Wednesday, July 23, 2014


The sticky mugginess of too warm days is behind us. Suddenly, without storm or great upheaval, we got ourselves a bright and beautiful morning (and then day, and then evening, and possibly the rest of the week).

And I get to know today's morning very well. Ed is now with summer sniffles and so I'm taking over chicken duties again, being the one (for the first time since the days of the wedding) to open up the coop and set them free. Isis had been pestering us to let him out even before sunrise and so my very first photos are indeed from that time when it's light, but not yet light outside.


I linger for a while. It is buggier now, before the sun comes up, but there is a certain peacefulness to the day that is so very appealing. Why walk away from it?

Eventually I hear the sound of stealthy Cammie - the stray cat that has taken to coming here in search of food. I quickly put out a dish for her in a wire cage that we keep open and then I retreat, waiting for her to eat it.

Cammie wont go into the cage. It's a trap and she senses it. We keep the door slightly ajar for now. At some point we do want it to close on her so that we can take her to the vet. For now, it stays open and when the dish of food is too far inside, she snubs it.

But the hens! Ah, the hens! They'll stretch themselves hugely and their necks will grow long and they will reach, reach, reach ever so much, just to get to that dish. And so we've stopped putting out cat food with any chicken meat in it. For obvious reasons.

I watch the cheepers and that takes a while and so now, finally, the sun pops over the horizon and the day becomes that gorgeous blue, or dappled blue, with an occasional puffy cloud -- the kind of sky you long for at any time of the year.


The stage is set for a beautiful day.


Breakfast is later, much later. I can't even think why. Just because. But, it's pancakes for Ed and peaches and freshly picked raspberries again and, too, I drink my coffee from the most expensively transported mug ever  -- one from Islay, with little sheep all over it, one that I didn't dare pack and so I went to the Bowmore post office to send it (and its companion) to myself and when I heard the price I nearly fainted, but send it I did and now here it is, freshly arrived, shouting at me -- I'm here! Use me! And so I do.


After: more errands downtown, including a trip to the courthouse to retrieve some papers the Polish government seems to be needing. I catch myself as I set out, because I am wearing shorts. Shorts! If there was one place in life where I maintained proper decorum, it was in days when I represented clients, always poor, very poor clients in court proceedings. They deserved my best and my best included dressing the part. So to enter the court house in shorts feels blasphemous and yet I remind myself -- that was then, this is now. I am retired. I no longer engage in the practice of law!

After: there is some weeding, of course, and, too, I review with Ed changes that I want to make to portions of the yard (rip out the thorny, weedy roses and replace them with some of my perennials -- a job that will take grit and perseverance because the roses are a killer type, with thorns big and small, attacking you through every glove or article of clothing).

It's a project for early fall.

After: in the evening, I go with my girl to the concert on the Capitol Square -- a picnic type event that is especially lovely on an evening like today. (It's no small event: some 25,000 show up for the event).

We walk there and back, along the lake...


...and sit on folded chairs on a blanket, and eat salads and cherries and ice creams...


... and I leaf through magazines and think quiet thoughts about all the concerts I'd been to here, on the square, always with one or both of my girls. The number of such concerts is very large.

After: we walk back to her house, some 5216 steps away from the Capitol. My iPhone now refuses to stop counting how many steps I take and Ed sometimes will ask -- so what's the number now? -- and so I have added this unwelcome beast into my life for now, but it is the only unwelcome beast. Everything else, especially on a day like today, is, simply put, sublime.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

hot steps

Since reading the New Yorker essay by David Sedaris on the subject of becoming addicted to Fitbit (a fancy device that basically counts your steps and measures your level of activity), I have been mulling over the idea that I should count how many steps I take on an average day at the farmette. Though one could argue that measuring steps is not a great way to measure the level of activity in a person who engages in weed pulling for hours on end (surely more active than sitting on a couch, though not if you asked a step measuring device), still -- I am curious.

Ed scoffs at the idea of spending $48.99 on a Fitbit, even if it does get 4.5 stars on Amazon. When I point out that it will display for me all sorts of charts, set goals and even chide me for not stepping up to the 10,000 daily goal everyone should have before them, he goes on line and points to articles describing apps that I can get for free on my rather new iPhone -- apps that will convert my phone into a device that will measure my steps, call me names, draw charts -- the works.

It's an annoying feature of being so close to Ed: he often dashes my excitement in acquiring something, be it new pair of glasses or, in this case, a new (and unnecessary) exercise monitor.

Fine. I download the recommended (free) iPhone app. I check all settings. I turn it on. I walk. Nothing. I mean, it tells me I am taking zero steps.

Ed waves the iPhone furiously and gets it to register 2 steps. I tell him it's like having a scale that misreads your weight every morning. Totally frightening.

We remove the app and go on to the next one. "Moves." Also free.

Well now, this one works! Never mind that you have to have your iPhone glued to your body all day long. It does tally your steps and tell you how poorly you're doing. So that for example, today, when I had two grocery type errands to run and then a lot of weeding of the raspberry beds to accomplish (and man oh man, it was hot out there!), it tells me that I only took 4,821 steps. Annoying!


Now if there only was a device that could measure the pleasure I get from our morning meal out on the porch...


Or from taking stock of the flowers today...


Including, of course, the day lilies...


No such device out there. But if there was, I'd be off the charts.

Ah well, let me take a short walk. I mean, how can I face myself if I don't even hit 7500 on this lovely summer evening?

I glance down at my iPhone as I set out to walk. No steps are added. I walk some more. Stuck at 4821.

You could say that this motivates me to seek out a device that's more reliable. It does not. Even though the counter is (presumably) undercounting, it still was terribly unfun to have something there reminding me of every breath I take on this planet, every movement I make, every song I sing all day long. (Well, it didn't do all that, but you get my point.) I'll walk more, okay? But don't remind me to do it or it'll cease being spontaneous and fun. It'll turn into a chore. Walking through my garden on a summer day should never be a chore.

Post Scriptum (on the subject of bugs)

In response to a commenter's question, I offer these suggestions on how to wage your own mosquito wars (which we seem to be winning this year!) in your outdoor spaces:

If you want a quick fix for your yard -- buy Mosquito Beater -- in liquid form (at Farm and Fleet, for example). We mix it in a hand pump at the ratio of 5oz per 1.5 gallon water. Or, you can attach the store bought container to your hose and fire away! It's very effective and hasn't the toxicity of the the commercial sprays. Our bees and butterflies are doing fine!

True, we'd probably do even better if we used pure cedar oil (Mosquito Beater has other ingredients) and mixed that with water. The Mosquito Guy (a family run company out of Waukesha that has just recently entered the Madison market) did that for us for the wedding and it took care of upwards of 95% of the mosquitoes (for several weeks actually). Literally pushed them away into the hinterlands. If you stepped out of the cedar oil misted area -- they were there. Inside -- nothing.

Furthermore, our own misting (of the diluted Mosquito Beater) is on a spot-only basis -- around the path to the farmhouse where they congregate, for example. So we're not as effective as we would be if we misted most of the yard. But, the yard's too big, we're not fanatics -- we just want a modicum of sanity outside. We live near marshlands and so our bugs can get intense in the summer. This year, with the discovery of cedar oil (and possibly for other reason we cannot begin to ascertain -- more bats? more swallows? fewer raspberry bushes? who can tell...), I have been able to work in the yard for hours on end, with only the occasional slap.  It's really been a game changer for me.

I have to add -- for a strangely entertaining way to keep mosquitoes out of your way (and to kill them effectively when they get inside your porch or house, for example), we rather enjoy using charged racquets. Like this one. There are many on the market. We get the cheapest ones at Harbor Freight (around $3 plus battery) and they're very satisfying! Your inner hunter/warrior instincts come through as you wave the racquet and wait for the spark, zap, then sizzle of the mosquito!  Yeah!

Monday, July 21, 2014

edible gardens

The classic lethargy of a warm summer day set in early for me. Out there on the porch, at breakfast. Still with wet hair after morning showers.


I should note -- peaches are peaking right now. So the fruit bowls have to fit it all -- the peaches (not ours this year: our trees were lost in the polar vortex and the new ones wont produce for several years), the Michigan blueberries and the garden raspberries.


I stay on the porch for several hours after, reading. (With a view toward the sheep shed and barn.)


But then I feel a pang of guilt for neglecting our fruit and vegetable garden. Raspberries -- yes, I picked those. Strawberries this year have been shared between chipmunks (they go for the berries) and Martha the groundhog (she eats the plants).

Ed has been more or less tending to the vegetable plot, but it it's tough going back there, by the prairie grasses: the ground now has that summer hardness, so pulling weeds is a chore. It's sunny, too, and there are bugs -- more mosquitoes than we have by the farmhouse where we've been playing with a home brew of water and cedar oil which seems to put them off quite a bit. So the vegetable garden is a beastly place right now. Very different than it was in the months of hope and promise, as we planted our 96 tomatoes and rows of corn, peas and beans back in May.

But once there, I shake off the feeling of discomfort. The sun feels warm, yes, but I haven't really felt that sticky humid air that comes with the season up to now. And once I get into the rhythm of weeding and watering, I lose track of time.

And there's so much to admire! Yes, there are the disasters: our peas are routinely being devoured by some animal that makes its way here especially for their sugary sweetness. Ditto brussel sprouts. But the corn is lovely right now! And last year's grape planting project is being supported by a beautiful grape trellis that Ed built while I was away. So the grapes appear to be thriving!

grapes, supported by a wire

corn, needing no support

And the tomatoes! Maybe we wont have 96 robust plants, but nearly that many and they are doing just fine!

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how the cucumbers took off. We planted the seeds directly into the ground this year and today I picked the first one. As you can see, there will be others!


Too, between the tall milkweed that Ed refuses to pull out, even though it blocks the sun for several of our veggies (we need the milkweed for the butterflies!), I find a wholesome, thriving row of French beans!


And now I'm truly motivated and it is very late in the afternoon before I'm done (having decided to also water our young orchard -- for once a thriving young orchard, as Ed's cages have effectively kept the deer away).


Time for supper. Well that's easy! Cheeper eggs, scrambled, with garden chives. Garden beans. A salad with garden cucumber. The leftover raspberry cake for dessert. How can you not love summer?!

I'll leave you with a handful of daylilies, clamoring for attention in their stellar, short moment of bloom.


Sunday, July 20, 2014


Someday I will ease off the flower postings, but you have to understand -- in winter, I sometimes glance at July farmette pictures and I cannot believe how much hidden treasure lurks under the frozen ground. And July is, by far, the most abundant month here (in terms of flora).

But I didn't start with a survey of the yard today. After the usual wiping and vacuuming (a Sunday morning ritual, to start the week fresh and clean), we sit down to a very leisurely breakfast. So much was it leisurely, that I must post two photos, to let you feel the pause in this wonderful morning routine.



(The cheepers love this habit of ours. They hover by the porch door, just in case there's a handout, but they soon retreat somewhere into the depths of flowerland and rest while we eat.)


Okay, now the yard.


(with my beloved daylilies...)

(...of so many hues)

My walk through confirmed what I'd suspected: the flowers need water. We were lucky in the last month. There had been enough rain while I was gone that Ed didn't ever have to water the flower bed at alls. Two fragile plants dried up, but the rest were fine.

But it's been a while and the newly planted ones (and there are a lot of those this year!) need help.

It takes me about four hours to work through the entire garden and so before starting, we give ourselves a treat of a tennis game, knowing that once I dig into the hose routine, I wont want to stop and then the day will run away from me.

We are surprised to see that our favorite, hidden and somewhat dilapidated tennis court had been repaved. No one ever plays here and yet -- here it is, fresh and ready, for the players that never come. We stayed for a longer spell and as we volleyed the ball back and forth, we couldn't help but hear the sounds of a kid baseball game in the distance. I thought about how I always feel I'm in the thick of an American summer when I see kids in uniforms playing baseball. It isn't only that it's baseball, it's the whole bit of the heavy uniforms on a hot day -- surely they can't be comfortable? -- the sitting on a bench with the sun in your face... Could that vignette be anything but our own, home grown? Oh, it has been exported, to be sure, but for me, it's American to the core.

Ed asks if I want to go over and take some photos and I throw him one of those pitying glances -- as in -- don't you know... not everything needs to be photographed or, indeed can be photographed well. The game is evocative of a summer mood. Not easily snapped in a passing photo.

Time to face the day's work: I decide to start the watering with the newest bed.


Needless to say, I get ambitious and I end up doing the whole job, but by the end I'm cursing the occasional mosquito, the heat, the dirt of maneuvering the long hose. I should have stopped when it was still fun!

(to the side of the porch)

And by the time I'm done, there is little left to the day. I fix dinner for my girl and her husband and the four of us have a lovely hour on the porch over spaghetti. Not home grown tomatoes yet, but soon!


So this is Sunday. Earlier, when we were zipping back from the tennis court on his motorcycle and the breeze cooled us off from the hot game, I said to Ed -- this is wonderful... so happy... The wind lifted the words and carried them off somewhere into the cornfields, so I doubt that he heard me, but it doesn't mater. He'd already heard the same words out on the porch in the morning. And out in the garden. And again, forcefully, late in the evening.

P.S. Several requests for the raspberry cake -- I like the recipe a lot and it could not be easier. From the NYTimes (with my modifications):  

Pound Cake Filled with Fresh Raspberries

1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature (plus butter for greasing pan)
1 c of sugar
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 c all purpose flour (plus extra for pan)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c plain yogurt
2 c fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inch loaf pan.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light.
Mix in lemon zest.
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until light and fluffy.
Mix in vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the batter alternating with the sour cream, mixing just to combine.
Spread half the batter in the prepared pan. Cover with raspberries. Top with the remaining batter, smoothing out the top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about an hour. (Mine needed 10 minutes longer.)
Place on a rack to cool. Turn cake out of pan then flip right side up. (They suggest dusting with powdered sugar. I opted not to do that.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014


It took three days (after my return) this time to reclaim a slower pace. The transformation came this morning when I stepped out to pick raspberries. I wanted to pass some on to my daughter, and to have some for breakfast with Ed, and to have a bunch for baking.


Standing out there in the thick of berry bushes, I understood two things: I will have picked off a good portion of the ripe berries and if I leave the rest (for now, forever), life wont end. And secondly, looking at the weeds around the canes, I saw that yes, they grew enormously in my absence, but actually, I have the rest of the month (or summer) to clear them. We got the raspberry fields well covered with mulch earlier in the season. Weeding them wont take forever and it doesn't have to happen right now.


And so I stopped looking nervously at my long list of things that require my attention. They don't require it today. Or this week. Or at all.

It may seem like such an obvious point, but it was pace-changing for me.

So first, a longer look at garden highlights from this morning:




And then, the usual leisurely breakfast (that's a constant; if the pace of breakfast ever picks up, I know I am doomed):


And then a moment with the cheepers as they enjoy their morning snack:


And when I agree to go with my girl to the downtown farmers market, I don't, as in the past, just meet her there, I moped over to her house and we walk over together. There and back. Past Madison's skyline...


...and then of course slowly around the Capitol Square.


At the farmhouse, I glance at my list dismissively and sit down to read a little bit, ignoring the laundry stuck for two days in the machine, ignoring the beetles in the rose bushes, ignoring the grass that Ed only half mowed last night (I will help him... sometime... maybe later).

Though I did bake the raspberry lemon cake later in the evening.


I use yogurt instead of cream, and less sugar than it calls for. The stars, after all, are the berries inside. All two cups of them, picked just a few hours before baking.           

Friday, July 18, 2014

a day

There is no such thing as a day without small, perplexing, sometimes annoying, oftentimes tedious little issues that crop up and require your patient attention. I find that if I do not have the expectation of an easy and quick fix, then they aren't nearly as annoying or exasperating as they otherwise might be. Let's take this day as an example.

I went to bed last night with summer sniffles. I blame the air conditioning in D.C., but really, if you move around in the way that I do, you're going to expose yourself to stuff. Sooner or later, you're going to be too tired to fight off every bug that assails you. I lost the fight this time. Ah well. It's just sniffles. Still, they're here to stay for a while. May as well get comfortable with that fact.

But they aren't so bad that I can't enjoy a breakfast on the porch. (Did Ed miss the daily photo when I was away? Probably not.)


Or to walk through the garden, to take stock of where my attention should go next.



(the awesome daylilies)

(more awesome daylilies)

Or raspberries?


The berries have it. They're practically falling off the canes, begging to be picked. Ed froze a big batch last week. Time to start baking with what's left (which is a lot!). I check the fridge. Low on butter. No yogurt or lemons. And to think I did a massive grocery restocking yesterday! I take out my list of things for today and write in: buy forgotten groceries.

In the meantime, I place my energies elsewhere. First -- the phone calls that have piled up over the weeks, including my *favorite* - to the Polish Consulate, still in pursuit of documentation verifying my existence or some such silliness. (You may remember, I started the process last May -- we're nowhere near being done, despite everyone's best efforts.) I decide to call the New York-based Consulate. Ah! I need to speak to the legal department! Well, the legal department is not in her chair right now. Could I call back at another time?

I mull over the difference between Polish and English.  You'd say "not at her desk." Poles apparently say "off her chair." I think the Polish words are a tiny bit funny.

I try several times and I finally do reach the legal staff person (so she must now be on her chair), only to learn of a new court document, certifying that I never appealed my divorce is needed to move things forward.  I call the Clerk of Courts in my home town. She has never heard of such a thing. And I've been working here a long time!  I tell myself that I didn't really expect the end to be in sight, did I? I write an explanatory letter to our Clerk of Courts and wait so see if they can come up with something that will satisfy the Poles.

Also for today:  my daughter needs help with her garden and so I take Rosie the moped out to her place. And I say hello to her fighting cats (the two new ones are being challenged by the presiding older cat, who was used to having total control over the entire house). Here are the two newcomers, hiding -- which is another thing they do superbly!



My daughter takes all their difficult personalities in stride. I admire that in her. She assumes the cats are here to stay and eventually they will come around to some common (if not necessarily affable) ground. Eventually.

Back at the farmette, we have a visitor. Long time readers may remember farmer Lee who worked the fields across the road from us before they were taken from her and handed to a corn/soy farmer. In the end she had nowhere to plant and she comes to us asking for use of land. She is struggling to find a place to grow market produce. She asks if we can let her work the land that is currently being planted by her "sister." Ed protests -- we can't do that! And so Ed and I talk about clearing more land to free up additional space for Lee's farming. It wont be much  -- maybe a quarter acre, but it's better than the nothing she now has. 

But it will take a while to do this. I listen to Ed chat up a guy who helped us by plowing the first field for Lee's "sister." There is much to be learned from the tenor of this exchange. Me, I'd have been tempted to push for everything to happen now! Or soon! Ed takes his time and presses no one. In the end, the guy with the tractor may stop by this week. Maybe farmer Lee will be growing market vegetables and flowers again. We're working toward that goal.

So you could say that of the things I started with today, only the weeds at my daughter's had a brilliant resolution: they're out! Everything else just progresses to the next stage, to be picked up and carried forth at some later time.

Later, much later in the afternoon, Ed suggests we pause for a nap. I can't do that very well, but I try. I listen to him breathe rhythmically and I tell myself that someday I'll move even closer to that state of acceptance of what any one day has to offer. Someday. For now, I just listen to him breathe in, breathe out. In, out.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

meanwhile, back at the farmette...

It was too late to take in much of anything last night when I returned home. As I said, my one agenda item was to check if there was any damage to the suitcase contents. And so as we came in from the airport, I set my case down and sniffed around it to see if there was any tell tale sign of smoky, peaty Scotch.

There wasn't.

As soon as I opened the suitcase, I found that little sheet of paper that tells you that your bag was picked for a thorough manual inspection. Well I'm not surprised. The little case looked so odd and plump!

Still, the inspectors repacked it well and I breathed a sigh of relief as all bottles of Scotch survived the journey.

It was such a ridiculously issue-free trip. It took two and a half days to travel here from the Isle of Islay and you'd think that at least one of my multiple plane, train and automobile (and tram) connections would fail me. But none did. Indeed, I was 40 minutes early in my arrival in Madison and I sat on the curb waiting for Ed, who was running errands and could not be reached, as he does not own a cell phone.

In the morning -- and it was a very early wake up for both of us -- we resumed our conversation on several small issues that had arisen just before I left for Europe.

One had to do with Oreo the rooster. Something snapped in that bird around the time of the wedding: Oreo lost it. Though intensely bonded with Ed, he became suspicious of virtually anyone else. And so I told Ed -- the rooster has to go.

Now, to ask Ed to give up on an animal in trouble is something you can't do lightly. He will spend months, years patiently dealing with whatever problem that animal may present. And still, I kept repeating -- we don't know what's troubling Oreo and I don't want his hypersensitivities to cause him to act out every time someone who is not Ed approached the farmhouse.

Ed looks at me hard: You mean you're scared of a chicken?
Not exactly...
You're scared of a chicken!
I just don't like to be around a troubled rooster.

This has been our discussion all the while I was away.

Just a few days ago, he finally agreed that Oreo has to go back to his original owner.

And then he changed his mind.
One more try! -- he pleaded, setting up a special restricted enclosure for Oreo when he misbehaves.

It really seems that Oreo has become the main subject of our conversations of late. Intensely so!

Too, there is someone new to the farmette.


Not sure of her (?) sex, but she has been coming here for months, and though I used to chase her silly (out of a concern for the chickens and for old old Isis), in my absence, Ed took another approach (what a surprise): acceptance. And though I'd like to say it's all resolved and the cat is part of our clan, again things are rather in progress. Most likely she is a feral cat and most likely, we will be catching her and taking her to the vet before a release back to the yard.

The odd thing is how Isis seems not to care one way or another about her presence and, too, how well she gets along with chickens.  It's humans that she is afraid of, but we're feeding her and Ed swears that she'll remain an outdoor cat.

And BTW, her name is, as of today, Cameo, for obvious reasons. Cammie for short.


Ah, but all these details are secondary to the main thrust of this day, which is to gasp at the transformation in the yard. Yes, it desperately needs weeding and I spent the better part of this day doing just that, but mainly it is in its July glory and I have to throw some photos here for you, for me, for posterity.

(the early morning look)

(an iris, still going strong)

(the bells and the lavender)

(the tomatoes are just starting their run; this one is a new for us variety -- it's called indigo)

(the raspberries are incredibly strong this year! a reward for all that pruning and replanting)

(superb color everywhere)

(this bed is to the west -- best seen from the porch)

(the cheepers are doing well)

(in front of the farmhouse)

And so I'm back. And yes, of course, it's great to be home. Tremendously so.

(breakfast on the porch, of course!)