finding your fitness village

I haven't really shouted it from the treetops but I also haven't been shy sharing details of my journey towards better physical and mental health (there's actually a whole "file under P for personal" post coming up about that) but suffice it to say that I am not a stranger to knowing that making a commitment to transform your life is a huge commitment.  While I am not at the "end" of my journey, I can state with no uncertainty these three truths:

3) You need to track your progress, whether that's by the size of your pants, by the weight you can clean and press, or by the distance you can run (or a number on the scale, which is really only one of many things to get excited about).

2) You need to be committed to changing your lifestyle to include conscious eating and exercise for fitness and health - I am personally committed to doing squats not so my ass looks better in jeans but so that I can go to the bathroom unassisted as long as possible... #reallifegoals

1) you need SUPPORT by like-minded people who are on the same road as you are, who will not judge, who know when to cheerlead and when to tell you to get your head out of the clouds (or your own backside), who GET it, who get YOU...

You can find a million formal and informal, paid and unpaid, online and in-person, local, national, and international communities out there - Weight Watchers, TOPS, My Fitness Pal, Apple Health, FitBit, a private chef and full-time personal trainer... and no two programs are completely alike, which is great, because no two people are alike.  Regardless of which program or combination of programs you choose, the number one thing that will spur you on to the lasting success is going to be SUPPORT.  I have joked with my friend and colleague Christine Hopaluk who lost 100lbs and became a personal trainer (go check out her inspirational blog!) that when you find your fitness "village" you will know it, and while I have mine already at No More Excuses (also led by a woman who lost weight and turned her passion into a career - read their bios and you'll see why this is my "village" lol), I have a feeling for many others still searching, Healthy Role Models, might be the right choice.

I was fortunate enough last year to be introduced to HRM - an international network of like-minded, self-mentoring challengers who have created this AMAZING community - because a friend and colleague (and co-gym-rat) did not feel she was the right fit as a photographer for this project and I cannot tell you how fortuitous it was.  I kid you not, when I found out that several of the ladies who organized a photo shoot celebrating themselves wherever they were at on their personal journeys, I would not have known that many of them had never actually met in person!  They were true sisters in spirit and the entire day was inspiring and uplifting, with each woman on a completely different path to being actively healthy.  They were, quite simply, a village.

If you are interested in finding out more (or signing up!) there is a new challenge starting NEXT WEEK (yes, next week...) GO NOW!!!

Without further ado, here are 10 of the amazing travellers taking the same journey as I am, on the road that works for them, with the village that loves them.  If you haven't yet, I truly hope you find your fitness village, too.

championship-level smiling

Say hello to M, whose cheeky little smile is so utterly adorable it crushes my heart!

While handsome little M was born with Down Syndrome, my younger sister was born with a chromosomal abnormality that caused her to be microcephalic.  As a result, I definitely have a soft spot for families who also have exceptional family members.

The most wonderful thing about M being born now is that great strides have been made by both the families and the individuals themselves to de-stigmatize developmental challenges and advocate for opportunities that simply didn't exist when my sister was born.

I personally think that M has the looks and personality to follow in Madeline Stuart's shoes and become be the world's first male supermodel or maybe take on a starring role in a TV show like the ever-inspirational Becky character played by none other than Lauren Potter.  Or, maybe he starts kicking butt in the photography world like the talented Geoffrey Mikol, owner of River Bend Gallery.

But, since M has a bit of time to figure out his career options, he can just focus on being a champ in the achingly sweet smiles department for now.  I'm totally OK with that.


March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day and this year's #notspecialneeds video directed by the award-winning Wayne McClammy is nothing short of brilliant.

If you're interested in getting involved, I know that the Special Olympics run on volunteer steam (I used to be a swim coach!) and Inclusion Alberta is an amazing resource.  Sadly, the deadline for application for summer positions at Camp HeHoHa has passed but you might want to make note for next year...

Billy Ray with eyes of grey

This sweet little boy will be up for adoption soon at AARCS.  How delicious are those big grey-green eyes and those little chocolate-brown eyebrows?!

He's so laid back he could be called Chilly Ray.

Such a beautiful little face.  ~swoon~

If you're not looking for a new furbaby, please consider supporting AARCS - their wish list and donor page is here!

file under "P" for "personal" aka Maui Wowee 2016

A colleague of mine recently posted her experience of Maui, and as I read it I couldn't help but feel like we had visited completely different islands.  While some of it can be attributed to different interests, a lot of it is simply because Maui just really is that diverse.  To get you in the mood, I suggest you open up a tab and tune in to our favourite Maui station, KPOA (their morning show is awesome, the music eclectic, and all the Hawaiian covers are incredible!)  I also suggest you scroll past the pictures while reading and then view them in the lightbox - it will just make more sense that way than trying to pause...

Day 0. Before the trip.

December 1, 2015.  I was at work and on my lunch break I went on Facebook.  At least 10 times I saw people freaking out, sharing a deal showing flights to Maui advertised for under $400, taxes in.  UNDER $400!!!  TAXES IN!!!  How do you say no to that?  On a whim I texted Bill.  Our anniversary is January 1st, and we were renewing our vows for 2016.  We'd never had a honeymoon... so why not?!  Before my lunch break was up, I had booked a trip for two to Maui, and for the next few weeks, when we weren't planning our renewal ceremony (which I'll talk more about in an upcoming post) we were figuring out how to experience all the epic we could in 7 short days and 7 even shorter nights.  After the Dominican, Maui had some big shoes to fill.  We packed one carry-on each, and shared a single rolling suitcase containing a hatchet, a tent, a twin mattress and pump, one sheet, one sleeping bag, an Ikea utensil tub, a cooking pot and coffee pot, two sets of eating utensils, two bowls, a bamboo cooking spoon, and one sharp cutting knife.  Because why wouldn't you want to camp?  On the beach?  On Maui?

I wanted to see, smell, hear, feel, taste, experience it with my beloved... not record it... so I brought my camera, but rarely used it.  Even with trying to limit myself, I ended up taking hundreds of photos, so there's lots to share, including the images I got on my phone.

Day 1.  Travel Day.

I got up and dressed in convertible Northface pants so I'd be ready for the warmth of not being in Alberta.

We boarded the plane for Vancouver, where we had a long enough layover to get in a visit with my beloved nephew and brother-in-law.

We wasted the afternoon wandering down by the water, playing in the park, and enjoying the sunshine, knowing that when we arrived in Maui it would be dark.

It was kind of a fun way to arrive, knowing that we'd get there in darkness and wake up to eye candy.  We had booked both a hostel and a car but every good adventure begins with glitches, including your plane landing too late to pick up your car and the hostel screwing up your reservation and moving you to a location halfway across town.  Fortunately, our awesome cabbie was as helpful as he was knowledgeable and we managed to get cocktails and mix, accommodation, and a plan for the morning sorted out.  (I seriously don't want to badmouth the hostel - there was a communication error, plain and simple - and if you're not fancy and you're OK with having a private bed but sharing a communal shower and some free outdated DVDs, it's a spot to sleep for cheap.  Just do it.  They were seriously quirky, convenient, fantastic, and really were exemplary of Maui's laid-back kinda ways - email me for the name lol)

Day 2.  Mobility rocks.

While it was a day late to the party, our car rental ended up being wicked awesome.  We got a great deal on a car from the friendly and helpful folks at Advantage, which was a beautiful 45-minute walk mostly along the shoreline from the hostel.  We got up bright and early.  En route to pick up the car, we passed a bridal shop (I do love me some mannequins...), stopped at a local bakery shop to buy potent coffee and weird chewing gum, checked out SUP and surfers in the bay, and grabbed an overpriced breakfast at a restaurant that looked too Miami Vice to be true.

We also noticed the first of what would be many squatters' campsites along the beach - apparently, lots of people do this and just move if they get approached by officers.  (PS, you know that jaywalking thing in Lilo and Stitch?  We totally got yelled at by local enforcement for jaywalking!)

I had booked a generic "compact car" and we discovered quite happily that our vehicle had been upgraded to a 2-door convertible fully-loaded 2016 VW Beetle.  Yes please!!!  We immediately needed to locate camp fuel, matches, a can opener, food, and (of course!) cocktails so as soon as we picked up the car we hit Target and WalMart to stock up.  I was shocked at how expensive produce was!  In a tropical location with a year-round growing season (so I thought) fresh fruit and veggies would be easy to score but no - a head of cauliflower was $11CAD after the exchange and a single Roma tomato was easily $2CAD or more.

We ended up getting far more canned food than we had planned, but getting orzo and blue corn soup was kind of like its own culinary adventure, so we just rolled with it.  Along with a pair of $10 boogie boards, we ended up picking a Death Star light-up beach ball for our middle son at the WalMart.  After checking out all the stuff they definitely do NOT carry in Canadian WalMart.  Like bottles of wine that cost lest than bottles of water.

Being January in Alberta, we were unsuccessful finding board (me) and dress (Bill) shorts at the Goodwill in Edmonton prior to leaving, so we stopped at the Value Village in Kahului and spent a good two hours skimming through the cast-offs of locals. Later, with a trunkful of cheap wine, Spam & tuna, and a 25L jug of water, plus a Hawai'an dictionary for our youngest daughter and the pair of shorts we each needed, we headed back to the hostel to wait out the rain that had started while we were shopping.

When the rain didn't let up and we remembered how quickly sunset happens in tropical locales, we dashed to a local dive called The Bamboo Palace for some super tasty eats.  (Hint: when you arrive at an inconspicuous restaurant in the pouring rain on the backside of a building in a somewhat industrial-looking neighbourhood and the locals are pouring in in droves, you should eat there...)  When our bellies were full, we trekked back to the hostel and grabbed a couple of DVDs before heading to our humble bedroom to have some yummy rummy and get a good night's rest so we could tackle the Road to Hana.

Day 3.  Pit stop after pit stop after pit stop after pit stop... and camp!

If you do not enjoy driving, especially on narrow curvy roads, then you would be the right candidate for a bus tour of the Road to Hana.  However, if you are Hope and Bill, you agree ahead of time that you are going to share drive time, because the Road to Hana is, above all, a drivers' dream.  If you want, you can buy a DVD that you can pop in your car and it will point out the mile markers as you pass them.  If you prefer to put the convertible top down and just fly by the seat of your pants in search of adventure, you can just find out about the mile markers as you stop, whether you hit them on the way in or the way out.  Our third day on Maui began with bad spelling:

After taking a shower (a couple of loose tiles revealed that at least that part of the building was constructed from a recycled billboard - but hey, at least it was hot unlike the rest of our showers for the next 4 days!) we sought coffee and our first (and probably last) Krispy Kreme.

Knowing we could make time to putz around the overpriced tourist-trap called Paia if we wanted when we did Haleakala on bike, we decided to skip making it a long stop on our meandering drive and sort of scope out the second half of our trip, noting the general location of Makawao and Surfing Goat Dairy.  But I have this bad habit of asking to stop and take pictures of things like burnt up car skeletons and adding minutes (hours) onto our travel time.

Unfortunately, our slacking off managed to end up with most of our outbound trip happening in peak traffic.  The stop-start-pass-share of the road would give any nervous driver heart palpitations.  But not us.  The drive was part of the fun.  MOST of the fun.

Out first stop: mile marker 7, near the rainbow trees.  Located across the street from a "secret (but not really) bamboo forest" the eucalyptus trees were beautiful, majestic, and yup, colourful.  While the trees were the "main" event, there was no shortage of pretty things to look at if you were willing to wander a little off the beaten path.  Which of course we were.  It was a welcome break from traffic before continuing on our journey.

We would travel the road again in the opposite direction so Hana outbound on Day 3 was more of a reconnaissance mission than anything else.  Preferring to skip the most touristy of touristy spots and hoping instead to make several unscheduled stops along the way, the second and only other "planned" stop was at Kak's roadside stand (26-27 mile marker) to get some banana bread.  We stopped several times along the road to take in the sights - once to grab a bracelet for the older daughter - but Kak's was a non-negotiable destination.  We were disappointed that her banana bread was sold out and her phone was too dead to bring in more, but delighted to meet her.  She is a celebrity.  She is friendly and lovely and loves her kitty cats and makes you feel like a million bucks while you sit at her cafe patio taking in the million dollar view drinking potent, scalding hot coffee that she will brew up fresh for you on the spot.  Visit her.  Love her.  You won't regret it.

The plan was to hike through the bamboo forest and visit the massive banyan trees on the Pipiwai Trail on the way to the Waimoku Falls before checking out the seven sacred pools aka the Pools of Ohe'o.  I am happy to report that the hike to the falls was a classic illustration of how sometimes the destination pales when compared to the journey.

It was overcast and a bit drizzly by the time we got to the bamboo forest but (in my opinion) rain or shine, unless it's a torrential downpour and you're less than 90 minutes from sundown, there's no way you should miss this hike (it is mostly wide, well-maintained walking trails.)  To see bamboo as thick as my thigh, yes, I would make the trek again, barefoot and drenched to the bone if necessary.  The waterfall was actually kind of anticlimactic after the walk...

Back across the road from the forest, we really wanted to dive into the pools but as the sun was getting low and we still needed to set up camp, we skipped a dip, hiked back to the car and headed for the campsite we had booked at Waianapanapa State Park.  After pitching our tent, sticking our park permit on, and blowing up our air mattress, we went for a twilight hike through the graveyard and along the beach before mixing our tuna in the orzo soup over the tiniest fire you can imagine and went to sleep early - tired, full, completely satisfied and deliriously happy.

Day 4.  Nuts, Spam, planes, caves, coconuts, and vacay chefs.

We woke up early in the morning.  Very early.  After waking up several time through the night.  Because the nuts from the banyan trees on the forest floor were hurting us.  We discovered, about 2 hours after we crawled into the tent, that the air mattress had a hole, a short and clean but detrimental cut we suspected was caused by the single sharp knife we had packed stabbing it while in transit.  In the dark, despite having a flashlight, we were unable to find the patch kit so we had an uncomfortable sleep on a lumpy bed of banyan nuts.

After trying to stay asleep as long as possible, we reluctantly emerged from the tent to the sound of our neighbours - a husband and wife with 2 young children - shucking a coconut the hard way: by bashing it on the table and sawing it with a dull bread knife.  Luckily the view at sunrise was totally on fleek.

Bill wandered over and offered them our hatchet and we were rewarded with some fresh sweet coconut for breakfast and a tip on where to find one of our own.

Now.  Showers at Waianapanapa are free.  They are also a) out in the open and b) ice freezing cold.  We braved a quick hair washing before brewing up some really (really!) strong coffee which we drank with canned evaporated milk - our ghetto beach latte, yo!  We grabbed our WalMart boogie boards and and headed off to hit the Black Sand Beach and beyond.

We had planned to visit as much of Maui on foot as possible.  Hiking allows the luxury of sight-seeing in detail and in slo-mo and that was the pace at which we set the day.  We meandered past the famous black sand beach and continued up the cliffside on the other end.  In hindsight, perhaps flip flops were a bad choice for this walk, but we really didn't know what was in store.  We walked for hours on the Kipapa O Kihapi'ilani Trail admiring the attitude, power, and beauty of the ocean waves crashing against the shore of pointy volcanic formations as we passed the Kapukuala burial site, rock coves, lava tubes, ruins, and Pukauluu Point - the site of a heiau and burial mounds.  We hiked as far as the Hana airfield where we sat under some trees and watched a small propellor plane take off just meters from our heads before heading back for a cooling and much-needed float at the black sand (which is actually mostly banyan nut-sized pebbles) beach.

After another ice freezing cold rinse and drying off at our campsite, there was a young hip fella and his crew using a machete to whack open coconuts like a fancy pants pro, so we went off in search of a coconut and then to find the Popoalaea Cave. The myth goes like this:

Waianapanapa Cave north of Hana on the island of Maui is the site of an ancient murder. A young chieftess named Popoalaea caught the eye of a powerful older warrior chief named Kakae and became his wife. Over time, Kakae became suspicious that his beautiful young wife was unfaithful and he beat her and made her life miserable. With her faithful female companion, she fled.

The cave has a pool of water hiding the entrance and it is necessary to dive into the pool to get under the ledge to get to the large lava tube cavern. They hid during days and came out at night to forage for food and figure out how to escape the island. Kakae kept getting angrier as he searched for his wife with a number of his men

One day he arrived at the pool where they were hiding and caught a glimpse of their reflection in the water. Kakae and his men killed the two women. It's said that the waters foamed, the women’s blood darkened the rocks in the cavern; and on the nights of Ku when the night is darkest, the waters of the cave turn red. In the spring, the time the tragedy occurred, the gathering of the red opae-ula make the stones of the cave turn even redder.

There were some adventurous folks who were taking the proverbial dive in the murky, stagnant water (not shrimp season so no bloodiness but it definitely smelled like dead bodies) so after a nice walk-through, we went off to the coconut groves south of the park where we had been told there would be coconuts we could harvest off the ground (we scored 3!)  Many tidal pools and hidden paths later, we decided it was time to go patch up the air mattress, cook up some supper, and get ready for sundown.  We made a quick trip in the convertible bug to the Hasegawa General Store to grab matches, $5 wine, and some Hana Bay Rum.  While we were there we picked up a pack of 4" quilting squares for my mother-in-law featuring fabric from every stereotypical Hawaiian shirt ever sewn.

While we were off hunting and gathering, our neighbours had all moved on.  Our new nexties were a gay couple who started sniffing the air from their shared hammock when we started a small fire and threw some sliced Spam on to cook.  One of them was a chef at a frou frou San Francisco gastro restaurant and when we offered him some grilled Spam, he admitted it was a guilty pleasure of his along with Ichiban noodles - two things he claimed a professional chef should never ever admit.  They paid us for our oceanside grilled Spam with expensive bourbon.  They went for Thai in Hana and we went to bed; when we got up in the morning, we left them a coconut and packed up before 6am. *MY* turn to drive the road FROM Hana.

Day 5.  Cats and chickens and goats OH MY!

Our final destination on Day 5 was on the dry side of the island, all the way over in Olowalu, a campground more famous for its feral chickens than anything.  Before 6am, we had packed the tent and mattress up, ate one coconut, left one outside the tent of our nexties, and threw the third one in the trunk so we could hit the road.  Even Kak was not awake at the hour Bill and I got out of bed, so I got to take Hana highway at speeds that would not be possible when all the transport trucks and tourists were on the road.  It was freaking GLORIOUS. (I apologize for the blurry video - I had it on auto focus and forgot to get Bill to turn it off before he threw the camera on the dashboard for me...)

After coffee and condensed milk, we had the luxury of stopping at the "touristy" places without a bunch of tourists including Twin Falls, the tree sanctuary, an extended hike at the Mile 7 "secret" bamboo forest, opposite the rainbow forest.

We had been given a tip from the 3rd passenger in our row on the flight to stop at the BBQ stand between two big trees with a sketchy-looking spray painted sign that just said "BBQ" on it.  The stop did not disappoint - we lunched on divine huli huli chicken served on a bed of coconut rice in a bamboo leaf.

Our last hike before leaving the Hana Highway was the Waikamoi Preserve, a nature trail with markers identifying the types of trees on the island and their origins.  Once you get past the manmade stairs at trailhead, you climb up the ridge to a lookout over exposed muddy roots.  It was gorgeous and cool under the canopy and there was something mystical about the gnarly path and hanging vines.  It isn't (apparently) a popular spot which is sad - I felt like a magical forest fairy cruising around in there!  It was the perfect end to a Hana adventure.

Finishing the day off, on the strong advice of another dear friend and colleague, we stopped at the Surfing Goat Dairy to gush over the newborns and eat goat cheese lilikoi deliciousness.  We made a pit stop in Paia at the Mana organic market to grab some veggies for supper and some kind of seedy crackers for the herbed goat cheese that was frozen when we bought it but would have to be eaten that night as we could not refrigerate it.  (OK, so we were actually so impatient we were scraping the frozen block with our crackers.  Whatevs.  Don't judge.)

I haven't really talked about much about the feral chicken population on Maui yet, but now is a good time.  The chickens are so prevalent that the Home Depot sells a chicken snare.  It's legal to trap and eat the chickens, but because they are wild, they're considered too game-y for most people so they continue roaming the island freely.  We hadn't run into any feral chickens until we stopped at Kaumahina State Wayside park for a pee break, where a cluster of feral chickens seems to live peacefully with a pack of feral cats.

From that point on, we could barely get away from the chickens... they were pretty much everywhere, but had a particularly large population established in our campground.

We checked in to our site at Olowalu in late afternoon.  Setting up involved dodging a mother hen and her two chicks, who seemed to have staked a claim on our centipede-filled campsite and viewed us as intruders.  We bought shave ice, snacks, and drinks across the street.  As we finished up supper dishes, we met a fellow named Travis who was charging his phone in the communal washing area (sink inside, shower right next door, yes - both ice freaking cold!) Travis - an HVAC guy from Oregon - had made the trip to Maui to visit his son several months earlier, as his ex-wife had relocated there with her new husband, and decided to stick around until his money ran out.  Camping at state-run parks is limited to a maximum of 3 nights, and Olowalu being privately owned was capped but far more flexible - Travis had been there for much longer, eating what he fished from his kayak and buying rice with the money he made from creating crafts from flotsam and jetsam and selling them to touristy types like us.  Travis had managed to burn his leg quite severely and we shared some of our first aid supplies with him, but encouraged him to see a Dr.

After a cocktail while puttering in the warm salty ocean on our handy WalMart boogie boards, we called it an extra early night as Day 6 required an extra early rise.  I think it was barely 8:00 when we showered and turned ourselves in.

Day 6.  Do. All. The. Things.

Day 6 was packed full of pretty much everything and began... at 1 am.  After a few hour of listening to the chickens peck around the outside of our tent, I was finally able to fall asleep - the sounds of the tide coming in nearby finally drowned out the clicking and tacking and I was able to drift off to sleep curled into my husband's stomach.  At one point, Bill woke up and claimed something had bit his leg, but he fell immediately back to sleep.  I, on the other hand, was wide awake listening to Momma chicken scritching around in the dirt right outside the tent.  At 1am.  Why wasn't she asleep?

This is not my photos.
I grabbed it off the internet because I wanted you to see how big the freaking centipedes are.
Our day was supposed to start at 2:30, but the Olowalu chickens had other ideas, namely that if a semi truck's lights from the highway about 100 feet away woke them up and they thought maybe it might be time to wake up, they would cock-a-doodle-doo, one after the other as in succession they each thought they had overslept and missed the sunrise.  Now, from a distance this is annoying but you can in fact tune this out the same way as you might tune out a persistent snooze button.  That is, of course, provided their chosen roost isn't 8 or 10 feet up in the branches, directly above your tent.  And you cannot ignore it.  Because you did not bring ear plugs.

Now.  If you know me even a little bit, you know I a) cannot stand being late and b) love being on a bike and that cycling was going to be a part of the trip somehow.  At some point, around 1am, the doppler effect of chickens and roosters clucking and crowing up and down the beach became too much, and we decided that if we didn't want to oversleep we should probably just get up, and stay up - we could nap on the drive up the mountainside (or later...) as we had booked a downhill bike tour with Maui Sunriders to watch sunrise at the peak then ride down Haleakala.  So we hauled our tired asses out of bed, found a 24-hr store for a 2am coffee, and bundled up for sub-zero mountaintop temps.  (Y'all, I do not say this lightly - bring woolie socks, mitts, sweaters, windbreakers, and hot drinks in a Thermos because sunrise at Haleakala is freezing cold, and the ride down does not warm up for at least 5000kms in elevation.)

While we had hoped to maybe catch some sleep on the long drive up, it was impossible not to listen to the stories of the tour guide.  I was instantly hit with a similar feeling of culture shock and white man's shame for the missionaries who landed on Maui and essentially launched a hostile takeover.  If you spend some time researching the Alexander and Baldwin families in Maui, you will see a story that is not completely dissimilar to the one experienced in any other nation taken over by missionaries:  Missionary lands.  Missionary suppresses natives under religious pretence.  Missionary claims land, exploits workers, and gets filthy rich.  While Baldwin (you've probably seen the name on some pianos) is touted to have saved the Hawaiians from a number of diseases, the reason there were epidemics in the first place was due to the fact the locals had no immunity from diseases the Europeans brought.

On top of that, they had some stow-away rats on their ships that within a couple of years had caused extinction of several species of ground-laying birds which prior to the missionaries had no predators.  However, they were also destroying the cane crops, so obviously someone thought something should be done.  Mongoose, who in a fight will kick a rat's ass, were introduced.  Unfortunately, the only time they ever saw rats was at shift change when the nocturnal rats went to bed and the diurnal mongoose took over feasting on the the eggs of the same ground-laying birds the rats were killing off, as well as the workers' chickens and eggs.  Oops.  Our tour guide told us that if we managed to hit one with our car, no one would be sad.

The Baldwin family still owns something like 80% of Maui, but not the top 3 miles of Haleakala - in exchange for giving it up (since their cattle were killing the indigenous plants and destroying the habitat for species that didn't exists anywhere else on the planet) so the government could turn it into a National Park, they were given a contract binding the US military to purchase every bit of beef the family produced for basically all of eternity.  Nice, hey?

After huddling in utter darkness to watch the sun crest the peak of Haleakala (amazeballs!!!) we flew down the winding mountain road in a tuck, avoiding cars and dodging cowpies (since the Baldwin family cattle roam freely) at breakneck speeds.  Wheeeee!!!!  Bill beat me down the hill by several minutes and waited for me in the town of Makawao where we stopped at the T. Komodo Bakery as advised by our your guide to get a donut.  (Yes, you SHOULD go - I recommend the guava malasada, which is a Portuguese-style jelly donut.)

Now, Makawao is a bit of an odd town - when you arrive it feels more like you've embarked on a town in the old west than a quaint Hawaiian town.  Established by ranch hands from Mexico brought in by the Baldwin family to wrangle their herds of cattle, the locals coined the word "paniolo" for the Spanish-speaking cowboys, a mispronunciation of the word "español" as the letter "s" doesn't exist in the Hawaiian alphabet.  Littered with galleries and quaint little shops selling glittery kitsch, the town has become a bit of an upscale mecca for affluent hippies.  And Willie Nelson.

We continued into Paia and walked around for a bit before jumping in the car and heading over to the Sugar Cane Museum in Puunene, which I cannot recommend highly enough - what it lacks in modernity it makes up for in knowledge.   I was impressed with how unbiased the information was as I had feared it might be "white"washed.  It was not.

It was historically accurate, and for the second time that day I felt the shame of white privilege as we learned about how the immigrant workers were actively segregated by ethnicity to prevent them from forming unions as they endangered their lives building irrigation systems for pennies, enduring harsh working conditions in the fields and factories for the wealth of arrogant white men who had come in and taken what wasn't theirs to take.

Despite this, much of the island continued to depend on the cane industry for jobs, which Alexander & Baldwin announced in 2016 would be completely shut down.  While there will surely be some relief from the burns (part of the harvesting process) it remains to be seen how the loss of this industry will impact the economy or the environment.  There has been speculation about new testing crops being sowed by Monsanto or turning the fields into pastures for more cattle that the US military has no choice but to buy...

The last sugar mill on Maui, circa 2016.
Not my photo, couldn't find the owner to give credit.

We spent several minutes admiring the vintage machinery in the museum yard, and got back to Olowalu late in the afternoon.  Travis greeted us, showed us that he had been to a doctor and gotten his leg cleaned and bandaged, and we exchanged a few more stories before walking across the street to grab wine and shave ice and head out for a boogie board float.  It was mind-blowing to finish the day by watching the sun we had seen rise of the highest part of Maui set at sea level.  

We were treated to a bonus show by several flying fish dancing in the water just a few feet from us while a pod of whales was showing off in the distance, all breeches and blowholes.  After taking what would be the last ice freezing cold shower of the trip, sleep came fast.

Day 7.

We hadn't actually spent much time at Olowalu in daylight, so after packing up the tent we went for a short farewell walk.  It's really quite beautiful and eerie - the sites are separated by spidery-looking trees and branches.  Several sites had been decorated with beach combing finds and it wasn't uncommon to see elaborate sand drawings or seashell mosaics.

The beach was soft and sandy and clean and oh so lovely.  As we would be staying in a hotel and attending the Old Lahaina Luau that night, we wandered over to Travis's site to see the vintage cooker he had told us about scoring at a garage sale earlier the week - the source of his terrible burn.  It looked like this only much more ornate, and we were totally jealous:

Image result for vintage chinese hot pot

We gave him the rest of our drinking water, the unused camp fuel that we couldn't have taken on the plane, and the first aid kit.  In return, he gifted us a tiny, delicate driftwood sculpture.  It sat on our dashboard for the remainder of the trip and made it home tucked in the handle socket of the rolling suitcase as it would have gotten crushed anyplace else.  It's a treasured souvenir - in fact, so treasured that it is the only one we have from the trip for ourselves:

As we were stuffing everything in the car, we saw that the Momma chicken with two chicks had followed us.  Bill, now absolutely certain he had been bitten by a centipede, stomped on one that was cruising by, and threw it to the chicks, and just as the siblings were about to go after it, Momma swooped between them and ate the whole thing herself.  Good riddance to the centipedes and chickens, we thought...

Our first task for Day 7 was fantastic: SURFING LESSONS!!!  Except that somehow I managed to screw up the booking with Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy and when we arrived, the class I thought we had signed up for was full.  So were all of the rest of the classes that day.  I was so mad at myself - I was positive I had made the reservation!  But nope...  "We have room tomorrow morning, if you like?"  We kind of hummed and hawed about that - we had to be at the airport by 1pm and if something happened to us, any kind of delay, we risked not having enough time to return the car and get to the airport.  But come on - it's Hawaii - you GOTTA surf!  So, we signed ourselves up and went to seek out coffee and something else to do until we could check into our hotel and meet up with some friends at the beach near our hotel in Kaanapali later that day.

We had gotten a map from the car rental place on the first day with a number of tourist attractions on it, so we decided to put the top down, throw on some shades, and head off to the Iao Valley State Park, thinking it would be a (free) way to kill a couple of hours.  Little did we know that it would become one of the highlights of our trip.  Because of maintenance happening along the main trail to the Iao Needle, the road was closed.  Three locals familiar with the area advised us to go down to the boardwalk and follow it to the trail at the back.  On a placard was the story of the Battle of Kepaniwai, which resulted in so many corpses in the Iao River that it was dammed and ran red with blood.  There was a narrow bridge to cross - two lengths of chainlink fence stretched along a narrow platform atop one of the irrigation pipes.  Before crossing the bridge, there was a small metal box with pencils and waivers that you were supposed to fill out but there were no blanks.  As we sat there contemplating if it was worth risking, a group started heading back across the bridge towards us and it was decided that if it was a worthy field trip for school squirts, we should go.

After crossing the chainlink bridge, we started on a hiking trail which at first seemed sort of familiar, almost boring - after the let down of not being able to surf and having hiked so many forests by then, there needed to be some wow factor.  Which didn't take long to happen.  Without getting into a huge discussion about war strategy, the Iao Valley is an ideal spot to invite your enemy for a war - a bottle neck with plenty of cover and challenging terrain.  Tucked away in the forest were the remains of the military settlement - dilapidated walls, the remains of what I suspect were gardens, structures hidden beneath thick layers of moss and peppered with tiny mushrooms.  The rugged terrain was challenging in some spots but it was worth the trek.  We traced the steps and talked about how the battle probably went down, stood at the river's edge and imagined it coming down in scarlet streams.  Standing beside what was left of a knee-high wall under a canopy of groves that had provided some kind of shelter for the warriors, I felt savage and wild.

Until a $&@%^#%@$ chicken shot through the fort and broke the spell.  See that red streak?  Yeah.  Jungle chicken photobombed me.

We made our way back to the parking lot and went and toured around the Kepaniwai Park Heritage Garden, which filled in even more blanks about the unique mix of heritage on Maui.  Each section of garden is styled and planted in the tradition of the area of origin - along a single, beautifully manicured path we wound past a Chinese pagoda with guardian lions, a koi-filled stream and reflecting pond, an ornate Korean pavilion, a Japanese formal garden, a Polynesian thatched hut, and more, along with statuary and monuments identifying individuals and events of historic significance and honouring the contributions of them and the immigrant workers upon whose backs the fortunes of few were built.  There's even a Portuguese oven, which at first seem odd but remember - I did buy a malasada (that's a Portuguese jelly donut, in case you forgot) at the Japanese bakery the day before...  it's all coming together now, isn't it?

We headed back towards Kaanapali and decided to tour further up the highway aa bit to kill time before checking into our hotel.  (They let us check in early AND upgraded our room - huzzah!)  After moving our luggage upstairs and hand-washing the Value Village shorts Bill needed (and the kitty cat shirt Bill wanted) for the luau, we changed into our swimsuits and headed a short drive down the beach to meet up with some pretty special little boys (and their amazing parents.)

The first time I met this couple, Mom was incredibly pregnant.  Like, don't bump into me in the hallway because I might not get up if you tip me over pregnant.  From the moment they agreed to sneak onto an unattended window-washing platform outside one of the high rises on Saskatchewan drive for a picture no one else would ever have, I knew we had started something special.

Over 7 years later, we're still at it.  You might recognize the last image from this session from on the opening slideshow on my website... but....  Each year, we try to come up with a fun way to add something unique to their family photos.  While my all-time favourite images came from the time we brought laundry baskets and let the boys pretend they were pilots and race car drivers, and the most work I've ever had to do for a session was last year when we took little pink and green plastic adirondack chairs down to the edge of the creek and taught the boys how to cast fishing rods, the most fun I've ever had was watching them freak out after introducing them to giant bubbles - the looks on their faces once they got the knack was brilliant!  Unfortunately, while exporting their final images from that session, the only version of their favourite image that survived was the B&W version, which always made me a bit sad - I still don't understand what happened.  They asked me for it... alas, it was gone.  I felt like crap - I've never had that happen as I am a digital hoarder.  But I digress.

We happened to figure out we'd be in Maui at the same time and decided that adding some beach pics to our collection was a must.  Not like a session session, but like hanging out on a beach and making sand castles kind of beach pics.

We met them by the ocean, boogie boards in hand, and spent a couple of hours soaking in the sun and surf.  My job was mostly to build villages or schools that the boys would destroy by stomping on them.  Growls and throat noises were mandatory.  Bonus points for squishy faces with angry eyes.  There was swimming.  There was getting buried in the sand.  After being away from our own kids for 6 days without appointing them adult supervision (a first - EVER) we were grateful for the injection of playtime and some familiar faces.

We reluctantly said our goodbyes, and Bill and I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the luau.  I had developed this nasty itchy spot on the back of my arm from what I assumed was a mosquito bite and was struggling to keep from scratching my arm off.  I thought a hot shower might do the trick but no.  Then I thought it might be an allergic reaction instead.  Bill ironed his wrinkly but dry linen VV shorts while I ate some antihistamines and slapped on some make-up and cortisone cream as the sun was just starting to lower itself in the sky.  Then we began the hour-long walk from our hotel to the Old Lahaina Luau.

Bill and I knew we wanted to do a luau.  Touristy as all get-out, a luau was a must, like riding a surf board, biking down the mountain, and driving the Hana Highway.  When we were booking it, we wanted two things: for Bill, the pig needed to be cooked in a pit BBQ (the foodie in me wanted to see it, too) and there had to be real, fresh plumeria leis, not shells or fake flowers.  Old Lahaina came with the Kālua and fresh flowers as well as incredible reviews and so we booked.  On our way along the shore, we passed locals fishing on the beach, hanging in hammocks at the park gazebos and playing with their children.  We saw more squatters camping on the sand (what we decided we would do next time.)  We saw turtles that looked like bored rocks clinging to shoreline.  We passed by the hauntingly beautiful Mala Wharf.  We soaked in every sight we could.

The reviews were an understatement.  The hospitality, service, and quality of the show itself was exemplary but what we will take away more than anything was the willingness of the staff to share of themselves not just professional but personal stories.  Maui hospitality really is second to none.  In the short 20-minute course of our pre-show tour of the grounds, we managed to get the secrets of Hawaiian pit BBQ and the complete life histories of two people by simply asking them to explain their tattoos, which often function as family crests, not decoration.  

The food was delicious, the drinks plentiful, the scent of our leis intoxicating, the sunset stunning, the performance incredible... there way no more perfect way I could imagine to have ended our stay on Maui... and we still had surfing lessons to tackle in the morning...

Day 7.  Board rash on the airplane

We headed to the Surf Academy for our lessons early in the morning of Day 7.  They provided long-sleeved shirts but I wish I'd had a wetsuit instead of just board shorts - my thighs were gloriously rashy afterwards.  As promised by the Academy, I had not just 1 but at least 7 or 8 successful rides, far more than I thought I would score especially pitted against my skateboarding, snowboarding husband.  And I will brag now.   T instructor invited some members of the group to swim into deeper waters.  Despite me not being invited, I followed.   And without guidance or assistance from the instructor, I managed to paddle with a wave that I picked, successfully get up on the board, and take what I would argue was the longest successful ride of our group.  I kind of regret not buying a photo of us up on the boards, but I know I did it and that's good enough.

We meandered through town, grabbed the same yummy coffee we had the day before, and checked out the vintage poster stores.  We still needed a few souvenirs.  We grabbed two calendars of half-naked Hawaiian men for two single ladies in our lives and a pack of vintage print postcards for my sister.  While picking out a t-shirt with a punny joke for the spare kid, we stumbled across a tacky oversized mug covered in ukeleles and hula skirts and knew the perfect gifts had been found.

With minutes to spare before check-out, Bill and I hurried back to the hotel to grab a shower, pack the car, and find some kid of lunch before the flight home.  After eating drunken noodles at a restaurant near the rental place and deciding we needed to learn how to make them because we could do them better, we dropped the car off and started debating what to do with the boogie boards.  We decided instead of paying to bring them home we would take them to the airport with us and wen we saw people deplaning we would pick a pair of random kids and gift them the boards.  But before we got that far, one of the pre-boarding flight attendees had handed us plastic bags and labels to take them home with us, at no charge.  But no produce - the coconut we still had in our trunk had to go.  Oh well...

We settled into our seats.  My convertible pants were more snug than I remember.  I was sooooo excited to get home and see our kids.  Like every flight leaving someplace you've loved visiting, there's bittersweetness.  Gratitude for what you've experienced, sadness that it's ending.  I was reluctant blogging about our trip for a long time.  Maybe it sounds weird, but I just didn't want to deal with unwanted commentary.  I wanted to hoard the memories.  I did not want unwelcome feedback from those who might feel writing about our trip was bragging, I didn't want to be guilted for not bringing our kids with us, I didn't want to hear that we were crazy or strange or cheap for camping...  I just wanted to tell my kids that having board rash on a plane ride home was a valid #lifegoal.

Our plane landed shortly after midnight.  But we had to wait an extra 3 hours (yes, hours) for them to thaw the plane out enough to get the cargo doors open.  When we finally got our suitcase and went to pick up the car, it was so frozen solid it had to be boosted.  We stopped at the 7-11 by our house for Coke at 3:30 am so we could have some Hana Bay rum while we unpacked.  As Bill and I indulged in the last few drops of our Hana Bay rum, I realized the back of my arm was swollen and itchy but I would wait another 2 weeks to look closely enough at the tiny vampire-like wound on my arm and realize that I, like Bill, had received a centipede bite.  And I was allergic to the venom.

Not my photo - this one came up on pinterest with no origin listed...
So Jen, I know you've read this far, waiting for a surprise.  Well, here it is.  Over Christmas my son upgraded the hard drive in my laptop.  Before he did that, I knew I wanted to make 100% sure that every possible card, drive, album, file, and disc had been backed up.  While I was digging around, lo and behold, I came across an album from a session I had not deleted from an SD camera drive I had decommissioned because of some issues with it.  

To my delight the SD was readable and here is what I found: