Thursday, December 31, 2015

Celebrating the New Year in Hawaii

Many places around the United States celebrate the New Year in similar ways.  We do all of those things in Hawaii too, but also add in some wonderful customs from around the world.
 
In celebration of the New Year, we will be lighting a string of 5,000 firecrackers in our front yard.  You can bet I will be filming it.  And posting it.

Setting off fireworks in Hawaii is limited in many areas.  On the Big Island, you must first purchase a $25 permit and adhere to some very specific rules about where you can light them.  This permit is good for about a 24 hour period right at New Years.  Guess what?  If you want to set off fireworks for the Fourth of July, you'll need another $25 permit.  

With permit in hand, you can head to any number of places to purchase long strings of firecrackers and other, more standard fare, of fireworks.  Which is precisely what we did.

We will also be enjoying mochi.

Lots of places have mochi pounding celebrations where one can participate or just observe.  I'll link a video of mochi pounding.


There was a buddhist temple near where we lived in Norther California.  Every year folks would show up at the emergency room with mochi pounding injuries and from the video you can see why.  Most injuries were minor and they always showed up with fresh mochi for the staff!

Last year I purchased a Mochi Maker for Larry.  I know he's been thinking about making some mochi from scratch.  Maybe this is the year he'll do it.  

I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, have a wonderful New Year and let me know how you celebrate in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Where We Live: Night Life

I live in Hawaii, where most people think the only sounds are the ocean and palm trees swaying in the breeze.  We do hear the palm trees sway occasionally, but the ocean is about half a mile away.

I live in the second largest city in the state and the nights are alive with noise.  Most nights it's the sound of rain on the roof, somewhere in the range between gentle and deafening.  Most nights the rain and the coqui frogs compete.  

But there are rare nights, like this one, when the stars are out and the coquis are quiet.

I hear sirens and cars; the sounds of city life.  I hear the scream princesses that live next door, training to be scream queens one day, splashing about in their elevated swimming pool living as if there were no tomorrow.

The airport is less than a mile away, so we also hear planes coming and going and helicopters, too, as the military practice their touch and goes in the dark.  Sometimes the house shakes the helicopters fly so low.

I hear the lady down the street laugh at the same time every weeknight.  I try to remind myself to check TV Guide to find out what's so funny, but I never remember.

We hear fights, too.  Unpleasant boozy fights.  Threats to pour the liquor down the toilet.

We learned the names of our neighbors and we haven't even met them yet.

The night is alive with all sorts of noises, the sounds of my new home.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

It's Not Raining Here

For the past ten minutes it's been raining next door but not here. Ten feet away. 


Gorgeous Gifts -- Jane Heng Designs

In the market for a post-holiday gift and shudder to think about going back to the mall?

Wandering through Instagram, I found a beautiful website with handmade items from Cambodia.  If you know me, I am all about functional art, and many pieces on this site fall into that category.

This post will publish after the holidays, but if you are looking for unique, handmade gifts, I recommend this site.





Here's a screen grab from her website:



Prices are in Australian dollars, which at current exchange rates means the lovely vase and storage box (above is ) only $50 US.  Shipping prices are reasonable as well.

The site is easy to navigate and she writes an interesting blog as well.  She splits her time between Australia and Cambodia and writes about both.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Adventures in Water Kefir, part 4. I'm making Hooch.

It's Hooch!


In an effort to up the level of carbonation, I tried pushing the fermentation time from just over 24 hours up closer to 48.  My experiment definitely upped the carbonation to a great level (like a soda pop), but as it turns out, water kefir and fruit juice can make a great carbonated alcohol. 

Not really what I was looking to do.

All fermented products of this nature contain some alcohol.  In fact, orange juice even contains a minor amount although you would have to drink gallons at once to feel it's effects.

So I'm back to just a 24 hour (or so) fermentation and a clear head.

Stay tuned.


Monday, December 21, 2015

We Saw the International Space Station!

International Space Station courtesy of Creative Commons


The other day as I was reading the blogs I follow online, I found out the International Space Station (ISS) was going to be visible in Hawaii in the southwest sky at 7:07pm.  It was just before six at the time.  I went out on our lanai to look at the sky and the clouds were starting to stack up.  

Actually, here's a view of the sky that night.  Southwest would be the far left side of the view.
video


As many of you know, I can get pretty geeky about certain subjects and viewing things in the night sky is one of them.  During a vacation once, we drove up to Kilauea at 11 o'clock at night just to see the Southern Cross as it barely peeked up above the horizon.  Yeah.  It was worth it.  I would totally do it again, but you've got to have a clear night, and that's rare in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Back to my story...
I didn't want to miss the ISS, so I had an idea.  We jumped in the car and headed up the saddle road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (now called the Daniel K Inouye Highway)
to see if we could get up above the clouds.  

Twenty-one miles later, we were in the saddle and had a gorgeous view of the night sky.  So many stars.  The Milky Way.  When was the last time you were somewhere so dark that you could see the Milky Way?  Have you ever seen the Milky Way?  Put it on your bucket list now.  I'll wait.  

We parked the car and used our phones to get a general idea of where the ISS would rise from the horizon (note:  both iPhones were off, but the car's compass was spot on).  One star seemed slightly brighter than the others.  At the horizon line, it appeared to move slowly, but as it headed straight up in the sky, it got brighter.  Was it brighter than anything else in the sky?  Probably, but I didn't take my eyes off of it for a second, so I really couldn't say.  It certainly was the only star in the sky moving straight up.  

As it approached the zenith, it disappeared.  It took a moment to realize that once the ISS is far enough around the Earth from the Sun, then nothing would be reflecting on it and of course it would disappear!

I'd say the whole viewing was less than two minutes.  

Forty-five minutes later we were back at home.  Was it worth it?  Yep.  I'd do it again.  And next time we'll bring our telescope for some amazing night sky viewing.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Driving from Hilo to Puna and Back Time Lapse

We drove out to the Makuu Farmers Market in Puna this morning and shot a time lapse video on the way.  Enjoy and have a happy Sunday!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life -- book review

I started reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life the other day.  I am about half way through it and am enjoying it so much, I thought I'd let you know.  

The book is classic Anne Lamott and the subject (so far) centers around the classes she teaches on writing.  I am engaged and amused, as I always am with her books.

She quoted the following poem in her book and I liked it so much, I thought I'd pass it along.  I hope you enjoy it, too!


We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-huysband;
and we have pledged to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

by Phillip Lopate


Enjoy your day.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Moving to Hawaii, the East Side of the Big Island, Part 3

Moving to Hawaii

The East Side of the Big Island

Part 3

 
 

Here are links to part 1 and part 2:
Moving to Hawaii, the East Side fo the Big Island, part 2 


Attempt #5 

As you can imagine, there was a certain level of frustration mounting as we really did want to move to Hawaii, but I wanted to make sure the move was going to be a successful one.  I knew we needed enough resources to be able to get off to a good start, but saving sufficient funds was taking years and I was getting inpatient.  In the meantime, our daughter had graduated high school, eliminating one of the concerns we had with the move.

Finally, I considered the possibility of moving to Hawaii and renting a place until we could get established.  I found an apartment complex that did leases as short as six months and started to plan our move.  We set a date seven months out and created my countdown calendar.  I began to make lists of what we would take with us and started researching online shipping companies and movers.  I was in full planning mode when one day my husband said he really wanted to own a place rather than rent.  This put me into a tailspin.   After weeks of planning, I was initially having difficulty listening to his desires, but eventually realized he was right.  We would always be in a better position financially with our incomes on the mainland. 

How were we going to make this happen?

I started by reviewing all of the different options for owning a place in Hawaii:

  • Condominium
  • House
  • Purchase property and build a house
  • Purchase property and build a non-traditional house (Yurt, tiny house, etc.)
Condominium
This initially was very attractive, but I still could not find a place that we could afford over the long haul that would meet not just our needs but our desires.  The ongoing cost of monthly fees plus the restrictions placed on owners (no pets), would be issues for us that would never go away.

House
Affordability and location were the top concerns, but upkeep was another.

Purchase property and build a house
This can be a cheaper option to get the house you want, and while my husband used to work in construction (15+ years ago), I had zero experience in this area and didn't think I had the moxie to see a this type of project through without losing my mind.  If you are up for it, however, this could be a viable option.

Purchase property and build a non-traditional dwelling
One idea that held my attention for more than a year was to purchase an affordable piece of property in upper Puna or Volcano and put up a yurt.  

I did a lot of investigation online and even went so far as to meet with Melissa Fletcher, owner of Yurts of Hawaii during one of our trips to the Big Island. She and her husband very generously spent a couple of hours with us in her yurt office up near Volcano.  We got to tour the yurt (inside and out) and viewed a number of her installations around the island via photos on her computer.  


We even drew up some rough sketches of interiors for a two bedroom plus loft yurt.  Total cost, at the time, was around $100K, including land.  While we did not have that amount saved up, we did have enough to start the process (purchasing and prepping land) and would be able to come up with the money over a few years' time.  

Melissa is a licensed contractor and offers a 'one stop shop'.  You purchase your desired property and Melissa can take it from there.  She told me she would work on any island, as well.

Yurts have some tremendous advantages over traditional buildings:

  • Maintenance is dead easy.  The exterior needs to be power washed about every year or so. That's it. 
  • The roof and walls are easy and affordable to replace (a fraction of the cost of a traditional house).
  • Want to move?  You can pack it up and ship it wherever you want.
There are also some disadvantages:
  • The walls typically have zero insulation.  While temperature is rarely an issue in Hawaii, lack of insulation means you hear absolutely everything  going on outside from inside the yurt.  Road noise, your neighbors, the rain: you will hear all of it all the time.
  • You have to consider location very carefully when you put up a yurt.  Certainly ambient noise is an issue, but air flow is also very important.  You can have mildew issues if you are not careful, though I am told this has improved over the years with use of different materials that make up the yurt.
  • There is no interior structure.  If you want walls, you need to build them and they need to be self supporting.
  • Salability - non-traditional properties can take much longer to sell.  Think about what may happen in your life down the road and decide if this is or is not an issue.
After you investigate whether this is a viable option for you, you need to gauge where your partner lies on the spectrum of interest in living in a yurt.  I really loved the concept, but my husband was reticent.  He is very flexible and, ultimately, I think it would have been okay for us, but if both parties are not fully on board then it could be a recipe for relationship disaster.

I also had concerns about the salability of the property.  While we were looking for a long term home, you never can tell what the future will bring.  One desire was to purchase a property that could sell in a reasonable amount of time, should the need ever arise.

A note about unpermitted structures: 
In my home search, I came across many properties for sale that were partially or fully unpermitted.  The value of these homes are greatly decreased because no mortgage lender will approve an unpermitted home so the only payment method available is cash.  If a property is partially unpermitted, that portion of the building will not be considered when appraising the home and therefore a larger down payment may be required when purchasing an unpermitted house.

This may be fine with you, but again, it will likely affect the resale (both length of time on the market and price) of a property and must be considered.


I really love the concept of a yurt and would still consider buying property and installing a small yurt as a weekend getaway spot near Volcano (what a great way to get away from the hot September temps in Hilo).  If you could find a cheap enough piece of land and were willing to forego all utilities (solar and catchment water), you could have a really cool place on the cheap.I also looked at either building a tiny house or purchasing one.  The tiny house movement is pretty big in Northern California and I had been watching youtube video tours of them for months.  Tiny houses on the Big Island is a much more informal thing.  Most people live in them as a point of necessity not desire.  To say there is a formal movement here would be a gross misstatement and because of that, county building codes are not written to be friendly toward the building of tiny houses, so one really needs to either build an unpermitted structure or build one on wheels. 
 I briefly investigated having a prebuilt tiny house shipped to the Big Island but found the overall cost to be prohibitive.  If I was going to spend that sort of money, I was going to go with a Yurt and have a much larger (still small by most standards) space.

A consideration when thinking of having a tiny home on the Big Island is the environment.  If you build a home in the rain forest, consider how much time you will be spending indoors due to the rain.  This may or may not be an issue for you, but you need to consider it.


Next installment....Success!










Monday, December 14, 2015

Netflix December Movies Worth Seeing

Netflix movies in December Worth Viewing:

http://letterboxd.com/screeningnotes/list/some-of-the-absolute-best-shit-on-netflix/detail/

There are some really great films on Netflix in December.  Two of my favorites are:

The Host -- Korean Horror at its best.  You'll laugh, cry, scream.  A fabulous film.

In Bruges -- How to describe it?  Hitmen need to hide out for awhile...In Bruges.  Unpredictable and great acting.  Highly recommend.


Two really wonderful classic films I can recommend hands down are:

Roman Holiday -- Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn

His Girl Friday -- Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel

I plan on watching all of these films in December.


Enjoy!

Adventures in Water Kefir, part 3



I have been making water kefir for just about a month now so I thought it was time for an update!

The grains have grown so I switched from a quart to a half gallon jar and doubling the sugar content (now 1/2 a cup).  The grains don't seem to mind a bit and now I am producing enough water kefir for the two of us.  The only cost is a few ounces of juice and a 1/2 cup of sugar every two days.

The drink that is produced is light and effervescent, very much like the Kevita I was trying to replace.  We drink between 8 and 16 ounces a day each.

My favorite juices to add to the second fermentation are papaya and lilikoi (passion fruit).  I tried cherry juice and it was certainly a drinkable beverage, but not nearly as good of a combination with the mild vinegar taste of the water kefir.  I am sure to try other juices and will let you know how they taste.

Here are the grains I bought

Let me know if you give it a try.  I would love to hear about your experience.

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Previous posts:

 Adventures in Water Kefir, Part 1


  Adventures in Water Kefir, Part 2

 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fresh Fruit Mochi - Two Ladies Kitchen

Today we stopped by Two Ladies Kitchen to pick up some mochi. My favorite lately has been the ones with fresh fruit inside. 

The photo shows bartlett pear mochi (yum). We also picked up flame grape, poha berry, and strawberry. They really make sure the fruit is at the peak of ripeness and because of this, you really have to eat it the same day. 

It is the best treat. If you stop by for a visit, I'll feed you some. 

Rain

In Hilo, you hear the rain first.  

Looking out the window, you can see it a block away heading toward you.  Sometimes it approaches so slowly when you look outside, you can see it's raining next door but not here. Yet.

Sometimes the rain is like a quiet mist and you just hear the faint drip drip as the rain drops from the roof to the ground.  

Sometimes the rain POUNDS SO LOUD you cannot hear anything else.  Literally nothing else.  The television is drowned out by the din.  We used to try turning it up or pausing it, now we mostly just leave the closed captioning on and move on with our lives.

Sometimes it rains for so long the walls and floors inside our home become damp from the high humidity.  I've found those are good days to bake something in the oven and use a fan to blow the warm air throughout the house.  

I try not to worry about it too much since this home has been here since 1938.  

Mostly I like the rain.  Mostly.  When it rained (for what seemed) all day every day for 10 days straight earlier this month, I started to wonder just a teeny bit.  That's normal, right?

I have heard stories that it rained for over 40 days straight a few years ago.  I am girding my loins for an epic run of rain like that.  I should explain that 'rain' in that context means rain all day, not just gentle rain at night.  

Hilo gets over 110 (some sources say more) inches of rain a year.  November is the rainiest month with over 15 inches on average.  I have visited Hilo in November when it's been a drought and the waterfalls were nearly bone dry.  During another November visit, we stayed near a river and it rained so much, I thought I would go crazy from the constant loud sound of rushing water.  A good thing to know if you are going to buy a house here.

University of Hawaii Library has an Index of Rains in the Hawaiian language. 
The document is ten pages long.  

I guess that makes me at the end of a long line of people waxing poetic about rain in Hawaii.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Moving to Hawaii, the East Side of the Big Island, Part 2

Moving to Hawaii

The East Side of the Big Island

Typical layover in Maui (OGG) from the mainland heading to the Big Island

Part 2


This is a continuation of the story of our move to the Big Island of Hawaii.  In the first post, I listed considerations prior to moving and described our first two attempts at moving to the Big Island.

Here is a link to part 1:

Moving to Hawaii, the East Side of the Big Island, Part 1


Attempt #3 (about three years ago)

Over the years, I would look at properties on Zillow (sound familiar?) to check affordability of properties in the greater Hilo, Puna, and Volcano areas.  During our initial attempts to move, we lacked sufficient funds buy a house on our own, but I always looked at properties to gauge how far away we were financially to making the move ourselves.  

After the market crashed in 2008, prices of properties on the Big Island began to drop.  I believe both the drop and the recovery have been slower on the Big Island compared to other places.  Over time I have learned that the real estate markets in Hawaii behave much differently from Northern California or any other place on the mainland I have experienced.
By 2012 or 2013, prices had really dropped from the all-time high in 2007 (or thereabouts).  

There were a number of properties listed for short sale.  Wandering through Zillow one day, I found a listing in Wainaku (near downtown Hilo) for a condo for about $80K.  These units were selling for close to $150K just a few years before.  I ignored what absolutely everyone (including myself) will tell you and contacted my real estate agent to put an offer on the property sight unseen.
Our agent drove over and took his own photos to send to us, which actually looked the same as the listing agents photos (often this is not the case, I have learned).  

The condo was close enough to downtown to walk and had been recently renovated with new paint, floors, and appliances.  Our offer of $72K was accepted but as with all short sales, we had to wait an indeterminate amount of time for the selling bank to approve, etc.  

Meanwhile, I was working with a bank (a local one) on getting the final approval of the mortgage.  I had easily received the initial approval for the loan amount then I submitted all of the requested paperwork to the bank and waited.  What came back as a response was a list of 42 items I needed to respond to.  Some of them were as crazy as, we show an address for you as (an address from over 15 years ago).  Can you explain when you lived there and why?  


Are you kidding me?  Times were tough and banks were not easily letting go of their money for mortgages even for a mortgage of $57K.  Long story short, the wait went on week after week. Eventually I backed out because dealing with the lending bank just became too stressful.  The property eventually sold to someone else for about the same price, but I think it was about two years later.  
Over the years, I have learned to pay attention to my twitchiness when it comes to finances.  If it makes me twitch, I need to walk away.  I was losing sleep every night over this deal so I know it was not for me.  In retrospect, I am glad I backed out as the property we ended up purchasing is a much better fit for us.

What I learned and why I am grateful it did not work out: 


The price was great and the location was good, but there would have been aspects of that property that would have always been problematic.



  • Do not buy a house or property sight unseen unless you have so much disposable income you can walk away from it without negative financial implications.  There is no deal so good that it can't wait for a quick flight over to check it out.  I know many people ignore this advice (I nearly did, too) but I'd say this is the number one lesson I learned.  I have seen some homes listed on the market that look amazing.  Unfortunately, sometimes photos have cropped out the nightmare of a rat infested, falling down home less than four feet away.  You need to use all senses when buying a home, including common sense.  
  • Storage -- this property had virtually none.  Not only the day-to-day storage of the 48 pack of toilet tissue rolls, but our two bikes would've had to been stored in the living room.  I dislike clutter and one of the things I was looking forward to was downsizing. Living with the bikes constantly in the way was going to grate on me over time.
  • Lack of outdoor space.  As I recall, the lanai had been integrated into the overall living space so there was no outdoor space whatsoever.  My real estate agent said it reminded him of a hotel rather than a home and ultimately he was right.  I don't need much, but I would like to at least stand outside and breathe.  And gardening?  Impossible.  Not even a place for potted plants.
  • No Pets.  This is true of nearly every condo in the Hilo area.  The only one I know that allows pets in Pacific Heights.  I don't have a pet, but dammit, I might want one someday.
  • Parking for one car only.  This one was actually okay since over the years we have lived with only one car -- it's what the bikes are for, but that being said, it sure is nice to have the old pickup truck for dump and Home Depot runs and room to park more than one car.
  • Limited resale options.  The condo had been on the market a long time, as were many others in the same complex.  If I ever needed to sell the property quickly, I would be in trouble.  
  • Condo fees.  They never end and, in fact, they go up. I have mixed feelings about them.  Yes, they do pay for upkeep, but you don't have much control over how or when the money is spent.  Also, based on the number of units for sale that were purchased when the market was high, I was concerned about unpaid fees and the financial strength of the condo organization overall.  It may have been fine -- I never got that far along in the process to find out for sure.
The upside to this property is we could have kept our lives on the mainland and use this property for vacations until we were ready to move.  The reality is we used that time to continue to save money to use for a bigger down payment and stayed in less expensive rentals when we vacationed.

Ultimately I think we would have been locked into a property that we would eventually grow out of and would be stuck.

There are too many varieties of hibiscus for me to count

Attempt #4 (about two years ago)

Having come so close to purchasing a home, we were really interested in pursuing our plans.  We had a planned a vacation coming up and scheduled time with our real estate agent to view some homes in Hilo.  He's a nice guy and I would recommend him, but ultimately we parted ways and used another agent.  I think sometimes you mesh with someone and sometimes you don't.  Honestly, I got tired of hearing him think every idea I had was a bad one (okay, some of them definitely were), but that is another story.

We spent about five hours looking at properties in Hilo proper.  We mostly focused on condos, but we drove by some houses as well.   We realized we really didn't have the money to commit to a purchase let alone have the additional savings required to make the move to Hawaii.  We did learn a lot during that time so it wasn't wasted for us (sorry, Mr. Real Estate Agent, it did waste your time). Long story short, we fell in love with a unit at Pacific Heights that we absolutely could not afford.  Down payments still needed to be 20%, which in this case translated to about $75K in down payment and closing costs. Additionally, the mortgage payment plus condo fees were too high for us to easily sustain.  Pacific Heights is the nicest complex in Hilo and it seems well maintained.  The property is older (what isn't in Hilo though), built in the early 70's when it appears most condos in the area were built.  If you have close to $300K to spend on a property plus the never ending condo fees, I would recommend it -- and they allow pets.

So this attempt had everything to do with desire and not much action.

What I learned and why I am grateful it did not work out: 
  • Only look at what you can afford.  No sense falling in love with something you can't obtain in the near future.
  • I now knew how much money we needed to save to buy a house (hint: A LOT)
  • We narrowed our search to avoid homes near.  We had lived next to one for about 15 years and really wanted to avoid the traffic and ambient noise associated with schools.  It is just as important to know what you DON'T want as well as what you DO want.
Next: Actions that actually got us to our goal of moving to Hawaii.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

We Have Hot Water!

So this happened yesterday


We finally have hot water!  Last night's shower was heavenly.  The new one is super energy efficient and is wifi enabled so I can control the temperature with my phone.  I can set it to 'vacation' mode at night, which shuts it off until morning.  

Hot water feels like such a luxury!

l

Monday, December 7, 2015

Do you have a Kindle or use the Kindle app? Get Free Books!




In yesterday's post, I gave you my suggestion for which version of Kindle to purchase.


Here's the link again to Amazon's site:


Kindle Paperwhite


I purchased a Kindle about two years ago and use it regularly.  I enjoy the experience of reading on a Kindle so it is my preferred reading method.  I like the fact that I can read in bed at night without a light.

If you are much of a reader, you know that purchasing books, even eBooks, can really add up quickly.  

I have a few suggestions for saving money on books for the Kindle.  Many of these options are free if you are an Amazon Prime member, but even if you're not, keep reading because I've got free books for you as well.  

Don't have a Kindle?  If you have the Kindle app on your phone or tablet, some of these programs will still work for you.

Here is a list of programs for free Kindle books.  I will describe them all and give you my impressions.
  • Kindle First (works with Kindle and Kindle app)
  • Kindle Owners' Lending Library (works with Kindle only)
  • Kindle Unlimited eBook Subscription (works with Kindle and Kindle app)
  • Borrow books from the library (works with Kindle and Kindle app)
  • Borrow books from friends (works with Kindle only)
  • Out-of-Copyright books

Kindle First (Amazon Prime members)

What is it? 
The editors at Amazon Publishing choose four books from different categories and make them available for free in advance of the books' official release.  This means one free book for you at the beginning of each month, so twelve free books per year.

How it works
If you are an Amazon Prime member, sign up on the Kindle First page and Amazon will send you an email at the beginning of every month inviting you to download a free book. In the email, there will be links to each of the four books offered.  If you are not a Prime member, I believe you can still sign up for the offer, but you will pay $1.99 per book.

My experience
I signed up for this program when I purchased my Kindle two years ago. I have read a wide variety of books for free. I like that different genres are offered so I use these books to stretch my reading zone.  Sometimes I have difficulty choosing between the books because there is just a short synopsis and no reader reviews as these books are offered pre-release.

Bonus Points
You get suggestions of books in your inbox monthly and can try a new genre for free and you get to keep the books forever.

Kindle Owners' Lending Library

What is it?
If you are a Prime member, you can sign up for this program and borrow books at no additional cost.

How it works
Here's a link to Amazon's help page describing the program. Basically, you can borrow up to one book a month for free if you are a Prime member.  There is no due date to worry about but you do need to return a borrowed book before downloading another.  Amazon states there are hundreds of thousands of books to choose from.

My experience
Honestly, I forget sometimes this program is available.  Unlike some of the other programs mentioned in this article, the best way to find these books is directly through your Kindle, which is not how I often shop for books.  Earlier in the year, I read a great dystopian series that I never would have seen if I wasn't browsing for free books.  I also borrowed another one for several months and never did get through it but it still cost me nothing as there is no time limit for borrowing books.  You just have to return one before borrowing another and only one per month.

Bonus Points
You can find these books directly from your Kindle, no other app needed.  Easy peasy.

Kindle Unlimited eBook Subscription

What is it?
Sign up and you can borrow up to ten books at one time for free.  No time limits either. 

How it works
Sign up for Kindle Unlimited and borrow books for free.  You do not need a Kindle device to use this program, just a phone or tablet that has the Kindle app downloaded onto it.  The cost is $9.99 per month. You can try it free for 30 days.

My Experience
I availed myself of the 30 day free trial and then kept it for a few months.  I was reading a great deal at the time and my $9.99 was getting me about six to ten books a month.  If you read a great deal (multiple books a week), I'd recommend it.  Obviously if you read less than that, your perception of value may be different.  I prefer free books, which is why I ultimately cancelled my subscription, but I still recommend it.

Bonus Points
Next time you are heading out on a vacation, get the 30 day free trial and download ten books for your trip.  You're welcome!  Don't forget to cancel within the 30 days if you don't want to be billed $9.99 a month.

Borrow books from the library

What is it?
Get free books from your local library!

How it works
Check your local library's website and see if they offer an eBook lending program.  They likely do and they probably use OverDrive.  Or just go straight to OverDrive.com and search there.

Then, swing by the library and sign up for a library card.  In most cases they're free.  In some cases you may pay a small fee (like $5).  Usually they are good for at least a couple of years.  Make sure you note your PIN when you sign up as you will need it along with your library card number to use the OverDrive system.

Once you have your card in hand, visit OverDrive.com or better yet, download their free app onto your phone or tablet (or both!) from your app store.  Sign up, start browsing and downloading books.  

My Experience
I have used Overdrive for about two years and I love it.  I have used it with two different library systems and have found that each system has a slightly different library of books available (they update constantly as well).  Also each system controls the amount of time you can keep a book and how many books you can borrow simultaneously.  One library allows two weeks and the other three.  One allows ten books and the other fifteen.

Let me say again, I love this program.  It is not, however, without some drawbacks.  

One, it's a library:  somebody else may have already checked out the book you want.  Like normal libraries, you can place a hold.  When you do this, you will find how far back in the queue you are.  It can take awhile to get really popular books.  I have been waiting for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for several months.  

Two, not all titles are in Kindle format:  most are, but some utilize the ePub format, which can be read on OverDrive's built-in reader but not the Kindle. Since getting my Kindle, I no longer enjoy reading on my iPhone or iPad so I usually avoid titles that are non-Kindle readable, but just about any phone or tablet will work. 

Bonus Points
Some titles are available as audio files (similar to Audible)!  I do like listening to books from time to time and if you do too, then this might be a very good thing.  You can listen through the OverDrive app very easily on your mobile device.

Borrow books from friends

What is it?
Borrow books from your friends.  Lend books to your friends.

How it works
Here's a link to Amazon's help page on the subject.  I believe you need to own the book outright and you need your friend's email address that's linked to their Kindle account.  You will also need to access Amazon via a computer, not the Kindle app.

My experience
Sadly, I have none.  I heard about this program a couple of years ago but I've never had the opportunity to try it.  Let me know if you're game and I'll lend you a book.  


Out-of-Copyright books

What is it?
Books published before 1923 are always free.

How it works
Here's a link to Amazon's free book page. Most people already know about these titles, but if you want to read the classics, they're free.  Download to your Kindle the normal way.

My experience
I have downloaded a few titles that are copyright free.  I find my taste for these books comes and goes.  Writing styles have changed greatly over the years and I have to be in the mood.  That being said, they aren't called classics for nothing.  There are some good tales out there.  Try the Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  They rarely disappoint.


Let me know if you use any of these sources for free Kindle books.  Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Happy Reading!