Saturday, July 04, 2015

working holiday

I felt the need to do something traditionally Fourth of July-ish and so I grilled chicken brats for dinner. I like that so many people feel inclined toward splashy games and fireworks and barbeques and kid bike parades with red white and blue streamers today, but I do prefer a quiet July day to most anything else and so if given a choice, I'll pick lying low and working on projects close to home.

And man oh man, are we in the thick of a project. 

It's a day that calls for getting things done. And I mean seriously getting things done.

The need to address problems and mistakes starts early -- with a call from my nephew in Sweden. He is coming for a visit to the States (first to see his grandma in California and then, on Monday, to stay here, at the farmette) on a ticket that I obtained using Orbitz and lo and behold, Orbitz goofed and dropped several segments of his travel -- including his first one, leaving Sweden.

His issue does get patched (with a temporary fix), but it strikes me as interesting that in one day, I come face to face with mistakes that aren't supposed to happen. As life gets more complicated (and it does -- just ask the Internet or your smart phone -- they'll tell you so) the possibility of error seems not to diminish but to grow. Think of how many ways one can obtain a travel ticket now! Think of the automatic changes that are made, adjustments to changes that you can yourself initiate, think of the multiple airline record locators, think: room for error.

I suppose, too, there is room for error in manufacturing a patio door, though that one still befuddles me, since the error in our door was significant and the mistake wasn't just in one digit: we went from 88.875 inches (purchased) to 89.625 (received). How do you get from there to here?

Well, my nephew is landing in SF right now and I am staring at a patio door sitting in a frame that is affixed to the farmette walls, so obviously we all moved forward, errors notwithstanding, but we surely have spent a lot of time making corrections to things that shouldn't have gone wrong in the first place.

Our breakfast this morning is even more hurried, even more messy, but still fine and with a full view of the world outside the gaping hole.


Then Ed and I set to work. This time my involvement is significant and constant. Putting in the frame is tough enough. "Popping in" the doors is nearly impossible. The instructions do say that the doors are heavy and several persons are needed to handle them -- an illustration shows four burly men. Ed and I are a team of two, possibly the worth of 2.5 burly men (Ed has the strength of two, I come in as barely half a big bloke). So we knew this would be a challenge.

And it is.

I spend no time in my garden. The photo you see is what I see through the hole in the house.


Well, alright -- I do go to the grocery store to stock up on foods needed for the week ahead and on my way to and from the car, I pause to breathe in the deliciousness of the garden air.


By evening, the dirty work is behind us. There is of course much to be done still -- but it's trim and filler stuff (well, also the building of the steps to the door, but that's Ed's task). The door is in. Phew!

So, it's cool that festivities and celebrations are in full swing. We're putting up our feet here, at the farmette, feeling grateful that we can. And, too, that the door is in.

Friday, July 03, 2015


[To those who only like Snowdrop delights: she's gone for the holiday weekend and so you wont see her here until Monday. To those who seek out only travel stories -- note the side bar for distant travel schedules. Domestic destinations are announced only when they happen. I must retain some element of surprise, no?]

It's not that I shy away from challenge. Teach a new curriculum? Sure! Follow unmarked roads and paths in an unfamiliar country? No problem!

But my list of things I think I cannot do far exceeds Ed's list (of things he thinks he should not take on). Moreover, though he doesn't necessarily like impossible assignments, he derives great satisfaction in seeing them through. He loves adventure travel (alone, or with me) for this reason. And he rarely (never?) asks for help in fixing things or building things if he thinks (always?) there's a chance he can figure it out himself.

Now comes the weekend of the patio door installation. We could have waited until the end of the month, when a construction guy was available to help him with this, but I was impatient and volunteered to assist instead. I know what you're thinking: a 62-year old inexperienced me, to replace a guy whose business it is to install windows and doors. But, I offered and Ed decided that we can try to do this ourselves.

And so after a breakfast -- quick and dirty, in the kitchen...


We get going. Well, let me be honest: Ed does 95% of the job. I mainly assist in lifting and carrying and clearing and later -- staining and finishing. (Additionally, though I do not know this yet, I will help with sounding authoritative and lawyer like with various parties on the phone.) And so initially, as he toils, I tend the garden.


My plantings target early spring and then July (with carryover into the late summer early fall). By far, July is the best month for the perennials. This is when everything is at once abundant and still fresh.


Okay, I'm being called.

Perhaps the two hardest (and trickiest) tasks will be (we think, incorrectly!) the popping out of the triple window and then the popping in of the heavy patio doors into an installed frame.

There is a drop off from the kitchen to the porch and so the fear I have (shared a tad by Ed) is that when we pop the old window out, I wont be able to support it (I need to keep up my end) and it will come crashing down. Neither of us can tell how heavy it is.

Verdict: it's heavy, but not impossible. Difficult, but not as difficult as carrying up the biggest panel of glass for the porch roof up the winding stairs (project of two years ago).

We continue.


I have to say, for me, the excitement builds. Creating a large opening in the old farmhouse (for the specially fitted extra large patio door) is as grand as extending flower beds. Light and flowers - two things I can never have enough of.

Okay, ready to put in the new door frame?
Let's do it!

It wont go in. The frame is too big. Off by more than half an inch.
A major problem... Ed mutters. He measures the rough opening again, thinking perhaps he had made a mistake. No, it should fit.

He measures the door. It's 3/4 of an inch too tall.


So now we have a huge opening in the house and nothing to put in it.

Ed calls Home Depot. They sold us a custom made (ha!) Anderson door. Carving out a bigger opening is a major headache. I tell him it should not be our headache. I take over negotiating because Ed wont push people to do what they're supposed to do.

Many hours later, we have a cautiously remorseful Home Depot, but still no good resolution. (I dismiss the management offer to send over several pieces of plywood to cover up the hole while they contemplate the next step. From light to darkness, most of the summer months. No thank you.)

As I take on the discussion of compensation, Ed takes out the tools and begins the laborious and many hour work of carving out a slightly bigger opening in the farmhouse, assisted toward the very end by the extremely nice guy who actually sold us the door. He comes over to Take measurements for Home Depot  (I can't believe Anderson sent the wrong door, followed by: they sent the wrong door), but stays to help.


Many, many hours later the house is chiseled up the wazoo and the porch door frame is finally ready to go in. But that's tomorrow project. On this cool night, we'll sleep with a nice big hole in the house. I wanted light -- I have light.

Thursday, July 02, 2015


When you do a lot of weeding (a lot of weeding! no one mentioned how much rain there had been here in my absence), your mind works through complicated questions and usually takes you someplace interesting.


I have two themes that are running through my mind this morning: creeping jenny and adventuring with Ed.

But first, breakfast. On the porch. (The pink flowers on the table: hydrangea "strawberries and cream.")


Now onto weeding.

Creeping Jenny (aka bindweed, but creeping jenny is such a nicer name for a noxious plant, don't you think?) has taken over our veggie patch. Ed has though of a way to possibly contain it and today, I inspected his strategy: lots and lots of paper cups (and bowls) to cover the vine as it first creeps up and out of the ground.


Pulling it out doesn't help. A new weed (or two or three) sprouts within days. Digging it up is pointless. The root can extend many  many feet below and you're never really getting at the source of the problem. Toxic chemicals are a possible solution, but we're not going to go there. So we're trying the cups. It really is weird to see all those cups out in the field.

So I think about weeds and plants and our way of gardening.


(the girls)

My second theme for this morning is the adventure I'm to have with Ed next week. This morning, I nearly backed out. With his blessing. Ed does not like watching me fret and worry. But after many calls to our intended July destination, I was coaxed into a less anxious attitude about the whole thing so that for now, our adventure is preserved. But I did spend a considerable time of morning hours on working through all the possible things that could go wrong. (There are many!)

In the afternoon, I go to Snowdrop's home. Hi there, littlest one!

(with her mom)

(with her dad)

I have a most wonderful walk with this little girl and her mom. We do our longest trek --  all the way to the zoo and back and I have to smile at our attitude -- that of old timers now. The first time Snowdrop was at the zoo, we pointed out all the animals. This time? It was more like this:
She's dozing, should we wake her?
Oh, let's let her sleep. Giraffe? Eh, she'll see the giraffe another time.

And then I take the little girl home, to the farmhouse, where I continue to be immensely impressed with how quickly she is growing. I end with pictures of her. Of course I do.

(so much independence!)

(so much laughter!)

(I come back to letting her try something new: carrots and apples!)

(she tries to keep an open mind...)

I smile at her messy face. Or maybe it's that she just makes us all smile. Again and again.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


The first day back is always packed to the rim. I cannot afford to think "jet lag" thoughts. Besides, coming home from Europe is supposed to be easy: you just want to get up earlier than usual.

So true. I was up at 5 and by 5:30 both Ed and I were working in the yard.


I'm pulling weeds, Ed is picking many, many sacks of peas. Mind you, not our own -- the animals ate those. But the farmer who works part of the farmette land fared better and after completing an abundant harvest of peas, she is ready to plow the land again. Ed thinks she left too many peas behind (quite likely because the thistle weed is so thick there that it's painful to pick anything) and so he set out to comb through her field picking the missed pods.

Two hours later, we sit down to breakfast.


Inside! Of all things -- the first of July and we're not on the porch? Well, it's a mess out on the porch. In my absence, Ed was forced to do a number of repair jobs around the farmette and so the porch patio door is only in its infant stages of assembly and installation. We did tidy things later in the day but in the early morning, it was far more pleasant to simply eat indoors.

Even as the flowers outside are really picking up their summer dance!




Most of the remaining hours of the day are devoted to the usual tedious appointments, shopping trips, tidying events and laundry struggles -- all part of every return home. But I do have this set of high points to offer.

First, my quick visit to Snowdrop's home. Talk about picking up a summer dance! That girl has grown by leaps and bounds!


She is so energetic, so happy in acquiring new skills that I can hardly believe I was gone for only 2.5 weeks! It seems she grew at least 2.5 months since I last saw her.

I had another long while to be with her when the young parents and Snowdrop and her visiting other grandma came to dinner at the farmhouse this evening. (Ed and I had pushed the clutter to the side by then.)


Snowdrop has popped a tooth and in continuing with her teething, she now has a favorite way to sooth her gums: a frozen bagel.


She is wonderfully energetic and I am so very happy to witness her enthusiasm and zest for life!


It is now, for me, an ungodly late hour. But a happy hour. I've spent time today slowly but surely catching up with daughters, Ed's asleep on the floor after a grueling bike ride, and Snowdrop is quite likely dreaming dreams of running marathons or scaling the highest summits.

I am so happy to be home.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

and I will come again, my Luve...

The street names read like a book of pastoral poems: Lilyhill Terrace, Willowbrae Avenue, Meadowfield Drive. It should, therefore, be a lovely walk.

It's not. The Internet is a funny thing -- at once a wealth of information, but, too, it's a mix of good and bad ideas. When travel books were more in fashion, things were less hit or miss. Most authors weren't published if they lacked credentials, so that when you read their list of, say, good gardens or best museums, you could assume that things would be as they appeared in print. (Slightly more iffy were hotel and restaurant descriptions; these have mostly benefited from the Internet's wide sweep.)

When I googled "places to walk in Edinburgh," hoping for some interesting, more remote destinations, I came to a listing of 15 musts. And since I'm inclined to like park settings, I picked number six on their list: Dr. Neil's Garden. Google tells me it's an hour's walk from where I am. So perhaps an hour to get there, an hour once there, and an hour on the return? Perfect.

Right after breakfast, where I actually fortify myself with Scottish salmon one last time...


... I set out. In my neighborhood, all is quiet on this working Monday. I pass an interesting doorway or two...


... and then pick up the long and busy London Road to the side of Arthur's Seat (Edinburgh's big peak jutting out to the east). As I walk, the road proceeds through possibly the saddest neighborhoods of the city. I am reminded that when you google the fastest way to a place, it's not necessarily the prettiest way. Eventually I veer toward a residential area of modest but well tended homes and here at last I am rewarded with well tended gardens and smart entryways.




And now I'm in the last stretch. I turn into Church Lane, which weaves along the base of Aurthur's Peak. This is where I am to find Dr. Neil's Secret Garden. The website reads: "Dr Neil’s Garden is one of Edinburgh’s most secret gardens, but is one of beauty and a place for inspiration,  meditation and contemplation.  A wonderful collection of  plants and flowers fills this peaceful space."

But where is the darn thing? I pass a church and then immediately enter Holyrood Park. Did I miss Dr. Neil's gate? I backtrack. I ask. I get some vague directions. I walk along the length of the street. Nothing.

Finally I ask the right question at a local pub: does the garden have a name plate by the entrance?
Oh no, it doesn't. It's just a gate. Just go inside it. Right by the kirk (aka church).

I showed you the gate in my last post. It does open and it does lead to a garden that is small. Very small. And, I'll be blunt: not especially interesting. You'll tell me I'm spoiled by the Botanic Gardens and by Hornel's garden in Kirkcudbright. But I think I am open to new and modest arrangements. I like many groupings of plants, honestly I do. But here, my camera dangles around my neck, uninspired, barely used. Here -- this is the classic shot that appears in most discussions of the garden. It's of a bridge over a pond.


There is one small compensatory moment -- it's right toward the end, as I'm leaving the garden. Toward the side, there is a lovely blooming rhododendron (you can faintly see the kirk in the background).


Instantly, the whole Scottish adventure dances before me -- from the first day in Dumfries and Galloway, through the hills of Islay, to the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh: rhododendrons that blazed my walks up and down the hills and dells of this beautiful country. Scotland has four National Botanic Gardens and collectively, they grow 700 of the 1000 species of this flower. And so it is fitting that on this last day here, I should come across a splendid display once more.

I do not retrace my steps afterwards. I take the longer road, this time to the west of the mountain...


... and though I don't get to my destination 'afore ye, I have a quite pretty walk at the base of St. Arthur's and so long as I am nearing all those scaling paths, I may as well scale one and, from the top, take in the views of the city.


Rather harsh beginning of a hike has a pleasant resolution, even if I added another hour to my ramble.

Having done the high road, I'm now back at the low roads. First a look at the Holyrood Palace, where the Queen resides when she is in town.


...Then at the very modern Scottish Parliament Buildings right across the road.


From there -- up up along the Royal Mile again. Severe in these blocks, isn't it?


And then I am back in the New Town again, pausing at John Lewis department store to pick up a sweater with sheep on it for Snowdrop. You'll see it when the cold days of autumn and winter roll forward.

And of course, I stop for tea. On my funky Broughton Street of "Bohemian" cafes and eateries.


At my b&b I settle my accounts and chat with a visitor -- a friend of my hosts here. She has a most unusual profession -- she ships your pets abroad. I find her working on a transfer of a a couple of dogs to Iceland, a cat to Miami and a horse to L.A..
By boat? I ask. I can't imagine there being a horse on one of my flights across the Atlantic.
Oh, no -- plane.
You put them to sleep?
Not at all. We don't even drug them.
And they survive unscathed?
Haven't lost one yet!

You might wonder what it would cost you to ship that favorite horse you've spotted perhaps at the Royal Highland Show: 10,000 pounds. A steal, no?

And speaking of luxury and excess, I break down and do something I never ever do: I reserve a cab to the airport. It's three times the price of a bus ride, but the thought of scaling all those hills toward the distant bus stop with my whisky bottles, blankets and Snowdrop gifts in the middle of the night (my flight leaves at the unfortunate hour of 6 a.m.) leaves me cold. There was a time where I would have done the walk (for example, carrying Turkish carpets and bottles of wine up and down the steps of the Paris metro), but I feel that after you reach the age of maturity (which in the UK is set at 60), you deserve an occasional break.

Dinner? I go back to a place Ed and I ate in. Twice in fact. It's called Fishers and it has... fish. With one pause for Andrew's spicy meatballs, it's been nearly two weeks of fish. I order a mixed Scottish fish appetizer...


... and a fish main course and as I plunge into my meal (it's so excellent!), I listen to the conversations around me. A party of twelve to my left, a party of three to my right. The threesome are complaining amongst themselves about the bread. They want "czarnyj." Black, in Russian. The woman has gold everything dangling everywhere. She looks very dazzling in a severe sort of way, but there is no laughter in her face or voice. Perhaps she is happy, just not on on this night. I listen more closely, wanting to get comfortable with a language I rarely hear these days. I must brush up. I'll be traveling to Russia later this summer.

The waiter is solicitous. Maybe he thinks I'm lonely. He asks me why I am in Scotland. I tell him I'm becoming a frequent visitor. He's delighted. When he finds out I'll likely return next year, he throws out some places I really must see. He's missed his calling -- he knew very little about the food he served me (it's true that I often ask ridiculous questions of the poor wait staff). But he surely knows his beloved Scotland!

As I get up to leave -- oh! in six hours I'll be leaving my room already! -- I thank him for his suggestions. He smiles broadly and says -- I like to think I've changed people's directions!


And so it ends. From Robert Burns:

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile! 

Six hours later, a cab comes up to 25 East London Street. A very kind and polite driver helps me with my bags. Such luxury! I revel in the comfortable ride! Then I put myself in mind for the flights -- to Amsterdam (the airport there is all torn up! that's okay -- here's where I grab a breakfast anyway...),

 Scotland trip-1.jpg

... then onto Minneapolis (hello younger daughter!), and finally to Madison, and with Ed -- home. To the farmhouse, where flowers are blooming and cheepers run for bread and the sun shines faintly but surely over the land around us.

Monday, June 29, 2015

a teaser

As always, on the day of traveling home, posting on Ocean comes with a bit of a delay. Typically, when in Europe, I write in the evening and polish in the morning, but this time my journey begins at 3:30 a.m. and so for now, I offer you only this teaser:

The one (and perhaps only) interesting thing about Dr. Neils' secret garden is that it indeed is secret. It's behind this unnamed, unadorned, rusty, and seemingly locked gate.


Come back later, tomorrow, to read the full account and the conclusion to this very sheepishly Scottish trip.

an Edinburgh Sunday

It falls into place for me, it does. Sometimes, I cannot see how some days will develop and I'm somewhat surprised when nothing crashes and, in fact turns out quite well. I suppose this is such a day. I take no credit for the good result -- there was no great planning behind it. As often in life, it was a matter of luck.

Breakfast at Ramsays offers many choices, but I find myself scaling back a bit. Islay was for mornings of wee drams and Scottish salmon, for roasted tomato and scrambled eggs. Now I must recall the saner moments of maybe a boiled egg or two (for the energy I'll need today) and some fruit.


After, I talk a bit to my hosts. Sharon was born along the Royal Mile (the main historic street in this city) so she has Edinburgh blood seeping through her. Together with Norrie, she runs this small guest house with creative enthusiasm. She tells me -- I'm always redecorating! By the time you come back, your room will look different again! And she is right that I will come back. If I go to Islay again, I have to stop at one of the two big cities on my way out. Edinburgh wins, as does her guest house.

They suggest I take a walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens. It must be scrawled all over my face: loves flowers! And they mention a market not too far from the Gardens and, too, I know from a conversation I had yesterday with a shopkeeper that in that same area (Stockbridge), there will be a very special race in the afternoon. Alright! My day is set.

But I don't head for Stockbridge right away. As the clouds let go of a few drizzles, I head up restaurant alley -- Broughton Street, which Sharon has tagged as always having been rather Bohemian and I have to say, there's evidence of that...


And then I cross the great divide between New Town (where I am staying) and Old Town (where 90% of tourism takes place)...


... and I head for the Royal Mile, which links the Palace with the Castle (and this always makes me smile, because we have one such "royal mile" in Madison, linking the university with the legislative headquarters in the Capitol. Same thing, no?).


I walk up High Street...


... toward the castle and then I have had enough and I come down a multitude of secretively hidden steps to the New Town again.

I'm ready for some New Town strolling. What's this? Another store with children's clothing? A wee girl is trying on wellies. I want these! -- she says with conviction.


Snowdrop is, of course, too young for wellies. I settle for a lovely jacket, a jumper, a t-shirt that has a mouse holding up balloons telling you to have a nice day. I like that: a child's message to the world -- try to have a nice day, okay?


And now the Royal Gardens. First of all, I must note to all considering a venture here -- they're free, unless you want to go to the "Glasshouses."

Everyone wants to go to the Glasshouses. Indeed, there is a line with a two hour wait for the Glasshouses. Why? Because there is a Titan Arum (otherwise described in the media here as the New Reekie, because it stinks) in full bloom right now. Perhaps you don't know this plant? Well, neither do the Scottish people as it is the first time in recorded history that a Titan Arum has bloomed here. These plants bloom only every million years or so, and therefore if you miss it now, you'll not have another chance to see with your own eyes how very.... ordinary it is. The reason I happen to know this is that, of all things, my university back home, had a Titan Arum spring forth in bloom oh, maybe a decade or two ago. It flowered in the building right next to my office. No lines, no fuss. I saw it and yawned.

My walk through Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens proved once and for all that you can have many seasons in one day here. It rained. The wind blew. It drizzled. It did not drizzle. The sun came out. The sun disappeared and it rained to high heavens. And then the sun came out for good. Well, sort of. All this in the space of about two hours.

And here's my Gardens verdict: exquisite! Superb! I loved every minute there.

Let me invite you for a walk. Without much commentary. And know you're seeing just a wee bit of the extensive display.




(timed release selfie)


(when it rained, these guys hid in each others arms)


(these two preferred playing with swords than looking at a meadow of flowers)


And so on. Oh, and don't forget the view onto the Castle...


I'm almost ready to leave. But there is this sign announcing that the exhibit of Nicolas Party's pastels has been extended through today.

Let me take a look. One of the best things about travel is that you find things you wouldn't have otherwise known to look for. Who is this Nicolas Party?


You wont have heard of him. I can't even find a wiki page, though he isn't a completely new face on the art scene. (read about him here.)

A one sentence summary would read something like this: he once was a graffiti artist, but after studying at the Glasgow School of Art, his work exploded.


At the Botanic Gardens, the house dedicated to exhibitions explodes alright -- with sunshine and wall painting and canvas painting and it is all so beautiful!


There isn't anyone there. The entire citizenry of Edinburgh is out chasing the Titan Arum. Well fine, but in my mind, the real treasure is right here, free, without lines.

I walk out of the Gardens and as I walk toward the heart of Stockbridge, I look for the market. I must be on the right path: he's carrying a bag of foods.


And yes, I am surprised to see him in a kilt. I see kilts, of course, in the expected places: on the Royal Mile, to get tourists to throw down coins...


At a wedding.


(And not only on the groom.)


But rarely on a gent carrying groceries from the market.

Okay, onto the market. It's kind of an interesting one because it really doesn't address the produce needs of a common household. Yes, I found a stand or two with fruits and such, but most of the vendors lure you with the smells and flavors of (freshly) prepared foods. The biggest draw is the paella. Me, I sampled these:


...wondering all the while if someone could taste the difference between a Hendricks Gin macaron and another Gin macaron.

And now it is nearly three and I need a pause. For tea and a scone. Here:


As I sip my tea and contemplate smelly plants and the state of the world, a woman comes in with her baby and, too, what I have to guess is the baby's aunt. They sit next to me and they place the little boy in a high chair and feed him a cheese sandwich with cucumber. A proper British late afternoon snack. Of course I ask all about this adorably friendly little guy. How old? Eating sandwiches, is he?


Nine months. And yes, he's usually quite good when out and about, though this was his first sandwich in a restaurant.

I smile many times over.

And now it's three -- I am ready to witness the big race. This is its twenty-fifth year and so it is, in this neighborhood at least, a big deal!

Here's how it works: the organizers drop from the bridge yellow ducks into the river. At the next bridge, the first duck to come in gets a prize. I do not know who actually gets to claim a prize. I don't even know how it is that so many people know about this race and turn out for it (my b&b hosts had never heard of it).


But I do know that it surely displays some of what we could call back home British humor. The organizers wade into the river and splash each other and eventually, at least one or two fall down and get drenched. The crowd roars! After that, it just gets a tad wild. Someone plays a bagpipe, and the race of the ducks begins.




I leave you with that image of the ducks moving right along. I do not know who won and of what consequence this is for humanity or even for Edinburgh people. But it surely brought out the grins in a whole lot of those standing around me.

Dinner? Well, I go to the second closest place to me -- just across the street from where I am. The place is called The Ox and yes, it is a pub, with pub food, though I think you'd be pleasantly surprised if you want to veer toward healthy eating. My fish soup is very good...


and I am delighted to get with it (upon request, but still...) a bowful of kale and another of a spring salad.

And the sun comes in and out and the people walk in short sleeves and who can find fault with any of this?!