Sunday, January 9, 2022

Operation Hawaii Surprise

I just got back from a vacation I have been planning for months - a trip to Hawaii with my husband and kids. And by kids I mean an almost college graduate and a college freshman. I know that I'll still get to do fun stuff with my kids when they are fully independent adults, but it felt like the right time to steal 2 weeks of their Christmas breaks to have them all to myself and surprise them with an adventure. The idea really started with a potential work conference in Kauai for my husband, which of course got cancelled, but by then the family trip idea had enough "legs" that we were going anyway.

How does one get to Hawaii during a pandemic? Very carefully. And the requirements change (they literally did while we were mid-trip) so be sure to start with Safe Travels Hawaii. At the time of our trip a quarantine is required for all inbound travelers, but you can get excused if you are vaccinated or tested. We are all vaccinated, so registered our trip and uploaded our vaccine information per their process. What I learned from a great FB group was an important 3rd step - pre-clearance by your airline before getting on your flight to Hawaii. In our case, Southwest had a desk set up at LAX where we showed all the things and verified all the details, and they gave us red wrist bands. This allowed us to bee bop past the long line of arriving passengers at the Kona airport, and get our vacation started. Everyone over 18 had to do their own registration - no mom-fill-it-out-for-everyone option. I put all the trip details into an Apple note shared with the entire family, which significantly reduced the "Hey Mom, what's the address/confirmation number/time we are leaving..." questions.

Hawaii required (again, as of this moment) masks indoors at all places we went to. Hotels also verified our Safe Travels clearance when checking in, even if we were arriving from within Hawaii. We had one restaurant on our last night verify our vaccine cards and took all our temperatures before allowing us to enter. But the great thing about this paradise that somehow is a state in our country? All the cool stuff is outdoors, and most indoor places use natural air conditioning (aka, lots of open windows).

We also made a lot of choices based on refund-ability. If we had to completely cancel the trip I wanted to be able to limit the damage. That's why we flew the family airline, even though it meant some extra stops. But it also made choices easier - when you dial in 3 bedrooms, certain dates, and a liberal refund policy in VRBO and AirBnB I ended up with only a handful to choose from, and that's fine. We ended up with really cool places (left Big Island, right Kauai):

As for what to do once we got there, three great resources helped: My brother who had vacationed with his family in 2019 (or so?) and two FaceBook groups (Hale Koa Tips & Tricks and Island Hopping for Military). There are many companies that offer many excursions, so this helped me sift through all the reviews. Also, and very old school, I bought the Lonely Planet guides for the Big Island and Kauai.

Below is a brief rundown on what we did, but mostly we enjoyed the sun, sea and each other, lots of great food, many mai tais and malasadas (yummmm), many laughs, and sang through the Hamilton and Moana soundtracks several times driving around the islands. 

Big Island:

- Fair Wind Morning Kealakekua Snorkel Tour – this was GREAT. Kealakekua is a marine preserve you can’t really get to by car. The morning snorkel included a light breakfast, a great lunch, and a couple hours of snorkeling. 

- Night manta ray snorkel with Manta Adventures. It was AMAZING. Manta Adventures provided wet suits which was great because it got cold. It ended up being a little rough the night we went but Capt Bill and the crew (they were in the water with us) were great!

- Hike to Green Sand Beach. It’s about a 3 mile hike (or you can pay locals $20 to drive you) but the hike was beautiful and not too challenging. It would probably be a lot more comfortable going in the morning (we of course hiked in the hotter afternoon). There isn’t a bathroom/changing area at the beach so if you want to swim, wear your suit (or duck behind some rocks like we did). 

- Akaka Falls near Hilo - beautiful!  

- Drive up Mauna Kea – the tallest volcano. Paved as far as the visitor center  (9,200 feet). If the road is open and your have  a legit 4x4, you can drive to the summit (14,000 feet). Drive up in the afternoon to catch the sunset. There are picnic tables at the visitor center so we had our dinner and waited for the stars to come out. Beautiful!

- Visit Volcanos National Park - you could spend days here actually. We stayed a night at Volcano House within the park and it was lovely.


- Take a helicopter ride! We used Safari Helicopters and they were a class act. The helicopters can take up to 6, but I paid the extra for a private tour – just the 4 of us. Excellent pilot, took us around the entire island for about an hour. Well worth the price!

- North Shore - Haena Beach Park and then walk down to Tunnels Beach. The surf in the winter is pretty rough so the life guard said no swimming. It was pretty dang beautiful though even if we couldn’t swim. 

-  Also in the North Shore area, the Wednesday luau at Tahiti Nui. It was small – maybe 50 guests? It was definitely like you were at a family party. Great food and mai tais :-) 

- Backcountry Mountain Tubing Adventure  They take you out into old plantation land and you ride tubes down the old irrigation canals. You go through a lot of tunnels which makes it adventurous. Lunch (make your own sandwiches) was part of our tour. 

- South Kauai - Lawa’i Beach - It’s small but calm enough for us to snorkel and we saw two turtles, just swimming by us – yay! The Beach House restaurant next to the beach was on pricy side but worth it. Great food and lovely sunset view.

- Ke Ala Hele Makalae bike path - rent bikes at Hele Bikes Very reasonable and the 5 mile bike path up the coast leads to some amazing beaches. 

To make our logistics work we spent a very short night in Honolulu on the way  home, and I wanted our last night to be special, so we ate at  53 By the Sea  – very swank and a wonderful last meal in paradise. We just needed a place to crash near the airport so stayed at the Honolulu Airport Hotel – it looks like it sounds :-) but we only spent about 6 hours there.

NOTE:  these are all personal recommendations and are not sponsored. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021


There is no particular problem I am working on right now, other than having to use crutches for 4 weeks as my knee heals from a meniscus repair. Side note: I don't have awesome story about why my meniscus got so mangled - a couple decades of skiing and other shenanigans I guess. 

Oh wait, I guess I do have a problem I was hoping would have a quick and easy solution. Luckily Jon Acuff has a good soundtrack for me to use while I am crutching around. I really, really want to be an active 70- and 80-year old, which is going to take some work now, some long term work, to make happen.

By the way, I found this great soundtrack from a great weekly e-mail from Jon, "5 Ideas to Shout About." Get it yourself by signing up here.

Monday, September 27, 2021


I love quotes - like this one from author Junot Diaz.

On first read I thought, "Heck yeah, take every interesting path thrown your way. Great stuff is ahead." This aligns closely with my "never have use or lose leave" way of living. 

But the more I thought about it, I came to read it a different way. Why feel regret about how someone else is living their life? Another take on "comparison is the thief of joy." Avoiding comparison is so so difficult - but this is a reminder to focus on what's truly important.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Goals are Good (A shocking realization)

On Monday, my husband and I did this (our watches weren't up to the task so I'll do the math for you - it equals 101.38 miles).

This post is not about being braggy, because we don't look like the bikers pictured above. We are middle aged suburbanites who don't belong to a gym anymore. Our equipment isn't particularly expensive (other than recent upgrades to this helmet to protect our noggins). But we happen to live in a town with great bike trails, so one day, my husband said, "What if we did 100 miles in one day?" (He's great at ideas like this). 

We picked a date a few months out, and our 100 mile goal became a good motivator to back away from the laptops and get outside for some exercise. But next thing we knew, the day was here.  We were feeling pretty good at the halfway point:

We were feeling waaaay less good at about 75 miles:

But rallied to finish. Also we had no back up plan if we quit before getting home - ha!

So the shocking realization: goals are good motivators. But also, you don't have give up on outlandish physical goals just because you are north of 50 years old. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Cancellation Conundrum


You might think I want to talk about "cancel culture." This podcast (which I highly recommend) does a way better job than I could.

What I want to talk about is thinking about cancelling plans to do fun things when we're still living in the ups and downs of pandemic times. I have been planning a future vacation, and the helpful Facebook group I have been lurking in has been filled with "Should we cancel?" or "Is it even worth the trip?" type comments lately. Sigh.

I say NO WAY. Why would you even try to predict the state of the world in 6, 9 or 12 months? You COULD decide that things will NEVER get better, but that's no way to live, is it? I LIVE FOR VACATION, and I refuse to not plan something in the future to a dream location or to see my family (even better when the family goes with me to a dream location, obvs).

I'm not a moron though, so I make plans with the following caveat: 


This isn't actually a pandemic thing, this I learned pretty quickly (and expensively) earlier in life from the military and my kids. I love both, but they do have a habit of changing schedules on me. 

Also I am a rule follower, so obviously I am vaccinated (duh), wear my mask on all forms of transportation, and any other place where it's required. But I am not cancelling fun unless I absolutely have to. Nope.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Happiness at Your Finger Tips


Whenever I am overwhelmed by...whatever...I often turn to mindless social media scrolling to let my mind (and any worries) idle. But lately, thanks to the Olympics, I have made my feed way more mindful and motivating. You can too, in these three steps:

1. Open your Instagram
2. Follow @nbcolympics, @onherturf and @teamusa
3. Follow all the athletes they shout out, like recent gold medal winners Sunisa Lee (@sunisalee_), Lydia Jacoby (@lydiaalicee_), Women's 3x3 Basketball (@usab3x3), Carissa Moore (@rissmoore10), Amber English (@amberenglish) and Anastasia Zolotic (@ana.zolotic)

You're welcome :-)

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Beginner's Mind


Have you ever had a great quote make your day? This one sure did. It's by Suzuki Roshi, Zen monk and teacher. A couple months ago I started a new job. While I am working with people I know and like, it's  a whole new role and there is so much to learn. I feel bad not giving an enthusiastic "it's awesome" response when people ask how the new job is going, but it's 100% because I feel like I am bumbling around making mistakes.

Part of me thinks - when will this end? When will I know everything I need to know and work will  be effortless. When will the surprises end? Uh, never. Every new role or new project in your life is a leap of faith that you can do it, and you will never know where it will lead. This quote helped remind me that being a beginner (again) is not bad. It's mentally and metaphorically keeping me on my toes, and I am learning every day. It would be nice to not cringe with each new e-mail though - hah!