Sunday, February 28, 2010


We're still catching up back here on the boat. Jet lag is still rearing its ugly head as my boy chatters until midnight. The unpacking seems endless. The cold is pushing us indoors more than usual. And the terrible antics of Mother Nature threw our whole weekend out of whack. With a major, devastating earthquake in Chile (where my step-dad lives along with all the cousins and tias and such from my mom's side) and the threat of a tsunami in Hawaii (where my dad, step-mom, and friends are)... we spent most of our first days home wringing our hands and furrowing our brows, waiting on pins and needles for news from loved ones. The long and short of it is, everyone is ok. Our last unaccounted for family members finally checked in yesterday, on my birthday, and that was the best gift of all. Words cannot describe how happy we are to be home. Bear with me as I try to catch my breath and crawl back to normal...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's The Journey

(I wrote this for a web site a year and a half ago when we last traveled to Hawaii, but the same applies as we make our way by airplane today...)

Door to door it was 16 hours. It was me, my four year old son, and 4800 miles of land and ocean to cross

My dad lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, we live in Maryland, and the only way from here to there is strapped inside a small metallic tube dashing across the atmosphere at 550 miles per hour. Though we are a TV-free family in the sense that we do not even own a television, we do allow the occasional family movie night with my son. Many well meaning friends brought over DVD’s and one even loaned us a portable DVD player complete with head phones. I was told with stern looks that this was vital for our journey. So on the night before our flight I sat staring at two piles, trying to decide which one should be put in my carry-on bag. The first pile was my mommy survival pile for a long flight. Sticker books, a toy airplane set, new art supplies and a note pad, stamp ink and some new stamps, a roll up chalk mat and letter dice, an eye spy bag, a dollar store travel game, and a huge pile of new books. Add to that a variety of snacks and two water bottles. The second pile was my life raft, a portable DVD player, a case of videos, and an iPod.

So which one to take? Truth be told I packed them both. I decided to try my hardest to make this trip video free, but I would have the movies on hand just in case. Friends gave me incredulous looks when I told them my plan. Why make it hard on yourself? What’s the big deal if he watches some videos on the airplane? Even grown-ups get stir crazy and bored on long plane trips, so why torture yourselves?

The reason I didn’t want to rely on videos to get us through this plane trip is the same reason I don’t use TV to get us through childhood. I want my son to learn how to be with himself, use his imagination, and pass the time without needing to plug in his brain. I don’t want TV or videos to be the norm or the expectation for long trips or rainy afternoons at home. It should be the exception not the rule. It should be a family treat, an occasional educational tool, not a crutch.

At home it’s a snap. The whole world is at our disposal, why on earth would we want to sit idly by and watch television? But being buckled into a Boeing 777 shoulder to shoulder with 200 strangers is a different story. So I lugged my carry-on, laden with books and videos wondering which would prevail.

Our first leg from Baltimore to Chicago was a snap. We left at the crack of dawn, and Zach was still in his sleepy mode. He was happy to snuggle into a seat, do sticker books, and ask a million and a half 4-year old questions about airplanes for two hours. The next leg was Chicago straight to Kona, Hawaii. Ten and a half hours. Thankfully the first hour or so he slept. If I was a smart mama I would have slept too. But instead I did the plugging in and watched a grown-up movie on my iPod.

When Zach woke up we broke out the crayons and paper. He drew the one and only thing he ever draws these days: pirate ships. More specifically pirate shipping shooting cannons. From there we moved into stamping. I bought a new stamping set for the trip that he’s never used before so he was pretty fired up about that. He stamped words with the new letter stamp set (hey we’re homeschooling at 30-thousand feet, how about that?) And he made some stamp scenes using animals. When the fun wore off we moved to snack time, and then I tried to figure out this crazy, plastic, barrel of monkeys game I got at the dollar store. My boy thought it was pretty funny that mommy couldn’t figure out how to set up the game, and while I was concentrating on the minuscule, made-in-China, plastic molded palm tree leaves, he started sword fighting with the little neon colored plastic sticks. I never really did fully figure that game out, but it bought us some time and we had fun with the monkeys and sticks anyhow.

I made a conscious point not to look at a clock while we were passing the time. I didn’t want to get into the “oy vay we still have 6 and a half hours left to kill” mind game. I wanted to enjoy the uninterrupted, one on one time with my son. No cell phone ringing, no appointments, no errands to run, no emails to answer. We talked, we sang, we told knock-knock jokes. And when things got slow I dipped into my magic mommy bag for my next trick. After the monkey fiasco, I broke out a new sticker book with nothing but truck stickers. This went over very well and my sweet son proceeded to joyfully decorate the entire row with monster trucks and big rigs while I read some magazines. Then we read some books. And next came the obligatory pestering of the people seated behind you routine. Thankfully there was another kid, albeit an older one, back there. So Zach stuck his head between the seats and over the top and did his flirty, peek-a-boo thing for a bit.

Somewhere in the middle of the trip he wised up to the fasten seat belt light. It became his new obsession, and the moment it went off he took it as a sign to wander the airplane. We were in the middle row of a large jet and Zach felt cheated by the lack of window vistas. So we promenaded up and down the rows looking for an open window seat to temporarily take over. At the very back, he got his wish and we spent a good deal of time staring down at he deep, blue Pacific Ocean searching for freighters and staring at clouds.

The only hitch in the flight was me. Zach was a trooper, an angel, an ace traveler with nary a complaint. I was the one who started to lose my mind. I wanted to watch a movie, I wanted to read, I wanted to sleep, I wanted a glass of wine, I wanted to check out. But then where would that leave him? When people say a kid can’t make a long flight without a video, what they really mean is THEY can’t make it. But I did. I took just about everything in my magic mommy bag to do it, but I did it. We walked off the plane into the sunny Kona open air terminal without ever having touched the DVD player, he never knew it was in the bottom of my bag.

The reward was the flight back. I loved how upbeat Zach was about the pending long trip. I loved how relaxed he was. And I loved how when they played the movie “Kung Fu Panda” on the screens strewn all across the airplane, he glanced up and said, “Mama, why would they put a TV in an airplane when there is so much to do?”

I ask myself that very question about life in general.

(here are some photos from our journey out to Hawaii this year...).

Fresh art supplies still do the trick..
Thank you dollar store for these crazy DIY cardboard animals. They were worth every penny and then some.
Burning some energy during an insanely long layover in SFO. They had a decent little play area.
And a nice little book store with a children's section to lounge in.
And a little handwork seems to always help pass the time. Zach was happy using his lucet to make a yard chain and hoping to get to the end of the ball of yard to see the little MamaRoots goody I stashed inside before rolling the yard up into a ball.


(surfing the lava with a broken, found board)

The winds have changed, the temps back home are now steadily in the 40's (though still snow on the ground!), and the flights have opened up post-mainland east coast blizzards... so we're heading home.

We saw these boats anchored in a wee harbor the other day and Zach said, "Mama, I miss Majestic, it's time to go home." I couldn't agree more.

Almost as if Hawaii were sending us off with a warm hug... the whales waved good bye...
And we're off, flying standby on a friend's employee passes and hoping to not get stranded along the way...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Weekend Wonders (east coast of the big island)

Lava tube caves...

Volcanically heated natural pool...
Exploring the rainforest with good friends...
Fish  and coral filled lava rock tide pools...

Witnessing the power of the planet at Kilauea Volcano...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Power To My People

This is what runs this whole place. Eight happy solar panels and a whirring wind generator. Honestly, it should be law for folks living out here to run off the grid (along with the assistance to make it feasible). With ever present trade winds and sunshine practically all the time, there is power to spare and power to share. It hasn't been much of a change for Zach and I, since the boat is also run off solar power (except when we plug in winter heaters or the rare summer air conditioning). So we know the drill about turning off lights, unplugging things, and just being mindful of our electric consumption. We have to wait for a super sunny/ windy day to do laundry since the washing machine (even being a super efficient one) is one of the highest power draws. And why anyone in this area would own a clothes dryer is beyond me!?
My dad also set up a rain catchment system, but it doesn't have the proper filters and pumps to be used as household water. So aside from a pretend ocean for little leaf boats, it gets used for the garden and the animals.
I love seeing Zach absorb the magical combination of living off the grid with the added bonus of farm life (collecting eggs to eat, picking fruit for "breakfast ice cream", caring for the animals) to experience what it's like to really live off the land. Now that's what I call a fabulous winter term of kindergarten!

(we're off to the volcano with some friends for a few days... see ya on the flip side)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Trouble In Paradise

It's not all rainbows and whales and fresh coconut milk out here. It's rural. It's tropical. And creepy crawlies are everywhere. The good news is, there are no snakes on any of the Hawaiian islands. But there are other creepy crawlies.

Let's start with the nice ones. Geckos. Geckos EVERYWHERE. They're cute. Zach loves to watch them, catch them, and carry them around.
He learned the hard way that they drop their tales when they think something's got them. And at night they chirp and chirp and chrip. "They're saying good night," says the boy. They're making a racket thinks the mama. And thank goodness for the net over our bed in the shed where we sleep, because they POOP EVERYWHERE. Each morning I wake and look at all of the gecko poop the net saved us from wearing. Our last trip here, I awoke to find hacted gecko eggs in my hair. Yes, a sleeping net is a good thing.
Then there are the poisonous centipedes. I was sitting on the porch reading when Zach came running up to me breathless asking for his bug box. Here it is honey, what did you find? "I don't know. It's like a giant worm but it's bright greeny-orangey and has like a million legs! It's so cool, I'll bring it to you." Noooooooooooooo! Don't touch it! That was close.

These little crab spiders (actually proper name is Asian Spiny Back spider) don't seem so scary, but they are insanely industrious builders. I wasn't able to catch it with my camera, but their webs stretch between any and all paralelle trees and seriously go up for 30 or more feet. It's not the high webs that get ya though. It's the low ones everywhere that you walk into and then furiously pull out of your nose and mouth and hair. It's now become Zach's job to walk the yard each morning with a long bamboo stick and clear the main paths of the crab spider webs.

But a stick was no match for our unwanted roommate. Ok, technically a cane spider won't hurt you, and they are even supposed to be shy around people, but would you want to room with this guy?
That's a big, fat NO. He had about a 6+ inch wing span and a wife. She had a big, juicy, egg sac hanging from her underside and was lingering in our bathroom. Game over. We called in Grandpa to evict the leggy family to the great outdoors.

That's life in the tropics. For every rainbow, there are 500 cockroaches (they don't even phase me anymore). For every whale breach, there's a swarm of centipedes. For every fresh coconut, there's a man-hand sized spider. It's the balance of nature.

Oh how I love our sleeping net.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Tis The Season

"Eyes on the road grandma!!" is the chant heard most often this trip as we go holoholo (Hawaiian for wandering) from beach to beach. When the island has one basic main road, and that road is along the coast, and the ocean is teaming with breaching whales... keeping eyes on the road is a tricky task.
Luckily the state of Hawaii is aware of the risks associated with whale season and has kindly created several pull over spots for humpback whale gawkers. And lest you think it'a\s all about the tourists, think again. The locals are experts as spotting our finned friends and their passion for pulling over and staring in awe as these gentle giants put on their show is as fresh and enthusiastic as a first time visitor.
It can be hard, at first, to know what you're looking for. That was a whale? It just looks like a breaking wave, or a shadow on the water?! But your eyes get trained. And Zach has become an ol' pro. "Mommy, a breacher, medium distance from shore, straight ahead!" or "Mommy, double spouts close by, left of the harbor." It reminds me of diving commentators in the summer Olympics. "That was a stunning double pike reverse triple somersault death plunge!"

Here's a cool little chart of whale behavior I found on
The normal pattern of exhalation and inhalation at the surface. We also call it a puff or spouting. It looks like a cloud of mist.
Signals a deep dive. Humpbacks will usually bring its flukes (tail) high above the surface of the water, propelling it straight down. We call it the tail wave or high five.
The whale rolls to the side, slapping its pectoral fins against the water. We always they the whales are waving hi!
The whale rises vertically to a point where the eyes are above water, then spins on it’s longitudinal axis to get a look at the surrounding area.
The whale propels itself out of the water, generally clearing the surface with two-thirds of its body or more, often with a twisting motion. Amazing!

I have yet to capture a breach in a photo. The most amazing one we saw happened at the turtle tidepools. My sweet boy fell and scraped up his knee on the sharp lava rock. He howled so loud that two whales breached at the same time just spitting distance from where we were. Do I click the photo or pull the crying boy off the rocks? Obviously a mom's duty comes first, and the moment will remain in my head. I keep telling Zach to howl like that again to get the whales to breach some more. ;)

There are all sort of tours operations taking folks out to get a closer look. And all sorts of laws set up to protect the whales, espcially since they come here to give birth and the babies are especially vulnerable.
But this is the coolest part of whale season.
This is the Puako General Store. It's tucked in a little residential area, nothing very special, just cold drinks, snacks, sunscreen, and this...
No, not the vodka. Look up. Those speakers are attached to a hydrophone just off shore in the ocean that the University of Hawaii set up. So you can come into the general store, buy an ice cream, and sit and listen to the ancient song of the humpback whales... LIVE! It's is truly awe inspiring. Zach said, "They are having a party because they can go where the humans can't get them." Party on whales!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mahalo La

Anyplace on earth where sun and water mix into that intoxicating cocktail of color we call sunset it seems like time stands still.
Beautiful sunsets are not unique to Hawaii. they happen 24 hours a day all over the globe. But I love howhere on the piece of volcanic rock adrift in the Pacific Ocean, the locals stop their daily doings to bid farewell and mahalo to the sun.
Cars are pulled over, guitars are played, wine glasses are clinked, and folks are often moved to applauding as the planet spins away from our fiery star.
And if you're looking, and you're lucky, you just might see it...
The green flash.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Sky Is Falling

Meet the ducks. A flock of about 30-something Muscovy ducks that live a pretty cush life here on the farm. The males hang around, eat too much, and bother the females when they are not fighting with each other. The females provide our family and the community with fabulous, huge, fresh eggs.
And once in a while, a baby duck. Being free roaming critters they tend to create nests wherever, and on 10 acres we don't always find them. So once in a while one of these will come waddling out.
Meet Sunrise. You can tell by the look on my boy's face that this is the current love of his life.  But that's not all...

There is a flock of wild chickens that live in our driveway here on the farm. It started as one crazy hen we affectionately called "Freaky Chicken", and over the years they have multiplied (as animals tend to do) and now there is an impressive gang of truly free range poultry that roam the edge of the property and the neighboring yards. I am unsure how and why, but one elderly gentleman neighbor came by the day we discovered Sunrise and handed us this.
(I know it looks like he's going to drop the duck, the hold was gentl corrected right after the photo was snapped.)
Now deeper in love. "Oh Grandma we HAVE to keep him, PLEEEEEASE!" Who could say no? Sunrise went back to mom to stay warm for the cool night. And Chicken Little moved in with us.
(He spent the night in our bug box which allowed warmth and air while keeping him contained and safe from giant spiders and gaggles of geckos.)
Cheep-cheep-cheeping until the wee hours he finally settled in and slept soundly under his warm light.
The next day we started loving all over Chicken Little. Grandma and Grandpa built him his own play yard away from the big animals, we researched baby chick care, and basically spoiled the tar out of him.
But perhaps we loved on him a little too much. Or maybe it just wasn't meant to be. The power went out in the middle of the next night.  He was without his heat lamp, but come morning he seemed perky and fine, even following grandma around the kitchen while she made breakfast. Then out of the blue he lost his perk. He sagged. He flopped. The life was draining out of his little chicken body.

Enter boy, stage left. If he had walked in when the chick was already lifeless, it would have gone so much smoother. But he came in while grandma was sitting on the couch trying to keep the chick warm while he lay limp and struggling for breath. Watching Chicken Little suffer his last minutes on this planet, he went through all the stages...
Hope: Maybe we can lay it under the mama duck? Maybe he needs some food? Maybe we need to go find the wild chickens and put him back with his family?
Anger: Why didn't anyone keep him warm enough? He shouldn't have been alone at night, he should have been in bed with us! Who's fault is this?!
And sadness... little tears welling to his eyes, his innocent face unable to mask the feelings welling up inside. "Does it hurt? How will we know when he's gone? Will he remember me?" Just as he got a stiff upper lip about Chicken Little and was planning a grave stone, Grandma found Sunrise... mangled by a hungry mongoose.

I wanted to sweep it all away, but I knew I couldn't and shouldn't . Physically watching him grow, ache, experience, learn in such deep increments... I don't know if it was harder on him or on me. The sky was indeed falling.

Monday, February 01, 2010


It's the end of the road. Literally. Route 270 just ends. And for good reason. It's a 1000+ foot drop to the ocean blue. Nature drew the lines on this part of the map and there's no bridge or side road that can alter the path.
We stood contemplating the view. Oh what an amazing view. And squinting down the drop we noticed something. Small ant-like human figures scurrying down below. "I want to have an adventure down there mommy. Let's go!" And so we went (though not without a quick trip back to the farm for sturdier shoes and some water and snacks).

Walking sticks in hand and supplies on our back, we started down. My boy gripped my hand the whole descent, switching to the inside with each zig-zag switchback. Nervous but determined. Excited yet unsure. He carefully navigated each boulder and rock and drop off looking only at his feet.
Then the sea breeze brushed our cheeks and he let go of my hand and sprinted the last switchback down. Pololu Valley was under our feet and we were the ants that people peered down at from the overlook.

The black sand beach contrasted with the lush green cliff sides and we felt a million miles from everything.
We walked as far as we could up the valley (stopped by the flooding of the high tide).  Birds whooshing around our heads, strange calls from critters unknown, mongoose scurrying across our path, noni and papaya dropping from the trees. We felt so small in the grand scheme of things. But our hearts were swelling with the wonder of it all.

Then we looked up. 1000+ feet is all gravity on the way down. And now we had to use our own power to scramble back up to the top. This time we contemplated the tiny ants-people we could make our on the side of the cliff, trudging ever upward.
My biggest worry was that I would tire AND he would tire and we'd end up sleeping on the pile of rocks we were too pooped to scramble. Maybe all that beach play and hiking into the valley wasn't such a great idea? Then there was water and snacks. We only had a partial apple and about 2/3 of our water bottle left. But the way up was different. The boy bounded with confidence, leapt up the steep rocks like a mountain goat, and laughed off every stumble (each which sprouted a new grey hair for me, seeing your baby loose his footing on a 1000 foot narrow trail will take a few days off your life.) He carefully rationed water with me, tiny sips and a few bites of apple at each shady spot. (I should have remembered how well he did hiking the volcano when he was barely 4) Before we knew it, we were back at the top. Well ok, he was back at the top WAY before me. But with all that little boy energy he kept scrambling part way back down to me to tell me to hurry up, then ascent again, then back again... oh if we could bottle it and sell it!
We bid farewell to this special place, watching the humpback whales breach out in the briny blue. And headed back up the road for ice cream. I so love adventuring with this boy!
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