Monday, July 6, 2009

A Good Ride

I'm not quite sure how it's been over a month since I updated this, but I promise to try to do a better job from now on! 

This last month was filled with all sorts of fun, starting with a visit from Jason's parents, Paul and Sue, who stayed in town for a week at the resort down the road, about five minutes from the house. Turtle Bay is actually the only resort in the North shore "country," and the island has done a pretty good job keeping it that way thus far. I had kind of envisioned O'ahu looking much like Maui, which I had visited three times in my life before moving here, packed with hotels, restaurants, and shops on every street in most areas. Thankfully, if you're into that, there's Waikiki. Otherwise, we're blessed with a nice laid-back atmosphere that feels a world away from the big-city scene. 

Hanging around the resort, beach-hopping, and being wined and dined by the Benfits for a whole week made for quite a lovely "pretend vacation" for us! We got to do some fun tourist-y things like going to a big luau, checking out the Polynesian Cultural Center, and playing around downtown. Still not working, I spent most days with Jay's folks and their long-time good friends, Ron and Debby, vacationing with them. For those of you who don't know or may not have met them, you really could not ask for better parents of your significant other than Paul and Sue. They are just as sweet as can be and super fun to hang out with. And they have an incredible story to their relationship -- they have been together since they were fifteen years old! Paul told me that his very first date was when he took Sue out to an ice cream shop when they were just kids. All these years later, looking back and telling me about meeting and marrying his first love, he still had that unmistakable look of pride and affection in his eyes as he smiled and said of his marriage, "I wish the same for you two. It's been a good ride." Talk about a legacy to live up to! How beautiful...

One of the highlights of their visit was taking them out to the ranch for a ride on the beach! Now, we don't do the whole nose-to-tail, leisurely single-file stroll through the scenery. No, no -- unless you request not to, you can expect to be jetting through the sand at a full gallop, gripping onto that saddle with all your might when you ride with us! It's quite the experience. Paul and Sue did a great job keeping up, and we even got a couple of pictures along the way.

I've been having a ton of fun hanging around the ranch lately and I've even become somewhat of the go-to guinea pig for taking out the more difficult or less-trained horses when needed. I've been going riding with a lady who is a friend of the owner of the ranch (and most of the horses there), when she takes out the stud. "Naughty" is a fiery little Arabian stallion with more than a "mind" of his own, shall we say... His current lady-in-waiting is a sweet but spirited little mare, and the pair are extremely attached to one another, so when Naughty needs a bit of exercise, it's best that she comes with. The woman who rides him is one of the bravest riders I've ever seen! This horse has just some of the craziest antics that you have to put up with. He will stop dead in his tracks, from an all-out gallop, if he smells another horse's mark of territory on the ground, which he must poop over to prove his dominance, of course. It's a ritual filled with loud snorts, grunts, and cries along with fierce pawing at the ground, and it happens at least half a dozen times throughout the course of the ride. I also have been taking out a young filly, not quite 3 years old, who is starting her training. She spooks really easily and can be a bit difficult to handle when she's spinning around over backwards or leaping sideways to avoid a scary-looking coconut. Of course, even Novalee, five times her age, can relate... We are still slowly introducing the beach monster in small doses and have yet to ride out there. But the good news with her is that she's out of quarantine and can hopefully be pasture pals with another horse or two who might be able to convince her that it's not so bad!

Another big event from last month was our trip to Maui! One of Jay's cousins was visiting the island with some friends from Las Vegas (where he lives), who had access to a family beachfront condo where they were staying. We played on the beaches and even tried a little surfing -- and I sort of got up for the first time! One thing I learned while we were over there was that having a Hawaii ID comes with some pretty awesome perks. Many businesses that cater to tourists will offer kama'aina rates for residents which is often a really great deal! We rented a brand new 4-door Jeep wrangler for $15 a day! It was a fun weekend, and it was really nice to meet and get to know another member of Jay's huge extended family. (Sue is one of seven, and Paul is one of eight! Oh and Grandma? One of fourteen!)

Aside from our adventures, it's still been great getting a feel for living here and just doing everyday things. It almost feels normal now, looking out the window and seeing the ocean, or walking across the street to a beach. I even get cold at night sometimes when the temperature drops below 80 degrees! Other things don't seem as strange anymore either, like geckos crawling all over the walls and furniture, or people walking around town in bottom-baring swimsuits. Even the smell of marijuana seeping over from the next-door neighbors (only a thin wall separates us, and we share the lanai) barely registers as out of the ordinary! The surf culture, in this town especially (Hale'iwa is one of the top surfing destinations in the entire world), is quite different from anything I've ever known, and they're usually pretty big on the stuff. It's even being grown in pots on the porch. Don't worry though, neither Jay nor I have any interest in it! 

Well, we'll see how well I do from here on out, but I'm going to try to keep to a habit of at least one update a week... and maybe they won't take as long for me to finish!

A hui hou!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Adjusting to Paradise

This island is nothing short of a world entirely different from any I have ever lived in. From the day-to-day realities (I can go outside in a tank top and shorts after dark?!), home life (bug spray before bed is a NECESSITY), and community (what makes the front page news here is a trip, to say the least -- there has been a very controversial peacock killing updated on the news nightly), to everything in between that comprise island life has made for a unique adjustment period. But after a solid couple of weeks, I feel like I am starting to get the hang of it.

I've had a couple experiences that have taught me more about the local culture and I have learned a few things. I had the GREAT pleasure of attending a (very) local party to celebrate a friend of Jason's graduation, with all her family, relatives, and close friends. It was my first real introduction to true locals, which without an "in" can be a tricky situation when your a fresh-off-the-boat haole girl trying to call their island "home." There are definitely those who want nothing to do with the likes of me, and I can certainly empathize with them. The rich heritage of these islands has been completely trivialized and commercialized in many areas into a cash cow to be milked by mainland American corporations. While the tourism industry is necessary for Hawaii's economy to thrive (or survive, as the case may be currently), it still bears a nuisance for natives. As for those who move here, depleting limited local jobs and housing, without good reason, they stand to be dismissed by the people who were born into this land as undeserving of all it has to offer. There are about 4,000 homeless individuals on O'ahu alone, arguably for this very reason.

Anyway, don't get me wrong -- Hawaii isn't filled with nothing but a bunch of white-hating locals who want to see you off their island. Their culture is based on principles of respect, hospitality, and graciousness. There are plenty of wonderfully warm, welcoming people who are more than willing to embrace visitors or newcomers to their community. At the party, in fact, I found myself literally embraced, and then some! I quickly learned that it is customary to kiss (and be kissed by) the cheek of someone you meet if you are a woman, or if the person whom you are meeting is a woman. It is also customary to eat a TON of food! I wish I had pictures from that evening, but I didn't want to stand out any more than I already did by having a camera glued to my wrist, being the sole haole girl. The food is a mixture of influences from all the cultures that make up the "melting pot" heritage of the islands: Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Samoan, various other Polynesian nationalities as well as true native Hawaiian, of course, just to name a few.

While the heaps and piles of food loaded onto a buffet table were enough to satisfy a Jason-sized appetite (Jay ought to weigh at least 300 lbs for the amount of food that he puts away. It is decidedly "a gift."), I struggled to try as many different things as I could without leaving much left on my plate. The strangest local food I have seen yet was in a deli at a market down the road... I am still not sure what it's called exactly, or what it even is, but what it looks like is tiny bright red octopuses, with their little tentacles curled up, and all the little suction cups sprawled out to see! I think they are actually squid -- a squid salad. I have got to go back to get a picture, and perhaps a sample for curiosity's sake.

I didn't see any squid salad at the party though, and most everything I ate was delicious! Before we ate though, one of the family members gave a brief speech to congratulate the graduate, and then announced that they would be "saying grace." Suddenly a wave of shushing came over the crowd, with everyone rather loudly making a "SSSHHHP!" sound, mostly directed at the kids, and then the man began praying -- in HAWAIIAN! It was, to date, one of the coolest things I have experienced here. Head bowed, I whispered under my breath to Jay, "This--is--SO--AWESOME." There is nothing like hearing that language spoken. It is so regal, so graceful, yet powerful, and indescribably beautiful. It fits the land, the people, the feeling of the islands so perfectly. I left that night wishing so badly that I had even a drop of Hawaiian blood in me, if for no other reason than to warrant my growing obsession with this culture.

Aside from my introduction to "true" Hawaii, there have been a number of other things that I have learned to become accustomed to. I'll see how many I can come up with:

1.) Don't expect to go to the local lunch cafe after 2pm. Many Hawaiians especially here on the North shore like to be pau hana (finished with work) as early as possible, and who could blame them? I'd rather be hitting up the surf than catering to tourists all afternoon, too!

2.) You are never "alone" at the house. You may be greeted by a friendly lizard scurrying past your feet from under the couch, or have a giant flying roach soar past your head! You can also hear gangs of feral felines duking it out just outside your door. At sunrise, though, you hear the most beautiful choir of tropical birds singing in the trees. It's worth giving up a few minutes of sleep to be serenaded by them before drifting back off.

3.) Even the horse must adjust to island life. On the mainland, a horse's diet consists by-and-large of grass hay, of whatever variety you may choose. While many horseowners these days are complaining about the rising costs of hay, Hawaiians are forced to simply bypass buying bales and opt for bags of processed "hay cubes" and pellets. A bale of even the cheapest hay here costs about $30. I was buying hay last summer in Oregon at about $6 a bale. So dear Novalee must munch her meals out of a bucket each morning and evening, rather than a hay trough. OH, a horse must also become familiar with the roaring lake of terror that is the ocean. Nov's first introduction to the beach left her literally shaking in her boots, paralyzed in fear, refusing to go anywhere near that splashing, crashing, watery beast. We'll be making a more gradual introduction next time we attempt to traverse the territory of the scary sand monster.

4.) Waves are strong. I had enough of jealously looking out at surfers zipping along the shore and decided I was gonna drag my boy and his two boards out for a lesson. Well, what I got was a lesson in ocean dynamics, and the effects of a big 5 foot wave on a not-so-big 5 foot girl. (And yes, I realize that to people who actually know what they're doing, a 5 ft wave is not "big.") As that sucker came barreling toward me, I nervously tried paddling away from it, only to position myself directly in its path, and was suddenly shot like a bottle rocket as I gripped onto the board for dear life (quick thinking in that moment was, "THIS FLOATS! I'm not letting go!!") while it launched me all the way up onto the shore. A small scrape on my palm against the coarse sand made for a commendable battle wound and I decided that the swell at Sunset was a bit too much for me that day!

5.) Going to the grocery store to snag a few quick ingredients missing in your recipe generally means walking out the door at least $50 poorer. A normal trip to the store to get rations for the week or so can easily cost upwards of $200. Living thousands of miles away from most major exporters gets pretty spendy, but even the local fare is not much easier on your wallet. The milk I would be drinking on the mainland costs over $10 a gallon at "Foodland" (Hawaii likes very straightforward names for things. Another great example would be the public transportation line on the island, simply named "The Bus." Commuter ferry? "The Boat."). But on the plus side, the tap water here is naturally filtered by lava rock in underground aquifers and tastes great, so there's no need for the bottled stuff!

I'm sure I'll be coming up with dozens more of these, but I figure it would be best if I start keeping the posts at less-than-novel length. I'll hopefully have an update on my new job that I'll be starting this week most likely, and maybe even both Novalee's and my progress with overcoming our fears of those frightening ocean waves!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Life Shining Brilliantly"

Well, the day finally came. I dreamed about this ever since I first set foot on these islands when I was twelve years old. I never thought it would be feasible for me to actually live here, but my life has taken so many unexpectedly beautiful leaps and turns in a whirlwind that ended up gently laying me here in this paradise, and I couldn't be more grateful. There have been a number of seemingly less-desirable twists and turns in the past year or so that I know also led to this, for which I have also been taught to be grateful. Lesson learned? No matter how cliche and obnoxious it is for people to tell you that "everything happens for a reason," when things are falling apart in your life -- listen. Their words are from God. It is such an enormous truth that it bears repeating from an annoyingly abundant number of occasions and people, so that it just might stick -- and prove itself to be the truth in your life.

I knew before I made the big move that I would need to start a blog to update everyone on my new life here, and also have a camera on me at all times so as to not miss any photo-ops to be included in it. I have been successful with the camera so far. I don't think I have left the house once without it -- even at the house it is necessary! I missed them by about a week, but apparently every night at sunset in the winter months you can see whales jumping and playing by the shore and on the horizon... of which we have a ridiculous view. But I am even snapping pictures of the day-to-day excitements, such as giant green bugs in the laundry room, fun with the outdoor sand shower, and oversized weekend pancake extravaganzas. :)

Due to my infatuation with Hawaiian culture (both modern and traditional), I decided to name my little blog "Ola 'Alohi," which literally (loosely) translated means, "healthy vigor of life shining brilliant." That about sums up how I feel living here. It was a toss-up between that and "Puka Lani" (heavenly gate), or "Lele Hau'oli" (joyo
us leap, or move/disembark, fly). I know, the latter sounds pretty fitting, but it's a little harsher on the haole (non-native, white) tongue. The less we butcher it, the better. 

So for those of you who may not know the full story, allow me to give you the rundown of how I ended up in this incredible place. I moved to Portland late last year after having overstayed my welcome in my beloved Corvallis. When you're older than most of the senior (and even some super senior) Beavs, and not actually in school, it's kinda time to move on. There were other factors aside from that realization that led to my leaving, but those don't exactly make for a feel-good kind of story, so I'll leave out the more dreary details.

In Portland, I felt that I had finally found a good place for me to be and grow in this next phase of my life, in between finishing my degree and finding new direction for a career path. I had my dear "wifey," Chandra, easily accessible within a few miles of home, and I was surrounded by many other loving, wonderful people. As I became intermingled with Chandra's circle of friends, I discovered even more people to cherish and the most meaningful way that this came to be was through a bible study that Chandra and her good friend, Selena (who I also knew through Chan, but had always wanted to become closer with), started not long after I came to the area.

At one of the first times we met for the study, I met Selena's best friend (and technically cousin, by marriage), Lisa, who was immediately interested in my marital status with her little brother, "Jay", in mind! I figured if this guy was anything like Lisa -- so fun, joyful, and sweet, that he would be worth meeting! But after learning that he had been relocated to Hawaii for work, I didn't know if that would even happen, much less that any actual dating would be plausible. 

But at the efforts of Lisa and Selena, who were bound and determined to set us up, Jason and I did meet only about a couple weeks after we had heard so much about each other (and the necessity of us going on a date) from the two. Well as it turned out, the pair made themselves out to be quite the matchmakers, as Jay and I were immediately, well, matched! At the risk of making my story sound even more like a Danielle Steel novel... let's just say we've successfully made believers out of some in the much-fabled ideal of "love at first sight." (I know, I know... feel free to let out a good, "Awwww....!" even if you're being sarcastic. I won't be offended)

Even with a distance of 2,600 miles between us, we were insistent on being "together" from that point on. In between weekends of flying out to Portland were boxes of "treats" sent in the mail to tide us over, surprise flower deliveries to my door (how lucky am I?!) and countless hours on the phone. (I'll even admit, I bought him a webcam for the ultimate in geeked-out communication... it's funny what you'll do for a long-distance love). 

After some time, however, it became apparent that we might not be able to tolerate the separation in good spirits (getting stared at by travelers in PDX while I bawled uncontrollably each time I had to leave Jay at the gate began to get a little old...) and we started brainstorming. I have yet to finish my bachelors -- University of Hawaii has a psych program... the wheels kept turning. So we thought maybe after his next transfer (to a different construction job, same company) which would likely be on the island, we would aim for a move.

But, as they will sometimes do, things got sped up a bit. My job was becoming increasingly miserable due to unkept promises of security and compensation, as well as being bullied into working 11/12 (or more) hour days. What it essentially came down to was that I had been roped into a lease in an apartment that I would no longer be able to afford, and it was highly unlikely that I was going to find work to replace the job I had, especially in the area where I could afford boarding for the horse. Living in paradise, albeit a good deal sooner than expected, started to look like a pretty appealing alternative, needless to say.

After nearly losing that job, there then came the straw that broke the car's (-- I mean, camel's?) back... my (intermittently) trusty Civic got plowed into oblivion one afternoon, and by the grace of God, no one was hurt (not even the driver who got about a thousand pieces of shattered windshield flying at her head). The man who rear-ended me was going at least 30 mph, as estimated by the police -- more than enough to ruin the tin can of a Civ. As I watched the old thing towed away, along with about 8 years' worth of pseudo-fond memories crunched and scrunched inside, I gave him a pat and realized at the same time that I knew I would never again stare out those purple-tinted windows, that I was possibly looking at my ticket out...

I was right. Yet again by God's goodness, we were incredibly blessed by the accident and it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We got way more money from insurance than we would have trying to sell the thing in this economy, not to mention the work that would have needed to be put into it (the car actually was having trouble starting, which began a few weeks beforehand). Because it would have been quite difficult to buy another car with that money, for only a few months, then turn around and try to sell it, we knew we were looking at needing to arrange the move -- fast. I wouldn't be able to work for much longer without transportation (not to mention the daily headache of the job itself). 

My 1,200-pound bit of precious cargo, as it were, was obviously the biggest hurdle. But miraculously, even that was a smooth transition! We made arrangements for the horse to be shipped out on a barge out of Oakland to Honolulu. Everything about her move, from the transportation to Cali, to the ship, to her island home on the ranch here was nothing short of a gift from God. I truly cannot believe how blessed I am to be able to have her. It means the world to me. 

Less than 3 weeks after the accident, I had a one-way ticket in hand to Honolulu. I hadn't been on a plane in about six years, so it was that much more of an exciting experience for me. I felt the way comedian Louis CK describes we ought to appreciate the miracle of human flight in this clip from his appearance on Conan. It was slightly embarrassing the way that I could not help but grin, giggle, and gasp uncontrollably on the flight. I took literally dozens of pictures before even setting foot on the island!
Even while still thousands of miles away for that matter! 

I just couldn't believe how quickly we were SO high up in the sky... and then about a minute later looking down at the Washington coast, when I realized that was the last time I would actually be able to look down and see anything awesome for about 5 1/2 hours.

But I was wrong, you look down and see CLOUDS.....
beneath you!! 

Needless to say, I was entertained, what with the cloud viewing, and the free juice and treats, plus the little Hawaiian channel on the TV that showed all the cool things people can do when they visit the islands. All I could think about was how I wouldn't have to hurry up and see all of those things and plan my days so that I wouldn't miss out on anything, because I didn't even have a ticket back to the mainland. I didn't even know the next time I'd be coming back. That was kind of a hard-hitting realization, but it didn't really freak me out. Throughout the whole experience I've felt nothing but peace (and excitement, of course) about this move. And then, I saw it.
My island!
Looking down at all that turquoise water, I just wanted to jump right in!!

Then -- thunk!

--we touched down and all I wanted to do was RUN off the plane to find Jay. 
So, I scurried off and jumped onto a little shuttle bus to take me to the baggage claim (which was easier said than done... airports confuse me, a lot). But, I found him! Lei in hand... (sweet, huh?!) I hadn't seen him in 3 1/2 weeks and immediately tackled him.

We jumped in the car (which literally took my breath away when I realized that was what I was going to be driving... forgive me for bragging a bit here, but it's a freaking BMW! If you ever met the Civ, then maybe you can understand the stark contrast between the two. Just trying to give an idea of the shock I was in...) and were off for a day at the beach!

I was very happy with my lei. :)
I don't think I have ever smiled so much as we drove through the island... There were palm trees and beautiful things everywhere...where I now LIVED! We stopped at a lookout (not sure exactly where this was) where I got my first real glimpse of the incredible scenery you can find here.

We then stopped for some ice and a bite to eat from a 7-11, where they have crazy Hawaiian food instead of hot dogs and burritos. 

looked like a little bread roll, but inside was tasty (strangely colored) pork! It's called a "manapua." We were going to have spam sushi, but Jay already had eaten some earlier that day (haha!). 
And then, I saw my very first beach!

It was like a fantasy. I literally could not believe my eyes, it felt so surreal, the beauty of it all.

We had our little cooler of Maui-brewed beers, beach bags and towels, and set up camp. Just being able to lay there actually physically next to him is heaven enough (when you're in
that long-of-a-distance-relationship as we were, you come to really appreciate such things), but there on that warm, sunny beach, on an island that we wouldn't have to leave, that people come all over the world just to visit, was indescribable. I kept thinking about how I suddenly didn't have anything on my little countdown-calendar to look forward to. This was it! I was done waiting. 

After a good swim (I'd forgotten that the ocean doesn't necessarily have to induce numbing pain to your limbs... I still love you, Oregon coast), we were off for our next adventure -- a local restaurant off the side of the highway up to the North shore. 

We were accompanied by various animal friends! A parrot, bunny, and chicken, right at our table! (There are wild chickens absolutely everywhere on the island.) We ate shrimp sandwiches (I later learned that there are TONS of shrimp farms around the Kahuku area and the little sea treats are not in short supply... You know how there are all those little Mexican taco trucks on the sides of roads in the Northwest? Well here, there are shrimp trucks, and they are everywhere. I was immediately reminded of "Bubba," of Forrest Gump fame, and all the ways he described how you could enjoy them... and began to get really excited that I was in shrimp paradise!), and we even had a fresh coconut for dessert! How Hawaii is that?!

We stopped to visit the ranch where Novalee would be coming to later that week, and boy was I blown away. I'll have pictures and stories about the new horse home in my next post. 

As it was getting close to sunset, we hurried home to watch it from the back porch, or lanai, as it's called here, and I couldn't believe how lucky we were to have such a good view! You can see the entire horizon of the ocean, and waves crashing near the beach. It is incredible. I looked out over the sea and tried to wrap my mind around what was in front of me. An answered prayer, a dream come true, an entirely new day to come. I slept so peacefully that night.