It is May. Rome is not yet ablaze, but a faint smell of smoke hangs in the air. Nero is tuning his fiddle. The citizenry turns to the senate to restore the threatened Republic. Few expect the events that will unfold over the course of the summer. It is May…64 AD.
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” –Aldous Huxley
Welcome back, fellow life travelers and, as the ancient Chinese curse goes,
“May you live in interesting times.”
Now…on with our show!
Down on the Homestead
The Palace. So…while we await further permit approvals for a small change needed in the drafter’s blue prints, and identified by our builder late in the game, for the hard-walled half of our compound, our team finished the installation of windows in the yurt side of our
home by excising the appropriate section of the yurt shell and securing the window frames and shells as required. Meanwhile, some hearty fool slipped onto our property and walked off with our builder’s generator. (As some of you may recall, we have been hit before.) In this case, the gate lock was still in place and concern is focused on those who had access to a key… We have since changed the lock, for what that’s worth in this thief-infested region of “paradise.”
Nursery. Frequent rains and unseasonably cool weather did not prevent this month from being a bang-up period of sales, between our booth at a new farmers market (Hilo’s downtown offering, in particular) and online. Passionfruit, Hawaiian chili pepper, and aloe vera were top sellers. Meanwhile, in the category of “food innovation,” and as part of our never-ending quest for interesting food-bearing plants, especially ones that cannot be found on island
already, we this month saw our first success sprouting, from seed, Red Darjeeling bananas (musa sikkimensis), a cold-tolerant Himalayan variety that can survive chills down to 10-degrees Fahrenheit. “Why would anyone need cold tolerant plants in Hawaii?,” you may ask. Remember that our mountaintops get snow and many people live in higher elevations, such as those in the town of Volcano at around 4,000 feet above sea level. Green and red and purple mottled leaves make this an eye catching plant and, let’s hope, a small money maker.
New Product. So…while we make a good number of our nursery sales through the magic of Craig’s List, and the like, we decided to branch out a tad this month to see what, other than the children, would be ripe for sale online and without having to turn to the Dark Web. As it turns out, there is a market in the hippy-laden bastion known as the Big Island of Hawaii for mother of vinegar (the live culture of acetobacter used to brew vinegar, not unlike a kombucha SCOBY). Pretty amazing when someone hands you cold-hard-cash for a gelatinous mass that has been growing in a mason jar on your kitchen counter for a few months… One buyer even threw in a free dozen of eggs from his backyard chickens when we delivered his prized blob. Huzzah! (Of course, I remain baffled that people will part with hard currency when I hand them a seedling–something born of a discarded part of my grocery, placed in a cup of dirt, and allowed to awaken under free, God-provided rain and sunshine.)
Conservatory. With the older two now out of classes, but rabid in their desire for knowledge (ha!), we re-established a family evening reading hour to patch up holes in literary exposure (where needed) and push the bounds of consumption of the great (and lesser) works. Accompanied by well-steeped tea or a spot of Marsala and solemn classical music, the menu included everything from Jules Verne, Machiavelli, and Tolstoy to Watchman Nee, Os Guinness, and Kyril Bonfiglioli. (This, of course, in addition to required morning readings of scripture, the news, and a third material selected from National Geographic, Popular Science, The Atlantic, or the Christian Research Journal.) May the growth never end…
The Cult of Brunch. In a related matter, many of you have made inquiry into the type of daily schedule maintained by such an odd crew as ours. Just lightly touching on the issue for now, I’ll say this: There is little about our lives that can be considered “normal” by many a measure, and our daily habit of breaking the fast and nourishing our mortal shells is no different. Largely driven by my current work-related need to rise before 4:00 a.m. and to briefly visit the Land of Nod midday, we tend to feast during the time that most polite, civil society is partaking of elevenses. A robust and healthful single meal (represented by the spread pictured to the right) tends to suit us, though the occasional tea biscuit, plate of olives, or bowl of nuts has been known to grace the table come time for the Conservatory in the evening (and I’m certain there is some “healthful” snacking in between).
Jester. An Indian-food laden birthday dinner, being rehired for regular babysitting work during summer, and continuing work at her mall job filled out her days. Lack of school work allowed for more quality time doing house chores and, May the 4th (as in “may the fourth be with you”…International Star Wars day) inspired her to lead the family through a selection of online Lucasfilm parodies. Alongside her brother and his vinegar sales (captured below), she re-established a presence at our largest farmers market to continue hawking her heirloom, open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds.
Jeeves. Desperate, late-night tutor and peer cramming sessions in preparation for finals kept this one scrambling through the end days of the semester. Then, absent academic classes or a regular job, the eldest became fully engaged in the fine art of servitude (errand running and chauffeuring and nursery work, to be exact). While stepping up her game on the household chores front, she also began coursework for her basic certification in SCUBA (an early birthday present from the parents, standard and grand) and started a full court press on finding more regular employment.
The Boy. He picked up some more useful skills while helping a church friend frame a shed, earned some coin running a game day for local youth at a Christian school and through a landscaping gig, spent some quality time cliff diving and going to the movies with friends, and attended a graduation send-off for a lovely young lass of his acquaintance. He tried his hand at two separate farmers markets this month, selling off the first of his homemade vinegar and even bartering some of it for a bag of outstanding handpicked coffee beans from a local artisanal grower.
Youngling. Another aikido test passed, advancing her one step closer to Steven Seagal. Then there was a reprisal of her weekly role as Soup Kitchen Samurai, or was it Soup Kitchen Nazi… (Don’t you miss John Belushi and Seinfeld?) She put in outstanding performances on her homeschool writing assignments, student-led world religion discussion, and music presentation and analysis. She completed her middle-school-level science curriculum and, at the ripe ole age of 12, began high school biology. In her copious free time, she still likes to draw. What a slacker!
Little Rascals. These two cuties returned for a day of revelry, and will do so one day each week throughout the summer. They add lots of energy to the house, did a little baking with our two older girls, and helped make sauerkraut and plant tomato starts for market.
Yoko. The fair lady processed about 80-pounds of beef fat this month in further preparation for her tallow balm debut on island. Mother’s Day was a big splash with the kids taking the lead on preparing a multi-course Italian seafood meal. (Some of the most outstanding pasta dishes we have seen this side of Venice.) There were plenty of translation and editing jobs in her feast-or-famine linguist world, and she put in some time helping her hubby polish off presentation materials for the upcoming class we are set to teach at the local college. Assorted coffees and luncheons with church friends rounded out her days this month.
Rogue None. What have I been up to? Hmm. Well…my two-plus-decades of federal service has left me with more paid leave than I know what to do with…so, I’m taking a lot of paid 3-day weekends. It is therapeutic. I also had a few coffee meet-ups with church friends as I focused on the final details of the course that the wife and I are soon to begin teaching through the local college’s continuing education program. In a humorous moment, one night when I went to pick up the youngest after her soup kitchen duties were complete, a fellow worker of hers asked me if I was there for a meal… (C’mon, man! I don’t look that destitute!) In the advancement of the kids’ learning, I dragged the family to a fascinating documentary on ulu (bread fruit) that was presented by the San Francisco-based director of the film. (We eat a good bit of ulu here and are currently growing one ulu tree on our land.)
“Keeping in mind that language is powerfully indicative of the state and direction of civilization, Merriam-Webster this month, May of 2017, officially added to its dictionary ‘sheeple,’ making hope for the future just a shade darker.” –Solemn Scrivener
Molecular-level Family News
The DNA test results came in. (Surely you remember our Christmas gifts of genetic heritage test kits.) The results went into some depth and required a bit of interpretation, but here it is in a nutshell: No great surprises, but a few curiosities, and I have begun to identify some previously unknown relatives back on the mainland. More specifically, the Misses (Hong Kong born) registered fully in the East Asia range with a touch of Polynesian strain that is likely traceable to old Formosa or, perhaps, the maternal great grandmother that was Sino-Filipino, according to oral family history. Eldest child is predominately East Asian with a small Central Asian thread running through her genetic tapestry (not too surprising, given that her birthplace and the home of her people (Northern Thailand) is in striking range of the old Silk Road and some of the Southern China minority groups strung along the northern borders of Southeast Asia, like the Yao, immigrated from the Central Plains).
My reading was a tad more complex, as you would expect with your typical “white” mongrel who has lost touch with much of his cultural roots: Squarely in the Scotland, Ireland, Wales range with two low percentage, low confidence ties to North Africa and Polynesia. (Interestingly, the gene sequence associated with Polynesia is also found among Scandinavians, and researchers haven’t the faintest idea why. Given the hints of Viking blood that betrays itself in the occasional red hair in my beard, I’ll wager we are seeing the Scandanavian, not Polynesian, manifestation of this sequence…but you never know…I love poi as much as pickled herring.) Not one lick of Native American code in my ole double helix, contrary to family oral tradition, so I have given up my aspirations for Cherokee hair braids, but I will continue to appreciate the wholesomeness of a good smudge and the cleansing properties of campfire smoke, and I will continue to talk to my crops, trees, house plants, and all animals. And there you have it.
Big Island Ballyhoo
Did you know that, according to Hawaii Police Department statistics for 2015 (the most recent made available to the public), Hawaii County (our home, the island of Hawaii) had the highest rates of murder and car thefts in the state? (Yay! We’re number 1!)
Speaking of frivolous celebrations, Hilo High School this month named 21 students as valedictorians in the graduating class of 2017. (Rest assured, the dictionary definition of “valedictorian” continues to focus on a single student who achieves the highest GPA.) “What’s going on here?,” you may ask. Grade inflation? Every child gets a trophy? Or is it just some of that “island magic” that the Tourism Authority keeps telling us about? Shrug. (Lunacy here is the norm and has become quite droll.)
Local Clams. Seafood aficionados be advised: Hawaii does not have a native bivalve; all of our oysters, mussels, and otherwise named hinge-shelled friends are imported. That said, in 2016, Big Island chlamydia cases (at 344 per 100K population) were triple those of influenza and eight times those of strep throat, according to state-level Department of Health figures. (“Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!”)
Plastic Paradise. One attraction on the Big Island that you will not find in tourist publications beyond Atlas Obscura is Kamilo Beach. Why? It has long been dubbed one of the dirtiest beaches in the world and the dirtiest beach in the United States. Located on the southeastern tip in the coffee-producing Kau District, it is an accumulation zone for thousands of pounds of trash each year from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Debris (bottles, pens, toothbrushes, lighters, etc.) sometimes measures 1-foot in depth. “Plastic sand,” they call it. How’s about a little recycling, people?
Roach Island. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of roaches that require clips, though those are prevalent on this Pacific rock, too. I’m talking about the good old German Cockroach. You see, somewhere about 1940, largely based on political differences with the Nazi Party, or so it is said, the majority of the roach population in the Old Country seems to have migrated to Hawaii Island hidden in several oceangoing shipments of bratwurst (sadly, some entire clans of the species were forever lost at sea, and they may have been the more tolerable representatives of their type). Roaches are a way of life here, you see. In your house, in your car… When I roll out of the house at O’Dark Thirty each morning, I often interrupt what appears to be a grand entomological ball in the living room and kitchen of our rental. (I swear some of them utter nearly intelligible protestations pertaining to the brightness of the light and their great preference for us to leave out more crumbs of European nosh than poi and other Polynesian staples. Ungrateful immigrants!) Old timers (humans, that is) are quick to comfort newcomers with assurances that, unlike in developed nations, roaches here are not an indicator of sanitation, but simply a way of life…”It’s the the tropics!,” they are fond of saying. However, we previously lived in tropical third-world Southeast Asia for years and we never had such a close and friendly relationship with indoor insects, German or otherwise, as we do here in the Sandwich Isles…
And that’s all the news that’s fit to print.