The truth about working from home

By August 25, 2015 Musings, The Daily Dish

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A lot of people assume all I do is hike, surf and eat.

Because that’s what I post on my Instagram.

If I posted what I really do all day, well, I’d have substantially fewer followers.

Like one-third of Americans, I work from home. This can be a difficult thing to explain to my retired neighbors, fellow dog-walkers and the FedEx delivery guy, who all seem to think I’m unemployed. (Read about how I started working from home here.)

Turns out, more and more Americans — about 3 million at last count — don’t set foot in a conventional office at all anymore — and more than half say they’re happier that way.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, the typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate — male or female — who earns about $58,000 a year. But there are others who are self-employed entrepreneurs running small businesses or freelancer and consultants who work with various companies, not just one.

There are definite perks to working from home.

You don’t have to adhere to a set schedule. (I did that for years as a journalism instructor.) You don’t have to commute. You never have to wear dress pants or heels unless you want to (or if you’re meeting a client). You aren’t distracted by co-workers or ringing phones or irate customers.

But working from home isn’t for everyone.

For every perk, there’s a downside.

Like the lack of human interaction. (Talking to three dogs all day just doesn’t cut it.) Or the plethora of distractions, from dirty laundry to stacks of unread magazines to marathons of “The Real Housewives of New York City”.

You’re always tempted by impromptu lunch dates and perfect surf and a warm bed on a chilly morning.

And while a lack of schedule sounds great, it often means you work around the clock, never taking breaks, working after dinner and on weekends. You’re constantly checking your email and text messages. And you realize that saying no to a job means saying no to a paycheck, and you’re more likely to take on more work than you would normally do at a regular 9-to-5 job.

You also stop doing productive things that don’t garner paychecks. For example, if I were working at a salaried desk job, I could probably browse though a magazine that was relevant to my work. I would be getting paid. But now, working for myself, I can’t seem to carve out that kind of time. I just can’t justify it.

And unless you’re telecommuting for a company, you’re responsible for everything. The Internet goes down? There’s no tech support to help. If you need copier paper — or just a copier! — or staples or printer ink, you have to drive down to Office Depot and buy it all yourself. There’s no cabinet magically restocked with office supplies or an entire department devoted to helping you with your IT needs. It’s just you.

And then there’s the complete degradation of my fashion and social skills. I literally wear four outfits in rotation — and they’re not exactly appropriate for even grocery shopping (though, I confess, I’ve been in public dressed like this).

So what’s the verdict?

If you’re focused and organized, working from home is awesome. I love that I can make dentist appointments and get pedicures during the day, if I can swing it. And I don’t have to put in vacation requests and worry if I’m going to get my first choice of dates. I can wash a load of laundry while waiting for a phone call and eat leftovers for lunch.

I just need to hide the remote control every once in a while.

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#40trails: Upgrades starting on the Alaka‘i Swamp Trail

By August 18, 2015 #40trails

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Back in March my husband took me on a hiking weekend in Kōkeʻe on Kaua‘i for my 40th birthday.

And on that trip I discovered what would become one of my all-time favorite hikes ever: Alaka‘i Swamp Trail.

This 7-mile trail through along the canyon rim, through native forests, and across an eerie bog was the highlight of our stay on Kaua‘i — and, in my opinion, the best hike in the 4,345-acre state park.

A good portion of the trail — including the Pihea Summit Trail — is a boardwalk made of redwood outfitted with chicken wire to prevent hikers from slipping as much. The original boardwalk was installed nearly 20 years ago, and there are sections of the pathway that have been damaged or completely gone.

The boardwalk through the Alaka‘i Swamp.

The boardwalk through the Alaka‘i Swamp.

Sections of the boardwalk have been damaged or destroyed over the last 20 years and will be getting much-needed repairs next month.

Sections of the boardwalk have been damaged or destroyed over the last 20 years and will be getting much-needed repairs next month.

This year the Division of Forestry and Wildlife received $335,000 to repair the boardwalk to preserve this unique ecosystem, where nearly 100 percent of the plants and trees are native. Work to repair the boardwalk starts in September.

According to Dan Kawika Smith, Nā Ala Hele specialist with the state, these dilapidated sections will be replaced by recycled plastic lumber and a variety of different slip-resistent applications.

He said the boardwalk, which was completed in 1998, has helped keep hikers on the trail. That has meant fewer rescues and less impact on this unique bog environment.

So expect upgrades to the boardwalk on your next visit to Kōkeʻe!

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It’s not easy being a farmer

By August 10, 2015 Musings, The Daily Dish

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Sure, it sounds nice to own a farm.

It conjures up those romantic images of rolling hills and vast, open spaces, with grazing cattle and an abundance of vegetables all glimmering in fairy dust and rainbows.

If it’s one thing I’ve learned being a part of this Agricultural Leadership Program, it’s this: Farming is tough work.

That was never more apparent than visiting the GoFarm Hawai‘i site in Waimānalo this weekend.

GoFarm Hawai‘i is a program started in 2014 by the University of Hawai‘i that trains students in the business of farming. It offers prospective farmers the chance to realize if they have what it takes to be commercial food producers.

It starts with an Ag Curious class, which introduces would-be farmers to the industry. From there, participants move into Ag Exposure, which involves touring and working on commercial farms. This weeds out — no pun intended — the people who didn’t realize how laborious the work can be.

Next, the participants go through a selection process to be part of the official Ag School, a four-month program at several different community colleges that embodies science, business and actual farm experience. Each student is responsible for his own 1,000-square-foot plot.

“They learn that they live and die by their own efforts in the field,” says Steven Chiang, director of UH’s Agribusiness Incubator (below).

And after that, students can move on to Ag Pro, a six-month program where participants work a 5,000-square-foot plot, spending at least 25 hours a week on their little farms, with a goal of selling more than $800 in produce.

“At this point,” Chiang says, “we force them to actually do business.”

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But it’s not easy.

In fact, most students don’t get past the Ag Curious phase, realizing that the hard work and long hours needed to be successful as a farmer isn’t something they’re interested in.

And the ones who do continue on are surprised by the science involved, the tediousness of book-keeping, and the frustrations of marketing and selling their products.

There’s just so much involved in farming.

Not only are you concerned about just growing your crops — and that involves pest control, weeding, weather — but you’re also running a small business. So there’s accounting, invoicing, personnel (if you’re lucky enough to hire people), marketing, processing, packaging — and everything else that comes with any business operation.

It’s a lot to do, especially when you’ve bought into the lifestyle of farming and not the business of it.

Jacob Holcomb, a farmer who’s currently in the program, appreciates the hands-on experience he’s getting through the program. He grew a variety of crops to supply a CSA.

“There’s no way to get this kind of experience in that short amount of time with this kind of support,” he says.

Holcomb started the program striving to be organic, not using any pesticides. But that quickly changed when his crops started dying.

“There’s extremes on both ends,” he says. “I don’t want to make something that’s poisonous to my customers, but man, my plants were dying. There’s a healthy middle ground where I can make people happy and healthy.”

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#40trails No. 12: Ka‘ala in Wai‘anae

By August 3, 2015 #40trails

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HIKE: Ka‘ala, Wai‘anae, O‘ahu
WHEN: July 2015
LENGTH: 8 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Difficult, strenuous
FEATURES: Traverses through valleys and along ridges, native forest with native birds, bog environment at the top, views of Wai‘anae and western coastline, views of Waialua and the North Shore, some bouldering, steep sections with ropes

When I was a kid, maybe around 8, I learned that the flat-top mountain I’d see in the distance while our family drove to Pearlridge or Makakilo to visit my cousins was actual the tallest peak on O‘ahu.

It was called Mount Ka‘ala, and it rose 4,026 feet above sea level.

And I wanted to climb it.

It’s been on my to-hike list since then — that’s more than 30 years! — and I’ve never even been close to climbing it.

Once, a group of friends talked about it, but nothing came of it. Another time, my husband tried to organize a hike to the summit, but we opted to do another trail instead.

Lucky for me, third time’s a charm.

It turned out that our plans to hike into Waimanu Valley on the Big Island this weekend had to be canceled due to inclement weather approaching. We cancelled our flights — don’t worry, we’ll find a reason to rebook soon! — and decided to stay on O‘ahu, where it would be drier.

So in place of hiking into Waimanu, my husband decided we would do the hardest hike he could think of: Mount Ka‘ala.

I was partly excited, partly nervous. Sure, I’ve been hiking all year — all of my life, in fact — but I wasn’t doing anything near the training I figured was needed for such a steep, uphill climb to the tallest peak on O‘ahu.

“Don’t worry,” my husband kept telling me. “You’ll be fine.”

Oh, I wasn’t so sure. It’s not like my weekly treks to the Makapu‘u Lighthouse were enough to get me to the top of Ka‘ala.

Still, this was my chance — and it might not come around again anytime soon.

So we packed up the night before with plans to get up early and hit the trail before anyone else.

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The start of the trail.

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Though paved, the first mile is tougher than you’d think. The end (the summit) is in sight — and in the clouds.

We got up at 5 a.m. and left the house about 20 minutes later. It’s a haul from town to Wai‘anae on O‘ahu’s western coastline and this area gets brutally hot by mid-morning, so we wanted to get an early start.

I brought 3 liters of water, a couple of granola bars, a Ziploc of honey roasted peanuts, a multitool and Aleve. Just the essentials!

As you get into Wai‘anae town, you turn right onto Wai‘anae Valley Road and follow it pretty much to the end, staying to the left at the turnabout. You’ll come to the gate above (top photo) with a dirt lot to the left. Park here, but don’t keep any valuables in your vehicle.

There’s a hunter check-in that, apparently, hikers sign, too. We didn’t bother.

So to get familiarized, we are basically at 450 feet elevation. That means we’d have to climb around 3,500 feet straight up to the summit. No switchbacks, either. Just uphill.

And it starts right at this gate.

This will be the longest half-hour walk of your life.

It felt like the road wasn’t going to end. It’s about a mile or so on this hot, paved road that’s got a brutally unforgiving incline to it. You’ll want to give up before you even start. Don’t. The rest of the trail, while challenging, will be manageable.

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You’ll see this water tank. Keep walking.

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You’ll pass coffee and kukui (candlenut) trees and silk oaks. Keep walking.

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Here’s the end of the road — but the beginning of the hike.

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On the left will be a shelter. Stay right.

The pavement ends at Wai‘anae Well II (above), where the actual trailhead starts. You’ll walk through more coffee and macadamia nut trees before you reach a clearing with a shelter. This is already about 1,600 feet above sea level, so much of the climb is done on paved ground. The rest of it, though, will be a straight shot to the summit. Your calves will be burning.

You have options here. You can continue up the valley to Three Poles, at 2,800 feet, and turn around. Or you can go right and continue the trail toward Ka‘ala, going left at a junction that takes you meandering through the valley via Kūmaipō, an ancient Hawaiian trail. You’ll ascend to about 2,200 feet. Or you can summit Kawiwi from here by veering to the left.

I was more interested in Ka‘ala and checking out the bog environment at the summit. (My husband, who has climbed Ka‘ala three times, told me about the strange bog on the top, much like the one we walked through along the Alaka‘i Swamp Trail on Kaua‘i.)

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Follow the trail markers. There are a lot of them.

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Walking through a grove of strawberry guava trees.

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This area has several terraces once used for growing taro. And you can tell by all the ti plants there must have been a community here at one time.

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The trail goes through a gully to a partially open ridge. It’s steeper than it looks.

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We strapped on these Hike Spikes Hawai‘i minispikes ($50), perfect for hikes like this. They grip where you want grip and provide the kind of traction you need to make it through muddy, slippery or steep terrain.

The basic idea is that you’re going up and to the right. And it’s a relentless up, too. You’ll walk through a broad gully and through groves of strawberry guava trees and ti plants and wonder when you’ll hit the ridge. You will — it just takes some time.

We used minispikes from Hike Spikes Hawai‘i — you can find them at McCully Bicycle & Sporting Goods, Rainbow’s End Snack Shop at Mānoa Falls and Uyeda Shoe Store — to get through this steeper, slipperier terrain. That grip really helped.

We hiked along this valley floor — uphill, don’t forget — for about an hour before we emerged onto a ridge with views of Wai‘anae.

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Here, we could see native koa and ‘ōhiʻa trees and caught glimpses of ‘elepai‘o and ‘apapane.

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This is just one of several sections that require ropes to get up.

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The trade-off, though, is this: stunning panoramic views of the West Side.

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When you get to the ridgeline, you’ll see this predator fence. Follow it toward the summit.

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You’ll come to this dry, open area — a great place to rest before the rest of the ascent. And you’ll need the breather!

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A look back at the mountain range behind us.

Once you get on the ridgeline, the trail becomes a lot more rugged and challenging. Mostly because you can see your goal — and it’s not getting any closer.

The trail narrows a bit, with steep sections that require ropes or cables. Test them before you rely on them. And watch your footing and balance. (This is especially important on the way down.) And the blackberry bushes along the trail will scratch up your legs and arms, so be careful about that, too. (We wore pants and gloves.)

But there’s also a lot to see, so don’t just focus on the hard trail in front of you. You can see native shrubs like ‘a‘ali‘i and maile, ‘ōhiʻa ʻāhihi, and beautiful koa and sandalwood trees. And there’s a lot of olomea here, too, with its shiny leaves with serrated edges where you might find an endangered land snail. (We didn’t see any.)

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Looking back at one of the most difficult sections of the hike.

There’s this one section, though, that almost got the best of me.

It’s on the last big push to the summit. This group of boulders, must’ve been at least 15 feet high, with hardly any footings. I just couldn’t get my legs up high enough. I tried twice and failed. I had to step away, feeling very defeated.

Luckily, we heard chattering behind us. A group of four hikers were coming up on us — playing loud music from an iPhone, which was super annoying — so we waited for them to pass.

Though I wasn’t too thrilled with having to hear urban hip-hop in a beautiful and natural setting, with chirping birds and the fluttering of ‘olapa leaves, I was happy to watch how the four negotiated this large boulder section.

It wasn’t easy, but with the help of my husband, who literally served as a foot hole for me at one point, I made it up this section, scarred shins and all.

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Entering the Ka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, marked by this sign.

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Those ‘olapa trees, their leaves fluttering in the wind.

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The start of the boardwalk through the bog.

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Walking through the bog at the summit — my favorite part of the hike.

In about three hours, we were at the summit, walking along a boardwalk through this strange, wet bog world with koli‘i (an unusual native Lobelia), pūʻahanui (a relative of the hydrangea) and other native plants. It’s such a gorgeous place, so tranquil and intimate.

It’s really the best part of the hike.

The end — I hate to say this — is a bit anticlimactic.

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When you emerge from the bog, you’ll be greeted with this: an FAA radar installation that just looks so out-of-place here.

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A closer look at the station.

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You’re not supposed to walk around the perimeter of the fence, but we did — and a lot of hikers do — to get views of the North Shore.

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From here, you can see Wahiawā, Waialua, Haleʻiwa and Mokulēʻia.

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We ate beef jerky and honey roasted peanuts right on that bench — facing the bog, of course!

It was a pleasure walking through the bog again, as we headed back down the trail.

But just because you’re doing downhill doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The trail is just as challenging going down as it is going up.

And the worse part? That one mile of pavement that leads to the car in the oppressive afternoon sun.

Brutal.

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I thought this last part would be easy. Not so much. It was just as hard going down this hill as it was going up!

VERDICT: It’s definitely a must-do on any hikers’ list. The views of the western coastline of O‘ahu are unbeatable — though it comes at a painful price. The walk through the bog — this is the only place on the island that has this type of environment — is the real payoff. I was surprised by how crowded the trail was — we ran into about two dozen people, mostly Mainlanders — despite the difficulty. Go early; the heat is killer. And bring gloves. Oh, bring gloves.

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Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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#CatTravels: My favorite Neighbor Island omiyage

By July 30, 2015 #CatTravels, Food

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Omiyage.

It’s a custom I grew up with.

While it’s rooted in Japanese culture — omiyage are souvenirs you bring back home from a trip that you give to others — just about everyone in Hawai‘i does this.

And every time I travel to a Neighbor Island — namely, Maui, Kaua‘i and the Big Island — I’m always thinking of unique gift items to bring back home.

And it’s not easy.

So here are my go-to omiyage from Maui, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island, in no particular order.

KONA

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Portuguese sweet bread from the Kona Historical Society (81-6551 Māmalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, 808-323-3222). These loaves are made every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the pasture below the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum. In fact, not only can you buy them for $8 each, you can make them, too, learning how to roll the dough and bake it in a traditional large wood-fired stone oven. Even more personal!

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Frozen fruit pies, Holy’s Bakery (Holy Bakery Road, Kapa‘au, 808-889-6865). Sure, you can buy the frozen pies from Holy’s Bakery (808) 889-6865) in Kapa‘au at KTA Super Stores or even in certain grocery stores on O‘ahu. But it’s nothing compared to actually going to the bakery on Holy Bakery Road, behind the Nambu Building off Akoni Pule Highway. And maybe you can get different flavors or a tub of chocolate chip cookies.

HILO

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Anything made from pohā berries from the Hilo Farmer’s Market (Kamehameha Ave. and Mamo Street, Hilo, 808-933-1000). Anything, really, at this farmer’s market, held daily (though the big ones are on Wednesdays and Saturdays), is worth bringing home. But I especially love the value-added products using pohā (cape gooseberry) that are grown on the Big Island.

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Candy-filled mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen (274 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, 808-961-4766). While most people get the shop’s famed strawberry mochi — a fresh whole strawberry inside a hand-shaped mound of soft mochi with sweet azuki beans — for obvious reasons, I much preferred the assorted candy-filled mochi that’s usually always available in the shop or at certain KTA Super Stores. The colors don’t matter, either. You might find a piece of caramel or chocolate inside — and that’s half the fun!

MAUI

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Kula strawberry jam from Kula Country Farms (375 Koheo Road, Kula, 808-878-8381). This fourth-generation farm is located on the slopes of Haleakalā, and its charming roadside farm stand boasts a variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables — and a nice selection of value-added items including these jams, made from strawberries grown in Kula. But be warned: jams — even honey and salsa — should be put into checked luggage and not carry-on bags. Sometimes they don’t make it past the TSA agents.

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Guri guri from Tasaka Guri Guri Shop (Maui Mall, 70 E. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului, 808-871-4513). There’s only two flavors here — strawberry and pineapple — so you won’t have to stress out about that. I honestly don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want this creamy Maui speciality, a cross between sherbet and ice cream. Take-out containers are available in 2-quart sizes at $11 each, frozen solid so you can take it back with you. But like the jams and honeys, you may want to check this in; some people have had problems carrying this on board.

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Manju from Sam Sato (1750 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, 808-244-7124). The good thing about grabbing the homemade manju from Sam Sato, a popular old-fashioned restaurant in Wailuku known for its dry mien dish, is that you usually don’t have to wait in line. These traditional Japanese baked pastries filled with sweetened beans are in a display case right in the front of the restaurant. And if manju isn’t your thing, the restaurant also sells turnovers filled with apple, peach, blueberries, coconut and pineapple.

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Peanut butter and milk chocolate mochi from Maui Specialty Chocolates (180 E. Wakea Ave, Kahului, 808-871-1222). OK, maybe this is just my personal favorite thing, but the PB and chocolate-filled mochi from this specialty shop is melt-in-your-mouth perfection. A five-piece box is $6, eight pieces are $9.60, and a dozen is $14.40. Don’t forget to grab something for yourself, too.

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The Rosé from MauiWine (14815 Pi‘ilani Highway, Kula, 808-878-6058). I love rosé wines, and the 2014 vint from MauiWine in ‘Ulupalakua is particularly wonderful. It’s fresh, it’s perky, it’s bright, it’s got strawberry and Meyer lemon notes. It makes me immediately feel like I’m on vacation. What better gift to give than that!

KAUA‘I

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Taro and sweet potato chips from Taro Ko Farm Chips & Factory (3940 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe, 808-335-5586). I almost hate giving away this small shop in the little plantation town of Hanapepe — but I do want Taro Ko to stick around. On every trip to Kaua‘i — no matter where I’m staying — I make a stop here to grab bags — yes, plural — of taro and sweet potato chips. The best anywhere. Period. Tell Dale I sent you.

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Liliko‘i chiffon pie from Hamura Saimin Stand (2956 Kress St., LĪhuʻe, 808-245-3271). Though the prestigious James Beard Foundation recognized this old-school saimin stand as one of the more venerable and beloved of eateries for its housemade noodles and secret-recipe broth as an American classic, it didn’t take into consideration its liliko‘i chiffon pie. And most people don’t know that you can actually buy one of these frozen to take home. And let me tell you, it’s just as good the next day.

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