Anniversary of Our Liberty, Lunacy, and Other (January 2015)

Congratulations to earth dwellers all ‘round! We have, after all, managed to complete yet another full circle journey ‘round the center of our universe without totally destroying our aged vessel. ‘Tis, for us all, a new year and nearby in the good town of Hilo, she was rung in with private arsenals of fireworks that rung out like gratuitous displays of military ordinance on some far flung banana republic’s national day and that would have made their ancient Chinese inventors beam with pride.

In our nuclear family, not only does this January mark the need to buy a new annual calendar, it represents the one-year anniversary of mom and dad’s resignation from stable, benefit-filled, well paying jobs to scratch out a living from the dirt on the side of a volcano. (I believe our kids refer to it roughly as “the year in which mom and dad hit a simultaneous mid-life crisis.”)

It also is the one year anniversary of my last haircut–a great source of discussion among many an acquaintance and kin–not to mention numerous birthdays from among the branches of our greater family tree. For these many points of celebration, I issue forth a heartfelt, albeit virtual, “huzzah!”

Our First Abiu

We Have a House!

Ha, ha, ha! Gotcha! I wish the heading above had even a ring of truth to it. No… We are still living in the world of tents, compost toilets, camp stove meals, and bucket showers (going on 6 months now). The never ending stream of excuses and delays took a new twist this time. You see, the day before the cement truck was scheduled to pour our footings, the county rejected our permitting application based on the results of a recently completed FEMA flood zone survey that has taken people in our district—from land owners to real estate agents to builders—by surprise. While there are many levels of craziness to this new chapter in our yurt building story, putting us ever closer to actually living within a Monty Python movie, suffice it to say that there is a growing body of angry citizens who are finding out about the county’s use of this new federal survey (adopting much more stringent guidelines than required by Washington) and, for us directly, the bottom line is that we now must have an elevation survey (costing us another unanticipated grand) before we can proceed with construction. Of course, it took a bit of time to find a surveyor, to get them to show up for a job, to complete said job, and to prepare the needed paperwork for the county. The dark side of paradise… We will keep you posted.

Ready To Pour Footings

Things of This World and Not

In previous posts, I have touched on the Big Island’s unique role as a veritable and live-in laboratory for both amateur and professional students of the sciences, including the hard and soft variety. From marine biology to vulcanology to astronomy, and from anthropology (Hula interpretation) to archaeology (petroglyphs and heiau) to history (Captain Cook) to linguistics (Pidgin), there is something for every person who shows even a speck of interest in the order of the natural world and the study of man. For the eschatology scholar, this place must be a wonderment, too.

Why? In yet another sign that the Creator views the Big Island as a testing ground for the Apocalypse, during this period on this little tropical Pacific rock, we actually had a blizzard! I kid you not. We put head to pillow one eve with news reports of anticipated 120 mile per hour winds and a one-foot snowfall upon the lofty peaks of our nearby volcanos. The National Weather Service frequency to which we had our storm radio tuned literally used the word “blizzard.” We awoke to snowcapped peaks, tree debris evidencing some mighty winds the island-round, and reports that the winds on mountaintop clocked in at 155 miles per hour.

Then there was drought. As many of you know, we carefully chose our homestead location in part for the daily rain because it reduces infrastructure costs (less need to trifle with complicated irrigation layouts and no water bill). Since we began our little outdoor nursery effort back in the June-July timeframe and up until recently, we did not water a single plant, and all was well. “And now?,” you ask. Well…between sometime before Christmas and 26 January, we did not see a decent rain. We were not diligent with watering through the holidays, and our nursery plants struggled a bit (we lost some, to be more frank). Most of our in-the-ground plants and trees—well protected with a good layer of mulch—are holding up well. Locals who rely on catchment for their water supplies were in a pinch and were forced to buy water by the truck load to refill their tanks and to ration water use.

“What end-of-times calamity is heading your way next?” Glad you asked. During the second quarter of the month, shifting winds brought to our side of the island something enjoyed more regularly by residents on the leeward side: VOG, otherwise known as volcanic fog, a lovely mixture of sulphur dioxide gas and other nasties that regularly escape from our beloved volcano. In the last week of Janus’s month, there was a small tremor that rattled our tent and loaned cabin as we slept one night.

(For more tongue-in-cheek drivel on this fire-and-brimstone theme, see my previous posts capturing the highlights of hail storms, hurricanes, lava flows, earthquakes, and forest fires that have occurred since our arrival on island some seven months prior. We have not yet been afflicted by a locust blight (but pickle worms decimated my cucumbers in the Fall) and we have not yet seen any leprosy (but my kid has eczema)…I think that leaves us only lacking in the experience of a tsunami to round out our collection of experiences since stepping ashore.)

Pecuniary Progress

We stepped up our business presence at the farmer’s market with this new fangled technology…

…which plugs right into our iPads or smartphones and allows us to now accept cards of the credit and debit variety, and we also began accepting electronic benefit transfer (EBT). (For the uninitiated, the state of Hawaii has one of the highest number of welfare recipients in the nation and EBT is the modern day equivalent of food stamps.)

Meanwhile, I secured a new flexible, part-time income stream coordinating by phone assistance for distressed tourists (about ten hours on-call each week, working from wherever I may be when the call comes) and I even get paid a pittance just to be on call…to carry a telephone around.

After a wonderful lunch interview over fresh grilled fish, I also landed a highly flexible income-earning opportunity working with high-school level foreign exchange students that, unexpectedly, includes lots of bonuses, like an all expenses paid trip to the annual company gathering (this year in Dublin, Ireland) if I can secure six new host families for visiting scholars in the next few months.

The bride, for her part, accepted an offer to plug back into the esoteric and hermit-loving world of translators, in which assignments can be made and products returned anywhere in the world via the magic of the Internet. (As originally planned, until our homesteading endeavors are mature enough to provide a larger percentage of our cash needs, we intend to keep feelers out on other money-making opportunities that would allow us to work within the requirements of homeschooling and homesteading.)

Homeschool Challenges

We are playing catch-up from all the holiday reverie, both in terms of our agricultural pursuits and homeschooling. On that note, and at the risk of sounding like a whiner, this seems like a fine place to put on paper some thoughts on homeschool challenges pertinent to our current situation.

First and foremost, hats off to m’lady, who plays principal, course planner, and instructor in most instances for all four kids, grades 5 through 12. I am merely the substitute teacher and carry responsibility for instruction in the types of things that are more often than not entrusted to the gym teacher, like nutrition and food science and religious studies. Of course, I also provide comic relief, occasional doses of discipline, and a steady stream of NPR podcasts and National Geographic and Mental Floss articles to stretch, round, and otherwise enhance the experience.

Allow me to frame the broader situation this way… I think everyone knows that homeschooling a child well is a formidable task, so I won’t dwell on the obvious. Rather, let me challenge you to noodle our current station in life a bit. If you have ever flirted with the idea of schooling your single elementary level child in the comforts of your well appointed abode in the safe suburbs, and found yourself daunted by the task, imagine tackling the likes of Advanced Placement courses (literature, psychology, and biology, to be more specific) with surly teenagers while living in a tent. Imagine wrapping a physical education regiment and earth sciences into regular farm-like chores with a ten-year-old. Did I mention the lack of electricity, solid Internet connectivity, and running water? Have I told you about the persistent criminal activity around our less-than-secure surroundings? Wild pigs traipsing through our spaces? Diligently marching through four curriculae is a daily struggle and, much like our other endeavors here, it is a dance—two steps forward, one step back, an occasional dip or twirl or stepped-on toe.

Irrespective of lesson plan progress, however, if you have read this blog long, you understand that education is something all four kids are getting in spades here in our interesting little world. And if that doesn’t sound like a lead-in for some pithy quotes, I don’t know what does…so here goes:

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." -- Mark Twain 

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is
a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ” – Albert Einstein

"Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” ― Isaac Asimov

"Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand."
-- Chinese proverb

Bringing It Home

How was the final chapter of the first month of the new year, the 31st of the month? Well, we began the day, a Saturday, at the Farmer’s Market, as usual with good food, good music, good company, plenty of time to do our many forms of admin work and make a few sales. In fact, it was another record day for seed sales. (We placed a month-long ad in the local paper the prior Monday and it appears to be paying off.)

While soaking in the market ambiance, I also completed my very first online assignment for LocalFu (a quick and easy $5 deposit to the old bank account) and fielded a few easy calls for the visitor’s assistance program for which I work (an easy $15 per hour). There are worse ways to earn wages…

Then? As for me, I spent my afternoon with a neighbor using a skid steer to drag abandoned and stolen vehicles out of the bushes along our little country road to block up areas frequented by an assortment of miscreants, and we fired up my new chainsaw to down an assortment of trees across trails cut by said ruffians to discourage further antics. As the moon rose in its three-quarters end-of-month beauty, the youngest and I played Rummy while listening to public radio and munching on fresh boiled peanuts…all by candle light…all outdoors at the off grid cabin where we currently hang our hats. Meanwhile, the bride shuttled the elder offsprings to and from a free class on how to use spreadsheets. Fun all around!

To really wrap this up, here’s a run-through of some other events of January in the rapid-fire fashion of R.E.M.’s famous “It’s the End of the World”…

Mom took a spill on the last day of her visit, face planting on our campsite gravel pad, and ended up convalescing in a downtown hotel for an extra week before returning to the mainland. (She refused to allow me to post a picture of the damage.) The dog suffered trauma to one eye (probably a chicken) and had to go through a round of vet visits and meds, but healed up well. (She, too, refused to allow me to post a picture of the damage.)  Neighborhood Watch efforts proceeded to gel with 20+ attendees at our meeting; though abandoned and stolen vehicles, vagrants, and an assortment of ne’er-do-well loiterers, agricultural thieves, and trash dumping continued to grace our little stretch of paradise. (Really!?!?! Who steals bamboo, sleeps on the road next to a dead pig overnight, or unloads their garbage on private land only 10 minutes away from the dump? Hill Billy Hawaii….) Also, our eldest began formally preparing for her Hawaii driver’s license. (Yikes!) And…compassionate congregation members invited us over for lunch and showers! (Odd concept, I know, but when you have been bathing out of a bucket for six months, the gift of a hot pressurized shower is divine.)  Birthday celebrations for me and my favorite son this month took us to the Hilo Burger Joint for free burgers and great live music!

And last, but not least, I’ll note that the generosity of our newspaper customers spilled over into the new year with surprises of a jar of homemade mountain apple preserves, a small jug of organic maple syrup from Maine, and more tips. We also brought onboard a new customer (which means a bonus and increased monthly check). The life of a paper carrier can be good, sometimes…

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