Saturday, December 09, 2023

December 9th

I have to say, many would regard this day of mine as a bust. I have nothing to show for it. A job I assigned for myself took about 8 hours and amounted to big miss: I did not accomplish the goal of fixing a technical issue in one of my trip itineraries. Bummer, you say? Not really! I thoroughly enjoyed trying to fix it! It's as if I was already navigating airports, train stations and coffee shops (which featured prominently in my adjustment plans). Will I try again tomorrow? Or the next day? Probably not. This was my last free day for... a long long time! 

Ed, too, immersed himself in trying to fix something. Basically, he wanted to know what the hell is going on with our oven. It's never baked things well, despite the fact that I inserted a thermometer in there to see if it really heated to the temperature that was indicated on the nob. Well, equipped with his best Sherlockian detective skills and devices (a watch and a faultless thermometer), Ed has indeed unraveled the issue: the dead band -- meaning the interval between when the oven first heats to a certain number and when it goes on to reheat to that number after a pause, is too long and the temperature drops a whopping 100 degrees in the interim. This is why for years, my cakes have required an excessive baking time, way longer than the recipe asks of them. Of course, the results are imperfect: too crusty on the outside as we all wait for the inside to be done. It's not a problem for muffins or cookies, but it is a huge problem for breads and especially cakes. 

Like for my travel technicalities, there is no easy fix for the oven problem. (My idea -- get a new oven, preferably an electric one -- is not going to play well in this neck of the woods where we, or should I say Ed, are, is, loathsome to swap out an old item for a new one. But, as with my travel stuff, this was not a wasted day. We learned something! And, too, I feel like all those cake imperfections I've struggled with in recent years have a ready explanation. It's good to know what's wrong, even if the fix isn't obvious.

All this may lead you to believe that the day was unusual and exasperating. Neither is true. I still fed the animals...

And we ate breakfast together  -- fruits and croissants (I did my run to the bakery!), along with the delicious cherry bourbon jam we'd picked up in Sun Prairie several weeks ago.

And very soon after, we took a walk in our local county park. We went early because I knew, I knew that I would lose myself in travel details and once that happened, I would not want to take a break until I was done. 

We were surprised to see a thin layer of ice on a part of Lake Waubesa. You can see it because the ducks and geese are actually on top of it! Sure, it's December, but we had had a warm up yesterday. Today as well -- it's not below freezing. I have to attribute it to our super cold nights. Which are only getting colder in the days to come.

Evening? Oh, really lovely. Warm, with our easy supper and a continuation of the new series I'd picked up on our streaming device (we have two free months of Apple TV+, so if you have recommendations before I ditch the service, let me know!). 

And yes, the tree twinkled and the music occasionally played and the cats went in and out and we were all as content as two bears buried in a den on a winter's day. Snug and yes, very cozy.

with love...

Friday, December 08, 2023

December 8th

Motivation is a funny thing: it sometimes lies dormant, waiting for who knows what. A nudge maybe? A nag? But there is, too, the instant, revelatory awakening: I want to do this now! It's brilliant! When can I get started? It comes unexpected, out of the blue, maybe from some words you've read in a book, or some photo you've spotted. This is it! I'm on it!

I wouldn't have thought that this day was going to be big on motivation. Neither Ed nor I slept a lot, though for different reasons. We'd gone to bed frustrated with each other over some misstatements and thoughtless gestures (it seemed to be a day for this!) and suddenly sleep was elusive. Both of us stayed on the internet far too long and got up far too early. No longer brittle but rather spent from the sheer exhaustion of trying to get out of a sticky mess. 

Still, it is the day for great weather. We both want to dive into it, though separately: he wants a long bike ride, I want a short one, preferably cutting through to a forest where all is quiet and calm.

But first, to the barn. To feed the whole lot of animals.

And breakfast. Without Ed, but only because I felt sorry for him and his sleep deprivation, so I did not wake him when he dozed off this morning.

And this is when motivation struck. I picked up a cookbook -- one I cannot mention because one Ocean reader can expect to see it underneath his or her Christmas tree. I leafed through it. It struck me that it was the most perfect cookbook I'd ever seen (at least in recent memory). I wanted to bake and eat most of the items in it. The author and I are, in other words, on the same page in terms of what we like to eat. I'd been drifting with my cooking and baking for a while now. In my opinion, it has lacked focus. For good reason! Ed is unpredictable in his likes and dislikes, the kids are even more unpredictable -- what's a person to do? 

This one book clarified things for me and it also allowed me to focus my travels going forward (we're talking about really going forward, since the next four trips have long been in place for me). I suddenly have goals. And ideas. And when you're motivated, the patterns begin to look absurdly simple and reachable, and clarity (however temporarily) takes hold.

Of course, this is all in my head and I'm sure the burst of energy that's with me now will dissipate, possibly by the afternoon as my sleepless night will come to haunt me. But this morning I move ahead with purpose. And it feels grand.

(my bike ride)

Afternoon. I pick up the kids at school and hustle them through our routines. Normally this is the day for me to get them to their lessons, but today my daughter has a work holiday party to which kids are invited, so we read, play, eat quickly. I need to get them to campus in time for the festivities.

I could attend as well, either as a retired prof, or as "family" of my daughter, but I've let go of nearly all my law school connections by now. I'm leaving that platform to my daughter's generation of faculty. Still, I peek in with just a smidgen of curiosity. Big parties with platters of good food... I remember that world! I even remember having fun attending. Sure, always the last to arrive and the first to leave, but still, I did attend! Decades ago! (Has it really been that long since I retired? It'll be ten years come January. Remarkable.)

Evening. Still on leftovers for supper, still happy to be home, not anywhere else, just on our couch, clicking through shows to see if anything will catch. Under a quilt that belonged to my daughters when they were little. Our idea of a perfect evening together.

with love...

Thursday, December 07, 2023

December 7th

Today, I step out of the December routines. First of all, the weather: it's sunny, with an expected afternoon  high of 51F (10.5C). This is remarkable! We need to take advantage of the break in winter drearies. I'll get back to that in a sec. Secondly, I'd booked a body pounding, muscle and joint kneading that promises to put new life into me for at least... a few hours! I love a good massage for many reasons and wish I could afford one on a regular basis, but the occasional one is good too -- it really does wonders for your stiffening movements. So, today I have my special plunge into a serious therapeutic kneading session.

But first, the animals.

(That's Pancake, our most feral cat. S/he is not allowed inside. The other cats see to that, and frankly -- so do we. Not spayed, not vaccinated and very skittish.)

And breakfast.

And a look at the tree, which gets a few minutes of sunshine from a distant window.

And now for our escape into the beauty of the day. Out come the bikes! We do a morning ride (because of my noon appointment), which is at once very delightful, but also still on the cool side. We're only at 40F (4C). But it's sunny and thus exceptionally thrilling!

And now the massage, which is the real deal -- a kneading by a guy who knows his stuff well. None of the soft music and froufrou details that spas tend to emphasize. This is all about making the body work better.

It so happens that the masseuse works in a room across the street from my grocery store. The store that has the reputation of ripping your budget to shreds, but nonetheless I have loyally loved it since the day it opened back in 1996, shopping there regularly, until March, 2020. I stopped going there then and reluctantly switched to online ordering and home delivery. I swore I would never go down that path, but Covid was real and so I gave up in-person buying.

I'd not entered the store since that last day in mid March, nearly four years ago. I dont know why. It's as if I felt robbed out of grocery selection by Covid. But, the store is moving to another location next week and here I am, just across the street today, and it seems that for all those years of shopping here, I ought to walk through the aisles one more time, no?

I do that. I dont buy anything. I just look and I remember. The pre-Covid years. The holiday shopping that would fill the cart. The careful sale searching, to make peace with the prices. Realizing that every dollar I spent here took away a dollar from the girls' college fund. And still, food matters. Forget the nicer clothes, the newer TV. But pay attention to the food. I sorted and touched produce -- to get that very best asparagus or box of strawberries. I read every cheese label and learned about cheeses I'd not heard of. I fussed about a fish selection. All those years of loving it, relieving me of the big supermarket grocery aisles that are so boxy and anomic, presenting me with produce selection that was mostly good. Fish that were mostly sustainably sourced. This stuff mattered to me and so I kept going back, in between trips to those big box stores for the staples. I learned to read labels here. I learned to care where food came from. Sure, call it a corporate chain -- but back in the day, I was grateful that we had it to teach me how to shop. This and the farmers market -- also not cheap, because guess what: small scale farming and organic growing are not cheap. Ask my CSA farmers. If we don't support them, who will?

I drive from there to a coffee shop, which is a little antithetical to a massage, but still, I love that second dose of caffeine! From there, straight to the kids' school. It's not an easy pickup. The girl has worries (because a friend said something dumb, but it triggered a worry), the boy is weighed down by the enormity of life and blurts out something that, too, triggers an unfortunate reaction. Typical stuff that comes up at the end of a long day.

(No photo of the boy yet -- he's slumping in the back seat)

We work through all of it. Nothing like food and farmhouse calm to align the stars once again!

In the evening, it's back to leftovers for supper. Along with a real high point: the eighth and last episode of the series we'd been watching -- Lessons in Chemistry. This time the movie is as good as the book. I mean, it's just a story, people, but it's a good one to tune into 8 nights in a row.

So yes, an unusual day, but oh, with such stellar moments and resolutions! And the warm weather continues into tomorrow. How awesome is that!

Happy Hanukkah to all my friends and readers who celebrate this special day.

with love...

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

December 6th

Can I interest you in a pot of crazy blooming orchids from the sheep shed? Way better than the dark landscape on this cold December morning.

I'd purchased the orchid plants many, many years ago. When Ed and I first began to spend our days together. There was an orchid shop on the way to the place where his machines were sold and on the occasions when I would tag along to see some aspect of his machine world, I'd coax him into stopping, just to look... 

Three of those original purchases are still with us and I dutifully put them outside each spring and haul them in for the winter, which is the thing you need to do to ensure a bloom. They keep outgrowing their pots and they should be split up to make smaller plants. In their current state, they could not possibly overwinter in the farmhouse -- they'd block the light from the windows. So they stay at the sheep shed, happy as can be. I visit them each morning when I feed five out of the seven cats who eat here. (The remaining two cats are difficult and require special handling elsewhere.) Beautiful flowers that last and last...

Breakfast is of course at the farmhouse. 

And what do we do during this meal? We talk about dinner. With good reason! A few weeks ago, Ed had come across a review of a recently opened restaurant. Everyone loves the place. It's impossible to get a reservation! Insofar as the two of us eat out, we typically either go to Sardine -- a beloved restaurant on the shores of Lake Monona, or we head out to the Monroe Street neighborhood for more homey choices. This new restaurant (Lallande) is on Monroe and I suppose this was a strike in its favor because both of us were enthusiastic to try it. A rare confluence of curiosity and desires for him, for me.  We booked a table for tonight.

In the meantime, we are in for a small warmup. Probably the last one for a while. This is good news as we've grown terribly slack in our movements. We're planning to make up for it! Tomorrow! 

In other holiday news, I'm tracking the celebrations of those across the ocean right now because today is St. Nicholas Day and in Poland at least, kids do get presents on this day. A double whammy! Christmas and St Nick's (called "Mikolajki" in Polish)! The trick is, I think to be thoughtful but to aim small. In the same way that my grandkids love the simple Advent calendars with only a picture behind the numbered tab, so, too, a sweet treat, a small stuffy, a wee something would do for these gift giving occasions. I say this even as I am wrapping rather large boxes for the kids' Christmas. Not my fault! The youngest guy likes big trucks! Next year, I'm sticking with small.

I think about all this as I start in on wrapping the adult presents (kids all done!).

Music in the background, fake candle "burning." Same songs, same routines. Only the paper changes. Some of us love the repetition of tasks this season. The tweaking, maybe improving on some, maybe simplifying others. But of course, some people do have an aversion to it. The oft repeated "too commercial" (as if our lives weren't otherwise beholden to the demand that we spend and consume, or else!), not Christian enough! Too Christian! Too conformist, too demanding, too expensive, too much forced joy. By the time you're 70, you've heard it all. You put it aside. Let others stay away if they choose. To me, December shines because of these repeated tasks that bring us closer to people we love. You dont need holidays to feel happy, but in those days when there is such a push to celebrate, if you can find some space for yourself, something to love -- foods, gifts, trees, music, gatherings, candles (!) -- you have so many choices! -- the month suddenly zips by like a bobsled on track to win a race, carrying you along with the magic of warmth and color on the darkest month of the year.

In the afternoon I pick up the kids. 

Sparrow gets lost in trying to figure out why you can't count the school days left before Christmas through counting by fives. The guy is obsessed with numbers. When told he has five minutes left to do something, he'll dance around counting very loudly to sixty, five times. Patterns, sequences -- they're his thing, in the same way that Snowdrop finds magic in words. Numbers to her are tools to solve perplexing puzzles. She likes math -- if it's not "boring" repetition. Sparrow doesn't care -- it all delights him (at least at this moment in time!).

(They're both good at arm-twisting. We go to Tati's for ice cream...)

In the evening, I pack them into the car, call Ed over and we head out, first to drop off the kids, then for our big eat out at Lallande.

Did we love it? Sure, though Ed wont ever totally commit to a place that has a limited menu. Since he ignores meat dishes and rarely picks fish, and finds most veggie plates too fussy, the options are always limited for him. He was satisfied enough with his escargot...

... and Croque Forrestiere. Me, I stayed with the monkfish stew. Delicious, though I'm glad the chef will be spending a week in Marseille this January. That city is a total eye opener in terms of what can happen when you want to put together a fabulous bouillabaisse (aka fish stew).

We drive home. It's so lovely to see colorful lights in people's yards. Someone went to the trouble (and it is trouble!) of putting them up, just for the uplift that they bring to the household, to you and me. And isn't that a lovely thing...

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

December 5th

And so we return to our pattern of snow in the morning, mud in the afternoon. Here's what I wake up to on this day:

Pretty, isn't it? 

It doesn't last. Within a few hours the trees shed their delicate clumps of snow, the stuff on the ground melts, we're back to bare branches and a brown, muddy terrain.

That's December for you. Fickle and furious. Lovely and loathsome. All within a span of hours.

Ed and I sit down to a quick pre-breakfast...

And then I dash off to Madison Sourdough, where I have my now rather regularly scheduled breakfast with a friend and former colleague. It's a day for cinnamon!

It's also a catch up day at home, which means I can once again postpone The Walk. Feeling the guilt now, I go up and down the stairs twenty-five times. Will that suffice? My watch says no... 

My lunch is interesting:

I purchased a piece of quince cake at Madison Sourdough and I shared it with Ed. Shockingly, he proclaimed it to be very good! (He's even more fussy about cakes than I am.) This is important, because our quince trees -- ones I planted a tiny bit in my father's honor -- produced a heavy crop of quince this year and I had no idea what to do with them. Originally I had wanted to make a boozy quince drink that my father had liked and I found solidly warming in the day, but drinking solidly warming stuff has trickled away down the pike along with such things as jump rope hopping and mountain climbing, so we gave away the quince to a bakery. Not this bakery, but one that comes to our local farmers market. What a surprise to see quince here, at Madison Sourdough! It inspires me to rethink what I do with next year's crop. The cake really is good!

Time to pick up the kids.

(This is one of those times when I think that Sparrow looks like the kid straight out of Home Alone...)

Time to return the kids.

Time to settle in for the evening with Ed. Farro, cauliflower, with tomatoes and lots of cheese. And the last episodes of Lessons in Chemistry. Bliss....

Monday, December 04, 2023

December 4th

I wake up, glance at my phone to check the weather and let out a sigh. It's not that the temps are cold. I mean, they should be cold. It's December. The 4th to be exact. In Poland, they're celebrating St. Barbara's Day. So happy name day to all the Barbaras in my life and especially you, there in Warsaw! In my childhood, we referred to this day as Barbórka. St. Barbara  is the patron saint of miners and mining was a big deal in postwar Poland. So December 4th was Miners Day. If you dig deeper, you'll read that this association of St. Barbara with mining was widespread in all of Central Europe. The story behind St Barbara is rather grizzly: she lived at the turn of the 3rd and 4th century and she was beheaded by her father for who knows what reason -- something to do with chastity or her Christian faith (her father was a Pagan, so you could say it's one of those generational struggles of belief systems). Barbórka may be a miner's holiday, but it came to have customs associated with it that extended beyond mining communities and many of them centered around death, or rather the avoidance of death. For example women would not sew on this day because a prick of the finger would lead to certain and very painful death. Lovely, huh? Meantime the menfolk would traditionally gather in taverns and drink beer and ear pork knuckle.

But I digress.

When I look at my phone, I see nothing but clouds forecast for as long as my phone gives out a forecast. 

I walk out to feed the animals, taking in the moisture in the air. No frost today. Pungent smells of a damp earth.

This is when I need to ratchet up the hygge inside. Switch the coffee cup to one I never use because it's too "special." Take out the Cafe Varenne milk pitcher and open the Acacia Sauvage honey I had picked up at Famille Mary's honey shop.

And bake some muffins, for the girl who loves them and for the aroma they bring to the farmhouse.

Both Ed and I avoid the subject of The Walk. The one we're supposed to take each day because it's good for us, one neither of us feels like doing on this day. He's lost in his machining design project, I'm catching up with life. Groceries (purchasing), gifts (wrapping), cats (feeding the finicky eater), candles (returning). My December 4th in a nutshell. 

And in the afternoon I pick up Snowdrop, who stuns me in showing up dressed in a dress. Do kids outgrow clothing convictions? Did she?

Some things do not change. Read, eat, read some more. Less and less play. She saves that for her time with friends, though ask her if she's outgrown some (all?) of the toys in the play room and she'll give you a resounding "no!"

And in the evening Ed and I retreat into our routines! Supper, a show. We repeat it again and again and it never grows old!

with love...

Sunday, December 03, 2023

December 3rd

Sometime just before 10 last night, an Amazon driver dropped off a small package. Ed finds two batteries in his stash and recharges them in our handy battery recharger. By this morning, we are in business.

I have several comments to make about artificial candles: first of all, it is true what they say -- they are much improved these days. The look is there. This one, an especially adored one, has wax on the outside and yes, the flame does sway with the movement of air. Or something. It looks good, it feels good to the touch. And importantly, it does not emit particles of anything into the air -- safe for Ed, and frankly, safe for all of us. 


The warmth in an artificial candle has to be all in the visuals. Not to underestimate the importance of that, but still, the flame is not warm to the touch (you'd be surprised that this matters, given that you dont actually touch a burning candle). No match lighting a wick. No care taken as you pass a jar of jam over the lighted wick. So, no heat. And no delicate whiff of spruce, or sea salt, or boreal forest... I've always known that scent triggers recollection. It turns out that it also puts us in a frame of mind and artificial candles just do not have the power to create that magic.

Still, it's warm looking and that does matter. Especially on a day like today: more light snow on the ground, destined to melt soon, until the next one, which, too will melt. And again. And again, until the temps drop so much that we will begin to see a real snow cover. Maybe toward the end of the month. But in the meantime, we have this, and it is lovely to step out into the crunch of snow as I walk to feed the animals.

And since our breakfast discussion naturally (or rather unnaturally) led us to talk about particles in the air, the subject of the induction stove -- the one we did not get because we are not wired for that level of electricity -- came up. 

I thought our air purifier was supposed to make out kitchen air safe... And yet it didn't help clear the candle particles for Ed. Shouldn't we, therefore, reconsider rewiring for induction? The safer way to cook foods? Because clearly the air purifier isn't totally picking up the stuff in the air.

This leads us to much hand wringing and internet searching and in the end, we compromise once again: we'll get one free standing induction burner (so, no rewiring needed) and two induction pots and I will try to do all, well most of my cooking that way. 

So typical: one thing leads to the next and before you know it, we're spinning into something unexpected. This is the way our days move forward!  

Having decided on this mini induction route, we spend a lot of time choosing the two perfect pots for our soon to arrive cooking unit. A lot of time.

We do go out for a walk and this one is proposed by Ed: downtown, along State Street -- up and down, from campus to Capitol... 

... and back again.  Eventually we come to an art gallery where they are displaying woven tapestries depicting activist women, accomplishing great things within the domain of water. I wasn't enthusiastic about seeing this initially, but in the end I'm glad we went. 

I only recognized one name (Carson). Reason enough to learn about the others. Ed liked the video demonstrating computerized designing of loom weaving. And because it was nearby, we walked over to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

(a sheep made of scissors, a garden made of spades...)

As Ed commented afterwards -- we had a really cultured afternoon! A rarity for us!

And in the evening, the young family is here for dinner. It's Sandpiper's first look at the Christmas tree. (He is enthusiastic about taking ornaments off and... attempting to put them back on the branch.)

(The big two hit the Advent Calendars...)

Oh, does it feel like winter now! Dark outside, tree inside, specks of snow, cold wind blowing, warm sauce for seafood bubbling on the stove.... Cold season, warm comforts. 

Honestly, December feels as if it's whizzing by at top speed. I mean, it's the end of day three already? Remarkable!