Short and Dark

“Such a short time you were here,” said Lady Baby, the night before we flew home from our December visit. But we made merry!

On the first day we selected a tree – the tallest ever at Downtown Abbey – and Lady Baby, studying each ornament and determining careful placement, hung hearts, stars, and fluffy owls. We cut out cats, angels, and gingerbread folk to bake and frost and eat. At a lively high school production of a hip-hop “Nutcracker,” Lady Baby might have liked more plot and fewer dance numbers, but she eyed the Mouse King’s every move.

For two days I took her to preschool, and we’d arrive at the little schoolroom in morning darkness to find candle glow, fragrant greenery, and quiet children in a circle around their teacher. In a snow globe moment at pickup time, bundled-up children sledded, squealed, and chased snowflakes to catch on their tongues.

But I treasure most the glimpsed bits of Lady Baby’s thinking: I wouldn’t have known, or ever guessed, that Prudhoe Bay is the best place to get a vegan sandwich (you will remember that Nick, the father of Baby Boy, spends a lot of time in Prudhoe Bay – though he prefers a sausage sandwich).

At the nearby elementary school, Lady Baby climbed the frosty equipment, watched the school’s hardy chickens standing about on one leg (the other tucked into their feathers), and observed “they’d be warmer in their little hut, because they have a light to warm it up.”

Walking home she spotted a dog and its master starting out for a walk. She stopped and stared a minute, then told me “Somebody must really love that sweet puppy.”

We read an animal character version of “A Christmas Carol,” identifying all the animals placed in the familiar Dickens tale, and revisited old favorites like “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.” Beginning “The Dog Who Found Christmas, a book new to us and discovering Buster abandoned by heartless owners, I said, “Uh oh, this might be sad.” Lady Baby quickly reassured me, “Don’t worry Granna Katy, he’ll find a home by the end.” And so he did.

While Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson had a night away, we spent an overnight with Lady Baby – and it seemed a privilege that everything was so normal. Dinner, bath, books, bed – sleeping tight all night – waking up to “Pretend you are the baby tiger and I am the mama, or no I am the baby and you are the mama.”

Her parents, on the other hand, did that thing I remember so well – looking forward to a break and a chance to ski and eat with grown ups – then spending the whole time talking about the almost four-year old at home.

This visit was short – and winter solstice dark – but rich with Christmas magic (“I think Santa might really be a mouse, so he can fit in all the chimneys”), candle light, tree lights, and music – days to savor.

Is everything ready at your house? I wish you such a happy Christmas, abrim with peace, joy, and love!

christmas cards


Patience and Presence

Eight days into our personal Internet outage, I’m thinking of Lady Baby’s words this holiday. When her mom asked Sweet Baby to be patient a minute, food’s coming, Lady Baby added: “My mommy says sometimes patience are rewarded.”

So they are, it is – we have the Internet back. It went down in a brief power outage during the big storm that welcomed Lady Baby and her parents to our part of the world. We came through a darkened Winslow after a rough ferry crossing and drove home, negotiating around branches littering the highway. On the bluff, wind from the north carrying a cold front tossed the trees with a roar.

So this holiday will always be remembered as the one with clear days in the thirties and no Internet, but plenty of book reading and little people playing went on. The wired generation went for runs, played at Fort Worden’s beach and bunkers, and was patient about the inability to access needed files and offices.

Lady Baby listens to long books now – she’s reading “Little House On The Prairie” with her parents. We dug out “Babar and Father Christmas” and “The Reluctant Dragon.” She’s all about imaginative play – “you be this guy and I’ll be that guy (Poppa Jim is best at this game, endlessly inventive).

And Sweet Baby is a dynamo, a tiny explorer. She can climb stairs, crawl lickety-split everywhere, and pull herself up on any available support – hands or furniture. Exhausted, she sleeps sweetly for naps and walks. She and her cousin had great fun.

Our young friends came from Seattle on an early ferry for our tenth Thanksgiving together, and spent the night, camping out in the Buffalo with the Alaskans. Their little girls, five and nine, make stair steps above the two cousins.

The moments I most remember came during the thankfuls. The young mothers expressed gratitude for small details – the beauty of rust on the bunker doors at Fort Worden, moments of focus while preparing vegetables for our meal, and for optimism – for being glad to feel hopeful, (not for any particular reason in troubled times) but gratitude for a mind that tends toward hope.

And Lady Baby, so eager to participate this year, blurted out before her turn, “I’m grateful for my parents,” I’m grateful for my pets.” But when her turn came, said with great kindness, “I’m grateful for Frances.” (I was undone.)

Frances suffers with so many people around. Before dinner she’d acted out her role from “Friends for Frances,” hissing and spitting, causing people to back away. She doesn’t endear herself to visitors. But Lady Baby appreciated her in such a heartfelt way.

And our five-year old friend sitting at the candlelit table with delicious food prepared by everyone (whose sister drew cheers and toasts for being thankful for books) said simply “I’m grateful for here, for now.”


Paddington postcard




Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”

Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book “Big Magic” is pure Gilbert. It’s crammed with her energy, sense of humor, courage and curiosity, and her desire for everyone to share in the only life she wants to live – a creative life.

Creative life has a broad and inclusive definition for Gilbert. She believes “the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” “The courage to go on that hunt in the first place – that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.” She says: “I believe that this good kind of arrogance – this simple entitlement to exist and therefore express yourself – is the only weapon with which to combat the nasty dialogue that may automatically arise within your head whenever you get an artistic impulse.”

And then there’s the subtitle: “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” For someone now so successful, she knows fears – “fear you are a one-hit wonder,” “fear your best work is behind you.”

She lists two pages of fears (for why one might want to, but not attempt to, live a more creative life). Everything from “you’re afraid you have no talent” to “you’re afraid somebody already did it better” or “you’re afraid everybody already did it better.”

Engaging Gilbert stories fill “Big Magic” – the tales from her timid, fearful childhood with a resourceful, loving mother. (Ultimately Gilbert realized that fear is boring, and she wanted an interesting life). In spite of talk about fairy dust, Gilbert is a magical thinker who works really hard with what she calls “stubborn gladness.”

Gilbert says authenticity “has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.” And she pleads with us to follow our curiosity, not the oft-counseled and uncertain “passion.”

She encourages you to get to it, if you haven’t yet. “It’s never too late.” And her book makes you want to do something – “…any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.” “The work doesn’t have to have a purpose and you don’t need an advanced degree.”

December is a great time to give a copy to your favorite person who isn’t hunting to uncover their buried jewels. And treat yourself to “Big Magic” – it’s full of treasures.

Pink Astronaut