I love Christmas. It’s the season of giving, of family, and of friends sitting around a fireplace sipping on peppermint hot coco. As the song goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
One of my favorite memories of Christmases past, present, and future, is going up to the mountains to cut down our own Christmas tree. My family and I would pile into my dad’s truck and head to one of the pastures that we lease. We would stomp our feet in the muddy grass, following the cow trails until we got to the Christmas trees that grow wild to this day. We never cut down a full tree though…
Instead, we’d cut down the low, hanging branches and arrange them in a vase on the table with homemade garland and ornaments. We knew it wasn’t a tree, and we knew it was nothing much to look at, but our clutter of branches was a family tradition for many years.
My grandparents from Oahu came with us a few times, and we sent them home one year with a baby tree to plant in their yard. To this day, it survives.
Sometimes my Aunty Teese would come along and she would bring her dog Bosley with her. We would play all day in the tall grass, chasing each other around until we fell over from laughing so much. Needless to say, Bosley was my best friend in the whole world!
One of my favorite moments was when my dad would sling a rope through a branch and make me a swing. Sometimes he would tie big knots into the rope and our swing became a rope climb, too.
Over the years, our traditions have shifted a bit… We usually put up a fake tree and put it in the corner of our tiny living room instead. The tree is less than three feet across, but it’s enough for us. It used to be my job to decorate, and my mom and I would enjoy visiting the craft section of every store searching for ornaments to match our yearly themes. Last year, my brother made my mom a Christmas tree out of old horseshoes. It’s rustic, and fits right in.
At Saint Martin’s, I have my own felt Christmas tree that I tape to my wall. It sits above my own cozy felt fireplace complete with presents and everything. Before we all went home for the holidays, my friends and I decorated together as a special Christmas treat.
Last year, we decided that we wouldn’t have a tree for Christmas, and instead, we took pictures of trees. The person who had the most trees would win a prize, or so my mother said. The winner? Why, my dad of course, who won by a landslide when he captured more than twenty trees in one shot. We’re still shaking our heads.
And recently, we made our way back to the mountains to cut down a real tree. Except… Now, we put it up outside instead…
The school year is one of those things that just sneaks up on you no matter what. One way or another, there it is, and you’re left wondering what happened to that sweet, sweet summer. Indeed, it is now a distant dream.
I could tell you all the things I did this summer, including working… and working… and working… But I won’t. You see, per my job, I sign a contract saying that I will not post anything on social media about the children that I care for during summer.
Truth be told, I love my job. I go to work singing along to the radio with a big smile on my face thinking, “Yay! Another day with my wonderful kiddos!” I love the unpredictability of my job, the endless questions, and the look children give you that tells you you’re in trouble. But…I can’t write about them.
So, because I cannot write about my weekday job, I have decided to write about my weekend job instead.
I grew up listening to country music, and in fact, you can bet your sweet tea that I’m listening to some country tunes right now. I love horses, and wearing boots, and I think cowboy hats are a waste of time. I love long drives in beat-up trucks, and whenever I see a mud puddle, I want to jump into it. What can I say? I’m a country girl, and I have no shame in it.
Every weekend, I become that country girl. Believe it or not, I am a fifth-generation rancher. Well, not a rancher. My dad is the rancher, I’m just his buddy. I wouldn’t even say that I’m a ranch hand. I’m more like a tag along… I keep everyone entertained, I carry things from here to there including fence posts and jugs of water, I trip and fall a whole lot, and I most certainly do not whistle while I work. I may not be the best ranch hand in the world, but I still look forward to helping my parents with the cows.
When Saturday rolls around, I put on my jeans and boots, and we go cruising to pastures that we lease from up in Kula, down to Waikapu, and all the way to Hana. We fix broken fences, we move cows from this paddock to the next, we cut trails through bushes and groves of cacti, or sometimes we just hang out for a while and go for a walk with our peaceful cows.
Our cows are just about as friendly as Nana, the Saint Bernard from Peter Pan. They are gentle giants that follow you everywhere sniffing your clothes for hidden treats. They love head scratches, and most of them will even lick your fingers if you stretch your hand out to them. They’re like big fluffy dogs with big round eyes and wagging ears instead of wagging tails, though they can’t fit through most doggie doors.
When I was little, I was terrified of them. Indeed, when you can barely see above the grass you’re walking in, a bunch of dark round boulders running toward you is a scary sight! I used to beg my dad to let me hop onto his shoulders, thinking that if I was as big as possible, I would be okay. Still those bodies nudging at the food bag in my dad’s hands were frightening.
I’ve grown a few inches since then, and those humungous ambling shapes don’t scare me as much as they use to. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t want a cow licking my face, but I’ve grown to appreciate them because of the remarkable bond that my dad has with his big fluffy cows.
Remember that little girl on Facebook who brought her calf into the house because it was too cold outside? That’s my dad. Except he would never bring an animal into the house. But the big heart, the ready and waiting smile, the laugh that makes you chuckle along no matter what—that’s my dad. The cows even know the sound of his voice when he calls.
Most weekends when we check on the cows, my dad drives as far into the pasture as he can with the bed of his beat-up truck loaded with tall cane grass, keawe shoots, or even bags and bags stuffed with alfalfa cubes. Sometimes the sight of the truck alone is enough to send his fur babies running, but if it’s not, my dad, my mom, and I will hop out and walk.
We trek single file through itchy grass that scars your pant legs and over rock formations that boarder on mountain climbing. Sometimes we’ll even cross a stream.
Along the way, we check the ground for hoofprints, the fence line for breaks, or the water troughs to make sure they’re working properly. Sometimes we walk for a while, and sometimes we only go a few feet, but inevitably, my dad will stop at the edge of a clearing and holler for his cows.
“Ho!” he calls into the trees. “Ho!” He repeats, lifting his hands to his cheeks and walking a bit farther. “Come-come-come!”
He turns in the opposite direction, beginning his cattle call anew. “Ho!” he shouts into the gulch. “Ho!” Come-come-come!”
He repeats it again and again, until we hear the rustle of heavy bodies moving through the trees, of lazy feet ambling up the hillside. The mamas call back to their babies with a sharp “Maaahhhh!” They toss their heads behind them with impatience and their babies follow behind, still frolicking with their friends when mom turns her head again.
We return to the truck with these fluffy dogs hot on our trail. They part the grass with their fuzzy ears shaking to and fro, running after us so they can sneak a few bushels of grass from the truck bed before my dad can shoo them away.
The ice cream truck, the muffin man, the sample guy at Costco—I’m sure that’s how they view my dad as he tosses armful after armful of cane grass at their feet. He’ll tease them with keawe branches, holding them high so they can only pick off one juicy leaf at a time. He’ll let them lick alfalfa flakes from his fingers with their purple tongues, giggling at them the whole while. He scratches their sides and behind their ears as they tilt their heads this way and that. And then he stands back and admires his babies for a minute or two, counting each head and matching each mother to their calf.
He’s not just my hero, he’s theirs. With the white pick-up truck he’s had since I was born and his scruffy baseball cap, he delivers smiles and glad tidings, not with X-boxes and skateboards, but with blocks of salt licks and a roll of wire to fix a broken fence. He gives them all they need and then some, just as he does with everyone.
My dad retired a few years ago from his job at the community college, and since then, he’s spent almost every day with his furry puppies. Now he spends his days driving around the island with a selection of country music, classic rock and roll, and modern pop on the radio, fixing fences, feeding his cows, and giving them all the love and attention they need. In recent years, he’s traded in his baseball cap for a cowboy hat, and he has a new love of Pink, but he’s still the same ‘ole dad who puts his heart and soul into everything he does. He’s the best dad, cow charmer, and even boss, that I have ever had.
When you live in two places at once, culture shock is inevitable. Every time I’m home, whether that’s at Saint Martin’s, or in Kula, Maui, I re-adjust to a different way of doing things. Sometimes the differences are obvious, like remembering to grab a jacket on my way out the door, and sometimes they’re more subtle, like thinking that the TV is too loud after months of listening to everything at the lowest possible volume.
In both cases, it’s the little things that take me by surprise. Like how the smell of jasmine tea reminds me of the tuberose I used to have outside my bedroom window. Or how durring summer, I still end up wearing red on a Wednesday.
Since I’ve been home, I have been enjoying re-acclimating to my Maui home once more. The Jacaranda trees in full bloom, the Jackson chameleons crawling on the trees, every vista and view that I am privileged to take in, all remind me of how lucky I am that every year I get to see Maui with a fresh pair of eyes.
Here are some of my favorite things to come home to every year, and along the way, enjoy some of my favorite views of Maui…
You can tell it’s going to rain, not by a smell, or by looking at the sky, but by the feeling in the air…
The first week I was home, we saw nothing but rain. I woke up to sunny blue skies, but by noon, the sky darkened, and rain fell for the rest of the day.
But when you grow up in a tropical environment, rain is different. Instead of a perpetual downpour, the rain is gentler. It sounds like windchimes as drops patter over the leaves of the banana trees, and it smells like fresh flowers, subtle but sweet. Just the feel of the moisture in the air is enough to have us waiting outside for a misty blessing from the heavens.
Seeing people who you grew up with everywhere you go and reminiscing, whether for five minutes or for hours, about the good ‘ole days…
I always think of myself as someone who blends into the background. I observe what happens around me, but I don’t usually put myself in the center of a situation. And yet, whenever I first come home, I can’t go anywhere, whether it’s to the beach or to Costco, without seeing someone who greets me with a big hug and a “Welcome back!” Even when I went to fill out paperwork for my summer job at Maui County PALS, I lost count of how many people said that they were happy I was back for another year.
Playing Puka Shell Tour Guide for all your guests…
One of my favorite things to do is sharing the natural beauty of my island with friends and family. Any time my parents invite an old friend to stay with us, or whenever my brother brings home someone from Montana, we make a point of taking them around the island and showing them a few of our favorite spots. My dad and I take turns telling stories, legends, and jokes about anything and everything along the way. As a storyteller, I can’t resist the opportunity to share the narratives that have been passed down to me that talk about the land, the legends behind each flower, or even the mythical heroes of Hawaiian culture.
Hearing a song on the radio and realizing it’s one that you sang for May Day in grade school. And yes, you know all the words, and even the dance that goes with it…
This usually goes hand-in-hand with playing Puka Shell Tour Guide, since most Hawaiian songs talk about a place, a person, or a plant. As we drive around the island, The Brothers Cazimero, Sean Na’auao, and Bruddah Iz circle through the radio among other voices. No matter who or what is playing, I am reminded of the songs I grew up learning for Ukulele performances and for school May Days.
As soon as we reach Kahakuloa on the opposite side of the mountain, I’ll start belting out, “Ohu `o Kahakuloa i ka pua lehua…” at every bend and blind turn. I’ve forgotten some of the worlds with time, but just singing it takes me back to being on a stage with a crowd full of proud loved ones in the front row taking pictures, smiling at us, and enjoying the music that they too grew up with.
Placing all our dried leis from graduations and special occasions on the graves of our loved ones…
In local culture, we do not believe in throwing away a lei. A lei is a sign of appreciation and is used to show someone’s pride. You can’t throw away appreciation, and you can’t discard pride, so every lei that we receive, we either hang to dry somewhere at home, or we take it to the graveyard to honor our ancestors.
As we place each lei on a loved one’s grave, we reminisce about what each person was like, and all the memories we shared with these people. Sometimes, we come across a person that we never got to meet, like my great-great grandfather, who sailed from Portugal to work in the sugar plantations in Hawaii. We wonder what their life was like way back when, and we thank them for everything that they have done to get us to where we are.
All these things make me smile whenever I’m home, and I feel like this summer I’m seeing it all with new eyes. I want to take everything in as if it’s for the first time, with all the wonder of childhood, but with all the wisdom of a life well lived.
It’s similar to when spring rolls around in Washington, just as the flowers begin to bloom. Somehow, we thought the world couldn’t get any brighter, and then the next minute, there are more colors around than anyone could count, and more life than anyone could imagine.
At home, when we can’t think of the word we want to say, we say, “dakine.” It’s used to fill in the gaps when you can’t find the words to describe what you’re thinking of, a catch-all for everything and then some. Maybe that’s what home is; something that I can’t really describe but know all the same.
It’s that feeling when I stand in the sunshine and feel the warmth on my skin. It’s the sound of rushing water across smooth river rocks. It’s the wind that blows through the branches of the trees and through every blade of grass. It’s knowing that I can return again and again to rest and recharge for as long as I need it. That is my dakine.
Spring break is one of those times of the year that every college student looks forward to. We can practically smell the sand and the salty air of Mexico and we cannot wait to fall asleep listening to the rolling waves and the swaying palm trees. I hate to break it to you, but few of us actually make it to the beaches of Mexico no matter how cheap the ticket prices are and how many promotional emails we get.
Instead, most of us go home, visit the family, and hang out with the cats and the dogs and the goldfish. It’s usually too short of a break to make any money, so we enjoy ourselves for once and binge all our favorite movies and tv shows with a big bowl of popcorn sprinkled with Mochi Crunch and Nori.
But for some of us, home is pretty far away. Sometimes this means that we stay in the dorms during breaks, or we go on adventures with our friends, or we visit family in states that are a lot closer than home sweet home.
My brother, Daniel, moved to Butte, Montana, for college, and in that beautiful state full of open skies and snow as far as the eye can see, Miss Katie went to visit her country-western-turned brother.
The adventure started as I took a shuttle to the airport. It picked me up at the front steps of Parson’s Hall, the driver loaded my luggage into the van for me, the seats were comfortable, and the ride was smooth sailing all the way!
From the Missoula airport, my brother and I stopped for lunch before heading to set up a temporary corral for the ranch he works at in Deer Lodge. “Katie,” he said, “we’re going to be cowboys today!” Indeed, the plan when we got home was to watch John Wayne in The Cowboys, but we were just too tuckered out. By the time we got home, both of us fell asleep on the couch as soon as we took our shoes off.
So, we saved The Cowboys for another day, woke up bright and early the next morning, and headed out to the ranch to collect some horses. Some very friendly horses who associated my brother’s truck with food!
The horses would have climbed right into the cab of the truck if we had let them! My brother and I hopped out of the truck, him with a bucket of oats in his hand to collect the horses, and me to fend off the invaders so they wouldn’t damage “Sven” (no, seriously, my brother’s last truck was named Olaf). It was 7 degrees outside, and for a whole five minutes, I felt like I was an icicle. Now I know why the horses wanted to jump into the truck so bad—they weren’t hungry, they were cold!
Since Daniel was still in school while I was on break, I spent a few days just hanging out. I did some homework, watched some of my new favorite shows, and ate some of my brother’s world-class cooking. My mom sent us cookies to munch on, and the tub of green shortbread was almost empty by the end of the week—yum!
My baby, Freckles
Pepper and Mystic
My brother and I make a pretty good team when it comes to food—he cooks and I bake. But with him doing all the cooking, my trip couldn’t be completed without baking with our family friend, Nancy, and her puppies, Pepper and Mystic. Pepper must know I have a Brittney Spaniel at home, (queue picture of Freckles) because as soon as I walked in the door, he smiled right at me and wiggled his whole body so much I thought he would fall off the chair he was sitting on!
The Mystic Stare Down
The Pepper Plea
All day long, through baking pies and two sets of cookies, the dogs traded places on their favorite green chair, each piercing me with their pleading, “Pet me! Pet me!” eyes. The would sit on my feet while I was mixing dough and follow me to and from the oven with each and every tray of cookies.
How did our confections turn out, you ask? Splendidly! You have not lived until you have tried Nancy’s apple cranberry pie or tasted caramel maple cookies fresh out of the oven!
At the end of the week, I said goodbye to my brother and hopped on a plane back to Seattle. I took another shuttle and was back in the dorms in time for classes on Monday morning. No, I didn’t go to Mexico, and I didn’t hang out on the beach, but I returned to Saint Martin’s with my mind and my spirits recharged after spending time with animals galore and people who make me laugh so much it hurts!
Until next time, Montana! I’ll be back again soon!
Think of all the snow you’ve ever seen in your life falling from the sky. Little flurries blown from the treetops, snowflakes dropping out of the sky and landing like dandruff in your hair, tasting fresh snowy dew on the tip of your tongue as you run through a cascading waterfall of snow…snow…snow.
Total all the snow up in your head, inch upon inch, and try to quantify just how much you’ve seen.
How much did you get?
For me? Not even a foot.
Being from Maui, I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen snow. I can total all those beautiful snowflakes up to a whole snowman about the size of my fist. Impressive, I know…
So when snowflakes the size of pennies started falling from the sky, I wasn’t just shocked by how swiftly it all added up, I was dumbfounded. I skyped with my parents at home and showed them my new winter playground and we went for walks around campus from miles and miles apart. My catchphrase whenever anyone from home would call was this, said with as much enthusiasm and hope as a five-year-old asking for ice cream: “Do you want… To see… The snow???” Please! Let me share the snow with you! It’s so pretty! And it shines as bright as diamonds! And it smells like sugar cookies and rainbows!
In a matter of days, the weather reports claimed that Seattle received a record-breaking 22-inches of wintry freshness. Forget Olaf in summer, I was Katie in the snow, and I was not going to melt! I had stepped through my wardrobe and into a different world full of whispering trees, talking animals, and winter wonders all around! We had three snow days in a row at Saint Martin’s, and I had to sit on the floor with my back turned to the window in order to get any homework done. What can I say? Snow is soooooooo distracting!
On the very last of our snow days, as the silvery blankets began to melt away, I set up shop in Harned Hall’s lounge to get some work done. After days in my room, I was succumbing to cabin fever and just needed to get out.
As I sat there doing my readings for class, I watched as a little girl in a pink coat trekked through the snow to the top of the hill next to the library. She had a matching pair of pink gloves and a purple hat, and at the top of the hill she met a man with a gray beard. He held a bright orange sled for the little girl as she hopped on, crossing her legs in front of her and grabbing on tightly to the sides.
A “ready,” a “set,” and then off she went, flying down the hill with the speed and finesse of a race car driver.
Up and then down, again and again she went, and all the while, I could feel her joy even from behind the glass. That pure, sweet joy that childhood brings where the world is big and bright and full of promise.
For me, snow brings back all that joy and promise, that magical hope that everything will be alright, that right here, right now, from this very moment, only good things can come.
This is the magic that snow brings, as we gather by the fire with our loved ones, all clutching mugs with frosted fingertips, sharing stories that transport us to another time, another place. We aren’t warm because of the fire, we are warm because we can take a step back, take a deep breath, and feel the love that surrounds us.
This is the feeling that I hold on to, that with enough hope, with enough love, we can fix anything. We believe in the impossible because we believe in the people we see all around us with smiling faces and shining eyes, and nothing is impossible anymore.
When I think of this, I feel like the little girl with the pink coat as she sat with her dad in Harned Hall after a day in the snow.
“Are you ready to leave?” he asked, and he chuckled as his daughter shook her head.
“Alright then, when?”
She took her time, muffling her words with one giggle after another while she wiped melting snow from her hair. Her face lit up with a smile that could win the heart of a lion. “Never.”
(Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith)
Yup! It’s that time of year again when your favorite place to be is bundled up by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and reading a good book because baby, it’s cold outside!
Moving from Hawaii to Washington, I knew it would be a lot colder than what I’m used to, but I didn’t think I’d need a whole new wardrobe… Of course, when the temperature is hovering just above freezing, and there’s frost on the ground, it’s probably a good idea to dress warm. And so, in the spirit of winter weather, I bring to you all the things I’ve bought since coming to Saint Martin’s that I would’ve scoffed at buying at home…
Believe me when I say you don’t have to be that one person who insists that they don’t need a coat. It’s Washington. It rains. It’s cold. If you’re like me and don’t like cold, wet rain, get a leather jacket with a hood! They’re waterproof, warm, and stylish to boot! And… You may be able to find one second-hand, and whether you steal it from your brother (thanks, Daniel!), or you find it at a thrift store, I promise you won’t regret it.
I get teased by my friends for wearing snow boots, but let me explain two things: they’re waterproof, and they’re warm. The snow boots are excessive yes, but I bought them for a trip to Montana and figured I’d use them in Washington too. You’re going to want a pair of waterproof boots no matter what. And whether they’re combat boots or rain boots, they’ll keep your feet dry and your toes toasty all season long. While you’re at it, get yourself some wool socks for even more warmth!
For my friends who go home to warmer climates, here’s one for both school and home: an over-sized scarf. Use it as a regular ‘ole scarf, wrap it around your head babushka-style like I do, or use it as a blanket! My best friend got me one last Christmas, and I am eternally grateful for her wonderful gift! When I’m in Washington, I use it as a layering piece that keeps me warm and dry, and when I’m home, it becomes a shawl for those chilly Maui mornings.
One of the coolest things about Washington is that you get to watch the seasons change, and especially at Saint Martin’s, you get a front-row seat to all the action. From vibrant orange leaves to a few days of snow, daffodils blooming and juicy apples ready to be picked from a tree, we get a little taste of everything. When you’re used to just one season of hot and dry with a few showers sprinkled in, dressing for the weather can be a challenge. The biggest advice I can give you though, is to own your style, whatever it is. If this means wearing shorts and your rubbah slippahs to every class, then go for it! If it means bundling up in your boots and bubble coat, then I’ll be right there with you!
It’s week ten and we are officially half way through the semester! Midterms have come and gone, the holidays are just around the corner, and everywhere at Saint Martin’s University, I see a community coming to life as it does every year. New friends, old friends, people we’ve known forever, and people we just met yesterday, all coming together as one.
Finally, we know all our classmates’ names and we’ve developed countless inside jokes that keep the laughs rolling. We can study together instead of separately, after all, two heads—or maybe even eight—are better than one.
But on the flip side, this time of the year is like the Wednesday of the semester… Half way there, and half more to go. We’re getting over the hump of being away from home and summer has become a distant memory, but we can’t quite taste the Christmas cookies either.
Last week, I faced a Wednesday moment. All I wanted to do was rush home and hug my family, see my friends, and hang out in the sunshine. I couldn’t shake my glass-half-empty mentality, so I decided to flip the glass instead. And once I started counting what I have instead of what I lack, I was surprised to see the bounty around me.
I don’t have time to miss home! Between classes, clubs, and work, there’s always something to do on or around campus.
Over my solid year and a quarter at Saint Martin’s, I’ve made friends that feel like family. We offer endless support and annoyance, are always ready with food, and keep the warm hugs coming.
Gala is right around the corner! The once in a life time opportunity to dress up in your fancy duds and serve a community that has long served you is finally here! It’s a chance to give back to those who have given so much. And plus—it offers a chance to dress your best!
The fall colors are a rainbow of vibrant hues, and the chilly air means I get to break out my scarves and sweaters. Even though I endlessly complain about the cold, I do enjoy dressing in layers.
My family may be far, but we talk all. The. Time. Everyone is just a phone call away, and boy do we take advantage of that. Nothing compares to a smile from home, but it’s easy to make it work with texts and phone calls, skype and social media…
I won’t lie… Wednesdays are hard. They are all the sweetness of a Friday with all the dread of a Monday. But they don’t last. Think of how fast the time went by until we got here—think of how time will fly from here on out! It’s crazy to think of a whole sixteen weeks as short, but it really is when you break it down.
It can be easy to get wrapped up in melancholy—that space of time when all you want is what you once had. But it won’t last. Before you know it, you’ll be thrown into a new adventure and what you once had becomes what you have. Sometimes this means going back, but sometimes it means looking at the present with a new lens.
Don’t think of the glass as half empty or half full—think of it as simply being there. Enjoy each moment, for if you blink, you just might miss it.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” –Henry David Thoreau