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!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Garage Sale Fun

       Some of the best bargains around, besides happening upon abandoned furniture roadside (see my prior Roadside Gems essay), can be had at garage/moving/yard/rummage sales. I've never driven out of my way special for one, only encountering them incidentally—usually on weekend drives to or from the grocery store or church. And I've nearly always returned home first, then walked over with only minimal cash because they're just so hit-or-miss, usually the later. 
     It's fun snooping around other people's stuff, some quite interesting. What's this for? Where did you get that? How much for these?  The kids love 'em 'cause they can fool with all kinds of normally forbidden, hands—off, “that's not yours” stuff, much of which there's a good chance they can afford or if an item's cool or nostalgic enough I'll purchase for them.
     Our best deals so far have been for solid wood natural finish furniture: a dining room set (country style table and chairs) for $80; designer leather on steel frame occasional chair plus wheeled/adjustable wood reading desk on steel frame for $60 combined; chest of drawers for $75; old console-style stereo cabinet for $25; and a small three drawers cabinet plus a large night stand for $40.
     Less beautiful but highly functional furniture purchased through the years included a large book shelf, large stainless steel shelves, large storage shelves, and TV stand—all for $90. We also scored a Mighty Mite vacuum for $25 and a comparable Panasonic for $5.
     Fun stuff purchased included Hot Wheels tracks, a build-it-yourself model battleship, Tiger brand shaved ice maker, fishing rod, beautiful raised relief globe, hand saw, large cast iron clamp, a pair of detachable dumbbells (10lbs. each), and a nearly brand new children's bicycle—each for $10 or less.
           For $5 each or less we also purchased three different wheeled hand-carry luggages. Freebies (from generous neighbors) included a die cast toy helicopter, drawstring cloth shopping bags, a softball, two cast iron 10 lb. dumbbells, and door hinges with screws and wood trim.
     Here's the fun thing about bargain used furniture: you can't ruin them. The stereo console mentioned earlier was already gutted when I got it. My amplifier and tape deck (yes, it was that long ago) didn't quite fit in so I hacked away at the heavy duty internal uprights with chisel and hammer to construct slots into which they could slide. A decade later after Deanne and I had already married and had Braden, I gave away my albums and turntable to Goodwill, removed the remaining stereo components, and installed shelves into the speaker cavities to convert the unit into a diaper changing table. Deanne added attractive shelf paper and the top was fitted with a diaper changing pad.
     While changing Braden, Deanne once placed a wet water bottle used for clean up on top and it left an awful white water stain on the otherwise beautiful dark wood finish. I scolded her and rubbed furniture oil in for the next twenty minutes.
     Later, as the kids grew, the cabinet became theirs for clothes. Unbeknownst to me, over time they placed stickers on it and their bunk bed (it's amazing how these when small and few can pass unnoticed for months until one day when the room is finally cleared of junk, dozens of these huge, in-your-face ugly commercial cartoons materialize seemingly out of nowhere). We spent hours scrubbing them off, leaving unsightly scratches down to bare wood.
     The cabinet's condition worsened through time with a broken off brass handle (replaced with one from a discarded dresser drawer) and surface gouges, nicks, and scratches (but no more stickers). Now my attitude toward it is one of benign neglect: imperfections just evidence active, happy children. I challenged Braden to remove the three doors and sand, refinished, and reinstall them, but he passed (it's his choice, after all its his cabinet and his and Jaren's room).
     The large nightstand mentioned earlier will be our house's most unique piece (it allegedly belonged to a famous Hawaii artist, now deceased, and was obviously handmade). Trouble was, it was too dark, had hideous black stains (char from a fire and remnants from a spill), and it stank. I tried cleaning, sunning, and polishing it; washing it with baking soda; stuffing it with newspapers; airing it for weeks; and sanding and polyurethaning it. Those didn't work so I tried sealing its inside cracks with tape and polystyrene packing foam and chiseling off the charred parts underneath, but it still stank and looked off. So I hand painted over the offending sections with colorful acrylic paints—a wavy border around the three outer top edges and a bold yet whimsical ribbon stripe over a functional trim that stops the swinging cabinet door. It's light, cheery, more unique, and even fun now, just what I want for my bedside stand, and not so somber, heavy, or ugly-in-a-beautiful-sort-of-way as it had been. 
     Though antique stores may say I ruined its value I'm sure the fine arts painter/alleged former owner would approve, especially if I enjoy and continue to use the piece for years to come. After all, I bought it for personal use and not to resell at a killer profit, not that I think it's worth that much.  The process of working it so much has improved my feelings toward it, too, from, “It's nice and kind-of weird in a good way but can I fix it?” to, “Not bad...getting better...much improved...almost there...I'm getting to like this. Ah, just right!” Now, if only the faint lingering wood odor would disappear, I can finally bring it in and use it (but there's no rush and I haven't given up hope on it yet.) Best of all, reshaping furniture to suit our needs has been a heck of a lot of fun, keeping me thinking creatively, using my hands, working out (sanding all six inside and outside surfaces plus drawer top, bottom, back, and sides), and staying productive: time well spent saving money and helping preserve the environment, all the while enjoying the beautiful piece unavailable at any neighborhood furniture store.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Discipline—Part II

     Braden by nature is very strong-willed. This was especially apparent when he was early-elementary school age and dug in with defiant streaks. I gave him time-outs stacked consecutive that lasted for days. My friend Norm and our pediatrician both had said, “Rule of thumb is about one minute per year of age.” Let me tell you, six to seven minute time-outs weren't working, not when his temper tantrums/acting out spells lasted hours day after day after day. I was also warned long ago by a friend that, ”Strict is good, but you don't want to break a child's spirit.” Braden's spirit broken by an hour of time-out? I doubt it—about as likely as drowning a dragon in a drop of spit. And it never, ever came close to happening. 
     As a kid growing up in slower-than-slow Hilo, I'd been exposed to countless long hours lying on my bed staring up at the ceiling with nothing but my thoughts and feelings for stimulation. It taught me patience. To entertain myself. To organize my thoughts. To make my own sense of things. It'd been time well spent and when Braden emerged from his stimulus seclusions, he too displayed tons better disposition with softened outlook and humble repentance.
     Nonetheless, Deanne after umpteen shouting matches with Braden sometimes fretted, what's to come of him, he's so strong willed? I said that's good, when drug dealers come around he'll say, “No!” and that'll be that.
     Or she wondered are we being fair giving him such long time-outs? I said we sure are. When criminals act up, what happens? Society slams them in jail. We're not abusing him. We feed him. He gets to bathe, sleep in bed, brush his teeth, and wear pajamas. If he acts like a bad-ass dude that's his choice, we'll just treat him like a bad-ass dude. Our consequences match his actions. He knows what we expect by now—that he behave civil and obey and not act up. If he does all that he'll be just fine and never get time-out again.
     She said I still feel guilty at times. I said that's your choice but you should enjoy the free time his time-outs give us, after all, he should be the one suffering for his actions and not us. I rather he learn the hard lessons now than later as an adult. He's just testing and reaffirming boundaries which is natural, normal, and healthy. 
     Braden did eventually outgrow those defiant stages (that came in streaks) about when he hit puberty and emerged better for them, knowing we'll always love him enough to act, evidenced by all those years of repeated discipline. 
     Jaren now appears to be going through this same life stage (see my prior related Making the Grade essay), for he too—blessed with a strong will—has gotten slammed with multiple-days time-outs due to serial misbehavior. (Such discipline was never necessary with Penelope, by the way.) Unphased, he's as happy as ever, the days of time-outs whizzing by for him and us.  And we smile, he's so cute, whenever he emerges to eat dinner, take a bath, or brush his teeth. But seeing us smile seems to encourage him to act up even more, so I try to adopt a stern visage and just grump, “Good night!” for example, rather than hug and kiss him, say prolonged prayers, and douse him with affection. 
     His most recent trouble started as spillover from ongoing sibling conflicts. Braden's been a loving older brother to Jaren and has usually played well with him, but at times too rough and naughty, which he's not supposed to, but it may be unavoidable because that's what brothers do (I sure did when my younger brother and I “played” as kids), so when he's in charge of supervising, Jaren all-too-often wants to roughhouse and won't always quit when Braden says stop it! When I catch them fighting, they both get time-out because neither has obeyed my injunction against roughhousing. Nonetheless, Jaren instigated roughhousing for weeks with Braden and Penelope when I wasn't around (as had Braden to a lesser extent). 
     Then Jaren instigated similar roughhousing with an annoying classmate at school—a big no-no because his school has a “Zero Tolerance for Violence” policy. He got sent straight to the principal's office where he sat through lunch period.  Compounding the problem we found out about it only two days later when his teacher saw and informed Deanne. Jaren, on the day it happened, had told us, “I got a special treat today. I got to eat lunch in class for being a good helper.” When asked what did you do he said I turned in a lost ball—a lie based on an event that happened years ago when we first visited the school (I'm surprised he remembered). Interestingly, on the following day, probably out of guilt, he told me I told off my classmate for annoying me.  What was he doing I asked?  Singing and dancing during study time.  Keep quiet next time that's not your job, I told him. He didn't reveal the parts about pushing/shoving his friend, getting in trouble, or telling us lies, though. So when we found out the truth, I gave him time out for a week; had him write letters of apology to his teacher, the principal, classmate, Deanne, and me; and had Deanne witness him distribute the letters, lest he discard them then and lie about that, too. None of the letter recipients said much except the principal who said, “That was sad. Better not happen again, right?” to which Jaren got a bit teary. 
     Jaren's misbehavior tries us at times, but because he's our third, we've become somewhat aplomb (or perhaps more accurately, inured), knowing he is going through a phase. And it's also easier because his light, airy cuteness is contagious and he seldom cries, as opposed to Braden's somber, serious heaviness and incessant screeching cries that seemed to seep in and question our competence. But neither boy is better or worse, they're just different—God's specially-designed creations.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Technology in the Classroom

     The public elementary schools my kids have attended seem to be imitating the private school model in its quest for ever more (non-budgeted PTA wish-list spending) monies. Hawaii's public schools receive budgeted funds from state tax coffers for general operating expenses (general funds), plus capital funds for buildings and repairs (paid from general obligations bonds), plus specials funds (e.g. federal grants) for specific, targeted spending. These public sources cover greater than 98% of schools' funding needs. By contrast, PTA funds are received almost wholly from parents of students via fund-raisers and direct appeals for donations—sometimes for books, materials, and supplies. 
     Now, I believe public school teachers have some of the most difficult and important jobs anywhere and should be paid commensurate ultra-high salaries (versus entertainers, athletes, and overrated corporate CEOs). I also believe they do an excellent job teaching our kids. My gripe with these fund-raisers, then, is not with them, but with the process and results.
     Specifically, every year our elementary school-age kids come home with PTA fund-raiser packets that force us to read the contents and fill out forms even if we just wish to make a monetary donation because unsold tickets (for chili, cookies, and whatever) have to be returned and accounted for. The contents also include packets of other fund-raising opportunities for overpriced consumer goods, the bulky glossies of which may be discarded. It's an annoying waste of time (I have to count the tickets to make sure our kids' packets weren't short-changed lest I get charged for “missing” tickets) and guilt-inducing for Deanne. She always insists we give a certain amount for fear we'll be labeled “cheap” or “unsupportive” at our kids' expense (less attention or favorable treatment).
     I reassure her a token sum is all that's necessary. Schools get ample funds for their needs and the vast bulk of PTA monies for classroom use are spent on unnecessary technology (laptops, tablet computers, etc.)
     She knows my stance on technology in the classroom—an unnecessary crutch, largely ineffectual, and all-too-often just another example of lazy teaching. Kidbiz and Teenbiz are busy-work softwares that force users to read asinine articles and answer standardized multiple choice test questions about them and IXL (Math) is a software that muddles children's minds with endless math exercises. All are teach-to-the-test, test 'em till they go insane modern day torture implements that teachers love because they don't have to do a thing—just assign the work and forget about it, the softwares do the rest (self-correct, retest ad infinitum, and display results).
     Granted, these tools probably have improved my kids' standardize test scores a few percentage points, but at what cost? They hate these programs. I know because they never come home saying, “Awesome, I got to retake Kidbiz three times because I didn't score eighty-eight percent or higher my first two tries!” or “Oh yeah, I get to do two IXL's every week! Wonder if I can do more and get ahead?” No, they—normally very responsible about their homework—have let this one area slide more than any other. Unless we occasionally ask, “Are you up-to-date with Kidbiz? What about IXL?” we all-too-often find out later that they hadn't been via unpleasant surprises such as bad grades.
     (Call me slow but I only now realize what IXL means. Shouldn't vendors to elementary schools use standard English and shouldn't these products thus be renamed using proper spellings and grammar such as, “In the Business of Teaching Kids English”, or, “I Excel in Math”? In short, shouldn't they be be setting better Xamplz? (JOKE) Note to vendors: Kids think your products and their names are so not cool, Man.)
     Getting back to the fund-raisers, I'm also skeptical of how such funds are spent. The school has more than ample computers (perhaps more than one per child?) yet nearly every year, new computer hardware is purchased. First came desktops, then the laptops, and now electronic tablets. Such more-is-better inanity boggles my mind. The Voyager spacecraft—one of man's greatest technological successes—ran on a computer less powerful than a simple hand held calculator. So if a primitive computer was sufficient for one of the most prolific scientific exploratory vessels ever, shouldn't a low-end desktop a thousand times more powerful do for an elementary school kid? Today's devices are so advanced they could display text and equations that would take multiple lifetimes to read and comprehend. A laptop for a kid (or adult) is sort of like an ocean's worth of water for a tadpole, its computational, storage, and retrieval capacities are so vast.
     The weakest excuse for these devices is to familiarize kids with technology so they feel comfortable using them. What kid isn't comfortable using a computer these days? Even the Amish have them, so I've heard. I admit I go to Braden now for help when my computer crashes since he can get it going (almost always software issues) ninety percent of the time (because he uses them all the time and likes them—makes him feel smart—not because he's done Kidbiz, Teenbiz, and IXL exercises ad nauseum.)
     The most specious reason for technology in the classroom is they're useful teaching tools. I suppose they may beat no teaching at all, but compared to teacher-on-student (or even better, parent-on-child) teaching using printed materials, pencil and paper, and whiteboards these tools are huge wastes of time and money. I'll bet there are virtually no Kidbiz, Teenbiz, or IXL Math units or exercises that can't be taught equally well or better in-person. (As yet, I have yet to find one, and my kids have been using these their entire academic careers from second grade on.)
     A couple years ago, Penelope came home with a note from her teacher demanding $7.00 for a “necessary workbook.”
     This demand stank. Public education is supposed to be free. I don't mind paying for my kids' beginning-of-the-year classroom supplies or “optional” class field trips or overnight camps (usually very reasonable) but required classroom workbooks? Isn't that supposed to be paid from school budgeted general funds? Did Penelope's teacher neglect to include it in her classroom budget and was she now demanding that parents foot the bill for her oversight? (I would have felt more generous about it had she admitted such in her memo.) Or was this a new trend in which parents would be expected to pay more and more in-classroom education expenses? Wouldn't this be a perfect thing to pay with PTA funds (instead of more waste-money technology)?
     Out of principle and concern for less well-off parents, I called the school's front office and inquired. The receptionist said she didn't know about it but would notify the principal of my concern (though I didn't leave a name or number). It may have left an impression because we never received such a demand again. But I made sure to donate $10.00 less to the PTA the following school year anyway because giving should feel light and cheerful, not heavy and stomach-churning burdensome.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Star Gazing

     Because I grew up in the Big Island, I've taken its volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, scenery, and other attractions for granted, even considering them second-rate at times, but have always regarded its best-in-the-world status for astronomy atop Mauna Kea's summit with some measure of unwarranted pride. Dozens of observatories, white and conspicuous, have popped up through the years like deformed mushrooms on its otherwise dark, bleak, and barren slopes.
     While planning a recent house-sitting trip to Hilo (coincident with my parents' planned trip to Oahu to babysit my nephew), I discovered via Tripadvisor.com that Mauna Kea's Visitor Center is a highly regarded activity, with free nightly star-gazing through telescopes set up outside. Further research revealed that at its 9300 foot elevation, it offers superior in-person viewing than at the 13,800 foot summit due to human physiology that reduces visual acuity at higher altitudes. (As a teen I'd visited the summit during a day field trip to see the telescopes and had suffered elevation sickness that brought on severe headache and drowsiness.  The trip's not recommended for youth and I had no interest in attempting the dangerous drive during our stay but the Visitor Center tantalized—I'd been there a number of times before, always during the day, and had enjoyed its cool brisk air, expansive vistas, and pellucid atmosphere.)
     Being a lover of star gazing, one of my fondest memories ever was sleeping upon a desolate Kohala beach coast with fellow scouters beneath brash, prickly stars on a night so dark I couldn't see my friend an arm's length away. As we talked, one-by-one the stars began falling. Dozens fell in all until we, exhilarated yet exhausted, drifted off to sleep, the salt mist and cool breeze flitting our cheeks.
     The last day of our Hilo stay, then, we ate an early dinner then headed up the slopes. Following a couple leisurely stops, we arrived at our destination at 6:20. The car's thermometer registered 53º—chill compared to Hilo's 73.º Though we'd dressed warm with layers of shirts, jeans, shoes, jacket, and caps, the stiff, steady breeze outside with wind chill near 45º penetrated and made us pine for long underwear, gloves, and scarves.
     A surprising crowd of seventy stretched between the Center and Puu Kaepeamoa, a nearby cinder cone nicknamed Sunset Hill, which we trudged toward, the sun still a couple hand spans above two cinder cones further west. By 6:40, we were part way up Sunset Hill and Deanne, uneasy about proceeding (it was getting ever colder as the breeze blew unrelenting; the trail was unpaved and getter steeper and narrower; we had only three feeble flashlights for a night time descent) said, “I'll wait here with the kids.” With the pause, my legs—fatigued from a late afternoon run—began shivering uncontrollably so I jostled about and said, “I'll have a look for some photos,” and headed up the slope to warm them. Wanting companionship, I invited Braden along and he accepted.
     Thirty yards from hill's peak, the trail got steep, narrow, and slippery, the wind stiffened with occasional gusts, and the nearby edge fell off sharply. Below us the crowd appeared tiny and safe while above us a few outdoorsy and college types marked spots, none at the peak. We watched the sun head for the left side hillock and to prolong its visibility we descended, mirroring its slip between the cleft formed by the two westward mounds—not the unobstructed view I'd have preferred, but plenty pretty enough.

     Of all our children, I've come down hardest on Braden, but in stressful and uncomfortable public situations, I find him a comfort to have around. So we shared a chilled fine time gazing out, snapping photos—both he and I—of the sun's progress and the soothing bands of pastels left behind, fore and aft. Though I'd have loved to have stayed longer to see what would come next we just couldn't bear the increasing cold and shivering, so down we went to meet the others who were just as eager for the warmth of the Visitor Center as we were.
     Even while dusk lingered at 7:30, telescopes were trained on Saturn and a globular cluster, so while most visitors (from around the globe) huddled inside, we took quick peeks: Saturn appeared luminous as an LED—an oblong nickel with an askew hat brim and about that size too compared to the scope's expansive Frisbee-sized view. Jaren said the globular cluster looked like, ”Just a bunch of stars”, to which I agreed.
     There were free hot water and cups set out, so we sipped the scalding liquid and stood near the Center's doorway and took turns ducking in for warmth as we awaited the availability of more scopes to view (five, in a cordoned off area in the parking lot, stood covered and unused.)
     Another two-foot diameter telescope opened post-dusk and we joined the already long line. Our overhead views: a man-made satellite (a fast-moving star-like object); the Milky Way Galaxy clear as hazy gauze stretched thin (I don't recall ever seeing it before as an adult, though I must have, it looked so familiar), Scorpio, spotted by Deanne (we had gone to Imiloa Astronomy Center a few days earlier and learned the constellations during a show at the planetarium); and then a smattering of falling stars.  Though the views made waiting bearable, the motionlessness again chilled my legs and set them shivering, so I hugged Penelope, who was also cold, close from behind, while she hugged Jaren from behind to keep him warm. I told Braden hug me, which he did from behind, then, when Deanne returned from a restroom break, she joined our human train. As a single mass with reduced surface area, our bodies warmed and I wondered how much of it was psychological versus physical? But who cared as long as it worked?
     Jaren viewed Mars first and said “It's just a star,”—it looked so twinkly bright with no red at all. A nebula was “Just a bunch of stars”, which I, too, found disappointing for lack of awe-inspiring cloudy black masses visible in photos.
     By 9:30, only a smattering of visitors remained so a staff-person (they were short-handed) opened up the five remaining telescopes for the public's unattended yet supervised use. Braden and I focused ours on whatever they were pointing at (more stars), then we all headed for home.
     Since we had all seen so many “firsts” that evening and had had fun getting chilled and quivering like Jello, it had been well worth it, the highlight of our Hilo trip that had also included fishing at Lilioukalani Park; visiting Panewa Zoo (where we pet a tame Hawaiian Hawk); petting my cousin's chickens; hiking Akaka and Rainbow Falls; watching Godzilla at Kress Theaters; planting a Koa Tree; sanding my parents oak floors to remove years-old battery acid stains; repairing a cabinet door; washing, polishing, and detailing their van and fixing its wipers blades; and other minor handyman chores—an exhausting, yet excellent stay with plenty of home cooking: steamed ehu with somen salad, ahi sashimi, and a big pot of mom's chili to name a few.