The Islands of Aloha

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As you probably know, Hawaii is called The Aloha State. The word “aloha” actually has more than one meaning. It’s commonly used when greeting someone or going away from them, but it means more than “hello” or “farewell.” It also connotes love and affection. But more than that, its meaning is inextricably linked with the spirit of the Hawaiian people and the idea that life should be lived with respect, love, and gratitude for family, friends, the earth, the sea, fish and animals, and anything else that brings goodness to people. To live with the spirit of Aloha means that a person spreads joy, peace, and respect to others and is grateful for the aloha given in return.

You don’t have to be Hawaiian to spread aloha. My son was once scolded and lectured (he was 4) by a Hawaiian woman who was offended that he used the word “aloha” when he greeted her, a stranger. In truth, my son was the one exhibiting the aloha in that encounter. The woman spread no joy, treated a small boy with disrespect, and showed her contempt for anyone not obviously of Hawaiian descent using a Hawaiian word. But that didn’t stop my son from continuing to greet people in that manner. And he found that most people did respond with aloha- with smiles, kindness, and gratitude.

So now that you know a little about the use of the word “aloha,” I’d like to tell you a bit more about the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaii is made up of eight major islands and hundreds of tiny uninhabited islands and atolls. The southernmost island is the Island  of Hawaii, commonly called The Big Island. It’s where my new novel (available next Tuesday- woo hoo!), House of the Hanging Jade, is set. What makes the Big Island so fascinating are its climate zones- its mass contains almost every climate zone on earth. You can go from a polar climate (yes, it does snow in Hawaii!) to dry and arid to rainforest in a single day. The island also has a green sand beach (one of four in the world), and black sand beaches, too.

Pololu Valley

Moving north, you’ll see tiny Kaho’olawe, an uninhabited island which the US government used for target practice. There is always a cloud cover over Kaho’olawe. No one is allowed on the island without special permission, as there may still be unexploded ordinance on the island.

Next you’ll come to Maui. Also known as the Valley Isle, Maui is the home to Lahaina, a former whaling town and now a great place to stay, play, eat, and shop. Maui has the largest dormant volcano crater in the world, Haleakala. Seeing the sun rise over Haleakala is an unforgettable experience.

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Not far off Maui’s western shore (just 9 miles!) is the island of Lanai, a sparsely-inhabited island with a population of just a few thousand. It’s commonly called the Pineapple Island, a nod to its important role in the history of the pineapple industry. It’s a dream destination for people who want quiet and calm- there are no traffic lights on the island!

North of Lanai and Maui is the Island of Molokai, which is probably best known as the place where a Hansen’s Disease settlement (often called a leper colony) was founded, just beyond the cliffs of Kalaupapa. Also called the Friendly Isle, Molokai is home to the world’s largest sea cliffs. Much of the population of Molokai are people of Native Hawaiian descent, and this is an island where Hawaiian culture thrives and lives on.

You can’t miss Oahu as you travel north from Molokai. Often referred to as The Gathering Place, Oahu lives up to its apt name. It is the most densely populated island in the Hawaiian archipelago and is home to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, as well as Pearl Harbor. It’s where you’ll find the only royal palace in the United States and where you’ll find major surfing championships along its legendary Banzai Pipeline.

North of Oahu is the Island of Kauai, or the Garden Isle. It’s a haven for people looking for spectacular mountains, valleys, rainforests, and otherwise stunning scenery. Kauai is home to one of the wettest spots on earth, Waialeale. Kauai is not as busy as the islands farther to the south, so it’s a great place to go if you want to relax and kick back without a lot of people around.

And finally, the last of the inhabited islands on your trip north through the archipelago is the Island of Ni’ihau, also called The Forbidden Island, a privately owned island with a population of under two hundred people. Visitors to the Hawaiian islands generally do not make the trip to Ni’ihau, as it is home to only Native Hawaiians. Its inhabitants speak Hawaiian and live without most of the conveniences we take for granted in the rest of the United States- including indoor plumbing, paved roads, cars, emergency services, and much more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual tour of the Hawaiian Islands, and I hope your day is filled with the spirit of aloha which gives the islands their name.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. There’s still time to support my Thunderclap for the release of House of the Hanging Jade! Click here to sign up- Thunderclap does all the work!

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My Five Favorite Hawaiian Foods

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Today I’ll be working on the page proofs for House of the Hanging Jade which, as you may know, is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. Re-reading the manuscript has got me thinking about Hawaii all over again, as if I need an excuse to do that.

But it’s also Thanksgiving week, and on Thursday (which, coincidentally, is exactly five months before the release of House of the Hanging Jade), we here in the United States will be enjoying one of the most traditional meals of the year. So is it any wonder that I have food on my mind? (Again, not that I need a reason to think about food, but it is a good excuse.)

Specifically, I’ve got Hawaiian food on my mind. That’s why today’s post is all about Hawaiian foods and the ones I love best.

1. Poke. For those of you who don’t know what poke (pronounced “poh-kay”) is, it’s cubes of fresh raw fish, often ahi, usually with a marinade or dressing. My personal favorite is spicy ahi poke, which is made with ahi, regular or Japanese mayonnaise, soy sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, green onion, and masago (roe of the capelin fish). Before I tried poke the first time, I never could have guessed it would end up to be one of my favorite foods, but I fell in love with it.

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2. Lilikoi, or passion fruit. There are two main varieties: red and yellow. Though most people recommend the red because it’s sweeter, I prefer the yellow. It’s tangy with a zing that no other fruit can replicate. When you open a lilikoi, there is a pulpy mass of seeds inside. That’s the delicious part (don’t eat the white layer inside the skin, which is bitter). My favorite way to eat lilikoi is straight out of the fruit, stirred into yogurt, or pureed and added to any drink.

3. Pineapple. The island of Maui is home to the Hali’imaile Pineapple Plantation, the only working pineapple plantation in the United States, where visitors can take a tour and see first-hand what goes into growing and harvesting the sweetest, most delicious pineapples you’ll ever taste. Click here to see a video of how to cut a pineapple. The juice just runs out of the pineapple and it’s got an amazing sweetness that has nothing in common with the pineapple you find in the grocery store.

4. Loco moco. This is a local specialty that you have to taste to believe. It’s a conglomeration of white rice topped with one or two hamburger patties, a fried egg, and brown gravy. The first time my eldest daughter ate one I told her it looked disgusting, that I wouldn’t try it if she paid me. Long story short, it’s now our traditional New Year’s Day meal,  served with a side of macaroni salad.

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5.   Shave Ice. Some people compare shave ice with snow cones, the ubiquitous treat of state fairs all over the US, but the comparison is misguided. Shave ice has nothing to do with those scoops of tiny ice balls that are thinly coated with colored sugar water. Shave ice is more like a mound of loosely-packed light and fluffy snow, completely permeated with a delicious fruity syrup. The best shave ice is mixed with vanilla ice cream and includes real coconut. See the holes in the shave ice below? Those are from a straw, which is poked repeatedly through the shave ice to ensure the flavor reaches every part of the dessert.

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Are you hungry yet?

Finally, since Thanksgiving is just a few days away, I wanted to tell you all that I’m thankful for YOU! I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving and safe travels if you’re going to be on the road this holiday weekend.

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Until next week,

Amy

 

The Top 10 Things I Learned Doing Research About Hawaii

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It’s on my website, the “About Me” section of my blog, and my Facebook and Twitter pages, but some of you may not know how much I love Hawaii. I first went there on my honeymoon in 1995 and it’s been an obsession ever since. My third book, which is still without an official title, comes out next April (you’re right– I said it would be March, but things change and, unfortunately, I have no control over that) and you may or may not know that it’s set on the Island of Hawaii (yes, just like the state’s name. It can be confusing, so sometimes the island is referred to as the “Big Island”). It’s the story of Kailani, a sous chef living in Washington, D.C., who moves back home to her native island of Hawaii to take on the job of personal chef to a family of four. Beyond that, I don’t want to give much away because the book is still in the edits stages.

But I did tons of research for the book, and I wanted to share with you some of my favorite fun facts.

1. There has never been a case of rabies in Hawaii.

Learned that the hard way.

My husband and I were eating dinner in a nice restaurant (open-air) when a cat wandered up to our table. He (she?) was beautiful, gray and white, and I reached down to pet him. You know what happened next. So we called the ER when we got back to our room to see if I should go in for rabies shots and we were told, to my great happiness, that Hawaii is rabies-free.

2. Many years ago, Hawaiians brought mongoose (the plural of this word is up in the air–some say mongeese, some say mongooses, neither sounds right to me) to the islands to rid the land of rats.

What they didn’t realize is that mongoose are diurnal. And since rats are nocturnal, the two species have never met.

3. The state fish is something is called the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Say that ten times fast, or even one time slowly.

4. The Big Island is approximately double the size of the other seven major islands combined.

5. The Big Island has eleven of the thirteen climate zones in the world. Yes, there is snow in Hawaii. People actually ski and snowboard there, but only on the mountaintops.

6. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee.

7. There are only twelve letters in the Hawaiian alphabet and the words in the Hawaiian language are more fun to pronounce than any other in the world (this last part was my opinion, not actual searchable fact). See #3, above.

8. Hawaiian cowboys are called paniolos. Their culture is exciting and their history is diverse and they are responsible for some fabulous food and music that come from their mixed heritages.

9. The island of Moloka’i is where people with Hansen’s Disease, commonly known as leprosy, were sent forcibly until as recently as the 1960s. If you’re ever in search of a great read about this, pick up Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. It’s a beautifully-written, honest, and heartwrenching story about the leper colony on the island.

10. If you ever find a gecko indoors, don’t worry–they’re good luck!

Cockroaches, not so much.

11. BONUS! Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two mountains located on the Island of Hawaii, are the two largest mountains in the world when measured from the sea floor.

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Got any fun facts from somewhere you’ve been? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy

Location, Location, Location!

I have a friend who has lived in Indiana most of his life, except for going to college in Texas and working for a brief time in Washington, DC. He said to me recently that even though he only spent a few years in Texas, that state feels like home to him. I’m sure there are Texans wondering why everyone doesn’t feel that way.

I understand how he feels. A place can exert a powerful pull on a person, even if the person hasn’t spent much time there. Maybe it can happen even if the person hasn’t spent any time there.

That’s why book settings are so important. Could Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier take place anywhere but the Cornish coast of England? Could The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner take place anywhere but Mississippi? The setting of a story is often its most essential element; in other words, there are stories that simply wouldn’t make sense if they were set somewhere else. IfRebecca took place in Paris, the story wouldn’t have the same heavy atmosphere and spookiness that it has in Cornwall. If The Sound and the Fury were set in small-town Vermont, what would be the source of Quentin’s cultural angst?

Secrets of Hallstead House is set in the Thousand Islands, one of those places that has a strong pull for those who have spent any time there. I don’t know of a single person who has been to the Thousand Islands who didn’t want to return. Could my story be set somewhere else? Not as far as I’m concerned. The St. Lawrence River and Hallstead Island are characters in the story just as much as any of the humans are.

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The same is true with The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, my story set near Charleston, South Carolina. That’s another place that stays with a person. Have you ever been to Charleston? It’s inhabitants are passionate about their city, much more so than lots of other cities. And I can see why–it’s a beautiful city with a rich history and culture all its own. It’s like no other city in the South.

I am lucky enough to live in a place which has that pull, a place that people return to year after year (particularly in the summertime). When I first moved here, I was amazed at the number of kids who went away to college and wanted nothing more than to return to their hometown to find work upon graduation. Their happy memories of many seasons spent at the beach, of surf and sand, of the boardwalk and sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean are strong enough to make those people want to return.

So in that same vein, my third story, as yet unnamed but tentatively entitled Hanging Jade Hale, (pronounced “hah-lay”), is set on the Big Island of Hawaii. I know of exactly two people who have been to Hawaii and didn’t absolutely love it. It’s a place where people experience a kind of magic that is only found there, a magic that comes from the ocean and the mountains and the trade winds and the knowledge that Hawaii is alone in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. A story set there can’t take place anywhere else in the world, and that makes its setting special.

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Is there a place that calls you back, even if you’ve never been there? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy