Sunday, June 13, 2010

Branson, Nov. 2009

An unexpected highlight of travel was Branson, MO. We had a few time-share points that we didn’t want to expire, so we used them at a discount there. Branson was fun in many ways. 

First, we needed to eat. The concierge pointed us browsers to the Bleu Olive restaurant. We had great meals there and the best baklava I’ve ever eaten: Each piece was individually baked before being served.  

Downtown, people gather in front of the old 5-and-10 cent store, which has EVERYTHING in many long, narrow, crowded aisles, and, atop two rows of shelves near the front, a de facto museum of washing machines, including this old Maytag.  

The 5 and dime store was our second choice, although the concierge at The Suites at Fall Creek was excited about it, "There's even an old 5 and dime store, Dick's 5 and dime, right next to the theater where a Mark Twain impersonator was supposed to be meeting people for breakfast. When we were in Williamsburg a couple of weeks before, we had been enchanted by the Martha Washington impersonator. We were hoping for more of the same with Mark Twain, so we got up early, drove to the downtown area, and eventually found the theater. Unlike most other theaters in Branson, this one was playing find-me-if-you-can. When we figured out where we were supposed to be, it was well past the time that breakfast with Twain was to have begun, but not to worry, bc the actor had closed the show for the season a few days before.

Branson is appealing in many ways, but THE highlight for me was the Christmas tree at Silver Dollar City. 
We were there over Thanksgiving, that is, “Christmas-is-coming.” The tree was the best abstract visual presentation of grace as gift that I can remember. Grace is present in tiny imperceptible ways, like a single light on the tree; or in backgrounds like the tree that don’t call attention to themselves; or in unmistakable solid colors; or in unexpected, surprising, satisfying, and unimaginably varied patterns formed by thousands upon thousands of tiny lights: Colors alternating horizontally, vertically, or diagonally; sometimes whirling around the tree; sometimes pausing in place. Accompanied by classical music or Christmas carols.

Friday, May 21, 2010

About this blog

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Notes: 1) This blog has a number of posts. To read them all, just scroll down.
2) To enlarge the pictures, simply click on them.
3) You'll see a small box after some words. Roll your mouse over the box to see where you can get further information about places and items mentioned in this blog.
4) We'd love to receive your comments and questions. And to read about your own travel adventures. Click on "COMMENTS" at the end of each post to open a comment box. You can send us your own comments there. Some comments will be like the verbal comment my friend, Bud, made to me about his aunt's store in Wisconsin. It added to my post so well that I included it. You'll see it near the bottom of the post called, "Last Stop."
5) You can subscribe to this blog. Scroll down or use the "end" key to get to the very bottom of the blog (after the last post). There's a link there that will let you subscribe.
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Snorkeling from the beach, Lydgate Park, Kauai

Pix to follow.

Date of this event: 15 April, 2010
In my last post about snorkeling, I said that rough waves had bounced me around when I was snorkeling from a boat along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. After that Dottie had said that we (that is, I) wouldn’t snorkel from a boat again. She noticed a beach close to our condo in Kapa’a that was supposed to be a good spot for beginning snorkelers like myself. It was Lydgate Beach, which was only a little over a mile from our condo.

Lydgate Beach is situated on the east coast of Kauai. When we went there, heavy waves pound the shore. Flags warned that entering the water was dangerous. A great feature of Lydgate Beach, however, is its pond, which was created several decades ago after a resident of Kauai went to Italy and saw such a lagoon protecting bathers there. The lagoon is about 50 yards by 40. It reaches a depth of 4 to 5 feet. With the breakers rolling in, I was glad for the large rock barrier between us and the ocean.

On Maui, I had learned that you back into the water, so I had that down pat. As soon as I had the fins, the vest, and the mask and tube on, I backed in, lost my balance in the slightly undulating waves, and splashed down. Hmm, even protected snorkeling pools can throw you. Up again. And down again. Like the Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, get up eight.” Finally, taking very small little tiny teensy weensy steps, I made it into the deeper water. But even so, I struggled a number of times to keep my balance.

Inside the pond are many beautiful fish. I didn’t see any coral, but I imagine that it would have trouble growing there. One of the fish was about twelve to sixteen inches long, eight to ten inches high, and perhaps four inches from side to side. Its mouth was a big smile like a clown’s face. The fish was blue and yellow with some darker stripes (I don’t do colors much, because I’m color blind) running from tail to close to the mouth. It had tiny, almost transparent yellow fins that fluttered in the water. Another fish about the same size had dark vertical stripes running most of the length of its body. I didn't see either of these fish on the chart of fish in the park or on the waterproof guide back at the resort.

Waves boomed on the outer rocks and gushed through the openings among the boulders. Snorkeling close to them was fun, but bouncy. Great clouds of tiny bubbles poured into the pond near the rocks, making it hard to see fish, but they were interesting to see just for themselves.

The next day we drove back, because I had not taken a photo of the plaque memorializing the creator of the lagoon. Or of the pond itself. The sky was overcast, the wind was up, the waves lined up to thunder against the shore. A couple strolled hand-in-hand in front of us. I could have had lagoon to myself.

© J. Russell Burck, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Last Stop

You’re off on an adventure, enjoying what you’re doing, looking forward to the sights you’ll see, the places you’ll stop, and the things you’re going to do, when a sign pops up, “Last stop.” O-o-o-h. Sounds a bit like death. “Last gas” till you come to the other end of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. “Last stop” for food, gas, or anything for the next 200 miles or more on the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks. “Last gas” before Death Valley. These signs make you pause and ask yourself, do I have what I need for the next part of the journey? 

One of these signs stopped us in Hawaii. On the island of Moloka’i, the “Last Stop” before the end of Kamehameha V highway to Halawa Valley is this:
The sign intended to yank people into Mana’e Goods and Grindz says “Last stop for pop, ice, snacks, restrooms,” and I forget what else. The end of the highway, which leads to the storied Halawa Valley, is only 15 miles beyond the store. Look at your map and you could wonder, “What can I possibly need between here and there and back?” OK, the restrooms. [For pronunciation of Halawa, see my blog below, “The Deal on Hawaii.” The "w" is pronounced “v,” as in “lava.”]

Dottie and I didn’t need anything for the trip out and back. But I “needed” to see what this store had to offer for the rest of the journey. And immediately, just as I had in Dick’s Old-Time 5 and 10 Cent Store in Branson, MO, I began to have fun. Scroll down
in this blog to the third post from the bottom to see a writeup about Dick's store.

What do people need when they get to the east end of Moloka’i? Snacks and ice cream bars, certainly. That's what the "Last Stop" sign refers to. 

But videos? They're right together with snacks and ice cream bars at the front. Between the store and the end of the road and back, there would only be enough time to watch cartoons on a DVD player. And the scenery is spectacular and the drive can be scary. Videos? Hmm.

What caught my eye was the rack at the back of the store. Flip-flops. Of course. It would be interesting if they didn't have flip-flops.
What was really interesting? Spark plugs. I told other people about them. Some said, "Spark plugs?" "Yes." Seven different kinds, large and small. Next to them, a fan belt, chain saw chains, electrical tape, battery heads, soft cloth for shining your car, and on the other side, fire-starters, hose clamps, night lights, fishing lures and lines, drill bits, a hitch pin, vise-grip pliers, and more. I thought, this store is as interesting as Dick’s Old-Time 5 and 10 cent store.

In the center were the shelf goods, selected for western and Asian tastes: Ketchup and soy sauce, Newman’s own salad dressing and Hawaiian papaya seed and Maui sweet onion dressings. Down below were potatoes, onions, ginger, and garlic.

Above the dressings, with a large empty space to the right of the upside down ketchup bottles with the right-side up labels, were products for Japanese cuisine: tempura dip and somen tsuy concentrate for noodle soup, several other products that I don’t recognize and can’t decipher from my pictures and Google. Then there were pastas, tuna helper, spaghetti fixings.

On the other side of the central shelves were snacks, canned nuts, soda, bread, and what we bought, Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs, along with a cup of coffee. The freezer case and the refrigerator case were well-stocked with a good variety of frozen and refrigerated goods. There was a small over-the-counter medicine section and a small selection of alcoholic beverages.

I asked the clerk, whose name I later learned is Jill, if I could talk with her about the store, but she said she wasn’t the owner. She talked with the owner, who was going to be busy until about 3:30 p.m. We went back to our condo at the far western shore of Moloka'i. That's an hour’s drive. We ate lunch. I shaved, put on one of my two Hawaiian shirts, and we went back.

I met the owner by myself. For Dottie to take part this kind of interview would have been hard, because her hearing was still severely affected by something that happened when she was walking to the doctor's office at the Hilton Hawaiian in Waikiki. (It's better now.) I asked the staff member if the owner was free, and the staff member talked with her and found that she was.

The owner of the store is Ms. C.K. Ward. She is a pleasant woman, who appears to be of Hawaiian or other Polynesian background. She has a pleasant smile and a friendly manner. She's dead serious about her work.

I told her that I had written something for a blog about a store in Branson, MO, and that when I saw her store, I wanted to do the same. She asked, “What’s a blog?” I told her it was something that people write and publish on line. That evening I sent her the piece that appears in this blog about Dick’s Old-Time 5 and 10 cent store in Branson.

She said she had never been interviewed for a blog, and she wondered how long it would take. I said about five minutes, but I aimed to keep it down to about two or three questions that she could answer briefly. I said we could wait till she was finished with her work. She said she could be busy with her work for a long time. She said she wasn’t very good at business and that she was still learning.

Me: “Are you the first owner?”
Ms. Ward, smiling: “Oh, no, the fifth,” Then she added, “sixth.”
Me: “How long have you owned it?”
Mrs. Ward: “Not quite two years, about two years.”
Me: “How far is the nearest store?”
Mrs. Ward: “All the way back in town.” Town is Kaunakakai, the largest community on Moloka’i.” Mana’e Goods and Grindz is almost at the 16 mile marker away from town.
Me: “How do you get your ideas for what to carry? From the people, your customers? Like the spark plugs.”
Mrs. Ward: “You’re the second person who has mentioned the spark plugs today. [Maybe I was the only person, because I had mentioned them to the clerk in the morning.] The spark plugs came with the store. The previous owner had owned an auto parts store in town, but sold it and came out here. When he came out here, he brought his inventory with him. So when we bought the store, we got the spark plugs from him. But there’s a big [market--?] for them.”
Me: “You’re going to have to restock, order some more?”
Mrs. Ward: “Yes, they need them for their cars, their motor boat engines, their lawn mowers, and they don’t want to go all the way back into town just for that little thing. Same with the motor oil, and things like this here,” pointing to the oil products behind her. Above them were the rat traps and the pesticides. With gas at $4.52 ($4.48 Saturday the 17th of April), avoiding that drive would be a good idea. Not to mention the time—45 minutes to an hour round-trip.

So that explains the videos, the spark plugs, and everything else I've mentioned: Mana'i Goods & Grindz is not only a last stop. It's the first stop and a repeat stop for people who live in the area.

Me: “What do you like best about the store?”
Mrs. Ward: “Helping the people. Helping them get what they need and want.”
Me: “You like helping them that way.”
Mrs. Ward: “Oh, yes, very much.”
Me: “What gives you the biggest difficulty?”
Mrs. Ward: “The pricing. Figuring out the pricing.”

I asked if I could take a picture of her. She said, “Oh, no, but you could of my staff.” Then she said her grandson would like to be in a picture. She went around the corner and brought out a granddaughter, about 8 years old, and a grandson, who appeared to be 5.

I told Ms. Ward that my blog would be called “Random Passages.” She said, “You could call it ‘Last Stop.’” I liked that idea, so that’s what I’m calling this post.

That evening I found that Random Passages had already been taken on I fiddled with possible names until I came up with “Scribbler’s Travels.”

I told her I would send her a copy of my piece as soon as it was finished. She nodded. Then she asked, “How will I know it’s from you?” I said, “It will be from ‘’” She said that if she doesn’t know who an email is from, she deletes it. I wrote my email address down for her and put it on one of my business cards from the institution I worked at before retiring. She said, “I don’t even have a business card for my store.” “You don’t?” She shook her head, laughed, and said, “I just take a sheet of paper and write out the information there.” I said, "I don’t have a business card for writing about travel."

She volunteered that the owners before had told her she should purchase the business and that she would be good at it (they forgot to tell her about the 24/7 that comes with owning a business). What had she done before? “Worked for the previous owners of Mana`e Goods and Grindz. She added that her son and she own the business together, but he doesn’t come into the store much. What does he do? He’s a construction worker. He likes building homes. I said, “He’d rather build things than stock shelves.” “Yes.”

As I was looking for the veggies that we needed in our condo, she said that she gets her supplies from Honolulu via Young Brothers barge twice a week.

That’s it for the goods. As for the grindz, she said, “I also have a food stand next door.” But I couldn’t think of anything to ask, other than how’s that going? It’s going fine. Later, while we were at the airport to leave Moloka'i, several people I talked with said that they go to Mana'e G&G for the food.

Dottie and I bought a package of mixed vegetables and two Starbucks cold coffees and left.

We drove farther east to check out an ancient fish pond. To see how fish ponds worked and how people on Oahu are restoring one of them, click on this URL: These fish ponds are particularly fascinating, because they show the ingenuity of the Hawaiian people in providing for their needs. An interesting resource concerning these fish ponds is Tide and Current: Fishponds of Hawai'I (A Kolowalu Book)
Yesterday, a burial was occurring there. Today, it was still being used for that purpose. A dark-skinned man was walking along the rock wall clad only in a bathing suit or perhaps some traditional garment. A sign at what appeared to be an entrance warned, “Burial, Keep Out.” And there was another warning sign along the road, “Keep out,” which I hadn’t seen the day before when we passed. And in fact, I had stopped at nearly the spot where the sign was to video the pond. But I may have missed it.

We turned around and headed back. I thought I should tell Mrs. Ward about one of my user names for email. I went in and did that. On the way out, I asked her staff what “mana’e” means. “East.” The east store. Glad that her sign had drawn me in and had given me a chance to learn a bit about life on the island, I turned the car toward home.

But that wasn't the end of the story. Cheryl Sterner, a surveyor, wanted to ask Dottie some questions that would help Moloka’i’s economy. I had some of the information that Ms. Sterner was asking about, so I took part in the interview, too. Along the way, I mentioned Mana’e Goods and Grindz. She said she knew it. I referred to Mrs. Ward, and Cheryl said, “I call her ‘Auntie.’” Cheryl says that Grindz, the food stand, makes the best hamburgers, the best cheeseburgers, and the best ground beef cheese sandwiches. Sorry I didn't know that before I got on the plane. Oh, well, just have to go back.My experience with Cheryl encouraged me to approach the other passengers lining up to board the plane. On the plane Jonnette Spencer put the piece in place that pushed my understanding of what brings people into the store beyond goods and grindz. She said, “If you don’t buy something there, you leave with a new friend or relative.” I forgot to ask what she meant, but I took her to mean that you may leave empty-handed, but you'll probably have a new connection with someone you hadn't known before.As we were getting off the plane, Nadine Akiona, a young woman sitting in the back of the plane with two young children, laughed about the conversation Jonnette Spencer and I were having. Jonnette said, Why don't you ask her about Manae Goods and Grindz? I asked Nadine what she goes there for. Like Jonnette's husband and Cheryl, who like the food there, she said, We stop there when we go to the beach. That way, I don't have to pack a lunch.

Later I began to think that Mana’e Goods and Grindz is not just the “Last Stop.” Back in Oak Park, IL, I told my friend, Bud Hayes, about this social function of Mana'e Goods and Grindz, he told me about his aunt Laura, who he said, was a very nurturing person. She had had a store in her home in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. People would come in, a bell would ring, one of the family would go out to the store. The customer would put a few items on the counter, and then they'd talk.For some people Mana'e Goods and Grinds is one of those places where they maintain some of their ties and make new ones. How on earth would you put a price on that?

© J. Russell Burck, 2010

Snorkeling from boats, 2010 part 1

Last week (Apr., 2010), four lovely young women took us on a four-hour sightseeing and snorkeling cruise west of Honolulu. I snorkeled for I don’t know how long, being astonished by bright yellow, blue, red, black-white-and-yellow fish, some large, some tiny, lovely coral, several lava tubes. Water quickly got into my mask, but I let it be. I was amazed to see how far away from the boat I got, but gradually made my way back. I got water in my breathing apparatus, and I’m still not expert enough at getting it out, so I took out the mouthpiece and just backstroked to the catamaran. I went back in, but jumped too deep and filled my breathing tube with water. I went back to the boat for help, but by then the swells were rising and knocking me around so much that I pulled a muscle on the right side of my back, just below the transabdominal band. I decided to call it quits. I’ve called this my first successful snorkel, but I think that gives too little credit to my second attempt on Maui.

Yesterday, April 12th, we took a five-and-one-half hour tour from Port Allen up to the Na Pali coast of Kauai, which is inaccessible by public roads. The place that the captain chose for snorkeling was windy and rough. I still tried, but soon found myself farther from the boat than I wanted, and got water in my tube and began to backstroke back. Matt, one of the crew members, caught me from his surfboard, and started to tow me in. A big wave pushed us far from the boat, I thought, and I began to feel scared. He asked me how I was doing, and I told him I was scared. He said he had been in much worse situations than this, and told me to help him bring me in. I kicked as hard as I could and we made it back OK. Dottie says we won’t do the boat snorkeling again. She knows a place here that’s supposed to be pretty good for novices, so I’ll try that.

© J. Russell Burck, 2010

Snorkeling as public entertainment, 2009 version

Another thing that’s big all over Hawaii is snorkeling. Or at least the idea of snorkeling. After Peter, our son, and Susan, our daughter-in-law, snorkeled from Kauai several years ago, I had begun to get a faint interest in snorkeling. So I tried it on Maui
last year. Twice.

Dottie says that my first experience was a complete comic success. I think she means that I would have enjoyed it immensely, if I had just been able to watch it. For starters, the mere sight of me would probably have astonished me, if I had stopped to look in a mirror. Shortly before leaving for Hawaii, I went to REI to see what they had in the way of sun block shirts and pants for snorkeling: They had good long-sleeve pullover shirt, which I use in outdoor pools and in the ocean, and sun block wet pants of some kind for the legs. I took the wet pants as unisex, but that I think they were for women. Wide-hipped women.

Smeared with sun block; covered with my sun block shirt, hat, and pants; and carrying the boogie board from our time-share and mask and flippers rented from Snorkel Bob’s, I charged out for adventure. This very bay, we had been told, is a great place for snorkeling. And sure enough, when I got there, I saw people lying face-down in the water and nobody lifting a finger to save them. I guess they’re snorkeling. OK, this must be the spot. The water didn’t seem to be very deep, and I assumed that these people were actually seeing something, so in no time flat, I thought, I’ll be waist deep. I’ll just lean over and see something.

When I got to the water, I pressed straight on, but the flippers wanted to hang with the water at the edge. Under the combined weight of flippers and water, moving my feet was like pulling anchors. My heels pressed straight down. I could feel the water swirling under them. I plunged ahead. I pushed down on my heels to make sure that the water was undermining them. It was. Quick backward steps to get my balance. Ker plunk on my keester. I stood up, in a Pilates pushup, and headed back toward the deep, once, then again. By then, one flipper was coming off my foot, and I was having difficulty holding on to the mask, the snorkeling tube, and the boogie board.

Back to Dottie with the boogie board to lighten my load and then back to the water’s edge. As I got there, a man to my right and woman to my left began to administer ESI, expert snorkeling intervention. They told me to watch the others going into the water. Now there’s a thought. Why hadn’t I had that thought myself? See, they said, they go in backwards. Oh, that’s how you do it. Piece of cake.

See how easy it is? With my flippers on firmly and my mask and tube at the ready, I backed in. Just a few steps in and a wave sneaked up from behind and rolled me over, feet high in the air, hat hanging by the cord from my neck. OK, not so easy. Another try or two like that one and the experts suggested that the surf might have come up too much for me to make a go of it. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

As I left for the day, one little triumph came home with me. I remembered glimpsing the sandy bottom through my goggles two or three times in all the tumbling. Enough to make me want to try again.

About two days later, we found a more placid snorkeling beach east of Lahaina.That went better. This time I wore a float around my waist, went in backwards, and soon was seeing lots of pretty coral, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins. Not many fish, maybe none. I had some trouble keeping water out of my mask and mouth, and when I stood up to adjust them, I couldn’t always touch bottom, but I reached shallower water quickly enough.

No pics of the events of 2009. Sorry about that.

© J. Russell Burck, 2010

Roosters in Hawaii, the Feral Kind

I have a couple of fun photos of roosters, chickens, chicks. I'll post them by May 5th, 2010.

The next thing about Kauai is roosters. This post will begin the topic. I need to do some more research for the next post.

Roosters are feral animals in Kauai, like cane toads in Australia and mongooses on several islands of Hawaii. Before our first trip to Hawaii, in 2009, the writer of one comment said he wanted to kill the roosters, which were waking him up in the morning. Some roosters and their partners have made their way to Maui, where they were crowing in full force last year, much to the displeasure of vacationers whose windows opened on to the cacophony more than ours did.
Lots of roosters and hens scour our resort for goodies. At JJ’s Broiler in Lihue, they cover the patio floor in measured steps, often pausing at length on one foot before continuing their hunt. One passes behind a chair at the next table. When it back comes into view, it has something big, green, and leafy sticking about three quarters of an inch out of each side of its beak: Lettuce. The sole occupant of the table that the rooster and hens are scoping out is a woman, who says with a friendly smile as she leaves, “If you want pictures, you have to feed them.” I told her that I was free-riding off of her.
The day before, I threw an ice cube that I had dropped on the kitchen floor on the grass. One of our roosters spotted it and ran to it, but when it got there, it stood below our balcony giving us an earful of what I took to be detailed instructions for feeding.
© J. Russell Burck, 2010