Ann Patchett’s “The Dutch House”

A list of books for Christmas gifts occupies the front of my mind this time of year – they please in many forms (beautifully illustrated books, a graphic novel of the Mueller report!), but finding the right book is still challenging.

So, I enjoyed reading Ann Patchett’s piece in The Guardian books newsletter about her habit of giving books for all occasions (she owns a bookstore).

And her new book, The Dutch House, belongs on the list. It’s the stuff of fairy tales: a mother disappears leaving two children with a distracted father in a haunting, enormous house. The father remarries, then dies, and the wicked stepmother casts out the children. (It’s also a modern tale of real estate and sibling devotion.) I’d saved it for a concentrated time of reading, the book rewarded the wait, and made a long flight pass quickly!

One day on our trip after a library visit, Sweet Baby asked me how books are made, and I gave an overlong explanation of signatures, endpapers, binding, printing.

And then we just made a book – sketchbook paper cut and folded into pages sewn with dental floss – with a story dictated to her mom and illustrated admirably!

 

A Little About Thanksgiving

Before it’s lost in the December rush!

We spent the holiday with the whole family under palm trees – kids in the pool and ocean all morning, and, with the sound of waves in the background, gathered around the table in the evening. In my long (and I mean long!) life, I’ve never been warm on Thanksgiving and that seemed strange – and very good. Kauai provided crazy stormy days with torrential rain but lovely sunny days.

In many ways, it was just like any Thanksgiving – planning, repeated trips to the grocery store, and cooking ahead. And a homecoming for us all – back to a familiar place, where we have been so often at so many stages of life.

The day before Thanksgiving I turned 75. Holy Moly is what I say. It seemed a miracle to walk up the beach at sunrise, and to climb down a steep incline to our favorite beach few days earlier. In the bleakness of last February, I wondered if I’d ever see that again. So now I feel a renewed lease on active life along with a sense of time running out, and a stronger determination to enjoy and appreciate every single bit.

Watching this family have fun together in a tropical setting made that easy. Sweet Baby attaches herself to Lady B – they duck and bob and torment their parents with splashes in the pool, ride inner tubes and boogie boards in the tidal “river” that forms in front of where we stay, and read books from frequent trips to the library. Lady B can really read, and Sweet Baby hangs on each word her idol utters. Baby Brother also loves books and the beach with limitless opportunities to be absorbed in the work of digging and rearranging sand.

Earlier this fall, I resurrected the moose T-shirts I used to screen print in our basement. (So much easier now with modern technology, draw the image, scan to my computer, and send off for printing.) I brought along one for each, all different colors and sizes and styles – party favors on my birthday night. And, at Thanksgiving dinner, we sat around the table with many moose in the candlelight.

Lucky and thankful!

Life

Pumpkins – I meant to write about pumpkin harvest this week – but we’ve had four days when life rearranged petty plans. It’s an all’s well that ends well story, but was a rocky time getting there. My appreciation for my good-natured husband’s strength, the kindness and skill of paramedics, nurses, and surgical team overflows. There’s nothing for it but to express appreciation for life itself  (why don’t I pay attention to that every single day), and repost that cheerful Batman – along with his out-of-season but somehow triumphant flowers!

Five Decades and Holding

50 Years! My good-natured (the explanation for this longevity) husband and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary in California last week. I still can’t grapple with that number, but it was fun to mark it with the SoCal branch of the family.

From their house we drove north to a rented house in Montecito, (right near Santa Barbara) for three days. Cars and people a plenty, but the beach is perfect – white sand, hard-packed by the water and fine for walking. We picnicked on the beach, watched Sweet Baby love holding on to her dad’s shoulders as he caught waves near shore on a boogie board, walked along Butterfly Beach and goggled at the mansion built by the emperor of Beanie Babies, visited Ganna Walska’s Lotusland (built over decades with an astounding collection of tropical and sub-tropical plants, some 20 different gardens filled with stories of horticulture and history, never just one of anything but mass plantings of giant trees), played a lot of UNO and JENGA, and ate a celebratory meal at a Montecito restaurant (featuring fantastic plant-based food) to mark the actual event.

We laughed a lot about that blustery day 50 years ago, when we married in a cabin on Kenai Lake in Alaska – and I thought about how lucky I’ve been and how grateful I am.

Most often these days Sweet Baby draws mermaids – complicated aquatic creatures with elaborate clothing, curls, and crowns crowded onto a page – but she took time out to draw us on our special day in 1969!

OPG

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!

 

My Best Portrait Ever

In the midst of a week when governments fiddled while the Amazon burned, and continual bad and crazy presidential behavior bludgeoned us, I received a welcome letter from Sweet Baby in the mail. It contained a penline and crayon portrait of me (she says) with long curly hair, a rainbow-skirted dress (with a tiny bow), an apple in a green tree, and a heart for love. Spirits rose!