Happily repurposing for the holidays

There is no headache in this household related to holiday expectations. We have denounced the holiday as a gift-giving frenzy. We honor children who believe in Santa, however, and people who lack everyday needs and comforts, not to mention food. For the young believers and for the organizations and people who make sure Christmas happens on Kauai for those iwn need, we offer gratitude and support. Also, we commend our own GoHawaii Medical Mission teams, even now at work promoting health and happiness far from home.

December is a wonderful time to take in that Rice Street parade, admire light displays, and attend college, community and church concerts to send your spirit winging. The holidays bring the opportunity of spending quality time with family and friends during get-togethers. All of that still gets a thumbs-up, along with singing carols.

The real reason for celebrating the lit-up holidays — even the religious ones falling at year’s end — derives originally from the occurrence of winter solstice, the darkest time of the year. On Kauai, we will experience the shortest day of the year on Dec. 21, with sunrise at 7:12 a.m. and sunset at 5:59 p.m.

It’s getting to look a lot like Christmas, even if we get no “winter kill” and my husband still has to mow a green-and-growing lawn, and I must weed and snip, and we both must battle insects, rake fallen leaves and prune, as well as harvest our homegrown olena and citrus fruits, and star apples, star apples, star apples. The night-time temperature drop requires more than a sheet to sleep comfortably. The stars seem to shine more brightly.

Because we decided we have too much “stuff,” we decided to pass the suggestion to our immediate family to re-purpose during our home celebration this Christmas. It can be giving away “white elephants,” or thrift store bargains, or something baked/made/grown and potted or preserved — but the Whatevah that gets wrapped should cost $5 or less. The value, whether in dollars or thought, may be more. This will definitely be a case of “It’s the thought that counts.” And, hopefully, it will be repurposing.

Re-purposing. Now, that’s a lovely word — and salvage in action. I learned it from my daughter Angela, who doesn’t know I have dubbed her Angel of Re-purposing because of her talents along these lines. She has one-upped me in many ways, but particularly as a superb re-purposer. I have seen her in action at auctions, and then watched as she created a professional photographer’s studio dream out of motley elements including Victorian birdcages, wrought iron sets and baskets (all previously unwanted/rusty/dusty or worse). Her touch turned an outdated chick incubator into a snazzy coffee table; her vision promoted a shiny red metal tool cart to become a zingy kitchen counter — with storage.

I won’t go on. The examples are too numerous for this column. But I will say that re-purposing appeals to my “green” side, my desire to leave a smaller footprint, and sense of creativity. (Also, my thrifty Scot side.)

It warmed my heart to hear that Angie absorbed her first ideas of re-purposing from my earlier days of re-doing. As a young, polyester pant-suited suburban mother of four on a limited decorating budget in a long-ago Mainland life, I became adept at finding various pieces we needed at Goodwill or Salvation Army outlets, garage sales or secondhand shops. “Eclectic” was my middle name as a decorator. I became adept at spotting the right bargain, brushing off cobwebs, scrubbing and sanding, and learned to stain and refinish. “Antiquing” was made for me: I went all out with what was then the vogue. Ah — those rubber gloves, and careful first coat(s). But oh, the satisfaction of putting on the last coat, and then wiping it off (almost), with an anything goes attitude, which seemed almost a no-no. (Something like jabbing a warm cake with the handle of a wooden spoon to create pukas to receive a flood of pudding topping.)

Many favorite refurbished things were cast off when I flew to live on Kauai. I brought summery clothes and my electric typewriter, and mailed books and a few personal treasures. But never fear, my penchant for re-purposing — before I even knew there was a word for this — blossomed freely on island (the opposite of my bank account).

What can you say? I’m the child who received a crudely carved toy wooden lorry (truck) the Christmas following the end of World War II while “camping” with my family in an old, abandoned warehouse that had missed being bombed earlier. To know that “Father Christmas” had found me, newly arrived in Rangoon, Burma, from our home in the hills of India, was at least some comfort to a girl who had no interest whatsoever in crawling around saying, “Rrrrrrr, rrrr,” a la my sons (much later) playing Tonka trucks.

Any Christmas after that was absolutely better. And especially when we were able to tell our growing grandchildren that someone somewhere else in the world would be having a corrective eye operation in each of their names, and then, other years, that Tibetan refugees would be receiving aid, that the sandhill cranes would be guaranteed a safe nesting site, that birds and creatures would be sheltered, that a family who lived in a malarial swamp would receive mosquito nets, and that students would receive sorely lacking school supplies. Plus one needy girl would be able to stay in school and finish her education, preventing her from repeating the cycle of early marriage and childbearing in poverty. Now, that’s re-purposing!


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, is completing her second memoir, based on the Burma of pre- and post-World War II times, toward Burmese independence. She continues in business as DAWN Enterprises, a double entity of wedding planning and officiating, and book publishing/distribution. Also, she may turn her house and garden upside-down as she searches for re-purposable gifts and suitable donations to non-profits and food banks.


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