Thursday, June 20, 2013

Paradise Lost: An Ode to Oahu

I've put off writing this for so long. You see, I didn't want to write it.  It felt too hard and I didn't think I could.

When we first moved to Hawaii, there was quite an adjustment. Living in what felt like another country, trying to start over, find a home, a job, friends. It wasn't easy.  I know this sounds ridiculous, clique' even, but it's true. That first year was the hardest. I tried to acclimate, and struggled. It wasn't just the seclusion, being totally cut off from my old life, my old friends, it was more. I was just trying to find my place, a favorite restaurant, that always helps, a job, maybe someone to hang out with. But it was hard and I was unsuccessful.

But then I fell in love. With the sea.

I've always been a beach person, I've always loved laying on the sand with a good book and baking the day away.  But this was something new.  The ocean became my play ground, the sea life became my only friends.  At first I got an underwater camera and spent all my time photographing.  I would take photos of every new exciting creature I could find.  Every time we went out on a new snorkel, I'd try to find something I've never seen before.  And I always did.  Maybe it was the first encounter with a couple of squid, maybe a bat ray swimming in the distance, maybe an octopus hiding in the coral, maybe a school of barracuda hanging out at the end of the pipes at Electric Beach.  So I set about documenting it.  It consumed my time and I loved it. But soon documentation became less important, because just the act of being there was enough.  I can't even remember the first time I swam with a turtle. It was probably my first time out because they are so prolific on Oahu. But I was astonished at these beautiful majestic creatures. The way they swim, just not a care in the world, so serene... its impossible to be near them and not feel totally at peace. They go about their day, swimming around and foraging for sea lettuce, and they just are. The waves will come and crash all around them, and they'll just float back and forth, ebb and flow, totally undisturbed, totally oblivious to what is happening around them. It's beautiful. And I mimicked that as much as I could. Just swimming in those clear, deep waters, waters that go on and on, a sea of turquoise forever. Swimming there, floating there, I have never felt more at peace. One with Nature, one with God.

Time passed, and we were able to buy the big house on the beach. I couldn't believe it, a house on the beach. I immersed myself in renovation, gardening, and started to find my place. Work was still a challenge, I found a position with one school in Ewa and then was Riffed and then asked back and then Riffed again. But in the meantime, coworkers became less standoffish, started to welcome me. I made some good friends, started to feel like I belonged. Luckily after my second Riff, I found a permanent position in Makakilo. Once again, coworkers were standoffish, and once again I had to start all over again, trying to build friendships. I think in general Locals are standoffish to newcomers, I don't think they realize it, or would even acknowledge it, but I think its true. Trust and friendship are earned. But after many weeks I began to feel welcomed and made friendships with coworkers.  The more I got involved, the more I felt like one of them, and less like an outsider. I don't know what it is, I think it may have something to do with working in special education, the Stockholm Effect? We're all in sometimes the worst of situations, and we have to depend on each other to make it through.  I remember riding in the back of the float after the Kapolei Christmas Parade. It had been a great day.  All the kids had been picked up by their parents, and it was just us adults on our way back to our cars. It was a warm evening and the air had that floral scent that it often has, there were fireworks going off in the distance as we bounced and heaved.  I remember standing there, looking at all the passing cars, the ridiculous Christmas music still blaring out of the stereo system, strangers smiling and waving, and thinking, this is my home, this is my home. Anyway, I love and miss so many of my friends from Makakilo. I'll see something and be reminded of someone, and then realize I won't see them, I won't be able to share it with them. And I hate it.

I planted my dream garden. And I wont be able to see it grow. Will the new owners take care of it? Will my mango tree bloom?  Will the mandarin? Will the lilikoi ever again produce as much as it did last year? How tall will my foxtail palm get? Will it hit the power lines like I feared?

What will I miss the most? The sun dancing across the ocean. My turtles. Snorkeling with my husband. Beach combing for sea glass. Sitting on the beach with good friends and a bottle of wine. My garden, finally growing. Chili's after a long hard day at school. Shave ice on the North Shore. Half Swimmer at Paradise Cove. My backyard beach. Wine-downs with friends. The Gardens at Waimea Valley. The sand that feels like baby powder on the Windward side.

The feeling that I finally felt at home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In the Middle?

I turned 41 yesterday.
This was not an easy thing. When I was a kid I couldn't even imagine being 41, and yet here I am. It's not that I have an issue with aging, I mean it's inevitable and I know that. But, it just seems to be going by so fast, my life. Zooming by at warp speed leaving me reeling, trying to catch my breath.

My kids are growing up so fast, becoming their own people, creating their own lives.

And don't get me wrong, I am going to fight the aging process as much as I can. And exercise, I will continue to exercise. But the things I can't control, like the way my skin is just a little looser, a little softer-- these are reminders when I look in the mirror that my life is quickly winding down the back side of the mountain.

When I was misdiagnosed with Lupus I was focused on gaining as much information as I could.  I wanted to know everything. I was a frazzled, freaked out, angry, scared.  But when I was undiagnosed, that was when it really hit home, my mortality. It could really sink in. I wasn't going to die from this horrible disease... but I was going to die.

I don't mean to be morose. Quite the opposite. I want to focus on the positive, the love, joy, and excitement of my future old self.

When we first moved here to Oahu there was an older woman walking on the beach in Waikiki.  She was confidently walking along the beach in her swimsuit, tan, fit, long hair blowing in the wind, casually carrying her snorkel and fins in her hand. She was beautiful, but she was old. Chad turns to me and says, "That's you in a few years." Back then I was insulted and a little hurt. Is this how he sees me, I wondered?

But now I can see it too and I'm okay with it. My future old self will be just fine.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Check out this great Free Edit from DearEditor!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Barracuda: A Fish Tale

Last month when we were on the North Shore swimming with my turtle friends my world was rocked.

Now I thought I knew my ocean.  Thought I knew what possible dangers lurk in my waters.

I know about sharks, and in our two years of living here and being in the water nearly daily I have only had one encounter with a shark, and I totally missed it. But this isn't a shark tale, it's a fish tale.

I also know about eels, I have many close encounters with these sneaky little beasts and to be honest, I'm more apt to get bit by an eel than a shark.

So back to my tale.

I was swimming near the shore, in shallow water only about six feet deep. The visibility was crap the currents pulling up all the seaweed and sand making the water a silty mess. Just what the turtles love, tiny bits of tasty morsels floating near the shore. It is unfortunate that what brings these creatures to this beach is the very same thing that makes the visibility so bad.

So I had just entered the water, it was my first snorkel of the day, I was excited to get some new photos of my turtle friends. A few yards from shore I immediately see something I rarely see, a large school of Ulua the very large fish all fishermen hope to come across, raced right around me. I immediately pop my head up and yell to my son on shore to bring the spear, maybe he'll catch us dinner.

When I put my face back in the water I see a head of one of the Ulua, floating near the bottom, tendrils of blood hoover close to it.  Now I did not immediately put two and two together. My first thought was a fisherman had thrown his scraps into the ocean. But it only took a split second for that to change.

To my right I see in the murky darkness the tail of the largest creature I have ever encountered in the ocean. It seemed to slither away from me cutting the water with its gigantic tail fins. I immediately gasped, surfaced and instinctively flung myself onto my back trying to distance myself from the creature. My husband had seen it too. I was speechless. Rattled.

I knew it wasn't a shark, the tail fins were all wrong, they were vaguely familiar though, but at the time I couldn't quite place it. They were silvery with a large black dot.

The girth of the creature is what was so frightening.  It was at least two and a half feet thick, thicker than me, a lot thicker than me.

The length of the creature (of what I saw slowly slithering away from me) was at least four feet long, and mind you I did not see it's face.

Thank God Almighty, I did not see it's face.

I was rattled. I got out of the water shaken and confused. What the hell was that thing?  It looked like something from river monsters. What kind of fish gets that big? I mean it was REALLY big.

A Behemoth.

I realized from the safety of the shore that the creature was hunting and that is why the school of Ulua swam right through me, they were being pursued. I had stumbled into the middle of the Behemoth's lunch.

When I got home I thumbed through my book on Hawaiian Fish looking for that tail fin. I know that tail fin.

 And then I found it: Barracuda.  It was a Barracuda.

I had seen Barracuda before, hovering in the distance at the end of the pipes at Electric Beach. But they weren't as big as this. I didn't know they could get as big as this.

It turns out the Great Barracuda can grow to 6 feet. "These powerful predators are often found in shallow water close to shore, especially in early morning or late afternoon."

Barracudas do occasionally attack humans, especially in the middle of feeding frenzy.

We went to North Shore yesterday.  When I was packing our lunch I was thinking about my fish encounter. I have to say I was a little leery to get back in the water.  Once again visibility was crap. But my turtle friends were there and yes lurking in the brackish water I did see those tell-tale fins of silver and black, but they were much smaller, not nearly the size of the Behemoth from before.

Yes I can share my ocean with you, just tell your really big brother to stay away, okay?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Don't Get Sick in Hawaii

When we first moved to Hawaii I immediately went about trying to find a new doctor. You see I had numerous prescriptions I needed filled. Because even though I moved with prescriptions in hand, the state of Hawaii will not honor prescriptions for "controlled substances" from out of state doctors. Unfortunately this included sleep aids.

So I went about the task of finding a new doctor with diligence. Now you need to know that our new doctor would have pretty big shoes to fill, since our family had had the same doctor for the last 17 years. He delivered our children and treated our illnesses and injuries. {Insert shout out for Dr. Dee Christlieb of Ashland Family Practice! We miss you!}

When we moved here I was pleased to discover that we had Kaiser. I had never used Kaiser, but I thought that they had a fairly good reputation.  Boy was I wrong.  My first encounter of the Kaiser kind was a meet and greet of my new "Doctor" to establish care and give him the paper files I had brought with me from Oregon.  I was appalled at the interview. Kaiser offices in Hawaii are set up like this: a computer is set up with a chair for the doctor or nurse to input info into-- facing the opposite wall as the patient/customer seating.  My doctor sat with his back to me the entire consultation looking over his shoulder only occasionally to question a particular medication and my use of it. So lame.

So I know that I came from the most perfect of medical relationships, a doctor who knew everything about me and my family and cared about us on a personal level. But I was not prepared for Kaiser. What was particularly eye opening was the way the doctor would say things like I don't know if "they" would allow that... Always referring to Kaiser as "They" and implying that he had no control over my medical care, and that it was all decided by "Them". Creepy big brother crap, that I hoped was just this one doctor's perspective.

Needless to say we switched doctors. But we still had to stay with Kaiser until open enrollment. I decided I would drive all the way to Mililani for my medical care.


When I stepped inside this fairly modern building I was slapped in the face by the pungent aromas of Asian cuisine.

What?  Really?

There were folding tables set up with trays and trays of food.  What the heck?  Piles of chicken and other meats, noodles and soups all sitting out and waiting to be sold while sick people and their illness walked by trailing their germs behind them.

Yuck. Gross.  Are you serious?  Is this even safe?

And if I didn't feel sick when I walked in I sure do now.

When my doctor suggested exploratory surgery over an MRI for my injured knee, I was gone.

I remember saying, "I don't want to get sick in Hawaii." I imagined being elderly and  having to battle cancer or some other disease here, in a place where medical care seemed archaic, and it really panicked me. This is not the U.S this is like living in Mexico.

My new bout with illness (or suspected illness) has put me a little more at ease. Though I was led astray by an overzealous dermatologist, my rheumatologist had put me at ease. And yes I think my new general practitioner may make the cut as well. Only time will tell, I'm not in any kind of hurry to find out.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Lies Beneath

Gardening sucks in Hawaii!

Let me rephrase that, Gardening sucks in Hawaii for me.

Let me rephrase that again, Gardening in Ewa, on the beach is really, really hard.

I'm sure that there are places here on Oahu that regardless of the variety, you plant it and it grows. Well maybe, but I doubt it. You see I am an Oregon State University Master Gardener. (toot, toot.) I spent all my time while I still lived in Oregon, pushing the boundaries of my USDA zone 7-8. I created microclimates and tried to get every palm and tropical plant I could get my hands on, to grow in my garden. And sometimes it worked. And sometimes it didn't.

So imagine how excited I was at the prospect of finally, finally having an actual real life tropical garden! Well, things are not quite turning out the way I had hoped.

When we first moved into our house down here in Ewa Beach, we focused on the inside, gutting the bathrooms, walling in random windows between walls, taking out random sliding glass doors (between rooms) and creating arches, painting every single surface (including ceiling fans and light fixtures). So when at last I could put my attention to my small but completely tropical garden, I was thrilled.

Well until that first time I turned on the hose. I turned on the hose to water our sorry excuse for a lawn when the weirdest, grossest thing happened. The lawn came alive! It came alive with every matter of black and brown beetles. Many of them roaches. When the water poured the bugs crawled out of the earth like some freakish, hellish horror movie. I am not exaggerating, hundreds of bugs crawled out of the earth and scrambled for dry ground, many racing towards the concrete and my home beyond! I was literally waiting for the zombies rip themselves from my lawn.

The thing is we didn't really have a bug problem IN the house. The prior owners had kept up on the fumigating and it wasn't really an issue. But outside was a completely different story. You see our house was vacant for a year, (another weird Hawaii law: if you open a permit for any kind of work and don't use a licensed contractor, you can not sell said home for one full year.)
Why? Lamest law of all time because all work needs to pass inspection, so what difference does it make who is doing the work? And the result is no flipping of homes, which means many ugly, dilapidated homes stay that way. So dumb because renovating these worn out homes is nothing but money, money, money. Dollars in materials, dollars in real estate fees, dollars in sales, dollars in property taxes. Win. Win. Win. Win. But no one asks me, so...

Anyway, so I am thinking that because no one has done a thing to the yard for a year the local creepy, crawly livestock have taken up permanent residence in my yard. Lived free, and prospered. SO before I can even get to planning and planting I have to bring out the heavy artillery and wage an all out war on these insects.

Ugh. So gross. Bugs like you've never seen before.

And I like to go Organic. But this was completely out of the question, I needed the most toxic stuff I could get my hands on. It was either that, or move. This is when I discovered Diazinon has been outlawed. Damn, that shit was good. Anyways, I spent months just trying to kill the creatures that teemed in my soil. The idea of working that soil with these hands made my skin crawl. It took about a month and a half of hitting it hard (keeping the dog out of the yard) to really completely reverse the "Zombie Effect" as it has since been labeled.

So now (I think) I'm bug free and I start to plan, and buy and dig. And I quickly discover that I do not have soil, I have sand. There is approximately an inch and a half of dark, loamy obviously imported, soil covering the entire surface of my yard. But once the shovel goes in I discover that what lies beneath is nothing but sand. At first I was hopeful. After all there were about three obviously successful plants growing on the property, maybe plants could grow in this? I was so used to the thick clay that I had for soil in Oregon that at first I was thrilled, realizing that planting would be a cinch. I would amend, I would back fill, I would make this work.

You know the problem with sandy soil? Well, besides the fact that there aren't any nutrients in it. It doesn't retain water. I live where it is 80 degrees everyday and I have soil that will not retain a drop. This means I must water every day. Every day. And amend, amend, amend amend.

But the absolute worst part of gardening in Hawaii is that THERE AREN'T ANY NURSERIES! Seriously, like none. I live in the land where nearly everything will grow-- but no one sells any plants! Oh don't get me wrong, we have a Lowe's and a Home Depot and they have garden departments. Pitiful little plots of mistreated plants cared for by employees that don't know a thing about plants. Where are the nurseries? These wonderful places filled with plants lovingly cared for by people who actually like to garden? Where? Well apparently there are such places, so I hear, over on the windward side. But none conveniently located within 40 minutes (one way) of my home. Lame. Lame. Lame.

But I will overcome damnit! I will. I will fight creatures great and shinny! I will pile on the manure! I will drive for hours for plants! I will fertilize. I will water, water, water! I WILL have my tropical garden, I will.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Prince Kuhio Day

Today is Prince Kuhio Day.

This is a state holiday in honor of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole. It is celebrated annually on March 26, to mark the birth of Prince Kuhio— heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii, prince of the House of Kalakaua, and later territorial delegate to the United States Congress. As Delegate, Kuhio authored the first Hawaii Statehood bill in 1919. He also won passage of the Hawaiian Homes Act, creating the Hawaiian Homes Commission and setting aside 200,000 acres of land for Hawaiian homesteaders.

It is one of only two holidays in the United States dedicated to royalty, the other being Hawaii's King Kamehameha Day on June 11.

This morning over coffee I wanted to read up on Kuhio, if for nothing other than to pay homage to the man that gave me the day off of work.

Kuhio was an interesting character. In 1893 the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii put in power a Provisional Government of Hawaii and latter a Republic of Hawaii. This overthrow was instigated by the Big Five or as Stuart McKenzie would say The Pentaverate, and no Colonel Sanders is not one of them. The Big Five was a group of English and American Businessmen who wanted more control over Hawaii. The new Republic of Hawaii no longer had room for monarchs.

In 1895 Kuhio went on to fight in the rebellion against the Republic but the rebels proved no match for the Republic. Kuhio was sentenced to a year in prison. He served his full sentence.

In 1898 the the United States annexed Hawaii and the Territory of Hawaii was formed.

Kuhio and his wife left Hawaiʻi upon his release from prison and traveled widely in Europe, where they were treated as visiting royalty. He traveled to Africa from 1899 to 1902 where he joined the British Army to fight in the Second Boer War.

Kuhio eventually returned from his self-imposed exile to take part in politics in post-annexation Hawaii. He became active in the Home Rule Party of Hawaii , which represented native Hawaiians and continued to fight for Hawaiian independence. A much smaller Democratic party, led by his brother David Kawananakoa, was less radical and also less powerful. The Republicans represented business interests including people who had originally overthrown the Monarchy.

In 1901 Kuhio switched parties and joined the Republicans. He was disillusioned with the lack of progress made by the Home Rule Party, and its control by "radicals". The Republicans eagerly accepted him into the fold. By endorsing the heir to the throne of the Hawaiian kingdom they gained significant support in local communities, and Kuhio was given a strong leadership position.

Kuhio was elected delegate to the U.S. Congress in a landslide victory for the Republicans, and helped establish a Republican hold on the legislature. He served from March 4, 1903 until his death, winning a total of ten elections. During this time he instituted local government at the county level, creating the county system still used today in Hawaiʻi. He staffed the civil service positions that resulted with Hawaiian appointees. In 1919, Kuhio introduced in Congress the first-ever Hawaii Statehood Act. It would be another 40 years before seeing fruition.

Kuhio died on January 7, 1922.