Tuesday, June 30, 2009

from the Wisconsin River: paddling toward the Mississippi

We’re a country that believes in the automobile. I understand that. Me, I worship technology in the form of the washing machine (I’ve lived in too many places without one).

I’m less in awe of the car. America's big love affair with the automobile means (among many other things) that if you want to paddle down a river from point A to point B, you better leave a car at point B, so that you can retrieve your stuff where you put in, at Point A. There’s no speedy little train or local bus to take you there.

And so we drive down toward where the Wisconsin meets the Mississippi (our endpoint).

It’s not a heavy use road. And it is quite pretty in a cornfields and barns sort of way. And forward looking.


And there it is – the Mississippi, the river of all rivers, not at all like what you see in that quick dart of an eye as you cross the bridge to the Twin Cities or Dubuque, but here, near Prairie du Chien, it's a wide body of water flowing past vast areas of countryside, with county parks offering boat landings and strips of beach to bring families to on a warm sunny day.


It’s not a warm, sunny day, but it’s not too bad. So far, the rain has been only a threat. We leave a car at the shore and drive back east toward Prairie du Sac.

The road tracks the river, more or less. I’m surprised that there isn’t much of a river life here though. The villages are sleepy things. True, we’re coming through on a work day, but even so, each place looks like we’ve hit the siesta hour big time.

But as we approach our put in point, we join a major road that offers more of Wisconsin commerce. Including our infamous custard place – Culver’s. There’s ice cream and there’s frozen custard. If you have never tried custard, imagine it in this way: ice cream with more of everything – milk, eggs, more milk, more eggs – the glory of a dairy state, with a near butter consistency.

We stop for a cone. Smallest, please. The special of the day!


Chocolate covered strawberry. Heavenly. We share it, wondering how anyone could manage the whole thing, let alone anything larger.

By the time we reach the boat landing, it is late afternoon. We unload. We have an inflatable to assemble. (Ed: I wonder where I put the instructions… must have left them behind) We lay it out. It’s been a while... (Ed: there was a pump for this, wasn’t there?) We make do. We blow and tinker and seal it up and by 4:30, we’re ready to launch.

(the hat belongs to Ed)

A man comes over with his dog. The pooch has been playing in the river and he is full of exuberance. His mud is now my mud as he shakes and romps in and out of the boat.

He just loves boating! How far’re you goin'?
To the Mississippi.
I envy you. My wife, she wont camp more than a night.
I understand her. What is it with men?!
We don’t mind goin’ dirty.
I sure know that…
Just watch out for the sand banks. My friends, they didn’t know about the damn and they woke up to their kayak being on the next island.

We know what he’s telling us – the power plant releases water through the damn irregularly and when it does this, the water level in the river goes up by several feet. If you’re camping on a sandy bank, you may well wind up underwater in the middle of the night. We imagine the power company dudes having a good laugh. Okay – let her flow! Wonder how many innocents we’ll sweep off their beach this time! He he!

The river is deep, the river is wide, heron – lead the way!


Well, not always deep. It’s easy to hit an underwater sandbank and get stuck. Pull me out! – I shout to Ed. Get out yourself, I have my own issues.

At the shore, the herons are laughing. Or dancing. Or mating. Or all the above.


But mostly, the river is easy. True, we have a strong head wind and if we stop paddling, oftentimes we appear to be going against current, but mostly, it is a gentle ride. And a beautiful one.


By 7:30, we’re on the lookout for a camp spot. The requirements? Low to pull in, but with higher ground (in case the river level rises). We pick an island – one of the many on the river.


We haul the boats out and settle in. I’m grateful that the rain held off. And the wind has dispersed the bugs. We sit on the beach and eat our baguette with cheese and tomato. Okay, the bread is made by a Frenchman (from la Baguette!), but the cheese is Hook’s Bloomin' Idiot and the tomatoes are homegrown.


Monday, June 29, 2009

from Prairie to golden Prairie

We’re setting out, Ed and I. We’re putting in kayaks just at the hydroelectric damn by Prairie du Sac. Ninety miles later, we’ll be at the other Prairie – Prairie du Chien. The Wisconsin River ends there, spilling all its waters into the great Mississippi.

How many days? Don’t know. We’ll camp at sandbars and go into villages along the way to fill up on Wisconsin foods and Wisconsin beer. We’ll use public libraries to plug in and I’m hoping we’ll stay above water this time. There are no rapids along this wide and lazy stretch of the river.

The weather is okay. Cool. Showers maybe. Bugs? Yes, I hear there are bugs. But, if you’re in the mood to lose yourself in life along the riverbanks, you can’t have it in any other way.

A final check of my gear, a nudge for Ed to put down the magazine… It’s all rather like a lyric out of a Simon & Garfunkel.

So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

In our case, he has the magazine, I have my casebook of landmark decisions on property rights. Off on this week leading up to July 4th. We should be on the Mississippi on July 4th. It seems fitting to be doing this now.

All gone to look for America...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

oh, Madison

Every parent knows that a child can make you look at the world in a better way. I’ll add this – the child’s age is irrelevant. Adult kids are equally omnipotent: they’ll push you to recognize how gorgeous it all is.

It helps when you have a beautiful day out there to add vim and sparkle to an already lovely early summer landscape.

We take Ed up on his offer to go sailing. He’s got a tiny boat here – one that really isn’t fit for passengers, but we think it may work for a quick spin around Lake Waubesa.

The winds are gusty, the sky is clear.

Ed riggs the boat.


We help. We're the cheering squad.



Even at the dock, the boat is tossed around as if it were an insignificant pea on the waters of an ocean. Up goes the mast, down goes the boat; Ed rights it and down it goes again. And so on.

Go ahead, try it out on the open water – I tell him.


The wind kicks in, Ed hikes out to keep it from going down. The wind shifts, the boat goes down.

Meanwhile, daughters can’t get over how good life is out here, in Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Waubesa.


Ed’s back. Too much of a gust. Not fit for sailing with a crew. That’s okay. One daughter takes the kayak out, the other one helps take down the sail.

And now it’s time to haul the boats out and call it a day. I want to fix a Sunday supper before the last bus takes them to Chicago.

We pluck the first raspberries and sour cherries at Ed’s farmette and head home. And did I mention how gorgeous it all is out here? Absolutely beautiful.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


They’re a big deal to me. Not only because they put me in touch with the people who generate great foods, but because they come closest to providing community in a country that has too much of rather soulless commerce. At the market I can exaggerate the significance of my connection to a local grocer, baker or cheese maker. I feel they're my neighbors. (Almost.)

Of course, I switched markets when I moved. From downtown, to the Westside Community Market ("WCM"). And so my loyalties shifted. It was like meeting a new city of bakers, growers and cheesemakers. It was a tough transition.

When I occasionally go back downtown (like when daughters are in town...),


... I recognize some of the longtime vendors and we talk about growing children and the sighting of the first swarms of mosquitoes. Like old friends. (Sort of.)

Yes, all that’s interesting, you say. But are the foods any better there, downtown? Or at the WCM?

The answer is, of course, that the foods are fantastic at both.

Though I have to say this – the downtown market has cut flowers that don’t run out by the time we get there. And they are magnificent. And long lasting.



Markets need flower stalls. It just cannot be that a dining table has to rely on supermarket flowers to carry you through the week.

So I’ll grant the downtown market the flowers. And cheese curds: not only can you sample many, many different curds (so Wisconsin!), but you can feast on grilled curds every single time you pass this stall.


People watching? Oh, the same at both markets. Less crowded, the WCM lets you stretch out a little more. On the other hand, there are fewer people to watch. No kids on a bench, for example, eating market cookies.


Okay, but really, when you have a local market, you don’t compare it to the one in the old neighborhood. And you don’t cheat and run out for bread at your old bakers. You stay loyal. And I did. I bought no peas, no berries, no garlic scapes. I passed on the tomatoes, the sprigs of mint, the first potatoes.

But I did bring home flowers. Heavenly bunches of sweet peas and bouquets of white peonies and daisies.



Friday, June 26, 2009


It’s so uniformly green now. Days of green. Wisconsin green. Uninterrupted green.

If this day looks different from a previous or the next one, it’s only because I will have seen a friend (passing through Wisconsin, stopping for breakfast here, in Madison)…


…in green, of course, against the background of a green couch.

Or I will have read one too many cases or, more likely, one too few.

Today is also a day of summer waiting, of the best kind, on beds of flowers, with bare toes ruffling the clover…


Me, I'm waiting for daughters to pop in for the week-end, before their work forces them to go back to their lawyerly duties elsewhere.

They haven’t seen much of the spring and summer green that I almost take for granted here. They are thoroughly urban – a field of tall grasses and tiger lilies is a surprise, a delight, as if this kind of stuff doesn’t happen just anywhere, as if this indeed is Wisconsin – the greenest loveliest state of them all.

Given this summer of gentle greens and warm nights, I have coaxed Ed into a brief road trip into the very core of the state (and at the same time, into the heart of America or Americana or both) – but without the road. Oh, but that’s not until next week. For now, I’m sitting back, waiting, looking up at the clock, wanting the daughters to step off that bus now and show up with their grins, taking in the green stuff here, up north, in Madison Wisconsin.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

car day

In the course of an ordinary day, I do not come even close to the inside of a car. Today, therefore, was most extraordinary, in an ordinary sort of way.

Ed’s 93 Geo finally required mechanical intervention. I think Ed believes this little clump of rusted metal is like an old person – crinkled and tattered on the outside but full of vim and spark once you poke around a little. So, the mechanic poked and aligned and pronounced it ready for the next spell.

I motorbiked with Ed to pick it up. (Looking around the garage, I could understand why the mechanic does well with Ed's aging cars.)


Ed then roared home (all motorcycles, in my mind are loud; even his tiny Honda -- which is so small, that his knees poke up when he’s on it, as if this was merely a toy, leftover from boyhood), while I drove the Geo back to the condo to pick up my bicycle. From there, I drove on to the farmette where Ed and I spent time spiffing up and making adjustments to my daughters’ 93 Corolla (daughters are coming for a brief week-end visit) and cleaning out the 93 Geo as well. Two wrecks to work with. Fun.

When it was time to bike, Ed remembered that he had left his bike at the condo. And so I drove the Corolla home.

I write this because I felt so depleted zipping from one place to another by car. And I wondered why this was the case.

Indeed, I asked myself -- if I had a car and loved it (say a Smart or a Mini C), would I feel differently about driving? I don’t know. The only car I ever loved was my first – an old Volvo that I purchased when I was a student. That car spelled freedom from the city (I lived in Chicago then). I drove it to Wisconsin, many times. And to New York. And to Canada. I drove it until it dropped oil at the speed of a salad dressing pouring out of a bottle. All subsequent cars were modestly priced and terribly functional. Nothing to love, nothing to pamper.

And now? I find city driving boring. I find highway driving even more boring. Even if I had cash spilling out of my pocket at the speed of that very same salad dressing, why would I spend it on moving along corridors of boredom?

Wait. Was this my day? A drive from one corner of Madison to the next and back again, twice over?

No no. In between, Ed and I put up more photos at my favorite café. (Ancora in Fitchburg, if you are curious. I love their space, their patio and their enthusiasm; the coffee’s wonderful as well.) And now we’re done with that. The photos will be there for three months. Don’t rush to see them – most have made an appearance on Ocean at one time or another. But I have to say, it is beyond cool to sit at one’s favorite café and look up at a photo of sheep from the Isle of Skye. Hi sheep! Here you are now. In Fitchburg, Wisconsin.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

staying hot

As a kid, here’s what I was told: if it’s hot outside, you eat hot soup. And wear dark clothes. Ever see older women in Sicilian households? There’s a reason they’re not feeling faint in the heat of the scorching sun. They’re not sipping iced lattes and eating delicate salads. They’re wearing black and downing heaping bowls of pasta in bubbling tomato sauce.

I think that some person in an authoritative position was just trying to get me to eat a bowl of soup, but I have sort of bought into the mindset of not fighting the heat.

So that when the heat index yet again spiked into the 100 degree range, I’m thinking -- it’s time to make Tuscan beans in a summery tomato ragu.

And, for an afternoon break from reading cases, I bike over for a good, hot coffee. (I draw the line on black clothing. The world is too full of women in black. I want my sundresses to get their brief airing.) The café is quiet – a few souls lost behind computer screens, a pair sipping an afternoon glass of wine, a handful of coffee lovers, a scattering of empty tables.


I catch up with a friend who has been away even more than I have, and I get back on my bike. A few more stirs to the ragu. It needs a baking period still. Into the oven it goes.


We sit down to eat. I fill a tumbler with wine and glance over at the thermometer outside – 93. Not too bad.

Could it be that, somewhere along the way, I picked up a drop of Sicilian blood? It would explain so much.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

everyone’s talking about it

It’s in the headlines. In everyone’s greeting – so hot today! So incredibly hot!

Oh… yes, it’s toasty warm! I’m walking to run errands and I feel my legs burning under the heat of the afternoon rays.

No… not complaining, not even a tiny bit. Feeling warm all over, without the oppressive fear that this will continue for a long time (because it never does, here in Wisconsin), walking outdoors across tracks and routes that caused me to shiver not too many months ago – nice!!!

Even as I continue to bemoan the empty spaces around me. Yes, of course it’s hot. Not that hot! Step outside! Grab a cool drink and sit out in the lovely café patios!

Well, alright, most of the café patios here look out on parking lots, but still, there are ones that can please the senses! This one’s pretty, for example. Even though it’s sadly empty.


I remember seeing cafés in Rome during an equally hot handful of days. Full. Hard to find an empty seat. Some had outside mist hoses, to keep things just that much cooler. But, so long as there was a spec of shade, people congregated outdoors. Come out of your caves, you cold-loving Wisconsinites! It’s beautiful and bright and, unfortunately, so very ephemeral.

Yesterday I met a graduate student at the Law School. He’s visiting for a few months (originally he’s from Poland, but he studies elsewhere right now) and I tell him he’s picked a fine time to be in Madison.

Oh, I know! When we at [the School where he is currently studying] pick our exchange programs, generally we pick them by when our choice classes are offered. But the word is that you pick Wisconsin for the good season.

It is the good season!

I walk down to a strip mall to return a video. And speaking of people, and stripped people no less, these young women are down to almost nothing. You can do this in Madison. We’re not prim here.


At the grocery store, I pick up some herring for supper (along with ingredients for a corn, tomato and scallion salad). Hmmm. Fifteen minute walk home… How does herring feel about waves, record breaking heat waves? The store throws some ice on it, just to be safe.

On my walk home, the ice never even melts. See? Not that hot!

Monday, June 22, 2009

inside the box

You could say that I am not an inside-the-box type. It’s not that I don’t adhere to convention (Ed more properly sees himslef as being outside the box of conventional etiquette). It’s just that I often clutter my palette with an odd mix of things. I never worry if I am a little unpredictable. Out of step with the rest of the pack.


For instance, within one travel month, I’ll sleep on a New York upstate floor, in a crisp white room of a lovely hotel in Rome, in a tent along the Great Glen Way in Scotland. That’s not so unusual? Okay, try this: in the course of my adult (American) life, I have rarely taken on just one job. Sure, there’s the parenting plus teaching thing (two jobs right there!), but in addition and without interruption to the principals, I’ve run a travel business, sold photographs, worked in restaurants, started a Great Writing Project, etc etc. And of course – blogged.

It could happen that I will eventually slow down. But, my life has always been chaotic in this way. Cluttered. Something to do with healthy energy levels and not much love for TV.

So it should come as no surprise that I am considering a week-end/evening moonlighting stint once again. As state budgets sag, I want to believe that I wont sag as well. Travel is expensive. Selling photos is fabulous, but it wont purchase a railfare across France let alone an airplane ticket across the ocean.

I’ll say more once I make decisions as to what and where. But I've already learned this much in my years of multiple work: when I do more than one full time job, only one can be cerebral. The other, therefore, has to be reasonably mindless.

I view it as my obligation to row my own boat to financial stability. Relying on someone to do it for me is not the way to get to where I want to be (even as it does appear to work for some).


But here’s the real reason for the post title which, after all, is about things inside the box. Because sometimes, what’s inside the box is better than outside the box. And the moral of my (brief) story is that, now and then, revisiting old ideas is a good thing. They may show off something quite fresh.

So here is my comment on real boxes:

It took me a while to believe that wine could be a delicious accompaniment to a meal. As a new immigrant, I moved from a country that had horrible stuff on the shelves – Bulgarian wines of the lowest quality where common. They could turn a healthy stomach into a jungle of pain in no time. Other wines? Rare and expensive.

In the States, I initially sampled wines sold at a Chicago Walgreens (or some such convenience store). They came in boxes. I learned to like beer.

Eventually, married and therefore significantly more sophisticated (at the ripe age of 23), I discovered a wonderful cheese and wine store in Hyde Park. It was uphill to bliss thereafter.

Since those years, I have never seriously considered purchasing a boxed wine.

Until this year. In Paris. I had already purchased four bottles to take home with me. Things were getting heavy and pricey. Ed asks – why aren’t you taking this home – pointing to a box of rosé.
You will never get me to pour wine from a box. Ever.
Why not?
It can’t be good.

It’s the same one you just put in your shopping cart. See the bottle? Same domaine, same wine.

And so I brought the box home. Once open to the idea, I began to look around. At my local supermarket, a whole stack of boxed wines came with favorable reviews from the Wine Spectator.

All this to say that now, my refrigerator contains these:


I’ll not dismiss boxed wines again. For the summer dinner table, they are a heavenly solution to the shrinking budget and growing appetite for something other than what you would pick up at Trader Joe’s. Or "Walgreen's."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father’s Day

The only difference between fatherhood and motherhood is that one is exclusive to men and the other to women, right? Yes, of course, one does a set of tasks, the other does another set of tasks, but however they are set, they do not ignore the fact that there are children out there and contributions to their welfare must be made.

Yet, over time, we have constructed such differences between the two, that each has claimed a day for her or himself in the calendar of important celebrations. It's not about parenting. It's about being a mother. And, in June, a father.

Here’s the thing – in my growing up years, I never thought much about Father’s Day. Honestly, I don’t believe it even marked a post-war Poland calendar page. Mother’s Day? Of course! And soon after (June 1st), Children’s Day. Both celebrating the challenge of the entire project of growing up (raising a child, in the case of mothers). Fathers had nothing.

In the States, I adapted. Father’s Day? Okay! It seems only fair. We celebrate both. Cool. That and the 4th of July.

Ed has been skeptical. Not a parent himself (indeed, I would guess that 90% of his friends aren’t parents; it’s as if they found each other early on and said – you too, eh?), he admires those who choose parenting over nonparenting, but he doesn’t get the holiday fuss.

So, what do you do on Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day)?
You go out and eat.
Do you want to go out and eat today?
It’s Father’s Day. We wouldn’t be able to get a table. Everyone else is eating out.

Still, in the early afternoon, we go to a local Tex-Mex place that also happens to have excellent espresso drinks (Pasqual’s). We find a table, read the local paper. He eats his huevos rancheros, I drink my latte.

I glance over at another table. Dad, mom, two kids.


Happy Father’s Day. You, all you dad types, you deserve a heck of a great day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Faint strains of highland music make their way to the balcony. A bee is pushing at the yellow stamens of the rose. It’s become a routine: outdoors, granola with berries and kefir, a foamy coffee and bagpipes. Next week it may be folk and the week after – Italian. I have a very eclectic taste in music. But I am predictable in at least one thing: each year, I look forward to this day. And today, its beauty hit an A+ level. How many times can that happen in a lifetime?

5:19. I’m on the rooftop. Not alone. A fellow resident says – you almost missed it.
But I didn’t! I woke up without prodding, without alarm and now here I am, looking at the beginning of our longest day.


To make it perfect: what do you need to make the first day of summer, the longest day perfect?

I only need the hours of daylight. But if you’re throwing in goodies, I'll take a clear sky. And a day away from work. And some semblance of art and nature and and..

Oh, I'm too demanding!

But wait. There’s more. Regional seasonal, regional seasonal. Something to do with food?

Yes! This year the longest day, the first day of summer is not only brilliant and bright and warm and without work impediments, but it’s also market day.

For only the second time this year (I’ve been away), I go down to the Westside Community Market.




It’s the season of favorites (so short here in Wisconsin!). I fill our basket. I would fill it more, but I’m remembering the roadside stand that we want to support.


And because it’s June 20th, having done all that – up with the sun, gym time, market time, breakfast time, shower time – all that time and still, I'm finding that it’s quite early.

The day sweetly extends itself. It’s longer by virtue of its daylight, but also by virtue of its brilliant skies.

Ed and I hang my photos at a favorite café. And we play tennis. And we zip around on the old motorbike, with a newly installed front fender.


And we do a yoga class. And I prepare a cusp of spring (or is it already summer?) meal.


And still, it’s light outside.

Oh, go ahead, Tell me you don’t care. Daylight, moonlight – what difference does it make? Today, Ed slept during portions of the day I would called “peak time!” He doesn’t function with an internal clock, nor with a sense of what’s up time and what’s sleep time. (For example, he dozed the last ten minutes of yoga. I suppose meditation and sleep aren’t that far apart.) And maybe you’re the same?

For me, daylight counts. A lot.

The sun set at 8:41. It wasn’t a stellar sunset. I stayed indoors. Too much food and yoga, in conflict with each other. Still, I'll think of it as it was -- a beautiful longest day. I'll dream about it come winter.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Most people don’t like sudden change. Seems violent. No time to adjust. Gradual’s good.

Today though, I’ll stay on the side of flash, immediate transformation. For instance, the tube in my nose is history. And, like post childbirth, all memories of disability and discomfort are forgotten. (True, I don’t have a baby to fuel my joy, but that’s okay: I don’t think I want to be a mommy to a newborn right now.) Why do we think of change as a negative? Quick improvements are life’s icing!

Still, on days like this, you have to be troubled by the suddenness. For example, we had storms today. Out of nowhere.

Last night's sky flashed repeatedly for us, and the morning came on gloomy: humid and wet. I left my daughters’ car out so that it would get a good wash.

Evening? Same thing.

But in between, I went to my favorite café to study the space where I’m to hang my photos this week-end. You may remember that my favorite café is actually just outside Madison. So I pass fields of corn to get there.

Would you guess this to be the stormiest day of the season thus far?


Thursday, June 18, 2009

horses, goats and chickens

My family will vouch for this: I was obsessed with organic foods (or at a minimum, fresh and honest foods) and an athletic lifestyle way before either became trendy here. I wanted to age in good health. I had had enough of poor health in my early years.

It paid off. I am a horse in strength and a goat in nimbleness (and a chicken on high mountain tops, but that’s another story) and if I have anything to say about it, I’ll never need a pill sorter to keep my meds straight by the time I turn completely forgetful.

Still, the first quarter century of life has taught me to be vigilant about signals of potential problems. Perhaps too vigilant. I never ignore anything. And I like information.

So that when this spring, my doc told me I should have this one little organ within me measured for performance, I said – sure!

The measuring of it requires that I walk around with a tube up my nose (and then some) for 24 hours. Initially, I thought – no big deal. I’ll even teach with this. It will make ‘em look up.

But in April, I chickened out at the last minute (remember – at heart, a chicken). And put it off until now, when I don’t especially have to show my face anywhere if I don’t want to.

This morning, the tube went in. (Amazing how many things a tiny tube can record! All that information!)

And all I want to do is sit on my couch and count the hours until it’s time for it to come out again. And why not. I have an occasional traveling companion who should be happy to run errands for me while I hibernate.

Ed, I need several rental movies and a whole bunch of foods to get me through this.
Nina, you’re coming with me to pick what you want.
Ed, I am not showing up in public with a tube up my nose, strapped to my face, attached to a huge machine.
Nina, no one will notice.

Of course he’s wrong. I look awful. Indeed, in the grocery store, I am given priority at the meat counter. Probably to move me along out of compassion. I want to announce – I’ll wait my turn! I am not sick! I’m just measuring things!

You could say that I am learning what it’s like to have a disability, but I’ll answer that I already know what it’s like to be weak and incapacitated. Remember – I was once a sickly little thing. I don’t need another lesson.

Ed of course, finds the entire medical complex hugely fascinating. He doesn’t himself interact much with it. I offer insights into a world that is quite unfamiliar to him.

So, are you bothered by all this? – he asks.
Of course!
Yep, like I always said -- better to fall off a cliff.
Oh, I didn’t know that these are our choices in life – cliff, or tubes up your nose for a day.

We go back to the condo, I sip a latte through a straw and I think – good thing that I went to the gym before dawn today. I wouldn’t be able to put in my 50 minutes with this thing strapped to me. Now, please pass me the blueberries. Rich in antioxidants.

In the evening, I cook up a stew. I want the distraction of cooking.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

rich thoughts

There is such wealth to summer days! I think of good weather as being up there with money – neither can make you happy, but to have a good amount of either (or both!) most certainly makes life much smoother.

Living in the north – before in Poland, now in Wisconsin, and being employed by the state (and on a “mommy track” no less), I haven’t an overabundance of either, but so far this spring/summer, I’m feeling pretty “glass is half full” about life.

And so when I woke up several days ago with a sore throat, I thought to myself: this cannot be. I don’t get bugs (except for ticks in the Highlands). Maybe a sniffle every couple of years. In November. Not flu-ish viruses. Not now.

Wait. Didn’t Ed flip a coin? Wasn’t it the case that if I were to have flu symptoms, it would, by reason of the coin toss, lead me to suspect Lyme disease?

I call my doctor’s office. (I swear, the nurse has a bored voice when she calls me back. As if she wants to ask – where has your imagination taken you now?)

Nina, she tells me, go to Urgent Care.

Oh, I know what she is really saying: don’t trouble us here. Go bother the people over at Urgent. They’re having a slow day.

I go to Urgent. By now, I think my throat is exploding. In the minutes when it’s not feeling perfectly fine.

At Urgent, I’m given a mask. Flu symptoms require it. I want to tell them that we flipped a coin and there is, therefore, no chance that I have Swine Flu, but I don the mask and stay quiet. I note that the mask smells of something that detergents would call “fresh scent.” I wish it would just smell of paper.

I sit and wait. I am not urgent. Indeed, when all my vitals are recorded, I think they believe me to be as strong as a giant. I look healthy. I feel healthy. (Except for the soar throat.)

An hour later, the doctor comes in. We chat about ticks, Scotland, viruses. She looks at my throat. Vitamin C. You need lots of Vitamin C.

I’m glad that there are still placebos out there that you can offer to people like me.

I skip the Vitamin solution. I mean, I feel great.

Owen Woods, just a mile down the road from me

The weather is summer weather. I walk outside and think – weather and good health. Forget about the money part. You got good weather and good health – you should be happy.

I am.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

vegetables and other matters

With time, I’ll not compare my hours now with my hours last week, or the weeks before. I wont remember that I had too many photos and too many stories for Ocean then and not enough time to give them a thorough airing.

But right now, I still remember and I compare.

How can it be otherwise? I go out to the grocer’s and I take my camera, but I am not inclined to use it. Street scenes? Not here. Not outside my grocery store anyway. It’s a parking lot. The entire commercial scene here is a massive parking lot.

Oh, there are three tables. For those who need to pause between the door of the store and their car in the lot. Or something.


When not shopping for food, I’m working. My course, yes, there’s that, but I'm also getting photos up and ready for a café exhibition. I’m happy with this, because it will be at my favorite place for coffee this side of Ohio. [More on this later.]

And I’m biking again. That’s good. I like my bike paths. (By comparison, Parisian bike paths suck, and Rome’s bike routes are suicidal.) And I notice that my city is creating huge incentives for bikers. Did you know about the discounts all around town for those who show up with their bike helmets on? And we're not unique! Fourteen states have these! (Click here for more info.)

My balcony has flowers now. I eat breakfast there and stare out at the parking lot and think – it’s better to look out at a quiet parking lot than a street full of traffic, no? I mean, cafés on busy streets are way overrated, no?


No. Miss ‘em.

Even though I love smelling my balcony rosebush.

And I’m so pleased to be cooking up a supper that has vegetables. Seasonal vegetables that are not limp broccoli. Scotland, you have to tackle vegetables next, okay?


Monday, June 15, 2009

mail drift

I haven’t seen my mail for over a month. Not even in the three days that I have been back. Somehow no one seems to know where it is.

This “no mail” state has me in a drifting mood. As if normal life hasn’t quite picked up yet. (Even as I’ve both unpacked and started the laborious task of outlining a new course for next year.)

As always after a return, I wake up early. I think about calls that need to be made and I wait until the world wakes up and I can start hassling it again. For instance, at 8:30, I called my doctor, found out she is on vacation, talked to a substitute and discussed the ticks Ed and I found all over us after an unfortunate romp in a field that seemed to be their Scottish headquarters. (We did not encounter ticks after that day.)

Yes, pulling them out with your nails is fine, so long as you don’t tear them apart. Pretty small down up there, aren’t they…You think you got them all? Come talk to me if you’re feeling feverish or sick.

I ask Ed if I were feeling feverish or sick, should I worry about Lyme disease or Swine Flu (Britain has a number of cases). We tossed a coin. Heads you worry about Lyme, tails – flu. The coin showed heads.

For recreation, I pulled more Texas weeds (a reference to their size) at Ed’s farmette until I realized that the man himself was reclining and I was using a diverse set of muscles to clear his land.

We took a coffee break and then went back to the strawberry stand to buy two more lovely boxes of berries. We wanted to tell the seller that she was underpricing the whole lot of them ($2 per quart for yesterday’s pick), but she seemed not to speak English well and so we just smiled and said thank you many times.

Ed can eat a quart of strawberries at a sitting. I returned the empty containers later in the day and talked for a while to the dad who first started tilling the land here two years ago. Great berries! Selling at the markets yet? We can only go to two markets each week and one is very far away. We have more to sell than that. We do better here.


In the evening, I drift in and out of work, pausing occasionally to pick a weed. And to smell the lavender – a flower that I planted here several years back because it always reminds me of travel.