Weighty Waypoint – Marking One Year On Island (June 2015)

So…we did an assessment post on this blog at the one-year mark when we left our jobs and started cashing out our lives on the mainland (January 2014).  This month, we reach the one-year mark at which we touched down on the Big Island (June 2014).  So…where do we stand?  

Our First Passionfruit Blossom

In my limited view, in a nutshell, some days, I feel like Gregor Mendel diligently working in an 1800s European monastery garden toward a new discovery, making lots of progress.  Other days, I feel like Howie Mandel during a stand-up routine at the local improv (acting goofy and wondering where my next meal is  coming from).  Then there are those days in which I look, and feel, like the wild-white-haired old man played by Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett Show…bewildered, shuffling fast (but moving slow).  "And more broadly?,“ you ask.

Well…to mark our one-year anniversary here, to take a sanity check, the bride and I one day went out together at 0330 hours on the paper route, followed by a leisurely dawn breakfast at the local pancake house, so we could take toll of our "progress”–finances, homeschool, homestead, becoming active and productive members of our local community.  Keep in mind that one year on island means one and a half years since we walked away from our careers…1.5 years of experimental (or should that be “experiential”?) craziness.  Here’s the damage:

We Made the News!

Finances.  Well…we stand about where we expected–nearly broke and poised to adopt spending austerity measures that are in line with those of the North Korean government.  Consumer debt is zero.  We own our land outright.  We have paid for the construction of most of our to-be-built dwelling.  We are in the process of selling our last asset (our last residence in Virginia) to finish our dwelling here and put into place a solar power system and water catchment (no utility bills).  We are close to living paycheck-to-paycheck, but with very few expenses. We have secured several income streams of increasingly lucrative natures and are poised to start dropping the ones that offer lower overall returns in terms of time required.  Our longstanding lives of caviar and champagne have turned to ones of beans and rice (and the accompanying flatulence), but we have never heard or experienced so much laughter, cried so many tears, or spent so much time “investing” in those things that really matter in life.

The House.  Ha!  Don’t get me started…  Next.  (Seriously, though, we finally got a good draftsman–the company dropped the less than impressive one that we were struggling with–our new drafts are near done, the clearing crew has us back on their waiting list (we are next in line) for a new house pad, cistern, cess pool, etc.  I guess that is progress.) By the grace of God, through wonderful new Christian friends, we are under a solid roof “house sitting” for the time being.

Harvested and Drying – Seed (Dill) and Seed Pods (Bok Choi and Radish)

The Broader Homestead.  Well…you have read our monthly updates.  According to some locals, we have achieved more than most people do in five years when starting here with new land in terms of planting and production.  According to the standards of our Type-A personalities, we really should be further along.  It is what it is.  Ultimately, we have learned to accept that we are on the Maker’s schedule, not our own.  Meanwhile, the bride has been inching us back toward a hippy homestead toiletries line-up by again making all of our own shampoo and conditioner (toothpaste and tallow balm will undoubtedly follow soon) and our production of homemade refrigerator pickles and lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchi is back in full swing.  On the apiary front, I am in the process of ordering some hives to reboot our production of honey, wax, propolis, and pollen (I say “in the process” because the company has offered to make us distributors for their product on the Big Island and we are currently working out terms).

Homestead-related Income.  We are now the local distributors for two companies that produce non-GMO, heirloom, and organic seeds while sale of our own seeds, seedlings, and saplings continues apace.  Per above, we may soon start hawking hives and hive set up services as well.  Meanwhile, the girls just secured a license to begin selling baked goods at the local farmer’s market and kicked off this new enterprise with a European flare…real biscotti (the kind that require dipping before eating unless you want to break a tooth).

‘Da Paddla’ (”The Paddler”)

Homeschool.  Victory on several fronts.  First, in accordance with completion of your 12th grade in homeschooling in Hawaii, the eldest passed her four GED exams and proceeded within days down to the college registrar’s office to enroll; time to focus on that driver’s test.  Second, the eldest and next to oldest took the SAT and earned scores that were good enough to prevent a parental beheading.  Third, the youngest took a mandatory state test for homeschooled kids at the 5th grade level and scored in the 98th percentile. (More remarkably, she tested–on average–at the 11th grade level, including two subjects–Social Studies and Use of Sources of Information–for which she tested at the college level….a 5th grader!  She tested at the 12th grade level in science.)  This more than confirms our understanding that Wee One was definitely not being challenged in a traditional school setting, even in the advanced academic program at a magnet school where she attended formerly by invitation in one of the top public school sytems in the country.

Last, but not least, the boy…working through Homer’s Odyssey and Advanced Placement Biology is keeping him busy, and he is doing well.  Other than that, we will work through the summer to make up for lags caused by our difficult living conditions during much of this transition period, but there is no question that the kids are seeing growth well beyond what we ever witnessed when they were in public school.   (As a side note, most remarkable to us on the homeschool front is the realization of just how many things our kids have not been taught in public school and just how much they were kept from reaching their individual potentials.  Increasingly, I have come to view the policy of “No Child Left Behind” as “Many Children Kept From Reaching Full Potential.”)

A Good Day’s Haul (Poha Berries, Upo, Taro Leaves, Chilis, Dill Seed)

Community.  All good…maybe even better than anticipated.  We have plugged into an excellent church and are growing daily in fellowship, Biblical literacy, and spiritual depth.  Kids have made friends in several circles on the island.  We have locked into multiple non-profit organizations, a local farmer’s market, and neighborhood watch.  We know, share with, assist, and trust our few neighbors and congregation members more deeply than many of our own kin (a natural by-product of rural and small-church living).  The idea of helping establish the first farmer’s union for our district was recently run by me by two experienced growers, one of international acclaim. 

As my grandma used to say, “Lordy! Lordy!”  How far this journey has come from where I began.  On that note, I’ll comment that now, in my new life, when I walk into the local famer’s co-op, I am greeted by name by employees as I navigate the isles to procure some biochar or fishbone meal.  In my no-so-distant-past life, I was greeted by name by the sommelier when I waltzed into the local upscale wine bar in Northern Virginia or when I entered the elevator when living abroad (yes, we had an elevator attendant). 

Health (Mental and Otherwise).  A bit of background first.  A deep-seated desire for improved physical, emotional, and relationship wellness were some of the many factors that made it easier for us to follow the calling to embark on this endeavor, to sojourn toward a more “back to the earth” lifestyle.  We were determined to not allow ourselves to slip into patterns that we saw all around us, everyday, in our place of work as people moved up the ladder–thirty-year-old first line managers with stress-induced chest pains, mid-level managers plagued with weight and blood sugar issues fueled by stress eating, senior managers and “leaders” separated from (and allowing long-term damage within) their families by the press of business (not only by 12-hour days and work on weekends and holidays, but split living arrangements forced by certain assignments abroad), and staff from top to bottom with a whole range of psychosomatic ailments derived from the nonsense of misguided concepts of “priority” and exhibiting rates of alcoholism and divorce and sexual addiction that outpaced national norms.  (I wish I were making this stuff up.)  Before leaving, we took our kids to our places of work for a final farewell.  The youngest asked, “Dad, why do all the people here look so unhappy?”  I chuckled.  Time to go, indeed.

Well…I am happy to report that, since arriving on island, the frequency with which we have suffered even common ailments has dropped remarkably, with annual respiratory and flu issues sidestepped altogether this past dozen moon cycles.  Not one of us has been to a doctor for any complaint. (Part of this is almost certainly due to the fact that the four kids are not circulating inside the confines of public schools all day long and bringing home a host of microbes as diverse as the population of the community that we left, the fact that we are not working in places where employees insist on showing up to work when sick because they view themselves as indispensable, and the fact that I continue to refuse to allow the boy to touch the chainsaw.)  We are all more fit, more active, and have tans of the healthy sort.  Eczema remains a challenge for one of the lasses, but increasingly less so with the introduction of aloe vera juice to the diet.  

All From Our Land (Figs, Blueberries, Tomato, Lettuces, Beans)

“And what of the other types of wellness?,“ you ask.  The bride and I have been able to resume regular date nights and, if you have read any of this blog prior, you know that the amount of family time has increased many fold.  We have all been able to focus on building healthier and deeper relationships with other fine citizens than we have ever experienced before.  We have been able to indulge our interest in leisure reading, correspondence with friends, study of scripture, full night’s sleep, and many other sought-after luxuries that we previously only found in fleeting moments of escape known as "vacation” or sick days.

All-in-all…so far, so good.

Hawking European Culinary Fineries

“Look, old chap.  This narrative is most remarkable, but give us some grit.  Surely, there are things that you miss, my good fellow?  What do you love most of this so-called new life?  What of the other voices in this collective story?“

Good question, my queerly British sounding interlocutor.  What would a one-year assessment be without some individual input on things missed and things cherished by all the crew members of this grand journey.  So…in order of decreasing age, here we go, in their own words (I am not responsible for grammar, spelling, or other marks of fine communication):

The Captain (in more of a Jack Sparrow way than Lord Nelson).  Okay…  I miss mid-Atlantic Fall weather, Renaissance festivals, all-you-can-watch online streaming movies (Internet service here is somewhat provincial), fine and ethnic foods (reasonably priced aged cheeses, good prosciutto and bresaola, Virginia peanuts, real Virginia ham, Afghan cuisine, Greek nosh, tapas, Lebanese fare, etc.).  I miss things still tucked in storage, our shipped goods from Virginia, that I have not been able to locate (proper dress pants and belt, my leather-bound journal, our Dungeons and Dragons supplies, the PS3).  I give many a thanks for the ready availability of NPR programming on the radio (especially Prairie Home Companion and Thistle and Shamrock), the Internet-facilitated availability of old familiar comforts (like www.ancientfm.com and Celtic Moon Radio), an excellent local library system, a church focused on expository teaching and exegetical scripture interpretation, good weather, and excellent access to tropical fruit, poke and poi, and the ocean, and (of course) all our new friends.

Bok Choy Coming In

First Mate (The Bride).  “I miss the availability of good ethnic food (authentic Chinese regional food, noodles that aren’t gooey, dimsum, real wontons with shrimp, Shanghai dumplings, Ethiopian fare, Korean BBQ, middle eastern cuisine).  I miss hanging out at the the local flagship Whole Foods where we whiled away many pleasant hours at the wine bar, the seafood bar, the outdoor patio listening to great local musicians.  I miss attending events at Wolf Trap on summer evenings and performances at the Kennedy Center and other venues.  I miss the museums and art galleries.  On occasion, I miss air conditioning and dressing up.  I miss certain stores like REI, Mrs. Green’s, Mom’s Organic Market, Papyrus, Crabtree and Evelyn, etc.  I miss places for high tea.  I miss traveling.  I miss friends and family in Virginia.  Most of all, I miss not having to worry about our finances.  

I love that I get to spend most of my time with the children and spouse (although he often drives us all crazy, being a natural-born Mr. Supervisor).  I love having the time and energy to shape the development of my children, watch them grow and learn and become better people, and guide them through difficult times.  I love how our family has grown closer.  I feel absolute contentment when we are sitting around the table, talking and cutting up and enjoying each others’ company.  I love that my children are getting along better and seem to be more appreciative of each other and of the parental units.  I love harvesting from our garden and seeing progress on our homestead.  I love that I can wear flip flops everyday if I so choose and being able to do my translation work in my PJs.  I am grateful for our wonderful church family and new friends here.  This transition is harder than I had expected, but the children have hardly complained, for which I am also very grateful.  Some days were so frustrating I didn’t know if I could hang in there, but the kids made all the difference (they’d swoop in to help, crack a joke, distract me from my troubles with their good nature, etc.).”

Meager Harvest of Limas (Tasty, Nonetheless)

First Navigator (The Eldest). “What I miss: Good quality ethnic cuisine, such as Greek, Persian, Italian e.t.c. More modern shops and malls, people who are more sophisticated, and don’t walk around shirtless. My own room, a television, hanging out and seeing all my friends from school. My father having short hair and looking more professional. I miss seasons, seeing the leaves change colors on trees, smelling campfires burn while camping. I miss people who can speak well, and not talk in pidgin.  I miss shopping with my friends after school and going to football games. I miss people who have hygiene and can take care of themselves and act like adults. I miss all our relatives and going to Nana’s house on the weekends. I hate the fire ants that have bitten my thighs and leave red itchy welts (which go away after a few days). I’ll miss not being able to go on road-trips with my friends back in California (we dreamed of going to college together and going on a college road trip).  I miss being able to travel and live overseas, experiencing other countries’ food and culture.

What I like: I like going to Kona, hanging out on the beach, seeing sea turtles chill out on rocks. I  like being more involved with church. I absolutely adore our Australian Shepherd Sydney, how cute she is and her funny personality. We got her as a puppy and I love seeing her grow everyday. I like how our family spends more time together.”

Pier 1 Imports In March, Now This!!!! (Small Town Excitement)

Ship’s Jester (Fruit Cake).  “ ‘Tis I, the Jester, the fruitiest fruitcake around! I appreciate you all admiring my gorgeous pictures, as you can obviously tell, I got the good looks. Joking, I’m the humblest. Again, kidding, but I am the funniest. Alright, I am getting strange looks from people so let us begin this endeavor. What I miss most:  my friends, my, ahem, "special” friend, a civilized public (see my older partner-in-crime’s comments), a wider audience for my hilarious hijinks. I miss people who are educated about current events. (I met a girl my age who didn’t know who Osama bin Laden was…seriously, I wish I were joking. Side note:  The same individual claimed to not have read a book in quite a while despite being in an AP English class, but I digress.) I miss individuals who are in-touch with current pop culture. (If you don’t know what a meme is by now, I foresee a future of suffering…that’s right, Helen, you’ll never be hip with the cool kids!) I also miss spending time with my older relatives (somebody give a salute to Uncle Steve for me) and I miss my Improv family. I am a very lonely ducky floating in a sea void of whales and not even the likes of Nicolas Cage could save me (that was for any of my Improv peeps reading this…if so, why are you stalking my dad on tumblr? That’s creepy…you should be stalking me instead.) I miss being able to actually believe people when they say something will get done by a certain date (*loud cough* Where’s our house? *loud cough*). I miss colder weather (I am wilting in these conditions), the turning of leaves in autumn, that crisp Virginia air and oh, did I mention my friends? Mondo bummer, these time zones.

What I like:  I quite enjoy all of the free time I have so that I can engage in delightful adventures, such as writing a musical. (It’s coming along, but don’t expect it anytime soon.) I also like the feline friend we have added to our wagon party. (Although I find the dog amusing, I’m allergic and she smells something foul. Also, she has a tendency to bark just as I am drifting off to sleep. Totally Team Maya over here.) The libraries also carry CD’s (translation:  FREE MUSIC), which is totally slammin’. Oh, another thing that I am looking forward to is all the traveling back to Virginia to visit people as well as possibly exploring other Hawaiian islands. (Although I value stability and consistency, I am a travel junkie and I love going to places both familiar and new.)

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but I guarantee that I shall return soon, as whimsical as ever. Fruitcake, AWAY!! *flies off into the sunset* “

Our First Sunflower Seeds Came In

Cabin Boy and Privy Cleaner (Heir to the Throne).

“What I miss: A bed that is two feet off the ground, clothes that don’t always either smell like the ocean or must, Fall weather, people that don’t speak Pidgin, people not calling me “uncle” – I’m only 15 and some of these kids are calling me uncle…What is this?  I miss wifi, good solid connection wifi, wifi with fast downloading capabilities. I miss my friends (of course), and I miss my dad having hair that isn’t longer than my sisters’.  I miss cool breezes, bus rides to school, seeing people I’m not related to almost every day, I miss that feeling at the end of the school day where you’re ready to go home and kick your shoes off, drop your bag and flop on the couch. I miss hipsters that don’t smell like cheese. I miss mainland hippies and their cleaner life styles. I miss riding my bike and going out to the movies, I miss a decent-sized mall and Old Navy (luckily they are bringing one here soon (whoop whoop)). I kind of miss calling people “mr.” and “mrs.” or “ms.” because here you refer to them as “uncle” and “aunty” (and I’ve been corrected on this that you’re supposed to pronounce it [ant]-y and not [aw]nty). I also miss big libraries and climbing trees. Most importantly, what I miss is doing parkour, because I can’t find places to do it here that my parents won’t kill me for.

What I like: I like that the weather is pretty consistent, not having to worry about what I’m going to wear out (cause I know so few people that the chances of seeing them is 1/100) everyone here is so laid back about everything and that’s pretty cool. I finally tanned for once, although i burned quite a bit in the process and it’s not the most amazing tan in the world, but it happened. I like the variety of island instruments here, and that pretty much everyone knows what a cajon drum is. I like thinking about how if the volcano explodes, I’m probably left for dead! Yay volcanic islands! I like poke, and having our own pet dog, despite the fact that she’s a pain in the butt. I also like that I no longer crave bananas cause there’s so much here, and I like that there’s less of a need for the Internet, even though I miss the Internet, I like not wanting to be on it 24/7.”

Free National Parks Junior Ranger Program Nets Mucho Swag

Wee One (The Mascot / Ninja Assassin).  "The things I miss from Virginia: My old friends back in Virginia from school, getting to see relatives often because we don’t have any relatives in Hawaii, and having my sheep skin my dad bought from Australia. I used to take naps and sit on it while watching movies, I can’t bring my sheep skin because I’m afraid it might mold. The things I like in Hawaii: I like the ocean and getting to swim often, I like the food such as poke, lychee, poi, etc. I also like the wonderful weather, I also like Polynesian canoeing and last, but not least, my new friends.“

Nuggets of Note

During this month, the boy boarded an airship and headed west to the grand island of Oahu, where he undertook a two week church-sponsored training program on the famous North Shore.  That was all great for youth development and yada yada yada, but I was concerned about who in the world was going to take out the trash, cut the grass, and spread the manure?  Time for a dose of gender equality and women’s rights…  "Girls!  Who wants to fill in for your brother?” (Nothing like the shoveling of 1-ton of manure to build character, right?)

Turd Twins

Whiney the Poo

Criminal Continuum.  This month saw the burglarization of the coffee mill that hosts the farmer’s market where I hawk our seeds and plants (a vehicle, an atv, and many tools were among the stolen goods), and the theft of many items from the summer camp attended by our kids.  Another stolen vehicle was stashed, found and reported, and hauled away by police up on our little country road.  Meanwhile, prosecutors continue to chase down the details of our mayor’s use of county funds to pay for services at hostess bars, alcohol tabs, and many personal purchases.  The newspaper continued to devote nearly an entire page every day to crime, including lists of people being hunted by the police with pleas for the populace to help identify and track these yahoos.  Did you know we have a television program devoted to this stuff?  Big Island Most Wanted.  (I kid you not.)  Blue Hawaii, indeed!

Non-profit Gains.  In the realm of income streams, I got paid for placing my first foreign exchange student, a high-school sophomore lass from Thailand, with a family in a small agricultural community on the north side of the island.  I was not confident that I would get any placements this school year, as I am focused on laying down the foundation for the program on island long-term, but the stars aligned in this case and she will be arriving on island in the coming month.

Sheepskin.  Since the bride holds a degree from a prestigious private institution of higher learning, it was time for her to get better acquainted with the writing medium of old that was used to convey such distinctions–sheepskin.  That’s right…it was time for the little city girl to get elbow deep into an ungulate carcass as she learned to skin, gut, and butcher a sheep that was offered to us by a friend.   (See previous posts regarding our intentions to help feed ourselves by regularly tapping into a local supply of free, organic, grass-fed meat that comes as a result of parks department efforts to control the wild sheep population through monthly sharp-shooter-driven culls…you just have to sign up, show up, pick your prize, and do the butchering on your own.)

Hong Kong Blades of Fury (Not Quite What John Woo Fans Had in Mind)

Last, but not least, for this month…More Pop Culture Tragedy.  Saruman died, and Count Dooku with him.  Oh, the horror!  Few can claim to have gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Gandalf and Yoda, or to have remained productive into their 90’s in real life.  This month, cinematography of the fiction and fantasy genres lost a real asset with the passing of Christopher Lee.

And with that bit of geek drivel, I’ll fold.  Until next month…

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