Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an Old French Cottage by [Penner Krymusa, Kirsten]

Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an Old French Cottage is a memoir about the summer our family lived in- you guessed it- an old French cottage. The summer was a few years ago, so those of you familiar with Nairobi these days will find some of the references baffling. (It really wasn’t that long ago that Lindt chocolate and pre-made spaghetti sauce didn’t exist on Nairobi shelves). But the bigger things- the joys and sorrows of parenting, the challenges of pretending to be a local in a foreign country, my embarrassing procrastination habits- these things are as true today as they were that bumbling, beautiful summer. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Purchase Georgette (or at least read a free sample) at amazon_logo_RGBAnd if you read it, please do let me (and the world) know what you think by leaving a review and telling your friends.

Many thanks. 


Truth telling

I am paralyzed by own search for meaning, by the need to draw out conclusions, maybe even (dare I say) truths from my words, my experiences, my stories. I walk over the damp cushiony dirt between the roots of trees with peeling bark, and at the same time I wonder what I could learn from trees, if there is a pattern in the growing of things, why I’m so lucky to afford this luxury in the first place, this walking and meaning-searching.

Which leads to the other paralysis, the one of my own privilege. I am so aware that everything about my life, the freedom to walk in safe green spaces, hours to sit at my computer and craft sentences, even my ruminating over the cost and responsibility of privilege, is somehow enmeshed with my rich, white, Canadian place in things. Knowing that I can tell my story only because someone else is unable to tell theirs, leaves me floundering, desperate to write, but paralyzed by the ability to do so.

All of these heady internal conversations, my analyses, guilt and defensiveness, they render me motionless even though I’ve spent decades pouring my life behind the imperative to write and tell stories. So I turn instead to the one truth that— I don’t think— can be denied. The facts of my experience. My uninterpreted life. I spend hours at this exercise, recording the details of my days, my young daughters’ words, movements, the flight of the birds above the tree line:

A sunbird lands on the ivy climbing up the stripy bark of the banana tree. Its feathers shimmer in the morning sunlight. It chirps, hops over to reach its curved beak into the open purple petals of the agapanthus. The flowers tremble with the bird’s deep drinking.

J wakes early, slides silently down the hall in white soft cotton pajamas, sniffles in the silence. She sits down beside me, wipes her nose with an old baby washcloth, reads a fairy book in the dim light before dawn.

The girls squeeze into the bath tub, scrub dirt from their foreheads and feet. P makes soup in a cupcake lining and bows as she serves it to me. Water splashes on the floor as J makes explosions with a small shampoo tube.

A brown hadada ibis struts across the lawn.It pecks at the grass with its preposterous beak, watches me with a round leery eye. I remember when M was two and stood at the back door talking to the ibises, loud, screeching. They answered her with their caws just like she assumed they would.

Today we argue. About new cars versus old, about where to sit at the dinner table, about how to argue. We each retreat to nurse our wounds, emerge cautiously from bedrooms and books, try again, argue again. I go to bed early and wait for morning.

I write these stories, the truth of my days, with relief and gratitude, but still with an underpinning of fear. Even the facts of one’s life can be judged. They may have happened but that doesn’t mean they should have happened. Maybe we are too insular, insulated, shouldn’t spend so much time safe in our four walls, doors shut, suffering ignored. We have our own pain of course, our own suffering even, but it doesn’t touch the bigger broader sufferings, the ones named war and rape and racism and abuse and famine and incarceration. Those stories are theoretical to us, at least now, sad and sorrowing stories, but abstract.

The trail of slug slime on the sidewalk, the sharp smell of the first rain, the arguments over Lego, these are the concrete experiences of our bodies, our breath. I don’t know how to hold all of it, how to tell my own stories without devaluing others. I want to search for meaning but am afraid I must relinquish that privilege to other voices who have not yet experienced that luxury.

I am a writer afraid of writing. I hold my small truths in my hand like wounded butterflies, sad and unsure what to do next, willing them to fly.

A new look

Hello faithful followers.
Those of you getting my posts to your Inbox may have noticed I posted a new poem today- though truthfully it was an accident. I had hoped to publish it privately so that when I unveiled my new website next week, there would be some new content. But instead, I guess I’ll unveil it today, right now, right HERE. As well as a whole new look to The Kirsten Collective, you’ll see an announcement about my travel/parenting memoir Georgette: Writing and Mothering in an old French Cottage, which will hopefully be on sale on Amazon very soon.
So welcome back. Thanks for waiting and for reading.
See you at the collective,


To the followers of The Kirsten Collective

Thank you to those of you have followed my blog, and those of you have been checking in, wondering where I’ve disappeared to. I wanted to let you know that I’m revamping my site and will be launching the new updated version in the near future, hopefully around the time that my soon-to-be-released memoir appears for sale on Amazon. At the moment, the site is set to Private while I work on it. Thank you for your patience. I”ll be sure to let you know when I’m back!


@The Kirsten Collective

Of Ibises and Slugs: An Unlikely Morning Study

I feel like this blog post should come with a warning…It’s not exactly beautiful, more stomach-turning actually, though I hold out faith that there’s beauty even here. Consider yourself warned. 

I drink my coffee on the back porch
and notice with some pleasure
that a hadada ibis is walking towards me.
I have recently announced to my husband
that I no longer consider the ibises a nuisance–
their large dinosaur bodies, their loud grating call–
but a beautiful fascination.
How lucky we are, I assure him,
to have such exotic birds living
in such comfortable proximity.
So I am careful to sit still as this ibis approaches,
eager to observe its shimmering feathers,
its unlikely beak, all the details
I’ve missed at my usual distance.
I notice that its eye–as it stares at me
from the stone slabs less than a meter from my seat,
pokes its curved red and black beak into the bird bath–
is exactly the same as the earring I am wearing,
shiny black, ringed in sliver,
perfect concentric circles.
Its prehistoric feet pad gingerly down the stone,
when it finds a slug on a plant,
grasps it with its sharp beak,
and shakes it,
bits of grey slug flesh
spraying in all directions.
Somehow it manages to get some of the
creature down that long beak,
strings of slime dragging from beak to branch.
I am horrified, fascinated, admiring and disgusted.
It snatches up a piece that has fallen
and I cringe as pieces of wet grey slug body
land on the cushion beside me.
I watch as it coaxes the fat body
from the tip of that long beak
all the way down to its throat, gullet.
It reaches for another.
It has found a feast in my potted plant,
all those little creatures who didn’t know this morning
that they’d be torn from their leafy hollow.
Slug after slug, it rips them apart,
sends pieces flying.
One of the slugs is so long that
it gets wrapped around the ibis’s beak,
stuck to itself with its own slime.
I don’t know if this is a poem that I am watching unfold
or a disturbing documentary,
science and nature and life and death.
There is no glory in the way these slugs are dying,
no propriety in this meal.
What began as an ode to sliver-ringed eyes
has become a gluttonous, deathly display of biology.
The spot of red on its beak has grown brighter, richer.
but the beak is no longer smooth and graceful,
crusted now with its breakfast.
There is so much slime,
so many long strings of gastropod bodies
flailing around that my toes curl,
my stomach turns.
I cover my coffee mug with my hand to protect it
from the fleshy debris flying in its direction.
I feel all my biases rise to my mouth,
bias for small and fluttery,
against large and prehistoric.
This is not the bird feeding that I’m used to,
the delicate snap of sunflower seeds in small beaks
that I admire every morning.
I admit that my recent affection for the ibis
has not survived the move
from theoretical to concrete,
from distance to intimacy.
My love has not lasted
through breakfast.

Illy is Back

For those of you who have been reading my novel, Being Ilia, I apologize for its hiatus these last couple months. I’ve just posted two new chapters, and plan to be posting regularly in the coming weeks. Because of the page format I’m using, these chapters don’t appear in your Inbox if you’re following my site, so you’ll have to go through the effort of actually checking in.

If you’re just starting the novel, Chapter One can be found here.

Thanks for reading.

A note of apology and return

It has been such a long hiatus, such a deep separation between me and this place, between me and my own words. It appears I am still unable to craft sentences, bring thoughts into written being, when I am on the other side of the world. The months there pass with so much intensity, so much deep listening, steady talking. It feels like a continual gathering and pouring and it leaves me richer, but exhausted. Now begins the slow process of sifting through all those words, memories, relationships, finding space for all the new bits of my life among the familiar ones waiting patiently here for me when I returned. I’m trying to find my way back to the written word, am finding so far that poems are my easiest entry, will post poems for a while and see where they lead me. Excuse my long absence. Welcome back.

The Hope of Myself

I’ve been gone from this space such a long time, have found it impossible to make this work a priority among all the pressing needs and obligations around me. I feel like Exhibit A in a dissertation on Feminist Study, the difficulty- still, after all these decades- for a woman to find space for creative work when the millenia-old needs of home, family, relationships clamour for her energy. Or, maybe, I simply have not learned the basic skills of managing time, remaining disciplined, commitment to the craft. Maybe my Feminist Martyr theories are just another excuse for not sitting down and doing the hard work of “butt in chair”, as Anne Lamott eloquently puts it.

I’m not claiming to be back now either, unfortunately. The small stretches of time that I do find have been and will be devoted to polishing manuscripts, preparing for writers’ workshops this summer. It’s important and creative work, but it doesn’t make for good blog posts, doesn’t produce anything new. So this morning all I have to offer is this poem by dear Mary O. Although I don’t claim to approach the brilliance of her writing, the words and thoughts of this poem may be the closest thing I’ve read by another poet to the words in my own brain. These lines feel borrowed from my own soul…

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~ Mary Oliver ~


Without the glaring announcement of snowfalls and colourful leaves, the seasons of this place use more subtle markers. This is the cassia season, when the cassia trees are blanketed with deep yellow flowers, so much yellow you can barely see the green leaves behind the blossoms. It is also the wasp season, wasps suddenly crafting hives in every corner of every house, and the gecko season, and of course, again, the ant season. It is also the season of the pear and the mango, and should be the strawberry season as well if the weather would cooperate. We’ve traded in the four seasons for the four hundred.

Walking Home

Today I walk home from the car mechanic, a road I used to walk regularly but since kids and a house on campus, I’ve been driving instead. I prepare a mug of coffee and settle in to the walk, no hurry to get somewhere, just all that time on the broken sidewalks, morning sun on my cheeks, details to notice. There are so many things I’ve never seen the million times I’ve driven down that road- how the sellers set plywood on empty paint cans on the edge of the sidewalk to make a small table for their cigarettes, bananas. The man (woman?) sleeping under an old masai blanket in a small space created with a scrap of tin and a gap in the fence.

I notice the number of concrete poles along the road that have been hit over by vehicles, and am not sure if they say more about the quality of driving or the quality of the cement. There are women bent over at the waist, pouring chai from brown thermoses for taxi drivers, shoe shiners. The shoe shine station has two chairs covered in white plastic under a small vinyl tent. Men carrying sticks tied together into brooms file into the UN compound, ready for another day cleaning the offices of important people strategizing about how to help the poor.

There are loose wires hanging in tangled swirling knots above my head from the electric poles, cab drivers scrubbing their hubcaps, a small red kiosk called Shamba Boy selling warm Coke in glass bottles. There are two stalks of corn growing out of a crack in the cement ditch, bougainvillea spilling out over the trees in extravagant fairy tale colours. Women in black buibuis step over gaps in the sidewalk, well-dressed couples lean against the trees outside the US embassy. Smoke billows from the other side of the hedge from someone’s garbage pile, birds hop on low hanging branches despite the steady traffic. People smile, nod, zip by on the backs of motorbikes, stare from the windows of their SUVS.

I am struck by the brutal beauty of this place, the outpouring of growth and colour, the hard edges of the lives unfolding on the sidewalk. I am mostly startled by the familiarity of this strange place, how profoundly it feels like my home.