Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I awoke this morning to a a 21-gun salute. What a treat!
My grandma used to call this Decoration Day. My hometown still conducts its services at the cemetery, complete with a live trumpet player for Taps.
It's nice to know that the same things is happening all over the country.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Literal Sunblock

I fried myself while kayaking.
I'd laugh if I saw this contraption coming across the lake, but I think I'm going to try it anyway.

Friday, May 28, 2010


With temperatures in the high 80’s, I saw a lady use her electric car starter yesterday, so her car was cool when she got to it. Are you kidding me? With fish swimming through oil in the Gulf of Mexico, we need to cool down our cars before we get into them?

(Michigan's) Irish Hills

In 20 square miles of rolling, rural area in southern Michigan, there are over 30 lakes. The lush, green hills and the ethnicity of resident farmers whose ancestors came from Ireland’s Great Famine gave the area its nickname, the Irish Hills.
The heyday of this area was between the 1930’s and 1950’s. It flourished under folks who had extra money for recreation during a genteel time in our history. Located squarely on the route between Detroit and Chicago, the Irish Hills became a popular getaway for travelers and area residents alike. Observation towers were built from which visitors could take in sweeping views, camps and cottages were constructed, dance halls were erected and hotels opened where travelers could dine and get a room for the night.

Like many tourist havens from its era, the Irish Hills area has declined as people traveled further from their homes for R&R. I believe there is only one observation structure left, and it’s in bad shape. The touristy nature of the area has brought about some cheesy “tourist traps” like Mystery Hill and Stagecoach Stop USA (although I would LOVE a giant Paul Bunyan statue in my yard!). Much of the advertising emphasizes leprechans and 4-leaf clovers.

Yet, the Irish Hills still holds a charm. The abundance of lakes in the area ensures its continued popularity. The state developed both a state park and a state historic site in the area, which also bring people to the Irish Hills. Another big draw is an international motor speedway, built in 1967. The 100,000+ spectators to each race generate welcome tourist dollars for the local economy, even as residents (part-time and year-‘round) grimace their way through the drunken gridlock created each “race weekend” in the summers.
The Irish Hills area is about 40 miles from where I grew up, so my family has spent a lot of time there. My mom has great memories of time spent at her aunt’s cottage, from the fried chicken packed in my grandma’s picnic basket to the sound of the wooden screen door banging shut. Mom taught my sister and me to swim at the state park. It’s one the first places I went camping. Mom regularly took us to a tavern in the Irish Hills for dinner because it had live piano music. I’ve swum in many of the lakes and been to quite a few races. I guess the Irish Hills area will forever be a recreation staple for me.
So, when I got my kayak out for the season; I went straight to the Irish Hills! I plopped it into a lake on a chain of six and spent a near-90 degree afternoon skimming across the water. I’d never kayaked through canals between lakes; it really makes for an interesting paddle. This chain is great for fishing and the lake foliage looks like sunken evergreens, so there’s plenty of underwater scenery to enjoy.
I can’t wait to go back!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodies From Florida

This is Eleanor, my mother-in-law and the lady who created the home in which I live today. This is basically what she looked like the entire time that I knew her.
My sister-in-law in Florida seems to be the keeper of the family’s photo albums; every time someone dies, she ends up with their albums. I occasionally get an envelope full of fun pics from her. She sends me old ones of the house, which was built by my husband’s family, so it’s really fun for me to see them. So much of the house looks the same. Sometimes she sends pics of Butch when he was little (he was the youngest of 10, so there aren’t many pictures of him), and other family members.
This time, Barb’s package included pics that were older than I had previously seen.

Eleanor was a beautiful young woman! What a treat to see her at this age!
Sometimes, I muse over existential questions (to no gainful purpose, of course). A few years ago, my brain was forming a theory that Time didn’t exist. Time wasn’t real. Time was a man-made limitation. I just couldn’t grasp the reality of it.
Then, I looked at an old picture of myself. Sometimes, you just need a dose of reality . . .


To understand Kalaupapa, a settlement on the island of Moloka’i, you have to understand Moloka’i. To do that, you have to understand Hawai’i. To do that, you have to know a little about Polynesia. Here’s what I find important:


Polynesia fascinates me. When I was 19, my dad sent me to Hawaii to visit my girlfriend who married a sailor. From that point forward, I was hooked; it’s in my blood. I started reading everything I could find about this vast section of the earth, from Michener to obscure dissertations from UofH’s anthropology archives.
Nobody really knows from where the Polynesians originally set sail, but it was Tahiti that became their “home base.” All of today’s Polynesian cultures can be traced to Tahiti. The languages are even the same. Polynesians didn’t have alphabets until white missionaries created them. Where the missionaries in Tahiti heard a “t,” those in Hawaii heard a “k.” The actual sound was probably somewhere between the two, but the name “Tahiti” in Hawaiian is “Kahiki.” Likewise, the Tahitian “r” is a Hawaiian “l.” So it went across the various island kingdoms, with emerging alphabets that contain the 5 vowels plus 7 consonants that varied from culture to culture. Consequently, if you spoke Tahitian, you also spoke Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, etc.
Island kingdoms across the pacific were ruled by royals and became highly-developed cultures. At first glance, the Polynesian cultures can appear under-developed. Their course of development was certainly influenced by facts such as oral historical traditions instead of writing, a lack of iron for utensils or weaponry resulting in a lack of gunpowder and their distance from developing continental cultures. Yet, in some ways, they were far more advanced than their European counterparts.
The Polynesians sailed huge tracts of the Pacific in double-hulled outrigger canoes. Think, for just a minute, about sailing the Pacific Ocean in a canoe . . . It’s astounding, really. The navigational skills of ancient Polynesians are unparalleled. They covered nearly a quarter of the planet by stars alone. At this time, explorers from Europe were still navigating by sight!
In Hawai’i, as across the islands, there was a hierarchical caste system; the ali’i (royalty) and kahuna (religious clerics) held the power. Ali’i created a kapu (forbidden) system, allowing the rarest foods and resources only to be used by royalty, less rare ones for the kahuna, common ones for the masses and whatever was left for slaves. In hindsight, this equates to early ecological resource management – they were practicing conservation!
Although they didn’t have an alphabet, this culture memorized their history. Their story “keepers” could recite 900-verse orations, detailing their lineage!
The Polynesians were doing great in their own little insulated kingdoms. Then, along came Whitey. Although there’s a lot of anger about what westerners have done in Polynesia (and elsewhere), this was inevitable. You have to be ready for the direction in which the world is heading and the Polynesians weren’t.

But, they weren’t what they have been made out to be, either. These are the faces of Polynesia – the standard of beauty is different than the western one. Polynesians were big people. They WANTED to be obese; a large presence was viewed as a commanding presence. Ali’i had slaves massage their abdomens to make room for more food. The hula is not a dance meant to entertain but a story-telling tradition.
Western culture portrayed them as gentle dancers, beautiful in our small-featured, thin way. They created visions of friendly, backward islanders who needed Western salvation to free them from their pagan religion. Their orderly kingdoms ruled by forward-thinking leaders were depicted as savagery that was saved by the introduction of democracy.
There’s always another way to look at things . . .


Description: Uncle Sam and Cleveland are playing chess with pieces representing the U.S. senators and Queen Lili'uokalani .
King Kamehameha I was the leader who united all of the islands of Hawai’i into one kingdom, so he is revered there today. He and the Kamehameha lineage of royalty that followed him embraced western culture when it came to their shores. They became Christian and abolished the old religion. They bought western goods and earned western money. They introduced democratic ideals. Perhaps of most consequence, they allowed the concept of land ownership into the islands; there was no return from that decision.
Like everywhere else, development progressed and Hawai’i became a self-ruling, internationally recognized nation. This is important; it’s what sets Hawai’i apart. It was a recognized nation.
Lots of American businessmen had become wealthy by farming sugar and pineapple in the islands. Many of them wanted to avoid US tariffs on foreign goods by annexing Hawai’i as part of the US (this resource rape was happening all over the globe at that time). The ruling Hawai’ian queen, of course, didn’t agree. Hawai’i was her own nation, sovereign and proud.
In 1893, a handful of wealthy land-owners (led by Sanford Dole, of Pineapple fame) claimed that American lives were at stake and requested that an American official (who was also pro-annexation) call for military assistance from a war ship docked offshore. A few men with guns were sent ashore. This group took the queen by force, imprisoned her in a palace, claimed Hawai’i for the US and set up a provisional government.
This constituted the illegal overthrow of an internationally recognized nation. President-elect Grover Cleveland spent the remainder of his time in office attempting to undo this injustice. Liliuokalani believed that the US would enforce justice; she waited patiently and instructed her subjects to do the same. There were countless hearings and arguments.
One hundred seventeen years later, the injustice remains.
It’s not all palm trees and ukulele music.

Hawai’ian Sovereignty Movement

Some people in Hawai’i are, understandably, really angry about how it was overthrown. They don’t want to be a state. They don’t want to be American. They are Hawai’ian, they want their land back and they want their own government to rule over it. This is the Hawai’ian Sovereignty Movement.
They’ll never get what they want, of course. We’re not going to give Hawai’i to anyone. We’re going to pacify them until they die out, which won’t be long.
In 1993, then-President Clinton offered a public apology to the people of Hawai’i. For decades, attempts have been made to “make amends” to native Hawai’ians. If you can prove that you have a certain percentage of native blood, you have rights in Hawai’i. Rights to live on “state” land, gather native plants, attend certain schools, fish in certain places, etc.
We can afford to give them almost anything, because their numbers are so few. When the first whites encountered the Hawai’ian islands, there were about 300,000 natives living there. Today, there are an estimated 300 persons of “pure” Hawai’ian blood.
Some rights of Native Hawai’ian have been held up in government and/or courts because of labels. Politicians want to lump them in with other Native Americans, believing that all of this has already been argued and settled. Those arguing for rights point out that they are not like other indigenous people who were trampled by Whites. They were a recognized nation. They’re right, of course.
The Hawai’ian Sovereignty Movement isn’t well-organized or very realistic. Most of them think that America stole “Old Hawai’i,” when, in fact, the Ali’i allowed it to fade away, likely out of necessity. On top of that, if Hawai’i weren’t aligned with the US, it certainly would have been with another western nation, by force or otherwise; that’s just what was happening back then. Most importantly, the cause isn’t sustainable; there aren’t enough Hawai’ians left.


Moloka’i is unusual among the Hawai’ian islands. This island’s culture was saved by Hansen’s Disease, aka leprosy.
In the 1860’s leprosy was a horrifying disease. It disfigured and debilitated its victims and was highly contagious. Across the globe, leprosy patients were yanked from their families and shipped off to seclusion in a “leprosy colony.” The colony for Hawai’i was the Kalaupapa Peninsula, on the island of Moloka’i.
Kalaupapa is a small peninsula on the north side of the island. It’s triangular in shape, two sides fronting the Pacific and the third separated from the rest of the island by 3,000+ foot cliffs. It was the perfect place to imprison people.
Although the peninsula is only a tiny piece of the island, the fear of leprosy was so intense that the entire island was stigmatized by the leper colony, and Moloka’i was never developed. That is what saved her.
Today, the island remains undeveloped. I was there in 2004 and there is nothing there – nothing. There are about a dozen towns; most consist of about a dozen homes. Only two of the towns had stores and restaurants. There were only two chains on the island – Napa Auto Parts and a Subway. There was one bar (in a hotel) and two hotels – one for rich people and mine, with its thatched roof and geckos in the beds. Cruise ships weren’t allowed to come to Moloka’i.
Life on the island is rural, even in town. Hell, TOWN is rural! The Hawai’ian language can be heard here. Faces bear native features. Royal fishponds are still maintained and used. This is what Hawai’i used to be.
Moloka’i has become the symbol of the sovereignty movement and of “Old Hawai’i.” It, along with Ni’ihau (a privately-owned island whose wealthy owner has retained the old culture) and Kaho’olawe (an island formerly owned by the Navy and used as a bomb target, now transferred for use by the state) may prove to be the last bastions of Hawai’ian culture.
Moloka’i is a magical place. I was lucky enough to experience Kaunakakai Harbor on a Friday evening. The entire island turned out. It was a celebration of the week’s end, I guess. People were just there, enjoying the sun, the ocean, and each other. Old people waded in the water. Children ran around unattended. People were rowing outrigger canoes in the harbor. On the beach, people drank, sang and played the ukulele. They offered each other whatever they had to eat. I have never felt such a communal spirit at any other time.


Like all leper colonies, Kalaupapa was horrible. Patients were dumped there and forced to fend for themselves. There was no food, no law, no facilities. There was just extreme illness, pain, despair and the occasional boat bringing more suffering people.

Finally, a Belgian priest named Father Damien came along and helped residents create a community. He fed and ministered the sick. He lived his life in Kalaupapa, contracting and dying from the dreaded disease himself. He is revered in Hawai'i, particularly on Moloka'i and recently attained sainthood.
In the 1960’s, leprosy was contained. After 103 years, Kalaupapa residents were free to leave. Many, though, chose to stay; it was their home and many of them were disabled. The state has given them the opportunity to stay there the rest of their lives. No new residents can move there, so when the last leprosy patient dies, so does the settlement. A barge delivers heavy goods to the residents once a year; they receive regular shipments of food and convenience items.
Visitors can pay to visit Kalaupapa, which helps to sustain the residents. You can fly, hike or ride a mule down the cliffs to the settlement. I planned to ride a mule, but chickened out when I saw the cliffs.

The peninsula is now part of a National Park. When the last resident dies, the settlement won’t be repopulated; it will just be a park. The 2000 Census listed just under 150 residents, but I know it was closer to 40 in 2007.
I was thinking about Kalaupapa and it struck me what a tremendous opportunity it is to meet these people and how short-lived it will be. I could kick myself for not going through with it back then, so I’ve decided that I need to go back and make the trip down the cliffs. But, I've learned that the mule & hiking trail was closed last month when a bridge washed out. It will be closed at least until July.
I sure hope it opens again and that there are living residents left when it does.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pencil Test

I am interested in cultural differences. I should have been an anthropologist. (My anthro instructor told me that is the field where misfits go! Lol). I pay attention to the oddities of cultures.
Latin cultures are obsessed (by our standards) with looks. In South America and some Caribbean nations, it’s a huge money-making industry that far exceeds what is spent in the US, per capita. They take impeccable care of their skin, spend a lot more on cosmetics, and perform a lot more cosmetic surgeries. There are about 15 different bariatric surgery practices across South America; I think there are 3 that are legal in the US. Men more commonly use hair and skin care products. They display their sexuality more freely. They have better girdle and tummy-holding products. They even sell jeans that act like girdles!
The results are evident, too. When you hear people talking about countries with “the most beautiful” women (or men!), it’s usually a culture in which looks are highly valued. There are women in South America who are 60+ years old who can dress, without looking ridiculous, like a 25-year old. These people are still gorgeous, well into their golden years, because they really work to look that way.
So, when the infomercial for the Brazil Butt Lift aired, I watched it. I'm telling you, those Brazilians take this stuff seriously and I wouldn't just write this off as BS. Still, it was hysterical! They recommended taking the “pencil test,” in which you place a pencil under a butt cheek. Apparently, if your rear can hold the pencil in place, you need the BBL program.
Now listen, I do not have a Brazilian butt. I have never had a Brazilian butt. I never will have a Brazilian butt. And my ass is nowhere near able to hold a pencil in place! I want to see the butt that can do that!
I just have feeling that the next time I’m drinking with some girlfriends, we’re going to end up testing this . . .

Changing Tastes

Do our taste buds change through the years? My tastes seem to be completely different than before.
My new likes are swiss cheese, scalloped corn and lima beans, none of which I would get near as a kid. Refried beans, which used to make me ill within 5 minutes, are now a favorite.
Some foods I used to eat disgust me now, too. Mayonnaise doesn’t work for me. I think that “American cheese” is an oxymoron. I don’t really like milk, anymore. I think I used to eat shrimp and lobster just because they were fun to eat, but I’m over it, now.
As a kid, I liked ham. My mom used to mix mayo and mustard; we called it “ham sauce” and thought it was a real treat. But, I’ve been having some trouble with ham over the last few years. All I can think about is a cute, little pig rolling around in the mud with his doting mother. I don’t know if it’s because the meat is pink and seems more life-like, but in mid-chew, I get freaked out and I can’t seem to get beyond it. This adorable piglet keeps dancing around in my head.

If I go vegetarian again, ham will be what pushes me over the edge, I’m sure. To hell with Anthony Bourdain!
I started avoiding salt when I first met Butch because he’d had a heart attack. Through the years, I think I subconsciously came to view it as poison. My doc once prescribed me sodium tablets because I was sodium deficient. Even though my blood pressure was ridiculously low and I kept passing out, I couldn’t put the pills in my mouth. All that ran through my head was, “You’re an American; you get too much salt.”
(Wow, I’m really nuts! Pigs playing, salt as poison . . . Maybe I'll be able to submit this post to a psych doc for evaluation someday.)
My dessert preferences have changed, too. I used to believe that if it wasn’t chocolate, there was no point. Now, like the rest of the world, I consider fruit a dessert. I’m even excited about berry season this year, so I can make pies. Years ago, I made pies for a local market. I made a LOT of pies, and then went through a little rebellion of refusal. Most of the time, I really hate the kitchen. But, my brother-in-law is taking chemo and he wanted a lemon meringue pie, so I made one recently. That usually starts a cycle for me and there’s no better time than berry season to be on a pie-making kick! (However, pineapple meringue sure sounds good!)
Has everybody’s taste changed like this? I imagine I'll order liver and oysters-on-the-half-shell next??

Friday, May 7, 2010

Love Lies Bleeding

I suppose Calgary is too far to go to see a ballet? Canadian choreographer, Jean Grande-Maitre, has created an epic of Elton John's life titled after Elton's song Love Lies Bleeding. You can see a video at
I have been a fan of Elton John since I was 12. I'm in awe of his talent, I find his showmanship highly entertaining and I believe that much of what he has written will be considered classical music a century from now.
Apparently, the first run was a smashing success, but I'm still afraid to wait to see it; you just never know how long new productions will be around. Hmmm, I've never been to Alberta . . .

Copyright by Me?

Today, I registered the copyright on my class text. It was only $35 and you can do it online.
I can't believe I have an application in the U.S. Copyright Office! It feels so official.

"Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite"
Did you know there are bedbugs in the US again? After their near-erradication when we still used DDT here, they have resurfaced.
The suspected point-of-entry was Cincinnati, Ohio and they're creeping their way from there. I've already heard of cases in Toledo. (SHIVER)
Bedbugs are NOT a sign of poor housekeeping, so you never know where they'll be. It's nearly impossible to prevent infestation and very difficult to control them once they're present. They are flat and look like apple seeds. If you see them, call an exterminator pronto!
I know this is an unpleasant topic, but I'm glad I know about them. I have a class in Cinci this summer; thanks to this info, I will camp instead of getting a hotel.