Friday, January 25, 2008

I'o, nene and the ameteur hula hour

Today was a great day to be a bird watcher in Volcano. On my way to work, I spotted this i'o, or Hawaiian hawk, sitting on a wire less than a block from the winery. I got out of my truck and walked right under him. He looked at me, then refocused his attention on the grass at the road's edge. I hoped he was looking for a mongoose, although he seems a little small to tackle such feisty prey. The i'o looks a little smaller than a kestrel, a smidge larger than a magpie. It's a very small hawk, but impressive and beautiful none-the-less. The i'o is designated as an endangered species.

So is the nene, or Hawaiian goose. I got an even better shot of this happy couple today. Nene mate for life. The pair has been hanging out around the vineyard lately. Today, they spent the afternoon right out front. I was able to walk right up to them. I think they even posed for me. Say cheeeeeese. Aren't they cool?
Yesterday was Minnesota day. Today was Canada day. In fact, every day lately is Canada Day. The Looney is stronger than the dollar these days, so they're coming in droves. I like Canadians. As a rule, they seem happier than Americans. They're definitely less stressed out, even on vacation. Maybe it's because of all that money they're saving on health care. Besides, how can you not appreciate a country that refers to its one-dollar coin as the Looney and two-dollar coin as the Tooney. Or is that the Two-ney?
During the morning hours, we were a bit slow, so my coworkers and I had some fun being silly, dancing pathetically bad hula, eating too much chocolate but not doing too much work. There wasn't much to do. It's been slow off an on for days, so all the extra stuff we do when it's slow had been done. Of course, as my esteemed colleague Brittany demonstrates with such flair, there are always glasses to wash!
As it turns out, we had a very classy, professionally designed ad that we were able to modify for our upcoming Valentine's promotion ad. My cutesy but cheesy ad with the humuhumunukunukuapua'a was therefore scrapped. It's for the best, I think.
A hui hou. Aloha!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Visitors from The North Star State

Today I put the finishing touches on my concept for a newspaper ad for the winery and sent it off to the ad dude at the paper for tweaking. It's kinda cute if I don't say so myself. It shows two fish, the state fish to be exact, facing each other as though they're going to kiss. One has a bubble over his head and says, "You're my humu-humu honey." (The state fish is called the humuhumunukunukuapua'a.) The other fish says, "Ah, you're making me blush." Then the text reads, "Macadamia Nut Honey and Volcano Blush. Just two of the award winning wines made here on the Big Island by Volcano Winery..... yadda yadda yadda. Cute huh? It's fun to be doing something a little different. You can only give the speel (or is that shpeel?) to visitors so many times without losing just a tad of your enthusiasm. Next week I hope to begin peddling the winery's wares to restaurants around the island. That will require the speel (shpeel) too, but in a different environment to buyers with a different agenda. I'm looking forward to that.
Today was Minnesota day at the winery. I think every other visitor was from The North Star State. I suppose it's a good time of year not to be in Minnesota. I was reminded of my friend Len, who moved to Minnesota a few years ago from New York. He had some trouble initially adjusting to what he describes as Minnesota nice. That's the general demeanor of all Minnesotans. They're sweet and polite and just awfully nice don'tcha know. New Yorkers are nice too, in a more direct, sarcastic, "Are you lookin' at me?" kinda way.

Some state nicknames are humorous. The North Star State isn't exactly a laugh riot, but it is nice. Minnesota nice, by golly. Hawaii is The Aloha State. Not so humorous either, but what else could Hawaii be? The Humuhumunukunukuapua'a State? Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. I don't think that would fit on the state seal. Especially since it would have to go alongside the sate motto: Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Kapono O Hawaii (The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness). For giggles there's Missouri, The Show Me State (as in, I'll show you mine if you show me yours) and North Carolina, The Tar Heel State (I picture people walking around on their tippy toes). Then there's my old home state of Oregon with a nickname we had great fun with during adolescence: The Beaver state. (Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver.) Arkansas is The Natural State. I guess that's so as not to be confused with an Unnatural State or a State of Confusion. Oklahoma is the Sooner State. Beats being the later state. OK may be sooner, but Delaware is The First State. Now that's original.

Tonight, after I finish this blog entry, I will polish up a story I've been working on. I plan to send it in as a manuscript to the University of Alaska. (state nickname: The Last Frontier. Hmmmm.... Captain Kirk said that was space. Oh wait. That was the final frontier. Sorry. Got my frontiers mixed up there for a minute.) Writing samples are required to apply for their Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program. I'd send them a couple of blog samples but I'm afraid they'd contact the authorities and have me committed.
A hui hou. Aloha!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Zapatas muy fantastico!

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

TV has become an even greater wasteland than usual these days, thanks to the writers' strike. Thank God for Kyle XY! It's back! Never mind that Kyle has been sporting a pretty dark 5 o'clock shadow lately, despite the fact that he's supposed to be a high school student. So what? He's Kyle, gunfunnit, the coolest kid without a belly button to ever grace the living room screens of America. Kyle rocks.
The new shoes are spectacular. I felt like I was running on clouds today, plunking out four miles on the treadmill and feeling a noticeable coosh as my heals struck the conveyor. Once again, I had the gym to myself. I find it hard not to start singing along to the iPod when I'm alone. I chose to exercise some self restraint, however, lest some hapless sucker wander into the place and be subjected to my crooning. It would, however, give me a strong chance of quickly regaining sole occupancy of the gym.
Crawford cruised a short ways up the road with me today sporting one of her new, custom made booties. It's designed to protect her when she knuckles or drags. It worked like a charm. She's pretty wobbly, but she gets along. It was fun for her to head up the road a piece. There are lots of good sniffies along the way and that's always good fun. After Crawford's mini-adventure, I took the Doctor Dog for a longer stroll. As always, he loved it. The great thing about Doc is that he gets just as excited from one day to the next to go for a walk; the exact same walk we took the day before. Nothing makes him happier. Maybe we could all learn a bit from Doc's simple enthusiasm for life. We squeaked in some ball time for Hoppsy today too, before the rain returned. It was another good day to be a dog in the Todd-Niederpruem family. Check that. They are not dogs. They are doggie-children.
We made our way to Luquin's for an early dinner tonight. It's a haunt we haven't haunted much lately. It's not the world's best Mexican food, but it's not bad. Since the pickin's are pretty slim when it comes to south of the border fare here - in what are essentially the northern most islands of Polynesia - so we were happy. I had a lilikoi (a.k.a. passion fruit) margarita. Where else but Hawaii can you find one of those? It was nice not sublime, so I think next time I'll order lime. Would that be a crime? (See? Even when I don't try, I'm poetic. It's a gift, really. It just oozes out. What can I say?)
Gotta go watch Kyle. A hui hou. Aloha!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Feets don't fail me now

"Hey, I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything's right...." Paolo Nutini - Lyrics from "New Shoes."

The other day, as I lumbered along the belt of the treadmill with my iPod cranked for musical inspiration, it occurred to me that I was probably the only person in the gym who was listening to Alison Krauss through my earbuds. (Never mind the fact that I was the only person in the gym just then.) I also thought it likely that I was the only person on the whole island listening to Alison. Maybe I was the only person in all of Hawaii.
That same experience happened to me today. This time, the artist was Roger Miller. Hey, King of the Road is a good song and fits in nicely with my folk/country/bluegrass playlist. DON"T MAKE FUN OF ME! Roger Miller was a genius! Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let - fifty cents..... Or how about the classic, You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd? You've gotta admit that's original. And then there's that timeless lyric from Dang Me: Roses're red and violets're purple, sugar's sweet and so is maple surple.... See? Genius!

I got some new shoes today. They came in the mail. They really are beautiful: New Balance 882, made in the U.S. with a last that actually fits my foot. My orthotics fit inside perfectly. Cool reflectors, huh? They came with brand new socks, also in my size. That may not seem like much, but for me, getting high performance socks to fit my stubs is no small feet. (I know. I'm a heel. Arch enemy number one. Toe-tally corny. At least I'm instep with the times....OK. I'll stop.) My new Champion jog bras arrived today too. They are also made in the U.S.A. Finding stuff made in America is no small feat either, considering the fact that we make so little anymore.
It really doesn't take much to make me happy. For some women, it's diamonds, fancy cars, clothes. For me it's nice running shoes with comfy socks and shimmy-free jogging.

A couple of weeks ago, I struck up conversation with the guy who was remodeling the bathroom at the gym. The Kilauea Military Camp fitness center is located in an historic structure. Great pains have been taken along it's pathway to revitalization to preserve the historic integrity of the building, which is little more than a large shed.The guy was debating on whether or not to paint the ceiling a different color than the walls. He had brushed a bit of it with some sky blue. "What do you think?" he asked me.
I said, "Go for it. I think the contrast with the beige looks nice." He liked that answer and smiled.
Last week, I noticed a new guy working on the bathroom. It seemed not much had been accomplished since I'd spoken to the last guy. He was, however, honoring the decision of his predecessor to paint the ceiling blue.
"He had an accident," explained the new guy. Apparently, the pleasant fellow I'd spoken too had fallen off a cliff while fishing. He was plucked from the surf by rescue swimmers, lifted into a Helicopter and whisked off to a Honolulu Hospital. Poor guy. I understand his injuries were severe. He had been in the hospital for two weeks with lots of broken bones. New guy said that the injured man was just 15 months away from retiring. Suddenly my day seemed fantastic. I told new guy that after hearing that, I would not complain for the rest of the day and maybe even the rest of the week. He laughed and nodded in agreement. It's amazing what a little contrast can do to help you put things into perspective.
Hopps has a new hobby. She's always liked my socks and has long made good fun for herself carrying them around the house, giving them new homes. Lately, however, she's actually chewed holes in a few. Yesterday, I found one of a pair of fuzzy, periwinkle-colored slipper-socks. She had eaten the toe completely. HOPPSY! I assume she ate it because I never found the missing hunk o' sock. I won't be surprised to find a pile of periwinkle, fuzzy poo outside somewhere. Here she is with the mate to that sock. I figure since it's no longer a matched set, she might as well have her fun.
I am now more careful with where I leave them. I can't really get mad at her. She looks so cute when she carries them around. And she's so funny and smart all the time that you've just gotta love her. The little rascal!

I would never describe the temperature here as cold. My neighbors would. I see them walking around with heavy coats. Some even wear gloves and hats. I would say, however, that's it's been a little cool the past few days. Last night as I walked to the car from work up in Volcano (4000 feet elevation) I got all kine chicken skin. My arms sprouted goose bumps. I even shivered just a tad. It dipped into the 40s up there last night and probably the 50s here where we're perched at 2500 feet. Tonight, we've got a fire in the wood stove to take the edge off the chill. I may have to break down and put on some long pants. I ask you, why the hell live in Hawaii if you have to wear long pants? It's just a question really, not a complaint. After all, I have not fallen off any sea cliffs lately so have nothing to whine about.
Lucy really wants to play with the pen on the desk right now, so I've gotta go. Note that the photo shows this very blog on the computer screen behind her. Like I said. Gotta go. Lucy rules!
A hui hou. Aloha!

Costco crusade, made in the shade

After a malasada for the road and lunch at the Kona Inn, Ron and I combed the aisles of Costco. That was our Sunday. It was a cash and carry day. Costco only takes American Express or cash. I guess they take debit cards too, but Homey (the Financial Planner) don't play dat. We used to have an American Express card. It was Ron's business card, although I was an authorized signer. He had the thing for 30 years and never missed a payment. I almost never use it, but have on several occasions over the years. Historically, we'd call Amex customer service to let them know that I would be using the card. We tried that again recently. I had planned to got to town and Ron thought he'd just give me the American Express card to stock up on some business supplies he needed. He called Amex and got an agent in India with a very heavy accent. The guy, who identified himself as Kevin or Steve or some other bogus Anglified name, told him that I could no longer use the card, despite the fact that my name was on the account. I had to acquire my own card with my name on it, even though it would have the same account number printed on it. That would cost us a fee, of course. So Ron explained that he had been a customer for 30 years and that we had both been named on the account for much of that time and that this had never been a problem before. He asked if they couldn't just send us another card. He mean't for free, of course. No dice. Ron asked to speak to a manager. He was then transferred to another heavy accent, this time in the Fillipines. This person confirmed what the first dude had said. At least, that's what Ron thinks he heard. He asked to be transferred to customer service in the U.S. and was denied. So, he canceled the card.
Now, Ron and I both understand that the main reasons for this change in policy are 1) security (a good reason) and 2) money (a greedy bad reason). Certainly if I'm signing the receipt it's better if the card has my name on it. Of course, they could have simply offered to send us a duplicate card with my name on it. But no-o-o-o-o. Then they'd be out $75.
The next day, an American from American Express (go figure), called Ron to ask why he had canceled the card. The guy begged him to reconsider. He gave Ron the whole, "You've been a valued customer for 30 years," speech. Ron explained that the change in policy and unyielding adherence to the new one was silly, especially when applied to a long time, loyal customer. He also vented that he did not appreciate how painstakingly difficult it had been for him to explain his point to agents whom he could not understand and whom he felt did not understand nor care about him. The American did not offer to waive the new policy, nor would he send a free card. He again asked Ron to reconsider. No dice. And no more Amex.
When it rains, it pours. This time I'm speaking figuratively, not about the actual weather. An editor from the local independent paper called to see if I can help with his Arts and Entertainment section. The AAUW (American Association of University Women) wants me to write profiles on speakers for an upcoming retreat. I got a job offer at a local coffee mill. The winery now likes my idea of visiting the wine stewards and chefs around the island and convincing them to carry one or more of our wines in their restaurants. To top it all off, I may have discovered plan B. In fact, while plan A - Law School - is still on the table, plan B is now quite compelling. I had originally thought plan B would have me picking up graphic arts/web design training and going into business for myself. I'm not the most artistic person in the world, however, though I've been told I have a way with words. So I may consider pursuit of a MFA in Creative Writing. It would get me through a finished manuscript that could very well be good enough to publish. It would also qualify me to teach composition and other writing classes at the college level. There are about 20 schools across the country that offer MFA's with what's known as a low-residency requirement. That means you only have to be on campus a couple of times each year, for a week or two at a time. The rest of the semester you work from home, interacting with faculty via the Internet while continuing to live your life. The coolest program I've seen is the one offered by the University of Alaska, however I plan to apply to several programs. I still think I'll retake the LSAT and, if that goes well, I'll have even more options. Either way, prospects are lookin' up. Shoot's bruddahs and seestahs. Da fewcha's so bright, I gotta weah shades!
A hui hou. Aloha!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Village gathering

The Volcano Farmers' Market has become, as they say here, "choke." That means it's really busy and packed with people. I think it would be safe to say that the little venue has been discovered. It's always been a hoppin' place, a great community gathering of locals and the occasional visitor on Sunday mornings. This past weekend, there wasn't a parking spot anywhere near the Cooper Center where the market is held. I had to park about 1/4 mile up the road. And that was at 7:30 a.m! There are more vendors now than ever. The Volcano Farmers' Market has become popular, I think, because word has spread that it's a really great place to buy some beautiful produce and delicious prepared foods. It's really different than the bigger markets. It's 100% local. Really local. It's not just stuff grown or made in Hawaii or even on the Big Island. Most of the goods sold there are made or grown either in Volcano or within a few miles of the village. In fact, the Cooper Center has a commercial kitchen and most of the people selling pre-cooked food or baked goods either make it in that kitchen or set up with rice cookers and crock pots on the spot. There's a lady there who makes a killer, spicy green papaya soup. Don't knock it 'til you try it. I adore the sticky buns sold by the pastry people, right next to the soup lady. There's also a Mt. View guy who bakes fresh, whole wheat and multi-grain breads and English muffins. He also serves up hot breakfast sandwiches. His breads are dense and chewy. They toast up beautifully and soak up the butter and honey like the bread and the condiments were made for each other. At Volcano Farmers' Market, you can buy fresh noni juice (nasty but healthy), hot Thai specialties like curried pumpkin and masaman, homemade peruvian-style tamales, 100% Kau grown coffee, cookies, pies, homemade soaps and balms, flowers, and all manner of vegetables and fruits. There are photos, paintings, pottery, and sculptures by artists who live within walking distance. It's all crammed into and around the tiny community center that is the heart of Volcano Village. At the Cooper Center, there's a large room with a fireplace and some tables, perfect for small community gatherings and meetings. There's also an adjacent room filled with paperbacks that you can either buy for cheap for exchange for one you've already read. Once a month, the market features clothing and household goods. Ron and I once struck up conversation with a local man, seated at the table with us. As we scarfed down our soup and sticky buns (breakfast of champions), he bragged that he had purchase his entire "outfit" - sweatshirt, pants and a knit cap- for $1.00. The village used to be little more than a tiny enclave of artsy fartsies mixed with some long-time locals. It's grown, and is now home to even more artsy fartsies, along with a growing influx of free-spirited, simple-living retirees. Volcano Village is a very unpretentious place, to say the least.
After loading up on goodies Sunday morning, I took the opportunity to shoot a quick pic of the mountain. Mauna Kea looks pretty in the sunshine, under a blue sky, capped with snow.
A hui hou. Aloha!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A fruitful, sunny say

You see some interesting people at the Hilo Farmers' Market. This morning I spotted a flaming gay black man strolling toward me with an adorably cute and perfectly quaffed Jack Russell Terrier. How do I know he was gay? Well, I'm pretty sure the Jack Russell was straight. But the 30-something human was definitely light in the loafers. Not that there's anything wrong with that. He was wearing one of those wide necked, horizontally striped sailor's shirts, yellow and blue. His pants were white pedal pusher, tight at the knees. On his feet, canvas boat shoes with no socks. His outfit looked a little like the one Kirk Douglas wore is Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Only instead of dancing with a seal, this guy was prancing with his dog. To top it off (the outfit, that is), the man wore a boat captain's cap, the kind that sits not quite flat on your head with a small brim. It was tilted just so. The flaming sailor tip-toe-trotted across the road, elbows in, hands out, rushing toward the bustling market. His dog seemed a little embarrassed, yet was clearly accustomed to the spectacle. The man and his pooch met up with two older, bolo-head haole queens with slight paunches. The pair was obviously a couple. I overheard them squabbling over how to redistribute their produce so their respective bags' weights would be more evenly distributed. I was relieved for them when they finally got all their fruits in order.

I also saw a petite, Japanese lady walking a chihuahua wearing red shoes. The lady was not wearing the red shoes. Those were sported by the chihuahua, on his front feet. They gave the little fella a bit of a goose step. He looked up at me as they passed and pleaded, "Yo quiero Dr. Scholls!"

The sun was shining today. I can just feel the Vitamin D soaking through my flesh and hardening my bones like so much Plaster of Paris on a pinata. (Picture a ~ over the n here.) Give me a whack tonight and I'll spill chili dog, chips and a handful of Jujubees all over the floor. I don't know. It just sounded good when Ron recommended it for dinner. He's not a great source when it comes to nutritional counseling.
A hui hou! Aloha!