Monday, November 30, 2015

the last of the regular Mondays

It's like that game of pick up sticks, where it's time for the sticks to go up in the air and come flying down again in a new arrangement. As the teaching semester draws to a close, so does my regular babysitting schedule. After this week, I'll be traveling and after I return, we'll have before me a different pattern of Snowdrop care.

In other words, time surely goes by quickly!

I wish I could say that it's a pretty day at the farmette. I guess one could search for that inner beauty and find it, like for instance here:

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... but I do prefer the sunny days.

We eat breakfast in the kitchen (Ed's in a fresh new jacket which looks exactly like the old one, except it's without holes and it hasn't shrunk a couple of sizes).

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We look out at the damp farmette gardens. Alright, Snowdrop and I will not be going out for a walk today.

Still, the little girl arrives at the farmhouse straight from her morning wake up time at home...

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... and she is ready to discover and rediscover her familiar environment.

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old penguin, new penguin book

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but I still like the old penguin book!

And what has changed in the last few days? Well, she is a clapping girl now. Clap clap clap and smile! She puts her whole body and soul into it!

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And she knows how to use props to help her climb to higher ground.

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She'll then turn, consider whether walking is better than crawling...

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For now, crawling wins. But that may not last!

Oh, but the little one is a speed demon. I turn around and she is gone. In the kitchen. Looking over my cooking equipment.

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And so it continues -- a morning of absolutely delightful play.

The afternoon? We are at her home, where it's beginning to look a tiny bit like Christmas...

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She'd been away for a few days and so here, too, she has a great enthusiasm for rediscovering the familiar.

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... and the very familiar.

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This girl makes the weather outside truly irrelevant. Yes, it was a very beautiful day!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

passing through, returning home

While my daughters and their families were in transit today, journeying to their respective homes, Ed and I put in a maximal effort to rid the farmhouse of allergens. Not only did I thoroughly dust and vacuum the place, I stripped every bit of bedding, every sofa and pillow cover, everything that could be stripped -- off it went. We turned up the water heater to a scorching 140F and ran load after load of upholstery and bedding, at the same time keeping the fan going, the windows open -- vents cleaned and inspected, carpets lifted, furniture moved  -- all this to minimize Ed's asthmatic flareups.

Of course, we can't change the winter weather (possible culprit). And yes, there are still steps we can take -- get rid of the couch, get rid of indoor plants, get rid of carpeting -- woosh, out it all goes! And we can sanitize the sheep shed (now that's a project!). And then we hope for the best.

It's Sunday. House cleaning notwithstanding, I love this day, this end of week moment in time, when there is no rush, when I can think back and look forward to all that the next week will bring.

And despite the cleaning frenzy at the farmhouse, we have three beautiful round-the-table moments today.

The first -- breakfast. The sun has moved away from the east facing windows of the sun room, but Ed and I eat here anyway, because the cactus is in full bloom and it fills the small space with such vibrant color!

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Next there is lunch. My younger girl and her husband detour into Madison on their way home and Ed and I have a wonderful meal with them just off the Capitol Square, at Heritage Tavern.

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We linger for a while. How can you not? The after holiday release. The stories. The review of the month before us. And of course, there is the real pleasure of just being with them again.

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Let me jump then to the third meal -- a Sunday dinner at the farmhouse, where the other travelers -- my older daughter and her family come over, again filling the (very clean!) spaces with stories and of course, giving me a chance to have my own quick visit with Snowdrop. (She comes, sees penguin, coos with pleasure and gives him the biggest kiss.)

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And I should end the post with that. Because the little girl is such an easy closing story. A photo of her is a statement about all that we love so much.

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I would include, of course, our wonderful Sunday dinner -- of childhood favorites today: comfort foods: crunchy chicken, risotto -- things Snowdrop will learn to love, I think...

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Oh, and the minutes after, when she shows off her walking with her dad...

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Yes, these were the grand Sunday moments. I should just end with that. Because the rest of the day was a blur of cooking, laundering, drying, and then re-covering the furniture. There was an Ed and Nina walk, too, but not along the country road: we hauled ourselves to Farm and Fleet to pick up a new jacket for Ed and some scratch food for the cheepers.

But I want to go back to something else -- the moment when Ed and I were driving downtown. The skies were nearly sunny. The smattering of clouds was almost insignificant. And in this beautiful pale blue celestial sphere, there appeared a faint rainbow, perfectly positioned over Madison's skyline.

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That's how good this Sunday was. So brilliant. So very memorable!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

calm Saturday

The great thing about a calm day is that I can finally return to writing. And I do write, all the while enjoying this wonderful treat: the reappearance of sunshine!

Consider breakfast:

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All those beams of light... They make such a difference during the winter. Inside and out. Suddenly, the landscape isn't monochromatic.

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Where should we walk today? I ask this since, as I said, we've become rather farmette-centered and in this past week, we'd already hiked the county park trails and, too, three separate segments of our rural road.
Why don't we drive up to Lake Waubesa (less than two miles up the road) and walk along the water's edge? We can entertain ourselves by looking at the homes along the shoreline.

Ed and I like to look at other people's houses. Despite my great love for the farmhouse and his great affection for the farmette land, we always imagine how we would be living if we were starting from scratch. We find homes that more closely approximate our vision of a good set up. Most often, we find homes that are lacking in what we regard as our essentials: not too large, plenty of light, clever design, facing away from the public road onto its own private courtyard or garden.

And so it is curious that as we drive the short distance to the lake, we pass a house perched on a hill that is not unattractive and it's sporting a "for sale" sign.
Let's look! -- this from him. I'm reluctant to go up a long, private driveway.
It's allowed, if you have a for sale sign, you're inviting curious people.
I'm doubtful. Whose rules are those? Still, I turn the car toward the house.

... while the Sandhill cranes look on.

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The house has at least three stellar features: plenty of windows and light, fascinating design, privacy too.

It has, of course a fatal flaw: it's too big.

But are we even considering moving?
You know I could never leave our porch behind...
And your flowers...
I'd dig up the flowers.
Isie boy would hate moving. And when we get old and can't drive, we'll just have to move again...

We get back in the car and continue toward the lake as the sun sinks lower and the colors, if not the air, grow warmer.

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Our walk is grand today. Cold, but really grand. What a difference a bit of sun makes!

We look at houses, talk about improvements that could be made, and the more we talk, the greater is the surge of love for our own little piece of heaven at the farmette.

The sun has almost disappeared...

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The lake is bathed in the pinks and blues of dusk.

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We return home, where the landscape remains beautiful, even when the sun has long gone.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

black Friday

Ed watched all Thursday afternoon as I clicked through holiday shopping lists and fulfilled the dreams of my beloveds (one can hope!) on line.
You really are a true blue American consumer, aren't you... he marveled.

I admit it: I like to holiday shop for my family. I like bugging my kids for hints of what they or their spouses need. I like going "off list" with a few surprises, even though I'm sure they have some trepidation when I do this. (Consider the couple of years I moonlighted at l'Occitane: one girl eventually told me that she didn't care how good the discount, I really have to slow down with filling their drawers with tubes of hand cream.)

Today, of course, is America's big retail binge. But, like so many others, I had let my fingers do the walking/clicking and except for shopping that I always leave for myself for the December travels to the other side of the ocean, I'm done.

Still, there's grocery shopping! And so after breakfast...

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... I coax Ed to tag along with me on this weekly ritual of mine.  No, cheepers! You're staying home!

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To Ed I say -- there are sure to be free samples at the store!
He comes.
There are no free samples.
He reads the paper in the cafe while I shop, happy to have him at least there, somewhere on the sidelines, like in the old days when I lived in the city, grocery shopped nearly every day and nearly always had him tagging along.

So why have we become such awful home bodies? Aside from walks -- and they're terribly proximate to the farmette  -- we hardly ever venture out together. Remember daily afternoons at Paul's cafe? I can hardly believe we did that! Lunches at Pasqual's and dinners at Great Dane? A thing of the past.

I blame retirement (his, but especially mine) and winter. Those two forces have the strength of a gale wind to shut the door and keep us huddled inside. As I carry grocery bags into the farmhouse and the cheepers hover underfoot again, I'm thinking -- I'm sure glad I'm not like them, facing a winter of cold. Once I step inside the farmhouse, I do not have to go out!

But, the realization that we are so glued to our warm spaces gets to me and I propose another walk along the rural roads today. And Ed agrees.

And if ever you should commend us for being good sports about getting in that walk, it would be on this day -- gray, yes that, but also quite cold (I don't think it ever passed freezing). Just a couple of photos. It was hard to feel inspired to reach for the camera. November can be that way.

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Ah, but the return to the farmhouse was fabulous! Really fabulous!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

the real Thanksgiving

On our real Thanksgiving day, it's moist, dark and warm outside. A November warm -- the kind where you don't know what jacket to wear (except if you're Ed).

Rain threatens, the indoor lights stay on, the snow has melted.

That last fact makes the cheepers really happy. They come to the farmhouse once more and beg for a handout. They get it. Happy Thanksgiving, cheepers!

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Ed and I have breakfast, but it's hardly special. Well, I eat granola and Ed looks cheerful without my prodding him to look cheerful.

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We talk about his winter allergies. I suggest cleaning the air ducts. Or cleaning the couch. Or getting rid of the couch. Or getting rid of the house and starting over, with a building that doesn't have forced air heat (in my opinion, that's the trigger). Of course, all this he rejects. Mustn't rush. If you have to post a credible logo over his head, it would be "mustn't rush."

But he does want to demonstrate that our ducts are clean. We certainly do not have mold, but I tell him that mites and pollen are often invisible. I read stuff on the Internet to lend support to my push for having them professionally blown out.

I should have remembered the equally important logo that also hangs invisibly over Ed's head: "never hire someone to do something I can do myself." And so we spend the morning taking apart ducts, inspecting them for dust (minimal), wiping down the main air intake unit, vacuuming up the basement -- in other words, setting up the system for a clean run, further improved by turning down the thermostat to 50F, switching the fans onto high and opening all the farmhouse windows. In theory, much of what remains in the ducts will blow out, out, out over the river and through the woods and leave us with fresh air inside.

At least we aren't dealing with a major septic tank issue. That belonged to Thanksgiving 2011.

While all this clearing, blowing, airing is taking place, we take a walk in the small window of time we have for any outdoor activity (at around noon, when it's not supposed to rain). Up the scenic rural road, past the lovely cattle...

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Then down a trail into the marshy lands that drain into Lake Waubesa. My, but it's muddy down there!

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The rains come down just as we close the loop of our hike. And oh, does it rain! All remaining Thanksgiving hours are drenched in rain.

We stay indoors.

When it is finally dinner time, we brave the rains and set out to our local Indian restaurant. Last year, Ed and I went to the Japanese place for Thanksgiving sushi. It wasn't a great idea. We were the only diners there and the owners couldn't wait to close shop for the night so that they could go to the stores and hunt for holiday bargains. At our Indian eatery, there is another family  eating away, even as we get ready to go home.
They're not American, I whisper to Ed.
What do you mean? He seems somewhat aghast, as if I were passing judgment. I heard them ask for a table for four.
I laugh. As if being able to speak in English confers the status of a native son or daughter.
I'll bet you they're not from here. 
How would you find out?
I'll ask.


It's rare that I have the ability to socially embarrass Ed.

We go home. We talk about couches, heaters, turkeys. The usual Thanksgiving fare.

I hope your day was equally peaceful, filled with warmth, love, and of course, good food.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

scattered thoughts on the last Wednesday of November

Morning at the farmette.

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Sunrise. Cheepers are out!

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This is the time to indulge in the colors of November.

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Back at the farmhouse. I take out my computer and mull over the morning stories.

A commenter noted how she did not like the word blog. In reading this I realized right away that this one seemingly insignificant detail -- the word "blog" -- has been irking me too, in all the years that I have been keeping a (hold my nose in disdain) blog. When I travel and people ask me about my various postings, I never admit to "blogging." Not only is the letter configuration unlovely, but the associations are (in my mind) also unpleasant. Blog conjures up (for me) a writing style that blurts out onto the pages of the Internet strong statements, for impact value.

You'll argue that there are blogs that have nothing to do with opinion or with the harsher realities of life. There are food blogs, photography blogs, travel blogs -- doesn't Ocean share at least some of those same pleasant intentions?

Perhaps. Even so, the word seems somehow offputting. Requiring an apology. I blog. I'm sorry. Writing a column for your local daily or weekly doesn't have such connotations. Can I just say "I write, using photos as illustrations?"


After breakfast, Ed wants me to watch with him a youtube video. Oftentimes, he'll have picked something that is up my ally. Perhaps a piece with some amusement value.

This time it is a perfectly serious instructional clip showing how you can take a "lightly soiled" diaper and mix its contents along with potting soil to make an excellent planting mixture. Interested? He asks. I shake my head. Clever, but the dead of winter is not the time to get me excited about repotting all my home plants.


We have had a running theme these past few weeks -- about the concept of relativity. Appropriate, given that I believe we're just at an anniversary of the publication of Einstein's work on the topic. But our discussions are less about the spacetime concepts and more about the ideas of good and the not so good.

Take geese, for example -- a nightmare for Madisonians, but perhaps splendid from a naturalist's perspective.  We have a lot of geese in this town and I thought tonight how, despite my distaste for all that they bring to our community (to take the diaper discussion one step further -- we have an abundance of geese droppings on walkways and bike trails around town), on a November evening, the flight of these birds toward the wetlands just east of the city is quite magnificent.

Ed and I are taking a (somewhat muddy) walk along what not too long ago were ski trails and we watch the geese take flight and really, much as I wrinkle my nose at the mere mention of the great Canadian bird, it is a lovely sight.

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Here are two things that are indeed good, in fact without doubt -- great: first (chronologically, not in order of importance) -- our early morning breakfast.

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And secondly -- a surprise text from my younger girl. She tells me that she and her husband have enough time to detour (on their long drive to Chicago) for a meal in Madison and could I possibly join them? Could I!

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(For dessert we split our favorite peanut butter cookie.)

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It's drizzling right now and tomorrow offers more of the same November wetness, but the air will smell of leaves and mushrooms and the car will get a good rinse and the cheepers will appreciate the disappearance of the last snow and I'll be able to shed my jacket and, like today, step outside (for a few minutes anyway) with just a sweater on.

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All relative, Ed would say. All relative.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Tuesday

You can, of course, declare any meal, or label any day of the calendar "Thanksgiving" and it will count. It is nowhere written that living the spirit of this holiday must be felt on the fourth Thursday of the next to last month of the year.

I can, therefore, call this my "Thanksgiving with Snowdrop" day. Not only is she with me for all her waking hours, but, too, it's the last time I'll be playing with her until the end of the weekend and so I shall think of it as my own turkey and Snowdrop celebration.

Not that I'm roasting a turkey for supper. Thankfulness doesn't require having a stuffed bird in the oven.

The day starts as it always does -- with me releasing the cheepers at some very early hour (and thanks to one of Ocean's longest readers, I have the proper wrist warmers for the task. In fact, I think I create the perfect image of a farm frau -- walking to care for her chickens in the man's ten sizes too large overcoat, so well suited for a walk to the barn, clogs on bare feet, woolly wraps around my bare hands. All you need now is a photo of the chickens (who are so cold that they do their funny foot to foot stomp).

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After tending to their needs, I hop over to the sheep shed to feed the very very aged Isie boy and finally I walk back to the farmhouse which, I think, looks properly ready for the winter holidays (icicles, sled and all).

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Breakfast in the sun room (wake up, Ed! I need to get going!).

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And then I'm with Snowdrop, just minutes before she herself wakes up.

Not too many words for you here -- I haven't time for lengthy writing today. A few photos, yes, of course. My own grandmotherly Thanksgiving photos.

What now, grandma?

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Lap bouncing's fine!

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I'm concentrating here!

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A dance and a hug? Okay! I like to watch the little light flash on the camera before it clicks! All by itself! Amazing!

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More serious play...

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Which can be exhausting! Familiar Snowdrop thumb suck follows.

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But it's always short lived. Life offers too many opportunities for lighthearted romps!

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I'm so very thankful for all this. Every day I think about the wonderful moments that flow my way. A call from a daughter, a message from the other, a day with Snowdrop.

But let's put some trimmings and trappings of the holiday onto this day. Snowdrop, how about some turkey and root vegetable mush for lunch? You first turkey -- yum!

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After a big turkey meal, a walk is highly recommended. It's above freezing, but just barely so.

Going out in winter sure is complicated! 

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Off we go!

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Look, Snowdrop! The lake is starting to freeze!

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And now the afternoon light fades. We hurry over to the farmhouse for that one last sled ride before the snow melts in the days ahead!

Is she happy in her little blue snow rocket? Well, the protest is loud and persistent until I hand her the bread we are to feed to the cheepers.

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The then mood changes. Cheepers! Now that's fun!

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Grandpa Ed can't resist joining in on the fun.

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Back in the farmhouse, it's the same -- he tries to find instructions on the Internet on how to fix my headlight, but Snowdrop thinks hanging out with him is just the bees knees.

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Next time I look up, they're figuring out the headlight problem together.

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She eats...

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She naps, she plays. And then it's time for her to go home.

Thank you for your superb enthusiasm, Snowdrop! I'm so grateful for all that you bring to the table.

Here, she's telling all of us -- do have yourself a very happy Thanksgiving week! With love.

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