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.