Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Austin is one of those cities that you can fall in love with the moment you set foot on its soil.  We arrived around 10 pm on a Friday night and the airport was all but closed up, quiet and thoughtful, with pretty painted guitars flanking its baggage carousels in a bright and large, open room (rather than a stuffy, fluorescent basement-style warren like at most airports).  The street in front of the airport was wide open, too - no taxis trying to run us down, no shuttle buses pumping smoke into the air.  It was just us, Raf and me and the kids with Raf's younger brother Sky, all basking in the full moonlight of the Austin sky as we moseyed toward the parking garage.  I almost belted out "Deep in the Heart of Texas," but I refrained.  The quiet night sky was enough for all of us.

Our hotel was on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, just a block from the main parts of Austin.  Sky stayed a block south in a hipper area of Austin, near super-cool boutiques and bars and food truck parking lots.  We went to a UT game (versus Oklahoma State), passing blocks of tailgating parties to get to the stadium, and were bowled over by the Southern hospitality; despite a strong sense of school pride and an overwhelming turnout, the stands were civil and the crowds were kind.  The pre-game show was unlike anything I'd ever seen: an enormous marching band played "Deep in the Heart of Texas" (thank you kindly) while forming a giant UT, then a special club (dedicated strictly to this simple chore) unfurled the largest Texas state flag in the world, turning it round and round on the field to wild cheers from the stands.  The opposing team was also given an opportunity to play its fight song, respectfully.  The Jumbotron at the top of the stadium played an inspiring "Go Texas" video and then a cannon fired.  An honest-to-goodness cannon, plunked there on the corner of the field, intended solely for starting the game and for celebrating each touchdown.  Amazing.

I had hoped the visit would inspire my girls as students, seeing what a big ol' university town was like, but we saw so much more.  What a fantastic chunk of America.

A chicken-and-waffle truck - Emme's dream come true.

We took pedicabs to the stadium.

Stopped at the UT store to buy burnt orange gear.

Because we played OSU - whose colors are bright orange and white, the stadium was awash in orange - couldn't really tell who was supporting which team... until the "hook 'em horns" hands came out!

Threadgill's in Austin.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Waking Up in the House of the Sun - Haleakala

Haleakala means "House of the Sun" in Hawaiian and it's the name of Maui's resident volcano and the mountain that surrounds it. When Kanoe suggested that we wake up and see the sunrise from Haleakala, I balked a little. Here's the thing: although it's on a tropical island, it's a tall, tall mountain and the temperature at the peak is much cooler than the temp at the shore.  If you go, you need to dress warmly and wake up early.  Really early.  3 am early. Therefore, not all of us went -- who wants to wear scarves and mittens on a beach holiday??  

For those of us who wanted a different kind of Maui experience, however, the lure of a magical sunrise was hard to pass up.  Armed with coffee and a map, blankets and beach towels, Kendra and took off at 3:27 am with four sleepy kids in the back. The drive is fairly long because there's no direct road from where we were staying in Kihei to Haleakala, so it took about an hour and 45 minutes to get up there.  The hairpin turns wind and twist up the mountain, and we we had to stop a few times because Emme was carsick.  Furthermore, it's hard to see what's around you because it's so dark. But the stars... in the deep black of the sky, the stars look like diamonds sprinkled on an inky canvas.  

By the time we finally parked, the faint glimmer of first light was starting to shimmer across the sky.  We found spots along the observation deck and waited behind other sleepy tourists, everyone with cameras held up to the light, waiting.

Something about the experience reminded me of yoga, especially the morning meditations that I do on retreat in Ojai, sitting cross-legged in front of a window that looks out over the Topa Topa Mountains, the red sunlight of the rising sun warming my face.  I had to get over the annoying feeling of people pushing to see past me, the loud clicks and whirrs of cameras behind and next to me, the cold of my fingers as I fumbled with my own touch screen camera.  Kanoe and I giggled about the crazy get-ups of the people around us, as well as my blanket cape and his Taliban-inspired burka.

But when I finally quieted myself down and just observed, I was struck by the movement of the clouds over the mountains.  Like the waves crashing over coral reefs ten-thousand feet down at sea level, the puffy clouds pushed themselves slowly up and over the rocky cliffs below us, changing form and disappearing and then tumbling back up again. It was spectacular and mesmerizing, something that my camera couldn't capture, either on video or in still pictures, though I took dozens of photos.

After awhile, the kids begged to get out of the cold. On the way to the car, so we stopped to snap a few more pictures.  Then, as we turned toward the parking lot, a cheer roared up from the crowds so we ran back to see what was the fuss.

The sun!  It rose, as it always has, over the horizon, over the house of the sun.  The burnished orange globe bobbed up, sizzling into the island sky, worthy of a gasp and a cheer. There it was, a reminder of newness and fresh starts and the infinite gifts of a new day. 

To say that it was worth the trouble - the suitcase real estate for jackets, the long drive up and back, the sleep deprivation, the carsickness - is an understatement. Sol invictus, the invincible sun. It shouldn't have taken a trip to Maui to see something that is there for me every day, every morning of my life.  But I'm thrilled that it did.  Now that I've been to the house of the sun, I am recharged, glowing with radiance.  

All hail Haleakala.

Bikini Beach

Nothing says summer like girls in bikinis on a beach, even though I had to get over my own thoughts to consent to buying this very special souvenir for them.  I wrote about it for my friend Christine's online mag, because writing helps me to organize my thoughts (as you know).  

Welcome to bikini beach, girlies.

Mama's Fish House

When we were planning this trip, Raf and I saw an old Rachel Ray food/travel show and she was at Mama’s Fish House in Maui.  I read more about it and the Yelp reviews were out of this world.  Even though it’s expensive, they said, it’s worth the price for the view.  Go at sunset, get the macadamia-crusted lobster dish.

With a party of 10, it’s hard to get a good table so we made reservations.  They couldn’t fit us in at 8, so we nabbed a 6:45 rezo… and it made all the difference.  The sun sets in Maui at 7:30, so we got phenomenal photos of the kids by the water, climbing trees and racing to the water.  The restaurant itself was like the Tiki Room at Disneyland, filled with Polynesian memorabilia, but without guile or irony.  And that view…

To be honest, it took a long time to be served and the kids were restless once our food arrived, but it was one of those places that feels magical just to be in it.  And besides, there is nothing like eating your food steps from the beach, bathed in the summery sunset glow of Maui.

Ten Years Zipped Right By...

At times, Serena has – by far – been the most nervous and anxious of our kids.  Worried about world wars, the deaths of loved ones, stopped elevators, car crashes on the side of the freeway, helicopters buzzing overhead… In the past, I’ve wondered how she’ll survive in the “real world” if she has so many hesitations.

And yet, her greatest wish for her 10th birthday was to go ziplining.  Even as I typed up the registration online and keyed in my credit card number, I asked her, “You’re sure about this? It’s a long way to go… are you sure this is what you wanna do?”  She assured me she did, so I shrugged my shoulders and took a leap of faith…

It took about an hour from check-in to the mountain, and then another half hour or so up to the 1st zip.  We were in a group with three newlywed couples, a couple that had been married for 35 years and a young college girl who was celebrating her 21st birthday.  All harnessed in and helmeted, I asked Serena again.  “You sure?”  This time, she only nodded, eyes on the mountain. 

When we were next in line, I said, “You want me to go first?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ll go.”  And then they strapped her in and off she zipped, like she’d been doing it for years, and her landing was so graceful the guides nicknamed her “Tinkerbelle.” 

We did 8 zips in all, each a little longer or more interesting than the one before, each one leaping over a lush valley of guava trees, wild boars, mongoose (mongeese?) and birds, everything tucked into the red dirt of Maui. 
Serena was brave and happy and excited and fun to watch.  After all was said and done, I wondered if maybe her anxieties about the fearful things in the world were simply those things beyond her control – fears like the ones that we all have, even as grown-ups – but somehow, up in the air above the valley floor of that Maui canyon, she found a peacefulness and a control of her own.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Happiest Happy Hour

BEFORE: happy, carefree tourists with 
coconutty goodness in each sip.
AFTER: (15 minutes later)
Weekend at Bernie's

Diving Off Cliffs

Kendra and I like to joke that if there’s a cliff or a high point near a body of water, some Hawaiian is gonna jump off of it.  I was reminded of this before we left, when I watched “Twilight: New Moon” and the dark-skinned werewolf boys were diving off some crazy cliff in Forks.  Which is lame ‘coz it’s cold in Forks.  But in Maui, it’s warm and womb-like, a rush without the icy bite.

When we lived in Sherman Oaks, our pool was built close to the house and you could go upstairs, climb over the master bedroom balcony and onto the guest room addition, then jump off that roof into the 8-foot deep end.  Which we all did at one point or another, but Shane (that Hawaiian) turned it into an art form.  Not only did he do it, but it added a certain island flair to it: he’d crouch down a little, knees bent, then pop into the air, where it seemed to stand still for a moment, and he’d hurl himself toward the pool in a warrior stance, shoulders back, arms arched behind himself, knees bent, head facing stoically toward the water.  A third of the water would splash out and the ensuing waves would knock a small child down.  But it was thrilling to watch and we never knew exactly when he might choose to jump.  One minute, he’d be on the patio smoking a cigar with Raf and the next, Kendra would say, “Where’d Shane go?” and then we’d look up or hear a splash and we’d know.  He was feeling his roots.

The other day, at the Olivine Pools, he did the same thing.  It’s another steep climb, picking our way down a loose, rocky pathway to get to natural pools carved into the lava rock, eroded by centuries of crashing waves.  There are a few small pools, a scary blowhole geyser that spits water up at you if you get too close (but could pull you under in a split second, so you don’t dare to go near it) and a larger pool that is an icy teal color, almost phosphorescent from the bubbles that are formed when the waves crash into it.

By the time I had climbed my way down, Shane had already dived into that pool.  The daring members of our group impressed tourists by jumping in next to him: Maile, then me, then Keala, then Emme.  One wave crashed so hard into the pool that it swept Maile and Shane up into a bit of a whirlpool, which was both thrilling and scary to watch, and ended well with Maile laughing and swimming to the side of the rock where she got out and dried off. 

We decided to leave and started back across the rough lava rocks.  Someone said, “Where’d Shane go?” When we looked back, he was back on the top of the rocks.  In the blink of an eye, he crouched down and then was in the air, touching his feet before releasing into a perfect dive, deep into the water that is in his blood.

The World's Best Banana Bread

On a tiny road that sometimes allows for two lanes of traffic and sometimes forces cars to back up or wait while a single lane passes, there is a sandwich board announcing Julia’s Banana Bread, the world’s best.  On an island that’s famous for its banana bread, that’s a pretty arrogant boast.  But the road is long and winding and we just may never get back to it, so we stopped at the acid green hut. 

Settled on a small hillside next to a taro paddy, Julia’s is equipped with a few cold drinks and a heater that keeps the banana bread warm.  There are expensive dried fruit packages and taro chips.  Nothing is less than $5 for a small pack and the bread is $6 a loaf.  But it’s Maui.  And I looked at the woman behind the counter – who may or may not be Julia herself – and I decided that nothing would really be awful in Maui, not if it was home made with love by a Hawaiian tita (auntie), and if this is how they make their living – not in a Wal-mart or a McDonald’s or in an office or by making their banana bread in a high-tech factory with preservatives and then shipping it to stores – then why can’t I just take out the middle man and give them the money for such a delicious endeavor?

I bought two loaves, a package of chips, a pack of trail mix and some dried mango thing that Raf wanted.  $32 and worth every single penny.  The chips didn’t even make it back up the hill.

Dragon's Teeth

Maui is a mixture of softness (balmy tradewinds, perfectly slushy Hawaiian shave ice and pina coladas, melt-in-your-mouth banana bread, ukulele lullabies, fragrant plumeria blossoms falling from trees) and strength (jagged lava rocks, pummeling ocean waves, thick, muscular Hawaiian men and women). 

On the edge of the Ritz-Carlton property at Kapalua – you have to park in the middle, then walk across a beautifully manicured golf course – is a natural wonder called Dragon’s Teeth.  On the edge of a cliff, a pathway of crooked lava rock “teeth” juts up from the sea, a reminder that the ocean can swallow you whole, but it just might chew you up first.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weird Kids, Part 2

The last thing Kendra said to the kids yesterday before they went off into the night in homemade costumes fashioned from baby blankets, socks, ropes of toilet paper, flippers, floaties and the random luchadore mask was, "Don't make a huge mess and stick together." 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Da Life

Happy Hour, again? Well, okay...
The last time we came to Maui, I didn’t know what to expect. I have friends and an aunt who have visited Hawaii countless times and I didn’t understand the attraction.  It seemed like the island version of Disneyland: dudes in Hawaiian shirts, tourists with cameras, sunburnt kids crabbing at their parents.  But we were lured by the idea of a vacation with Shane and Kendra and their kids, so what the hey?

Maui is much more than we expected.  So easy.  It smells good here, and the air is warm and balmy, and it’s easy to get lulled into an afternoon nap by the tradewinds.  The kids can run free, from beach to pool or up and down the hallways and elevators.  Happy hour is from 3 to 6 every afternoon, and the coconut drinks with the colorful parasols and pineapple wedges are half-price.  There is always a fresh towel waiting for you by the pool.  Bathing suits double as undies. 

When people talk about vacations, this is what they mean. 


Honolua Dreamin'

Yesterday, the weather was balmy and pretty, only a little overcast, so we took a drive to Honolua Bay.  The last we came here, I was nervous about snorkeling – the bay is large and deep and filled with fish – but I let Raf talk me into paddling out to the middle and it was such a highlight. 

I remember making the connection about a phrase my yoga teacher had said: “you are not the surface of the lake; you ARE the lake.”  That time, it was windy on the top of the water, but below the surface it was teeming with peaceful life, fish going about their lives without ever knowing what was on the shore, in the air, on the boats above them. 

So this time I remembered that I loved it and just allowed myself to get ready and go, no expectations.  We got our picnics ready, parked on the side of the road, mosquito-repelled, trekked through the canopy of the rainforest between the road and the bay, teetered on the rocky shore, got our snorkel gear on and got in the water.  Most of us.  Kendra and two of her kids hung out on the shore, books in hands, sunglasses on, waving at us as we jumped in.  The water, especially the ocean, has sometimes seemed a threatening, scary place for them (and did I mention that it’s “Shark Week” on Discovery right now?), so they were opting to just hang out and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

It was a few minutes later, as the rest of us snorkeled around the coral reefs that ring the bay, that I saw Kendra picking her way toward us on the rocky shoreline, gear in hand.  She jumped on an inner tube and Shane towed her out to us, then Keala came up and did the same.  I fastened a clothesline around our three inner tubes and we made up a little hobo-boat caravan.  Safety in numbers.

“This is huge for me,” Kendra said, still tentative even though we were a quarter of a mile from the shore.  “But I remember that it was one of your favorite things last time, so I wanted to try it.”

I didn’t want to say anything – the same idea as when a child tries a vegetable for the first time and you don’t want to break the spell, you just want to let them discover that they love it on their own, that doing something good for themselves can actually be something they like – but I had a grin brewing from ear-to-ear. 

We paddled around, checking out the spectrum of corals on the ocean floor, investigating the nooks and crevices of the bay’s underwater valleys, all while securely attached to our inner tube caravan, faces plunged just a few inches below the surface.  We oohed and ahhed and pointed out beautiful fish to each other.  I wasn’t sure how long they would want to stay there with me, but I didn’t place any expectations on it. The fact that they had been nervous but swallowed their fears and went anyway was huge for me. Bravery comes in everyday packages, and I recognized this one.  I wanted to be with the moment for as long as they liked.

After an hour or more, we got hungry.  “But if we go in, we can come back out, right?” Kendra asked in the garbled language of someone biting on a snorkel mouthpiece, but I could understand. 

“Of course,” I said, pointing to the right side of Honolua.  “I haven’t been to that part of the bay yet.”

Under the fog of her snorkel mask, Kendra smiled.  Twenty minutes later, we had eaten and were back out, this time with two kids towed behind us and two more paddling a boogie board behind them. 

As we paddled, I saw a wall of lava rock close to the shore that began to ripple.  “Oh my god!” I said, looking up at Kendra, who realized that it was a school of fish, like the one in Finding Nemo.  Hundreds of fish – seriously, at least 500 of them! – the same color and size, swimming the same way and then one would turn and the rest would turn, too, and then they’d be swimming  the same way.

She looked at me and poked her head out of the water. We were only a few inches away from them.  I thought she might panic. 

She took the mouthpiece away so I could hear her clearly.  “Let’s follow ‘em!” she said.

So we did, chasing the wildness of the ocean, moving from the silver gray fish school to the yellow and black angelfish to the Technicolor rainbow fish that led us a half-mile from “safety” and into the beauty of the unknown.  From time to time, the kids behind us would say, “Where are you taking us?!” then they’d fall off the raft and laugh and flounder and giggle and flail and get back up, waiting for the next adventure.

Later, Shane said he’d seen a sea turtle and had grabbed onto its shell for a quick ride.  That would have been amazing to see, but I feel like we were just as daring, far out of our comfort zone, changed again by Honolua Bay.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pineapples: The Honor System

We came across this little stand on the way back from the blowhole.  It was just on the side of the road and boasted home-grown pineapples.  I was spellbound: here were beautiful golden pineapples, without tags or stickers on them and grown on someone’s land in Maui rather than in a country I’ve never been to, then shipped to Ralph’s before they’ve ripened.  And they were so cheap, we couldn’t pass ‘em up.

The girls got out and crossed the street barefoot, Hawaiian style, lured by the dogs on the property.  They spent several minutes sniffing the bottoms of the pineapples, turning each one over and allowing their eyes to roll back in their heads and the sweet, floral fragrance of tropical fruit infused their senses.  When they’d made their selections, Kendra and I each put our $2.50 into the jar and that was it.  I like this way of doing business.

When we returned to the hotel, Raf said he’d take the girls straight to the beach and the pool, rather than go upstairs, since we already had our swimsuits on.  Marlowe said she wasn’t feeling well, so she came upstairs with me. 

As soon as the door shut, she said, “Can you cut the pineapple? Maybe I’m just hungry.”  I did and she couldn’t eat it fast enough, letting the juice run down her forearms and licking her fingers and grabbing more.  She ate a third of it and then said, “Okay, maybe I want to go to the beach.”

I get it, girl, I do.  Sometimes you have to just do whatever it takes to get the first bite.

Our Brady Bunch

Tradition: Our "ohana" name in stacked rocks

It’s not easy to find another family that you can vacation with.  It’s a leap of faith; can you really get along for an extended time away from home and deal with all of the things that come up?  Like each kid’s quirks and food likes/dislikes, or each person’s circadian rhythms, or even just splitting the bill… These things don’t seem like a big deal until they come up and then you can see if you really are compatible… or not.

We are super lucky.  We’ve found our split-apart family, the one that completes us with their own 3 kids and super-cool parents, the one that brings out the fun in our dysfunction.  And even luckier, they are Hawaiian, and our trip to Maui is less like a resort-bound tourist vacation and more like visiting a good friend’s home, winding our way through the jungles and eating picnic lunches in unbelievably beautiful scenery.  The important thing is being together, wearing swimsuits all day long, having friends to ride with for the millionth time on the elevator, always being able to turn and say, “Oh my god, did you see that?” and that other person is right there, right with you, understanding. 

We’re like ohana now, family.  When we sat down to dinner at Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina on the first night (Shackoa, party of 10), the kids found their spots and argued, laughed, danced, joked like cousins.  “Remember when we were here the last time?” they said, as the sounds of the luau next door wafted through the night air. 

Yesterday, Kanoe turned to me and said, “We’re exactly like the Brady Bunch, if you include Alice and her boyfriend.  Or the dog.”  And so we are.

Thar She Blows

One of the highlights of our last trip to Maui was a hike down to the Nakalele Blowhole, a geyser-like spout in a lava rock formation that’s been created by the suction of waves for centuries.  It’s on the northernmost tip of Maui, but even that fact is a little too informational for me.  It’s just a really fun, daring adventure. 

First, you put on your ugly watershoes at the car – you have no idea where you’re going and it looks FLAT for god’s sake, but you trust your friends and wear your ugly turquoise plastic mesh-covered rubber shoes and trek down until you’re clinging to a cliff and slipping and sliding on the loose rocks that, if they give way or you lose your footing, can cause you to plummet a hundred feet down into the water.  If you’re lucky.  If you’re not, you’ll get impaled onto one of the spear-like lava rocks or a powerful wave will crash you into the aforementioned lava rocks.  And once you get down to the blowhole, you have to stand back; according to the locals, someone got sucked into the blowhole just last week, pulled through the hole and out to sea… Best to just take care and watch your step. 

When we got down there yesterday, we waited for Nakalele to blow.  I brought out our new waterproof camera and waited.  Nothing but sea spray and a little bit of bluster from the old gal, so we looked around the tide pools and took pix of the cool images we saw in the rocks.  And then it blew, gushing over our heads and pelting us with salty water.  My camera fogged up.  We laughed and laughed.  I couldn’t take enough photos or videos, but I know that when I see those fogged up images of our kids with their shoulders hunched over to brace for the cold shower of sea water, I’ll remember.

Marked By Maui

Photo by Maui No Ka Oi Magazine
There are millions of people who are fascinated by tattoos.  A few years ago, for instance, our family was devoted to watching Miami Ink, then dropped off when we couldn’t handle the drama of LA Ink or the potty-mouths of NYC Ink.  My own fascination stems from the history involved in getting a tattoo.  Each recipient has a story they want to tell to the world with the ink on their skin.  Each tat is a tribute to a loved one, or a nod to the past, or a hope for the future.  Some are mistakes – names of lovers who become enemies – and need to be covered up.  But they each give a snapshot of the recipient’s life at that moment, more permanent than a photograph, reminders of the person they were when they got the tattoo.In Maui, you can’t escape the tribal tattoos of the locals.  They are on shoulders, legs, abdomens, hands, arms, backs, faces.  Those are my favorites: the ones that cover half the face.  If I were back home in Southern California, I would pull my kids to the other side of the street if I saw a dude with a bold tribal tat that looked like train tracks on the side of his face, from crown to neck.  But here, there is something intriguingly historic about it.  The person who wears it is announcing his/her heritage, the struggles of the Hawaiian nation and his/her participation in it, by marking it indelibly on his/her face.  When he or she smiles, laughs, cries, yells… it is through the veil of this heritage.

I read an article this morning in Maui No Ka ‘Oi about the ancient art of tattooing (which is a Polynesian art that the islands gave to the world; “tatau” in Tahitian and “kakau” in Hawaiian).  The article was about two tattoo artists in Maui: one is a master of hand-tapping (using only bone or ivory tools, a wooden mallet and an ink made of burnt kukui-nut ash) and the other was a young hotshot tattoo artist who became the master’s protégé.  What struck me about the article was the respect that these two artists demand from the people who get the tribal tattoos.  I won’t go into great detail here, but recipients of the traditional “kakau” must (depending on the circumstances) study their own genealogy, pray, fast, abstain from intoxicants and clear away family grievances.  The master himself will perform sacred rites before the tattooing begins, including prayers and ceremonial cleansing of his tattooing tools in the ocean.  The symbols matter – some motifs are free for the taking, to enhance protection or healing, while others are restricted to specific Native Hawaiian families – and the placement is also important.  It is a culture, a tradition, something to be earned.  It is not, as we may think from so many lame reality shows, a reminder of a drunken night in Vegas or a dare.  It must be earned.

There were two quotes that resonated with me, that can apply to so much more than just tattooing:

“The more we learn, the more responsible we become.” That was the younger artist’s revelation, once he learned that he’d been appropriating ancient marks for free-wheeling early designs.  Once he learned from the master, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and take the art more seriously.

“It’s not like putting on a design; it’s like clearing away the dirt to allow it to come out.”  This is from a recipient of an “uhi” (mark) from the master.

One last thought about tattooing, from a conversation with my mother-in-law last week.  She got a beautiful, retro-style tattoo a few years ago, a heart with a banner across it that listed the first initial of all her kids, their spouses, and her grandchildren.  Since that time, two of her kids have gotten divorced and she is now left wondering what to do with the two initials.  “Do I get a flower or a heart over them?” she wondered.

There is no answer for this, she will have to decided what’s right for her, but I think about my hypothesis – that these sacred marks are a snapshot of who we are and what’s significant to us at the moment we get them – and it provides a new layer to this question. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed by the initials of these two people who are no longer in our family, I wonder if it’s okay to accept that they were extremely important to all of us and woven into the fabric of our family… into her skin… at that time.  And then, remembering that piece of this puzzle, recognizing that it’s also okay to let them go, let that memory become a blossoming flower…

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Over the Rainbow

Shane took this picture of me on the beach yesterday afternoon.  That’s my first pina colada (or you can call it a mai tai chaser, since that’s what it was).  The kids were in the water already, jumping in the knee-slapping Ka’anapali waves.  Kendra and Kanoe and I were catching up, enjoying the feeling of the soft tropical air and the sun on our faces. 

It started to rain, but an afternoon rain in Maui is sometimes hard to discern.  People were showering off their sandy feet and bottoms nearby, so I thought it was just some errant spritz from that.  Or the salty ocean spray from the waves lapping at the shore.  Or maybe the kids splashing us a little as they ran up to grab a towel, dripping wet. 

Kendra looked up, straw in her mouth as she continue to sip her lava flow (a pina colada poured over a jammy strawberry puree).  “Hey, it’s a rainbow,” she pointed.

And it wasn’t a “regular” rainbow, fading out as soon as it appeared.  It was Technicolor brightness, far more exciting and mesmerizing than eight colors side-by-side would seem.  There were shades and subtle hues in between.  All the colors of the rainbow seems like so much more than just “all the colors.”  And it lasted for a good 10 minutes.  It became so commonplace, a fixture in our new Maui environment, that when I yelled to the girls, nearby making sand castles, they said, “Yeah, we saw it,” and kept right on digging in the coral-laced sand.

Shane laughed and showed us this picture, taken at just the right angle at just the right time.  We called it my unicorn horn, a rainbow that I can just activate with my thoughts.  But what if I can?  Who really says what “reality” is?  Maybe this rainbow is commonplace, a fixture in my life, and I have only just seen it for the first time?

Big thoughts.  Thank goodness I have another week to figure it all out…

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lull Before the Excitement

The thing I love most about this particular blog of mine ('coz you know I also blog at Poprocks and Goblins) is that it's all about traveling. Poprocks gives me an outlet to rant and rave and shimmy about all the little things I notice each day.  But this is where I get to talk about the places I've been and the lessons I've learned from them.

It's been a while since I posted anything here and it might be easy to assume that I've been house-bound... but thankfully that's inaccurate.  I realized that I never even posted about my stay in Rome with Christine, or our family weekend in Vegas, or my springtime retreat in Ojai, or my cousin's barefoot beach wedding in Tulum, Mexico... 

I keep thinking I'll get "caught up" (and I do plan to post pix of these fun getaways), but the challenge with "present moment" thinking is that it doesn't matter where you are because there you are.  And I like to be right there, in the moment, soaking up the enjoyment of the place and time that I'm inhabiting. 

Right now, I'm packing for another journey, a family trip to the island of Maui with our very dear Hawaiian friends.  My suitcase is open and overfilled with snorkels and water shoes and sunscreen and the smallest amount of clothing (because all you need are swimsuits and sundresses).  My hope is that I'll post at least a few images from below sea level with our new underwater camera, and that I'll make some observations about life and parenting while I'm ziplining with Serena for her 10th birthday on August 3rd... But I'm not making any guarantees just yet. I'm hoping to share the trip with you, though, so that we can enjoy the ride together.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Destination Unknown

This was written a few days ago, on Thursday, April 21st.  Due to spotty WiFi at the hotel and piles of laundry upon my return home, I am just getting around to posting it... BTW, I also published this on my other, "random thoughts" blog at www.poprocksandgoblins.blogspot.com.  Somehow, it seemed to fit both areas of my life harmoniously...

I have been traveling a lot this year, more than in any other year of my life.  Every 4 to 6 weeks, it seems, I’m in another fabulous place wondering, “Well, how did I get here?”

This time, I’m in Palm Springs again.  It’s just past 7 am and the kids are still sleeping.  It’s just the girls and me in the room – a deluxe patio room on the 1st floor of the very centrally located Hotel Zoso – although we met up with friends for this short getaway.  The morning air in the desert is so alluring that, even though I could probably feign exhaustion or vacation and sleep another few minutes, I’m sitting on the covered patio and gaping at the majestic palm trees, soft pink mountain mounds rising up behind them. 

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that I grew up near Palm Springs.  Not as close as I’d like to believe, but about 60 miles up Hwy 60, in 29 Palms.  The interesting part is that, as hard as it is for me to visit the desert of my youth in 29 Palms – the dusty trail my brother and I walked to get to school, the hard plastic table-with-attached-bench at Foster’s Freeze that seemed to hold so much promise to a 7-year-old with serious ice cream lust, the cactus “garden” in our front yard, the fact that my childhood home became a meth house eventually – I love Palm Springs.  My car will travel the hours and distance until we arrive in Palm Springs, then stop and hover for a few days, then turn around and go back home, to MY home, the home of my choosing.

I’m digressing, however.  The occasion of this journey is one of a leap of faith.  Sure, it’s Spring Break and most people try to find at least one little getaway during the week, even if it’s to a nearby park or beach, something to take them out of the ordinary and into vacation mode.  Curiously, I hadn’t planned on any such trip for the week.  With all of the trips I’ve been taking, I guess I was just going to wait and see what happened, maybe let my kids sleep in every day, catch up on a little writing, organize a closet or two.  Here’s what happened instead…

On the very first day of school, I saw Marlowe sitting near another little girl, probably just two feet apart, and both of them were just watching the other kids play.  They were each smiling, quiet, observant.  It wasn’t sad, like they were being excluded or anything like that, but sort of sweet.  They had a nice, comfortable “being together” that I really loved.  And that girl, Bella, has become a very sweet friend of Marlowe’s. 

Okay, so you’re still with me… About a month ago, Bella’s mom and I were talking on the phone and she mentioned that she really wanted to go away during Spring Break, that she and another friend were hoping to just take their kids – no husbands – on a short trip.  A breath later, thinking aloud, she said, “Would you want to bring your girls along?  I know Bella would love having a friend there.”

Now, I don’t know Bella’s mom very well, but you know how you get a good sense about someone immediately?  Much like how I knew Bella would be a great friend for Marlowe, I just knew her mom would be a sweet, easy-to-get-along-with travel companion. I found myself saying yes, not with a question mark or a long pause, but with conviction and excitement.

Still, yesterday, as the girls and I drove from the overcast, chilly northern bits of Los Angeles to the windy Hwy 111 that leads from Interstate 10 to Palm Canyon Drive, I had a few moments of wondering, “What the heck am I doing?” 

I had to remind myself that I did the same thing – exactly – as I boarded the plane to Rome in February, and wound up having one of the best times of my entire life.  I thought about the Anais Nin quote (I’m paraphrasing here) about how the day came when it took more energy for the flower to remain tightly curled up in a bud than to bloom.  I decided to let myself bloom.  And I pointed my car and my kids toward the desert, MY desert, the desert of my choosing. 

(Postscript: By the way, it was a blast.  There was a friend for Bella’s twin brother, Bella & Marlowe were in friend heaven, and Emme & Serena enjoyed time together without a little sister tagging along every moment.  I don’t know about all of them, but this leap of faith seems to be going along fine…)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just Another Day in Cortona

Today is our last one in Cortona.  Tomorrow, we'll hop a bus, then a train to Rome.  Although we had tentative plans for our last days in Cortona, what we've found is that we really just want to hang out.  Sleep.  Eat. Read. Write. Walk down to the little store and buy olive oil.  Get a few onions for tonight's frittata. Drink some coffee. Enjoy the way the sun glows on the back balcony before it begins to set.  Bundle up in a hat, scarf, gloves and sweater just to sit on said balcony with mugs of tea, discussing everything and nothing.

I have found that most travel guides will help you find every "hidden gem," monument, landmark, trattoria, gift shop, etc. And I love that stuff as much as the next traveler.  But you know what I've loved most of all during this trip?  Washing our dinner dishes in the carrera marble sink, plunging my hands into the soapy water and scrubbing the pots, rinsing our caffe cups. Trust me, I love staying in hotels and not worrying about cleaning up after myself, but I have truly enjoyed the feeling of normal life that doing dishes and hanging laundry can provide.  

Behind Casa San Marco, there is a giardino d'infanza - day care.  Today, as I stood on the back balcony admiring the expansive view, I watched the mommies and nonnas drop their bambini off, shuttling the precious little darlings -- each and every child clad in puffy coats, puffy boots and knit hats with big bobbing balls on the top -- along the cobblestone alleyway.  I saw an older woman in sensible shoes and a scarf tied around her head as she hung the laundry out to dry in the cold breeze. I heard the downstairs neighbors greeting the construction workers down the lane. Normal lives. This is not just the town where tourists flock to absorb some sense of magical realism per the autobiographical accounts of an American ex-pat.  It is a town where generations of families have lived and worked and had babies and died for centuries.

And now, in a very small sense, I am a part of it, too.  As we've run our remaining errands around town -- shipping home heavy items and unnecessary clothing to lighten our suitcases before going to Rome, buying last-minute souvenirs, purchasing vegetables for our last meal at Casa San Marco -- each shopkeeper has asked, "When will you be back? Prossimo anno?"

Perhaps. I would like to think that once a place gets into your blood, you somehow seep into its soil, too. I don't need to live here full-time, but when I'm here, I need to live fully.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's All Good Before the Sugar High Sets In...

Yesterday, Christine and I were having caffe and chatting in the kitchen of Casa San Marcos when a friend of the owner dropped by.  As she left, she mentioned that it was the Festival of Santa Margherita, which happens every Feb. 22 in Cortona. "Go up to the church," she said.  So we did.  
There were lots of vendors, mostly selling candies and balloons (which isn't exactly what I had pictured to honor a saint, but hey, we all have our own process, don't we??).  After Christine and I went into the church and paid our respects to the remains of St. Margaret (her 800-year-old corpse is viewable behind a glass case - no really, it is), we toured the candy vendors until we settled on one.  

Now, you must know that in the US, I would never even consider nougat as a candy option.  I am a die-hard dark chocolate lover and have always shied away from the sickeningly sweet, hard-as-a-brick nougat candies, no matter how adorable the packaging is.  But here, where nougat is known as torrone, they were presented as huge mountains of nougat enveloped in thick slabs of chocolate.  There were different enticing flavors, too, like nutella, straciatella, noci (walnut)... And they were presented alongside similarly large mounds of fudge (in flavors like tiramisu and limoncello... really!).  

I think it was about 10:30 am.  I think we'd had yogurt or eggs for breakfast and likely a lot of espresso.  I think we probably could have waited another hour or two and eaten a nice, light lunch. But you know what happened next.

We bought two huge chunks of candy - for about 15 euros (just over $20).  Now, if you know me well, you know that I tend to avoid large quantities of refined sugar.  I'd like to report that I had a small sample of the straciatella nougat and spat it out on the parking lot of Chiesa di Santa Margherita.  But I didn't.  It was light, airy, sticky-chewy like a just-made marshmallow, and encrusted in a dark chocolate shell.  The fudge (we bought a walnut version) was equally stellar - melt-in-your-bocca delicious.

I'm not proud of this, but we proceeded to gorge until... well, until my blood sugar was at a rollercoaster high.  I was nearly hallucinating that the lichen-covered stone wall on the path around Cortona was just a large, delectable hunk of nougat.  I laughed and ate nougat and laughed and ate fudge and laughed... 

We hiked down around the hill, back up through Cortona proper and up a steep cobblestone hill to Casa San Marcos, where I spent the rest of the day rehydrating myself and waiting to sleep.  I finally passed out on the couch during "Napoleon Dynamite" and woke up to the bells of San Francesco and the glittering lights of Camucia below us.  With the promise of a new day, I vowed to ignore the remaining chunks of nougat and fudge.  

Until I reached the kitchen.  

Ah, to hell with it.  When in Italy...