Thirty-five years ago today, my mother employed her primary Superpower and made a person. A day or two later I was introduced to a lifetime companion and playmate and co-conspirator and friend: my sister Karin. (She guides people’s pronunciation with this clue: “You park a KAR-in the garage.”) I turned three just a few weeks before her arrival, and my game du jour was tagging people with their initials. My new sister’s “KD” became Kadi to the family—a name that stuck permanently. (With the occasional variation, such as “Aunt Tadi” when my son Christian was little and couldn’t pronounce K.)
Kadi and her husband Scott visited from Seattle last weekend, and Keoni told me he was getting a kick out of watching the two of us, noting the facial expressions and mannerisms we have in common. It’s a funny thing, how amazingly alike we are, despite our very different lives. Even some of our random OCD eccentricities are a match, like our refusal to eat the last bite of a sandwich—the piece we’ve been holding while we ate the rest. Can that possibly be genetic? It certainly wasn’t something we learned together—we discovered the quirk-in-common as adults, when we met each other for lunch one day.
I don’t see my sister in my mirror, but I see her all the time in my photos. We insisted for years that we didn’t look anything alike (despite being taken for twins with some regularity), but then I began to mistake pictures of her for pictures of myself… When she first moved to Boise after graduating from Law School, she reported getting hug-attacked in REI by a perfect stranger—someone who obviously knew me well enough to hug me, but still couldn’t tell that she wasn’t me. I have occasionally gotten responses like “Duh” and “No shit” when I point her out or introduce her as my sister. Apparently it’s obvious.
Our family traveled a lot when we were growing up, so we were often the only available playmates for each other. Happily, we got along pretty well together—barring the occasional scuffle or argument, we enjoyed like minds and tastes and imaginations most of the time. Our mother has said of our six-month trip through Europe that we fought the first day, and then it seemed to dawn on us both that we would only have each other for the next half-year… So we made up—and stayed made-up for the rest of the tour.
Our friendliness is, in itself, a testament to my sister’s amiable nature. It’s not easy being anyone’s younger sister. She has gone on, though, to distinguish herself in arenas of her own—clerking for a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, working as a Deputy Attorney General for the state of Idaho, and now with a prominent law firm in Seattle. We’re pleased with the idea that we both make our livings at writing—legal briefs in her case, and random oddities in mine…
We used to write plays together, and perform them for the captive audience of our parents and grandparents. We had to make creative allowances for the small size of our cast, which led to some memorable adaptations like “Snow White and the One Dwarf,” in which she played the princess and I played everyone else.
Keoni introduced me to the idea of the ‘aumakua—the totem or guardian in Hawai’ian culture—and last summer it became clear to me that the Owl is mine. Owls were crossing my path, night and day, every time I was on the road with a writing assignment… When I wrote about the topic here, Kadi emailed me, expressing astonishment because she had developed a particular affinity for owls in the last year as well. I wasn’t expecting that, of course, but at the same time it didn’t surprise me. (I figure it’s our “Irish” coming out… Owls are totems in Celtic culture too.) Besides, we’ve always seemed to be on the same wavelength, even though our lives are outwardly so different.
Speaking of Hawai’ian culture, Keoni has asked me to tell her “Hau’oli la hanau.” When we say it aloud (how OH-lee lah huh-NOW), people often respond by telling us their age, thinking we’ve asked them, “How old are you now?” But it actually means—from both of us—Happy Birthday!
I often joke that I’m a plant–I need my sunshine! The shamrock in our front window (inherited from my Irish great-grandma, and a decade older than I am) responds so enthusiastically to sunlight that you can almost see its movement toward the light when we open the curtains. My daughtersays she’s half-leprechaun, so maybe I’m half-shamrock.
I’m not a severe sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder (with its apt acronym of SAD), but a good dose of sunlight does have a measurable effect on my mood and energy level.
In winter months I tend to go into hibernation-mode, withdrawing into the snug sanctuary of homey coziness and physical comforts. This last winter particularly, my leap into writing-as-a-profession enabled me to burrow into winter-mode entirely unhindered by inconveniences like having toleave the house. I retreated, as I habitually do, into my cocoon of soft sweatshirts, down quilts, and thick socks, with Suzy-cat warming my feet and the coffee-pot constantly brewing… and contentedly wrote all winter.
With the advent of warm weather, however, my Summer-Self emerges from the winter chrysalis. She’s more energetic, more active, more adventuresome, more sociable, less inwardly focused. Summer weather has arrived rather suddenly to the Boise area this last week–and just as suddenly, I’ve got my toenails painted (for sandals!) and legs shaved (for shorts!), and the sandals and shorts themselves pulled out of the Rubbermaid bins where they’ve been hibernating…
Keoni and I were just reflecting that it feels as though our new year is beginning now, rather than in January. We’re entertaining fresh opportunities and enjoying fresh energies…
Keoni is moving around amazingly well since his winter knee replacement, and beginning to shed pounds again. (I tease him already that he’s literally “half the man he used to be”–500 pounds just a few years ago!–but he anticipates arriving soon at a weight he hasn’t seen for four decades.)
We’ve been shifting toward some healthier habits… from our habitual diet sodas to green-tea drinks, for example–and from smoking vanilla mini-cigars to “vaping” vanilla flavor from a Blu-brand e-cig… (It was the act of smoking, and the purposes to which I put it, that had me hooked more than the nicotine; this solution allows me to indulge in the habit without the hazards. And the kids–for whose sake I made the resolution in the first place–are tickled even pinker than my lungs!)
I’ve brushed off the yoga mat that’s been gathering dust in the storage shed, and we’re hoping to be able to buy a second bike this month and start exploring the network of trails in the State Park by our house. We’ve both gotten out our gardening gloves.
Keoni has completed an application in hopes of returning to his Corrections career–and we were heartened by a phone call from a top state administrator, who’d heard rumors he might re-apply, and phoned to urge his return.
I’m edging toward some new beginnings with my writing as well, contemplating the book that Keoni and the boys are after me to begin composing. And (as you see) the blog just got a facelift, seeking a clean-instead-of-cluttered look to accommodate the ads WordPress just authorized here. The sticky-note stack on my Mac is transmuting from writing-ideas into actual writing…
We’ve started to plan our summer outings and adventures with the kids–a camping-trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument, a road-trip to visit Grandy & Boboo (my parents), a river-rafting trip with Grandy… Christian hopes to try horseback riding (luckily we know some cowboys) and wants to see Romeo & Juliet at the outdoor Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Elena Grace wants to learn to snorkel, and Kapena wants to go to the summer football camp at Boise State University.
One of the “perks” of my writing-job is the fact that there’s no need to pay much mind to the calendar… So when Keoni and I first talked this week about the “new year” vibe we’re feeling, it didn’t immediately occur to me that Beltane is around the corner. It’s one of the Celtic cross-quarter days, a fire feast (the name of which, in fact, translates as “bright fire“), and a celebration of a new half of the year. The lighted half. A celebration of optimism, and abundance, and light.
And of course it’s natural that this celebration comes at the time when we are becoming sun-charged ourselves, busting out of the winter chrysalis with a new fire lit under us to venture out and find new stories for ourselves. It’s a few days early yet, but here’s wishing you a Blessed Beltane!
Ah, trick question! Of course you wouldn’t bury an owl, because the Migratory Bird Act makes it illegal in the United States to be in possession of even an owl feather, let alone the entire dead bird. (Or three.) So of course this post is entirely a work of fiction. (Cough, cough.)
Last summer I was sent by an Idaho Travel magazine to an old mining town in Idaho’s Owyhee mountains (“Silver City, Idaho: A ‘Ghost Town’ that Never Gave Up the Ghost“). The Owyhees were named for a trio of native Hawai’ian trappers, working for the Hudson Bay Company, who disappeared in these mountains around 1820. For my husband Keoni, a native Hawai’ian himself, this bit of history put an intriguing spin on our trip.
Islanders use two words for giving directions: makai (toward the ocean) and mauka (toward the mountain), since pretty much anything on an island can be described within that frame of reference. When I asked him if that’s why his “uncles” might have lost their way, he replied in Pidgin, “Bruddahs wen’ mauka, wen’ mauka… Stay los’!” Joking that our trip might double as a search-and-rescue, we armed ourselves with an offeratory can of Spam, which these days is a favorite food in Hawai’i (you can order Spam & eggs at McDonald’s there).
He had another mission as well: looking for rounded rocks of pahoehoe lava (what we “here in America” would call vesicular basalt), which he plans use to line an imu, the traditional pit for roasting a whole pig. Our overnight bag and camera bag rode in the back seat, the car-trunk kept free for his boulder collection.
On his native turf, however, he would never remove volcanic rock without making a return offering to the volcano goddess Pele–traditionally a cairn of rocks with fresh fruit or flowers or a bottle of liquor. It’s a custom he takes seriously, although with his own touch of humor–there have probably been some hikers in the Owyhees who are still puzzled about the Spam-can-topped cairn they ran across…
It’s not the only cultural custom he still practices, some of them adjusted with a modern twist. He was taught not to sweep after dark (because it brings bad spirits into the house)–so he only vacuums during daylight hours. If something gets spilled or broken at night, it stays put until morning when he’s willing to get out the vacuum. Same thing with whistling in the house–not after dark. He doesn’t shake hands when he greets someone he knows, or even meets someone new–he embraces them, with an intake of breath as the “exchange of breath” that’s part of the cultural greeting. The word aloha literally means “exchange of breath.”
Another interesting linguistic side-note… The Hawai’ian word haole is used now to refer to white people, but it literally means “without breath.” (And no, it’s not a compliment.) When the Islanders attempted to welcome newly arrived missionaries with their traditional greeting–the embrace and exchange of breath–the prudish new arrivals recoiled from the nearly-naked natives and refused to hug… So the Hawai’ians assumed they had no breath to exchange.
Another cultural element about which he feels strongly is the ‘aumakua, or guardian spirit in animal form. His family’s ‘aumakua is Mano, the shark, and several of his tattoos include Mano as a symbol of protection. The King of Hearts card (often called the “suicide king” because of the dagger he’s holding to his head) is eclipsed by a fiercely protective white shark–his guardian against any return to that dark place where suicide seemed the only out. A traditional Maori tribal representation of a hammerhead is swimming up the side of his neck, a design gifted to him from a Tongan family who used to eat regularly at our Hawai’ian restaurant. He added this one after talking with his grandfather in a dream–Tutu Pa suggested he put Mano on his neck rather than put a rope around it ever again.
I wrote in an earlier post about Owls crossing my path until I recognized them as my own ‘aumakua (or totem, or whatever Irish word would better fit my own heritage–owls are totems in Celtic culture too). Interestingly enough, my sister responded to that post by emailing that she’s been developing an affinity for owls over the last year as well. I don’t believe in coincidence.
On this particular road-trip, as we were returning from the Owyhees with a trunk full of volcanic rocks, we passed a large white owl, dead in the middle of the road. It didn’t look as though it had been hit or run over–just dead on the center line.
As we drove for another moment in silence, I was just feeling all kinds of wrong about leaving that owl dead in the road. Like dragging an American flag on the ground or stepping on a consecrated communion wafer, rolled into one. Keoni was watching me, and without a word, he swung the car around in a U-turn and headed back. Without a word, I grinned at him in relief.
I thought he would pull over so I could run out for it, but instead he slowed in the empty highway, opened the driver-side door, and lofted the owl onto my sandaled feet. Its feathers were warm from the sun. When we got to a pull-out, we carefully tucked it among the pahoehoe rocks in the trunk and nosed the car back in the direction of home. Not five minutes later, we passed another untouched dead owl, this time on the side of the road. And within another five minutes, another owl.
So we arrived home with not one, but three white owls in our trunk. Arranging an appropriate owl-burial took priority over the other unpacking, so Keoni dug a hole in our garden and we solemnly interred our owls. With an offeratory Spam sandwich (extra mayo) and a cup of soda (liquor would be more traditional–but we’re both recovering alcoholics) and some quiet words of respect.
I see public buildings with plastic owls on top to “guard” against pigeons. Well, the guardians of our home are the three white owls in our garden. Or perhaps now it’s a guarden.
It’s March of Dimes time… People with preemies are gearing up around the nation for the annual fund-raising walk. At this time of year eight years ago, my mother managed to get me away from the hospital (where my two-pound daughter was incarcerated in Neonatal Intensive Care) for a few hours to do some shopping and to remind me that the rest of the world was still turning. I chose a new pair of sandals at Payless Shoes, and the sales clerk asked me the obviously rote question of whether I wanted to donate to March of Dimes to help prevent premature birth. I responded to the poor man’s innocent question by bursting into tears.
Elena Grace arrived, three months early, on Saint Patrick’s Day–and although you wouldn’t guess it to look at her (she has her Filipino father’s coloring) she’s got some Irish from her mom. And she’s quite attached to the Irish bit; when Keoni was explaining the Hawai’ian menehune (a small mischievous being) last weekend, he asked, as a comparative reference, if she knows what a leprechaun is. “Of course I do!” she answered, indignantly folding her arms. “I’M half leprechaun!”
This little leprechaun, once so delicate in the NICU, has apparently become a notorious ball-buster in her karate class. Her big brother Christian mentioned off-handedly last week that she had made a boy cry during class. Or maybe two. Somewhat surprised, I probed for the story, which Christian happily told. (He won’t admit it, but there’s some big-brother pride going on here.)
“Well, they were sparring, and he wasn’t wearing his cup, and she kicked him in the…” [expressive eye-rolling and gesturing] “..down there, so hard that he PEED HIMSELF.”
“That was em-BAR-rassing!” Elena Grace added, with an expressive eye-roll of her own. Boy-pee, ewww.
“And then it happened again,” Christian supplied helpfully. (What did? Surely not…) “Well, after they cleaned up the mat, they paired her with somebody else, and he’s more like my size than hers, and she kicked him and HE peed himself too!”
I admit to being torn between compassion for these poor boys, and suppressing a grin at the mental picture of my little spitfire taking them down one by one. It’s such a far cry from her fragile form eight years ago.
For a few years after her arrival, I volunteered with March of Dimes and at the NICU, and founded the March of Dimes Idaho NICU Photography Project. But my most poignant March of Dimes memory comes from Christian’s kindergarten year, when he came home with a donation box for MoD, shaped something like a small milk carton. He solemnly explained to me what it was for, then disappeared into his bedroom for an unusual length of time, finally emerging to hand me the carton.
He had emptied his entire piggy-bank of coins into it, so heavy he needed both paws to hand it to me. On the side, in his painstaking kindergarten-printing, he had written, “Thank you for saving my sister.”
He spoke for all of us. Except, perhaps, for a couple boys in her karate class.
Actually, I’m writing today about my mom-in-law and my dad-in-law, but “Fairy Godfather” just has a wrong ring on several levels… I’m getting ahead of myself, though. This is a story about the tool of my trade–the laptop–and a miraculous magical rescue.
Since I took to writing full-time, I’ve spent anywhere from ten to twenty hours a day with my fingers on the keyboard of an ancient PC laptop. It’s a cheap one I bought years ago, just basic functions even when it was new, and if computer-years run like dog-years, this thing is older than I am for all practical purposes. And it was beginning to show its age. Some of the keys would take a few taps before I’d get the corresponding letter to show up on the screen, the “click” button on the tracking pad only worked about three quarters of the time, a virus had wiped out all the .exe functions and made it almost impossible to open new documents or the internet browser, it regularly overheated and ate the files I was working on, the battery was shot (so it had to be plugged in to function) and the electric cord was getting too loose to hold. I’d have to wiggle it around to find the “sweet spot” and then jam it against my leg while I worked to keep it in place. We tried duct tape, but the machine was clearly limping along on its last legs.
So I’d been nursing it along and praying it would hold out until we could afford a replacement. My hubby Keoni is back to work after his December knee replacement, but he has the second knee scheduled for April, so we’ll have another couple months of living on just what I make at the laptop–no room in the budget for a computer until after that. And Keoni was very insistent that we’d be choosing a good computer when the time came. “This IS your office,” he reminded me. I’d been thinking of making the switch to Mac–knowing there would be a steep learning curve, but also knowing the Mac would be great for website creation and editing my photography, and not susceptible to wipe-out by virus… And compatible with my iPad, which I “live in” when I’m not on the computer. So we’d been doing a little “window shopping” on Amazon, picking out the computer we’d get… later.
Out of the blue a few weeks ago, Keoni’s parents called us from Hawai’i to say they wanted to buy me a new computer, and which one would I like? I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so stunned. My in-laws aren’t Christmas-and-birthday people, but they occasionally step in–generously!–when they perceive a need.
Did I mention I was stunned? I stammered out the specs of the Macbook Pro I’d been looking at, and they called back that afternoon with the tracking number for shipping. I instantly became the impatient kid who can’t wait for Christmas! I knew I’d have my face pressed to the front window on delivery-day, waiting eagerly for the UPS truck to show up.
God has a sense of humor and timing–have you noticed that? Two days before the new computer was due to arrive, the old one breathed its last breath. No amount of computer-CPR could revive it again. I’ve used the iPad for back-up before (like the day that virus hit, when I had 8,000 words due before I could take the time to resuscitate the thing)–and I’ve been grateful to HAVE it as a back-up–but the iPad really isn’t designed for flipping between research websites and word-processing, and I can’t work nearly as efficiently… and I had another ten thousand words due that day. I don’t mind admitting I was pretty stressed.
Less than two hours later, the UPS truck pulled up. Thank you, God–and thank you, Mom & Dad in Hawai’i! As my mom-in-law said to me on the phone when I was stuttering my stunned and sincere thanks: “God works in mysterious ways, Kana. Today, this is how God is working.”
Wow. So I’ve been happily “moving in” to my new Mac–and relishing the fact that for the first time, all of my music library and photo library and software and apps and documents and calendar and to-do list and everything else are actually compatible across all my devices, synced up and available whether I’m on the laptop or the iPad or even my phone. Too slick for words–I’m loving it! My OCD-organizing-impulses are intensely satisfied by this tidiness.
I have to say (despite my familiarity with the iPad, which turns out not to afford much advantage in “learning” the laptop) that Mac was a Mystery to me! It was time to bust out the climbing-gear, because this was a STEEP learning curve. Even the most basic of functions–like scrolling or right-clicking–take a different action on the Mac. As I figured out how to do each individual thing, I was thinking–without exception–that the Mac approach makes better sense. Mac was definitely designed with usability in mind. At this point, it’s still just a matter of learning how to do everything. Everything. I consider myself pretty “techie” (I used to teach online and design online curriculum, I design websites on the side, and when we owned a restaurant, I handled all of our internet marketing myself) but I have zero formal education in technology. I’m simply stubborn enough to keep “playing” until I figure out how to make a computer do what I want it to do. So that’s what I’ve been up to–gleefully getting familiar with an all-new environment.
That’s a partial explanation for my absence from this space over the last few weeks (and I’d like to thank all of you who pinged me to say you missed the posts, and hoped everything was okay). There has actually been a lot going on–including a lot of writing work. (Last weekend: thirty thousand words in two days–and this from the girl who didn’t even manage to finish NaNWriMo…) I’ve been thinking the last few days of the “complaint” I often have when traveling: When you have the most stuff to write about, THAT’s exactly when you don’t have enough time to write any of it! True in regular life as well, as the last few weeks go to show..
But. I’m re-evaluating my writing-priorities, and what comes to light today is my previous insistence that writing in THIS space on a regular basis is what keeps writing FUN. I don’t want to get so “ground down” with writing-on-demand that I lose the joy-in-writing that made me want to do it full-time in the first place. So my pledge to myself is not to treat my own writing (here) as “lower priority” than the writing that comes with deadlines. To borrow from Hamlet‘s Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” I don’t think Polonius was referring to blogging, but that’s how his advice applies in my life today.
And I recognize on a daily basis how blessed I’ve been in the support of the people around me. I chat on IM daily with writers from our team, and a regular theme of those chats (including with our editor, and my boss) is spousal resistance to time-spent-writing. I’m thinking, in contrast, of Keoni nudging me to take the leap into writing full-time, even before we knew if I’d be able to make any money with it. “You’ve wanted to do this for years–you need to do it.” Period, end of discussion. It probably helps that I’m not away from him when I’m writing–my “office” is our bed, which we treat like a couch in the daytime, and he’ll stretch out beside me and read, or we stream Netflix movies while I write. I’m grateful every day for the supportiveness–and that extends also to his parents and the vote of confidence represented by the generous gift of this computer.
My writing-mascot is the owl–I have a little guy (named Pue’o, the Hawai’ian word for owl) who perched on the old laptop’s screen while I wrote… In Hawai’ian culture, the ‘aumakua, or guardian spirit, is represented by an animal of the islands. My husband’s family is guarded by Mano, the shark, and he remembers learning about the ‘aumakua from his Tutu Pa (grandfather), Hawai’ian musician Kamuela Ka’anapu, who also taught him traditional cooking, and to combine his love of music with his love of cooking. (When Keoni is singing in our kitchen, I know that all’s well in my world!) Tutu Pa told him that whenever he saw a shark, “either something good or something bad will happen.” Kid-Keoni’s irreverent response (which earned him a cuff across the back of the head) was, “Well, Tutu Pa, that depends wheddah you IN da watah or OUT!”
Our son Kapena, who turned sixteen on Valentine’s Day, has been wanting a tattoo for a couple years, and we told him we’d sign for one when he reached legal age (sixteen with parental consent in Idaho), provided he went to our artist (whose art we love and whose judgment we trust), and that the tattoo itself be something meaningful to him. So this week he got his tattoo: the family ‘aumakua with our last name printed in the curve of its body. Our second daughter Anelahikialani and her wife Sarah were visiting from California this last week, and she and Kapena went in together to get matching ‘aumakua tattoos.
Hawai’ian families have ‘aumakua, and an individual can also have a personal ‘aumakua. You don’t choose one–it chooses you, and a person who pays attention might recognize the relationship. Last summer when I began writing for an Idaho travel magazine, I was seeing owls every time I was out on the road on assignment. Daytime, night time, it didn’t matter–owls were crossing my path every time I hit the road to write. I can take a hint–the owl is my ‘aumakua. And if I reach back to my own Irish roots, the owl is a common personal totem in Celtic culture as well, so that seems suitable. This is why my Twitter handle is @KanaOwl, and why the literary magazine I’m launching (more about that in an upcoming post) will be at ThirteenOwls.com, and why the protective cover Keoni ordered for the new laptop is adorned with an owl (in “my” colors, no less)..
Our ten-year-old Christian just registered for junior high, and as we watched Harry Potter the other night, he was lamenting the fact that “speaking Owl” isn’t among the available electives. He’s quite enamored of Harry’s owl, Hedwig, and whenever he’s in the house, you can guarantee that Pue’o will be somewhere on his person. (He doesn’t know it yet, but his birthday present in 10 days will be a full-size Hedwig look-alike made by the same company that created Pue’o…) He also points out that the owl on my Mac is an appropriate symbol for what I do, since owls in Harry Potter’s world carry written correspondence.
Christian and I agree that the UPS man was really a brown owl in disguise. And as for his delivery… well, even Harry Potter getting his Firebolt broom by owl-post was not more excited than I was when this Owl-Mac arrived.
To Mom & Dad in Hawai’i: THANK YOU for enabling this writer to keep writing so happily! And I hope you know that this isn’t the first time God has worked through you to provide a blessing in my life… I thank him every day for my biggest blessing: the man who married me. Thank you for “authoring” that gift as well… And my thanks again for providing me with such an awesome new “office!” If I haven’t needed a fairy godmother, it’s because God’s always got my back. And yes–as Mom says–he works through other people.