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The Holiday Card

Keoni's first snowball fight (Christian's handiwork!)

Keoni’s first snowball fight (Christian’s handiwork!)

My mother used to joke that as far as holiday cards were concerned, “the Holidays” should mean not just Christmas, but also New Year’s—and probably Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day as well. In other words, if the holiday cards got sent out before the end of February, they shouldn’t be considered late. On reflection, it’s interesting to note how frantically guilt-ridden people can become about the Christmas-card “deadline”—particularly given that it truly isn’t a mandatory activity in the first place. It’s a pleasant one, though, and (especially before the advent of Facebook) it certainly used to serve as a way to keep tabs on distant acquaintances and relations.

Christian hurling snowballs! (Right-handed... He's mostly a Lefty, he writes Lefty and BATS lefty, but he throws Righty...)

Christian hurling snowballs! (Right-handed… He’s mostly a Lefty, he writes Lefty and BATS lefty, but he throws Righty…)

There’s the potential down side as well: the “traditional” Christmas letter about which people joke (often with gritted teeth), the epistle in which a family boasts of how well everyone is doing, painting accomplishments in rosy hyperbole that leaves the recipients rolling their eyes or gagging…  I’m actually blessed with a number of friends and family members who write wonderfully anecdotal and amusing annual letters, so I’ve largely been spared the competitive clashings of those clandestine Christmas combat-cards…

In my turn, I’ll shy away from Tradition by calling THIS our Holiday Card for 2012.

my parents' front window, Christmas Day

I’m happy to report that Keoni and I finished 2012 Sober (a little over two years now) and Joyful. We’ve been blessed with a great deal more time with our three youngest children than we were able to spend in 2011. If anyone wanted to see the antics we’ve been up to, I’d just refer them to the Kanacles (er, chronicles?) archive here…  My only boast is that we keep finding fun in our life!

Composting

“Yet time, and showing up, turn most messes to compost, and something surprising may grow.” ~Anne LaMott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Elena Grace and Grandy baking Christmas cookies

Elena Grace and Grandy baking Christmas cookies (my Grandma’s recipe, my mom’s home-made apricot jam)

Keoni and I drove our two youngest kids north to spend Christmas with my parents—the first time in a decade that I’d been Home for Christmas. The kids were excited about this, but if it came to a contest of who was MOST excited, I suspect it was a tie between my mother and myself! She posted on Facebook: “The only thing better than going over the river and through the woods… is being the Grandma!”

teaching Elena Grace (in her made-by-Grandy Christmas bathrobe) how to do crosswords

teaching Elena Grace (in her made-by-Grandy Christmas bathrobe) how to do crosswords

My family is definitely one for Traditions, so I knew I could anticipate all the same things that made my childhood Christmases so special: baking my Grandma’s vanilla-with-home-made-apricot-jam sandwich cookies, the Christmas tree with all the decorations we picked up in our travels (memories attached to each one), my mom’s Coconut Orange rolls on Christmas morning, the fireside Christmas-caroling-party my parents host every Christmas Eve… And the added layer of enjoyment: watching my kids enjoy the same things.

A visit to my parents is one of the rare occasions when I don’t pack books for a trip—because I know there’s plenty of reading-material to browse at their house! I picked up Anne LaMott’s “Plan B” from my mom’s shelf (a book that’s on my to-read list but not on my own shelf) and enjoyed not only her insights, but the myriad of little ways in which my reading intersected with my life

a sign spotted on our drive northward... "THAT explains a lot," commented Christian.

a sign spotted on our drive northward… “THAT explains a lot,” commented Christian.

One of the topics that regularly features in Keoni’s and my prayers together is giving thanks for the opportunity to regain and re-earn my parents’ trust after our relapse of two-plus years ago—the chance to rebuild our relationship with them. It’s a process that takes time (and showing up), and a process only made possible by their willingness to forgive, and to accept us and love us now, even with our messy past.

My dad (a retired Professor of Agriculture and a dedicated gardener) used to have a hat that said “Compost Happens.” If I were to add a tag-line to that hat, it would say: Compost Happens. But look what can grow from it!

“Things are not perfect, because life is not TV and we are real people with scarred, worried hearts. But it’s amazing a lot of the time.” ~Anne LaMott

Breaking Out the Bubbly (no, not the alcohol)

“Another secret [of life] is that laughter is carbonated holiness.” ~Anne LaMott

snowball fight

Keoni & Elena Grace behind the table “fort”

I’m not a great fan of snow, but the kids adore it. We don’t get a lot of it at home (“high desert” climate–we don’t get much of any kind of precipitation), but 300 miles north we were greeted by a sizable dump of snow the day after our arrival. (Hmm, do you think my word choice—”dump“—reflects my own feelings about snow?) The kids, of course, were delighted, and asked Keoni if he’d join them for a snowball fight after they built forts.

the "human shield" maneuver...

the “human shield” maneuver…

He good-naturedly agreed, and we expected he’d have an hour or so of fort-building time before his snowball services would be called for. Five minutes later, little voices at the back door announced their readiness. Wait, what? You built snow forts already? Well, not precisely snow forts… They tipped the pair of patio tables on their sides, each of them standing behind one, ready to get right to the snowball fight.

Having grown up in Hawai’i, “snowball fights” were not a part of Keoni’s childhood memories. In fact, he shared at dinner that this was his first one. Thinking of the hour’s worth of giggling in the back yard, I once again blessed Keoni’s Hawai’ian-sized heart (and his arthritic bones) for his willingness to play.

“You want to protect your child from pain, and what you get instead is life, and Grace…” ~Anne LaMott

A Welcome Ghost of Christmas Past

“Here’s what the priest said: ‘I promise you it will all work out, in its own perfectly imperfect way.’” ~Anne LaMott

My parents' Christmas Eve caroling party

My parents’ Christmas Eve caroling party

We lost my Grandpa this summer. I still haven’t been able to write about him—largely because there’s so much to say. Maybe I’m not meant to write a single, all-encompassing “Grandpa post”—maybe he’ll just find his way into posts-about-life. He was very much present this Christmas, maybe in part because so many of my childhood Christmases were spent with him (and of course my mother’s as well)… Grandpa was the son of German immigrants (didn’t speak English until he started school), so my mom grew up with delightful German Christmas customs. Real candles on the tree, her grandfather dressed as Santa (she says she never wondered why Santa had such a strong German accent), and O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung in German. And the Christmas-tree pickle: a glass pickle-ornament on the tree, and whoever found it first would be the first to open a Christmas present. (Elena Grace found it this year.)

Christmas Eve with the kiddos

Christmas Eve with the kiddos

A number of years ago, my mom taught me a soprano descant to “Silent Night,” and the two of us have always sung it together at the Christmas Eve church service. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the high soprano notes carry so well that two voices are all that’s needed to make it soar through the whole church. The thought of Singing the Silent Night descant with my mom is the single thing that has made me most sad every Christmas Eve that I have not spent at home. This year the two of us knew that we’d be singing it for Grandpa—his favorite song, even in the English.

Things don’t always go the way we imagine them… “Silent Night” has always been done at my parents’ church with guitar accompaniment (it was originally written when a church organ broke), but the new music director used the organ—and at a pretty quick clip, too. We were a little breathless at the end, and pretty sure that we were the only people who could hear the descant with the organ drowning out voices. But hey, what we wanted—what we’d been looking forward to—was singing it together, for Grandpa. I’m sure he heard it.

Joy in the Little Things

“My pastor, Veronica, says that peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet.” ~Anne LaMott

Christian & Elena Grace opening each other's presents

Christian & Elena Grace opening each other’s presents

Our family enjoys a lot of Blessings–but “money” hasn’t been among them this year. Our gifts were of the home-made and hand-made variety, of necessity. But a couple days before Christmas, Elena Grace crept up to me with a distressed expression and whispered to me: “Mommy, I don’t have a present for Christian.” I asked if she could find him something he’d like if she and I went to WalMart with ten bucks. After a similar conversation in the other direction, we ended up taking both kids to WalMart, each with ten bucks for a gift for the other.

Don't look now---they're playing together!

Don’t look now—they’re playing together!

I confess I went on Mom-alert when Christian came back with a Beyblade—one of the battling tops he collects—but my suspicion (that he might be giving her something he wanted) proved entirely unfounded, based on her squeals when she opened it. “She’s always wanted one,” he told me, with a smug certainty that I admit he’d earned. She picked a Hot Wheels ramp that had him bouncing on his knees and swooping in for an impromptu hug (which he promptly disavowed—”You did NOT just see that”—so you’ll just have to take my word for it).

The two of them took off downstairs to play with the Beyblades Arena, leaving Keoni and me to reflect that—despite their day-to-day snarking at one another—they’ve each got a pretty good line on the other. That’s a little shot of joy right there.

Hamming it Up

reading aloud from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

reading aloud from “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”

The first essay in Anne LaMott’s book was titled “Ham of God” (a play on the “Lamb of God” lines of church-liturgy), in which she wrote of a day when she unexpectedly won a ham at her supermarket, and didn’t want it, but figured she shouldn’t turn down whatever God sent her way. In the parking lot she ran into a friend who had gotten Sober with her, and who was in tears because she couldn’t afford to feed her kids. LaMott gave her the ham.

The same day I read that essay, Elena Grace and I curled up to read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”—a favorite from my childhood. A family of six rowdy kids (the Herdmans) show up at church and bully the other kids into letting them have the lead roles in the Christmas Pageant. Unlike the kids who have been hearing the Nativity story their whole lives, the Herdmans are hearing it for the first time—and they have a lot of questions. They raise some good points. They end up reminding everyone of the human element at the heart of the Christmas story.

my parents' cat, Mila, watching Elena Grace play in the snow

my parents’ cat, Mila, watching Elena Grace play in the snow

And when the three Herdman-Wisemen come down the church aisle, they aren’t carrying the prop-jars for gold and frankincense and myrrh; they’re carrying the Christmas Ham from their own welfare basket.

And as we were about to pull out with the packed minivan to head home again, Dad wondered if we’d like to take the extra ham from the freezer. Hey, we don’t turn down whatever God sends our way. God has sent us amazing gifts—starting with family. Ham is welcome, but family is wondrous.

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Hill-Climbing, Hummingbirds, and Handguns

This evening, a particular piece of kid-art caught my eye. We have their notes and drawings tacked up all over the place—on the walls, on the fridge—but when something is always there you sometimes stop seeing it.

Elena Grace’s drawing of the family at the lake, one year ago

That’s the case with this piece , carefully dated 8-2-11 (almost exactly a year ago) with sticker-letters spelling out the message: “Mom, I wish I could see you more often. Love, Elena Grace.” It’s accompanied by her drawing of all of us at the lake, and her note reminded me with a jolt that just a year ago (due to our 2010 alcoholic relapse) we were only seeing the kids for a day here and there, not even overnights.

my scariest subscriber!

What a long way we’ve come (thank you, God!) that we have them for a week at a time this summer, and on the Fridays when their dad picks them up, we know we’ll have them back the next Friday. Christian’s parting words on his way out the door to his dad’s truck this afternoon were: “I’ll call you. Post something!” Scary as it may sound, my eleven-year-old now subscribes to my blog, and has even read through all the archives. Well, you can bet he’ll keep me pretty honest. (By the age of three, the signature phrase of Mr. Fact-and-Detail was: “Actually, Mom…”)

An aside to my child: Remember, Buddy, that Mom wears a t-shirt that says “I make shit up,” and that first and foremost I’m a storyteller. Cut me a storyteller’s slack, yeah? Love you!

Silver City, Idaho: the “ghost town” that’s still kickin’

This week we used our time with the kiddos not only for chicken-house-building, but also for a camping foray into the Owyhee mountains to the old mining town of Silver City. I wrote about Silver City last summer for an Idaho travel magazine (“reprint” of the article here), and on that visit Keoni & I stayed in the Idaho Hotel, which has been in operation for one hundred fifty years… I know that sounds like a new building to my friends in Europe, but here in the American West that’s about as old as it gets.

As we pulled into town this week, the hotel owner, Roger, was out front of the hotel putting steaks on the grill. Keoni pulled the van up beside him and rolled down the window. “I don’t know if you remember us–we stayed here last summer…” Whether truthfully or politely, Roger said he did, and Keoni went on to add, “My wife wrote the article for Western Byways.” Whether or not he remembered us, he remembered the article—and evidently with pleasure. (I wonder, in retrospect, if it’s a bit unnerving to be told there’s an article being published about your place, and not to have an idea which of your recent guests might have been the snoop writer…)

one of the drug store counters… Roger bought it, contents-and-all, and is working to restore it

We reiterated how much we’d enjoyed our stay last year (as if he hadn’t gathered as much from the article), told him we’d brought the kids up to camp (he peered into the back of the van and waved his barbecue tongs at them in cheerful greeting), and asked if there might be a possibility that he would unlock the drug store (which he also owns) at some point so the kids could have a look. He agreeably set a time for the next morning, and we headed on up the road.

Keoni had some “help” (and a duel?) with the tent…

We had intended to bypass the established campground just out of town and stake out a spot upstream, but the campground turned out to be entirely deserted, so we decided after all to claim a creekside spot there. Elena Grace gave Keoni a hand with the tent, and both kids disappeared up the banks of the creek.

disappearing across the creek…

I have to pause here and note that I’ve never in my adult life gone camping without being the person who packed for the trip. This was actually the first time Keoni and I have had the chance to camp together (thanks to the loan, from my parents, of two tents—including the awesome orange one that predates ME), and while I was frantically trying to finish up my writing Tuesday, he packed up the van for our adventure. It was a strange sensation for me to get into the vehicle without a single idea of what had been packed. He’s organized, OCD, and super-thorough (far more so than I would have been, in all truth), so I had no reason to worry. It was just an odd sensation. Yet another reminder that I’m with a man now who takes care of things.

Our Fire Guy at work with the flint & steel

And take care of things he did—the camp popped up around me in no time, and by the time the kids returned from their foray up the opposite mountainside, he had sausages on the grill and a fire ready for Christian’s flint-and-steel.

It’s one of the inescapable facts of camping—at least around here—that ninety-degree days flip in a flash into near-freezing nights. Not long after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I was hurriedly trading my sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts for jeans and layers of sweatshirts. (And yes, the kids both piped up that they were glad their dad let them take their warm sleeping bags.)

marshmallows & a fire—indispensable to camping

The marshmallows came out, of course, quickly followed by a perfectly full moon, rising from behind the mountainside the kids had so recently conquered. After several s’mores, Elena Grace climbed stickily into my lap and leaned back against me, gazing at the moon. “It’s just been shopping, you know,” she told me, matter-of factly.

Oh? Does the Moon have shopping bags?

“Mm-hmm.” She gazed some more. “It likes taking baths. And it always washes its hands after it goes to the bathroom.  It likes people… and fish. Golden fish!”

I think I may have a Writer here. I’ll have to ask her what the Moon shops for…

morning in the Camp… Including Mom (with coffee!) when she finally emerged

Keoni and the kids were up early, and I emerged from the tent for a few cold minutes before I conceded that my writing-until-five-the-previous-morning had caught up with me. Gravity definitely felt like my enemy—smell of bacon and coffee notwithstanding—I needed some more sleep. On my second attempt at emerging, the air had warmed, the coffee was still waiting, and Keoni was cleaning up what turned out to be the worst “disaster” of our trip—the aerosol whipped cream (for pancakes & cocoa) had deployed inside the cooler. When that’s the worst mishap of a camping trip, you know that someone has packed well!

We headed back into town, where we met up with Roger and his strongly-wagging tail, which is incidentally attached to his dog Kodiak… He and a friend were doing some work on the drug store this week (I believe he intends to open it for regular public viewing once the restoration-work is farther along) and he ushered us in to have our look around. When he bought the drug store, some of its contents had been untouched for decades. There’s a cabinet of unopened medicines, the newest of which is from 1903… A full dentist’s office with all the tools where they were left… Typewriter and shipping boxes, embossed order-forms (dated 1914) for opium, lamps and bottles and all manner of things. It’s purely fascinating, truly.

the fascinating Silver City drug store… And Kodiak, our tail-wagging “tour guide”

I think what’s so fascinating to me about Silver City is that there’s so much history still there—and the few folks who still live there (though only a couple of them year-round, as it’s snowed in through most of the winter) are maintaining and restoring and keeping the history alive.

trying our hand at gold-panning…

As Roger said to us, you can tell a Local in Silver City because they’ll go around with their noses to the ground after a rain, to see what artifacts might have washed to the surface. And indeed, when Keoni was digging around in the creek-bank by our campsite, seeking worms for Christian’s fishing, he uncovered rusted square-headed nails and even a rusted padlock embedded in the banks. The campground itself is situated where China-town stood, Roger told us, and it’s apparently quite common to find Chinese coins and opium bottles after a rain.

I confess to being a little bummed by the realization that I had a less-than-avid audience for the history-stuff in my kiddos. My own frame of reference is a childhood spent with a sister who was a History-Major-in-the-making by the age of six, and the two of us would easily have spent a full afternoon just in the cemetery, not to mention the rest of the town… But on the other hand, these two will happily entertain themselves for a couple hours with just a stream for entertainment, so I really can’t complain.

Christian reading in the tent. (Lessons learned: he needs more than 3 books for a 2-day camp-out, and she now knows that eBooks can’t get recharged…)

I almost did—complain, that is—when Elena Grace was throwing a temper-tantrum about her flip-flops being “wet and sandy” (of all things!) when she was trying to play in the stream… “I hate this place! I am NOT joking!” she shrieked, throwing one of her sandals on the ground. Can this seriously be MY kid, I was wondering… Until she finished her fit with this lament: “If I could just be barefoot!”  Oh Lordy, she is REALLY my kid!

Sorry, sweetie—I misunderstood the nature of the problem. By all means, be barefoot. (She was, for most of the rest of the trip. And I’m remembering a week-long canoe trip around Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho in my teens—a week in which I didn’t once don any form of footwear…) Okay—so we need to work on the tantrum-part, but yeah. She’s mine.

Our Camp Cook!

After some down-time back at camp (despite the sleep-in, Mom needed another nap on a blanket in the shade), we poked our heads into the hotel again and asked Roger if he might have some horseshoes we could borrow—he did—and we walked down to the horseshoe pits in the town’s Memorial Park. Christian’s unique (but effective) style of horseshoes looks something like bowling, but his bouncing-and-rolling tosses land well. Keoni overthrew a couple into the creek beyond, and we ended the evening with new horseshoe-terms. In addition to “leaner” and “ringer” (Christian ended with TWO ringers on his last toss!), we now have “slider” and “creeker” (meaning one that lands in the creek)…

Back at “our” creekside, we had tied a couple of Elena Grace’s bright-pink socks to one of the tent-lines so we wouldn’t run into it—and we had the pleasure of a visit, during dinner, of a pair of hummingbirds determined to find food in them. Heaven help them if they manage to get sock-juice from those, was the general consensus around the campfire…

It has been a week of “firsts”… Our first opportunity to camp together, the kids’ first foray to Silver City… And the last “first” for the week: my first go with a loaded weapon. On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a spot Roger had recommended for target-shooting, and set up targets against a steep hillside.  I confess I wasn’t prepared for the KICK of a 40-caliber handgun, but by my fourth clip I was taking out my targets consistently. And having fun. Look out, World!

Flash… and KICK! Aim… and ENJOY!


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