Friday, August 31, 2007

from Cambridge to Madison

Yesterday, I called it a day. There were no more nails to pound. One last meal at Henrietta’s (she was the first to implant the the words “fresh and honest” in my brain), and, then, just one last decision to make, like these people, at Herrell's…

010 decisions, copy

Mango with banana?

And finally, a rush to the airport. And a handful of flights home.

Home. No lobster rolls and corn grits here.

Still, after work, I can take out my bike and, within minutes, be surrounded by flowering goldenrod. And soy plants.

050 goldenrod, copy

056 soy fields, copy

Ed, my occasional traveling companion, leads me on a loop around the town of Marshall. The roads are so empty that I could dance circles around myself and no one would notice. Maybe the cat and the rooster. That's it.

022 cat and rooster, copy

I didn’t even mind the hills. Such a day!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

from Cambridge: success, ltd.

Eventually I can do it. I can figure out how to drill in fasteners into tough walls. How to work blinds into uneven window frames. I can.

It’s easier to drive a nail through a brick wall than to change habits and dispositions, don’t you think?

Take this guy: will he always wear a tie? Even in the heat of the afternoon Cambridge sun?

012 man with book, copy


The day ends with grit. I mean grits. I mean both.

…heavenly corn grits with blueberries, poached peach pureé and lavender ice cream.

Now, if I could only have the daughters living within an hour’s drive of home, life would be so good…


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

from Cambridge: squash, lobsters and spires

I cross campus again and again. Always, there is the temptation to take a photo of the white spire against a blue sky. A classic for this place.


Less of a classic, but equally pleasing is the Farmer's Market. Also on campus. Just a few stalls, but a nice selection of fall foods. In the late afternoon sun.


003 market, copy

Then, in the evening, I succumb to the New England temptation: a lobster roll with fries and slaw. I'm a sucker for it. And this one is pretty near perfect. How can one not love it here...

007 lobster roll, copy

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

from Cambridge: 'spires

001 view, copy

Inspire, aspire, perspire, I’ve seen it all on this day.

Without truck, I am left to run errands on foot. Screw wont go in. Get drill bit from hardware store. Not big enough. Return for another. Sweat as I work brackets into the hardwood frames. All the while, hanging on a hot cellphone which is suffering from overuse. Ikea, you are not user friendly.

But, as the apartment of the young little thing (aka daughter) takes shape, I can see her there, through the Boston seasons. Third one in our family of four to get a law degree (all the more remarkable since, before myself attending law school, I don’t think I had ever even met a lawyer; it wasn't a profession manyof us contemplated back in the Poland of the sixties and seventies).

Her apartment is just at the edge of campus, but in a neighborhood that I like. Her blocks have an elementary school, a corner park, a community garden.

Still, you can’t hide from Harvard, not this close to campus. The café up toward Porter Square is so lovely, but, before the semester even starts, it looks dangerously like a classroom, all “desks” facing forward, all “students” focused more on what their reading than on each other, the food, or the prettiness of the day outside.


A few more days of Cambridge. Of building and setting up and even maybe of reading texts together – she hers, me mine. The summer slips into fall without anyone even noticing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

from Cambridge: day one

It has been suggested that I may do well with a get to know Cambridge kind of day. You know, one with a solid brunch and a few pokes here and there to get a sense of the place.

My previous visits here have always been very goal directed. This one, too, has an agenda. It includes (for today) getting the truck unloaded, finding a Home Depot and returning the truck to its home base somewhere in the bowels of the city.

Oh, sure, I found plenty of stellar moments. Like locating the farmer’s market just outside our (hotel) door. Most markets I have gone to, outside Madison, seem shoddy little things, where abundance translates to a few bins of this or that. But the Cambridge one was bursting with good stuff. So how can you not love a day that starts with a look at these?


And, too, Cambridge has cool alleys and side streets. Ones like this:


Then, on the other hand, there are the scenes that cause you to wince at the juxtaposition of it all. You can’t miss them here. Like this one:


Not to forget though, I am here to be helpful, so my camera rests for significant portions of the day as I unload, wipe down, install. I figure it’s the last of the big moves for me. May as well go out with a bang. Have to maintain my reputation as being the one who can lift over and beyond what you would imagine. Hearty Polish peasant stock, you know.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

road trip! (finalé)

Well now.

Well now!

That was a road trip to end all road trips.

I had it all this day – 800 miles of traffic, non traffic, rainy skies, clear skies, stormy skies, STORMY SKIES, so stormy, more lightening crisscrossing the skies than I’d ever seen in the space of a day. A week. A year! I swear!

800 miles with no food, bad food, super bad nothing food.

... of getting lost (how can you get lost following just one road across the country???? – hi, Ed? could you please google…). Of realizing that we set out too late (shouldn’t have watched the motel movie last night, shouldn’t have posted, should have been up at the crack of dawn). Of road construction. Of parking lots that do not like truck drivers (why do we have to park five miles away from the rest stop?).

Of New York state vineyards, in colors that I cannot describe. Setting sun colors (for at the time, there was, briefly, a sun).

I must return here to the storms: oftentimes, we were fooled into thinking we were done with them, but we never were, not to the end. Such downpours, such angry heavens. Such lightening!

…Of foxes darting out in front, of music, of rainbows, and even of fireworks, somewhere, randomly south of Albany.

We pulled into Cambridge at midnight. With a sigh of relief. And a huge smile.

What a hell trip. Loved every minute of it.

(just one photo,shot from the right side of the speeding truck: an optimistic little number, with skies of blue and grapes of gold)
024 east coast vineyards, copy

Friday, August 24, 2007

road trip! cont’d

In Chicago: packing, lifting, stacking, carrying down to the curb. Finally, furniture and daughter, loaded in. Ready to go.

Wow, is it noon already?

Get on the Kennedy heading south and east.

Misleading first minutes:

007 clouds, copy

Reality: worst traffic issues ever. Time spent driving from north Chicago to south Chicago: 3 hrs 50 mins.

There’s a sign saying trucks have to stick to the two right lanes.
I’m not a truck! I have two axels.
You are a truck.

The truckers’ lane is at a standstill.

Cars edge in, truckers stand still. We are standing still.

For five minutes, let me not be a truck.

Books on tape!
Computer gets plugged in, selections are made.

Can’t hear a blasted word. The road, the truck, they’re all loud. The CDs are quiet.

We switch to music.

Finally. We lose the traffic and pick up speed in Indiana. Ha ha, ryan, in the comments said Indiana has great storms. We have blue sky, ha ha.

015 Indiana blue, 2

You know what? That’s not a clear blue, that’s a storm blue.

The rain comes, Thunder. Lightening. Whoa, need to slow down. The friendly skies are back in Chicago. Behind us.

019 mirrors, copy

We are chasing the storms.
By Toledo, we’re ready to quit for the night.

Road food!
A glass of wine, may I please have a glass of wine?
I’ll find out for you. People don’t normally ask for wine here.

Highway 90: it makes it’s way from my home in Madison, straight to Cambridge. I’ve done this trip more times than I care to remember.

This time, it came with storms.

And with a rainbow. No photo this time, but trust me. A rainbow.

Road trip!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

road trip

It is my sixth move this year. Let me clarify: it is the sixth time that I am assisting with a someone’s move this year (one of the assists was to myself, you know, to get to the condo).

But this one is no ordinary, down a few blocks kind of move. It's to digs out on the East Coast. After surveying the options, it was determined that the cheapest and the most reliable alternative was to have me me (me!) drive a truck to the final destination – Cambridge, MA.

So, late this afternoon, I set out. Just to Chicago today. No easy feat!

I hit the storm extravaganza of the year. Lightening, downpours, winds… Downed trees, flooded streets, really – it was a mess out there. And in that mess you could find me, bravely edging forward.


By the time I got to Chicago, I knew that boredom would not be the problem for this particular journey. No indeed, survival in the face of storms, power outages and downpours, would be the goal of the days ahead.

And if I am going to go -- you know, be done in by forces of nature and global warming, let me at least record my own demise. Here you have it – scenes from the first in a series of days devoted to trucking across this great big nation.


020 road trip, copy
clouds ahead

030 getting dicey, copy

031 dark and wet, copy
flashing and pouring

043 chicago, copy

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

ode to the potato

Boiled, then served with butter and dill. Pan fried. Taken from the field and buried in a fire on the meadow. In soups. With sour milk on the side.

Staples of the Polish diet of my childhood.

And now? Rosti – shredded and pan-baked, sprinkled with fontina cheese and scallions. Sliced thinly and fried, sprinkled with sea salt. Nuked in a microwave for 8 minutes. Mashed, with roasted garlic and basil. Mixed with flour and rolled into gnocchi.

Or, a simple favorite: purple, organic, cut in halves, baked at a high temp on a sheet with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt. Munched with a glass of chilled Burgundy or rosé, naturally.

This morning’s farmer’s market at Hilldale had the usual – good foods, dedicated vendors. And kids doing cute things. Oh, and don’t forget the women, who sit all morning long, putting flowers into tight bunches, brimming with the reds of late August. Perfect place, perfect time to daydream.


013 flower bunches, copy 2

But what caught my heart today was this stand, with the organic potato guy’s crates of colorful spuds.

You a photographer? (It’s all relative, isn’t it? I mean: a camera in hand makes one a photographer, no?)
Here, let me make it nicer for you.

He bites off a potato half and displays the vivid purple inside.

009 potatoes, copy

010 purple potatoes, copy

Obviously today’s post will have to be about potatoes.

Purple potatoes, baked in olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt from the Camargue and farmer’s market peppercorns. Served with steamed sweet corn, picked this morning, I’m told. Buttered with chive butter if you wish. But I like it plain. With a glass of chilled Burgundy. Okay, rosé.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

food and words

I vow that I will never take my camera on my daily run to the grocery store again. What’s the point?

It’s an acknowledgement of failure: today, I did nothing more photographically interesting than this: I made my way over to Whole Foods and back.

True, I am in that bubble that puffs first weeks of pretty much anything into greatness. First week of school, of a relationship, of parenting. Oh, now, wait. The first week of parenting was godawful. Didn’t know what I was doing, but whatever it was, it was wrong. The remaining years? Bliss.

That’s the exception. Ususally the beginning is better than the middle and most certainly far more exhilarating than the bitter end. No, no, quit thinking I hate the AARP years (I’m eligible!), I just like the first week of school better than the last one. And the first one of “serious” writing is far far more exciting than the subsequent ones, when I will likely stare at the screen and think bitter thoughts about my life.

So I am on a writing high. It won’t always be thus. (Truthfully, I am thrilled.)

For you, here on Ocean, I have an insignificant photo taken from the driver’s seat (the sky was dramatic, as was photographing it in the midst of horribly impatient traffic), on my way to Whole Foods. There you have it – my day, composed of many hours by my Toshi (doesn't everyone name their computer?) and a handful of minutes in the pursuit of food.

005 sky, copy

Monday, August 20, 2007

cheer up

For those who feel hopelessly slapped down by the weather, I’m with you.

But not really. Rainy days conjure up for me images of desolate beaches and battered cottages where a lightbulb burns late into the night and a crazed writer plunks down another paragraph and then another.

So, in other words, go write a book.

In the alternative, stare at this for a while. It’s been my blast of sunshine for a several days now.


Sunday, August 19, 2007


All night long the sky flashed and the rain hit upon my upturned window. You’d think I’d get up and close it. You’d think.

I had maybe two dozen bursts of sleep, but each fizzled as the sky crashed outside. Like intermittent love, this was torture that messed with you in the worst way: just when you thought all was good, all was calm, the noise and fury would shake you up again. And again. And there was nothing you could do but hope that this was the last time.

By morning, I wanted to call my friend up in St. Paul and tell her to stay home and not visit as planned. This was an act of kindness on my part, since I want to see her. But a drive down in this hateful weather? Too much.

But she had left already, crawling her way through downpours and cloudbursts and every conceivable Midwestern form of rain.

My occasional traveling companion Ed called for an assist – his little red-with-a-washed-out-pink-stripe ‘93 Geo (which some would regard as too good for the junk pile, but he would see as the best form of locomotion this side of the Atlantic) refused to start.

Storms outside disturb the balance within and thus for some asinine reason I found it absolutely necessary to use this moment to list for Ed all improvements we should be making in our lives, over and beyond helping each other jumpstart cars. Amen.

Surely fighting words.

Needless to say, the attempt to inspire us onto paths of greatness failed, which only goes to show that stormy days and nights rarely provide opportunities for enlightened thought and reasoned discourse. They won’t even let you run through a full cycle of sleep, for God’s sake.

Once Ed’s car was up and running, I waved a less than cheerful good bye and made my way to Whole Foods. It is destined to be a one photo kind of day and so I'm leaving you with the best of the day thus far: wet organic basil, standing bravely on wet crates.

002 basil, copy

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Left a daughter in Chicago, returned home. It’s that simple. One day, we sit across the table, both daughters and I and we pass a jug of milk – one puts it on her cereal, one drinks it straight up, one, me actually, splashes it into her coffee – the next day they’re gone and the milk stays inside the fridge and rots. (I don’t use enough to justify the jug.)

The rain is now saturating the landscape. Everywhere. It’s gray and misty and dreary and cold. If I had been condo shopping on a day like this I would have said – forget it! This place is too dark. Except every place is too dark because all of Madison is too dark and you know what? That’s just not a healthy way to be in the weeks just preceding the summer’s end.

And so I write. And I am grateful to all you commenters who said nice things about this enormous project of mine and especially those of you who have vowed to purchase a copy and yes, there will be a copy, only not tomorrow or the next day.

For now, a photo of the final stage of the drive in. See? It’s pretty here, just outside of Madison. Even when the rain falls steadily, with no signs of letting up.

012 copy

Friday, August 17, 2007

it’s a dog’s world

Really it is. Really truly.

But, I started today. Let it be noted: I finally started work on the ungreat un-American unnovel.

Fifty years from now, when it is finally published, posthumously, you all buy it, right?



Thursday, August 16, 2007

long day

No pauses. Work, then a spin down to Chicago for a couple of nights. Traffic. Three double espressos today and still, all I can think of is sleep.

A good meal – I stay awake for that. Il Fiasco, just around the corner. Yes, that is the name and yes, it is good.

A blur of black and white tiles and black and white clothed waiters. A bite of this, of that. Mmm, tasty. Mmmm, sleepy. Poached pears and gorgonzola soufflé. Nice. Staying awake now, for that last bite of chocolate smething or other.

Long day.

010 copy
Il Fiasco waitstaff

poached pears, gorgonzola soufflé

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Finally, it rained. So, that’s what it will be like in a month – wet and cold again. And then colder.

I am on the Square to get a sandwich at Café Soleil. The irony of it.

It is a sacred little spot, full of history. Of warm promises. With fresh and honest everything, set against images of farmland and dill flowers. A place of daydreams.

003 cafe soleil

I leave with my brown paper bag, thinking of the Farmer John’s provolone sandwich with apples, pesto mayo and spinach leaves (that one is for someone else) and the chocolate sand cookie with crystals of salt on top (that one is for me).

The Capitol Square is empty. Almost empty.

004 raining and talking, copy

I take the sandwich home. Home is warm, home is red and brown and golden too. I’ve given up on yellow and blue. Those are Mediterranean colors. In Wisconsin I need red and brown and golden to get me through the grays and blues of the very long winter.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

eating habits

What can I say, it's peculiar. The way we eat, what we eat.

Particularly those who eat upside down, clinging with rear quarters to a tree trunk.

003 eating squirrel, copy

Monday, August 13, 2007


Moving from computer to book to computer, but physically not moving much at all. This often describes my work at home days.

By late afternoon I want that sun on my back and so I walk over for an espresso at the second closest café, the one at Borders.

I approach it from the back, by the railway tracks. So empty here! Where are people? In cars? Indoors? But look how pretty even this very indifferent street corner is!

001 greens, copy

005 greens 2, copy

003 greens 3, copy

To the left, to the right, and looking up, it’s all so multi-toned. When we were studying for the bac in Poland, at the end of high school, the teachers said to us -- take the time to refresh and calm your minds. Go look at green things!

And now in Madison, I am again looking at green things. It was easy in Warsaw (the parks!). It’s easy here, too.

But where is everyone?

I go to the Borders Café. If you’re looking for the men of Madison, they appear to be right here:

007 cafe men, copy

The women? Maybe like in southern Europe, when they are not working, they are hidden within a dense fabric of family life. Maybe. Or, it's all chance and happenstance. Yeah, chance and happenstance.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

café life

A scorcher today. The kind of day where you stay indoors and praise air conditioning (not me, but I can understand the need today). Café tables stand empty outside. Who wants more pan-fired air on a day that already feels over the top… (Me.)

I walked to the farthest grocery store, remembering decades of walking to grocery stores (before I moved to the States, to Wisconsin) and I taddled between the shade and sunlight, liking one and then the other and wondering why there was no one, no one on the sidewalk, beside me.

Toward the end, I stopped at the café closest to my home (Sundance 608) and I just could not understand why it was the way it was: a line of solo café habitués, doing their own thing, saying nothing, listening to no one.

001 reflections on cafe life, copy

I took my double shot of espresso with a splash of the white stuff and left quickly.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Okay, Nina. No more random Saturday market shots. Get a theme. Get a life.

How about this: take photos only of vendors where you buy something and post a photo from each such vendor?

Good challenge.

But, I fail. Pride keeps me from posting a photo from every place of purchase. The “tart lady” (with the heavenly cherry rose cakes) threw me. It is a non-salvageable photo and I absolutely refuse to put it up on flickr, let alone on Ocean. And the photos went mostly downhill from there.

Still, the first part of the challenge is a success. So, here are some of the places where I spent money today (first four: Westside Community Market; next one: Farmers Market on the Square; finally: Unearthed – not a market exactly, but a place where you can pick up old, decoratively restored implements from farms, villages and towns of the Midwest):

014 edamame copy
edamame bunches

030 green copy
all green

037 mushroom man, copy
heirlooms and mushrooms

027 flowers, copy
for my table

045 beets and carrots, copy
at the root of things

055 nozzles, copy
new use for old nozzles

Friday, August 10, 2007

zucchini pies

Preoccupied with making grilled zucchini pizza pies. With lots of olive oil, garlic and fresh oregano. To chase away evil spirits.

See you tomorrow.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

around the lake in 180 minutes

The few times I have been out on Lake Mendota (Madison’s big one) I have regretted it.

The first time, on a kayak, I could not make the damn thing head back against the wind. I was out with my daughter and I thought hard about what punishment should befall me for putting her in danger.

The second time it was with neighbors, on their pontoon. I’m not really sure if it was an honest to goodness pontoon. The thing moved slowly and we drank beer and it was all fun and games until The Storm rolled in and we had to do an emergency bailout by the Union because the waves got to be so overwhelming.

The third time was in a sailboat. It was a group sailing lesson. Two years ago, as I recall. After the first hour I curled up in the belly of the boat (I’m sure it has a different name: everything on a sailboat has a complicated name and you are a total failure if you cannot remember any of it – lives depend on it, I am told). Lying there, I wanted to die. It was a passing thought, but still, you see the pattern here.

Yesterday was my fourth try. On a boat called the Betty Lou. Really.

Initially, the signs were not good. The sky looked dark. The water looked dark.

006 dark waters copy

…the waters got rough.

But, this boat had a belly that held two cheerful mates and they handed out drinks and foods in great quantities and the captain assured us that the storms would not hit before we returned to shore. I was greatly reassured.

It took three hours to spin around the lake. Mostly, views from boat to shore are very ho hum in terms of photography, but with an ever changing sky and a setting sun, you can really get enthralled by it all.


022 capitol from the lake, copy

So the fourth’s a charm. By the end of the evening, I was telling Polish proverb stories and I only tell those if I am completely content, so there you have it.

033 boats on Mendota, copy