Catching Up with the Cousin

My cousin, Todd, and I ate lunch yesterday at Ayame Curry & Ramen, a hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant in a shopping center. He ordered the cold noodles and gyoza, while I took the beef curry.

Our families used to live five minutes away from one another, so our moms would take us out to the beach, to restaurants, and do other kid stuff. He was, and still is, my “older brother.”

But since he moved to Vegas in 2011, the only time we saw each other was when my family went up during Christmas and/or summer. In between those times, we hardly talked to each other, except the yearly “happy birthday” text.

We talked about him possibly moving back home, but he doesn’t want to since Hawaii’s “so small,” work, and relationships.

After we walked around the shopping center eating ice cream: cotton candy for him, cookies & cream for me. When I dropped him off at his moms’, he told me, “Text me anytime. Just because I’m on the mainland doesn’t mean I’m dead.”

He was always the funny cousin.

And that’s what I miss about him. But I’m happy that he now makes an effort to come out and visit. And that we had our first grown-up outing since being adults!

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Sunflowers at Waimanalo Country Farms

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Sunflowers…

They just scream “summer” right? That’s what I love about them, and ever since I heard that they were grown on Oahu (and Maui!), it’s been my mission to see sunflowers in person.

My first attempt was with a friend during winter. Word got out that the North Shore had sunflower fields so we drove up, only to end up in the middle of a large field of dirt. Needless to say, I was sad.

But that hasn’t stopped me.

As luck would have it, Matt sent me a link to a news article about sunflowers at Waimanalo Country Farms. I didn’t know that there was a farm out there, but I should’ve, since it was the country.

We went last Sunday morning, and I was excited! Waimanalo Country Farms is located in a residential area, high above the Pacific Ocean and the busy highway. The majestic Ko’olau Mountain Range is the farm’s backdrop, and it’s gorgeous. To make it even better, the farm faces the Pacific Ocean in all of its blue glory.

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View from the farm

The parking lot was fairly full when we arrived, and when we made our way to the ticket booth there was a short line. Next to it, there were stands selling sweet corn (if you’re on Oahu, you have to try Waimanalo sweet corn–sold at farmer’s markets or out of the bed of their corn truck–it’s the town’s specialty), and lemonade and sweet tea. Across the way people were lounging at picnic tables under a large white tent. I didn’t blame them, it was H-O-T that morning.

Admission was $2 and there was the option to take the tractor trailer up to the sunflowers or walk. We decided to do the latter, which was on a short dirt path lined with avocado and kiawe wood trees. And a goat, that was tied up near the entrance.

Unfortunately, since the news about the sunflowers came out after they were at their peak, they had started to wilt. However, there were still pretty ones standing tall (literally, some were towering over their slumped neighbors). People were taking photos galore with their iPhones and cameras, scoping out the best ones to show friends and family.

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Peek-a-boo!

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I look pretty happy, right?

We stayed for an hour, taking in the sunflowers and the stunning scenery. When we were heading back to the car the ticket line was longer: everyone wanted to see the sunflowers, apparently.

I’m glad that I was able to see the sunflowers, but I still want to see what the fields are like on the North Shore. Maybe I’ll go this year. However, if I miss them again, I now know that there’s a place showcasing these happy plants closer to home.

Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Hawaii doesn’t have large national parks like California or any other state on the mainland (the exception is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). But we don’t have deep, gorgeous valleys, large Sequoia trees that stretch into the sky, or vast deserts.

No, we have gardens full of greenery.

But I was taken into a “desert” when we visited Koko Crater Botanical Garden last week. I knew that it was going to be hot, with the terrain being dusty and full of rocks–it was inside of a crater, after all.

But I didn’t know that it was going to be that different from the other gardens around Oahu.

On our way to the garden we were in the middle of the bicycle portion of the Tinman Olymic Triathalon on Kalanianaole Highway. Cones and cops were sectioning off a lane on the road, and continued until halfway up to the garden.

We arrived at 7:30am and after passing the security guard sitting at a picnic table under the shade we went to grab a brochure from the mailbox. We read the sign describing the garden and headed off, following the Loop Trail signs to the plumeria section. Even in the desert-like conditions, they were pretty. Among the grown ones, we noticed a bunch getting ready to bloom on some bushes.

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So picturesque

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A group of plumeria

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Baby plumeria

After following a pair of hikers on the trail, we ended up in the Americas section, which was an area with a lot of cacti: tall, strange looking ones, ones that looked like bushes, and round ones were all scattered on the terrain, up and down a hill. The weather was starting to get cool, and the view in front of us reminded me of being in Arizona or the Nevada desert.

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Are we still in Hawaii?

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It was MUCH larger (and thornier!) from where I was standing

We thought we were following the path, but ended up veering off of it a bit when we reached the Madagascar section. The path we were on became more narrow as we continued walking, so we cut through some plants and got back on track.

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More cacti!

Throughout the 2-mile loop trail there were shady spots to stand under, and a nice gentle breeze. It wasn’t sweltering hot, but we needed water once we arrived back to the car!

As we were making our way down the to entrance we noticed more people coming: families and couples decked out in hats, shirts, shorts, and shoes. One woman I saw was wearing sandals and jeans. (She must’ve been sweating after).

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So high up

Since the garden was next door to Koko Crater Stables, we stopped to watch two girls ride very groomed horses. The muffled sound of the hooves on grass filled the (mostly) silent atmosphere with noise.

We completed the hike at 9am and made our way back to town. Out of the gardens that we visited, Koko Crater Botanical Garden is different: besides the obvious dirt paths and heat, it’s more of a hike than a leisurely walk (but I guess you could do that), and the plants are different from what Foster’s or Ho’omaluhia have on display too, which shows the diversity of Hawaii’s ecological system. It was a fun way to spend a Sunday morning.

Iowa 2017

IMG_1213Midwest sunset on a farm

Two weeks ago I came home from a week-long vacation visiting my boyfriend’s family in Iowa. The main reason we went was for his cousin’s wedding.

We flew out of Honolulu and had a five-hour layover in Portland, then a three-hour night flight to Minneapolis. All of the flying culminated with a more than three-hour drive to Evansdale, IA. (We stopped in Wisconsin for, yep, cheese. And pickled Polish sausage).

Besides the wedding and reception, here are some highlights from the trip.

Cheese Curds

IMG_1114Case of a variety of cheese curds at the Amana Colonies meat shop

These small masses of cheddar cheese are the start of the cheesemaking process. Before cheese is made into blocks they start out as curds. You can have them fresh or fried. I tried both and have to say that fried is better. They taste like marinara sticks. They are also called cheese balls.

Lightning Show

The weather was unpredictable during the day–hot, cold and windy–but there were thunderstorms. And Midwest thunderstorms are not like ones in Hawaii. There were bolts of lightning, and it was neat to drive on the freeway and see that. One night there was a lightning show in the backyard.

Amana Colonies

IMG_1119Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse

Our first adventure in Iowa was to the Amana Colonies, a German Pietist settlement in Iowa County. We only spent a few hours here, going to the Meat Shop & Smokehouse, Amana General Store (with a year-round Christmas market located inside!), Lehm Books & Gifts and Chocolate Haus.

Hansen’s Dairy

IMG_1189Decor in Hansen’s Dairy Waterloo

Our plan was to take a hands on tour of Hansen’s Dairy Farm, but we had a semi-packed schedule. The next best thing was to go to one of their storefronts in Waterloo for ice cream. We went twice during our stay! We even bought three pints of ice cream to eat at the house, but only ate one. Very creamy. Very tasty.

Downtown Ames

We needed to kill time before Reiman Gardens opened at 9am, so we walked around downtown Ames. We had an excellent chai latte at Cafe Diem and were treated to yummy chocolate–and nice customer service–at Chocolaterie Stam.

Reiman Gardens

IMG_20170621_095443Me and Elwood

Located on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Reiman Gardens was such a pretty place! There was a lot to see on 17-acres, including the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, where we came face-to-face with colorful butterflies (there are 800 of them??) and Elwood, the World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome.

My first trip to the Midwest was an experience. The quintessential farm was seen (including a pig farm!), but my time was spent in small, urban towns. It was definitely different from living in Hawaii (rush hour traffic is nonexistent in Iowa, from what I remembered, and no mountains or ocean, of course).

In fact, the trip went by slowly because there was no rush, of any kind. It seemed to me that people took it easy and that didn’t bother me one bit. Yes, we did get bored but a small town is just that, small. Not much to do. Even Des Moines was small.

However, I still had fun. I saw fireflies glint in the backyard (everyone helped collect some when it was mentioned that I had never seen them), ate a lot, and experienced a different way of living.

It was awesome.

And I now want a small collection of mason jars; they were everywhere in the clothing stores we went into, and as centerpieces at the wedding reception. They are so cute!