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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lei it on

 •  Quiz: Lei by any other name
Photo galleryMemorial Day lei photo gallery
 •  50,000 lei sought for Memorial Day events

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer

Megan Oyama checks out Cindy's Lei & Flower Shoppe in Chinatown. She's considering candy or flower lei for graduating friends.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Christine Nishida was piled high with lei at her Kailua High graduation last year. She attends Pacific University in Oregon.

Courtesy of the Nishida family

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A sampling of lei at Cindy's Lei & Flower Shoppe on Maunakea Street, from left: double tuberose with 'ilima, ginger, 'ohai ali'i, pua kenikeni, cigar flower with kukui nut, pakalana and 'ilima.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The year before (if you're making most yourself): Start watching the craft-store sales for supplies.

Weeks before: Put in your bulk order for flower lei, or if you're making something like candy lei, get started on them.

The day before or early the day of (depending on the time of the graduation ceremony): Pick up the fresh lei and keep it refrigerated. If you don't have room in your refrigerator, ask to leave it in storage with the lei maker.

Heading to graduation: Some folks are getting smart and stocking a cooler in the car, since some lei will wilt in the hot sun of an outdoor ceremony. Lay ice on the bottom, then cover with newspaper; if possible, keep them in the original packaging until it's time to give away.

Afterward: Some take the leftover lei to hospitals or nursing homes; one family took theirs to the cemetery and put them on relatives' graves.

Mary Kaye Ritz

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We're seeing a slew of alternative leis, not just at graduation but other times of the year, too.

Candy lei: Customize with your favorite treats, colored netting and ribbons in school colors.

String lei: Needlesmiths can be true to school colors with yarn; some will add a medallion or charm.

Ribbon lei: Many can either be braided simple lei in school colors or extravagant fluffy creations that look remarkably similar to floral lei.

Beaded lei: It's not just for Mardi Gras anymore.

Lei-nyards: Spam lei (musubi or canned style), fortune cookie and even crack-seed kine are popular.

Money lei: Made to look like flowers, bills of any denomination are welcome.

Still hot: Autographed inflatables.

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Find a full list of O'ahu graduations at getpublished.honoluluadvertiser.com

Show off your Graduation pics

Going to a high school graduation? Post your favorite pictures in the myAdvertiser.com galleries for all to see. Go to your community at www.myAdvertiser.com and click on GetPublished!

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A year before her daughter graduated, Gale Nishida started her lei homework: She went to Kailua High's ceremonies to count how many necks she'd need to bedeck the next year.

So when it came time for Christine, now a 19-year-old freshman at Pacific University in Oregon, to don cap and gown, Nishida was prepared. She'd spent the year stocking up on sweets for the candy lei and watching for sales at Ben Franklin Crafts for net tubing.

The month before, mom and daughter threaded candy through the netting, their fingers cramping from hours of tying ribbon after ribbon to make lei for 30 of Christine's closest friends and a few extras, just in case.

"You never realize how many (graduates) you know," said Nishida, who knows when she does it again next year for son Justin, she'll take even more.

May Day may be lei day in Hawai'i, but parents of a certain age know the biggest lei time of the year is graduation when students are covered to the eyeballs in the traditional tokens of affection. From May Day to the last high school graduation in June, lei makers are jamming to get their wares ready for the season.

Just ask Karen Lau Lee, manager of Cindy's Lei & Flower Shoppe. She recommends ordering in advance, especially if you're making a large order, but being flexible.

"Be open-minded about substitutions," Lee advises. "If something's not available, what's your second choice?"

She's talking up carnation lei this year: They look great in pictures and aren't easily crushed.

Increasingly hard to find is 'ilima the perennial status-symbol lei.

"Somebody's got to do some serious cultivating," says Lee, who worries that 'ilima lei may eventually disappear from shops. An 'ilima lei, which requires hundreds of the paper-thin delicate blooms to make a single strand, is "labor intensive to pick the flowers and to make the lei. It's very much a labor of love."

Other advice: Some people might want to steer clear of the ola'a beauty if the grad is wearing white or linen, since it might stain. Oh, and throw in a pikake or plumeria for the smell. Other than that, go with your gut.

"At grad time, you have to be open-minded, a risk taker," Lee said. "Believe in the lei."

Christine's classmate, Megan Oyama, who now attends Windward Community College, is a fan of the candy lei. She made her own candy lei last year using the school colors (blue and white) for the netting and ribbon around a mixture of chocolate, gum and other sweets. This year Oyama is debating whether to get candy or flower lei for friends in the class behind her. "Candy lei is hard work, flower lei's more expensive," she said.

Oyama noted that many people take a candy version as their one lei allowed at Project Graduation. (Project Graduation events usually allow few outside substances in, to even the field and keep contraband to a minimum.)

One thing Oyama is sure of: Flower or lei, she'll take plenty more.

"You know your friends, but (not) who you're going to give to exactly," she said. "Someone will give you something, so you have to give something back. It's kind of rude not to."


Ayako Yamada at A&K Nursery in Waimanalo suggests keeping flower lei fresh and cool.

"Any flower is going to get wilted in the heat," she said, adding that wilting isn't necessarily a bad thing. "That's the fate of the flowers."

Yamada suggests getting another day of joy from them by putting them in the fridge as soon as possible, "as long as there is life left" in the lei.

And whatever number you think you're going to need? Those in the know say double it.

It's a big time for not just graduates but their parents, family and friends, too.