Happiness in the Time of COVID-19

Writing in Slate, (https://slate.com/technology/2020/06/advice-on-reopening-activies-er-doctor.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab), Amita Sudhir, an emergency doctor, discusses what’s permitted now that states begin to open, and analyzes what and why we might choose certain activities. She’s clear-spoken and kind, and I appreciated reading her words as we grapple with acceptable risk going forward. While weighing pros and cons, she admits: “We are all in need of a little happiness right now.”

Dr. Sudhir considers the possibility of in-person family visits, and while I’m beyond grateful for all the electronic interchanges (and painting Lord B’s outfits has been a very real source of lockdown happiness), like all grandparents, I’m nostalgic for adventures of the past and wondering about the future.

Optimism in the Time of COVID-19

Did you hear the NPR piece about whether optimism is learned or innate? After reading a transcript, I’ve been thinking about the psychologist Martin Seligman’s comments about optimists and pessimists – and wondering if alternating between these two ways of being explains my changeable reaction to life right now. Seligman says an optimist assumes the problem is “temporary, just this one time and controllable,” a pessimist believes bad events are “permanent, pervasive, uncontrollable.”

Controllable – whether the pandemic is controllable or not – that’s the fluctuation and uncertainty. If we knew more, I might indulge my fantasies about motorhomes (new for me). My first notion (mostly as something to talk to Sweet B about) was the proposal I rent an RV and park it in her driveway. I threw that suggestion out on FaceTime, and Sweet B said, “hmmm, my mommy’s car is parked there.” She was quiet for a minute, then said, “we need to give that some more thought.” Indeed.

When we next spoke I proposed the LA family rent an RV and drive it up here, and we discussed the logistics of such an journey. A pleasant distraction for people to whom planning (and controlling or at least arranging outcome) is a pleasure no longer available.

Creative projects can be controllable, but these days the big blankness at the beginning intimidates me. I’ve liked watching other people’s creative moves though: my painter friend makes little water media paintings that I picture as big oil paintings someday, and as a daily discipline, my old friend who lives on the island makes postcards to mail to her three grandsons. She includes riddles, odd facts, and lists the things she is grateful for. The Wordsmith grows a garden destined to be bountiful with food and beauty.

Some have used the time to teach and to learn. My friend who paints in the woods posts video tutorials about her work methods on Instagram, another friend, a woodworker, whose daughter expressed interest, makes furniture with her – imparting skills to last. My physical therapist completely gave in to his teenage son’s long held obsession with llamas, and together they built the llama barn and fencing required to adopt two llamas, Ned and Giovanna. My good-natured husband (certified optimist) continues his pursuit of the Greek language – ancient and modern.

But I often retreat to the repetitive, familiar, doable task of mask making – more than 150 now, sending them to the project initiated by Washington’s Lt. Governor and the United Way, where mask makers are matched with volunteer organizations like shelters and food banks.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d have done more creative work if I didn’t make masks, but maybe I’d just be doing more “doomscrolling.” (What a great new phrase to describe that which we do too much of!)

One heartening thing has been to see the ever-changing costumes of Lord B, like the one below. I asked for identification of the knight – Mrs. Hughes replied, “just a run-of-the-mill knight.” But the ballcap and basket lid seem inspired.

At least we can control our outfits and accessories, if not the outcome of our current plight.

Life Still in Lockdown

My thoughts flitted all over this week, always recognizing the need to keep them corralled and forbid awfulizing. And I’m in a privileged world with work and loving families in secure situations – for now. Maybe that’s it. We have no idea what’s coming – some recovery? Or the “darkest winter in modern history?”

To think I began the year imagining us walking along the remains of Hadrian’s Wall this summer – knowing Lady B would love that. She’s very interested in history these days, her prized possession a fat history of the world from prehistoric times to “the year my mom graduated from college.” My only concern then was how old Sweet Brother would be for traveling. “We were so naïve,” a friend said yesterday.

The other day I walked down to the ferry dock just to remember leaving the island and was shocked to see the totally empty parking lots. I can read about things, but seeing the vacant tarmac startled me.

I walked home thinking about the administration’s frighteningly successful attempts to dismantle our democracy, and their chaotic and pathetic response to the virus. What if this pestilence that’s touched the entire world had been some universal good circling the globe, sudden outbreak of fair treatment and kindness – a virus causing reasonableness.

At my age will I ever see the grandchildren again in real life? What will happen in the election? That’s what my mind does – goes a little way down the path of despair, and then remembers how lucky we are when getting through the day and the month, is a challenge for so many. Countless lost lives and livelihoods.

And then my mind veers off, into dailiness or into the legitimate enjoying of what is still before me. I can’t hug the grandkids (although I really loved the tale of a grandpa donning full motorcycle leathers, helmet, mask, gloves so he could hug his grandchildren or the family who erected a plastic barrier with plastic sleeve tubes so a grandmother could hug her little people), but I can talk to ours, engage with them on a screen.

We could be there virtually at reading time when Lady B discovered the dictionary definition revealed when you press a word on a Kindle – and learned the magic of looking up Stonehenge and seeing what the index of her history book can do.

We admired Lord B’s costume of the day (Artemis, goddess of the hunt, with tropical shirt and shorts) and viewed a favorite book of his about trucks and excavators, followed by his rendition of “Henry the Explorer.”

We’ve seen puppet shows and live performances (every detail planned by Sweet B), including “Sunset Performance” – staged in the garden and set to classical music as she twirled and posed in ballet moves, including lifts by her tuxedo-clad dad.

And Sweet Brother – he’s the one who has changed so very much in the lockdown – transformed in these months from newborn to chubby, cheerful guy, cuddling against his dad in matching gray sweats and blue t-shirt.

It’s greedy to want more. Being thankful for what is seems a better idea.

 

 

 

Another Postcard Project in the Time of COVID-19

But first – the time has come for a name change. I started to write that recently I saw a photo of Baby Brother wearing a helmet and sitting on a rock by scrubby grass on a spring bike ride with his family. He was drawing in a large sketchbook. He’s no baby anymore. He’s tall and smart, and has an astounding vocabulary. Therefore, henceforth, in keeping with his sister’s title, his name here shall be Lord B. He might like that if he ever knew, certainly like it better than Baby Brother.

And it’s time for a project with him. I asked his mom if he might like to do a postcard project, she said yes, and added that when he draws, “every scribble comes with a story.”

So, in postcards north I plan to ask about those stories, and maybe receive a drawing and story in response (this will require some dictation to his parents).

Lord B excels at costuming – one of the highlights of our three-times-a-week reading sessions with Lady B is the initial brief appearance of Lord B in the day’s outfit – firefighter jacket, mask, and sword, or police hat and cape – ever varied.

My first postcard depicts Lord B (or a boy looking vaguely like him) drawn from a photo where he’s dressed after the protagonist in “Alexander, the old Town Mouse.” I didn’t know that book, but looked it up and the re-creation is spot on. Alexander has a green sash, and to mimic this Lord B used his Super G cape slung over another cape. Perfect.

I hope I get to hear the story.

 

 

Reading in the Time of COVID-19

Different – the reading. Several friends have said it’s hard to concentrate. The lure of news is huge – so much news that affects us all, fine journalism, hard to resist stories of the illness from doctors, sufferers, the recovered. The politics of it all.

A smart and thoughtful blog reader alerted me to a fine way to read important news quickly, without having to (heaven help me) watch the so-called Coronavirus “briefings” from the White House (the occasional glimpse of reality from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Brix so drowned out by nonsense, lies, and misinformation) is to subscribe to the newsletter, “Letters from An American” by Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson, an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College, writes clearly, conveying the important political happenings of the day in an immediate and accessible way

The New Yorker has been my breakfast and dinner companion for decades – and I’m always months behind. But not anymore – I’ve taken to reading the most recently arrived issue.

And now, because of sewing and not much time for reading, I’ve discovered the app Audm – professional voices read articles from multiple periodicals. The New Yorker posts many – including long profile pieces (the one about Mitch McConnell is horrifying) and short pieces they call “Dispatches from a Pandemic.” The sewing machine whirs, the voices keep me company, I get to catch up.

A great pleasure has been reading with Lady B and her brother on dual Kindles. We schedule our times to meet on FaceTime (once the pair showed up with a big container of cookies they’d made, oatmeal with smashed Oreos, to taunt their virtual granddad known as a cookie hound). For an hour or so, we take turns reading, until their iPad is needed for a classroom Zoom or the outdoors beckons.

We are all loving Damien Love’s “Monstrous Devices.” An English schoolboy, 12-year old Alex, a collector of toy robots and bullied at school, receives a toy robot from his grandfather and the adventure begins. The two set off by train from London toward Paris, and on to Prague. There are robots that come alive, enough humor and just enough fright to be perfect.

Lady B has become a proficient and expressive out loud reader. The book offers a sprinkling of unfamiliar words, French phrases and Britishisms and gives us food for discussion. Her mother tells me that the other day, Lady B said, “books are best.”

And wondering about sharing a book with Sweet B, I googled “books to read aloud with a smart five-year old,” and found an article from Wired magazine, “67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10.” Great books, and Joan Aiken’s “Arabel’s Raven” looks just right for now, the adventures of a young British girl and her pet raven Mortimer. Sweet B could even listen to colorful British accents with the Audible version – listening with headphones on her “radio,” as she says, a favorite activity as she draws.

Lady B is right – books are best.

 

Sheltering with the Alaskans 

Lady B made the drawing below of her situation (that’s Baby Brother playing with trucks nearby). But I’m a little doubtful that her speech bubble contains a meaningful comment, because we hear tales and see photos and videos of a giant pile of snow in the back yard for snow caves, and of great cross-country skiing.

Lady B is learning to skate ski, but on the downhills, she gets her skis in the tracks, tucks, and hurtles around bends. Baby Brother rides in a trailer behind his dad (a handle on the back allows Lady B to also catch a ride). Luckily, good weather and plentiful snow fill these quarantine days!

She sees her class on Zoom – she tells us they each log in with something to share and the big screen fills with the classmate talking, the others appear in little boxes at the bottom. We are all pixels now.

But there must be moments like below.

Capes or Cloaks?

The distinction seems to be length.

A friend’s story about how she and her siblings inherited a nun’s habit, and how it’s been used through two generations to dress superheroes, Hogwarts students, and Halloween witches, encouraged my whole cape and cloak adventure.

Initially, the mother of my young friend drew me a little diagram of a simple cape with instructions to cut and hem a rectangle, gather the top with elastic, and add ribbons at the neck to tie. (I think I recommend the versatility of this version.)

But for the capes going north for make believe in Alaska, I used a pattern. I enjoyed figuring out the whole thing – so much is new to me these days – patterns you download, print, and piece together, a PDF of instructions, smaller seam allowances. These capes, with hoods and pockets can be reversed – but my first attempt at sewing on buttons led to buttons too tight to fit through fastening loops.

But I have a friend, a favorite, funny person, who is a master seamstress – queen of custom sewing – I’m convinced she can sew anything. She routinely wrestles huge sofas and boat upholstery for her clients, but when I asked her to describe a less utilitarian creation, she wrote, “Drag queen dresses for a coronation ball in 1979. Nobody rocks a two-foot headdress better!”)

To my button inquiry she advised me to hold a wooden match between cape and button on each side while sewing. Awkwardly accomplished and perfect!

Now that I’ve seen the movie of “Little Women,” I realize Jo and her sisters could wear the Alaska capes. (Oh, the clothes in the film! Did you see the article about the costume designer? I loved reading about her work: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-and-off-the-avenue/how-jacqueline-durran-the-little-women-costume-designer-remixes-styles-and-eras ).

Lady B and Baby Brother won’t know about “Little Women,” and we’ll see what they make of these capes.* I didn’t say which cape for which, when I sent them, but his mom told me that Baby Brother’s favorite color these days is pink.

Making things – such a fine way to stay inside one’s head for a while and see what might be there – but I’m probably cloaked and caped out for now!

*Addendum:  One evening, after sending the capes, I responded to a FaceTime call from Alaska. The phone connected and a darkened room, lit only by candlelight, came into view. Two hooded figures hunched over bowls of hearty soup, and a voice intoned: “…and at this inn this stormy night, two weary travelers break their journey…” One figure remained firmly in character while the other soon brandished a foam sword and requested more light. I loved it.

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.

Alaska Part I: Boom-Crash And Overnight In The Mountains

The California members of our spread-along-the-coast family adventured in Alaska this month, and I couldn’t resist everyone (except the hard-at-work scholar) being together.

On this visit I spent much pleasurable time with Baby Brother. These days he’s all about “boom-crash” – the generic all-encompassing term for any kind of heavy equipment or large truck. First thing in the morning he suggests “playground” (it sounds a little like “King Kong”), which also means the search for machines at work. On many sites in summer Anchorage, giant excavators crawl and compactors pound, busy at their repetitive tasks, carving out foundations by scraping down to measurements determined by a “worker guy” in hard hat and reflector vest.

In one fortuitous sighting, right on Downtown Abbey’s street, a Bobcat operator scooped a whole pile of dirt from a front yard and loaded it into a dump truck, while we watched from the sidewalk. After a “bye-bye boom-crash, see you soon,” we headed home, where, imagination fired up, Baby Brother set to work with a small snow shovel in a pea gravel path.

He communicates remarkably well and appreciates it if people listen and understand. When talking, he moves his hands expressively for emphasis, and gives an arms-shivering shudder to indicate something scary – like the toy Triceratops I brought that moves, or a confused chicken in a cage near a playground that crows like a rooster.

His reflexive please and thank-yous charm me. When I respond to a request like “bagel pease,” he says “tink you Kaytee.” Sometimes he seems to think about how to answer our questions, casting his eyes a little skyward (a look I remember from his dad).

Baby Brother is incredibly good-natured, but when required, can employ what his family calls his Pterodactyl scream – a definite warning of boundary crossed. It’s probably necessary for a little brother to have such a sound, but Lady B does play with him with much patience. She told me that she loves it when she tells him something, and he replies, “oh yeah” – his understanding expressed by drawing out the “yeaah.”

He has periods of absorption in play of his own – Downtown Abbey a wonderland of toys. He loves to be read to, but is often happy to pull books from the lowdown shelf of kids’ books and turn pages while talking the familiar words to himself. His mom told me of his delight upon discovering the book, “Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann” (a steam shovel) on the shelf.

And then there’s Alexa, the new family member. (I admit to getting a kick out of how easily you could summon a song – or the “Hamilton” soundtrack). Baby Brother has a much-loved song “La vaca Lola,” and he asks Alexa, “lexa, play aca lola.” She’s notoriously bad at accents (also two-year old language), but Lady B says clearly “Alexa, play La vaca Lola,” and soon both are singing with her. (It is a pretty catchy tune.)

Early on, before the L.A. family went off to the Kenai Peninsula, we managed two meals all together. During the second one, our sons talked about a fathers and daughters overnight backpacking trip to Powerline Pass above Anchorage.

Mrs. Hughes leaned over to me and asked: “Do you want to go?” I was taken by surprise – but said “Yes, I’d love to go!”

(To be continued.)