Sunday, July 27, 2008

Berries and cream

Ingredients: one family, sunny day, strawberry field, plastic containers.

Turning the kids loose in a field full of strawberries was a fun way to fill a summer's day. The idea was to pick as many of the farmer's strawberries, pay by weight, return home and bake some pies. The strawberries were not to be eaten until the containers were weighed.

The reality was that little Iris, Ben, and Sophie jumped right into filling the pails along with an occasional nibble. Hannah and Olivia, however, continued to put the berries into their mouths rather than their container. We had to remind them both of their mission, a simple lesson in economics and fair-labor practices.

The pie making came about two days later, along with homemade whipped cream.

Our food critic, Iris, sampled her daddy's pie and seemed to enjoy every bite. The rest of us soon followed her lead.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Back home again, still unpacking. Everything was special about this vacation but probably the most gratifying part was having all five grandchildren in the same place at the same time for the very first time.

Thank goodness for digital cameras and memory cards. Pictures were taken as memories were made. I pointed and shot over 500 times. Maybe it's a grandmother thing. I just know that I was continually picking up the camera and trying to capture the moment. I felt like the munchkins were growing right in front of my eyes. Distance necessitates attention. I hope it won't be another fifteen months before our next reunion.

All five are unique; watching them connect with each other was a gift. I remember growing up in a large extended family of first cousins. I see the beginnings here of lifelong attachments and that warms my heart.

They played and giggled and clamored for "one more part of the story, babci" at bedtime. They got in each other's way too, as kids can do - related or un-related. As grownups can do too. Thankfully, we're a family who knows how to say "I'm sorry". Hurt feelings were expressed and respected.

Two weeks of laughter and tears and soiled diapers and jam-smeared faces. Add some potty humor and knock-knock jokes from the soon-to-be second graders (Ben and Sophie) along with theatrical productions (Tania, the Girl Who Followed Her Dream) from the younger set (Olivia and Hannah). Iris somehow managed to find her way into the family circle no matter what the big kids were doing. She has spunk, that one. Actually, they all do.

Now I have the weekend to sort the pictures, reflect a bit, and blog about the trip. Maybe I can find the words to go with the pictures. Or maybe the pictures will tell their own stories. Either way, I promise to post some soon.

I started this blog to keep a running commentary of my life, especially as a grandmother's remembrance for the little people in my life. When they are too big for my bedtime stories, the blog may be the "coolest" way to communicate and connect.

I've decided to make 5 my lucky number. Feisty five.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Leaving on a jet plane ... or not

Yes, if you've been reading my daughter's blog, you know we are all doing The Waltons thing at my son's house on the Olympic Peninsula. Vacation. Two weeks. Five kids. One dog. Four adults.

Bring it on.

In order to get here, we had to drive across the state of Massachusetts, give or take three hours and tunnel traffic. I had never driven through Boston before but Jenn was a good navigator and we managed to find the pre-flight parking lot without missing a turn. After unloading most of the car trunk, assorted backpacks, suitcases and American Girl dolls, a shuttle dropped us at the airport. The girls had to carry their own loads and were surprisingly cooperative. In fact, once at the airport, we had another three hours to kill, and after muffins and bottled water, they were still holding up well. What more could we ask for?

How about a plane that leaves on time? We got the munchkins on to the plane and negotiated window seats for both of them. We were at the rear of the plane, Jenn and Hannah a row ahead and across the aisle. Best we could do.

Just when we had stowed our gear and settled in for a seven-hour flight, Mother Nature decided to play a very dirty trick.

Sophie (peering out window and chewing gum for takeoff): "Why aren't we moving yet?"

Babci: "We should be going any minute now. All the people are onboard."

Pilot (over intercom): "I'm sorry to announce that we have been put on 'complete ground stop'. There are severe thunderstorms moving through the area. We will update in fifteen minutes."

Silent groans, I'm sure, throughout the plane. I stretch up and catch Jenn's eye as she looks back and gives me a fake thumbs-up.

Fifteen minutes later, severe squall rocks the plane and whips through the airport. Fifteen minutes after that, sun is shining once again. Thirty minutes after that, pilot announces that we are good to go.

Sophie (excited): "Look, the plane's moving. We're backing up."

Babci (turning delay into learning experience): "Yes, but now we have to wait in line on the runway. See all those (20 and counting) airplanes in front of us, Sophie? Let's try to identify the airlines by the markings on their tails."

Babies are now crying loudly. People are breaking the seatbelt-fastened rule and lining up for the one set of lavatories near our seats. No one is happy.

Finally, plane takes off; Sophie swallows gum; Babci closes eyes and tries to cope with the fact that they will arrive in Seattle at roughly 11pm Pacific time, 2am body-clock time, a mere nine hours in an airplane with a small child and another smaller child across the aisle with her exhausted momma.

Son and grandson arrive at airport two hours early, due to fact that computer info was faulty and did not reveal that plane had a two-hour delay in Boston.

Stewards and flight attendants are cranky, run out of food by time they reach back rows. Babci gets free wine because there is no food to give her grandchild. Luckily, flight DVD players work. Sophie almost falls asleep but then sits up to tell Babci that she is feeling nauseous. Babci searches for barf bag and spends rest of flight with left hand patting Sophie and right hand holding the bag. This isn't the first time that Babci's been left holding the bag and probably won't be the last. Finally, sleep wins out over upset stomach. While Sophie uses Babci's left arm as her pillow, Babci is thinking a second glass of wine is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, all the liquor has been consumed; complimentary drinks were a big hit. Fellow passengers are feeling cranky too.

Hallelujah, plane lands. Sophie wakes up in time to observe the lights of the city and is sure that she saw the Space Needle.

We disembark. Walk forever and finally find son and grandson standing faithfully at baggage claim. Airline reps direct everyone to farthest baggage carousel, then redirect everyone to another location. People are now swearing that they will never fly this airline again.

Kids, at first shy, are now rocking and rolling while Jenn and Babci try to pull all seven hundred pieces of their luggage from baggage carousel. Son is trying to corral two nieces and one son as Sophie tries to kiss her cousin, Ben. "Eww!" Ben loves his girl cousins but this is asking too much. However, by time all backpacks, dolls, and larger luggage are in hand, Sophie and Ben are holding hands.

The two firstborns continue to babble and giggle from the rear, rear seat of the van as Hannah falls asleep and three adults catch up. Joe drives us to his house which is another two and a half hours away. So funny to think that you can still drive that far west of Seattle without meeting the Pacific Ocean.

I haven't changed my wristwatch. We pull into his driveway at 5am.

Long day's journey into night. That was one week ago.

Seeing all five grandkids under the same roof for the very first time?


Friday, July 04, 2008

Postcards from the parade

The girls are with their daddy for the holiday weekend. I didn’t expect to see them so was quite surprised when Jenn arrived with Sophie and Hannah at my door this morning.

Sophie had her shiny patent-leather shoes on and was beaming with delight. “I’m going to march in the parade, Babci. Will you come and see? I get to give cookies out to the crowd.”

David has been working on a puppetry project for the local art museum and he would be marching with his puppet troupe, letting the flying fish and cranes soar. Sophie would march alongside, doling out goodies to the crowd. She would have a bagful of treats and was taking the whole thing quite seriously. Her first parade gig.

“Did you ever walk in a parade, Babci?” I proudly shared that I actually rode on a float for a Liberty Day parade when I was twelve years old, dressed like Laura Ingalls and playing my accordion. Sophie seemed impressed. Score one for the grandparent generation.

David had to get to the parade route early to assemble his puppets so Jenn agreed to bring the girls a bit later and thought I’d like to tag along. I had actually made a fresh pot of coffee and was kicking back with Maggie Smith (class act) on my DVD. Suddenly, I was throwing on some summer clothes and in the car with daughter and grandkids. Off we went!

The weather was parade perfect; the small-town atmosphere and friendly crowds created an old-fashioned sense of pride and unity. Not a bad way to spend a summer day.

Sophie was dropped off under a large shady tree with her daddy as he worked on his puppets.

Jenn and I and Hannah followed the crowd toward the main parade route. I actually recognized folks which made me feel good now that I’ve been living up here the past two years. Jenn said hello to friends too along the way. As we smiled and waved to familiar faces, I realized that I’m slowly becoming a part of this community.

As parades go, this was quite simple, no big-city razzamatazz. It was a procession of the local heroes – the firemen and EMTs and volunteers who work for environmental causes and the women’s league and chid-care centers. Everyday folk, carrying banners and waving to the crowds. And we clapped and waved back, complete strangers but sharing in the pleasure and privilege of being part of a national holiday.

Hannah got quite excited about the Gingerbread Man riding in a classic Corvette. There was a Patriot balloon (yeah, it is Massachusetts), Sparky the firehouse dog, horses and tractors. The fire trucks were gleaming and caused Hannah to jump and hold her ears every time they sounded their loud horns in greeting.

I loved that a Jane Doe was driving a John Deere and the vintage Model-A brought back family history, stories of my parents’ courting days when my mom’s kid sister rode in the rumble seat.

I kept snapping photos and changed some of these pictures into antique shades just because they make me think of the past. Funny and wonderful to think that 25, 50, 75 years ago, people across the country were walking in parades just like this, letting freedom ring.

David and his puppet troupe came up the road toward the end of the parade, Sophie meticulously handing out (not throwing) her fortune cookies and candies. Daddy got to play and daughter got to work the crowd. I swear, that girl could run for president one day.

The parade ended at the end of main street where a Dixieland band was playing and volunteers were serving hot dogs and chocolate cake. By now, Hannah was wilting and so was Jenn. David helped us and carried Hannah some of the way back on his shoulders. I watched as he and Jenn walked and talked about the parade and the popularity of his puppets. Sophie and I were holding hands and walking in back of them. We seemed just like any other family in the crowd.

The heartache and stress and major changes which are taking place were lifted up to the bright, blue sky as we all walked together and talked about the parade. At least, in my mind and heart, that’s how it felt. For a few short hours, we were a family. Again.

Celebrating each other and the Fourth of July.