Following the Elephant Tracks

There used to be loads of blackberries on this trail. I remember a year when we picked two full ice cream buckets full. Today we each carry a bucket in hopeful anticipation, but it seems to be overkill. Where are the berries?

I’m at the cabin, with my sister Betsy and her husband Bill visiting from New York. Deciding to hike the nearby trails in Suomi Hills, I see a good opportunity to take stock of the berry status. Normally we pick blackberries over Labor Day weekend, but just in case we tote buckets on this foray.

The trail is overgrown with high grass and thick foliage. The well worn path in my memory has disappeared, but is still navigable. The side growth is equally dense, packed with tall bushes, ferns and vegetation that is not blackberry vines.

Betsy blackberry picking Long past the point where I once found the first blackberries, I spot some. Sparsely intermingled with the other plants, they are far from abundant. The vines we do find are anything but ripe. They range from green immaturity to pinkish red “getting there.” We call them vines with plenty of potential. Just now, they hold only one or two fully ripe blackberries ready to fall from the grasp of the vine. And we claim them. Oddly, others look past their prime. They have either lost their berries already or literally withered on the vine into hard brown dried up knobs. Our harvest is meager.

Bill blackberry pickingThe hike turns into a stroll. A search for the berries. Eyes scanning the undergrowth, we seek out our treasure. Farther along the path, the blackberry presence multiplies. More ripe berries per vine, more vines per square yard. Hope is renewed.  Venturing into the brush to reach the more succulent fruit, the persistent thorns tear at our clothing and skin. We are ill clad for this endeavor. Sweaters and fleece are prime targets, catching on the least of the prickers. Exposed skin below our shorts take the brunt of the sharp barbs, bearing scratches in all directions. But still we pursue those berries just beyond our reach.

Molly Betsy Bill w blackberriesIn the deep thickets, there is evidence of those who have preceded us. They leave behind large swaths of trampled vegetation in their efforts to reach the berries beyond reach from the trail. I call them elephant tracks. Making no effort to walk with care, these foragers leave destruction in their path. Unkindly, I am convinced the culprits are of the human variety. Berry pickers with no consideration for nature. I dismiss the possibility that it could be animals on the same hunt.

These blatant paths lead to more blackberries, I’m certain. And I make a mental note to pack my hiking pants and a windbreaker for my next trip to the cabin a week hence. Because I will be back. Hopefully my timing will coincide with the next round of ripening. And I will be fully equipped to reach the farthest berries. When I follow the elephant tracks.

Our sweet reward

Living in the Moment on Dungeness Bay

Time is too precious to squander a single moment. With one week to spend with my three adult children, spouses and youngest grandchild, all I want to do is soak up their presence and savor this rare time together. My natural instincts are to write about the experience. To blog, share on Facebook and text friends. But I refrain. For a week I shun social media and focus purely on life as it happens. And it is sweet.

Reviving the concept of a family vacation, we are all gathered on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. Settling into a spacious house on the coast in Dungeness, we are surrounded by mountains, hiking trails, beaches, tide pools, wildlife and birds. It is the perfect setting for this assembly of active people intent on enjoying the outdoors.

Dungeness Bay Manor

The week is deliberately unstructured. Couples or individuals are free to choose their activities each day, and different groups form depending on interests. The only stipulation is that we all reconvene for dinner. There stories of the day's adventures are shared, and plans begin to form for the next day's outings.

Dinner on the deck

Hiking is high on the priority list, and there is one destination on everyone's must-do list – Hurricane Ridge. On a crystal clear day with mountains visible in all directions, we all hike Hurricane Hill. It is an easy, unhurried trek as we take in the colorful array of wildflowers along the trail, the rich green of the pine trees contrasting with the deep blue sky, and the snow covered peaks that surround us. Being flanked by family clinches the moment.

Hurricane Hill wildflowers
Maren atop Hurricane Hill
Family on Hurricane Hill

Our two boys have been harboring plans for a challenge hike, and head out early one morning to tackle a steep and rugged trail. In contrast, some of us girls decide on a day at Rialto Beach where we scramble between enormous rocks known as “stacks” and spend hours peering into tide pools.

Rialto Beach

Rich naturally gravitates to areas for birding opportunities, and spends a couple days exploring the majesty of Cape Flattery – the most northwestern point of the US.

Cape Flattery

A visit to the HOH Rain Forest is another popular choice. Those of us who make the longer trip to get there all agree it was well worth the drive. We revel in the green toned wilderness, where mosses drip from every available branch, pine trees tower overhead and tangled tree trunks form intricate patterns. An encounter with two imposing elk bucks hold up our hike while they graze lazily in the woodlands. We wait as long as it takes them to eat their fill.

HOH Rain Forest hike
Elk in rain forest
Rain forest hikers

Dungeness Spit is in our own back yard, which beckons for another all-family walk on its sandy shore.

Dungeness Spit
Family on Dungeness Spit

It is a week of making memories. A week of carefree vacation time with family. A week of sunshine and beautiful scenery. A week of activity. Best of all, I haven't missed a single moment.

 

The Quiet House

It happens every time.  The house feels waaaay too quiet.  I hear the ticking of the clock.  The hum of the washing machine oozes in from the laundry room.  My heart feels full yet empty.  I have just waved goodbye to the kids and grandkids.

Mya packed for DuluthThis time it was quite a blitz.  For starters, it was 5-year-old Mya’s turn for “Grammy Camp” and she spent four days with us in Duluth.  There is something very special about having grandchildren here on their own.  It invites getting to know them better.  It means they get my complete attention, without competition from siblings or parents.  It encourages doing fun activities together.  Mya’s visit was no exception.

Some things we repeated from big brother Ben’s visit.  A trip around the harbor on the Vista Star was a highlight, and Mya was especially taken with the whole cruise aspect.  “When will we go faster?” was her favorite question.  Mya and Rich on Vista StarMya and friends at the parkMya’s social side came out, and she quickly made friends wherever we went  Arriving in the driveway, she immediately asked to go play with the girls next door.  A trip to the playground quickly morphed into a game of hide and seek.  And a play date with my friend and her grandkids at Playfront Park was a big hit.

My favorite times were snuggling up to read, Mya pressed into my side eager to hear the same books night after night.  Kids all grow out of that stage eventually, but I never do.

Mya was joined by the rest of her family for an overnight stay at the end of the week.  The noise level increased more than three-fold with the addition of her two siblings, and the inevitable rivalries quickly resumed.  We packed in as much time outdoors as we could and even managed to see the steam train before they headed off to the cabin.

Molly and MarenIt was a quick changeover, then we welcomed Carl and Chelsea with baby Maren for the weekend.  In comparison to three active youngsters, Maren’s happy chirping and babbling were mere background sounds.  We easily slipped into the schedule of a 5-month-old which naturally afforded plenty of downtime – welcomed by her parents and this Grammy after my recent camp gig.  Playing with Maren on her quilt was plenty of entertainment.

Still very portable, we took Maren on several hikes and to the Park Point Art Fair.  As we crossed the Aerial Bridge, bells began clanging, the gate went down and we discovered we were the second to last car to get across.  Quickly ditching the car, we scurried to the canal to watch a classic ore boat come through the bridge – a first for not only Maren but Chelsea as well!  There is no Duluth experience better than being up close to a passing ore boat.Carl Chelsea and Maren at the bridge

By now, these are all memories.  The house is our own again.  It’s a grandparent’s prerogative to enjoy the young ones, spoil them, love them to bits then send them home with their parents.  But the echoes of laughter, squabbles, babble and imaginative play still linger in these rooms, leaving this house much too quiet.

The Grammy Gift

Carl and Chelsea with Maren

The request was for help, but the gift was all mine. Seeking to extend the time before they sent their first born to day care, my son Carl and his wife Chelsea asked if I would be interested in watching her for a week or more. I will admit to hesitating. How would I feel in a city where I knew no one, cooped up with a baby all day? Fortunately, I put my selfish reservations aside and agreed to a week.

At three months old, baby Maren was a compact bundle of smiles. Still small enough to be held and carried with ease yet old enough to have developed a personality, she captured my heart immediately. She still slept a lot, but when awake she had a lot to say and took in all that was going on around her. I melted each time she looked right at me and smiled or “talked” to me.

Smiling Maren

Settling in with Carl and Chelsea for that week reinforced what it means to be a Grammy. Freed of all responsibilities save caring for Maren, I had the luxury of embracing that single focus. No job to juggle, no parenting anguish, no chores to do, no outside commitments to meet. Just love, cuddle, play, feed and change. And it easily filled each day. I went to bed each night looking forward to more. That experience is one we just can't have as parents.

Molly and Maren

There is a lot to be said for having extended solo time with a grandchild. Each day was ours to navigate together. There was a certain ease in managing on our own. And I only had to share with Grandpa. For the most part Maren was all mine for the day.

Did I feel cooped up? Hardly. Maren was all the entertainment I needed. Besides, we went out for a walk with the stroller almost every day. We walked to Brueggers for bagels, a tradition harking back to my own kids. We visited a park and hiked its trails.

It's not like this is my first grandchild. I've had plenty of practice with my daughter Karen's three children. But I never had this total immersion before. Now I wonder why. Now I know better.

,Grammy with 4 grandkids

I've already signed up to watch the next one. It's the Grammy gift that gives so much more in return.

 

Grammy Jammies times 4

The tradition was reborn six years ago. Just as I made matching pajamas for my own children each year for Christmas, I began sewing slipper jammies for my first grandchild. As each new addition enters the fold, I increase production. The top sizes grow larger each year, and I wonder how long the oldest will still want to wear footie jammies. But I’m tickled that at age 6 1/2, my Grammy jammies are still popular.

Grammy with Kennedy grandkidsAs I commenced sewing for this seventh round, a new grandchild was on the way. Soon a cousin would join the three siblings. It seemed unlikely that the baby would arrive by Christmas, but it would be a shame to exclude her from the tradition merely for making an early entrance. Hence the first Grammy bunting was delivered.
Grammy JammiesAlthough even this newborn size swamps little Maren it feels good to see her initiated into the tradition. And should she grow quickly, I eked out one more set with proper footies for her in a 3 month size.
Grammy and Maren in buntingBy now I know this sewing pattern really well and have it in every possible size. I’ll be making my Grammy jammies as long as the babies keep coming. If the current trend continues, that will keep me busy for quite a while.

Precious New Life

There is nothing like a newborn baby. Especially when it is the first. Being grandparents affords us the unique joy of being part of this special experience multiple times. And it never grows old.

As we await the impending arrival, we are as anxious as the new parents – almost.  When the due date comes and goes, we awake each morning and note, “Well, no phone call yet.”  Ironically, when the text does come in the middle of the night to inform us that the baby is on its way, we sleep right through it.

Photo-20170119161608594.jpgHow quickly I forget how tiny and vulnerable these little beings are. I meet little Maren when she is only four days old. Small enough to fit in the crook of my arm, she favors scrunching up into a little ball as if still in the womb. She wraps her long thin fingers around my own and opens her mouth in bird like fashion. Occasionally I see her piercing dark eyes.photo-jan-16-3-51-05-pm

 

 

It is only moments before she dominates my life. For the full duration of our visit, my world revolves around her. Priorities rearrange themselves without thought, as I savor these limited days. Drinking in that new baby smell, feeling her cuddly warmth in my arms, amused at her repertoire of comical facial expressions, there is no need for outside entertainment. I am easily reminded of those early days with my own children. In that hospital room following their birth, the outside world did not exist. News and current events were unimportant.

My grandma role also gives me the joy of seeing my children grow into parents themselves. In this case, it is our son Carl and his wife Chelsea who are learning the joys and challenges of raising an infant. What is different this time around is that they live seven hours away by car. Seeing the new family is not a casual visit. It involves moving in for several days. The beauty is in the total immersion I am granted, the intimacy of joining in this new lifestyle that is emerging for them. The graceful way that they warmly welcome me into these early days is as heartwarming as the baby herself. Her arrival has already enriched our relationship. This is a precious new life indeed.

Grammy Camp

It was Karen who reminded me.  She has vivid and fond memories of the times Rich and I would leave her and her two bothers with their grandparents in Duluth while we continued up to the Boundary Waters for some alone time canoeing.  That much I remembered.  But I didn’t recall that she referred to it as “Grandma and Grandpa Camp.”  The name alone conjures up visions of kids having a great time, sans parents, doing all sorts of special things with their grandparents.

For some time now, I’ve been eager to bring my own grandkids to Duluth for a visit.  But I had to be patient.  Last time I gently asked if they would like to come, the answer was a swift and firm “No.”  Even from the feisty middle child who I thought might be game.  I had to bide my time until they were old enough to relish the experience.

I also had another stipulation.  I wanted them one at a time.  I craved having one-on-one time with each of them, where I could have their undivided attention and they could monopolize mine.

At last the day finally arrived.  Ben had an extra week of Christmas break when his parents and siblings were back at work and day care.  It seemed the perfect opportunity to try again.  Emboldened by attending Kindergarten, Ben was actually excited about the idea of spending three days with us.

I knew we were off to a good start when I went drove down to pick him up and he practically jumped into my arms shouting “Grammy!”  The next morning he arose before six, eager to add his blanket and stuffed animals to his backpack.  The fun started almost immediately when we stopped at Caribou for coffee and I bought him a hot chocolate for the ride.  This was going to be a true Grammy visit.

My instincts were dead on.  We had the most delightful three days together.  Everything we did took on the aura of being special.  He relished all the attention, and so did I.  The normal tendencies of sibling rivalry, the temptation to push the limits of discipline and finicky eating evaporated.  Homesickness never materialized.

The only downside to the visit was that Rich, aka Grandpa, was out of commission with a sprained back.  He was unable to participate in any of our antics, but observed it all from his painful perch on the couch.  But I was in my element, and carried on.

Ben in the train engineBen loved the Train Museum, particularly the huge snow plow train and the tall steam engine.  He overcame his initial fear of the giant trains and soon climbed inside to sit in the engineer’s seat.  I took him to Marshall Hardware, where they have a couple of aisles stocked with modest but time tested toys and let him choose one to bring home.  A blue steam engine was his proud pick.

Bens PizzaWe had just as much fun at home, playing, cooking and crafting together.  My inner child was reborn as I spent hours building with Lincoln Logs, making Lego creations and connecting miles of Brio train track.  Ben was in seventh heaven making his own pizza for dinner, using pepperoni to create a face.  Making it turned out to be far more interesting than actually eating it, but it was totally worth it for the joy it delivered.

The best were the moments of silliness.  Scooping ice cream was an absolute necessity after dinner each night.  That much he inherited from me.

Grammy and Ben being sillyMy favorite craft was making cookie cutter ice ornaments.  Inspired by Outside in Duluth, we filled a pan with water, cookie cutters and twine hangers.  In the frigid temperatures, it all froze quickly and soon we were hanging beautiful icy shapes on the outdoor tree covered in lights.  Those ornaments will serve as a tender reminder of Ben’s visit until they melt – which doesn’t look to be any time soon.

Ice heart ornamentchristmas-ornaments-ben-molly-2-trimmed

It was well worth the wait, for the time to be right and the visit to be a success.  And since sister, Mya, is now begging for her turn I know I will get to do this again soon.  Grammy Camp has been firmly established.