Maui magic

We’re doing a survey tour of Maui, driving different roads and regions of the island, meandering, stopping, getting rained on, eating, oohing and aahing our way through our stay.

Hawaii is an amazing state, with a rich culture that seems both exotic and familiar. There’s so much to take in, visually, it’s easy to miss out on the history and customs of the islands that make each one unique.

This is our second island this trip. We spent the first half of our time on the Big Island, and will end our visit on Maui.

Here’s my advice…if you come, whichever island you choose, spend the bulk of your time exploring, driving, and walking. Avoid the obvious tourist traps. Not that I have anything against traditional tourist activities…I just think they offer the stereotypical experience, and you miss out on so much if you limit yourself to those events and venues.

Instead, get off the path a bit. Try the marvelous food trucks, which are plentiful. Find a local beach. Drive the back roads, shop in a country market. There’s scenery to fill your every minute, and photo opps to fill your phone / camera storage capacity.

Most of all, just get out and enjoy. Yes, it is expensive to travel to Hawaii, and yes, some things you can do are expensive as well. But there is a lot to do that’s free, or almost free, and a lot of the freebies are the best part of the experience.

Though these are islands, there’s a lot of road to travel, and small communities dot the hillsides and coastlines, along with arger towns, and even a city or two to explore.

Hawaii has national parks; on the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes, and on Maui, Haleakala. Both parks encompass drives to the summits of volcanoes, and offer amazing views. Both parks showcase incredible terrain, from lava fields to alpine forest, overviews of coastline, rolling green hills, waterfalls, meadows, and everything in between. Beautiful, and so worth the drive time.

All the islands have different regions, famous local drives and beaches, scenic points. You’ll find a plethora of information online, as well as all the maps, guides, magazines, apps, and advice by word of mouth to plan in advance, or on the spur of the moment. I don’t think there’s a true off season to visit, though some months may be busier with tourist traffic than others.

If you’re a planner, you can find almost anything you want to know in advance. And if you’re the spontaneous sort, you can do that too, without missing out on too much. We did some of both, advance planning and winging it, and made a few reservations to smooth the way. But most of our days have been open, choosing what to do based on location, weather, or how long we want to spend on a given activity.

I’ve learned a bit about volcanoes, types of lava, visited gardens and pools, found new varieties of fish to enjoy, tried pickled pineapple, macadamia everything. Fun, delicious, and memorable. I can’t recommend it enough!

I wish photos could do it justice, this 50th state, but it’s impossible. Aloha, and Mahalo!

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Tradition

What is there about tradition that speaks to the human heart in a universal language? Some people hold on to the traditions they knew as children, some feel inspired to create their own, others choose a hybrid of the two. Whatever the source of tradition in your life, it can be a powerful force. It is the thing that makes certain foods and rituals mandatory for holidays. It dictates in a variety of ways, from small details to the big picture.

I have many holiday traditions; some I keep faithfully while others are a bit hit and miss. I have maintained my commitment to Christmas cards, fresh trees, favorite recipes, music, special Christmas ornaments for my children each year, and a few select holiday movies. But some years are bigger than others. Some years we have been home for the holidays, and others we have been with family. Once we were in Hawaii until December 23, and came home to put up a Charlie Brown tree (about the only one left at our corner Christmas tree lot) and put on a pared down celebration due jet lag and time constraints. But it was a memorable holiday none the less. We’ve all remembered that December vacation in Hawaii.

We have a running debate over white or colored lights. My daughter and I always vote for the tiny white lights while my son and husband are in favor of color. I keep the peace by making an every other year compromise. And I have to admit, whatever the  light choice for the year, once the strands are on the tree, its magic. The tree is a living presence during the couple of weeks we keep it up: first thing on in the morning, last thing off at night. I switch the lights on before I get my coffee so I can sit and enjoy waking up with the soft glow of the tiny lights breaking the darkness at 5:00 AM. The smell is addicting too. Just walking through the Boy Scout lot among the bundled trees is a preview of the scent that fills the house when we bring the tree inside.

The foods of Christmas are iconic and many people share similar traditions of cookie recipes, desserts or main dishes that define the holidays. For our family, our strongest food tradition is Christmas Eve lasagna. Years ago, the first Christmas we lived away from family and were going to be on our own, I wanted to have a special meal that would have meaning to my husband, who was in his intern year of residency. One of his favorite foods at that time was lasagna, something his mom made for him. We had homemade lasagna with all the trimmings for Christmas Eve dinner, and we’ve maintained that menu ever since. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve with different food: it just wouldn’t be right.

My son loves gingerbread cookies, and somewhere along the way that became one of the season’s treats. Some years we’ve done a lot of baking for gift giving, but others have been busy enough that we only did the bare minimum. But regardless, gingerbread is a requisite, another must-do.

Our Christmas morning food tradition acknowledges my love of baked sweets and my husband’s love of savory. We always have homemade cinnamon rolls and the Southern classic, sausage balls. Add a special coffee and chilled juice and breakfast is easy and ready to serve before or after checking Santa’s surprises.

When our kids were still at home, the three of us had a tradition of a day of mall shopping and then dinner, usually at Red Robin, on the way home. Can’t go wrong with kids and burgers, or my daughter’s favorite, chicken fingers and fries. After the day spent shopping, choosing gifts for everyone, then driving home in the evening with Christmas music playing and snow falling…well, Christmas in Colorado is magic. I hear some of that music today and I am immediately driving along C-470 with two kids in the van, warm and happy with anticipation of the days ahead and satisfaction from the day just ending.

I remember some of the special moments throughout the years: when both kids got bikes one Christmas in Michigan, delivered early by special arrangement with Santa because we were going to travel to family for Christmas Day; or even further back, the Christmas we got our first family pet, a small black Cocker Spaniel puppy our daughter named Sable. Stephanie was five and Alex was 18 months old. Sable was a part of our lives for many years, a wonderful addition to our little family. She was a gift from Rob to the kids, and perhaps the best Christmas gift he ever gave them.

I think traditions reinforce the good from the past, remind us of things and moments and people who have been precious in our lives. Traditions say that we have such wonderful memories, we want to recreate them, or parts of them, all over again. Traditions bind generation to generation, connect the years. In the best sense, they are not rituals that we are burdened with repeating, but a way to link memory with the present, past and future, parent to child. Our son now makes his own gingerbread, and our daughter is beginning her daughter’s Christmas traditions this year. Riley will experience her first Christmas, and although she won’t remember it, she’ll have her special ornament, her little part of the day. And when our son is visiting this year, I’ll make gingerbread for him, and we’ll have our traditional lasagna and say to each other, “This is the good stuff…” And the real meaning is not found in the food or the color of lights on the tree, or even in the gifts, but in each other.

Mahalo

This morning I brought my “Mahalo mug” to work with me. I had filled it with coconut caramel coffee from the Kauai Coffee Company http://store.kauaicoffee.com/kauai-coffee-hawaiian-coconut-caramel-crunch-p19.aspx …delicious! This is the mug I got from the resort Rob and I visited in October in Kauai. You may have seen these deals on vacation: you buy a mug from your resort, and then get free refills on coffee, tea, sodas…it’s a gimmick, but not a bad one, and you can bring the mug home if you choose to. I’m not usually one to need souvenirs labeled with the place names of vacation spots…no spoons or knick-knacks for me with national park logos or island names. But who can’t use an extra coffee mug? So I threw it in my luggage when I packed.

Southeast Alaska is getting chilly. Although Ketchikan is on the coast and the temperatures here are nothing like the frozen north of Alaska, we have frost and the occasional snow during winter months. This morning I came out to my car and had to run the defroster for several minutes waiting for the windshields to clear. (My 80 year old house has a tiny one-car garage, designed for a model-T, not a modern day SUV.) So I park outside, and this morning the cold air had frosted everything.

I set the mug on my desk when I got to my office, and looking at the image of the resort pool, I was instantly far away in a warm and sunny place. We all know that music and fragrance can transport us to another time, another place. Who knew a plastic coffee mug could do the same? The little things in life…I’m reminded again and again of their importance. Even if they are plastic and sport a resort name. Sometimes it is less about the object, more about what it evokes. Hawaii is magic…can’t explain it, but it is. And even a cheap coffee mug can’t detract from its allure. In the end, whatever brings you to a happy memory, a good place, is also touched with a little of that magic. So even though I’m not one to be sentimental about coffee mugs, I think I’ll choose this one for a while. Winter is a good time to remember the sun on the sand, the warmth in the air, the exotic aroma of the Hawaiian frangipani, and a week with my favorite husband.