Freelance Writing & Kukui Nut Trees

For lunch today, I had a picnic with my husband and little girl in the shade of our big old kukui nut tree. We brought along my daughter’s Bob (learning to read) books, and decided we will call it “The Reading Tree” and sit there sometimes to practice reading. She loved that.

After we ate and read and played some little kid horseshoes, I lay back on the green- and blue-striped picnic blanket and watched a white, cottony cloud barrel across the perfect blue sky. After awhile, my daughter and husband wandered off and I actually napped briefly. When I woke up, it was to the feeling of warm sun on my face when the kukui leaves momentarily parted. It was excellent.

It was a work day.

Oh, the freelance life is definitely not all sitting around in pajamas and watching Oprah, let me tell you. 

If you’re good at what you do, and busy, it’s really an awful lot of work. I can remember, years ago when I started freelancing, being surprised at how hard I was working. (Maybe I had been expecting pajamas and Oprah.)

It is, of course, a real business with real work that needs to get done, well and on time. In addition to the interviewing, writing and revising, there’s always marketing that needs to be done, to keep the work coming in, and then invoicing and estimated taxes and lot of other paperwork, and keeping up with supplies, because nobody’s filling the supply cabinet but you. And a whole lot more.

Generally I keep regular work hours, which is what works best for me. I don’t sleep in on a work day (unless I’m sick, and then the flexibility is lovely), and I don’t chat on the phone during work hours. There is work to be done.

Once in awhile my regular work hours just aren’t enough, and there have certainly been times when I’ve worked into the wee hours, or pried myself out of bed much, much earlier than my body appreciates to squeeze in a couple extra hours.

But then again. Then again — occasionally I take the time to do something like have a lovely, relaxing picnic with my family in the middle of the day.

And then I am reminded of how much I appreciate the freelance lifestyle. The work is interesting, I have total control over how my career progresses, and I can sometimes take a little time off to do what’s important to me and my family — like picnicking and then napping under a kukui nut tree. I can’t imagine living any other way.

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Hamakua Springs: The Blog

One of my jobs these days is to blog for Hamakua Springs Country Farms, a 600-acre, progressive hydroponic farm here on the Big Island.

We started that blog more than two years ago. That’s when the farm’s owner, Richard Ha, hired me to create a website, and then a blog, for Hamakua Springs. My husband Macario, a photographer, did all that website’s photography, and that’s how he and I got to know Richard and June.

The blog is called “Ha Ha Ha!,” which is meant to represent the three generations of the Ha family who farm there. We have some fun with the blog while also tackling some big topics.

Richard and I have posted to his blog three times a week for more than two years now, and it is one of my absolute favorite gigs. He is a gem to work with. He is an amazing person who is using his very successful business not merely to make as much money as possible, but to do good for his community. That sentence may sound trite, but know that I don’t at all write it lightly.

Here is just one recent example. There are many, many others.

It is such a rare pleasure to work with Richard Ha. He is truly a man of character and he radiates ethics in everything he does. I know he doesn’t realize how much I’ve learned from him — about business, about community and relationships, about life. He is one of the best people I have ever met and I am honored to be a part of his trusted team.

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The “Intended Effort” Phenomenon

One of the aims of this blog, beyond writing about what I love, is to market my writing business.

Now, what I’m about to tell you has happened before, and it’s happening again right now. I find it so interesting.

The minute I decided to start this blog — but before I’d actually done anything about it — my phone started ringing, much more than usual, with offers of work. 

My phone does regularly ring (or, perhaps more accurately, the email “bings”). I do have steady work. 

But it’s almost funny to me how everytime I intend to ramp it up a bit, but haven’t yet, the heavens open and the work falls on my head in amazing amounts. I can’t explain the timing, except as some sort of “intended effort karma.” Which I just made up. I think.

For instance, this time it began the day I started working on this new blog, but before I posted anything. RING! BING! DING!

Now it’s been three or four days later and I’m still smiling to myself each time I answer the phone or open a new email to find someone offering me work.

(Which is not to discourage you from being in touch should you need a writer.)

It’s a phenomenon. Does anybody else recognize it? If it doesn’t already have a name, it should. What shall we call it?

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Hilo Rated a “Dream Town”

It’s official, though we here in Hilo already knew it. 

Hilo is one of the country’s “Dream Towns.”

Bizjournals.com just reviewed 140 “micropolitan areas” in the country (From Bizjournals.com: “A micro consists of a central community with 10,000 to 50,000 residents, along with the surrounding countryside. It is, in effect, a small-scale version of a metropolitan area.”)

Hilo came in #41.

This really isn’t a surprise to most of us who live here. It truly is a wonderful place to live. The town is fronted by a beautiful crescent bay lined with coconut trees. Unlikely as it sounds, the bayfront is void of development (because of the area’s propensity toward tsunami–which is, perhaps, one of the only non-dreamy aspects) and is, instead, parkland. It is lovely.

Buildings in downtown Hilo are all low-to-the-ground, nothing more than two stories, and many were constructed in the early 1900s and so there is interesting architecture everywhere. I wrote a book called Exploring Historic Hilo if you’d like to read more about the town’s history, and see some terrific old photos.

There are good restaurants, interesting shops and one of those terrific old movie theaters, the Palace Theatre, that shows art house movies. The farmer’s market at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street sells amazing tropical flowers and even more amazing tropical fruits (think lychee, rambutan, papaya, mango, durian, longan and dragonfruit, just off the top of my head).

The air smells of salt and flowers and the pace is slower here, and that suits us just fine. It’s a casual, laidback lifestyle with lots of friendly people. If you see someone walking around in a suit and tie, they’re certainly here on business from somewhere else.

Bizjournals.com used different categories than mine to come to its conclusions. It used U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze 20 statistical categories — such as population growth, commute times, median household income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, homeownership rate, and others — to calculate each town’s “quality of life” score and rank the cities. 

In 2006, Hilo’s “micropolitan area” (Hawai‘i County) had a population of about 171,000, the average work commute took 25 minutes and residents had a median household income of $55,390.

Here are the country’s top 10 “dream towns,” but I’m happy here in #41. I’m not going anywhere.

  1. Bozeman, Montana
  2. Jackson, Wyoming
  3. Durango, Colorado
  4. Easton, Maryland
  5. Laramie, Wyoming
  6. Edwards, Colorado
  7. Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
  8. Pierre, South Dakota
  9. Silverthorne, Colorado
  10. Los Alamos, New Mexico
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Do You Use Google Alerts?

 

Google Alerts

I have a Google alert set up, which is how I knew that the L.A. Times just published an article on Mauna Kea, and that it mentions the book I co-authored with David Byrne (the one who is not of the Talking Heads).

Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Mauna Kea — One of the best books on Mauna Kea, written by Onizuka Visitor Information Station manager David Byrne and Big Island writer Leslie Lang, is Mauna Kea: A Guide to Hawaii’s Sacred Mountain, published by Watermark Publishing (tel. 866/900-BOOK; www.bookshawaii.net). The book has everything from the cultural history of the sacred mountain to her natural history, even great insights on the scientific value of the dormant volcano. Plus, the authors give you valuable tips on how to make the most of your visit to truly one of the wonders of the world.

Do you use Google alerts? They can be an incredible tool.

When I’m researching something to write about, I’ll set up a Google alert for awhile on that topic. It is very handy, and efficient, to receive an email with just about everything that’s recently been written on a topic.

I also have a handful of others set up — on my name (in quotation marks), and on each of my book titles. I like to know where these phrases pop up around the web. And I have a couple alerts set up for topics I like to follow.

It takes only seconds to set up a Google Alert. Try it!

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Health Insurance for Hawaii’s Self-Employed

My eyes almost fell out of my head when I read a June 27, 2008 article in Pacific Business News with the headline: For Solo Operators, Insurance Deals Grow.

It was about medical insurance — which, of course, is tricky business when you are self-employed.

From the Pacific Business News article by Linda Chiem: 

Hawaii’s major health insurers, pushed by health-care advocates and solo business owners, are expected to launch a pilot program that would give sole proprietors and the self-employed the chance to buy health insurance coverage at a group rate traditionally offered to small businesses and employers.

The effort was made possible by a new law, which takes effect July 1, that is seen by its supporters as a first step in reaching Hawaii residents who are working but cannot afford insurance.

Hawaii is the only state that requires employers to offer health insurance to all full-time employees.

But sole proprietors straddle the line between employer and employee, which leaves them with limited options when it comes to buying health insurance at an affordable rate.

This is absolutely amazing news to me, yet other than the Pacific Business News article I’ve heard nothing about it. It’s shockingly progressive! Humane! Business-friendly!

Some self-employed people, of course, take on a second job primarily for the health insurance benefits. Others have a more “traditionally-employed” spouse who has health insurance at his/her job. 

The rest of us struggle to find medical insurance at all if we have just about any pre-existing health condition. And if we do find coverage, the amount we pay would make your socks crinkle and fall right off. 

Or we just go without medical insurance. Not me; I’ve held a six-figure hospital bill in my hand before (it wasn’t mine). But some people — who, I guess, haven’t — just take their chances.

I’ll look into this some more; maybe I can wheedle down the stunning amount of money we pay for health insurance each month. I’ll let you know what I learn.

Or if anybody out there has more information on this, please leave a comment.

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Hilo Travel Guide, That’s Me!

My mom, who lives in California, is spending a month up at Volcano, housesitting for a friend. She is loving the cool, crisp weather and the absolutely beautiful rainforest location.

a peacock in Volcano
We saw a peacock in the road when we drove up to Volcano the other day!

This week she has a friend visiting her and they are having fun touring the Big Island.

And because my mom has never lived here (it’s my father’s family that’s from here), she’s been calling me and asking for ideas. I am enjoying thinking about fun things for them to do.

Last night the question was, “Where should we go to eat some good seafood?” 

I suggested the Seaside Restaurant in Hilo’s Keaukaha area. The casual, easygoing restaurant has enormous fishponds and raises its own fish. Before or after you eat (or during if you have a young one who gets a little too restless; I speak from experience) you can wander their boardwalks and look at the fish in the beautiful big ponds.

The best time to arrive is at dusk. Ask to sit “outside,” which, it finally occurred to me once, is actually inside. It’s sort of an enclosed patio, I think. Perhaps it was once outside. Anyway, they’ll know what you mean and seat you by the windows where you can see out.

There is a tree growing in the middle of the vast fishponds, and at dusk a rather enormous number of white egrets land on it. They flutter around the tree, looking for fish. It’s quite a sight to see all that shocking white out there on an unlikely tree in the middle of the water. 

And the fish is very good. I usually order something furikake-encrusted.

When I suggested the Seaside and told my mom how to get there, after having dispensed some other touring ideas in the last couple days, she joked, “You should be a travel guide!” And I thought about how much fun it is to share all the great places we enjoy visiting here on the Big Island. 

In the last couple days they’ve gone up to Waimea and toured the historic homes there at Parker Ranch, brought us malasadas from Tex Drive In in Honoka‘a, and checked out beautiful Akaka Falls, inspiration for the beautiful song of the same name. Here is someone named Rachel singing that classic song. I just pulled the video off YouTube on a whim — but what an incredible voice! Rachel, you’re amazing!

Coming soon on our Hawai‘i travel agenda: throwing the prawn traps into our stream, to be followed by a delicious, and very fresh, prawn dinner.

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Let Me Introduce Myself

Here in Hawai’i, we introduce ourselves when we meet by telling who our family is and where we’re from; we put ourselves into a context, and try to establish some sort of a connection to each other. It’s traditional among Hawaiians. So let me tell you who I am.

My name is Leslie Lang and I am a freelance writer living near Hilo, Hawai’i. That’s on what we call the Big Island of Hawai’i, on the east (windward; rainier; lush) side of the island.

My father’s family is from this island. Some go back to the beginning, when Polynesians first landed on this island and eventually evolved into Hawaiians, and others were English and Chinese.

My mother’s English/Irish family is from West Virginia, deep in the most beautiful hills where the trees turn brilliant reds and oranges and yellows in the fall, and where they make really good cornbread in a skillet in the oven. I do that too.

It’s a pretty diverse genealogical background, huh? I love it all.

My family lives in my grandmother’s wonderful old rambly home in the country. It’s a good life.

I have a lot of stories to tell and some other things to say, and I am a writer, and so, voila! A blog.

I’ll post here about:

  • Freelance writing (Who, what, where, how and probably even why)
  • Being self-employed (Coming soon: Is it riskier, in this or any economy, than working full-time for one employer? Or much, much safer?)
  • Living in Hawai’i (It’s a pretty great place to live)
  • Historic Hilo town (I wrote a book recently about beautiful Hilo and its history)
  • and, I’m sure, how all these subjects intersect in my life

Whether you are looking for a writer, are yourself self-employed as a writer (or want to be) and are interested in how others do it, or are interested in Hilo or Hawai‘i in general, I hope you’ll check back! Or even subscribe to my feed. I’ll try to keep it interesting. And please, always feel free to continue the conversation by leaving a comment.

You can also always contact me at leslie@leslielang.com.

Aloha,

Leslie

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