Tuesday, February 28, 2017


We sit in the front room eating breakfast. The three girls parade through the front yard, all senses tuned to the sighting of coveted bugs. We watch their formation -- Java always straggling behind, Henny now alongside Scotch.

Each day is just a little tense because the nocturnal predator that comes to the barn keeps outsmarting us. He can't seem to trap him or scare him away. Honestly, we don't even know what breed of animal he may be.

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Ed, forever the designer of complicated tools, wants to set up a 24 hour video monitor, using skype and an ancient discarded iPhone of mine (the one with a battery that caught fire some ten years ago, so let's not get too down on just Samsung).
We could at least see what we're dealing with.

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It's a warmish day, especially for the last day of February. They say thunder, they call for rain, but I see none of that -- just dense fog, one that makes even the city blocks fade and fizzle into nothing.

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I pick up Snowdrop and tell her that it's not good walking weather. How about a trip to the library?
She is delighted!

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Our snack is at Paul's coffee shop across the street. And this just thrills her, because not only does she get her favorite croissant, but, too, there is now a table with chairs just her size. Heaven.

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Too, there is a clean blackboard and fat chalk pieces for the artistically inclined.

Her Picasso talents pour forth.

No, not done yet!

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That's beautifully expressive, Snowdrop!

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Back at the farmette, she takes a quick walk with the cheepers...
I'm not even going to tell your mommy that I let you take off your jacket in 50F (10C). (Perhaps I think of it as the one warm day this week. Tomorrow we get snow again.)

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Inside -- well, much of the usual. Sure, she does do other stuff beyond dish out toy cakes and tea for ahah...

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(Here's another favorite: putting what we call the gaga character behind a wheel chair, while the little girl with the pigtails, affectionately called "Snowdrop" looks on.)

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Nap time, snack time, book time, lots of book time and finally -- good bye Snowdrop, your parents are here to pick you up.

Ed and I turn our attention to the video setup in the barn. The tripod, the iPhone, the skype. I watch from the farmhouse.
It's too dark in there!  -- I tell him.

He puts in a brighter bulb and fills a dish with peanut butter.

And now we both stare at his computer screen. It's all so perfectly positioned! The light's just right. We're in business!

But within minutes, mice appear. Oh yes, we know that: mice love peanut butter. We are feeding a busload of mice. They'll produce more mice. This is so wrong!

I search the fridge for alternatives: something that would tempt a predator but not mice. I find it: chicken sausage.

And so here we are, one ear tuned to the presidential address to the Congress, the other ear and all eyes tuned to the barn, as replayed on the computer screen in real time. A reality show! Politics and chicken sausage. Predators and politicians.

It is a very strange night!

Monday, February 27, 2017


The predator that went after Butter has not gone away. Ed leaves a cage out with bait and in the morning, the bait will be gone, but each time, the predator will have escaped.

That's bad news for the cheepers. When we let them out in the morning, they leave the barn area as quickly as possible. They know there is a dark cloud hanging over the place.

This morning, Scotch and Henny choose the saw in the garage as a place for laying eggs.

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And yes, the order of things has shifted: Scotch no longer fights Henny at every turn. The three girls are bound together in this moment of uncertainty.

But if there is a dark cloud over the barn, there surely isn't one in the greater sky. We are granted a lovely, mostly sunny day.

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Snowdrop! It's sunny but not that warm! Put on your jacket!

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(Though on my walk with her after school, I notice that the ice on the lesser lake is completely gone. Last year, there was ice still in April. This year, the great thaw happened in February.)

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Back at the farmette, I don't quite know how to explain to the little one the absence of Butter. She always notices each and every one of the cheepers. Do I casually mention that the white hen has gone to chicken heaven?

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Of course, Snowdrop is easily distracted. One minute she is pensive, the next -- exuberant.

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Inside the farmhouse again. Oh, it's the usual stuff! She coaxes Ed into play around her table, they drink tea.

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But the usual stuff is a good thing. What's wrong with repeating a sequence of happy plays? And, too, at her age, every week she has a different spin on all that's around her. Ed asks -- are all kids so talkative at her age? I grin at that. No, not all, but she most certainly is a chatterbox!

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Nap time, snack time, wake up time...
Ahah is awake?
I'm not sure. Maybe. Soon.
Ahah? Come sit here, in the kitchen!

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The girl and I analyze the professions of a set of wooden characters. (They have job titles scribbled on their backs. She's fascinated.) That's a doctor. She checks you out when you're sick. That one? An astronaut. You know rockets!  Him? He's a mayor. She looks puzzled. Ummm, he looks after cities.

It's cool that they can move quickly away from your imperfect explanations.

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Evening. The girl is with her parents. Ed asks -- you want to go out tonight?

Date night!

Braserie V, where, as usual, we split an endive salad and devour platefuls of mussels and fries at the bar.


Good day, good night, me 'n you, you and me, her, him, good night!

Sunday, February 26, 2017


This post will have it all -- the sublime, the tragic, life and death, beauty and love.

I'm in Chicago. This is monumentally special. I adore spending time with my girls and because my younger one lives now not terribly far, visiting is easy. Popping in on her and her husband is casual, but at the same time each visit feels significant and grand.

Meals are chosen with great care and this morning the three of us eat brunch at Mott Street, which, the name notwithstanding, is just a short few blocks from where they live (in the neighborhood of Bucktown).


(I have a superb dish of black bean shrimp and grits with shaved greens...)


...and I hope you notice sunshine streaming in! Yes, we've waved goodbye to the bitter cold of yesterday and are back to anticipating a forward march to spring.

And speaking of marching -- we do a lovely walk through portions of their neighborhood. I have not forgotten that this corner of Chicago used to be identified as the Polish neighborhood. The sign below is not new and indeed, it's somewhat surprising that it remains what it is.


I love these strolls through the city with these two -- we pass their everyday haunts and I get to hear the details of how a day might unfold for them.

Eventually though I must settle for that final hug. I have a train to catch so that I can be on a bus that'll put me at the farmette before 5.

Our beloved farmette! Today, it's a sad place to return to.

Yesterday in the evening Ed went to the barn to lock up the cheepers and though the three hens were in the coop, he could not find Butter. He reported white feathers outside -- never a good sign. Equipped with a flashlight, he went out to search for her and he did find the old girl, quite dead and with a missing head.

Ah, Butter! She was our oldest girl: she came to us with her sister, Whitey, nearly three years ago. She was bristly and a tad cocky, but over time she lost her rough edge and indeed, in the current pack, she'd become the gentle leader.

I thought she was really old for a chicken. Indeed, I told Ed I thought she was losing her vision. I'd throw bread at them and they'd pounce, but in recent weeks she could not figure out where the chunks had landed. And even so, she was our best layer. The other girls are just now slowly coming back to laying eggs after a half year pause, whereas she has been back on track for several months now.

We called her Butter because her true owners told us her name was Butterscotch. When a few weeks later they dropped off the brown hen (we were supposed to be only "foster parents" to the whole lot of them) I asked about her name and the owner hesitated, as if she couldn't quite remember, then blurted out -- Butterscotch. Well now, that wouldn't do. So the white girl became Butter and the brown girl -- Scotch.

Of course we worry about the remaining three cheepers. Who was the predator? Why hadn't she escaped? She's always managed to be good at keeping safe. What happened yesterday?

Ed and I feel that with all the predators out there, our girls have been lucky to avoid being victims to their hunt. Every animal (except the groundhog who maintains a vegetarian diet) loves a chicken! Sure, we could fence them, but that fence would have to be a cage that keeps hawks out from the top, raccoons from the bottom and everyone else from the side. The cheepers would never be able to dig, to have dirt baths, to roam as freely as they do now. So we let them roam.

Ah Butter! We already miss you!

The sun is still up when I pull into the farmette driveway. I visit with the three remaining girls... I don't have to go far. They come running to me to tell me of their anxiety.

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You're okay... You're okay...

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I go inside the farmhouse and turn my attention to dinner. My older girl and her family will be over for the Sunday evening meal and so there will be loveliness again!

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And love.

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Oh, sure, I wish the Chicago couple were here as well! But, I have these images of our weekend. Of movies, food, words, music...


Sunday night -- a night of stars, of glimmer and gold for many. A night where I am very focused on the happiness of those who shared bits and pieces of the weekend with me. So much love flowing in all directions! So many beautiful moments! To remember always.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Looking out, we see that the farmette is covered with snow.

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The wind is bitter cold, the ground is slippery. I scrape the car, sweep the walkway to the house. But you know, it's different now than say in December. I do this with a lighter step. It's all temporary. We'll swing around these weather patterns, but the direction is good. We're moving out of this mess.

(Henny remembers the good times from a few days back. She ventures out, hesitates, then returns to the barn.)

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Ed and I eat a lovely breakfast in the sun room. There isn't really much in the way of sunshine, but it's a cheerful place to be.

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And then I catch the bus for Chicago -- home to my younger daughter and her husband.


I'm not here for long and of course, it's not a great day for extensive outdoor adventuring (though my girl and I do take deliciously long walks), so we turn it into a pre-Oscar visit: we take in a movie (one that I've seen, but I'm on a Hygge roll right now and this movie is as sweet as the honey biscuits I tucked into my grocery cart yesterday morning).

(A coffee break before the movie... Ah daughters! How I love them!)


We eat dinner at the Lula CafeJonny, our favorite Madison food person, had recently told me he liked it best for Chicago eating and I hadn't even heard of it and so my girl booked us a table for tonight.


Yes, good food, kind days, good nights.
 To all -- good night.

Friday, February 24, 2017


We wake to pellets of ice hitting the bedroom skylight. Yes, I know it's just a fleeting sidestep into winter, but it all feels so cold and unpleasant. The farmette has a thin layer of icy something on its paths. I suppose there's beauty in every landscape, but this just seems so cruel after the days of spring-like madness!

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Well, it's great in the farmhouse! And breakfast is full of color and flowering things.

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...but we have to acknowledge and accept this reality: spring is still 24 days away.

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When I pick up Snowdrop after school, she asks with such hope for the stroller and of course, I have to disappoint her. We take the car to her home and even the leftover bit of cheesy croissant doesn't quite make up for the fact that this day is no Wednesday February 22 2017.

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We look around for ways to make the day brighter. With crayons!

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(... and dreams of trips to warmer places?)

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But of course, you know how kids are: they don't get that a day could be so much brighter, warmer, filled with color outside. They may complain about not getting that "one more cookie" or having to go upstairs for a nap, but you'll never hear a two year old say -- "the world is just too drab and gray right now!"

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Evening. Post nap, post day, post crazy week. Sit back, exhale. (And munch a handful of goldfish crackers.)

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Smile at the beauty of it all: the people around you, the warm air at home, the goldfish crackers.

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In fact, I am heading south tomorrow: to Chicago, to visit my younger daughter. On the one hand, it will be cold there (just above freezing). On the other, it will be four degrees warmer than here (just below freezing). I'll take it!

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

sliding down to February

I look back at yesterday's post to convince myself that the day was real. Today, we're slowly moving back down to something that is closer to winter, though not fully so: mid 40sF (around 7C) is still quite a bit above average for Wisconsin.

Well, let's not be greedy. Breakfast, however, is in the front room. No sun today, just to add insult to the tumbling temperatures.

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Still, there are the telltale signs of the coming of spring. For example, when I pick up Snowdrop, I am delighted to see right by her school a clump of... snowdrops! Such prettiness!

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Snowdrop (the girl) wants to stay out, but the idea of going for a stroller walk today is just so unexciting to me. I propose we drive over to Paul's coffee shop and fortify ourselves with a cheesy croissant.

But on our way to Paul's we pass a playground. Surely she'd love a little swing time? Yes she would!

The playground is empty, but right next to it there is a stretch of grassy terrain and a guy is practicing his golf swing on it. Snowdrop is fascinated.
He is playing baseball! -- she tells me.
Actually golf. Similar but different!

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She considers this, then corrects me: he's playing baseball.
Who am I to argue? She has been to more ball games in her short life than I have in mine.

The swings here allow for a higher soar and she is delighted by this!

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I can hardly watch the back and forth (dizzying!) and after a while I try to interest her in the rest of the playground equipment. She is game, but it's a little over her age.

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We drive on to Paul's to pick up our prize snack to take back to the farmhouse.

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Later, much later, Snowdrop takes her much needed daily nap. Most kids who are up as early as she is and who go through such a rich and varied morning plunk down soon after the noon hour. Snowdrop pushes that. If you put her down too early, she'll play in her bed for well over an hour, but she will not nap. So I delay. There is a price to that: she sleeps well and long alright, but she wakes up in a daze. It takes a while for her to regain her footing.

(Snowdrop, working on regaining her footing.)

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Perhaps I especially like this photo because right now, I feel like after a nap myself. There was this dream of warm air and sunny skies. I woke up then, but I'm still a little discombobulated.

I'll regain my footing once the snow starts falling tomorrow morning. We'll be solidly into winter again. Yeah! Familiar turf for February in Wisconsin!