The Lava Lake

You might know that I have been vacationing in Hawaii – the Big Island – for the past several winters.  And I plan to continue doing so until I run out of miles, points, and money.  With each trip, I stay on the Kona side and take a day trip to Volcanoes National Park.  Because it is a volcano.  And it is active.  And that is cool.  This is the view from one of my favorite lookout points:

View 1

When you walk up to that ledge, and look down, you can see a great big, flat surface of lava rock.  And depending on the weather, there are hikers down there.  The first time I saw it, I went right back to the car to look at the map and try to figure out how to drive down.  I couldn’t figure it out.  It took two more trips (there’s other stuff to see!) before I realized that the only way down there is to hike it – the Kilauea Iki Trail.  And of course, if you hike down there, you have to hike all the way back up.

This year, I looked at the map and read the stats:  four miles and 400 feet – which doesn’t sound bad at all.  The catch was “moderate to challenging”.  The estimated time to hike the loop is two to three hours.  I had one bottle of water and one package of trail mix.  It was 10am, the sun was shining and I had stopped to pee a half hour before.

I went for it.

Obviously, the climb back up is physically more difficult.  But mentally, when one might still change one’s mind…the entire climb down, there was an argument in my head:

Voice 1:  It’s not too late to turn back.

Voice 2:  Shut up.

Voice 1:  You’re old, you’re fat, you’re out of shape.  You think one yoga class a week makes you a hiker?

Voice 2:  …..

Voice 1:  Look at this pre-Columbian staircase!  If your mother could see this…

Voice 2:  (starts taking steps two at a time)… (Not really)

Voice 1:  You’re going to pass out!  In public!

Voice 2:  It wouldn’t be the first time!  Wouldn’t even be the first time in a National Park!

Strictly speaking, that second part isn’t true, either.  But you get the idea.

And then, I was at the bottom of the lava lake.

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The trail is not difficult to follow, once you figure out which “stacked rocks” you are supposed to follow.  And once you’re at the bottom, there is nothing to do but keep going.  I did see a couple of fools hiking around in flip-flops, though.  And you know what?  The climb back up was not a problem.  I turned back for a last look before leaving the rock and getting back on the dirt trail, and I realized that I’d already been climbing.  I was all, “That must have been 100 feet!  Only 300 more!”  It was probably less than half that, but whatever.  The steepest part of the climb was more of a natural ramp than stairs, so I picked the right direction for my loop.

This was easily in the Top 10 Best Things I Have Ever Done on Vacation.  For 1.4 seconds, I considered taking a selfie.  I’m totally doing it again next year.

(Note to self:  Parked at the first lot, as opposed to the Lava Tube lot.  And turned right, away from the Lava Tube.)

Sugar Scrub

In my continuing mission (or little project) to determine which bath products can be efficiently made at home, I decided to take a shot at the exfoliators.  After making hand soap, it seemed like it would be simple enough to find a decent formula and my aesthetician says it will help with leg waxes if I exfoliate more often.

The ones I have used are generally based in some kind of oil and use either sugar or salt in various concentrations to slough off dead skin in the shower.  After spending some time on Pinterest, I found that it really is that I already have all of the ingredients for a basic formula in the house:

Coconut Oil

Sugar – Plain white granulated

Essential Oils

Obviously, there are plenty of fancier ones, with Vitamin E and other types of oil, or raw sugar, but this was good enough for a first try.  I’m sorry I can’t tell you exactly how much oil I used with the sugar, because it was a bit of a “whatever is left in the jar” experiment.  But since I like my scrubs more grainy and less oily, I’m sure it was more that 50/50 in favor of the sugar.

So I stirred the sugar into a bunch of coconut oil..  The biggest trick was to break up the clumps of coconut oil without touching, and therefore melting it.  When it was good and blended, I dropped in some scented oils.  Two parts lemongrass, one part orange, if I remember correctly – citrusy goodness.  Gently stirred it a bit longer and then spooned the mixture into my containers.  I had a small mason jar handy and also washed out an old travel sized scrub container from The Body Shop.

Result:  my mother loved it, but suggested that if we used a bit of Castile Soap in the mixture, it would feel less greasy.  Yeah.  Danger of slipping if used in the shower straight up.

Other recipes I have seen use honey, or lemon/lime/orange zest in the mix.  Some have even used coarsely ground coffee beans.  But this was a good enough start that I don’t think I need to buy this stuff commercially anymore.  Win.

The Hand Soap Thing

For many years, we have been shameless consumers of Bath & Body Works Foaming Hand Soap.  It is so easy!  It smells so pretty!  You can always get a double discount!

Then last week, out of complete nowhere, all three of the sinks in my house were on their last bottles and there was no phone app discount to be found.  I started muttering to myself about how much plastic we waste buying that stuff and anti-bacterial blahblahblah is supposed to be bad for you anyway and I don’t really have to have the instant foaming soap…

I wonder if I can just make my own?

Last winter, I had a similar mini-tantrum about the mass consumption of body butter in my house.   I found a recipe and made my own.  In the end, I decided:

  1. It was not a small project.
  2. Shea butter isn’t exactly cheap in retail quantities, hence
  3. The dollars saved were not worth the trouble.

(And then I discovered massage bars at Lush, but that’s another story.)

I kinda figured that I would land in a similar spot with the hand soap, but I looked online and found a ridiculously simple formula without even trying.  Then I took a look in that section of Whole Foods.  A great big bottle of Castile soap was.. $12 or $13.  I still had that bottle of essential oil from last winter and I liked it a lot, but while I was on this kick I bought a bottle of peppermint.  Incidentally, Castile soap has its own scents, but since I was buying the big bottle I went with Unscented.

But what about the container?  Whole Foods only had one tiny bottle with a soap dispenser.  I figured I could just reuse an old one in my house.  So the total cost of this experiment was in the neighborhood of $20.

I rinsed out the old dispenser and put in a bit of the Castile soap.  Then I shook in some essential oil and filled the bottle almost to the top with water.  It didn’t take much to mix the liquids.  The post said the soap would be much thinner than we are used to, which was true.  Then I wondered..could I just use this formula in a foaming dispenser?

Why yes, I can!

Hand Soap2


The foam isn’t quite as..fluffy as the commercial brands I’ve tried, and I use a bit more each time I wash my hands.  Three pumps instead of one or two.  Still waaaaaaayy less expensive than buying bottles of the stuff.  I made four bottles of this mixture and barely put a dent into the big container of Castile Soap.

Hand Soap

Further online “research” suggested a few things:

  1. Distilled water instead of tap.  One site said that distilled should be used if you don’t think you will use up an entire bottle within a couple of weeks.  Distilled water isn’t all that expensive and of course, one can always boil water.  I’m thinking I might use distilled if I were gifting it, but my filtered tap will do for my house.
  2. The mixture settles and separates a bit.  I just turn the bottle upside down every once in awhile.
  3. I feel squeaky clean after washing my hands..and dry.  Some posts suggest putting olive/almond/choose your own oil in there.  One even suggested that would be better for the dispenser in the longer term.  I haven’t tried that yet.

Overall, I am very pleased.  My mother was thinking “stocking stuffers” and went to Amazon and found some foaming dispensers.  For gifting, I think that’s the way to go.  But I will be re-using for as long as I can.

Now I am wondering if I can do my own hand cream…

Merry Christmas – I’ve Been Looking for This Metric

As e-readers become more popular, many people have been wondering about the impact of the devices on the environment.  Obviously, if you read alot and exclusively use the e-reader, you are doing some good.  But how many books do you have to read on the device in order for it to be the “green” choice?  USA Today had an article that looks for an answer:

“The Sierra Club’s “Mr. Green” has concluded that unless you’re a fast and furious reader, the energy to manufacture and dispose of an e-reader is probably greater than that of a traditional book. If you read at least 40 books a year, the Sierra Club says, the e-reader may be greener, but if you read a lot less, stick to a regular book.”

I do read more than 40 books a year.  I don’t think more than five of those have been on the Kindle.  My mother downloaded two or three more.  Apparently, we do the environment better with paper.

Mobile Boarding Passes

United Airlines has been using mobile phone boarding passes for several months now.  Passengers can check in to a flight online and have an electronic boarding pass e-mailed to their phones.  The e-mail has a code – sort of like a UPC code – that is scanned at both the security line and at the boarding gate.  This is a totally paperless process.

I used it once over the summer.  I didn’t trust the process yet, so I printed a boarding pass at home just in case.  It worked just fine but I didn’t like having to have my phone out, on, lit up and open to that document, so I didn’t use it again.  However, I can be bribed.  So when United sent me an e-mail offering me a thousand miles for each time I used a mobile boarding pass for the rest of the year, I tried it again.  After six flights in four different airports, here is my analysis:

  1. It works.  Once you have the box code on the phone, it scans very nicely at both security and at the gate.  I didn’t have any trouble with that.  However:
  2. It is not available for all flights because not all airports have the scanner equipment.   For two of my six flights, I didn’t have the option.
  3. Even at O’Hare, not all security lines are equipped with the scanners.  Do you know how annoying it is to wait in a security line only to find that you can’t use that line and have to go stand in another queue?  Totally unacceptable.
  4. For one flight, I checked in on the phone and received the email boarding pass, but the code box did not appear.  You know that little symbol when there is supposed to be a picture but you can’t see it?  I got that.  It only happened once, so I don’t think it was my phone.
  5. My trips were either one night or two nights, so I didn’t bring the charger to my phone.  All three times, I worried about burning out my battery from keeping my phone screen continually active and lit in the queues.  And when my phone goes dark, it locks up and I have to punch in a password to open it again, so you don’t want to lose that while you are in line.
  6. You can’t carry your boarding pass through the metal detector.  So if the TSA agent wants to see your information again, you have to wait for it to come out of the x-ray machine.  I didn’t have that happen, but I worried about it.
  7. I couldn’t do anything else with my phone while the boarding pass was open and available.  Like check my email.

Bottom line:

In the Pro Column:  Being green and paperless, and not having to worry about how and where one might print off a boarding pass before heading to the airport.

In the Con Column:  Paper is a lot more handy than managing the process with a cell phone.

8am and I’m Not Sure Whether I Will Be Leaving the House Today

But I am doing a bit of shopping online.  On the website for Half Price Books, I found a list of 25 Tips for Reusable Gift Wrapping.  The introduction said:

“According to The ULS Report, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

That additional trash adds up to an additional 5 million tons of garbage for our country’s already full landfills! One way to cut back on your waste during the holidays is reusable wrapping.”

I am not sure that many of these are practical for me, but I figured it was worth passing on.  Happy shopping.

Hotel Housekeeping

USA Today ran an article in the Travel section on a topic that’s been getting some buzz: hotels trying to reduce costs by reducing housekeeping service.  Different hotels are trying different things, but as far as I can tell, it started with hotels asking if it was ok to not change the bed linens every day.  There was some obscenely high number for how many gallons of water were used, so in general we all said, “That’s fine.”  The consensus of opinion among my co-workers –  a population of pretty heavy travelers – is that fresh linens every three days is perfectly reasonable.  We sheepishly allow that we kinda like fresh towels every day.  We seem to be in line here:

Bjorn Hanson, of New York University, says customers aren’t buying the industry’s “green” argument but are generally accepting modest cutbacks in housekeeping. “The long-term trend (for companies) is to look for ways to make hotels more affordable and accessible,” he says.”

Back in January, I wrote about a “No Housekeeping” pilot program that the Sheraton Seattle was running.  I was left feeling rather negative.  And while at the time I thought, “points for trying something new”, I’m starting to feel like it is some kind of lab experiment to see when we, as travelers, start to scream.

The airlines found it to be somewhere between, “pay for priority boarding” and “pay to use the airplane bathroom”.