New book, new millennium

20 08 2012

Click to zoom into coverJust released! In time for my family reunion: The Chong Family in A New Millennium, by James H. Kim On Chong-Gossard and edited by yours truly (Chong Hee Books, 2012). This is the project that kept me busy in the studio for the past several months!

Author Chong-Gossard is my first cousin once removed and the family genealogist, the keeper of the family tree. He wrote the main text that tells the family story beginning with my maternal grandparents emigrating from China to Kohala on Hawai‘i island and how they reared 15 children. Other articles, anecdotes, essays, family photos, genealogy charts, and a memorial section round out the story to bring the reader up to the present day.

I’d like to share the book with you. To read an electronic version, head over to The printed book is available at


A family reunion and another book seemed right for 2012, Jim Chong-Gossard and I agreed. We would plan both for the 20th anniversary of The Chong Family History that he authored and that launched Chong Hee Books in 1992. (Chong Hee means long-winded in Chinese. ;-))

Cousin Jim was and still is the most literate person in publishing I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my career. We simply speak the same “language,” and he can read my mind or even answer my next question before I ask it. I don’t have to blue-pencil his manuscripts much.

We started by discussing what we wanted our book to accomplish. I had some concepts and visions swirling in my mind that Jim was able to merge with his own insights, giving them focus. As author he’s quick to grasp the ideas and articulate them. We spent two long weekend evenings during Jim’s faculty leave, separated by about six weeks, working together at the studio to set up the direction of the book. We had lunch with a few other relatives to test our method.

I was looking for a story that was fresh, candid, current, spontaneous and loving. Then Jim went back to Australia to teach at the University of Melbourne, and I began to scour my cousins’ Facebook albums for images and postings that told a story.

The technology of Facebook and have changed publishing, and The Chong Family in A New Millennium is an example of how. I wanted to try an e-book as well as the usual ink-on-paper. I did enough research to decide the book did not have to be an e-book per se; I just wanted readers to have access to it from the internet. If I could create Rebekah’s Studio using, then I could use the same free blog service and software — something I was already familiar with — for the new book.

I created the genealogy charts on Excel with the data Jim collected from family. No need for fancier software. To have a family tree appear as a chart on the screen and not a link that viewers would have to click on and then leave the site, I converted it to a pdf and then used — a tip from the wonderful volunteer techie on the Forum (quick help when you need it).

I picked a simple theme (layout) for the electronic version because I wanted the text and photos to translate easily to print. Somewhere I had read about “blog to book” and I began to research the possibilities. I settled on the book service of, mainly because blurb has been around for awhile, and the description of the service was comparatively easy to understand.

I read the entire site before taking a leap of faith and downloading the free software application called BookSmart, one of several to choose from. The software one picks depends on the original format that the book is in. In my case, it was a blog that BookSmart would “slurp” (new vocabulary word) into a layout template that I chose.

The advantage of going this route and not supporting my local printer was the time I saved, especially as I had a hard deadline. I wanted the books available at our family reunion. Once I thought every page was perfect, I clicked the Order button for one single copy—you can order one or more than one—and the book immediately was on the printing press and delivered in about 10 days. This is called “print on demand” for small runs. The single copy served as my proof copy that I gave to my detail-oriented friend Rosemary to read before I made final corrections and placed a larger order.

Understand that there is a learning curve. BookSmart is just an editing and publishing tool, after all, and I was fortunate to be from the old school of cut and paste with rubber cement. But what a tool! The technology is exciting! If the resolution of a photo is not correct, for example, it will suggest that you fix it. Just click on the Fix button and voilà! If it is totally unusable, it will say so as well. The application allows you to drag and drop into your layout, and you can even edit the layout (though I did not take the time to learn how to do that; the choices of existing layouts worked fine for my needs). I am very happy with the results.

Here’s the best part. has an online bookstore and will take care of everything, right down to depositing money into your PayPal account. Now, how cool is that?!

Copyright 2012 Rebekah Luke

Let it snow!

2 12 2009

Where does a Hawaiian island girl go on vacation? To places where it is cold and snowy. To places where I can wear clothes! In a few days I’ll be on my way to central Europe to visit the Christmas markets where I know it will be very cold.  I am wishing for snow.

Somewhere along the river cruise route from Germany to Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary there might be some of that falling white fluffy stuff. Maybe in Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, or Budapest? I’ve got my snow boots packed! In the meantime, our WordPress host is accommodating by snowing on Rebekah’s Studio. Cool, huh? (pun intended)

Here’s a picture of a picture of my very first snowman the year I declared, as an adult, that I wanted a winter vacation. It was the first time I deliberately traveled to a cold place. My visit to Anchorage, Alaska, coincided with the Fur Rendezvous festival in Anchorage.

Heather and Sean showed me how to build a snowman in Alaska

A couple of seasons before that, it snowed in the mountains on the San Francisco peninsula in California during the coldest winter since such-and-such year. I was working for Sunset magazine at the time. That winter I remember the first snowball thrown at me at Yosemite National Park where the waterfalls were frozen and the scenery was gorgeous-crisp and quiet.

Throughout our 25 years of marriage, DH and I often visited his parents, brother’s and sister’s families in Pennsylvania during the winter holiday, so often that my friends would ask if I ever went anywhere else besides Pennsylvania.

The last December we went to the East Coast, before this one, was to see his parents at their funerals within two weeks of each other. We huddled under the falling snow and placed orchid lei on the ground in the church’s memorial garden where we buried their ashes.

One weekend we took the train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. We stayed at the Pen Arts building that is the headquarters for the National League of American Pen Women, the members’ clubhouse. The staff went home for the weekend, and the mansion was ours. To trek around in the snow the next morning, though, we first had to get out of the front door. Thank goodness DH remembered how to shovel the steps and to say, “Yes, thank you!” when a man came by to ask if he should salt the sidewalk.

If you have to live in wintry weather all the time, I’m sure it could be more tiresome than romantic. But if you are born and reared in Hawaii as I was, it’s a novelty.

When I was in Osaka, Japan, one February for the opening of the Oceania exhibit at Minpaku (the National Museum of Ethnology) at Senri Park, Professor Shimizu regretted to tell me, when I asked, that it probably would not snow. A few minutes into lunch, he was really surprised to see the white flakes falling outside the dining room window. But I wasn’t.

Here is the link to Minpaku. The photo you see is an exact replica of Hale Kuai Cooperative store with authentic Native Hawaiian made products in Hauula, Oahu, that I co-founded with Ka Lahui Hawaii. How it got there as the Hawaiian part of the permanent Oceania exhibit at the museum is an amazing story, a real memoir that I’ll share with you someday.

I say it’s fitting that WordPress bless this blog with snow. Please enjoy it warmly in front of your computer! I’m planning to send holiday posts while abroad.

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

On being there

15 09 2009

Ayla learned how to kick off her blanket this morning as a result of my playing peekaboo with the receiving blanket and her legs. Still in the car seat from the ride to our house, she kicked off the cloth on cue repeatedly, smiling widely, then cooing each time I covered her tiny little feet with it, liking the great game with Popo (Chinese grandmother, me). So much fun, she started giggling!

Was that her first giggle? I thought how blessed darling husband is to be the caregiver for this child. He’s there during the daytime when the baby’s cheerfully awake. While Ayla’s parents are away at work, he’s treated to many of baby’s firsts. I began reflecting on how the sweetest and most rewarding moments of life have to do with being there.

In my professional work, being there has made all the difference.

As a general assignment reporter who wrote the daily news, I had to be at events as they were happening, or there would be no story.

As a photographer, I could not notice a gorgeous scene and decide to come back later to make the picture because later the light will have changed and be different. I would have missed the shot.

As a children’s book designer who worked with models, locations, and photography, I had to go there to the photo; it wasn’t going to come to me.

As a plein air landscape painter, I have to be on location the same time each day until the painting is finished to capture the light I saw the first time.

Nowadays back at the studio, I’m experimenting with painting still life and changing my technique. My intention is to paint looser, to use a different color palette than my landscape greens, to apply definite strokes of thick oil paint with a palette knife, and to paint fast. This requires being in the mood, being in the present, and being able to concentrate in order to get it right the first time.

Mango papaya pineapple

Mango papaya pineapple

I’m painting subject matter that’s appeared previously in this blog. Wanting to capture magnificence before it fades away, I had to be there to witness the mangos turn from green to shades of red and red-orange to bright yummy yellow. I had to be there to see the night blooming cereus open for one night only until next year.

Something funny happened, too, because I wasn’t there. As the green, almost-ripe avocado pear sat on the table of my set, waiting for me to preserve its three pounds of glory in a painting, its color turned to the alizarin-brown of ripeness. Before I got around to putting pigment on canvas, I had to eat it!

As a Reiki practitioner, I know that our Reiki Master in Spirit is there for us all the time. We just have to relax, be open to receive, smile, and maybe giggle to witness the healing.

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

To see more images, click on PAINTINGS in the menu bar.

What is family, island style

13 09 2009

Today might be a good day to talk about my family, or shall I say families. I’ll at least start. I am an only child, and my bloodline ends with me. Sometimes people feel sorry for me because of that, until they discover, “Oh, you have Family!”

Today might be good day to talk about family because we’re having Sunday dinner with my hanai family at our house, and I’m cooking. It’s our turn, and it will be a coming out party for 4-month-old Ayla (see my post “Miss Marvelous discovers her toes”), who is the daughter of my step-daughter.

My hanai (adopted) family came into my life about the time I transitioned from high school to college, well, earlier when I met Margy the first day I was a 9th grader. We remained best friends through Punahou. During my parents’ divorce when I was 17, Margy’s  parents—a doctor and his wife with six children—welcomed me into their home where I roomed until I landed my first job at The Honolulu Advertiser as a general assignment reporter. With that job I earned enough money to pay for my own apartment on Lanihuli Drive and moved out.

Family dinner is usually at Mom’s house. This is typical everywhere, as long as the matriarch is living, isn’t it? After that, the family sort of breaks up and the next generation of matriarchs takes over.

We’ll see who shows up: My nephew might have a flag football game. I’m told he is one of the better players. His dad who followed his father’s footsteps and became a physician—stay with me, now—might be on call. My sister, who competes in dressage, is showing her horse for the first time in a two-day event this weekend and hopes she will have the energy afterward to drive out to Kaaawa from Waimanalo. And ditto about the energy for a brother and his family who have a lunch party to attend at Bellows beach.

Some of my hanai family in the summer of 2008 in Washington, D. C., the year our mom Ivalee received the Jefferson Award.

Mom, who doesn’t drive anymore, will be catching a ride with Becky. Becky and I were each others’ first roommates in the Lanihuli apartment, and she’s family too. In any case, I’m making food for 15. Everyone wants to see and meet the baby.

Today might be a good day to talk about family because on Reiki Friday I saw a client from glee club who read my post “Sweet memories and coming home, part 1” and asked if I was related to Uncle Harry and Aunty Edna.

It is a growing fashion these days where I live to address anyone older than you, if even by a couple of years, as Uncle and Aunty whether you are related by blood or not. I’m sure it is done out of respect, but some people use the names almost as if they are punctuation marks in a way that, in my opinion, dilutes the title. I tend to agree with an authority on Hawaiian naming at Kamehameha Schools who prefers not to be called Uncle unless he is your real uncle. That’s okay, you can call me Aunty, but I prefer Aunty Rebekah.

So when my client asked if I was related to Uncle Harry and Aunty Edna, I thought to myself, yes, that’s why they are Uncle and Aunty, but I understood why she asked. Then I saw her resemblance to Harry. It turns out that Harry and Edna were her uncle and aunty too, and we’re related!—by marriage.

“We used to drive to Wahiawa to get lychee every year,” she said.  As they say, small world. Through family ties that extend all the way back to Kohala and the Basel Mission in China’s Kwangtung province, she explained how she knew many of my first cousins on my mother’s side of the family. My mother was the youngest of 15 Chongs. But that is another story, a story told in The Chong Family History by J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard.* I sent my client off with a copy. “You’ll enjoy this because you know all of the people in it,” I said.

We are One.

My maternal grandparents and 13 of their 15 children in Kohala. My mother, seated front row and center, ws the baby of the family.

These are my ancestors: my maternal grandparents and 13 of their 15 children in Kohala in 1920. My mother, seated front row and center, was three years old and the baby of the family. Edna is the tall, darker complected girl on the right in the back row.

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

* The Chong Family History by J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard (Kaaawa: Chong Hee Books, 1992, ISBN 0-9634186-0-2, soft cover, 172 pages) is a five-generation family biography, or Jia Pu, of Chong How Kong and Pan Siu Chin and their descendants. Copies sell for $35 and are available from the publisher Chong Hee Books, P. O. Box 574, Kaaawa, HI 96730.

For information on Reiki Friday, click REIKI HEALING BY OELEN in the menu bar.

Sweet memories and coming home, part 1

7 09 2009

On Friday I had a date with my friend Vinnie. At long last I would see him perform Aldyth Morris’s one-person play Damien, a story about the Flemish priest, Father Damien de Veuster, who unselfishly spent his life ministering to the lepers isolated at Kalaupapa on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Father Damien will be canonized on October 11, 2009, in Rome.

I first met Vinnie at Maui Community College when I worked in university relations. He is one of those colleagues/friends who you see every five years or so, and with whom you can just pick up where you left off. Vinnie has performed Damien more than 60-70 times since 2000—on Maui, in the United States and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Europe. I emailed him I finally would be in the audience. “Stay afterward so I can see you,” he wrote back.

With opening-season football games townside signaling bad traffic, I decided to get to the church in Mililani by going the opposite way along the North Shore of Oahu and down the middle of the island. The distance is longer, but the traffic moves, and I enjoy the scenery along the two-lane Kamehameha highway versus the freeway. The route I like goes through Wahiawa, the town I lived in until I was 13. When we pass the Kukaniloko Birthstone State Monument, I know I am almost there.

Kukaniloko by Rebekah Luke

Rain hides the Waianae Mountains behind the Kukaniloko Birth Stones among the tall trees. The birthing ground of Hawaiian royalty was established in the 12th century, according to Fornander.

Kamehameha Highway runs for just three blocks through the town. I have a habit of reciting the neighborhood places I remember. Some are still there, others are long gone and replaced by fast food joints and nondescript development. Wahiawa served Wheeler Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks on the other side of the singing bridge, and the pineapple industry. The lively little main street had everything.

Annie Uwi’s (18 cents for Love’s Bread), the tofu factory, Doctor De Harne’s, Bank of Hawaii, Pang’s grocery (2-cent deposit refunds for soda bottles), Island Bazaar (drygoods and gifts), Chow Ching’s (gon lo mein, char siu and roast pork on Sunday), Duke’s Clothing, Happy Fountain (high swivel stools, orange freezes, curly saimin with fresh green onions, and the best grilled hot dogs), Elite Market, the stationery store, the barber shop, the taxi stand, Top Hat Bar, Service Motors, the shoe store, the jeweler, the variety store, Benny’s photo studio, Judy’s Florist (big cattleya orchid corsages).

Sometimes before leaving Wahiawa, and if the people I’m with don’t mind, we turn right on Kilani avenue to see my old house. My parents rented it from Uncle Harry who lived next door. He had nine houses amidst a lychee garden. Folks drove all the way from Honolulu to buy lychee. I remember being a baby and playing with Uncle Harry’s earlobes on the chenille bedspread as he tried to get me to nap while he listened to the story on the radio and Aunty Edna fussed in the kitchen . . .

Where I lived 50 years ago. The front porch has been screened in, the mock orange hedge is twice as high, and there's a gate now. Everything else looks the same, including the mother lichee tree that must be older than I!

Where I lived 50 years ago, the front porch has been screened in, the mock orange hedge is twice as high, and a gate makes it look less inviting. Everything else looks the same, including the mother lychee tree that must be older than I!

So, you see, every so often I recall my childhood.

As I grow older and work on ascension, and as I observe our 4-month-old granddaughter, I think back on what it was like to be a baby and how important it is for adults to create happy memories for children. Some of my memories weren’t so sweet. I remember the adults laughing at me when I crawled from my room bringing my socks after they asked me to fetch my shoes, feeling frustrated that I could not talk yet to explain why I did that. But I certainly could think it!

I remember emotional things and times that woke up my senses such as when my mother took me aboard a President Lines cruise ship to dine with her visiting friend, and I burned myself on the baked potato.

I remember when Momma took me to Honolulu by taxi on her Thursdays off from piano teaching (I could walk now) to buy music at Metronome and Thayer’s for her pupils, and before coming home we would go to Woolworth, and she would give me a teaspoon of her coffee to drizzle over my vanilla ice cream. Coffee is still my favorite flavor.

(Darling husband thinks it’s amazing I can remember that far back. “Well,” I suggested, “try it. Don’t you remember the smell of your mom?”)

One time I was at a Hawaiian civic club meeting in Wahiawa where they served a bento box lunch. One bite took me back. “Where did this come from?” I asked. “That’s from Marian’s Catering.” Ahhh … I wasn’t able to identify the flavoring, but the taste that took me home was unmistakably Wahiawa from the 1950s. It hadn’t changed.

And just this past July at a friend’s memorial breakfast, someone brought prune bread from Wahiawa. When I was a kid it was called prune cake, and I have been looking for it my whole life. I ordered a prune cake from Chef Instructor Walter Schiess at Kapiolani Community College for my wedding cake, and, unable to find a recipe, he decided, “If it has prunes in it, then it must be a fruit cake.” The Old English wedding cake, three tiers tall, was gorgeous, but not prune cake. When the woman who brought the prune bread saw how ecstatic I was, she gave me a whole loaf to take home. Now I know my sweet memory is alive and well at Kilani Bakery!

Damien. Oh, yes, I was on my way to the play.  Not surprisingly, Vinnie (correct name: Vincent Linares) was FABULOUS as Father Damien. He portrays the character so very passionately. What with Aldyth Morris’s script and the venue of St. John Apostle and Evangelist Church, it was excellent theater on every level. To quote the program notes, “The play finds Damien, awakened from his deathly slumber, taking a journey through his turbulent and compelling life while answering his detractors and critics, a journey that eventually takes him home again.” Home.

On Saturday evening I attended for the first time the Ka Himeni Ana (Old Fashioned Singing)  event at the Hawaii Theatre. This concert and competition has taken place annually since 1983 to encourage the singing of Hawaiian music in the old-fashioned manner without microphones or amplification, with the exception of the steel guitar. The production was filled with nahenahe (soft, sweet) sound, the festive sight of musicians and concert goers in the beautifully renovated theatre, and the fragrant scent of hundreds of fresh ginger blossoms.  Sweet memories, indeed. I plan to go again next year.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

Special note: Vinnie Linares’s final performance of Damien will be on October 24, 2009, at an old church at Makena Beach, Maui. When available, the event details will be posted in Comments below.

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