Rites Of Passage

Graduations in Hawaii are a BIG DEAL. It’s like a bring your own air horn, plaster your kid’s face on a sign, 1,000 leis, pool floats, stuffed animals kind of big deal. Can I tell you I love it? It’s an accomplishment to be celebrated and celebrate we did! 

In the eighth grade your ceremony is called “Rites of Passage.” The ceremony is quick. The president of the class made her remarks, the assistant principal spoke. Names were read. Diplomas were passed and it was time for chaos bedlam the lei ceremony. All the kids step out to find their family. They get leis. Some are made of yarn. Some are made of fresh flowers. The tuberose is my favorite. Some are made of candy. Some are just handmade flowers. There are bags of oreos or chips tied to strings. Before you know it, you’re wondering how they can breathe. 

The smile says it all. She is officially a Freshman. Pray for me. I’m really not sure how I’ll survive the next few years. Hanan is right behind her. Bria and Jack will be entering middle school the year Hanan graduates. 

The beginning of the lei ceremony…

Someone asked me about her pool float. Pool floats are handed out at graduations here. See the sharpie in my hand? Friends and family write messages on them. As I understand it, they are given to represent the support of family and friends as they transition into the next chapter of their life. It’s also a representation of being anchored to your family. I honestly don’t care if this is the real story or not, I’ll be sticking with it and and we’ll be taking it to the mainland when Hanan graduates from middle school next year. 

This is my FAVORITEST thing written on her float… I only wish I had a Rohan…


As you look at the pictures you might get a better understanding of why Hanan is so upset she won’t be graduating high school here. Middle school is scaled back from high school graduation. Here are a few of the highlights of graduation, her teachers and the after party at the Tea Farm.

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I was a day filled with aloha that we will always remember. Mahalo AIS for all you’ve done for both of my girls. 

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AIS Pride Night

Graduation is over. Summer has begun. I can’t even talk about it yet. The time is slipping through my fingers way faster than that sands in the hour glass bull I used to hear every day when Gran turned on Days of Our Lives. 

I can talk about Pride Night though because my kids are… well they are FREAKING AWESOME!!! Brace yourselves. The proud Mom post is coming. 

I received separate notes that we really needed to be at Pride Night for both girls this year. This is nothing new. If you are going to receive any award they tell you to come but you have to guess what the award will be. Arleigh was banking on that whole Perfect Attendance thing. More on that later… We got ready and got to the school, I thought early. I (ahem) forgot that food was being served. That means you need to back up your arrival time by at least 15 minutes. No matter. Remember we had that whole Perfect Attendance thing going for us and we knew Hanan was receiving an award for going to the district science fair. 

Did I mention… there was food? The aunties and tutus from the cafeteria prepare a meal and the Stiff Ohana can devour some spaghetti. 

Jack wasn’t even thinking about stopping to take a picture. That whole pile was totally gone including the homemade roll by the time the ukuleles started playing.

Arleigh performed with the band during the dinner hour. The highlight was Uptown Funk and I’m super sorry that I didn’t get a recording. After the band, we got to hear the ukulele club perform. Somewhere around Hotel California I felt the knot that seems to be ever present in my throat. The thought was already forming. I will never again enter a school and hear this many uke’s preform. Sigh. At just the wrong moment, Ray leaned over and made the mistake of asking, “Are you gonna miss it?” The dam broke. It wasn’t quite the ugly cry but it was darn close. Then the chorus stood up singing Elvis. Good freaking gravy!!! I think they were trying to kill me. 

We watched the video club’s clips which were cute and funny and I was finally entering recovery mode. Meanwhile Bria and Jack were wondering who had died as their mother was acting a fool and all they wanted to do was shake their groove thang to the music. Good times I tell you. We got to hear the Improv Club perform. Funny stuff. At this point I was almost breathing regularly. 

The drama teacher stands up to explain that the rest of the evening would be devoted to awards. They gave out a leadership award and an aloha award. Then they were going to give awards to the most outstanding boy and girl in each core. Arleigh told me that there are about 120 students in each core, there are three cores in each grade. She introduces the teachers who have homerooms in 7 C1 and they call, “Hanan Stiff.” Holy cow!!! I was thinking Hanan might get the math award. I was hopeful but I really wasn’t expecting Most Outstanding 7th grader. I was crying so hard, I could barely hold up my phone to take the picture. I promise tears are puddling as I write this.

At this point, she was pretty stoked. My heart was pounding. We clapped and she beamed as they made their way through all the other cores. Arleigh’s core was dead last. She wasn’t sitting with us. She was hanging out with her band buddies. At this point she said she was thinking, “Great. Hanan got outstanding and I’m going to get Perfect Attendance. Awesome.” The last name in the outstanding list was…”Arleigh Stiff.” 

Talk about a proud mom. We made it through the other awards and Hanan even picked up another certificate and a $25 Starbucks gift card for her Science Fair project. It was a good night.

Okay… so cue the tears again. I have every hope that they will continue to do just as well at every other school. I will admit, my heart was so proud and so happy for them and so sad at the same time. They are doing so well here. They have the best friends. I love love love these kids. I can’t tell you how much I love their teachers. So a little bit wonders, why are we changing everything right now? The truth is, on our way out of Memphis, the same thing happened. I have AWESOME kids. They are going to do BIG things no matter where we land. They are military kid strong and know how to bloom wherever they’re planted. It just took me a second to remember that because sometimes, the Beauton Wheeler in me comes out and I wonder and worry about what’s next. 

After our celebration, we got to hang out with another graduate to celebrate. 

Madi graduated from Radford the next night. More happy tears. Life is changing too fast but we are trying to enjoy every last second of it. 

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Eighth Grade Banquet

Graduation season is upon us. I am a hot mess. If this is what I’m like during eighth grade graduation season, what on earth will I be like in four short years when Arleigh graduates from high school and Hanan is right behind her? Heaven help us all. I’m not even kidding. Ray looked at me last night and said, “You have been way too emotional.” Really, what was your first clue? Maybe the crying over Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? Again. Not even kidding. I wish I was. 

Where was I? Oh yes… graduation season. Grad season in Hawaii is not like grad season on the mainland. There is no real way to describe it. You celebrate for weeks. It isn’t a graduation from Intermediate school. It’s called the Rites of Passage. One of the mile markers is your 8th grade banquet. It starts in your 7th grade health and PE class where they teach you how to dance with a member of the opposite sex and how to not be an idiot. I truly appreciate the time and effort it must take to teach a bunch of hormonal middle schoolers to behave with that kind of decorum. Then as your 8th grade comes to an end, everyone dresses up and goes to a ballroom in Waikiki for a sit-down lunch with real napkins and real glasses and more than one fork. After lunch, they go to a club and get a few hours to dance and generally act a fool. It is a special day. It’s like someone mixed a ball and school dance with a bunch of middle schoolers, shook it all up and poured it into a school day. It makes for one excited eighth grader. 

The down side is we’ve basically had to do a mini prom preparation at 6 a.m. I am not a morning person. I’m especially not a morning person when I have to help my baby who is supposed to look like this…


Look like this…


I need to thank Auntie Chan and Madi for waking up early and coming down to help. Those curls don’t curl themselves and I rarely if ever wear makeup so it was so nice to have second and third opinions. Seriously. They came down so early and I didn’t even have coffee to offer. One more ohana to miss as we move. Luckily they’ll only be hours away instead of thousands of miles. 

Arleigh looked fabulous and she had a good time. She has the best group of friends. I love them! I love all of them! They are sweet and funny and just good kids. I want to put them in our suitcase and take them with us. I know Arleigh can text them and Instagram with them and she’ll stay in touch. I will miss them and their fun stories and moving is just hard on all of us. 

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I’m prayerfully hoping that she finds another good group of kids in Virginia. If she doesn’t… well, Ray may have to retire and we’re going to live in a two bedroom shack on this little island. 

This is the friend I’ll miss the most. She’s such a regular fixture in our house, we think of her as our own. She is the polar opposite of my loud tribe. She is quiet and always watching but we do occasionally hear the fit of giggles that come out especially when she’s slightly embarrassed. She might be slightly embarrassed quite often by a bunch of obnoxious Stiffs but that’s another post. We all love our Kiki!

IMG_8081Don’t tell her Mom but we may just have to kidnap her for a while. 

These next few weeks are going to be hard on all of us, especially this mama’s heart. Pride night is tomorrow and Rites of Passage is next week. I’m trying to buckle up for this long ride. 



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Our Memorial Day

Yesterday was our last Memorial Day in Hawaii. I had big plans. Like most things that happen to fall when you are in the process of a move, big ideas don’t usually come to fruition. It wasn’t what I planned, but it was perfect for our little family, even with our usual hiccups.

First, let me give you (and my children who read this) a bit of a history lesson. Memorial Day began after the Civil War as Decoration Day. So many souls were lost during the Civil War, every town in every county in every state felt the burden of fallen sons. I think the estimate is somewhere near 620,000 men that died during just that war. To put it into perspective that would be about 2% of the population of the United States. By the late 1860s most communities had some sort of planned holiday to recognize the fallen soldiers of our country. Memorial Day didn’t become an official federal holiday until 1971. 

I don’t remember many Memorial Days as a child. I was pretty sheltered living in a small town in Kentucky. I’ve been introduced to a few more Memorial Celebrations since being married to Ray and therefore the navy. I’ve been to parades. We’ve stood for ceremonies. We’ve also been at every sort of party you can imagine. Our tradition in Virginia was to spend a weekend at a beloved camp and end up on the beach if we could by Monday so we could get the kids into bed for school on Tuesday morning. I guess my point is, I don’t spend every moment of Memorial Day only thinking about the men who died for our freedom but…Look kids! Mom is writing about it. It’s important to me that you at least think about it, pray about it and pray for the gold star families that are left behind. 

Since we’ve been in Hawaii, I’ve been able to witness and participate in another great tradition, the Hawaii Lantern Festival. It’s held on the evening of Memorial Day. Here is the history of the Lantern Festival directly quoted from the Lantern Festival website.

Memorial Day in America is a day when people remember and honor those who have fallen in service to their country. In Hawai‘i, with its diverse population, traditions become easily adopted and assimilated into its rich cultural fabric. It is the norm for people in Hawai‘i, on Memorial Day, to place flowers and offerings on gravesites of loved ones who served their country as well as those of others who have passed away.

With the wish of creating cultural harmony and understanding, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, officiated the inaugural Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony on Memorial Day, 1999. For the first three years, the event was held at Ke’ehi Lagoon on the south shore of O’ahu. In 2002, the ceremony was moved a few miles down the coast to Ala Moana Beach where it has been observed every year since.

Unfortunately this year we lost many people in our family, Ray’s grandmother, Louise; his uncle, Roger, my stepfather, Ned AKA Grandpa and Nedbone. When Tye passed, it was the first time we attended a lantern ceremony. I sat on the sand and one of the people that asked to speak talked about losing her son and her husband within a year and how cathartic floating a lantern was for her. I thought of my Mammaw at the time. She buried a son and two husbands. Little did I know that my own mother would suffer the same fate. And so, we returned to place another lantern all too soon.

We listed names of people in our family. I plucked some plumeria off the tree in our front yard. We did the best we could without much to decorate the lantern here. I’m sad I didn’t think to make a silhouette for this one like I made for Tye’s before my machine was gone. We were on the far end of the beach this time and got to watch the pre-made lanterns go out. 


As the sun set, and the drums beat someone came by to light our lantern.

And then I got to walk out again and release it with a prayer for our family, gone but never forgotten. 

It is a beautiful ceremony and frankly indescribable to witness.

It literally takes your breath away to see them all quietly floating.

I love that we have been able to find our aloha and celebrate the rich culture around us. I also love that we got a moment to send a little aloha up to heaven. I’m also surprised Tye didn’t find a way to push me in. 

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Terrific Tuesday

i left the house at 7:10 this morning. I stopped by the house for less than 5 minutes twice and for 10 minutes once over the course of the day. I finally parked the van at almost a quarter to nine. 

One child is upset that she is missing time with her friends before we move.

One child lost it after a not so great soccer practice.

One child slept through soccer practice in the car.

One child has been a little off at school to the point that even is aid is frustrated. 

So… There were blessings in the day that I need to count. 

I had some pretty cute dates at a retirement ceremony this afternoon.


It was a lovely celebration of a wonderful career. It was hard not to get teary eyed.

It was particularly hard for Jack. He just couldn’t hold the tears back especially when his mean mom told him to be still and stop eating candy during the national anthem and benediction that followed. Good times right there friends.

Now that Bria is a little bit older, we tooled around the USS Missouri for a minute and talked about treaties and the end of WWII. I suspected that she didn’t absorb much of that when we toured the Mighty MO with her cousins a couple of years ago. 

Jack isn’t dealing well with the prospect of moving. He stayed glued to me most of the time. Bria wanted to try her hand at artillery practice.

  And no visit would be complete without checking things out. We only had time for the officers’ ward rooms today and the plaque on the upper deck. 





 By the time we picked up the big kids and dropped them to get ready for soccer, we tried and failed to return the helium tank that was used to decorate the reception. Traffic here at 3 in the afternoon is just indescribable. So it was just a quick loop and we headed east for soccer. 

Bria slept through most of practice while Jack talked my ear off. Then we headed west with Hanan so very sad about her practice. Sigh.

We turned in the helium tank and the equation basically went like this…Mom wasn’t home all day + she’s tired + our aloha is diminished – dad who is off island + late soccer practice + errands on the west side of town after an east side soccer practice = Genki Sushi. That’s Arleigh’s kind of algebra. 

Before anyone asks, no Jack didn’t know how to use Chopsticks in China. He didn’t know how to eat with his fingers then much less chopsticks. He still prefers a shovel…I mean fork.

We made the best of our long tiring day and found our aloha even knowing tomorrow is just as busy.

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