Monday, September 30, 2013


Looking over the handful of photos from this day, I notice they're almost all of the man and the cat. Together or apart.

It happens that way sometimes.

It was an ambitious day for all three of us, summarized best in one word -- work.

Ed sawed umpteen strips of board for the roof project.  If you have never attempted to work a power saw, let me tell you, it is not a pretty sight. Loudy, dusty, and terribly dangerous if you don't keep your hands and fingers at a safe distance from the spinning blade.

An example of the man, taking a pause, mask and earcovers temporarily suspended.


Isis worked on coming in and out of the farmhouse and porch. Actually, when he is this undecided about where to while away the time, it's us who do the work.

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In the late afternoon I was so distressed about missing out on this fantastic set of sunny days that I took my work outside. It never is quite as productive (all those distractions!), but it does feel good to be out where the action is.

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And finally, in the evening, we went back to the tennis court in the pines. The Saturday rains brought down some of the spent White Pine needles and so the game truly felt as if it were in the thick of a forest. (Ed's in this shot as well, though only as a small prop to the main point of interest -- our most special little place of retreat.

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I'll end with the one photo that has no one in it. Not even Farmer Lee. She often stays away from her fields on Sunday. So, just the last drying stalks of the flowers and vegetables that have made this bit of road so splendid for us in the years that she has worked here.

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And yes, the day was that bright and beautiful!

Sunday, September 29, 2013


It was such a pretty predawn and Ed was already moving pots around downstairs. [This was the last of the grape jam making operation -- and by the way, to a commenter who spoke of pectin -- we don't actually use it; just fruit, sugar, maybe lemon juice, maybe cinnamon if we're dealing with apples. I don't remember seeing pectin in Poland either. Is it an American habit to make jams with it? I don't know...]

This is the perfect morning for a rosie ride (for the newcommers -- rosie is my red moped) to Lake Waubesa.

I'm keeping the post short today. Photos from the ride, nothing more.


I like the lake best before the sun pushes through the horizon. For the real moment of sunrise, I take rosie to a hill of corn.

Just before the first burst of sunlight:


And just after, from a different perch.


One more look at the quickly ascending sun and the changing hues -- from red to gold:


And there you have it -- another beautiful September morning.

The ride back to the farmette is due west, so that I have the sun on my back and the crimson fields of soy before me.

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I pull into our dirt road, past the old orchard...

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And settle in to work.

I should note that Saturday afternoon brought much needed rain. Ed and I heaved plastic and bricks up on the porch roof to cover the gaping holes.

Now the rains have passed, the sun is with us again. The month of perfect weather. Absolutely perfect.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

when people don't stop

Here's another installment in the mini Ocean series on "Life After Sixty:"

I was chatting to a doctor yesterday, one whom I rarely see (which is interesting in itself because, for being these days a fairly healthy person, I have been a very big user of the health care system). Somehow we got on the subject of when people retire.
I can tell you with complete certainty that I'll stop working by age sixty, he tells me. (For Ocean readers who do not remember this, I am sixty. This particular doctor is forty-eight.)

It struck me then that I do not know a single doctor with gray hair.

And that's been true for a while. My children's pediatrician took a year off in his fifties to go back to his old country (Switzerland) and shortly after resigned, filling in occasionally, but never again did he maintain a regular practice. The doctor who delivered my babies, too, retired in his fifties. He sold his worldly possessions, bought a boat and went off with his wife to live on the Caribbean,

By contrast, the university is full of gray hair. They cynics may offer a lot of ignoble reasons for that, but I'll throw out one that maybe you hadn't considered: lecturing can be addictive.

In the hallways, you'd occasionally hear faculty say that we don't get paid to teach, we get paid to grade exams. (I have to say, those of us who have taught the more loaded schedules would probably give an eye roll to that, but there is some truth in the fact that teaching is rewarding, in ways that maybe medical practice these days, ironically enough, is not.)

It's true that doctors earn more than the average academic (to say nothing of the underpaid academic). So that retirement becomes more attractive earlier. And yet, work satisfaction is, I think, what keeps profs glued to that lectern. Why should you move on if you like where you are, right?

To be continued in the next Ocean installment of  "Life after Sixty."

On to the regular Ocean fare:

For a long time now, I have been taking a weekend break in mid-October. The Fall semester is intense and that time away is always enormously invigorating. Last year I went to Maine. The year before, we took our kayaks down the Wisconsin River. And before, we did a whole series of camping weekends up north. Still earlier -- we camped on the floor of an empty flat in New York. So where to this year? Because the days have been so much like a treadmill, I haven't had a chance to think much about it.

Until today when something that Ed said make me perk up. And start a web search. It will have to be a solo escape again. Ed is too enmeshed in the roof project to take off (nor is my choice exactly his type of trip). That's okay -- it's only a long week-end away. More on that in a couple of weeks.

And now, let's get back to what's cookin' at the farmette: Ed harvested the last of the grapes that dangled seductively over the entrance to the sheep shed.

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His jam making operations are in full swing. It's a round the clock project. I'll catch him stirring and sampling at midnight, or, like today, just before sunrise. But our reward is a winter's supply of jams. For my ever predictable lunch:

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Finally, an update on the flowers: the warm September air has kept things lively in the garden. I leave you today with these evening photos of the best of the best. What a tremendously beautiful month this has been!


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Friday, September 27, 2013

rebellion, part 2

I put on Mozart to drown out those rebellious thoughts (go out, go out! Do the yard work! It's a beautiful afternoon! Take a break, take a break!).

Ed is working on ripping off the porch roof. We have a window of good weather next week. It would be wonderful if the installation could begin then.

[A commenter asks if we're sacrificing cool summer days on the porch by introducing so much light. It's a valid question and one that kept us from doing anything for the first several years. But consider the arguments in favor of moving forward: first and foremost, the loss of light in the kitchen is, for me, tremendous! I can never work there without a light on. Five huge windows in the room and still it is always dark. And, secondly, the porch is completely north facing, with huge shade trees to the east and to the west and the backdrop of the house to the south. It most likely will retain plenty of shade. In the alternative, we'll either drape a few shades -- easy to do with tension rods and beautiful fabric -- or we'll put a nice, tilting umbrella over the table. And finally, Wisconsin has a few hot weeks, but even these typically have cool mornings and evenings. On balance! let there be light!]

The Mozart is serene and soothing, but my work stalls. I want that break so badly! The weather is near perfect Too hot! -- Ed says, but I'm not convinced. He's sweating as he comes down from the roof, but he's been up there and I've been down here, in the house and I want that last dose of Fall sunshine!

Maybe we can work on the raspberry bed?  The weekend is before me. I'm catching up! Breakaway!

I see in Ed a fleeting hesitation. He looks tired. 
But he wont pass on a chance to make progress outside. Or maybe it's that he knows how much being trapped indoors has affected me these weeks.
Okay. Let's get the shovels.

And so we go back to the patch and we dig and rip and dig some more and in the end I put such energy into these two hours of physical work, that we clear more today than in all previous days put together.

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And then it's back to Mozart and patient reading and slowly the day turns into evening. I close the books and step outside again. It's a heavenly time of day.

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Want to go to Menards with me? This from Ed: he needs to pick up lumber and screws and various roofy things and it's my turn to return a favor and go along.

And so we take the truck and load two by fours by twleves and one by twos and fours and I have to say that in the end, this may have been the best part of the day yet. There is something singularly special about picking through boards and loading the old pick up, hoping that they'll not jiggle off on the ride home.

A trip to Menards is not just a functional stop for building supplies. We always pause in various aisles, like the country folk who haven't seen the insides a city store for a long time, and this time, we notice that Christmas lights are on sale already and we spend a good half hour making the hefty decision as to how we should light the farmhouse doorway this holiday season.

It's dark by the time we get back home. The long boards can spend the night on the truck. We stumble in and reheat chili. With garden tomatoes for the salad. I have with me the feeling of a day well spent.

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We wake up to yet another glorious morning of sunshine. A walk in the garden, then breakfast in the sun room. Just because.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013


Finally, after many many questions, consults, measurements, remeasurements, the order is in: sixteen panels of glass for the porch roof. Three of them trapezoids, the rest - long rectangles. 

 So I am surprised when Ed tells me -- so, the glass people just called. A nice older woman. Works there to earn extra money so she can visit her grandchildren. Really sweet person.
I put down my books. I see a story coming.
She tells me they didn't quite catch that the strips were all 122 inches long. The price is actually higher for anything over 120 inches.
They can't add that on now!
She proposed we split the difference. I finally agreed.
So we're set?
Well no. She had to clear it with the manager and he came on and told me -- don't worry, we'll take care of it. Not sure what that means...
There's more?
Well, the guy says that actually, now that he has me on the line, he needs to tell me that they can't do the two end strips. They're too narrow.
So now what?
I'll combine them with the neighbor strips. But then he said as long as I'm changing things, I should up the thickness all around. To a quarter inch (it had been at 3/16).
Ed, where are we with the glass?
Well now, I think we're set!
Okay! We're set!
Just one small issue: combining the panels and upping the thickness means that the panels are going to be heavier...
How much heavier?
Not bad. I think the largest one comes in at around 80 pounds.
You're going to carry an 80 pound strip of glass up the ladder by yourself and precisely install it on the beams??
No. I have a better plan.
I bet you do...
We'll both carry it inside, up the stairs and pass it through the bathroom window.
You'll trust me to help you carry a plank of glass up onto the roof?
I'm going to get glass suction cups with handles. We can do this!
I'll drop it or bang it against the wall!
I'll get an extra grip. We'll be fine.

I write this because the porch roof project has had, all along, a certain bravado behind it. And the more we became convinced that it could move forward, the bigger came the taunt. The spacing turned out to be uneven. The roof nails were impossible to pry. On and on, the obstacles mounted and Ed shot them down. And now, this next one depends on me and wouldn't it be ironic that it should fail now because I crash the glass or move it in the wrong direction.

At the same time, ever since last week, my youthful default position -- the "I can do this!" that has, in the past, pushed me to move across oceans and race down mountains -- is nudging at me again. In recent years I've let Ed do the bold projects. Despite the big talk here, on Ocean, the "mustn't grow soft!" -- maybe I've grown just a tad, okay, more than a tad soft?

2014. The year of change for me.

For now, I'm reading hard and working harder. No pauses to water flowers. A quick walk through the garden...


...A look up to smile at these two (both of whom have grown softer, and that's a good thing)...


...then off to my office, where I stay until the long shadows fall.

(Looking out my window -- my, aren't they starting college at a young age these days!)

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Evening. Back at the farmhouse, I see that Ed has plunged into making grape jam.

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Another reason to smile.

I cut up the last of this season's tomatoes and make chili again.

And in the morning, we wake up to a misty sky...


...followed by a warming sun. Breakfast on the porch. For sure.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013


A commenter asks -- is this spell of nonstop work typical?
No, not at all. I have an unusual semester of teaching a subject matter that overlaps only a little with work I've done before and so the amount of reading that I have to do (to say nothing of lecture writing) is voluminous.

But, I'm fast approaching a turning point (in ten weeks!) and I do realize that it cannot be fun to read about endless work and so I'm poking my nose out a little more and feeling a whole lot better for it.

For example, on Tuesday, I slammed the book shut and went out to water the newly planted irises. And that lead to feeling sorry for the neighboring plants which seemed pretty dry and before the morning was over I had spent a hefty forty-five minutes with hose in hand, oblivious to the work world, oblivious to pretty much anything beyond my garden.

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Such a resilient place it is! Though if you look closely, the greens aren't so green anymore. A muted golden tone is starting to set in.

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After classes, I again steered rosie past the lesser lake. This is the transition: the calming moment at the end of a long day.

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And by the time Ed brought some take out Indian food for supper, I was ready to let go of it all for the day.

Except that you can't really fully let go. Clarifications, notes on top of my notes -- I came back to it all again at midnight and then, too, in the middle of the night, so that by morning, I was again thinking how restless this season has been for me.

But, on the upside (and there is always an upside!), the morning was beautiful, we ate breakfast on the porch, and I had a chance to take a photo of it all. Note the roof: slowly, it's coming down. Slowly but surely -- words to live by.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Play tennis? -- he asks at the usual hour.
I know he is tired, but he sees that I've been glued to the kitchen chair too long. But I'm not at a point where I can stop work.  
Maybe not today...Or should we?
You haven't moved your butt all day... He says this wanting to get me going.  But it's hopeless.
I'll make it up another time -- I say it without conviction.

So that's the low point -- when I cannot find time even for tennis.

Dinner: how do I treat dinner on these days when I can't seem to find the time to treat anything well?

Well now, I walk to the new orchard and vegetable patch, passing the increasingly solitary blooms...

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The days are so much shorter! Long shadows on the fields to the north of us appear early. Too early.

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I see that the animals have attacked our young fruit trees again. We haven't built the protective cages. We're paying the price for neglect.

Corn. There is still corn. (The only growing thing at the farmette, aside from trees, that's taller than Ed!)

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And I do what I always do when I don't have time to think about food: I roast the vegetable du jour (today -- cauliflower), make a huge salad (one with plenty of tomatoes and cucumbers because we still have a daily supply from the garden)

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...throw in those last few ears of corn, boil some eggs - not too long, just so,  and finally -- share a fresh panfried trout and some scraps of smoked salmon with Isis. It's come to that: I cook fish for the cat and then we steel some of it for our own supper.


And so the days hobble on and bleary eyed and somewhat drunk with work I tally forth. Round the clock.


Dinner then, breakfast now. On the porch. Cool (in the fifties), but with such good views toward a better world.


And the sun continues to taunt me -- you could be gardening! you need to help the new orchard! to fix the raspberry patch! Nagging thoughts, not much more than that.


Monday, September 23, 2013


If you say the word "fall" for me, all I can think of is "fall behind." If you ask me -- what did you do today? I can truthfully answer -- fall behind. No matter how hard I try, inevitably, I fall behind.

I've stopped going to yoga.

We haven't gone to Paul's cafe for weeks.

Long bike rides? Kayak outings? Hikes? So yesterday.

And even as I do none of those things, I fall behind.

But at the least, at the very least, I can look out at the world just outside my kitchen windows (when not on the porch, I work at the kitchen table) and be just tickled at what's taking place before me.

For example, as Ed rips the roof off the porch...

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...there are strips of sunlight finally coming through -- to the porch and indirectly, to the kitchen.


Still, by mid-afternoon, I can't stand it any longer. I'm out. First, to pick some fruit from the old orchard.



Then, not satisfied with the tininess of the break, I go further, for a walk up the country road.

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To the Nature Conservancy path...

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...and back again.

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An hour outside and I am restored.

Evening comes, the sun continues to paint the farmette in warm and glowing tones.

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But Ed is exhausted. And I'm tired too, in a very different sort of way.  We do try to put in a good half hour on the tennis court and if you saw our game today, you'd think this was our first year at it. Terrible. (In a fun sort of way.)

And there you have it -- a fall, no, sorry, a fall behind Sunday.

And in the morning, after a quick breakfast in the sun room...


... it continues. I'll always remember the Fall of 2013 as one that mightily passed me by. No matter. No Fall will over look like this again. That's a promise.