You Oughta Go To Granada

In mid-January, I seized upon an opportunity to plan a quick spring break trip to Spain with my son. With two months to prepare, I cashed in my United reward miles and booked hotels, train trips, and tours. Then I began the arduous task of determining how to fit 9-days worth of clothing into a backpack, and I learned packing for a trip is the quickest way to figure out you hate all your clothes. Still, I made it work. The bag was not light and I am not the fittest, but I was going to Spain and I could suffer for 9 days. As it turns out, I didn’t suffer much.


Our first stop was Granada, a city of about 115k people in the Andalucía region of Spain, where Joe planned to spend as much time as possible with his girlfriend who is studying there this semester. I planned to take some tours and relax. The one thing Joe and I had scheduled to do together in Granada was tour the Alhambra, the most visited site in Spain and a masterpiece of Muslim art in Europe. This is where things went awry on our very first day. Not a good sign. I had a tour booked for us, but when we got to the meeting place there were so many other groups of tourists we could not find our specific group. There were no signs to aid us in our search, so Joe wandered from group to group asking if we belonged there. But the guides kept pointing us in different directions toward other groups. In the end, by the time the tours had begun, no one had claimed us. That was strike one. Undeterred, I went to the ticket window figuring at least we could do our own viewing, and I purchased two tickets. Sadly, they were not the right tickets, as tickets to the palaces we most wanted to see were sold out. I didn’t catch that with my measly Spanish. That was strike two. Joe was devastated. He tried not to be too upset and to play positive because he knew how miserable I felt for twice messing up the the ONE thing he wanted to do. Still, he was visibly disappointed, and I was disconsolate for failing my son. We did the sightseeing we could at the Generalife (the gardens and vacation home for the inhabitants of the palace) and the Alcazaba (the fortress that is the symbol of the Alhambra complex) and went our separate ways for the evening.

I lost it as soon as I got to the rental flat and cried for a while. Then I did what I always do. I got determined to find a way to make it happen. Searching online for at least an hour, I discovered there were zero tickets available for the Nasrid palaces for the next few days, either from the site itself or as part of any regular tour with any tour company I could find. Then, finally, some light crept in. Around 9 pm, I discovered there might be a possible opportunity via a private tour. It was not inexpensive, and after my two previous ticket foibles I had already exhausted too much money in this quest. But it made zero sense to have traveled all the way to Spain not to see the one site Joe, a religion and middle east studies major, most wanted to see. So, I booked it.

Turns out it was the best money I have spent in a long time. Our tour guide, Isa, was a delight. She’s an architect who literally grew up at the Alhambra because her mother, also an architect, had worked on restoring the site when Isa was a young girl. We couldn’t have lucked into a better situation. While we toured, Isa told us the history of the location, pointed out small details she knew about that others might not, and spoke Spanish with Joe’s girlfriend who wanted the practice. We spent three hours touring with Isa, talking with her about the site and about Granada, and we learned so much more than we ever would have learned in a 25-person tour. But my biggest takeaway from the series of events in those 24 hours is that sometimes when the lights fade on your vision in one way, they illuminate elsewhere and lead you to much better opportunities you might never have encountered otherwise. And yes, the third time’s a charm.

The Nasrid Palaces, built between 1238 and 1492, are awe inspiring. Although my photos miss much of what you see in person, let me use them demonstrate the beauty of the architecture and design.

Most of the color on the walls has faded with time, but if you look carefully you can see remnants of what once was there. Can you imagine how beautiful the interiors here were seven hundred years ago? You were meant to feel small here, humbled by the wealth and power of the Nasrid dynasty. I wish I could have spent days wandering and taking it all in but, alas, all good tours must come to an end. And so we said goodbye to Isa, and I went back to the flat feeling so much better than I had the night before.

Once solo, I toured the Granada Cathedral. I love visiting cathedrals. Some are so ornate and overwhelming they border on gaudy, but the Granada Cathedral is gorgeous. The first part of the church, built by Queen Isabella after the Reconquista in 1492, was completed in Gothic style and is now the Royal Chapel. This is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel are interred. We viewed their simple caskets on display underneath the chapel floor. The cathedral was built later in Spanish Renaissance style. If you want to feel small and insignificant, step inside a building meant to portray the greatness of God.

I also toured the Albaicín and Sacromonte areas of the city. These sections are located across the Darro River on the hillside opposite of the Alhambra. The Albaicín settlement is where the original palace workers lived back in the day after they were forced into conversion by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the Sacromonte neighborhood, Roma people (called gypsies) settled into cave houses built into the hills. You could spend days wandering the narrow, often car free, streets here. Joe and I visited the courtyard of the St. Nicolas church, located on a hill directly opposite the Alhambra, multiple times at differing hours of the day to take photos. One morning, Joe pulled out a flag he had brought from home, the Andalucían one his brother bought for him in Granada four years ago, and asked to be photographed with it. He usually only buys flags from places he has been, and prior to our trip he said he felt like a fraud for having this flag. At last, he could legitimately claim ownership for it.

Segways lined up for our group

I like to try new things. On this trip, I determined that would be taking a Segway for a spin. There was a tour of the Albaicín and Sacromonte offered via Segway. Joe did not want to participate, so I went with seven people I just met at the tour office. Operating a Segway is fairly straight forward with some practice. I had about 1 minute to practice before we took off. I didn’t feel fully confident, but everyone else in the tour had already ridden one and I was holding up the group.

Acting confident

As I previously mentioned several times, this area of Granada is hilly. Some of these hills are rather steep. With my uninformed mind, I imagined this would make the Segway an ideal mode to get around. At least I would not struggle. That was a miscalculation for a first-time rider. When I booked the trip, I didn’t understand just how narrow, windy, and treacherous these hills were in places. At our first steep incline, the tour leader dismounted and said he personally would coach each one of us up and over the first curve in the hill. Yikes. I could go into gory details about how the rest of this tour went for me but, suffice it to say, the next time I book Segway tour, I will make sure it is in a flat area so I don’t endanger anyone else. I enjoyed the experience, but I’m not so sure the tour leaders and the woman from England who fell off her ride when she ran into cautious me on my slow-going machine felt the same about their trip .

Of the places we toured on our brief sojourn in Spain, Granada was at the top of our list. It’s small, easily walkable, and beautiful with its position at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. I will definitely return. Next time, I will bring my husband. And I will know the correct way to visit the Alhambra so we only have to pay for our visit one time.

Hawaii: The Big Island – January 1, 2022

Blue as far as the eye can see

After a week of mostly cloudy skies with periods of sunshine, this day began with a clear, bright, perfect blue sky. Being an internal optimist (like a Sour Patch Kid, I am sweet on the inside and sour on the outside), I believe that this blue sky day on the first day of 2022 portends good things for this new year. Hope I didn’t just jinx it. See? Sweet and sour at the same time.

My sister-in-law, Karen, booked us an outrigger trip for an hour this morning. We lucked out with the flawless weather and applied copious amounts of zinc oxide sunscreen. We started our trip off the sandy shore at the Marriott’s King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. We met our guide, Jeff, and began the experience by pulling the outrigger to the water. I lucked out because I got to be the official photographer for this. That wooden boat is heavy, even on wheels!!

The sea had a moderate swell, but outriggers are made for this so it was no issue with seven of us paddling. The ride was smoother and easier than I imagined, and the views of the island from the water made the effort worth it. We paused a few times, just drifting on the ocean, so Jeff could tell us a bit of the history of this area. We learned that Hualalai, the dormant volcano visible from Kona’s shores, means “head in the clouds,” which has been true for the majority of our time here. I told the boys that from now on when one of us is in another place mentally I shall say we are “hualalai.”

While we were taking a paddle break at one point, we heard a mammal surface nearby. Looking around, we saw a couple dolphins and were lucky enough to see them curiously check us out by swimming underneath the boat. How cool is that?

There is a dolphin there swimming off…they are fast and hard to capture in a photo

After our outrigger trip, we returned to the house for some steak and eggs before heading out to do a little souvenir shopping in Kona town. Luke was craving shave ice. I hadn’t had any yet on this trip, so it seemed like a good idea. I got lilikoi (passion fruit) flavor because that is my absolute favorite and something I don’t often get to enjoy in Colorado. Somehow I convinced the boys to play along for this little photo op. I think Joe was representing a brain freeze with his expression here.

Trinkets obtained, we headed back to the house to order some takeout Thai food and enjoy our most colorful sunset here yet. It’s like the universe aligned everything just for us on this New Year’s Day. With our trip coming to a rapid conclusion, the reality of our imminent departure hit Joe and I like a wave hitting the lava rock shoreline. He and I are the most committed to this state, the ones who would be most likely to have to be dragged kicking and screaming onto a flight back to cold, snowy Colorado later. I am trying to be zen about our exodus, but I am struggling. Time to engage my mindfulness skills, stay in the moment, and mourn the exit when I board the plane in 12 hours.

Seriously, Hawaii? Why you make it so hard to leave?

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 31st, 2021

For this last day of 2021, I vowed to be more present. It’s something I have been working on this year, through mindfulness and meditation, because I want to be more checked in than checked out and because I want to learn to manage my monkey brain and respond more carefully to people and to life’s choices. So I spent less time today on my phone and more time simply paying attention to my surroundings rather than trying to photograph them.

Snorkelers galore at Kahalu’u Beach Park enjoy a morning swim

The first thing we did this morning was head out to do some snorkeling at a beach known for clear waters and loads of reef fish. Kahalu’u Beach Park did not disappoint. Although we did not bring an underwater camera, I saw oodles of fish, many of which I had not ever seen before. While I was unsure how I would like the Big Island and her scarcity of sand beaches, it turns out that the lack of sand means clearer water for viewing fish. This has made the paucity of sandy beaches a total non-issue because I would rather snorkel than sit in the sand and carry it home with me anyway. At this snorkel spot, I saw myriad yellow tang and bullethead parrotfish, several different varieties of trigger fish, Moorish idols, huge corals, and a porcupine fish. We were out for about an hour and it was worth every second.

The wind picked up substantially in the afternoon and the surf got a little crazy for a few hours, so I spent some time along the lava rocks behind the house searching for shells. I’ve found a couple full cowries, which made me happy.

In the late afternoon, I spent some time staring at the tumultuous seas. I would move here in a heartbeat. If I won the lottery, a place like this one, right on the ocean, would be my first purchase. Since we are down to our last two days here, though, I decided to soak this hammock thing up because I don’t know when or if I will have this opportunity again. And I have officially decided that Hawaii agrees with me, so it is only natural that I end up here somehow, someway, someday.

Sun sets on the last day of 2021

We opted to cook in tonight. Steve grilled tenderloin and we sautéed some shrimp in garlic butter and topped it with chopped parsley. It was perfection. The sun set behind a huge bank of clouds as fireworks began to pop off on the hill on the other side of the bay from our rental. Overall, it was a perfect end to a long, tiring 2021. Here’s hoping that 2022 finds our situation, on the whole, improved from the last two years. Happy New Year from this beautiful place!

Our genius son was the only one who stayed up until midnight to catch Kona celebrating NYE 2020 in grand fashion

Hawaii: The Big Island – Day One

We were up early, no surprise when you are in a time zone three hours behind your own. So, after flopping around in bed from 4:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m., we decided to call it good and start moving. We had arrived after dark, so we had no idea where we had gone to sleep, although we knew we were near the ocean. We woke up in our rental condo (only one night here before moving to our house for the next 10 days), and this was our view. Damn, Hawaii. You know how to bring it.

Not too shabby for a morning view

First order of the day was copious amounts of caffeine at Kona Coffee and Tea, where this little fellow decided to try to peddle insurance to us while we sipped our beverages. He was too cute to ignore, so we listened to his pitch but ultimately told him we weren’t ready to switch to Geico and he politely went on his way and left us to our day.

Did you know….

After finishing coffee, we thought it might be fun to see if we could get a view of the home we would be staying in for the remainder of the trip. We knew the house was near a public access beach, so we parked the rental van, traipsed down the sandy public access path, and found Keiki Beach relatively empty at 8:30 a.m.

We wandered around, staring into tide pools as we made our way towards the rental house. I knew exactly where to find it (thank you, Google Maps) and there it was, exactly as pictured on VRBO. We were drying to get in, but check in wasn’t until 4 so we settled for a view for the time being, feeling relatively confident we would be just fine with our chosen lodging. I mean, how could we not be?

Looks good to me

Since we had hours to kill before the 4 p.m. check in time, we decided to drive up to Waikoloa to right a wrong. A few years ago on a flight to Montreal, I lost the koa wood band we had purchased in Maui five years ago. Steve and I had first seen these wedding bands in Kauai in 2013 and thought someday we would get them. Then we did. Then I lost mine. Today we replaced it. Third island is the charm? While in Waikoloa we did some souvenir shopping and stopped to have lunch at the Lava Lava Beach Club, which had great food and drinks, and an even better view.

The rest of the family was landing in Hawaii around 4, so after lunch we hightailed it into town for some grocery shopping and check in time at our rental house. After one slight hiccup with a security alarm that was not supposed to have been set but was, we finally got to tour our vacation abode. We were not disappointed in the home, which features this in the entryway. Seems like someone knows the recipe for serenity.

Rules of the house?

While the boys and I got settled, Steve made the fifteen minute drive to the airport to retrieve the rest of our family. When they arrived, we got caught up on the trip out, the hoops we jumped through just to make it to Hawaii, and our relative levels of exhaustion. Then we ordered some take out, consumed Thai food and cocktails on the deck overlooking the sea, and finally called it a night.

What struck me the most about the Big Island on my first full day were the textures. With a conscious decision made to spend less time on apps and more time on mindful presence, It seemed everywhere I looked there was depth and detail: from the evergreen branches climbing towards the sky to the shell of a minuscule snail to the veins in a hibiscus flower to the rough lava rock at the tide pools to the soft clouds above pointy leaves. The island was begging me to pay attention to it. I acquiesced. How could I not?

There is a reason why we love Hawaii so much and keep returning. She never disappoints.

In Or Out Already!

Should I stay or should I go now?

I took this photo today because I noticed the light and shadow and angles and reflections in the doorway as I walked to my bedroom. There was something elegant in the simplicity of it all. I love how the sun works her magic. Plants grow. Fabrics and paint fade. People like me burn, while others tan. She shines and in her wake leaves reflections on water and shadows around items that would dare get in her way. I never tire of noticing the ways she makes her presence known. Today was no different. There she was, sneaking through the narrow opening in the doorway. She paid no heed to the imposing darkness of the interior hallway. She would not be silenced. Her audacity is inspirational.

There’s another reason that doorway spoke to me through my camera today. It’s a metaphor for my life lately. I’ve come to a point where I am seeking clarity and lightness. I’ve squandered enough energy on tasks that didn’t matter, people who took me for granted, and paths that led nowhere. Maybe this is coming now because Mercury has recently come out of retrograde? Or maybe I am tired of a year spent living with tasks but no goals? While I am not sure what is causing my fervent need for change and direction at this early point in the new year, it feels long overdue. I am sick of the status quo. I’m finished boring myself. I’ve been a real yawner.

Now that I reflect on it, I’ve been a bit like my dog…standing by the sliding door waiting to be let out, but not quite being sure about crossing the threshold once it was opened. Perhaps someone should have yelled an impatient “In or out already!” at me months ago. It might have helped. Today, though, I stood in the hallway and saw the sunlight coming through the doorway and made my decision. I want out. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet, but there will be changes. There will be some cuts in my line up, some trades for better players, and a few acquisitions to round out the roster, but I’m ready to put something meaningful and real together.

Yep. It’s time to fish or cut bait, and I think I’d like to fish and see what I can reel in this year.

Call Me Stretch

My tallest self

This year, as part of my never-ending quest to grow, I decided to take a photo a day. The way I have it figured, it should help me accomplish two goals: 1) capture the year in photos and 2) find my photographer’s eye and improve my artistic skills. So today, as I was driving home after depositing my sons at school, I noticed that the morning light was damn near inspirational. God bless Colorado and its bluebird days after storms.

Knowing I had a photo to take and about five loads of laundry at home that would convince me not to venture out again, I stopped at the large park across from our ‘hood and trudged out into the 4-degree temps in my not-quite-pajamas-but-some-people-might-still-think-I-am-wearing-pajamas outfit and my snow boots and my long down coat with my steadfast iPhone. (Did I mention I am taking all 365 photos via iPhone?) While wandering through the park as quickly as my short legs could carry me, I collected myriad photos of evergreen trees tinted white, the crisp and glittering snowy ground, the frozen wire backstop on the baseball field, and a squirrel sporting a frosty beard a la Santa Claus. After I felt satisfied I must have something worth sharing and determined my right hand might be headed towards frostbite, I swung around to head back to the car. Then I saw it. The photo of the day. The sun was behind me, and there in front of me was the tallest me I have ever seen. In real life, I’m a measly 5’4″ tall. I’ve always wished I was taller. Both my sisters are. And I get tired of standing on counters to reach things on the top shelf in the cupboard. So when I saw my lean, lanky, and impossibly tall shadow cast before me, I had to immortalize the moment. I’ve never felt that big. Ever. I’ve never felt anything but small. The image spoke to me.

I spent part of my laundry day thinking about this new year and how I could bounce back after what was perhaps not my greatest year yet in 2016. I thought about where I was coming from and where I might want to point my feet next. I thought about the photo I had taken earlier, and it occurred to me that the photo is the embodiment of what I want for myself in 2017. What I need to do this year is stretch. I need to reach higher. I need to be the bigger person. I need to cast a long shadow. I need to realize that I am not limited by my 5’4″ frame. I need to believe I am larger than life.

I have been meaning to get back to writing over the past year but have been more adept at making excuses than recording thoughts. So I am going to continue to take photos as planned for the next 359 days. Then I am going to post them here with a few words or comments or reflections or lines of utter nonsense just to get myself back into the habit of writing every day, no matter how mundane my daily photos might be, no matter how prosaic my thoughts about them are. It’s about the process and the effort, the journey and not the destination. I have to start sometime. I lose a part of myself when I stop writing, and I miss me, dammit.

I have sold myself short for too long. I printed out this photo and put it on the wall next to my desk. Just like my shadow that photo, I am going to be huuuuuuge this year.