A Kona View: a Labor of Love from the Slopes of a Volcano

When we booked the VRBO on the Big Island of Hawaii back in the summer, I guess I didn’t realize I was signing up for an eco-tourism experience. We were taken in by the images of the infinity pool overlooking the Pacific in the distance, the dramatic sunsets and the spacious accommodations. But our getaway was about more than views and getting some sun; during our stay we learned a lot about Hawaii’s history and its Kona coffee culture.

Kona View Estate offers a 2 bedroom, 2 bath Vista Suite for four people that has a well-appointed kitchen, comfortable sitting area and tremendous views of Kailua Kona down 1,500 feet below. They also have a 1 bedroom cottage adjacent to the suite for rent as well. The owners live in the semi-connected home next door. Rather than finding their presence to be intrusive, it had its benefits!

Typically, when we visit Hawaii, I love being next to the ocean to listen to the crashing waves lulling me to sleep. I think that is part of the feeling of a tropical getaway. But I have to say, I think staying “up-country” on the steep volcanic slopes of Hualalai was an even better experience.

We were surrounded by a two-acre Kona coffee farm, the random rooster crowing in the distance, colorful small birds and butterflies speckled our views of the Pacific coastline down below, and mountain breezes gently swept the deck cooling us from the warm island sun. Every night, the sunsets were broad and expansive, filling the sky with a fiery spectrum as the sun sank beneath the Pacific’s edge. Nighttime brought the sweet chirping of the coqui tree frogs, and the twinkling gemlike lights of Kailua Kona below.

Owners Randy and Atsumi Phillips offer a few extras to their guests. Their concierge service provided us with a stocked refrigerator and pantry per our emailed grocery list upon arrival. This was such a great benefit following our six-hour flight from Seattle and half hour drive to the property. We were able to cook dinner and just chill for the first evening while we did some research and made plans for the rest of the week. They also included a bag of their award-winning coffee, so we could brew our own throughout our visit.

Randy greeted us when we arrived, showed us the place and concluded by saying he would have a freshly-brewed carafe of their own Kona View Coffee, ready and waiting for us outside our door promptly at 7:15 am. I think Brad particularly perked up over this being a habitual coffee drinker.

And right on time, our coffee magically arrived. Brad takes his coffee black – it’s a different flavor from dull Starbucks, or a washed-out diner, or a flavored Keurig. It’s deep, and a little bit fruity and tastes kinda…well, natural.

I like mine with lots of milk and sugar, and there was something so special about sipping a cup of fresh Kona coffee, stepping out onto the patio, staring out at the bushes the very beans had been picked from, feeling the cool air, and gazing at the Pacific from above. I started thinking about lifestyles and careers, family and retirement, and how with life, you can carve out the experience that you want with some effort, patience and love.

Brad and I planned our week together. We wanted to go to the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center at 9,200 ft for the sunset and stargazing, we wanted to go to the famous white sand Hakuna Beach, and the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens and Akaka Falls on the Hilo side. We were hoping to squeeze in a helicopter ride around the island. We also wanted to explore the culture.

One morning we headed to the Kona Historical Society Museum. The museum is very small, but details the amazing history of Kona coffee from its beginning in 1828. There were so many incredible photographs, and details about immigration, the wars, the struggle of the farmers, the laborious process of coffee picking, world economics, and the coffee bean growing cycle. And we happened to be there during the Kona coffee festival. There were daily competitions, events and tasting that we could explore at a discount if we so desired. This prompted us to reach out to Randy to ask him for a tour of his own coffee farm.

Randy met us one morning and gave us background on his two-acre farm. According to their website, their coffee trees are Kona Typica which is a strain of Coffea Arabica. They dry process and grade all sizes of their beans separately and they all go on a gravity table to separate any beans of each size that are not the proper density. They then recombine the top three sizes by the ratio that they came off the tree to make our Estate Blend. They process their cherry three different ways: pulped natural, wet process, wet process/fermented to offer different flavor profiles to their coffee, and are one of only a few farms in Kona to do this.

We were even an audience for a roasting of the beans. Randy and Atsumi have a full commercial workspace which features a Giesen six Kilo drum roaster. Their roasting process is computer aided and they roast to order any day of the week. They also have a coffee of the month club where they will send you coffee on a regular basis.

The honey-colored beans went into the bright red, large Dutch roaster. After several minutes, you could hear the “first crack” of the beans, which sounded faintly like popping popcorn. The fragrance of the roasting beans started filling the small room, with its warmth and sweet bitterness. Atsumi opened the door and dark brown beans poured out. She extended her palm to us containing two freshly-roasted beans for us to taste. The warm bean tasted like coffee, of course, but also like chocolate, and chiles and oranges. They said they would package up our coffee for us to take home.

Brad and I have stayed at about a dozen VRBOs over the years, but I think this was my favorite. It’s not only the gourmet kitchen and the spaciousness, the views of the coast from the infinity pool, the hot tub at sunrise every morning and at night under the stars, the sound of the little tree frogs carried by the mountain breezes. All that was absolutely tremendous in itself. But I think a place that can inspire, and make you dream a bit, and wonder about life and reflect on love and family, all the while encompassing you in a Kona coffee embrace …well, I think that beats an ocean front hotel room any day.



A World Without Coffee?


It’s international coffee weekend! Help us celebrate coffee’s true heroes: the farmers. Non-profit Pontis is helping Latin American farmers out of rural poverty by teaching them to become farming entrepreneurs. Like and share our video, and please donate to this worthwhile cause. You can also make your own video and be entered to win! Donate and learn more here: http://www.pontissmallfarms.com #worldwithoutcoffee #nationalcoffeeday


CoffeeOn Sept 29-Oct 1st, the world will be celebrating their love of coffee. Both National Coffee Day (Sept 29th) and International Coffee Day (Oct 1st) will see people across the globe savoring their favorite cup of java.

We at Pontis Nicaragua would like to call attention to the “true” coffee heroes: The small, rural farmers who live in poverty but continue to bring products, such as coffee, to your favorite coffee shops, homes and workplaces.

Pontis (https://pontisnicaragua.org) is a small, scrappy non-profit that is helping lift farmers in Latin America out of poverty by improving their living conditions, teaching better farming techniques and providing business skills basics. These farmers who start with an average income of $2.50 PER DAY grow through the Pontis Sustainable Agriculture Program to become entrepreneurs, thrive with their enterprise farms, and with time purchase land. These small farm families grow a prosperous future.

We need your help. On Sept. 29th we will be launching a social media campaign called “A World Without Coffee” to benefit the Latin America farmers. You and your company can help our efforts through one or more of the following ways:

– Like and Share our World Without Coffee video. The more people we reach, the better the visibility for Pontis and our goal of raising $10,000 to provide sustainable small farm education to more farm families.

– Create your own video! What would your world be like without coffee? How would you get by? Or would you? What creative ways would you use to wake up? Get your coworkers and/or your kids involved! It can be simple, but your efforts will again help us spread the word. Plus, we will award $250 for the best video. Just follow the steps:

  1. Make your video and have fun!
  2. Tag a friend and ask them what their world would be like without coffee
  3. Post it to your favorite social media channels. Make sure to include the Pontis landing page pontissmallfarms.com and hashtag #worldwithoutcoffee

– And of course, you can donate! Do you sometimes buy that stranger a cup of coffee in the Starbucks drive through line as a random act of kindness? This year, think about donating to the farmers instead. Giving back the equivalent of a cup of coffee to the farmers will provide a farmer one more class or on-farm mentoring visit.  Imagine the difference you made helping one more farmer see her family eating each day, participating in the market economy and growing a sustainable future for her children.

Thanks for reading and we hope you will have some fun with us while participating in a very worthy charity effort!

Sincerely, Brad Allen, Director of Engagement, Pontis
Melinda Zimmerman-Smith, President, Lighthouse Communications

How to Make the World’s Best Blueberry Pie

When you set out to make the best blueberry pie in the world, you can’t simply drive to Safeway. No. You need to take a long, afternoon summer’s drive with the top down, winding through the Washington woods, to the base of Mt Si.

There, you pick Pembertons, and Dixies, and Stanleys, because they are the small, tart berries ideal for baking. You sweat in the hot sun. You get scratched by random thorns and walk through several invisible strings of spider web. You worry about tics, and bears. You don’t have to crouch down like your mother said you would, like she did as a girl in Kenora, Ontario. You listen to the couple off in the distance speaking Vietnamese and hundreds of birds, mad with joyful blueberry intoxication. You revel in the handfuls of berries that fall off in your palm with a gentle tug. You taste the range of bright flavors. You think about August 28th, 2017 and mortality.

You feel present, and submerged in the terroir of this Pacific Northwest day. You spend 40 minutes and $5.81 on the big bag of freshly-picked blueberries and drive home, noticing that the sweet, slight scent of the decay of summer’s end is carried on the tips of the breeze.

At home, you enlist the help of your 14 year old daughter to make the pie. You realize while making the pastry that with her inexperienced hands, it’s likely not going to be the best pie in the world. But suddenly, that doesn’t matter. It’s more about sharing the experience, and realizing you only have four precious more summers together until she goes off to college. You announce there is a new annual family tradition: August blueberry picking and pie making. She’s all for it.

The recipe calls for vodka in the crust. And 4 1/2 cups of blueberries. You are in luck because you picked 7 cups. And 5Tbs of cornstarch for the filling, which is going to make it really thick. And it takes 90 minutes to cook. And four hours to cool. Which means you have some pie at breakfast, tasting your labor of love for the first time.

It’s the berries. Those small, now bright indigo capsules of Washington wildness which are sweet and tart, and have melted down into almost a jam-like consistency. You thought the crust would be tough, but it is light, and flaky and crisp-tender enough to hold it’s own. With a scoop of cold and sweet vanilla bean ice cream, melting slightly to create a cream sauce, it offsets the pie just perfectly so all you can manage to say is, “Um yeah…this. This is it.”

That moment, standing with your daughter, a week before high school starts, and the day she became the captain of her new soccer team. Standing in your new, bigger apartment because your business is doing well. That moment, savoring the end of summer by the spoonful, is one that you want to remember forever.


If you would like to give this pie a try, here is the recipe. Bon appetit!https://www.google.com/…/www.…/recipe/best-blueberry-pie/amp

This is How to End Rural Poverty in Latin America

What’s the most you have spent on coffee before? I once spent $28 on Kona coffee beans in Maui.

Contrastingly, I’m shocked to learn that most Latin American farmers, of crops including coffee, live below $2 a day and will always be poor with their methods of subsistence farming.

Non-profit Pontis Nicaragua works with farm families to transform subsistence farms to enterprise farms. Enterprise farms are based on both solid agricultural and business practices. They are less chemical-dependent and use modern practices to produce yields 30-100% higher. The farms are run with financial discipline and spread risk over multiple crops.

How many times have you participated in the random act of kindness? Next time, instead of buying a cup of coffee for that stranger behind you in the Starbucks drive thru, consider donating to Pontis and help a family rise out of poverty, and join us in building small farms that provide for generations.

They are doing some meaningful, great work at Pontis. To help eliminate poverty in Latin America, click here to make a PayPal donation: https://lnkd.in/g5wcciE Or read more about Pontis here https://pontisnicaragua.org

Please SHARE this blog post to help drive awareness for this important organization. Thanks, and cheers! #thecoffeegrounds

– Melinda

coffee harvest

One Look in My Eyes

Sipping sweet, orange sherry
Under a full moon
On a boat, in the rain
He strums his guitar playing Neil Young
His old man, the British reverend
Looks at him, looks down
At his shoes

A diamond ring and polished nails
No music but the shore
Telling you it won’t go away
Without a key

There is a woman
Crucified to the bow
Of this boat
The tradewinds blowing
Through her long, black hair

She is alone
With the waves
From the shore
That won’t let
Her forget
She is there

Ruby red gems, and lips
Tomatoes and peppers
Spicy and hot
Tequila and beer
With salt spray and

Rays of moonlight
Stripe the ocean
The mountain
Is blue, purple and grey

Everyone is tired
And drifting
In an orange meditation
Sailing on the Caribbean Sea
Watching God
Watching me
Let this moment, this beauty
Stay with me
Stay with me

Boat (2)




Santa Cruz: Summer Days Drifting Away to Oh, Oh Those Summer Nights!

Birdsong Boardwalk Sunset

I travel quite a bit. And my daughter does not accompany me when I do. So when I returned home from one journey, I suggested we get away together to celebrate her upcoming 14th birthday and her 8th grade graduation. The only stipulation: it had to be somewhere we could fly to on my Alaska Airlines miles, and I didn’t have a whole lot to begin with.

Kenzie’s eyes lit up and she said, “Oh yeah! We are going to Santa Cruz!!!”

I totally understand my daughter’s allure. Santa Cruz, CA., is a beach community in the Central Valley. I used to go there from the Bay Area often during the summer months while I was in high school. I have lots of fond memories of yelling “Road Trip!” with my friends Sally and Heather and climbing into my convertible red ’63 Valiant, twisting and turning through the redwoods of Highway 17 to go body surfing in the cold Pacific with an occasional harbor seal, dance at reggae and goth concerts, and get kissed by the sun and salt spray on the beach.

It’s not upscale, like Monterey or Carmel, both of which I absolutely adore. It’s a bit rough around the edges. Peppered with aging surfers, skateboarders, assorted tattooed hooligans, hippies still tripping on LSD from the 70’s, and lots of beachgoers, but beautiful coastline, picturesque architecture and great food.

And you need to understand, my daughter is a rollercoaster aficionado. She has been a thrill seeker for as long as I can remember. As a baby, she readily scaled the sides of her crib to escape its confines and climbed chairs and counters. She used her feisty strength to push the boys out of the way to get to the top of slides as a toddler. So when she went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on a class trip last year, and the teacher wouldn’t let the kids ride any rides because she didn’t get waivers ahead of time, I think that ignited the stubborn streak in Mackenzie to return one day and conquer the Big Dipper and the Typhoon. And that day had arrived.

I easily booked tickets for July 4th for 5k miles each way, which is a screaming deal. Especially since I have status and got us into premium seating for free.

Rather than stay in a hotel, I thought it would be fun for her to choose a VRBO for our stay. Mackenzie scoured the site, and narrowed the massive list down to two properties. After developing a pro’s and con’s list, she selected a pretty eclectic choice: The Birdsong Cottage.

This Westside two-bedroom cottage, only a 20-minute walk to the Boardwalk, is owned by an artist and a master gardener. Small, but whimsically decorated, the cottage is surrounded by pops of color from plants like wisteria, roses, trumpet vines and honeysuckle. It was so pretty, and different, and I think it appealed to Mackenize’s artistic side. She loves talented interior decorating and truly appreciates an eye for design.

I told my boyfriend Kenz and I were going to hit the road in the summer and he asked if he could tag along. Mackenzie gave the nod of approval, but I only thought it fair she invite a friend, so her good friend Emma would join us as well.

On July 4th, we were all bumped up to first class for the flight. Such a great way to start our trip! We rented a car at SJO and drove an easy 40 minutes down Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. I’ve never seen that road so empty, but I guess July 4th is the day to stay home and bbq.

We arrived at the cottage and walked up to the front gate, the pathway lined with fragrant jasmine. The gate opened up to a small garden patio and side yard stretching the length of the house. The girls burst through the backdoor to start exploring.

What a beautiful space! Each room was designed with so much care, and finesse. It’s as if the owner took into account every view, from every vantage point. Green, and yellow, and red, stripes and flowers, hardwood floors, and tiles, and small details like whimsical lamps, decorative plates, and curtains with a Van Morrison lyric. The girls and I were in awe and full of positive exclamations. Brad said, “This place is weird.” I said, “You have to view it with an artist’s eye.” “Not my eye,” he retorted. Well, we loved it anyway. Mackenzie and Emma ran through the house, continuing to discover its treasures and nuances, and laid claim to the comfy living room furniture, huge TV, bedroom and private patio.

That left Brad and me with the master bedroom, or what he laughingly referred to as the “passion pit.” The bedroom was deep crimson in color, with a high, soft king-sized bed you literally melt into. The bed faced a gas fireplace and a TV. A small office was off to the side; the perfect place for Brad to do his 5am conference calls without waking any of us up. The bedroom also has huge French doors that open up to the side yard. We opened them up, closed the screens, sank into the bed and drifted into a much-needed afternoon nap, with the cool sea breezes carrying the songs of the birds through the garden.

I remember lying there, amazed at how successfully the owners had blocked out the sounds and the views of the surrounding homes from the courtyard. I felt like I could have been anywhere, but somewhere remote, and peaceful, and so content.

The days that followed were filled with trips to the Boardwalk so the girls could fulfill their need for fun. And there were discount coupons too, so they could ride all day for less than $15. The Boardwalk is not like Disneyland or Great America; it’s a mixture of a high-end carnival with great rides, fun games, novelties and outdoor movies on the beach. We saw Grease one night; the beach packed with hundreds of people in fold up chairs, eating garlic fries and smoking pot. (ugh). They also have a really fun mini golf course to play and arcade to explore.

We went to Seabright Beach to get some sun on our Washington state-translucent skin and frolic in the waves, and we also went to Capitola for the day. The Capitola Beach Company was a great find with rentals on the beach. The girls wanted to do stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and they had the option of exploring the river rather than the ocean. The guys walked their boards down to the river for them and offered to bring them back. They spent an hour leisurely exploring the river under the warm California summer sunshine. When we returned to pay (only $20 each per hour) I asked about surf lessons. They explained Capitola is the best place to learn how to surf and most of their instructors started there. Mackenzie is excited to come back and try during a future trip.

Each night at Birdsong we made dinner. The kitchen was well appointed and they have an excellent barbeque in back, too. We saved a ton by making spaghetti, and grilling sausages and preparing halibut. Brad and I had fun cooking for the girls and it was a healthier option than Mackenzie’s original plan to survive for three days off of Dippin’ Dots.

I think overall, Santa Cruz was a great place to bring a couple of teens for a few days. And it was certainly a good destination for me. I bought a sweatshirt that says, “Salt Water Heals Everything,” and that is exactly how I feel. There is something so restorative about the beach. The cry of the gulls, the salty breezes, the pastel sunsets reflecting off the cool blue, liquid horizon.

Maybe someday I’ll live by the beach again. Until then I’ll suffice with oceanside injections now and then. I think there was everything the girls could have wanted out of vacation here. And we loved the cottage. Truth be told I’d love to stay right on the beach. But if my ideal place isn’t available next time, I hope Birdsong is. One bathroom with two teenage girls was slightly challenging, but nevertheless, the cottage had a bit of a Bali Ha’i quality to it, which made me feel like we had found a bit of a mystical garden. I hope we come back someday.