Bibbity Bobbity Boo!

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It was a weekend with the Littles, and two weeks out from Halloween, it was a weekend to visit the pumpkin patch and pick the perfect ones to carve for the big event.

Riley and Jack take me to my childhood, and to memories of my kids’ childhoods. What a joy, this third time around to experience the magic and the firsts.

And even though this Halloween isn’t a true first for either of them, they’re young enough that each year is still fresh, a new experience of abilities, awareness, and memory.

They’re at that tender age when their traditions are forming. They’re beginning to know what they do “every” year. Riley, especially, is reaching the age to anticipate, to forecast, to know.

She knows Halloween is coming, that Christmas is around the corner, and that her next birthday is on the horizon.

Jack parrots Riley, so even though he doesn’t have a lot of understanding about dates and events yet, he pipes up with the right words. He copies what she says, and how she says it, right down to the tone of voice and the emphasis and excitement.

It’s delicious to be around them, to hear the baby wisdom. To hear Riley say yesterday that she would “just be the bigger person!” Of course she wasn’t…she was immediately the smaller person, in response to something Jack had done. But she’s working on it. She’s got the words, and she knows when to use them. She just has to perfect her follow through. I recognize pieces of Riley through my first-born self and my first-born daughter, and now another of us. Riley mothers, and orders, and knows. She knows what she wants. And she understands how life works, even at five.

And Jack! That boy, he’s stolen my heart with his laugh, his energy, his very joy of living. He’s almost never still, until suddenly he is, passed out in a heap of exhaustion.

We wait for that moment, every night. He’s precious, but he’s a busy one. And at his bedtime, I think you can hear an audible “aaahhh.” It’s just a wee victory, Jack quiet and down for the night.

His language is growing, every day. But he still has some of the charming baby phrasing I find so irresistible. Two months short of three, he sometimes sounds like a little boy version of Riley, who sometimes sounds like a little girl version of a teenager.

Such is the power of culture. She picks up the tone and phrases, and he learns from her.

But he’s still a Little, too. Often throughout the day he comes to announce, “I hungry!” Like the book he loves about the hungry caterpillar, he eats and eats and eats. And he runs. He’s a runner, and a jumper.

As always, any time they’re in my keeping, the goal is to pass them back safely. Bones intact, no stitches. 🙂

Tonight we’re done, getting ready for bed, the Littles are home with parents. But we’ll see them in a couple of weeks, gear up for another few days of being in their world, their routines, remember the rhythm and the magic.

We’ll carve the pumpkins and buy candy to hand out at the door, feel the building excitement of Halloween for little kids…the non-scary, candy collecting, neighborhood walking event.

It’s a charm-filled time in their little lives, and I’m so thankful to share it.

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Happy Halloween!

This little cartoon is near and dear to my heart. It was the end of a Disney Channel Halloween special that my kids used to watch every year. A friend posted the little song on her blog, set to a video of classic cartoon characters. Made me curious to see if the Disney version was posted on You Tube. Of course it is. Is there anything not on You Tube?! Thanks for the tip, MJ!

Fall is in the air

What’s magic about this season? Many people say this is their favorite time of year, and that’s true for me too. I always think the calendar should begin with September. It seems like the true start to the year, forever tied in my mind to the beginning of a new school cycle. From my own years as a student, through the years of my children’s education, that rhythm was permanently ingrained. Even without a tie to the school calendar now, so many rituals focus on back-to-school events that I can’t escape the reality that summer has ended, a new season has begun. And although summer traditionally brings luxurious down time and a more relaxed pace of life, it feels good to get back to a schedule, a routine, a defined expectation of the week after summer vacations end.

Aside from the back-to-school sales, the beginning of football season, and early advertisements for Halloween (already there are masses of bags filled with bite-sized candy bars beckoning in the grocery aisles), temperatures announce that change is in the air. The sun in September has a different quality in its warmth, a different brightness in its light. By October, mornings and evenings are crisp, and by November, some days there is frost on the steps outside my front door. The familiar ritual, pulling out sweaters and boots, gloves and coats, moving the summer wear out and the winter wear in, signals that turtleneck season, stretching from September to May in Alaska, has arrived.

When my kids were little, we made annual visits to apple orchards to buy apples and cider, and to pumpkin patch farms to pick pumpkins. It was fun to have exposure to the harvest season as we weren’t connected with these experiences in other ways. It was good to see my kids learn a little about harvest time and enjoy a taste of fruit bought from the source rather than a grocery store. There is just something completely heartwarming about drinking fresh pressed cider and riding on a tractor trailer pulling excited pre-schoolers around a farm.

I like pumpkins; they’re my favorite choice for fall decorating. I add a few brightly colored leaves and nuts, some seasonal berries and cinnamon scented candles, and decorating is done from September to November. I think you get more bang for the buck from fall decorating than in any other season. And the best part: so much of what you use is available in a natural form, right from the grocery store or farmer’s market. The produce section alone offers enough variety to dress up your look for any party you host from Labor Day to Thanksgiving.

The best part of fall has to be the food: iconic comfort food like soups, chili, stews; and sweets made with apples, nuts, raisins, pumpkin and all the familiar spices. Even the beverages are unique to the time of year…apple cider and spiced teas and coffees seem just right in October and November. I never think of drinking a cinnamon flavored coffee in July…why is that? But this time of year I’m focused on warm luxury in my beverages, and topping off a spiced coffee with a little sweetened whipped cream is a perfect start to the day or end to the evening. Sampling a pumkin cobbler or apple cranberry pie is a frequent pleasure. I bake more this time of year, and I appreciate the comfort of homey aromas coming from the kitchen when I open the door after work and remember that I put a stew in the crockpot before I left for the day.

Anticipation is key; I know what happens next, and I love it. We’re all getting ready to spend more time indoors, gear up for the Christmas season, celebrate once again the Thanksgiving holiday that reminds us of the importance of family, friends, good times, good food, and the traditions that bind it all together. So here’s to Fall, the magical (and real) start to a new year, a new cycle, and the best of comfort, home, and harvest.

Springtime

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It’s mid-March, and with the time change, the light lingers into the evening. It’s 7:00 pm and I can still look out and see the Tongass Narrows outside my window. Nice to welcome the softer seasons back after a snowier-than-usual stretch.

And with the return of spring months and lengthening days come other signs of rebirth. There are daffodils pushing up through the soil in the flower bed outside my house. The spring clothing catalogs have made their appearance in my mailbox. I’m beginning to think about Easter presents to send my kids. I look at dates to fly down to Arizona to celebrate Riley’s first birthday in late April. And I begin to think of summer plans. All good, all reward for getting through the winter months once more.

I love seasons. I love the change of mood that each season brings. Spring is about awakening. Summer is inherently a more relaxed time. Is that programmed into the American psyche from all the years of the school/summer cycle? First by your own school schedule as a child, then for anyone who has children, by their years in that rhythm. But even beyond the calendar, there is something about the long days that demands a slower pace and a celebration of all things summer: beaches, picnics, road trips, ball games, fireworks, watermelon and burgers.

Fall is the first season of “new year” to me. I always think there should be two re-sets of the year. Also tied to the academic calendar, September (or now August, as classes begin earlier each year) is the beginning of another school year, for so long a way of defining and staging each person: “What grade are you in this year?” And the excitement of fall harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving…each event is a beloved marker of family and communal sharing that punctuates the months.

The peak of the year for many people, “the holidays,” is both the best and the worst of the annual cycle. I am better than I once was at enjoying the people and not stressing so much about the events. It is a magical time: for children waiting for gifts; for adults, touched by reminders of what is real and good in life. And when the real new year comes, we each have the chance, once more, to reset ourselves by the calendar. To resolve again to be “good,” however we define that for ourselves: diet, money, exercise, goals…it’s going to be different this year!

So, springtime, the second season, is upon us. I look at my spring decor, knicknacks that I am sorting through as I box things in my basement. I have a collection of blown Easter eggs that my kids and I made over the years. I have ceramic bunnies and an egg tree, an assortment of spring wreaths and linens that I’ll pull out for an Easter lunch. The brighter colors and lighter fabrics imitate the outdoors on sunny days, and remind me that many things in life are worth waiting for. Spring is one of them. Then summer. Then fall. Then winter. It’s all good, and fortunately, just as we’re weary of one, the next arrives, in perfect timing. Just as we need the next cycle to begin, it does.

The Grocery

I’m planning my food shopping list for Christmas. It’s very exciting to me. I’m one of those rare people who actually likes going to the grocery store. The only time I dread it is when I have to go alone. For so many years I could always count on having a kid or two with me, and when Stephanie and Alex were no longer available to go, Rob became my shopping partner.

I really love going at this time of year. The local Safeway is brimming with treats and seasonal offerings that make the whole place seem festive. I like to explore the imported cheese display, check out the specialty foods and consider what candies and tidbits to put in the stockings. I am the resident stocking filler, assisted by Stephanie when we spend Christmas together. There are a lot of choices. Since I rarely buy candy except at Christmas and Halloween, I’m surprised by new products that I haven’t seen or tried before. But I usually pick something tried and true: a Toblerone bar or truffles or one of the particular favorites of our kids. Rob doesn’t really eat candy, so I look at fruit for him. The red grapefruit, Clementines and pomegranates are the best. And they fill a stocking nicely.

When Rob and I go to the grocery I am always in a good mood. I think the connection between the intimacy of meal planning and eating together is what does it for me. (Of course he sometimes finds romantic things to say in the produce department, but that’s another post.) It may seem like an odd choice of words to describe something so seemingly mundane. Intimacy and Safeway?! But there’s something touching to me about planning our meals, what we want to share, who will cook what, and it inspires me to look forward to each dinner, each breakfast. We are not simply eating: we are being together. And I’m happy to say that we are both at our low weight goals for ourselves. So even though I consider myself something of a foodie, and we both enjoy eating, we are NOT out of control. Yay! 

My daughter and I had this conversation a couple of days ago…you are either into food, or you’re not. If you’re not, cooking is a chore and not fulfilling. And while there are times when I am not interested in being in the kitchen either, in general I find a lot of pleasure in the process from start to finish. Now, thinking about what dishes to make when Alex visits for Christmas, I remember the things he liked to eat when he was still living at home: shepherd’s pie, thick potato soup with cheese and bacon; homemade rolls; shrimp; cookies right out of the oven are a few of his favorites. I’m excited to cook for him again and to show him that although he’s been out of the nest for a while now, these foods are still part of coming home and being pampered a bit during his stay.

Food taken to an unhealthy extreme is not good. But like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, there is a level that is just right: food fills, cherishes, warms the heart. It’s one of the biggest elements families share together. If you’ve been shorting your dinner time, don’t miss the chance to sit at the same table with the people who are important in your life. And at the risk of sounding like a mom, if you are the chief cook and bottle washer in your home, put some thought into the experience. Knowing the food likes and dislikes of your family shows that you are tuned in, that you are paying attention, that you care. I don’t mean food or the table setting has to be fancy to be nourishing; of course not. But as long as you have to eat anyway, wouldn’t it be more fun if the food is good? And the place to start is at the grocery. My advice: make menus and a shopping list, be adventurous with recipes…it is much easier to have great meals  if you are prepared. And then do it from the heart. Look for the intimacy. It’s there between each aisle.

Baby giggles

My iPhone alerts me to an incoming text: my daughter Stephanie has sent a new photo of Riley, her six month old daughter and our first grandchild. There is an attached audio file. I listen and hear baby giggles, little belly laughs from Riley.

The next week Riley is jumping in her bouncing seat, flexing her legs and squealing with delight. She’s learning to have fun, discovering joy. I hear these little noises over the phone as Stephanie says “say hi to Gram.”

Riley was born in April, a few months before I turned 50. I admit, delighted as I was for Stephanie and Matt, her husband, to welcome this little one, I had a small, vain corner of my heart that was unsure of what this event would do to me. It would make me a grandmother, that much I knew. But would it jettison me into some next life phase that I wasn’t ready for? Would I suddenly BE a grandmother?

Like some other milestones I’ve been unsure about…turning 40, turning 50… becoming a grandmother has been simple after all. Who can resist baby softness, the first giggles, the little face I see in photos? Listening to my daughter talk about Riley, her milestones, her emerging personality, I remember my own early motherhood experiences. I see Stephanie growing, expanding and understanding things I’ve been saying for years.

I like the quote from Elizabeth Stone:

    ” Making the decision to have a child – its momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

And now I know it continues, past the child, on to the next generation.

Riley, ready for Halloween!