Thursday, May 31, 2012

end of the month

With all this unallocated time, you’d think I’d be out, running, biking, boating, flying. Exuberantly.

Well now, consider this day: a fool’s last day of May. The thermometer never passed 50. The furnace has long retired into seasonal hibernation, my woolies are folded, washed. What is this – northern Europe? (I remember many such weather surprises in the course of a Polish summer... In fact, didn’t I buy woolen caps for my daughters the first time they traveled to Poland in July?)

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a chilly afternoon market

So I mostly stay indoors. Ed tells me – get under the quilt!

No no. I have a mental separation as to what is daytime furniture and what is nighttime stuff. Beds and quilts belong to the latter.

In the afternoon, I go to Paul’s. Perfect biking weather, you might say. Really? You can bike in this kind of chill when you’re at the tail end of winter. On the cusp of June, you expect better.

At least at Paul’s the heater’s running.

There’s much to be done in the time and space just before us. In five days we leave and I’m one of those weary persons who likes to tie all the knots before moving on to the next stage. An annoying trait, I know. Ed says – it must be hard being you!

In the evening we begin the task of clearing all foods out. Eating leftover this, leftover that. Asparagus from last week, brats from last week, locally grown and pickled sauerkraut, leftover wine, leftover days of May that flaunt their unusual cold demeanor in my face, maybe to get back at me for once complaining that May was too picture perfect.

cooking with leftovers

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eating in a chilly farmhouse

No need to water the plants. It rained all night. Perfect time though to use the grass cutting shears we picked up last Sunday at Farm & Fleet.

Let me tell you, standing on a warm sunny evening with hose extended is much more fun than hacking away in the cold at waist high grass that has invaded everything.

June, please do better.

the sour cherries in the old orchard are ripening!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

farm guests

A longtime reader of Ocean, one whom I never met but consider, through our Internet communications, to be a dear friend, asked for a photo today of a feast. Dear Lili! How I would love to please you! But I couldn’t do it! Let me explain, in three points:

1.     Comings and Goings

Now starts a week of departures and arrivals and then more departures and arrivals. My daughter and her guy left Madison today and between our various travels, I wont see them again ‘til mid July. With a desire to be helpful I threw out an offer to take them to the airport.
Thanks, mom! That’ll be wonderful!
Okay then! What time?
Well, the flight leaves at 7:20 am.
Enough said. This, after a night of listening to an old computer (these days used by Ed in random places) cry all night. Have you got a crier? We do. It whines and moans and even closing the lid wont quiet it down. Ed sleeps through it, I do not.

climbing sleepily into the car, I caught the sunrise

On the subject of comings and goings – in a couple of days my younger girl will come for a quick visit, and then, immediately after, my nephew comes down to house-sit for us. Most people would think that it's appropriate to have someone local do their cat and garden care in their absence. Not me – I want my nephew. The one who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. More on that later.

And of course, farmhouse sitting means that Ed and I are leaving. But not until next week. More on that later too.

2.     Exams and work in general.

The (set by me) goal was to be done with all school work by noon today. Sluggishness slowed me down. I was half an hour late -- done by 12:30! A few administrative do-dads and by 2:30 I am free!!

Sort of.

The house is disorganized (according to me). There is no food worth cooking. Ed has his evening bike ride tonight and so cooking for me, just me, seems – eh, not such a worthy goal. Even if there was food. Which, again, there's not.

In my first free hours, I turn to the essentials: pulling out a few weeds and finishing the interrupted Google calendar.

So no, dear Lili, it was not a good time to cook.

3.     There is always an upside

Here’s mine. Or ours. Or just out there, an upside:

I’m loading exam grades onto the Law School website. For many reasons, this task requires utmost concentration. And I hear the motion sensor doorbell ring. Almost always this is because Isis wants to come in. Sometimes it's because the chipmunks are frolicking nearby.
Ed, I cannot be interrupted. I say this and continue loading. The sensor bell rings again. And again.
Ed, I cannot deal with Isis right now. You deal with Isis (there’s that “he’s your cat” tone in my voice).
Ed gets up and goes to the door. Nina, come look at your “chipmunk!”

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We have a visitor. Probably a repeat visitor. That would explain the utter devastation of one lettuce bed. Forget the chipmunks – we have all of nature living in our backyard!

Well what are you gonna do... Dis-invite them? Nah...  Continue forward, as best as you can.

I live in the countryside and the countryside lives with me here. And that is, for the most part, a very good thing.

I hope, dear Lili, your eyes are fine after surgery. I do. In case they’re a little fuzzy still, here’s an easy close up of our beautiful guest.


Much better than the photo I could have offered of our reheated Chinese takeout, I promise.

(She was gone in a blur of movement. Not your vision, my friend, no -- just her rapid saunter.)


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

final run

Unless something untoward happens, I’ll be done grading by tomorrow. By noon, I say, by noon!

I’m giddy at the prospect. I worked today against all odds (from Ed: Nina, do you want to set up a Google calendar? – he has no shame...).

As usual, I needed to take my work from one spot to the next. You can never grade too many exams in a single setting. You want to keep each person’s answers compartmentalized, distinguished, clear in your head. When, like me, you have well over a hundred exams and papers to grade each semester, this is the ultimate challenge.

So my day is one of long periods of concentration and short breaks.

Of the type where I go out and note that things are topsy turvy out there, needing my attention... Sorry, not today, not today...


And later, in the afternoon, I trot out to our new orchard, to watch Ed plant more of our odd assortment of started-from-seed tomatoes. Isis is our buddy, our loyal companion.

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You know why these tomatoes are doing so much better here than the ones in your vegetable bed?
Yes, there's no shade: they have twice the sun hours here.
And what else?
I know not to take this further. Ed has a scientific curiosity to him that is sometimes best left alone. So long as it causes no harm, I'll let him study the soils and deliberate on improvements without interference. 

We are, this spring, in a season of butterflies. Just like some years mosquitoes have ruled the summer months, so too, this spring, we have had more than our fair share of these beautiful bugs:


And so I watch them, admire them, smile at them...

And then I return for the final push, the final big work effort before tomorrow, noon, when, if all goes well, summer will officially begin for me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Odd how it has evolved to be at once a day of quiet remembrance and a day of raucous picnicking, outdoor playing, throwing the ball around, wading in the water – in short, the somber and yet not really somber at all American introduction to the summer season.

We took the middle road.

A stroll not too far from the farmhouse with my daughter...


Then, a lovely, subdued evening of grilling on the porch, with her and her fiancée (and Ed, and the occasional appearance of Isis)...

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Smiling at the colors of this weekend...

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 Loving the pleasure of being in each others company.


Day is done now. Gone the sun, from the lakes from the hills from the sky... Ed dozes on the porch, the embers from the new grill (a grill searched for with such intensity just yesterday) nearly spent.

A storm had passed through just as I was getting the grill going. A violent, quick storm, all flash and brawn and I hid from it, but the three gallant ones sat out on the porch, nearly oblivious to the noise, the threat, the what ifs. One person’s terror may be another's brave moment. It’s good that we can be different in this way.

My girl says to Ed – I see you have a patriotic t-shirt on today. Funny girl. It’s a free one, from donating blood and one of the few that’s left in his clean stack at the moment.

Coincidence. Sure. But a sweet one.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

pushing forward

In the morning I say to Ed  -- I'll take a few photos early, because after, nothing but grading will happen.

So I take photos.

Breakfast on the porch.

Isis joins us for breakfast (and a general washing) on the porch.


My men after breakfast on the porch.

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My men go off...


... and I am left taking photos by myself, arm held out, of myself, before I retreat to grade.


And then, I do, indeed, work my ass off.

...Until late in the afternoon when Ed says -- ready for Farm and Fleet?

Our trips to Farm and Fleet are legendary. It’s the place where Ed feels compelled to teach me about life. Here’s where he harbors the innocent hope that I will understand – about blades and cranks and springs and – well, the way the world works.

We pick up replacement shears and we consider (but reject at this point) chipmunk catch and release traps, and I watch men in overalls cart big bags of chicken feed, and others, like us, pick up this tool and the other, and I know I missed grading at least two exams by virtue of this trip, but really, there is work and there is life and sometimes a day has to accommodate both.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012


For a while, I thought I’d be writing: I only graded today. Or, as a variation: in this household, only I graded today. And if that work commitment had stayed with me every waking minute of the day, maybe I could have written: I graded only today.

I’d fallen behind a little with my set goals and still, I thought I'd catch up: the day dawned rainy and wet – none of it offering temptation to be outdoors.

But, in the middle of the night, the cat threw up.

Now, I know cats do this, but I’m not able to brush it off as a non event and especially not in the middle of the night and especially not when said cat is on our bed and I’m woken up by Ed scrambling with a muffled few words that wake me solid (“he’s making those ‘about to throw up’ sounds”). I heave Isis off the bed as Ed tries to catch whatever flies out.

You should have been there. A terrified Isis, flying in mid air across pillows, Ed holding out Wired magazine just in case – all very dramatic.

So now in the morning I am tired again, and behind in my goals, and it’s storming. I cancel the pleasantness of a market morning with my daughter and settle in for a day of grading.

But with a very quick break for a glance outside -- at the exploding peonies, the cowering mouse (Isis, chipmunks, where are you when I need you??)...



... and a terrifically anticipated break for more coffee at Paul’s. Except, as we motorbike over, we see that Paul’s is closed for the afternoon. Sigh. I'm back home, back with the exams.

And here, what's notable is that Ed is equally indoors and Ed is a distraction.

First, there is in the matter of gussying up the computer we got for my mom off of Craigslist. What pages should be bookmarked, what photo to use for her skype symbol, what desktop design, on and on – one issue more fun than the previous one. We attack all of them.

Tick tock.

Then there is the article in the paper about the guys in North Carolina who resell used china and silver so that people may match up their sets. That whole story set me back a good hour. Ed is curious how you match old pieces. By the time we figured it all out (and get through reading a handful of the hundreds of comments trailing the story), it is almost evening. 

And just as I am promised quiet, and peace, and I dare go up to the bedroom for a change of grading scene (very important to do if you grade one exam after the next), Ed turns on Hulu and deliberately, deliberately runs the last episodes of The Middle – a show he knows I can never resist.

I tell him I am now officially a half day behind my self imposed schedule, thank you very much. 

He promises to get a pizza so I don’t have to cook.

It is a good day. Elements of fun improve the mood and therefore the grading ambitions for ... the next day.

Friday, May 25, 2012


There’s a pattern that needs a bit of a tamper: I post too late in the day. Why do I do it? Because life grabs my attention earlier. Only after the last dish is drying on the rack after dinner do I feel I can get down to Ocean. By then, I fight sleep. Ed will have long given up the battle. No, that’s not even accurate – there will not have even been a battle.

The Cat has taken to waking us at 4:45, in the predawn hour, and it’s then hellishly difficult to recapture sleep. Especially when the sweet but princely rascal has taken over a chunk of the bed.

I toss and look outside and I see that yesterday’s clouds have disappeared. Maybe I should ride out to capture that elusive sunrise? I failed last time, but now, at 5, maybe I can come face to face with it?


Ah, Rosie in the morning – it is the best and the worst time to ride her. In the still hours of a beautifully tinted sky, it is heavenly out there, on the empty rural roads. But it’s also quite cool. Dragging myself from a warm bed, to the nippy air of predawn. When will I learn that in Wisconsin, it is rarely warm at 5 a.m.?

This time I do make it in time for a sunrise by the lake. Oh, nice, so nice!  If you haven’t witnessed daybreak lately, consider waking up for it. It’s very humbling.


I ride back the longer way. I’ll warm up soon, I’m not that far from home...


...and the loveliness around it.



The rest of the day?

Oh, all very familiar. A bike ride to Paul's. A Craigslist exchange (computer for my mom!). A quiet evening at home, with a beautifully simple supper of a stove-top roasted chicken. I was reminded of this method of preparing a chicken over on this blog -- a daily read for me because it recounts, without fuss, the beautiful details of a quiet life. (They're Americans living in France, though,  just last week they got married in New York, because, finally, finally, after thirty years, they could!).


So as I write, I’m “roasting” a chicken – getting up just once to throw in mushrooms, shallots, garlic, tomatoes. Pinches of lemon thyme, and rosemary, and parsley from the garden, covered, simmered, nothing more.

I am so content.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


When the trees around you are very large, excessively so and a front with high winds passes through, it really is a fantastic, or unnerving, or thrilling experience (depending on your disposition) to be right there, in the thick of it, watching the limbs heave and sway...

Sitting on the porch (grading away! oops, sorry!), I feel protected. Especially since the direction of the gusts is such that the old willow (with very brittle limbs) bends its massive weight away from the farmhouse.

The odd part is that because of our tall trees, the courtyard of the farmette – meaning the woodchipped space between the farmhouse, garage, sheepshed, barn and writer’s shed – is always rather calm.

And in the heat of the afternoon sun, you’d think not even a chipmunk would be stirring.

You’d be wrong. I read that the little devils sleep fifteen hours per day and though this may be impressive to the human who can hardly eek out seven or eight, it does still leave nine hours unaccounted for. Me, I can tell you where the extended family of our resident rodents is partying. Right in their favorite place of carnival-like delirium: the front flower bed.

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And so it should come as no surprise that I want to photograph emergent flowers. Catch ‘em quick before they get carted off for a meal of all meals.


It is a very hot day. We bike to Paul’s because we feel we should, rather than because it’s pleasant. The wind is so strong that I mark spaces between tall trees, in the same way one plays musical chairs, staying close to one until the next becomes safe.

We bike, too, to the Thursday afternoon market, hoping for some fruits, finally some fruits – it’s so hot I feel we should not still be buying fruits from California and our frozen peaches from last summer just aren't cutting it anymore. They may be quaintly delectable in January or February, but now they just taste slimy and a tad old.

Well now... I see strawberries!

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The first of the season! Fantastic! How much? Oh, okay... Maybe next time....

I’m delighted with the weather and with life in general, only I would not mind just a small interruption in all this glorious sunny stuff. I admit it – I’m a little bit hoping for rain. Spot watering for an hour and a half each evening is good, but a solid soak would be even better. And if there is a torrential rain that would wash away our lettuce patch – why that would be okay with me as well! At least I would not have to witness torn up beds the morning after the chipmunks’ wild night out.

...even as my own wild night consists of clearing supper dishes, watching reruns of Modern Family and forcing myself to stay awake to put up this post, to the tune of Ed’s rhythmic snoring.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

daily update

Up late, up early, cat in, cat out, the cool breeze of the late night comes into the room and stirs things up a bit and finally, there is the light of another beautiful morning.

Ed’s out on the roof taking down the last of the gutter hangers. The tail end of last year’s decision to try life without gutters.
They just collect leaves – he tells me. Well I know that. I used to clean the gutters in my past suburban home, often far too late in the season, when the slime and rot were already half frozen. Still, shouldn’t we be in the business of redirecting water?

But, a year has passed, gutterless, and so down come the hangers and it all gets posted on Craigslist where maybe they’ll sell but probably they will not. We have several items going on Craigslist -- things I would have said had no retail value at all, except every once in a while a call will come and someone will say -- that old screen door...?

I graded today. I know, I promised not to write “I graded today,” but I met my goal and that is quite unusual and so I make this exception. Seven more days and I should be done. Summer starts then.

In the meantime, Lee, our resident farmer, is working her quarter acre in the back.


We have had several conversations with her about what’s happening to the fraction of the field that she has thus far ignored and sometimes we understand each other perfectly and sometimes we understand each other not at all and on this issue it is more the latter. Maybe there is a sister and maybe she is waiting for something, or maybe it is a fragment of land sacrificed to the gods who have decided that there shall be no vegetables grown on it this year.

Our own plantings (and this would include veggies or flowers) are both thriving and being lost to chipmunk lunch. Each morning I go out to see what’s chomped off. Today, it’s the penstemon. Yesterday, it was the phlox. Every day a surprise.

Behind Ed's back I can whisper that The Cat is not guilt free either. He loves to walk across the veggie patch and most recently, he moves nimbly through my most prominent flower bed, then finds a spot between the Daylilies and the Echinacea Purpurea and settles in. Tail sweetly wrapped around the Echinacea tag.


Does he crush some of the plants? Maybe, but at least his mark is less pronounced, less in your face than the bitten off flower heads that are purely the chipmunk’s handicraft.

And still, I cannot complain. They -- the creatures, beasts and birds -- are who they are and if my plant is destroyed today, it will grow back tomorrow or the next year. That’s just the way it is.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

on this day

He can ignore my advice on most anything I have to offer, but he cannot ignore it when I tell him he has a mole on his back. He can’t see it, but I can. Go to the doctor, I tell him.

He (almost) never listens to that advice.

But, yesterday, I had my moles checked and some promptly removed and I tell him that this is part of being of advanced age. You do this kind of thing. You cannot avoid it.
I’ll go to my old dermatologist, if he’s still around. I liked him.
When did you last see him?
Long long time ago. And he was already old then.

Ed’s banking on the guy being retired. Or worse. But an Internet search reveals that the doc is still there! At age 84, accepting new patients!

So off he goes and I tell him I saved his life and he scoffs and tells me that he acquiesced to the visit to make me happy. Some beloveds get flowers and candy, I get my guy to go have a mole removed. 
Can you imagine, Ed marvels, he doesn’t have a computer in his office. Just a typewriter.  
Electric? I ask. And is he married? Ed looks at me in wonderment that I should still ask questions for which I know he would not have an answer. (We do that to each other.)

In the meantime, I am done grading for two out of my three courses, but that’s not saying much because the third has the largest number of students and they’re of a generation that’s become demonically speedy with typing because the number of pages submitted has swelled over the years. No matter. I start in on this third course. If I work awfully hard, I’ll be done by the end of the month.

But I need breaks. You can’t read essays without interruption. Pages blur and run together and you confuse one person’s mistake with another’s brilliance and so you have to refresh yourself. I do so by once again attacking the raspberry patch.

That patch is so overgrown right now that the weeds exceed in height the raspberry canes. And I mean the really tall, unclipped raspberry canes. I’ve already devoted some days to pruning and clipping (and I've hardly made a dent), but today I make one huge effort at getting the weeds on one side – the side of the path leading to the sheep shed – under control so that a person could, for example, walk there without being attacked.

But in the process, I am, in fact, attacked. Whatever prickly stuff inhabits that patch is now fighting (and winning) the battle against my invasion and I am left with some horrible rash up and down my arms, a rash that alternates between an itch and a tingle – none of it very pleasant.

I say to Ed -- I saved your raspberries and ruined my arms in the process.
It’ll pass, he tells me without much concern.

Of course, everything passes. By definition, life passes, rashes disappear, skin wrinkles, raspberry canes suffocate and boyfriends get spots for you to see and point out.

The sun is so bright, so very bright and when I go on my bike to Paul’s to meet Ed there, I have this complete sense of joy in riding against the May breeze, even though I’m past the wistful years when sunshine was only a friend, a soothing pal, to love and trust and hold sacred.

Life can’t be perfect. Not for more than a short stretch, here and there.

At least that’s what I’m told.


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Monday, May 21, 2012

a light at the end of the path

[A note to those who commented on the unusual – indeed, perhaps one and only – blog photo of Ed and me. In the past, many have tried to take a picture of the two of us, but Ed rarely behaves for such stuff. The absurd results were never worth posting. This time he let me proceed, with the camera, supported by woodchips, leaning clumsily on the hood of an old car, set to shoot with the self-timer. We had a hard time keeping the ridiculously abundant pear tree branches that overhang our parking space out of the photo. So, in many many ways, it is a once in a blue moon shot.]

Well now, these weeks are going to be a challenge. The weather is spectacular, the work is now ever before me, I’m tentatively agreeing to provide assistance with a court case, and my garden needs watering.

Can it be more complicated than that?

Let me talk about four photos that I took today. The first was not from here at all, but, instead, taken just before a meeting I had downtown with a student. After parking good old Rosie in some tight space where many would think she does not belong (they would be wrong to think that), I looked up and caught my breath at the loveliness of this:


...and I thought to myself – is there such a thing as an indifferent spring garden?

In the evening I water the farmette beds (rain? What rain? Is there ever rain?), reversing the order of operations, just because that is the most exciting thing I can do with this terribly long (but not unpleasant) task. As I tote the watering can to the bed by the driveway, I note that Ed is pounding in the fourth (constructed by him) solar-lit lamp post into the driveway. Later, at night, we walk out to admire the beams of light. Why do you suppose they’re star-like? Ed asks. He doesn’t really expect an answer. I make do in life without knowing the answers to answerable questions even as I worry about those without obvious replies.

And so the second photo is from the dark night -- made lighter by our trail of tiny lamps.

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Finally, I have to describe another significant event from this day: for over a week now Ed has been (more or less) gently pointing out that the rhubarb is out of control. It spills onto the path to the farmhouse door (I did not plant it there!) and I haven’t a clue as to what should become of it. I still have bags of frozen chopped stalks from last year.

To move things toward some kind of a resolution, two days ago I finally trimmed the plant back. Somewhat. And today, I decided to improvise and bake things up in my own bizarre rendition of a fresh rhubarb/last year’s frozen raspberry French tart.

Shockingly, it is quite tasty.

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The tall iris blooms, the tight bundles of dianthus, the burst of golden coreopsis, the fast paced mint, the chives, the rhubarb -- they take away attention from the ravaged-by-wild-beast  (or bird, or likely both beast and bird) strawberries. You have to focus on the success stories in your yard...


...and not mind the sacrificed handful that nature has claimed for its own uses.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Hey! It’s Sunday morning! I say this with energy, as if something important is about to happen.
I thought you’d given up on weekly cleanings...
I have. It’s been two weeks since we vacuumed.

That’s an obvious prod on my part.

I can’t say that Ed doesn’t help around the farmhouse. He spends a good part of each day either fixing something, or tending to some portion of the land. (Since most tools here are of the aging kind, they often need a repair. And the land is one constant plea for help.)

But the idea of cleaning the house on a regular basis? That’s a source of amusement for him. Meaning, he’s amused that I insist on devoting that much time to it.

It’s another one of those very warm days and we hurry, so that we can get to the outside work before the heat settles in for an afternoon of pea-soup air. Well, hurry is perhaps the wrong word. I left "hurry" behind on campus. At the farmette, our pace is either "slow" or "with interruptions."

We’re focused on the (dirt) driveway today. People have a hard time backing out of it, especially in the dark, especially in the winter. Ed came across little solar-powered lamps at Target and we picked up a half dozen to line the road. Mind you, these are not expensive gizmos (retail price of each: $2; we, too, were surprised). Ed thought to attach them to tall wooden posts and now we have the task of pounding the posts into the packed dirt road.

Ed does the pounding.

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Too suburban? He asks after putting in the third lamp.
No! Solid and cool!

In the late afternoon, Ed and I ride into town (on his motorbike; Rosie can't support two people) for the celebration of my friend’s graduation. My friend did the complicated and difficult task of retraining while attending to kids, work, passions, you name it, she did it. Ed doesn’t usually step out of the house for social endeavors, but for this, we’re both on board.

Congrats, friend!

the graduate

At this most wonderfully event, I run into a person I knew very many years ago. We had kids the same age. She was utterly angelic toward mine in years when it all seemed so complicated and work and kids and kids and life just weren’t fitting together so perfectly. Her husband was my kids' doctor and I had the habit of saying (truthfully) that one big reason why I would never consider leaving Madison is because I cannot imagine ever finding a pediatrician as good as him.

Funny how when you get older all these stories come back. Vivid now, as if no time had passed, as if you still had kids in the preschool playground and the future for them, for you was one great blank page, without the dense script of lived years filling it all in...

My daughter and her fiancée are at the farmhouse for dinner. And for the first time, it is warm enough to do a comfortable Sunday night meal out on the porch.


Eventually they leave and I am about to slide behind my laptop screen, when Ed says – let’s play tennis.

And we do play, and it’s a beautiful night and my game is predictably funny and awful all at the same time, and his game is just slightly timid and I can't help but feel the laughter coming to the surface again -- the giddiness after a good meal and from the good companionship that is ours.

That old phrase Ed and I used to love to pull out? The one about us having nothing in common? It doesn’t ring true anymore.


... especially not now and especially not at the farmhouse. Cleaned up and spiffy and vacuumed for the week(s) ahead.