Lady Baby Words

Lady Baby uses two kinds of talking. She says individual and practical words like “shoes” and “cheese,” but also whole sentences and paragraphs of explanation in something that is closer to Dothraki (the fictional “Game of Thrones” language) than to English.

In spite of our inability to decipher the specific words – the attempt to communicate is clear. She puts all her faculties into the expression – opening her eyes wide and using her hands to gesture, as though saying: “It’s complicated you know.” Her parents can often capture the sounds and use them in responsive sentences, but we all pay attention and try to answer appropriately: “Oh yes, how many, and then what happened?” Then her story continues.

Lady Baby loves to mimic the “aahh” sound you make after swallowing and savoring a beverage. We do it back and forth with her – sip of water, sip of tea – “Aaah!” she says.

She sits in a little hooked seat attached to the table in the kitchen nook where she faces two big windows. She stared as the wind shook tree branches and blew snow puffs off the neighbor’s fence and garage, but most noticed the redpolls and chickadees gleaning the last of the crabapples from the tree outside the window.

She points – as she points to all things of interest and says “that?” A quizzical lift of her eyebrows accompanies that when it’s a question. In a call and response, you automatically identify the object: sky, trees, birds. I’ve never been so aware of how often we use the word that – sometimes an interrogatory, other times a complete statement: “That.” We often say it right back to her “That’s an avocado, that’s a baby.”

She points to animals in a book and labels each with that until she encounters one she knows by sound: woof woof (dog) or ewowee (cat). If you start to sing “The Wheels of the Bus” and ask her what the parents on the bus say, she answers, “sssh, sssh, sssh!”

She has photo books in plastic folders (pretty grubby by now) and often reads them while eating. The photos are family or friends, and she points with thats until encountering Dad! Or Mmmmmum! She identifies her mother no matter what, can recognize the tiniest part of her (boots, jeans and a sweater suffice), even the back of her head, or her teenage iteration. Lady Baby’s “Mmmmmum” sounds close to yum, the mmmm of pleasure for something treasured.

And she loves a good story. I am so impressed by Mo Willems’s “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale” – and amazed by Lady Baby’s grasp of the narrative. It’s a book of line drawn people superimposed on real photos, the story of Trixie and her dad who walk through their neighborhood to the Laundromat.

The dramatic tension arises because Trixie’s Knuffle Bunny gets accidentally included in the washing machine. Trixie struggles to communicate to her father about the left behind stuffed animal (her language is much like Lady Baby’s). Trixie grows increasingly upset and loud, and the words fall on her increasingly upset dad’s non-comprehending ears.

I won’t give away the exact resolution (you’d love the book), but Lady Baby is so happy to read this story. She grows silent and observant till the denouement when she says “aaaw“ with a smile, and we clap our hands for Trixie.

How can you understand a narrative, a plot line, when you are only a little more than a year old? A joy to last a lifetime.

Shoes - LB and GKT

March Lady Baby!

During my March week at Downtown Abbey, we revisited last year’s “Game of Thrones” obsession with a new season. Absorbed by the epic narrative, we fast-forwarded through all the gratuitous bits. What fun to see the characters we’d read so much about come alive, and appreciate the casting of Brienne of Tarth or the Stark children.

These shows aren’t the usual stuff of “Her spirits rose…,” but their human dynamic, mothers and lovers and power mad people engages. And the costumes and settings are terrific – the sun struck “greatest city that ever was or ever will be,” the heaths, hills, and cliffs of Ireland, and the snow-caked expanses of Iceland.

When the peoples of the North crossed crevasse-scarred glaciers, bundled up figures trudging over mountain faces and ridges – they looked like nothing so much as multiplied, larger versions of Lady Baby toddling the two blocks home from Fire Island Bakery!

Anchorage had sunshine and blue sky every day this visit, but night temperatures dropped near single digits. The temperature would be up later in the day when we ventured out, but walking into the north wind hurt. Heading to the bakery, Lady Baby rode in her winter-ready stroller with protective windshield. On the way home she walked, one little purple boot in front of the other, negotiating icy patches and pushing away my hands. The snow bank sidewalls over her head might as well have been the 700-foot ice wall of the books.

When she stopped to study a branch on a carregana hedge – looking carefully, touching it with mittened hands – I realized that it’s all new. She’s never examined dirt, fir cones, dried grass, or puddles full of icy water. “Winter has always been,” since she’s been mobile.

It takes a long, happy time to return home. Lady Cora is ever patient, walking beside us, sometimes serving as steadying post. She’s as faithful as a dire wolf.

Those references may not be fair, since few readers here may have read the books or seen the shows. But you will know the experience of sharing reading or viewing with people you love, like my young friend who knows the Tolkien books so well and gets such shared pleasure with her friends. Such a world created by an author becomes a place you know, where you get the references and speak of the people (though my knowledge is very superficial).

One of the characters is named Jon Snow (you can tell he’s a bastard by the name Snow). The brave and feisty woman he loves often says to him with a combination of truth and affection: “You know nothing Jon Snow!”

And when I asked one too many dumb questions of my viewing mates (mixing up timing, setting, or characters) – it was just right to hear: “You know nothing Granny Katy!”

Shoes - LB boots

Books and Place

After writing about “Run” last week, I thought about how some books will always be associated with the place where I read them – because the book is wrinkled by raindrops or bent from being stuffed in a bag, or because of memory’s emotional glue.

In a walk through our mental library it’s interesting to see which books have formed attachments to event or place: “It was the best of times…” takes me back to the Williwaw Lakes above Anchorage on an early September night, during one of the last family backpacking trips. Our older son read aloud the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities,” because he’d forgot his own book, school started after the weekend, and the younger son was supposed to have already read it.

I remember Tom Clancy in a dentist chair the day the Novocain wouldn’t take effect, and the “Brothers Karamazov” in San Miguel de Allende – torn in half to share with a friend while traveling in Mexico. On Kauai when they used to burn the sugar cane fields, I read “The Thorn Trees” and was sure my smoky setting evoked the book’s. When we return to the same rented condo on Kauai, our younger son finds their tattered copy of “Hawaii,” and picks up where he left off – book and place well integrated.

For reasons I can’t recall, I read a paperback copy of “The Razor’s Edge” (one of those old clunky ones with the yellow edges), when in early labor with our first son and remember saying that if I did it again, I’d think about a book beforehand. And I was holding a Jane Austen in my hands, but not paying much attention to it, when sitting by my mother’s bed as she breathed her last.

Now I am so, so close to finishing a reread of “Middlemarch” – this time reading it mostly before sleep, earliest to bed, cozied up to three hot water bottles and Frances. Often I deserted the heroine Dorothea for a shorter, more contemporary, more portable book while she waited patiently on the nightstand. In the same way “Anna Karenina” held that position for months until I eventually finished (the ends of these books always so good).

These days, only as eBooks would such giant books travel. And I do wonder if we will form attachment so easily to our electronic books or is there something homogenizing, flattening about the lighted page and lack of cover. Whether reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” or “Moby Dick,” the physical books look all the same – no classic paintings on classic Penguins to cherish.

But – I did read last winter’s “Games” books – of “Thrones” and of “Hunger” on my Kindle app – and always will I associate them with Lady Baby’s first months – reading for hours with her tiny warm body nestled close.

The best of times.

Frances lap sitting

Short and Sweet – Chocolate Tofu Pudding

Does the tofu in the title put you off? I’ve never been a huge pudding fan (though I’ve always loved how the British use the word pudding where we would use dessert, as when the Dowager Lady Grantham defies Lord Grantham and elects to stay at Mrs. Crawley’s luncheon because “it would be a shame to let such a fine pudding go to waste”).

But this chocolate concoction makes a fine dessert and a good birthday cake substitute for a pudding and chocolate lover. It’s rich, oh so rich tasting, but not because of cream, butter, or eggs. The recipe comes from the “Mixed Greens” blog – a beautiful food blog here in the Pacific Northwest.

It calls for 12 ounces of silken tofu (that’s the boxed kind – so it can sit in the pantry till a celebration needs to happen) and four ounces of good chocolate, melted. Chocolate quality matters because this treat is about chocolate – I used 72%.

Combine a third cup of sugar with a third cup of water in a little saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar dissolves (it happens quickly).

Combine the tofu, sugar water, melted chocolate, and a teaspoon of vanilla in a blender. Blend till smooth. Pour into serving containers and refrigerate for at least two hours.

You don’t need much of this dessert (in truth the first time I ate it I was wide awake and full of energy, reading a book for hours in the night – but I was happy). A little bit is delicious and the presentation is fun. The cooks at “Mixed Greens” served it in espresso cups, but I poured it into tiny shot glasses.

I’m going to use the custard cups Mrs. Hughes gave me for my next endeavor. I’ll only fill part way – not much at all in each – and then top with a sauce of plain frozen raspberries – tart and red to go with the sweet.

I do like to think of the horror on Lady’s Grantham’s face if the pudding she was offered turned out to contain tofu. “What will they think of next?” she’d say. But she might enjoy – I surely did.

Fresh raspberries

Reading on the Move

Some books seem appropriate on trips because they are of the place. Others are complete contrasts – like “A Tale of Two Cities” in a tent, or Ann Patchett’s “Run” during the long airplane flight to Thailand.

Patchett’s story is about the Doyle family, mothers, a father, sons, and a daughter. It’s set during and in the immediate aftermath of a paralyzing Boston snowstorm that narrows the world so people unknown to each other, but possessing the closest relationship, can meet.

The book is wonderful. Patchett so effortlessly buries profundities in snow banks. I loved all the characters in this book, but maybe Father Sullivan best. Suffering from heart failure at 88, “His heart woke him to remind him that in life there was never a limitless number of nights.”

Awake, he considers life and afterlife: “In suggesting that there may be nothing ahead of them, he in no way meant to diminish the future, instead Father Sullivan hoped to elevate the present to a state of the divine.” He realizes, “Life itself had been holy.”

I read another author celebrating the holiness of everyday life on a more recent plane ride – Adam Gopnik’s “The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.” Gopnik’s little book has an encyclopedic scope, he searches for meaning in the history and culture of food – and in his own accomplished cooking.

I haven’t finished the book, but so far, Gopnik describes French cooking, seasonal food, eating animals “from nose to tail,” and local produce in his insightful, thoughtful language. He tells about the 19th century English writer Elizabeth Penell, “the first to see the cookbook as a literary form,” and includes the emails he writes to her (emails as literary form).

But he hasn’t yet addressed the particular meal I savored while reading him – an Alaska Airlines Mediterranean tapas box – olives, a little tube of hummus, multigrain crackers, almonds, dried apricots, and a tiny bit of dark chocolate. Heavy on the packaging, but at 35,000 feet it’s a great pleasure to pop an olive on the hummus on the cracker, enjoy the presentation, and keep on reading.

Gopnik writes “Good cooking is beloved because, when it is good enough, it gives more immediate pleasure and then recedes more rapidly, more gracefully, into the metaphoric middle distance than any other cultural thing, letting us arrange our lives, at least for one night, around it.”

Or one airplane flight.

tray table

Beautiful Squash and Kale

It’s so easy this time of year to grab a fresh and sturdy, rubber-banded bouquet of kale at the grocery store (actually in Washington that’s true any time of year), so I almost always do. Usually the kale goes into soup (any soup here seems to accept kale), but these winter months I’ve often made Louise Langsner’s “Slow-Sauté of Squash with Greens.”

The Langsner home must be a tasty place to eat – lately she’s focused on spices and available winter vegetables. (Have a look at her site – she’s a masterful gardener and cook: http://louiselangsner.wordpress.com/ . I’m about to try “Squash and White Bean Soup with Sage” or maybe “Thai Coconut Curry Soup.”)

In spite of “slow” in the title, her squash and kale recipe is quick and really delicious. I’ve made it with both acorn and butternut squash – and once with sweet potatoes. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the quantities, just balanced the orange and green – in truth just using the kale and squash on hand.

To begin, cut an onion into half and slice thinly. While the onion cooks over a medium heat in two tablespoons of olive oil, peel, seed, and cut four-and-a-half to five cups of winter squash and chop into half-inch cubes.

In four or five minutes, when the onions are soft, add a sliced garlic clove and one-quarter teaspoon of red pepper flakes or a small hot chile, minced.

Put the cubes of squash in the pan, stirring “to coat well with oil.” Langsner increases the heat to medium-high at this point, and cooks “stirring occasionally” for four or five minutes.

In between all this, pull the leaves from the kale’s mid-rib and slice. After adding the greens, sprinkle a half-teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of water (when I make this in non-non-stick pans, it does get a little crusty – but the water loosens things up).

Continue to cook until the squash and kale are tender – Langsner says four or five minutes, but my stove takes a little longer.

She recommends using this as a “filling for tacos or wraps, or a topping for pasta, pilaf, or polenta.” For the first meal for us, rice along side works well, and the leftovers taste great in great black bean tacos a day or so later.

The sweet bride recently sent me a photo of the variation she prepared – adding black beans and using chard rather than kale. Our younger son looks most pleased in the photo, with his colorful plate of chard and squash nestled beside a shapely mound of brown rice!

Chile Peppers

The Inspiration of Creation

On a Bangkok Sky Train platform, the wordsmith, who came with her husband to the wedding in Thailand, pointed out a kiosk full of pens and notebooks named “The Stationery.” Underneath the shop’s name, in a handwritten font, a sign read: “The inspiration of creation begin with simply writing.” The wordsmith smiled, because in spite of the slightly awkward English she knew it was right on point for “Her spirits rose….”

And when I realized that Tuesday’s would be the 500th post begun by simply writing – or drawing – that seemed a lot of “inspiration of creation.”

My motivations to keep this up are never quite clear to me, other than the sheer challenge and pleasure of making something where there is nothing, facing blankness and shaping raw materials – words and images into Downtown Abbey stories, or a travel narrative. The effort of doing my best to describe a recipe or book or to make series of images of interest to you rewards me with memorable moments of doing.

By the blog I understand Tracy Kidder’s words when he writes that every story “has to be discovered twice” – both in the world and in the author’s workroom. Kidder says: “One discovers a story the second time by constructing it. In non-fiction the materials are factual, but the construction itself is something different from fact.”

At this milestone I thank again the wordsmith and my good-natured husband. Encouraging me with their enthusiasm and expectations, they’ve given their time, expertise, and camaraderie to this endeavor. I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m grateful.

And thank you wonderful readers, many of whom have been aboard for all 500 posts – especially those whose voices in comments have become a familiar and enriching part of the blog. The inspiration of creation might begin with writing, but satisfying connection comes from readers reading and responding.

Thank you!

Pen 2