Friday, March 14, 2008

A Birthday Weekend and Gratitude

Happy Birthday Izzy!
Happy Birthday Griffin!
Happy Birthday Rich!
Zounds! that's a lot of cake!

2... Well, almost 2 in this picture, which was taken at the end of January. To hear her speak and see her get around and do her stuff, you might take her for like 2 and a half year old... really, she's that sophisticated. Maria loves her cousin Izzy, we all do, but the girl cousins share a special toddler bond.

6 tomorrow. Griffy is having a party... Star Wars theme? I remember his "Cars" cake from last year, and I am hoping we'll get to see some pictures from tomorrow's festivities. I also look forward to hearing frequent updates about Griffin, who is bright and curious. I love his sweet enthusiasm, his energy.

It has been about a year since I started embracing the quilting, knitting, crafty, artistic, farmy blogs. I feel like I have discovered a wonderful world both familiar and exotic, inspiring. You may have noticed a lot of the links in my sidebar are to creative women; they are talented and generous, and surprisingly thoughtful. Not that I am surprised about their thoughtfulness... what I mean to say is that in their thoughtfulness they do things to surprise me and others. Things like sending condolence cards, doll quilts, chicken aprons, and even nominating me for awards like the "Beautiful Newborn Baby Pepper Award."

These kind acts, and generous gestures never cease to amaze me and when we came home from our latest adventure we were met with one more surprise. It is a quilt from Mamaspark's World. Pam was hinting about a blue quilt, showing peeks and promising a story to go with it! And I remember smiling to myself, because it made me happy to think of all the nice things Pam does for others, the amazing quilts she makes and gives away. Someone is in for a real treat, I thought to myself, thinking of "Spicy Chicken," the doll quilt she and her quilting accomplice, Liz, sent me last Summer.

I had no idea I was the one in for a special treat. This is the quilted lei and message of "Aloha" stitched in the border. Pam did all of the planning and piece work and Liz worked her quilting magic, and together they finished a beautiful and heart touching quilt that is already a family treasure. It comes with so much love and tender regard for us at this difficult time. Geoff was stunned at the sight of it, to hear the letter Pam enclosed, the description of this quilt's journey to our home. Every gift has a story, but this one is exceptional and dear... Geoff said it "renewed his faith in humanity."

Sometimes (most times?) I can be really horrible about getting back to people, whether in emails or phone calls. Too often I am distracted and wait too long for the right time. Happily, when Pam emailed me with some casual inquiries, some innocent questions about leis, I made the effort to respond right away. As I recall we exchanged a few detailed discussions about lei colors, flower types etc... And I was really enjoying the research and realizing how significant and beautiful leis are, how meaningful they have become to me. The whole conversation inspired me to work on a post all about leis. I felt like she had given me a gift by leading me to discover a topic to appreciate and learn more about. Little did I know she wasn't through with her gift to me.

"Blue Aloha" is so pretty and dear, and I am tearful and comforted by its significance and by the kindness of it. Thank you Pamela. Thank you Liz. Pam made a post explaining this quilt, and how it came to life, read about it at her inspiring blog, "Mamaspark's World."

Blue water, blue skies, an abundance of flowers and cheerful dolphins, pieced together with care and purpose... it is so much like Hawaii, so much like Aloha.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Days in Badger Country

Grandma Nancy's backyard has a perfect slope for amateur sledders, and we groomed a run that was fun and safe, very enjoyable. But Sophie convinced us to graduate, to upgrade and expand our sledding horizons. With this in mind we caravanned with Gary, Laura, Sophie, Phil, Gabe, Jordan and Griffy to a big park, where a freshly groomed trail awaited. I retract my initial statement about 'the hill not being much longer than Grandma's;' I was very wrong.

In fact the hill was an ideal improvement. It was long and wild, but not too wild... unless you didn't roll off the sled before hitting the trees, or unless your sled flipped and your face ate ice. Tom warned us about the purple sled. He called it Rosa's Rocket and with good reason. It was easily the fastest and craziest ride. The red sleds gave the most reliable, consistent rides, without much chance of flippage. The one we picked up from Ace was lame... something to do with the long, smooth bottom. This may require more research.

Whether riding or being a spectator, the afternoon was well spent.

We had a few spills. I will not implicate anyone or use initials... I'm just saying poor judgement was involved and the very young paid the price.

Gary, Laura and Sophie. We should find out whether they have good slopes in Eagle River. Just thinking of plans for next winter...

Riding in a sled is fun. It's exhilarating and feels daring and liberating, but for every fly down there is a hike up. I made many trips, and my jeans were snow packed after stepping and sinking back to the top. Brrrr!! This is about endurance and dedication. About resilience and stamina! And who outlasted us all? Griffy and Max were the Dynamic Duo of the Snow Dunes. No fear. No regrets. No complaints. No going home, until they had "One more ride."

Here is the hero of the day. I am so glad we found him a thrifted snow bib, so he could enjoy the snow and sledding, without getting frozen out of the fun. And he was fast to the aid of little ones that tumbled.

It's such a bummer to discover that the days are running out on your vacation. It was Sunday morning when we realized that we had too much planned for our last days in Wisconsin and Illinois + there was that aggravating time change, which was a vicious assault on a family that is already notoriously late. Argggh.

We ate lunch at Ella's and we ate at Tru, thanks to Laura and Gary. We walked in town, drove around the Lake, reminisced in Madison and even tortured ourselves by looking at reasonably priced, beautiful and dignified Midwest homes. Ahead: Dinner at Carol's, visiting Paul in Oshkosh, more computer tutoring for Nancy and a visit to her quilting class, getting packed and driving back to Chicago, an evening with Margie and Howard and 3 2 1 museum stop in the Windy City.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reflections... An Update With Lots of Images

Here is Sophie, at Cam-Rock 3. We were sledding there. Can you see William? Can you see me? I can take hundreds of pictures and still only have a few favorites. This is one of my favorites.

We rented a car in So Cal. We drove along the coast, stopping when we pleased. Seeing the world from completely unexpected vantage points. Relishing our time together as a family. This is my limited, impromptu, and random photo album from California to Wisconsin.

Our first taste of cold weather came in San Luis Obispo, which was good, because we were packed for Winter, and we were packed in the rental van. It's like there are 6! of us. Sometimes I like blinky photographs... that moment when our smiles overcome our faces and we close our eyes. Joy unedited. Pizza Port, Morro Bay, California.

Did I mention my Mommy met me at the laundromat in Capitola? She and Bill brought me hot chai. I love Monterey Bay, including Aptos, Soquel, Capitola, Santa Cruz. Can you believe we didn't stop at Gayles, the best bakery ever? Next time. I will always return to the Central Coast. I will always love California.

The 19th floor of The Hotel Nikko, San Francisco. Maria discovers her inner Urban Woman. Video to follow, soon. It's one of those home movies that makes us roll around laughing, because we know our daughter, sister... and she busts us up.

Yes, my camera is around my neck all day long, and I constantly see shapes, colors, art, trash, faces and moments that I want to possess. Click! And sometimes it's just a cliche. Lombard Street. Coit Tower. The Bay Bridge. The Bay. For me it's a window, back to a morning, riding in a car, seeing a city, eating a freakishly delicious onion bagel with cucumbers, sprouts, and cream cheese.

China Town is so cool. I love that we walked all over the place, that we were out of place. China Town is its own. We were welcome to walk through, but we did not belong. I saw a sign for "Exotic Birds" and I could not resist. Oh man. There were quail and chickens in there. Chickens! Live ones. So I am standing there and just loving this scene in the middle of cosmopolitan San Francisco, and I get it. These are dinner birds, not pets. But the two guys are not getting me, standing there with my bemused grin, thinking of taking a picture. "I like chickens," I offer, and they stare at me, not amused. Awkward. Hilarious. Geoff said they probably thought I was from PETA.

What can I add?

Four hours and a night of sleep later, we are in the snow! Flying is weird. I think it is miraculous to be in one place and in less time than it takes to make good bread, you can be in another part of the world, in another climate, another season. How many different places could you be if you flew for 4-6 hours? Where would you go? We chose Chicago, Madison, Oshkosh. We chose more time with family. Time to embrace family and reconnect. It was a continuation of our Aloha 'Oe to Jim "Corm."

Our lives can get so complicated, so full. And we feel fortunate that we could set aside this time to share, to listen and to appreciate the people we love.

Geoff and I have our memories and connections to Wisconsin, to family and places, and it is a treat watching our children form their own bonds, make their own connections. When Maria and Jordan are together, playing, talking, we can hardly tell their voices apart. It's funny.

Grandma? Are you reading? Brave is the woman, the Great-Grandmother, who agrees to learn how to use email, to log-on and surf the web. Geoff and William salvaged computers and made a surf worthy laptop for Grandma. Now she can stay in the loop with all of us. Everyone must encourage Nancy not to panic when she gets email. Relax Grandma. You're doing great. She and I even shopped for fabric online!

Have you played "Apples to Apples?" Fun. Seriously simple and fun. It was a game on Max's Christmas list and we have been enjoying it a lot. We were stoked to see Sophie bringing over her game and we had a hilarious and rousing game of "Apples to Apples." If you can find the ridiculous in life, if you can laugh, you will find there are no losers in this game. Who played... Laura and Nancy, William, Alex, Max, Sophie, Gary, Geoff and me. I love laughing.

For us, she's Aunt Carol, but Jordan and Griffy call her Grandma. I think she is having a marvelous time being a grandmother.

I met Matt Kenseth's grandmother at Nancy's quilting class. That's a NASCAR reference and anyone that googles "NASCAR" and comes to Chickenblog is going to be disappointed. I know nothing about NASCAR. I know more about Badgers. Grandma Nancy is a Badger fan from way back. And this has been a very good year for Badgers and men's basketball. Someone named Brett Favre kept making the news too.

OKay. It's after 1 p.m. and so it's after 3 p.m. in Chicago. I thought I could post more pictures, but I am whooped and falling further and further behind. Look for Part II tomorrow. PST.
No Milk, Lots of Laundry, Happy Memories
I am downloading over 600 photographs. I know, I wanted to take more. Even with 600, I can think of exactly the times I meant to take one more.
It is warm here, but I have purposely not looked outside, because I will miss seeing snow.
The cats missed us. OMG did they miss us. I know they got lots of love and attention from Anne, but Benjamin wouldn't even let me sleep. He was determined to get his 2 weeks' quota of affection.
1/3 of the mail is in the recycle bin, another third is in the pay it box and the last third is wonderful... kind thoughts, warm wishes and something Blue!
We've been gone for a month, and it may take a month to catch-up, and another month to compensate for the time spent recovering from... forget it...
How much time time do you allow, to decompress, after a long journey?

At the outset of this venture, I talked big time about destiny and dreams, finding a path to follow. Hmmm.
Yeah, I don't think we are any closer to knowing where we are going to live, or when we can get out of Garage Mahal. If you have read Chickenblog for any length of time, you may conclude that we are over-thinking the whole destiny bit, and it's true. Partly true. Only sorta true.

I may be jet laggin'. It's 10: a.m., but it's noon in Chicago... and we were definitely leaning toward being on the Midwest clock.

The photos are still downloading. 240 more to go. I'll come back after we eat, nap and have pictures to share.

Geez. I'm sure it's posts like this that keep me off the "Blogs of Note" page.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There is Snow On the Cold

Maria tells me this, "There is snow on the cold," in confidence, cautioning me. Either I have acclimated to the temperatures which are as high as 25 degrees and dip as low as 8 degrees Fahrenheit, or I am stoopid. I leave the house without gloves, with barely a jacket, something light, like you would wear on a brisk walk in Autumn, and then I declare, "It's cold." Then I laugh, because I think it's funny to forget that a sweater is not enough for the last days of a long Winter, for Wisconsin or Illinois. I like the cold. I like the snow on the cold, and the bare trees, the dark icy rivers, moving slowly in the early morning, then rushing cold and agitated over rocky places. I am not overlooking the obvious point that we have endured one mild week of Winter, with the knowledge that tonight we will be in So Cal, where, doubtless, it is warmer. I am not forgetting that I do not commute in snow, or shovel it, or send children to school in it, so my infatuation with Winter and heaps of fluffy white flakes, of icy beauty, is perhaps tenuous. Nonetheless, I will enjoy this moment, this brief encounter, and I will stand by my flimsy assertion that I do love the Midwest in Winter.

I love barns and silos and the yellow stumps of corn stalks frozen to the black earth. I love frozen ponds, like spilled milk. I love the sparkle and light that shines on the snow, and the hush that falls when you can stand alone, far from roads and traffic. There is no quiet like snow quiet. I love the sound of snow under my shoes. It crunches and succumbs. I love feeling very cold, exhilarated, and the relief of rushing in to a warm home, the comfort of our luxuries, like warm zucchini bread and indoor plumbing. I love old places, homes and towns, with stories and people to tell the stories. These places are rich with textures, creativity, love, reverence and some intangible quality that makes me pine for connectedness and place.

There will be so much for me to ponder and to share. I have taken a lot of pictures, which cannot be a surprise and I look forward to posting them. This has been a long, varied and full adventure. Were we in the redwoods, San Francisco, sledding in Rockdale, marveling at the delights of an Illinois basement?

I wish I had taken more pictures. It seems like I will miss not having more pictures of cows and buildings, frozen lakes, art on walls, and people. I love pictures of people, of moments shared with families and friends. Somehow my memories, alone, seem inadequate for revisiting laughter, exchanges, colors, shadows, the beautiful way Griffin's eyes speak... it is one of my favorite pleasures to look at pictures and share them, and enjoy the memories of being with wonderful people.

If I weren't shy, I would have taken more pictures last night. We were in Margie and Howard's home. We drove passed so many homes, riding through the suburbs of Chicago, and the old homes are so intriguing to me, they capture my imagination. Driving in the cold dusk of evening, in a strange place, passing homes with soft lights and smoke rising in ethereal tendrils from worn brick chimneys... it was such a comfort to see Margie standing on her own porch, expectant and welcoming. I never underestimate the pleasure of being welcomed into a home. This home is captivating. It is a family's home, unpretentious. It celebrates the natural art of living and upholds thought, creativity, security, the past, the present and hopeful anticipation for what is to come. That is what I saw. Pictures and drawings, paper sculptures and comfortable chairs, Rebecca's big glass, that her mother keeps in the cupboard, and the books on the shelves, the delicious smell of a home cooked dinner... everywhere there were indications and reminders that this home is a nurturing and kind place, meant to keep out the cold.

I wish I had asked everyone to sit together in the living room for a family picture. A picture with our children, and Margie and Howard and their children, their children's spouses... David, Rebecca and Mike, Sadie and Jim. We spent the evening spread throughout the house, sharing memories, listening, visiting the basement... a basement can be a really awesome place... we ate fresh cookies, and laughed about chickens and roosters, and crossing borders with empty pockets, how sometimes things just work out. I wish I had taken more pictures.

Lovely homes, comfortable places, lovingly reflecting the lives and paths of the families who keep them... it's been our privilege to share these in Soquel and Stoughton, in Oshkosh and Geneva, in Cambridge. Tonight we fly back to California, with full suitcases, and new ideas, with memories of time well spent. Already, I am looking forward to returning to the Midwest, to snow on cold, or perhaps fireflies and kayaking.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Something Quick, Before We Head Out

Even though Geoff set up a wireless network here at Grandma Nancy's, and even though he set up a laptop computer for her and brought along his own as well, it has been really hard to get time online.

Maybe I miss my own computer and the streamlined operation we have set-up for posting photographs, and maybe I miss our kitties too, but mostly I feel like I could settle in here and make a home, and so my days have been full of enjoying all that Wisconsin and Winter have to offer before it is time to say goodbye.

It is time to say goodbye. We are on our way to Chicago, to see Margie, Corm's sister, and her family. We were with Paul yesterday, and I regret that our visit was so brief. We could have enjoyed a few days hanging out, and enjoying his cozy home up north. I suspect that our time in Chicago is going to pass too quickly. That's how it is when you are in the company of good people... suddenly it is time to say goodbye, and yet you don't even want to leave.