Posted in Family, Home & Garden

Project Petroglyph

my sketch of Keoni (whittling a stand for one of his petroglyph carvings)

Keoni and I make a running joke about his age—not because he’s incredibly old (though of course that’s the joke), but because he was in college when I was born… So I tease him that when he used to carry girls’ books after school, they were clay tablets… Or that his birth certificate was chiseled in stone…

Maybe my teasing sparked an idea, because he recently picked up some pieces of sandstone that have been piled in a roadside heap since the dismantling of a wall at the entrance to our neighborhood. He started looking up traditional Hawai’ian petroglyphs, and next thing he was playing with his dremel tool and carving into his sandstone squares.

In Hawai’i you can find petroglyphs (literally, “rock-pictures”) near sites of old villages, around the volcano, or the sacred grounds of heiaus. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that they aren’t cordoned off or marked out like museum-pieces; you can just be poking around a lava flow and realize you’re standing on a story… The petroglyphs (or, to use the Hawai’ian term, ki’i pohako) tell stories about the sea life and plant life of the islands, family and social relationships, birth and magic and food and sport (Hawai’ians invented surfing, of course)… As a writer, I’ve always felt a special affinity for these enduring image-stories.

L to R: the “bird” petroglyph (carved by Elena Grace), the pu’eo (owl) petroglyph, and “paddlers” petroglyph

We’re both familiar with many of the traditional petroglyphs—hunters and fisherman, canoe paddlers and boats, and of course the honu (turtle) outline that’s all over the merchandise in tourist shops. I hadn’t realized until he started researching, though, that there’s a petroglyph for the owl, my own totem. So the owl was his first carving, followed by a pair of paddlers in memory of my Hawai’ian friend Al (an outrigger canoe steersman, whom I wrote about last year on the anniversary of his death).

He went on to make a pair of carvings for the two youngest kids, each one representing a family name we use for them. I nick-named Christian “Turtle” when I was pregnant with him and didn’t know know his gender, so honu is the obvious choice for him. Keoni carved a sandstone version, and then another on a circle cut from a gourd, which he put on a braided cord for a necklace.

Petroglyph of Honu (turtle) for Christian, and our made-up Monkey for Elena Grace

Elena Grace was trickier to match with a design, but she’s been a “monkey” since I first saw the movie Curious George… She was two years old and so exactly like George that I jokingly began to call her by that name when Christian and I came home from the theater. I didn’t anticipate the repercussions, though. For a month or two afterward, she insisted on being called George, persistently referred to herself as “Jooj,” and wouldn’t answer at all to her given name! If I felt ridiculous about the incredulous looks I got when I addressed her as “George” in public (because she wouldn’t acknowledge any other form of address)—well, I guess it was my own doing…

She was also born in a Year of the Monkey, which she particularly celebrates because she has that in common with Keoni. They’re the Monkey-Twosome of the family… But sadly for us, Hawai’i doesn’t have endemic monkeys, and therefore no monkey-petroglyph in the traditional line-up. No matter, though—we made up our own, adding a tail to the conventional “man” symbol.

Elena Grace carving a bird (and wearing her monkey necklace)

The kids were thrilled with their carvings, and I got even more of a kick out of Elena Grace’s determination to try her hand at carving herself. She went through the stack of index cards on which Keoni had drawn different petroglyphs, picked out “bird,” and after a quick demonstration of the tool, went to work on a piece of sandstone. Maybe that one is for the chickens we’ll be adopting soon.

We have a pile of sandstone left, so the carvers are still at it. We’re thinking of pua’a (wild pig) for Kapena, since he’s so passionate about his “pigskin” (football)… Now we just need to figure out the other four kids, and the three grandkids, and we’ll have the whole family line-up in story-stones.

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Posted in Family, Idaho

Pushing Past a Comfort Zone

my sketch of Grandpa fly-fishing

I’ve been laboring under a peculiar species of Writers’ Block for the last two weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the inclination or the material for writing, but there’s Something Important that I need to write about—that I want to write about—but am apparently not ready to write about. And I’ve felt like I couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) write about other things until I had addressed this.

I’m not meaning to be mysterious here—I’ll share the gist of the matter. My Grandpa passed away two weeks ago. There is SO much to say about this man, about this life… but I think while I continue to work my way up to that, I need to revoke my self-imposed restriction and go on writing about The Rest of Life.

In the meantime, I can imagine the scene with perfect ease: Grandpa and God, hip-deep in a divine trout stream, trading stories. I imagine that God is as good a storyteller as my Grandpa… And perhaps, after all, telling a story is, in itself, a fitting tribute to Grandpa.

Which leaves me with just one problem—after some weeks without writing, there are lots of stories to tell! (Even the kids have begun to comment whenever something makes me laugh: “That’s going into the blog!”) Shall I begin with the completion of the chicken-house, or the shooting class, or our son’s introduction into junior high, or our other son’s re-introduction to football practice after his knee surgery, or Keoni’s foray into football coaching, or the Petroglyph Project, or the latest installment of the sewage-moat saga, or…

Shooting—I’ll start with that.

my instructor emailed a few pictures he took with his phone during class…

Keoni bought me a place in a concealed weapons class (intended for Mother’s Day, though presented earlier because neither of us ever manages to wait for the actual Occasion to give a gift that was nominally intended for that Occasion)… The class coupon was good until September 1, so (being the accomplished Procrastinator that I am) I emailed the instructor in the last week of August to inquire about scheduling. No problem (whew)—he had an opening in Thursday’s class.

We stopped at WalMart to pick up ammo before the class, and in his usual sociable way, Keoni struck up a conversation with the fellow behind the counter (“Bruce Gordon—they call me ‘Flash'”), who, like Keoni, has worked in prisons for a couple decades. Of course they turned out to have quite a few friends in common, so they chattered away while Flash unlocked the cabinet to pull out a box of Winchester 40-caliber bullets. As he wound up the transaction, Flash brightly inquired, “So this is your daughter?” Always amused when people make the (understandable) error, we laughingly corrected him. “Wife!

this photo is my new screen-saver :)

I dropped Keoni to coach his football practice, and headed south of town to the military shooting range. Laughable as this might seem, it didn’t occur to me until I was driving to the range that I might be in the intimidating position of being the only female in this class… And that much did turn out to be true. As pickup-truck after pickup-truck pulled into the dusty bay beside my minivan, it became apparent that I’d be the only girl in a group of Idaho hunters. But I will say this: if ever a girl needed to bolster her Inner Badass, there’s nothing to accomplish the job quite so quickly as strapping on a belt with a holstered weapon.

It also hadn’t occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a bathroom anywhere nearby, and after a hot afternoon drinking quantities of raspberry-green-tea, I badly needed one. Just to make sure, I inquired of the instructor, who was discernibly disconcerted by the question, and who started trying to think where the nearest “blue lagoon” might be found. “That’s okay,” I told him. “I’ll just step around the hill here.”  He called after me to ask if I were sure, if I were okay with that, if I needed a tissue… I reassured him over my shoulder, “Nah, I’m an Idaho girl.” (Although I did come back to report that it was a new experience squatting in the sagebrush with a holstered weapon belted on…)

token soccer-mom in the line-up…

I will admit to feeling intimidated and uncomfortable in that group, but I put on my best act of nonchalance, hid behind humor, introduced myself as the group’s “token soccer-mom”… And then we got down to it. Four hours of drills and target shooting, and I believe I may say I acquitted myself quite well. More to the point: my instructor commented several times that I must be having fun, because I had a smile plastered across my face the whole time!

In some situations I might have replied that a smile is my “default setting,” but he was absolutely correct. I was having a kickass time.

The only thing kicking more was my weapon—and there was some discussion about the advisability of a 40-caliber handgun for someone of my size… But then, I didn’t tire out in four hours, as the instructor had dubiously predicted I might, and {grin} there’s that “badass” factor…

My target from class. Don’t piss me off.

Anyway, I had a good time. I learned things. I shot well. I earned my Concealed Weapon Carry permit. And I won’t lie—I pulled my minivan out of that shooting range feeling pretty pleased with myself. I brought my target home to show, and glowed under the compliments of my husband and sons.

Chatting with my instructor, it turns out that he’d paid a visit to this blog before meeting me, and is interested in having me do some writing for his website. He proposed bartering some classes for some writing—and I’m tickled by the prospect.

All in all, there’s something to be said for pushing past a Comfort Zone!

Posted in Family, Idaho, travel

Hill-Climbing, Hummingbirds, and Handguns

This evening, a particular piece of kid-art caught my eye. We have their notes and drawings tacked up all over the place—on the walls, on the fridge—but when something is always there you sometimes stop seeing it.

Elena Grace’s drawing of the family at the lake, one year ago

That’s the case with this piece , carefully dated 8-2-11 (almost exactly a year ago) with sticker-letters spelling out the message: “Mom, I wish I could see you more often. Love, Elena Grace.” It’s accompanied by her drawing of all of us at the lake, and her note reminded me with a jolt that just a year ago (due to our 2010 alcoholic relapse) we were only seeing the kids for a day here and there, not even overnights.

my scariest subscriber!

What a long way we’ve come (thank you, God!) that we have them for a week at a time this summer, and on the Fridays when their dad picks them up, we know we’ll have them back the next Friday. Christian’s parting words on his way out the door to his dad’s truck this afternoon were: “I’ll call you. Post something!” Scary as it may sound, my eleven-year-old now subscribes to my blog, and has even read through all the archives. Well, you can bet he’ll keep me pretty honest. (By the age of three, the signature phrase of Mr. Fact-and-Detail was: “Actually, Mom…”)

An aside to my child: Remember, Buddy, that Mom wears a t-shirt that says “I make shit up,” and that first and foremost I’m a storyteller. Cut me a storyteller’s slack, yeah? Love you!

Silver City, Idaho: the “ghost town” that’s still kickin’

This week we used our time with the kiddos not only for chicken-house-building, but also for a camping foray into the Owyhee mountains to the old mining town of Silver City. I wrote about Silver City last summer for an Idaho travel magazine (“reprint” of the article here), and on that visit Keoni & I stayed in the Idaho Hotel, which has been in operation for one hundred fifty years… I know that sounds like a new building to my friends in Europe, but here in the American West that’s about as old as it gets.

As we pulled into town this week, the hotel owner, Roger, was out front of the hotel putting steaks on the grill. Keoni pulled the van up beside him and rolled down the window. “I don’t know if you remember us–we stayed here last summer…” Whether truthfully or politely, Roger said he did, and Keoni went on to add, “My wife wrote the article for Western Byways.” Whether or not he remembered us, he remembered the article—and evidently with pleasure. (I wonder, in retrospect, if it’s a bit unnerving to be told there’s an article being published about your place, and not to have an idea which of your recent guests might have been the snoop writer…)

one of the drug store counters… Roger bought it, contents-and-all, and is working to restore it

We reiterated how much we’d enjoyed our stay last year (as if he hadn’t gathered as much from the article), told him we’d brought the kids up to camp (he peered into the back of the van and waved his barbecue tongs at them in cheerful greeting), and asked if there might be a possibility that he would unlock the drug store (which he also owns) at some point so the kids could have a look. He agreeably set a time for the next morning, and we headed on up the road.

Keoni had some “help” (and a duel?) with the tent…

We had intended to bypass the established campground just out of town and stake out a spot upstream, but the campground turned out to be entirely deserted, so we decided after all to claim a creekside spot there. Elena Grace gave Keoni a hand with the tent, and both kids disappeared up the banks of the creek.

disappearing across the creek…

I have to pause here and note that I’ve never in my adult life gone camping without being the person who packed for the trip. This was actually the first time Keoni and I have had the chance to camp together (thanks to the loan, from my parents, of two tents—including the awesome orange one that predates ME), and while I was frantically trying to finish up my writing Tuesday, he packed up the van for our adventure. It was a strange sensation for me to get into the vehicle without a single idea of what had been packed. He’s organized, OCD, and super-thorough (far more so than I would have been, in all truth), so I had no reason to worry. It was just an odd sensation. Yet another reminder that I’m with a man now who takes care of things.

Our Fire Guy at work with the flint & steel

And take care of things he did—the camp popped up around me in no time, and by the time the kids returned from their foray up the opposite mountainside, he had sausages on the grill and a fire ready for Christian’s flint-and-steel.

It’s one of the inescapable facts of camping—at least around here—that ninety-degree days flip in a flash into near-freezing nights. Not long after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I was hurriedly trading my sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts for jeans and layers of sweatshirts. (And yes, the kids both piped up that they were glad their dad let them take their warm sleeping bags.)

marshmallows & a fire—indispensable to camping

The marshmallows came out, of course, quickly followed by a perfectly full moon, rising from behind the mountainside the kids had so recently conquered. After several s’mores, Elena Grace climbed stickily into my lap and leaned back against me, gazing at the moon. “It’s just been shopping, you know,” she told me, matter-of factly.

Oh? Does the Moon have shopping bags?

“Mm-hmm.” She gazed some more. “It likes taking baths. And it always washes its hands after it goes to the bathroom.  It likes people… and fish. Golden fish!”

I think I may have a Writer here. I’ll have to ask her what the Moon shops for…

morning in the Camp… Including Mom (with coffee!) when she finally emerged

Keoni and the kids were up early, and I emerged from the tent for a few cold minutes before I conceded that my writing-until-five-the-previous-morning had caught up with me. Gravity definitely felt like my enemy—smell of bacon and coffee notwithstanding—I needed some more sleep. On my second attempt at emerging, the air had warmed, the coffee was still waiting, and Keoni was cleaning up what turned out to be the worst “disaster” of our trip—the aerosol whipped cream (for pancakes & cocoa) had deployed inside the cooler. When that’s the worst mishap of a camping trip, you know that someone has packed well!

We headed back into town, where we met up with Roger and his strongly-wagging tail, which is incidentally attached to his dog Kodiak… He and a friend were doing some work on the drug store this week (I believe he intends to open it for regular public viewing once the restoration-work is farther along) and he ushered us in to have our look around. When he bought the drug store, some of its contents had been untouched for decades. There’s a cabinet of unopened medicines, the newest of which is from 1903… A full dentist’s office with all the tools where they were left… Typewriter and shipping boxes, embossed order-forms (dated 1914) for opium, lamps and bottles and all manner of things. It’s purely fascinating, truly.

the fascinating Silver City drug store… And Kodiak, our tail-wagging “tour guide”

I think what’s so fascinating to me about Silver City is that there’s so much history still there—and the few folks who still live there (though only a couple of them year-round, as it’s snowed in through most of the winter) are maintaining and restoring and keeping the history alive.

trying our hand at gold-panning…

As Roger said to us, you can tell a Local in Silver City because they’ll go around with their noses to the ground after a rain, to see what artifacts might have washed to the surface. And indeed, when Keoni was digging around in the creek-bank by our campsite, seeking worms for Christian’s fishing, he uncovered rusted square-headed nails and even a rusted padlock embedded in the banks. The campground itself is situated where China-town stood, Roger told us, and it’s apparently quite common to find Chinese coins and opium bottles after a rain.

I confess to being a little bummed by the realization that I had a less-than-avid audience for the history-stuff in my kiddos. My own frame of reference is a childhood spent with a sister who was a History-Major-in-the-making by the age of six, and the two of us would easily have spent a full afternoon just in the cemetery, not to mention the rest of the town… But on the other hand, these two will happily entertain themselves for a couple hours with just a stream for entertainment, so I really can’t complain.

Christian reading in the tent. (Lessons learned: he needs more than 3 books for a 2-day camp-out, and she now knows that eBooks can’t get recharged…)

I almost did—complain, that is—when Elena Grace was throwing a temper-tantrum about her flip-flops being “wet and sandy” (of all things!) when she was trying to play in the stream… “I hate this place! I am NOT joking!” she shrieked, throwing one of her sandals on the ground. Can this seriously be MY kid, I was wondering… Until she finished her fit with this lament: “If I could just be barefoot!”  Oh Lordy, she is REALLY my kid!

Sorry, sweetie—I misunderstood the nature of the problem. By all means, be barefoot. (She was, for most of the rest of the trip. And I’m remembering a week-long canoe trip around Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho in my teens—a week in which I didn’t once don any form of footwear…) Okay—so we need to work on the tantrum-part, but yeah. She’s mine.

Our Camp Cook!

After some down-time back at camp (despite the sleep-in, Mom needed another nap on a blanket in the shade), we poked our heads into the hotel again and asked Roger if he might have some horseshoes we could borrow—he did—and we walked down to the horseshoe pits in the town’s Memorial Park. Christian’s unique (but effective) style of horseshoes looks something like bowling, but his bouncing-and-rolling tosses land well. Keoni overthrew a couple into the creek beyond, and we ended the evening with new horseshoe-terms. In addition to “leaner” and “ringer” (Christian ended with TWO ringers on his last toss!), we now have “slider” and “creeker” (meaning one that lands in the creek)…

Back at “our” creekside, we had tied a couple of Elena Grace’s bright-pink socks to one of the tent-lines so we wouldn’t run into it—and we had the pleasure of a visit, during dinner, of a pair of hummingbirds determined to find food in them. Heaven help them if they manage to get sock-juice from those, was the general consensus around the campfire…

It has been a week of “firsts”… Our first opportunity to camp together, the kids’ first foray to Silver City… And the last “first” for the week: my first go with a loaded weapon. On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a spot Roger had recommended for target-shooting, and set up targets against a steep hillside.  I confess I wasn’t prepared for the KICK of a 40-caliber handgun, but by my fourth clip I was taking out my targets consistently. And having fun. Look out, World!

Flash… and KICK! Aim… and ENJOY!
Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Our Little Patch of Plantation

image courtesy of urbanhomestead.org

The current buzz-word for this practice is Urban Homesteading, but “urban” doesn’t quite describe us. Our little place isn’t within the city limits of any town (and if it were, even Idaho’s capital city barely qualifies as “urban”)… Perhaps in our case we should call it “backyard homesteading,” or just plain “turning-a-regular-home-into-a-mini-farm.”

Whatever you choose to call it, that’s the idea behind the Urban Homesteading movement: creating a self-sustaining lifestyle wherever you already happen to live. Or if you’d like a more “official” definition:

Urban Homestead.n. The home of a family living by principals of low-impact, sustainable self-sufficiency through activities such as gardening for food production, cottage industry, extensive recycling, and generally simple living.

People are undertaking Urban Homesteading in cities, in towns, in apartment blocks, in suburban backyards… In short, they’re Homesteading wherever they live. (And many of them are blogging about it!)

Keoni & Christian working on our chicken house

When Keoni and I talk about our plans to move back to Hawai’i and build a Bed & Breakfast on our Big-Island acre, we always envision that establishment as fully self-sufficient, but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on us until recently that we don’t have to wait for that venture before we start taking strides toward that lifestyle. For the B&B we picture starting from scratch with sustainability in mind—water-catchments, solar panels, composting toilets, fruit trees and garden, fishing-boat… We intend to live entirely off the grid (except for an internet connection). But we realized recently that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” project, and we needn’t wait until we can do ALL of that to start doing some of it. The real point of “Urban” sustainability is making do with what you have, where you are.

Christian learning some new tools

If we all waited until we could afford to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels, we might never get started at all. So we’ve been asking ourselves what we CAN do now to live more sustainably… And we’re surprised by the lengthy list. Our little trailer-court plot is on its way to becoming a VERY-mini Homestead. Some of this won’t be new to you Regular Readers, but there’s something satisfying in looking at it all together…

  • We’re building a chicken coop for laying-hens. This is a project that began with our son Christian’s disclosure of his long-standing wish to raise chickens (who knew?!)  and it was in the process of researching “backyard chickens” that we began to come across references to Urban Homesteading… Seed of an idea planted!
  • a giant home-grown zucchini—too heavy to lift?

    We’ve been practicing “kitchen chemistry” in making our own household cleaners and personal care products. This, too, was a project that pre-dated the Homesteading idea, and stemmed not from noble environmental leanings, but from lack of money… Still, it got us thinking more along the lines of sustainability.

  • We’ve been sharing our neighbor Bill’s vegetable garden, and started growing our own kitchen herbs. And getting creative even on some little things… When sunflowers started sprouting beneath our bird-feeder, we transplanted them along the fence—hopefully by next summer we’ll be able to supply the bird-feeder ourselves.
  • I’ve written here about our habits of bartering and scrounging—we’re turning the practice of getting-stuff-for-free into an outright art form! Just yesterday we were over at one of the trailers in our neighborhood that was due to be demolished, pulling out some paneling (for use on the chicken house) and a ceiling light (for our living room) and a bunch of mirrors (I have Pinterest-inspired projects in mind) and some other odds-and-ends… We have always practiced recycling (we’re fortunate to have curb-side pick-up, and our Recycle bin is usually more full than our trash), but until recently, we hadn’t explored the practice of UPcycling.
pulling some paneling (and a vent) for chicken-coop construction, from the neighborhood trailer about to be demolished
  • We joined the Freecycle network, which provides a venue for members to give away (and pick up!) used items. We’ve posted a number of items as we’ve been sorting through and cleaning out our two sheds (we moved in such a hurried jumble that most of this stuff hasn’t seen daylight in the year since we moved here), and we have picked up several free items ourselves… Last week we picked up a partially-built dollhouse for Elena Grace (she’s uninterested in the chicken coop, but feeling left out nonetheless—hopefully this will serve as a parallel project with her), a couple rolls of chicken wire for the coop under construction, and materials to build…
  • garden helper
    Elena Grace fertilizing plants

    …a compost bin! Next summer we’ll probably graduate from garden-sharing to breaking ground on a plot of our own. I’d like to learn canning and drying, and we’ll see how much of a dent we can make in our grocery bills. The composter will be a help in fertilizing the growing-goods, and will materially cut down the amount of trash we’re sending to the landfill.

  • We do practice some small-scale water catchment, which we use for watering our plants. Truth be told, though, there’s not a lot of rain to catch in our high-desert Idaho climate (annual rainfall here is around eleven inches)… We’re happily situated on an island of the Boise River where the water table is barely below the surface, and we’re living on a well. We have a little timer on our water hose and run the sprinkler regularly—and with very little guilt, knowing that the water will seep right back in to the water table rather than being “wasted.” Our focus here is making sure that our water returns clean, particularly given that whatever seeps into the water table here will be showing up next in our well… Our natural composting (contrasted with store-bought chemical fertilizers) and home-made cleaning products will definitely be a “plus” in this regard.
  • small solar charger
    something like this could keep the internet up when the power is down..

    I would love to be able to switch to solar power (we certainly have enough sunshine here to make it feasible!) but that’s an expensive project. So we’re coming at this one from the other end, and working on cutting our power use. This summer’s project-list (after the chicken coop and the compost barrel) includes an outdoor clothesline—the clothes dryer is the single biggest power-suck in the house! We’re also looking at some serious weather-proofing before winter, because our power bill jumped ridiculously high last year when the cold weather set in. I’m actually looking at a small solar charger that can be used to power small items like phone and iPad chargers, and our internet router. We actually lose power out here with ridiculous frequency—it seems every time there’s a thunder storm or snow storm, we spend a few hours in the dark. The rest of the family doesn’t mind—the kids go straight to books and Legos and other no-power-needed activities—but it can wreak havoc with my writing deadlines when I can’t get online! There are a number of small solar chargers on the market for thirty bucks and under—I might be giving one of these a try.

Elena Grace getting creative with a planter…

When I was a kid, I used to make a game of pretending my bedroom was a houseboat, and that it was going to float away from the rest of the house on some exploring-adventure. I’d try to set up my houseboat-room so it would be entirely self-sufficient for my imaginary journey. I wasn’t allowed to have food in my room, but I’d stock up on plastic food from my sister’s grocery-shopping set, and put a can in my closet to serve as a (pretend!) chamber pot, and make sure all my favorite things were in the room with me, and stock up on maps (my dad’s old triple-A triptychs)…  I don’t remember actually pretending any of the journeys–it was the preparation that kept my interest, the idea of rendering my space entirely self-contained so it could float away on its own…

“I’m a chicken in my chicken-house!”

That childhood game of mine comes to mind again as we fiddle with improvements to our place, make do for ourselves, and work at cutting down outside costs. Truth be told, I hardly ever leave our little plot of yard—my writing-work is here at home, and we don’t Go Out for entertainment purposes or have a lot of errands to run… I could pretty well play my boat-game here, with the yard-boundaries of our “Homestead” being the deck-rails of the houseboat, everything our family needs contained within its small borders… I’m ready to cast off the mooring lines and float away in my imagination. I just hope the chickens don’t get seasick.

Posted in Family, IdahoAuthors, travel

Riding His High Horse to Death

As we were driving to pick up the kids from my Ex’s house yesterday, Keoni commented that he always has a knot in his stomach at pick-up and drop-off times, wondering if the Ex (or his wife) will kick up a fuss of some sort. I get the same knot. And sure enough—yesterday we got another taste of pointless puerility.

We had reminded the kids to bring their sleeping bags because we’re planning a camping trip this week. They each have a nice down sleeping bag (I know this because I bought them, back when I was still married to their dad), and the arrangement is supposed to be that the kids can bring their own things back and forth between the households, regardless of which parent might have bought the items in question. The kids’ things are the KIDS’ things, and they’re supposed to be able to have their things with them.

However, instead of the down-filled sleeping bags, my Ex brought out a pair of old flannel bags that he and I had bought when we were college undergrads. They would be fine for a living-room slumber party,  but in the Idaho mountains these weren’t warm enough when they were new—and that was almost twenty years ago.  So I asked if the kids could please bring their warm sleeping bags, since we’re heading into the mountains.

“They’re in the trailer,” he answered evasively, clearly intending that retort to close the topic.

Can they please bring them?

“They’re in the trailer,” he repeated. (The tent-trailer in question was not ten feet from where I stood, and takes all of three minutes to open.)

Can they please bring them?

“They shouldn’t need—it’s July—they shouldn’t need them,” he blustered.  (As if it hadn’t been a July-in-Idaho-mountains when HE got too cold in one of these same bags. They’ve served as picnic blankets ever since.)

In the mountains they might. Can they please bring their own sleeping bags?

(…reluctant pause…)  “Okay… But I need to talk to you over here.”  I followed him to the other side of the driveway, away from the kids, where he put on his most put-upon face and demanded to know: “How do I know they’re going to come back in any kind of decent condition?”

(Wait, what?? Seriously, where did that come from?)

What’s the productive thing to do at this point?  He already said the kids can take their sleeping bags; but he wants me to have this “talk” with him first… If he truly had reason for concern, I don’t know what I could say that would reassure him. As it is, there’s no history or habit or past incident that would render this question applicable, or even explicable.

I learned a while back not to get diverted into pointless pissing matches with him, and I can’t imagine this “talk” fitting any other description. He still feels a need to take (or create) any opportunity to deprecate and disparage. Yes, I gave him a brand new High Horse to ride with my alcoholic relapse nineteen months ago, but he doesn’t seem to realize that his nag hasn’t had anything to feed on for a year and a half. (Maybe that’s why he’s grasping at straws? No, wait—horses eat hay.)

Bottom line? Never mind beating a dead horse—he’s still trying to ride it.

And I choose not to serve as his saddle any more.  I chose not to engage in his inquisition about the imminent danger to the sleeping bags being released into my custody. If you’re not going to let the kids take their bags, say so and let me leave; if they can take their bags, let’s get them out so I can leave. I didn’t say that out loud, though; I just repeated myself… Can the kids please bring their sleeping bags? 

Keoni stepped over to join us. The Ex told him to walk away. Keoni didn’t argue, but also didn’t move. I repeated my own question yet again.

How ridiculous does this get? Only one thing derailed the Ex from his desired discussion of the doubtlessly-doomed bags: namely, his stronger desire to deliver his diatribe to me alone.  When Keoni declined to skedaddle, the Ex puffed up and tried again:

“Sir, you need to step away. This is between me and my wi—  …me and my ex-wife.”

The almost-“wife” slip made me chuckle afterward (given that I’ve been Keoni’s wife for several years now, and that the Ex himself remarried just a few weeks ago), but at the time I just had one response: “I don’t have to talk to you alone.”

He did get the sleeping bags out of the trailer, for which I’m grateful—truly, I would have been worried about the kids keeping warm in those other bags. And I confess he did manage to strike a nerve as he grumbled while he got them out. He was complaining about Christian bringing his (expensive) ear protection for shooting, and both of them taking their (expensive) sleeping bags, and he said he’s “tired of buying all the expensive stuff because you won’t.” If he wanted to hit home with derision, that one did it—the difference between “won’t” versus “can’t” buy expensive things. As if I were blowing off the kids. And at the same time, frustration that he’d send them with inadequate equipment rather than focus on what’s best for them. And that he’d try to blame me for that (he’s worried I’d damage the sleeping bags? Oh please…)  Why would he balk at letting the kids take their own (sufficiently warm) sleeping bags or their own ear protection?—it’s not as though I’M using his “expensive” stuff, so what’s the problem?

This is why I don’t talk to him alone. This is why I need a little time for prayer-assisted emotional recalibration after I do have to talk with him. His muddied view of our simple and joyful life can temporarily sully my own view of it until I manage to shake off his disagreeable influence. So here I am recalibrating, and looking forward to the camping all of us are excited about.

***

When  Christian called earlier in the week with questions about his packing-list for camping, I told him we’ll be heading up to Silver City, a mining ghost-town that Keoni & I  visited last summer when I wrote the cover-story for a travel magazine. On that trip we stayed in the 150-year-old hotel, but this time we’ll be pitching tents… And not in the established campground nearby, but somewhere along the river—REAL Idaho camping, for the first time in the kids’ memory. They’ve been out regularly with their dad and his wife, but  the trailer (with its heater, stove, and running water) disqualifies those travels from the Camping-category, in my [snobbish-outdoorswoman] opinion.

They’ll have a lot of new experiences mixed in with some old-and-familiar ones. Setting up a campsite with tents, digging a latrine, panning for gold below the old mines, starting a fire with flint and steel,  cooking in the campfire coals,  target-shooting with the Desert Eagle handgun, exploring the ghost town and its cemetery, bait-fishing (and fish-cleaning, and fish-frying over a campfire), working on carving our walking sticks, some hiking-exploring, campfire sing-along, some reading aloud from my favorite Idaho-outdoors-author Patrick McManus… And I’ll be interested to see the photojournalism-perspective of each of the kids, now that they’re taking pictures.

There, see? I just needed to realign my mind. And no, I wouldn’t trade our joyful, rich-in-experience life for the Ex’s agitated, rich-in-trinkets existence.

Our ‘Ohana ROCKS!
Posted in Family, Home & Garden

Budget Limbo: How LOW can we go?

Christian & Grandy setting up the backyard tent

Yesterday we made the six-hour drive back home from my parents’ house, and we hope that Grandy and Boboo are recovering from the chaos of their week-long house-full of US! The kids immensely enjoyed their week, though of course it went by too quickly for them—sleeping in a tent in the backyard, roasting marshmallows for s’mores, spending afternoons at the fabulous city pool with its water-slides, fishing for bluegill, beginning a new sewing project with Grandy  and a week-long game of “Axis & Allies” with Boboo (both of which incomplete undertakings await our return for another visit next month)…

Christian & Kapena sliding on a two-man tube

Staying with my parents means a week of unaccustomed chaos for them, but a week of time-out from Regular Life for us. And truthfully, that was precisely what we needed this week.

It took a few days for Keoni to recover from his workplace-heatstroke, and he wrote his resignation letter on the first day of our visit. Given his heart problems a couple years back, and given his pledge to stick around with us for a LONG time, that 118-degree kitchen just isn’t viable as a work environment. He got a respectful response from Chef, praising his work ethic as well as his cooking, and promising positive references… and a Last Paycheck.

Elena Grace, swimming-pool butterfly…

I spent most of the visiting-week glued to the computer with a sizeable writing assignment… The kids were bummed that I wasn’t joining in the swimming and activities, but from a practical standpoint, the timing of that big assignment (or rather, the paycheck that will come from it) is perfect.

Resting beside my computer all week was a piece of paper with our budget (such as it is: a 5-item list of monthly bills) scribbled on it. You could say this is my method of dealing with financial “limbo” and the uncertainties about income in the immediate future—trying to plan what we can

Boboo took Kapena on a campus tour of University of Idaho. Highlights, of course, included the football facilities!

Before I go on… The second-guessing Critic who lives in the back of my head wonders if I spend too much blog-space dwelling on our lack of money. My answer to that voice: Lack of Money is part of our daily life—so yes, the topic finds its way onto these blog pages with regularity. But that’s NOT because we’re unhappy with our life. It’s simply because I’m writing about our life.

Hell, Keoni and I each used to make more than seventy thousand a year, and we were each trying to drink our way out of the lives we lived then. Trying to drink our way Out of Life.

Today’s life couldn’t be more different. Our days are joyful, and I wouldn’t trade even an hour of Today for that previous life with my bank-balance (as well as my mood) in the black.

Sewing collaboration: Christian pins the pattern pieces & Elena Grace cuts them out (because Grandy doesn’t have “Lefty” sewing-scissors he could use)

Among other thoughts this week, I’m bemused to realize how flexible the concept of “necessities” can be, when it comes right down to it. Last fall when Keoni encouraged me to take the leap into writing full-time, not knowing how much money I’d be able to earn that way, it wasn’t because we felt we “didn’t need” that second income. It was purely a leap of faith, believing that somehow we could make it work. It’s true that we did re-apply for Food Stamps at that point (we had qualified for them even while I worked full time, but had chosen to discontinue them because we could get by without them on my regular wages). Otherwise, we were already on the lowest budget we could think of at the time.

Elena Grace, Christian, Kapena, & Keoni roasting marshmallows on Grandy & Boboo’s patio

And yet… A week ago, our list of monthly bills was a SIX-item list. We keep finding new ways to get creative. Keoni’s resignation was a no-brainer after last week’s heatstroke, but we’re looking once again at diminished income, and uncertainty. So… It occurred to me for the first time that we could do without our monthly phone bill. That’s what I mean about elasticity of “necessities.”  Our choice of phone carrier has been been limited because there’s only one company that gets cell reception where we live. We’ve been on that company’s cheapest, most basic plan for our two cell phones, but that’s still $125 a month.

We don’t use our phones much—we both hate talking on the phone, though we text a fair bit—but it’s just not feasible to be entirely without a contact number. We need to be able to take calls from doctors, our pharmacy, the kids’ schools, Keoni’s job application… It was the kids who gave me the idea of an alternative.

A sticky S’Mores kiss… (photo taken by Elena Grace with her iPhone un-phone…)

My mom and her law partner gave their old iPhones to Christian and Elena Grace this week—no SIM cards or phone service, but they work with wireless internet (like mini iPads) for every other function, and the kids are using them for email, cameras, game-playing, reading iBooks, and streaming music and video. It dawned on me that as long as we keep our internet (which IS on the “indispensable” list, since I work online), we can use our phones with VOIP and texting apps, no paid phone service. Sure, that means we’re limited to using our phones when we’re home or near a wifi hot spot, but you know what? We can live with that just fine. Why didn’t I think of this before now?

This evening I’m looking at our (shortened) list of monthly obligations:

  • the boys spent a morning fishing with my mom’s law partner, “Firefighter Bob”

    Rent on our trailer, $600. That’s the big one, of course. And at this point I’m holding off on making any more payment until our landlord does something about our septic tank and sewage moat. It’s been several months now since we first started asking for attention to the issue, and last week (armed with the applicable sections of Idaho Code) I mailed two pages of documentation, requesting a response of the “fix-it” variety. Still no response of any variety to my “Poo Letter,” so no rent money headed their direction at the moment…

  • Internet, $35. Not bad, considering that it covers my “commute” to work, among other things…
  • Electricity, $100 average. Mostly that’s heating cost from winter months, even though we turned the heat off whenever the kids weren’t home. We’re going to work on some weather-proofing before we get to winter again, and in the meantime I’ve discovered the nifty hour-by-hour graphic of usage posted online by Idaho Power—a great tool to help identify (and work on) the “power-sucks” in daily usage…
  • my dad’s OldTown canoe, coming home with us for a restoration job… This beauty is about 80 years old!

    Car insurance, $24. We’ve been so blessed in so many ways. Keoni’s parents stunned us a few months ago by sending me a brand-new Mac just when my old laptop was dying—this computer is my “office” and has enabled me to keep working from home as a writer… And this week my parents gave us their beautiful ’99 minivan. Wow. Those little words like “thank you“—as important as they are—seem entirely insufficient as a response to either of those acts of generosity. For the time being we’re parking my grandpa’s old Buick rather than keep insurance and registration on two cars (we do fine with just one)—and we’re absolutely loving the comfort and roominess of the van! We drove it home from their house yesterday, packed with the tents they’re loaning us (we’ve promised the kids some camping this summer), and with my dad’s old wooden canoe strapped on top… Keoni wonders if he now qualifies as a “soccer mom”…

  • Elena Grace and Grandy hit the library immediately after we arrived…

    And our one remaining expendable expenditure: Netflix for $16 per month. We haven’t had television channels for years, we don’t eat out or go to movies—so this online streaming of shows and movies is our only “entertainment” expense. And one we could drop if need be, though we certainly get our money’s worth of entertainment value from it.

So there we have it. Aside from rent, our lifestyle costs a whopping $175 per month, at least for the regularly billed expenses. Of course are the odds-and-ends like toilet paper, Christian’s lactose pills, catfood, gas for the car (although there won’t be much needed there until Keoni is driving to a job again)… But there’s the budget, more or less.

still relaxed…

Mentally running through that accounting this week has helped keep our minds settled in the face of Change. With Keoni’s last paycheck we paid ahead on our electricity bill, enough to carry us for several months. With my next writing-check we’ll do the same for internet and car insurance—and with that we feel “safe,” our Basics ensured for a few months. We’ll trust that my writing-work will be steady enough to have rent money ready when we need to resume paying it… Keoni will be looking for work, and we’re still praying about the Corrections job for which he had applied even before his heatstroke forced the issue…

It’s a game of Limbo, lowering the bar of our expenses while our income-expectations are in limbo themselves… And truthfully, even our challenges still fall in the category of “First-World Problems”—like limiting our phone-use to locations with wifi. In the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly a problem. God’s got our backs.

Posted in Family, Recovery

His Worst Week, His Best Week. Same Week.

Sawtooth mountains
Sawtooth Mountains (and Keoni fishing)

Life has its ups and downs—true for all of us. But magnify those altitude-adjustments by whatever mysterious hormonal algorithm determines teenage moods, and we’re talking about emotional topography to rival Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains.

Having said that, though, teenagers’ experience of life isn’t any less real for the fact that they’re hormonal or young. And sometimes life is all TOO real and a mom wishes she could run interference.

Our son Kapena is sixteen, heading into his Junior year of high school. He’s super-sharp (if somewhat lazy academically), he’s easy on the eyes, he’s good-mannered and sweet-hearted, he’s mischievous, he’s funny, and he’s passionately in love… with the game of football.

football hug
celebrating a win

He earned his nickname—“The Flyin’ Hawai’ian“—on the field his Freshman year, and by the end of this summer’s football camp he’d earned the respect of coaches from several dozen teams, who collectively judged him “the best defensive lineman in the Valley.” (Just as a reference point, “the Valley” in question is home to more than one-third of Idaho’s population.) His starting position on this year’s varsity D-Line is already secure, and his coach has been hatching plans to send highlight reels to universities…  He loves this game—and it’s also his Getting-to-College Plan.

football carry
Kapena on the right… with the ball

Last winter he also wrestled for part of the season, mostly for the purpose of staying fit for football, although he bowed out before the season ended because of the sport’s obsessive emphasis on losing weight, when he’s trying to add muscle-mass. Unfortunately, he didn’t make his choice to bow out until after a knee injury that left him limping for more than a week. He got right back into the weight room, and went out for Spring Football (an off-season league for the serious players), but that painful knee kept dogging him. Back in February I took him to our family doctor to get a referral to a Sports Medicine specialist—who told him to ice it, take ibuprofen, and suck it up.

Fast forward four months to summer football camp, where the knee (having progressed in the intervening months from merely awful to excruciating) left him agonized and aggravated. We went back to our doctor to request a referral for a second opinion, and we saw the new specialist early this week. He ordered an MRI and an X-Ray and actually looked at the knee.

hospital hat
“hospital couture”

Yesterday morning Kapena went into surgery to remove a fist-sized cyst from behind his kneecap, a spur of bone, and calcium deposits that had formed over his growth plates.

Moms know—it’s one of the toughest things in the world to watch your kid in pain, and not be able to do a thing. Well, there are a few things I can do—I’m getting him his pain meds, and cleaning up after they make him puke, and checking it to see if they dissolved before he puked, and getting him food that won’t cause too much discomfort on its return journey, and offering a shoulder for balance when he hops to the bathroom, and trying to say things that are soothing instead of annoying when he’s biting his knuckles against the pain…

It’s one of the toughest things in the world to watch your kid in pain—and I have never seen this kid cry… Until this week when he faced the fact that the recovery-period from this surgery means he won’t be playing his Junior year of football.

We’re trying not to think about how this would have played out differently if the first specialist had taken a serious look four months earlier—he could have been recovered from surgery already…

hospital
“The worst week I’ve ever had.”

“The worst week I’ve ever had,” Kapena told us quietly. That’s not self-pity; that’s a comparative statement from a kid who has already had to deal with more shit than any kid (any person) should have to. This is a kid who has dealt with emotional  and verbal abuse from his (other) mother for sixteen years, whose six-foot-five brother held him down while his (other!) mother beat him bloody, whose (other) mother kidnapped him out of state and dragged him through five schools in three states in the space of a single school-year, whose dad and (sadly, this) mother’s relapse of alcoholism sent him right back to his other mother’s control when he’d thought he was safe from it, who (at fourteen) was working full time to pay all of his (other) mother’s rent and bills while keeping a 4.0 at school and playing football… It was at that point that she beat him bloody for “mouthing off” to her, so we’ve had full custody of him for the last year. My point is that he’s not given to hyperbole—even with all that in his history, this is how strongly he feels about his football.

fireworks
our three youngest setting off fireworks together on the 4th

I didn’t used to think I could love any human being more than the two kids I grew, but I’ll tell you now, I love this one as if I did grow him. I’ve never asked him to call me “Mom”—mostly he calls me “K.G.” from the “Kana Girl” label his dad uses—but I’m touched on the occasions when he does address me with “Mom,” and honored that he introduces me to other people as his mom.

So this mom is happy to report that in addition to being his Worst Week, this also became his Best Week. Funny how complicated life is.

He’s been dating a girl for a year and a half. I’ll just say that we’ve welcomed her out of respect for him, but in all that time we didn’t find anything to like in her. And that was based almost entirely on how she treated him. I won’t harp on details, but when he reached the point we’d been holding our breaths waiting for, of thinking this might not be the relationship he needed, he and I had an interesting conversation. Sitting on our front porch until four in the morning with quilts wrapped around us…

Valentine dance
with the long-time girlfriend… the Valentine Dance (his birthday) from which he came home Unhappy. Again.

As he started to reflect on the things that didn’t work well between them, I started to share some of the things we would wish for him in a partner. A person who respects him. A person who shares his interests. A person who enjoys his sense of humor. (He looked dumbstruck by that idea.) And he took the plunge the next day—he broke up with her.

A little over a week ago, he ran into a girl he knew in sixth grade, spent some time with her, and came home with his head spinning. She’s funny. She’s easy-going and outgoing. She’s half-Hawai’ian (like him) and loves Spam. (Wait till she sees Keoni’s Spam tattoo.) She seems to be just what we would have conjured up if we’d been asked to invent a partner for him.

They’ve gone on some dates, they’ve spent hours on the phone (and hours more texting), and she’s now officially his girlfriend. He came home at midnight from one of their dates, hugged us goodnight, and took himself off to bed… And then reappeared like a jack-in-the-box a few minutes later, perched himself on our bedpost, and blurted out: “I just have to tell you guys how happy I am.” Which he did–for about an hour! After a year and a half of relationship-misery, he’s feeling in his own life a little of what Keoni and I get to enjoy in each other every day. So this has also, he says, been his life’s Best Week.

Isn’t it something, how God does that?

He’ll be back.

Still…  When we brought him home from the hospital and settled him onto his bed, I brought in an armful of his favorite movies. The Longest Yard. Gridiron Gang. Friday Night Lights. He glanced up, grimaced, and shook his head.

“Nah, K.G.  No football.”

That just about broke my heart.

But… The new girlfriend is here to cheer him up, and she just popped into our room to borrow The Longest Yard. That’s a good sign.