Tuesday, July 31, 2012

cheering for bees

Well now, this was a day to test all day in terms of how many errands I can do quickly, efficiently and with unexpected twists and turns along the way. Of the type when you go to your office and get sidetracked, so that you do little of what you were supposed to do but accomplish other things instead.

I was away from the farmette all day, but in the hours before I took off for downtown, I had my hands full with beetles that are congregating on the emergent rose blooms. No matter how many I shake off into a soapy solution, there are others. And more still. So I do this in the morning and I notice an uncomfortable truth: the mosquitoes that were absent last year? That have been thus far absent this year? They’re here. Not massively yet, but we know it’s only a question of days.

I hope so very much that they wont proliferate before the weekend – I have one, two, three days of mega events at the farmhouse this week-end – it would be nice if bugs were not included in the revelry.

So I chase beetles, I curse mosquitoes and I applaud and encourage the beneficials. The bees, for example. I always cheer for the bees.

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At night, I have nothing good to offer for supper. Olympics, salad, eggs. 

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Ed falls asleep immediately after the eggs and salad.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

hot, continued

Well, you can’t have it both ways. A good writing day over there means a lousy one over here. It’s the kind of day where you have room for only one (if that) explosion of stardust.

Blame it on the weather. The summer heat. As a gardener, I’m not prepared. I haven’t planted for this. I planted for northern Midwest spring and summer. My nasturtium, revived last week, now look like it wants to bail out on me again. The potted plants are wilting even as I refuse to water them until the sun sinks below the tree line.
And we’re fighting the beetles. And moving around wasp nests. The usual stuff, but all done in temps that even have me liking air conditioning and that’s saying a lot.

Across the road, the farmers' fields stand silent. There's little activity in these very doggy days of summer.

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Today I actually speak wistfully about winter. The easy season for us. No garden to hover over. No bugs to chase away. No hours with the hose. A mouse every now and then – caught, sent to another field. Nothing more than that.

Ah, greener pastures.

We do bike to Paul’s café but only after a period of couch sitting and deliberating – should we, should we not... And we play tennis on the way back, but I don’t run after missed balls. 

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In the evening I water flowers.  For a long time. Ed picks tomatoes.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012



To a commenter on yesterday’s post, I offer this added line or two  –  uncertainty?  It shifts, that’s all. I’m 18, I travel to the States and I don’t know where I will live. Here? In Poland? Elsewhere? And with whom? And what work will be mine?

Kids are born, they approach their teen years and I have the same questions, only it’s about them now: will they find good partners in life? What will they do?

And then, it shifts again: will I be healthy tomorrow? And will he be healthy too?


James Taylor is in my head still. Especially as sung by Carole King. I had left the States (in 66) singing the Beatles and I came back (in 71) to Carole King. You could say that she reintroduced me to America. Five years had passed since I's been here and boom! I'm in a new world! The whole country seems like it is swaying on its heels, riddled with uncertainty. This is the New York I had left behind? My days of taking the skateboard to Central Park are over. The air seems dense, not with summer smog but with campus smoke. Of the kind I hadn’t smelled before.

So there is Carole King and “you’ve got a friend” and “beautiful” (remember? You've got to get up every morning, With a smile on your face, And show the world, All the love in your heart...) and these became my lyrics.


We wake up and Ed pulls up youtubes – of Carole King, of the Shirelles, of Celine Dion. Carole King hits, all of them, and I read her biography on line and I think – when did she become 70? Oh, I know: the year I turned 59.
Outside, there’s just a touch of rain. The kind that tingles when it comes down in warm drops. A pleasant effortless rain that does no good but no harm either. The roses love it, so do the chipmunks.

A garden is a panorama of nature's foibles. One set of issues replaced by another. I notice that the pansies and the lupine, mollycoddled and finally revived, were chomped off this morning by some animal who found my efforts delightfully tasteful. So let me show you one revived rose, because tomorrow, she's likely to be gone.

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In the afternoon I do some writing, yes, good, there's that. I note that I'm on page 130 so that's seven added this year. Consdier it pathetic or good or somewhere between the two. And then, because I need a break, I make this:

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You think ice cream? Yes, true. Creamy and frozen. But what is it? Just one ingredient: banana. A daughter told me of it -- a recipe that calls for ice cream made with just bananas and my verdict is that it tastes just like bananas.

In the evening, my older girl comes over with her fiancee and it's so tempting, so tempting to just keep her here because she and I enjoy Olympic watching even as the men would yawn and turn away from the competitive events, but I resist.

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 It's not as if the Olympics will end tonight and we can go back to normal. They'll be a tug for the next two weeks and I expect that every night I'll go upstairs to a sleeping Ed and I will say -- I wish you had watched and he'll say -- yes gorgeous and we'll fall asleep and wake up to a new day.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

and I'll be there...

Would you like to go to Ravinia?  -- she had asked when we were talking about my coming down to see her and her boyfriend.
It’s sold out for that night, but we can still find tickets.
Who’s playing?
James Taylor.

And so after work, she picks up sandwiches and wines at Pastoral and the three of us take the commuter train from downtown Chicago to Ravinia.

...downtown Chicago. I'm here, looking around for them.  Crazy downtown Chicago...

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Oh, I see her! In workday darks.

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On the approach to Ravinia, we’re slightly dazed. There's nothing accidental about this vast concert space. It's not a what the hell, let's wing it venue. It’s carefully tended. As we look around for a space to spread our tablecloth and set up chairs (imported, from Madison’s concerts on the square!), James Taylor begins to sing and right away you appreciate how really excellent the sound system here is.

For those with lawn tickets, the performer is remote, invisible. But you can hear him alright, as if he were speaking to you in the same room. (You can also stroll over toward the open auditorium and catch a glimpse of him in person. I did that.)

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We find a lovely spot and the food is so good and the wines, too, are great and it’s really just so sublime to sit on a cool evening, listening to music from those days... days when everything, absolutely everything seemed so tenuous and uncertain. That was then. Years pass and now here you are thinking --  uncertainty is how it is. Always there to keep you on your toes.

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But maybe that's just the way things played out for me. Each one lives her or his life differently. And that's a good thing.

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James Taylor’s last song is one that’s too familiar to so many of us. A few stand in circles of embrace, swaying, singing. I remember handwriting the words, carefully, in a letter to a friend, back in 1971 -- the year when I was freshly in the States for who knew how long. It was a lonely time for me.

...and that old north wind should begin to blow
keep your head together and call my name out loud
and soon I will be knocking upon your door...

I wanted someone to be knocking upon my door.

The train ride back is crowded, beautiful, swaying in the darkness of a perfect night.

Brunch in the morning – city brunch, which is where brunch makes sense because at the farmhouse it would have been called late breakfast and it would have been just oatmeal with fruit.

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And then I’m off, driving home. Sigh. I wish they lived three miles rather than three hours (on a good day) away.

But, I remember what she said to me – in all her adult years she has had a home that she loved to come back to at the end of a long day. And I have mine now. After a half dozen years of groping for it, it’s there – the door I’m so happy to open at the end of any day.

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Immediately I hit the garden, making adjustments, pulling dry stalks, watering the new babes that seem to need it most.

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In the evening, we play tennis, Ed and I. I’m not ready to keep score yet, but I’m awfully close to it.

We’re on the motorcycle, zipping after to Roman Candle, where we pick up a mushroom and extra garlic pizza. It’s tricky to carry a large pizza on a motorcycle. Ed places it on his lap, I hold onto it from behind.

We watch the Olympics. Or at least Isis and I watch. Ed gives up after the first hour.
Why don't you like the Olympics? 
I don't know... People cheering for their country...it  promotes feelings of nationalism. 
No, of individual excellence! As if on cue, I wipe a tear for the Australian, for the Irishman, for the Dutch. Isis merely looks on.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

...then take the garden to her

Early in the morning, I finish planting the last (I hope) of the damage control plants in my suffering flower beds at the farmette. And I try to be nice to Isis, even though he and I need to have a little talk about his love of going in and out of the farmhouse all night long.

And early in the morning (for us) – Ed and I eat breakfast on the screened porch.

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Late in the morning I load the car with potted flowers – the ones I picked up for my little girl who, too, has moved – still to a Chicago city apartment, but one with outdoor deck space. One that can hold nice, Wisconsin flowers in big clay pots. Off I drive to the big city.

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Early in the afternoon, I unload the pots, place them on her deck, see my working girl briefly, admire her stellar new place (now with Wisconsin flowers)...

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...and set off for a brief stroll through her neighborhood.

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...which is delightfully serene and residential, but very urban, all at the same time.

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And, late in the afternoon, on a bit of a lark, I get my hair cut. I had been tempted to do it myself, but in the end, I gave in and let “Liz” do it – a quick and straightforward job with the cheapest cutter I could find within a twenty block radius. No more braiding at night, like some Dickensian character, walking up the stairs with a plait of tangled mess. Of course, I pander to my boss at home (yes, you, my dear!) and so it’s still long-ish.

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We have plans in Chicago – my daughter, her boyfriend and I and it’s going to be a late night, so the post goes up early, afternoon early! How is that for a clever idea!

Tomorrow, I drive back home.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

minute by minute

The clock moves forward. At night, the rains come, during the day, the sun heats and somewhat dries the wet fields. The committee on the proposed ban on moped parking in the city of Madison meets and listens to the arguments on both sides (you can guess where I come down on this issue). I think about how most people aren’t affected by committee meetings and council decisions – you wont notice it, you wont care, but for us moped commuters, it’s a big push back into the car, with all that it entails.

Still, tick tock tick tock. 

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The Fitchburg market is selling the usual, though less of it. One of my reliable vendors isn’t there for lack of product (though she promises to return later in the month with tomatoes and corn). Others show up, grateful that it’s *only* in the mid eighties outside. There is  corn, but some of it is dry at the tips while another vendor is warning that they’ve got worms at the tips  -- it’s as if this year, nature is going to get at you, no matter what.

Kids come to the market. Preschoolers, in bunches. These have cute clips in their hair. Maybe that was the morning activity: put cute clips in hair.

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Slightly older kids pick up honey sticks which, I suppose is healthier than the Bit o’ Honey candy bar I coveted when I was their age.

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Ed and I pause to play tennis. A bad game and then another. Tick, bounce, tock, bounce... Sorry! Out! We motorbike home. Tick, tock...

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Another minute and another. I add pages to my book at home – pages! – and plant the rest of the tired bunch of flowers and herbs. Grueling work. The earth is hard and unforgiving. I tell myself – I should be grateful for having anything come out of it this year.

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Isis comes up the brick path, tick, step, tock, all the way...

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We eat a humble meal of eggs, scrambled with market mushrooms and a salad at the side. The crumbled cheese in it is local, the tomatoes are our own.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Secrets, in general

I don’t live in a world of secrets. That’s obvious. I blog and even though not everything makes it onto Ocean, most big ticket items do appear here. If a daughter’s getting married, you’re going to hear about it. Had Ed fallen off the ladder, I probably would have recorded it, broken bones and all.  

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[Of course, very small items pop up on Ocean as well – I’m not shy about describing the unimportant, the small change, the kind of stuff you’d once find in a 5 and 10 – colorful, maybe, but ultimately fleeting. Tossable. The stuff we all have too much of.

Sometimes, it's not even colorful.]

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Secrets, the specifics

This afternoon, Ed looks at me and I can’t tell whether there is a deeply felt disappointment or merely surprise when he says – I did not know about this addiction of yours. As if all other ones were duly noted and he’d come to terms with them but this, this was unexpected!

Well yes, it’s true. I find it hard (impossible) to pass by an opportunity to expand flower beds. He should have known. Indeed, he’s been stoking the fire, what with his spring habit of dumping wood chips all over the farmette, ostensibly to kill grasses and weeds, but in my opinion – enticing me to deposit flowers in the newly created beds. He’s an enabler.

Today I went to get an extra clay pot and I came home with a plant or two and really, that would have been just fine except this is not good weather for planting things. And in truth, there were more than “a plant or two” in the car.

It’s hitting 100 degrees F again.

Stealthy habits

It’s not good weather for biking. In fact, let’s be honest – it’s not good weather for anything or anyone, except maybe the beetles that have taken to copulating in threesome configurations, especially during the hottest part of the afternoon. On our roses.

Still, we bike to Paul’s café even as I admit to Ed that I think I am drinking too much coffee and too much milk with it and...  gosh, why is this blog post suddenly all about my addictions?

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Which brings me to the topic of spritzers. There is, I think, no better aperitif on a hot, hot summer evening than an Aperol spritzer (recipe discussed earlier, in March, from Italy), but there are few things as pathetic as sitting alone on the porch and watching plants wilt, with an Aperol spritzer on the side. Ed would normally join me in the theatrical production of “While the Plants Wilt” but he bikes Wednesday nights and so here I am, tossing the idea of throwing together the bubbly and the ice and the orange and the Aperol, wondering if there is anything that I can do to help the flowers make it through yet another blistering summer hot spell.

No, no spritzer. Can I settle for cauliflower, eggs and tomato?

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In the meantime, Isis moves quietly outside, so quietly that he can’t even make the movement sensor sound the chimes on his approach to our door. A dragon fly buzzes past and the darn thing chimes, but Isis is a cat of stealth when he moves about the property. Of utter secretive silence.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

peaches and tomtoes

Can I interest you in photos of growing things?

Our most wonderful and exciting hour was actually an early one: right after breakfast (Ed asks – can we eat inside? The fruit bowl is so pretty here...)

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(The fruits and tomatoes are a 50 - 50 mix of store bought and from the garden.)

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A storm had passed through and the world is damp – a rare feeling these days. (If you stuck your finger in the soil, you’d find that there wasn’t the needed sustained rainfall, but still, we’ll take the sprinkles. And the cooling clouds.)
Want to walk the property?
Of course I do. The three of us set out. It’s always the three of us – when we walk the land, Isis tags along. Even today, when the grasses are wet. True, he gets a hoist up if he asks for it.

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We examine the crop of our farmer, Lee, out back. Some of the plantings are damaged, others look good and strong. (They’re cucumbers, right? I’m used to seeing cucumbers crawl along the ground.)

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And we look over our new orchard. We’re losing one of the cherries to some unrecognizable disease and another tree is just a stick, having given up all leaves to a hungry deer, but the rest (dozen or so) appear fine.

And the tomatoes! Oh my, unless some untoward calamity takes our crop away, we’ll have a load to freeze for sure. For me, it is the most useful vegetable to preserve for the winter. (Nearly) every soup can incorporate tomatoes and the ones in stores have been really poor, even now, during the high season.

Ed asks – why did we plant so many tiny ones? Useless for freezing!
But great for salads! From now until frost, no dish of greens will be without these!

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We take another peek at the peaches too. They are almost ripe and we’re tempted to pull the whole crop off because the beetles, those very same beetles that are attacking our roses, are burrowing into the fruit. And they’re harder to shake off into soapy water here. If we pick all the peaches now, that'll mean peach ice cream, peach cakes and peach on oatmeal every day. (This is the one fruit that I don’t like to freeze. Defrosted peaches are... yukky.)

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Later in the morning, I replant various herbs and Ed, rather optimistically, empties out the remaining peas from a seed pack, counting on a harvest 60 days from now. That would put us at the end of September. Remember September in Wisconsin? There may be night frost by then!

Night frost... If there is anything that’ll put fire under my typing fingers it’s the idea that we are almost at the heels of fall.

And yet I linger outside, chasing down beetles, potting dahlias for a daughter who needs dahlias, snipping off spent heads of coreopsis and the fleeting lilies.

A commenter wrote a few days back -- Time in the garden is time well spent. One of my favorite things about it, besides promoting beauty, is that it's a chance to let my mind wander and be productive at the same time. That’s really so exactly correct! We have the heat, but we haven’t the bugs this year.  And so we can live outside. [I'm referring to the absence of mosquitoes... Ed chased wasps off the truck yesterday and with great ire, they relocated to my red Escort: first around the door handle then, after Ed put an old quilt over that, onto the wheel base... we offer them numerous places for repose and they continue to favor our wrecks of cars.]
It is a summer when I'm not pushing for us to go up north (they had the rains and, therefore, the bugs) or west. Not to hike, not to kayak, not to camp. It is quite wonderful just to walk the land and comment on how the tomatoes are getting along.

fixing things

On some days I think -- this is it, a perfect rendition of how a summer day should unfold. Other days? Well, they're like a checkerboard cookie: they have their chocolate and then too, their indifferently pale squares.  

 Much of the day was straightforward. My daughter is moving. I'm known to do miracles with shelf paper (meaning, I put it on shelves methodically, without throwing it on anything or anyone within eyesight, despite deep frustrations that always arise when attending to this dreary task ) and so I am charged with the job of putting it on the shelves of her new residence. That's the good set of chocolate squares. Providing help to a daughter is up there with doing good in this world.

Ed’s at her place too, with his highest possible ladder replacing lightbulbs. (I have to ask: who thinks of putting lamps in places that are out of reach of the ordinary mortal?)

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All good, all wonderful.

And here are  few more good squares: friends are at the farmhouse for dinner -- the kind of friends that you love to cook for because they are so very forgiving as to timing and presentation -- and this is the perfect opportunity to make a summer meal: salmon with blueberries and shallot, salad with cucumbers and tomato, roastedcorn. And plum honey ice cream.

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Who can not love plum honey ice cream?!

And so dinner is on the good side of the square pattern as well.

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On the other side? Well, for one thing, I'm late with posting. And Ed and I continue to have the conversation about what role we play in the game of life. On chocolate days, you could think of this as a wonderful engagement in life's challenges. In the less delectable times, you might consider it a tiring discourse that has no good answers, showcasing our most glaring differences in ways that benefit no one. 

And, don't forget that it hit 99 degrees this afternoon and I wasn't ready for it so most of newly planted green stuff wilted.

Thank God for daughters, friends and plum honey ice cream.

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And Ed and me. Thank God for that funky crazy world that he and I inhabit. Together.  With all our dissonances and chocolate squares as well.