Friday, February 24, 2017

Big Blessing in a Small Package

     One Sunday afternoon I was feeling restless and took Jaren for a walk down the street in the opposite direction from usual to see the house advertised for rent on a telephone pole notice.
     Can we see Nala?” he asked about a neighborhood cat.  
     “The owners moved out and took all the cats with them,” I said. “We walked by there a couple of times since and Nala wasn't there. We can check, though.”
     After seeing the large but rather worn down and gloomy rental house and speculating on its rate ($4,500 per month?), we continued on to see two houses being constructed further down. At what used to be Nala's house, we saw a gray striped tabby—large, clean, and well groomed—standing out front. (Nala was a slender blue-eyed Siamese.) I said, Meow. Jaren said, Meow. And the cat ran toward us crying, Meow.
     “Bend down and he'll come,” I said.
     Jaren squatted and the cat approached, rubbed against him, walked past me, accepted our pets, and laid down on the sidewalk, exposing its underside. “That mean he really trusts us. That's a very vulnerable position,” I said.
     Ten minutes into our time with the cat, Jaren began looking toward the house.
     “Hi, Jaren,” a female voice called from within.
     “Hi Miss Talbot,” said Jaren.
     It turned out the occupant was an elementary school substitute teacher who'd filled in at Jaren's class a couple times. Her family moved into the house about a year ago. Her son Alfred was Jaren's classmate and he came out to play for awhile with Jaren. But then he had to go back in, so we continued down the street and the cat followed us at a trot. Miss Talbot had told us she didn't know the cat's name; the cat adopted them; the cat started coming around right after they moved in. I told Jaren it was probably the previous owner's since they had more than twenty rescued cats, and they probably couldn't find him when they left. The cat was male, so he wandered around versus a female that would stay home.
     On our way back from seeing the houses being built, we pet the cat by the Talbot's house again. Alfred came out to play and another neighborhood kid—a bit older—dropped by to hang out. This large boy said his mother named the cat Midnight and hated it because it left footprints on their car. After he left and Alfred went back in, we headed home.
     A couple weeks later, we went to visit Midnight and Alfred came out to play with Jaren. Since we couldn't stay long I suggested Jaren exchange phone numbers to arrange a play date. It took awhile, but Alfred finally ran out with a phone number and Jaren gave him ours the next day at school.
     Two weeks went by and Alfred twice wasn't home when Jaren called. Finally Miss Talbot dropped him off for a couple hours of play on a weekend and they had a nice time together.
     At first I felt so blessed that we had a loving, friendly neighborhood cat to play with, knowing how rare it is for a cat to be so friendly with strangers. I still feel that way. But I also feel so blessed that Jaren finally has a neighborhood friend to play with—just as I had several when growing up.
     From a simple walk expecting nothing much (it was mere curiosity and restlessness and a gentle prompting that led me to go) such great blessings. Praise God! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Driver's Ed

     Braden was second on the wait list for his school's winter driver's education classes—free and assigned based on lottery draw due to the limited slots in the popular twice per year classes. But then he moved up and got in, hallelujah!
     Amazing to me, he and his cousin Julie aren't all that keen on learning to drive—both because they've gotten used to catching The Bus, while Julie also catches rides with friends. But I felt that for Braden, if he is to live the adventuresome, independent life that I suspect he'll one day crave, driving will be a very worthwhile skill to have. Now's as good a time as any to learn as it's free, he's pretty responsible, and he has the time.
     At an introductory overview meeting that mandated a parent's attendance, Deanne learned that fifty hours of driving outside class (ten hours night time) was “required.” The course would consist of a first half of lectures and a second half of behind-the-wheel driving. I'd decided that I wouldn't take him driving because it (the stress) would kill me, so that he'd have to take private lessons (since Deanne wasn't up to the task, either). Turns out lessons cost (per Braden's research) sixty dollars an hour! I'd earlier told him he'd have to pay for these lessons so that he'd have “skin in the game” and would therefore take them more seriously. But the total cost of $60 x 50 = $3,000 was Yikes! expensive for a little over a week of driving. (Turns out the hourly rate translates to $120,000 per year! For driving?)
     But after I thought some, it occurred to me that it might be alright to teach him some. I might not overstress. It could be a good one-of-the-last-things-we-do-together while he's still at home. Just give him a wide open parking lot and let him go. That's how I'd learned best, alone in the school's band parking lot with a friend's stick shift Dodge Colt. Just going slow, turning, reversing, seeing what would happened if I did this or that and noting the car's reaction until it became an extension of me. I'd just be there to give occasional tips and guidance and let him go.
     So we went. Well, first we did a five minute start-the-car, learn the controls, adjust the seats and mirrors, shift gears, release the handbrake (not in that order) drill in our garage. Then we went to our former church's parking lot where he reversed, drove around in circles, parked, pressed the accelerator and brakes, got the RPMs to hit 750, etc. for an hour. Then the following week we did another hour—same place—where he looped around in both directions to get closer to road-ready since his on-road driving is approaching quick.
     He's slowly (literally) getting the feel and coordination as we crawl along the lot, oversteering less, not pulsing the accelerator so much, holding a steadier pace even on slopes. I taught Deanne to drive (awful strain, stress, and pain) and he's progressing a lot better because of greater instinctive feel. To my surprise (and relief) he hasn't been giddy-excited (like Deanne had initially been), maintaining a sober, thoughtful state throughout. He won't be D.E.'s fastest learner, for sure, but he won't be its slowest, either. My guess is he's about average.
     That suits me fine as I trust he's more responsible than the average D.E. teen. He's just not into showing off, being one of the (reckless) boys, or hopefully, using the car to vent his teen angst. In that regard, he may do a heck of a lot better than his old man did at his age. (I didn't wreck any cars, but I was far from the safest driver.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Molokai Blessings

     Just got back from a four-day trip to the most beautiful of the Hawaiian islands. About four years ago, we'd gone, and the people were super friendly—the most friendly group of locals I'd ever met and Molokai really lived up to its Friendly Isle nickname. Not as much this time, though the island itself was perhaps even more warm and inviting.
     For the first time ever as a parent, I went without an itinerary.  I'm a detailed planner so each day is usually laid out on paper with nearly every waking hour accounted for—the where's, when's, and what's to hit, drives to take, things to see and do, etc. But I wanted to take it easy this go around with no stress, no rush, no set schedules, and so settled for skeletal plans for each day. Can't get lost on Molokai. Just go with the flow and enjoy, was the plan.  Perhaps by my being more open than usual, God blessed our Molokai trip with wonderful surprises:
     Day one: We rented a fishing rod and reel and purchased a seven-foot bamboo pole and went fishing on the state's longest wharf. Last time round there were plenty of small fish, but none bit. This time the fish were plentiful and biting—mostly manini and everyone (except me) caught two or three. Time went by, fun and exciting, and we had nice chats with friendly locals and tourists. Then Jaren said, “I see an eel!” pointing below his feet at a huge head of an emerging moray that was attracted by stray pieces of bait shrimp submerged near the entrance to its lair. “Do you want to catch it?” I asked. “Yes!” he said.
     I'd brought along heavy tackle (20 lb. test line and large sturdy hooks) and had him fetch a thick piece of drift wood nearby—something easy to hold onto while tugging out the muscular eel that can wedge tight in crevices.
     With the hook baited and line secured to the middle of an eighteen inch long stick, he lowered the bait to the hole's opening while crouched on the rock above.
     Almost immediately, out came the eel, jaws agape, which seized the bait, and retracted back quick as a turtle's head into its shell.
     “Hold tight!” I said.
     Jaren fought the tug with steady pressure and out popped the hook, sans eel and bait.
     “I felt him! I had him!” he cried.
     Because there was nary a fight, I knew the eel had taken only the bait, and not the hook.
     I let Braden try next.
     This time the puhi (eel) did not emerge. There were numerous crevices nearby, so Braden laid the bait down near one further out. He got a hit!
     “Hold tight!” I shouted.
     He giggled as with one hand he fought the tug and tried to get a better footing on the downward sloping, uneven rocks.
     Splash! His foot lost hold and his left side slipped down. He caught his balance but the line went slack. Deanne fussed over scrapes on his shin, foot, and hand while he said, “I'm fine,” with don't-baby-me impatience.
     Jaren and the others later tried, each getting two strikes each—one resulting in a bent hook (that eel was tough!) When they ran out of bait shrimp, they used as bait the manini they'd caught. And Jaren discovered two smaller zebra eels in holes nearby. The kids were all so excited that we had to pull them away for lunch with promises that we could return to try again later.
     Day two: After spending time at Mauna Loa Kite Factory gift shop where I finally solved a pyramid puzzle after ten minutes (that “Duh!” people can solve in three—so said the label) and shopping for knick-knacks, we followed the public access road to Kepuhi Beach and had lunch while watching the surfers on the consistently excellent waves. There was a bluff at the beach's far end with a trail that led toward its wind swept and grassy point. Nearer, pebbles framed the sandy shore where a monk seal basked on its belly.
     We'd seen a seal during our prior Molokai trip at Dixie Maru beach, so this was nothing new, but nice nonetheless. We later took a a wide berth around it (as required by law) and made for the bluff which gave a beautiful vantage toward the sandy coast to the south. Northward were worn lava rock shores with a tide pool table and in the distance, a steep, high outcropping—remnants of an ancient lava flow terminus. Most striking of all, mid-distance was a sandy cove set back from the rough Kaiwi channel waters' incessant pounding surf—sheltered at its highest reaches by stands of drought-resistant Keawe—green, rough, and airy. The weather was hot, dry, breezy, and clear. I explained to the kids that this is as beautiful a beach as any on Earth. People spend thousands of dollars to travel to Greece to see a beach that is no more beautiful than this. And what makes it so special is its isolation. There's no paved road here. You have to walk or catch a boat. I'm glad. Too many people will spoil it. (I later researched this hidden gem and learned its Pohakumauliuli Beach name.)
     We spent a few hours on the sand, exploring, and hanging wih the locals. And was I ever glad I'd brought my DSLR camera instead of relying solely on Braden's point-and-shoot.
     Day three: After visiting a couple of old churches (Father Damien's Saint Joseph and Our Mother of Seven Sorrows) and taking peeks inside, we dropped by Murphy's Beach. A friendly, well behaved dog paid us a visit, which the kids loved since we have no pets. After lunch, Jaren in mask and snorkel, and supervising Braden, went to the far end of the beach where it was safest while I stood and watched from a distance. A high school-looking Caucasian girl told me that straight out from where we were were lots of fish by the rocks protruding above the surface—about twenty-five yards out. Her mother with her was friendly, too, and the dog that had visited us now lounged at home beside them.
     When the boys got back soon because of “nothing to see”—I told Braden, who looked bored, to go talk to the two who'd talked to me. “They're friendly. Ask them, What's the dog's name?”
     He hesitated, but went. And stayed talking with them (mostly listening) for the next twenty minutes. Pene, who'd been playing in the sand, joined him after awhile. They discovered the dog didn't belong to them. This socializing with strangers was big for Braden who's chronically shy.
     Then at Halawa Beach—another of the most beautiful beaches in the world, we had both sides all to ourselves. The right side, just off the parking lot at the foot of the steep nearside pali (cliffs) had huge natural boulder breakers worn smooth by the surf and a sandy crescent shore that waves pounded incessant. It was raw, wild, natural, and peaceful.
     To its left, a shallow stream fed from a ribbon falls about a mile up-valley. Across was the second beach lined with coconut trees and salt-resistant thick-leaved foliage. We forded the knee-deep stream and hung out at the flour-soft gray sand beach (all to ourselves) where I lay back, hat over face, to relax, praise God, and enjoy it—the warmth, beauty, isolation, wonderful weather, restored health, natural quiet, kids playing. I had felt apprehensive about going this far, but it had gone very well.
     Jaren picked up various pieces of driftwood to thump a hole in the sand, then tried to knock a fresh coconut down out of a tree (futile). Braded, to my surprise, was able to husk a dried coconut by pounding its end with a stick and peeling. We later brought it back to Oahu to consume and its liquid and flesh were tasty and fresh. He even succeeded, again to my surprise, in knocking down a fresh green coconut using Jaren's long drift wood on his first try.
     On our way back to our car, there was a mermaid-like lady lounging in the stream upon a low wall of slippery rocks. She looked so content, legs dangling beneath the surface, dark workout suit wet like a seal's coat. She later stripped to a bikini, submerged to her neck, and paddled about, reminding me of an otter.
     Day four: With not much planned except a Macadamia Nut Farm tour after lunch (Braden's idea), we followed a sign to a store with furniture and knick-knacks. Outside, a friendly dog greeted us. The store owner explained that it was Angel the school dog. While browsing the interesting merchandise, Jaren asked if we could give money to a cat sanctuary advertised on a donation box. I suggested maybe we could visit it? The owner said it was across the gravel parking lot and that the owner was in the back and could give us a tour.
     We looked from outside the chain link fence into the enclosure that housed over a score of beautiful, healthy, and clean cats of multiple varieties, sizes, and colors walking freely among low wooden box-like apartment shelters, the entire area covered by a low wire mesh ceiling. We asked to enter and were ushering in and told that the cats were previously owned, none were former strays, and thus, very friendly. One named Bat Man was blind, but friendly (until he got tired, in which case he batted a claw at you), and one named Mr. Black jumped into our laps and couldn't get enough thouch and affection. He reminded me of my two childhood cats that like him, were black except for a single spot of white. His and Inky's were on their throats, Tomo's was on his thigh. We all loved the cats and Jaren requested to stay another hour as he tantalized his favorites with a chase toy. We left a small donation but felt bad about its minuteness when the owner mentioned veterinary bills were their number one cost. His example was Mr. Black's who had cost $2,500 to chaperone to Maui, pay for surgery and several night's observation at the clinic, and chaperone back. When I was kid my parents made clear that pets were pets and not humans and we weren't rich enough to pay for exorbitant pet bills. I explained this to our kids and that every family is different; I was happy that they saved Mr. Black, but that we would not have likely paid such big bills for a pet—not when college bills, retirement, and other expenses were looming so near and large.

     It'd been a wonderful experience to go traveling sans schedule. Deanne appreciated not having to rush to prepare our lunches each morning before departure and that we could sleep in, relax, or do nothing. The kids were even super-excited to visit the rather small public library.  Just our sort of vacation—slow, casual, and easy. We even returned to Honolulu better refreshed than when we'd left!