With snow on the volcano through much of February, we found ourselves sitting in sweatshirts and light jackets, and slumbering beneath blankets, enough to remind us of the blissful days of Fall weather back on the East Coast. Winter in Hawaii… These two months were full of departures. We launched back to the mainland both the Bride’s parents and, separately and later, the two younger kids. This brought the household from eight down to four and cut by half my slave labor pool. The crew had not been this light for two years. Then, a housesitting gig for the two older girls allowed me and the bride a taste of empty nest syndrome for two weeks. (The quiet was blissful, we ate well and slept more, and passed our days like old codgers…binge watching all six seasons of Downton Abbey and wondering who would do the dishes.) Then three new kids dropped into our lives, as detailed below.
So…without further adieu, and with the Ides now past us, let’s jump right in and fix the events of February and March 2017 in the perpetuity of cyberspace, shall we?
Homestead is Where the Heart Is
Abode. Construction stalled this period as we waited for the draftsmen to return to our project (from several others he was working on) to address needed changes identified by our builder. (A byproduct of having a “project manager,” no longer with us, who does not ensure coordination between the key players from the beginning and along the way.) County permitting adjustments added a further bit of delay. Only some minor progress–some staining and sanding, installation of Tyvek in appropriate places, etc. Sigh…
Funding. Exasperated by lending options to deal with the unpredictable setbacks that have eaten up our till, we added a feature to the blog mid-month in February that allows for patronage in response to those who have asked how they could help bridge the gap between our ongoing transitionary stage (living out of suitcases for nearly 3 years now) and the “occupy the land” phase of our homestead establishment. Straight out of the movie “Pay It Forward,” an alumni of our high school stepped out of the shadows with a generous check (to be paid back “as can, or not at all”) and an old co-worker stepped forward to contribute to the cause. Many thanks, friends. (We will name a respectable livestock offspring after you and plant a tree in your name.)
Stink Juice. Tests conducted by state health department labs came back in February showing that the Boy’s homemade banana vinegar exceeded the acidity requirements for retail sales. Time to label and hawk. We also acquired a high-end blender and some food-grade 5-gallon buckets to begin scaling up production. The aroma of “sour wine” fills the air… Our first experiment with malt vinegar, using one of my favorite Marzens, exhibited outstanding results with the development of a thick, healthy mass of microbial goodness seen in the picture to the right. Not unlike a kambucha SCOBY, this gelatinous mat (somewhat resembling an alien embryo, I would think) consists of little guys who are masters at turning alcohol into acetic acid. (Our old world microbiological fun in the kitchen never ends…)
Tallow Queen. Meanwhile, the Bride secured a free source of leaf fat from grass fed beeves and began rendering. Long on the back burner, restarting of her tallow balm production is now just around the corner and will return a long missing item to our repertoire of homestead goodies for sale to the public. (I’m giddy about the prospects of the return of her famous peppermint foot rub.)
Nursery. Modest sales of goodies from our fledgling nursery, currently run out of the house we rent, also continued apace. Mulberry and soursop trees, passion fruit vines, and Hawaiian chili pepper bushes were the top sellers this month. We look forward to the day when we can return the operation to our property and, perhaps, scale up a tad. Now tinkering with orchids, our first Coconut variety blossomed. While not the most attractive flower in the world, this one puts out an intense, heavenly fragrance of coconut (with hints of vanilla). Our first attempt to germinate Peruvian peanuts (a vine that produces a large, edible seed) succeeded with the germination of more than 20 plants.
No water. Relying on catchment for your water supply leaves you at the mercy of the rain clouds. This month, the 10K gallon tank at our rented house went dry. For two days, we reverted to practices mastered when we lived out of a base camp on our property–hauling water to take bucket showers and flush toilets. Dishes and laundry piled up and we had to ration–from washing hands to brushing teeth, everything was done at a minimum. With no guarantee that the rains would come soon, we resorted to buying water–a common practice here, where so many people (even in town) live off of catchment. $135 for 10K gallons is not too bad, I suppose. Of course, a day later, the heavy rains returned.
Mom and Dad. Before they headed back to civilization toward the end of February, we took the elders to explore the local botanical garden (world’s largest collection of palms, collected from around the world), watch a live lava flow dumping into the ocean (a hearty 8-mile hike), and enjoy a shoreline dip into the chilly Pacific while roasting sausages on a park grill. Already missed, we look forward to their return.
Eldest Child. During this timeframe, this one made the difficult decision to drop one of her college courses in an effort to knuckle down on remaining classes and boost GPA a touch. She will now spread her final requirements over an additional semester, pushing graduation back a notch. Working with her closest sibling, she also led the effort to get a traditional St. Patty’s Day meal on the table for the parents. It was a fine spread of corned beef, butter sautéed cabbage, garlic mashed potatoes, soda bread, and a wee visit from the families of Guinness, Jameson, and Bailey’s. She also spent considerable time playing chauffeur for siblings and a houseguest (more on this sojourner below).
Second Eldest. This child secured a grant and a work-study position that will cover the total cost of her University studies for the next two semesters, a needed financial boon for her. (Mom and dad have long agreed to cover only 2 years for all four kids. If so inclined, you can read more about our college choice and funding philosophies, as published in other fora, here.) As further detailed below, she also hosted a friend who was visiting from abroad for two weeks and spent a number of days showing the young fellow the island’s attractions.
Those Other Two. Early in this period, these yahoos were totally focused on getting out of here and heading to Disney World and to visit friends back in the Old Dominion, a trip gifted by the grandparents. We drove them hard to get studies and chores up to a healthy place before they began packing (about one week before their flight, out of excitement). They launched 1 March and returned on the 28th, a goodly holiday. We only very occasionally heard from them while they were away and they did not submit a lick of
school work the entire time…I suppose they were making rather merry. Reports from relatives would indicate that, aside from the fun of Mickey and Universal Studio, they saw the live launch of a rocket carrying a military communications satellite at the Kennedy Space Center, visited a manatee farm, and had outings and sleepovers with many old friends. A video making its way around the internet would indicate that the boy, guided by a striking blond female firearms range controller, had the chance to try his skill with a fully automatic rifle at an indoor range. (Whatever happened to bb gun galleries for kids?)
And Two More. While we lost our two youngest for a good four weeks, we inherited these two cute rascals for several half-days of uno, martial arts demonstrations, dancing, and singing. Helping out a working friend while spring break kept the kids out of the classroom, our empty nest experience began to parallel the lives of those who find themselves babysitting their grandkids once their own brood has left the nest. We had forgotten how much energy they have when they are little…
And Then Another. Then this guy showed up on our doorstep…from Indonesia, of all places…bearing an admirable assortment of exotic gifts (including spices, palm sugar, chocolates, ginger tea, and the famed Luwak coffee harvested from civet feces). A long-lost friend of the Jester from her days in public school in Virginia, the lad (whose folks are attached to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta) dropped in for a two-week stay during the local college spring break and his gap year. A well-traveled D&D devotee and SCUBA diver who can carry a conversation on Southeast Asia politics and cook, he fit right in. Aside from catching up and gaming with the Jester (two nerd peas in a pod), and jumping in to help with chores without any prompting (including cooking, dishes, laundry, and sweeping), his stay included visits to the Kona farmer’s market and Hapuna beach (named the best beach in the U.S.), the Kalapana night market, the botanical gardens, the Tsunami museum, and the Volcano National Park. He also tried opihi for the first time.
The Lady. An overnighter in Kona after dropping off the kids for their midnight flight allowed for some some relaxation with the hubby in a fairly appointed place of lodging on water’s edge. Unfortunately, the feast or famine nature of her translation/transcription work meant she only enjoyed the comforts of the hotel room for a 30-minute nap and a quick shower, having stayed up all night to meet a deadline with additional deadlines the following day that prevented beach time, but the change of pace was a good reminder that there’s more to her new life than the daily grind. She joined friends for a yard sale in early March, and caught up with more friends in several outings throughout the month.
Lead Joker. This month, I took the plunge into the world of Speculative Literature with a writer’s grant application and a short story submission to a contest. Long a fan of the fantasy fiction genre, and long a writer, I have never set my pen in this direction. What will come of it? I know not. (In general, fiction pays less than non-fiction, the source of my small checks for writing to date.) Then, working with the bride, I finished up the design for a course that the community college has asked us to teach, and–in my copious free time–I spent a few minutes helping NASA. (Just like the days when we all could loan our personal computer’s free processor time while we slept to data crunching for SETI, you can now take an active role in helping find the theoretically predicted Planet 9. Check out zooniverse.org.) A flu-like pestilence knocked me down for two days, after running its course through some of the kids, but nothing more serious than some missed work and boredom while confined to bed–not even a good fever-induced hallucination to share. I sold a small copywriting piece on moving kids to a natural food lifestyle, and a homesteading magazine bought my recipe for pickled eggs! Woo hoo! (I’ll provide a link on the blog once it’s published.)
Body, Mind, Soul. We (the bride, me, and the two youngest (before they fled the island)) jumped back into a theology series that we have worked through over the past three years in the evenings at our small church with a class on ecclesiology and eschatology. Nothing like a deeper look at early church history and the evolution of denominational differences on church governance, and end times, to put a few things into perspective.
Making Rounds. During the parents’ stay, we headed out to the homes of two sets of church friends for meals and fellowship. Nothing like a little homemade Thai noodles and Chinese taro cakes and hearty conversation. Seeing how fellow islanders are tapping everything from induction heating technology to solar power to unique strawberry growing techniques is always a welcome boost of encouragement regarding our future here.
Surrealism. As I’ve noted before, we often find ourselves in surreal situations here in “Paradise” and we often encounter Hawaiian life that you will just never see in a tourist brochure. A recent effort to show our visitor around the island landed us in the Kalapana night market, located in the hippy bastion of lower Puna District. (Aside from assorted nude beaches and polyamorous communities, this region also boasts a proper doomsday cult, led by a guy who calls himself JeZus, that is building an ark to cope with the flood… You know…the one coming with California’s imminent collapse into the ocean. You may have caught the recent story on CNN about these lovely people.) Anyway…surrounded by throngs of fellow longhairs and Birkenstock aficionados, among a legion of purveyors of every type of Granola and street food you can imagine, I found myself quaffing a turmeric-ginger kambucha, after having knocked down a pint of kava, while watching old Hawaiian women dance to the Oak Ridge Boys country classic “Elvira” and gnoshing on grilled polenta dressed with cilantro. Did I mention the lovely lass bedecked in a bellydancing costume hawking spiced chai? The stars were out in force, swirls of pakalolo smoke hung heavy in the air, and we almost hit a wild pig on the drive home. Oh, Puna…
And, by popular demand, we close with…
Hidden Facets of Aloha
Did you know that Hawaii is one of the few states that does not have legislation on the books regulating the application of pesticides around schools? Across the islands, there are at least 27 schools located within 1 mile of fields where agrichemical companies, like Monsanto and Dow Chemical, spray restricted-use pesticides. Anyone up for a little pesticide drift?
Did you know that Hawaii is the second worst state in the Union for first time homebuyers? According to a recent bankrate.com analysis, which looked at factors like housing affordability, job market for young adults, housing market tightness, credit availability, etc., Hawaii ranked 48th out of 50 for desirability for young potential owners. The same report highlighted the fact that Hawaii residents pay 38.3-percent of their median yearly income for their homes, the highest rate in the country, and that only 20.2-percent of the younger households own their own residence, the lowest rate among the states.
Consider this: Seventeen percent of 16-24 year olds on the Big Island are not in school or employed, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report released in late March that compares this statistic in counties across the nation. (A 9-percent rate was seen in the top performing locales.) The same foundation reports that 25 percent of Big Island children live below the poverty line.
In the month of March, the Big Island took a step toward joining the ranks of civilized societies with the arrival of Lyft. Unremarkable in many locales, this oddly fills a real gap here. Especially on the east side, the island has long been short of legitimate cabs, despite the extent to which the economy relies on tourist dollars.
Finally, you may have heard that it was a federal
judge in Hawaii who recently blocked President Trump’s revised temporary ban on travelers from countries designated as “high risk” by the previous administration. Local press coverage of the issue has typically included concerns by some locals that the ban damages Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy. Those of us with jobs integrally tied into the tourist industry have been quite entertained by the prospect that high-roller tourists from the war-torn, third-world likes of Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen are keeping Hawaii afloat. This place truly is full of wonder…
See you next month (or so).