Talking Story

Mainland Living

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Mom was frugal. She ran a tight ship when it came to things like paper towels, milk, and cereal. A lot of it came from how she grew up. There were times when her town’s steel mill closed over union disputes, and, like all their neighbors, they lived on the things they grew in their summer garden and canned for winter.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the rows and rows of mason jars, each labeled and dated, on Grandma’s shelves in her cool, dark basement, the scent of damp cement, potatoes, and rich dirt tickling the back of my throat.

And spiders. Can’t forget the *^%^&%!! spiders!

As a kid I hated cold cereal with milk, not because Sugar Smacks or Wheaties tasted bad, but because I HAD to drink the nasty cereal milk left in the bottom of the bowl. Dumping it out in the sink was tantamount to burning money, making me the most shameful, wasteful child of all. Because of this, I became a math prodigy who could calculate to the gram the perfect ratios of milk and cereal.

Probably should’ve pursued a career in chemistry instead of word alchemy.

Mom had a specific way she insisted we cleaned the bathrooms. If you did it right, you could clean the whole thing spotless using just one paper towel, a scrub brush, and a toilet brush. The one paper towel trick only worked because you went from relatively clean (mirror) to progressively dirty (underneath the toilet seat).
You started with sprinkling Comet in the tub, toilet, and sink. You used the scrub brush on everything except the toilet—that’s where the other brush came in—to swish around the bowl and scratch under the rim.

Done with the Comet, you sprayed Windex on most things and carefully used your one paper towel to first clean the mirror, then to shine the sink and tub’s faucets and drains, then ran it along the baseboards, until finally, you folded and folded the soggy scraps to use on the toilet sides, back, and seat, saving the most germy parts for last.

Heaven help you if things didn’t sparkle or Mom spotted TWO paper towels in the trash. The only thing worse was if she caught you mixing up the order. We all thought we’d die if anyone went mirror-toilet-tub-sink. And we would have, just not from germs.

Mom’s cleanliness standards were surgical. In her house, you didn’t worry about the 5 second rule; you could eat a whole meal off the floor at any time.

When I look at my own house through my mother’s eyes, I know I’ve fallen short. We all make choices and pick our battles. I decided early on that I would give up perfection if it meant my kids and husband did some of the chores. Mostly, I’m okay with it.

But there are times when it’s hard to give up those ingrained patterns. The pandemic seems to have shifted my anti-waste sensors to overdrive.

My husband grew up in dairy country where milk was like water. It makes me cringe every time he dumps the last quarter ounce in his glass down the sink. Yesterday, my grown son tore THREE or FOUR paper towels off the roll to clean just ONE kitchen counter.

I think I deserve chocolate for not taking his head off.

Instead I explained that there was a new fangled invention called a dish rag. Unlike a paper towel, you use it, WASH it, and use it again.

But not to clean a toilet. That’s still paper towel territory in my book.

Okay, MoviePass. I really liked your original offer—for $10 a month I could see up to a movie a day in a theater. It was a great opening line, and it made me want to get to know you better. Over the last seven months, you and I have been on 49 dates to the movies. We’ve seen blockbusters, small art house flicks, and quite a few flops that would’ve made me really annoyed if I’d paid full price. But because I wasn’t, I took a chance. We’ve patronized big theater chains and also small-town Mom and Pop theaters and independents.

And I always bought popcorn and drinks.

Milk Duds, too.


In the beginning, you were great. If I loved a movie, I could see it again with another friend. But then you got jealous and said I could only see a movie once.

That wasn’t what we originally agreed to. Going into this relationship, you said a movie a day. You know and I know it’s impossible to see 30 new movies a month—there simply aren’t that many released. But when I pointed that out, you whined about the cost and then accused me of being ungrateful. If I wanted to continue our relationship, you said, you had to rein me in.

Fine. I stopped seeing a movie with my son and then again later with my daughter or husband. Fewer movies meant less money spent on over-priced concession snacks for theaters. I also stopped dragging my friends who don’t have MoviePass to movies I’d already seen, even though I knew they’d love them and wouldn’t go on their own.

See what you did there, MoviePass? You’re such a wet blanket.

We won’t even talk about the nightmare it was when I broke my phone and had to get MoviePass set-up on a new device. Due to your minimum of a month on a device rule, I’m still dragging an iPad around to the movies even though my phone’s fixed now.

But back then our relationship was still new and full of promise. It was easy to ignore a few hiccups.

Next you insisted I send you a photo of my ticket. If I didn’t, I’d be in trouble. Your app hijacks my phone’s camera like an overzealous bouncer confronting a teenybopper at a night club.

Controlling much? Just what did that inconvenience prove? That I had a ticket in my hand to a movie I could only see once? Do you have any clue how small-town theaters work? Most of the time they don’t give you a ticket. You pay at the door and simply walk into the theater to see the one movie playing that night.

Now when I go to my local theaters, I’m the pain-in-the-butt who holds up the line while the cashier asks her dad, the owner, how to provide me with an actual ticket and not a credit card receipt. He has to stop filling bags of popcorn to figure it out himself.

That’s two lines of people inconvenienced.

Thanks for that.

And now, now you’ve shown your true colors.

Today you rolled out Peak Pricing.

Basically, Peak Pricing is a way for you to charge me more for showings and movies you think are in high demand. You get to decide which showing of which movies are flagged as Peak. You can’t or won’t explain how that algorithm works. But if a movie is Peaked, you’re going to charge me an additional amount to see it, somewhere in the $2-6 range. I won’t know for sure if a movie is Peaked until I’m standing outside the theater, ready to purchase my ticket. But I’m not supposed to worry. You’ll just automatically charge the additional fees to my credit card which you have on file. You also say this program is rolling out nationally and will affect EVERY theater you serve.

And this is where you prove that you’re really not the hero on a shiny white horse, but an abusive, really bad boyfriend, couching your atrocious behavior as being for my own good.

Out of the 49 times I’ve been to theaters in the last seven months, only twice was the theater sold to near capacity. Twice. In my neck of the woods, blockbusters on opening night, prime ticket times, fill a theater maybe one third to half full. There is no reserved seating at any of the six theaters in a 30 mile radius of my home. Movies are offered no more than twice a day during the week and maybe three times a day on weekends and holidays as a matinee and two prime time. We’re not talking multi-show multiplexes here. So, because you decide the demand is Peak in New York or California, I’m forced to pay a surcharge to sit in an empty theater.


And, yes, I’m aware that matinee movie tickets are cheaper than evening showings. But you knew this going into our original agreement. If you wanted to restrict when I could see a movie, you should’ve told me upfront and before we got involved and you led me on. And unlike your business model which now charges a surcharge for seeing a high demand movie at a convenient hour, theaters DISCOUNT matinee showings from their regular ticket prices. They also don’t charge you—or anyone else—more for seeing a movie opening night than on the last day of its run.

So really, Peak Pricing only costs me more money. It doesn’t give the theaters more money or even save you per ticket; the only way you save money is if I don’t buy a ticket.

How crazy is it that you’re incented to save money by making your service impossible and inconvenient to use?

You think you’re in control because you think I’m hooked.

I’m not.

I’m not going to pay for a service that’s inconvenient to use. I already pay for Netflix, cable, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. The attraction, MoviePass, was to see first run movies in a THEATER once a day. If I have to wait to see a movie until you decide Peak Pricing is over, I might as well wait another week and stream it.


You’re driving me to cancel because of the hassle.

How’s that going to work for you?

Besides, there are other fish in the sea.

In no week did I ever see more than three movies. Cost aside, there’s just not that many movies I want to see or have time to spend in a theater. At $20 a month, AMC’s version of a subscription movie pass is a better deal. It allows up to three movies a week, you can see them all in one day if you choose, you can see the same movie more than once, it includes 3D and IMAX movies, there’s no “peak” surcharge, AND you get a discount on concessions and tickets for friends. For me it only takes one “peak” surcharge movie a month and a large popcorn under MoviePass to come out ahead on AMC’s deal.

And that’s too bad. Because the only ones who are going to suffer are the Mom and Pop independents and the indy/art house theaters and movies.

And the makers of Milk Duds.


Oh, MoviePass. It was fun while it lasted, but you’re all talk. Too bad you couldn’t walk the walk, too. The first time I pay Peak prices to sit in an empty small-town theater, it’s over.

Hasta la vista, baby.

schrodinger_catI am sitting in a too small hospital gown thinking about Schrodinger’s cat. There are two possibilities before me. Empirically, only one is true, but at this moment of unknowing both are alive in my head.

I’ve been here before.

Job/no job. Scholarship/no scholarship. Pregnant/not pregnant. Broken/not broken. Like the cat in the famous box, each time the verdict was already decided; I just didn’t know it yet.

When I say I’ve been here before, I really have. I know the mammogram drill. With a mother as a breast cancer survivor, I don’t fool around. Yearly check-ups. Seven initial years of suspicious call backs for a second series of images, followed by three years of one painful smoosh visit each and done. As mammogram imaging improved and with my previous records to compare, the chances of false positives were drastically reduced.

I cheered.

The seven previous times I came back for a second, more thorough diagnostic mammogram ended with the technician popping back in the room to deliver the verdict: “You can get dressed. The radiologist reviewed the new images and says it’s light refraction/dense tissue/a blur on the original —there’s nothing to worry about. We’ll send the results to your doctor. See you in a year.”

I always nodded and thanked her and got dressed after she left. I learned early not to wear buttons. Too hard to fasten when your hands are shaking.

In the early years I asked, “What happens if it’s really something?”

“We do an ultra sound, then a needle biopsy.”

“And then?”

She sighed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?”

I don’t ask anymore.

This year, after three years of passes, I’m back for a second diagnostic mammogram. Before we begin, the technician shows me the images. “See this? That’s what we’re going to take more images of. You can see it in this view and that one, but not this one.”

In the middle of mother roundness is a hard little white spot on the screen. “It’s about here?” I point to an area near my nipple.

“Yes,” she says. “It could be a refraction. But I wanted you to see.”

Seeing it makes it real.

She looks at me and pats my shoulder. “I’ll have the radiologist check the images as soon as we’re done. I’m not letting you go home without an answer.”

I nod and we start.

She’s gentle, but the machines hurt. She pauses after the usual three shots and says, “I want to take a couple more.”

This is new.

“You think the radiologist will want another view,” I say.

“Yes,” she says.

“Better now than later,” I say. When I am already dressed and waiting, I don’t say.

“It’s quicker if I have it when he asks,” she says. “Besides, why not if I can?”

No one takes more images than they need. She’s seen something.

“Let’s do it,” I say. This time tissue is rolled and twisted before flattening. I suck air through clenched teeth and try not to think. What I wish is to not feel.

“Be right back.”

The cat is in the box. It has been since before I climbed into my car to drive to the hospital.

How many times can you beat the odds? The average woman’s lifetime risk is one in eight, and I am not average. I count friends, family, and acquaintances in multiples of eight. The math tells me the odds are not good.

I also know that these odds don’t matter. At the individual level, it’s zero or one hundred.

I remind myself that I am crap at statistics. It’s voodoo mathematics.

I look at my wedding and engagement rings and wonder if I should leave them to my son for his someday bride and give my diamond solitaire earrings to my daughter. But what if my future daughter-in-law prefers her own ring instead of one weighted with a mother’s love? Maybe I should give my daughter my ring, too, and leave my daughter-in-law one of my gold bracelets. Granddaughters! I need to figure out which heirlooms to reserve for them. I guess I could have each pick her favorite on their sixteenth birthdays. Sounds complicated, but fair. I better leave a note with the jewelry in the safe.

Memory books!

I have tons of photos and scrapbook memorabilia stashed away in drawers and folders, none of it organized and waiting for the day when I finally get my act together to create books for each of my kids. I calculate how many good vs. bad chemo days there are in the coming months and realize I need to get cracking. No one, not even a future loving stepmother will do this job the way I will. I hold the memories, after all.

Closets. Dejunk and de-clutter. No one should have to deal with those messes. Empty the downstairs freezer.

In the box the cat both paces and lies dead. My eyes flicker from the closed door to the images left up on the screen.

The air conditioning’s a little cold. I clutch the ends of the gown closer, forcing them to meet.

When the door swooshes open, the technician thrusts her thumbs up. “We’re good,” she says.

I remember to breathe.

“Come see,” she says. She shows me the new images, how in one the spot appears, but in the titty-twister, it doesn’t. “The radiologist says it’s a milk gland. Nothing to worry about.”

Seeing makes it real.

I nod.

“You can get dressed. I’ll see you in a year.”

I thank her as she heads out the door. I zip up my shirt. The cat jumps out of the box.

moana-disney-still-newIt’s Disney’s Moana. That’s really what it comes down to.

A couple of years ago, when Disney announced that in the tradition of Aladdin, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Frozen, they were bringing to the screen Moana, a Polynesian princess tale, I was excited. When I learned that the story involved the demi-god Maui and ocean voyaging, I thought here was a movie I could take my kids to where we could talk about ancestral knowledge and what it means to be a literal descendant of the historical Maui and his sons.

And then I saw the trailers. Maui didn’t look anything like what I imagined the real Maui looked like—frankly, he didn’t even look human. And he was kind of an egotistical jerk. And a buffoon. And what was up with the nonsensical bits of crap around his neck and the random leaves for a malo? None of the sets and costumes seemed to belong to any particular island culture. I saw elements of Maori, Samoan, Tongan, and Fijian cultures—and precious little that was clearly Hawaiian. It was like someone had taken Pasifika and mashed it into a blender and—


Moana is no more an authentic reflection of Polynesian culture than Mulan reflects China, Aladdin reflects Arabia, Pocahontas reflects Powhatans, or Frozen reflects Scandinavia. All of these stories are set in an alternate world—let’s call it Disneyland—that borrows heavily from real-world cultures to tell very classically western stories in the archetypical hero’s journey or mono-myth form. These stories follow specific patterns that start with a call to adventure, followed by an ordeal, a transformation, and an eventual return.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Lion King, and Disney Princess movies like Moana and Frozen all follow the same basic hero’s journey storyline. Like most mono-myth stories, they are set in a world that is similar to, but slightly askew from the real world. Sometimes this new world has magic or talking animals or objects that are cursed. Most of the time the audience simply goes along with the fantastical elements because they are part of this kind of story tradition. Do we really know how the Force works or if House Elves exist? No. And when the goal is entertainment, it doesn’t really matter.

That’s another key: entertainment. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, children and adults go to these kinds of movies to be entertained, not educated. Disney knows this.

The unfortunate disconnect was that so many people with deep Oceania roots wanted something different, something that was an authentic reflection of indigenous island culture and storytelling. What we got instead was a western pop-culture mono-myth story set in Disneyland’s Polynesia. It’s like going to a luau and being served rice and teriyaki chicken instead of kalua pork and poi—really disappointing, I know.

I still took my kids to see Moana.

I thought the story was amazing, even through it’s not Polynesian in form or content. I liked that Moana’s gender wasn’t a limiting factor when it came to being a leader, solving problems, or persevering when it was easier to quit. I liked the ideas about the importance of self-sacrifice for a greater good, the love and influence of family that stretches beyond this mortal plane, and the conflict between following your heart and fulfilling what you think is your destiny.

Above all, I liked the way the ocean was animated. The colors, shadows, currents—all beautifully articulated. And while the voyaging canoes didn’t look very much like the great wa‘a I knew, my heart did leap to see them soar across the ocean. I loved the brief moments about wayfinding by stars, currents, water temperature, and marine life.

Moana did start conversations with my kids.

We talked about the elements in the architecture, traditions, clothing, etc., and which island’s cultures probably sparked the designs. We talked about the great trade routes, ocean currents, social and political factors, and migration patterns that settled Polynesia from Asia and the Americas and back again, and how new genetic evidence is proving that ancient people traveled farther and more frequently than we realized.

Well, than western scholars realized. In Pasifika we have our own stories, genealogies, and histories. More on this in another article.

But the most important things my kids and I discussed were the concept of stories. It’s very simple.

Our stories define us. Moana is not my story; it’s Disney’s. It doesn’t define my Hawaiian heritage any more than Frozen defined my Scandinavian ancestors. Nothing Disney does defines me or changes one iota of who I am.

Despite all the uproar over cultural appropriation, I think the average person knows Moana is set in Disneyland—not living, breathing Oceania. Cultural appropriation is not a western thing; it’s a human thing. I’ve experienced it all over the world. Every culture in contact with another borrows what appeals. Like Tamatoa the crab says in Moana, it’s glam, it’s shiny, so I’m going to stick it on my shell and make it a part of me.

The big take away is this: If we do not write our own stories, we cannot be surprised when outsiders attempt to write them. With no other voices in popular culture, these stories become the truth for the majority, and we soon find ourselves living in a world enamored with Bobby Brady’s tiki curse, hip-hop hula, and coconut bras.

If we want to change the popular cultural narrative about what it means to be Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori—we need to tell our own stories in our own voices. It means supporting our Pasifika artists, musicians, dancers, and writers with more than our applause and appreciation.

Otherwise only those with Disneyland resources will fill the void—and the narrative—with what appeals to the masses.


Poho, that.

vote-cartoonWhen it comes to electing the President of The United States, your vote doesn’t matter.


Growing up in Hawaii, this point was hammered home every election year when the new president thanked his supporters hours before our polls closed.

Just think about that for a second. In Hawaii, you heard both the concession and victory speeches in your car on the way to the polls. It’s tough to get fired up about choosing a president when you know your candidate will win or lose regardless of your support.

Americans tend to think our federal government is a simple democracy; it’s not. It’s a constitutional republic with an electoral college. Not all votes have the same weight. Statistically, your single vote does nothing to elect a president. Maybe the reason American voter turnout is so low has less to do with apathy and more with a growing sense of futility.

But here’s how your vote does matter.

In a Presidential election, you fulfill your civic duty by voting. It’s a responsibility you accept as a US Citizen. When it comes to civic duty, for whom you vote isn’t nearly as important as the act itself.

For this reason, I believe voting in a presidential election is less about electing a president than it is a statement of character—our votes define what we value. Even the decision not to vote is an act that speaks to an individual’s character.

To vote (or not vote) is to act, and just like any other deed, we’re accountable for our actions. First, to ourselves, then to our families, our neighbors, and our country. In my faith tradition, I’m also accountable to God. Regardless of your personal beliefs, imagine a moment where you are asked to explain your vote others. Now imagine those future people are living with the consequences of your actions.

For me, that’s sobering.

In the 2016 US Presidential Election, I’m not advocating a particular party or candidate. That’s not the point of this article. I’m just trying to provide a little perspective.

If you set aside the idea that your vote actually elects the president and instead consider your vote as an conscious act of aligning yourself—your character—with the person you most believe is fit to lead our country, you’ll care more about issues and less about party lines. It becomes less about shouting down others—whose votes also matter just as little as yours—and more about defining what you stand for.

Can you imagine a country where every citizen ignored the fear mongers, spin doctors, salacious reports, and voter polls? What if people focused instead on truly understanding who they were choosing to align themselves with?

That was the intent of our nation’s founders, by the way. They believed in the power of the aggregate, that whatever a majority of good people believed to be best would really be the best.

Let’s validate the faith they had in us. Let’s think of the future. On Election Day, let’s make sure our votes matter.

homelessI saw you sitting outside the Olive Garden on a park bench. Your toddler was held across your lap, sleeping. Admiring his blond curls, I almost missed your cardboard sign with its homeless, please help plea. I looked a little closer.

It was hot, August-in-the-city hot. Next to you was a faded stroller and an empty baby bottle. My stomach started to hurt.

My teenage daughter, strong, tall, and privileged, leaned close. “Let’s feed her.”

Such a simple thing.

We headed up the stairs and into the restaurant.

A little while later we walked out with a bag full of hot, fresh food and a to-go cup of ice water. I caught your eye as I approached and handed you the bag. “It’s not much,” I said, “but at least you can have a good meal.”

You took it and whispered, “Thank you. He’s very hungry.”

Not wanting to intrude, my daughter and I walked quickly away. Standing at the corner waiting for the light, my daughter looked back. “Wow. She’s really drinking that water fast.”

Should I get the cup back and offer to fill it again? The restaurant would do it if I asked. Would they do it for you?

“Look, Mom. Look at the baby. He’s happy.”

I risked a glance. I remembered that bounce, that baby bounce of delight in a high chair when I fed my kids things they loved. Seated in the stroller, your baby was doing that dance, reaching for the spoon as you tried to blow on the soup to cool it.

But you were hungry, too. Far hungrier than I’d realized until I saw how you’d scoop a bite, blow, eat half, then force yourself to stop, and feed the rest to your baby bouncing in anticipation.

The light turned green.

I should’ve gone back and filled your water cup. I should’ve taken some time to see if you needed diapers—of course you needed diapers—or had a place to stay. But the light turned green, and I had places to go.

In truth, I was so overwhelmed with your need that I didn’t know what to do.

I’m sorry I didn’t do more.

cleaning out the basementMost creative types think of spring as a time of renewal. Stores burst with bunnies and chicks, nurseries fling open their doors to reveal shelves of fresh and tender garden starts, the sun warms up, and green things begin to grow.

Those with more left-brained leanings set their internal timepieces to a calendar. January 1st marks the beginning of a new year and resolutions about diet, exercise, and sleep. Back in the days before smart phones and apps, on the first day of the year I’d spend an hour or two setting up my new planner: establishing goals, lining up tabs, adding birthdays, and copying addresses from dogeared pages onto crisp new ones.

But now my planner’s electronic with no need to hand-write and transfer notes or to even check-off activities. Calendar events like birthdays auto-magically roll on year after year; addresses stay firmly in the database. There’s never a reason to rush to a stationary store (do they still exist?) to buy new inserts, much to Franklin-Covey’s dismay.

Unmoored from left- or right-brained conventions, I tried to go back to the rhythms of youth where the year always starts in September, ends in June, and the summer stretches forever in a lassitude of books, TV, and summer camp.

It didn’t work.

But now, deep in fall foliage with snow sweeping down mountain ridges, traveling across the valley to beat fluffy flakes against my office window, I sense the stirrings of renewal.

Maybe it was finally packing up some of the basement junk horded in precarious piles—the eighteen-year old baby swing, car seats, dusty luggage sets, boxes of books.

Oh, good grief, the books. I think my recent donations to the local library doubled its collection, all hardback, mostly bestsellers, and only read once. There are still seven more boxes to sort through downstairs and three in the garage ready to go to the library.

Nobody needs that many books.

Cleaning out the basement means shining a light in dark corners, sweeping away cobwebs, wondering why in the world I thought I would ever use a burned out crockpot again or needed five rolls of quilt batting or faded Valentine decorations well past their prime.

Once I started organizing, rearranging, examining what I thought so important, I began to realize that all these things kept for an uncertain someday are really chains weighing me down. Lighter, freer, there are so many more possibilities, like a new basement office and audio studio, cupboards and counters for mailing signed books. Space enough to dream new adventures, to think about the time when the house is further wrapped in snow and silence, to take that long winter’s nap.

There is something odd, but comforting in the notion that while most of the world thinks of late October as a time of gathering in, retreating, and hunkering down, I think of blooming possibilities.

migraineMy head hurts. It’s another migraine, one on the epic scale that I’d hoped were gone forever. It’s been a couple of years since I had one last this long–three days now–and longer still since I’ve had one I couldn’t force myself to function through.

If you’ve had one like this, you’ll know what I’m talking about. All you want to do is lie in bed in a dark room with silent tears streaking down your cheeks because any noise is like an ice pick through your eye.

But Moms can’t simply go to bed for days, nor can people with mortgages and car payments, students with classes, or really any human with responsibilities beyond themselves. I have horses, dogs, cats, kids, and deadlines, so I swallow pills, chug colas for the caffeine, and try to deal. The family sees the squint in my eyes and the frown lines across my brow. The white pursed lips are another giveaway. They mostly try to walk softly and leave me alone.

Through the fog I think of bed, that soft, billowy haven of cool sheets and darkness. I imagine lying in the comfort of fabric softener and down pillows and try to ignore the vise crushing my head, the pulsing of a brain that feels too big for my skull. I try to write, to fold laundry, to plan meals, but I’m not really here.

I know my triggers. I try to avoid them, but sometimes they sneak up on me like the Roadrunner does the Coyote. The Coyote plans and plots, but the Roadrunner is always ten steps ahead with an elaborate ruse to trick the Coyote. Dynamite and falling anvils, the Coyote always gets it in the end.

Being the Coyote sucks.

I know the stages. In a couple of hours if the pain doesn’t ease, I’ll be unable to do much of anything, too tired to move, but unable to sleep. Then the mental howling will begin. For me migraines are the body’s way of telling me that I’ve been living in crisis mode for too long. Things buried, pushed aside, and ignored in the moment of triage are now clamoring for attention. It’s when things are safe, when there’s time to pause and examine that the past comes to haunt me.

I wish I knew how to exercise my demons once and for all. Until then, I will count the hours until my next pain medication and try not to whimper.

Paperbag-over-headWe rushed into a pew and quickly lifted a hymn book from the rack just as the congregation starting singing. Suddenly, my daughter poked me in the ribs. “Mom!” she hissed. “You forgot to put on your make-up!”


I thought back. Yep. Morning routine interrupted. I showered, brushed my teeth, put on moisturizer and deodorant, and then got called to help with some family non-emergency. Later when I rushed back to the bathroom, I did my hair by braille. Grabbing my glasses was the last thing I did before we flew out of the house. No time or thought for a mirror check.

My daughter scrambled in her bag and handed me colored Chapstick. “I only carry mascara in my gym bag.”

“Really?” I asked. “Is it really that bad?”

She gave me the look that said are you really asking me that?

I heaved a sigh and swiped a couple of strokes across my lips. “Better?”

The sideways tilt of her head and frown said it all.

“What? Should I go home and come back? Am I that hideous?”

She patted my arm. “Well, think of it this way. At least you’re not one of those moms who can’t leave the house without a ton of make-up on.”

Fudge. Maybe I should see if I can find a bag to put over my head.

And then I squared my shoulders. It’s not a photo op. It’s not like anybody else is even going to notice. God sees me without make-up all the time.

So I stayed through the service and went on to teach teenage Sunday School. They wouldn’t have noticed if I sprouted wings or grew a third arm. They’re teens. No matter what I say or do, I’m uncool and beneath their notice.

However, I did sneak out a side door before I had to talk to grown-ups. It’s okay for God to see the imperfections—the wrinkles and dark circles and spots; I know He’ll overlook them in His grace. But I really didn’t want a bevy of casseroles showing up from concerned neighbors who might think I was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

After all, if you’re wearing a dress, heels, and hairspray how do you explain forgetting to put on your make-up without sounding like someone who needs a casserole and a good house cleaning?

Hmmm. On second thought…


I admit it. This year Christmas sneaked up on me. No decorations went up in the house until December 21st. A lone wreath my husband bought at Costco after Thanksgiving was propped on a sofa table for weeks waiting for someone to find a door hanger. The weather was the weirdest ever; in prime ski country we had no snow until early Christmas morning—a result, I am certain, of the fervent prayers of foolish people who believe in the necessity of a white Christmas.

But I digress. We’re supposed to be talking about poi here.

No snow, no decorations, no surprise that it was Dec. 23rd when my husband and I were frantically trying to get all the shopping done, shopping that I used to pat myself on the back for finishing before Thanksgiving. (My younger self was such an overachiever.) I’d invited my parents and my brother for Christmas dinner and now needed to figure out what to serve.

“Something simple,” my son requested. “Something good that can sit in an oven while we play cards.”

“You mean like a roast?”

“Yeaaahhhh.” Not too enthusiastic.

I thought some more. “How about a pork roast? I’ll make it kalua style.”

“Perfect!” He grinned.

What can I say? The kid loves Hawaiian food.

Running our last minute errands, my husband and I’d bought the roast, cabbage, and sweet rolls. Liquid smoke and alaea salt were already in the pantry. Rice, I thought, steamed yams, carrots for those who hate yams, haupia—I have two cans of coconut milk and cornstarch. What else?

Oh, no. “Uh, Kevin?”


“We need to run to a few more places. There’s just one thing I need to pick up for Christmas dinner.”



“Poi?” The car came to a screeching halt. “It’s Dec. 23rd!”

“I can’t serve a traditional Hawaiian dinner—”

“Without poi. I get it. At least we’re in Provo. You better pray somebody got a holiday care package they’re willing to share.”

Our first stop was L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. L&L Drive-Inn in Hawaii is plate lunch place the serves all the best local foods. In Provo I found it to be hit or miss—mostly miss.

I walked up to the counter, scanning the menu for poi.

“Can I help you?” asked the perky girl with long black hair pinned with a fake plumeria.

“Yeah.” I pointed to the tip cup taped to the cash register. “I’d like some poi to go, about that much.”

“Poi? You mean that kalua pork?”

I blinked. That kalua pork? “No, poi.” She looked at me blankly. “It’s mashed taro root.” Still nothing. “It’s greyish/purplish and thick like a paste.”

“Uh…” She yelled over her shoulder to the cook. ¿Tenemos poi?”


“Poi. ¿Hay poi?”

You have got to be kidding me. My husband saw the look in my eye, grabbed my arm, and shook his head. He slowly backed me away from the counter.

¿Que es poi?”

Another voice from the back said, “No hay.”

“Sorry,” she called, but by that time he had me half-way out the door with a kung fu death grip on my shoulder.

For their own safety, of course.

Our next stop was a pacific rim/Asian market called Food From Many Lands. When I was in college it was the place to buy calrose rice, rice cookers, shoyu, kakimochi, and dubious Portuguese sausage. The same Chinese proprietor very kindly told me she didn’t carry poi, but the 7-11 next door was owned by a Hawaiian man who might know where I could get some.

Back in the car we jumped. Down the road was another Hawaiian food place called Sweets. When I walked in the beautiful young woman behind the counter began uncovering trays of teri chicken, beef stew, and other plate lunch staples. Hawaiian, I thought, hapa-haole and maybe some Samoan or Tahitian. “Hi,” I said, “I’m looking for poi. Do you have any?”

A panicked stare. “Um…”

Raised on the mainland. Bummers.

She disappeared in a flash.

Another beautiful Hawaiian woman came from the back, the girl’s mother perhaps, and eyed us with The Look. I knew it well. It was the look Hawaiians reserve for crazy haoles who had lived TDY at Schofield Barracks or Wheeler Army Airfield for a year and thought that made them Hawaiian. She spoke carefully and slowly. “We don’t have poi today.”

“Oh. Do you know where we could get some?”

“Try the Hawaiian 7-11.”

Hawaiian 7-11? Another round of send the haoles on a wild nene chase? Seeing the confusion on my face, she continued.

“It’s just up the block. They might have some in the freezer.”

“The Hawaiian 7-11?”

“Oh, yeah. He has all kinds of things there—poi, laulau—”

“Laulau? No way.”

She laughed. “Check it out.”


When we pulled up to the 7-11, I was disappointed. Nothing about it said Hawaii, no signs about deliciousness available inside, no throngs of Pacific islanders standing in line for last minute stocking stuffers. I walked through the entire store and saw nothing out of the ordinary—just coffee, burritos, chips, candy, gum.


Then my husband called from the other side of the cash register, the part of the store that looked like employee-only storage. “You gotta see this.”

And there it was. A freezer case with char siu manapua, red Redondo’s hot dogs, S&S Saimin, a pink slab of kamaboku fish cake, laulau, cubed ahi for poke, spicy and mild Portuguese sausage—and frozen 1 lb. bags of Taro Brand poi.


Next to the freezer were mostly empty shelves (it was Christmas, after all), but there were a few bags of crackseed, kakimochi, jars of guava jelly, and li hing mui powder. I grabbed lemon peel, dark arare, rock salt plum, dried cuttle fish, cream crackers, spicy sausage, and two pounds of poi. I handed my credit card to the clerk and tried not to gulp at the total.

It was Christmas after all. Well, Dec. 23rd. And everyone knows two day poi is the best!

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