Thursday, December 25, 2014

Easy Does It

     For the first time in over twenty-five years one of my works appeared in print (not counting reports I prepared for work) when my prior Rock Fever essay was picked up in part by Honolulu Midweek's Metro periodicals supplement for inclusion in its December tenth issue. (See the online version here). There was even a nice mentioned of it on the issue's front cover. Thank you Editor Christine O'Conner! God bless you a hundredfold! 
     In response to this blessing I submitted a poem (something I rarely write) called Point/Counterpoint in which I contrast mostly “Life is tough” quotes with (easy) responses. Here's a sample of one of twelve four-line stanzas plus the closing line:

The system rigged!” (A little contentment)
You should report him!” (A little mercy)
Who'll know the difference?” (A little integrity)
Why even try?” (A little responsibility)

(It doesn't take much to make things better, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that)

     One of the wisest observations/principles I've ever heard (from a pastor) was that how we choose to perceive something, thus shall it be for us, such that if we choose to believe, “Oh, life is so difficult and tough, I don't know how I'll ever manage or endure!” then life will indeed be very difficult and tough.  But if we instead choose to believe “This isn't so bad. I can get through this without too much strain or trouble,” then life will be much easier even if circumstances haven't changed. 
      Age and experience helps with selecting positive perceptions as I've seen with my kids and Braden in particular. When forced to look up a word in the dictionary, he used to get so upset he'd hiss and stomp and veins would bulge out with purplish ridges on his temple and forehead. He's since gotten better but still shows some resentment at times. 
     I myself used to detest fixing our car or taking it in for repairs or dealing with minor household maintenance issues such as dripping showers, malfunctioning toilets, or peeling paint. But years of raising our kids and addressing health issues have led me to conclude that these people-related things are the important “real” issues, not the minor material annoyances, so that when now faced with the latter, I don't get nearly so distressed as I once used to. After all, if a nuisance broken thing hasn't hurt anyone, is affordable to fix, and once repaired can be forgotten, why stress unduly? As life's full of such unavoidable burdens we may as well accept them with quiet aplomb rather than let them ruin our days.
     Based on this simple choice of easy vs difficult, then, I'm saddened that so many choose the latter and its concomitant discontent, unhappiness, jealousy, and anger versus the former with its attendant contentment, trust, perspective, and hope. Even among Christians and pastors I see this lack of faith, understanding, or perception  whenever I hear one confess, “It's tough” over relatively simple matters such as forgiveness, spousal relations, child rearing, work, integrity, or faith. Jesus said His yoke is easy to bear and His burden is light. It's not as if He's asking us to cure all the world's ills, die on a cross, work without food, shelter, or rest non-stop for days on end, or add more hours to each day. To the contrary, based on personal experience, He tends to prompt simple and easy things that lead to rest and fulfillment and provides more than ample time, resources, and energy to do them.
     It's our choice then, easy or difficult? For me, laid back lover of the simple life, the choice is easy.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Discipline—Part III

     There were a couple of fun kids camps approaching during a recent holiday weekend that Braden was excited about: An overnighter at our church and a two-nighter immediately following at Mokuleia. He's a calm sort that checks his emotions for the most part, but sometimes when he knows that he's got a fun, worthwhile (to us) event coming up that we're likewise looking forward to and that we'd be loathe to cancel, the sin that resides within him (and that resides in us all) tempts him beyond what he can bear and causes him to act rude, disrespectful, and aggressive toward his innocent, perfect family members excepting (for the most part) me. 
     To our pleasant surprise, then, Braden was a picture of kindness leading up to The Weekend, but just two days prior he sassed Deanne repeatedly as Deanne snapped back displeasure. 
     As mentioned in my prior Discipline essay, Deanne's not the most disciplined of disciplinarians so I told Braden, “Time out and you better quit now!” finger poised as if to pick my nose. He stomped away, foot falls slamming with such violence that had our football-sized cockroach co-tenants not stampeded clear, there'd be blood (or more accurately cockroach goo) splattered everywhere like Pulp Fiction. I might have let that pass, but then he muttered audible (but indecipherable—lucky for him) invective under his breath, kind of like Fred Flintstone after a dressing down from Mr. Slate, as if daring us (me) to do something about it. I said, “Okay you can't go Friday night.” I felt so relieved that that was settled that I might have smiled (not that I enjoy disciplining, I just hate anticipating further misbehavior.)  
     Braden walked away post-haste before he did something costlier, his breath labored as if he were doing a burst-the-water-bottle muscle man stunt. He hadn't a water bottle handy (or the muscles necessary to over-inflate it), however, so the only thing that appeared on the verve of bursting was his head, purple as a blood blister on a big toe caused by kicking a nearby ottoman after yet another stupid U.H. football play. Not that I watch or care about such games or take out my latent hostility or disappointment on inanimate objects. No, I take out my latent hurts and hostilities on animate objects such as football-sized cockroaches. Love killing them!
     On Friday afternoon, the three kids and I were outside exercising. Penelope, who would be going to the overnighter (but not the two-nighter 'cause she's too young) was riding a scooter around the driveway minding her business when Braden seeing her indifference to his plight took it as a personal affront, a teasing that she, but not he, could go. So he started taking up a lot of space as he bounced a tennis ball on my old Prince Graphite tennis racket and kicked Jaren's soccer ball through the stratosphere when it dared come too near him. 
     “Stop it!” I said, amazed that he'd act up with me sitting right there. “Okay Pene and Jaren you guys can go in.” 
     Pene put away the scooter and disappeared. “Can we play golf?” Jaren asked me.
     “Okay, I'll meet you out front,” I said.
     Jaren and I play putt-putt on our tiny, lumpy front lawn on occasion. While doing so on this occasion (to get away from Braden), I heard the sound of a skittering stone on concrete coming our way from the back of the house. I looked and there was a stone by the living room tottering on edge and up the drive by the garbage bin stood Braden displaying alpha male dominance gestures so I chuckled at his antics and let pass that the stone incident was caused by an “accidental slip” while playing Gorilla. 
     Back to the Masters Championship battle for the green jacket over which all rode on my final putt, I heard a larger, noisier stone come skipping down the drive toward us and this time it passed our level and stopped almost even with our mailbox a few feet away. I backed away from the ball to gather my thoughts to the astonished gasps of the crowd. Up the drive, Braden now stood flexing and heaving defiant like the Incredible Hulk. So I said, “Okay, you can't go to camp this weekend.” 
     Two nixes over three days is much for any teen to take and in his fury Braden whimpered super-nova hot tears, making “It's not fair!” type squeaks. 
     “Get your hat and walk up and down the street until dinner,” I told him, not wanting any broken windows (least not ours). 
     Deanne once asked are we (you) being fair sending him walking up and down the street? I said we (I) let him drink water and use the restroom. When he hikes with Boy Scouts, it's way tougher and longer and he considers that fun. I even told him he can invite Abe (a Boy Scout neighbor) along and they can both blow off steam together, might do them good. (But he has yet to avail himself of that opportunity). 
     He returned from his walk displaying much better submissiveness to the true alpha male in our household (my wife) and has been a fine young companion to me on Costco trips and other stressful outings ever since.
     Being human, though, he weeks later defied my direct order to Leave Penelope alone! (They were fighting over a book.) As he left her room he issued a final threat to her so he got grounded and had to miss working on a plutonium atom (model, not the radioactive isotope) with classmates. 
     Deanne said what's he to say (as a reason for not going)?
     I said the truth. I'm sure they'll understand—if they're lucky. They can brag who has the strictest Dad. 'You think that's bad?' I mocked, 'My dad once sent me to bed without dinner.' 'That's nothing, my dad whips me with his belt every night.' 'Boo hoo, all I got was stale bread and water for a month, just for not fixing my bed.' It's all blather. The silent one's the one that's got it bad. He's the one whose parents don't care, aren't around, allow him to do whatever he wants, and never disciplines him. I'd be very concerned about a boy like that. No, they'll understand Braden's time-out just fine.”
     More recently, during a time-out of Braden's when Deanne inadvertently (foolishly) “rewarded” him with a candy-bar, which I found out about only after he had devoured a few nibbles, I said, “He can't have that. Braden, throw it away in the trash outside,” (because we had already emptied the house rubbish for the day and didn't want basketball-sized cockroach co-tenants emerging after a night of over-indulgence—at least not in our unit), “and don't eat any more!” He left as instructed and on an impulse I stood in our darkened bedroom and supervised (spied on) him. There he was in the dimly lit carport by the garbage can. He looked at me! (I ducked away foolishly behind the curtain). He lifted a hand to his mouth, chewed in haste, not seeming to enjoy himself, then opened and closed the dumpster lid, and left the suspected crime scene.
     When he entered the house I asked, “Where's the candy?”
     “In the dumpster,” he said.
     “Go get it,” (I'd make a great attorney.) He made a motion to leave, so I figured he must have eaten only some of it—smart move. “What were you doing out there? I saw you bring something to your mouth.”
     “I ate some of the candy.”
     “Okay, you're in time-out another week.”
     Tough love? Perhaps. But having a child grow up bad is much tougher. At least in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

God's Faithfulness

     I felt blah recently. Didn't look forward to much. Searched for interest in tired Honolulu (see my prior Rock Fever essay). Found no relief in sight. 
     Until I looked outward.
     I'd resisted getting involved in our church's programs for the homeless mainly because they seemed so sterile—everything was done in-house with very select clientele consisting of mostly families with children. Braden and Penelope, along with a few other church youth, have been active with meal preparations—not a tall order because they serve about only twenty or so clients once every other month.
     When Braden was a Cub Scouter, I went overnight camping with him—great, memorable times, but as he got older, so did my back, and as he needed independence, I let him go on his own. Our church has always sought overnight hosts to oversee the housing facility during their guest families stays, so with a recent change of heart and of seasons in our lives, I decided it was time to sign up for one night if Braden could tag along with me, knowing it would again be something memorable and that the older and busier he gets, the less chances we'll have for such overnight sleepovers alone together.
     Since signing up, here's what's happened: 
     A high school classmate who lives down the street from us invited me as I walked to work one day (she was walking her dog) to a mini-reunion get-together with other Hilo High classmates (about a dozen or so) to play poker and craps, eat, and talk story. They meet bi-monthly at one of our classmate's condo. Deanne and I won't be able to attend this go-around because it's too near Christmas but perhaps another time. (As we've got a limited social calendar exclusive of kids, we find all such adults-only get-togethers engaging and special.  Plus, it'll be nice to see how everyone's doing as we didn't get to talk much at our last big class reunion.)
     Thanksgiving Eve I dreamt about a long time friend from a mostly singles church now defunct (though a few spin-off churches survive) in which he gave me the cold shoulder. That's all I could recall. So the next morning I called and left a message asking, “Is this still Bob Tobin's number? This is Tim. Remember me? Have plans for today? Wanna drop by? If not, I've got a bunch of stuff I'd like to drop off if you're interested. Please let me know...” 

     Ever since I first met Bob over twenty years ago, he's lived alone, surviving off his deceased father's social security checks, renting a room in an austere Section 8 Ohana house (a second house on a cramped lot, old and decrepit), and living frugally because he shuns an excess of worldly possessions (he gave away a portable stereo I once gave him and a nice Taylor guitar to a “needy” friend), and because he's got so little and feels incapable of holding a job due to mental health issues. And yet despite all these hardships he's one of the most generous, humble, funny, and all-around good-guys I've ever met—an angel come down from Heaven for me on occasion (though he'd never guess), and a steady influence though we've seldom interacted since I married. 
     I once spent an evening with him swimming the length of Ala Moana Beach Park in the dark and hanging out at his place afterward. I felt safe during the swim because although I'm only a mediocre swimmer, he's a good one and would have saved me if a shark bit me or I panicked or caught the cramps or some combination of the above, however improbable that might be. Before setting off, it was so dark that in order to swim straight and not end up beached on the reef outside or shallows inside, we had to select the lights of a tower in Waikiki that was situated down the middle to guide us. As I swam the tepid waters with nary a ripple under starry skies beside Bob on my right who took the more dangerous side I thought, “This is awesome!” No feelings of self-pity or remorse that I hadn't something better to do crept in like they had in the past. Swimming Ala Moana Beach Park in the dark was a first, and as I've always been a lover of firsts, it was ample—a fine way to spend my birthday.

     He soon called back and said he was going to his brother's and that we could drop by anytime before four if we wanted to. Our landlord had given us a huge Costco pumpkin pie, keeping a fourth for himself; we kept another fourth and gave the remainder to Bob, along with a pint of Penelope's home made fresh cranberry relish, fruit from our landlord's prolific tree, frozen brownies (leftovers made from a mix long ago) and a quart of ice cream given to us weeks earlier by a neighbor. I had Braden come along and Bob and I shared a joyful, laugh-filled reunion. He said he'd give the cake and ice cream to fellow residents in his compound that weren't going out. Though seeing him was sad in a way, reminding me of how old we're getting (he's developing a paunch, my hair's whitening), our time spent reconnecting (I told him about my dream, he laughed) became a high point of the day. 
     A few days later while walking home to cool down after a work-out run, I saw a neighbor weed-whacking her lawn. I'd seen her and her teen daughter before working their yard off and on and wondered about the absence of the man of the house who'd been there before. As I drew near, she turned her trimmer off to do some other chore and I doffed my cap and asked, “Do you want my son to come help? You don't have to pay him.”
     She said, “I'd love to have your son help. Of course I'll pay him. I've been looking for a yard boy. That would be such a big help.”
     “He's only fourteen. He doesn't know a thing. I'd feel bad if you pay him. Just give him some cold water is enough,” I said with a laugh, I was so pleased. She insisted on paying and asked to send him right over so he could help rake the cut grass. When I got home Braden was bathing, so I had him rinse off, get dressed, and put on sun block, then we walked over, me instructing, “If she tries to pay you, refuse. If she insists say, 'You can give me half.' If she still insists, you can take it all.” 
     When we got there, we exchanged introductions and she shared a little of what she's been trying to do to pretty-up the place. I left the two of them, returned home, and within ten minutes, Braden appeared, so Deanne and I asked what happened? He said, “She said she had to take her daughter somewhere and I can come back next Saturday at eleven to start.”  Saturday, he went over for a couple hours and got paid twenty dollars—the maximum reasonable sum I felt appropriate. I later checked the bricks he laid below-grade in a row to border a hedge and thought he'd done well enough for the time spent. And she invited him back so she must have deemed him worthwhile.
     Now in describing what happened above, I don't mean to suggest that there was a quid pro quo such that because I did something “good”, God rewarded me with these blessings. To the contrary, a couple of trials have also come our way in close succession. While Deanne drove us early one weekend morning to see the dentist, our car got side-swiped by an SUV. No one was hurt, praise God, and the damages were minor, but dealing with the insurance companies, repairing our busted mirror, and restoring Deanne's confidence have all been downers to varying degrees. The dentist's visit was to follow-up on a health issue concerning Braden that will require even further follow-up with a specialist. We'll take him first to see our pediatrician who's a super diagnostician with a reassuring demeanor and ready candor.
     No, God's faithfulness to me means He's always there for us, even in the midst of trials, blessing us with life, love, health, provision, and growth—physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and otherwise. Further, by blessing others, we receive an even greater share of life's blessings—peace of mind, perspective, caring, joy, and happiness. For it's no secret that it's better to give than receive.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cooks in the Making

     The only time I ever said it was when my family and I visited Norm ten years ago when his kids were ages ten and nine. They were bright, well spoken kids, able to relate well with everyone in our family—confident and independent. 
     One day during our stay, Norm stepped out to run errands, Kathy hadn't yet gotten home, and their two kids went into the kitchen to prepare a snack of instant ramen. They went about it so nonchalantly, asking who wanted; boiling water; julienning vegetables and beef; stirring them in with noodles and seasonings; and tending the heat, that it was obvious they'd done it many times before. 
     On a cold evening when we got to babysit I requested that all the kids put on a skit for Deanne and me. We learned from the performance a bit about the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs.  Braden was conquistador Hernando Cortes riding in on steed Stephanie; Darren was narrator and stunt double Cortes who beheaded stuffed animal Montezuma II. (Fact checking this essay, I learned Montezuma II probably wasn't beheaded. But it made for compelling action, a climactic ending, and who cared?) 
     Later that evening I told Norm and Kathy, “I wish our kids grow up just like yours.” They deflected the compliment, said ours (ages four and one) were just as remarkable in their own ways and Norm said he wouldn't be surprised if ours surpasses theirs in many other ways in the not-too-distant future. I expressed doubt as theirs had the benefit of superior “smart genes”. (Norm and Colleen are both engineers.)
     Ever since, burdensome though it has been at times, we've taught our kids to cook—a skill that doesn't require inherited smarts (or especially smart parents). 
     I started Braden off measuring oatmeal into boiling water (he'd spill; I'd snap at him); cracking raw eggs; stirring powder milk (“Don't leave lumps on the bottom”); making egg and tuna salad; slicing fish cake and spam for fried rice; and grilling cheese sandwiches on a skillet, spreading yogurt spread on both sides of each bread slice first.
     As the years passed, he learned to open cans; grate cheese, carrots, and potatoes; slice tomatoes; dice onions; brown ground beef; and follow recipes. 
     Deanne taught him to bake. Cornbread and scones from scratch and brownies from cake mixes are now his snap specialties. Deanne only twice allowed him to make entree’s (she rarely allows me to, for that matter), however, main courses won't be a problem as he has the necessary hand skills, the know-how to find and follow recipes, and the cook's/chef's end product mind-set. This past Thanksgiving he sauteed celery, carrots, and spices, stirred them into a greased casserole dish of packaged dry bread cubes, and baked them 'till the vegetables were just a bit crunchy, just the way I like my stuffing. Penelope, also in on the cooking act, measured sugar, apple juice, spices, and chopped walnuts into a pot of fresh cranberries, tended the stove, and thus earned full credit for preparing the yummy relish. It is our intention that by the time they leave home, our kids will not lack good healthy eating for want of cooking skills. 
     Which contrasts sharply with the mother of a friend from Texas. Naomi said that when her dad proposed to her mom, his mother-in-law-to-be said to him, “Give me two years to train her. She doesn't know a thing. After that she'll be ready to be a good wife for you.” He said “I can't wait that long,” and they married post-haste. True to her mom's word, Naomi's mom never cooked—all they ate at home were take-out, sandwiches, cold cereal, canned goods, and frozen dinners; never repaired a fallen off button; never cut her kids' hair; and never drove—all because, “She never learned how.” It's amazing to me that she got away doing so little on Naomi's family's small working farm (they later raised imus—“livestock, not pets,” Naomi's dad insisted). I met them once at Naomi's wedding where they were quiet and formal, quite the opposite of what I'd expected based on hilarious family photos (Japanese cowboy dad, rocker son, all-American squeaky clean daughter, and Japanese Roseanne Barr look-alike mom) and Naomi's lively and vivid stories of their upbeat lives (her dad drove a hearse—low miles, always driven slow and easy, affordable, powerful engine, well maintained, clean, and roomy), which conjured visions of All in the Family—type loud and raucous free-for-alls (never a dull moment in the Hasegawa household). It was obvious that Naomi had had a happy childhood so I've wondered at times at her eager desire to move to and settle in Hawaii. Perhaps because Texas was too large (she stands five—foot—one) and/or because in Hawaii she blends in well with her surroundings looking very, very local (though she's still got a bit of that Texas twang).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rock Fever

     Rock Fever. It's an ailment that targets transplanted mainlanders stifled by Hawaii's tiny size and remote isolation, restless souls that crave endless miles of roadway to take them to new, different, or long forgotten sights, vistas, towns, people, climates, or places, there for the taking any time they choose if they just drive far enough in the right direction.
     Hawaii is beautiful and each island has its unique charms—people, beaches, valleys, mountain ridges, and historical and cultural offerings—but after awhile, because it is sooo tiny—especially on over-crowded Oahu—it can get rather familiar, if not tiresome as the novelty wears off and the same gorgeous beach sunsets; clear, cloudless, starry skies; rainbows; and waterfalls fade into an unnoticed background of unchanging sameness.
     It's ennui born of restlessness—the desire to escape, yet feeling trapped, stranded, and forced to stay due to prohibitive travel costs, limited vacation time, and gross inconvenience—you can't just hop in a car and go. 
     I never caught rock fever except once while in college at U.H., spurring me to flee Hawaii's confines to pursue an M.B.A. in Seattle, then to stay and work there at a Big Eight accounting firm for an additional two years. The first year away from home was exhilarating, the next was good, the next was okay, the last was blah. I could see the downward trend and started to miss home so I moved back to Honolulu, but that first year back was rough 'cause none of my high school friends were around, and my college dorm friends at U.H. had all drifted apart, and the CPA firm I worked for was an awful fit.  I was cured of my restlessness, but felt lost and alone in a strange, new place where I no longer fit—for I had changed while I'd been away and even the way I talked now, not so much pidgin anymore, wasn't quite local. 
    But after I started working for the state the coming year, things improved dramatically.  My father, paternal grandfather, and numerous aunties and uncles worked for the state—always considered desirable for its job security and great benefits—so with my natural laid-back, risk averse personality, it felt comfortable and natural.  Then, within the coming years when I started attending church and believing in God and accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, things really improved—surrendering to a higher authority can do wonders for a person's psyche, outlook, and temperament—and they have been improving overall ever since. 
    Twenty-five unbroken years living on this island without having missed the wide open spaces and unlimited adventures the mainland has to offer has been a long run, even for a local at heart like me.  But recently, it's been creeping in on me: symptoms of rock fever. Our family had averaged one “big trip” away from the islands every four years or so, however, with the recent exorbitant airfares, it'd been pushed back to six years and counting, which may partly explain my susceptibility. So with the recent dip in airfares, I jumped at the opportunity to spend part of this holiday season on the mainland with my friend Norm whose parents recently died a few years apart and who is still struggling following his recent divorce. (He was ready to call it quits nineteen years ago but I helped convinced him not to. In the end Kathy called it off but stuck through at Norm's request 'till their two kids left for college.) It'll be new for me to see his family without her. I hope we'll add joy to their season and not be too big a burden.
     While there, we'll try to play in the snow, let Deanne see some houseboats she read about in some books, and watch Norm, recently promoted to black belt, teach some kids karate—all things we can't do in Hawaii. 
     Part of the incentive, to be transparent, is to get away from my family during the holidays as we've all been getting into a sort of obligatory rut. My sister for the first time complained last year about the stress of hosting, and with my brother's and brother-in-law's sister's recent divorces, and my sister's mother-in-law's recent death, Christmas cheer has felt a bit more forced than in years past. (My brother-in-law got laid off last year around his birthday and though he found one job, then another at higher pay in quick succession, he still hasn't fully recovered, it seems.)
     I'm not one to run from problems or avoid people I don't feel comfortable around.  In this case I believe it's more the other way around: I feel perfectly fine with them; at times it seems they prefer seeing less rather than more of us 'cause we receive less invitations than we used to and when we're around, people tend to disappear—to run errands, do chores, walk the dog, or hangout outside. 
     Not that I'm complaining, we all love each other and enjoy each other's company. Everyone's “good”; no one's “evil.” It's just that more and more our extended family's capacity for one-big-happy-family cheer has diminished and my aging parents (in their early eighties) and brother-in-law's father can accommodate only so much family togetherness (especially with the kids around). By spending part of our holidays away, then, I hope that our times together will be that much more precious and appreciated by all. Besides if we ever move away to the mainland East Coast after I retire (which I've been dreaming of of late), this'll give us all a tiny feel of what that might be like during the holidays.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Oatmeal (Horse Feed)

     Deanne and I both love to cook, yet I—a bachelor-style single pot or pan slap-it-together cook—give her, the chef, the honors except for weekend mornings when she sleeps in. Her meals, albeit delectable, aren't always the healthiest (often involving lots of meat, oil, and/or calories) so I try to compensate by making something extra nutritious and lean with no added sugar. 
     Oatmeal's bad rep (What other food is called porridge, mush, grits, wallpaper paste, sawdust, and horse feed?) is perhaps attributable to its outdoorsy/earthy aroma, neutral/mild/bland flavor, and somewhat crunchy/sticky/spongy texture. Nonetheless, I love the stuff for both its great taste and well known health benefits, making it my once a week go-to breakfast of choice. Since it takes a bit of effort to cook in a pot which makes it taste so much better, I make a big batch to ensure leftovers to supplement my weekday breakfasts. For increased palatability and nutritional value, I always mix into my bowl sliced banana, apple, and one citrus fruit such as orange or cantaloupe, one dried prune, and enough skim milk to loosen and smooth the texture (which aids digestion for my aging system).
     I discovered the perfect way to cook it by accident. After bringing the water to a brisk boil then adding the oats—which was always a challenge to avoid a messy boil over—I once got called away by the necessities of nature and/or a phone call, I can't recall which, so I pulled the pot off the heating element, turned off the stove, and allowed the mixture to sit uncovered. When I returned over twenty minutes later, the oats had softened, thickened, and expanded nicely, almost fully cooked with no boil-over mess to clean. Back on the burner, heat raised to a simmer, stirred every so often as the liquid reduced, it came out perfect without me having to stand and stir the whole time.
     Stirring, though done only on an as-needed basis, is unavoidable and somewhat burdensome—unavoidable because unstirred scorched oatmeal at the bottom will ruin a batch and be hard to scrub clean, and burdensome because cooking can take awhile (up to a half hour with old fashioned oats, a bit less for quick oats) and slips of the spoon while stirring may slosh oaty water out over the side onto the heating element, causing a stink, sticky, smoky mess that can be cleaned only after the coil has cooled down. 
     Years ago, at Queen's hospital's cafeteria (Deanne was in to deliver Penelope) I discovered a better way: A kitchen attendant spent many minutes at two steaming near-capacity gallon size warmers stirring oatmeal as I watched while gathering my breakfast selections from the self-service area nearby. She used a long wooden spoon and scraped its tip against the pots' bottoms from the outside in, in essence tracing straight lines from each pot's interior circumference to its center, one line at a time, all the way around like spokes on a wheel, before doing random back and forth and circular motions to ensure she scraped all the crusty film off the bottom. 
     It made sense because what caused my messy spill-overs was my spoon slapping against the pot's side wall, spattering the mixture up, over, and about. By going outward-in first, using the pot's rim as a pivot and spoon handle as a lever, I discovered the spoon never slipped or approached the pot's far side wall. 
     Ever since, I've always made oatmeal utilizing the two techniques: I boil water (approximately nine cups), remove the pot from the burner, switch off the stove, add the oatmeal (about five cups), stir, and then allow the oats to steep in the liquid uncovered for five or more minutes until they becomes thick and soft (sometimes bulging up above the water's surface, saturated and puffy). I then place the pot back on the burner, raise the temperature to achieve a brisk simmer, and scrape the pot's bottom from outside in before scrapping using back and forth and circular motions. Over the next fifteen minutes I gradually lower the heat to a slow simmer, scraping and stirring as needed until everything's the desired consistency (thick, somewhat sticky, and mushy for me). It's worked perfectly every time: zero scorched bottoms and zero splash-overs, plus I stir far less and even save some electricity. Served with fruits and skim milk, it makes a healthy, hearty breakfast that ties everyone in our family over until lunch without irritability caused by too much sugar or animal fats and proteins.  
     Whether breakfast is or is not the most important meal of the day oatmeal—warm traditional, and nutritious—has helped set the tone for many a happy day for us. Though not as sexy or fun as eggs, spam, rice, Portuguese sausage, pancakes, crumpets, or croissants perhaps, my motto (not said in years) has always been, “Eat to live. Don't live to eat.” Not that I chose oatmeal primarily for its nutritional value, I chose it 'cause it works, putting us in good moods by helping us feel better afterwards—energetic, relaxed, and prepared to do whatever it is our day entails, planned or unplanned, for leisure or pleasure, or to accomplish something even if so humble as purchase grocery shop, book borrow from the library, attend church, or swim at the community pool.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Human Sexuality 101

     While washing lunch dishes the other day, I heard a nearby cat mewling with some persistence. This was odd because our next door neighbors own a dog, and our neighborhood cats never come 'round and meow so near our kitchen which is just yards from the road fronting our house. Through our jalousie windows I spied a thin-faced cat beyond the nearby chain link fence looking in at me.
     “Jaren go look at the cat,” I said. He went and opened the door and stood by, still and intent. “Do you see it?” I asked. 
     Some time passed while the cat remained sight. “Deanne, why don't you have a look.”
     She went forward and said that's the cat that was at school on Friday, it's owner lives two houses from the school. 
     “Why don't you pet it?”
     “I don't like cats.”
     I went forward and said, “What about you to Jaren?”
     He stood motionless, then gestured to stop me and said, “I don't want you to get hurt.”
     “Nonsense,” I said with a laugh. The cat, a juvenile, stood looking at me curious and put its head down to receive the pet of my finger that I passed through the fence to touch it. The bronzish, black striped tabby was friendly and walked about back and forth sideways to Jaren as he stuck his hand through, stroking it's back and sides. It then leaped up two-and-a-half feet to the top of a stone wall pillar beside the fence and started to climb face-down—a drop of five feet on our side (the fence was on a low rock wall). Near full extension, it pounced down, recovered, walked relaxed to receive Jaren's pets, and approached Deanne who stood beside the open door. 
     “Don't let him in,” I said as the cat peered in and headed for the gap. Deanne was too slow and I dove forward thinking a cat-and-mouse chase might ensue, but to my relief, it accepted my hand's redirection out as I swooped its side from a foot in our house to the front yard away from the entrance. He (I could see his unneutered testicles from behind) was crazy friendly and over the next hour let Jaren and Braden play with and carry him, and laid patiently in Braden's lap. He didn't scare as I walked by to do chores and even came to the laundry room and plopped down in a corner to watch me spot cleane Jaren's soiled aikido gi that he'd worn for Halloween. After the cat had napped under our car for awhile, I allowed Jaren to offer him water, then some cheese, and later some fish, he was so hungry and scrawny, though his coat was incongruously plush and well-groomed.
     Jaren asked, after I explained that the cat had wandered so far because he's male, How do you know he's male?
     How can you tell males from females? I asked.  He said the color of their fur and they're bigger muscles?  I said maybe. How can you tell in people?  He said boys are bigger and they have hair on their face.  I said sometimes but what about babies, there's only way to tell?  He said girls have more hair.  No, I said. How do you pee?  Standing up.  How do girls pee?  Sitting down.  Why don't they stand up too?  Because it's uncomfortable for them.  Why?  I don't know.  What does your shi-shi (pee) come out of?  My penis, he said with a silly smile.  What does theirs come out of?  Their okoles (anuses)?  Don't they teach this in school? I asked, shocked.  No.
     Only then did I realize how negligent we'd been in teaching him the rudiments of human sexuality. 
     Do Mommy and I look the same down there?
     She doesn't have a penis.
     What does she have?
     I don't know.
     Didn't you ever look?
     Next time look. I then explained male and female parts in matter-of-fact detail, recalling how embarrassed I'd felt when my mom reviled when I said as a youth Jaren's age that babies came from the okole. Included in my lesson were the vulva—that looks like a slit and that has two holes, one for shi-shi to come out of and the other a vagina that babies come out of. The vagina is connected to the womb where babies are made—only girls have wombs and vaginas, that's why men can't have babies. The cat has testicles like all boys. Certain male pets though, are neutered by removing the testicles so they can't have babies. The reason they do that for cats is they give birth in litters—up to six at once, and that's too many for most people to take care of. 
     That evening I discussed with Deanne what happened and she said she has too much hair (down there, the usual amount) for him to see (what's beneath). I admitted I thought my mom didn't have anything except hair for the longest time until once under bright lights I could see.
     Deanne said Braden knew because he saw us changing Penelope's diaper as a baby. I asked her to find a drawing in a medical book or draw a simple sketch of seven lines (down there) so I could show him what a female looks like. 
     She found a photo of an infant girl in a maternity book so I showed that to him. It took a bit of questioning—the terms were new to him—but soon enough he caught the differences between boys and girls, and male cats and female cats, and could explain the similarities among girls and female cats, and boys and male cats. It was a lesson I'm sure he won't soon forget. (For some reason he was both bashful and scintillated at the same time, I guess for obvious reasons—sex fascinates!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


     In the 1970's our neighborhood streets on Halloween evenings were packed full of kids toting brown grocery sacks (ala Charlie Brown) and flashlights, most wearing costumes they'd made at school such as grocery bag helmets with eyes, nose, and mouth holes, decorated with crayon scribbles, felt and egg carton cutouts, gauze, and black and orange yarn. 
     I remember the suspense of ringing a door bell at a well lit but quiet house, of waiting and wondering, and of hearing approaching footsteps and the door swoosh open to which we shouted, “Trick or Treat!” Smiling surprised, the greeter always oohed and aahed over our scary and pretty costumes before dropping a handful or two of treats into each of our ever-heavier sacks.  The crinkly thud of the treats as they struck bottom was sweeter than their sugary contents.  Singing, “Thank you,” we dashed to stand beneath the nearest light pole to count our Butterfingers, Big Hunks, malt balls, honey balls, Kisses, Chiclets, Sweet Tarts, Pixie Sticks, arare, li hing muis, Tamo Ames, and Fusen gums, to see who had most.
     A generation later, at my sister's suggestion that we trick or treat at Kahala Mall so her kid and ours could get even more goodies faster and we wouldn't have to inspect the candy, we shambled along, caught up in an endless current of strangers that traced the mall's interior perimeter passing countless generic store fronts and sales clerks who stood waiting to deposit a sweet or two into each plastic pumpkin pail or other store-bought seasonal bag that passed by. 
     I've never been in a soup line before, but seeing our kids and everyone else doing essentially that—asking for handouts—gave me a queasy feeling especially since none (except perhaps a few of the more enthusiastic candy-distributing clerks) seemed to be having much fun. Neither did it help to realize that the stores were doing it just for profit—to increase foot traffic and sales, which gave the brightly lit, noisy with piped-in music atmosphere a commercial feel—far from sweet, innocent fun for the kids. 
     Virtually everyone's costume, it took but a moment's notice to realize, was a mass produced plastic painted or molded rubber replica (we dressed our kids in ethnic clothes—gifts from overseas relatives, and had them carry plastic grocery bags for their goodies). Coming from a family that never bought a costume, I was surprised. (One year Braden went as a chess piece—complete with crown, sword, and chess board shield, the latter two mounted on foam core board that I helped cut. Besides that and the assistance I provided shaping and stapling the crown so it would stay together on his head, he designed and decorated everything—a bit lopsided perhaps but cute and creative for his age.) Another surprise was how old costumed participants were, who must have averaged age twenty—three. And some of the costumes were outrageous fancy: a life sized Homer Simpson and a masked wraith with cloak and scythe that had a skeletal face that bled profusely (I deduced that the mask had a clear plastic outer film and that a hand pump and tubing circulated “blood” from a reservoir beneath the chin to over the forehead so gushes of blood cascaded down at will.) Pirates, cowboys, princesses, ghouls, and far too many visages to remember passed in movie-like blitzes of sensory overload before my eyes and made my head ache.
     The all-out nature of the costumes—elaborated and hardcore—reminded me of a masquerade party I'd attended in the 1980's where a guy had constructed from chicken wire fencing, paper mache', and paint a replica of a cartoon character featured on a McDonald's TV commercial: a crescent moon headed and shades- and evening-attired dude. One look and it was apparent he'd spent dozens of hours designing, fitting, and perfecting the costume and makeup. 
     But it was only at Kahala Mall that evening that I realized that adults had stolen Halloween's bluster from the kids. (My parents had never gone so far or tried so hard to look so cool to so many on Halloween.) I guess it happened because adults on that one day alone get to play make-pretend to relieve the pressures, stresses, and boredom of everyday life. Even our church got into it, mostly by offering a safe, organized game night, come dressed in your favorite costume.
     We got into it as our kids got older. Penelope loved fairies for awhile, so I designed and made wings from plastic wrap and clothes hanger wire, which Penelope decorated to go along with her ballet tutu. Adults were to host a game and were encouraged to dress up so I found an old CRT computer monitor, hollowed it out, cut a hole underneath, slipped it over my head, and draped a key board and PC frontispiece around my neck (with lights added for effect). Print-outs within the CRT that surrounded my head suggested I was 
     Another year Jaren wanted to go as Lighting McQueen, so I made a cardboard silhouette of the car, painted it, and hung it around his neck. 
     This year, I found an old microwave oven, gutted it, festooned in with sloppy brown grocery bag and plastic garbage bag streamers, slipped it over my head, wore clip-on shades decorated the same, and went to church as “The Microwave Zombie”, shuffle walking and groaning my way in. Deanne, who never experienced Halloween until we married, crocheted a cute Charlotte's Web design for her black shirt, plus a spider, and hung from a thread a plastic pig (Charlotte's meal perhaps?). She later baked severed-finger cookies (puke-worthy; I wouldn't touch them) for her school's teachers. 
     Ever since we moved to a more suburban setting four years ago, we've taken our younger kids door-to-door (to known neighbors) for trick or treat. It's been fun and relaxing, but the barren streets with nary another kid and so many dark, unwelcoming homes have given the evenings a sort-of forlorn look and feel. Because Honolulu Halloweens have gone commercial, adult-centric, and indoor it's probably safer for kids and funner for adults, but to me the magic of giggling mobs of excited youth wandering the streets largely unattended is missing. Not that I mind, I had my share of it growing up; it's today's kids that don't know what they are missing out on. Ah well, perhaps one day, in another life...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


     America is a competitive society—just look at some of TV's top rated shows: American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Superbowl, The Wheel of Fortune, and The Olympics. The simple win/lose drama in made-for-TV competitions is a consistent safe bet for drawing viewers.
     Nothing's wrong with healthy competition but it doesn't take much or long for who-cares? fun to turn into serious I-want-it-bad winner-takes-all contests that aren't so fun anymore. (I used to play doubles in Honolulu Tennis League with a C-2 rating and some players took it far too serious).
     The thing about competition is someone has to win and someone has to lose and sometimes the winners are the biggest losers of all if it means losing their self-respects, friends, perspectives, or humanities (see my prior Competitive Sports essay for further discussions regarding), for poor winners abound.
     Comparing one's self or children to others, then, can have similar pitfalls (Who's better? Who's best?) especially when it comes to selecting what to compare to whom. All too often, I hear parents express feelings of “inadequacy” or “stress” when comparing their kids or lives to those of others. Is it any wonder when they choose to compare that in which they or theirs' aren't especially strong? Shouldn't they instead focus on those that have things far worse off, say the suffering billions that aren't even in on any competition due to want of daily sustenance? Wouldn't such scrutiny result in greater appreciation for what they have and perhaps even generate some sympathy or compassion, or motivate generosity? 
     So whenever I hear hints or even suggestions of comparisons with others—“They must be doing well...,” “Is he in honors English?” “Believe me, they can afford it,” “Wasn't she (elementary school) valedictorian?”—I cut it off. “No need to compare,” I say, or “Don't worry about her, she's not our child.” After all, children, adults, and families each possess their own strengths, weaknesses, and struggles and not one has everything all together. “Would you prefer her as your daughter? Or to trade their lives with ours?” are questions worth asking that I've never heard a “Yes” to, thank God. 
     Like our parents, we've focused on our kids' academics and who they are in raising them as none of them will make it as professional athletes, stars, or artists as far as we can tell. But if they're decent, law-abiding citizens that are capable learners and workers with positive attitudes, independent and strong, we feel they'll be well-equipped—with God's help—to thrive as adults.
     Perhaps as a society we should scrutinize this comparative/competitive-based decision-making compulsion that seems ever more prevalent in schools, businesses, financial markets, and even homes. If there's a single pizza slice left should jan ken po (a paper, scissors, rock hand game) decide who gets it? If there's enough money for only one kid to go to college should the most “deserving” one with the highest GPA automatically get it? Should limited housing always go to the highest bidder, need or merit be damned? And where does cooperation and helpfulness, essential for success in tomorrow's and today's world, fit in? All too often such altruism seems squeezed in as token gesture or for show rather than performed out of duty or for pleasure. 
     And let's not forget the effects of the shrinking world. I see it; my friend Norm in Seattle sees it. He complains of the burgeoning Hispanic population sweeping in and changing the close-knit complexion of his community and of Middle East and other ethnic immigrants refusing to conform to local standards of common courtesy and consideration. (Some Arab mothers of his fellow Karate students refuse to remove their footwear upon entering their dojo, disregarding the sign and customs that he knows they have read, observed in others, and understood. His Arab lady friend of a younger generation that always wears a headdress and conservative attire in public said they're just acting like jerks: there's no custom or religious tenet forbidding removal of footwear in such circumstances.) 
     Deanne and I, too, have noticed huge influxes of immigrants over the last decade from India, Europe, Asia (our new next door neighbors are from Japan), and the South Pacific, plus transplants galore from the U.S. Mainland, mostly Caucasian, but lots of African Americans too. Most blend in well. Hawaii is by far the most diverse state in the U.S., laid back and cosmopolitan, so that's the type of immigrant it attracts. It sure has changed a lot since I was a kid, though, when Japanese and Caucasians were predominant, followed by Chinese, Filipinos, and Hawaiians (not necessary in that order.)
     The good news, I told Norm, is that succeeding generations very quickly assimilate (though Penelope surprised me the other day when I asked her to describe her school hang-out. She said across from the concrete slab where she and her friends sit during recesses are benches where a group of students congregate speaking Chinese. I asked are they recent immigrants? She said I don't think so, they also speak English. Are they some of the smartest kids in class? Do they speak English with an accent? I asked. They're smart and no, she said. I found it surprising they'd choose to speak Chinese so publicly but guessed maybe they grew up together, with immigrant parents that were close friends).
     With this ever changing populace then (my new boss grew up in East Asia and speaks with a thick accent) when no one knows who will be working with or living near whom, comparing self or family to others becomes even more fruitless (as everyone has their priorities), resulting in unjustified pride or envy, or feelings of undistinguished mediocrity.  (Penelope's middle school's quarterly newsletter lists honor role students—a practice I find invasive and inappropriately competitive, perhaps shaming students and their parents that achieve lower GPAs or are off the lists altogether. It may also demoralized those that due to genetic learning difficulties (Braden), autism (a family friend), dyslexia, etc., struggle hard just to keep up.) It would be much better if everyone just did his or her best without worrying about others or standings, or better yet, be considerate and helpful. I'm all for courses that teach and instill cooperation and helpfulness and grade students for such. (Group projects help, but sometimes result in even more competition and selfishness, as anyone who has worked on such teams surely has witnessed.)
     I recall a most unseemly competition involving my high school's senior class race for top academic award. Our salutatorian cried during her commencement address for shame of “losing” the competition and being a poor loser (she didn't put it that way but everyone knew). It was sad that such a bright, attractive, and popular girl had felt so driven by perfection that she couldn't much enjoy her special moment and chose instead to focus inwardly on her “failures” and indirectly on her “enemy”—the one she lost to, a fine, decent fellow, meek and humble, who once confided in me that he never went to a movie with friends (I felt guilty for months afterward for not inviting him along, his confession obviously being a hint. I just knew he wouldn't fit in with us uncouth Philistines, though—a lame excuse, I know, thus the guilt. We talked at our twentieth year class reunion. He's doing fine as an actuary at one of the state's largest insurers, which is fitting as he's brilliant in math—his dad was a math teacher—and scored a perfect 800 on his SAT.)
     Continuing this ever escalating competing and comparing as a society is bound to lead to ever more disgruntled losers and all-too-few humble, appreciative, and generous "winners."  Or, we could choose not to participate but to instead care for and nurture one another—always a win-win, especially to the giver—learning what it means to live together peaceably and cooperatively. It's great when it happens following a natural disaster, but must it happen only then? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Growth Spurts

     High School's been good for Braden so far. He's matured physically and grown more responsible.  Over the past two years he's sprouted three inches to over five-feet nine, a bit shorter than me. The orthopedist who examined his x—ray for mild sciatica (he's fine, with only fifteen degrees maximum curvature of the spine) says he has another year's growth spurt left in him that should take him past me. That pleased Deanne who's always been height-conscious about our kids. (In regards to Penelope who had early menses—she stands about five-feet four and continues to grow—she's been especially concerned. I told her, “Her height's fine. God decided it, so it's perfect. What do you want her to be a giant for?” (Deanne comes from a tall family and is just used to it, I guess). 
     When he entered high school this fall, catching the bus to and from school as usual, Braden acted a bit flaky, asking after three days if he could switch his shop elective to JROTC. I asked why? He said I don't know. I said electives are your choice. But later that evening I said give it at least a quarter, if you still want to switch, then you can. I don't want you switching now, then two weeks later hear you saying can I switch back or something like that. Plus shop is very useful—I still use stuff I learned from it back in middle school. 
     He said okay, but two day later asked if he could add JROTC as a before-school extra-credit class, giving him seven total credits for the quarter instead of the usual six. I said, “To catch your bus on time you'll have to leave around six o'clock—before me on some days if you catch the early bus, plus you'll have to make your own breakfast and wash you own dishes and get everything ready on your own. Plus you'll have to wake yourself up every morning and not expect someone to wake you 'cause you're too lazy to wake yourself. Can you manage to do that every morning? He said yes. I said okay, I'll sign it, but if your grades suffer, you'll have to drop it. (He knew that I meant he had to earn all B's or better 'cause when he was in middle school and joined Robotics Club and his grades sank below that mark, we made him quit). He said, I understand. 
     On his own he went and spoke to and got all the necessary approvals from counselors and teachers and didn't even need our help or signature. Best of all, from then on he self-started every morning and got out of the house sometimes even before Deanne got up. (He used to sometimes sleep through his beeping alarm clock until one of us roused him—a vile habit I detested. It reminded me of a college roommate that asked me to rouse him if he over-slept; I never did. I'd return from breakfast and his alarm would still be beeping...) .
     Soon, a scouting friend of his joined JROTC and offered Braden rides every morning (his family lives just up the street from us). Braden still caught the bus home, however, but got to sleep in an extra forty-five minutes the four days a week he had JROTC. But his morning routine stuck, waking independently and making his own breakfast—quite good for a fourteen year old. Mid-quarter, for the first time ever, his school's progress report showed all A's except for one B for JROTC. I didn't make a fuss about the A's even though I was astounded pleased because in the past it's resulted in subsequent poor performance.  I instead encouraged him to keep it up because it's just going to get tougher. By quarter's end his grades had slipped to B's for English (honors level albeit) and Social Studies but rose to an A for JROTC. 
     One area in which Braden hasn't shown equivalent maturation is in self-discipline. For years now I've noticed whenever he's out of time-out for long and doesn't have to do dishes and vacuum the floors every night as a result, he gets into more trouble. So a couple of months ago when he was about to emerge from an extended time-out, I assigned him permanent dinner time dish washing duty, plus his usual chores of emptying the rubbish and setting up the vacuum. It's been working well; he didn't even complain or sigh or hiss displeasure when I told him or explained why. (Deanne and I have given him chore breaks now and then, when he has scouting or is sick or has behaved extra well. And he usually does a diligent job with the dishes, sometimes even better than Deanne.)
      His speaking ability has also improved. As a youngster he was a fast talker, slurring and mumbling, mispronouncing words, and poorly arranging sentences or paragraphs, mainly because he spoke just to be heard—random spontaneous thoughts that often made no sense. Rather than speaking to be understood or having a worthwhile purpose, he seemed to be merely vocalizing social-sounding noises that were annoying to listen to and correct all the time. Whereas now he takes his time to gather his thoughts, speak sensibly, and enunciate well, which makes him a pleasure to listen to. 
     Praise God, people and kids in particular can improve.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


     There'd been times when I'd felt irked by the box and wished someone would do something about it. Then I remembered my dad once calling to complain of coconuts at the local municipal golf course being a hazard should one fall and maim or kill a golfer. By the following week muddy tire tracks lined the gold course fairways but the trees were stripped bare of coconuts.
     Following his example, earlier this year, I make a call to Honolulu's local land-line telephone company about one of those unsightly utility boxes beside the road. It's approx. 4' x 3' x 2 1/2'—the size of a mini-refrigerator—and has for years been either toppled over on its side or standing on rusted-out footings which are so eaten through they aren't bolted down to their concrete base—it's impossible to secure them they're so bad. The two access holes in the concrete base are empty, lacking wire leads. The cabinet itself is gutted—I recall its door once being open. There's a nearby park, and an elementary school just down the street, so some kid—groups are always passing by—is bound to climb on top and get hurt when it falls. 
     The phone company person says, I'll send the info. to repair technicians to take care of.  You may or may not hear back from them.
     Since the box isn't labeled, I then call Hawaiian Electric Company the same day and the representative says, We'll check it out but I doubt its ours. The next day the company calls and says it's Verizon's trunk box—a former land line company I know to be defunct, though they still provide wireless service.
     A month and a half later, the box is still there unchanged so I call the city's General Complaints hotline. We'll follow-up on it and get get back to you, I'm told. But they never do. 
     During the following two months, I see the box first graffitied, then spot-painted over, so, getting exasperated, I call the police. We'll have someone go out and take a look and notify the proper party about it, I'm told. 
     A month-and-a-half later, the box is now dented-in and newly defaced by fresh graffiti that depicts a face of a dead drunk person with X's for eyes.  I speak to the pastor of the tiny church that stands across an unpaved parking lot behind it.  Quiet but dignified, the man receives me warmly, even though I'm in the midst of a three-and-a-half mile run, and says he too wants it taken away and thinks it's been there twenty years. At my gentle suggestion that maybe they'll listen to him more than me, he says he'll call the telephone company.
     The following day, I call our local state government representative and leave a message on the answering machine requesting assistance. 
     The day after, I call Verizon. It's not ours; wireless doesn't use street-side trunk boxes, I'm told. 
     Ten days later I again call the local telephone company and this time leave a message with the trouble rep. requesting assistance while mentioning my earlier attempt with them to get rid of it. 
     Two-and-a-half months pass, during which time whenever I see the box during a run, I think of the useless inaction of everyone I've spoken to and sometimes imagine sledge hammering the box into rubble, hack sawing it into strips, or (most sensibly) asking permission to haul it away, but I always stop short as these are just idle dreams, and instead I pray and wait. Then, one day, the box is gone!—one of our neighborhood's last glaring blights. My run feels so light after that, I can already taste the once-in-every-three-weeks drink I'll consume with dinner.
     It takes a month, but finally during a run I see the church's pastor.  He's walking in the parking lot, turning the corner of the sanctuary out of sight, so I call his name and jog over, smile, and wave as I stand off to one side before his car, engine now running. He opens the door, steps out, and we exchange pleasantries. I express gratitude about the box's removal and he says he's happy too. 
     “Did you call anyone about it?” I ask. 
     “Yes, the telephone company,” he says.
     “Good. Thank you,” I say all smiles. “I call”—here I gesture—“and nothing happens. You call”—another gesture—“and they take it away.” We exchange further pleasantries before parting.
     Though I believe what I tell him, I nevertheless later tell my family what happened to teach them the power of acting, following up, and trying again and again to get what you really want. Though it may not have been me, my efforts certainly couldn't have hurt. And it feels good to think that at least I tried.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Longterm Health Care Insurance (Bleah!)

     Who can afford it? We sure can't. We much prefer save for retirement and the kids' collage educations which we can't afford either. Yet there is hope for us at least for the latter two: we scrimp and save and something will be there when the time and need comes. The trouble with long-term health care insurance on the other hand is it's a gamble: it'll only pay if something horrible happens. To get near one hundred percent coverage, we'd need to fork over whopping mortgage-sized premiums (we can't even afford a house, which for us would be a far wiser investment if we could afford one), and to settle for middling coverage at more affordable though still expensive, flush-it-down-the-drain rates would simply delay the inevitable: the dreaded spend-down of accumulated personal assets before Medicaid kicks in. 
     For those unfamiliar with Medicaid, the U.S. federal and state governments program will cover personal long-term health care expenses after a qualified (sick, sick, sick) person in essence becomes broke (excluding house and car and other personal effects, depending on state). Thus a wonderful, hardworking mom or dad—diligent saver and fine citizen—who suddenly through no fault of his or her own takes ill resulting in permanent disability and longterm health care needs, has to spent down accumulated life savings before Medicaid will pay a penny. Henceforth, one hundred percent of costs will be covered.
     This spend down provision is so dreaded by my mom, she once said if faced with a personal long-term health care crisis, she'd just...and she looked skyward, shrugged, and gestured with matter-of-fact face and upturned hands, meaning she'd take her own life because to her it wouldn't be a life worth living—a quality of life issue—and the thought of having to hand all her life's loving, intentional hard earned savings meant to benefit her family to outrageously expensive health care providers in a matter of a few short years repulsed her beyond words.
     So to prevent that my parents have been recently transferring while they are still healthy substantial assets to my siblings and me, because any gifts made within five years of applying for Medicaid will result in a “claw back” provision that delays benefits approximately equivalent to the gift amount. So my parents are gambling that they won't get seriously ill within five years of making these gifts (my mom's main concern) and also that if they need that money (say if one of them becomes seriously ill or dies), that we'll do the right thing and provide them the necessary finances (my dad's main concern). I assured Dad I'd do my share (though it still makes him uncomfortable as it goes against his strong independence ethic).
     Decades ago my work required me to examine the finances of an elderly widow with over a million dollars in assets. In a little over a decade, her savings had been depleted by longterm health care expenses before Medicaid kicked in.
     I raise this because this has been a large dysfunctional ongoing problem in America's long-term health care system and I deem it shameful that it hasn't yet been resolved or even seriously addressed. Should middle class Americans have to go broke before they're helped? If so, why?
     One abhorrent option desperate spouses sometimes exercise is divorce. It's totally legal and Medicare will kick in after about fifty percent of former jointly owned property is spent down (versus one hundred percent). Most of these are paper-only divorces with couples still doing things as they had before—no need to separate or cut ties, but at what cost? Is marriage just a legal document that no one else has to know about? Or is it a sacred lifelong commitment?
     Another option rarely mentioned that I think I might be willing to explore is moving to a low cost locale, probably abroad. Such locales abound. And they provide equivalent palliative or nursing care at a puny fraction of the cost.
     Some people, I believe are far too fixed on where they feel they have to live to be happy. Being open to more world-wide possibilities would bring far more happiness to far more people. It's not so bad and scary out there as most people imagine because the world is becoming increasingly homogenized. Just look at the photos. Just read travel web sites and books. Just go to a few places. And meet some people. It all strikes me as familiar yet excitingly different. Does it really matter what language the health care provider speaks if everyone is comfortable and growing? It might be a lifelong dream fulfilled for some—spending their final years together in beautiful exotic countries and not having to worry endlessly about money.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Weekday Dinner Conversations—Part II

     It's been working well asking each of our kids in turn, “What did you learn in school today?”—gets them thinking, remembering, sifting memories, and organizing thoughts (see my prior Weekday Dinner Conversations essay regarding.) I don't settle for general, vague answers such as, “I learned about history...”, either. Such answers net follow-up queries such as, “Can you be more specific? What's one new thing you learned?” And for each academic subject the routine's the same. It sometimes takes awhile, but it's informative, reinforcing, and engaging, requiring everyone to speechify.
     One recent night, Deanne decided to help Jaren, who, as youngest, struggles the most. “Didn't you learn about a princess, today?” He said no. (Deanne serves as a teacher's assistant at his school helping a higher grade special needs student. Sometimes the boy's studies corresponds in subject matter with Jaren's, just more advanced.) “Well I learned something. Would you like to hear it?”
     “Sure,” we said.
     “I learned that the song 'Aloha Oe' was written by Queen Liliuokalani. The idea for the song came from seeing lovers part ways.”
     Penelope said, “That's the song in Lilo and Stitch.”
     “Elvis Presley sang it, too.” said Deanne. 
     “Tia Carrera sang it in the movie, not Queen Liliuokalani,” I said. The kids laughed. “She did a good job. I thought the movie was well done.”
     “I also learned that Princess Pauahi—I can't remembered her maiden name—married Mr. Bishop when she was only nineteen.”
     With those few sentences, Deanne demonstrated more extensive knowledge of Hawaiian history than me. “Was the Summer Palace hers?” I asked.
     “No, that was Queen Emma's.” said Braden.
     “Oh, yeah, it was the Queen's, not the princess's.” As I went for seconds I announced, “Queen Emma married Mr. Summer and that's why they call it the Queen Emma Summer Palace.”
     The older kids laughed and Jaren joined in 'cause he knew I was joking. Deanne mock-scolded me, “Don't tell them wrong things,” then showed off, “I also learned King Kalakaua was elected King.”
     “I didn't know that,” I said, having returned to the table post-haste because I was hungry as a roach and those buggers are fast. “Did you know that Princess Pauahi's husband was a Bishop?” The kids shook their heads. “So they called him “Bishop Bishop.” They laughed again, having inherited my silliness gene that sets a quiver silliness cells of which their mouths, throats, eyes, noses, and stomachs have plenty. Made me feel good witnessing them laugh over non gross-out humor for once, toward which they're most partial, such as anything to do with


squished slugs, exploding cockroaches (in a microwave), and tasty hanagalas (thick, oozy, slimy, boogers—the kind you get at the tail end of a long, drippy cold: snort 'em and swallow 'em, and their taste and texture remind me of raw oysters, sans the metallic aftertaste. Michelin four star restaurants could save bundles serving hanagalas on half shell—one would do—without the high risk of food poisoning. Add a bit of hot sauce and yum! Btw, hanabata, a solider form of hanagalas, has an interesting etymology. Hana = nose (in Japanese); bata = butter (in pidgin), thus, hanabata, or nose butter = boogers. No joke!)


     (My high school friend—brilliant guy—once said, “Puns are the lowest form of humor.” Ever since, I've resorted to using them only when desperate for a cheap laugh, which means all-too-often 'cause I'm a thrifty guy.)
     Deanne continued her erudite discourse and dinner soon ended (no connection). As I prepared to bathe, I realized she'd missed a key fact so I called the kids together and said, “When King Kalakaua was young and single he was very attractive and talented. A lot of ladies had their eyes on him. So when he married, a lot of them were disappointed, jealous, and just little bit peeved—especially after he became king. They talked among themselves, calling him That Married Man. The nickname stuck and people henceforth called him, “The Married Monarch.” 
     “It's Merry Monarch!” said Penelope. 
     I nodded and felt a bit sheepish for my unsophisticated humor. (My high school teacher said satire is the highest form of humor as it gets audiences laughing at their flaws. Well, sometimes I mock the kids in an outlandish, comical way that gets them laughing (except the person being made fun of—some people have no senses of humor!) My excuse is our dinners last a loooongish hour so anything that lightens the mood in orderly fashion and that facilitates pleasantness, fellowship, and digestion is worth it. One of the perks of membership in our exclusive immediate family club is I don't have to be funny (though it helps). On the flip side, I need to be present (in body and mind), setting a proper tone with good humor, which I consider privilege more than responsibility anyway (there's nowhere I'd rather be). And as long as everyone enjoys themselves while learning and growing, I count a night's conversation a success. And we all look forward to our next dinner—especially since Deanne's such a super cook!