Dumb Luck

Being of extremely limited intelligence, I fell for an ad and ordered some supplements that are supposed to get your body into ketosis and keep it there, happily burning fat while the deluded user sits on the sofa eating potato chips and watching Frasier reruns. I wasn’t expecting magic, especially since I don’t eat keto, but the ad was a promo and the supplements only cost $10 so I figured it was no big loss if they turned out to be sugar pills.

The supplements came promptly and I took them but all they did was give me bed sweats. I did some research and found that they were basically useless–sugar pills in party dresses who’ve been stood up by their dates. Apparently, with the current popularity of keto, scams like that are cropping up by the dozens. So I tossed the pills and thought that was the end of it.

Then I discovered that they’d charged me $150 in addition to the initial $10. There was no explanation; they just charged it to my card. Thoroughly annoyed and feeling more than a little violated, I wrote to them saying that I hadn’t ordered anything else and demanded a full refund. They wrote back saying that their website clearly stated I had to cancel within 30 days or be charged the full value of the supplements.

Golly. $150 for sugar pills? That must be some mighty fine sugar. And it hadn’t yet been 30 days.

I wrote them again saying there was no mention of cancellation on the website and none in either of their confirmation emails. I repeated my demand for a full refund and told them I would be contacting the FTC, BBB and Consumer Affairs. (I don’t even know what Consumer Affairs is but it sounded good.) I figured it was a lost cause but worth a shot.

The next day they sent me emails saying that they’d made the refund and today I confirmed with my bank that I’d received the money.

And now I’m flummoxed. It’s like I dropped my wallet on a crowded street and went back an hour later to find it still there with all the money still inside it. I am starting to understand the origin of the term ‘dumb luck’.

Lessons learned:
-There’s no shortcut to weight loss.
-No matter how much weight I do lose, I’m never going to look like the girl in the bikini.
-Never respond to an ad that has grammar and spelling mistakes in it.

In yet another testament to my feeble-mindedness, I ordered some Chinese earwax removing candles.


They arrived minus instructions so I asked Mr. Google how to use them and he told me not to. More trash, but at least this time it was only $1. And the return address on the package is Dushanbe, Tadjikistan. Consulting Mr. Google again, I learned that Dushanbe (known as Stalinabad during the Soviet era) means Monday and the city got that name because a popular market used to be held there on Mondays. How delightful!

If I hadn’t ordered the useless earwax candles, I never would have thought of looking up Tajikistan and I never would have learned about Dushanbe. My life is now that much richer.

It was worth the dollar just for that.

Lava Tree Park

I have a lot of favorite spots in our new ‘hood. There are particular trees, stretches of road, rocks, buildings: things I don’t get tired of looking at. One of them is Lava Tree State Park. It’s located off highway 132 just before you run into a massive wall of lava that blocks access to Kapoho and Pohoiki. The tree trunks featured in the park were engulfed in a lava flow in 1790. The lava that engulfed the roads to Kapoho and Pohoiki flowed a few months ago. Nature is both powerful and humbling. And enduring. And repetitive.

During last year’s lava flow, the park was closed. The lava never got as far as the park but there was earthquake damage and the air was noxious. The website said the park was closed due to lava and ‘we do see the irony in that.’ Impressive. When was the last time you saw a government website with a sense of humor?

The park is an oasis of civilization in the middle of virgin forest. There’s a concrete path (wheelchair accessible, it is a state park after all) that meanders past petrified trees alonside new growth, winding vines and exotic flowers. The occasional mongoose darts through the undergrowth. The path is less than a mile long so it’s a nice leisurely stroll even grandma can probably handle.

So far, the setup is very family-friendly but here’s where it gets interesting.

Next to the parking lot, there’s a storage shed. Next to the shed, there’s a fenced-in area topped with three forbidding strands of barbed wire.

The enclosure isn’t locked.

Every time we go there I wonder about the enclosure. There’s something slightly Jurassic Park about the area’s trees and other vegetation, so I thought it might be a velociraptor or T. Rex cage. On the other hand, I couldn’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure both are still extinct.

The only other use I could think of was locking up naughty children. But I’m pretty sure that’s not a public service outside of disused Walmart stores in South Texas.

On a visit today, we discovered a government maintenance truck parked by the storage shed. A friendly looking fella was sitting in the driver’s seat so I asked him what the enclosure was for. He heaved a sigh and said it was a rather long story. In a nutshell, he said, it was meant for parking his truck but they put the gate in the wrong place and it only opens halfway, so there’s no way to get the truck inside. He shrugged and said maybe someday he’d get some goats to keep inside it. Or maybe chickens.

And so there it sits, as useless and fascinating as the lava tree trunks, both evoking awe and wonder, monuments to the power of nature and the foolishness of humanity.


Moving On…Or Not

We’ve just completed the seventh month of our residence here in paradise. I still don’t know what we’re doing. I had set myself a goal of six months to settle in, get my ducks (or nenes) in a row, figure out where we’re going from here. Instead, I find myself completely clueless. I admit to being overwhelmed, unable to process the array of new places and people and experiences flooding my life. To illustrate, in the past week, I….

…ate blue eggs…

…made some new friends…

Shining Star

…performed taiko drumming onstage at the University of Hawaii…

…sat in on an improvisational singalong…

…ran into some beautiful faces at Foodland…

Emily, Joli, Rochi, Raenette, John Ray, Mahina and Paul

…saw orchids bloom in my garden…

…had a mammogram in English…
…attended a drumming workshop…
…took part in a gratitude circle…
…had a girls’ night out in Pahoa…
…started a new exercise regimen…
…and played a hang drum.

That’s a lot.

The thing is, living in Tokyo, sometimes months went by and nothing interesting happened. Now something wonderful happens almost every day.

The key to this magic, I have discovered, is opening myself up to what could be instead of sitting on memories and waiting for magic to walk through the door. It almost never does.

I am overwhelmed, delighted, grateful and very, very aware of how lucky I am.




The Almighty O

The air is thick with tension in the secret, soundproof room in the basement of the White House. The men seated around the polished wooden table are dressed in suits with thin, black ties or uniforms festooned with ribbons and metals. A hush falls as the loudest one speaks.

“Gentlemen, can’t we call this quits? I think we’ve wasted enough time here and I’m sick of listening to everyone blowing smoke. As we all know, I already know everything there is to know and nobody’s opinion but mine matters anyway. And here’s what I think. I’m tired of the little man with the bad haircut trying to push us around. We have more power than anyone else in the universe and I know from hard experience that the only way to get ahead is to ignore everyone and take what you want. It’s the Bull in the China Shop Theory and it never fails. So I’m going to open this alligator skin designer briefcase and push the button so we can wipe the little man off the face of the earth and I can get back to saying inane things on Twitter.”

And that’s just what happens. He places the briefcase on the table and snaps the fasteners open. Inside, though, he finds not one but two buttons. One is labeled “Nuclear War”. The other says “Nucular War”. The first will unleash several tons of horrific destruction and leave most of the Earth uninhabitable for generations to come, perhaps for all eternity. The second will unleash several tons of SpaghettiOs onto the head of the person who pushes it.

The future of humanity rests on this moment.

The man reaches out, hesitates, takes a deep breath and…

SPLAT!

Boys and girls, that is why we owe our souls to the Almighty O.

Shades of Taiko

Our first performance with Puna Taiko was at the Baptist Ministries Luau at the University of Hawaii in January. Our drummers are mostly varying shades of brown so it really struck me when I looked out at the audience and saw a lot of cream cheese faces. I know there are black and Asian Baptists, but they didn’t turn up for the luau. Those who did, though, were warm and welcoming. It was a good experience.

Today, we had our second performance, this time for the New Year’s party at Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Keaau, which is also our home base. I looked out over the faces and realized there were very few white ones. Those that did appear were definitely not cream cheese; the congregation is nearly all second or more generation Japanese and mostly elderly. I am certainly used to being the only white face in a sea of Asian ones, but it felt very odd that only Reverend Tomioka and Rochi and I can speak Japanese. Still, the audience seemed to enjoy the performance and the food was genuine Japanese and very good. Plus I won one of the centerpieces in the raffle, an elegant Ikebana arrangement of exotic flowers in a Naval Academy mug. Perfect.

We still make an awful lot of mistakes, but given time I know we will improve. To that end, our relationships with our fellow drummers are developing nicely. Like the Baptists, they are warm and welcoming and some of the sweetest kids I’ve ever know. We’d like to adopt the whole bunch, at least in theory. Finding ourselves so far from family and friends intensifies the warmth we see in their eyes and gives it a depth of meaning that is hard to describe.

Drumming is challenging but fun and I’m learning how to accompany on the fue flute. In fact, we will be attending a fue and shakuhachi seminar in Hilo next week before our third performance, which will be at the International Students Days at the U of Hawaii. After us, there’s a lineup of performers from Palau, Kiribati, India and Fiji, among others. I am looking forward to it.

Looking back through this post, I see a LOT of words I never thought I’d type. I am honored, humbled and grateful to be able to type them.

I am living my bucket list. Who could ask for more than that?

Kissed by a Unicorn

The Great Tree Massacre

I was in the kitchen this morning kneading bread, trying to work past my resentment of the chainsaws whining next door. The one, the only, good thing about the people next door was the magnificent monkey pod tree at the back of their property. Now they are having it cut down, branch by agonizing branch, week by agonizing week. I hear the gut-wrenching scream of the chainsaw and then a loud crack and then another stately limb falls to its death. It feels like the tree is being tortured, slowly and with malice, wounded stumps protruding from the trunk, slowly emerging bald spots in its scalp shorn of deep green leaves. I don’t want to look, but can’t not look.

As I worked, I heard a thump outside a front window, both too soft and to loud for the wind. Twitch, napping on a cushion in a patch of sunlight, looked up briefly but seemed unconcerned.

Clasping my flour-coated hands, I padded toward the window. I peered at the glass and saw a tiny feather stuck to it. Several others were scattered across the concrete ledge under the window. I guessed that one of the little grey birds that twitter around our garden had flown into the glass, perhaps intoxicated by the scent of the gardenia bush. Looking down, I didn’t see a stunned, quivering body. Looking up, I saw only a clear blue sky festooned with wisps of feather-light cloud. Twitch had already gone back to sleep.

As the bread baked, I basked in the comfort of the female scent of warm yeast, thrilled to the baby’s-bottom texture of dough against my palms, reveled in the anticipation of a warm, crusty loaf, sliced and crowned with butter and passion fruit jam.

This one fairly insignificant day in my life feels like a reflection in miniature of the world outside. Sometimes the largest and most powerful is at the mercy of something small, Goliath the Tree vs. Samson the Chainsaw. Sometimes someone small is battered by his own foolishness, my tiny avian Emperor in his New Clothes. Sometimes the simple combination of yeast and flour and milk and honey can make all of that all right.

Fresh Eyes

Our first guests from Japan were here this weekend, two lovely ladies I have known for years and worked with many times. Even though we haven’t even been here six months yet and Tokyo is much closer than Pennsylvania, at times, our Japan life seems very long ago and far away. So it was a great pleasure to see Junko and Yoshie and welcome them into our home.

They had asked to see the ocean and some lava, so we drove along Beach Road (where there aren’t any beaches) as far as you can go until you abruptly run into a 20 foot wall of fresh lava. Along the way, the narrow road winds and twists through lush greenery that even Walt Disney would have had trouble imagining. We stopped a couple of times to stare at the craggy rocks and crashing surf that make up the Puna coastline. As we sailed through tunnels of trees, at times we expected Alice and the White Rabbit to peep out from behind a gnarled tree, at others a velociraptor to jump out of the Jurassic looking foliage.

To cap off the afternoon, we took a stroll through Lava Tree State Park, where I took a photo of Rochi taking a photo of Junko taking a photo of Yoshie taking a photo of all of us. That big lump of lava behind Yoshie was once a tree. Hence the name of the park. But you got that, right?

It felt strange to be driving, stranger to be driving while speaking Japanese, but we all felt relaxed and comfortable together and it was a delight to see our world through their eyes. Puna is nothing like the image of Hawaii that everyone carries: white sand beaches and pretty girls doing hula dances under waving palm trees. Puna is rough and wild, exotic and awe-inspiring but also quiet, still thinly populated, a backwater in some ways. Junko and Yoshie live in Tokyo and could keenly appreciate the airy space of our house, the exotic plants and flowers in the garden, the earthy damp of the virgin forest and salty scent of the pristine ocean.

In the morning, they tumbled out of bed, rumpled and sleepy. Both headed straight for the deck to stretch and breathe and take in the miraculous morning freshness which still moves me nearly to tears every single day. I told Junko that I’ve wondered again and again if we made the right decision, to dismantle our Japan lives and start over here, but the longer we stay the more I know we were meant to be here. Hawaii wants us here and we want to be here. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.