Sheltering with the Alaskans 

Lady B made the drawing below of her situation (that’s Baby Brother playing with trucks nearby). But I’m a little doubtful that her speech bubble contains a meaningful comment, because we hear tales and see photos and videos of a giant pile of snow in the back yard for snow caves, and of great cross-country skiing.

Lady B is learning to skate ski, but on the downhills, she gets her skis in the tracks, tucks, and hurtles around bends. Baby Brother rides in a trailer behind his dad (a handle on the back allows Lady B to also catch a ride). Luckily, good weather and plentiful snow fill these quarantine days!

She sees her class on Zoom – she tells us they each log in with something to share and the big screen fills with the classmate talking, the others appear in little boxes at the bottom. We are all pixels now.

But there must be moments like below.

Capes or Cloaks?

The distinction seems to be length.

A friend’s story about how she and her siblings inherited a nun’s habit, and how it’s been used through two generations to dress superheroes, Hogwarts students, and Halloween witches, encouraged my whole cape and cloak adventure.

Initially, the mother of my young friend drew me a little diagram of a simple cape with instructions to cut and hem a rectangle, gather the top with elastic, and add ribbons at the neck to tie. (I think I recommend the versatility of this version.)

But for the capes going north for make believe in Alaska, I used a pattern. I enjoyed figuring out the whole thing – so much is new to me these days – patterns you download, print, and piece together, a PDF of instructions, smaller seam allowances. These capes, with hoods and pockets can be reversed – but my first attempt at sewing on buttons led to buttons too tight to fit through fastening loops.

But I have a friend, a favorite, funny person, who is a master seamstress – queen of custom sewing – I’m convinced she can sew anything. She routinely wrestles huge sofas and boat upholstery for her clients, but when I asked her to describe a less utilitarian creation, she wrote, “Drag queen dresses for a coronation ball in 1979. Nobody rocks a two-foot headdress better!”)

To my button inquiry she advised me to hold a wooden match between cape and button on each side while sewing. Awkwardly accomplished and perfect!

Now that I’ve seen the movie of “Little Women,” I realize Jo and her sisters could wear the Alaska capes. (Oh, the clothes in the film! Did you see the article about the costume designer? I loved reading about her work: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-and-off-the-avenue/how-jacqueline-durran-the-little-women-costume-designer-remixes-styles-and-eras ).

Lady B and Baby Brother won’t know about “Little Women,” and we’ll see what they make of these capes.* I didn’t say which cape for which, when I sent them, but his mom told me that Baby Brother’s favorite color these days is pink.

Making things – such a fine way to stay inside one’s head for a while and see what might be there – but I’m probably cloaked and caped out for now!

*Addendum:  One evening, after sending the capes, I responded to a FaceTime call from Alaska. The phone connected and a darkened room, lit only by candlelight, came into view. Two hooded figures hunched over bowls of hearty soup, and a voice intoned: “…and at this inn this stormy night, two weary travelers break their journey…” One figure remained firmly in character while the other soon brandished a foam sword and requested more light. I loved it.

Sweet Brother and Big Sister

Suffice it to say that Sweet Brother looms larger in real life, than in this drawing of him with his mother – made by his sister on his first day home. Now, nearly three weeks later, although nested with his mother most of the time, he’s an impactful presence.

I don’t remember the day my sister came home. Do any oldest children remember the day? Such a profound event – gaining a sibling – influencing us forever. The initial arrival brings sudden puzzling changes, distracted grownups, and most of all a very busy – with somebody else – mother.

And then there’s this long-awaited baby in person – after months of imagining a playmate, a partner, reality presents in this useless form. I remember Lady B telling me how she’d teach her brother about seat belts and helmets and how to keep safe (now – three years later – she does that). Her dad, when his brother came home, dashed to get his best friend next door. They came back with a cowboy hat and six shooter for the baby to wear. When that didn’t work, they lost interest.

Sweet Baby (who should really be Sweet B now, five years old in a month!) has more sustained attention – she falls in the camp of wanting desperately to participate in some way. A virus has stalked amongst us limiting her hands-on exposure, but she understands that in time she will be much help.

And on Valentine’s Day after she received a cobbled together “Best Big Sister” necklace to wear – she made valentines for all of us (she’d already made them for her class). She left out her brother, but told me how wonderful it would be when she could make him one – “in a few years or so!”

 

Create-ful

In the midst of decorating Christmas cookies, Sweet Baby asked her dad to help. While watching him make brown frosting to decorate a horse shape and add a single sprinkle to be an eye, she encouraged him, saying, “you are being very create-ful!”

The new year brings hopes and resolutions about being more of just that, and this year a gift from my friend who paints in the woods aided the thinking. She sent Austin Kleon’s book “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Creative in Good Times and Bad,” a favorite she said, and a little treasure.

We know his 10 points, but reading the reminders in a new form inspired me: finish each day and be done with it, pay attention to what you pay attention to, go for a walk! Kleon would be the first to admit no news here, but his little volume refreshes our thinking.

During the weeks of blog break when considering its future, I read a John McPhee article where he writes of an “old man project,” something without a fixed end but engrossing (he’s 88 and beginning to revisit story ideas that didn’t see print). “Her spirits rose…” might be just that sort of endeavor – endless, no reason to do it, no reason to stop. I could go on for as long as I want or can – observing my surroundings, making note of things that inspire and seem important, and, getting a response if I strike a chord. Such an opportunity!

Another Kleon suggestion for keeping going is to make gifts, “making gifts puts us in touch with our gifts.”

Or our shortcomings!

I experienced this before Christmas when I set out to make a cloak for Sweet Baby, from a long-hoarded dark green velvet remnant. The soft fabric suggested a garment in keeping with the moments when a small princess needs a cloak with a hood! (No luck with that – not enough yardage.)

As muscle memory threaded my machine and filled the bobbin, I became engaged in the sewing – tedious and frustrating – but also engrossing and rewarding. I had plenty of time to be create-ful (adapting to the fabric shortage), and, allow my mind to wander to other possibilities!

 

Sweet Brother

Yes! – the first post back for the new year introduces Sweet Baby’s sweet brother! He really is very dear and calm – the name fits. His mom did a great job of bringing him into the world on the 29th of January. He was six pounds, 11 ounces, and 19″ long, and he’s beautiful! He’s figuring out how things work in this night and day routine, and, with luck, his parents might soon get some sleep.

Sweet Baby, like her cousin, will be a terrific big sister, this baby already turns his head at the sound of her voice – he’ll soon learn how much fun she is!

A Couple of Images from Christmas Just Passed

The Alaskans’ Christmas card was the cleverest ever! The back shows a smiling snapshot of Lady B and Baby Brother, but on the front is a drawing made one night at dinner by Lady B and depicting, as her mom said, “her parents – besotted with their children and absolutely exhausted.”

It arrived while Sweet Baby was here for the holiday (and such a good holiday!). The second she saw the card, Sweet Baby sat down (for a good long time), inspired by her cousin to draw a large and colorful version of her aunt and uncle and their house with a wreath on the door!

It’s winter break time — time to recharge on dark days (although today we have sunshine and I can see tulip and daffodil starts in the garden)! The blog starts its 11th year (!), but I’ll be back I think.

Thanks so much for reading – may your new year be off to a fine start!