Archive for December 2011

My favorite books of 2011

December 27, 2011

Every month, I share some of the books that I read – books that might interest you, challenge you, or inspire you. I’d like to thank the Hawaii Public Libraries for keeping up with new books, a convenient online reservation system, and friendly librarians.

 Here’s a snapshot of the best books I’ve read this year.

 Best children’s book set in Hawaii:
* “Lio the Carousel Horse” by Carol Moen Wing, illustrated by Ruth Moen – about curiosity, trying new things, and making friends, filled with beautiful, colorful illustrations

Best young adult, don’t hate me because I’m part-angel fantasy:
* “Angel Burn” by L.A. Weatherly – about choices, accepting who you are, and responsibility

Best crime-solving, risk-taking fantasy:
* “Cast in Ruin” by Michelle Sagara – about the potential in all of us, building a home when everything is lost, and the freedom to choose

 Best riveting, action-packed stories-within-stories fantasy:
* “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss – about the power of names, taking risks, doing right things, and masks that become reality

 Best science fiction with crumbling planets and fantastical vistas:
* “Children of Scarabaeus” by Sara Creasy – about manipulating nature, free will, and fighting for what’s right

Best science fiction with aliens, programmed soldiers, and interstellar war:
* “Enemy Within” by Marcella Burnard – about surviving torture, finding reasons to live, responsibility, and trust

Best inspirational Hawaii nonfiction:
* “Practice Aloha: Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style” (2010) compiled by Mark Ellman and Barbara Santos – about the meaning of aloha and how we can practice aloha in our lives

Best upbeat, out-of-the-box, I’ll-do-it-my-way nonfiction:
* “The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World” (2010) by Chris Guilliebeau – reminding us that “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to”

Happy New Year and Joyful Reading!

3 ideas for photo creativity

December 20, 2011

I really enjoy being creative with photographs. I’ve designed photo invitations and fun holiday cards, created candy bar and macadamia nuts cans wrappers as party favors, and written short photo books for my son.

For the holidays, I’d like to share some of my favorite ways to have fun with photos. I did all of these photo projects on a computer with photo editing software, but if you’re a scrapbook enthusiast you can print photos and do everything on paper, adding color and embellishments.


1. Expressive faces: Babies have such expressive faces, and their moods can change so fast. When my son was 3 months old, I took pictures of him up-close. In no time at all, he looked happy, surprised, upset, tired, and more. I chose the six best expressions, used Adobe Photoshop to create a collage, and then made t-shirts to give to my parents. When my son was almost four years old, I took updated pictures, and let him mug for the camera.

2. A year of faces: Every year for my son’s birthday, I create an 8”x10” 12-month photo collage. I choose 12 photos, one for each month, and crop the photos to show just his face. I place the 2” photo squares along the sides and bottom of the collage. For the center of the collage, I choose a recent 4”x6” full-body shot photo. It’s a great way to see how kids’ faces change during the year. For birthdays, you can even order poster-size prints to hang on the wall.

3. Photo story books: When I was a kid, I loved books that were personalized with my name and the people I knew. I thought it would be even better for my son to see himself in a book! So when he was three years old, I re-wrote a nursery rhyme and changed it to “Ten Little Brians.” I chose ten action-shot photos, cropped out the background, and duplicated his pictures. I made a photo book (Shutterfly and Snapfish did a good job with paperback and hardcover books) and also turned it into an 8”x10” poster print. My son loved it! You can start with fairy tales and nursery rhymes, or write your own stories.

How do you have fun with photos? I’d love to see your creative photo projects!

5-year olds and money

December 13, 2011

A few months ago, my son asked me, “How can I get more dollars?” He later had an epiphany: “If I save my coins, I can make more dollars!” He is starting to understand that everything cost dollars.

Let’s take a moment out of our holiday shopping to think about what we are teaching our children about money. Sometimes we get caught up in all the “stuff” – the gadgets, the sales, and blowout deals. But remember: children watch us all the time and this is the example we’re setting for them.

Here’s what we’re teaching our five year-old son about money:

* An allowance? Not just yet! I don’t want to give my son money for doing things he should already do, like homework, cleaning up his toys, and helping with laundry. I tell him that we’re a family and we don’t need dollars to help each other. But we “pay” him $1 for helping us sort bottles and cans at the recycling truck.

* Spend it, save it, share it. If my son receives money at birthdays and holidays, I ask him to set some money aside to put in his savings account. As he gets older, I’ll ask him to set aside some money to give to a charity.

* Open a keiki savings account. Some parents open a savings account for their children as soon as they are born, but I wanted my son to go into a bank and open an account for himself. An online bank may offer a better interest rate, but kids can’t walk up to a teller and deposit or withdraw money.

* Say “yes!” to a kids-only swap meet. This year, we had a wonderful experience with a Keiki Swap Meet organized by the Children’s Discovery Center in Honolulu. I helped my son sort and price the toys he was willing to sell, and he made store signs. On the day of the swap meet, he did it all – greeted customers, suggested toys, took their money, gave them change, and said thank you.

* Don’t ask for presents! I remind my son that he can only ask mom and dad for presents. He can ask Santa for a present too, but Santa can only hear him when he’s a good boy. I also ask relatives to give him fewer toys (books are welcome!).

Do you teach your children about finances? How important is money to them? When should kids receive an allowance, and how much should it be? Let me know what you think.

Fixing Hawaii’s property tax system

December 6, 2011

Since August, the Real Property Tax Advisory Commission has been working on ways to make the Honolulu property tax system fair – while generating more revenue for the city. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that one of their solutions involves eliminating some of the over 40 property tax exemptions (“Property tax exemptions in peril as panel tries to make system fair,”11/14/11).

Before this independent panel makes its recommendations to the City Council, let me bring up three issues that may not have been discussed:

1. A trash pick-up fee for homeowners. The one advantage that homeowners have over condominium owners is free weekly trash pick-up. But if we separate that service from “property taxes,” and charge a separate fee for trash pick-up, it would be fair to everyone – without having to raise property taxes for anyone.

2. Should there be a real estate property tax at all? Property owners already paid taxes on the money used to buy the property; we also pay fees when we buy the property and taxes when the property is sold. Does government have to authority to continually tax something that has already been paid for and taxed?

3. Can we eliminate property taxes altogether? The whole idea of “property taxes” is a misnomer – it’s a tax to pay for city services, not a tax on your home or office. I hate to propose any new tax, but why not replace property taxes with a flat residency tax? There would be a direct link between taxpayers and city services; it would put homeowners/landlords and renters/tenants on equal footing; and the tax would be based on the number of months living or doing business in Hawaii.

I don’t expect much support for a residency tax; with government’s appetite for taxes, we would end up with both property taxes and a residency tax! So with the reluctant realization that if we want to stay in our homes, property taxes are here to stay, here is my common-sense solution for fair and reasonable property taxes:

* Property values should be based on the square footage of usable space (such as homes, offices, buildings, garages, parking lots, walkways, paved areas, and enclosed or covered areas) – not fair market value, which is subjective, unreliable, and unfair to people who have no plans to sell their property.

* Property categories should be 1) Residential, 2) Commercial, 3) Industrial/Warehouse, 4) Agricultural, 5) Non-Profit (including churches, schools, charities, homeowners association common areas, hospitals/clinics), 6) Vacant/unimproved land, and 7) Public lands (federal, state, preservation, and conservation land). I won’t even attempt to suggest rates for these categories!

* Tax credits/exemptions or lower rates should be limited to 1) Disabled persons, 2) Elderly/retired persons ages 65+, 3) Persons with low-income (we could limit the credit to five years), and 4) Low-income rentals. Vacant/unimproved land could be assessed a minimum fee based on the total square footage of the property; or the current $300 minimum could be tied to the rate of inflation.

I think that the most critical reform is breaking the link between “fair market value” and property taxes – and creating a link between taxes and government services. What are your fair and reasonable suggestions to fix Honolulu’s property tax system?

“The Hawaii Book of Rice” by Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

December 3, 2011

My husband Bob is an excellent cook, and one of our kitchen cupboards is full of cookbooks. He’s more than a great cook; he enjoys cooking and experimenting with new recipes, and he’ll eat almost anything.

I’m not a good cook myself, being more interested in eating good food (my best friend in the kitchen is the microwave). But I was curious to read “The Hawaii Book of Rice: Tales, Trivia and 101 Great Recipes” (2011) by travel journalist and Hawaii resident Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi, because it has more than just recipes – it “celebrates rice and the many ways it touches our lives in Hawaii” (page 5). And I really like the idea that part of the books’ proceeds are donated to the Hawaii Foodbank.

“The Hawaii Book of Rice” is nostalgic and warm, written in bite-sized sections, so you don’t have to read it in one sitting (kind of like tapas). It is filled with historical black-and-white photos and colorful, mouth-watering food photography. I enjoyed the author’s family history, and her connection to Chun Lin Hung “Ahana” and his wife Jay, who farmed rice along the Huleia River on Kauai.

In Rice Chronicles, about the history of rice, I learned that Moiliili and Windward Oahu were full of rice fields in the late 1800s, that were 504 rice farms in the 1900 census, and the last rice mill closed in 1960.

In A Grain of Truth, I read stories about rice grasses whispering their secrets, rice growing from a grave, a goddess becoming the spirits of the rice plant, and clever peasants and kings.

In Sticky Rice and Other Stories, I was introduced to “bow rice” (rice with toppings shaped in a bowl lined with rice paper) and laughed at a third-grade project that used rice as super glue.

And in 100 Rice-ipies, I browsed recipes and vibrant photos of rice dishes. Of course, I paid more attention to the desserts, and came across this recipe for Pineapple Rice Cake with Mango Frosting that I’d love to try:

Pineapple Rice Cake with Mango Frosting (Serves 10)
Craig Erickson, Executive Chef, Nāpili Kai Beach Resort, Maui

1 c. red rice (Colusari or Bhutanese)
3 c. pineapple juice
1 18.5-oz. box yellow cake mix
1 lb. cream cheese
½ lb. unsalted butter
1½ c. powdered sugar
1 c. mango puree (mash mango chunks in a blender to make puree)
2 c. shredded coconut

Making the Cake:
1. Cook the rice in the pineapple juice until it is tender. Remove from heat and cool.
2. Prepare the cake mix according to package directions.
3. Pour batter equally into two oiled and floured 8-inch round pans that are 1½ inches deep.
4. Sprinkle the cooled rice evenly over the cake batter.
5. Using the back of a spoon, press the rice into the batter. Bake the cakes according to package directions.
6. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
7. Trim the top of the cakes to flatten if necessary.
8. Put ¾ cup of the frosting on the top of one of the cakes and spread evenly.
9. Place the other cake on top and put ¾ cup of frosting on top of the cake and spread evenly. Spread the remaining frosting around the outside of the cake.
10. Coat the outside of the cake with the shredded coconut.

Making the Frosting:
1. Put cream cheese and butter into bowl of electric mixer and beat until light and fluffy.
2. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
3. Add the mango puree and mix until completely incorporated.

The Pineapple Rice Cake with Mango Frosting recipe can also be found at on the Sea House Maui website.

And if you like rice, you can Like the book’s Facebook page at

Tsutsumi’s reminiscences about rice reminded me of my grandmother’s simple dish of salted rice balls, which I loved as a child (I guess kids love anything that you can eat with your hands!). What are your favorite rice memories and rice recipes?