Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hawaii Travel Diary: Maui Part 2

Oh yes. You can bet I don't care one bit that it's been over a month since we got back from Hawaii, I'm finishing my recap whether you read it or not.
Picking up where I left off (many weeks ago) we'd been enjoying the second part of our vacation in Mauii. We'd had a relaxing couple days just lounging around the resort and eating our weight in fresh Ahi Tuna.  We had very few plans for our vacation but the one thing I told T.J. I wanted to do on our trip was go on a snorkeling excursion. We were able to get free snorkeling gear from the hotel to use right on the beach and there were tons of fish and beautiful clear waters to explore there, but I desperately wanted to take a boat ride out to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town for some more exciting snorkeling.

On Thursday we had scheduled our early morning snorkeling cruise with Seafire Charters (they were amazing!!). Wednesday had been incredibly windy, lots of rough waves and rain overnight, so we were glad that it wasn't raining when we woke up Thursday morning. We got up early and drove to the boat landing to catch our ride. Even though the wind had mostly died down, the captain warned us that it would still be quite rough out on the water and that we might not get to go to all the usual spots but that they would still take us to a bunch of cool places. They gave us the option to reschedule and made sure we were all confident swimmers and snorkelers, and I've never gotten seasick before, ever.  In hindsight, this should have been my first red flag but we said we were still good to go and so did the rest of the group going with us. While we were getting checked in, a different charter snorkeling trip went out ahead of us. 30 minutes later, they were back, soaking wet saying they couldn't get to the crater. That should have been our second red flag, and again the captain made sure we were all prepared to go and again I was overly confident. The ride out to the crater was bouncy and rough but the fun kind, with the wind blowing and the waves splashing you as you sliced through the water.
Molokini crater is a half moon shaped rocky outcropping in the middle of the ocean teaming with marine life, and on that day it happened to be getting slammed by huge waves. The captain said we could try to snorkel on the back side which would be more protected from the wind and was still an amazing place to snorkel because it is basically a 300 ft wall of coral. And that's when things went down hill for me. As we sat there rocking and swaying and rolling with the waves, we put on our masks and flippers and I started to feel less than okay. I was getting clammy and nauseous but just knew I'd feel better once I was in the cool water so I quickly jumped into the ocean. The water was so rough and my stomach flipped and rolled with each wave and my snorkel kept filling with water as waves splashed over me. I was constantly having to blow out water and I couldn't catch my breath and the nausea just would not go away. I decided I had better get out of the water and the second I got back on the boat I threw up over the side (which the fish loved- gross). Luckily? I wasn't the only one feeling seasick or I might have been embarrassed. The crew was so sweet and handed out ginger ale and wrist bands and rubbed essential oil behind our ears. T.J. was totally worried about me and I totally did not care that he had seen me get sick for the first time in our marriage.

We only stayed at the crater for maybe half an hour and I was so glad to get moving and have the cool breeze in my face but once you're sick the only thing that really helps is dry land. The next spot we stopped was just a little ways off from shore and a lot less rough but I knew I couldn't put a snorkel mask back on. I was hesitant to even get back in the water at all but I swam to shore along with a couple of the other girls and basically crawled onto the beach.  We waited there for a bit before one of their office staff came and picked us up and took us back to the boat launch to wait for the rest of the group to return. I told T.J. to stay on the boat with our things (and there was no point in both of us missing out on the turtles- T.J. saw three and I was super jealous) but he said the ride back was even more rough and a bunch more people got sick so I was super thankful I'd gotten off when I did. The charter company was so nice, the crew made me feel so much better with their mothering, and they even refunded us for my trip. Even though it was a total bust for me, if we ever go back to Hawaii I would definitely try to do this trip again, but would just be sure to go on a day when it's super calm and smooth.

I was feeling completely dehydrated and still queasy so we decided to walk to a nearby restaurant, Monkeypod, for lunch. I had a coke and a margherita pizza (I just needed something easy on my stomach) and then we went back to the hotel to get back to doing what we do best, relaxing and reading.  The pool staff came around later in the afternoon and passed out Popsicles and the day was salvaged. That night we went for a walk on the beach and picked out our favorite ocean side houses before heading to one of the Lehua Lounge by the upper pool for a light dinner and then calling it an early night.
Friday was our last full day on Maui so we were going to make the most of it. We went down to the beach in the morning and T.J. rented a paddle board and I relaxed under the umbrella and watched him out in the water. Then we grabbed snorkel gear (the day before hadn't completely ruined it for me) and enjoyed a much more relaxing time in the water together. For lunch we dined at the Bumbeye Beach Bar again, and again ordered the most delicious Ahi Poke to share along with some summer rolls, plus a pina colada for me.

After lunch we moved to the pool area and the rest of the day passed peacefully. We had originally made dinner reservations at Morimoto but decided we wanted to go back to the Ka' Ana Kitchen, where we'd dined the first night, again. There were still too many yummy items on that menu that we wanted to try and we did not regret it! We actually had our same waiter which was funny, and he brought us a glass of champagne to toast to our last sunset in Hawaii. 
We headed back to Washington the next day and over a month later I've finished recapping the most wonderful and relaxing vacation. It was exactly what we needed- a time to just be together and breathe. I watched the stress melt away from T.J. as we landed in Hawaii. And after a perfect week, just the two of us and no responsibilities, we came home refreshed and in denial that our trip was behind us but ready to get back to our puppy and the real world. To round it off here's a little video of some gopro footage from our time in Maui. (It's mostly just of us snorkeling so hopefully it doesn't make you seasick...)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I Almost Forget: The PCS Season

Sometimes I forget that I'm an Army wife. That our lives, our future, where we live, where we'll live next, is all tied up into the needs of the Army. Most of the stress of this season has nothing to do with the Army and all to do with residency. T.J.'s job would probably be just as demanding and exhausting in the civilian world. So I forget about the Army... almost.

I forget until they ask for my "sponsor's" social security number when I go to pick up my prescriptions or book my doctor's appointments.

I forget until we have to submit our flight information months before our vacation for approval.

I forget until I hear people talking in acronyms.

I forget until my friends get their RFO and start talking about PCS-ing (RFO: request for orders PCS: permanent change of station).

That's the big one. The hardest one to ignore, but still always the biggest surprise. Probably because we go through the rest of the year mostly pretending that everyone will still be here next year. WE just keep on making plans kind of like we've got our hands over our ears, saying "la la la la la, can't hear you."    

But we're entering that season in the military community. When everyone gets orders and moves away. Neighbors, the graduating residents, friends all anxiously waiting to hear where they're being sent and what new area they need to start stalking on Zillow. Last year I wasn't quite tuned in. I wasn't close to the chief residents who were moving on, and I had yet to befriend my neighbors so I didn't feel this pull on my heart. The old but familiar ache that comes when you're preparing to say goodbye, don't know when I'll see you again, to friends.

I almost forgot about that. But I've been here before. In high school, in an expat community, when masses of families made their exodus every year. At the end of college when we all hugged each other tightly and then set off on different paths. And right before I got married and the chapter on living with roommates came to a close.

So here we are again. I should be used to this, I better get used to this. The revolving door of friends coming and going. The build up of emotions, the anxiousness before the moving truck pulls away, the denial, we have plenty of time left together, the holding back of tears, last get-togethers, farewell parties.

But the reason it's so dang hard on the heart is because we let ourselves dig in where we are, even though we're only here for a short while. We make real friends, real fast, letting ourselves forget, each time, about the long drawn out goodbyes, because what's the alternative? To never plant roots, to never call another new house "home," to never find community, to never be vulnerable?? That's not living, that just surviving.
(Taken on a walk last night with one of my dear, dear friends who happens to be moving away this summer.)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Rhododendrons & My Mom

My mom came to visit last week and I now feel like I've really got this whole hosting thing down. Each time we've had company we've managed to do something a little different (not just the Space Needle and Pikes Market over and over again) so I feel much more confident planning for visitors. Of course, I don't really think of my mom as "company." She's family, which means even though we planned a bunch of fun things to do each day, we also just allowed time to sit out on my deck, to go for lots of walks around the neighborhood with the pup, to take our time each morning, and stay up late at night, and soak in all the fleeting minutes we had together.

We had fantastic weather for her entire visit and unlike when my old roommates came to visit, Mt. Rainier was out in all her glory for our viewing pleasure all week long! After picking her up from the airport we headed to a favorite local spot for a late lunch, picked up groceries for the week and made our loose plans for the next few days. The first thing on our agenda was a trip to Seattle to see the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. Dale Chihuly is a local, from Tacoma, Washington, but his work is displayed all over the world!! I hadn't ever been myself and was excited to get to do this with my mom. Monday morning (and every morning that week) we got up, had breakfast and took Hunley for a long walk before heading into the city for the day. The museum is located right next to the Space Needle and you can see some of his funky garden installations poking up over the fence but nothing can really prepare you for the awesomeness of seeing it all  up close and personal.
(The Glass Forest)
(One of my favorites from his Macchia series)
(A boat filled with glass whos-its and whats-its galore. You want thingamabobs? He's got plenty!)
(The Glasshouse takes your breath away!)
Doesn't mom look so pretty coordinating with the blue glass stalks? Outside the glasshouse is the garden and it's filled with even more pieces that blend in to the flowers and garden beds- his work truly does belong in nature. Mom and I wandered around with our cameras out the whole time and everywhere you turned you were surprised by a new piece popping out at you. I couldn't pick a favorite display if I tried. 

After we'd soaked in as much as we could, we headed for lunch over near the market, which is a so much more enjoyable on a weekday when there are far fewer tourists. We picked a French cafe that reminded us another favorite French cafe from back home in our little village in England. After a leisurely lunch we followed our noses to Piroshky Piroshky and picked out two yummy pastries to share along with cappuccinos. This fantastic little place always, always, always has a line down the block so when you go on a Monday afternoon and don't have to stand in a long queue it's even more impossible to resist!
We fixed dinner at home that night and actually used our dining table, which only gets used when we have visitors, and then relaxed all together on the couch and watched a movie together. The next day we headed out on another excursion that had been on my list for a while. I'd seen signs on the highway for the Rhododendron Species Garden and knew that would be right up mom's alley! We weren't sure what to expect but were excited to find a lush oasis tucked in the woods off the highway with over 10,000 rhododendrons, ripe for the selfie taking!
It was hard to capture the scale of the place and sheer number of rhododendrons. We happily wandered around the shaded trails and pointed out our favorite colors or exclaimed over the size of some of the flowering trees. They also had a small field of blue poppies in season. Did you even know poppies came in that color?!
After we left the garden we headed to grab lunch on the water. It was a beautiful sunny day so we sat outside at Duke's Chowder House. T.J. was on call that night so we allowed ourselves to have a big lunch with plans for popcorn dinner at the movies. That night we went to see the Jungle Book and splurged on the large popcorn and three boxes of candy. Go big or go home!
Since I played hooky on Monday and Tuesday, we went to my office on Wednesday so I could get some work done. It's been super quiet at the office since my director is on maternity leave so it was nice to have my mom there to keep me company and to go to lunch with. On our way home we treated ourselves to mani-pedis and then stopped in my local library to get me a library card. I haven't had one of those since before college and I'd forgotten how much I love browsing through a quiet library and checking out books- something I always associate with my mom and the growing up years.
T.J. was home "early" that day so we headed to our favorite restaurant in Tacoma and mom treated us to a yummy dinner. We made sure to send T.J.'s mom this picture so she could know her boy is being well taken care of.

On Thursday I went in to work again and then we ran a few errands before leashing up Hunley and going on the long walk to the water. No visit to our little corner of the PNW is complete without doing this walk at least once. The last time my parents were here, Hunley was just a few weeks old, we took turns carry him down the trail, and he was completely un-interested in the water back then. This time was a different story and I'm glad my mom got to see our little water-dog in action. T.J. and I both can't wait until we can bring him to our parents' lake houses and let him swim off their docks.

Unfortunately the next day I had to return my mom to the airport and she had to head back to the East Coast. It was such a perfect, albeit short, week together that we tried to fill with as much joy and as many hugs as we could manage. If I could sum up our visit in one word it would be "rhododendrons"  and not just because we saw A LOT of rhododendrons while she was in town, (which we did), but because there was not a rhododendron we passed all week that we didn't exclaim over. And if my mom has taught me one thing, it's to always look for the positive, the beautiful, the Creator wherever you are, wherever you roam. To not get bogged down in the hard that you miss out on the beauty right in front of you. Our week of flower chasing, and mountain gazing, and long walks and longer talks, was just the perfect reminder of that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hawaii Travel Diary: Maui Part 1

**Please excuse the radio silence around here. I have just been out of the swing of things and feeling unmotivated and mostly uninterested in dealing with my super slow laptop. But I thought I better recap our time in Maui before I forget all the details.

As much as we loved our visit to Pearl Harbor, the next time we come to Hawaii (and gosh I hope there's a next time) we are booking a direct flight to Maui! The second we stepped off the plane, it was like we finally exhaled and knew this is where we would truly be able to relax and reconnect. Unlike Oahu, we had zero plans for our time on Maui. We upgraded our rental car to a convertible (why the heck not) and cruised with the top down past farm lands, with the mountains in the rear-view mirror, and the ocean at our side as we made our way to Wailea and our perfect resort. There are several different popular vacation areas on Maui (Kaanapali, Wailea, Lahaina) and though I say this with no concept of the other areas... Wailea is definitely the best one! It was exactly what the doctor order (and what my doctor husband needed), quiet, not that crowded, and fewer kids screaming marco-polo in the pools.
When we pulled up to the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, we instantly knew we'd booked a winner. It's always a risk booking a hotel in an area you've never been to before (and this hotel is only about 3 years old so there's not as much online) but I was so glad it was beyond all my hopes and expectations. It's not the stereotypical (sometimes tacky) Hawaii look. It's very modern, all open to the breeze coming off the ocean, and the decor blends in perfectly with the scenery (there is even sand in the lobby).
We were draped in leis and handed lavendar lemonade and directed to choose anywhere in the lobby to relax while they checked us in.  One of the hostesses gave us a little tour and then lead us to our room. Again we'd arrived close to sunset, so we threw on bathing suits and headed out to explore the property before dinner. The Andaz has three infinity pools, a lagoon, and an adults only tranquility pool. It also has the easiest beach access and it doesn't share it's beach with any of the other resorts so it felt very private.
We headed back to our room to change for dinner at Ka'Ana Kitchen, the resort's farm-to-table restaurant.  This was definitely our favorite restaurant of the week and we ended up coming back for our last night as well.  They have an assortment of small plates and large plates that you can pick and choose and share. The best thing hands down is the Ahi Tataki with the burratta cheese and local tomatoes. You wouldn't think seared tuna and cheese would go together but oh. my. word. I'm still dreaming about it.  
Tuesday we woke up bright and early, lathered on the sunscreen and headed down to the beach. Two chairs and an umbrella were set up for us and we grabbed our complimentary snorkel gear to explore the rocks and coral right off the shore.
The rest of the day kind of runs together in a relaxing haze of toes in the sand, a dip in the pool, a nap in the shade before we moseyed on back to our room to change for our dinner reservation at Mama's Fish House
It ended up being more like a late lunch since 4:30pm was the only reservation available but that worked out great since we'd skipped lunch that day, planning to stuff ourselves on fresh fish and Hawaiian fare at this famous spot. Mama's Fish House is in Paia, about 30 minutes from our resort so we left early and got there with plenty of time to enjoy their envious view.
All the fish is caught daily, and the menu changes based on whats available. I had maybe the best seared ahi tuna of my life, and we loved the relaxed style of the restaurant, but it was definitely the most expensive meal of the trip and if we're being honest we both preferred Ka'Ana Kitchen. 
Since we had an earlier dinner, we got back to our resort around sunset and grabbed our books and headed to one of the hanging beds scattered about the property to enjoy the fading light and warm breeze. The perfect end to a perfect night!
Somehow we ended up sleeping until almost 10 am the next day which is quite impressive considering we went to bed around 10pm. Wednesday was another beautiful day but really windy so after our lunch at the Bumbeye Beach Bar, we retreated to our room to watch netflix and chill and ended up taking a two hour nap. What are vacations for if not to fill your sleep bank?? 

We had planned to go into Lahaina and find something easy for dinner that night but, still feeling a little out of it from the surplus of sleep, we decided to skip right to dessert and grab shave ice a little closer to our hotel instead. And after our perfect sweet treat, we made it back to the hotel in time to enjoy another beautiful sunset. 
Oh how I miss that view!! I want to keep reliving this vacation so part two of our time in Maui is coming up next.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hawaii Travel Diary: Pearl Harbor

I don't think I really believed we were going to Hawaii until the wheels touched down on the palm tree lined runway. And even then, it didn't quite feel like our vacation had started because when you come out of the airport you're reminded that Honolulu is actually quite a busy city, not just a vacation spot, with tall buildings, and a lot of traffic, that just so happens to be lined with miles of sandy beaches. We grabbed a cab and hurried on to our hotel, hoping to get checked in and get our toes in the sand before the sun set. Along the way we noted Tripler Army Medical Center set up a bit higher above the city. It's pink and has a great view of the ocean and happens to be where my mom was born which I think is just the greatest coincidence.
Since we were only going to be on Oahu for two nights we booked a more reasonable hotel so we could really splurge at our second destination in Maui. The Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa was a good spot for our quick stopover. We didn't rent a car here but we were close enough to walk to a lot of restaurants and it's set right across from Waikiki Beach of course.  We got checked in and immediately threw on bathing suits and practically ran to the beach to catch the sun as it sank into the ocean. Our first of many beautiful sunsets in Hawaii checked off we headed back to the hotel and jumped into the pool before grabbing dinner at the hotel's poolside bar.  We headed to bed, completely exhausted from our day of traveling and looking forward for our first full day in Hawaii!
The next morning we woke up nice and early, thanks jet lag, and I was fully able to appreciate the view from our room. Though we both agreed that Waikiki was a little too crowded and crazy for the relaxing vacation we had in mind, it was fun to see all the surf boards dotting the ocean every day all day. We grabbed a bagel from the coffee shop in the hotel and then ordered an Uber to take us to Pearl Harbor.
I think most people back on the East Coast expect a Hawaiian vacation to include Pearl Harbor- I know we did. And even though we were probably more excited to get to Maui, T.J. and I both agreed that to not visit would be "un-American".  Pearl Harbor is a national park and therefore free to visit, however they only have a certain number of tickets available each day for the USS Arizona. If you don't want to get there right when the gates open to ensure you get a ticket, you can pre-book online the day before (they become available 24 hours in advance, 7am Hawaii time, for a $1.50 processing fee) which is what we did. Then you only need to get there an hour or so before your scheduled ticket time to walk around the visitor center. They also have an audio tour you can pick up which guides you along the shoreline and through the museums providing you more information about the sights.
(The anchor recovered from the USS Arizona- just to give you an ideal of the scale of that ship.)
(The beautiful harbor, with active Navy ships and the USS Arizona memorial in the distance.)

The shoreline is dotted with palm trees and the water is calm and clear blue. It's hard to picture the horror and chaos from that day in December set against such a beautiful backdrop. We quietly wandered through the two exhibit galleries that paint a picture of what it was like to be stationed here in 1941, and give you a reminder of what the world, and the build up to our entrance into the war, looked like.

Before you board the boat that takes you out to the USS Arizona, you gather in a theater to watch a short documentary about the events leading up to that day and the actual attack. They remind you that the USS Arizona is the final resting place of the crewman who sank with the ship, and that we are to step onto the memorial in solemn silence and respect.
The memorial hovers over the remains of the ship, now resting peacefully in the shallow water. Fish swim through the ruins and you can see oil still slowly leaking into the harbor as you look down into the remains of the Arizona.  
A placard reads: "This memorial honors the fallen crew of the USS Arizona and all those who died in the attack on December 7, 1941. The remains of over 900 Arizona crewmen rest beneath you within the sunken battleship... The Shrine room beyond displays the names of the 1,177 Arizona crewmen lost in the attack. Another list honors Arizona survivors who have rejoined their shipmates in the waters below." 
It gutted me to read all those names, and to see the front two shorter pillars listing the men who survived that day but died either later in the war, or even many years after it ended, and then decided to have their ashes returned to Pearl Harbor to join their brothers in the Arizona.

Though visiting a national cemetery is not exactly what you think of when you picture a romantic vacation, it was important to us to go and be reminded of the cost of freedom, the price paid at this place at that time in our history. It's a place you disembark from with a heavier heart and a deeper understanding of the honor and sacrifice of the men who served. It also made me look at the servicemen and women I know now, all one hundred percent volunteer, my husband included, with a deeper sense of appreciation and respect of what they may be called to do. Though it was strange to see people posing for a selfie in front of torpedos, or face-timing their family from the shoreline (is it just me who thinks that's odd and more than a little disrespectful???) we thought the trip to Pearl Harbor and the time spent at such a beautiful memorial was well worth the layover.

We took an uber back to our homebase, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun shining generously down on the shores. We were only on Oahu for less than 48 hours as the next day we headed on to Maui, and both agreed that's when the real vacation started!