“Whatever Works”

     A new year, and the same, maybe worsening, pandemic, vaccination hopes grow muddled, the current president still vilely clings to the job he failed to do. And it’s January.

     To change the subject for a minute, did you see The New Yorker interview with Jenna Lyons who was the influential creative leader of J. Crew in its heyday? I’d been thinking about clothes, and wrote down what she had to say about quarantine dressing:

     “Clothes are transformative, and feeling good can be transformative. … But I’m not one to sit in judgement of someone’s choice to wear sweatpants. I wear them, too. And sometimes that’s comfortable. I also really like getting dressed up to walk the dog sometimes, because it makes me feel good. I’m not doing it because I want a parade. I’m fully game to look slovenly, and I’m fully game to get dressed up. Whatever works.”

     At the beginning of December, I realized I’d been wearing the same sweater and jeans or wool yoga pants for weeks – hadn’t even pulled the winter sweaters out of their summertime storage pillowcase. What did it matter? That same sweater combo works, just the right amount of warm (a bigger sweater over top when needed), but it is deadly boring. In the interview Lyons says nobody sees anything but your shoulders these days, and it’s true, specially here where we swaddle raingear over warm layers – and wear masks.

     The day after the trip to Seattle, our next-door neighbor asked where I’d gone, “all gussied up.” That comment revealed how low is the bar – my neighbor being accustomed to my morning walk outfit, which varies only by a jacket selection that depends on whether no rain, light rain, heavy rain, or cold rain. Or maybe she compared to my “walk carefully on mossy driveway across to the mailbox” ensemble – several layers of sweaters (one very ratty) clutched around myself, with garden clogs completing the look.

     How about you? Do you wear the same functional lockdown clothes? Do you miss seeing people’s clothes at all? (I try to glimpse my daughters-in-law on calls with the grandchildren.) Clothes can delight. For Christmas, I loved it that the Alaskans gave me Elizabeth Holmes’s “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style” (Elizabeth, Diana, Kate, and Meghan and their clothes). I like to read Vanessa Friedman’s newsletter from the New York Times on Friday, and yes, in the face of other More Important Things, complaints about the discussion of clothes are valid.

But it’s OK to please ourselves – to see something different in the mirror or the Zoom square. Clothes ignored for nearly a year (no special occasions being on offer) – nicer sweaters, ironed blouses, a skirt(!) might provide variety.  

     And at least one person in my orbit has no difficulty changing it up in myriad ways!

Let it Snow!

     That would be a rare December event in Washington, but snow comes in other forms. Last week I moved a large painting to hang years of our cards pinned to ribbons – homemade and very imperfect. They trace decades with images of houses, children, pets, hikes, travels, and Christmas joys.

     And now two more rows – cards from our sons’ families fill out the wall, and those reduced me to tears, never far away these days. Not just for missing my family but for all the pain in the nation. (I’m with Bernie Sanders in his support for both direct payments to people, unemployment relief, and help to state and local governments. Now.)

Something slow motion haunts this month for me – time unstructured by longstanding traditions – years of going to Alaska in the early part of the month for real snow, and then later, the Californians coming. But not this COVID year.

     The Christmas cards arrive though, maybe earlier than usual – the first one in October. I welcome hearing from faraway friends and love to see the holiday images on their cards – often including snow. One year I managed that on our card.

     My drawing was made up, but this year Mrs. Hughes sent a real photo deserving “best of snow scenes,” showing the house she festooned with many white lights along the eves, glowing against bluish snow on rooftops and trees. With a lighted garland draping the snowy fence, the old red house has never looked better!

     Talking to Lady B about snow a couple of weeks ago, I reminded her (I can still do this with Lady B, her father cringes when I start in on a memory of his childhood) of the time we sat in her dining nook staring out the window and calling out for snow – and then watched amazed as solitary flakes begin to fall. The conversation moved on, but she began to draw and made the most wonderful image:

My old friend reads to her grandsons on FaceTime and inspired me to try. It’s not the same – awkward to hold the phone to show the image and still read the page – not like a real cuddle by the Christmas tree with books. But needs must, and as Sweet B said: “I love to read these books – again and again.” A benefit to reading electronically is the chance for a one-on-one conversation on the side.

     Like the cards, many of the best holiday books feature snow scenes, specially falling snow. We’ve already read “Santa’s Snow Cat” several times, a beautifully illustrated tale of Santa’s white cat who falls from the sleigh through swirling snow. (It ends happily.)

     Sweet B suggested some ways to do it, when we talked about the difficulty of painting snow scenes, promised she would try when we hung up. Then I remembered that she already painted a snow scene with her dad when they made the beloved mural on our garage wall this summer:


 And we opened a card from young friends with a terrific photo of their so cute, ruddy-cheeked toddler in a snow suit and a message inside:

“For every dark night, there is a brighter day.”

Wish with Your Heart

   One evening last week, as they began to decorate their tree, the Californians called us on FaceTime. It’s strange to watch without being part – like viewing a familiar movie – but also jolly. An excited Sweet B unpacked the boxes we sent one ornament at a time – an ordinary family assortment, many homemade – some have stories, and some are good for making up new stories.

A small slab of painted dough, tentatively identified as an owl, is a figure of awe – a creation surviving some 30 or 40 years! To see the son who probably made that owl, lifting his five-year-old to place the star, is weirdly like watching life go on without you.

In the middle of the decorating, I told Sweet B I wished we could be together to decorate our tree. She paused a moment, then said: “I know what we’ll do – you close your eyes and wish with your heart!” FaceTime might be more reliable, but we’ll make it work. I want to embrace this holiday, be grateful for the odd and the familiar.

     And last week it began to sink in that a possible end to this pandemic exists – reading the New York Times’s timeline for vaccine dispersal, and hearing Dr. Fauci explain why the vaccines are both speedy and safe – I could feel spirits lift! Hope! Sacrificing togetherness, trading closeness this year for more years to come seems a worthy endeavor.

     But, before the vaccine, a bleakness confronts us this winter – hospitals nearing capacity necessitates a new round of closures – the outlook on all fronts is awful. We could close our eyes and wish with our hearts, and I’d wish for those who disregard science to open their eyes – and open their hearts to the suffering of patients and medical people. What a muck we’ve made of this. What a triumph we’ve handed the virus.

     To end on a positive note – back to the children and their holidays, both those in our lives and others, it seems a great year to up the support in all forms. I enjoyed getting things for Toys for Tots, in operation since 1947 and accepting donations until 18 December at drop off spots around our towns, or you can do it virtually. Books, art supplies, games, there is no specific list.

Ensure a little joy. This we can do.

Our COVID December Begins

In the days before Thanksgiving, I watched a crew of volunteers erect a donated, 30-foot Christmas tree on the Winslow Green – a perfect fir, slim structural triangle, branches reaching up at balanced intervals, festooned with round red glass balls, and topped with a star. My heart soared at the sight.

At first, I thought, well that will do, that can be our Christmas tree, but on my walk the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I passed a woman stringing little white lights on three wire deer, awash in glitter, browsing under a patch of white-barked birch trees. When I said her display made me happy, she replied, “Well, I’ve been into this since the day after Halloween – there is more to come!”

She got her indoor tree from a local farm, and by the time I got home I knew we’d follow suit. Saturday being Small Business Saturday, supporting a local farm seemed appropriate, and at the farm – a rainy, but cheery place – big wreaths filled the arms of little children and big trees topped the cars of their parents.

The Los Angeles family is having a first Christmas in their own house, and last week I made a skirt for their tree and a stocking for Sweet Brother. I divided our stash of cookie cutters, stockings, tree decorations, and Christmas books in half, and packed their portion into three boxes to mail south. The boxes arrived on Saturday, and, by a chance video call, I watched the unpacking of one to fetch out a tiny string of lights for Sweet B’s doll house. Then, some hours later, a photo arrived of Sweet B in mask standing by her chosen tree on a Los Angeles tree lot.

By midday a photo pinged from Alaska – Lady B and Lord B standing (masked, and together holding a wreath), transfixed by some sight – maybe the fresh cutting and wrapping of their tree for the ride home? And later came a photo of their tree – gloriously lit and decorated. A snowy owl nestled at the top.

(The photos are treasured – thank you smart phones, thank you parents – they do help fill the void.)

That Saturday I also walked in town with my old friend – it’s fun to walk in town with her, because she knows many people and greetings are so friendly. But this day, I suppose because Governor Inslee lives on the island, a loud and obnoxious cabal of anti-mask protesters, walked off the ferry and onto Winslow Way with bullhorn and police siren, shouting that Bainbridge Islanders were brainwashed and masks were unconstitutional.

But never mind. (I did think of Lady B – one of her gratefuls at Thanksgiving dinner was for “those little pieces of cloth that keep the virus from spreading” – sensible child).  It’s better to think about family trees blinking alight along the coast from Southern California to Alaska.

Do you think it might be questionable for two grownups to have a tree since neither family from afar, nor local friends can visit? But to do without that welcome presence seems sad when there is already so much sad. Trees stir happy memories for sure – and memories are not locked down this year – so I’m eager for the tree’s festive light and color!

Thanksgiving in the Year of COVID-19

     Traditionally we split holidays with the Alaska grandparents. We do Thanksgiving, so this week would ordinarily bring feverish grocery shopping, planning and cooking for meals beyond turkey day, bed making, toy arranging, and ferry schedule coordinating. I love arrivals – that blissful moment of sighting one family or the other in the festive crowd disembarking the ferry – I’ll miss that.

     And the little moments, when easy companionship happens amid holiday bustle, will be absent this year – making pies or reading books with children, a chance for an extra walk at evening with a willing son, laughing with Sweet B’s parents while wrestling the bird and trimmings, Mr. Carson arriving with a platter of colorful roasted vegetables, and last year, a poolside chat with Mrs. Hughes while kids squealed in the water. This distanced holiday provides no opportunity to plop down and annoy a visiting grownup child sitting quietly by the fire with his book. And the isolation of 2020 presents a real void when the video call ends, and the rest of the weekend looms.

     But I think we can make that call and meal together celebratory – if not like the old days. As my old friend, who lives here and is a psychologist, would say I’ve been “somewhat directive” (seems a polite and professional term for bossy) – asking that the Zoom meeting be set up, suggesting maybe we could do vegan meals, sending boxes north and south to the grandchildren that contained possible table decorations (shopping in my linen drawers and realizing the chances were slim of 16 people at a big table again), candles (can you have a candlelit meal on Zoom?), and paperwhite bulbs for December.

I loved the N.Y. Times’s Style Editor, Vanessa Friedman’s, recent Open Thread Newsletter. She intends to dress up for the electronic event, and writes: “When the news around us gets worse and worse, dressing is a way to use the external to find a note of grace for the internal. That’s worth a bit of celebration.”

 The “thankfuls” of the children around the table are always the best, and I’m curious to see what they make of this year. Sweet Brother won’t speak out, but his birth at top of mind. The young parents always warm my heart with their love for each other and their children. I’m hoping for a better performance than in the past, when I have mostly grown tearful and inarticulate. When the video goes dark, I’ll be glad the families are cozy together in their foursomes. And from this reimagined Thanksgiving, we get safety and the hope that next year we will be together again. Not small things.

     And there is still much to be grateful for – health, those connection-saving video platforms(!), vaccines coming, state officials standing up to the president’s despicable attack on democracy, and a new administration!

And I add a heartfelt thank you dear readers. I have much gratitude for all of you – your comments and caring keep me going. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving in this temporary incarnation!

Dreams Really Do Come True – Maybe

     Now we cross fingers and hold our breath. Today’s the day – or today and the next while.

     But the first COVID Halloween happened successfully – adaptations and resilience all around from kids and parents. Some things were just as they’ve always been – Dorothy posed in her red shoes with Toto in basket, the Cowardly Lion stood bravely (and at just nine months, that’s a feat!), a Yeti stalked the streets (a perfect costume for a frigid Alaska All Hallow’s Eve), and a Skeleton Warrior (not just an ordinary skeleton) armed himself with a plastic pumpkin).

     Good luck to us all – specially for these four and their cohort whose future on a functioning planet is at stake!

 

Blackberries

Forty years ago, when I first looked for property here, a patient realtor drove me around. Sometimes we’d stop and graze on blackberries in brambly thickets, warmed by the sun and tart, bits of wildness on a cultivated island.

Blackberries grow in bunches, a couple ready to pick, alongside others still red or pink – food for another day. Sequential ripening benefits scavengers of all kinds. On the bluff, shaded by huge firs they never fruited, but only stretched thick, aggressive canes armed with sharp thorns, over the salal onto the driveway.

Wild blackberries are often deemed thuggish interlopers, best controlled by goats. But in this summer of our discontent, I see them as a gift. On the big street near us, passersby stop to pick from a hedge thick with berries, deep purple stains the sidewalk below. One morning, when I asked what she’d do with them, a woman gathering blackberries along a quiet street said muffins – and to freeze and eat in the winter. She recommended a handful on the top of sweet lemon cake. My neighbor and another friend make freezer jam – and inspired me to try.

On a commuter path nearby, blackberry vines entwine themselves in the lowdown branches of a young cedar. I passed that patch repeatedly before noticing a dark spot, then another. The cedar boughs protect a little from the sharp barbs of prickles snagging clothing and skin.

The construction behind us (thankfully paused since early summer) destroyed giant tangles of berry bushes, but a thick patch remains – alive with birdsong all spring. North facing, those berries have been slow, but now, encouraged by weeks of warm sunny weather and one downpour rain day, they ripen.

Sweet B quickly learned to discern ripeness by a gentle tug, and with her parents gathered berries for pie from the hedgerow in our little neighborhood. On her dad’s shoulders, she reached high up, where dark clusters dangle, and her mom topped our blackberry pies with crusts of woven lattice.

It was summer.

 

Put a Stamp on Your Letter

“Seven Little Postman,” by Margaret Wise Brown and Edith Thacher Hurd, was one of the many books scattered around our house after the departure of Sweet B and her family.

It tells the story of a little boy who writes a letter (with a secret) to his grandmother. Because he seals it with “red sealing wax,” we can follow the letter in Tibor Gergely’s illustrations as it’s slipped into a familiar letter box, arrives at “a big Post Office all built of rocks,” and moves through various modes of transportation (including a train where postal workers sort letters by hand “through gloom of night, in a mail car filled with electric light”). Finally, it reaches the seventh little postman who “carries letters and papers, chickens and fruit, to the people who live along his route.” At the last house is the little boy’s grandmother, who “had been wishing all day he would come to visit.”

The book dates from the 1950s, and I’ve been reading it aloud since the early 70s, but never have I cried. It was that kind of day. From teary farewells before the camper pulled out of our driveway, to the cleanup of toys, dollhouse, costumes, painting supplies, and crib – the sadness of a visit ending combined with grief over the crippling of our country’s beloved Postal Service.

Because of the fragility of nearly everything these days, no contact with distant loved ones gets taken for granted. Every single day held joy – the ordinary joy of children and grandchildren living nearby.

With wonderful weather we paid a last visit to the bluff, made meals using a huge store of tomatoes brought from the LA garden and ripened along the way, churned homemade ice cream to accompany blackberry pie from neighborhood berries, picked blueberries at a friend’s house, fed stubs of Romaine lettuce to the llamas at another’s. We kayaked and paddle boarded on Eagle Harbor, exploring coves I see daily from the shore. We visited new beaches and old, settling on a favorite and returning multiple times with sandwiches and beach chairs and plenty of opportunity to build castles and search for shells.

Sweet Brother began the visit limited to a quilt on the floor, often rocking back and forth on hands and knees but not moving. But by our last dinner – using an effective and endearing locomotion, a scooting combined with a hip hitch – he easily propelled himself past the table where we ate and into the kitchen or the living room. He’s a real person to us now – a sweet baby – ever fascinated with his sister. Her one set of tears brought a crumple of his little face into downturned mouth and empathetic tears.

And Sweet B – we ran out of time – so much done and so much more we could do. She drew and drew and drew – beginning every day at my worktable with some complicated picture or another. In a big step, she learned to operate the sewing machine with supervision, using the tricks learned from Lady B’s class last summer. She put together a little doll-size quilt – stitching around each square! She painted rocks for the garden, and with her dad painted a square of mural on a wall inside our garage.

We read so many books – old picture book favorites and chapter books, Kate DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn-Dixie” a hit. There we learned the word “melancholy” – just in time to use it to describe the last few days. It’s utterly greedy to want more, for the visit to last longer, to live closer together. But there you go.

When the letter with the red sealing wax is delivered, the granny finds out the grandson is “coming to visit on Saturday,” and that he is bringing one of his cat’s new kittens! (That’s too much to wish for.)

But I can wish we had a president with honesty, decency, and leadership – and wish that the Post Office could be like it’s always been in my mind (though now with mail carriers instead of just mailmen) – much as described in the poem ending the book:

                                           SEVEN LITTLE POSTMEN

                                Seven Little Postmen carried the mail

                                Through Rain and Snow and Wind and Hail

                                Through Snow and Rain and Gloom of Night

                                         Seven Little Postmen

                                         Out of sight

                                         Over Land and Sea  

                                         Through Air and Light

                                         Through Snow and Rain

                                         And Gloom of Night —   

                                        Put a stamp on your letter

                                        And seal it tight.

 

 

A Visit in the Time of COVID-19!

 

Back in early June, Sweet B said we’d have to give the proposal that I park a camper in her driveway “a little more thought.” And so she did – and her parents did – and yesterday afternoon about 4:30, an enormous RV pulled into our driveway!

Despite many weary miles of mountain driving, her dad emerged looking cheerful. The Sweet Bride (smiling broadly at the ending of all those miles) appeared with Sweet Brother – happy to be out of his car seat and bestowing single-dimpled grins on his unfamiliar (and ecstatic) grandparents! And finally, Sweet B, having momentarily retired to change clothes in her curtained bed over the camper cab, came down the steps and into my arms! Hugs – actual hugs!

In a phone consult earlier in the day, we’d discussed our protocol for masks and distancing. The camper has everything, bathroom, kitchen, water supply, and lots of food storage. Stopping only for gas and nursing breaks and spending every night in campgrounds with campfires and s’mores – they’ve truly been bubbled. And we live in a bubble. So now we’ve merged – just like that.

Sweet Brother was not enthusiastic about the journey, but Sweet B, by all reports, uttered not a word of complaint – she listened to stories on her “radio,” watched the mountains and valleys of the American West pass by her picture window, and slept well every night. On one memorable stop, after a little hike upstream, she floated down an Oregon creek with her dad. And now they’re actually here. It seems a total miracle to me, I am so grateful to them for making this journey.

I finished the painting I’ve been working on with crossed fingers since the plan was hatched, being sure that something would prevent this trip. But no – they made it, and we have a couple of weeks to savor summer together!

And it’s time for the August blog break. Thank you for reading, I wish August pleasures for all of you in our masked and turbulent times.

Walking in the Time of Covid-19

Well, Americans won’t be walking in Europe! Not just because the worldwide pandemic makes travel dodgy – but because the EU has banned Americans. While European countries largely contained the coronavirus, as we know the U.S. did not. American (presidential) incompetence and recklessness allowed unnecessary and tragic COVID-19 infections. A bad situation, getting worse. Denial, lies, and obfuscation prove poor tools for virus fighting.

Exclusion from Europe is just one way American esteem has fallen in the world under this administration. Aside from other bad presidential moments – George Bush in Iraq comes to mind – Europeans always greeted us and our tourist ways with friendliness and curiosity. This, too, shall pass, and if one isn’t too old, travel will happen again – a new president and a controlled virus will encourage summertime in British gardens, hot nights in Italy, train rides through countrysides, and walks in Irish rain.

Ordinary days merge together in routine, but trips with walks leave indelible impressions. For a decade, with our increasingly complex family – first adding wives, then one child, then two, then three – memorable moments of stress and joy accompanied those trips. Selfishly I’d so hoped for more with all four grandchildren.

But meantime, in a treasured second life of travel – trip memories come on my daily walks this summer – footfalls as madeleines. My island walk has variety, and, in some form of compensatory thinking, invites remembering – stirred by my footsteps on pavement, outdoor café seating (lots of that now), and flower filled window boxes. Beside a body of water, I stop to gaze over the harbor as we might have stopped over a promontory and considered the valley below.

I climb hills, lots of hills, and down again through a new neighborhood catching glimpses of lived lives, lush gardens and inviting porches. I discover commuters’ connecting trails –– and a root-riddled path through a patch of woods, trees and undergrowth close, for a moment like a forest in an unknown place. I try to stop the internal fret and let my mind go – rainy days bring the sound of wind and rain flapping my hood, poles hitting the ground – and hot days, sun on my back walking up a hill, I expect vineyards instead of 50s ramblers and basketball hoops.

It works a little. I’m very grateful for all there is and all there was – but for sure, I’d rather be walking with Beowulf.

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.

Tiny Triumphs in the Time of COVID-19

Back in the Before Times, I wrote about Austin Kleon’s book, “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Creative in Good Times and Bad.” In his recent newsletter, Kleon quoted from a letter he received: “Every time we make a thing, it’s a tiny triumph.”

Maybe now, after last week, there is a glimmer of political hope, racial justice hope, but probably not COVID hope, and while I ask myself what’s next (a friend suggested earthquake) – I relish the idea of registering an ordinary accomplishment as a tiny triumph. Making a mask, yes, and a rhubarb crisp or dinner – or a flower postcard.

And joy is to always get a flower postcard in return!

 

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.