Monday, March 8, 2010

Aloha Kugs Goes to Washington: Day one

Aloha from the East Coast. Here's the latest story:

As it happened, the flights to get to DC were fine, however, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I have one phobia of note as relates to our journey.

I get claustrophobic to the point of panic attacks with the mere thought of sitting anywhere other than the aisle on an airplane. I’m not really certain why. It seems that it’s always been that way, at least as an adult. With the exception of the one time I got to fly first class back in 2007 on the way to Vegas for a wedding, I’ve always felt uncomfortable on planes in general, but I’ve always managed to get an aisle seat.

Fast forward to our flight here, which was arranged for us by the nice people at the home office, and at first, the wife and I weren’t even sitting together, and they had us both in middle seats. We tried to adjust online, but were unable, so it was with some serious trepidation that we arrived at the airport the other night for an 11pm red-eye flight to Denver and then DC, I was somewhat irritated until we got it all hammered out, and we fixed the seating there. There was a flat tire on the bridge thingy that we use to walk onto the plane, so that delayed us almost an hour, although they made up the time in the air, and the delay turned out to be good overall as they had serious fog as we were landing in Colorado, so we ended up landing only about 30 minutes after we were scheduled to have done so anyway.

I do wonder sometimes, if they are so easily able to "make up time" in the air, why aren't all flights just shorter? Perhaps they pad the times? Perhaps its a fuel efficiency thingy? I don't know, but I'll be glad when they invent the teleporter. Although, as comedian bill Burr once said, which I paraphrase here, "If you're in a plane, in the air, doing anything at all, be it drinking a diet coke or drooling on yourself, the first thing you should think is-wow-I'm flying through the air, doing ___________!" Bill always knows how to bring it home...flight is amazing, truly, but jeez, it is uncomfortable, especially for the rather tall, like me. I digress.

We flew over the Rocky Mountains as the sun was coming up. I’ve never seen them before, and as most of the plane was asleep as they became visible, and I wasn’t sure that I was really seeing them, I crept to the back and asked one of the flight attendants, who confirmed that they were the Rockies. So, ok, Holy crap what a sight! I mean, Mauna Kea on the Big Island is big, but it’s one major formation. It seemed like we were flying over the Rockies for an hour, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that long. It was amazing, and I’ll admit I totally marked out for them. I was blown away by how gigantic and impressive they were, even from the air, and I leaned over the wife looking out the window that I can’t sit near, enjoying every minute.

We got into DC with little ado, and got our car and settled into the hotel. Watched the Oscars, lamenting somewhat how few of the movies we’d actually seen. I’ve seen “Inglorious Bastards” (Well done to Christoph Waltz-he was amazing in the film) and “Up,” but outside of that, we are well behind the curve in terms of these films. It was fun to watch, though we were researching real estate and such as well as watching, to be honest. Don’t know much more about the movies nominated, but we will catch up at some point.

We started our house search with our VA realtor today, who is indeed a force of nature. I can say categorically that while we may not have found the new “Kugs Homestead” today, we learned a ton, got a few possibilities, and had more fun with less stress than we have ever had looking for a house, and as you may know, this is not Ma Kugs and I’s first rodeo… It was a good day, and I feel like I know a lot more than I did yesterday. We looked at Alexandria today, and will do Springfield tomorrow. That’s the plan, and then I imagine, barring finding something offer-worthy, we will regroup on Wednesday. We saw two good ones today, but they will both need something to make them better to be right for us long term, and a few things short term. Such is life in this market...

On another note, I have to speak on this point. We saw seven properties today, but there was one that was so awful that I have to complain. Don’t get me wrong-the house structurally was likely very good, but this was clearly a family that was not interested in really selling. The house smelled of mildew and cat, the beds were as made as a bedspread thrown on the floor can be. While the fireplace was nice, the couch with the dirty sheet and pillow on it that shared the room was somewhat not genuinely indicative of a desire to impress. The dirty dishes in the sink, the burnt pot with food in it (also burnt) on the ancient stove, the basketball rim in the middle of the back porch, the garbage in the driveway, and of course, the broken sliding door to the muddy and Mordor-like backyard, really did give me the indication that this person wanted to sell and do so now. Ok, I’m being sarcastic, but this house was an abject mess and an example of how not to present your home for sale. HGTV should do a show on this place, honestly. “How NOT to sell.” I’d watch, at least once. The house has been on the market for a long time, they had over 5 hours notice we were coming, and the place was an offensive mess. And, they are asking top dollar. Go figure.

Outside of that, it was a good day in that regard. After the search, we went to dinner at Murphy’s Irish Pub on King Street. Food and beverage were great, and who should we end up next to in the “seat yourself” pub? A Buckeyes fan from Columbus, Ohio, and a retired Marine Officer from Kaneohe, Hawaii. Only in an Irish Bar. Much fun had by all.

The kids are doing well at home with their grandparents, who graciously agreed to come to Oahu and take care of them, school and all, while the wife and I do this search. I find that I miss them more than I thought I would, as I always do. I get so used to being with them almost all the time, and now being apart from them, I do find that it gets to me a bit. But, we will be home soon, and we are after all, trying to find that “forever” house for our family. Motivation is high.

Tomorrow we see Springfield, and my cousins for dinner. Looking forward to that.

We are also looking forward to moving back to the mainland, but already see that we are going to need to work very hard to hang on to our Aloha here. The pace is definitely faster and the weather and seasons far more variable than we are used to. There have been moments that I’ve felt like I’m moving in slow motion compared to people I’ve had to deal with here so far, and I can live with that…just gotta maintain the speed, I think. I can afford to take my time, now. Especially now.

Stay tuned for more, you know, if you want to.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going Home?

My apologies for the length of time since my last column. Be rest assured, gentle reader, that during my long absence, I have honestly had nothing of substance to say in this space. I have been working diligently on draft two of the novel, and it nears completion. My goal is to have it done by St. Pat’s, and to have a copy ready for submission before we move.

Oh, yeah, we’re moving.

Sorry I didn’t tell you, but the wife put in for a huge (huge) promotion to the home office in Washington, DC a month or so back, and we really didn’t tell anyone about it. It felt like a long shot, as it is a rather large leap up in grade and work from where she is now, and so we kept it close to the vest.

But, as my friends on ESPN have said about my wife, and I am not one to argue with them, “You can’t stop Ma Kugs. You can only HOPE to contain her…”

She got the job. We’re moving. To where, don’t know. Leaning today is Northern Virginia. But, we are coming back to the mainland. Back to the East Coast. A bit South of where we started, but we are coming back. Everyone here is excited, and while it is a whirlwind of a process to sell a home here and buy another there and all the bells and whistles that go along with it, we are feeling ready to roll. This move is hopefully the last one, as her career is doing well and I don’t imagine we will have to relocate again for her to get promoted, should she even decide to down the line. So, we are on our way to the next adventure.

But, I wonder, are we going home?

I’ve tackled this issue, the nature of “home” in the blog more than once, so I do rather hope that you will indulge me again, as it’s a topic that matters to me a great deal right now.

I’ve never lived in Virginia, nor Maryland, so any home we are headed towards is one that we have not created yet, as a family. Just like when we moved here. But there is a major difference with this move.

Nobody is fighting me this time. There is not a single person on the planet, at least to date, that thinks our return to the mainland, Mid-Atlantic region in particular, is a bad idea. That is a genuine and categorical shift from what I experienced when we decided to move to Oahu. When we announced our intention to move to Hawaii, the people in my life, in general, did not take it well. Among other things, I was: cursed at, screamed at, had projectiles thrown at me (once-she missed gratefully, as it was a book), told I was crazy, told I was selfish, told I was destroying my children’s lives by moving so far away, and perhaps my favorite comment was that I was “punishing my children because I couldn’t keep a job.”

I can actually, even after over two years, still catch an echo of the feelings that those comments inspired in me. I don’t like it at all, and wonder how to reconcile it with the man I am now, in contrast to the person I was then, in the Fall of 2007.

Truth be told, if I had continued in the job that I had held at that time, at that pace, in that place in time, I truly believe that at best, I’d be a survivor of a heart attack. I was working 10-12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. I don’t blame my employer for that: I worked it the way I felt I had to, and felt I achieved some modest level of success. But the pace I was working I know now would likely have killed me either through a heart attack via stress, or from a vehicle accident brought about by exhaustion. The rumble strips and I on I-295 got to know one another well. Almost as well as I got to know the tellers at the Wawa Markets up 295, where I was getting large coffees several times a day, not to mention the occasional bagel sandwich with pork roll. I remember one morning I bought a huge tankard of Irish Cream Coffee at a 295 Wawa, and the kid said to me, “Hey dude, I’m on a double today, so I’ll see you on your way home.”

And he was right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Kugs loves his Wawa Market, and I’m looking forward to moving back East for a number of reasons.

But I will simply not allow the time that I have spent in Hawaii to be categorized as anything other than, for me, and amazing lesson in life and a categorical success. We moved here for a lot of reasons, which I’ve documented to the point of nausea in this space. But at its heart, the reasons we came here was to focus on our family. My wife, and I, and our children. It was an equation that was not functioning as we thought it should and could when we last lived in Jersey, and when the chance came to jump out here, we jumped, which at the time, was very unlike us.

We had followed the path for years, and lived the expected life as best we could, and there were years that it was difficult. But there was always love in our house. It’s just that more often that not, either I, or my wife, were not in the house, or at least not at the same time.

We got the opportunity to go to Oahu, where my sister-in-law and her husband had lived for years, and we’d visited them, and damned if the wife and I just didn’t step out on faith and strive for a new adventure.

While there were protests aplenty, in the end we went. And we’ve thrived here. It was the right decision. I’m sorry if you are reading this and that angers you, but it was the best thing in the world for my wife and children to come here and experience this life. It has been challenging at times, and there have been moments that I’ve screamed, “I want to go home.” But, those sort of histrionics are long in the past. They are “Pau.” No need worry about that no more.

But, there’s that word again. Home. What does it mean? Back in June of 2008, after a rather awkward trip back to the mainland, I wrote that home was:

“where my wife and kids are. It’s where my stuff is. It’s where I reside, but more than that, it’s where my family and I have chosen to make our life at this time. So, bada-bing: it’s home.”

And, while I took some heat for that comment from some, in the end, I stand by it. This house, on Oahu, has sheltered my family, and our time here has been magnificent. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been able to forge a relationship with my children that I would never have had the chance to do back in Jersey. My kids, their teachers, their friends and classmates, and their parents, the people at the library, and everywhere else we have gone, know what my job is and they respect it.

I’m a stay at home dad, and plan to stay to stay one on our move back, in addition to my writing, that hopefully will matter someday. My hope is that we’ll be able to bring the positive things we’ve learned about how to live here, and incorporate it into our lives in the next place. There is drama awaiting us when we return, but in the end, we are moving into the space that we hope to occupy for like, ever and stuff.

So, are we going home? I think we are, in as much as home to me is my wife, my son, and my daughters. Will it be nice to be closer to our extended family? I hope. Will it be nice to be closer to my Philadelphia teams? Absolutely. Will it be delightful to be able to purchase decent pizza, bagels, and Yuengling Lager? True dat yo. Will it be pleasant to be able drive more than 40 miles in one direction without turning around? Yep, it will.

I will write on this more fully at some point, I promise, but there is a lot about our life here that I will miss. The weather does grow on you, despite its lack of seasons. Waking up to a bright sunrise and copious rainbows and flowers every day does in fact affect one’s outlook. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t gotten used to the serial pleasantness of the place in that regard. Losing the ability to get fresh Ahi from the counter at Foodland on a whim is a serious blow. I am not certain I will ever get over that loss, though the chance to have Crabs again might be enough to ease the pain. I can get sushi at the Genki Drive-thru window now… Alas…

The pace of things is slower here, and the Aloha spirit, when I’m able to tap into it really does allow for a person to simply live, and to live simply, as my man Thoreau used to talk about. I think he would have dug this place. I think he, like my pal Shane Victorino, would have liked the Spam Musubi too, like the rest of my family.

It will be a big change for all of us. The Bear has lived the majority of her life here on Oahu. The twins have done almost a full year of Kindergarten here, where they would never have been able to have that experience on the mainland. Say what you will about schools here, and there is a lot to be said in general, we found a good school, they let us in via the Geographical Exemption, and they’ve had an amazing experience, and made friends and academic and intellectual strides that I am amazed by, and I used to be an educator. They both made a “Cat in the Hat” Hat today. So, that’s cool. They also both got a tasty piece of Mochi because it was “Girl’s Day.“ The Bear loves the Mochi Ice Cream they sell at “Beard Papa’s” I don’t care for them.

Most assuredly, my children have not, in my opinion, had their “lives ruined” or their “futures mortgaged” by living here, as some had speculated. Rather, I think they will remember their time here, which when you’re considering five year old twins and a three year old, is saying something. How much do you remember about your life before you were five and under?

In the end, our time here has been good for my family. For my home. That family and that home are moving back East now, and my hope is that we can bring all that we’ve learned and all that we are to wherever we land. I pray that we will not get swept up into the pace that others set, and the problems that others wish to hand us. My hope is that we can not only continue to have fun together, and learn together, and play together, but also to simply be together as a family. There has always been love in our house, and in the end, even if we disagree about something, there has been over these past years on Oahu a generous measure of magic, fun, and creativity, and my kids have an amazing curiosity, creativity, and intellectualism that impresses me.

I think that in the quiet of our life here, we’ve all managed to make something happen. The wife did an amazing job, and got a huge promotion. The kids have done well in school, swimming lessons, and have a ridiculous command of the science of Dinosaurs and Space. The Bear knows the difference between a Triceratops and a Styracosaurus, on sight. To her, that’s an easy one.

Personally, I feel that I’ve become at the least a respectable stay-at-home parent. I’ve made real progress on the novel, which makes me happy. My wife and kids have thrived and are well fed by my hand. I take pride in that.

My next job is to get our family moved to our next place, which should be the last move. Get this house sold, get another bought, and leave this beautiful island with the kind of aloha inertia that will carry us through, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

But, it is really not about the house. It’s about what resides within. It is about the way the boyo places his animals on his bed, and the way he wants the pictures he draws displayed about the house. It is about the way the girl creates stories in her drawings and builds houses for her animals out of books. She gleefully plays in our home. She’s asked for a pink room and a big backyard in the next house.

But the Bear, she who has lived here most of her life, demonstrates way more personality than her brother and sister did at her age, to tell the truth. She eats Ahi and Musibi and Kimchee Mussels like, as the tellers at Foodland call her now, “a local girl” And she is. The Bear is game for anything, and fearless. She’s been the epitome of the Aloha spirit, both in her approach to life in general, and her willingness to bestow her opinion on something she’s less than enthused about. She is a strong one, and while there are times that her strength of will is difficult to manage, I cannot fail to respect it in her.

In the end, our time here on Oahu was exactly what my family needed. We grew closer and have had the chance to be wrapped up in the arms of one another, and have that be normal. We have lived in very close quarters and lived well. We have had our share of moments, and they have been of all varieties. But we have managed them all, the great and the difficult, the rough and the sweet. We have lived together, as a family, and we’ve found a way to make it work.

So, we’re putting the show on the road. My family is moving, and we are bringing our sense of aloha, and home, and love, and balance, and everything else we have strived to create here, along with us.

And so I am not afraid. I am traveling with the most important entourage that exists, and I’m going to once again create a home with them. It’s not their first rodeo, nor is it mine.

We will make it work. That’s what families do. We will find a house, and a town, and a school, and it will be fine. The only people that I need to make happy with that choice are stuck to one hand. The rest will either believe or they won’t.

My wife and my children and I will be fine. We will find a new place to live and flood it with the experience and aloha we have brought to the moment.

We will be fine, no matter where we are. Even after all of the drama, such as it was, we will be fine. Wherever we end up. that, to me will be home, over and over and over again.

So, for now, ALOHA! Stay tuned.