Summer Alaska

In July we overlapped with Sweet Baby and her parents during a visit to Anchorage. She is three years younger than her cousin Lady Baby, whom she clearly adores and admires, always watching and imitating when she can.

At Lady Baby’s soccer game (nothing is cuter than three and four-year olds in tiny but still oversized soccer shirts on a mini soccer field, chasing a small ball, sometimes in the right direction). Sweet Baby sat rapt, holding a soccer ball and staring at the jolly chaos on the field.

At home the two cousins pushed doll strollers full of babies and “stuffies” around the house. And they went to the playground together – Lady Baby runs on the jiggly bridge, climbs to the top of the netting, swings high, and whizzes down the steep slide. Sweet Baby watches, and following encouraging instructions, “do this slide,” “come up here,” does her best to keep up.

One weekday, those not at work headed north to Rendezvous Peak at Arctic Valley, (the original Anchorage ski resort). The hike is perfect for little legs, just a mile and a half above the timberline from the parking lot, up to a saddle overlooking a dramatic view.

Both girls started out walking – Sweet Baby holding one of Lady Baby’s fingers (refusing to hold a whole hand, Sweet Baby willingly clasps just one finger). When Sweet Baby paused with her attendants to drink mom’s milk and load into the pack, Lady Baby said: “Let’s go!” and began to run up the trail.

At a small bridge over the creek that runs through the valley, Lady Baby told me she wished she had a little house right on the bridge, and that I could have another one right next door, and that the doors would always be open between them. Below she’d have a beehive with friendly bees, and maybe she’d be the queen. We allowed as how it would be nice to dip feet in that creek on the way down.

Apple slices helped our upward momentum, as she chatted and climbed, eager for us to stay in front. The trail is narrow and sunken in tundra, full of bearberry, tiny ferns and many wildflowers to either side. We spoke of blueberries, and found two ready to eat.

The others caught up, and we scouted a flat spot for lunch of egg salad sandwiches, chips, and chocolate warm and soft from the pack. Lady Baby found a wide dip in the tundra with a stand of yellow arnica covered with dozens of orange butterflies.

Lady Baby maybe thought we’d head down after lunch (I could have warned her that the Trail Boss always finishes the up). By then I’d worn out the naming of plants, attempts to encourage staying in front, my songs and stories (even the one about hiking the trail with her father when he was small, and in a patch of heather stretched his arms wide and twirled in a perfect Julie Andrews “the hills are alive” moment). The trail got steeper and led to a sit down declaration, “too tired to go on.”

Poppa Jim and Sweet Baby’s parents began the miraculous hike-saving game of hide-and-seek: “We’ll close our eyes and count to 20.” Lady Baby darted on – running full-tilt uphill! She can hide in stands of dwarf fireweed and be gleeful when discovered.

Trying to hide, I laid down on the fragrant tundra cushion, looked at the blue sky, and remembered other days on this mountain – meeting my husband here as beginner skiers and bringing our sons to ski and hike. The past combined with the present to fill me with gratitude.

Lady Baby soon led us to the top – proud of the climb – but more so of her hiding prowess. The downhill walk is easy with Anchorage in view far below – and the promised wading creek.

Oh Alaska water is cold! But we did it, held hands, stepped gingerly on gravel to a flat sun-warmed rock, and cheered.

Cousins

 

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Sweet Baby Travels – England

After a little more than a two-hour flight from Sevilla to London Gatwick, we exchanged T-shirts for sweaters, sandals for umbrellas, tapas for pub food, and formal gardens in dry terrain for the lush gardens of England.

By this time Sweet Baby expressed definite opinions about tolerated confinement, whether pack or stroller, car seat or high chair. But she is always glad to ride in her pack on her dad, the family gardener, and we planned three garden visits with lawns and space for running.

In the Kent countryside we stayed in tiny Biddenden Village (a pub, a post office, and a smattering of other buildings smack beside a busy road) in a 400-year old Tudor house – low ceilings, creaky floors, steep staircases, and comfortable rooms.

At Great Dixter (made famous by garden writer Christopher Lloyd), in spite of borders of glorious color and meadows of wildflowers, we loved the house best. Built by Lloyd’s father and the architect Edwin Lutyens, it combines two 15th century dwellings to reimagine a medieval manor. A great room with vaulted ceilings and leaded windows downstairs, and a solar upstairs, with worn rugs, bookshelves, and lived-in chairs cozied up to a huge fireplace. A little hungry for home comfort by now, we might have settled in.

The day of our Sissinghurst visit we woke to cold rain, but after Sweet Baby’s morning nap the clouds lifted. Sissinghurst (my favorite garden) is romantic and full of story, and in spite of summer solstice and the full bloom of Vita’s famous roses, weather kept the crowds down. We walked paths through the white garden, the herb garden, the cottage garden, and climbed the tower. For lunch we ate ratatouille made from produce grown in the Sissinghurst vegetable garden.

The threat of Brexit had begun to color things even before we left Spain, and in the UK tension was palpable. In the village, angry Brexiters complained to us about Obama’s statements to remain, and in London the night before the vote, vocal supporters of each side lined tube station entrances. Our old friends were divided, he to stay, she to leave. And the day after the vote, people looked stunned as they carried on.

Founded in 1673 as an apothecaries’ garden, the Chelsea Physic garden is a tranquil, walled space overlooked by buildings, full of labeled medicinal plants from around the world. On the same day as the huge and sad memorial for Jo Cox in Trafalgar Square, I walked the paths, pushing a sleeping Sweet Baby in her stroller, thinking about the commonality and continuity of plants, looking for solace in the centuries-old garden.

On our last day – a final walk through London and history. From our place near Covent Garden, west through Trafalgar Square (setting up for the Gay Pride Festival), along the Mall to St. James’s park (many visitors, a polyglot of language), ate waffles sitting on a bench, and watched the crowd gather near Buckingham Palace. Then we circled back past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, toward Parliament (posters and stickers littered the sidewalk). We turned onto the Victoria Embankment along the Thames, and crossed the Millennium Footbridge (a bride and her wedding party walking in the midst of the crowd). We spent time in the Tate Modern (Sweet Baby running the ramp in the Turbine Hall), then walked on to the Borough Market for lunch.

Sweet Baby took her parents home for the afternoon nap, but the two old, true London lovers finished it out – back across the bridge and up to St. Paul’s, along Fleet Street and the Strand, and through Covent Garden.

Overhead a jet plane flyover trailed tricolored smoke and thunderous noise – and a downpour began, wilting feathers and costumes and melting face paintings on passersby.

That evening, in the midst of post-festival crowds, Sweet Bride miraculously found us a table at a Thai restaurant where we ate and replayed Sweet Baby’s first big trip.

“Wow!” we said.

Sissinghurst I

Sissinghurst II

 

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A Long Post About A Short Weekend

Lady Baby and her dad flew down on a Friday in the middle of May and spent the weekend – a father and daughter trip. We met them in Seattle where Lady Baby outlined the immediate plan: “Ride the ferry, eat dinner, drive to the Buffalo!”

The next day, drizzly and gray, we all wandered up the beach searching for treasures like special rocks, the shells of limpets, oysters and crabs, particular pink seaweed, and kelp “balloons.”

That afternoon Lady Baby and I visited the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Worden. It’s housed in an old building on an equally old wharf, and dedicated to inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea (the name for all the connected waterways in this part of the world). Water from the Bay below constantly circulates in and out of several touch tanks and a tall aquarium containing fish, sea stars, sea anemones, sea worms, chitons, urchins, and more. A magical place.

The Center teaches by touch. We learned to touch only the tops of sea stars to protect their vulnerable feeding tubes – and watched a large sea star efficiently pull a whole closed oyster toward its mouth on its underside (the stomach comes out of the mouth to accomplish this!). When touched, little feather dusters that sea worms stick out to catch their food instantly retract. While we watched a crab clean the scraps from a shell, a docent explained about crabs molting when they outgrow their own shells: “Imagine you have a zipper up your backbone and could unzip and step your skeleton out!”

We were often in synch with a little girl and her dad, visitors from Seattle, and soon the girls were sharing a sturdy footstool and concentrating together on the tanks – rapt. And as the visitors thinned out, Zofia, a young Citizen Scientist Educator, revealed the trapdoor/porthole in the old floor so they could toss an empty oyster shell back into the sea.

She asked if the girls wanted to see where “tons of crabs hang out,” and took them below the Center where the flukes of a gray whale float in netting attached to a dock. (After a whale washed up on a Seattle beach, the rest of the whale was buried at sea till the bones are clean and the skeleton can be rebuilt.) Wriggling crabs covered the netting, and fat bubbles from the whale bobbed to the surface.

Invited to look through a microscope (a first for both girls), they took turns gazing at teeny critters in seawater. Lady Baby said in that excited voice of discovery: “They are so small and then so big!” As we left, the girls dashed down to the beach together.

Armed with our new knowledge and intending just another rambling walk, we returned to the beach on Sunday morning. When she spotted a good treasure, Lady Baby stopped, patted her tummy, and called: “Guys, guys, come here!”

After her dad provided an energy bar and water snack, we found ourselves well into our daily walk along the beach, through a campground, and heading up a hill to the bunkers.

That hill always punishes. This time Poppa Jim suggested singing – singing? I thought – but it worked. Variations on “Wheels on the Bus” got us nearly to the top, and then a tossed piece of sticky weed took over – its Velcro adherence to our clothes causing much giggling and repeating.

A strong four-year old can outwalk us, the enemy is boredom, so for the rest of the hike we did the simplest, most failsafe kid-on-a-hike game – hiding! Oh she loved it – so delighted with her hiding skills. We would walk ahead, lamenting that Lady Baby and her dad had disappeared. What could have happened? Maybe she’d be at the sunny meadow because she likes sunny meadows, or maybe she was back at the car. Then she’d run up and “surprise” us, shriek in delight, and repeat.

On Monday she turned the drive down to the ferry into a long conversation. She’s figuring out what is real and what is not, what was in the past and what is made up. She told me people in storybooks were once alive but now dead (sometimes true I said, but I write stories about her and she is certainly alive).

We had a long discussion about her insect dislikes “red ants, mosquitoes, and bumblebees,” and why bumblebees might be removed from the list. And fun when she isolated words from the history podcast playing in the front seat and grinned in glee: monster “Oooh that’s scary,” or hero “Those are good guys.” She told me the guys on the podcast (Assyrians, Greeks) came before the dinosaurs.

The chronology is a little mixed up – but she’ll get it. Probably soon. What a wonderful visit.

postcard - shells

Mother’s Day

On NPR a story told how Mother’s Day began because a daughter sought to honor her mother. But as the holiday grew popular, and Madison Avenue got involved, the founder objected to the increasingly commercial aspects. A lot of marketing surrounds Mother’s Day, and it can be a complicated holiday, but I like to hear reports of how people spend the day presenting gifts of weeding, chores accomplished, cemetery visits, flowers, phone calls, festive meals, and even pipe cleaner butterfly mobiles.

Because my husband was out of town, and our beloved house sitter was hosting her mother on the bluff, I’d spent the night before with my old friend who lives on Bainbridge Island. On Mother’s Day I planned to go to Seattle with my niece (home to Bainbridge for a well-deserved break from medical school) to have brunch at a favorite place, Plum Bistro.

But early in the morning, in a fine drizzle, my old friend and I took a long walk on the road by Rockaway Beach. When I first visited, we used to leave the children with their fathers and run this route – a hilly road, skirting the water across from Seattle.

Now 40 years on, there are changes. One obnoxiously sized house obliterates the view for a patch, but at a spot called Hall’s Hill Lookout, the Portland artist and landscape architect, Jeffrey Bale, built (at the request of a local landowner) a stone mosaic labyrinth in a forest glade. His complicated and very beautiful paving forms a meditative path, and the stones chosen from Washington beaches vary in color in meaningful ways. I loved reading Bale’s blog about how he gathered beach cobbles without disturbing the tiny sea creatures sheltering below and hauled thousands of pounds of it in buckets to construct this treasure: (http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-labyrinth-project-beginning.html).

In this quietly landscaped place and near the labyrinth, a bronze prayer wheel by the artist Tom Jay provides a chance to spin the wheel with something in mind – nine times round, the bell rings, and one’s thought goes out into the world.

And a little further along Rockaway stands a memorial to the terrible day in 1942 when the 246 Japanese-American residents of Bainbridge Island were taken from their homes by soldiers with rifles, brought to this harbor, loaded on a ferry, and sent to interment camps. A long and beautiful wall and walkway with terracotta friezes and tiles with family names memorialize their walk down the pier. It’s a sobering reminder of an awful and unconstitutional mistake – the motto of the memorial is Nidoto Nai Yoni, which translates as “Let It Not Happen Again.”

I’d always heard about this part of Bainbridge and American history – but never before knew the faces and stories of mothers and children, farmers and students, integral members of the Bainbridge community, two thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

The website tells much more about this beautiful contemplative place:

http://www.bijac.org/index.php?p=MEMORIALIntroduction

We were cold and wet, moved but content at the end of our Rockaway tour. I’d be glad to make that walk and brunch a Mother’s Day tradition!

Flower burst 1

In Jokes

If I wrote write here: “I’m going to bed with a beer and a book,” my old friend on Bainbridge would laugh – and picture the two of us bottling raspberry jam while four crabby and bored small children flailed around us, surprised by the sudden appearance of her husband suffering a cold, and his seemingly reasonable announcement.

Some of these one-liner phrases enter the lexicon of intimates never to leave, and can live on, because they’re useful. They’re code words – replaying a chuckle or a belly laugh, or inviting the joy of absurdity when applied to a new situation.

On one of my first trips with my husband, a waiter (barely hiding his displeasure) brushed “ein noodle” from a white tablecloth. To this day any small, single, slightly icky, misplaced object becomes “ein noodle.” And many years ago on a backpacking trip, as we broke camp in the morning, a two-year old traveler, engrossed in setting up his “guys,” and not inclined to hit the trail, said plaintively, “Can’t we just poop and play army?” a phrase capturing exactly the feeling of being hassled by commitment and demands. (I really loved it when I heard Mrs. Hughes use it aptly to describe a situation.)

Lady Baby produces memorable lines now, and gets it when she is part of, or the creator of, an in joke. Sometimes she uses the more formal language of literature, words like cupboard and grandmother. One day she told her amazed mother: “I’m satisfied with you mommy.” She often asks “why?,” both in a two-year old reflexive way and in a legitimate expression of curiosity. She seems to know when the question can’t really be answered, but isn’t it fun to ask – repeatedly.

I missed the heyday of “I know, but…,” which apparently became for a time a frequently repeated, wee bit argumentative comment, as in response to a parental directive for bed time: “I know, but I must do x or y first.” And a few weeks ago, when her dad told her he loved her, her response was “I know, but I love Uncle Tutu.”

And that stuck. Luckily we all love her Uncle Tutu, so now when we say “I love you,” and she grins and replies, “I love Tutu,” then we say “I love Tutu, too.”

I recognize this as one of those jokes that may not be the least bit funny here in the retelling. But she knows we are all enjoying ourselves. She makes the joke, gets the joke, and makes us laugh.

What a gift. Little repeated phrases that are a quick laugh when reapplied or applied anew – with or without irony – I love that.

And I love Tutu, too.

Lady Baby and Tutu

 

 

A Walk in the English Countryside

Lady Baby - ready

Interrupting the saga of “Friends for Frances” (for sure to be continued), here is Lady Baby at Heathrow Airport after an overnight flight with her parents and paternal grandparents, wearing soft purple boots, pulling a suitcase disguised as an owl, and about to embark on four days of walking in the Cotswolds, a famously scenic part of England.

From Heathrow we boarded a bus to Oxford, where our younger son and his sweet bride met us at the bus stop. We overnighted in that fabled city, and spent the next morning at the nearly 400-year old University of Oxford Botanic Garden with grass for Lady Baby to run on and ducks for her to greet.

Our route, through classic Cotswold countryside, led from Cheltenham to Winchcombe, to Broadway, then Chipping Campden, and finished in Moreton-in-Marsh – three nine-mile days and one of six, up hill and down, through villages of honey-hued stone buildings, colorful with flowers and tourists. A luggage transport service wrestled our flotilla of bags (including car seat) to each night’s B&B, small inn, or pub.

Lady Baby - doorstep waiting

Wearing her little hiking pants and sun hat, and wielding my poles collapsed to her size, Lady Baby walked plenty. She also rode on her parents’ shoulders or in a backpack, and most often in the Bob (an all-terrain jogging stroller of much durability and flexibility). One or the other of her strong parents pushed the Bob uphill, through rutted, matted fields, and along narrow tracks and small lanes. Helped by Lady Baby’s aunt and uncle, they lifted the Bob, with sometimes snoozing passenger, over stiles and “kissing gates” (neither of which allows a cow or a sheep or a stroller to pass through).

Lady Baby - doing it herself

Miraculously the weather held steady all week – morning sun, then cooling haze and breeze in the afternoon. When we lunched in the shade of huge trees, Lady Baby walked amongst us and offered “crisps” to all.

In spite of early-on jet lag sleepless nights (with Mrs. Hughes bearing the brunt of those wakeful hours), Lady Baby upheld her reputation for genial, coping resilience. Her resourceful parents seemed always ready with a diversion – a topic for conversation, a song, an animal sighting – and they anticipated snack and nap needs. (We could cover a lot of ground during an unbroken hour and half of stroller sleep.)

In Moreton-in-Marsh, at our final hotel, the tilty-floored 17th Century Redesdale Arms that once hosted Charles I, we celebrated. In the morning, we woke to a steady rainfall, and soon caught a train bound for London’s Paddington Station.

I’m holding dear some Cotswolds moments – the whole family spread out in sheep-dotted fields – twosomes shifting as different pairs held long conversations throughout the day. A pastoral, bucolic, gentle landscape of lore – and the rhythm and joy of long days afoot, with people you love.

Lady Baby - approaching Broadway

Istanbul – The Dark Side (Not)

A faithful reader asked when the travel stories would appear and again expressed dismay (he’s complained about this before) at the limitations of “Her Spirits Rose…,” pointing out that my posts are always upbeat – is there no dark side he asks?

As I began to write about the trip, I thought about that and how little tension from travel travails really impacts a trip’s overall flavor. This one had discomforts for sure: the cold and rain in Tuscany, getting sick, and concern about the Turkish protests. (I had a moment of real iPhone love as I sat in my bed in Rome, found the Istanbul hotel on the Internet, pushed the phone number, and spoke to a reassuring desk clerk who explained how far the hotel was from Taksim Square). But modern travel is a miracle – waking up knowing I get to take a boat on the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, see beautiful things and historic places. No darkness there.

The sheer pleasure of being with my family in such settings overwhelms my memories. The trail boss has an infectious embrace of life. He searches for gardens now that he’s a gardener, loves to sit on the piazza and watch the scene, is pretty much indefatigable, and the best route finder and guide book reader imaginable. To try and keep up with him and his always game sweet bride makes me really happy. And laugh. At each other, at ourselves.

Because of feeling not so great some of the time, I was doubly appreciative of my good-natured companions, and I can’t help wanting to celebrate that here.

It’s a good adventure to follow along wooded lanes or through Istanbul’s ancient spice bazaar (with an unusual detour through the dog and cat food market, stall after stall of animal chow), around the New Mosque, the Galata Bridge, and the Istanbul Post Office! (Actually a swell place with wooden benches where we stopped to get out of the sun and the crowds, watched regular people mailing parcels and buying stamps, and admired tile and woodwork.)

There is darkness in the protesters hurt in Taksim Square, and in the reality of being in a country where local television didn’t cover the demonstrations at all. But we walked by an Iranian embassy in Istanbul, making you think about Turkey as a link between two worlds, that badly need connection, in the same way Istanbul physically bridges two continents.

It is such a privilege to have actually been in Istanbul, and I’ll finish out the record with a few album pages of our four days – no time at all in a city so rich. I imagine thinking back as time goes on – remembering food and sights not covered here.

On the Internet are beautiful photos, a Google away, of the amazing places we visited – digital albums of stained glass and tile and carpets, imagery as rich as Istanbul’s history. (Hagia Sophia, in particular, has a virtual presence with videos of the dome and gorgeous photos.)

I owe my sister-in-law, long-time Turkey traveler, for the pleasure of reading “Strolling Through Istanbul” by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely before we left – a way to really learn about the city, stroll markets and monuments – from a summer armchair!

Tiles - Topkapi Palace Harem

Florence, Rome, Footwear and Tea

Piazza Santa Maria - Florence

30 May 2013 Florence

     This weather is so strange. Yesterday a fierce and very unpleasant wind.

     Arrived Florence about 11 a.m. – Hotel Santa Maria Novella, easy to find and beautiful, walked here from Santa Maria Novella train station.

     We are tired. Walked forever but not so productively as usually. Walked a route through Piazza della Signoria (Michealeangelo’s David and zillions of tourists), past the Uffizi, over Ponte Vecchio to Pitti Palace, and the Boboli Gardens.

     & back. Battling wind around the Duomo. Overwhelming.

Tea

The overwhelm came from getting sick, admitting to being sick. A bug – Tuscan or Alaskan or who knows what nationality – took residence in my upper chest. I don’t think I’ve ever had a virus quite like that one. Nothing more boring than telling cold symptoms, but it hurt.

Yet what’s one to do? Florence is the best of the best. I knew this would be just a quick visit – a return for us, a taster for the young people who will be back – and I kept going, because of tea (and Italian pharmaceuticals).

Most often tea came in a white china teapot full of really hot water from an espresso machine. Tea bags, yes, but generous amounts of hot water, making such a difference to a tight chest!

It was also cold – really cold – making the tea even more welcome.

Tea at Palazzo Strozzi

31 May/1 June 2013 Trastevere, Rome

A very different feel on this side of the Tibur, more a neighborhood, the routes and ways the trail boss finds are less touristed. In a hotel that used to be monastery, rooms were monk’s cells.

To the Borghese Gallery yesterday which we loved completely – a thrill. Bernini sculptures stop your heart.

So cold. The outdoor tables here are optimistically set with yellow cloths and flowers each morning and then dismantled when rain threatens.

Trying to ignore the throat and chest and soldier on. Still really fun. Don’t want to infect the others.

Grateful for this weekend without obligations, be late for breakfast.

Doing a bad job of writing about this.

Handkerchiefs

Footwear

Only one’s passport matters as much as footgear on a long trip with much walking. Sandals and hiking boots, of course, and at the last moment leaving home, I traded running shoes for little shoes made by Jambu. They have unnecessarily beautiful soles – an incised pattern one never sees.

My sandals spent the trip in the suitcase, but those Jambus pounded miles and miles of cobblestones without a complaint from my feet!

The trail boss and his sweet bride did a little shoe shopping in Rome – blue suede for the trail boss – and the latest fashion in Europe (maybe here also, I am not up-to-date) short, cute, leather boots for the sweet bride.

The best shoe purchase provides a transition to Istanbul next week – shoes from there for Lady Baby!

Turkish Shoes for Lady Baby

On to Siena

Towered Towns – San Gimignano to Siena

On this trip we traced our way from towered hilltown to towered hilltown. Twelve-mile days left little time for exploring our destination, but at day’s end once inside city walls, it seemed necessary (to the trail boss) to climb at least one tower and retrace our route through the patchwork of field and vineyard covering Tuscan hills.

San Gimignano’s towers were fortresses connected by wooden walkways in medieval times; now just 14 of the original 72 remain. From a distance tower silhouettes unmistakably identify San Gimignano.

The old, the high part of Colle Val d’Elsa at the top of a hill is narrow and walled, the lower and newer part is at the base of the hill. (On a freezing, rainy night we had a terrific dinner in Colle Alta and descended to Colle Basso for dessert  in a swift elevator that operates all night.)

Monteriggioni, a 13th Century castle caught often in battles between Siena and Florence then, is now a walled village with 85 inhabitants. It’s the stuff of a castle lover’s imagination – and Dante’s. He wrote of “horrible giants” on the edge of hell resembling Monteriggioni, “crowned with towers.”

And Siena – the perfectly preserved walled city – pictured here on a panforte package.

Panforte

Panforte

At a tiny grocery store during morning provisioning we were offered panforte as “typico” of Siena and “good for walking.” The paper package contained a tinfoil-wrapped cake made of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and dried figs in a little paper cake pan. Also included was a packet of powdered sugar, which, at an afternoon break, the sweet bride carefully sprinkled on top of the cake before dividing it in four.

Like so many things in Italy – soap wrappers, paper placemats, museum and bus tickets, paper packaging on sandwiches – it’s not necessary that the enclosure be beautiful, but it is.

Fava Beans and Beer

Once long ago my husband and I tried to follow the directions in a book suggesting walks around a medium-sized town in Italy. But getting out of the suburbs tested good natures with confusing roundabouts and astoundingly fast Italian cars whizzing this way and that.

Because it is larger and a real city, I couldn’t imagine that the approach to Siena could be anything other than difficult. But the ATG route led us through farms and small houses on a ridge that looked across at Siena. While stopped for a break by the side of a small lane, we watched a woman working in her abundant garden. Finished, she closed her garden gate, smiled as she called buon giorno and offered us handfuls of fava beans, indicating with gesture that we needn’t to cook them – just peel and eat.

So we did, and walked down the ridge on a track to a road, crossed it at a crosswalk, walked a few hundred meters along a busy road on a sidewalk, and found ourselves at a gate to Siena. We also found a little bar with tables outside and, with beer and chips, toasted the end of the walk and Siena above us.

And a sign for escalators! We rode with great modern pleasure up into the ancient city, walking the narrow streets to the center to emerge on the tilted, clamshell-shaped Piazza del Campo (where the famous horserace, the Palio, is run) – filled with tourists, scattered at tables in cafes, and sitting cross-legged on the piazza bricks.

28/29 May 2013 Siena

     The trail boss led us on a Siena walk after a big hotel breakfast, through neighborhoods to the Museo Civico at the foot of the campo and a stop for coffee and tea and pizza.

     It’s crazy to just spend a little more than a day in this place – but wonderful. In the museum, Lorenzetti’s amazing frescoes (14th Century), the “Allegory of Good and Bad Government and Their Effects on the Town and Countryside.” Things haven’t changed much – while the scenery in “good government” is Tuscan countryside full of prosperity and bounty and a bearded old man surrounded by virtues (including a comfortably reclining Peace), the “bad government” panels (much decayed) show sad scenes – citizens robbed and fields without produce.

     While the others climbed the 503 steps up the Torre del Mangia, I walked up fewer steps to an open-air loggia with views out and over the walls.

     After another break for tea and food we visited the black and white Duomo, Siena’s cathedral, at a late afternoon, very mellow time. Enjoying puzzling out the mosaic flooring of inlaid marble panels, finding Bernini’s sculptures in a small chapel dedicated to Mary. In the crypt below saw newly uncovered frescoes in vivid colors.

     We made good use of time. My favorite moment an unexpected climb to the top of a part of the Duomo that didn’t get finished, a long skinny parapet with incredible views in all directions – of Siena and countryside.

     The trail boss been so much fun – as always – led us to Siena’s orto botanico – a teaching institution – and told me how much he loves plants – looking surprised.

     Wonderful time at dinner in a little place recommended by hotel – talking and laughing in conversation ranging from Jesus to Facebook.     

Siena

 

 

Lady Baby In The Snow

On her birthday this weekend, Lady Baby’s first year of firsts comes to an end. To my joy I was there the day of her first snow! Flakes began falling in the night, and we woke to eight inches with more coming down.

Lady Baby has a warm, puffy pink with white polka-dot snowsuit and matching mitts and booties. Nobody likes to be stuffed into nylon and down, fingers captured and inserted into mittens, boots tugged on, but we “geared up” – and along with Lady Cora – ventured out.

Lady Baby constantly cruises the house these days, reaches up for a hand and walks full-tilt, going quickly where ever she wants, circling from room to room, dropping down to crawl or investigate. But outside, standing on the shoveled sidewalk, she froze in place.

Lady Baby - cautious

Wanting to send a photo to her parents and toss a ball to Lady Cora, I lowered Lady Baby down and put a snowball on her knee to examine. More snow fell past the serious expression on her little face and frosted her orange pumpkin hat.

Lady Baby - curious

When I suggested we try walking, she took just two tentative steps before speeding up toward the gate and through it – chortling all the while – excitement, laughter, and movement combined. We tried out a little snowsuit seat sliding down the small berm by the sidewalk – a tiny foreshadow of her winter years ahead.

Back inside, she examined chunks of snow, fed them to Lady Cora, and then headed to the kitchen door – glass to the back deck and yard – and pulled herself up to look at the falling snow. Now she knows the fun potential of a snow shaker world.

That afternoon while snow still fell, in search of the euphoria it can bring – endorphins from shoveling or skiing or sledding – we loaded up into the winter-ready stroller and headed out again. At the quiet bakery nearby – few people out on the snowbound day – we bought fresh bread and fig rolls.

Lady Baby loved the journey. She held her mittened hand up to the falling snow and giggled when we bumped our way over ruts and clots of snow. Back home on the slight slope of the front sidewalk, we did a little stroller sledding. I pushed it away from me, then it rolled back to chortles of delight.

That evening Mr. Carson found the ancient wooden sled with a little seatback and metal runners that he used to ride in. Mrs. Hughes came home with proper little snow boots, light and warm, and Lady Baby walked about with boots over jammie feet preparing for the morrow.

The next morning we donned our gear – with little enthusiasm from Lady Baby for the robing – but smiles when I plopped her into the warm bunting fastened on to the old sled. We walked the cleared sidewalk out front back and forth a few times, until her head tilted against the seat – Alaska girl asleep in a sled. We walked round and round the block, lots of time to think how many years since I’d pulled that sled.

I love snow, no matter the discombobulation to driving and life. I am so lucky to have had that day – and this whole wonderful year of visiting Downtown Abbey and precious Lady Baby!

Lady Baby - comfy

Lady Baby – Mobile Edition

In early November on my visit to Downtown Abbey, Lady Baby was a few days into her new job as a crawling investigator. For two days we ignored the toy boxes in the living room, as I followed her hands-and-knees progress around the house. But on the third day she figured out how to clutch adult hands and cruise upright – a position she seemed to prefer!

Selma Freiberg wrote “The Magic Years” a long time ago – but her description of a child’s “periods of equilibrium” exactly named Lady Baby’s equanimity this visit.

Her teeth, six so far, are not only through – they are functional. She picks up with her fingers bits of avocado or cheese or Os – puffy circles that seem made of vegetables and air. She captures each one between her front teeth and carefully crunches.

She varies the volume of her concentration hmmmm as she eats, and leans over companionably when I sit next to her at breakfast. While I offer her a spoonful of oatmeal and take a bite of my own, she holds my wrist and investigates rings, watch, bracelet, humming all the while.

The humming sound must have to do with language, she does it as she “reads” books. Approaching an adult bookshelf, Lady Baby pulls out a volume, lowers herself, sits, and, while humming nearly an ohm sound, opens the book’s cover, and concentrates on turning pages. Then she selects another.

Real words come sometimes. She said “book” twice one morning to her mother. And to the surprise of all of us – while looking at grandpa – said “grandpa” twice.

She’s learned that we respond to her shiver of delight – a look of glee that tenses jaw and arms as she lifts them and smiles – and we react with the same movement. The shivers seem to be excitement – spotting her mom, a cat, the dog, or shoes. To get a shoe in hand with buckles and laces is a coup!

Crawling is functional, but guided walking was the big thrill – round and round the downstairs of Downtown Abbey – a circular route, not at the level of a carried baby, or the low down reach of a crawler, but a new height. She stretches one hand out for cabinet handles and drawer pulls, but mostly keeps moving. Walking fast, walking slow, delighting in direction decisions, executing U-turns. Every morning, and after each nap, we started all over again.

A very particular right foot first and straight out lurch-step gave way in a couple of days to an efficient right foot/left foot rhythm. She practiced periods of supported standing – reading books while leaning against a footstool between adult knees, or listening to cheerful songs her mom turned on for us – her little knees bending in time to the music.

It’s a whole new world!

Walking the High Line

{Note: My next few posts are about a pre-Sandy visit to New York, a tranquil New York with subways, bridges, electricity, and little rain or wind. I’ll go ahead and post in honor of this great city, while sending wishes for safekeeping to all in the path of Sandy. May the power return soon!}

With our younger son and his sweet bride, we walked in New York City for a week in October. Each morning we left our rented apartment on the Upper West Side and set out.

The first morning we walked past the Dakota and the “Imagine” Memorial to John Lennon, through Central Park full of people on a holiday Monday, and emerged at the Fifth Avenue corner by the Plaza Hotel. We watched a Columbus Day parade, celebrating everything Italian, passed glitzy stores with familiar names, and rode a series of elevators up 70 floors to the observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center. Afterwards, with the grid of New York streets and the green of Central Park in our minds, we headed home, up Broadway from 47th to to 74th Street.

We walked in daylight across the Brooklyn Bridge and, at nighttime in the brighter-than-day light of Times Square. We ambled through Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Little Italy, and SoHo, with a long stop at the Strand Bookstore (shelves so tall the store provides ladders), and a quick peek into the Prada flagship store (designed by Rem Koolhaas, elegant and tranquil). We strolled through the Greenmarket at Union Square where New York chefs shop for fresh food.

Streams of people walked toward us, so many clothes and faces and conversation fragments – spoken to companions or on cell phones – “I keep playing the typical teenager really well!” (spoken not by a teenager), “I want to eat some ice cream,” “The only reason to have a car is to get out of the city,” “Can we just enjoy the walk?” (I always wish for a bubble overhead, identifying what the person does in this amazing city.)

For years I’ve read about the High Line, about the transformation into a garden path of an abandoned, elevated rail line running north from the Meatpacking District. On a sunny day with wind at our back we walked the mile and a half from its southerly beginning. What a pleasure.

Inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the tracks in the 25 years after trains stopped running, the plantings are sturdy – full of grasses, trees with fall foliage, and shrubs full of berries or rosehips. You walk above the sirens, car horns, and bustle of the neighborhoods below – closer to sky and air.

Sidewalks of aggregate looking like wide planking expand into areas for seating, and for eating from food stands and restaurants nearby. Wide wooden chaise lounges built for two, narrow perching benches by the guardrails, and a set of stadium-style bleachers provide seating in limited space. A shallow stream flows for a while beside the walkway. At one point the path passes through a building, but mostly you tread a garden path.

A huge billboard and unused boxcars make perfect urban canvases for artists – surprising public art pieces. An exhibit of tiny sculptures tucked into spots along the route is titled “Lilliput.” A sound installation – a voice seeming to come out of the bushes – recited the names of animals, dividing them into human goods and bads: panda, swan, spider, tapeworm.

In a week of walking, the High Line was a high point!

Walks with Lady Baby

Each time I visit Anchorage I fear Lady Baby will have outgrown my comfortable pick-up zone. But not yet. In June she didn’t seem heavier but much longer, taller even. When someone holds her, she stands firm on those sturdy legs.

I took Lady Baby on morning walks, along with part of her entourage – Lady Cora and either Grandpa or my old neighbor. Lady Baby rides in a front carrier, the amazing Ergo, and begins the walk with a lively lookout – her face so small compared with the wide world. She gazes at trees and sky, hedges and houses till her eyes narrow, her lids grow heavy, and she leans into me.

On the long morning walks, I talk to Lady Baby, watch for traffic, and stay alert to sidewalk irregularities. But later in the day on a little sleep-inducing walk near the house, I am visited by memories of earlier times on exactly that sidewalk, by that street. Most of all I remember the days when our younger son (in a Snugli, front pack of those years) would sleep, while I walked beside our older son maneuvering his brand new two-wheeler.

For someone who had no continuity in my life before Downtown Abbey – a dozen childhood homes, none having any connection to anything else and not lasting for long – the constancy of place, in the same spot with a new generation, amazes me. And makes me feel very lucky.

Sometimes I wonder what I would say now to the young woman who walked there with her newborn and a four-year old – a parent in the trenches – tired, happy but distracted, thinking how the wobbly riding was getting better, wondering when the baby would need to eat, and what’s for dinner. How short my time perspective was at that point – how little I knew.

What if you could do that kind of time-travel and let your young self know things – like how fast the years of childhood will go – how rich those years will seem when looking back, how many more decades there will be for other things.

Most of all I’d like to acknowledge that it’s hard what she’s doing – seemingly not valued and not rewarded – but very important. I would like to give her a glimpse of the grown up product – show her the joy ahead – when they don’t need help to nap or ride bikes.

And wouldn’t my young self by surprised to see the granny with the baby of the bike rider!