Posted in Family, travel, writing

Cracking the Winter Chrysalis

shamrock
heliophilic shamrock!

I often joke that I’m a plant–I need my sunshine! The shamrock in our front window (inherited from my Irish great-grandma, and a decade older than I am) responds so enthusiastically to sunlight that you can almost see its movement toward the light when we open the curtains. My daughter says she’s half-leprechaun, so maybe I’m half-shamrock.

I’m not a severe sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder (with its apt acronym of SAD), but a good dose of sunlight does have a measurable effect on my mood and energy level.

cat nap
Suzy & I agree: winter is for hibernating!

In winter months I tend to go into hibernation-mode, withdrawing into the snug sanctuary of homey coziness and physical comforts. This last winter particularly, my leap into writing-as-a-profession enabled me to burrow into winter-mode entirely unhindered by inconveniences like having to leave the house.  I retreated, as I habitually do, into my cocoon of soft sweatshirts, down quilts, and thick socks, with Suzy-cat warming my feet and the coffee-pot constantly brewing… and contentedly wrote all winter.

With the advent of warm weather, however, my Summer-Self emerges from the winter chrysalis. She’s more energetic, more active, more adventuresome, more sociable, less inwardly focused.  Summer weather has arrived rather suddenly to the Boise area this last week–and just as suddenly, I’ve got my toenails painted (for sandals!) and legs shaved (for shorts!), and the sandals and shorts themselves pulled out of the Rubbermaid bins where they’ve been hibernating…

Keoni and I were just reflecting that it feels as though our new year is beginning now, rather than in January. We’re entertaining fresh opportunities and enjoying fresh energies…

Keoni is moving around amazingly well since his winter knee replacement, and beginning to shed pounds again. (I tease him already that he’s literally “half the man he used to be”–500 pounds just a few years ago!–but he anticipates arriving soon at a weight he hasn’t seen for four decades.)

We’ve been shifting toward some healthier habits… from our habitual diet sodas to green-tea drinks, for example–and from smoking vanilla mini-cigars to “vaping” vanilla flavor from a Blu-brand e-cig… (It was the act of smoking, and the purposes to which I put it, that had me hooked more than the nicotine; this solution allows me to indulge in the habit without the hazards. And the kids–for whose sake I made the resolution in the first place–are tickled even pinker than my lungs!)

weed whacker & gardening gloves
gardening gloves–and a new weed-whacker! Last year Keoni was painstakingly using SCISSORS to edge the yard…

I’ve brushed off the yoga mat that’s been gathering dust in the storage shed, and we’re hoping to be able to buy a second bike this month and start exploring the network of trails in the State Park by our house. We’ve both gotten out our gardening gloves.

Keoni has completed an application in hopes of returning to his Corrections career–and we were heartened by a phone call from a top state administrator, who’d heard rumors he might re-apply, and phoned to urge his return.

I’m edging toward some new beginnings with my writing as well, contemplating the book that Keoni and the boys are after me to begin composing. And (as you see) the blog just got a facelift, seeking a clean-instead-of-cluttered look to accommodate the ads WordPress just authorized here. The sticky-note stack on my Mac is transmuting from writing-ideas into actual writing…

Idaho butterflyWe’ve started to plan our summer outings and adventures with the kids–a camping-trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument, a road-trip to visit Grandy & Boboo (my parents), a river-rafting trip with Grandy… Christian hopes to try horseback riding (luckily we know some cowboys) and wants to see Romeo & Juliet at the outdoor Idaho Shakespeare Festival.  Elena Grace wants to learn to snorkel, and Kapena wants to go to the summer football camp at Boise State University.

One of the “perks” of my writing-job is the fact that there’s no need to pay much mind to the calendar… So when Keoni and I first talked this week about the “new year” vibe we’re feeling, it didn’t immediately occur to me that Beltane is around the corner. It’s one of the Celtic cross-quarter days, a fire feast (the name of which, in fact, translates as “bright fire“), and a celebration of a new half of the year. The lighted half. A celebration of optimism, and abundance, and light.

And of course it’s natural that this celebration comes at the time when we are becoming sun-charged ourselves, busting out of the winter chrysalis with a new fire lit under us to venture out and find new stories for ourselves. It’s a few days early yet, but here’s wishing you a Blessed Beltane!

ready for adventure
Adventure-Ready: dusting off my Summer-Self. Yoga-mat, water bottle, iPod, camera, sandals, hiking hat, iPad (for maps & note-taking) and camera bag!
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Posted in Family

My Daughter the Ball-Buster

our half-leprechaun preemie ball-buster… She doesn’t LOOK dangerous, does she?

It’s March of Dimes time…  People with preemies are gearing up around the nation for the annual fund-raising walk.  At this time of year eight years ago, my mother managed to get me away from the hospital (where my two-pound daughter was incarcerated in Neonatal Intensive Care) for a few hours to do some shopping and to remind me that the rest of the world was still turning. I chose a new pair of sandals at Payless Shoes, and the sales clerk asked me the obviously rote question of whether I wanted to donate to March of Dimes to help prevent premature birth. I responded to the poor man’s innocent question by bursting into tears.

Elena Grace arrived, three months early, on Saint Patrick’s Day–and although you wouldn’t guess it to look at her (she has her Filipino father’s coloring) she’s got some Irish from her mom. And she’s quite attached to the Irish bit; when Keoni was explaining the Hawai’ian menehune (a small mischievous being)  last weekend, he asked, as a comparative reference, if she knows what a leprechaun is.  “Of course I do!” she answered, indignantly folding her arms. “I’M half leprechaun!”

This little leprechaun, once so delicate in the NICU, has apparently become a notorious ball-buster in her karate class. Her big brother Christian mentioned off-handedly last week that she had made a boy cry during class. Or maybe two.  Somewhat surprised, I probed for the story, which Christian happily told. (He won’t admit it, but there’s some big-brother pride going on here.)

“Well, they were sparring, and he wasn’t wearing his cup, and she kicked him in the…” [expressive eye-rolling and gesturing] “..down there, so hard that he PEED HIMSELF.”

“That was em-BAR-rassing!” Elena Grace added, with an expressive eye-roll of her own. Boy-pee, ewww.

“And then it happened again,” Christian supplied helpfully.  (What did? Surely not…) “Well, after they cleaned up the mat, they paired her with somebody else, and he’s more like my size than hers, and she kicked him and HE peed himself too!”

steer clear, boys!

I admit to being torn between compassion for these poor boys, and suppressing a grin at the mental picture of my little spitfire taking them down one by one. It’s such a far cry from her fragile form eight years ago.

For a few years after her arrival, I volunteered with March of Dimes and at the NICU, and founded the March of Dimes Idaho NICU Photography Project. But my most poignant March of Dimes memory comes from Christian’s kindergarten year, when he came home with a donation box for MoD, shaped something like a small milk carton. He solemnly explained to me what it was for, then disappeared into his bedroom for an unusual length of time, finally emerging to hand me the carton.

He had emptied his entire piggy-bank of coins into it, so heavy he needed both paws to hand it to me. On the side, in his painstaking kindergarten-printing, he had written, “Thank you for saving my sister.”

He spoke for all of us. Except, perhaps, for a couple boys in her karate class.

Posted in PostaDay

Blogging Tips: Growing a Readership

Pearls Before Swine blog
©Stephen Pastis, image from gocomics.com

Blogging isn’t intended to be a numbers-game, but most of us would be lying if we said we didn’t note our own numbers. (See “Confessions of a Statistics Slut” for proof of my own profligacy in this regard…)  A blogging-friend asked the other day about growing a readership on WordPress, so here’s what I have on the topic… (As I learned in my teaching career, if one person asks a question, a few other people are usually quietly wondering the same…)

The followers of this blog haven’t accumulated as a steady gain; the “growth spurts” in readership are measurably correlated to my own online activities–which means you can deliberately grow a readership, if numbers are what you’re after. Or even if numbers are part of what you’re after. The blog-numbers are undeniably fun–but at the end of the day, it’s the blog-relationships that are rewarding.

1. Be a blog-READER

©Dave Whamond, Image from cartoonstock.com

If you don’t do anything else on this list, do THIS.  Because it’s not just about the numbers–it’s about your own experience of the blogging world!  There are so many terrific and interesting people to meet here–you can travel around the world over your morning cup of coffee.

On the main page of the WordPress site (where you “land” when you first log in) there’s a “Topics” tab which allows you to browse blog posts by subject. I’ve met some of my favorite people (and favorite story-tellers, and favorite writers) by browsing tags like Family, Writing, Travel, and Humor. When you follow another person’s blog, “like” a post, or leave a comment, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll follow your trail back to your own blog and check it out.

It’s also the most effective, organic, and generous way to increase your own readership. At its best, Readership is a two-way street.

2. Participate in the Blogging Community

This one really goes hand-in-hand with the first. The blogging world is full of interactions–surveys, quizzes, contests, give-aways, awards, book clubs, projects, posting challenges, and various memes (pass-along activities like question-tag, or even blogging awards). Get to know your blogging community by jumping in! You can re-blog (with that nifty little button at the top of WordPress) when someone else’s post really grabs you, or link to favorite posts, ask someone to “guest blog” in your space, or even start a blogging-award yourself… As with any type of social networking, you can remain nearly invisible in the blogosphere if you don’t participate.

3. Make Sure Your Blog Design is Reader-Friendly

If the navigation of your blog is confusing or the font difficult to see, you may lose readers before they even get to your content. Are there formats or design elements that bother YOU when you read? Think about those, and make sure your own blog isn’t making those mistakes that can be off-putting for potential readers. Here’s my own list of irksome design elements that impede my reading…

  • ©Denise Dorrance, image from dorranceweeklycartoon.wordpress.com

    A landing-page that’s not the blog. Whether the landing-page is a “sticky” post or an “about the author” page or other static content, I have to go looking for the blog I want to read. And some WordPress themes make that search more difficult than others…

  • WordPress themes that are super-busy or confusing. This is a tricky one, because it’s really a matter of personal choice, isn’t it? The theme that makes me feel as though my eyes are crossing is a theme someone else loves. So I’ll just say this: if you’re looking seriously at attracting readers, at least consider a theme that’s crisp and readable, and finds that balance between “visually interesting” and “crazy busy.”
  • White text on a dark background–I don’t know why it’s so much harder to read, but I can’t get through a lengthy post with this kind of color scheme.
  • Confusing navigation, or page-names that don’t tell me what’s ON the pages–make sure your basic navigation links describe the things they link to.
  • No way to view older posts, aside from clicking endlessly on the “previous post” link. If I enjoy the post I read, I want to be able to browse through MORE of your writing! WordPress offers widgets that put some of your posts in the sidebar (either your most recent or your most popular), or you can even offer an “archive” page with the whole line-up. (That’s the “Kanacles–er, Chronicles” tab at the top of my own blog… And because that designation might be too “cutesy” to be meaningful–see bullet-point above–I added “The Archives” as a descriptor.)
  • No “Like” Button. It may sound silly, but I really like liking a great post, and it bums me out when the option  is missing. I also like to let someone know I’ve stopped by to read, even when I don’t have comments to add to the conversation. From the blogger’s point of view, it’s a useful measure of who’s visiting and reading.  Not everyone has time to comment (or has something to add) but when readers “like” your post, those readers’ blogs are a good place to start your own reading for the day–part of the community-building!
  • The “Onswipe” Mobile Theme is enabled. Speaking as an iPad reader-of-blogs, the mobile presentation of blogs is terrible–it removes all the theme and formatting, and makes navigation more cumbersome.  Happily, it can be disabled!  If you aren’t aware of the mobile theme setting, it only takes a minute to change it (easy instructions here)–and all-but-one of the iPad blog-readers I’ve ever encountered will thank you!

4. Make your blog easy to follow

WordPress users have the easy +Follow button at the top of the screen when they’re logged in, but you want to make it easy for everyone else to follow too.  Add the “Follow Blog” widget–which allows readers to enter their email and get your new posts in their email Inboxes–and put it near the top of the page where it’s easy to find. The “RSS Links” widget lets people add your blog to their RSS feeds. (If you need widget instructions, see “Blogging Tech Tips: Getting Started.”)

When someone follows your blog, you’ve just transformed a one-time visitor into a regular returning reader.

5. Make your blog easy to share

networking not gossipingThe “sharing” buttons you can add at the bottom of your posts let your readers pass along the smile or the thoughts your post inspired…  by posting your link with a simple button-click on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Digg, Google+, Reddit, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Pinterest… or even plain old email.

Whether or not you use these social networking tools, some of your readers do.  When someone enjoys your post enough to share it, you don’t want to stand in their way–make the tools available, and people will use them.

6. Share your blog yourself with social networking

early Facebook cartoon
My (OLD) husband says he remembers these days… ©Marty Bucella, image from cartoonstock.com

This isn’t an area I’ve developed well myself, although I keep meaning to do some “exploring” with some of the networking/interest tools like Pinterest and StumbleUpon, to see if they might integrate usefully into the things I want to be doing online…

If you do use any of the social networking tools listed above, you can set your blog to automatically post a link whenever you post a new installment.  My own limited use includes auto-posting to Twitter and Facebook, and both of those do bring readers here to the blog.  If you’re already using social networking, don’t waste the opportunity to share your posts with potential new readers.

7. Post regularly

I don’t mean that you should keep a rigid schedule, but maintaining and growing a readership involves regularly adding fresh content.  When I went silent for a few weeks after getting my new Mac, my daily numbers when I returned were significantly lower.  I didn’t expect to be getting traffic while I wasn’t posting, but I suppose I’d imagined my numbers would pick up at the same level where I’d left off when I did start posting again.  So there we have it–we risk losing our readers if we check out, even for a while.

8. Use pictures!

playing Sorry
Elena Grace playing “Sorry” with my dad. BECAUSE of my blogging, we’ve gotten better about snapping candid photos of daily life…

I’m betting your cell phone has a camera on it, so there’s no reason not to share some visuals along with your story-telling. (At least half of the pictures on this blog have been snapped with our phones.) In fact, my blogging has actually led us both to be readier to grab the phone or camera and snap away during the day–and we’re tickled by the lovely collection of candid family photos we’re accumulating as a result.

Many of my favorite blogs are those where people share their own photos along with their stories. There’s also a wealth of fun visual resources online for us to use (giving credit, of course). Pictures can enhance your story-telling, as well as catching readers’ eyes and interest when they land on your blog.

9. Add Alt-tags to pictures for search engines

This is one I just figured out.  I’ve noticed for months that the Stats-page list of search-terms which have brought people to this site includes (on a near-daily basis) searches for “old suitcase” and related terms.  In one of my very first posts (“Packing Pro“), I included a photo of a bestickered old suitcase, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why THAT single photo was bringing in so much search traffic.  A couple weeks ago, trying to puzzle it out, I looked at the HTML coding for that blog post, and realized I’d added “old suitcase” as an alt tag.  Soon after that post, realizing that the alt tag didn’t “show up” anywhere on my post, I stopped bothering to add any text in that field when I added photos. Now I get it–the alt tag is visible to search engines!  I started adding alt tags to the pictures, and sure enough, I’m suddenly seeing search-engine traffic brought in by those tags.

Twitter Comics
image from twittonary.com/blog/

If you want to take it a step further, you can use a keyword tool like the Google Adwords keyword tool, where you can type in a topic and get a list of the most-frequently searched keywords or phrases related to that topic.  Including those keyword phrases in your text (and your alt tags) can increase your blog’s “visibility” to searches.  Just as an experiment, I used the Adwords tool to collect some top keywords for my “Girls with Guns” post, and sure enough, those are showing up daily among the list of search-terms that brought people to the blog.

What I don’t know is whether these searchers become regular readers, or whether they’re one-time hits.  I’d love a statistics tool that tracks that bit of information! (Okay, I just love statistics tools!)  So this may or may not be a useful tactic in building a strong or lasting readership–but it’s interesting to play with, at the very least.

10. Don’t get hung up worrying about what people want to read. Write what YOU want!

waiting for a blog topic
©Dave Walker, image from weblogcartoons.com

I’ve seen plenty of blogging-advice that boils down to “writing for an audience”–but that idea rubs me the wrong way. Whatever it is that YOU want to write about, there are people who will enjoy reading it.  And THOSE are the readers you deserve!

Some people will say that “nobody wants to read about your kids or your pets”… To which I say baloney!  (Well, that’s not actually what I say, but I’ll save my swear-words for when they’re really needed.) It’s true that not everybody will read our blogs when we talk about kids and pets, but blog-readers are a wonderfully diverse demographic, and there are readers interested in every subject imaginable.

Those same advice-givers might say that you should establish a particular type of content and stick to it so readers “know what to expect”… Baloney again! Real life is far more interesting than a single-topic rule could be, and I’d hate to think people were passing up the story-telling opportunities that Life hands them.

***

Look! I have Readers!

All of the above could probably be distilled into a single principle. The more you invest in the blogging community (beginning with your contributions in the posts themselves), the more readers will invest their time in you.  A little self-reflection to go along with this…  I’m considering how much I’ve enjoyed my time spent browsing and commenting and interacting and discovering new blogs–and how little time I’ve allowed myself for doing those things lately. Or even for getting my own posts up. Time to recharge the blogging-batteries!

Posted in Family

The Curious Significance of STUFF

Yesterday I was stowing some papers in our fire-proof safe, and I paused for a moment to contemplate the odd assortment of items tucked into it.  In theory, an inventory of this little fire-proof box should answer the question people sometimes ask: “If your house were on fire (and the PEOPLE were all safe) what item would you grab on your way out?”  In actual fact, however, the things in the safe aren’t the items I’d grab on my exit in such an event.  Sure, they’re “important” in their own way–passports and social security cards and birth certificates and court custody orders and even my sailing certifications–but everything in that safe could actually be replaced. It would be a hassle, of course, but nothing in that box is truly irreplaceable.

my Irish great-grandma’s shamrock–older than I by almost a decade…

The burning-house query operates on the underlying assumption that there’s some stuff from which each of us couldn’t bear to be separated, and asks us to contemplate what stuff that would be. I’ve had one opportunity to answer the question in practice–though not on quite as tight a timeline as that proposed by the burning-house scenario.

After I left my first husband, he gave me a four-hour window in which to return to the house and round up my things. I had the advantage of being able to think it through in advance (as well as the assistance of several gentlemen co-workers and their trucks)–and the personal guideline that I wasn’t going to take away anything that wasn’t strictly mine.  What I came away with that day were my own books and journals; clothing and personal items; my lathe & pen-turning tools; my Scuba gear, snow-shoes, and hiking backpack; four pieces of furniture that had belonged to my great-grandparents; and (with the agreement of the soon-to-be-Ex) one of the two beds we owned.  A few other items were already out of the house and decorating my office–my favorite wall-hangings, and my shamrock plant, the seeds for which my mother bought on her 1965 trip to Ireland, as a gift for my Irish great-grandmother.

After fourteen years of jointly accumulating stuff–from camping equipment, canoe and tent-trailer to the furnishings and decor of the house we’d owned and improved for a decade–none of that community-property stuff seemed more important to me than simply getting out.  Despite the love and attention and emotional investment that had gone into hundreds of items I’d added to that household over the years, none of that stuff passed the grab-it-on-my-way-out test of attachment, or the test of being worth-fighting-for.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. My thesaurus doesn’t have an antonym for the word “packrat,” but whatever that nonexistent word would be, it’s a word that should be applied to me.  I have this almost compulsive urge to continually streamline, simplify, consolidate–and get rid of things.

several decades’ worth of journals… All digitized and stored in the “clouds”

“Cloud computing”–digitizing and storing things online–is a concept that seems positively made for me.  Where previously I had shelves and drawers and boxes and storage cupboards full of journals, yearbooks, photo albums, movies, and books, the digital copies of those things are now all accessible from the little iPad that fits in my purse.  So I suppose if the house were burning down, I’d grab my precious Mac and the iPad.

Although even if I didn’t manage that, I could log in anywhere to retrieve everything stored out there in the “cloud”… I’m becoming increasingly “portable”–and our next move should be far easier than the last.  (Which is just as well, since we’re actually intending to leave the continent when the kids are through with school here in Idaho, and move back to my husband’s native Hawai’i.)

Come to that, our last move was easier than the previous one, thanks to the “emergency yard sale” we staged as our house headed into foreclosure and our overall financial situation crashed around our ears…  Anticipating a move to a much smaller living situation (and trying to keep our power turned on and our cupboards from going bare in the meantime), we offloaded everything from furniture and wall hangings to movies and (for the first time in my life) books.  To my oddly anti-packrat nature, an intensely satisfying “purge” of extra stuff.

©Mark Parisi, image from offthemarkcartoons.com

My recurring urge to purge makes for an interesting dynamic in our home, because my husband definitely does fit the “packrat” category.  A few months back he was pawing and rifling through his bedside drawer, muttering over and over: “I know it’s in here somewhere.  It’s got to be here somewhere…”  I inquired what he was searching for, but he just went on digging and muttering the mantra, broken at last with a triumphant “HA! I knew it was here!” Intensely curious, I asked one more time what it was that he had finally found.

“The bottom of the drawer!” he announced with a proud grin. Later that day (with his permission) I staged an intervention, tackling the drawer with a garbage can. It was jam-packed with sales receipts. For things we’ll never be returning–like groceries and tattoos.

He generally doesn’t object to a purge–he just can’t bear to do it himself.  He leaves the room and busies himself elsewhere whenever I go into clean-out mode and start tackling drawers and closets with my give-away bin and a garbage can.

I should take a moment for a disclaimer…  You might expect, given my habit of regularly getting rid of stuff, that my house would be spotless, spit-shined, and utterly uncluttered. Not so! For one thing (for reasons unknown even to myself), I’m more often moved to target drawers, cupboards, closets, boxes, bins, and storage units than the things that are out in the open.  For another thing, three kids live here (and a pack of teenage boys spend a lot of time here)–and it’s okay with us that the place looks as though we’re LIVING here.

At any given time, you might find the living room floor dotted with segregated piles of Legos for some building project, the coffee tables invisible beneath Beyblade battle arena, Bakugan pieces, doll clothes, stacks of kids’ books, an in-progress game of Monotony (pardon me–Monopoly), Crayola markers, and pieces of unfinished kid-art…  The corner of the living room has been draped in blankets for some time now, as the semi-permanent “tent-fort” in which Christian has taken up residence in preference to his actual bed.  And because we have no one to “impress” but ourselves, we don’t ask the kids to interrupt their kid-living or clear away its evidence for the sake of a clear coffee table.

But back to the subject at hand…  Given the tendency on my part to offload stuff, any item that still remains with me through several years’ worth of clearing-the-decks episodes must be something that tugs on me in some way.  I may have a tendency toward offloading stuff, but I’m not immune to stuff-attachments either.

I just went wandering through the house (not a time-consuming stroll, as we live in a double-wide trailer now) with this question in mind, and I conclude that the things of which I’m most fond aren’t the useful things.

Willow Tree carving mother with childrenThere’s a bowl of dried rosebuds from the first summer we were married, when Keoni used to cut a bud from our backyard bush every morning for me to tuck into a pigtail.  (On the left side, according to Hawai’ian culture, signaling that I’m married.)

And the Willow Tree carving of a mother with two little ones, which I bought when my own Squirts were precisely that size and shape.

A memento booklet I made when my favorite poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, gave a reading here in town. Her reading coincided with my daughter’s sojourn in Neonatal Intensive care, and the book’s pockets contain items from the hospital and some of my own verse, along with Nye’s “Different Ways to Pray”…

Great-Grandpa’s camera, my frog, and Great-Grandma’s teaching certificate hanging behind
prayer beads
prayer beads & hiking hat

There’s my great-grandmother’s New York teaching certificate, dated 1913, and my great-grandfather’s camera, which he took with him on a tour of Europe about the same time.  A little frog with a book, which my parents gave me. The turquoise prayer beads Keoni strung for me, and my straw “hiking hat,” which I like to wear when we go adventuring.

These are all things to which I’m attached, and which won’t be subject to my clearing-out impulses.  But if it really came down to it, I’d be content enough to have photos of these things if I lost the things themselves. (And I guess I’ve just taken care of that by including pictures here…)  There really aren’t that many things from which I couldn’t bear to be separated.  Only two items actually come to mind.

The first, I wouldn’t be in danger of leaving behind–it’s my wedding ring.  A traditional Hawai’ian-style band, with “Keoni” engraved among maile leaves on the outside, and “We will be amazed” (from the A.A. Ninth Step Promises) on the inside.  I wear it with my great-great-great-grandma’s diamond–one of a set of three, with the other two on my mother’s and my sister’s hands.

Toots & Co.

And the second, my battered teddy bear, Toots, about whom I write in “(Used) Lions & Bunnies & Bears, oh my!”  And yes, Toots is definitely a “who” rather than an “it” (despite his puzzling physiology), which is no doubt why I can’t imagine leaving him behind.  That raggedy item has a little piece of my soul in him… not in a creepy Voldemort-black-magic-horcrux kind of way, but in an I’ve-loved-him-till-he’s-real kind of way.  Toots is the stuff I would grieve if I lost him.

In contrast to my stuff-collecting window of time at the end of my previous marriage, Keoni experienced the loss of everything at the end of his. He exited his last marriage by ambulance after hanging himself, and when he left the hospital a few weeks later, he had literally the clothes on his back, his eyeglasses, and the iPod he’d had in his pocket.  (He jokes that I married him for his money–he’s sure he had thirty-seven cents in his pocket.)  Despite the court-order requiring his Ex to relinquish his personal items, he never got so much as his wallet back.  And while there are a number of sentimental items he dearly wishes he had, we have proof that Life goes on without the stuff.

wedding rings
The ring I love–but the GUY I need!

Keoni has been putting away a clean load of laundry while I write, and (not knowing what I’m writing about), he just paused in the doorway to offer the bemused observation: “You know, those towels have been with us a long time. When I see those striped towels hanging there, I just know I’m home.”

So there we have it–we DO get attached to Stuff, even seemingly insignificant stuff like our towels.

But we also know that “Home” can be recreated in a new place, or with new Stuff.  At the end of the day (literally), I’ll be HOME if I fall asleep with his arms around me–wherever we are.

Posted in writing

The Reluctant Fashionista Springs Forward

This may not be a problem a lot of you have run into, so I have to share that it’s kind of challenging to find clerical shirts for women that a woman would want to wear. Particularly if one’s clerical activities fall outside the realm of traditional church-choir stuff (more on this in “Confessions of a Street Minister”), and if one is not generally a button-down, demure-demeanor kinda gal…

There are plenty of online clergy-shops out there, though some of them you can discount right off the bat as a woman (um, the Catholics, for example) and a lot of them have pages of men’s clergy-wear with a token women’s blouse (usually black) thrown in.  A few lovely sites actually cater exclusively to clergywomen, including maternity clergy-wear (the Catholics would faint!)–but if you’re looking for something specific and it’s not there, you’re pretty well S.O.L.

I am in search of something specific at the moment, but I’ll be damned if I can find it.  (And since we’re speaking specifically about the business of not being damned, please believe my emphasis that this item does not exist to be found.)

Our daughter Anelahikialani and her wife Sarah are legally joined by means of a Civil Union in California, but now that full-on MARRIAGE is available to them in that state, they are gleefully planning a wedding.  They’ve honored us by asking me to preside (and Daddy to cook!), and I am now looking for a clergy blouse in hot pink (the wedding color), with a tab collar, and sleeveless (the girls aren’t interested in covering the family-stories of my Ink)…

Having given up on finding such an item ready-made (or in my price-range if I were ever to find one), I Tweeted the other day to ask if anyone has a pattern for converting a collared shirt into a clerically-collared shirt.  (My mother met a minister’s wife in Hawai’i who refashioned Aloha shirts to clergy shirts for her husband–she called the pattern her “spiritual conversion kit”…  I could use something like that.)

In any case, no one in my immediate circles had such a thing, but someone suggested “Pinterest” as a place where I might find it.  So I stopped by Pinterest.com last night, put in the request for an invitation (evidently a person has to wait for a spot there) and while waiting for my invite to show (it still hasn’t–evidently they weren’t joking about the waiting list!) I went browsing to see what it was all about.

Tomy “Fashion Plates,” vintage 1978–same set as mine…

And immediately got sucked into this little outfit-building fashion gizmo that somebody else had used to assemble an ensemble and post it on the board.

Minutes later–and to absolutely no purpose whatsoever–I found myself hunting down the pieces of an outfit from the thousands of separates on Polyvore.com–and did, in fact, put together an outfit I would don in a heartbeat if it weren’t stuck to my screen.  Laughing sheepishly at myself the whole time, and experiencing nostalgic flashbacks to the mix-and-match “Fashion Plates” toy with which I spent hours of childhood time.

Of course, I still haven’t made headway on the clothing question which brought me here in the first place, and I had one way or another, in my search for blouses and patterns, and my subsequent imaginary fashion-plate play, managed to stall for several hours in which I was meant to be writing several articles.  Which left me yawning and trying to write at three in the morning to meet my deadline.  (Though of course it wouldn’t have been THREE in the morning if I had not also had to change the clock forward.)

The irony in all this?  The five articles from which I had been procrastinating all that time, I had accepted only with a fair bit of whining and protest because of their topic–which I adamantly and insistently characterized as an issue of which I have no knowledge and in which I have no interest in and which I didn’t even want to research.  The big, bad topic which I’d stalled for hours to avoid touching?  FASHION DESIGN.

Ha! Okay, okay, I give! I spent my spring-forward hour proving myself wrong about my own interests. Time to spring toward forward-thinking with a more open mind, yes?

While I’m still stalling, I’d like to add an introduction to a challenge across which I stumbled yesterday: the 2012 Water Dragon Sunday Post hosted by Jakesprinter.  His is a graphic-design blog, and the Sunday challenge involves a weekly assigned theme, for which topic each challenge-participant is meant to post a photo representing their own interpretation.  Today’s Sunday topic (which, in a fascinating sample of synchronicity, I didn’t look up until after my little fashion foray) is DESIGN.

So here it is, my Sunday photographic composition,compiled when I was fiddling with the online fashion gizmo:

assembled at Polyvore.com–the high-tech version of those “Fashion Plates” I played with as a kid…


 And if anyone knows anyone who might have a pattern for collar-conversion, I’d love to be put in touch!

Posted in writing

“TMI”… If ever an award were MEANT for me…

Anyone with a teenager is probably familiar with the exclamation, “TMI!”–meaning Too Much Information! In the case of our teenager, that’s usually connected to anything related to–shall we say–life in the bedroom…  He’s aware we enjoy a…well…lively life, and by now he knows he shouldn’t ask a question unless he actually wants to hear the answer.  When he came home to find us in a fit of giggles and wondered why–well, it was because we’d just set all the neighborhood dogs to howling.  “Agh, TMI, TMI!” he howled–though I noticed he fist-bumped his dad on his way out of the room…

I’ve long been known for telling stories on myself–stories in which I’m the person to whom something embarrassing happens, or I’m the person who does something stupid.  One acquaintance (though she enjoyed the stories) took me to task for “telling on myself” when I could have kept my foibles and fumbles secret by just keeping my mouth shut.  “Why would you TELL people that shit?!”

Well, a few answers to that question. First–my lack of scruples on the score of maintaining-my-own-dignity gives me LOTS of stories to tell.  And I DO find them funny (and so did she). And hey, nobody else can get mad about me telling a story when I’M the butt of it.

And on a more serious note, I used to live a life full of lies and secrets. That didn’t work well for me.  The illusions everyone believed–that I had a “perfect” career and a “perfect” family and the whole white-picket-fence picture–were just that: illusions.  That was a life I was trying to drink my way out of.  I was literally trying to drink my way out of life.  Only the husband-at-the-time knew that things weren’t hunky-dory (or should have known, after two years in marriage counseling–although even he managed to be astonished that I had meant it when I finally told him I needed Out).  And because I’d allowed the lies and illusions to thrive, everyone around me was astonished and upset when I took the leap out of the white-picket-picture.

These days I just don’t have secrets.  All my “dirty laundry,” in fact, gets aired right here.  And while I confess to pausing occasionally and wondering if I’m spilling TMI (the fertility clinic story comes to mind), my response so far has been “oh, what the hell.”  Half-assed just isn’t my style–whatever I’m doing.  That hasn’t always been a good thing in my life, but it’s undeniably an accurate assessment of my M.O.

So whaddaya know? There’s a new blogging award in the blogosphere, and Miss Lizzie Cracked (not broken!) at Running Naked With Scissors has seen fit to bestow it on Kana’s Chronicles. Thank you, Liz!

The TMI Blog Award honors those blogs that discuss everything in detail and do it well.  

These bloggers aren’t afraid to discuss their most awkward, embarrassing, and intimate experiences with honesty, humor, and little to no filter.

Yup, that would be me. This award acceptance, naturally, comes with the requirement that the recipient tell an embarrassing story on herself.  Which leaves me with just the one dilemma–which embarrassing story to tell?

Well, let’s see… there was the time I gave an annual report to the Board of Directors of the state school for which I was the Curriculum Director, not realizing that the back of my skirt had been tucked into the top of my pantyhose since my last trip to the ladies’ room…  (Yet another reason NOT to wear pantyhose! I don’t own a single pair these days…)

with my mom & my daughter aboard “Sundance,” 2007. No, I’m not posting the picture of Mommy falling off the boat.

Or there was the time I was skippering in the San Juans, and had just taken the kids hiking on Stuart Island and returned to the anchored boat, and realized we’d tracked mud across the stern and leaned over to swab it up (I prefer my sailboat ship-shape, thank you) and fell in, headfirst and fully dressed… and the only thing my daughter (aged three at the time, with a piping little voice) would tell anyone about the week was that “MOMMY FELL OFF THE BOAT!” (Thanks, by the way, to my own mother–who wouldn’t let down the stern ladder until she had first found her camera!)

Or the cell phone I dropped in the toilet, and the kids found me with its innards spread across the bathroom counter making a desperate rescue attempt with a hair-dryer.  (My son still jabs me about the “Poo Phone,” which I continued to use for several more years.  “If the call won’t go through, just jiggle the handle!”)

Or the time I was sunbathing topless in the fenced backyard, and the guy from the power company showed up to check our meter…

ask me how long I was serving customers like this before my hubby ‘fessed up to his handprint…

Or the time I was dating a guy in one of my college biology labs who didn’t tell me he had an identical twin in our lecture section… (Comedy-of-errors until I realized there were two of him. Funny side-note: my roommate ended up marrying the twin…)

Or the time I didn’t realize my nursing-blouse had popped open and one of The Girls was saying hello to the gentleman with whom I was having an earnest conversation.

Or the time when my husband and I were running our Hawai’ian restaurant and he patted my ‘okole in the morning and didn’t tell me all day that he’d been covered in flour at the time…

Or maybe I’ll just break the rules (another M.O. of mine) and let all those teasers stand in for my one embarrassing story.  And with that, we’ll move on to the good stuff: passing along the TMI Award to some other fearless bloggers, whose embarrassing stories I look forward to reading:

Cheers, gang!  Write on–fearlessly!

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?