Monday, August 21, 2017

Hawaiian vacation, 2017

So last month we went to Hawaii. We flew from Michigan to Honolulu. We stayed in a hotel on Waikiki Beach and on our third day there we saw this. 

It's a double rainbow! Look closely for the second, fainter rainbow to the right. 

We walked under rainbow shower trees and by flowering plumeria, among the luxury stores and high-end glitz of Waikiki. We kept going back to the Japanese food court across the street from our hotel. There, we stuffed ourselves on Japanese curry (tonkatsu with curry is the best), musubis, and ramen the likes of which we have never ever had here in the Midwest.

Rainbow shower tree in Waikiki

Japanese food so good, we just kept going back

We used Lyft for the first time and discovered that Lyft drivers are often very colorful characters. Husband and I were particularly taken with the man who was sooo excited to tell us all about his start-up business developing customized cannabis-derived cocktails to treat. . . everything, really.

Since we had no car, we hired a van driver for a day to take us to sights outside Honolulu. This chatty, middle-aged local had the best stories of any of them, and deserves an entire blog post dedicated to him and his family.

We met up with old friends, locals who took us to the Side Street Inn, where we were introduced to poke made from opihi, an expensive, locally harvested shellfish. Opihi taste like the sea, only more so. Each year, our friend told us, people are washed away and killed while harvesting these little shellfish from the rocks.*

We had dim sum in Chinatown, our 10-year old had her first surf lesson and briefly stood on a board, and both kids had a ukulele lesson at the hotel.

And after five days on the island of Oahu, we left the bustle and glamour of Honolulu for the far quieter island of Kauai. We saw otherworldly landscapes like this:

Waimea Canyon (the "Grand Canyon" in Kauai)

Deeply carved cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, seen from helicopter

Kilauea Lighthouse in Kauai

Taro fields on northeastern coast

Unlike in Oahu, we rented a car for more rural Kauai. We drove around the island, through a tunnel of eucalyptus trees, into hills that seemed perpetually covered in mist. We saw Waimea Canyon, which looked unreal with its alternating colors of red and green—exposed red rock and stripes of vegetation. We drove along the deep blue ocean, along seascapes that also looked unreal in their beauty. The hit Puerto Rican song, Despacito, blasted from the radio. We waded after colorful fish at Poipu Beach. We took a helicopter tour.

So much to see and do. But certainly, one of the highlights of the entire trip was that the children got to spend time with their grandmother, Husband’s mother, who came along with us to Hawaii and whom we rarely see.

We’ve been back in Michigan for nearly a month, and I’ve been struggling to write this post. I’ve been struggling to write in general. Yesterday we visited Ludington State Park, one of the treasures of our home state. We kayaked around a lake (my first time!), and then drove to the Big Lake: Lake Michigan, our inland, freshwater sea. I was reminded of the great natural beauty close to home. In the waning days of summer, I’ve been reminded of the beauty all around.

I’ve been trying to focus on that, but it’s hard. Even in Hawaii, in “paradise”, Husband and I felt ourselves unable to tear ourselves away from the political news. Ever since we’ve come back, it just seems to get worse.

I am trying to balance awareness and anger. I’m trying not to be overwhelmed with cynicism. I know that I am so, so privileged.

There are beautiful hills, and ocean, and kind people. There’s the scent of plumeria, and the taste of sugar pineapples and lychees. There is so much in the world. I hope my husband and I can take our kids back to Hawaii someday. There’s more we’d like to show them there. There’s so much to show them right here at home.

I am writing to remember all of this.  


*More about opihi: Our voluble van driver had a story about people showing disrespect for this food: at a fancy party he attended, a person new to the islands grabbed a big scoop of the expensive delicacy, tried a bite, went “Eww!” and to other guests' shock and horror dumped his plate of opihi into the trash. “We were ready to kill him!” the van driver said. “We were ready to wring his neck!” (Hawaiians are clearly passionate about food.) 

**Full list of food recs. (Because my family is food-obsessed and I want this list for future reference)


Every place we tried at YokoCho Gourmet Alley (collection of small Japanese restaurants. Tonkatsu and curry from the curry house was one of my favorites)

Opihi, fried pork chops, and kimchi fried rice at Side Street Inn

Shrimp (what else?) at Fumi’s Shrimp Truck, north shore of Oahu

Dim sum at Legend’s Seafood Restaurant, Chinatown, Honolulu. The dumplings are among the best I've had.

Malasadas at Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop

Tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin


Shaved ice at Wailua Shave Ice 

Poke at Eating House 1849 

Lilikoi pie at Hamura Saimen 

Spam musubis and other masubis at local 7-Eleven. (Also delighted to see char siu bao and Chinese dumplings by the cash register, although we did not try them)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Summer short fiction reccs!

It's hard to believe that summer is nearly over. I've been traveling and working, talking walks and binge-watching anime with my kids. I haven't read as much as I would like, but then there is not nearly enough time in the world for that. 

Here is a list of some stories I’ve read. If you can, I recommend that you read them, too.

Liminal Stories

Each issue of this new magazine has impressed and moved me. Here are my favorites from Issue 3.

Lares Familares, 1981 by Rebecca Campbell 

“Lares Familares,” according to Wikipedia, were household guardian spirits of the ancient Romans. In Campbell’s story, a similar spirit may be watching over (or not?) a troubled Canadian logging family. This is a deeply atmospheric, unsettling work, beautifully evoking history and place. Campbell excels at capturing the unspoken tensions that can run through a family, the unspoken hurts and demands. The birthday dinner party described in this tale is certainly one of the most uncomfortable I’ve read. A quietly eerie piece that subtly gets under your skin.  

The Barrette Girls by Sara Saab

Such a dark, dark, surreal tale. I love the narrative voice of this, the cold and compelling anger. The narrator has a job shepherding a group of little girls through the city to a secret location. . . a job with a purpose which is only gradually revealed. On Twitter, the author described this story as one about “f*ed up people & f*ed-up personhood,” and it’s an apt description. The narrator is wounded and supremely unlikeable, and I couldn’t put this story down.

Obtrusion Rate by Jonathan Laidlow

Another tense, surreal tale from Liminal Stories (hmm, there seems to be a pattern here?) Laidlow unspools a tale of a uniquely awful workplace. Mundane office irritations (e.g. meetings and a ceiling leak which has not been fixed) are juxtaposed with hints of something much more sinister. The mystery of this particular company’s purpose is slowly unwound, and it becomes a portrait of a team, and a man, trying to cope with terrible trauma as they attempt to do their job.  

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Beneath Ceaseless Skies consistently offers beautifully written secondary-world fantasy. Here are two that I managed to catch this summer.

Carnival Nine by Caroline Yoachim 

One of the loveliest and most poignantly understated fables I’ve ever seen. Yoachim presents a world of clockwork characters who must be wound up each day to function. But some characters get more winds (which translates to more energy, more time) than others. In the real world we, too, have limited time and energy, and neither are fairly distributed. Yoachim’s tale becomes a bittersweet allegory about this, and also about a mother’s love and the limits of that love—and by extension, the limits that we all have.

I have followed Lemberg’s Birdverse series of stories for several years now. I think this is the best one yet. A rich, strange novella of falling stars, millennia-old star-guardians, shapeshifters, lions, and flying carpets. And the desert, of course—the beautifully evoked desert of this story. An ancient and powerful sovereign of the desert meets a much younger, yet also powerful, worker of magic. The two people are immediately drawn to one another. What follows is a stunningly intimate tale of connection. This is a story of power, consent, and intimacy. It’s a story of trauma and longing, passion and lust. It’s a daring tale that takes real chances. And it’s set in the magical Birdverse universe: it deepens and expands the world that we’ve seen before. The mythic entwines with the personal and intimate. Absolutely gorgeous.

More stories from around the Internet

 Bear Language by Martin Cahill at Fireside

Such a stunning, completely absorbing story. A bear has broken into a house and trapped two children and their father on the upper floor. But who is the real threat to the children? This story is so perfectly done. It’s full of hurt and truth and love that exists but which cannot save.

The Stars That Fall by Samantha Murray at  Flash Fiction Online

A perfectly written flash piece about the doom that hangs over us all.  

Jonathan’s Heaven Has Many Cats by Rachel K. Jones at Lackington’s

This story addresses a familiar question: What kind of God would create a world with suffering in it? and addresses it in a most unusual way. It’s weird, wild, wonderful, zany, and ultimately poignant. And yes, there are cats.

Firstborn by Maria Haskins at Capricious (Issue 7)

“A mother’s love is supposed to be clean and whole. Not tattered and rent like mine. It should be pastels and flannel, hearts and cherubs. Never once was it like that for me. Always the knotted noose. Always the precipice and the abyss.”

Capricious is a new magazine to me, although writer Maria Haskins is not. I haven’t finished reading all the stories in this issue, but I did eagerly turn to Haskins’ story first. And oh, this one hit me hard. This fiercely written tale catches all the conflicted feelings of early motherhood—the fears, the ambivalence, the seeming loss of self in the face of a new life’s overwhelming need. And the love, too.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara at Uncanny Magazine 

This is a vampire story like you’ve never seen. The first lines grab you and never let go. The narrator is unwillingly bit and turned to vampirism one drunken night outside a bar. But on top of the usual complications of vampirism is another: the narrator is a trans man, and he (and the vampire who turned him) have no idea of what vampirism will actually do to his body. This tale looks at issues of bodily autonomy (and the violation of it), of choice (and the lack and denial of it). The narrative voice is intimate, compelling, and angry as hell.

Harvest by Steven Case in Bracken Magazine

A British pumpkin soldier tells tales of the war. It’s a seemingly whimsical premise, a story weird and wonderful. But by the end, this account of gourd soldiers has become poignant and haunting.

These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng at Strange Horizons

And ohhh, this beautifully, beautifully written piece. Empire, oppression, and resistance. Children who are taken from their families and forced to serve as ship navigators among the stars, told that all “these constellations will be yours.” A space ship who bonds with a ballerina. This is a short story that manages to feel both epic and personal; it’s sweeping, gorgeously detailed, and ultimately uplifting. The world-building and emotion are both remarkable—Cuyegkeng has imagination to burn.

Delia’s Door by Julia August at Three-Lobed Burning Eye

This is an older story (published in October 2016), but I only happened to stumble upon it this summer. It’s a lovely tale: glowing, gorgeous, and touched with real longing. A story where choirs can call up doors to other worlds, and a Vivaldi fugue conjures up a door to a summer country. . . 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Michigan summer, slipping away

August has only begun, yet I feel the summer ending. The evening sky darkens too soon. I’ve heard geese honking overhead at night, and tonight Youngest One and I saw two flocks of them passing overhead—like harbingers of the first migrating waves, pressed dark against the blue twilight.