Friday, July 31, 2015

weekend at the farmhouse

For a long time now, this weekend has been reserved for Snowdrop. Not just the usual Snowdrop pop in, pop out, but for a full blown farmhouse visit, from early Friday until late Sunday.

And so I'm up very early. With only a quick glance at the flowers...

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And quite an early breakfast on the porch...

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I start my Snowdrop weekend at her place. Are you up, little girl?

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Bath time!

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And mush time! Mistake. I should have started with the messy mush.

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(can I have some of my normal food now?)

Verdict: Sweet potato is not a favorite.  And Snowdrop is back to the sink for a total body wash.

And now, finally, real food, followed by play! Camera play often comes first when I'm with her -- so that I can log in a daily photo and not worry about it if nothing else presents itself.

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Even though in the course of play, I'm often tempted to reach again for the camera.

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(going for the prize: a favorite ball)

But not so much today. It's a rare and special week-end. And the sun is out and the breeze is wonderful! It is a time to free up the mindset and give my full attention to adventuring with the little one.

Except, I do have an errand to run. A store return... I could put it off til next week... Or, I could take Snowdrop with me to the mall! I don't take my camera along for this, but I cannot resist using my iPhone for the occasional documentation. After all, she'll someday want to see a pic of her first trip to the mall, no?

She is so puzzled by it all! Her expression says -- I thought I understood my environment, but this? How does it fit in? Eventually though, something begins to make sense. And the smile comes out. A mall? Sure, okay, it's a mall!


As long as we're here, maybe we could peek into the store Baby Gap. Look Snowdrop -- a play-suit with cheepers and barns on it!


Still, I'm saving my baby shopping for fall. She has enough for now. We put it back on the rack.

And then I think about a store I would very much like her to see -- one that I rarely go to these days (it's too far!), but one I realize is actually within a modest walk of the mall.

We go out and head for La Baguette.

At this very favorite bakery, I ask Madame Carine (the co-owner) at what age French children start in on their first baguette. She studies Snowdrop.
You know, young ones like the croutons, when they're teething. How old is she? 
Almost seven months.
She is tall! I forget this about Snowdrop -- yes, she is tall.

Of course, my all-American (with an eastern European twist) granddaughter has been chomping on a frozen bagel for a while now (did you know that bagels were introduced in this country by a Pole?). But today, I have her practice just a few chomps on a delicious, fragrant, still a touch warm, crusty baguette.



I think about taking a child to the bakery -- how in so many places, she would have been a regular by now. We here are not a bakery dependent country. But I am glad Snowdrop had this visit to one today. And that she had her first encounter with, in my opinion, the bread of all breads.

We walk back to the car, past rows of cars and parking lots -- surely an experience that she's likely to repeat again and again and again in her life. Cars, I muse out loud. We are surrounded by cars...

And then we drive to the farmette.

We must do chores, sweet one!

She and I water the plants indoors and the pots outdoors and she delights in sticking her hand in the cool hose. I remember introducing her to it months ago. That time she was cautious and uneasy. Today she is happily darting her hand in and out of the stream of water.

We feed (stale) bread to the chickens and we watch them eat, with the eagerness they reserve only for bakery treats.

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Chores done, we retreat to the farmhouse, where the little girl bounces in her jumparoo in total glee! It's her most favorite right now and it reels her back into the world of the familiar. Yes, here she feels safe. Jumpa jumpa jumpa jumpa jumparoo, sing, Snowdrop, sing! Jumpa jumpa jumpa jumpa jumparoo!

Evening. Ed calls from "his" "office." He tells me -- there is a visitor to the company... I want to bring him home for dinner. I scramble and reconfigure the meal. Of course there's enough. We can always stand to eat less.

The visitor is delightful. Being a dad himself, he knows how to coax a wide grin out of a baby.

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And as before, as all day long in fact, Snowdrop reaches for her very best manners.

And now I've done the dishes and the men have retreated to talk machining talk. The little girl and I  take a walk through the gardens. It's a brilliant night: dry, with a clear sky.

If the mall was a surprise to her, well now, so is the big willow tree. She has seen it before, of course, but today it's as if she takes in the detail for the first time. The swaying branches mesmerize her -- so easy to grab and hold onto now...

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It's a fine night to be out on the farmette.

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A very fine night indeed!

Thursday, July 30, 2015


You would have to be at least a two year reader of Ocean to recall my travails with renewing my Polish passport. Let me pick up the pieces of that suspended tale, with a refresher to bring it all before us again.

My dad, who lived in Warsaw for the better part of his life, including in the last decades of his life, died in March of 2013. To participate in the distribution of his very small estate, I needed to present myself with valid Polish identity papers in my own home town of Warsaw. Unfortunately, not expecting to ever live in Poland again, I had let my passport lapse.

When I traveled to Chicago in May of 2013 to renew my documents, I encountered the stern face of the Polish bureaucracy. If in the past certain protocols had loosened up and Polish Americans were able to pay the fee and walk away with new passports, for whatever reason, the country has decided to tighten up record keeping for all Poles living abroad. Basically, that means that such things as name changes (my maiden name had been Lewandowska), marriages (I had entered into a legal union in the US), divorces (mine took place ten years ago) had to be presented before the Polish authorities for proper registration in that country. Only then may you update your passport.

Oh, the work required for this! Procuring original documents, official attestations, legal translations and more attestations, and then filing these before Polish authorities -- each event separately and chronologically, beginning with the request for a legal acknowledgement that I had not relinquished my citizenship, and of course, proper legal authorization for my sister, who walked twice around the perimeter of the earth, it seems, to take my papers to the proper offices and agencies -- all this took the better part of two years to accomplish.

I think my file is in order. I'm traveling to Chicago for the third time in my never ending attempt to obtain a passport at the Polish Consulate there, with my Walgreen photo slapped into the document.

It's an absolutely gorgeous day. I'm up with the sun. I let let the cheepers out, I admire the flowers on the peaceful strip of land that is the farmette...

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...bracing myself for the city that had been home for six years of my life (when I was in my young twenties), a city I had never loved (never hated either), one that I now think of as the place my kids like to go to, to visit their dad.

Breakfast? Oh, of course! Ed's up for it. On the porch, with delightfully cool summer breezes passing through.

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And I'm off.

It's a long trip. Car to bus, bus to Chicago airport, train to downtown, bus to the lakefront, walk to the Consulate.

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Once there, I may as well have crossed the ocean. The TV in the waiting room blares the news from Poland, Polish speaking people drift in -- all there to renew or acquire their Polish passports.

The clerk who helps me process my application is exquisite: friendly, efficient, encouraging.
Do yo have the affirmation of your citizenship? Check!
Your Polish marriage certificate? Check1
With divorce noted? Check!
Do you have your birth certificate? Check!

She glances at me. Are you retired? Do you receive a pension?
I am. I do. Oh oh. Is this not allowed? But not from Poland. I worked here, in the States.
Do you have some letter attesting to the fact that you're receiving a retirement pension? I'm thinking -- did I ever even receive a letter attesting to it? Will she turn me away??

I may be able to find something... back home, in Wisconsin...
She smiles. Great! Because then I can give you a retiree's discount on the passport! Half price! Just email it to me when you get back. She smiles a wide and beautiful Polish smile and then adds, as if recognizing my name from previous lists of "difficult people," -- don't worry, you'll get your passport (albeit a temporary one to tide me over) today.

It's amazing how much a friendly and helpful clerk, administrator, or  bureaucrat can put that bounce back into your step! Last time I was here, meeting with a difficult and seemingly angry at the world consular person, I hated everything about the Consulate and my dealings with them. Today we are not enemies. I'm bursting with Polish enthusiasm.

It's not that the whole process today is seamless. I'm told to come back in two hours. I take a walk through the city, trying hard to stick to my vow that I shall not spend a penny on this trip beyond that which I need to dish out for public transportation and for the passport. I break down for a glass of iced tea, nothing more.

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I am back at the Consulate at the assigned time of 3:30. I'm thinking -- if all goes well, I'll be on the 5:30 bus back to Madison.

But the passport isn't ready. Ha! The director of the operations is having his last revenge! The administrative staff is apologetic. They don't know what's taking so long.

I watch the people come and file their papers. The place suddenly seems a bit chaotic. If you come through the front door when the security guard is away from his station, you'll walk through. Alarms will sound (all those metal buckles and cell phones and purses filled with who knows what), but no one notices or cares. People wait. The order of operations seems random.

But the clerk at the window is ever sympathetic, as if looking out for me, even as the clock ticks the minutes away. 3:30, 4:00, 4:30...

It's here! She tells me at long last.

Yes, it's here -- that little booklet that tells me nothing new about myself: I am a dual and I remain a dual.

I exit quickly and run to the bus stop. Damn! I just miss the city bus on Division! There wont be one for a while. A cab! Splurge, Nina splurge! Take that cab to the El train stop!

I do. $10. check!

The train comes promptly, the ride is a quick thrity-two minutes to O'Hare. That's two minutes too late for me to catch my bus.

I retire to the Hilton across the road and order the cheapest glass of wine and a tiny side salad. $26 plus tip. Check! I wont be home until 10. I eat every scrap of lettuce on my plate. The glass of wine? It goes without saying...

I settle in for the wait. A young woman pulls up a baby stroller to the bar. She orders a drink. Her child is young -- just five months. On her way to Janesville Wisconsin. Missed the same bus. We talk. I think about how her child wasn't even conceived when I first traveled to Chicago to file for my Polish passport. I glance at my iPhone to study in great detail the photo my daughter sent me of Snowdrop playing today. I smile.

The bus to Madison is packed. But the seat is comfortable, the road traffic has loosened up a bit (why would anyone like living in a city that has clogged arteries at most any time of the day and then rely on their car to get around in that city is beyond me) and I have images of the farmette and reheated chili before me. It'll be a late return, but I'll have finally accomplished my paper goal. The bus speeds to the light of an almost full moon. Did you know that this month will have had two great big beautiful full moons to show for it? It only happens once in a blue moon...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It has come to this: at dawn, Ed and I set out for Walmart. He needs cat food, I need baby food, we both need chocolate for our late evening indulgence (Ghirardelli Cabernet dark with a touch of blackberry flavor is our current favorite -- sold, for some reason, only at Walmart) and neither of us has time to do this side trip later in the day.

On the upside, when you travel these rural roads at daybreak, you're likely to come across some pretty remarkable gatherings. This time of sandhill cranes, in fields of gold.

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Enjoying the morning quiet.

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Breakfast follows. On the porch...

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Before the trumpets of my beloved daylilies...

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With a walk through the fields of flowers.

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And then Ed goes off to "his" (temporary? is it temporary?) office and I clean the chicken coop and give the hens their daily bread. Our girls have bonded fiercely since Oreo left. I'll find Scotch picking bits of dirt off of Butter's feathers. They're quite inseparable. (The third hen, whatever her name is, usually catches up in the course of the day.)

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I have real food shopping to do as well -- Wednesday is an odd day for me to do it, but the rest of the week offers not a single hour of time for such errand running and so off I go, with a quick stop at Walgreen's to pick up passport photos. Not really for my passport -- or at least not for my American passport. More about that tomorrow.

And then it's splendid Snowdrop time!

Let's get that feeding photo up -- it shows her continued distrust of mush. Carrots yesterday fared better than pears did today. Bits of pear reach the floor, wall, drapes, chair, table. She is a very energetic "eater."

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She's energetic, period. Working on crawling...

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Rolling, jumping...

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(two pairs of eyes...)

It all takes its toll. Time for a quiet moment.

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Maybe a walk?

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Evening. It's time for the last summer Concert on the Square. Oh, the magic of this wonderful picnic in the company of, it seems, all of Madison! The music is gentle tonight: Butterworth, Addinsell. The weather? Unbelievable! The storms chased down the humidity. The skies are clear, the breezes are playful and cool. My girl and I eat sandwiches, Snowdrop looks on with adoring eyes.

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Take her out into the strange, complicated world and she sails through it all, if only the eyes of a mommy or daddy (or if those eyes are elsewhere, grandma will do) are upon her.

Night. The kind you think about in the bleaker months of the year. Or any time when things just do not line up in a good way. Today, they line up in a good way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Breakfast is at noon. It's hot and muggy, but we put the fan on and eat on the porch.

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We're close to the flowers. Beautiful July lilies.

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Why such a late morning meal? Well, when you get to be 62 and if you have good health insurance and you're not Ed, sooner or later you'll find yourself doing a heart stress test. Early in the morning.

Each time I'm scheduled for one, the competitive fire within me flares up. Ed says I haven't a capitalist bone in my body. I make up for this deficiency in my gunning for gold during these tests.

I must beat whatever they think is normal.

I have a kind and chatty nurse standing by me on my uphill run on the treadmill. Here's a tip. If ever you need quiet (so that, for instance, you can concentrate on reaching some insane treadmill goals) and you're searching for a conversation stopper, try this: if asked where you're off to this summer, mention Russia. Instant silence.

It's as if the curious soul wants to hear about London and Paris, or, if they're really pushing boundaries -- Beijing or the Norwegian fjords. Russia doesn't fit in. I'm sure many are thinking -- aren't we at a cold war with them or something?

It very much reminds me of the first time I ever came to the States -- I was seven and the year was 1960. If someone would ask where home is, I would answer -- Poland. And this, too, would arrest the back and forth. Because what do you say to that? How is it there, under Communism? That just doesn't roll off the tongue as smoothly as, say -- do you plan on cruising the fjords?

The rest of the test proceeds in comfortable silence and when she tells me I beat the normal stopping point of a young person and I tell her to keep going, she realizes she has a crazy competitive person on that walking machine who'll die rather than calling it quits and so she draws the test to a halt and sends me on my way.

Now, let's get back to farmette life.

You may have wondered how Oreo the rooster is faring in his new home with twenty-one girlfriends. The answer is -- not that well. The savvy new owner initially kept him in a separate enclosure, but this weekend she released him into the bevy of girls. And they attacked him!

You might grin and say -- a bully gets his comeuppance! But we're all hoping for a better result. The wise chicken keeper took him right out and put him back in his own enclosure, but this time in their midst. Maybe they'll get used to his pogo hopping. Maybe.

And Snowdrop? Ah, if it's Tuesday, it must be Snowdrop at the farmhouse day!

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She is with me for a good while -- from noon to bedtime and so you'll have the usual enthusiastic grandma photos.

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(photo by Ed)

Napping, eating, grabbing Ed's beard -- it's what she does!

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In my spare moments (nap time!) I try to make use of the tomatoes that are starting to pour in. Chili. The hottest day of the summer and I make chili.

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...with so many tomatoes that I'm beginning to wonder how the beans will fit in.

In the late afternoon I take my sweet littlest one out in the stroller. Hmmm. Those seat straps were set to fit her as a winter newborn!

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She's patient with me. I fiddle. It's hot. Eventually  we get going. She settles in.

... Only to be removed for a photo (or two) by the truck farmers' fields of flowers. Snowdrop is such a good sport. It's as if the camera has become part of our conversation and she accepts the blinking light of a self-timer...

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In the evening, Snowdrop bounces in her jumparoo with such strength and velocity that honestly, she may as well be a test baby for the toy's hardiness and durability.

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The evening winds down. We have some quiet time, where she discovers the wonders of a Richard Scarry book.

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The young couple pick her up, the house grows quiet. The sound of an owl outside, nothing more.