Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Last Day in Hawaii, Following in the Trail of Obama

We (sadly) left the condo Friday morning after doing everything we could to clean up the messes left behind by a family with three boys, said our goodbyes, and went into Haleiwa for one last shave ice! Here the family stands getting ready for one last treat!

We also stopped by Romy's shrimp shack one last time to treat ourselves to lunch. It was a beautiful day to drive down south around the island.

During our second week in Hawaii, Obama had already left nearly a week before, but we still felt like we were following him around the island. This feeling was even more intense as we stopped by the Macadamia Nut Farm as recommended by our hosts Suzanne and Bob. Chief Sielu, a real Samoan chief and native Hawaiian, leads regular tours around the property, pointing out the interesting botanical features and showing tourists where several TV shows and movies have been filmed. They highly recommended this tour, so we thought we'd check it out.

The store had loads of different kinds of macadamia nut samples, as well as macadamia nut coffee. The boys were very concerned about me sampling the macadamia nuts, because it is one of the few allergies I have. (I actually sampled a few of them to no adverse maybe my allergy has gone away!)

Waiting for the tour

The tour consisted of a ride on a very rickety old bus (our family were the only attendees outside of a couple of University of Hawaii students) through Hawaiian plants and orchards, down to an area where Chief Sielu proceeded to do what I found out later was an encore of his time performing at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He made fire rubbing two sticks together:

And then did a fire dance demonstration:

He cracked open a coconut and let us sample the coconut water, and then presented each of us with a headband made of palm fronds:

Then he took us out on a canoe across a bay to see "Coconut Island" and showed us spots where several TV shows (Lost, ER, Fantasy Island, Gilligan's Island) and movies (Joe Vs. the Volcano, Fifty First Dates) were filmed.

Mike and Chris posing with the guys at the end of the canoe
(again, the Samoan guys were very flirtatious--
see how the one next to Mike is holding his stomach!)

The beautiful Kualoa mountains

As I mentioned previously, I felt like we were trailing Obama. Just the week before, he had visited the Macadamia Nut Farm and had photos taken with the chief. I asked the chief about his visit, and he told me that it was a complete surprise. The place was crawling with secret service agents, he said. you know what that means? I touched someone who touched Barack Obama!!! ;)

Barack Obama with Chief Sielu (the week before we were there)

One of my favorite things about the tour--which probably would have been more memorable if we hadn't been to the Samoa performance at the Polynesian Cultural Center--was that the chief went to a starfruit tree and picked a bunch of starfruit for us. I hadn't tasted fresh starfruit since I was in Thailand in 1987! Delicious!! He gave us a bunch of fruit, but we ended up throwing them away at the airport because we weren't allowed to take them to the mainland.

The kids with their starfruit

After leaving the tour, we drove back into Honolulu and had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Waikiki, the Shore Bird. It's right on the beach in an Outrigger hotel, and for a very reasonable price, you get the salad bar and a piece of meat or fish to grill yourself. It's an experience!

One of my all-time favorite photos of Nicholas!

After dinner, Nicholas and I walked out on the beach and put our feet in the Hawaii ocean one last time. Then we took a brief trip to the mall so I could visit Macy's in the Ala Moana Mall where they have a nice Hawaiian jewelry collection.
The kids' favorite spot in the mall is a place called Jungle Fun, where they have loads of video games and rides.

Nicholas LOVED the rides!

Chris and Kieran liked the drumming games

Then it was off to the airport for our 10:40 p.m. flight, which was uneventful. Kieran fell asleep before the plane took off and slept until after we landed! Everyone slept for hours except for me, and I snoozed off and on after watching the pretty bad but enjoyable "Made in Honor" (enjoyable because of Patrick Dempsey!). We arrived at 7:00 a.m. Portland time, a bit over 5 hours after we left Hawaii. We went home and slept for 4 hours before awaking to try to get used to the 3-hours-later time zone.
Even though it felt good to be home, we miss Hawaii! For the first few days, Nicholas kept saying "Honolulu airplane!" I wouldn't want to live there, but our family trips there are always very enjoyable.

Last Day in Haleiwa

The last full day we had in our rented condo in Hawaii we spent hanging out. I commented to Mike as we were leaving that next time I want to spend more of my time just hanging out on the beach, and he reminded me that I had also said that last year! Why did I not remember that?

Thursday we spent the morning on the beach and we were especially fortunate to complete our Hawaiian experience by spying not one, but two, giant sea turtles in the ocean. This is always a huge highlight for me during our trips to the North Shore. Typically we have taken a trip to Turtle Beach and have always been able to see turtles, but amidst droves of tourists (including Japanese hauled in via tour bus!). The advantage of going to Turtle Beach is that it's easier to see the turtles...the water is clearer and there are more people trying to see the turtles.

A photo of Turtle Beach (not mine)

This time we saw them right up the beach from our condo...just our family alone. They congregated around the swarms of algae, so it was not very easy to spot them. The kids were thrilled and freaked at the same time. These turtles are really beautiful creatures. I wasn't able to get a photo this year, but the following photo gives you an idea of how amazing these turtles are:

Earlier this year a few turtles were killed in Oahu, illustrating the risks from mixing nature with humans so intimately.

Between turtle spotting, we had a good time swimming and boogie boarding in the ocean. We took a lunch break and checked out Spaghettini, which is owned by Bob and Suzanne, the owners of our condo. The New York style pizza was fantastic! Kieran pronounced it to be "awesome." Nicholas decided he liked the bar seating instead of the table, so he sat all by himself at the bar and ate his pizza!

Waiting for his pizza...

Chris, aka "the bottomless pit"

Getting ready to dig in!

Ignoring the rest of us and enjoying the view from his bar stool!

After pizza, we returned to Aoki's for more shave ice! While Nicholas was napping in the afternoon, I took one final shopping trip through the interesting shops and galleries of Haleiwa.

In the late afternoon, Chris finally connected with Suzanne and Bob's sons and had a great time playing with them. It's too bad they didn't get to hang out earlier in the week, but between their school schedules (they're in year-round school) and our travel schedules, it was not to be.

That evening we enjoyed our last meal out on the beach...grilling our mahi mahi on the barbecue and eating more pineapple rice and stir-fried veggies, followed by Ted's Bakery yummy chocolate and haupia (coconut) cream pie (available at Malana Market in Haleiwa):

There's nothing better than eating dinner right on the beach (at the picnic tables provided), watching the sunset. I could go back right this second!!

View at dinnertime looking out onto the beach

Mike bringing drinks for the kids,
giving you an idea of how close the condo is to the beach!

Final Haleiwa sunset of the week

Kieran decided to go skinny dipping at twilight, joined by Nicholas. I couldn't get enough of swimming in the wonderfully warm ocean...the direct opposite of the Oregon Coast!

If You Hear the Dogs, Keep Going...

I loved so many things about Hillary's speech last night:

  • "No way. No how. No McCain."
  • "I want you to ask yourselves, were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?"
  • "And after so many decades, 88 years ago on this very day, the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote became enshrined in our Constitution. My mother was born before women could vote. My daughter got to vote for her mother for president. This is the story of America, of women and men who defy the odds and never give up."
  • "On that path to freedom, Harriet Tubman had one piece of advice. If you hear the dogs, keep going; if you see the torches in the woods, keep going; if they're shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop; keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going. And even in the darkest moments, that is what Americans have done. We have found the faith to keep going."
  • "It makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart."
Watching the Democratic National Convention has brought tears to my eyes quite a few times this week. Hillary's speech was amazing. The media is driving me nuts, though, with their reports of divisiveness and acrimony in the party...from the Clintons' hidden annoyances and the Clinton supporters who plan to vote for Obama to people who thought Michelle Obama looked tense and unhappy during Hillary's speech.

This is the first major political convention in which thousands of bloggers are writing live during the speech, and millions are commenting live. It's been fascinating to observe, and for the most part, I've enjoyed reading the blog posts.

But I'm gravely disappointed in the media. Not only is the mainstream media not showing several of the major speeches, but the pundits are criticizing every little thing and creating more controversy and drama than truly exists. And Maureen Dowd of the New York Times? Any respect I once had for her has gone out the window, reading her pure vitriol and hatred of the Clintons. I have chosen to watch the speeches on PBS, where they have reasoned commentary by Jim Lehrer, Mark Shields, and conservative but fair David Brooks (also of the New York Times) and they broadcast 3 hours of the most significant speeches (including Lilly Ledbetter yesterday). It's not live coverage, but it's after the children's bedtime so I can focus on what they are saying!

It's been awhile since Democrats have had a candidate to get excited about, much less TWO! We are very fortunate to be in this position. Even thinking back to Bill Clinton's heyday, I don't think that people were as fired up or motivated to engage and vote. As Democrats, we need to be focusing on that excitement and how lucky we are to have not only had a historic primary race but also to have a great candidate we can get behind...and ignore the media trying to stir up a sh_t storm! Go, Democrats!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bad, Bad News: My Husband Is Going to Hell

So says this FRIEND OF JOHN MCCAIN and televangelist, John Hagee:

Did you know that stay-at-home dads are in the bible??? According to Hagee, God calls stay-at-home dads "bums" and St. Paul calls them "worse than infidels."

Compound his "staying at home and sitting on his backside" is the fact that he is a pro-choice Catholic and supports gay marriage...probably sins worse than being a bum...

Hope that hell has visiting hours. Oops--I'm sure I'll be there as well.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Chris Sampling Coconut Water

We returned to the Polynesian Cultural Center last Wednesday, because they have a "Free within Three" program that allows you back for a second day within three days. This allowed us to get to the villages we didn't have time for on Monday (Tahiti and Tonga), see the impressive (but depressing) IMAX movie on coral reefs, and return to a couple of favorite shows.

Nicholas and Kieran practicing their drumming skills in Tonga

Here's our experienced drummer at work!

Doing the hula while waiting for a show

Playing the New Zealand stick game--
I'm wary because Nicholas whacked me in the wrist!

The Samoan guy called Chris up out of the audience to sample the coconut water

We thought he was going to hurl!

The tree climbing demonstration--they climb a coconut tree BAREFOOT!

Posing, yet again, with the funny Samoan guy after his show

Another observation about the Polynesian Cultural Center: in spite of its operation by the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), many of the performers are highly suggestive and provocative in their shows...especially the Samoan guy. He was full of flirtatious gestures and comments about his "hotness." He had a real sex appeal about him, and he certainly flaunted it in his words and gestures. Many of the performers flexed their chest muscles lasciviously at times! Very interesting given the conservative nature of the Mormon church.

Since returning from Hawaii, Kieran has been doing Polynesian Cultural Center "shows" nonstop. He twirls around a stick and grunts (for a fire dance), climbs a trunk placed on its side (coconut tree), and pretends to crack open a coconut and drink it...all while he is dressed down to his underpants, to mimic the sarong loincloth worn by the Samoan performer!

Some nature photography in the parking lot!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Little Pound and a Half of Butter Turned 12 Yesterday!

That's how someone described Chris during a children's sermon at church soon after he was born at 24 weeks, weighing 610 grams (or 1 pound, 7 ounces)'s completely bizarre to imagine that he was once so little. He was only 11 inches long, stretched out, when he was born.

His birthday, yesterday, was a very long day because we arrived home on the red eye from Hawaii in the morning. As soon as we got home, we all went to bed for 3 or 4 hours.

When we awoke, Chris opened up his big birthday present, which had arrived while we were away. He put his saved-up allowance with birthday money from Grandma England, aunt and uncle in Australia, and us into purchasing Rock Band for the Wii. Rock Band is essentially an expanded Guitar Hero game, with electronic guitar, drums, and microphone. I've tried my hand at all three, and I'm pretty bad! I think I will sneak down to the family room in the evenings after the kids in bed to practice. Chris has already jumped to the "medium" level while I'm still stuck on "easy" and often get kicked off the stage because I miss so many notes! ;)
It doesn't help that I know only two of the songs...

Nicholas loves Rock Band, much to Chris' chagrin (he's a bit of a distraction while one is trying to concentrate on the notes). He keeps running around with drumsticks shouting "my drumming!!"

We had my parents over for dinner last night for a quiet birthday celebration. Our friends Neal and Annette were housesitting for us while we were gone, and we returned not only to a cleaned-up yard (they spent hours pulling weeds and cleaning up our yard!) but also a homemade lasagne and apple pie! Delightful! So nice to not have to worry about cooking when one is jet lagged.

Tomorrow morning Chris goes to his middle school orientation. I'm slightly freaked out about middle school because I do not have fond memories of junior high school (the classes were great; it was the kids I didn't particularly like).

Long-term blog readers will remember our internal struggles about contemplating whether we should send him to the arts magnet school. I don't think I ever wrote an update on that. In the end, we opted for the local middle school for several reasons: (1) I suspect that they "get" boys more there, because DaVinci is 66% girls and it's very female-centric, plus Chris tends to prefer hanging out with boys for now, (2) we specifically asked the vice-principal about bullying, and we felt confident that the school had a strong anti-bully policy, and (3) we concluded that he'd be more likely to land roles in plays or be able to get opportunities in the arts at Gray, because the competition will not be as fierce as at an arts school, (4) it will be easier for him to be in extracurricular activities because the school is not across the river!, and (5) he really wanted to go there. The discussion about DaVinci seemed to be stressing him out, and he seemed relieved when we decided on Gray.

He seems excited about middle school, so I'm happy for him and hope he really likes it. He learned that the band teacher plans to take the band on a trip to Disneyland, so that alone has him excited.

Twelve years have passed in a blur. I'm relieved that Chris continues to be an affectionate, sweet, and kind boy. He does seem a bit obsessed with video games and the Simpsons, and doesn't read as many high-quality books as he used to, but that seems par for the course for a preteen. Tonight when my sister and her husband and three boys called and sang to him over the phone, he looked so pleased. I hope he keeps his sweet nature throughout his teen years!

Even though at times he seems much younger than his years, at other times he seems older and wiser than his age. I remember the "old man" look he had about him as a baby...any child who has seen 4 months in the NICU and experienced the pain and discomfort that he had, akin to being a prisoner of war, is bound to age quickly in some ways. The maturity I see in him is that he is the most forgiving person I have yet to meet. He never holds a grudge. I aspire to be like that. I used to call him my "wonder boy" when he was a baby, and he continues to be my hero for his survival against the odds and his upbeat, optimistic nature.

Rockin' out with Grandpa

Nicholas LOVES Annette's lasagne!

Chris and his birthday pie

With his few remaining birthday gifts (after the BIG gift)

Chris with Mike and me

The whole family

I LOVE this photo of Chris with my parents--
my dad doesn't like to smile in photos,
and I was trying to get him to smile, and my mom tickled him...
that's the trick, now I know!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Exploring Haleiwa and Enjoying Shave Ice!

The condo we stayed in on the North Shore was about 1 mile from the charming town of Haleiwa. Haleiwa was founded in 1898 by a businessman named Benjamin Dillingham. In the Hawaiian language, hale means "house," and the ╩╗iwa is a Frigatebird. As of 2000, Haleiwa had a population of 2,225, making it the largest town on the North Shore. Its old plantation town character is preserved in many of the buildings.

We loved having a condo at which we could prepare and eat one to two meals a day. For the third meal, we checked out a variety of restaurants in the area. One day we went to one of Haleiwa's nicer restaurants, Haleiwa Joe's, for lunch (less expensive than dinner!). The restaurant overlooks the harbor and has a nice ambience, although Mike and I agreed that the quality of the food was matched by less-expensive restaurants in the area (such as the Mexican restaurant, Cholo's, which we all really liked!). The other downside of Haleiwa Joe's is that it has a real fly problem. It definitely detracts from the dining experience when it is necessary to bat away flies from your food!

Nicholas at Haleiwa Joe's

We were inside, but we had flies too!
(Note the pile of red onions next to my plate--I abhor them!)

The BEST thing to eat in Haleiwa is shave ice. The most famous shave ice spot in Haleiwa is Matsumoto's, but we have never been there because the line is always way too long. We prefer Aoki's, which people in the know report is just as good...yet the line is never as long.

According to Aoki's web site, "shave ice" was first introduced to the islands during the plantation days when hot, exhausted workers needed a way to cool off. They would shave a block of ice with a hand plainer and flavor it with juice. It's essentially like a much more flavorful version of a sno cone. Aoki's shave ice is the best because you can have ice cream at the bottom. Yum! My personal favorite flavor combination was the Local Mix: mango, pineapple, and li hing mui (Hawaiian sweet-salty plum). During the week we were in Haleiwa, we had shave ice a record three times!

The other benefit is that it's very cheap...$2.25 for a small shave ice with ice cream on the bottom. I tried the azuki beans one time, and I didn't like that feature much. I feel the same way about red beans as I do about garbanzo beans: love the paste (or hummous) but don't like the texture or feel of them whole.

A typical weekend line at Aoki's--
we never waited in a line this long!

Chris and Nicholas with their shave ice

Kieran is the big shave ice fanatic in our family!

Happy and well-fed shave ice customers!