Category Archives: Hawaii

Honey

Java Plum Blossom honey

The day  before we bought our house in Hawaii, we went to a farmer’s market in Hilo, where a pleasant young man was selling organic honey, and not just any organic honey. It was hard to get my head around the concept of Java Plum Blossom organic honey. Do such things really exist outside of fairy tales?

We had discovered organic honey a few years ago. There’s a store nearby that specializes in it, all different sorts from all over Japan. It is impossible to describe how wonderful it tastes, especially if you try it side-by-side with supermarket honey, which by comparison tastes like engine grease. It’s not unlike the difference between the joyous explosion of citrus magic that comes from a lemon and the chemical-infused gunk that comes out of a plastic lemon, despite the adorable packaging.

So we brought our treasure back to Tokyo and savored it over the next months, parceled out from the mother ship into my Peter Rabbit Kewpie mayonnaise jar.

I’ve never met a rabbit that eats mayonnaise, or honey for that matter, so I’ve never really understood why Kewpie chose Peter. It makes about as much sense as a bunny bearing chocolate and colored eggs at Easter, but like the plastic lemon, the jar is just so darned adorable that I’ve kept it for years and years.

And now I’m packing up and moving halfway across the Pacific Ocean. I don’t want to carry the honey back to where it came from, so I gave it away. But I couldn’t give up Peter.

I am astonished at the things I feel I have to keep. I’ve painlessly given away so many things, but am faced with a pile of special somethings that just don’t want to fit into my suitcase: the plastic, now-retro toothpick dispenser, the coffee can I’ve been using forever, the miniature whisk we used to make kitten formula when Plato and Dana were babies. It’s really just a bunch of junk but it feels like leaving these things behind will be leaving little pieces of me scattered across the trash heaps of Tokyo. I’ve had six long months to come to terms with this loss, and have been vehement about not wanting the lovely Hawaii house to be cluttered, but here I sit, paralyzed with indecision.

Just as I don’t want to abandon my bits of nonsense, I find it difficult to let go of Tokyo Tales. This will be the last one, the tail end of the tales, if you will. It has been a journey full of both delight and distress, a source of invaluable catharsis for me, and I thank each and every one of you for sharing it with me.

With a bit of effort and a dusting of luck, we will begin again, a new home, a new life, a new jar of honey.

Aloha and mahalo.

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True Value

On the second day of our trip to Hawaii this February, I came across a pair of Tree of Life earrings in a little shop on Maui. It was love at first sight.

tree of life earringsThey have a simple design, silver backed with something opalescent. There is a subtle magic in the way their roots are fused with the earth, their branches fused with the sky. They are life, its strength, its ability to persevere, to withstand the wind and the rain and still stand strong. They are a perfect yogic Mountain Pose, spine long, shoulders back and down, toes spread, chest and collar bones open, receptive, resilient, strong.

All of that for thirty dollars plus tax.

Armed with the confidence that comes with magical possessions, we bought a house on the Big Island and turned our lives upside down.

Back in Tokyo, we started on that slow and painful process. We have counted down from more than six months to less than three weeks. Along the journey of sifting through the detritus of 32 years in Tokyo, I realized we only have two pieces of furniture that we care about; the beautiful cherry wood sideboard, a birthday gift to Rochi many years ago, and the glass doll case I found abandoned in the rain. The cost of shipping those things was astronomical but I looked inside my heart and knew that while they are only bits of glass and wood, they are irreplaceable and therefore beyond value. The decision made itself.

I also rediscovered the vintage Tiffany’s gold and sapphire jewelry I’d inherited from my grandmother. I am told it is quite valuable. To me, it only looks a little like the Cookie Monster.

grandma's jewels

I loved my grandma, miss her always. I love imagining her wearing these lovelies. When I look at them I can smell her special smell, feel her big, soft arms around me, see her red lipsticked smile as she cooed sweet noises at me, made me feel special, made me feel loved.

I wear the Tree of Life earrings nearly every day and still draw strength and confidence from them. At the same time, I cannot imagine myself ever wearing grandma’s jewels. I doubt I will ever have the type of style they demand. But I will never sell them either. In both the same and different ways, they are as irreplaceable as the sideboard and doll case.

And therein lies the fundamental contradiction of life. While everything is different, it is also the same. I’m starting to believe that knowing that, living that, is the key to happiness.

 

Zombie Apocalypse

Poe quote 2

I’ve been binge-watching The Walking Dead for a couple of days. If you’re lucky enough not to know this, it’s a zombie apocalypse horror series set in the near yesterday/present/tomorrow. Some sort of horrible disease takes over the world and kills most of the population, which then comes back semi-alive and feeds on anything that is actually alive. It’s your basic zombie stuff, but the zombies are pretty horrific. I won’t describe them. You can do a Google image search if you’re curious. But I will give you this: remember the face ripping scene from Poltergeist? Tame stuff, that. The Walking Dead will curl your toes and curdle your stomach.

The level of violence is astronomical, truly gruesome. I have always wondered where Edgar Allan Poe came up with his scary images. I’ve read that he was a mild mannered gent, married, home for dinner every evening, not the opium-smoking, knuckle-dragger you’d expect. But compared to him, the The Walking Dead writers must be snorting PCP and eating monster trucks for breakfast.

monster truck

Believe it or not, the series is into its ninth season. I just started the second. Yes, I’m addicted. The thing is that the whole scenario goes so far beyond anything with even the remotest connection to reality that it’s kind of funny. I can’t stop wondering how the heroes can be so naive and so quick to heal from horrific injuries despite a lack of both medicine and doctors.

I also know enough about production to know that the zombies are spending more time in hair and make-up than on set. One of the first zombies we meet only has half a body and is dragging its emaciated self around a public park looking for someone to play with. Or eat. It wasn’t clear at that point. I don’t know how they managed the half-body. Special effects? Animatronics a la Disneyland? I lay in bed last night with images of zombies tap-dancing marionette style inside my head and nearly laughed at the absurdity of it all.

And that’s exactly the appeal of this kind of entertainment. My brain has been on overload for far too long. There have been too many powerful, external influences pulling and pushing me through life, too many things beyond my control. I can lose myself in Zombieland for a while, give myself a break from reality because at times reality is more than I can face.

But reality is what we make it. I’m told that even though the lava is flowing close, the only effect it has outside the immediate eruption area is a glow in the sky at night, a perpetual sunset. In a sense, the lava is a gift, a grounding in reality. It reminds me that there’s no such thing as paradise, not in the sense of perfection or magic. Just like happiness, paradise is a frame of mind. Some people surround themselves with the finest of everything in a Park Avenue penthouse and are never satisfied; others are overwhelmed with gratitude for a palm frond hut at the edge of a jungle, no bills, no neighbors, no plumbing. Some people go through life as zombies, blindly following a path laid down for them by others. Some people have their eyes open and find their own path, mindful of their place in the universe, the power they have to influence for good or for evil.

hut

I am somewhere in between. I don’t need Dom Perignon and a Bentley; I do need clean underwear and a toilet that flushes. The Hawaii house offers both.

The reactions I get from people when I tell them we’re moving to Hawaii are overwhelmingly positive, supportive, happy for us. This is the dream, the fantasy. We are not unique in wanting this, but we have taken the leap pretty much everyone wants to take and are trying to make it happen. We’re moving forward, moving toward something, accepting uncertainty as part of the deal.

We may be groping ahead somewhat blindly but our eyes are open and, outside of TV land, there’s not a zombie in sight.

Tonka

One of the many monumental challenges that moving to Hawaii poses: I will have to drive. Our house is in the middle of nowhere. Even fetching an egg will mean getting in the car and driving. The closest store, imaginatively called “Da Store”, is three miles away and the only fresh produce they have is wilted lettuce.

I will have to drive. I have a license, but since I left the States 30 years ago and gave my 1974 Super Beetle to my mom, I haven’t driven. Not really. I hate driving and I suck at it. I did drive for a few minutes in the Florida Everglades 25 years ago, but as I approached, crocodiles ran in all directions, screaming in terror. My driving skills, never worth sneezing at in the first place, are rather rusty.

Having a car in Tokyo is really more of a liability than an asset, so I’ve always been a bicycle gal. My bicycle, though, is as old and rusty as Methuselah. It’s not worth the price of shipping it, so the trash people came today to take it away. We came back from lunch today and it was gone. It made me sadder than I expected.

earthquake tree

I’m trying to make the transition to car life. We’ve been casually shopping for cars, meaning looking at other people’s cars as we walk around. Honestly, I’d be afraid to drive anything bigger than a Tonka truck, so when we found this one, we both fell in love.

Daihatsu Canbus

It’s a Daihatsu Canbus and just as cute as a baby bunny wrapped in a pink blanket eating marshmallows while being cuddled by a koala. I mean, this sweet little guy is actually smiling. It doesn’t matter that he’s a roller skate with a box on it and powered by a sewing machine that tops out at 60 mph. That’s just my speed.

Unfortunately, it turns out that these tiny Matchbox cars are not up to US crash test standards and therefore unavailable in the States. I have the option of self-importing, but that would be a mistake for several reasons: 1) it would be expensive, 2) the car would be an orphan, unable to have his cogs and switches replaced without significant trouble, and 3) he would get stolen within minutes because everyone would be so terribly jealous that I had the cutest car in the universe.

So I’ve come up with a solution. I’m sure Tonka trucks do come up to American safety standards, so I am going to get myself a pair of Tonka dump trucks, lash them to my feet, and use them as roller skates to get around the island. That’s a sensible solution, no?

Tonka truck

Out of the Frying Pan

We’ve set our departure date for August 4 and I am determined to downsize. I give each item a feng shui moment, asking it, “Do I really want to carry you across the Pacific Ocean?” More often than not, the answer is, “No.” We toss old documents, choose which photos need to be kept, which are better forgotten, give things away, delete no-longer-relevant computer files. I had four boxes crammed with old letters at the back of the closet, couldn’t bear to toss them, couldn’t bear to read them. So we had a bonfire in the back garden.

bonfire

Fire: cleansing, mesmerizing, comforting, final.

We continue to wait out the ridiculous quarantine period (83 more days!) and there is an unhealthy coating of frustration mixed into the sparkling tropical fruit salad that awaits us halfway across the Pacific.

Or so we hope.

kilauea eruption

I took this photo in April at Volcanoes National Park. There were two sputtering pools of bubbly lava, far enough in the distance to seem unreal. No biggie.

I came back to Tokyo, carried on with preparations.

And then Kilauea started to kick up her heels.

So far the lava is only flowing in Leilani Estates, which is two developments away from our house, about 15 miles, a safe distance, we hope. But I have this nagging image in my head, a scene from Minions, where a T Rex is balancing on his toes, trying to keep his balance by flailing his tiny, useless arms and then…

***Spoiler Alert***

…he topples into a pit of bubbling lava.

minions-3

I can’t describe how painful it is to read the news, to watch new vents opening, creeping northwest, creeping toward our little piece of paradise.

When I asked Realtor Ron to make our offer on the house, I started to cry. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted it until it looked like I might get it. And now I might not get it after all.

But at the same time, I’ve lived here for 32 years, lived through typhoons and earthquakes and tsunami. And I’ve had cancer and will live with the fallout from that for the rest of my life. I’m finding an odd sense of comfort in that, in the way that things go in parallel, they go full circle, they usually work out in the end. One way of the other, we will move forward into whatever the future holds for us.

For now, we wait. And we hope. There’s nothing else we can do.

The Waiting Marathon

I find myself hovering on the edge of a knife, trying desperately not to topple over into the Land of Schizophrenia. How am I supposed to sit quietly and continue recovering when paradise is waiting for me just a hop and a skip across the Pacific Ocean?

my papaya

This is the first papaya I harvested from one of the trees in my new garden. I had to wash some sort of white goo off its skin (Gekko guano? I don’t wanna know.) and artfully place some chunks of lemon to hide its blemishes, but it smelled like fairy breath and tasted like the first blossoms of dawn. The garden is young; in time there will also be avocados and lemons.

We did all the fancy tap dancing required to get the cats past quarantine. Their microchip numbers are listed on the Holy List of the Acceptable and now we have to wait 120 days. I don’t understand why. They have all been vaccinated and their blood examined by the People Who Decide These Things. They do not have rabies. They cannot get rabies. But we are told to wait and so we do, while visions of tropical fruit dance in our heads. Each night, we toast each other saying, “I don’t want to be here.”

Perhaps it is as it should be. The next three months will give us time to sort slowly and lingeringly through the detritus of 32 years of living on this tiny, delightful island. It’s harder than I realized it would be. The new house is light and airy and I want to keep it that way, so I will bring an absolute minimum of junk with me. I’ve gotten down to two small photo albums, three favorite reference books and a couple of novels. I’m picking out special items to send to people who matter, saying sayonara to things that don’t matter, making peace with separation, making peace with myself.

Everything points to this being the right move to make. A lot of things have come together in a final-feeling sort of way, almost as if Japan is giving us a gentle nudge toward the airport, tearfully waving a handkerchief at us from the departure gate. It’s been a good run, but to quote Douglas Adams, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

I’m trading in a tiny island for an even tinier one, earthquakes for volcanoes, power tools for coqui frogs, nomiyas for luaus, salarymen for aging hippies, bicycles for surfboards, konnichiwa for aloha, Amaterasu for Pele. I’ve been making a mental list of things I will and won’t miss. The won’t list is longer.

I can’t wait to see how all of this is going to unfold.

Me on triceratops

 

Sanban

george meow

When George first came to live with us, we had to take him to the vet for a general health check. We hadn’t named him yet, so we just called him Sanban (Number Three).

Among the bazillion other things we have to do to pull up stakes and start our lives over, we have to process the cats. There’s no rabies in Hawaii so the Department of Agriculture is extremely vigilant about quarantine standards for imported animals. It doesn’t matter that ours are indoor cats or that there’s been no rabies in Japan since 1956. There is one set of rules and everyone must abide by them. No exceptions. So sayeth the Dept of Ag.

I won’t go into the tedious details except to say it takes six months, minimum. The first step involves vaccines which involves several trips to the vet, always a popular pastime within the fur community. Fortunately, the vet’s office is only a five minute walk from here because they scream bloody murder all the way. The neighbors look daggers at us, wondering what sort of horrible torture we’re inflicting on them.

But then we arrive and the vet is a chubby, kindhearted woman who seems to care about our fuzz muffins nearly as much as we do.

We told her about the move to Hawaii and fortunately she’s been through this process before and can help us through it. When she finished with the first set of injections, she smiled gently and said, “I wish I could be Number Four.”

I smiled back and said, “Sensei, I think you’re a little too big for the cat carrier.”

“I’ll lose weight,” she said.

Delightful.

Same Moon, Different Me

moon eclipse-2689
Photo by Joanna Ohmori

I continue the slow, tedious journey toward recovery, one painful step at a time. And I mean that literally; the chemo left me with nerve damage in my legs which causes pain in my joints and muscles. That may improve in time; it may not. As expected, the treatment sapped me of much of my strength and energy. What I didn’t realize is how long it would take to recover, or even start recovering. Only now am I beginning to regain some of my yoga self, my balance, my poise. Just yesterday, I managed to transition from one legged dog to low lunge without thumping my foot down. It was a major victory and cause for much celebration.

My senses are still unreliable. My favorite white wine still tastes like rotting cabbages but there is hope. Last night, a drop of shower water landed on my lip and when I licked it off, it filled my mouth with rapture. An ordinary salad sent me into paroxysms of delight last week. Yesterday’s curry was the stuff of legends.

All of my hair has returned except for the part of my left armpit where I was nuked. The stuff on my head is about an inch and a half long, curly, a blend of colors. A friend looked at it and said, “You look…expensive.” I am considering keeping it this short. I like the way people look at me now.

As the Year from Hell slunk out the door, we resisted the urge to kick it’s narrow butt down the hall and slam the door with a resounding bang. Instead, we cultivate peace, calm and gratitude. The very wise Deepak Chopra said an essential element for lasting happiness is a reflective, quiet, alert mind. Peace in the mind opens the heart to intuition; your life is in a state of flow because your mind is quiet. This is the essence of mindfulness, a sort of Vinyasa for the soul.

In that state of mind, we went to Hawaii. We looked at some properties. We were deeply disappointed. The first house we saw was dark and damp. There was a riding mower rusting in the garden alongside a chipped bathtub. The neighborhood smelled of defeat. The second house had tacky paneling, filthy shag carpet and stunk of cigarettes. Then a flash of intuition led us to meet Beer Belly Man, who introduced us to Realtor Ron, who led us to this.

Me at new house

Our new home. Our little piece of paradise.

People keep saying we deserve this after all we went through last year. I know they mean well, but I don’t think merit has anything to do with it. What about all the other people who had cancer last year and didn’t get a house in Hawaii? What about the people who didn’t survive? Did they deserve that? For that matter, did I deserve to get cancer in the first place? Did the other people in my life, and in the world, who are coping with disease and tragedy and grief and all that is evil, heartbreaking, unfair and unnecessary deserve that?

These are not questions that have answers and I will waste no more time looking for them. Life is not logical; life is not fair. Life just is. And I am grateful to have it.

In a few months, I will bid farewell to the invasive sounds of my neighborhood, the screaming kids and motorcycles and trucks and helicopters and always, the incessant, relentless, ear-shattering, soul-crushing power tools. In place of all of that, I will listen to the sounds of exotic insects, palm fronds brushing together, lemon trees blossoming in the garden and above all, coqui frogs.  Few things have ever sounded so sweet to my ears. And I’ve heard a lot of stuff.

I have read that many people find coqui frogs invasive and annoying. I have also read that one of the many reasons for NOT moving to Hawaii is that I will always be an outsider, invasive, annoying. Shoot. I’ve been existing pretty happily as an invasive, annoying outsider for more than 30 years. The big difference is I will be an outsider who isn’t illiterate. And I will be a literate outsider who is living out her days doing yoga here:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

I could live another three decades. Or my cancer could return and I’ll be gone within years or even months. Or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or choke to death on a chunk of pineapple today. So deserved or not, this is the place for me to find peace, peace in my heart, my mind, my spirit, peace to accept my forever changed body and soul, peace to move on and make the best of whatever adventures may lie ahead.