Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012: A Year in Cell Phone Pictures

After what felt like a multitude of tumultuous years, 2012 was pleasantly boring. 

I started playing with Cedar Park Winds again, and hit an unrecognizable, 
mythical creature on my way to the first rehearsal. 

I made this amazing sock monkey hat for my nephew. 

I was pretty pleased with my 4th Painting with a Twist attempt. I promptly put it on the roof of my car and drove to the grocery store. I found it (somewhat) unscathed in the middle of my street when I got back home.

I did lots of yard work over spring break, including creating a planting bed out of part of my front yard and joining the green(er) movement with my new electric lawn mower. 

I played with my camera. 

I learned to "bull ride" on a spa weekend with Joan and Kim. 

A few of my band students declared friendly war... I always win. :) 

I learned to eat "healthy". :)   [notice the green beans]

In an unexpected moment of fate, I accepted a new job and visited my new band hall.

I turned 30.

I made an elephant hat for another midget.

I went to Hawaii with Kim and Dave and saw life changing things 
(obviously the volcano was an 'oh my god' moment, but did you know that pineapples grew on bushy things???)

 Prepping for a brand new school made me a little crazy, like when I lost a banana for a couple of days and found it in my purse. But when all was said and done, we were ready for the first day of school.

I woke up early one morning for a downtown interview with Suze Orman that I never watched.

My front garden exploded after our 9 inches of rain.

My doglets were pretty upset by how much time I spent at school. 

My parents came for Thanksgiving. I made my first attempt at homemade rolls, 
and Dad and I made our first attempt at framing a bathroom mirror.

 Finally in the Christmas spirit, I decorated the house.
 Austin decorated the highways.

Inspired, my band decorated a tree on campus after our first ever concert. 

I drove home for Christmas where we decorated cookies in our now traditional ridiculous fashion (this is a sampling of our more appropriate cookies).

All in all, 2012 was a pretty decent year: 
a year of gardens, photos, excursions, new jobs, new babies, Downton Abbey, and a return to normalcy.

2012: It's been real. I'm excited to see what 2013 has in store. :)

2011: A Year in Cell Phone Pictures

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Return of Christmas

First of all, I am not one of those people who is offended by the early appearance of Christmas. Once upon a time, I was totally the person that put their Christmas tree up around mid November. Why not? Why should I wait all year to only enjoy 4 weeks of the decorations, the music, the movies, the presents? I would be happier with a solid 8 weeks of Christmas. :) It would be awesome if cities kept up Christmas lights all year. In college, the day after Thanksgiving my radio would find a permanent home on the station playing 24 hour Christmas music, which also sickeningly was the station with Delilah...

Which brings me to number 2: I'm not a fan of Thanksgiving. We could skip it (keep the time off though) and my life would not be impacted. I'll eat Thanksgiving dinner, but I have never craved nor looked forward to it. I don't like stuffing. The best part of sweet potatoes are the marshmallows (my sister and I from time to time have made valiant attempts to change the potato-marshmallow ratio). Turkey is only good when smothered beyond the point of recognition in brown gravy. Although I will say I really love Joan's homemade rolls, and I have discovered that I really like making snobby pies. But again we could skip Thanksgiving and make it Christmas Part One and that would be way more awesome.

The last two years though, the idea of celebrating my favorite season was about as welcome as a case of lice. In 2010, Christmas Part One/Part Two was forced participation. Our lives were in turmoil beyond what I'd like to remember, and celebrating anything seemed ridiculous and fake. We didn't decorate. We were spending all of our money on existing, and presents were as minimal as possible. We tried once to listen to my amazing Christmas playlist, but after a couple of songs we turned it off and never brought it out again. The spirit of generosity was not there, but we recognized the holidays simply because we were supposed to.
           In 2011, we celebrated Thanksgiving jointly with my Williams clan which was great. I think that  the different approach to the holiday was helpful in keeping the obvious absence to a minimum. Christmas came... that's about it. It came. I put up the tree but didn't bother to decorate, or most of the time even plug it in. My house was completely dark on the block. The playful joy of making a Christmas list seemed laborious. I did enjoy making cookies with my sister, but I could have done without the rest. Carrying on the "Mom Prefers Vodka" tradition that Roger started years before (long story) was sweet and humorous but also carried a weight of sadness it didn't used to.

There is something sad about being indifferent during the holiday season when it was once something I was passionate about - yes passionate. The Christmas season always brought out a more joyful, optimistic, generous, happy, a better me, and even in the moment it is sad when you feel nothing.

But you can't force Christmas and all its precipitates.

About two weeks ago I felt a strange yet familiar twinge... a desire for gingerbread and Vince Guaraldi.  And so I'm going to foster that which I haven't felt for a long time: in honor of the rapidly approaching Christmas Part One, I'm going to put up the tree tomorrow, ornaments and all, with some Christmas jams in the background. It would be really great to find some joy in the season again.

Don't feel guilty if you still call it "Thanksgiving."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why I am the "Idiot" that Votes Blue

I voted for Obama. Twice.

I own an Obama shirt.

Go ahead. Unfriend me if you'd like. I'm one of the ones you may have cursed last night, or this morning.  I'm one of the idiots that supports that socialist, baby-kiling, Bible-hating Muslim. 

But instead of telling you what I didn't like about Mitt Romney, let me tell you what I DO like about our President who I have enough faith in to cast my ballot for a second term. 

  • First of all, I'm a woman, a woman who takes birth control. I pay for health insurance every month. I shouldn't have to worry that the money I already pay may not cover birth control because my employer believes "every sperm is sacred". Yes, one of the guiding principles of our country was freedom of religion BUT it's freedom of religion for everyone, not just Christians that don't believe in birth control. By upholding an employer's right to deny coverage for something they shouldn't be asking me about in the first place is infringing upon my own belief that even God knows it's just a swimmer until it fertilizes something. If you are confused as to how birth control pills prevent that from happening, here is an informational link. Now, if you only employ a staff that is of your same religious conviction, then by all means, don't cover birth control, heck - make the chicks cover their heads at all times too, but I think requiring employees to be of a certain religious belief is also illegal, and surely we can all agree that would be a bad and medieval idea. 

  • Second, I'm a woman that knows all too well that you have no idea what the future may hold. Thank goodness I have absolutely no experience with this, but how can I possibly tell you with complete certainty that I won't be a victim of rape in my lifetime. And because I thankfully have no experience with it, there is not a fiber in my body that would be justified in judging any woman that would choose, or not choose, to carry to term a fetus that is the product of sexual violence. I cannot fathom the horrors of rape and the ever-present reminder of that instance that would follow should that woman so unfortunately become pregnant. And if you, like me, are so lucky as to know nothing of that horror and yet you are arrogant enough to think you can comprehend what a rape victim is capable of handling over that next 9 months, then I can share some personal horrors for you to try to understand instead. I have no idea what I would do should I be in that situation, but if I were, I would hope that I would have a choice.

  • I also believe in funding the social service programs required to care for the kids that are born, because outlawing abortion doesn't magically make all women fit or ready parents, or make all men responsible or financially sound enough to pay child support. That means spending taxes to fund 18 years worth of programs, because if you want the babies to be born, you have to love and support them afterwards too.

  • I 100%, whole-heartedly believe medical care is not something that should be afforded by the rich. I do not believe that when you have medical treatment you should leave the hospital with years, or a lifetime, worth of debt. I think it is disgusting that I can take my dog in for an ultra-sound and biopsy and pay a total of $78, but we all know how crazy expensive it would be to have that same procedure done on ourselves. And when I hurt my ankle 2 weeks ago, I shouldn't put off going to have it checked out because I fear what I'm going to owe, even already having insurance.
  • I totally benefitted from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Not only did Roger and I see an increase in our monthly checks as one of the tax cuts took out less money each month, but the $8000 First Time Homebuyer's Credit helped us buy our first home. In addition, after having paid into a 403(b) monthly since 2004, I started actually earning money on my contributions for the first time EVER in 2011. After the first couple of years teaching, I was getting more and more students with parents out of work, and over the past 4 years I have seen that status change 

  • Being a teacher in Texas, I have taught my fair share of students who have... questionable documentation, if any. But that doesn't make them any less of a human being. As Americans, we are ALL the product of our ancestors wanting a better life for one reason or another. The idea that we are now so "elitist" that, because most of mine came over in the late 1700's, my newly-American ancestors' immigration was more appropriate is ridiculous. Do it in what should be the American way: help them become citizens and then tax the crap out of them! :) That's one way of shrinking the deficit - create more tax payers!

  • I don't like coal. I don't like oil. It's 2012... come on. I may not like nature, but one day I might, and I'd like for it to still, ya know, be natural.

  • I don't think there is anything wrong with expecting and requiring my car to have better gas mileage. It's 2012... come on. Especially since the technology has existed for a very long time. You should watch Who Killed the Electric Car. It's on Netflix. Watch it instantly! It's a strong lesson in the power of lobbying, and for those of you my age, you'll probably vaguely remember the commercials from when we were in high school!

I have to be honest; the more I get to know myself the more I find that I am way more to the left than I even thought possible growing up in rural Texas. But I believe in fairness, equality, taking care of others, taking care of my environment, protecting my body, and for the most part staying out of other people's business as long as they are not negatively impacting someone else. I believe that anytime you privatize something, someone figures out how to exploit it for their financial gain. I believe that actively using regular filibusters to stalemate legislation is about as mature as putting your fingers in your ears and declaring "I can't hear you!" I believe that infidelity makes a mockery of marriage, not the gay community. I believe that marijuana is not remotely in the same league as cocaine and should be legalized, regulated, and taxed like mad. I believe life-altering commodities like oil should be regulated. I believe tobacco is evil. I believe Wal-mart might be evil. I know McDonald's is... Just watch Food Inc. I know those crazy European socialist countries have higher life expectancies, longer maternity and paternity leave, a greater respect for the arts, and have topped the list of "happiest citizens" for years. I would even consider living in one of those should my family choose to join me and the availability of Dr. Pepper and BravoTV over there change. 

I'm still a nice person. :) Promise. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Suze Orman: Not Worth My 2 Cents

How can you not get excited when your financial guru requests to speak to you? How can you not be pumped by the idea that you are going to be the recipient of personalized steps and goals for financial freedom? How is it not exciting for all of that to happen on national television???

I don't claim to be a financial wizard or even knowledgable. I'll choose the adjective informed, and I make my financial decisions on the information I have and with heavy consideration. I don't skimp on life (as it has been made abundantly clear to me just how fleeting life can be), but I definitely fall somewhere between cheapskate and penny-pincher.

A brief and non-specific outline of my financial status:

  • I definitely have more money than most single 30 year-olds.
  • A little less than half of my money is invested with one financial institution. A little more than half of my money is invested with another.
  • About half of my money is invested aggressively within a 403(b) and a Roth IRA. About half of my money has recently been invested very conservatively in a couple of annuities and a TSP.
  • I have an appropriately sized emergency fund.
  • I have a 30 year mortgage on a house I love but don't plan on living in forever.
  • I have no credit card debt, student loans, or car payments.
  • I live below my means by choice.
  • I have not invested any new money since my life changed.
I spent a good bit of time on the phone with the Suze Orman show going over very, very specific information about where my money is, how I spend it, what is left at the end of the month, and what my goals are. For that time and the right to share my story, I would be granted specific financial advise. Awesome.

I found out that I would be filming from a little 2 room studio in downtown Austin connected by live feed to Suze in New Jersey. The afternoon before, the producer called me to go over exactly what would be said in my intro. It was very personal information, maybe more personal that I was hoping for, but I have been telling myself that maybe hearing my story would help someone out there, and so I swallowed the immediate lump in my throat and listened to the instructions for the following day.

I chose a dark purple sweater to wear on camera. I look good in purple, and if you are going to be on national television, the goal should always be to look exceptionally good. :) I might also add that I had a great hair day. Before hitting the toll for downtown, I grabbed some Starbucks and then started my trek on an almost empty highway. 

Arrival time at the studio was set for 8:30. Not knowing what traffic or parking would be like in the morning, I left early... far too early. I made it downtown and found parking by 7:10. My empty chai tea latte cup gave me a reason to meander down Congress to buy another. Austin is a beautiful city when no one is there. 

By 8:15 I had run out of things to do, so I took the elevator up to the 5th floor and found my studio. The owner, a very friendly 40-something from a nearby town, talked my ear off as we waited for sound and video check. When he asked me what I was there to discuss, I kept it very general - money. By 8:40 I was in my chair before an HD backdrop of the city skyline, talking to the producer and Suze through my earpiece. By 9:00 I heard the theme music, and we were off!

It took but seconds for the glamor of the moment to dissipate and anger, betrayal, and disappointment to set in. One of my caveats for agreeing to be on the show was for "my story" to be told in a delicate way. I've had my fill of horrors, and reliving those on screen is low on my agenda. The intro started very much like the one read to me by the producer but then turned very specific and graphic - the exact situation I wanted to avoid. I hope that I turned as red as I was hot. I hope the audience will see the fire in my eyes as I clenched my jaw. But the promise of financial advice kept my outward emotions steady.

Suze's first point was to tell me what a bad idea it was for me to put money into annuities. She never said why but did question whether I knew that if I touched the money within the first 7 years I would incur a surrender fee. Yes. I was fully aware of that. BUT.... did I know that I could not touch that money until 59 1/2???? .... I don't know if that was said explicitly, but it makes sense as that is the case in most retirement accounts. Besides, if money is readily available, the chance of my spending it is far greater, and retirement money shouldn't be touched anyway. With so much of my money invested in volatile accounts, I specifically sought an investment with guaranteed preservation and low level growth. 

What was most enraging was when Ms. Orman accused me of allowing myself to be convinced that annuities were a good idea at a very emotionally broken moment of my life. I opened those annuities over a year after my husband died, and the only emotionally driven choice I made even at my lowest moment was to buy my camera... I am ridiculously even-keeled when it comes to making major decisions, especially with money, and I was crazy offended. 

Point #2: I should not have all of my money in one institution.... which I don't. She told me my money was not diversified... which it is. All of my money has been thoughtfully spread out, and I have spoken to salaried (not commissioned) financial advisors. Suze said I should open a Roth IRA with a discount brokerage... which would make my third Roth... I already have to make very careful decisions when deciding how to fund my 2 existing Roths. With a $5000 max Roth contribution each year, I don't know how a third would benefit.

Point #3: I should immediately refinance my house to a 15 year mortgage to a) get a lower interest rate from my already fairly low 4 1/2%, and b) pay it off by the time I'm 45. That's a great plan, except that while I love my house, my yard, my neighbors, I have no desire to be in this house forever. In fact, that was a specific question I was asked in the interview process - did I plan on moving from my house. I answered that I didn't anticipate selling my home WITHIN 5 YEARS, but yes, I did plan on something else for my long-term house.... before I'm 45.

Most disappointing about the whole experience was how my financial story was reshaped to fit very generalized situations. 1) Don't make financial decisions when emotional. 2) Roths are a good addition to your portfolio. 3) Try to pay off your house as soon as possible so as to avoid mortgage payments later in life. Suze completely ignored any of my investments aside from my annuities, which then made her Roth suggestion make no sense. And she obviously ignored the fact that I don't plan on retiring in this house. There was nothing specific to me about the advice she gave. The Suze Orman show wanted to give very general widow's advice, I had a dramatic story, and they portrayed me in a way that fit what they wanted. 

BUT... I was also told I would get a full financial run-down, since not everything would fit into an 8 minute tv segment. About 2 weeks after the taping, I got an email from the show with Suze's full advice to me... It was a restating of the 3 points I just outlined...

Overall, I would NOT do this again. It makes me question the advice she's given to every guest I've ever seen on her show, and nothing that she told me will impact my financial future. What a bummer. I'm not even going to bother to watch the episode. 

I already know how good I look in purple.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Proyecto:Terapia en español

Estoy estudiando español... otra vez... Esta es mi tercer intento a ser bi-lingua. En 2004 estudié italiano para un año ante mi aventura en Italia. Este spring break (vacacione de primavera?) voy a ir a London con mis amigas. En Inglaterra, no necesito español, pero las lenguas me fascinan. :)

Estoy usando Livemocha para muchas de mi estudias. Yo compré un curso de español unas años atrás. Es aburrido estudiar con un libro y CDs solamente... Necesito algo diferente. Voy a intentar buscar oportunidades a hablar español este año. Con mis estudiantes?? Mi vocabulario pequeño y mis problemas con... conjugation... lo hacen difícil. También, entiendo muy lentamente.

Deséame suerte!

*Note, I did manage to write most of this without assistance but required a little past tense help and lots of spell check. :)

**I also have many yarn projects in the mix... yeah for autumn!!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

London 2013

I am a travel addict.

They say you make time for that which is important to you. I make time and save money.

My first true trip, childhood vacations excluded, was in 2004 to Italy. I ate pancakes and ramen for a year to afford it, studied Italian voraciously, and it left an ever-present impact on my life. I believe you cannot adequately understand the world until you see it.

GRANTED... In my many travels, I admittedly have only been to Europe, which is a fairly narrow scope of our world, but even walking through the paved, car-lined streets with the comforts of modern civilization in all directions, people watching across the ocean in the heart of another culture speaks volumes of our common humanity.

2004 - Italy
2006 - Germany with a hint of Austria
2008 - Ireland
2010 - Paris
2011 - Ireland
2012 - Hawaii
2013 - LONDON!!!

I am a long-time anglophile that was over-joyed to find a documentary series about the British monarchy from its inception on Netflix. (I know more about the history of British royalty than probably most of you combined.) I have researched the interments of Westminster Abbey on more occasions than I can count, and there are few things that sound tastier than High Tea service. I have watched the House of Commons on CSPAN... voluntarily.

I recently started a spending diet, but planning a spring break venture with two of my best girl friends is the best incentive for hoarding it away. :)

When Roger died, one of my many points of loss was that of my travel partner. I am so thankful for adventurous friends!!!! :) :) :) God save the Queen!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Privacy Dilemmas

This woman wants to talk to me.

Cool stuff... I know... :)

I emailed The Suze Orman Show a while back asking if they thought I was doing the right stuff with my money: 30 year old widow, planning for retirement, making sure I can do it on my own if I need to. All the kinds of stuff people my age SHOULD be thinking about if they want to retire before the age of 70 and/or be able to have a normal existence once their monthly checks are dramatically chopped. 

So I emailed Suze. We're friends. I've watched her for years. I'm positive that she would always tell me "You CAN afford it" if I were to ask. :) 

But then the crazy thing was my email was actually answered!!! In the form of a phone call! A phone call that came in the middle of new-to-district teacher inservice I might add. I waited to pee my pants until AFTER I left campus that day. :) Would I like to be a guest on their show, they inquired. After an emphatic yes, I was sent a lengthy Excel file that covered every aspect of my financial status from top to bottom and a lot of places you forget about. 

I emailed my info back and then combed through it, piece by piece, with one of their producers... I talked at length to a producer. :) Yeah, I'm awesome. :) 

And then they called me back.

A quick search revealed a lot about my story, "my situation" as CNBC calls it, that peaked their interest. Originally, they wanted me as a phone guest for their "How Am I Doing" segment, citing there are far more young widows out there than we hear about, especially in the last several year with young, married men going off to Iraq and Afghanistan. A young widow is relatable. A young widow is interesting. 

But a young widow with my story is video interview worthy. 

And I don't know how I feel about that. It actually made my stomach churn a little. A piece of my heart will always belong to Roger. I will always cherish the time I was married to him, and even as I find it harder to remember his voice, I will never forget how loud it was or the sound of his laughter. But coming to a new school, I get a little bit of my anonymity back. 

I have felt under a spotlight for the last 2 1/2 years. Every time I walk into a room of band directors I wonder if he is what they think about. Probably not. I wonder how many of the looks are that of pity. Probably none. Maybe a couple. But I am very sensitive of the fact that I was thrust into the limelight for nothing that referenced my skill as a musician or dedication to my craft. We became recognizable through a horrible situation with tragic results, and as far as I want to know, maybe I get to be "anonymous" again. 

But "my situation" is unique. "My situation" is worthy of more time and a closer look. I just don't know if I want that. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Yarn & Diamond Bling

Today I did virtually nothing. :)

I did mow and walk the doglets, but for the most part I did nothing of importance.
And it was wonderful.

I've been stressing out a lot about my new job. Even though I'm capable of saying out loud that I realize  it's a brand new school, brand new program, that it's going to be a strange year, I'm not capable of actually operating in that mindset.

And so today, after a full day of leadership with a handful of my new kiddos, I did nothing. :)

For most of the day I worked on my version of an Anthropology necklace I found well over a year ago, that I've been planning for equally as long to make. While I crocheted, I finished up season 4 of Mad Men off Netflix. In the final episode Draper proposes to his secretary using the engagement ring he inherited from Anna. It was a sweet scene, but it made me pine for my own ring.

It just sits there.

I wore my engagement ring for only a couple of weeks afterward. I wore my wedding ring for months. I took it off after we spread the ashes.

I don't know what to do with it. There's no way I can part with it. "Make it into a necklace." I have a diamond necklace that I've worn every day for 12 years, and I'll probably where it every day for the next 12. If I tried to have it reset into a different ring, it would be pretty dang flashy and probably still look like an engagement ring. I really love it. It represents a wonderful time in my life, but it sits there. In it's box. Just as pretty as the day it was slipped on my finger. But nobody gets to see it.

I bought myself a very bling-y diamond band last year (because a girl shouldn't have to have a guy to be sparkly) as part of my retail therapy. (That probably could have easily been the name of my blog. I've made a lot of big purchases in the last year and a half...) But as much as I love my "new ring", the old will always be prettier.

So I wore it today.

Go ahead. Think it's awkward. Think it's strange. It's not fair that I have this awesome piece of jewelry that stays well hidden because fate has something against me. I know what you're thinking mom, but no, people would think it was weird if I wore a diamond solitaire when I'm not engaged or married, even on my right hand. But today I wore it for a few hours, just so I could remember how much it sparkles (and how heavy it is), and then I put it back in it's box for who knows how long.

Hard not to feel pretty when you got your bling on.

Friday, July 20, 2012


There is very little left of today, Roger's 35th birthday, but I've had a lot of the previous hours to consider my life, my current state of being, and of course the sweet man of the day.

Particularly over the last year and half, a specific friend of mine and I have joked that I must have some level of psychic ability, even if it exists at the lowest level. Most of the time I'm joking; there are the rare occasions when I'm not.

I am an optimistic pessimist. As far back as I can remember, I have prepared for the worst so that I could handle the worst in the best possible way, or be incredibly grateful when the worst did not come to pass. Example in point: as a young child, my parents would leave my sister and I with my grandparents every year on their anniversary trip to McDonalds. I was always so afraid, even as a little kid, that they would be in a car accident on the way back. I spent the couple of hours they were gone considering how I would need to handle the situation should they die, be crippled, or awaken from a coma with no memory of their children like in a soap opera, all while my grandma dealt the next hand of Gin Rummy. Dark for a 7 year old... I know. Of course, my parents returned safely each year, and my mental over-preparedness for the worst allowed me to be overjoyed when the worst was not.

Years ago, I was recently out of college, working hard, living alone in a small apartment plenty big for just me, miles away from my version of "civilization", feeling very isolated in this world and life in general. I felt very out of place with the rest of the people in my community. Dating any of them was out of the question. Had I wrongly assumed I'd have the white bread, all-American husband and family? And so my optimistic pessimism kicked in. By the age of 23, I had literally begun playing out in my head the future in which I was 40-something spinster (old maid), spending my money selfishly on just myself (since I wasn't married), with two beautiful dogs (mini-schnauzers in that imagination that were replacing the children I didn't have), a shabby chic house (I was so young...) and a career like Betty Pierce. I figured if I told myself this reality long enough, when it came to pass I'd be okay with it, and if it didn't, well, awesome! All kidding aside, I imagined this future for myself a lot. I'd even say it loud to friends or family. I'd talk to my mom about her future grand-dogs, laugh, and then seriously look through those little shops and trades day shows in Fredericksburg for kitschy ways to decorate the house I'd be sharing with those two dog children.

About a week ago it occurred to me that I'm not far off.

Granted, I haven't won Honor Band (yet), and I don't have croquet mallets holding up curtains (like I once thought would be cool), but here I am... Sharing my house with two dogs, thankfully dachshunds. Telling them they are going to see Grandma. Taking vacations to Hawaii because I can afford to lavish myself with travel.


Last year at this time I had my hand in a box of ashes. I was certain that was the worst. 
A year later, I wouldn't call this the worst, but I certainly don't feel prepared. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Madame Pele, I presume --- Hawaii, the Final Act

It's interesting to remember that the news of Hawaii came to me on my anniversary as a widow. It was while spending the evening with the Williams Clan at Chez Zee that Kim first mentioned that she had accepted this job and the invitation extended to spend some time down there over the summer. It was never a question of if I could make it happen but when. I have a great extended family, and I am thankful for them.


From the moment I bought my plane ticket, I was interested primarily in planning a side trip to the Big Island to play volcanologist. There are only a handful of places in the world that one can witness the churnings of an active volcano, and I simply had to do see it for myself. For my last few days in tropical paradise, we planned a side trip to the island of Hawaii for some real adventure!

We flew into Hilo, Hawaii my last Friday at 7:30pm. One of the ladies at the airport had recommended a diner called Ken's for supper. O  M   G.... Ken's was amazing!!! It was one of those places that had 40,000 items on the menu, a little bit of everything and a whole lot of breakfast, and you knew just by looking at the place that every one of those items would come out amazing. I had a really boring but super delicious bacon, eggs, and pancake dinner with some POG (passion fruit-orange-guava juice). Yum yum! Perfect dinner for exploration. After eating we checked into our hotel and headed out for some star gazing and volcano hunting!

Yes, star gazing. Hawaii is home to the Mauna Kea Observatory - a collection of several observatories and telescopes controlled by a number of countries atop the Mauna Kea (Ma-una Key-a) shield volcano. It hasn't erupted in 4000+ years, and, because of its altitude, there is virtually no man-made light up there. By the time we had unloaded the car with our bags, bundled up for the 40* temperatures you find at 9000 feet above sea level, and found our way down the poorly lit Hawaiian roads, it was 10:00 when we reached the visitors center. You're only allowed to drive up to the actual observatory a) during daylight and b) with a 4x4 vehicle. The kids had conked out the back, so it was just the adults taking in the beauty. We were the only folks up there, and it was so quiet. Looking down and to the north, over the "edge" of the volcano was a silvery sea.... of clouds! It looked just like water; my eyes told me it was water, my brain struggled with the idea it was not, but it was definitely the 5 minutes worth of clouds we had driven through on our way up the volcano. I wish my pictures did better justice, but it was simply beautiful on top of the world that night.

By the time I was done playing with my shutter-speed, trying to get "the shot", it was nearly 11. The plan was to go looking for glowing lava, but Kim and the kids were done. We drove back to the hotel and dropped them off, and at 11:30pm we started our lava hunt. Dave and I had found our soundtrack on Lava Rock 101... how splendidly cheesy. :) There were two different sources for glowing lava I had mapped. We started with Kilauea in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kilauea has been erupting constantly since 1983 and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, right here in our no-passport-needed-USA people!!! There are two main sources for lava within this one volcano: the Halemaumau crater (of which we visited) and the Pu'u'O'o vent (the later of which has been the source of much of Hawaii's "devastation" as recently as March of this year). It took us about 30 minutes to reach the National Park. I was running on fumes at this point. It truly was everything I could do to even stay awake for lava. We drove maybe a quarter of a mile into the park, and as we reached a clearing, to our left were the first plumes of orange smoke in the distance. Any hint of exhaustion was instantly gone!

Let's take a moment to think about that: orange smoke... in the dark... We've all seen smoke at night, if you can see it at all. A grey mist with no definition, no form. This was definitely glowing orange, which meant it was illuminated by something orange... LAVA!!! I seriously cannot tell you how much I wanted to wet my pants! We drove a little further, constantly checking to make sure it was still there, until we reached the sign reading "Kilauea Lookout". We turned in. Turning off the car we were instantly aware that we were again cloaked in silence and darkness, the only illumination coming from a full moon and the erie, fiery glow coming from just down the way.

Following the paved path, we walked maybe 100 yards. In the moonlight, the landscape was devoid of color aside from the brilliantly colored smoke bellowing from a still unseen opening in the earth. The Hawaiians believed that the Halemaumau crater was the home of the goddess Pele, who showed her presence in a number of ways including Pele's Hair. When we finally reached the fenced lookout, it was pure majesty. A foot away was the edge of the summit, dropping 165 meters into the dark Kilauea caldera. Another x# of meters a way (it seemed very close in the night) we could see the very defined, very clear interior of the Halemaumau crater, the actual lava pit sending up its plumes of orange smoke.

I enhanced this a bit so you could see everything clearer.
the original
What do you say as you bear witness to the birth of our world? What does one say standing before one of the most primordial forces of our Earth? You say, "that is coolest f***ing thing I've ever seen in my life!" and you say it over and over again. :) I wish I could say that as I watched Madame Pele making her presence known, as she proved to me why the ancient peoples worshiped her, I wish I could say I had something of value, something poignant to say. But I didn't. Good thing my mom wasn't with me. There would have been soap involved. :)
another angle, this time with a tree! also enhanced

Damn the luggage weight restrictions!!! Damn them! In order to fly as cheaply as possible, not having to pay for an overweight suitcase, what did I purge from the depths of my vacuum-packed clothes??? My tripod... Damn you, American Airlines.

What a moment for a tripod...

I took probably 100 pictures of the crater from Kilauea Lookout. I was truly in awe of just how cool our world is. What an amazing window into... life! If all "nature" was this cool, Mom, I would be more into it. ;) On the way back to the car we noticed another paved path veering to the left, climbing higher up the summit. Assuming a better angle would follow, we hiked through the monochromatic darkness, through the barren, martian fields of what looked like giant cauliflower (in the daylight, it looked nothing like cauliflower) toward the Jaggar Museum. At one point we detoured off the path to the edge of the caldera (no fence here) so I could use a rock as my tripod and take another 100+ pictures, trying to the point of silliness to get capture a moment in time I may never recreate.

After exhausting every possible angle we could reach, Dave and I headed back to the Jeep, at loss for words to describe just how incredible our midnight excursion proved to be. Looking over our shoulder, one might assume we were looking at a forest fire in the night. It's truly amazing to think instead we were looking at liquid rock. I don't know how to describe that hour of my life in the length of a blog entry.

Simply humbling.

notice the offering to Pele hanging on the fence. there were several.

in a lava tube
at the end of our rainforest hike we found a lava field. notice the steam vents
this used to be a subdivision
oops! it was melted into the ground
lava twizzlers!
a double complete rainbow! you have to squint but i swear it's there!

sea turtle! on a black sand beach!!!

check out that 80s hair i've got going! :)