Traveling joys

So, Christmas, 7:00 pm, and we’re sitting in the Seattle airport waiting to fly south for part two of family holiday visits. We’re not alone…it’s actually busier than I thought it would be. Some shops and restaurants are closed, but there are several options open for those who (still!) need to shop or eat.

In the spirit of Christmas travel, I’m sharing this little gift from YouTube. Saw this a couple of weeks ago and thought it was a completely charming idea. Even if it’s just a publicity ploy, WestJet did a great job of sharing some Christmas joy and pulled off an amazing surprise. I don’t think I’ll have this to look forward to when I pick up my luggage…but maybe if was flying WestJet?!

Enjoy!

Advertisements

Children are nestled

Ah, Christmas Eve, and all is done. Children (grandchildren) are in their beds, Riley dreaming of Christmas, and Jack just dreaming. A one year old is truly satisfied with the boxes and wrappings! But in spite of that, he has a few gifts under the tree.

Riley, at three, (alright, closer to four, in just a few short months) is absorbed by the build-up, the grown-ups’ expectations transmitted to her, and her own sense of something Big To Come. Now and then, in the midst of the craziness of the week before Christmas, she’s said, with all the seriousness of an ancient, “This is the best Christmas ever!” Well, who wouldn’t melt at that?

We’ve been here since Friday, coming down to Seattle a few days early to celebrate Jack’s first birthday on the 20th. Watching his big six-tooth smile, his early attempts at walking…he’s taking a step or two at a time and learning to stand and balance without support…and seeing his move from bottle to cup, from “baby” food to simple table food, I’m glad we have this time with him. By our next visit he’ll be more toddler than baby.

Love those presents!

Love those presents!

Riley is the grown-up big sister, learning to build with Duplo blocks, playing with her stable full of My Little Ponies, watching Disney movies. There’s only a couple of years between them, but she seems so big. Literally, she’s as tall as some five year olds. Jack is almost 30 pounds. Stephanie and Matt grow sturdy little people.

Well, you can’t go back in time, but you can go forward. My turn to have children staring up at the lights on the tree has ended. But through the magic of generations, I get to join in the fun again, watching Stephanie’s two. Life is sweet, balanced between the funny and the poignant.

And so we watch. We watch for Rudolph, and Santa, and wonder about the morning. We’ve got cinnamon rolls and sausage balls and Christmas coffee for the adults, and sugar plums for the little ones, snug upstairs. Come on, Santa. We’re ready!

Happy Jack!

Happy Jack!

Merry Christmas!

She’s thirty

Stephanie & Jack

Stephanie & Jack

Friday, November 1st, and we’re heading to Seattle for a long weekend. We’re going down to celebrate, and mark the moment, and wonder where the time has gone. Stephanie turns thirty – 30! – tomorrow. I’ve joked that I’m not sure who is more traumatized between us. I think it’s me. She’s actually excited to be leaving the 20s behind, and feel that she’s fully a member of the adult world.

I’m excited for her. She’s a wife, and a mom, and a teacher, a home-owner, a tax payer. She sees this milestone as a cap to a decade of growth and achievement. A Type-A first-born, she powers through to her goals.

I’m nostalgic. I vaguely remember my mom turning thirty. I clearly remember myself turning thirty. I’m utterly astonished that my daughter could be hitting this marker. Decade birthdays cause reflection, my daughter’s no less than my own. I look at her and have flashbacks to earlier years. Photos and videos tell her story, interwoven with lives of family, friends, and now, her husband and little ones.

I’m proud. She’s funny and smart and pretty, and she’s kind. She follows her faith. She’s organized and creative. She remembers birthdays, calls her grandparents. She’s a better mom than I think I was…firmer, and more disciplined. She’s a strong woman.

I’m humbled. Motherhood will do that. From birth to now, I’ve watched her grow, with awe. She is unique, as all individuals are; yet watching her develop has taught me that from mother to child, the generations repeat the rhythms of life. I hear her talk about Riley and Jack, about her life and her epiphanies, and I identify. Yes, I remember feeling that. I learned that lesson too. I’ve experienced the same emotions as she does. I’m just a few years further along the path. And with the vision of my 53 year-old eyes, I see that my mom, and my grandmothers before, did the same things, said the same things. We are linked by blood, but maybe more importantly, by common experience. With all the changes in the world, we are much the same at heart. Technology and fashions change. Love doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes of motherhood says that once you have a child, your heart is forever walking around outside your body. That’s more true today than the day she was born. The love for the newborn grows and matures, just like the person. And now, thirty years rich with experience and memory, that love is a deep current that flows between us, mother and daughter. Not often spoken, but always there.

One of my favorite things about now is the ability to talk. We talk daily. Sometimes multiple times a day, usually short exchanges that keep us connected and rooted in the other’s life. The minute-to-minute events of childhood or traffic or a new haircut are the stuff of our conversations. Mostly. Sometimes we wander into deeper stuff, baring our hearts for a few minutes. But largely, through the magic of technology, we have a running dialog of the day-to-day.

Tomorrow we’ll treat her, and ourselves. We’ll open gifts and have dinner out, topped off with cheesecake. We’ll do photos and drink a toast to the day. Rob has a sentimental gift for her. I went with the more practical approach. I’m giving her a new camera for the coming decade. I expect lots of sweet shots to add to my digital collection.

Happy birthday to my daughter, my first born, my one and only Stephanie. You have been a joy and a delight! May you have many more to come, and may you be rich with love, opportunities to serve, and satisfaction from life well done. My deepest wish for you is that you experience the reward of relationships. Nothing is better than a life well lived, and full of love. But you already know that. You’re thirty now!

Song of childhood

I have a child’s toy tune stuck in my head. Actually, the tune is from Jack’s new bouncy seat, complete with an assortment of objects designed to capture the attention of an infant. He’s not quite sitting without support, still a little wobbly. But in his little seat he reaches out to touch the noisemaker and color in front of him, his first exploration of the universe he’s joined.

Jack in discovery mode

Jack in discovery mode

I’ve been immersed in the world of the littles for much of the last two weeks. First we went to a family wedding, featuring Riley as the flower girl (sorry, bride and groom, this is Gram speaking!). It was fun to see her participate in the big event, complete with losing her shoe on the way down the aisle and stopping to put it on again. Priceless! She managed to scatter the petals (pedals, heavy on the “d” in Riley-speak). She was charming in her little dress. And both Riley and Jack were good on the flights. Mission accomplished!

Flower Girl Riley

Flower Girl Riley

I spent the following week in Gram mode, rediscovering the joys of potty training, naps, snacks, feeding times, and a memorable blow-out of a diaper. Funny how effortlessly it comes back! I struggle to remember I am not mommy in these scenes. With my own two children being the same sex and birth order as Riley and Jack, I could close my eyes and skip back twenty-five years to see Alex sitting in Jack’s spot, and Stephanie chattering beside me.

Riley is a joy, in the phase of constant “look at me.” She wants to go everywhere the adults go, have a part in everything going on. She’s both a big girl and emerging toddler, and you never know for sure which side of her you’ll get. But it’s all good. I have endless patience for this phase of life. Give me the sweetness of these ages, the funny things a child says, the joy of snuggling a three-month-old safe and warm in my arms, and I’ll gladly take the not-so-pretty spills, poops, and messes as the price of admission.

Over the weekend I flew to Denver to spend a few days with Alex. Alex, who at twenty-five has already spent five years in the army, has been 13 months deployed abroad in a war zone; has married and divorced, one of the statistics of military life; and is now trying to re-start his life in his old home-town…my Alex, who just a few short years ago was the Jack in my photos. He’s come through, not without scars, but with courage. He’s learned some difficult lessons, made hard choices. And now, seeing him after a year apart, a year of plans for connecting that didn’t work out, and long conversations by phone, I’m satisfied. The mom in me has needed this sight and sound of him, his hug and quick smile.

Alex smiles

Alex smiles

We talk. I drive to his apartment in a blinding white-out of a spring snow storm, one of Denver’s famous March storms that makes me wonder if I’m foolish for being on the road. But how could I not be? I won’t give up a day of visit to the inconvenience of weather. His apartment is spartan, bachelor in furnishing, and needs a mom shopping trip. He doesn’t ask for anything, but I load up the cart with comforts and extras. It’s so little to offer.

He knows what he has to do: put his head down and forge a path to next. He has to make his life work, and that takes time and discipline, doing it day after day, paying his bills, creating a place for himself. I can’t do it for him, and I can only help in minor ways. Mostly, he has to choose what he wants, and then accomplish it. Hard for me to recognize that he is essentially on his own.

He used to want me to watch him play video games, to see his Lego creations. He was the one that said, “look at me!” Now he’s singing a different song. He has to prove something to himself, and to the world around him. His song has matured.

We were out in the storm last Saturday, hitting Target and Safeway and knocking out my list for him. In a parking lot there was a car with the hood up and a guy standing beside it, leaning over to look at something. Alex pulled up next to him and got out, offering to help. Turned out no help was needed and we drove away. That’s who Alex is. He’s funny, has been known to wear a kilt on occasion, loves music, is helpful to a fault.

My head spins a bit, coming back to Seattle for another few days in the nursery before heading back to Alaska. I’m in a time-warp, caught between the realities of today and the memories of the past. All good, but just the same, poignant, driving home the reality that the days are long but the years are short. I’m so blessed to have had children in my life that brought me joy. They weren’t, and aren’t, perfect. But they were, and are, a joy. And to see it repeat with Riley and Jack..that’s a privilege I treasure. I know this go-round just how fast it really goes, and I know more than ever that life is a risky business with no guarantees to the outcome.

Motherhood is a delicate balancing act. Heart can get in the way of character building and courage-growing. How could I not want to protect? And yet these adults that I still mother a bit have moved well beyond my ability to protect. They fight their own battles and make their own decisions. Sometimes my heart has to race to catch up with them. My head gets it, but the mother in me struggles. I’ve been a slow learner and late bloomer in the realm of letting go. I’ve done a good job of it externally. Does that count?

The song of childhood is sweet but short. I’m learning to listen to the adult voices of my kids, and feel proud that somehow, in spite of the fact that I was making it up as I went along, they turned out well. If I do say so myself, not in my own praise, but more in wonder that it worked…all the things I tried to do, that we tried to do as parents, somehow, we got enough right.

Mommy and cub

Mommy and cub

Bright lights, big city

The first stop of our trip was Seattle. That’s required when you leave Ketchikan. Alaska Airlines is the only carrier that flies from Ketchikan to the lower 48, and all flights stop in Seattle…sort of like all roads lead to Rome.

In our case, it works out nicely since our daughter lives there, and it gives us an automatic opportunity to connect with her family. Well, ok, the star of the show is Riley, but that’s just the way it is…no offense to the adults in the world. Give me a two year old any day!

20120722-111336.jpg

While we were there, we took in a ball game…Seattle Mariners vs the Texas Rangers, at Safeco Field.

20120722-111446.jpg Guess who won? I hear the Mariners are having a bad year, and this game didn’t help. Didn’t score one run! Lucky for us we were there more for the ambience and experience. There’s just something about a baseball game on a nice summer afternoon…always makes me hungry for a brat! We haven’t gone to a professional game since we lived in Colorado, and occasionally made it to see the Rockies play. Weather cooperated, Riley cooperated, and we got to enjoy the whole show. Did the 7th inning stretch, got popcorn, chocolate dipped fruit, and ice cream, and enjoyed a little people watching.

20120722-111611.jpg

Our other big event was a trip to the Space Needle for dinner. But this wasn’t just a dinnner…it was a 30th birthday celebration for our son-in-law, Matt, along with his parents.

20120722-111840.jpg It was a perfect place for the celebration. The views are amazing…the outer ring of the restaurant revolves, so you get a view of the city and the Puget Sound as you eat, and the mechanism is so smooth, you don’t even feel the movement. You just watch the views change. And the food was pretty good too.

20120722-112621.jpg

After dinner we went up to the observation deck and got a few more photos. This is the 50th anniversary of the building of the Space Needle. It was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair that was held that year in Seattle. It is the city’s iconic landmark, and it’s fun to experience the retro feel of the structure itself…sort of a step back in time/step into the future thing.

20120722-111940.jpg

Seattle is a fun place to visit, and I feel fortunate to have a connection there. I’ve learned that as a parent of adult children, where your children live, a piece of you lives. It’s not about owning a home there…it’s about a part of your heart belonging there.

There’s only one thing that I don’t like, and that’s the traffic. I’m reminded that there is a price to pay for all the lovely attractions and shopping opportunities so conveniently clustered together. Thank goodness, we don’t have to drive when we visit. We’re along for the ride, and our daughter or son-in-law does the heavy lifting with regard to navigating the big city bustle.

Well, on to the next!

20120722-112643.jpg

I’m taking Gingerbread to Seattle

We got home from Prince of Wales (POW) this morning. The little plane…not a float plane, this plane has wheels, and it seats about a dozen people…left the island at 7:00, and by 8:00 we were crossing over on the airport ferry to Ketchikan. After three weeks away it is good to be in our own space again. But no rest for the weary! This is Saturday, and we leave on Monday evening to meet our kids in Seattle, so today has been about catch up.

First we made the rounds for errands. Picked up the mail, bought a few things at Wal-Mart, stopped by the bank, dropped off a couple of things to ship at the mall. We were sidetracked a few times, but eventually made it back home. Good to get comfy, put on Christmas music, turn on our twinkly lights…no tree for us this year as the next two nights will be our only time at home before Christmas. So I miss having the scent of a fresh tree, and feel I’ve let the Boy Scouts down by not giving them my business this year. But it was not to be. (And I have to admit, the bright spot is that I don’t have to put away all the ornaments in a couple of weeks.)

After sorting the mail, I’m adding to my to-do list. I have a few Christmas cards to finish, some work on a project I should complete before we leave on Monday. But the most important thing to do this weekend…more than laundry, online work, or the other chores on my list…the most important thing I have to do is make gingerbread cookies.

We get to see Alex next week, and Stephanie and Matt, and little Riley. I’m excited to spend a few precious days with them, and it is a bonus that these days come at Christmas. We don’t get that every year. This one will be a little different. Last year they were with us in Ketchikan, and it was easy enough to do all the traditional things, have the favorite foods. But not this year.

This year, Stephanie and Alex and Riley are arriving in Seattle only a day ahead of us. Matt is out of the country on business and won’t be home till next Tuesday. Alex flew out to Arizona earlier this week to drive with Stephanie and Riley from Prescott to Seattle so Stephanie didn’t have to face a multi-day drive with an 18-month-old by herself. The nice thing is that he’ll be able to stay over a few days, so we get to see him. He goes back to Atlanta on the 23rd.

We’ll be in a hotel. Matt and Stephanie are literally still in the process of their relocation to Seattle, and as they are hardly settled, this is not the year to be creating home cooked feasts. So, I’m taking the homey touches with me. And the iconic treat for Alex is gingerbread cookies. He loved these as a little guy, and to this day, if I had to name one thing I make that he enjoys most, it would be these cookies.

I know the point is that we’ll be together, and that this holiday will not be about food, at least not the homemade variety. Except for this one thing. And I’ll admit that I’m taking gingerbread as much for myself as for Alex. Not for my taste buds: for my heart. You see, he loves to eat these cookies. But I love to make them for him. This is one of the few ways I can reach out and touch that little boy that used to live at my house. At 24, there isn’t a lot he needs me to do for him. But this is a gift from my heart to his, and he understands that.

To date, we have been able to see Stephanie more often than we see Alex. Part of that was due to his life in the army. Now that’s ended, and he’ll have a bit more flexibility than when he was in the service. But he lives in Georgia, at least for now, where his wife is based at Ft. Benning. Now Stephanie and Matt will be a short flight away from Ketchikan, and I’m already planning frequent visits. Hard to resist Riley’s little face, or pass up an opportunity to connect with my favorite daughter and son-in-law. So I anticipate that we’ll continue to see Stephanie more often than Alex. Maybe he’ll eventually relocate. Or who knows? Maybe we will.

Regardless, for now, when I have a chance to make gingerbread, I’ll do it. I’ll be the one flying down Monday night with a tin of homemade cookies. And no, I’m not the white-haired grandma. I’m the mom, anxious to see the young man who makes me smile, challenges me to watch him play games, sends me funny texts, walks with me down memory lane when we share this treat together. I’m taking gingerbread to Seattle, baked from the heart.

GINGERBREAD
(Recipe from Colonial Williamsburg)

1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulphered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted

Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted butter, evaporated milk and molasses. Add the extracts, if using. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking.

When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The gingerbread cookies are done when they spring back when touched.

When you live on an island in Alaska

If you’ve ever lived on a small island, (and particularly, a place with a challenging climate…can you say rainforest?…you’ll understand, and if not, you’ll have to take my word for this…

~Every trip out is exciting!
~The Seattle airport seems like home.
~There’s so much traffic, so many people in the lower 48…
~The stores are huge!
~Groceries are CHEAP!
~I fill my gas tank about once a month in Ketchikan; we’ll be at the gas station a little more often this week.
~Aahhh…dinner options…where to eat?! Choice is a bit limited in Ketchikan.
~Time to go shopping in person instead of on line.
~Sunshine returns to summer!
~Rob can golf while we’re “south”
~We can drive from anywhere to anywhere.

Perspective: This week, it’s all a matter of place!

~The food court at the Seattle airport…

20110729-121424.jpg