Saturday, September 30, 2017


I have traveled with my friend Diane across the ocean many times. And just recently, I traveled to Warsaw with Barbara and her husband. But it has been 33 years since the three of us (Diane, Barbara and I) have set out to explore some corner of Europe together.

So isn't it thrilling that we should reunite in Sorede?

Now, granted, we could have come to better weather. Rain and low cloud cover in this French - Catalan village? Unheard of! Well, at least not a frequent happening.

As Diane and I drive up to the mountains, the clouds are so thick that you can barely recognize that most perfect view of cascading slopes...


Well, no matter. They will clear. They always do.

Our hosts open the doors to our home for the week...


I look out the window in my room: still hazy and gray, but still so very beautiful...


As Barbara and Shmuel drive up, we quickly dump our cases and head out.


...To the stores before they shut down for the week's end. (Oh! Those familiar trees that line the road to the market!)


And then by foot to explore a bit of Sorede. Oh! That grocer is no more! Ah! A new bakery opened in its stead. So that makes four bakeries here? Or is it five?

We're tired and hungry. We had quite the stormy crossings over the Atlantic. Some of us (me!) didn't sleep. The car ride from Montpellier to Sorede was long too. We just need a fresh and honest meal and of course, the place to go for that is that cafe bar that spills onto the Sorede square, only it's raining. We huddle inside.

There's a soccer match on TV and the men are here to cheer one team, or is it the other? Some kids are in their charge: the young ones play with their smart phones and mimic songs and gestures from video clips of coveted stars...


... while the four of us eat salads with goat cheese and pizzas with veggies and of course there is that local rose wine that flows so freely and cheaply here.

By the time we head home, the moon is sort of peaking out. Might it be sunny tomorrow? I'll bet yes!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday is travel day

I had this fantasy once: wouldn't it be nice to have, someday, a cottage in a distant corner of southern France? A small place, one that would welcome me every year? I could write, dream, walk, observe... It would be sublime!

Lack of money was, of course, the great stumbling block, but as I came to hang out with Ed, he convinced me that it was a stupid idea. Even as a dream idea. If you want to escape to some village in France, just find yourself a spot there that you like and go back to it. Rent a room, rent an apartment, sleep in the ditch, but for heaven's sake, don't dream of buying something! Maintaining a home is a huge headache, not a blessing.

He was right of course. And I am very glad that I never could amass the resources for even as much as a downpayment for such a place. I have no good friends in southern France. I love my family here. I have my sister and lifelong pals in Warsaw. Why would I want to squander time and money on a place in France?

But with Ed by my side, the idea of at least returning to some spot in southern France took on new life. The search for a well situated village began. It took a while, but finally, in June of 2010, we found Sorede. And eventually we discovered a rental unit that we liked and so we went back. In 2011, 2012, and 2013. And in my vision we would keep going back until we could walk no more.

What was so special about Sorede? Its great allure was near perfect weather (especially in late spring or early fall) and the fact that it has nothing going for it. It's not a tourist destination. There are no attractions. No beach, no museum, no amusements -- nothing. Indeed, the people of Sorede are not used to tourists. The villagers make no special effort to accommodate them. (Though there are a number of vacation homes and Sorede does attract a small community of expats: British, German and Scandinavian. They go there for the sunshine and rarely mix with the local people. You can always spot them as they are of norther complexions and the sun does them no favor.)

And yet, Sorede was close to everything that I loved: it's just at the Spanish border and that in itself was attractive to us. Ed and I explored the Catalonian region of Spain quite thoroughly on our way to Sorede and on the return. But honestly, I loved best the weeks in Sorede itself. That cafe bar on the vast square! And the Pyrenee foothills, spilling right into the village. And the vineyards. And the olive groves. And the sweet little coastal towns that had once attracted a vibrant colony of artists. And of course, the sea -- just a ten minute drive! A swim in the gentle cove, or playing in the shallow waters of Franqui beach were nothing short of sublime.

But as you know, in 2014 Ed said no to travel. He had had his fill and so our trips together had come to an end.
Didn't you like our time in Sorede??
I did, gorgeous, but I don't want more trips. I really prefer just to stay home. Don't you like our home?

We went around like this many times, but I knew it was no use. And, too, if Ed doesn't want to be somewhere, then you don't want to be there with him. His disinterest is palpable and it makes for a miserable stay. Just read back to our very last trip to Turkey and Greece in the winter of 2014. He was miserable and slept way too many hours in my view. Most often I ate dinner alone.

Oh, but I have missed Sorede! I play songs that we listened to on the radio there and I still choke at the strength of those memories!

My best pals, Diane and Barbara were sympathetic. And one day, when I again moaned how I could never go back to Sorede without the company of Ed, Diane spoke up: we could go with you instead!

And that is how it came to be that today, I will be boarding a flight to Detroit, then Paris, then Montpellier in the south of France. From there it's just a two hour drive to Sorede. I'm to meet Diane at the Paris airport tomorrow. Barbara is driving up from Spain, with her husband Shmuel. The four of us will hang out for a week in Sorede together.

This morning is a blur of packing and organizing the farmhouse for a week without my tender loving oversight. (Ed laughs that I always clean just before I leave and clean immediately upon my return.) There is breakfast, of course...

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And I throw some water on just a handful of the more tender stuff...

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The rest will do fine. We're at the end of the growing season after all...

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And I do pick up Snowdrop -- a little earlier than usual and unfortunately, without a protracted playtime in the park. Just a brisk romp...

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Brisk but joyful!

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For one thing, it includes fifteen minutes on the swings. Short, by her standards, but exuberant nonetheless.

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And then I drop her off at her house. I'll see you in a week, little one! I miss you already...

Ed takes me to the airport and I wait for my connections to France.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

180 minutes of Snowdrop

It isn't an easy morning. Both Ed and I have many demands placed on us and typically we wiggle around these and find room for coming together on a project or an adventure, but today we just can't seem to accommodate everything and everyone and still come out whole. This is far more noticeable for me than it is for him, as he is rather relaxed about life and I am, well, less so. In the end we join forces over breakfast and then over dinner, which includes a viewing of the Vietnam saga on PBS. I wish the day had thrown us something a bit more intimate and uplifting but oh well.

This is why I title the post the way I do: nearly all the smiles and effervescence came from 180 minutes of the outdoor play I had with the little one today. Most definitely, these were the golden moments.

Speaking of golden, let me post a photo of the Fall garden. It may look green to you, but the intensities of that green are definitely changing.

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And here's our lovely breakfast. You'll notice it's in the sun room. So cold out there on the porch!  Why suffer?

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And now let's bypass the morning, where Ed is completely lost to his work and I try to finish up outdoor and indoor chores and let me go straight to the delight, the charm, the utter loveliness of 180 minutes of Snowdrop.

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You'll say -- well, isn't she always just the bees' knees for you? Yes she is. But today is different: we spend all our time playing outside and it is one joyous run of stories and games and brilliant sunshine and lovely breezes.

We begin in her school playground. Sunglasses on. Yeah!

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And eventually we stroll over to the park by the lesser lake. Oh, there's a huge amount of time spent on the swings of course and I hear many a school tale in those precious minutes, but the great fun for her (and therefore for me) comes after, when she surveys the landscape from the lifeguard's chair...

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... sheds her shades...

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... and takes on the world. Or more specifically, the beach.

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All summer long she had snubbed it. With good reason! She preferred the community pool. It was cooler for one thing. On a hot July or August day, this beach is not pleasant, especially when you view with suspicion all the stuff floating in the lake just before you. Smelly stuff.

But today! Oh, today is a weather miracle. Perfection! And so the beach beckons.

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She spends minutes, nay, hours digging spinning tales, creating fantasies.

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Sometimes I am included, sometimes she is in her own world. But all afternoon long, it is a joyous world.

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We finish off with additional tales and games in the car and I haven't the desire to take her back to the farmhouse because she is having far too thrilling a time making something of her space here -- beach, car, park -- all in the neighborhood of her school. Why interrupt this magic play?

After Snowdrop is with her parents once more, I return to the farmette and survey the garden.  It's so dry that I feel compelled to throw at least a little water on some of the youngest flowers. It's rewarding to do this now because when you least expect it, when you think all is over and done with, you get these brilliant late season surprises.

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And now I am back at the farmhouse, with one last nod to the setting sun and the flowers that frame and enchant the porch for us.

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In October  I'll attend to the planting of bulbs. But the perennial gardens otherwise close down for me at the end of this month. Have a good winter's rest! Come back strong and healthy next year!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


We had not a drop of rain yesterday (on what was to be a stormy day). Nor is there rain in sight for the foreseeable future. Spring was wet, Autumn is dry.

As expected, it is cool. Pleasantly so, I suppose, but we waver about breakfast, deciding in the end on the porch only because we're feeling mighty brave.

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When I pick up Snowdrop, I smile approvingly at her sweater. (Yesterday, when I mentioned to her that we would be cooling off, she told me with great glee that she could then keep her sweater on all day long! Kids are made happy in very simple ways.)

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But at the park, Snowdrop just wants to swing. And swing. And swing. Snowdrop, I'm cold! We are by the lake; they say it's 59F, or 15C (a huge drop from this past week), but it is also windy and I am very sorry we are not wearing jackets. Still, the little girl must think I'm nuts: yesterday I'm complaining of the heat, today I'm grousing about the cold. And she just wants to swing, regardless of it all.

We leave the park eventually -- it isn't easy! -- and as we walk the neighborhood blocks, Snowdrop, trotting along besides me, launches into one of her stories, which then continues for a long while, even after we've reached the car.

I have the same set of thoughts each time she does this: Snowdrop loves her toys at the farmhouse and plays well with them all. But she is equally superb when she has no toys at all, as is the case in the car, where she makes up every detail of her story and, as she moves nimbly between the front seat and the back, she creates a world of fiction with which no toy could ever compete.

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At the farmette, Ed is finishing the task of sawing down fallen trees.  She's curious. She wants to see.

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Someday, I see her as helping him haul timber.

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Today, I lure her away with play in the farmhouse.

As we come inside, I see that my internet purchase of new glasses has been delivered. She wants to try them on. Of course, they feel terrible! I remind her that she has her own glasses -- sunglasses that I purchased for her on an impulse in Paris, ones that she picked out herself and then rejected all summer long. Today, she decides to love them to death. Good timing, little one!

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Snowdrop, you have to leave them at home for the Open House!

The girl's school is open this evening for the kids and their families. The goal is to introduce everyone to each other and for the kids to show off what they're working on.

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Snowdrop is just one huge smile bag of happiness.

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She shows her work, she joins the group sing, she is at her most joyous and I am so honored to be invited to witness it all.

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A good day? No, a great day.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


You do not appreciate calm if you do not occasionally tussle with it. Today dawned cloudy but calm. How grand is that!

In the late hours of the night I had been reading a book out of my newest mystery series craze. It's written from the perspective of a village chief of police in rural France. He is the kind of guy you love for his wisdom, strength, and kindness to the disenfranchised, and, too, for his appreciation for good food and honest wines. (In the series, he lives in the Perigord region -- plenty of duck fat and Bergerac wine appears in the storyline.) But at the beginning of one chapter, the author -- the very talented Martin Walker -- has the police chief speculating on how it would be if he really was as calm, learned, fair and hardworking as he appeared to be. He had mastered the appearance of virtue even as he thought himself to be less than hardworking and sometimes quite biased and too easily flustered.

I thought about Ocean then: in my repetitive search for calm, do I mean to suggest that I have mastered its challenges? Of course not. I am reminded here of a quote from the Vietnam series now airing on PBS, where one American Army combatant and platoon leader tells us that the war had the capacity to turn good, honest young men, who back home would help an old lady across the street, into men of rage (and worse).

We're not programmed to be calm and there is much in this world that can fuel our rage. I want to steer clear of that kind of provocation. Calm, as a goal, is a far far nicer partner in life than rage or fury (especially of the type that, in the words of Macbeth, signifies nothing).

The morning is still warm, but not so warm as in the previous days. Perfect for a leisurely breakfast on the porch.

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I suggest that we take a walk along the rural roads. You'll see the same prairie here that I passed a few days ago! Still lovely, even in these last days of September...

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I am reminded of a song about a peaceful prairie. It's a French song that I listened to decades ago. Back then, if you heard something oh, say in France, on the radio, the path to bringing it home, to your own record player (or later CD player) was a long one and success was not guaranteed. How things have changed! YouTube, iTunes, Google -- they'll bring it up on your device or computer within seconds.

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Yeah, change: that phenomenon that disrupts, displaces and leaves some wealthy and others angry. I ask Ed -- what will be the next great disruptor?
Oh, artificial intelligence for sure...

We'll see if something else doesn't surprise us first.

I pick up Snowdrop at her school playground. She slept! Oh, don't I know it - she is spirited and happy.

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Let's go to the park, grandma...

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(At the park...)

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On the way to the farmette, we are surprised: two sandhill cranes are still with us, seeking feed in the fields across the road from us. Snowdrop is delighted!
They're here to say goodbye before they fly south -- I tell her.
She is enthralled.

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And so am I.

Tomorrow autumnal cool returns. And that's a good thing. We're ready for it.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Every conflict has its peak, after which it deescalates, eventually leaving us with an equilibrium once more. You and I are reading plenty about the escalation of conflict on the international arena and so I needn't add to that discussion here. Ah, but farmette life too can offer a valuable study of small deals resolved sometimes with much ado. Sometimes over nothing.

The interesting thing about conflicts is that oftentimes, you think they've fizzled. Phew, what a relief. Done.

But no.

I wake up and I fret. How do you share grandparenting with someone who hasn't shared parenting with you (or with anyone else for that matter)? Someone who has the love, dedication, and energy for the task, but who brings completely new ideas to the childrearing table?

It's not that I do not know my guy. I know to the core that Ed has a solid belief in letting people, especially your best friends and lovers, fashion their own path in life. It is what drew me to him from day one. If I should wish to embark on a Great Writing Project that would take on the topic of the mating habits of a particular insect species in Zimbabwe, he will encourage me to do it. With total willingness to help me figure out how I might get there.

That kind of laid back support from the sidelines is not all bad for dealing with kids, but it gets complicated when you believe, as I do, that kids do best when they learn to empathize and care about the wellbeing of another (say, for example, a grandma cooking dinner for her family).

And so this morning, I'm thinking that the discussion Ed and I had last night about Snowdrop's play while dinner waited is not over yet. We're still crescendoing.

Ed and I eat breakfast together, but my camera is on the flowers...

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My, but it's steamy outside!

We really do reach the peak soon after. I use many words, Ed, as always, uses few, but we exhaust ourselves and in the end, Ed lays that gentle hand on my hardened shoulder and asks -- it's hot outside, but do you want to go out for a while and dig up that invasives in the side yard? It's a big project, but maybe we can get started on it?

And this is how we regain our equilibrium, digging, sweating, digging together, pulling out roots and tendrils and after an hour or maybe it's two hours, we are inside again, enjoying the cool air of the air conditioning, discussing politics and gardens in our usual andante melody of calm.

In the afternoon, Snowdrop is at once happy and tired (one of only two holdouts in the nap department at school).

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(At the park...)

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(Not so tired that she doesn't give me her very best rendition of a story before climbing into her car seat. She is one hell of a great story teller!)

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(... and a dedicated baseball player!)

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In sum: on this Monday, September 25, the sun rose at 6:49 a.m. and set at 6:49 p.m. A balanced day indeed! Calm prevails. All is right at the farmette.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017


Most of the time, the fact that Ed and I are so different in so many ways, bothers us not at all. We've grown used to side-stepping around issues that are sacred to the other: my family is supremely important to me and so he, the non-family guy, embraces the new normal (which has a lot of family in it). And, his need to be wholly responsible for his own destiny is untouchable and so I don't touch it. Well, I mostly do not touch it. In the same way that he mostly does not touch my travel plans. We know where the brick walls are and we try not to bang our heads against them.

Every now and then, however, the itch to rattle the other is just too great. Take the very small matter of breakfast: if I want a calm and wholesome beginning to the day, why not just say something devilishly wicked about the world, for no good reason really, but hey, why not? And rather than letting it fly, why not just punch right back with some equally pernicious comment, just because your balance is already disturbed so you may as well topple the whole apple cart?

That more or less describes our breakfast this morning. It started off well...

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... and then plummeted into a flaunt of our differences.

Way to go, Nina and Ed!

The remaining hours of the day were spent on my tending the garden, for zen reasons. In that world of water and lilies and asters I found my calm (and Ed found his calm too, in retreating to his design drawings, though frankly it's hard to say that he found calm since he isn't the one who ever suffers its loss).

(The three girls, sharing a drink together. A rare shot for many reasons, not the least of which is the failing strength of Scotch. She seems suddenly very old. The two other hens hover and appear tender and kind next to her as she finds spots in the garden to just rest...)

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A few garden photos for you, in case you too need help getting to a calm place today:

(A fall garden...)

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(A lily in the front...)

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(The ever delicate and beautiful beeblossom...)

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In the evening, the young family comes for dinner.

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After a hot day we have ourselves a beautiful evening -- perfect for perhaps the last evening meal of the year on the porch. Snowdrop is rested, the family is in good spirits.

And it is a grand night, even as those wee differences that so rarely creep into my everyday with Ed crept in once more. It was as if the day had to end as it had begun -- with a clash of styles. Rugged individualism, meet a yearning for group harmony!

Snowdrop tests boundaries. As I put the finishing touches on dinner, she plays with Ed.

Snowdrop, it's dinner time.
No, I'm still playing!
No, we're still playing!
He's playing too!
I'm playing too!

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Great, I have TWO toddlers in the house, one more willful that the other!

It takes a while to bring the both of them to the table.

For his disruptions to the enterprise, I am disinviting him from the dinner photo!

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And still, the evening is beautiful...

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... and the day -- a little zig-zaggy, but restorative after all. And tomorrow promises to be another hot one in this never ending summer that twists things around a little bit for all of us.