Sunday, November 30, 2014

the travel, part 1

And now time takes on that odd spin, confusing everyday habits and schedules, wrecking predictable meals and routines, jumping over zones like in a hopscotch game -- eventually, but not until the very end of the trip, returning to home base where all will be right with the world again.

No matter how many times I make this trip across the ocean, I am always surprised that breakfast here, at the farmette, with Ed, with the usual cheeper art on the table and predictable foods before us...


...will feel so distant, of another era in very few minutes.  You're there, you're not there. It's that simple.

It's a cloudy day, a drippy day that promises to change to a bitter cold day very quickly, but not until after I am out of here. Ed listens patiently to all my instructions (clean this, eat that, water these...), then drives me to the airport where I wait for my flight to (connection no.1) Minneapolis.

(to be continued)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

the day before travel

It's beautiful out there, on this sparkling blue skied morning! There is such irony in having November exit on a high note. We've had weeks of a deeply brooding winter. Reconciled to the worst end of Fall in memory, here we are, waking up now to something quite brilliant.


I'm up to let the cheepers out of the coop. It's just at freezing, but of course, everything around the entrance to the barn is hard as rock: slippery, with a thin coating of snow. It's not their thing.


They peek out. They retreat.


But the sunshine is promising and I know that we'll be able to clear a path for them later in the day. In the meantime, we have our sun-splattered breakfast...


...and we take a walk, too. All the way down to the Nature Conservancy, where we want to release yet another trapped mouse. (I've stopped counting.)


And the afternoon just flies!

(the turkeys that survived Thanksgiving)

We go back to the barn and cajole the cheepers to step out for a bit -- to the sheep shed and back.

(can you see all four? can you see Ed?)

And finally, to cap this day of beautiful sunshine,  I get up on the porch roof and sweep the remaining snow off of it. It's like starting December with a clean slate.

I'm leaving tomorrow and so my focus is a little on that, though truthfully, on these solo trips, I'm not that concerned about packing. You can't go wrong. No one will know if you don't change your shirt the next day. No one will care if your earrings don't really match your outfit. Or if you've even bothered to put them on. So I pack just a few things for this 12 day trip of mine and I'm good to go.

One of you asked me -- where to this time? For me, December is not a month to be adventurous. I look for some place that offers a high likelihood of sunshine and decent temps and there aren't many places in Europe that will give you both. So, a few days in the south, followed by a few days in Paris -- which is always beautiful in December, weather notwithstanding -- and home again by the end of the second week. The time for adventure is in spring and summer. Now, I just want a chance to take good walks outdoors without slipping on solid frozen ground.

I always insert a caveat that my writing may be disrupted in the days of travel. I don't know why I do it -- I haven't skipped a day all year, but honestly, when you're on the road, you just never know.

So, from elsewhere next time! Surely with wishes for a calmer, brighter December for all of us! 

Friday, November 28, 2014

the day after Thanksgiving

I left you, Ocean readers as we made our way home last night, finally letting the Japanese restaurant owners close their eatery, so they could embark on their post Thanksgiving bargain hunt.

If I felt a tiny bit smug, as we headed out into the country, away from stores, malls and bargains, I surely have had to eat my hat this morning. Maybe gloves and scarf too. Here's a rundown of this day so far:

After a very rushed breakfast...

(in his jacket, ready to go)

...we pack up our computers and make our way to this region's largest mall.

To explain: I am one of the unfortunate MacBook owners whose computer did not take kindly to the Operating System upgrade a couple of weeks ago. It now drops WiFi at about the speed of moths flying to a bright lamp. Work, work, work DROP. Reconnect, wait. Work, work, work, DROP. etc.

Ed has tried the recommended patches for me. I have done the upgrade to the upgrade. Nothing helps.

Since I'm going away on a quick little trip the day after tomorrow, a work, work, work, DROP connectivity isn't ideal. So off we go, braving the horrible crowds of the mall, grabbing the one Apple Store Genius Bar appointment available this weekend. It's a last ditch effort to get my baby to speak intelligently to me again. If the problem isn't fixed, I'll have to take my BIG laptop. At a time when I like a SMALL travel bag. (Another reason to let go of my smugness: you can't always travel light. )

We navigate the mall, Ed and I, clinging to each in a strategic attempt to ward off the shoppers, their bags, their snacks, their reindeer antlers (a popular way to shop now). Still, I must admit that most people around us seem to be quite happy. The Santa is out, the trimmings are bright, the sales are big -- what's there not to like?


Well, lots. Predictably, the Apple Genius guys want to keep my laptop to unload and reload the new Operating System. So now we're faced with this bleak prospect: we must linger at the mall for at least an hour. And the only place to linger is either on Santa's lap or in the food courts -- in full view of all the ways in which you can eat miserably after already eating too much yesterday.

Never mind. We sit down somewhere between Taco Bell and McDonald's and plug in our computers and again, the noise around us is cheerful. Joyous, in fact. Honestly, it felt a little like Whoville: you know  -- when the people join hands and celebrate Christmas (shopping in this case) despite all the Grinches and detractors who insist on putting down this great annual tradition (of going to the mall on Black Friday).

It's been said before: the mall is the American equivalent to a row of cafes in Paris or the Lazienki Park in Warsaw -- it is a communal space where you can take great pleasure in being part of (a shopping) humanity.

An hour later, we pick up my laptop.

But in the meantime, in taking my laptop in and out and in and out, I manage to ding it on the corner, which bothers me tremendously because now it just looks, well, dinged and it's only 18 months old! Ed, knowing my dislike of things that don't look right, offers to fix it. If we can find the little tool that can take out the teeny tiny Apple screws on the bottom.

Easy? Ha!

We go back to the Apple store. Tsk, tsk -- can't unbend it. But we can replace the base for you!  ( -- at a price that is the equivalent of a brand new laptop at Best Buy).

We go to Sears. Lots of tools and fancy screwdrivers. None of them fit an Apple screw.

We take a break and pick up some food.

Next stop -- Harbor Freight, home to a million cheap tools. We buy one. We try it. Nope. We return it.

By now Ed realizes that Apple has its own special tools and we, the lesser beings have no way of getting at the insides of that little baby!  God forbid you should discover something while poking around in there!

Okay. So I have a ding. So what.  (That's me trying to convince myself it doesn't matter.)

And now we come to the animal portion of the day.

First, we visit my daughter's cats. We don't spend much time with them because frankly, I am just wanting so very much to lock myself in the farmhouse and breathe deeply to get all that mall air out of my lungs. But here are two of their kitties for you to admire:


Next, we return to the farmette and attend to the cheepers. Ed had let their food dish run too low and they were as hungry as we've ever seen them. Oops.

Finally, finally, I enter the farmhouse. And I pick up the little broom to sweep up the mud room which right now is looking very muddy. And I notice the discarded mouse trap to the side. The one we replaced, because it wasn't working anymore.

We were wrong. It's been working alright. It has not one, but two mice inside, both dead, since they had been in it for at least two days. (I'd not been checking, as we did not load it with food. It's as if the mice crept in just to smell the glory of the peanut butter of yore.)


We wondered what possible food these guys are finding at the farmhouse. We're experienced with the ways of the animals that hunt for grub and shelter, come November. We hide every bit of edible anything.

Except the potatoes. This afternoon, as I go down to the basement to do a load of laundry, I find a disturbed feast -- my bag of potatoes (which I thought was safe because, gosh darn it, who likes raw potatoes?) is in shreds.

This, then is our Friday after Thanksgiving. You'll think it was a bit on the discouraging side. The laptop is still dropping WiFi, but now it also has a ding at the side. The mice continue to outsmart us. The mall was crowded, the breakfast was rushed.

And yet... I mean, just look at these guys!


...and the view outside the barn:


...and when we come inside the farmhouse (mouse free! for now.), Isie boy (our cat) comes running down with that "where have you been?" look.

...and I make myself a cup of tea and break off the end of the baguette and Ed describes for me a cartoon he thinks would be a great hit -- where a mouse is holding the door, while his mate shops for treats inside the trap.
Do you think it's New Yorker stuff?
Nah. Sorry. It's funny, but it doesn't have that New Yorker ponderous edge.
You think not?
Yeah, like about the meaning of life or at least about the meaning of mice and men, and men trying to trap mice...

Isie boy, bored with our idle talk, returns to his sleeping post on our bed upstairs.  Ed returns to his project in the sheep shed, I return to my writing.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Despite Ed's statements (that every day is a birthday, that Thanksgiving is just like yesterday and tomorrow, etc.), today, from the earliest minutes, feels different. Special.

Happy Thanksgiving, Ed! -- daylight is coming in, I wake up with it.
Aren't you going to wish me a happy Thanksgiving?
I said it yesterday.
(I know, I know, Thanksgiving is like yesterday, like tomorrow...)

I get up to let the cheepers out. This is a day when being out this early is just fine. Tending your chickens. Watching the light at the farmette grow bolder with each minute.

The day looks gray. I push shut the jacket I grabbed off the chair. It's Ed's and about thirty sizes too big. A geese formation passes over the farmhouse. For once I don't mind their noise. Thanksgiving is a very fowl-oriented holiday, no?


I bake the cinnamon rolls, as much for the aroma of yeast and spices as for the sweetness they provide for our breakfast table.


I practice what so many Americans practice on this day -- a lack of restraint, an indifference to nutrition, calories, fiber, etc etc -- whatever we eat today will stay with this day.


We lose ourselves in computer work. The beautifully illustrated NYTimes piece requires follow up work. A thank you note to Spencer Wilson, who drew the picture for it. And, too, people send you their stories. I love that! I want to respond to them! For me, reading about someone's life, on FB, on the blog, or in an email in response to something you said is the grandest benefit of publishing anything at all.

The skies clear to a beautiful blue. It's cold, but as always, a sunny cold feels bright and beautiful. Or is it that it's Thanksgiving?


I visit the cheepers in the barn. They've found the spot where the sun comes through in a lovely patch of gold.


As you will have read, my daughters are in Chicago and so Ed and I go over to do some cat sitting. Here's one guy who honestly looks a bit like a rat here:


And in the evening, there is, of course, dinner. For us, it's at the Japanese Edo's.  A small place and a short drive for us.
I ask Ed -- how many people will be eating there tonight, do you think?
There are maybe 12 - 15 tables total, right? I'll say eight will be occupied.
I'll say only five.

In fact, we are the only diners. We are there at 6. A sign announces they will close at 7 tonight. Two little girls, daughters of the proprietors perhaps, are sitting at the counter, coloring.

We order our foods. (Do we look like the sketch in the story?)


We're eating the last of the sushi. The little girls at the counter are already in the jackets. We know the owners want to close shop. We're quick: we ask for the check and as we take care of the paper work, I ask -- anxious to get home?
No! We want to go shopping! To get the bargains!

We drive home in the darkness of a country night. Over the hills and through the woods.

And then we're home.

I hope you had a splendid day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

the day before Thanksgiving

This year, more than in years past, I thought a lot about Thanksgiving before the holiday itself crept up on us. General thoughts, about the holiday and about how it envelops most (all?) Americans each year.

Canada has Thanksgiving as well, on the second *Monday* of *October* (so -- no super long holiday weekend, no Macy's parade ushering in the Christmas season). I don't know much about the Canadian Thanksgiving. But I know our Thanksgiving here, in America. It's huge. The Macy's balloons say it all: we do things mega-sized!

I thought a lot about it in part because I was writing an essay about my own Thanksgiving this year. I'm of an age where I have had 42 Thanksgivings in my life (I moved to America when I was 18) and so I can step back a little and consider what they had in common:  with the exception of my very first Thanksgiving as an immigrant (truthfully, I wasn't yet calling myself an immigrant then), when I packed a small bag and went off by myself to Iceland for the weekend, all remaining Thanksgivings have had plenty of food and, with the birth of my daughters -- plenty of loved ones.

Many people clean, bake, shop and cook for this holiday all week long. I used to be very last minute about it. Wednesday, for me, was bursting. Checklists cluttered my counter tops.

Against this backdrop, let me tell you about today.

It was a cold morning, without sunshine to give sparkle to the thin layer of snow.

(the sheep shed, the barn -- as seen from the farmhouse)

We had a good breakfast...


I visited the cheepers in the barn (they wanted no part of the snow outside)...


And I did a lot of editing of my manuscript.

And then I worked on the first stages of making cinnamon rolls. This, in answer to Ed's incessant tease. Each morning I ask him -- what would you like for breakfast? Oftentimes he'll say -- a croissant or cinnamon rolls. I tell him: forget it -- none available. Tomorrow we'll be having the rolls.

And that's the extent of my Thanksgiving preparations.

Dinner tomorrow? Ed and I are eating sushi at our local Japanese place. As far as I can figure out, in our Thanksgiving-heavy town, little else is open. No matter. We like sushi.

Why this suddenly solo Thanksgiving? I write about it in the essay. I'm hugely humbled at having it appear in the NYTimes. Do read it and of course, your comments there or here are always welcome.

Oh! I see it's up now, with a clever illustration by their visiting artist! (It's clever because he picked up on my email exchange with them, where I mentioned that I'd be eating sushi!) You can find it by clicking here.

Before I sign off for the night, let me tell you how much I appreciate my community of loyal (and even not necessarily loyal) Ocean readers. And let me wish you all a good Thanksgiving -- the kind where your heart is full and your stomach satisfied. Perfection, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

an outing and a quiet day

In the middle of the night, a story idea comes to me. I must remember it for tomorrow -- I tell myself. But I don't trust my memory from these wakeful hours of the night and so I take out my computer and start typing. And I continue for many hours.

Isie boy has been fetched and brought back to the farmhouse and he is happy to be on the big bed with the very puffy quilt. The night is quiet.

Until I hear the telltale sound of mouse feet downstairs.

Ed goes down to check -- the traps are now closed but empty. He resets them. In a few minutes, the noise is there again. This time I go down and sure enough -- we have ourselves two mice tonight! Surely we are now reaching for the last cousins of this very extended family!

We wake up to cold again. The snow outside is pretty, but not heavy enough to allow for skiing. Honestly, it is a perfect day to stay home and work on my essay ideas.

But I do have one task for today and it is a wonderful one: after breakfast with Ed...


...I go with my daughter to pick up a Christmas tree for her home. I wont be here to assist with the trimming, but at least I can keep to the tradition of helping her select one for this holiday that she loves so much.


As the tree is being tied to the roof of the car, I notice, to my dismay, that I have the two traps with the two mice still in the car. I was to release them in the fields. Predictably, I forgot.

Our next stop is at Clasen's Bakery -- the place of the wonderful chocolate covered gingerbread that truly does remind me of similar sweet treats in Poland (the bakery is German).



For a minute I entertain the thought of releasing the two mice just outside. While I'm remembering them. After all, there surely must be a litter of crumbs from the bakery. My saner side prevails. If a mouse slipped inside, what chaos it would bring to this world of candies, breads and cookies!

I leave my daughter with her tree and drive back to the countryside. Out you go, micies! Into the fields and through the woods.

The farmhouse is quiet today. Guests gone, cheepers stubbornly hiding in the barn. I don't see a single one the whole day.


I work on my essay, I make changes to my manuscript. Ed tells me -- why would you want to travel when you look so happy doing just this?
I have no explanation. For now I stay with the sweet clicking sound of my little laptop, not minding the cold, or the light cover of snow, or the quickly darkening skies outside.

Monday, November 24, 2014


My visiting friends areheading north and they know to leave the farmette before the big storm system brings flurries and winds to this part of Wisconsin.

We do eat a leisurely breakfast! Of course we do!


And because it is (initially!) a balmy 39F/4C outside, the cheepers come up to the farmhouse, as if to prove their strength, even in these late November days.



But as our Florida visitors pull away, the winds pick up and the snow showers begin. Everything freezes rapidly.


The cheepers are caught off guard. They trot into the garage and wait.

And wait.

I'm thinking -- this is not good. They're far from their roost, their food, their water. I tell Ed to pick up Oreo (and he happily obliges!)...


...while I hustle the hens back to the barn. But they will have none of it. Snow on the ground? Nope, we're not moving.

And the snow picks up and the landscape is transformed and the brood looks on.

I retreat to the farmhouse. Ed brings Isie boy over from the sheep shed. (The cat has been in hiding since Karma, the dog came to visit. )


The cat doesn't last. He is suspicious, distrustful. He hides under the bed, then begs to be let out so that he can go back to the sheep shed.

In the meantime, I worry about the cheepers. The snow is mounting. I try to brush a path for them to follow. No. They stay in the garage.

At dusk, End and I make our way to them. We figure that if they doze off there, we can pick them up and carry them to the coop.

But they're gone! I have visions of shreds of feather lining the garage floor, but in fact,  they're much smarter and braver than I would have thought. Sometime in the thick of the snow shower, they made their way, hugging the least snowed in surfaces, all the way to the coop.

Good night cheepers. So long to our Florida gang. Hello cold weather again. 


Sunday, November 23, 2014


The less said about a day where it rains nonstop from morning 'til night the better. Although my friend who is visiting with her husband and their dog, did point out that the noise of water dripping against some parapet or other is rather charming. That's a half full cup if ever I saw one!

We had breakfast together, all of us. They know the ropes. We eat like a team. Weird habit of mine -- can't leave people to their own morning devices!


And then, if you can believe it, I retreat into my world of rewriting as I had this exercise of reworking the "ten first pages" of my manuscript and the assignment needed to be completed by tonight.

(I do take a break to chat to my friends and, as well, to the cheepers who are delighted (initially, before it started raining) to find that the grown had thawed and they could trudge up to the farmhouse again without getting bits of snow on their yellow claws.)


So picture this: you are a couple, traveling hundreds of miles from sunny Florida, you arrive to a bleak November landscape where it rains and feels cold all at the same time, and then your host tells you "breakfast is being served" after which she loses herself behind a computer screen. Nice! Well, they're comfortable at the farmhouse. For this I am grateful.


I do come out of my cocoon to fix dinner for tonight -- a Sunday dinner that, as usual, includes my older girl and her husband.


Forgive this short post. What I do not want to do is spend even more time behind my computer as the rare and exquisite chance to be with the people who are here, now, at the farmhouse passes me by.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

like old times...

Today it was our turn to spiff up the farmhouse. It's a major cleaning job (made major by the fact that we haven't done it in several weeks) and I am super glad to have some help from my co-conspirators.

(I must admit I was surprised; Isie boy almost never enters the bathroom)

Note what a tremendous view we have from the toilet! Visitors from urban places always draw the curtain. They miss out on an opportunity for a reflective moment...


Okay, I get the seal of approval!


But breakfast is very very late again.


Though here's a pleasant weather fact: we jumped into the low forties (F) today!

Consequently, yes, you guessed it, the cheepers stepped out!


At first, I thought they'd merely hover near the sheep shed. I brought them stale bread and seeds and we chatted for a while. Scotch let me know that whatever bothered her yesterday was history.


But when I returned to the farmhouse, I noticed that the cheepers were on parade! Their first port of call -- the garage.


And soon after, they are at our front door. Hey, cheeper, step aside! I just bought a new welcome mat! You're not exactly the cleanest bird around!


Still, it felt like old times -- the cheepers ringing our sensor bell again and again, waiting, scratching and eventually settling for a nap under the bushes.

And speaking of old times, one reason to feel delightfully happy is that friends drove up today, all the way from Florida! You may remember them from Ocean -- Diane has traveled with me (sometimes with spouse, sometimes without) more than anyone else (family and Ed excluded). Too, you'll remember them from previous visits to the farmette. They come, as always, with their sweet faced Karma.


(Though I bet Karma doesn't do such a good job cleaning the toilet as Isie boy!)

My friends used to live in the Twin Cities, but that's in the past tense as well. They've gone south, as have all my good pals from days of yore -- lulled by the balmy winds and year round shorts weather. I remain rooted to the seasons, to the Midwest, to the farmette.

We do what we always seem to do the times we come together: we open a bottle of rose and let the evening unfold.

Friday, November 21, 2014


You can try for a smooth sail, for a clean day, a lovely day, a move-forward-with-your-projects day, but in the end, you have to be prepared to step back into the demands of regular old life, which always gives you plenty of mixups and puzzlers and annoying little rigamaroles and whosiewhatsies to deal with.


First thing to note -- bring out the whistles and confetti! We caught another (no.11) mouse! This one is as tubby as they come, leading me to ask if it is maybe a rat. (It's not.) Hurrah! We had had a lull in our captures and I worried that they were all outsmarting us now. Not so. We're still in business.

Then, on the amusing rather than annoying side of things, there was the sudden need to give Ed a haircut. I'd been offering, he'd been declining and I've been secretly happy, as I like the wild long hair that never behaves and that he allowes me sometimes to untangle with my hairbrush. But today, before he left for his techie meetings, he finally asked for a trim and so here he is, trimmed and buffed, at breakfast:


A hurried breakfast, after a hurried trim (you can tell it was very lawn-mowerish in the execution). Hurry, hurry. You can imagine how much I like THAT approach to any day!

Ed then goes off to his day long meeting of the mechanically inclined and I begin my activities with a visit to the cheeper hangout. It's gorgeously sunny and not too cold --  a decent 20F/-7C maybe -- and so they are out of the barn, tentatively surveying the landscape. Not too far from shelter, in case, just in case the heavens come down.

Worrying that perhaps any laid eggs would freeze with a whole series of single digit F lows, Ed came up with the clever idea of weaving a pipe warmer under the wood shavings in the coop. It doesn't emit that much heat and has no dangers associated with it. Indeed, it did raise the temps a few degrees inside. Very clever.

But as I chatted to the cheepers...


...and cleaned their coop, I saw to my great horror that one of the eggs in the roost was destroyed (another was fine). Crashed into smithereens. And truly, I am not imagining it -- Scotch, the layer of said egg (hers are the only brown ones) was to the side of the barn, wailing. I mean, really wailing.

Now, Scotch is our vocal girl. She jabbers and makes sounds and we love this about her! Always has something clever (if indecipherable) to say! But a wail?!

So I pull out the warming band that Ed had installed, fearing that maybe someone (an intruder? or worse -- one of the brood?) mistook this egg for something you should eat, it being nice and warm and special, or maybe they were trying to nuzzle the warm chord and accidentally crunched the egg -- whatever the explanation, my impulse was to take out what had just been put in.

And then I left to do ten days' worth of grocery shopping, which was tremendously expensive and tiresome because I never make a grocery list and I can only think in terms of seven days in advance and we're talking about ten here.

I was very glad to return to the farmette.


Though I can't say that it was smooth sailing thereafter. I went back to my big manuscript to think deeply about the first ten pages. You know the prevailing wisdom: you need to write the perfect first ten to crack and enter the refined world of published authors. So I studied. And considered further repairs.  I changed a comma or two. I have reworked these initial sentences so much over the years that I cannot see beyond the shadows the letters make on the screen before me.

Evening comes. (It always does, doesn't it?) The mouse trap is set again, the cheepers are tucked  in the coop. Supper dishes are put away, a glass of wine still lingers on my computer table. Time to write an Ocean post.