Sunday, August 31, 2014

flip the page

For the first time in many years, I do not have a manuscript waiting on my computer for a dramatic (or, in my case, not so dramatic) ending. On this last day of August, which, for me, is tantamount to being the last breath of summer, I shift gears and begin thinking about my next writing project. (This last one, of course, will still require work and attention, but I no longer have it suspended in mid sentence on my screen. It remains to be seen as to where, how, when it will be taken up again. You know how these projects go: you thinks you are capable of writing a book, you are encouraged by well meaning friends and, too, your companion who likes to refer to you jokingly as the one-day-famous-author-person and so you write. And then you finish. And then you have to deal with the "now what.")

If I am to fall apart in a post retirement disintegration and discombobulation it would be now, because for once, I really truly have no agenda. (Except to embark on my next writing project, but that one is still morphing. You can't enter a brave new world the same day you exited your comfy and familiar one.)

But I'm not falling apart. Farmette routines today had me plod through in the most predictable way: rising with the cheepers (to a foggy morning)...


...eating breakfast out on the porch with Ed...


...walking through the flower beds, mentally taking notes as to which of the spent flowers have to be cut back and how much and when.


It's a beautiful closure to summer. The sun is out, the air is warm. I imagine people are having countless picnics and barbeques  -- the American rendition of Labor Day weekend. I think the tug-a-war championships are still taking place in Madison and I know the food fair is in full swing downtown.

Here, on the farmette, things are more quiet.


The big event is witnessing Martha the groundhog parade by the great willow this afternoon. The cheepers were napping, but I surely took note. For one thing, Martha has grown awfully large this summer -- she would be hard to miss now.

Ed and I play tennis in the quiet of our secret tennis court. The sun sets, day is done. Summer is effectively over, the new season, for me, begins now.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


...and the day ran away with the spoon!

It's rare that I sit down to compose my first Ocean words this late, so be patient as I gather my diffuse and sleepy thoughts.

Instead of starting off with a chronological recap: how I slept in, how breakfast was late again...

farmette-5.jpg the garden was hanging in there, after very many bursts of rain...

(toward the entrance edge of the porch)

(toward the great willow)

(toward the side where we eat our meals)

...I'll stick with noting just two small events from this day.

First, the trip to the farmers market.

Ed hasn't tagged along to the great downtown farmers market this year at all.
You go and bond with your daughter, he'll say each Saturday, which is really another way of saying -- no, I don't feel like it.

But today he agreed to go. My daughter is away for the day and I told him I had just a short list of produce to pick up.

On our way there, we paused at my daughter's, just to peek in on her cats. Two out of the three were delighted to see us. The third hid underneath the couch.

(Virgil and Ed, at play, with a feather toy)

(Virgil at rest)

(Goldie, the old timer and Virgil the newcomer; Goldie surely is wondering why anyone would waste energy jumping after a set of feathers on a string)

Okay, that was nice. But the market? It wasn't the usual joyous affair. Madison's food festival (Taste of Madison) was encroaching onto the square, the same square where the vendors sell their produce and so the whole downtown area was in chaos.  In the end, Ed waited in the car to the side, while I dashed out to pick up the essentials.

(I know what they're thinking: why do so many people not like eggplant??)

Not the kind of market experience you like to have. Still, we got terrific corn, mushrooms, cheddar-cauliflower and salad greens, so I was only modestly disappointed.

The second event? Oh, that's a repeat of something that we both think of as uniquely our own: in the late afternoon, we go to our favorite secret tennis court to play.

If anything speaks to the joy of these days it's that game of tennis that we go back to more often than I even mention here. It's very quiet there and the smell of pine trees is intense. The game is bouncy and perky and it goes by rules that we've made up, though we've never felt compelled to say them out loud. There is always laughter. More than in any other setting, here, on the tennis court, I laugh loudly  -- at my misplays, at his stumbles. It is our language here. The game (which we began very early in our time together) has forever been a joyous event and on days where some worry or fret is so intense that we can't let go of it there, on the court, we end quickly and go home. But not today. Today, we played!

Friday, August 29, 2014


For me, the acronym for this day should be TBI Friday -- Too Bad It's Friday. The world awaits the weekend. Of course it does. Leisure is such a limited commodity in this country. The weekend provides respite to an overworked nation.

Me, I pack this day with so many chores that I can barely keep my focus. It's as if I'm on the work treadmill again. And today I've squeezed in additional little humdingers.  For example, I want to get my phone checked out. I no longer count steps with it, but I hate knowing that should I be so inclined, it's likely to overheat and burn itself right out of my anxious little fist.

Unfortunately, appointments for a phone check at our local Apple store begin at noon. Noon? Is that before grocery shopping noon, or after grocery shopping? Let's try for the latter. That means I have to run back and forth between the farmette and downtown Madison not once but twice today. Enough to make me dizzy.

But that's all the grumbling you'll get out of me today, because otherwise, the day is warm and lovely.

Not at sunrise. It's iffy then. Ed is sleeping soundly and so I hop out to free the cheepers and in the process, I scare some two or three dozen wild turkeys. I'm not sure wild turkeys would harm cheepers, but I do know they're scared of me. The minute they hear my footstep, they scamper and fly in every direction, as if fearing the Thanksgiving ax already.

The morning is misty and humid and I spend almost no time strolling through the yard.


(Though I do notice that the cosmos are carrying a good portion of it -- a sure sign of the last days of August, when everything else seems slightly bedraggled and worn.)


But after eating breakfast...


...and after all the chores are done, I do take a look around.

Sigh... It's as if someone pushed a button and the Fall stage set rolled into place. Sure, it's still toasty warm, but there is no question now -- it feels like we have moved into the next season. You can see it in the light. Suspended, to the side now. As if saying -- I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but it's time for me to move on.


I don't have good photos for you. That would require stepping out a little more and I am done with that for the day. The sun retreats and so do I. The breeze is light, inconsequential, the air is still. Take a deep breath. Summer is nearly over.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Well now, this day surely belongs to my writing project. I know of a blogger-author-type-person who always mentions in her blog how many words she had written that day and I've never known if her numbers are unusual or superb, but today as I struggled to finish the editing of what I have so far, I did the conversion of words to book and came up with the internet figure of 320. Were I to end the text today, I would, it appears, have 320 book pages. And that's without an index!

I am not finished. But I see the light at the end of this and I will soon have to make up my mind as to what the next step should be. To say nothing of what the next writing project should be! It is thrilling to think that I may in fact live long enough to see another writing project. For a while I did conclude I would never reach the end of this one.

[My list of possible book type people (agents) is very short. Like two names. And I don't even know if they're still alive at this point -- I wrote their names down some eight years ago! If you have ideas as to who may be helpful in bringing this project to its end, do send me an email!]

Of course, the day had the usual in it. The late start. The garden walk.


The breakfast.


And, too, it had a bike ride, because my daughter and her husband are gone for the day and I promised I'd check in on their cats. No photos of kitties for you, but I'll give you one of the prairie fields on the way to their place...


And a photo of the scene I encountered on my way there: it was the international rope pulling competition. Right here, in Madison! Who knew (that there was such an event)?!

in this event, Switzerland (in blue) beat Holland

And in the evening, I cajole Ed into taking me out to dinner. I even put on a skirt for the occasion! True, it's an old skirt, on an elastic band that is so frayed that I feel skinny in it because the waistband droops. But still, a skirt. (I ask Ed from the other room -- did you even notice what I'm wearing? He answers -- of course! What is it ? Blue! Okay, that's not exactly an answer, but let's go with it -- on the top or on the bottom? Top!  Hmmm... he got some of it right.)

We go to our standby favorite -- Brasserie V, where we can sit at the bar and stuff ourselves with mussels and fries and walk away happy.


Happy. Can you find reason to be happy tonight? Oh, I hope so!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Do most people have strong opinions as to what is the right way to proceed? Or, like me, do they merely try to squeeze by and find a way to hang on, without feeling especially convinced that their course is the preferable one, more favorable than most others?

As I continue work on my writing project, I sometimes step back and wonder how a reader would react to different events described therein. Whether he or she would feel that they would have done things differently. Whether opinions would form as to which course of action is the better one.  For me, there are obvious terribly wrong directions and terribly right ones too, but it seems that most behaviors fall toward neither extreme. They are what they are. People squeezing by, finding a way to make it to the end of the day without completely falling apart in despair. And if in the course of that run they find themselves smiling, well, good for them! In my mind, one mark of a good day is when you look back and find that you have had quite a number of opportunities for a wide grin. The sun was out and you didn't completely mess up. How wonderful is that!

Today, it was easy to smile. Sure, when the rooster crowed, Ed fidgeted slightly and then mumbled something that sounded like "sleep." So I let him rest. But rising with the cheepers isn't necessarily a bad thing. Even if the sunrise is a little muted by a band of clouds on the horizon.


(oreo, waiting for the sun to rise)

Then there is breakfast - so obviously porch material, since we are having another one of those spectacularly beautiful days (last one for a while, so let's really crank it up and enjoy it!).

(his grin is a tiny bit fake so that I'd put away the camera already)

There are, today, periods of writing and there are garden walks...

(toward the porch)

(toward the sheep shed)

...and Ed and I take many soothing breaks on the porch -- to munch on pickles, to sip a cup of coffee, to do a little clothes mending. All very peaceful. Very much in line with the quiet around us. (Perhaps I overstate the quiet: we do live along a rural road that gets its share of car traffic as it leads to a county park and a lake -- a favorite destination for boat people in the summer. But life at the farmette is removed from the road. All important activities fly off the internal courtyard. We try hard to concentrate our senses toward that space and for the most part, the effort pays off.)

In the evening, Ed bikes his Wednesday night bike loop and I'm home making chili, just to use up the rest of the old tomatoes. And as I stir all those beans, spices and tomatoes, I go back to thinking about how difficult it is to make choices when, in most instances, there isn't an obviously correct path, just many different ones, with many different outcomes and consequences.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Even though Ed no longer travels, he and I both subscribe to -- a moderately reliable website that sends us emails when a bargain airfare appears on any of our chosen routes. If he gets a message first (say because he is on email and I am not at that moment), he always tells me -- ah! cheap fare to Dublin, now! or to Oslo, or to Barcelona. (Those are typically the cheapest gateways to Europe these days.) We look at the dates, the terms, the airlines and if all fits into my travel expectations, I try to book.

You have to be ready to book right away, because these super cheap fares do not last.

In fact, most often, they are gone by the time I fill in all the required spaces, check off required boxes and click "purchase."

This would be mildly annoying if it weren't for the fact that if you try, say, an hour later, they may appear again. Fleetingly. And then you go through the whole rigamarole once more, only to be told at the final stage -- sorry, you waited too long.

Too long? Do you know how fast I am at booking? Everything on those airline pages are by now auto-fill for me (with the exception of a credit card number). I know the planes I want (only ones with two seats off the aisle). How much layover I'll tolerate (never less than an hour, hopefully not more than three). I know me emergency contacts, my seat selection protocol (bulkhead on transatlantic), I can zip through the process faster than it takes a page to load.

Sorry, you waited too long.

The fare alert this morning was so good that I would not let this one pass. (Especially since I know that I have a 24 hour free cancellation period by law, so any mistake I make is without penalty.) So I call the airline. And the agent is nice, in an "I can do nothing" sort of way. And she tells me her supervisor will call me back after she looks into things. And this is how I spent a whole morning on airfares for travel for next year. Airfares that I did not, BTW, manage to land in the end. (Unless the supervisor does call me back with the message -- guess what! the CEO of Delta relented! You are good to go!)

And so breakfast is late. And it is in the kitchen, because I had to be near the computer, in case the agent called.


That's okay. The view toward the garden is good from here as well. Especially when the porch screens aren't drenched with rain.


(Though the garden is always prettier if you just step outside!)


Oh, for the good old days when sale airfares stayed with us for days instead of seconds!

Speaking of gardens and speed, I wanted to mention that this has been a phenomenal summer for birds and butterflies. I do not have any zoom on my daily use camera so I have resisted trying to take photos, but today the hummingbirds were so  outrageous and energetic, that I tried to get closer to them (and therefore to take a few photos for Ocean). The birds are speedy and elusive, but I do have something for you.




And in other news -- well, it was time for Ed to pick tomatoes again. Today's haul loaded two bags for our freezer.


This year's crop is so good that we are, in fact, packing our downstairs freezer full. Chili will feature prominently on the dinner menus this winter.

But not today. Today's supper was supposed to be eggs and our local farmer's oyster mushrooms, with my garden beans, but I panicked that the beans had been left on the vines too long and so I also threw in garden corn. Just in case. In the end, the beans were fine and the corn was fine (though truthfully, we waited with that also a tad too long; we both prefer delicate, first blush kernels) and so our supper plates were quite full.


Oh, and did I tell you? The skies were outrageously beautiful today! We did play tennis, but mainly, we worked on our various projects -- Ed in the sheep shed, me on the porch. Of course. With frequent breaks for a walk through the garden.


Monday, August 25, 2014


It's nice how well I keep you informed of the day behind us -- Monday, it was Monday! Even as for me, the defining term that I think best described this day would be "stormy." A restless, stormy night, followed by a restless daybreak, followed by a stormy day. 

The restless part? I blame Isis.

That sweet cat has to stop with the competition as to who will crow/meow first. He has been winning, by the way. Every morning. At five.

And no sooner does Ed do the rounds -- let out Isis, wait for him to want to reenter, feed him, let out chickens -- then the storms come. One after another. All morning long.


You could say I am the lucky one -- not doing animal duty, after all. But staying in bed, awake, feeling somewhat guilty for offloading all animal care isn't exactly delicious or relaxing. Especially as you listen to the world outside rumble and you imagine your garden flowers folding over and giving up for good.

When I finally come down to make breakfast, there is a lull in the air. One set of storms has passed, the next has not yet arrived. And so I take our meal out to the porch...


...only to hear the crash of thunder again.

It's not safe! Let's go back in!
You're kidding, right?
No, it's not safe!
I'm finishing my breakfast right here.

In the end, I go inside and open the window to the porch, so that we can continue our conversation -- Ed out there, me at the kitchen table. I have to admit, it seems silly on my part, but ask me how much I like being outside in storms! Oh, but why ask, you know the answer!

We do eventually have periods of calm.


The chickens come out of hiding (the barn is their safe haven) and indeed, push the boundaries of their farmette exploration...


Me, I barely go out. A few errands, a few quick runs through the garden...

(see the frog in the day lily?)

...then home to write.

But if you ask me if I like wet summer days, I'll say yes. Perhaps not every day, but still, I do. There is something so safe and precious about being inside when the rain comes down. Warm summer rain. It keeps the flowers and frogs happy. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Such a glorious summer it has been! What right do we have to gripe now, given the weeks, many weeks we've had of sunny days and cool nights?

It's because we're nearing the end of it, right? You always want the last of anything to be the best of the best. We're greedy that way. End the meal with a perfect dessert. End the summer with a perfect string of days.

Undoubtedly, this week messes with our sensibilities. Days of muggy weather -- that's a coastal problem! We, in the Upper Midwest, we expect blue skies! And cool nights! Well, not this week. Once again I keep the windows shut and the AC on, reassuring myself that in a few days, this too shall pass.

We both went to sleep late last night and so it was a toss up who should rise with the chickens. Isis solved the problem for us by creating a racket even before the rooster first crowed and we have an unspoken understanding that if it's my kids that are causing a disturbance (which they never do!), it's my problem, but if it's a pet that dates back to Ed's bachelor days -- then it's his responsibility. Oh, sure, I can step up and pitch in, but the default position is that it's his worry.

So my first walk outside is later. Much later. To clean the coop and feed the cheepers some stale bagel and even more stale granola (they are a very convenient guilt appeaser that way: they eat our mistakes). And to take stock once again of the garden.


Not great, compared to July, sublime compared to anytime between October and May.


And then comes breakfast. Cheeper eggs for Ed.


The usual for me.

Sunday. This is family dinner day. My daughter's tastes these days drive the menu, so that
I spend a delightful afternoon baking a sour cherry cake (with kefir!)...



...and rolling out spinach potato gnocchi.


True, it is muggy outside, but with the fan on, it's just a beautiful night on the porch. Stunningly beautiful.


In a warm sort of way.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The last days of August really do test your resolve to make something of the land around you. Sagging flowers, pocket infestations of this bug or that beetle, the strawberries you never got around to splitting and dividing, corn -- one variety completely eaten by deer, the other, thankfully, left alone, regrets about too many heirloom tomatoes and too few traditional hybrids that actually resist blight even in hot humid weather and of course, the resurgence of mosquitoes and pesky flies that especially love the prairie grasses out by the vegetable patch. You know, the grasses you stopped mowing after the wedding came and went.

I start getting fall planting catalogs in the mail and I throw them all away. You kidding me? I can barely keep up with what I have already planted!

And yet, dreams pinch at you! Maybe we should remove the awful creeping rosebushes that grow by our parked cars and put in some of the divided daylilies? Maybe if we prune the young orchard right, it will reward us next year with more mature trees? And maybe we should move on that last prairie field and clear it for Farmer Lee, or figure out how to do a controlled prairie?

Alright. I gave my future gardens some thought. Now let's get back to the present. Which begins early, on a humid, foggy morning...


I'm out with the cheepers, but not for long. It's just not very inviting outside right now.


After breakfast (on the porch! Our bubble of outdoor bliss!)...


...I meet my daughter for our weekly walk to the downtown farmers market. She is exactly at the halfway point in her pregnancy. To me, she is obviously pregnant, though I can see how to the world, there can still be doubts. We pause on our walk. She has her rather regular bout with not feeling well. As I wait for her by the side of the path, three young men walk past and chuckle. It's obvious what they're thinking -- mother walking with daughter who has one mighty hangover! Well now, in case you haven't yet thought this -- a child is the offspring of two people, but a pregnancy is the burden of only one. I do a quick calculation as to whether I should shout after them -- she's pregnant, for God's sake! -- and decide against it. She laughs when I tell her their reaction. I'm used to it. Every time this happens, people think I've been drinking!

We make the market round. There was a time when I would seriously hunt down the best vegetables and fruits at this market, but now there are so many such markets that I pick and choose selectively. At the Saturday one, I always get oyster mushrooms. This time, I also pick up sour cherries for a cake and more pickling cucumbers. (We may not have grown enough for a year's supply of pickles. We really like pickles.) My girl has her own list. But for the most part, we do not expect to fill our bags. There is great pleasure in just looking.


It's still humid, still quite warm, but we make it back to her place before the storms come yet again and dump the next batch of rain on the now perfectly soaked land.

The cheepers hide under our cars at times of big rainfalls. And these days, Isis hides under our bed during storms. I look at the weather map for the next ten days. This I can say for sure -- there'll be a lot of animals  hiding!


A few photos of lingering flowers. I know they will seem utterly brilliant come November!