Monday, November 24, 2014

Virtual Christmas

I posted this last year, but as  Advent begins, I am reminded what a special year this was and want to share it again. I 'stole' the idea from a co-worker, so it's not original. But we still have terrific memories of the year without 'real' gifts.

A few years ago, during the financial crisis, most in our family were unable to spend much for gifts. We agreed to give the kids smaller presents, but the adults were in a quandary.

Larry grew up with a large extended family. All the kids got something small, but lots of gifts. Auntie Wanda, who worked in a bank, gave each child a crisp, new two-dollar bill. Uncle Francis brought them each a shiny silver dollar. (Kim still has some of hers.) Auntie Margie loved finding loud and crazy socks. She’d shop all year for them. (And Kim insisted on wearing them—with everything.)

Since Larry’s dad was one of six, and most were married with kids, we often had forty or more on Christmas Eve. Dad was the youngest and was sixteen years younger than his oldest sister. We loved having kids and adults of all ages, and we welcomed a new family member every few years.

The adults drew names for gifts with a $20 limit. This meant each couple only had to buy two adult gifts. Names were drawn on Thanksgiving, but we weren’t particularly strict about sticking with the names as drawn. Much horse trading occurred between that date and Christmas Eve.

Everyone knew Cousin Gerry loved getting Larry’s brother, Casey. Both were pranksters, and Gerry loved giving Casey off-the-wall gifts.

One year, she gave him a large box. When he opened it, the only thing inside was a clue to the next gift. She routed him all over the house until he finally located the small box in the center of her cookie plate. It held a $20 bill. Another year, he received a coffee can filled with change embedded in the most awful mixture of white glue, peanut butter, chocolate syrup… Well, you can imagine. He had to run the whole thing under very hot water before he was able to extract his $20 in change.

I always loved buying gifts for Auntie Margie. She had very definite tastes, and most of the rest of them found her challenging. What a coup when I was able to please her, and I did so often.

For many years, we hosted the entire family, but as the older generation died out, and the ‘kids’ grew up and moved away, the group grew smaller until we were left with only our immediate families.

As Christmas of 2009 approached, some of us were faced with limited resources. My sister-in-love, Lucy, had just started a new job. Casey’s company had folded, as had mine. Kim's company had moved her to Texas and was no longer working two jobs. Our niece, Carrie, and her husband were leaving right after the first of the year to move to Utah. In short, times were financially challenging, and money was tight.

A coworker, faced with the same situation in her family, had just gone back to work after nine months of unemployment. Her family decided on a virtual Christmas. 

The rules were simple:
  •        Decide what you would give each family member if money were no object and without any restrictions.
  •         Write a note to each person, along with pictures or other enhancements (web pages, etc.) to let them know what you’d give them and why.
  •          Put your virtual gift in an envelope, and put it on the tree on Christmas Eve.

Everyone took the challenge seriously. And the gifts we received that year far surpassed any material gifts we might have gotten.

I have kept my virtual gifts locked carefully away along with the birth certificates, marriage certificate, and all the other valuable papers. They are that precious.

Kim ‘gave’ Larry a trip to outer space, complete with photos and a web page. I ‘received’ a house in Hawaii.

My brother, who is a classic car fanatic, ‘gave’ Larry a woody and me a ’57 Thunderbird—my favorite car of all time.

Carrie and Loren had just bought a new house in Utah, so they brought the map of their neighborhood. Their ‘gift’ was a house of our choice on the same block so we could live near them.

Larry’s gift was a trip to Hawaii for the whole family. His gift to me was to retire and travel to all the places on my bucket list: Machu Picchu, England, Scotland (again), New Zealand (again), Italy (again), and Hawaii (always). Oh, and he’d go along.

My gifts were all intangibles. To Kim, I ‘gave’ happiness. To my brother, confidence, and so forth. Larry’s gift reads as follows:

To Larry I would give
In God and your faith
            In your work and your play
                        In your family and home
                                    In love and marriage
You are the greatest blessing in my life.
            If I could do it all over again,
I would. You taught me how to laugh
            And play and love (the best parts).
I love you.

We haven’t done it again, but someday, perhaps, we will. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether or not finances are an issue.

My virtual gift for you? A joyous and blessed holiday season and a prosperous New Year. May all your fondest dreams come true.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Aloha Spirit-Part 2

We returned last week from our most recent vacation in Hawaii. This time, we went back to Waikiki, a place I’ve always loved.
We flew Hawaiian Air Lines, and thoroughly enjoyed the flight. Just like in the old days, the upholstery reflects a Hawaiian aesthetic, as did the flight attendants’ uniforms. Hawaiian music filled the cabin while videos of the islands played on the personal TV screens.

On the trip over, we were served lunch. (Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy any of it since everything contained either cabbage or nuts, neither of which I can eat. Fortunately, I took a protein bar with me, so I had something I could enjoy.) This is one of the few airlines which still serves a meal. On the trip home, I enjoyed the meal.

Once we arrived in Honolulu, we picked up our rental van and then drove into town where we checked into the timeshare our friends had arranged for.

This place had a very strange layout and seemed a bit cramped for four adults. They advertised the maximum capacity as six. We couldn’t begin to figure out how that many would fit!

We slept on the Murphy bed, which dropped down from the wall after much of the furniture was moved out of the way. It was actually quite comfortable—surely much more so than the sofa bed. We’ve slept on those many times and have never found any to accommodate the human body.

However, we never worry too much about space in our room as we spend little time there.

Waikiki itself was a surprise.

Since our last visit, the International Marketplace and all the funky little shops I used to love are gone. Instead, Kalakaua now resembles a Polynesian version of Rodeo Drive loaded chockablock with high-end stores only the Asian tourists seem to be able to afford.
Chanel, Gucci, Coach, Prada, Tiffany, Harry Winston, and virtually every other upscale retailer can be found here. But nearly all of the quirky and uniquely Hawaiian shops and stores are gone.

The large banyan tree, which formed the centerpiece of the International Marketplace, is all that remains. The architectural renderings of the new construction indicate more of the same style stores which already dominate the area.

Visitors to most of these establishments are met with sales people dressed formally in dark suits. They all but ignore American tourists in our shorts and t-shirts.

“Aloha” and “Mahalo” nearly disappeared from the local vocabulary as soon as we deplaned. The warm greetings we used to enjoy—as well as Hawaiian faces—are mostly memories.

Fortunately, the first floor of the building in which we stayed contained a Denny’s restaurant with a terrific local staff. Their selections also reflected the locality with fresh papaya and pineapple on the menu. Another of our favorite locales, the Shorebird Broiler in the Outrigger Hotel, continues to serve a great buffet accompanied by spectacular ocean views. And our favorite special occasion restaurant, Duke’s, still prepares terrific seafood accompanied by a great salad bar.

Each time we plan a trip, we select places we’ve never visited before. This time, we decided to finally visit the Honolulu Art Museum as well as the State of Hawaii Art Museum. Excellent choices.

The highlight of the trip was the special exhibit of Hawaiian Deco at the Honolulu Museum. The show included artwork created between the world wars, including the iconic menu covers from the Matson Line steamships. Several groups of large paintings by specific individual artists were united for the first time. One set had been commissioned for the ships, but when completed, were too large. They were sold to private collectors and corporations. All were loaned to the museum for this show.

We discovered a fabulous Armenian artist, born in Turkey, who studied art in New York and then moved to Hawaii—Arman Manookian.  His vivid images, reminiscent of Gaugin, are striking. He committed suicide at the age of twenty-seven. Only thirty-one of his paintings are known to exist, so being able to see a number of these in one show was a real treat.
We visited several familiar places, including the North Shore, and some continue to be a joy. But the overall feeling of Waikiki has changed drastically.

Would we return? Probably. We still love those few old landmarks which remain as well as the ocean. Are we likely to return to Honolulu soon? Probably not. Much of Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, and Molokai are more reminiscent of the Hawaii we first saw and remember so fondly.

Have you visited Hawaii? What did you like best? What least? How has it changed since your first memories?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A New Book by Marilyn Meredith

My guest today is my prolific friend, mystery writer Marilyn Meredith. She produces two books every year, one each for two different series. I don’t know how she does it. And they are all TERRIFIC!

After Writing So Many Books, Where Do I Get My Inspiration?

That is the question Lorna asked me to answer. What first popped into mind was this: I haven't got a clue.

Usually when I finish a book in my other series, I'm already thinking about what I might write about in the new one for the next series.

With River Spirits, I had no idea what I was going to write at first. I remembered once when a movie was being made in the mountains and the crew and stars were staying in and around town. The major stars were housed at the Springville Inn. When we had dinner at the local Mexican Inn, it wasn't hard to pick out the folks who were working on the movie—besides being strangers, they had on new clothes that they thought people wore in the mountains. Brand new outdoors outfits from places like Lands’ End and J. Crew, instead of normal clothes like all the rest of us wore.

That gave me the idea to write about a movie being made on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation. Once I started writing notes (my version of brainstorming) I knew that I wanted to revisit the legend of the Hairy Man, the local Indians' version of Big Foot.

Because I write mysteries, I began to figure out which of the new characters I should kill off and why. What could this person be guilty of that would be enough of a motive for someone to want him or her dead?

One idea just builds on another until a plot begins to develop.


Blurb for River Spirits:
While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.
Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at
Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour.
He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

Tomorrow you can find me hanging out at Mason Canyon’s place,

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Aloha Spirit

Many years ago, we visited Hawaii for the first time. I worked for a year and saved every extra cent to pay for the eighteen-day trip. As a surfer, Larry had always wanted to go. So we contacted a travel agent (remember those?) and planned our dream trip: five islands, eight plane flights, and thirteen hotels. We wanted to see everything.

Our sense of the Hawaiian began as soon as we boarded the plane. We flew Continental Airlines. At the time, the upholstery on the seats featured a floral print, and the flight attendants wore long Hawaiian-print dresses or shirts. Ukulele music wafted from the speakers. We were greeted with, "Aloha," and thanked with, "Mahalo." Before ever reaching the islands, we were surrounded by aloha spirit.
We arrived in the Hilo airport. As soon as the doors opened, the scents of flowers and fruit assaulted us. I will always remember this as the fragrance of Hawaii.

As we walked through the open-air facility, we heard the gentle sound of tricking water and realized it ran down chains suspended from the eaves into rock-lined pools at the ground. We liked it so much that we now have a chain to channel rainwater from our gutters to the ground. Unfortunately, we rarely have enough rain to hear the lovely sound.

Everywhere we went, all the service people used "Aloha" and "Mahalo." Most wore Hawaiian resort wear: fitted muumuus, and Hawaiian-print shirts. For the most part, everyone we met was friendly and welcoming.

At that time, you could drive all the way around the Big Island, and we did. We went to places which no longer exist, like the Queen's Bath and the big Black Sand Beach.

During that trip, we made our first visit to Kalaupapa, the 'leper colony' on Molokai. (A treatment for what is now called Hansen's disease was discovered in the 1940s. It doesn't cure the disease but it stops the progression. People today who contract it simply undertake a regimen of medications for the rest of their lives. They can now live normally within society.)

When the treatment was begun, those patients who lived at Kalaupapa were allowed to move away if they chose. However, since many of them were deformed and had family and friends on the small peninsula, they were allowed to remain for their lifetime. When we first visited, about 150 patients resided there.

A couple of years later, we went back with our daughter. Several people we had met on the first trip had died, but many were still there, including the same patient/tour guide we'd had on our first visit, 'Primo' Pete. The population at that time was about 125.

Several years after that, we returned with friends. The hospital had burned down, and Pete was dying. The population today is about 90, as of last year.

Richard Marks, a former patient (who called his disease 'leprosy') ran Damien Tours, the group through which we visited. We flew to the peninsula every time rather than taking the mule ride down the pali. On our last visit, he was lobbying the US government to make Kaluapapa a national park. We, along with many of those who loved the place and believed it should be preserved, wrote our congressional representatives in his support.

In 1980, the National Park Service took over the management of the place, guaranteeing lifetime residency to all the remaining patients and forever preserving the historical town and its surroundings from development for future generations.
Even in this isolated area of Hawaii, aloha spirit prevailed. We were welcomed and shown terrific hospitality. On our last visit, we helped harvest papayas from one of the yards and were given four to take back to our hotel with us. These were the sweetest and best-tasting papaya I have ever eaten.

From the Big Island to Molokai to Kauai to Maui to Oahu, wherever we went, people were friendly. The pace slowed down, the fresh fruit tasted amazing, and the days seemed much longer, ending in glorious sunsets.

Sitting in the Honolulu airport waiting for our flight back to California, I started to cry. I wanted to stay there, far away from the fast-paced work world I would find at home.

We have returned many times since, including this week. I have invited a friend to guest blog next week, but the following week, I will describe our latest adventure in Paradise, and it isn't the same as our first.