Sunday, May 25, 2014

#Familyfantastic Does Kauai


There always comes a point on vacation when it is time to go home. To go back to reality. Not just because you have a flight to catch, but also because you are ready. It is usually spurred by a mixture of missing people you left behind, being sick of living out of a suitcase, fearing the mounting to-do list, arriving at the time-period you cognitively prepared to be away for, and a longing for predictability again. I think I may have reached that moment this morning at about 11:30am when I said goodbye to Adam and Meredith after a luxurious breakfast with this view.

And this plate.

Ben, Katy, kids and parents left earlier in the morning. I was left behind on the island of Kauai to await my 10pm departure. I had two choices: post up in a coffee shop somewhere for the day and start to re-enter life virtually or wait for the tow-truck to come to get my rental car started and go on a solo-adventure to soak up the last drops of Hawaii. Never mind the rain and clouds. When the car eventually ignited with a push to the brakes and no tow truck aid, it was clear it was going to be an adventure day.

First, I sat in the car alone and took stock. After several deep breaths and a wave goodbye to our not-the-nicest but not-too-shabby beach house in Kapa’a, I set off toward Poipu, one of few areas of the island we hadn’t explored this past week. My goal was to make it to Mahaulepu Beach for a stroll/hike along what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful shorelines on the island. With my windows down and NPR blaring, I drove down route 56, stopping at a farmer’s market on a whim, feeling the freedom of alone-ness. I eventually arrived at the road to the beach. Dirt road. Cool.

Now, it had been raining for the past 24 hours so the dirt road looked a bit more like a lagoon. Still, I was confident that my mid-size Ford Fusion that had recently puttered out could handle it. I watched SUVs and F-150s blare down the road, tackling the potholes with force as I wove through the small ponds with the precision of synchronized figure skaters. It was about a mile down the road that I began to second-guess my plan. Well, it was actually sooner than that when I second-guessed the plan, but after a mile when I put my car in park on the side of the road and reassessed. My phone had just warned me that I had 10% battery power left. I remembered that only an hour ago my car refused to start. I took note that I am a woman, alone, with all of my valuables in my car. I checked the Google map and saw that there was still another mile and a half to the beach. And with a lake-sized pothole ahead…I realized I had reached the point when it was time to turn around. Plan thwarted. Luckily, this American Life had just begun so I took it as a sign that I was destined to just drive and listen. That listening to NPR would be way more enjoyable than a remote beach with limestone rocks and cliff side views.

I retraced my car tracks through the potholes and brush, eventually making it back to a main road where I began following signs to spouting horn. Because, why not? It turns out that this destination is a parking lot on the coast with a fence that you approach to watch the ocean perform a geyser-like show. 

I took it in quickly, eager to get back to This American Life. I continued on and parked by the Poipu Beachpark where I sat in my car in the gravel parking lot to finish listening to the story about Molly Ringwald and her 10-year-old daughter watching The Breakfast Club together. Come on, you would have listened to the end too. Now, I am sitting on a picnic table by the beach, charging my phone from the computer and beginning this blog post—week two—Kauai. 

I think my phone has nearly charged enough to get me back toward the airport where I plan to go to a brewery to write more. But before that, one last dip in the ocean is necessary.

***several hours later, now located at Kauai Beer Company, a wonderful microbrewery with delicious beer in Lihue***

If you are not in for the long-winded post, you have permission to just peruse the pictures from here on out. While I know that this week would be more appropriately recounted in bite-size posts, I also know if I don't get it all out now, I probably never will. So, here it goes. In chapters.

Chapter 1: Adam and Meredith joined us

While week one on the Big Island was certainly amazing. There was a giant, gaping hole in the week shaped like my brother Adam and his wife Meredith. Thankfully, we were all together this week in Kauai. In honor of our togetherness, family selfies and family fans were clearly in order.

Also in anticipation of our togetherness, I sent the following text to all family members: "Errrrrybody! We are suggesting this as our new family hashtag: #familyfantastic for experiences we have all together and post to the Instagram. If you have a better idea you have til 10am tomorrow. There are 12 other posts with that hashtag, but I think we could dominate it." 

No one had a better idea. So, #familyfantastic it was. To see many photos of our trip, check out the hashtag on Instagram. Yup, our family has arrived in the 21st century social-mediaing all over the world.

One of the great joys of the week was celebrating Adam's 32nd birthday (sorry Adam if you are shy about your age). Adam's birthday fell one day three of the trip, a day when all of us could use a little respite. So we took it easy in the morning and then the siblings and in-laws went on an afternoon hike through a magical forest full of giant leaves and quirky trees to a swimming hole...with a rope swing!

After several swings and a picnic lunch, we headed back to go out to dinner with the kids and parents. Before dinner, Adam was donned in matching Gerhardstein shirts and a lei.

A sushi fest ensued. I'll spare you the details, but needless to say it was delicious. The evening was capped off with Adam's favorite cake (lemon poppyseed) that Meredith made with ingredients transported from the mainland, sibling love, 

and a horse head. Enough said.

Chapter 2: Nepali Coast

Day one of this week was spent playing in Hanalei Bay and exploring the north shore--what became my favorite Kauai shore. Day two was spent hiking the Nepali coast from the north shore. The Nepali coast is a treasure. One I knew nothing of before arriving to Kauai. It is where some of Jurassic Park was filmed, so there's that. But, beyond that, it stands on its own. The jagged cliffs. The lush valleys. The secret beaches. We were lucky enough to experience it two ways. By foot and by boat. While it is beautiful, it is also precarious. I'm always struck by nature's ability to limit us, to remind humans that it is not always wise to go to the end of the world however capable we may feel. On our Nepali hike, some of us ventured inland from the first secret beach to find a waterfall that is supposed to be unlike anywhere else on earth. As we hiked toward the waterfall, we passed a woman running back, frantic. She asked us for a satellite phone--something we didn't have--and informed us that her mother had fallen off a cliff up ahead. Unable to help in the moment, we continued on toward the waterfall with a palpable mood shift. Brother Ben, wilderness first responder, was gearing up to help if necessary. I felt nauseous and was wanting to hide. We eventually reached the spot where the woman fell, with the waterfall just coming into view.

We learned that the woman was alive and ambulatory. A doctor has been hiking the trail and was able to get down to her, wrap her head and was leading her out of the river bed. At this point, our group had to decide whether to move ahead and get to the enchanted waterfall or turnaround. Ben, always the outdoor leader said he felt comfortable carrying on, but if any of us didn't we could head back. We debated and began to take steps forward. My dad had gotten on top of the boulder the woman had fallen from and was carefully navigating it. At that moment, I blurted out, "I'm not comfortable!" Whatever part of me wanted to be hardcore crumbled. We had reached a limit I wasn't able to cross. Upon my exclamation, Meredith's eyes filled with tears... not overpouring, but enough to know that we were all shaken up and today was not our day to forge ahead. So, we turned around. On our walk back, we did cross paths with the woman who had fallen. She seemed to be doing well, even stopping to smell the flowers. I was in awe of the human spirit and the woman's strength. The fall was big. One that seemed like if you could survive it, it would only be with an airlift out. This woman was a champion. Though, a helicopter did eventually intercept her and carry her the rest of the way. 

While the hike was beautiful, we were not fully present in it given the circumstances. Thus, it was nice to have another chance to experience the coast, this time by boat. Adam, Mer, my parents and I set out on a catamaran with a bachelorette party and a few other tourist-types to view the coast from the sea, snorkel and swim. Our boat was surrounded by dolphins multiple times. We swam with colorful fish. We witnessed turtles chillin'. We were doused in waterfalls. And we witnessed a landscape long none other. It was pretty blissful. And, obviously this happened.

And then, this happened.

Not to mention great customer service by  the Blue Dolphin Charter crew. Breakfast, coffee, lunch, and an open bar (post-snorkeling)...not a bad deal. 

Chapter 3: Surfing

I never wanted to surf. It wasn't on my bucket list. It wasn't something I secretly wanted to conquer. As a thoroughbred Midwesterner, it was fully outside of my reality. But, then I got to Hawaii and Ben said he wanted to take surfing lessons. And Adam wanted to as well. So, as a devoted younger sister, there was no way I would let them do it without me. So, now, I wanted to surf.

We showed up for our lesson at 11am, Ben, Katy, Adam and myself. The two instructors nonchalantly explained the basics and had us practice going from flat to standing on our boards on land. It seemed easy enough...kind of. The instructors said with their method we would all be standing up on our first wave. With that, we paddled out and laid in wait. Ben, first...and he's up. Then Adam...also up.

Then it too. Then me...and, well, I got to my feet, but never quite made it to standing. Failure.  As I pulled my board back out into the ocean, I was overcome with supreme disappointment. I was the only one who didn't get up. I am the worst. I lose. Soon thereafter, the internal pep talk began. The one I used to keep going after countless falls in figure skating competitions. "Come on Jessica, get your head in the game. Just because you didn't get the first wave, doesn't mean you can't still win. There are so many more waves to catch. You got this."

For the next two hours, it was me, my board, and the waves. I stood up. Exactly how many times is beside the point. What I know is that I have successfully surfed, even catching a wave on my own and riding it to a badass. Who cares that Ben did that like fifty times. Ben isn't human. All in all it was a fun adventure. I'm pretty sure I did the equivalent of at least fifty push ups. Evidenced by my inability to lift anything for two days. I'm no pro, but I just may surf again someday.

Chapter 4: Reflections on Family

Everyone has left the brewery, and my flight takes off in 2.5 hours, so it is probably time to move on. It has been two glorious weeks. Hawaii is special. I get it. I hope I can return someday. It is clear that I was only able to scratch the surface of all that Hawaii has to offer. But, I am of course left with lingering reflections of time with my family. I sometimes worry about being annoying in the social media world for how much I clearly love my family. Like when new couples post too many lovey-dovey pictures and everyone is just over it. Maybe I have done that these past two weeks. If so, sorry--not sorry. Because, damn, I really love my family. And I feel so lucky to have had these two weeks with them. A few reflections.

My dad is an amazing "papa."  My dad is an amazing dad, and even at 28 he doesn't cease to be my dad, but watching him with Oliver is like reliving my childhood. Oliver is finally old enough to appreciate stories. My dad is a storyteller. We grew up on turtle stories, John the Spaceboy, Queen Jessica stories (I know...). And now the stories have returned. When Oliver seemed insatiable, my dad had a way of drawing him in, calming him down, captivating him.

My mom, also known as Nini, has fallen into the role of grandmother with similar ease. 

My brothers are great husbands and have great wives. I'm ready to find my own partner. Sure. And, sometimes in anticipation of these family trips, I get a little sad thinking about each unit of love and then me. But, the truth is, I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many healthy relationships. I learn so much from my brothers and Meredith and Katy. They all love with such intentionality. They both respect their union while always making room for their individuality, their community, and me. For this, I am grateful.

In a similar vein, Ben and Katy are amazing parents. Watching them parent is one of my greatest privileges. I know I will be a better mom for it. I was lucky enough to live with them most of last summer, and to get to spend significant time with them over the past year. Oliver and Justine are loved hard and fully. Where I get nervous about Oliver traipsing around in the ocean, I watch Ben and Katy confidently look on allowing him to test his boundaries. 

Watching Oliver with Justine is a treat in and of itself. Oliver loves Justine. Like a whole lot. Every morning the first thing he wants to do is give her a kiss. Throughout the day, he walks up to her, hugs her, kisses her, face smushes her, and says, "hiiiiii, hiiiiii." Watching the beginning of what will surely be a deep, sustaining sibling relationship is incredible.

Our family is growing. It is changing. There are little ones that need naps. There are dinners that get disrupted because Oliver couldn't possibly sit for another minute. And sometimes it can be frustrating. I'm no longer the youngest or the cutest. Though, sometimes I find myself still filling the little sister role (see surfing section). My brothers have wives they adore. The Gingold Gerhardsteins include Loves and Hicks. Days are so exhausting now that not once did we stay up past ten. And so it is. 

Being an aunt is a new identity I am learning. I haven't yet figured it out perfectly. Some days Oliver loves me, some days I am the WORST. Justine doesn't seem to know the difference yet. Wait, look at her face in this picture.

Zoom in. Yea. Look at it again. 

But, man, when I nail it. When Oliver pulls me closer to him and calls me "Jessie," that is something deep. It recalibrates life. It grounds and centers and does all that cheesy shit people talk about. So, yea, Hawaii has been the bomb, but I leave this vacation most grateful for family. 

And now, Waimea Canyon.

And, finally, one last time, the ocean.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Big Island

Today, I swam with dolphins. There are not many days in my life that I anticipate being able to write that sentence, so I figured if there was ever a day to dust off my blog, it is today. I blame law school for the dormancy in my writing. It's hard not to blame law school for all things gone wrong in life. I think it is part of the 1L experience. Develop a healthy resentment for law school while continuing to almost completely buy into it. Oh, there is so much I could write about law school, but this post is about Hawaii, so that is where I'll spend my words.

Last Thursday, my 1L finals ended (no small feat), I sufficiently chillaxed for 24 hours, I then packed up for both Hawaii and a summer in Cincinnati, slept three hours, put on my best "I'm going to the islands" outfit, boarded US Airways flight 570 and 12 hours later met most of my family on the Big Island of Hawaii. I write the Big Island like I knew that was the official name before arriving here. And yes, you can travel 12 hours and still be in the United States. We'll chalk that one up to imperialism.

Whatever part of me was still digesting and coming down from the intensity that is finals fell into the Pacific soon after arriving. Maybe because this was the view from my bedroom.

And this is where we ate dinner...

 And because this was day two...

And this was day three...

There are few things that could be better after a year of reading 2,000 pages you never actually wanted to read than a Hawaii vacation. Let me take a minute right now to be grateful. It is not everyday, month, year, decade that one gets to go to Hawaii. I met a woman on my flight down here that had never been on a plane. She and her husband were celebrating his graduation from business school and their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. Hawaii is special. It is creme brulee. It is dark chocolate covered strawberries. It is bacon-wrapped dates. It is prosciutto and melon. It is a delicacy to be appreciated. And, oh am I appreciating this.

One surprising feature of the Big Island (pardon me for not doing a ton of research before arriving, I was learning Property) has been the vast fields of volcanic rock. There is no doubt that volcanoes are here. They leave their mark everywhere. The third day in Hawaii we went to Volcanoes National Park and hiked atop a petrified lava lake (pictured above). Hardened lava is not the most beautiful landscape. The beauty in it lies in the cracks and crevices. In the vegetation sprouting up. In the trees that have rooted. If the apocalypse comes, life will continue. I have no doubt.

After four nights on the rainy side of the island which really only meant light showers a couple of times during the day and magnificent thunderstorms at night, we drove around the perimeter to the west side. On our way we stopped in Ka lae or South Point--the southern most point of the United States. My family has thing for going to the end of the world, or the closest we can come to it. This place was one of those places. You know, the ones that Buzzfeed features in their "50 places you must visit before you die" or "25 ways to almost die and love it." Here, take a look.

Yea, that's a ladder coming out of the bluest water you've ever seen. And, yes, you jump 50 feet into that cove. My big brother, rock climber, lover of danger was the first to jump in. Naturally.

But, Katy and I weren't far behind. Well maybe a little far behind. Katy boldly approached the top.

And hemmed and hawed for about ten minutes. Ben patiently waited below. I, then, courageously offered to take her place. Upon looking over the edge, I announced confidently, "Nope, I'm not going to do that." With that, Katy and I surrendered. That is until we saw three guys come and easily jump off the cliff. Seeing that none of them died, Katy calmly walked up to the edge and without announcing her intention threw herself off into the water below. Perfect form. I had no choice. 15 seconds later I joined them. It was the best thing ever.

Our first full day on the Kona side of the island was spent celebrating Katy's birthday on a remote beach that required hiking a mile and a half over a lava field to an oasis of heavenly bliss, Makalaewena beach.

The pictures speak for themselves.

You may have noticed adorable children sprinkled throughout this post. One of the bigger joys of this first week in paradise (I don't use the word paradise lightly--this really is it), has been spending time with my three-month old niece, Justine, and two-year-old nephew, Oliver. Justine really just spends her days being cute and sleeping. I'm convinced she is going to be mad as hell at us when she is thirteen and has no memory of her trip to Hawaii. I can hear it now, "Why did you bring me to Hawaii before I could enjoy it?!" Oliver, who may also not remember this trip in the future, is thoroughly enjoying it nonetheless. His favorite things are throwing rocks, digging in sand, all things wa-wa (water) and kitchen appliances. He also has a strong affinity for tackling me. He has been working on his speech lately. His biggest accomplishment this week--replacing "deech" with "ba-ba-beach."

Now, back to those dolphins. This afternoon, my mom and I drove down to the "Two-step" snorkeling area. So-called because there is a natural volcanic ledge that allows for snorklers to easily take two steps and launch themselves into an underworld nirvana. There are not words that can begin to describe the coral caves and sea-urchin filled crevices, the bright yellow and striped fish, the baby sea turtles. It was the stuff Disney-pixar movies are made of. That would have been enough, but then the dolphins showed up. Or rather, they jumped up. They did 360 spins and flaunted all they had. Show-offs. They were a ways off from the shore, but other swimmers had gone out to meet them, so my mom and I decided to join. Soon, we were literally surrounded. Dolphins swimming below us, jumping above us. It was the kind of experience that makes you squeal in delight, no matter your age. At one point I literally shoved my mom's face in the water because I was afraid she would miss the sight. It was unbelievable.

This is just a taste of what has been a solidly good week. One of the best. The only thing missing--brother Adam and his wife Meredith. Adam couldn't get two weeks off of work (*cough, my dad is his boss, cough*). But they will be joining us in Kauai tomorrow for week two of this Hawaiian adventure. And now, a sunset.