Me lords and ladies afar, and all resident ents and orcs near at hand, ’tis that time again. Time for pause, for reflection. Time to take stock, to assess what’s what. A quick appraisal, if you will, now that we find ourselves two years on island. Time for our annual report.
Patrons, benefactors, and well-wishers around the globe, for your entertainment and edification, I bring you “Year Two in Review.” (And to add some panache, a little change of pace, I’ve included an assortment of pictures of things growing on our property that we did not plant.)
“What Was The Point of All This Nonsense Anyway?”
A bonnie question, my good and clever readers, one and all. And a fine time for a wee review… of the sought after prize, the swag, of our oft misunderstood quest, this unorthodox (dare I say, “risky?”) life adventure.
Now, first and foremost was our desire to ensure the exemplary, full, and accelerated growth of our prized crop, our brood, in ways that were, frankly, impossible under the trappings of our previous lifestyle. Before, we were forced to juggle two full-time management jobs with long hours spent away from home, monitor and resist public school efforts to leave no child behind (and encumber those who should be getting ahead), and constantly check the sociocultural influences of the consumer-driven hustle bustle of the city and metropolitan suburb settings in which we lived throughout our parenting lives–influences that we watched hobble the full-person development of the Millennial generation that we found ourselves supervising in our later career lives. Now, we have built an environment where not everyone gets a trophy for just showing up, not everyone is convinced they are gifted because they can put their pants on correctly, and everyone does have to work (as a matter of lifestyle and to pay for college)…where one’s ability to be societal producers (grow food, volunteer at a soup kitchen, run activities for younger kids) trumps video gaming acumen or an ability to score the latest designer clothing, where (academically speaking) the students can move as fast as they want and more deeply explore topics that resonate with them.
(Before moving on, let me pause to briefly note about the brood’s progress, “high marks all around.” While our monthly blog catches the details on this front, I will just say here that the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual growth have been a wonderment to witness. We routinely watch in awe as each of the four, in one way or another, demonstrates a level of maturity that we ourselves did not have at their age. Distractions of our former life have largely been replaced with more edifying pursuits and deeper relationships. If all else fails in this grand experiment, we can declare success on this outcome alone.)
Our second goal was to plug into community, fulfill civic duty, and contribute to neighborhood in ways that were never possible under the strictures and demands of our former lives. In our past adult lives, we barely knew our neighbors, we could not find time for even the PTA, we rarely voted. We now rely on neighbors (and they on us) for many things; we stood up and run a Neighborhood Watch, we serve on the leadership team of our local road association, we became voting precinct officials, and the kids are involved in a wide range of volunteer activities (from feeding the homeless to helping run a summer camp). I was asked to step forth as state senate candidate for a new political party and–though not pursued–we have both toyed with the idea of taking positions on county councils…in our copious free time. (And for the perpetually curious, no, we have not yet joined the Society for Creative Anachronism.)
Third, and finally, our aim was to participate in a church family, to serve in church, and grow spiritually in a more robust manner than we could ever seem to manage in our old lifestyle. Beyond the ole Sunday school and ensuing congregational sermon, we have managed to find time for local theology classes (hermeneutics, soteriology, bibliology and whatnot), regular potluck and praise gatherings at private homes, ladies gatherings, coffees among men, in-depth self study on the exegetical interpretation of scripture, and daily infusions of instruction on apologetics and early church history via the magic of podcasts and assorted online learning venues.
As many of you know, our plan was to carry out all of the above against a backdrop and within the context of a sustainable, organic, off-grid homestead. Those of you who have been with us since the beginning of this tale will recall that a series of unfortunate events (shout out to Lemony Snicket fans) has not only delayed our progress in this area, but created unforeseeable financial burden (from storage fees to house rent to extra paid work to cover the incompetence of multiple contractors). So where do we stand on this front? Well…
Since relocating to this grower’s paradise and bastion of off-grid-living expertise and supply, we have not yet been able to reestablish our apiary, but we secured and partly cleared 10 acres. We have not yet regained the right to brag about our own production of organic, free-range, high-omega-three, beyond-jumbo-grade chicken eggs (like those our birds dropped in Virginia), but we have planted more than 100 fruit producing trees, and some have begun to yield (abiu, figs, banana), and cleared areas have exploded with wild edible berries, edible bamboo, and a sellable medicinal plant. We have not yet raised a house, but the foundation is now in place, the platform is going up, and some of the additional necessary construction components have been secured. We have not been able to preserve a large portion of our building fund, but the Maker continues to open new and unexpected avenues of funding for what we need.
Through the local college, fellow homesteaders, and sustainability organizations, we have undertaken an intensive and accelerated course of study in everything from tropical permaculture to canning to butchery, and we have continued our already established reliance on a variety of homemade products (shampoo, vinegar, lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchi, and more). We have become the island’s only authorized distributor for fruit, vegetable, herb, and flower seeds from two renowned seed companies (Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek), we started up a small nursery operation (selling everything from garden starts to soursop tree seedlings), and we man a table at a local farmers market. We belong to the Farmer’s Union United, shop tax-free at the local farmer’s coop, and get an annual rebate on our vehicle gas expenditures for being agricultural producers.
Did I mention that, just this year, we were named Homesteaders of the Year, and given several accompanying prizes, by Mother Earth Magazine? Not exactly where we had hoped to be this many months into the fray, being Type-A overachievers, but a position that is not wholly unrespectable.
Now For A Few Particulars
Vim and Verdure. In general, we continue to see better health than at any time prior in our adult lives. With the exception of two small medical procedures–to remove a mole and lance a boil (both of which, frankly, I could have done myself)–and routine check ups, we have had little need for interaction with the modern medical establishment. We have not seen seasonal flu and upper respiratory ailments, eczema outbreaks, asthma events, or allergy attacks with the frequency that we had become accustomed to over all these years. We continue to view food as our primary medicine.
Ever Weighed and Measured. Some would say life shifts of this kind are all about mettle. Maybe so. Faith is most certainly a mentionable point, at least for us, too. Unforeseeable challenges of our first year adrift on this grand voyage are adequately captured in our debut annual report (see the 4 July 2015 post), but allow me to here summarily list the major trials and tribulations through which we have passed (or managed to skirt) in the twelve-plus months since, as we have nomadically occupied three different residences:
- Property theft. Two (landscaping trailer and construction supplies on our property)
- Identity theft. Six (the OPM data theft debacle this year included full sensitive personal information for all six of us.)
- Auto theft. Two attempts (failed hot wiring of our van on our property, failed replica master key used on our sedan in the parking lot of the University of Hawaii)
- Residential floods. Two (one due to plumbing, one due to rain)
- Residential fire. One.
- Fender bender. Three (none of them our fault…one with the bride as driver, one with the eldest child as driver, and a parking lot hit-and-run while we were in a store)
- Flat tires. Eight (on the Jeep alone)
- Severed transmission cable (on the sedan, thanks to a rock on our country road)
- Wild pigs. A small herd (destroyed our taro, sweet potato, and roselle patches)
- Residential, indoor fire ants
- Residential, indoor, poisonous centipedes
- Bed bugs
- Termites (and all their droppings)
- Earthquakes (too frequent to list)
- Lava eruptions. Two
- Reliance on laundromats (destroying many of our clothes and costing a fortune)
- Mildew (destroying clothes, triggering allergies)
- Dengue fever outbreak (on island)
- Hepatitis A outbreak (on island)
- Surgery (to remove a growth on one child)
- Lancing (of boils on another child)
- Locusts and Ebola (still waiting)
Income Streams. From the start, the plan for the bride and I was to quickly secure some inward moving cash flow that required no more than 20-25 hours per week of sweat and tears for each of us to allow plenty of time to develop homestead projects and to cover for basic regular costs (gas, taxes, etc.), and to “upgrade” income streams as we could, with a focus on flexibility and dual use gigs (a grocery store job, for example, pays salary and gives a discount on a key expenditure). Well, since last year, we have given up three jobs between us (newspaper route, car transporter, social work at a nursery) as we secured a part-time federal job (reinstating our federal benefits) and focused more on lucrative and flexible in-home income streams, like translations for businesses ’round the globe in a virtual employment arrangement. I continue my work with two nonprofits (assisting distressed tourists and placing foreign exchange high school students) and our small nursery operation (just sold off some Monkey Pod tree seedlings). “And for the tikes, you ask?” Our plan always included their acquisition of odd jobs and/or starting a business to help fatten college accounts while learning the rule of the coin. This past year, they have secured myriad employment–in a restaurant, residential landscaping, babysitting, eldercare, house sitting, running a seed sale business, selling baked goods at the farmer’s market, harvesting flowers and making leis. Their savings accounts are corpulent compared to anything I had in my youth.
The Watch. I suppose everyone has their version of what we call “The Watch.” For some, it is keeping a keen eye out for the next sale at Macy’s. For others, it may be searching for a Craigslist ad offering some coveted and long-sought-after bauble. Or maybe it is just the gossip network centered ’round the chess tables full of old men in the park. As for us, in most places we have lived before now, we may track the weather. (When overseas, the political situation, in the event of a coup.) These days, we regularly check in more on the activity of our earthly foundation–the volcano upon which we live. Seismographs, cameras focused on lava flows, laser instruments to track any swelling of the live mountain…these are all regular data inputs, along with the BBC’s world news. (Did you know that Apple laptops have built-in accelerometers that can be used to detect even slight tremors?) We also get alerts to our cell phones any time there is an earthquake from within the Pacific Rim, from New Caledonia to Sumatra to Peru. Why? Because a geologic incident an any point in the confines of the Ring of Fire can trigger a tsunami here. We pay some attention when the local coastal tsunami sirens are tested (so that we know it is a test). We also pay a good deal more attention to crime statistics and trends–in the local news, on locally-focused social media sites dedicated to the issue, and through Community Policing programs. As growers, seasonal weather patterns (though more slight than in many locales) are also of amplified interest in our current chapter of life. The Watch…Big Island, homesteader style.
The Larder. Given our nomadic state, which complicates our ability to grow as much of our food as we have in the past (and as much as we would like), and the price of food here on the island, we have been forced to modify our diet in less than positive ways. Before coming to Hawaii, we had long relied on organic produce and dairy and eggs, as well as meats that were organic, wild-caught, and/or grass finished (and usually certified humanely raised) for some 90-percent of our intake. Regrettably, such a healthy and conscientious food regimen is cost prohibitive in our current state, and we have certainly ingested more pesticide, hormones, and GMO food in the past year than in the years of the decade prior combined.
It is a well kept secret that much of the locally grown food here in “Paradise” is farmed in some of the most toxic ways possible, that inhumane and unsustainable livestock rearing practices abound, and that much of the available wild-caught fish is so polluted (mercury and whatnot) that local authorities advise against more than monthly consumption of even some of the most popular species, like Ono. Many of our reef fish carry a dangerous bacteria that makes them unsafe to consume and a few of the species actually trigger hallucinations (but this latter event is due to natural toxin in the wee fishies). Add to this the existence of a broken food system (Mexican avocados are often easier to find in the store than the dozen types grown locally, as one example) and a lack of food security (the island imports 90-percent of its food and only has a two-week supply of food at any given time to feed the whole population) and you can better understand our regrettable need for dietary compromise until the homestead is in more of a full swing.
This said, we have managed to maintain a largely plant-based diet (accented with meats) that revolves around whole foods, and we have secured access to some organic and grass fed product (eggs and beef, in particular). Our local CSA, though not totally organic, serves as a great source of local produce, which ensures nutrient density beyond what the imports deliver. Grains–though typically of whole, old-world, and healthier varieties–have crept back into our diet on a greater scale, but we have not succumbed to the local tendency to live off of cheap processed foods. The occasional stresses of our current lot have, admittedly, led to breakdowns in sanity that are often accompanied by things like Cheetos and Funyuns…
Disparate Perspectives, Great and Small
How, pray tell, can you compile a year-end review of a production like this without at least some measure of input from all of the players? As with last year, I hold no accountability for the content, style, or grammar in the following sections, which are focused on a few things achieved or experienced this past year and a few things looked forward to in the coming year.
Heir to the Throne (The Boy). “This past year I’ve started Polynesian paddling, where six man koa wood canoes with outriggers are raced at 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, and 1 mile distances across ocean waters in lanes parallel to the shore. I raced in 16 and 18 divisions throughout the season and consistently got medals at each regatta (canoe race) for the 18s division. The 16s division started winning later in the season and both of those crews made it to states. Recently I’ve tried spear fishing, but I caught nothing due to lack of knowledge of laws on unregulated fish as well as the regulated ones. In the past year I’ve dabbled with 3D modeling and rendering as well as rigging, but I have yet to make an animation of any sort. I hope to accomplish that this year as well as get as close as possible to mastering blender, the animation and 3d modeling application that I use.I would like to spear fish for real and go often to catch fish for the dinner table. I would also like to start a business using the machines designed by http://preciousplastic.com/ where recyclable plastics are shredded, melted, and remolded into reusable items.”
Joe College (Eldest, and a gal). “This year, I went on a camping trip with some friends up in Waipio Valley. We stayed for a few days on my friends property. We went to the beach everyday, and got to catch some good waves. The drive was intense, its sort of like the drive up to Yosemite Park in California, steep and narrow. One day while we were at the beach, three or four wild horses came up to our car and we got to feed them slices of watermelon. I also joined my schools rugby team, as well as worked at a booth for voting registration. I also got a job at a Thai restaurant in downtown Hilo, where I was a waitress. I also got accepted into the National Honor Society. I finished up my first year of college, and have started my sophomore year now.
“Before school started, I also got to hang out with some friends. We went to the night market at Uncle Robert’s in Kalapana some nights, as well as going to see some movies, we also hiked up at Volcano National Park to see the lava glow. I also had the chance to go on the lava hike in Kalapana. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get as close to the lava as I would’ve liked (close enough to make smores), because the trail was rough and night was falling. Now that school has started, what I look forward to this year is to increase my education, spend more time with friends, and joining club and activities around the campus. My friends and I also plan on doing more beach/road trips together, especially to places we haven’t really explored such as the Green and Black Sands beach.”
Pea Pod (Youngest, and also a gal). “This year was an exciting year, as every year seems to be. I started a few new things this year and I still have many things I would like to do in the future. This year I started Aikido; I find it fun and interesting to learn. I began helping at a soup kitchen, which I really enjoy. I also got back into drawing a lot more and am testing out different art styles, trying to find one I like the best. In this past year I also played around with realistic drawing, which I hadn’t really done before, but I did change back over to a more cartoony style. In these coming years, what I would like to do is read more books, draw more original fantasy fiction art, and experiment with coloring more of my drawings.”
Jester (?). “First things first, I have become obsessed with the musical “Hamilton”. I get excited when I hear the name Alexander; it’s absolutely terrible and I blame Lin-Manuel Miranda for this (side note: one of my professors is related to Aaron Burr, but since he’s chill, I’ve decided to let his ancestor’s transgressions slide). I also saw a production of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ as well as Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’ and I enjoyed them both.
“I have also taken over the seed business and am enjoying making the world a greener place, one plant at a time (that is the most sickeningly sappy sentence I have ever written, I am so sorry). I worked as a regular babysitter for a ranch family with four children for nearly a year and had a fun experience watching their youngest grow from an infant to a toddler (10 months-21 months). I had to stop working for them because it conflicted with my class schedule, but I will be working for them again during holidays and summer vacation. I also worked as a precinct official during this year’s primary election, which was exhausting but interesting.
“I finished high school, got my GED and have started at the university this month. I will be double majoring in computer science and mathematics (side note: three of my instructors attend our church and are now competing to see who can mess up my GPA the most). I am looking forward to finishing college and going out into the real world. Essentially, it’s just busy busy busy! To quote the musical that is currently RUINING MY LIFE (jk), ‘There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait, just you wait…'”
My Fair Lady. “Three new major things in my life this past year: 1) Peri-menopause has reared its ugly, hormonally charged head in my life and promises facial tissue companies will meet their bottomline as I find myself bawling uncontrollably on a regular basis…granted, our ongoing transition can depress anyone. 2) I completed a course as a Master Food Preserver, just need to do some volunteer hours to keep my certification. I learned to can and dehydrate food, as well as how to make gravlax, sausage, and lacto-fermented food from scratch. Class was tiring as we were on our feet cooking and cleaning for hours day after day, but the results were delicious; and I now have peace of mind that whatever we’re preserving will not kill us. 3) I spent the last year working closely with developmentally disabled adults as their part-time service supervisor, overseeing their vocational training/employment/personal assistance service needs and training direct support workers to carry out individualized services. I miss the people and I miss working outside the home where I find a greater sense of accomplishment and appreciation.
“Things I am looking forward to: 1) I pray that we will have enough money somehow to finish building our home so we can move in and really start our homestead. I feel at wit’s end some days. We have retained our builder, who is good and accountable. That said, the incompetence of our initial contractor has landed us in a financially drained situation. 2) Starting our consulting company…Dragonfly Professional Consultants is pending DBA name approval from the county and for me to develop advertising/website/etc. This should be fun and make use of our various longstanding professional, and more recently acquired, work skills. 3) Visits from family and friends.”
A Parting Thought
In many ways, we have come full circle. When I carried my bride across the threshold of my humble bachelor’s condo in the outskirts of the nation’s capital some 21 years ago, we had but a hand-me-down futon mattress to sleep upon (on the ground), a gifted TV (which sat upon the floor), a $200 Costco dining room set (that ended up lasting us some 19 years), and a kitchen outfitted with purchases from The Dollar Store. Today, we find ourselves again sleeping on a futon mattress (on the ground). It was gifted to us by a fellow church member. We have no TV at all (we use laptops to stream things of interest and worth). The simple and battered dining room set upon which we now break bread came with the rental house we currently occupy.
In a similar vein, we now rely on camping gear to a great extent. You see, before marriage (and up through our honeymoon, which included an overnight tent-camping trip in the caldera of the dormant Haleakala Volcano on Maui, here in Hawaii), I relied heavily on outdoor gear. From search and rescue work throughout Greater Appalachia, to trapping and studying black bears in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, to recreational camping wherever I could get it (including a beachside SCUBA-driven escape on Key Largo, Florida). Now, in our transitionary state, we find ourselves in a proper house, but with our household effects still in storage. In addition to a few odds and ends of proper furniture and kitchen tackle, we find ourselves frequently relying on camping kettles and outback cookware to prepare meals, mess kits to eat our vittles, camp towels to dry after showers, and some of the kids sleep on camping cots (albeit cots of a caliber and comfort level that I never saw as a backcountry woodsman in my youth).
Like many homes here, even in town proper, our rental is mostly off grid. Our in-house water is rain-catchment-derived and non-potable, so we haul drinking water (10 gallons at a time in Igloo coolers) from the nearby municipal (and free) source. Power is grid-tied-solar with such a surplus that we pay no utility bills. There is no mail delivery to homes or trash pickup in these parts. Ever the avid recyclers, we haul away our glass, plastic, newspaper, paper, and cardboard to claim deposit monies and to help the ecology of this terribly abused rock. (From everyday plastics to old mattresses, people still burn trash here and quip “the smoke just blows away out over the ocean”…into some magic fairyland and away from the greater global atmosphere, I suppose…)
And that’s Year Two in a macadamia nut shell.