Posted in Family

The Dragon Biographer

Christian (The Dragon Biographer) with OUR fireworks last night…

Our son Christian (age 11) was feeling rather expansive yesterday evening about the firework-making job of his invisible dragon (descriptively named “Dragon”—Christian’s companion since he was 2 years old), and the use of fireworks in Dragon culture.

As soon as I realized he was on a roll, I grabbed for the keyboard and began typing a transcript as he chattered! (Evidently I accidentally hit “Publish” on the un-edited transcript, so those of you who received that by email will see that I haven’t changed his wording, just cleaned up my hurried typing-errors!) Here it is, word-for-word as delivered by The Dragon Biographer: 

********

[we enter mid-sentence, as I began to type:]  …fireworks once a month on the first, except in July when they do it on the 4th.  Dragon is apprenticed to a firework-maker. I learned most of this last night—which is why I didn’t go to sleep until 1:30… He’s been busy preparing for 4th of July.

Dragons can go for a few days without sleep, easy. Older ones can go for more than a month. But of course they might sleep for a full year after that. What I remember, the oldest dragon on Dragon Record—no one even has a guess how old he is, no idea whether he was born MORE or LESS than a million years B.C…. but they say he once slept for a year, and then didn’t go to sleep for a century. Must have been some very special 4th of July.

‘Cause firework-maker is not an easy job, but in high demand. And apparently each dragon, when he becomes an apprentice, he gets to make fireworks, but mostly just basic fireworks. But when they become more than an apprentice–not a journeyman, it’s more of… put it this way. They start out as pretty much a well-treated slave. they don’t get paid, but once you get all the way up, huge payback. But at first they don’t get paid anything; they’re given room and board, and that’s when they start learning, mostly just history. Depending on who the master is, he might allow them to make a few firecrackers, but not actual fireWORKS.

And then you become a Pupil, which is… you can make firecrackers, no matter who your master is, except for some of the more conservative ones, but most do. And the you learn less history and more of the actual… this is where they start to learn HOW to make fireworks, smaller ones. the master may or may not allow them to make some of the little ones, you know the ones that spin really fast. Often times those are allowed to be made, and then apprenticeship, you are allowed to make fireworks, pretty much almost any, but you’re not allowed to design your own.

When you get to Disciple, that’s where you get to start designing them and experimenting, and—you don’t have full reign. You have to get your own resources. They’ll provide the very basics, mostly just the fuse, and like the gunpowder-y stuff that does most of the sort of explosion, if you need that. But other than that, all the colors and everything, you have to find.

You can sell your own fireworks. Any fireworks you make and they sell, you get a 50% profit off those, and you can pay them for the colors. And then when you’re a.. I don’t know what it is after that that they call it, but you’re allowed to design your own signature firework. You’re allowed to come up with designs for it, in your discipleship, but you can’t really make one and have it be your signature one until you’re past that level.

A lot of dragons if they like their master and the master likes them–not always–sometimes they choose to work together, but that doesn’t happen too often. But yeah, every dragon depending on the master, you can start designing your signature one as far back as…  if you’re really lucky when you’re a pupil. During your apprenticeship you’re allowed to test it, provided you can come up with the resources.

And a lot of times, ’cause they do, their Business is a lot like ours, except it’s a lot easier to… the economy is never bad. At times it’s gotten to the point where the, I don’t know, the Dragon Powers That Be, I guess—like the dragon government—just says that for a period, until the economy gets better, everything is free. To a point, there’s a limit on how much is free, so you can’t go and buy 500 pounds of gold or whatever for nothing. But at least the necessities, things like that are free. Most of the time their economy is really good. They’re peaceful. That’s really the big difference from humans.

So firework makers can turn a big profit, and not only fireworks on the first of the month. Not only that, but sometimes dragons do them at parties, for big events, like when someone completes their apprenticeship, there is a big huge party and they’re allowed for the first time to do a full-scale model of their signature rocket, and they get to light it. Generally they light it by breathing on it, but for that, no. They have to use flint and steel.

They have to—’cause they don’t have hands—for making things, they have these sort of… it’s sort of arms that have thumbs, they’re robotic and controlled psychically. Yeah, they’re very advanced, and have been making high-end electronics that are still fancy today since we were going OOG OOG and banging our heads on rocks.

But yeah, so to start, ’cause it’s a huge party, it’s a big step because a lot of dragons drop out before they get to pupil, and then a lot drop out over time because, depending on how good you are, how fast you pick things up, how your master is, how your attitude is—all that can change how long it takes to get between the steps. I mean, it could take two decades if you’re slow, and if your master doesn’t kick you out (’cause they do), so it’s a huge ceremony because there aren’t very many.

So how it works is at the party, they have to light the fuse with the flint and steel, not with the robotic arms, but with their biological stuff, so they light the fuse, and that’s the first firework they light, and that starts the party. It can last for like two weeks.

[Mom asks what kind of party food]  Dragon fruit? I don’t know. [Mom: “So does Dragon get his own food? Because I assume otherwise you’d know.”]  I don’t really know. I’ve never really met his parents. I think it’s like… you know how some fish just lay their eggs and swim away, maybe it’s like that. I’m guessing that it’s more like, they have more independence than most kids now, there’s a strong bond, but they build their own nest.  The parents don’t just abandon the egg, though, they wait till it hatches.

Dragon is at Apprentice now. It took me a while to understand the whole system, because dragon-speak is a little different from ours, just a little-little bit…  sort of like Ent-speak. Not as slow as the Ents, where by the time you’re finished saying “good morning” it’s night, but yeah.

[Mom: “I assume Dragon will be busy tonight?”]  Yeah. ‘Cause if you get lucky and you’re at that particular stage around fourth of July, pretty much all studying gets off, and it’s just… you make as many fireworks as you can, maybe design a few ones that you think will be great. Some dragons sell the value packs–they don’t call it value packs, but—they usually sell their signature one and a bunch of the ones that everybody makes. A dragon can have a bunch that only he makes, or maybe his master as well, but yeah–they’ll sell those and a few of the more traditional ones. Just like ours, pretty much.

[Mom: “Do they have celebration or songs for the 4th of July?”] I don’t know, I really don’t think it’s an Independence Day for them. Just something they picked up from the humans: launch a bunch of fireworks, you know. He got that one from his parents, who said that’s kind of recent.

He said that someday I can meet some of his brothers. Or sisters, maybe? He wasn’t born in the first clutch, but he was the firstborn of his clutch. I don’t know how many, I know he has at least 3 sisters and at least one brother, I think two. He and one of his three sisters are pretty much exact twins, but for some reason in dragon society in that case male is still considered firstborn. And if they’re both girl-dragons I guess they draw straws, or maybe they share the title. I’m not sure if that’s allowed.

[Mom: “Is there any sort of privilege or responsibility with the title?”]  Only the first- and second-born are allowed to go into the firework business. Don’t look at me for any questions about that, about dragon society I don’t really know much. That, and you’re supposed to look after your brothers and sisters, I think.

So he’s like me, I guess. Maybe that’s why I can really talk to him. Over the years I’ve sort of developed it, so I could probably talk to other dragons. ‘Cause we were born at exactly the same time, and we’re pretty much exactly alike, except for he’s dragon, maybe that’s why.

[Mom: “Is this a common arrangement, your friendship with Dragon?”] I don’t think so, I think it’s actually pretty rare. but we WERE born at exactly the same minute and everything. I’m not sure, but from what I’ve heard I don’t think it sounds like it happens too often. And I’m just guessing at why it might have happened.

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Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Shakespeare with a Pre-Teen (& a dab of Kitchen Chemistry)

fool squad
The warm-up Green Show–Idaho’s “Fool Squad” in its 20th year

The warm-up “Green Show” before last night’s production of Romeo & Juliet let slip a spoiler about the ending: Romeo & Juliet end up dead.  “Oops,” the Fool-Squad fool exclaimed. “If there’s anyone here who didn’t pass ninth grade English, we just ruined the surprise.” I had a laugh at that, given that I was sitting at the time between Keoni, who (though not born before Shakespeare, as he jokes) did go through high school before R&J was required reading, and Christian, who’s a couple years shy of reaching ninth grade.

romeo & juliet
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s 36th season under the stars

Christian saw a few scenes of Hamlet at school a couple months ago, and came home chattering about the satisfying carnage at its end. His enthusiastic verdict: “They putteth on a good show!” Fueled by his interest, we got online to see what offerings would be found in this year’s season at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and he expressed an interest in Romeo & Juliet. “Yeah, it’s a love story—but it’s also a tragedy, so that’ll be okay.” With the proceeds from an e-Book on vitamins I was writing that week, we purchased three tickets for the show.  (Elena Grace, at 8, is too young; Kapena, at 16, is uninterested. The two of them stayed home and had a movie night.)

tickets
picking up our tickets at Will [Shakespeare?] Call
Christian has always been an interesting challenge when it comes to matching him with reading material. He reads at a post-graduate level, but he’s still an eleven-year-old boy, with the interests (and aversions) attendant on that particular age. Along the same lines, he’s a kid who has no trouble following the flow of Shakespearian English (because he often thinks in that kind of language in his imagination, he told me), but whose pre-existing knowledge of the plot-line comes from Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet (in which the cartoon-bust of Shakespeare holds forth on how the story is supposed to end)…

Shakespeare picnic
arrived early to picnic

Several times during the play when the lovers went into their monological rhapsodies on each other’s perfections, he rolled his eyes and jokingly mimed hitting an imaginary “fast-forward” button (eww, mush!)—although when Juliet dissolved into very real sobs upon hearing of Romeo’s banishment, he leaned over to whisper the solemn observation, “She’s good!” (I’ll be curious to see if he has any interest in the Drama Club, now that he’s heading into Junior High.)

He’s wise enough to follow not only the language, but also the humor—he leaned over after one of Mercutio’s bawdier riffs of sexual innuendo and confided cautiously, “I probably understand more of this than I should.” And I’m okay with that. Yes, Shakespeare should probably carry an “R” rating–but then, so should some conversations among eleven-year-old boys, as I know perfectly well.

enjoying Shakespeare
I forgot to “warn” him that Shakespeare had a NAUGHTY sense of humor!

Last night I had as much fun watching Christian watch the production as I did watching the show itself. And I did enjoy the show. One of the dangers, I think, in a too-well-known story, is forgetting that it’s full of very real moments of emotion. (Just as with clichés in language—when a phrase becomes too familiar, we forget to notice the cleverness or evocative power of a word-combination because it has become too familiar…) Juliet’s agonizing imagination of what might await her when she awakes in a tomb, for example, is nothing less than heart-wrenching (when performed well—as this was) and her determination to overcome those fears for the sake of the chance of a happy-ending… Wow.

stage
“All the world’s a stage…”

Christian didn’t have the tears on his cheeks that Keoni and I did at the end of the final scene, but he was fully absorbed. And (as always, with him) I got a kick out of his peculiar mix of kid-ness and adult-ness. At intermission he offered some insightful philosophical observations on the characters (in particular, drawing parallels between Friar Lawrence and myself) and then withdrew, turtle-like, into the depths of his oversized hoodie for “some alone-time with Dragon,” re-emerging briefly to announce with delight that he could see inside the sweatshirt because of the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish on his T-shirt.

I love this kid.

itch remedy
baking-soda paste for bug bites

Unfortunately, so do mosquitoes. The outdoor amphitheater by the river does come with a side-serving of bugs, and Christian woke this morning wondering if we had “anything for itches.” Not in the medicine cabinet, but… “Mom’s doing a Kitchen Chemistry series on her blog,” Keoni told him, “and I bet she can come up with something.”  A little research, and here we are: simple baking soda mixed with water to form a paste. Our victim guinea-pig reports that  his new itch-paste works just as well as “Dad’s pink stuff” (Calamine lotion), so I’m declaring this one a Kitchen Chemistry win!

Shakespeare tickets
a worthwhile extravagance!

Of course, the absence of “pink stuff” in our medicine cabinet is directly related to the general paucity of “green stuff” in our bank; it goes without saying that in the context of our uber-frugal budget, these three tickets were an extravagant expense.  But… so worthwhile!

Nor was it squandered on an unappreciative audience. Christian enjoyed having “his grownups” all to himself for an entire night. He asked if he could keep his ticket as a memento, and he buried his nose in the fifty-page program. He enjoyed Keoni’s picnic of chicken katsu and fresh strawberries and chocolate pie. He pointed out the first few stars becoming visible above the stage as dark dropped its blanket over the amphitheater. He chattered all the way home about the staging and the fighting and the characters and the plot and the Green Show jokes… And he is thoroughly pleased that the expedition arose from an interest HE had expressed. He was wired and wound up about Shakespeare—and his English-teacher-mommy was loving every minute of his enthusiasm.

I don’t yet know if we’ll be able to splurge twice this summer, but I’m keeping in mind that The Winter’s Tale is being staged in August—and that Christian wants to go. And that if we do manage to return, I’ll go prepared this time with some preventive Kitchen Chemistry in the form of some insect repellant! (Stay tuned—I’ll let you know what I find.)

summer solstice
Summer Solstice in the Sun

If a second Shakespeare-excursion doesn’t happen—well, that’s part of the Balance in our family life. A main contributing factor to the scarcity of “green stuff “was the decision (voted unanimously by the three kids) that having Mommy with them throughout the summer was preferable to having Mommy in the entrance-booth of the nearby State Park (last summer’s seasonal job, which I was offered again this year), even though Mommy-in-the-booth would have meant more resources-in-the-bank. When Christian observed at seven this evening that the weather was perfect for a walk to the lake, we were free to grab our towels without a second thought and stroll (past the unoccupied-by-Mom park-entrance-booth) to the beach, where the kiddos spent the last couple hours of this longest-day in the water and the sunshine.

Keoni and I were just reflecting that we’ll continue to enjoy whatever adventures and experiences do come our way. Writing the “Vitamins” e-Book not only paid for the Shakespeare tickets, but provided us with some informational resources for family health. When Elena Grace arrived this week with a mouth full of canker sores, we knew that those might be related to stress (their dad’s wedding last week?) OR might be due to vitamin deficiency. With the knowledge I’d gained in vitamin-research, we evaluated and switched the kids’ multi-vitamins. (Some things you don’t skimp on, even with a tight budget!)  And the Evening Out that was funded by the vitamin book led, in its own turn, to a little more Kitchen-Chemistry wisdom. As the kids say, “That’s how we roll!” Or, as Christian said this morning—stretched out beside me with a good book and no schedule-obligations marring the day ahead of us—“THIS is Summer, the way it should be. Family family family!” Even Shakespeare couldn’t top that wisdom.

Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Summer, Synchronicity, Sewage, Stones, & Super-Powers

My “Radio Silence” over the last week is (I’m happy to say) the result of having been quite thoroughly engrossed in the activities of a first-week-of-summer-holidays with the kids…  I started to write a few times, but never got as far as hitting “Publish,” so here it is, all at once…

Christian's 6th grade graduation
Our freshly-minted Junior High Kid!

Sat, June 2: Summer Holidays, and Synchronicity

On the list of things that make me feel old (for just a moment–and then I go back to just feeling like ME again)… We only have one grade-schooler left in the house, as of yesterday’s sixth-grade “graduation” ceremony for our son Christian. He’s now officially a Junior High Kid. And it’s now officially Summer Vacation!

In typical enthusiastic kid-fashion, the mugwumps have been trying to cram an entire summer’s worth of celebratory summer activities into the first 24 hours of freedom–we’re all having fun!

painting spors
Our front-porch summer craft spot… Painting pots for Keoni’s kitchen herbs

First project: Keoni is starting to grow kitchen herbs to use in his cooking, and he asked everyone in the family to paint one of his pots. Christian helped me carry one of our coffee tables onto the front porch, so we’ve established our summer craft-spot–which is already covered with paints, beads, spills from sand-art, and wood-shavings…

3 whittlers
three story-telling whittlers (our three youngest kids): Christian, Elena Grace, & Kapena

The wood-shavings are due to the fact that we gave each of them a pocket-knife to kick off the summer–both of them hand-me-downs with a history. Elena Grace has the Swiss Army Girl Scout knife, which my mother bought for me when we visited the international Girl Scout/Girl Guide center in Switzerland. And Keoni cleaned and sharpened a knife of his for Christian–rather a fancier model than mine, with more gadgets, and with inlaid polished wood panels along the handle.

first pocket knife
first pocket knife (and a shirt signed by her classmates on the last day of school)

We don’t have the budget to buy them new things very often, so I’m tickled by how much Christian loves this knife. It fits perfectly in his hand, he says, and its dents and scratches from previous use “just go to show that it’s not the kind of knife a person would throw away.” He often refers to himself and Keoni as “peas in a pod,” due to their similarities ranging from shared pack-rat tendencies to shared humor, and Christian’s uncanny ability to finish Keoni’s sentences. Particularly given how often he feels neglected by his own dad (Today’s comment: “Sometimes it feels like a lie when Dad says he loves me”), I’m grateful to see him bonding so strongly with Keoni. When Keoni hugged him goodbye before heading out to work today, Christian wouldn’t let him go! This from the kiddo who tends to be the most reserved of our seven…

Elena Grace is pleased by her knife as well, and has been wearing it clipped to her belt loop (as I used to when we went camping!) since we gave it to her. It’s her first pocket-knife, so she got the full safety-lesson before picking out a stick from our woodpile to try her hand at whittling. The point on that stick is positively scary, and she’s talking about trying her hand at spear-fishing in the lake by our house…

swimmers
swimming in “our” lake this afternoon

Today’s walk to the lake, however, was for swimming! And some play with Christian’s remote-control boat, which he bought last month with his yardwork-money…  And yet another example of Synchronicity striking in our lives… But for this story I have to back up a bit.

When we owned our Hawai’ian BBQ restaurant, there were four couples from Hawai’i who “discovered” us in the first couple weeks, and who became close friends: Joe & Adele, Tedi & Larry, Wally & Esther, and Jeff & Val.

launching the boat
launching the boat

Joe worked for Honolulu Police Department the same time as Keoni’s dad, so we put him on the phone with Dad the first time we met–they’d worked different divisions, but had a lot of cop-friends in common. Tedi’s maiden name was Ka’anapu, the same as Keoni’s mom, so we put her on the phone with Mom the first time we met, and they puzzled through the family tree until they found the connection–yes, they’re related. Wally is Portuguese-Hawai’ian, and his cousin makes Portuguese sausage from their great-grandpa’s recipe (a Hawai’ian favorite, and the same type Keoni grew up with); we added their sausage to our menu, so Wally & Esther would sometimes show up with sausage in the morning and we’d all have breakfast together before the restaurant opened. Jeff crafts wakeboards, and gave us one (autographed with thanks for the food & Aloha) which took a place of honor on the restaurant wall.  We have stories and memories with each of these couples, but haven’t been seeing them in the year and a half since our restaurant-days. Until the last two weeks.

Our phone numbers have changed (my cell used to be the restaurant’s number) but Joe decided to track us down a couple weeks ago, used his cop-connections to find our new phone number and gave us a call to see how things are going. He stopped by the house  and we shared Tahitian Lanai banana bread and hugs and “talked story.” The very same day that we got Joe’s call, we ran into Tedi & Larry, shopping for the materials to make leis for graduating grandchildren. A couple days later Jeff pinged Keoni on Facebook to ask if he could cook for Val’s graduation-celebration. Her party was today, so Keoni was up at four this morning, cooking. By the time I woke up (thanks to kids climbing into bed with me, followed by Keoni with a very welcome cup of coffee) the house smelled amazing. It smelled like our restaurant.

trampolineWe took all three kids to help with set-up (though when they discovered their services weren’t needed, the younger two accepted Val’s invitation to use the backyard trampoline), and Keoni sang a traditional Hawai’ian song for Val before we had to head out so he could get to work.

The kids and I packed our beach bags and ambled down the short stretch of country road toward the State Park and the lake, when Wally and Esther pulled up alongside us, waving like crazy.  Turns out–as if to complete the quatrifecta (is that a word?) of reconnecting with these friends–they too had decided this week to track us down, tried our old numbers (they’re not Facebookers), driven around our neighborhood (they knew we lived right by the Park, but Keoni had already left with the KANAGRL license plates that would usually mark out our home), and decided as a last resort to inquire at the Park if I were still working there. They were pulling away from the Park-entrance, deciding they might be out of luck finding us, when Wally realized he’d just passed red hair and a dragon tattoo walking along the roadside, and turned the car around…

To put this timing into perspective, I haven’t walked to the Park since my last day of work there in September, and it only takes us about four minutes to walk that stretch of road–so the fact that we were ON that stretch of road while they were there specifically seeking us is nothing short of Pure Synchronicity. My favorite kind of story. :) I’ve had a warm glow all day–all these reconnections with old friends!

Mon, June 4: Super-Powers

swimming at the lake
Goofing Around–a family specialty

With Keoni off work today and the weather hot and sunny, the family (minus 16-year-old Kapena, at his first day of Football Camp) spent the day at the beach! Though it’s easily within walking distance, we also have the gift (from my parents) of an unlimited State-Parks-pass stuck to our windshield, so we happily loaded folding chairs, snacks and picnic, inflatable inner-tube (bought on sale after last summer) and other “beachables” into the car.  We stopped momentarily to chat with Lareen (with whom I worked last summer) in the entrance booth–noting that this was the third consecutive day she’d seen us, she wondered if this would be a daily meeting. “That’s the plan,” we all grinned–Family Time is precisely why I’m not in that entrance-booth this summer, as voted unanimously by the three kids…

marooned
Pushing Keoni to the island–Marooned!

Here’s a moment that any parent will recognize… When a pair of siblings, usually squabbly purely out of habit, have a moment of instantaneous and wordless communication with one another and they’re suddenly “in league”… You’ve seen it, right? It was one of those moments today, when Keoni decided to try out the inner-tube…  Christian and Elena Grace had one of those connecting-moments, and with matching shrieks of maniacal laughter, the pair of them started to tow him across the small lake to “maroon” him on its island. (Pirates of the Caribbean has thoroughly pervaded their consciousness, as evidenced by Christian barking at someone on the beach, “Oy! No littering, you Scabrous Dog!” I swear I’m not making that up.)

Over Keoni’s own laughing objections that they couldn’t maroon him without at least a pistol and a single shot, I heard Elena Grace taunting him teasingly, “Where’s your kitchen NOW?”–which only goes to show that she has correctly identified the source of his Super-Powers… The Kitchen!

swimming at the lake
looking forward to a whole summer of this!

Wednesday, June 6: Symphony and Stones

This evening’s thunder-and-wind storm didn’t arrive in time to break our consecutive string of days-with-lake-visits, at least for Christian and myself. While Keoni took Elena Grace to Karate class (where she did not, at least today, cause any boys to cry), and while Kapena was finishing up Day Three of Football Camp, Christian and I walked once again to the lake. Too chilly today to tempt Mom into the water, but I sat with my writing-notebook and iPod and watched him–or his feet, rather, given his apparent interest in the lake-bottom today…

poling
he’d intended to pole himself across the lake–but after an accidental puncture (of the tube, not the child) he turned to surveying the lake bottom instead…

I’ve been corresponding this week with a Boise composer who is working up a program with the Idaho Dance Theater, and looking for poetry by Idaho women (preferably about Idaho and its rivers) for use with a vocalist as part of the current project. He had come across my earlier mention in this blog of an anthology of Idaho women poets and contacted me to see if I knew where it could be found. Sadly, the only place I’ve seen it in recent years is on my own shelf, so I offered him the loan, and listed some other anthologies and Idaho writers that might bear looking into. I used to teach an “Idaho Writers” lit course–so in my enthusiasm, it grew into rather an extensive list… He also kindly stated that he’d be interested to look at some of my work if I turned up anything that might fit the theme.

So I was watching my swimmer in this Idaho lake, and musing on my children’s Idaho roots (I was the first in my family to be born in Idaho, but they’re sixth-generation Idahoans through their paternal grandmother) and I ended up with pages’ worth of poetry… I’m still letting it simmer in my beach-bag (I usually find it’s a good idea to leave new poetry alone for a few days after it first hits the page) but I’m still mulling over an odd bit of synchronicity. Maybe it’s because I’d just finished Mrs. Dalloway and still had Virginia Woolf on my mind, but whatever the reason, my mind kept wanting to add a pocketful of stones to my son as I wrote about him. Not in the same morbid fashion as Mrs. Woolf, and I couldn’t figure out why the thought was so persistent, but it worked into what I was writing and I let it stay… An hour later when I beckoned his blue-lipped form out of the lake, he emerged, emptied his swim-trunks of a whole pile of rocks, and announced happily, “I’m collecting stones!” Hm.

The wind-storm began to kick up as he and I walked home, so we arrived (rather breathlessly) at our front porch–he with his swim-goggles donned against the wind, and his beach towel streaming behind like a Superhero’s cape.

Fri, June 8: Sewage Moat

readers
Our go-to Rainy Day activity…

Rain and wind continued through yesterday and necessitated a break from the lake… But I’ve always enjoyed a stormy day when I can stay cozily curled up with a book–AND a couple cuddly other readers…

We woke this morning to find ourselves possessed of a landscaping feature that’s not common in this neck of the woods…  A Moat.  Unfortunately, it has a strong smell of sewage, and appears to be connected with our septic system.  (This is one of those days when I say a prayer of thanks that we’re renting!) Of course, sometimes the difficulty with renting is getting any action from a landlord, especially in our case where the actual landlord lives in Arizona, the delegated manager lives a couple towns away, and the on-site fix-it-guy (our favorite neighbor Bill, with whom we’re collaborating on a vegetable garden) isn’t empowered to make any decisions that involve spending money.

chairback reader
this Monkey will drape herself anywhere with a book…

We’ve already run into trouble with this septic–as the weather warmed up in late April and the potty-smell around our place went from occasionally-noticeable to overwhelming, we called the manager to say the septic probably needed to be pumped. (A side note for those of you across the Big Water: “potty” here in the States means toilet, rather than crazy–I have to mention this after the hilarity of a British buddy some years back when I expressed delight that my newly-trained toddler was “going potty”…)

Four (smelly!) weeks later, a guy finally came to pump out the tank. Said he used to do the rounds here twice a year, but hadn’t been called in for almost three. Three years, that is. Come to find out, the pump was broken, water was flowing into the tank even though nothing was running in our house, and the grass around the tank, he told us, was “saturated” with…  Ew.

Well, the pump got replaced, the tank got emptied, and here we are two weeks later with a full tank again, and a suspiciously smelly moat.  We won’t be hosting any badminton tournaments till this gets sorted out!

Posted in Family

The Controversy of Kid-Calendars

The other day a blogging-friend (Judy, over at Connecting Dots…to God) posed a question which is plaguing a whole generation of parents. The dilemma? Kid-calendars!

Many kids today have such busy schedules that a person might be forgiven for mistaking a glimpse of their calendars for schedules of heads of state. Even parents who remember their own happy and well-adjusted childhoods full of play have begun to worry that they’re doing their kids a disservice if they don’t keep up with the frantic pace of the “high-mileage mom” next door.

kids playing with friends
I remember all the spontaneous games-of-imagination we played with our friends and the neighborhood kids… No scheduling required, and no admission cost!

Terms like “hyper-parenting” and “helicopter parenting” are flying around, and emotions and arguments are running hot on both sides of the issue. Some of the statistics on the issue are pretty cut-and-dried, but the interpretation and application of those statistics are anything but. It seems that wherever they stand in their own parenting choices, parents feel “under attack” and defensive–so we get attacks flying both directions.

kids reading
Everyone in our household has a library card… and when we do have a little spending-money, the folks in the second-hand bookstores know us by name!

Some parents don’t have the luxury of choice, because kid-activities are expensive!  Our son’s high school charges $180 up-front for participation in each school sport, and then there’s the required “Spirit Pack” (another $40 for team-logo sweatshirts, socks, shorts, and jerseys), and then there are the mandatory equipment purchases (not only the pricey athletic shoes, but pads, helmets, and uniform pieces), and on top of that there’s required fund-raising to pay for buses and coaches and other team expenses… I’d assumed initially that there might be a waiver or scholarship or some sort of assistance for families who don’t have that kind of money, but nope–if you can’t pay, you don’t play.

family picnics
We keep our favorite picnic blanket (made by my mom) in the trunk of the car, and so what if our “picnic basket” is a paper grocery bag? We’ve enjoyed picnics at the park, the zoo, the train depot, the state capitol, the lake, the roadside on car trips, even our own yard. Why not?

I’m pleased at least that his Varsity coach expects the boys to do their own fund-raising; the J.V. coach last year blithely suggested that the easiest approach is for parents just to write a check for the required per-player fund-raising amount of several hundred dollars. That rubbed me the wrong way on several levels. For one thing, I was grounded in the “ethic” early on that a Girl Scout sold her own cookies–it wasn’t acceptable to send the sign-up sheet to work with your parents. (To this day, I’ll buy a box if a girl approaches me–even if my freezer is already stuffed with Girl Scout cookies–but when I get tackled by a mom outside the grocery store? No way.)  So I objected to the coach’s approach from that standpoint–and also from the viewpoint that we were looking at welching on our power bill just to scrape together the other required funds… (The power company can’t turn off the heat during winter months in a household with children, so we knew we’d have until March to deal with that.)

family board games
We’ve picked up board games at thrift stores and garage sales, and when grandparents ask for family gift-ideas, this is our suggestion–something we can all do together

But I digress–the point I intended to make is that even school-related activities are expensive these days, and the extra soccer, hockey, Little League, music lessons, ballet lessons, karate lessons, club teams, and other structured activities are even more costly.  Especially in a household with multiple children, a family needs to have some solid finances in place even for school sports, let alone cramming a kid’s schedule with “extras.”

public parks
Our local parks offer hiking & biking trails, playgrounds, tennis courts, skateboard ramps, swimming beaches, fishing holes and wide-open spaces for PLAY

I’m sure for some families this is a source of anxiety; watching all the neighbors’ minivans go tearing around town to catch the round-robin of games, matches, recitals, concerts, displays, and competitions, a parent might begin to fret about whether their kids are missing out on necessary experiences due to income level.  There are plenty of other families, though, who could afford all the activities but choose not to. And some of these parents, too, find themselves fretting that they’re being “bad parents” (or even “lazy” parents) because they aren’t devoting their days to driving their kids hither and yon. There’s certainly plenty of pressure on this score, even when it’s only in the form of overheard mom-talk at the kids’ school or daycare…

helping at home, kids' chores
we match the kids’ helping-jobs to their interests… Elena enjoys her role as “kitchen apprentice” and loves washing windows, Christian likes chopping and digging and raking; Kapena likes jobs that involve machinery… And EVERYBODY likes washing the car!

I was a stay-home mom for five years, so the kids didn’t need daycare during those preschool years. I did, however, enroll Christian in the YMCA preschool for a few hours a week to make sure he got some social-time, since no one else in our social circle had kids yet. I was shocked to overhear the mom-conversations going on around the pick-up area when it came time for kindergarten registrations. Boise schools have “open enrollment,” meaning that each child is assigned by default to the school nearest them, but parents can request to have their kids moved to a different school.

All of us there at the Y would be assigned toTaft Elementary by default, but every other mother there had requested a move. Taft happens to be situated near a pocket of refugee-housing, so (although Boise is, overall, a thoroughly “white-bread” community) Taft has a much more diverse student population. Many of the kids are from Africa. Many of them are Black. Many of them are Muslim.  “Have you SEEN the kids who go to that school?” one mother asked another, with a shudder of distaste.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Oh yes–I can just imagine what damage would be done to our kids if they should experience other languages, cultures, or colors!  We’d better protect them from boys named Muhammed and girls in head scarves… (On the contrary–Christian now acts as a designated “buddy” for new arrivals who don’t speak English…)

free events & activities
We keep an eye out for events & experiences that don’t come with an admission cost… Farmer’s Market, Art in the Park, free days at local museums, historical re-enactments, festivals, rodeos, science exhibits, fireworks–and when family members visit, we ask if we can swim at their motel pool. Photos here are from the Basque museum, whaling museum, monster truck rally, Renaissance Fair, art in the park, zoo, & a motel pool.

As it happens, Taft Elementary (despite severe poverty and linguistic challenges experienced by its student population) wins awards every year for its creative and successful approach to educating kids. I had absolutely no reason to fight for a spot on another Kindergarten waiting-list, but that experience brought home to me how seriously parents take their kids’ enrollments and activities–even at the age of five!

That’s the same sort of pressured thinking that goes into activity-scheduling for a lot of families. A lot of parents seem focused on building their kids’ “resumés” even before the kids can spell their own names. Dr. William Doherty, who has written a book on the subject of “over-scheduled” kids, attributes this drive to several factors in American life.

make-believe
Imaginations are always active around here! Just ask Christian’s invisible dragon… And even our tone-deaf son ENJOYS music, though he can’t PRODUCE it well (but hey, no one is critiquing during a sing-along)…

He cites the increase in working parents (and the corresponding increase in guilty feelings about not  spending enough time or “doing enough” for their kids), a pervasive fear of a child being left out or left behind by other kids accelerating and excelling in their accomplishments, peer pressure from other parents, and an overactive sense of alarm in reaction to the cultural message that being busy is a superior state compared to “idleness.” He had this to say about what he sees as the culture of over-scheduling kids:

“The adult world of hyper-competition and marketplace values has invaded the family.  Parents still love their children and try to do what is best for them, but we’re missing our children in a culture that defines a good parent as an opportunity-provider in a competitive world.  Parenting becomes like product development, with insecure parents never knowing when they’ve done enough and when their children are falling behind.  Keeping our children busy at least means they are in the game.”

goofing around
Goofing Around–an important human activity! ;)

At the same time, there are plenty of “experts” who come down on the other side of the argument as well. With all the conflicting reporting and pressure (real or perceived) from parenting-peers, many parents are anxious about whether they’re providing sufficient opportunities for their kids–and (paradoxically) worried at the same time that they’re over-working their kids.

Studies conducted in the last decade (including reports by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Council of Economic Advisers to the President, and the YMCA) do show marked changes in practices and habits on the American “family front.” Pundits on both sides of the issue debate the meaning of these statistics, but they don’t dispute the stats themselves:

  • A pronounced decrease in free time for both preschool and school-aged children, and a sharp decline in “unstructured” outdoor activities.
  • A marked decrease in family meal-time, and the number of family dinners per week.
  • A noticeable decrease in the nutritional value of kids’ meals, which may be tied to the corresponding drop in family dinners and the common practice of resorting to fast food and meals-on-the-go.
  • A decided decrease in family vacation time.
  • A clear decrease in religious participation among families with school-aged children.
  • A striking decrease in children’s time with their parents–particularly if you don’t count “parent spectatorship” as time-spent-together.
  • A considerable increase (more than doubled in a decade!) of children’s participation in organized sports.
  • A clear increase in passive spectating, which includes watching siblings’  sports and activities.

The statistics aren’t in dispute, but their interpretations–as well as their cause-and-effect relationships–are still being debated. For example, the decrease in family vacation time may be due to economic factors rather than kids’ schedules. And other factors which I didn’t even list here (like the increase in anti-depressant medications being prescribed to kids) haven’t been definitively linked to over-scheduling, although many people suggest a connection. So when we really come down to it, there’s no cut-and-dried answer to this issue.

backyard play
We made up a “team T-shirt” for our ongoing backyard badminton tournament… sometimes with a celebratory marshmallow roast after the games. And of course we have sprinkler-running, sidewalk art with colored chalk, backyard picnics, ballgames with invented rules…

However…  I remember a solid piece of parenting-advice my mother gave me when I first embarked on the Mommy-gig, fortified with every parenting-book I could get my hands on. When it came right down to it, though, she told me for pete’s sake to “put down the book and pick up the baby!” None of the “experts” can give us a definitive answer about how we should schedule our kids’ time–but if we look to our individual kids, we can start to form some answers.

And the answer won’t be the same for every kid! Some kids thrive on scheduled and structured activity, while other kids (maybe even in the same family) prefer free, unstructured time to play or read or invent their own entertainments.

Our two youngest are in a position to compare and decide precisely what they prefer, due to the very different lifestyles between their dad’s house and ours. At their dad’s house they have scheduled sports and activities every single day of the week, and if they’re not engaged in their own activities, they’re sitting on the sidelines or benches watching each other’s. On weeknights they eat on the go, they don’t get home to start homework until late, and even the eight-year-old doesn’t go to bed until after ten. (She has always liked her sleep, so even she isn’t happy with that arrangement.)

In contrast (as you’ve probably already guessed from my photo line-up of things-for-families-to-do), ours is not a structured-schedule household of crammed-in structured activities. Part of the issue is financial–our income for this year will probably be about fifteen thousand, while their dad’s household income is into six figures.  But even aside from the sign-up fees, we prefer to spend our time with our kids rather than constantly driving-and-spectating for them. And the kids themselves are quite clear about the fact that they prefer it too.  Especially Elena Grace–she would happily drop all of her activities if she were allowed, and the first thing she said to me last Saturday morning (with a blissful grin) was, “I could read ALL DAY if I wanted to!”  Christian does enjoy his soccer (which only runs for eight weeks of the year) and is generally in favor of his karate class, but other activities (like cello lessons–he’s the tone-deaf one) only add stress. (And a heavy item to carry back and forth to school!)

family LOVE
the MAIN family-ingredient!

I was offered my previous summer position at the State Park by our house, but when I put it to a family vote, the decision was unanimous: they’d rather have ME for the summer than have more MONEY in the household.

When we made the family T-shirts for our backyard badminton tournaments, the fronts all said “Vega-Tyler Team,” because the two youngest kids have their dad’s last name. But last week when we were playing pirate and singing the “Pirate’s Life for Me,” Christian unexpectedly (and off-key, of course) substituted:”Yo ho, yo ho, a Tyler Life for Me!” We can’t buy them toys, we can’t take them to Disneyland, and we don’t even have television channels–but they prefer the Tyler way of life.

And for the record, so do WE.  The mom sitting next to Keoni at Christian’s soccer game last week was going on about all the different soccer games she had to get to that day, all at different locations. She wore her complaint like a badge of honor–and if her kids all want to be playing, then it is a sacrifice on her part to put that much mileage on herself… But we’re extremely grateful that’s not our life. We’re happy operating on “Island Time” and seeking our own adventures.

Posted in PostaDay

Expedition Journal #2: Fishing for a Photo Site

This is my second installment of playing with researching social networking websites and sharing the “field notes.” After my first installment (Expedition Journal #1: Prospecting on Pinterest), a couple folks posed the eminently reasonable question of why we go looking for more things to fill our time (and Inbox) when we’re already bombarded by so much social media.

Pinterest board
some of my Pinterest boards… Dragons, Celtic Designs, Pele–Volcano Goddess, Owls, Planning for our Hawai’ian B&B, Writing, At Home, Outdoor Adventures…

Part of my answer is the fact that there are some specific functions I’m looking for… Pinterest, for example, is far tidier and more efficient (not to mention more visually appealing) than my previous habit of copy-pasting stuff into a catch-all PowerPoint slide if I thought I’d want it later… Now I can “pin” an item with a single click, and pinning it saves the source website for future reference as well as the graphic itself. Works for me!

I’m actually on a mission to streamline and simplify my life, by finding the best tools for the things I want to do, selecting those few to use, and then re-evaluating and unsubscribing from any tools or networks that aren’t adding value to my day. My experience in the blogging-community has taught me to value the “social” aspect and the friends I meet online, so that’s a plus with other tools as well, though not necessarily a must-have. So that’s a little more explanation of my Expedition as a whole–but on to today’s topic…

One of the specific functions on my list-to-look-for is an online photo site. The crash-and-burn of my laptop (and its files) a few months back brought home to me the necessity of keeping precious pictures safely online. I have used Picasa (for photo editing) and the associated online Google albums for several years, but the online albums themselves have recently been “upgraded” to a new design which is decidedly user-UNfriendly, with fewer capabilities and worse navigation than the original, and I find myself needing a less frustrating option.

photographer, social network photography
Taking photos for one of my travel-magazine articles

And free. Our budget isn’t up for paid-membership sites.

So if you wondered where I’ve been the last couple days, the answer is that I’ve been “test-driving” different photography sites looking for The One that I can start using for our family photos and photographic travelogs. Oh, and I had an eBook on Vitamins to write. (And I admit it–I was playing on Pinterest as well…)

In the event that anyone else is wanting to sift through the gazillion photography websites out there, here are my impressions of the ones I tested out. Obviously I didn’t devote tons of time to all of them, though I did stay to play for a while on the few that seemed to be likely prospects. I should also add that there are literally dozens more photography social networks to choose from–so my search actually started with combing through reviews to narrow down the list of likely prospects to check out. Here’s the run-down of my impressions (or you can just skip down to the Winner)!

  • MyShutterSpace.com—This site targets “digital photography enthusiasts,” but it’s definitely a showcase-space.  The blog and forum entries by members are mostly brags (“My work was on TV!”) or sales pitches for their own work. Doesn’t feel to me like a community experience–more like a bunch of people jumping up and down saying “look at ME!” without looking at each other. Not interested.
  • PictureSocial.com—Almost identical layout and offerings as MyShutterSpace, except this one seems full of floundering photographic newbies. Not interested.
  • jAlbum.net—I didn’t get to try this one out; the “validation email” never arrived to allow me to complete my login. I requested a re-send, but it still didn’t show. Negative score on customer service. Moving on.
  • SlideShowPro.net—Looks like a great resource if you want to put together a professional looking video-slideshow with neat effects… But it’s limited to that one use. I’ll keep this in mind if I ever need a slide show, but it’s not what I’m looking for.
  • DivShare.com—Looks useful for online storage, and files can be shared, but there’s no “community” or social aspect, and it’s not specific to photos. That’s great if you’re looking for an all-purpose online storage option, but it’s lacking the specific tools for album-making and handling photos. Not interested.
  • Flickr.comThis was almost my pick! It’s a service specifically devoted to collecting and organizing your own photos, with easy drag-and-drop organizing, the ability to name and attach descriptive text or stories to each photo, and a healthy & active social  community. Flickr is also easily plugged into many other applications and websites, and it’s definitely the “big name” among photo websites. Its navigation is a little on the clunky side (moving among editing and album tools) but not so much as to put me off entirely. One thing missing from my wish-list: I could name photos, but there weren’t any “tags” that would enable me to grab a certain category of pictures (e.g. “fishing” or “Suzy-cat”) from across multiple albums.
  • Shutterfly.com—Very much like Flickr, but with a harder “sell” for purchasing prints, and is less used by other sites and apps. This one I might use, if I hadn’t already seen Flickr.

And I might use Flicker, if I didn’t go on to discover the Winner, which blew the competition out of the water.

And the Winner is…

PhotoBucket.com!  This is it! I can upload photos, organize them into albums, tag them with topics (yay!), title them, and add descriptive text or stories. The navigation is straightforward and intuitive, the tools easy to find.

PLUS, I can edit photos right here, as opposed to editing with a program on my Mac before uploading. Tons of editing tools and photo effects–purely awesome.

I can apply themes to the albums, and I can create slideshows, plug it directly to the iPhoto program on my Mac, and even connect it to my computer’s webcam.

I can share with Twitter, Facebook, or email, and choose whether an album should be public or private.

There’s an app I can download on my phone so I can use PhotoBucket directly from my phone, including uploading photos taken from the phone into any of my albums.

There seems to be an active and healthy social community here, and (oh dear) I can look at my statistics to see if I’m getting visitors.

PhotoBucket has all the stuff I was looking for–and some things I hadn’t even thought of.  I declare this expedition a success!  Here’s a page from my first PhotoBucket family album…

photo album page
here we go–a page from my family photo album!

Post-Script: A Bonus Find

I found one more gem this week–something I wasn’t looking for, but which I think I’ll use… Actually, I have to thank blogging-buddy Kathy McCullough, who posted a beautiful birthday post to her partner Sara, with a link to Sara’s photo-blog… And so (with lovely synchronicity, given the week’s search-topic) I discovered BlipFoto. Thank you, Ladies!

BlipPhoto is an entirely unique idea–it’s essentially a photo journal in which you’re allowed to upload one photo per day–and the photo has to be taken on that day. No cheating–when you submit a photo, the site checks your camera-data and rejects photos taken on earlier dates. (I actually had to correct my camera’s “date” setting after my initial submission didn’t go through…)  It’s straightforward–no themes, no widgets, no extras–simply the daily photo with your title and text (if you choose to add any). And the social aspect, with the ability to follow, comment, and rate photos just as we do with blog-posts here on WordPress.

And although this isn’t what I went looking for this week, I’m intrigued.  At the end of the day, what’s the one photo that represents your day? Or, if you don’t take pictures every day, what will move you to grab the camera with the daily post in mind? I’m giving it a go–here’s my first post earlier today:

blipfoto post
my first BlipFoto post…

Dragon Surgery. Our son Christian brought his injured dragon to my husband for surgery–his stuffing is coming out, and it catches fire when he sneezes! All prepared for surgery–and a dragon recovery-drink for afterward.”

Happy Snapping, All!

Posted in writing

Poetry When Slammed

Have you ever been to a poetry slam?  At its best, it’s a smashed-together combination of art and improv, alive with wit and wordplay and excitement.  Of course, it can also really suck. Depends on who’s on stage.  Not that I have a lot of room to judge, since I haven’t had the guts to try it myself.  Poetry performance, yes–in the form of a poetry-reading with pages I’d already written. But the slam? I bow to those who have the guts.  Well, to those who have the guts and don’t suck.  But that’s the trick, isn’t it? I don’t know which I’d be–so I haven’t yet decided if poetry slamming should go on my Bucket List or my Fuck-It List…

Poetry when I’ve been slammed, though… That I can talk about.

A blogging-friend was asking me last week about publishing poetry, and the best advice I can offer on that topic is to check out the 2012 Poet’s Market, which is a great resource for pretty much every publication everywhere that publishes poetry, with all the specs on how to submit, what (or if) they pay, what types they’re looking for, whether they accept simultaneous submissions (meaning you can send a poem to multiple publishers at the same time… or not), what percentage of submissions they accept, and all those good stats.  Poetry doesn’t tend to pay–but it does tend to publish.  And hey, it was the thrill of the decade for me to pick up the Anthology of Idaho Women Poets at my Barnes & Noble and see my name on one of the pages.  (Of course, none of you could have found it at your Barnes & Noble–it was a local offering only–but I’ll be honest, I was thrilled anyway…)

The same blogging-friend asked if my favorite poem could be found here on Kana’s Chronicles, and I had to answer “not yet”–but that’s easily remedied.  The following is a piece written over the three months when my youngest daughter, twelve weeks premature and weighing two pounds, was “imprisoned” in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I’ve written some about this (Amazing Grace, How Sweet the SOUNDS) but hadn’t shared the poem…  Just one note to avoid confusion, before I turn over this post to myself-of-eight-years-ago: a couple references to myself by name are using my name-of-eight-years ago…  During a different marriage, and when I went by my first name rather than my middle.  (Post about names here, if you’re curious…)

So without further ado, here’s Neonate… Poetry written when I’d been slammed by life.

Neonate

an "electrical appliance" I wasn't allowed to hold...

When the baby stops

breathing, an alarm rings in the NICU.

At home, the process is reversed;

when the phone rings, the mother stops–

***

The baby lives in a box.  That plastic box, there.

The baby is an electrical appliance

on a short cord.

***

three months early

can a baby

live?

No one will tell me

at the hospital where I arrive

spilling amniotic fluid

three months early

***

water broke

in my kitchen

not good

calmly

called a ride

mopped, changed pants,

woke my son

bid him brightly bye in the car

into the doors where someone would know what to do

then began to cry

***

this community, colony of moms,

our lives in orbit

around the NICU–

I introduce myself where we meet

at the phone outside the locked door,

scrub-in sink, breast milk freezer.

We don’t shake hands.  We have all scrubbed, but we are nervous

of hands.

***

The next crib over, Jose

is empty already,

not a mom here I know

(week down, months to go)

we are not, after all,

in this together

***

I pump forty ounces of milk

a day for a baby only fifty

ounces herself

and three times a night I sit up

in bed expressing

milk without a baby

***

Day 12 I can’t pick her up have never held

my baby,

mother’s and daughter’s

wails on either side of plastic walls

I ricochet from the Plexiglas barrier

till I’m able again

to pretend I’m coping

Elena Grace, my two-pound Wonder... A very small handful

***

Lullabye

I’m sorry

little half-baked

baby, shhh, Mommy’s here

***

Baby Stats

Units

of measurement, units of progress

or regress

cc’s of breastmilk, grams of baby,

frequency of desats, occurrence of apnea

her body barely filing

            my two hands

            graying, unmoving.

            In my hands

            she has stopped breathing.

statistics, routine notation

on today’s chart

***

I hate the phone

It’s Janna Vega to see Elena, each day at the locked door

a bead on my rosary

this prayer repeated

***

disposable vessels

threaded

through this tiny body so unready

dozens of times a day

her life re-starts

Easter afternoon another infection

rosary occupying

hands empty of baby

HolyMaryfullofGrace merging

with this new IV drip

of antibiotic, drip

of Grace and I am praying

to ultrasound screens, to shrill alarms

to antibiotics,

to a stuffed frog, to pink blankets

to God in visible forms

***

finally allowed to hold my baby...

I can translate every alarm.

Oxygen desaturation, heart rate, infusion complete

I hear

in my sleep

I dream myself

outside the NICU door, barred

from entering, a stream

of nurses exiting sadly

assuring me she’s fine

***

In the evening, in the NICU

a day-nurse calls me from home,

we hang up laughing.

Sum up my life: I’m taking social calls

in the NICU

***

At Entrance Five still in maternity wear

new mom watches new dad strap in new baby

to drive home, finished

with this hospital.

To see my daughter,

I stride into Entrance Five pulling off my sunglasses

fiercely

aware there’s room for jealousy in a flat belly.

***

The Traveling Parent Show

goes home empties

the dishwasher, explains

how to put on pants

pumps breasts, grades quizzes, changes

wet sheets, slices onions

defines Amen

 ***

Amen means “thank you, God, for listening.”

***

one nurse hails another:

Mom Cervantes on the phone”

 

which makes me Mom Vega

my son lugs his mailbox into the kitchen where

I sit with coffee and journal, logging

her removed oxygen tube and

his pet dragon’s change of color–

“Here comes your mailman!

See this mail is for you: it says:

Janna…  Vega…  Mommy!”

my name

***

I ask questions full of qualifiers–

recognizing the limited powers of medical fortune-telling,

and doctors’ desire to avoid

any promise that might break

Dr. Lawrence to his tape recorder:

“Mother asked appropriate questions.”

No, Mother asked questions

he might feel unconstrained to answer.

The other questions I’m not asking

She's been kicking ass ever since!

him.

***

From bare dirt by the emergency

entrance where I came in

daffodils come and gone, tulips

past, apple petals replaced

by apple leaves, roses coming on,

I am still parking

here marking time botanically

Posted in Idaho, travel

Ice Fishing, Hot Springs, and a Duck-Hunting Writer…

Day Two–Western Byways Editorial Team on the Road

By the time we unfolded ourselves from the motor-home’s fold-out bed this morning, the temperature had just pushed into double digits, and I felt intrepid enough to step outside and indulge in my Very Bad Habit…  The foothills beyond the stretch of high-desert prairie were warming in the sunrise light, with a huge half-moon still aglow just above them.  What a stunning backyard–and it’s the same “backyard” everyone has in Carey, Idaho, since the town was platted out in a string of lots lining the highway…

Elk in the Pioneer Mountains 1/14/12

Vonnie, the eager organizer of the community’s revitalization committee, had our day mapped out for us–at least once we poured enough coffee and bacon into The Editor to get him upright and functional.  (This is probably the number-one reason why my cooking-husband Keoni gets to join the magazine’s editorial staff on assignment…)  First up: a puddle-jumper plane ride with local rancher Mike–a pilot skilled enough to cut his engine and drop down among a herd of elk without spooking them…  (Whether his passengers were spooked by this maneuver…  Well, we’ll leave that answer to your imagination.)

Ice Fishers on Fish Creek Reservoir

The massive lava flows of Craters of the Moon National Monument reach their blackened fingers out almost to the edge of town, and the narrow strip–only as wide as the wagons in places–between the lava fields and the foothills formed the trail which Pioneers took for the Goodale’s Cutoff route of the Oregon Trail.  The Oregon Trail followed the trappers’ trails, which followed the Indians’ trails–and the stage routes followed, and railroads after that.  Vonnie’s son, Dave, owns the ranch that used to be the stage stop, and just turned up some photographs of the homesteading family who lived there a century back.  The dam (a WPA project of Roosevelt’s, back in the ’30s) is iced in, and the ice fishers are out in force today on the reservoir, which Mike says is eighteen inches thick in ice.

Ray, The Editor, and Vonnie

Keoni (who had been enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee in the heated motor-home) grilled sandwiches for everyone, and then we were off for our pickup-truck-tour of the Carey area in the company of 87-year-old Ray–who was born in Carey, schooled in its one-room schoolhouse with “six or seven” other kids, raises Appaloosa horses, and still ranches in the Pioneer Mountains just below his father’s original 1892 homestead.

He says he just lost two calves to wolves this year, a first for him, and mentions the wolf print he saw by his gate, using both hands to show its size.  “What people don’t understand,” he goes on to say, “is that when a wolf takes a cow, that’s a cow that a rancher birthed and raised.  He knows her–that cow had a personality.”  Speaking to the controversial hot topic of wolf-conservationists-versus-ranchers, he adds, “Personally, I think if we were allowed to control them, we could live with ’em.  But you won’t hear a lot of ranchers say that.”

hot spring just outside Carey, Idaho

Ray grew up running sheep for his father’s operation, and related a conversation between his father and another ranching friend a while back, after his dad bought an RV for retirement years.  “I can’t understand why you bought that trailer,” his buddy said; “You spent your whole damn life hauling around a sheep camp, and now what you’ve got is an expensive sheep camp!”

Near the boundary to Craters of the Moon, we pulled over at an unmarked spot in the road and walked just half a minute to a thoroughly inviting natural hot spring, complete with a soaking family whose clothes were piled at the edge.  No signage at all–but the locals know where to find it!  Geothermal is a viable source of energy here, as close as we are to the volcanic activity of Craters of the Moon; even the new school building is running entirely on geothermal.

Our motor-home is plugged into Vonnie’s house, via an extension cord wending its way among the collection of old milk cans left over from her husband Paul’s years hauling milk for the dairy operations.  Vonnie and Paul had invited us “next door” for dinner this evening. Vonnie teased that she’d begun to doubt Keoni’s existence, since she hadn’t yet met him–to which I replied that my son has an imaginary Dragon, and apparently I have an imaginary husband…

A certain bird-hunting writer–photographed right around here, and familiarly remembered by the long-time residents of Carey…

Like Ray, Paul was born and raised in Carey, and reminisced over dinner about the many things the young people used to do around here before the advent of television.  The hunting, the fishing, the mountains, the ice skating–kids used to build huge bonfires out on the lake and skate all night. In the canyon Mike flew through this morning, a person could theoretically fill every hunting tag Idaho offers–and Paul echoes Ray’s observation that the duck hunting here is the best in the state.

Hemingway used to come over here all the time to bird-hunt, he offers casually.  And then: “I was working over in Ketchum the day he shot himself.  That was a bad thing–got that clinic diagnosis, went home and put that shotgun in his mouth right at the house.  Never would have expected that of him–he was always so macho.  But then again, he wasn’t what he used to be.  He’d come down to the Stagecoach [bar], and you could barely see him over the steering wheel.  Not the Hemingway he used to be.”  The iconic literary legend who has always been a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out in my mind… pops into three dimensions hearing someone who knew the man speak so casually and warmly about him…

Keoni and I excused ourselves back to the motor-home after coffee (he needed to put his new knee up for a rest, and I have some writing to get done)–although we couldn’t get away without first answering Vonnie’s request for some of the stories behind our tattoos…  Tomorrow the “tour bus” moves on to Arco, the first town in the world to be run on nuclear power.  I wonder if they have a glowing hook-up for the motor-home?