Heading home

Things I will miss:
  • The warmth. That would be both the weather and the aloha spirit there is here.
  • Living in sun dresses and bikinis. Much as I love the fashion of the rest of the year, minimal clothing feels very liberating.
  • This beautiful house, the best rental we've ever had. Much as we enjoyed the house we rented here last time, this one is just better in so many ways. It's not quite as close to the beach, but it's still close, and it's closer to town. It's wonderfully comfortable. It felt like home right away! And there's room for guests. :)
  • Sharing the house with geckos. I hate bugs in a house. Hated roaches back in the day, hate ants. Love spiders, but they don't belong indoors. But for some reason, it seems quite appropriate to have tiny geckos running up the walls. They don't bother anything, and they're cute. Had a little magic this morning—two of them as I sat here typing.
  • The beach. We have nice beaches in and near where we live, both salt water and fresh water, but here I can go into the water without steeling myself against the cold. And lying on the sand in the hot sun is just better here, even though I have to be more careful about getting burned. And let's not forget warm-water surfing!
  • The stars. Not every night was clear, but the last few have been wonderful. Even with some light from nearby houses, we could see an amazing number of stars. The light pollution at home is horrible, and much of it unnecessary.
  • The local food. I would miss things like salmon and fresh summer berries from home, but I do love the local fish here, especially ahi (yellowfin) tuna and fruits like apple bananas and papayas and pineapples that are actually ripe.
  • Coffee from the island. I love the coffee I get at home, but it would be pretty cool to be able to do a 100-mile diet that included coffee!

Things I won't miss:
  • The humidity. You're never totally dry. I gave up on trying to dry my hair. I just let it dry on its own. And wearing makeup other than mascara is pretty much an exercise in futility.
  • The soft water. It's nice to my skin and my hair, but rinsing it off is very difficult. We also have much better tasting tap water.
  • The roosters. Kauai is famous for its feral chickens, which escaped some time in the past. Many of them are lovely ornamentals, but the bloody roosters crow just about any time they feel like it. It seems to have nothing to do with dawn.
  • Bug bites. Usually bugs don't find me appetizing for some reason, but I have some bites on my toes I could do without.

The "won't miss" list is pretty small, eh? I imagine if I thought hard enough, I could come up with some more. Maybe the fine sand that sticks to you and is hard to get off. Pretty minor though. One thing that's not minor is that this is the United States. It doesn't feel like the Lower 48, but it's still the US. There are many reasons we chose to migrate to Canada, health care among them.

And we have to get back to our kitteh! We'd be watching television (oh, right, we'll miss the Food Network) with one lamp on. Sweetie would move a bit, and my eye would think a shadow was our kitteh. It happened several times. And of course I kept thinking she'd hop up on the bed at any moment.

Lots of people move here, settle in, and love it. As our snorkel guide said yesterday, periodically you take a trip to the mainland for a dose of things you can't get here, like some big concert. And then you're happy to come back. We'll probably just continue to visit as often as we are able, and maybe start to stretch it to two weeks instead of just one. And continue to appreciate what we have at home as well as what we have here.


No hodad

I never knew I had a jones for surfing. I had always admired the skill. I've enjoyed watching people do it well. I'd used a boogie board a few times, so I knew what a thrill it was to be pushed along, sometimes quickly, by wave power. But actually learning to surf hadn't occurred to me.

Until it struck me.

In most of the places you go surfing, the water is cold. Nay, frigid. A lot of surfers go to the outer coast of Vancouver Island, but when they go in, they wear wet suits. I've worn a wet suit. I hate wet suits. I also hate cold water. I admit it. When it comes to putting my body in water, I am a wuss. But the ocean water you find in places like the Caribbean and Hawaii are a whole 'nother story.

In the Caribbean, Sweetie and I did some scuba diving. In Hawaii, we've done snuba (diving with a hose) and snorkeling. You wear a T-shirt at most over your swim suit, and that's mostly so you won't get a sunburn. That's the water for me.

When we were exploring things to do during our stay on Kauai, learning to surf grabbed me. I was going to stop just watching. I was going to do it myself. So yesterday morning, I found myself at Hanalei Pier with several other surfing students and three instructors.

Standing up on a surf board is difficult. Or rather, I should say that getting it right is difficult. The technique is quite simple. Lie down on the board, toes near but not over the back. Finding the right position on the board takes a bit of practice. Then do a push-up off your knees. Crawl your knees forward until they're right between your hands. With your hands still on the board, lift your left knee and plant your foot just in front of your hands, mostly sideways, centred on the stringer (centre line of the board). Then lift your right knee and do the same with your right foot, back where it already is. Lift yourself from that crouch into a (mostly) standing position, shoulders turned toward the front, eyes ahead, not on the board.

(Left foot forward is the usual position, but some people are what the instructors call "goofy footed," with right foot forward. You want your stronger leg in back.)

You want to try to do all that fairly quickly, especially when you're riding the small waves we were for practice. And of course you have to keep your balance once you're up—not too far forward, not too far back. There were three kids in our group, and they would just hop right up and have a great ride. It helps to have a low centre of gravity! But all of us succeeded in standing and even having short but nice rides.

The school allowed us to keep surfing for a couple of hours after the lesson. I wish grandma hadn't already been fairly worn out. But if I had stayed out for more time, I'd be feeling it today even more than I am. I didn't know just how physically demanding surfing is! Did you know you have muscles that run from your shoulders down the outside of your upper arms? They seem to be the ones involved in paddling. Ouch! And I'm sore right under my ribcage. I'm not sure what that's about, but maybe it's from getting up off the board. And my tailbone is sore. I wiped out backward once (as you can see in the picture), and the water was rather shallow.

Last year, I did something I thought I couldn't do: I learned to play drums. I realized that surfing was about meeting another challenge. I didn't think I could stand up on a board. I learned to do it. And I had a total blast! I know I'm going to be back on a board—at least the next time I'm someplace where the water is not cold. I want to get better at standing, learn better balance, and take on bigger waves. Who knows. Maybe I'll even learn to like cold water and wet suits! Maybe.


Spirit of aloha

We're driving back from Kapaa to Hanalei. Hanalei has become more self-sufficient in the seven years since we last visited, but there are still a few things it doesn't have, like a drug store and an ATM that's attached to an actual bank (I don't trust stand-alone kiosks). We had already passed one hitchhiker. He was only a boy, by the look of him, but we tend not to pick up guys. Hopefully he got a ride quickly.

We're well outside Kapaa in the middle of not much, where you can actually drive at 50 m.p.h. We see a slender young woman standing at an intersection. She has actually picked a good spot—shaded, with a right-turn lane—but of course all the cars are zooming by. We don't see her soon enough to pull over safely. But we decide that we are going to do a mizvah. I told you I wasn't going to forget the homeless girl any time soon. We turn around at the next opportunity, not far down the road, and go back. She is still looking for a lift.

She is delightful company on the ride back to Hanalei. She tells us she has been on the island for 15 years and lives west of Hanalei, where the road winds along the coast through a heavily wooded area across several one-lane bridges. She works on environmental projects, and she solves the mystery of the tall grass-like plant that lined the road—cane grass. Sweetie had thought it looked like sugar cane. Apparently it's a bit of a pesky weed in these parts. She also tells us about some markets, and points out a stand coming into Hanalei where someone sells locally grown avocados for 50 cents—on the honour system!

We pull over at our turn to let her out. She is going to do some shopping in Hanalei before continuing to her home. She gives us two beautiful ripe apple bananas, which she says she picked herself. It's a perfect gift for us (we love them), and we are very grateful.

Those bananas go perfectly with lunch. They are sweet and wonderful!

Our rider spoke of the "spirit of aloha"—islanders helping each other out. We have so much. We need to make sure that spirit is in us when we go back home.


Dear Naomi Wolf

I hope you don't mind an open letter. Not many people read my blog anyway, so it's almost like we're in private. But not quite. I think it's a good idea to do this in the open.

Recently, you wrote an opinion piece called "Reactionaries are feminists, too." It was published widely, including in the Globe and Mail, which is where I read it. I had hoped the title was ironic, but apparently it is not.

This is the crux of your piece: "The core of feminism is individual choice and freedom, and it’s these strains that are being sounded now more by the Tea Party movement than by the left." Really? I must have missed the announcement that the Tea Party has decided to support a woman's right to choose. Individual choice and freedom, right? With regard to her own body and her reproductive rights? What about the right to choose to marry the person someone loves, regardless of what sex they are? Has the Tea Party started to support equal marriage? Curiously, you didn't touch on either subject, perhaps because if you had your premise would have collapsed like a pricked balloon.

And since when are individual choice and freedom the core of feminism? What about equality of opportunity? What about a truly level playing field, not some fictitious one generated by free-market forces? If a weak state does not impinge on personal choice, neither does it prevent someone's personal choice to discriminate against us because of our sex. Right now, at least we have some legal recourse after the fact. In the Tea Party libertarian wonderland, we would be on our own in a hostile world.

Your prime examples of "reactionary feminism" were Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Just before you wrote that it would be a mistake to dismiss their appeal, you related your "personal experience that to debate her [Bachmann] is to encounter someone who’s absolutely certain of facts that must exist somewhere in a parallel universe." That must be the universe in which Palin and Bachmann are feminists. You surmised that they would reject the label "feminist." I think you're right, and you know why? Because they're not!

By the way, what's with referring to them as "tigresses"—twice? I might be wrong on this, but I'm pretty sure a male journalist would have been pilloried, and rightly so, for using such a term.

Please do let us know if Palin, Bachmann, or any other "reactionary feminists" actually start working for the rights of all women, not just the rights of individual women to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In the meantime, you might want to stick to writing about things in the actual universe.

Years ago, you wrote The Beauty Myth. You're a feminist icon. So who I am to say you're talking shite? The thing is, it doesn't matter who I am. When you talk shite, anyone gets to call you on it.

Just so you know, I'm a centrist, I eat meat, and I have never owned a pair of Birkenstocks.


Le fromage vielli

You know you're getting old when you have to put on your reading glasses to epilate your legs.

You know you can't be that old because you still bother to do it!


Compassion fatigue

Yesterday afternoon, I walked out the back door and down the steps into the carport. I rounded the corner toward the house to turn on the hose so I could water the garden. I was startled to see someone sitting on the cement floor just a few feet from the basement door.

She was young. Late teens? Early 20s at most? She was small, kind of pretty, dark hair pulled onto the top of her head, slightly non-white skin. She was dressed in black. T-shirt, shorts, silver belt. Some kind of runners. She sat there smoking.

"I'm sorry, I was looking for cigarette butts," she said.

"We don't smoke," I said. I wasn't angry. I wasn't hostile. But I'm sure my attitude was something along the lines of "you can't stay here." I don't like when people trespass. Who does?

She knew she had to move along. She started to pack up stuff that she had taken out of her bag. She seemed to have settled there a bit.

I asked, "Do you live around here?"

"I'm kind of homeless," she said.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Something stirred, a little.

She kept packing up. I moved toward the tap so as not to be standing over her, allowing her an escape route.

"I like your garden," she said. My perennial garden, somewhat out of hand at the moment.

"Thanks. I'm afraid the weeds have taken over a bit."

"Yeah, I noticed." There was something kind of touching about that. We were just having a conversation.

She had finished packing. I think she said goodbye, or something similar, and headed out past the car and down the lane. I watered the pathetic vegetables (it's been such an awful summer, and the garden still isn't getting enough sun) and went inside. I told Sweetie about the encounter. And I started to cry.

Where was my compassion? A beat behind. Or two. Too late.

The girl was clearly no threat, but she had violated the boundaries of our home. I had instantly gone into protection mode. It wasn't until she was gone that I felt something else. She might have been even younger than I thought. Sweetie said her parents, parent, family, might have thrown her out of the house. I don't know if she was "working." Not long ago, Sweetie had found a used condom in the carport. We're kind of used to finding them in the lane, but this was new. We have no idea if the two incidents were related, but when a girl is on the street, there aren't many things she can do for money.

Why did I not say one more thing while I had the chance, something like, "Is there anything we can do to help you?" She might well have said no, but at least I could have asked. And maybe we could have helped. Of course we can't help everyone. And we know enough about boundaries not to put ourselves at risk. But I could have asked. I should have asked.

I feel as though I failed a test. I can only hope I see her in the 'hood somewhere. I can only hope I get a second chance. Weeping as I write this, feeling bad, wishing I'd done better, none of that is good enough. I'm not going to beat myself up, but I have to do better than I did.

I haven't stopped thinking about that girl. I doubt that I will any time soon.


Fantasy heroines

(I seem to have started this post almost a month ago but never finished it! Oh dear.)

I wrote a comment on a post in Feministing about the Harry Potter series. It started to get so long that I thought I should write my own post.

If you have never read The Lord of the Rings and plan to do so (or even think you might), please don't keep reading. The first time reading a good book should never be spoiled by advance knowledge. Same for the Harry Potter series. There are


The Feministing article focused on the female characters in the Potter books (and films). I shall back up a bit and then proceed forward.

Chloe, the author of the article, said she was nine years old when Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone came out, only a couple years younger than the characters. She grew up with the series, getting older as the characters and the stories became more mature. As an alterkacher, I'm officially far too old for Harry Potter. That hasn't stopped me from reading the books or watching the movies, but I was more-or-less grown up already when I did so.

I go all the way back to Beezus and Ramona, and I'm not talking about the recent movie (note the name order). The first character I really identified with, however, was Meg in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Meg is smart, a loner, lacking in confidence in herself and thus in her social skills as well. She always stays true to herself and to what she believes in. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time favourite books, and Meg is one of my favourite heroines.

If Chloe grew up with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, I grew up with Frodo and Sam. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were a huge part of my adolescence. I was introduced to the books when I was in hospital (the only time I was during my childhood) by a friend who was a priest and an archaeologist (yes, both). He opened up an amazing world to me. I became a pretty serious Tolkien nerd.

As in Harry Potter, male figures are mostly the heroes in the Tolkien books. For women, early in the story we get the nasty Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the trusty and loyal Rosie Cotten, and magical hippie girl Goldberry. We're introduced to Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Elrond, who does little more in the books than wait for Aragorn to win the crown of Gondor so that she can then become his wife. The filmmakers, having so little to work with for such an important character, tried to flesh her out by giving her scenes that never appeared in the books, but she is still little more than a cipher.

All is not lost, however. Tolkien did create two powerful female characters who no doubt captured many more imaginations than mine.

Galadriel is the Elven ruler of the hidden land of Lothlorien. Her husband Celeborn is really no more than a consort. Galadriel is one of the three who wield the Elven rings of power, linked to the One Ring but untouched by Sauron. As such, along with Elrond and Gandalf, she is a counter-force to Sauron, no less powerful than either of the male ring holders. She is beautiful and terrible, seemingly gentle but a force to be reckoned with.

My favourite female character, however, and one of my favourite characters in the books, is Éowyn of Rohan. The Rohirrim are a blond people who ride horses and fight fiercely to maintain their homeland. They have neither magic nor great Elven lineage. They are very much of Middle Earth. That is one thing I find particularly appealing about Éowyn—her humanity. She is not great and powerful like Arwen, but she's far more interesting.

Éowyn is the niece of old King Théoden and sister of Éomer, heir to the throne. She must do her duty as caregiver to her uncle and later in leading her people into a fortress, but she longs to be a warrior. She chafes at the role she must play as a female in her society, which reveres men.

She's not exactly a feminist heroine. She falls in love with Aragorn, who is promised to Arwen. Even though she longs to fight, she is spurred to disguise herself as a male warrior only when she despairs of winning Aragorn's love. But whatever the reason, she then goes on to play a pivotal role in the Battle of Minas Tirinth and get what I think is the most powerful scene in the book, depicted well in the film.

On the battlefield, she confronts the king of the Nazgûl (ringwraiths). It was prophesied long before that no man could kill him. In a twist reminiscent of a similar prophecy in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, she reveals to him that she is no man, but rather a woman. She kills him with the help of someone else who is "no man," Merry the hobbit. She nearly loses her life accomplishing this task, but eventually returns to strength—and greater understanding. She does end up married to Faramir, younger son of the last steward of Gondor, but you get the feeling that it's a union of equals.

Seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 reminded me of how important the women in the story are. Minerva McGonagle takes back control of Hogwarts from Severus Snape and turns it into a fortress from which to resist the final assault of Voldemort. Luna Lovegood once again has the answers that Harry looks past in his impetuous rush toward action. Ginny Weasley, Cho Chang, and the other young women in the school join in the battle. Molly Weasley fights a magnificent duel with Bellatrix Lestrange and vanquishes her. And of course Hermione Granger is with Harry all along, keeping him out of trouble, performing the kinds of practical magic of which he seems to be incapable or at least uninterested. Hermione destroys one of the last Horcruxes.

At some point, someone will write a blockbuster fantasy in which a girl or woman has to undergo the quest, or in which a girl or woman leads the battle against evil. Something like that has already happened. Even though The Millenium Trilogy is not fantasy, Lisbeth Salander is a somewhat larger-than-life heroine, an enigmatic figure who plays by her own rules. And she is the most fascinating heroine of recent times. We're just getting warmed up.