Strange Times

     And growing stranger and more worrisome and locked down yet again.

     Recently the wordsmith used an expression she likes – “coming apart at the seams,” and maybe the country is. The absurd, dismaying sight of this defeated president refusing to face reality (supported inexplicably by his party), assaults democracy. Our nurses, doctors, and hospitals are overwhelmed by citizens’ failure to contain the coronavirus. The dreaded fall surge turned into the predicted winter disaster. How anyone can think the virus is a hoax or that masks impinge on freedom is so far beyond me as to melt my brain.

As the holidays approach, all seems disjointed – also speeded up. The natural world alone seems as it should be. Recent rain and wind tossed colored leaves into red, yellow, and orange circles on streets and sidewalks. The geese paused for a rest on Eagle Harbor, and continued south. Nasturtiums, blooming so cheerfully once the pumpkin vines shriveled, collapsed. But indoors, my aged wild amaryllis bulb (a gift in the 90s) is blooming now – a usual New Year’s event.

We had tentative plans to travel (each day the possibility grows slimmer), so in the meantime I’ve been shopping locally to gather the contents of Christmas boxes, readying them for the mail. It’s privilege of course – being able to shop.

I wish the legendary Christmas ghosts could appear to Mitch McConnell, and while pointing out his Scrooge-like refusal to help people, terrify him just a little, miraculously transforming him into a caring human! A generous federal stimulus package would be an appropriate response right now.

     I keep trying to express here what haunts me, I suppose it’s the uncertainty. But many things are known to fortunate families like ours – we only need to “rethink these holidays” as Governor Inslee said in his plea to forgo in-person Thanksgiving celebrations.

My impulse is always to make plans, and realistic COVID influenced plans can be certain. We can adapt and do things to let our families know we care and guarantee some joyful, seasonal normality for the children. Assuming the Internet stays strong, we can promise festive Zoom exchanges, making them somehow different from the “regular” (and cherished) Zoom or FaceTime moments.

     I hope.

Patience and Presence

Eight days into our personal Internet outage, I’m thinking of Lady Baby’s words this holiday. When her mom asked Sweet Baby to be patient a minute, food’s coming, Lady Baby added: “My mommy says sometimes patience are rewarded.”

So they are, it is – we have the Internet back. It went down in a brief power outage during the big storm that welcomed Lady Baby and her parents to our part of the world. We came through a darkened Winslow after a rough ferry crossing and drove home, negotiating around branches littering the highway. On the bluff, wind from the north carrying a cold front tossed the trees with a roar.

So this holiday will always be remembered as the one with clear days in the thirties and no Internet, but plenty of book reading and little people playing went on. The wired generation went for runs, played at Fort Worden’s beach and bunkers, and was patient about the inability to access needed files and offices.

Lady Baby listens to long books now – she’s reading “Little House On The Prairie” with her parents. We dug out “Babar and Father Christmas” and “The Reluctant Dragon.” She’s all about imaginative play – “you be this guy and I’ll be that guy (Poppa Jim is best at this game, endlessly inventive).

And Sweet Baby is a dynamo, a tiny explorer. She can climb stairs, crawl lickety-split everywhere, and pull herself up on any available support – hands or furniture. Exhausted, she sleeps sweetly for naps and walks. She and her cousin had great fun.

Our young friends came from Seattle on an early ferry for our tenth Thanksgiving together, and spent the night, camping out in the Buffalo with the Alaskans. Their little girls, five and nine, make stair steps above the two cousins.

The moments I most remember came during the thankfuls. The young mothers expressed gratitude for small details – the beauty of rust on the bunker doors at Fort Worden, moments of focus while preparing vegetables for our meal, and for optimism – for being glad to feel hopeful, (not for any particular reason in troubled times) but gratitude for a mind that tends toward hope.

And Lady Baby, so eager to participate this year, blurted out before her turn, “I’m grateful for my parents,” I’m grateful for my pets.” But when her turn came, said with great kindness, “I’m grateful for Frances.” (I was undone.)

Frances suffers with so many people around. Before dinner she’d acted out her role from “Friends for Frances,” hissing and spitting, causing people to back away. She doesn’t endear herself to visitors. But Lady Baby appreciated her in such a heartfelt way.

And our five-year old friend sitting at the candlelit table with delicious food prepared by everyone (whose sister drew cheers and toasts for being thankful for books) said simply “I’m grateful for here, for now.”


Paddington postcard




Season of Light

Starting now with the darkest season upon us, it’s time to shut shades and shutters against the dark and light candles for solidarity, candles for early morning yoga, candles at dinner always. Twinkle lights inside and out.

As times change and families grow, I miss my old friends and our holiday rituals. I’m thinking of my friend who lives on Bainbridge, her fondness for the cheer of lighted candles – even the glow of a candle on the breakfast table.

And though she’d try not to, she always used to cry during the “thankfuls” around the Thanksgiving table. And I might get teary this year with so much to be grateful for (including electricity – truly a miracle when recently unpredictable because of storms). I’m so eager to see everyone and the little cousins together again.

Thank you for being wonderful readers with thoughtful comments, I appreciate all of you. I wish you warm gatherings radiant in candlelight, festive with food and family and friends!

turkey candle holder


Lady Baby turns three in a few short weeks – three years old! And she is every bit as grown up as that number implies. I worry sometimes about the Lady Baby title, maybe after three it should be a more grown up Lady B. I could probably ask her opinion – as a hypothetical – as in do you think if someone is three, they shouldn’t be called baby any more? She’d probably have an opinion.

Mrs. Hughes sent a wonderful little video the other day, cleverly titled “pre-nap, holiday spirit,” which showed Lady Baby, walking a little tipsily toward her mom, singing a forceful rendition of “Jingle Bells,” complete with hand gestures and emphatic jumps. As sung, the words included the line: “oh it is fun in the white horse open sleigh – HEY!” (Fist pump with the hey.)

I’m with her – ready to be in that white horse open sleigh December holiday mode. But first – this week – a week of true thanksgiving. I’m so eager to see everyone, ready for many trips to the grocery store and the ferry, exited to have voices and people about – ready to celebrate how very lucky we are. Even willing to cook the sacrificial bird (or act as advisor to the younger son and his sweet bride) – not my usual fare.

But just a quick look back at the October holiday, to add the postcard I sent to Lady Baby when I learned about her Halloween costume. Her own idea was to be “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” – such a good idea. And her mom gathered a most fine tiger outfit for her, fuzzy orange top and pants with painted black stripes, ears and a swell tail from a thrift store. In her face paint on Halloween night, Lady Baby looked exactly like a tiny version of Judith Kerr’s famous tiger.

Thank you for reading “Her spirits rose…” and many, many warm Thanksgiving wishes to you – for family, friends, and food – time to have tea with a tiger – and plan a trip in that white horse open sleigh!

The tiger who came to tea


Happy Happy Words (and Yellow Owl Stamps)

When we said our gratefuls around the Thanksgiving table, Mrs. Hughes spoke of her pleasure at getting to know her child in a new way, because now (at nearly two) Lady Baby can express herself.

She lets us know what she thinks – she can say an adamant “no way” when a suggestion fails to meet with approval (when prompted she can also say “no thank you”). And she strings words into efficient, article-less sentences to tell a story: “Frances kit kat hssss!” (Frances had a hard couple of days, being very accustomed to her particular routines, which were completely upset).

Though Lady Baby can count to 10 in English and also in Spanish thanks to her friend RoRo, she cherishes the number two above all others. In a favorite game, I ask how many eyes, ears, knees, heads – getting two as a response (with a laugh for head, she knows better). A fondness for two led to the “Unc Tutu” moniker for her uncle – her holiday’s favorite person. And, of course, the two baby dolls, Baby Boy and Baby Girl, made the trip from Alaska with her.

In a great discovery, she realized that I was her father’s mother. She’d look at her mother and me and repeat “two mommies, two mommies” with such pleasure – and then point out whose mommy we were.

We were 20 people around the Thanksgiving table – including Lady Baby and three other really sweet little people. Two little girls spent the night, and the next day were identified as “two friends!” One of them, a talented eight-year old, agreed to help me illustrate this post.

Last spring as a gift, Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop (I wrote about her here) sent me a little box with a selection of her ready-made stamp sets. Learning that Christine has just published a new book, “Yellow Owl’s Little Prints: Stamp, Stencil, and Print Projects to Make for Kids,” I was reminded to get the stamps out. (It’s a really fun book, full of ideas, and I love Christine’s little narratives with each project, as she describes her transition from artist/businesswoman to mom/artist/businesswoman.)

I watched my young artist friend tackle the set of “Beach” stamps. She made her own scene, didn’t follow the one on the box cover. She took great care choosing colors (Yellow Owl has tiny, juicy, stamp pads that make changing colors easy), placing the individual stamps (sand, waves, lighthouse, cottages, and whale) exactly where she wanted them, and then requesting colored pencils to add birds and a sun!

Thank you BTB for your illustration – let’s do it again some time!

BTB stamp print

Magic Beans

Not magic in the way of Jack and the Beanstalk but versatile, pleasing, dependable – real life magic. Magic as comfort.

Part of the complexity of a big holiday comes not just from the Big Meal event – but also from the gathering and cooking for the other nights and days. We need to eat in the lead-up days, and no matter the evening feast on Thursday, visitors arriving on Wednesday need a welcoming dinner and lunch the next day.

The weekend before, I cooked beans, white and black. With some of the white beans I made ahead a delicious Deborah recipe “Basque Pumpkin with White Bean Soup” (a festive orange color, flavored by stock from the pumpkin peelings and seeds).

Since I loved that eggplant gratin, I noticed a “White Bean and Celery Root Gratin, Tuscan Style” in Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” That seemed to meet a lot of needs – remind us of Italy but also be seasonal and local.

Celeriac with its gnarly weirdness is a vegetable I approach with a little reluctance – not nearly so beautiful as an eggplant, but so much more likely to grow here. They’re a winter mainstay, as they must be in Italy.

The outer skin looks challenging but trims off easily (Deborah says to scrub it well and use in stock for its delicious flavor). For the gratin, cut the remaining white root into one-inch cubes.

In a pan with plenty of room, sauté the celery root in three tablespoons of olive oil until it begins to brown. (This recipe double easily and then fills a big gratin dish.) Add one chopped onion, salt and pepper. Cook until the onion and celery root are soft.

Add two garlic cloves, chopped, three cups of cooked beans. If it seems too dry, you can add some reserved bean liquid. Flavor with fresh rosemary or sage (another reason this is perfect for winter Washington – plenty of both).

Top with a half cup of breadcrumbs mixed with a little olive oil or Parmesan cheese. Pour into a gratin dish rubbed with oil and bake at 400° for about an hour – till the gratin is bubbling and topping browned.

I put it together before we drove to the ferry to pick people up – and once home, the gratin was soon fragrant and ready for dinner by the fire, bubbling and browned in its bright red dish.