Thursday, October 31, 2013

working in the rain

When you live in the country, your attitude toward rain is different. In the city, you take out the umbrella and forge ahead. Here, at the farmette -- I can't imagine taking out an umbrella.

I listen for a while. If I hear wind and a pounding of drops against the roof or window, I know it's a big one. I adjust: compost later. And Isis -- he'll be staying inside.

Breakfast. (Pancakes for Ed!)

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I hear a pause in the rain. Nice. I push my books to the side. Out, let's go out and move a few losds of chips to the raspberry bed.

Well fine, but within minutes the rain comes back. But does it matter? It's warm enough. No one will see the wet strands of hair falling down my face (Ed will, but he's not one to complain). The smell of a wet autumn day is, to me, more powerful than that of a dry one, in the same way that a wet forest is more evocative than a sand dune.

Ed and I work in the rain. Pitchfork after pitchfork of chips. Shoveling dirt. Replanting, repairing. All in the rain.

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We stop when I think I need to return to my books.

But the scent of wet earth stays with me. How could it not? I think of all the fragile plants that will benefit from it -- the transplanted raspberries, the bulbs that are just now establishing roots. Yes, all our plantings this year will be better off. And the fragrance! Ohhhhh, the fragrance of wet earth!

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In the evening we go to the local farmers market -- last one this year. Ed wants cheese curds, I want to pay homage. Not that there are many farmers here today. Maybe four. For the others, the season ended with the first heavy frost.

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We buy some radishes. Then apples. They're not great apples. The farmers are selling the fruit of old trees and though I'd like to believe that old apples can be as great as new apples, these are just okay.

Still, we buy them and we eat a handful as we drive to Menards (the home improvement store). There we buy twinkly lights for the farmhouse. But that's tomorrow's story.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I watched with great fascination this video clip (in the New York Times today). Titled "The Warsaw Way," it depicts the freewheeling approach to fashion young people have adopted for themselves, particular those who hang out around "Savior Square" -- identified as the place of a hipster movement. Paris is elegant, Warsaw is relaxed -- says one young woman as she shows off her layered look.

Now, I have two thought to offer here: first of all, I smile at this new way Poles view Savior Square -- epicenter of hipster culture indeed! I lived a quarter of a block from this square in my youngest years in Warsaw. It was (and it remains) a busy place where tramcars crisscross a circular open area and cars and buses push their way along the awkward and type space reserved for street traffic. Loud, chaotic and not too safe to navigate if you're a mere six year old passing through on her way to school.

But the square is proximate to the School of Engineering and, too, it's home to a number of language schools and the single metro line has a stop nearby -- all this means that there is now an influx of young people who are quite comfortable in the old and somewhat crumbling arcades that span many of the buildings here. (I write about a cafe on this square -- Charlotte; I visited it on my last trip to Warsaw... I called it a "hip" place then.)

My second comment is that Warsaw young people have always dressed with care. This isn't a new post-communist enlightened youth. Oh, sure, so many have access to better *stuff* now. But you cannot say that this generation is the first to glorify cool clothing or a careful presentation of self -- I surely saw it during my university years in the late sixties: appearance mattered.

Thinking now of my last trip to Poland (almost a year ago) made me glad I wasn't going there again this December. It's an icy cold and dark time to be in Warsaw. But I do recognize a faint feeling of a need to go back. In warmer times maybe. In spring, or summer. Yeah, when I'm retired and time flows according to a newly improvised schedule.

In other news -- you guessed it. It is a tough work day and so there is no other news.

Ah, but there is always breakfast. Eaten on a foggy morning. Gazing out, gazing in... Always, always, no matter how harried the day ahead, always there is breakfast.

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Still on Rosie today. To work, in the fog...

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...then, in the evening, back home in light drizzle. To chili. And the guys.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


My commenters, here and via email, took Ed's position: want to breathe calmly? Go out for a brisk walk in a forest. Go back to yoga. Forget about the credentialed guy dispensing advice on how to relax.

It's true of course. I can manage this! -- has been my phrase of choice, ever since I landed in this country to care for a child, having never baby sat in my life prior to this, let alone cared for a girl who routinely went horseback riding in jodhpurs and knew how to dive for quarters in the family pool. Nothing at all like the kids I knew back in Poland, who on a summer evening were more likely to gather in the cow pasture to toss around a volley ball, or pick mushrooms after a rainfall.

But, I have another catchy little phrase to live by -- learn from others. I tend to listen to advice. And then I take it or leave it, but I usually give it a good hearing. So if someone tells me to go listen to a relaxation guru, I'm likely to oblige.

But today was not a day to oblige anything or anyone. You know the ten minute run I was to do at home? Forget it. I got up, ate breakfast (flanked this morning by the beautifully bright light coming through the kitchen windows)...


...and worked.

In school, I really wanted to show my  class this 8 minute video which somewhat humorously depicts a discussion of some core concepts we're analyzing right now. And though I took the time to practice running the appropriate technology for it, in the final showing I could not figure out how to increase the volume (so that students could actually hear what was being said).

Who knew that tapping on volume arrows was incorrect and that pressing firmly and steadily on one such arrow would do the trick?

Which brings me around to the preoccupation with technology Ed and I have had in this past week, as we struggled (well, Ed struggled and I fretted by association) to understand why my mom's brand new lap top was not connecting to the Internet at her senior residential center in Berkeley. My mom and her senior co-conspirators were even brave enough to follow Ed's urgings to locate and reboot the router and still, nothing helped -- she could not get online.

We were about to give up and start all over with a new machine when she called to say that the Internet provider came over and admitted that some while back they locked Internet access for any *new* machines. In other words, it was their fault. But when everyone on her floor is happily clicking away, how would you ever conclude that it was something other than the new machine you sent over? 

I was thinking about how finding proper remedies for problems that arise is sometimes so elusive, through no fault of our own. How you may try to get all the pieces in order and how you do everything within your power to get it right and yet you can't. There is a missing piece and you cannot possibly find it alone, no matter how adept you are.

Still, if you have your wits about you, surely you would understand that many, many issues you can resolve for yourself, without additional input from an expert. Stick a kid on a horse and tell her to ride. Take a walk in the woods. Click on tabs until you find one that does the trick. All that. Go ahead, give it a go. But don't be shy about seeking advice. Sometimes it's not you -- someone locked you out and you just cannot readily get back in on your own.

The evening Rosie ride home  by the lesser lake: slate colored waters, darkening skies. This may be the last week when I take the old girl out for a spin. We are inching awfully close to winter.

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Monday, October 28, 2013


In wanting to be a good, advice taking patient, I listened to what my doctor said last week about relaxation. Ed would probably say that I listen to what doctors tell me only half the time -- that I go to appointments not for advice on what to do about the ache du jour, but to have them tell me it's not a herd of zebras. You know the saying -- if you live in Wisconsin and you hear pounding hoofs, think horses, not zebra. Well now, if I hear hoofs, I often wonder if it's zebra after all. A doctor will point me in the direction of horses.

This is a long winded way of saying that today I followed the doc's advice and had a meeting with someone who is trained to relax people.

The appointment lasted an hour. And in that hour, he took my entire life history, possibly trying to understand why I am inclined toward zebras, but most likely, because that is what these people do.

Then he actually went to his computer and looked up the label for my particular type of stress. I should have just told him to call it vague Zebra stress, but you know professional people -- they like labels. So he searched and scrolled and asked for my opinion on several of the offered choices, then decided (with my approval) that I fit no category at all. Because, stressed as I am about a few things, I really am quite relaxed about a great many others. And, well, I'm not depressed, I'm actually quite happy. And looking forward to a huge number of things. And I love a bunch of people and some of them even claim to love me back.

So, without a category, we nonetheless proceeded to the part I was most anxious about -- finding appropriate relaxation strategies for times when I need them. And then he told me in a nutshell that I should resume yoga (make me feel guilty, why don't you) and that I should do some muscle tensing and relaxing stuff, which is exactly what two commenters told me for free, here, on Ocean.

Toward the end he suggested that  maybe I can come back and we can work some more on cognitive redirection, for those times when I face acute stress.

That sounded so interesting and peculiar both at the same time that I had to say yes. (I have a hard time saying no when asked point blank like that.)

Now, the time wasn't totally wasted. All those appointments caused me to drive by Owen Woods and though once again I was in a hurry and therefore I could not stop to take in fully the beauty of the season, I did snap a couple of photos for you, from an open window of the car.

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Of course, I'm thinking now that I should have not made the relaxation appointment but used the hour instead to actually walk in Owen Woods. It's amazing what a walk in a beautiful forest can accomplish for you! Oh well.

In other news -- well, there is no other news.

We ate breakfast...

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I worked hard to make up for yesterday's laxness and we ate leftovers for supper.

I couldn't fit in yoga today, nor a walk, but I ran in one spot for a good five minutes. Tomorrow I'll make that ten minutes, even though the thumping disturbs Isis who, like me, probably thinks it's zebras.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


A brisk but beautifully bright Sunday. An opportunity to move forward on farmette outdoor projects.

And so indoor work suffers. It's like that -- progress in one domain means that I lose ground in another. Never mind, 75 and counting!

What may I check off as real accomplishments today?

Farmhouse cleaning. Check.

As a result -- a very late breakfast. Check.

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Then, as Ed struggles to find solutions for my mom's computer issues, I sneak outside with the  heavy pruners. There are some branches that can only come down if Ed's not staring at me with sad eyes.

So, a good touch-up to the tree pruning: check.

Then, we both work on tidying the raspberry patch. It's only about 20% repaired, but we're likely to let it go now until spring. We pull out the last of the monster weeds, clear some more invasives and rake everything to a good clean finish. Check. Or at least -- to be continued in Spring.

Finally, I work again on painting the porch boards -- the highest ones by the rafters. The ladder is extended, and I spend a good bit of time going up, coming down, moving it over, going up, coming down, moving it over... But by late afternoon the job is done. We'll leave the beams in their natural finish. The rest is painted. Check.

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Dinner. I got it in my head that I should make Moroccan chicken. Lots of spices, some squash, onion -- very autumnal, very satisfying. (It's an improvisation on this blogger's recipe. Thank you Ken!)


Daughter and husband are here to share it.

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Too few hours were spent today on lecture writing. That's a shame. But, the night can be shortened, the work day extended...  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

a stretch

He said to me this afternoon -- I think you're too old for this...
I sense a note of disappointment, or resignation, so I counter -- no no, give me a moment here...

I have to keep my balance on the ladder with my knees. I need my hands to hold the brush and, too, the edging cardboard. (Painting without it at first made me leave streaks of white on the glass. That's no good!) Looking up, then down to pick up more paint, then up again -- whoa, I'm getting dizzy up there!

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He asks -- just in case you crash, which hospital do you want me to take you to -- Meriter or UW?
Depends on the extent of my injuries -- run of the mill? Meriter. Comatose? UW.

He comes back a moment later -- you know, I saw this TV show as a kid -- of people painting an elaborate mansion, so meticulously. I was mesmerized!

I think he cannot be mesmerized by what I'm doing up there, between the rafters of the porch roof.
Oh, cute five little dots! -- he says, pointing to a place on a rafter where I seem to have splashed paint. But he's not mocking it. He's telling me it's funky cool, like the countless other funky cool things we do to the farmhouse trying to get it right but sometimes missing things at the edges.

So now you know -- I spent the afternoon painting something that would have been far far easier to paint had we done it first, before installing the glass panels.

In other news: pre-breakfast morning walk through the farmette.

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Oh! We forgot to water the newly transplanted raspberry canes yesterday. I do it now.

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I look at the flower beds: the blooms are spent. Totally. Except for this guy who forgot to call it quits for the year.

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Sticking to the steady stream of upsides:

Breakfast -- sunny.

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Goldie, the cat with the world's longest whiskers (she's my daughter's -- I'm merely keeping an eye on her) --  cheerful.

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And here's a big deal: a gift came in the mail from an Ocean commenter -- she'd found this on E-bay: the book is one that was used by first graders in Poland in the fifties to learn how to read and write (none of this printing stuff: we started with cursive). This book -- the "Elementarz" -- was my everything (we had no other texts that I recall). It was unreal to turn the pages now and remember the known to me images and words. You'd probably call it a commie text, what with the reverence for labor and factories and workers in all walks of life. To me it was an adored school book. Nothing less than that.

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Still another upbeat moment:

The sunset --  beautiful.

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On the downside (and there is sometimes a downside) -- there was school work sprinkled throughout the day.

And, too, not a small glitch: the new computer we (meaning Ed) configured for my mom? It arrived in Berkeley. It refuses to connect to her internet. We have (Ed has) tried everything. No luck. No clue as to why. No real solution for now.

And dinner? Chinese takeout. It's the best way to call it quits to a rather full day. Eat and unwind before a few library DVDs. Let go of computer frustrations, stretch the sore muscles. Exhale.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Many thoughtful, sweet comments appeared in response to my retirement post yesterday. Thank you! I have a few thoughts on questions you asked, so let me start with those.

First -- the most frequently asked question that comes my way is this: do you have any plans for retirement?

And the answer is simple: I do, but I'm trying hard not to commit to any of them (except for two... well, maybe three...). For so long, I've been doing a quick step: from one hour to the next, from one day to another in a sprightly and deliberate way, always with a schedule in the recesses of my soul, I am most looking forward to a freedom from it. At least for a while. Where Monday is like Saturday and September is like June and things don't have to fit around some other agenda. I want to see what it's like to wake up in the morning and to make up the agenda right there, on the spot. Without a to-do list.

Of course, I do have one goal and that is to pick up my Great Writing Project (great, as in big) and finish it! I've been working on a book for as long as I've known Ed. That's a long time! And I have bigger and better ideas for it, which in itself is terrible because it means yet again, it will be reworked from the beginning.

So there's that.

The other goal is to get stronger. You may find that to be sort of odd for a retirement goal, but I love physical strength and only during my trips away from home have I felt like I actually build stamina. So -- lift boulders, swim oceans -- whatever it takes. I will do it.

Then come the improvement goals: improve my photo skills, my photoshop skills, my use of the camera! Improve my languages! Get really fluent in my third and fourth one. Read the books I reserve at the library. Take classes! Yes! School is in my blood. Improve Ocean, improve the farmette, too, though that's rather seasonal.

And I know I'm cheating now because I'm on number four and you see -- this is the danger, I do not want to become a slave to lists, but this one is so obvious that if I don't put it down here, you'll think I'm dishonest: travel. There will be travel. But in the way that I cannot travel now, when I am tied to my work. Off season, more spontaneous, guided by price and interest, nothing else.

So no lists just yet. But, oh, to wake up each morning as if I were on a trip across the ocean -- enthusiastic about the possibilities! So many possibilities!

All that is a while away (77 calendar days!). Today was still rooted in routine.

Of breakfast...


Of work -- in the front room today, to vary things a little. Next to my little chickens.

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Of visiting my daughter's cat who is alone today. And looking like she knows exactly how to hang back and do not much of anything!

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Of working at our raspberry patch, just for a short spell!

Of checking up on my outdoor annuals, now smiling away indoors.

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Of cooking dinner...

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...of finding a minute to write here, on Ocean.

Of allowing myself to think ahead just a little to the end of work.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


It's official: I don't have to be quiet about it anymore: in 78 calendar days I will enter the world of the "retired." Without employment and at least for a while (maybe forever) without looking to reenter the job market.

I have worked and earned money every single year of my adulthood. And my jobs have been varied! Oh, have they been varied!

I landed in the United States at 18 for reasons of work (I was an au pair). And even though I was also going to school and taking care of a young child, I took on additional jobs: shelving books at the library and then, my favorite -- being a cashier at an upper westside bookstore. And all those endless research assitantships in college! Getting paid to code data, collect data, all that data -- where has it gone? Who made use of it?

Right after college, I moved from New York to Chicago to go to graduate school. But not without jobs! I was a research assistant there too. And on the side, I was the receptionist at the U of Chicago Hospital -- collecting stool samples on the weekends from those who had to bring them in. Later, I worked at the Community Center, playing guitar and taking preteens to various recreational places.

The move to Madison brought with it the first full-time job -- teaching sociology courses to college kids in Milwaukee. Then the babies came and I entered Law School and still I worked: I clerked for legal offices at the university -- one, then another. Paid work. We needed the money.

After Law School, I got the coveted job at a large law firm. Unfortunately, it was in Milwaukee. We moved, my (then) husband commuted and then lo! A job opened up at a non profit that was affiliated with the Law School and I came back to Madison and to academia -- and for the last twenty-five years, I have stayed put, first, supervising students in legal clinics, then teaching classes. Many many classes. For those in the legal world, you may be surprised to know how broad my range has been: I've taught classes in Family Law, AIDS Law, Poverty Law. Courses in Professional Responsibility, and in Comparative Law. I have also taught the required Torts and the required Property curriculum. And most recently, I've added Trusts and Estates to my repertoire.

And when money was tight and I wanted to travel more, I added jobs to my job: some ten years ago, I joined the evening cooking crew at L'Etoile, our high-end restaurant and after a few years of prepping appetizers and desserts, I switched to foraging for them at the local markets. More recently, I boosted my income a bit by moonlighting at the French cosmetics chain L'Occitane.

I have worked an awful lot of hours! And I'm ready to stop.

Of course, there is the official date (January 10) and there is the more fluid timeline. The semester ends, exams begin, holidays take place, trips will be taken, grades for 150 students need to be posted, letters for students need to be written. Even so, on that date it will be a real turning of the page for me.

Let the countdown begin!

In other news -- there is always other news of the farmette, news that takes you right out of yourself and reminds you that seasons change and life goes on and you must react, or hide, or take note. I take note.

Breakfast, fixed in the kitchen, eaten in the sun room.

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A commenter asked about the glass porch roof in the Fall: yes, it's managing to collect a few leaves, but there aren't trees directly overhead and it does have a slight slope so most of them will, with time, wash off. I was very tempted to go up there and sweep off fallen leaves, but Ed held me back. There's beauty in the occasional leaf, and in the drops of dew in the morning, and eventually in a snow cover come wintertime.

But we surely look up at the roof a lot. This, while I do my school work at the kitchen table.

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I had a morning errand to run and so you get, too, a photo of the cloud cover pushing through...

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In the late afternoon Ed and I hoist up a few "cages" for the fruit trees in the new orchard. It's a complicated process of building structures to protect the baby trees from deer. We've been far too lax in this and as a result, we've lost a large number of young trees.

Today, we salvaged (I hope) a half dozen fruit trees and cried tears (pretty close to that) over many that probably cannot be saved.

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And then? Well, I wish I could have done more to secure the farmette for the winter season, but I had to work. And Ed? He had Isis to .... attend to.


And I count: so many days of work behind me, 78 to go.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

more frosty thoughts

The first night's frost is a big deal.

The second night's frost is nothing more than a checked off moment in a string of frosty nights that will stretch, most likely, all the way until April. Rare will be the night when it doesn't dip below freezing.

When you wake up on these frosty mornings, a hot shower is sublime and it warms you up for a good hour or two. I don't touch the thermostat until the shower effects wear off, sometime after breakfast.

Yeah, breakfast. In the sun room.

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But the hot shower glow does eventually wear off. And then you have to really work up the courage to choose rosie over the car to go to campus. It helps if there are wisps of sunshine.

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You try not to think about how that sunshine wont be there to help you by the time you're heading home.

But I have to say, accustomed as I am right now to frost at night, I am not quite sure what to make of this, as viewed from my office window this afternoon.

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Snow showers.

Rosie, I'm sorry. I meant well.

I am lucky. The snow shower passes by the time I ride home. I can see it retreating, there, over the lesser lake.

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I'm home now. Yeah. Home.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

frosty feelings

I love Isis so much, I tell Ed.
He doesn't believe me.
Moments ago I swept cat hairs off the couch and insisted that the litter box needed yet another cleaning, just because. I don't behave like a person who is in love.

But at the end of the day, Isis, to me, spells home. His snuggley side, his love of the farmhouse, his clamoring for a piece of that trout that I buy for him now every week -- they add up. 

And so on this tough tough work day, I come home late and I see Isis and I think (and say) -- I love this cat.

Otherwise, the day is as it was going to be: frosted over, for the first time this year...

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With breakfast in the sun room...

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Followed by work. When it is time finally to head for campus, I bundle up, drag out rosie ("do I have to? -- she asks... she is a fair weather girl) and... go nowhere. She will not start.

I want to shout - Edddddd! - but he is at the dentist's. I abandon rosie and apologize to the bumperless Ford for all the disparaging comments I've made about it lately.

I drive in. I give my two hour lecture. I drive back.


Ed is working on various motorized vehicles as I pull in. There was a bug trapped inside your starter system. That's why you couldn't start. 
A bug? A big bug?
Little bug. I cleaned it out. She's ready to go (tomorrow).

It's nearly dark. We go inside.

Monday, October 21, 2013

now we are cold

That really is a gusty wind out there!

Most of the day I spend just looking at it, from the same perch at the kitchen table -- starting with breakfast...

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...through a long period of lecture writing.

You know how killing that is of your spirit, don't you? You stare at the computer screen, you write, you draw a blank, you do a quick step to your favorite blogs or websites, you come back and resume writing, you break again. You keep hoping for new distractions, anything to get your mind off of the task at hand because you've had it with the task at hand...

One such distracting place to run to in times of great work stress is the site. Looking at it now, including at the ten day forecast, I'm dismayed to see that we're in for a cold spell. With an occasional threat of snow-showers. Snow showers??

When I see that tonight there is a window of reasonably dry air, I suggest that we break from our various work obsessions and drive out to get that cider that we missed picking up this weekend at the orchards just north of here.

It is the perfect escape.

So first and foremost -- the classic pretty view from the orchards (at Ski Hi):

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...and the documentation of the purchase:

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As the orchard based shop closes for the day (we are the last customers), we see that there is still plenty of light outside. Or at least enough to do a side trip to Parfrey's Glen.

Parfrey's Glen. It's the first space devoted to state parkland in Wisconsin. For me, it's probably one of the most magical spots in the Midwest. Ed and I first went there early in our years together. Flooding closed the place down in recent years. In fact, we weren't sure if it was open now.

But it is open. And after driving around in circles (this is what we do so well: we nearly always take the wrong turn in our ramblings on the rural roads to the north of Madison),  we come to the state park entrance. Deserted now, in the early evening of a Fall weekday. We leave the car and walk up the trail. There used to be elaborate paths with supportive boardwalks. All that was washed away just a few years ago. These days, if you come here, you have to climb your way up the riverbed, flanked by the natural sandstone formations.

In the blaze of autumn color, as seen in the fading evening light, it is magnificent. Cold, yes, that: I'm in a my winter down jacket -- but beautiful to the core.

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Nina, Ed

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From there, the easy route back home takes you to the ferry that crosses the Wisconsin River at Marrimac. We're at the ferry landing just as the sun sets somewhere there, behind the clouds.

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We've done this trip so many times and still we take the wrong turn and lose our way along the rural roads leading home. It is quite dark by the time we pull into our diveway, six jugs of cider and a bag of Chipotle dinner burritos in hand.