Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Let's start with the upside:

Breakfast (though again, indoors)! And the flowers outside!

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And, too, it did not rain. Which is important for me today.

I have a fourth point! At the Chicago Caribou cafe, where I am currently wiling away a few hours, a kind patron unplugged her computer so that I could plug in. She did it without asking, in a gesture of sharing. I was touched.

Moreover, I have a lovely evening ahead of me. That's a big one. The family is celebrating my older girl's birthday (a day early) and a gathering of parents and daughters with their sweeties is always, always upbeat and wonderful. But that's looking ahead.

Looking back on the rest of the morning and afternoon hours, I have to say, there was a lot to growl about and growl I did! It's not easy to get me riled these days. In fact, really kind of hard. I have so much that is easy and beautiful in my life that most frustrations get a shrug out of me. Not much more than that.

But the Polish Consulate in Chicago can set the fires burning within. And it did just that again today!
Perhaps you remember? I needed to clarify ambiguities about my Polish citizenship in connection with my father's death this year. (Different rules apply for the disposition of his effects depending on my citizenship.)

And I got a stream of tsk tsk commentary and instruction and reprimand when I tried to reestablish my citizenship here, in Chicago, back in May. And so instead of dealing with the bureaucratic mess I was presented with at the Consulate, I decided to hand over my papers to my sister, who could do it in a faster and kinder environment back in Poland.

The decision was issued in Warsaw in good time -- my citizenship was confirmed. So I am a dual. Okay, The last step in the process is for me to pick up the document every Pole living abroad needs -- a passport. Since I had to be in Chicago on this day for the birthday dinner anyway, I thought -- bam! Two nails with one hammer! I will apply for my passport as well.

After the long bus ride and a host of El and bus connections, I enter the venerable building of the Polish Consulate. (If you are not interested in how bureaucracies function, you might want to skip down to the photos and call it a day.)

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And I get all the tsk tsk, shake the head, reproach, reprimand, pack your bags and go home empty handed all over again! I protest.
I called this office on Friday and I was told I could file, now that I have the decision!
You were told wrong. I can't be responsible for that. (No, but you can have me curse the fact that I got you and not that other person to talk to today.)

Why can't I file? I have the citizenship confirmation, I have the documents listed on the website.
Ah, but you haven't registered your marriage in Poland.

Yes I have! Look at that! I show him the document confirming my Polish citizenship. It has my married name clearly at the top of the form!
What that office does is really of no concern to me. You need to file the change of marital status in Poland with the appropriate
(meaning different) office there.
But I'm not even married. I'm divorced!
That only makes it more complicated.
So go ahead and file it all! Here's my marriage certificate. (I travel with a backpack full of papers in case, like now, they pounce on me with some new request.)
Not so fast. You need an Apostole, attesting to its veracity.
That again? I already did it once!
That was for another office. Not for registering your marriage.
What else?
You need a certified translation of the certificate. Or give it to us -- we'll translate ti for you. For $40.

From English to Polish? You need a translation from English to Polish? You speak English, don't you?
You need to file it with an official translation.

What else?
You need a copy of your birth certificate. Because look how imperfect the Illinois marriage certificate is: it has your age and your husband's age at marriage, but not your dates of birth. Compare that to the Polish one --
he hands me a copy of one smugly -- now that has everything you need, right there!
Well now, my former Polish passport has my date of birth. I have that! And I happen to also have my birth certificate! (I tell you, I come prepared.)
Also that of your husband. His date of birth is essential.
Why? He's my ex-husband! I told you, I'm divorced.
I do not pass judgment on that. I only tell you what you need to establish marriage. Most people will establish marriage at a time when they are happily married. (I get the very real impression that he does not understand the concept of divorce.)
What if I can't procure that, what if my ex wont obtain that for me -- you mean I then can never ever get a Polish passport? Isn't that just a tad bizarre?  (It's less of an obstacle for me than I make it out to be, but I am curious.)
I did not say that. You make your best case. I cannot get into the mind of the decision makers. (I bet. The Wizards of Oz out there are hardly transparent. Maybe they wont accept my name change. That would be interesting.)
So that's it? And if I had all that by this afternoon, I can file today?
No. I am only the Consul for certain conversations. Not that one. That one is done by a different Consul and he is right now out of the office. It would have to be another day. 

And so I have to come back?
I do not tell you what to do. You asked me what papers you need and what to do with them. Once filed, the decision will be made on your name change. Then you can file for a passport.

So I have to come back at least two more times? 
I would not presume to tell you what to do. I am just saying that your case is complicated.

He says all this in a thousand incredibly long sentences and he does not like interruptions. Nor questions that take him away from his preferred narrative.

Of course, he remembers me from our previous (May) conversation. We did not part friends then. I decide to try for a more amicable exit this time, but I see that it all makes no difference to him. His satisfaction comes from outlining hurdles, not from helping you overcome them.

Back I go to the Secretary of State of Illinois to get an apostole for my marriage certificate. But I miss the filing time. By ten minutes.
That's okay -- send us a stamped envelope -- we'll send the papers back to you at home!
Now that's a helpful office.

I had mentioned to Mr. Consul that my sister was met with people going out of their way to help her when she filed papers on my behalf in Poland and that I missed that kind of attitude here in Chicago. But, he is just one peg in the board of workers here and so I should not pass judgment. The security person who checked my backpack at the entrance, for instance, was very pleasant.

I'll include some scenes from my scramble from one end of downtown to the next. And tomorrow, I'll come back to the brighter side of my visit here -- the joy of seeing my girls at dinner.

On the El: can you see that his wrist strap is decorated with bullets?


On the city bus: father and son.

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Running, from end of the city to the next, missing the deadline anyway.

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Neighborhoods in Chicago: onto Wicker Park. Or is it Bucktown? At any rate, it's all about brown and red.

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That last one seems right for a parting photo. May as well be me, with my technology, trying to deal with life's frustrations.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

cloudy, with a chance of laugter

Early in the morning (but after breakfast, of course, though an indoor breakfast, because it was just too cool and gray to eat outdoors)

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...I went to yoga class. Our wonderful, calm instructor was a few seconds late and he let us know right away that he was having a terrible morning. Flat tire, car expenses, you name it.

Students don't often think about a teacher's bad day and had he not mentioned it, we would have assumed that his usual soothing instructions were as always, coming from a guy at total peace with the world. His smile at the end of class certainly implied as much.

After class, I was, again, taken in by the prairie flowers. These side of the road blooms have really exploded where we live. Today they get their honorable mention again, here on Ocean.

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The stars of the day:

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And then it was more hours spent on getting my credit/identity issues in order (I'm getting used to this new time commitment in life). And cleaning the house, because I didn't on Sunday and so I had to do it today. And sitting down to mountains of work.  Inside. With the kitchen light on. Because it's just such a gray day.

In fact, so colorless are the skies that I had to go out and face the farmhouse just for a boost of brightness. (The flowers in the center, growing to such great heights? They're natives. They're imitating the prairie we have around us.)

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The day moves toward evening. Ed is out doing a handful of Ed things. We are to play tennis this afternoon. I'm psyched. Our game has been improving.

The hours come and go. No Ed. 

And the evening comes and he still has not returned. This is what it's like to live with a guy who does not own a cell phone. You cannot touch base. You let the day flow and you take it as it comes.

Except, he knows I cook dinner now. And so I think about the next awful step: call local hospitals? He rides his motorbike among the crazies out there.

As I sit with that heavy weight you carry when your kid misses a curfew and you think -- fuck the curfew, just get home -- the phone rings. A woman tells me -- hi, you don't know me, but I just ran into a guy on a motorcycle...

Oh no.

I feel rage inside -- what, were you texting and driving? Were you distracted by your cell phone??? 

But she quickly corrects herself -- well, I didn't run into him, he was already there, at the side of the road. I found him there and he asked me to call. Flat tire. He wants you to know -- it'll be a while.

So you could say that flat tires were the bookmarks for my day. Makes me smile.  Just flat tires. Nothing more serious than that.

Supper. Late, but wonderful. Lots of veggies.


Monday, July 29, 2013


That's an odd caption, isn't it? July. Like, what is it about this day that made me post something under the rubric of July?


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Black eyed susan extravaganza. It's from a rosie ride, returning from my office. By the side of the road. A not especially stellar bit of road, but one that leads me home to the farmhouse. And there you have it -- boom! A Wisconsin July.

The day was cool, but bright and beautiful and I thought a million times that it would be ever so good to be out working, in any of the farmette flower beds for example.

It was not meant to be. My to do list was too long, my work agenda -- too compelling.

But there were highlights. July highlights that I will long for, come January.

Breakfast on the porch.

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...with a glance toward the superb double echinaceas...

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A ride to campus. Then back again. Past one of our many stunning lakes. This one with a bird that's typically hard to pin down. But today he was obliging:

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You probably can't tell that he's a blue heron. I opted for the shot with the Capitol rather than the close up. But he is that wonderful bird we meet occasionally on our river kayak trips. So, hello heron.

What else? Well, yesterday, I tentatively "redecorated" a flower bed leading up to the farmhouse door. I may place others elsewhere on the farmette property.  We'll see. (They are bronze figurines done by Ed's mom. She was, in fact, a very talented artist.)

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Oh, let me not leave out a photo of the late afternoon light. It is always (in July) magnificent.

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Finally, a photo from an evening trip to the secondary, but for us, very wonderful tennis court. It's always empty and quiet and you forget about  the cracks in the pavement and the somewhat slumped tennis net. What you do notice is the sweet smell of the surrounding pines and the wonderfulness of being there, chasing balls, throwing out playful insults at your opponent until you both laugh, laugh so hard that you're left wondering -- why is it that only on the tennis court, late in the evening light, do you forget about everything else that's pressing and concentrate on the laughter? July magic, that's what it is.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013


It never even cracked seventy today. It's true that five months from now I'll say -- what exactly is the complaint here? -- but for the end of July, people are feeling gypped.

Still, I'd been away and when you're away, you always return to Great Transformations and this time it's like that as well.

It had rained a lot in my absence and so everything is even plusher! Here's a view toward the sheep shed (and the new flower bed):

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And here's the view toward the farmhouse, improved by a few days of rain and brisk temperature readings.

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I'm thinking this is the time to supplement breakfast with garden fruits and so I pick these:

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...and these:

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...for a morning meal like this:

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The prairies around us are at their best right now. I pass them on rosie on my way to yoga and back.

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And now it's near midnight and my eyes are drooping and my words here are likely to be jumbled and ridiculously incoherent. So just two more photos:

Here's Isis walking up to nag us about this or that.

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And here's the young couple, over for Sunday dinner, though an indoor one.

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So, not a wordy post, that's for sure. I didn't write about the game of tennis at our courts among the pines,  or about the beetle hunt in the new orchard.  But, the photos are up and the few words surrounding them are up too and considering how not awake I am right now -- why, that's quite an accomplishment!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

stormy skies

My flights dipped and twisted around the storms that hovered between Lexington and my home town. I was leaving Lexington under a gray cloud cover and that tumultuous bit of sky stretched north, all the way to the Great Lakes.

Though my flights were early in the day, I nonetheless took the time to drive once more through the countryside before returning the car. There is something here, in the blue grass hills of Kentucky that bears taking note of and I wanted, once more to think horsey hilly thoughts before heading home.

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Not a long drive. But then, you do not have to go far to find this:

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Black fence, white fence, stone fence, marking pastures for the thoroughbreds who have been grazing on the grasses of this continent since as early as 1730.

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I worked on both flights (and, too, in the minutes between flights), nearly oblivious to the storms below, but not so oblivious to landing here with the lowest July high temp ever in Madison. 66! I asked Ed to bring a jacket to the airport.

I wont give you home photos yet -- you'll have plenty of those once I fall back to old routines. So I'll just make this post ever so brief and end with Kentucky. Because truly, it was a deeply moving journey there. And isn't that the way it should be...

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Friday, July 26, 2013

fly away Kentucky babe, fly away to rest...

The workshop I am attending is not a play event. We start very early and run almost without pause until evening.

But once again, I have a two hour window. Updates for Kentucky, for instance, are of little interest to me. Lunch, too, I can ignore. So, where to spend two free hours, smack in the middle of the morning?

Oh, I have no doubt about what I want to do. Visit Old Friends. (Disclosure: much of the info in this post comes from people who work with old and broken thoroughbreds.)

Because I wonder if you know this about thoroughbred racing: after the horse is past his (usually his, but sometimes her) winning years (those years pass very early -- for instance, the Kentucky Derby is a race for three year olds), after he provides stud services and sires the next generation of winners for great sums of money -- what do you think happens to those champions?

The answer is -- typically, nothing good. The owner or trainer does not want the horse. They want the next batch to work with. The value of a horse may drop from several million to zero. And so oftentimes they are sold to countries that love horse meat (I'm told Mexico, Canada and Japan are big buyers), or they're auctioned off on kill trucks.

So you ask -- why not give them an afterlife of pleasure riding? The answer is -- because they're ill suited for it. They're temperamental, brassy, dangerous and hard to work with. I'm told -- a stallion will turn you around if you try to ride him. They are bred to run, worked by experts. (In the US they are bred to sprint and run fast, in England they're bred to run tough tracks over long distances.)

Here's a description of Old Friends: (from the website) Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, Old Friends now cares for more than 130 horses across three states, most of them stallions whose racing and breeding careers came to an end. Most of these horses are here, in Lexington. And you can visit them. And these are the horses I want to see up close and personal. Forget the tours of the hallowed halls were the million dollar babies spend their time. I want to see the hasbeens.

Old Friends is a horse rescue, though it doesn't call itself that, because some of the horses here are sponsored (say by a wealthy person who feels compassion to an animal they've watched in the races). But most are not. And so when you visit, they virtually beg for donations. It costs close to $9000 a year to feed an animal here.

The visitor's center is no great mansion behind closed gates. It's a tiny yellow house at the side of the road.

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A small group gathers for a morning walk through the fields. One or two racing enthusiasts who know the racing history inside out and a handful of novices like me, who want to feed a carrot to an animal who was rescued off a kill truck.

Give them some time now, Ocean, readers -- the horses of the past:

Here's Sarava (he wears a fly mask -- some reject these, but most are grateful for them) -- the 2002 Belmont Stakes winner.

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Afternoon Deelites was a California racer, once valued $1.2 million. And now he's here, at Old Friends, because no one wants him anymore.

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Clever Allemont is the oldest, blindest one here (31 years). Once a winner of the Southwest Rebel Stakes, soon abandoned on a kill truck at an auction in Kansas, rescued and brought here.

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Ogygian, the most famous son of Damascus, once earned $40 million for his farm, but this is irrelevant now. He was sent to Japan, where he performed stud services. When he ceased to sire, someone found him and sponsored his return here, to Old Friends. He's missing his left eye now, but he's thriving.

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I am told that there are good farms and bad farms, good owners and bad owners. When Arson Squad was injured in a training accident, his owners paid for surgeries that put 2 rods and 28 pins into him so that he could live. He has now been adopted by a branch of the Lexington Fire department so his future here is secure.

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Here's a horse with a bad attitude -- Dan the Blue Grass Man. But Dan loved his carrots. So he got a lot out of us. (FYI, Secretariat is his grandfather.)

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I'm told Creator is the most aggressive stallion here (and BTW, the mares are kept many paddocks away from the guys). He was born in England and he was one winning horse in Paris. When we learn that he was once owned by a Sheikh, the question comes up -- why doesn't the Sheikh contribute to his upkeep here? The same answer --  many owners are heavily invested in other horses. The hasbeens are, to them, irrelevant. And so, after stud duty in Asia, Creator was without a home. He was the first to be brought back across an ocean to retire here.

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There is a cemetery at Old Friends for horses that die on the premises. Most are cremated, though that in itself is expensive. When I ask what the alternative is, the Old Friends worker shrugs his shoulders.

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We walk over to say hello to the tattoo horse. That's not his real name. I don't know what his real name is. But he likes company, he likes carrots and he knows that if he shows off his teeth, which apparently have a mark that looks like a tattoo, he'll produce a reaction.

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I'll leave you with the most popular horse here (he has the most sponsors): Sunshine Forever. Once valued at some $20 million, he's valued now for just being himself here, at Old Friends.

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I have a little time left after this visit. I need a change of pace. There is a chocolate shop just south of Lexington and I'm ready for something sweet and gentle. Like Kentucky bourbon truffles. From Old Kentucky Chocolates.

The shop is not much of a looker -- in a strip mall and, too, the chocolate shop sells junk over and beyond the candy. But the bourbon truffles are fresh and delicious and the sweet old ladies selling them encourage you to try pretty much anything and everything and so it is a trip worth making.

Though even here, you're not far from the world of horses. Stamped onto chocolates. Or, standing in its chocolate covered glory at the back of the shop.

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After, I meander on the back roads to the hotel for the afternoon sessions of my workshop. The lanes are narrow and they pass by some of the more famous stables in Lexington. Lane's End for example. The one visited by Queen Elizabeth and President George Bush (the owner of the farm was, in fact, appointed Ambassador to Great Britain by President Bush)...

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I do one more horse pause along this road.  I'm drawn to these guys because they stand close to the fence, as if paying attention to the occasional car that goes by.  I get out and approach tentatively. To pat a champ, a still-in-his prime champ? Why not. I go up to the horse who is most insistent and clamoring for my attention. A hog, that's for sure. But a splendid, beautiful animal, so I oblige.

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The halter tells me his name. Thoroughbreds sport their names for the world to see.

Well now, isn't that rather incredible? My good-bye horse: "Well Traveled."

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I google him later. He's She's a filly, actually. Four year old. Sired by Perfect Soul (Stakes winner of $1.5 million, he then sired a total of 392 foals), with Classic Slew as her dam (who, in turn, has Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew as her dam). On the sire's side, I note that Secretariat is in the bloodline. Though you have to remember that a dam producing winners would be more impressive, since she can only, at most, give us one foal per year; Secretariat, by comparison, sired 453 foals). How about Well Traveled's racing career? Came in second last year (out of four starts, with two of the races ending in a third). So not a huge money maker. I know how that goes: great potential, barely realized. May you retire happy, Well Traveled. I intend to, I hope you do too...

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In the evening I drive down to Lexington for supper.

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There is a gastro pub downtown (perhaps more than one, but I only know of one) called the Village Idiot and if ever a name appealed to me -- this one has it. And, too, gastro pubs across America promise a contemporary twist on food. So if you crave vegetables, as I do today, a gastro pub may be the answer for you.

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And it has the good salad and its take on (Kentucky?) fried chicken is more like chicken that is breaded and sauteed. All good.

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Though I offer this advice to the restauranteurs of this new Lexington eatery: consider cutting the portions. Just consider it. Think about the implications. Because I'm feeling too guilty from leaving behind good food and so I eat it, then walk away unhappy (for having eaten it all).

They took it under advisement.