For the Departed

This is Kansas.

variations on a tree 2

But so is this.

molly and g listening

And this.

bluebird bloodmobile


weed flag

And this.

papa sue and me

G and I just returned from our 2000 mile trek there and back. My grandfather, Papa George (that’s him above), died a week ago Wednesday. Saturday after came the funeral. Where I read this, upon finishing its writing the night before at Grandma Lita’s house in Indiana whilst G did naked flips off the side of her chair.

Papa Fills the Room

Papa knows how to fill up a room.
My mother tells me
how he put the-fear-of-god
in her, but I only know how
important I was when

he’d order me a Shirley
Temple in the clubhouse
after golf. Cherry intoxicating
fizz, the room warm
with drink and friendly faces.

He was the gleam
in his parents’ eyes, their
only one and only.
Even the faded monochrome
on my mantle—Papa in the middle
with his arms slung around Big Grandpa
and Grandma—comes alive
with him in it. Wholly
untroubled, he looks out at
the world laughing. He can fill
a room, Papa can, with his brand
of mischief and goodwill.

Jenny, remember
how I used to give you tastes of beer?
I didn’t, being hardly

two. He’d chuckle as he
sunk into his overstuffed
chair, his rack of pipes there
on the wall just
within (and maddeningly
out of) reach. Pipes
that always smelled of smoke
but I didn’t know how because
we never saw
him smoke one once.

It pleased him, that
he’d somehow slipped one past
my parents giving me
the beer, pleased him
more that I smacked my lips,
wanting more.

With delight, with desire was how.
With food and drink. With hunger for
the living. With teasing laughter.
His mama’s face agape
with mock horror as he let loose a string
of Serbian obscenities GEORGE!
She shook her head, giggled
like a young girl.

As he laughed the room got bigger
and I never felt small. There was always enough
room even when Papa filled the room.

The Marines played taps, with full honors. Watching the two Marines unfold the flag then fold it up again, I was fascinated, having never seen it. One Marine was older, the other looked to be just out of high school. I could tell he was nervous; I wondered if it was his first time. I imagined my grandpa telling him a joke to get him to relax a little, but then I was glad he was nervous. He wanted to do this right. And even if his motivation was just not-to-mess-up, that intention had honor in it. I palpably felt their intention to honor my grandfather, and I finally understood a little better the military code so elusive to me and mine (contentious objection runs deep in this Mennonite blood): Honor, Courage, Commitment.

So I cried, and I was glad. And I knew him a little better. Baptized an Orthodox Christian in the Serbian church, I felt a connection to him, but the Marine code of honor, courage and commitment better defines the way he lived.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which he has committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For Thou art a good God and lovest mankind; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for Thou only art without sin, Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy word is truth.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servant George who has fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

And okay. A few more pictures from Kansas.

g and isaiah

g with cello

g in the loft

g kissing mary



Years of marriage.

And as the cries arise—“So young!” “Spring chickens!”—let me just say that yes, we are fairly new travellers on the highway of love, but we’ve navigated our share of forks in the road, blind corners, and breakdowns (usually managing to get to the side of the road but sometimes stalling unsurprisingly at conspicuous intersections).

Driving through rush hour Akron traffic to make our six o’clock dinner reservation in Cleveland,


John asked if I felt nine years older. I wonder, do marriage years work like childhood years? My answer to the question spoke of stages: clueless newness, colic survival (for want, or sheer laziness, of a better term), massive transition (new job, new baby, big move, autism diagnosis), heartbreaking honesty accompanied by painful recognitions and uncertainties, renegotiation, and finally, a kind of interpersonal exploration nouveau.

Granted, if we were still in the “heartbreaking honesty accompanied by painful recognitions and uncertainties” stage, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about it now; and I’m not going into specifics on any of these fronts. But in summation, I’ll offer up a generally accurate characterization of our nine nuptial years:    

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”  —Emily Dickinson

But it’s also familiar. We rented a tent for our mostly outdoor reception in the July heat of Kansas to protect our guests from the sun. The day ended up grey and one of the coldest on record: maybe 65 degrees. People were asking for coffee and huddling in a very crowded downstairs living room to warm up from a chilly north wind. Of course 65 sounds ideal, but considering Kansas summer highs hardly ever dip down to even the mid-80s (and have been known to remain in the 100s for weeks at a time), it was downright frigid.

The weather today in Canton is remarkably similar, only sunnier. The boys and I wore sweaters while waiting for the trash truck on the front stoop this morning. Not as rare in Ohio, but still to be relished, and remarkable in its way.

john-jennifer-2004-bw [Photo credit: Dwayne Adamson]


Cousins, Part 2

We are done in. And strangely filled up.

Our second set of cousins just set off for their return to Kansas. Jonah was edgy and in tears. It took an hour to get him in a place where he would consent to lunch. Having had to share his toys (which mostly amounted to not sharing his toys unless coerced with the timer on the stove), Gabriel grabbed the iPad and headed for the blue-grey couch. Haven’t heard a peep in almost an hour.

Before they left, we took a (freezing cold) farewell swim in the hotel swimming pool. Thankfully, I can feel my big toes again, and the tingling in my fingers has ceased. On the way down from my sister’s room, I almost lost G. A woman in the elevator yelled down the  hall, “I have one of your children here!” I was the caboose at the end of the luggage train, unable to pass, afraid to yell, and thankful again for the kindness of strangers.

Over the course of the few days Beth and her family visited (husband Brandon, Charlotte [6], Isaiah [3], and Silas [14 months]), Charlotte was several times called Jonah’s sister. They are good friends. Jonah explained the intricacies of Star Wars as they held hands and watched Revenge of the Sith on the aforementioned blue-grey couch. They held a corn snake and a ball python together at Malone’s zoology headquarters (thanks to Brandon for being the extrovert he is and making it happen). G and Isaiah didn’t really hit it off until we were saying our hotel farewell. They started playing elevator in the mirrored hotel closet with sliding doors. With no turf to defend, they found their groove. I’m all for neutral territory.

A General Two-Day Recap:

Muggswigsz smoothies were enjoyed after a short run through the downtown fountains. Parsley gin juleps, lavender brownies, popsicles aplenty, and numerous tofu dishes were consumed (just doing my part to educate my burgeoning Buerge veg-heads). Pipes smoked. Silas said “Yo-da”—clear as day. Charlotte researched hermit crabs, inspired by her Maine encounter and touching/cooking/eating her first lobster. Isaiah turned our garden hose into Niagra (O Canada!). The girls had a morning out—much to my delight. We did Starbucks, discovered that hermit crabs eat poop and lose limbs, visited the pet store (C nearly pocketed a tiny “I’m Crabby!” fish tank accessory), tried on clothes for each other at Gap  (Charlotte acquired an inspired French tee in kelly green, Beth a poppin’ bright retro sleeveless shirtwaist), and touched but did not tempt ourselves by looking too closely at the pricetags of JCrew sale rack dresses, tanks, and pencil pants. It rained, and rained some more, with intervals of sunny mugginess.

The Texas Single Malt Whiskey I bought John for his birthday (March 16) arrived today. I may just be a convert, but I’m going to have to learn to handle my liquor better. The gin I enjoyed last night (cocktailed with my Celexa and a taste of Brandon’s Chartruese) still has me feeling fuzzy in the head. I want more coffee, or maybe just a nap. I should go for the former, considering I hear the boys full of it in the next room over.

The latest downpour having past, we ought to pack up and go the library way. I want to read. I want an iced cappuccino. I want the watermelon in my fridge to cut itself up into perfect pink chunks I can eat while I read. I want to spend the rest of the afternoon meditating on Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence. But G just informed me it’s stopped raining, that it’s a beautiful day, and we better go out. Library here we come. Happy Summer!

hello iguana 2ball snake  isaiah in the blue roomcorn snakeC & G  hello iguanafountain ballhello iguana 3girls do starbucks color  vader nap


Mad joy

Until moving to northeast Ohio, I never really understood why people got so religious about their perennials. Why plant so many? The blooming season is short, sometimes only a day if a late frost descends. The remaining thick leaves are kind of waxy and stiff, gone brown in streaks if it gets too hot or they get too much sun. I’m more of a wild garden lover. Overgrown, wispy plants and flowers. Wildflowers and the like.

In Kansas we certainly have cold weather and bad storms. Biting wind. But a cold snap is almost always followed by a warm snap, or at least a day of sunshine. The winter in Colorado is long, but heck, I lived at the foot of remote almost 14,000 foot mountains. Missouri is greyer, but muggy spring (even sometimes muggy winter) days and the long growing season make it feel like winter is just a visitor.

Which is to say that after this very long Ohio winter, I’m a perennial convert. I’m already thinking toward fall (that’s when you plant bulbs, right?) and the colors of tulips I will plant around our front yard tree, where a vestige of flowers still straggly bloom—eight red tulips and one yellow—planted by a previous homeowner gone by. Two tulips even survived John’s landscaping dig-out below our front room picture window. One red, one yellow with red streaks (or is it red with yellow streaks?). One snowdrop found a way through the tarp covered, gravel laded patio he constructed. I admire it’s will.

So after what feels like half a year of wet cold, what in actuality has been six months of wet cold, the flowers are riotous. When spring finally does come to Ohio, it lets out all the stops. The color is a presence. As much as I have yearned for sunny days, the light is almost too bright shining off of the reds, corals, purples, yellows, pinks, whites, blues, oranges, and a dozen variations on green. They are (dare I admit it?) easier to take in when a fog rolls in or a misty rain hangs on everything.

The novelist/philosopher Iris Murdoch—irises being my favorite perennial fragrance, an enticing mix of spice and honey—says this about the energy flowers emanate:

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.

tulip snowdrop garden

Not unlike watching a three-year-old on a tricycle. The mad joy in G’s legs (and face) is intoxicating.

mad joy g

Dandelions having a similar effect.

dandy joy


Seeing the sun in the dark

Three weeks ago I was shoveling snow. This week I’m mowing the lawn between thunderstorms. The mower almost stalls as I plow through the bushy patches of fescue (or is it Kentucky Bluegrass? Dad, help!). I double back, then double back again to get the cut even. I skip the sections planted with ryegrass all together. I wonder if our various lawns (we have a front, back, and side lot) will fully recover this summer from last summer’s drought. John and I have this vision of planting native prairie grass on the half lot to the east (need to confer with our neighbors on that brilliant plan), but the (we’ll call it) fescue is as dense as ever. It’s the ryegrass that seems to have taken the biggest hit, though my kind and soft-spoken neighbor Denny tells me, “It’ll come back. Just give it time.”

I love Denny. He reminds me of my dad and my grandfather. He’s handy with about everything. He grows peppers and tomatoes (which he shares) in his garden. He fixes cars and mowers. He has an impact wrench. He works a nightshift factory job doing I still don’t know what. His snowblower looks twenty years old. One particularly cold morning after an 8 inch snowfall, he watched Jonah and I chip away at a particularly stubborn patch of ice from a previous storm and asked if he could clear the driveway for us. “Would you?” I asked, with undisguised relief. He didn’t say another word. Just did it. I have a card still waiting to be written for that act of kindness.

But for all the time I wait for spring, for all the watching I do and paying attention, it still surprises me. I watch the trees especially for the first buds. One day they’re bare, the next they’re green. Do they push out in the cover of night? Maybe they’re modest. I’m more comfortable exposing myself in the dark. They must be the same.

first green

This morning, after spending half the night in bed with John and Gabriel and half the night in bed with me, Jonah threw back the covers, hurtled himself out of bed and set off. We are of two camps in the Jantz-Estes household: the slow and groggy, somewhat grumpy wakers (that’d be G and me) and the bright eyed and bushy tailed (that’d be John and Jonah). About ten minutes after Jonah’s departure, John appeared asking where Jonah was. “I thought he was with you,” I muttered. Come to find out, Jonah had gone into his room (where G still slept) to Make His Bed.

Jonah has never, unprompted, made his bed. Ever. Of course he woke up his brother because next, he was going to make breakfast for them both. It was only logical. “Aren’t you proud of me?” he asked, as I lay there willing myself to get in the shower. G was thrilled. As Jonah got himself dressed, I went in search for G, who had disappeared (he’s been especially stealthy of late). He was standing at the doors of the refrigerator, thrilled. “Jonah gonna make me breakfast! We gonna make breakfast together!” By the time Jonah got downstairs, he had lost some of his motivation. He did get a yogurt out for G but left it on the counter without a spoon in the rush of getting himself a yogurt and a milk pill (lactase). G sat with anticipation at the table shouting “Need a spoon!” Never mind he didn’t have the yogurt.

But hey, it’s the thought.

I’m ready for some of that spring in myself. I’d take it in either form: the green buds and thick grass or the bounding gusto of my boys. As it is, I’m a little slow and sad. A little empty. I am feeling Lent in a very physical way. Yes, fasting is meant for emptying, but it’s an emptiness for filling—with prayer and the eucharist—and my desire for both are running low. I can be entirely too influenced by the way things feel and the way my feelings affect effort, or lack thereof.

If dreams say something about a soul, mine suggest a combination of living beyond my control and simultaneously mired in muck. Two nights ago I swung high on a swing—too high—as the chains twisted and spun me in large circles around the children swinging next to me on either side. I barely missed colliding with them. In another, I lost control of my car and skidded halfway through an immense field until I finally slid to a stop, sunk up to the top of my tires in mud. My priest from Kansas appeared at my window (from a Pizza Hut, no less, that was inexplicably situated in the middle of this field) and spoke to me through the crack in my window.

So while I don’t have much desire to go to church tonight, I will. Maybe that small act of faith is something. I will go, and I will see what God will do. Denny’s words play back to me: “It’ll come back. Just give it time.” I don’t know what “it” is. Joy, faith? I’m sure it has something to do with sunshine. As I sit here by the window, strange flickerings skim across my screen. At first I freak out a little, thinking my seven (eight? nine?) year old computer is finally on the fritz. But then I realize it’s the sun reflecting off the windshields of cars passing by. Crazy how I didn’t recognize the sun.

g stop with tongue      muscle man

Liner notes

I admit some nostalgia for the era of the mix tape. I started off my career with a Sony boom box (or some manner of Chinese knock-off). I’d sit on the floor (shag green and yellow carpet) of the bedroom I shared with one or the other of my sisters, the radio tuned, my finger at the ready above the record button. I’d wait for the first few bars of a song to play (I got really good at recognizing a song by its opening notes) and make a split-decision. Much rewinding and resetting. Finding ways to stay occupied while I waited for the next song (a decent metaphor for what being a adolescent generally entails).

Eventually I got a double tape deck, and things really took off. When I sat on the bus to and from basketball games I’d be listening to tapes friends had made me (Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, Crosby Stills and Nash, Mr. Mister’s version of “Kyrie Eleison”, Bob Dylan and U2) as the popular girls had Bon Jovi singalongs in the back of the bus. Those were the days. I still have exactly two of those tapes. I’m not sure how they survived the rewinding and fast-forwarding. I fear getting them out because G has already dismantled a favorite tape I made while in England.


A lot’s happened since I last published a post here. Too much to catch up on, and I’m no good at playing catch-up because it usually ends with giving-up, the writing abandoned all together. So let’s get back into the swing of things with a good old playlist. I’ll try to keep the liner notes short.

1. Jonah’s Birthday
On Tuesday, Jonah turned 7. There was (still is) a mammoth Spiderman balloon. Chocolate cake and buttercream frosting. Chocolate chip cookies to take to school for friends. A modest celebration. Enough I hope. He even let his brother open one gift, though G still thinks the jump rope he pulled out is his and not J’s. It was a good day, and stray packages keep arriving by post, the highlight of which (I’m a little embarrassed to say) was a plastic pool of fake vomit. Other than his Hagrid keychain, it was pretty much the only thing he asked for.

2. John left for Boston. My mother simultaneously arrived from Kansas.
We passed the ten minutes waiting for her to arrive at the airport (we had just dropped off John) talking to a colleague/friend of John’s who was waiting with his daughter to pick up his wife. Actually, he mostly chatted with Jonah while I tried to keep track of Gabriel. The timing felt like good fortune—or is it a happy accident? We’ll call it serendipitous and let it be.

3. John came down with a stomach bug gifted by the boys. I did likewise.
I stumbled around for half a day, making excuses for the strange feeling in my stomach. By afternoon, I gave in. By evening, I was curled up in the fetal position in my bed while my mother tended to the boys. John pushed through valiantly as he attended a conference and socialized with friends. We sent pitiful pictures of ourselves by text in commiseration—him from the train, me from the front seat of the Subaru while Jonah was in dance class.

4. Gabriel had his three year well child check-up.
Ear canals finally clear. Still almost off the charts for size. Declared healthy and strong, if a stinker. Charmed the nurses with his antics. Impressed the doctor with his vocabulary. I’ll stop bragging now.

5. Jonah jumped 120 times (without stopping) on his pogo stick.   
All of a sudden he’s a master on the thing, and his balance is astounding. He’s even starting to steer and can jump down the driveway and back up again. He says he’s chasing squirrels. Click HERE to see. He saw a unicycle in an I Can Read book at church on Sunday and said, “I want one of those!”

6. My mom and I drove to Cleveland to hear Temple Grandin.
She’s a kind of animal rights/autism activist, but not like you might think. She’s designed humane systems for the handling of cattle and a hugging machine for the calming of agitated humans who can’t tolerate human touch. She calls herself a “grey hair” and has no use for handling high functioning autistics with kid gloves. Not much use for labels either. “Don’t let autism run your life!” she proclaims. “Do stuff. We’re forgetting how to Do Stuff.” “Get out of the basement, away from the video games. Get a job!” She’s against the abstractification of education and for any kind of hands on making. She’s currently working on a book about the way different brains work (particularly the autistic brain). She is autistic herself. She is hilarious. Clair Danes portrayed her in the movie Temple Grandin. The event was held at the Cleveland Public Library, a beautiful and worthy destination in and of itself.

7. Late Saturday John returned from Boston. 

8. Early Sunday my mother fell ill.
She too tried to deny the obvious. She had to change her flight (to the delight, if confusion, of Jonah). She slept for almost two days straight. She is now feeling much better and is currently reading books to G so that I can write this.

9. The boys and I attended Church.
If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you probably know the portent that sentence can hold. See the fire alarm story HERE. The morning started with the annoying reality of Daylight Savings Time, followed by my misjudgment in allowing G to take his entire toolbox in the car. He was told he could bring one tool into church. Having chosen the Phillips head screwdriver, he promptly wanted the flat head. After entering the church, he could not do without his saw and threw a fit for not having it. I finally scooted J into church to sit with our friend Melissa while I tried to talk G down from the edge (and a full blown tantrum). The promise of nuts and a mint finally did the job, after which he was ready to light our candles. We three headed to the candle stand at the back. G was doing his skippy, trippy run and, characteristically, tripped, falling and hitting one of the very wobbly legs of the unsteadier than I knew candle stand. Before I could stop myself (because that’s how bad habits work), I whisper-spoke “Shit!”. I’m pretty sure only a few ladies in the back row heard me, and I sometimes imagine (or not) they give me dirty looks about the behavior of my children anyway, so I tried to focus on the reality of my own sin and added swearing to the list of habits that need breaking this Lent. After that near catastrophe, it was (relatively) smooth sailing.

10. John wore a t-shirt.
I have not, in the almost eleven years I have known my husband, ever seen him wear a cotton t-shirt by choice (under extreme duress, yes, when required by a collegial event). He, of course, stepped out in style. I only wish he would have also bought me a Walt Whitman “Yawp” shirt at AWP. I would have promised never to wear it on the same day.

11. John and Gabriel built a G-sized work table.
It’s in the garage. Finished in the hour it took Jonah and I to take our Sunday afternoon walk/bike ride. G finally has a toy saw in his possession (thank you Grandma Debbe), as well as numerous screwdrivers, a level, and a pipe wrench, so the work bench was essential, not to mention inevitable.

12. Gabriel is actually Spiderman.
Jonah was likewise enamored at age three. G wears the same musclebound suit, which consistently stirs in J the need to wrestle him to the ground. Sunday night G was allowed to sleep with the suit because the thought of not being able to wear the suit to bed sent him into a tailspin. When G is not Spiderman, he is a dog who crawls around on all fours and pants and eats up pages of books.

13. Godfather Joshua came for a visit.
He was in town with his cousin (Jack Korbel) for a coffeeshop concert. Jonah radiated delight. Godfather Joshua read him Calvin and Hobbes cartoons for an hour while I prepared dinner. Godfather Joshua brought an All Saint’s Day of the Dead decorated mirror to hang by Jonah’s bed to ward off bad dreams. Godfather Joshua taught him the word “onomatopoeia.” J was mournful to see him go so soon. G lamented: “I want Godfawder Yoshua come back now.”

Today my mother flies back to Kansas (she’s much better), and we return to the quieter activities of our slightly-crazed clan. Jonah might cry. But there are summer plans to travel, provided my faith and stamina hold out. Picture collage follows. Shorter (I promise), more regular posts to come…

jonah stocking hat cropgreen god skycleveland libraryjoshua and jjohn sickjenny sickspidey trikespidey fightyawpjonah question croppinwheel jonahg check



Kansas Day

“I know we Kansa people have been accused of being unable to talk about anything else. We have been accused of ‘blowing our own horn’ to excess. They say we are much given to hot air and statistics. However, you and I know better. We know that half has not been told of Kansas, nor ever can be…”
–Arthur Cooper, 1915

And with that, I fondly wish you the Happiest of Happy Kansas Days. Okay, it was actually Tuesday (January 29, 1861), and I tried all day to get to this, but potty training sticker charts took my morning hostage, and the day became a series of mad dashes to the bathroom. I lost track of how many times I pulled G’s unders up and down or how many pee puddles I mopped up.

Back to Kansas. The best I can say the poet William Stafford says better. He spent most of his childhood in Kansas, so he’s got cred. Here are a few pieces of poems to commemorate the people as much as the land.

Mine was a Midwestern home—you can keep your world.
Plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.
We sang hymns in the house; the roof was near God.
The sun was over our town; it was like a blade.
Kicking cottonwood leaves we ran toward storms.
Wherever we looked the land would hold us up.
–from West of Your City, 1960 

You couldn’t analyze those people–
A no-pattern had happened to them;
Their field opened and opened,
level, and more, than forever,
never crossed.  Their world went everywhere.
–from “The Peters Family” in Stories That Could Be True

We ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love where we are, sturdy for common things.
–from “Allegiances” in Stories That Could Be True

roadside grass

I feel I ought to include a few words that some might appoint to the “negative” column concerning the place; admittedly they’re just as true. It’s all how you go at a thing I suppose. Or maybe how it (that being Kansas) goes at you.

Kansas is herself again. The wind blows and the dust and sand flies, but no rain descends. A newcomer asked one of our fellow townsmen if it  always blew this way in Kansas.  He replied that there were perhaps two or three days during the year that it did not.
–from the Salina Journal, 1880

O, dear this is a hard place to live, this Kansas is. I wonder what in the world will become of all of us, anyway.  –Anna Webber, Mitchell County, 1881

Every school history of the present day tells under what stormy and peculiar conditions Kansas began to shape itself forty years ago. From the outset it was a Mecca for the eccentric people now commonly known as cranks, and from that day to this not an ism has presented itself to the sisterhood of States that Kansas has not felt its full force!”
–Roswell Martin Field, 1892, in The Sunflower Land: Stories of God’s Own Country

But in his veins the blood of sturdy pioneers
Ran cool,
And he seasoned by the endless wind,
The blazing sun, the drought, the lonely plains,
Looked at the ground and said,
“I aim to try again.”
–Edna Becker, “Dust-Bowl Farmer”, 1955

tree frame