Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve

Well, good bye 2017. Good riddance, you say? Are you sure? You're here to utter the words, so something must be going right!

My year -- no need to review it. It's all here, on Ocean. But I'll say this much: the calamities were few and far between. We grieved for the bad fortunes plaguing so many on this planet, but we mostly escaped facing bad fortunes at home. We're all still kicking around and being our same old selves. Family, friends  mattered a lot and they gave us countless beautiful moments. In other words, 2017 was joyous and noble. I can only hope that for you it was likewise.

Now, let's focus on 2018. (Oh, is it a different year tomorrow? -- Ed would say, just to emphasize that this calendar keeping is inconsequential and silly.)

For us (perhaps for the whole collective us), looking ahead, what matters most is good health. Good health of the young families and their soon to be born babies. Good health for the aging among us. Good health for our sweet friends. And so on.  Stay healthy, all you readers too, you hear?!

Do I stay up to cheer on the first minutes of the New Year? Do I resolve to improve? To write more, move more, stay calm, stay focused, be helpful, be good? Well, don't we always strive to be better than we were yesterday?

Still, it is the coming of the New Year, with capital letters, and so I treat it with special attention and care.

First, I thoroughly clean the farmhouse (Ed helps) and finish rearranging Snowdrop's play space (Ed does an eye roll here). The tree comes down (sigh... it still smelled nice, after a month of sitting in the corner, by the stairs). I do my annual budget where all the numbers in my books have to agree with those in my accounts. And finally, close to noon, we eat breakfast.

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Did I mention how cold it is outdoors?

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Well, I needn't bother. It's the national story these days. Half the country is suffering temperatures that properly belong to the Arctic circle. We are lucky: our furnace works well and sunshine pours in from the east, then south, then west. We offer no complaints. (We also stay inside. Ed throws out a few possible outings, I shoot down all of them.)

There was a time when celebrating the New Year on the eve of its arrival was so important! We'd travel to New York for that ball drop (it was as freezing then as it is now), we ate our best restaurant meal of the year on this night, we did dinner parties, and eventually took trips to celebrate the coming of the New Year in distant places. So important!

I can't remember why it mattered: was it a need to prolong the gaiety that Christmas reeled in and that then abruptly ended? Was it just an excuse to be frivolous, less focused on the daily grind and more on the playful aspects of our lives? Was it staring down the winter cold?

Now, of course, Ed and I stay home. We do what we love best: sitting on the new-ish couch, reading, perhaps catching a show or a movie on the big screen before us.

And yet, vestiges of that old me remain. Some celebration is in order! Toward evening, I go the young family's home...

(Sunset, as viewed across the road from the farmette... goodbye 2017!)

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The moon, not quite full, but plenty beautiful, rises just to the east of their home...

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Snowdrop is in snuggly mode, that's for sure.

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The girl knows nothing of the old year, or the new year. Her count is only of her own years and that count  ("I'm two years old!") has been holding steady now for 360 days.

(Grandma, can I have some water in a glass? Of course... which glass do you want? That one! -- she points to a margarita glass in the cupboard.)

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(She finds snow boots. Can I wear them? It's too cold to go outside, but we can pretend to build a snow castle inside...)

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It's time to leave. The young family starts in on their own dinner.

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Chop the artichoke, Snowdrop! 

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I head back home. Hi farmhouse. Hi Ed.

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For supper, I cook what I cooked last year -- lobster tails (tiny and inexpensive, once frozen -- hardly the fresh whole lobster you'd get by ordering from Maine, delivered by Fed Ex, with dazed but live lobsters ready to crawl out onto your kitchen counter, but still delicious!). This year, in addition to the salad, I add corn on the cob (another travesty, considering the fresh from the fields corn we ate all August long). And potatoes (now we're talking fresh and oh so very honest).

(The lobster tails are so tiny that I threw in a third one to share...)

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My wish is that I'll be sitting here on December 31, 2018, writing as I do now: with a heap of good health and good luck behind us and another year of farmette life, with plenty of family moments, and not too few opportunities to connect with distant friends. Travel would be the cherry on top. And yes, Snowdrop and I -- we do like cherries!

Happy New Year to all of you!

With warm hugs from super cold Wisconsin, and love,

Saturday, December 30, 2017

sunny, with a high of 1

I know it's colder elsewhere today. For example, the North Pole warmed up to only -20C. We did better!  We hit -17C (1F) this afternoon.

It isn't exactly depressing weather. I imagine a dull, gray day, barely hovering at freezing would really sink the spirits. We have sunshine. We have a light layer of pretty snow. The air is crisp and invigorating. It's just that it's, well, cold.

I don't love getting up out of a warm bed and heading straight for the barn, but I know the cheepers need an extra boost right now -- the mice will have nibbled away at any remaining chicken feed. The girls are hungry and, too, wanting reassurance -- that life is still normal, that the farmhouse people whose pockets are lined with bread will still bring them food and fill their water bowl. So I head out.

And it is very pretty in the early morning.

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But cold. Bitter, bitter cold.

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The holidays have thrown all our schedules into disarray and, after breakfast...

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... I make this my grocery shopping day for the week.

It is not easy to plan for New Year's Eve for the two of us, as Ed will treat the evening like any other, so fussing seems silly. (And still, I will fuss.) As for New Year's Day -- I am cooking for the young family, which is always special. And the menu should reflect that, no?

I spend an hour and a half in the grocery store. Making decisions, checking off lists.

Later, I pop in on the young family. They are, after all, no less important than the cheepers, deserving  solicitous care!

Snowdrop is in good spirits! Oh, don't you just look like the girl who will turn thirteen next week, rather than three??

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We build... The cats watch, hoping perhaps that the structure will be their grand palace...

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... and we draw for a while (a time release selfie!)...

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... until I remember that I have groceries in the car, many of which will not be happy to be left in a space that will quickly become as cold as the air outside. Meaning 1F.

At the farmhouse I drink plenty of hot tea and I rearrange Snowdrop's playroom. Ed thinks this is not necessarily the best way to spend an afternoon, but honestly, my mind slows down with the cold air and so returning just now to my Great Writing Projects seems too difficult. Hey, what are New Year's resolutions for if not for chastising yourself for being a pokey writer?

The sun set is beautiful and it is just a few minutes later than it was a week ago.

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There is hope.

Friday, December 29, 2017

in between

We are in that post Christmas, pre-New Year period. Vestiges of one, not quite ready to move to the next. This is the time when you most want to send the kids out to run wild in the back yard, but of course this year, you can't send them out because it's too damn cold.

And it will just turn colder tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

This does not concern Ed. He does nearly everything from his home base here, at the farmette. He doesn't ever have to stay out long -- hence his love of shorts, which keep him plenty warm inside the farmhouse, especially when he throws a quilt over his bare legs. When asked if going out to the barn in the evening chills him, he'll shrug and say -- women had bare legs for very many decades, all year long.
I'll retort -- they wore nylon stockings, which do offer some protection. Besides, they had no choice. You could be wearing fuzzy sweat pants right now. They could not.
Hairy legs are as good as nylons.

Okay, Ed.

Breakfast. Yes, in shorts. No socks either. Ed is always barefooted. Does not own slippers.

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In the afternoon, I'm to go to Snowdrop's home to help with the dismantling of the tree.

It's snowing as I set out. It seems to be snowing constantly now, but when I look down on the walkway, I notice that we get minimal accumulation. Freezing cold, prickly precipitation, and little snow cover to show for it. Great.

Well yes, actually it sort of is that... Beauty in the cold, snow dusted landscape.

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Snowdrop is well rested (you sleep well after pulling babies in sleds in the dead of winter) and in her best sweet mood. She shows off her nascent programing skills (yes, there are games out there that get you thinking about sequential commands)...

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... then throws herself into the project of taking down the million ornaments from the young family's tree. She is good: she moves fast, separates the glass from the wood and has us finish the job in half the time we usually take for this sort of only mildly pleasant task.

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(Is this wood or clay? Or fabric? It's not glass!)

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At the farmhouse, the Christmas tree lingers. Don't really know why. Usually I'm eager to take it down, but this year, it lingers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

child's play

While storms covered states to the east of us and states to the west of us with a mess snow, as you can see, we've had hardly any of it. Yes, there's the bitter cold. But infinitesimal amounts of snow. It's a world that's tough for children to enjoy right now. A  dangerous cold, without the playful elements of winter.

But today, the weather gods relented, just a wee little bit: We climbed all the way to 8F (-13C) -- this is just a momentary reprieve: we're coming into an even colder period, with -40F wind chills (which actually also is -40 in Celsius). But today, it's a toasty world out there at 8F. And, we got an inch or two of snow.

The consequences of this are immediately evident. After breakfast...

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... we look in on the cheepers. The two older girls had wandered into the garage and cannot imagine repeating the journey back to the barn. Ed has to coax them, cajole them, encourage them...

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(And yes, he is wearing shorts. Just don't even ask.)

And after noon, Snowdrop comes over, bursting with joy that finally, finally, there is reason to put on her new pink snow pants.

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We can't stay outside for long.  Even with a warm scarf covering some of her face, her cheeks quickly turn as pinky pink as her pants! But still, it is a joyous time for her, for all of us!

Her immediate concern is our walkway: a shoveling job is in order.

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Anywhere else?

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Let's take your baby sled out! I think you'll still fit in it.  (I had resisted buying a bigger one because, well, there was no snow...)

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Oh, she loves it alright! Ed comes out to see what the excitement is all about. (And no, I can't understand how he can go out with bare legs.)

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Snowdrop is not ready to go in. She wants to give her baby a ride in the sled.

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Hard work, being a mother to those babies!

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But oh, the joy!

Snowdrop, those cheeks are getting very pink!

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Just one more angel...

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Well, if you can't play in the snow, you may as well read about it...

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Nap time, Snowdrop.
No, first let me dress these girls...
Nap time...
Just two more minutes!
Just one more minute.

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Later, much later, when it is already dark outside, Ed sets out to close the cheeper coop.
I want to go!
Yes, oftentimes Snowdrop wants to accompany him. But today, it's such a production: the pants, the scarf, the jacket, the mitts, the cap, the snow shoes...
I want to go!
Okay, Snowdrop.

She trots off, confidently, happily. Leading the way.

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This is the time when the cheepers are sleepy and calm. Willing to let her pat them.
And she does.

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We walk back to the farmhouse. She's not done with the outdoors.
Can we take out the baby sled?
Can you tell a little girl no? Winter is harsh. Winter is seemingly forever. Isn't it grand that she doesn't feel its relentlessly long drag? For us, it's something to tolerate. For her -- it's child's play.

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He pulls her in the sled, flashlight in hand. They do a circuit and then we all call it a day.

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If you live in the Upper Midwest, for much of the winter, you daydream about spring. With good reason. These Arctic blasts just suck the warmth out of you.

But not for kids. Snowdrop knows about spring, but at age two, she cannot count down to it. She does ask me if we are near summertime, but I think that's attributable to the book we are reading (about warmer seasons).

In the meantime, she plays, we watch and laugh. Snowdrop surely keeps us focused on the important stuff: warm snow boots and chicken visits. Babies and sleds. Pink mitts and pink snow pants. THe important stuff.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

even colder than this

Those of us who have lived in Madison Wisconsin for a long time are prone to saying things like -- do you remember when it was even colder? Like in January 1985? Like - 20F (- 29C)? And that's before the wind chills?

It is a way to treat this burst of Arctic air in context: our piercingly frigid air (a high of 4F today, or -16C) is a wee nothing compared to what passed through this way years ago. (And is passing through right now places like North Dakota, and will pass through here next weekend.)

So take it easy: it's winter, it's cold, but it's been worse and it is worse elsewhere and it will be worse here again. Put it in context! (A message I would like to wave as a banner to life in general.)

Still, when I step out this morning and we're way below zero and my wet hair (straight out of the shower) freezes instantly so that I am bedecked with icicles hanging from my scalp, I'm thinking -- damn, it's cold! 

But sunny. And Everything looks better in the glorious sunshine.

(Our old barn where the chickens hang out is rather drafty and even a scant snowfall creates killer icicles, but the cheepers find corners where they feel safe and protected.)

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(When I come in, Apple is about to lay an egg. She is distracted by my presence.)

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(Cold, but beautiful.)

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Breakfast, that old reliable rerun here, is a bit different today. There is the pre-breakfast with Ed, only it's not with Ed because the phone rings just as I am to call him down and so it's just me and the fruit and the flowers...

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And then there is the big breakfast, which actually isn't that big, food-wise, but is grand people-wise, because it is with my friends from afar (and one of their daughters). They're in town and we spend a good long time catching up.

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At home again. Christmas came and went. All the work, all the preparation, anticipation, excitement. All the music, joy, family time -- it came and went. I'm that kid who likes to take down the tree the day after and move on to the next adventure. But this year, it's different. I need to keep it going for a while longer, just because it all seems so eerily long ago. I need the reminder. The toy drum, the tree...

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

too cold for words

How do you gauge the coldness of a winter day?

For me, it's simple: it's beyond cold when no one wants to spend any amount of time at all outdoors.

Sure, there are things that require it. People have to get to work. Too many have to labor outside in the dead of winter. Here, at the farmette, compassion would have it that I should check in on the cheepers, put out food for them, refill their electrically heated water dish, pick up the egg that will freeze and crack if I delay. So I bundle up and, despite the horrors of the day, I head out.

I must admit it: the delicate sunshine is  beautiful!

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We're at -5F in the morning, which is just about -21C. Ed reminds me that there have been colder days. I agree that there have been colder days. Nonetheless, today is really cold. I do not linger.

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Once inside the farmhouse, I sit back and allow myself to thaw (surely everything inside is frozen solid).

But after breakfast...

farmette life (7 of 10).jpg I work in the kitchen and look outside, I'm charmed by the birds that fly into, around, and under our crab apple trees, in search of comfort foods...

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And then again, I am charmed by the burnt orange of the setting sun...

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I suppose it would have to be dangerously cold for me to bypass those very brief saunters out the door to capture these images. It's not dangerously cold (unless you're young or old or thinly clad).

But oh, does it feel menacingly bitter cold out there!

Time to take out the yellow soup pot and get to work on a good old fashioned Italian bean soup for supper.

I want briefly to come back to the topic of blog moods. It does often appear, here on Ocean, that I breeze through the day without a care or without sadness. Not so. I'm lucky enough not to really feel anger. But there do come days when I fight off feeling thrown off by something that happens in my day. These are the challenging moments.

Ed is a solid rock: he, to my knowledge, does not indulge sadness. Oh, hearing stories on the news upsets him, but personal hurts? He wont give in to them. He'll shrug and remind me that personal happiness depends on what you create in what life you have.

And this is why, as I sit down to write, I feel confident in stating -- it was a good day! Calm, steady, reflective.