Downton Abbey Redux

And two hours of escapist pleasure! A new movie featuring old friends, following a familiar story (that now looks like it could go on and on)!

The film begins two years after the series ended and contains everything we loved (or didn’t love if you are an outlier): the clothes(!), the exchanges between Violet and Isobel ever more quick and acerbic (as much fun as you remember), love in all forms, new romance, family enlargements and entanglements, intrigue, a little melodrama, some jolly good times, and a surprising lot of laughing for viewers. And the house – the big screen allows spectacular shots of its setting and its grandeur! Julian Fellowes’ continuing story brims with of a sense of life ending and life going on.

This wonderful piece in the Washington Post “The Downtown Abbey cast wants to take you back to a more innocent time – 2012” captures it exactly. And I remember oh so well the series beginning! The opening music takes me right back to that snow-muffled winter at Downtown Abbey when I learned to be a granny – such a happy time!

Baby Brother Turns Three

We spent a noteworthy week in Alaska in early September that began with a third birthday party full of fun. Baby Brother’s mother arranged for the Anchorage trolley (much like the trolley in the Land of Make Believe on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” but usually full of tourists exploring Anchorage) to take party goers for a ride – high excitement!

Then home to pizza and a two-layer, construction site birthday cake decorated with a scattering of miniature heavy equipment, three tiny warning-cone candles, and the birthday boy’s name plowed out of Oreo cookie crumbs.

Baby Brother’s first year of preschool hadn’t started yet, so he was a great companion for fall days in Anchorage – game to go outside no matter the weather, and up for a bakery stop after requesting a “breakfast sandwich” (his dad said he wasn’t sure he’d ever had one when I reported that), though he settled for a blueberry muffin. He was completely engrossed in the Anchorage Museum’s Discovery Center’s activities for children – visiting Chompers – a large resident turtle, emptying grocery shelves into a little cart, making enormous bubbles, and building with giant soft cubes.

He’s often absorbed by his own undertakings for long periods of time – stopping occasionally to address a nearby adult with surprisingly complicated language. His comprehension and ability to express himself are impressive. Part of it comes from listening attentively when people speak, he tips his head and gazes into the distance, before interjecting a question.

At the bakery he noticed a woman with silver hair and stylish black glasses, and as she walked by, he said sociably, “You look like Gaga!” (his maternal grandmother). The passerby, recognizing the word for grandmother, said, “oh aren’t you sweet” – a comment often heard about Baby Brother.

This week was also Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’s 10th wedding anniversary! At the end of the week, they went off with the dogs for a tiny getaway to Girdwood. They left during afternoon nap, and when Baby Brother began to stir, Lady B put down her “Go Fish” cards saying, “Let me handle this!” And she did, with a little faux roughhouse and much laughing caused by monsters under blankets.

We read the birthday gift books repeatedly that evening – a Lowly Worm book about his “applecar – and “Richard Scarry’s Funniest Storybook Ever” (which Baby Brother calls, “What Do Funny People Do All Day”). Dinner and bedtime were uneventful (Lady B explained, “first you read to him and then to me”), and everyone slept all night. (These things matter if you are the temporary caretakers!) In the morning, eating pancakes, Baby Brother asked about the dogs, but no inquiry about his parents’ absence.

I attribute that lack of worry totally to his sister – where she is, all is well. We expect so much of the first child, and Lady B steps up. She’s a source of joy to her brother, providing elaborate, imaginative play, initiating “let’s pretend” or “ok, now you be king” games with him. She’s a safe harbor for him and a guide for me – she knows where everything is and how things are done.

My Baby Brother moniker might be outdated very soon – he’s no baby anymore – but very much a little brother with all the good-naturedness that comes with the position!

 

Summer’s Ending

Waaay too soon – but Lady B begins school today! We talked to all of them last weekend, before they set off for the last of their summer activities.

I am always absurdly glad to have seen them on Facetime – and this time at the end of the conversation, Baby Brother shared some surprising news: “I have a farm in England,” he said, adding that “the cows and pigs have ladders so they can climb to their bedrooms upstairs.”

Who knew!

 

 

Lady B Comes to Stay

Monday morning at Lady B’s sewing camp, 13 girls and one boy, ranging in age from seven to 14, sat right down, each at their own Brother sewing machine, and threaded it! With a foot stretched to reach pedals, they stitched a rectangle spiral, needle down, pressure foot up, pivot. By the end of that first day, they’d made nametags by sewing fabric strips around a white rectangle, a little game board (nine patchwork squares) and playing pieces created by cutting out fabric they’d glued to flattish marbles – oh, and a little carry bag for the game.

Each day they made an object introducing new skills, and with little by way of verbal instruction, they grew accomplished by doing. They made a notebook holder (right sides together, stitching and turning, then top stitching), a pieced owl pillow with tricky pointed ears that needed filling with “fluff,” and a green fleece frog requiring fiddly turns around corners and narrow seams.

The week went so fast – such a pleasure to be with this dear and smart and thoughtful person! Before dinner each evening we ate popcorn and played a complicated dinosaur game (from Rotary and missing a critical volcano piece that we fashioned from cardboard and duct tape) and laughed lots. One evening we took pizza to the beach with our old friends who live on Bainbridge. Lady B waded in the water, then sat with us on the old plastic chairs taking part in the conversation, as the tide rose over our feet.

One memorable day we visited the Seattle Aquarium. Lady B knows much about marine animals, and with her as my tour guide, we saw seals being fed, an otter floating on its back with a shrimp tucked under its webbed foreleg, and Diver Kim in the two-story, salt-water tank feeding Northwest native animals and talking to the human audience through her microphone.

Afterward, we headed to Pike Place Market, and Lady B spotted an elevator making a quick way up (she loves to figure things out now). We visited the comic shop deep in the Market (a popular destination for her dad and brother 30 years ago – it’s changed very little), and Lady B selected two Asterix comics that she and her dad didn’t have. Then on to the Crumpet Shop, where she ate two buttery crumpets (a strong sign of approval because she’s not a huge eater).

Lady B had declared dinosaurs the theme for last year’s visit, and this year – roosters (inspired by the Rotary rooster plate but also finding many roosters around our house). It delighted her to tie things together in a category, a series. We painted while paying more attention to how many layers of glaze an image needs, and how to keep track of them. More visits and we might perfect our results.

Often this visit, Lady B asked about people and events from the past – even inquiring about Nick stories. Does any long time reader remember Nick – Nick who worked on the North Slope and had a breed-changing dog (sometimes a lab, sometimes a collie) named Quesadilla? Nick could wield a chainsaw, drive heavy equipment, ride a motorcycle – even pilot the ferry! In quiet times and on walks, I told the stories I remembered, and said we could find more in the books I have made from my blog each year.

We began by reading Lady B’s first year, all the posts with stories about her birth and Downtown Abbey, and she kept requesting, “another, another.” With only two nights of the visit left, we made it part of the way through her second year – but not to Nick.

Next time.

 

Missing

You miss a lot in this situation – walking, planning trips around walking, the grocery store (never thought I’d miss the grocery store), being a help rather than helped, but above all, I miss Lady B, Sweet Baby, and Baby Brother! In all their lives I’ve never gone so long without seeing them. Their parents try hard to keep us up-to-date with the young lives, FaceTime and videos help, but still.

Last week Sweet Baby turned four attending a birthday party for a friend in the morning and having a party with friends and family in the evening. She now has a big girl bed, and a cradle next to it for her favorite doll, Baby. For her birthday, I managed to make little pillows from pillowcases her great-great-grandmother left for Poppa Jim’s “bride.” When we spoke the next day, Sweet Baby proudly showed me sleeping arrangements and suggested I could come on Thursday – or maybe in September – revealing developing knowledge of days and months. In my favorite videos, she “reads” books aloud – or lately sings the pages!

Baby Brother is always willing to talk to us – especially to Poppa Jim – usually while eating dinner. He explains the meal and speaks of dinosaurs and heavy equipment – he would love to be here and watch the daily comings and goings in the gravel pit behind us.

We heard that during an illness this winter, he took to routinely waking up at night and crying out – “Momma, Daddy come quick!” When recovered he was encouraged to stop calling to his parents at night, an edict he took seriously, because that night he tried “Winnie, Cora – come quick!” – no word on whether the canines responded.

And Lady B – I have seen photos of her on the north face of Mount Alyeska, her little body planted firmly, skis edged, the valley spread far below. I’m told she can ski the entire mountain, including a famous and steep mogul patch! She turned seven after Christmas – such a magic age of competence and exploration – always her strengths. I love the photos of her deep in a book reading to herself now, or sitting with her dad and brother at a restaurant – eyes fixed on the pages of “Baby Bears.” One day she updated me on her latest thoughts about super heroes – but that’s been a while, and I miss a good natter at the top of the stairs!

Hope glimmers! The Alaskans are coming at Easter, and maybe Sweet Baby in May. And I just registered both girls for summer camps here for different weeks in July. Lady B will go to Sewing Camp (a great but surprise choice – I thought she’d choose mountain biking camp), and Sweet Baby will attend the Little Athletes Sports and Fitness Academy with other small fry for a couple of hours each day (her first choice, Troll Camp, the wrong dates).

No better incentive to me – to bend and bend and be ready!

 

 

Boom-Crash and Overnight in the Mountains – Part II

Mrs. Hughes’s welcome suggestion meant backpacking for me without any packing (only my own warm clothes and snacks in a daypack) – the dads did all the rest!

Mr. Carson gathered bikes, helmets, and bike rack (he and Lady B planned to ride the access road part of the route), food, sleeping bags and pads, warm clothes, a tent – and all the small essentials: stove parts, water filter, eating utensils, bug dope, sunscreen, stuffies, coloring books, snacks, and more.

Clouds darkened departure day, but the sky cleared as we loaded up and headed toward the mountains. Large parking lots at the trailhead testify to the popularity of Powerline Pass with hikers, bikers, and skiers in winter. Just 20 minutes above Anchorage, it’s always been a favorite destination – so close and so beautiful.

After unloading gear and downing watermelon slices, the bikers set off, and Sweet Baby, her dad, and I followed behind at three-year old speed. Sweet Baby talked the whole three miles while speculating about Lady B up ahead and singing “no bears, no bears, today.”

One of Sweet Baby’s dad’s best old friends (and backcountry hiking companion), and his four-year old daughter, also on foot, caught up with us. She wore a flouncy net skirt over leggings, and carried, or her dad did, a glittery pink backpack.

At the bridge over Campbell Creek, the route leaves the road on a steeply uphill path. We climbed, scrambling a little, glad to see Lady B and her dad signal to us. They’d begun to set up camp on a broad ridge beyond a little gully full of wildflowers.

With mountains on three sides and Anchorage in the distance far below, this little plateau is dotted with clusters of wind-bent black spruce and softened by a thick mat of lichen, crowberry, and still dark-green bearberry. I remember so many trips in this valley, and the mountains around, with our sons when they were young.

And now with these three little girls! Dads put up tents, and girls explained to each other about sleeping bags and arrangements as they ran between the tents, widely separated on the tundra and away from the designated kitchen area.

It was 7:30 p.m. by the time tents were up and water boiling for dinner. I felt like privileged royalty sitting in a little folding chair carried up by Sweet Baby’s dad, while Mr. Carson cooked and served my freeze-dried chili.

This far north, the sun sets about 11:30 p.m. – an orange ball descending past Anchorage and sinking into Cook Inlet. Then, mountain damp and chill crept into the tent. I slept in Sweet Baby and her dad’s tent, and donned a wool hat and everything I brought (borrowed from Mrs. Hughes) and then over it all, another pair of long underwear and a fleece – finally attaching to my socks, thanks to Mrs. Hughes, two “Little Hotties” (miraculous iron filings that warm up feet or hands). Toasty.

It’s quiet in a tent in the mountains, so quiet. You can hear the small creek, occasional airplanes overhead, and familiar rustles of tent and sleeping bags. In the middle of the night, when tucked in a warm sleeping bag, it’s awful to contemplate leaving the tent to face cold air and wet feet on spongy tundra. But, if you do look up and around, it’s magic – the mountains’ stark silhouettes, the sky milky with stars. And then it’s bliss to crawl back in the tent, zip and zip, cocooned again.

A mellow, sunny morning – hot tea, oatmeal, and no agenda – a little talk of climbing higher to reach snow and Hidden Lake, but no great push. I loved hearing the dads speak of past trips (backcountry adventures where I’ve just been the worrier-at-home), and most of all, it tickled me to watch them talk to their girls, offering food, solving problems, comforting. Great dads, all.

We packed up and headed down – a hot and busy Saturday now – lots of day hikers. This time the littler girls perched on top of their dads’ shoulders – above already heavy backpacks – and sometimes reached across to hold each other’s hands.

Earlier, Lady B had wandered apart. Eating a bag of peanuts, I followed her and asked idly what she was up to. “Looking for a view,” she said. I asked if I could come, and she picked an outcropping with a 360° view. Soon the littler girls joined us, fascinated as Lady B drew in her notebook, some super heroes, but also our whole group – mountains, tents, and fine companions.

I’m grateful for this trip – and for the use of this image to capture it.