Monday, December 31, 2007

Hawaii Sight-Seeing Close-Out

Man, I need a vacation to recover from our vacation. I'm getting worn out from going to the beach, going to the pool, going to the beach, driving around the island, seeing the sights, etc, etc, etc. (I know, I know, poor me... I can feel the sympathy oozing back through my computer screen.)

LW made one of my favorites - cilantro stuffed tri-tip (here's the recipe) for dinner a few nights ago. It was sooooooo good! :-9 Thank you, Sweetie!!!

Mmmmm, Cilantro Stuffed Tri-Tip!

Picture from Oregon Beef Council Website

We went snorkeling at Ko Olina again, but this time we left early enough to get a parking spot in our favorite Lagoon #4. I've already written plenty about Ko Olina though, so I won't bore you with more of the same.

On our way back from Ko Olina, we stopped for lunch at Taco Bell in Kapolei, and they are now offering kalua pork burritos, tacos, etc. I had a kalua pork burrito and it was really good - two thumbs up! :-9

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Hale Koa - In case you aren't familiar with that name, the Hale Koa is a really nice hotel on the beach in Waikiki that is provided exclusively for members of the armed forces. LW and I stayed there the first time when I had a port call here in 2002. I was a little apprehesive about it before we got there. Given it was a "military" place, I expected it to be bare bones, no frills, uncomfortable beds, sorta like a barracks or BOQ room. On the contrary, it was just as nice as the resort hotels on either side of it on the beach, but at a substantially lower price! The restaurant in the first floor of the Hale Koa is called KoKo's (website and menus here), and it's excellent. The food is superb and you can't beat the prices at any other place in Waikiki. Once LW and I got there in 2002, we found very little reason to leave the Hale Koa compound - they had everything we needed. If you're in the military and headed toward Hawaii for any reason, I highly recommend the Hale Koa if you can get a reservation.

Picture of the pool from the Hale Koa website.

Hale Koa Pool - Anyway, the pool at the Hale Koa is really nice, and you don't have to be staying at the hotel to use the pool. You just have to show your military ID. The pool has some really shallow spots with wide steps where my boys love splashing, playing, and swimming. Note that for the first 15 minutes of every hour, the lifeguards blow the whistle and have Adult Swim Only, so try to plan your arrival for as close to quarter-after the hour as possible to get the maximum 45 minutes in the pool with your kids before the kids have to get out for 15 minutes.

Aside: Oh, and if the fire alarm goes off in the hotel, the lifeguards will tell you that you have to evacuate the pool and go to the evacuation area out on the beach. ...Um... Why would I want to get OUT of the POOL if there's a FIRE in the building that's not even close to the pool??? That just didn't pass the common sense test to me. What am I missing? Anyway, I digress, getting back to the topic...

There's also a baby splash-pool that's open continuously (I guess no adults swim in the baby splash pool). It's also right next to the beach, so if you have some members of your family that want to go to the beach, they can go to the beach while others stay at the pool.

There's both a snack bar and a fruity-tropical-tasty-beverage type of bar right next to the pool. They offer a very wide variety of food at the snack bar, and provide the kids' meals in a cool looking cardboard box that looks like a classic car.

One other Hale Koa tidbit to offer: It's right next to the Hilton Hawaiian Village pier for the Atlantis Submarine Tour (see previous post), so if you had anyone who didn't want to go on the submarine tour with you, they could hang out at the Hale Koa pool to wait for you. Also, you can park in the Hale Kola parking lot for $5 and go over to the Hilton to get on the submarine.

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Gyotaku. The family wanted sushi, and there's a sushi bar on every corner here. So I got on the internet and looked at menus for local sushi bars to find a place that had stuff on the menu that LW and the boys would eat. I was very pleased with Gyotaku (website here).

As we were entering the restaurant, I was admiring the amazing fish prints they had framed on the walls. Come to find out, "gyotaku" is the Japanese name for fish prints (see Wikipedia article here).

The sushi was fabulous. We got a whole bunch of different bizarre sushi rolls to share. They had a kid's menu and ice cream for the boys afterwards. I had their "sweet potato pie" and it was really good, too. It wasn't at all what I expected. My previous encounters with "sweet potato pie" have been something similar in color and texture to pumpkin pie. This was more like a Hawaiian sweet potato that was purple, and it had a layer of haupia on top.

The prices were reasonable and the service was good. Note they do NOT take reservations on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday after 4 p.m. We got there at 5:30 p.m. and asked for a table for TEN, and they managed to seat us within about ten minutes (just long enough to push the tables together to set it up for us). We were glad we got there when we did, because there was soon a line of people waiting for tables.

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Paradise Cove Luau (website)

Family Photo Turned Out Pretty Nice
You have NO idea how hard it was to get ES not
only IN the picture but also looking AT the camera!

How do you choose??? We had a hard time deciding which luau to go to since we had hear mixed reviews on all of the major luaus on the island. I think the most positive reviews we heard were for the Polynesian Cultural Center (website here), but we decided against that one because (a) there's no alcohol (it's run by the Mormons), (b) it's a LONG drive way up there to the northern end of the island, and (c) it sounded like a major all-day-long affair and too much for the boys to handle. Beyond that, I don't remember how exactly we chose Paradise Cove (website here) over Germaine's (website here), but here are my observations on the Paradise Cove luau.

Although our initial impression was not good due to the first luau employee we met was smoking a cigarette and wearing a ratty Paradise Cove polo shirt, the rest of the evening was pretty enjoyable. We bought our tickets through ITT (military discount place by the Navy Exchange). We opted for the slightly more expensive tickets where we got to stay seated and have them serve our food. Someone told us that it was worth it not to get up and wait in line at the buffet, and that they run out of the most popular items at the buffet. Our food service was prompt and courteous, and they provided us ample food of every variety to eat.

The food was EXCELLENT! It started out with a salad with some sort of diced salmon, tomatoes, and onions on it with a papaya and poppy seed dressing that was awesome. There were three entrees of kalua pork (really good), some sort of fish with a cream-based macadamia nut sauce (fantastic!), and fried chicken. The fried chicken was good, but it wasn't something I couldn't get somewhere else, so I filled up on the fish and kalua pork. For desert, we had a spice cake with a creamy coconut frosting and haupia (which I LOVE). It was all really good stuff.

Drinks. They provide you a free mai-tai or fruit punch as you walk in the front gate. Our tickets included four free drink-tickets. The lines at the bar generally weren't bad, and they had a wide variety of nice fruity-rum drinks to try. If you have any drink tickets left over at the end, they have a Dave's Ice Cream stand for $3.75 per cone (with two small scoops of ice cream), and you got 50 cents off if you gave him one of your drink tickets.

The Show. The dancers and musicians were fantastic. I kept having flashbacks to the PT Nazi at Bloch Arena. Watching those guys in almost continually crouching positions and doing things with their arms, heads, and waists made me think of the squats workouts the PT Nazi has us do on Wednesday mornings. My legs were getting sore just watching them. They were all in excellent physical shape and very talented.

Blunoz Family in the Outrigger Canoe

Pre-Dinner Activities. The pre-dinner activities were pretty simple and nothing to really rave about, such as temporary tattoos, making head-bands out of palm fronds, making leis, etc. However, I really liked the ride in the outrigger canoe. The boys seemed to enjoy it, too. They also had a collection of really cool parrots you could hold (one was eating the leaves of my lei like they were potato chips), but not photograph (you had to pay them for their photograph). They have everyone gather in the amphitheater for the unveiling of the kalua pig that they'd been cooking in a pit in the ground for six to eight hours, and then did sort of a parading-the-beef routine (old military dining-in tradition) with the pig for everyone to see it.

In summary, the food and the show were excellent and well worth the price of admission, and we were glad we paid the extra to sit and be served instead of going to the buffet line.

Oh, and in spite of my previous casrep on our Cannon camera that YS dropped in the parking lot the other day, we gave in when he said he wanted to take a picture of Mommy and Daddy at the Luau. I don't think he did half a bad job. LW seemed pretty nervous handing over her expensive SLR camera for him to take a picture though (NOT that I can blame her one bit!).

LW and me at Paradise Cove Luau
(Photo by YS)
LW's expression just telephathically conveys
"If you drop my camera I'm going to KILL you kid!"

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For New Year's Eve, we stayed home and LW made us an assortment of pupu's (appetizers). It was all delicious - you did a great job, Sweetie!

As we had been warned by others, it really does sound like a war zone outside our house right now. People have been setting off fireworks almost continuously since about 5 p.m. I'm surprised the boys actually went to sleep amidst the commotion outside.

It's late and I need to get up early to take my family to the airport. So long 2007!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wii're Addicted

Like a few other bloggers I enjoy reading, we have joined the masses of Wii addicts. We got the boys a Wii for Christmas, and it's been a lot of fun playing Wii Sports. My two step-brothers here visiting have played before, so they've been showing us all sorts of fancy tricks in Wii Bowling.

It's had an impact on our vocabulary, too. Uncle Dave got us started with, "That's wiidiculous!" when he wasn't satisfied with the way his bowling ball had spun or which pins didn't go down.

The Wii fitness test is pretty cool. We're all a bunch of old fogies. The Wii Fitness test tells you your "Wii Age" at the end of the test. LW and I both had Wii ages in the ballpark of 70 years old.

The boys and I have really enjoyed playing Wii Boxing. ES came very close to beating me at boxing last night - the referee called it a "tie."

YS and ES Duke it out in Wii Boxing

Playing the Wii is quite a good workout, too. Especially after a game of boxing, I find my heart rate and respiration are up. Plus, LW and I have been suffering from cases of Wii-elbow the past couple of days, too. I wonder if anyone has any statistics on Wii injuries or if any of them have gone to the ER yet?

Shipmates Gone, but Not Forgotten

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the tragedy we suffered on the Mighty MSP as the ship left Plymouth, England. I've spent a good portion of last night and throughout the day today replaying that port call and that morning in particular in my head. It's been a flood of emotions, first impressions of the boat and crew (I had just met the ship there in Plymouth), images, sounds, smells, feeling the cold on my cheeks...

We took my family to Ko Olina to go snorkeling today. I spent most of the time just floating in the water and looking at the waves, thinking about how unforgiving the sea is, and how the boat was just swallowed by a tremendous sea swell that day in Plymouth. It took the heroic efforts of several of my shipmates battling through the onrush of extremely cold water gushing down the Forward Escape Trunk to retrieve one of our men overboard, unfoul the hatch, and get the hatch shut. (The report from the JAGMAN investigation specifically commended three guys for their bravery that day, and Commander Sixth Fleet awarded each of them a Navy Commendation Medal for it).

Once the hatch was shut, the crew came together and set to the tasks before us: providing critical medical care to several injured crew members and multiple cases of hypothermia in our wardroom-turned-infirmary, dewatering the Auxiliary Machinery Room (AMR) (not just the bilge mind you, the ROOM) and the athwartship's passageway and Crew's Mess, and getting the ship safely submerged and stable. E-Div worked around-the-clock for the next four days to painstakingly restore all the grounded electrical equipment that had been flooded with salt water in the AMR.

Through the course of that day and first night at sea, everyone was sort of numb and in a state of shock over what had happened. We knew four shipmates were no longer on board with us and had been picked up by the harbor police, but we did not know what had happened to them afterwards. That night at PD, we received the offline-encrypted message for the Captain, informing him that COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz had perished in the accident, that our other two shipmates were safe and recovering, and directing us to pull into Rota, Spain for the JAGMAN investigation. The Captain informed the then-XO, our senior rider from Naples, and me that night so that we had time to let it sink in, and we let the crew rest until the next morning when the Captain broke the news over the 1MC.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I have been blessed with a very tight-knit crew. The crew really came together and supported each other through the grief and mourning process, through the memorial services, through reliving the experience and retelling the story during the two investigations in Rota, through the sudden relief of the Commanding Officer, and getting the ship back out there again with a new CO, new XO, and new COB leading the ship onto the pointy-end of the spear. The SHIP would not have succeeded on that mission if it had not been for the professionalism of our crew, and the crew honored COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz in their successful completion of the mission.

My prayers are with the families of COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz. I have not forgotten you, shipmates, and I am thankful for the legacy you both left behind with such a great crew.

My prayers are also with my fellow shipmates who went through that terrible day and have it on their minds and refreshed in their memories on the anniversary of the accident today.

Mighty MSP in Plymouth, England
December 2006

Friday, December 28, 2007

More Hawaii Sight-Seeing

Sorry, I have some catching up to do, so this post is a little long...

, we did the Swap Meet thing and did some shopping at the NEX and Commissary. I had a new Hawaii experience at the Swap Meet. This was the first time I've had a malasada. I'd heard other people rave about how good malasadas were, but all since we moved here to Hawaii, so I just assumed it was a Hawaiian thing. Much to my surprise, reading Wikipedia, I see they are a Portuguese variant of the donut and originated in the Azores. Just a few miles away from us here in Hawaii, eh? Wonder how they became such a popular confection in Hawaii.

ES (Orange Shirt), Uncle J, and Uncle D
Walking Through the Swap Meet

Wednesday night,
we went to Moe's to show the family our old Wednesday-night tradition. We've slacked off and haven't been going EVERY Wednesday like we used to, but it's still fun to go on occasion and get some balloon animals for the boys. What did the boys ask for this week from the balloon animal guy? ES asked for a brown dog with a blue leash, and YS asked for a light-saber. (I know, I know, BIG surprise).

, we took our visiting family members on a long drive around the island. After driving through Waikiki, we stopped in Hawaii Kai for some lunch. Both my GPS and my Blackberry said there was a Panda Express there, but we couldn't find it. So we tried a place called "The Shack" that looked okay from the outside and claimed to have good burgers (FYI - here's their website). For anyone else headed that way, I wouldn't recommend it. The food wasn't very good, the service was horribly slow, and the place was just dirty in general. The men's restroom reminded me of a roadside pitstop gas station bathroom - it was pretty bad.
Aside: We're not having very good luck with dining over on that side of the island. The only previous time we've eaten out there was at Roy's (website here). Normally we've absolutely loved Roy's in every other duty station. I wouldn't go back to the one here in Hawaii Kai for the simple reason that it was deafeningly noisy. LW took me there for Father's Day, and every other word of our conversation was, "WHAT?" It went something like:
...So we basically didn't talk for the rest of the meal until we could get outside and hear again.
We continued our drive around the island past Hanauma Bay and up past Koko Head to the blowhole. It was a really nice, scenic drive. We had scattered showers throughout the day, and the stop-and-go driving worked out well. We would stop at some scenic spot to look around, we'd admire the scenery for a few minutes until it started raining, then we'd get back in the car and keep going.

We drove through the Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens, and they were nice (and free). Our guide book and my GPS led me to believe that you could drive all the way through and come back out on the other side, but that was not the case. We got waaaaaaay deep into the gardens and the road was blocked off, so we had to turn around and drive all the way back out again.

Mahalo for Removing your Shoes

Then we went to the Valley of the Temples to see the Byodo-In Temple. That was actually really cool. I think it cost $2 per person to go into the big Japanese temple. It was very peaceful and beautiful scenery. I was surprised that the boys actually seemed to enjoy it, too.

Self-portrait of me and LW
at the Byodo-In Temple.

YS and ES watch a black swan and the koi fish.

YS has taken an interest in taking pictures. We didn't have a problem with it since this is about the age that ES started using the camera, too, and hey, electrons are free. (I might have a problem with it if he was burning through real film). LW was using her expensive fancy SLR camera, so we let YS take off with the Cannon Powershot we just got (see previous post on this topic). He got some good shots in, mostly of the koi fish and black swan and the temple, but he also got this great shot of LW:

Then, he took this great picture of his feet in the parking lot...

Unfortunately, soon after he took that picture of his feet, he dropped the camera on the pavement with a CRASH. Yes, we told him a hundred times to put the strap around his wrist so he wouldn't drop it, and he had the strap around his wrist most of the time, but not this time. It left a dent on the lens, and the motor no longer works to extend or retract the lens when you turn the camera on or off. It is, in a word, KAPUT.

So I'm sorry to report, you won't be seeing any more snorkeling pictures from us anytime soon. Keep your fingers crossed that Cannon will repair it under warranty for us!

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Friday, I took my visiting family members out on the COMPACFLT Remembrance Tour. This tour is offered by the Commander Pacific Fleet boat house. You have to be sponsored by someone in the military, and the sponsor has to go on the tour wearing summer whites (or equivalent for other branches of the military). One military sponsor can bring up to four guests with him or her on the tour.

Let me tell you, if you are in the military and have family or friends coming to visit, THIS is THE way you want to take them to see the ARIZONA Memorial. The lines for the ARIZONA Memorial are always long and you typically have to wait two hours before you can take the boat ride out to the memorial. Indeed, this morning on our way to the Remembrance Tour, we drove past the ARIZONA Memorial museum and the line of people waiting for the boat ride was like 3 blocks long.
On the Remembrance Tour, you don't have to wait in any lines. You have a reservation to show up for either the 0900 or the 1300 tour on a designated day (they normally do the tours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but they did another one today because of the holidays).

After being greeted by the staff from the Admiral's boat house and a quick introduction, they take you through a model room and explain how the ARIZONA looked before the attack, and how the ARIZONA and the Memorial resting on top of it look today. There are also a lot of maps and photos from the attack and the aftermath.

Next, you go into a small theater and watch the same National Park Service video that they show the general public over at the ARIZONA Memorial museum.
When you take the Remembrance Tour, it takes you all the way around Ford Island, so you get to see the USS UTAH Memorial, the spot where the USS NEVADA ran aground, and a lot of other little odds and ends around the harbor. Then you go to the ARIZONA Memorial, then by the USS BOWFIN, then back to the Admiral's boat house. All those members of the general public who stood in line for hours only got to ride from the ARIZONA Memorial museum, out to the memorial, and back again.
Blunoz' Family at the ARIZONA Memorial

The only drawback is there is a minimum age limit, so you can't take young children with you (LW stayed home with the boys this morning).

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GREEN STUUUUUUFF! (see previous post for background) Oh, BTW, HALLELUJAH for the magical powers invested in Uncles and Aunts. Why is it our kids don't trust us? LW or I could tell one of the boys to try some new food or to try some new way to eat the food to make it taste better or go down easier, and they'd NEVER listen to us in a BAJILLION years. But Aunts and Uncles are somehow more cool and certainly more trustworthy than us tricky parental units.

Why do I bring this up, you ask? Uncle Dave tonight got YS to eat PEAS. Not just the 3 peas we tell him he has to eat because he's 3 years old, but like three heaping tablespoons full of peas. Then, when ES saw that (a) Uncle Dave thought it was cool and (b) YS was actually eating it, he decided to give it a go, too! Now, if LW or I had suggested putting peas in the bread and making a pea-sandwich, the boys would have said we were absolutely nuts and REFUSED to let such a cockamamie concoction pass their lips.

Hooray for Uncle Dave! (Oh, and he got YS to drink all his MILK before he left the dinner table, too!)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No Free Parking

Okay, I guess you can chalk this one up as a "Stupid Kevin Trick." I was a total fool last night. I went to the Honolulu airport to pick up my parents, step-brothers and their significant others. I drove up to the parking garage entrance, and the gate was already open. Even so, I stopped at the ticket dispenser and pushed the green button to get a parking ticket, and it flashed a message at me: "GATE OPEN." Um... Okay... I pushed the green button again, "GATE OPEN."

So I said to myself, "Self, I guess since it's Christmas Day, parking is FREE!" I just figured they didn't want to pay the parking lot cashiers.

All the relatives arrived safe and sound (although delayed by a few hours), we loaded up the car and headed out. As we approached the exit to the parking lot, I developed one of those horrible sinking feelings in my stomach as I observed the lines of cars at the cashier stands... handing in their tickets to the cashiers... and handing money to the cashiers... "Self, you... are... an... IDIOT." What a FOOL I was to think that parking would be FREE.

I pulled up to the cashier, and she held out her hand for me to give her my ticket. I proceeded to tell her my sob story, and I'm sure in her mind she was saying to HERself, "Self, here we go again. I've heard THIS story before!" She had to call on her radio for some supervisor to come because of a "lost ticket". She had to walk around the front of the car and write down my license plate number and fill out some form. Then I had to fork out the payment for the ENTIRE DAY. Yep, I paid TEN BUCK$ for 30 minutes of parking.

Meanwhile, the line of ten cars piled up behind me are wondering to themselves, "Self, is that dude purchasing stock options up there or what?" I think they were all probably having one of those Office Space moments wishing they had gotten in the other lane.

Okay, we're off to the swap meet.

Oh, before I go. I wanted to share this awesome "compass" that ES drew on the back of a coaster at dinner the other night. I thought it was pretty good for a 6 year old.

Christmas Day snorkeling at Ko Olina

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

The boys got us up about 6:45. We checked out the goodies in the stockings, then LW made gingerbread waffles for breakfast, then we opened the rest of the presents. The biggest hits with the boys were the Star Wars figures, the Tie Fighter, the new Lego Star Wars video game, the red light saber (see a trend here?), the legos, and the remote control dump truck. The boys didn't seem too interested in the Wii - I think LW and I may have more fun with that than the boys.

After lunch, we headed over to Ko Olina to do some snorkeling. We figured it would be pretty quiet there on Christmas Day. ...Apparently, so did a few dozen other people. You see, Ko Olina is all a big resort run by Marriott, but they have a limited number of public beach access parking spots - like ten spots per lagoon (there are four lagoons). Today, not only were all the public access spots full, but there was a line of two or three cars waiting at the entrance to each lagoon waiting for someone to leave so they could park.

We contemplated giving up, but then figured what the heck - we decided to pay for the parking and park in the Marriott parking garage. That worked out just fine.

ES Sculpting his Sand Castle
Ko Olina Lagoon #1

Christmas Day 2007

Revisiting my previous commentary on the pros and cons of Hanuama Bay versus Ko Olina, I made a few more observations today that the two sort of balance out.

On the positive side for Ko Olina, even though all the public access parking spots were full there today, the beach was NOT crowded (notice the population density on the beach in the background in the photo above). It wasn't even close to the crowds we encountered at Hanuama Bay (see the picture with the previous post on H-Bay).

On the down side though, it occurred to me that there are lifeguards at Hanuama Bay, and at Ko Olina you swim at your own risk.

The water was a little murky at Ko Olina today. I had to swim out along the rocks at the mouth of the lagoon to get to clearer waters and see some cool fish. I did see some new fish today that I hadn't seen before. These two little guys hanging out in the coral were really cute and fun to watch. I need to look up what their name is.

We also saw a bunch of different kinds of butterfly fish and pennantfish.

After I swam back to where the boys were making their sand castles, I didn't want to get out of the water. It was really nice just floating in the shallow water next to the shore...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I mentioned about what a great job FPC did with the Christmas Eve service, but didn't really elaborate. They had several members of the Honolulu Symphony playing along with the choir. The baritone soloist Leon Williams talked about what the Advent candle signified to him, and then he sang Emmanuel. He mentioned that he had sung at the White House and toured to thirty other cities per year singing. He's an excellent soloist. When we got home, I googled him and found tons of listings about him. Here's one of the biographies I found about him from the Santa Barbara symphony website:
Soloist: Leon Williams, Baritone
American baritone Leon Williams enjoys a fine reputation on several continents for his handsome voice, charismatic personality and superb musicianship. Concert appearances include Carmina Burana with the Florida, Westchester, National and Colorado Symphonies; Britten's War Requiem and the Mozart and Faure Requiems with the Colorado Symphony; Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with the Portland Symphony; Haydn's Il Ritorno di Tobia and Harold Farberman's War Cry on a Prayer Feather with the American Symphony Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; Weill's Lindberghflug with Dennis Russell Davies and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; Mahler's Rueckerlieder with Christoph Eschenbach at Japan's Pacific Music Festival; Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Eighth Symphony with Leon Botstein at New York's Bard Festival; Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols with the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Carnegie Hall; Beethoven's Mass in C at France's Colmar Festival; and Copland's Old American Songs with the Warren Philharmonic.

Passionately devoted to the art of song, Williams has given recitals in Hartford, Princeton, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Milan, Tokyo, Munich and throughout his native New York City, including Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall, the 92nd Street Y, where he performed a much acclaimed Poulenc program with Dalton Baldwin and Michel Senechal, The Guggenheim Museum and Florence Gould Hall.

Williams’ success on the operatic stage includes performances at Hawaii Opera Theatre, Toledo Opera and several concert versions including the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess with Yuir Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in St. Petersburg, Russia.

A native of New York City and a graduate of Westminster Choir College, The Boys Choir of Harlem and The Juilliard School, Mr. Williams currently resides in Kailua, Hawaii and most enjoys offering his musical gifts in worship at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu.

Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park
Updated with Some Pictures 12/25

Hawaiian Waters: For Day 3 of our push to support the Hawaiian tourism industry, we went to the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park for a good portion of the day. Overall, it was a great time. This place is a fairly big park with several different waterslide rides. My two favorites were the Big Kahuna and the Volcano Express. On Big Kahuna, you ride an innertube REALLY FAST through a bunch of twists and turns so that with your speed, it sends you up sideways on the wall through the turns. On the Volcano Express, LW and I both caught air on the second bump - that was kinda freaky!

Keiki (little kid) Section of the Park
(Note the horrible December weather we're having here)

There were a few minor things I learned the hard way, so I figured I'd share the gouge with you for anyone else headed to the water park anytime in the future.

Notes to self for future trips to Hawaiian Waters:
1) WEAR SHOES!!! The pavement is very slippery when wet, and I slipped like 5 times on my way walking from where we set up camp with our towels on beach recliners to our first waterslide ride. Luckily, LW bought us some awesome Speedo watershoes a few years back and we had them with us today. I put them on for the rest of the day and they worked like champs both in and out of the water.

Blunoz Family Water-Shoes

If you DON'T wear shoes, this is what'll happen.
I actually think this an ancient Hawaiian symbol for
"Slippery When Wet"

2) BRING FOOD ...and leave it in your car. You are not allowed to bring in any outside food or drinks into the park, and they search your bags on your way into the park. So just leave the food in your car, and go back out to your car to eat lunch or snack or whatever. Or, you could even just hop in your car and drive just across the highway to the shopping center with several places to eat.
The reason being is that the food at their snack bar is disgusting and WAY overpriced. In fact, let's play a quick game of The Price is Right. Take a guess how much I paid for two kids meals (one with a hot dog the color of a pale white bratwurst, the other with a few nasty hard little stone-age weapons that resembled chicken nuggets), and two cheeseburger meals (cheeseburger, fries, drink) and two churros. Go ahead, take a guess! I'll type the answer out in text so the answer isn't glaring you in the face. Fifteen dollars? Twenty dollars? I paid twenty-eight dollars for this fine feast, and my stomach is still revolting against me for it. Plus, there were no lids or straws for the drinks, and the churros were bland and had the texture of corrugated cardboard. Bottom Line: DON'T EAT THE FOOD!

3) Go During the Off-Season, but Pay Attention to the Ride Hours.
I don't mean to imply you should NOT go during the "ON" season. Since this was my first time there, I have no idea what the crowds are like other times of the year. However, we had ZERO problems with crowds at the park today. We actually saw at least two other families there that we knew from Navy housing and from YS's preschool class. There were practically no lines to wait in for the water slides, which was really nice. The problem was, they have a reduced staff during the off season, so they didn't have enough lifeguards to man ALL the waterslides at once. So they set up a rotation system where one slide would be open for 30 minutes, then they'd close that one and open another one for 30 minutes, etc. For the most part, this worked out okay. For the lazy river though, it was only open from 12:30 to 2:30, so if you wanted to do the lazy river, you HAD to go during THAT time period.

Daddy and the YS-fish Out of Water

4) Pink Wristbands. If you have little kids that are good swimmers, then they can take a simple swim test to earn a pink wrist-band that will allow them to go on most of the slides that normally require you to be 48 inches or taller. Note that they only administer the swim test in the hurricane lagoon with the big waves during short periods when they stop the wave machine. So if you want to do this, I would recommend finding out when the next time the wave machine will be stopped, and be there to get the swim test done.
The swim test consists of your child climbing down a ladder in the deep end and swimming about 10 feet to a lifeguard, then turning around and swimming back to the ladder again. They can't grab onto anything or have any help from a parental unit during the test though. Both my boys can swim like fish now, and I KNOW they could have passed the test. They both chickened out. That's okay though, there was plenty to keep them occupied in the little kids section. L & A took turns watching the boys with LW and me so we could ride the bigger slides.

ES Walking the Log
The log was held in place by chains attached to the bottom so it didn't float away, but it was pretty wobbly and a challenge to walk on. I was proud of ES for making it across on his own.

We're contemplating buying the annual passes to the water park. We'd have to go to the water park 3 times in the next year in order to make the annual pass worth while. LW was thinking it'd be a nice place to take the boys while they're on spring break and I'm at work in a couple of months.

We left Hawaiian Waters with just enough time to come home, shower and get dressed, and leave for our church's Christmas Eve service. They did a GREAT job at FPC tonight. It seems kind of odd spending your day in the sun at a waterslide park and then going to a Christmas Eve church service though.

Well, it's late. I gotta get to bed because you know the boys will be up bright and early to see what Santa brought them. I'll add pictures to this post later.

Update 04/27/08: I wrote another post on a subsequent visit to Hawaiian Waters.

Week 4: The holiday battle of the bulge

WW update: First, it's Monday, so that means I got to step on the scale and record my weight for the week this morning.

Week 4 Summary
Result this week: 0.1 pound gain
Cumulative Result: 5.2 pound loss
Average Per Week: 1.3 pound loss per week

Overall, not bad considering the raspberry fudge, the oreo bark, the Christmas cookies, going to Islands, etc, etc, etc. I basically maintained my weight from last week. If I could just MAINTAIN my weight through Christmas, I'd be pretty happy. I'm much better about planning my meals and not grazing so much when I'm at work.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Continuing to support Hawaii's Tourism Industry
- Sunday Recap

First thing this morning, we got up and headed out to Hanuama Bay to go snorkeling. It's at the southeastern corner of the island, and has a reputation as the best place to go snorkeling in Oahu.
"Map" of Hanuama Bay from the State Park's website.

Logistics Summary:
- Parking costs $1.
- The average Joe off the street has to pay $5 per person to get in.
- If you're military AND stationed on the island (you have to show something that proves you have a local address in addition to your military ID), then it's free.
- On your first visit there, you have to watch a 9-minute cheesy video that sings cutesy songs about not feeding or touching the fish and not walking on the reef. After you've seen the video once, you can sign their "return visitor" list and you don't have to watch the film again for 1 year. (Cue Seinfeld Soup Nazi sound effect: "No film for you! Come back, one year!").
- It's a decent hike down the hill to the beach. There is a shuttle bus that will drive you down to the beach for 50 cents and carry you back up the hill for $1. (Children 3 and under are free). We hoofed it both ways.

Self-portrait of me and ES watching the fishies.

A rare glimpse of the very energetic and never stationary YS-fish.

We had a great time snorkeling and saw a TON of fish. We got enough pictures of enough different types of fish, I could make my own fish identification guidebook. We saw bluestriped snappers, reef triggerfish, lagoon triggerfish, multiple types of parrotfish, goatfish, bird wrasse, butteryflyfish, trumpetfish, puffer fish, convict tangs, sailfin tangs, flounder...

That's just off the top of my head. I could post dozens of pictures here, but I'll save most of them for Shutterfly later. Here's a sample of the scenery in Hanuama Bay from our measly little 4-megapixel camera (see tangent on cameras below):

A school of "Convict Tang" fish
(note the black & white stripes, hence "convicts")

Here's a picture of the hill you have to walk down to the beach (and back up again when you're through) unless you want to pay to ride the tram. Yes, the road coming down the hill looks "white" because that's the long line of MORE PEOPLE coming down to the beach.
Oh, so when you go to the beach and it's time to go, you tell you're kids, "Okay, it's time to go!" What do your kids do? Here's what YS does when we tell him it's "time to go":
What do the SEALS call that when they roll around in the sand and get themselves all nasty and caked with wet sand? Sugar cookies? Anyway, when we told the boys it was time to go, YS promptly DOVE into the sand and rolled around to get it EVERYWHERE (including in his mouth and all over his tongue).

Overall Assessment: We had a great time and saw a lot of fish. At the same time, I think I saw just as many fish when we went snorkeling in Ko Olina, but at Ko Olina we didn't pay for parking, didn't pay for tickets (for L & A), didn't have to sit through a lame video, didn't have to hike up and down that huge hill, and didn't have to deal with the crowds. Oh, the bathrooms at Hanuama Bay are a little nicer and cleaner than the bathrooms at Ko Olina, but when you're all covered in salt water and sand, I don't think it matters that much.

Tangent on Cameras: Over the past few years we have been very pleased with our Cannon PowerShot A520. We also bought the Canon underwater housing for it to use snorkeling and scuba diving, and were very pleased with it's ease of use and quality of pictures.

We were pretty sad when our camera died a little less than a year ago. The camera was no longer under warranty, and we'd been debating what to do. Should we pay the $100 to have it repaired, or should we give up the ghost and get a whole new camera? Unfortunately, Cannon no longer makes the A520, so we would have to get a whole new underwater housing to go with whatever new camera we bought.

Then, one day recently, we happened to walk into Walmart (so my LW tells me). There in the front was a table set up with a bunch of the previous-year's camera models they were trying to clear out of their inventory to make way for the new year's models. Wouldn't you know it? They had a brand-spanking new, still in the box Cannon PowerShot A520, and they only wanted $150 for it. The lady behind the table said something like, "Oh, nobody wants that one because it's ONLY 4 megapixels." We said, "We'll take it!" Yeah, it was $50 more than having our old one refurbished, but (a) this saved us the hassle of mailing the old one in for repairs and (b) this got us a working camera (and a brand new one at that!) in our hands before our relatives started arriving on the island. So we had it in the housing and ready to go in the water to see the fish today.

After we left Hanuama Bay, we continued our trek counterclockwise around the island and really enjoyed the scenery. Uncle A (otherwise known to YS as "that guy sitting next to Daddy in the front seat") was craving some (more) Jack-in-the-Box tacos for lunch, and who was I to say "no"? So we stopped there along the way. We drove up over the Pali overlook to check out the view on our way back home to get showered and cleaned up.

Tonight we went to dinner at P.F. Chang's (their lemon scallops are SOOO good!) in Honolulu and then went into Waikiki to see the Cirque Hawaii. Note, this show is NOT related to the Cirque du Soleil shows like in Vegas. I've wanted to see one of the Cirque du Soleil shows for a long time now, but alas, I have never been to one, so I can't tell you how they compare.

Overall, the Cirque Hawaii show was fairly entertaining, but nowhere near worth what we paid for the tickets (even with the ITT discount). The cast was made up of some very talented gymnasts who did some amazing things that I could never twist or bend or balance or twirl my body to do (without substantial injury to myself or someone nearby). The boys seemed mildly amused by it, but I don't think they have an appreciation for what they can and can't get their bodies to do at this young age in their lives. I know that I could NEVER do those stunts. ES says he didn't like it. YS wouldn't say, but he did clap several times during the performance. In any case, it was amusing, but I would NOT pay to see this show again.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Supporting Hawaii's Tourism Industry
- Saturday Recap

Friday, my SIL and her husband (a.k.a. L & A) safely arrived after an unplanned night's stay in Houston. Unfortunately, they missed YS's Christmas pageant. That's okay, they didn't miss much. YS refused the participate and hid behind the first pew in the chapel and only periodically peeked over the top at us. I can't imagine where he learned that from (he takes after his brother).
Aside: In the past, I kept trying to explain to ES when he went to these school performances that he draws MORE attention to himself and sticks out like a sore thumb when he's the ONLY kid not wearing the costume and not singing along with all the other kids. If he'd just wear the costume and sing and do the cute little hand gestures like all the other kids, then he'd blend right in and nobody would be staring at him.

Saturday: We had quite the successful touristy day on the island and accomplished two out of the three excursions we had planned for the day, plus added one to the end.

#1: A Swing and Miss: First L & A tried to go to the USS ARIZONA memorial, but by the time they got there, they were handing out passes for the 11:30 boat, and that was too late for us to make it to our next event. We'll get the ARIZONA done at some point, but not today.

#2: A big hit! We picked up tickets at ITT (Information Tickets and Tours - where military members can buy discounted tickets to local attractions) for the Atlantis submarine tour this afternoon. That was pretty cool. They take you on a sort of ferry boat out to rendezvous with the submarine. They offload the people who were on the submarine and onload the people who rode out on the boat. The submerged portion of the ride lasted about 45 minutes and went down as deep as 112 feet. We saw one black-tipped reef shark, two white-tipped reef sharks, three green sea turtles, and TONS of fish of all sizes, shapes, and colors.

All Aboard!

Green Sea Turtle
It was a little weird watching the crew of this tourist submarine closing the hatch without a greenie and a bucket, and with no rig-for-dive procedure in their hand. I was a little nervous about it, knowing what I know about the extensive Quality Assurance (QA) that goes into the U.S. Navy's submarine force, and not having a CLUE what level of QA they put into building those tourist submarines. It didn't look like they were at all concerned or drafting an OPREP-3 Navy Blue after we "bounced" off the bottom, either. This company now operates 14 submarines in resort locations all over the world, so I guess they're doing something right.

#3: Another big hit! Next, we headed over to Diamond Head to hike to the top. We got there just before 5 p.m., and they told us at the gate that it took 30 minutes to hike to the top and they closed the gates at 6 p.m. We decided to take a chance and give it a go.

L & YS at the beginning of the trail.

LW and I weren't sure if we & the boys would make it all the way to the top in time, so we told L & A to go on ahead and make it to the top. I was very impressed with both boys. Both ES and YS made it to the summit under their own propulsion. ES stuck with me, and we made it to the top in about 27 minutes. LW stayed back with YS, and they made it to the top about 5 minutes after ES and I got there. The view from the top was spectacular, and it was a good workout - neither LW nor I did our PT this morning in anticipation of this hike. It was 1.75 miles round trip, with 525 feet of elevation gain and lots of steps.

Picture of me from L & A's vantage point a few minutes ahead of us on the trail. About the first 2/3 of the trail to the top is switch-backs like this.

After all the switchbacks, you go through a tunnel...

And then a bunch of steps up into what used to be an observation tower for the U.S. Army coastal defense artillery back in the first half of the 20th century.
Family portrait on the steps into the observation tower.

ES at the top of the steps.
Note the elevation inscribed in the step 733 feet.

Me and ES at the top, overlooking Waikiki.
(Yes, there's a geocache there, hence the GPS receiver in the picture).

For the most part, it was easier going down than it was going up. However, YS was pretty tired (justifiably so I'd say) and started asking us to carry him when we were on the steps coming down out of the observation tower. When we were only like a third of the way back with 10 minutes left until the gates closed, I finally gave in and put ES up on my shoulders and let him ride down. That way I could use the advantage of my long legs to take bigger strides and get us down the hill faster. We made it out just as they were closing the gates for the night.
ES riding on my shoulders as we headed back down to the parking lot.

So who could ask for a better way to end the day than to stop at Ala Moana Center and go to Islands for dinner? Man, I LOVE Islands. I always have a hard time deciding what to get when we go there because it's ALL SO GOOD!!! This time I steered clear of the burgers and tried to get something a little bit better for me - the baja chicken tacos. ...but we did share some onion rings and fries though.

Quick Tangent
: Between that and the raspberry fudge LW made, I'm not expecting very good results on the bathroom scale on Monday. The chocolate peanut butter fudge was okay, but this raspberry fudge LW made is just AWESOME. It takes me active and strenuous self-restraint to not eat all of it at once.

When we were in the parking lot at the Ala Moana Center, we happened upon this odd statue of a golden monkey. We thought it was pretty funny, so YS, me, and A (left to right) posed with the golden monkey for a picture...
Standby for more stories of adventure with visiting relatives...