Hidden Maui – Here’s to the Ones Who Dream

Stopping to smell the flowers on my adventure in Maui.

Few people go to Maui to spend it freezing in a tent in the rain. I know this because in three days of hiking through Haleakala National Park, I did not see another soul on the backcountry trails. And I wouldn’t have traded my experience for three extra days on the beach. No way.

Day 1: Circle of Waterfalls

She smiled
Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again…

from Audition, La La Land

With a time change of four hours, we were up bright and early and left the hotel in the dark to avoid the alleged difficult road and traffic on the Hana Highway. Our goal–circle the east side of Maui, seeking out awesome pools and waterfalls.

Our route around the island on the first day started at 4:30 AM.

We had the highway to ourselves and were able to hike to our first hidden pool by the light of our headlamps. We drove off the highway for a detour to see the sunrise at Hanomanu Bay.

At about mile marker 17 we got out to hike down to the often missed Ching’s Pond. I got my wake up call with a cold dip at 7 AM.

A dozen awesome waterfalls later, we landed on the southeast side of Maui at the base of Haleakala National Park to hike the 4-mile Pipiwai Trail through an incredible bamboo forest up to Waimoku Falls.

The bamboo forest sang to us in the wind, like a impromptu percussion concert.

Waimoku Falls is just one of many waterfalls we admired on our first day.

Day one complete. Our warm up for what Haleakala had to dish out the next 2 days.

Day 2: Summit to Paliku

She told me
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”

from Audition, La La Land

In the morning, we drove to the 10,000 ft. summit of Haleakala to find the crater below invisible–completely socked in with clouds. We dropped off our gear at the visitor’s center then staged a car at the Halemalu’u Trailhead. My husband hitched a ride back to the summit via the handy hiker’s hitching spot.

Day two the yellow line. Day three the blue line.

We took the Sliding Sands Trail all the way to Paliku (yellow line above), a wilderness backcountry campsite.

Dropping into the crater on the Sliding Sands Trail.

We stopped for lunch at the Kapalaoa trail junction for a snack after descending 2490 feet and traveling 5.6 miles.

The Nene Goose, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, stopped by to say hello at the halfway point.

We continued for the next two miles through a hot and rough trail of lava rock. The last mile offered relief from the rock and descended down into the Kaupo gap.  We reached the Paliku campsite after a total of a 3360 ft elevation drop and 9.1 mile hike from our starting position. The total walk took us 5.5 hours.

We had a few hours to set up camp before the gap became completely socked in with clouds, wind, and rain. During that time, I took a stroll before sunset down part of the Kaupo trail to get a good view of the ocean and the 13,000 ft. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanos in the distance on The Big Island.

This is the part where I am freezing in Hawaii.

Day 3:  Paliku to Halemalu’u

She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
The sunset inside a frame
 
from Audition, La La Land

After epic winds and rain pelted our tent all night, a sudden calm woke me at 3:30 AM. We got out of the tent and were treated to a sky filled with so many stars there was hardly room for the inky blackness to spill between them. After 30 minutes of “wow” we slept until dawn and were met with rain again in the morning as we began our wet hike out via the Halemalu’u Trail.

We were treated with a new landscape on the way back, less sharp lava and more “grassland-like” terrain for the first 5K. Then our landscape turned into a walk on “Mars” for the next 5K until we reached the wilderness camp of Holua.

For three miles we felt like we were on another planet.

After lunch we had the grueling job of climbing out of the crater on a 3.7 mile switchback up 1000 ft. to Halemalu’u overlook where we staged the car. A total of 10.3 miles for Day 3.

A whole new climate and terrain treated us with views of the gap on the opposite side of the crater on our steep hike out.

Were we tired? Yes. Were we sore? Yes. Were we glad we did Hawaii differently? Yes.

And, yes, I’d do it again.

Communing with Goats

I hear the term “communing with nature” a lot. But I never really thought about what it meant until last week when I had a conversation with a mountain goat. My walks and bike rides in nature are more than exercise for me. They always have been. They’re spiritual. But I’m not sure I can say I commune with rocks,  mountains, and trees. I would call that more deep awe and appreciation of the world, as I commune with God.

Commune: share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone or something), especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.

But last week on the top of Peak 9 in Breckenridge, Colorado, I communed, with nature itself. As I neared the summit, a mountain goat was also ascending. He took his place at the summit and stood his ground.  Though at the top, I was not at the true summit. He stood where I needed to be to finish my goal. About 12 ft from me, we stared at each other along the ridge. He began moving toward me. I put my head down, acknowledging it was his mountain and stepped to the side of the ridge, offering him a path to walk by me. As if he knew my intention, he walked right by and stood at the other end of the ridge, waiting for me to take my turn at the top.

My new friend “Bucky” standing at the summit of Peak 9.

After a couple pictures and a look around, he looked at me again and made it clear it was time to switch places and time for me to leave.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’ve seen a lot of wildlife. Studied them. Watched them. But never talked to them. Never had a friendly conversation and a civil exchange of intentions.

My new friend waits on the other side of the ridge while I take my summit photos and claim my prize.

In those moments I remembered this wasn’t my first experience with goats and high places.  I was reminded of my trip to Greece many years ago, where my journey led me to the highest heights in Crete. While backpacking, I was left dehydrated and tired one night only to awaken to the what sounded like fairies singing. The fairies were actually the bells jingling around the necks of  goats, and unbeknownst to me, I was asleep in their pen. The water I drank from their well that morning saved me.

My goat herd alarm clock in Crete (1992) , leading me to water (left). Standing at the summit (right) now hydrated and able to find a way down.

There’s something incredible about being so close to the sky. So close to heaven–heaven on Earth. An Eden, where the lion lies down with the lamb. Or in this case, the human with the goat.

After my time at summits, I sadly must always descend. It is over all too quickly.  The reality of the fall hits me hard…back down the mountain I go. Still communing, but with a harsh reality facing gravity and its less than gentle push forward.

But I’m so grateful for my time at the top. Thanks for the peek at heaven, my fluffy friends!

48-Hour South Dakota Soul Safari

The sunrise greets the guardians of our campground, the American Bison.

It never ceases to amaze me what is possible to see and feel in less than 48 hours. Leaving Denver at 6:45 AM and returning the next evening at  6:00 PM, I managed to feel like I’d been far, far away on a soul safari. Wide open spaces and crepuscular moments will do that for you.

In an attempt to not let this summer slip away like last summer, I packed up the Cranberry Crush with her new tent and headed to South Dakota, a place I visited countless times as a child, but had never truly appreciated as an adult.

My experience blew me away. Not only did I see more than 100 pronghorn antelope (one with its two babies dancing merrily around it), I also saw wild turkeys, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and  mountain goats. And I was sung to sleep by the howls of coyotes and the yips of their pups trying to imitate mom and dad. I’ve seen all of these animals before, but not quite like this — and not together. The wide open prairies in a National Park are magical. No fences. No houses. Just animals (and lots of them) roaming about as they wish.

Probably the most moving of all was the peaceful coexistence of camper and bison. The bison seemed to guard the campground. They owned it. And we all kept our respectable distance when they wandered through. Twice on my early morning mountain bike ride, I had to stop and wait for a bison to move before I could continue or wait for a car to come by so I could ride next to it for protection. When 2,000 pounds of bison are between you and your destination, you find another way.

Another spectacular crepuscular moment–sunset at the Sage Creek campground.

I was the first to leave the campground (on my mountain bike) and after carefully dodging bison and a swirling tornado of swallows, I was greeted by wild turkeys at this overlook in the Badlands.

I was moved by the beauty of the land and its creatures. But as I  hiked the popular Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, I was surprised at my emotional reaction as I saw a group of people coming toward us on the trail. They had just come up the steep ladder section and were traversing the narrow trail with a drop off to one side.

Boy Scouts. I knew it immediately.

My husband and I didn’t even need to discuss it. We’d both been around Boy Scouts for so long we can spot a troop a mile away. The boys at the front of the group were skipping over the rocks with ease and getting their buddies to take funny pictures. But as I kept going I witnessed something even more wonderful. The leaders, all three, were at the back of the group helping out one boy who was clearly scared of heights. With gentle encouragement they gave him pointers and blocked his “look down.” I was surprised by my reaction. As soon as I passed the four of them, I couldn’t breath. My heart was in my throat and I felt tears start to well up. My desire to work with youth has always been about this very moment. When I see, in action, adults walking alongside youth during their trials, failures, and successes— it hits me hard and it fires my passion for doing what I do. I was so glad to witness a bit of human nature as beautiful as the spires of rock around us.

My husband looks back at the ladder we climbed to get to the Notch Trail overlook.

An overlook of millions of years of geologic history is always a good way to end the day.

And my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mt. Rushmore and to Rapid City, birthplace of my mom, and home to my great grandparents.  In a town full of summer tourists, I found my way out to sacred places that mattered most to me and brought them all home, tucked inside as precious memories.

Chapel of the Hills, an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway, is just a bike ride away down Rapid City, South Dakota’s main city pedestrian path. The meditation trail hidden behind the chapel offers a quiet respite.

The last of the original historic terraces, looking out to Mt. Rushmore. Most of the original visitor infrastructure, including the visitor’s center and platform designed by my great grandfather, have been torn out and replaced. You can still see it, though if you watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

My great grandparents lived in this little house in Rapid City well into their 90s. I can still picture my great grandma sitting in a metal chair on the front porch in her lightweight, summer flower-print dress reciting funny poems and rhymes to me.

Open Up Those Golden Gates

bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach with Battery Crosby (1900) on the rocks.

When I was a kid we took our share of road trips…and we sang as we drove. We sang John Denver songs and we sang Buddy Holly songs and we sang Disney songs…and of course we sang Al Jolson’s California Here I Come. However, we  weren’t going to California. We often changed the words, because we were going to South Dakota…a lot. So we sang:

South Dakota here we come

Right back where we started from

Open up those Black Hill gates

South Dakota here we come.

Sometimes we would sing the California version. And I always imagined what it would be like to actually drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and sing that song.

Today, that dream became a reality. (I also looked up the actual words to the song and I’ve never sung it correctly). But no matter. I sung it my way today. Four times, actually, thanks to Google Maps. I didn’t mean to cross the Golden Gate Bridge four times, but that’s what I get for following Siri instead of my own common sense. And it wasn’t the only bridge I drove over. I also went over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and the Bay Bridge. And though Google told me my dreamy  little “detour” would only take 2 hours and 26 minutes, it was sorely mistaken. Let me just say that rush hour in San Fransisco is not fun. But this is the kind of thing that tends to happen to me when I take spare moments to try to see something when I’m on business trips.  I take risks and am greeted with the unexpected. (See Journey to the Pinball Hall of Fame and Are You Thirsty Yet?, if you don’t believe me.)

sf-route

My route was NOT 2 hours and 26 minutes as indicated.

Was it worth it?  I must admit I was debating it as my stomach was growling somewhere along highway 580 crawling along at 5 miles per hour. But, after I made it to my hotel, finished all my work, and took a look at my pictures…the answer is yes.  It is always worth it.

Along my way I was gifted with these beautiful discoveries–the sounds of waves, the smell of pine, and bright green, Spring grass.

beach

Waves crashing on Baker Beach. Meditating hippies and crazy nude homeless people behind me (not pictured).

beach-night

Baker Beach from the Battery Crosby.

stairs-down2

Stairs I ran up and down from Immigrant Point Overlook.This is fondly known as the 1000 Step Trail (808 steps to be exact).

immigrant-view

View from Immigrant Point Overlook.

pinecone

Very large pine cone on a fallen tree. Smells so good.

sand-fran-architecture

Classic San Fran architecture on my way to the Bay Bridge.

grass

Spring! This is not what my yard looks like in Colorado.

stairs

Sandy stairs back to my car from Baker Beach. Still shaking sand out of my running shoes.

bay-bridge

Headed to Livermore over the Bay Bridge. Bye San Francisco!

hills

Wine country, cow country…either way…Livermore is B-E-A-utiful.

Journey of Trust to the Pinball Hall of Fame

hof

Now that is a seriously large gumball machine!

Nobody trusts anyone, or why did they put TILT on a pinball machine…

–Steve McQueen

I like a destination. And when I’m traveling for work, I like to get my exercise not in the fitness room, if at all possible, but by walking around my new environment and getting a feeling for where I am. Staying in a cheap government per diem hotel in Las Vegas, doesn’t always put you in the optimal location for fantastic hikes, but it does often put you smack in the middle of an adventure. Knowing this was my only opportunity in the next four days to walk outside (during the day before mugging hours), my quest was to get to the closest attraction on Google maps from my location.  That meant just shy of a 3.5 mile walk (one way) to the Pinball Hall of Fame. With dusk on the horizon, I knew I needed to make this walk snappy.  I walked on sidewalks along busy six lane streets bordered by chain linked fences topped with barbed wire curls. Planes dipped so close to my head I fought the urge to duck. I thought it quite convenient there was a mortuary and graveyard across the street.

pinball-map

My route to the Pinball Hall of Fame.

When I finally got off the main thoroughfare and around the airport, I turned in the direction of my target. I can’t say I felt particularly better here, but at least the airplanes weren’t after me. As I walked past Siegfried and Roy Park, which consisted of gravel and a giant silver mushroom-like statue, I passed row after row of apartments. Tucked beneath several of the gates were homeless people. And between them, rows of stores that included at least one or more of the following: liquor stores, tattoo parlors, and smoke shops.

luckys

How lucky! Open 24 hours!

I said “hi” to those I passed, looking less out of place than you would think. The temperature was a cool 45 degrees so I was sporting my black stocking cap, black running gloves, sunglasses, and a black leather jacket (the only coat I had brought). I looked like a hood in the hood. That probably was a good thing. After an hour of walking, I made it! The Pinball Hall of Fame.

I was not too impressed by the sign. Where were the neon and flashing lights? Where were the free food and fountains? I clearly had not walked far enough.

pinball-hof

Not the most impressive building I’ve ever seen, but I’d made it this far!

I went in and was shocked by the number of people inside (despite the missing cars in the lot). For $0.75 a game, you could play pinball on machines from the 1960s to modern day. I walked among the pinging and ringing, snapped a few photos and then quickly left.

elvira

Elvira! Now that is a pretty high score!

Now I had a dilemma. It was getting dark. And though I looked like I could rob a bank, I didn’t feel like it. Luckily, I had a twenty dollar bill and had scanned the bus routes earlier that day. I stopped at a nearby 7-11 to get change and purchase water. Two men wearing construction uniforms sat at the video slots and finished off their day with a bit of hope. I stood in line behind five people (all unrelated), each with multiple 24 oz. Bud Ice beers in their hands.  Apparently they knew something I didn’t. My Aquafina was clearly not the best bargain in town.

budice711

At this point I started jogging toward Eastern Avenue. As I reached the corner of Tropicana and Eastern, I saw the bus parked at a stop about 100 meters in front of me. I started sprinting. There was a man waiting to board and by the time I reached the bus the same man was still standing patiently waiting his turn. The fellow in front of him was feeding the bus fare machine slowly with pennies and nickels (possibly not realizing it was not a slot machine), but I was grateful. I caught my breath as the gentleman ahead of me and  I assisted by picking up rogue pennies as they rolled off the machine and onto the bus floor.

I hopped on the double decker bus and watched as a colorful cast of characters got on and off  (fully aware I was one of them). I was even asked where my motorcycle was! That’s how “bad to the bone” I looked!

As I stepped off the bus (forgetting my bottle of purchased water on public transit for the second time that day), I was happy I trusted Vegas enough to go for a walk, and happy Vegas trusted a hood like me.

I’ll Have a Neck Pillow with a Side of Scientology, Please?

menu

Hmmmm….what to order?

These two menu cards were on my dresser in my hotel room this week. How nice. Menus. I love menus! They mean I get to choose. But these were like no menus I’d ever seen.

First of all, let’s look at the Pillow Menu.  I was all over that one. Finally, a hotel that understands my need to gather most of the pillows in the room and build a fake “husband” on the other side of my bed so I subconsciously feel a familiar presence and sleep well. With the menu, I could just get one pillow that would do the job. A body pillow! Order it up!

But what to go with it? Let’s see. What goes well with a body pillow? A Bhagavad Gita or a Tao Te Ching or …….wait… hold the phone! This Spiritual Menu was flawed. I’m sorry, but the whole idea of a Spiritual Menu was already a strange concept to me, but after I read it, I was utterly confused. (The curse of the editor strikes again.)

The menu says: Time to Reflect? Let us bring up a copy of your book of faith. So, I started to reflect. If you are going to go to the trouble of making such a menu, shouldn’t you provide choices based statistically on people’s religious preferences? If that was the aim, then there were definitely some missing and lopsided choices on this menu. I decided to analyze how well they did.

Here’s what the world looks like based on size of major religious groups.

pie-chart

Size of Major Religious Groups, Pew Research Center, 2010

So, how did the Spiritual Menu stack up to world stats?

  • 31% of the people had two menu choices: King James Bible or New American Bible. I prefer the New International Version myself, which was not available, but two choices isn’t bad.  Check.
  • 23% of the people had their book of choice, the Koran. Check.
  • 16% of the people didn’t have anything on the menu because they don’t really have a “holy book.” This piece of the pie includes atheists, agnostics, or people that don’t identify with any particular religion. Maybe, just maybe, that is who this menu was actually meant for…not sure of the hotel management’s motives. Sort of Check.
  • 15% of the people were offered the Bhagavad Gita. The Hindus actually have several holy texts including the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Smrutis, Ramayana, Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) and the Puranas. Would they be satisfied with just the Gita? Probably not. Very Partial Check.
  • 7% would be quite disappointed with the menu item called the Eight Noble Truths (Buddhism). Though a tenant of the religion, a book on the truths isn’t really their”holy book.” It certainly isn’t the forty volumes of Buddha’s teachings, known as the Sutras. I believe the Buddhists would be a bit offended. After all, if you have to tell a Buddhist in parenthesis that the Eight Noble Truths belong to them, then we’ve got a problem already. Not Check.
  • 6% of the people are out of luck. I imagine this would be a pretty hard library to obtain. This piece of the pie, folk religions, includes faiths that are usually associated with a particular group of people, ethnicity, or tribe. So you’d have to hunt down copies of everything from the Mayan Popol Vuh to the African Hwlɛngãn. Not Check.
  • 1% of people in “other religions” had three choices on this menu: What is Scientology, which I’m pretty sure is a pamphlet, not a holy book; Tao Ti Ching , a book for Taoists; and the Book of Mormon. But this 1% also includes Baha’i faith,  Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism, and many others. A Very, Very Partial Check.
  • 0.2% (which is usually a percentage that surprises a lot of people) got theirTorah. I like to play a game with this pie chart and make people guess which religions go with which pie slice. I have yet to find someone who gets this slice even close to right. People usually pick Judaism as one of the larger slices. But regardless of the tiny percentage, they have a book on the menu. Check.

I still don’t know what to think of this menu. I’m not sure if the Gideons would be flattered or horrified. As for me, I couldn’t decide which I wanted to order because at this point I kind of wanted to read them all. But I didn’t have that kind of time for contemplation. My brain already hurt and all I had done so far was reflect on the menu.

Walk With a Purpose

sign

I like this quote even more now that I understand how to interpret it.

When I was 21, I went to New York City for a Technical Communication conference. As I walked through Central Park at dusk toward my hotel, I became acutely aware of some rather shady characters following me. I realized at that moment my desire to see everything I possibly could in this new fantastic city might have well been tempered with a bit more caution. The words “walk with a purpose” echoed in my brain. I held my head high, eyes forward, and picked up my pace with the strength of a soldier marching into battle. I caught up to a group of strangers heading the same direction and stayed close behind until I reached 72nd Avenue and familiar ground.

That day I learned something. I am not invincible, but I do have power…and drive. And I never wanted to be afraid to try. I was a pretty fearless kid, and now as an adult, I didn’t want that to change. That’s not to say I wouldn’t or shouldn’t apply a bit of caution at times…but not too much. If I wanted to see life….then I needed to go see it. If I wanted to learn something…then I needed to learn it. If I wanted to go somewhere or do something…even if there was some inherent risk…then I needed to do it. Sometimes this philosophy has cost me a heavy price. But what has kept me running full speed down this path is my consistent motivation to move in a positive direction …toward helping and loving others and the world…all the time. It makes the price of the effort always, always worth it.  But just walking with purpose has never been enough for me…I’ve felt compelled to walk it as fast as I possibly can. Hence, the pictured quote above.

Our life on this Earth is pretty short. As I reach my midline in years, this becomes more and more apparent. If I’m honest with myself, this “risk-taking, go full throttle” philosophy of life has made me pretty tired. On the plus side, I can’t look back and say I haven’t walked, often run, without purpose…and for that I’m grateful. But, now, what to do about the bags under my eyes?

Lately, I’ve started to slow down (I’ve named it failure) and it’s been forcing me to rethink my philosophy. Do I really need to push myself this hard? Is that what “walking with a purpose” really means? I keep coming to the same conclusion. Yes. Until there is no more purpose – until I come to a different understanding of the meaning of life—then I’m in for another tiring 50+ years or however long I last at this pace!

That is, until today.

Today, some 27 years since my New York City adventure, I found myself on another business trip–in the opposite direction—Tacoma, Washington. On the airplane, I sat by an older couple (who held hands during the flight) and needed wheelchair assistance at the gate. The wife told me they lived in Portland and needed to make a connecting flight. But, alas, our flight was 30 minutes late and when we landed it didn’t seem promising they would make it. I thought to myself, “I’ll jump up and tell everyone to sit down and to let them out first so they can make their flight. Then, I’ll alert the flight attendants about the wheelchairs.” As the seat belt signal pinged off and the plane parked, everyone stood up and started disemboweling the plane. The flight attendant announced, “Those waiting for wheelchairs can just sit tight. The chairs haven’t arrived at the gate yet.” I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure if you’ll make your flight.” She shrugged and said, “That’s ok. You can only move as fast as you can move.”

Whoa.

You can only move as fast as you can move.

I’m not 21 anymore. I’m not a lot of things I was anymore. I can only move as fast as I can move. Sometimes that’s pretty fast. But some days….it just isn’t.

So, my picture quote above isn’t exactly wrong. It still means something to me. I’m still going to push myself and walk with a purpose. What’s different now is the “ability” I’m measuring needs to be based on my ability today and today only. Tomorrow I’ll have a new ability level to judge myself by and it might be better than today…or not.

Sometimes walking with a purpose looks like sitting and waiting.

Thank you my profound Portlander!

What I’ve Learned about America from Norwegians

food

Just a few of the American delicacies purchased by our Norwegian friends.

Grape Crush. Nacho-flavored Slim Jims. Pop-Tarts. Froot Loops. Kool-Aid.

These were the first purchases made by my son’s 20- and 22-year-old friends visiting from Norway this month. They also wanted to try peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, s’mores, and Mexican food, as well as go to Walmart, Chili’s, the Nike outlet, and KFC. These were top on their to-do list…even before skiing, hiking, or any other form of recreation or sightseeing.

What does this say about America?

I could be snarcastic (new favorite word) and say it means we have a reputation for gluttony, sugar, and junk food. But I think that if I did, I just might be missing a different perspective. Sure, there are plenty of issues we need to solve in the United States, but what I’ve learned from both my son’s life in Norway last year and his friends visiting here is that the United States is pretty incredible. Here are some of my observations:

  1. Choices. The reason my son’s Norwegian friends are so enamored with the junk food is because they hear about the foods from American movies and on YouTube. They see the incredible bounty of things they can’t get anywhere else. We do have a lot of choices, but there is a good reason for that. We compete to make things people like and we get really, really good at it. Where else can you buy 387 types of cereal?
  2. Economy. The exchange rate was 6 Krone to the dollar when my son was in Norway last year. Today it is 9 Krone to the dollar. That’s a huge change in a year. Why? Because Norway is a country reliant on oil production, which took a hit this year. They are a country the size of Colorado with an oil resource comparable to Saudi Arabia. This means that Norwegians can subsidize all kinds of things with “oil money”…school, healthcare, etc. But when the oil industry takes a hit, the whole country starts to hurt. All of the things Norwegians have come to rely on, such as “free” healthcare or humongous electric vehicle incentives, suddenly become harder to support. To think that places like Norway are good economic models for the United States might be a mistake. We need to make sure we understand where the money is coming from before deciding if systems  and seemingly awesome policies are right for us. It has worked for Norway because they have a few people with a ton of one primary resource (2 million barrels produced a day for 5 million people in Norway versus 9.3 million barrels a day for 323 million people in the United States). For us to work like Norway, we would have to produce oil at a rate of more than 140 million barrels a day. That is not really realistic. We couldn’t use or sell that much, nor would we want to. What I’ve learned is that we can’t compare ourselves or our policies  to other countries very easily. It is pretty complex.
  3. Kindness. Americans are incredibly generous and kind. When my son’s friend walked into Chipotle this week and told the people behind the counter that he was visiting America for the first time, they joyfully gave him a free burrito and welcomed him to the U.S.A.  Our Norwegian guests have told me that they can’t believe how nice everyone is in America…how people say “hello” …how people want to talk to them…. and how willing people are to offer a helping hand.

So, my American friends, crack open a bottle of Grape Crush. Raise your glasses high. You are amazing people. Cheers to you! America is pretty great.

 

Red Shoes

My son's red racing flats.

My son’s red racing flats

When I went shopping with my son  for his first pair of racing flats for cross country, he looked over the choices and zeroed in on a bright red pair. Like a good mom, I made him try them on and smashed my finger by the toes to see if there was room to grow. I asked him if they were comfortable.  His answer didn’t convince me that they were a good fit.  But, there was no changing his mind.  He was sure this was the pair.  When asked what he liked about them he said, “These shoes say: I’m here and I can do something!” I couldn’t argue with that. Four years of cross country later, he proved that statement true.  When he put on those shoes, he could do something.

A couple years later that experience was repeated in a most unexpected place. I was in Guatemala traveling with a friend and helping support her work with Starfish — whose mission is to unlock and maximize the potential of young women in Guatemala. One afternoon after we finished our teaching duties, my friend and I headed to the outdoor market. I had brought just a little bit of extra cash to Guatemala, figuring I would bring something back for my sons. As we walked through the square we were greeted by two boys, about 8 or 9 years old. They asked if we wanted to see the statue of Maximon (pronounced Mashimon), a local mixture of a Catholic saint and a Mayan deity.  We inferred they wanted payment for the favor. After speaking to them in Spanish and asking for their names and ages, we inquired what they wanted to do with the money. The boys said they needed shoes. Looking down at their feet, the fact was verified.  We walked with the boys to the market and asked them to show us where to find shoes. In the market there was a table with rows of shoes lined up under an open air canopy. No marked sizes—just rows of shoes. I started perusing the shoes for comfort and utility, but the kids zeroed in on one style in particular–they were bright red. We searched around to find the shoes in their sizes and like typical moms with sons, we made them stand while we pressed our thumbs on the toes to see if they had room to grow. I pulled my little bit of souvenir money out of my pocket and helped pay for the shoes. We laced them up, shook the boys’ hands, and said farewell.  I’m pretty sure it was the best “souvenir” I’ve ever bought.

It has been a couple of years now, and I’m sure those shoes have been well used and outgrown. But my prayer is that the boys found a way to move forward, to continue to help their families, and have found some relief from poverty. I hope that it was more than just a few fleeting moments that they ran through the streets — their feet silently screaming to the people of Panajachel, “Look at me! I’m here and I can do something!”

red-shoes-kids

Red shoes. The best souvenir I ever bought.