A New American

A new American in our family! The Sweet Bride has negotiated all the steps required to become a naturalized U.S. citizen: she filed her paperwork, got fingerprinted, and proved she was a “responsible member of the community.” She attended an interview and passed a test assessing her knowledge of English and United States history and government. It only remains to take the Oath of Allegiance in a public ceremony.

On her recent visit here before the test, she brought her booklet of questions to study. We did our best to confuse her with background information about American politics and government to disguise the fact that we, specially I, don’t know all the basics! Do you know all the Founding Fathers? How many amendments to the Constitution? What did the Declaration of Independence do? And when? And how many representatives are in the U.S. House? And why? Sweet Bride knows these things.

She really studied, and adds success with this test to her degrees from Thailand and the one in International Business she received here (classes conducted in English). Two years ago she passed a difficult exam to qualify to be an insurance agent. When I complimented her on passing the citizenship test, she said: “Oh I had easy questions.”

The Sweet Bride amazes me, and I often think about what she’s had to learn after coming to this country on her own. She drives now in Los Angeles on the right side of the road (in Thailand she drove on the left). Not only is English new, but the alphabet and the writing completely different from Thai. Her beautiful hand printing retains a touch of the complicated Thai script she knows. And only the slightest lilt betrays her spoken English as a second language.

Occasionally, when I am chattering on, she looks puzzled so I stop and untangle the paragraph, figuring out which words confuse. Often it is some ridiculously unclear figure of speech – “going bananas” or “barking up the wrong tree.” Why do “fat chance” and “slim chance” mean pretty much the same thing?

And then there is irony. Driving into a completely full parking lot at Huntington Gardens, a native speaker might say: “Well I guess not many people came here today!” She called me on that one – why did I say that? Her efforts at this level of understanding make the communicating richer and richer.

Mrs. Hughes says she makes us cool – adding exoticism to our bland mix. America is lucky to have this new citizen. We are so lucky to have her in our family!

Toonie congrats

 

 

Mother’s Day

On NPR a story told how Mother’s Day began because a daughter sought to honor her mother. But as the holiday grew popular, and Madison Avenue got involved, the founder objected to the increasingly commercial aspects. A lot of marketing surrounds Mother’s Day, and it can be a complicated holiday, but I like to hear reports of how people spend the day presenting gifts of weeding, chores accomplished, cemetery visits, flowers, phone calls, festive meals, and even pipe cleaner butterfly mobiles.

Because my husband was out of town, and our beloved house sitter was hosting her mother on the bluff, I’d spent the night before with my old friend who lives on Bainbridge Island. On Mother’s Day I planned to go to Seattle with my niece (home to Bainbridge for a well-deserved break from medical school) to have brunch at a favorite place, Plum Bistro.

But early in the morning, in a fine drizzle, my old friend and I took a long walk on the road by Rockaway Beach. When I first visited, we used to leave the children with their fathers and run this route – a hilly road, skirting the water across from Seattle.

Now 40 years on, there are changes. One obnoxiously sized house obliterates the view for a patch, but at a spot called Hall’s Hill Lookout, the Portland artist and landscape architect, Jeffrey Bale, built (at the request of a local landowner) a stone mosaic labyrinth in a forest glade. His complicated and very beautiful paving forms a meditative path, and the stones chosen from Washington beaches vary in color in meaningful ways. I loved reading Bale’s blog about how he gathered beach cobbles without disturbing the tiny sea creatures sheltering below and hauled thousands of pounds of it in buckets to construct this treasure: (http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-labyrinth-project-beginning.html).

In this quietly landscaped place and near the labyrinth, a bronze prayer wheel by the artist Tom Jay provides a chance to spin the wheel with something in mind – nine times round, the bell rings, and one’s thought goes out into the world.

And a little further along Rockaway stands a memorial to the terrible day in 1942 when the 246 Japanese-American residents of Bainbridge Island were taken from their homes by soldiers with rifles, brought to this harbor, loaded on a ferry, and sent to interment camps. A long and beautiful wall and walkway with terracotta friezes and tiles with family names memorialize their walk down the pier. It’s a sobering reminder of an awful and unconstitutional mistake – the motto of the memorial is Nidoto Nai Yoni, which translates as “Let It Not Happen Again.”

I’d always heard about this part of Bainbridge and American history – but never before knew the faces and stories of mothers and children, farmers and students, integral members of the Bainbridge community, two thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

The website tells much more about this beautiful contemplative place:

http://www.bijac.org/index.php?p=MEMORIALIntroduction

We were cold and wet, moved but content at the end of our Rockaway tour. I’d be glad to make that walk and brunch a Mother’s Day tradition!

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Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl

During my recent visit at Downtown Abbey, Mrs. Hughes proposed for dinner this recipe from Deb Perelman’s blog, “The Smitten Kitchen,” – it’s delicious! The complete recipe is here, but you could make a fine variation using Perelman’s ingredients list in the bowl below.

I followed Perelman’s suggestions for preparing the vegetables – first coating the baking tray with “a thin slick of olive oil” and roasting one-inch chunks of sweet potatoes for 20 minutes. Then I flipped the sweet potatoes and piled on the broccoli florets to cook.

The dressing makes this dish, and Mrs. Hughes whipped it together (while I played a “helicopter rescue and take patient to the hospital” game). She layered our bowls with a mix of wild and brown rice, lots of the vegetables, and topped with the sauce.

Something comforts about warm food in a bowl – each bite different. Maybe not so comforting as a helicopter airlift – but good!

Sweet Potato and Broc

 

 

Being Grand

Did you see the Annie Liebovitz photograph of Queen Elizabeth with her great-grandchildren and two youngest grandchildren, taken to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday? The best part for me is the two-year old who proudly holds the Queen’s purse. That touch makes me ponder the Queen’s relationship with those little people, wondering how the tiny girl felt to hold that important handbag, and what she thinks of her great-grandmother.

I thought of that during the 12 days in April when I got to be close to both granddaughters and marveled at this treasured role.

Sweet Baby and her mother came north to our house when our younger son went to Alaska for a long ski weekend. We did all Sweet Baby’s favorite things, piling blocks, investigating kitchen drawers, climbing stairs and enjoying naps (everyone!). She relished the freedom of the bluff, and trundled a long way down the driveway on her little legs. When she tired, she’d hold up those irresistible arms and get a lift.

On Sunday we all went to the airport together, met her dad, and that family returned to California. Lady Baby’s dad had gone on a ski trip to Canada, so I went north to Downtown Abbey where there is exciting news.

In Lady Baby’s words: “I’m going to be a Big Sister! I’m going to have a Baby Brother!” In September she will be a wonderful big sister – and he a lucky, well-loved, and well-directed baby brother.

Conversation about Baby Brother is ongoing: “My mom and my brother are going to the parent meeting.” “My mom and my brother are going to walk in the pool.”

Lady Baby speaks often of the things she will do for him. She will be sure to fasten her seat belt, so if a car crashes into their car, she won’t tumble over on him. She’ll walk beside him when he rides his bike and put a hand on the handlebars (Lady Baby has a brand new bike of good size with training wheels – we could cover lots of ground on our outings).

Sometimes we played that she is the baby brother, and I am the big sister. As Baby Brother her language is limited, but his desires are complex, so sometimes she switches back to the oh-so-articulate four and a half-year old. She is such a thinker, and she’s working hard to figure out how this will all be.

I know it is the most common thing in the world to be besotted with your grandchildren. I hope the Queen has had long hours of playing and painting and walking the driveway at Balmoral or Windsor Castle.

And I know she loves all those children. I worried when I was pregnant with our younger son that I couldn’t love anyone, ever, so much as I loved his big brother – and then was jolted by an overwhelming feeling of loving the newborn, of loving them both. And so it always is.

It’s so corny to talk about love (do we say that to keep from admitting how important?). It’s complicated and takes so many forms – love helped the young mothers hold down the forts so the dads could go skiing, and love flooded Sweet Baby’s face at the airport reunion. (She clung to him, and her little face crumpled when he tried to put her down to help with the luggage.) And love led Lady Baby out of bed in the middle of the night to get her dad’s wool slippers and put them under her bed (to keep them safe).

The more love there is, the more love there is.

Lady Baby painting

 

“The Past”

A friend who reads for her day job as an editor, but reads much for pleasure as well, spent a spring-hinting-at-summer afternoon lying on her couch in sunshine reading Tessa Hadley’s new book, “The Past.” That would be a delicious way to read this book, but any way would be good to read this or another of Hadley’s fine books.

“The Past” is about four grown up siblings returning to a family home for one last summer holiday. Hadley’s plots and characters are convincing in their complexities and motivations, but I love Hadley for the precise descriptions of ordinary things she uses to build her novels.

Hadley’s word choices sometimes remain just out of reach in my internal dictionary, so I’m glad I read her latest book on my Kindle. Touching the screen enabled me to instantly define: “hieratic,” (of or concerning priests), “propitiate,” (to win or regain the favor of a god, spirit or person by doing something that pleases them), “louche,” (disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way), and “anodyne,” (not likely to provoke dissent or offense). In a paper book I might have guessed at meanings and kept going – and missed out.

Hadley describes a character reading a book: “She kicked off her shoes and after a while she would slip for warmth into that consoling space between the eiderdown and the top blanket.” “Consoling space” seems just right, not in bed or on the bed, but in a space slightly illicit – and so pleasurable.

And this, when a character tries to get a nasty image out of her mind: “The real evening was brimming and steady around her like a counter-argument to horror, its midges swarming and multiplying in the last nooks of yellow sunshine.”

Just as “nooks of yellow sunshine” comfort, ordinary beauty often provides solace. Here in the old garden: “At least it was an afternoon of balmy warmth, its sunlight diffused because the air was dense with seed floss, transparent-winged midges, pollen; light flickered on the grass, and under the silver birch leaf-shadows shifted, blotting their penny-shapes upon one another.

And the old house itself is a strong presence: “…something plaintive in the thin light of the hall with its grey and white tiled floor and thin old rugs faded to red-mud colour. There was always a moment of adjustment as the shabby, needy actuality of the place settled over their too-hopeful idea of it.”

Hadley gets the three sisters and their brother as they reunite, “All the siblings felt sometimes, as the days of their holiday passed, the sheer irritation and perplexity of family coexistence: how it fretted away at the love and attachment which were nonetheless intense and enduring when they were apart. They knew one another so well, all too well, and yet they were all continually surprised by the forgotten difficult twists and turns of one another’s personalities, so familiar as soon as they appeared.”

Hadley’s words fill this post about her book – and that’s as it should be – they’re terrific.

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