Saturday, December 01, 2012

My High School Reunion.

Last week, I went to my high school reunion.

It was a blast seeing all the pals from the good old days of my youth.   It was a casual affair, at the local Elks club, which used to be the post office, itself a throwback to a younger version of my hometown.    Father time was kinder to some than others, but everyone there was in great spirits as we each bounced around the room, reacquainting with all the old mates.    Where do you live?   Do you have kids?   What do you do?   It was a lot of fun and surprisingly without a hint of one-upmanship to be seen.   Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be back in the same post office together, nearly two teenage lifetimes since we'd said our goodbyes on graduation day.

Whoever said 'time flies' wasn't kidding.

We told stories from the high school glory days and laughed about all the stupid things we did when we were young and stupid.     And we talked about our lives today.  In the interest of time, most of the conversations seemed to skip the decades in between and cut right to the current chase.   Of course, I never get tired of telling my story of what I do for a living.   Short of my friend Jimmy who flies one of those F15's overhead every few days, I still think I have the coolest job around.   And who doesn't like to talk about ice cream, right?

As I drove back from my old hometown of Mansfield, Massachusetts, after the obligatory drive by the house I grew up in, I sorted through the many conversations I'd had over the course of the night.   One in particular stuck in my head.    My best friend in first grade was a kid named Franny.   He and I were inseparable back in those wonder years.   He was the precocious artist, and I was the kid who could tell time in first grade.  And of course, I was also the kid who always had ice cream in his freezer on account of his dad worked for Howard Johnson's.   Needless to say, few were surprised when I confessed I now worked in 'ice cream'.  Franny lived on the left coast for most of his adult life, so we haven't been in touch except for one time when we hung out during a business trip I took to California back in the 90's.   Turns out, he got laid off a couple years ago and had to move back.   With the job market working against him, he became truly the starving artist and was forced to relocate to his parents' house in Mansfield.   The image of him living under his parents' roof now brought it all back for me.  

That's exactly what happened to me about a decade ago.

If you're a long-time reader of the Ice Cream Diaries, you've heard this story eighteen different ways, so I'll try to keep it brief.   Around a dozen years ago, I was living quite comfortably as an engineering manager at a promising telcom start-up.   I wouldn't say I was living my dream life exactly, but it was a pretty good life nonetheless.   The money was great.   I was living in downtown Boston.  I worked a lot of hours and had a long commute, but the work environment was fun, exciting, and full of promise - the next big thing.  I had a eclectic circle of friends and made time to mountain bike, take pictures, write, and do all the other extracurricular activities I enjoy.

Then one unassuming Tuesday, the rug was literally pulled out from underneath me.   Suddenly and without a hint of warning (OK, there probably were signs, but it seems I wasn't paying attention), I was unemployed.   I remember that walk of shame like it was yesterday, box of desk trivia clutched under my arm, walking zombie-like toward the exit door, mind desperately trying to process what had just happened and how could I not have seen it coming.

Minutes later I was sitting on a beach.  I pondered who to call first as I licked my wounds like a deer hit on a country road and left for dead by a stranger in a white Buick.   What happened next was a moment that literally changed my life.    Like when the Grinch realized he hadn't actually stolen Christmas, and his heart grew out of his chest.

I made a decision.

And in that moment, I turned a devastating, humbling, ego-shattering experience into an event so empowering for me, I am still feeling its effects more than a decade later.

I decided that this was going to be the BEST thing that ever happened to me.

I took stock of my situation in the most positive terms I could muster.   I was single and didn't have a family that would go hungry in a few weeks.   In fact, I had been living below my means for most of my adult life and had a nice financial cushion to fall into, along with a decent severance and unemployment that would soon be coming my way.   I comforted my ego by reminding myself the company was failing.  It had yet to build a real product, and the first prototypes had turned out to be prohibitively expensive.  Sure, there were things I could have done differently at that job, but I did the best I could, and being laid off was probably inevitable.    This turn out to be fact when the company faded to black less than a year later.

By the end of that fateful day, I was overflowing with an energy and excitement for life I hadn't felt in years.   I could DO whatever I wanted.    I could BE whatever I wanted.   I could GO wherever I wanted.    I quickly decided I would seize that moment for the entire summer.   I had always wanted to drive cross-country.   On the way back to my apartment in Boston, I bought an jumbo road atlas at WalMart.

That summer took me to 37 states, 13 national parks, including Alaska and Hawaii.    I returned rejuvenated, refreshed, and reacquainted with many lost friends and relatives.  I also returned with countless priceless memories, thousands of photographs, three full handwritten journals, and a rough draft for a book for my little brother.   It was an amazing journey, equalled only by the three month trip to Australia and New Zealand I took two weeks after I returned from my tour of the USA.

Those truly were days of living in the moment.

I must admit, though, after almost a year of vagabonding, the thought of trading in my cubicle for an ice cream kitchen still hadn't popped into my idled mind.

No, that happened a few months after I'd returned from the other side of the planet and was living with my parents.   Yes, living with my parents.   In my 30's.   Just like my friend Franny from first grade.   That's another moment I can remember like it was yesterday.   Dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table.   We were drinking Folger's coffee and reading the Boston Globe.    He had sold his own ice cream shop just a few months before.   I don't really even know where it came from, but the next words out of my mouth were the ones that would redirect the entire course of my life.

'So what do you think about me opening my own ice cream shop?'

Hang in there Franny, everything happens for a reason.   Take it from a guy who knows.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Don't Wander. Be Happy.

In an attempt to escape election season propaganda overload last week, I found myself wandering around one of my favorite sites in search or relief and inspiration.   What I came across was the video below.   Matt Killingsworth's 'Stay in the Moment'

It's well worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch, but in case you're at your desk at work and without headphones, I can summarize it for you.   They are conducting a study to gather 'happy data'.   You can read all about it at their website  Over 15,000 test subjects from all walks of life (gender, income, marital status, age, etc.) installed apps on their phones that allow Matt and his team to send them random messages throughout the day.   When a subject gets a message, he or she simply responds to a short list of questions - what are you doing right now?   are you enjoying it?  are you thinking about something else?   After collecting over 650,000 sets of data, they've started to study it for meaning.

What they're discovering is very interesting.    People were happy around 66% of the time when they were focused on the task at hand.    When their mind was wandering, they were happy only 57% of the time.  The data also shows that people are less happy when their mind wanders even while they're doing something they don't enjoy, like commuting.

The data further suggest that while there is a strong correlation between mind wandering now and being less happy later, there is no correlation between being unhappy now and mind wandering.   In other words, people aren't just daydreaming to distract themselves from an unpleasant present.  In fact, more often they let their minds wander off to think about unpleasant things like worries, anxieties, and regrets rather than happy things like their last vaction or a giant hot fudge sundae.  

If you're skeptical, pay attention to what you're thinking about when you're not entirely focused on making that sandwich or writing a TPR report or taking a shower.   Are they happy thoughts or something else?

It may sound like one of those crazy studies you read about all the time that brags to prove what would seem obvious - like exercise is good for your health, and drinking a lot of soda is not.

So what can we learn from the results of this study that we haven't been told a hundred times by Ram Dass ('Be Here Now'), Thich Nhat Hanh ('Life is available only in the present moment'), or Dalai Lama ('Focus on the present moment, and that moment alone.')?     Every moment holds a choice for us - to be in it or to be somewhere else.   This study seems to show when you're daydreaming, you are more often going to a place that's less enjoyable than the one you're in at that moment.   One obvious solution would be to try to pay attention to your thoughts and when a worry, anxiety, or regret come up, simply try to think of something more upbeat.

The other solution is to try to stay in the now.   Neither the past nor the future actually exist.   They are merely figments in our imagination.   Images of what has already happened to us, chock-full of self-critique and second-guessing, and stressful visions of future outcomes that may not even happen.   Neither is taking place right now.  The only thing that's real, the only thing happening to us at all, is what's happening in this instant.   Even the beginning of this paragraph is already a piece of your past.

Eckhart Tolle, the guy that looks like Benjamin Linus on Lost, in his book The Power of Now, describes it this way - "This moment is your life. – Your life is not between the moments of your birth and death.  Your life is between now and your next breath.  The present – the here and now – is all the life you ever get.  So live each moment in full, in kindness and peace, without fear and regret.  And do the best you can with what you have in this moment; because that is all you can ever expect of anyone, including yourself."

This moment is the only one that's real.

this one.

now this one.

Stay in it.   That's where the action is.   Or so say the scientists and mystics and Zen'ny ice cream makers.

Thanks for staying with me on that one.  I'll try to keep it lighter next time, must be a Daylight Savings thing.



Wednesday, October 03, 2012

9 years but who's counting.

Long time no speak.

As predicted back in July, I've allowed the time demands of owning and operating an ice cream shop get the best of me again. A number of blog ideas have come and gone since then, with a few even making it as far as one of my endless index card to-do lists. The chaos of the summer scoop season has finally waned, the new crew members are up to speed, and with the help of a dark and rainy day, I find myself with a little free time to crack open the trusty Ice Cream Diary.

I hope this entry finds you well. And that this summer brought you many days of 'fun in the sun'. We couldn't have asked for much better weather, that's for certain. That, along with continued great word of mouth, many BearFest 2012 visitors, and you, all helped make this another record-breaker for your favorite scoop shop. And for that you have my sincerest thanks. As I've said since day one, I've got one of the greatest jobs on the planet.  Sure, it's a ton of work, but it's way more than a ton of fun to be able to make a living providing happiness in the form of frozen homemade goodness.

Speaking of day one, a friend emailed me today to wish my baby (Mt. Tom's) a happy birthday. She turns 9 today. It's hard for me to wrap my head around that number. Time truly does fly when you're having fun. I remember when I first decided to do it, I said to myself, 'give it five years, and if it's not a success or I'm not having fun, I'll get out and go back to engineering. Or try something else.' Well, it seems I blew right by that five year checkpoint and am rapidly approaching a decade behind the apron.

That thought just makes me realize how fast time goes by and precious it really is.

Gretchen Rubin is dead-on when she says 'The days are long, but the years are short.'

During one of my Mondays off this summer, I took the folks on a hike to the top of Goat Peak on Mt.Tom.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and the view of our happy valley from atop the fire tower was radiant. 

On the way home, I suggested a stop at the dinosaur footprints on route 5. We walked down the short path from the parking lot on the side of the road to the long flat rock face where the footprints are captured. If you've never seen them, you shouldn't go with the expectation of crawling around Prius-sized craters in the shape of two-story high Tyrannosaurus Rex paws. No, these are much more modest prints. The more impressive part is their age. Their makers walked the Earth nearly 200 million years ago.


That's more than 2,000,000 lifetimes ago.

And yet, they still remain. A tiny slice of our planet's history preserved within a giant rock.   Pretty cool.

As we walked back to our car, we came across a muddy section of the trail. Within that mud were a number of human footprints in various shapes and sizes. To which my Mom commented casually, 'I wonder who will be looking at those footprints someday in the future?'

That thought made me feel both insignificant and hugely significant at the same time.

We're all given such a short time on this earth.  A millisecond in the grand scheme of things. The footprints we leave today may be here in a hundred million years, or they may wash away in the next rainstorm. Time inevitably moves forward into the future, a future formed from what we do in this very moment - the footsteps we take, the decisions we make, the door we hold open for the stranger behind us.

The blur that has been the past few months and nine years reminds me how fast time really does go by.

And how important it is to spend that precious time doing the things you want to do, are meant to do, with the people you want to do them with.

It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind of living, with our new-found abundance of mind-numbing distractions on the screens in our pocket, on our desk, and sitting in the corner of our living room. Life is not always easy, and sometimes what we want and what we have don't always match, but they are all the result of decisions we've made leading up to this moment. These first eight years of peddling ice cream and all things sweet have been a challenging, exciting, and immensely rewarding adventure for me, and I wouldn't change a thing if I could. I'd say that's a pretty good sign. I still don't know where it's all leading, and I've definitely got some work to do on that pesky work/life balance thing, but I'm still very much enjoying the ride.

And let's face it, it really is all about the journey.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Vacation Memories.

I hope you're enjoying your summer.   I try never to gloat about great ice cream weather, since this is New England, and the weather can change faster than you can say clam chowda.   Having disclaimed that, it's some great ice cream weather we've been having, seems like since March.   I know there's more to do on a sunny 90 degree day in July than eat ice cream, and I hope your summer has been full of all the fun things that go along with it, whether it be frolicking in your favorite secret swimming hole, golfing a quick nine before the sun gets too hot, or sparking up the bbq with friends.

This is about the time of the summer I start getting a little road weary and begin to fantasize about all the fun travel adventures I'll be having in January.   I won't go so far as to say I wish away the rest of the summer for a return to a little more balanced life; I long ago figured out that with ice cream'ing as in farming, you make hay until the sun stops shining.   I really can't complain.   My crew is awesome, and I've been able to sneak away from time to time to do all the fun things normal people do in the summertime.

I recently got a chance to spend an afternoon paddling around one of the lakes in the DAR in Goshen.  If you haven't been there, you really should.  It's peaceful, beautiful, and just a great place for a hike, a camp-out, or a swim.

It reminded me of a little lake I used to go to as a kid.   My parents would rent a log cabin on a small lake in New Hampshire.   I think it was called Horace Lake.   There couldn't have been more than a dozen of these authentic old log cabins.  Open to the roof inside.   Wreaked of smoke from the giant stone fireplace in the center of the living room.  Porch off the back that overlooked the lake.   Each cabin had its own dock with a row boat, by far the best part as far as my two brothers and I were concerned.   I couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 years old, but I remember ever detail of that woodsy slice of paradise like it was yesterday.

Each cabin was about hundred yards from another and none more than a five or ten minute walk to the sandy beach at the end of a narrow dirt road.   We were probably less than a few miles from the closest small New Hampshire town, but it felt like the end of the Earth.  In a good way.

Mom would pack all the food and band-aids we'd need for a whole week, so we never had to leave our Shangri-La until check-out the following Saturday.

We swam at our petite private beach all day, maintaining our strength with all the culinary delights a barbecue could offer.   'All' being being hot dogs and hamburgers of course.   Right around dusk Dad would take his three sons out on the rowboat to catch catfish.    It was one perfect day after another.

We'd always go with a few of my parents' friends and their kids, so there were more than enough players to field a couple of capture the flag teams or find a sparring partner for a spirited Parcheesi board games with if it rained.

Every couple of days the owner and chief caretaker, Mr. Russell, would come around to pick up the trash from every cabin.   He would always let us ride on the tailgate of his pickup truck as he made his way along the dirt road.   It was the coolest thing ever.    I'm sure it made our parents a little anxious, but our grins were enough to let us get away with it.

There was a giant wall of fish tanks and terrariums that rose out of the sand just at the entry to the beach.   The rusty sand beach was full of maroon Adirondack chairs, a dock with a diving board stood enticingly just beyond the American flag that waved confidently just above a big screen used to show movies and nature slide shows at night.

This was no Club Med.

It was better.  Way better.

I don't know how much my folks paid per week for it.   I think we only went there three summers or so before the owners got divorced and were forced to sell the land to developers.  Those cabins exist now only in our memories and a few photographs that look like Instagrams.    But I remember with great fondness the fun that was had during those weeks on the lake.  Of course, we all eventually grow up, and life gets much more complicated.   Who's got the time or the money for a vacation.

I hope you still do.

Your kids will remember.   This is one grown-up confirming that is true.   Without a doubt.  Nearly every detail.


Book it.

There's still time left.   Borrow a neighbor's camping gear.   Book a hotel at the Cape.   Rent a house.   Worst case, rent one for next summer.  Do it now.

Of course, I want you to stay around so you can come eat ice cream, but this is important.     And you'll only be gone for a week, so we'll just see you when you get back.

As always, thanks for listening.

And thanks for letting me relive a few sweet childhood vacation memories.   I enjoyed that.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pizza, Cool Kids, & the Meaning of Life.

Last week, the drawing above was delivered to me by an articulate young man named Dylan.   He found me in my ice cream den in the back of the shop and proceeded to explain he'd nominated me for a 'Kindness award'.   He told me all about a group he belongs to at Easthampton's Center-Pepin school called the Junior Leadership Club. Their assignment was to find someone they thought was 'kind' and invite them to a little pizza/cake party to be held during the next meeting at their school.   He went on to describe why he thought I was kind - that it was nice I gave away all that ice cream during last October's freak snowstorm, and that I brought enjoyment to Easthampton with my shop.   To say I was caught off guard and humbled by this confident young second-grader would be an understatement.   So when I turned over his drawing to discover on the other side an invitation to their Kindness Party, I knew where I was going to be that following Wednesday afternoon.

I really had no idea what to expect from a meeting of first and second graders, but I knew I couldn't disappoint my new friend Dylan.   The meeting started with the twenty or so members sitting in a circle on the floor of their cafeteria.   Sitting with them were parents and their nominated invitees.   After a brief overview of the club, Jane Lohmann, organizer/volunteer/parent extraordinaire, explained that the theme of the club this year was 'kindness'.   Throughout the school year, they played games and completed projects that all related to kindness.   This included demonstrating acts of kindness through skits and building a giant bulletin board to display the many acts of kindness they've observed..

Then it was time for each member of the club to introduce their guest and explain to the group why they thought this person was kind. Dylan repeated the same pitch he gave me in my kitchen the week before, without a hint of shyness.  A future leader I have no doubt.   Others described the kindness of their guests - 'because he's my best friend'. 'Because she's really nice to me.'   'Because he lets me play with his stuffed animals.'

Guests included grandmothers, teachers, mothers, fathers, and friends.

I felt honored to be in the company of such kindness.

After all the nominees were introduced, we played a game, 'what's your favorite ice cream flavor', (I've played that one once or twice), then ate pizza and cake, kindly donated by Antonio's and Big E's.    It was an hour well spent with the future leaders of our free world.

Of course, as I walked back to my shop, I couldn't help but let my mind wander, as it often does, to the depths of my deep thoughts on life and happiness.    Wouldn't it be nice if kindness and sharing and childlike wonder weren't things we so often outgrow?    I thought back to a list on finding our own meaning of life I'd recently surfed into. Who are you?  Why do you matter?  What's your life motto?  What's the key to happiness?


Could it really be that simple?

I thought about the simple criteria a second-grader uses to find kindness in others.   A nice teacher like Ms. MacKensie who listens with genuine empathy.   A friend who shares their stuffed animals.   A buddy who eats lunch with them every day.  A grandmother who reads to them.

Then I started to form a list of my own...   That employee who stays late so I don't always have to.   The friend who spent ten hours building a working volcano with her son for a school project.   The customer who chipped in a handful of change to the kid in front of them who didn't have enough to cover that bag of candy they'd meticulously assembled.   The many volunteers of BearFest 2012 who gave countless hours of time and hard work to make such a fun day happen and continue to happen all summer-long.   That guy Pat we all know who started the Easthampton Good News Page.  The friend who said goodbye to his simple artist life by adopting a young child.  The buddy who's been selflessly taking care of his estranged wife fighting an unwinnable battle with cancer.  Jane, along with partner Megan Harding, who volunteer their time every week to teach a small group of kids the meaning of kindness.

These are the acts that define us.

Maybe it is all about kindness.

I'm reminded of an old video store saying that used to be plastered to the side of those VHS tapes back in the 'old days'.

Be Kind.

Well, the 'rewind' part has gone the way of the dodo bird and the video store, but I think the rest is still some sound advice.

Be Kind.

Thanks for reading.   And thanks to Dylan for the nod, you are our future and a genuine source of my optimism for it.  

Monday, June 04, 2012

Notes to Self.


Well, it seems my blog posts are getting further and further apart.   I'm sure I'm not alone in this phenomenon.   Lack of uninterrupted writing time is usually the culprit for me, especially from April through October, but I do still think about blogging often, like the friend I've been meaning to call but for whom I just never seem to make the time.  More recently, though, I've found myself having an existential conversation in my head about blogging in general.   Nine years ago, when my little biz idea I named Mt. Tom's Homemade Ice Cream was hatched, the Ice Cream Diaries was the perfect way to capture and share the excitement of starting a new business.   It began as a hokey little mass email to friends and family.  I think blogs had been invented at that point, but it took a few 'hey, you should make this into a blog' comments for me to finally stick my toe into the blog pool.    

The ICD was my own little personal journal, albeit one I left on the bedside table open to the latest scribbled page, for anyone who might click on by.   And like any journal, as I wrote it, I imagined picking it up when I'm relaxing on my retirement wicker rocker and sipping an afternoon aperitif.   Those first years really were an adventure, and although I don't feel like I work any less hard now, I take satisfaction in having successfully parented my baby through its infancy, making adjustments and learning 'the ropes' while it grew to become a healthy toddler that might actually be able to provide me with enough income to live on, and perhaps even buy a house and a new turntable someday.


So I suppose part of the writer's block I suffer with this blog is my baby isn't doing the cute little new things it was when everything was new and cute.   Sure, there are plenty of cool and funny moments, and I do still love what I do.  I will concede now, my Dad was right when he told me how much work and time it would require.  Perhaps he even underestimated it a little, a prospect I wouldn't have even considered back at that breakfast table ten years ago when I first pitched him the idea of my ice cream shop to be named later.  

Now, my role as Chief Scooping Officer is more about trying to solve the work/life balance problem I have then scheming about new capers for original protagonist Root Beer Rudy and his pals.   No less interesting to me, but likely a bit less exciting to read about.    Which leads me back to the whole idea of blogs.

I believe people do still read blogs, and there are definitely a few I continue to visit on a regular basis.   But I'm guessing cyberspace is a veritable junkyard of abandoned blogs by now, most to be awakened only by a wayward googler looking for how to make a mojito or the best way to clean their cast iron fry pan.  I may be completely off base on this, but they just seem to be so 2010.   So what's next?   Tumblr?   Instagram?  Pinterest?   The return of hand-written notes passed around class?

My in-box is still full of comments to be moderated, but I'm pretty sure links to Russian bride sites and lengthy nonsensical responses in German aren't actually witty points on BearFest 2009 or the Arcadia Winter Solstice bonfire photos I've posted.    Statistics show people do still read my blog, and when I'm not putting pressure on myself to write a post, it's nice to know I have a little creative outlet, parked over at, patiently waiting for some food for thought, even if just a morsel.   I'm tempted to blame it all on Facebook, and it's hard to argue the intrusion of that social networking behemoth hasn't changed the way many of us interact on a daily basis, for better or for worse.  Let's face it, it just takes a minute to jot a few lines into the Facebook status box and hit enter.   Link it to your twitter account, and your message gets right into the pocket of hundreds, tens of hundreds, of ice cream loving friends and customers instantaneously.   Done.    Sometimes a picture alone is all you need to make a point.

So where am I going with this?   Am I stalling before I announce the closing of the trusty Ice Cream Diaries?

Do I have a point at all?

No, I'm not going to board up the ICD just yet.   I can't say when my next post will be - could be next week or sometime in August.   Perhaps I'll dabble with Tumblr or Pinterest or whatever the current flavor of the month is next week.   Any suggestions?   If I don't respond right away, it's probably because I'm still translating the forty-three other spams your comment is trapped under.

As always, thanks for reading and hope to see you soon.

By the way, this post was originally going to be a plug for my newest little coffee table book, but as is often the case with blog rants, you gotta go where the words take you.   In any event, this just out.  Perhaps a good topic for my next entry.  Look for that next week or sometime in August.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Well it seems another winter break (or January of Jim as I like to call it) has come and gone. This year it seems I didn't miss much in the way of winter weather like last year, but who can regret a solid month of leisure after eleven months of making, scooping, and doing all the other behind the scenes things that make Mt Tom's go. It was a great break, full of getaways, catching up with friends, cleaning out closets, and just chillin'. It's a month when I get to shut my brain off from the perpetual list of things to do that swim around my head during a typical day. Even if you don't own an ice cream shop, I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about.

So here I am, back at the helm, making ice cream and steering the ship like January never happened. Valentine's Day is in the rear view mirror, and I finally find myself with a little writing time. Of course, I should be preparing the books for my annual meeting with the tax man, but I just don't really feel like it. I'd much rather relax with a good strong espresso, the trusty Ice Cream Diaries, and a head fresh full of Hawaii memories..

I've been thinking about how to encapsulate my vacation in a blog entry. The photos do a pretty decent job at expressing how beautiful it is there, if you haven't already seen them on Facebook or my phone..

I think you get the general idea.

The part you don't know from the photos is I actually went to the big Island of Hawaii to visit relatives - Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jim. I think their story is much more compelling than my circumnavigating a block of lava the size of Connecticut.

I've always believed there are two kinds of people - the ones that talk about doing things and the ones that just do them.

My aunt and uncle, Joyce and Jim, are very much the latter.

A number of years ago, their daughter was living and working in Oahu. Joyce and Jim were then living in a small town in Connecticut. If you're a longtime ICD reader, you may remember Jim as the master carpenter who built the ice cream kitchen where I now spend most of my waking hours. From the first time they set foot on the tarmac of our fiftieth state, they were enthralled. During that first trip they decided Hawaii was the place they wanted to be, and no one was going to talk them out of it.

Just a few years after that first visit, they were back and looking to buy a small piece of paradise to call their own. They had owned a small parcel of land in North Truro on Cape Cod, and thanks to good market timing, were able to make a tidy profit to use toward purchasing land in Hawaii. The trick was they needed to find that land within forty-five days of the sale to avoid giving a good chunk of that profit back to Uncle Sam.

This is what they found.. 17 acres on the green side of the Big Island.

Turns out, that was the easy part.

With land like this, you don't just connect to town water and public electricity at the end of your property. They are truly 'off the grid'. A half mile road needed to be built. Water comes only from the sky, captured in catch basins from the roof, and stored in three thousand gallon tanks. Electricity, well, that is a luxury enjoyed only with the help of a giant generator from Michigan. This happens only at night for cooking and recharging phones,computers, and such. The house is very much a work-in-progress, as you can see, it's one step above camping, but it feels like a small sacrifice when the Pacific is your front yard..

Having gone through a life reinvention of my own a few years back, I have huge respect for anyone who is willing to send their life in a new direction. In case you're imagining two people with a ton of money buying a house in Hawaii and retiring there, this is definitely not the case. My aunt and uncle sold nearly everything, put what was left into a couple of cargo containers, and moved to a piece of land. Literally. In fact, they lived in their new neighbor's dome tent for the first year while they built the structure that would become their house slash furniture maker's workshop..

My uncle now works as a carpenter for hire on the island and has more work than he can handle. Turns out, a reliable and skilled carpenter is hard to find there. He works, makes some money, and then buys materials for the next stage of their own house-building project.
The house may never be truly done, but that's ok. Most of their cooking is done on a either a barbecue or a gas camping grill. Bedtime comes early when artificial light comes in the form of kerosene lanterns and flashlights, and you're up with the sun. Even what seems like a carefree life has its own forms of stress, and although the island life may not be for everyone, it's still very much an existence to be envied.

Joyce takes hula lessons once a week, tends to the growing orchard, and assumes many of the responsibilities of keeping herself, Jim, and their two dogs nourished and cared for. Jim builds stuff for people on most days, and when there's a break, he channels some sweat equity into making their compound a bit more comfortable. There's no smog or traffic or reality tv to watch. Their new hometown of Laupahoehoe has 581 residents, and when we went out to the one little restaurant in town, it was clear my aunt and uncle know just about all of them.

I got to get a brief taste of the life they created for themselves, and I must say it was as sweet as the lychee fruit I snacked on all week. My uncle Jim may not be quite as close to official retirement as he might have hoped when they got there, but it definitely helps that he's not swinging a hammer atop a ladder on Cape Cod in January as a bitter on-shore breeze chills him to the bone. Next on the agenda for them is solar power, and with that come more comforts to their home, not that they seem to miss much the ones they left in Connecticut.

It was a long journey to get there and be able to wake up to a great cup of local Kona coffee from their Lanai overlooking the ocean, but it was worth every second. I left relaxed, recharged, and inspired. They had a vision of the life they wanted, and they made it happen. Pretty great.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." - Henry David Thoreau

Kudos to Joyce and Jim for doing just that.