Friday, September 22, 2017


Thank goodness it's Friday, and thank goodness it's the first day of fall (because this heat wave is just too much), and thank goodness that the call that my daughter got from school that Snowdrop was in an accident proved to be not such a big deal after all.

Breakfast, out on the porch, just before it got to be too hot to be out on the porch.

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A quick walk through the garden. I make a mental note to water the pots and then I forget to water the pots.

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I pick up Snowdrop with trepidation. She was injured during outdoor recess. She did not nap. It's the last day of a whole week without naps. I mean, we have a stacked deck here...

Hi, little one...

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Grandma, can you pick an apple for me in the school playground?
I don't know... they seem high...
There is an apple picker over here.
Maybe we can just get an apple in the grocery store.
I like the apples here.

One way or another, I shake down an apple.

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I suppose that's an indication of how our afternoons proceeds. I look for ways to keep things calm. It may not be the best strategy, but it is what I did with my daughters and honestly, it is what I do in most matters of the everyday.

One last comment on this day and perhaps it is the most important comment -- my daughter is celebrating her fifth anniversary with her husband. I take a commemorative shot ... of the two of them plus babe. Happy anniversary indeed!

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Ed had suggested we eat out this week -- we haven't done that in months! -- but I kept putting it off and then finally tonight I just blurted out -- let's just do take out sushi at home! The idea of ending the day with sushi rather than with another foray into the humid and hot air appeals to me greatly.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

what do you like to do in your free time?

I've posed a question which I think is silly. It makes no sense to me at all. At best -- I do not understand it.

Here's a shot at a better one: what goals do you like to set for yourself, had you the time to work toward them?

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All this talk of what tickles your fancy came about as a result of a walk I took this morning. Alone, because Ed had a really tough time waking up. So breakfast was late...

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And the threat of a hot day meant that I did not want to wait for him to feel up to a brisk saunter around the rural roads. So I set out on my own.

When imagination fails me and I do not want to get in the car to go somewhere to walk, I usually take the scenic rural road to the east of us. It has little traffic, lovely views, some of them onto a terrific prairie...

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... and the whole round trip takes about 45 minutes. Perfect.

(The farmers' fields just to the east of the farmette...)

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But as I pass a property we'd been watching for a while now, I halt in my tracks. To gawk. I'd never seen anything quite like it in Wisconsin -- certainly not in the greater Madison area.

The place is owned by one of the top real estate developers in town and it is huge. Looking later at the maps with Ed, we note that the guy (and his wife) owns acres and acres of forest, prairie, wetlands, pasture. Oh, but this was obvious even without looking at the maps. Walking along the road, I see that the land here has been transformed! The forest bed has been cleared of all honeysuckle and other noxious invasives that choke so much of native growth. The wetlands have been "trimmed." A prairie will surely extend over some of the flatlands (burned turf tells me that this is the plan).

The developer built a spectacularly modern house and then added other structures. A recreational building (that's my guess). Barns, out buildings -- all beautifully restored. There are paddocks for grazing donkeys. I mean, who has donkeys these days anyway? Must be the family's Greek (I'm guessing) heritage at work. The whole place is so vast and so carefully tended that it reminds me of estates out in the east coast where money flows like honey in a bee hive.

I want to believe that he is doing it with the environment at the forefront of his considerations. And I think this is so. But what really sticks in my mind is that in eliminating or reducing some growth, he is encouraging other growth. The land is tended, so that things may grow. I surely believe in that!

Which brings me around to the farmette land. Remember how I resisted moving here? It would swallow my time!  -- I used to protest. There are three acres here and every inch requires care. So much to do! And so I did not move here and for years Ed commuted daily to the city (where I lived) and I stuck by my words: the farmette would need an overhaul and I haven't the time for it.

Yet here I am. Something caused me to change my mind and it would take a whole 'nother post to answer the questions of what and why.

Oftentimes (most times?) I think I am not keeping up with the demands of the place. Flower beds -- yes, I work hard on these, but so long as all farmette trees are allowed free reign (even those that should never have entered into the picture), I will be waging a losing battle, as sunlight is choked out and beautiful birches, maples and spruces are pushed back by boxelders, lotus and black walnut. But not honeysuckle: gives us some credit, we pretty much stay on top of eradicating the honeysuckle.

So let me return to the question of what makes you happy and how you fashion yourself spending free time. Today, when I returned home after my walk, I was, of course, motivated to clear some of the crazy growth that I believe is coming at us from all sides. Ed was busy with his engineering projects and so I worked alone. When I took a break, I commented that I was now fighting back the marching troops of vines, trees, shrubs and weeds on my own and that it was a shame that he did not have a passion for tending this land.
Ed looks up, surprised:  but you like gardening. It makes you happy.

I thought long and hard about this as I pulled out lotus seedlings and creeping charlie tendrils. Do I like this? If I had all the time in the world, would I choose to do this? The answer to the first is -- eh, in optimal conditions, maybe, to a degree. But the answer to the second question is yes. I would choose to do this. If I had all the time in the world, I would be out there toiling.  Because the goal of doing right by this beautiful land is a noble goal. Setting a goal and working towards it makes me happy.

As for Snowdrop today -- well, the recurrent concern is that she is not napping in school. You may tell me that perhaps she does not need her nap anymore. You would be wrong. My daughters could get by with very little sleep when they were little. Snowdrop cannot.

Still, the girl will rally when life offers her exciting play possibilities. And so this afternoon, she rallies.

(She watched other kids on past days climb up on top of this and so she wanted to do it too...)

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(Out of the stroller, leading the way to "music class..." -- a favorite pretend game of hers.)

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I tell her we need to stop by the Thursday night Fitchburg farmers market on the way back to the farmhouse. She is tired. I want to go straight to the farmhouse...  But I need the tomatoes.

Ed meets us at the market and there happens to be a horse-drawn wagon there and she is reluctant at first, but Ed nudges her to try it (I go along for the ride, Ed takes the photo)...

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... and she is thrilled. She wants to do it again, with him. Okay, just once, but really -- we need to pick out some ten pounds of tomatoes...

When it's time to get the tomatoes, I place her right inside the truck and she is thrilled! Just thrilled! She laughs and works and works and laughs and I can tell that this act of being up in the truck, loading a bag of tomatoes, is making her really happy.

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When the bag is filled, she runs over to get cheese curds...

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And this is cool too, but she really wants to go on that horse and wagon again, this time with Ed...

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(She pats the horse's mane, tentatively...)

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And then she asks to go again and what, are you going to say, no? Is there any reason to say no?
You have to wait a while, Snowdrop... 
Okay, I will wait...

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And there are musicians at the market and they fire up the accordion and the little one just cannot resist this moment of dance!

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But I'm sure as anything that this evening, at home, she will crash. She is one overtired little cookie. Oh! Here's a text from her mom telling me that this is exactly right!

We trade off good times and tired times, her parents and I. Today, I hit the jackpot.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Many thanks for your comments (yesterday) and emails. Hearing from you is always very very cool!

Let's do a quiet day today, shall we? To settle that buzz in our heads when we think too hard and worry too much.

I want to show you the shift in the garden: from the summer deliberate, to the autumnal crazy beautiful.

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Occasionally, a flower will rally and put forth an extraordinary second bloom. This delphinium gives us the truest blue you're likely to find in any garden.

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Cheeper update: only Henny (in the background) is giving us eggs. One green one, everyday. Java (in the forefront) is no longer brooding, but nor is she laying. She just is: her clunky lovely self. Scotch -- who knows what her game plan is. She no longer fights with the other girls, so that's a good thing.

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Breakfast on a hot muggy September morning.

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Late morning walk with Ed in our local county park. If you doubt the beauty of the midwestern prairie, this is the time to walk trails that push through these grasses and flowers.

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And the music! Oh, the music!

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Were I a painter, this would be my canvas:

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Motorbiking home, we pass the fields of gold: soy gold. Corn gold.

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The truck farmer fields to the east of us...

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Picking up Snowdrop at school...

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She is pushing "her babies" in the swing.

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But she is a tired girl. No nap again in school. It shows.

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So tired, that she falls asleep in the stroller, on leaving the playground.

At the farmhouse, happy again.

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And of course, no matter what new stuff I introduce, she always comes back to her favorite: serving ice cream and cakes to her babies, to gaga, to ahah.

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And now, as storms rumble but do nothing to push away the heat, the humidity, I reheat bowls of homemade chili and offer some quiet time for us, for you...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

diplomacy, Vietnam, the U.N. and a life of calm

You surely know that this week marks the start of Ken Burns' documentary on the war in Vietnam. And perhaps you know, too, that today, President Trump addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. If you're not foused on the UN, then perhaps you don't know that the world leaders gather each year in early fall in New York and foreign ministers, prime ministers and presidents, including the U.S. president, address them all.

Me, I am a UN brat. My father was there at the birth of the United Nations and he spent a great chunk of his career working within that organization. He was the head of the Polish Delegation to the UN when I was just a child (and this is why I spent six years of my young life in New York) and he returned to serve the UN in a leadership capacity toward the end of his professional life.

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I was proud to be a UN kid. My father, I am told, was a superb diplomat. Not at home, mind you. His attentions were elsewhere. But man oh man, could he work a room and get an audience to pay attention! I heard him once, when he came to speak to the older kids at my UN School in New York. I didn't understand a great deal of what he said (I was in the primary grades), but I could feel the buzz of his words! Was I good -- he asked later. You were great! -- I told him.

(Snowdrop, being great in her school playground...)

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Still, at home, he and I rarely spoke. Lost in his thoughts, in his affairs -- he was not curious about the ins and outs of a kid's life. On the rare occasion that I would ask him about something that I'd heard on the news, I'd get a lecture that was too long and without regard to my age or my own comments or questions.

But something happened in 1965 that made me swallow my dislike of these exchanges. I was twelve and we were in our last year in New York. I was neither meek nor quiet at school and I had some feisty exchanges with a friend at recess over the US involvement in Vietnam. It was like the best brawl you'd see on a playground: classmates would gather and my friend and I would go at each other on this issue. She said the war was justified. I said (shouted?) that it was not.

In those days (these days?) no one knew much about the war. Me included. I spoke out because I had lived for half a dozen years with American hatred toward communists. And in my heart, I was convinced that they, the Americans, had gotten it all wrong about, say, Polish communism. So why should they be right about the ambitions of communists in southeast Asia?

After one of those spectacular shouting matches during recess between my pro-war friend and myself, the teacher came in and demanded an explanation as to what the hell was going on. The kids had no problem in pointing fingers: they're fighting about Vietnam!

This was the UN School and the teacher did what a UN School teacher was going to do. She suggested that we engage in a reasonable discussion on the merits of our positions. In other words, we will have a debate. Two reps for each position. Yes, the two shouters will speak in the first round. Arguments to be presented tomorrow, in class.


What do I really know about specifics? I turned to my father.

Dad, I have to argue the no war position in class tomorrow. Can you talk to me about Vietnam so that I can make some good points?

I hated to ask. I knew I was in for an hour long monologue, but I had no choice. And he gave me his very long version of the conflict in Vietnam and I jotted down a few kid-friendly points and then he ended with a statement about how the war could not ever be won by the U.S. because America did not have the people of Vietnam on their side. I didn't fully understand, but I wrote it down. It was as good an ending to my speech as any.

The next day we had the debate. My team won on a near unanimous vote, though honestly, it had little to do with my presentation. My opponent's partner in the debate was a total loser and when the teacher told the class to vote for the stronger presentation, only the boy's mother could possibly have cast a vote for a team with him on it. And so, as is often the case in life, I won, but for all the wrong reasons.

(Breakfast on the porch, with one of the calmest people I know...)

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Over the decades, even as my father and I drifted ever greater distances away from each other, I nonetheless retained my respect for the UN. I was convinced (and still am convinced) that the proper question is not what the UN had done to secure a better world for us all, but where would the world be without a UN. And if you respond "better off and with more cash to spend at home," then you're simply not paying attention to all that the UN does on a daily basis and especially in the developing regions of this planet, but not only.

The UN hasn't prevented conflict. It holds no magic wand over the words and actions of world leaders, including despots, demagogues and dictators. But so long as you believe in diplomacy and in the grunt work of providing aid to those in the most dire circumstances, the UN offers hope for creating a forum for both.

(looking at a polka video together...)

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And here's a thought: what if diplomacy was a skill we all honored? My father kept his diplomatic brilliance narrowly focused on his work. But the word diplomacy isn't just about international relations. Diplomacy (acc. to the dictionary) is "the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way."

(Why are you laughing, grandma?
I like to laugh...
No, I like to laugh!
We both like to laugh, Snowdrop...)

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Everything you say matters, whether you're speaking to a sales clerk, to your grandchild, to your child. My greatest failures in my 64 years of life happened, I think, when I abandoned diplomatic discourse and let my emotions run wild.

(A hot September afternoon...)

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In my mind, the starting position for any diplomatic dialogue is calm. Writing here, on Ocean forces a calm reflection on a day. Maybe it allows for a better transition to the next day? What good came of this day (like of the UN) is a far better question to ask than what was off-putting and unfair, don't you think?

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Monday, September 18, 2017


I have a post in my head. I lay awake at night thinking of it. I marched through the day confident that I would type up my script come evening.

But when I cleared the last dish and nibbled on the last piece of evening nibble food, I decided to let it rest for a day. I must sleep on it some more.

In the meantime, I offer you photos of a beautiful day. I mean, weather-wise, farmette-wise, Snowdrop-wise -- it was  a rare blend of loveliness.

We'll start with breakfast. On a self timer today!

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The rest of the morning a little bit got away from me. Here's why (I promise, you, it is one boring story...): I wanted to move the crib upstairs. That lovely full size crib that Snowdrop never uses. (She doesn't use it because it sits downstairs -- where Ed and I hang out.) That requires a disassembly and a search for the part that would allow us to transform it into a toddler bed. You know the deal (if you've had a kid): a crib side comes off, a partial bar goes up to keep the child from falling out and voila! You have a toddler bed.

This project took FOREVER and I knew it would. Which is why we haven't done it for months and months.

Time to pick up the little girl. She did not nap in school today (Snowdrop! get with it!) and so I expect a tired mood.

Not so. She wants to play.

And so we go to the playground and play.

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And then she and I walk back to the school, where I had left the car. (Fall is here!)

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Two interesting adventures in the short set of blocks of our walk: first, we come across a lemonade stand, womaned by two little girls.
How much? -- I ask, worrying only a little abut the hygiene of the enterprise... After all, a parent is hovering.
50 cents a glass.
Five zero? I ask, just to be sure. They don't get that, so the hovering dad clarifies. Yes, 50.
I have a deal for you: what it you poured me just this much (I point to about a quarter inch) -- can I pay 25 cents? 
The little girls look totally bewildered. Some entrepreneurs! They say yes! -- the father jumps in.

And that's how Snowdrop has her first ever lemonade.
And yes, given the sugar content, she liked it just fine.

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The second memorable event happened just one block later. Snowdrop was leading the way. I followed with the stroller. Suddenly, a squirrel jumps from a high fence to the left of her, over to a tree just to Snowdrop's right. I swear, the dumb squirrel came to within an inch of Snowdrop's nose.

The girl is completely mortified. She never ever ever wants to walk on that strip of sidewalk again!

Oh, eventually I give her some squirrel story about gathering nuts for the winter, about nests up in the tree, about the squirrel being just a wee little animal that is trying to make a place for herself and her family in this big scary world, but just so you know, if Snowdrop ever displays a fear of squirrels and no one can understand why, let me tell you that it dates back to this day!

At the farmhouse, she plunged into play in the enlarged playroom (remember -- the crib is there no more). And then she dons her snowshoes (she's a two year old!) and asks to play with bubbles outside and yes, it is a fine way to end a magnificent Snowdrop afternoon!

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Tomorrow, I will write the post that I had wanted to write today.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

bouncing around

The weather gods are showing me who's boss! If I thought the night would cool off the bedrooms of the farmhouse -- I was wrong. As Snowdrop's room registered 83 and she followed her routine of snuggling in long sleeved pj's under a quilt, I could see that a brief spell of air conditioning would help her and therefore me and everyone else in the house sleep.

Fine. But this morning, the cool-off finally came. So much so that Ed commented -- my, but it's cold in here!

I was tempted to turn on the heat.

Except that looking ahead, I see another heat spell inching toward us, so that my the end of the week, I may be wishing for air conditioning again.

Do I have weather on my mind? Yep -- that and granddaughter and in this post, you get a little of both. (With more photos of her, because she is sunny by nature, even on a cloudy and cool morning.)

Wake up with a grin. She comes down and nibbles on breakfast number one.

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Bathe, then chomp on fruits at breakfast number two. Finally grandma brings out the pancakes. Yay grandma! Yay pancakes! Super yay bacon!

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More maple syrup please! (Bacon nearly all gone by the time I sit down to eat.)

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Later in the morning, I tell her it's time to go home.
But I am going grocery shopping with my babies, grandma!
Ed comments -- I hear more and more of "grandma" and less of "gaga"...

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Either calling name is okay by me. Snowdrop has four biological and two relational grandparents (for a total of six) and each has a unique nickname. Gaga, of course, wasn't really a nickname -- it was a one year old, grappling with the impossibly difficult "grandma" word.

In Poland, a grandma is a babcia, or baba for the very young. I very much remember transitioning from calling out "babu!" to "babciu!" Perhaps Snowdrop is doing the same?

In my restful moments this afternoon, I think about how pleasant it is to do nothing. Ed quickly points out that if I went to Europe less frequently, then I could do nothing much more often.
I scoff at that: it's only pleasant to do nothing when on most days I'm doing a lot.
I disagree, he comments and goes back to his reading. In a reclining position. On the couch.

Is playing with Snowdrop tiring? There is an inverse relation: as she gets older, she places fewer physical demands on me, at the same time, I am getting incrementally older. My grandma was 50 when her first granddaughter was born and she turned 52 the day before I was born. My mother was approaching her mid-fifties when her first grandchildren came onto the scene. The year Snowdrop was born I turned 63. If I ever have more grandkids, I will be well into my upper sixties.

And yet, there are days when age seems irrelevant. I pick up the shovel and attack the spring garden, or I carry a tired little girl after play because I forgot the stroller and I never notice that she is heavy or that the shovel is creating big blisters on the palms of my hands.

But today is a restful day, that's for sure. No yard work at all. Just an occasional glance, with a smile, at the lingering monarchs outside...

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... and with thoughts about how quickly and beautifully Snowdrop is soaking up the world around her.

A child takes it in. All of it. Before she leaves to return home this morning, she enters her play tent and finds her black cat there. Oh! your long forgotten cat - I comment. He is my leopard, grandma. He is very fast, you see?  She is remembering something from a nature show Ed was watching last night.

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It is one of many times when she astonishes me with her memory. As I drive her home, we pass the Arboretum and I point out how beautifully the leaves are changing in the forest there.
That's where you took my mommy when she was little... Snowdrop pipes in.
This just blows my mind! I noted that little fact the last time I took Snowdrop to the Arboretum -- now nearly a year ago! Don't ever think a young child isn't listening and learning...

(Another lily...)

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(The colorful sweep of annuals...)

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In the evening, the young family is at the farmhouse for dinner. I almost move the whole project indoors, but I reconsider. How many more meals can we enjoy outside before it becomes just too cold to linger there to the sound of birds and yes, cicadas?

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The last of this year's corn is celebrated by what appears to be a standing ovation. Not good decorum perhaps, but at the farmhouse, we tend to be relaxed. (The trout, on the other hand, is only modestly appreciated by the little one.)

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(The yogurt on a stick? Perfect ending.)

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A weekend comes to a close. The farmhouse is clean, the family well fed, the garden -- in its autumnal quiet.

To a good week ahead!