Showing posts from 2011

Considering Winter

I can feel the winter season in my bones like wind through a flute. The air is crisper, stiller-- something smells cold. I sing Christmas carols to the kids in their bubble bath and I cry about Jesus and the Maccabees and Demeter and Persephone.

Pomegranates are in season. We eat three at a time and giggle. So are persimmons, and our starfruit tree is an embarrassment of riches-- gold, frankincense and stars. The tangerines have just come on and they are a morality tale. The bright orange lovelies with the gentle peel and alluring sweet smell may be sour enough to chap your cheeks. And the warty green ones with the scabby gray mold may be pillows of sweet citrus love. You just can't judge a tangerine by its cover.

The chickens have overcome their phobias and hysterics and our fridge is filling up with recycled cartons of compact brown eggs. I cracked the last of the store-bought eggs into the same skillet as the fresh ones. The store ones were flaccid with blond yolks. The fresh on…
I have been reading a really wonderful book called the Darwinian Tourist, and it has made me blink dumbly in the bright distance of time.

The Universe is 13.7 billion years old, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, life is 3.5 billion years old, Mammals first appeared 200 million years ago, the first Hominids 6 million years ago. Modern Humans have only been on the planet 200,000 years ago. 50,000 years ago humans first left Africa, and only 12,000 years ago did our closest human relatives, the Hobbits or Homo Floresiensis, die out.

Here's that timeline retold as if it were just one year. Here it is in toilet paper.

 In that context, Kure and Midway were formed 40 million years ago, where Hawaii is now, and Kauai was formed 6 million years ago.

People came to Hawaii only 1500 years ago.

All of this fills me with awe.

An Open Letter to the Librarians of Kauai

Dear Librarians of Kauai,

Your job is tough. You are shepherds of books in a place where books have many natural enemies. This is an island so humid that books curl damply on my bookshelf. Mold powders every spine, pickles every page with white dust or black spots. Sand works itself into the glue, causing pages to faint listlessly out of binding. Rain falls into daily puddles can easily appear where a safe dry book spot was.  Bugs swarm and devour: silverfish and termites, those little dusty small aphids and tiny spiders that infest floury cookbooks. The hot sun bleach-bakes paper, salt air rusts paper, red dirt dyes paper. Books age prematurely, battered by the unmitigated elements. In the face of this constant battle, you librarians must be tired, worn down, exhausted--- trying to keep your books safe.

Patrons come into the library. Patrons complicate matters-- they scramble the books, misplace them, expose them to earth wind and fire. In their eagerness they might pull 15 books of…

Human Evolution, the Learning Brain, and Mac and Cheese.

Barbara Kingsolver has a great gardening analogy: feeding a garden only a steady diet of NPK fertilizer is like aliens trying to raise human children on a diet of only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I laughed when I read that, but also squirmed a bit. I can dump a ton of woodchips on my garden, import handfulls of whippy worms and turn in lovely half-rotted leaf mulch and the garden won't protest.

What do you do with a kid who won't eat anything but peanut butter and jelly? Or, in my case, Mac and Cheese, quesadillas, or milk?

Years ago I read about a lovely study done in 1939 by Dr. Clara Davis (this page  and this article give a tidy summary) about giving a group of orphans free food choice and tranforming them into healthy little specimens. The take home message is: give kids a wide range of healthy choices, and they will select the foods most necessary for their particular little bodies, at that time. I found it a wonderfully comforting guiding principle. So I've …

The County Fair Comes But Once a Year.

Hip hop tots in spandex and kiawe smoked chicken, teenagers screaming, wilting baked goods on the prize table, cankled hogs in the 4-h tent, hello kitty themed quilts and prize winning jackfruit... it can only be the county fair.

The county fair turns familiar Kauai into a stranger, like drag queen make up and stage lighting. Throngs of people who are otherwise in different orbits-- middle schoolers and fashionable 20 years old parents-- show up to pat the duckies and piglets and ride the ferris wheel and buy Hawaiian T-shirts with bleeding skulls and shark teeth logos.

Old ladies coddle their fussy little orchids and arrange them behind miniature white picket fences snuggled with dusty teddy bears, uncles bring in their pampered roma tomatoes and gawping achiote pods, kids haul out their mini-lego worlds. The 4-h kids feed their steers and hogs and shear their lambs and spritz their goats, tuck in their shirts behind their gleaming metal belt buckles and carefully batton their hair i…


It's September. This morning I I flipped the page on the calendar over and shouted to my four year old, "hey! It's a new month! It's September!" This seemed important enough to interrupt her drawing time (detailed vignettes of fancy girls in triangular dresses, backdropped by loop-dee-loop clouds). "Summer is over, now it's Fall." She gasped: "Oh no! So we can't go anywhere?!" I was puzzled. She broke it down for me: "Because it will be cold now?" She ran to the door to look for a library book scene of corn-stalks and pumpkins and scarecrows and maple leaves.

Nope, not cold. Light green kukui nut leaves, pale yellow cascades of starfruit like pinatas, hard green mini grapefruits on the trees, bittermelon vines choking the compost bins. But still, Fall. The beginning of the new school year -- that rhythm that pulses throughout a post-school (or pre-school) life. The storing away of summer, reporting on my summer vacation, cons…

Stand Up Next To Me

Somehow, a "Freedom Isn't Free" T-shirt
on an 80 year old Japanese man in his brick-lined garden
takes my breath away.

How to Know What to Eat

I have a recurring moment of crisis in the milk aisle. I waver between the ultra-pasteurized organic skim milk, 1.5 gallons for $10-- or rBST-free conventional whole milk, regular-pasteurized, 1 gallon for $5. Skim milk, organic or otherwise, is usually reconstituted from easily-oxidized milk powder. Ultra-pasteurization makes the calcium and vitamin D inaccessible for our bodies. And ultra-pasteurization wrecks the protein structure of milk, so cheeses and yogurts don't set. Skim milk lacks the fats essential to metabolize vitamin D. But whole milk is high calorie, full of dangerous but delicious saturated fats.  Organic milk is produced without pesticides but still generally raised on grain. but without growth hormones and excessive antibiotics. Conventional milk is generally raised on grain and sometimes the animals are overdosed with antibiotics and hormones. And then there's the cost! And the taste! There are too many variables-- the pro and cons list is too long and too …

Why Partisan Politics is Dumb

Last year I had a booth at a Lihue craft fair. It was just before the holidays and the little veteran's hall was full of beaded earrings, hand-made pet outfits, quilted aloha-print purses, sand-based accessories and hula angels made out of coconut husks. Every 4'5" grandma on the island turned out to get ideas for what to make for her grandkids. And apparently it caught somebody's eye as a prime spot for shakin' hands and kissin' babies.

We were visited by a throng of polished people in starched aloha shirts and dewy leis, handing out glossy brochures. First a polite and carefully coiffed Councilwoman Yukimura shook our hands and said hello. I hoped she was going to buy a T-shirt. I didn't realize she was politicking until she handed me a "Vote Yukimura!" pamphlet.  I lamely gave her my card anyway. Then I noticed a particularly striking couple-- Adam and Eve, Mr. and Mrs. Jesus-- bronze skin, in elegant cream-colored Filipino folk costumes, both…

What To Eat or Not to Eat

Lately I've gotten all caught up in a culture war. Liberal vs. conservative? Life vs. choice? Religion vs. science? No. The controversy I'm all abuzz with is much bigger than that. Each of us confronts it-- not once in our lives, but every morning, noon, and night. And whenever else we're peckish. The issue? Killer carbs vs. deadly protein.

I spent the bulk of my teenage years as a vegetarian.  Then I came to appreciate the beauty of grass-fed and free-range meat, not to mention fresh whole milk, ripe cheese, yellow cream. I tasted butter once at the Berkeley farmer's market that was so profoundly delicious, I cried. And buffalo steaks, and steak that tastes like BEEF and chicken that tastes like CHICKEN. Now I'm a big fan of meat, even though I am not blase about the death that is necessary for me to enjoy it. I killed my own chickens once, and it was humbling.

Since that's my point of view, I've happily read such fun fact-filled books as, Nourishing Trad…

Parenting in Paradise: a How-to

I read a lot of parenting books. Lacking a compound of extended family and helpful aunties, bossy how-to books fill in the gaps. They are great-- I especially like Playful Parenting, How to Talk so Kids will Listen, Parenting with Love and Logic, and Simplicity Parenting. But there are some things about Hawaii that make parenting here unique. My friend H. and I call it "Beach Parenting." It comes naturally on this island but would not be difficult to apply anyplace else, if you just "think beach." So, as an experiment in how-to parenting writing, here you go. Your own guide to parenting in paradise.

1. Sand.
Get kids dirty. Sand is a miraculous substance-- take a little, it's light. Load a bucket-ful, it's heavy. It can be wet and cold to pour out into gloppy towers, or it can be crisp and hot enough to blister your feet. Put an irate bored child in the sand, and watch her relax. She will get into the zone, time will hold still as she grinds fistfuls throu…

Mortifying Moments: folk songs, technology, the masses.

I was washing dishes the other day and I was suddenly overwhelmed, at the sink, up to wrists in a soapy quart jar, with a vivid mortifying recall. I can't be the only one to get these: sudden attacks of deeply stupid things you said or did years ago.  Also a quixotic need to right the ancient wrongs!

Here, to exorcise it forever, is this kitchen-sink mortifying moment.

I was at the Atlanta American Folklore Society meeting. I presented a paper about Hawaiian Slack-key guitar and the vagaries of teaching a traditional artform using modern media, and felt a little like an academic poseur. I took a tour-- a packed tourbus full of American folklorists-- graduate students and professors-- to several Deep South potter's workshops-- saw the giant sieves to press the rough red clay and pull out the hand-shredding glass shards, the huge infernal wood-fired kilns with the godly white-hot pots transmogrifying inside. We got shown around and fed collards and pie by shirtless, overall wear…

A Mormon Aside: 90's alternative and urban legends

Listening to Pandora, an angry 90's girl mix, Sheryl Crow is singing, "if it makes you happy it can't be that bad. If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad." I realize that my inner teenage mormon-girl is sadly shaking her head-- if you are unhappy it MUST be bad! Although as an adult I believe that  happy lives can look very different from each other, that being good can be miserable, and that breaking the rules can be right, I still sometimes get pings from my inner zealot.

But I suddenly realize that Mormonism, our values of abstinence, cleanliness, and self-improvement aren't special. This is a shock: we are the peculiar people! We are the exclusive heirs of the restored truth-- whatever else is good in the world is incomplete if it doesn't include Mormon temples, Mormon priesthood. When we present our ideas to other people, we must speak slowly and carefully because "the World" just won't have ears to hear our special languag…

You're a Natural!

I recently took the girls for their annual checkups-- the usual peering in ears, screaming at shots, gnawing on stethescopes. Plus the usual-for-maybe-just-my-kids stuff: hiding from the doctor under the exam table, being dragged out by the hind leg, barricading the exam room door with a step ladder, jarring the biohazard waste bin open --bam!~bam!-- with that appealing little foot pedal, befriending an autistic teenager in the lobby and rolling a rubber ball back and forth across the waiting room with him, chatting up an aging swami, petitioning the nurse for repeated trips to the Treasure Box, and then sending up a crescendoing keen of impatience and aggravation.

The visit was entering its second hour, the girls and I were all shot up and bandaged and heading exit-wards, the receptionist was re-swiping my card, the teenage buddy was pointing out the varieties of tropical fish in the fish tank, the baby was pulling my shirt off of my shoulders and yowling, and RJ was crawling under m…

A Massage of two Minds

I had an experience the other day that reminded me how malleable reality is. Matt got me a special Ayurvedic Massage for Valentines day. I went into the little north-shore plantation cottage with an open mind. Beautiful solid-wood furniture, lavishly illustrated coffee table books about Hindu art and the basics of Ayurveda, heavy brain-softening incense smoking on burners in every corner. Two sundamaged white ladies showed me the massage table, the sauna box, the shower, then handed me a paper loin cloth with a hemp string and said, "meet us at the massage table, wearing only that." The table was like a butcher block: solid wood, slick with oil and fragrant, with a gutter all around. The need for the gutter became apparent.

The ladies had me lie on my back, and they did a little pre-massage yogic warm-up. And here is where I felt a mental switch get flipped. The inner cynic smirked. I squinted at these two aging hippies saluting the sun and bowing to each other. But then, sw…

Religion, ethnicity and ... homeschool?

My brilliant grandmother, the gifted crossword puzzler, rejoices in novel words-- never-before heard verbal oddities and anachronisms, junked slang and clique-ish codespeak--and the way new words travel in flocks. Hear a new word today? You'll see it three times tomorrow. Try it: skeeve! Ossify! Putrefaction!

I think sensitive topics run in packs, too. Some hot-button theme gets all stirred up in the ether, and all of my conversations get pulled towards its gravitational weight. That must mean that there's a mystery-- a missing puzzle piece, some ambiguity or anxiety-- some friction that I carry around with me, buzzing like a hive-- that forces itself into every interaction until the beast is appeased, the topic exhausted, the lines drawn.

The last couple of weeks it's been school. And religion. And race. And their mangled and unholy intersection. My kid is almost four and not in preschool. This comes out of my profound denial more than a particular choice in the pro-schoo…

Stranger at Home

It's cold. My toes, in my boots, are numb. I am sitting inside and my borrowed pea-coat is buttoned and my scarf if warming my lap. I am enjoying a short morning to myself-- and I braved a crunchily icy road to come to the coffee shop.

I am on vacation from Hawaii-- not forever, just for a few months. Just long enough to freeze up a little-- to solidify after 6 years of unctious sweaty tropical heat.

We got to the airport and giggled-- all these haoles! They all look alike! Stocky pioneer faces, Danish cheekbones-- my people! Rosie gasped when she saw other kids with white-blond hair.