Posted in Family, Home

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

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

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

Sat, June 2: Summer Holidays, and Synchronicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

swimmers
swimming in “our” lake this afternoon

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

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

launching the boat
launching the boat

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

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

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

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

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

Mon, June 4: Super-Powers

swimming at the lake
Goofing Around–a family specialty

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

marooned
Pushing Keoni to the island–Marooned!

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 6: Symphony and Stones

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, June 8: Sewage Moat

readers
Our go-to Rainy Day activity…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Family

hoMAge

Anne Zier Dwelle
Anne-with-an-E… a.k.a. MY MA

Mother’s Day cards just don’t cover it. There’s not a one on the market that’s sufficient to express my thoughts about the awesome Lady who made me.

She’s fully that (a Lady, that is) when she has a mind to be, having grown up in days when her Girl Scout uniform included white gloves and a girdle…  She could out-maneuver Miss Manners, parse sentences in her sleep, and navigate the complexities of any obscure set of social rules you could name.  She taught me early on about the ins & outs of social niceties—from rules of dress and speech to etiquette, table manners,  and deportment—all the protocols and proprieties of courtesy and culture and comportment…  She was the Audrey Hepburn of our little potato-farming hometown–a class act, through and through.

mom and baby
“Getting to know you”… My Mom & Me, 1974

In short, this awesome Lady does Lady perfectly…  But she also knows how to kick off her shoes! She does dancing-in-the-sand as beautifully as she does “strait-laced.” (Which is just as well, because without a hefty dose of humor and flexibility, Mothering me might otherwise have landed her in straitjacket lacings…)

I think she knew even before we officially “met” that I’d be trouble…. While she was pregnant, I used to get terrible bouts of hiccups that would set her whole stomach to rhythmic jolting—particularly distracting when she was trying to teach!  She nick-named me Sam during my belly-dwelling months–a name that could apply to either a boy or a girl, though she says she was preparing herself for a boy because she wanted a daughter so badly. You know that saying about being careful what you wish for? Well, she got me. And although people are puzzled by the name’s lack of relation to anything on my birth certificate, she has always called me Sam.

mother daughter matching swimsuits
with my mom at the pool, 4 years old. We had matching swimsuits for years, courtesy of her sewing machine…

She taught me all the Lady-Rules, and it’s thanks to her tutelage that I’ve been able to move comfortably in social circles among people whose social standing, status, or “class” were well above my own means. Manners can be a passport to any situation, and she made sure I had all the visas secured before I reached adulthood. With a cardigan over the tattoos and a quick shift to a different vernacular, I can hold my own in any environment–from the PTA to speaking in a Senate Committee on the Hill. Hand me any role, and it’s something my mother gave me the tools to carry out.

She modeled the fact that a woman can play whatever different roles she chooses.  In her case, literally–she’s a natural ham and has been playing lead roles in community theater productions since her teens, beginning with the role of Anne Frank (who, like Anne of Green Gables and other denizens of stage and page, shared my mother’s stress on the spelling of Anne-with-an-E). I loved the black-and-white photo of her in a hoop-skirt as Anna in The King & I, I remember watching rehearsals of Oklahoma when I was young, and we often filled the time singing show tunes from her favorite musicals when we rode in the car.

Nunsense
making a “habit” of attending Drag Shows…

My favorite of her roles was the Nunsense part of Sister Robert Anne–the Jersey-accented gym teacher with red Converse sneakers beneath her habit and a wicked penchant for causing trouble. And my favorite element of that role was her pre-show warm-up when she “worked the crowd” in character, signing up volunteers for an imaginary Catholic basketball team, teasing and joking, and enchanting the audience before the curtain ever rose for the scripted first act.  I’m in awe not only of her ability to perfectly mimic any accent on the planet, but also her hilarious on-the-spot ad-libbing. The world lost a great stand-up comic when she went to law school.

A couple months after that show, the local GLBT community invited the theater group to put on a couple scenes from the play as part of the entertainment line-up for a fund-raising Drag Show. My mom volunteered me to take the place of an original cast member who couldn’t make it, which is how I ended up attending a drag show with my mom, both of us dressed as nuns.

footprint birthday cake
my thirteenth birthday cake–the year I started running Track

Among her many other talents, my mother is the uncontested Queen of Crafts. She took fantastic photos and kept scrapbooks for each of us long before “scrapbooking” came into common use as a verb. She sewed almost all of our clothes, from Easter Dresses to play clothes and swimsuits. (Though I’ll say that my younger sister got the bum end of that deal; every time she grew out of her clothes, she’d get a hand-me-down set of the exact same clothes…)  She made entire matching wardrobes for our dolls as well, and crafted every Halloween costume we ever wore. She baked our birthday cakes in shapes to celebrate a favorite item or activity each year, spent hours constructing miniature pieces of dollhouse furniture, and was the creator of many of our very favorite toys (sock bunnies & rice mice, just for a start!).

At Christmas she suggested we put out carrots & water for Santa’s reindeer, in addition to the brownies & beer for Santa himself (she pointed out that he was no doubt tired of milk and cookies). We would wake to find reindeer-prints around the emptied bowls, and personal letters from Santa along with our stockings.  The Tooth Fairy also left notes, which developed into a full-blown correspondence with my sister, who asked for help building a mailbox so she could continue writing even when her teeth weren’t falling out. This is how we came to find out, among other fascinating details, that “Tooth Fairy” is a fairy-job, not unlike a paper route, which our particular Tooth Fairy accomplished by means of a flying toy-motorcycle, towing collected teeth behind her on a cloud. (Eventually her little brother took over her route, first securing my sister’s permission to use the canoe belonging to her dollhouse-family as his vehicle.)

Mother is also a helluva “handyman”–so when I got a house of my own, I always saved my DIY projects for her visits. She was far more useful than my first husband on these things, and we managed between us to replace ceiling lights with electric fans, install laminate flooring for the entire first floor, assemble a new barbecue, build garden walls, xeriscape the front yard, and various other projects. I never have been able to match her energy in the do-it-yourself arena. (Or any arena, come to think of it. I challenge any person to keep up with her at the mall! Sometimes I wish she could still put me in a stroller when we shop together…) I think about her summer garden and fruit trees (and the resulting dried fruits, canned vegetables, and rhubarb pies), the sewing machine in constant use, the impeccable cleanliness of our house, and the gazillion volunteer jobs she undertook–and I get tired just thinking about it. I have no idea where she hides her super-hero energy source.

Idaho Women's Fitness Celebration, Girl Scout team
with my Mother & my Sister (center)–representing the Girl Scout team at the Idaho Women’s Fitness Celebration ten years ago

She was determined that my sister and I would have the Girl Scout experiences she had enjoyed as a child and teen, so she started Girl Scouts in our hometown. Every girl in my first-grade class joined the Brownie troop she established, and she encouraged us in travel opportunities and leadership challenges as well as some of the “classic” activities like camping. Give me a Dutch oven and a (one-match) campfire, and I can cook outdoors like nobody’s business! (Strangely enough, I never picked up the corresponding skills in an actual kitchen… She had probably given up on me as a hopeless case by the time she sent me off to college with a cookbook titled “How to Boil an Egg”…)

No one I know can outmatch her outdoor skills, though. She used to lead two-week canoe trips through the Canadian wilderness, and her girls would “show up” the boys’ groups when they crossed paths, the tiniest girl in the group flipping a canoe above her head and trotting off solo into the woods on a portage while the boys struggled two-to-a-canoe… She and I used to giggle conspiratorially whenever we saw someone (sorry, guys–usually a man) struggling to control his canoe while actually making more work for himself.  She’d taught me the finesse of various steering-strokes, and I carried on the tradition of “showing up” the boys on my own canoe trips, always borrowing her personalized paddle on which she’d painted a dancing Snoopy. Motherhood didn’t seem to slow her down any; even when I was a toddler, she and my dad would go camping and canoeing with me (and the cats!), wedging my baby-walker into the center of the boat and letting the cats roam in its bottom…

sticking tongue out
never too serious…

My mom has always had a wicked sense of humor, and she’s a prankster into the bargain. My parents’ stories from married-student housing (while my dad worked on his Ph.D. at University of Montana) nearly all involve the ongoing series of pranks on their downstairs neighbors, who would later become my godparents. For that matter, she can take a joke as well–after all, she still married my father after  he sent her a package of shark fetuses (from his dissection lab) through campus mail! I always liked the story of how she handled her own dissection lab–she got tired of stitching up the animal at the end of every class… so she installed a zipper in her cat! That’s my mom for you…

I’ve written several times about my admiration for my mom’s storytelling, but she’s also a story-magnet. There’s something about her that just draws strangers to talk to her and tell her their stories.  I remember standing on a street corner in West Germany–I think we had stopped to ask for directions–listening to a complete stranger pour out his heart about his wife who had been killed (with their unborn second child) in a car accident, and how he wore bright colors on the outside for his daughter’s sake, but wore black underneath.  My whole life, I’ve been accustomed to turning around in the supermarket or fabric store to find my mother holding a stranger’s baby or listening to a stranger’s personal stories.  She’s the kind of person who knows her seatmates’ life stories by the time she gets off a plane, or the history of the person behind her in a supermarket line by the time they get to the cashier.  (One of her airplane-conversations, in fact, resulted in a new client who flew her to Fiji to work on his estate-planning there…) She takes herself on a dive vacation every year to some exotic spot–and never fails to forge friendships with other adventuresome folks, who sometimes meet up with her the following year at a new location.

Mexican cantina
with my Sister & my Mother (and a parakeet!) at a Mexican cantina when I was sixteen

I got my “travel bug” from both parents, and although our family was always comfortably well-off financially, we weren’t rich.  Our travels were primarily the product of my dad’s amazing planning capabilities–he planned and prioritized and budgeted to enable us to enjoy the extensive travels we did. And within the context of Dad’s detailed planning, it was our extroverted mother who modeled for us the gems that stem from people-interactions on any adventure–the collected stories, the off-the-beaten-path recommendations, the new friends… In addition to our two “big” European trips, we road-tripped all over the continental U.S. and Canada, and made some hops over the border to the south as well. In Mexico, Mother was never shy about putting her somewhat-rusty high school Spanish to work to haggle over prices in an open-air market, or ask for suggestions on an unfamiliar menu.

Hawaii bikini
with my mom on a beach in Hawai’i–STILL in matching swimsuits!

As I wrote when I was describing the sailing trip for which she joined us, she’s the perfect companion for adventuring.  When I was attending University of Hawai’i, she took me up on my spontaneous suggestion that she should come visit and hang out with me, and we had a terrific mother-daughter week of adventures. While I went to classes, she entertained herself in Hilo’s Old Town and hiked rainforest trails to the waterfalls, and when Friday rolled around, we headed around to the sunny side of the island. We found a room at a little hotel—full of character and right on the water—where the owners lived in one of the first-floor rooms and hosted breakfast (fresh tropical fruits and Kona coffee!) every morning on the patio by the saltwater pool. She hadn’t yet gotten her Scuba certification, but we snorkeled with turtles, visited sites ranging from an old Hawai’ian heiau (temple) to an intricately-painted missionary church, attended a luau, shopped along the Kona boardwalk, soaked up sunshine on the postcard-perfect white sand of Hapuna beach, and girl-talked till late at night with our feet propped up on our balcony rail above the surf, and a bottle of local wine between us… In many ways, that week was the turning-point in our transition from our respective teen-and-parent roles to the adult friendship we’ve enjoyed ever since. (Well, as “adult” as it’s going to get, anyway, for two women who both refuse to grow up!)

three generations
three generations of FIESTY women!–my mom, my sister, & my grandma

I was eleven years old when my mom applied to law school, and I’m still wondering how she managed. We teased about her study-habits, referring to her as a Mole who didn’t come out in sunlight, and to her basement-study as the “Mole Hole.” I made a poster for the door which read, “This is the Hole / Where dwells the Mole / Whose single goal / is to pass every test”–accompanied by a drawing of myself hollering, “Mommy, Mommy, the house is on fire” and her (nose in a book) responding absently, “That’s nice, Dear.” But in truth, she was as available to us as ever. I would come home from school, hoist myself onto the second desk in the Mole Hole, and regale her with every sordid detail of the day’s junior-high dramas. She had dinner on the table every night, continued running my sister’s Girl Scout troop, sang in the church choir, and kept dozens of other balls in the air… And all the while, she maintained her standing at the top of her class–to the dissatisfaction of male classmates who told her to her face that she belonged “at home with her children” rather than taking “a man’s rightful spot “in the class rankings!  My sister and I knew better, though, because our mother has always showed us (not just told us, but modeled for us) that a Woman can do whatever she damn well pleases! Mother opened a private law practice, and fifteen years later my sister took her own place as Deputy Attorney General for the State of Idaho.

grandmother & granddaughter
Grandy with Elena Grace

As a parent, I’m continually grateful for the “lessons in parenting” our mother provided (in the form of her parenting of us).  She was strict but never harsh. She had high expectations of us, but always celebrated us when we met them. She always separated our deeds from our selves–she never told me I was a Bad Girl, only that my latest mischief was a bad thing to do.  Manners were mandatory, hugs were abundant, imagination was encouraged. She had us each reading long before we hit Kindergarten, and she participated in every imaginable game of make-believe. She was reasonable and flexible (though my teenage-self would never have admitted it), but she never left room for doubt that SHE was the Mom. She is absolutely the model for my own Parenting.

When I told her she was going to be a grandmother, she decided that (although she was certainly ready for the grand-baby) she wasn’t “ready to be Grandma.”  She settled instead on”Grandy“–an adaptation of her Girl Scout camp-name of Andy–and I can’t think of a better descriptor for her!  She IS Grand.

I think my daughter was three or four years old when I styled my hair one morning in what has become my mom’s signature hairdo: a sassy, classy up-do. My daughter took issue with the imitation, however, and made her objection known in no uncertain terms: “You are NOT a Grandy. You are JUST a Mommy!”

Point taken–there’s no competing with the SuperWoman who is my mother. But I’m honored whenever I’m told I’m like her.  In my world, there’s no higher compliment.

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!
Posted in Today's File

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 Writing

February Sunshine!

It’s probably a fittting follow-up to the other day’s Imbolc post that today I’m privileged to share the Sunshine Award!  Perfect item for February, when we all (at least those of us in the northern hemisphere) might be in need of a little extra light…  My humble thanks to Susan, of Susan Writes Precise, who shone the light in my direction, and graciously offered me the opportunity to spotlight some of the (many!) bloggers whose writing I enjoy..

But first things first: this award comes with a mini-interview, so I have some questions to answer before we go forward…

Pue'o and Suzy and Dragon (you'll have to take my word for it on the Invisible one)... and a glimpse of the all-turquoise closet...

Favorite Color: Anyone who has seen my closet–a solid mass of turquoise & teal–could answer this question (probably while laughing at me)…

Favorite Animal: Is it inappropriate to list “children” in this category?…  I’d be in trouble with our Personal Animals if I didn’t name them here, so I’ll say Suzy-Cat and my son’s Invisible (NOT Imaginary) Dragon.  And I have to mention the Owl, who has swooped onto my radar in the last year or so and taken up a post as my totem. If I reach back to my Irish roots, the owl is a common Celtic totem–and it’s a common ‘aumakua in my Hawai’ian husband’s culture as well, so the little guy who perches on my laptop is Pue’o (the Hawai’ian word for Owl).

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink? COFFEE!

FaceBook or Twitter: Twitter. My FaceBook account is still standing–and my Twitter and the blog both post to it–but I don’t go there very often. I was going to say that my Twitter handle (@KanaOwl) makes me a hooter instead of a tweeter, but that doesn’t sound quite right…

Favorite Number? Thirteen!  A number for resurrection and enlightenment–and my wedding anniversary.

Favorite Day of the Week: I don’t know–what day IS it, anyway?  I work seven days a week, but I don’t go anywhere to do it, so I’m wonderfully unaware of what the calendar says these days…

My Passion: Singular? I only get to list one? Nah, I’m a rule-breaker…  I’m passionate about my Husband. (He says it’s because he’s a fruit… As in Hawai’ian Passion Fruit…) About Mommyhood. About Words. About Travel. About People’s Stories.

Getting or Giving Presents: Well, let’s be honest here–BOTH. I do love unwrapping one of those hefty rectangular packages that I know is a book… And of course there are those awesome presents with kid-fingerprints all over them and kid-names signed on them… But there’s also the fun of picking out just the right thing for someone, and being all excited and not being able to keep the secret and giving them the present before we actually get to the holiday because I can’t contain myself. (But that last part is probably just me…)

Favorite Pattern: Interesting question… Gotta go with Celtic knotwork.

Favorite Flower: Plumeria. (Tucked behind a left ear because I’m married.)

Okay, that was fun–but it’s time to pass along some Sunshine. Without further ado, I’m happy to share with you some blogs worth reading:

  • CreatingReciprocity–Today’s post is titled “Once Upon a Time, a Unicorn Fell Off a BunkBed”.. You know you want to read this.
  • MotherVenting–Today’s post (in its entirety), which made me grin–and made me wonder when I missed the unicorn memo: “Vacancy. There’s a vacancy available. Here, in my heart. Wanted: a worthy occupant. Salary: biscuits, gin, filth, and use of unicorn. Must come with own beard. Benedict Cumberbatch an advantage. Apply within.”
  • Reinventing the Event Horizon–“Notes From the Edge” by Kathy & her partner Sara, including the wonderfully titled recent post, “Don’t Run, You’ll Make Dust (A Grandmother’s Warning)”…  (no unicorns, but there is a yellow rhinoceros to be found here…)
  • E-mails to God–Irreverent and down-to-earth…  “On the Seventh Day, He Went to Costco”…
  • "Barbados Beach Shack" by Beth Parker (bethparkerart.wordpress.com)

    BethParkerArt–“Art That Makes You Wiggle Your Butt!” Truly, Beth’s colorful pieces never fail to make me smile.  With apologies to Beth for swiping it off her site, here’s one of my favorites…

  • Slightly More Than Necessary–written by Leslie Hobson, a self-described “escapee from the world of advertising,” and today featuring an inspiring tribute to her mother, who passed away just this week. “I am crying now not for the loss of her, but for the gift of her, throughout every day of my life.” Beautiful from start to finish–and Leslie, you’re in our prayers today.
  • How the Cookie Crumbles–“An irreverent look at life after sixty-five,” by a blogger who writes under the handle “Let’s CUT the Crap!”
  • Guapola–“The Asylum Within the Asylum–and Music!” A little of everything, and always entertaining…
  • Becoming Cliche–Single-handedly responsible for several cumulative gallons of coffee snorted through my nose when I get the giggles with my morning reading…
  • The Urban Misanthropist–a love story with Librumia, who married him in red tennis shoes, and an introduction to their “Ellie in the Belly” (whom we would be honored to babysit after her arrival–with humble thanks for the thought!–if only we didn’t live so far away)…

To each of you Sunshine Award recipients, we hope you’ll entertain us by answering those questions and bestowing some sunshine on the next generation of awardees.  Thanks for keeping me in smiles & sunshine!

Posted in Family

Coach Dad & The Wicked Stepma–The Joys(?) of Parenting Teens

Aww... Is there anything sweeter than little-kid shoes?

Just a handful of years ago, I was a newly-single mom with two little kids, and the after-school heap of things by the door consisted of Tinkerbell backpacks and Toy Story notebooks, and those cute little shoes that are so adorable they can make you want to have more babies.

Fast-forward (past the wedding which made me a joyful Mom of seven) to this morning, when I completed my (near-daily) ritual of tripping over a pair of Mens’-size-fifteen sneakers by the door.  Twice.

Evidently I’m no more capable of training myself to avoid this obstacle than I am of training the oversized feet that occupy these sneakers to walk as far as the boys’ bedroom before shedding them…  Truth be told, though, I haven’t made a pointed effort at the latter–a wise parent knows to pick the “battles” that are worthwhile, and in the case of a sixteen-year-old navigating the world and testing his independence, we have bigger fish to fry.

Three of our Seven: Elena Grace, Christian, & Kapena, picnicking at the State Park where I worked last summer

Don’t get me wrong–Kapena is a good kid.  He holds down an after-school job, captains the Defense of his football team, and maintains straight As at school. He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t hesitate to kiss his Dad on the mouth (a bit of Hawai’ian culture there) on the sidelines of his football field in front of his teammates and coaches and girlfriend.  His name–a Hawai’ian word meaning leader–suits him admirably, and he displays compassion and maturity and manners and self-awareness, characteristic of someone well beyond his own chronological years.  Still… He’s a teenage boy.  (Insert both a grin and a grimace here…)

Every school-morning our house is redolent with the mixed aromas of the crepes or pancakes Dad cooks up to fuel Kapena for the day, the heavy haze of “Axe” cologne carried out of the kids’ bathroom on a cloud of shower-steam, and the strong pot of coffee to be poured into travel-mugs for the drive to school.  The drive itself is a ritual of dad-and-son bonding time, a daily quarter-hour of man-to-man chat about whatever’s up in the kiddo’s life…  But when it comes to the heavier topics, those tend to arrive by text chat.  Evidently a teenager finds it an easier approach to broach a difficult subject by SMS than in person–and for whatever reason, those topics tend to ring in on my phone.

courtesy of ArcaMax.com

Yesterday brought one of those–the kind of message signaling that it’s time to kick into high-gear Mom-Mode.

As I wrote a while back (Wicked Stepma, Advice Columnist), the “Wicked Stepma” label is my own joke about myself, but Kapena actually doesn’t use the “step” designation. (Except in moments when Dad embarrasses him–popping out in a Hawai’ian mu’umu’u, for instance–in which case Kapena groans and tells his friends, “That’s NOT my Dad. He’s just the guy who’s married to my Stepmom.”)

In fact, his references to me as his Mom have been pretty pointed since last year when his abusive other mother beat him bloody, and lost her remaining share of custody after the Protection Order we filed.  One of the things I’ve learned about victims of abuse (not only Kapena, but his six-foot-five ex-Marine brother Kawika, and my own husband Keoni–all of whom suffered for years at the hands of the same controlling and poisonous Abuser) is that there’s some serious “reprogramming” to be done when they have the opportunity to adjust to life in a safer environment.

One of those adjustments has definitely been the ability to converse.  I remember the early days of his acclimation to me as a household-adult, when he would cautiously venture a perfectly reasonable request (like a few hours at a friend’s house after school) accompanied by all the cringing body-language of a frequently-kicked puppy.  “Sure,” I answered repeatedly, to his reasonable requests–prompting a curious question from him after the first few repetitions.  “Really? You’re sure? Because you’ve said ‘yes’ every time I’ve asked something, and that’s just weird to me.”  Even weirder (he told me later) was my response: “Honey, I WILL say ‘no’–when there’s a reason to say no.  And I will share the reasons, and I will listen to what you have to say, and Dad and I will stand by the ‘no’ when we think it’s important.  But if there’s not a reason to say ‘no,’ I’ll say ‘yes.’ So why don’t you grab my car keys and we’ll go sign you up for that driving permit I just said ‘yes’ to.”

There have been occasions when I’ve reminded him of that conversation, in response to his pleading for a reversal of the (fairly rare) NO–and evidently that reminder is his signal to cease begging. “OK, I understand,” is his standard response at that point–not happily, but resignedly–and, these days, without the residual haunted manner of the kicked puppy. But parenting isn’t always so cut-and-dried as a simple parental ‘no,’ and (to bring my meandering digression back to the Present) yesterday’s conversation-by-text was an example of a trickier matter.

Kapena celebrating a win last season

Football is Kapena’s Passion.  Well ahead even of the cute little cheerleader girlfriend.  And he’s good—we’re talking scouts-and-scholarships-good, and this was only his Sophomore season.  His teammates call him “the Flyin’ Hawai’ian” (a rather catchier title than his Dad’s football-nickname of “Twinkletoes,” bestowed back in the day for the same reason).  He just signed up for a Spring League to keep him in practice for the “real” season, and he’s looking for ways to work on building strength. 

Enter: The Lure of The Quick Fix.

One of his friends has been taking a  so-called sports supplement, and “he’s getting huge,” Kapena texted enthusiastically–and he wants to try it out for himself.

Enter: Blaring Mom-Alert Sirens in my head.

I’m grateful that he’s initiating this conversation rather than keeping his deliberations private; and I’m grateful, too, that on some level he clearly has some hesitations of his own (as evidenced by the fact that this IS a texting-conversation, which he generally reserves for the “tough topics” he doesn’t want to launch face-to-face).  Still, he clearly WANTS us to endorse this scheme, and he’s bringing the full sales pitch to bear.

It’s all-natural… It’ll boost my own body’s natural production of testosterone, so it’s not like taking steroids…  It’s legal, and it doesn’t show up as a banned substance on drug-testing for sports… My friend has been taking it, and he’s getting HUGE, and no bad stuff happening…  I bet it will help me grow taller…  They sell it at the Health Food store, so it can’t be bad for you… I already researched it on Bodybuilder.com, and they recommend it…

da Flyin' Hawai'ian

It doesn’t take much research on his proposed “supplement” to confirm what my biology background already told me: this is Not a Good Idea.

However.  This is also not a topic where saying-no-with-reasons will necessarily close the matter.

I’m not an “ostrich parent”–I don’t bury my head in the sand, and I know the real-world score. If Kapena made the decision to go forward with this supplement he’s so excited about, he COULD.  It’s legal, it’s accessible, and he has his own money.  (I’ve helped him with the life-lesson stuff of setting up his own bank account and direct deposit from his job, and we’ve had some budget-lesson sessions, but–another aspect of the life-lesson stuff–the money he earns is entirely in his own control, to blow or to budget as he decides.)  I could tell him “No” right now–but that wouldn’t be the most effective parenting-choice on my part.

Enter: New Tactic. Let The Biologist field this one instead of The Mom.  No statements that carry a value-judgment, just discussion of Physiology….

Let’s see, some things to consider… Physiologically speaking, boosting your own testosterone-production isn’t  different from taking manufactured testosterone–and actually, for all intents and purposes testosterone IS the steroid in “Steroids.”  So we pretty much are talking about steroids here, even though they’re legal.  Bodybuilder.com (and the “Health” store) endorse them because they sell them, so let’s look deeper.

At sixteen, your body is pretty much at max testosterone-production already; even the endorsers of “testosterone boosters” are endorsing them primarily for over-thirties, so it’s hard to say how effective the “boost” would be as far as muscle building. One of the things I’d really want you to think about is testosterone’s function in young adults–specifically, it’s one of the influences that hardens the growth plates at the end of your bones as you reach adulthood so you stop growing.

team captains... including our #35

I knew that one would give him pause–he’s keenly hoping to reach something like his brother’s six-foot-five stature, and if those enormous shoes over which I so regularly trip are any indication, he may have the genes to do so. Realizing that excessive testosterone could stunt his growth–that, in fact, ending pubescent growth is one of the things testosterone DOES–may just be the kicker on his decision.  And I haven’t issued any ultimatums or orders, so the conversation is still “on.” Though at this point there’s a lo-o-ong silence in it.

And then, finally: “Maybe it’s not such a good idea.”  Now it’s Mom’s turn to talk.  Let’s think about some other approaches to punch up your game.  We have a great resource right here at home, after all–Dad played high school football with some Greats like Mosi Tatupu and Keith Uperesa, got recruited out of Hawai’i to play for Arizona State (might have had Pro possibilities until the injury that killed his scholarship), and went on to hold a nineteenth-in-the-nation ranking in Competetive Drug-Free Powerlifting.  How about if we bring Coach Dad in on this?

Since yesterday’s conversation, the two of them have applied at the YMCA for a low-income family membership so they can start on a workout regime, Keoni is busily building the weight-lifting program, and the pair of them are researching a different category of supplements along the lines of proteins instead of hormones.

As for the two of us, we take a deep breath, say a prayer together, and keep on Parenting–because tomorrow there will be something else.  With luck it will be one of the simpler Mom-Jobs like killing a spider in his bathtub (he’s terrified of them) or dyeing a load of athletic socks pink because the team is supporting Breast Cancer Awareness… But just in case–if you’ll excuse me–I’m going to go ice my texting-thumb now.

Posted in 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?