Friday, June 29, 2012


When a tourist enters a new place, he or she needs to turn on his or her common sense and listen to warnings. For us in Kaua'i, most of those warnings involved being in the water. The captain of our catamaran cruise said he's often asked by clients how they can breathe under water. His reply, "You can't."

Well, duh.

Other obvious warnings included the following: don't swim in water subject to riptides and big waves, don't touch the fish (some bite), watch out for truly dangerous species (such as scorpionfish and the occasional Portuguese man-of-war), and don't get drunk on the water.

By the way, did you know the CDC says that alcohol contributes to as much as 70% of all accidental deaths on water for adolescents and adults? That's why our cruise didn't start serving alcohol until the second half of our time on the water. Five hours is plenty of time for passengers to get dangerously drunk, but 2.5 hours gives the babysitters crew a safety edge.

Locals who've grown up with the natural risks of Kaua'i might be knowledgeable enough to enter waters unsafe for tourists, but whenever we saw them emerging from the surf outside our resort (which was full of volcanic rocks, coral, and generally strong riptides), they were armed with fishing spears and wetsuits, and they exuded the confidence only skill and experience generate. These are people who know exactly what the risks are, respect the danger, and equip themselves to deal with it.

Idiot tourists, on the other hand, run blythely into the surf despite warning signs and, if they are lucky, emerge with blood streaming from cuts on their legs and the body language of people made horribly aware of their own stupidity.

This is why emergency response vehicles on Kaua'i have surfboards strapped to them: for the tourists who don't read the signs and leave their common sense at home on the mainland.

But frankly, sometimes the locals join the ranks of idiots. One particularly beautiful sight on the island is Wailua Falls, where the opening sequence to Fantasy Island was filmed. (I would have a picture, but George hid that batch of photos on his computer and I can't find them.) Here's what Andrew Doughty, author of The Ultimate Kauai Handbook, has to say about the falls.

"In ancient (and occasionally modern) times, men would jump off the top of the falls to prove their manhood (which was often left on the rocks below). This test was often fatal. Government maps list the falls' height at 80 feet. It always bothered us because it sure looks taller. So, a few years ago we dropped at fishing line and sinker to the bottom from the lip of the falls (boy, did we look stupid) and measured it. To our amazement, it was 173 feet of solid drop."

This passage brings up two significant points. First, men in all civilizations tend to do idiotic things like jump off 173-foot cliffs to prove their manhood. You never hear of women doing such strange and potentially fatal things to prove their womanhood. They just have babies, which, come to think of it, is quite risky enough in primitive cultures.

Second, the government underestimates everything (cliffs and budgets) by a factor of 2.1625 to 1.

Doughty goes on to describe the two trails down to the base of the falls.

"Neither are [sic] professionally maintained, and both can be slippery when wet. The state, in their paranoia about liability, has erected signs telling you not to take the trails to the bottom. They even cut the ropes once (but users keep replacing them) that had been strung to make it safer and easier. (Making it less safe apparently makes some bureaucrat feel safer.)"

I suspect it's bureacratic butt-covering that contributes to the white noise of warning signs on the island. People stop paying attention to signs when there are too many off them (government studies show this to be true with traffic signs...too many in one area, and motorists heed none of them). We saw warning signs for all sorts of things on our trip, and some were easier to spot than others. Most were being disregarded, such as the one telling people not to jump off the pier in Hanalei Bay.

Then there was the fire alarm in our resort at 2:00 AM our first night there. That was hard to miss. It's most unpleasant being awakened to the blair of fire alarms when you've just fallen asleep after being awake for over 24 hours. Several of us contemplated ignoring the alarm (raises hand) but finally decided we needed to leave the building. We waited about 20 minutes in the parking lot for the fire department across the street to respond. Apparently, a build-up of dust in the control room caused the false alarm.

We were fortunate in our week in paradise; no one in our group sustained worse than a bit of sunburn. If you use your common sense and pay attention, you should be fine. Just watch out for one of these neatly camoflaged critters and avoid at all costs. An up-close encounter might completely ruin your day in paradise.

Scorpionfish, Anini Beach, Kaua'i; spotted and photographed by George

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekly Giggle: Lesson Learned

This is my second post for today. Please scroll down to see the Gratitude Journal for this week.

The following conversation happened last night when Nick was quoting extensively from Flight of the Conchords' lyrics.

George: How is that you know the Flight of the Conchords so well but not your schoolwork?

Nick: Because I go over the Flight of the Conchords over and over again.

George [knowingly]: Oh, really?

Nick [after a pregnant pause]: Oh, snap.

George: [excessive laughter]

Me: Was Nick hoist with his own petard?

George: Yes, and it's really sad that I know what that means.

Not sad at all, my dear. Not sad at all. You simply went over your Hamlet repeatedly until it stuck. And Nick learned his lesson, too.


Gratitude Journal #143

Today, I am grateful for 26 years with my honey bunny and being able to celebrate our anniversary in paradise. You're the best, George!

Today, I am grateful for the movie Brave, which is brave enough to have a lovely feminist storyline (as opposed to an angry, bitter feminist storyline) in which not one character is truly bad (even the witch has good intentions!) and the princess doesn't need a man to save her. Instead, it's a story about unintended conseqences, love, acceptance, and listening. Plus, it's laugh-out-loud funny. Pixar scores again.

Today, I am grateful for weed-free mulch areas. Whew. That was a lot of work.

Today, I am grateful for living a little bit closer to nature. The firefly show in our back yard is amazing every night, a strobe-light show that dazzles! On an only slightly more dangerous level, Nick and I saw this big fella (or does one sex a turtle?) crossing the street and headed toward the community pond. I stopped the car to help it toward the pond and very quickly realized my mistake.

A guy out watering his lawn said he'd watched the monster cross his yard pretty darn quickly for a turtle. When I walked toward it, it showed no fear. In fact, it stared me in the eye so aggressively that I suspected it was daring me to get any closer.

"I'm harder and meaner than you, you lily-livered, soft-skinned human. Just try me. Go on. I double-dog dare you! You're wearing sandals, I see. Yeah. Come a little closer and I'll snap your toe off!"

I gave it plenty of space, and when we drove past, it snapped at the car tires in a final show of superiority.

I guess that's what snapping turtles do best, eh?

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Oh So True

Found this tweet on a blog....

"Falsely accusing someone of murder incites less rage than telling a whiny kid they're tired." --Greg Schindler

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Words, Words, Words--Rather Rambling--about a Bridge

My mother-in-law had a guidebook to Kaua'i called, appropriately enough, The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed. She read snippets from it during the whole week, and I enjoyed them so much I bought the book on our last day on the island at the disturbingly named Whalers General Store in Kapaa.

I do things rather backwards, buying guidebooks after the trip, but it works for me.

And let me digress here about the apostrophe (or okina...or 'okina, depending on your source) in Hawaiian words. I am fully aware that I have been inconsistent about using them. The title of the guidebook doesn't use it, yet some people, including my aunt Sylvia, do. The okina represents a glottal stop, which just means you close off the airflow in your windpipe while speaking.

Isn't glottal an ugly word? It sounds ugly and looks ugly. But it's also a slightly onomatopoeic word, because before you say it, you have to pause to take that gl in, don't you?

The okina is used in native Hawaiian to clarify pronunciation, and I want to respect the native culture, especially because the native people are working hard to recover what has been lost. But I haven't yet found consistency in websites, books, or brochures on this issue. Since you aren't paying me to write this blog, I'm not going to worry too much about my inconsistency on this, but if you happen to be native Hawaiian, please note that I respect your culture and want to do right by it. Mahalo.

Anyway, one of my favorite snippets of information from the guidebook involved a bridge. Kaua'i has a number of one-lane bridges, and we only drove across one that I remember, but the Waipa Bridge shows how government truly is insane, even in paradise.

"... the Waipa Bridge...was built in 1912 for $4,000. It's so sturdy that it has never needed a major repair. The state found this intolerable [emphasis added] and planned to replace it with a $5 million bridge that would hopefully require lots of maintenance. Local residents banded together in the late '90s and successfully fought 'em off." --Andrew Doughty

Now, don't you just have to buy a guidebook with snippets like that?

Things on Thursday: My Nightmares

Okay, okay. You were expecting (if you expected anything) a thing to do with Hawai'i, right? And I'm giving you a thing that has nothing whatsoever to do with Hawai'i because Hawai'i has only one snake, the tiny island blind snake, which looks more like an earthworm than a snake.

I KNEW it was paradise!

I spent a few years of my very early life in rural Georgia, living on a lake and running in terror for my life.

I almost rode over a corn snake on my bike, and if I hadn't been five at the time, I would have died of a heart attack.

When I was riding on the back of my boyfriend's bike, he suddenly turned around and started pedalling for our lives away from a rattlesnake stretched across the dirt road. Thankfully, the seven-year-old (older man!) had the sense not to tell me why he turned around until we were well and safely away from the Agent of Satan because I would have fallen off the back of the bike and died.

My mom was in the blackberry bushes, you know, picking blackberries, when a rattler started, you know, rattling. I get all clammy and heart-poundy just thinking how close my mother came to death. She claims to have jumped straight into the air and run on top of the bushes to get away.

I believe her.

I watched my dad shoot a snake, and then he told me he regretted it because he'd shot a small king snake, not a coral snake. Apparently, he shot before checking the "red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack." I couldn't understand why he was sorry at all.

But the worst Georgia snake story of all involved my little sister getting between a rattler and its hidey-hole. Lisa was maybe three or four, and was outside watching a telephone repairman climb up the telephone pole to, you know, repair something. The repairman and our dog Cindy both heard the snake and knew what it meant.

The repairman had to get himself safely down from the top of the pole before he could help Lisa. No matter. Cindy attacked the snake, distracting it from Lisa and buying the repairman the time he needed to get down and snatch Lisa to safety. I've loved all repairmen ever since.

Cindy survived unbitten, and my dad took care of the snake later that day.

Hearing this story did NOT help my phobic attitude toward snakes, which has followed me into adulthood and will be with me when I die, hopefully of old age in a library surrounded by books that are not about snakes. Snakes haunt my nightmares and make me really, really jumpy when we enter the herpetarium at the Columbus Zoo. You just never know when the stupid zoo people will have a snake out for people to pet.

WHY? Why do they do this?!?!?

When George flew in B-52s, there was a chance he could have been stationed on Guam, where the dreaded brown tree snake climbs into clothes dryers and waits to give heart attacks to unsuspecting officer's wives. I told George he'd have to make that assignment a remote because I wasn't going. Even six-inch garter snakes make me scream like a little girl and run for Hawai'i, where I now know there are no snakes that look like snakes.

But let's get back to my dog Cindy. Cindy was not afraid of snakes. Dogs in general are not afraid of snakes because they have very, very tiny frontal lobes and far too much courage. For dog owners in areas of the country plagued by venomous snakes, such as Utah, this is a problem. A big problem.

Blogger Heather Armstrong had a rattlesnake infiltrate her back yard a while back. Not only is she afraid of snakes (so sensible), but she has two dogs and a small child who are NOT afraid of them (not sensible). Sadly, there isn't much you can do to make a child healthily afraid of snakes, but there is help for the dogs, and she got it.

Danger Ahead

You have no idea what reading her post did to my blood chemistry. Fight or flight hormones are coursing through my body and my blood pressure must be off the charts. But I love how funny Heather makes things, and even if you don't read her whole post, know that when I read this paragraph, I totally fell in love with a very smart golden retriever mix:

"...this training totally works. In fact, watching each dog learn to associate the scent of the snake with the shock was better than some of the sh*t I've seen on Broadway. Totally fascinating. One golden retriever mix caught on so quickly that during the second and third exercises when he got within ten feet of the snake (at that point hidden from view) he turned, ran, and tried to claw his way inside of a locked car."

Good dog. Smart dog. Let me open that door for you, honey.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mahalo, Kaua'i

When most people go on vacation, they research their destination, buy guidebooks, talk to others who've been there for ideas and tips, google and post questions on Internet forums, call ahead for details and reservations, and plan their days to maximize the experience.

Most people are not Susan Raihala.

Though generally a compulsive organizer and planner, I prefer my vacations to be a bit more spontaneous. If a traveler makes detailed plans and builds up expectations ahead of time, there's simply too much opportunity for things to go wrong and disappoint. At least, that's how I look at it.

When George and I went to Poet's Cove in British Columbia six years ago, we chose a place that had more to offer than we could possibly do in one week. We bought plane tickets, arranged a water taxi to the island, and reserved our room at the resort.

We didn't plan any further than getting there and getting home. We simply trusted that everything inbetween would be fun.

It was.

Kaua'i, in many ways, has even more to offer than did Poet's Cove, so I felt certain that we'd have fun. My in-laws visited the island in February of 2011 and, while they probably planned more than I would, they had fun, too.

This year's trip was in honor of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They decided to take their children's families to Kaua'i this summer, so much of the planning fell on them. They reserved two condos, paid for our plane tickets, signed us all up for a cruise of the Na Pali coast, and drew from their guidebook and experience to plan the rest of our trip. George, the boys, and I just packed and showed up.

Photo Credit: Random Tourist from Texas
From Left: Roger, Me, Nick, George, Jack, Mike, Angela
Matt, Barb, Eli

Mahalo is a Hawaiian word meaning thanks, gratitude, admiration, praise, esteem, and respect.

Mahalo, Barb and Roger. You struck the perfect balance between activities and relaxation, and everything we did was amazing. Mahalo, mahalo, mahalo!

The whole week was so amazing, rich, and wonderful, in fact, that I feel like I went on at least six vacations. On Kaua'i, more than anywhere, I felt the distinct separation of my parts, so to speak, and each part has a little different perspective that I'll share with you in the coming weeks right here on Questioning.

Susan the Tourist bounced from one day to the next with a joie de vivre that found delight in every little thing, from birdsong as we lounged on our lanai to the service aboard the Blue Dolphin cruise...when she wasn't completely flattened by the six-hour time difference.

Susan the Shopper, whom I had thought decrepit and thoroughly lacking in enthusiasm, actually came alive on Kaua'i. This Susan resisted the $120.00 koa wood fountain pen but came away with just the perfect keepsakes for the journey.

Susan the Writer, of course, gathered new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences, squirreling them all away in her memory bank to make elegant literary withdrawals when needed in the future.

Susan the Family Member enjoyed being with loved ones, reconnecting, and laughing, even if one of Eli's childhood memories left me horrified beyond telling (well, almost beyond telling, because it's really too funny not to share).

Susan the Nature Lover SNORKELED WITH SEA TURTLES!!!!!!!!!! Sorry for the all-caps and egregious exclamation points, but IT WAS THAT EXCITING!!!!!!!!! And George took pictures.

Susan the Reader surprised me the most.

The combination of these six parts of myself will give a fuller picture of what this trip meant to me, but more importantly, it might inspire you to find ways to enrich your own travel experiences, whether you're driving twenty minutes to hike in a local state park or jetting half-way around the world to some exotic paradise.

Like this.

Sunrise on the beach outside the Outrigger Waipouli, our resort

Yep. Life is tough in paradise. Come along with me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Gratitude Journal #142--Edited

Today, I am grateful for the past week on Kauai. More on that in the coming weeks, including lots of pictures, but this one taken by my sister-in-law during our cruise of the Na Pali coast makes me happy, even with my silly hat.

photo courtesy of Angela

Today, I am grateful for my in-laws who made the past week in paradise possible. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this December, and the trip was in honor of that wonderful milestone!

Today, I am grateful for spending time with George's family in paradise.

Today, I am grateful for having had my friend Karen Hoyer in my life. She passed away early Saturday morning after a four-year struggle with cancer. She was an amazing friend during an amazing time of my life, and she will be missed.

Karen surrounded by her family

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hello Again

Hello! It's been a while since I posted, and if you don't read my other blog, you may be wondering what is up.

Or you may not be wondering because you haven't missed me at all. I understand.

Anyway, I've been in paradise. My in-laws took their children and grandchildren to Kauai to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. It was amazing, and I'll have lots of photos and stories to share in the coming weeks. So much happened, so much to think about and process from this week of my life. Some of it's weird, most of it's wonderful.

I'll also have a post about my favorite businesses we patronized...none of which have compensated me in any way, so don't worry. I'm not selling out to The Man. I just want to share some cool businesses, a few of which have websites that you NEED to check out.

We are currently dazed and confused and more than a little tired after an over-night flight from Lihue to Los Angeles that passed in a blur of crying babies, snoring men, and a bad case of jumpy leg. We're currently hanging out in the Delta Sky Club (courtesy of George's frequent flyer status), with free Wi-Fi that is much better than the supposed Wi-Fi at our resort on Kauai.

We're also sucking down coffee and awaiting our flight to Cincinnati and the drive home.

Tomorrow we'll pick up Miss Daisy, who has vacationed at Pet Camp. I cannot imagine the level of golden frenzy she'll reach when she sees us, though I suspect a little pee will be involved.

Too much information? I'm so sorry. I'm tired. Please forgive me.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Serendipity Again

Wow. I seem wholly incapable of writing an essay. No focus. None at all.


I suppose this makes sense. Times of transition always scatter us a bit, don't you think? Just as the move has settled down, the kids are out of school. Life happens. 2012 is almost half finished. It will be Christmas before I know it, as all the Hobby Lobby Christmas decorations, which go up in July, will tell me.

Here's some of what I'm noticing this week as life blurs by me.

+People post actual porn on Pinterest. (And now Questioning my Intelligence will receive lots of hits from people googling porn...and boy, won't they be disappointed!) I'd seen edgy stuff on Pinterest before, borderline porn that made me roll my eyes and know for certain that men were pinning. George and I don't let our children stare over our shoulders as we surf that site. It definitely gets an R rating. But yesterday, I reported a picture for the first time ever, and it was so obviously porn that I didn't feel the least bit prim doing so.

Considering how many tens of thousands (okay, okay, hundreds of thousands) of photos I've viewed on Pinterest, I have to congratulate their team for image management. One out of that many is a pretty fabulous record given the, uh, free-for-all that is the Internet.

+Isn't it just awful when someone does something mean to you in a dream and you wake up ready to plot revenge?

+I might not believe in karma, but karma believes in me. When I was a child, my grandfather took me shoe shopping...precisely one time. After that incredibly painful experience at Kmart, Papa told my mother he would pay for my shoes but never, ever, under any circumstances, take me shoe shopping again. Fast forward 35 years or so, and I find myself at Shoe Dept. with my firstborn son, who spends precisely ninety minutes choosing one pair of shoes. That's ninety minutes of my life I will never get back.

Papa, I'm sorry.

+While we were at Shoe Dept., Jack wandered a bit...easy to do in the aisles of a shoe store and not alarming because Jack was making so much noise I always knew where he was. At one point, he found me again and loudly said, "Mom, I'm just a kid. You need to keep better track of me!" A very attractive, well-dressed lady near us snorted like a dude. If she'd been drinking, she'd have shot Diet Coke through her nose.

+Why are flattening irons for hair so expensive? Seriously, you can pick up a curling iron for $9.99, but a flat iron costs $100? My hair looked good when I left the salon yesterday, but it won't look that good again for a long time.

+I'd rather spend my money on stamps than on my hair. Which is why so many people ask, "Are you going to color your hair?" And I say, "No."

+Still, I'm developing a complex about my gray hair. Darn that Tina Fey. She looks so good with color from a bottle. My friend Mary clearly thinks I'm insane for not coloring my hair, and I catch other friends--who just as clearly color their hair--staring at my head with looks of pity.

+Then, I remember a conversation with Nick's fourth-grade math teacher, who told me she admired my courage in going gray. See, I'm not old, I'm courageously making a statement about artificial hair color and embracing middle age with grace and style.

Yeah, that's what I'm doing.

+I just snorted coffee on my laptop screen.

+Let's see how many google searches we can mess up. Cougar. Lactating Mothers. XXX. Gas prices. Winnebago. Queen Elizabeth. Jubilee. Terrorism. Celebrity photos. Labradoodles. Cheese. Lasik. Money laundering. Barack Obama. Mitt. Inflatable dolls. Pixie Sticks.

+ADD can be fun!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gratitude Journal #141

Today, I am grateful for George's photography skills. He was digging around in his digital files and found some fab stuff last night. Here's a shot of Daisy that captures her personality much better than the dignified shot I shared last week. Doesn't she look like an insane golden bat?

Today, I am grateful for graduations. Our babysitter Connor graduated from high school this weekend, and Jack's favorite part of the party was posing by some guest's Camaro.

Jack says he will have a blue Camaro to go in his blue fortress when he grows up.

Today, I am grateful that Nick's baseball team finally won a game. I am also grateful for the spectacular catch Nick made out in left field...and the look of shock on his face when he realized he had made the catch!

Today, I am grateful for light...for the sun, the moon, electricity, the flashing light on my phone indicated a text or email, night lights, refrigerator lights, car lights, the light of my Nook tablet screen, the light of ten million fireflies lighting up our woods last night.

Today, I am grateful for friends who pray for me. I always feel weird praying for myself. Oh, I pray every day that God will make me a blessing to someone and that He will show me His way, but when I'm feeling weak or tired or grouchy or unhinged, I feel weird asking for God's help, even though I need it and He wouldn't mind at all. Pride, I think. I should be able to get control on my own. Working on that.

Today, I am grateful for cooler temperatures and birdsong.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Words, Words, Words in the Oxford English Dictionary

In last night's post on my other blog, I joked around about the spelling of the word grandeur, saying I was too tired to look it up in my Oxford English Dictionary. One of my readers from Ontario (hi, Ardyth!) found it amusing that I would look up a French word in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Ardyth's comment reminded me of this wonderful image I found on Pinterest last year:

English is a bastard of a language, isn't it? Or perhaps we should think of it like the Borg...assimilating all the interesting grammar and words it finds while roaming the galaxy.

Grandeur, along with a lot of other French words, does, in fact, appear in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED helpfully lists the first appearance of words in print (or manuscript) in an English-language work. Grandeur first appeared in print around 1500 in Melusine, an English translation of a German translation of a French fairy tale.

According to the OED, several attempts have been made to Anglicize the spelling, but because of its relatively late adoption into English (most French words were assimilated into English between 1066 and 1400), the French spelling remains.

A random and quick dig into the G section of the OED yields the expected high number of words with French, Old English, and Teutonic/Germanic origin...just what you'd expect from a language that started as an off-shoot of German and whose speakers were conquered by a Norman bastard who imposed his own language onto them in 1066.

By the way, the Norman conquest explains why our words for farm animals are from Old English (cow, pig, chicken) but our words for the meat are French (beef, pork, poultry). The Old English peasants worked with the animals, and their Norman French overlords ate the meat.

Fascinating, eh?

Without even looking hard, I found plenty of Latin and European words (Italian, Dutch, Irish, Celtic, Norse...though surprisingly no Spanish). Greek, of course, cropped up frequently. But I also found Australian, Tonga, Hindustani, and Persian words.

The result of all this theft/plunder/borrowing is a rich and complex language that tells a story all its own.

We word nerds truly have plenty to keep us busy for several life-times. What a gift never to be bored! Just get yourself a copy of the OED and start plundering.