Another New Year in the Isles (January 2016)

A Life Surreal

Some days, I completely lose touch with that oh-so subjective thing called “reality.”  For instance, one day in this fine month of January, against the backdrop of a tropical sunset, pony tail flapping in a warm Pacific breeze to the sounds of Johnny Cash as I drove along the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii in my Jeep to view vintage Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy silent films accompanied by live organ music and bookended with proper opening and closing curtains–not to mention the smokin’ Asian chick on my arm (the bride)–I had to stop and ask, “Is this for real?”  The homeless homesteader marches on…  

Welcome back to our little slice of biographical documentary weirdness, punctuated with witticisms and just the right amount of meaningless drivel, the blog.

(A quick harvest of various citrus, cacao, and starfruit from the 1/3 acre yard of the house where we currently hang our hats.)

Miscellany Madness

Just to mix it up a little, let’s kick off with some random snapshots of things interesting and things not so very interesting after all…

Ouch!  Our mandatory healthcare bill shot up 20-percent without any noticeable increase in services or coverage.  (It is truly wonderful to live in a free, democratic country.)  

Head Wounds for All!  So…during a beach outing on Martin Luther King’s Day, the boy dove into a rock, face first, and decided to give the stone a shoulder bump to boot.  A day later, when dear ole dad (that’s me) was climbing into the Jeep at Zero-Dark-Thirty for the paper route, he swiftly and firmly explored the door frame with the side of his head right along that soft, sensitive line that runs from the temple back across your skull.  I was having some strange hearing and visual sensations for a few days–maybe something akin to noshing on shrooms–but I didn’t look nearly as bad as this guy…

Bride.  Allergies have plagued the hard-working lass for the better part of the month, and we are still trying to identify the cause.  Otherwise, her efforts were focused on gearing up for Chinese New Year and a food preservation certification course next month.  Martha Stewart of the East…

Joe College.  Winter break over, she dove back into her coursework–math, human biology, English, and a psychology/speech integrated course.  With a newfound freshman friend from church, she also plugged into a local chapter of Baptist Collegiate Ministry and Intervarsity for some other growth opportunities.

Pea Pod.  Same ole, same ole.  (All over the map.)  She did start working through some highbrow literature, though–Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

(Experimenting with a novel means for fermenting cacao beans (before roasting).  No flies, no fuss…just rotate.)

Jester.  Beyond her typical whacky antics, she plowed through another SAT, resumed her babysitting gig, advanced her mastery of Lonely World by The Vaccines on an acoustic guitar (trying to build as small set for open mic night), and began composing music on Music Maker Jam and the old fashioned way (pencil, paper, guitar).  You can listen to her latest creation here (

(A typical teen-cooked breakfast at our place.  Cast-iron-skillet frittata with broccoli and onion.)

Swine Soirée.  We knew it was only a matter of time.  First, we saw some small signs of rooting around one of our three taro patches.  Then, our roselle plants were knocked over.  Finally, an entire bed of sweet potatoes disappeared, heavy rooting showed up even on wood chip covered paths (they love to eat earthworms), and wallows appeared.  We now, officially, have a family of wild pigs squatting on our land in our absence.  Time for some forest ham…

(Moving the vinegar into the second fermentation.  Our local CSA has now gifted the boy 120 pounds of bananas in support of his effort.)

Blessings Abound

It was a bonnie month for this freelance-writing Scottish-German-English whelp, with a quick econ piece on how we teach our kids to handle money selling to an online finance forum.  (Copyright issue prevent me from giving you a glimpse in this post, but for the terminally bored and mentally unstable among you who would care to read the piece, you can take a peek over here (  Multiple other pieces were purchased by a submarine cruise line here in Hawaii, a proper brew haus in Texas and a coffee house in Colorado, a high-end steakhouse in New York City, and various other entities from law firms to online gaming forums.  I think I may be getting the hang of this freelance writer stuff.  Again quoting C-3PO, “Thank the maker.”  (And for those of you rolling your eyes, I quote Darth Vader when I say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”)  

Back to School

As those who have tracked our saga know, though I graduated from college more than two decades ago and stepped–nay, skipped–away from my career two years ago to-the-month, I have never formally studied more or worked as much as since we began this grand adventure.  During this month–adding to my arsenal of non-commercial, non-industrial, non-conventional food producing tools–I completed a certificate course in Korean Natural Farming and Ultra-low-cost Farming techniques allowing me to again revel in the world of discussions about carbon sequestration, the importance of microflora, and many of the other aspects of sustainable agriculture.  

As with other programs of plant and soil study that I have engaged in here, class was launched with the blowing of a conch shell, Hawaiian blessings and chants that beckoned the bones of the island and the ancestors, a Christian doxology in Hawaiian (which I can now sing, given its weekly employment in our church services), English-language Christian prayers, and some of the most outstanding locally-produced vegan food one can find on this rock.  (Who knew you could make lasagna from breadfruit?)

And don’t forget the instructor-led yoga stretching sessions in between talks…  But none of that was the weirdest part.  One member of the Korean team was a former Second Secretary in the Political and Economic Section of the Korean Consulate General in Sydney, Australia.  We both laughed as we mused over the odds that two career diplomats-turned-farmers would meet up in such a fashion.  (Have I mentioned the word “surreal” lately?)

(Learning to brew all natural anti-pest treatment with mineral sulfur.)

Other attendees included Youth With a Mission (WYAM) missionaries preparing to use these techniques in Nepal to eco-tourism visitors from Japan to full production poultry and macadamia nut farmers on the islands–from Lanai to Molokai to the more well known isles that make up this state.  (Did I mention that all the instruction was in Korean and relied on translation of varying quality?  It was a daily ten-hour struggle.)

(Typical breakfast at one of my classes.  Apple banana, papaya, Americauna chicken blue boiled egg, assorted citrus, fruit bread.)

Also on the education and growth front this month, the entire family began another round of evening classes at our Bible church on basic theology, hermeneutics, and bibliology in preparation for a new course next month on soteriology.  (How does one grow up in a faith for four decades and still know so little?)

(One quart of dried Hawaiian Chili Pepper from our property.  I think we are good on “spicy” for a while.)


Another biological year gone by for me and the boy.  For me, in class all day as an introvert, I was exhausted and celebrated by going to bed early.  Yes…I am a wild man.  The next morning, I talked two of the kids into taking over our farmers market table so I could sleep in.  I know…decadence.  But it wasn’t all simple pleasures.  The brood dipped into their hard earned savings to treat the ole man to the best seafood buffet on this side of the island, and we enjoyed several hours of pleasant conversation–from international politics to rugby to (potential) dating–all against a lovely acoustic guitar backdrop.  Oh…and with eldest now driving, it was a chauffeured affair.  Fancy, indeed.

(Meetings in Kona one day for one of my income streams.  This was the view.  Much better than a stuffy government board room…)

The boy, for his name day rememberance, asked to forgo any gift or the usual cash for a family outing to the local sushi bar.  Many a raw fish were consumed that night, I tell you!  (He still got a small gift, weird as it may seem to some.(Remember, one of our aims is to equip the kids to be producers, not just consumers.))

Identity in Crisis

In previous posts I have raised our ongoing difficulty describing ourselves with current, modern socioeconomic category descriptions.  (Oh, how humans love labels and how our family has become hard to label.)  No longer white collar, not quite blue collar, somewhere between self-employed and employed part time, apparently members of the newly defined “gig economy.”  We still don’t know what to call ourselves.  Well, this month, we learned of others out there just like us who face the same issue and we have come to embrace some new language:  "green collar,“ "homesteading technophiles,” and “digital peasants.”  (On that note, you may be interested to learn that, according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, self employment is the fastest growing segment of the economy in metro and non-metro areas in the United States.)

(Late-arrived Christmas gifts from Ole Saint Nick.  The family that geeks out together, stays together, no?)

Music Revival (for some)

 A good measure of time was spent by all, at dad’s insistence, on getting familiar with the budding music genre known as Modern Folk.  Trampled by Turtles, Wine and Iron, First Aid Kit, Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men.  Refreshing.  (I decided to give everyone a break when I caught the bride approaching my bedside late one night with a knitting needle–grasped in a most menacing fashion–as she mumbled something about “hill billy ditties.”)

Hawaiiana (Notes from Bedlam)

Did you know that, this very month, Hawaii County dropped drug testing requirements for 97-percent of county jobs (“sensitive” jobs, like police excluded)?  Applicants will also no longer be asked if they have been convicted in the past three years of any controlled substance offenses.

Meanwhile, Hawaii became the first state in the Union with a case of the Zika virus and, here on the Big Island, the growing dengue fever epidemic has forced authorities to bring the famous Waipio Valley under quarantine–sealed off to tourists.  (I’ll spare y’all from any further comments on eschatology…for now.)

On the ag front, this month was marked by the announcement that the last sugar cane plantation in Hawaii, situated on the island of Maui, is going out of business and here on the Big Island we learned that the largest banana producer, Mauna Kea, was not only shuttering its doors, but was aiming to lease its land to medical marijuana growers (better profit margin).  We were also notified this month that our State uses pesticides more than any other with spraying in Kauai alone being 17-times the national average (with a correlative spike in birth defects on the island).

Speaking of things ag, did you know that the state-level government in Hawaii, a grower’s dreamland that had an entirely self-sufficient food supply before colonization, only devotes 0.4% of its budget to agriculture?  Less than one-half of one percent!  (Next time you vacation in Hawaii, forego the parasailing for some agri-tours, like a visit to our local mushroom and vanilla farms, eat locally produced food, and skip tours of places that blast the land with pesticides and fungicides and herbicides–like some of the better known macadamia nut growing outfits you may be familiar with and all non-organic coffee and cacao farms.)

On a somewhat more positive note, the newly formed Hawaii Farmer’s Union United (proponents of sustainable agricultural practices and of which we are members) saw its ranks approach the 1,000 mark (the organization is on its way to national chartership), the average price of gas on the island hit a low of $2.53/gallon, world-famous MMA fighter BJ Penn (who runs a gym in downtown Hilo) announced that he is coming out of retirement to reenter the ring, and the county government is finally considering a 10-year fishing ban along a swath of the island’s coast because the fish and mollusk populations are depleted (fishing licenses are not required here for saltwater sport, catch limits are poorly understood, and enforcement…well…).


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