Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wine Please!

Scenic Drive on Beach Road

Feeling really good about all of the information we gathered, we exhaust the next three days exploring the island and spending more time with Dad. Sitting on the plane for our six hour flight home gave us time to digest the possibilities for our future and reflect on the past week.

Native Jungle Growth
Staying in AirBnB homes around the island gave us an incredible insight to the people of the island and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting.  There are several beautiful hotels on the West (Kona) side of the island, but if you really want to get to know the island, stay with the locals, Being the largest island in the state, Hawaii Island has so much to offer. However, I believe the people make the Big Island so special. No amount of research on the internet could have prepared me for the kindness and realness of the people we met.

The dream of someday living in Hawaii is now quickly becoming a reality. OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!!!! I'm not sure if I am excited or nervous, definitely a mixture of both. My parents have always encouraged me to follow my dreams, I'm just not sure they meant to an island so far away from everything and everyone I have ever known. Wine please!

 Beautiful West Side Beach
The Casino industry has always been my safety net for all of my entrepreneurial endeavors. Al and I met over 20 years ago while we were both in management positions at the Atlantis Casino in Reno, NV. Though we both have our degrees in marketing, our careers have always been in the casino industry. 

Hawaii is one of the only states where no gaming is legal. I will have to find a new career and Al will have to be successful with his writing or he will also have to find a new career. WINE PLEASE!!

We currently live in a very nice 2400 sf condo in one of the nicest areas in Scottsdale. The girls go to wonderful schools and have a circle of friends that any parent would be proud of. Our life in Hawaii will look very different. We are taking a huge leap of faith that this energy pulling us to Hawaii will also guide us on this newly charted course. 

As the wheels touch down in Phoenix, I have never been so anxious to wrap my arms around my daughters. I know as long as I have them, I am blessed no matter where this life leads.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Surfing As An Elective?

Cyndi and Mike's Paradise
Today our goal is to find schools for the girls.
Lauren's done a ton of research online and has her heart set on the Hawaiian Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS). Of course Lauren's choice may be based on the fact the school offers surfing, skating and yoga as electives. As annoying parents we want our daughter's brains to be stimulated too.

We spend our day seeing several public schools and finally head back to HPP. We take a peek at a HAAS branch Brooks mentioned. It is set on six beautiful acres with a huge Banyan tree stretching out to greet us as we drive through the front gates. It's Sunday, it's late, but standing in the driveway as if he were waiting for us, is a gentleman with a big smile on his face. Al and I introduce ourselves and Mike Greenlaw invites us in. He says his wife Cyndi is almost done with her chores and will be able to come out and play pretty soon.

Coming by to greet us are two very friendly dogs and a couple of cats. Off in the distance I can see sheep and chickens wandering about.  A large tortoise named Nunui also roams the property. Have I stepped back in time, or am I in a different country?

Mike leads us to a covered sitting area and offers us beer or wine. I already like this place. Cyndi quickly joins us with an aloha and warm smile. Over the next two hours we learn that Cyndi was one of the first property owners in HPP. At the young age of eight, Cyndi found a listing in the paper for land in Hawaii and begged her father to let her buy it. She saved her money and made her monthly payments of $10. By the end of the year she had paid off the land. Anxious to see it, she and her father booked a flight to Hawaii. Highly impressed with her purchase, her family made the move to the island. Cyndi has since raised three wonderful children and has schooled many others on this same property. Mike taught at the private Waldorf school just down the road for many years.
Beautiful Gazebo For Relaxation At It's Finest

In addition to the school, they run an AirBnB business with three cottages available to rent. The park-like setting is perfectly manicured and offers plenty of space to relax. With a forty foot saline swimming pool, a private regulation size tennis court, and a playground for the children, the place is paradise at its finest. Fresh eggs from the roaming chickens and a variety of local fruits, coffee and teas are provided for all guests.

Cyndi tells us of  an annual play she is preparing the children for. This year they are performing 'Charlotte's Web'. She is like an excited school girl talking about her little actors and the props they have all made. She talks of her past and present students as if they are her own.  Academics are also important; she tells us of many alumni who have gone onto some very prestigious colleges, others who became missionaries abroad, and  some others who have become professional surfers straight out of school.

The HAAS curriculum is rich in Hawaiian culture and students learn how to be self-sustainable.They are taught to respect the land and each other. Gardening is taught at a young age as well as Hula. Community service is a requirement for students at HAAS, not an option. Every other Friday, the upper grade levels go out into the community and provide various services for the day. What an amazing concept! I think this school was designed especially for Lauren.

I am in awe of everything Cyndi tells us and excited that we have found such a perfect place for the girls to go to school. HAAS appears to be the perfect balance between academics and real life practicality. A healthy breakfast and lunch is also provided for all of charge.  I can't believe that a school like this is offered for free! Cyndi tells us HAAS is a very popular choice for children on the island and they now have a waiting list for new students. We will have to fill out an application at the main campus as soon as possible!

We finish our glasses of wine, and say our goodbye's. With a hug to each of us they wish us well and welcome us back any time. Giddy with excitement, I want to skip back to our Jeep. I feel like I just won the lottery. I can't wait to tell the girls everything we just learned. Paradise found!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Exploring the Puna District

Al Enjoying the Lanai at the Thai Hawaii House
Our next stop is Hawaiian Paradise Park (HPP.) After researching the island and the 11 different climate zones available, we have decided that the Puna District is the most appealing to us. Puna has a mild tropical climate with an average temperature around 80 degrees year round. The vegetation is lush and green with gentle slopes toward the coast line.

Other factors that appeal to us include the close proximity to Hilo (20 minutes), size of the lots (most are one to three acres), the price of homes and raw land, and the charter schools available in the area.

We booked three nights at the Thai Hawaii House. The owner, Brooks Maloof, has lived on the island since 1976, taught science in the Hilo area for many years, and is now a real estate broker. He and his wife grow Rambutan, Mango, Limes, Papaya, Longan, Abiu, Jabodacaba, avocados, bananas and much more. They encourage their guests to eat whatever is growing in the yard. At $69 a night, this is a bargain we can't resist.
Inside the Thai Hawaii House

The guest house is built above the garage and looks out over an acre of orchard. The large studio is perfect for us; decorated with a theme of Hawaii meets Thailand. The floor is a beautiful marble, while the walls and ceiling are tastefully done in bamboo. Outside is a large covered lanai where I imagine my mornings will be spent sipping coffee and listening to the birds sing.

The Rugged and Beautiful Coastline of HPP
Over the next three days we drove all over the Puna area. We explored the small, hippy town of Pahoa, the incredible coast line, and nearly all 137 miles of HPP, LOL.. Being one of the largest subdivision in the U.S., it is 4 miles long, 3 miles wide, and consists of 8850 lots. All of the lots are 1 acre with the exception of the ocean front half acre spots.

We looked at many homes in our price range. Unfortunately, most of them had mold issues, had been abandoned, or had squatters in them. In the state of Hawaii squatters are a problem. People buy second homes in Hawaii and then leave them unattended. The squatters move in and many times destroy the home. Local law enforcement seems to turn a blind eye to the problem and let the owners deal with the issue.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Visit with Dad

Spending time with Dad today at Okutsu. As we enter the Veterans home, we are greeted by a warm and friendly receptionist. She is excited that we have come to see Dad and directs us to the second floor where he is staying.

Dad and Al
As the elevators open, we hear singing in a nearby room. We venture into the large open area where there is a karaoke machine set up and the residents are taking turns singing to their audience. Some in the audience are singing along, others clapping, and some are just enjoying the music with a smile on their faces.

We search the room for Dad and are told he is watching TV. As we approach him, a smile stretches across his face. His eyes brighten up as Al and I take turns giving him a hug and saying our hello's.

He's happy to see us, but Alzheimer's is a  relentless disease, so we aren't certain he knows exactly who we are, so we sit on the couch near him, hold his hand and start talking about our trip, the grand-kids, and other things we think might jog his memory.

Dad was anxious to get moving, so we pushed the wheelchair around the facility, Al continued holding Dad's hand as I pushed and we explored the facility together. Outside was a very nice garden area. A year ago, Dad could tell us the name of every plant in there, now he just sits and enjoys the fresh air.

We return to the second floor where his fellow residents continue to sing. This apparently doesn't sit well with Dad so he yells "AH...SHUT UP" as we pass through the large open room. We actually laugh, but are shocked at the sudden outburst, so we apologize to the lady in charge and she just gives us a reassuring smile.

Dad is a retired Naval Commander and we have never heard him say anything out of disrespect towards another person. This was new territory for him, and we are certain just a side effect of this awful disease.

We joined Dad for lunch and then said our goodbye's for the day, thanking everyone at the facility for taking such good care of Dad and promising to return the following day. Next stop, Hawaiian Paradise Park.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Local Indulgence

After falling asleep listening to a concert of coqui frogs and light rain, we wake well rested and ready for whatever the days adventure brings. Al's constant headaches he has experienced for the last year are starting to dissipate; this is a great sign.

I dance my way to the shower, excited to see Dad and for the next leg of our adventure. The shower is an experience of soft water and the scent of tropical flowers, Not feeling the need for much makeup or hair styling, getting ready is quick and easy. Sitting on the lanai, sipping delicious, locally grown, Kona coffee, we plan out the day's journey.

Having just returned from the local farmer's market, Jean sat a colorful assortment of unidentifiable fruits before us, luckily she was there to guide us through each one. We cut into the rambutan first. If I didn't know better I would say this was something from another planet. Red, soft, spiky, and all together alien looking, the rambutan is quite delicious and apparently packed full of nutrients. Once you take the outer layer off, it has the texture of a giant grape on the inside. My taste buds are jumping with excitement as I bite into this sweet, juicy, ball of  heaven.

Next, we decide to venture into the soursop. This funny looking green fruit is about the size of a large avocado and has bumps all over it. Inside is a white creamy fruit with black seeds about double the size of watermelon seeds. The taste is not as sweet as the rambutan and will definitely be an acquired taste. Jean tells us this little powerhouse of a fruit is 10,000 times more powerful than chemotherapy at fighting cancer. Unfortunately the pharmaceutical companies won't get rich off this, so most will never hear about it.
Soursop, Papaya, and Avocado

After an amazing breakfast.and a ton of advice on what to see, where to eat, and what to expect if we decide to make the move to Hawaii, we are on our way. Jean gives us a few parting gifts: a jar of her wonderful ginger-turmeric iced tea, a Hawaiian calendar, and a great big hug. If this is what the people of Hawaii island are like, I am sold.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Hilo Area

Rainbow Falls
Anxious to see more of this area, we head out to explore. Although Hilo is a college town, life here seems to move at a slower pace. The buildings look like what I can imagine a hippie filled, California beach town looking like in the 60's. The streets are filled with yoga studios, book stores, coffee shops, health food stores, and a couple of surf shops. The air is mixed with the smell of salt water and asphalt. People walking the streets are not in a hurry or seem to have a care in the world.

Jean recommended Rainbow falls, less than five minutes away. We notice it is also located right next door to Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home where Dad is staying. What a nice coincidence. Since we can't get in to see Dad until tomorrow, I slather on my Terra Shield and we head for the falls.

The parking lot of the falls is scattered with a few chickens and cats that look as though they have coexisted here their entire life. Stepping out of the car, we can hear the sound of the waterfall crashing down. Not more than ten feet from our car we can see the top of Rainbow Falls. Wow! Now this is what I think of when I think of Hawaii. Although, most waterfalls require a hike through the jungle to see, this one is close at hand. Even someone in a wheelchair could enjoy these majestic falls.

Tinker Bell's home
Below the falls is a cave said to be where King Kamehameha buried the bones of his father. After staring in awe for several minutes, we take the trail to the left that takes us to the top of the falls. Midway up, we meander off to the left and are greeted by the largest banyan tree I have ever seen. If the girls were here, they would swear this is where Tinker Bell and all of the fairies lived.

Rock hopping Heaven

Continuing back on the trail, we come to the top of the falls. Childhood memories of rock hopping through the Cimarron Canyon fill my head as I stare out over the river that pours into the falls, A smile stretches across my face as I take in the beauty of my surroundings. God is Amazing!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Off and Running

Swimming area Jean frequents
We jump in a white jeep that is now ours for the week. There is something about a jeep in a tropical place that just feels right. With no real threat of rain in the air, we immediately put the top down. I can't remember ever smelling air this clean; quite the contrast from the casino's we've worked in for the past 25 years. It is 2:40 in the afternoon and 79 degrees. My skin instantly soaks up the moisture in the air like a tall drink of water.

Our first step is to get checked into the room we rented for the night, our least expensive place booked at only $39 a night, we are not quite sure what we were going to find. We arrive at the "Renovated Plantation House" that we booked through Airbnb. In the driveway to greet us is Grandma Jean, who runs the house.
Jean and Raghu's home

If I have a preconceived idea of someone from, or at least who has spent the better part of her adult life in Hilo, Jean would be her. In her 70's and not looking a day over 50, she is a strict vegan who doesn't allow meat, eggs, fish or alcohol in the home. She shops the farmer's market just down the street and makes the best ginger-turmeric iced tea I have ever tasted.  She practices Bhakti Yoga several times a week, swims in the ocean and loves her life. 

The home is simple, but very practical. We would have paid $39/night just for the wealth of knowledge received and conversations we had with Jean and her son, Raghu, oh, and the iced tea, of course.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hilo here we come!

After 2 months of research, the day has finally arrived. We are on our way to Hawaii to see first-hand if this is somewhere we could spend the rest of our lives. Knowing our main goal is to spend time with Dad and see as much of the island as possible, I booked all of our nights through Airbnb. This will allow us to stay one or two nights in different locations around the island. In addition, we will be staying with the locals so I can pick their brains. We have so much to pack into only 8 days.

We are flying directly into Hilo. The Yukio Okutso Veterans facility, where Dad is located, is here. Featuring a tropical rain-forest climate, the Hilo area receives on average of 126 inches of rain annually. This is a big concern of ours coming from Arizona, which receives on average of 8 inches of rainfall and has 299 days of sunshine a year.

Clouds surround the island as we arrive, however green lush mountainsides are peeking through, revealing beautiful unspoiled countryside. The Hilo airport is simple and lovely. The smell of Hawaiin flowers fill the air and we can't help but take a big breath to fill our lungs with such clean air. Our rental car is waiting just outside baggage claim and I am instantly taken back to the times when traveling was so simple.

The car rental agent is very welcoming. She shares information about the island and we share the reason we are there. An upgrade to a jeep is highly recommended due to the number of unpaved roads and beaches we are hoping to explore, so this is something we splurge on. She offers us the locals rate and wishes us well on our journey.  The upgrade costs us an additional $29/day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Research begins

Now we have our vision, it's time to dive into research. What schools will the girls attend? Where will we live on the island? What kind of home can we afford to build? Will we buy a fixer upper or will we start with raw land? What will we do to earn an income? Will this be a disaster for my plan to simplify or the answer to so many prayers?

These and many other questions occupy my thoughts day and night. I have to find the answers before breaking the news to the rest of my family and friends or they will all think we have gone bonkers.

So many hours spent on Hawaii Life for the most up-to-date, easy to navigate Hawaii real estate listings. Lauren, our 14-year old, is now in charge of researching schools. I also spend many hours digging up any information I could find on Hawaii schools, which often leads to complete frustration and tons of uncertainty. My kids will be the ultimate "haoles", and from everything I am reading, this is not to be taken lightly.

Our real estate findings on the island are surprising, incredible even. Three acre lots for under $20,000? Some of them with structures for under $100,000? Are we missing something. Is this the best kept secret in real estate or is there a reason everything appears to be such a bargain? I have lived all of my life in the Southwest and Western United States and finding real estate there at these prices meant you would not be living in nice areas.  Finding something "livable" near the water or decent schools; forget about it!
On our flight to Hawaii

Since we can't immediately pick up and go to Hawaii to do first-hand research, we continue our on-line scouring and I found an incredibly informative book for first-time visitors: The Big Island Revealed. Lauren finds several options for schools. She is mostly interested in extra-curricular activities and electives offered, I however, want to know about the curriculum, test scores and college preparation.

It is now February and Spring break is just around the corner. Al's father is not doing great with Alzheimer's and we know we need to get to Hawaii to visit with him and check out the facilities he has been moved to. Trying to save as much money as we can, the girls will be staying home with Auntie Christy. Al and I book our flight on Hawaiian Airlines. This will be our first time leaving the girls for an entire week and my anxiety is already raging. This will be a very important visit with Dad, and an opportunity to continue our research of the island first-hand.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The vision

A dear friend and very talented song writer once told me "If you have a story to tell, you can write a song." Well, I do have a story, but I think I will steer clear of the songwriting, for fear of extreme public humiliation, and just attempt to tell my story through this blog.

My journey for a more simplified life began approximately one year ago. Like many others, I became intrigued with the tiny house movement and the DIY network shows. I was envious of the people who took the leap, leaving what I thought was normal, and simplified their lives.

Laying in bed watching those amazing shows after a day's work, I dreamed of following in their footsteps. Little did I know my husband, Al, was just as intrigued with the idea.

We had each been in the gaming industry for more than 25 years and together almost 20 of them. Between us, we had owned nine houses, the last one close to 3,000 square feet. We had two daughters living at home, ages 14 and 6, both in schools that they were thriving in and seemed to really like. Both were also involved in Cheer-leading at one of the top gyms in the area. I was and still am a very proud Mama.

On the outside we were the "All American Family." On the inside however, it was a different story. We had debt up to our ears. I was working 3 to 4 days a week at the casino on day shift, and Al was working 4 to 5 days a week on swing/graveyard. Needless to say our communication was difficult and I feared our marriage was heading to a very dark place. The life we were living seemed to be spiraling out of control. It seemed the harder we worked the worse it got.

Each day I went to a job where I inhaled smoke all day and listened to people tell me how tough their lives were while I watched them gamble away thousands of dollars, often on a daily basis. Then, I would come home and muster up whatever energy I had left to spend with my daughters. After getting them to bed, I would pour a glass of wine and sit and dream of a different life.

I did a lot of soul searching during this time. I prayed for answers and for guidance. I knew this was not the life I was put here to lead, there had to be more. Was my only purpose to be a mother of two wonderful daughters? And if it was, why did I feel I wasn't even doing that to the best of my ability? I was slipping away and didn't even know "me" anymore. It had been years since I had done any art work of my own, or danced, or even enjoyed my animals. These were all such a big part of my youth, but somewhere along the way I had lost them all.

I began reading whatever I could get my hands on about downsizing, organizing and simplifying your life. I figured this was a good place to start gaining control again. I began organizing my home. My goal was to clean one drawer or closet a day. If it took longer, that was okay. The important thing was just to begin.

The process was overwhelming at the start. In our 16 years of marriage, Al and I had accumulated so much stuff, and much of it never came out of the containers or boxes it was stored in. I used to think I was bad about getting rid of clothes. The truth is, I was bad at getting rid of anything.

Al and I began talking more. We talked about our life and how we had gotten into the shape we were in. We discussed downsizing and the possibility of living in a "tiny home." We talked of where we would build a new life we were both dreaming of. Our imaginations ran wild.

We love Lake Tahoe and Hawaii, and were married in Maui, but the cost of building a home and in either place was way out of our reach. Al's father lived on the island of Kauai for the better part of 30 years and we always came back feeling refreshed when we visited.

After being stricken with Alzheimer's Disease, Al's father was moved to The Big Island of Hawaii where he could receive 24- hour care. With no family or friends on the island, we began discussing the possibility of moving to Hawaii to be near Dad for this part of his life. It seemed as though overnight, our life took on a whole new meaning. We knew where we needed to be and our vision got clearer.

Our biggest fear was how our daughters would react. Our six-year old was young enough to adapt quickly, but how would our 14-year old take the news? Where would they go to school? What kind of education would they get on the Island? Would they make friends? These and a million other questions terrified us.

After many talks together, usually over a glass of wine, my husband and I spoke with our girls about the possibility of uprooting our lives and moving to Hawaii. Knowing that our fate depended on their reaction, this family talk would require at least one extra glass of wine. This was the last piece of the puzzle and it had to go well.

We were completely honest with them about how different life would be on the island. School could be difficult as far as fitting in. Our home would be smaller, much smaller. Life would be simpler with fewer electronics and more playing outside. We discussed our goal of simplifying our life so we could spend more time together doing what we wanted, instead of doing what we had to do. After laying it all out on the table I held my breath for their reaction.

Our six-year old thought it was a brilliant idea and loved everything about it. That wan't a surprise,but our 14-year old's reaction was. She was very excited, and when we discussed online schools if we couldn't find a school she liked, her response shocked me to my core. She said "Mom, if I do online school, how will I ever fit in, make friends, or learn the culture of Hawaii."

And there we had it. The last piece of the puzzle. The girls were both on board and the wheels were set in motion. We still had to break the news to family and friends but our decision was made. We were going to sell or donate nearly everything we had accumulated over our lifetimes and move to Hawaii.