Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Eve in the Islands

On Christmas Eve we hit the beach. I worked hard to finish all the wrapping and preparation the day before so that we could spend Christmas Eve relaxing in the sand and surf. Sand castles and snowmen, snorkeling and swimming, I hope it becomes a new family tradition.

One nice thing about walking to the beach, a lot of our new neighbors were there too. It was fun to wish friends a Merry Christmas as they headed out for spear fishing or came back from walking their dog or boogie-boarding. When some of our friends saw our sandcastle they told us they'd seen people making sand snowmen further up the beach.

What a great idea!

The last thing we did before we left was to pile up a huge mound of sand, then shape him into our Hawaiian snowman. Sticks and kukui nuts littered the beach after last week's storms, so there was plenty of material for buttons, eyes, and arms. We found a pair of goggles that had washed up and put them on top of his head.

Along with us, he wishes you a Mele Kalikimaka and a happy new year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Now It Can Be Christmas

Last Thursday night, one of my new friends and I decided to host a caroling party together. We'd meet at her house, go around the block, and end up at my place for cookies and cocoa.

So I began inviting people. Whoever likes to sing, I said. The more the merrier. I invited friends I passed on the street. I invited the entire church choir. I invited my next-door neighbor. I came from Nevada, you see, where people are too busy for caroling. Where I had to invite twelve people to get four.

This huge mob showed up at my friend's house. My meager stack of twenty carol books were not enough to go around. But as we finished singing through our first carol my friend turned around from the piano, beaming at us, and said, "Now it can be Christmas! That sound in my house made it Christmas."

We took the show on the road. Light rain sprinkled down on us as we strolled. In my opinion, Christmas music sounds best when sung on front porches in the dark. I loved the bright smiles on the faces of our neighbors as I stood with a crowd of singers at my back, leading "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Oh, Holy Night," "Deck the Halls," and a host of other favorites.

By the time we trooped back to my place I hardly had any voice left. There must have been thirty children sitting on the floor, waiting for the cocoa to heat up. My house was full of people, my table full of cookies, the air full of the sounds of talking and of children taking turns playing their Christmas music on the piano. I kept busy serving drinks and mopping spills, too delighted by it all for anything to go wrong.

As the last guests walked away I smiled to see wayward slippers and a forgotten umbrella gracing my front porch. That meant we'd had people over. I looked forward to seeing them again when they came back to get their missing things.

I've had my caroling party. Now it can be Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rebecca Reviews: Tron Legacy

There was something about the original Tron. It had an amazing alternate world I wanted to visit. It had characters I loved: Tron the noble gladiator, Flynn the laid-back wise-cracking computer genius, and Ram the friendly, faithful actuarial program. Sure, the story was crazy and a little confusing, but there was a sense of fun that carried it through. My family watches it over and over and never seems to get tired of it (though now that we have the DVD my boys usually skip that boring stuff at the beginning and go straight to the light cycles).

As for Tron Legacy, I think watching it once was enough.

The digital dystopia of this new Tron has a gritty, black-and-white feel to it. I missed the eye-popping color of the old grid. And no, I don't want to visit. There were some new ideas in the film, but merely taking light cycles and disk battles to three dimensions doesn't count for originality points on my score sheet. I was disappointed that I didn't connect to the characters as much as I had hoped: Sam, the orphaned loser, Flynn the spaced-out guru who has been chilling in his own digital world for too many centuries while hiding out from his evil twin Clu, and Quorra the artificially intelligent warrior princess. They didn't move me. As for Clu, he had neither the dramatic flair of Sark or the all-powerful presence of the MCP. And I just couldn't see my old pal Flynn turning into a megalomaniac perfectionist, dude. Where did that come from?

What I missed most was the sense of fun. It came through now and then with a clever line of dialog, but mostly the film took itself too seriously. And the ending let me down. At the end of the old Tron movie we free the system and Flynn gets to prove he wrote "Space Paranoids." In the new Tron movie, well, I won't spoil it for you, but don't expect fireworks and a big parade.

Still, I don't feel like I wasted my seven dollars and fifty cents. It was interesting to see where they took the story. And planes with jet walls? That's cool.

So go watch it once, if only to see what they do with Sleeping Beauty's castle in the opening titles.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Caroling - Hawaiian Style

My family went for a walk this evening to watch the meteor shower. My thirteen-year-old son said, "No! I don't want to go! It will be BORING!"

You know how thirteen-year-old boys are. We persuaded him to put down his comic book and come with us.

Half-way around the block we passed a flat bed truck with a big flashing Christmas star mounted on a pole at the front corner. We recognized several of our neighbors sitting in camp chairs and lawn chairs on the truck bed.

"Come with us! We're going caroling!" they called.

How could I say no?

We climbed up in the back and they made room for us somehow. Some of my children sat on the woven mats that covered the bed of the truck, others squeezed onto my lap. The warm, dark night gleamed with stars, the colored lights on the houses, and the carolers' flashlights. A few more families joined us, and then the truck began to roll.

All through the little town of Laie we sang Christmas songs in full harmony. Every time we passed someone on the street, friends in the truck knew their name and would shout out a greeting. At one home they waved us down and handed us a big box of cookies and candy, which the children in the truck pounced on. Midway through the ride one of the boys dropped his slipper off the back of the truck and immediately hopped down to retrieve it. We all stopped singing and shouted "STOP THE TRUCK!" until the driver put on the brakes so the boy could catch up to us.

At last the ride was over. We piled off into the street. "That was so much fun! I love caroling!" my thirteen-year-old son was almost dancing as we walked toward home. "I'm so glad I got to do that!"

Me too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Growing Young

Winter winds whipped the surf white as snow. Overnight the waves had cut the smooth beach into a steep drop. I jumped down to the wet sand at the bottom and ran out into the foam. The next wave drenched the bottom of my capri pants, throwing flecks of sand up onto my knees.

Another woman, wearing gray sweats and dangling an empty coffee cup from her fingers, hiked along the sand above me. She was the only other person on the cold, windy beach. We wished each other a good morning as she passed by.

Run, said the wind and water, so I did, splashing through the waves' white train and feeling the damp sand stick to my feet. I want to grow young here, I thought, and laughed for joy.

I knew there was something to see up around the bend, up around that mound of sand ahead that thrust out into the water. It called to me. My toes dug my way to the top of it and I looked out over the next beach.

Two heads rose above the waves, too small to be children, though at first that's what I thought they were. They vanished, then surfaced again.

"Hello, turtles!" I shouted, searching for shadows of shell and flipper beneath the water. I drank in their beauty as they rolled in the fierce winter sea. Other heads appeared and sank. A whole troop of them! I watched until they moved out behind the high white breakers over the reef.

I love to visit my beach in the morning.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I'm an armchair inventor of sorts. I've never cobbled together a Rube Goldberg contraption that cooks my breakfast, but I have designed and built an Irish harp or two.

And I can turn a broken umbrella into a kite.
My favorite umbrella, only days before it met with destruction.

My eight-year-old son broke my favorite umbrella by trying to use it as a parachute. The wind blew him off the wall before he was ready to jump, and the umbrella ended up at the bottom of the heap.

End of umbrella.

Instead of throwing the umbrella away, I put it in the corner of the Cove. Someday, I thought, that broken umbrella is going to be a kite.

Yesterday my daughter and I took the old umbrella apart. The carbon fiber rods made perfect material for a kite framework.We were trying to make a fish shape, but it turned out more like half an ice-cream cone with wings.
I sewed the umbrella's triangular panels back together into a sail and my daughter stitched the sail to the frame. The outer layer of the umbrella made a perfect tail. We attached it with a fishing swivel.

Here's the thing with kites: Anything can be a kite! You can make any crazy shape you like. It's a matter of attaching the string at a good angle to the sail, and then adding just enough tail to keep it stable. After a little experimenting with the harness, I found the "sweet spot" for the string and the kite took off.

Not bad for a broken umbrella.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Creativity, Cooperation, and a Lot of Hard Work!

Here's a great montage from the Laie Temple Cultural Celebration:

Laie Temple Cultural Celebration .mov

And here's the famous opening number, except the camera ran out of batteries. Well, at least you can get an idea of what they were doing. It was AWESOME!

This incredible number, brilliantly choreographed, honored the ancient Hawaiians who designated Laie as a sacred place of sanctuary:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cars 2

My little brother worked on this movie! OH I AM SO PROUD OF HIM!

Usually when Pixar comes out with a movie I think, "That's crazy! They'll never pull it off." But this time I love the concept. Race cars plus secret agents? Sounds like a perfect match.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Culture of Celebration

Since the year 2004, when 2000 youth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Ghana, Africa celebrated the dedication of their new temple in song, dance and story, youth all around the world have taken part in similar events as temples are built in their own communities: Kiev Ukraine, Sacramento California, Panama, Gila Valley Arizona, Cebu City Philippines, Rexburg Idaho, Curitiba Brazil, and many others. I've watched some of these celebrations on television. I always thought, "How wonderful! What fun! I wish I'd been able to be part of something like that when I was a kid."

Now my own kids are getting that chance. This Saturday we'll be having a temple dedication cultural celebration right here in Laie. My two oldest are at the dress rehearsal as I type this post. One thing I never imagined as I watched all those celebrations: THIS IS A LOT OF HARD WORK.

We've had rehearsals once or twice a week since September. Besides seeing that my offspring make it to rehearsals, I've spent evenings at the church, sewing costumes. I am so looking forward to Saturday. The show will be amazing. It will be wonderful. IT WILL BE OVER!

And yes, it will be worth it. There's nothing better than getting a whole lot of people together to create something grand. I'm glad my children will have this memory, will know what miracles are possible with creativity, cooperation, and a lot of hard work.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Taste of What's Coming

The big yellow school bus lumbered up the black strip of road, squeezing between parked cars on one side and sidewalk on the other. My nerves tingled. That bus would carry my child, my only daughter, on the long winding coastal highway from our tiny country town to the big city of Honolulu.

Fear is my enemy, I told myself. Even now, I could say, "Let's go home. I don't want you to do this." Instead, I pushed away my anxiety and let a rush of pride and excitement take me. Weeks of practice, giving up her lunch hour, coming on Saturday, staying after school, my daughter had worked hard to earn this opportunity. She would have a wonderful day, rehearsing for the big concert on Saturday and spending time with her friends.

Morning sun lit up the mist over the jungle-covered mountains that rose sharply behind the town. I wouldn't see my daughter again until well after dark. I thought of my own mother. Had she felt like this every time I left on an all-day school trip? Had she felt like this the day she dropped me off at college? When I was the child going away, I had felt nothing but delight in the coming adventure, a thrill for the freedom, for the change, and a sturdy sense of confidence in my ability to take care of myself.

My daughter was fine. I was the one having an emotional moment.

And someday, when my daughter goes away for good, It will be the same. I'll watch her go with fear, pride, and joy all mingled together in wonder at the never-ending cycle of life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's With All the Homework?

When I was in kindergarten, I had NO homework. I remember very clearly the first time I had to do something from school at home, in first grade, and how scandalized I was that the teacher dared to infringe on my time like that.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, she had homework once a week. We did it. I didn't like it, but we did it.

Now, ten years later, my youngest child brings home kindergarten homework every night. Two or more pages of it! Tonight's homework:

Page one: Practice drawing the letter j six times, then color several pictures that start with j.

Page two: Color and cut out eight pictures representing words that start with various letters, then glue them next to the right letter.

Pages three thru eight: Color a whole coloring book of half-sheet pictures of words that start with j.

To do a GOOD JOB on all that coloring would take me thirty minutes. It would take my son hours. So I don't require my son to do a good job on the coloring, even though that's teaching him to rush his work.

In fact, what this homework is teaching my child to do is sit still and do meaningless busywork. I don't want the public school system to manufacture people who will sit still and do meaningless busy work. I want it to turn out people who, among other things, can use their brains to understand things clearly and solve problems.

My son needs to practice making the letter J, yes, but does he need to do all that coloring and cutting? Every night? When there's a back yard and nice island weather outdoors and a whole neighborhood of friends to play with? Coloring and cutting probably isn't going to make him more competitive in the future job market, but good social skills might. I think I'm going to let him go out and play.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Dragons are Loose!

In case you didn't know already, the best dragon movie of all time is now out on dvd (or whatever format they're putting films in for home viewing this week).

I love friendship stories, comedy, epic adventure, flying sequences, great storytelling, good cinematography, and dragons. This film has them all. Oh, and did I mention fire? Yes, lots of fire. And explosions. Hee hee.

And here's the author, simply gushing about how amazing it was to see her book come to life on the big screen. Great job, Dreamworks!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Five Kids, One Pumpkin

I only bought one pumpkin this year.

They're expensive, okay? And we're still paying the mortgage on that house in Las Vegas.

I have five kids, all old enough to want to get into the pumpkin carving action. So what was I to do?

Something clever.

On five little scraps of paper I wrote the name of one facial feature. Left eye, right eye, mouth, nose, and "?" Yes, "?" is a facial feature. The child who picked "?" got to choose an additional feature for the face. Like a beard, or ears. My youngest child ended up with the "?" and picked eyebrows.

I wish I had taken a picture of the jack-o-lantern. It looked freaky, like some kind of modern art--each facial feature done in an entirely different style.

But all I have is a picture of the aftermath.

Want a piece?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Will Play for Food

Today I went to a luncheon of the BYU-Hawaii Women's Organization. They told me if I played the harp for them they'd give me free food.

I had a wonderful time. As much as I love hearing the harp when I practice in my own living room, it's even more fun when other people are listening. Even if they come up and talk to me while I'm playing prelude. My harp teacher warned me that people would do that. I've learned to smile and say, "Thank you!" without really listening, because if my brain pays attention to what they're saying I'll start missing notes. Someday, someone will come up to me and say, "Someone just ran into your car in the parking lot," and I'll smile and say, "Thank you!" and keep playing.

The whole program was looking forward to the open house for the Laie, Hawaii Temple. For two years they've been rebuilding the entire inside. We saw photos of the whole process, and also heard from a former Temple President and one of the workers on the site.

The open house starts tomorrow! Everyone is invited to tour the building before the dedication. I'll be taking my children to see it in a couple of weeks. I'm so excited! I wish all of you could come and see.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tiny Blessings

My third-grader has one of the favorite teachers at the elementary school. My son just loves him. So of course when my son's teacher gave him a young lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) vine as a prize for being a good student, that little plant was precious.

We picked a nice spot in the yard, by a wall for the vine to climb on. Then we dug the hole together and put the plant in place. It was close enough to the wall that I thought the people who come to mow the lawn would leave it alone. I knew I ought to tie a bright pink ribbon around it to make sure they'd see the leggy vine with its three big green leaves and know that it was meant to be there.

I never did.

One day I went out front, smiled to see the grass cut, and then spied a sad little stick poking up by the wall where our lilikoi used to be.

It had been mowed.

Heartbroken, I told my son the sad news. He took it better than I did, assuring me that the stick would grow new leaves. But I knew better. The next time the mowers came, the stick disappeared entirely.

Hoping to grow a replacement, I saved the seeds from a lilikoi and put them in a pot. Weeks went by. The children knocked the pot over while playing and I had to sweep the dirt up and dump it back in. Oh well. Nothing would be coming up in there.

Last Friday as I walked home from teaching I thought of that lilikoi again. I grieved, wishing I'd taken better care of it, sorry we'd lost the opportunity to say, "That beautiful lilikoi growing all over the wall was a prize from my son's favorite teacher." I prayed that I could forgive myself for being careless with something that was precious to my child.

When I got home I happened to glance in the pot, the pot where I thought nothing would come up.

Three lilikoi sprouts!

I called my son, telling him I had a surprise for him. When I showed him the baby lilikoi he asked, "Are those for me?"  Yes, I told him, to make up for the one we lost. The hug he gave me melted all my guilt and regret away.

Thank the Lord for tiny blessings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Haunted Lagoon

Every night for the past couple of weeks, we've heard the screams. Two blocks away from my house, at the Polynesian Cultural Center, they're putting on the Haunted Lagoon.

Tonight we went to see what all the noise was about.

Imagine "Pirates of the Caribbean" crossed with "The Haunted Mansion," with ALL LIVE ACTORS. Real people. People that stare back at you. People that pop out of the water next to your canoe and make you jump into your neighbor's lap.

People who are having at least as much fun scaring you as you are having being scared.

I expected it to be good, but I wasn't expecting it to be THAT good. If you're ever on Oahu in October, don't miss it!

Friday, October 8, 2010


Here in Hawaii we get a fall break. Like spring break, only in the fall. And at La'ie Elementary, we're using that break to put on a school play.

 In one week.

I am so there.

Each morning at 8 A.M. I lug my sewing machine out of the car and haul it into the school cafeteria. Along one wall, children glue colorful construction paper fish to an ocean backdrop. At the tables, they paint plastic bottles gold and glue on sparkly rhinestones. Up on the stage, one group after another learns dance steps, practices songs, and reads lines. In the middle of it all, I hurry around with costumes draped over my arm, checking to see that everything fits before running back to my sewing machine to do more stitching.
The Costumers

The best part? I'm not in charge of anything. I just showed up and asked the costume ladies if I could help.
Going over the script with the sea monster

We're doing our own adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I can't think of a better story for children's theater. Every kid wants to go to Narnia. I know I did when I was a kid. The children know the territory, they know the characters, but Dawn Treader isn't overdone like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's something fresh and fun. And there's a mouse with a sword. Can't beat that.
The Magic Picture of the Dawn Treader
The sad thing is, I missed the performance. I had to teach algebra at the very same time as the show. But they're selling DVDs for $10 each to help cover production costs. Of course I'm going to buy one. Not only is my son an excellent comic bit part as a member of Pug's pirate crew, I made Prince Caspian's shirt!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Kite Festival!

I have come to my own personal paradise. How do I know? They hold an annual kite festival here.
My passion for kites is entwined in my earliest childhood memories. We had a huge red dragon kite with a long, crackling cellophane tail, and I loved to go out with my family and fly it. Later, as a teenager, I had a spectacular triple stunt kite that I took along on occasion when my little brothers had soccer or little league practice. The kites came with me to college, and when the wind was right I would put off studying and head for the soccer field near my dorm. When I had children of my own I learned to build my own kites, and loved to watch as my children ran up and down under our flying creations.
This is the kite I flew at the festival this year, a hand-painted silk and bamboo kite from Bejing. It won "Most Beautiful" in the kite contest.
My daughter flew this boat kite, a favorite in my collection, which won for "Most Complex." She let it out all the way to the end of its string. That, even more than winning a prize, is the way to make a kite feel truly fulfilled.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rebecca Reviews: The Owl Movie

This movie is actually called "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole"  but I didn't want to say all of that to the guy at the ticket counter. "Two for the owl movie, please," got me in just fine.

If "Chicken Run" is "The Great Escape" done with chickens, then the owl movie is "Prince Caspian" done with owls. Beautiful owls. Incredibly animated owls. They look like owls. They move like owls. I have never seen such visual realism in digital animation. Watch the credits--they had a whole team of programmers just to design the feathers. Wow!

Kidnapped by evil owls, the owlet Soren discovers their plan to dominate the forest using their secret super-powerful weapon that Does Something Very Bad (never quite clear on that point). With the help of a disgruntled guard he escapes and goes on a dubious quest to find the forest's only hope, the Owls of Ga'hoole, a legendary band of warriors that lives across the sea and defends freedom and goodness everywhere.

Although some of the story elements were chosen based on "this will look really cool" rather than "this will make sense," and some of the minor characters teeter off the fine line between providing comic relief and annoying the audience, this is still a movie worth seeing. Emphasis on the seeing. Go see it on the big screen. The visual impact won't be the same on video. I also loved the character who becomes Soren's mentor in Ga'hoole, the old soldier owl, and his insights on what it really means to be a warrior.

This is not a film for the little ones. Not only are there scary scenes, the story is complex and there's some definite pacing problems that small children will not sit through.  But the older ones should love it. We're taking everyone over age ten to the 4:00 showing this afternoon.

Happy flying!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harp Surgery

I saw it coming.

Since the first day I tuned up my harp here in Hawaii, I knew it wouldn't last. My harp, born in the desert of Henderson, Nevada, did not take well to the humidity of being two blocks from the ocean on the rainy side of a tropical island. The only question was, how long did I have? Each day the soundboard bent more and more until finally... POP!

The right side of the board ripped out of the box.

So I took all the tension off the strings and went to the hardware store for some epoxy. After I glued everything back together I waited a week to let the epoxy set. And then I began to tune up. Very slowly.

I couldn't bring myself to take it up to true pitch. If the soundboard comes out of the box, that's one thing, but with the way the wood was warping, I worried that a crack right up the middle would come next. That can't be repaired.

So I left it a third interval low. And just to see what would happen, I tried playing it.

Not bad!

It's different, but it still sounds good. Instead of crisp and bell-like, the sound is mellow, older, more soothing. I like it. And I know that, tuned to a lower pitch, there's less tension on the soundboard and my harp will last longer.

So I got to thinking about my life. Back on the mainland my life was tuned to a high pitch. I ran around, involved in this hobby and that volunteer effort. But here, I don't have so many things I'm involved in. I have time to go sit by the sea and watch the waves.

It's different, but still good. In fact, I think I'll last a little longer this way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wild Chickens

I've never seen so many wild chickens. They're everywhere.

Where did all the chickens come from?

I don't know if this story is true, but here's how I heard it:

On the edge of town we have the Polynesian Cultural Center, the world's only living exhibit of Pacific Island history and culture. Not long ago, someone thought that for the PCC to look like an authentic Polynesian village, they ought to have chickens. So they brought in some chickens and let them loose in the PCC.

But chickens, they smart. They know how to tell a real Polynesian village from one that opens at noon and closes before midnight. So they all hop the fence and come live with us in La'ie.

NOTE: I took all these pictures of chickens on one short walk from BYUH campus, down the street and around the corner to my house.

Full Circle

I adored my college years. So much to learn! So many people to meet! So many things to see! I studied physics and math and Japanese and religion and history and took creative writing and documentary filmmaking and thought thoughts I never would have thought I could think. And all the while I was striding around campus in my trench coat and Aussie hat, organizing late-night sing-alongs in abandoned staircases of the arts building, starting up my own science humor magazine, calling every last department at Los Alamos National Laboratory to see if they might like to hire me as a summer research assistant (got two offers, by the way), combing through the discontinued book sale at the campus library, watching foreign films at the campus international cinema, and enjoying every moment of freedom and independence.

So, naturally, I wanted to teach college myself someday. Why would I ever want to leave such a place?

Fifteen years and five childbirths later, I know there will be no going back. Delighted as I was to get a job teaching at my husband's new school, I knew I wouldn't get the same kick out of it that I got from being a student. Just like once you grow up you can never go back to that special Christmas morning when you're six years old.

But sitting this morning in faculty meetings, I realized something. I may not get to be a student again, but now I can see behind the scenes. I know better what goes into giving young people the college student experience. I had no idea how much my professors put into making my wonderful college years possible, how much my parents put into it, how much all the people who donated or contributed to my school in any way put into it.

And now, I get to be a part of creating that experience for a new generation of students. I get to be the one to put the presents under the tree.

Lesson plans, here I come!

Monday, September 6, 2010

That's No Cake! It's a Space Station!

When I was a little girl I loved my mom's Wilton Cake Decorating books. I spent hours looking at the photographs, marveling at what could be done with cake and frosting. It filled my head with possibilities.

Each time a birthday rolls around at our house, I go back to that place in my mind and dream up an amazing confection that will delight the children and impress their parents. Unfortunately, unlike my mom, I never took any cake decorating classes.

So I'm going to tell you how not to make a Death Star cake. Honest, that's supposed to be the Death Star. See the aluminum foil tie-fighters being chased by the Millennium Falcon up there?

It started out pretty good. I mixed up a batch of cake batter and divided it evenly between two Pyrex bowls that had been lined with greased foil. I built the batter up a little on the edges so the tops would be more flat.
Then I baked the cakes in the oven. It took longer than I expected, probably because the bowls were deeper than your typical cake pan.
After the cake had cooled, I peeled off the foil and put one piece, flat side up on a plate. I stuck a big glob of frosting on top, then squished the second half in place. Rather than making a nice round shape, it ended up more like a half-deflated beach ball.

If I do this again, I'll make three layers. The two bowls, and then one regular round layer of cake in the middle.

I tinted the icing gray (five drops blue, two drops red, one drop yellow), frosted the cake, and then made the rest of the frosting a darker gray and piped on those technical-looking dark gray panels that distinguish the Death Star from a small moon with a big crater on one side. When my work of art was nearly complete, my birthday boy helped me make some foil space ships to go flying over the surface.

My fully operational battle-station was ready to blow up a test-planet or two. When I brought it to the table at the birthday party, one of the guests remarked, "That's something that lives in the ocean, yeah?"


"No, it's the Death Star. See?" My son came to my defense.

Sea urchin or Death Star, it tasted great with ice cream.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Could Get Used to This

Two weeks ago my youngest child started Kindergarten. It has been an adjustment. Several times a day I'll twitch, "WHERE'S THE KID?" because I haven't heard from him recently. Such silence used to mean scribbles on the wall or all the towels pulled out of the linen closet. Now it means he's safe at school, learning songs about the days of the week and the months of the year.

Today I walked down to the farmer's market, ALL BY MYSELF. I bought two tomatoes and a ripe papaya. Then, on my way home, I saw a book shop. And I went in.

You don't know how crazy this is unless you're used to having a small child, or multiple small children, as constant companion. I would never go in a shop unless I absolutely had to. Too much stress.

But today I sat on a bench and looked at books. That's all. No glancing over my shoulder every ten seconds to verify the location of a child.

After I browsed the book shop for as long as I felt like it, I went home and ate my papaya for lunch.

I could get used to this.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Room to Grow

For the last six months, moving has consumed my life. From the end of last March when I tore up the ruined vinyl in the guest bathroom, to last Friday when I helped my husband unpack the books onto our new bookcase, every spare minute was taken up by the massive project of transporting seven people from Henderson, Nevada to La'ie, Hawaii.

But now we are here. I have time to breathe and room to grow again.

The house is smaller, but I can clean and sweep it out in a few hours. Sometimes the neighbor children come over and want to sit on my couch and play my ukulele. That's a treat! They sound a lot better on the uke than I do, at least so far. I watch and learn.

If we ever get tired of being indoors, the beach is right around the corner. And when we get adventurous we can hop in the car and find plenty of other beaches to try. There's waves to play in and sand castles to build.

But I'm not going to sit around and listen to music or go hang out at the beach all the time. I'll be teaching college classes and writing novels, building harps and taking hula classes. In short, after six long months of nothing but moving, I'm getting back to being me again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Build a Quick and Easy Pine Bookcase

When we got to Hawaii we learned from our neighbors that particle board doesn't last here. If you don't want it to warp and fall apart in the humidity, it has to be solid wood. We were glad we'd left our particle board bookcases in Nevada, but we were going to have to replace them with something else. With real wood.

I'd always wanted to build my own bookcase!

We designed a bookcase six feet high and nine feet long. Here's the materials we used:

16 boards of pine shelving, 1inx10inx6ft
10 pieces of wood trim, 1inx2inx6ft
a large pack of 1 5/8" wood screws
about 30 2.5 inch wood screws
1 large bottle of wood glue
a carpenter's square
a circular saw
a power drill
1 quart wood stain
assorted rags
disposable gloves

First, I picked the four nicest boards, straight ones without any flaws. Those became the vertical parts of the book case. I decided how tall I wanted the shelf spaces to be and marked each board with lines where the shelves would go. With the amount of wood I bought, I could make up to 24 shelves.I ended up using 22 shelves and having two extras.

Next, I marked the rest of the boards for cutting them in half into three foot pieces. These I cut with the circular saw.

Then I took the pieces of trim and cut 6 pieces that were 3 feet long, 12 pieces that were 9 inches long, and then 72 pieces that were 2 inches long. These pieces are for holding up the shelves. I could have saved myself a lot of cutting and sanding by buying a little more wood trim and cutting 36 pieces that were 9 inches long instead of the 72 little 2 inch blocks. Oh well.

With all the pieces cut, my next task was to sand the edges. That was the most time-consuming part of the process. But I had help. I went out in the front yard to work on it, and before long the neighbor boys had come over to see what I was doing. I handed them each a piece of sand paper and put them to work.

When all the pieces were sanded, it was time for assembly. I glued the long blocks directly under where the top and bottom shelves would go, leaving a space at the back edge so that I could fit one of the three-foot-long trim pieces running across the back under each top or bottom shelf. The short blocks went two each under the rest of the shelves. I glued them in place, then for extra security I used a short wood screw in each block.

set sides upright, three feet apart
put back trim piece in place
glue shelf on top, then secure with wood screws
After letting the glue dry overnight, I assembled the first of three ranks of shelves. For this part I needed someone to help me hold everything in place. We stood the sides of the shelves up, set one of the three-foot-long trim pieces on the floor at the back of the case, and set the bottom shelf on top. Once I had everything square (checked with the carpenter's square), I put some glue on the top edge of the trim pieces, then replaced the shelf and screwed it in place from the side with the long screws. Last of all, I used a couple of short screws to fasten down the shelf to the back trim piece. I did the same with the top shelf, except that I put the back trim piece in place after the shelf was glued and screwed down to the side trim pieces. The back trim pieces are important to keep the corners of the bookcase squared up.

I assembled the left-hand rank of shelves first, and then the right-hand rank. Last of all, I set the two ranks three feet apart and put in the top and bottom shelves of the middle rank. I couldn't screw these in from the side, so I added another permanent shelf to the middle rank and screwed it in place.
I slid all the shelves into the left-hand rank to see if the design was working. So far so good!

After that I stained everything, using rags and disposable gloves. I did the shelves outside, but when I did the case I made the mistake of doing it just before dinner. The smell was so bad we decided to go out for tacos instead of eating at home with all the wood stain fumes.

Two days later, I used three small L-brackets to attach the bookcase to studs in the wall in back, slid all the shelves into place, and there you have it! It's no great work of art, but it doesn't look too bad, and it will hold all the books.
the finished product