Six Days in Hawaii: February 2016

Friday, May 26, 2017

Once upon a February, more than fifteen months ago actually (HOW does time fly like this??), I had the incredible opportunity to fly to Oahu, Hawaii to spend almost a full week with my sister Beckie. BY MYSELF. Sans kids and Joe. Whaat? 

My sis had been living in Honolulu since 2012, and we always talked about the possibility of a visit one day... But Lucy was just a baby when Beckie left, and then Quinn came along only 21 months after Lucy, and it was intense for a while. But by the end of 2015, with Quinn about to turn three, it began to seem possible. So on a whim, in fall of 2015, I began searching ticket prices. Beckie always said if I paid for half my ticket, she'd pay for the other half in exchange for some professional photos of her food blog trio, Buttertooth. When I looked for ticket prices that fell during the low season (January and February), I found an insanely good deal, and while I didn't totally impulse-buy it, I did get on the phone right away with Joe and with Beckie and we decided we could make this happen. The prices stayed low and by the next day, I'd (eep!!) clicked "buy" and committed to a trip to Hawaii in February 2016. 

Of course at the time, I had no idea I'd turn up pregnant by the time this trip happened-- I was ready for a week-long trip of freedom. But fate is funny, and by the time I departed to Hawaii, I was seven-eight weeks pregnant with Larkin, and starting to be a tiny bit queasy, a tiny bit puffy in my belly (fourth kid and all), and still mostly not telling anyone I was pregnant. I made exceptions for my Hawaii hosts, letting them in on the news so they'd know why I might need to rest a bit more, or eat a bit less. 

Day One:
So, after years of anticipation and weeks of prepping, I finally headed to the airport to begin my adventure on February 3, 2016. Leaving somewhere cold to head somewhere warm; leaving a full-time job as a mama to three (and 1/9th) kiddos to head to paradise. 
The trip had two legs-- STL to San Francisco, then SF to Honolulu, and I relished the sense of adventure, the freedom to plug in earbuds and listen to music while I read or dozed... And I really wanted to be in the mood for some San Francisco clam chowder and sourdough bread during my layover, but my touchy tummy steered me to a lighter, fresher lunch of Asian noodles and salad. 

The fun part about flying TO Hawaii is that time stands still enough that you are practically running backwards in time, really. Whereas you've put in 10 hours of flying + the hours of waiting in airports at the beginning and middle of the trip, somehow you land in paradise with half of the day still available to you to enjoy. The other fun thing about flying to Hawaii is that your hosts almost always greet you with flowers. And my lei smelled incredible.

My sister, Beckie, lives (lived? It's a long story, but a year after this trip, all three have moved back to St. Louis to two different abodes... But that gets confusing as I tell this old story. So we'll pretend I didn't procrastinate this fun blog post so long, and that all three are still in Hawaii for the duration of this story.) with her two best friends, Kyle and Micah. So when you visit one, you get all three. And I LOVE that. This trio is incredibly warm, charming, and fun, and I felt like a welcome fourth wheel right off the bat. (I have known and loved Kyle for years, and had met and bonded with Micah one time before this visit, so it was already totally comfortable to hang with the gang.)
So after being greeted with a lei at the airport and heading to the apartment to drop off stuff and refresh, the first thing we did was head to Waikiki to get drinks/appetizers at House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel. This open air lounge was right on the beach, had live Hawaiian style music, and a stunning view of the sunset. We were able to relax, catch up, unwind, and begin talking plans for the week. We Stayed past the sun going down, then strolled along the beachfront to the Steak Shack to get a light dinner, which we ate as we watched the folks on the beach become silhouettes. And though at that point it was only 8 pm local time, my body knew it was really 1am, and I was WIPED out. So my kind hosts brought me home and got me settled, and I crashed into sleep for my first night there.  

Day Two:
 Many homes and apartments in the area aren't air conditioned because open windows, fans, and lanais (porches with wide-open doors)are the norm to cool down a home. So As this week commenced, I found myself waking to progressively more impressive humidity-induced bedhead. So Day Two started out with a selfie to show how bad my hair was to my hubby back home. 

Of all the days I was there, this day two was the only day my sister had to work most of the day. Luckily for me, one of my goof friends, Terina, had moved to Oahu in the last year or two and was more than happy to host me for the day, to take me to parts of the island I'd not seen yet. (I never blogged the full trip, of course, but Joe, Noah and I got to spend a week in Oahu back in 2010, so this was not my first time here.) She picked me up from Beckie's apartment in the morning and we headed to her home in Mililani, near the middle of the island, to get a few things, then we headed, with her cute 4-year-old son Jacob, to the North Shore and Haliewa to explore. En route to the North Shore is the Dole Plantation, so we stopped there first. 

(I love how pineapples look when they're still growing. SO COOL. These were tinier than you would think, and I didn't think to put something in the photo to show scale. These were both maybe the size of a pear?)
I of course didn't have Quinn with me, but luckily, Jacob was a fan of trains, too, so we took the train tour of the plantation and I took some train photos to share with my train-loving kiddo back home. 
This is Terina (Hi, Terina!) and her son making some sort of Quasimodo face, I guess. 

Banana trees: so crazy to see the clusters of ripening fruit up there where you'd expect to see coconuts or something. 

Done with the train ride, we headed to the main building and enjoyed watching this guy carve as we went inside to grab some Dole Whip and a light lunch of Kahlua pork. 

We headed back on the road to North Shore, and our first stop was Matsumoto's Shave Ice, of course. 

Terina recommended getting it with sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top, which is BRILLIANT. I loved it! And we sat outside in their patio area while live music was performed. 

After shave ice and some window shopping, we headed to Shark's Cove for a bit and waded around in the warm shallows. We then headed to Ted's Bakery to get the famous cream pie and other goodies. 

Terina then took us to one more beach, maybe Sunset Beach (I don't remember the name, Terina... Sorry!). We plopped down some beach chairs and Jacob played in the sand and surf while Terina and I gabbed and sifted through sand aimlessly, looking for treasures. Terina is an avid beachcomber, so it was second nature for her to be constantly sifting and looking for goodies. Kind of fun! We ended our visit as the sun was getting low, gabbing the whole way back to the south end of Oahu to my sister's apartment. It was a perfect day and Terina was a wonderful tour guide. ♥

As night fell, my sister, off of work, prepped an incredibly tasty dinner for the fellas and I-- some open-faced steak and blue cheese sandwiches and a beautiful chop salad. You have to know that one of my only goals for this trip to Hawaii-- item two of a three-item list, in fact-- was to find a way to have Beckie, Kyle and Micah feed me as often as possible. They are Buttertooth, and they make food TO DIE FOR. Beckie and Micah tend to cover the savory dishes and Kyle is usually the dessert-maker, though they all overlap some... but as a whole, they are incredible chefs, and after reading their food blog for over a year, I was dying to get some of their artistry into my belly. 

We had a lovely evening of good food and lots of gabbing, and I needed my second day full, exhausted, and happy. 

Day Three:
(Here. You can just have all my morning bedhead shots in one go of it, so laugh away, but then forget you ever saw these.  So funny!)
Day three began with some yummy bakery treats from my sis, who had to leave for a day shift at her job at the cafe at the Honolulu Museum of Art. It was all good though, because I had arranged to meet another friend--this one from my online photography community--and her two sons at the affiliate museum of art for a morning of chatting and art-browsing. So while Beckie went to work at the Honolulu Museum of Art, I got dropped off a bit north of there at the Spalding House, the sister museum that focuses more on temporary exhibits and modern art. My friend Liz and her two sons arrived shortly after me and we strolled through the small but lovely museum, which was featuring an exhibit on plastics. 

This exhibit, shown above and below here, was pretty cool/unsettling: there was a table FULL of washed up beach junk plastic in every color and form imaginable, much of it battered and worn smooth on the edges from its time in the elements. We as patrons were invited to create an ornament of sorts-- a wire hanger with whatever pieces we were drawn to, in whatever configuration we wanted-- and then turn around and hang it on the installation behind us-- a whole wall of patron-made trash-plastic sculptures. From a few steps back, it really did look like "art". But it was sobering to realize how much our waste is filling our world, and how harmful it can be to the beaches and the sea creatures. 

Spalding House is not only know for its exhibits, but for its amazing lawn and gardens. We finished our morning visit together wandering the paths and chatting while Liz's sons ran ahead and explored. I enjoyed seeing the tiny geckos among the plants, and marveling at the cool layout of the gardens. 


After our visit, Liz dropped me off at the main museum to meet my sister, and I got to sit and enjoy lunch at the fabulous cafe where Beckie worked and Kyle managed. Right in the center courtyard of the museum, this cafe serves a high-end, carefully-prepared rotating menu of excellent dishes, and I was able to try three of the offerings: 
1. Grilled eggplant with chili goat cheese and basil oil, with foccacia on the side
2. Mahi mahi with soba noodle salad and cucumber mint relish
3. Pot de creme: a dense chocolate mousse with fresh whipped cream and berries

After lunch, as my sister was finishing up her shift and cleaning up, I was able to wander several of the galleries at the museum. It was so beautiful and delightful to stroll in the air conditioning, enjoying all sorts of art genres at my leisure. 

Eventually Beckie found me and we went together to the temporary exhibit displaying Japanese Harajuku textiles. It was super cool, and definitely more than a bit weird. I really connected with several of the pieces. I think, at heart, there will always be an element of "I wish I could just play dress-up" in my personality.

That afternoon, I am certain I took a leisurely nap, and that evening Beckie, the boys and I went to La Tour for dinner and relaxed at their home afterward watching junk tv and relaxing. 

Day Four:
Day four dawned extra early, to the sound of an alarm set for a morning whale watch boat ride. My amazing sister had asked what things I might want to do while I was in Hawaii, and since I'd been there before and done many of the usual Oahu things, I told her that I didn't need to be a "tourist" the whole time. In fact, there were just three things I wanted to make sure I tried to do while there:
1. convince Buttertooth to make me food. A lot. 
2. Go to the Honolulu Swap Meet
3. Maybe try to see a humpback whale, since they have been my favorite animal since I was 10, and they actually migrate to Hawaii for winter and back to Alaska for summer. What are the odds I'd ever be in the right place at the right time, ever?? 

So Beckie paid attention to my list and without telling me, she bought us tickets for a whale watching boat as her treat to me. That's the gift of a lifetime, guys. *heart eyes*  Our boat left pretty early, so we rose even earlier to get Beckie a coffee and me a smoothie, and off we went.

Chugging out of the marina where the boat was docked, I enjoyed seeing the boats and buildings along the basin, and even got to see Beckie's other job, 53 By The Sea, a fine-dining restaurant (the one below with the turquoise windows) she served at a few nights a week. 

Out in the open ocean, we had a pretty grey morning with occasional misty drizzle, and a lovely cool wind. The sun would peek through here and there, but it was mostly many shades of blue and grey. 

The whale watching tour was supposed to be between 1.5-2 hours, and I have to be honest: it was mostly a wash. Within a few minutes of hitting the open sea, we were able to glimpse a dorsal fin of one whale, but after that, though we waited and drifted to and fro searching, we never spotted another whale. And the captain, trying to explore as much of the Waikiki Bay as he could to search for whales, ended up using the engine a lot more than he typically would have, and the smell of wafting gasoline was constant, creating a queasy headache in me and tipping my already-motion-sick sister all the way over to pukesville for the second half of the trip.
Above, the lone dorsal fin of the lone whale. I don't regret the trip in the slightest: this is still the closest I have *ever* been to a magnificent humpback whale, and I love thinking about him/her just yards away, under the surface of the ocean, more vast than I can imagine without actually seeing for myself.  I just felt really terrible for Beckie, who was MISERABLE. 

It was a relief to finally be off the boat, and as we walked back to the car, we did get treated to a visit from a cute sea turtle, randomly, as he popped up in the marina. 
The rest of the late morning was spent recovering from the queasiness for both of us, and we both ended up taking a nap. By early afternoon, we'd rallied, and Kyle and  Micah were off of their work shifts. So we headed to one of the outdoor malls in Honolulu for lunch, opting for the cute Magnolia Bakery and Cafe. Food was delicious and the cupcakes were beautiful. While at the mall, I nabbed a pair of comfy cute sandals and got caught in the middle of a Chinese Dragon dance as they literally headed right for me. :)

We puttered around a few more local spots, then stopped at a nail shop for pedicures to pass the time til our evening reservation at the Pig & the Lady, a wonderful favorite restaurant of the trio "featuring globally accented, modern Vietnamese cooking in a lively setting with communal tables" as their website SEO states. Oh boy was it a culinary delight, and I don't even need to tell you how much I enjoyed the company. 

Day Five:
We had a leisurely morning, and I enjoyed my Magnolia cupcake for breakfast. Whatever-- it's vacation. Today's agenda: Check out the Honolulu Swap Meet, held at the stadium, and then picnic on the southeast side of the island and do two minisessions while there. Then probably stay in and enjoy the trio making dinner for us, and then some games on the lanai.

So we started out by heading to the Swap Meet. I had seen posts about Beckie and Kyle visiting this swap in months past, and Kyle, in fact, even had a booth there for a time, selling vintage clothing and finds. It just looked like my cup of tea and I knew I wanted them to take me there while I  was in town. I bought a few treasures as we browsed, but I mostly enjoyed taking photos as we went. 

It was a lovely day for the swap, and much of the area we were in was shady. I bought some cute fabric and a skirt for Lucy, some wooden airplanes for Quinn, and I can't remember what treasure i found for Noah, but I did get him something! I also found a vendor selling bowls of fresh-cut tropical fruit, and my pregnant tummy had to have one. 

Beckie, Kyle and Micah were good sports about my big-camera photos, letting me nab them for photos here and there.

From the swap, we went to Waikiki for a little bit and sat on a smaller local beach eating some of the treats we'd gotten at the swap, passing time til it was time to meet their friends for photos on the far southeast side of the island.

After a leisurely drive, we landed at Makapu'u, a park with a lighthouse and hiking trails, where we'd decided to shoot a minisession for Buttertooth and another minisession for their friends Jackie, Eric and their daughter.  We had a fun picnic of appetizer-style food, and used the wild, warm, windswept landscape as the backdrop for photos. (I included a few from the Buttertooth mini.)

(P.S. Poodles are the bee's knees to these three. ♥)
Heading back to the apartment, we stopped at a gorgeous lookout for photos, including a few sister pix. 

Home again, home again, and we spent the evening listening to the Pink Martini Pandora station while Micah and Beckie whipped up some authentic Mexican cuisine, including to-die-for fresh guacamole and pico de gallo, flautas, and poblano rice. SO GOOD.We finished the night off with a rigorous game of dominoes on the lanai, completely full and content. 

Day Six:
Beckie once again donned her apron and got to work making an incredible eggs Benedict with homemade hollandaise on a purple poi English muffin. Poi comes from the native Hawaiian purple taro root, and it can be found in all kinds of foods in Hawaii. Here, it mostly lent color, not a whole lot of different flavor.
After breakfast, we packed our beach bags and sunscreen, the gang grabbed their usual umbrella and  chairs, and the poodles of course, and we headed out to the windward side of the island to one of their very favorite beaches for a full beach day. We stopped at the Kalapawai Market in Kailua to get foodstuffs and beverages. They had a sandwich counter serving up really yummy sandwiches, and their selection of other picnic items was good. Plus, it was just a super cute shop.  We then headed to the beach and set up our spot near the tree line, just meters away from the incredibly beautiful blue water. We spent the day reading, chatting, playing games, wading, and I took a stroll down the beach a pretty long way, just being in the moment and soaking it all in. I'd be packing up that night and leaving pretty early the next morning for a full day of flying home, so this was really it-- my final sunny moments on beautiful Oahu. 


Late in the afternoon, we packed it all up, stopped for amazing shaved ice at The Local, and they indulged me as I chased a pretty rooster for a photo. Ha! We kept things pretty chill that evening, tired from the sun and sand, and I worked to compile all my stuff to pack it. I ended up with enough new fun goodies that I had to pack a box to ship home!! 

Day Seven:
While this technically doesn't count as a day in Hawaii, it was a full day of travel, since as you head back to the mainland, you chase time and never fully get it back.  My flight from Honolulu departed at 8:00am (so sorry for the crazy-early morning, sister!) and had a layover both in L.A. and in Salt Lake City. I had a good lunch in California and had wistful text exchanges with a few Utah friends while I was in their state-- so close but so far away-- and because of the time differences, I didn't land in St. Louis until midnight. My body felt like it was still only 6pm, but travel is weird, and I used up my whole day getting home. But it's good it happened that way. I was able to get home, go to bed, and start a new day the next day with no sudden transition from free spirit traveler back to multitasking pregnant mom of three. I was able to miss my kiddos and check in on them while they slept, and be ready to face their high energy the next morning with excitement. 

It was all so good. From the moment I actually booked the ticket--- hello months of anticipation!-- to the moment I laid my head onto my own pillow upon returning home, it was all just a joy and an endless supply of happy thoughts and wonderful moments. 

Thank you, Beckie, Kyle and Micah, for hosting me so well. 

Thank you Joe for setting me free for a whole week. 

And thank you Hawaii, for holding me rapt with your beauty, reminding me that there is beauty everywhere and adventures yet to come in my life.

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