Friday, April 11, 2014

I've done the unthinkable

Despite all the babbling already going on in the blog-o-sphere. . . and despite the fact that some days I forego brushing my teeth and combing my hair because there's too much to do (the "brushing my teeth" is a slight exaggeration -- I have very good dental hygiene). . . and despite the fact that I already have about 1,200 images on my cell phone because my point-and-shoot and iPhoto are being butts -- I have started another blog.

You can catch it at Because I Said So Kitchen.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Squishy shoes

An open letter to friends, family, co-workers and random strangers:

Let's cut to the chase: Yes, I know my Dansko shoes squished like dead. herring. on. the. floor. of. a. commercial. fishing. boat. ALL. WINTER. LONG.
The cacophonous culprits
I saw your doomed attempts to avert your eyes from said shoes -- AND carry on a normal conversation -- each time I squished toward the microwave in the break room. And, when the relative peace of the cereal aisle was shattered by the rubbery sound of walking in mush on steroids, no Super Saver offer on earth could mask the the horror of the deafening Danskos.

Does it count that they are some of the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned? Or that I've gotten more my share of compliments on how jaunty they look? (Compliments, as you might have already guessed, generally issued while I am seated.) And that they kept my tootsies warm and dry throughout another interminable winter?

I didn't think so.

So all right, already. I apologize for my jaunty, squishy shoes. They are being retired as the days become longer, there's a hint of warmth in the sun and the robins get punch drunk on fermented ash berries.

Ah, April. May it be a quieter month for all of us. And the thought of dead fish become yet a distant, fleeting memory of our collective past.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Searching for Oprah

Maui isn't  all about beaches and cemeteries, people. Yeah, wrap your  head around THAT one.

There's the Up Country. Oprah's got a place up there. And we found it. But she wasn't there.

Call me, girl friend!

Going Up Country while on Maui is probably one of the best things you can do during your visit to the island. First and foremost, it's stunningly different. Which, on an island, is something to be said. And which, since it's Maui, is impressive because pretty much everything is stunningly something.

The Up Country is where many of Maui's first ranching and farming enterprises began -- in the 1850s and earlier. It is also gateway to the island's volcanic crater Haleakala (which everyone assured me would not pop during my vacation). You'll find a couple of interesting sub-populations of tourists with a strange obsession with Haleakala: (1) Bicyclists who take a lifetime peddling up the mountain and 30 minutes going down and (2) people who get up at 2 a.m., pile into charter buses and go see the sunrise from the crater.


Agrarian Maui trivia tidbit: Capt. George Vancouver gave King Kamehameha I a gaggle of long-horn cattle back in the 1790s who thrived up country -- along with Kula tomatoes, strawberries and other fresh produce we snarfed throughout the week.  Imagine generations of volcanic ash mixing it up with the island's stunning red clay soil and warm, moist climate. The lush pasture land and gardens made me want to weep. As did the tomatoes and strawberries, which actually tasted like tomatoes and strawberries as opposed to the red paste we call fruit on the Mainland this time of year.

Where there are cows, there are cowboys. On Maui, they're
called paniolos. And there is a cowboy town -- Makawao.

But I digress.

The drive is half the adventure of going Up Country. From the Kapalua-Kaanpali-Lahaina part of the island where we staying, we headed south (?), then turned east (?) heading inland away from the beaches. For the most part, we cruised along two-lane roads flanked by endless fields of sugar cane.

That is, until we hit Pulehu Road (?) and began our ascent into yet another island take on paradise. The vistas were stunning, looking out over the entire island and across to Lanai and the boomerang-shaped midget island of Molokini.

Our first stop was a tiny community with the impossibly delightful name of Ulupalakua -- home to Maui's Winery. It was 5 o'clock somewhere so, of course, we did a tasting. The merlot and chard were, um, serviceable -- but the sparkling pineapple wine, we decided, might find an appropriate place at brunch. . .  with an elderly great aunt.

And, oh, the tasting room was a former guest cottage for King David Kalakaua, aka The Merrie Monarch, back in the 1870s. (The moniker didn't do him much good because he was essentially ousted by Hawaii's missionaries cum business tycoons in a pretty epic American land grab called the annexation of Hawaii).

Across the road is a lovely general store where some of us made new friends

and enjoyed an island confection known as Shaka Pops. I passed on the pop -- as I was wearing a white T-shirt, which is always an invitation for disaster when eating things that are frozen on a stick. I did have a taste, though -- delicious.

We cruised the former tuberculosis-sanitarium-now-Kula Hospital (couldn't decide if it was astonishingly beautiful or a worthy location candidate for a sequel to "The Shining") and then headed out to find Oprah's plantation. Yes. Plantation.

She lives down an eye-popping country road. Here's the view from her front yard. Basically on the scale of the state of Rhode Island.

Hi, Oprah! Note how the color of her bodice cleverly matches the local flora.
Note to self.

Trust me, you work up a fair appetite gawking at celebrities' homes so off we went to the Sandalwoods Cafe and Inn. The owner looked faintly surprised to see us when we strolled in -- perhaps because there were only four people in the restaurant (no doubt, the rest were furiously peddling their way up to Haleakala) -- but I'm here to tell you the Kalua pork was sensational. He smokes it himself everyday behind the cafe.

And, if you ever get a hankerin' for staying in an Swiss chalet on Maui, this is the place for you.

Now on to Kula Botanical Garden. . .

This family-owned establishment is a pleasantly manageable introduction to Maui's overall plant population, which frequently seems to want to impale or eat you.

Feed me, Seymour.
And in keeping with our botanical theme, our last stop was Ali'i Kula Lavender Gardens, where my cellphone battery conveniently died, taking with it any photographic capabilities. Let's just say, with 45 different types of lavender, plus numerous other island plants, the place packs a serious olfactory wallop. (And I SWEAR when I opened their website, I got a whiff of lavender. Seriously.)

And, with that, we waved good-bye to the Maui's lovely Up Country -- and Oprah.

See ya next time, lady! And save some Kula strawberries for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

La passeggietta

In Italy, la passeggiata is a time-honored tradition -- a moment in the early evening, before dinner, when entire towns and neighborhoods turn out for a leisurely stroll around a favorite piazza. Old friendships are renewed, new romances revealed, community re-forged under the waning light of another work day.

Maui is not to be out done. It has its own de facto passeggiata -- except it's in the morning and typically involves iPods,  electronic step counters, day-glo sports bras and paper cups full of venti-iced-skinny-hazelnut-macchiatos-sugar-free-syrup-extra-shot-light-ice-no-whip. (HuffPost gets the assist on this one since I can barely get out "Americano black" when under the influence of Starbucks.)

And, oh, I'd wager most of us are on vacation instead of just getting off work. (There IS a difference, you know.) Here are a few of my favorite Maui-style passeggiettas:

Along the Kapalua coastal trail, you can scramble across lunar-inspired lava formations while keeping an eye out for whales. . .

Or watch death-defying family portraits. . .

A moment after the photo was taken, the family was washed out to sea.

Not really. Just the photographers.

Or, let's face it, you can just enjoy how freakin' beautiful it is.

A walk along the Kaanapali beaches allows you a glimpse into West Maui resort life. It appears to involve swans.

And flamingos.

And a Hobbit.

But I think my favorite was. . . well, I'm not sure it had an "official" name so let's give it one: The Kind-of-in-between-Lahaina-and-Kaanapali-Passeggieta. Running parallel to the Honoapiilani Highway, this paved pathway right up against the water captures pieces of everyday life along the Maui coast -- say, like

fishing. . .

rowing. . .

and cemeteries. . .

That's right. Cemeteries.

Maui has a thing for tucking away cemeteries in some of the most surprising places around the island. This one, Hanakao'o Cemetery, is plunked down next to a parking lot, small park and the main highway. It's an immigrant cemetery, primarily Japanese, I think -- a silent monument, rising in weeds and red dirt, to men, women and families who came to paradise from Japan -- and China, the Philippines, Korea and Europe -- to work in Maui's sugar cane and pineapple fields starting in the mid-1800s. The "newest" head stone I saw at Hanakao'o was dated 1941.

The sugar cane and pineapples are largely gone now, but the cemeteries remain. A visit to Professor Google, and I discover there's very little history about them. And I find this a bit bittersweet.Until we wander through the cemetery.

Although Hanakao'o appears to be largely abandoned, we find small remembrances from families here and there: A fresh saucer of sake, a tangle of leis and, on occasion, potted plants left reverently at a beloved ancestor's grave.

And so I take heart. Someone still remembers Hanakao'o.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Out of office

It's Friday morning on the island of Maui. And it's raining.

No matter. The air is warm, still fat from last night's storm. It smells of the Pacific and plumeria.

A lone whale and her calf are waking, stragglers in their species' epic migration north to Alaska for the summer. They roll and spout in the near surf, playfully slapping the water with their pectoral fins, nudging each other awake to begin their long exodus.

If it wasn't for that damn Alaskan krill we feed on all summer, we'd stay here, in the shadow of Molokai, they seem to say.

Me too.

And I don't need no stinkin' krill.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The houseplant that would not die

As if Monday's rogue snow storm which kindly deposited about 5 inches of crap snow white stuff across Bermtopia wasn't enough. . . .

I have a houseplant that will not die.

You know me. I am a paradoxically enthusiastic, yet laissez faire, gardener. Nothing makes me happier than puttering around the Nine One Four's perennial flower beds and puzzling out the mysteries of attempting to grow vegetables at When Pigs Fly Farm. I'm content. As long as everyone behaves themselves.

By extension, therefore, one might assume I have the same affinity for houseplants and that we have a house full of happy orchids, spider plants and butterfly palms.

Hell no. Hate houseplants. Hate 'em. Because they hate me.

Most houseplants wilt the moment they see me. Orchids pause dramatically, quiver ever so slightly, then gracefully keel over dead in my presence. And, when not dying, my houseplants of the past have attracted tiny black flying bugs whose sole raison d'etre appears to be the need to occupy my nasal passages en masse.

And so it was with great trepidation that I accepted a dainty African violet with light lavender blossoms as a hostess gift from my sister-in-law, Milady Poophead back in January.

I looked down on the little plant, did a mental eye-roll and whispered, "Suckahhhhhhhhhh. You're toast."

The African violet chose to ignore that last remark.

The damn plant still lives. Nay, it THRIVES.

Forget to water it for 10 days? No problem. It just sprouts a couple of new leaves. Leave for weekend with heat turned down to 50? No problem. More new leaves. No plant food? More and more new leaves.

Needless to say, it has almost doubled in size.

And so we've settled into an almost comfortable routine: Me, sort of neglecting the little guy but still circling around every few days to brush the dog hair (don't judge) off its burgeoning crop of leaves and splash a little water here and there. The African violet, sprouting upward and outward like it was living in freakin' Jurassic Park.

And every once and awhile. Just here and there. On occasion. I swear I hear it softly whisper "Suckahhhhhhhh" as I pass by.