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.