey through Berkeley. My mom is dismayed. Good job, Nina (I'm thinking), in helping your mom through the tough times!

I call around, locate the missing paper (it never left the notary's: I was too busy getting the notary to take a photo of us to pay attention to what happened to the paper) and we proceed from a lovely neighborhood eatery called Luca's. Informal, fresh and honest, alive with people dropping in, out, solo, with families. A memorable Berkeley supper.

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...and then home again -- for her, to her sunny room in the heart of Berkeley, for me - to my downtown room overlooking Apple, Macy's etc etc. Home for me for one more night. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll be back (at some ungodly late hour) in Madison.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

in a fog

...checking for many days the weather pattern predicted for this week. Not good. The Midwest is riddled with storms. Why did I pick such a tight connection to San Francisco? A thirty minute layover in Detroit?I'll never make it!

I wake up at 4 (my automatic alarm, the one I was born with, never fails). I look outside. It may be dark still, but I can tell what's out there: fog.  My computer says: 0% visibility. Damn.

Rush now. It will take twice as long to drive (or be driven) to the airport. And delays. There will be delays.

Would you believe it: there are no delays. Flight to Detroit takes off early.

From Detroit, flight to San Francisco also takes off early. Shocking, considering.

I fight off tiredness and grade exams all the way to California.

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My flight lands in the dense fog of a San Francisco morning. Pleased and tired. all at the same time, I stumble to the Bart (train) station.

At the downtown SF hotel, there is a mascot of sorts, a greeter, a welcoming dude. Here he is:

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I can't quite afford the view I had last time I was in this city (especially since thoughts of retirement loom large), but I love the fact that when I asked (as I always do when I book places) for a room with a pleasant view, they tried, they really tried. (Looking out now, I see Apple, Target, Nordstrom.....)

I take the BART to Berkeley to meet my mom. We go out to lunch at our very favorite Berkeley lunch spot ("Slow").

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It has only been two or three months since I've visited last and indeed, the weather is hardly different now. Stuck in that Bay area predictability: cool mornings, warm days, cool evenings.

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When I am with my mom, I know that there is much that needs to be talked through and worked over. At times I think I open doors for such long, reflective reviews and that this is a good thing, at other times I think she must surely need a very long rest after I'm gone.

Paper work. We have that to work through as well.

And then it is evening. Dinner at a tiny Vietnamese place, empty now that the semester at UC Berkeley is over and the students have left town.

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...and then I ride the Bart back to downtown SF, tired, so tired that I almost sleep through the stop where I'm to get off..

Luckily in life, there is always another chance to get off and set your course right again. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

stormy days

It's almost nine. You can still see the trees, the bucket with water and raspberry canes, the sky if you look up high enough. But the clouds bring forth an early darkness. We work steadily, racing against the encroaching darkness.

We're planting raspberry canes, ripped from a jungle of weeds, into their newly prepared cleared beds.

We have attended to only the smallest strip of the old overgrown patch -- pulling out weeds turning over the soil, burying it in chips, planting three rows (thus far) of healthy canes. How small? -- maybe a fiftieth of the land we have to restore to order.

But "have to" is a relative term. If we did nothing today, would our lives really change? Ed tells me he could live with weeds for the rest of his life. And yet, here we are, planting orderly rows of raspberry canes in the new weed-free patch. Or... one fiftieth of it.

Why so late in the day? Well, it was a crazy busy set of hours. A lovely breakfast downtown with a friend who is momentarily in Madison. A meeting on campus (scheming about my future work). A delinquent appointment at the clinic. A long overdue phone call with another friend --  whom I rarely call except when it is really important.

The hours were full.

Even as the day itself held little of the charm (weatherwise) of late May. It had stormed at night and now, in the morning it felt wet and cool. And then wet and warm. Then just plain wet.

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All that rain brings lushness to the farmette, but it also brings work. Keeping up with weeding is a challenge. But, it surely is a beautiful world out there.

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As I struggle to race through my schedule, Ed continues to de-weed the patch that has grabbed our attention and efforts. (Here he is, removing a black walnut tree that had invaded the raspberry space. If you think he looks muddy and rather filthy, well, yes, he does.)

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A warning: things will spin forward rapidly in the next week. I have a quick trip to California before me, then, too, those exams to finish. And, importantly -- every bit of last minute spring gardening to tackle (over and beyond the raspberry patch project) -- all this before we take off for our vacation a week from tomorrow. If posting seems rather jagged and rough around the edges -- well, you've seen it before. The days have only so many hours.
Supper? Leftover veggies (etc) from the fridge.


Tomorrow's post will be from San Francisco. Until then!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Monday

I always feel sorry for the many who count on this one American May holiday (many other countries give time off on several different occasions during this month), when the weather turns on them and they can't enjoy a beautiful day outside. For me, it hardly matters: moody-skied Monday, somber Sunday -- they come and go and I can't say that I notice if it's a weekend or a weekday because my work is now outside of the office and it stops and rolls forward depending on my own willpower and perseverance, rather than on someone telling me when to do what.

All this to say it was a gloomy gray day -- cool, too, so that unless you were really exerting yourself, a warm jacket was in order.

We really exerted ourselves.

Perhaps the biggest, heftiest, most difficult farmette project is one that has to do with the sprawling and someone inert (in terms of fruit at least) raspberry patch. Half a foot below a dense network of roots there is fabric. We want to pull it up and out, dig up all weeds, chip it and replant the few raspberry canes that could take off afresh.

If we succeed, we'll transform that patch of dense weeds (just ahead of the wheelbarrow in the photo below) into something more manageable.

Fortified with breakfast...

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...we proceed.

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Two hours later we're spent. For the first time ever, I hear the doubt in Ed's voice. I don't know... he mumbles and shakes his head. Tantamount to saying -- this is insane.

And maybe it is insane. I don't always understand why we take on the projects we do. To encourage healthy, lovely plant life, maybe that.

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the first of the daylily bloom

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False Indigo


In the evening, my older girl and her husband are over. The plan had been to barbeque, but that plan was tossed aside when the wind brought in the rain.

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The end of a big holiday weekend. Dusk turns to evening. Barely any light left. I go out again to plant my remaining hostas. Seems fitting for Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Short notes on a beautiful morning and a cloudy and rainy afternoon.

Blooms: let's give credit there first. May's essentials.

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Brunch: a fairly early affair as the young urban couple has to get going on their return trip home.

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I haven't much of anything special to offer them, but I do bake a Greek yogurt cake for the morning meal, just to elevate the whole thing somewhat beyond the everyday stuff you're likely to find at our table.

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The young people are off and we return to our routines. It's as if the insert of their visit happened a while back and we are now settled into our old ways.

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We make numerous trips to the yard to inspect this or that, to plant the new tomatoes. We work slowly, methodically. With care.

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And we're done for now -- at least with the new orchard. I still have my flowers and weeds to tackle, but that's not tough, that's merely a never-ending feature of spring.

And it's good that we are done, because later in the day the rain comes down, and we scramble to put everything away.

The farmette smells remarkably fresh now. More blooms explode. Such a pleasant way to move through weekend days!

the unexpected

I profess to love calm. To revel in tranquility, in routines that are not hurried or interrupted. Fine. But who doesn't love the good stuff that comes out of the blue? Unexpected?

In the morning, Ed and I drive out to Albany Wisconsin. A Craigs list add mentions heirloom tomatoes at the great price of 50 cents each there. Of course, there are plenty of tomatoes to be had closer than those in Albany (30 miles south of us), but we've determined that the drive would be pleasant now, what with the blooms, the green grasses, the feeling of abundance out in the fields and meadows.

And so, a quick breakfast...

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...and we're on the road.

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And eventually we find the Harvest Center -- a place where, to the best of our understanding, some dozen families group together to grow and eat their own foods. (And sell some at the side.)

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The tomatoes look infinitely healthier than ours and so we buy a dozen.

Heading home, we drive through the heart of Albany (pop. 1,019). We pause to watch a holiday gathering in the village center.  With a competitive John Deere pull among the little guys.


Heading home, we find ourselves just seconds from the Flower Factory. Okay, one last stop there. One final seasonal purchase. (With the end of spring, my planting energies substantially diminish.)

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In the afternoon I get unexpected visitors. My daughter and her fiancee have some matters to attend to in Madison and so they drive up from Chicago to spend a beautiful 24 hours up here, with us.

The day is suddenly upside down in the best of ways.

We walk the farmette land...

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...and linger by the picnic table, chatting about such stuff as is around us -- silos, tractors, the construction of picnic tables.

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My older girl, hearing of their arrival, pops over and we share a jovial set of hours being, well, happy.

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In the evening, my older girl has plans, but the younger pair wants to take us out to dinner downtown and somewhat to my surprise, Ed is pleased to go along.

The place of choice (Forequarter) is packed and the wait is long, but we don't mind. We pass the time at a so very typical Wisconsin bar across the street. Ed dozes while the three of us catch up on all those small things that you cannot remember to convey by phone.

Dinner (at Forequarter) is quite excellent and even Ed, who typically does not search out the careful creative cuisine of a younger generation, proclaims it to be pretty good for that kind of food!


It's very very late by the time I'm home. Not a good hour to start writing a post (note that I've crossed over to the next day by the time I put it up) and yet, the very best time to write one -- the heart's full, the soul's content, the desire to see more of the kids nearly satiated.

Life is so good.

Friday, May 24, 2013

bumpy rides

Well, I almost put off writing a full post until tomorrow. Time ran away from me and suddenly it became too late for anything but sleep.

Then I remembered that the day was actually not too complicated and if I only put up the one, two, okay, maybe three photos, I could call it a day.

Photo number one is of flowers. The next ones to bloom! Sometime soon, I'll point you to the spot where I planted these guys. For now, revel in the color that they bring.

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The next picture -- well, another bloom. Of an old iris that I divided and replanted this spring.

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So -- only flowers? No, there's one more photo and this one is of me, late late late in the evening, as I make my way across the farmette land, giving the thick grass a good sheer. 

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Because after weeks of deliberation, Ed came home tonight with a mower that is only about a dozen years old (a mere infant, compared to the John Deere he had been using up to now).  Finally, a machine that you don't have to hold your breath, hoping it will move forward.

I tried it out and I can say several things in its favor: it runs beautifully, it cuts the tallest, densest grasses and it does a fantastic spin around at the tug of a lever or two. There is, however, just one thing on the negative side: it was a swirling bumpy ride. The kind you spend good money on in an amusement park. The kind I always avoid because I know that even regular old swings make my stomach turn.

It took me over an hour to mow the farmette grasses and when the job was done, I stumbled back to the farmhouse and thanked Ed for being such a good guy about mowing all these years. He may not do it often (maybe once a month?), but he does it. I promised to help in the future. After all, if I could get used to riding in a car without getting car sick, surely I can get used to spinning around on that thing, no?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

fishing in a river of prospects

It's like someone threw out a line, onto new waters, to see what the catch might be there. New species, new territory. So tempting to stay there, in uncharted waters! The new day starts now! That's what it felt like to consider retirement.

But of course, I had to allow myself to be reeled in a little. After all, it's odd for a person who basically likes her work to be imagining a new world of no work.

True, I also like things that lie beyond the world of work and so here I face this eternal struggle of trying to find time to do it all and failing and wanting, therefore, to release something big -- retirement --  just so I can regain something small -- like reading a book before it's due back, unread, at the library.

All day I struggle with this, trying at the same time to be the careful grader that I like to be, trying, too, not to be tempted by the outdoors where I still have plants to plant, seeds to sow.

The new face of Flickr (my photo storage place on the web) puts today's breakfast photo right next to yesterday's breakfast photo...

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(here's today's)

...and I can see that they are almost identical: too cold to eat outside, same this, same that, except today Ed hasn't quite arrived yet and isn't that just so appropriate because you could say that the entire flight of retirement fancy is just a little too sudden and strange for him to consider. He's not yet ready to view me in a world of non work. I can't be surprised. Ed is a man who takes four weeks to decide which mower to buy for our overgrown quack grass which is threatening to basically rule the farmette if we don't crash it down soon. 

I force myself to stay indoors this morning. If I go out, I'll start planting again and I'll fall further behind my grading goals. So I stay inside and I brood in between exams and I make an appointment with a retirement counselor at the university which is tantamount to admitting that I need professional help to sort this stuff out.

I talk to my daughter and I throw out the idea of retirement to her and I think she is not surprised that I should throw out draconian ideas so suddenly, without lead up, without due consideration. She knows me for too long.

She reminds me that I could, for example, mull over this idea for another year. Still, I pout at that. I'm not good at wait and see. Even as I understand that this would be the sane approach.

A friend who is a former student and also happens to be prompt with email gets to hear the retirement frenzy. She suggests that I go down a bit in work rather than go out totally and be done with it with no turning back.

I consider it but I know I'm not giving it a full consideration. It's a rational and sane idea, except that it's not how I proceed in life. When I'm in my teaching zone, I am completely wrapped up in that world, devoted to it -- it rules my existence and steers my days. I wasn't (it turns out) great at splitting my devotion between raising kids and promoting my career (I'll let you guess which world dominated my waking hours when the girls were small) and I would not be good at splitting time between being a retired person and being a prof. One or the other, not both.

Still, I put on the brakes just a little. For one thing, it's distracting me from getting my work done now.

In the late afternoon, I finally need that pause from grading. I need the smell of May air and so I walk the farmette land and admire the new blooms...

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...and it's lovely to admire new blooms because despite the utter plushness of the yard...

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...we are at that inbetween season when not too many things are blooming just yet. Early spring is over, late spring and summer have not yet begun. Irises are the bridges between the two and my bridges are budding and exploding right about now.

In the early evening we ride down to the Farmer's Market. Past the fields of Farmer Lee, where everything is just so orderly and precise -- so different than our own wacky world of random plantings and spontaneous garden sprawl.

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At the market we pick up the usual breads and cheeses and spring asparagus...

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They are the foods that set supper for tonight. We eat it late because -- would you believe it -- the temps are heading back down into the thirties again! No frost, but cold enough to be another hard blow to our struggling tomatoes. We cover them somewhat, but I think we are reconciled to the possibility of having to start afresh next week. Our seedlings look like they would very much like to give up the ship if we would just admit to failure and move on. Maybe. We'll decide that one over the weekend. Unlike retirement, replanting decisions require very careful thought and deliberation.

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After supper, Ed dozes and I wish I could just do the same except I'm on a schedule: I post now so that I can pick up on work early tomorrow, with a pause to grocery shop for the week and, if I'm on schedule, to plant and weed, and then the day will disappear quickly, and that's not a bad thing, no not at all, except I am at a point in life when I do not want days to disappear quickly anymore.