Sunday, January 21, 2018


Drizzle today, rain tomorrow, cold returns the day after. Our yard is like a Dalmatian puppy. Or a holstein cow.

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The sled tracks remind me of finer days -- when there were a few inches of the white stuff. Will we get some more? Winter teaches you to wait and make no demands.

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Let's put some color into the day! Breakfast.

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It is Sunday and so farmhouse cleaning is first on the agenda. I scrub. Ed plugs in Mr. Robot, the automated vacuum cleaning pal and retreats to his computer. Life is so unfair.

We go out for a walk in our county park just before the light drizzle turns into something unpleasant.

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There is, in fact, a hidden beauty to the landscape, but you really have to pause and think about where it might reside.

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(Why do ice fishermen fish in close proximity to each other?)

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And now we're rolling into a Sunday routine. I work in the kitchen fussing, fixing, anticipating with a smile the dinner that's ahead.

The young family arrives.

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(Snowdrop spies her current favorite -- the Olivia book. Mommy has to read it to her. There is no choice. The planet will fold and disappear if mommy does not at this second read the book. Personally, I think Snowdrop has just a tiny bit of Olivia in her.)

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Dinner. So grateful that on this very foggy and chilly night they are here...

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And now comes the quiet of a late Sunday evening. I put on a good playlist of classical favorites, or as Snowdrop would say "some of that beautiful music without words." Oh, to be this calm always! It's a worthy goal.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

bumbling along

A third day of small mishaps and great rewards!

It's often like that, isn't it? You stumble and bumble along and kick yourself for misjudging the time or misremembering the way and then boom! -- you wind up with a better outcome.

But first thing's first: it is a beautiful January day, properly belonging to March or April. Upper 40sF (about 8C) with plenty of sunshine! You could not, should not stay indoors.

The cheepers get the message. Today, they walk the path from the barn to farmhouse and back, again and again and again.

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Breakfast. Sunny and delightful.

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And now it's time to meet up with Snowdrop and her mom. We're resuming our last year's habit of taking Snowdrop to the Saturday morning music show at our Performing Arts Center. Today a Brazilian percussion group is playing. It's free, it's casual, and the little girl does love a good music show.

I drive downtown. I'm so on time. Never late. Not for Snowdrop. Ever!

Unfortunately, I cannot get my parking meter to work. I try. And I try. No use. I give up. Go ahead, give me a parking ticket, I dare you! I run. But by the time we're all at the entrance, the auditorium is filled. At capacity. No more kids or grownups allowed. We're not the only ones who had big plans for a lovely January day!

As a consolation prize, we're told that we can go and watch from a glassed-in balcony up above. Might as well. We join many other families struggling to get their kids close enough to see some snippet of the show.

You'll be able to hear it - the attendant tells everyone. They're plenty loud. In fact, if you stick around, there may be openings when the show starts. There'll be kids who'll want to leave.  

The performance begins. And even from behind a glass enclosure, Snowdrop looks up at us and proclaims -- it's too loud!

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But she takes her cues from other kids. If they can listen, so will she. Even though it's hard to feel connected to the performers. It's like watching TV where the reception isn't too good and the volume is over the top.

She takes a break.

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And sure enough, eventually we see someone leaving the auditorium.
Can we go in?
Go for it!

Does she want to be in the audience? She does!

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It was, in fact, the perfect way to approach this group -- first from afar, then eventually from up front.

As we leave, she is happy to take in the small pleasures of this great big public space.

(Art on the walls...)

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(An interesting staircase...)

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(Intriguing posters...)

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It is a really wonderful morning. Who would have guessed, given the initial Gaga stumbles?

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In the afternoon, I'm sure you'll have guessed that Ed and I will want to go out for a hike. It's tricky to walk on trails with lots of mud, ice and melting snow, but the weather is so gorgeous that we are determined.

Where to?

Ed suggests the Ice Age Trail segment north of Lodi. (Lodi is a small town that is almost but not quite a suburb of Madison.) We've hiked it many times, but then, we've hiked most of the trails within a half hour's drive of here many times.

We must first pass through Lodi. We've driven to, through and around Lodi dozens of times. But we take the wrong turn (several times!) and get lost. This is so embarrassing that I hesitate to even write it down: we get lost going to Lodi! That's analogous to living in Manhattan and losing your way to Yonkers. I mean, it's just up the road! (It is true that there are many rural roads and they never go where you think they should go.)

Finally and somewhat sheepishly, I take out my smart phone and we pick up the many roads (because we're completely turned around and not at all where we should be) back to Lodi. And as Ed studies the phone map, he recalls an Ice Age segment that we once helped maintain, not too far form where we are. It's a segment we've rarely hiked since.

And it is beautiful.

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Really, really beautiful.

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The sky is blue and the hills are a smoky gray and the world seems so welcoming and kind!

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That great big sky...

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Leaning trees...

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The golden grasses of winter.

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Evening. Cheepers rounded up, locked for the night. And our new addition -- the little robot vacuum cleaner -- has huffed and puffed and whipped and sucked the farmhouse floors shiny clean.

We live in at a time where a parking meter can mess with you, a phone can guide you, a robot can clean your floors. And still, you can find a quiet path through marshes, prairies and forests, where the views onto undulating landscapes are so rich that they truly take your breath away.

We will be sleeping well tonight.

Friday, January 19, 2018

not an ordinary day...

Finally: we jumped over the freezing point! It wasn't a huge leap -- just a few degrees, but we appreciate the gesture. Thank you, winter!

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Breakfast, lovely again...

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But it isn't an altogether cheerful breakfast. Apple, our oddly clipped and speckled cheeper, did not magically appear this morning. She is officially missing.

I can hear some of you thinking -- Nina, it's a chicken, for Pete's sake! The same one that you like young and tender on the grill!

I know I know I know. But still.

Fact is, we have no idea what happened to her! In the four years with the cheepers, we've lost chickens to predators twice before: once, the girl was just so old that she moved at a snail's pace, making herself vulnerable to any watchful animal. The second time it was our fault. The two very young hens were chattering away in the coop and we locked them up too late. We learned our lesson: you can't close the coop before dusk because you can't hustle the girls inside that early. But you cannot wait much beyond dusk.

Yesterday, we were fairly on schedule. Oh, it was getting dark, so you could say a few minutes earlier would have been optimal, but still, was she really snatched? There are no signs of struggle. (In the past, we'd always come across the gory mess.) There are no predator paw prints in the snow. No feathers. Nothing.

In all honesty, Apple was not my favorite of the four: she was a newcomer, yet she bullied the older girls. She was brazen and would jump up to snatch anything that looked like bread from your hand. At the same time, her bully nature shielded a timid girl. She hated snow and reluctantly trailed the others when they ventured out in winter. She was molting now and looked scrawny and terribly unattractive, but she was the best layer that we had ever had. As I sit at the kitchen table, I look up constantly now, as if she were like the cats who come and go. Back, are you? Did you have a fine adventure?

But of course, her adventure, whatever it may have been, wasn't fine at all. She is just plain gone.

Ed and I talk about creating enclosures going forward. The cheepers love their freedom, their digging and scratching, the hunt for ticks and worms. They are happy as can be playing in the dirt by the cars on a sunny day and happier still to follow us around the farmette on a summer day. If you pen them up, you can secure them only if you put in strong wire mesh on all sides, and on the ground, and overhead. That seems such a terrible alternative to happy roaming.

Java and Henny have been with us two years. Butter lived a long chicken life -- several years before she came here, and three years with us. We're not ready to lock up the three that are with us now. Though of course, if it was a predator, it is likely that he'll be back. We have to be on high alert in the weeks ahead.

(And now there are three, as viewed through the kitchen window...)

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Okay: have a cappuccino and a cookie with me and let's switch focus.

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Because really, the bulk of the day is spent on happier thoughts. There are two important reasons for this: first of all, there is my afternoon with Snowdrop.

I pick her up at school. Despite the relatively mild temperatures, I know it's not going to be an outdoor play kind of day. It's Friday. It's never a good idea to plan on robust activity at the tail end of the week. Snowdrop, it's time to go! 

(Silliness? Tiredness? A combination of the two!)

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It takes us fifteen minutes to leave the school.

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Farmhouse at last, where she plays with her gift from one of you! A penguin/polar bear bag for her "grocery shopping."

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I sit in the kitchen with my tea cup, she spins tales in the play room. Sometimes I want to ask for a clarification.
Can I come in?
Noooo.... (with a shake of the head for emphasis)

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You can stay in the other room, grandma.

And for a long long while I do. There is something so enchanting in being in a warm kitchen, while your granddaughter's voice trickles in, escalating, receding. A melodic stream of sentences.

Eventually, her energies restored, she tugs me back into her play space. Can we dance?
Ah, now it's back to "we." And suddenly, her spunk, her giggles, her delightful tease are restored. Dance with me, Gaga, dance on the red squares!

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And I do.

Dusk. Ed heads out to close the coop. I want to go with him! -- Snowdrop is insistent. I'll come too.

She turns on the flashlight and gives it to him. That had been the routine in the past, but they're heading out earlier now.

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The cheepers are hardly settled. Java is hiding in the hay bales, Henny is up in a tree. Peach is in the coop. We chase the other two inside and lock the door. They'll be safe tonight.

There is a second reason for having terrifically happy thoughts today -- it is the birthday of my younger daughter. She is, of course, in Chicago. Our celebrations were last week. But never will a January 19th go by without my heart being turned toward her -- my little girl who now has her own little girl growing inside. To wish her love and happiness will forever now be to wish them both love and happiness. It is an obvious truth that motherhood is a forever deal. So, happiest years ahead to all these beloved kids in my life and today, with added strength and zeal -- to my adored and admired sweet Chicago girl!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

stumbling toward success

Sometimes, a day is so smooth that it almost seems boring. There are no mishaps, no missed opportunities. One hour glides fluidly into the next. Everything falls into place of its own accord. You sit back and grin smugly, as if somehow it is your own genius that got you there.

That was not today.

Oh, there were plenty of successes and calm hours. But I should have worried just a little when breakfast got off to a rocky beginning: Ed brought his computer to the table.

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Now, every few months it happens that something Terribly Important calls for his (or my) total attention, even during the Sacred Morning Meal. But this was not today. I consider chatting with some techie person about the new smart phone to be low on a list of things that should interfere with breakfast.

He is apologetic.

He even offers to invest in a housecleaning service to help me out with farmhouse duties. Of sorts: a robotic vacuum cleaner. Nice, but I remind him that vacuuming is typically his contribution to our cleaning efforts.

Never mind. I look forward to welcoming a robot to our household.

It is a sunny day and it is supposed to be a warmer day. Indeed, I expect the snow to start melting.

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It doesn't melt. Instead, we get the biting winds and we never make it upwards of the freezing point. Still, it is warmer than the past days have been and there will be a thaw this weekend, sooooo -- sledding weather, right?

Ed, wanting to be helpful and envisioning many good hours on the slopes, offers to meet Snowdrop and me in the park.
Which park do you have in mind? -- he asks.
A place called Sledding Hill! Right by Lake Monona. What a great name, no?

I pick up Snowdrop at school.
Her teacher pulls me aside and relays a typical exchange from the morning. Snowdrop had been drawing with markers and after completing her picture, she turns to the teacher: isn't this the most beautiful thing you have ever, ever, ever seen??
The teacher, smiling responds -- well, yes, very nice...
Snowdrop -- ever!

I grin. You cannot say that Snowdrop's emotional range is small. When she is pleased with something, she is thrilled!

But her pal, the true non-napper in the class is back today. Her co-conspirator. For the first time this week, Snowdrop does not nap. She comes up to me and says: I was a little bit bad today!
The teacher assures me that she noticed no such misbehavior.

The girl is bouncy. I'm thinking sledding will be just the ticket.

But it's a chore! Snowdrop dons her winter wear to get to the car. In the car, she sheds every last bit of it, claiming great discomfort otherwise. When we arrive at Sledding Hill, I have to redress her, all in the confines of the car, of course, and with great protest on her part: I want to do it by myself! Ed says -- I'll stay in my car and read a book until you're ready.

Finally. We're ready.

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The sledding is okay: there are bare patches and so perhaps a tumble wouldn't feel so good, but Snowdrop is happy to go down with me in the big sled and I'm so pleased that she agrees to go down alone, in her little sled!

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I call this a huge success! But after the two runs, she is done.

(Not Ed: he takes a turn and then has to bail out as kids unwittingly walk onto the path of his speeding sled.)

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Snowdrop, however,  has spied the swing set. Nothing else comes close to a robust back and forth on a swing.

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Now, have you tried swinging by Lake Monona on a windy winter day? Don't do it. It's brisk. It's cold. It can't be fun. Snowdrop complains about boots falling off. I complain about the cold.

It's time to head home. Off come the winter clothes in the car. On come the winter clothes as we trudge back to the farmhouse.

Once inside, she is happy as can be: the glow that comes from a snug room, a grand snack and a good book or a fun toy after a romp in the cold is phenomenal. Snowdrop glows!

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... pink socks and all!

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Evening comes. Ed has a dinner out with colleagues. I have a neighborhood meeting, to discuss some of the development plans for the fields to the south west. Neither of us wants to go out. I'm hungry. I would love to sit down with a delicately red kir -- that drink with a dab of cassis and a splash of white wine. I can't wait to get home, to that snug house, to play with my toys, read my books and eat a good, hearty supper.

But before I even sit behind the wheel of the car to drive off for my meeting, Ed comes in -- I am late, I have to go. I closed the coop, but Apple wasn't in it. Could you look for her?

I search the trees with a flashlight. I look in all corners of the barn and after my meeting, I look again.

No Apple.

She'll either reappear tomorrow, or she wont. Once or twice, we've had a chicken sit the coop out at night. They've always rejoined the pack in the morning. We'll be looking for Apple, our most successful egg layer, first thing tomorrow.

(Cheepers, last seen together in the late, late afternoon, heading to the barn...)

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I'm back from my meeting. The conservation park project is on track. My bowl of soup is reheated and oh so warm! My kir is waiting for me. Exhale....

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

who would have thought...

technology and sunshine

As of today, Ed has a smart phone. One that he purchased for $20 (so a refurbished Android) and without cell service, but still -- he is now exploring all that he can do with it. (Me, I've had a smart phone for a long time and still know only half its capabilities, as evidenced by the fact that I rarely use it for much beyond texts, calls, directions, emails and check deposits.)

The downside of this for me? The proliferation of ringtones (because there is also my phone which at least plays Vivaldi, plus the landline, and his computer zoom ringtones) and the proliferation of cords, right by our lovely new-ish couch.

Over breakfast...

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... we talk about changing technologies. The company he has been overseeing all these years is undergoing significant and progressive, I think, changes going forward. We speculate about disruptions: the benefits that follow, the adjustments that need to be made. It's a fast moving landscape. If you're one who is rooted in the present or worse, advocates a return to what one was -- you're eventually going to stumble.

It's a cold day once more. But again, there will be sunshine! I can tell!

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(The farmhouse, with the first wisps of blue sky.)

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Speaking of moving landscapes, we are in transition here, at the farmette. We have a neighbor to the west, but otherwise, we are surrounded by fields: some farmed by truck farmers, others dedicated now to a development that will completely reshape our views to the north and east. But the development has stalled and so we are at an impasse. Weeds have taken hold everywhere around us. Someday there will be streets and if I'm lucky, prairie parks and maybe even a playground. For now, there are thick clumps of thistle and who knows what else.

But to my surprise, across the road (so to the southwest), the landowner has sold his fields to another developer who, in exchange for supporting development elsewhere, as a consolation prize, has promised to use this large parcel for a conservation park -- preserving the wetlands and, additionally, creating spaces for educational outreach and urban farming.

Honestly, from my point of view (and I am one who vocally and consistently opposed development here, since it surely will disrupt any number of wetland habitats), we have the prospect of being surrounded by restored prairies and conservation parks. It is a great consolation prize -- I could not be happier!


Snowdrop continues to profess her deep adoration for the color pink. I just looooove it! She'll tell us again and again.

I was shopping online for a farmhouse scarf replacement. I lost her favorite -- "my beautiful scarf!" -- and so of course, I'm looking now for a pink one. And so long as I'm on this lovely website, I browse through their sale items and come across pink socks. What are grandmas for if not to pick up extra pink socks for a granddaughter?!

The two items arrived today. The surprise is in the socks:

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Made in Poland! Who would have thought...

not sick

I pick up Snowdrop at the usual time. I look around the class - still severely depleted: only four were present today. I ask if Snowdrop is the only one who hasn't succumbed to the ravaging virus.
Yes, her teacher tells me. We're all going to start eating veggie sticks now! (This is Snowdrop's favorite lunch item these days.)

It's sunny and the temperature isn't too awful: 25F (-4C). But the wind is biting. Still, Ed and I think a few good sled runs on a real hill would be lovely. We pick up him and the two sleds and head for the disc golf course: the hills there should be perfect for Snowdrop.

But on our way, the phone rings. Ed has a sudden dental appointment. (What we thought was a cold turns out to be a dental problem.)

Back we go to the farm, Ed leaves us, Snowdrop and I return to the hills.


We no longer need two sleds for just Snowdrop and me, but I take out both anyway, because the girl likes the little one for rides, but she'll need the big one with me in it for the run down the hill.

It is a brutal tug to the hills. Ed, where are you??

I nearly give up, but I'm not sure if the snow will last: tomorrow promises the start of a warmup. We want to (I want to!) have one good, fast-ish run!

I admire Snowdrop. She has been shuttled from one place to the next then back again. And now it is cold. It is windy. But she doesn't complain about any of it. As I huff and puff and pull her along, she hums songs to herself, turning her face away from the biting wind.

At the bottom of the hill, I should ask her to make the climb on her own, but I don't have the heart. I puff my way up, two sleds in tow, one with my three year old granddaughter.

And now we are at the top. Selfie!

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She loves it! It's not a super steep incline and so our speed is moderate, but I have to say, it is well worth the effort to get to it!

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Before we head back to the car, Snowdrop wants to take a little walk -- just to the bench and back. This is when you can see the beautiful effect of the wind on the snow!

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Her pinkness is reflected in the snow...

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So much beauty in one brief trip to the hills...


These days, Snowdrop spends a good bit of time in her world of characters and stories. Still, there are some games and plays that she will do only if I take part. Dressing magnetic dolls (a modern version of paper dolls) is one of them.

You might think there is no value in having a toddler dress these cardboard kids. But Snowdrop loves this activity and I blame the public library for introducing her to it (they have a set of similar magnet dolls in the play area). For her, it's an opportunity for more storytelling and for exercising control over a daily routine: getting dressed.

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I have no doubt that it's time happily spent.

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We do puzzles together as well. Some are grand introductions to reading and today, she turns totally silly with them. No grandma, it's not a fox, it's a telephone!

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Ed is playing volley ball tonight. I think about the day, I think about the coming spring, summer, fall. There is so much to think about! To anticipate!

But really, this day is fine in its own right, despite the fact that we are in the thick of winter. Earlier, as Snowdrop and I snuggled on the couch with a short stack of books and a bowl of fruit after our romp with the sleds, she said -- I loooove warm!

It's warm here, at the farmhouse. Lovely warm. In all ways.