Sunday, December 9, 2018

October Trip 2018 - Pennsylvania - Halloween

When in Pennsylvania visiting Amy's family with Mom, Amy decided that, after Thanksgiving in October, we should make jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. Heck, all of the holidays in the same week, nice!

We stopped off at Walmart (or similar) one night and helped Amy pick out a bunch of pumpkins. I mean, A BUNCH of pumpkins! We walked around after choosing big pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns and looked at the produce section, where they were selling even more decorative gourds and pumpkins. Autumn is cool already with the changes in leaves and cooling temperatures...but then you go and add the earthy colors of pumpkins and odd shapes of other gourds and squash!

We probably had ten pumpkins total. Little did the pumpkins know, they were in for a slaughtering! Over the top? Don't like the word "slaughter"? Hey, you ever see the better part of a dozen pumpkins being carved, stabbed, jabbed and eviscerated by a bunch of Halloweeners? Hallo-wieners? Hollow-weiners? Stop!!! Sorry, talking to myself...
Based on its contents, the above shopping cart is probably not one that Pae ever thought she'd push through a grocery store! Again, that was a lot of pumpkins, but considering we'd soon be carving with Katie/Spencer, Pae/Guy/Mom and Amy's family, it was just right!
Putting up a Christmas tree. Opening gifts Christmas morning. Eating Thanksgiving dinner. Counting down to midnight on New Year's Eve...These all seem like family moments when the family would participate together, same place, same time, focused on the same activity. Sharing those moments is important to families. I never thought that making jack-o-lanterns would become one of those family moments. This is a picture from the upstairs of the family carving their pumpkins.
We weren't messing around, there were adults and kids alike, going in with the sharp knives. Sharp edges everywhere around a table, carvers excited to start seeing the results of their handiwork. That was perhaps one of my two worries on the night.
My first worry was that I'd be trying to stick the knife through the thick pumpkin and stab all the way through into my femoral artery or something...That would truly be spooky, blood splurting everywhere, all over the pumpkin flesh. They'd be scary faced pumpkins with bloody tears perhaps!
My second worry was that the two younger boys were also excited to be participating in the fun activity. Add the knives. Add the stabbing. Add the slashing into the pumpkins with just a little held back but at the same time trying to put enough force and pressure on the blade to make it slice through the hard outer skin/rind. It's nerve-wracking!

Pae and I shared a pumpkin and Mom carved one of her own. I'm guessing that this was Pae's first Halloween jack-o-lantern! We decided to use a stencil to help us make our pumpkin. Others made faces, more traditional. Kelsey went ahead and made sure everyone knew which was hers...carving her initials into her pumpkin...spoooookyyyyy!! Haha!

We went with an owl stencil with "Boo" on the side. There was a lot of difficult detail to carve out and many places where one little mistake would take the owl's head off or a wing...but together, we did a nice job I'd say! Unlit, perhaps a little underwhelming, but when lit, our owl in addition to the rest of the family's lanterns was pretty cool!
We stuck glow sticks in them, choosing that over candles. I liked the glow stick idea. On one hand, you do miss the flickering of the candles, but the glow sticks made it possible to have different colors. I liked the green (our owl had green) because it was pretty bright. The red/orange looked evil and the blue was just spooky period! Good call, Amy.
The next morning, our pumpkins were still there. I'm guessing in the cooler weather, they would last a lot longer than in warm weather. Hands down the most jack-o-lanterns I've every been part of making and displaying. Great family activity. Again, thanks to Amy and Jason for hosting and the great idea.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Side Trip to Meet with Carmen

From Woodstock, IL, we drove with Mom to Pennsylvania to spend the weekend with Amy and her family. When we first mentioned this on Facebook, my military friend Carmen commented something to the tune of "IL is close to OH"...

Of course, we would be traveling through the northern part of Ohio, and Carmen and her hubby just happen to live right off of the highway that we were planning to take to Amy's.

So, it made sense that we make a stop along the way and say hello. I hadn't seen Carmen since right before I came to Thailand...probably 2006ish. At the time, similar to this occasion, work took me to Austin, Texas...where she was living at the time. I was able to hunt her down and spend a small part of the day saying hello.
Uda, Ramirez, Klasen, Zimbauer in the Army barracks on DLI circa 1990
It's funny, because we spent quite a bit of time in the company of each other and some other people who are special in my life whom I consider life-long friends, even if we only see each other every 10 years or so ;) The first time we met in Texas, I got to meet her kids. This time, we were lucky to meet her husband. Yay!
I stole a bunch of these pix from Carm ;)
From our youth and the time we spent at DLI together and around each other and the same people, the changes are there, but not major. Other than the fact that we don't look like baby-faced kids anymore, I think we've both lived a bunch of life since those days. Marriage, kids, work, life...all that'll grow you up pretty quick. Over the past 30 years, the invincibility of youth has faded more into reality; a positive reality...a reality that holds memories dear but at the same time is present in the now and looks towards the future.
But Carmen will always be Carmen and Uda is still pretty much Uda...more subdued ;) We all live our lives far apart but will forever share the memories and friendship forged when we were on our own for the first times in our lives as 18 and 19 year olds, when we were learning to be responsible adults, when we were just loud kids. I think the others in our "group" had plans, had their eyes towards the future...I was just enjoying being a Marine and being a friend.
I'm grateful for the memories. I'm grateful for the friendships. I'm grateful that there were good people in my life back then. I'm very grateful that I was surrounded with great human beings during that time in my life when I was very impressionable. Mom and Dad made sure I wasn't an asshole as a kid...but out in the Marines, you're kinda expected to be one ;) and Carmen and our shared buddies kept me honest. I think I turned out okay!!
Road trippers waiting for C and M to arrive at the meeting point
I was still an ass sometimes, but it wasn't serious, it was always in good fun. Hahahahaha!

When we make it back home to the States...and live there...we'll make sure it isn't ten years between visits to my life-long friend. Love ya, Carmen...Next time we'll have to make sure we can get a couple more of us together!!! Zim and Kris are owed some big Udz hugs! That would be awesome. Thank you for spending an hour with us during our visit. Hugs to your family.

Friday, December 7, 2018

October Trip 2018 - Woodstock, IL - Family

So, we left Hawaii after a good week there and headed to Illinois. We flew into Chicago and had a while to wait until we could pick up our rental. Pae had a nap and I sat and watched people passing by at the baggage claim area. Eventually, we headed to the rental place right off of the airport.

Aunt Mare had offered to let us stay at her house in Woodstock, where Mom lives. We jumped at the offer, but didn't know that it meant that Mom would be sleeping on the couch!! Thanks, Mom!

Many normal photos were taken during our time in Woodstock...but then again, there were plenty of "not normal" ones taken as well. I'm not certain if we added much to the uniqueness of personalities in that house during our visit, but the home is full of fun people.
It's not anyone's personality alone that is fun, really...It's how all of the personalities mix together and form a dynamic. Mom is there and mom is mom! Mom has her own personality that I grew up with. She is full of wisdom and wit. She does "dad jokes" as good as any dad could, hahah, She has an appreciation for "things" things, normal things, everything. A common phrase from mom's mouth is "Oh, look!" as she sees something she finds interesting and thinks others will likewise be interested in...always curious, always sharing. She is simple "Mom" to me and will always have that "Mom" personality that I regard as "normal" as it was the personality, disposition, temperament that I grew up with thinking was what every mom should be like. And she is.
Aunt Mare, who we would hear most of the time referred to as just "Marden" is the diva of the group, in a good way. Pae described her as "the pretty girl who likes pretty things". Aunt Mare would be the one to have an outfit for every occasion. She loves her Dunkin' which automatically endears her to me ;) She is a Red Sox fan, in fact, we watched some of the World Series together!
She loves her family, especially her siblings. I am very happy that they have good relationships between the sisters and brothers. I know that everyone has their good times and bad times as family, and I always hope that this particular set of siblings is able to stay close and always appreciate each other for who they are...who they are in their little slice of the world and who they are to to each other as family.

Uncle Murray, aka Murray Withanay, is a person who you get along with instantly. He has stories about pretty much everything and every time in his life. He has connections and stories about his connections. He could tell stories for a week and you would never get bored of them.
He is someone who is fun to be around and who took a lot of time to make sure that Pae and I had a good time while we were visiting. His interaction with Mom and Aunt Mare was impressive (I feel like a father of a daughter who brought over her fiance to meet the parents). Most of all, he seems to be someone Aunt Mare enjoys sharing her time with.

They make each other laugh, and even if we never see or saw them bang heads in conflict, I'd actually love to be around to witness that!! I'd love to see them go at it because I know the bickering would be classic and would eventually end with some swear words, childish hand gestures and finally in laughing hysterically at each other and making up...all in 15 minutes!

That would be classic and really, it's how things should be. We can't get along every moment of every day of our lives. We shouldn't expect that from a partner. What we should expect and the people we should strive to be are people who can communicate their frustrations, people who can recognize the differences in ideas, opinions and even more spiritual things, people who can accept these differences and people who will respectfully go through the process of disagreement, not taking things personally, but trying to come to a better understanding of each other. **Childish body language and swear words can be "respectful" least in Aunt Mare and Uncle Murray's case, hahahaha!!
Aunt Mare's son Franky and his girlfriend Axel came over for dinner. We had met both of them for the first time on our last trip to Chicago back 5ish years ago. We had a good meal, great group discussions and great one-on-one talks about this and that and everything. It was nice to meet and chat with cousins. I feel we have or should have a tighter bond or at least awareness that each other exists now that our families are much closer...meaning that our moms live together, hahaha!!

One person I have no recollection of ever meeting, but is someone who I feel like I know well, in certain areas, is Uncle Tim. Uncle Tim and his wife came over for dinner one night as well. It was great to meet them and talk to them.
The important bond that Uncle Tim and I share, outside of genetic family, is another kind of family. Uncle Tim is a Vietnam era United States Marine. We share the brotherhood of the Marine Corps. In that way, I can say that I understand some things about him that only Marines would understand. That is the relationship that we share that defines us as "related" more than the blood relationship, it feels.
Obviously, getting to have dinner with him and talk to him and then see him interact with his sisters, brought the whole "we're blood relatives" feel more to the forefront, but still, to me Uncle Tim will always be my Marine brother. Weird? I don't think so.
Pizza was on the menu for Uncle Tim's visit

Pae and I DESTROYED some pasta when Frankie and Axel stopped by.
I mentioned that we watched several games of the 2018 Major League Baseball World Series while we were in Woodstock. Awesome!!! We saw some great games too! Game 1 and 2 at Fenway were a must while we were in Woodstock. The Sox won both of those of course! Went on to win the series in 5 games.

Uncle Murray gave me a Fenway Park trivia book when we first got there. That thing is full of great trivia. I'm sure in another ten years, a second, updated version can be made!

He also drove us up to Wisconsin to try to see some autumn leaves. It was a fun little drive, but the fall colors this year were muted and not so bright like other years. We appreciated the time that family put into spending that day with us up in Wisconsin.

We had some great Mexican food. Turns out that we had food court Mexican in Hawaii and proper restaurant (Aunt Mare's favorite) Mexican in Illinois. I'd have to say that the IL Mexican fare was much, much better on all levels!!

I got to use a Keurig for the first time ever. Everyone always tells me how I need to buy one and use it for all of my coffee/hot drink needs...but I never even saw one much less knew how to use one. Aunt Mare bought me some Dunkin' capsules/pods and I smashed right through the box while we were there!

The coffee supply wasn't the only thing I was smashing through though. While scooping ice cream one night, I snapped the ice cream scoop in half, mid-scoop!!! I felt so bad! What's worse, several days later, when putting my coffee cup into the dishwasher, it also broke...handle snapped right off. By the end of the trip, I knew I'd break something else...I was so afraid that as the family waved goodbye as we pulled our rental out of the driveway on our last day, that I'd accidentally push the gear into drive instead of reverse, and smash right through the front of the house into the living room!!! Didn't happen, but the way things were going with me breaking stuff, there was a good chance of it going down that way!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

October Trip 2018 - Hawaii - North Shore

Well, the last day or so of us visiting Hawaii, we spent getting all the way around the island to the North Shore, popular for it's big waves and surfing.
Seems like every corner you go around there is a new bay or a new beach. We drove beach to beach, hopping out every now and then to walk on the beaches, see if the seas were good to swim in (rough waves). It's all basically the same coast, with beaches...but each one had it's "thing" that was a little different from the others. Surfing spots, swimming spots, snorkeling spots, beautiful sandy beaches, rocky beaches, etc., the North Shore has it all.
As it turns out, there's also a bunch of good food on the North Shore as well ;) Obviously we had an idea of what kinds of food Hawaii had in store for us, but for all of the restaurants and popular places and meals that we had researched prior to coming, we ended up finding some others that were just perfect in their own ways.
One of the popular places, as rated by visitors who have given feedback online, are a couple of the food trucks on this side of the island. In Hale'iwa, there is the most popular food truck on the island I'd say. It's called Giovanni's. I think they have several truck locations.
Giovanni's Shrimp is basically exactly what it says, SHRIMP. Garlic shrimp, spicy shrimp, several flavors of saute'd shrimp...woulda made Bubba proud.
Pae ready to dig into our Giovanni's SPICY shrimp plate

The lines for Giovanni's were outrageous. People stacked on top of each other basically. The Hale'iwa branch that we went to wasn't all that bad actually. We ordered the spicy shrimp that came with a warning that there would be no refunds if you couldn't handle the spiciness of the shrimp. It was spicy, but not horribly spicy. Almost like it was just soaked in Tabasco to be honest.
Don't let the $15 price tag discourage you, the food is worth it
The first branch (truck) of Giovanni's that we passed was at a pull off where there were ten or so food trucks. The line was ridiculous so we kept walking around and found a BBQ truck called HI-BBQ and got ribs and beef brisket.

Behold, the brisket!!!

Not bad at all! I actually preferred this meal to the shrimp, hands down. Baked beans! Cole slaw. Properly BBQd meat! Flavor! At $15 a plate, it was a little more than we had expected to pay, but it was easily worth every penny.
This Thai food truck had the national flag of Laos on it ;)
Not bad at all! I actually preferred this meal to the shrimp, hands down. Baked beans! Cole slaw. Properly BBQd meat! Flavor! At $15 a plate, it was a little more than we had expected to pay, but it was easily worth every penny.
Hale'iwa itself is a little surf town with a quaint little atmosphere and feel to it. Surf shop, souvenir shops and then a little strip or artsy stores mixed with the stores you would expect to see in a town center.
I was excited to finally have a chance to give Matsumoto's Shave Ice a try, since we had already tried the Town-side favorite Waiola's. People always say how Matsumoto's on the North Shore is better than Waiola's...We had to see for ourselves.
I give Matsumoto's credit for their store, nice, clean, easy to sell shave ice. But I also like the "mom and pop" feel of Waiola's. Both stores have many flavors and options for toppings.

Matsumoto's was flavorful and I liked it, Waiola's the same. But for me, I have to say that Waiola's is still my favorite. Probably because it's always what I had when I lived in Hawaii. If I lived on the North Shore though, I'd never turn my nose up at some Matsumoto's after (or during) a day on the beach!

One of the best places I'd say we ate on the whole trip was Waiahole Poi Factory. We actually thought that it was a factory that produced poi when we first saw it online and passed it. It's technically not on the North Shore, but it was on our way the first day that we drove up that way. 

Pae got to try lomi salmon and even poi, a starchy goo made from taro root and we ate some really good lau lau and kalua pig. Everything about the meal was great, from the meat to the mac salad. This is a place we would go to EVERY TIME we passed it if we lived in Hawaii.
Note the gooey poi at the top right!!

Another thing that was cool about Waiahole Poi Factory was that it is an area where another of the songs I remember from when I was in Hawaii is is based. The song is "Sweet Lady of Waiahole" and is about an old lady who sold fruit on side of the street. The artist is Bruddah Waltah. 

The song was actually written about a little Japanese lady named Fujiko Shimabukuro Matayoshi. After her husband passed away, early 60s, she had to find a way to support their eight children. To do this, as the song says, every day she would pack up a bunch of fruit and wheelbarrow it down to the main road (Kam. Hwy) and sell it to locals and tourists alike. This is the same highway that we take from Kaneohe all the way up the Windward side up to the North Shore.

Since eating at the Waiahole Poi Factory, which is located on the corner of the Kamehameha Highway and Waiahole Valley Road, I like to imagine "Auntie Fujiko" probably selling her fruit at exactly the location where the Waiahole Poi Factory is today, right there on the road.

This song is linked below...warning, it's old, old, old ;) But listen to the words and I feel like I'm there, with the little sweet old Japanese lady, perhaps buying a bunch of bananas off her (or some "pa-paya, pa-pa-paya"), calling her auntie and walking away with a smile.

**Note: the photos in the video are from many different countries...not necessarily Hawaii...I mean, this song probably never had a "music video" back in the day. Someone has just thrown a photo slide show together with the music, but that's fine! 

This song (at least the Bruddah Waltah version that I know) must be thirty years old...but the funniest thing is that we heard it on the radio (streamed via internet) on our favorite Hawaiian radio station just earlier this week! The stuff never gets old! Hell, I even hum "Tiny Bubbles", a Don Ho classic, at home when I'm in the Hawaiian spirit.
We also stopped at Turtle Beach to see the big turtle hanging out
We're not surfers, but we did stop and watch some surfers out in the waves do their thing. The surf was up a little the day we went to the beach for swimming. We tried a couple beaches, but ended up getting splashed around too much.
 Even with clouds in the sky, the weather was great (to me) and the beaches were beautiful. The beaches on the North Shore are less crowded than those on other parts of the island. As evening falls, they get even less crowded. These were taken later in the afternoon. Beautiful.

 One of my favorite pictures was a man fishing from the shore. It is a little far off, but I really like the picture. More than the photo, just watching the dude watching the ocean and wait for his line to show signs of "a bite" was the best part. Observing life, someone's life.
And then there's this beauty, partaking of the Hawaiian beauty

Palm trees, sand, ocean waves,!
People often rave about the tropics. They see it, from their snowed-in cities, as tropical paradise, sunny palm tree lined beaches, perfect weather. The temperature is generally perfect, but it rains a lot in Hawaii and other tropical climate areas. The clouds are beautiful. I love the rain, personally. Clouds at sunset are always nice and bring a lot of contrast to the photos. Even an overcast day, although not sunny, brings a natural filter to photos.
 Sometimes I felt like photos could wait. Big lunky camery hung around my neck...Pae had the right idea of sometimes just sitting there and soaking the atmosphere selfies, no "what's next", just sitting there BEING, and appreciating nature, observing a different "environmental culture", enjoying time away from what is the norm for us. It's vacation...just chill!!

And the last photo is one that I had to take when I saw this guy with a metal detector scouring the beach for treasure! I remember this was really big when I was a kid, didn't know people still did it!
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