Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Brain's Time Warp

This morning I was reading an article on a fitness website about morning routines that fit women should be doing regularly.  One of them was take a hike.  The article said that on a weekend a walk in nature to start the day can be uplifting and invigorating.

I thought this was a good idea.  I started to consider where I could best find nature close to home.  I imagined myself walking out the door onto Meadow Street.  It's a pretty, tree-lined street, but it's near the middle of town.  I might need to go a bit farther to see some real nature.  It would only be a 5 minute drive to the Marsh Lands Conservancy though?  What about this coming weekend?

I took a few seconds to review the plan in my head.  Then something occurred to me.

I don't live on Meadow Street anymore and I haven't lived there in almost 20 years.

Isn't it strange how no matter how old I am, and how long I have lived as an adult with my husband in my current home, I still use my childhood home as a frame of reference?  Does it make sense?  I lived there almost 20 years.  I have lived in my current residence for 15 years.  The years I spent in my old home were formative, and the place and the neighborhood are well imprinted on my memory.  I still feel it odd that I go there in my mind as if I still live there.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, convinced I'm in my childhood bedroom.  It doesn't matter if I had been dreaming of my childhood or not.  I just believe I'm there.

It makes me wonder where I will think I am when I'm elderly and losing my mind.  (Dementia runs in my family, so I am not assured in any way I will escape it.)  Will my mind travel back to Meadow Street, or will it travel to the Regatta Condo?  Maybe it will be convinced I'm in wherever I will live after the Regatta Condo (if I ever do live anyplace else).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why I Am Terrifed

I keep hearing that Donald Trump supporters tend to be poor and uneducated.  Supposedly 50% of American women don't support him.  Even though he keeps winning primaries, I'm told by the media his campaign is a fluke, a joke.  Intelligent people don't take him seriously.

How I wish that were true.  This is not what I'm seeing in my world.  I am seeing far too many intelligent, middle class, educated men and women (probably even more women than men) showing subtle and even outright support for Trump and it terrifies me. 

What is it about Trump that people like?  Is it because he's famous and we like a familiar name? Is it because Republican voters feel he is the only person who can defeat Hillary Clinton?  Is it because his appearance of success in business seems like a guarantee that he will succeed in anything else he does?  Can it really be true that the current support of Trump is simply a manifestation of something far more sinister?

Those who praise Trump say that he says what's on his mind without fear of offending anyone or a need to be politically correct.  How has this become a good trait?  How did treating others with kindness and respect suddenly a character flaw?  Do you think a fear of offending people has gone "too far"?  What makes it too far?  Isn't it better to try to be kind and respectful to everyone than it is to cease to care about how others feel? 

It's not about anti-political correctness and not offending people.  Republicans are just as likely to be offended by others' language.  It's just not the same language that offends them.  (Try wishing a Republican "Happy Holidays" this December and you'll see what I mean.)  Donald Trump is saying out loud what others are afraid to say because we all know on some level that what Donald Trump is saying is wrong.  Those who support him desperately want to believe that he is right.  They want a world where good and evil are clearly defined and everything is black and white.  He is making it easy to choose sides and not think. 

It is entirely possible Trump is putting us all on.  He's pandering to certain groups in order to gain attention and play to the basest of the base.  This could all be an act.  Donald Trump has never been a likeable person, but he has never shown much of a hard-right worldview in the past.  I can remember back in the mid '00s Trump was delivering paid radio spots where he defended his good friends Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi against the mean and sexist criticisms they had been receiving from the public and the media.  Nothing about Donald Trump is sincere, but if he isn't playing sincerely to one side, how can you trust he's playing sincerely to the other? 

In the end, it doesn't matter if Trump is sincere or not.  Pandora's box is now open.  What Donald Trump has done is make it acceptable for Americans to publicly air their hatred of "The Other".  Prejudices that were once buried are now at the surface.  Every stereotype intelligent and rational people have tried to make the world reject has become normalized again.  Language is meaner.  Political discourse is based on emotions and perceptions rather than on facts. 

It doesn't matter if Donald Trump doesn't win.  The damage has been done.  Now that it has become acceptable - and even desirable - to bring this into the political arena, it won't go away any time soon.  Evil has been unleashed on the world and we are all stuck with it.

Donald Trump and those who agree with the tenets of his current campaign may not win in a national national election in the near future, but Trump has set the stage for a more insidious takeover at lower levels.  Now that bigoted talk, anti-intellectualism, and uniformed decision making has become acceptable, there will be plenty of politicians at lower levels willing to fill the holes Trump leaves if he doesn't win the presidency.  Trump's acolytes can easily win at the local and even the state level.  All it takes is to run for office at a level where few people vote and enlist your friends' support.  Once you gain notoriety, you move up.  Too many Americans only vote every four years.  A Trump-like candidate could make his state a living hell for the constituents who still possess an ounce of reason and decency. 

Every Trump supporter I know is white and Christian identified.  It's easy to support someone like Trump when you feel you have nothing to lose.  "So what if Trump wants to make Islam illegal in this country?  I'm not a Muslim.  I don't want Muslims in the county either."  You feel safe and unaffected by Trump's policies. 

I'm sure there are some Jewish Trump supporters out there (they say there is quite a contingent of elderly voters in Florida).  Trump has left the Jews alone so far.  Since he's from New York where he likely has many Jewish business associates, he can't afford to alienate Jewish voters.  Those who come after Trump may not feel a need to maintain ties to the Jewish community.  Think about that. 

Many Christian Trump supporters I know identify as Catholic.  If you think that makes you safe, consider that throughout history, the WASP establishment has not treated Catholics well. 

As politicians become more radicalized, will even mainline Protestants be safe?  If you remove the political views of Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum and simply focus on their faith, do you feel that you can live by their religious moral codes?  Think of how well-loved the Duggar family has been in popular culture.  Prior to the recent family scandals involving their eldest son, they were held up by many as the perfect Christian family.  Remember they don't believe in birth control, dancing, alcohol consumption, woman wearing pants, or anyone wearing shorts or standard swimwear.  Is that the kind of life you want to live?  Would you like those morals to be regulated by your politicians?  Does this help you understand why a Christian government (as opposed to a government whose members practice a Christian religion on their own time) is not a good idea?

Personally I want politicians who understand they are serving an entire constituency of all citizens and not just the ones who agree with them, and that every American has the right to live by their own standards provided they are harming no one else.  Saying that only your religious beliefs and standards as the only ones that count and forcing others to live by them would be the end of democracy.  The United States would be every bit as bad as the Islamic theocracies so many Americans claim to hate and fear.

If you wear them down enough about the absurdity of their arguments, Trump supporters may tell you it's really about defeating Hillary Clinton (and to a lesser degree Bernie Sanders).  The hatred of Hillary Clinton has become as irrational as the devotion to Trump and his ideals.  The disgust and outrage is truly out of hand at this point.  There is no possible way either Clinton or Sanders could possibly live up to the evil images Trump supporters have painted of them, short of them deciding to somehow morph into Osama Bin Laden himself. 

What have Sanders and Clinton done with their careers?  Both of them have devoted decades of their lives to public service.  Sanders was a civil rights champion, a mayor, a Congressman, and a Senator.  Clinton began her career as a children's rights advocate and became a public school reformer prior to joining the US Senate and eventually taking on the fourth highest position in the US government.  To me these are far superior qualifications to anything Trump has done. 

How has Trump served his country?  He has devoted his entire life to amassing his own fortune.  There is nothing wrong with amassing your own fortune.  A working economy demands there are people out there making a lot of money.  My issue with Trump is that he hasn't even done that well.  He has had multiple bankruptcies and even more failed business ventures.  He has made much of his money in lawsuits against those he blamed for his business failures. 

If you feel that a country's economy can and should be run as a business, then you should at least put your faith in someone who can run a business properly and successfully.  Trump doesn't even have that.  His business isn't even particularly integral to the US economy.  Luxury properties are not something most Americans use and need every day.  He didn't invent essential technologies like Bill Gates.  He doesn't own essential energy infrastructure like the Koch Brothers.  He doesn't possess the means to disseminate information to the public like Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch.  In the grand scheme of things, Trump has done very little to improve or support our society and its institutions. 

No matter what I say, people will still support him.  I write this post knowing I'll be called a stupid libtard or a communist or whatever else the insult du jour is.  So even after getting this all off my chest, I still remain terrified.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Moving My Body Forward: Phase 4

I haven't deserted my progress blogs, muffins.  I have been working on my personal program and trying to stick to habits all along.  It's just that my exercise phase was stretched out over a longer period of time due to my 10-day Hawaii vacation and then had almost a week of no exercise while I adjusted to the jet lag back home.  Phase 5 should not take quite so long.

What does it mean to be satisfied?

What does satisfied feel like?  Does it mean you're not hungry anymore?  Does it mean you're not uncomfortably full?  If you feel a sensation of fullness have you gone too far?  For the past two months I have tried to practice the habit of eating only until satisfied.  Even now I'm not sure what satisfied means.

When I was on the Lean Eating program the habit was defined as eating until you were 80% full.  I was a failure at that habit because I'm terrible at numbers.  First of all, I wasn't sure what was meant by fullness.  Does full mean you're stretched to the limit, or does it mean you feel filled up?  What does 80% of that feel like?  If fullness simply means that the sensation of hunger has gone away, how much less of that should you eat?

I find it doesn't take much food to make the sensation of hunger go away.  A few bites will do it if you eat slowly.  However, I found that if I stopped at exactly the point hunger went away, hunger returned an hour later.  Dealing with hunger cues isn't just about satisfying hunger at the moment, but it also is about staying satisfied.

One lesson I learned is that sometimes emotional satisfaction counts too.  Sometimes you just want to eat everything on your plate because it tastes good.  You don't want to leave something delicious.  I had that happen a few times in Hawaii.  I would go down on a plate of food like a hungry call girl on a millionaire john.  Yes, there were times when I would eat so much as to be uncomfortable throughout the day, but I owned the mistake and was willing to pay the price.  It stalled my progress, but it's not something that's going to happen every day.  I don't have another vacation until July and the food at my summer destination isn't quite so grand as the food in Hawaii.

The last two weeks I really haven't been tracking diligently.  I have been noticing what I eat much more than I was at the beginning.  I really have learned to question what I need to eat and how full I feel  I have a deeper understanding of how much food I need. I have turned down food I knew I didn't need.  I did accomplish something.

Although I have practiced this habit rather imperfectly, I am going to move on from it.  I think I have struggled with this so much that I need t take my focus elsewhere.

So now I am ready to move on to Phase 4.  In terms of exercise I did quite well with Stage 1 of The New Rules of Lifting for Women.   Muscle memory has really kicked in and I have been steadily increasing the amount of weight I lift.  I am almost at 2014 pre-surgery levels.  Some exercises I still can't add much weight to because my elbow still hurts.  It's getting better though.  I expect to still have pain for a month or two, but I'm confident the pain will go away eventually.  There is a light at the end of that tunnel.  I have trouble with deadlifts, rows, and pulldowns, but I am back to squatting in the cage and my pushups are pretty good.  I can do 20 in one set (but those last few are still killer).

So there are the stats for this phase.

Weight: 148.2 lbs
Waist: 32.25"
Bust: 39"
Hips: 42"
Thigh: 26.5"
Arm: 14.5"
Habit compliance: 70%

I have decided not to post photos anymore.   I read this piece and it really resonated with me.   It made me question why I share photos publicly.  Do I think I "inspire" you?  Do I just want you to admire me when I have made real progress?  Do I think anyone really cares?  I plan to take photos periodically for my own records, but I will no longer be putting them online.  Chances are if you're reading this, you probably either see me in person or see many photos of me on Facebook.  If I make progress, people will see it. 

It's strange that I lost weight, but I got bigger!  They're right when they say inches mean more than pounds.  I only weigh myself at the end of a phase, so I'm sure my weight fluctuated all over the place before and after vacation.  The weight came off, but the inches sure didn't!

My goal is to lose 2-3 pounds a month going forward.  I think that's reasonable and achievable given my eating habits and the fact that I will always have stuff going on in my life.  Small changes and small adjustments over time are key.

So what is the plan for Phase 4?  I have to schedule my workouts around a rehearsal schedule through March, so I won't have time for things like Zumba or yoga sessions.

Eating habit:  Eat a fruit or a vegetable with every meal or snack

Exercise Plan:
Sunday: AM NROLFW Stage 2 routine, PM Riding lesson
Monday: Dance class
Tuesday: NROLFW Stage 2 routine
Wednesday: Interval cardio on bike or elliptical 30 minutes
Thursday: NROLFW Stage 2 routine
Friday: Interval cardio on bike or elliptical 40 minutes
Saturday: Light leisurely ride

I felt it was time to really concentrate on a vegetable habit.  It will help me structure my meals more healthfully.  When I was on Lean Eating the habit was 5 serving of vegetables a day and you were allowed to make one a fruit.  As I said above, I'm not good with numbers.  If I start thinking about 5 servings, I will make myself crazy trying to figure out what constitutes of serving and if I'm having 5 or 4.5 or 3 or 6, or if a fruit should count or not.  The simpler the habit is, the more likely I am to follow it.  There will always be a fruit or a vegetable on my plate or in my hand when it's time for a meal or snack.

See you at the next phase.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

10 Days In Hawaii

Not a very clever post title, is it?  Well, it is perfectly descriptive.  As I always do, it's time to share the vacation details in a fun, long-winded blog post.

I have longed to go to Hawaii for most of my life.  As a child if you asked me what my dream vacation was, I would have said Hawaii without hesitation.  I was convinced that Hawaii must be the most beautiful and magical place in the world.  I wanted to know everything I could about Hawaii and loved any form of media that had to do with Hawaii.  My favorite episode of any TV show I watched was any episode where the characters went on a Hawaiian vacation.  I am probably one of the few people on the planet who remembers the TV show Aloha Paradise (and I can even still sing part of the theme song).

As I grew older my passion for Hawaii faded a bit.  People were always telling me how overbuilt and overdeveloped it was.  There were some areas that weren't too commercialized, but no one went to those.  I started focusing my travel dreams more on Europe.  Eventually I learned that not all of Hawaii is Oahu and not all of Oahu is Waikiki.  There were plenty of places that were easy to get to that would satisfy my longing for a quiet tropical paradise and beautiful beaches.  But at this point there were other practical reasons to not go to Hawaii.  It's far away.  Traveling to Hawaii requires time.  It is also not cheap.  It's expensive to get there and it's expensive to stay there.

As Kevin began talking about nature destinations he wanted to see, particularly the national parks, he often mentioned dream destinations in colder climates.  He talked of Alaska cruises and nature tours to Churchill Manitoba to watch polar bears. We loved our Yellowstone and Grand Teton trip, but I was not fond of seeing snow fall the week of Memorial Day. "Why do you keep wanting to go to cold places?" I asked him.  "You want to see national parks.  There are national parks in Hawaii."

When our 15th anniversary began to loom on the horizon, we were talking about it with some family members at a party and they asked where we might go to celebrate.  Kevin said, "Hawaii."  This was news to me, but I was ready to hold him to that.

We spent our 5-year anniversary in Disney World, our 10 year anniversary in Italy, and our 15-year anniversary in Hawaii.  Can we top that for 20 years?

Day 1 - Hawaii is as far away from home as I have ever been.  It's far.  It's really far away.  It requires one to fly across a continent and then fly over part of the ocean.  It's far away from any other place.  That translates as a 10.5 hour plane ride going out there.

First class might be out of our league, but Kevin nabbed seats in the extra legroom rows.  Hawaiian Airlines doesn't kid around when it comes to extra leg room.  I have never sat on a seat with so much space in front of me - not even that time when we had a first class upgrade on our way home from Salt Lake City in 2010.  We didn't get the classy meal or the seats with footrests, but we did have a selection of free movies and a complimentary glass of wine with our standard airline dinner.  Best of all, we could get up and go to the bathroom without disturbing each other or other passengers.

We left at 10AM and arrived in Honolulu around 5PM. Once I was off the plane and on the road, I thought Oahu is not the most attractive island in the archipelago.  We got on our shuttle bus to the hotel and drove through plenty of ugly, industrial, city scenery for much of our drive.  The bus crossed one bridge and suddenly the scenery changed as we headed into downtown Honolulu, which is rather charming and clearly set up for tourists and the monied residents.  Within our first hour we were already introduced to some of the local sites, because no matter what form of transportation you take in Honolulu, your driver will serve as a tour guide.

The best part about arriving was feeling the warmth as we stepped outside the airport terminal.  There is nothing like getting on a plane on a cold winter day and getting off the plane and not needing a coat.  

We arrived at our hotel, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki.  When we checked in Kevin began to employ his excellent bargaining skills to get us a better room.  They had tried to put us in a room on a lower floor that was set back a bit from the beach.  It was a partial ocean view, but a room that far back would mean that view would be be quite partial.  A full ocean view was unavailable, but we were able to get a higher floor where the ocean could be seen quite easily.  It looked directly down on the pool as well as out to the beach.  We watched the sunset from our room.  The room itself was large and quite comfortable.  It seemed we had made the right choice of hotels and room.




We explored the hotel and had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants.  We stayed awake as long as possible to reset our bodies from the jet lag.  Our adventure had begun.

Day 2:  I scheduled an island tour of the North Shore in the afternoon to give us the morning to sleep in and explore the neighborhood a bit.   I was awake early regardless so I went to the gym and explored the beach a bit before breakfast.  After breakfast Kevin and I decided to walk up the boardwalk that ran along the beachfront.  Beyond the property of our hotel were several parks as well as the massive property of the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  When the boardwalk ended, we strolled along Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag of Waikiki.  If you asked me to describe Waikiki, I would call it a combination of Fifth Avenue and Ocean City (or some of the beach towns around the Jersey Shore).  There are hotels and beach bars all along the beach and then the strip has upscale malls and high-end shops.  Wedged in between Chanel and Versace are about 100 ABC Stores, which are the Hawaii equivalent of Sunsations.

We met with our tour right before lunch and headed out of Waikiki with our young, chipper, guide Greg.  Once away from the hustle and bustle of the city (and the congested highways) we began to see the Hawaii everyone fantasizes about.  We drove along a mountain road and ended up at the Byodo-In Temple.  It resembles a Japanese pagoda, but is actually meant to be non-denominational.  It shares the property with a Catholic cemetery as well.  The interesting aspect of Hawaiian cemeteries is they don't use headstones.  There are grave marker plaques in the ground and that's it.

It looks so beautiful against the backdrop of the mountains.



Outside the temple there is a giant bell you are supposed to ring before going in to cleanse your aura.  The clapper is a huge pole suspended on ropes that you pull back and let crash into the bell.   The public area of the temple is rather small and taken up by a giant Buddha statue.  There are also incense sticks you can light for meditation.



The grounds are lovely with waterfowl, massive goldfish ponds, and pavilions.





Our next stop was one of the best views of the North Shore, Laie Point.   Hawaiian legend says that a giant lizard, once patrolled this area. The lizard, Laniloa, once battled a man named Kana. The man easily won, despite the lizards reputation for taking the lives of passerbys. Kana divided the body of Laniloa into five pieces, which are now the five off-shore islands near Laie point.  The most distinctive island has a hole with a rock in it that resembles an eye.  This is said to be the lizard's eye.

It was a beautiful spot for photos.





Next we headed to Sunset Beach, one of the most famous North Shore surfing spots.  The waves were pretty tame that day.  Apparently the waves have been tame (for the North Shore) for quite some time, making surfing competitions difficult.  There were still barriers keeping us from going down to the beach and being hit with waves.



We went to another beach where giant sea turtles are known to hang out.  We were able to see them flailing in the waves, but never got a really good look.  Surprisingly we had much better views of turtles at my hotel beach.

Our final stop was the Dole Plantation.  It's a massive tourist trap, but it was fun.  I enjoyed buying pineapple wine at the gift shop in any case.  We strolled the gardens a bit as well. We didn't have time to ride their little train that goes through the fields.



One of my favorite moments of the day was when I was observing some of the island's feral cat and chicken populations coexisting at the Dole Plantation.  I commented how amazing it was that the cats weren't helping themselves to a chicken dinner.  My guide said the cats are afraid of the chickens.  A few minutes later I saw what he meant.  A small cat appeared to be digging himself a litter box in a patch of dirt.  A rooster came up and chased him away.  It didn't end there.  The cat ran a few yards away and stopped.  The rooster came and chased him again.  This happened twice more before the cat decided to leave the the yard.

We returned to our hotel in the early evening.  I was surprised at how much the temperature had dropped when the sun went down.  I couldn't believe at this point that I had been in Hawaii two days and I hadn't been swimming yet.  That was unthinkable!  I decided to have a swim before dinner.  The chilly (relative to the day) night air and the cool temperatures of the pool conspired against me.  It was just too cold to swim.

Day 3 -We had to wake up at some ungodly hour to meet our guide, Guy, for Pearl Harbor.  I guess these tours start early so there won't be any traffic.  Oahu has the worst traffic in the country.  Guy was one of the most laid-back tour guides I have ever heard.  He always seemed to be thinking and concentrating hard about every word in every sentence.  He seemed to be trying to draw the words out. 

We headed first to the visitor's center and the related museums.  There was one gallery dedicated to the events leading up to WWII and the attack and one dedicated to the attack itself.  There were all kinds of artifacts as well as old footage.

Outside the Arizona's anchor was on display.


Then we finally boarded the boat to the Arizona Memorial.  From here we could see the remains of the ship below the water.  At the back of the memorial was a plaque with the names of all the victims.





Terrifying and tragic to think this is the grave for so many unfortunate sailors.

Next we went to Ford Island to see the Oklahoma memorial.  This one had marble pillars with a victim's name carved into it.  The pillars are meant to resemble the sailors standing on the decks in their dress whites.


Finally we went to the U.S.S. Missouri.  This ship was attacked in Pearl Harbor, but was repaired and went back into service and stayed in service for many years until it was decommissioned in the early 1990s.

The Missouri was where WWII officially ended.  The Japanese surrendered to the US on one of the decks.  We were able to stand on that deck and see photos of the signing of the terms of surrender.



After Pearl Harbor we drove through Punchbowl military cemetery.  Unfortunately they don't allow tour buses to stop there, so we couldn't see the graves of famous war heroes (or Do Ho).


We were back early enough in the afternoon for me to go to the beach.  I rented a boogie board for a while.  I found it impossible to use.  The shore waves don't really break.  The only way to really use a boogie board in Hawaii is to swim past the reefs (and avoid scraping your body all over them) and board and surf on the sandbars.  Even when I managed to get out there, I couldn't figure out the wave patterns to understand when to best catch them for a ride.  I managed to catch two or three of them at the shoreline, but it was a ride that lasted about 3 seconds.  I don't think I can handle boarding if I'm not in Assateague (or the East Coast anyway).

Day 4 - This was the longest day of our vacation for sure.  It was another early morning as we had to meet our tour, head to the airport and fly to Hawaii.  Oahu and Hawaii are at opposite ends of the archipelago, so just getting to the Hilo airport took a chunk of the day.  Once at the airport we met with our guide Jane and started our day on the Big Island.  After our tour was over I asked Kevin if he thought Jane was a stoner in her youth.  He said she was probably still a stoner.  What can I say?  She had that aging hippie vibe about her.

Our first stop was a black sand beach.  We had hoped to see some turtles there, but they weren't making an appearance.  The view was lovely though.  It had rained in the morning and there were even faint rainbows.



The Big Island is where King Kameamea originally came from, so during the bus ride Jane spoke extensively about the history of the islands and Kameamea's unification of the entire Hawaiian island chain.  I learned so much history during my trip and I wish I had retained more of it.

Our next stop was Banyan Drive.  It is a street lined on either side with banyan trees that were planted by important people (or people deemed important by the residents of the island.  Each tree is marked with a plaque bearing the name of the person who planted it.
Our next stop was the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens.  This was a Japanese style garden overlooking the beach with pathways for strolling.

I have been told that mongooses are a nuisance species in Hawaii, but I saw very few of them on my trip.  I saw three at the gardens.  Two of them were having conjugal relations.  How is it I manage to catch nature porn everywhere I go?



The next stop was the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm.  If you like mac nuts, then belly up to the sample bar and see how many different flavors you can taste.   I missed my chance to try the ice cream, but I did stroll the gardens a bit and saw what a macadamia tree looks like.



We made a short stop at Rainbow Falls.  They are a beautiful sight, known to display a rainbow when the sun hits them properly.  I saw no such display, but I had a good photo regardless.

Before we hit Volcanoes National Park we made one more stop at an orchid nursery.  This was not a particularly interesting stop.  The flowers were pretty, but there wasn't much else to do other than admire them.  Orchids are a major Hawaiian export, so I can consider it part of my cultural education.



Finally we made it to Volcanoes National Park.  We had lunch in view of one of the current eruptions.  After lunch we walked around the crater, viewed some cool steam vents, and wandered through an old lava field filled with interesting formations.  We also walked through a lava tube.









Then we went to the side of the mountain where lava flows went all the way out to the ocean over the years.  We were even able to view where there had once been a road that was covered by lava.



We had our final view of the water before boarding the plane and heading back to Oahu.  It was a long day, but we certainly saw a lot.  Since we didn't want to search the neighborhood for a late-night dinner spot, we ate off the bar menu at one of the restaurants in our hotel.  I did a bit of karaoke as well.


Day 5 - We decided to spend the day on our own this day.  We opted to spend the morning hiking up Le'Ahi (Diamond Head to the outsiders).  We took a taxi, which ended up being a dumb idea since our hotel has a free trolley that stops at Diamond Head and most popular spots in the area.

It looks like an intimidating climb when you view the summit from the bottom.  The trail is mostly man-made stairs and swtichbacks and we made it up in a little over a half hour.







We had the afternoon free, so we returned to the hotel where I had the afternoon to spend at the beach.  I rented a SUP for a while.  Normally I am used to paddleboarding in quiet bays.  I have never tried the ocean before.  It was just as difficult to stay up on a SUP as I expected it to be.  I spent more time sitting than standing.  When I did manage to stand, I found it hard to paddle against the waves, so it was more like stationary surfing.  I finally was at a point where I was standing for a while and managing to make headway with the paddle when one of those giant sea turtles made an appearance right in front of my board.  I wasn't confident enough to steer around him standing, so back down I went.  The next time I attempted to stand I got knocked down by a big wave and feel right on a reef.

It was Valentine's Day that day and we had neglected to make plans.  Most of the nicer restaurants in the area were booked weeks ago.  We went to our hotel concierge and asked for advice.  He managed to get us a late reservation at a superb Italian restaurant (see my food blog for details if you haven't done so already).

Day 5 - This was another unplanned day.  Kevin wanted to see the Honolulu Zoo, so we wisely boarded the hotel trolley and checked it out.

It's a small zoo, but there were some interesting displays. 




As photo ops go it's not anywhere near the Bronx Zoo, but it made for a nice morning.

We returned to the hotel and I returned to the beach.  This time I rented snorkel gear.  One of the best views of Hawaii is the one you see underwater.  Even at the crowded Waikiki beach I was able to see the most stunning array of fish.  It was breathtaking (not literally of course since that could be dangerous in snorkeling).

We had dinner at another one of Honolulu's upscale restaurants that evening and then retired for the evening.  We would have to pack up and board the plane to Kauai the next day.

Day 6 - We packed our bags and said goodbye to Oahu.  We had an uneventful plane ride to Kauai.  Oddly enough the ride to Kauai from Oahu didn't seem to be much shorter than the ride to Hawaii from Oahu, but Oahu and Hawaii are much farther apart.

We arrived in Kauai in the rain.  That was a little disappointing.  The island itself was a breath of fresh air.  There were no major cityscapes.  We passed no ugly industrial areas on our ride to the hotel.  There was far more nature and far less crowded highways.

We arrived at our hotel, The Koa Kea in the early afternoon.  The rain was falling pretty steadily at this point and it was too early to check into our room, so we hung out at the bar and had lunch.




We knew we would need a car to get to some of our excursions as very few outfitters offer hotel pickups.  Our hotel was in an area of Poipu that is filled with many hotels and condos along the beach, but very little in the way of other forms of civilization.  We thought we could rent a car at or near our hotel.  We should have rented one at the airport.  There were no convenient rental places nearby.  There was a large shopping center in walking distance with some food concessions and casual restaurants, but that was about it.  The major shopping and dining hub was over a mile away - walkable, but not where you want to walk for dinner.

That left us eating at our hotel restaurant for dinner.  It was pricey and we had been going out for pricey dinners for two nights in a row so far.  We knew we had to look at other options for the rest of the week.

Day 7 - We had to see Waimea canyon of course and we were able to book a bus tour that would take us there and pick us up at the hotel.   Our guide Nui was quite a character.  He is originally from the mainland, but had been living in Hawaii for many years working in various jobs (he reminded me a bit of Captain Barry in Chincoteague, although a bit older).  He warned us all that he tends to be politically incorrect with his guests, but he wasn't nearly as salty as he warned us he would be.

We started the day at the Spouting Horn where the ocean runs under the rock formations at the water's edge and spouts upwards. The ocean was pretty calm this day and the display wasn't at its most impressive, but it was impressive enough.

Next we went to Waimea Canyon.  We had heard stories about how rainy and foggy it can be and that a good view is close to impossible.  Despite the rain from the day before and the clouds in the morning, we had bright sunshine and a beautiful view right out to the ocean.




After lunch we went to a lookout point over the Wailua River and Opaekaa Falls. 

We headed down to the river for a scenic cruise.

The cruise went to Fern Grotto, a cave that naturally formed in a cliffside.  A small perpetual waterfall cascades over the front of it.  Hawaii is so full of waterfalls because the heavy rains seep into the lava rock and eventually flow out.

They used to conduct weddings in the cave, but it is now closed to visitors.   There is a large viewing platform in front of the grotto now for events.   While we were there we were entertained by Hawaiian musicians and dancers.


The musicians accompanied us on the boat ride back and sang more songs and even showed us some hula moves (I can do the huki lau dance now). There was one elderly ukulele player whom someone said had been in Blue Hawaii.  I don't know how true that was.

After that beautiful day it began to rain when we returned to our hotel.  I had been looking forward to some beach time, or at least some pool time.  I decided to take some pool time despite the rain because you're supposed to swim in Hawaii.  That's just an accepted fact.

I had eaten a huge breakfast and then ate lunch even though I wasn't hungry.  By dinner time I couldn't stomach another meal.  Kevin had a burger at the hotel bar while I snitched his pickles and his french fries and told myself I wasn't overdoing it.

Day 8 - Today we spent the morning traversing jungle roads (and puddles) in a "Mud Bug".  The ATV outfitter was a close enough distance to our hotel to make a taxi affordable, so it was one less day we needed to worry about transportation.  The tour went through the jungle roads and ended up at a waterfall where we had a picnic.  We were supposed to swim at the waterfall, but I ended up being improperly equipped.  The tour description online merely said to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes.  I wore my hiking boots thinking they would be the best shoes to handle the muddy trails.  I noticed many of my trail companions were wearing plain water shoes.  It wasn't until we were getting ready to go on the trail that our guide Eric said that I would not be allowed to go into the waterfall barefoot.  Since I didn't buy water shoes (conveniently on sale at the store attached to the main office) or bring them, I would not be allowed to swim (unless I wanted to swim in my hiking boots, which didn't sound too appealing).  It also didn't matter what I wore on the rest of my body.  They handed out shorts and t-shirts to wear on the ride so you didn't get your own clothes too muddy.

We headed out on the trail.  Kevin drove first.  We made some stops along the way.  One of the stops was at a large field where many movies were filmed over the years including Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  We also went through an old transport tunnel left over from one of the defunct local sugar plantations.




We were instructed to stay in line and follow Eric, but some members of our group were deliberately cruising through every puddle.  I think it took a while for Kevin to catch on that we didn't have to follow everyone exactly.  By the time we reached the falls both of us as well as our vehicle were covered in mud.


It was just as well swimming was out of the question for me.  I went to the upper falls and splashed some water on my muddy limbs and found it was pretty cold.  The cold water wouldn't have mattered so much if it hadn't been a cool morning.  It wasn't swimming weather.  Some members of our group jumped in anyway. 

I drove on our way back.  It was such a blast.  I told Kevin if I had known how much fun it was to drive the Mud Bug I would have driven both ways.  Kevin said that was why he drove first.

We stopped inside an old WWII bunker on the return trip.  It was cool.  There were a few artifacts in the tunnel, including some ancient Saltines.

The tour gave me some perspective.  Our guide Eric was about my age and talked about how never never wanted to hold a real job.  Still, he said he kind of hated what he currently did.  He said he liked the people and that's what kept him going, but he hated the general drudgery of it and the long days (after giving tours all day, he and his crew have to clean off all the vehicles.)   From what I gather, his wife is the big breadwinner in the family.  I said to him, "You live in this beautiful place with a fun job and even you hate your job."  He complimented me on my NY attitude, but I did have a point.  Hating your job is the human condition.  You can't escape it.

When we returned to our hotel the weather had warmed up immensely and the sun was shining.  I rented snorkel gear and hit the hotel beach.  Once again I had that dreamy underwater view.

We had hot dogs for dinner at the shopping center across the street, but returned to the hotel for cocktails and dessert - an excellent compromise.

Day 9 - We were going to cruise the Na'Pali coast in the afternoon and early evening, so I took the morning to get my beach on.  I took my snorkel gear to the beach at the hotel next door (a bit bigger and deeper and continued with my fish watching.  It was so peaceful out there in the water.  There were times I would just float there and watch the sunlight on the ocean floor and feel like I was in my own little watery world.


We had met another couple on the Waimea tour who were staying in a hotel nearby and had a rental car and were also taking a Na'Pali cruise out of the same marina that afternoon.  They offered to give us a ride.  We were grateful to have the ride and to have made some new friends.  They wanted to get an early start so we arrived at the marina with over an hour to spare.  The marina had some shops so we browsed around a bit (I was tempted to get my pedicure refreshed when I saw a nail salon).  Eventually the time came to meet our captain, Drew, and board the catamaran.

The boat was large and fairly comfortable and had handholds everywhere.  We found out why pretty quickly.  The wind was fierce and the water was choppy.  You needed to be holding on much of the time.  You also ran a risk of getting soaked.  Instinct told me not to take off my bathing suit after the beach that morning and wear just a light coverup dress over it.  Had I not dressed that way, it could have been much worse.

The choppy water and the waves were worth it.  The coast was spectacular and Drew was an excellent guide through all of it.

 




We saw dolphins and whales as well.  The dolphins swam right up to our boat.  None of the whales breached (like we saw in Costa Rica) but we did see spouts and tails.



Captain Drew and the crew served a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches (also tuna for people like Kevin) and free flowing wine, beer, and mai tais (actually, those were flowing throughout the entire cruise).  Then we ate cookies and watched the spectacular sunset.


Our friends' cruise wasn't over yet, so we had to take a taxi back to the hotel.  At least we were spared that expense in one direction.  Lesson learned.  Kauai doesn't have the public transportation Oahu has.  You need to rent a car and rent it at the airport.  If we ever go back to Kauai (and it's nice to think we will one day), we will know.

Day 10 - All good things must come to an end.  Since our flight was in the afternoon I used to morning for one last dip in the ocean.  Then we packed our bags and said goodbye and took the plane to Honolulu.

Everything seemed to be going fine for our flight back home to NY.  The plane was right on schedule and we boarded.  We were unable to get the extra legroom seats on this flight, but it was a shorter flight, so at least we had that.

We boarded the plane and waited to take off.  Then we were instructed to get off the plane and wait.

It turned out there were mechanical issues with our plane.  We would have to wait until the next plane came to the gate and was prepared for another flight.  We were delayed almost two hours.  I suppose on the bright side we didn't land at 5AM as planned, but landed at a much more reasonable hour and arrived home around 10.  I had a few hours to rest and go to an audition.

Life it seemed, was going to go on as usual: work, horses, theater despite how much fun our vacation was.