Aloha Shirts in Depth

They are not called Hawaiian shirts. They take that seriously in Hawaii.

To recap, Dear Husband and I got to go to Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii for two amazing weeks in late April, early May. We brought back 15 pounds of souvenirs, per the weight difference in our luggage. I must confess that we went a little overboard buying aloha shirts. He got seven for himself, and, not to be outdone, I got eight for me. Oh, and our two dogs each got one as well. (I mean, who could resist?)

And here’s my first lesson of this post. They’re called aloha shirts, not Hawaiian shirts. They take that surprisingly seriously in laid-back Hawaii. Apparently, they have been called aloha shirts since at least the early 1930’s. This was news to me. I stand corrected.

I was hoping to write a post about the history of Hawaiian Aloha shirts, but it turns out there’s quite a bit of dispute regarding their origins. Entire books have been written on the subject. After my lazy Google research, I decided that this was a can of worms I didn’t want to open. For some interesting reading, check out this article and this one.

But here are some facts. Kind of. Sort of.

Aloha shirts came on the scene somewhere around the 1920’s or 1930’s. And yes, they originate in Hawaii, but there’s debate about the exact location. Originally, they were tailor made from printed cloth that was used for kimonos.

The popularity of these shirts has waxed and waned over the years. They were really popular around World War II, as US sailors brought them home. These colorful shirts also grabbed our focus when Hawaii became a state in 1959. And in the 1960’s California surfers made them cool again. (Oddly enough, The Beach Boys wore striped or plaid shirts during that era. Now you see them in aloha shirts all the time. But why, in my head, do I picture them young, wearing these tropical prints? Beats me.)

It was also in the 1960s that reverse print aloha shirts came into fashion. The vibrant color faces inward, and therefore the shirt has a more subdued coloring. We got a few of these. I wish they were reversible, though. Sometimes you want your colors to shine!

Celebrities made aloha shirts popular, too. Think Elvis in Blue Hawaii; Borgnine, Sinatra and Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity; The Brady Bunch Hawaii episodes; and Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I.

Naturally, tourism to the Aloha State has kept this industry grinding out the shirts even in the less popular years. How do you visit Hawaii and not come back with a splashy, colorful, tropical acquisition? It’s practically a requirement. And wearing one of these shirts in Hackensack says, “Hey, I can afford to live a life of leisure on a Pacific island. Sorry. Not sorry.”

Here are the shirts we came back with.

When choosing aloha shirts, if you want to be authentic, go for cotton, and make sure the label says “Made in Hawaii”. Otherwise, you might be getting a cheap knock off from Thailand or China, made of a synthetic material that does not breathe at all, which is kind of the most important freakin’ thing when choosing summer wear, isn’t it?  (Lesson learned.)

I’m not going to lie, though. These shirts, if bought retail, can be ridiculously expensive. If you want to avoid the sticker shock, do what we did. First, hit up some thrift stores while you’re in Hawaii. Next, go to a Hawaiian Costco. They have a huge collection of these shirts at reasonable prices. Then, and only then, consider splurging on a really nice one from a boutique.

But attempting to do the latter nearly gave me a heart attack. I saw the aloha shirt of my dreams in a delightful little shop. I mean, it was love at first sight. The print was really unique, and would forever remind me of our snorkeling experiences. But then I was told that it was $120. Here’s a picture of it.

Never in my entire life have I worn a shirt that cost $120. I’d be afraid to move in it. I’d worry about staining it with soy sauce or sweat, or I’d snag it on a door handle or something. As much as I loved this shirt, I could not bring myself to pay that kind of money. I’m glad I was able to find a picture of it on the boutique’s website. At least I can gaze at it fondly. Two ships that pass in the night…

Oh, and another great way to get aloha shirts on the cheap is to have a husband who has lost disgusting amounts of weight. His recent acquisitions are in a smaller size, so I got some of his larger-sized hand-me-downs when we got home. Woo hoo!

Live vicariously through this blog. And while you’re at it, check out my book!


West Coast Wander: The Aftermath

An adventure doesn’t start when you set out, and it doesn’t end when you get home.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

In many ways, an adventure doesn’t start when you set out, and it doesn’t end when you get home. There’s often much planning and research involved. I’m really grateful that I have a partner who gets into this portion of the trip as much as I do. Gone, forever, are the days when I did all the research and reservations and the other person just sat comfortably back and enjoyed the ride. If you are going to take a trip with someone, I strongly suggest you take a deep dive into the vacation prep. That’s a good part of the fun, and greatly adds to the anticipation.

In fact, not only does Dear Husband do much of the reserving after mutual discussion, but he also prefers to drive, just as I prefer not to. So I must admit that he drove all the 2250 miles himself. Suits me. But I did feel a tiny bit of residual guilt, because I’m sure I got to see more than he did.

He also did about 85 percent of the ritual schlepping of the luggage from car to hotel to car… rinse… repeat. Believe me, it didn’t go unnoticed. And he often has to do a great deal of work as we travel. He continues to bring home his fair share of the bacon even as we feast upon it. I’m ever so grateful for him.

I must confess that DH has a lot more energy than I do. By way of example, when we got home after this epic journey, I sat glued to the recliner, with my dachshund snuggled up against me, as if I had been dropped from a 50 story building. DH, on the other hand, immediately unpacked 90 percent of his stuff. In my single days, I had been known to leave things in my suitcase for months after a trip had ended. Since I no longer live alone, I wouldn’t think of putting things off that long. But the same day? Nope.

I did manage to put a load of our dirty clothes in the washing machine, though. I even turned it on. That counts for something, right?

Since I have a luxurious amount of vacation time (Union strong!) I have also gotten into the habit of having an extra day at the tail end of the trip to chill out at home before getting back onto the work treadmill again. So that night I went to bed knowing that I’d be able to sleep in. What a gift.

I woke up around 3 am for my mid-sleep pee, noted the time, and thought, “That’s cool. This hotel has its alarm clock in the exact same location as I do at home.” But wait! I was home! Yay!

As more evidence of the difference in energy levels, DH woke up bright and early, met up with some family to tell them about the trip, and, with their help, removed the trash from two miles of roadway in front of our house.

I slept ‘til noon. Traveling can be taxing.

In the previous posts, I didn’t talk much about the souvenirs we picked up along the way, so some photos thereof appear below. Neither of us are really into stuff, so we tend to focus on fridge magnets, stickers, and postcards, as they don’t take up very much space. And we do often get a Christmas ornament or two. They’ll provide us with many happy memories over the years. I hope that makes up for the mild post-vacation depression I am known to experience.

Ah, but what an amazing trip we had! The pandemic put its stamp on it in a lot of weird and unexpected ways. I never realized how I used to dance through life assuming that places would open themselves up and draw me in. Now, it gets a lot more complicated. Often reservations are required. Just as often, places are locked up tight, with no anticipated reopening in sight. I don’t think our world will ever be the same. That gave the trip a curious aftertaste. But I think it’s safe to say that, on the balance, a good time was had by all. As it should be.

One thing I just realized is that after two weeks driving along the west coast, with the Pacific as our constant companion, we never once touched the ocean. (Well, unless you count getting our shoes slightly wet when we visited the tide pools of Duxbury Reef.) How did we manage that? That’s practically a crime.

Hmmm. I guess we’ll have to go back someday. If so, I’ll be sure and tell you all about it.

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The Grand Coulee Dam is one of the modern wonders of the world.

It seems as though I wind up doing something completely unplanned on every road trip I take. That’s part of the adventure! On my most recent road trip to Glacier National Park, my fiancé (now husband!!!) suggested we take a side trip to visit the Grand Coulee Dam.

Holy smokes. We went from the best that nature had to offer to the very height of human ingenuity. According to the Department of the Interior, this dam is one of the largest concrete structures on earth. It contains nearly 12 million cubic yards of concrete. It’s more than 3 times the size of the Hoover Dam.

Let that sink in for a minute. That’s enough concrete to build a four-foot-wide sidewalk that could then be wrapped around the equator. Twice. That’s enough concrete to build a highway from Seattle to Miami. Not to put too scientific a term to it, that’s a big ol’ honkin’ pile of concrete.

It also produces enough electricity to power 2.3 million households for a year. When it was built, there was a genuine concern that it would produce more electricity than America could handle. Heh. Now it helps power eleven western states and part of Canada.

For added perspective, the tiny little circles in the face of the dam that you see below are actually 8 ½ feet tall. You could stand up in them. It’s hard to look upon something so massive and really grasp its size. This is truly a feat of engineering.

There’s a visitor’s center at the dam, where you can see such things as the wheelchair that was provided for President Roosevelt when he came to dedicate the dam’s opening. You can also see models of the dam, and the heavy dive suits that divers had to wear. It’s really impressive.

So here’s the weird part. There’s no gift shop. In fact, when you drive through Grand Coulee, Washington, with its largest employer looming over it as it does, you find not a single place that sells souvenirs. We actually wound up stopping at a little convenience store out of pure desperation, where they had two very dusty postcards. One was yellowed and from 1970. So much for adding to my fridge magnet collection.

It’s amazing that something that took 8,000 people 8 years to complete can turn into something not even worthy of a t-shirt. We sure take a lot for granted in this country nowadays.


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Window Shopping

In general, I’m not much of a shopper. The more I move, the less desire I have to accumulate. And when purchasing something cannot be avoided, I don’t really feel like dithering around. I just want to get in there, grab what I need, pay for it and leave. Yeah, yeah, I appreciate your offer to help me find something, but don’t bother me. Stop chit-chatting in the middle of the aisle. Get out of my way.

But I have to admit that when I’m traveling, my behavior changes. I do like to see what passes for important in other cultures. I like to observe what they’re eating in the local markets. I get a sense of their style and their creativity by looking in their shop windows, and allowing myself the occasional spontaneous splurge. Yes, please, I would like some gelato, and make it a double.

Why the difference? Yes, when traveling I’m more relaxed and have more time. Yes, my own culture doesn’t strike me as unusual and therefore my need to scrutinize is greatly reduced. But I don’t think that’s it.

After pondering it all night here at work, my conclusion is that here at home, when I see something I need or even just want but can’t afford, it just pisses me off. I work hard, but I am one of the have-nots, and the older I get the more I resent it.

On the other hand, when I travel, I don’t expect to be able to afford to shop. I’ve pretty much shot my financial wad on just getting to the country in question, so acquiring is unthinkable. That means the pressure is off. I can gaze, I can peruse, I can admire. I can simply be grateful for being where I am and seeing what I see.

Perhaps “home me” could take a lesson from “travel me” about living in the moment.


Traveling in my Mind

Since travel is my reason for being, and since I can no longer afford to do so, I’m forced to content myself by reliving trips I have taken in the past, and imagining where I would go if my fate were different and my choices hadn’t been so ill advised. So, without further ado, here’s a poem I have written about one of the journeys I’ve taken in my mind. Be gentle. I haven’t written a poem in decades. In fact, I’ve never felt so vulnerable about a blog entry. Maybe that’s why I’m posting it on April Fool’s Day–if the general consensus is that this poem is unbearably cheesy and horrible, I can tell everyone it was just a joke.

Traveling in my Mind

I sit upon the Spanish Steps,

observing tourists

as they ebb and flow,

fueled by gelato, sticky hands,

and photos we’ve already seen.

Italian heat and aching feet,

and dusty souvenirs galore.

The surface merely gently scratched.


But I wish to delve deeper still,

live secrets that no tourist knows.

Through boredom and routine

to go the paths of every man.

To have “the usual” each day,

and know the postman by first name.

Hear gossip, scandal, local myth,

and revel when their guards’ let down.


I give myself this gift of time,

for steady observation’s sake.

This tedium and ennui apace,

peel back the cloak and must expose,

a life mere tourists cannot see,

and don’t suspect or even heed.

What treasures lost!

But not to me.