Have Happy Place, Will Travel

Over my years of blogging here, I have minced no words when it comes to my disdain for Valentine’s Day. I think it is ridiculous. A holiday, dreamt up in cooperation by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries, that makes people either feel bad or stress out. That said, I do buy cards and candy for my husband and sons because they like those things and I like them. I also do send simple greetings to my most treasured friends because I love them and I don’t always remember to tell them that.

As a rule, my husband and I exchange cards. I do not want or expect gifts on this day. Truth be told, receiving gifts is not part of my love language. I would much rather my husband take my car to get the oil changed or drop things off at Goodwill to show me he loves me. Actions speak louder to me than words. Acts of service make sense to me when it comes to showing someone you love them. If I cook your dinner, wash your underwear, and pick up after your messes, I love you. I won’t do those things for just anyone.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the closet this afternoon after my morning’s worth of errands and found this:

All the feels

This is my happy place. In actuality, a hammock is my happy place, be it in a park, at a campground, on a beach under a palm tree, or in the country. Somewhere peaceful, where I can enjoy the surrounding views and the blue sky while swaying ever so gently in repose. A seat where my mind, busy with all its overthinking, can take a few moments of respite while I practice my skills at being a human being rather than a human doing. This is everything.

It was apropos that Steve hung this in our closet because that is where I meditate (don’t judge…it’s quiet and no one goes in there). It is also where I go when I am stressed and need to take a pause to breathe and get ready to face life again. I have been in our closet more than usual lately. In the absence of a shady, quiet spot where I can float in a hammock, I will totally use this visual reminder of my happy place in our closet. It will work just fine in between times when I can be in the mountains or a park or on a beach staring at the sky.

Every single day I am grateful for my husband who has given me every good thing in my life and always allowed me space to grow and be the introverted nutball I am. Marriage certainly has its ups and downs, but there are decidedly less of those when you are married to someone who truly gets you.

If Valentine’s Day is your special day, I hope you have a great one. If, like me, this day is just another day on the calendar to you, I hope you get to spend it with people who know how to make your happy place appear when you need it most.

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 29, 2021

Steve and I took our first ever helicopter trip over Kauai in 2013. In 2016, we brought the boys along as we overflew Maui. Today we took the boys along again for a scenic flight over a fair portion of the Big Island. We started at the Kona Airport and then flew over the coffee-planted slopes of the Hualalai volcano, then between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa towards Kilauea to the crater, where we were able to glimpse some of the recently restarted lava flow. We then continued towards the windward side of the island and viewied the ocean and the steep valleys on the northwest side of the island. Then we headed back over the expansive cattle ranches towards the western side of the island with its lava beaches and resort-dotted coastline. Today’s trip included our first ever mid-flight landing on the top of a deep valley. If flying and motion sickness aren’t an issue for you and you ever have the opportunity to fly via helicopter, you should, especially if you find yourself in Hawaii. There are many parts of these islands that are only visible via helicopter, and you miss so much of the islands if you don’t fly over them. They are a spectacle from the air. A Hawaiian helicopter flight is a great item to tack onto your bucket list. It’s spendy, but worth saving for. If you come all the way out into the Pacific, don’t leave anything on the table.

Here is my photo dump from our helicopter trip, courtesy of my trusty old iPhone 11 Pro. Not the best photos, but you get the idea.

Hubby got the copilot seat since he has the best camera equipment
View of Mauna Kea (13,803′ in elevation) with her snow

In 2018, there was a huge change to Kilauea. A new eruption of the volcano changed the island. The summit area of the park was altered by tens of thousands of earthquakes, one of which dropped a portion of the ring road, which you can see in this photo. The caldera collapsed and the crater grew from 280 feet deep to about 1,600 feet deep and the diameter more than doubled. Kilauea remains one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Our pilot told us that if the lava stops moving for 5 seconds, it hardens into rock. Kind of fascinating to realize the cooling can can happen that quickly.

Closer view of Mauna Kea
Joe and Luke eyeing the view off towards Hilo on the island’s rainier, greener windward side

It was an overcast day, so I can’t even imagine how the contrasts in the greens and blues might have appeared with more sunshine.

The windows on the Bell 407 helicopter offer amazing floor to ceiling views
Helicopter landing atop cliff with an imperceptible touchdown

Photo Op 1
At the edge of this grass is a drop off, so we stayed well back because we wanted to finish our vacation
Paradise Helicopters built a nice, safe platform for viewing the coast below, though
Happy cattle on the slopes around an old cinder cone

Mauna Kea Resort and Mauna Kea (Kauna’oa) Beach

We spent the rest of our day relaxing at home before having some family portraits taken and enjoying some wonderful Thai Beef at home for dinner. So sad there are only four days left for us to enjoy this warm, peaceful life. We haven’t even left and I am already anxious to return.

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 26, 2021

Mornings here are getting into a rhythm. Steve and I wake early, take some photos when the area behind the house on the makai (towards the sea) side is calm and mostly people free. I like to wander down to the tidal ponds to see any fish that might be stirring. This morning, as I meandered towards the water, I noticed this flower that someone in our family had placed along the lava rock wall surrounding the pool. There aren’t as many flowers blooming here now as there would be at other times of the year, but that makes the ones I am seeing more of a treasure.

The big excitement of the morning came when Luke was the first of us to spot humpback whales in the ocean behind the house. We’d been wondering if we would see some. We know they usually visit between December and April, but we’d been told it might be a little too early to see many of them. In fact, while verifying the time of year when they travel through these waters, I found that other Google searchers had similar questions. The funniest question I saw in my search was, “What time of day is the best for spotting whales?” I laughed. We Americans are so used to having the world at our fingertips that there are those among us who think the whales actually have a schedule they follow to make it easier for us to see them. The pure, simple, and beautiful answer about when you see whales is whenever they need to come up for air. They aren’t an attraction at Disneyworld that runs on a tight schedule. They are actual creatures living their lives. We just happen to be fortunate enough to bear witness to that on occasion. Throughout the rest of the day, though, the whales decided to inhale in front of me four additional times when my eyes just happened to be trained on the sea. Here’s hoping that the trend continues.

The rest of our day was spent snorkeling and hanging at the pool. I love snorkeling. While I am not well practiced given my status as a landlocked, mountain girl, I do revel in the view underwater. I saw a banded coral shrimp, which I had never seen before. The boys (aged 20 and 18) acted like boys (aged 6 and 4) in the pool, beating each other with foam noodles and using snorkel masks to dive. While they were doing that, I made another little green friend on the lanai where I was busy composing yesterday’s blog post.

The highlight of the day was a dinner cruise down to Kealakekua Bay, the site where Captain James Cook was killed. This cruise, conducted by Body Glove Ocean Adventures, was surprisingly informative, well run, and fun. I typically view these trips as tourist traps. I still book them, but I am prepared for them to be hokey and subpar, worth only the opportunity to get out on the sea. The cruise was recommended to us by the concierge service at the property management company that oversees the rental home we’re occupying, so I am grateful to them for that. The dinner was delicious: a locally grown green salad, Hawaiian-style barbecue ribs, a coconut milk, green curry vegetable side with white rice, and a coconut roll. I was impressed they were able to pull this off so well given that the boat we took unloaded passengers just 10 minutes before we were able to board. During the trip, we were gifted with whale sightings and the opportunity to see both spinner and bottlenose dolphins. By the end of the cruise, with copious tropical drinks on board, most of the passengers were singing and dancing along to YMCA by the Village People. I am usually a cynic and find this type of behavior beneath me, but I may be growing because I found the entire spectacle charming and actually participated. There was a lovely Indian family (about 15 of them) who were celebrating some family milestones, and they formed a large circle near the singer/dj and led the crowd in the revelry. After so long being sequestered and not being in the company of strangers, it was heavenly, even for this introvert.

When I can get myself to back off my cynicism and check my opinionated mind at the door, I rediscover the simple pleasure of witnessing connections between people and remembering that these moments give this ephemeral life its breath.

Hawaii: The Big Island – Christmas Day 2021

Going to Hawaii for Christmas had been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve had no qualms stating repeatedly that Christmas is not my thing. I’ve never found it magical; it’s been more of a thing-you-have-to-get-through-before-starting-a-new-year obligation. Too much cooking, too much eating, too much spending, too much wrapping, too much socializing, too much of everything that stressed me out and make me tired. I was the only person I knew whose favorite Christmas song was Mele Kalikimaka and not something like White Christmas. After yesterday, I don’t expect that preference will change any time soon.

I started my day by stepping out onto the deck outside our room and just inhaling the sunrise in full and present awareness that the day represented a long-time wish achieved. I knew we had zero plans for the day. Anything we wanted to do would occur within a tenth of a mile from rental house. As a person who is nearly perpetually in motion, the concept of having nowhere to go and nothing to do was freeing.

Sunrise over Hualalai

Luke had offered to make a big American breakfast for everyone, so he and Steve got to work on hashbrowns, eggs, english muffins, and bacon while I sat sipping Kona-grown coffee with oatmilk and honey.

Men in the kitchen

From breakfast at 10 until dinner at 4, nothing of consequence occurred. The day was a free-for-all of hammock time, exploring tide pools, swimming, snorkeling, and sitting in the shade listening to the palm trees sway in the breeze. It was exactly what I had hoped for and imagined. The boys spotted a sea turtle near the house. I swam with some Moorish Idols and Kikakapu Threadfin Butterflyfish. Steve went with my sister-in-law, Linda, to a local fish market to acquire our dinner. The rest of the day was spent searching the sea for whales and splashing in the pool. Joe found a coconut, which he decided to break open and sample because why not?

Creative island activity

Linda had graciously agreed to prepare Christmas dinner for us all. Steve made us our annual holiday cocktail, Brazilian Caipirinhas (vodka, lime juice, and sugar) and then we enjoyed grilled blue marlin with papaya salsa, salad, and white rice, all accompanied by a lovely Hawaiian sunset.

Living our best lives

After dinner, the boys enjoyed the spa and the pool before we eventually got around to unwrapping stocking stuffers and having fruit with yogurt for dessert before calling it a wrap on the most chill Christmas Day ever. It had been perfection. And, sadly, instead of feeling I had achieved my goal and could, therefore, move on, I decided there will have to be more Hawaiian Christmases in my future. I think these photos of the boys best sum up both the peace and joy of our very Mele Kalikimaka.

Mele Kalikimaka Meditation

My morning meditation spot

I christened my day with a meditation. Sitting on a lava boulder, facing the indomitable Pacific, with the actual ocean as my ambient noise and guide. When I meditate, I prefer to do so through mantras. That seems to be the only way my writer’s mind can focus, through words. I start my mediation with an intention, something on which I wish to focus, and I pick a phrase. From there, I let that phrase morph until I land on an organic one that sticks. Then I let that one settle in and carry my intention with it.

Today’s intention was to focus on being curious rather than judgmental, ala Ted Lasso’s advice. I settled upon a Hawaiian image. I imagined myself as a lava rock, washed by the sea, but not changed by it, an immovable object not reacting to the forces before me but simply noticing them. It seemed the ideal way to practice observing other people’s comments and reactions with curiosity without allowing them to affect my calmness and stability.

After a few breaths, my mantra settled in. As I inhaled, my mind asserted “I am a rock,” and as I exhaled, it reminded me “Nothing can disturb my peace.” I focused on that for ten minutes, mentally acknowledging only the sea breeze, the sounds of breaking surf and birds, the hardness of the rock beneath me. (Perhaps next time I will bring a blanket for my rock meditation?)

Any skill comes through practice, which is why meditation is a practice. It’s not something you perfect. Not unlike the ocean tides, it has ebbs and flows. One day, your focus is legendary. The next it is complete horse shit. And the good news is that is exactly as it should be. Sometimes your mind is calm, quiet, and peaceful. Other times, it is rough, cloudy, and choppy. It is what it is to be human. For a long time, I, like many others, thought meditation was a place you arrive at, a destination which only few are allowed to inhabit. Not so. Meditation is a commitment to quieting your mind. That is all. It’s the practice through which you can begin to control your thoughts rather than be controlled by them. It’s available to everyone who endeavors to take the journey. It costs nothing, but yields great things.

So, my Christmas wish for all of you is the strength and perseverance to find inner calm in the chaos of this holiday. I hope you take a moment to be a rock, to pause to observe what is happening around you without allowing it to move you, to be present in the presence of presents. Let the insanity of your crazy uncle’s comments wash over you rather than shake you from the peace that this day represents. You are a rock. Nothing need disturb your inner peace.

With that thought in mind and with any luck, perhaps you won’t have to swill spiked eggnog to enjoy your day with your natural or chosen family. Be strong. Be curious. Inhabit stillness in the midst of noise and wrapping paper and requests and obligations.

Mele Kalikimaka from Hawaii, my fellow travelers through this life!

Can The Grinch Be Tamed By Mele Kalikimaka?

Picturing myself here

The worst part about vacation is the getting ready. The worst part about taking a vacation during the holiday season is that you have to do all the work for the holidays that you normally do, but you have to do it in less time, and you have to add all the vacation prep to your already tightened schedule. I’ve been a stressed out nightmare the past couple weeks. My days packed, my list of things to do seemingly insurmountable, trying only to get from one event to the next, never being able to get ahead. I’ve been testy and tired, anxious and annoyed. I’ve not been my best self. Some days, I wasn’t sure who I was. Today, it hit me that I have been the Grinch.

My goal for vacation is to toss off my grinch mindset and embrace the present with peace in my head. That will be achieved through some meditation, some fresh, salty air, and some sand under my feet. And maybe a piña colada or mai tai or two. Maybe without all the traditional trappings of the holidays, without the obligations and the busy work, the peace that is meant to consume this season will consume me and allow my grinch heart to grow three sizes.

Can the Grinch be tamed by a Mele Kalikimaka? I will let you know if Hawaii is able to work her magic. Stay tuned.

Walking In A (Snowless) Winter Wonderland

It was 24 degrees when we went to the Trail of Lights in a nature preserve near our home. We have gone to this event several times over the years, but it has been a while. It’s a fun thing to do, but the colder it is, the faster we seem to move through it. We moved pretty fast tonight. But a quick winter walk with both our sons was worth it.

Back together again
Not enough layers for this, but we took this photo before our faces froze
This tree is amazing, and the ambiance around it was ethereal
Neon trees
Quiet night along the trail

We may have had cold bodies, but we had warm hearts.

2021…Like 2020 But Somehow More Exhausting

Is it just me or has 2021 felt like the longest year ever? Maybe it’s just because I did a lot this year in comparison to 2020? Maybe it’s because it was only six days into 2021 that a bunch of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol while we all watched on television? Maybe it’s because my oldest started college in January after delaying for a semester and, consequently, I made that 2000-mile round-trip journey to his school three times this year? Maybe it’s because we’re still dealing with rising Covid-19 infections and news about another novel, more contagious variant? Maybe it’s because I’ve had so much going on that I can only handle one day at a time, and 365 days seem like a lot when each day is packed? Or maybe it’s because in the midst of all of this insanity, we thought it would be a great time to get a puppy?

We’re heading to Hawaii in six days. In between now and then, though, here is a partial list of what’s on our plates: Thing 1 comes home, puppy has playgroup, we have several social obligations, hubby has his 52nd birthday, Christmas shopping and wrapping needs to be completed, we need to finish our Hawaii pre-travel paperwork, and somehow we have to get our house cleaned up and our belongings packed up for our departure. I know I will get through the next six days in much the same way I have gotten through this year, one long, full day at a time. I know that a week from now I will be in Hawaii, exhausted and (hopefully) finally getting some rest. And I am going to need it because I’m not sure how much sleep I will be getting between now and the 23rd.

So, my wish for the New Year is a little more balance. After not going anywhere or doing anything in 2020, we, like many others, put a lot more on our calendars in 2021. We spent a lot more time with friends socializing. We traveled more. We did more of everything. And as nice as it has been after a year of quiet, I am tired. T.I.R.E.D. So my wish for 2022 is an activity level somewhere between those of 2020 and 2021. And maybe eventually a little less Covid. And maybe some air-tight voting rights. But that’s it.

Did anyone ever think they would look back and wish to return to 2019?

The Reality Tree

I am not a fan of the holidays. I think I’ve made that clear. I do love one holiday tradition, though. Last year, after we bought our pandemic house, we bought a pandemic Christmas tree to match the new house. It’s not the 9 foot tree or the lights on the tree that make me happy. It’s the ornaments Steve and I have collected and curated over the past 26 and a half years. Some were gifts from friends. Some we bought to remember trips or events. Some the boys picked out.

My favorites are the ones we had personalized for our family members. Each of us have our own ornament on the tree. We have one too for each of the pets we have had. And each time I put those ornaments on the tree it’s a walk down memory lane. It makes our tree ours. And every night when I light the tree and sit and look at these ornaments, I see my life, not the life I was given, but the life I built for myself. Every ornament, from the wooden sea turtle we purchased in Kauai to the silver camper I gave Steve to represent our Airstream dreams to the ornament our friends had made that looks exactly like our Ruby dog, makes me happy. The tree as a whole is a representation of my life now, and as I look at it I feel proud and grateful.

The stress of the holidays, the over-the-top and unnecessary shopping, the gift wrapping, the obligations, all of it I could do without. But the tree, the tree I like because it is the antithesis of the holiday insanity. It is home and heart and love and history. It grounds me when everything else is swirling like December snow. It’s my anchor to what is real.

I’m Not Quite Old Enough For A Solid Doris Day Reference, But Here Is One Anyway

The other day I wrote about perfectionism. I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. I no longer strive to have things perfect, as if such a thing ever existed for me to strive for in the first place. I have learned to make do, to meet myself where I am, to try my best, and to accept whatever outcome arises from my efforts, be it impressive or meh or better-luck-next-time. I do, however, still suffer from another illness that is related to perfectionism. This illness is the setting of expectations.

Most of the time, I don’t even realize I am setting expectations at all. I’m like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; I think I am just making plans, but those plans have expectations tacked on that might not be met. Tonight, we hosted a party for our neighbors. We hand-delivered invitations about a month ago with an RSVP request. Out of the twelve couples we invited, one kindly RSVPd to say they could not attend. Five couples RSVPd yes. We did not hear from the others. I planned for 10 guests and felt a little disappointment when one couple could not attend at the last minute. This was when I realized I had set expectations based on the RSVPs. I had thought, “Okay, with five couples we should have enough people to make the white elephant gift exchange fun” and when one couple had to go out of town unexpectedly, I immediately imagined everything would go to hell. I imagined the remaining four couples would be bored. All I could picture was it ending up a lame party that would be over 8:30. I was borrowing trouble I needn’t have borrowed. Because, as it turned out, one couple who didn’t text me with an RSVP showed up and took the place of the other couple who had RSVPd but ultimately couldn’t make it. All my consternation about a failed party was wasted. In the end, we had five couples after all. We had the right amount of food and beverage, everyone socialized with everyone else, and the white elephant gift exchange went well too. It was a Clark Griswold holiday dream.

The best neighbors ever

It all got me to thinking about how much energy I waste putting expectations in place when I ought to practice having none. No one knows what any outcome will be because the future has yet to be written. So, we’re fooling ourselves with our perfectionism and our expectations because, in the end, we are in control of not a whole hell of a lot. I could have done everything “right”, thereby setting up expectations that everything would go swimmingly, and in the end there could have been any number of things to interfere with my desired outcome despite my best efforts. As it turned out, I imagined gloom and doom and none of that happened. In fact, everyone had a great time. Silly girl.

Now, to play devil’s advocate, it could have all worked out because we truly do have the best neighbors ever. It could have worked out because my careful planning set us up for success. Or it could have worked out because the stars aligned. In any case, my ability to control the situation was minimal. My ability to control my expectations, however, is something I can work on. I’ve heard it said that “expectation is the mother of disappointment,” and that is the only absolute truth of which I am aware (I mean, outside of the one that says that a piece of toast with jam that falls to the floor will land on the jam side every damn time).

You can work on curbing your perfectionism, but if you don’t work on bringing your expectations to heel you will still suffer. So, I guess I know what I need to meditate on and devote myself to next. It’s time to pull a Doris Day and sing Que Sera Sera.

“Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.” ~Doris Day