Thursday, April 02, 2020

Thursday - 20th: children, a party and tomatoes

A big day for us here, at the farmette. A big, beautiful day! For the first time this year, we topped 60F (just over 15C) today!

I am up early. Lots to do! Ed, breakfast!

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The kids are here in the morning.

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I should have coaxed them to stay outside, but mornings are slow to warm up. That's fine. We have books to read, games to play...

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They leave a tad earlier than usual. I have a party to host!

It's a party that was necessarily cancelled at its earlier date -- March 16th. I was supposed to cook dinner for a group of friends then. In Warsaw. Polish friends whom I have known for more than fifty years. Ten of us, celebrating getting together after a year's break.

Of course, I did not go to Warsaw. Instead, Ed and I went into isolation, as did much of the world, or at least the world of people in our demographic.

All my Polish friends live in or just outside Warsaw. It's easy for them to do stuff together. Except of course, it's impossible right now. Restrictions are so tight in Poland, that you are not allowed to go out even for exercise. Dog walking is okay. A grocery store outing? Okay. A hike, a ,jog or a bike ride? No.

And here's another tough blow: nearly all my friends have kids and grandkids who live abroad. Several in the U.S., others -- spread out from England to Italy. Suddenly, seeing the people you love takes on a new meaning.

The idea was floated that my group should have a Zoom party. Their evening is my early afternoon. No matter, pour a glass of wine and join us!

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We lasted several hours. I think we all expected it to be business as usual -- light in our banter, as before. That didn't happen. We turned serious pretty quickly. Oh, there were breakout moments (Ed, who was in the background and understood none of it, maintained that I laughed a lot) but still, mostly, we talked about life as we find it today.

Late afternoon. The weather is still splendid. It's time for us farmer wannabes to plant the tomato seeds.

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As always, we put the seeds into little cups. We're using last year's seeds, because this year's are lost in transit somewhere. I suggest we turn on the hose water outside (after a winter hiatus). Something breaks. Unstoppable water comes gushing out of the spigot.

Of course, I knew something would break during our period of isolation. Something always breaks at the farmette. Ed caps the mad flow of water for now and ponders as to where the break may be. I return to putting in seeds. In this small way, our April days are unfolding as they did last year and the year before.

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Dinner? Oh, I have to make inroads on all that frozen fish from our year-long support of small fisheries of Alaska! How about seared tuna with chimichurri? And a sweet potato? And asparagus?

It's not easy to feel peace when the world is in such chaos. But one must try. And find time to reflect about the noble work of all those heroic people who cannot afford to pause, not even for a moment.

With love.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Wednesday - 19th

All the beans are still in the bag: no one in my family is sick, everyone is proceeding according to the new normal.

And, there is sunshine!

And, we are warming up this week! The kittens are sunning themselves, the cheepers are enjoying their own special resting spot by the hydrangeas.

You can almost (but not quite) forget that we are living in very abnormal times.

As you would expect, the farmhouse breakfast routine remains undisturbed. I wait for him, he comes down, we dig into our bowls of fruit and today -- our bowls of oatmeal.

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And then come the screen time hours. FaceTime chats, zoom calls, texts, emails. Not ever phone calls anymore (except with my mom). Or at least not ones that require me holding an actual phone. The computer or tablet has seized most of our waking hours. Almost surreptitiously, Amazon has become the supplier of all stuff,  and the computer has turned into our important information source, and our instrument of social connection. Gone is the guilt that once came with "too much screen time." These days, we are ever so grateful for all that the internet can offer. For better or worse, it is as much a regular feature of our mornings as is the first morning meal.

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The afternoon, however, belongs to Snowdrop. Sunshine, or partial sunshine, pushes us outside.  Well, it pushes me outside. She's anxious to retreat to the farmhouse. So many books to read! Snacks to devour! But when she hears Ed is out in the field, clearing what is to be the tomato patch, she wants to join in the effort.

All photos are from our time out in the field.

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"Can I pet a chicken?"

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(milkweed seeds)

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(First farmette flower!)

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Evening. You'd think I'd join the legions who are cooking up a storm during their confinement. Not so. Despite all those years of restaurant cooking, of family cooking, of just lots and lots of cooking, the idea of teaching myself something new with new combinations of rarely used by me ingredients is just not taking hold right now. I want the familiar. I want the predictable, the known, the tried and true.

So once again I bake a frittata. And not even a novel one. The usual -- with cheeper eggs, spinach, mushrooms, potato and two kinds of cheeses.

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I suppose if I had my grandma's recipe for pierogi, I'd make them now. But I don't. I may be the only Pole alive who has never made pierogi. Instead, there's a cheesy frittata browning in the oven right now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tuesday - 18th

There are three ways to view time right now: maddening in its fast progression (anything having to do with treating the sick would fall in this category), insanely slow (perhaps being stuck in tight quarters with very young kids and a stack of work, and no clue as to how long this will last can be lumped here), or the third -- a wild ride between breakneck speed and a grinding slow pace. Sometimes I think I'm right smack in the middle of the third: I alternate between having too much to do and having too much available time for stuff like reading news.

I just at this second promised Ed that I will greatly improve my time management skills with the first day of April. That would be tomorrow. I'm on it!

I suppose the coming of spring follows similar distinct paths. Sometimes it comes charging at us with the speed of lightening. (This is rare.) Other times? Slow as anything. Like one of those inch worms taking its sweet time crossing your path. Hurry up already! Then there was last year's spring: fluctuating wildly between the two -- giving us snow in the middle of April, but plenty of sunshine before and after.

So what's this year like? It feels slow, but perhaps world events have shaded my thinking about it. We want to move away from where we are now, even as we understand that we cannot. So, too, we want the colors of spring to take hold, even though that's an unreasonable expectation. I mean, it's still March today! I'd say we're not doing bad, considering!

(Looking toward the lily bed...)

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Breakfast. Oatmeal for both. His is always with maple syrup.

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For now, our schedule is such that on Tuesdays I go to the young family's place in the morning to play with the kids there.

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It's not something that they're used to, which has its good sides: I can explore their books and toys with them from a new angle, since it's all unfamiliar stuff for me.  On the other hand, it doesn't offer them a change of scene. Still, there's plenty to do (even though it's a cold and gray day and so you really have to work hard to get your giggles out. I think we managed okay!).

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...With some solid reading and quiet play times thrown in and some spirited games of "hide the treasure" in between, which I think passed Sparrow by, though he did love yelling "hot!" and "col!" at the top of his voice, just like his sister.

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Toward evening, Ed bakes brownies. His cookies are long gone. I guess we're more of a sweets eating family than I thought. Or it could be that chocolate laced treats are more appealing at a time when spring seems pokey and life has suddenly grown complicated.

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Dinner? Oh, leftovers from Sunday. Ed has taught me a lot of things -- one of them being to truly love leftovers.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Monday - 17th

I've taken to asking Ed when I wake up -- anything good out there to report (he is always reading stuff)? Lately, he always says "nope."

It's a signal that I should start the day with something other than reading the news (in the course of the day, I actually read two national papers, one from Chicago and one from Warsaw. Sometimes I add a British one and a third national. Plus some magazine stuff. We err on the side of being too well informed.)

Of course, not having anything good to report doesn't necessarily mean that it's 100% bad out there. When I do sit down to do my browsing and reading, I look for the bright notes in a sea of tragedy. And those bright notes become the topic of our breakfast discussions.

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One tiny bright note for us this morning is the reappearance of sunshine. It's so lovely to see it once again! The cheepers do their grooming in its glorious warmth, the cats bounce from one end of the path to the other, and we all walk with that sprint that's been missing the past few days.

The kids come over in the morning and again I start them off with yoga.

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Sparrow does try to keep up, but Cosmic Yoga is just too fast for him.

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Snowdrop, on the other hand, is thrilled to see that the episode I chose tracks the story of Frozen. She is a devoted Frozen fan.

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Monday play, Monday art. Monday reading. The kids are easy to please on this first day of the week, for obvious reasons -- they have been stuck at home for several days and the farmhouse once again appears quaint.

Lunch? Oh, nothing original. Their usual choices.

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Afterwards, I drive them home in a warm car. It's been a long time since I have opened the door to a warm car!

In the late afternoon, Ed works on getting the veggie bed ready. Little Tomato always helps. (She's our greatest worm spotter.)

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I take a solo walk. Nothing big, nothing fancy. I think about how luxurious it is just to walk, even as so many people have to rush to a workplace that is suddenly so very terrifying. Not for a minute do I forget to appreciate how beautiful it is to have nowhere to go, except up the road and back home again. Especially on this still cool but very bright and springlike day.

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(along the road...)

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Dinner? Cheeper eggs and broccoli! Both beloved here, at the farmette.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday - 16th

You want to go out for a hike?
Not at all?
It's too cold. With a threat of rain. But okay, I guess we have to.

That summarizes my attitude toward the great outdoors right now: no, but okay, I guess we have to.

In my head I have this mental calculus of 40sF (upwards of 5C) in March, 50sF (upwards of 10C) in April, 60sF (upwards of 15C) in May and so forth. We're not off course. It's March and we're in the 40sF. But this is no early and beautiful spring. Instead, it's the kind of weather we usually like to dislike. Weather that leaves us grumbling -- why can't it be real spring already??

Breakfast is late, house cleaning is late, everything is late today. We use the hours of the day to touch base with this person, that person. People we care about. It's time well spent.


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And yes, we do finally go out to our small county park. Forced pleasure! Not quite the same as the exuberance one might feel if, say, it were ten degrees warmer and a lot less cloudy.

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(Hi, great big oak tree, standing next to a boggy, muddy pathway...)

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In the evening the young family comes over for dinner. We're still all in total isolation, which makes these Sunday meals possible.

Time to bring out the cheese and crackers and red pepper strips, just to get us in the dinner mood...

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And to cook up the much washed with soapy water squid (don't ask... washing freshly handled squid was an experience not worth repeating)!

And the usual pasta, home made sauce, shrimp, salad, and one last go around on fresh corn for the kids.

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Evening again. Warm, cozy, evening. Dishes done. Another calm and peaceful day behind us. How insanely lucky to have had such a day. So very very lucky.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saturday -15th, but really it's March 28th

This day belongs to my little granddaughter, Primrose, who turns two today. She is in Chicago and I am here, just outside Madison. Despite the sadness of not being with her on this day, I have to smile at this unexpected distancing: she is the only grandchild whose birth I missed too, because she came early and I was, well, in Paris.

We live in a connected world and I am happy as anything that I can at least spend time with her via the Internet. I had a little virtual party planned out in my head, but I tossed that idea out when the early morning call came from Chicago. Instead, I let her take the lead, though I did manage to get a youtube going of a very loud birthday song. So loud that Ed, who can sleep through anything, called down  -- how's Primrose? (I had thought he was asleep.)

(opening grandma's present at the breakfast table...)

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It's raining hard in Madison, but it will rain even harder in Chicago today. This is very upper midwest stuff: end of March rain and storms. The precursors to a beautiful spring season. I'm grateful for the rains, though I would like to put in a bid for lesser storms. People don't need to worry about tornadoes right now.

In fact, I'm grateful for a lot of stuff. That we have a steady supply of food. That farmers will do their damn best to keep those shelves stocked. Yes, grateful for all those who suddenly have to work so hard under such difficult conditions.

Ed and I merely have to keep out of everyone's way. And to give thought and thanks for what is good all around us.

Which, of course, brings me back to Primrose. Being a super-child, she can give me the impression that she is right there in the room with me -- she is that focused on all that takes place around her. Smart as a whip, she wont let me merely sit back and watch: she engages and is engaging and our little party is a blur of movement as she scoots toward me with the speed of a two-year old on the go!

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Oh, Primrose, how I love you! That bit of color that first showed up in early spring... Twenty years from now you wont remember your second birthday. But we all will remember it mightily: the day your smile and happy prance filled everyone's heart with giggles, on a day that needed exactly that little boost!

Happy happy birthday, little one.

In other news -- well, did I mention that it rained? Perfect day for Ed to bake cookies.

I offer help. Can I give you some suggestions?
None needed!
Remember, I worked as a baker at L'Etoile for several years
(flaunting my credentials here, just to make a point).
Impressive. I baked cornbread in the sheep shed regularly for years.
From a mix.
It was delicious.
It was all ingredients you couldn't pronounce.
Great aroma too!

It's not that Ed is overly confident. He's just not shy to take on any project in any domain at any time.

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At the end of the day, he wont take excessive praise.
Super yummy! -- I tell him.
They're just okay. Could use more vanilla. 

Always ready to tweak and improve.

While the great baking project is underway, he notices a small amount of activity around my honey jar. Well now, if that isn't a true sign of early spring! The ants are back!

As predictable as mosquitoes in the summer, and mice in late fall (except for this year, when the shed cats have hunted down all mice everywhere!), spring ants always come in right about now, looking for a place to settle in for the rest of the warm season. We don't use chemicals to get rid of them -- just a vacuum cleaner. And so we began that routine today. The vacuum will be on the ready throughout the day for the next couple of weeks.

(Well, can't run the vacuum when Calico and Cutie are resting on the porch. It would scare them silly!)

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I wish I could tell you that the skies cleared and Ed and I sprinted outside to log in a spirited walk. That didn't happen. No problem! All the more time to look at past photos of Primrose, singing "happy birthday" quietly, under my breath, all day long.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday - 14th

I think I need to step back and get a grip on organization. Today, I felt like time just ran away.

I blame the weather: just warm enough to work outside.

I blame spinach and tomatoes. We want to plant both. Soon. We need to clear the strip of land behind the barn of weeds. I begin that project today. It takes forever, even with the help of Ed, Dance the cat, and the cheepers.

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I blame having to wash the squid with soap. We had a grocery delivery today and it included squid. Snowdrop loves squid with her spaghetti. The squid needed a soap bath. It took forever to then get the bubbles out of the tubes and tentacles.

I blame the fact that I was convinced I had tossed my driver's license out with the trash. It had been in a paper bag. Precautions. Don't ask. And then it was nowhere. How do you replace a driver's license if you're self-isolating? I dumped all trash out of the can (there was a lot) in my search for it. I looked in every possible corner of the farmhouse.

I began to sweat.

Only later did I remember that I had tucked it into a pocket of my purse for safe keeping.

People like me thrive on getting a lot done on automatic pilot. For example, typically, I grocery shop without a list. I know what to put in the cart. It doesn't change a whole lot from week to week. But of course, now everything is newly established. Routines don't work anymore. You have to think your way through the day.

That's a challenge!

Mostly, I blame me. Too loose on the organization. Do better!

(Was there time for breakfast? Yes of course.)

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In the afternoon, Snowdrop is with us.

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(Playing the memory game once again. He wins. Then she wins, even though to me, it seems that she's hardly paying attention...)

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Evening. It is always the quietest time here, at the farmhouse. Perhaps in your home as well? I cook up some salmon burgers and I steam a treasured bunch of fresh asparagus. 

Ed cooks up popcorn. We listen to the sound of the rain outside.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Thursday - 13th

If it wasn't for my granddaughter's birthday this Saturday, I'd be completely lost in terms of calendar dates. Are we still in March? Do you know where in March?

But of course, the garden knows. And the weather gods know. March 26. Not the 13th day of anything, but March 26. Nearly April -- the month when Wisconsin forests and meadows will turn green and the color palette will grow and multiply.

We haven't yet had the big rains, the storms that race across the prairie toward us, the hail, the swell in rivers and streams. But we will. Spring never slides in without a rumble and roar. But when all the noise is done with, we revel in the beauty of a transformed landscape.


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Both kids come to the farmhouse early today. Well, probably not early from the parental perspective!

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Perhaps you've wondered if at least these two grandkids are bored with all this time in isolation. I think from the point of view of the one and a half year old, the answer is no. Toddlers can do a repeat play without noticing that it's repetition day in and day out. Sparrow always goes back to arranging his current favorite characters around a plastic table. He will never turn down a chance to draw with markers. Reading his favorite books can drive you nuts, because he'll sit through them again and again, no matter how much you've grown to despise that cow that says moo.

With Snowdrop it's different. She got a great boost, I think, in "playing" with her school friend over FaceTime last night. I hear they lasted almost an hour. More importantly, I think returning to the continuity of that friendship was huge. Something essential for her was preserved.

But the girl can sometimes lose steam in trying to imagine the next game or story in her head. She is happy when I come up with a new book to read. She will draw on most any day.

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But inevitably, she will stall. Today she said -- I wish you had... (a certain toy is mentioned, one that is her current favorite at home). I thought this was a good thing. I could tell her that this wouldn't be a good idea (even if I were willing to spend the money for it, which I'm not) and so she had to look beyond that particular favorite. It took her ten minutes, but eventually she plunged into a set up that got her so excited that her dad could not get her to stop when he came to pick them up.

And no, I do not feel compelled to come up with new games, new ideas for play every single day. I feel Snowdrop is taking a good bit of responsibility for making her day a success and this is a good thing.

Still, today, I did suggest that we do something new -- something that both kids have had at school: kid yoga. (Cosmic Kids Yoga on youtube is pretty good, though perhaps too fast moving for a toddler.)

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And now comes lunch. Grilled cheese for Sparrow and prosciutto and strawberry jam for Snowdrop. I'm letting their creative juices guide them!

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In the early evening, Ed and I take a short walk. Just to the wetlands across the road from where we live.

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We all need to walk. I know that. And I take deep breaths of air that smells of damp earth and a composting wood pile. The beautiful smells of early spring. So typical of... March 26th. It is March 26th, isn't it?