Friday, December 19, 2014

Why Christmas is so special to us in Hawaii

The first Christmas I celebrated in Hawaii was in the 1960's when I was in grade school.  I remember vividly how wonderful it was to be warm, feel the sun on my skin, be outside without a coat, and swim in the ocean. I do not remember any gifts that year.  My Christmas gift was being in Hawaii.

When we came to Hawaii for Christmas vacation as adults, we enjoyed the decorations and all the fun events planned for the season by the hotels.  We made an effort to decorate a tree and string lights in our hotel room.  But our big Christmas gift was being in Hawaii where we spent the days in the sun and met people from all over the world enjoying the season.

We have always loved the Christmas season and the commercialization of the holiday has not lessened our joy of celebrating the birth of Christ.  Living in Hawaii, Christmas is more about fun and celebration and less about stuff.  We still enjoy the colorful decorations around town and Christmas tree displays at the hotels.   And seeing the happy, expectant faces of Christmas visitors arriving to the island brings back wonderful memories of our vacations. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mail Service Disruption in Hawaii

Living in Hawaii is always an adventure and this week it was the sudden lost of our US mail service.

When we moved to a remote part of the Kohala Coast  three years ago, we were surprised at how little mail was being delivered to our condo complex.  Only a dozen or so letters a day and a few packages were delivered most days to over a hundred units in our complex. This was in sharp contrast to the overfilled mail truck in our previous condo complex in Kona that kept the mailman busy for hours stuffing boxes.  We decided it was related to the unoccupied state of most of the units during the year.   At Christmastime the number of packages would always increase as the condos filled with their owners and vacation renters.

Since we regularly order from Amazon Prime, we quickly became familiar with the local carrier who was a contractor in an unmarked van rather than a postal worker.  Starting about a year ago, when Amazon’s Prime service with free shipping became more popular, we noticed a surge in the number of packages he had to deliver.  The rural carrier’s job lost its luster as his work day dragged out and he spent hours moving boxes.  Many times he would dig through the back of his van stuffed with hundreds of boxes looking for ours.  Most of the boxes were from Amazon and marked Prime or from some other retail outlet.  As shopping online increased in popularity our rural mail carrier became more and more miserable.

Last week were notified that our contract carrier quit and that mail service along the Kohala coast would be limited until they found a replacement.  We have had no mail pick up and sporadic deliveries of boxes by post office trucks.  Our location is about an hour round trip to the Kamuela post office. 

For us, and apparently many other people in our complex, being able to order products online with free shipping significantly lowers the cost of living in Hawaii and adds to the quality of life.  It turns out that having viable US post office services that can deal with massive numbers of packages, particularly during the Christmas season, is an important piece of living remotely in Hawaii.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Your Ideal Hawaii 2015 Day Planner

Every year we use to hunt for a day planner to keep track of our goals, events, daily to-do lists, and record the food we ate.  Although some day planners were close to what we were looking for, none provided everything we wanted and we were frustrated by their high cost.  Two years ago, we started to published our own day planner with all the tools we needed to set goals and keep track of our progress every day and month during the year.  If you are looking for a day planner for 2015, consider Your Ideal Hawaii Day Planner 2015, available now on Amazon for $5.99.

We tend to get more of the things we appreciate, so the front of the Hawaii-themed Day Planner has a page to list the things you appreciate to refer to every day.  Each day in the Planner has space to track food eaten, calories, and your daily weight, which we have found keeps us achieving our weight and health goals. Each week has a space write down your insights, which we find helpful to refer to later, sometimes years later.  We also record the events of the world and important happenings in our life in our Day Planner.

Your Ideal Hawaii Day Planner 2015  is a 9”x 6” paperback book that is sturdy and easy to carry. The front cover has a picture of a beautiful red Lehua flower from Hawaii’s native Ohia trees. The 150 pages in the interior are black and white.   The 2015 Day Planner has all the Federal holidays as well as unique holidays and special days celebrated in Hawaii.

At the front of the Planner are pages for writing your Goals for the year, what you are Thankful for, your Choices for the upcoming year, and your Plans for where you want to spend your time in 2015.  Each month has an overview calendar with a section on the side for writing monthly Goals, Health Choices, Appreciations, Projects, Adventures, and Events.  Each monthly calendar is followed by two pages for each week to plan and record each day. 

Overview calendars for December 2014 and January 2016 are also included.  At the back of the Planner are pages to record your 2015 Accomplishments and make Plans for 2016.  You can look inside the day planner on Amazon here.

If you are looking for a great Day Planner for 2015 for yourself or someone else, give this one a try and let us know how it works for you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Year of the Wood Sheep 2015

2015 Wood Sheep
It is time for our annual predictions based on the Chinese lunar calendar for 2015 Year of the Wood Sheep.  As we predicted, the current 2014 Wood Horse year has been fast paced, with explosive energy, expansionism, military power, economic change and chaos.  There are a couple more months of the Horse year ahead before the Sheep brings some calm to the global chaos and slows down the pace on February 19, 2015.  The Sheep is more stable than the Horse and prefers diplomacy and harmony to the Horse’s confrontation and demands for justice.

We find it useful to review what happened 60 years ago, during the last Wood Sheep year, to see how events may relate to today’s world.   The last Wood Sheep year, in 1955, was a year of many firsts in US consumerism. Disneyland opened, McDonalds opened, the Scrabble game and Lego came to market. New popular TV shows were introduced including the Johnny Carson Show, Gunsmoke, Lawrence Welk Show, Honeymooners, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Millionaire, and the Mickey Mouse Club.

Sheep years are known for diplomacy and during 1955 numerous treaties were signed including the Warsaw pact, USSR peace treaty with France and Great Britain, Turkey and Iraq defense alliance, British military treaty with Iraq, Belgrade declaration, South East Asia Collective Defense Treaty, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia defense treaty.  The Israel government was formed by David Ben-Gurion, the West European Union was established, and the Vienna Treaty restored Austria's independence.

The US and USSR performed nuclear tests and President Eisenhower’s “Operation Alert” exercise assessed the US readiness for a nuclear attack.  The first atomic generated power was used by towns in the US, the Atomic clock was developed, and the first nuclear powered submarine was tested. The military demonstrated self-guided missiles and the first seagoing oil drill rig went into service.

Politics in the US changed dramatically with the start of the civil rights movement after the arrest of Rosa Parks and other African Americans for resisting bus segregation in the Southern US.

On the economic front, the minimum wage was raised from 75 cents to $1 and GM became the first US corporation to make over $1Billion in a year in 1955.

The last Sheep Year in 2003, a water Sheep, was focused on the Iraq war and overthrow of Saddam Hussein.  It was also the year the Department of Homeland Security was formed.

Although Sheep avoid conflict and are quiet and calm, some of the previous Horse year storms will still be raging during the Sheep year.  Unfortunately, Chinese astrologers warn of the flying star of hostility and violence being prominent in 2015.  Conflicts around the world may increase and escalate.  Hostilities may overtake the benefits of the sheep year for some people. 

Sheep like to spend money and love being part of the crowd.  So expect some financial improvement in the economy and more focus on consumerism.  Some people will find it a great year to generate wealth.  Although most of the news is good for relationships, commerce, and wealth during the Sheep year, be careful of misunderstandings and hostility in your environment and the world in 2015.

If you are looking for a 2015 day planner – check out Your Ideal Hawaii Day Planner for 2015.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Baking Soda as a Bug Killer

Before we moved to Hawaii, baking soda was just one of those ingredients to make fake “lava” for paper mache volcanoes in grade school. When we lived in Hilo we found baking soda very useful for improving the air quality on very voggy (bad volcano emission) days.  We had heard that soaking a towel in water and baking soda and putting it in front of a fan helped. Since vog is mostly sulfuric acid, the mildly basic baking soda helped make the environment less acidic.

Recently we started using baking soda to clean things.  We have a wooden table that had built up layers of dirt, oil and volcanic ash.  No wood cleaner or furniture polish we tried would take it off.  When we sprinkled baking soda on it, we were able to scrub the layers off and the table suddenly looked great again. We also started using baking soda on the rug to help reduce the musty smell.  We sprinkled some on the rug and let it set for 15 minutes  before vacuuming it up.  The rug seemed cleaner and felt better on our bare feet.  

We normally use ant baits to keep the ants under control, but with all the rain we have been getting the last couple of months there have been many more ants and bugs of all kinds.  We have had to replace our ant baits more frequently, about every two weeks instead of every two months. Our guess is everyone else is having the same problem because the local stores have run out of ant baits.  We noticed the ants, cockroaches, millipedes and other bugs seemed to slow down after a baking soda treatment on the rug.  So we tried sprinkling baking soda along the window sill and under the door to see if that would slow them down.  
Baking Soda on the window sill

Much to our delight, a few days later there was a pile of dead ants in the baking soda on the window sill.
Dead Ant in the Baking Soda
Is it possible that something as common and inexpensive as baking soda could really kill ants and other bugs?  If so, this would save us lots of money and keep us from having to deal with insecticides.   

We started researching how baking soda kills ants and it appears that ants and other bugs like the taste of baking soda. When they eat it is causes the production of C02 which causes their stomach to rupture and kills them.  It is apparently a very good pesticide. 

Now we buy 13.5 pound bags of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda on Amazon or at Costco. We even wash our clothes and sheets with soap that contains baking soda and seems to discourage bugs from crawling into the bed.  We sprinkle it on the furniture and put it in all the entry ways. The baking soda has greatly cut back on the bugs in the house. 

We wonder why we have never heard of this simple solution before.  But we are glad the local stores ran out of ant baits so we could find a new use for baking soda

Monday, October 27, 2014

Life without Caffeine

We have been heavy coffee drinkers for over 40 years and always believed that we could not function without our daily mega-dose of caffeine. That changed this summer when we started taking supplements of iodine in the form of Lugols Solution.  The iodine gave us so much energy that we had to cut back on our morning coffee to keep from being too hyper. Even our daily square of dark chocolate ritual started feeling uncomfortable from the caffeine and sugar rush.  We were astonished that we no longer needed caffeine to get out of bed and keep going during the day.  We drank less and less every week and after a couple of months the coffee started tasting awful, so we stopped drinking it entirely.  Now we are living without caffeine.

Life is very different without caffeine.  The days used to rush by us so fast that we could not keep up.  Now it feels like everything has slowed down and is in slow motion.   We notice everything; the sun rise, the wind, the saturation of colors in the ocean, and the changes in the spectrum of light during the day.  Caffeine constricts the blood flow to the brain and causes people to focus on more immediate tasks.  The extra blood flow we are getting is making us more aware of our environment.

Our daily coffee kept us going but it also made us jumpy, nervous and hyper.  Caffeine increases the stress hormone cortisol in the body.  All that cortisol made the news  much more upsetting. We are more calm.  We are focused on our own life and not as distracted by the global conflicts.  It is wonderful to have our minds working on making good things happen and not focused on how bad things might go.

Our workouts in the gym are easier.  Caffeine constricts the blood to the muscles. With the additional blood flow, weights feel lighter.  Caffeine can also prevent you from building muscle and although we may be imagining it, it does feel like we are getting stronger.

At night, we really notice the lack of caffeine.  We used to be hyped up in the evening and drank wine to help us unwind and relax.  Now, when the sun goes down we feel ourselves winding down quickly.  We used to struggle to get up in the morning and now we wake up early, before sun rise. 

We would have never have guessed that life without caffeine was possible let alone so enjoyable!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bread, Gout, and Breathlessness

We recently read The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney and it gave us a new insight into how bread and other carbohydrates cause gout attacks and make us short of breath.

Eating carbohydrates causes glucose (blood sugar) levels to rise and the body to produce insulin to store any excess glucose as glycogen in the liver.  When the insulin level goes down, the stored glycogen is broken down into glucose for energy.   The process of glycogen breaking down produces CO2 which is released through breathing.  Exercise uses the stored glycogen faster and increases the concentration of CO2 in the blood making it more acidic. The increased acidity can cause Uric acid in the blood to start precipitating out into the needle like crystals that cause gout.   Exercise causes rapid breathing to rid of the body of CO2 and can make you breathless.

However, there is a form of fuel other than glucose.  If there is no glucose available, the liver will convert fat to ketones for energy.  Ketones are burned differently and produce much less CO2 than glycogen so you can exercise more before you are out of breath. There are other benefits to ketogenic energy including better efficiency of the muscles, like the heart.  The average person can only store about 2000 calories as glycogen and although it can be quickly converted to energy, once it is gone the muscles and brain stop functioning.  We have seen this happen to Ironman athletes in Kona. When the body is using ketones for fuel, it can convert up to 40,000 calories a day, 20 times more than from glucogen.

We have been on the ketogenic diet for almost 6 months.  After the adaption period, we are feeling more energetic than ever.   We love not being hungry all the time and have made great progress on our weight loss.   The best part is no gout attacks, even though it has been very hot and humid this year and we have been exercising more. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How a Clock Changed Hawaii

Harrison's H4 in National
Maritime Museum Greenwich
We sometimes wonder why it took ships from the west so long to find the Hawaiian Islands. European ships had reached China in 1517, hundreds of years before Captain Cook found the remote islands in 1778. Some of the mystery was solved for us when we recently learned about how John Harrison’s clock assisted Captain Cook.

Longitude is an entertaining  movie about John Harrison who invented the marine chronometer in the late 1700’s. At the time latitude (the distance of a ship north and south of the equator) could be determined from the sun or stars using a sexton, however, there was no method to determine the ship’s longitude (the east – west location) in the ocean.  Ships navigated by following the coastline, which worked when exploring Africa and Asia, but was not helpful when crossing the Atlantic to the Americas or crossing the Pacific Ocean.
So many ships were lost at sea or destroyed by crashing into reefs, that in 1714, the British Parliament offered a huge prize to anyone who could find a method to accurately determine a ship’s longitude.

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England was the reference longitude of zero degrees, called the Prime Meridian. The sun moves west from the Prime Meridian at a rate of 15 degrees each hour. If the time in Greenwich is known at exactly noon on a ship at sea (measured using a sextant to determine the exact moment that the sun reaches its highest point in the sky) the number of degrees of longitude the sun has crossed from the Prime Meridian to the ship can be calculated and the navigator can determine the ship’s longitude.  The problem is easily solved by having a clock on board the ship with Greenwich Time, however, in the 1700’s no clock existed that could keep accurate time over a long period or deal with temperature changes and a ship’s movement.

John Harrison was a carpenter and clock maker.  Before starting on the longitude challenge, he had already made several inventions that improved clocks including the "gridiron pendulum", which kept clocks from losing or gaining time due to temperature changes  and the "grasshopper" escapement which was a device for the step-by-step release of a clock's driving power which required no oiling. 

Harrison started working on a marine clock in 1730 in hopes of winning the prize.  “Longitude”, based on the book, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel, tells the fascinating story of John Harrison and his son who spent decades working on perfecting a marine chronometer and proving it at sea.  Harrison’s first creation, called H1, was a monstrosity weighing almost 100 pounds.  In 1759 he finished his fourth version, called H4, which was a complete redesign and the size of a large pocket watch.  Harrison was eventually awarded the prize by the British Parliament in 1773 and recognized for having solved the Longitude problem.

In 1772, when Captain Cook sailed from England on his second voyage he had aboard a replica of Harrison’s H4 chronometer made by Larcum Kendall called the K1. Cook was able to navigate the Pacific Ocean using the K1 and discovered new islands including New Caledonia.  Cook was a superstar on his return to England in 1775 receiving honors, appointments and a promotion.  The K1 clock was exceptionally accurate during the entire voyage and Cook referred to the watch as  “...our faithful guide through all the vicissitudes of climates”.

John Harrison died in 1776, the same year Cook left for his third voyage to explore the Pacific.  On that voyage, in January 1778, Cook found the Hawaiian Islands where he met his demise.  When the ships returned to England, their report made the Hawaiian Islands and its longitude in the middle of the Pacific Ocean known to the rest of the world.

Having an accurate pocket watch, invented by Harrison, on board may have been partially or even completely responsible for Cook finding Hawaii.  It certainly allowed all the other Captains to navigate to the islands after learning the location. 

It makes us wonder what small inventions are in the works today that may alter our world in ways we may not be able to grasp.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More on Hawaii Sunlight and Health

The biggest attractions of living in Hawaii for us are the bright sunlight and warmth which uplift our spirits and take away our aches and pains. Since Hawaii is south of the Tropic of Cancer and the southernmost location in the US, it gets more direct sunlight and electromagnetic radiation than anywhere in the United States. Exposure to sunlight, both the visible and ultraviolet components, has been found to improve health, happiness, and lower the chances of getting many diseases.

After spending time in Hawaii’s sun, aches and joint pains begin to subside.  Every winter, we talk to visitors and part time residents from cold latitudes blissfully bathing in the sunlight excitedly showing us the movement in their previously immobile joints and pointing to places that use to hurt.

Regular exposure to sunlight has been shown to reduce the risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.  A study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases showed that women with the highest levels of sunlight exposure were 21% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those with the least exposure.  This research agrees with other studies that have linked subjects’ location and their risk of rheumatoid arthritis as well as other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis.  More exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from sunlight based on a location’s latitude, altitude and cloud cover is associated with a reduced risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

Just last year, Dr. Han van der Rhee published a review of research on the preventive effects of sunlight on cancer.  His findings were that chronic, not occasional, sun exposure is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  

The eye is very sensitive to the blue color, which is more prevalent in the morning and a delight on walks along the turquoise bays in Hawaii.  Blue light, a component of sunlight, causes the brain to wake up, increases alertness, and boosts concentration.  Researchers at the University of Greenwich showed that blue light made people happier, more alert, and more productive.The blue spectrum declines the most in the winter compared to other components of visible light, but in Hawaii we do not lose the blue spectrum of light in the winter.

Recent research at Harvard Medical School has shown that consistent exposure to ultraviolet light raises levels of beta-endorphin, a natural opiate, in mice.  Previous studies have found that the administration of an opioid blocker produced withdrawal-like symptoms in frequent tanners.  sunlight may be one of the reasons that residents in Hawaii rank as the happiest in the country. 

Every time we are outside under the Hawaiian sun we feel rejuvenated. Now we know why.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sci-Fi Convention in Paradise

Hawaiicon brought science fiction lovers to the Kohala Coast on Hawaii Island this past weekend.   Unlike conventions we have attended in the past with long lines, unhelpful volunteers, and stuffy conference centers; HawaiiCon was in a spectacular location at the Hapuna Beach Hotel with everyone we saw laughing and talking excitedly.  Adding to the fun was that many attendees dressed as science fiction characters, super heroes, anime characters, and more.  Nearby were stunning views of the ocean with plenty of places to sit and enjoy the ocean breeze.  

HawaiiCon at the Hapuna Beach Hotel
The convention was organized by local residents, GB Hajim a movie writer, director and producer,  Jacqueline Seaquist , Artistic Director and Program Coordinator of the Performing Arts Learning Center at Hilo High School, David Steiner, owner of Hawaii White Mountain LLC coffee company, and Jessica Hall,  a broker with Hawaii Life Real Estate.  They created “the world’s first sci-fi, science, and fantasy tropical vacation convention”.
Busy Front Desk at HawaiiCon
The convention founders partially funded the event by having a very successful Kickstarter campaign last year.   They received almost double the amount of money they requested from 199 science fiction fans from around the world.
Cosplay at HawaiiCon
The three day event featured panels of scientists, sci-fi writers, actors, and artists , workshops, autograph sessions, costume contests, and evening galas.   Visiting actors from Star Trek, Stargate Atlantis, Battlestar Galactic, Babylon 5, Game of Thrones, costume designers, graphic novelists, cartoonists, astronomers, writers and producers gave workshops, sat on panel, signed autographs, and tweeted about the fun and sun on Hawaii Island.  The conference combined astronomers from Hawaii Island’s international telescopes into the program with comics, cosplay, and gaming.

We are excited about events like HawaiiCon because they draw people to Hawaii Island who may never otherwise visit.  Once here, they get to experience the uniqueness and beauty of Hawaii Island and all that it has to offer.

We look are already looking forward to the next HawaiiCon science fiction convention from September 10 to 13, 2015.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Designing a Healthy Home

East facing window for best morning light
Since moving to Hawaii Island we have moved three times to experience different communities and climates on the island.  Having lived in many types of houses and condo rentals,  we often think about home design changes that would make our life easier and more healthy. Some things we have installed ourselves, but others require major changes to a house design. Here are some home design ideas that we wish were standard:

  1. Situated to maximize the amount of early morning light that floods into the bedrooms;
  2. No granite or other sources of uranium in the house - granite in counter tops, floors and molding have uranium that decays to radon. Other non-radon producing surfaces like marble, stainless steel or tile are healthier;
  3. Designed for robots to constantly clean, with no steps up and down through the house and all the plugs required so the robots have power and unobstructed movement;
  4. Maximized for air flow through the house so mold and mildew cannot flourish and humidity is lowered so tropical bugs will stay away;
  5. Automated humidity control to maintain moisture and keep it at the ideal level for health and to minimize molds;
  6. Easy access to AC air filters and smoke detectors so they can be frequently changed;
  7. Built in security cameras for discreet monitoring of the outside perimeter;
  8. Back up lighting installed for safety in the event of power outages;
  9. Built in water purification with easy access to change the filters;
  10. Backup power systems for electric and an easy switch between primary electric power and backup power.
  11. Non toxic walls, paint, and furniture without heavy metals, chemicals, and bromine;
  12. Single story construction with no steps or landings to reduce the chances for falls;
  13. If multi-storied, then the staircase is designed for installation of an elevator chair or other means to get people up and down if it is needed.
  14. Showers with built in seats for comfort and safety;
  15. Sound proofing to minimize noise in the house – there are many negative health effects of not sleeping well because of noise;
  16. Automatic window shades to open windows and window shades easily and control the amount of light from hard to reach windows;
  17. L ED lights, low energy appliances, and other electrical devices that minimize electricity usage;
  18. Storage area designated for survival supplies and water storage;
  19. Non-toxic plantings around the home - ornamental plants are often selected because they are easy to take care of but are often highly toxic;
  20. Easy access outside the house without stairs, barriers, or long distances to get to the car or street.
It seems like modern houses are focused on a “prestige presentation”; it would be wonderful to have homes designed with healthy features instead.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Healthy Sunlight in Hawaii

Measuring Light in Hawaii
After reading studies about the health benefits of sunlight and reports that world-wide pollution is blocking sunlight in the northern hemisphere, we wondered how bright the sun is in Hawaii?  

To find out we ordered a digital light meter (Dr Meter) to see how much light we are getting inside our home and on our walks.  Is the sunlight as bright as it seems?

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that exposure to light was correlated to BMI (Body Mass Index).  The key was to bask in light of at least 500 Lux (a unit of light measurement) and the best time for the exposure was early in the day. Every hour the light exposure was delayed, BMI rose by 1.28 points.  

With new our light meter we measured the Lux during our early morning walk at 6:20 in the morning.   The sun was just on the horizon so were surprised to see the readings ranging from 800 to 3000 Lux.  Later in the morning, sitting on our couch next to the open windows, the readings ranged from 500 to 600 Lux.  At noon, on a cloudless day with the sunlight directly overhead, we measured over 140,000 Lux.  In Kona, even on a morning with moderate Vog (Volcanic smog), the reading was still 70,000 Lux.
Measuring Lux at sunset in Hawaii
At 5:30PM, with the sun low in the sky and cloud cover, the light was still over 3000 Lux on the beach.  

3250 Lux on the beach at 5:30PM
We were expecting higher light levels than on the mainland since Hawaii is the only state south of the Tropic of Cancer.  But the extremely high noon Lux measurements confirms Hawaii is giving us an incredible amount of healthy sunlight. 

As the days get shorter and we head into winter, we are curious to see how much the light levels will change in Hawaii.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Our caffeine story

We have been caffeine users and coffee lovers for over 40 years.  Though we moved to Hawaii for the laid-back lifestyle and to reduce our stress, giving up coffee was never on our list of things to improve our health.   A couple of months ago, we started reading some disturbing studies about caffeine and how it keeps the body from losing weight and degrades health.

We knew that too much caffeine can cause anxiety, sleep problems, spasms, dehydration, and stomach upset. But we didn’t know that just 200 mg of caffeine increases the cortisol levels in the blood by 30% within an hour (*).  Cortisol reduces metabolism, increases belly fat, and causes the body to breakdown muscle tissue. Cortisol also reduces leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger, so you feel hungry no matter how much food you have eaten.  

A cup of coffee once had less than 100 mg of caffeine (according to, Folgers has about 70 mg in a 6 oz cup) but times have changed.  A Grande size of plain brewed coffee at Starbucks has 330 mg of caffeine.  Rockstar Energy drink has 240 mg per can and other super energy potions have double that.  Caffeine is not only in coffee, teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate, it is also in mints, ice-cream, chewing gums, pain-relievers, and cold remedies (**).

When we added up all the caffeine we were getting through our multiple pots of coffee, daily dark chocolate, additional afternoon coffee, we realized we were going to have caffeine withdrawal.  We  started by gradually reducing the amount of coffee grounds in our morning brew.  After a couple of weeks we were able to get down to one cup of coffee a day.  Although we didn’t have severe headaches, we felt lethargic and missed our morning adrenal jolt.  After two more weeks, we cut out coffee entirely and then the caffeine headaches started. Caffeine causes the blood vessels to be constricted; one study showed that just 250 mg of caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 30% (***).  This is scary since caffeine also increases blood pressure, a combination that increases the risk of stroke. Without caffeine the blood flow increases to the brain and causes headaches.  On the upside the additional blood and oxygen to the brain increases concentration and memory, but it also helped us to remember how much we loved our morning coffee.  Taking painkillers for the headache is not helpful as many painkillers contain caffeine.

Although a challenging process, the effects of getting off caffeine have been dramatic.  We no longer drink a bottle of wine every night to get to sleep. We sleep more and much deeper.  We have less appetite and are eating less. The best part is that we both lost about 5 pounds in three weeks.  These were the last 5 pounds (after our weight leveled out on our low-carb diet) to get under our normal BMI weights.

Though we often miss drinking coffee in the morning, we are delighted to find another way to lose fat, improve our concentration, and get even more laid back.  Now, we are hoping for other health benefits promised by being off caffeine over a long period of time.

* “Stress-like adrenocorticotropin responses to caffeine in young healthy men” by Lovallo W., et al. published in Parmacol Biochem Behav 55, 1996

** (caffeine content in drinks and foods)

*** Caffeine Blues:  Wake up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug by Stephen Cherniske

The Decaf Diet: Is Caffeine Making you Fat? by Eugene Wells  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Forest bathing “Shinrin-Yoku” on Hawaii Island

Forest bathing in Volcano, Hawaii
We love our daily walks through fruit and palm trees and along the coast.  We recently read about Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing, which may explain the rejuvenating effects we get from our walks. When we stroll along tree lined paths, the sights, smells, and sounds drains away our stress and improves our mood.

In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan started the Shrinrin-Yoku program to encourage people to get into nature to improve their health.  Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University found that after walks in the forest people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol as compared to those after the same walk in a laboratory.  Research showed lower blood pressure and pulse rate in addition to lower levels of cortisol.  Additional studies showed that spending time in a forest reduced psychological stress, depression, and hostility while improving sleep and increasing vigor and liveliness.

Though many of the hikes on Hawaii Island have no trees, there are some great forest trails that we know about if you want to try “forest bathing”.  Below is a list of our favorite forest walks around the island:

Volcano- Within Volcanoes National Park we love the cool, refreshing, forest walk from Kilauea Iki Crater parking lot to Thurston Lava tube parking lot.  Outside the national park gate, the Kipuka Puaulu Bird Park is a loop trail through an old growth forest of koa and ohia trees.  The trailhead is at the end of Mauna Loa Road (off Highway 11) in Volcano.
Canopy of trees in Lava Tree State Park
Puna – Lava Tree State Monument, on Highway 132, has a canopy of trees along pathways through the stunning park.

Hilo -  Liliuokalani Gardens on Hilo Bay has trees with grassy expanses along pathways with gorgeous views every direction.  The  sidewalk along Banyan Drive has a canopy of  trees above.  Hilo’s Zoo, on Stainback Drive,  is away from the crowds with tree lined paths and colorful flowers. 

Honomu - Akaka Falls State Park has a nature walk with trees and waterfalls, perfect for a forest walk. 
Trails through the forest in the Bond Estate, North Kohala

North Kohala – Near Hawi, the 54 acre Bond Estate on Iole Road has hiking trails through lush forests, perfect for meditative walks. 
Paths in Waimea Nature Park

Waimea - Ulu La`au, which means “garden of trees” is a 10 acre park in central Waimea (Kamuela), a place to bathe in the forest.

Puako Petroglyph Trail under Kiawe trees

South Kohala - The path within the Puako Petroglyph Reserve (accessible from Holoholokai Beach Park) meanders through a forest of Kiawe (Mesquite) trees.  

Kailua-Kona - The Walua Trail is a wonderful place to escape from Kona’s traffic and walk among the trees and foliage. The trailhead for Walua begins at Lako Street (off Highway 11) just below the Kona Vista Subdivision.

Let us know your favorite place for “Forest Bathing” on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hawaii’s wonderful tropical tree nut

When we first visited Hawaii, we were surprised to find macadamia nuts on everything: fish, pancakes, pastries, and sugar coated like a candy. The rich buttery flavor was delicious and we could not get enough of them until all the fiber and oil in the nuts had an effect on our lower intestines.

On subsequent visits we made sure to eat them in moderation. Now living on Hawaii Island, macadamia nuts are an enjoyable part of our diet.  Though macadamia nuts are relatively high in calories (200 calories per ounce ) we find just a handful is satisfying, perhaps because of the fiber content (2 grams per ounce).

Since we are  focused on our diet, we were delighted to find that macadamia nuts are very nutritious. The nuts contain Vitamin B-6, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. They also have moderate amounts of zinc, copper, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, and magnesium as well as small amounts of fat-soluble vitamin-A, and vitamin E. Macadamia nuts even have antioxidants like polyphenols, Amino acids, flavones and selenium.

Another great thing about the tropical macadamia nut is that it has one of the best Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acid ratio of any tree nut.  Most tree nuts and vegetable oils have primarily Omega 6 fatty acids, which causes inflammation if eaten in too great a quantity.

The macadamia nut is also a great source of healthy mono-unsaturated fatty acids, notably oleic and palmitoleic fatty acids. These oils are great for your skin and your lungs.

On Hawaii Island, macadamia nut plantations are plentiful and the nuts are sold all over the island.  We get them from local farms without salt or sugar.  The oil is a tasty replacement for olive oil on salads and macadamia nut butter is a great alternative to almond butter.  We grind the nuts into a flour to use in crusts and biscuits.

The tropical macadamia nut is another amazing food grown in Hawaii with high nutritional value and great taste that helps keep us healthy and happy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sun Halo in Hawaii

Overcast Kohala Coast
We have been having usual weather on the southern Kohala coast of Hawaii Island.  The normal desert climate has been overcast with high humidity.  Usually the rain clouds are blocked by the massive Mauna Kea Volcano and the trade winds keep the humidity low and the evening temperatures cool. Remnants of tropical storm Fausto, that made it to Hawaii from Baja California, are being blamed for the hot, humid, rainy weather in Hawaii early this week. 

This past Sunday we were surprised to see a rainbow halo around the sun.  A circular rainbow, or halo, is an optical phenomenon that forms around the sun when the sunlight is refracted in ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.

Sun Halo on Kohala Coast
The light cast off by the rainbow halo made the landscape seem surreal and dreamlike.  Since we consider rainbows a sign of good things to come, we consider this giant circular rainbow an especially good sign.

Sun halos have historically predicted rainy weather and the island has been getting a lot, particularly on the east side. On Monday (July 14), while we were dazzled by the sun halo, Hilo had a record rainfall of 4.34 inches which broke their old record set in 1991 of 1.89 inches that day.

A new low pressure system southeast of the island is moving towards Hilo and bringing more showers.  We will be on the lookout for more rainbows.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Delightful Hawaii Mornings

Every day on Hawaii Island we cherish how great we feel when wake up in the morning.  It is a special type of joy to awaken to the sounds of tropical birds, the smell of flowers, and the sight of a brilliant sunrise.

We were recently reading a book called Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality that details research that explains why we sleep so well and feel so great when we wake up on Hawaii Island.  We specify Hawaii Island because many of the attributes are unique to Hawaii Island.

We go to sleep with a very dark sky.
Hawaii Island is careful to control light pollution in support of the optical telescopes on Mauna Kea.  There are lighting ordinances that require shielded light and limited street lights.  On cloudless nights, the bright stars are visible above when we fall asleep at night.  According to Dr. Selhub, research shows that artificially brightened night skies interfere with the sleep cycle by affecting melatonin production and that even low levels of light during the night can interfere with normal adult brain cell structures. Our very dark night sky helps us get into a deeper sleep.

At night we hear calming sounds of nature.
We keep our windows open and can hear the wind blow through the palm trees as we fall asleep. A Japanese research team at Chiba University showed that sounds of nature, like the sound of a creek, changes the brain blood flow to a state of relaxation. A study from Stockholm University showed that nature sounds calmed people down whereas road traffic noise increased stress based on measurable physiological markers.  We don’t have noise from traffic or machinery where we live.  We didn't realize how quiet it was until we spent some time in Honolulu last year and were unsettled by the constant background drone of traffic, AC, and machinery spiked with loud sirens all night long. 

We wake up to a symphony of tropical birds songs 
Every morning the birds start to sing as the sun is rising.  Research published in Psychological Medicine in 2006 showed that hearing birds songs in the morning lifts the mood and decreases fatigue.

Blue light shines through our windows at sunrise  
Early morning light has more blue spectrumThe eye is very sensitive to the blue color (460nm) and causes the brain to wake up, increase alertness, and boost concentration. Researchers at the University of Greenwich showed that blue light made people happier, more alert, and more productive. The blue spectrum declines the most in the winter compared to other spectrums, but in Hawaii we do not lose our blue spectrum light in the winter.

We breathe fresh air and negative air ions.
Breathing in negatively charged air ions, most prevalent in the morning, has been shown to improve health. Dr Selhub cites research that shows negative air ions reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and improve cognitive performance.  Negatively charged ions are depleted by pollution, electronic devices, and in enclosed places. Being near the ocean with warm tropical rain, gives us plentiful negative air ions in Hawaii.

We have aromas from flowers all year long.
We love having beautiful, tropical flowers around us all the time.  Research at Wheeling Jesuit University found that the aromatic chemicals in flowers can increase alertness, even in extremely small concentrations.

We start every day by waking up to bird chatter, soaking in the early morning sunlight, breathing in negative air ions, and smelling the flowers.  Now we know it is not just our imagination that this place is good for our health. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shark at Kona Pier

 Swim Lane off Kailua Pier in Kona
We have been swimming from the Kona pier for over a decade and never seen a shark. We have seen sharks while snorkeling in Maui and encountered them in the Caribbean, but never in Kona.   So we  were surprised to see a shark in shallow water directly under the swim lane while snorkeling toward the King Buoy with friends last week.
Shark under swim lane near Kailua Pier in Kona

In our other shark encounters, the sharks were in deep water if stationary or they were moving and gone quickly.  Swimming above a stationary shark in shallow water was different and very unnerving.
Bait ball next to Kailua Pier in Kona
We continued on our snorkel and followed our friends to an immense bait ball nearby.  A bait ball is a tightly packed formation of fish.  It is often spherical shaped, but in this case it was a massive, long rectangle of fish.  Some sources say these formations last only a few minutes, but the frequent bait balls near the pier in Kona remain intact a long time.  Some claim that bait balls are a defensive maneuver of small fish.   Perhaps the nearby shark had just finished a huge meal.
Bill ("dolphin-man") swimming through the bait ball

We swam further out to see if we could get to a pod of dolphins swimming near a half dozen tour boats in the bay. The dolphins had left by the time we got there.  
Dolphin tour Boats in Kailua Bay across from Royal Kona Resort
But we made it to the 1500 meter swim buoy.
Buoy marking swim route in Kailua Bay, Kona

We were hoping the shark would be gone by the time we swam back and after a  quick look around there was no sign of the  shark.  Relieved, we slowed down and rested a bit by treading water.  Our friends were distracted with something under us, so we put back on our masks to check it out.  
Shark underfoot in Kona
Directly below our feet was the shark lying on the sand.   “SWIM!”  We all made it back to the pier very quickly.  Though many of the swimmers were talking about the shark on the pier, most were not worried and jumped right in.

Our friends were convinced the shark was just sleeping or sick.  Whatever brought the shark to our swimming lane, we can no longer say that we have never seen a shark in Kailua Bay.