On the hunt for the perfect college I find myself questioning long held beliefs

My daughter is a high school junior. We have spent recent school breaks and long weekends  touring colleges. I started this project with the concept that we are fortunate to have resources.  We have saved enough in a 529 plan for Kayla to go to the University of Idaho and only be responsible for incidentals.  Kayla is Asian. The last couple of years she has begun feeling the pressure of being a rare exotic flower in a sea of all white. She will frequently mention to me that we are once again in a room of Caucasians.  Her father and I decided we needed to kick up our savings a notch to allow Kayla to attend an out-of-state school with a more diverse student population.  My husband is 70 and still working and I am 66 and retired.  Increasing the college fund actually means reducing our retirement savings.  I realize these are the same trade-offs most families make but they probably have fewer resources and are at least 10 to 20 years younger.

Idaho is part of the Western Undergraduate Education program (WUE) which means that at participating schools, you do not pay full out-of-state tuition rather you pay instate times .5 This assumes the student has adequate test scores and grade point average. Kayla meets all the achievement criteria.  Kayla has toured Montana schools twice.  They don’t offer better diversity than Idaho. Montana is, however, slightly more liberal. Montana schools’ tuition aligns with Idaho’s.  We have also toured Nevada-Reno, more diverse and a brand new campus purchased by large donors, demonstrating money makes such a difference. UNR is in a price range with Idaho slightly more diverse but not as academically well-rated.

Kayla has always wanted to go to Colorado State. We attended an immersion program over President’s weekend and she was delighted.  I was a little less delighted because the in-state tuition and room and board is topping out at $100,000. The  WUE tuition is $125,000, significantly above our slight bump-up in tuition.  As the financial aid officer was reviewing costs, one mom started crying in the back.  She asked, “What if my daughter can’t meet achievement scores?”  The financial aid officer suggested loans.  I  was satisfied we could probably make this work by increasing our savings the next 2 years and continuing to pay for Kayla’s college costs the next four years (mind you my husband will be 76 and I’ll be 72 when we get Kayla through school).  I said to the financial officer as I was walking out door, “If we come up with $125,000, this will fund 4 years at CSU for my daughter?”  He says, “Probably not, with inflation the cost is more likely to be $140,000.”   That sum of money is about the same amount as we sold  a 3 bedroom rental house  in Meridian last year.  It was a number that made my heart sink.  We are too well off to qualify for any type of financial assistance.  I don’t expect the public to be paying for my daughter to go to a state school.  But I do think that public colleges are  too expensive.  As my husband says, our tours have made the University of Idaho look like a great value.  CSU rates slightly better than U of I on academic criteria but not substantially better for almost twice the cost.

We are now taking a spring break to tour California schools. I call it our fantasy land tour.  I have three girls with me including my daughter.  One has a trust fund and can afford to go to any school she can get into. One is having trouble funding her meals on the trip though she has excellent grades.  I am paying for everything but food. We are staying in hotels where breakfast is provided so she only needs to cover lunch and dinner.  She asked to come on the trip because she has never been to California.   I am sure she will probably qualify for financial aid but not enough for the high cost of California schools.  Then there is my daughter.  We think she should be somewhere with high academic standards and where diverse populations are welcoming and abundant (sounds like California to me).  But when we looked with my son six years ago, there was a gap of $60,000 annually between the scholarship he received and the cost of the school where he wanted to go.  We said we wouldn’t pay it and he ended up at Idaho.  He has graduated now and we are hopeful a college education will help him land in the middle class as it did my husband and I. But I don’t know that for sure.  He has yet to land a job on the west coast where he wants to go for the same reason my daughter wants to go out of state, more diversity and more liberal thinking.

What I do know is if upper class, highly educated professionals find the cost of education daunting it must be terrifying for most families. I think we need a well-educated workforce. To achieve that, college needs to be accessible to most people.  That means public universities need to have a reasonable tuition for the middle class.  I don’t agree with Bernie Sanders that college should be free for everyone.  But I do understand why his message resonated with college students trying to make their way through school while studying, working, and carrying large loans.  I think public colleges need to be affordable.  If that means, my husband and I pay more taxes to make that happen so be it.  We need a workforce of the future that is well-trained, creative, and not dragged down by debt.

 

Depression, my experience with deep darkness

In 1988, “Gorillas in the Mist” was a big hit. I went with my boyfriend, now husband-Pete, and our friends, Teri and Jack. The movie is the true story of naturalist Dian Essey, protector of hunted gorillas. Blood is featured prominently throughout as gorillas are hunted for cash, gorgeous animals with huge hearts attacked for no reason, their hands sold as ash trays. Essey lived and died among these rare creatures.  The last scene is especially bloody. Essey’s throat is cut. Viewers see the knife slice and blood dripping from her neck. Her assailant is never identified.

As we stood up to leave the movie, I realized I could not speak. Unbeknownst to me, the movie had touched some hidden well-spring releasing a huge surge of darkness that engulfed my senses. The only two bright spots were: 1. I knew something was terribly wrong and 2. I was surrounded by supportive friends. By morning I was able to talk but dark shadows were still hovering like ghostly cobwebs in the corners of my mind. I would not wish that catatonic blackness on anyone. I understand some people can’t surface on their own towards the glimmering light of reality as I had. Trapped in that blackness for a significant period of time, I would find the experience unnerving, unbearable and ultimately unlivable.

While the initial depressive episode was almost 30 years ago, I was reminded of the experience this week while visiting Wyoming friends in Colorado and Arizona. While I was in Colorado, my friends Teri and Jack drove down from Cheyenne to see me. We laughed about our many shared good times, i.e. Like when their cat, Tiger, stole the pork roast, bigger than he off the table as we were sitting done to eat. We don’t talk about how I couldn’t get to their wedding in Jackson even though Pete was the best man because I was struggling to keep the darkness at bay and wouldn’t travel for an extended period of time. I had lunch in Phoenix with my dear friend, Holly. During my mental health struggles I would camp out on Holly’s couch for the night to make sure I wasn’t alone. Excellent counseling, medication, funds to pay for it, and  a strong support system of friends helped sweep my blackness away though I still watch for triggers, such as no depressing movies. I am always thankful for the light.

I have been planning a spring break trip to California for my daughter and her friends to tour universities the last couple of weeks. She wants to go because her brother and his friend made the trek with my sister and I six years ago. The  circumstances of that trip were very different than the one we are contemplating now. When I planned the trip in 2011, I didn’t know the challenges we would face. The week we were to leave I received a call from the friend’s father. He told me his wife had killed herself the night before while the family was in the house. I told him we would the cancel the trip but he insisted we go.

Right after the mom’s funeral in a Boise Episcopal church filled with Juniors in high school, we started out to California. We wound our way down the California coast, touring Stanford, UCLA, Santa Clara and finishing in San Diego. We turned home driving through Yosemite.  After the park, we drove straight home, a week away in La La land resulted in my son’s friend beginning to come to terms with his mother’s death.  Understandably, he wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I was so pleased this December when my son’s friend, a first generation college graduate crossed the stage at University of Idaho. After such a tragic beginning to his college career, his success gave all of us in our family a spurt of joy.

Over the years, mental health issues have grabbed more of the spotlight. The Affordable Care Act(ACA/ObamaCare) now about to be repealed requires that insurers pay for behavioral health treatment at the same level as other medical services (the technical term is parity and insurance payment for mental health is a recent development). I am an example of the success of having access to resources. Unfortunately, treatment still carries a stigma unlike cancer and too many people can’t access appropriate care either because it isn’t available or they are unwilling to admit they need help. Idaho has one of the worst community mental health systems in the nation. Our suicide rate is too high. We can strive to do better as a state. As individuals, we can all be  supportive friends to those in need. My friends kept me going when I was surrounded by darkness and despair. Thirty years later whenever I’m with them I bask in their light.

 

 

Baby Blue: My first tiny home

When I was 28 years old, I purchased my first home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The home was tiny, 900 square feet on the main floor, 2 bedrooms, one bath with a one-bedroom, one bathroom, basement apartment complete with outside entrance of about 600 square feet.   The purchase price was $27,000, a princely sum at the time for such a tiny piece of real estate.  The big draw for me was the basement apartment. I had an executive job which required a lot of travel.  I knew I could rent the apartment to airmen at Warren Air force Base.  The house was only a couple blocks from the base.   In fact over the years I owned Baby Blue, I only rented to two different young men.  They obviously liked it and stayed for long periods of time. I never advertised to rent the apartment.  I simply called the base and asked them to post a notice.  The military personnel are great to rent to.  If you have any problems with payment or destruction, you can simply follow-up with the base Commander.  I never had any of these issues.  Instead, I had a steady roommate, I never saw except to say, “Hello!” The agreement was that the renter would help with snow removal and lawn mowing for reduced rent.

I bought Baby Blue without consulting anyone. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me because he felt it didn’t show that I had a long term commitment to our relationship.  My mother spent time explaining to me how difficult housing could be to sell and it could mean I was rooted to Cheyenne and/or singlehood forever.  My boyfriend was probably right about my lack of commitment and mother was dead wrong.  I think my mother’s real problem was that single women didn’t own homes of their own at that time.  I purchased the house because my accountant had suggested it for tax reasons but more importantly I wanted pets. Identifying rentals that allowed pets was extremely difficult. I had a cat.  As soon as I had my own place with a fenced yard, I got my first sheltie, Ginger Rogers.

baby-blue
House remains blue and white with black shutters 40 years later.

When I bought the house, the outside was yellow and brown. The interior was carpeted in a magenta shag rug.  There was flocked wall paper in the main bedroom that proved extremely difficult to remove with plaster beneath.  Because the house was small, major changes were relatively inexpensive. I could do some of the work myself or beg others to do it for me.  The first thing I did was paint the outside blue with white trim and added black shutters.  The color and shutters remain to this day so that choice was obviously a good one.  I’m sure it has been repainted many times in the 40 years since I first acquired Baby Blue.

 

wood-stove
My brother-in-law and friend installed the European Wood Burning Stove and brick surround. The hard woods were uncovered within weeks of moving in. These pictures are from a real estate advertisement for the house a couple years ago.  Some things in housing don’t change after 40 years.

I pulled out the shag carpet and reinstalled it in the basement apartment bedroom. I was lucky to discover beautiful hardwood floors throughout the upstairs.  I  talked my brother-in-law and a friend of his into installing a fancy European wood stove which remains to this day.  I stripped all the wall-paper myself and did all the painting.  I remember my mother came over one day only to discover me sitting on my bedroom floor, covered with plaster, glue in my hair, crying because the yellow I had picked out for the room was a horrible mustard shade instead of a bright sunshine yellow.  My mom said, “Julie, it’s only paint.  You can do it again.”   Of course she was right.  I learned a major lesson for all the future paint jobs I would do.  Test small cans of paint first.

 

The kitchen was laid out strangely. One winter day when I was snowed in with a beau, he took a chain saw to the lower cabinets to make room for a rolling dishwasher.  While the remodeling approach was impetuous and terrifying the end result was not too bad.  It did, however, lead to another break-up.  The next boyfriend helped me repaint the wood cabinets yellow and white and put on decorative wood molding and new hardware.  Steadily moving through boyfriends, the final boyfriend helped me lay new flooring in the basement for the basement apartment.  That boyfriend was a keeper.  I’ve been married to him for 27 years.  But then that is another rather long story. My husband and I dated for 10 years from when we met until we married.

basement-apartment-floor
Floor my future husband installed is still there or it looks  the same.

 

I sold the house for about $40,000 (The County Assessor appraises it today at about $130,000). Obviously, I made a good return on my investment.  I moved to another house in Cheyenne by myself. My next house was in a better neighborhood, all brick, larger, with an attached two car garage and a basement apartment. But I never loved it as much as Baby Blue.

I will always have fond memories of Baby Blue. Home ownership allowed me to assert my independence as a professional woman, provided a financial base from which to start investing since owning the home with a rental was cheaper than paying rent, allowed me to have pets who significantly improved my life and in the end allowed me to move up to the next home— following the American dream.

My husband and I talk about downsizing now. Our home is about 3200 square feet and worth a King’s ransom.  If we ever downsize, it won’t be to get money out of the house because smaller houses closer to town in Boise are going for more than our house.  Downsizing would be about the convenience of living small in walkable communities.   Small homes are easier to maintain and not being in the suburbs appeals to my small town upbringing.  For now,  we are staying put until my daughter graduates from high school and my son finds a job (hopefully my son’s job hunt is successful before my daughter graduates next year).

I feel like I have one more adventure in me. I watch International House Hunters and fantasize about living in a tiny apartment with a balcony on the coast of Spain.  Sometimes, I dream of buying an adobe house with land for a tiny horse in Sante Fe. For now Ashtree Way,  folds its arms around all of us whenever we walk in the door.  I have the same sense of being home as I did when I would walk into “Baby Blue.”  Home truly is where your heart is.

Kayla

Kayla is my adopted 17 year-old daughter from China.  She came to America when she was 8 months old. She weighed 9 pounds, couldn’t sit up because she had been confined to a crib most of her short life and had no hair, head sheared to avoid lice.  The poem below was written about her.

A small sprout transplanted from China,

you toppled out of the crib, raced out the door, dashed into sports,

embracing soccer, track, cross-country, skiing, volleyball,

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Cross-country meet, fall 2016

 

running, jumping, digging, striking;

fierce, competitive, impatient, aggressive, bold.

 

Spanx and sports bra, the daily uniform,

going all out–all the time.

Building strong biceps, sinewy tendons,

Nature’s glitter ; translucent shimmering sweat

crowns your brow, glazes your arms.

 

A flourishing STEM bud, nurtured in curiosity,

math and science are puzzles to solve.

complicated chemistry formulas,

elaborate derivatives–no problem.

English and history–suet for the birds.

 

A stunning tiger-lily,

rooted in fairness and compassion

your heart, a vibrant piñata,

burgeoning with raw emotions, jumbled together;

happy, confident, sad, anxious, angry, loving.

 

You’re an authentic explorer,

propelled by your virtual pinioned,

zeitgeist cloak of inquisitiveness;

restless to break free,

soar, create, love, and chase your dreams.20161120_130321

 

Top Ten Worst Christmas Gifts in 2016

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can turn my investigatory energies to more important obsessions  (other than politics) such as identifying 2016 strangest Christmas gifts. We teach our children that these gifts are made at the North Pole but we all know they come from China.  Rather than being produced by happy, elves dressed in green and red felt, paid with nothing but a smattering of magic dust and Christmas cookies, these items  are probably produced by abused child workers, violating ever American labor law and  paid by the piece rather than by the hour. This is why Americans are squabbling about the renewal of Asian-Pacific trade agreement and not a North Pole  agreement combining  fines for melting icebergs because of Santa’s unregulated energy use with a  tariff on flying sleighs bringing untaxed goods into the country.

sarah-palin-gunThe proposed North Pole agreement would be easy to enforce because Sara Palin could be appointed Nordic ambassador and provide enforcement services from her Alaskan front porch, pulverizing those pesky elves  with buck shot when they tried to slip into the US in search of our highly coveted minimum wage jobs on dairy farms and in  fast food joints.

I waited until after Christmas to release this list because I wanted to save my friends the agony or ecstasy of choosing the appropriate gift  for their worst enemy. P.S. I understand from Santa that President-Elect Trump got one of each item on the list in his stocking this year.  Trump was hoping for lumps of newly mined coal given his promises to restart America’s coal industry but Santa wanted to reward  Obama’s strategy to ban offshore drilling in the Artic and Atlantic so this year Santa handed out pinwheels with blades saying “Support alternative energy” to those who had been naughty.  Santa’s failure to leave all the naughty businessmen a sock full of coal may result in a coal shortage among billionaires, which could further the stock market’s zeal for fossil fuel but it is too early to tell.

Top Ten Worst Christmas Gifts in 2016

handrapants10.Handrapants: These fingerless gloves (designed to look like men’s tidy-whities) are a perfect gift for anyone with fixation on being touched by real human hands but still wanting to be able to engage in real world activities. I actually own a pair of fingerless gloves that I find quite handy (please excuse the pun) but they are suede with a gorgeous fur muff around the fingers.  The men’s brief design for fingers must meet  some sexual  fantasy of where the hands want to go.

wowwee9. WowWee: Chip is an interactive dog robot, programmable to a special watch (included). Chip will greet you at the door, follow you around, play with a programmed plastic ball and has a strange low woof for such a small dog. Chip doesn’t need to go outside, be fed, bark at guests, and tear up panties or the other assorted novel character traits of a real dog. He recharges himself during the night ready for the next day without having to be let outside or taken for a walk.

unicorn-farts-cotton-candy-38. Unicorn Farts: These are bags of cotton candy. As I understand the design concept, while you can’t see human farts but you can see people, in this case you can’t see unicorns but you can see and actually eat their farts. Clever indeed and to provide further incentive for purchasing these tasty treats 10% of the proceeds go to a children’s charity.

 

poop7. Poop Like a Champion: This is a cereal for those of us old enough to remember the advertisements for “Breakfast of Champions” Wheaties but now find our digestive system is a little slow. The advertisement for this cereal is “Number 1 high fiber cereal for number 2s”. Imagine going through all the effort to receive a  marketing bachelors degree  and your first job assignment is to create slogans for a cereal that provides the pinnacle of pooping performance. The cereal is currently sold out after a pre-Christmas rush (please don’t let you mind wander in the direction of that pun).  Kudos to that new marketing graduate, you exceeded everyone’s wildest dreams, possibly because of a constipated electorate in all the Blue states. But don’t despair, if you need an extra push in the bathroom, you can load up for the New Year with a 25% off coupon and emailing your name in to be wait listed.

small_chihuahuas6.Wonderwoof:  This is an activity tracker bowtie for your dog.  You and your dog can begin a new healthy life style in the New Year. Designed in stylish colors such as baby blue, red, orange, teal, pink, black, grey and for an extra $9.95 you can add designer bands to match your outfits. Before Christmas a tracker was a $100.  Unfortunately, these guys didn’t sell out . You can now own one for $65.  If you live in a big city and hire a dog walker, these little gizmos are for you.  They are particularly helpful if you are paranoid imagining your highly paid dog-walker lazing around your high rise apartment sipping a latte from your cappuccino machine rather than out marching Fido around Central Park.  One dog walker in New York reports taking 40 or 50 dogs for walks 5 days a week, spending about 25 hours a week  and making about $110,000 a year.  Take that you lowly U of I graduate starting out at best around $45,000 as a professional in Idaho. My advice, if you need Wonderwoof for Fido, you should probably consider trading in your dog and getting WowWee for Valentine’s Day.

cockroach5.Giant Inflatable Cockroach: Almost 6 feet by 6 feet and a foot deep, this ugly guy can either scare people out of your highly sought after swimming pool or provide a lovely floatation device for someone large enough to cover most of it. The roach’s legs hang out in any possible scenario. I have to admit to an aversion to cockroaches of any size. When my husband went to medical school the only apartment he could afford was roach infested.  We had to buy dozens of tiny roach hotels to strategically place around the apartment in hopes one would stop by for a visit and be terminated.The Inflatable cockroach was judged the “best new inflatable toy for summer 2016″ suggesting to me that America needs to find new designers for pool toys.

toliet-bowl3:Toilet Bowl Dog and Cat Fountain: If your pets like to drink out of your toilet and this grosses you out, this gift is for you.  Shaped just like a toilet only smaller,  the tank provides fresh water on as-needed gravity basis.  Also works well for improving the self-image of height-challenged dogs, like dachshunds, which have always wanted to drink out of the toilet but couldn’t reach it.

creamed-possum2.Creamed Possum in a can for holiday dinner: This holiday treat is also sold out but may be available in time for the Super Bowl and Presidential Inauguration . A red neck staple, this tasty treat includes Canned Creamed Possum with Coon Fat Gravy, garnished with Sweet Potatoes! Guaranteed to be made with only the freshest road-kill available

 

1.Trump Matryoshka (Hand-crafter Russian nesting dolls): These dolls were a rush order after the election. On the largest doll is a likeness of Trump wearing a surprised expression and holding a sign “The Apprentice and you’re hired!”. Inside is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson holding his 2013 Russian Friendship award and waving an ExxonMobil flag. Beneath Tillerson is President Trump’s strategic advisor, Stephen Bannon in a Prince of Darkness costume. All three larger dolls cover a tiny replica of Russian President Putin, wearing a Cheshire cat smile and holding a sign “Russia Wins!”. These dolls sold out quickly to the alt-right. Plans are to have them mass produced after the inauguration. Right wing enthusiasts are anticipating a juggernaut in sales in the New Year as part of the new administration’s focus on economic development and new trade alliances.

 

Best Things to do on the Big Island in Winter

20161126_161724Volcano National Park: Plan an entire day including the round-trip drive from Kona or stay in the park at Volcano House.  The active lava lake spewing red fire creates fine strands of golden fiberglass, called Pele’s Hair, after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. They’re formed when lava is ejected into the air and small droplets are caught by the wind, which then cools and stretches them into very thin strands.  This melted gold is breathtaking to see and touch but be careful it can cut your hand.  Touring an active volcano is a good reminder that earth is always changing by forces outside human control.  Be sure to take a tour with a ranger to have a better understanding of man’s relationship to nature.  Before man brought predators to the islands, large birds and flora were the only inhabitants.  Our ranger described how the birds became large and flightless because of the lush vegetation.  Imagine a five foot tall owl greeting you as you walked the rainforest.

Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens (near Hilo): The flora in this garden is absolutely stunning.  The pathway winds through a rain forest, past water falls to the ocean.  If you are lucky, you will be caught in a rain storm providing a sense of why everything stays so green. This garden reminded me of Mother Nature gone wild with her paint brush.  The number of exotic flowers and colors was astounding.

When you go to the Gardens, make a quick stop by Rainbow Falls in Hilo. This is a state park, no fee and the falls are right by the parking area.20161125_160808

Honokohau Settlement and Kaloko-Honelieh National Historical Park: This is a national park and takes either your Golden Eagle pass for entrance or $5.00 a car.  Once a thriving Hawaii settlement (1200 A.D.) the park provides remnants of the past including a massive wall surrounding a long ago demolished palace, a place of worship, wood carvings of Gods and individuals re-enacting activities from the period.  We saw a man in a loincloth making rock tools.  We also saw live sea turtles on the beach.

A short walk away is Honokohau Boat Harbor. There is only lava to sit on but the area provided the clearest blue waters and most variety of fish for snorkeling of all the places we stopped to snorkel.

20161122_163454Akaka Falls State Park:  There is a short loop walk to see amazing falls in a tropical rainforest setting. Cost of entry is $5 per car to park in the lot at Akaka Falls State Park or $1 for walk-ins (if you park on the side of the road outside of the park boundary). The 0.4-mile loop trail to the waterfalls is paved, although there are some stairs. Plummeting 442 feet, it’s easy to see why Akaka Falls is one of Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls. A viewing area includes protective railings so that you don’t fall over the edge while capturing the waterfall’s slender but powerful plunge into a gorge created by years of erosion. My kids had fun doing pictures for snap chat of the falls going into their open mouths.

Waipi’o Valley Lookout: On the way to Akaka Falls stop at the Waipi’o Lookout. Take the time to view “The Valley of the Kings”  at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. Once an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, it’s also a place of dramatic tropical beauty. I could feel a sacred spirit surrounding me when I viewed the gorgeous valley.20161122_142250

Beaches: We spent three days visiting various beaches up and down the Big Island Coast line. As my son remarked, “The best beach is relative.” At one beach, there were shady trees, gentle water lapping on the shore and children building sand castles. At another we had to drive over lava in a four wheel drive vehicle and hike to a length of white sand with life guards because the surf was rough.  Guide books can describe the various attributes of the beaches to you but the ones you like best will depend on what you like to do sun, surf, snorkel.  The water at all of the ones we visited were glorious variations of blue and  the temperature of the water warm.  All Hawaiian beaches are open to the public.  The government of Hawaii has done a good job of providing clean rest rooms and showers where ever practical.

Kona Coffee: Kona is known for coffee and there are many places to take free coffee tours.  The purpose of the tours is to sell local coffee.  I found the opportunity to learn about how coffee is made very engaging.

Local Restaurants worth trying:

  • Merriman’s at Waimen pioneered Hawaii’s farm to table cuisine. Plan on eating luscious local dishes in an elegant environment. This is a high end restaurant but worth the price.
  • Kona Pub and Brewing: A fun outside restaurant which provides good food while allowing the beer connoisseurs in your group to try out different flavors. Examples of beers are Big Wave Golden Ale, Lemongrass Luau, and Lavaman Red Ale. Prices are comparable to brew pubs on the main land.
  • Lucy’s Taqueria, Hilo. We ate here twice because it was inexpensive, had lots of options for vegetarians (we have one in our crowd), food was served quickly and it was scrumptious.

Most of all take the time to enjoy your surroundings and the people you are with.  The Big Island is big, beautiful and tranquil. Don’t plan so much that all you are doing is rushing hither and yon.

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A Week of Adventure on the Big Island

The Big Island, Hawaii is a land of white, black and green sand beaches, flowing lava, gorgeous flowers and rainforests. If you want to go to fancy restaurants or walk long stretches of sandy beaches with small waves choose a different Hawaiian Island. I say this from experience.  We have been to Hawaii five times and visited three different islands.  If you are like us and like to  set  out each day to explore a new locale, the Big Island is for you.

My family of four(my husband and I, my 17 year-old-daughter and my college-age son) spent  Thanksgiving week  in Kona at a Vacation by Owner condo near the water. Exploring the island requires a rental car.  Since some of the so-called roads  are like traveling the moon in a rover, I would recommend an SUV.  We would be giggling as bounced we bounced along in our jeep and see some cars turning around because they were too low to navigate the terrain.  I likened it  to the jostling  on the airplane (our flight in was really rough and we were at the back of the bus).  My son, Scott, said, “Yeah and we’re on the ground.”

We carried snorkeling gear, beach chairs and towels and boogie board with us every day. No telling when that special black rock road will lead to great snorkeling.  Flip-flops are a failure on lava.  Bring a good pair of hiking sandals.  When headed towards the rainforest have rain gear with you.  You will need it.  Buckets of rain can pour down on you without warning and then disappear in a few minutes.  The rain is warm but you’re still wet. The scenery is so breathtaking it’s hard to know when to stop taking pictures and just sit and soak in the view.

I had clothes for a week and I spent most of my time in a two piece swim suit, long-sleeved sunbrella shirt and sun visor. I burn badly so sun screen and lots of it was a must.

The nights were mild. We never needed long pants except at the high elevations when we went to the Volcano National Park. The temperature dropped to the low sixties causing me to pull on my lightweight workout  jacket.  At the volcanoes, we wore our hiking shoes not our sandals.

 

When looking for places to eat, we would ask our trusty friend Siri for local restaurants and then make our decision based on reviews and dollar signs. We found many unlikely places to dine off the beaten track with great local food distinct from the usual tourist fare. Of course, Kona coffee is world renown for its dark color, thick texture and strong body flavor.  A daily cup helps keep the group going.20161123_115528.jpg

Our adventure was appropriate for teenagers, young adults and active seniors. Young children would have a terrible time driving so much and many of the beaches were too rough for children to just play in the sand.  For people seeking active adventure, the Big Island has so many choices the hardest thing you will do each day is decide where to go next.