Posted in Family, Recovery

Synchronicity or Swim

fish hatchery lab
Christian on “job-shadow” at the fish hatchery lab

I wrote the other day that I “don’t believe in coincidence”… but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I think coincidence is usually the wrong word. Synchronicity is the word I almost always apply to those situations when “coincidence” seems meaningful. Which is almost always.  I like how my Sponsor frames it: “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous.”

Moments of synchronicity often involve people-connections, and even more often involve the repeat appearance of an idea from multiple sources in a short space of time. I often figure it’s God giving me a nudge when synchronous “signs” point me in a certain direction. I’ve learned to pay attention to moments of synchronicity.

A few years back, Keoni and I were driving to a potluck dinner in our Prius (before it got repo’d!) and encountered one of the hazards of hybrid-driving: the car so seldom needed gas that we got out of the habit of watching the fuel gauge… So we ran out of gas and ended up hiking along the side of the freeway to buy a gas-can at the next exit.

Hawaiian BBQ
Opening Day 2009–Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ

A kindly soul pulled over to pick us up, and as we chatted with him, we somehow ended on the topic of our restaurant-dream–which was at the forefront of our collective mind due to a string of synchronous circumstances relating to the prospect. As it turns out, this gentleman had several restaurant-spaces available for lease, and some great ideas about small-business funding. That conversation was the catalyst for us to convert our dream to reality. Three months later, we opened Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ. That’s one of those synchronicity-stories, when God put the right person in our path at the right time–who knows, maybe that’s even why we ran out of gas. God works in mysterious ways, right?

The topic of synchronicity was brought to mind last week by a school field trip with my son, and a handful of (smaller-scale, but intriguing) bits of synchronicity during the day.  I was driving Christian to his “job-shadow” day when he piped up (apropos of nothing) with the description of a dead owl that has been hanging by its tangled talons from a power-wire behind his dad’s house for almost a year. “You’ll never guess what my blog title was yesterday,” I responded, bemused by the synchronicity. “It was ‘How to Bury an Owl.'”

The job-shadowing expedition itself had a bit of “coincidence” already tied to it. Christian attends an elementary school near downtown Boise, and I live nearly forty minutes out of town, next to a State Park and a Fish & Game hatchery. Christian had been assigned, of all places, to the fish hatchery right next to our house.  He was tickled by the coincidence, and immediately tagged me as his driver.

young fisherman
Idaho fisherman from an early age!

His literal mind enjoys the how-things-are field of science–and he has also been an Idaho fisherman from an early age–so even aside from it being right next to our house, the hatchery job-shadow was a perfect match for him. The ladies showing him around the genetics lab, energized by his interest and knowledge, lamented the fact that they didn’t have a whole day to show him all the cool stuff they do. When they mentioned the possibility of volunteering at the hatchery so they could show him in depth, he perked right up.  I collected contact information to set up summer volunteering for him–and Keoni has already been shopping online for a lab coat in his size.

The real coincidence-kicker was the contact information I collected for Christian’s summer volunteer prospect. Our contact turns out to be a guy I dated in college. I mentioned (in my TMI-award post of embarrassing stories) the time I dated an identical twin who didn’t TELL me there were two of him on campus, resulting in a comedy-of-errors until I saw the pair of them together…  This is the guy.  Naturally, it was a fisheries class where we met—and the Lab-Ladies thought my twins-story about their “genetics geek” was uproariously funny. I haven’t seen him for almost two decades, but now we discover that he works around the corner from my house, and he’s the guy who can set up Christian’s summer opportunity.

When I say I’ve “learned to pay attention” to synchronicity, it’s often a matter of being open to suggestion. I’m a Planner by nature, but Life has taught me that God’s plans are better than mine. (Go figure.) It was a tough lesson to learn–but when I find myself swimming really hard upstream, trying to reach some goal that I’ve set, that’s often a sign that I need to pause and reconsider that goal.  There may be some reasons why the river is running the opposite direction from my attempted swim.  “Let go and let God,” my Sponsor reminds me when I’m swimming for all I’m worth and going nowhere.

Harley Davidson
an afternoon on the Harley, 2008

The best illustration I can think of is the first time Keoni took me for a motorcycle ride… His A.A. Sponsor let us take his Harley out for an afternoon, and being unaccustomed to riding, I was unconsciously trying to steer the thing with my butt. When I finally relaxed and just let the bike (and its experienced driver) take me through the turns and the leans, Keoni could tell the difference in his ability to handle the bike.  When I stopped trying to “swim upstream”–when I stopped trying to control!–that’s when the ride smoothed out.

When my Sponsor tells me to “let go and let God,” she doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do anything for myself, or that I should sit back and expect God’s gifts just to fall into my lap.  Maybe I need to pay attention to the floating objects dropped in the water around me and build my own raft from them–but in the end I’ll be enjoying a leisurely float with the current instead of paddling like crazy against it.  Things fall into place when I stop swimming and stay open to the suggestions brought to me by synchronicity.

rainbow trout, synchronicity stories, synchronicity definition
swimming with the current… I could learn from the trout!
Posted in Family, Travel

How to Bury an Owl

Ah, trick question!  Of course you wouldn’t bury an owl, because the Migratory Bird Act makes it illegal in the United States to be in possession of even an owl feather, let alone the entire dead bird. (Or three.)  So of course this post is entirely a work of fiction. (Cough, cough.)

Last summer I was sent by an Idaho Travel magazine to an old mining town in Idaho’s Owyhee mountains (“Silver City, Idaho: A ‘Ghost Town’ that Never Gave Up the Ghost“). The Owyhees were named for a trio of native Hawai’ian trappers, working for the Hudson Bay Company, who disappeared in these mountains around 1820.  For my husband Keoni, a native Hawai’ian himself, this bit of history put an intriguing spin on our trip.

Spam-can cairn--an offering to Pele

Islanders use two words for giving directions: makai (toward the ocean) and mauka (toward the mountain), since pretty much anything on an island can be described within that frame of reference.  When I asked him if that’s why his “uncles” might have lost their way, he replied in Pidgin, “Bruddahs wen’ mauka, wen’ mauka… Stay los’!”  Joking that our trip might double as a search-and-rescue, we armed ourselves with an offeratory can of Spam, which these days is a favorite food in Hawai’i (you can order Spam & eggs at McDonald’s there).

He had another mission as well: looking for rounded rocks of pahoehoe lava (what we “here in America” would call vesicular basalt), which he plans use to line an imu, the traditional pit for roasting a whole pig.  Our overnight bag and camera bag rode in the back seat, the car-trunk kept free for his boulder collection.

On his native turf, however, he would never remove volcanic rock without making a return offering to the volcano goddess Pele–traditionally a cairn of rocks with fresh fruit or flowers or a bottle of liquor.  It’s a custom he takes seriously, although with his own touch of humor–there have probably been some hikers in the Owyhees who are still puzzled about the Spam-can-topped cairn they ran across…

It’s not the only cultural custom he still practices, some of them adjusted with a modern twist.  He was taught not to sweep after dark (because it brings bad spirits into the house)–so he only vacuums during daylight hours. If something gets spilled or broken at night, it stays put until morning when he’s willing to get out the vacuum. Same thing with whistling in the house–not after dark.  He doesn’t shake hands when he greets someone he knows, or even meets someone new–he embraces them, with an intake of breath as the “exchange of breath” that’s part of the cultural greeting. The word aloha literally means “exchange of breath.”

Another interesting linguistic side-note…  The Hawai’ian word haole is used now to refer to white people, but it literally means “without breath.” (And no, it’s not a compliment.) When the Islanders attempted to welcome newly arrived missionaries with their traditional greeting–the embrace and exchange of breath–the prudish new arrivals recoiled from the nearly-naked natives and refused to hug…  So the Hawai’ians assumed they had no breath to exchange.

card shark tattoo
Keoni's "card shark" tattoo--Mano protecting against the "Suicide King"

Another cultural element about which he feels strongly is the ‘aumakua, or guardian spirit in animal form. His family’s ‘aumakua is Mano, the shark, and several of his tattoos include Mano as a symbol of protection.  The King of Hearts card (often called the “suicide king” because of the dagger he’s holding to his head) is eclipsed by a fiercely protective white shark–his guardian against any return to that dark place where suicide seemed the only out. A traditional Maori tribal representation of a hammerhead is swimming up the side of his neck, a design gifted to him from a Tongan family who used to eat regularly at our Hawai’ian restaurant. He added this one after talking with his grandfather in a dream–Tutu Pa suggested he put Mano on his neck rather than put a rope around it ever again.

I wrote in an earlier post about Owls crossing my path until I recognized them as my own ‘aumakua (or totem, or whatever Irish word would better fit my own heritage–owls are totems in Celtic culture too). Interestingly enough, my sister responded to that post by emailing that she’s been developing an affinity for owls over the last year as well. I don’t believe in coincidence.

owl goddessOn this particular road-trip, as we were returning from the Owyhees with a trunk full of volcanic rocks, we passed a large white owl, dead in the middle of the road.  It didn’t look as though it had been hit or run over–just dead on the center line.

As we drove for another moment in silence, I was just feeling all kinds of wrong about leaving that owl dead in the road. Like dragging an American flag on the ground or stepping on a consecrated communion wafer, rolled into one. Keoni was watching me, and without a word, he swung the car around in a U-turn and headed back. Without a word, I grinned at him in relief.

I thought he would pull over so I could run out for it, but instead he slowed in the empty highway, opened the driver-side door, and lofted the owl onto my sandaled feet. Its feathers were warm from the sun. When we got to a pull-out, we carefully tucked it among the pahoehoe rocks in the trunk and nosed the car back in the direction of home. Not five minutes later, we passed another untouched dead owl, this time on the side of the road. And within another five minutes, another owl.

three owlsSo we arrived home with not one, but three white owls in our trunk. Arranging an appropriate owl-burial took priority over the other unpacking, so Keoni dug a hole in our garden and we solemnly interred our owls. With an offeratory Spam sandwich (extra mayo) and a cup of soda (liquor would be more traditional–but we’re both recovering alcoholics) and some quiet words of respect.

I see public buildings with plastic owls on top to “guard” against pigeons. Well, the guardians of our home are the three white owls in our garden. Or perhaps now it’s a guarden.

Posted in Family

“I Can See Clearly Now…”

WE can see clearly now! New glasses for Mommy & Elena Grace

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone; I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind–it’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day!”  ~Bob Marley, I Can See Clearly

Just before my kids’ birthdays last month, my Ex dropped them off with a note that Elena Grace had just had her annual eye check-up, and that he’s been having to scold her about holding her books too close to her face, so I should make sure to do the same. That struck me as a strange set of instructions.

In my experience, when people  are holding reading materials in odd places, it’s often because they’re having trouble seeing them. So I started asking questions on our drive home from karate practice, launching the topic with the observation that I’ve been having difficulty seeing street signs ahead (I actually did have to ask my son Christian what street we were coming up on–his eyes are still sharp) and that it’s obviously time for an eye exam for me.

I got my first pair of glasses when I was almost exactly the same age Elena Grace is now, and I remember the absolute awe with which I discovered that I could see individually defined leaves on each tree.  Until that afternoon, I didn’t realize I was supposed to be able to see more than a green blob at the top of every tree trunk. I was in glasses and contacts for the next couple decades–bifocals by the age of twenty, and by almost-thirty I couldn’t see anything in any range without my glasses.

pirate with owl
Pirate Christian (with eyes like a hawk) and his birthday Owl

That’s when I had Lasik surgery, and wow, what a life-changer!  Being able to SEE the bedside clock in the middle of the night, or the kids at the pool, or the stars when we were camping out… Wow.  Everything from backpacking and scuba diving to middle-of-the-night nursing was suddenly simpler because I didn’t need to mess with glasses or contacts–or navigate through the world-in-blur when I was without them.

Today, nearly ten years post-surgery, my eyesight is still far better than it was even at age eight, let alone twenty-eight… but I have noticed I’m having to strain to focus on things at a distance, and even the computer screen hasn’t seemed quite as sharp as I know it should be.  I’m happy to say I can function without the glasses–so I won’t be messing with them on camping trips and the like–but it was definitely time to get a pair again. And in the course of that driving-conversation with the kiddos, it became pretty clear that it’s time for Elena to get some as well.

She’s been having to get out of her seat in school to read math problems on the board.  Enough said!

Interestingly enough, both kids were quite certain that Dad wouldn’t take her for glasses, having just “used up” the eye exam for which his insurance pays, and having elected already not to get glasses for her. (And whether or not it’s true, I find it interesting that they both think that of him. For the record, they volunteered the opinion; I didn’t plant the seed of doubt by asking.)

pirates & cupcake-cones on the double-birthday weekend...

For my part, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t take kindly to a suggestion from me on the topic; he’d take it as a critique of his parenting, and he’d consequently be invested in proving she didn’t need glasses–which wouldn’t be any help to her.  So I asked if she would like to go have her eyes checked with me.

Her answer?  “Oh YES!  That would be the PERFECT birthday present!”  She was quiet for the last few minutes of the drive–a rare circumstance–but as we pulled up to our trailer she piped up with this: “You know, Daddy’s house has more money–but this house has more caring.” (Once upon a time, I might have thought I’d feel a little bit of triumph in such a moment–but now I’m here to tell you there’s nothing but heartbreak in hearing my Little One feel that way.)

So… For their birthdays Keoni baked cupcakes in ice-cream cones, we gave Christian his owl, and Elena Grace and I went to the vision center at WalMart to get fitted for glasses. Because–surprise, surprise!–she does need them.

And–surprise, surprise!–her father was displeased.  She’s positively thrilled herself, listing off all the things she can SEE now–including, importantly, the board in her classroom.  The Ex, however, emailed me that night to say he “doesn’t appreciate being accused of being an unobservant parent.” Which is interesting because the only thing I’d SAID was that she couldn’t see the board in school.  But it’s true I’d been THINKING it.  I’d been thinking that the kids are with him the majority of the time, and it’s ironic that the “weekend parents” are the ones who notice that Elena needs glasses, or that Christian has developed a lactose intolerance, or that her so-called “acne” is actually a staph infection, or that he’s struggling with anxiety issues, or…  Well, that we notice the kids.

Unfortunately, what the Ex is likely to take away from this is not the idea that he might do well to pay more attention to his kids, but that I’m a bitch who made him “look bad.”  It’s just how he sees the world–through a “Victim” set of spectacles–and that’s been true for years.

eyeglasses case
Elena Grace decided my glasses-case needed some "bling"...

And while I’m tempted to pray that God might fit him with a new pair of glasses (metaphorically speaking), my A.A. Sponsor reminds me regularly that I can’t change other people.  Her prayer-prescription for an Ex-Spouse is this:  Bless him. Change me.”

So I’m reminded that my job is to focus on sharpening MY vision. And after all, it’s looking like a pretty sunshiny day.  Just ask that cute kid in the new pair of glasses.

Posted in Family

(Used) Lions & Bunnies & Bears, oh my!

with Toots in his nightcap, the early years

Since my first birthday, I’ve had this stuffed bear I call Toots. Well, I’ve always called him a bear, but his physiology really does defy taxonomic classification… I’m not sure whether the tail and belly button (both features added by my Grandma at my demand) would clarify or confuse the question of precisely what type of critter Toots was originally intended to represent. Or why he looks like he’s perpetually cheering.

Regardless, Toots is THE bear, the companion of my childhood, the indispensable intimate who went with me on every trip, every vacation, every  Girl Scout camp, every sleepover and slumber party–I never spent a night without Toots.

Toots as toilet-training pal

Toots protected against nightmares, comforted in the face of stressors, conversed with me at all hours of the day and night, and was in every way entirely “real” to me.  You’ve read the Velveteen Rabbit, right? A stuffed animal becomes real by being loved to bits and tatters…

And “loved to tatters” pretty well describes the state of this bear.  After a lot of years’ worth of trips through the washing machine (and hanging by his ears from various clotheslines), he got too fragile for anything but hand-washing, and by the time I hit college, my mother had to give him a full facelift just to keep his stuffing on the inside.

Because, yes, even in college–much to the amusement of my roommate, and the annoyance of my boyfriend–I still went to sleep every night with Toots tucked in the crook of my arm. This bear traveled with me through twenty-one countries (some of which don’t exist anymore on today’s maps) and through all the rough moments of growing up, and (perhaps ironically) of trying to become a grownup.

Toots (& my sister's bear) crossing the country by train, 1985-ish

On the evening that I left my first husband, I grabbed a sleeping bag and Toots on my way out of the house, and spent my first solo night on the floor of the empty apartment for which I’d just signed, wide awake and clutching Toots for reassurance.

Toots was my comforter and my protector, but I also felt protective about Toots–as evidenced by the strange recurring nightmare that haunted me, reappearing for years in a multitude of variations, in which Toots somehow got lost in the world.  I would wake feeling equal parts foolish and traumatized, but within that dream I always felt an awful anguish over the knowledge that he was “out there” without me to take care of him, that he wouldn’t know what happened to me, or that I loved him and had tried to keep him safe. Time after time I dreamed of Toots slipping out of range, out of my protection, out of reach of my love.  I feel as foolish relating this dream as I always felt on waking from it, but the emotion during the dream was always real, and rending.

Christian the logician...

My mother told me, when my son Christian was born, that having a child would be like having a piece of my heart walking around the world outside of my body.  I haven’t yet come across a more apt description than that–and I found myself this week reliving that nightmarish feeling of helplessness that I used to experience in dreams about Toots. But this time it’s not a ragged bear I can’t help–it’s my son.

Christian is one of those kids who has been “adult” since his toddler years.  He’s off all the charts intellectually, and he deals with everything–including his emotions–with his brain. He intellectualizes his feelings and internalizes them and “stuffs” them, refusing to talk about his emotions, ever.  I recognize this trait easily, because he’s exactly like his mother. In my case, it took a mess of addiction and the grace of A.A. to relearn a lifelong habit of “trying to feel things with my head,” as a friend so aptly described my previous process.

For Christian to be stressed to the point of actually expressing an emotion is the equivalent of a scream for help from anyone else.  And this is the child who was curled in a ball on my lap last Sunday, clutching his stuffed bunny (his Toots-equivalent) and clinging to me and openly crying–because we had only a few hours until his dad would pick him up, and he doesn’t want to go back to that house.

Christian with his Bunny (and my owl)--when dad's arrival wasn't so imminent...

I won’t burden you with all the reasons, except to say that they coincide with many of the reasons why I don’t live in that house anymore. (I did write about one telling example last month…) But here we are–I had the power to remove myself from that household four years ago, but I’m absolutely powerless if my children wish for the same “escape.”

The realities of my own disasters come crashing home at this point–it’s entirely due to my last alcoholic relapse that the kids aren’t with me at least half the time, as they used to be.  It took a court battle (funded by my parents–bless them!–because I’d blown every resource with that relapse) for me to hang onto my legal status as a jointly custodial parent, and to win back any time with them at all, after six months in which I saw them only a handful of times.  I can point fingers at my ex, but it’s my own doing that I have so little leverage now in the matter of helping Christian out of his father’s household.

Earlier in the weekend, we had been watching Secondhand Lions–a movie about a boy Christian’s age, who at one point tells a beloved grownup: “You have to stick around, because I need you!” Christian turned to me with the great seriousness of which he’s capable, and told me forcefully: “That goes for YOU. I’m not putting you in the ground ‘next to the lion,’ so you have to live a LONG time. I need you.”

Toots, Christian's Bunny, and our inherited "lion"...

And that’s what was still ringing in my mind as I wandered around the house after their pick-up, distraught by Christian’s distress (and my uselessness in the face of it), and restlessly picking up his Bunny–to which he’d clung all afternoon, right up until reaching the sight-line of the door where his dad stood waiting. For the moment, I can’t do a damn thing about the schedule, and I can’t “protect” him from being unhappy at his dad’s house.  But maybe what I can do for him today is something about that “stick around” thing.  He’s a worrier, and the fact of my smoking has always distressed him.  So…  I quit.

“End-of-smoking” is its own story for another day, but I will say that when Christian called–in tears again–the next day, he was mightily cheered by the lowdown that I’ve laid down the lighter. Yup, I’ve locked myself in by saying it aloud–and until he’s here to see non-smoking-Mom for himself, a bear and a bunny and our second-hand lion house-cat are keeping watch and keeping me honest.  Toots seems to be cheering…

Posted in Family, Writing

Mother-in-Law or Fairy Godmother?

Actually, I’m writing today about my mom-in-law and my dad-in-law, but “Fairy Godfather” just has a wrong ring on several levels…  I’m getting ahead of myself, though. This is a story about the tool of my trade–the laptop–and a miraculous magical rescue.

leopard-print duct tape on the power cord

Since I took to writing full-time, I’ve spent anywhere from ten to twenty hours a day with my fingers on the keyboard of an ancient PC laptop.  It’s a cheap one I bought years ago, just basic functions even when it was new, and if computer-years run like dog-years, this thing is older than I am for all practical purposes.  And it was beginning to show its age.  Some of the keys would take a few taps before I’d get the corresponding letter to show up on the screen, the “click” button on the tracking pad only worked about three quarters of the time, a virus had wiped out all the .exe functions and made it almost impossible to open new documents or the internet browser, it regularly overheated and ate the files I was working on, the battery was shot (so it had to be plugged in to function) and the electric cord was getting too loose to hold.  I’d have to wiggle it around to find the “sweet spot” and then jam it against my leg while I worked to keep it in place.  We tried duct tape, but the machine was clearly limping along on its last legs.

my Mac-compatible (comPAWtible?) iPad

So I’d been nursing it along and praying it would hold out until we could afford a replacement.  My hubby Keoni is back to work after his December knee replacement, but he has the second knee scheduled for April, so we’ll have another couple months of living on just what I make at the laptop–no room in the budget for a computer until after that.  And Keoni was very insistent that we’d be choosing a good computer when the time came.  “This IS your office,” he reminded me.  I’d been thinking of making the switch to Mac–knowing there would be a steep learning curve, but also knowing the Mac would be great for website creation and editing my photography, and not susceptible to wipe-out by virus…  And compatible with my iPad, which I “live in” when I’m not on the computer.  So we’d been doing a little “window shopping” on Amazon, picking out the computer we’d get… later.

Out of the blue a few weeks ago, Keoni’s parents called us from Hawai’i to say they wanted to buy me a new computer, and which one would I like? I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so stunned. My in-laws aren’t Christmas-and-birthday people, but they occasionally step in–generously!–when they perceive a need.

two days early, and just in time!

Did I mention I was stunned? I stammered out the specs of the Macbook Pro I’d been looking at, and they called back that afternoon with the tracking number for shipping.  I instantly became the impatient kid who can’t wait for Christmas! I knew I’d have my face pressed to the front window on delivery-day, waiting eagerly for the UPS truck to show up.

God has a sense of humor and timing–have you noticed that? Two days before the new computer was due to arrive, the old one breathed its last breath.  No amount of computer-CPR could revive it again. I’ve used the iPad for back-up before (like the day that virus hit, when I had 8,000 words due before I could take the time to resuscitate the thing)–and I’ve been grateful to HAVE it as a back-up–but the iPad really isn’t designed for flipping between research websites and word-processing, and I can’t work nearly as efficiently… and I had another ten thousand words due that day.  I don’t mind admitting I was pretty stressed.

Less than two hours later, the UPS truck pulled up. Thank you, God–and thank you, Mom & Dad in Hawai’i! As my mom-in-law said to me on the phone when I was stuttering my stunned and sincere thanks: “God works in mysterious ways, Kana. Today, this is how God is working.”

Making the tech-leap! Compared to the Mac, the old laptop might as well have been cardboard…

Wow.  So I’ve been happily “moving in” to my new Mac–and relishing the fact that for the first time, all of my music library and photo library and software and apps and documents and calendar and to-do list and everything else are actually compatible across all my devices, synced up and available whether I’m on the laptop or the iPad or even my phone.  Too slick for words–I’m loving it!  My OCD-organizing-impulses are intensely satisfied by this tidiness.

I have to say (despite my familiarity with the iPad, which turns out not to afford much advantage in “learning” the laptop) that Mac was a Mystery to me!  It was time to bust out the climbing-gear, because this was a STEEP learning curve.  Even the most basic of functions–like scrolling or right-clicking–take a different action on the Mac.  As I figured out how to do each individual thing, I was thinking–without exception–that the Mac approach makes better sense. Mac was definitely designed with usability in mind. At this point, it’s still just a matter of learning how to do everything. Everything. I consider myself pretty “techie” (I used to teach online and design online curriculum, I design websites on the side, and when we owned a restaurant, I handled all of our internet marketing myself) but I have zero formal education in technology.  I’m simply stubborn enough to keep “playing” until I figure out how to make a computer do what I want it to do. So that’s what I’ve been up to–gleefully getting familiar with an all-new environment.

That’s a partial explanation for my absence from this space over the last few weeks (and I’d like to thank all of you who pinged me to say you missed the posts, and hoped everything was okay).  There has actually been a lot going on–including a lot of writing work. (Last weekend: thirty thousand words in two days–and this from the girl who didn’t even manage to finish NaNWriMo…) I’ve been thinking the last few days of the “complaint” I often have when traveling: When you have the most stuff to write about, THAT’s exactly when you don’t have enough time to write any of it! True in regular life as well, as the last few weeks go to show..

Steve Jobs would be proud… calling tech support on an iPhone and tech-chat on the iPad, getting the Macbook up and running

But.  I’m re-evaluating my writing-priorities, and what comes to light today is my previous insistence that writing in THIS space on a regular basis is what keeps writing FUN.  I don’t want to get so “ground down” with writing-on-demand that I lose the joy-in-writing that made me want to do it full-time in the first place.  So my pledge to myself is not to treat my own writing (here) as “lower priority” than the writing that comes with deadlines.  To borrow from Hamlet‘s Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”  I don’t think Polonius was referring to blogging, but that’s how his advice applies in my life today.

And I recognize on a daily basis how blessed I’ve been in the support of the people around me. I chat on IM daily with writers from our team, and a regular theme of those chats (including with our editor, and my boss) is spousal resistance to time-spent-writing.  I’m thinking, in contrast, of Keoni nudging me to take the leap into writing full-time, even before we knew if I’d be able to make any money with it. “You’ve wanted to do this for years–you need to do it.”  Period, end of discussion.  It probably helps that I’m not away from him when I’m writing–my “office” is our bed, which we treat like a couch in the daytime, and he’ll stretch out beside me and read, or we stream Netflix movies while I write. I’m grateful every day for the supportiveness–and that extends also to his parents and the vote of confidence represented by the generous gift of this computer.

Pue’o on his perch

My writing-mascot is the owl–I have a little guy (named Pue’o, the Hawai’ian word for owl) who perched on the old laptop’s screen while I wrote… In Hawai’ian culture, the ‘aumakua, or guardian spirit, is represented by an animal of the islands.  My husband’s family is guarded by Mano, the shark, and he remembers learning about the ‘aumakua from his Tutu Pa (grandfather), Hawai’ian musician Kamuela Ka’anapu, who also taught him traditional cooking, and to combine his love of music with his love of cooking. (When Keoni is singing in our kitchen, I know that all’s well in my world!)  Tutu Pa told him that whenever he saw a shark, “either something good or something bad will happen.” Kid-Keoni’s irreverent response (which earned him a cuff across the back of the head) was, “Well, Tutu Pa, that depends wheddah you IN da watah or OUT!

Anelahikialani & Kapena with their brother-sister matching ‘aumakua tattoos

Our son Kapena, who turned sixteen on Valentine’s Day, has been wanting a tattoo for a couple years, and we told him we’d sign for one when he reached legal age (sixteen with parental consent in Idaho), provided he went to our artist (whose art we love and whose judgment we trust), and that the tattoo itself be something meaningful to him.  So this week he got his tattoo: the family ‘aumakua with our last name printed in the curve of its body. Our second daughter Anelahikialani and her wife Sarah were visiting from California this last week, and she and Kapena went in together to get matching ‘aumakua tattoos.

Hawai’ian families have ‘aumakua, and an individual can also have a personal ‘aumakua. You don’t choose one–it chooses you, and a person who pays attention might recognize the relationship.  Last summer when I began writing for an Idaho travel magazine, I was seeing owls every time I was out on the road on assignment. Daytime, night time, it didn’t matter–owls were crossing my path every time I hit the road to write. I can take a hint–the owl is my ‘aumakua. And if I reach back to my own Irish roots, the owl is a common personal totem in Celtic culture as well, so that seems suitable. This is why my Twitter handle is @KanaOwl, and why the literary magazine I’m launching (more about that in an upcoming post) will be at, and why the protective cover Keoni ordered for the new laptop is adorned with an owl (in “my” colors, no less)..

On the Owl-Mac with my “office staff”–Christian (holding Pue’o) & Elena Grace…

Our ten-year-old Christian just registered for junior high, and as we watched Harry Potter the other night, he was lamenting the fact that “speaking Owl” isn’t among the available electives.  He’s quite enamored of Harry’s owl, Hedwig, and whenever he’s in the house, you can guarantee that Pue’o will be somewhere on his person.  (He doesn’t know it yet, but his birthday present in 10 days will be a full-size Hedwig look-alike made by the same company that created Pue’o…)  He also points out that the owl on my Mac is an appropriate symbol for what I do, since owls in Harry Potter’s world carry written correspondence.

Christian and I agree that the UPS man was really a brown owl in disguise.  And as for his delivery… well, even Harry Potter getting his Firebolt broom by owl-post was not more excited than I was when this Owl-Mac arrived.

To Mom & Dad in Hawai’i: THANK YOU for enabling this writer to keep writing so happily! And I hope you know that this isn’t the first time God has worked through you to provide a blessing in my life…  I thank him every day for my biggest blessing: the man who married me. Thank you for “authoring” that gift as well…  And my thanks again for providing me with such an awesome new “office!” If I haven’t needed a fairy godmother, it’s because God’s always got my back.  And yes–as Mom says–he works through other people.

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–“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 Travel

From Volcanic Hotspots to an Atomic Town

Third day on the roads of Idaho for the Western Byways Editorial Team (see ‘Western Byways on the Road… Carey, Idaho and Ice Fishing, Hot Springs, and a Duck-Hunting Writer)…

stopped for lunch beside the Lost River Range....

Lunchtime…  We’re parked on a dirt road in the narrow plain between the Lost River Range and the White Cloud Range of mountains.  Normally at this time of year there’d be at least a few feet of snow up this high, but it’s been a strangely snow-free year.  Even Ray the Rancher was commenting yesterday that he’s only just started bringing out hay for the cattle, and he’s never in his eighty-seven years seen a winter where the hay wasn’t needed until January.  Still, there’s not another vehicle or human in sight, and the picture-windows of the motor home are framing a stunning set of jagged Idaho peaks.

Somewhere in that Lost River Range is Mount Borah, the state’s highest peak, which the Editor has an itch to climb.  I suggested that what he really needs for such a mission is a base-camp cook (Keoni of course) who’d have a super-fabulous camp dinner ready when we got back down the mountain.  (Do you like how I so subtly invited US along on that expedition?)  The “Lost” River is so called because it vanishes into the porous flows of basalt and disappears for a hundred miles to reappear magically as “Thousand Springs” near Twin Falls.

one of Paul's old milk cans

Right now Keoni is cooking up cheese-and-apple crepes at the stove, and we’re feeling almost literally on top of the world.  On top of Idaho, at the very least.   Stepping out the door here to take photos, we had to hop over the pile of deer-poo atop which we’d strategically parked…  The wind really cuts up here, so none of us stayed outside longer than the length of a smoke, but in that short space of time Keoni the Rock Hound found a spearhead with the knapper’s marks still evident along its edges.  It still amazes me that a person can find an artifact–how many centuries old, I wonder?–just lying in the sagebrush beneath the mountains.  (Of course, it takes a sharp eye like his–I would have seen just a rock and kept walking…)


Keoni and I knocked on Vonnie and Paul’s door this morning before we pulled out of Carey, to hand over a hostess-gift of Hawai’ian sesame candy, and to chat for a few more minutes about the summer Fly-In event (for which we might come up and do a traditional Hawai’ian pig in the ground) and the classic Honda motorcycle lying in the sagebrush behind their shed, which hasn’t been registered since 1985, and which Paul is agreeable to having us take off his hands when we come back with the kids…  I was born not many miles from here in the spud-farming town of Aberdeen, but hadn’t set foot in Carey until this weekend—and now we have friends there.  As someone noted in the response to yesterday’s post , the old-timers must have stories…  and that, right there, is probably my favorite part of Travel.  People everywhere have stories, and I love it that my “job” now is to hunt those stories down.  Adding friends to our life is a lovely side effect.

Craters of the Moon area--including Carey and Arco

We drove through the lunar landscape of Craters of the Moon with its vistas reminiscent of Hawai’i.  Indeed, when we stopped at the visitor center, the footage and photos of current volcanic activity, used to describe the originating events of the bizarre landscape here, were all shot in Hawai’i.  Even the descriptive names of the different types of lava (the rope-like pahoehoe and the shoe-destroying a’a formations) are Hawai’ian words.  I can see my Hawai’ian husband getting homesick…

Of course, it’s a little colder on these lava flows than the ones at home…  The looping road through the park is closed for winter, and in a more usual winter of Idaho snow, we could cross-country ski through the park, but today we have to be content with the perimeter road passing from Carey to Arco.  And the geology buffs are more than content; both Keoni and The Editor are geeking out on the basaltic formations, and I had my own geek-out affair at the visitor center’s racks of shiny-covered books…  What actually jumped onto my hand, however, wasn’t a book at all, but a little owl-puppet—Pue’o, my personal totem.  A writing-and-traveling-mascot.

Although we’re slated to stay the night in Arco, The Editor wanted to use our extra time to drive north a stretch, through McKay toward Mount Borah (perhaps to survey the site of his upcoming conquest) and we’re grateful for the dramatic views of the detour.  A herd of antelope ran alongside us for one stretch of road; The Photographer slowed us down to about thirty-five miles an hour to match their pace and I wondered where they were headed in such a sprint, kicking up dirt with their hind hooves as they dashed the distance to wherever they were aimed.  We passed McKay Reservoir with a village of ice-fishing huts and sheds that made me think of “Grumpy Old Men”…

Pue'o (the owl)--my traveling-writing-mascot

I confess I finally “get” the appeal of RV-ing.  I’ve always seen a monstrously-unmaneuverable-gas-guzzler, and not thought any further.  In this instance, however, I’m neither trying to drive the beast nor paying for its gas, and I confess this is road-tripping more comfortable than I’ve ever had it!  Spending this afternoon stretched out on the couch snuggled in Keoni’s arms while that stunning scenery streamed by the “living room window”…  no complaints whatsoever!


Evening. After a couple hours parked among the mountains, soaking up the surroundings (and lunch!) we revved up the Roaming-Home once again and headed back to Arco.  It’s a friendly looking little town of just over a thousand people, with business names like “Atomic Lube” referencing the nuclear plant which powered this community before any other in the world. The nearby Idaho National Engineering Lab is Idaho’s still-active nuclear facility, cleverly located out here on a geographic fault line among volcanic hot spots.  I wondered what the high school mascot might be—something glowing?—but it turns out they’re the rather unassuming Pirates.

The Writer, The Editor, & The Photographer at Pickle's

Arco grew up at the junction of two stage lines, and originally went by the name “Root Hog,” until a postmaster objected and marshaled a change. We had dinner at Pickle’s Place, a local favorite, where Keoni tried the Atomic Burger and we all shared an order of fried pickles. The Mountain RV Park here is closed for the winter, but because they advertise with the magazine, they kindly flipped on the power for us to hook up here.  It’s a little cold to attempt the miniature golf course, but we’re already looking forward to a warmer-weather visit with the kids.

I have to take a moment to enthuse about my new toy, an iPad accessory…  The iPad is practically glued to my hand on trips like this–the map-apps and note-taking and recording functions “gathering” our experiences as we go–but I’d been wishing it really were glued to my hand, because it’s really not convenient to carry the thing around.  So a couple months ago I was searching for a handled case or something along those lines, and strangely enough, the first item listed on my Google search was a plastic beach-bucket.  Well, it did have a handle…

Amused by the search result, I posted on FaceBook that I could just see myself tripping along with my iPad in its little bucket–and my mom wrote me to say my cousin’s fiancee works for OtterBox and has outfitted her with accessories for her toys…  Not a week later a package arrived in the mail with the indestructible Otter “Defender” (definitely a wise choice for someone as clumsy as myself) and a full set-up of handles and straps allowing me to sling the thing over my shoulder, or strap it to my hand.  I’m LOVING it!  So here’s a shout-out of thanks to my mother and the cousin’s fiancee–journalism just got easier.

Tomorrow is our last day on the road–the Shoshone Ice Caves (another feature closed at this time of year) will be opening up for a private tour…  Don’t we just feel like the V.I.P. bus this week!