The Fourth Ferrante Neapolitan Novel

The fourth and final (I suppose, though one can always hope) book in the Neapolitan series – partly fevered nightmare and partly perfect resolution – delivers what we have come to expect, and more.

If you inhaled the first three, one after the other (and I know several of you did) – now you can read the newly released fourth volume, “The Story of the Lost Child.” (I read the third again to get primed, but you don’t need to.)

Bereft, because of the end of the series, I found solace in a Paris Review interview between Ferrante and her publishers. She discusses her decision to offer herself “to the public purely and simply through an act of writing – which is all that really counts.” She makes perfect sense, and makes one realize how different Elena Ferrante is from Elena Greco, and how different life is from art.   (Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 228: Elena Ferrante)

Ferrante flower 1

The Pie

Lady Baby asked her mother some time ago if we could have a “baked apple pie” after Thanksgiving dinner. We aren’t sure where that request came from – but it has the ring of literature.

Before she came I bought a frozen piecrust with two shells in case a baking opportunity arose. And when it did, Googling vegan apple pie led to a one-crust recipe. We changed the recipe a little and discovered a happy way to make a pie with a three and a half-year old – like playing mud pies – only tastier!

Slice the apples (the recipe says four cups, I cut enough to be a big pile so our pie would be overfull). Combine a third cup of coconut oil with a third cup of brown sugar – mush them together with a tablespoon of cinnamon and teaspoon of grated nutmeg (that seems a lot of cinnamon, but it contributed to the pie’s success I think).

Lady Baby helped transfer the frozen, but softened and slightly shattered piecrust to a real pie pan. She dumped handfuls of apples in rough layers, and then concentrated on patting and crumbling the sweet brown mixture around the apples.

We flipped the second piecrust onto the top of our heaped apples – never minding the fissures (though Lady Baby tried diligently to pinch the crust fractures together).

Then the best part – we smeared the rest of the coconut and sugar and spice mixture onto the top crust. We made up this adaptation on the spot and loved the process. We cut some slots in the top. (Probably unnecessary, but book illustrations always show those steaming portals – they do eat much pie and cake in storybooks.) The pie baked for about an hour in a 350° oven.

I love to bake – and maybe Lady Baby will also – such magic to see the transformation from cold and questionable to hot and fragrant.

We are ready for a repeat this Thanksgiving!

apple pie postcard 1



Moments of Joy

On the day we made an apple pie during Lady Baby’s visit over Labor Day, I saw pure happiness. Not stated, not “Oh I loved making this pie,” (as we might say) but a glow of pride and triumph.

Her parents came home just as we took the pie bubbling with brown sugar, apples, and cinnamon out of the oven, and sitting in the garden in the sunshine we all ate pie. Both parents and her Poppa Jim said, “I’m pretty sure this is best apple pie I’ve ever eaten!” Still, Lady Baby didn’t say much. She ate her own slice with relish, then headed to the Buffalo for a nap.

With the whole family here, we had a busy few days. Lady Baby delighted in Sweet Baby, played games with Uncle Tutu, and spent much time with both her parents (including a backpacking adventure that ended in an overnight deluge of all the rain we missed for months).

But earlier on the day of the apple pie, we walked up the driveway in our aimless, purposeless way doing what we do best, just being together without any particular agenda. Lady Baby wheeled her little red wheelbarrow and picked up fir cones and rocks (“keepers” she said).

While I sliced apples (picked by Lady Baby and her dad from our columnar tree), she played the ever-popular “farm” game with her Poppa Jim. Our younger son had assembled a dollhouse (inherited from my young friend complete with people and furniture), and I could hear some discussion about whether animals belonged in the barn or the house.

But not until later did I realize the importance of the pie. After her nap, she still seemed so pleased. She insisted on sitting next to Granna Katy, and I received unsolicited hugs (the best kind to get from a grandchild, though it’s hard not to request them). I loved these moments of gladness – for her, for me.

Not minding the sudden wind and rainstorm that welcomed them and changed our summer weather abruptly to autumn, the L.A. contingent stayed a record 10 days. They walked often with Sweet Baby in the front carrier – she’d stare up at trees and sky till her eyes closed and she slept against her dad.

Completely wordless in expression, Sweet Baby provided moments of pure joy. When Lady Baby would focus on her (which she did a lot), getting down to Sweet Baby’s level face-to-face close with toys to encourage her movements on the rug, Sweet Baby would beam. We all think that Sweet Baby smiles specially at us – but we get nothing like the long-lasting, eye-crinkling grins Sweet Baby gave her cousin. A blissful look, her dad said.

On departure day, Lady Baby came over in the morning from the Buffalo, crossing the garden by herself to open the door and declare: “I love you Granna Katy!” I said “oh and I love you!” tears popping. She asked if I would miss her when she left, I said “more than you know!” She replied calmly with that agreeable head nod she gives when wanting you to go along with what she’s saying: “But you have Frances, right?”

And that’s true.

Opal apples 1

Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” and “A God in Ruins”

Quickly – and then I’ll go back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is nothing, or more specifically – resting. But resting, of course, means reading, and some wonderful books have kept me company in these past weeks.

A dear friend says she retreats to “things English” in times needing comfort, and I agree. I never tire of things being made better by cups of tea and a sense of humor.

Somehow I’ve missed Kate Atkinson’s books, but I’m catching up. “Life After Life” amazed me. Britain – beginning in 1910, through the period between the wars, to the Blitz.

A family home, Fox Corner, provides touchstone as the years go by – and the Todd family, matriarch Sylvie, four children, Maurice, Pamela, Ursula, and Teddy, and their dearly loved father named Hugh. (Are all solid, kind, slightly befuddled men in England named Hugh? The Reverend Seal I lived with was Hugh, and Hugh Crawley, of course.)

The central character, Ursula, repeatedly dies and reappears in another iteration. Dying and starting over, each time slightly or dramatically different. That doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does – and often to the reader’s relief. They can’t be real, these different possibilities, but Atkinson makes them seem perfectly plausible.

In “A God in Ruins,” Atkinson continues Ursula’s brother’s Teddy story – coming into the present. He’s a beloved-by-all character and a fighter pilot. Atkinson takes you into those little planes where so many died while dropping death.

I loved the literary references in thoughts or speech, like the character who realizes she’s “married a Casaubon,” and the oft-repeated meadow description that haunts the characters and reader: “Flax and larkspur, corn poppies, red campion and oxeye daisies.”

I came away having learned a perfect expression, “needs must.” It means getting on in that very British way with an unpleasant task because it must be done – crawl into a bombed building, fly the thirtieth mission: “needs must.”

Such wonderful books.


A Note: (Thank you to all who wrote messages, called, or emailed after the last post – I appreciated each and every one of your kind words. I wish I could offer you  a cup of friendship tea! xox)

V&A 11:2 Teapot from Bristol copy

The Truth of the Matter

This may be dedicated to my reader who looks for the dark side – I feel like I’ve glimpsed it, only just. Holding that gaze won’t help, but on the other hand, to leave out that I’ve had pneumonia doesn’t seem quite appropriate, it’s been so much of life for weeks. Diagnosed a few days before a planned Alaska trip where Lady Baby and Sweet Baby were to meet, and having nearly a full course of antibiotics on board (and being not contagious), I assumed I could go and bounce right back. Not so.

The whole family descended on Downtown Abbey. Mrs. Hughes soon left for a Red House West blog conference in Oregon, and our younger son flew out for a five-day wilderness cabin construction and backpacking adventure.

Mr. Carson took care of the left behinds (he was specially sympathetic to me, having had serious pneumonia once in Tibet), managing the feline lords and canine ladies, and feeding the rest of us.

Really the point of this post is not the dark but the joy of watching the cousins together!

If it disappointed Lady Baby that her cousin couldn’t respond to various toys and plans she had for her, she hid it well, and soon did what Sweet Baby loved – patty cake, many gentle kisses, and nonsense talk. Tirelessly interested in and kind to her “baby cousin,” as she called her, she regaled her with stories of when she, too, was a “teeny, tiny baby.”

One afternoon, after he got home, I found our younger son on the couch with both girls, having amazingly shushed the Sweet Baby to sleep with the help of Lady Baby who nestled along side of them, silent but for shushes.

Like her parents, Sweet Baby appears to be a champion traveler – she slept on the airplane, coped with Alaska night daylight, and, peacefully sleeping in the front pack, attended barbeques. She gazed at her cousin in fascination – a small person full of funny faces and motion – better than any toy or book.

Lady Baby “got it” with puzzles this trip – the kind with pieces to be fitted together, not just dropped into slots. “I like to start with the corners Granna Katy.” We bought a few more at the great used clothing and toy store and did them all over and over.

As always we read books, including more “Tin Tin” than I thought I’d ever have to read again. (I remember telling her dad at five or six that he needed to learn to read, because I’d had it with “blistering barnacles” and other repetitive linguistic machinations.) The Tin Tin books completely engage certain children – politically incorrect and confusing though they are. I never quite get it, but have watched two besotted generations. (Lady Baby’s favorite T-shirt is her “Tin Tin in Istanbul” shirt, worn thin, nearly outgrown, but beloved.

So many things we didn’t quite do – no big hikes – but a small one where Lady Baby rode her bike, Sweet Baby rode in the Bob stroller, and we picnicked in Kincaid Park on a perfectly still and warm day.

I think about the cousins as beautiful young women friends, hopefully having had years of family adventures together, even though they live so far apart. And I’m grateful to have seen this first meeting.


Scary Hot

For weeks here on the bluff we’ve had very warm days and glory sunsets. Some days (while we were away) the air didn’t move and the temperatures rose to unfamiliar heights – hard on our Pacific Northwest shade-craving house sitter.

And now wind from the north bears smoke from scores of forest fires raging on Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. Alaskans here recognize the yellow-tinged clouds, smoky air, and gray cloud cover – a common Alaska summer phenomena, but usually not this dire until August. A fire even burns in the Washington rain forest.

The drought in Western Washington is unprecedented. Record warm winter left scant snow pack, and reservoir levels are far lower than normal for early July. Winter rains are far away.

My niece, home briefly from the East Coast to a sweltering Seattle, wondered aloud if her generation would survive. They will enjoy recent joyful improvements to life – reluctantly provided by a divided Supreme Court – but suffer our degradation of the natural world. Although the respected Washington weather guru, Cliff Mass, writes that the heat wave is an anomaly and not explained by gradual climate change, it’s hard to think it isn’t a taste of what’s predicted later in the century.

And now, after the fire clouds cooled the air and land, familiar moisture from fog and mist drips from trees and buildings. Denial and hope descend again.