Friday, May 29, 2009

Back on the island

I'm back on Oahu. I stepped off the plane the other night and felt like I was walking into an aquarium. Apparently the Kona winds and the accompanying humidity kicked into high gear while I was gone. Hello, Hawaiian summer. It was quite the contrast from the crisp 68 I left in MN. Minnesota is funny place to be, weather-wise. The first Saturday I was there I woke up to 39 degrees. Four days later it was 97 in the afternoon. Yes, 97. I think a 58 degree fluctuation qualifies as drastic. The weather stayed around the 70 degree mark for the second half of my trip. I had hoped for a good ol' thunderstorm while I was home, but didn't get one. But I shouldn't complain as the weather at the Dome for Memorial Day weekend was great.

[An aside: weather and roads are the two main topics of conversation in Minnesota or among Minnesotans. I went to get my haircut today and, lo and behold, the salon employed two Minnesota natives. When I asked where one of the girls was from, she answered, "Brooklyn Center, by the 252 split with 694. You?" I answered, "South Minneapolis, off of the 46th Street exit of 35W." We both nodded solemnly. Ah yes, she was one of my people. Too bad we didn't have time to discuss the multitude of routes to get up North for Labor Day weekend; we could have talked for hours.]

While I was home I got to watch my girls play their last two softball games of the season. I've been involved in coaching or assisting with my high school's softball teams for the last few years. [I didn't blog about it much last year, the first year where I had my blog going during softball season, but there are a couple of entries.] I started coaching five years ago when my Megan, my sister and varsity softball coach, said she needed a coach for the B Squad. (The B Squad is mainly 9th graders, but every year there are a couple of 8th and 10th graders on it.) I took on the job, not really having any knowledge of how to coach the sport that I loved to play and watch. Let's just say that I learned just as much as my girls that season. Coaching 14 year old girls is not for the faint of heart but I assure you, it makes you a better person.

I had two 8th graders on my B Squad. That made then seniors this year. Both were on Megan's varsity squad - one the starting catcher, one the starting left fielder. While I have watched both of them grow up over the last five years, it was strange watching them as 18 year olds out there finishing up their softball careers. The left fielder will be attending the U of MN in the fall. The catcher? She'll be joining the Air Force.

My former 8th grader is joining the Air Force.

I. Am. Old.

She leaves for boot camp eight days after they graduate from high school. While most of the team will be working their summer jobs and getting ready for college in the fall, she'll be going through boot camp. I couldn't be more proud of her. I think the Air Force will be good for her. She always had the skills to be a great softball player, but not necessarily the focus. I think that the military will help her with that. I'm hoping it will also give her the opportunity to develop her leadership skills - she's got the teamwork skills down pat. I've seen that for the last five years. Now she just needs to come out of her shell a little more and become more assertive.

I'd like it if she was coming out to Hawaii, the coach in me wants to be available to help her out, but she'll be somewhere in the southwestern US doing her thing. I told her that if she gets the opportunity to come out to Hickam or Bellows that I'd have her over for dinner every night, if she wants. She laughed, but we both knew that I was totally serious. She's a good kid and I want her to succeed.

This is the right choice for her. I get the feeling she's been looking for a way out for awhile. "Out" of what, I'm not sure. But I've always had the feeling that she's been waiting for that chance to be done with school and go. So off she goes, into the wild blue yonder.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's "see you later" not "goodbye"

I leave tomorrow around lunchtime CDT. Then I arrive back on the island around eight pm HST. Tonight, I'm just sentimental and a little sad. But what makes it easier is that Zac understands. He feels the same about his family and where he's from. He hates leaving NE as much as I do MN.

Originally I had planned on coming back to MN for a week. Zac, in his infinite wisdom, told me that a week isn't enough and that I needed to come back for two. Zac has been away from home longer than I, and sure enough, his advice was correct. Even with the two weeks I felt a little rushed to get "everything" and "everyone" in. I missed connecting with some people. I did connect with others. I got to spend a lot of time with my parents, my sister, my brother (in law) and my nephew. I'm happy with what I got accomplished, but even if I had stayed a month I'm sure there are things I wouldn't have been able to do. Time just flies by.

People that know me, know this: I love Minneapolis. It's my city. Especially my little southeastern quadrant of it. I miss the city and it's streets and avenues like I would miss a friend. It's a beautiful city - a green, urban center of activity and serenity.

I decided to walk from my sister's house to my parent's house on Monday. It was really nice outside and I needed a few minutes to myself. It's a little less than three miles between their houses so I figured it would take me a little less than an hour. A friend mentioned to me recently that sometime she finds herself planning so much for the future that she feels like she's missing the present. So as I walked, I tried to take the time to smell the roses. I enjoyed myself. I spent time actually watching squirrels decipher bird feeders. I appreciated how green Minneapolis is with its tree-lined boulevards. I inhaled the last remaining scent of lilacs. I navigated around sprinklers that spilled water onto the sidewalk.

I walked past city parks (as they occur every few blocks), a municipal golf course that has been there since 1929, an array of different homes that scoff at the beige monotony of suburban houses, kids playing in front yards and back yards, kids riding bikes, people with dark brown skin and pale white skin and lots of shades in between, past small businesses that have been there for years and new ones that have popped up in the nine months I've been gone. It was 53 minutes of happiness.

Someone I know said to me the other day, "You're going home in 48 hours!" They don't get it. I am home - I'm going back to where I live. They are not always the same thing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Not to be disrespectful, but my Dad is cooler than your Dad

Dad had eluded to a mysterious "gift" that was going to arrive in the mail for me this week. It came today:

It's the book he's been working on for the last few years with his friend Bill Sommers. The book was just published, and it seems I have the only copy outside of the warehouse for the moment. What a fantastically awesome present! I couldn't be more proud.

These are the days that remind me how lucky I am - my parents are my role models, and my heroes. My dad took a leap of faith a number of years ago to follow his passion and now here is part of his life's work, ink on paper, available to the world. Blows my mind.

My DAD has a book that's going to be available on and amazon! Now I just need to get him to get out there on his book tour . . .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Minnesota, hail to thee

It's good to be home. I've been in the land of 10,000 lakes since 6:00 CDT yesterday. Though I was excited at the prospect of coming home, I didn't mention it here because I wanted to surprise a few folks with my arrival. Also, I wanted to control the scheduling of visiting time with friends and family and I worried that a grand "I'm coming home!" announcement would flood my inbox with excited responses and I'd be overwhelmed trying to sort through invitations to hang out. It's kind of amazing how many people want to see when you've been physically absent from the state for nine months. And humbling. I've got extraordinary friends and family, and I'm thankful for every hour I get to be here.

Now it's not all fun and games and coffee and beer during my two weeks here. I'm still working and I've got some continuing legal education credits that I need to take while I'm here. But it will all work out time-wise. I'll make it work. Actually it will be nice to watch a live webcast at 9:00 am CDT instead of at 4:00 am HST . . .

One of the things that I missed the most from Minnesota (besides the aforementioned family and friends) is seasons. Clearly defined, radically different seasons. It's beautiful here right now. My mom's garden is gorgeous. Flowers are popping up, the tulips are radiant and the lilac bush in the backyard is in full bloom making everything smell intoxicating. I love how all the flowering trees are blossoming in the neighborhood. It's spring. Hawaii is truly eternal summer. Yes, there are seasonal weather patterns, but it's not like in Minnesota where in February and March everything is gray and brown and relatively life-less, only to burst back to living Technicolor by April and May.

I sort of feel like Superman going to his Fortress of Solitude. It's like my batteries have been recharged and I can relax for a little while. Well, as much as one can relax when 16 month old Lincoln is around. He is the funniest, smartest, most entertaining holy terror I've ever seen. He's a menace, but delightfully so. Example: My parents watch Lincoln usually four days a week. He has observed and learned many of their morning routines. My mom (aka Grandma) keeps her makeup in a drawer under the sink. In this drawer are also a comb and a brush. Now Lincoln is allowed to go into the drawer and take out the brush and the comb, that much has been established as a house rule. However, he is NOT to touch Grandma's makeup.

The other day my mom heard him open the drawer and started towards the bathroom to make sure he wasn't getting into something he shouldn't. As she approached she saw Lincoln grab one of her lipsticks out of the drawer. She quickened her pace, scolding, "Lincoln, no! Put that back!" Lincoln, being Lincoln, realizing he had only seconds to commit as much trouble as possible, whipped open the tube of lipstick and started scribbling it all over his mouth. (Luckily he wasn't aware that he needed to rotate the lipstick to get it to come up so he didn't look like a circus clown.) My mother wanted to holler at him but, at the same time, bust a gut laughing. That's how he is - he gets into trouble, but he's so darn entertaining about it that it's hard to be stern. Apparently right now the standard operating procedure is be stern with him to his face and then quickly find the nearest family member you can to recreate the event and laugh about it.

Ah, yes, it's good to be home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back to the drivel

I was a little taken aback by the response I got to my last blog posting. I got a number of "nice entry!"s from a few people. It does put a little bit of pressure on me to produce quality topics and quality writing with each entry which, let's face it, doesn't always happen. Cool, meaningful events don't happen with the regularity that lends itself to deep, impactful blog entries on a daily or weekly basis. So while I appreciate the positive feedback (really, I do), I can't guarantee that my entries always be that good or reflective. As a matter of fact, there will always be a certain amount of drivel that you'll have to wade through . . .

It's been a little more than a week since my last post. I've been on four more dives and enjoyed them all. Zac and I expanded our diving buddy network to include some additional people along with Bernadette and Ken. I've seen some crazy critters down there on the ocean floor, and that only at 30-55 feet. I would really like to take an underwater photography class when I get the chance, just to record some of the neat stuff I've seen. I can't imagine what lurks down in the depths of the Pacific abyss. I'm not sure I want to. Creepy.

Last Tuesday Zac's command took a day to kayak out to the Moks off of Lanikai. A couple of wives (and a girlfriend) went along, myself included. It was a beautiful day. I really like that side of the island. The water is gorgeous, due to the shallow depth and sand. It is that crazy, electric aquamarine color that looks like it's been altered with food coloring. It really is quite lovely.

The command kayaked out to the northern of the two islands, Moku Nui. There's a nice sandy beach to land on and you can walk around the perimeter of the island to get some great views of lava rock and crashing waves. The inner part of the island is a bird sanctuary, so you can't climb to the top of the island. As you walk around the island there are some crazy burrowing birds that growl at you as walk by. I've never heard a bird growl like that. It sounded like my cat, Nala, when she got pissed off at Toivo. That low, primitive "get back" sound.

On the back side of Moku Nui is a neat sea pool where you can hop in the water to cool off. I was on photo duty so I didn't get in the water, but another one of the wives who went told me it felt very much like you were being flushed in a toilet. The waves would come in, fill the pool, raise everyone up, then the water would flow out, dropping everyone. Maybe I'm glad I didn't go in. I probably would have gotten sea sick. I scampered up on to some rocks to record the fun.

Of course some of the guys had to climb up on the rocks and jump into the water. Here's Ken and Zac having some fun.

The only glitch in the day is when I tipped the kayak. While we were paddling back on the return trip I decided to hop off the kayak to cool off. (i.e. pee in the ocean. What?!? You think I'm the only person who does this?) When I tried to get back into the kayak I realized that I couldn't touch the ocean floor, meaning that I had less ability to propel myself up and and back into the kayak. The first attempt resulted in me tipping the kayak, knocking Zac and our dry bag into the ocean. While he righted the boat, I grabbed our bag and the oars and I gave it another go. I flopped myself into the kayak, banging my shins and elbows in the process. Elegant? No. Effective? Yes. (By the way, at no point in my life have I ever been, or will ever be, called "elegant". Just not something I do. Motor skills are challenging on a good day.)

We made it back to shore without further incident and the command headed over to a burger joint in Kailua to toast our morning.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Scuba, and saying goodbye to one of ours and one of theirs

I'm glad it's Monday. It was an exhausting last two and a half days. I had a great weekend, but I can't handle that much activity, at least not without upping my caffeine and calorie intake.

Friday afternoon Zac, Ken and I decided to go diving. This would mark my first time donning the scuba gear since we wrapped up class and got certified. Zac and Ken have been out a couple times since then, but I didn't tag along. Since the guys were done with work early on Friday, we headed over to the scuba shop to rent our gear. Ken owns all his gear - decided to invest in it after getting certified - and only needed tanks. Zac and I needed everything. While we were getting our stuff, one of the employees of the shop told us that our intended destination, Electric Beach, had high surf. He suggested a place up on the North Shore instead. Zac and Ken had only dove at Electric Beach, but they decided that we could try out a new spot so we headed up to the North Shore and ended up diving at Three Tables and Shark's Cove.

It was a great dive. I got a new mask before the dive, so all of my previous mask woes were gone. It makes a huge difference in quality and enjoyment of the dive when you can see. (Sight is one of my favorite senses.) There was some current that we had to contend with, but overall it was a really fun dive. There were lots of lava formations with some neat coral and plenty of sea life. It wasn't a deep dive at all - maybe 30 feet. I think we'll have to check it out again.

The toughest part of the dive was getting out of the water. You know how there are different kinds of snow? Dry stuff, wet stuff, big flakes, tiny fluff balls, etc? Well there are lots of different kinds of sand as well. The sand at Three Tables was not nearly as compact as at other beaches, meaning that trying to get out of the water at first was like wading in six to eight inches of quick sand. Combine that with a certain amount of physical exhaustion from fighting the current plus add in heavy scuba gear and you get an awkward, bumbling, collapsing Kate on the beach. At least I amused the beach goers.

Adding to the tough exit was the steep incline that was about four feet high that I had to get up. As I was attempting to navigate it, a couple sunning themselves asked, "So how was it out there?" At that moment I tipped over like Humpty Dumpty and landed on my side in the sand. Without missing a beat I quipped, "It was great. Why don't I just sit here for a few minutes to tell you about it." That got a good laugh from everyone within ear shot.

Once I finally made it back up to the car we decided that it was too late in the day to do our second dive. We made plans to go out early(ish) the next day at Electric Beach. Zac and I went home, watched Dollhouse and went to bed not to long after that, as we were tired from the dive. Saturday morning we headed out to Electric Beach and were in the water by 9:00. We dove this beach back when were taking our scuba class, but this time I enjoyed myself much more. No skills to perform, just diving. And, again, my new mask made things much more fun.

Electric Beach is named such because it is across the street from one of the electric power plants on Oahu. There is a large pipe that discharged warm water offshore which attracts lots of sea life. It also has created an artificial reef, meaning lots of other sea formations. We saw a number of cool critters on this dive including a HUGE sea turtle that looked like it had barnacles growing on it. I haven't seen a turtle that big. It seemed to be unimpressed by us and swam near Zac and Ken. (Legally we're supposed to stay away from sea turtles, as they are a protected species. But when you're in the water and they swim right by you? You count your lucky starts and appreciate it.)

Coolest sighting? A white tipped reef shark.

No, that is not me in the photo.

I was about 15 feet away from a shark. Super cool. Now the shark wasn't very big - maybe three feet, but there is something about seeing a shark right in front of you that is pretty neat. My thought process went something like, "Look at the neat fish. Look at that big one. Oh, is that a shark? Cool! It IS a shark! Wait a second, #$%&@!!! It's a shark! Eh, it's not going to eat me. Ken! Zac! Shark!!! Cool!" After the two dives I've decided that I really like scuba and I'd like to get out on a boat dive so I can give a deep dive a shot again. We didn't break 30 feet this weekend, so I'm looking forward to trying out a 50-60 foot dive again.

After the second dive we had to run home, change, and get ready to head out for a going away BBQ. One of the guys Zac works with is going IA to Iraq. Zac coordinated a BBQ to get everyone together to have a nice send off. We had it at Hideaway which is a bar out at the Barber's Point Coast Guard station. It was a really good time. A lot of people turned out, even some people that we don't usually see socially, so everyone had a good time. There was sand volleyball, drinks and a lot of laughing.

While we were sending off our guy, there was a group of Army guys there sending off one of theirs. He apparently had been wounded (I gathered while over there somewhere) and was "retiring" due to his injuries. I say "retiring" because this guy didn't look old enough to be retiring from anything, except maybe frat life. Actually, all of the Army guys look young. And really in shape. Like an Ambercrombie advertisement but with military haircuts and lots of tattoos. And there was a certain aura about them - a tense, close-knit-ness. This was in contrast to our group - a bunch of senior enlisted guys in their mid to late 30s. All on shore duty. Not necessary ripped from the floor up.

The Army guys spent most of the evening off in the corner of the bar complex on the basketball court. They formed a big circle around the retiring guy. I was curious about what all was going on, because there were probably about 30 guys making up the circle and they were there for at least an hour. All of their girlfriends/wives were excluded from the circle. They sat off at tables talking amongst themselves. Finally I had to ask what was going on. I stopped one of the gals as she was heading to the bar and asked, "What is that they're doing?"

She called it a paddle ceremony or something. There is a paddle (like an oar) that's about three feet long that gets passed around the circle. When you're holding the paddle you say something good about the guy in the middle. Something funny, something memorable, something meaningful. Something to say how much you appreciate serving with him. This group always did it when they had to say goodbye to one of theirs.

She also mentioned they were a scouting unit. And suddenly the buff, young, tense Army guys made sense. They are highly skilled, finely tuned killing machines. And they were maybe 22-24 years old. At one point, when the circle had disassembled for a moment to refill drinks, a handful of them made their way to the bar and downed a shot together. "One shot, one kill!!!" they bellowed right before they slammed their alcohol. Then it was back to the circle where they continued their ceremony.

It was hard not to watch them, even though I was 75 feet away and couldn't hear what they were saying, save the occasional hooting and laughing. It was like there was a dome of emotion enclosing them, and they didn't give a damn about the world outside of it. They were there, toasting their brother, talking about things that only they understand, recalling experiences that only they share.

As our group wrapped up our evening and started to head out, the paddle ceremony had finally ended. The Army guys changed gears - the drinks started flowing and they started singing along with the band who was playing Green Day-style covers. You could tell that there was a certain aggression even in their celebration. I wondered when they'd be cycled out again, scouting, patrolling, killing. But I guess you have to live for today. And today they were celebrating their retiring brother. Bravo Zulu, soldier. Thank you for your service.