Thursday, September 30, 2010

a thought

Do people choose places at cafés near artwork depicting people who resemble them? Or at least dress like them?



I didn’t really stay at this coffee shop – I was merely accompanying someone who was picking up an iced tea, but it struck me that we really strive to hang close to (images of) people who are in even the most superficial ways like us.

Which makes me completely befuddled (not bothered, merely befuddled) as to why I would have as an occasional traveling companion someone who thinks working on a John Deere tractor does not require a change of clothing afterwards. You know --- for dinner, or for an evening with his traveling (occasionally at least) buddy.

We are on the couch now, ostensibly watching a clip on nut production (he likes these clips, I like, instead, movies that make me laugh or cry -- either one), but really not paying attention, as he is asleep and I am posting. He is in his post John Deere garb, I am in my post teaching three classes garb. We look very mismatched.

But we both are drawn to a good baguette and a perfectly ripened apricot, so that counts for something, no?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Think beautiful fall day. Nothing more nothing less. Library Mall's cleaned up and quiet, especially between classes. A person here, a person there, bikes in racks,or leaning against lamp posts, leaves turning, still warm though, very warm...


Walk home late, in near evening light. A glance up at Picnic Point, so pretty now, in the pale colors of early fall. Breathe deeply, exhale.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Hard to believe, but I am that. A virgin. Or so I was told last week and I’ll admit that it was doubly true today.

I had gone in to see my doc last week about a progressively dysfunctional shoulder. Perhaps you have such a shoulder? Not yet frozen but heading there? Her reaction  – start therapy! Immediately! Then she asks -- have you ever done PT? No... I say, ashamed. A right of passage into adulthood that has passed me by. Ah! A PT virgin! -- my doc proclaims.

Tuesdays are heavy teaching days for me – three classes, back to back, and even though I can no longer erase much of the blackboard with my right arm (yes, when it goes, it goes!) I postpone the visit with the PT (whom I would prefer to think of as a Personal Trainer – it sounds so much more athletic and that's not really a long shot, as he works out of the Sports Clinic) until late in the day.

Which is why I bike frantically (not frantically enough to put away the camera) to campus in the morning...


Then bike frantically back to the west side for my session with the PT... pull arm this way, stretch it that way, no, keep it at an angle...

...and then it’s time for the decision: bike back to campus?

Obama is to deliver a speech at the UW late today. Should I bike all the way down, even as chances of getting anywhere near the podium now, close to five, are so small, especially since the line to gain entry to Library Mall (place of the event)  has been snaking and waiting for miles, since three in the afternoon?


I think back and try to recall if I have ever witnessed the live presence of a president in my life. No, I have not. (A presidential sighting virgin!) I do vaguely recall handing flowers to Nikita Kruschev as he stepped off the plane on a visit to New York in the 60s, but that was entirely spurred by my parents’ preoccupation with a certain brand of politics then, and of course, he was not really a president, let alone this country's president.

And so I turn back and bike furiously back to campus. It’s now nearly five and I think I don’t have a chance of making it inside the privileged space where only about 15,000 will congregate (the spillover crowd will go to Bascom Hill where you can't see beans).

And lo, the line has shortened and I just make it inside.

And although the viewing options are terrible, I have enough Polish squeeze in me to get a spot where I can actually witness the sea of humankind before me...



...and more importantly, I can see this...


(and so can the men with weapons, from the roof of our library...)


Ahhh, to listen to the vibe of a different world than the one you read about in the everyday!


My viewing spot is not especially amidst students (even though students dominate the event I am told). I have a mother and child to one side, a grandma and daughter, a single old guy, and because we are a generous bunch, we allow a running mix of people from down there to join us up at the platform for a minute or two, just to see the guy. We extend our arms and we pull ‘em up and then they dutifully go down again and the next one comes up. To see the president.


Dusk sets in. The event draws to an end and we all disperse.  I bike home hurriedly, out of habit. It's been such a long day.


I am part of a mass exodus from a campus that has for the first time in my lifetime hosted an American president. Big deal, right?

Well, actually, it was kind of a big deal.

Monday, September 27, 2010

for the beauty...

And so finally I bike to work.


Ohhhh, I needed that. The slap in the face. Cold air. A reminder: this is how it is.

Flowers of September. I don’t remember there being so many asters here in the past! Does it change, along the shores of Lake Mendota? You mean things change? Oh, why didn't I think that before?

After classes I’m heading toward State Street for coffee. Preparations for tomorrow: it has been sixty years since an American president has visited the UW campus. Tomorrow, Obama arrives to speak here.


It’s not clear that I can actually witness this (more on that tomorrow), but today, I’m able to see how quickly a campus transforms itself into a secure zone. Suddenly our laidback Library Mall, where young men cavort in shorts and t-shirts almost year round, is dotted with small groups of a different type.


Men in somber suits and ties. They’re everywhere.


I bike home quickly. It's cool and I have work to do. And I want to take some time this evening just to think and mull.

At home, I put on music to help me with this and of course, it does just the opposite. I lose myself in the songs of years ago -- I'm sure everyone has their own cache. Would it surprise you to know that mine jumps the range from pop, to musical, to jazz, to classical and especially choral? Tonight was a choral night.

I set my internal alarm for an early wake up and toddle off to try for at least some basic number of hours of sleep.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

spent stalks and old leather

Soy and corn... however we feel about this Wisconsin farmland staple, it sure makes for pretty fall colors.


Old barns, old farmsteads. Think of it: there was once a family farm – maybe owned by the Larsons, and then there was another – call it that of the Lalors. And they flourished and they prospered and before you know it, all land around you belonged to the Larsons or the Lalors.

What do I know about it? No, nothing at all. Just this much: one Lalor family member lived in an old house until she was in her nineties... Here, she lived, so far as I know, alone, here:


(Though her nephew lived just across the road. A Lalor in the land of Larsons.)

She died some half dozen years ago, but the house still stands, as does the barn.


With everything inside as you would imagine it must have been at the time that they raised cattle and kept horses.




That was a long long time ago. You can tell just fingering the bits and pieces of old leather...


These are the folks that are (more or less) Ed’s neighbors. Within a stone’s throw of his farmette (where the barn is still standing though just barely).

In the Lalor barn, there are old corn cobs left from when animals dumped them on the wooden planks. And shit. There’s badger shit. Or some such animal droppings.

Surely many Wisconsin animals have made homes of the old barns that offer nothing more beyond shelter for the truly needy.

Nearly evening. I drive past a prairie field of gold and purple. Interspersed with spent stalks of something once beautiful but now so very close to moribund.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

by the wayside

You cannot do it all. And if you think you can do even just most of it, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and your mind will start racing and scheming, and before you know it, the darkness outside will turn into a golden light, touching momentarily the tree by your bedroom window.

I will miss that tree at sunrise (when I eventually move out of the condo).


You have to let go of things. With a shrug of indifference. Can’t fret. So you didn’t make it to the market until nearly noon, so what. There’s plenty to choose from at the tail end of the market morning.


And that’s one fine box of strawberries. Lonely there, on the table, but still delicious.


On the other hand, you can’t neglect the important things. Remember how my bike dominates my outdoor commute for a good part of the year? (Even as each year, I define the “good part” less generously...) Well, I’ve not had the time to replace the flat and so the bike has been hunched in its disabled state for three months. And sure enough, when I finally attended to it early this morning, it showed me how badly damaged it really was. Flat tire, yes, that. Add to it a missing screw here, a dysfunctional derailleur there....

Unfortunately I find this out just at the time I am to meet my daughter and her friend for a bike ride. A dozen miles to Ed’s farmette, another thirteen looping back.

Neglected bike – I let you down and now you’re showing your hurt and bewilderment.

I’m sorry.

We tweak this and that and I’m off. The three big gears are frozen, but the little ones still work. That’s okay. You can’t do it all, you can’t do it all...

And it is a lovely ride. I’ll just(!) post five photos, but a convincing fivesome, I think. My world is a painting and I don't need a brush to prove it.






I'll attend to the larger bike issues soon, really I will. Maybe.

Friday, September 24, 2010

traveling companions and pumpkins

I’m sitting here listening to Ed read about the moog synthesizer. I don’t really know what it is and arguably, I’m not better off knowing anything about it. But Ed’s voice can be soothing when he reads snippets of what he considers to be interesting information out there.

I think about how odd it must be to one looking in on this association that I have with my occasional traveling companion. The moog synthesizer story is one of several I am likely to hear that I would not have tuned into otherwise.

And, by the end of the moog run, I will know a lot about moog – and then, too, how there is something about the manufacture airplane components (the F-35 joint strike fighter – joint, Ed explains, because many countries have a piece of it), and how they have their headquarters in New York...

They bought one of our machines – he tells me. (Ed is a partner in a CNC milling machine business.)

I tell a friend today over coffee that I am happy. Creaky shoulder and unsold condo notwithstanding. Of course, this is before Ed tells the waiter at the restaurant where we go with my daughter and her friend -- ok, never mind, you really don’t want to know what he said.

Ed is Ed. Once you accept that, you can continue.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

pizza and time

The wind cavorted with such power and speed that any loose item left outside was surely lifted and carried elsewhere. Not that I would notice. The day was chock full of work, then Gino eating and finally the kind of karaoke that feels good only after a long week of too little play.

On the way to my evening of small group socializing (last week I partied with one set, this week it’s the other’s turn) I came across a pizza eating contest. UW students, downing pizza at record speed.


I thought how my family considers me to be a speed eater, but even so, I would probably gag and come in last at a pizza eating contest. You can’t do things you love well if someone points a gun at you and demands perfection.

Which is why blogging should never happen three minutes before the clock strikes midnight. And when it does, you feel so sincerely sorry that you haven’t the energy to do better. But there you have it: press "publish" just seconds before the clock says you’re out of time and you are officially into the next day.

Each day has only twenty-four hours. You cannot change that, no matter how much you may wish it weren't so.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

daughters and winecaps

A student comes to see me during office hours. We talk about many things, including her long term plans. I want to return to my family, in California -- she tells me.

Part of me thinks it could be the weather. Sacramento versus Madison after all. But the larger part of me knows better.

We are a mobile society. We expect our kids to move, chase the career opportunities, relocate with their spouse, relocate again.

A friend once said to me – I’d go and live where my daughter and her husband live, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay there.

And so my heart melts when a student tries so hard to beat the professional odds and slowly make her way home...

...because I know that when our kids do return, all’s right with the world again.

Hello, daughter one, on State Street, on a coffee break...


Hello, daughter two, on State Street, after work...



Ed came over with winecaps tonight. Homegrown, on woodchips. We sautéed them in butter and guess what? Two hours later, I am still alive to tell you about it.


Yes, when you’re in Wisconsin and you hear the clatter of hooves, you think – cows. Not elephants. My obstetrician once said that to me (before he abandoned his practice, sold all and went off to forever sail the seas of the Caribbean). I’ve never forgotten it.

After all, the goal was to grow winecaps. For the name alone.

At home.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


So here I am. Satisfied. Three classes taught today. Students were curious, engaged, humorous, sometimes gullible, sometimes not. They told funny stories. I spilled tea on my shirt and suffered the humiliation of finishing a class with a stain down my front. We all laughed.

It was a good day.

More, there’s more.

I went to the grocery store and salmon was on sale and the rain did not come even as the skies looked fearsome. So I walked home without incident. It should have been treacherous, but it wasn’t, even as the construction on University Avenue was dense and I could not find a spot to cross the street to get to the grocery store (the bus spit me out in the usual place, but the place to cross had gone under).

A construction worker led me through a safe passage. It will be better by tomorrow, I promise—he says. So sweet! That he should want to reassure idiots who choose to cross streets under construction... so sweet!

Daughters and Ed came to dinner and no one was late and everyone gushed about the salmon.

It’s frightening. Good days typically come in bunches. What if this bunch is nearly bunched up and done with?

Okay, I bit into an ice cream bar and it fell apart all over the couch. It was raspberry. I feel better. Streaks of gold are frightening.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Autumn in Madison: you can have an early appointment on one side of town – and realize that at 7:30, it is quite fall-like and chilly out there, and then, on the return, an hour later, you can toss away the jacket and take note of the fact that the forest you pass by in that brief ten minute drive is actually still quite green.


And then you can be outside after classes, on State Street, and now you’re even likely to shed your sweater because the yin yang sky is partly cloudy or partly sunny, depending on how you see it: split in two, yet in harmony with the other...


And so it’s warm, when it’s not cool, and the leaves are yellow, when they’re not green.


So that even on a predictably busy day, life can be very interesting.

Including my coffee break. No longer just a run down to the bookstore for the cheapest espresso in town. No, now I have reason to go to a place where I can sit down and make a whole longer ritual of it. Because chances are, a daughter (or the other) will be sitting across the table from me.


Such a good month this has been!

Even though, the flurry of high pitched activity notwithstanding, I still haven’t sold the condo.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chicago to Madison

The thing about Chicago is that, if you forget about the downtown, it is a composite of small neighborhoods. Walk through any of them and you’ll have to remind yourself that you’re not in a small town in Wisconsin. Or anywhere else.


We didn’t spend much time walking this time (though we were in this neighborhood, returning to a brunch favorite around the corner from here).

Women on a mission: get stuff loaded into the car and head north.

And now, finally, we’re all settled: for a short while, my girls and I are all in Madison. And maybe it’s for a long long time and maybe it’s not, but I can only think about this month and the next and they are here and Sunday dinners are at my place and life is good.

I stop at the farmette to get air for the tires and air for my lungs. Ed is driving the John Deere even though the long grass is beastly wet.

At home, I think about turning on the heat. There’s a nip in the air.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

big city

Chicago. What if I lived here now?


I don’t. I gave up on the place 31 years ago and now I have the luxury of looking at it as a benevolent aunt would: with acceptance saved for the rambunctious nephew or niece. You’re fine, honey, you’re fine. 

We eat well in the morning, and then we work. On sorting boxes, on lectures, and later -- on napping too. I tell my daughters that it has been months since I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in the afternoon.

In the evening we take the El. Past Wrigley Field (where the Dave Matthews band is scheduled to perform)...


And we walk and speculate and scheme. There's lots to toss around out.

It grows dark. Deep whiff of night air. Someone burns wood in a fireplace and suddenly, there's no question anymore. We are onto the next season.


Friday, September 17, 2010

from somewhere out there

Oh, sometimes I wish I could just write!

Not yet. Maybe never.

In the meantime, I am caddying stuff. I left Madison with a daughter, picked up the second one and together, we will haul the remains of what is theirs in Chicago and bring it to Madison.

So I am in Chicago. Painted canvas of gorgeosity.


I ask them – so what’s a good drink to have here?



And we eat food that is good and more importantly, different food, food that I don’t have to evaluate by the standards of the current markets because I haven’t a clue as to the markets in Chicago, except that I notice on the menu "rushing waters trout" and I think – shit, that’s Madison! (Or at least Wisconsin.)


I tell my girls that yesterday, at post-pizza kareoki my students belted out a song I really liked and it had a host of rah rah and ooh la las in it. Bad Romance? They ask. Sure, that’s it, realizing how large the expanse of years is between them and me.

We look at pictures from long ago. You look like her! You look like him!

I call Ed and he tells me that he saw photos I had taken on display in one place or another.

That made me happy.