Archive for December 2015

A year’s worth of mahalo

December 29, 2015

Mahalo 2015

Every day, people volunteer their time and talents to make someone else’s day better. Here are just of the few people and organizations that enriched our lives in 2015:

Mahalo to our public school teachers, Dawn in third grade, Terrie who coordinated the speech festival, Ross in summer school, and Kelcie in fourth grade. Mahalo to Shifu Vernon, who introduced my son to kung fu and Kehau, who taught a basketball clinic. Mahalo to the instructors and volunteers at the Saturday Gene-ius Day Program (my son loves his lab coat).

Mahalo to our neighborhood parks, museums, libraries, and volunteer groups – Koko Head District Park for their ceramics studio, Easter Egg-stravaganza, and free children’s classes; the Hawaii State Art Museum for their Second Saturdays (my favorite art project was watercolor painting); our neighborhood libraries for the fun and philosophical “Happy” (Brittni and Lavour are awesomely talented!), Free Comic Book Day, summer reading programs, afternoon movie, Star Wars Reads Day, and Spooky Halloween Laboratory.

Mahalo to our local companies and shopping centers: Home Depot for their Kids Workshops (my son’s favorite projects this year were a chalkboard and jet); Olomana Golf Club for hosting a Hawaii Junior Golf Day where my son could practice hitting brightly-colored tennis balls at a “golfopotomus”; Watanabe Floral for their Easter Egg Hunt; 7-Eleven for free slurpees on July 11; and Koko Marina Shopping Center for the Halloween Trick-or-Treat and Festival of Lights Boat Parade.

Mahalo for family-friendly events: the 5210 Let’s Go! Keiki Run, which donated money to local schools; the Mauka to Makai Expo at the Waikiki Aquarium; the Hawaii Book and Music Festival, where we met and sang along with PBS’ Steve Songs; the ESPN Sports Festival, where my son tried out rugby and tennis; the 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular at Magic Island; the Children and Youth Day 3k Fun Run at Kakaako Beach Park; and the SOEST Open House at UH Manoa, where we learned about explosions and ocean waves.

And a special mahalo to KHON2 and Living808, who sponsored a “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” prize pack giveaway and chose me as a winner! It was an amazing holiday gift.

What are your favorite events and celebrations from 2015? How have you made your community better?

Best books of 2015

December 22, 2015

Best Books of 2015

This year has been filled with wonderful books, building new words and enriching and past worlds. Many of the books that I’ve enjoyed recently have to do with power (who has it and what to do with it) and responsibility, as well as taking control of your life (through your environment, your attitude, or self-reflection).

Here are some of the best books I’ve read this year:

Best adventure-filled, destroyer and savior Hawaii young adult fiction:
* “The Islands at the End of the World” by Austin Aslan – about struggling to belong, acting on your convictions, the danger of relying on unsustainable resources, events that challenge our faith in God, fighting to go home, and family

Best “Just because I don’t have a power doesn’t mean I’m powerless” young adult fiction:
* “Powerless” by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs – about different kinds of strength, refusing to be a victim, teamwork, trust, and doing the right thing

Best change yourself to change the world epic fantasy:
* “The First Confessor: The Legend of Magda Searus” by Terry Goodkind – about the value of life, finding your purpose, the power of truth, and self-sacrifice

Best trailblazing, sometimes the enemy is you contemporary fantasy:
* “Vision in Silver” by Anne Bishop – about coping with change, adapting to a new life, trust, and working together to build a community

Best sword-wielding, shapeshifting, vampire-controlling paranormal urban fantasy:
* “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews – about choosing your future, choosing between vengeance and life, power and self-sacrifice, and the individual vs. the greater good (with an awesome bad-tempered donkey)

Best high-adrenaline, “intense like a lion is orange” paranormal urban fantasy:
* “Firefight” by Brian Sanderson – about power that corrupts, fate vs. free will (are we destined to destroy?), living in the moment, helping heroes believe, doing the unexpected, and confronting your fears

Best last hope for the future zombie apocalypse science fiction:
* “Girl with All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey – about choosing who you are, what it means to be human or monster, and loyalty

Best declutter your home, declutter your life nonfiction:
* “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo (translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano) – reminding us to keep only the things that give us joy

Best stay calm, ‘be the person you want the students to be’ nonfiction for teachers:
* “Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: ‘No Retreat, No Surrender!’” by Rafe Esquith – written to inspire teachers (and parents) to keep teaching without burning out

Best “claim your life, your experiences, your story” Hawaii nonfiction:
* “Writing the Hawaii Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story” by Darien Gee – helping us write the stories of our lives

Which books have made you laugh, feel great, or change your life this year? Do you have “comfort books” that you turn to when you need to relax or recharge?

Happy reading and happy new year!

Between past injustice and future inequity

December 15, 2015

Na'i Aupuni Election

I am a beneficiary of Native Hawaiian programs, but my grandfather and my parents were not. They weren’t encouraged to be proud of being Hawaiian. It wasn’t something they talked about, and local traditions were much stronger in our household. So I felt mixed feelings when I received the “Official Election Ballot” from Na’i Aupuni to select 40 delegates to participate in an ’Aha, a Constitutional Convention, in February 2016.

Na’i Aupuni is an independent Native Hawaiian community organization founded in 2014 and funded by Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) grant funds to the nonprofit Akamai Foundation. Eligible voters are descendants of the “aboriginal peoples” prior to 1778. The voter roll was compiled by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission through a “verification” process certified by the Commission.

How long must someone live in a place, how many generations must call a place home, before they are considered “native”?

The 40 delegates were apportioned by region – Oahu, Hawai’i Island, Maui, Kaua’i/Ni’ihau, Moloka’i/Lana’i, and Out of State – based on the geographic distribution of the registered Native Hawaiian population. Each delegate was nominated by ten other eligible voters from any region. With over 100 nominees for O’ahu alone, can voters make informed decisions about candidates?

At the ’Aha, delegates will try to reach a consensus about Native Hawaiian self-governance and may submit a governing document to eligible voters. With an intense constitutional convention schedule “over the course of eight consecutive weeks (40 hour work days, Monday through Friday)”, will the nominees be limited to the retired, the wealthy, or the poor?

Should governance-related elections be open to everyone who lives in and chooses to be part of a city, a state, a nation?

Days before the end of the election, the US Supreme Court issued a temporary stay blocking the counting of votes (but not the election itself) and stopping the certification of any winners. Na’i Aupuni responded by extending the deadline to vote by 21 days.

I’m not sure whether the Supreme Court ruling is constitutional or disenfranchising. Maybe it’s both. In fact, while I support a Native Hawaiian constitutional convention, I still don’t know how I feel about Native Hawaiian self-governance. I am uncomfortably caught between correcting past injustice and creating future inequity.

How many generations must atone for past injustices?

Do you support the Na’i Aupuni election? If you are eligible to vote, have you voted and do you think that a constitutional convention is the right thing to do? If you aren’t eligible to vote, do you want to be a part of the nation building or do you think that it’s unconstitutional?

Gambling with our health in 2016

December 8, 2015

Health Care

Last month, I received a renewal letter for our 2016 health insurance coverage, and I was shocked to read that our monthly premium is going up over $200 – an increase of 34%. To be able to afford health insurance, we are downgrading our health care plan even more, with a very high deductible.

We are gambling with our wallets, hoping that we will be healthy in the coming year.

This is not the first time that our health insurance premiums have skyrocketed. In 2010, under the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act, we had a very good health care plan with our employer. Over the years, premiums slowly increased for our family of three, but we had time to adjust. Four years later, we felt the jarring impact of the Affordable Care Act: our monthly premium went up over $200 – an over 30% increase. Then, as now, we switched to a lower-benefit plan in order to afford our health insurance.

I know that health care is expensive. I know that the costs of providing health care increase every year. I know that we have access to good health care in Hawaii. And I just learned that Hawaii’s health care premiums are among the lowest in the nation, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Now I am apprehensive that next year when premiums increase, there is no other “basic” plan that we can downgrade to in order to keep our premiums affordable.

I thought that adding more people to health insurance plans would result in some economies of scale and cost savings in the long run. But in the case of health care, more demand results in higher costs.

Based on my experiences with health insurance in Hawaii, I have three suggestions:

Suggestion #1: We need to make health care premium increases more gradual. The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Insurance Division approved a 2016 rate hike because health care providers say it is necessary. A 20% or 30% increase isn’t affordable for most of us. I’d like to be able to limit the percent increase of health care premiums (and state taxes too). It all comes down to figuring out how we can make drastic rate hikes unnecessary.

What if we could limit annual health care premium increases to a set percentage or dollar amount? This would help us budget our money for the coming year.

Suggestion #2: We need access to up-front, published rates for medical and dental services. I would like to see doctors, dentists, optometrists, specialty-care physicians, clinics, and hospitals tell us the costs for services, labs, and procedures without insurance. This would help us compare rates and levels of service among health care providers, and figure out which level of health insurance works for us.

What if doctors decided to accept “cash only” (cash, checks, and credit cards) for services, and individuals were responsible for getting reimbursed from health care insurers? Would this lower the cost of health care, because doctors could focus on serving patients, instead of billing? Would this make individuals more proactive about preventative care and more cost-conscious about health care?

Suggestion #3: We need to move away from health care through employers. By linking health care with individuals, there’s no loss of coverage if we change jobs and we don’t need to rely on employers to make health care plan decisions for us.

What if we received a Health Care Card in addition to a Social Security Card upon birth or naturalization? We could automatically sign up children for pediatric medical and dental plans at the same time that parents fill out birth certificate forms.

Do you think that the Affordable Care Act has been good for Hawaii? How has the Affordable Care Act affected you?

“Writing the Hawaii Memoir” by Darien Gee

December 5, 2015

Writing the Hawaii Memoir

We all have experiences, memories, and life lessons that are worth sharing. That’s the foundation of “Writing the Hawai’i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story” (2014) by author and writing workshop instructor Darien Gee.

I’ve been writing down anecdotes, conversations, and memories for most of my life. There are lost diaries from my elementary school years, college-ruled journal entries from high school, odd conversations with myself for English language assignments, digital pages of everyday life, and currently a “one line a day” five-year memory book. But until now, I haven’t considered putting it together for others to read.

“Writing the Hawai’i Memoir” is a handbook to help people tell the stories of their lives – whether through memoirs, family history projects, biographies, school projects, person essays, or journal entries. It emphasizes that all of our lives are meaningful. There are personal stories, writing prompts and exercises, and a list of additional resources covering everything from getting started and revising your work to getting feedback and publication – and writing the next story.

With easy-to-read suggestions, practical advice, and encouraging exercises, Gee gives us the confidence and tools we need to begin a memoir – and finish it. Here are six important reminders:

  1. Start wherever you are.
  2. Biographies and autobiographies are based on fact; memoirs are based on memories and moments.
  3. Write the truth of the story. If your memory differs from the facts, acknowledge it.
  4. A memoir is not about the event itself, but what you did in response and how it changed you or didn’t.
  5. Just because it happened doesn’t mean you have to write about it.
  6. First drafts, no matter how awful, are good. Now you have something to work with and revise.

Gee includes issues and concerns specific to Hawai’i writers, such as the use of pidgin English, a local culture that generally downplays achievements and embarrassments. Some of the writing exercises have a clear Hawaiian inspiration, such as the “Bento Box” exercise and the “Pua Petal” character technique (both of which can be downloaded free from the Legacy Isle Publishing website). There is even a list of memoir themes to help us get started.

Here are just a few of the writing exercises and advice that Gee offers, for each step of your writing:

* Start with why. Why am I writing my memoir? Why now? How would I feel if I didn’t write my memoir? How will I when I finish writing my memoir?

* Remember when. Look through old photos, letters, journals, yearbooks, and mementos. Write “I remember…” thoughts. Jot down your firsts – first car, first kiss, first airplane ride, first time you got into trouble…

* Three words. Describe yourself in three words to different people – an employer, a landlord, a blind date, children, your grandchildren, the President of the United States.

* Contemplate the worst. List 5 things you don’t want to write about or feel you shouldn’t write about. Then take the first item on the list and take 10 minutes to write about the worst thing that could happen if you did write about it.

* Reflect on your values. Choose 10 values that reflect you and write a personal essay for each of them, demonstrating why it is significant to you.

“No one can write the book you are going to write,” Gee states. Most of the time, what I write is just for me. Sometimes I wonder whether my son would like to read about his early years. Sometimes I hope that no one reads what I wrote when I was younger and more self-involved. “Writing the Hawai’i Memoir” has made me feel more purposeful and thoughtful about my writing.


Note: After writing a “Six-Word Memoir” (one of the writing exercises in this book), I won “Writing the Hawai’i Memoir” from Legacy Isle Publishing. They didn’t ask me to review the book.