Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Next Trip: Stowe, Vermont

I hope all of you have enjoyed accompanying me on my trip to Hawaii. Stay tuned for my next travel blog when we go for a week of skiing to Stowe, Vermont in January.

Happy New Year!

One Last Day

12/14/05 –5:23 PM

Randy was waiting for us when we walked up in front of the Army Museum. It was so great to see him again. He’s barely changed at all in 15 years! He took us to this French bistro in Chinatown, and I had chicken fettuccine which was delicious! It was great talking over old times with him. Oh, and he gave me the most gorgeous tuberose lei I’ve ever seen. It smells heavenly!

When we got back to the hotel, I went to the beach one last time, and now here I am, writing this, and waiting for my hair to dry a bit before I style it. I think we’re going to the Hale Koa Barefoot Bar for drinks before dinner and then to the Oceanariam where they have a giant aquarium.

Tomorrow our taxi arrives at 11:00, and we’ll be off to the airport. It’s been an awesome ten-day vacation!

But the highlight? Without a doubt, it was when Frank & I privately renewed our vows at the Valley of the Temples. It was so impulsive and romantic, and I’ll never forget it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Snorkeling in Haunama Bay

12/14/05 – 11:00 AM

It’s our last full day in paradise. We’re going to be leaving in a few minutes to go meet Randy for lunch. He is picking us up in front of the Army Museum near Fort DeRussy. I’m really looking forward to seeing my former boss again—the best boss I’ve ever had, I might add. I loved working for him in the financial district of downtown Honolulu. That—and working for Congressman Jack Fields in the Rayburn Building—were two of the most exciting jobs I’ve ever had…well, at least until I became an author and got to go on two Levy book tours.

So…yesterday we went to Haunama Bay for snorkeling. It was just as wonderful as it used to be. I saw some really gorgeous fish; one was a beautiful electric blue with hot pink around its fins. I tried to follow it for awhile, but eventually lost it. Personally, I could’ve stayed there all day, but Frank was hungry and wanted to get back to the hotel. (Sorry, no pictures of snorkeling. We bought an underwater camera, and I haven't been able to scan them yet.)

After showering, I went to the International Marketplace to do the last of my shopping, and when I got back, Diana & Jim were here. They had just enough time for an early dinner before heading for the airport. We had a drink then went to the Cheesecake Factory for club sandwiches, and of course, cheesecake. We each ordered a different kind so we could sample each others—Godiva chocolate, lemon raspberry, dulce de leche caramel, and banana cream. I thought the caramel and the lemon raspberry were the best, with the caramel just edging the other out.

We walked Diana & Jim back to the Hale Kola where they’d left their car, and they went off to the airport. It was still early so Frank & I walked around for a while. We ended up at the oldest hotel in Waikiki, the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, and had tropical drinks in the Banyan Courtyard where there was live Hawaiian entertainment. An absolutely lovely way to end the evening.

Unfortunately, Frank seems to be coming down with a cold, so we stopped at the ABC Store and bought him some Nyquil. I sure hope it’s a false alarm because it’s not going to be a fun flight home if he’s sick.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Another Day at Ko Olina

12/12/05 – 8:16 PM

Another awesome day. Before we met Diana & Jim for brunch, I went walking through the International Marketplace, but didn’t buy anything. Got some ideas, though.

Champagne brunch at the Hale Koa was amazing, as well it should be at $20/person. What a spread! Everything from sushi to lamb to luscious desserts. I didn’t think I ate much, but I guess I did because I was stuffed when we left.

After brunch, we went our separate ways, Frank & I back to Ko Olina, and Diana & Jim went for a drive around the island. But they joined us at the lagoon about 3:00, and we stayed there to almost sundown. We dropped the car off at Enterprise and came back to Waikiki to shower. We’re waiting for Diana & Jim to come here so we can go out to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert. Yes, I know I vowed I wasn’t going to eat anything more today, but I guess I lied. How can I resist cheesecake?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

12/12/05 – 6:39 AM

Time is just speeding by; I didn’t even get a chance to write yesterday.

After lunch with Lynne, I went back to the hotel and spent a couple of hours on Waikiki Beach. It was nice, but after that afternoon at Ko Olina…well, it just pales in comparison. On Friday night, we played golf at Hickam under the lights. I did pretty well—no pars like the other day we played, but I had a couple of good drives. After golf, we went to Anna Millers—the very first restaurant I ever ate at in Hawaii in 1987—and had dinner. It was after 9:00 but there was still a wait for a table. I had a great turkey club sandwich and Kona coffee, and for dessert—coconut custard pie. (Wish I’d gone for the coconut cream, though.) We were exhausted by the time we got back to Waikiki so the four of us said our goodnights and went to our separate hotels.

Yesterday Frank and I went on a road trip to the North Shore, stopping at the Dole Plantation on the way. I decided to live life on the edge (since I’m allergic to fresh pineapple) and tried the pineapple sherbet. No reaction. I put the palm of my hand on a pineapple and waited for the itch. Nothing. I leaned in close and inhaled the fragrance, expecting that familiar itching in my throat. Nothing. I wanted so badly to actually eat a piece of pineapple, but I admit it, I was scared. The last reaction I’d had in Waikiki 17 years ago had been really terrifying. It had felt like my throat was closing up. So I decided not to try it. (But last night I did order a chi chi with fresh pineapple juice—I’m assuming—and I didn’t have a problem.)

We went on to the North Shore, stopping at Weimea Bay, Punaluu Beach and Sunset Beach. The waves were huge, and we saw a bunch of surfers way out. Got some pictures, but I don’t know if they’re any good. We took the long way home, stopping at McDonalds near the Polynesian Cultural Center for lunch, then took the Likelike Highway back to Honolulu. It was only about three when we got back to the hotel, so we went to the beach for a couple of hours. Last night before we met Diana & Jim for dinner, we walked to the International Marketplace and…can you believe it? Didn’t buy a thing.

On the way to the Hale Koa at dusk, we saw a figure walking toward us in a super-skimpy bikini bottom. With a snort of disgust, Frank mutters, "Here comes Mr. Tarzan." But as the person got closer, we realized that it wasn't a "mister." HolyCow!!!! It was a woman walking down a busy avenue in Waikiki wearing only a skimpy bikini bottom. Okay, she wasn't big breasted, but she definitely had breasts. And she was happily displaying them for the world to see. For a minute, I thought I was back in Italy or Greece. We could barely believe our eyes. So...I know there is a story there...(someone swiped her top as she was sunning on the beach?)...but we'll never know what it was. (Topless woman, if you're out there somewhere, please e-mail me and tell me your story.) Oh, and sorry, guys...I didn't get a picture.

The four of us went to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner, and it was good, but not as good as I remembered. The mahi mahi was mediocre. The restaurant itself wasn’t as elegant as it used to be—almost a little rundown, and I felt a little cheated. Hope we have better luck tonight.

Our plans today are to meet Diana & Jim at the Hale Koa for brunch, then go turn in our rental car, stop at the Navy Exchange to return one of my dresses, then go to Ko Olina for the afternoon.

Our time is winding down here. Diana & Jim leave on Monday night, and we leave on Wednesday. Only three more days. :(

Friday, December 23, 2005

Lunch with Lynne

12/10/05 – 8:45 AM

I recognized Lynne right away. I walked from Waikiki to Ala Moana, and got a little turned around, but managed to find my way without any trouble. The mall was just how I remembered it—busy and confusing. But I found Starbucks outside Macy’s, ordered myself a peppermint mocha latte and waited for Lynne. I saw her coming toward me, and knew immediately it was her—especially when I saw her smile. We went to Macaroni Grille and got caught up on each other’s lives. After 15 years, that’s a lot of catching up to do. It was really fun seeing her again. She gave me the cutest Hawaiian swizzle sticks and some darling ornaments shaped like sandals. After lunch (penne pasta with pesto sauce—yum!), we had the hostess take our picture together, and then we went to See’s Chocolates and I bought…what else? Butterscotch Squares, my favorite. Lynne and I commented on how our tastes were so similar in most everything, with one major difference. She prefers dark chocolate and I like milk chocolate. It was so good getting together with her again. Back when we worked together, I probably bored her non-stop with all my whining about trying to get a book published. <>

Thursday, December 22, 2005

12/9/05 – 7:25 AM

Another day in paradise. Funny, how it feels more like paradise now that I’m here on vacation than it ever did when we lived here. It’s that old nasty four letter word that starts with a “W” that makes the difference, I guess. When you have to go to work, it’s doesn’t feel much like paradise.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d never gone to a luau in the four years we lived here. Don’t know why, exactly, except that it was always pretty expensive, and money was tight. In fact, I can think of only two ways we splurged on tourist things while we were here—the whale watching tour on the Navatek and the time we went to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore.

We arrived at the luau about 5:00 and received our tropical drinks and a shell lei. Then we all sat on this grassy lawn on beach mats and watched the entertainment. When they asked for volunteers to come up and learn how to hula, I’d had just enough of my Blue Hawaii to answer the call. So this hula dancer taught us a simple dance, and as uncoordinated as I am, I’m sure I looked like an idiot, but it was fun.

We watched the guys dig up the kalua pig from its pit; the aroma was wonderful. We then went to our tables, right up close to the stage but off to the side, and began eating our appetizers—a salmon-tomato relish, marinated seaweed and a salad of pickled cucumber and mango. I didn’t try the salmon-tomato relish because of the chopped onion in it, but the seaweed was interesting, and I loved the salad. And then…the poi arrived at the table. Now, I’ve always heard just how nasty poi was, and I didn’t think I’d have the nerve to try it. I have to admit it didn’t look promising. But I tried it—the traditional way, with two fingers, and it was…bland. Not bad, not good, not anything, really. Then I dipped a banana in it, and that was pretty good. The main meal arrived—a plate of kalua pig, teriyaki chicken, mahi mahi, rice, potato, glazed beef tips, all of it delicious. My favorite, though, was definitely the kalua pig. Dessert was coconut cake and some kind of bland gelatin. The show was great with lots of hula dancing and singing, but my favorite, as always, were the Tahitian dancers. Not only do I love to watch the girls twitch in their full grass skirts, I love the beat of the drums and the native music. Frank was expecting to get pulled up on stage by a Tahitian dancer as had happened almost every single time we went to a Polynesian show in the past, but this time, much to his relief (he claims) he was passed on by.

Today I’m meeting Lynne for lunch at Ala Moana. We used to work together at the base library 17 years ago. Wonder if we’ll recognize each other?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Beautiful Moment at Golf

I just remembered something that happened the morning we played golf at Hickam, and wanted to mention it.

A group of women were teeing off about a half-hour after us, and they were gathered on the lanai, drinking coffee and chatting. One tiny Asian woman struck up a conversation with us, and when she found out that Frank & I had just celebrated our 31st anniversary, she asked us if we were Christians, and if so, she'd like to sing us an anniversary song. I said, yes, we were Christians, and we'd love a song. So, she sang us the most beautiful little song, blessing our anniversary. I thought that was just so sweet! And even though I'd just met her, I felt compelled to give her a hug, which she happily accepted.

It's moments like this that give life its meaning, I think. And although this little lady will probably never know the gift she gave me that morning, I thank her, and bless the light of God within her.

Ko Olina--Oahu's "Secret" Oasis

12/8/05 – 4:20 PM

What a wild day it’s been! I feel like we’ve been going non-stop. We got up as planned at 5:30, and met Diana & Jim at the Hale Koa at 7:00 and headed for Hickam to play golf at their Par 3 course. It was really a nice course, and I did fairly well—made par on Puka (Hole) # 7. After we were done playing golf, we headed to our old favorite breakfast place on Hickam—Orville and Wilber Wright’s Café and Grill. They’ve done a lot of renovating there, and it’s really nice. The omelets were delicious. But we weren’t lucky enough to see any ships go by in the channel behind it. I’ll never forget that time that Frank & I were having breakfast there and a big aircraft carrier went by, heading out to sea. It was an awesome sight.

After breakfast, we went to the Navy Exchange at Pearl Harbor—a massive place with a gorgeous turreted ceiling painted by the sea life artist, Wyeland. I found two dresses for tonight’s luau and couldn’t decide between them so I got both.

After we left the exchange and stopped at an outlet mall in Waipahu, we headed on for Ko Olina, the resort that Barbara always raved about—the one with seven lagoons open to the public. Well, we found one of them, and let me tell you, Barbara did not exaggerate when she talked about how wonderful this place is. Picture a huge semi-circle of water surrounded by rocks on two sides, the beach on the other and the last side open to the sea. It was like a huge green swimming pool. And that was only one of the lagoons. (Oddly enough, Oahu's tourist magazines don't mention Ko Olina's public lagoons, so if we hadn't known about them from an insider, we would never have discovered this wonderful place.) We swam for about an hour and then came back to Waikiki to get ready for tonight.

This will be my first luau.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Perfect Anniversary!

12/7/05 – 10:14 PM

What an absolutely perfect 31st anniversary we had! The day began a lot like yesterday, except that I slept an extra hour, and by the time I got up, brewed the coffee and went outside, it was already starting to get light. So I took the camera and my coffee and went out to the bench overlooking the ocean. Today there were a lot more people milling around than yesterday. After I finished my coffee, I walked down to the jetty and took a seat on a slab of rock overlooking the inlet where the sea turtles nest, hoping I’d see one. I didn’t, but I did see an amazing sunrise, and took pictures of it so I’d win my bet against Frank. (He predicted I’d sleep through sunrise today, and now he owes me a dollar.)

After breakfast, we took a swim, then showered and checked out of Bellows. Before heading back to Honolulu, we stopped at one of my favorite places on Oahu—the Valley of the Temples and the Byodo-In Temple. It was just as beautiful and tranquil as I remembered. (I swear I must’ve been a Buddhist in a former life because that place moves me so deeply.) Before entering the temple, we followed custom and rang the gong which is supposed to grant us long life and happiness according to the nearby sign that reads:

An offering and ringing of this sacred bell brings happiness, the blessings of Buddha, and a long life to the ringer of the bell.

Then we walked up some stone steps to a meditation temple that looked out on a waterfall and a pool filled with koi. And a really cool thing happened. We were all alone—in fact, when we arrived at the temple, there were no other cars in the parking lot. I’m not sure which one of us first suggested it, but we found ourselves renewing our vows right there in that temple—just the two of us surrounded by nature. And just after we finished saying our vows to each other, someone rang the gong from down below. It was so romantic, and I will always remember it as one of the most special moments of my life.

A young couple started coming up the steps to the temple, and I told the girl it was our 31st anniversary and asked her to take our picture. Their timing was just perfect (because I’m assuming they were also the ones who rang the gong.)

After lunch, we went to Waikiki and checked into the Imperial Hawaii. Our timeshare is very nice and we do have an ocean view—not a great one, but who cares?

Tonight we met Diana & Jim at the Hale Koa for wine, and then went to the Aloha Tower pier for our sunset dinner cruise on The Star of Honolulu. It was wonderful! Dinner was filet mignon and King crab legs—delicious! And the show was also fantastic. Honolulu looks so beautiful from the sea at night.

After the cruise, we went back to Diana & Jim’s room at the Hale Koa, and we all shared the bottle of champagne we ordered for them the other day. And it was really good.

We’re getting up early for a golf game tomorrow so I’m off to bed. The time is just going by way too fast!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Spiritual Moments...and a Dose of Reality

12/6/05 – 4:25 PM

After I finished writing this morning, I grabbed another cup of coffee and went outside, intending to just sit at the picnic table and wait for sunrise. But somehow, I ended up at the bench on the bluff overlooking the beach. I sat there and watched the lights on the shoreline to the south. Within five minutes the shoreline became more distinct and the dark gray of the ocean turned to pewter. Finally, I started hearing a few birds in the trees above me. It was an awesome moment, being out there all alone and watching the arrival of a new dawn. As it grew lighter, I began to notice a few other early risers out and about—a man on the beach, a woman a few yards away on the bluff. And even though I was still in my pajamas and robe, I decided to take a walk on the beach. It was an unbelievable spiritual experience, just me and the majesty of the ocean, especially when I reached the jetty and stood there staring out to sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of a sea turtle. I didn’t see one, but I did see seven crabs crawling on a slab of rock beyond the jetty.

So, I’m standing there, just lost in this beautiful, spiritual moment, feeling so grateful for all the good things in my life, and suddenly, I had the strangest feeling that I wasn’t alone. I turned and looked behind me, and there, about six feet away, stood a military guy in a camouflage uniform, a pair of binoculars glued to his eyes. After I recovered from my surprise, I said, “Good morning. See anything interesting?”

His reply? “Just looking for a body, ma’am.”

Not exactly what I was expecting. Then I remembered how we'd seen the coast guard helicopter flying around the day before, and realized that was the reason why.

If I were the same woman I’d been when I lived here in Hawaii 15 years ago, I would’ve allowed that to ruin the moment. But not anymore. I was in a spiritual place, and death is part of life, and whoever the unfortunate person was who lost his life here in paradise is, hopefully, in a far better place. So I murmured a prayer for his soul and one for his loved ones, and walked back to the cottage.

Frank and I followed Diana and Jim to Hickam Air Force Base where they renewed their wedding vows at mass at the chapel where they’d been married 30 years before. And somehow—I’m not sure how—I got roped into reading “the message.” I was probably the only non-Catholic in the whole place, and yet, there I was, up at the altar, reading passages from the Bible. It was quite surreal. And then after the mass, the priest asked Diana and Jim—and us—to come up to the altar and they renewed their vows. It really was quite sweet.

Afterwards, we went to the Sea Breeze restaurant at Hickam Harbor for lunch. I wanted to order champagne, but they didn’t have any, so we settled for Blue Hawaii’s, a Pina Colada and a Mai Tai. After lunch, we parted ways, and Frank and I drove back to our old neighborhood on Gemini Drive and took pictures. That’s me in front of the mailboxes where I used to collect my rejections every day…well, practically every day. However, I also collected a few checks and contracts there. (It was at that address that I got the contract for the picture book with Doubleday—the one they reneged on after we moved to Manassas…but at least I got to keep the $4,000 advance.) :)

We’re back at the cottage now. I was burning up at Hickam and couldn’t wait to get back to Bellows to go for a swim, but by the time we changed into our swimsuits and walked down to the beach, it was chilly—at least to me. The trade winds are really blowing now that it’s late afternoon, and although the water was warm when it washed over my feet, I couldn’t quite make myself get in and get wet.

Tomorrow we check out of Bellows and head for Waikiki. But first, I want to stop at the Valley of the Temples, one of my favorite places in Oahu, and get some pictures. We’re meeting Diana and Jim at 4:00, and heading to the Aloha Tower to catch a sunset dinner cruise to celebrate our anniversaries. Should be really fun. Tomorrow, Frank & I will have been married 31 years. (And just between you and me, I think I made a pretty damn good choice in husbands. And like my sister, Kathy, has been known to say once or twice, “Carole found the only man in the entire world who’d put up with her.” I take that as a compliment because I know that’s how she meant it.) Right, Kathy? <>

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Where Are the Birds?

12/6/05 – 5:50 AM

Heaven is…a cup of strong, hot coffee, a Hawaiian Most Caramac and the roar of the ocean through the opened window. I’m the only one up in the cottage. I woke up at 4:40 and couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m up even before the birds. But they should be waking up any minute now.

Our first full day in Hawaii was bliss. Frank and I took a walk on the beach and ended up all the way down at the jetty where the sea turtles nest. We looked, but didn’t see any. Maybe today. We found the cottage we stayed in that year when Mom and Kathy came to visit. Every time I especially miss my mother, I get out the video of that visit and play it, and it’s almost like having her here with me again. Leah and Stephen look so cute; Leah was 14 and Steve was 12. Maybe it’s because of the video that that visit is so fresh in my mind. I can still remember that last morning before we checked out. I was in the cottage, cleaning up, and was pissed off at Kathy because she was still in the ocean having fun. Walking down, and finding that cottage really brought those memories back. Hard to believe that was 15 years ago, and Mom has been gone for almost seven years. God, I miss her! Thinking back on that visit and how vibrant and alive she was, I would never have believed she only had eight years to live.

Must be something about the early hour that makes me philosophical. Okay…back to yesterday. Frank & I stopped at the shoppette on the way back to the cottage to get a couple of beach towels, and came out with $68 worth of goods—Hawaiian dresses, lip balm, hats, Christmas ornaments, flip-flops and yes, the beach towels. After dropping off everything at the cottage, we changed into our swimsuits and took our first swim. It was awesome! The water was the most gorgeous sea-green I’ve ever seen, and the sandy bottom was as smooth as velvet. And there wasn’t a jellyfish to be seen anywhere. (From our previous experience at Bellows, stinging jellyfish were always a problem here; Stephen got stung several times when he was boogie-boarding, but of course, that didn’t stop my little seal from going back in.) It just couldn’t have been more perfect yesterday.

All that frolicking in the ocean made us hungry and even though it was only 11:00, we headed off to the rec center for lunch. I had a mahi mahi sandwich; it wasn’t all that good, but the French fries were great. After lunch we went swimming again, then we showered and went out to Kaneohe Marine Base to the commissary and loaded up on groceries for the week. We stopped at KFC on the way back to Bellows, brought the food back to the cottage and watched “The Notebook” on DVD. Went to bed about 10:30, and here I am, starting Day # 2.

Diana & Jim are having their marriage vows renewed at Hickam this morning, and Frank & I are their attendants. Afterwards, we’re all going to lunch at the O-Club. Then Diana & Jim are checking into the Hale Koa, and Frank & I are coming back to Bellows. (We called the Hale Koa yesterday and ordered a bottle of champagne to be waiting for them in their room.) And I intend to go swimming as soon as we get back.

It’s still dark out, and it’s 6:16. Still no birdsong either. What’s going on? I’m wide awake and ready for the day to begin!

Saturday, December 17, 2005


I tried to publish pictures for my first day, but I'm having trouble. Will try again.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Come Along With Me to Hawaii

12/4/05 – 6:34 AM

It’s WAY too early to be up and sitting in an airport lounge. Not, by the way, in the Business Class lounge like I was the last time I flew back in June when we were on our way to Austria. It’s back to traveling like the vast majority—in tourist class. Today payment come due for that wonderful flight to Vienna; I’ll always and forever be comparing flights to that.

So, Frank & I are here at Dulles, waiting for the first leg of our flight to Honolulu. (The reason for our trip? Like you have to HAVE a reason to go to Hawaii! We’re celebrating our 31st anniversary there, and the trip is our anniversary present AND our Christma present this year.

So…I’m half asleep as I write this. Eyelids are growing heavy. I need coffee. No. I need more sleep.

12/4/05 -- 12:32 PM

Okay, so we’re sitting here in a 767 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and so far, it’s been about an hour. Apparently, there was a leak in a hydraulic line (sounds scary!) and they had to get a part from the hangar, and now, I’m assuming, they’re repairing the plane. I sure hope they repair it before we get going. I just hope it doesn’t take much longer.

When we first got onboard, they had Hawaiian music playing, and we watched a video about Hawaii about a hundred times before they finally stopped it. Talk about relief! I’ve never been a big fan of that ukulele music—if that’s the instrument who makes that ooka ooka sound. (Don’t know how else to describe it.) Now, something almost as annoying is playing on the video—“Everybody Loves Raymond.” <>

And now we’ve just heard from the captain that the repair is going to take approximately another hour. Why the hell couldn’t we have been delayed before we boarded. We’ve got eight hours in this aircraft. Why should we have to sit in it an extra two hours? Well, I’m just glad we ate in the airport. Otherwise, I’d really be grumpy.