Hawaii Vacation: Dining at Star Noodle, Lahaina


The last time I wrote, we had just experienced an amazing Kaanapali sunset. With my bathing suit still wet and sand still in our toes, we headed to dinner. Because in Hawaii, you can show up to a restaurant in flip flops and salt water in your hair. No problem.

When we decided to make Maui a destination on this Hawaii vacation, Mikey and I knew we wanted to visit Star Noodle in Lahaina. He and I are big fans of Top Chef, the reality TV cooking show on the Bravo network. A couple seasons ago, Chef Sheldon Simeon made it to the top three finalists. We rooted for him, knowing that he hailed from Hawaii, was Filipino and came off as a cool, laid-back, humble kind of guy. Typical island-guy persona.

Our dinner there did not disappoint. The menu showcased a number of house-made noodle dishes and Asian eats like kimchee, ramen and udon.


We started with a couple share plates — a vietnamese crepe (pictured below) and miso salmon (not pictured).



Although we didn’t order it, the Filipino “bacon and eggs” also caught my eye. Described as crispy pork, poached egg, tomato and onion, it sounded delicious. It’s one I’d order for sure if we ever go back.

I had the Lahaina Fried Soup with Fat Chow Funn, ground pork and bean sprouts.



Mikey had the Hot and Sour with chili lime dashi, smoked proscuitto, shrimp, cilantro, thai basil, bean sprouts and fried garlic. And sadly, I can’t remember what Mom and Dad ordered because I was too busy chowing down on my own dish. I also downed two glasses of this honeydew yuzu juice. I ordered it non-alcoholic, but there is the option to booze it if you choose it.



What we all remember and will never forget was the trio of desserts we ordered — specifically the malasadas (portuguese donuts).



These malasadas were warm, soft, fluffy — not to mention covered in sugar and accompanied by a trio of dipping sauces, including butterscotch and chocolate. The only problem was that there were only three. And while Dad was caught up talking to a local next to us at our communal dining table, Mom, Mikey and I each snagged one for ourselves. We then proceeded to order another round, so that Dad could have his share, and we could indulge in a little more. The gelato and mango pudding were yummy too, but the malasadas really shined. I still dream of them till this day.

We left Star Noodle as happy campers. From there, it was back to the condo for some R&R. We were scheduled to pack up and check out of our condo the next morning and prep for the quick jaunt back to Oahu.

Maui treated us well. I just wish Star Noodle would open up a location in St. Louis. We could use a legit noodle house.


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Hawaii Vacation: Kaanapali Sunset

If you’ve kept up with my Hawaii vacation posts, you know that the purpose of dragging these posts out as long as they can go is not to give you vacation envy. It has seriously become a form of therapy in an effort to counteract this brutal winter that just won’t leave!

Something else I’ve found therapeutic — HGTV’s Hawaii Life. Have you seen it? It’s a TV series that documents the home-buying process in Hawaii for a wide range of families, lifestyles and budgets. Every episode is littered with breathtaking scenes from all over the Hawaiian isles. But more importantly, there are properties featured that Mikey and I could actually afford. Just something to keep in mind if we ever want to make that possibility a reality.

And so the recap continues…

Day 7 (continued)

Our day at Mount Haleakala was beautiful, but exhausting. All the changes in air pressure really do affect your body. And since Dad was the trooper who drove us around the whole day, we decided to stop back at our Aina Nalu condo to rest up for a bit.

Dad took a little snooze, while the rest of us planned out the evening agenda. We’d gone all day without our toes in the sand, so we made an executive decision to head to the beach.

Maui is known around the world for its magnificent beaches. Kaanapali Beach is one of them, and if you’re visiting Maui, you’re most likely to stay on this beach if you choose to lodge on Maui’s hotel row. As we drove north from Lahaina to Kaanapali, we found the trick was figuring out where to park. We eventually got suckered into paying for parking at the Whaler’s Village shopping center. From the parking lot, we walked through the outdoor mall to get to Kaanapali Beach — and what was soon to be the most gorgeous sunset I’d ever seen.

Mikey and I splashed in the waves for a few minutes until the setting sun behind us was just too pretty to ignore.


Splashing ashore


Ready for photo action!


Beach was cleared out for the most part, giving us lots of space to lounge.


Out mish mash of footprints


Picture perfect photo opp


He wears lobsters on his shorts. He’s the most interesting man on the beach.


Sun gleams gold


Is there anything more serene?


Spotted: two love birds


An orange-gold intensity


Just a sliver of sun merely seconds before setting. How’s that for alliteration?


I can almost feel the warmth.


Highly saturated orange gives way to neon pink.


Not your average pink and blue


Boat sets sail on Kaanapali


And of course, with social media, you’re never alone.

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Hawaii Vacation: Mount Haleakala

haleakala summit

Day 7: Mount Haleakala

Most people are quick to think that Hawaii is purely a paradise of sun and sand. And well, it is. But beyond the beach, high up in the mountain country of Maui, you can get a completely different perspective on the Land of Aloha. Mount Haleakala is Maui’s highest peak, where temperatures drop to anywhere between 40 and 60 degrees fahrenheit. It is also a massive shield volcano that formed more than 75 percent of the island of Maui. Visitors can drive up to the summit in Mount Haleakala National Park, which is exactly what we did on day 7 of our Hawaii vacation.

If you have any plans to visit Mount Haleakala during your tropical vacay, you ought to bring some pants and a fleece jacket. Although if you forget, you probably won’t stick out like a sore thumb. Mikey braved the cold in shorts and a t-shirt, and we saw a few other tourists rocking shorts and sandals in the midst of the subarctic temperatures. Who really thinks about fleece attire when you’re packing sunscreen and swimsuits, anyway? (Um, me and my always-prepared dad. Mom and Mikey not so much.)

From the moment I stepped out of our rental SUV at the first Haleakala visitor’s center, I knew something was up. I felt funny. And it wasn’t the chill in the air. It was altitude sickness. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Nausea had quickly become standard operating procedure for me while in Hawaii. It happened first during our surfing lesson, a second time during the Road to Hana drive and a third at Mount Haleakala. Wonderful.

After quickly perusing the displays at the first visitor’s center, Dad recommended I sit down and take it easy. It helped, and minutes later, we hopped back into the car to stop at the second visitor’s center. There wasn’t much to see there, so we didn’t stay long. We did encounter some friends in the parking lot though.

haleakala chakur partridge

A chakur partridge in search of food

chakur partridge

Looking fierce with those fiery red eyes

haleakala summit

The only photo Dad managed to take of me while nauseated. Pictured here is a ribbon rock. It forms when lava shoots up into the air and freezes before landing, forming this solid curve.

Once in the car, the rain clouds came to greet us. And unlike tropical rain that comes and goes and actually counteracts the oppressive humidity, this rain was cold. We decided to wait out the rain before driving the home stretch of road to the summit. Luckily, we had plenty of snacks to keep us entertained.

The rain eventually ceased, and by the time we reached the summit, I was feeling much better. My body was adapting to the altitude, and I could finally enjoy some of the scenery — massive clouds in motion right before our eyes. Red rock emitting the only source of warmth from the hard earth below us. It felt like we were standing at the edge of the world.

haleakala summit

Taking the stairs was quite an undertaking at that high altitude.

haleakala summit

Big cotton balls in the background

haleakala summit

We were lucky to see blue skies when we first arrived. Darker skies settled in a few minutes after this.

haleakala summit

Mom and Dad at the summit

haleakala summit

It took this cyclist six hours to reach the top. Wow.

haleakala summit

Aloha from and elevation of 10,023 feet!

haleakala summit

Pondering the meaning of life

haleakala summit

Simply heavenly

haleakala summit

It was amazing how much heat this stretch of rock was emitting. I stood there for a long while trying to warm up.

haleakala summit

A twisting road leads back down to the second visitor’s center behind me.

One of my favorite Haleakala sights is the silversword, a plant endemic to Mount Haleakala. That means this is only place in the world where this plant grows. The blade-like stems at the bottom reminded me of succulents, and the flowers that extended north reminded me of purple coneflowers, but with much shorter petals. It was cool to stand face to face with something so rare, and we were lucky to have been there at the right time to see many of them in bloom.






Close, but no cigar.


I win with my tippy toes.



By the time we piled back into the car, my altitude sickness had pretty much worn off, but unfortunately Mom was coming down with it. She dozed off, while Dad navigated the winding road back down to the warm island breezes that we came to Hawaii for.

While my Haleakala experience got off to a rocky start (no pun intended), I’m glad we did it. If I did it again, I’d like to go at sunrise and get some great pictures. In fact, that’s what many of the tourist sites recommend. But realistically, we knew our inability to a) get up before the crack of dawn, and b) get out the door in a timely fashion, so we didn’t even attempt an early rise that morning. If we had, it would have been a 2am wake-up call.

Many of the tourist sites also mention the option of riding a bike from the summit back down to the visitor’s center, but my adventurous side was wary of the all-to-real possibility of biking straight off a cliff. Would be a cool experience though — if I were a little more brave. Fact is, I’m usually willing to try new things, but lounging on the beach is, has and always will be my strong suit.

Next up: the most amazing sunset my eyes have seen…

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Hawaii Vacation: Road to Hana and Oheo Gulch

The last time I posted, we were bracing ourselves for a massive snowstorm. Said massive snowstorm came and went, but winter is still gracing us with presents every day. Wind, rain, freezing rain, sleet, ice, black ice, wintry mixes and the most-talked-about phrase of the season, the polar vortex. How many different words do you really need to describe downright cold? And so recapping our Hawaii trip continues to be my saving grace as the first month of the year closes out and February rolls in.

Day 6: Road to Hana

All the tourism sites tout the Road to Hana as a must-see, must-drive, must-do. So naturally, I put it on our to-do list. My dad wasn’t so sure though. Everything he had read and heard said the Road to Hana was an arduous trip, and a long one at that. He preferred to spend a full day seeing other Maui attractions, but my persuasive daughter powers persisted, and in the end, Mom and I convinced him to give the Road to Hana a go.

If you aren’t familiar, the Road to Hana is a 68-mile stretch of highway along Maui’s rugged eastern coastline that boasts a whopping 620 curves and 59 bridges. The drive is a total of two and a half hours without stopping, but the whole point is to make numerous stops. At various points throughout the drive, you can see waterfalls, hike through lush tropical forests, gawk at rainbow-colored eucalyptus trees, stop at a roadside fruit stand, view the ocean from a high-in-the-sky overlook, watch windsurfers dominate the waves and so much more. To do it all in a day is literally impossible.

In true Sarusal fashion, we got a late start in the morning. We eventually hit the road, headed toward the town of Paia, where we dined for lunch the day before. Minutes later, that’s where the Road to Hana officially began. I spent most of my time with my nose in a tablet, trying to figure out which stops would be best for us to check out. Not the best idea when you’re sitting in the back seat, rounding 620 turns every which way. Motion sickness quickly settled in.

The only cure was to actually make a couple stops, so I could actually get my bearings. We pulled over to the side of the road at one point, where some tourists were embarking on a trail. We only stayed a few minutes to get some fresh air and did the same near an arboretum not much farther on the drive.

Our first actual stop where we saw something worthwhile was the Keane Peninusula. Nothing but craggy stretches of volcanic rock, extending off into the distance beside a vast blue ocean. Mikey and I immediately came upon some black crabs that blended seamlessly into the rock. Good camouflage.

Less than a mile from this stopping point, there was another picture-worthy site of the Keane Peninsula where more cars were gathered to watch the waves pound into rocky terrain. We captured some of our best photos here. Words can’t describe how stunning it was. I could’ve stayed there all day.

Once Dad and I had our fill of photographs, we hit the road again and made another little stop at an overlook.

road to hana overlook

road to hana overlook

Then, it was back at it again until we came upon Waikani Falls, also known as Three Bears Waterfall. Dad was getting very irritable with the other tourists at that point. Many of them were blatantly avoiding the “no parking” road signs, making it difficult for other cars to pass. We found a parking inlet around the bend from the falls and walked on the side of the road until Waikani Falls came into view.

We spent a good deal of time at Waikani Falls. Took lots of pictures and witnessed an angry local call the cops on all those tourists who were illegally parked until we eventually decided it was time to move on.

At that time, it was starting to get late in the day. We decided to forego the rest of the stops on the Road to Hana in order to make it to Oheo Gulch before close.

Oheo Gulch is a series of swimming pools, fed by waterfalls. It is part of the National Park Service, so expect to pay a $10 fee per car upon entering the park. You may also hear Oheo Gulch referred to as the Seven Sacred Pools. But there’s nothing sacred about them. Locals will tell you the name is just a marketing tactic. Props to the copywriter who came up with that one.

We didn’t spend much time at Oheo Gulch, but it was a great way to end the day. With all the twists and turns and braking and accelerating on the road, it was nice to be on solid ground. Mikey and I swam through some of the pools. (Careful climbing on all those rocks. They’re slippery suckers.) And as is always the case, Dad took pictures and Mom found a breezy area to catch some quick zzzz’s.

Although many tourism sites will tell you to avoid driving back at night, Dad thought it was a piece of cake. You get the benefit of less cars on the road. Dad ultimately admitted that Road to Hana wasn’t nearly as challenging as everyone says it is. The tourism sites probably have to say it is, so that off-islanders know to use extreme caution. But to someone like Dad who grew up on an tiny island, he didn’t think much of it. It was a lot like driving on Guam.

Dad got us safely back into Paia. We were all starved at that point and found a little Thai restaurant, called Bangkok Cuisine in Kahului to fill our grumbling tummies.


Overall, I have to say that the Road to Hana wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Yes, part of the reason for my poor experience is because I was nauseous the whole time. (Seems to be a theme for the trip as evidenced by my surfing post and the Haleakala post that’s in the works.) Or maybe it’s because we’ve done coastal drives before. In fact, that’s a common activity back on Guam. “Hey, let’s go drive around the island.” And driving around Guam is better because you can literally drive around the entire island in less than a day. Aside from the nausea though, I wasn’t overly wowed by what we saw on the Road to Hana, with the exception of the Keane Peninsula. Now maybe that’s because we didn’t make nearly enough stops as we would’ve liked, which brings me to my next point…

Would I ever drive the Road to Hana again? Maybe, but leaning toward the side of no. The only way I would do Hana again is to spread it out over a couple days. I’d need to stay overnight somewhere to break things up. To do it in a day is frankly, too rushed. And next time, I absolutely positively need to remember to bring the Dramamine.

Next up: visiting the summit of Mount Haleakala.


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Hawaii Vacation: Maui Bound

Here in St. Louis, we’re bracing ourselves for eight to 10 inches of snow before the weekend ends. So while the reality of what’s happening outside is soon to be cold and slushy, my mind is still thinking about sea, sun and sand as I continue this recap of our Hawaii vacation.

Day 5: Hello Maui

Day 5 of our Hawaii vacation started out in transit mode. We hopped on a plane and took the 30 minute flight from Oahu to Maui, also nicknamed The Valley Isle.

My mom and I have long wanted to visit Maui. After all these years of stopping into Hawaii on the way to or from Guam and visiting Lola (my parents go more often than I do), Mom and I had still never set foot on Maui. Dad, on the other hand, was born there. While Lola was waiting for my dad to enter the world, the Navy sent Papa to work on Guam. Although Lola wanted to follow, paperwork and her pregnancy kept her behind in Maui. She stayed with Papa’s sister in Kahului, in a house located a stone’s throw away from Maui Memorial Hospital. Once Dad was born, Lola was able to join Papa on Guam, where they made their living as an auto mechanic and elementary school teacher for years and years. While on Guam, Lola gave birth to three more sons to round out the clan of mischievous Sarusal boys.

We made it to Maui!

We made it to Maui!

So once we stepped off the plane in Maui, we waited for what seemed like a lifetime at the car rental facility before finding a place to chow down. We settled on the little village of Paia and dined at the Paia Fish Market.

Paia Fish Market

Paia is considered a starting point on the Road to Hana. Kind of like the last point of civilization before embarking on the scenic drive. Parking proved to be difficult in Paia, but once we found a spot and got out of the car to stretch our legs, Paia turned out to be a cute little town with a handful of restaurants and shops, including a gelato shop. (The juxtaposition of Italian gelato in a place as island country as Paia, Maui still cracks me up. It’s like serving Russian vodka on a cattle ranch.)

The Paia Fish Market was bustling. We practically had to charge one of the tables in order to claim seats. But the food was good, albeit pricey. Then again, what isn’t pricey in Hawaii?

The only downside to our time at Paia Fish Market was the sound of this blonde girl's voice all up in every inch of our conversations. Nothing screams TOURIST when you talk like a valley girl at a volume of infinity! (Sorry, this is a real pet peeve of mine. Can you tell?)

The only downside to our time at Paia Fish Market was the sound of this girl’s voice all up in every inch of our conversations. Nothing screams TOURIST when you talk like a valley girl at a volume of infinity! (Sorry, this is a real pet peeve of mine. Can you tell?)

Our first taste of local beer

Our first taste of local beer

We stopped into a couple shops as well, including Honolua Surf Co., where I picked up a couple t-shirts.

Honolua Surf Co Paia Maui

From there, Dad drove us into Kahului, where we passed Maui Memorial Hospital to see where he was born and the home of Papa’s sister, where Dad and Lola lived for a short time before they relocated to Guam. Unfortunately, I missed seeing the house in person. All that beer and fish put me into a food coma, so I was asleep when Dad took this picture of the house.

Maui Memorial Hospital

Maui Memorial Hospital

Maui house

Tracing Dad’s roots

Checking into our condo rental was next on our itinerary. The GPS routed us to Lahaina, where we pulled into the Aina Nalu hotel and condo complex.

I found Aina Nalu while searching for vacation rentals on HomeAway and VRBO. I noticed a series of rentals available within the same complex. All had nearly identical features and were priced affordably. We ended up booking Unit K109 at $180 a night. With two bedrooms, two full baths, a kitchen and a living room, that price is unheard of! The condo owners also provided beach chairs, a cooler, boogie boards and beach towels. Those sort of things are a huge help when you’re flying in without the luggage to accommodate those necessities.

Aina Nalu is not located on the beach, but it is within steps of Front Street, a hot spot and historic whaling village in Lahaina lined with shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. It was a beautiful night to walk the streets in search of a place to eat dinner. So we did.


Off to Front Street we go.


Debating on a swim shorts purchase at Rip Curl


Along with souvenir and surf shops, Front Street has many art galleries with beautiful, vibrant artwork to match the gorgeous ocean scenery outside.

We settled on Koa’s Seaside Grill, where Mikey and I enjoyed some drinks, and we all ordered… steak. We certainly are a meat and potatoes family — or meat, potatoes and rice — to be more accurate.


Checking out the menu at Koa’s


Ready to wine and dine over the ocean


Enjoying a lava flow. So apropos.

With our tummies full and ready for relaxation, we made the leisurely walk back to Aina Nalu and turned in for the evening. The next day was shaping up to be a busy one — driving the Road to Hana!


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The Homemade Gifts I Gave

The world wide web is a beautiful thing, my friends. It’s where I did about 60 percent of our Christmas shopping this year. Etsy, Rue La La, Amazon, West Elm… I loved coming home to new packages on our doorstep every couple days. But despite how easy and hassle-free online shopping can be, I’ve decided DIY gifting is my preferred way to go.

This year, my favorite gifts we gave were five mason jars filled with homemade potpourri and adorned with DIY glitter tags. We gave them to my four sisters-in-law and stepmother-in-law. Of course, the idea came from Pinterest via The Yummy Life blog. The Yummy Life does a great job of detailing all of the steps and variety of fragrances, so I won’t try to recreate her post. Definitely check it out if you decide to gift these yourself.

Of the five scents outlined on The Yummy Life, I chose three:

{Oranges, Cinnamon and Cloves}

orange cinnamon cloves

{Lemon, Rosemary and Vanilla}

{Oranges, Ginger and Almond Extract}


All you do is buy the ingredients, measure them out or chop them, put them in a jar, fill the jar with water and refrigerate until ready to give. Then, your lucky recipient can pour the contents of the jar into a pot, heat it on the stove and let the enticing aromas fill the house. When finished, cool the potpourri, return to jar and refrigerate until ready to use again.


The ingredients: cinnamon sticks, almond extract, vanilla extract, cloves, allspice, fresh ginger and fresh rosemary


Ingredients: oranges and lemons


Stuffed in a jar and filled with water


A close-up of the citrus and herbs

As for the jars and tags, I purchased the mason jars at Michael’s for under $2 a piece. I made the tags using gold ribbon and my handy dandy embossing tools — a stamp, embossing glue, embossing powder/glitter and an embosser (a staple for self-proclaimed scrapbooking enthusiasts like myself).

It was fun to spend a day doing something crafty. I even tested out the lemon, rosemary and vanilla mixture myself with the leftover ingredients I had. It smelled lovely.


When all is said it done, these were an easy, inexpensive but thoughtful way to wish our family members a Merry Christmas. Now I’m tempted to try out some of the other scents on The Yummy Life that I didn’t attempt on this first round. And I’m also thinking about who else I can gift these to. Too bad the guys in our family aren’t much into potpourri.

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Our Merry Little Christmas

In our family, Christmas isn’t just one day. It’s more like four days. Four days of family gatherings. Four days of giving and receiving gifts. Four days of really, really, ridiculously good food. All done (for the most part) in pajamas, with a wrapping-paper obsessed dog, with a wee bit of your inner hoosier and with a pesky cold (yep, it’s bound to happen). And that’s how you get the 2013 edition of our Merry Little Christmas.

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Hawaii Vacation: Snorkeling Hanauma Bay


Day 4: Hanauma Bay

Day 4 began as a lazy Saturday. Mom was itching to go to the swap meet to souvenir shop, while the rest of us were in the mood to do anything other than shop. Normally, I’d be all about putting my shopping hat on and storming Aloha Stadium with money to spend, but having experienced the swap meet before, I was in the mood to do something we’d never done before.

That’s when Auntie Lou saved the day and let Mikey and I borrow her car for the day. Dad ended up taking one for the team and accompanied mom to the swap meet, where she practically bought out the whole stadium. (Kidding, of course. But you should’ve seen how major their souvenir bag was on the flight home.)

With keys in hand and all our beach gear in the trunk, Mikey and I headed east to Hanauma Bay, a nature preserve and excellent snorkeling destination, located about 10 miles east of Waikiki.

By the time we got to Hanauma Bay, it was close to 3:00 — risky, considering that most people try to get there first thing in the morning. The parking lot fills up quickly, and once all the spots are taken, the staff closes off the parking lot completely. And it isn’t one of those situations where you can park on the side of the road and walk in. You’re pretty much out of luck if the closed sign is up. Fortunately, a staff member was removing the closed sign just as we were pulling in. We lucked out. In fact, our decision to go late in the day actually worked to our advantage. By 3:00, most people were clearing out for the day. That left more shady spots for us to set up shop — and more open water for us to explore.

Once we purchased our tickets ($7.50 per person), we stood in an outdoor waiting area before we were led into an air-conditioned theater. We watched a quick video (mandatory for all Hanauma Bay visitors) that detailed the history of the bay as well as the rules to abide by. The takeaway? Hanauma Bay is a fragile marine ecosystem. Respect the wildlife.

From there, Mikey and I made our way down the large sloping hill to the beach area to start our snorkeling adventure.


Letting his sunscreen sink in underneath a shady tree


Swimmers and snorkelers enjoying a day at the bay


Blowing in the breeze


Welcome to paradise


Pigeon in paradise


Happiest when my toes are in the sand

Hanauma Bay is home to 400 different species of fish. There were big ones, small ones, striped ones, spotted ones, bright ones, dark ones, you name it. To be specific, some of the species we saw were Triggerfish, Butterfly Fish and Tang. Makes me wish I had an underwater camera to share just how pretty they all were.

After a couple hours of snorkeling, the beach area started to quiet down. It really was the perfect time to be there.

We eventually decided to make our way home but were tasked with climbing the uphill slope to get back to the parking lot. To make it easy on myself, I made it a point to stop and take pictures along the way. On our way up, we spotted a huge school of fish, visible from our spot towards the top of the sloping walkway. We even spotted a couple sea turtles! So we camped out for probably 20-30 minutes just trying to get a good shot of our turtle friend.


Giant school of fish


Hello there, turtle.

The view of Hanauma Bay from above is probably the best way to gawk at it. It is one amazing piece of earth, and I’m glad we got to experience it on a beautiful day without the overwhelming crowds it’s known for. I’m sure one day we’ll be back for more of what we like to call the Hanaumana Phenomena. Someone oughta hashtag that.



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Top 10 Moments of 2013

Yes, dear friends, it’s that time of year when I’m scrambling to put up the Christmas decorations, running around like a madwoman at the office, holiday shopping till I’m dropping and cooking my way through an endless array of Pinterest recipes for one family gathering after the next. After all that, plus a bag of chips, I finally managed to get the Christmas cards purchased, printed and shipped. And in true Riley tradition, the cards are complete with our Top 10 Moments of 2013.

We’ve been doing these Top 10 lists for four years now. Click to see 2012 and 2011. Mikey and I have really come to like them. It gives us a reason to reminisce and compare this year’s successes to last. And I love being able to give people a glimpse into what life was like for us over the past 365 days.

This year, the Christmas cards were a little more hurried than years past. I usually enlist my photographer father to photograph the three of us, but with so many things going on during the weekends in December, I decided to use an iPhone photo of The Bear as our 2013 Christmas card hero image. Then, our home printer was giving me problems for a good week as I was trying to print the card stock for our Top 10 list. But not to fear… the cards and list made it out the door yesterday. And so, here goes. Our 2013 in review…

Mike, Larissa & Teddy Riley’s Top 10 Moments of 2013

10. After a few tries at brewing his own beer, Mike finally nailed his best beer yet, a small batch jalapeño saison. 


Its been about a year and a half now that Mikey has been experimenting with different home brew recipes. This jalapeño saison from Brooklyn Brew Shop has proven to be his most successful. Not spicy or overwhelming like you might expect from a jalapeño. Well-balanced and full-flavored. We shared the wealth with friends, family and coworkers who were all pretty impressed. But I warn that this is not for timid beer drinkers. If you’re a tried and true Bud Light drinker or less open to trying new flavors, this will probably be out of your comfort zone.

9. Larissa wrote a food review on her blog for The Libertine, a new restaurant in St. Louis. The review was featured on The Libertine’s Facebook page and picked up by the Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch, a local online news source. 


If you haven’t read the review, check it out here. And if you’d like to see the feature on the Patch, click here. Now it goes without saying that our experience at The Libertine was great. But it’s also worth mentioning that whoever is managing The Libertine’s social properties (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)  is doing it right. Since sharing my post on their social networks, I’ve noticed that they continue to keep their finger on the pulse of what other people are saying about them. That includes average joes like myself as well as local and national food critics. They’re being good listeners and creating conversations with current and prospective fans. So thumbs up to them. And if you’re in St. Louis, go there already!

8. This year marked five years of marriage for us. Seems like just yesterday when so many of you helped us celebrate our big day.

It was October 4, 2008, and the weather was absolutely amazing. Blue skies, sun on your face, temps in the low 70s. God did an extraordinary job orchestrating the weather that day.

We celebrated five years of marital bliss with dinner at Niche in Clayton. We hadn’t been to Niche since Chef Gerard Craft relocated the famed St. Louis restaurant from Benton Park to Clayton. Per usual, our dinner did not disappoint. Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures of the great time and food we had. It was one of those occasions where I chose to be in the moment without a camera to document it. Again, if you’re in St. Louis and haven’t been, go there for your next special occasion. Craft has built quite a reputation in St. Louis. It shows. And it tastes incredible.

7. We enjoyed our fourth annual “Teddy Vacation” at the Lake of the Ozarks. Teddy still reigns as champion dock diver of the family. 


I recapped this relaxing getaway in a previous post here. This yearly Teddy Vacation tradition is always something we look forward to at the end of the summer. For Teddy Vacation 2014, though, we’re thinking of switching it up and going to a coast!

6. We caught our first waves during a surfing lesson on a trip to Hawaii in the fall… and now we want to move to Hawaii. 

Surf Lesson 6

I also captured the memories from this experience in a previous post here. Definitely an unforgettable moment. And if I do it again, let’s hope my equilibrium doesn’t screw with me again.

5. While vacationing in Maui, we visited the summit of Mount Haleakala and stood a jaw-dropping 10,023 feet above sea level.


I still have yet to blog about this visit to Mount Haleakala. I’m not even a fourth of the way through documenting our Hawaii vacation, but it’s coming. I promise!

4. We visited a good friend from college in the spring during a trip to Arizona and saw everything from the red rocks of Sedona to the magnificent Grand Canyon. We even rafted the Colorado River! 


I remember this trip proved to be so much more spectacular than we expected it to be. We left with a new-found appreciation for nature and the beauty it brings. Follow these links  to see how the whole trip unfolded — Scottsdale, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.

3. The Riley house underwent major structural repair this summer. The only fun part was when it ended. All is back to normal – until the next thing breaks! 


To be completely honest, I never want to hear about this project again. But it was certainly worth mentioning on our Top 10 list, considering how much grief it gave us — followed by joy when it was over. Read all about the debacle here.

2. The recent trip to Hawaii allowed us some long overdue quality time with Larissa’s grandmother. It had been six years since our last visit.


A visit to see Lola was long overdue. And it was nice being able to have real adult conversations with her now that I’m a full-on grown-up. I learned a little bit more about my dad’s side of the family. She told stories of how she and Papa met. How she left her family behind in the Philippines to meet Papa in Hawaii. Even how Papa moved to the Big Island, Hawaii as a youngster to work with his family in the coffee fields. Now the plan is not to wait so long to see her again. Six years is just too much.

1. Mike, Larissa and Teddy are now featured on Dog Chow Light & Healthy bags across the country. Look for us at the grocery store, on DogChow.com and in magazine print ads everywhere!

We took this photo at a Safeway grocery store in Hawaii. Its been fun seeing our faces on shelf and online. (You can’t see it here, but Mikey is featured on the back of the bag as well.) Even friends who live far away from us write me on Facebook to tell me they saw me on a floor mat in Kroger or a print ad in People magazine. Pretty amazing that we now have a legit claim to fame.

There is no doubt that our little family has a lot to be thankful for, and we’re fortunate that we’ve been able to say that every year. As the holidays draw near, I hope your holidays are full of good food, family, friends and fun.

2013 Riley Christmas Card

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Hawaii Vacation: North Shore Tour

Day 3 (continued): Kahuku & Sunset Beach

Since I had to bail early on the surfing lesson, Mikey finished up the last half hour without me.  Soon after, my body finally exited its state of nausea and replaced it with hunger. Time to eat!

Kahuku Food Trucks

We loaded our belongings into our Jeep Liberty rental and headed north into Kahuku. Eventually, an open area along the left side of the road opened up. Home to food trucks, fruit stands and little souvenir shops, it was a perfect place to pop in for some outdoor eats. We settled in at the Kahuku Shrimp Thai Food truck, and I ordered up a hearty helping of pad thai. Dee-licious.

kahuku shrimp thai food truck

kahuku shrimp pad thai

kahuku shrimp food truck stop

kahuku shave ice

We also perused the souvenirs housed in the colorful wooden cottages next door to the food trucks. They offered a great selection of sarongs and traditional Hawaiian wood-carved keepsakes.

Kahuku Farms

With full bellies, we packed ourselves back into the Jeep and headed south along the North Shore road to our next stop — Kahuku Farms. Mikey, Dad and I love to go beach-hopping. The beaches are usually our number one priority when traveling to Hawaii. Mom likes it too, but she likes visiting the fruit stands and farmer’s markets along the road even more. Because, let’s face it, St. Louis isn’t really known for setting up fruit stands along the side of the road, and if St. Louis did, the selection would certainly be lacking in the tropical fruit department.

Kahuku Farms wasn’t far from our lunch spot. So we pulled over to take a gander.

Star fruit and mangos and kiwi, oh my!

The ever-exotic dragon fruit

Pineapples lined up saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”

Bananas on a wire

Mom was very pleased with her purchase. Although I can’t remember what her purchase was. Cassava something?

The sweet spread of Kahuku Farms fruit I enjoyed for breakfast the next day.

The sweet spread of Kahuku Farms fruit I enjoyed for breakfast the next day.

I was particularly wowed at the star fruit and dragon fruit. I’d never actually seen them in person. And I had never actually tasted dragon fruit. (Minus the dragon fruit infused beer that Michelob Ultra used to make.) There was also mango, papaya and jack fruit the size of my head. And to represent the Midwest, there was even corn on the cob for sale. We left Kahuku Farms with a few Ziploc bags of sliced fruit — kiwi, mango, papaya, guava, pomegranate seeds, pineapple, star fruit and dragon fruit. They were perfect for munching at the beach or in the car.

Sunset Beach

Next stop:  Sunset Beach. The last time we were at Sunset Beach was six years ago. The experience then was much different from the experience we had this time around. The beach was pretty packed. (We were nearly lonesome the last time.) The surf was way, way up. (The water was almost pool-like the last time.) And short periods of rain kept creeping in behind us. (The sun was working overtime the last time. We were hard pressed to find a shady spot.)

Nevertheless, Sunset Beach is still one of our favorites. It doesn’t matter how or when you go. You really can’t complain when you’re in this kind of paradise. And the waves provided great photo opportunities for Dad and me.

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Dad McGuyver’d a sun blocker with our beach towel.

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Wave at its peak

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It was fun watching these guys brave the waves.

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Can’t take credit for this awesome photo. Dad was the guy behind the lens.

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Looks like fun

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Like a big ole glob of toothpaste

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Here it comes!

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Hang loose!

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One with the ocean

Mikey and I spent a good deal of time swimming. Quite a workout, considering how powerful the waves can be. It took some muscle to stay in one spot. In fact, a girl from the group next to us was caught off guard by one of the incoming waves and fell under for a few seconds. She came up gasping for air and in a good deal of shock. Her friends were there to calm her down though. Just goes to show how close an eye you have to keep on those incoming kahunas.

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sunset beach 12

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After swimming, we camped out in the shade for a few minutes. A short spurt of rain came through, causing us to break out the beach umbrella. In true Hawaiian form, the rain stopped by the time we got the umbrella set up. And then a colorful surprise peeked through the trees.

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Mikey guarding our station

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Hanging out at the beach underneath a shade tree. This is the life.

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Somewhere over the rainbow…

A few minutes later, the sun began to set. And what better place to be at sunset than at Sunset Beach.

Unfortunately, there were low clouds blocking our view of the sun just as it set over the Pacific. But Dad managed to snap some good ones.

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Photographer/videographer setting up his shot

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Group pic minus our photographer

And that concluded Day 3. We drove the long road back to Lola’s house and hit the hay to rest up for the next day — snorkeling at Hanauma Bay.

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