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 fakebook.com. 
     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...