The Merrie Monarch Festival

Years ago, I took up hula dancing and loved it. Hula is a combination of dance and story, legend, culture and pure magic. While dancing hula, my teachers educated me on what every move and every gesture meant as well as its cultural significance.  I loved everything about it, and while I danced I felt elevated to another world.

Unfortunately, two torn rotator cuffs (not torn through hula, by the way) forced me to quit dancing. There is still one lovely dance called “Melelana,” that I am still able to dance for my own pleasure–carefully. I also like to keep up with the annual *Merrie Monarch festival, held each year in Hilo, Hawaii in for a week toward the end of March until the beginning of April. The festival begins with a parade, and there are several competition levels for traditional dance–children, some as young as 3 years old (or keiki, meaning ‘children’) and up, teens and adults. Also there are all-female and all-male dances and dancers from many dance schools in Hawaii.

The Merrie Monarch festival is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalākaua, the last king of the Kingdom of Hawaii (1874 until his death in 1891). King Kalākaua fully supported the arts, especially music and dance. He helped to revive many of the endangered native Hawaiian traditions such as mythology, medicine, and chant. He fully supported hula, an ancient and  traditional form of dance. In fact, long before there was a written Hawaiian language, stories were “told” via hula.

Sadly, too many of the cultural practices, especially hula were suppressed for many years under missionary teachings. The European missionaries felt that hula was salacious and encouraged “ungodly behavior.” However, on the plus side, the missionaries were the first ones to convert the oral Hawaiian language to a written language which survives to this day.

If you have never experienced the power and sheer beauty of Hawaiian dance, look it up online. You can find years of Merrie Monarch festivals; they are mesmerizing. Even the tiniest hand movement has meaning. When I danced regularly, my teachers (or “kumus”) were dedicated to absolute authenticity for every move and every gesture. This is all part of honoring the past and also the spirit of hula. In fact, many sacred hulas are prayed over before they are danced to honor the roots of the dance.

From my own experience I can tell you that dancing hula was a privilege and a great learning experience. It can be joyous, wild and seemingly chaotic, gentle and soothing, mystical and magic; a link to a distant and precious past. When I could dance correctly and with humility, it felt as though those ancient spirits were nodding in approval; that I was honoring them with every move.

If you have been lucky enough to visit anywhere in the Hawaiian islands, you will have heard that it is bad luck to take home the black sand (lava rock) from the beaches. This is also called “**Pele’s curse.” Whether or not it is true is always a good subject for discussion. However, it is a very good idea not to test it.

My dance teachers had visited Hawaii, and had a series of unfortunate events happen to them. They discovered that they had unwittingly brought home some of the lava rock embedded in a beach shoe. They immediately took the rock to the nearest ocean and threw it in with a prayer to Pele that she would accept their apologies and return the rock safely back to its original beach.

True or false? You can decide for yourself. However, Pele isn’t an entity you want to mess with; she’s pretty fierce.


*The Merrie Monarch Festival began in 1963 when Helene Hale, then Executive Officer of Hawaii, decided to create an event to increase tourism to the Island of Hawaii. The island had suffered from economic problems after the collapse of the sugar industry, and it was hoped that a festival would boost the depressed economy. Along with George Naʻope and Gene Wilhelm, Hale organized the first Merrie Monarch Festival in 1964. This festival “consisted of a King Kalākaua beard look–alike contest, a barbershop quartet contest, a relay race, a re–creation of King Kalākaua’s coronation, and a Holoku (dress) Ball among other events.”

By 1968, the festival had waned in popularity. Dottie Thompson took over the festival as Executive Director, and transformed it into a private community organization. Thompson “wanted to move the festival more toward a Hawaiian theme,” a goal that was accomplished by centering the festival events around hula. In 1971 Thompson and Na’ope introduced a hula competition. Nine wahine (female) hālau (schools) entered the competition in its first year, and in 1976 the festival opened the competition to kāne (male) hālau.

Today, the Merrie Monarch Festival is an annual week–long event culminating in three days of prestigious hula competitions.It is now a non–profit organization registered with the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Proceeds from the festival support educational scholarships, workshops, seminars, symposiums and the continuation of the event itself.

“Cultural significance: Many believe that the Merrie Monarch Festival “brought about a renaissance of Hawaiian culture.” The festival identifies four goals related to Hawaiian culture: “1) Perpetuating the traditional culture of the Hawaiian people; 2) Developing and augmenting a living knowledge of Hawaiian arts and crafts through workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions and performances of the highest quality and authenticity; 3) Reaching those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate; and, 4) Enriching the future lives of all of Hawaii’s children,” and claims that through the festival “thousands of people in Hawaii and throughout the world are learning about the history and culture of Hawaii.” The Merrie Monarch Festival “has received worldwide recognition for its historic and cultural significance.”

Posted in Wikipedia.

**Pele is well known as a volcano goddess living in the crater of Kilauea on the island of Hawaii.

News For the Newshawk

Early in the morning when the day is new

I want to have a little chit-chat; you want the news.

I had a great night’s sleep and want to start my day

With a little conversation–what more can I say?

But you need to know what’s going on in this troubled world of ours–

Where is ISIS now, who shot whom and what of the ruling powers?

Politics, weather, sports, the nation’s fears—

What chance do I have to catch your ears?

I try to pick a time to speak, but you’re not hearing me–

First thing in the morning’s when you want to watch TV.

I guess I’ll have to start my day by leaving notes for you

To remind you that I’m still here and still loving you–

And would appreciate your time on mornings such as this,

The news will change, it always does, but I am still desirous–

Of your time and attention for just a little while

Could you not live without a break from all that rank and file?

You’d think by now after all this time

I’d figure out your routine, but I’m

Guessing that you’ll always be a news and weather hawk

So I’ll either slouch away to do something else or perhaps take a walk–

But just remember this: the news will change,

Nuts and weirdos will continue to be strange

There will always be war, world issues and strife

Just please don’t forget to chat now and then with your wife!





White Shoulders Perfume

My grandmother, whom we all called “Ba,” was a many-layered person. She was Irish, and proud of it. Her people came from Galway, and, although she was born in America, she never forgot her roots. I met her when I was four years old, and she immediately claimed me for her own. She was short and stout, and smelled like peppermint and soap. When I was visiting, she often would come up behind me, wrap her arms around me, kiss my head and say, “You are my own!”

She was a gardening wizard; any seed she put into the ground flourished. If regular columbine flowers were as large as a quarter, hers were the size of a man’s palm. She taught me how to sew on her ancient Singer treadle machine. There wasn’t a garment she couldn’t make; dresses, aprons, skirts, blazers, nightgowns, and more. Anything she sewed was flawless. She also loved making Christmas ornaments out of velvet, ribbons and bits of broken necklaces or earrings. Even the packages she wrapped for Christmas were works of art—one year all her packages were wrapped in shiny pale pink paper with coppery ribbon, and garnished with shellacked oak twigs with acorns.

Animals, especially birds, were attracted to her. It wasn’t unusual to see her out in the back yard standing still, with a few small birds circling over her head. One morning my grandfather woke me up early and told me to come with him. We looked out of the pantry window, and there was Ba standing in front of her garden, her back facing us. Right behind her was a doe, her beautiful head resting on Ba’s shoulder.

Her meals were always wonderful, and her baking was outstanding. Even when I was in college she sent me “care packages” full of her delicious cookies. Her fruit pies were lumpy and bumpy and mouthwatering. Ba’s holiday meals were unforgettable: for Thanksgiving, a huge turkey stuffed with cornbread and sage dressing with all the trimmings, for Christmas Eve, her special club chowder made with oysters, clams, lobster, scallops and crab meat, along with her homemade watermelon pickles, and for Christmas day, a standing rib roast. Even birthdays were an occasion. My birthday in July meant a beautiful iced ring cake with a crystal glass of fresh flowers in the middle.

Her favorite color was pink. There was a room upstairs I slept in when I was visiting that was all done in pink; walls and ceiling, with pink bedding. It was like being inside a lovely seashell. Whenever I visited and stayed overnight, I loved being in that room. I would wake up the next day to the smell of fresh coffee, and the murmurs of my grandparents. Breakfast was always eggs, bacon and buttered toast.

Ba never learned to drive, and whenever my grandfather took her out even just to go food shopping, she dressed for the occasion. She even put on makeup, and always spritzed herself with her favorite White Shoulders perfume. How I loved that smell! Even today, that scent takes me back to those days when I sat in the back of my grandparents’ immaculately clean car, breathing in that heavenly waft.

When she died, I was able to hold back my tears because of what she had told me years earlier. She said that I wasn’t to be upset upon seeing her body; that that was only her “shell.” She told me, “The real me will be far away, up in the sky with the angels. I will always be with you, so don’t worry.”

Years later, I was attending the funeral of a friend’s mother. I was the only woman in that section of the church. Suddenly I smelled White Shoulders perfume. I leaned back, and it was just as though Ba was sitting right there, her arms around me as so many times before.

Although I missed her terribly, I knew then that she was with me still, communicating in a way she knew I would instantly recognize.



Happy Easter!

How do YOU celebrate Easter? Do you go to your church’s sunrise service? Do you visit relatives and have a big holiday dinner together? Do you give or receive Easter baskets filled with treats? Or do you do nothing special at all?

In my family, each and every holiday was celebrated richly at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother, “Ba,” would cook and bake all the day before to produce a luscious dinner the next day. We all sat down in our Easter best, and enjoyed the meal. The best linen tablecloth was used, along with matching napkins (I remember hating to use them because I didn’t want to get them dirty!), and the “good” silver and china.

On Easter morning, I always woke up to a beautiful Easter basket, filled with jelly beans, chocolate and caramel eggs, a big chocolate bunny, and usually a little toy as well. Up until the time I was about 9 years old, I believed in the Easter Bunny with all my heart. As I drifted off to sleep the night before Easter, I imagined a tall white rabbit, walking on his hind legs, carrying lots of baskets of goodies, a happy rabbit-y smile on his face.

That night before Easter I happened to wake while my parents were still up, and noticed that my Easter basket was already on my night table! In that instant I knew that the real Easter Bunny was my parents. The pang of discovery didn’t last long; after all, I still had a full Easter basket to enjoy the next day. I never told my parents about my discovery because I didn’t want to stop getting an Easter basket.

These days the Crankee Yankee and I may give each other funny cards and some chocolate, or not. We always wake up and say “Happy Easter” to each other, then get up to feed the four cats who really don’t care if it’s a holiday or not–they just want their breakfast.

Today we will be enjoying ham, baked butternut squash, green beans in a lemon zest and butter sauce, plus apple crisp. Except for the ham, it’s all homemade, and yesterday we brought my Dad a serving of everything. Holidays have become a lighter affair these days; casual with less prep, but a more and deeper kind of love and affection. We are well aware that our lives have changed, but we celebrate still because there is so much to celebrate each day. Easter is just another reason to love each other and celebrate the fact that we are here on Earth with each other.

So wherever you are, whoever you are with, and however your life is, please have a wonderful Easter and know you are loved dearly and more than you know.




Rest in the Day

Ever have a day where there is plenty to do but you just can’t get started? Everything you think you should be doing suddenly seems too much, or too hard or too much trouble or you just can’t pull yourself together. These are the days I have learned to say to myself to just ‘ rest in the day.’

That means that probably nothing of any consequence will get done–and does it really have to get done right then? If you are as stone-stubborn as I am, you will probably beat yourself up to ‘get going, already!’ But I’ve learned (painfully) that there are just days that are meant to be lived without doing much of anything. I prefer to think of those days as “recharge” days.

This concept never fully took root until I helped care for my dying mom along with my dad. She was in Hospice care, and the nurses became friends and family to us; they loved my mother, cared for Dad and me, and helped us beyond measure. However, Hospice care does not mean that an experienced nurse will be there 24/7. Dad and I found ourselves doing things for which we felt woefully inadequate.

Thanks to the kindness and love of my dear best friend (and sister-in-law–how lucky am I?), I found help on caretaker web sites to which she directed me. I learned that I was not alone in my fear and frustration, and that so many people were dealing with these same issues. It made my perspective on everything wider, better, and I learned that my feelings are very common. I also learned that you absolutely MUST take time for yourself. You may not always get all the time you need or want, but trust me–any time to yourself will help.

If I needed more proof that I was in fact suffering from “caretaker-itis,” I realized that my own body was sending me more and more urgent messages. In metaphysical terms, our right side is our “giving” side, and our left is our “receiving” side. I happened to look down at my fingernails on my right hand during a particularly hard day. All the cuticles on my right hand were overgrown, ragged, and discolored. My right shoulder gave me constant pain, as did my right knee.

My left hand was fine; cuticles neat and clean. My left shoulder, which had suffered a major rotator cuff tear years ago, wasn’t hurting, and neither was my left knee. Coincidence? Not at all.

We absolutely can’t pour water out of an empty pitcher, nor can we do more than we are able to do. Even if we take five minutes to just close our eyes, relax and think of a beautiful memory, or just stick our heads out of the door and breathe some fresh air–it helps. If we don’t give ourselves the love and care we would lavish on a loved one, we can’t be as effective as we want to be. We must remember that WE matter as well.

Let’s all give ourselves permission to rest in the day. We deserve it.

Housework Mysteries

I am an ‘ok’ housekeeper; that is, I don’t drop a pot full of spaghetti sauce on the floor and leave it there to harden for all eternity. Let’s just say that I keep up, and there are not too many visible messes.

However, over time I’ve discovered what may be another dimension–that of housework mysteries. I’m reaching out here because I have some questions about these mysteries. I encourage comments; there are some housework mysteries I just can’t figure out.

Housework Mystery 1: I use Windex for a lot of things. As you know, the top of the bottle has a little square top with a tiny hole from which the liquid squirts. Here’s my question: after I’ve used the Windex, I put it away with the little yellow top still in the position I last used it. Should I pick up the bottle to use it in, say, three days, I spray whatever surface I want to clean, and–NOTHING COMES OUT.

Mind you, I can see that there is a raised “ON” and “OFF” printed on the sides of the little yellow square, but it LIES.

I left the dang thing in place after I used it the last time. Shouldn’t that mean that it will spray just as it did the last time I used it? But it doesn’t, and I’ll be dipped if I can figure out why. Is there some evil Windex fairy who maliciously turns the little yellow square around once I put it away?

Housework Mystery 2: When I pick up the toaster to clean out all the toast crumbs and bagel debris, I first remove the little pan at the bottom. I dump out all the crumbs, clean it and put it back. But when I pick up the toaster, I can hear more crumb-age rattling around in there. So I tip the toaster upside-down and shake it. More crumbs fall out; good deal! But when I turn it back over, there are still crumbs rattling around. What the heck are they hanging onto where they won’t spill out?

Housework Mystery 3: I keep a big purple ceramic open-mouthed frog on the left side of the sink. His job is to hold a soap pad in his mouth so that I  can use it when I need to. When I change the old rusty soap pad for a new one, I dump out any residual water that might be in Froggie’s mouth. But when I turn him over, his bottom is covered in old soap. Is this ceramic frog poop?

Housework Mystery 4: Hairy rugs–we have three beautiful Persian rugs that we love. Unfortunately, the cats love them, too, so there is a constant scrim of black, white, gray and yellow fur on them. Either the Crankee Yankee or I will vacuum these rugs so that the original jewel-like tones are bright again. Usually we brush the cats first to cut down on cleanup. Once vacuumed, we all enjoy how truly lovely those rugs are. But even after brushing and vacuuming, the cats’ fur is again on the rugs in record time (in hours, not days). What–does vacuuming encourage cat fur growth? We are starting to think so.

So, please do weigh in on these strange housework mysteries. I’d love to hear if the same strange stuff happens to you, too!


Cats on the Bed

All our cats are on the bed,

One is sleeping on her head.

Their eyes are closed, their tails are down

And not a one of them wears a frown.

Their breathing’s deep—

They are sound asleep.

Not a twitch of tail do I see,

Not one will wake and look at me.

They dream of mice and milk,

And great big pillows stuffed with silk–

They sleep on soundly and make no purr

Nor show one ripple upon their fur.

They run the entire house, it’s true

So hogging the bed all day seems their due–

But as soon as WE want to get to bed and rest

Well, then–it’s time for all cats to become big pests–

Their rest time’s done

Now it’s time for fun!

They run, they jump, they bounce and howl,

The game is afoot, and they’re off to prowl

For every loud and noisy thing they can find,

That keep us wakeful and ready to lose our minds–

But cats are cats and that’s how they roll

Woe to us who have lost all control!

But then of course, we have to laugh

Because cats are bosses and we’re just staff!






Spring’s Little Joke–More Snow!

Well, here we are, just a day or two after the official start of Spring, and guess what? We got about 6″ of snow! This is classic New England Spring; the air warms, the cardinals and goldfinches start to show up around our feeders, beautiful crocuses pop out of the ground, the sun feels good and then BANG! We get snow, and sometimes lots of it before Spring really gets rolling.

But we’re not surprised. This happens nearly every year. We didn’t even bother to clean off the snow except to make a few cat trails behind the house for our two indoor/outdoor cats. They weren’t too pleased with getting their feet wet and  cold, so they slouched back inside and grumpily napped most of the day. So did we. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just not do much of anything but relax and watch the snow melt.

Later on in the afternoon as the sun was out in full, and snow was slowly but surely disappearing, I glanced over at the Crankee Yankee. There he was, sprawled out in the recliner, dressed in overalls and blue and green Argyle socks–always the fashion statement. I was wearing my hot pink t-shirt, black yoga pants and my favorite pink and black candy cane socks. All the cats were laid out on the bed, or the window sills or the couch, two of them snoring.

All I could feel was complete and utter contentment.