Friday, June 30, 2017

arriving in Warsaw

For all the complaints people have about travel, I must say that most of the time, my experiences are really good. Oh, I have my share of war stories: gripes about unruly passengers, the occasional surly flight attendant, the bland food. Delays, too, and crazy rushes to make a connection. And always always (well, unless I get an upgrade) the uncomfortable seat that offers too little wiggle room.

But with the exception of the less than ideal seat, the rest of the stuff rarely upsets a trip. For the most part, the flight crew is superb, the flights arrive close to schedule or even ahead of schedule, things move smoothly. Passenger videos show horrific events up there in turbulent skies, but it really is true that odds are overwhelmingly in your favor: you're going to have a fine and safe flight.

But you do have to get used to bouncing around up there above the clouds (these days referred to as traveling through some "rough air"). And I read that with stronger jet streams, the dips and rolls will only get dippier and more rolly. And so when my transatlantic flight started off with an hour of big bumps and ended with an hour of big rolls, I told myself -- turn on the Beethoven (it goes well with turbulence) and suck it up. My airlines of choice (Delta-Air France-KLM) are just fine, but the skies are less friendly these days. Blame God, blame climate change, blame who you want. Just know that in long distance travel, chances are you're going to get some "rough skies."

(Breakfast, part two, in the Amsterdam airport.)


Once again I had been asked (by an independent quality review company) to be a "spy in flight," this time for the last leg of my trip (from Amsterdam to Warsaw). I get these requests at least a half dozen times a year and I get rewarded with a bunch of extra miles when I agree to submit a very detailed review of every single aspect of a flight segment. Thinking back to my filed reports in the past couple of years -- only one was truly negative. And it wasn't today's trip to Warsaw, which was (predictably) just fine, from the point of view of airline performance.

I could, I suppose, gripe about the weather: I read that it would be a stormy afternoon and indeed, as we approached Warsaw, the captain announced that the airport had closed because of the storms, but hey, not to worry, we had enough fuel to do a ten to fifteen minute circle, waiting for the storms to pass.

That's KLM for you. They're so honest on these European flights! Had it been Delta, information about fuel (which only breeds questions, such us -- what happens after ten minutes if the storm is still overhead?) would have stayed in the cockpit. Passengers like only happy information. Stuff like  -- you should pray for this flight or we have enough fuel for ten more minutes of this just makes people shaky.

And now I am in Warsaw. Storms have passed, the city is wet but fresh. Of course, in some ways, Warsaw always feels like it's freshly reinventing itself.  Oh, all cities change somewhat over time. New York. Chicago. Madison. All of them. But Warsaw has this curious thing about it: the changes are fast and furious, at the same time that at the core, the city feels the same as it did for me when I was a little girl growing up here.

Let me scroll back to the flight into Warsaw. Circling and waiting for the storms to pass had one huge upside -- it gave me a fantastic view at relatively low elevation of the beautiful countryside that I so associate with Poland: the Wisla River (that flows through Warsaw) -- meandering, graceful, with the sandy banks and islands that are so inviting! The ribbon-thin strips of farmland, the deep, mushroom filled forests...


As the pilot dodged the downpours and the lightening, I would occasionally catch glimpses of the gorgeous play of clouds, rain and even flecks of sunshine -- all bearing down on the Polish countryside.


And now I am in my city of birth, of childhood, of adolescence. I ride the bus and then transfer to the subway (and I think, after reading last week's NYT article about the decaying subway system in New York -- eat your hears out, people! Warsaw's subway is superb!).


I alight just by the university. I always take this metro exit -- which puts me on one of the hidden alleys of Warsaw that you grow to love so much. This one is adorably called Winnie the Pooh Street. I've always loved the impishness of that name! The street itself was rebuilt with the help of architect students right around the year of my birth. And in 1954, the evening paper announced a competition to select a name for it. Winnie the Pooh won.


I walk down to my street -- Tamka. There was an ugly old building that flanked its upper blocks -- gone now! We'll see what goes up in the months ahead.


Less than a block from my home, there is this wee little park which has been revamped and buffed up just this past year. In the middle of it, there, in the fountain, stands a golden duck. Tamka Street is known to Warsaw children for its legend of the golden duck. It goes something like this:

A poor tailor wants fame and fortune. He is told of the existence of a golden duck in the area of the Tamka palace (that now houses the Chopin Museum). He hunts for the duck, and he finds it, and he is told that he will be forever wealthy, on the condition that he spends a pouch of coins in the next day, but only on himself. He cannot share the wealth with anybody! 
 And the poor tailor does just that: he buys goods and clothing and foods for his own needs and toward the day's end, he finds that he has only a few coins left. As he walks along, mulling as to where he should spend them, be comes across a poor beggar. A war veteran, I think. Our empathetic tailor hands him the remaining coins and at once, a golden princess appears and she tells him: you shall be poor for the rest of your life because you did not fulfill my edits!   
The tailor shrugs and walks away, thinking -- what good is money if you cannot share it? I would never be happy keeping it all to myself.


After I drop off my bags at the apartment, I run out to pick up a few necessities.

(Looking up at my street...)


Fruits. It's the season for the finest berries and believe me, they are just superb in Poland right now! (Note, too, the price -- less than $1.50 for a glorious box of succulent raspberries.) In addition to the raspberries, I admire the sour cherries, the delicate strawberries, wild blueberries... It all looks so good!


And the mushrooms! The box of yellow in the photo is of chanterelles... I picked buckets of them as a little kid! It's lovely to see them now at the roadside stands which for many people are the go to places for fruit and vegetable shopping.)


And now I must think about supper. There are several pizza places nearby and it's time that I tried them. I go to the one up the block which claims to make stuff from scratch just to your liking. They pile on the veggies that I love and heat it up and then I rush to bring it home. I pour myself an Aperol Spritz. I exhale. A bit of an Italian touch to my first evening in Warsaw.


Thursday, June 29, 2017


It really is ideal to leave for a trip late in the day. There isn't the rush.

For example, breakfast can be very very long...

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(A walk in the garden tells me that the lilies will pop just as I leave! Ah well... they'll last until my return late next week.)

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(I should point out that the astilbe flowers are at their finest now. They bloom in part shade and they frame the path to the farmhouse.)

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And, too, I can take the time to pick up Snowdrop. No big plans for our time together. I'm just there for the transition. But we have time for a brief jaunt to the park.

Snowdrop is in a bright orange dress this afternoon and still firmly attached to her sweater which today is purple. I love this picture because she is climbing the newly painted life guard chair. The colors are intense!

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I come equipped for a picnic snack. When she sees the leftover bag of chips, she reaches right for it.
I blame ahah.
I blame ahah!

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A little boy is playing in the lake and she watches this closely. I don't think of the lesser lake by the playground as a good swimming lake. It has the usual weeds and animals and warm water issues of Madison lakes. Still, the city has cleaned it up considerably in recent weeks and the beach doesn't look terrible. Surely wading ankle deep is just fine!

Well, Snowdrop doesn't do ankle deep! She loves the water too much not to get closer to it than that.

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Happiness is being wet and in the lake, open to the possibilities on this grand day in Madison Wisconsin!


(Lucky thing I carry a change of clothing.)

She can't leave the playground without time in the swing and on the climbing structure!

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I notice that we are sort of color matched now. Selfie moment!

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It's time to head for home, but she pauses, noting that I've brought along not only a bowl of her favorite fruits, but her favorite story book of Alfie adventures. We read one or two of the best ones...

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And then it really is time to go. Snowdrop leads the way!

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Pausing here, because I tell her it would make for a pretty picture...

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... but after -- running every step of the way. Just like the others! -- she tells me. (We often encounter joggers during our walks.)

I'll leave you with this image. I suppose to me, she stands for all that's great and wonderful here -- family, summer, farmette -- all the little joys of my days here.

But as I said a few days back -- every now and then, I catch a flight (or two, or three) and head out. Very briefly this time -- to Warsaw for three nights and then three more nights... elsewhere.

My next post should be from across the ocean.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I am a mother of two daughters and a grandmother to a little girl. It seems I've watched babies grow into little, then big girls a lot. But of course, even if you bring up just girls, your world is full of little boys too. Playground, classroom, sports field, band in school, library after school. Girls and boys, boys and girls.

I know that there's great harm in making generalizations about gender (or about any group of individuals), but still, I think I'm safe in saying this much: when a little boy bosses a little girl around, especially a girl under my charge, I bristle.

To be absolutely clear -- I don't think that all boys are bossy. Snowdrop's best school buddies appear to be boys and I've never heard her complain about them pushing or hitting her, or belittling her in some fashion. Well, at least not the two whom she most readily gives the label of "friend."

But the point is that there are at least a few who do boss and belittle and I feel my jaw clamping down when it happens, not because of that particular incident, but because I know that this is something Snowdrop (and before her -- her mom and her aunt) will have to learn to deal with on a fairly regular basis.

Let me go back to the start of the day -- a gloomy, brooding kind of day, with threats of bad weather, a cold undertone and sporadic bursts of rain.

Still, Ed and I eat breakfast on the porch, perhaps because that is the place we linger longest, often in silence until one of us raises a topic and we toss it around a little, like a ping pong ball, nothing more, before growing quiet again.

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One photo from a wet garden.

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It's at a standstill right now, as if waiting for real summer.

And then I pick up Snowdrop. She asks to go for an adventure, but I tell her it will have to be a drive-to adventure because the weather is just too uncooperative. Right away she suggests the library.

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It's not a calm place today. For every child engaged in quiet play there are five jumping, tumbling, throwing toys around -- honestly, I want to roll back the time to the days when you actually had to be reasonably quiet in a library. Did we decide somewhere along the way that it is too repressive to ask a child to tone it down? At the pool, the lifeguards still tell the children to quit running, why isn't the librarian empowered to tell the kids to keep it down to a reasonable roar?

Snowdrop loves keeping an eye out on other kids. She wants to see what they're up to. I'm sure she learns from them. And so predictably, she is less into reading or even playing and more into watching.

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After a while, the crowd thins a little. Phew! What a relief. Or is it?

A little boy, maybe five years old comes out to "help" her play with whatever toy is before her. Oh, I see. He wants to do it for her. She looks at me -- gaga? I move closer. She is reassured and turns back to her toy. And she tells him: I will help you do it!

Good for her! Get herself right on the same playing field! (I had a few suggestions as to where he could take his commands, but I already know how to fight off unwanted instructions. It's her turn to learn.)

He doesn't give up. If she moves to play with something else, he follows, telling her what she can and cannot do. She always considers his unsolicited advice and always rejects it.

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He hovers, really hovers...

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She moves on.

And this does not make him happy. So that when she goes over to work a tray underneath a magnet board and it makes a squeaky noise, he goes right up and tells her that she needs to stop because it's "hurting his ears."

I couldn't take it anymore. I suggested that he move away from her and then his ears would be protected. Snowdrop has had enough as well and we leave the library. She wants to be held. I don't know if it's that she is tired, or if she is worn down by all this. I give her a big squeeze in my arms.
No, Gaga, don't hug me tight, just hold me.

May you always tell people what feels just right for you little one, without intimidation by size, age, gender...

We share a cookie at Paul's Cafe across the street.

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And then we head back to the farmette.

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Palpable sigh of relief -- the calm waters after stormy seas.  She just wants to play with her favorites of the moment: grocery shopping with her baby.

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I want to buy noodles!

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Ed returns from a focus group something or other. Snowdrop and I are reading books on the couch. He hands over a bag of sun-chips that he got for his efforts. Snowdrop asks me -- what's this?
Can I have one?
Sure. Just one.

Can I have another?
Okay, one more.
Then, to myself -- I blame ahah.
She smiles and repeats it -- I blame ahah! And -- can I have one more?
Okay, just one more. I blame ahah.

I blame ahah!

We laugh.

She naps.

After I return Snowdrop home, I pick up her mom and we go out for a drink and a chat. This may seem strange -- I see my girl nearly every day. But the fact is, we rarely talk in sentences that are more than text type exchanges. Getting away from the preoccupations with those around us is a rare treat.

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By the time I am back at the farmette, with a bagful of sushi for dinner, the storms move in. I consider this a stroke of good luck. Tomorrow at this time I should be boarding a flight out of Madison. We would surely be cancelled if the weather would be as it is right now.

Boom! Another clap of thunder! For decades, this would scare me no end, even if I were not in any immediate danger. How long (too long!) before I learned not to let the irrelevant stuff in life get to me? The thunder, the stupid advice, the braggy bossiness -- ignore it and focus on what matters, which for me, is the feeling of calm, of children thriving and flowers growing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


I've been accused of always chasing the new. Never content to stay in one place, forever reaching for something elusive, speeding my way to the next thing and the one after.

How very inaccurate this is! Listen, a person who eats the same breakfast of oatmeal, kefir and fruit on the porch every single day (much to Ed's amusement) is plenty happy to stay with the tried and true.

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I like repeating things that instill feelings of warmth and contentment. Haven't you noticed how many times I'll go back to the same garden view in my posts, only minutely changed from day to day?

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A person who plants perennials is asking for repeat performances!

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As I warm up in the courtyard sunshine now, looking toward the face of the farmhouse, I smile at the tiered repetitions that I've put in place: always the day lilies at the top (any minute now!), interspersed with a few oddities that give you that needed surprise, followed by the lower tier -- which is varied and colorful, and finally, the lowest level -- the tier of potted annuals with cosmos and nasturtium (soon to bloom!) planted in between.

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None of this do I ever want to change. Oh, I'll put in new flowers in other beds, but the main fields remain firmly in place -- like a Broadway show that keeps on running, season after season. A few cast adjustments as some stars move on, but the essence remains the same.

Snowdrop is not unlike me in this respect. She loves to travel and adapts to the new without any show of discomfort, but in the everyday, she really loves her routines. The stroller, waiting for her after school: she looks for it every single time and on the rare day that it's not there, I better have a good explanation!

We go to the playground and unless there are children claiming space on the structures, she'll want the same swing...

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... the same help with the climb up the pole, the same perch on the life guard chair.

Oh, wait! Today, for the first time, Snowdrop discovers that she can work the bubbly. What good is her newfound skill?? She can't reach the water!

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And though she doesn't require it, Snowdrop surely is happy if I have the same croissant for a snack in the afternoon (followed by maybe a scone bit, but most certainly by the same bowl of fruits).

But we're not just creatures of habit and of course there is the excitement of returning to things you cannot do everyday, but can do on some special days, perfect weather days, summer days. The community swimming pool comes to mind.

It's not so crowded right now, possibly because we're just coming out of a cool spell. But there's plenty of sunshine and Snowdrop is thrilled to be here again.

Oh oh -- that new tankini from Gap? The bottoms are way too big! Snowdrop is a tall girl, but she is slight. I thought size 3 would be great. It's not. The bottoms fall down within a second of being pulled up.

It's good to carry spare panties in your bag. And it's especially good when they match the swim top. Sort of.

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Snowdrop is absolutely ecstatic to be in the water today. I do not know why it strikes her as so perfect right now, but it does and the girl is all squeals and giggles the whole while we are there.

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And she is brave again, "swimming" this way and that way, not minding the splashes and the occasional dunk.

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It is very very hard to get out...

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(Oh, that pool is just so tempting!)

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Afterwards, as I look forward to reading a favorite book with her and then, once she is safely home again  -- to my summer farmhouse Aperol Spritz, to be followed by a supper of those beloved (same old) mushrooms with asparagus and farmette eggs (thanks, Scotch!), I think  perhaps the best days for me are ones that have plenty of beloved repetition. And every once in a while, I break away, just to remind myself that there is a bigger world out there. (And indeed, I'm leaving in a couple of days to do just that.)

Monday, June 26, 2017


Over breakfast, Ed and I have a Very Serious Discussion about tree branches.

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I want to cut back the ones that hang low over our entryway.
We'll get a little light in, which will dry out the walkway and keep down the mosquitoes. (The nasty bugs haven't attacked us yet this year, but I have no doubt they'll be here soon.)
But look at all those lovely leaves! And the nuts!
We never see any of the nuts because the squirrels get to them first. You know that.

In the end, he agrees to climb up on the roof and do some minor trimming. And I mean minor. This then is our morning: mostly talk, little action.

...but with a very pleasant assessment of the garden, as admired on my numerous walks back and forth to the woodpile, where we tend to dispose of cut branches.

(The flowers by our parked cars.)

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(I want the lilium to bloom this week, but the return of cool weather seems to have slowed these trumpets down a bit...)

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One more morning task: throw these two hens off their roosts! Henny has been hanging out in the coop, Java in the garage. They're brooding -- meaning they've stopped laying and they sit without interruption on imagined eggs. Ed will pick them up once a day and plunk them down next to food and water so they wont grow weak. After a few minutes of pecking, they'll both return to their roosts.

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It is a windy day and it is especially nippy when you venture out to the lakeside playground -- which is where Snowdrop wants to go after school. Well okay, just for a few minutes.

But for the little one, it's never "just for a few minutes..." On the upside, she does not object to a pony tail, at least here by the lake, where her hair is constantly blowing over her face.

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A run to the life guard tower...

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A climb up...

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And then (aided by a tiny food bribe), I convince her that it is time to make our way back to the car.

At the farmette, I ask her if she'd like to take a flower walk in the front bed. For some reason, she loves this long stretch of perennials.

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But there's another treat for her today -- the ripening raspberries.

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She is never greedy. Just a few and she is content.

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Once inside, she does remember a different pleasure: can I have some ice cream, gaga? I laugh. She laughs. You can really go back and forth with her like this for a while. She loves to laugh and even more -- to make others laugh.

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This is a child's gift, no? The desire to engage in laughter. Oh, but that we could engage them all, those children of the world... without worry, without indifference.