Happy New Year, Yet Again! (March 2015)

We interrupt this blog to wish you a Happy Nowruz! Having greeted 2015 in accordance with Greco-Roman, Han, and now Persian tradition, I promise to let lie the issue of New Year’s greetings. We also would like to take advantage of this brief interruption to notify you that this was a month chock full of noteworthy events, wit, and out of body experiences, all packed in authentic juices. That said, this post tends toward the lengthy; consider yourself warned. Sit back in a comfy chair and prepare to be dazzled. (Some of it may even be true…)

More Natural Disaster Fun Ahead?

Captain’s Log, Star Date

Okay…I just can’t get over the passing of Leonard Nimoy last month, and what better way to kick of the March post than with a nod to a geek celebration that would certainly have been acknowledged by Spock. That’s right, among the many days and events of note this month, March is most importantly the time of Pi Day, when we celebrate the infinite, almost mystical number, representing the ratio between the circumference and diameter of any circle.

This year marked a very special iteration of the nerd observance. You see, in an opportunity that passes only once every 100 years, this month, the holiday could be celebrated twice on one day out to ten digits with total accuracy using just a standard time piece: 9:26:53 (a.m. and p.m.) on 14 March 2015….3.141592653. (14 March is also the birthday of Einstein and the day on which MIT aims to notify new students of their acceptance into the university, making this day even more geeked out.)

One Of Our Happy Apple Banana Plants

On the topic of holidays, while the genetic heritage of myself and three of the kids tends more toward the Scottish side of the Celtic spectrum, and the Han bride and Thai Princess (our firsborn) tolerate our inborn penchant for bagpipes and the occasional haggis, who can pass up the corned beef, cabbage, soda bread, heavy beer, and assorted potato dishes that herald the Americanized celebration of a very Irish holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day, even if the celebrants are stuck all the way out in the Pacific in the very non-European pockets of U.S. citizenry in good ole Hawaii? Strange as it may be, here in the heart of Polynesia, corned beef and cabbages went on sale starting in early March, and we secured our share…

…and the eldest child, not a strand of European DNA in her, whipped up soda bread from scratch (a Julia Childs protege, I tell you).

I’ll note here too that St. Patty was actually a Scotsman, perhaps making our celebration of this savior of Irish souls even more fitting than it may at first seem. Then again, irrespective of one’s ethnic extraction, and of man’s natural tendency to look for any excuse to down some pickled cow and excellent brews, this type of disjointed affiliation between ancestry and celebration apparently makes sense—nay, it is the norm—in this age of mixed marriages, forgotten heritages, and mongrel offshoots in today’s only super power. Indeed, a lovely Indian lass once told me that her “white” boyfriends, bereft of any clear European identity, regularly enjoyed at least some semblance of cultural expression by glomming on to her family traditions. (On that note, I’ll comment that I much prefer “European American” to “White.” After all, no other group is referred to by their melanin count on official forms these days, are they? Can you imagine a survey that included biographical choices for race like “brown” and “yellow” in addition to “white”?) But, once again, I digress…

One Of Our Happy Taro Patches

Homestead Update

As noted in previous entries, we early on focused on building a long-term food production infrastructure with an emphasis on planting long-lived perennial food bearing members of the Plant Kingdom—“strategic” planting, for the military minded and executives among you. From blueberry bushes to papaya trees, from artichoke to asparagus, we have now sunk into our patch of earth more new, long-life genetic material than we can accurately count. Some of these additions began to produce almost immediately, albeit in modest quantity, such as our abiu and fig trees and our poha berry bushes. Others will take a while before we see dividends, like the coconut, banana, durian, etc. Our collection of self seeding and perennial culinary herbs and spices have a similar bifurcated production timeframe. We are now regularly taking lemongrass and rosemary and chili pepper from our plot to season our meals, but it will be sometime before the black pepper, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and cinnamon are ready for harvest.

Our Vibrant Lemon Grass Patch

More recently, our focus has been tactical with most of our planting focused on nutrient dense, faster growing and producing annuals that make up the bulk of our diet—green leafy things, in particular. Bok Choy, several varieties of spinach, kale, chard, and other healthy wonders are now spotting the landscape of our homestead. We have focused, too, on food loss prevention. While the occasionally escaped hen continues to pluck newly sprouted greens from the soil, what appears to be a rodent made its way through one of my permaculture beds extracting every last black peanut (plant and subterranean legume) with laser precision.

Mamaki – A Prized Medicinal Plant Growing Wild On Our Property

We also tripped across an opportunity—through inexpensive saplings—to put our toe into the water in regards to our broader plans for nurturing this land beyond the food-producing realm. More specifically, we added three koa trees—a much sought after native hardwood used in carving, furniture building, etc., that can bring in considerable coin upon maturity, if the owner is in a position to part with its aesthetic addition to property and its role in preserving native species. (Sandalwood and Rainbow Eucalyptus are just a few more on our list of planned long-term acquisitions, and the bride scored at a swap meet a free sapling of kukui nut—also called candle nut for the large seed’s ability to burn and provide light. We continue to toy with the idea of growing Christmas trees, too.)

One Of Our Brazilian Spinach Patches

Construction delays and difficulties comfortably occupying our land more permanently have made it very challenging to reestablish the livestock side of our endeavor. We have not yet begun our apiary or resumed rabbit rearing. As reported earlier, our fortuitous inexpensive acquisition of a few dairy goats ended in misfortune before they could be made productive, and our chicken flock has been decimated by dogs. I’ll note here too that, frequently escaped chickens have ravaged many a plant that we put into the ground, to include a small field that I hand planted with a delightful, deep purple, sweet Iroquois corn. The birds’ hit-and-miss egg production under less-than constant attention have made them greater consumers than producers. Time for the soup pot? For now, we have just clipped the flight feathers on one troublemaker.

New Portable Solar-powered Electric Chicken Fence

Clearing and construction delays have put us a good five-to-six months behind where we had hoped to be in terms of personal food production at this point (a real setback when you are living mostly off of savings). We have a very long way to go in terms of establishing a sustainable food system, but I am happy to report that—for the first time—we were able to make up nearly an entire meal for all six of us from vegetable goodness extracted right from the soil on our little patch of earth. Aside from a bit of store-bought pork, this stew was chock full of homegrown goodness—taro leaves and stalks, turnips and turnip greens, radish greens, arugula, mache, red rhubarb chard, and more.

More Strawberries Coming In (For the Chickens to Steal)

An Ode To the Bean

For those of us enslaved by the dark master, there is something to be said for living in conditions—no matter how rustic—that allow one the opportunity to quaff coffee grown less than a few hundred feet from where you sit, picked and ground by your own hand, and professionally roasted in a boutique-sized mill just down the road. French press is my paraphernalia of choice in this arena.

When we began this life journey, I accepted the very real possibility that I would need to part with my sultry mocha lady love out of economic need. Alas, man can live without the joe, it turns out, and we have been forced to evaluate and then reevaluate “needs” with some frequency along this journey.

All that was before one of my good neighbors gave me his second fruiting of coffee cherries for the season (he already had more than he could drink for the year), as long as we picked the luscious red orbs ourselves. Once pulped, dried, and roasted, we bagged some 30 pounds for our personal use. (I use “our” very liberally here, as I am the only one who really downs the black silk.) So…I remain well caffeinated on most mornings, at least for now.

Prom Boy and His Dear Ole Ma

The Housing Front

“How’s the building permitting going with all that flood zone nonsense?,” you ask. Well…in a most fascinating development, we just this month traversed that ethereal boundary set eons ago between the worlds of Monty Python and the Twilight Zone. Remember in my last post how I noted “It could have been worse”?

So…the powers that be now want the dwelling floor raised 4-foot above that originally planned (not such a big deal) and, if we want to use the least expensive of catchment tanks (steel, our currently existing tank), we need to lift that 10,000 gallon beastie eight feet off of the ground. I know…I know… We have had general contractors tell us that such a set up would be downright dangerous. We are now browsing several options, to include the possibility of a plastic catchment tank that does not have an FDA approved liner but that will, literally, break away from the house in the time of a flood (remember, this is a newly proposed “flood zone” with a 1-percent chance of a flood in 100-years)…this at the unplanned for expense of some ten-thousand dollars. Will the madness never cease? We will keep you posted.

A Happy Patch of Pineapples

Meanwhile, out of the blue, we had two families offer us vacated houses to live in while we weather this permitting storm, and a third family offered us an opportunity to again house sit their fully wired abode while they are back on the mainland. So…while we greatly appreciated the off-grid cabin that we have called home for these past several lunar cycles, by mid-month, like the wandering nomads we have become, we packed up our meager belongings and headed into town…into a house with water and electricity and a yard chock full of food-producing trees.

Farewell, for Now, Little Cabin in the Woods

Sydney (the dog) and Maya (the cat) have joined us and, for the first time in many a moon, we are all under one roof and are regaining many productive hours by not having to haul water and ice blocks, boil water for showers, empty compost toilets, etc. Given the logistical and financial stresses of our great adventure, these are marks of civility—nay, luxuries—that we are grateful to once again enjoy. (One night, long unaccustomed to on-demand electric light in the dead of night, I found myself fumbling around in the dark on some fool’s errand until I remembered that I could flip a switch and quickly improve my situation.)

Show Me the Money!

Speaking of financial stresses, the taxman cometh. As I noted very early in this effort to document this journey, the IRS will prove to be the biggest challenge to our efforts and we fully expect to get financially body slammed come 15 April. Though we have not held solid jobs for more than a year, the IRS (and the Obamacare system) view us as wealthy because we decided to sell mortgaged property and use our savings to pay all of our consumer and housing debts and to secure a debt-free property and home. This is a penalty we knew we would need to pay to start a new life and settle our debts, but it is—alas—the system we live in. We have always been willing to pay taxes due, no question. “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Right? That said, this go-around on tax day we will be hit with penalties and—believe it or not—probably a higher tax bracket than when we were working…all because we chose to use our hard earned money and assets to clear ourselves of debt and build a more sustainable life. Our tax man, funny guy that he is, already noted, “You guys will need to be sitting down when we have our final meeting this year.”

As we have learned very quickly during this grand experiment, you can live a very comfortable life in this country if you have a job that allows you to secure just enough debt to live beyond your means while saving just enough for the retirement home, or if you are flat broke and accept state assistance. Indeed, we have acquaintances here who live entirely on welfare in much better conditions than we have seen in months—smart phones and frappacinos included (a tale for another time). There are no provisions in our modern society for people in between—those who want to really own their property and home outright, produce their own food and their own energy and water needs, educate their own children, be productive and contributing members of the community, and work to support themselves. (Unless, of course, you are independently wealthy and could just use the vast cash reserves hidden in your mattress to build your new life.) I kid you not when I say that our financial situation would be less “interesting” if we declared bankruptcy or allowed ourselves to completely run out of money and go on public support. More on this topic some other time…

Our Baby Cinnamon Tree

Merchants of Death

They gather in public places this time of year, an annual ritual. Here on the Big Island, they emerged from hiding, like locusts, in the early part of this month. No, I am not talking about the underworld brotherhood of gray arms sellers. I am talking about the Girl Scouts.

In droves they came forth to peddle their poisonous wares to the already ailing American population, undoubtedly at the same time that some of them were working on the last requirements of their “Fitness” badges. The little women in green marched forth like a conquering force, but with disarmingly cute smiles, chanting, “Trefoils, Samoas, Tagalongs!”

Meanwhile, droves of life-long addicts—desperate to resupply their annual stash of this proprietary, seasonal, dietary contraband—flocked to the scene. It is a rather perverse ritual here in the Land of Plenty, played out at grocery store entryways, in malls, and other venues.

(Now, don’t get me wrong. My three girls were all scouts and I am a recovered Thin Mints junkie myself. It remains unclear to me, though, how the leadership of the Girl Scouts can claim to promote health and fitness while making most of their business-related money from a product that has as its main ingredients components that lay at the root of many of the ongoing health epidemics in America—metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, etc. Do they not read the ingredients label of their own famed and profitable product? Will not one of the younglings in green stand up, even lead a rebellion, against this hypocrisy? Can’t they sell fancy tropical fruit or doilies? Sigh…)

On the Family Front

From somewhere in the recesses of my addled mind, I seem to recall once reading a scholarly work that was focused on the apocryphal medical condition known in adolescent circles as “taco-induced coma,” or more simply as “taco coma,” (“T.C.” For short)—a matter of grave concern for today’s youth, I understand. Now, many people would reject the opportunity to fill their time with the consumption of such esoterica, but I knew this rare knowledge would one day serve me well; I read it in full. But comprehending and experiencing are two different things. And so it was that, after six-hours of backbreaking planting and other homestead chores one day, the bride and I found ourselves being invited by our brood to dinner…at the local diner…which happened to have all-you-can-eat tacos that eve; we all six indulged.

Fifty-three tacos later (the boy alone downed eleven), full of GMO-corn tortillas and hormone filled chicken and beef, we pushed back from the table and proceeded to grasp the true meaning of “taco coma.” We slept well that night…or, at least, I think it was some form of sleep. (I cannot recall anything after the point at which we paid the bill…)

One step closer to full Amish status, after last month’s pseudo barn raising, we this month headed over to a family friend’s homestead to help build a new chicken yard. Shared meals with this family included rabbit and wild sheep pizza on hand-milled grain crust and rabbit burritos.

One day, we rounded up the tikes and headed West for a field trip on the far side of the island.

We visited a temple erected by the famous unifier of the Hawaiian Island, King Kamehameha.

As a sign that the ancient religion of Hawaii is alive, fresh sacrificial offerings were seen near this monument.

Rounding out the trip was some snorkeling at a white cove beach, a quick shopping stop at the island’s only Costco, and free burgers at an upscale joint that had given me a $50 gift card to make up for a less-than-satisfactory experience during a previous visit.

Three Little Pigs

For us, encounters with wild pigs have become routine, blasé even. There was one incident worth noting this month, though. Sometime around four a.m., while on our paper route, we ended up behind three little tikes—black as coal, siblings by the looks of them, and none too old (they were each about the size of a rugby ball). Surprised when we rounded a corner, they began running away from the big scary Jeep by proceeding straight down the broken country road along which we were delivering papers. We followed slowly behind, admiring some of God’s feral creatures. Then the three of them saw it…just ahead…some golf-ball sized yellow orbs lying in the middle of the road, illuminated by my headlights: fallen wild guava.

Now, I cannot fully explain in detail the complex interaction that next transpired before our eyes, but a series of cross glances, pauses, and squeals made me certain there was a dialog between the wee ones that went something like this:

“Look, guys! Guava!”
“But there is a big scary machine barreling down behind us!”
“Dude! It’s Guava!!!!”
“Come on… When was the last time we had guava? We are too short to reach it on the tree!”

The three wee porkers stopped, turned to eye us, and proceeded to feast on the downed wild fruit. We had no choice but to stop, laugh, and watch the feast. I was very tempted to try to scoop up one of the little guys to take home.

(I’ll note here that gunshots are not uncommon in our neck of the woods at any time of day (or night), and we have encountered pig hunters in our little slice of backcountry on many an occasion in the dark of night or early morning as we drive to or from our property. While that all relates to the porcine rich environment here, it also reflects the area’s rural nature. Which reminds me… One day this month, while collecting our mail, a lady pulled into the post office parking lot on…a horse!)

No Rest for the Weary

Resigned from our careers and going for broke, we are somehow busier than ever. A few road maintenance association board meetings, a community homeschool meeting, helping neighbors and friends with one chore or another, church gatherings and choir practice and poetry workshops, neighborhood watch… (Speaking of The Watch, you really get a dose of reality in terms of the type of community that you live in when your briefings from the police range from the identification of the number one car thief in your area to the laws that govern wayward cows and liability for the trail of destruction said bovine can leave in her wake.)

This month, I unexpectedly found myself rubbing elbows with Hilo’s finest, and suffering flashbacks to many a diplomatic function, when I was asked to attend a banquet as part of my responsibilities with the non-profit for which I work in a part-time, flexible capacity. In attendance were the mayor, the fire chief, the assistant police chief, the chief prosecutor, and a few councilmen. Even a representative from the governor’s office spoke at this gathering to honor the fireman of the year and the policeman of the month. Good food. Too much small-town politicking for my taste.

My Office Supplies

Speaking of non-profits, I also completed my training for a second such organization and will shortly be diving into that line of business (coordinating for an international exchange student program). King of Non-Profits or King of No Profit? Time will tell…

The bride received her first several translation assignments, quickly moving her back into night owl mode (her preferred operating status) as the rest of us tried to block out the incessant clacking of a laptop keyboard at three a.m. on several days. Out of the blue, she was also asked to apply for a position teaching a course at the local community college… No, not in poise and sophistication or any of her languages…but in agricultural business practices. Huzzah! (Who would ever have thought she would be teaching such a thing while I was being paid to write articles about composting and the merits of ancestral eating regimens?)

A Few Things in Closing

Cold Mountain. For those who appreciated this fantastic movie, or the book, little did you know that the Carolinas do not lay claim to the only frigid hill. Mauna Kea was so covered in snow this month that the winds blowing across and down from the mountain chilled many parts of the island. One morning, at the Farmer’s Market where we hawk our goods, the musicians were literally wearing gloves to keep their fingers warm enough to extract melodies from their instruments. On another day, while tapping out some of this post, I found myself wrapped in a sweat shirt under a fleece jacket, thoughts wandering toward a warm fire. (I had no means to determine the temperature, but the bone chilling rain exposed my increasing sensitivity to the cold as my earth suit acclimates to the warmer weather here.)

Land of Civil Defense Announcements. Just about every day, on the radio, we are enlightened by the latest announcements from the the good people in the Civil Defense apparatus. Soon after we arrived on island, it was all about the hurricane coming to slam dance with the locals. Then there was the lava flow, about which we still get periodic updates. This month, we had something new—a Civil Defense Announcement focused on marine predators. You see, two popular beaches closed for several days in response to a tourist nearly losing an arm to a 12-foot tiger shark while he was standing in four-feet of water. Man! This place just has something for everyone! (I am giddy with anticipation that we will one day soon get to experience a Civil Defense Announcement regarding flying saucers and an invasion by extraterrestrials.)

Five Flats and Counting. Sounds like a rock band, right? Alas, this is the story of our Jeep. Since buying this work horse in July of last year, we have had five flat tires (one irreparable). That is an average of one flat tire every two months, though the last three seem to have hit us in quick succession just in the past few moon cycles. Granted, these were all the original tires (some four years old at this point), but when coupled with the broken transmission cable on our sedan (detailed in last month’s post), I’d have to say that this place is rough on the rides. A dented bumper, a (tiny) dent in a side panel, pock marked roofing, a touch of rust here and there in the oddest hidden interior places, and scuffs down the sides testify to the Jeep’s expanding chops as a work tool.

March of the ‘Rents. The end of the month ushered in the arrival of the parental units on the Han side of the family and marked the beginning of their month-long stay with us in our new, temporary digs. Given cause for celebration, or at least a welcome meal, the youngest suggested we put out a Hawaiian spread; and so we did. Kalua pig and butterfish lau lau, four kinds of poke (white crab, tuna, marlin, octopus), pipikaula (like a Hawaiian version of bresaola), lomi lomi (think salsa with salmon), kulolo (taro and coconut cake), and both fresh and fermented poi, one of the red type that was once reserved only for royals and one of the purple taro variety (which I swear it is the main, if not sole, ingredient of my all time infant-food favorite, Gerber’s Blueberry Buckle…there is just something about it that resonates with my deep subconscious). Grandpa has already begun chipping in on the homestead by helping clip flight feathers on an escape-artist chicken and planting taro.  Both inlaws tried their hand at the fascinating task of wee hour newspaper delivery, riding shotgun with the bride.

Homeschool Madness. The bride and the brood attended an informal gathering of homeschoolers here on the East Side to discuss the possibility of more networking and collaboration. After two hours of discussion ranging from a need to expose the youths to the Hari Krishna movement to arguments for the merits of “unschooling,” and after one Caucasian three-year-old (supported by his mother) tried to explain how he was Chinese in a previous life, the group disbanded. Lovely people, but we’ve decided to “do it my way,” as the affable ole blue eyed crooner used to sing. (If you are unfamiliar with the concept of unschooling, google it sometime.)

Hippy Bananas. As promised in last month’s post, here is a snippet forgotten—or subconsciously suppressed—from the Fall. So…in response to a Craig’s List posting, the eldest daughter and I headed off to the lower part of our district, a known bastion for counter culture types, to pick out and buy an assortment of banana plants from an impressive 28-plus variety selection on an expansive food-producing plot. Everyone was clothed when we arrived at the compound, I think. As I went around to hand select our take, my guide preferred to go shirtless (not uncommon among men here), the daughter was invited into a an eating area for some fresh fruit and drinks. By her account, that is where things got “interesting” as she noticed the little kids were frolicking about in the buff and some of the older folks were shirtless or apparently pulling on clothes when they noted her approaching. As we drove away from this collection of lovely souls, after making our purchase, we noted some tan young fellows in their twenties or so coming out of the woodworks like Adam strolling through Eden—wearing nothing but their birthday suits—to resume work on a construction project. A little shocking for my young one, but I felt somewhat at home as I reflected on the summer that I spent in a college co-op that had a “clothing optional” policy. No, I did not exercise my rights under this policy, but the story—which I shall save for another post—led one of my previous executive level bosses to nickname me “Moon Beam.”

‘Til next month…


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