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.)

 

 

 

Three Days With Lady B and Many Dinosaurs

Lady B came to visit – by herself! A week ago Sunday I met her and her mom at the airport, and after big hugs for her mom (flying on to Oregon), we set out for the train, our first walk of the 15 plus miles we were to walk in the next three days. Lady B let me take her backpack but pulled her roller bag, up stairs and curbs, through crowds, and while holding hands to cross streets (for my sake). She listened to the station announcements, predicted our stop by the route map, and (after placing her ferry ticket for the scanner to read) pulled her bag onto the boat.

Comfortable is the word most coming to mind for her demeanor – even that first day. At ease and brave really – never having been away from home without her parents and never having been to our new house! It’s smaller, but painted red like hers, and full of familiar things. She settled right in.

Relegating the early-rising student to the room upstairs, Lady B and I had a slumber party in the bedroom downstairs. She slept on a blow up air mattress on the floor, cozy with stuffies from here and ones from her suitcase.

We filled the days with reading (an A-Z mystery about London and Windsor Castle), and painting (pottery plates at a cheerful shop on the Winslow Green – hers decorated with a triceratops and mine memorializing the visit with the date and a so-so stegosaurus). On our many walks to and from town, we were always careful to not step on sidewalk cracks (she changed the “break your mother’s back, which bothered both of us, to a zillion other rhyming variations, the best being, “get a pat on the back”).

With summer sunshine every day, we ate lunch in town outside under an umbrella, saw the marina and the historical museum (her request because of various artifacts outside the building) and the art museum (to pick out a stuffed otter for baby brother because “he loves otters,” and take a quick look at the book arts room).

One day we drove to a playground with structures for climbing and pretending, and stopped to visit my young friend and her mom. We borrowed their motherload of Lego bins – two generations worth – perfect for quiet times with Poppa Jim in the afternoon. We mostly ate dinners here – spaghetti, mac and cheese, corn on the cob, a lot of watermelon, and one lousy homemade pizza (my failed attempt, quickly replaced by a burrito).

The highlight? A Seattle day to visit the Burke Museum on the UW campus. We walked to the ferry (I was in awe of Lady B’s walking with nary a complaint – 6.2 miles this day), rode the light rail to the U, walked across campus to the museum, and met Poppa Jim after his class. We sat on the Quad beneath huge trees, ate sandwiches, grapes, and chips, and watched groups of potential students on campus tours. (We overheard one of the tour leaders declare the most popular class at UW to be “Dinosaurs.”)

Last summer in Montana, paleontologists from the Burke Museum discovered the remarkably well-preserved head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The staff works on it now (behind a glass window) removing the surrounding sandstone and rock and reconnecting displaced parts to get it ready for display. We were thrilled to be able to enter the room and talk to the head preparator. He told us the texture of the fossil is “classic T. Rex skin” (textured and leathery looking). We peered up its nostril, examined teeth and eye sockets, and learned you can tell the sex of a dinosaur – sometimes.

We explored the rest of the museum, and as we headed back across campus to the train, I asked Lady B why she liked dinosaurs so much. The answer came quickly, “because they are really old and dead but it’s not sad, and they’re interesting!” We got off the train near the Pike Place Market to watch the fish guys toss a salmon, take a photo of Lady B sitting on the giant brass pig, and best of all, get gelato! We walked along First Avenue in the warm shade past Hammering Man, eating our delicious gelato, and speaking of dinosaurs, friends, and super heroes.

It’s always been companionable to be with Lady B, she’s an observer and a good sport, she’s inquisitive and plucky – a fine traveling mate. My painter friend said Lady B made a lot of good memories – I hope so – I know how many she made for me as we walked the routes I take every day, now enriched by her comments and her laugh.

Our last afternoon she packed her bag for an early departure Thursday morning, then made a book for her brother – a complete story of the two of them riding a Triceratops and encountering a T. Rex – with her own handwriting and spelling and, of course, her illustrations. (One is used here by permission.)

 

 

 

Alaska And A Name Change?

For four days in May, while Mrs. Hughes celebrated her birthday with her sister and her best friend in New York City, we flew north to help Mr. Carson hold down the fort. (He doesn’t really need much help.) Chill from the north wind dampened the days of our visit, but didn’t dampen Alaska spring activities.

Pretty much nothing is cuter than a six-year old girl with braids and a ball cap playing her first baseball game (after just two practices). Standing by the dugout full of tiny teammates, I watched the swing and heard the satisfying smack when bat connected with ball pitched by her coach. Braids flying, she headed to first base, a little uncertainly at first, and then swiftly!

One day Lady B’s kindergarten teacher planned an excursion to the Municipal Greenhouse and nearby woods, and asked me to lead a little watercolor demonstration. She provided good materials (that can make all the difference with watercolor) – tiny palettes with six real watercolors, fine line pens and brushes with points. The students didn’t need much direction, and soon scattered around the greenhouse to draw – watercolor paper taped to clipboards – then came together in a circle to paint. The penline and watercolors produced amazed me by their careful observation of shape and color, each unique to its creator.

It struck me that the days of Lady Baby are behind us. That little girl in the orange t-shirt, worn over a red, long-sleeved thermal shirt with Tyrannosaurus rex on the front, seems far from anything with baby in the title. The girl formerly known as Lady Baby has school life and social relationships of her own now – two best friends, a girl with a mop of blonde curly hair, and a boy with dark curly hair and big glasses. Maybe now I call her Lady B, a more grown up title, because Baby Brother (who rapidly outgrows that moniker) calls her Bopal.

We spent great days with Baby Brother while Lady B was at school. Playgrounds please, but nothing is as popular as “owside” – the back yard with swing and slide and balls to kick – or a slow amble down the sidewalk out front.

He loves books – specially ones with pictures of “boom boom crash” providers, particularly enormous bulldozers and crane trucks. Lady B reads to him, revisiting all the favorites (dinosaurs). He laughs with the same joy and relief at the resolution in “Knufflebunny” that I remember from her.

When we first arrived I marveled at his mom’s understanding of his language, but as the days passed I began to get it better. He repeats everything said to him – so the structure and intonation becomes more clear, and you realize how much he can communicate, if only his listener understands. He says all the family names, but somewhat curiously, Lord Cromwell became “Bacram.”

It sounds odd to say of someone so young (he’ll be two in early September), but he seems contemplative as he thoughtfully considers things. I say: “Look, chickadees – chick-a-dee-dee-de.” And he listens and looks, head tilted to one side, before repeating the call. It’s easy to be totally silly with him and make up nonsense, eliciting great grins and chuckles.

I loved watching Lady B and Baby Brother greet their mother when she came back. Both brave while she was away – and overjoyed at her return!

*Image used by permission of the artist

Frances I, II, and III

Surrounded by sorting and packing chaos, three stuffed replicas of Frances sit on my worktable. They seem less disturbed by the activity than the real Frances would have been.

Each has a red felt heart on its back side, embroidered with the initials of Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, or Baby Brother. Soon I’ll pack up the stuffies to mail, along with a little note explaining that Frances is gone. She wasn’t friendly to the children, but she was important.

Each Frances is slightly different and wrong in its own way. They looked like her in the paper pattern, but lost resemblance in the stuffing. Little muslin bags of beans weigh them down, so they sit easily, but their floss whiskers sag, and they look disapproving and slightly strange – not cuddly (maybe that’s lifelike). I tell myself the imperfections matter less than their existence.

I’m leery of that impulse, said to grow stronger as we age, to let ideas die, to fail to push against resistance and stalling and overcome inertia. Making these three became important to me as a memorial – the figuring out and stitching were an occasional escape from the tasks at hand, the handwork therapeutic – but also as proof of follow through (at least this time).

The trio stares at me – or past me – multiple reminders of Frances and of making. I like to think of them joining the other beloved stuffed animals with names and history – but I’ll miss them!

 

Joy

In the early morning this fall, I often read Michael McCarthy’s “The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy,” and knew I wanted to write about it at the winter solstice.

McCarthy’s book acknowledges the dire environmental straits we find ourselves in – and issues a plea to our emotions – feelings we have had toward nature for all of our history. For McCarthy “We may have left the natural world, but the natural world has not left us.” It seems a slim hope in this political climate, but he hopes by reconnecting with this part of ourselves, we might be more invested in repairing the damage.

In the first part of the book, McCarthy blends his personal story of loss with the earth’s man-made damage, and it’s painful. But then, in rich chapters, he points out the love and joy we can feel for the natural world, describing human interactions with creatures from butterflies and moths to megafauna.

He tells how he’s found “Joy in the Beauty of the Earth” and “Joy in the Calendar,” the latter through experiencing seasons, migrations, and blossomings – including importantly – the miracle of winter solstice. “The moment when the days stop shortening and start getting longer again, celebrated for millennia.” The words he uses – joy, wonder, love, beauty – are the words we associate with all this season’s celebrations.

In a short, early December trip to Downtown Abbey in climate-changed Anchorage (48° with rain-slicked ice underfoot), Baby Brother charmed me anew. He moves lickety-split on all fours around the house, stops to burst out his big smile, or to pull himself upright to explore more. He has many words, and learned to say “Kay-tee” in the most endearing way.

We got a full-size tree for the living room, and a tiny one for Lady Baby’s bedroom. We cut out and decorated cookies shaped like stars, gingerbread people, and hearts, and read “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.” Lady Baby demonstrated her new skating skills, flying with speed and strength across the ice at the school’s hockey rink. She was making a menorah with her class, and told me about celebrating all the holidays: “the Jesus one, the Santa one, and Winter Solstice.”

Winter solstice is a calculable moment. It occurs this year on Thursday the 21st of December at 2:23 p.m. – a perfect time to pay attention and rejoice, as we turn toward the light!

Happy Halloween!

I have heard tell that certain little people will be transformed today – in Alaska we’d find one duckling, and one cowboy riding a horse (that part is important, the horse is handsome) – and in California,  a kitty cat with all the feline moves!

I hope you find some cheerful orange this autumn day – Pumpkin pie remains my favorite orange on a dark and spooky night!

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Summer Into Fall – Checking Back In

At the very end of August, during that season of national natural disasters, we added a family plague outbreak to the litany. We arrived in Anchorage just as Mrs. Hughes fell to what the pediatrician (two days later when both children had succumbed) declared to be H1N1, Swine Flu.

But in the early days, we had fine grandchildren time – we ate muffins and played tabletop hide-and-seek with the plastic animals at the bakery, and we visited the familiar playground, where Lady Baby tripped across the wiggly bridge and walked the balance beam with utter confidence – activities that once gave her pause.

A week from his first birthday, Baby Brother slithered – that’s really the best word for it – a locomotion also described as a “military crawl” – all elbows, arms, and wiggling bottom and legs. Technically not crawling, a kneeless move, he’s speedy nonetheless – circles the house, investigates, and gets in the middle of elaborate Papa Jim and Lady Baby adventure guy set-ups on the floor. His babble intones like proper sentences, and he says little words like woof, dada, mama. (I wonder what he will call Lady Baby.)

That Monday should have been the first day of kindergarten for Lady Baby. Kindergarten! But it wasn’t to be (maybe saddest for her mom to miss that official day). By Friday a photo showed Lady Baby ready – a missing top tooth and a big smile as she joined her friends at her new school. She’s serious about school – told me she would learn things there.

We brought the flu home, and then I, yet again, managed to morph it into pneumonia. Lost days of reading and avoiding forest fire smoke, with murky air and the sun a red ball sunrise and sunset.

Thank you for all the cheerful comments about the blue and white vase series during the summer break. The gallery has asked for 24 little drawings for December, so there might be a few more. They want more blue and whites, the armchairs, and “whatever suits your fancy” – a wonderful thing for a gallery to request.

And I’m ready to work. Welcome rain left clear days, crisp with chill in the mornings, and sunny warm in the day. Autumn in the Northwest is here.

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Armchair – Playroom

In April Alaska a certain color palette dominates the landscape – leafless tree branches, dust, and leftover snow tend brown and gray – but a clear blue sky, mountains still white, and sunshine brightened my recent week at Downtown Abbey.

Baby Brother, eight months old, is now such a presence, full of life and love. He’s struggling bravely through teething, and his frequent grin revealed two teeth on bottom and one and a half on top – the last one emerging overnight (from a gum swollen for weeks).

He laughs readily – just waving a diaper over his bare belly brings a string of chuckles! And lying on his back, he smiles broadly and pulses his body up from shoulders to heels in response to a friendly face – Lady Baby calls it his “seal hop.”

He flings his arms wide and shudders at exciting things – food coming or a new large cube full of colorful, movable parts to manipulate. He looks intensely at a resident cat or dog passing by, and grabs a handful of fur when he can. He leaps high and long in his hanging jumper.

Using a “food feeder” to feed himself, he holds a lollipop-like handle and squishes avocado or banana or sweet potato through a cluster of tiny holes in the soft silicone top. He hums with enthusiasm when he eats (like his sister did, and his dad long ago.)

It’s easy to see how the differences between first and second born develop. Lady Baby is loving and helpful and the source of inventive fun for her brother. Baby Brother considers before reacting, waiting just a bit, observing. The benefits of surveying the situation might outweigh being in front.

The Tooth Fairy has twice visited Lady Baby – new bottom teeth! Her clothing style these days eschews girly and dictates sporty outfits, soccer shorts or sweat pants, a ball cap with sunflap (not worn at meals), or most favorite – a thin Ninja hoodie revealing just her lovely eyes.

Mrs. Hughes and I tackled some projects, and I’d like to say we cleared the slow drain in the bathroom sink. But, after figuring out how to undo the sink stopper and the P-trap, and detonating three baking soda and vinegar bombs, we called the plumber. A little more successfully, by working “around the edges” as Maggie O’Farrell says, we sewed hot weather clothes from gauzy muslin for Baby Brother. With Lady Baby’s help, Baby Brother watching from a nearby seat, we began to print the little pilgrim from the Via Francigena on T-shirts for an upcoming family adventure.

The Downtown Abbey playroom now doubles as guestroom – with space for sleeping, playing adventure guys, and, with a wooden rocking horse for footstool and tiny chair to hold a teacup, enjoying a favorite old leather armchair.

 

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A Very Happy Time

A pre-Christmas trip north to Alaska is a cherished tradition now. Several mornings we drove to preschool, where candlelight flickers in the classroom, and viewed the “snowcake” Lady Baby created. We decorated the Downtown Abbey Christmas tree, read many Christmas books, and did a lot of “come let us adore him” around Baby Brother. After her mom laid it out for us, Lady Baby helped me (sitting in my lap, and pushing the lever for backstitching) sew a stocking for her brother.

One day we made Christmas cookies – a nearly all-day affair. Lady Baby can now do all the steps – rolling and cutting and decorating. For part of the time, Baby Brother slept on me in the Ergo, but he woke in time for decorating at the kitchen table.

He’s so long, he’s outgrown the nest I can make for a baby by crooking one knee and placing my ankle on the other. So we used a pillow as a head prop, and he smiled and chuckled (he does that now!) as frosting flew nearby, and Poppa Jim pretended to be stealing cookies.

This year Mrs. Hughes suggested a Saturday morning exchange of our gifts to each other, and Lady Baby was so excited to come downstairs and discover presents under the tree. Outdoors, the North wind did blow in cold and snowy dark till after 9 a.m., inside we sat in the cozy living room by the lighted tree. Baby Brother slept on his dad while Lady Baby deciphered gift tags and dispensed packages – a perfect sampler of Christmas morning magic.

When we reminisced about the cookie making, Lady Baby said: “That was a very happy time for me.”

So me too – the whole trip.

pears-red-bartlett

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