Surfing Safari

On Saturday, I did something totally awesome.

No, not really.  First of all, that’s a dude. Get your eyes checked. Secondly, if I tried to do that, I would break in half. But I did take my first surfing lesson, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

The moms’ workout group I belong to organized a group rate surfing class with Hawaiian Fire. Ladies and gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, wrap your heads around that: surf instructors who are also firemen. Things were getting a little hot under the rash guard, if you know what I mean AND I THINK YOU DO.

First was an on-land lesson in form. Here I’m demonstrating the dorkiest way to keep your face from getting whitewashed if you’re paddling into a cresting wave–assume partial cobra position and let it flow under you. This is also how to get up–get into this position, and in one fluid move, pop up so that your feet are parallel to each other and at right angles to the midline of the board.  If you look at your feet or lock your knees, you’re going ass over teakettle.  (Not shown: me flipping the instructor the Buddy Christ after he congratulated being able to pop into position.)

Tom captured that shot moments before I went shoulders-first into the water, right above a reef.  I locked my legs, you see.  The instructor later said “Well…that was a nice flip, at least!”  You’ll also note that these waves are, at most, about two feet.  So my dreams of conquering the elements and subjugating the wild ocean under my board? Not so much:

It’s all I’ve got.

What really surprised me, and perhaps this is due to the size of the waves, was the amount of stability.  The board was very long and wide, and thus very forgiving of blunders.  I could correct my feet rather easily and found that weight-shifting didn’t automatically equal a dump into the ocean.  I was able to ride in a few waves this way in a non-dorky, non-embarrassing fashion.

By the hammer of Thor, look at me go!  I have conquered the SMALLEST WAVE EVER.

It surprised me how well the boards worked with the waves; I usually felt pretty stable.  What killed me was the paddling and the cobra-ing.  I now understand EXACTLY why hardcore surfers do not have an ounce of body fat.  It was the best arm workout I’ve done in my entire life, and my abs are still screaming today.  Once up on the board, you can see my thighs are really low in order to absorb shock and stay stable, and that can get tiring too.  It’s a phenomenal workout, to say nothing of the fact that even with the strongest, best sunscreen in my arsenal the backs of my legs are still medium-rare toasty.

Jokes about the size of the waves and the size of the board notwithstanding, I am so proud of myself.  I feel like I did something athletic very well for my first time, and that’s not a feeling I’m familiar with. Gotta start somewhere, right? It was exactly the way I remember skiing first thing in the morning right after a 1″ dusting of snow: refreshing, head-clearing…really, just the purest kind of joy.  And now I can say something that few people can: I have surfed in Hawaii.

I can’t wait to do it again.

Countdown

In four days, we will be in Seattle.  A week from today, Vancouver.  And a week from Monday, back in Hawaii after a grueling-but-awesome five and a half month runaround.

I swear to you, Internet, I am going to sleep through the rest of August. We’re not even going to go to the other side of the island. And if I find a grocery delivery on-island, we’re not going to even leave the house. My brain is so deep-fried tired that I can’t bring myself to sit down and get into the routine, and as such my writing has gone stagnant for the moment. To not have a regular creative outlet is horrible for me and for Maggie too; I have a billion product ideas for Examiner, god knows I have a LOT I could be pitching to family travel websites, and in the background percolating in my head are a bunch of ideas for trying to figure out a way for us to homeschool Maggie and the as-yet-unconceived 2.0. But the words aren’t quite gelling together right now.

[Side note on having another child. Me: "I think I'm ready for another, Maggie's old enough, we have a name we agree on, it's time." Tom: "Well, see if you can wait until we're in the same state." ...Twit.]

I’ve been reading so much on the Montessori and Waldorf and unschooling educational models and equal amounts on the general failure of a lot of public schools and now I am obsessed with creating a curriculum for our kids at home. This is INSANE, people. I’m already going a little crazy at home, but so far my experience is that I’m better at being a mom than I have ever been at anything else. Which…yeah. I’m not even saying I’m such a great parent, but I feel best about myself when I think I’m doing right by my kid. So why not see if we can find a way to run with it?

This is also a good way to distract myself from not thinking about how busy our fall is going to be. We’re signing up for Stroller Strides again once I get my house back together, toddler Spanish on Saturdays and possibly family music lessons on Sundays, baby yoga on Mondays and then babywearing and LLL once a month. I am determined to bust out of my antisocial grumpy shell and give Maggie some socialization (and me too).  I will also secretly be trolling for trustworthy types to babysit my kid so Tom and I can go see a movie and eat food that we don’t have to cut into teeny pieces to share. For my own sanity, I’m looking at starting Bikram once a week to get out of the house sans Maggie.  I’m going to a wedding in Vermont this fall (by MYSELF, holy shit) and we are taking a big trip in late October/early November.  Oh, and sometime between December and March…we’re moving and leaving Hawaii forever. And we don’t know when we’ll move, to where or for how long.

So you can see why I am spending my free time scanning Etsy for pretty Waldorf toys and, you know, not writing or thinking about a damn thing.

2010 has been a total kick in the junk for tons of our friends and comparatively, I can’t complain. We’ve only been mildly inconvenienced at best. But it has been an endurance marathon and I nearly burst into tears last Sunday flying from Manchester, NH back to Tampa when I realized I’d have to get Maggie to Seattle by myself, with a stopover in Denver and at a lousy time of the day for her schedule. It’s just.one.more.time. I can do it. But I’ve been counting down the days until I don’t have to do this alone anymore. Real single parents: a hug, a tip of my hat, and a standing offer of free babysitting to you. This is the hardest grind I’ve ever gone through and I only have one child and a vast network of family support.

Most importantly: four more days until Maggie can see her Daddy and I can see my favorite person in the world. It’s going to be awesome.

Breath Held

I wrote this earlier today: “Eerie: the sound of 900,000 people holding their breath.”

The tsunami warning ended up amounting to nothing at all, thankfully, but that was a hell of a way to wake up. I had roughly 20 voicemails/texts awaiting me when I awoke at 6am; I thought the baby was up because she was hungry but now I think she woke up with the town’s emergency sirens. Those rang out every hour until the late morning. The live-cam on Waikiki showed that the water had retreated out past the sand bar and reef and we got really worried.

A lot of our friends on the coast were evacuated and given doomsday information; one wrote that their house was dead in the path of the inundation area and would have been completely wrecked had there been flooding. Everyone we know who was evacuated was evacuated sometime between 4am and 6am; they got back home mid-afternoon.

It was creepy, how still the town was. Everything was so quiet and all the reports from the road were dead. Everything had been cleared and evacuated. There were people tailgating in our town’s center waiting to go home and picnicking on the side of parking lots, waiting to know if we were going to be Southeast Asia or an overreaction. Counting the other islands, it was a million people holding their breath, the sound of a silence as heavy as a lead apron.

My main concern was the airport. Would Tom get back from New Zealand? (He emailed moments ago, when he discovered the free internet at Sydney but I had no way whatsoever to contact him.) If he was delayed in Sydney, would I still be able to fly out to DC on Monday? Making a decision that should surprise no one who knows me, I decided come hell or literal high water, I was going to get Maggie and me back to the mainland and I didn’t care how or what I had to do, but I was going to get us on a plane to DC. And furthermore, I was going to finish my pre-packing to-do list and I would create a washboard out of my wooden IKEA wine rack and hand-wash my underthings in the tub if I had to. Mother-fuck the tsunami; a tidal wave wasn’t going to keep me from fresh socks.

You totally want to be in a natural disaster with me. Anticipating major power outages (which didn’t occur), I busted out as much laundry as I could, filled all our water bottles and a few jugs of water and filled the tub in case we needed extra cooking/flushing/wash water. I also prepared several days worth of ready-to-go meals for Maggie and popped them in the fridge. This took all of an hour, then I put on coffee for any houseguests coming up to the central plateau for a tsunami evac party. The only problem was that I fell asleep before the first warnings were issued last night, then the baby was napping and I had so much laundry to do that I had no time to get beer for guests. But it all worked out okay.

Thankfully it was just a fantastic fire drill and aside from Maui losing their water for a while, there was no damage or injuries. But man, it was scary for a while. Knowing I had no way to contact my husband, that I would need to pull this together on my own. Knowing my friends’ homes might be in very real danger. Hawaii’s my home, the only place I could love more is Maine, and I was scared it would be hurt.

But it’s okay, no waves and no harm, and I learned a lot about figuring things out on my own. One of the big overarching fears in my life as a (temporary, contingent upon economy) stay-at-home mom is “What happens if something happens to Tom?” Can my skills support my daughter? Will I be able to manage our finances well enough to give our daughter everything she deserves? Will I be able to see clearly enough in an emergency to see what needs to be done and do it in an efficient manner?

Today I realized I can do it. In a short-term crisis and over the long haul, I can find the will and the way to take care of this family on my own. And once I realized that, I finally could let out my breath.

"Lost" on Waikiki

Official business: Google Analytics tell me that at least one of you got here by Googling “Sandy Cheeks Naked Pregnant.” Sorry to disappoint! Wait. I’m not sorry AT ALL. (All of my pregnancy photos were tasteful, I will have you know.)

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Anyone who lives on Oahu knows: there is a definite chance you will see a star from “Lost.”

Continuing yesterday’s I Heart Hawaii theme, on Saturday we went to the “Lost” season 6 premiere. This is the final season, so it was a huge deal and a last chance to get a glimpse of a lot of the stars. I’ve heard every rumor from “filming has wrapped” to “they’re still filming” to “everything is wrapped but the finale.” Given the uncertainty we decided to go for it and check it out.

Now, back in the day, I half-assed an attempt at a press access pass on a weak pretense and got into the VIP room at a fashion show, then in the front row of the photographer’s box at the end of the runway.

Today…is no longer that day. I didn’t even attempt to scam my way into a press pass this time around, but I did angle into a good position at the “red carpet” entrance. (The red carpet being a small, dirty, and frayed scrap about 15 feet long. Hey, it’s a recession, homes.)

Some cast members didn’t spend any time with the fans, and some spent a little before ducking away, but Jorge Garcia, Evangeline Lilly, Nestor Campbell, and Terry O’Quinn did autographs, hugged babies, and came back for multiple rounds of fan love.

Hell, Jorge Garcia HUGGED ME, he’s officially the nicest guy in the world, and a mom at Stroller Strides said Evangeline Lilly played with her baby. Those guys are all about the love for the little people.

I had no interest in “Lost” until we arrived in Oahu, and by then we were a few months from the start of Season 5. Tom looooved it, and we owned all the DVDs, but I had never watched them. Then before I knew anyone here, he went away on a month of business trips and left me to my own devices, and I got hooked.

Even someone who hates living here would have to agree: you couldn’t do “Lost” without Hawaii. Specifically, you couldn’t do it without Oahu. From Honolulu up to the astonishing Kualoa Ranch, from the Byodo-in Temple to Macky’s and the Sugar Mill, down through the suburbs of Mililani Mauka to the far beaches of Waianae, “Lost” IS Oahu.

The island is so varied and diverse that it has convincingly played the part of Los Angeles, Sydney, Seoul, Nigeria, London, Cambridge University, the Australian Outback, a Californian commune, and oh yes–a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific. Watching the first season, before they moved the shooting location of the survivor beach camp from Dillingham to another beach, we enjoyed yelling “Dude! There’s an air strip 50 yards behind you! Mind the skydivers!” at the TV.

It is a certainty that I would not have cared much about “Lost” if I hadn’t lived on Oahu. I was studying abroad in Spain for the first half of its first season, and thus missed a huge part of the show’s foundation and never cared enough to catch up. The DVDs are a perfect visual capsule of our time in Hawaii, the best way to remember living here right at the crest of the “Lost” fan-wave. In a way, the show is a love letter to Oahu, and I’m all over that right now.

I Heart Hawaii

The clock is officially counting down on our time in Hawaii: Tom did not re-up for another 3-year tour of Hawaii, and our “move it or lose it” date is January 3, 2011. We can get a 90-day extension on that if we absolutely need one, but doing so is really discouraged. I find that I’m a lot sadder about this than I thought I would be. It took a year and a half or so to really start to feel like I *knew* Oahu; then I had a baby and all hell broke loose. Now we have friends, favorite beaches, I am Stroller-Striding up a storm…our lives are here. Good ones, too. Maggie is sun-blonde and has tan lines on her feet where her fat rolls hide her skin; we get outside and walk around every day. We go to the beach or the city on the weekends, and leave the windows open to 80-degree days every afternoon and night.

Sadly, life here isn’t economically sustainable. I’ll spare you the boring details but some benefit reconfiguration is making it even more expensive to live out here–not on one income, anyway, and getting a job that covers daycare is an iffy prospect. And public schools are a joke. So, it’s with a heavy heart that we have to leave.

Oh, I will miss Hawaii. Truly. There is so much going wrong in this state, that is undeniable, but so much is right too. We have beautiful community parks, delicious food (poke, anyone?), and wonderful small-town closeness. There are spots on this island that are so beautiful that they require silence to appreciate. I love this rock. We have friends who haaaaate it here, and I really don’t understand why. It isn’t perfect, but is anywhere? If it weren’t for the schools and money we (okay, I, Tom has reasons of his own for not liking Hawaii as much that will remain his business) would gladly stay.

So the next bit of 2010 is going to be all about enjoying Hawaii. I’ll be going on a long trip to the East Coast in March, but when we get back in August it’s going to be beaches, hikes, sushi, and lots of it.

I am really, really going to miss it here.

Strolling

Recently I decided for Maggie’s sake and my own that she needed a mother who could socialize. By nature, I’m an observer and it is hard for me to make friends because I feel awkward insinuating myself into a conversation. Since most of my friends here have day jobs, there has been many an afternoon where I flood Tom under a torrent of useless info (most of which has been gleaned from Facebook) before he can so much as change out of his work pants. Not to mention the little sprout has no other sproutlettes in her life to drool on; they’re all a few years older.

In my pursuit of free/cheap diversions, I’ve hit a varied mix. Mom and Baby Yoga was great: weekly, sliding pay scale, good workout, other babies. Then it went from weekly to monthly. La Leche League has been hit/miss. The second meeting was fun, I plan to go again, but the first meeting discussed breastfeeding support and difficulty. While I have nothing but compassion for women having trouble breastfeeding, being in a room full of lactating and weeping estrogen inspires in me an intense desire to be elsewhere. A lot of my closest friends have been male and my best girlfriends have always been the sort who would sooner funnel a beer than order a Cosmo. I’m not great at making friends with dudes but I’m way better than with women; alas, what I need are MommyFriends.

There have been many times in life motherhood where I have approached the entire subject as an anthropologist approaches a tribe. Example: today was my first day at Stroller Strides, which is awesomely affordable and perfect for what I want (socialization, a bit of fresh air, other babies to play with). The first thing I noticed was the pervasive presence of B.O.B. Most of the hardcore exercisers had one, some of them were doubles. I hope they didn’t think I was gawking at their stroller choice; I was simply trying to figure out how, were I to get one, I would ever fit it in my car. I’m pretty sure they’re wider than the Fit. Further research indicates that they make a model specifically for Stroller Strides that comes with the elastic bands and a water bottle. Since Maggie is primarily worn on my body, our umbrella stroller doesn’t have so much as a cup holder.

The only drawback of Stroller Strides is the whole public exercise thing, and I’m sure the Japanese baseball players were getting a kick out of the phalanx of jogging strollers chugging along. But I desperately need to get into shape; Maggie also deserves a mom who’s well-socialized and energetic. So after a morning with the new tribe, I decided to get a membership.

Let’s be honest: it will be a cold day in hell before I get a jogging stroller because seriously, where would I put it? It’s the dinner table or a jogging stroller, and I like to eat off a table like a real person instead of off my lap like a freshman eating Easy Mac. But joining full-time can only help my cause, and there are tons of benefits. If it weren’t for the 8:45 start time, which breaks my “no commitments before 11am, because that’s Mommy’s Sleepy Time” rule, it would be completely perfect. It meets three times a week at a location less than five miles away, and there’s another location available so I could go all five days a week if I wanted (I don’t, but I could).

In short, I’ll be exercising and socializing regularly with ladies. I am pretty sure this is what is meant by “Growing As A Person.”

For Gavin

They say that there are no atheists in foxholes. To wit, in times of extreme fear, one is persuaded to believe in a higher power. To believe in the impossible. To ask for a miracle.

For a parent, the foxhole always contains our babies. As my relationship with Maggie grew, I understood that I would do anything for her. One day I read the question “What would you do for your children?” I very calmly and dispassionately thought, without hesitation, “I would do anything for her.” My organs, my body, every penny I have, my own life. I would happily die if I thought it meant she would live.

Fortunately for Natalie Norton, she does not suffer the same waffling belief that I do. She is as devout as I am questioning. I had the pleasure of meeting Natalie last year for a photo workshop and while we aren’t close, she is someone whom I would have liked to become better friends with during our time in Hawaii. Her work is amazing; she complimented a surfing photo I took last month and I nearly popped with joy.

But she is in the foxhole tonight. Her son Gavin is deeply, gravely ill with RSV complicated by whooping cough, pneumonia, and a blood infection. I follow her on Twitter and have been reading the updates on Gavin for the last week. He is not even three months old, too young to have received the pertussis vaccine that might have spared him the further complications before he was exposed to the disease; he is fighting for his life in the PICU thousands of miles from home.

The Norton family’s faith is amazing to behold, even to an avowed humanist/agnostic like me. And I know that if she or her husband could, they would trade places with Gavin in a microsecond. But since they can’t, they draw peace from their belief that Jesus has done for them what they would do for Gavin. They have asked their social media network for prayers, for an outpouring of faith for their son. So for them, I’ll make a very rare request: pray. To whatever deity you recognize, to your spirit guide or Jesus or Buddha, or just think positive thoughts.

In Natalie’s own words: Gavin needs a miracle to live. I am unwise in the ways of the universe and full of doubt. But this time, I am willing to believe that there is a miracle out there with his name on it. Let’s get him there.

And to the Norton family: from a mother whose heart is breaking reading about another family’s crisis, from a mother who would gladly take her daughter’s place in the isolette if she could, my thoughts are with you.

Solstice

Two days ago we celebrated the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. We’ve been talking about transitioning from a Christmas-celebrating household to making Solstice the main event. Neither of us is attached to a Judeo-Christian religion, but we both deeply respect nature and its rhythms and cycles. What I envision is celebrating Solstice with a feast and opening presents, and saving gifts from grandparents and other Christmas-celebrating relatives for Christmas day. A lot of the customs are the same: red and green, evergreen and holly and mistletoe, and putting up a tree to celebrate the return of the Sun and its importance to the Earth.

So we started small this year with Maggie opening a present from us.

She enjoyed the paper immensely.

And used her brand new teeth to help shred it.

But in the end she found her Boomerings quite tasty indeed. We’ll use them to help teach Maggie counting and color concepts but in the meantime they make a delicious rattle.

Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas to all!

Oh brother…

The other day I was checking out of the store (baby in carrier to witness my offensive language) when I told the clerk “Happy holidays!” I like to be cheerful this time of year, it makes me feel nice. Same reason I cash a few twenties into singles so I can hit every Salvation Army bucket I see ringing the bell outside of stores.

Imagine my surprise when the clerk replied “You mean, ‘Merry Christmas.'”

I was totally astonished. (I can only assume this store (not naming names) has no official greeting policy.) “You’ve got to be kidding me. No, ma’am, I meant ‘Happy holidays.'”

“You’re removing the real reason for the season.” I swear to you, she said this to me with a straight face. Not only is she obnoxious, but she’s a cliche as well.

“I meant ‘Happy Holidays’ and you know what?” Now I was getting angry. “If you can’t accept a well-intended message of goodwill in a gracious manner, whatever its form, you can kiss the fattest part of my holly jolly ass.”

Stunned silence. The baby cooed. I left.

Can you believe it? What an irritating and obnoxious thing to do. When I say “Happy holidays!” I mean exactly that. I mean it as an actual wish that happiness be granted upon you and yours from Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s Day. That you enjoy the warmth of family, friends, office party eggnog, inappropriate mistletoe snogging, monkey bread (if you’re my family), the soft flicker of candlelight on the walls, and the making of memories and traditions with your dearest. It has zero to do with whether or not you put up a Christmas tree, menorah, Festivus pole, or whatever.

If someone wants to wish me a Merry Christmas, I find that lovely. I accept your tiding, no matter how perfunctory, and return it to you. If someone wants to “correct” me if I DON’T wish them a Merry Christmas, I’m going to curse his or her manners front of the baby and it will be that person’s fault that my baby heard the word “ass.”

Alas, I see that there’s a growing community of “correctors” afoot: http://standforchristmas.com/pages/home

No, really. REALLY. This is what we’ve come to: labeling stores “Christmas Friendly” or “Christmas Offensive” and “correcting” total strangers who are just trying to send a message of goodwill.

What an insane time in which we live.

ETA: I see that many of the comments indicate displeasure that the stores “only seem interested in making money and not the real spirit of Christmas.” Oh for…look. Based on demographics of Focus on the Family’s (site sponsor) key audience, we can assume several of these people are anti-Obama conservatives. You can believe Obama is a socialist and will ruin our economy or you can get upset over stores making money (AKA capitalism) but you cannot do both because I will call you mean, mean things, “idiot” chief among them.

Reef Hawaiian Pro

A while back I won a gift certificate for a camera lens rental shop and I promised myself that I would rent a crazy telephoto and hit a surf competition. Problem is, surf competitions run the best few days out of a range, so it’s hard to book a lens in advance because you can’t be certain that the surf will cooperate. Last night I caught a lucky break: the Reef Hawaiian Pro portion of the Vans Triple Crown announced that the surfers would be competing today, which left enough time for me to reserve the lens online.

It was a crazy morning. Maggie and I left at 8, which is an hour before we’re usually up (I know, but she goes to bed late so we sleep in) and booked it down to east Honolulu, got the lens, and then hauled back up to the North Shore. We got to Ali’i around 10:30 and parking wasn’t the nightmare scenario I had expected, thank god, so we were settled on the sand around 11am.


Shooting with a Canon 100-400mm L-series lens is intense. It is seriously as long as my forearm and twice as thick. (Okay, maybe 1.5 times as thick. I’m kinda beefy.) Maggie busied herself with the lens cap and her favorite cooking utensils–she finds the slotted spoon fascinating–and I set about photographing.


Dudes. This was SO WORTH the trip to Honolulu, having to haul the stroller over sand by myself, and drinking the promotional RockStar energy drink because it was free. If anyone is curious, it tasted like Yellow #5, citrus, and despair. I was there for three hours but only photographed about half that time. The rest of it was spent feeding, bouncing, and playing with Maggie. She was as good as could be.


If you have a chance to see a pro surf competition, do it.

Actually, you should always do things you haven’t done before, provided they’ll make “Hey that was awesome!” stories and not “Hey we need to call the paramedics!” stories. Unless you can combine the two. Anyway.

These folks are serious athletes–they work with and against thousands of tons of water, cover huge distances and stay up under incredible wave pressure. It’s one of the coolest and best things I’ve seen since I got here. The Banzai Pipeline is the really famous one, but given the parking situation and how much baby stuff and gear I had I’m glad I chose to shoot Reef. There were more parking spots, more grass on which to push the stroller and some shaded picnic tables for us to hang out during the hot mid-day, and some semblance of a safe sidewalk–hard to find up at Sunset. When Tom can come with me we’ll do Banzai, but for just me and the baby Ali’i was a lot easier.


I mean really–that’s just NEAT.