posted by Lisa

Kauai is supremely different from Northern California: climate, pace, vegetation, wildlife (yes, there was dinner among the geckos, and the frogs).

And I realized this year, that one of the most valuable things about our time here is the cultural difference. It’s not simply that we all slow down and spend lots of time together, and it’s not just that the kids get to spend all day at the beach doing fun kid things in the water and sand. But what was completely revelatory for all of us was that they could see–and explore–a whole new ecosystem, right in front of them, at their own level. Both kids snorkled and saw countless tropical fish. Ella learned to recognize and pronounce the state fish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa, and both went well beyond the standard, “It’s Dory!” or “It’s Gil” response to every tang and Moorish Idol they saw. Sea turtles swam right up to the beach:

Monk seals lounged in the sun for hours:

The lifeguards shared their lychees:

Which brings me to the point that the food we eat here is very different from the food we eat at home. Many of the hallmarks of our family food culture are the same: family meals, local produce, lots of fun experimenting with food. But the ingredients are really different, so while the trappings of meals are the same, and very familiar, the food is just simply really different. So it’s always a bit of an adventure–or, dare I say, a food vacation–when we sit down for a meal. And whatever we ate told us as much about where we were as the turtles and monk seals and humuhumunukunukuapu’aa did.

For instance, we took a short trip to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and had a nice time poking around the small working garden, where the kids drooled over the abundance of the mango tree, a new favorite thing (but, sadly, the pictures were lost). Then, we found the star fruit tree, which was also heavy with fruit, and more fruit lying on the ground.

As we were admiring it, one of the gardeners offered us a piece, “This is a sweet one,” he said, and when I held it up to smell, I inhaled a sweet, subtle, almost honey-like perfume. We took it home, and even though the kids thought it was still mostly alien, I sliced it after nap for snack. It was beautiful, crisp and sweet. Different, but oh, so welcome and refreshing.

That day, we ate stars.