Category Archives: Life

Mea Wiwo ‘Ole (Adventurer)

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A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Honolulu to dance in a hula show at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show (hō’ike) featured 400 hula dancers from different Hawaiian islands, California, Montana, Canada, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand. The culmination of many months of planning, preparing, and practicing, the show was a celebration of Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Blaine Kamalani Kia and his 30 years of teaching. All of the dancers in the show were his students (haumana) or students of kumu hula trained by him.

None of us had ever danced in a show this big. The logistical requirements were challenging, to say the least. For dancers who were also organizers and leaders (alaka’i), the work doubled or tripled. The little sleep afforded by the pre- and post-show schedules that included rehearsals, making adornments from ti leaves, and ceremonial protocols, like our sunrise prayer service (haipule) at the beach, pushed us out of our physical comfort zones.

I’m not a natural performer. In fact, my Hawaiian name means “the reserved/shy one.” I dance on stage to conquer my shyness. Still, performing on stage doesn’t terrify me as much as making adornments from ti leaves and other plants and flowers. It takes me a long time, with many re-do’s, start-over’s, and assists from my alaka’i , to complete my adornments. Needless to say, I had some anxiety even before I boarded the plane for Honolulu. I had to work through my anxieties in an exhausted state, away from my home and routine.

The show was fantastic – a beautiful mixture of ancient chants (oli), song (mele), ancient hula (kahiko), modern hula (auana), and nostalgia. It lasted five hours, two hours past the scheduled three. We spent much of this time standing backstage, barefoot on concrete floors, waiting, and getting lined up to go on stage. Our feet, legs, and backs ached for days after.

But when it was all over and our tired and swollen bodies had recovered, we were left with wonderful memories, new friends from around the world, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learned things about myself and those around me, I acquired some new skills, and I felt a teeny bit tougher.

This experience made me realize how exhilarating it was to do new things, in new places, in new ways. It made me see that I seldom willingly wander out of my comfort zone. If it’s true that people cross our paths for a reason, I met two individuals who helped me understand the importance of adventure.

On the flight to Honolulu, I sat next to a young man in his mid-twenties who was moving from California to Honolulu. He was a surfer who had visited Hawai’i several times. He had no family in Hawai’i, but he felt drawn to live there. He got a job with a local business, found an apartment, shipped his car and some of his things, and was now flying to Honolulu with two pieces of checked luggage. This young man was neither nervous nor excited, he was serene. His adventure would be as much inward as it would be outward in his new home.

On the plane back to California, I sat next to an unaccompanied minor. This poised and charming young boy, who looked eight or nine years old to my eyes, surprised me when he said he was 12. He was coming back from a visit to his relatives on O’ahu. This wasn’t his first time flying to Honolulu alone, but this time he had also flown to Mau’i for the first time to visit an uncle.

The young man and the little boy fascinated me. As someone who dreams of moving back to Hawai’i some day, I felt a vicarious thrill sitting next to someone who had the guts to pursue his dream and make it happen. As a parent of two grown children, I marveled at the young boy who boarded planes alone and flew across an ocean to visit relatives. These individuals ventured into the unknown with courage enough to outweigh their fears. Both had an aura of composure and confidence. Neither was driven by the need for attention or adrenaline.

Here’s to following the lighted exit path and leaving my comfort zone more often.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Epic Fail

Epic Fail

Copyright Writing Wahine, Living off Island 2017.

Before I start a project, I try to think through all the objectives and all the hurdles. When I’m confident I’ve come up with the best way to get it done, I begin. Needless to say, I don’t expect surprises, and I’m not happy when things don’t go as planned. Type A? Controlling? Tell me something I don’t know. I think I’m getting better, though.

While we were vacationing in Kaua’i last summer, I decided we needed a good family photo, the kind we might use for a Christmas card if I got around to getting one done. I rallied my troops outside so the Pacific Ocean could be our backdrop.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. The ocean breeze kept us from getting hot. We squished together in various poses while the person with the longest arms held my iPhone in front of us, above us, at any angle that would get us all in the frame. We squinted. We brushed the hair off our faces. Passersby distracted my kids and, although they weren’t teenagers anymore, I knew they were embarrassed to be doing something not cool with their parents. My husband got impatient. We all got frustrated. It was a disaster.

When I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t compose myself for one more shot, I ended our suffering and pulled the plug on my project. The Christmas card photo in July was an epic fail and my favorite memory of that vacation. I kept a few of the bad, endearing photos as a sweet reminder to embrace foiled plans for all the learning and laughter they bring.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

The Vintage Aesthetic

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I know a young woman who has decorated her last two homes with vintage furniture. A faux fireplace with distressed wood and peeling paint. A dark brown armchair and matching ottoman with patches of cracked, faded, and thinning leather. An Art Deco-inspired vanity circa the 1950’s or 60’s with rubbed edges and glossy patina. A dining room hutch with raw wood showing through sanded-down finishes of chipped matte paint.

Walk through any home decor store and you’ll find faux antique clocks, wall hangings, and knickknacks that exude the charm and romanticism of days long gone. Vintage fashion, from high-end couture to budget-friendly interpretation, has inspired the opening of many consignment and thrift stores. Stores sell outdated cameras, typewriters, and telephones. Even meats and wines are aged.

Whenever I get the chance to walk through a flea market or antique store, I feel the thrill of the hunt for pieces of Hawaiiana (Hawaiian antiques and collectibles). Recently I “rescued” a large piece of tapa (or kapa), a Polynesian cloth made from tree bark and painted with plant dyes, lying on a tarp at a flea market.

We survey our homes and collections of vintage things and smile, but we furrow our brows when we look in the mirror and see our own vintage peeking through. We dye our gray roots. We spend money on foods, vitamins, cosmetics, skin care products, and surgical procedures that slow down and reverse the signs of aging. We exercise to stay healthy, of course, but we also know it slows down the aging process.

Some of us don’t mind the gray in our hair or the laugh lines on our faces – they give us character and reinforce our sense of individuality and self-confidence. It’s the dwindling of life energy that we abhor. It’s the wearing down of body parts that literally makes aging painful.

We have a shelf life on this planet. So rather than rail against the looks of our vintage, what if we surrender to it? What if we accept that our bodies will wear down and our energy will dwindle?

What if we look at vintage individuals the way we look at vintage things – as reminders of the past? Except vintage people aren’t silent, they’re living, breathing repositories of history overflowing with wisdom. What if we could appreciate vintage hair color, vintage skin, vintage posture, and vintage pace the way we appreciate the look and functioning of things distressed, weathered, and worn?

We could save all the money we spend on hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and anti-aging potions. More money to spend on vintage stuff. Just kidding. May you rock your vintage look. Aging gracefully is very attractive.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Take Time to Smell the Roses

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Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Today, Thursday September 22, 2016, is the first day of fall. The photo above is a split screen of a garden statue at a winery in Napa, California. The left side is a picture I took in May. The right side is a picture I took four days ago.

The pop of red in the garden was a welcome change to my eyes. Fall, with its cool weather and palette of warm vibrant colors, is my favorite season. The brown leaves that had already started to decay on the garden floor, however, made me feel a twinge of melancholy. It was yet another reminder of how quickly time – life – flies by. Another summer of precious memories has come to a close.

So, as this sweet statue reminds me every time I visit her, I take time to smell the roses. Unlike the bronze rose that the little girl in the statue holds, the roses in our lives don’t last forever. Life is beautiful, change is part of life, time is priceless, and every season brings its own gifts. Don’t wait to do the small but vital things, especially with the people you love most. Don’t agonize over letting things go and ending happy chapters of your life; new chapters and better versions of yourself are waiting to be discovered.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Tortoises, Hares, and Empathy

Broken Ankle

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My adult daughter recently broke her ankle in a bicycling accident. She got a stainless steel plate and five screws surgically implanted into her leg. Now in a cast, she can’t walk or bear weight on her ankle for six weeks. Her orthopedist told her that even with physical therapy it will take about a year for her ankle to get back to normal.

Good friends rallied and got my daughter through her initial injury and surgery, and now I’m spending a few weeks with her to help her settle into her new reality. Before I leave, I hope we can figure out how she’ll get around her house and get back and forth to work by herself.

I have a theory that people are either tortoises or hares. I am a tortoise: slow and steady; evaluating a situation and creating an attack plan before I engage; methodical; analytical. My daughter is a hare: quick off the block; preferring to jump into a project and make adjustments as she goes; unconcerned with sizing up events as they unfold.

My daughter the hare misses being quick. Everything she does now takes so much longer than it used to.

My daughter the hare misses being fiercely independent. She now weighs the option of asking for help to get something done faster, or doing it by herself and taking twice as long to get it done.

Whether she’s on her crutches, on her scooter, or in a wheelchair cart at a store, my daughter the hare now moves slowly. I walk beside her or follow closely behind her and observe people’s reactions. Most people dart around her. Some people politely make room for her to pass. Some people make her wait while they finish whatever they’re doing before they let her go by.

My daughter the hare now gets tired because simple tasks are no longer effortless: getting in and out of the car; getting in and out of her house, office buildings, and stores; getting in and out of the shower; dressing herself.

My daughter the hare misses being outdoors, walking her dog, meeting friends for drinks, cooking, doing household chores, and all the other things she used to do quickly and easily.

Before her bicycling accident two weeks ago, my daughter the hare was running, hiking, and taking yoga classes several times a week in addition to working full-time and keeping a busy social schedule. My daughter the hare misses exercising her body.

I won’t sugarcoat my daughter’s situation. It sucks. It’s painful to watch her struggle through simple things like bathing and navigating the stairs in her home on crutches. It makes me ashamed to see people look inconvenienced by my daughter’s slowness because I’m sure I’ve had that look on my face when I’ve encountered a slow moving wheelchair as I’m rushing. It makes me want to cry to see the beginnings of depression lurking around my happy and energetic little hare. I can feel her frustration and her growing sense of isolation.

With every setback and bit of suffering that comes into our lives, we have the opportunity to grow. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we can develop with each experience. As difficult as it is for my daughter, young, healthy, and fit, to adjust to living with her broken ankle, my heart aches for anyone with mobility issues who is older or in poor health. My daughter’s ankle will heal. Not everyone with mobility issues has the hope of walking unassisted again.

So the next time you see someone moving in the slow lane of life, please practice your empathetic skills. Be thankful for your ability to get around quickly and painlessly. Think about how long it took and how hard it was for that person slowing you down to get where you are now. Think about how lonely and isolating it feels for them to see people moving in the fast lane of the world as they get left behind.

This tortoise mom will notice, and she’ll be grateful. Someone else might be smiling at you as well. If God has to be either a tortoise or a hare, I’d put Him in the tortoise column. God is forever. He’s in no hurry. Which lane do you think He’s moving in?

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

The Work of Winter

Seasons

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My back yard got pretty ugly this past winter. Fallen and partially decaying leaves created a mess on my patio and pool deck, making me think twice about going outside. The pool, sprinkled with leaves and pine tree needles, went from a sparkling shade of blue to a pale shade of pond green. With the lack of sunshine added to this sad picture, I constantly found excuses to stay indoors to avoid yard work.

An easier and happier activity was a visit to one of my favorite wineries in Napa Valley, California, on the cusp of winter and spring. This winery has a charming terraced garden that overlooks a meadow and offers views of the valley below, but I was struck by how bare and brown the garden appeared. Trees and plants had been cut back, leaving gapes in the lush screens between the garden’s levels. New growth was just starting to peek out from the earth, leaving dirt and woodchips fully exposed.

The lack of groundcover allowed me to study a particular garden statue from top to bottom. This statue of a little girl wearing a dress and a hat captures the simple pleasure that comes from smelling the fragrance of a flower. The girl is smiling sweetly, and her eyes are closed. She is oblivious to anything and anyone else in the garden for that moment that she is enjoying the scent of the flower in her hand. This little girl is living in the moment, taking time to smell the roses.

When I went back to this winery a few weeks later, spring was in full bloom. The garden was no longer sparse; green leaves and colorful flowers hid the dirt and woodchips. The little girl was now an island in a sea of green, visible only from the waist up.

Recently it occurred to me that my life has been cut back and pared down. While my kids were in college, I could still parent them by exercising some supervision over their lives and by taking care of them financially. Now that both of my kids have graduated, they don’t need or want my supervision anymore, and they are financially independent. I’m entering a winter season of my life, and I am an island in a sea of brown dirt and woodchips.

People think of winter as a time of inactivity and rest, but it’s really a time for work and growth that happens deep down, away from the view of others. Raising successful, independent adults sounds like something to celebrate, and I do, but if raising my kids is my greatest accomplishment to date, will everything that follows pale in comparison? I hope not.

It’s time to cultivate the next version of myself, time to study the foundations of my life and to choose what things I want the next season to yield. Like cleaning up my back yard in winter, this project probably will get messy at times, not to mention a little scary, but I’m motivated. With visions of lush greenery, fragrant flowers, and a girl who takes time to smell the roses, I begin the work of winter.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.