Brett & Laura Have Left the Building

Saturday evening’s final sunset view

We met our landlord yesterday morning at 8:15, turned over our keys, and were out of our apartment before 9:00 and on our way to breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe. After breakfast we headed up to Princeville for a very enjoyable (and long overdue) visit with our friends Joy and Les, then headed over to our condo at 3:00 and promptly collapsed. The condo is small, but it’s nice to be sleeping on a real mattress again. We also have enough space and appliances to make our own meals for the rest of our time on Kaua’i.

Last Thursday the apartment’s new tenant asked us if we would move out on Saturday so she could move in a day early, but we told her via the landlord we had paid rent until May 1, and would be staying the night unless she was willing to pay for a hotel room for us (she wasn’t). The apartment was clean as a whistle when we left on Sunday and our entire deposit was returned. Such a difference from our last move-out experience!

The yard was in full bloom this past week. We’re going to miss the yard most of all, I think.

Besides cleaning the apartment all last week, we took care of some other business:

  • I consolidated my student loans to a Direct Federal Loan. I sort of wish I had done this earlier, but I had been afraid I would have to take on a much higher interest rate. However, it turned out my new interest rate will be just .375% higher than my old rate. Because I will again have a direct loan from the government versus a private lender I will be eligible for maybe some of my loan to be forgiven if rumors of that turn out to be true. President Biden is not going to forgive every student loan out there, or even forgive $50K from everyone’s balance, but an amount may be forgiven based on a sliding scale and/or have the interest reduced, maybe to 0%. We’ll see. Whatever happens, having a direct federal loan is all-around better for me for a variety of reasons than what I was previously locked into, and we have committed ourselves to paying off the balance in less than five years, forgiveness or not.
Our little guy is going to stay little. He’ll maybe only weigh 9-10 pounds when fully grown.
  • We got a puppy! Brett and I have missed owning a dog and decided we were ready for another. Our previous dogs were all rescues, but after much thought and a LOT of research we decided we wanted a puppy this time. We found a reputable breeder located near Nashville that had the breed that we were looking for and we made a deposit on a male Shih-poo (Shih Tzu and toy poodle mix). Shih-poos are smart, affectionate, hypoallergenic (they don’t shed), and are devoted to their owners. They require regular grooming, but only every 2 to 3 months. We’ve named our little guy Kaipo, Hawaiian for beloved boy or sweetest boy. He’s currently eight weeks old, but the breeder is going to continue to provide care until we can pick him up in August as well as make sure he is up to date on vaccinations. Our granddaughter is over the moon as she will be away from their family’s beloved Boston terrier for the next two years, but now will have our little guy for her to play with and help train.

We’re expecting a quiet week coming up; the only big tasks we have left are turning in the modem to our Internet provider, getting our wills witnessed, notarized, and mailed off to our son in Japan, and mailing the inflatable mattress to YaYu. We hope we’ll be able to sit out by the pool this coming, or maybe even go to the beach up here (the condo comes with beach chairs & umbrella) but the weather is expected to be less than ideal all week so that probably won’t happen.

One last look back as we headed out the door.

One week from today we’ll board a plane and leave Kaua’i once again. We didn’t think we’d be coming back when we left in 2018, and yet when the call came for Americans overseas to go home in 2020, Kaua’i was where we headed because it was home. Setting up again was a crazy ride, but with help from some very kind people on the island we found a great apartment and were able to get it furnished. Kaua’i has been a wonderful, safe place to ride out the pandemic, and we’ll always be grateful that for almost a year we were able to experience the island without any tourists to contend with (they are currently visiting in record numbers, even more than pre-pandemic). We plan to come back to Kaua’i once more though, for our 50th anniversary, but for now, it’s time to move on to new adventures!


Happy Anniversary! Our Second Annual Day of No Cooking

Celebrating our anniversary with a Day of No Cooking is one of the best ideas we’ve come up with. We have a lot of fun planning what and where to eat, and it keeps the celebration going all day as well. Plus, there are zero to minimal dishes or kitchen clean-up to do for a whole day.

I like the Kountry Kitchen’s food, but I LOVE eating at the Tip Top so breakfast there was a happy change to our original plan.

We had a wonderful day this year for our 43rd anniversary in spite of having to adapt our original plans twice and on the fly. When Brett went to check out Kountry Kitchen’s menu Wednesday morning he discovered the restaurant was closed for the day! Oh no! We immediately contacted our friends who were joining us for breakfast, and met instead at the Tip Top Cafe. While I wasn’t able to enjoy Eggs Benedict as hoped, I had no complaints about my giant banana-macadamia nut pancake, nor did Brett with his two giant regular pancakes. We had a good catch-up with Alan and Cheryl – we hadn’t seen each other in ages.

Big wave action at Nawilili. The lava formations were fascinating, but made for some rough walking and climbing.
Lunch from Konohiki Seafood was very, very affordable and very, very good – we will definitely be stopping by again at least once before we depart Kaua’i.

After breakfast Brett and went for a hike along Nawilili and Ninini Harbors on the east side. The scenery was beautiful, but the walking somewhat difficult because it was on very rough and haphazard rocks much of the way. After we finished our hike we headed to Konohiki Seafood in Hanamaulu for some takeout: ginger fried chicken, pork wontons, and inari sushi. The selection of delights at this little market was amazing, and everything was very affordable. We also made a quick stop at Times Market and picked up a container of namasu for the side and then headed home to eat an easy but delicious lunch.

We enjoyed a fabulous evening at the Beach House restaurant, complete with beautiful sunset and ocean views. I enjoyed a beautifully prepared vegan platter of locally grown vegetables, Brett had seared ahi with garlic potatoes and broccoli, and we each had a glass of wine.

Our first-choice restaurant for dinner turned out to be unavailable (long story), so Brett and I looked for another restaurant in the area but not one seemed to have any open spots for dinner, anywhere. In desperation I finally checked the Beach House restaurant in Poipu, a lovely but very expensive restaurant, and to our surprise they had an opening. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner and experience there, totally worth the extra expense. We kept costs down by having a cocktail at home before we left, skipping an appetizer, and coming home to enjoy the last giant red velvet cupcake and decaf coffee versus ordering dessert at the restaurant. We still ended up going over our original budget for the day but with no regrets – dinner was very special and a lovely way to begin our farewells to Kaua’i.

Here’s to many more happy years!

Although we ended up with a few dishes to wash this year, we once again enjoyed a perfectly delicious, day-long anniversary celebration, and we’re looking forward to another special day next year in Nashville!

Miss/Not Miss

As we get ready move through our last couple of months on Kaua’i. Brett and I have started reminiscing and thinking of the things we’ll miss about our life here, and always remember fondly when we think of our time on the island.

Below are a few of the things we’ll miss the most:

  • The weather: We’ll miss all of it, from rain to crazy wind to blue skies. It’s mostly been as beautiful as hoped for when we decided to move here.
  • Our apartment: We were so lucky to find this apartment when we returned during the height of the pandemic lockdown in 2020. The size has been perfect for us, the location fantastic, and there’s been wonderful airflow through the apartment keeping the humidity at bay and often making it feel as if we have air-conditioning. We’ve had a fantastic landlord as well. The good has always far outweighed the not-so-good.
  • Our yard: We’re going to miss looking out on our wonderful, private back yard every day. Lush with plants and flowers, filled with birds (and now chickens) we still pinch ourselves that it’s pretty much been ours alone to enjoy. Every day the yard reminds us we live in Hawaii.
  • Sunsets: The sky puts on a show most nights, depending on the weather, with everything from pale pink wisps to flaming red skies as the sun goes down. Even when there are no clouds, the dimming of sky is still calming and beautiful. (Sunrise is also beautiful here, but I’m not a morning person so have only rarely ever seen one.)
  • The sky at night: There’s no ambient light pollution on Kaua’i and when the sun goes down the sky is pitch black, filled with a million stars. A full moon shines brighter here, and when the sky is full of clouds the light of the moon dances off of them in a magical way.
  • Living on the south shore: Location, location, location. The south side of Kaua’i has been a revelation. We’re close to great beaches and hiking trails, but haven’t had to deal with the traffic and crowds we encountered living up on the east side. We live further away from Costco in Lihue but get there in half the time it used to take us driving down from Kapaa. I always thought of the south side as sort of dry and dusty, but in reality it’s breezy, cool, and lush.
  • Beach days: Brett and I rediscovered what a pleasure it is to plant our umbrella in the sand, set up our beach chairs, and either open a book, take a walk in the sand, or just stare at the waves breaking for a few hours of pure relaxation.
  • Walking/hiking: One of the best things about living on Kaua’i has been the ability to walk almost every day of the year, either out on a trail, on a path along the beach, or up at Kukuiolono Golf Course & Park. We’re in better shape than we’ve ever been.
  • So. Much. Green: Kaua’i is called the Garden Island for a reason, and we’ll miss the green found all over the island. We’ve never grown tired of the many beautiful flowers, the massive variety of other plants and trees, and the local produce from farms all over the island. Along with the trade winds, the abundance of plant life has meant we all breath nothing but clean, fresh air.
  • Allie the cat: She’s been a daily visitor since we moved in, and became BFFs with YaYu. Even when “the girl” is not here she still comes by almost every day for a chat (she always “talks” to us), a scritch on her back, a drink of water, and to stretch out in the sun for a while.
  • Feeling safe and staying healthy: Although the Hawaiian islands are the most isolated spot on earth, COVID still found its way here, but our island home has been an extremely safe place to wait out the worst of the pandemic. Locals still practice kokua, a Hawaiian word meaning help but in the sense of making a sacrifice with no desire of personal gain. Two years after our arrival, everyone is still masking up without complaint to stay safe and protect others.
  • The aloha. It embraces the island and makes Kaua’i such a special place, every day.

Of course, thinking of the good things also reminds us of the not-so-good parts. All has not been perfect in paradise, and below are few things we won’t miss:

  • The apartment’s kitchen: While we’ve been able to create some great meals and worked with what we have, we will not miss the crappy small refrigerator and freezer; the crappy electric stove; and the bar sink. Much as we otherwise love our apartment, these three items have been less than ideal.
  • Clompy neighbors upstairs: We’ve had two loud upstairs neighbors during our time here, both men who seemed to stomp versus walk around the apartment. The first neighbor actually jumped rope over our heads a couple of times, but both have always sounded like they walk with iron boots on. A couple of others have shared the apartment with these two men, and we almost never would have known they were there, so quiet has always been possible.
  • The cost of everything: Kaua’i has always been an expensive place to live, and although we’ve managed to budget and save, we’ve been completely priced out of the housing market. The lowest priced gas on Kaua’i (Costco) is now at $5/gallon for regular (and we have to get in our car to do or go anywhere on the island). Supply chain issues that come along with living here are starting to wear on us as well.
  • Big pickup trucks: THE car to own on the island is a pickup truck. A BIG pickup truck. We are looking forward to not having to deal with them for a long while.
  • Humidity: Humidity was the bane of my existence when we lived here from 2014 – 2018. It’s still here, mostly experienced when we’re out walking or hiking. Thankfully it’s been much, much less awful here on the south side than it was up on the east side, and the breeze through our apartment has kept it tamped down inside.

Freed these past two years from the needs and schedules of our children, we’ve enjoyed a wonderful two years of island life. Kaua’i is our home, and living here has been a dream come true, not once but twice. Negatives aside, we honestly would be perfectly happy to stay if our children didn’t live so far away and we weren’t still itching to see the world. We’ll carry a piece of the island in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Finding Your Way On Kaua’i

(Updated from a post originally published in November, 2017.)

That’s the St. Regis Hotel in the upper left of the picture, and Hanalei Beach in front. There’s no way to directly walk from one to the other.

Every year on Thanksgiving Brett and I watch The Descendants, starring George Clooney. It’s a wonderful film, and part of it is set on Kaua’i. Every year though we roll our eyes and sigh when Clooney and his movie family climb into a jeep with a cousin at the airport and head north, and yet somehow end up overlooking the ocean on the south shore at Kipu Kai Ranch, a geographically impossible feat. Or, when he and family walk from Hanalei beach to their hotel in Princeville along Anini Beach, making it look like there’s a seamless beach the entire way. Nope. The hotel sits perched on the top of a bluff to the east of Hanalei, and you’d have to cross a golf course, scramble down a wooded cliff and cross the Hanalei River at the mouth before arriving at Hanalei Beach. And, Anini Beach is to the east of Princeville and the hotel, Hanalei Beach to the west. There are other scenes where locations are out of place, but we chalk it all up to “Hollywood magic.”

George Clooney and family look out over the south shore of Kaua’i, after heading north from Lihue and passing through Kapaa on the east side.

Back in November of 2017 I was alerted to an article in the New York Times: 36 Hours in Kauai, Hawaii (subscription required – sorry). The article listed quite a lot of interesting places to see, shop and/or dine at on the island, but I was completely worn out by the time I finished reading just the first day! The author has visitors starting their 36 hours at the Kaua’i museum in Lihue, on the east side of the island, at 3:00 p.m (right after arriving from a long flight and picking up a car), then driving out to Hanapepe on the south side to order a custom aloha shirt at 4:30. We live between Lawai and Koloa, on the south side of Kaua’i, and the drive from here to Hanapepe with no traffic takes around 15-20 minutes. Add in the time it takes to get from Lihue to Lawai, and that’s another 20 minutes. To get to Hanapepe by 4:30 when there’s no traffic, a visitor is going to have to leave the museum after only 15-20 minutes (after paying admission to the museum at $15 per person). While the distance from Lihue to Hanapepe might not look all that long on a map (18 miles), the reality is any drive at that time of the afternoon will involve mixing with the pau hana (“quitting time”) crowd heading home to the south and west sides, and that seemingly short drive can take up to or over an hour, especially on a Friday.

Anyway, if someone has somehow managed the feat of both visiting the museum and making it out to Hanapepe on time, the suggestion is to then drive all the way back to the Kilohana Plantation in Puhi to participate in a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company at 5:30. Oh wait – the last tasting of the day is at 5:00 p.m. However, the next stop on the itinerary is the evening luau next door at Gaylord’s restaurant (reservations required). Following the luau, readers then are directed to drive all the way back past Hanapepe and through Waimea (in complete darkness) to spend the night at the Waimea Beach Cottages.

The proposed schedule for the first day is exhausting and impossible, even more so if one decides to follow a recommendation to take in some of the Friday evening Hanapepe Art Night (which doesn’t start until 5:00 p.m.) before heading back to Puhi. For someone from the mainland the amount of driving might not seem all that excessive, but for those of us who live here it’s positively crazy and makes no sense whatsoever.

The next two days’ schedules are equally frenetic, and involve an insane amount of driving back and forth from one side of the island to another. The lodging recommendations are bizarre considering how long it can take to get around the island (most of the highway is only two lanes). If I remember correctly, one suggestion on the second day is driving from the north shore all the way down to Old Koloa town for dinner and then back up to Princeville to spend the night. Again, insanity! Needless to say, it’s more than extremely likely that any visitor trying to follow even some of this article’s schedule will encounter the reality of Kaua’i traffic fairly quickly along the way causing everything to fall apart in a very short time.

Most of all though, the 36-hour schedule in the Times misses the whole point of visiting Kaua’i. The best reason to come here is not to try to see and do as much as possible and fill every single moment, including negotiating Kauai’s traffic, but to relax, most especially if all someone has is 36 hours to spend with a long flight on either end. Life moves slower on Kaua’i, and the best and most authentic experience of all is to embrace the slower place. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, sit on the beach for the day or go for a hike, take a nap, maybe pick a place or two to visit, go out for a wonderful dinner or attend a luau, but don’t try to squeeze in everything.

Visitors are always welcome on Kaua’i, and there are lots of things to see and do here. But finding one’s way on Kaua’i requires a change in how one experiences time and place. Geography is more than just places on a map, or distances between towns, or times posted on Google Maps. It’s more than pretty scenes in a film. The geography of a place is about how and where people live, and how they use the mountains, beaches, towns, roads and the surrounding environments. It’s about how local residents spend their time, and what they value about where they live. Even a small amount of knowledge about these things can make a visit to Kaua’i, to anywhere, more enriching.

Retiring in Hawaii: Pros & Cons (Part 3)

This week’s positive and negative factors for retiring in Hawai’i both concern housing. If you’re retiring and plan on buying a house, in spite of extremely high prices there is some good news; if you need specialized housing, the news is not so good.

PRO: Houses in Hawai’i are an extremely costly proposition these days. However, Hawaii property taxes are still fairly low (we are frankly amazed by how low they are in Hawaii compared to other states), and senior homeowners receive additional exemptions on their taxes. Back when we were considering buying, because our ages our annual property taxes would have only been around $150! Currently, all Hawaiian homeowners receive a $160,000 tax exemption on their home but seniors 60 and over receive the following exemptions.

  • $180,000 for ages 60 to 79.
  • $200,000 for age 80 and above

Every little bit helps!

The old Lihue theater has been refurbished and repurposed as low-income senior housing.

CON: Inexpensive elderly housing and assisted living can be difficult to find in Hawaii, especially if you need it sooner rather than later. Housing for seniors, government subsidized or otherwise, exists on most of the islands and as might be expected, most of it is in Honolulu. However, space in these places is limited, they can be costly, and it can take years to gain a spot in a government-subsidized housing facility. We know of three retirement/senior living facilities on Kauai, although there may be more. One is a full-scale retirement and assisted living center in Lihue. It is fairly new and is also very expensive. Another housing option for low-income retirees is the old Lihue theater, which has been remodeled and turned into subsidized one-bedroom apartments for seniors, a very clever way to save and utilize a historic building. There are income limits to qualify for one of these apartments, and our income is too high. Another senior housing complex exists in Kalaheo, near where we live, but we again have too high an income to qualify. I’ve recently seen openings advertised on Craigslist – when we lived here before I never once saw an ad – the only notice I ever saw was an announcement on the theater marquis.

In Hawaii, it’s very common for extended family to live together and manage care for elderly family members, possibly with help from the community. Continuing home health care is a frequently used option for seniors here, and Kapuna Care (kapuna = grandparent, ancestor, or honored elderly), funded by the State of Hawaii, allows seniors to stay in their homes and provides assistance with daily living activities. Other private companies and services exist as well to help elders remain in their homes or with family.

While not the only reason, current housing costs play a major role in our decision not to remain in Hawaii, as does the lack of options on Kaua’i for senior care, which may be needed in the future.

Kaua’i, the Second Time Around

Lucky to live Kaua’i! (all the above photos come from Unsplash/Kauai)

I almost don’t know where to begin with how different living on Kaua’i has been for us this time. We spent our four previous years discovering the island, enjoying the weather, beaches, and the people, and getting two of our three daughters through high school and on to college. We had lots to learn and adapt to, like figuring out how and where to shop for everything and what things cost here (the real cost) but the laid-back and friendly lifestyle fit us well. It wasn’t perfect though: after living in a low-humidity location for nearly 25 years the humidity on Kaua’i about drove me mad. Still, the island grew on us, and when we left on our Big Adventure in 2018 big parts of our hearts were left behind.

At that time, we honestly didn’t think we’d be back for a variety of reasons. We felt somewhat discouraged with our life here when we left, but realize now that was mostly restlessness after 40 years of raising children. Brett and I wanted to do something big and different with our life as empty nesters, and with YaYu heading to college we grabbed our chance. We were honestly (and pleasantly) surprised when our daughters suggested we move back when we finished traveling, and also surprised by how homesick we felt for the island when we visited again in early 2020.

Brett and I love living on Kaua’i again, and are so grateful now that we were encouraged to return. We’ve been safe here from the COVID pandemic, although with the return of tourists and increased inter-island travel the number of cases is rising again, so we’re starting to get a little anxious about how this turns out. However, with the changes we’ve made this time, aspects of island living that were discouraging before are no longer an issue:

The five points listed below were the things that wore us down during our first four years on Kaua’i. For a variety of reasons, all of these have been turned around this time, and we couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with our current life. I’ve highlighted the changes in blue.

  1. Our daughters’ schedules: Brett’s and my lives were completely organized around WenYu’s and YaYu’s schedules before, and all the activities they were involved in from sports to clubs to community service to their social lives. It was extremely difficult for us to put together a quick trip to the beach because of their packed schedules, let alone go shopping or out to have lunch, or even take a walk or enjoy other aspects of island life. We understood the need for their involvement and supported all they did, but we still felt very constrained and very frustrated at times, and it clouded our entire island experience. While we miss our girls, being able to live on our own schedule has made a HUGE difference. The pandemic has kept us close to home for the most part, but it’s wonderful knowing that each day is our own to unfold how ever we like. We feel relaxed these days, and enjoy operating on “island time.”
  2. Traffic: Living on the east side of the island, in Kapaa, meant that we had to deal with standstill traffic every time we went out to shop for food, or go to the dentist or any other appointment south of us. When we arrived on Kaua’i in 2014, it took us approximately 15 minutes to reach Lihue but by the time we left we had to give ourselves a cushion of about 45 minutes. It was miserable. While traffic was not an issue during the pandemic restrictions, it’s returned right along with the visitors. Relocating to the south side of the island versus back to the east side has been one of the best choices we made this time. We live further away from Costco and Lihue, but can get there in less than half the time it took us to drive from Kapaa, even with the return of visitors. We otherwise have everything we need right in our area. We also love being so close to the west side of the island and the Barking Sands base, which use to be nearly a two-hour drive from our home in Kapaa. We always thought of the south side as being sort of dry, and full of tourists, but it’s actually quite lush where we are, and it’s easy to avoid the heavily trafficked tourist areas. With lovely breezes nearly year-round and good airflow through our apartment, humidity has been much less of an issue as well.
  3. Dust: Dusting was already my least favorite chore when we moved here in 2014, and on the east side, every day we dealt with heavy amounts of dust and dirt, from who knows where. We had no idea that such a small island in the middle of the ocean could produce so much dirt! I hated it. I don’t know if it’s because our little apartment now is located at the back of the building away from the street or if it’s something else, but we get very, very little dust back here other than the “regular” stuff.
  4. Noise: We lived in two different neighborhoods during our previous four years (both in Kapaa) and the noise was awful. Dogs barked around the clock, roosters and chickens were a constant presence in our yards and crowed or squawked all day and all night as well. We had noisy neighbors that yelled, drove loud cars, threw noisy parties, or were always running their noisy lawnmowers, leaf blowers, or saws at all hours of the day. We knew about the potential noise issue before we moved over here but even though we are pretty patient people it beat us down over time. Our current location is extremely quiet. Our neighbors are quiet. I think we’ve seen less than five chickens in our yard since we moved here and I can’t think of the last time I heard a dog bark although there are plenty in the neighborhood. I can be up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours and not hear a rooster crowing somewhere which I still find amazing. The quiet has made a huge difference in our sleep and mental well-being.
  5. Crazy landlords: Probably the most discouraging part of our previous stay was our landlords. We discovered we liked renting, but struck out twice in this part of the deal. The first wasn’t as bad as the second, but that’s because I don’t think anyone could have been. The houses we lived in worked for us, although both were very uncomfortable when it turned hot and humid due to design issues and a lack of airflow through the houses. The landlords, especially the second one, made living in each one a nightmare at times, especially when it was time to move out and on. We have a dream landlord this time – we never hear from him or see him unless absolutely necessary, but he makes sure the property is kept up and things work like they’re supposed to. The rent is reasonable, and we don’t feel like we’re being gouged like we did before. J is an all-around nice guy, born and raised on the island, and absolutely night and day different from the landlord from hell we had to deal with last time.
Everything about our little apartment this time is perfect for us: the size, the location, the cost, the neighbors, and the landlord.

No place is truly ever perfect, but Kaua’i seems to be for us this time around. Although we feel very isolated from our family, housing costs are astronomical, and food and gas prices are climbing, Kaua’i is still the right place for us to be now, and we have a hard time imagining living anywhere else (and we’ve tried). The island remains incredibly beautiful, and the locals, weekly farmers’ markets, and (mostly) good weather make life here worthwhile. The humidity still has the potential to drive me crazy, but we now live in a place that gets cooling breezes and that has made a huge difference. Leaving before, even though we felt discouraged and were looking forward to traveling the world, was still difficult, and we already know this time is going to be a whole lot harder.

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Brett and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary this past Monday. In the past we’ve usually gone out to dinner to celebrate, but this year we ended up doing something different that gave us more for the same amount of spending. 

We had originally thought we’d have dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, but we turned out to be nervous about dining in, especially with the return of visitors to the island and cases of the virus already starting to climb again. Also, we knew the restaurant would be expensive, and we just weren’t as keen as we thought on spending so much for one meal.

However, the idea of someone else doing the meal prep and cleanup continued to appeal to us and we came up with the idea of giving ourselves a Day of No Cooking. We wanted to challenge ourselves to keep the cost of a full day of restaurant meals the same or less than what we would have spent for one meal at a fancy restaurant. We knew there were plenty of affordable restaurants offering good food, outdoor dining or socially distanced seating, and enhanced cleaning in our area that could make our plan work.

Here’s how the Day of No Cooking went:

The first stop of the day was for breakfast at the nearby Kalaheo Cafe. They offer both socially-distanced indoor or outdoor dining, and we chose an semi-isolated indoor table by an open window. We each had a cup of coffee, and shared an order of kalua pork Eggs Benedict. I am not sure how anyone finishes a full order of this – one half of it (and no hash browns – Brett got those) and I was stuffed! It was very, very delicious though and a wonderful start to our day. The pastries on offer were very tempting as well but we managed to leave without eating or buying one.

We had planned to head to Hanapepe after breakfast to explore the Habitat for Humanity thrift & rebuilding store as well as drop off some clothes, but we sadly discovered it was closed on Mondays. We don’t need or want anything but have always wanted to check out this big store. Our upstairs neighbor furnished over half of his apartment with some very nice things from this place, and we’ve heard other good things about it from others. We ended up going back home for a while with a decision to visit later this week.

It was pouring rain by the time we started down to Hanapepe Old Town for our lunch at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe. We had heard good things about this restaurant, and had wanted to eat there since before we left the island in 2018. We figured lunch would be less expensive than dinner, and we were not disappointed. I had originally planned to order tenzaru (tempura shrimp and vegetables with cold soba noodles) but the calorie load for that meal is outrageous, so instead ordered hayayako (chilled tofu) and vegetable futamaki (sushi). Brett ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) bowl topped with a soy-ginger sauce and a nice salad. Even though it was raining it was still warm enough to eat outside (under cover). Our waitress surprised us with a very tasty slice of house made matcha cheesecake to help celebrate our anniversary!

One taco al pastor for each of us.

Plans for the day had included a late afternoon walk at Kukuiolono and then picking up takeout for dinner from Paco’s Tacos up at the park clubhouse. A continuing downpour kept us from walking, but we still wanted those tacos! Brett somehow also included beans and rice when he placed the order so he had those as well, and we enjoyed our delicious tacos with some added cilantro, onion, and a few tomatoes and along with a couple of celebratory gin & tonics.

The day was supposed to end with scoops of Lappert’s ice cream, but when it was time for dessert neither of us wanted to go back out in the rain, and we also really didn’t want another dessert. We had eaten enough.

The total cost for our three meals ($88, including tips) was slightly less than we would have spent for dinner and drinks at the restaurant, and our time together was priceless. The total number of dishes that had to be washed in the evening was six: morning coffee cups, glasses for the G&Ts, and the plates for our tacos. We had such a good time that we decided to make a Day of No Cooking our annual anniversary event, no matter where we are in the world at the end of every March!

First Hike in Koke’e State Park: It’s Only Six Miles

Although we walk almost daily, we only hike about once a month, and I have not enjoyed a strenuous hike since before the pandemic restrictions were invoked. Throughout the previous six years on Kauai, I have only hiked one trail along the Waimea Canyon Road, and that was over two-and-a-half years ago. So a few weeks ago I started researching the trails on the official website Na Ala Hele Trail and Access, the official website for state maintained trails, to verify which trails were open and to find one suitable for an afternoon hike.

Many of the trails are over four miles each way, and some of the shorter trails include an elevation gain of more than one half mile. Awa‘awapuhi (ginger valley) Trail appeared to fit the bill at 3.1 miles each way with an elevation change of 1,180 feet. Our experience however proved that looks may be cruelly deceiving.

Hawaii Forestry & Wildlife Map
Awa’awapuhi Trail

Even so the trailhead is approximately 1,200 feet above the end of the trail, and our hike begins with a gentle half-mile ascent to the highest point at 4,160 feet above sea level. From the summit, a gradual descent leads to a little plateau featuring a plank crossing over the intermittent head of Awa‘awapuhi Stream, and yet another plank crossing lies beyond the next hill. The ocean itself only made a brief appearance through the trees just beyond the 0.5 Mile marker, and then was not seen again for a further mile.

Somewhat steeper and bigger S-curves commence from near trailhead level, approximately 3,600 feet above sea level, marking the beginning of the long descent which is only interrupted by a few narrow ridges that connect the lower peaks of the trail. At one point YaYu remarked, “Mom could probably hike this,” and I recall thinking that this trail wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, in fact, I started running as our turnaround time neared, and only slowed down when we reached the switchbacks.

Toward the end of the trail there’s a great sweeping loop through the dryland vegetation (most of the upper trail is conspicuously wetland) and then we saw the safety railing at the end of the trail—less than two hours from the start and right at our turnaround time. At trail’s end there are two vistas, both guarded by railings, and one of them bears a 3.25 MI marker. We could both see and hear the ocean from here, and it was then I realized that I had not taken a single drink since we started. I quickly opened the first bottle of water and wet my dry, salted lips, and took several photos while we rested and chatted about all that we had seen and not seen.

We only saw two other hikers who reached trail’s end ahead of us, and checking the elevation at trail’s end, 2,560 feet above sea level, before trekking back to the trailhead reaffirmed the warning from the description on website.

DANGER: Do not venture beyond the safety railing at the end of the trail! Footing is extremely unstable, and the drop to the valley floor below is [well] over 2,000 feet.”

Thus, the actual elevation change then is 1,600 feet rather than 1,180 feet (which was derived from the difference between the starting and ending elevations; not peak to end). Granted, that’s only a 420 foot difference, but that is quite significant when translating that from a horizontal line of text to vertical distance. Also significant is the fact that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) placed a mileage marker at trail’s end indicating that the true roundtrip hike would be 6.5 rather than 6.2 miles. Also, the return is uphill almost the entire way, which tends to slow down one’s pace.

This was a great hike overall, and YaYu and I made such good time on the hike out and down to the vistas that we were astonished when our best efforts on the return to the trailhead took over three hours (5 hours roundtrip), and we missed our self-imposed deadline by more than an hour—

Laura: Will you be back in time for our walk?

Me: Sure, it′s ‘only’ six miles!

Although it happened slightly later than usual, Laura and I did get in our daily walk. That made it over 10 miles for me that day, and over 21,000 steps. It was a very good day!

You Can Go Home Again

My view from the sofa

I am happy these days. It’s not just a things are going well kind of happy either, but a deeply contented happiness that comes from realizing I’m living in the right place, right now.

I loved traveling and living on the road, and was happy then too. I loved not owning or wanting things other than the clothes in my suitcase, and waking up each day knowing there was going to be something new out there for Brett and I to discover and/or learn. I was crushed when it all suddenly had to come to an end.

We watch amazing sunsets right from our living room.

Contented and happy was not what I was feeling when we left Kaua’i in 2018, and neither of us was sure then whether we wanted to come back or not. When I reflect on that time though I now can see the reasons for our unhappiness. We were miserable in the place we were living. Our landlord was a jerk and getting weirder by the day; the house was nice but very difficult to maintain; and it was nearly always hot and humid inside with no breeze and nothing to look at from the windows but the house next door. Getting through the constant bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Kapaa area was miserable as well, as were the drives to and from Lihue and down to Costco. Any trip in the car involved sitting in traffic, or adding mileage and time to get around congested spots (and even the bypasses could be heavily congested at times). The humidity on the east side could be brutal at times, and for me was compounded by a lack of air circulation in the house. Finally, Brett’s and my lives back during our four years were completely constrained by YaYu’s and WenYu’s busy lives and schedules with school-related activities, sports, or work, YaYu’s in particular. There was a purpose in all that they did, we supported their efforts, and it paid off in community recognition and scholarships for both girls, but Brett and I often felt like we had no life of our own outside of wherever they needed to be or what they needed to do. It was often difficult for us to find the time to see and do the things we wanted.

These days I get to savor my morning cup of coffee along with a beautiful view and a cool breeze blowing through the living room.

It was with some trepidation that we came back to Kaua’i this past March. Our girls had told us last December that they all thought we should return, and we loved being back when we visited in January, but we still weren’t so sure it was the best place for us to settle. However, once we did decide to come back we made a second decision: no repeats of the things that had bothered us before, and to start again from scratch. That decision was the smartest thing we did, as our second time around has turned out to be a very different experience in every way, with the result that both of us feel deeply happy to be back on the island. After nearly six months here I cannot think of even one thing I don’t like about where we live (and I have tried). Our landlord is definitely not weird, and a genuinely nice guy, born and raised on the island. We love our apartment’s location out of the tourist bubbles. We love the layout of the rooms, the amount of storage we have, the massive bathroom, the big, beautiful private yard with its flowers and fruit trees. Most especially we love the steady flow of air through the rooms that keeps the apartment feeling cool and mostly humidity free. We’ve had absolutely no need of an air-conditioner here. We’re very happy with the furniture we chose and how it fits into the space. The apartment’s size is perfect for us although we easily accommodated YaYu this past summer, and we have nice neighbors. It’s a less than 10-minute drive each week to a great farmer’s market, and although Costco and Lihue are actually further away from us than they were before, the drive to those places is easier and faster these days as we don’t have to deal with Kapaa’s stop and go traffic like before. We have a great walking venue nearby and our south shore location is also an easy distance from several nice beaches. Salt Pond Beach Park is just 15 minutes away, and the base at Barking Sands with its long beautiful beach is just a 30-minute drive. We can go the other direction to the Poipu beaches and be there in under 15 minutes. Finally, and maybe best of all, Brett and I make our own schedule these days, and mostly go with what we feel like doing at the moment rather than make plans in advance. Our time is fully our own. (Note: Currently the traffic moves nicely through Kapaa because of the lack of visitors to the island. When they return, so will the traffic.)

The beach is always a happy place for me.

It seems you can go home again, maybe as long as you bring a different set of expectations along with you the second time around. I know that things can change for the worse on a dime (been there, done that) but I’m so happy we decided to give Kaua’i a second chance, and that we’re now, as Oprah says, getting to live our best lives here. The only thing that could make me any happier than I am now would be to have it easier for our children to get here or for us to get to them. Until that happens though, I am going to enjoy this happy place we’re in to the fullest.

Been There, Done That, and Ready To Do It Again

Waimea Canyon is just a short drive away these days.

What do you do when you love to travel but can’t, and live on a remote tropical island where the distance from end to end is just 54 miles? How do you arrange a staycation when hotels are closed and road trips are not an option?

For the most part, Brett and I are quite content for now with keeping ourselves socially isolated. As an introvert, it’s a dream come true for me in many ways, but I do like to get out here to see and do things beyond shopping for groceries, visiting the farmers’ market or walking in the park. We certainly don’t feel trapped nor are we suffering from “rock fever,” but now that it’s just the two of us again we’ve been talking about things we can do to keep busy and more involved with island life, not only finding new things to do but revisiting places around us and seeing them with new eyes.

We’ve come up with an initial list of mostly nearby things we can do. Most are things we’ve done before, but all would be fun to do again (and again and again).

The Kalalau Viewpoint at the end of the road in Kokee State Park is worth all the twists in the road it takes to get there.
  • Re-visit Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park: We now live just 30 or so minutes away from the road leading up into Waimea Canyon and Kokee, and without a lot of visitors currently on the island this should be a great time to visit this natural wonder.
  • Stroll through Hanapepe Old Town: We also now live very close to one of our favorite places on the island, the small town of Hanapepe on the south side. We enjoy walking through and exploring Old Town, and want to go see what’s opened back up. I did read that the wonderful Midnight Bear bakery is open – it would be fun to stop for coffee and to share a pastry. And the Talk Story Bookstore is also a wonderful place to spend a chunk of time.
    The Talk Story bookstore in Hanapepe is a must visit.
  • Explore Waimea: We always drive right through this little town on the west side on our way to Barking Sands, or turn off and head up to Waimea Canyon, but think it would now be a good time for us to stop and walk around for a while. We’ve seen a few places from the car windows we’d like to check out, but know there’s more to discover and learn about.
  • Go on breakfast date once in a while: The Kalaheo Cafe is just a couple of miles down the road from us, and serves a really good breakfast, even if it’s only take-out. We went a couple of times when we were here before but the drive was a long one, but now we don’t have that excuse any more. And, it’s actually quicker to drive to the Tip Top Cafe from our apartment now than from where we lived before. Both the Kalaheo Cafe and Tip Top serve a more local clientele and practice social distancing.
    Salt Pond beach park
  • Visit some new beaches as well as old favorites: Once we find a beach or two we like, that’s where we tend to go. We’re just not that adventurous when it comes to beaches. While the beach at Barking Sands is our current favorite, there are others nearby that we haven’t visited, such at Salt Pond. There’s no time like the present to get to know them and see how we like them. Although it’s a long drive, this is also a good time to revisit other beaches on the Eastside, like Kealia, and ones up on the north shore as well.
  • Do some longer walks on the Eastside beach path: We really, really don’t care for the long drive up to Kapaa these days, but as Brett and I increase our walking distance, this is as good a time as any for us to go for longer distances on the beach path. It’s not flat, but it is smooth making it a great walking venue for me. And then there are those views!
    Walking the eastside beach path is always a visual delight.
  • Socially distant visit with friends: Choosing to live down on the south side of the island, we knew we wouldn’t see our friends much as they live up on the east side and up north, and for Kaua’i those are long drives away. We’re planning to go visit our friend Joy up in Princeville next week though, and want to set up a visit (and maybe a trip to the beach) with friends Alan and Cheryl. Both times will also give us a chance to stop by other island locations we enjoy on the way up or back (like the Kilauea Bakery, or Java Kai in Kapaa).

A couple of other nearby places and activities we want to revisit are the Kauai Coffee Plantation and the Koloa Rum store. We enjoy doing tastings at both places, but those opportunities are closed off for now. Koloa Rum hopes to reopen after October 1, and hopefully tastings will resume at Kauai Coffee as well, although perhaps in a more controlled manner. We’ll see. But otherwise I think we have a nice list of things to revisit and look forward to during the next few months!