The Island of Misfit Toys (December 2014)

Month Eleven (of our journey)

Eleven. A standout number for fans of Daniel Ocean, Spinal Tap groupies, and all those who rooted for Inigo Montoya and his search for the man who killed his father. Lords and ladies, barmaids and rogues, I bring you the December 2014 update.

Yuletide Cheer Befitting Old Fezziwig

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and teetering on the edge of a diabetic comma, induced by the abundance of sweets that had that eve crossed my whole-food trained palate, I managed to tap out some thoughts on the current state of this thing we call “Christmas.” If you have the stomach for some good ole soapbox venting, check out my 25 December, special edition posting, titled “Rantings of The Ghost of Christmas Forgotten.”

In other holiday news, the annual Christmas concert at our church saw my lovely bride and two unusually clean looking representatives from among our brood of children decked out in white Hawaiian wear and singing in the choir. We were joined for the auditory feast, timely pastoral message, and family style potluck by several neighbors who accepted our invitations. It was enough of a season’s gift for this nostalgic, music-loving fellow. (Unfortunately, the camera did not do justice to the event and I am at a loss for visuals to share.)

Just the day prior, we were able to participate in a family Christmas gathering back in Virginia through the miracle of Apple’s Face Time app. Sitting at our farmer’s market stall, we engaged relative after relative back east as a the far-end iPad was passed around the gathering. In turn, we provided a quick video tour of the farmer’s market here in Hawaii. (I’ll note here, too, that we made record sales that day.)

Dear ole ma and my stepfather flew in to join us for the holiday, and we spent a good few days showing them around our property and the broader isle–a botanical garden here, a stony beach there, and lots of farmer’s markets.

A jolly Christmas eve gathering at the home of a neighbor was followed by a quiet Christmas day indulging in simple family time–scripture reading, present exchange, movies and games and food, food, food. An extra pleasant surprise came in the form of an abundance and assortment of goodies left for us in the wee hours by our paper-route customers inside their newspaper delivery boxes, to include fine chocolates, a fresh loaf of bread, and a surprisingly good measure of the king’s coin. (We, of course, left behind a smart, minty candy cane inside a rolled newspaper for each of our 120 patrons.)

Customer-gifted Swag

Before moving on, this seems as good as any of a place to mention that our current living circumstances frequently drive home the value of life’s simpler things, making an uncomplicated Christmas with family and friends all the more meaningful. Further to the point, one Saturday night, late in the second week of Advent, we spent a wholesome candlelit evening on the porch of our temporary, off-grid digs playing chess and listening to the likes of O’Henry’s Magi’s Gift, as read by Garrison Keillor, and the unmistakable lilt of the ethnomusicology-inclined Fiona Ritchie as she marched through the 30th anniversary broadcast of Thistle and Shamrock. No finer eve have we shared in many a year.

View From Kalapana

News From The Grower’s Front Lines

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, we continued to execute the careful dance of land and livestock stewards–two steps forward, one step back. This period saw the loss of several chickens to a neighbor’s hunting dogs and the inexplicable death of our fine lady goat, Zelda. (With symptoms much like the first goat we lost, several more experienced folk have assured us that it is something that the old gal ate…perhaps a poisonous mushroom suddenly sprouted after the rains.) Sad on all accounts, we will especially miss gentle Zelda, who taught each of us a good lesson (if not two).

Zelda In Her Last Days, Enjoying Her New Solar Electric Fence Pasture

The construction of our dwelling, what is sure to one day be a glorious yurt compound, continued to lag in a rather disappointing doldrum. Excuse after excuse–by builder, by designer, by general oversight contractor–has made us rather numb.

Slow Progress

The company continued to issue forth promises on dates by which they would erect the first stage of our new abode–a simple roof under which we can tuck our head until plumbing, appliances, and such can be set in place–and they continued to fail to meet those deadlines time and time again. A Christmas day date slid into a 27 December date, which stretched further into the end of the month yet again. I continue to pray for patience and the strength to restrain the bride when, inevitably, her frustrations will finally trigger an ancestral rage reminiscent of the legendary Mulan. (I am quite certain that it will be something like Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Lucy Liu balled into one for an impressive, albeit destructive, display deserving of a proper, old-school Kung Fu movie title with a fantasy-fiction twist…something like “Howling Yeti, Snarling Ogre” or “Girlie Fists of Inexplicable Pain.”)

Meanwhile, we have taken a break on establishing more long-term food production, with the exception of our practice of planting one pineapple every week. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 fruit producing trees in the ground and with our land a bit unsettled by the incomplete construction at the moment, we are for the time being focusing more on short-term production (garden variety fare of the annual and perennial sort) and on taking cuttings, and spreading, some of our more promising perennial foundation foods–like Brazilian and Malabar spinaches, lemongrass and other herbs. That said, another dozen or so gifted taro starts went into the wetter area of our test garden during this period (and we have plenty of water collecting areas that will become home to more taro in the future), as did some 25 kabocha squash plants and 25 Amazonian peanut starts.

Open Air, Cabin Homeschool

The cooler weather (it now dips into the 50s at night) and shorter daylight hours have made a very obvious impact on the growth rate of everything in our nursery–from carrots, to artichoke, to cacao. We have sowed some cooler weather fare–cauliflower, broccoli, and others–and they seem to be perfectly happy. This said, I should mention that the slow trickle of a harvest continues, from okra to radish (in December!).

Our First Radish

Harvesting Okra and Salad Greens (in December!)

We continue to research sources for some ornamental and money-making trees, like rainbow eucalyptus, sandalwood, and Christmas tree quality evergreens. Our agroforestry ambitions will have to sit on the back burner until our home is complete and we can begin clearing away more of the rubbish (shrubs and trees) piled high in the initial land clearing process.

Mr. Resourceful
Island Miscellany

As I put the finishing touches on this draft, temperatures on our nearby mountaintops have dropped into the 20s and the peaks are dusted with snow. Meanwhile, in the lowlands we are still seeing daytime highs in the 80s and the lava continues to flow toward a key market area of the town of Pahoa. “And along the shore?”, you ask. Folks are still snorkeling and surfing and paddle boarding, as is the norm. A wondrous place, I tell you.

Breakfast in “Bed”

To boot, it is whale watching season here and, while we have not yet beheld any of Jonah’s bane, we are on the lookout. (Some thirteen years ago, while lazily minding my own business at about 50 feet under water, on SCUBA and off the coast of Oahu, a humpback serenade began. I could not see the leviathan, but she was a magnificent vocalist.)

Meanwhile, one day this month as I motored along on the leeward side of the island past the shoreline home of Loretta Lynn, I was reminded of how surreal things can be here sometimes for this East Coast transplant. As I soaked in the natural and sunny Pacific Island ambiance, along came the unmistakable and familiar childhood sound on my car speakers of a very young Michael (and the rest of the Jackson Five) belting out the lyrics of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”…on airwaves from a radio station on the nearby island of Maui…where, across the water, I could catch glimpses of Haleakala, the dormant volcano where my bride and I spent a night camping in a tiny 2-man tent (in the crater) during our honeymoon two decades ago. And here we are, back in tents (and a cabin) in Hawaii…

Jeremiah Johnson of the Polynesian Persuasion

On the topic of the surreal, here is a little story that should give you a better sense of the character and meter of the land on which we live, if not freak you out.

One day, cleaning and studying around the rather remote off-grid cabin that is our temporary refuge, a light drizzling mist in the air, a large Hawaiian chap sauntered out of the thick, triple canopy rainforest unannounced and called out a greeting to the children. Sporting a rifle slung casually about one shoulder and with machete in one hand, none of us was quite sure what to make of this fellow. Friend or foe? After some back and forth about the whereabouts of our cabin’s owner and the plight of this man’s missing pig-hunting dogs, he slipped back into the bush and vanished with the same natural flow of movement with which he first emerged, but only after leaving his name and cell phone number in case we see his dogs. Just another neighbor, it turns out. Just another day in our “hood.”

I jest not when I further regale you with this tale: A few days after the encounter detailed above, while making my way toward the famous Hamakua coast, I drove past a young native Hawaiian women who was standing in the surf and welcoming in the day like Polynesians of yore, with a traditional blast from a conch shell in her right hand. In her left hand, and firmly pressed against the side of her head, was a cell phone with which she was holding a conversation between breathy bellows.

Scrivener’s Delight

I welcomed this month an invitation from an internationally known periodical to begin writing for them a regular blog about our grand life adventure. “What does it pay?,” you ask expectantly. Well…not anything resembling money. “Outrageous!,” you say. “Be it prose or poetry, a man of the quill must have coin to secure sustenance.”

Now, now…hold on a minute. You need to put this in perspective. First, most brand new freelance writers draft copy absent remuneration and simply for exposure…to get a foot in the door. So far, I have not had to do so, receiving pecuniary recognition from my very first full length article, which, by the way, you can read here:

Second, this blogging opportunity offers exposure in spades. The magazine’s website gets 7 million page views per month, best posts are shared with its newsletter subscribers (about 400,000 right now) and on its Facebook page (1.5 million fans). In fact, I netted three new subscribers to the blog you are reading now within days of the posting of my first missive for the magazine. Coincidence? Me thinks not.

Third and finally, this has the potential to open doors for more substantial paid writing assignments with the magazine itself. So I say, “Righteous!” (to borrow a popular hipster convention).

You can read my bio page and first posting for the magazine here:

Speaking of paid writing gigs, you oft hear it said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Poppycock! Modern economics have undermined this former truism. You see, new freelancers are typically paid ten cents per word and established writers command $1 per word. A good accompanying photo that is accepted for print usually earns the contributor $100-$200. You do the math.

More on Income Streams

I failed to note several months back that a travel channel type television program expressed interest in airing our story–the decision to live in alternative housing (a yurt in more remote environs). They offered us a few thousand dollars for the gig, but wanted us to return to our hometown (the Washington, D.C. area) on our own dime to begin filming the story from our point of departure from our previous, conventional life. Their money would barely offset the cost of the plane ticket for two (let alone six) of us, the time required would have eaten into our much needed physical efforts to jumpstart the homestead, and the exposure (in terms of possibly being spotted by entities offering other opportunities) seemed minimal. We declined. (For any reader out there who may be in a position to make similar offers with better terms, we are open to queries!)

Also, the rental car agency for which I work unexpectedly offered me more consistent and regular assignments…some 20 hours per week, but still only eating up two out of the seven days. If you have read my previous posts, you know that I view this as one of the best jobs in the world. (I am able to get a lot of personal work, educational reading, and even sleep knocked out while getting paid to “work” for the company.) Huzzah!

Meanwhile, both the spouse and I remain in process for security jobs at the airport. Turns out that the TSA was simply trying to build a bench of talent when they floated the “vacancy” notices. So…I guess we are waiting for someone to quit, be fired, or die…

Perhaps more exciting is the fact that Uber is opening shop on the island in early 2015. I have my application in, and they are running the requisite background check. (If you are unfamiliar with this global phenomenon, check out And… Localfu accepted me as a paid contributor of travel guidance ( I continue to debate whether or not to enter a local community college course that would make me a state-certified tour guide, the bride began tossing her hat in the ring for translations gigs, and I applied for a number of other freelance writing opportunities.

Yoga Cat

The Watch

Like the boys in black on the great wall of Westeros, we were drawn into a “watch” group for our broader district, and we held the first Neighborhood Watch meeting for our smaller area. At the former, a monthly event that we have been encouraged to attend by police and community members alike because we initiated Neighborhood Watch in our area, we received briefings from the district’s police captain, a humane society animal control officer, a vulcanologist, and Red Cross volunteers on a wide range of issues affecting our corner of the island.

At our first Neighborhood Watch meeting, turnout was solid (almost everyone contacted showed up) and the attitude was good. I was volunteered by my good compatriots to serve as the regional coordinator and focal point for our new effort, the first promotion I have seen in some time since leaving the career world behind. Blast that fortune cookie!!! (As many of you know, one of our goals for proceeding down this life detour was to be able to better plug into, and serve, community and church, and a fortune cookie–on the day I resigned from my job–politely informed me that I was destined to become a community leader.)

Relatedly, the very night after our first Neighborhood Watch meeting, we were forced to phone in an attempted burglary at the property adjacent to ours. More broadly speaking, we continued to phone in suspicious activity around our greater area as our three-a.m. paper route lead us again and again across the path of ne’er-do-wells and their antics on back roads at odd hours–young men with flashlights emerging from a residence backyard with flashlights to enter a waiting parked car (probably just a night hike), two cars tucked in the bushes side-window-to-side-window conducting some type of transaction (or perhaps just discussing world peace), an inexplicably aggressive driver tailing us through a part of our route until they saw us using our phone…to call the police. This just ain’t Elvis’s Hawaii…

Closing Out the Year

So that was December of 2014 for our small branch of the broader family tree. It was a good stretch. First Christmas in Hawaii, continued efforts to grow ourselves and food, and further learning to cope with the ever mercurial nature of everything on this rock, from climate to contractor malaise. See you next month.

USDA Organic Skincare for Mamas and Babies


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