Reading

We spent a week at Downtown Abbey in mid-January, a week of snowstorms, skiing for the young family – and much reading. Lady Baby told me when we arrived that she and her dad had begun to read “The Mountain of Adventure.”

I was excited, because from the fourth to the ninth grade I lived mostly in a cabin in the frigid interior of British Colombia, a long way from any place. Reading saved me. And I best remember English author Enid Blyton’s “Adventure” series about four children who, in the way of most memorable children’s books, have little parental interference and many exploits.

The children in the books stair step in age: the oldest, Philip, has a magic touch with animals, Dinah is clever, Jack loves birds, and Lucy Ann is littlest (but also brave). Whether you read or are read to, always there is a child to identify with. And Jack’s parrot, Kiki, looms large.

Long before I’d seen either seacoast or mountain valley, I had traveled them in this series. Even now, when in the mountains with our sons, we acknowledge a certain geography – a cave, a waterfall, tents pitched in the saddle of a mountain – as an “Adventure” book moment.

In this book the children are in Wales on their “hols,” and a planned trip with parents on donkeys into the mountains to the Vale of Butterflies, becomes a trip with just a Welsh guide and the children – a recipe for adventure.

Walking in mountain valleys is familiar to an Alaska child – Lady Baby and I talked about last summer, when we hiked together and dipped our feet in that “cold, cold creek.” She loves animals of all kinds and picnics and camping – tents and sleeping bags. She can easily imagine unfamiliar food like peaches in tins and “tongue sandwiches” eaten outdoors in all weather.

Her parents were rightly concerned about reading books where children encounter danger. As we kept reading, I told her that the kids are always safe at the end (she’s been known to reassure me about endings in picture books). And she said she’d looked already at the illustrations (a sprinkling of old-fashioned line drawings I love), and said, “Maybe the children get kidnapped. Let’s read.”

I admit to being as caught up as Lady Baby, a great escape from reality always. “Let’s read that book we are really into,” she’d say. And dear Baby Brother – perfect, chubby, smiling bundle, so good-natured – sat with us often to read.

When you are a smart five and read these books, Kiki is the greatest delight, using a human voice to make fun of various authority figures, screeching like a train or a lawn mower at just the right moment, and delivering giggle worthy commands, “wipe your feet” or “shut the door.” (And Kiki always plays a part in the children’s escape from danger.)

We had a good time with Englishisms like “high tea” and “jumper,” and vocabulary – did she know what a “sheer wall” is? “Like the climbing wall where I go with my dad.” But she really is a narrative absorber, just lets the words flow, getting the gist.

This isn’t exactly an “oh you must read this book” post. Even when we read them with our boys, the books (published in the 1940s and 50s) required editing. For Blyton’s sometimes troublesome identifying characteristics of antagonists, we substituted plain old “bad guys.”

This time I wondered if the girls would seem wimpy, but no. Dinah isn’t fond of the snakes or mice that often peek out from Phillips’s pockets, but she’s very resourceful. The other three all protect Lucy Ann – but because of her youth not because she’s a girl. And, anyway, I don’t think you could convince Lady Baby that girls can’t star in an adventure as well as boys.

The morning we left, Lady Baby told her mom the highlights, describing the inside of the mountain where the children find themselves, the baby goat who attaches itself to Phillip and comes along, and about Kiki.

What a joy to share walking and mountains and reading with this little person. So lucky.

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Tiny Bird, Tiny Girl

Last Friday, on a morning walk in Fort Worden with Sweet Baby and her family, I dawdled while they climbed the steep “up/downs” on the outside of a bunker, and, wondering idly if I could see inside, stretched up to peer in a window. To my surprise, I spotted a tiny pottery bird on the window ledge, sitting on an equally small piece of paper with the typed message:

“If you find me, you may keep me. from, Phoebe Cantelow.”

I wanted to keep it. I recognized its making, and knew I would put it on the windowsill in my workroom with two of its kind already there (they are owls, each slightly different in the way of handmade things).

I felt such gratitude for the happy surprise, reminding me of art making and generosity – a hopeful totem for a new and worrisome year. (I looked up Phoebe Canetlow, and love what she says about starting her working day by making a little bird as a way of centering herself for a day of sculpting.)

Having Sweet Baby and her family here for the Christmas bustle, and for the quiet days afterwards, made me so glad. Sweet Baby is always on the go with language to match. She converses sometimes in expressive and endearing but unintelligible paragraphs. Other times she’s clear: she comes into our house from the Buffalo and declares loudly: “Kay-tee! Poppa Jim! Hi!” She took to mimicking my reply, greeting me with “Hi Sweetie!”

Her parents often say, “gentle” to quiet over-zealous movement, and Sweet Baby smushes the consonants into “gshentil” to admonish us. When the car engine shuts off, she declares: “O KAAY!,” and her “Bye-bye soon” is perfect shorthand for farewells. She is rightly wary of our cranky Frances, and when we go upstairs she repeats with finger to lips, “Ssh, meow sleeping.” With a three-word sentence she warns us “Meow eating food.”

She loved our meals by the fireplace when we all sit at her level at the low down spool table, and eat pumpkin pie (another one). She likes real things best, “helping” to put things away, pushing a tiny grocery cart at the Co-op with flag waving, or caring for her baby girl – putting her to sleep for naps, carrying her in a doll-sized Ergo, and cuddling her in a re-purposed tea cozy.

We spent a day on Bainbridge Island, and while Sweet Baby napped in the pack, we took a long and looping walk in the Bloedel Reserve – winter quiet and winter green. Sweet Baby was overjoyed to see our niece, “M-Ah!,” sitting with her to eat a gooey PB&J at the bakery and holding her hand to walk to the Kiddie Museum.

The family is back to California now, and the new year really begins. But before they left, I tucked one of the tiny owls in the Sweet Bride’s coat pocket (she’s fond of owls).

Thank you for reading “Her spirits rose…,” and all your thoughtful and appreciated comments – this will be the seventh year!

May 2017 bring many happy surprises to you and yours!

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Perfect

Early Christmas morning I managed (with some pride at my efficiency) to get the pumpkin pie for dinner in the oven – and then left it there for hours while we opened presents and ate breakfast. I sent my old friend on Bainbridge a photo of the result, but then she countered with an image from the night before – the charred remains of her Lucia rolls – “425° for four hours.”

Sweet Baby loved it all – from waking up to discover mysterious packages under the tree and a baby girl doll, to having Christmas dinner on Bainbridge with little boys who know how to enjoy the underneath of a festive dining table.

My old friend (who was hygge before hygge was a thing) sent a message at midnight: “The evening was perfect – with all the imperfections.”

Yes.

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Just A Few Days To Go

Emotions fill the holiday season, I know that. But this one is different. I write while preparing for the arrival of our younger son, Sweet Bride, and Sweet Baby – and I recognize the privilege of time and space to make merry. Writing helps me wrestle my thoughts away from the anxiety that much cherished is threatened in the new year.

I had planned to write about Ann Patchett’s new book “Commonwealth,” to say that I read all six hours back and forth to Alaska, finishing as the plane landed in Seattle. In the beginning I was confused, chapters back and forth in time, characters I couldn’t quite keep straight, but by the end it seemed perfect to finish with Christmas and a family cobbled together by love.

I cried watching Patti Smith sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony, and I thought of my blue-eyed sons and wanted to write about them, about how astounded I am by them and how grateful for them. They are accomplished and hardworking, and when I watch them care for their own “darling young ones” or hold their wives’ hands, I am undone.

And then today I read “How Does It Feel” in The New Yorker, the wonderful piece Smith wrote about the Nobel event. The link includes the song, and she tells of how she came to sing it, from artful choices and rehearsals through breakfast the next morning. It all fits together to honor art and science, family and friendship. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony.

Most of all, at the year’s darkest point in the season of lights, I write to wish you all kindness, beauty in art and nature, and love.

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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.

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The Grand VIPs

Recently I spent the best part of three weeks traveling north and south to visit these important people:

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Sweet Baby, who is 20 months old now, wraps her arms around my neck and legs around my waist in exuberant hugs – she expresses sheer delight and love better than anybody.

She speed walks through her house, curving gracefully around obstacles, but is never faster than when she spots an open gate or unlatched drawer. She’s a tiny detective with the legs of a sprinter.

Sweet Baby identifies animals in her books (in both Thai and English), and can repeat any word back to you. She asks her mom for nam and me for milk. She has phrases that are particularly her own, “no-me, no-me, no-me” might translate as “do it myself.” And she names all of us in photos – her uncle, Mr. Carson, is “Cheddar” – and Lady Baby rates a handclap along with her name.

Books fill a long, double-decker set of cubbies in her bedroom. Sometimes when we read she slides off my lap and picks a different book, other times she sits and listens to many long stories. (In the “Lion in The Library,” she begins to anticipate his roar when she sees the picture of the lion’s mouth wide open.)

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Baby Brother sleeps, eats, smiles, and enjoys – watching with fascination his sister and the menagerie. I’m convinced he will always be this way, good-natured, strong and tall, beloved.

Privileged grandmother moments filled this visit – time holding him as he slept (a huge warm bundle against my chest), and daily walks – his sturdy stroller an anchor on slippery streets. Now, when he catches your eye, he breaks into a huge grin, and love washes over his face at the sight of his mom. In a totally distinguishing feature, he grunts and makes loud noise – while sound asleep (!) in the early morning. It’s so him.

On Halloween evening with Lady Baby’s help, Mr. Carson put a huge, moving spider in the front yard, and Mrs. Hughes added bones and a skull, and black paper rats to the porch. While the others followed Lady Baby, a waddling penguin, as she trick or treated, I stayed behind wearing Baby Brother in the Ergo and answered the door at Downtown Abbey. (One puzzled pirate asked, “Is that a real baby?”)

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Lady Baby’s daily routine is specific now, and when I visit I try to fit in – take her to school in the morning, stay home with her brother while her mom picks her up, and still make time for “doing not much” together.

One day we set out for a walk and after the first block she asked me to tell her some things I’d been doing (how often does anyone ask that!). While we ate our muffins at the bakery, we played hide and seek on the table top with the resident plastic animals (hiding them under napkins and behind the sugar container).

At the used bookstore, where she helped me find old favorites for Sweet Baby, Lady Baby selected books for herself about knights, insects, and polar bears. And back at home, I read all of “King Ottocar’s Sceptre” – a whole Tin Tin volume out loud in one sitting – not an easy thing to do, but a grandmother thing to do.

These three are very important to each other also, and for these Thanksgiving days, they’ll be together!

I wish you a peaceful, loving holiday with food and family and friends!

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Zucchini Skillet Cakes for Baby Brother

Well, not directly – transformed into mama’s milk for him, but the rest of the family loved these cakes. During his first week, his other grandmother brought several terrific meals to Downtown Abbey – this was my favorite.

The recipe (here) is in “Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison’s Kitchen,” and in keeping with how behind I feel in most everything, except in being a thrilled granny, I haven’t yet made it – but I ordered the book!

Just a few hours before her brother’s birth, Lady Baby was floating with her mom in a swimming pool, along with her dad and aunt. It was that quick! Her parents went directly to the hospital, and her auntie dropped Lady Baby home on her way.

We settled in to wait, played a matching game over and over, walked to the bakery for bread, and picked a bouquet from the neighbor’s garden. We received the first magic photo mid-afternoon, and in late afternoon drove to the hospital. Lady Baby carried the flowers and after attaching visitor stickers, we tiptoed to Labor and Delivery. Love and smiles filled that room!

The siblings look remarkably alike, her mom called Lady Baby a feminine version of this robust boy, and they seem to share temperament – peaceful and accommodating. We only stayed a little while, but what a privilege for me to see so soon this brand new lad.

Lady Baby wanted to call her teacher from the hospital parking lot – and left a succinct message: “My baby brother is born.” She sang an exuberant song about Big Sister and Baby Brother all the way to pick up pizza.

At home we played more matching game (I always lose), read a lot of books, bedded down the animals, and slept all night. In the morning we made cookies, wrapped a bulldozer, and made cards for Baby Brother and mom. (Days later Lady Baby told me: “I don’t like being alone in a house with just one person unless it’s one of my parents.” Given that reality, she was really brave.)

Baby Brother came home that day, and fall descended with rain and cold. In keeping with the season, Lady Baby started sniffles, so for the first few days could touch only her brother’s feet (good-sized feet) and watch all the ministrations to him. Her comment: “It’s a lot of work to take care of a baby.”

Such joy to watch this new and lucky boy join his loving family. He sleeps (!) and is a real armful. As I held him and Lady Baby sat close to play Uno, Mrs. Hughes (to return to Downtown Abbey names) cooked the zucchini skillet cakes, and Mr. Carson made a tasty version of ranch dressing to accompany. Good! (And terrific the next day.)

I would like to make these, I will make these – soon.

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