Notes On A Saturday Morning

It’s a typical Saturday in the Stiff house. There is a soccer game, a birthday party at a far flung beach, a child at a weekend long sleepover at the same beach, a dinner date with some passing visitors in Waikiki. Yeah, we’re packed. As if this weren’t enough, let me also mention I’m trying to parent a 13-year old. (Trying is the OPERATIVE word at this point.)

Can I just tell you something that I wish someone had reenforced to me at the same age? Wait. I’m sure someone did and I wasn’t listening. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that. The appearance of impropriety is the same as impropriety. I don’t think I really grasped the concept until I became the wife of a military officer. At that point, the drilling into my brain worked. How is it that it seems like some of the younger military wives have missed that? That’s a post for another day. 

Simply put, I’m trying to tell my daughter that perception is reality. That combined with the golden rule makes middle school really, really difficult. I’m not unaware of this point. Middle school is hard. It was hard for me back in the day. I’m sure it’s even more difficult when you are the minority and cultures are a bit different. Add to that parents who are preaching to live in the world not of the world. And this is one parent who is basically saying do as I say not as I do. I’m floundering over here and having a hard time telling a child to make the right choices when I don’t always make the right choices. DSCF0284

Good grief. That’s all. Thanks for letting me get it off my chest. I’m just going to go look for my aloha at the beach. Surely it’s around there somewhere. 

Read More

Big Island Adventures: Snorkeling Kona

I would love to tell you that my kids LOVED snorkeling in Kona as much as I did. That would be a lie. I am a bad mother. I didn’t bring water shoes for any of us. The water was fabulous and ridiculously clear. I thought the clarity was much better than Haunama Bay on Oahu. There wasn’t so much coral, but there were rocks, hard sharp scraggly rocks and it was extremely shallow. 

DSCF0295I took Arleigh, Hanan and Bria out first. Bria does okay but she doesn’t love the mouth piece. She pretty much just wants to swim around and come up for air. I was struggling to hold onto her and watch the big girls. Arleigh saw a few sea urchins and with no shoes… but she did have flippers…promptly lost her mind. She is like her grandmother and immediately jumped to worse case scenario. It didn’t help that a neighbor friend had just recounted a paddle board incident when he stepped down hard on one. There are a bunch of docs in my neighborhood so they removed the barbs from his bloody foot with pliers on the kitchen table. Good times. 

Arleigh left the waters not much after she came in. No way was my girl chancing her mother pulling those things out. She knows I would do that too, reasonably well. Hanan had scrubbed her ankle on a rock and was so busy swimming around she it was hurt but hadn’t paid much attention to it. With Arleigh on shore with Jack, Ray came out with a board for Bria. Theoretically it should make it easier for me to swim with the board, let her duck her head in when she wants too. We often forget that Bria is like a bull in a china shop and doesn’t hold still for anything. 

So, off we went and it was amazing. I wasn’t fast with the camera. I was too busy holding onto Bria and ogling the fish. 

DSCF0332We didn’t last long. I was paddling Bria and Hanan back in on the board when Hanan kicked too hard and caught her knee on a rock. Her mind immediately went to Arleigh’s sea urchin and it went down hill from there. Her previous ankle injury was actually worse and still bleeding. Her leg was bruised. She was acting like a great white had taken off a limb. I kicked kicked and kicked until we were less than calf deep and got them out.

A tourist was trying really hard to get his fins over his water shoes just as I was getting out. He looks up and says, “You looked like you knew what you were doing.” (This thrilled me more than it should have.) “Can you help?” I told him first, he was never going to be able to walk out in ankle deep water on the rocks with his flippers. It would have been fun watching. Backwards is a little easier but not much. It was barely waist deep out in the middle where the fish were. I told him to make his way out and then put the fins on. No idea if this was the right advice, it’s just what works with the kids. Not sure if it’s the fact that I’m not pasty white or that I might have been faking it until I made it, either way, I took it as a compliment.

We then went from beach to beach. The kids are spoiled with the sand on Oahu. There are only a few rocky beaches that we go to, usually to see turtles. Later in the afternoon, we found some tide pools. They LOVED it.

DSCF0378 DSCF0379 DSCF0370 DSCF0344 DSCF0336 DSCF0401They found tiny crabs, big crabs, sea cucumbers and sea urchin that were all in a respectable level of water. The lava had cooled to form perfect little pools to catch the water and provide a beautiful real life aquarium for the kids to play in. If you are looking for it, we stopped at the Old Airport Beach and found the surf to be a bit much against the rocks for Bria and Jack to really feel totally comfortable. The tide pools are close to the Electric Plant. It’s all in our little Big Island Revealed book.




After our tide pool adventure, we went back to a look where the kids could really swim. 

DSCF0435 DSCF0429 DSCF0423






Arleigh and Hanan are getting pretty good with the underwater camera.

Then we were off to a beach grill for a spectacular dinner. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of our view.

DSCF0485 DSCF0476 DSCF0459






When Nana Bonnie and the cousins were here, they went to Big Island to dive with sea rays. I so wanted to but apparently it’s not acceptable to do that and leave your children unattended. Where’s Grandma when I need her? So we watched some people dive from land.

DSCF0499We could only see shadows but we tried. One day maybe I’ll be able to go back and do it. 

It was a nice end to our Kona stay. The next day, we made the drive to the Volcanos!



Read More

Big Island Adventures Day 2

I loved every day on Big Island. I loved hiking the volcanos. I loved snorkeling in the clear water on Kona side. I loved the Place of Refuge. I loved Big Island. In spite of the fact that a good bit of our day was spent in the car, our second day on Big Island may well have been my favorite. 

We started with a drive up Mauna Kea. We stopped at a little area before the turn up to the observatory. Ray decided it would be a good opportunity to get a family jumping picture. Not one of them turned out but it was fun trying and this picture of everyone going to the camera when we were finished cracks me up for some reason.

G0011042Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. There is a visitor’s center about 6 miles from the top. It gets a little chilly up there. This is what beach bums look like when they head up to the summit.

IMG_2501Please note the socks and slippas (AKA flip flops). We’re cool like that.

We stopped at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. There you can walk around a path and see Haleakala silversword plants. It is endangered and only grows at high elevations in Hawaii. 

DSCF0111 DSCF0121


There were films to watch but they didn’t hold the attention of four kids who had been in the car for too long. 

On our drive up, we went over a cattle grate. I hadn’t felt one of those since leaving Tennessee. Then we saw this sign…

DSCF0109Okay then…

To go to the summit of Mauna Kea, there is about 5 miles of unpaved road. It should require of 4-wheel drive. Unfortunately that is not something our minivan had. There is no law preventing anyone from accessing the summit. There are signs. They say things like…

  • Don’t go if you are elderly.
  • Don’t go if you are under the age of 16.
  • Don’t go if you have a heart condition.
  • Don’t go if you don’t have 4WD.
  • Don’t go if you have ever had altitude sickness.
  • Don’t go if you are a chicken… um maybe not that one.

Now, I’m always up for an adventure. I am, however not a rule breaker. We were trying to decide if these were rules or guidelines. I was taking children to the bathroom, passing out snacks and getting everyone back in the car. Ray goes and flags down a tiny little sedan that was coming down from the summit. After interrogating discussing the road conditions, he comes back ready and willing to get to the top. There was snow up there for crying out loud! It’s been a long time since our kids have seen snow. The danger of Mauna Kea is that the climb starts well below sea level and rises to 13,000 feet above sea level. We’ve been up Pike’s Peak on a cog rail and the kids did much better than I did. (I was also very pregnant at the time.) Off we went.

We took it slow, enjoyed the view and Ray tried not to fishtail the van. We stopped to rest the transmission. It was quite a climb…

DSCF0149 DSCF0138








We could see the smoke rising from Kilauea. That’s a little creepy. Everything started to look small. We heard other people talking about the landscape and how foreign and terrestrial it looks. After living for 3+ years in Iceland, it just sort of reminded us of our time there. 

It didn’t take long before we had our first snow sightings. 

DSCF0158As much as the kids wanted to, we didn’t stop immediately. Instead we drove straight to the summit. 

DSCF0168 DSCF0173








The view was incredible but really there isn’t much to see except for astronomers and weird signs about ice. Here’s something interesting though. The views from Mauna Kea are used by astronomers from all over the world. To help them out, the entire island of Kona has weird yellow street lights. I didn’t love them. It kind of gave and eery glow. Apparently, it helps those fancy telescopes see what they need to see.

On the way back down we stopped for the SNOW!!!



DSCF0192 DSCF0190 DSCF0183 DSCF0179 DSCF0182 DSCF0187





Everybody did great. The transmission on the car held out. The kids didn’t get sick. We headed back down the mountain.

We drove up to the north shore and stopped to see the original King Kamehameha statue. There were some nutty tourists there getting yelled at because they climbed inside the rope. Who does that? Well, I can now say almost all foreigners ignore ropes. They ignore them totally and completely. I saw a young Japanese girl climb over a rope and nearly trip on her long skirt at one of our stops. The wind was blowing so hard. I thought for sure she was going over the side of the cliff. It was nuts!


We did not go over the ropes thank you very much. 

We decided to stop at a little coffee shop in a town called Hawi. It was supposed to have Tropical Dreams ice cream and be some of the best on the island. It was pretty darn good. I didn’t get a picture there because around that time, Mr. Jack started doing the potty dance. The nice people in the coffee shop sent me to the little gift shop next door. She was closing. Someone was in her bathroom. There was no good place to take Jack. I started asking her about things. There was a living wreath that I really wanted and couldn’t figure out how I would get it back home. Finally, the lady leaves the bathroom. I take Bria and Jack in. I didn’t have my wallet. There was a dish for tips. I knew the sales person wanted to go home because she was essentially refusing to sell me ANYTHING. I guess I wasn’t meant to have my wallet. They finished and we rushed out toward the front door. It was locked. We had to go out the back, through the alley, through the coffee shop’s kitchen. It wasn’t awkward at all. (I need that sarcasm font here.)

The next part of our trip provided us with a drive down the coast. The view was stunning. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but I was pretty sure I saw a whale breech. Then there were water spouts. Then there was another one. We pulled over to an AMAZING site. They were too far off for my little camera but I didn’t get this picture that I just love so much it hurts.


Someone is turning into a bit of a Daddy’s girl. 

I forgot to mention… Thankfully our little room had a cooler for us to use. When we climbed the mountain, Ray had the bright idea to pack it full of snow. So he did. Then we drove it to a beach just before sunset to let the kids play. How many people can say they climbed a volcano and took some snow down to the beach to play with it?

DSCF0246 DSCF0244 DSCF0242 DSCF0239










A lovely gentleman who looked to be about 95 years old dressed all up in his bright red speedo saw us taking these pictures. (Sorry Arleigh. Yours isn’t quite as alone as I thought it was…) He offered to take one of the whole family. Of course we took him up on it. Arleigh told me later she was just sure he was after our camera, little Beauton Wheeler that one! I wish I had taken a picture of the gentleman. 

DSCF0248Then the kids finished out their day playing with snow on a beach. 

DSCF0265DSCF0260 DSCF0252We rode back to the room with a beautiful view to close out the magnificent day.

IMG_2508Arleigh took a picture that sort of sums it all up for me. I loved our little staycation…










Read More

On April’s Fool’s Day

Just when you were getting used to hearing about all our adventures on the Big Island, I’m interrupting this blog to tell you about April Fool’s Day. You know every year I mention 2008 when I started pranking my children. It was epic! The best one ever! I will never be able to top it because now, they know it’s coming. How can you beat this? Hanan has never forgiven me for giving her a meatloaf cupcake. She also didn’t forgive me for putting a Cheetos bag full of carrots in her lunch. The cruelty! The next year, I just gave them the Cheetos. Then there was last year when I told them I was taking them to Auulani, The Disney resort. April is the month of the military child after all. They were going to get to go to an R5 concert and maybe even meet them. Okay, that was admittedly a little cruel but so funny. 

This year the kids were on to me. No one but Jack wanted to pack a lunch. I was a little worried about tricking him at lunch anyway. I planned a nice little picnic at Dog Beach instead. I tried to act like I was being all sneaky. Of course, they peaked in the picnic basket and were delighted to see 4 bottles of sprite. I NEVER buy soda. They beg for it. It’s probably something I will regret. They are going to be addicted as adults. Anyway, as I filled their plates I started to explain that I had planned on telling them how I wanted to trick them into thinking I forgot to pack drinks and I was going to surprise them with Sprite. (This was Ray’s idea.) The little stinkers peeked so there went my April Fool’s. They were pretty happy with the situation until they gulped at the Sprite and discovered water instead. 

The sun was behind them. You know the beautiful, glorious sunset that I am going to miss so much… oh sorry. Anyway, the picture wasn’t so great. As a surprise I whipped out tiny cans of Sierra Mist as a peace offering. 

Moments later the kids and Tucker were in the water running off the soda. About five minutes later, the beach was closed as a precaution for the possible tsunami. Leave it to a bunch of Stiffs to get kicked off the beach… 

I hope it was one more April Fool’s day that they’ll remember. 

Read More

A Place Of Refuge

Our Big Island adventure started with changing our plane ticket. Instead of leaving in the afternoon and giving ourselves only enough time to check in and shop for supplies, we decided to head out around 7:30. This was no small feat with four kids and a full day of soccer to start our spring break off right. Plus, it was Mr. Jack’s birthday. (I’m a bad blogger. I’m just realizing I never wrote about his big day.) We had a small family party and promised a ride on an airplane bright and early. He was super excited for a plane ride for his birthday. He asked if we were going to Kentucky…not yet. We’ll have to save the ride for later. 

If you ever make a trip to any Hawaiian island, I suggest you pick up a Revealed book. I think there is one for every island.

I bought this one a few months back but of course waited until the last possible second to go through it. It provides a list of drivable routes, where to stop, what to do and eat. It makes planning your vacation much easier. Between that and having friends with family on the Big Island, I felt pretty set. 

After loading up at Costco and checking into our timeshare we threw on our swim gear just in case and headed out. I really wanted to see Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook monument. We headed that way first. Captain Cook was the man who brought Christianity to Hawaii. It is an interesting story. I would have loved to paddle the bay over to his monument but we were there in the very late afternoon with four kids and no kayak… 

DSCF0013The monument is across the bay, about a mile behind the cute kids. I don’t know what’s up with Jack’s smile. This is apparently what he thinks we do when we get the camera out right now. 

DSCF0015This is the heiau that was built when Captain Cook performed a funeral service. This was also marks the moments when the Hawaiian’s figured out Cook was not a god, only a mortal. It eventually leads to his demise. The story is quite fascinating. 


One more thing about the heiaus and the walls…there are places where the walls are just stacked lava rock, no mortar and they are impressively solid and very scary at the same time, especially when there are four kids who think walls were made for climbing over. Luckily there were kapu signs everywhere. (keep out)



Speaking of kapu… before Cook arrived the Hawaiians were governed by a Kapu system. It essentially meant there were tons of rules. If you broke one, you were marked for death. The only way out of it was to get to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. This was the Place of Refuge. If you got inside the gates, there were priests who could cleanse you and remove the mark of death. Rules were things like, women couldn’t eat with me… if a chief’s shadow fell on you… stuff like that. This totally freaked the kids out. Why on earth would they kill you for that? The theory was that their gods would cause a tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruptions…you get the drift if you broke a law. Ray’s theory is one morning the chief’s shadow touched a commoner and an earthquake happened. They decided that they only way to prevent it was this way… I think the kings also became power hungry and just started making stuff up, but that was a very long time ago. 

Our next stop was Pu’uhonua o Honaunau or Place of Refuge. I’m so glad we stopped and a little sorry we didn’t decide to snorkel at the nearby spot. The sun was going down and the water was so clear we could see a school of bright yellow fish. 


DSCF0064 DSCF0061 DSCF0056 DSCF0055 DSCF0050 DSCF0046 DSCF0041 DSCF0038 DSCF0032 DSCF0027 DSCF0025 DSCF0023








The sun was starting to set and we moved on to a small little Catholic church known as Painted Church. It was so serene and peaceful. A priest painted almost every surface on the inside of the church to depict different stories. Although, I did question his interpretation of Cain being marked. Now that I’m thinking about it, I need to reread that story. 


DSCF0083Looking out from inside the church was breathtaking. The picture doesn’t nearly do it justice.

DSCF0086We traveled back up the road toward Kona and I yelled. We had to stop. Tye loved the package of Donkey Balls I sent him. There on the side of the road was the giant donkey. 

DSCF0093We stopped, talked about Tye Tye. The kids had some hot chocolate and we each ate a donkey ball. 

You would think that was enough adventure for one afternoon, but we got back to our room to fix dinner and Mr. Jack lost his first tooth. 

IMG_2499That explained a lot about his weird behavior over the course of the day. It was really hard to get him to understand that another tooth would grow there. I think he’s got it down now.






Read More

Live Like You PCS Tomorrow

In case you missed it, I live in Hawaii, on Oahu to be exact. I get to live in a place that people spend thousands of dollars to visit for a few short days sometimes once in their lifetime. This fact rarely escapes me. I’m also very aware that my time in this beautiful place will soon be over. I tease Ray and say I’m already pouting. I’ve told him that for years people will find my claw marks in the tarmac after he makes me leave. Can you tell I’m sad just thinking about it? In spite of my nightly pleading to my husband, it seems that there are no other jobs for him here. 

I’ve learned something in my 40 years. There is a saying between navy spouses. “Live like he deploys tomorrow.” It’s a good thing to remember and provides multiple lessons about love and preparedness. I’ve just discovered something that most military families try to do but we never mention. Everyone should remember to live like you PCS tomorrow. For all you nonmilitary people, that means pack a bag and move away from everything you are just getting comfortable with all while being aware that it may be years or even the last time you set foot in a place you’ve called home for at least a couple of years. 

For reasons that I couldn’t control…weird kidney disease, Tye’s death and unexpected trips home, Jack’s eye surgery and complications keeping him out of water…I feel like I wasted a year. It went by in a blur or a foggy haze. I found my footing, caught my breath and jumped in with the sharks quite literally. (You know I can’t not mention that.) Ray started taking a day here and there off work and we’ve been checking things off our Hawaii bucket list. We’ve hiked all over the islands, hung out in lagoons, snorkeled with sea turtles, and there are still a few hundred things we need to pack in. 

One of our bucket list items was recently checked off when we went to the top of Mauna Kea. In spite of signs everywhere saying not to go, especially with kids, we went. The kids will never forget their daddy running back to the van with a pile of snow, throwing it in a cooler so they could play with it on the beach. 

DSCF0248Jack’s teacher recently said she’s jealous. She’s a local who grew up here. They never take advantage of what’s at their back door. Life gets in the way. I want my kids to grow up without fear of what other people will think, without fear of what might go wrong and to experience life around them. I don’t always do a good job but I try. 

I have lots to share about our Big Island Adventures but right now, I have a few more things to check off my list. 

Read More