Posted in Family, Home, Idaho

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

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

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

Sat, June 2: Summer Holidays, and Synchronicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

swimming in “our” lake this afternoon

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

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

launching the boat
launching the boat

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

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

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

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

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

Mon, June 4: Super-Powers

swimming at the lake
Goofing Around–a family specialty

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

Pushing Keoni to the island–Marooned!

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 6: Symphony and Stones

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, June 8: Sewage Moat

Our go-to Rainy Day activity…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family, travel

A Pilgrimage of Perspective

map & passport
my 1984 passport, age 9

Tricia Mitchell just posted a lovely blog about the castle in Heidelberg, Germany–accompanied by some of her own photos and memories of this castle over the years, and posing the question of whether her readers had memories to share. I wrote to her that although it’s been almost three decades since I’ve been there (and although I was only nine at the time) the details stick with me–like the memorable remains of the exploded powder-magazine tower.

Actually (here’s a bit of synchronicity), the inaugural entry in my 1984 European travel-diary was dated twenty-eight years ago today, as we headed across-country from Idaho to Chicago O’Hare, visiting family members along the way.  Less than a week later we were flashing past the blue lights of the runway and out over the blackness of Lake Superior–hours past our usual bedtime–launching our first-ever off-the-continent adventure.  My father the Planner detailed a six-month itinerary, looping and wandering through eighteen countries, some of which no longer exist on today’s maps. And our mother customized our  rented bright green V.W. bus–which would serve as “home base” for half a year–with drawers under the seats, hanging-rods across the back, multi-pocket organizers hanging from the seats, and other “homey” touches.

Kodak Instamatic
My sister was six and I was nine when we set out, and our parents gave each of us a little Kodak camera, a bag full of 126 film, and a cloth-bound journal for the trip. One of the most interesting things, in looking back on the whole adventure, is the unique KID-perspective on our travels…
While the grownups took postcard-shots of cathedral towers, my sister gave us a running account of what was in the garbage cans we passed… We bought lace gloves at an outdoor market and donned them to pretend we were princesses when we explored castles…
photo album page
“Tony Explores England”–from my
’84 album

When we stayed with dairy-farming friends near Stratford, we sneaked up and down the servant staircase in the century-old stone farmhouse, and took a whole roll of film posing my sister’s teddy bear, Tony, around the farmyard. When we stayed in an apartment converted from the basement servants’ quarters of a London townhouse, my sister came bolting out of the bathroom in excitement to tell us, “There’s a special bathtub just the right size for Tony!” Neither of us had yet been introduced to the concept of the bidet…

My mother has often said that if she ever wrote a book about the trip, its title would come from a now-family-famous quote from my sister… After months of encountering every imaginable method of flushing a toilet–from push-buttons and pull-chains to levers and foot pedals–my sister emerged from a Yugoslavian bathroom looking very self-satisfied, and announced, “I can flush in ANY language!
Tower of LondonWhen we descended into the underground areas of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, three of us didn’t think twice about the folding chairs set up for a recent ceremony. My sister, however, stopped in her tracks and cried out (to the amusement of every tour-group in the crypt), “There are DEAD people under this floor, and someone has gone and put CHAIRS on them!!”
Some of my parents’ friends wondered aloud what on earth would possess them to take such an extensive trip with such young children in tow, but we’re SO glad they did! (I think they are as well… At least, now that they’ve had a few decades to recover!) It’s a trip that couldn’t be duplicated by our adult-selves, even if we were to retrace our steps exactly–our imaginations ran rampant, and we found places-to-play everywhere.
Scottish Isle
sure, there’s a castle–but WE found an island to play on!

We visited Anne Frank’s hidden attic in Amsterdam, and I began to read her diary that night, able to picture precisely the little suite of attic rooms. After Auschwitz, we talked late into the night about the horrors of the Holocaust. We read Classics of literature while visiting the locales where they were set. We visited tombs and birthplaces of historical figures, and sat in the bench of Anne Hathaway’s cottage where Shakespeare is said to have sat when courting her.

When our parents set aside half a day for the Louvre in Paris (thinking that’s all the art we’d be up for) we dragged THEM back for a second full day. We weren’t wild about the Impressionists, but we were fascinated by the rest. I bought a stack of postcards-of-paintings, tucked them into my sketch-kit, and tried to draw my own versions. (Though I do remember my mother suggesting I add underwear to some of the naked people I was drawing after dinner in a fancy French restaurant…)

Swiss Alps
Toots & Tony (my teddy bear & my sister’s) in my hiking day-pack

And even in places where the “Ugly American” tourist-stereotype preceded us and affected local attitudes, our parents found that having young kids in tow often gained them a warmer reception. (I’m reminded of my son’s response when his second-grade teacher complimented his consistently kind manners: “She doesn’t realize that Manners aren’t optional when someone has you for a Mom.” OUR mom is like that too.) We learned to say “please” and “thank you” in the appropriate language for every border we crossed–and my dad also figured out how to say “Can you please suck the Diesel out of our bus?” in French…

We stayed with family friends in England, Scotland, West Germany, Poland, and Holland; we stayed in bed-and-breakfasts and pensiones and inns; we spent one week in a Tuscan villa, and we a camped in England’s Lake Country and in the Loire Valley of France (where we could hear the bells of the four cathedrals from the song our mom used to sing to us). The French campground also had peacocks wandering about–charming, no?  Well, nonot charming when we discovered they roosted on the restrooms at night and screeched at anyone making a middle-of-the-night trip to the toilet…
Our Chalet, Girl Scout and Girl Guide international centre
My sister had her Girl Scout Investiture and got her Brownie pin on the steps of “Our Chalet,” a Girl Scout/Girl Guide international center in Switzerland

I still marvel at my mother’s packing-job for this trip. She had sewed a mix-and-match wardrobe of red-white-and-blue for my sister and me (with matching outfits for our two dolls) and joked that if she lost one of us, she could point to the other and indicate “one just like that.” Failing that, she could use one of the dolls. She sent ahead caches of English-language books for us to pick up along the way, but other than the reading material, the four of us lived for six months out of five suitcases–one each for clothing, and the fifth with camping gear.

We each celebrated a birthday–I turned ten on Germany’s Rhine River, and my sister turned seven in Versaille, near Paris. We met up there for a double-celebration with our Great-Uncle Clarke, whose birthday the day after hers (he joked) made him a day younger. By this time my sister had gone through her own reading-material and started in on mine, so she surprised Uncle Clarke by inquiring, as they traversed a Paris street hand-in-hand, if this weren’t one of the locations in A Tale of Two Cities.
Portofino Italy
my snapshot (and poem) of Portofino–and a REAL photo courtesy of

My sister lost five or six teeth during the trip, and the Tooth Fairy had to keep paying off in different currencies. We hiked in the Swiss Alps; we donned white coveralls and slid down wooden bannisters into a Polish salt mine where the miners had carved fantastical statues out of salt; we played “Queen of Idaho” in the extravagant Bavarian castles of “Crazy Ludwig”; we bought tulips at a Dutch flower auction; we rented paddle boats on a Hungarian lake; we hired a gondola in Venice (from a gondolier who said he couldn’t sing–so we sang Rounds to him instead); we made brass-rubbings of tombs; we collected charms for a memory-bracelet; we attended performances of yodelers and bagpipers and ethnic dancers; we rode trains and ferries and subways and carriages and double-decker buses; we went with a Dutch friend to be fitted for wooden shoes (not touristy, painted ones, but the type she wears in her garden); we tucked messages into a bottle for a Scottish friend of our dad’s to build into the tumbled-down bit of a 400-year-old dry stone wall he was re-assembling along his field. Maybe another farmer will find our notes a few centuries from now when the wall needs repair again.

My favorite stop of the entire journey was Portofino, Italy, with its steep cobblestone streets, its colorful buildings lining the Mediterranean harbor, and the gorgeous two-masted sailboat at anchor among the fishing boats. We ordered our first “authentic” Italian pizza here, selecting the menu option that offered “Olive, Pepper, and Mushroom.” When it arrived, the pizza had one olive, one pepper-ring, and one mushroom. (And in reviewing the menu, we ruefully realized they hadn’t promised plurals…)  “Portofino” was the first poem I ever got published.
Heidelberg Germany
And here, for Tricia Mitchell (with thanks for the Memory-Lane stroll!) is my page of Heidelberg pictures–including the exploded powder magazine!

We traveled behind the Iron Curtain, and watched at the border between the Germanies while Soviet soldiers spent hours removing absolutely everything out of our bus, reading my mother’s diary, and unwrapping our Christmas presents. At the Polish mine, a hard-used miner my grandfather’s age approached us, removed an enameled shield from his jacket, and pinned it onto mine. Our Polish friend translated his quiet, almost shy explanation: it was an award for saving a life in the mines, and he wanted me to have it because he liked my smile.

We had a National Geographic map of Europe with us, and every evening during those six months we would open it up to trace the day’s adventures with a highlighter. The more permanent paths, however, were being highlighted in our minds. We may have been raised in an Idaho potato-farming town of a just few hundred people, but our parents gave us the gift of understanding–early on–that we’re citizens of the World.

Posted in writing

Poetry When Slammed

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

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

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

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

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


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

When the baby stops

breathing, an alarm rings in the NICU.

At home, the process is reversed;

when the phone rings, the mother stops–


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

The baby is an electrical appliance

on a short cord.


three months early

can a baby


No one will tell me

at the hospital where I arrive

spilling amniotic fluid

three months early


water broke

in my kitchen

not good


called a ride

mopped, changed pants,

woke my son

bid him brightly bye in the car

into the doors where someone would know what to do

then began to cry


this community, colony of moms,

our lives in orbit

around the NICU–

I introduce myself where we meet

at the phone outside the locked door,

scrub-in sink, breast milk freezer.

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

of hands.


The next crib over, Jose

is empty already,

not a mom here I know

(week down, months to go)

we are not, after all,

in this together


I pump forty ounces of milk

a day for a baby only fifty

ounces herself

and three times a night I sit up

in bed expressing

milk without a baby


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

my baby,

mother’s and daughter’s

wails on either side of plastic walls

I ricochet from the Plexiglas barrier

till I’m able again

to pretend I’m coping

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



I’m sorry

little half-baked

baby, shhh, Mommy’s here


Baby Stats


of measurement, units of progress

or regress

cc’s of breastmilk, grams of baby,

frequency of desats, occurrence of apnea

her body barely filing

            my two hands

            graying, unmoving.

            In my hands

            she has stopped breathing.

statistics, routine notation

on today’s chart


I hate the phone

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

a bead on my rosary

this prayer repeated


disposable vessels


through this tiny body so unready

dozens of times a day

her life re-starts

Easter afternoon another infection

rosary occupying

hands empty of baby

HolyMaryfullofGrace merging

with this new IV drip

of antibiotic, drip

of Grace and I am praying

to ultrasound screens, to shrill alarms

to antibiotics,

to a stuffed frog, to pink blankets

to God in visible forms


finally allowed to hold my baby...

I can translate every alarm.

Oxygen desaturation, heart rate, infusion complete

I hear

in my sleep

I dream myself

outside the NICU door, barred

from entering, a stream

of nurses exiting sadly

assuring me she’s fine


In the evening, in the NICU

a day-nurse calls me from home,

we hang up laughing.

Sum up my life: I’m taking social calls

in the NICU


At Entrance Five still in maternity wear

new mom watches new dad strap in new baby

to drive home, finished

with this hospital.

To see my daughter,

I stride into Entrance Five pulling off my sunglasses


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


The Traveling Parent Show

goes home empties

the dishwasher, explains

how to put on pants

pumps breasts, grades quizzes, changes

wet sheets, slices onions

defines Amen


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


one nurse hails another:

Mom Cervantes on the phone”


which makes me Mom Vega

my son lugs his mailbox into the kitchen where

I sit with coffee and journal, logging

her removed oxygen tube and

his pet dragon’s change of color–

“Here comes your mailman!

See this mail is for you: it says:

Janna…  Vega…  Mommy!”

my name


I ask questions full of qualifiers–

recognizing the limited powers of medical fortune-telling,

and doctors’ desire to avoid

any promise that might break

Dr. Lawrence to his tape recorder:

“Mother asked appropriate questions.”

No, Mother asked questions

he might feel unconstrained to answer.

The other questions I’m not asking

She's been kicking ass ever since!



From bare dirt by the emergency

entrance where I came in

daffodils come and gone, tulips

past, apple petals replaced

by apple leaves, roses coming on,

I am still parking

here marking time botanically

Posted in Idaho, IdahoAuthors, Reading Reviews

Reading Review (Idaho Writers series): “Bright’s Passage” by Josh Ritter

cover photo courtesy of

Imagine, for a moment, a musician who’d been named to the list of “100 Greatest Living American Songwriters” before the age of thirty, whose albums are laden with lyrical language and layers of literary and intellectual references…  And imagine that same musician writing two hundred pages of fiction with all the lyrical allure of his song-smithing.  That’s exactly what we have with Josh Ritter’s first novel, Bright’s Passage.

Henry Bright comes home from World War I with an angel in tow. An argumentative angel, who takes up residence in his horse and meddles in Henry’s life.  I’d suggest that the best way to read this book is simply to let the story and the language flow.  You could inflict your own analysis on it by worrying about the “whys” of what’s going on–maybe a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to explain away that absurd angel–but doing so would only distract from the experience of the story itself.

Bright’s life is artfully interwoven in three braided strands throughout the book… His passage from his isolated mountain home after burying his young wife, journeying with a newborn son (and a goat, and the persnickety horse-angel), trudging toward a town and “feeding the child with his trigger finger dipped in the goat’s milk”…  His experiences in the trenches of France, where the angel first attached itself to him…  And his memories of childhood in a mountain mining community–memories of his mother, who raised him alone after the mines crushed his father, and of the girl Rachel who would (briefly) become his wife when he returned from the war.

A reader determined to dissect might decide Bright is a damaged and delusional man who imagined that bossy angel into his horse. I’m actually inclined to think Bright himself is perfectly sound–although his angel could certainly benefit from some time on the therapy couch. Whatever conclusions you draw as you read, they’ll be yours to keep; Josh doesn’t contaminate his story-telling (or insult his readers) with explanations.

I just looked up Josh’s own comments about the book on Amazon, and was disgruntled to find the exact phrase I’d just written, about the angel who “takes up residence in Henry’s horse.”  Dangit, now I’ll have to edit so people don’t think I was cribbing.  Or…  I’ll leave it as is, and have a laugh.  We did have the same English teachers, after all…  Josh was a few years behind me in school, and one of my memories (brought to mind by Henry Bright’s recollection of a childhood Christmas program in which he played the donkey and Rachel the angel) is of junior-high Josh dressed as Joseph, across our church’s prop-manger from my little sister in a blue veil.

Josh performing in front of BookPeople, Moscow Idaho

Our hometown of Moscow Idaho is the kind of small town where folks showed up spontaneously when the locally owned BookPeople moved to a new location across the street; Main Street shut down for the length of a summer evening while a bucket-brigade of volunteers passed books across the street from hand to hand until the move was compete.  Which is probably why my favorite publicity shot of Josh is this one of him singing in front of our own BookPeople store.

I can honestly claim, though, that the hometown connection played no part in my first fascination with Josh’s music.  I was fooling around on iTunes a few years ago, whimsically searching for songs with “Idaho” in the title–and fell in love with his, making no connection at the time between the name on the album and the kid from my sister’s class. I downloaded the song–and everything else of his that I could find–and the very next morning when I started up my car it kicked the radio to life in the middle of this same song, which Josh was performing live on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”  Crazy synchronicity, I was thinking, when my cell phone rang and my mom asked if I remembered Josh Ritter from our church…  Oh. That Josh Ritter. (I’d just thought the name was familiar because… well, because CDs are made by famous people.  Bright one, I am.)

If you’re not familiar with his music, check out “Kathleen” or “Good Man.”  I’ve posted “Idaho” below because… well, because it’s Idaho.

A person who wants light fluffy lyrics would probably find Josh’s philosophical lines frustrating–and the same might go for his novel. For the reader or listener who doesn’t object to thinking, however, Josh’s writing–whether song-lyrics or novel–is an absolute treasure of the mind.  This a book I would happily read just for the language–he’s truly a word-wizard.

I just hope our English teachers are proud.

Intrigued? Check out the book at Amazon!

Video of Josh singing “Idaho”…

Posted in Family, Today's File

Amazing Grace, how sweet the SOUNDS


Elena Grace–Mommy’s little handful

When my youngest daughter was born, I didn’t know if I’d get to keep her.  She arrived three months early, weighing in at just over two pounds, and I scrapped her intended middle name in favor of “Grace“–if she stayed with us, it would be entirely a matter of Grace.  In her three months in the NICU, every major organ system failed at some time or another, and she regularly stopped breathing in my arms.  As a mark of how a person can adjust to anything, I stopped even experiencing an adrenaline rush when she turned grey in my hands; it was just part of a regular day, even after she came home.

When Elena Grace was three months old (weighing a whopping five pounds), I was planning a family party to celebrate the fact that she’d survived to her due-date, and life might be heading toward “normal” with the NICU behind us.  The day of our due-date-party, though, I spent an hour of the afternoon sobbing in the parking lot of the audiologist who had just told me she was profoundly deaf.  Her ears were perfect, but her auditory nerves weren’t functioning–an  irreversible condition, and a diagnosis confirmed by several specialists.

the Confirmation verse my mother cross-stitched for me, hanging now in Elena Grace’s (too-pink) room

At her baptism, the priest got to a line about “our Lord Jesus, who made the blind to see and the deaf to hear”… and to his consternation, the entire family dissolved into tears.

Miracles like that don’t happen in our world; they fall in that category of “impossible.”

I thought of the long weeks before I’d been allowed to hold her, the hours I’d sat beside her plastic isolette wired with tubes and alarms, reaching my hand through its sterile porthole to touch her head (as close as I could come to holding her) and singing to her, because it was all I could think of to do.  I figured if I couldn’t cuddle her, I could at least be present to her through my voice. I sang Amazing Grace over and over and over in those months, hoping she’d know that Mommy was there.  Not yet realizing that she couldn’t hear me.

My way to deal with any challenge is to research.  Within a month of her diagnosis, I had a bookcase full of marked-up and thoroughly-thumbed books on sign language and education for the deaf.   I’d get myself propped up with enthusiasm and assurance—“I can deal with this”—but that confidence was deflated easily, and repeatedly.  I was cheered by the sight of a couple in the car next to mine at a stoplight, conversing with one another in Sign.  And then the light turned green and they had to stop talking in order to drive.  My three-year-old son would chatter at me from the back seat, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to hear her when she started “chattering” from the back seat.  I’d given her the loveliest name I knew, and she would never hear it.

At that point I was in the middle of my MFA in creative writing—a topic which suddenly seemed irrelevant to the point of inappropriateness.  My own first language, I realized,  was one my child could never use—and I didn’t yet know the language I would need to communicate with her.  I was frustrated, I was angry, and the Poet-in-me channeled her anger onto the page (…which maybe shows the writing-focus wasn’t as useless as I felt it to be at the time)…  During my Master’s defense, when I was supposed to read a selection of my poems, I Signed this one…

Body Language

I am learning a new language
my own
rendered inoperable by my daughter’s deafness
and I am thinking as I fumble silently
of the grace of hula dancers
with stories in their hands

these page-words have lost relevance,
no correlation between printed words
and hers
even the name on her birth certificate no relation
to the name she knows, the  motion of fist near chest
strong-mighty-healthy-E, a defiant second christening
that does not lend itself to the page
or to my wishes

I imagine discarding the page altogether,
poetry unprinted, I imagine performing
an unwritten thesis,
a single copy existing in the movement of my hands, I imagine
holding my palms to the MLA-nazi in the graduate office
and telling her, “format this!

About six months later, I could have sworn I saw Elena Grace turn her head at a sudden noise.  After a week of sneaking up on the poor child with pots and pans, clanging things behind her head to look for reactions, I decided to get “scientific” with a controlled test.  I crept up to her crib while she slept, waved my hands all around her face and head (to make sure the movement wasn’t something that would wake her), and then did the same with a noisy rattle in my hand.

She woke.

Elena Grace, 2010

I sank onto the nursery floor and wept.

More than a dozen specialists—audiologist and neurologists and I-don’t-even-know what other -ologists—are still scratching their heads over the strange case of Elena Grace.  With multiple confirmations of a diagnosis for a condition that’s irreversible, the idea that she might hear was (I was told repeatedly) “impossible.”

And as those puzzled specialists repeated the word “impossible” while staring uncomprehendingly at the incontrovertible evidence of her hearing, I began to arrive at a new understanding of that word.  Hanging now on her wall is the cross-stitch picture my mother made for me when I was fourteen, with the confirmation verse I had chosen (Luke 1:37): “For nothing shall be impossible with God.”

I am reminded daily that all that’s needed in this life is a little faith, and a little grace.  In this case, Elena Grace.

Posted in Today's File, writing

Wearing a Party-Tail

one of The Writing Personalities at work…

I was rummaging through some old notebooks today, trying to find the lyrics to a song we loved as kids–”If everybody had a tail and chose its shape and size“…  What I found instead was a pair of pages written about a decade ago, reflecting on the different personalities with which I seemed to write in different genres.

I was enrolled at the time as a “Creative Writing poetry” student in a Master’s program, but had just discovered the joys of “Creative Non-Fiction“…  It’s a fitting retrospective for me to come across this week, just as I’ve been contemplating the idea that my “Calling” is probably to writing non-fiction. (And I’ve learned to pay attention whenever God nudges me with a bit of serendipitous synchronicity.)  It’s not what I would write now–especially since The Blogger and The Freelancer hadn’t yet made their appearance (and “Tea-Party” didn’t yet have political connotations), but it’s an interesting way of looking at the writing process.  With that bit of introduction, I’ll hand this post over to Myself of Ten Years Ago–in all her variations…

The Poet.
The Poet has difficulty writing, has to drag herself to it.  She writes with black ballpoint pen on a yellow legal pad, which she discards when it gets too thin and feels less satisfying.  She writes sitting up in bed, or at the kitchen counter, or occasionally at the roll-top oak desk given to her “because she’s a writer”–the place where she’s meant to write but often feels too panicky, afraid she won’t write well.  She has published a double handful of times and appeared once in the city’s newspaper, but she knows poetry doesn’t pay, and she knows she’s small time.  She builds a protection out of that knowledge–she doesn’t plan to make it big, or even make a living, and that frees her (she insists to herself) simply to write.  (Except at the desk.)  And see what happens.

Christian, the baby who called me “Milk.” (photo from not-quite-ten-years-ago)

The Poet writes small snapshots of experience–places, people’s words or gestures, moments of meaning.  The “poetry” file on her hard drive reads like a scrapbook of life-minutes.  Like when she was in the ER miscarrying, and the cupboard under the sink had a label on it saying “nothing stored here,” and how prophetically ironic that felt. Or when her Filipina aunt-in-law took her to her local market, a jumble of unfamiliar vegetables and meat parts and dark people, and men followed her around staring at her pale eyes and pale hands and making crude jokes in Tagalog which the aunt glossed over in her gracious manner, calling her “a novelty.”  The Big Events she doesn’t cover.  There was no wedding poem.  She wrote instead about trying on dresses with her mother.  She wrote about the clerk at the county courthouse insisting that her husband couldn’t write “Filipino” on the marriage license because his “proper race” was Asian.  Though her world trembled when she met her son, there’s no childbirth poem.  She wrote how her infant, with a vocabulary of 45 signed words, refused to sign “Mama,” would only sign “milk.”  Not the Big Moments.  She may be afraid of getting sentimental.  Kiss of death in the ass-kick, that-sucks world of Poetry Workshops.

The Poet already knows, when she begins to write, what she’s writing about.  She knows she will throw away at least a page of writing by the time she hits a line she might keep.  She despises small “useless” words–prepositions, articles, possessives–doesn’t like to waste syllables or space on words that carry so little meaning, but sometimes she has to put them back because no one could understand what she was trying to write.

The Poet sends out her poems regularly, periodically sees one printed in a publication no one ever heard of.  She emails every poem to her mother, who collects them in a notebook and photocopies them to give to people–her law clients, karate classmates, flyfishing pals–and the Poet gets surprise-comments from readers she doesn’t know.  This, though entirely without prestige, is her favorite publishing forum.

On about the fourth draft of a piece, The Poet types it into her word processor to see it take shape as a printed page, but she continues her revisions by hand, on hard copies printed out.  She revises mercilessly on her own, cutting and paring and trimming to the core of the experience, to the most powerful of words, but acts on workshop advice less than half the time.  Poems are intensely hers, and she’d rather have them the way she wants them than have them appeal to anyone else, in cases where those two things are incompatible.

She lights lilac candles and plays soothing music without discernible words.  Drinks coffee with heavy cream.  Meditates.  Trying to write.

The Essayist.
The Essayist is lazy, but not worried.  Essays are not intensely intimidating, though she lacks the discipline to sit down and do it as often as she means to.  She writes (when she writes) at the computer.  She types 100 words per minute when she’s in full swing, and drinks soda or lemonade but never coffee while she’s writing.  A hot drink would get cold before she took her hands off the keyboard.  She writes long emails to family and friends (essays disguised as “updates”) about whatever is surprising or humorous at home.

She’s comfortable at the computer, teaches high school online, researches ideas, plays music, edits digital video, builds websites, plays Freecell while she brainstorms.  For her few writing jobs away from the computer, she chooses from her collection of fountain pens (given to her “because she’s a writer”) which she uses to write letters (essays disguised as mail) and journals (essays disguised as record-keeping).

The Essayist composes in small fragments–a couple dozen disconnected paragraphs, beginnings of ideas–which she will not throw away.  She will try to weave them together by adding connective tissue later.  She often thinks she’s writing one essay and ends up with a different one altogether–sits down to write about beer and turns out four pages about her sister instead–but she doesn’t fight these changes-of-course, enjoys where the process takes her.  Enjoys the humor in her own ability to surprise herself.

The Essayist feels fairly comfortable workshopping beginnings, when she hasn’t managed to pull together a finished sort of piece.  She might wish she had gotten farther on her own, but the workshop is a useful tool that launches her to the next step of revision.  Revision, for the Essayist, usually consists of writing more.  She hasn’t managed to connect her pieces, or she hasn’t treated her subject as thoughtfully, yet, as she should.  Workshop advice usually boils down to the message: you’re still being lazy with this piece.  She knows this already, but it’s how she’s being lazy that her classmates are able to point out, and that she needs to hear.  Workshop advice re-energizes her, and she writes more.

She writes Big-Picture stuff.  Not Big Picture like world politics, but a big picture of her connected experiences.  An essay might touch on half a dozen stories, and the ways they connect.  She can’t hide in an essay; she tells too much.

The Tail-Monster.

Christian (5 years ago) with my Mother–my first & favorite publisher!

I dug up the Poet’s self-assessment of ten years ago–before the appearance of the Essayist–and found the details similar to today’s.  I sit in my blue chair, write on yellow legal pads (not too thin) or on white paper (with colored ink), drink coffee, listen to Enya.  But the whole report seems less fraught with anxiety–more excited about the process and less fearful about the results–than today’s Poet.  The Poet now is not a particularly comfortable person, I realize.  But she still writes poetry that pleases me.  And my mother.  (Who still has an instinct for who else might be pleased, and acts accordingly.)  And the occasional editor.  I wouldn’t wish away The Poet, but I’m glad to have the Essayist Tail in my closet as well.

My mother taught us a song when we were young, about wishing for a tail.  “If everybody had a tail and chose it’s shape and size, would  you prefer a tufted one to swat at passing flies?”  It went on to list a variety of options one might choose, and even suggested one might change one’s tail “for parties or for tea.”  I was so enamored of this last idea that I constructed a wardrobe of different tails for myself, to fasten to the back of my pants.  I was a Tail-Monster, and I could change my identity at will.

Apparently the idea still appeals.  I am not distressed by the schizophrenic discovery of my different writing selves.  I am pleased.  I wonder if there might be more of me.  I wonder which of these personalities might perform functions outside of my writing life—the Poet with her attention to small detail, and the Essayist with her free-form bigger picture…  I imagine that the Poet drives my minivan–cautiously!–when my son is onboard.  The Poet plans travel and vacations, with an eye toward the snapshot-experience.  She probably pays the bills as well.  The Essayist is the reader, enjoying connections between the page and her life, scanning across the big picture.  The Essayist chairs an English department, and argues with her bosses about tax issues, and prepares lesson plans; The Poet grades papers and keeps her schedule detailed on the Palm Pilot.  The Poet has painted the interior of her house in various greens, and sewed curtains.  The Essayist enjoys films, and acts in community-theatre musicals.  It’s the Poet who visits the Bath & Body shop, carefully selecting scents of hand-lotion and bubble bath for private thinking.  It’s the Essayist who laughs, and hosts fondue dinner parties or barbeques that fill the back patio with friends, and wears the tea-party tail.