So I hear the Super Bowl was last Sunday! Who knew?
Well, okay—everybody else knew. This is one of the “social side-effects” of having no television channels. Last weekend’s Super Bowl actually came to our attention accidentally a few days before the game, when a nursing assistant asked us which team we’d be rooting for.
Gosh, I dunno… Who’s even playing?
Keoni underwent spine surgery last Thursday, so we got to stay several nights in the extravagant austere accommodations of a local hotel hospital, enjoying amenities like the every-thirty-minute-wake-up service (“How are you feeling? Are you getting some sleep?”) and the test-your-specificity-meal-service (“Silly Patient, why would you think a toast-request would include any spread ON the dry toast?”) and the how-many-ways-can-we-mess-up-your-meds challenge… AND …(drum roll please)… Cable Television!
We don’t have TV at home, so we took this opportunity to geek out on the Food Network, just for the pure novelty of it. Keoni scribbled down recipes and ideas, and now I’m looking forward to oxtail soup and menudo with tripe… But by the time the the hospital turned us loose, the novelty of watching TV had been pretty well exhausted. (There’s only so much a person can take of Paula Deen stretching every syllable into three phonetic units, y’all.)
It’s actually amusing at times to see people’s reactions to the idea of having no television channels. What, no channels? Not even the antenna-channels? But… Why?!?
As our son Christian has observed: “A lot of times when someone asks ‘Why?‘ … ‘Why not‘ is a pretty good answer.” In this case, we can also add the observation that we truly don’t miss having TV.
We read. A LOT. And we really get our money’s worth out of our seven-bucks-per-month Netflix subscription. Streaming TV shows through Netflix has thoroughly spoiled us, actually, because we get to watch without any of the blasted commercial interruptions, and we can always go straight to the subsequent episode instead of having to wait a week to find out what happens next! (Yeah, patience has never been my strong suit…)
Depending on my writing topics—and how much focus they require of me—I often play programs on Netflix while I work on freelance assignments. If my assignment isn’t a real “thinker,” I can keep at least part of my brain entertained while I’m writing mindless and repetitive tripe.
Bovine-bellySidebar…It strikes me as ironic that the cow intestines (tripe) in my menudo have fantastic flavor, but the same term applied to writing indicates “worthless rubbish.” A case of offal vs. awful, I guess…
We tend to go “marathon style” when we find a show we like on Netflix. We’ll start with the pilot episode and watch all the way through the seasons available on Netflix. And when that mid-show pause hits in the middle of each episode—a few seconds of black screen where the ads would normally go—Christian utters an exaggerated sigh and deplores the need “to wait through all those darn commercials”… We still haven’t gotten tired of the joke—maybe because (even in our fifth year without television) it’s still a celebration. We really hate commercials.
We do find it interesting to observe, though, how there’s a sort of “missing slice” of cultural/social awareness that comes from NOT being exposed to advertising. I didn’t used to notice how often people reference TV ads in conversation, until I’d begun responding to those references with a shrug and a “don’t-have-TV” explanation. What is it about ads that they butt into conversation so regularly? Maybe it’s just because the jingle-writers are doing their jobs and the things are sticking in people’s heads. Or maybe it’s because ads are a cultural common denominator, a “language” everyone knows. (Except us, anyway.) People use advertisements all the time as examples to illustrate what they’re talking about. “It’s like that ad where that guy does that thing in that place”…
And of course we’re also completely out of the loop on what’s current—we’re totally clueless. Movies, celebrities, cable shows and “reality” programming, trends, styles, fashion, new products, pop culture… Unless it’s available on Netflix, we have no idea. (And even then, it’s at least a year old by the time it’s available for streaming.) Last time we were in a movie theater, Keoni & Elena Grace saw “Ice Age 3” while Christian & I saw the 6th “Harry Potter,” so… 2009.
Another gastric side note (“Harry Potter” fans will get the tie-in): the word “Mundungus” means tripe. Who knew?
We’re not entirely disconnected—we do read. I prefer the “Zite” iPad app that works kind of like Pandora radio. I tell it the categories that interest me, and as I read the various articles it pulls up, I can give them “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” essentially teaching it what I like to read. I might read about popular shows or advertising–I just don’t see them myself.
I end up getting more of a techie-view of current events. Case in point: Tweets during the Super Bowl. My real-time exposure to the game happened entirely through Tweets (or “hoots,” as I jokingly call them, with my @KanaOwl account named for my totem). I hear that even the advertising was disappointing this year (a real bummer, since this is usually the one event where commercials can be worth watching), but @KanaOwl brought me some entertaining coverage of Super Bowl Superb Owl Sunday.
If the hospital had kept us one more day, we could have watched the game ourselves, and I could have continued my little game of imagining what anthropologists would deduce about our culture if all they had to go on were television advertisements. Nevertheless, we were very content to trade in our television-watching privileges in exchange for the comforts of our own bed! And our own ad-less Netflix streaming…
And our own kitchen. Within two hours of getting home, Keoni was up and baking cornbread from scratch! Two days earlier, he couldn’t sit up in bed without a struggle—but he’s healing up with near-miraculous speed, just as he did after last year’s knee replacement. I thought he’d be toddling around with his walker for at least a couple weeks… but the walker has been “parked” all week, and the other morning I woke up to find he’d gone to the grocery store while I slept! Good grief.
I should know by now not to underestimate the stubborn determination of a Large Hawai’ian… He IS going to have a large-Hawai’ian-size scar up his spine… I think he’s considering a zipper-pull tattoo at the top!
On that note, I’ll leave you with a couple of the Super Bowl tweets that made me smile… (For those of you who are also without TV, the jokes refer to the 35-minute power outage at the stadium, and the Ravens being one of the teams…)
I used to think that my sister and I had the best-ever outlet for playing with our bath toys. We grew up in an Idaho farm-town that practiced irrigation-watering for the lawns in town, so our front yard was flooded in several inches of water for a couple evenings every week.
I still have memories (and I’m sure my mom has photos) of the two of us prancing around the flooded grass just before bedtime, lifting the hems of our nightgowns above the water and pushing around all the toy boats that usually lived in the bathroom-drawer by the tub. Those were some great summer evenings.
I think, though, that my son has us beat when it comes to bath toys, thanks to the discovery that ferrets (not unlike kids!) require bathing. On his last weekend with us, he wore his swim trunks in the tub so I could give him another scalp scrub, and then I brought out Niele the ferret for her first shampoo in our household.
I confess I braced myself for a ruckus (imagining what would happen, for example, if we tried to bathe our CAT), but evidently ferrets don’t have an aversion to water. At least this one doesn’t!
Christian and Niele happily played in the tub for a good half-hour before I scooped her out to dry her off. I had the bright idea of using the “low” setting on my hairdryer so she wouldn’t get chilled, so I can report that this ferret DOES have an aversion to the hair dryer. Lesson learned—I did the best I could with our newly-designated “ferret towel”…
On the topic of “wildlife sightings” (moving now to wildlife living OUTside our home), our country neighborhood been visited in the last couple weeks by:
A skunk, which waddled right up on the porch with me one afternoon while I was reading…
A flock of wild turkeys. which had us thinking about the bow-hunting classes in which Christian has expressed an interest, and in which I’d like to join him… He took a “Hunter Education” class this fall–and has the card (and the shot-up target!) to prove it. Keoni paid him the compliment of remarking that he “shoots like his mom.” Maybe next Thanksgiving we’ll snag our own turkey for the table… We wake every morning to the sound of shots from nearby duck-hunters (there’s a duck-blind in the cow pasture right across the country-road from our place), so turkey-hunting doesn’t seem too fantastic.
A raccoon, which (after checking online to see how raccoons and chickens get along) had me checking the chicken-house at obsessive intervals for an entire night. Our “girls” have been providing us with four or five eggs every day, and our Thanksgiving table included both Yorkshire Pudding and Pumpkin Pie made with our own big, brown eggs.
A red fox (ditto the above reaction regarding the chicken-house)
Barn owls (not unusual at all here, but meriting a place in the list purely because of my affinity for my “totem”)
A beaver, hanging out in the lake at the State Park right by our home, and…
A mountain lion, which we are happy not to have encountered for ourselves! It has been hanging around the river for a number of weeks, and sighted in numerous locations nearby, but hasn’t made a house-call. As much as I enjoy living out of town and encountering some of Idaho’s wildlife up close and personal, I’m happy to take a pass on this one.
I do love Idaho. AND I’m still enjoying Keoni’s pumpkin pie, so I’ll leave you with his new recipe (adjusted for the “regular” ingredients we didn’t have on hand, and for how he “tastes things in his head”—the mark of a Born Cook)…
1~1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp Chinese five-spice (that’s one of his “tasted-it-in-my-head” additions)
5 large eggs (from OUR chickens, of course!)
1~3/4 pounds (equivalent to one large can) pureed baked pumpkin (from our neighbor’s garden!)
2 cans coconut milk (most recipes call for evaporated milk; we didn’t have any on hand, but—because of our habits of Hawai’ian cooking—we did have coconut milk)
2 pie crusts (of course, he makes his own from scratch)
Beat the eggs, mix in the dry ingredients and pumpkin, slowly stir in the milk, and pour the mixture into the pie crusts. Bake for the first fifteen minutes at 425, then another forty-five minutes at 350. He sprinkled the top with shredded coconut and a dollop of sour cream (I’ve always used whipped cream, but my hubby’s taste-it-in-his-head instinct never ceases to surprise me—pleasantly!) Speaking as a pumpkin pie aficionado (aficionada?), this is the BEST I’ve ever enjoyed!
When our son Christian started Kindergarten, the school called me up within the first two weeks to ask if they could move him to second grade. Eep! We compromised at the halfway point, and he skipped just one grade. I had no question that he could handle the academics, but I had fears for junior-high years, and how tough it might be socially for a kid to be two full years younger than his classmates when everybody else hits puberty. And I confess I wasn’t wild about having him graduate high school and leave home just a month after his sixteenth birthday…
I was also guessing at the time that he might end up small for his age—his dad is Filipino and not much taller than I. As it turns out, though, Christian has stayed near the top-end of the growth charts for his age, and holds his own physically even with a year’s difference from his classmates. He and Keoni were running errands recently and ran into the father of one of Kapena’s football teammates; the guy asked Christian his age and then commented, “You Hawai’ians sure do have size!” My bemused guys didn’t correct his assumption about heritage (Christian refers to himself and Keoni as “peas in a pod,” but there’s not a genetic link there) but at least we can say that Christian passes for “Hawai’ian size”…
I’m glad of that, because here we are in the Junior High years I used to worry about. Christian commented casually a few weeks ago that he’s figured out how to deal with bullies: laugh at them. I’m tickled that he’s exhibiting more wisdom at eleven than I could have claimed even in college—but there’s also the Mama-Bear stomping around in my head with her hackles up, growling “Bullies?!”
Christian has an understanding sympathizer l in Keoni, whose comparative age relative to grade-level was almost exactly the same. Keoni really was big for his age (Hawai’ian size?)–by ninth grade he topped six feet and weighed in at more than 200 pounds. But he says his athletic abilities took a while to catch up to his size. In high school he was All-American on the football field and League Champion three years running for wrestling–but in junior high teams would pick him for his size and then leave him on the bench because of his lack of coordination or skills. Junior high was a pretty miserable time for him, and he remembers unpleasant social run-ins characterizing those years when classmates were ahead of him in everything but size…
Christian is remarkably solid in his sense of self, comfortable in his own skin, and unconcerned with what other people think—a combination of traits that’s truly a blessing at Junior-high age—so when he shared with me that his scalp has been really itchy and his curly hobbit-hair haunted by dandruff, he’s really much more bothered by the itchiness than about the “social ramifications” of dandruff. (At the same time, though, I’m thinking of my own 7th-grade dandruff issues, and particularly the locker-room bully who made sure everybody heard her proclamations that I was “dirty”… To her way of thinking, dandruff was an indication that I must not be showering.) No need to burden Christian with my baggage—but happily I think we can take care of both the dandruff and the itching. Time for DIY-Mom to re-open the shampoo factory!
We’ve been making our own shampoo for this household, so I asked Christian if he’d like me to research anti-dandruff ingredients and make a special batch that he could take to his dad’s house. He answered with a resounding “Yes, please!”—so here’s our first recipe… We’d already harvested the lavender we grew this summer, so I started by stripping a couple stalks of their flowers and using a mortar and pestle to smash them up in order to release the oils. I gathered the mashed blooms into a coffee filter tied up with a rubber band (my home-made version of a tea-bag), which went into a cup of water in a small pot, brought to a boil before I turned off the stove and let the lavender steep for thirty minutes.
Half a cup of the lavender-water went into the shampoo bottle (an old hand-soap bottle with a pump), and I saved the rest for conditioner. The remaining shampoo ingredients: half a cup of Castile soap, and 13 drops each of tea tree oil & rosemary oil. Tea tree oil acts as both an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial agent, and has been clinically proven as effective in treating dandruff. Rosemary and lavender are also included on almost every list of natural remedies for dandruff; lavender is said to help balance the natural oils on the scalp, and both plants contain compounds that relieve itching. I’m not sure on the amounts with the oils–10 to 15 drops seemed to be a common recommendation, so I went with our lucky number 13. We’ll see how it works, and go from there!
The conditioner I made for Christian is a variation of the one Keoni and I have been enjoying for a few months now. Christian actually likes the smell of vinegar (a quirk we probably owe to his taste for salt-and-vinegar chips)—which is a good thing, since most of our home-made household cleaners have a vinegar base! It also helps here, since he doesn’t mind coming out of the shower smelling rather strongly of vinegar. (Keoni and I usually rinse it out when we use it, but it’s also effective as a leave-in conditioner.) This one is easy to make; I used the remainder of the lavender-water, mixed in a one-to-one ratio with apple cider vinegar, and poured into a spray bottle (recycled from its original incarnation as a hairspray spritzer).
And finally: the scalp scrub! This one is similar to the body-scrub I like to use on my arms & legs, but here I used coconut oil because it is not only a deep moisturizer, but also has natural anti-fungal properties. Coconut oil can be a little tricky to work with, because it’s solid at “room temperature,” but liquid in a warm room. My home-made deodorant, for example, has a coconut-oil base, and it’s much easier to apply it now than it was in the summer when our hot weather turned it liquid… In this case I wanted the oil to be somewhat liquid, to get that crumbly-wet consistency that’s easy to scoop out and apply, so I went half-and-half with coconut oil and vegetable oil.
I melted the coconut oil in the microwave so it would be easier to mix (I didn’t want to heat it after mixing in the sugar, because the sugar would start melting and lose its “sharp edges”), then stirred together the two oils and the brown sugar. I didn’t measure amounts for this one, just kept adding brown sugar until it had the consistency I wanted—clumping together in a crumbly mixture. The pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, & allspice) is just to make it smell yummy.
The brown sugar acts as an exfoliator, scrubbing away dead skin cells and semi-solid sebum (scalp-oil) build-up. Christian had showed me the white crud that collected under his fingernails when he scratched his scalp—and he commented that he’s glad he has a mom “who doesn’t get grossed out easily!” His comment brought to mind our recent trip to the dentist—Keoni needed a tooth pulled (Medicaid’s only dental “coverage” is for pulling a tooth when it gets too infected to leave in a mouth) and I asked the dentist if I could see the extracted molar. He hesitated, then asked if I get “squeamish.” I was about to answer that I was a biology major (thinking of all the dissections I used to do), but Keoni beat me to the punch with a more pertinent answer: “She’s a mom!”
When the kids arrived for their weekend with us, I had “Hobbit shampoo,” “Hobbit conditioner,” and “Hobbit scalp scrub” ready for a test run, and labeled with the nickname I’ve used since Christian’s curly hair first grew in. I suggested that he hop in the bathtub with his swimsuit on, and I’d give him a thorough scalp massage with his new scrub (and the additional tool of mom-fingernails!)
We’ll have to wait and see about long-term use, but the initial report on the test-run is positive—the gunky build-up was gone after scrubbing, his head wasn’t itching or flaking over the weekend, and even the scabbing seemed to be on its way to clearing up. When he headed out the door to his dad’s truck at the end of the weekend, he thanked me for his home-made hair-care products, and also for the head-rub. “I needed the Mommy-ing,” he confided as he hugged me. That’s definitely my favorite new word.
And on the topic of interesting words… We were quite bemused by the labeling on the Castile soap. I’d ordered the most inexpensive version I could find—“Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps” unscented baby-mild Castile liquid soap. The center of the label contains the usual ingredients and information: the soap is made primarily from olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil; it’s USDA-certified organic, entirely biodegradable, vegan-friendly, packaged with 100% recycled materials, and Fair Trade certified by IMO….
So far, so good. But that information takes up a small central section of the label, and the entire remainder of the bottle is covered in tiny print that has nothing whatsoever to do with shampoo—except, perhaps, for the maxim that “cleanliness is next to godliness”… I hardly know how to describe the rest of the text. It’s sort of religious, sort of a social rant, sort of incoherent, and sort of a bizarre writing-style, liberally sprinkled with exclamation points and incomplete sentences and repeated phrases and long runs of words strung together with hyphens…
The opening to one long section first caught my eye with its reference to my totem, the owl:
Arctic White Owls by Birth-Control survive: the female does not go into heat until she sees three full months of frozen food for her young ones to survive! Putting to shame our welfare-state, with its untrained masses, enslaved by Marxist half-true hate!
The text goes on to describe (sort of) the “God-Inspired Moral ABC of Mama Cat,” a list of 13 items introduced as the lessons every mother cat supposedly teaches its young. Who knew that our cat was such a complex creature, not to mention religious! Here’s #13, just to give a sample:
13th: Free, brave! No Marxist slave! Mama Cat’s ABC of Love and the Swallow’s Song inspired by the Kingdom of God’s Law! All-One! Above! Above! All swallows evolve united to perfect pilots by full-truth, hard work, God’s Law, trained brave! No slave! Brave! Always evolving-united, free in All-One-God-faith! Hardworking, self-disciplined, no parasite-blackmail, welfare-slave! Therefore, brave we live to teach-work-love-inspire-unite! All-One! Win Victory! Help get it done! Teach to unite All-One! All-One! All-One! For these are the days my friend, we know they’ll never end! We’ll work-sing-dance-love marching on! Marching on! We’ll teach how to Love God’s Way! We’ll fight for it, OK! For we’re young and sure to unite All-One! All-One!
I read the whole bottle in fascination, and there’s an underlying theme of love and inter-connectivity, both among humans and between humans and God. God would probably approve that message—but it’s a message that’s nearly buried in eccentric ranting and inexplicable tangents. I was curious enough to look up Dr. Bronner on Wikipedia, and wasn’t surprised to read that he’d been committed at one point to a mental institution, which he “escaped” after receiving shock treatments. (I wonder now if he wrote this before or after shock-therapy…)
His story is kind of a sad one—he was a third-generation Jewish German soap-maker who left Nazi Germany and tried unsuccessfully to convince his parents to do the same. The last he ever heard from his parents, before they died in a Nazi death camp, was a postcard from his father saying simply: “You were right.” Soap-making, to him, was secondary to spreading his “philosophy.” He lectured all over the United States (his sojourn in the mental institution followed an arrest for public speaking without a permit), giving away soap samples pretty much as an afterthought. When he realized people showed up for the soap and didn’t stay for the lectures, he started printing his message on the soap bottles themselves.
It seems that in some ways he acted on his love-messages with generous charitable donations from his soap company… But it also seems as if he only acted on a “big-picture” scale, rather than in his personal interactions—when his wife died, he put his kids in foster-care so they wouldn’t interfere with his lecture circuit.
Inc. magazine ran a fascinating article on the business, now being run by Bronner’s grandson David, who is described as “a ponytailed marijuana activist who drives a rainbow Mercedes that runs on French fry grease.” (“The Undiluted Genius of Dr. Bronner’s,” April 2012.) It’s a fascinating story of family and philosophy and marketing—and not a little madness.
Regarding our own soap-making, one of Christian’s bright ideas for our proposed Hawai’i Bed & Breakfast is a gift shop, where our guests could purchase items like our specialty home-made soaps. I think, though, that we’ll keep our labeling a little simpler!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thirty-five years ago today, my mother employed her primary Superpower and made a person. A day or two later I was introduced to a lifetime companion and playmate and co-conspirator and friend: my sister Karin. (She guides people’s pronunciation with this clue: “You park a KAR-in the garage.”) I turned three just a few weeks before her arrival, and my game du jour was tagging people with their initials. My new sister’s “KD” became Kadi to the family—a name that stuck permanently. (With the occasional variation, such as “Aunt Tadi” when my son Christian was little and couldn’t pronounce K.)
Kadi and her husband Scott visited from Seattle last weekend, and Keoni told me he was getting a kick out of watching the two of us, noting the facial expressions and mannerisms we have in common. It’s a funny thing, how amazingly alike we are, despite our very different lives. Even some of our random OCD eccentricities are a match, like our refusal to eat the last bite of a sandwich—the piece we’ve been holding while we ate the rest. Can that possibly be genetic? It certainly wasn’t something we learned together—we discovered the quirk-in-common as adults, when we met each other for lunch one day.
I don’t see my sister in my mirror, but I see her all the time in my photos. We insisted for years that we didn’t look anything alike (despite being taken for twins with some regularity), but then I began to mistake pictures of her for pictures of myself… When she first moved to Boise after graduating from Law School, she reported getting hug-attacked in REI by a perfect stranger—someone who obviously knew me well enough to hug me, but still couldn’t tell that she wasn’t me. I have occasionally gotten responses like “Duh” and “No shit” when I point her out or introduce her as my sister. Apparently it’s obvious.
Our family traveled a lot when we were growing up, so we were often the only available playmates for each other. Happily, we got along pretty well together—barring the occasional scuffle or argument, we enjoyed like minds and tastes and imaginations most of the time. Our mother has said of our six-month trip through Europe that we fought the first day, and then it seemed to dawn on us both that we would only have each other for the next half-year… So we made up—and stayed made-up for the rest of the tour.
Our friendliness is, in itself, a testament to my sister’s amiable nature. It’s not easy being anyone’s younger sister. She has gone on, though, to distinguish herself in arenas of her own—clerking for a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, working as a Deputy Attorney General for the state of Idaho, and now with a prominent law firm in Seattle. We’re pleased with the idea that we both make our livings at writing—legal briefs in her case, and random oddities in mine…
We used to write plays together, and perform them for the captive audience of our parents and grandparents. We had to make creative allowances for the small size of our cast, which led to some memorable adaptations like “Snow White and the One Dwarf,” in which she played the princess and I played everyone else.
Keoni introduced me to the idea of the ‘aumakua—the totem or guardian in Hawai’ian culture—and last summer it became clear to me that the Owl is mine. Owls were crossing my path, night and day, every time I was on the road with a writing assignment… When I wrote about the topic here, Kadi emailed me, expressing astonishment because she had developed a particular affinity for owls in the last year as well. I wasn’t expecting that, of course, but at the same time it didn’t surprise me. (I figure it’s our “Irish” coming out… Owls are totems in Celtic culture too.) Besides, we’ve always seemed to be on the same wavelength, even though our lives are outwardly so different.
Speaking of Hawai’ian culture, Keoni has asked me to tell her “Hau’oli la hanau.” When we say it aloud (how OH-lee lah huh-NOW), people often respond by telling us their age, thinking we’ve asked them, “How old are you now?” But it actually means—from both of us—Happy Birthday!
“She’s not really mine to give away anymore,” the bride’s father said to me this afternoon, as we waited in the back yard for her to complete her transformation from jeans-and-flannel to white lace. “But I’d like to.” Adding the note to my scribbled-in Baker’s Wedding Handbook, I assured him with a grin that he would have the opportunity. “May I say, ‘With pleasure‘?” he wondered. I assured him with a grin that he could.
To borrow the bride’s phrasing, she has been married twice, but this is her first wedding. Embarking on a new life in middle age, she wanted to do it “right” this time—with family and cake and a veil and a minister instead of a judge.
The groom (for whom this is the first wedding and first marriage) simply wants to be married to her.
I was there to supply the minister-instead-of-judge component of a “proper wedding,” though faced with the unusual challenge of having the ceremony left entirely in my own hands. The bride had opted not to meet ahead of time, focusing her fluttery energy instead on the planning-details which wouldn’t take care of themselves, and leaving me to make my best-guess selections for the ceremony.
This is where I love my Baker’s book–a veritable buffet of prayers, vows, traditional ceremonies from different denominations, and “contemporary” alternatives… So left to my own devices, I mix-and-matched what I consider the best bits of each. Still, my usual list of logistical questions (Do we have rings? Music? Specific readings? Are there children? Is anyone giving the bride away?) were still unanswered when I arrived, so I had hooked her father to help me to fill in the blanks. Five grown children between the groom and bride, and Dad will finally get to give her away.
My greater challenge this morning was the blank page on my lap as I sat on the front porch with my coffee, looking for my own words to offer this couple whom I hadn’t yet met. (Well, I had met the bride last year, when I made a deathbed-visit for her mother—but our coffee-and-conversation on that occasion weren’t exactly suited to wedding-preparation purposes…)
My pen stayed still for some moments, empty of information about this pair. But then… I have plenty to say about Marriage itself, and so my pen began to flow. And though it was late in the morning, an owl began to call as I began to write. The owl—my ‘aumakua, or totem, or guardian—chose that moment to “make a joyful noise,” which (along with the “WoodOwl Drive” address of the wedding location) struck me as a positive omen indeed.
On an occasion like this, the pen doubles as a magic wand… The marriage itself now belongs to this husband and this wife, and it is their Calling now to nurture it—and each other––“for as long as they both shall live.” But I’m still awe-struck and honored by this ability to speak the words that create a marriage. There’s magic here, as surely as there is in childbirth or any other act of creation.
It wasn’t a Sermon the owl helped me write. It was a spell. The magical making of a new marriage.
The last time Mother’s Day was on the thirteenth (my lucky number!) was the year 2001–my first Mother’s Day as a Mommy. It was also the day we baptized my son Christian, wearing the same christening-gown I’d worn twenty-six years earlier. My parents have shared it with many family friends in the intervening years, and my mother had embroidered each child’s name and baptism-date into the lining–beginning with mine, and with Christian’s as the newest addition.
On the first Mother’s Day I spent with my daughter in the world, she was in Neonatal Intensive Care and I had a sore throat–which meant I couldn’t take my germs in to see her on Mother’s Day. Already stressed and stretched to my limits by two months of shuttling between my NICU-baby and my child-at-home, being shut out of the NICU on Mother’s Day felt like the proverbial back-breaking straw. Except you can’t let your back break when you’re Mom; you keep going anyway. I honestly believed that would be my roughest Mother’s Day ever.
Last year, however, Mother’s Day found us just six months out from our devastating alcoholic relapse, with NO visitation of our kids, and legal action filed by my Ex trying to terminate my parental rights. And although Christian told my Mom on Mother’s Day that he wanted to call me, my Ex wouldn’t put the kids on the phone, claiming they didn’t want to talk to me anymore. THAT, God willing, was the roughest Mother’s Day I ever hope to see.
In contrast to that (or even taken entirely on its own!) today was absolutely beautiful, in every sense. We had three of our seven kids with us (we have joint custody again of the younger two, and full custody of our teenager), I opened cards with hearts and owls on them, and Christian told me contentedly that “HOME is where my MOM is!” Today I am absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.
I’ve been gifted with a kick-ass mom of my own (more on that topic tomorrow)–and despite my screw-ups in life, I still get to be Mommy to mine. Truly, I’m blessed!