11.30.2008 | By: Alisa Callos

Small Beauties

It is winter in more ways than one, thought Johanna as she stared out across the newly fallen snow from inside her room. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment noticing how the reflected light turned the insides of her eyelids a brilliant pink. Opening her eyes again she looked away from the window and around her room with it’s sterile white walls and institutional hospital bed. Today she couldn’t see the small beauties.

Her sixtieth birthday—the irony of it struck her again. She’d had a speech to give that evening on the importance of good nutrition in early childhood. New study data to go over, a graduate student to mentor, papers to grade…a busy day planned. A day I didn’t get to live, she thought. The end of her life really. She remembered the paralyzing fear and confusion when she realized she could not feel her left arm. The agonizing pain that struck her head so suddenly she fell to the floor unknowing for a time. The awakening in darkness and frantic desperate scramble for the phone to call an ambulance. But worse, the desperate knowing that this was the end. Knowledge is an evil thing sometimes.

That had been ten years ago. It seemed like fifty some days, trapped as she was in this wheelchair. She stared down at the rolled white washcloth limply clenched in her left hand. She could smell the sweaty rancid odor of death. Her nails were getting a little long, maybe she’d ask the aide to trim them. Thank-goodness tomorrow was bath day. Anymore it was the highlight of her week. She loved the sensuality of the warm water running over her skin. When she’d been a whole person she’d bathed everyday. Now she was a half person and got a weekly bath…she tried not to think about it for it was an issue that could make her fall.

In her mind, everyday was walked on a precipice. On either side the deep abyss of depression with its siren’s call of darkness. The trick was to not fall. She’d fallen many times and the climb out was agonizingly difficult. One never knew what it would be. Yesterday it had been the Jell-O. Lord, how she hated Jell-O. They served it here practically everyday. Where was the apple pie, chocolate cake, blueberry cobbler? If only they knew how it was made, she thought. It had been one of her favorite nutrition labs to teach. Grinding up the cow hooves and bones, purifying the collagen, adding flavoring. The ‘eeww’ factor for the students had always struck her as funny…and she was sure none of her students had ever looked at Jell-O quite the same way again.

Today the snow had helped her climb from the abyss. A thing of beauty, she thought. So fresh and bright and new. It dazzled her senses. Beauty was her saving grace in this lifeless place. It was her most often request. “Bring me something beautiful.” She’d say to her caregivers. Her windowsill contained a cornucopia of beautiful things…a bluebird feather and a small purple stone, a prism with its rainbow splashes of color, a small book of poems and a twisted piece of driftwood. Her small beauties.

Her thoughts drifted, tomorrow was her birthday. She’d be fresh and clean from her bath…she gazed at the bright light out side, suddenly brighter. She looked away and blinked her eyes rapidly, transported dreamily back—back to when she was young and whole—to when she had her whole life in front of her. She remembered the laughter, the loving, and the birth of her daughter. It is over, she thought. Lovingly she gazed down at the bit of sunshine that Dr. Gibson placed in her arms. Pure beauty. Yes, she thought, winter is a lovely season to be born.
11.22.2008 | By: Alisa Callos

Of Beads and Ears and Gratitude

I was in the shower when Sami burst into the bathroom. “Mom! Zach stuck a bead in his ear!” I don’t know if all seven year olds have a propensity for drama but it is Sami’s forte. “You have to come right now! He can’t get it out!” I heaved a sigh of exasperation—peaceful, uninterrupted showers had vanished at her birth, right along with my serene and tranquil life. “Go tell Zach to come see Mama.” I said hurrying now to finish my shower.

A few minutes later, three-year-old Zachary wanders nonchalantly into the bathroom. “Hi Mom.”

“Zach, did you put a bead in your ear?”

“Nope. Sami did.” Yeah right, I think, wondering if this is all just a story or if he really does have a bead in his ear.

“What color is the bead?” I ask. Details are good. The more consistent they are the more likely the story is to be true.

“Red.” He states very unconcernedly.

“How big is it?” I ask.

“Like this one.” He hands me a tiny white bead about two or three millimeters long. Great! I thought. Where there is one bead you are guaranteed to have more. He most likely does have a bead in his ear.

“Why’d you stick a bead in your ear buddy?”

“I didn’t. Sami did.” Likely story. I smile.

A short time later, I was dressed and ready for battle with flashlight in hand. It is practically impossible to see into a child’s ear canal without an otoscope but I was going to give it my best shot. Zach had consistently pointed to his left ear when asked which ear the bead was in so fine—we would start with the right. A few long moments filled with squirming and squiggling and I caught a glimpse of a shiny tympanic membrane. Good. Now I had something to compare the other side too. Over we go. “Zachary James! Hold still!” Nothing but darkness.

I went in search of a brighter flashlight. After about ten minutes of looking, and a holler at my husband asking if he knew of where the ‘good’ flashlight was, I gave up. The ‘good one’ could be anywhere. My littlest child has been fascinated with flashlights for some time now and was infamous for stealing and hiding them. I asked him if he knew where the flashlight was.

“I think…maybe…at Nana’s house?” He has the ‘I’m just an innocent little child’ look on his face and anything missing is always at my mother’s house. Ha!

Resignedly, I sat him back on the table and gave the left ear another go. Eureka! For a split second, I glimpse a red bead sitting cross-wise in the ear canal. OK. We’ve verified there is a problem and here is where I felt profoundly grateful. I am an emergency room nurse. My training in the ER had prepared me for just such a dilemma. We did not have to go to the emergency room, which is 32 miles away. I grabbed a small syringe and a glass of warm water and a few minutes later out popped the little red bead. Crisis averted.

A big sigh of relief—he hadn’t even cried. How grateful I am when little solutions like this work as they should.
11.15.2008 | By: Alisa Callos


They are all strangers.
Pressing in around me
Closing off my breath.

Sidelong glances, judgment,
Revulsion in their eyes.
No Emergency.
Twitch of coat or skirt
Quickening of step.

Pass by swiftly,
Hurry down the hall
Noises, clashing, laughter
Too loud, too loud!
Rocking, rocking.
No. No.

Running, shuffle, run.
Towering, ominous sky buildings
Crashing down.

Where? Looking,
Bright lights,
Blue men.

This is my first attempt at poetry/prose. Constructive criticism gladly accepted!
11.07.2008 | By: Alisa Callos


Change is every minute, every hour, every day and every season.

A butterfly flaps his wings in—my daughter spins the globe. “Now you have a place to put it Mama.” I start over. A butterfly flaps his wings in Bulgen, Mongolia—where my finger landed—starting the wind that brings change—our first snow, so briefly here and now gone. It marked a change in our thinking. From fall to winter. The kids dragged out their boots and snow-pants and spent the morning changing the pristine landscape to one crisscrossed with trails. We head to town. They have haircuts today, and come home changed from how they left.

It has been a week of change. Both locally and globally. A season of change—the adventure is seeing what will happen next.

Writing on my computer, I hit spell check before posting this. Oh! A spelling error. I hit the change button.
11.05.2008 | By: Alisa Callos

Historic Moments

How could I not write about this? Yesterday, I participated in a glorious historic moment. I filled out my ballet, voted, and helped to elect the first African American to the presidency of the United States. It amazes me that it has taken this long.

I was fourteen or fifteen the first time I saw Star Trek—and loved it. Star Trek showed me a world radically different from the one in which I lived. It was a world united. The human race united with one purpose, where country or color was no longer relevant in the bigger universe. The idea took hold, and I held such a world up as the ideal to which we should aspire.

Yesterday’s election has given me hope that such a world may someday be possible. Hope that we can reach across our racial prejudice to see the human in each other. Hope that our nation can come together to solve the real problems we face. Hope that we can come to the middle and find common ground. Hope that if we can become a country united, we can also become a world united.

So here is to the future of our multicultural country. Here is to the hope that our country will finally acknowledge the founding fathers beliefs—“we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
11.01.2008 | By: Alisa Callos


“Betty, you’ll never believe what I just heard.”

“Marge. I swear you always have the most delicious gossip. Do tell.”

“I was just down at Truman’s Department store—getting David some new shoes—and I ran into Doctor Bakers nurse. You know Helen…she never could keep a secret to save her life. Well! You will never believe. I mean never, believe what she just told me.”


“Deputy Scott is pregnant!”

“Really? Our first woman sheriff’s deputy and she’s not even married. A fine example to the community she’s setting.”

“I know. But that’s not even the best part.”

“It gets better?”

“Unbelievably. You know all the training courses she was supposedly going to up in Portland?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well. Seems she decided she would rather get pregnant on the county dime. Helen said she went out every night—looking for a sperm donor! She picked the best-looking fella she could find and asked if she could have his baby. Can you believe it? The nerve. I mean really! It’s absolutely scandalous!

This very short sketch is, with a few details changed, based upon a scandal I remember from childhood. At the time, the thought that a woman would go to a bar and pick a father for her baby was shocking. That she would do so with a gay man was even more so. She had two babies with him, went on to marry, and as far as I know, had a wonderful life.

In today’s society, very few things scandalize anymore. Think about it. A president’s affair? Nope. Your priest’s love of little boys? Nope. Your congressional representative soliciting sex in the airport bathroom? Nope. Your Wall Street banker causing the economy to crash? Nope. What would truly scandalize you?