Tuesday, April 15, 2014

spring snow

If you can just pretend it's a different season, you'll think this day to be totally beautiful. I mean, imagine waking up to a delicate snow, a ruby toned sunrise, a loud chirping of birds, a promise of blue skies:





Heaven, right?

Not for the chickens.

I come to the coop just as the sun breaks the horizon. I open their door and get ready to clean their quarters. Except that no one wants to come out.

Try cleaning a small coop with chickens in it.

I lure them out with corn. But though they come out, they tread delicately on the fresh layer of snow. Unsure. I'm puzzled. They've lived through a winter already. Have they forgotten how to deal with the white stuff? Is 20F suddenly unthinkable? Lexie, the bravest of the set, flies to the roof of the coop. But rather than pecking at me, she stand on one foot and huddles inside her feathers.


Okay. I leave them alone. But it isn't until after our breakfast...


...that they come out to explore.


As the day warms (well, relatively speaking), Ed and I review projects that need our attention. There are so many!

We decide to work on expanding our vegetable plot out back. We need to rotate the tomatoes out and create a new space for them. And, weed the existing bed. And throw additional chips on the entire space.

And we've got company!


Still, this isn't the chiks' stomping ground. They check out our work...


... then return to their beloved farmette courtyard.  Home. Theirs, ours.

Inside the farmhouse, I'm lining up plants that will be going outside soon.


These are the weeks to exercise patience. Mustn't rush it. Revel in the fact that there is green grass under a a night layer of snow. Look forward to the weeks just before you.

I do. Three weeks (or so) to the planting season. Incredible.

Monday, April 14, 2014

an April day

Yes, it is possible to have snow here in the middle of April. And yes, showers are common at this time of the year. And, too, you can have some chilly days. Yes, not to exceed 35F.

But just because all this can happen, doesn't mean that you like it when it does.

I was expecting a cold Monday and I got it!

There is no sunrise photo for you. It was one of those gray ornings and the chickens weren't especially anxious to go out and forage when I released them from the coop and pen sometime around 7. Lexie was going nuts, dancing around me with the expectation of some kind of a treat -- like a kid whose parent went away to an exotic place, surely warranting a return with a gift, no?

Lexie is still likely to peck at you when she is worked up and I have to admit, cleaning the coop then can be a challenge. Ed locks the chicks out when he does it. I feel like they need to settle down with me going through their personal belongings, so I let them stay in the pen, but as a result, the whole process takes forever.

And did I mention it is cold?

And that there is snow on the ground?


Indeed. But snow is the least of our issues. It had rained so hard in the last two days that the wheel barrow is nearly filled to the top with water. The blanket shielding the coop from winds is one soppy mess. It isn't pretty outside.

Or is it?


In my absence, two things happened: the daffodils had a growth spurt. And so did Lexie! My scrawny girl is nearly as big as Butter! It's not easy to tell them apart these days (well, their personalities give them away...).


(Somewhere in these morning hours, there was breakfast.)


Later, as we return from Menards (cedar planting pots, on sale!),  I see them: hawks. Three, circling overhead. One of them is zeroing in on the courtyard of the farmette. Suddenly, I know it: the chickens are in danger. You know the expression slam on the brakes? I do the opposite:  slam on the gas pedal.What are you doing?? -- this from a horrified Ed.

I swerve into the driveway, run out and wave my arms wildly. The hawk is low, the chickens are frozen. Most are inside the pen, but Butter is outside, under a tree.
Ed - you look wild!
They say if you wave your arms enough, the hawk will eventually quit harassing the chickens.

It's sad to think of their inability to ward off all dangers. They wait, defenseless, hoping a hawk (or some other predator) will leave them alone. And maybe he will and maybe he wont. This one swoops down one last time and flies away.


We have another cold day ahead of us. After that? No promises. And yet, maybe this is the last of the wintry mix?

I cook up a pot of chicken soup for supper. Ed looks at me quizzically. I shrug my shoulders. There are Lexie, Oreo, Butter, Whitney. Then there is chicken from the grocery store. Funny how the mind works.


The wind howls, the temperature falls. Yep, it's April.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

shower time

Because Minneapolis was once the home of a good friend, I've surely been to this city before. An Ocean reader can see the tag at the side: I've had many wonderful visits here.

And still, when your daughter moves to a place, that place takes on a new aura. The streets that were once interesting to me, the tourist, are now streets that she walks -- on her way to her office or to the store. And so it is with great excitement that I come to this city on a cloudy but still warm April day.


I'm in Minneapolis to see the apartment where she and her fiance now live. Yes, that. But there's more. My girl is lucky to have her fiance's family here (he's a Minneapolis boy!) and they, along with family friends are hosting a stock-the-bar shower for the soon-to-be-marrieds. And so we have my girl's family (her sister, dad and this Ocean blogger) and her fiance's family (brother, parents, grandpa, uncle) coming together for the first time and it is such a gala day that it may as well be the wedding itself -- we are all feeling quite celebratory!

I wont inundate you with family photos. But you must tolerate just a few! It is such a wonderful day and the Minnesotans welcome us so warmly that Ocean has to serve its other function: a place to commemorate family milestones. Beautiful ones at that.

So, walk through it with me! (I'll limit myself to photos of people you know by now.)

There was a quick breakfast, picked up at a local bakery (46 Patisserie), but eaten at the young couple's home:



There was a family brunch (at Salut Brasserie):


Then the shower itself:





And a late get together at the young couple's place to make a final selection of wedding wines.





I haven't partied so royally in a long, long time.

My days of travel end on this Sunday. I'm with my girls again...


...and I go to a morning brunch (at the Bachelor Farmer -- a "new Nordic" place; yum!) with the two of them and my daughter's soon to be husband...



...and then we take the long route along the Mississippi to the airport. As I look at the mighty river and study the homes that line this important waterway, I think how good it is to have my girls live in such warm places. Because, of course, warmth isn't just about the degrees outside. Ignore the chunks of ice on the river. Think, instead, how many, good hours I have with my girls, their partners, families, friends. Hot, I tell you. Positively hot.

I fly home over stormy skies and again come in right on schedule. At the farmette, the chickens are hiding under the truck from the heavy rains. Ed teaches me his modified routines with them. See? No chasing! I smile at his innovations. The garden? Not destroyed yet! I'll show you how it is looking these days tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Albuquerque one last time

Without question, I came to New Mexico at a busy time for my friends. While I slept fitfully (no chickens!), they worked at their various tasks and obligations. In the morning, they had "to do" lists, while I had a "do nothing" mindset.

Not a problem! I have no agenda. We'll take it easy.

And we do.

After a lovely breakfast...


...my friend shows me how a garden might look were I attempting flower cultivation in New Mexico. Whereas in Wisconsin, my plants are lost in the profusion of abundant growth, here, each specimen is prized and labeled.


Without added water, not much would grow. With just a small trickle, you can help any number of plants survive the dry climate.

Since my friend has a lull in her schedule today, we go for a hike in Albuquerque's mountain range. Though the mountains look dry and brittle from a distance, they do have a fine pine forest at the midrange elevations.


We hiked up until our watches tell us to stop, take a picture...


...and turn back. Through the forest at first. A bit slippery on the gravel-like surface, but manageable nonetheless.


And once we emerge from the forest, we have the benefit of the desert flora: the cacti, the dainty grasses -- all of it new to me.  And maybe you'll find these to be too pale, too tame, too subtle in their presentation, but along the path, they stand out and are lovely to behold.



And now the forest recedes and the cacti and scruffy grasses take over and ... wait, what's that?!


How good are you at picking up the obvious -- that there is a snake, a large one at that (we later estimate it to be close to six feet long) making it's way through the grasses?

We freeze. I ask my friend what's the snake protocol? Do you run? Stand still?
She tells me -- I don't know, in all my years of hiking, I've never seen a snake before.

Do I bring wild dogs and snakes out of hiding??

We sidestep to the brush at the side of the path. We notice that the snake turns around and follows us across the trail.


I pause for only a second to take a photo and then we are out of there! I wont say we ran, but if you glanced our way, you'd probably admire how quickly we could move when there was a snake in our wake.

And still, I can't say that it was a disturbing encounter. The snake didn't rattle. We seemed to be faster in our getaway. There are good hospitals within spittin' distance. But more importantly, you can't help but remember the good elements of the hike. They stay with you. Views like this one:


And I think I'll leave you with that photo. We had other parts of the day still before us -- a quick little shoe shopping trip, a walk through Albuquerque's old town, a dinner downtown -- all the wonderful trimmings of a visit here. But I'll close the day with that view into the valley. It's what you'd want to remember -- a walk down the Pino trail in the Sandia Muntains of Albuquerque.

Tomorrow, way before dawn, I'll be on my way to Minneapolis.

Friday, April 11, 2014

from Albuquerque

If I had to describe Albuquerque, I would probably say something about the colors here. I've never known it to have a dense cloud cover (it must, at some point, but I've never seen it). The blue sky and the pale landscape are a good match and I could spend a lot of time just staring at the way the two interact, especially now, in spring, when you add to it the pale green of the emerging leaves.

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But this isn't how the day started for me. My Albuquerque friend has a high school senior at home and though I have very faint memories of what it was like to go through those last weeks of school with my girls, I have a fresh reliving of those times by going through the day with her as she attends to the various needs of her soon to be graduating daughter.

I eat a lovely breakfast of baked granola, yogurt and fruit..

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But I quickly see that this is my luxury. My friend has a long to do list and so after I've eaten, she scoops up her own breakfast (to be finished in the car, like this)...

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...and we head out to -- of all places -- Walmart. (Can I blog about this? -- I ask her wickedly. She, good naturedly doesn't protest.) Her daughter needs various items for a school project and when we're done with Walmart, we are at Michael's and when we're done there, it's time to go to pick up food  for the lunch the parents are hosting for the graduating class -- a meal of meats from Rudy's.

What, you don't know Rudy's? You'll find it in the southwest: it's a Texas BBQ place. Pulled pork, chopped beef, roasted chicken... all meats, all spiced just so, but of course, aided too by the BBQ sauce, which you can take either in the tame or not so tame version. It is all about meat at Rudy's.

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I go to the high school with my friend and try to be helpful in serving this mega lunch, but really, I'm most helpful when I stay out the way. And so I watch and note the incredible appetites of especially boys that age. (My friend and another mother are helping them load their plates here.)

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As the lunch continues, I retreat and take a short walk in the area, admiring the mountain that frames this city and of course, the light that is as ever brilliant.

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...in a dry sort of way.

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I wonder how it is to live in year-round sunshine. When I have a clear day back home, it feels downright celebratory. I can't imagine not spending a portion of it outside. Would it be different if it were my everyday?

While my friend finishes her duties of shuffling her daughter and running errands, I go out for another walk -- toward that mountain that is rhe backdrop for this city (though it is hard for me to treat Ambuquerque as a city; it's twice the demographic size of Madison, but it feels significantly less dense).

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Though I'm told that spring blooms peaked some weeks back, I still see plenty of them. Plums, crabs, and, of all things, lilac.

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I never quite get to the mountain. It's hot and after an hour I turn back, too thirsty to continue. But I find the scattered housing here to be interesting to look at. It's what you imagine New Mexico should be like. It fits the image. An example:

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And now, one glance over my shoulder...

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..and I head to my friend's home. Her husband is back from work and in hearing about my various excuses for walks he tells us we should pile into the car and drive into the hills. For the beauty of it all. For the view.

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We walk a bit of the trail and look out at the plateau that stretches toward the next range and I have to admit quietly here that it reminds me a tiny bit of Sorede: from the Pyrenee hills, you can look across the great Languedoc plain to the peaks of the Corbieres and for a minute I think that I am there, not here and of course, I quickly adjust because Sorede is in the past and New Mexico is here before me.

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I listen to my friends talk about their great  pleasure at being so close to the hills, so immersed in the blueness of the skies (you remember how Sorede boasted 300 days of sunshine each year? apparently Albuquerque claims it has 310) and I think how great it is that these diverse landscapes capture such loyal followings!

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Later, much later, I talk to Ed about the chickens. He tells me how laid back they've been, how easy to let out of the pen the whole day (oh dear...). I'm thinking, it's terrific to leave him in charge every now and then. The chickens now have a second best friend. And that's a good thing.