Saturday, November 29, 2014


We added a little blank booklet to our Thanksgiving table. It bore the title, "I Am Thankful For". Inside were a number of ruled pages waiting for each of us to take some time to consider how many lines of thankfulness we would fill. I looked around our table and started writing down each guest seated around our candlelit meal. Each person sitting there had brought something into our lives to be thankful for. Each person there had enriched our lives by their talents and their generosity. There was a wonderful meal spread out on the table, an abundance of food to be thankful for but the first thing we were thankful for were the ring of guests and the sphere of friends we've been giving through out our lives.

Rick has always had an eye for flowers and the creativity to use them in unexpected ways. Our table was the beneficiary of his talent and imagination.
He combined miniature cabbages with cluster roses in a pair of fish bowls filled with orange slices, simple but elegant.
The rest of the house benefited from his vision and the aromatic characteristic of the roses that were scattered out from room to room.
When we did our first table for DIFFA's Dining by Design we had asked a friend of ours, Daniel Levy, to create a set of porcelain tabletop for the event. We needed place settings for ten. We loved Daniel's work. The set has stayed with us along with the blackened handled flatware by Patino Wolf. The glassware is a combination of vintage and new. The tall water glasses that we repurposed into our wine and Proseco glasses are vintage Bryce Apollo-Cerulean and the blue bottomed tumblers and water pitchers are straight from Bed, Bath and Beyond's Royal Dalton 1815 collection.
The colors and flavors of an autumn harvest were the inspiration for our place cards: a Bosc pear with a pheasant tail feather and a leftover sprig of leaves from our roses stuck into the meat of the pear.  A knife slice opened up a slit for the name card and our table settings were complete.

Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey and we made one but for us Thanksgiving isn't complete without Rick's ham and biscuits. No matter how many guests it's always a whole bone-in smoked ham and a double batch of his cheddar biscuits. Emmy and I will eat these leftovers until there's nothing left but the bone of the ham and some crumbs from the biscuits. When we've reached that point in the life of our ham Rick freezes the bone and he'll make a ham and navy bean soup during the blizzards phase of January and February.
The preparation of the ham begins on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The trick to the ham is the glaze. Rick says it's never quite the same. He's got a recipe but he says he does a lot of it by eyeing the ham and feeling the ingredients as he pinches them between his fingers. Here's what he says is a close approximation of what he puts in the glaze:
2 cups of dark brown sugar
½ cup of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon of whole Allspice
1 tablespoon of whole cloves
1 quart of apple cider plus an additional for the pan
He combines the sugar and mustard in a saucepan over medium heat and then adds the spices and cider and simmers the mixture until it reduces by about one quarter.
While this is going on I'm in charge of stripping the ham of it plastic and netting protective coating. Then I smear the ham with a healthy coating of Dijon mustard, score the ham with a crisscross pattern and spend hours trying to find the intersecting points in my crisscross pattern where I have to poke a whole clove. I'm a mustard mess by the time I finish my clove poking but it's worth it.
Since my hands are coated with mustard it's left to me to pick up the ham and put it in a deep baking pan. Here's where the one cup of cider is poured over the ham and then one half of the glaze is drizzled over the ham before it is shoved into a 350 degree preheated oven. He cooks the ham for three hours glazing the ham with the remainder of the glaze every twenty minutes then basting with the pan drippings for the remainder of the cooking time. The results are a beautiful ham with a touch of sweet and spicy, a perfect partner for his cheddar biscuits.
Rick's other specialty and a tradition for the holiday is his poached figs. This is another dish that stretches its hypnotic powers over your taste buds and won't quit until the last drop of its nectar has been consumed. You can top the turkey with these poached nuggets or ladle the resulting syrup over vanilla ice cream. We're all addicts when it comes to these figs. Here's the recipe:
1½ cups of sugar
1½ cups of water
1½ pounds of fresh figs, firm to ripe
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Orange peel
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 large jar
Place in a cheesecloth bag:
4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
½ tablespoon of juniper berries
1 tablespoon of whole allspice
1 4" long slice of orange peel
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring this to a boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to a simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes until the mixture begins to form a light syrup. Add the cheesecloth bag to the mixture and allow it to simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Add the whole figs and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more turning the figs from time to time so that they are evenly cooked
Carefully remove the figs from the saucepan and place them in a jar. Reserve the syrup. Add the orange peel and rosemary sprig to the jar. Slowly pour the syrup and balsamic vinegar into the jar. When the figs are cool refrigerate them. You can do this well in advance of serving them. They'll keep like this for at least a week.
As accompaniment to the ham, biscuits and figs we did a brined turkey,
Brussels sprouts with bacon, gravy,
sweet Italian sausage dressing,
a bourbon pecan pie and an additional assortment of side dishes and desserts contributed by all our guests.
The best ingredient of our Thanksgiving meal wasn't something you could find on the table or come up with a recipe for, it was the conversation and the knowledge that we were joined to a larger community made up of not mere acquaintances but friends.

Grape Harvest II
Cy DeCosse, photographer
Represented by Verve Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

Friday, November 21, 2014


In 1807 Robert Livingston, the Minister to France, commissioned Robert Fulton to build a steam powered boat that he believed could paddle against the current forcing its way upstream on the Hudson from New York to Albany.  Livingston and Fulton's critics thought them ridiculously na├»ve. They began referring to their dream ship as "Fulton's Folly" christening the boat with the derogative moniker. It only took one trip up river by Fulton's steam powered boat to silence the critics and make them eat crow or perhaps carp in this situation.
Last week the new Fulton Center opened, a hub for three of New York's subway lines combined with a retail market soon to be filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. The project has had a stop-and-go history. Negotiations began over a decade ago. At one point it looked as if the project was going to be totally abandoned and replaced by either a park or plaza.
A new set of critics began calling the project the "Folly on Fulton Street". History repeats itself. These twenty-first century critics are going to be eating crow, or perhaps roasted subway rat, too.
Like celebrities going from second fiddles to divas the name of the project has morphed from the "Fulton Street Transit Center" into the more sophisticated and royal, "Fulton Center". We lived around the corner, a half block from this project when it was only an annoyance of sledgehammers and caution tape. We know the area and if there was an area in Manhattan in need of a facelift, the area around Fulton and Nassau was deserving of being around the top of the list.
I actually wasn't aware that the center had already opened. On this latest trip to the city Emmy traveled with us under the pretense of having a final project in her photography class that somehow required photographing New York while her classmates settled for staying and photographing Madison. After having traveled through Chinatown and the lower East Side we decided to continue on to the financial district and the World Trade neither of which aroused her shutter finger. We were only going to the Fulton station so we could get back up to Rock Center. I was expecting the same construction barriers and lines of dumpsters.
As we rounded our way around Wall Street and then headed up Broadway I was still unaware of anything being different. That's when the long day's journey turned to wow!
We entered the Center through the historical Corbin Building. When we lived on John Street the doors to the Corbin where barred with signs of beware of the rat poison. That's not the case anymore.
Emmy immediately pulled out her camera. I got into the photographic act with her, Emmy with her expensive Canon SLR and me with my iphone 5. There wasn't an angle you could point your camera at that wouldn't produce a remarkable photo.
Architecturally this place was stunning. Designed by Grimshaw and James Carpenter Design Associates, this station was elevated from the mundane and confusing to the sleek and efficient.
The center of the terminal is capped with a dome of 952 reflective panels that distribute the natural light flowing in through an oculus at the very top of the dome.
It's Manhattan's twenty-first century Parthenon. Where Rome's niches are filled with marble sculptures, New York's version uses technology to project lithe dancers that leap in slow motion on hi-def screens soaring twenty feet above the transfixed on-lookers.
Spiral staircases wrap around the interior as if putting a final bow of metal ribbon around a very special gift to this deserving neighborhood.
Fulton Center is a new must see for anyone interested in architecture.
Along with the new World Trade Center, the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, The Guggenheim Museum and Rockefeller Center,

the Fulton Center is worthy of being added to the growing list of New York's stunning architectural history.


Woman on a Train, 1958
Louis Stettner, photographer
Represented by Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

Thursday, November 13, 2014


There are certain things that are intrinsically Wisconsin: Friday night fish fries, meat raffles, cheese heads, and bubblers. I thought I had uncovered and catalogued most all things Wisconsin but the dairy state can always find a way to surprise me. Lets talk man caves. It wasn't my goal to join a men's group. Burning Man is such a west coast idea. Wisconsin men are  more handshakers than huggers. What I was really in need of was garage space for the winter. Now that Emmy is driving and has a car of her own there wasn't a chance in hell we could shoehorn her 2009 Chrysler Sebring into our two-car garage that is already crammed with two mini Ford Focus' and a ton of vintage tableware we've been carting around for the past five years. Looking for something local and nearby I called our local community association to see if they had any ideas of how I could put the word out that I was looking for garage space. She turned me on to a web site the community belonged to called Nextdoor. Neighborhoods from around the country set up links through Nextdoor that give you access through email to other residents in your immediate neighborhood. You can find out all sorts of things much of which you probably don't want to know. Things like someone stole the halloween candy bowl from our neighbor two blocks down during Trick or Treat and they want it back, or one block over someone has a La-Z-Boy recliner out on the curb free for the taking, or across the street our neighbor's four-year-old daughter made her first batch of  sugar cookies - Yeah! Usually it's TMI, I don't need to know that Mrs X would appreciate it if Mr. Y would close his bathroom drapes while shaving naked every Tuesday morning. Sometimes the topics get a little heated like the back-and-forth postings over the jerk we've just elected for a second time as governor of our once liberal minded state. I tend to delete most of the postings since they have started to fill up my inbox with a minimum seven to eight notices per day but I decided to type in garages to see if anything might come up.
What popped up wasn't exactly what I was looking for. This is what I got, "Come to the man cave for pancakes, sausages, and made-to-order omelets! Wednesday mornings, 5:30 - 10am. Spread the word and stop on by!"  Set up in a neighbor's garage and sprawling out into their yard is Wisconsin's version of the Promise Keepers without the religion
It seems this "Men Only" hangout has been going on for a while. It even has a name, Dads at Dave's. At 5:30 am every Wednesday from April through October the garage door rolls up on Meadowlark Drive,
the duck light gets switched on and the coffee urn starts percolating.
There's a spread of sweet rolls, fruit, and donuts laid out on a counter covered with vinyl tablecloths. Men start filtering in once the automatic garage door's wheels have made their journey up their track and locked into their open position, real men. It's mainly a jeans and work clothes vibe with a sprinkling of retirees.
The steam rising off of coffee mugs winds its way around conversations about the Packers, what local truck dealer has the best deal on a 2015 Ford F-150 SuperCrew XLT 4x4 2.7L EcoBoost, real man stuff.
It's not that suits aren't welcome it's just that they'd feel way out of place even as orders for exotic omelets are made by the chef at the back of the cave. I ditched my Banana Republic scarf before I got out of my car and did my best Sylvester Stallone imitation saunter into the yard and on into the garage.
The host here is Dave, a real connector, glad handing everyone who stops by with a smile and an introduction. Initially you get the sense there must be an ulterior motive, he's trying to sell insurance or worse he's a politician looking for your vote. It's not the case. There's a real generosity on the part of the host and a sense of camaraderie on the part of each pair of callused hands gripping its miss-matched ceramic mug.
A metal pot is suspended between the donuts and the coffee maker for donations and everyone seems to drop a buck here and a five spot there. As an interior designer with no knowledge or interest in most guy talk you'd think I'd feel like the sore thumb but once I decided to plunge in the water wasn't too deep or too cold.
No one takes themselves too seriously here and let me tell you the decor bespeaks the tongue-in-cheek quality of the ambiance. There was a real effort that went into making the quintessential man cave and I have to tell you I really appreciated the effort, right down to the plaid sofas that reek of manly comfort defying a woman's touch or a gay man's sensibility.
The memorabilia wall says it all and pokes fun at itself all at the same time.
I have to hand it to Madison and Dave, as hokey as it appears there was a real sense of welcome to anyone who wanted to stop by. Where else could you see a guy in a Bears jacket being offered a genuine handshake in the midst of a bunch of cheese heads.

*In the interest of transparency, I asked Rick to edit this post as he usually does but he declined sighting that he does not speak the language.

The union banner for the mining town in "Pride" has an image of two hands coming together in a handshake. It's this symbol that provides the theme for the film based on a true story of an English gay and lesbian goup's outstretched hand reaching out to the displaced families of a Welsh mining community during the strike of 1984. The film is brilliantly crafted with pathos, insight and a good bit of humor without being didactic or preachy. The film was released for general distribution at the end of September to high critical acclaim but it has yet to make it out of the primary markets and into smaller secondary venues. I'm including  the trailer for the film:

with the hopes that somehow this film will get a push and find an opportunity to make it into some theaters where those of us limited to a narrower selection of movie fair might get a chance to see film that shows a kinder world at a time when our world seems a little more closed, a little colder and lot more red than blue

Removing a Well Head, Greater Burhan Oil Field, Kuwait, 1991
Sebastiao Salgado, photographer
Represented by Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I think I met Linda and Mark at an open house we held at our retail store/office on East Wilson. Mark's sister worked with Rick at a local department store. I'm pretty sure she was the one who pushed them to attend. Once we realized we were all bloggers we started keeping in touch through each others postings. Linda writes and Mark photographs for their highly informative and extremely gorgeous blog on gardening. Here is the link: Once you've finished reading our blog if you haven't seen the blog Linda and Mark write, Each Little World, you need to go over and look at one of the best conceived and inspirational blogs out there.
On one of those last beautiful Sunday mornings this year Mark and Linda invited a group of friends over for coffee and breakfast and a tour of their home and gardens. We were fortunate enough to be included. Once I saw the gardens and their home I knew I had to do a post on these two unique people. What follows are excerpts from an hour long interview with the two of them just as the trees were beginning their glorious color transformation at the onset of autumn.

LM: Let's start out with a bit of history. Can you give me some sense of your background?
MG: I have a BA in art from St. Johns University in Minnesota and a BFA from Washington University in Painting.  After college I came back to Madison and worked at the Madison Art Center for minimum wage managing the Madison Art Fair on the Square and living in my parents basement.
Needing a better paying job I took the first job offered to me by the State which was a security officer for the University. This was my day job well really my evening job. I worked the pm shift. I had my days free to do what I wanted. I worked on my art. Then I held shows of my art in my apartment. I'd have an opening on Firday night and then I'd have an open house on Saturday and Sunday and that would be the show. I just invited my friends and they brought people and I'd maybe make enough to buy materials for a year.
Then I met Linda and she brought me to gardening. So for twenty-five years that's been my principle medium. After 34 years I retired from the University. Since I retired I've been working on my painting and photography.
LB: I have a BA in art education from a women's college in Buffalo and a masters in textile design from the UW. When I got out of school I got a job with a printer because of my graphic background with textiles. I worked as a typesetter for a couple of printers for a few years and then I went to a small alternative news weekly that was a competitor of Isthmus when Isthmus was just starting. I worked as an illustrator and graphic designer. I sold advertising and I was the calendar editor.
A ways into the job my boss said to me, "You're always telling the sales staff when they go out to this and that store who they should talk to, how they should pitch it, what the store features. You know all this stuff. You should start writing a column, Can you start next week. Lets come up with a name." That was in 1981 and I wrote that column in print until 2009. It was called "Artful Shopper". It started out being; if you saw this in House & Garden who has it in Madison or what's the closest thing. I'd go out and shop and come up with themes. I started doing stuff on how do two people deal with financing, letter writing, family traditions, cooking and then more and more gardening until it became more or less a gardening column. That newspaper only stayed around for three years and when it folded our editor went to the Cap Times and they took my column.
At some point after I had moved into the newsroom they started an editorial board and I got onto that and that was the group that would interview candidates and decide what political position the newspaper should take. We started writing more political kinds of columns and then I became an editorial writer with John Nichols. I was still doing my artful shopper column. Then I became a features editor. And then when they stopped publishing daily I left and started blogging.
I'm an artist based on all my training but the thing I've done much more of is writing so in truth I'm much more of a writer than a visual artist. The line in my blog reads, "An artist by training, a writer by profession and gardener by choice".

LM: Can you define a style that represents your work?
MG: I've been toying with an idea to put on a one man show with all the different styles that I've done that people might not know I've done. I've had a big German Expressionist period, an Abstract Expressionism phase, collage, geometric abstraction, some sculptural things and more recently photography I've always been trying to find that balance between structure and looseness.
LB: My writing is eclectic because I wrote editorial so in editorial you are writing the newspapers institutional position not yours. But then I wrote a lot of political commentary of my own and then I wrote about every possible subject in my column over the years.
If I think about my artwork in college I was doing abstract painting.

LM: Let's look at how the garden and house came about.
MG: After 5 years at our little house on Spaight Street we said we wanted to continue gardening and there wasn't much more we could do there other than maintain it. I told Linda if we get a larger lot I'll give you ten years and I'll put away my other interests but after that you're on your own. That was 20 years ago.
LB: Our neighbors have a cabin up north. I said I don't want another house to deal with. I want to walk out the back door and be on vacation. The other thing we really wanted to create was a place where we could have this really wonderful experience without leaving home.
LB: We started looking for something about 13 acres and no more than an hour out of town. We found a fabulous property with a house we couldn't bare. This isn't going to work we don't have enough money. We started looking at smaller and smaller and closer in. We need to have something where driving time doesn't detract from gardening time. So it couldn't be an hour away. We needed to start thinking about in town in areas where lots were plotted larger. A friend of ours told us about a house that was going on the market. It was in a neighborhood we were interested in and we could afford it. We went and looked at it. When we got home Mark said, "That was nice" and I said that was more than nice. I said we're making an offer and since there is someone else that is interested we are making an offer instantly.
MG: There was nothing in the yard but the big trees and stuff on the perimeter. There was nothing in the middle that you had to get rid of. The lot slopped and most importantly there were these big windows. You walked out at ground level and everything in the house worked. We weren't going to find anything that would be a blank slate for the garden that would be better than this.

LM: Did you have a plan for the garden?
MG: Before we had closed on the house I had drawn up the first plan. It involved a flat area in the backyard you stepped up and there was a reflecting pool with English borders flowers around it. In some of the corners there were more rustic areas, wooded areas shade gardens there was a little pool somewhere. All of our fantasies about what kind of garden were all there.
As the first year went on a couple of things happened. We were on our way to a party that winter. As we were driving we saw this scroll in a shop window. Linda said stop the car. It was snowy and slippery. I drove around the block and we pulled up and we feel in love with the scroll in the window. We went on to the party that Saturday night .Sunday morning we called the owner of the shop, who we knew, and told him not to sell the scroll until we had a chance to see it. It was on consignment. They were asking more than we had ever paid for a work of art before. It was this purchase that started us thinking about an Asian influenced garden.
LB: We went to a conference, an editorial writers conference in Seattle in 2000. While I was at the conference Mark went around finding antique shops and galleries deciding which ones we should go back to. We bought our first Asian sculpture and we bought the lantern on this trip. It was about six years after we moved in but only three years after we started the garden. I think we were clearly committed. I think we both always liked lots of different Asian cultures. As westerners and Americans it has taken quite a lot of years to understand how different these cultures are.
MG: It was a real struggle. Linda resisted. She didn't want to have some sort of a pastiche trite garden. I tried to get around that by coming up with terms like western analogue. It wouldn't have to be a lantern maybe we could use an English chimney pot instead.
That first year we didn't mow the back at all. When the grass got really high we'd cut paths through it to kinda play with where the paths might go. We had hoses and ropes all those techniques.  When we decided that we were going to have a pond and needed some rocks we made cardboard rocks and put them in the yard to see how big a rock we needed from a distance and then I'd go out to Madison Block and Stone and see how much they would cost.
We had planned to start working on the second summer we were there but we decided we weren't ready and we waited until the third summer
LB: As we started stockpiling stuff in the driveway we met all our neighbors because everyone kept coming over asking us, "What are you doing?" A neighbor down the street called and said we're taking up a brick patio do you want the bricks and Mark went up and down the street with a wheelbarrow getting the bricks and then another neighbor gave us a tree that he had to move.
MG: By the time we started I knew where the pond was going to go, I had that laid out with string. I knew where the stream was going to go. I knew there was going to be some sort of a building up here. There was going to be a couple of mounds with dirt from the pond. I knew what the features were going to be in the front and I had laid out all the paths. The bones of garden were all designed before we started and then we worked from back to front.
LB: It was a big decision to sort of realize we have to have what we call the big idea we have to have an overarching theme or style or it will just be a big mess. So that was hard to have to decide we had to give up some of our other ideas. It was at this point I decided we were going to put in a lot more shrubs trying to lower the maintenance. We have a lot of spring things happening but then I get tired of it and I just want green. It's not a flower lover's garden. But then you get this burst of color in the fall. We designed the garden for winter as well as summer.  The view from the big back windows was like a theater view form the house.

LM: What's your routine with the garden?
LB: In the early days we had a little table here and two chairs. I'd sit and make notes. This summer in particular we sat outside a fair amount of the time and did nothing. Every morning I get up and immediately look out the window. There's a nice view out the bathroom window and there's a great view out over the sink. Placing trees and thinking about what you'll see out of this window from this window were very important to us.
MG: We frequently go out for walks in the yard. Out of curiosity on time I paced off all of the routes you could take in the garden. In a lot that's 200 feet deep there's 900 feet of paths and there are numerous places where you have a choice of going one way or the other so you can go this way today and chose another way tomorrow and see something different
LB: That's true. We do that a lot. We say, "Want to go for a little walk in the garden? I'm sure other gardeners do that as well.
MG: We have to remind ourselves that the reason we are doing the walk is to look at things that are positive and try to ignore the things that need work. It's always a balancing act and also spending time enjoying it as opposed to doing the ongoing work and the maintenance. And some times for me maintenance versus new construction is a hard balance to maintain.

LM: What about the teahouse?
MG:It's a visual element. We've made an effort this summer to get out there and figure out what makes sense.
One morning on my way back from the coffee house a storm was brewing and I said I'm going to go up to the teahouse. I just sat up there for a couple of hours and it was wonderful.
Some nights we'd say how about drinks in the teahouse. We'd take our shaker of martinis up there. Martinis because if we spill them on the mat they're not going to stain
People ask if we meditate or do tea ceremonies and no none of those things are a part of our life. I am finding how peaceful it is up there. When I'm there I start noticing the sounds, watching animals flitting by and splashing in the pond. It's really quite nice.

LM: So what's left on your bucket list?
MG: I tried to give a lot of thought to retirement and what I wanted to do. I kept coming up with the same things: spend more time doing the things I've always enjoyed and didn't feel I had enough time to do, entertaining, working on my art, finishing the garden, reading. Somebody said, I don't have a bucket list I have a fuck it list.
LB: To a large extent that's true. When you see all those hundreds of gardens you must visit. I think we've seen two or three gardens that were so fabulous nothing will top them.
Nitobe Memorial Garden in British Columbia on the University campus which is a beautiful, beautiful Japanese garden with second growth, big old trees, beautifully maintained.
Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.
I do think one of things we did consciously was to create an environment that is so satisfying and so comfortable we prefer to share it and that's true inside and outside. There's not tons of stuff that tempts us away.
MG: There's a cardinal in the ginkgo tree another spot of red
LiB: Oh yeah!

Torii Gate, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004
Michael Kenna, photographer
Represented by Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago