Month: March 2013

Paradise – Day One

On marker of least for a gal from Colorado

On marker of paradise…at least for a gal from Colorado

We’re in paradise. We escaped from cold, snowy Colorado during the boys spring break and now we are on a family trip in Kauai. There are five of us (hubby, the boys, my mom, and I), and we’re all Hawaii virgins. Kauai, after hours of research, was on the top of my Hawaii must-see list. So after a very long day yesterday (awake at 4 a.m., 8.5 hours in the air, topped off with a four-hour time change), we at arrived in Lihue ready to rest up for our grand adventure.

This morning we were awake in the dark at 5 a.m. (courtesy of the aforementioned four-hour time difference). Anxious to start our vacation, we threw on our swimsuits, jumped into our rental Jeep, and headed to Starbucks for caffeine. We drove toward Wailua and landed at Lydgate Beach Park just a few moments after the official rise of the sun.

Happy boys

Happy boys

The boys, we discovered, are not mountain boys at all. They love the beach. As the adults snapped photos, the boys ran along the empty beach, kings of their own little universe. Their joy at building small sand structures and watching the ocean “demolish” them repeatedly was a beautiful reminder of how important the little moments are. Serenity is a beach sunrise. (Or a mountain sunrise at Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado. I’m not picky.)

After the caffeine had kicked in, we headed up to Opaeka’a Falls Lookout. We enjoyed the falls but mostly we were happy to catch a quick view of the Wailua River where we are going to kayak on Monday morning. Back to the car, we headed to our home base to gather up some things for the rest of our day. We stopped off at Hilo Hatties for some kitschy Hawaiian wear (it had to be done…hubby insisted) and a bobblehead for the dashboard in our Jeep.

Kekoa...our bobblehead surfdog

Kekoa…our bobblehead surfdog

As the rain poured down in Lihue, we headed to the reportedly “sunny” south shore for some swimming and snorkeling at Poi’pu Beach.

The instant we’d unrolled our beach mats, the sky opened up for a couple minutes. We thought about packing it in, but decided it would pass over. It did quickly, leaving behind sunny skies and warmer temperatures. We hauled out the snorkel gear we’d purchased one day on the Internet while sitting in snowy Steamboat Springs and hit the water. I was grateful that it was warmer than I thought it might be. I didn’t even need the dive vest I brought. While snorkeling, I saw oodles of fish, including a spotted eel, colorful parrot fish, and a very cool Moorish idol. No sea turtles sightings yet, but it’s always good to have something to look forward to for another day.


Very sunny Poi’pu Beach

Five hours and five mild sunburns later, we departed the beach in search of sustenance. We found Puka Dogs. The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook gave this place high marks for their hot dogs, so I felt compelled to give it a try. If you have to eat a hotdog, this place does not suck. The polish dog is roasted until its skin is crispy and then it is tucked into a wraparound bun with spicy garlic jalapeno aioli and sweet relish (our choice was mango). Loved it. Totally worth the $6.25 price tag in my humble, hot-dog loving opinion.

As we were preparing to leave the area, we decided to shoot around and hit Spouting Horn and see what that was all about. Glad we did too because we were able to scout out the location of Allerton Garden, which is on our list for another day, and we caught our first sight of humpback whales off the coast. Steve and I have seen humpbacks while on a cruise along the Inside Passage in Alaska, but the boys were so excited. We’ve got our fingers crossed that they will hang around for a few more days as our sunset whale-watching cruise isn’t until Monday night.

A view of Allerton

A view of Allerton Gardens…destination for another day

All in all, it was a good day. I hope you’ll indulge me as I use my blog as a travel log for this week, although I won’t blame you if you don’t. While I certainly don’t mean to torture anyone who is still enduring winter that is spilling over into spring, I want to catalog my time here in paradise because too soon I will be back in Colorado watching spring snow fall. I need to have something to look back on as I tuck my flip-flops into the back of my closet and pull out the boots again.

Do You Have The Chops?

That's me...jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really more of a warrior partial jog)

That’s me…jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really less of a dash and more of a warrior partial jog)

“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This morning I found myself reflecting on my post from last night and considering how difficult it is for me to say no. I am getting better at it bit by bit, but it still troubles me that my inability to say no is such an obstacle to maintaining my sanity. Sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice my mental well-being and my free time because the immediate path of least resistance requires me to accept something I didn’t go looking for and don’t really want to do. And I will say yes against my better judgment merely to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Sad but true.

What’s more striking (and sad), however, is how rare it is for me to say yes to a true opportunity that I should embrace when it presents itself. There’s always an excuse as to why I shouldn’t take a risk or put myself out there. And, oddly, it’s easier for me to say yes to something I wholly do not want to do than it is for me to say yes to something that could truly benefit me and that I honestly desire.

With these thoughts in my head I was scrolling through the updates on my Facebook news feed today when I came across this video. Apparently Billy Joel was conducting a Q & A session at Vanderbilt University where he was set to play a concert. Students were taking turns in an auditorium posing questions to the Grammy-Award winning songwriter and performer. When one gentleman found it to be his turn at the microphone, instead of asking a typical question, this young man started with a statement. He told Joel that New York State of Mind was a favorite of his. Then he did something truly bold. With a trembling, tentative voice, he asked Joel if he might accompany him for a performance of that tune. The crowd in the auditorium gasped, presumably jointly thinking “What a presumptuous little creep.” But what happened next was pure magic. Joel agreed. The young man walked on stage, exchanged a few words with Joel at the piano, and began to play a well-practiced introduction to the song while Joel sized up the kid’s talent. Joel then stepped up to the microphone and sang the entire song. Afterwards he applauded the young musician, exchanged a few more words with him, and told the audience to remember the name Michael Pollock. He then paid him what I think is the ultimate compliment. The guy’s got chops.

After I watched the video, I found myself questioning whether I would have the nerve to ask for what I wanted in that same situation. I’m sure there were plenty of other students in that crowd that wanted the same thing Michael did but didn’t have the cajones to ask. Whether because of fear, some notion of the rules of etiquette, nerves, or a myriad of other reasons, they wouldn’t take the risk. Sadly, I’m positive I would not have either.

We often hear the tired cliches: Nothing ventured, nothing gained and You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We know these statements are true, yet how often do we let our fear rule our actions? There was always the chance that Mr. Joel would have politely and respectfully told Michael he was not interested. But there was also always a chance that he would consent. Michael chose to focus on that potential positive outcome, and he bravely asked the question. It paid off. And now for the rest of his life Michael will remember that he once played accompaniment for Billy Joel to his favorite tune because he was ballsy enough to ask. What a memory he created for his life’s storybook.

Some people are born with chops. It comes naturally to them to ask for what they want and to say no when the feel like it. The rest of us need to earn our chops. We’ve got to work at it. We’ve got to conquer our nerves and our fears about conventionally accepted behaviors and we’ve got to be willing to go beyond them. It’s not easy. But with time and repeated success it does become easier. With that in mind, I have a new goal for myself. I’m going to start working towards my chops. I don’t want to spend my life wondering what if or realizing I let pivotal moments slip by because I was afraid. I may not have been born with balls, but I’m going to acquire some before my time here is through.

The Power of No

Random crop circles in our yard...just for fun

Random crop circles in our yard…just for fun

Some people are born speaking the word “no.” It rolls off their toddler tongues before you can finish your sentence. These are the children who know what they want and plan to get it without negotiations. I was not that child. While I in no way possess a people-pleasing personality, I was raised to be accommodating when at all possible. When I go out of my way for others it’s not because I am deeply thoughtful but because I’ve been taught it’s the right thing to do. As a result of upbringing, I often add just one more item to my already long to-do list because someone asks nicely. Consequently, my life is a non-stop blur of frenetic activity. Whirling dervish? Guilty as charged.

Last night I sat down and took a sobering look at our family calendar for the next 9 days. On March 20th at an unreasonably early hour we will be boarding a plane…destination Kauai. Between now and that moment when we’re checked in at the gate awaiting our boarding call, I have about a gazillion things to do. Yes. It is a first world problem, but it’s my first world problem and so it matters to me just the same. As I went over the calendar and my to-do list on my iPhone last night, hubby caught me shaking my head.

“What’s wrong?” he inquired.

“So much to do between now and the 20th.”

“It will all be fine,” he reassured.

“Oh…I know it will.” I don’t doubt my ability to accomplish things, just my excitement about doing them.

“Aren’t you excited about the trip?” he asked.

“Not really, no. I will be excited when we’re sitting at the gate and not a minute before. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to fit in a well check for Joe and a trip to the vet for Ruby. The next week is packed.”

“You always stress and it always gets done,” he said.

“It always gets done because I always stress and push myself through every last detail,” I retorted.

Today, staring down the barrel of an ungodly busy weekend, I started packing for the boys and I. I dug through last summer’s clothes, which have been stored for their long, Colorado winter’s nap, and put together Hawaii-friendly outfits. I located sunscreen, snorkeling gear, and rash guards. I dragged suitcases up from the basement and began assessing what might fit where. Then, in the midst of this busy-ness, I got an email that added another layer to my stress. It was a request for yet another social visit in our already overbooked weekend. Between hair cuts for all of us, two birthday parties, a social event at the boys’ school, brunch at my mom’s, dinner with our Wine Gang (which we are hosting), and a couple book reports the boys need to have completed before we leave (not to mention packing and preparing our house for the puppy caretaker), I cringed at the idea of attempting to fit in even one more quick thing.

Being unaccustomed to disappointing people, though, I scoured our plans looking for wiggle room for the requested, short get together either Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I weighed the costs of not honoring this request against the stress it would add to an already overbooked weekend. Then, I did something I rarely do. I went against my usual habit. I said no even though it’s very likely that the persons whom I turned down will be hurt by my refusal. But even those of us who strive to be amicable and accommodating have a breaking point.

If there’s one good thing that is coming right along with the sags, bags, spots, and wrinkles of middle age, it’s gumption. I’m no longer under the impression that I have to do things to please people. I understand that there are some people who will never be pleased, no matter what kind of back bend I contort myself into for their benefit.  I’m learning that sometimes it’s not just okay to say no. It’s downright necessary. While I do feel a bit bad for shutting out this latest request, I know it was the right thing to do. This weekend will still be crazy busy, but at least it might prove I’m not insane.

Being The Change

Hey! There's food in this food.

Hey! There’s food in this food.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

There’s something about turning 45 that has made me take a good, hard look at my life. Maybe it’s because I did the math and realized, if I’m lucky, I literally am at midlife. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to notice changes to my body that a few trips to the gym will no longer be able to cure like sagging flesh and wrinkles in places there were none before. Maybe it’s because I’m beginning to hear that I creak and crack more than a rusty-hinged shutter in a dust storm. In any case, over the past year, I’ve put greater focus on my food choices. Fueled by the notion that I might perhaps be gluten intolerant, I began changing my eating habits. My plan was to mostly eliminate wheat (I still need a decent piece of NY style pizza on occasion), cut way back on sugar, and completely ban artificial sweeteners. Along the way, I’ve begun paying better attention to where my food comes from and what is in it. I’ve pushed the food with no food in it to the back of the pantry and filled the crisper drawers with organics. And true to everything I’ve read, I have found that I feel better. I sleep better. I don’t have midday energy crashes. The amount of Tums I consume is at an all-time low. I’m happier and have fewer mood swings. I’m feeling better now and am healthier than I was 20 years ago.

Up until this point, I’ve made these changes mostly for myself while simply trying to do right by my children. This can be difficult, however, when the little buggers are on the very bottom end of the growth chart and are exceedingly fussy. We have struggled just to get our kids to eat anything. Our youngest child is the worst. The. Worst. Luke has a horrible gag reflex (mostly psychological) and the kid can look at a food he finds unappealing and throw up. It’s unbelievable. Nothing like having to put up a cardboard barrier around your son so the sight of your quinoa with kale doesn’t make him puke on the dinner table. So, I’ve been sneaking in their dietary changes bit by bit. I’ve been slowly reducing the amount of non-food food I buy and increasing the healthier items. I realized that cleaning out the pantry one day of all the foods I have for years allowed and replacing candy, cookies, and goldfish crackers with yogurt from happy cows, Lara bars, and organic cheddar bunnies would be too much of a shock. I understand I cannot build Rome in a day, so I decided to view this change for our family as a food journey. We’re in the slow lane on the road to healthier habits. We’ll get there…eventually.

A while back I watched the documentary Food, Inc. It scared me more than The Shining and, for a while, the memory of it kept me in line at the grocery store. It kept me from being cheap and easy with my food choices. Over time, though, the memory faded and I got lazy. Then I decided to read Fast Food Nation, which reiterated exactly how important my food choices are, and I started to pay better attention. Well, last night I rented Food, Inc. again for a refresher course in where our food comes from. As I sat in my room watching it carefully, the boys were wandering in and out. The more they watched, the more wide eyed they became. Today in the car on the way to school it was still on their minds.

“I’m sorry, but fish should not be eating corn,” Joe said out of the blue. “That’s just wrong.”

“I agree, Joe. Cows shouldn’t be eating it either.”

“Meat scares me too,” he continued. “I think I want to be a vegetarian.”

“You can do that if you want, but you don’t need to be a vegetarian. We can make better choices. It will cost more money and we’ll have to eat less meat, but you don’t have to totally give up eating your dad’s famous homemade chicken nuggets. We just need to tweak the ingredients a bit.”

“Well, I don’t like thinking that our food is all chemicals. It’s creepy,” he said.

“It is creepy. It’s not just the pesticides on the fresh food we need to think about, though. It’s the additives, flavors, and food dyes too. We need to pay better attention to what is going into our food because what is going into our food is going into our bodies and these are the only bodies we get.”

Then, out of nowhere, the world’s pickiest eater piped up.

“I want to eat healthier,” Luke chimed in.

“You’ll have to start trying more fruits and vegetables. And we’ll have to change the brands of foods you’ve been eating to healthier alternatives,” I reminded him.

“I’ll try,” he said. “It seems like a good idea.”

Indeed it is. I am happy to see that as we travel down this slow road to healthier food they’ve finally closed the car doors and are prepared for the journey. Luke doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s already been eating healthier. That new homemade apple-cinnamon bread I’ve been making and he’s been devouring is made without sugar, oil, or wheat flour. Everything in it is organic, real food with actual nutritional value. I just neglected to tell him that. I figure what he doesn’t know will definitely help him.

The more you read about our food supply, the scarier it gets. But changing our food system seems an insurmountable task. I mean, which one of us is prepared to take on Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Kraft, or Tyson? Now I’m never going to be one of those folks who is 100% healthy about my food choices because, well, sometimes I just need to eat some dang Skittles. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?) But I understand that the only way to change the food industry is through one consumer at a time. I cannot expect the food industry to produce healthier, cleaner, less toxic meat, produce, dairy, and boxed foods unless I tell them with my choices that better food matters to me, at least most of the time. I want my kids to eat better, so I have to eat better to set the right example. For changes to occur, it has to start with the little guy. If a bunch of us little guys start making bigger demands, things might change. Lest they forget, the food industry works for us. As Gandhi suggested, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. No matter what we hope to change, our food, our health, our career, our attitude, we have to start somewhere or we’ll get nowhere.

At Least They’ll Have Something To Tell Their Therapists

At least they clean up nicely

Hard to tell from a photo the damage I might be inflicting

“Behind every great kid is a mom who is pretty sure she is messing it up.” ~ Anonymous

Last week my sons spent an entire school day shadowing at a new school we’re applying to for next year, a school for children who have learning disabilities. This was the final step in our application process, and I was a bit apprehensive when I dropped them off. Seven hours can be an eternity when you’re the new kid. I wanted the day to go well for them and I hoped they would be on their best behavior. I held my breath. At the end of the day, the Director of Admissions sat down to talk with me. The first words out of her mouth were, “You have great boys.” After having observed them throughout the day, she told me they were courteous, well-behaved, hardworking, and sweet. The teachers they had spent the day with concurred. Our boys had left a favorable impression, and so I exhaled.

It was one of those rare moments when I felt some gratification for the hard work and energy I put into my current position as unpaid, stay-at-home parent. It was as close to earning a bonus or a raise as I will ever get. And, it felt good. I mean, it’s one thing to believe in your kids, but it’s something entirely different when another adult offers an unsolicited comment in praise of your children. For most of the rest of that afternoon, I was reasonably puffed up. It was turning out to be a great day until I screwed it all up by later flying off the handle about something trivial, all out of frustration and hunger (but mostly out of hunger). I hate it when after being over the moon I burn up during re-entry into reality.

Most days, I’m the mom in the quote, fairly certain I’m messing my kids up. On occasion I try to imagine which of my most egregious parental errors will earn them the most time on the psychologist’s couch. Will it be because I asked too much of them or because I didn’t always handle their concerns with appropriate sincerity? Maybe it will be because I embarrassed them in front of their friends or because they felt I was not a good listener? Sometimes I look around at other people with their honor student and star athlete progeny and wonder why I struggle so much with this parenting gig while others seem to breeze through it. I feel as if I am the only one agonizing over my choices and actions and praying that things will all work out despite my myriad foibles. I know that can’t possibly be reality, but it feels that way.

Despite what the books say, there’s only one way to parent: you do your best. You make mistakes. Hopefully you remember to ask for forgiveness. You move forward and try to do better on the next go around. You always wonder if you should have done something differently. Second guessing becomes the norm. It’s not the lack of sleep that makes parenting difficult but the lack of certainty. There’s no way to know if all your hard work will indeed pay off someday. As I have fumbled my way through parenthood, the only constant has been this nagging feeling that I could be doing a better job, that I know better than to act the way I act sometimes. When I get too wrapped up in my brain, in wondering what I should be doing or should have done, though, I take a step back and look at our sons. I see their intelligence, their gentleness, their compassion, and their strength. I see two great kids, and I know it will all be fine. For a brief moment, I quietly acknowledge that I am doing a good job. And then just as soon as my sense of inner peace arrives a door slams, I yell, and the balance of the universe is returned to normal.