Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Date Nights

     Deanne and I have been married for fifteen years—the fifteen happiest years of my life (and hers too, so she replies sometimes more convincingly than others).  Most everyone agrees that a key to happy spousal relations, especially for couples raising kids, is continual courtship-style dating.  One Christian counselor advised that in economic terms, spending one to two hundred dollars every other week and enough for one “big” thing (trip to Europe, week in a ski lodge, etc.) every other year or so is a bargain to keep things alive because the cost of divorce is magnitudes higher (in terms of alimony; child support; duplicate housing, utility, and insurance costs; etc.)  Fortunately, my wife and I don't have such expensive tastes and manage to date on much less (and have yet to do, post-kids, a “big” style thing—we travel as a family; our budget and baby sitting options don't allow the two of us to disappear for days at a time.)
     We find that the best dates don't involve shopping (especially not for necessities) and rarely involve movies.  All too often, these get us into tunnel-vision mode, detracting from attentiveness toward each other.
     Dates we enjoy involve concerts, eating, scenic walks (highly recommended) window shopping, plays, shows, and a variety of music forums.  When I think about it, it's shocking how limited the variety of our dates have been.  But due to physical limitations and preferences, we discovered early on that our dates wouldn't be about skiing, skating, golfing, bowling, dancing, scuba diving, or hiking, or about adrenalin-rush adventures (crowded festivals or group-oriented activities).  We prefer our alone-times to be about anticipating then sharing a slow-cooked meal sans the hassles of preparation and clean-up, which always puts us into wind-down mode.  Or sitting quietly to witness a live performance (with plenty of hand-holding, whispered conversations, people watching, and discussions before and after.)  Or walking after a meal or show at my slow, preferred pace (man takes the lead, like in ballroom dancing), looking, exploring, and doing whatever catches our fancies, spontaneous and free.
     Fondly remembered shows included Altar Boys, Spring Awakening, Rain—The Beatles Experience, Loggins & Messina, Diane Shuur, Manhattan Transfer, The Nutcracker, Die Fledermaus, and The Odyssey.  Fondly remember restaurants included Chai's Bistro, The Chart House in Haiku Gardens (where we married), Canton House, Empress, The Olive Garden, Maharani, and countless others.  Pleasant walks included Waikiki, Fort deRussey, Ala Moana, Downtown, University, Puck's Alley, Waialae, Kapahulu, strip malls, Ward area shops, Honolulu Waterfront, and Aloha Tower Marketplace.  Only now do I realize how urban our walks have been (we're not much into picnics due to the burden of preparation and clean-up and we hate long drives), yet, they've never felt hustle-bustle, perhaps because our focus had been on savoring the child-free moments.
     Deanne is from a big city, so man-made scenery tends to comfort her.  Although I'm from Hilo and sometimes still long for a more open-air environment, I've adapted and learned to enjoy doing simple, fun, and easy things together even if in high population density locations.  Though often surrounded by people, we still feel alone enough—unrecognized and left to our own private intimacies—to reconnect as man-woman friends.  As another pastor once said, couples rarely fall out of love.  It's when they fall out of friendship that trouble begins.
     It's up to us, then, to keep our friendship alive by continuing to court each other (dress up, bathe, primp, and offer gently courtesies), making the effort to be attractive and sexually desirable.  Dating offers the opportunity, yet it's up to us to make it happen.  Fun and romantic?  Or painful and boring?  Usually it's the former or at least part of it is.  Total bombs, though rare, are learning experiences.  What went wrong?  Poor planning?  Bad attitudes?  An over-busy schedule?  In the midst of such a bomb, I start praying, and God always comes through—even if it’s just a pleasant surprise restaurant at the end of a long, hot walk through an unpleasant neighborhood.  And such memories tend to stick—the good within the bad, which makes it sometimes seem even better than it really was.  But that’s okay—it’s all good when you’re dating your spouse.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Serious Stuff

     A friend of mine and his wife—who I'll call Douglas and Sharie—have been missionaries in China (where foreigners may not wish to openly disclose their missionary status) for the past three years, in a western, modern, technologically advanced, and comfortable city that is getting startlingly expensive. Tuition for their son's highly rated preschool shot up over a hundred percent to several thousand dollars a semester. They struggle to make it on Douglas' meager side-business income and minimal financial support from Hawaii (their small, young church meets in a community center).
     Within a few short years after marrying, they chose to deliver their first child, a boy, in Hawaii; their second, a girl, in Japan (where they stayed near Sharie's missionary parents, who live there); and their third, another girl, in China.
     I received a jubilant newsletter e-mail from Douglas last year describing the birth of Theresa, their last child. Sharie had suffered terrible bouts of morning sickness with all three babies, requiring intravenous drips administered at home, even, for the final pregnancy, and frequent dosages of anti-nausea medication just to be able to hold solid foods down. He hadn't stated this as the reason for stopping at three (she had originally wanted more), but I guessed it may have been a factor, the decision sounded so definite and sudden.
     Within the week I sent him a congratulatory e-mail, rejoicing with them, and again marveling that here he was, a China missionary, finally, after twenty years of having longed to go.
     A week passed with no reply—which was no surprise, they were so busy and he rarely corresponded with me personally, anyway, he had so many other contacts, commitments, and responsibilities. The next mass e-mail I received gave me the same shocked chill of disbelief as the TV images did the morning of 9-11: Theresa had displayed symptoms (quick, shallow breathing; paleness; low temperature; vomiting) the day before (a Saturday) and they were told to bring her in that night, and by Sunday, she was in an incubator in the intensive care unit with a tube to help her breathe and constant monitoring of her vitals. CT scans and blood and other tests revealed serious problems in her heart beat, brain, respiration, blood pressure, and other bodily functions. Despite her critical condition, they were allowed to see her only once a week for two hours on Wednesdays. His e-mail was urgent, asking for prayer, but not at all panicked.
     I received that e-mail Monday and, already dreading the worst, sent an immediate response saying I had and would continue to pray and that no matter what happened, God would take excellent care of Theresa, she was so sweet and innocent. Days passed and no e-mail updates of a miraculous recovery or stablized condition or even further concerns came, so I dreaded even more—Douglas was always good about reassuring those that might worry for them. The next news of Theresa came through a friend who had heard of it through another: Theresa died Sunday evening.
     I don't know how Douglas and Sharie did it, but they immediately posted a web-based tribute to Theresa. The photos depict as healthy a baby as I have ever seen—alert eyes, strong neck, responsive face, and well-formed limbs. A photo of ultrasound images of Theresa as a fetus suggested the doctor's close monitoring of her prenatal development. Douglas described the hospital's newborn care in glowing terms, in certain respects superior to that at Queen's, where his son had been delivered.
     “It doesn't make sense!” kept popping into my head, reminding me of what a gentleman at a church I once attended said of his wife's premature demise: “It doesn't make sense. No matter how much I go over it, it doesn't make sense. It will never make sense.” Yet Douglas and Sharie's web tribute showed their faith and thankfulness, even joy that they had been blessed by Theresa during her short three weeks of life.
     Would this have happened in America? I can't help but wonder sometimes. Theresa, I noticed, was conspicuously delivered the modern, Chinese way, unlike her two siblings and brother in particular, who had received the full western-style medical treatment. Is that what caused it? An infection perhaps? A missed congenital birth defect? Their hospital—reputedly the best in west China—was located only a mile away from their home and their doctor had excellent recommendations from other expatriots whose babies he had delivered. Our modern western and natural human tendency, perhaps, is to want to know, a need for assurances that no matter what happened, it couldn't have been avoided as it was God's will for it to have happened that way. But such closure has not happened for Douglas and Sharie, not that it matters much because nothing will bring back Theresa, which is all they really want even now.
     I didn’t question in my mind anything they subsequently did or did not do—stay, leave, curse God, or love and praise Him more—it was their decision. But I did pray for God to bless them with peace and rest in the midst of turmoil and that they would continue on, day by day, knowing God would bless them for their faithfulness, and that all they hoped for for Theresa and her legacy would come to pass.
     They recently had a get-together in Honolulu—they had come back for the delivery of their fourth child. They were glowing and flush with joy for the reunion as they gave presentations of their missionary experiences. As Sharie started to sob as she described the birth of Theresa and the subsequent build up to what fallowed, I left the room with Jaren and Penelope—the impressionable ones—and we waited outside. Fifteen minutes later, Deanne and Braden came out and we left together for home—it was an informal gathering and we had already exchanged our well-wishes with the upbeat couple who had a ways to go with their presentation. They knew our hearts and it was enough for now.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Analog vs. Digital

     When I was in college, I splurged on a high quality Thorens manual turntable, which produced excellent sound through a Scott amplifier and Marantz speakers—far from top-of-the-line, but plenty enjoyable.
     A few years later, post-college, I rented a room in a house in which the owner allowed me to use his stereo system with CD player.  I did a side-by-side comparison of vinyl album vs. digital CD—same song playing at the exact same time through otherwise identical equipment and switchable at will between the two, convinced analog was superior.  To my disappointment and surprise, digital won, hands down:  it's highs and midrange were crisper and livelier, and its lows a lot less muddy.  Henceforth, whenever I had the choice, I always selected CD over albums.  But my listening pleasure didn't increase, it decreased.  I attributed it to nostalgia and grief over my obsolete equipment. 
     But after I moved out, I went back to my albums and found them as enjoyable as ever.
     About that time, I bought my first camera—a Pentax SLR—that shot great photos and was fun and easy to use.  I got into black and white photography, and did my own developing and print processing in a rented darkroom.  Some of my photos taken on grainy tri-x film blew me away—forceful, timeless, and immediate—no Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier Bresson, but plenty satisfying considering my humble amateur hands and equipment.  I still use the camera as backup to a Pentax Super Program I purchased used a few years back, and they still produce great shots.
     The digital SLR hype was something I wished to avoid for the remainder of my life—too expensive—and their photos looked too fakey, with hyper-kinetic colors.  Even the digital black and white photos from the white house looked flat and disappointing, especially compared to those of the Nixon and Kennedy eras.
     While browsing Pentax camera reviews on the internet I finally, finally, finally found digital black and white photos with the snap that I crave.  Turns out that for these, Pentax digital color photos were converted to black and white via a PC software that mimics black and white (and color) films.  And they were all set to mimic my all-time favorite:  tri-x.
     Why is it that superior doesn't always equal greater enjoyment?  Why is it that we are sometimes drawn and attracted to the imperfect in art or beauty?  Marilyn Monroe's mole?  Venus de Milo's missing arms?  JFK's distinctive accent?  Hemingway's clipped prose?
     The human mind has the amazing capacity to fill-in-the blanks—to complete a sentence before someone has finished saying it, to read into a poem more than was written, to feel more deeply about a painting than the subject matter alone.  It is this filling-in-of-the-blanks that I believe often draws audiences in, involves them, and increases their enjoyment.  Because, after all, nothing is more boring than in-your-face perfection.
     Digital is here to stay, but there will always be room for imperfect analog—and by that I mean that which mimics the imperfect in art or in the world.  Regrettably, vinyl records and photographic film will soon enough disappear, but pens, pencils, paintbrushes, and traditional musical instruments will stay for awhile longer—perhaps until the arrival of suitable digital substitutes.  Although I donated my record player and will probably one day do likewise with my cameras and other analog devises, a part of me will always prefer the warmth and personality of phonograph albums, film photography, handwritten letters, original paintings, and live musicians.  Old fashioned instruments, no matter how technically superior their microchip-enhanced replacements may be, will also always trigger fond memories for me.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Public Appearances

     Success has its price.  Back in the 1980s when I was a brand new “E” staff accountant at a Big Eight CPA firm in Seattle, rumor had it that one of the firm's former partners had been fired for disreputable behavior:  mowing his front lawn while topless.  I doubted the veracity of the story and deemed it a ploy to get us new E's in line with the firm's prestigious, straight-arrow image. 
     Then, at a lunch break during a training seminar, the office's managing partner graciously asked if he could join a coworker and I, already seated at a small table eating our hand held cold cuts sandwiches enfolded in elegant paper napkins.  We of course said yes, please do, so he sat and to my surprise, began to use a fork and knife to arrange the sliced meats on open bread slices and to eat as if an open-faced hot sandwich lay on his plate.
     I glanced at my fellow E, who continued to hold his sandwich in hand before him.  The rest of the accountants in the room that I could see from the corners of my eyes did likewise, so I relaxed, continued to eat as before, and refocused on our conversation.
      But the managing partner, perhaps sensing my momentary hesitancy, appeared self-conscious and ill at ease with his informal steak eating technique (upside down fork lifted prongs-down to mouth with left hand) and managed to eat only a half sandwich (and this was thin, light fare) before dismissing himself early.  I marveled that we lowly E's enjoyed a full and satisfactory meal, whereas our office's top official (a fine man, by the way) had to suffer and go hungry because his lofty position precluded him from hand-eating sandwiches like everyone else.
     Comparably, at an office party many years ago, a coworker and I were standing near the buffet line waiting for later arrivals when the then chief executive strode up to us in full suit and tie regalia and after obligatory hand-shakes and greetings said in true local fashion with a smile and much gusto, “Ay, I no can eat this food,” gesturing toward the modest (we paid for it ourselves) but ample catered and donated offerings.  In true local fashion I shot back with a smile and much gusto, “Why?  What's wrong with the food?” gesturing back toward the serving trays and tables, expecting a response recounting doctor's orders, diet restrictions, or some other food-related limitations.  Instead, a wall went up, as if he'd caught himself, and, back stiffened and hands gathered together in front, he said with measured temperament and cadence, low and even, eyes fixed henceforth on only my coworker, “I had a bowl of oxtail soup this morning.  It was a big bowl.”  Coincident with the word “big”, his head went forward for emphasis.   Then, wishing us well, he departed.
     What price success? I later wondered.  Can't successful people even be themselves at a business gatherings or in public?  Do they always have to watch what they say or do lest someone say this or that about them?  Can't they just do what they like without fear of others' opinions—as if they even cared?
     A wise man once said, “When you're twenty years old, you care about what others think of you.  When you're thirty, you don't care.  And when you're fifty, you realize they weren't thinking of you at all.”
     I have been blessed to date by kids who are not overly obsessed with fitting in or looking or acting like their peers, though they do have their own fashion preferences.  My oldest son has at times preferred long, disheveled hair and scuffed-up shoes.  My daughter wears girly active wear and nary a dress (she who once loved summer dresses).  And my youngest son enjoys T-shirts, polo shirts, and shorts, comfort being his prime objective.
     And I?  I wear standard business aloha attire and bring home lunch (a big no-no at most CPA firms) to work.  In public, I just try to relax, be myself, and enjoy, knowing no one's really looking at, or thinking or talking about me anyway--just another middle-aged man in the crowd who sure looks skinny.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Modes of Communication

       My wife is from South East Asia. Our first encounters were two brief conversations during her short stay in Hawaii for her brother Gerard's graduation from H.P.U., but since I knew she was heading back, I left it at that. (Gerard and I were friends from church.)
     Three years passed and Gerard was at Texas A&M pursuing an MBA degree when he wrote me a letter that mentioned in passing how Deanne still remembered me. I wrote back and mentioned in passing that I remembered her and would love to hear from her again. Five months later, I received a letter from Deanne and thus we began our correspondence.
     We started with snail mail—the best—then moved on to faxes to speed things up. She had a work e-mail account (rather high-tech at the time), but since I hadn't an e-mail hookup or even a computer at home, I sent faxes, which I transmitted from fee-for-service businesses at about a dollar per (handwritten) page.
     And we made phone calls, eventually, that averaged five hundred dollars a month. I hadn't yet heard of phone cards, still in their infancy, so I lost out on substantial savings but never regretted it since the phone bills came in handy when it came time to establish the legitimacy of our relationship when I later applied for a fiance visa for her to come over for us to marry.
     My first personal e-mail account came about a decade later—required of all parents of cub scouters. My son had been acting out in school, so we decided he needed outside interests, so I signed him up for something we both could enjoy. (As a kid, I had enjoyed scouting's fun, life-enriching experiences.)
     I immediately detested the medium. Fifteen plus messages would regularly appear in my in box, ninety percent of which were unnecessary and wasted my time to open, read, and discard. Some parents made a habit of “responding to all”, so I had to open all these irrelevant side conversations, FYI's, and links to items of (dis)interest. And computer face-time, which I always deemed a necessary evil, became even more burdensome. “Lazy correspondence” is what I consider e-mails. Rather than a nice, friendly phone call or hand-written personal letter (remember that?), I stare at hard-to-read colored lights on a cold, partial screen that has to be scrolled down just to view an entire message which is nearly always poorly written, and full of grammatical and spelling errors and misinformation. And rarely do thing get settled timely. There's all too often a back-and-forth, trying to decide on good dates, times, activities, facilities availability, and other have-to-get-it-right minutia. (Who will bring a starch? I'll bring Costco pizza. Do we have cups? I can bring juice syrup if someone has pitchers. Will we need ice? I have ice chests if...)
     I've thought about this some and rate e-mail to be about the lowest form of communication, based largely on the well-established fact that over ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. The highest form of communication is, thus, in-person, face-to-face. Being a visual person, I love it the best. Everything's out in the open, no hiding behind a screen or off in a room somewhere. Facial expressions, body language, even scent, dress, demeanor, and eye contact all count.
     Quite a bit lower on the scale (not counting Skype and teleconferencing, which I have never done) is telephone communications. At least you can hear the person's voice, cadence, pauses, and breathing and thus, perhaps, decode some emotions (angry? happy? chipper? down?), although I suggest never, ever to fight with a loved one over the phone where it's much too easy to get carried away and act far worse than in person. Some of the worst conversations in my life have been over the phone. Just remembering the angry hurt and bitter exchanges—it's hard to believe how uncivil things got. And being hung up on is like having a door slammed in your face—it's difficult to take and recover from.
     A bit lower on the scale but sometimes even better, are hand-written letters. Here you actually can see, touch, feel, and smell a piece of original art (even if it's just scribbles) that the other created. It may include tear or ketchup stains, lipstick smears, or even perfumed fragrance. The space, neatness and size of alphabets and words, and the paragraphing and corrections can suggest speed of writing, thoughts, and emotions. And they make wonderful keepsakes (e.g. love letters and birthday or anniversary cards). Handwritten letters also allow time for and almost force thoughtful composition—you can only write so fast, which tends to improve expressiveness and eliminate hurtful words and passages.
     Last of all are the cold and all-too-often impersonal mass e-mails. The worst correspondences I have ever received were through this medium. My best friend misinterpreted an e-mail response I sent him that ridiculed his taste in a certain book (we talk on the phone this way all the time and share guffaws) and he shot back one of the most insulting, belittling invective filled harangues I have ever received. I almost shot back an equally belittling counter-offensive when I realized this is not worth losing our twenty-five year friendship over. With angry, thumping heart, I gave an even, measured response that allowed us both to save face (retain our self dignities). We haven't exchanged an e-mail since and it's just as well as there's been no further hard feelings between us.
     A recent study found that electronic communications (including e-mails, twitter, and facebook posts) topped the list of things that can cause marital discord, meaning, don't use it as a substitute for face-to-face communications.
     I'm not surprised. If I had my choice, we'd eliminate the medium. Life wasn't any worse without it. As a youth, we'd have scout meetings every Tuesday, seven o'clock. You'd be told at each meeting what to expect or prepare for the next meeting. Occasional friendly phone calls settled last minute details—even these were seldom urgent: if someone couldn't be reached, we'd just make do and be prepared to improvise. Doing without may have required a bit more planning (a good thing) and sometimes more individual interaction (phone calls, usually), but isn't improved interpersonal relationships worth it?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


      Last year, Christmas cheer didn't hit me when I lugged out our artificial tree from the garage closet, set it up, hung decorations—string lights, our children's handiworks, and hand made heirloom ornaments—about the house, or watched the kids trim the tree to the accompaniment of festive holiday melodies—though these were all joyfully subdued moments. Nor when I bought gifts, or wrapped them behind closed doors as if some deep secret were afoot, then had the kids arrange them beneath the tree. Nor when I wrote, then mailed, once-a-year letters to seldom-heard-from friends and relatives. Nor when we received cards and updates of who did or is doing what.
      Nor when we shopped as a family to select our kids' presents at K-Mart where I told them, “If you see anything you're interested in, let me or Mom know.” Last year our daughter had a school class get-together, so we went without her, so she was surprised for once by her gifts. Jaren, our youngest, chose his own two gifts—one each for Christmas and his late December birthday, whittled down from a dozen or so mostly too expensive or inappropriate toys. But I did find him a fun something a few days later that I wrapped and stuck unbeknownst to him beneath the tree. When he went to look at the gifts the next morning, he noticed his name on this new gift's tag. But he remembered seeing his name on a different gift and it took him several go-rounds and gentle hints from me to comprehend that he had two presents under the tree. The delight I had in seeing him touch the new package (concealing two walkie-talkies on cardboard backing overlaid with hard plastic), wondering at its contents, and saying, “I don't know what this is. I know what the other one is and what my birthday present is, but not this one...” over and over again—that's when it hit me.
      Later that afternoon—Jaren's always noisy, talking—things got unnaturally quiet with crinkly noises near the tree. There he was, hunched over the mystery present wrapped in blue, unfolding an envelope shaped corner that wasn't taped down.
      I walked over and said, “Hey, don't peek.” It startled him—caught with his hand in the cookie jar—but he eased when he saw my smirk. I seized it from him and said, “I better hide this till Christmas,” and stuck it beneath my bed.
      It's that delicious, “I have to know. I can't wait. What is it? I know I'm not supposed to,” that his body language shouted that made me recall my days as a youth doing the exact same thing. My parents had had a laissez-faire attitude: “If he wants to spoil his surprise, let him.” Furtively, I'd peeked when they weren't looking, resulting in accidentally torn wrappers, which I retaped to conceal the incriminating evidence. Both times I'd peeked, I'd felt disappointed, guilty, and later, remorseful.
      I wasn't about to let that happen to him, much preferring he suffer in not knowing anticipation. Cool thing is, we always celebrate Christmas festivities at my sister's, so the kids can't nag us first thing they wake up to open presents, which we leave at hers the night before where we celebrate Christmas Eve dinner. Even cooler, a couple of recent Christmas mornings we've joined a ministry to help feed the homeless at Ala Moana park. This really re-tuned our thinking to the reason for the season and renewed our spirits early Christmas morning before the inevitable gift, football, and frenetic hype-frenzy to come. And both times, our morning at Ala Moana park (that really had been peaceful and quiet) turned out to be among our favorite memories of the day—the kids handing out gifts to humble, appreciative men, women, and children, the guests playing organized games for prizes, and us all singing out-of-tune, but joyous Christmas carols. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Human Wealth

     The Hawaiian song “Kanaka Wai Wai” (Human Wealth) by the Sons of Hawaii is one of my favorites.  Most locals don't even know what it's about, and neither did I until a few years back when I borrowed the CD from the library to learn the song on guitar.  The CD's insert had the original Hawaiian words and their English translations.  Turns out it's about the man who runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and asks what he must do to have everlasting life?  Jesus answers follow God's law.  The man says I have done so since I was a little boy.  Jesus says there's one thing more:  sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me.  But the man walks away sad, because he is rich.
     The part of the song that paraphrases the Hawaiian bible and quotes Jesus as saying (English translation):

     “To give...to give it all
     Of your great wealth
     But turn with caution
     To receive your everlasting life”

really got to me.  Having grown up as a fourth generation Hawaii resident, I feel emotionally attached to the Hawaiians and grieve their plights.  Though my ancestry is Japanese and I consider myself Japanese-American, I feel more at home in Hawaii—largely due to its people and culture—than anywhere else in the world.  Hearing the chorus, I felt as if all the Hawaiian people were being told to give everything away, which they already have, generous beyond reason.  They did so by giving first of their love and aloha, then of their possessions, then of their lives, then of their land.  They now have so little and things look so bleak, yet it's as if they're being asked to once again give it all—pride, dignity, resistance—everything.  Must they?  Should they?
     By the way, I don't believe the Sons of Hawaii wrote the song as political polemic or rallying cry (there isn't a note of bitterness or irony throughout the entire song that I can detect).  To the contrary, it strikes me as a straight-forward Christian song of the moral imperative of generosity.  After the rich man walks away sad, the bible says that Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “It is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
     They ask him, “How can anyone enter the kingdom of heaven?”
     He answers, “Through God, all things are possible.”
     We Americans are rich.  Filthy rich.  No one likes to admit it, but we are.  None of us will likely ever have to go a day  hungry, or without clothes or shelter.  This places us within the upper echelons of the wealthy in the world and especially throughout history.  And with today's medical technologies (vaccines, penicillin, drugs, and surgery)—things people would have paid a king's ransom for in the past—not to mention access to modern transportation, communication devises, heating, cooling, and cooking appliances, clean running water, indoor plumbing, beds, comfortable footwear, prescription glasses, etc., we're incomprehensibly wealthy compared to those living in Jesus' time.
     So we must give generously.  Until it hurts.  If it doesn't hurt or require sacrifice, it's not generous enough.
     Can we afford it?
     As John Steinbeck said, there are only two states of money:  no money and not enough money.  Or as Pastor Wayne Cordeiro said, “The problem with saying, 'If only I had this much, then I'd be satisfied and give generously,' is that we'll always raise the bar, again and again, and enough will never be enough.”  Mother Theresa defined true love as, “Through God's grace, a starving woman received a bowl of gruel.  Rather than go in and partake with her starving children, she crossed the street.  When asked where she was going, she replied, “To the neighbors—to share some with them.”  Generosity, then, can be seen as a key not only to humanity, but also to happiness, for nothing brings greater happiness to self and others than true love.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cost of Living

     I grew up in Hilo, in an upper middle class neighborhood, in a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house with two long hallways, dining room, family room, kitchen, separate living room, and two-car carport.  Located at the end of a cul-de-sac, the lot features a large yard that surrounded two-thirds of the house, a long driveway, and landscaping throughout.  The entire cost was $15,000, which was a lot of money in the mid-1960's, but Hawaii Planing Mill, which acted as the general contractor, provided an architect who drew up blue prints to my parents' specifications.  Through the years, my dad, an elementary school principal, paid the mortgage off plus college  educations for my two siblings and I, my mom having worked part-time, then full-time only much later at little above minimum wage.
     Fast forward forty-plus years to present and such a redwood house with oak floors throughout built to spec in a comparable neighborhood in Oahu would easily top $2,000,000.  Though I have saved diligently over the past twenty-plus years—ever since I started working—I can not afford any such house, not by a long shot.
     Though the nation's housing bubble burst in 2008, Oahu's housing prices apparently barely nudged downward.  My real estate friend recently estimated the median three bed, two bath home price at about $600,000 (barely ten percent down from the peak price pre-2008).
     So I have been (and will likely remain, if I continue to reside in Oahu) a lifetime renter.
     I tell myself it suits my personality.  I'm not into maintaining, repairing, and replacing—I struggle and resist doing so for the sole used car we own.  The thought of doing so for an entire property and house conjures images of termites, leaking roofs and pipes, cracked foundations, dry rot, dishonest repairmen, demanding yard work, property insurance and taxes, etc.  My parents, up to a decade ago, had maintained their house and property immaculately, but now that they've slowed due to old age and health issues, the house at times slips into gross disrepair.  Even if neglected for two years, it seems to age ten, due in large part to Hilo's incessant rain and humidity.
     Although I have often desired a house (and even had occasional fanciful notions of building one myself), I don't feel the least bit cheated out of one.  It’s a matter of could of, should of, would of.  The timing wasn't right when I could have.  Then, the sudden extreme price rises that seemed unreal and unsustainable—they still do—priced me out of the local market in just over a year.  Had I known in advance of this impending price rise, I probably should or maybe even would have bought earlier, breaking my own policy of, “Don't even think of buying unless you plan on living there for at least the next twenty-five years.”
     In response to the squeeze between ever-rising costs (of rents, utilities, food, fuel, etc.) and stagnant salaries, I've looked longingly, on occasion, to the outer islands, U.S. Mainland, and even some foreign countries.  Right now—right now!—we could afford a fabulous house (comparable to what I grew up in, say) in an exciting, memorable, and fun locale.  But I've concluded, it's not best for my family and I.  After all, there's more to life than having cool stuff and good fun. 
     And I've also concluded there's something about Hawaii, and more specifically Oahu, that's kept us here.  Relatives.  The people.  Local food and culture.  Nice weather.  Kid-friendly schools and activities.  It's important to us that they know our heritage.  Also, God has given us a purpose and meaning here, and our positive (albeit small) contributions have led to so much fulfillment.  Oahu has given us just enough excitement, but not too much, and plenty of stability.  A guy could do a lot worse than living in a decent rental in Honolulu, right?  The cost of living in paradise is high, but not too high for us, at least not for now.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NCLB Politics—Part III

           Because NCLB was a political act, not an act of academic necessity, it helps to understand its reason for being. And that, I believe, boils down to gold medal envy.
     Remember when the Soviet Bloc countries dominated the Olympics and the U.S. bemoaned its also-ran status in the medal count standings? Sure, U.S. apologists would justifiably complain about unlevel playing fields, hand-selected athletes trained since youth at professional-style facilities, performance enhancing drugs, biased judging, and the like. Yet the U.S. couldn't help but envy and admire the strength, agility, speed, finesse, adroitness, and beauty of their enemies' superior athletes.
     The same has been true for decades with international standardized test score rankings, where the U.S. usually finishes somewhere near the middle or lower half among developed countries, and yet ranks near the top in dollars spent per student, meaning, we are getting poor returns for our dollars. The inescapable conclusion has been: Something's got to change! How do the more successful (Asian & European countries, especially) do it? Why not adopt some of their practices in our schools?
     In business school, students learn the importance of measuring what's desired to be changed. Basic human nature obsesses over whatever is being measure—whether reducing costs, increasing sales, or increasing market share. The unintended consequence, however, can be over-emphasis on measured results and disregard of the means by which they are obtained, perhaps resulting in poorer customer service, ethical violations, lowered morale, or, in extreme cases, lying, cheating, or fraud in order to “hit” targeted expectations or goals.
     NCLB could be a business school's case study of the law of unintended consequences, though all could easily have been foreseen. My children and the children of friends and relatives (all bright students) have hated studying Everyday Math and Wordly Wise (see my prior essays NCLB Politics & NCLB Politics—Part II) ad nauseum in endless preparation for their four-times-a-year standardized tests (highest score only counts). Subjects that have been proven very beneficial for both mind and body have been cut (in funding and hours) such as P.E., art, band, cursive writing, home economics, choir, cooking, automechanics, shop, etc.--all useful, life-long skills and fun besides. The concept of developing well-rounded, independent, and creative thinkers seems to have taken a back seat to producing stunted standardized test taking conformists to both their and our country's detriment. (E.g. the childhood obesity rate continues to balloon, yet schools have become sit-and-shut-up-style cram institutes, concerned about promoting healthy and active lifestyles more in word than in deed.)
     Certain mainland school districts have been found guilty of widespread cheating on standardized tests whereby teachers prompted students during tests to change erroneous answers, posted answers on exam room walls, and held “parties” to correct erroneous answers. And as the old adage says, for every one caught, a hundred gets away.
     Among middle and high school students (including achievers at all levels), over seventy percent admit to cheating on class tests and/or term papers. It's safe to bet this cheating carries over to all-important standardized tests as well.
     Such blatant, brazen cheating raises the question of just how fair a comparative measure standardized test scores really are. China graduates hundreds of thousands of engineers every year, but most are considered unhireable (by U.S. Companies) because of underqualification (http://www.engineeringuk.com/_resources/documents/Engineering_Graduates_in_China_and_India_-_EngineeringUK_-_March_2012.pdf), suggesting schooling of inferior quality. Likewise, when foreign countries report superior average standardized test scores, can they be relied on? If cheating happens occasionally in America, how much more so might it be happening in other countries where the politics of international competitive academia compels best-of-the-best type standings?
     Rather than stuffing students' heads full of boring memorize-and-forget knowledge—as if childrens' minds were lab beakers that must be filled to arbitrarily designated levels by arbitrarily designated grades—then, educators should instead seek to instill a lifelong love of learning. My favorite teachers included Mrs. Lau, a fourth grade teacher that demonstrated her love of life, her students, and academia; Mr. Ishimoto, a middle school science teacher that showed the joy of scientific verification via reference books (he calculated for me that the distance to the moon and back is far less than a google plex subatomic particles line up in a row; he didn't accept my assumption that a big hissing propane torch burns hotter than a puny, unimpressive alcohol lamp—he looked up the fuels' burning temperatures); and Mr. Hilliard, my A.P. English teacher in high school who pushed me to expand the limits of my comprehension (and love) of literature. For the paltry time I spend with each of them, they taught me to grow my mind for the sheer joy of it, which I have done unreservedly (for the most part) to this day.
     Students who view learning as waste-of-time drudgery will be far less likely to acquire a lifelong love of learning. Unfortunately, teaching to the test epitomized waste-of-time drudgery.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Weekday Dinner Conversations

     Dinner at our house usually begins with grace with whoever's turn it is doing the honors.  The kids each have their own set prayers that they recite by rote—even though they can say anything they like, as Deanne and I do.
     Then, as we partake, after thanking Deanne for the wonderful meal and complimenting her on the food's deliciousness and awaiting her thank you acknowledgment, I ask each child in turn from oldest to youngest, about his or her day at school.
     I used to ask, “How was your day?” but always got the same noncommittal, “Fine,” answer.  So then I started asking, “What did you study today?” to which they'd respond with a list of subjects—not the type of information I was really seeking.  Follow-up questions, such as, “What did you study in Math?”  “What did you do in P.E.?” followed.  I might then quiz them what is two squared  What did Columbus discover?  Did you get to throw the ball?
     More recently, I've had some luck with, “Anything interesting happen?” but all-too-often get only a mumbled, “No,” response.
     The best question—at least for the older ones—now seems to be, “What did you learn in school today?”  They usually come up with thought-provoking responses that lead to open-ended discussions that involve everyone—one of the best types of dinner conversations.
     But the process does have its risks.  My oldest son recently summarized his science project:  Describe the solar system in cartoons.  I asked, “What's your story line?”  He said there really isn't one.  I asked, then why did you print out a satellite?  (I had asked him earlier that day what he was printing and he showed it to me.)  He said that it discovered rings around Uranus.  I asked what's the satellite's name?  He said I can't remember.  I asked when was it launched?  A long pause followed.  “I think,” he said, “in the late nineteen hundreds.”
     My mind swirled through the calculations.  “Technically accurate, though oddly expressed,” I thought and felt very old.  But I laughed and said, “That's correct.  But you don't have to say it like that.  You can say the nineteen seventies or whatever.  The way you say it makes it sound sooo ancient.  It wasn't that long ago.”  I told Deanne, “Jeez, we're from the nineteen hundreds...”
     She, still young, laughed it off and said she guesses that's how kids born in the two thousands view us, just as she viewed Laura Engels and those born in the eighteen hundreds.
     The kids had a fun time seeing our exaggerated chagrin and unexpected hilarity at our own expenses.  Jaren laughed the loudest with theatrical hand gestures, thrown back head, and wide open mouth, though he's far too young to catch the humor behind it all.  It's fun enough for him to just laugh along loud.  Which made Deanne and I laugh even more (until it started to get a little annoying.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


     My University of Washington MBA economics professor (the best lecturer I ever heard) said something interesting: “I believe people who don't vote, choose not to because it's not fun anymore.” At the time (mid 1980's) ballots had tiny perforated nubs that voters poked out using a pointy instrument (a pen or pencil would do) beside the selected candidate's name. “I believe if we went back to the old voting machines, more people would vote.” The machines were of the punch-card variety with the pull down lever that left a rectangular hole beside the selected candidate's name.
     I confess, I saw his point. The process of pushing out the perforated nubs felt far less satisfying (dare I admit it?, manly) than thumping down the arm of the punch card machine with authority. The ballots themselves looked cheap—like some no-brain elementary school assignment.
     Our professor expanded on his theory and said nearly everyone realizes that his or her vote doesn't matter. “Has there ever been a single election where your one vote cast decided the outcome?” he asked rhetorically. “Knowing this is unlikely to happen, individuals decide whether or not to vote based on how well they enjoy the act of voting—whether the positive feelings (or lessened negative feelings) associated with it exceed their costs.” The economic principle of marginal costs and marginal benefits applied to more than just business decisions, he explained.
     A fellow student stridently argued the importance of everyone voting, because in the aggregate such actions had major implications for everyone's lives. The professor conceded that voting is a good thing and everyone ought to do it, but insisted that voting machines would bring more people back to the polls.
     I suggest that the reason many, if not most people bypass voting (or have little fun voting) has little to do with the voting mechanics and much more to do with the choices presented. When a buffet table offers slim pickin's and you know you're going to feel nauseated afterward, does it really matter what type of dinnerware the food is served on or the quality of glassware and table cloth? As Simon and Garfunkle put it, “Laugh about it, cry about it, then you've got to choose, anyway you look at it you lose...” or Ralph Nader, “Pick your poison.” When was the last time a candidate for national office spoke words that moved you to the core with complete and total conviction that he or she “got it” exactly the way you believe? For me, these have come few and far between, and have never won. I voted for them anyway as I like to encourage third party and alternative candidates to run. Two choices are seldom enough. On occasion, I find a major party candidate that I can support with some hopefulness. But the most fun I get voting is for the all-important state constitutional amendments and other such initiatives.
     Friends and family used to tell me I waste my vote on nonviable candidates. I tell them if I ever believe my vote will be the deciding vote, I may then vote for the lesser of two evils. This has never happened, and I doubt it ever will.
     Following my professor's line of reasoning, I come to the inescapable conclusion that either every person's individual vote doesn't matter, or every person's vote does matter (in the rare instance that an election is decided by one vote). However, collectively, everyone's vote always matters and decides the outcome of every single race. So, fun or not, please do vote every election (as do I, passionately).
     A fanciful notion to make voting funner occurred to me: develop optional electronic voting in a video game-style format. Selecting a candidate will result in a short show—perhaps a cartoon of the candidate getting beknighted with a sword or bedecked with a crown, all smiles and jumping about, while the upset challenger looks on and boos. It would probably increase voting—at least among the apathetic youth—until the novelty wore off, at which point the video shows would have to be updated.
     By the way, I haven't voted in person in decades; I vote absentee ballots all the way—so much more convenient.

Friday, October 18, 2013

NCLB Politics—Part II

     Local primary school educators who deny teaching to the test crack me up.  Reminds me of Bart Simpson, who—spray paint can in raised hand and over-spray on limbs and clothes—when confronted by Principal Skinner and a cohort of witnesses before a graffiti painting says, “I didn't do it.”
     If they had any guts, they'd say, “Of course we do it.  What do you expect?  We need the federal funds.  Who wants the added scrutiny of restructuring status?  If you don't like it, vote out the politicians that enacted NCLB!”
     Wordly Wise is blatant teaching to the test.  It requires youngsters to memorize asinine word lists--definitions, spellings, word forms, usage, synonyms, antonyms, etc.  I remember when I was a kid that the SAT company claimed its tests were impossible to study for because they encompassed a body of knowledge that could only be mastered through years of accumulated learning and that was what made them fair—rich kids had no advantage by taking cram classes because they didn't help.
     Well, I guess that myth got debunked, but instead of eliminating or de-emphasizing the socially and economically biased standardized tests, politicians and educators instead decided to attempt to level the playing field by having virtually all public school students drilled for these tests year-round.
     Now, I'm all for versatile vocabularies as word mastery expands comprehension and facilitates communication.  But memorizing word lists is not the way to go.  Enhanced vocabularies should be a useful byproduct of engaged learning, not the boring object of learning.  Or, once a child can read, dictionaries should be the primary vocabulary building tool, not standardized word lists.  Children that habitualize dictionary use while studying real subjects such as science, social studies, English, history, or health as early as possible tend to have the best vocabularies anyway, since they know best how to interpret and apply words in real-life contexts.
     Vocabularies, because they are so easy to test, are over-weighted in standardized tests.  Even spelling bees have such a narrow scope, they have only limited applicability to contestants’ future academic endeavors (especially if they don't even know the definitions of the words they so masterfully spell).  And for many, poor vocabularies don't even seem to impede their professional careers.
     An audit manager (who was about to be promoted to partner) in a CPA firm I worked for helped “correct” me in a small gathering stating that he believed the word I sought was “pronunciation,” though the word I was looking for and wasn’t sure how to pronounce was “enunciate.”  I didn't dare correct him.
     An HR director in a large state of Hawaii office misspelled a painfully obvious word (I can't remember what—he used a phonetic spelling) in a training session, that elicited a few chuckles.  It didn't hurt his career in the least.
     A former U.S. Vice President famously prompted a spelling bee student to change his spelling of the word “potato” to “potatoe.”
     Sure, public faux pas in others are easy to ridicule, yet we all slip now and then, whether through typos, hurry, distraction, or temporary mental block.  The important things are understanding; reasoning ability and agility; and perspective, compassion, and integrity—not persnickety perfection.  It is more important that we raise a nation of good, cooperative people and citizens, rather than robotic test-taking academes.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making A

     A father will do anything for his kids. Give a kidney? No problem. Work an extra decade to send 'em through school? To be expected. Make A? Sure, why not?
     My brother-in-law did it when he dressed as Santa for my niece's second Christmas. She cried over the tall, skinny stranger that walked in through the front door, but everyone else appreciated his Ho Ho Ho Merry gesture.
     It was my turn at last year's Hawaii County Fair. A Maltese Family Circus clown (that looked and dressed like a gym rat) sought a volunteer for his knife-throwing act. He should've picked one of the cute teens jumping up and down two rows in front of us shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” Instead, he walked past them, oblivious to their antics, and just as I was sensing a distinct possibility of his untoward intentions and turned to my wife and said, “Maybe we should have sat somewhere else,” he stopped beside me and cried through the loudspeaker, “How about you, Sir? Come on up,” getting the crowd involved—you know the routine. Once, twice, thrice they cheered encouragement to my demurrals until only a scum could further refuse. As I rose, I asked in an aside, “How much will I get paid?” to which he replied you'll have fun. I was off to be mounted upon the man-sized chopping board.
     The first throw was the worst. Head covered in a black bag, handcuffed, and leaned back on the board (inclined, I guess, in case I fainted), I must have flinched. It was a long throw of at least thirty feet—way longer than acts I had seen in the past—and that thunk beside my left ear boomed throughout the almost filled auditorium. The assistant beside me removed the blind and there stood the erect, shiny blade two inches away from my unbelieving eyes. I shook my head. “No more, please,” I said with a giddy smile.
     The assistant said in an aside, “Relax. I do it. It's safe.” His words reassured me and from then on instead of fretting for my health, I calmed and even tried to ham it up as a performer. I examined the knives beside my chest, removed one, and dropped it to the floor. I resisted the balloon in my mouth, then spat it out (as instructed) as soon as the assistant put it in. And I bent my knees when the balloon between my legs popped. (They'd placed a bucket below the balloon in case I peed, which I didn't.) Total time on stage was five-plus minutes, though it felt much longer, I just wanted the darn thing to hurry up and get over with. As we exited the auditorium and the throng slowed to get through the bottleneck exit, a lady beside me said you did well.
     Years ago, I'd've cringed if a performer even glanced my way during a volunteer-from-the-audience search. I never would have done it, and thus, never got selected. Now, they see me and sense: “He's the one. He doesn't want to, but he will.” Why? Because of my three kids beside me. For them, I'll do anything. Even make A.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Best Parenting Advice Ever

     For awhile after my wife and I became first-time parents, we got bombarded with well-intentioned unsolicited advice—from relatives, friends (even single ones without children), and strangers (at super markets, or passing by us on the sidewalk). I hated their advice. I was already so confused, unsure, and hesitant that everything I did felt inept, faulty, and/or harmful/dangerous. Their advice stressed me out and made me second guess myself even more.
       First-time parents: you can spot them even from afar. The solicitousness for their precious treasure is so touching. And their frazzled nerves from sleep deprivation and over-excitability show in their every gesture. And they stick to their charges like flies to, well, honey. I noticed this only a decade later in others and then realized that we, too, were once like that.
   The problem with the advice proffered is it all sounds so credible. Take it? Disregard it? What's one to do? What will happen as a result? Parents think they know best, but how can they, inexperienced as they are, stand confident? Maybe those others who sound so certain know better?
      When I was in the midst of it all, I shared my aggravations with my long-time friend Norm, who already had two young children. He told me, “Tim, you're getting way too worked up about this. Don't take any advice from anyone. Let me rephrase that. The only advice you should take is this: Disregard all other advice you receive from anyone else—whether from relatives, friends, or well-meaning strangers. Even doctors' advice, you should take with only a grain of salt because as parents, by definition, you know what's best for your child. When someone offers you advice, you should say, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' Correction, say, 'Thanks,' smile, appreciate it, then disregard it. That's the only parenting advice you should ever take. And enjoy it. Enjoy being a parent. That's the only other advice you might want to consider taking. Easier said than done, though, at times, aehhh?
      I thought about it and decided I'd take Norm's advice. It's sound and makes sense. For suppose we take someone else's advice against our better judgments as parents and things don't turn out so well, then we'll always regret, “We should have done things our own way. We knew it and should have just done it. It would have been so much better that way.” Or, things might turn out OK, but inside we'll still wonder, “Maybe it would have been alright or even better had we done it our own way.” And, indeed, attentive parents do know their children far better than anyone else, and since every child is different, and no one loves a child more than his or her parents, the parents are in the best positions to decide what's best for him or her.
      Even as our children age, I see the soundness of Norm's advice. Children are resilient and adaptable. No parent is perfect. And no child is perfect, either. We each have our own needs, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. We do our best as parents and hope for the best. The rest is up to them (and God). The main thing is to stick together as a family, support one another, and give them happy childhoods—something they can always look back on for comfort, strength, and grounding, which I've done countless times myself through the years. It doesn't cost much, just a whole lot of love, time, support, talk, care, respect, and discipline—among the best things in life, besides.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Blessed Boredom!

     I always wondered why even the most uplifting song, if listened to often enough, will eventually irritate me to antsy-ness.  Noticing this tendency, I intentionally avoid listening to favorites in order prolong their fresh appeal.
     My second child, as an infant, was a delight to watch.  I noticed how a simple thing such as sunbeams through the slats of her crib fascinated her for hours on end, even days.  Then her fingers held before her face held her attention before she redirected it elsewhere to the next curious thing.  No doubt she was displaying signs of boredom as first one thing, then another fell first in, then out of favor in not too long a time.
     Obviously what she was observing wasn't changing much from minute to minute, hour to hour, or day to day.  What changed was her perceptions of them from fascinating, interesting, captivating objects to boring, same-old same-old, nothing-much-happening-here leftovers.  And each time an external stimulus exhausted her curiosity, she sought something new to replace it—eventually us (her family), speech, and things further outside her crib, outside her room, and even outside our apartment—the outside world.
     This made me realize the benefit of boredom.  Had she not had this boredom proclivity, she might still, as a ten-year-old, be lying content on her back all day long absorbed in the marvels of the sunbeam and the interplay of shadow and light, or staring at her fingers.  What need for learning to crawl, walk, speak, or use the potty if all of life's necessities (food, water, diaper changes, etc.) are provided for and the simplest of things remain ever entertaining?  Nope, her boredom spurned her on to seek exciting new things, thank God.
     Furthermore, I believe that her antidote to boredom—curiosity—is the same antidote that we, too, can apply to our general feelings of ennui and disinterest.  For me that comes mainly from learning new things, or creative endeavors:  guitar playing, photography, writing, minor woodworking and around-the-house repairs, and reading.  Also talking to people I meet and learning about them, their views, and how they live.  Exercise, too, helps.  And observing and teaching my kids (and wife!--just kidding, Deanne.)  Everyone's different and what works for one may not work for another (Deanne enjoys cooking, reading, and socializing with friends) and let's not forget one of the best antidotes of all—meaningful, productive work.  Anything that makes life a little better for others or self including works of charity and faith are just great.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Roadside Gems

     Old furniture, placed roadside for bulky items pickup, are not always garbage.  Seven total pieces, all solid wood, destined for the landfill, instead grace our house, beautiful and functional.  Restoration costs totaled under thirty dollars.  Buying these new would have cost perhaps thousands.  Our finds include a pair of matching oriental display platforms, a child's table and mini-desk (a hobbyist's handiwork), a small oval table with magazine rack beneath, a steel twin size platform bed with four corner posts, and a chest of drawers.
     The oval table, which became my nightstand, was in the recycle area of our former apartment building.  All it needed was a bit of cleaning, polish, and sunning.
     The two children's pieces, discovered roadside, were not much to look at—paint stained, scarred, and dirty.  It became a family project to clean, sand, and finish with two coats of combo urethane/stain.  The wood grain (one mahogany, the other pine) showed beautifully after that, though pitted with minor imperfections.  The two older kids, having worked on them, love them for their displays and storage.
     The oriental pieces—after a bit of polish and sunlight—became stands for my youngest child's toy storage bin (one of three), plus a catch—all for all his other soft toys, knick-knacks, and play things.  He doesn't notice them much except as the boundaries within which his things must be stored during clean-up time.
     We had been looking for awhile for a replacement twin-size platform bed for our daughter, who'd been sleeping since our move to a house in a separate room from my sons—the oldest in a matching twin size platform bed (it and my daughter's stackable into a bunk) and the youngest, then age four, who slept on his crib mattress laid out on the floor (safe if he fell out at night).  As the latter was about to enter school, we wanted him to be in the lower level bunk to match his big boy status.  But months of looking produced only one reasonable platform bed option which was still overpriced and army-barracks ugly.
     Then, just up the street, a dusty disassembled black metal bed frame and four wooden posts—scarred and pitted—appeared a few months later.  I asked our daughter did she like it?  Her eyes lit up and she said yes, nodding.  An elderly man came out and said we could have it.  I asked if he had the nuts and bolts that went with it—I could find replacements, I was sure, but they'd look ugly (and be a hassle to shop for and modify, if necessary).  He said he'd ask his daughter, so I gave him my number.  Later that night, he called, my oldest son and I drove over, and his son passed on a baggie full of all the hardware.  We packed up, but the main platform didn't fit in our family sedan, so my son and I walked it down the street to our house.
     The four corner posts took the most work—sanding, staining, and varnishing as before, but the kids did much of the sanding (even the four year old).  The steel frames needed cleaning, lubricating, insecticide spraying, sealing of holes, and polishing—lots of elbow grease.  But the end product and seeing my daughter lying on it (using her same bed mattress) the first time, smiling, made it all worth it.  The country-style black metal head and footboards add character to her otherwise drab, white walled room.
     The creamy white, heavy construction chest of drawers, covered in scores of stickers, appeared curbside at the same neighbor's house a year later.  My oldest son and I borrowed a neighbor's hand trolley to haul it back.  Then everyone got involved in removing the stickers using rags, water, soap, detergent, fingernails, furniture polish, and tons of rubbing.  A drawer's bent guides needed replacing and additional wood supports—a fun project for me.  Perfect-sized replacement guides were available at the local hardware store.  Leftover white touch-up paint covered the more obvious outside scrapes and inside speckled stains.  It's still not perfect, but nonetheless a fine addition to my daughter's room to replace her old make-shift cabinet (a gutted and shelved RCA console) which went to my oldest son to supplement his stacks of second-hand plastic storage drawers and wire frame cubes.
     Since writing this piece a year ago, we've also acquired a solid wood foldable corner display shelves unit for the kitchen; three laminated particle board pieces including a desk organizer for my daughter's dresser, a CD storage tower, and a fold-down shoe storage cabinet; and an adult mountain bike that Braden requested we donate to his orchestra for its white elephant sale, but which, once I started fixing up and my daughter rode, she requested we keep.
     It required thirty dollars’ worth of brake parts, bolts, a shifter, and a tire repair kit; lots of cleaning and lubricating; disassembly, reassembly, and adjustment of brakes and derailers; and greasy fingers that all-too-often got pinched and cut, to finally get fully functional, but it was worth it showing the kids just how much fun doing dirty mechanical work can be.  So we'll donate Penelope's Sea Princess bike (that we purchased new and that she hardly rode, preferring big brother's old second-hand Mongoose bike after awhile) to the orchestra.
     I love that we gave second lives to these quality pieces otherwise destined for the landfill, that they were free and fun to work with without shopping hassles or outrageous retail prices, and that they all came with little stories and pleasant memories.  We even made a low puzzle table (for a two thousand piece Da Vinci's Last Supper jigsaw puzzle my mom gave us) from a large, round, outdoor plastic table top I recovered.  Spare one-by-four inch lumber (also found) cut to eight-inch lengths; sanded, stained and varnished; and bolted beneath serve as legs.  Light weight and durable, the unit now serves as Penelope's private study desk and slides neatly hidden beneath her bed when not in use.
     Caveat:  The key to successful roadside acquisitions are thorough inspections—especially for water or termite damage; prompt removal from the elements; a wipe-down and reinspection; a few hours of direct sunlight (to kill hidden bed bugs); a wait period in an outdoor covered area (carport/garage/patio) of at least three weeks—the approximate time it takes for minuscule hidden bed bug eggs to hatch (see related article “TV-less Bliss” for our family's experience with bed bugs); spot insecticide spraying; and furniture polish application before bringing indoors.  Frankly, I'd give the same advice for any used furniture purchase, whether from a garage or estate sale, or Goodwill or antique store.  By the way, our used furniture purchases have included a solid wood chest of drawers, a solid wood dining room set, stainless steel storage shelves, pressboard wood veneer book shelves, a designer leather-on-steel director's chair, and a multiple surface, movable, adjustable, personal reading table of solid wood-on-steel construction.  All were priced at ten to thirty percent the cost of buying new.  The pleasant, engaging owners, some of whom were neighbors, and the smooth, relaxed atmosphere attached their own feel-good memories to the articles purchased.  The amazing thing is it's been decades since I've gone out-of-the-way looking to buy used furniture.  All such recent acquisitions have been serendipitous—same's true with all our roadside finds, too.  We just happened to notice a posted sign, a garage sale in progress, or an abandoned item in passing, which made them all the more delightful.