Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 6: Dinner With Marines...

I had Sean when he was a Junior in my Chemistry class.  He was a bit of a goofball and he didn't always make the best decisions.  The two of us formed a bond pretty quickly, as I had taught his older brother, and it built up from there.  His senior year, he continued making some poor decisions, which broke my heart, and he wound up having to leave out school.  I didn't even get to say good-bye to him.

A year later, he was escorted to my classroom by his dean.  He asked me if I could write him a letter of recommendation for the Marines.  You see, when you have a history of making bad decisions and have a record, the Marines are not so sure that you are the best fit for them.  Writing that letter for Sean was one of the easiest letters I have written for a former student.  I knew that if Sean could get into the Marines, he could get his life straightened out and head down the path that I knew he should be on.

Sean got into the Marines, and graduated from boot camp.  I've never been prouder of one of my students.  He kept in touch with me through facebook, and I have been able to see everything that he is doing.  Sean applied to be stationed "over seas", and was placed in Hawaii- who knew Hawaii counted as "over seas"?  When it got closer for our trip to Hawaii, I messaged Sean to see if it would be possible for me to meet up with him for even just a short time.  I hadn't seen him in a while, and I wanted him to know how proud I was of him.  It took a little while, and it almost didn't happen, but the night before our last day in Hawaii, Sean was able to get a car, and finish his job and come out.  He brought along one of his roommates, Anthony, who is from California and is hilarious.

Ryan and I bought them dinner, Sean picked Chili's, and we got to hang out with them for a little while.  Both Marines were respectful, well spoken, and very nice young men.  They shared stories with us about their training, what it's like to be a Marine, and what it's like when the President comes to the base.  It was a really nice visit. Sean has become the man that I always knew he could be and I couldn't be any prouder of him than I already am.

*We were dumb, and didn't bring our camera to dinner, so I don't have any pictures of the guys.  Thanks to facebook, I "borrowed" these pictures from Sean's facebook page (thanks, Sean!).
Sean, after graduating boot camp
Sean & Anthony- I don't think Anthony ever stopped smiling while we were at Chili's- he was hilarious

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 5: Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay...

The morning after the luau, we woke up and had our breakfast of champions again: Beef Jerky and an oatmeal bar (blech, but you gotta do what you gotta do to catch The Bus) and headed to the bus stop to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.  Little did we, or any of the other tourists, know that The Bus was running on the holiday schedule and that we had time to eat a real breakfast that morning.

When The Bus finally arrived, we rode on an extremely crowded bus, where Ryan and I stood for most of the 45 minute ride (note to self: if we ever get the opportunity to go back, Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays, so everyone likes to go on Wednesdays like we were doing).  After we arrived, we immediately saw Hanauma Bay, it is BREATHTAKING.
Beautiful isn't it?

Everything in the water that looks "brown" is all reef
We stood in line to pay the entrance fee ($7.50), and then we got our tickets to enter.  Before you are allowed to walk down the quarter mile hill to snorkel, you are required to watch a short film about Hanauma Bay- it is a living coral reef and the video tells you where you can stand up and not stand up, and what you can touch and not touch.  Then, we trekked the quarter mile down the hill and rented snorkel gear for ourselves (they do have a tram that you can pay to take you to the bottom and back up for like a dollar).
It was a little windy, if you look at the palm trees
There are VERY few things that I can do better than Ryan.  Swimming is one of them (seriously).  When we had staked our location on the Bay and set out our towels, the lifeguards were announcing that the tide was coming in, that there was a strong undertow and that children and non-strong swimmers should not venture far out into the bay.  They even stressed that children should not be more than an arm's length away from their parent at all time.  With that said, we ventured down to the Bay with our snorkel gear and put it on.  At first, I took the lead, but I wasn't comfortable with that, as I couldn't keep Ryan in my sights and if he got into "trouble" in the water, I would have no way of knowing.  We spent about an hour out in the Bay and then came back to the beach to drink some water and rest.  The fish and corral were beautiful.  There were some places that were so shallow that you couldn't kick your legs for fear of touching the corral.  In fact, I scraped a part of my foot on the corral and it took almost a month for the cut to heal.  We discovered, ironically, that the prettier fish were closer to shore and that if you went out to the deeper parts of the bay, you didn't see many fish, so the next few times we went in, we stayed closer to shore- and I didn't feel the need to keep an eye on Ryan as much.  We don't have an underwater camera, so I took these fish pictures off of their website- these are the fish we saw:
A milletseed butterfly fish swims by the surface.
You could swim so close to the fish you could almost touch them!
Picasso triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus). Not photographed in Hanauma Bay. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone in December 2005 and released to the public domain.
Whitespotted Surgeonfish
After several hours, the Bay got busier and warmer, and it was time for lunch.  We weren't sure when the next Bus was going to come since we didn't have a copy of the holiday schedule, so we hiked back up to the top (and saw why some people paid to ride the tram-it's straight up!) and grabbed some cheap lunch from the snack bar.  We went and ate at one of the picnic tables near the bus stop and were harassed by a rooster who kept crowing at us and running away.  Just as we finished our lunch, The Bus we needed to take pulled up and we got on.  As Ryan tried to pay for our tickets, the VERY cranky driver yelled at him, "Do you have transfer stubs?!?"  I said, "Yes, but they are expired by 2 hours."  The cranky driver yelled back, "Are they transfer stubs or not?"  Me: "Yes, but they aren't good any longer, we need to pay."  The driver: "Go sit down now!" and refused to take Ryan's money.  So we found seats and sat down.  When the next person got on and said their transfer stub was expired he made them pay.  We didn't get understand what the difference between us and the other person was.
Our lunch time stalker
On the bus ride back I mentioned that I was sad that we hadn't seen any sea turtles.  Don't get me wrong, the fish were beautiful, but Ryan had seen a sea turtle on the first day we went paddle boarding (don't worry, I will discuss that on a different day, because that is one of my new favorite activities now!) so I wanted to see one too.  That night, when we took our walk along the beach before dinner, we noticed a crowd of people gathered by one of the sea walls.  When we finally got to it, there were 2 gigantic sea turtles just hanging out there in the water!  It was so cool, and I was thankful that God gave me the opportunity to see some more of His creation.
How cool is this?!?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 4: Evening Luau...

When Ryan used his miles for the Hawaii trip, and we knew all we would have to pay for was the hotel and wherever we would eat cheaply, we decided to splurge and attend a luau.  It was something we both wanted to do and what were the odds that we were ever going to get back to Hawaii again?

After doing some research (because Ryan researches EVERYTHING), we decided on a luau at Paradise Cove.  They even sent a bus to pick us up, and our guide who went by the name "Cousin Rich" was hilarious.  He memorized all 50+ of our names and entertained us on the drive to the luau, teaching us a bus chant (in case people became too intoxicated to remember what bus they needed to get back on to get home), and some bus signals to flash at other luau buses.  We laughed the entire ride there.
Yes, I am actually in a dress

Isn't he handsome?
When we arrived, we were "carded",banded accordingly, given a lei, and had our pictures taken with "island natives".  Then we had time to wander around and do different activities.  I learned how to make a flower bracelet from one of the ladies.  They also showed us how to husk and crack a coconut, how to climb a coconut tree (that kid was CRAZY!).  Time flew by, and then it was time for the ceremony of the uncovering of the pig and we gathered in the outdoor auditorium for that.  It was pretty cool- they did some songs and hulas and showed us what we were going to eat.  We then went back to our tables for the "family prayer" first in Hawaiian and then in English.

Paradise Cove- Nice View, eh?
The ceremony for removing of the pig (it's under the black cloth in the picture)
The buffet lines went very quick and then we were back at our tables to enjoy the meal.  Ryan and I were seated with 2 older couples from Australia on either side of us.  We learned quite a bit about Australia from them.  After we were given time to eat and have dessert, the show started and what a show it was.  My favorite part was the fire dancer from Samoa.  He did stuff with fire that was INSANE.  I got most of it on video so I could show it to the kids when we got home.
A picture of the show- a little blurry because it was dark, but you can see a bit of the flame on the side from the Samoan
Afterwards, we got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel.  "Cousin Rich" again entertained us on the way home.  He was extremely hilarious and gave everyone a hug as they got off the bus.  I have no idea where he gets all his energy, but I could think of a few of my students who would be good at this type of job.
We got back to the hotel at 10:30, and this was the first night we had been up this late and we were tired!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Day 3: Pearl Harbor...

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in World War II.  At my parents' house my dad has framed photographs taken from the bombing of Pearl Harbor- actually taken that day by a family member who was serving in Hawaii at the time.  Visiting Pearl Harbor has been on my bucket list of places to visit and it was on Ryan's list as well, so we made sure to plan for it on our trip.

The Bus ride there was going to be almost an hour, and if you read the website, it says to get there early if you want to get tickets to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, because it's a first come, first serve basis and they only have 2000 tickets.  I was up at 4:30 and got Ryan up at 5.  We were at the stop before 6 AM, after eating a breakfast of champions: some pieces of beef jerky and an oatmeal bar (we had brought snacks from home for having to eat on the fly).

Finally, The Bus arrived, and there was a long line already- and it hadn't even opened yet!  You aren't allowed to bring anything in with you- no purses, backpacks, camera bags (you can bring in your camera), etc, so we moved up quickly in the line as people either went back to their cars or went to the baggage check area.  Then, Ryan got in line to get the tickets to go see the USS Arizona Memorial (those are free), and I stood in line to buy the tickets to see the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the USS Bowfin Submarine Memorial.  Ryan's line moved quickly, and mine took forever, because people had to decide what attractions they wanted to see.

Our tickets for the Arizona weren't until 10:30 AM, and we had just over 2.5 hours to kill, so we caught the first shuttle to Ford Island to see the Mighty Mo.  When you arrive, first you walk through an entry way of American flags- very cool.  Then, you get your picture taken and they try to get you to buy it later (we didn't, but they give you this card so you can upload it to facebook and make it your profile picture).

Isn't she big???
We weren't quite ready when they snapped the picture.
Impressive guns, eh?
This was where the Japanese surrendered to end the war
Looking down, you can see her standing guard over the Arizona
After that, we headed on deck, where we were given a wonderful tour by a very knowledgeable lady.  She told us many stories of the Mighty Mo, and after the tour was over, we were allowed to go above and below deck.  The ship is huge!  I think we spent an hour and a half on the ship and then caught the shuttle back.  While we waited for our time for the Arizona, we toured some of Pearl Harbor- the "Road to War" and "Attack" galleries.  Then we got in line for the Arizona.  

Before you get onto the boat to the Arizona Memorial, you watch a 23 minute documentary video on the Pearl Harbor attack.  Then you get on a navy shuttle boat to ride out to the Arizona.  The boat ride out there was full, but everyone was silent as we approached the Memorial, even the smallest child was silent.  I can't even explain the feeling that comes over you as you walk into the memorial.  As you look down, you can see parts of the Arizona, and realizing how many men died trapped down there was overwhelming to me.  One of the men who works at the memorial told us that some of the men who survived from the Arizona requested to be buried with their shipmates.  They perform a special ceremony with their ashes in a special urn and a diver brings them to a designated part of the ship under the water.  He said that there are currently 8 survivors remaining and 1 has requested to be buried there.
Part of the USS Arizona
This is the entrance, where the boat drops you off. 
The Shrine Room with the names of the 1,177 Sailors & Marines who perished on the USS Arizona. It also honors the survivors who have chosen to be interred with their shipmates.
The USS Arizona Memorial
When we returned, we ate lunch and then toured the USS Bowfin Submarine, the "Pearl Harbor Avenger".  I decided I would be too claustrophobic to be in a submarine, as I was very uncomfortable in the small space.  I don't know how those guys do it, being so close to each other and sleeping in bunks basically on top of each other, I couldn't do it! After that we toured the Submarine Museum and then walked the rest of Pearl Harbor- they have a Remembrance Circle, and some other naval sites to see.  Then, we caught The Bus back to Waikiki.

The USS Bowfin Submarine
Ryan doing something with weapons...
Notice the bunkbeds on the right aren't even all the way down! No thank you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Day 2: Hiking Diamond Head...

For our second full day in Hawaii, Ryan and I woke up early (of course, we were still on IL time) and ate an early breakfast.  While we were eating breakfast, we looked up the times for The Bus in the book we had picked up the day earlier with all the routes and numbers.  We had already planned to hike Diamond Head today (Sunday, June 8) and we wanted to do it early, because from everything we had heard from my parents and my sister, there wasn't much shade offered, except in the tunnels.

The Bus dropped us off in a parking lot outside of Diamond Head and the driver pointed out where we were to cross the road and start the journey upwards to reach the entrance to Diamond Head.  We walked about 3/4 of a mile or maybe a mile to the entrance (all up hill), and the view was already something to behold.  
Starting up to the entrance of the state park
Almost to the entrance...
We made it to the entrance!
We paid our $1 entry fee to get into the park, stopped at the bathrooms and began our hike up Diamond Head.  On the website for this state park it says: "The hiking trail to the summit is very steep and uneven in some areas.  The last 1/10 of a mile is all stairs and especially steep.   Allow 1.5 to 2 hours for your hike.  Wear good walking shoes, bring water, and wear a hat and sunscreen"  And they weren't lying.  It was a steep hike and the trail was uneven.  The last 1/10 of a mile WAS all stairs going straight up!  But once you got to the top... What. A. View!  It was beautiful and well worth all the sweating we did to get up there.  We drank almost 2 of our big water bottles by the time we were back down.  Some people must not have read the website, because there were ladies wearing really fancy dress shoes, there were men in flip flops, poor little kids were in sandals (I'm sure they all had blisters by the time they were done).  We ran into several military families where there were men in camo pants with kids riding in backpack carriers- they got my respect!
Isn't this flower gorgeous?!?
Our view as we hiked upwards
The first round of stairs, then a tunnel, then some more stairs...
The view from the top!
If you look at the trees, you can see how windy it was (the breeze felt wonderful)
So sweaty (why Ryan doesn't look like it, I have no idea, lucky man!)

Once we got back down to the visitor's center, we stopped off at the food truck and Ryan bought us a strawberry & pineapple shave ice.  It was refreshing and cold and basically was gone by the time we finished walking to the stop where The Bus was going to pick us back up.  We were fortunate that The Bus had just arrived and we didn't have to wait at all, AND our transfer passes were still valid (our original driver had given us 4 hour passes instead of 2 hour passes) so we didn't have to pay for the return ride back to Waikiki (score for us, our goal for being frugal continued!).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hawaii-Day 1...

I don't count our first day in Hawaii as the day we landed.  Why?  We landed at 7:15 PM on Friday, June 6.  That meant it was 12:15 AM, Saturday, June 7 back in Illinois.  After we got our luggage, made it to the Ohana East Hotel, and checked in, it was after 8 PM.  We were exhausted and had been up for over 18 hours, so we literally crashed as soon as we got into the room (well, I had to find my night guard first- I've gotten so used to sleeping with it, I can't fall asleep if I don't have it).

We woke up at 4:30 AM (9:30 AM back home), so I called home while Ryan "washed the airplanes off of himself" and then he talked to the kids while I did the same.  There is something about taking a shower that makes you feel so much better.  Once we were clean again, we set out to see Hawaii and find some breakfast- Ryan gets extremely HANGRY, so I know the importance of keeping him fed.  I had noticed on the drive to the hotel that on Saturday they were having their Pride parade, and it explained all the interesting costumes that we saw as we walked back to the hotel after we had breakfast and had wandered around for an hour.
Isn't that tree cool?!?
Since we had spent most of the day before on an airplane, we hadn't really planned to do much on this day, so we changed into our swimsuits and walked down to the beach.  The first thing we learned was that the ocean was chilly!  It is not like when you go to Florida in the summer and are on the Gulf side.  You have to sit out on the beach and work up a good sweat in the sun and then you can go in the water.  We spent most of the day at the beach, leaving to eat lunch and go to one of the gazillion ABC Stores to buy big bottles of water to drink (the hotel water is gross), but you can get a big old bottle of water for $1, so we kept a couple in the fridge in our room after the first day.
Can you believe how BLUE the water is?!?

He may have been sleeping here, and yes, his swim trunks are Amazing Spiderman
 Then, we cleaned up for dinner, & ate at this Japanese Noodle Buffet place called Marukame Udon (really good) where I learned how to use chopsticks (Ryan is already proficient in this- of course, what isn't he good at?).  Everyone had told us how expensive everything in Hawaii was, and Ryan and I are fairly frugal people anyway, so Ryan used the Yelp search engine to find us fairly cheap places with good reviews to eat at (and he got some recommendations from his boss whose brother lives there as well). Then we walked around some more and crashed at 7:30 PM- I know, party animals.
The pictures just don't do Hawaii justice.  Everywhere we walked it was beautiful!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How We Wound Up In Hawaii...

In August, Ryan and I will be married for 15 years.  In the grand scheme of things, it isn't that long really, but when I look back, we had just graduated college, just turned 22, it's a little crazy to think that we got married that young.  We were blessed for our honeymoon, my amazing aunt and uncle gave us the use of one of their condos on South Padre Island, Texas for free, all we had to do was buy plane tickets.  We had a condo, right on the beach for our honeymoon, it doesn't get any better than that!  Then, 2 days into our honeymoon, Ryan got really sick with the flu- high fever, chills, he barely moved, it scared me to death.  He bounced back with a few days left and we were able to go parasailing.  The next day, the phone rang and when I answered it, my mom was on  the other end.  "Do you guys know that The Weather Channel is right outside on the beach?" she asked.  We turned on the TV, and sure enough, there they were, broadcasting about how Hurricane Brett was scheduled to hit and the island was being evacuated.  I hung up with my mom and Ryan got on the phone with the airline.  He got our tickets switched to that day and to a different airport where we had to drive 100 miles into Texas, driving through some pretty crazy rain and wind as we fled.  We wound up on the last flight out of Texas before everything was shut down thanks to Hurricane Brett.  It gave us a fun story to tell, that's for sure.

Ryan travels for his job, and honestly, the only perk I have found in that, is that he accumulated frequent flier miles.  We have been able to use those miles to stay in hotels with the kids when we have traveled to Arizona to visit Ryan's parents, and that has been a blessing.  Last year, Ryan said to me, "I have enough miles for the 2 of us to fly to Hawaii, and if we book the tickets soon, we should be able to get seats in First Class."  My jaw kind of fell open.  We have wanted to go to Hawaii for a long time.  My sister used to work for United Airlines, and she was able to take her husband and my parents to Hawaii twice and their pictures and stories are what put Hawaii on our bucket list of places to go.  My mom and dad said they would watch Noah and Juli for us, and so Ryan booked our tickets to Hawaii in June of 2013 (to use miles to Hawaii, you have book your tickets almost a year in advance).

I didn't really think about Hawaii much after he booked the tickets.  It didn't seem real yet.  Then, we had the Polar Vortex come, and we used 4 emergency days, pushing the end of school to the end of May.  That's when Hawaii "got real" for me.  Once school got out, there was not a lot of time to get things ready, and then Juli got sick- high fever, cough, runny nose.  I honestly didn't want to leave her, and I felt like the world's worst mom leaving her, but Grandma assured me that everything would be fine (and of course it was- she and Grandpa took wonderful care of our kiddos).

Traveling to Hawaii in First Class was cool, I'm not going to lie.  I have now been spoiled.  You get a drink before take off- whatever you want.  They bring you a warm washcloth to clean your hands and then they feed you a meal on real plates with real silverware, and you get a warm cookie later on!  On the way there, we had to make 2 connections, and we barely made our first connection due to bad weather, since we literally had to go from one end of the airport in Dallas to the other, but we made it for final boarding call.  The flight from LA to Hawaii was the longest one and we got an ice cream sundae on that flight after our meal.  By the time we landed in Hawaii we had been up for 18 hours.  It was only 7:15 PM in Hawaii, but 12:15 AM in Illinois, so once we got to our hotel at 8, we just went to bed.  I will post pictures and other stories about Hawaii later, but wanted to explain how we wound up in Hawaii.  If it wasn't for Ryan's traveling, it would still be on our bucket list, because those plane tickets are ridiculously expensive.