Friday, December 28, 2012

Planning for the New Year

Our goal of reducing our boxes of papers and possessions recently resulted in us finding an unexpected treasure of past five year plans.  The plans go back over 35 years and it was interesting to be able to review them with hindsight and evaluate how things worked out. Though many of our goals took years longer than we expected, in almost every case we eventually got what we set out to achieve.

Over the years we have had goals to buy new cars, own property, live in a house, pay off debts, lose weight, tour Europe, take vacations to Hawaii, move up the corporate ladder, buy a bigger house.  Every acquisition and change in our life resulted in new goals, although keeping financially solvent and being healthy has always been on the list. 

Many people have tried to convince us that all you need is a positive attitude to have everything work out well.  Though a positive attitude is usually a good thing, we have found that having a well thought out plan is a far better approach to getting what we want. Fortunately, staying focused and making progress on our goals has always helped us to be positive.

As we prepare for the start of 2013, we are writing down our next five year plan. Many of our past goals are no longer important to us; we don’t need to “own” our home, or a new car, or take a vacation.  Our plans are to hold on to the wonderful life we have in Hawaii and stay healthy and happy.  

Happy New Year!!
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas in Hawaii

Christmas was not celebrated in Hawaii until the missionaries showed up in the 1820’s, however, the Hawaiians traditionally celebrated the season with a festival called Makahiki.  The Makahiki festival started when the cluster of stars known as the Pleiades appeared in the night sky and lasted several months. The festival was celebrated with hula, songs, feasts, sports competitions and was normally a time of peace.  In 1856, King Kamehameha IV declared Christmas to be a national day of Thanksgiving in Hawaii.

Now days the Christmas season is the start of “high season” in Hawaii, a 90 day period from December 15th though March 15th.   During high season, hotels and other tourist businesses double or triple their prices. We are careful to avoid being stung by the special tourist prices that are so prevalent during the holiday season. Yesterday,  for example, we noticed local avocados selling for $2.89 a pound at the local grocery store, which makes a large avocado about $7; normally they sell for $2 a piece.  

The good side of the Christmas season in Hawaii are the colorful decorations in the stores and hotel lobbies.  The tourists seem cheerful and relaxed basking in the warm tropical sun and playing in the ocean.  Of course, the local businesses and farmers are also cheerful during this season and excited by the throngs of visitors to the island.  All the communities on the islands celebrate with parades, holiday lights, hula presentations, and festivals during this season and the fantastic weather makes it easy to have fun and get into the spirit.

Where ever you are, we hope you are having a wonderful Christmas season.

Mele Kalikimaka! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Creating an Ideal Life in Hawaii

Relocating to Hawaii from the mainland requires so much planning, effort, and money that we are alarmed when families leave the island in frustration after living here just a short time.  Two families in our condo complex just left, one after two years and another only six months after completing a major move of all their belongings.  Watching people leave the island so quickly has made us focus on how to flourish in Hawaii.  Here are things we are doing to help us live better:

Renting, instead of buying, has allowed us to experience living in many parts of the island over the past five years. Our desires in housing have changed dramatically, as we have, over the years. At first we wanted a great view of Hilo Bay, then we wanted to be closer to a white sand beach.   As we got into better shape we wanted to be near great walking and swimming areas and cared less about the view.  As we have focused more of our time on writing, we want more quiet, solitude, and better security.  For just the cost of moving, we have freedom in recreating our lifestyle in a new location whenever we desire.

Reducing our cost of living, has kept us aware of opportunities on the island.  We have been lucky to get more for less in the current economy in Hawaii.  Reducing our monthly expenses has reduced our stress and brought more workability to our life style. We have significantly cut our rent expenses by timing our moves to the low season and identifying in advance where we wanted to live next.  We have cut back in other areas of our living expenses by researching everything we buy and searching for the best prices. It may not seem like a big deal to buy the best coffee maker or the best coffee grinder, but year after year it adds up to a much more enjoyable life at a much lower cost.

Getting rid of stuff, gives us more space and peace of mind.  We moved everything we owned to Hawaii, and though we initially had to store many of our boxes, we have had time to slowly sort through all our belongings and get rid of things.  Every year we need less space as we shrink the volume of stuff we own.

Having time has been a great gift to us.  We have had time to research, think, contemplate our life, and focus on our health.  We have learned how to deal with our health issues, like gout, and to make changes in what we eat to lose weight and get healthier.  Time has allowed us to learn how to cook new foods and implement new diets, like going wheat-free.

Any time we start to lose touch with how much better our life is on this island compared to anywhere else we have ever lived, we head over to one of the nearby resorts.  We watch the sunset and listen to visitors from the mainland exclaiming with wonder over the beauty.  We watch furrowed faces of people in hotel lobbies at the end of their vacation, waiting for their ride to the airport, already stressed out, yelling in their cell phones about the problems waiting for them when they arrive home. We know that what we appreciate in life we get more of,  so every day we focus on appreciating every aspect of Hawaii that we love, no matter how small, so we will get many, many more years of it!

Your Ideal Hawaii Guides for Living Better in Hawaii

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Wheat free Thanksgiving with Hawaii Ingredients

Mac-nut Biscuits
This Thanksgiving we made a major change in our favorite holiday foods.  We replaced our bread dressing with wild rice dressing and made a crushed nut crust for our pumpkin pie.  We found alternatives to our favorite cream gravy and buttermilk biscuits using Hawaii ingredients and started a new tradition of wheat-free Thanksgivings. 

We started a wheat-free diet after two recent gout attacks that occurred after eating a lot of bread.  We have not found any studies that show that wheat causes gout.  However, some doctors claim that the modern hybrid dwarf wheat, the primary wheat available today, causes insulin spikes, inflammation, and is responsible for many other health problems.  Though we find it hard to believe that wheat is as toxic as Dr. Davis claims in his book: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health having a gout attack after eating a lot of bread motivated us to see if a wheat free diet would improve our health.  After only six weeks on a wheat free diet, my feet are less swollen and shoes that were too small a year ago suddenly fit which makes me suspect that bread may indeed be the cause in my most recent gout attacks.   Though we miss bread, we have found healthy replacements for our favorite foods using local products from the Big Island of Hawaii.

Here are two of the recipes we used last week for Thanksgiving. 

Wheat-free Biscuits
2½  cups dry-roasted macadamia meal (we ground Mauna Loa Baking pieces)
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp gluten free baking powder
3 Tbsp coconut oil
3 tsp coconut milk
2 eggs

Mix the baking powder and soda with the macadamia nut meal.  Whisk the eggs, coconut oil, and coconut milk and add to dry ingredients.  The mixture is very wet – you can roll it into flat balls or spoon it on to an oiled flat pan.  Cook in oven (preheated 350 degrees) for about 20 minutes until lightly brown.  This makes about 12 biscuits.

Coconut Cream Gravy
2 Tbsp  rice flour
3 Tbsp  coconut flour
4 Tbsp  coconut oil
1/2 cup broth
1/2 cup coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the flours and oil in a pan and heat the roux.  Slowly stir in the cup of broth and coconut milk until all the roux is absorbed.  Turn up the heat and stir until it boils, then lower the heat. Stir until the gravy thickens – makes 1 cup of gravy.
Coconut Cream Gravy

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2013 Year of the Water Snake

Once again it is time for predictions based on the Chinese lunar calendar of the upcoming 2013 Year of the Water Snake.  The Chinese Zodiacpopular in East Asia and Hawaii, assigns an animal to each year with characteristics that help predict the events of the year as well as the personality of those born during the year.  As predicted, the current 2012 Water Dragon pushed the unpleasant realities in the world to the forefront and the unsettling change will continue until the start of the Snake Year on February 10, 2013.

Snakes are all about material wealth. They will plot and scheme to make sure things work out in their favor. The upcoming Snake year may get the world’s economies back on track, but it may be achieved by Xenophobia and isolationism.  A Snake’s view of success and wealth is possessive and nationalistic.  Though peace and harmony is preferable, anyone that criticizes or jeopardizes progress will be attacked.  The cunning, proud, money-oriented, and at times vicious snake may shelter itself and not help with the conflict and unrest in the world. 

The last Water Snake year in 1953, brought the Hydrogen bomb into the world and atomic bomb testing started in the US, Russia, and Australia.  McCarthy had his anti-communist rampage and President Eisenhower fired any federal workers who took the “5th” amendment, saying that meant they were “Reds” (communist).  Fidel Castro began his rebellion in Cuba and China started their push through Korea which ended in the formation of North and South Korea. The most recent Snake year was in 2001, when the September 11, 2001 attack occurred. The 9/11 attack shut down air traffic in the US for 2 days and invoked the NATO agreement which backed strikes by the US against aggressors. The year of 2001 brought the Tiananmen Square incident in China, Anthrax mailings, the shoe bomber, and the US invaded Afghanistan. The Office of Homeland Security was established, the Patriot Act was enacted, and military tribunals were set up.   During Snake years, countries tend to focus on internal issues and protect their “own” at any cost.

There are positives about Snake years when advances in areas that require intuition and intelligence are made. During the Water Snake Year of 1953, TV came into its own with broadcasting stations set up across the country and coast to coast televised shows and news events took place for the first time. Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA, Salk announced his Polio vaccine, Einstein announced his revised unified field theory, and Banting and Best isolated insulin.  Transportation was reformed with the first west to east transcontinental nonstop jet service, the first helicopter passenger service, the first Corvette was manufactured, and Chuck Yeager reached Mach 2.4 in a rocket plane. In the 2001 Snake Year, a spacecraft landed on an asteroid, Mars Odyssey was launched, and the world had its first space tourist. The first draft of the human genome was published, the first artificial heart was created, Apple announced iTunes and released the iPod, Wikipedia went online, and China was granted normal trade relations with the US.

From the ashes of change during the 2012 Dragon Year, the 2013 Snake Year will bring more focus on the US economy and advancement of welfare, and harmony.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Designing an “ideal” 2013 calendar and planner for Hawaii

Every year we have trouble finding a good calendar for planning and keeping track of our activities in Hawaii.  Few stores on the island even carry daily planners and those that do run out quickly.  We end up spending a lot of money for marginally useful calendars without any of the state holidays and celebrations that we like to keep track of in Hawaii.

We thought it would be easy to design a much better daily planner for 2013 with Hawaii holidays and celebrations.   It turned out to be lot more work than we guessed to include everything we wanted and to research the many unique holidays and special days celebrated in Hawaii.

We wanted the calendar to have room to record food, calories, and weight so we could track the relationship between what we ate and our weight loss or gain each day, week, and month. We wanted a calendar with a place to write annual goals so we could easily review them every day. We have read several studies about goal setting that showed people who write down their goals have a greater chance of achieving them.

Every week we take some time to think about how we can improve our life and write down any insights or lessons learned, so we added a place to write them down in the planner every week.

We have been inspired by stories of how top athletes use visualizations to improve their performance.  We want to keep visualizations of our future in our thoughts every day, so we included an area to write them down as well as an area to write our appreciations. 

“Your Ideal Hawaii Calendar 2013: Daily Planner and Calories Counter” incorporates goal setting, calorie counting, weight tracking, visualizations, and affirmations with space to schedule and record monthly and daily activities.  The planner has holidays, special days, and annual events celebrated in Hawaii with information about what is going on around the state every month. We left out photos to make as much space for writing as possible. The calendar is in paperback book form, because we think the wire bound calendars are not as easy to read or keep in a book shelf for later reference. 

If you are looking for a 2013 calendar/planner, you may want to try this planner.  We priced it at $8.99 on Amazon so it is not a big investment to try.   If you find it useful or have ideas for improvements for next year, please let us know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gout and the Wheat Free Diet

After a series of gout attacks in Hilo five years ago, I now carefully avoid foods I know cause my gout.  I do not eat canola oil because of its uric acid content; corn-fed and rape-seed fed meats and fish; and sugars because they are all highly acidic and can bring on gout attacks.   I also make sure my drinking water is not acidic.   So, I was really surprised when I had another gout attack a week ago, after not having problems for so long.

Surprisingly, my last two gout attacks followed eating a lot of bread.   The first episode happened after I ate pizza and bread with olive oil at a restaurant.  I assumed at the time that the olive oil had been substituted with canola oil and was the cause of the attack.   However, my most recent gout attack happened after I ate a lot of English muffins and French bread.  I normally do not eat much bread and prefer rice and rice pasta with my meals.  However, I tend to eat wheat when I am restricting my calories.   Even though bread has never shown up on any list as a cause for gout, I am beginning to think it may be another food that is contributing to my gout attacks.  

When we started researching the negative health effects of bread, we found that there is a “modern” wheat controversy.  We did not realize that wheat today is very different than what we ate as kids, the result of intensive crossbreeding to make it shorter and hardier.   Doctor Davis, author of “Wheat Belly”, claims this new dwarf wheat has a different protein structure and contains the starch amylopectin A which is absorbed in the body like a super sugar.  According to Doctor Davis, eating wheat products, even organic whole-grain wheat makes you hungry, fat, and results in other side effects like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.  

We are skeptical of miraculous health claims from diets, especially by doctors, however after reflecting on what we were eating during the times we felt really healthy over the past 30 years, it seems like it was when we had very little wheat in our diet.   With the agony of my recent gout attack fresh in my mind, we were very willing to  start on a no-wheat diet.  Another motivation is that weight-loss, in particular belly fat, is a reported result of getting this starch and gluten out of the diet.  Even on our restricted calorie diet, we have 10 stubborn pounds of fat that we can not keep off.

We found studies on the negative health effects of eating amylopectin starch. This type of starch is absorbed so rapidly into the blood stream that it causes a huge spike in insulin which causes calories to be stored as fat, even when eating a low calorie diet. This may explain why we are not losing weight eating low calorie breads and tortillas.   Amylopectin  also causes an increase in production of LDL cholesterol and inflammation in the body, similar to the effects of eating high fructose corn syrup.  

We have been on a wheat-free diet for ten days now and we noticed right away that we felt much less hungry, but we haven’t had any weight loss yet.  The relief from hunger may be due to taking gluten out of our diet, but since rice and potatoes have as much amylopectin starch as wheat, we may have to forego those foods to get the weight loss benefit.  While contemplating that, we plan to remain wheat-free and see if we get some of the health benefits others are claiming just by removing wheat from their diet.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Health in Hawaii

Every year Hawaii is in the headlines for having a low obesity rate; only Colorado has a slightly lower rate.   Visitors to Hawaii often tell us how great they feel here.  Their aches and pains disappear and they find themselves walking more and feeling energized.   We had the same experience during our visits to Hawaii and it motivated us to come more and more often to recreate the feeling.  We wondered if the health benefits we had during our 3-week vacations would subside if we lived in Hawaii full-time or would keep getting better every year.

In the five years we have lived here we have seen dozens of people with very serious health problems have huge improvements in their health. People who could barely walk were able to take long daily walks after a year or more of living in Hawaii.  We have also had consistent improvement in our health, with slow weight loss and improved fitness.  The changes have not been spectacular or quick, but we have answered the question about whether living in Hawaii full-time would result in our health getting better and better.

We believe the year-round warm weather and access to fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and meats is a major part of the reason for our improved health.  However, studies have shown the effect of location on health and that you are more likely to be obese if your neighbors are obese.

Communities with lower obesity rates have been shown to have similar physical characteristics including paths and sidewalks,  local parks, and playgrounds. 
A study at Columbia University showed that healthy food outlets nearby and farmer’s markets in the neighborhood also are related to lower obesity. 
Another study found that having four or more businesses like a grocery store, pharmacy, restaurant or other stores within walking distance significantly increased the amount of walking among residents in a neighborhood.  Four-way intersections were also associated with more walking. The age of the neighborhood and availability of parking were not associated with more walking.

We have lived in three communities on Hawaii Island in Hilo, Kona and Kohala and they all have stores within walking distance, nearby beaches and parks, pools, and farmer’s markets.   In each community we watched our neighbors go on daily walks or runs.   They shared the bounty from their gardens and fish they caught with us.

Before we moved to Hawaii, no matter how hard we exercised and restricted our diet, we got fatter and more out of shape every year.  Every year we live in Hawaii, we feel better and are closer to our fitness and weight goals. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ironman Championships 2013 : Extreme racing in Kona

Once again, it is Ironman World Championships time in Kona and the athletes and their entourages have taken over the highways, roads, and pier in Kona practicing for the big race on Saturday.  We marvel at the extreme and dangerous workouts of the Ironman athletes in Hawaii’s hot, tropical sun.  They bicycle for a hundred miles next to fast moving traffic on a highway carved into a lava field with 100 degree temperatures and winds up to 45 miles a hour. 

Observing the athletes pushing themselves so hard has interested us in the recent controversy over whether being an Ironman is good for your health or not.  Until recently, it has been considered an undisputed fact that an Ironman-type training was good for your health.

Last year a cardiac specialist, Dr. John M, wrote in his blog that it was not healthy for the middle-aged heart to run in Ironman competitions and doing so causes inflammation, coronary calcium, and atrial fibrillation. His blog got a lot of comments from athletes with strong opinions about their Ironman status and extreme workouts and other blogs agreeing with the increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) and scarring in the heart from training and competing in marathons and events like the Ironman.

In June of this year Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study on marathon runners that reported that 12% of apparently healthy marathon runners showed signs of heart damage called Phidippides cardiomyopathy (named after an ancient Greek messenger who died after a long run) related to their extreme conditioning. The study found that repeated, long distance racing can cause premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and coronary artery calcification.

It makes a lot of sense to us that the Ironman competition is not healthy.  The athletes in Kona look and act injured for days after completing the Ironman race and after observing the event over the past years, the participants act more like the event is a challenge they are trying to survive rather than something they are doing for good health.

Most studies state that daily exercise for 30 minutes to an hour is best for health and this seems about right to us. We feel really good after we walk and swim for 45 minutes to an hour. Any more than that and we are really sore the next day and the times we have exercised for many hours has often resulted in injuries that prevented us from exercising for days.

Though we find it inspiring to watch the world’s top endurance athletes compete in harsh conditions in Kona, unlike previous years we are more than satisfied with our 45 minute workouts after reading about the health risks of extreme exercise regimes. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Moving to Hawaii

When we moved to Hawaii, we were faced with a lot of big decisions like what to bring, whether to ship our cars or buy new ones on the island, and how to transport everything over 2,000 miles across an ocean. We have come to realize how important the moving choices we made five years ago have been to our cost of living and quality of life in Hawaii.

We love getting emails with questions and moving stories from people drawn to the island.   We are surprised that the frustrations people have about their move to Hawaii are so similar.  Unlike moves to other states in the US, most newcomers are rarely able to find ways to change their circumstances once they have settled on the island.

We wrote a new book: Your Ideal Hawaii Move:  A Guide for Moving to Hawaii Island, to consolidate everything we learned about moving to Hawaii in one place. The book describes how the decisions you will make during your move later affect your living expenses and lifestyle in Hawaii.  Some seemingly minor choices can cost a lot in Hawaii.

For example, can you imagine having to ship your car to the mainland for warranty service or repairs?  Some brands of cars have no dealers in the state of Hawaii.  We know people who routinely transport their vehicle to California, fly there, and stay in a hotel to get warranty service on their car.  Bringing the wrong make and model of car can be a major hardship and cost in Hawaii.

Another choice a lot of newcomers to Hawaii make is to retain their driver’s license from another state on the mainland. Many people living on Hawaii Island have never become legal residents of the state.  Their choice prohibits them from participating fully in state and county activities, voting, and potential financial benefits of residency.

Living a few extra miles out of town is no big deal on the mainland, however in Hawaii where gas is $4 a gallon or more, every mile costs a lot more. Utilities and services that are taken for granted on the mainland may not be available in some neighborhoods.  Choices made about where to live make a big difference in the cost and quality of life on the island.

The book is organized into sections addressing the differences in location on the island; advanced planning for the move; setting up after the move; ideas for managing the cost of living; getting a job; and the many fun activities there are on the island.  Though the book is focused on moving to Hawaii Island, most of the content is applicable to moving to other islands in Hawaii.

The book is available in Kindle ($4.99) and paperback ($9.99) versions. You can view the table of contents and read the first chapter about our move from Northern California to Hilo by selecting “Look Inside” on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LED TV power savings in Hawaii

We are always looking for ways to cut our electricity bill in Hawaii where the cost of electricity is 450% higher than the average rate in the US. Our latest focus was on our 7 year-old 40-inch Samsung LCD TV. We assumed the cost of buying a new LED TV would eventually be returned to us from the savings on our electric bill.

We purchased a highly-rated 40-inch Westinghouse LED TV from Amazon.

We used our handy kilowatt meter to measure the wattage used and calculate our savings.
We measured our old LCD TV at 241 watts per hour.

241 watts read Samsung LCD TV

We measured our new Westinghouse “energy star” LED TV at 60 watts an hour.

Westinghouse LED TV 60 watts read

Our new LED TV uses 75% less electricity than our old LCD TV!

We have our TV turned on about 4 hours a day so our old TV uses about 1 kilowatt hour during that time. The cost to us has been 45 cents a day (using our current cost of 45 cents per kilowatt hour in Hawaii).  Using only ¼ of a kilowatt, our new TV will save us about 34 cents a day which adds up to about $123 a year.  Since we paid $399 for the new TV, it will pay for itself in about three years from lower electric bills.

We bought the new LED technology TV now for more reasons than just saving on electricity costs. We are concerned that the conflict between China, Taiwan, and Japan may escalate in a way that makes affordable electronics from Asia a thing of the past.  The cost of electricity in Hawaii keeps going up and we expect that it will continue to rise.   The new TV is lighter, has a better sound system, and seems to have a clearer and brighter picture.   

We are looking forward to seeing our reduced electric usage in our next electric bill.

You can find the Westinghouse LED HDTV we bought here.
You can find the Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitor we used here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hawaii’s spectacular sunsets from volcanic emissions

We are having gorgeous sunsets on Hawaii Island thanks to the increased volcanic activity from Kilauea Volcano. Volcanic ash makes the sunsets a bright reddish orange.

Unfortunately, the beautiful sunsets mean more volcanic emissions are covering the island.  Recently, two new vents opened up on the volcano and the amount of sulfur dioxide emissions have increased. The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has measured sulfur dioxide emission rates of up to 900 tonnes or 1,984,140 pounds per day during September.

The Vog Measurement and Prediction Project (VMAP) at the University of Hawaii has created a very helpful map website that predicts the movement of sulfur dioxide (SO2) around the island.  This month there have been many days with deep orange and red level readings in Volcano and the southern parts of the island. Kona has also been having some days with high levels of Vog.

Hawaii Department of Health has an SO2 advisory website with advisory levels based on the measured amounts at various detectors around the island. We took a snapshot on  September 17th, showing several hours of unhealthy red levels at Jaggar Museum in Volcanoes National Park.

 We find even yellow levels of SO2 to be uncomfortable.   After many hours of moderate levels, we feel fatigued and light headed. The best protection from unhealthy levels of SO2 is to stay inside and turn on the AC, if you have one.  We have gas masks just in case. We are hoping that the Volcanic emissions subside, but we are enjoying the incredible sunsets while they continue.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Hawaii’s extraordinary “average” home

The US Census and other data collecting organizations have ranked the average Hawaii home the highest of all states in the US in numerous categories including cost, size of household, and ethnicity of home dwellers. The average Hawaii home is anything but average when compared to homes on the mainland.

Homes in the state of Hawaii have the highest average value in the US with an average price of $537,400 in 2010.  The second highest ranked state was California with an average home price of $458,500.  Despite being the highest priced, the average Hawaii home is almost half the size of an average mainland home at 1300 square feet versus 2700 square feet.   The cost difference of an average home in Hawaii and an average home in Mississippi, which has the lowest priced homes at $96,000 on average, is over 559% for a home that is half the size.  When comparing the cost per square foot of a house, Hawaii is in a league of its own at about $413 a square foot, on average.

Hawaii also tops the list for the average size of household in the US, which means on average more people are living in a Hawaii home, even though they are half the size.  The high cost of rentals and homes in Hawaii makes it common for extended families to live under one roof.  We notice that people without family in Hawaii tend to have roommates to help cover the high cost of rent. 

The people that dwell in the average home in Hawaii are also unique as compared to the mainland.  Close to 50% of Hawaii residents are Asian or Polynesian and another 25% of the residents are two or more races.  Hawaii is the only state in the US where less than 25% of the residents are white and whites are a minority.

One of the things we find refreshing about life in Hawaii is how different living here is from the mainland. People in Hawaii have a unique way of doing things and there is no other place like it in the US.  The high cost of living in Hawaii ensures that everyone living on the islands really wants to be here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hawaii and sun protection

Every year we visit our dermatologist and  wonder if something will have to be cut off, frozen off, or sampled for cancer.  Even though we pour on high-SPF sunscreen every day, having fair skin in the tropical Hawaiian sun increases our risk of getting skin cancer.  This year, the Doctor told some things about sunscreen and skin cancer that we did not know.

The SPF (skin protection factor) number used for sunscreen is based on a “fractional calculation” of the amount of sunlight being blocked which is 1 divided by the SPF number. So, SPF 15  allows 1/ 15th of the sunlight through which means it blocks about 93% of the sunlight.  SPF 30 allows 1/30th of the sunlight through, which blocks 96% of the sunlight. We didn’t realize that doubling the SPF number only meant that 3% more of the sunlight was blocked. 

The SPF number on sunscreen is only related to blocking Ultra Violet B (UVB) rays which cause sunburns.  We use sunscreen and usually stay inside from 9AM-4PM in Hawaii when UVB is the strongest.  Though that protects us from sunburn,  it turns out that UVB is not the primary cause of skin cancer. 

Ultra Violet A (UVA) rays have been known to damage the skin, but it also responsible for giving you a great tan.  Only recently was it was discovered that UVA exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer.  This is a problem because UVA is the same strength all day, so doing our walks later in the afternoon is not providing us any protection from it.  We assumed that the thick vog (volcanic emissions) in Kona was filtering out all the UV rays, but UVA goes right through clouds and vog.  We are even exposed behind a glass window inside our house or car. Researchers believe that this is one of the reasons workers in offices with large windows have increased rates of skin cancer. Our Hawaii tans and freckles are from five years of UVA, even though we thought we were minimizing our sun exposure.
The  FDA has not approved a SPF-like rating for UVA, so using sunscreen does not necessarily provide any protection. There are some ingredients that are thought to help block UVA such as oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, however it is not known how much protection they really offer.

We like spending time on the beach and soaking up the Hawaiian sunlight, so keeping track of how much time we are outside as well as wearing hats and covering up is our best protection. Meanwhile, we hope that more is learned about the risks and benefits of UVA.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lowering the Cost of Living in Hawaii with Online Shopping

Shopping for fresh produce on Hawaii Island is a delight. The huge selection of fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, chicken, and lamb raised on Hawaii Island makes many healthy foods abundant and affordable.  Shopping for organic grains, oils, and health supplements not grown on the island, however, is a major challenge. We have waited for weeks for health supplements and organic grains to be available in island stores. The lack of merchandise and high prices have led us to shop online for our “mainland health foods”.

Perishable foods from the mainland have to be transported a long distance in refrigerated containers. The cost of shipping increases the prices of imported goods by 25% to 75% and the products are usually close to being out of date. Even non-perishable organic foods are often quite old by the time they show up in our island’s stores. We assume this is because they are warehoused on the mainland before being shipped to Hawaii. We have been buying from Amazon for years, but during the past year we have increased our food and supplement purchases from them. Amazon has slowly added a large selection of organic health foods and they have also provided a new way to dramatically lower the cost of transporting the goods to Hawaii.

When we purchased an Amazon Kindle last year, we received a month free of “Amazon Prime”, which costs $79 a year to join after a free month.  The first month we found so many good deals on organic grains with free shipping that we decided to join. We were sure we could save the $79 over the course of a year just on shipping costs. (Amazon Prime also includes other stuff like a Kindle library, free TV shows, movies, etc.).

The online prices for Prime seem to change frequently and shipping is sometimes free one day and not the next, so we watch closely. For foods that we eat frequently, like rice and pasta, we order them by the dozen.This strategy has allowed us to buy pastas, rice, and flours, for up to 66% less than any store on the island; a package of organic rice pasta is $2.75 versus $6 from the local health food store when they have it. Some products come to us directly from the mill or factory, so the food is extremely fresh. Even better, the packages are delivered by FedEx, UPS, or USPS to our doorstep so we do not have to pay for gas to go buy it.

We have a list of things we buy repeatedly,so when we see a good price with no shipping costs, we make the purchase. Since we shop regularly, we created a Hawaii Amazon Food Store with the health supplements and food products we buy.

Recently, we tried buying something different then food online, something much bigger. We have been planning to replace our mattress for over a year.  Our last bed cost $2000, so even though we have been uncomfortable for some time, we have been reluctant to spend money to buy a new one. We wanted to try out a memory foam mattresses, but the ones advertised on TV are about $1500 and even the cheaper versions are about $800 for a 12 inch thick queen-size mattress.  We considered the choices at COSTCO and wondered how we would ever get the huge, heavy box home. Since we have never tried this type of mattress, and some online reviewers complained that they made them hot at night, we were concerned about investing in an unknown.

On a whim, we searched on Amazon Prime, and were surprised to find a 12 inch memory foam mattress with great reviews and free shipping to Hawaii for $388.99.  The price seemed unreal compared to what we had seen elsewhere, so we ordered it. Four days later, a huge box arrived and was carried in by a very strong FEDEX guy. Having read the reviews, we knew not to open the box until it was in the bedroom. We managed to push the box up the stairs and when we cut it open, out flopped a tightly packed, thin roll of foam. When the binding was cut, the foam instantaneously expanded into a queen size square.

After an hour, the mattress had risen almost 10 inches and by evening it was fully expanded to 12 inches. Our house is warm, about 85 degrees, so that helped the foam to expand quickly.  The mattress is the most comfortable we have ever slept on in our life and we are having excellent nights of sleep.

Even on a remote island, there are ways to “shop” and get low cost deals that improve our health and the quality of our life in Hawaii.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Downsizing Possessions in a Materialistic World

Mercier sculpture and art books
We started downsizing our possessions years before we moved to Hawaii. We had  garage sales every month, gave car loads of things to Goodwill, and hired people to haul away things that were too heavy for us to move. We were amazed at how much stuff we had packed into a 2200 square foot house in 10 years. We  reduced our belongings by more than 70%, but even with all that effort we filled a 20 foot container with our stuff when we moved to Hawaii.

Since moving to Hawaii, we have had the gift of time to read books we have been collecting for years and enjoy old movies and music we brought.  We have been able to sort through boxes of photographs and every year we put up the fake Christmas tree we brought and reminisce while hanging our collection of tree ornaments.
Initially, we stored our boxes of possessions in the garage of our rental house in Hilo, however, when we moved to a smaller condominium in Kona, we had to rent a storage unit. 

During visits to our storage unit in Kona over the past few years, we have observed the continuing drama of an elderly couple and their 50-something children with a storage unit near ours.  During the family’s visitations to their storage unit, the elderly couple sits in chairs facing the open unit stacked to the ceiling with boxes as their children carefully unpack one box at a time. We have watched them unpack gleaming ceramics from the Orient, which from afar look like museum pieces.  As each piece is held, the couple recounts the story of a trip or adventure when it was acquired.  Their children interrupt to try and convince them to sell it.  A few treasures are taken away, but most items are carefully repacked and returned to the mountain of boxes.  After watching this family’s drama over the years, we look at our own stack of boxes filled with art, collectibles, and books that we cannot seem part with and realize how many treasured memories they represent for us.

One of the benefits of our new rental home on the Kohala Coast is that there is enough space for all of the boxes in our storage unit. Every week, we drive to Kona to fill our car with our stuff and unload them into our new place.  Our home is rapidly filling up with bronze sculptures and art books that we have not unpacked since we moved to Hawaii five years ago.  

Though we enjoy the possessions we brought to Hawaii, we realize the strong attachment we have to our stuff makes us less mobile and adds to our cost of living in Hawaii.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Value of good pipes in a Hawaii home

Having good pipes in your home is important no matter where you live, but having quality pipes is a big deal in Hawaii due to some unique differences in Hawaii’s water and home owners.

One of the reason homes need high quality pipes in Hawaii is the prevalence of highly corrosive water. We have never measured water as acidic or as salty as the water in some of the public water systems on the Island of Hawaii.  Water is  collected from streams on the slopes of the Volcanoes fed by snow pack and rain.  The rain gets acidic as it falls through the thick volcanic sulfuric gasses and this acidic water is tough on pipes and faucets. The other source of water on the island is from wells that pump fresh water “floating” above the sea water that saturates the porous lava under most of the island. When it stops raining, the depth of floating fresh water is thin and sea water mixes in when it is pumped out.  The water can sometimes get so salty that local media will advise people avoiding salt for health reasons to not drink the water.  Salty, acidic water is hard on any pipe, but low-quality pipe installations are more likely to fail.

Another reason a home in Hawaii needs high quality pipes is that so many are used only sporadically by their owners. It is not uncommon for people to leave their home unattended for six months at a time and leave the water turned on.  With so many vacant homes and condos, a leak can go undetected for a long time and do a tremendous amount of damage before being discovered. In a multi-unit condo, leaking water will keep oozing through walls and floors until it finally reaches a unit that is occupied.   We know of a leak in an unoccupied house that was discovered by the pool guy when he noticed that the furniture in the living room was floating in several feet of water.   We have heard so many water damage horror stories that when we travel, even for a few days, we shut off the water.

We check the visible pipes in a house or condo as one way of assessing the quality of the construction and we are surprised at how much the installation and materials vary in upscale communities.  Below are photos of two pipe installations in Hawaii condos.

This installation uses one inch copper pipes to and from the water heater.

In contrast, this installation uses ¾ inch copper pipes with a multi-directional connection to the water heater and cold water.  The copper portion of the pipe is suspended by a cord secured to a board with a notch carved into it to make room for an elbow coupler from copper to CPVC SDE 11 pipe. 

On the upside, leaking pipes are such a common problem in Hawaii that there are thriving businesses  on the island that have a lot of experience and equipment to fix major water damaged homes.  Unfortunately, having the repairs done is expensive as drying out walls and floors in the tropics is a difficult task. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Moving between climates zones on Hawaii Island

We feel lucky that our life as bloggers and authors allows us to be mobile so we can experience living in the dramatically different climate zones on Hawaii Island.  We loved the two years we lived in Hilo experiencing the joys of fast growing fruit and its year round tropical climate and intense rain. Hilo was the perfect place for us to slow down and learn about Hawaii. We enjoyed the two and a half years we lived in Kona with its unusual dry winters and great snorkeling along the coast.  We swam off the pier with ironman athletes and were inspired to lose fat and eat less. Now we are ready to explore living in a completely different climate zone on Hawaii Island.

In the book we published last year, Your Ideal Hawaii Home, we included climate and rain maps of Hawaii Island to illustrate how different the arid climate zones, where the resorts are located, are from the tropical climate zones where most people live on Hawaii Island. Ever since researching about it, we have wondered what it would be like to live in an arid climate zone on the island.   After searching for months, were able to find a rental and for the next year or two we plan to experience living in the Kohala Coast desert.

Though we are just moving in, we already have some first impressions.

Unlike Kona, the morning sunrise is not blocked by the Volcanoes so it is intensely sunny early in the morning, which encourages us to get up very early.  

It is warmer than Kona, about 8-10 degrees, and after years of acclimating to hot, humid weather, the hot, dry weather feels really good to us.  We can feel our skin and hair drying out as well as our books and furniture.  Paper feels different and wet things dry quickly.

- There is much less Vog than Kona and more sun, which makes us very happy.  The glorious turquoise and blues of the ocean are not blocked by the Vog and we have to wear sunscreen again to protect against the sun.  Instead of thick grey volcanic ash covering our furniture and clinging to our fans, Kohala has black dirt from the surrounding lava fields.

- Kohala is renowned for its high winds; Waikoloa is often called Waiko-blow-a.  We can already confirm that there is a great deal of wind and it seems most prevalent at night and sometimes the mornings. Since we are not golfers, we have nothing against the wind.  We are enjoying the sound of the trees creaking in the wind and the air blowing through our house. The air feels fresh, though it does cover everything with fine, black lava dirt. Right now, we prefer the dirt over volcanic ash. (How many places in the world can you make that comparison?)

As we prepare to enjoy the 4th of July festivities, we are happy to continue our adventures experiencing and enjoying living on Hawaii Island. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What will Larry Ellison do with Lanai Island?

In the press, Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, claims that he plans substantial investment in Lanai Island (Hawaii’s 6th largest island) and support to create jobs and stimulate tourism. We wonder if he will bring technology companies to Hawaii, move Oracle or one of his other Silicon Valley corporations to the island, or just use the island as a getaway and reward destination for his top sales people? 

Lanai Island has been owned by billionaire David Murdock since 1985 and he apparently plans to continue to maintain a home there.  Ellison purchased the island for about $600 million and takes on its annual losses of about $20 million a year.  The sale includes the island's two hotels, the Four Seasons at Manele Bay and the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele, two golf courses, and more than 88,000 acres of land.  The 88,000 acres include the Koele and Manele residential properties, Lanai City, stables, a shooting range, two water companies, a transportation company, and part of a solar farm that sells power to Maui Electric Company. Lanai Island is in Maui County along with the islands of Maui and Molokai and the state, county of Maui, and a few private property owners retain the remaining 2% of the island.  The island is said to be down to less than 2000 residents since the slowdown in tourism to the island.

We live on the island of Hawaii, which has its share of billionaires who hide deep within the tripled gated Kukio complex and dine at the Four Seasons where the staff use code names to protect their identities.  We drive by their private jets parked in rows at the Kona airport.  The purchase of Lanai Island by Ellison is a whole new game in the rise of software billionaires and their private retreats.  Will he create an even more secure location for billionaires and their collections of private jets or will he use his substantial wealth to invest in the infrastructure required to resolve the barriers Hawaii has to becoming a major technology center in the Pacific?