Goblins and Farmers and All Things Thai (October 2016)

Happy Samhain or All Hallows Eve or Halloween or All Saints Day, depending on your persuasion!* Here in Hawaii, with temperatures dropping into the 60s at night, Autumn is in full swing, and with shark attacks at their predictably annual high, you know it is October (no snorkeling for the kids just now). The big news this month, here on the windward side of the Big Island? A second public radio frequency went live. Civility and awareness of global affairs are creeping in, one NPR program and one BBC broadcast at a time, despite local resistance.

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Afore we lite upon the minutiae of goings on of this month passed, a brief pause to reflect on the great contribution to society of Bhumiphol Adulayadet, the longest reigning monarch in modern history, the King of Thailand, who left us this lunar cycle and under whose reign I have sat during three different periods of my life (two weeks as missionary support in high school, one year as college exchange student, and three years as diplomat). (If you have never been compelled at a movie theater to stand before a picture of the King while listening to the national anthem of old Siam, it may be hard for you to digest the gravity of the passing of this man, who will be mourned for one full year by his people.)

 

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As the good King long loved and supported farming, let’s kick off this post with things ag.

No Farms, No Food. (Know Your Farm, Know Your Food)

Sitting at the 6th annual state-wide convention of the Hawaii Farmer’s Union United (of which we have been members for two years now), held in a gorgeous, if muddy, outdoor setting on a local, 1,000-acre transitional farm, I had a surreal experience, as I often do in our current “Through the Looking Glass” lifestyle. As I stared at the dirt-spattered, yet pink-nail-polish-covered, toes on The Bride’s self-pedicured and dainty feet, as she sat with a smile on her lips, rapt by a presentation on self-sufficient and sustainable farming models being used here in the 50th State, I had to shake my head…my oh my, how far we have come from our former lives. “503(c),” “indigenous microorganism (IMOs),” “soil molybdenum deficiencies,” “leptospirosis,” and “Farm Service Agency,” have become as much a part of our regular banter as “soccer,” “carpools,” and “home owner’s associations” were among colleagues in our former lives.

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The Union’s president graciously waived for us the vendor requirement–$250 table fee and $100 contribution of goods or services–so that our college-enrolled second eldest, The Jester, could set up a booth to hawk her seeds. The non-profit for which she distributes said genetic material then graciously sent us $300 worth of product, as a donation, to pony up for the event’s silent auction. She raked in record sales and started building a state-wide clientele, including a resort chef’s supplier of fresh, local, heirloom vegetables on the island of Lanai. (Amazing what happens when you wave high quality seed beneath the noses of professional growers.)

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Donated Seed for Raffle

For me and the Bride, our tickets purchased a little more expertise on current sustainable ag issues (including insights from our national-level congresswoman, state-level senator, and state-level representatives from our very own district), another opportunity to rub elbows with the likes of self-proclaimed “seed visionary” and co-founder of the renowned Seeds of Change, Gabriel Howearth, and–separately–the owner of the largest natural food store chain on our island (a local version of a Whole Foods). The gathering also served as a venue for us to catch up with regenerative and biodynamic growers whom we have come to know through other events and classes since we arrived on island in June 2014. We made some great new contacts and walked away with plenty of free goodies (a gallon of natural fertilizer made from fish scraps, a vetiver grass smudge stick, locally grown herbal teas, gardening gloves, a mesh back pack….vendors tend to gift each other their products at these gatherings of like-minded souls and there is always swag for attendees). Surprise of all surprises, we became acquainted with a fellow natural grower who recently moved here to the Big Island from our very own Northern Virginia and–like us–left a “secure” federal job to pursue a sustainable ag lifestyle. A well-spent three days, indeed!

 

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A Brief Update on The Crew

The Boy. The strapping lad was this month asked to begin leading Sunday school for the congregation’s younglings, and–during breaks from his more secular studies–he set about during the weekdays preparing these lessons. A man of the cloth in the making? Mayhaps. During the farmer’s convention, he helped his sister (while she was in classes) man the seed booth and became acquainted with other young men with similar lifestyles and callings, to include three brothers who–with their parents–now turn all the fish scraps from Hilo’s biggest fishmonger into a liquid fertilizer for sale to local growers.

imageSlim. Up to her eyeballs in films for her course of study about this medium, the stylish one brought the family together around some classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird with Greggory Peck. More interviews for jobs, applications for financial aid, and funning with friends rounded out her days. (I suppose there was some weightier coursework and serious study in there too.) Out of the blue, she also went to a session of the university gaming club to try her hand at a classic RPG, and she did this without her younger and otherwise occupied sister having to drag her along. (It is amazing how kids can grow to like things their parents introduced them to long ago after they see people other than their parents fawning over said things.)

The Jester. Whacko Jacko remained fullyimage engaged in coursework and extra curriculars. Email orders for seed from new customers met at the farmer’s convention began to come in. She received an invitation to join her competitive programming team on a trip to Oahu in November, and she locked in her travel arrangements for that grand adventure. A sprinkling of financial aid applications and job hunting further spiced the month for this one.

Tiny. Wee One decided to enroll in an online course in psychology, mental health in particular, and dear ole mom worked to weave that into her homeschooling credits. Based on some information shared during the farmer’s conference, she began contemplating (and working with mom to hash out the particulars of) a value-added ag product that is in demand here, but currently lacks local suppliers–a new, and very doable, business opportunity in the prepared beverage sector. Finally, at her request, we celebrated her birthday this month with an outing to a seafood buffet, and she insisted that there be no pictures. (Getting particular, this one.)

imageThe Bride. Beyond exploring an ever annoying cellphone game addiction, the lovely lady this month put into place the infrastructure (phone, email, web domain) and fired the first ad and marketing volley for our latest consulting venture. She helped make final preparations for, and then attended, a lady’s retreat (along with all of our girls). Attendance at a seminar on growing Christmas trees built on our knowledge in this area and established more handy contacts, including a large scale buyer of mamaki–an herbal plant growing on our property–who has asked her to begin supplying the leaves monthly. In a similar vein, she signed up for a butchery and curing class for next month and filled in for yours truly at a luncheon hosted by one of the nonprofits for which I work (while I was pulled away, on one of my scheduled days off, for training with my fed gig, but on the other side of the island). Very busy, as usual.

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Buckwheat Crepes and Jo

The Scrivener. Beyond the bits and pieces mentioned above, I participated in a community wide mass-casualty exercise (hospital, airport, fire and rescue, police, victim role players in full stage makeup and simulated wound prosthetics…the whole nine yards). By the power of Craig’s List, I became acquainted with another recent transplant here, a fellow believer and grower, who bartered some decorative palms (lipstick, Bismarck, and foxtail) for an icecream bean tree and some passionfruit starts from my nursery operation. Last, but not least, I began working through a USDA continuing education program for sustainable agriculture.

Other Things (Great and Small)

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Sanding Window Casing

Under the Big Top. During this, the second-wettest

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dry season in 30 years here on the island, our builders fought the elements to continue piecing together our grand circus tent abode. Many an hour was spent by our independent builder cleaning and repairing bits-and-pieces damaged while in storage under the auspices of Yurts of Hawaii. “Lemonade out of lemons” is the theme here and, thanks be to God, our builder and his crew are citrus masters.

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Coming along…
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We have rafters!

We planted five more food bearing

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Bathroom and Bedroom

trees, loquat and papaya, hand cleared more overgrown nooks, and cut through thick underbrush to check on the status of assorted fruit trees long hidden by our Jurassic Period weeds. We discovered that the wild pig herd enjoying the run of our land has eaten one of our small stands of golden sugar cane and set up a network of trails and covered grass nests that resemble a highway system dotted with lodges.

All My Children. Circling back to the Thai theme, and because four kids are just not enough, during the local schools’ Fall break, we pulled into our rental home for a five-imagenight stay and getaway a foreign exchange student who I have placed with a local family on the Big Island’s north coast. The young lass, heralding from Thailand (and a province where I once participated in an archaeological dig), experienced a series of firsts: sea turtles, a live musical, an American mall, a Christian church service, a Tahitian hula performance (at the local night market), lava bubbling forth from a live volcano, homemade guacamole, a host of Hawaiian foods (lau lau, poké, poi, kulolo, etc.), and a scraggly adult white dude (me) in whom she could take no end of delight in correcting as he tried to revive his tongue’s mastery of her native language. She fit right into our family, like another child and sibling, chipping in on cooking and cleaning as needed. We look forward to having her again during winter break.

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Flex.  Having days off in the middle of the week with a work-from-home spouse and homeschooled children gives one a distinctive advantage when it comes to gracing places of leisure. Specifically, we never have to visit the museums or planetarium or national park or other locales on crowded weekends, preferring to have said spots “to ourselves” mid-week when others are on the job or in school proper. This month, we ambled down to the shore late one morning so the kids could knock out some required reading at ocean’s edge and under the caress of sea breeze. With a roofed pavilion and grill to ourselves, we roasted sausages, drank heartily, and chatted merrily. (It turned out to be too cold to get in the water, if you can believe that happens in Hawaii, and there was that little matter of it being shark month…two locals were recently bitten in as many weeks). Other than the weed-smoking family that was nearby enough for us to smell their misdemeanor in progress, it was bliss.

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Wither Trick-or-Treating?  The family entered a new chapter of maturity that eventually affects all kid-rearing homes’ navigation of assorted holidays. For the first time, there were no costumes and candy on the 31st. The eldest headed out to a classic Halloween movie with college friends, the next eldest disappeared for a fantasy-fighting card competition with the university’s gaming club, the boy chose to visit the annual church-sponsored affair we attended (and wrote about here) the past two years, and the youngest–disavowing any interest in dress-up and games (like any 12-year-old going on 25) and pulling the health card–stayed home. The Bride accompanied the boy and entered her first-time go at chili making into the yearly event’s cook off and dear ole dad, a bit under the weather himself, stayed with wee one, insisting on the intake of a Halloween movie (Ghost Busters, the original version, was the scariest she would agree to).

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Simply Broken

As a local-level election official, and with the national presidential contest just around the corner, suffer me to ask, “Which of the 21 candidates are you voting for?”

What? You did not know that there are 21 official candidates for this year’s election of “Leader of the Free World” (a moniker that, by the by, offends most of the planet’s populace)?

“Why,” you ask, “is the voting public of this democracy only allowed to cast a ballot for one of a very small handful of these solid citizens who have stepped forth to rule The Empire?” Good question, my astute readers. (Here in Hawaii, last state to join the Union, we are only allowed to pick from among 5–roughly 1/4th–of those running.)

“And why,” you add to the dialog, “unlike Republican and Democratic nominees, is there no “interesting intersection” between these other candidates and our historic geo-political adversaries?” (Do you remember the Clintons’ flirtation with China or marvel at the Putin-Trump bromance?)

Hmmm…

[Reflective pause.]

Ah…I see. You still operate under the belief that you are living in a country where only common men and women, U.S. nationals aged 18** and older, in a “free and fair” election, determine the next leadership…”the will of the people” and all that.  (Have we forgotten the Founding Fathers’ fear and loathing of party-based politics and where they would lead us as a nation?)

As a trained observer, a regular reader, and an occasional thinker, I cannot but ponder…. With things proceeding as they are in our country, how far are we from our first coup right here in the States Disunited? After all, just looking at recent history, watchers of the mighty Soviet Union never guessed that the military would turn heavy weapons on government buildings in downtown Moscow to topple leaders thought unfit, yet it happened. Glancing a bit further back, no one thought Caesar would cross the Rubicon, until he did…

Agitated, baffled, and sad…I take my leave.


(*Since many of you ask about influences on our warped thinking, I’ll divulge herewith that inspiration for the bard during the penning of this particular month’s post included the likes of Cat Stevens and Neil Diamond, the writings of Flavius Josephus and that odd fellow John (as in, the Isle of Patmos’ guest), a pungent (albeit otherwise nondescript) Gorgonzola and the inky delight of a very fine Petite Sirah hailing from the terroir of the underrated Livermore Valley, Epic Rap Battles of History, and assorted educational–yet entertaining–radio programs (such as NPR’s Prairie Home Companion) and podcasts (like “Post Modern Realities” by CRI). Though I cannot say for certain, various Happy Madison productions, the Lethal Weapon movie series, and Mental Floss magazine may have also swayed the quill, truth be known.)

(**If a contemporary 18-year-old cannot legally buy a pint in a pub or roll a smoke of Carolina’s finest in some states, why should we believe they have the mental wherewithal, the wisdom, the life experience, the moral grounding to cast a vote for a superpower’s leader? I have two modern day 18-plus-year-olds. I know their thinking well. I’d rather they have beer than a vote in such critical matters.  An 18-year-old from 1776 and one from 2016 are two very different creatures.  Indeed, having supervised (and cleaned up after) many a just-out-of-college millennial newcomer to the workforce, I’d argue the voting age need be raised to 25.  Then again, we are talking about a system that allows for marriage as young as 15 (in many states, Hawaii among them) and allows individuals to have as many kids as they like, as young as they like, irrespective of childrearing ability, but requires formal training and licenses for things as banal as riding motorcycles and fishing.)

 

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