December came and went as fast as the Ghost of Christmas Present. ‘Twas the month for celebrating the arrival some two millennia ago of The Prince. This year, we also marked the passing of a princess; they called her Leia. (We will miss you Carrie Fisher). And…we heralded the arrival of a rogue, the so-called Rogue 1. (Honestly, for my generation, what would December be without Star Wars themed swag for Christmas, from Legos to pajamas and beyond?)
Welcome back to the show, a veritable three-ring circus of humanity… (And please enjoy the sampling of strategically placed, semi-appropriately themed quotes as you graze the holiday buffet of prose below…)
“God bless us, everyone.” — Tiny Tim
That’s “Merry Christmas” as best pronounced by early Hawaiians and used to this day throughout the islands as the season’s greeting. (You may recall the 1950 Bing Crosby and Andrews Sisters song of the same title.) I’ll also pause here to say, “Poi to the World!” (Such witticisms here in the central Pacific.)
Some of you have asked, “How is Hawaii in December?” Well, in our corner of the archipelago, in our nook of this very diverse island, upon our particular patch of the slopes of our live volcano, it conjures images from the works of Robert Frost (“Fire and Ice”), James Taylor (“Fire and Rain”), and Hemingway (“The Old Man and the Sea”). “What the what?,” you remark. Let me put it this way:
Looking North, there is periodic snow on the mountain, Mauna Kea.
To the West? Constant fire in the mountain, Kilauea.
All around us, there is daily rain throughout the district, Puna.
Looking seaward, the sapphire blue tide ebbs and flows, undisturbed.
(Of course, many of the characters that inhabit this enchanted land and whom we have come to adore cause our thoughts to drift from literary works and folk music toward Christmas movie classics like “The Island of Misfit Toys,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure,” and “How Earnest Saved Christmas.”)
“It’s just nice to meet another human that shares my affinity for elf culture.” — Buddy
The Princess Bride is, arguably, one of the best stories moved from parchment to screen, and one particularly famous quote applies well to construction in Hawaii–“Get used to disappointment.” (The Man in Black to Inago Montoya)
“What do you mean, old chap?,” you ask. Well…construction came to a standstill for much of December for three reasons:
- No roof. Our yurt lid, inexplicably damaged in storage with Yurts of Hawaii, was to be replaced in August, then November, which came and went. The new roof arrived on island in late December and we were able to pick it up on the 26th. (Yurts of Hawaii has not met a single deadline since we began working with them in 2014 and up until we recently parted ways with their unique brand of project management, so this really was no surprise.)
- Course correction. You may also recall that, many moons ago, failure of our Yurts of Hawaii project manager to ensure coordination between draftsman and builder left us with an unbuildable house plan, forcing us to pay for drafting twice and pay for our housepad to be completely reworked. Well…the original draftsman (in whom we had expressed no confidence with the company from the beginning) left the company. The new draftsman is fantastic, but–again–failure of the project manager to ensure early coordination between this fine fellow and our builder led to the late identification of some needed changes that require a little redrafting. Sigh…
- Liquid sunshine. Finally, non-stop, heavy rains for weeks-on-end delayed continued work on parts already begun. (That said, a very generous gesture by our builders to weed whack on a day that rains stalled construction left us with open spaces that reminded us of what the land actually looks like. Good lads.)
Oh…and we discovered that some type of insect is decimating two of our beloved, food producing banana plants. We are working to identify the beasties and natural IPM approaches to counter said pestilence. Thank God we adopted a spread-out, permaculture, vice monocropping, model for our 18 varieties of bananas or they would likely all be gone.
“I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.” –Ellen Griswold
‘Tis The Season
Cracker. No, I’m not reverting to my nickname back in the ‘hood. I’m referring to the holiday classic ballet. It has long been our family tradition, though on hiatus since we arrived on this theater-poor island, to attend a live performance of the quintessential holiday play, A Christmas Carol, or the equally noteworthy dance performance, The Nutcracker (alternating each year, of course), along with any chance encounters with live Nativity scenes. We do not here have access to the likes of the San Francisco or even the Manila ballet, or the mummers in our nation’s capital who annually bring to life the Dicken’s Classic at the Folger Theatre (where Lincoln was assassinated, and they still keep his box seat vacant in honor). We do have some decent community theater here though, and an outstanding historical stage, and this showing of the music-laden classic was a modest treat, by all accounts. Breaking with tradition somewhat, given a tight budget and a new, third driver in the family, we sent the kids off to enjoy the performance and us old folks spent a quiet evening alone at home.
The Spread. Those who know us well, and in our more conventional phase of life, will recall that each Christmas Day, our longstanding family tradition is not only to read the story of the Messiah’s birth, but to set out a spread of food to rival the best of King Wenceslas and issue an invitation to friends and family for a day-long open house to celebrate the blessed occasion. Throughout the day, to the continuous, soft, euphonious sound of Christmas melodies and under the lilting fragrance of gently percolating spiced cider, well wishers arrive at a time of their choosing (full of expectation and cheer), they linger and feast as long as they like, and they depart with full bellies. The tikes are fully entertained with looping Christmas films–The Nativity, Little Drummer Boy, Wonderfull Life, Miracle on 32nd, the Grinch…
“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Chrismas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” — The Grinch
Presently, still in our transitionary phase of the new chapter of our life–living in our 6th residence in 3 years and still without our furnishings and decorations–we have had to forego the open house, but the scrumptious spread lives on (just a little smaller, since we know we only need to feed six or so). Cold applewood smoked ham, homemade German potato salad (made with the boy’s homemade banana vinegar), blanched asparagus and chilled roasted beets, a well appointed cheese plate with fig preserves, honey smoked salmon, garlic stuffed olives, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almond slivers, baklava, Jordan almonds, Italian nougat, rose-petal and saffron coated Turkish delight…
A wee chalice of mulled Petit Syrah, a tankard of winter bock, a snoot of mint and wormwood and rose water schnapps… Of course there is always a seasonal sweet from the Old Country–this year, a panettone–and strong black coffee to top off the meal. A real fruitcake–not the cheap, mass market variety that see a lifetime of regifting–also graced the table, compliments of my dear ole Ma.
(Perhaps befitting of the place of the birth that we celebrated, we realized after the fact how much of this grub was Middle Eastern in origin, from the Arabica to the tree fruits to the sweets to the Persian-origin grapes used to make the wine.)
The Rest of the Christmas Story. The Bride, The Boy, and Wee One participated in the annual choral performance in our church sanctuary, as they have the previous two years. Then there was service on Sunday morning, the 25th of December, followed by Christmas movies, gaming (mostly Dungeons and Dragons this year), and more feasting. A family outing to the theater to see the latest installment of Star Wars was another highlight. The most interesting gifts this year? Ancestry-related DNA test kits for Mom, Dad, and Slim. Math themed socks for the Jester. A manly grooming kit for The Boy. A fancy ceramic French press for Tiny (she asked for one…gotta stay alert for all that late night homeschool work).
New Year’s Eve. The face of celebratory events change shape when your job requires you to get up before 4:00 a.m., including on federal holidays, and periodically subjects employees to breathalyzer tests, first thing in the morning, against a blood alcohol level more strict than that required for driving. (Yes, in my world, people get fired for drinking the night before they show up to work.) That said, we watched the ball drop live…in New York. (That was 7:00 p.m. here). I figured that celebrating New Years during the hour in which it really is the new year first in our vast country made some sense, plus it allowed me to get to bed just a little beyond my normal 7:00 p.m. bedtime without missing the festivities, which we kicked off around noon. A little bubbly, roasted oysters with scallions and vinegar (homemade) and black pepper, a little cheap caviar, some pate, toasted canapés, and a whole mess of Asian dumplings…all chowed down while watching the events in Times Square (compliments of the internet and free streaming). A few kids from church joined the family later in the day to participate in a night of revelry and nosh (I slept with earplugs), and a sleepover. We also began soaking black eyed peas for the traditional southern New Year’s Day dish, Hoppin’ John.
Did I mention that personal fireworks have a near cult-like status on the Big Island and that they are used on New Years Eve as much, if not more, than 4th of July? We have heard of individual families spending up to $7K on December 31st fireworks on this less than affluent island. Illegal varieties are brought in from China and, like narcotics, distributed in secret from living rooms and pick-up truck beds. The acoustics of The Eve here in some pockets of the Big Island, in the public arena, is akin to Fallujah on an off day.
“Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” — Zuzu Bailey
Buddy the Elf. After many months of aging, his home-brewed banana vinegar matured to its bottling stage. Labels and samples prepped, it is time to start testing the market. In other news, the assorted parts for his self-built computer started trickling in. Our little Wozniak. Math and physics, some light landscaping and nursery work, youth group, teaching Sunday school, and assorted chores kept him occupied otherwise. Taking advantage of the daily availability of some of his friends, compliments of public schools’ Winter Break, he managed to slip away to the mall and movies on a few occasions.
Mrs. Claus. The lady of the house completed the final phase of her coursework on meat curing and returned home with some of the fine products that she learned to craft–juniper berry laced Porcetta, hand-crafted mustard, sugar-and-salt cured ham (like the thin, savory and sweet morsels your grandma may have served you on a buttermilk biscuit). Time to pay a visit to the herd of wild pigs squatting on our property… The misses was also absolutely slammed with translation assignments, after a month of fretting and complaining about a lack of assignments (it is a feast or famine market). Also, responding to advertising, the first potential customer for our consulting business rang in, giving A New Hope (sorry…couldn’t resist) to this potential income stream.
Bergermeister Meisterberger. The Jester knuckled down for her very first round of college finals and put in a little sweat, blood, and tears at her new job. Intervarsity meetings and late night community- and school-club gaming sessions kept her occupied otherwise. Eve Online seems to be her latest distraction during any down time.
Rudolph. Slim was largely focused on final exams, final group project nights, and mapping out her final semester’s courses (she completes her Associates Degree in May). As her friends prepared to scatter for the holidays, various last minute hangouts consumed the rest of her time. Playing tour guide one day, she ran all the kids to the Kona side of the island to hit the beaches.
“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” — The Conductor (Polar Express)
Krinkle Maus. Me? I usually take care of the European traditions in the family; preparations for the Western elements of this year’s Christmas were no different and, per the usual, started back in November. Gift shopping, a few festive adornments, music selections, the food spread, ensuring that Santa makes his delivery in the middle of the night… (The wife knocks out the arrangements for our Asian celebrations and traditions–Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and generally anything to do with red pockets.)
Fifth Child. Making her third appearance in our home and here in the blog, the Thai exchange student who I’ve placed here on the island with a family came to stay with us for the holidays to give her unexpectedly ailing host parents some relief. She learned a bit about the reason for the season and our traditions, from evergreen tree to egg nog.
Cindy Lou Who. In a mind-blurring demonstration, Wee One (aka Polynesian Fists of Fury) underwent her very first test in the martial arts–aikido, in particular. Impressively, through this demonstration of skill and endurance, she jumped three levels–straight from white to blue belt–bypassing both yellow and green ranks. She has since received a congratulatory call from Steven Segal. (Jet Li sent a lovely fruit basket, while Zhang Ziyi and Michele Yeoh posted some favorable tweets. Mr. Miyagi sent a supportive message from beyond the grave, but Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan have been oddly silent.) In celebration, we watched the modern Kung Fu classic, Hero.
Out of the blue, she this month decided she would like to explore the master classics of the cinematic genre known as “thrillers.” Silence of the Lambs did not faze her much. The Exorcist caught her attention, for certain. Now she wants to view the Shining.
Albeit odd timing for this particular cinematographic interest–right before Christmas–I have to admit that the kid has good taste. No silly Jason, Freddy Kruger, Leather Face, or Pinhead content here. And, maybe the timing is apropos. Maybe, just maybe, everyone should watch The Exorcist right before Christmas. Why? If, like most, you have forgotten the reason for the season, this movie–based on a true event–just may nudge you toward reflection.
(For us, the film has special meaning. My dear ole dad was born in Georgetown, where the movie was filmed, and he lived in the area during the real event (which unfolded in nearby Maryland). We have driven past, and walked down, that infamous staircase on many occasions and, every Halloween, we would listen to local radio hosts try to track down the person that the event actually happened to (a young boy who went on to have a federal career in the D.C. area, like us and many members of our family) and listen to accounts of how the man’s family was protecting not only his identity, but his current location in the United States.)
“The power of Christ compels you!” — Father Merrin
(I think I’ll start using this instead of “Merry Christmas!”)
Hawaii Holiday Hoopla
Island life is healthy, right? I guess that all depends on your definition of “healthy.” Hawaii likes to tout a survey-driven status as “healthiest State in the nation.” This holiday season, however, we learned that more than half (fifty-seven percent, to be exact) of the State’s adult population is overweight or obese, according to federal Department of Health statistics released this month and derived from a national-level 2016 study. The rate of diabetes now stands at 54 percent–yes, more than one-out-of-two people in the islands suffer from the disease–according to the United Health Foundation’s 2016 report.
(Watching shoppers’ carts here, a favorite pastime of mine while getting groceries, this really is no surprise. I cannot fully impress upon you the quantities of chocolate milk, “Hawaiian” sweet bread, fruit-flavored “juices,” mochi, and all manner of processed carb-based Frankenfood I see rolling out the door of our conventional grocers during each visit, often at the hands of visibly health-burdened individuals. Monday morning flights out of the Big Island to Oahu are replete with individuals seeking regular medical treatment, often related to serious complications of obesity and diabetes that can no longer be managed by the limited medical services here on this rock. )
Interested in doing business in Hawaii? This month, the state ranked 46th (out of 50 U.S. States and all of Canada and Mexico) in the Frasier Institute’s annual survey of economic freedom in North America, which considers factors like taxation, government spending, and regulations. Then there’s the whole Yakuza issue, depending on your sector, and the third-world-like problems with graft in local government…
Recreational motoring, anyone? Hawaii this month also ranked 41st out of 50 in a bankrate.com survey of best/worst states in which to be a driver.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born unto you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” — Luke