Lei it on
|||Quiz: Lei by any other name|
|Memorial Day lei photo gallery|
|||50,000 lei sought for Memorial Day events|
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
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."
KEEP FLOWERS FRESH
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.