Monday, December 31, 2012

arriving in ┼×irince

The flight to Izmir is full. I'm not surprised. It is shockingly inexpensive to travel within Turkey by plane. Take this segment: from Istanbul to Izmir (about an hour flying time) on Atlas Jet, it's $25 (without additional discounts). For this, we get not only the flight itself, but a warm snack (melted cheese sandwich, cake, coffee or a soft drink) and, too, upon arrival in Izmir, free transportation by bus to towns south of us. Including to Slecuk -- another hour's worth of travel.

It's 11 at night and raining as we touchdown. I'd be a lot more concerned about the what ifs and the what nows if it wasn't for the fact that both Ed and I are in that state of fog that comes from too much travel and way too little sleep. I must admit it -- we were bumped up on the transatlantic flight to great economy plus bullhead seats (it was a packed plane) so that we could stretch and doze some, but neither one of us sleeps fitfully on these flights and so now, 27 hours into the journey, we're bleary eyed and somewhat dazed. Tell us we're in central Turkey and it has the same impact as if you'd say welcome to central Illinois. Thanks for the information; now, where is there a bed?

There are eight of us on the small bus to Selcuk (the bus actually continues south, beyond our town). Somewhere in the recesses of my foggy mind I am relieved. Someone surely will help us reach our innkeeper. The rain hits the windshield steadily. The road (like the airport, like the local train that runs this way too, although at much earlier hours) is new and good. We are jostled from our half sleep when I see the lights of a quiet town streaming into the bus. Selcuk.

In the summertime, this now sleepy place of about 36,000 is buzzing with visitors. It's old, it's (they say) lovely to walk through, it's not far from coastal beaches, all that. But mostly, it's about a mile from Ephesus.

There'll be plenty of time for me to talk of Ephesus, but just as a preamble, let me mention, in case you haven't checked your Greek and Roman history lately that Ephesus was once (in Greek and Roman times -- think 1st century B.C.) the major port of the the Mediterranean (the silting up of the harbor pushed it inland by several miles). The ruins of Ephesus are what draw tourists to Selcuk. But this month the place sleeps through the rains. (Though I hear that a  couple of weeks from now they have a very popular camel wrestling competition going on. We are in Asia Minor indeed.)

Of course, we're not staying in Selcuk. I had to plunge us even deeper into quietness by picking the nearby village of Sirince for our first stop on this winter ramble. Sirince boasts of 600 residents. It's just about 10 kilometers up a winding narrow road. If Selcuk is quiet, Sirince is super quiet (though I read in the Huffington Post that it experienced its moment of good repute just about ten days ago when people flocked here to escape the Mayan Apocalypse, thinking for some reason that this area had some positive energy going).

As we pull up to the curb and the driver announces -- Selcuk -- looking straight at us, I reach for my sheet of paper with the innkeeper's phone number right there in big print. And sure enough -- though the driver doesn't speak English, we have more than one person reach for a cell phone. Ultimately the driver makes the connection. Eventually, through a confusion of many trying to convey a simple message, we understand. Cross the street and stand by the white building. Wait. He'll be there in fifteen minutes. One passenger waved us on: do not worry, he tells me in halting English, sensing my tired confusion. He will be there.

The bus leaves. The rain comes down steadily. And in fourteen minutes, a vehicle pulls up to the white building. No hike for us tonight. We are driving in the comfort of a heated little van.

It's nearly 1 a.m. (Turkish time, which is eight hours ahead of Madison time) when we enter our lovely, wee space at the delightful eight room Markiz Konaklari.

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We throw back the shutters just to look outside. It's dark of course. A few lights twinkle in the village below (it's quite hilly here).

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I'm tired, but so extremely excited for it to be morning already.

And of course, the misinterpreted Mayan Apocalypse notwithstanding, daylight does come and I look outside and I smile at the loveliness of it all.

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

still traveling...

It's evening. Against all odds, despite inconveniences, delays, but also with small pleasures and many grins, we are in the domestic airport of Istanbul, waiting for our quick flight to Izmir.

I have no great photos for you. I took the usual yesterday and today -- last breakfast at the farmhouse...

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...then nothing in Chicago, a sunset in flight over Detroit, but then no pic of a much coveted croissant at the Paris airport (talk about against all odds -- we ran to barely catch the flight, but I paused for a croissant), then one photo over the Alps (yawn.... mountains) and one taken while sprawling over Ed's lap as we were landing in Istanbul.

I'll spare you those photos.

But since we have these hours at the airport (and WiFi at a cafe where I am attempting to nurse a mineral water for many hours; here, I have a photo of the waiting people, just because this is what we do when we try to get places -- we teach ourselves to be patient, to wait)...

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...anyway, since there is this block of time here, I'll put up this nothing post, even though, really, we aren't anywhere at all. There is an Istanbul beyond the stark walls of this great airport hallway, but we're not seeing it just yet.

It's not my first, or even second trip to Istanbul (though Ed and I are only in the city at the end of this trip -- it's overpriced now, on this holiday weekend). In fact, you could say I first tested my travel feet on Turkey -- I dragged my sister here when we were barely adults and we half bused half hitchhiked our way up the Bosporus and back again, two young women courting adventure just a little bit too brazenly.

I assumed so much then! I assumed that flying in at midnight from Warsaw would be just fine. We stood outside the Istanbul airport as people quickly dispersed, there alone on the curb, two young women, wondering what the next step should be. In the city, I assumed I'd know what to see. I assumed that when I crossed a bridge, I'd be in Asia, because that's what the books say. So I crossed the wrong bridge and thought I was in Asia and I would have never known that I was wrong until, upon returning decades later I realized my mistake. So many of our mistakes never get corrected, adjusted, but that one did. I did not step onto Asia at age 20.

So here we are, Ed and I, waiting, thinking, reading, writing. It's good to be waiting with Ed. He is quite excellent at it.

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And, too, excellent at coping. And taking the wrong turn, on purpose. And he'll nudge me to do the same, reminding me that the world wont end if we have to spend a night in the ditch because luck didn't hold.

But for now, luck is still holding. And from my perspective -- that's a good thing.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Okay, so we're off! Our winter break together -- much discussed, much planned and then completely revised and replanned (as the reality of airfares sunk in) begins NOW. My hard effort these last ten days to finish reading exams paid off and I turned in the last of the grades this morning, with plenty of time to get the farmhouse in order and to review once more the backpack items, neatly stuffed into their designated spaces (we're traveling very light). The cat sitter is there for Isis, the weather's looking good for travel, we are OFF!

To where? Well, it's a rather unconventional itinerary for this time of the year. We'll be splitting our time between Turkey and a few of the Greek islands. It's not exactly warm there right now, but nor is it cold. And, if you can find places that are open year round (and I did), you'll come across some wonderful bargains (which pleases Ed) -- the biggest of which is the airfare itself: Chicago to Istanbul, $550, roundtrip.

There is, necessarily, a period of blogging quiet as we try to get to our first destination: Sirince -- a small village south of Izmir (Izmir itself is some 350 miles southwest of Istanbul). There isn't an easy way to get there, I can say that much. Here's what's in store for us: a bus ride to Chicago, then flights via Detroit, Paris and Istanbul. From Istanbul, we've already had our flight to Izmir cancelled, but there is another! One that gets to Izmir just before midnight. Then a bus to Selcuk -- the nearest town on a bus line and now it will be past midnight and I envision the driver dumping us unceremoniously at the side of the road, leaving us to our own devices. We'll either figure out how to call our innkeeper in Sirince, or... well, there's always walking. At midnight. Ten kilometers. Into the hills, along some yet to be found road, in a country where few speak English, assuming that anyone but the roaming dogs of Turkey would even be up at such an ungodly hour.

Let's just say I hope to reach the innkeeper, who has volunteered to come get us, if we find a way to let him know we're there.

But, all that is to be figured out. So much can happen, so many connections can be muddled or missed altogether -- why worry now about stray dogs at midnight in the deep belly of Turkey.

I'll write when we get there, somewhere, wherever, because one thing is certain in travel -- eventually you do get from one place to the next.

Friday, December 28, 2012

days of work, cont'd

I see myself as the kid who can't go out to play because some authority figure has decided that there's work to be done. No break for you, buddy. Stay home and clean your room.

From a predawn wake up, 'til now, I grade.

Here we are, a photo from breakfast -- note not how I eat breakfast, but how Ed's chin is finally free of the Santa beard. I tidied him up for our trip just before we sat down to our various foods.

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Then, I take breaks only to stare outside, wishing I could be there, rather than here, on the couch, buried under papers. The snow is coming down again and the world looks fresh and clean beneath its soft new cover.

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Ah, the world of the outdoors. I miss it so!

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Back to my books, notes and papers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

days of work

Don't even think you're going to get a sensible post today or tomorrow. Time is so tight that I passed on coffee at Paul's and lunch anywhere. I sit focused on one thing only: exam reading.

Breakfast is the exception. There must always be time for breakfast. I'll spare you the photo. (It was granola.)

After, I send Ed and Isis off to their work stations (the sheep shed)...

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... and I dig in. If I can finish by tomorrow -- that would be grand. If not -- well, life will go on.

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Late at night, after the last of the oysters, the last of the chicken soup, after one bad library movie, half watched while I tried to pay bills and attend to the bureaucratic details of life, after a bunch more hours reading and rereading papers, Ed suggested a walk. Just up and down the country road.

A rabbit scurried, a plane went by. We studied the trees that were cut back today to make room for the electrical wires. And then we went home. And I played some sad music to help me pick up the work papers again.

winter day

Take away the sunshine and the landscape changes entirely: it becomes an almost Pollock like canvas of black and white. I cannot emphasize this enough: winter on a cloudy day is a thing of stark contrasts -- without a hint of color.

I took an hour's break from grading to ski with Ed up the road again, by Lake Waubesa. A handful of photos surely prove my point (they are not photoshoped for color):

First, driving down, we have to pause for the gang of wild turkeys that always roams these parts:

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Okay, we're at the park. A mere two miles from the farmette.  We step outside. Brrr... Even though it's some ten degrees warmer than yesterday (we're in the mid twenty range), without the sun, it feels cold. The wind doesn't help. I always admire men (it's almost always men) who choose to spend their free time sitting on frozen water, buffeted and whipped about by the biting winds, waiting for a tug on a line submerged through a hole in what has to be still thin ice.

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What color you see is what the fishermen bring to the scene.

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Otherwise -- a canvas of black and white. Beautiful, to be sure. Pollock like, no? Just without color.

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And with the snow still clinging to one side of a tree trunk, it's as if someone inverted the black and white, to create a photographic negative.

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Still, it feels good to be outside, to be moving, to be warmed up by the exertion, to be part of the game of seasonal change, not just looking out at it from the indoors. Isis, I say to the cat. Embrace winter! Isis ignores me. When he's not sleeping on the bed, he's sitting at the very edge of the night table, tail wrapped around his toes, with his back to the world of ice and snow.

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Inside the farmhouse, on the other hand, we have an abundance of warm tones and pungent cooking smells. On this day, there are a few additional surprising twists to the usual fare. First of all, one daughter inspired me to reconsider granola (perhaps tiring of the repetitive photos of oatmeal for breakfast?). I can never fall in love with the stuff that's at the grocery store -- it always has too much of something I don't want. But she gave me a small pouch of good stuff for Christmas and it made me think -- I can do this myself. Make the good stuff right here. And so I do. If you want a fantastic fragrance for your winter home, bake granola! (This one has oats, bran, honey, blueberries and a touch of coconut and of course -- cinnamon.)

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Which then creates a slightly different breakfast image. Granola! With yogurt and fruit.

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The other surprise is also daughter inspired. My younger one gave us a bagful of one our favorite treats: oysters. Ed had to take on the shucking -- it's not easy! (Why is he in his jacket? It takes him a while to warm up after skiing. Possibly he'd do better if he wore something in addition to his t-shirt and year-round-all-weather jacket that has, according to me, zero warmth value. The man never wears sweaters or scarves. His concession to really frigid days is to switch from a t-shirt to an ancient cotton turtle neck. There you have it: his full spectrum of clothing accommodations.)

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We arrange the oysters on a plate, throw together a mignonette sauce (to which we like to add grated horseradish) and we are set for a very special treat indeed.

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Of course, that's just an appetizer. Dinner? That's easy: yesterday's roast chicken is today's chicken soup. We're using up all things in the refrigerator in anticipation of our Saturday departure. So the soup's with spinach!

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You'd never know from reading this post that the day was spent mostly on grading exams. Fact is, it felt almost like a holiday despite the tall stack of papers before me. Good food, a good hour on the trails and I can almost forget the tedious stuff that made up the bulk of this day. Almost.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Day

Sunrise. Happy winter! Merry Christmas.

A funny thing happened on my way to the kitchen. I noted the stack of mail that has been accumulating on the table. Ed knows my (wimpy) rule: if weeks go by and the pile only grows, I sweep it all up and dump it in the mudroom. And so I start to gather up the papers, the envelopes and I notice that there ia a card stuck there in the pile. A lovely little thing with a message about Christmas and spending time with the one you love. I finish reading, put it down and think for a bit. Who would buy it  and then toss it aside like this?

I go upstairs and ask the pile maker himself. Amid shrugs, groans and boyish grins, Ed admits that maybe his good pal left it there the other day. Maybe so that he, Ed, would give it to me. That same pal who occasionally brings Ed a fresh t-shirt from the dollar bin because he knows Ed wont buy one himself so long as threads remain in the old ones and will only accept an off hand purchase from  his pal if he gets it from the dollar bin.

So, are you giving it to me? I smile at him, encouragingly.
Sure, it's yours.
Will you write that it's for me? Will you sign it like you sign emails? With LOVE spelled out in capitals? I hand him a pen.
Rueful grin, shrug, shy laughter.

I'm all smiles and laughter now as I walk away with a card from Ed. A sweet beginning to Christmas Day.

Hello, Day! Sunny and cold, the way a special winter day should be.

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sunrise, Christmas morning

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the east dormer of the farmhouse gets that orange glow -- and the icycles

We eat our two meals today at the kitchen table. I insist on it. With the lemon tablecloth to make things cheerful.

The first -- breakfast -- doesn't come around until 11:00, because I want to bake something and, of course, that takes time. An apple cake. Ever since I saw those lovely ones in a Paris shop window, I knew that this must be our holiday morning meal.  For Ed, anything with apples is a winner. For me, the smell of baking cinnamon is a gift in its own right.

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In the early afternoon, I stop by my daughter's for a last look at the big Christmas tree. She and her husband are making elaborate grilled cheese sandwiches. On this holiday, my girl gets ambitious in the kitchen.

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It's only in the teens outside, but the air is calm and the sun is radiant and it absolutely feels like skiing weather.

Where to? -- Ed asks.
Indian Lake! I say this without hesitation. It's my favorite place to cross country ski.
The trail with the big hill in the woods? If I break a leg, you're on your own for the trip.

We've done the trail plenty of times, but  it's only our second ski run this season and Ed is tentative on skis until, with time, he feels in control again. Still, the lure of a snow packed forest, of the lake itself in the light of an afternoon sun is tremendous. We throw the skiis into the rusted Geo and head out.

And it is a beautiful day for skiing.

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The trail is well groomed: you don't need much wax to pick up speed on a day like this. In the hills, the light starts to fade quickly in the afternoon -- which is at once beautiful and tricky on the eyes. Still, we have a splendid time.

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And when a tumble comes, it's not even on the big downhill slalom through the woods. It's on a gentle slope. Life is funny that way.

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But, we're intact -- no twists or broken bones! -- and we are rewarded with some of the most beautiful field and forest scenery.

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Toward the end of the run, we pass the sledders. Including this trio on an authentic bobsled. The light is almost gone, but I can still pick out the joy in the faces of the little ones.

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The moon begins its climb over the hills, the lake, frozen now, picks up the last colors of the setting sun.

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Indian Lake never disappoints.

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Back at the farmhouse, Ed buries himself under the old quilt. When you spend several hours outdoors on a day like this, it takes a while for your limbs to fully defrost. I turn to dinner preparations. Simple stuff: a roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, corn, salad. And yet, isn't it amazing how incredibly delicious a (free range) roasted hen can be?

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Such a day! If asked about Christmas, Ed would roll his eyes for sure. Yet, as I watch him take pleasure in the small things we do today, I have to say, that (hypothetical) eye roll is pretty meaningless.


I understand, every day I fully understand and appreciate how lucky we are to have this time  -- to ski, to eat good, fresh and honest meals in the warm old farmhouse. I know it. But I especially know it today, this evening. The children (not really children anymore) are tucked in somewhere safely, snugly, the dishes are put away, the feeling of contentment is complete.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve

A day when momentum builds. So it's good to start slowly. Maybe taking your breakfast to bed?

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Then draw in a deep breath and head out.

It's a huge dance, this wonderful day of Christmas Eve and every step has to be choreographed so that the entirety flows forward smoothly, as if on its own, as if it was meant to be, even though really, it is aided by the work of many, toward that one goal of coming together, joyously, to repeat traditions, to take note of the specialness of this time, this day, this Christmas Eve.

My own string of errands starts with a trip to the other side of town to the bakery that has Madison's very best bread. The line is already long. Of course. It's the crucial part of a good meal.


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Then, the grocery store. This could have been done the day before, but there is something important about bringing home the food on this day. As if I'm saying -- here, this is how we do Christmas Eve. With food for the table.

And now we all arrive at my older girl's home. She, her sister, their guys -- all drove up from Chicago this morning and I breathe a sigh of relief that they're all here, that the roads weren't nearly as icy as we'd been warned, that we were able to find this time together on what has always been for us the best part of Christmas -- the Eve.

We open presents and again -- a sigh of relief: that the suitcase came, that I had time to wrap and place the boxes to join those from them underneath the tree. Because despite Ed's skepticism about the whole enterprise, gift giving is a huge part of this day for us: the sharing, the thoughtfulness, the accounting for the other -- it all matters. Indeed, it all is heartwarmng and beautiful and we take the time now to study each person's gift to the other, listening to the stories behind it, letting the one who receives it admire it or simply leaf through it, feel the fabric, think of a future use.


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After, I retreat to the kitchen, finish off sauces and veggies for what is perhaps the simplest of all our celebratory meals: a dinner of beef fondue. No one else I know does this for Christmas Eve, but I started this tradition decades ago (my daughters regard the paperback fondue cookbook that I use as very 70s retro, with good reason! It was purchased then!). I needed something regally simple -- to preserve my sanity in the face of a cooking marathon that had me preparing four separate and important meals: Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, Christmas lunch and Christmas dinner. And the fondue stuck and now it's firmly in place and it's the one time in the year that I fuss with a meal that centers around beef.

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The fondue forks are color coded, but we have various mismatched forks and it's all very confusing and we mix them up again and again and sometimes the meat falls off and we all hunt for it there in the small pot in the center...

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Eating in this way takes time. You can't rush fondue. And that, too, is wonderful.

Ed joins us for dessert (there he is, sitting in the corner pretending that the holidays are a figment of someone else's imagination, even as he would have to acknowledge that the joy is very real)...

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... a dessert that is a simple and simply delicious ice cream float prepared by those who know how to bring the good flavors of oatmeal stout and vanilla ice cream together.

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And so it ends, this beautiful Eve. One couple goes off to church, another couple packs the car and drives north to visit (his) family there and Ed and I return to the farmhouse. If I had thoughts of watching a movie or writing here, on Ocean, those thoughts had to be adjusted as I cannot stay awake. Later, in the middle of the night, in that time between Eve and Day, I take a pause from sleep and as I write here, I think back and think ahead and I allow myself that moment of deep contentment that comes when you know that the ones you love are happy.

And I can take the time now to wish all my readers here, on Ocean, that same happiness -- on this day and in the days that follow. Be merry or quiet, whatever suits your temperament or inclination and be cheered by the love of family, friends, pets if you have pets! (Isis, are you listening?) Joy is a good thing to have in your back pocket. May you have a big chunk of it there today!