Thursday, November 29, 2012


There wasn't even a pretense of lightheartedness. I knew today would be tough and it was and by the time Rosie and I hit the rode home, it was too dark to even think about taking out the camera. 

The days are intensifying. The end of the semester is always like this, but as I get older, I notice it much more. As in, what the hell is happening here?? Where have all the hours gone? How can I slow down??

Tonight, you could see that Ed felt sorry for me because he pressed for a dinner out, but then we used my gift card to pay for the meal at our local Italian place and so I told him that this didn't count. Count for what? Oh, for the tally of magnanimous gestures that each claims s/he makes for the other. At this point, I'd say we're pretty even.

At home, sweet Isis comes within five minutes of our return which is pretty darn lazy on his part (he is usually here within 30 seconds). The cat knows. We are here. He can come and go and we will be here to let him in when he is ready. He has it reversed: indoors when he needs a comfy toilet situation (terrific litter!). Then outside -- to inspect briefly the comings and goings of all living things. Then inside again, usually to nap.

To nap... Sounds so pleasurable.

Tired. Damn tired. Tomorrow will be better.

Pictures? Just of the farmhouse. When I was leaving, early this morning.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

long day's journey

This morning, as I was scrambling to attend to the last detail -- the printing of lecture notes -- I said, not too quietly, I am so, so late! Ed noted that I have said the exact same words every day this week (and in weeks prior). And I retorted, as I usually do -- well, you don't have to ever worry about being late, but I do! It's not entirely accurate, but it has great impact value, I think.

We did have our breakfast, but that, too, was late. So we took it to the front (enclosed) porch, rather than staying in our usual breakfast nook.

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It was a beastly cold morning, but I could not, would not see myself for the second day in a row in the car, so I revved up Rosie and away we flew. (But it was cold!)

After classes, there were meetings and after meetings there was the email -- you have to appreciate how computers have changed our lives: they make sure that our work day never ends. Ever.

I had an errand to do on State Street and so my photos for today will be from the quick run down the street that links our campus with the capitol.


...just before the sun set and the day turned dark and cold.

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(The dark and cold part set in on the Rosie ride home.)


Reheated dinner, reheated evening, waves of warm air inside the farmhouse, moments of peace before the pace picks up again tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

about Christmas

I was thinking today about the American Christmas. I was first exposed to it as a seven year old, when I landed on the shores of America. This, after living in a country that certainly had Christmas on the ground and even Christmas in the air (contrary to what westerners think, we had the trees, the Santa, the music, the holiday foods even in the 1950s, when I was a kid), but it wasn't quite like Christmas in America. People in the States use the term "commercial," often in a derogatory way. Too commercial. Too over the top. Insane. It's all about buying. That's a funny accusation since we now watch the economics of it all and we cross our fingers that there will have been enough buying on Black Friday or Cyber Monday to push us nearer to a recovery.

But this isn't what lead me onto this path of Christmas thought. Instead, as I glanced at the TV listings (for those of us who have just the basics, meaning no cable), I noticed a handful of holiday offerings and I thought -- hmmm. Despite the season, there is no sign of Christmas at the farmhouse.

Which is curious, since as a kid, I was perhaps more than my mother, father, sister, grandma, grandpa -- the one who loved Christmas most. The little atheist kid who could not get enough of Christmas. And when my family moved for a handful of years to the States, I loved it even more: I firmly believed that Americans did Christmas well! Yes, yes, commercial and with puffy Santas and a whole bunch of Christmas specials on TV -- perhaps not having a whole lot of connection to the original Christmas story, but with the spirit and passion of a nation who never did anything tamely.

And when I had my own family, I put on the music early -- a terrific combination of John Rutter, acquired very early on, when my kids were just babes, comingled with the Muppets, and Williams Sonoma Jazz CDs that you could purchase right there as you were paying for the stocking stuffers.

In those days, I had so little time to fully engage the holidays -- go ahead, you try to be spirited when your kids are tots and you're still going to law school and taking finals up until the day just before Christmas Eve.

But there was the music and the tree and the chocolate covered gingerbread from Clasens and and and there were the young child's Christmas books that we bought each year from Border's bookstore.

December rocked with Christmas!

So it's curious that the farmhouse is 'Christmas light.'

Maybe I needed a break. Maybe I found holidays to be too hard.

Or maybe it's that I hang out with a New York Jew who never really understood or liked holidays -- at least not after he turned twelve. 

I'm rethinking my position. This year once more I will not put up a tree. I'll join my daughters in their celebrations. But in future years maybe I should moderate my approach. Maybe a small tree? With music playing as I put up a decoration or two? Maybe?

In other news, it was a tough day with all those details that make it impossible to tread lightly through the hours. Wake up early, eat breakfast, in the east room, by the exploding Christmas cactus (it puts on quite the show each year, but it doesn't always get the Christmas dates right).

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Then work.

At dusk, I stop briefly at Paul's cafe and then Ed and I continue home. By the light of the full Beaver Moon (well, one day short, but who can tell)…

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I cook up our farmhouse tomatoes and made a bisque out of them and then, as Ed goes out to play his game of volley ball, I turn on the Christmas specials on TV. 

Monday, November 26, 2012


Ed will say again and again that the more items you have to care for, the less free you are. This year he has the evidence for it: as he moves from fixing one car to the next, to the tractor, to the snow blower, to the chain saw, to the water heater, and so on, he does it without complaint, but I can just see the resolve sink in not to acquire a single other item. Every item has a life span of ten years, he'll tell me. We move from fixing one thing to the next, to the next...
I protest a little: Most people, unlike you, will pay someone to fix these things for them! But it's a poor argument this week when he has seen me spend hours trying to get someone to fix (under warranty!) a malfunctioning camera for me. Hiring someone to do the job doesn't necessarily mean that your burden is lifted.

So it doesn't feel that great to spend a second day now clicking away my credit card information at various websites. But, at least most of this is in pursuit of gifts for others. I'm burdening them, not us with stuff. Hopefully, most of it is indestructible. At least not readily so.

But I need a yoga class today and I am glad to have a Peaceful Flow one available early in the morning. I almost left you with photos of bleak landscapes, nothing more, but on one of my afternoon errand runs, I came across a family of cranes and pulling over to watch them stomp through the fields definitely counts as a highlight.

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Later, Ed and Isis amused me with their games...

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And still later, as we were returning from a quick run to Paul's and to the library, we caught against our backs the red beauty of the setting sun.

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The temperatures are falling dramatically tonight. I'm not worried. The farmhouse is very very snug. Always. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

turtle pace

I surely cannot be proud of this day. It fizzled and died on me early and any great idea that I or we had for it was lost in the disappearing hours.

It has been a long and hard semester, but I've had those before and so I can't entirely blame my lethargy on that. Nor on the holidays -- they've been over and done with for three days now. You do not need three days to recover from preparing a meal.

There are the small frustrations -- I could kick those around a bit. Ed has had a stream of brakes to replace -- on his car, on mine, on the truck. During the last weeks he has spent a good part of each day underneath cars, prying apart rusty bits of metal. But why would that have an effect on my level of activity? True,  I've been struggling with my own stream of malfunctions: a broken camera, for example -- which I had sent in to be repaired (under warranty!) and it came back as broken as ever! So there is a bit of frustration there, but hey, days are full of repair troubles.

What's really making me restless is the fact that I read a stack of clippings my mother sent me on a recent book about the political upheaval in postwar Poland. So I've been thinking about that. In the middle of the night, I wake up and want to put down on paper how this all fits into the story (okay, the book) I am writing on the side. You know, the long neglected one -- the one that I have not touched since the semester began.

I'll be in Poland again in just a couple of weeks and of course, this makes me anxious -- as if I ought to now, more than ever, give more thought to how I can use my Warsaw time productively,  even though my time there will be, as always, very short.

So, I wrote all these excuses for a slow day and they aren't especially convincing but there you have it. I didn't leave the house until late in the afternoon and only because I had to -- to supplement groceries for the week ahead. And let me assure you that shopping late on the Sunday after Thanksgiving is especially disheartening, as the shelves are bare and the music, Christmas music, seems hollow and not very convincing.

But, there were Christmas trees for sale outside the store and the smell was lovely.

And, too, even on days when I hardly step outdoors, I need only look up and remind myself that I live beneath the great midwestern sky…

Driving home from the store, I glance out at our lakes. This is part of my world. Amazing.

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How could it be this beautiful...

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And, to add bounty to the day, my older girl and her husband drop over for Sunday supper. Nothing fancy -- spaghetti all'amatriciana (which has spicy peppers in addition to the usual garlic, olive oil, bit of tomato). Some people would call it comfort food. Okay. But I was comforted significantly before I worked the fork into the plate of noodles.

It was a slow day, but who's to say that a fast paced Sunday is preferable?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

city mouse

Normal and different. Most days are like that. You see it, don't you? The normal:

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And now for the different: a shopping day.

It's cold outside -- it never moves beyond freezing. And still, I take Rosie out. I want to go downtown and she's a champ for that: no parking issues, none at all. But oh, do I feel the freeze on her windy back! There's a beautiful sky around me and I detour slightly to get a good, satisfying look at it.

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But when I turn Rosie around to get back on my route, she slides, glides, tips over and falls. And I fall with her. At 2 mph, it's an inconsequential set of bruises. But it's a reminder: Rosie does not like winter. Much as I love the freedom she brings for me, I really should retire her for the cold spell. And in the meantime, I should watch the turns.

Alright: out of the country, into the city.

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It's "small business appreciation day" and I'm plenty happy to be doing what little gift shopping I have down on State Street.

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I have the luxury of taking my time on this. If you're crowding someone's home with more stuff, it better be thoughtfully acquired. Today I can be thoughtful.

It's pretty downtown now, in a holidayish sort of way.

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Nothing at the farmhouse would tell you that we are at the cusp of the Christmas season. The same cannot be said of downtown.

At a kids' store, I come across a book signing. This throws me back to days when bookstores where a place I'd readily spend any and all my free hours. And when my girls were little, any new book by this author would be near the top of my shopping list:

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It's satisfying to see him still drawing a crowd (our local hero: Kevin Henkes).

And it's delightful to see among the shoppers a beloved character from his stories -- the lovely Miss Lilly, with her plastic purple purse.

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That wold of children's stories! Of sadnesses, presented so well in just a few words, and of hope- filled endings, of colorful characters, of impossible feats, silly, serious, all in one -- how could you not love that world!

I get back on Rosie, I tell her to stay focused, to go easy. We head home.

At the farmhouse, we have a pleasant, if slow evening. Not much crossed off any master list. We make a trip to the public library, I prepare leftovers for supper.

It's a good ending to a superbly wonderful holiday period. As one commenter noted -- I have two weeks of intense work ahead. A deep breath and a look to the weeks after, when I can exhale again.

Friday, November 23, 2012

the day after

One last holiday (or is it post holiday..) meal together: breakfast the next morning.

But before it, I toss and turn as an unusually strong weather system moves through overnight.  We don't get the precipitation, but we most certainly get the winds. Howling like the dickens, all night long. And then, in the morning -- cold.

Slowly, very slowly, the household eases into the new day -- with the kind of breakfast you want (I hope) for a cold morning -- eggs with sausages, pancakes with blackberry maple syrup, fruits, juices, coffees.

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In the meantime, wild turkeys trot by, as if defying our celebrations the day before.

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And then it's over. Oh, one daughter lingers, another does too, for a while, but we all have our work agendas for the day and the holiday mood can be only a memory. With leftovers. Turkey salad. Which Ed and I eat alone later in the evening.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012


We sit down in the living room of the farmhouse, someone puts in the movie, we turn it on. We digest.

For me, it's not just the food -- it's the day, all of it. Some things did not happen: there was no time to take the family walk outdoors even though it was immensely gorgeous and unseasonably warm. Also, dinner was ready by 6:30 - not 6, as I had planned (blame it on the turkey which came advertised as "never frozen," yet felt quite iced over when I took it out at noon).

But far far far more important is all that did happen. As usual, on the fullest, richest days, I haven't the hours to properly talk about them here, on Ocean. That's a given. But, photos helps and they'll set the theme for today which was -- well, see if you can pick one out.

I'm up at 5. Something about taking the cinnamon rolls out so they get to room temperature. And my head starts spinning about what side dish to serve in which bowl. So I'm up. And I know I'll be tired too soon, but I remind myself that after overnight flights I'm capable of moving through a day without much sleep, so too, I'll be fine today.

Oh, there's the sun: finally, witnessed from the farmhouse breakfast room.

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But on this morning, we do not eat breakfast here. We're back in the kitchen.

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I place the cinnamon rolls and the bacon and the fruit and the coffee on the table and people help themselves.

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There are still two meals ahead of us and so now we must focus and, too, strike a balance: get lunch foods on the roll (squash soup with cheese dumplings, chive scones)…

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… but also keep to the schedule with the big meal.

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As you can see, I have help. My little one and her guy are in the kitchen with me and we check off one item after the next.

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My older girl keeps us entertained with the click of her knitting needles.

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And because I have help, the meals stay on schedule. Beautifully so.

We eat lunch at a decent hour...

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And then we get back to the main meal prep. In the meantime, Ed, too, has his hands full. With the new orchard. This is the day to finally build those fences around the tiny stalks. It's quite the project and when I go out to say an encouraging word, I'm impressed with how much he has accomplished.

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And we have forged ahead too, back at the farmhouse.

In the evening we take one more pause to snack on raw veggies and cheeses and bits of smoked salmon…

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And now comes the final push. No, wait, the men need a more extended pause.

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 Okay, back for the sprint to the end. The turkey comes out, three dishes, waiting for this moment, go in. I carve, others keep an eye on the stove...

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We're ready: the herb rubbed turkey with the savory stuffing and mushroom gravy, the mashed potato, coupled this year with a sweet potato, the corn and chilies, the brussels sprouts with maple syrup and roasted hazelnuts, the cranberries…

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Followed by the single item that takes almost as much time as the bird -- the apple pie.

Oh, it's all good: all lovingly put together, and appreciatively eaten.

It would be hard under these circumstances, when I have nothing but good will and enthusiastic energy around me, not to love Thanksgiving.


It is too late to try to sound clever here. I can only say that I truly hope that your day was brilliant. As golden as they come. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

day before

I would like to be not too fussy in life. Not easily flustered. Mellow. (I worry that I think myself to be more devil-may-care than I really am.) One thing's certain: living at the farmhouse has loosened me up considerably. The traits of the other person become, if not your own, then at least sweetly accepted as part of life now. Socks, left on the living room floor (not just yesterday's, from the day before, too), junk mail on the kitchen table, four shoes in various state of disrepair tossed in any direction in the mudroom. I smile at all this. If it nags at me, I quietly push it aside.

But all that I don't mind in my everyday must be tidied and swept under the rug by tonight when the first batch of family arrives. They wouldn't care, of course, but I care. And so I get up early again, give myself (and my yoga buddy, who, despite an ankle fracture, is back at it!) a yoga hour to reset some internal compass or other (so early is it that the morning fog hasn't even begun to burn away)…

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…and then I do stage three (one and two were earlier -- Woodman's comes to mind) of food shopping -- the best stage of all, because it includes all my favorites -- the produce, the bird, all of it. (Stage four is less desirable and I had stage four today as well: it's when you get home and realize you forgot the eggs.)

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filling the cart with produce

And now it's time to unpack the foods...

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(in a fit of giddiness, I added a bottle of Chaume... for the dessert)

... and pay attention to the flowers (looking especially regal in the late afternoon sun).

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I have, too, a new vision on how to proceed this year: I'll create a timeline, so that tomorrow's preparations aren't random or surprising. It really made an impression on me when a food magazine editor admitted that last year his guests had to wait too long for the meal to appear. It's no good serving snacks and having people consume too much (foods, wines, you name it) before the turkey stops running pink juices.

So now back to the kitchen for me. To start in on -- whatever it is that I have as item one on the timeline.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

come ride with me

Sometime in the middle of the night it struck me that this fall I rarely biked to work. Understandable: it's 50 minutes each way and that's if you put some muscle into the effort. Yoga filled what free time the work week offers. But I had this nagging thought that maybe I should get up earlier just this once so that I can bike before it becomes too difficult (cold) to do so. Today has the unexpected pleasant temperatures and I have no meetings after my classes. Come on, just say yes!

Whatever reluctance I had washes away as I glance at the morning headlines in the paper. 96.5% of my fellow countrymen and women do not even get to the 150 minutes per week level of movement. Let me not ever turn away from movement! And given that so much time will be spent on eating this week, shouldn't I work ahead to earn what's soon to be heaped upon my plate?

So I ride good old Mr. Red. And I am in a hurry.  I pant all the way to campus and I can hardly take the time to smell the roses (besides, there aren't any roses). But it is a fine ride!

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leaving the country

entering the city

The campus starts to empty out on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Looking out my office window at the quiet Bascom Mall, I can hardly believe that it's the late November holiday already. The trees are quite bare, but still, our grasses remain green and our students continue to be scantily clad.


Going home is the more pleasant ride. Not needing to rush, I take the longer loop.

The sky is a pale hazy blue, or gray, depending on how hard you stare at it. Fishermen are out on Lake Monona and I can pause now to admire them (on Rosie, there is no pausing by the lake -- the stretch of road doesn't permit it).


Home. Where there's already too much to do and too little time for it all, but as always, Ed distracts me and we walk the land together. He has a new fencing system in mind for the young orchard and we talk about the new strategy.  Isis tags along.

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In other news:

After a not too easy day at work, I ignore all impulses to crawl under the quilt at home and I throw myself into cleaning the farmhouse. It doesn't need it, but I have become one of those odd types who must clean to a shiny gloss the house that my girls (and their guys) will be visiting soom. I laughed at this very trait when I was young: why would parents (in-laws in my case) clean and prep a home because the kids are coming?  And now here I am, scrubbing my knuckles bare because the kids are coming.

So tomorrow, if all goes well, my younger girl arrives with her guy and on Thursday morning, my older one and her guy will be here and then, well, let's not run away with ourselves here, on Ocean. Then will be then. Let's keep our minds and hearts open to all possibilities. So long as we're under the same roof, who cares if the turkey fails and the pies collapse. (But I'll tell you if that happens because it will be entertaining.)


Ed is out playing pick-up volley ball. I'm done with cleaning, prepping, working. Right now, I band in solidarity with all those who have a person in the house who configures the TV/PC/DVD system to such an art that no one but said person can understand how to jumpstart it. So it's quiet at the farmhouse at this second. The "no signal" sign parades across the TV screen, Isis sleeps by my side, the work for today is done.

Tomorrow my whole being will focus on getting food into a state of preparedness so as to make Thanksgiving flow effortlessly, smoothly, without panic, without complication. In the alternative, I will try to pretend that all the above is true and that any mistakes are intended and not mistakes at all.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday because, despite the challenges and mishaps, it always, always is joyous.

Monday, November 19, 2012


It was almost as if there was a theme for this day -- a gifted theme. Here's one example -- that the sun stayed out long enough for us to have our breakfast in its warmth. That's a real present.

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Another unusual offering: a doctor's appointment where the doctor stayed on schedule. So that afterwards, I had time to spare and as a result, I could sidestep into Madison's most secret natural outdoor space -- Owen Woods.

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For not much more than a glance, but a highly satisfying glance. November's earthy tones!

And there was time, too, to pick up wines for the Thanksgiving meal. A gift from my mother.

And wait, not done yet -- the gift of a visit with my friend, who is passing through Madison on her way north.

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You noticed the cast on her arm, right? Two of my good friends cracked bones this last week. Am I third in line?

Still going strong: Ed and I want to deliver a bag of goodies to a friend who is long overdue for such a gift. After dinner, I tell him.  That in itself is a gift (from Ed): we're scheduled to have a dinner out. Well, this one's expected. He is craving mussels and fries and at Jac's they're on sale on Mondays (and wines are half price… I mean -- win win).

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And by chance, we run into my friend (and her husband) there -- the one for whom we're toting a gift! One other way to describe her -- my yoga buddy. And here's yet a third way  -- she's the one who broke her ankle last week.

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I'm home now. I have only a few minutes. So many classes to teach tomorrow, so many meal notes to prepare afterwards, for the Thanksgiving that's before us. So many gifts, all in one week.