Tuesday, January 31, 2012

a reversal of fortune

I learned a lesson today. Several, in fact, but one stands out: January 31st is, in the final run, January 31st. You can’t leap out of bed and think: spring! – even if outside it’s 35 degrees (that’s a Wisconsin spring morning reading) and there’s talk of record breaking highs in the afternoon (a sweltering 49).

Still, following a grueling Monday, I’m thinking how exhilarating it would be to bike to work! I haven’t biked since the end of November and hadn’t expected to until April. But 49!

My ever helpful shaggy haired landlord kindly steps outside (in a state of at least partial undress... it makes me smile to see him so oblivious to...the ways of the world) and brings out my bike for air pumping and light battery checking. By 8:30, I am on the road!

The best ride for me makes heavy use of the bike path. But it’s not the fastest route to campus. I’m nervous about the time -- my first class is at 9:30. I opt for a faster (45 minute) route. Combination bike path and road.

What’s this? Patches of snow? A little bit of ice maybe? A surface of frozen mist?


Well now. A challenge.

Okay, getting close to campus. Familiar vistas!


And here’s where I should have understood that where there is snow and where there is warm air, eventually, very eventually, there will be puddles. And sand, and salt, and all of this will make its way up, up and in a sweeping arch, hit me right on the back, my head, too, covering me with all the debris we throw on the roads to keep them ice-free.


Not that I immediately realize what is happening. I’m pedaling madly to get to school on time. Oh, I notice some specks of mud on my pants, but I shrug it off. A bit of mud? Eh --the price of any bike ride.


Minutes before class, I walk into my office, take off my jacket and see the damage. I take off the helmet. Salt in my hair. Indeed, mud, salt and sand everywhere.

So I learned something. And I suffer the indignity of teaching with a wet pants seat and salty pony tail. (The mud-splatterd jacket I can, thankfully, leave behind.)

Work day's done. The ride back is much nicer. Even as I just cannot believe that there are ice fishers on the lake. As if suspended on water.


Onwards. Past Lake Monona, which looks as if it's heading into April.


Done. Finally, splatterdly done. A stop at Paul’s (where are you Ed??? Late? Do you understand what it means to panic at someone’s absence??) and then the last lap home. Just as the sun sets.



Mmmm, farmhouse home.

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Monday, January 30, 2012


I step outside, consider biking to work, laugh off the idea and walk over to the red hot lover. It’s nice there, in that parking spot.


That’s the last time I can apply the word “nice” to the landscape around me this day. The rest? Well, here’s a reality for you: from morning, til 5:30 I never shut up. Between student meetings and class hours, I was engaged in the art of talk. By the time I dragged in to the farmhouse, I was so disinclined to speak that I had no ability to voice preference for anything, including dinner foods.

Frozen lasagna. Good enough. Now please. Shhh. I have nothing more to say about anything.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

we'll take it!

A half an inch of fresh snow – light, fluffy, you know the kind: it doesn’t quite settle in, but instead, hovers loosely, prettily over whatever was there before. In this case, it covers a layer of ice along our dirt driveway and, more importantly, it covers (ever so lightly) ski trails in the area.

But it wont last. Put a handful of skiers on it and it will be back to the new normal this year: bare patches along our forest trails.

We should be out there before all others, I tell Ed. The side of me that wants to seize the moment before it shatters and disappears is especially prodding us out of the house early. The week ahead will have a warm spell. What little snow there is will surely disappear soon.

The sun plays with the few puffy clouds. One minute we're dazzled in light, the next -- we're a somber blue.


By 9 we’re in our local county park. I can’t say that it’s blissfully quiet. A helicopter is running electrical components in the nearby Yahara wetlands and in fact, part of the park is closed for safety reasons.


That’s okay. We have a good loop that takes us away from it all.



Back toward Lake Waubesa, where the ice fishermen hang out.


It’s cold and blustery outside and I’m thinking maybe it would have been better to eat the breakfast oatmeal before the ski run. But, the sun is out and the sky has that early morning tint to it and it puts us both in such pleasant moods that I forget about the work and the cleaning and the tedious stuff that’ll frame the rest of the day.

Nice work, Ed. Only, could it be that you’re slowing down? I shout back at him.
I’m having a contemplative moment. I don't rush things, like you.
Good job staying upright on the hills! I retort.
Good job not breaking your camera! He answers.


And so we continue in this way until our loop is done and our gear is thrown in the back of the car again, with the hope that there’ll be another chance to use it this season.

In other news: may I give a piece of market advice for The Great Investors out there? My bet is that Apple is puffed itself out to be way out there, even as it is not altogether way out there. It's merely a company that sells machines and it isn't magic, nor intuitive, nor easy, because machines aren't magic or intuitive or easy and if you want to ride the cloud of hyper-nonsense about Apple's capabilities to do everything perfectly, feel free, but I'm not going to be there with you.

I wont spend much space on explaining how both Ed and I spent the better part of the afternoon working on getting on iCloud and upgrading my OS on my current MacBrookPro. That's boring. But I will complain about how many things in this whole procedure were odd and in fact downright nervewrackingly convoluted. I don't blame Apple for that. Technology IS complicated. I just wish it would fess up and not pretend differently.

Otherwise: yes, there's an otherwise. Otherwise, it was such a beautiful day. Isis was at the farmhouse with us. He decided we're worth the trek up the lightly snow-covered path.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


How are my eyebrows? -- I ask Ed. Completely gone?
No, just a little singed.
Casualties of the morning. Also undone – a pair of outdoor gloves. They were old, but still...

But let me say right away – and perhaps this will surprise you – it was an excellent morning.

My idea this winter to ski daily faltered rather quickly: the trails around Madison don’t have enough snow to make it fun. The temperature heaving has given them a brittle, icy coating. With twigs and pebbles poking through. I talked of doing a trip up north, but the older Ed gets, the less he likes spontaneous ling distance  journeys. And so this morning, as I see again a nice strip of bright light at the horizon just before sunrise, I say to Ed merely this – outdoors... we have to get outdoors today.

It’s windy and in the low twenties. Eh, so what. The Ice Age Trail folks (such apt description) are organizing a work day out on one of the segments of the trail just west of Madison.


At 9 a.m., we’re there with them at the trailhead, waiting for instructions.

Clear the hill, burn the brush.

It’s great work! Within minutes the cold ceases to be a problem.

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And as the stacks of chopped and snipped wood grow, the fires flair and the air takes on a gusty smell of campfires.

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Managing the fires when the wind is this strong is a challenge. My brows are the price to pay for it.


But it’s terrific work and for three hours, we chop, snip and haul until the leaders call for a lunch break. We leave then. We’re known for that – we come, we work, we leave. Unfriendly types who scorn bonding over dead flesh between slabs of bread. I wont deny it -- it's an apt characterization.

Ed drives the now fixed, but so very rusted Geo home. These hills west of Madison are especially pretty now, in January. Here, you can't tell that the snow cover is actually quite thin.


It is a beautiful landscape.


And now we’re at Paul’s café. Ed’s sleeping, I’m thinking about how to trim eyebrows around the missing parts. The smell of wood is still with us. The chill of the wind is long gone.

Friday, January 27, 2012

morning light

It’s late now. We’re watching a show on snakes. It’s fair to say that I dislike it immensely.  Sometimes I am fascinated in simply watching Ed become engrossed in a story. It makes up for the unusually gross nature of the subject matter. But this is not one of those times. I’m just a tad wiped from the day and though I can think of any number of better alternatives to tracking snakes – with all their disgusting hunting/eating habits -- I'm too tired to push for any of them.

It was, in fact, a delightfully (partly) sunny day. When the sun first peeked through, I was up and ready for it.


Ed was up as well, making repairs to his unbelievable tattered 93 Geo.

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And Isis was up. He’d made his way up to the farmhouse this morning. Very early. In search of TLC.

Lovely blushed with sunshine minutes!


But that's it for the outdoors. We - all three of us - retreat and resume the indoor life. Isis by choice, Ed and I -- because it's Friday and that's just the way it is.

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In the evening, I play to the memories of a gentler set of weeks. Somewhere in the background k.d. lang and Tony Bennett are crooning.  
Here, Ed, I’ve made shrimp salad for supper. Andalucian style.


To the bliss of sunny days. Here or elsewhere. A whole string of uninterrupted sunny days. Mmmm...

Thursday, January 26, 2012


One little key on my laptop was wobbly. It seemed loose and ready to fly – elsewhere. And so I made this evening the time to visit the Apple store.

What a time suck! It’s not that the blue-shirted wiz kids weren’t helpful. It’s just that they, as always, made me understand how utterly incompetent I am in the use of Apple stuff. So long as I was there, they untangled some muddles I had gotten myself into. But it took time.

(I promised to sign up for all kinds of classes to boost my skills. Someday.)

After, I pulled the red hot lover onto the Beltline (highway) and within seconds came to a near standstill. A traffic jam. It’s rare that a Madisonian has to endure an utterly clogged highway. I'm surely happy that this is not part of my everyday.

So long as I am in a tired and only mildly chipper mood, might I lodge a complaint about the weather?

I’ll just say this: may we please have some nice bright wintry stuff? It’s too warm, too gray, too wet, too dark..


No? Darn.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


...in days of tense work schedules, I remain, much of the time, behind closed doors. No breakthrough or break time moments today. No time, no time...

That’s okay. Little tidbits remind me that life toddles forward in interesting ways, regardless of pressures and work priorities. For example: I come home late, but with the idea that we still have time for a Paul’s coffee. I pull up to the farmhouse. Ed comes out of the sheep shed,  greeting me with a mousetrap in hand.
I got one. We can let it out in the fields on the way to Paul’s.
He waves the little plastic box with a mouse in it in my face.
He was tricky. Ate the peanut butter the first time, the second time. This time I got him with pepper jack cheese.
And where was Isis in all this?
Don’t know. Not really paying attention to the mouse.

The cat has grown useless. Sort of like me, I imagine, once I reach the age of retirement. Or maybe before.

Ed releases the mouse into the field...


....the little guy runs like crazy across the snow crusted landscape. We wave good bye.

Will you now place the trap in the farmhouse? I ask. There haven’t been signs of mice since we came back, but I like the security of the trap, just in case one gray fellow passes through...
Soon, soon.

I think of Isis, the farmette cat. He hasn’t come to the farmhouse since it turned cold.  His paws don’t appear to like anything below 42 degrees. So he stays at the shed and watches mice dart this way and that. Fine cat. He’s lost his belligerence.

There's so much snappish anger out there. It's good that Isis has moved beyond that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


...for the sunshine! It helps to set out in the morning to this.


When the bright light shines down on Bascom Hill, even the snowman there looks good.


In the last semester, after my last class, Ed and I would meet at Paul’s café where I would re-energize myself for the remaining working hours of the day. We’re trying something different this winter: before the daylight fades, we’ll do a quick spin on the trails just to the east of the farmhouse. That’s the re-energizing moment. After, we’ll end the day at Paul’s, even if that means grabbing the final coffee when the light is long gone.

It’s a tough schedule to follow, but we’re trying. And today, we pulled it off.


True, the ski break was awkwardly icy. There’s not enough snow out there. And, there were places, adventurous places, where the trail spun downhill toward Lake Waubesa and I wondered whether Ed, or indeed either one of us, would be able to steer clear of the not quite fully frozen waters. You can’t quite stop on a downhill stretch, when that stretch is completely iced over.


In the end though, we were happy to be moving again. And we made it to Paul’s, just before he closed. Hi Paul. Back in Jerez, there was this artisan, making a little clay flute called the ocarina...

Monday, January 23, 2012

spring semester

I look outside my office window and I see a giant snowman on Bascom Mall (the expanse of hill just outside my office window). It's not a very attractive snowman -- not very photogenic in any event, but it's there, commemorating the beginning of the Spring Semester. He doesn't taunt, he just stands there, erect, steady, in your face big.

So the classes begin. A wet, sloppy beginning (not unpretty out here, at the farmette, though).


I suppose it's good that it isn't the typical soul-shattering cold spell that gets us into the swing of the new semester. But here's a hint: can we please have a bit of that good old Midwestern brilliant winter sunshine in the days ahead?

Thank you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

parks and (winter) recreation

Ed tells me – we should get our Dane County skiing permits. As we navigate the ins and outs of doing this online, we note that not all parks have groomed trails yet. It’s that kind of a winter – cold, but not (yet?) oozing with snow.

We want to get into the habit of skiing – as close to daily as possible. On this Sunday morning though, the weather is iffy. Freezing fog, I read to Ed. Meaning, bits of icy rain. Or something. The temps are in the twenties.

And it does feel that way – misty and icy.

We could go to our park just up the road, but Madison’s Elver Park is bigger and since it is a week-end, we can be more adventurous.


At Elver, it’s heartening to see so many skiers out today. Just like us. Early, despite the weather. And every now and then, there is the young skier. I was on wooden boards first when I was six. Old, compared to, say, this moderately enthusiastic cross country little one.


It’s not easy to be skiing on a day like today. Ed forgot his cap and very quickly, his hair develops a nice frozen mist of ice. White on white.


So there are the skiers. But not only.


Elver is Madison's great sledding destination. We pass by its large hill and I say to Ed that sledding has to be one of the most good and honest winter sports out there: so little equipment, so much joy. A man zips by in front of us on a rubber tube. His is possibly the longest of the downhill runs. He gets up grinning broadly. The best $30 I ever spent! – he shouts to us as he drags his beloved rubber tube up again.


Obviously not everyone loves the snow.
She gets cold – the dog owner tells me as I ask about the many layers of sweater and jacket on this park visitor:


But she’s the exception. On the trails you're likely to see only enthusiasm -- great gobs of it. And it's a fast enthusiasm. Ed and I are trail skiers. Most, these days, prefer skate skiing. It’s faster, for one thing. We get passed an awful lot. I mind less than Ed does.

Oh, but it’s a good way to spend a Sunday morning! Freezing fog notwithstanding.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

that countryside

To live in the country, to travel freely and not infrequently to the city. That’s my idea of a good life.

We drive up to the farmhouse after our flights back from Spain. I enter it and note right away that the overhead kitchen lamp isn’t working. I say to Ed – I thought those light bulbs last years.
He tests them. They’re fine. Can’t imagine what the problem is.

It’s pleasantly warm in the house. I unpack, I find my Polish wooly slippers, put them on. Oops. Pebbles in one. I take it off. Not pebbles. Mice droppings. Out comes the trap. No other sign on the floors of mice, and no mouse is tempted by the copious amounts of peanut butter in the trap for the day I’m there. So, it was a quick visit and exit. You get used to it.

In Chicago, the snow falls steadily, at times heavily. I walk to my daughter’s place with my face to it, thinking how not unpleasant it is to be battered by snow in this way.


In the evening, we try to catch the bus up to another part of the city. No, their iphone tells them that the bus delays are tremendous. City life. Even in winter-ready Chicago, the snow disturbs daily life.


We do manage to arrive at the restaurant fairly on time, the celebration proceeds...


And, at the end of the day, the carpet, picked up back in Tanger (this is a photo from that day of purchase), is finally home. Her home.

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In the morning, I’m on the phone with Ed.
I figured out what happened with the lamp, he tells me. A mouse chewed through the wires.
My slipper had been right under that light fixture. A mouse party.

I look outside – a sunrise in Chicago.


It’s 21 degrees F in the city. I check the temp back at the farmette: minus 6 F.

Last chance to enjoy a meal “out.” At the farmhouse, breakfast moves only in one direction – out to the porch on sunny days. In the city, the range is broader.

My girl is busy with work and so I walk over and pick up foods for us at the City Provisions. Cool name. A nice selection of specialty foods, baked goods, sandwiches. There are shelves, too, of foods that come from “the country.” Raw honey, for example. Probably from Wisconsin.

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I say goodbye to my city kid and her guy. We are not well programmed for goodbyes with our offspring, even as, in life, there are so many.

Ed picks me up at the bus stop in Madison. He has our skis in the back and we go to the park that's just three minutes from the farmhouse. It is our first time this year on skis. We hope it's the first of very many such times.



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After, during the short ride home, we wave to the deer...


And now we are truly home. The farmhouse home. There, beneath the setting sun.