Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 Merrie Monarch Festival

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Merrie Monarch hula festival which started in Hilo in 1963. The hula festival was named for King David Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch who brought hula and chants back into fashion after being banned by the powerful Queen Ka’ahumanu, the favorite wife of the first Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Kamehameha I.  

Although the Merrie Monarch hula competitions are Thursday through Saturday, events celebrating hula and Hawaiian culture take place all week in Hilo. The Ho’olaule’a (music festival), which starts the week of events, is on Easter Sunday at the Civic Auditorium and showcases hula by local halaus.

During our first Merrie Monarch five years ago, we exhausted ourselves attending every free event around the town during the week. But every year since, free events have been replaced by advanced purchase ticket sales. This year even the Ho’ike, a non-competitive hula extravaganza that hundreds of fans wait five or more hours in line to experience, requires a ticket, which had to be purchased months ago, to attend.

The daily performances at the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort (at Noon) and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (at 1PM) from Monday to Friday are still free, but the performance areas are very small which limits what you can see. You have to pick one of the hotel performances and get there very early to make sure you can actually experience the hula. There are also free hula performances at the Civic Auditorium at 11AM Wednesday through Saturday. For the first time, the Prince Kuhio Plaza Mall has scheduled a program of free performances by local halaus and musicians in the center court starting at 11AM during the week from Monday through Saturday. And the grand Merrie Monarch royal parade through downtown Hilo on Saturday morning is free.

Attending the Ho’olaule’a on Easter day has become a tradition for us and we are looking forward to it.  The rest of the week, we plan to experience the festival from our couch, watching the coverage by KFVE. We were disappointed that we cannot attend the Ho’ike, but thrilled with the news in an email from the KFVE station manager, John Fink: “We will be showing an edited version of the Wednesday night events (hula and song) from 8-10PM on Wednesday. We hope you enjoy.”

If you are not in Hawaii,you can still enjoy the Merrie Monarch festival over streaming live programming by KFVE.

Here is one of favorite performances, "How Great Thou Art", from the 2012 Ho’olaule’a. Happy Easter!!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hawaii “Pity Party” season

When “off season” arrives in Hawaii, it is common to have a “going away” or “pity” party for the snowbirds preparing to return to North America until next winter.  We have a lot of sympathy for them having to leave.   Before moving to Hawaii, we visited the islands every winter to chase away our winter blues caused by the endless gray winter days in Northern California. 

Since we haven’t left Hawaii in six years, we rarely think about dealing with cold, gray days.   But hearing the groans at a recent “pity party” from snowbirds dreading the cold weather awaiting them, we recalled the difficulty we use to have when leaving Hawaii after a winter vacation.

One way we survived our return to the cold was by having a  “Hawaii Room”.  We set aside a small room upstairs and used an electric floor heater to warm it up to about 78 degrees.  That way we could keep the room 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the house.  We bought several full spectrum lights, put beach towels on the rug, and played Hawaiian music on our boom box.  With our eyes closed, we could imagine that we were lying on the beach.  We dreamed about the day we would live in Hawaii full time and played our favorite Dido song about returning from a tropical vacation to a depressing, dead-end job:

Tomorrow's back to work and down to sanity,
Should run a bath and then clear up the mess i made before I left here.
Try to remind myself that I was happy here,
Before I knew that I could get on a plane and fly away,
From the road where the cars never stop going through the night,
To a life where I can watch the sun set,
And take my time.
From “Sand in My Shoes”
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

The time we spent in our “Hawaii Room” led us to imagine a life in Hawaii.  That dream gave us the energy to get up early, work hard, sell our house, get rid of stuff, and save enough money to afford to move to Hawaii.  It has been a long time since we thought about that room, but reflecting on it now 10 years later, we think that our “Hawaii Room” was a big part of making our dream a reality.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Living in Hawaii on Less

Recently we saw an article that claimed the cost of living in Maui was 200% higher than the “average” cost of living on the mainland.  This matches our experience of the costs in Hawaii when trying to live the same way as we did on the mainland.  Over the past five years, we have modified our lifestyle in Hawaii in order to cut our costs and improve the quality of our life.  As a result, our expenses are much cheaper than they were when we lived in Northern California and our life is substantially more pleasant.  Below is a list of living expenses that we reduced by changing our lifestyle.

Utility Costs - Electricity costs 4 to 7 times more than most places on the mainland so we have learned to live with less electricity.  We live in a house that has windows that open to let the air through and we block the sun from heating up the inside.  We never use AC and rely on fans and cold showers on really hot days.  We wear thin clothes and swim in the morning to lower our body temperature in the summer.   We use only LED lights and have an LED TV  and energy efficient appliances.  We keep appliances unplugged, our lights turned off when not being used, and our water heater turned low.  We don’t use hair dryers and we monitor anything electric with an electric current meter (Kill-a-watt ).  These actions have cut our electric costs by over 75%.

Food Costs - We only eat local fruit, vegetables, grass fed beef, and fish.  When we bought grass-fed beef and Hawaiian fish in California we paid about 3 times more than we pay in Hawaii and we never were able to get Hawaiian avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms, bananas, and eggplants.   We order processed foods in bulk (rice, rice pasta, almond flour, cherry juice concentrate, etc) from Amazon.  Amazon has a Prime program that gives members free shipping, so we pay a third or less than the local store prices.  We estimate eating local and ordering in bulk saves us about 75% from our grocery store costs on the mainland.   We have to keep close track of our inventory to make sure we do not run out of food and modify our plan if the food we normally order is not on Prime at a particular time.  Eating foods that are reasonably priced on the mainland or depending on meals at restaurants can break a budget in Hawaii because of the high costs of labor and shipping of foods to the island.

Housing costs - We rent and we move to take advantage of better deals as they become available.  We have learned to look at the net cost of living in a place rather than just the cost of the rent.  When we initially moved to Hilo, our rent was half of what we paid for a smaller, dumpy place in Cupertino, California.   Though our rent went up when we moved to Kona, our net cost was lower because the rent included services that we were paying for in Hilo including sewer, water, trash, and access to a gym and swimming pool.  When moved to South Kohala, we gained even more services and benefits without increasing our rent.  Signing a long term lease during off season has allowed us to cut the cost of our rent by 75% of what we paid in California.  Being able to decrease our housing costs over the past five years may not be feasible on other islands in Hawaii.  Owning a home in Hawaii can be more expensive than on the mainland because of the cost of upkeep, security, taxes, utilities, County services, and owner association fees.

Medical Costs - The cost of our medical insurance on the mainland was staggering. When we moved to Hawaii we were able to cut our cost by over 75% by buying a Kaiser policy.  Over the last five years our policy has doubled in cost, but it is still only 50% of what we paid in California.  We shop around for any services we require like eye checks, glasses, etc. since the costs vary dramatically on the island.  Maintaining a COBRA policy or mainland blue cross policy can be very expensive, so being able to switch to a low cost policy in Hawaii can make a big difference in cost of living.

Travel and Vacations - One of our biggest expenses in California was the cost of getting away from the cold, dreary winter to the sun in Hawaii.   Now that we live in Hawaii, we never “go on vacation”.  We have taken some trips to Oahu to visit our son, but we get great prices to stay in condos and hotels  since we are locals and get Kamaaina rates.  Many people we know travel back to the mainland frequently for business or family which can be a major cost of living in Hawaii.

We believe that the high cost of living a “mainland life style” is the major reason most new arrivals to Hawaii stay only a few years.  Taking the time to plan and invent a Hawaii lifestyle can make a huge difference in the cost of living as well as increasing the enjoyment of being in Hawaii.