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Archive for January, 2010

Yesterday was the ship’s “holiday party.” I put that in quotes because the holiday is seems to be closest to is… well, maybe New Years, but then again, we’re getting awfully close to Valentine’s Day, and to Chinese New Year, as well as Groundhog Day and Presidents’ Day… but I think since tomorrow is MLK Day, I’m going to go with that. They picked a holiday weekend.

I have to say, this was the most low-key holiday party I’ve yet attended courtesy of a Navy command. Though I am told it varies from place to place, the holiday parties we went to in Virginia were something along the lines of a bad wedding reception, assuming you didn’t know any of the other guests. Imagine, if you will: a ball room in a hotel downtown, decorated with greenery and such. Everyone dresses up because it’s an evening thing, and a couple of times we even got our portraits taken by a professional photographer. I say portraits because we sat down in front of a white drop cloth, and not in front of a Christmas tree, or something that might put it in context. Anyway, the next step was to go into the ball room itself. The room, as with any large wedding reception, is filled with round tables that seat 10 to 12 people, though you might not know anyone else there, so you have to navigate the mostly-full tables to find a mostly-empty table where you won’t be caught in the middle of, say, the divers, who are the Navy’s equivalent of frat boys. No joke. After finding a reasonably deserted table, you head to the buffet, where the food is again wedding reception standard: mashed potatoes, either asparagus or green beans, chicken and some type of beef product, with dinner rolls. Maybe there’d be salad. Maybe. So you eat, and then maybe dance (of course there is a DJ and a dance floor, I told you it was a standard big wedding reception!) and then get dessert. We usually stick around for the raffle, though we have yet to win anything at one of these, and then head home around eleven.

I would like to say that last year, we didn’t even go to the one in Virginia. At $25 a person, or whatever the cost was, it just wasn’t worth it.

This brings me to yesterday. The Port Royal’s holiday party was the complete opposite of anything described above. It was at the beach at Bellows Air Force Base, it was family friendly (including those bouncing castle things, a balloon artist and toy giveaways), and it was free. It’s hard to beat that. There were, however, two things that seem to be constant– bad food, and trying to find a reasonable table. I won’t talk about the food, but I do think it’s interesting that at both the previous command and this one, there is no sense of unity. The people who are in shops together kind of sit together, but it was just… quiet. I know morale is low, but it seemed quiet even considering that. What didn’t help is that we’re still fairly new and don’t know many people on the ship.

We spent a little time down at the beach, though the water was cool so we didn’t get too close, and headed home about mid-afternoon. We took the long route, down toward Diamond Head (the party was on the windward side) and stopped to sea the turtles at the Blow Hole and then at the overlook where you can see whales… and we saw three or four, still a good distance out, but very active. One was huge– you could tell from the size of his spout when he came up for breath. Very cool. I’m excited about them being here. ^_^

About twenty minutes from home, we stopped at a kayak launch park and watched the sun set. It was a nice way to end the day. Photos from yesterday are in the photo blog, if you want to see what we saw. ^_^

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We refilled the bird feeders two days ago, and the birds came back within the hour. I enjoy them, and so do the cats (we watch “kitty TV” out the window) so I try to keep fresh seed out there.

When I first put in the feeders, I attracted a lot of doves. I don’t mind doves, I think they’re pretty, but when you have twenty of them on your tiny back porch, it’s sort of overwhelming. Never mind that there are three different types of doves here as well… and they all swarmed my birdfeeder.

The doves have since been replaced by Java sparrows, which are listed as “threatened” in their home region. This is entertaining to me, as all anyone would have to do is come to my backyard. They could relocate the two dozen from my yard alone back home. Heh. Anyway, these birds are adorable and I thoroughly enjoy them, but I didn’t realize just how brave they were.

Tonight, J got out his little Weber grill so we could cookout. He sat on the back porch around sunset, reassembling it; we haven’t used it since we’ve been here, so it was in pieces. I looked outside to see how he was doing, and noticed something interesting… The feeder and fence were covered in sparrows, as if no one at all was out there with them. They flutter and chirp and push one another off of perches to feed and are the very definition of gregarious as a rule, and J’s presence made no difference.

I opened the back door to snap a picture, and was joined by my little bug hunter, Leena. Kitty TV was suddenly much more interesting! I could tell the gears were turning, and the one who is afraid of outside put first one paw and then another onto the back porch. The back two paws followed quickly, and she zeroed in on the feeder.

In a flash of feathers, the birds had all vanished.

Leena caught sight of the grill, which was apparently very scary, and dashed back inside the house.

There really is something to be said for animal instinct in all of this; having never seen a bird up close in her life, Leena was willing to give it a go. Until the real predator was there, the birds knew they had nothing to fear, no matter how big that other animal was.

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The Smell of Rain Forest

It is the rainy season.

Clouds hang low on the mountains so that you can’t see all of the sharp peaks, and the odd sunbeam that makes it through the surface makes the treetops almost glow. It doesn’t rain incessantly in a rain forest, but mists a lot with some occasional drizzle. The ground has a particular spongy feel when you walk on it, but if you walk where there is ground cover, you won’t get muddy because it absorbs the water so well. Birds flit back and forth and water drips and the waterfalls trickle down the folds in the mountains that they’ve carved out over the past few thousand years.

Because it is winter, the African tulip trees are in bloom. They’re taller than most of the canopy, so there are bursts of orange-red scattered in the shades of green that look almost like fire, they are so vivid. Palm trees stick out of the canopy, too, because they are tall and skinny enough to get through the dense layers of leaves.

And then there’s the smell. It’s not exactly the fresh rain smell most people think of, nor is it the smell of rain at the beach, though we’re no more than 25 miles from the coast. It’s almost musty, and pungent, and it seeps into your car or into your clothes if you get out and walk.

I love that smell.

I have wanted to visit a rain forest, a real one, since I was old enough to understand “jungle” and now I live fifteen minutes’ drive from one and get to watch it every time we visit the windward side of the island. I won’t get to do much, if any, hiking until the rainy season is over because the trails will be muddy and slippery, but I’m looking forward to spring and drier weather and tromps into the Hawaiian jungle. I hear the waterfalls are spectacular…

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American Pride

I got miffed by something today and I feel the need to share, so you’ll have to bear with me.

I am so tired of hearing about how awful my country is. It’s bad enough when people here talk about how terrible things are, and how people don’t care for one another, and how many problems we have with our economy, etc. At the same time, I feel that, as a citizen and resident, you have the right to say whatever you like about the country. It’s called Free Speech, and it’s one of the basic rights our country holds dear. In fact, we have entire arguments about what is and is not “free speech” and who’s using it and all sorts of other things. This is not a rant about free speech, however. This is about an attitude that I find myself encountering more and more often now that I’m not “on the mainland” and I’m getting tired of it.

The sentiment is this: The USA is arrogant and controlling and Americans who take pride in being from the USA are arrogant, self-centered jerks who will destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

What makes me really angry is hearing it from people who aren’t even from the US. I know they will probably lump me into the “arrogant American” category for saying so, but why does national pride have to be considered a bad thing? Where you are from is part of your identity, and part of how you see the world around you, and unless you have experienced that unique perspective yourself, how can you judge someone else based on their own home?

To be more specific, why should I be judged because I’m proud of being from the USA? I have a lot to be proud of in my country; we live in a place where we get to choose our leaders, and choose them on a regular basis, and if we don’t agree with them we can say so (thank you, Free Speech) and not get thrown in jail for it. We live in a place that other people are coming into illegally because the opportunities far outweigh any risk, even to life and wealth and safety. We live in a country where everyone, and I mean everyone, gets a FREE education. We live in a country where you can choose what to do with your life and where you want to go and you can be who you want to be. We live in a country that debates things at a national level, that at least tries to reach some sort of consensus and doesn’t just leave decisions up to the “ruling” class that inherited their rule from other ruling people. We live in a country that celebrates success, sometimes too much so, and that encourages people to make their lives better, and offers them an opportunity to do so.

Think about this: when our national arguments are over things like how much minimum wage should be, consider the fact that we live in a place where that can BE a debate. We’re not debating if little kids should be taken from their parents to join a factory, we’re debating how much people who choose to work should be paid. And when we have debates, like the one raging right now over healthcare, it’s like any large family– there will be fights and nasty things said, but in the end, we’re still all in this together for good or for ill.

People who live in other parts of the world, who only get to see the USA through the lens of foreign news outlets, see these things and think it gives them the right to criticize, and there is nothing wrong with other people wanting to talk about and debate what goes on in our country; after all, what happens in the US, to an extent, affects other countries, too. What I don’t appreciate is the attitude that caring about our country and our politics and being proud of who we are makes us bad people. We have a lot to be proud of, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of the country we’ve been born into, with all of its freedoms and opportunities.

Please don’t read anything political into what I’m saying; it’s not intended that way at all. I just needed to vent my spleen a little.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

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A New Year: Resolved

I have been reminded that we live in an, above all, Asian culture. Last night there was a cacophony starting around six in the evening of firecrackers, sparklers, rockets and full-blown fireworks. While fireworks started with the Chinese thousands of years ago, clearly the entire continent has picked up the tradition in the meantime, and even though the Chinese won’t celebrate the new year until the end of this month, there were plenty of people making plenty of noise last night. The old idea was to scare away evil spirits and to bring good luck, but I think now it’s mostly just to see who can make the loudest bang. Starting the day after Christmas, people line up at city hall to buy permits so they can send off up to five thousand of the things. You read that right: five thousand. And I think I heard every one of them within a five-mile radius.

We had a cook-out with our next door neighbors last night, and just before midnight we took our toasting glasses and walked out into the culdesac and listened as midnight roared across Honolulu. It sounded the way I imagine a war zone, and the haze from the smoke, which had been building for six hours, made it hard to see most of them, so we were only aware of flashes away in the clouds and the nearer poppoppop of firecrackers in driveways. We joined in with some sparklers, which I haven’t used since I was a kid, and then went back inside for board games until we finally got too tired to sit up anymore and went home and to bed.

So here we are at January first. I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions, so I have none to list for you here. I am, however, looking forward to the fresh start a new year offers. We’re settled into our house, we’ve gotten into a routine (for the most part), I have a few new things to pursue in terms of long-term career goals, and I know what I need to do to move forward.

New year’s resolutions notwithstanding, I think this year is going to be a good one.

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