Lady Baby turns three in a few short weeks – three years old! And she is every bit as grown up as that number implies. I worry sometimes about the Lady Baby title, maybe after three it should be a more grown up Lady B. I could probably ask her opinion – as a hypothetical – as in do you think if someone is three, they shouldn’t be called baby any more? She’d probably have an opinion.

Mrs. Hughes sent a wonderful little video the other day, cleverly titled “pre-nap, holiday spirit,” which showed Lady Baby, walking a little tipsily toward her mom, singing a forceful rendition of “Jingle Bells,” complete with hand gestures and emphatic jumps. As sung, the words included the line: “oh it is fun in the white horse open sleigh – HEY!” (Fist pump with the hey.)

I’m with her – ready to be in that white horse open sleigh December holiday mode. But first – this week – a week of true thanksgiving. I’m so eager to see everyone, ready for many trips to the grocery store and the ferry, exited to have voices and people about – ready to celebrate how very lucky we are. Even willing to cook the sacrificial bird (or act as advisor to the younger son and his sweet bride) – not my usual fare.

But just a quick look back at the October holiday, to add the postcard I sent to Lady Baby when I learned about her Halloween costume. Her own idea was to be “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” – such a good idea. And her mom gathered a most fine tiger outfit for her, fuzzy orange top and pants with painted black stripes, ears and a swell tail from a thrift store. In her face paint on Halloween night, Lady Baby looked exactly like a tiny version of Judith Kerr’s famous tiger.

Thank you for reading “Her spirits rose…” and many, many warm Thanksgiving wishes to you – for family, friends, and food – time to have tea with a tiger – and plan a trip in that white horse open sleigh!

The tiger who came to tea


The Neapolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante

One day, half listening to New Yorker “Out Loud” podcasts while doing something else, I heard Sasha Weiss, literary editor of, say that she adored “these books,” and always tried to tell people about them.

Speaking on the podcast with the translator Ann Goldstein and the writer, D.T. Max, Weiss referred to Italian writer Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novel cycle: “My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” and “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.” Utterly fascinated with the novels, these three on the podcast struggled to describe the books – sometimes disagreeing (speculation abounds about the reclusive Ferrante’s gender – neither Goldstein nor Weiss, nor I, think she could be a man), but always agreeing on the vividness and power of Ferrante’s writing.

The novels trace the lives of two girls, Elena the narrator, and her friend Lila. The first book begins with a prologue set in the present when Lila is 66 and gone missing, but quickly shifts to the beginnings of this lifelong friendship in a hardscrabble, colorful, angry, and loving Naples neighborhood.

And now I am in the same spot as the podcast people! Wanting to say – read these stunning books, full of so much detail and life, an infectious, propelling read, unputdownable. Not just a coming of age story, but a described world to live in as the decades go by. I hurtled through the books’ pages and years, through the political turbulence of the 1960s and 70s, the evolving relationships of men and women, and above all absorbing this singular yet universal friendship.

For some, the novels parallel one’s own experiences (though plenty of men and younger women adore these books as well). And maybe this is the part Weiss grappled with, how to describe the glimpses, moments, of yourself and your friends found in both Elena and Lila. You keep reading for more, another scene or description, life with small children, the violence of a sausage factory, and sustaining moments of creativity.

The sole man on the podcast thought the narrator was full of self-loathing, but both women (and this reader) strongly disagree. Ferrante captures that way we often think and talk to ourselves, sometimes with ruthless honesty, other times with ebullient hope. And anger – anger can be fierce here – and Ferrante wields a master storyteller’s use of suspense.

Preparing myself to bid farewell to Elena and Lila, I felt such relief at the end of book three to realize there is another volume forthcoming. It’s scary to think I might have missed these books. I read on my Kindle – unaware of length – and at the end, wanted to order the “real” books to read again.

mom's lamp negative




Pinterest for Dinner

In October when I reengaged with cooking, I looked at the Pinterest boards I made a couple of years ago and let languish (languish in that I never added anything more, or used Pinterest the way you are supposed to – scavenging beautiful or interesting things and pinning them). I made a Pinterest board with posts I’ve written about dinners – to remind me of ones I liked and inspire me on a flat-about-dinner day.

Several pinners have pinned my post about “Big Bird’s Banana Bread” – that banana bread must be searched for frequently on Google by viewers with fond childhood memories. I’m watching a new generation meet Big Bird and his cohort now (although Lady Baby thinks “Sesame Street” is only available on her dad’s iPad on long car rides or airplane journeys). Soon we can make the yellow bird’s banana bread together!

My Pinterest address if ever of interest – just click on the image and the original post appears:

Big Bird's Banana Bread Recipe


Flowers from the Archive

A few weeks ago Red House West wrote a post about titled “Feeling Floral,” and they rehabilitated the word floral in my mind with their updated look at flowers in design. I loved their post, of course, relishing the flower-infested objects they featured in needlepoint, oil paintings, and fabric – often big blowsy blossoms on black.

Reading the post and seeing the end of the garden and flowers for this year (though we haven’t quite given up here in the Northwest – nasturtiums still rampage), I got nostalgic for my flower painting days. I’ve had a folder on my computer’s desktop for some time with “low res” images, made from slides of paintings done in the 90s.

They glow with the blue of slide film – but they bring back so many memories of their making. I picture glass jars full of flowers across my workroom’s white tabletop (now a happy room with Lady Baby’s teepee and toys – times change) and many hours spent observing these flowers to try and render them in watercolor.

The Himalayan blue poppies (with small yellow Welsh poppies) grew in my garden – and now I remember that they were painted in the garden because I couldn’t bear to cut them. I perched on the edge of a garden chair, paper balanced on a little table (that now lives again as a bedside table at Downtown Abbey) – trying to capture their palette of blues.

And this triptych – each panel a full sheet of watercolor paper 30″x22″ – the flowers from a friend’s very fine garden in Anchorage – in September. Lupine, foxglove, poppies, lilies, lavatera, malva, anenome, sweet peas – the painting took ages, flowers collapsing, water cloudy by the end. Was a huge ordeal for the framer – but the gallery sold it – and I’ve always wondered what it looks like in place.


And sweet peas – my favorite flower – a joy to draw and paint with their tendrils and shadowed petals – a deconstructed bouquet scattered on the page. Painted on another full sheet of watercolor paper, hot press (for all these paintings). I entered this in Watercolor U.S.A.’s annual competition, and it won an honorable mention and a big box of fine watercolor paper. I was thrilled!

Sweet Peas

Thank you for indulging this walk down a floral memory lane. I could add more – but it’s November – time to put away flower things  – for now. (Oh, except those Red House West florals!)

In Jokes

If I wrote write here: “I’m going to bed with a beer and a book,” my old friend on Bainbridge would laugh – and picture the two of us bottling raspberry jam while four crabby and bored small children flailed around us, surprised by the sudden appearance of her husband suffering a cold, and his seemingly reasonable announcement.

Some of these one-liner phrases enter the lexicon of intimates never to leave, and can live on, because they’re useful. They’re code words – replaying a chuckle or a belly laugh, or inviting the joy of absurdity when applied to a new situation.

On one of my first trips with my husband, a waiter (barely hiding his displeasure) brushed “ein noodle” from a white tablecloth. To this day any small, single, slightly icky, misplaced object becomes “ein noodle.” And many years ago on a backpacking trip, as we broke camp in the morning, a two-year old traveler, engrossed in setting up his “guys,” and not inclined to hit the trail, said plaintively, “Can’t we just poop and play army?” a phrase capturing exactly the feeling of being hassled by commitment and demands. (I really loved it when I heard Mrs. Hughes use it aptly to describe a situation.)

Lady Baby produces memorable lines now, and gets it when she is part of, or the creator of, an in joke. Sometimes she uses the more formal language of literature, words like cupboard and grandmother. One day she told her amazed mother: “I’m satisfied with you mommy.” She often asks “why?,” both in a two-year old reflexive way and in a legitimate expression of curiosity. She seems to know when the question can’t really be answered, but isn’t it fun to ask – repeatedly.

I missed the heyday of “I know, but…,” which apparently became for a time a frequently repeated, wee bit argumentative comment, as in response to a parental directive for bed time: “I know, but I must do x or y first.” And a few weeks ago, when her dad told her he loved her, her response was “I know, but I love Uncle Tutu.”

And that stuck. Luckily we all love her Uncle Tutu, so now when we say “I love you,” and she grins and replies, “I love Tutu,” then we say “I love Tutu, too.”

I recognize this as one of those jokes that may not be the least bit funny here in the retelling. But she knows we are all enjoying ourselves. She makes the joke, gets the joke, and makes us laugh.

What a gift. Little repeated phrases that are a quick laugh when reapplied or applied anew – with or without irony – I love that.

And I love Tutu, too.

Lady Baby and Tutu



Imagination Begins

In The New Yorker’s “Briefly Noted” negative mention of Hilary Mantel’s memoir “Giving Up the Ghost,” the writer called it a “bleak memoir” and wanted “a story more plainly shaped, and one that gave some sense of the growth of her remarkable imagination.” But a few weeks ago, finishing my Mantel re-read, and awaiting the release of her controversial collection of short stories (“The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”), I thought again about the memoir.

Instead of failing to explain her imagination, for me it revealed its development in a harsh childhood – her thoughtfulness, her love of stories and belief in magic (and ghosts). You can hear the voice of the little girl who grows up to bring Thomas Cromwell and other memorable characters to life.

Not bleak, because the language animates it for me, but it is sad. Unable to bear children, through what seems near medical malfeasance, Mantel poignantly expresses a longing for children and grandchildren, who for her will never be.

I thought about her and about imagination during my recent time with Lady Baby. There’s no knowing where imagination will lodge, what inspires it, what triggers the making up of stories. But what a blessing for humankind.

While not yet making up stories like Mantel about how, at four, she will turn into a boy who can be a “knight errant” or seeing ghosts (to my knowledge), an element of the fantastic inhabits the stories we hear lately from Lady Baby, along with a very practical, rooted in the real world element – for now.

You’ve heard about Nick and Baby Boy before – and that tale’s not all told. Nick now has another little bitty baby, named Sam, who came out of his belly (just one of Nick’s abilities, along with running a chain saw and driving various pieces of heavy equipment).

On a walk we encountered Nick with his German shepherd Quesadilla. Lady Baby explained that Nick didn’t say hi because he didn’t see us. Some blocks later we saw Quesadilla again, as a corgi behind a fence, other times he appears a bulldog or a little white dog on a leash. In the most conversational way, Lady Baby will spot a dog (or a guy) and say “That’s Quesadilla!” (or “That’s Nick!”). They shift shapes with ease – always identified nonetheless.

Lady Baby’s language now makes these made-up stories (I assume they are made up) really elaborate. In the neighborhood, she pointed out Nick’s mother’s house, and we had a long conversation about relationships – Nick’s mother being also Baby Boy’s grandmother and Sam his brother. The stories ground themselves in reality (specific makes of pick up truck) and unreality (surprisingly good weather in Prudhoe Bay).

I sent a card before my arrival with a picture of her suitcase, and wrote that I was packing my suitcase. Mrs. Hughes returned a video of Lady Baby “reading” the card: “Dear Baby Boy and Nick, Monday will be your suitcase. Love, Baby Boy’s grandfather.” She reworded my letter so handily with perfect form and a huge smile.

When talking about the Nick stories, on the way to the airport as I left, Mr. Carson said he thought they were social, a way to be part of the conversation. We all talk about our friends and what they do – and that’s what happens when Lady Baby tells her stories about Nick.

Great stories. Imaginative stories.


Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad

Fresh tomatoes and squash sit side by side on the kitchen counter this time of year – bounty that encourages cooking after a summer of flagging interest.

Our CSA arrived with beautiful tomatoes and a recipe for using them. And tomatoes padded in my carry-on, I headed north to Anchorage earlier this month.

And very glad I was to see Lady Baby! We did all our usual things – playgrounds and much, much reading – she knows many books by heart, but is quick to point to text and request “say these words” when she doesn’t.

I attended her music class, and observed with her and her mom at a preschool. We met the bunnies, Lefty and Righty (named for their cage alignment), watched children raking patterns in fallen leaves, sliding, running, digging potatoes, and pulling carrots and washing them to make soup (feeding the tops to the bunnies). It looked like great fun for next fall.

Before I arrived, Mr. Carson had cooked lentils, and a batch of Deborah Madison’s “White Bean Soup with Pasta.” (The soup provided dinner, warming lunch many days, and a reminder that soup matters in autumn. The trick to that soup is to cook for a long time.)

If you haven’t lentils already prepared, the recipe for “Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad,” adapted from, says to soak half a cup of rinsed brown lentils in three cups of water (for at least three hours to shorten cooking time), then rinse and cook with dash of salt and three cups of water for about 15 minutes.

Blister a cup of halved or roughly chopped tomatoes by cooking on high heat with a garlic clove, tablespoon of olive oil, and salt in a sauté pan (about five to seven minutes).

Combine the cooked and drained lentils with the tomato mixture in a large bowl. Add a cup of thinly sliced kale (I’ve used all kinds in this) and quarter cup of chopped red onion.

Dressing puts the zing in the lentils and kale. Combine one tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and white rice vinegar, half tablespoon of tahini, two tablespoons of olive oil, and half teaspoon of cumin powder. Whisk. Dress the salad and serve right away or refrigerate.

I got almost this far, salad ready to dress, Hassleback potatoes in the oven, when Mrs. Hughes came home and took over while I read more books with Lady Baby. (Such a treat to have help with cooking from the other staff at Downtown Abbey.)

Mrs. Hughes sautéed zucchini (a Lady Baby favorite), roasted cut-up purple carrots with olive oil and salt, and in the perfect finishing touch to the lentil salad – fried an egg to top each serving.

Hearty autumn meal (and great leftovers the next day). I’m inspired to cook again!

Fried egg - paper