New Year’s Resolutions and Sides of Ranch: Back to Work in Estes Park, CO

I have been back at work for two weeks. Already, I find the ugly demons of Stress and Impatience rearing their gnarled heads in my day to day life. A month ago, I made many phone calls to set up my schedule the best I could before I came back.  Thinking I could be in control from the get go….believing I left Stress and Impatience behind.

I arrived in Colorado, my home base, 16 days ago. Just like last season, I began work as a server at two restaurants, started teaching a weekly yoga class and put myself on the call list to guide hiking and snow shoe trips in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to all of this, I write copy (blog posts, how to articles and catalog copy) a few hours a week.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein

Just before I left for Hawaii, I attended a yoga class on New Year’s Day that was sacred for me. I used the movement of my body as a prayer to seal my intention of living my life more in balance in 2012. On January 1, 2012, I thanked Stress and Impatience for their service and asked them to leave. Last time I saw them, they were flailing and alone on my yoga mat.  Now they are sending me flowers and cards, asking me to take them back.

Stress and Impatience did serve me in 2011 just as I asked them to. I built the largest savings account I have ever had.  This was good.  Unfortunately, I also developed habits that were unhealthy for my body.  My compassion for myself and others dwindled to disgusting lows.

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity said: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

To some of you who are familiar with my life and the blog, the above quote may be confusing.

“Doesn’t Kaci just la-ti-da off to anywhere she pleases?” You might ask.

Why, yes, sometimes I do. And yes, I la-ti-da more than most, but what most people do does not serve as a model way for me to live my life.  I am interested in my personal journey-defining and practicing the way I believe is the best way for me. I am not here to do as most or get in line. I am here to live my highest life. How else can I celebrate this beautiful existence? How else can I give gratitude, but in living in joy?

I am not suggesting that I should quit working. I mostly enjoy the unique, vivid people I work with and for. At our best, we create a family-like bond, supporting one another through our strengths and weaknesses. We give each other room to learn lessons and look past blunders. Personally, work allows me to examine my own strengths and weaknesses.  While working, I can examine the the width of the chasm between my ego and my highest self.  I can see how they can work together and also how they tear each other apart.

During my trips in the past few years, I have learned to value having a purpose. What I am speaking to is Right Purpose or Right Work. Can I find Right Purpose by merely having an attitude adjustment in my current situation? Should I focus on creating a schedule that allows me to do more of the work I love?

I’m not sure of the answer, but I am sure that I can no longer work only as an act of worship to this God called Money. As soon as I am short with J or find myself wide awake at 4 a.m., a black snake of fear slithers up from my belly into my throat. I know where I have been. I know that last year I carelessly placed myself at the altar of Security and said, “Take me. I’m yours.”

Sometimes, I think I write this blog post mostly as a pep talk to myself. As if I need to remind myself that I have the right to control my life.  Sometimes, I think I write this post in hopes that others out there can relate to my struggle on some level and maybe offer up some wisdom or a simple “me too.”

But really, why should the notion that I control my own life with balance and peace rather than dollars and cents be so preposterous?

Artist-in-Residence at South Verde High: Camp Verde, AZ

“Ms.  Joan, I think I’ve decided on the figures for my mural,”  Marco says.

“Don’t tell me about your mural.  Show me,” Ms. Joan replies with a kind  but firm smile.

By the way she emphasizes “show” I deduce that she has used this phrase several times.  Joan Bourque is the artist-in-residence at South Verde High School for the 2011-2012 school year.  This year is her first at South Verde.

South Verde High School is a charter school located in Camp Verde, Arizona.  To simply write that the school is diverse would grossly undercut the uniqueness of the student population.  For the purpose of giving you perspective:

  • Students are primarily of Native American, White Non-Hispanic and Hispanic descent.
  • Many students are young parents and their children have the option to attend the Early Childhood Education Center offered by South Verde High.
  • Several students live on the Yavapai-Apache Reservation.
  • Some students live with foster parents and are or have been separated from their siblings.
  • Many students have taken extended absences from attending school.
  • 100% of the students are individuals with distinct thoughts and opinions.  Though not everyone has exerted themselves as a leader, not one of them is a follower.

Steve King, the principal of South Verde High, approached Joan last year about becoming the artist in residence at South Verde.  Joan’s work in other schools has been to create a mural with mandatory participation from all students.  She assumed the work at South Verde would be the same.

“When I brought up the idea to Steve, he told me, ‘That’s not how we do things here’,” Joan says.

Initially, they planned to paint a mural on the outside of the building.  However, the building owner did not grant permission for the project on the exterior.  Without missing a beat, Joan and Steve decided to allow the students to paint individual murals inside the school.  Today, students are hard at work creating murals in classrooms and offices.

“We started with three students who wanted to paint.  Once the other students saw the work being done, they volunteered to create a mural of their own.  We now have approximately 15 students working on murals,”  Joan says.

Before Joan arrived, there was no art program at the school.  In fact, when I asked around, some students told me they have had no previous art classes.  The quality of the murals is a testament both to Joan’s guidance and the students’ perseverance.  Joan works with each student, helping the individual to hone in on their vision and create it on paper.  Rather than projecting the mural onto the wall and allowing the students to fill it in, Joan teaches students how to create a grid and use the grid to expand the image onto the wall.  Using the grid incorporates math principles.

Of course, Joan only suggests the way students might create their murals.  How they actually draft the mural on paper and paint it onto the wall is up to them.  Some students have chosen not to use grids and to freehand their mural.

One student discovered that his mural “was not working.”  He had created a rough sketch and thought the mural would take better shape on the wall.  Joan was delighted to hear him admit that the mural was not working.

“This is the statement of a true artist.  I told him there are no mistakes,”  Joan says.

Joan gave him some assistance.  Currently, he is reworking the mural on paper.

The content and style of the murals are as diverse and unique as the students of South Verde.

“The word of the week when I came to the school was ‘provacative’,”  Joan says.  “I think that word embodies the work the students have done.”

This year, Joan is paid out of funds from the school district.  Steve applied for a grant from the Arizona Commission of the Arts to fund Joan’s stay as artist-in-residence for the 2012-2013 school year.

“My hope is the students creating murals this year can mentor next year’s incoming students,”  Joan told me.

The Best Camping on the Big Island: Spencer Beach Park

Spencer Beach is a family-friendly white sand beach located 40 minutes north of Kona and 15 minutes south of Hawi.  The weather is cooler than the scorching heat of Kona and less windy and cloudy than Hawi.

Camping at Spencer Beach is a breeze.  The campground has five deep sinks to wash dishes in, a shaded kiosk with electricity and plenty of hibachis (grills).  The true gem of camping at Spencer Beach is private, enclosed showers.  J and I have visited every state and county campground.  Spencer Beach is the only one with enclosed showers.

On weekends, local families pull picnic tables together on the beach and celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other holidays.  During the day, local folks sit in the kiosk talking story and playing the ukulele.

Next to Spencer Beach Park is the Puukohola Heaiu.  King Kamehameha I commissioned the structure and oversaw the construction.  This heaiu was the last major temple to be built on the island.  Many of the stones used in the Pu’ukohola heaiu are from the Pololu Valley 20 miles away.  Workers formed a great human chain from Pololu to Kawaihae and the stones were passed hand over hand.  You can learn more about the heaiu at the Pu’ukohola National Historic Site building that is open from 7:45-5 p.m. daily.  There is no charge for admission.

There is a gorgeous white sand beach just below the heaiu.  For centuries royalty fed the black tip reef sharks off of this beach.  The sharks are still here today.

J and I visit the beach frequently at sunset.  We have seen a handful of black tip reef sharks at each visit.  Lately, we have been seeing them during the day.  A few weeks ago, a local caught a five foot white tip reef shark shore fishing!  (He released the shark).  Black tip reef sharks are typically more active at night.  We have only seen them on the heaiu side of the cove, not at the swimming area at Spencer Beach.

Camping in Hawaii is cheap at $5-6 per person per night.  However, securing a camping permit in person is not.  There are offices located in various cities throughout the island where one can go and purchase a permit.  The crux is these offices are oftentimes NOT located in the town closest to the campground.  Also, the permit offices have odd hours.

The easiest and most efficient way to reserve camping is to visit the reservation website.  Many campgrounds do not check permits, but private security guards at Spencer Beach Park check the permits of each camper nightly.  The security guard also ensure quiet times are enforced.  Quiet times begin at 9 on weekdays and 10 weekends.

If the wind is very calm, snorkeling at Spencer Beach Park can be good.  If there is even a hint of a breeze, which there often is, the water is cloudy.  The beach at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in downtown Kona and Two Step in the Captain Cook area are the best spots on this side of the island.

Spencer Beach Park is a great place to visit if you are traveling with kiekis (children).  The shoreline is almost always calm and the sandy bottom is inviting.  If I were staying in a hotel, I would not see a need to visit Spencer Beach unless I was traveling with small children.  Instead, I would snorkel in Kona and Captain Cook.

Kawaihae itself is a fairly unremarkable village.  There are a few restaurants, souvenir shops, a boat harbor and a gas station.  Café Pesto is a popular restaurant in town.  The restaurant serves pizza and pasta and has been busy every night out of the dozen times J and I have gone by.

The harbor at Kawaihae is a local’s hangout.  The harbor is fairly unremarkable.  There is a small black sand beach.  Visit on weekend evenings you want to get dah stink eye or see a fight.

Kiawe Tree: Big Island, Hawaii

“Ow!” I cry and immediately drop from walking upright to a squat. “Kiawe (kee-AH-vay)!”

I move my weight to my left foot and shakily pull my right slippah (flip flop) off my foot.  A small puncture wound in the sole of my foot bubbles with blood.  Standing shakily on one foot I examine the black underside of my slippah.  With the help of my body weight, the kiawe thorn pierced through the ½ inch sole of my slippah and into my foot.

I make a silent vow to start wearing my Chocos, which have a harder, thicker sole than my slippahs.

The kiawe is native to northwestern South America.  The tree can survive and even thrive in conditions of high saltwater or sandy soil, little rain and rocky cliffs.  Kiawe needs as little as four inches of annual rainfall to survive.  The tree is highly competitive-killing its neighbors by sucking the soil dry of water and starving them of sunlight by producing thick shade.


The tree is not indigenous to the islands, but was introduced to the island of Oahu in 1828 by Father Alexis Bachelot.  Father Bachelot was the head of the first Catholic mission to Hawaii.  He planted his tree on the grounds of the mission in Honolulu.*

There are two stories behind why the tree was imported.  The friendly story is that the tree was introduced to stop soil erosion.  The unfriendly story is that missionaries were tired of the Hawaiians entering their grounds barefoot and planted the kiawe to encourage them to wear footwear.

Today, the kiawe has successfully taken over many areas of the islands.  The Kona or dry side of the Big Island is blanketed in kiawe.  The trees have taken over land where native grasses and trees once stood.  In the hot, arid climate of the Kona side, the trees provide much needed shade.  The kiawe belongs to the mesquite family and is an excellent wood for the bbq or beach bonfire.

Honey bees love kiawe for their consistent blooms and long flowering season.  The honey produced by bees that frequent kiawe has a mild, delicate flavor.  Hawaiian Kiawe honey is now a booming business for locals and produces one of the most sought after varieties of single-source honey in the world.*

*Information sourced from The Maui Plant Chronicles at

Swimming with Spinner Dolphins: Captain Cook, Hawaii

* I did not have my camera with me.  This picture is from

It is 6:30 in the morning at Kealakekua Bay, the site of Captain Cook’s arrival 1778 and subsequent murder on this day, February 14, in 1779.  I wander past the Hiki-au Heaiu, a place where human sacrifices were held and also the site of the first Christian ceremony on the island.  The stone walls rise four feet from the ground.  I stand on a picnic table to view the interior, which is filled in with stones also rising four feet high.  In the center, there is an altar of some sort.

I pass by the heaiu and make my way to a grassy area nearby.  I spread my yoga mat out and begin my practice.  Today is the second day I have arrived at the bay at sunrise in hopes of seeing the spinner dolphins rumored to rest here.  Last night, J and I actually slept in the parking lot.

Forty-five minutes into my practice, I see a red-haired woman run back to her car, open the trunk and start wiggling her body into her wetsuit.  The two men that are with her are close at her heels.

The dolphins must be here.  Why else would someone be in such a rush to snorkel?

I hurry to the edge of the bay, peering towards the long horizon.  I see three fins emerge and submerge, like hands waving from the sea.  I run back to the van.  I hastily slide into my wetsuit, grab my fins and mask and head towards the shore.  The beach is made up of round black stones the size of a loaf of bread.  Barefoot, I fast step across quickly and clumsily; my eyes focused on the horizon.

I have had a fascination with dolphins since I was a little girl.  When I was in high school I read every book on dolphins and whales in both the school library and public library.  It has been a dream of mine to swim with dolphins and I have never done it before.  In the past, I considered paying to swim with dolphins in an enclosed area.  In the end, I could never settle my feelings on the morality of enclosing such beautiful, free creatures.  Also, I am a notorious miser and the thought of paying a couple hundred bucks to spend 10 minutes with a trained, domesticated dolphin makes my body pucker in uncomfortable places.

So, the time is now, 7:45 on Valentine’s Day, 2012.  The place is Kealakekua Bay and my 33 year old self is realizing a dream my 8 year old Midwestern self dared to have.

The shoreline is a little rocky; the waves coming in are a little rough.  I put my fins on on the shore and dive in the churning water.  I kick like hell, the best way I have found to deal with surf and emerge ten feet later spewing salt water.

After coughing up the salt water I inadvertently swallowed, I focus on the matter at hand and swim as quickly as I can towards where I last saw the dolphins.  Now that I am in the water, it is tough to see their movement on the horizon.  Four people are already out and one other is behind me.  The dolphins are about 1000 feet from the shore.  I swim furiously and make it there in no time.  The water is clear, with visibility for 15 feet.  I kick and stroke and kick and stroke; face down in the water; using my snorkel to breath; all the while looking for them.

Eight feet below me and five feet ahead of me, I see them.  There are eight dolphins total, one calf.  I stop moving.  Everything in my world stops moving, except them.  I hear my breath come in and out of my snorkel.  My eyes unexpectedly fill with tears.

I am splayed in the water Superman style.  My hands spread wide.  My legs jump from my hip sockets in a crude “V”.  I breathe into and out of the very top of my lungs, afraid that if I move too quickly or breathe too audibly, they will disappear.

I float for over an hour, watching them surface and dive.  The calf swims just beneath his mother.  The mother’s tail taps him protectively on this back each time she pushes down to propel herself forward.  Mother and son move in tandem.  As a whole, the dolphins move sometimes as one unit, all eight in a pod together, and sometimes they break apart into a group of five and one of three.  The calf always stays beneath his mother and in the bigger pod of five.

I slowly swim to shore, savoring the moment.  I think about my 8 year old self and what it would look like to go back in time, grab her and say, “You’re gonna do it!  You’re going to swim with wild dolphins when you are 33!”

I am amused at the thought, but recognize that knowing the future would have made it less savory than living it.

Dollars and Sense, Bra: Hilo, Hawaii

Seems like a lot of folks believe Hawaii is a terribly expensive place to visit.  While I am here, I would like to demonstrate to all that care to read that Hawaii can be affordable for the conscious budget traveler.  Here are the current costs of some common items:

  • Gas:  $4.17 per Gallon
  • Poke Salad (2 kinds of fish and sticky rice, easily feeds 2) at Suisan Fish Market: $6
  • Celery:  $1.59 per pound
  • 2 lb. Bag of Carrots:  $3.99
  • Adams Natural Peanut Butter 1 lb. Jar:  $3.99
  • Sweet Pineapple (Local):  $0.89 per pound
  • Garlic:  $2.50 per pound
  • White Onion:  $0.99 per pound
  • 12 oz.  Tofu:  $1.79
  • Lemon:  $0.50
  • 2 lb. Bag of Organic Brown Rice:  $5.99
  • Bag of Tostitos:  $3.00
  • Jar of Tostitos Salsa:  $3.19

Seems to be about even with the mainland.