Tales of a wandering lesbian

Posts from — January 2010

The Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is my favorite island so far.  It’s striking – looking from the beach up over the high desert or the jungle to the top of the Mauna Kea observatory.  From the blast of flowery, hot air that hits me in the face when I step off the plane, to the birds that wake me in the morning, I enjoy being here.

Yesterday was a good sampler day.  We hit a beach for some sun and boogie boarding, watched whales throwing themselves into the air, had lunch in an old-school café, and looked over cliffs onto a stunning black-sand beach.

I’m staying with my parents on the Kona side of the island.  We’ve been coming here for over 15 years.  At this point, it really does feel like a home away from home.  This 3-week trip is the longest time I’ve spent in the island.  It’s a long time.  Still it’s nice to feel like I can pass on activities one day without fear of missing out.  I know we’ll go snorkeling more than once, and the beaches are always there.

After a breakfast of papaya and apple bananas from the local farmer’s market, yesterday’s Hawaiipalooza started with a trip to Hapuna State Park.  This beach, about 30 miles north of Kailua-Kona (the big city and airport on this side of the island), is awesome.  The beach itself is about half a mile long, and super wide.  There’s plenty of parking up top and a short walk to the ultra-fine white sand.  There are bathrooms, showers, covered picnic areas and a burger shack just up from the beach.  But that’s not the important part.

Hapuna State Park

Hapuna is gorgeous.  The sand runs up from the turquoise water to the green bushes that grow along the coastline.  (Snorkling tip:  The leaves of the beach naupaka plant, which grows along a lot of the beaches, can be crushed and wiped on the inside snorkel masks to cut down on fogging.  It’s at least as effective as spitting.)  The bay is protected by lava outcroppings on either side that send the incoming waves crashing into the air.

Hapuna waves

Some people come for the swimming and snorkeling, but on wavy days they come for the boogie boarding.  Depending on the size of the waves and the strength of the current (marked on beach signs), the waves range from gentle for beginners, to expert only.

The past couple of days have been red flag days, meaning there’s the possibility of high surf.  With our little, drugstore boggie boards, we hit the waves until the lifeguard started announcing “advanced body surfers only” from her bullhorn.  It was pretty much great.  Dad ended up snapping a board, and I laughed like a little girl as the waves sailed me through the air and then brought me bouncing down into the surf – over and over again.

Serious boogie boarders - serious

Yup, we were cool.

After a morning of such rigorous activity, we were pretty much starving.  There’s something about a combination of sun, sand and surf that makes me ravenous.

One of our favorite places on the island is the town of Hawi.  Situated in North Kohala, Hawi is a super-charming look at old Hawaii.  For sports buffs, it’s also the turnaround for the bike portion of the Ironman.  We go there to browse the shops (there’s a great crystal shop there), eat ice cream on the main strip, and for lunch at the Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery.

Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery

The place was a hotel at the turn of the last century, and has a colorful history right out of the old west, starring horses, traveling workers and “ladies of the night”.

Bamboo specials

The food is great and the service is delightful.  My favorite is the Hawaiian veggie stir-fry.  I get it with tofu, Thai coconut sauce, and this year, whole wheat noodles.

Hawaiian stir fry at the Bamboo

I’m not much of a fan for fried tofu, but this stuff was perfect.  Fresh and slightly crispy, it had none of the sogginess that plagues badly done tofu.

Yesterday, the table also hosted a kalua pig (cooked in a pit, not with the liqueur) sandwich with pineapple slaw and waffle-cut fries, a mon chong fish-plate, and a quesadilla.

Kalua pig sandwich at the Bamboo Mon Chong plate at the Bamboo Quesadilla at the Bamboo

The menu provides tons of options – almost everything can be done with pork, chicken, fish or tofu – and the food itself is really tasty.

Directly across the street, is the Kohala Coffee Mill, a little complex that serves all manor of treats.

Kohala Coffee Mill

You can get Kona coffee and mac-nut ice cream at the parlor downstairs, or fudge samples and shave ice – the real kind that they shave right in front of you – upstairs.

Shaving of the ice

I need to have at least one ginormous shave ice during my trip to the island.  Yesterday was the day.  My favorite combo is two-flavor pina colada and peach.  The more traditional shops serve it with either ice cream or red beans in the bottom of the paper cone.  I like mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Shave ice - yummy

Tasty.  The flavoring melts down to make a slushy, sugary smoothie in the bottom that can be sucked out with a straw.  Yummy.

Just up from Hawi is the village of Kapa’au, and the statue of Kamehameha the Great.

King K

The statue has a fantastical history, including the shipwreck and salvage that brought the statue here instead of Honolulu, it’s original destination.

From there, we headed up to the end of the road – literally.  The road through Hawi rings the island, except for the stretch where the Kohala mountains stretch up in great cliffs, and empty their rain-forests into the ocean.


The Pololu lookout provides exceptional views of the forest, cliffs and black-sand beach.

A trail at the end of the road leads down to the beautiful – and rugged – beach and a beautifully peacefully tree-covered area where you can listen to the crashing waves, and feel completely nestled into the island.  Yesterday we stayed at the top and watched as triumphant hikers emerged from the trailhead, grinning and sweating.

The island is pretty amazing.  Eleven of the world’s fifteen climate types can be found on the island.  Yesterday’s hour drive from Kohala to the Kona coast took us from dense rain forest that looked like it could be South America, and across high-desert that could put you in southern Idaho.  And then there’s the lava.  Great stretches of lava look like they’ve tumbled out of the earth yesterday, covering swaths of land in a black, rich blanket.  People create graffiti using pieces of coral, stark white on the lava background.  The island is simply beautiful.

Last night, after a long day of adventures, we settled in for dinner on the patio – the lanai.  Looking out over the lava and the golf courses, up into the hills around Mauna Kea and its observatories, we ate sushi, sweet potato pie, and haupia (coconut) cake.  We relived the day – and planned the next set of adventures.

Haupia and Sweet Potato

Tomorrow we’re heading around the island to Hilo and the volcano.  To the jungles and waterfalls.  And I’m sure to more food.  Always more food.

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January 29, 2010   2 Comments


“That’s not normal.”

The woman at the crystal shop had greeted my mom with a bright smile.  Now, she was looking at her with awe.

“You actually HEARD the whales?”

On our way out to the old Hawaii town of Hawi, we’d yelled for my dad to pull off the road.  The whales are active off the coast in January, and we were seeing flashes of dark and white plumes coming from flat spots just off the shore.

My parents have a time-share on the big island, and they usually come for about a month every spring.  This spring, my little sister is having a baby, so they’ve come early to the island – and I’m tagging along.

On our walks along the resort beaches, we’d seen whales breeching alone and in pairs – something beautiful and exciting – but this day, we were seeing something different.  While the whales we’d seen near the resorts were on the horizon or well off shore, where the turquoise sandy bottom meets the darker, deeper water, these whales very close to the shore in the deep water that comes right up to the land.

We walked down the lava-dirt path that led from the road out onto the little shelf above the scrub-covered hills that roll down to the water.  A light breeze blew off the water, bringing the sounds of the water to us, a mile or two away.

A screeching, sucking sound made us all stop.  I thought it was tires on the loose lava behind us.  Another car had pulled in to watch the whales.  We looked around and then continued out onto the bluff.

Out came cameras and binoculars.  We watched as two or three whales, all very close to each other, bobbed and flashed out of the water.  Glints of shimmering ribbons played around the whales – spinner dolphins dancing through the air.  The celebration continued as we watched, and we began to wonder what we were seeing.  Whales both mate and birth in January.

And then we heard the sound again.

“Is that coming from the whales?!”

We all looked at each other.

The screeching, wheezing song sounded again.

“Holy shit.”

I started recording, hoping I could capture something as we watched in complete disbelief.  The spinners surrounded the whales, hurling themselves twirling through the air, the sun glinting off their slick, laughing forms.  And the whales waved their fins.  Then they splashed their tales, and bobbed their heads, straight out of the water.  And they sang.

As my mom shared the story with the woman in the crystal shop, we all started to realize how strange the experience had been.  “That is quite a blessing,” she had said.

And we believed it.  We heard whales singing above water.

Here’s the video.  You can hear it at 0:38 and then more clearly at 2:00.  You have to listen in between our excited babbling, but it’s quite a blessing, all the same.

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January 24, 2010   2 Comments


I like traveling.  A lot.  I like seeing new things and meeting new people.  I like the actual travel, too.  I’m like a little kid every time I climb on the airplane.  I’d ask if I could say hi to the captain if they’d let me, and I have to refrain from asking for a set of wings – every time.

When I sold my house and decided to go traveling, I knew some of the things I was getting into.  I thought about the loss of language.  I agonized over leaving my house and also over leaving my home.  Traveling through Italy, I experienced the newness of a foreign environment and the challenge of not having my own place.  I rejoiced in the magic of timeless cities and grieved the aloneness of my experiences.

And I wrote.

When I returned, it was to a set of familiar places.  Places that had been mine, but that no longer were.  It’s a strange feeling not knowing how to answer the question, “where do you live?”  That’s something I hadn’t anticipated.  I know it’s pretty basic, but I didn’t really think about it until I booked a room in a hotel in the city I considered home.

And I stopped writing.

Yesterday, I packed for a trip to Hawaii.  (I’m tagging along with my parents again, so who knows what will happen this time.  Maybe I’ll decide to become an astronaut, or a professional surfer – though I should probably get insurance and take a few surfing lessons first.)  I’ve gone to Hawaii something like 20 times on family trips, and know exactly what I need to pack, so I left it until the day before my 6 AM departure.  Which was fine, except for the fact that, while I’d usually go to the closet or dresser to pack, this time I had to make a run to my storage unit.  I had plenty of icebreakers and jeans in my luggage, but my shorts, t-shirts and tank tops were locked safely away in a giant warehouse.  Odd.

I put my cold-weather clothes in a couple of big suitcases, and threw them in the truck that used to be mine.  I drove from the home that used to be mine, to the only physical space that I have any ownership interest in – a storage unit that houses the furniture, artwork and clothing that used to fill my life.

It was a strange experience, standing in the old warehouse, the thick wooden floors powdery from the decades of boxes dragged along, shoved into place.  I was able to find my clothes pretty darn quickly.  I labeled things well and must have anticipated that I’d need to get to my clothes at some point, so they were accessible.  I even ran across some of my super-soft scarves to replace the incredibly itchy one I’d picked up in Lucca.

I grabbed what I needed and traded out the suitcases of winter-clothes.  I lingered a moment with my hand on the saddle of my bike, an old Motobecane that belonged to a high-school teacher of mine, and was fixed up for me by a good friend.  A year ago, the bike was my greatest adventure.  Riding to work was exciting and liberating.  Like anyone who has ridden the same bike for 15 years, I’d take it with me everywhere if there was a practical way to do it.

It was strange, seeing the physical manifestation of my life that was, stacked up, covered in plastic.  It’s unsettling not having a single place that I live, but fascinating to see how little I’ve needed the things that I collected – the chairs and desk and bins of stuff.   I’m interested to see where it leads me.  Stripped of the ability to use language the way I was used to, I found a new voice in writing.  What will I find while I’m stripped of a home?  Right now I don’t have an answer to the question “where do I live?”

But maybe for a little while I can be content having an answer to the question “how do I live?”

In the mean time, it’s time to start writing again.

But maybe I can be content having an answer to the question “how do I live?”

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January 20, 2010   Comments Off on Transitional

Yes Ma’am

Okay, I’m in a ranting mood today.  I apologize up front.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to being called “sir”.  It’s not that it’s too formal, or anything.  It’s just that I’m a woman.  And generally I’m not all that concerned about the gender thing.  I mean, okay, if I’m dating you I care, but other than that, I’m not too concerned.  But, for some reason, people I don’t know are terribly concerned with the gender question.  I know it’s not their individual faults, necessarily.  I’m sure there’s a social norm that I’m violating that dictates the way some people react to me.  I guess that makes me gender-nonconforming.  I guess.  Who knows?  I don’t try to be difficult, you know.

And I want to say up front, no, I don’t think it’s just the hair.  I don’t know if this is an experience unique to lesbians, or short-haired women, or women with a certain energy/sensibility, but it doesn’t seem to depend on the length of my hair, in any case.  I get far more compliments when I have a shaved head than I get “sirs,” but they still sting.  And I’m not sure what it is that is more stinging, the fact that the airport smoothie clerk thinks I’m a man or the fact that she cares.

Honestly, it happens much less often than it used to.  I used to correct people.  I got to a point where I could smile and in a Zen-like state engage in a conversation about gender-norms.  I’m not there anymore.  Maybe I’m just out of practice.  I’d like to get back there.  It’s a much more healthy place.  But I feel like something snapped.  I remember when it happened.

I was walking into a Wal-Mart, something I very, very rarely do.  I was working, and I had to pick up a donation check.  I’d put myself in the best mood possible for the venture (I don’t like going into Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons), but in the parking lot someone turned my smile upside-down.   I’m someone who tries to smile at everyone I meet.   My family is often warning against this.  But I like to engage people – to make their day better in the smallest, simplest of ways.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the same goals.

I saw the woman walking toward me from about 20 yards away.  She was coming out of the store with a full basket – and her mouth gaping open.  I fixed a smile on my face and looked at her warmly.  After all, we were neighbors of sorts, living in the same town.  As she drew closer, she actually aimed her cart in my direction, apparently caught in my tractor beam.  Her mouth was wide open, and she was unabashedly staring.

Now, I AM quite beautiful, so I’m used to being stared at.  But this woman didn’t seem to be stunned by my striking good looks.  In fact, she seemed horrified.  I tried to keep the smile on my face as she slowed down and turned her head as she passed, now about a foot away from me, craning around to look at me.  I maintained eye-contact and said something like “hi” or “good morning”.  Evidently, that was what she was waiting for:

“I’m just trying to figure out if you’re a man or a woman.”  It wasn’t said with malice.  But it was also more than mere curiosity.  I tried to tell myself that it was okay, at least she was honest, but I was totally thrown by the fact that she’d said it out loud.  I’m used to having kids ask their parents, “is that a boy or a girl?”  Those conversations are easy.  I just answer the question and ask the kid the same thing.  Usually they smile, think about it and tell me, and then we’re best friends.

But this, a grown woman gaping at a stranger and declaring that she wanted to know my gender was unnerving.  Why did it matter to her?  And how could she not tell?  “I’m a woman, thanks.”  I probably could have been more gentle, but I was shaking.

“I was just wondering!”  Came the retort.  I considered the fact that I was there on business; that I was wearing company logos; and that I have a general policy to be kind to anyone who asks questions of this sort.  I find I can answer pretty much any question from someone about my sexual orientation, no matter the motivation or the language used, but when it comes to gender, my patience is much more thin.  I really wonder why that is.

This must be something that people going through transition from one gender to the other deal with every day.  It must be incredibly trying.  Or maybe, like answering orientation questions for me, they grow used to it.  I don’t know if there are a lot of people who deal with this, or who choose to think about it much.  Although it gets me all riled up, It’s pretty fascinating to me.

I know that for most kids, gender is really interesting, and important.  “Is that a boy or a girl?” is a useful shorthand.  It’s a box to put someone in so you know what kind of birthday present to get – truck or doll.  But it does more than that, too.  Checking one box or another means it’s okay to wear a skirt, or it’s okay to have a certain haircut.  It means it’s okay to cry, or not.  And for some reason, we really seem to care which box a stranger has checked, even if it’s so that we can choose the correct greeting.  Or maybe it’s just me.

Every time someone calls me “sir” I bristle, which must mean that I’m not so evolved that it doesn’t really matter to me.  And maybe that’s what bothers me most.  I’m just as guilty.  What does it matter, really, if someone thinks I’m a man?  I think I’m beautiful and intelligent and super-charming.  I am incredibly proud of the woman I am.  This is the conclusion I come to after every “sir” incident.  Maybe next time I can smile, gently correct the other person and be grateful for the moment of contemplation that I know will follow.  Or maybe I’ll start shaking and run off to blog about it.  Either way, really.

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January 19, 2010   3 Comments


Since I’ve returned from my first leap (gallivanting through Italy – you might remember it), I’ve slowed down a little with my MidLeap posts.  For some reason, I don’t feel like my days are filled with as much interesting stuff as when I was eating my way through Rome, or trudging through a Venice flood.

I’ll be headed to Hawaii in less than a week, which should make for some good outdoor, undersea, and culinary adventures.  So stay tuned.  In the mean time…

To prove that I’ve actually been doing something with myself in the month since I’ve been back, I’d like to introduce you to a new project – another website you can check every morning for good stuff:  365Awesome.com

365 Awesome

The idea behind 365Awesome is a pretty simple (and awesome) one.  Each day, we present one awesome thing.  That’s pretty much it.

My friends Michele, Celia and I look for awesome things, and then share them on 365Awesome.com.  We’ve assigned categories to each day of the week, so if you’re more into food and drink than books and arts, you can check out that category.  There’s pretty much something for everyone – unless you’re un-awesome.

We’re always on the look-out for awesome things, so feel free to send us your ideas.  See a story about an awesome person?  Use an awesome product?  Eat at an awesome restaurant?  Let us know!

So there it is.  I’m going to be posting more often on MidLeap, but if you just can’t get enough of my food and product recommendations here, head on over to 365Awesome and check it out.  You can even sign up for an awesome newsletter.  Awesome.

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January 15, 2010   1 Comment