Wednesday, February 28, 2018

to improve

At breakfast this morning Ed tells me that one big roadblock to innovation and change is feeling satisfied with what you already have. Why push for improvement, why make the effort when you're not craving for something better?

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We talk about this in the context of farmette land. In hauling brush and timber to the wood pile, I had paused to catch my breath and I was struck by how beautiful the land looks there, beyond the great willow tree. The strip of land is now covered by a terrible tangle of weeds. But if we mowed it down, we could create a splendid undulating prairie, with perhaps a path and a space for a young child to frolic.

I had tried to mow that area just before my younger girl's farmette wedding some four years ago. But there were boulders and I damaged blades on the tractor mower and in the end I just gave up. Now I'm half thinking that I should give it another go.

Ed loves most of my work on the farmette land. Oh, he gripes when I take a violent slash to raspberry patches or insist that trees need to come down because they block the sun and kill off most anything that needs its fortifying rays, but these are gentle gripes that don't mean much. Still, in recent times, he has been resistant to big scale improvements. I'm happy with what's here -- he'll say again and again.

But today, perhaps sensing my total love for this beautiful patch of land, or maybe feeling us to be getting older -- how many years more can we haul tree stumps and spread wood chips over new flower beds? -- he surprises me by asking -- so, you really want that other huge tree to come down?

He's referring to a box elder that leans from silo to flower bed. I don't think it's likely to come crashing down just yet (though box elders are forever uprooting and toppling), but still, taking it out will create a feeling of openness by the Great Big Flower bed. I've been thinking for a long time that the invasive box elders have been crowding us out of our own little piece of heaven here.

And so this is how we spend a good chunk of the day today: sawing, snipping and hauling.

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I feel that since I wanted this project, I should do the grunt work. And so he saws, I haul. And the cheepers watch from a distance.

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I, of course, love the openness that we have now created. Ed is predictably ambivalent. After all, another tree came down.
We're beginning to look like the suburbs. 

Oh, are we ever far from looking like the suburbs!

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In the afternoon, I pick up Snowdrop.
Is she ever excited!

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Yes, that's right. Dance away, little girl!

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If it's Wednesday, it must be ballet class day!

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As I watch her, I think how tiny she is. And how ernest and happy to be joining in this lovely few minutes of story and dance.

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(Today's story is Goldilocks and the Three Bears, though honestly, last week's costume and dance moves weren't all that different from this week's...)

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I think about this day -- it's been so full, in so many good ways. I should be tired. I've been carrying heavy limbs and heavy little girls. (Snowdrop loves wrapping herself around me in a good old fashioned upright carry. She tells me today -- Grandma, I am the kind of girl who loves to be carried!) But I'm not tired. There is something so energizing in clearing land and hoisting your granddaughter onto your hip.

And of course, in a few weeks, we have spring.

These are indeed the good months.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

machines and puffs

Sun's out! We have some spring cleaning to do!

It's mildly funny that on this beautiful day, a day that portends the season just ahead of us, we dive into a clearing and cleaning by bringing out the machines.

But first -- breakfast.

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As I already mentioned - Ed felled a tree yesterday and now comes the task of cutting it into manageable pieces. Branches will be hoisted to the top of the wood pile (which is a mountain, so high that I cannot even see what's on the other side), logs will be stacked. He has his saw to help with the big logs. The work is both dangerous and hard and I typically like to not watch because when I witness a slip or a tumble or an inadvertent crash, I have images of severed limbs and blood mixing with the melted snow.

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In the meantime, our robotic vacuum cleaner dusts the house and that means, of course, that I have to dust as well. To my knowledge the little machine does not climb walls or reach tabletops.

I then join Ed outside to do my annual (or perhaps biannual) coax: so long as you have the chain saw, might you cut down this one branch (or two, or a hundred) that's in the way of other growth?

We walk the farmette land and he reluctantly takes down a limb or even an invasive tree that has taken hold in very inappropriate spaces. He is mostly agreeable if I use the right words and convince him that just letting things be is bad for the planet.

(The cheepers hate the sound of the saw. They watch from a distance.)

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If the sawing of timber is tough, the hauling of felled limbs and logs is worse.  I alternate between thinking : I'm sixty- four, I can't believe I'm hauling heavy logs! Yuk! And, in my finer moments: hey, I'm sixty-four and I'm hauling heavy logs! I'm so relieved that I can still do this!

In the afternoon there is this wonderful confluence of two things: the temperature climbs to 55F (13C) and I have an afternoon with Snowdrop. I suppose the only low point is a call from Apple:
Say, what did you think was wrong with your computer? Because we have no problem starting it up.

Great. I couldn't start it. Ed couldn't start it. Apple clerk on Sunday couldn't start it. Apple clerk on Monday couldn't start it. And now, APple repair person plugs it in and it loads in a snap.

So what now?
Oh, we'll probably erase everything, install new operating system...

Erase everything?
Yes and maybe that will solve the problem.
And if not, then I will have to go through the same thing again. Grrr.

Snowdrop is a welcome distraction.

We go to the park. She tells stories. And runs freely in the warming air. Oh, I know it's still the end of February, but today's taste of things to come is sublime!

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At the farmhouse, the stories continue...

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And eventually, she wants to go outside again. Who can blame her??

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Off she goes with Ed to put away the cheepers. On the return, she is in full story mode.

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We go to the front yard. The evening beckons!

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I find milkweed puffs, she blows them into the sunset.

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A day that begins with machines and ends with milkweed puffs. And the sun was warm and the skies were bluejay blue. Just heavenly!

Monday, February 26, 2018


Ed is waiting for all the ice to melt so that he can begin chopping down a tree.
The cheepers are always waiting for one of us to emerge and bestow foods and favors upon them.
My morning, filled with sunshine and warming temperatures, is spent on long, long hours of waiting as well. Nothing as exciting as felling trees or receiving treats. I wait for the number B13 to show up on a screen where numbers flicker occasionally, perversely out of order and not in any recognizable pattern.

I am one of those unfortunates whose (online) application for Medicare was flagged as requiring additional documentation. Who knows why. Possibly because I was born outside the US. On the SSI website I am told to bring a birth certificate and passport or other ID to the local SSI office. Just as I set my poor sister on procuring my birth certificate in Warsaw, I receive a letter from SSI telling me that actually they need just a passport or a driver's license. I'm perplexed. What does a driver's license prove?

Well, I'm not taking chances. After breakfast...

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...I pack a folder with papers and head out to SSI. I don't understand so many of the nuances, rules and assurances of Medicare anyway, so I better come prepared. Being a former state employee makes the whole process of applying for this indispensable health care for seniors at once easier (if you just want to follow blindly and do what the state insurance fund tells you to do) or harder (if you actually want to try to comprehend how you fit into the Medicare quagmire of services, programs and particulars). I just want to not make mistakes, so I bring all the papers, duly collected, and wait.

The process of waiting is instructive. I mean, I wonder if Donald Trump has had to wait, or if SSI people came to him and if he had to pay a lot to get them up to Mar-a-Lago?

The people who wait at the regional offices are people with problems. You don't go to your SSI branch (they warn you: parking is limited!)  if you have access to online forms and if you aren't flagged as being a problem. Those who wait look like they've been doing a lot of waiting in life. It's really a sad place, but also one where everyone is patient. The room is quiet. A screen flashes news items that SSI has decided are pertinent to your well being. Did you know that the CDC would like to have a state of the art facility to study rare diseases? There is no WiFi. Most people don't have a smart phone in hand.

Two hours later, B13 flashes. I sit before my agent who tells me I needn't have come because I'm not applying for SSI benefits. She is wrong, of course, making her a third and unique version of what it is that I have to do to process my application. In the end she takes down info from my passport and tells me they simply needed proof I was a US citizen, which is funny since a driver's license (one of the document options, according to the letter) would not have given them that information.

From there, I go to the Apple store with my dead computer.

You'll have to wait -- I'm told. At least an hour. Go get a couple of coffee!
Is there a coffee shop nearby?
There will be soon...
Thank you.

I go to Macy's. (Our Apple store shares mall space with Macy's.) Snowdrop needs a spring sweater. Maybe I'll find it there?

After walking up and down the aisles, I conclude that this store should basically close. Clothing is scattered on the ground, and what's on the racks is out of order, with no eye to presentation. There is no one to help you and there's nothing in the children's section you'd want to buy anyway. Trust me on this.

Good bye, Macy's in Madison. You were once a very nice store.

I return to Apple and they tell me they'll have to send in my computer to their mega fix-it center. They don't even look at my machine. They just take it from me and ask if I'd backed up my data. I respond that I did not worry about a computer that is barely a couple of months old crashing and so no, I haven't done that yet.
Tsk tsk... We'll try, but it may not be possible to save anything.

I used to love you, Apple.

I ask: how many computers fail in the first few months?
Oh, not many. Only 10% fail in the first two years. (Ed later tells me that if Tormach's -- the company he oversees --  machine failure rate was that high they'd be out of business in a year.)

In the afternoon, I pick up Snowdrop.

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It's nearly 50F (10C) outside! Would you like to go to the park playground?
Would she ever!

Swinging once more!

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Stories told on the play structure.

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And back at the farmette, Ed has felled the tree!
The cheepers are perplexed.

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Snowman melts.

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Ed hauls branches to the wood pile.
Can I help?

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In the farmhouse now. Ed tempts her with a ballet Youtube clip...

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That's not Swan Lake! -- she complains. The girl has become smitten with dancing swans.
Can I please wear my ballet dress?

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Evening. Crazy busy recedes. I pick up my old, slow, but oh so trusty computer and write.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


It's so good to wake up to sunshine (even if it does wake our farmhouse guest earlier than one would hope)! We're just below freezing and this has created a curious confluence of puddles and ice: the surface is frozen, but the underbelly is water. The cheepers learn from sad experience that even their weight will make the ice snap. So they hold back.

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It's at once lovely and horrible and definitely slippery and/or wet out there!

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Snowdrop is up! And she picks up where she left off last night. She is committed to her storyline!

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Me, I just shamelessly pander to her wee preferences. Cornflakes this morning? Sure! Want to keep your pajama bottoms on? Of course! Into ballet? Check this out: a magnetic paper doll called Nina Ballerina!

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Ed playing with magnetic paper dolls is a first.

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Our big breakfast is at the big table. She dresses up for it.

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After, we create an "art museum."

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Back to play with characters. It's sunny in the front room. She squints hard, then finally asks for her sunglasses.

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Eventually: can we please go outside??
It's one degree above freezing and the winds are howling...
Sure! Let's go to the front yard -- there's less ice there. We can pretend there's a campfire!

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We're roasting broccoli!

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Always taking the load onto her shoulders...

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I help her pull the wagon up the hill. Singing makes it easier.
We're going home, we're going home, we're going home home home, we're going home...

Thirty rounds into this, she suggests we make up another song.

Back at the farmhouse, I give her lunch choices. There's no question: she wants corn and pb&j. I'm not sure she's had pb&j (they don't allow it at school), but she surely has heard of it. I have supplies!

Can I help?
Sure: can you clean the corn?

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Lunch. We're giving the new table a real workout!

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More play. Nap. Then she goes home.

The house feels very quiet without Snowdrop.

Well, we have to head out anyway. Even though it's nearly evening, we have errands: my brand new computer died (for no good reason!) and so a trip to the Apple store is in order. Never go to an Apple store on Sunday. You'll just be told to come back another day. I do. I will.

So long as Ed and I are this close to Owen Woods, maybe we can take a walk there?

Well, we do it, but it is a brutal trail: what's not ice is mud and what's not ice or mud is a puddle. And yet -- it is lovely to be there at this late afternoon hour...

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... at the cusp of spring.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

endings beginnings

No one stands still. We're all spinning this way and that, sometimes with a goal in mind, sometimes unsure what's around the bend. But you know and I know that I have had one firm goal this winter: to purchase a table that would expand and be large enough for our herd at mealtime. All those grandkids! And daughters with friends! And perhaps someday grandkids with their friends!

Very early in the game, I found a table that I thought would be quite fine. I called the store, learned the price ($2000 when you added two leaves) and sighed.

The search continued. And I found another table ($1200)! Hope rebounded. Maybe if I saved, and we sold our current table, and I talked Ed into sharing the cost? A big shake of the head from Ed.

So we traveled. To Jefferson. To Sun Prairie. To Cottage Grove. All in pursuit of a decent used table that would cut the price in half, or more. We checked the ads daily and selected ones that would look okay in our large farmhouse kitchen. And one was worse than the next.

But last week, Ed came with me to the furniture store (Rubin's) and while there, we found a table we both rather liked. It isn't authentic anything, but it strives to look like it's Mid Century Modern. It's made mainly of rubber wood, which sounds gooey and awful, but is actually a great hardwood found in southeast Asia and it grows fast, therefore appeasing anyone who has trepidations about cutting down forests to put a table in their house. You know whom I have in mind. The top is covered by a thin sliver of walnut. And the price? Just a tad over half of my last beloved.

You think this is the end of the table story? After all, I suggested there would be an ending today.

In fact, we were inching toward purchasing something else altogether -- a Craigslist table that is authentically Mid Century Modern. Made out of solid birch, by a Massachusetts company that any furniture nut would recognize (Haywood Wakefield). The owner wanted $1200 for it. It's a collectible! Ed waited the right amount of time and bargained her down to $550.

This morning, immediately after breakfast...

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I took a deep breath and climbed into the truck next to Ed. This in itself indicates how much I am set on getting a table -- the truck smells like ten mouse families inhabited it all winter long. To say that it is not clean is perhaps the greatest understatement of the year. But of course, why should it be otherwise? No one uses it except on the rare occasion that we need to pick up a load of something or other or Nina gets it into her head that she needs a table for the farmhouse.

There are no shocks on that wreck and so we roar and bump our way to downtown Madison -- thankfully not a terribly long ride.

And there stands the table!

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Ed says -- it's kind of bland.
I say -- true, but hey, it's Mid Century Modern! Though it does look more scuffed up than in the picture.

We do our usual -- ask the owners to please leave us alone while we talk it out.

I lean on it. It wobbles. And squeaks. It has a center leg for stability. The leg doesn't touch the floor.
I could try to fix that... Ed mumbles.
I touch it lightly. Wobble wobble wobble.
I want to love it.
I don't like it.

We explain why it's a no. The owners -- nice people, downsizing from Madison's posh west side house to a smaller posh west side house -- admit that it's not a favorite of theirs either.
Hard to keep in good condition... Probably needs refinishing...

As we leave, I say to Ed -- we have an hour or so before Snowdrop comes over. Want to go to Rubin's?

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And that's how it happens that we drive home with a very heavy box full of table pieces.

Duly assembled by the both of us. So solid! And, you can take the leaf out, or put another one in. Expandable, shrinkable -- as the needs dictate.

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Oh, Ed does mutter -- I thought you wanted a lighter table...
I reassure him that it will lighten over time. I think. And it really is just fine even in its current shade.

The table project receives a check mark. Done!

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As for the rest of the day -- oh, that belongs to Snowdrop. She is spending a short weekend with us and she runs in with every intention of continuing her story just where she left it yesterday:

... and Susie fell soooo hard and bumped her head, so we had to take her to the hospital, where she rested and waited for the doctor. And I asked the doctor: why do you have a chair that jingles when you sit on it and the doctor said...

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and so on,

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and so on.

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With a happy ending.

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And the table quickly becomes a place to gather, talk, play, and eat macarons if that's where your heart lies.

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It's dinner time. We will be breaking the table in for its first family meal. Snowdrop chooses the napkins (or what she feels ought to be used as napkins), sets the silverware.

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We're ready. Ed comes home with the pizza, I put out the salad and... broccoli flowerets. Because there is at least one person in her home who doesn't adore broccoli, I found out recently that the girl doesn't really know this sublime vegetable. I serve us a small portion just so we can all savor its utter goodness. (I seriously love broccoli.)

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Later, much later, she turns off the lights in the kitchen and throws herself into a high speed saunter, laughing and bellowing -- I am a shark, dancing in the dark waters! 

It is delightful the first fifteen minutes, but eventually, she has to be reigned in. There are many ways to do this -- this time she settles by going to my remote desk in the sun room, turning on the work light and scribbling away on index cards. You could say she is burning the candle at both ends tonight.

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Good night little peanut. Sleep well, sleep tight. Dream of spring and summer. Of cousins and brothers. They're all just around the corner.