Sunday, October 19, 2014


It's been a while since Ed and I have hiked. My travels, summer mosquitoes, spring sore back issues, and farmette restoration -- all these have kept us off the trails. In fact, the last longer hike together was, to the best of my recollection, the one we took into the canyon in central Turkey. The one where the pack of wild dogs attacked us.

And so it was especially poignant to head out today. After breakfast of course.


And after a secret cuddle with Oreo.


Not too far, south of where we are, there is a segment of the Ice Age Trail that has been a reliable hiking path for us. And while working on prairie restoration in that area during my absence, Ed discovered another segment of the trail
 and so this was our destination. It's not a particularly arduous hike -- but perfect for a moderate Fall afternoon.


Barking dogs at the trail head notwithstanding. (It brought back memories.)


And hunters: forgot about those. I left my blaze orange vest  at home. Oops. (This hunter was after squirrels. You can see in his pocket the tail of success...)


It's good to be walking these Wisconsin hills again. They are such familiar trails for me! Even new segments  aren't really new: I know this terrain -- the oaks, birches, the occasional white white pine or maple -- they repeat themselves in ever beautiful patterns. Novel, but familiar. With the glimpse of the farmlands beyond, peaking through, now that the leaf cover is nearly gone.





Afterwards, Ed suggests a beer in nearby Paoli. This is my guy, feeling himself to be thoroughly entrenched in our life in the Midwest. After all, it's Sunday afternoon, the Packer game is on, people head to the local bar. Of course, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times he and I have grabbed a beer at one of our local bars. And you could not get us excited by a football game ever.
And yet, he sips his amber ale and I sip my spotted cow and eventually he strikes up a conversation with a long-haired gentleman to his right.  The guy is there with his wife and they both bear symbols of Packer devotion. They've come to catch the tail end of a Packer win. And to put down a few dollars down for a chance at the prizes (packages of meat!) that are being given out at the bar.


Did you ever hit the jackpot here? Ed wants to know. (Ed would not eat red meat if you paid him.)
Oh sure. Every now and then we win the meat. There are cheeses too. And then cash prizes.
Is it legal? Ed asks, because he is amused at all instances where the law attempts to set a moral standard and fails to do so.
I don't know, but every bar does it! The guy knows darn well we're not from this particular village, so he throws in -- even in Madison!
Ed grins as the guy's luck percolates again to a win -- of four fat sausages and some ground beef patties.

We stop by the Chicken Store across the street. Blasted place. It's what caused me to day dream about raising chickens in the first place. But I know they're not in favor of keeping mean roosters, so I feed the owners (and various sundry people who come and hang out there) stories about Oreo attacks. Just as I catch their sympathy, Ed describes how much Oreo adores being held and coddled by him, to the point of purring as he, Ed, rubs the rooster's little red temples and the ladies at the store melt and say awwww... and I pull Ed away before he has them purring equally loudly at his tales of chicken bonding.

In the evening, my girl comes over with her husband for a spaghetti dinner.


Last time I was pregnant was exactly thirty years ago, almost to the week tracking my older daughter's current pregnancy (she is due in January and, too, my youngest was born in January). But you know, we live in such different times that I'm in no position to dig into my own reservoir of lessons and recollections. I watch these guys and I learn from them.
Hey, good to see you! -- I say when they come in. Now, could you show me what I'm doing wrong with my iPhone? It's refusing to.... (etc.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

blast of the real thing

Oh, that was a cold walk! I must have somehow assumed that it would always stay near sixty. Not summer? Fine. Fall. Sixty. And so after breakfast...


... I set out with my daughter to the market.
Not so fast -- she reminds me. She's starting to carry a nice little load in her belly.


Oh, but it's cold! Windy, cloudy, cold. Forties are not sixties. Still, we slow down. And I make that mental adjustment: dress warmly henceforth!

At the market now. I have to stock up on maple syrup for Ed's pancakes for the winter and, as always, oyster mushrooms.

These are the last markets of the year. We don't have year round weather for it. We're not Nice or even Brittany. We're northern types.


Tonight, there's threat of frost again. I take a gamble with most plants, but bring in the super sensitive ones.

And Ed and I play tennis. Let me tell you how gripping these games are -- they're not just about tennis. They're our moment of no distraction, of the passing of time, of trying to improve, even as much within you resists the challenge, of patience, of unity of purpose. In other words -- lots of good stuff, just from hitting that well worn set of balls, back and forth, back and forth, as we move closer to dusk.


We come back and I toss the oyster mushroom, the home grown garlic, the cheeper eggs into the frying pan for a typical farmette supper. The last of the garden tomatoes go into the salad. We've been warned. We're ready for the frost.


Friday, October 17, 2014


Ed can't let go of his rooster, I can't let go of my writing project.

Here he is, taunting me with the (alleged) sweetness of Oreo (who is yet to be picked up by the chicken mama).


At the same time that he quietly places the scrappy sleeping bag by the door, so that I can exit the house without fear.

(Exiting the house -- how Fall-ish the pathway looks right now! Like a steamy jungle of yellowing flora...)


(...ah, Butter has spotted me; here she comes!)


Well, I understand. For him, it's Oreo. Me, I'm attached to my keyboard and my Word text.  so that after a lovely breakfast in the sun room, though without the sun (it was there when I started to set the table, I swear it was!)...


...and after a lovely walk in the park just up the road -- that same park that is our go to spot for cross country skiing...


...where the sun did come out, if fleetingly...







...after all that, I sit down and rewrite three separate paragraphs, even though I had already sent this thing off and should be putting my mind to the next project. I have lived with my text for so long (eight years), that it is forever drawing me in. Forcing me to reconsider sentence choices, vignette inclusions, on and on, until the day I die.

Well, maybe not that long.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Slowly the morning clouds let in a bit of blue...


...and eventually, by noon, we are in for sunshine!

We weren't expecting it. Indeed, our breakfast was still at the kitchen table...


But toward late morning, I nudged Ed to join me outside. We wont have many days like this one!


Fall yard work is different than spring stuff. It's occasional. It's sporadic. It's not very thorough. My goals are to set things on a path of recovery and maintenance. Dig out the major weeds, keep everything in reasonable order and then put it aside until spring. So today we cleared some of the major weeds that had in my absence invaded the raspberry beds. A friend stopped by and he watched as we pulled and dug and I explained to him about Oreo and sure enough, out came the rooster, attacking our visitor. Not that our friend was in anyway disturbed. He was raised on a farm and so a nice shove, or two, or three, sent Oreo flying. Still, I glanced at Ed with a "you see?"  expression. In case he needed further evidence.

Our ambitions being on the light side of things, we stopped early on, but still, it is rather remarkable how buoyant your mood is on a day where you work outdoors and your nails get dirty from the soil and the sun causes you to take off the jacket, then the sweater.

Wisconsin is, for the most part, a sunny state. And this is what makes all seasons here so breathtakingly beautiful.

And speaking of just that -- this breathtaking beauty, today I had to go into Madison again (for one of those appointments you have because you've reached that age!) and it struck me that I could come home the long way -- by way of the Arboretum.

What a stunning day it was to look at this gem of a place! To me, the Arboretum is an incredible (and incredibly underused, which is, I suppose, part of its charm) sanctuary especially if you live within the city boundaries. I used to go there far more often before I moved to the country. But on days like this, it's grand even for those of us who have natural beauty right up to our noses -- as I do at the farmette.  The Arboretum, as the name implies, has a variety of trees and they're all doing magnificent things right now!


Take a walk with me!


One path, better than the next...


One palate of colors more magnificent than the other...


In fact, I was so enchanted by it all...



...that I came home and dragged Ed out and we drove right back, for a forest walk.



Surely this was the day to say: I know it's a troubled world out there, but isn't it grand that there are places like this to make our senses swirl?


The second half of October does bring with is shorter days and the sun was quite low as we leave the Aroboretum...


...But not low enough to keep us from taking a detour to our hidden tennis court, where we play a sweet, sweet game of tennis, as spent White Pine needles swish around under our feet and the evening sets in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

more on writing

Whoever crossed my path in the last month has heard the same speculative comment from me about how it is that authors can ever write, given that, as David Gordon recently said (here), the mere mention of a character trait in a book invites speculation on the part of the reader that you, the author, were actually writing about (and criticizing) said reader.

And so I pick up with interest a comment by the recent recipient of the Man Booker Prize. Flanagan said yesterday -- “I only realized after [my father] died what an extraordinary gift that was. ["That" refers to the trust his dad had in him to write as he wanted to write.]  As a novelist, you have to be free. Books can’t be an act of filial duty.”

I suppose many writers set to their task because they have felt, in life, deprived of a forum. Finally, an audience, no matter how small, to listen to and surely acknowledge the grievance they've felt! And that's a fine reason to write, I suppose. But there are others and I surely belong to the category of others.

Perhaps closing myself off (as I have, see previous post) is a way for me to lessen the risk of loss. Unlike Gordon, I shan't care if someone defriends me on FaceBook because of something I've written. And I know already that writing for a public forum, no matter how bland your story, causes some to back away. I know this from writing Ocean. I started this blog with the premises that I don't want to offend and I learned quickly that my marker of what is offensive may not be the same as that of another person. Ed used to ask -- when you retire, will you finally write honestly? The dean wont be able to scold you anymore! (To clarify: the dean never scolded me, but others have!)

My answer, of course, is that I do write honestly. Remarkably so. But I side step trouble because, in fact, that's how I live. Run away from trouble? That's me!

Book writing, however, is different. I am invested in Ocean, but I am perhaps even more invested in my book project. There, I tread less carefully. The story cannot flow without that sense of freedom that Flanagan talks of. At least not that story!

In other news -- if the skies parted some this morning, I didn't see it. It is wet and drizzly and breakfast is again in the kitchen.


Ed pokes at me mercilessly for casting the final vote on Oreo's future. His tease is his way of transitioning to a time without Oreo, but still, I surely will be relieved when whatever is to happen to the old rooster in his next life happens soon, so that we are both not so tortured by the specter of it. (The chicken mama never quite comes when she says she will so we are still waiting.)

(still blooming)

 Late in the afternoon, we go to Farm & Fleet to buy more chicken feed. We are surely invested in the chicken project, even as there will be a shift in our brood soon.


Still later, toward evening, we go bowling. This is a sign of late Fall. Too cold for tennis. Or for biking. Too warm for snow and skiing. I am a terrible bowler (no one to my knowledge bowls in Poland), but I love active games that Ed and I do together and over time, I will get better!

Who says I'm not a cup half full person?!

(still blooming)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

writers, chicken keepers and good things inbetween


When Poland rather abruptly changed its course from so called Communism to market capitalism (1989), there was the obvious fallout. A stagnant economy, abandoning its centralized price fixing and opening the doors to free market forces meant, for one thing, that Poland's unemployment rose from near 0% to 20% almost instantly. (To be sure, growth then happened quickly -- more quickly than in any other country of the former Eastern Bloc, but for some Poles, economic success would never be attainable.)

If there was a professional group that was especially excited and yet suddenly vulnerable, you could say that it was the writers -- those feeding the starved palates of the literati. In post war Poland, the writers wrote under a cloud of censorship, but their pay was guaranteed and rather on the high end of the compressed pay scales. Good literature flourished. So did propaganda pieces, but there was also a flurry of well crafted allegorical pieces that to this day instill pride. What was missing was the proliferation of, well, eye catching, consumer driven junk. With market capitalism, the doors swung wide open and writers watched in horror as many made money on publishing the lowest of the low grade books and magazines, while many of the good, established authors were left scrambling.

I thought about this early in the morning as Ed and I tossed to each other  "articles you might want to read" as we scanned the morning press on line. He pointed me to an opinion piece that talks of the Amazon factor in the publishing world. Amazon now controls most of our reading material and it is pushing us away from publishing as we know it, into something that is very new, very egalitarian and very price driven. Ed comments -- in a few years, all those agents and publishers you're writing to may be obsolete.

Well now, is this a good thing? I'm worrying -- what if Amazon does to books what the grocery chains did to food fifty years ago? (Lots of it, cheap, but with all that we now know about processed, pumped up food.)

Of course, it's different with books. As Ed would comment -- who is to say what's great reading?
I answer him -- I can tell a book that's badly written in a breath. Do we want our kindles and libraries to be stocked with poor writing?
Ed wont buy that argument. Not everyone wants to read Dostoyevsky, he reminds me. (Reminding me, too, that even I don't often peruse the so called greats. In fact, my current stack includes a British cozy -- which honestly, may have been written in three months or less.)

I've argued before that the French, with the passage of the Lang Law, do a great service to authors and publishers alike by regulating book pricing (you cannot discount books by more than 5% below the publisher's price). Other countries -- Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, to name a few -- have similar laws protecting the publishing industry.

Not so the U.S. and if it means that Amazon will decide what books we read, so be it.

But is that so bad? Right now, the rarefied world of acclaimed writers is, well, rarefied. Entry into their club is prohibitively difficult. Isn't it good that we shake up that world a bit? As Ed would say -- that we pull the red carpet from under the feet of the anointed?
And what of the writer? I ask him. I mean, the professional writer who no longer will have an advance, a panting agent at her side, a publisher to organize book reading tours?
Again, my buddy tells me: a machinist will work his day job and play with his tools at projects over the weekend. There will always be writers because people have things to say and others want things to read.
And it's true -- like his machining buddies, I did my writing project (at least 90% of it) before I retired. Weekends and vacations.

I think about all this as I wake up to another day of tormented skies and bouts of rain.


Retirement has been breathtakingly wonderful. It has been sublime on practically all fronts. But there are the exceptions and one obvious one is that I have become more of a recluse. Moving to the farmette had already pushed me in that direction. Leaving my workplace for good solidified it.

Oh, I see family and ironically, I see my friends who do not live here. I visit, they visit -- all that happens with greater frequency now that my schedule is less constrained. And I see my work buds once every six weeks. But do I make dates with people who live close by? No I do not.

And so it is unusual for someone to shake me out of my complacent isolation. I resist. But this friend knew where to hit with her attack: with an invitation to lunch and we settled on the quite special Nostrano -- a restaurant on the square...


...that has, to put it bluntly -- great food.


It's the kind of place where you can order for lunch Beet Sformato, with pickled cherries, grilled radicchio, cocoa nibs and walnut vinaigrette.


And for a main course --orecchiette with  spicy fennel sausage, Milano turnips, rapini, preserved meyer lemon, and Fiore Sardo (which is a cheese; I did not know that!).


For dessert? I cannot recall the name, the ingredients, but it included chocolate and blackberries and hazelnut and, too, coconut ice cream.



In other words -- it is food to live for! (A much better expression than "to die for," don't you think?)

Does this mean that I have now reemerged? That I will rejoin the social world and make it a point to set up dates and meetings in the months ahead? Probably not. But for this one wonderful lunch, I talked for hours and ate regally.


At breakfast, we talk about the shifts and vicissitudes in our various orbits.


In addition to Ed's machining preoccupations and my writing immersions, there is the matter of Oreo, the rooster. As Scotch came around asking for a few seeds, as Butter looked up and down for the person who would bring a morning treat, I sighed, knowing that I didn't want to go out and confront the rooster problem.

(Oreo lurks in the background)

It was time to call the cheepers' owners. (Remember, we are but foster chicken keepers.) Immediately the chicken mama understood. Oreo doesn't belong with the pack anymore. He's shielding them alright, from the human contact they'd come to appreciate.

She was supposed to come tonight to take him to "her father's place." We don't quite know what that means and we don't ask. I imagine (in my hopeful mode) that it is chicken central -- some mega operation where there are many roosters and hens comingling and getting through the day. The chicken mama is like Ed -- concern for animals is in her soul. She would not let Oreo be in a place where he will be poorly treated, though of course, he will never have what he has here - his own three girls, three acres to play in, two people who are pretty intent on making his world a happy place, as if to compensate for all the chickens we've encountered and yes, consumed, that had a less than good life.

She doesn't come. And so we have a prolonged departure, even as departure it will be. For now, Ed squeezes in his cuddles and I look on. 


In the evening, the wind dies down. Tomorrow there'll be a crack in the cloud cover. No, wait, there is already a crack in the cloud cover.

And that's a good thing.