We aren’t in #Hawaii any more.


Well, Toto, we aren’t in Hawaii any more. At least for now.

What is this heresy?

I know, I know…those of you who follow my blog may have noticed I fell off the map after daily blogging about our epic vacation in British Columbia back in September. Well, that’s because in October my life pretty much fell apart with the death of my father-in-law and the ripple effect that had on my husband and his family.

Where to begin? Perhaps where I am now is best: I'm on the Russian River, in California. This is the view out my front window.

How did we get here? Well, with Mike’s dad gone, his mom’s care became destabilized and he and his siblings rallied to take turns throughout the year at being the “point person” to call when help is needed at her assisted living facility in Santa Rosa. My mother-in-law is in good health and just needs emotional support and some assistance, so this situation could go on for an indefinite period of time; but we are considering a year here, to see how she does and how we do at living in “the Madland,” as Hawaii people call this place, with its millions of zooming cars, layers of malls and acres of concrete.

Mike came out to assist right after Christmas, and to scout for somewhere we could be happy with our nature-loving ways.

He found this little red cottage on the River, in a tiny community without even mail delivery—a community I’m going to call Playa Verde (because I plan to write about it, and I want fictional disclaimers.)

Playa Verde is perhaps a mile in diameter, built around a couple of bridges across the mighty Russian River, which, since Mike arrived, flooded three times. Our cottage is fifty feet up from the water on a steep hillside studded with redwoods (above the flood zone, thankfully) and looks down at one of the bridges and a very popular beach. There’s a bar just off the bridge with a weatherbeaten, moss-covered sign advertising “The Pink Possum” that’s apparently been there since Prohibition. A Quonset hut that doubles as a movie theater, a diner, a community center and a couple of corner grocery stores of the chewing-tobacco-Jim-Beam-and-canned-beans variety (no artisanal quinoa here!) make up the town’s hub.

Leaving my home of seventeen years was pretty awful. Not only do I live on Maui, one of the top ten “best islands in the world” (according to Travel and Leisure for years running) but I’m embedded in my community, helping run a nonprofit (Keiki Cupboard) and my counseling practice and immediate family are all there too.

At one point I seriously considered just letting Mike go alone—but he asked me in all seriousness, “Could you find it in your heart to take one last big adventure with me?” and his heartfelt words (along with those amazing blue eyes boring into my soul) melted my resistance.

These are the true tests of marriage and commitment, and we get to pass through another of these milestones in our lengthy journey. So I said yes, and it felt like getting married all over again when we celebrated thirty-one years Feb. 1.

The weeks up to the move were a whirlwind of my usual crazy writing schedule interspersed with emotional ups and downs and a million “to do’s.”

One of the biggest challenges of the move, for me, was figuring out what to do with my little dog, Liko. After much debate, I decided to bring him, embarking on the six month rabies vaccination process that would end with him being able to return to Hawaii once he'd left.  A seventeen-pound shih tzu of energetic temperament, he had to go in a carrier small enough to fit under the seat in front of me for the duration of the flight. We began training for that weeks in advance, getting him used to the claustrophobically-small soft sided carrier he’d have to be confined in for more than five hours.

The big day finally arrived after a whirlwind of social events, goodbyes and last minute details—and Liko traveled better than I did, curling up and sleeping the entire plane ride!

When you live in Hawaii, all major passages are marked with that process of boarding, flying, and disembarking from a plane. This trip, while outwardly indistinguishable from the many journeys I take off island each year (except for the significant addition of Liko) felt much different—but the sight of Mike, waiting for me in the Oakland baggage claim with his arms wide open, made it all worthwhile. I’m a sucker for a happy ending (as anyone who reads my stuff can tell) and me and Liko running across the airport to jump into those arms counts as a happy ending in my story–or at least the beginning of a new chapter.

I’m settling into the River House as we have begun to call it. My writing desk is set up in the front room, so I can turn my head to take in the ever changing vista of life on the Russian River: pairs of wood ducks, mallards, grebes and coots paddling up and down; buzzards and hawks wheeling; wreaths and scarves of fog winding above the redwoods, and the guy who parks daily on the gravel shoal beach with his fishing pole in the water.

I walk Liko twice a day on our little frontage road, getting to know every smelly leaf-pile and interesting log, and this morning I trundled across the bridge to the community center and took a lovely yoga class make up of six middle-aged to ancient ladies and one old dude who huffed like a steam train but did an impressive headstand. On the way back, I bought envelopes at the corner market and met the Indian lady, Sagrinda, who owns the store. Further down the road, carrying my grocery bag, I asked an an oldster at the bus stop about the routes, getting an earful about the vagaries of the bus service (I didn’t bring my car) and waved to the friendly cops patrolling our quiet street.

This came to my PO box today! Weighs a ton at 640 pages, but if you like big books…this one's for you!

We have a P.O box and I got my proof copy of the hefty new print book of the Michaels Family Box Set in the mail there today. Playa Verde is already beginning to feel like home.

I particularly like the way light filters in long golden misty lances through the redwoods as I walk the dog in the morning, when sunshine is just breaking through the fog. The chill makes coming home to the smell and warmth of the wood burning stove in our snug living room even sweeter.

Wish me a mellow adjustment and good productivity in the days ahead as I co-author the last book in the Scorch Series with Emily Kimelman, and begin work on Wired Dark, book 4 in the Paradise Crime Series—even as I look around at the colorful characters peopling this village, and dream up fun new stories set on the Russian River in an imaginary place called Playa Verde.

Have you ever had a move you weren’t sure about? What helped you embrace your new location?

(Click on any of the photos to open up for detail into a slide show.)


52 Responses to “We aren’t in #Hawaii any more.”

  1. Janet Oakley

    Bless wishes, Toby. The biggest move of my life was moving from Hilo to the Mainland. Matt was only a year and half old and we brought with us my two looms, crib, fishing equipment, golf clubs and our dog, LaBaie. Left my Hawaii years behind. We had to leave for economic reasons. I’ve often wondered about that leaving and what effect it had our lives, but there it is. The NW suits me very well, but I look forward to coming over again to where my Hawaii Heart is.

    • Toby

      I hope that you are able to return someday too, and maybe we’ll even be on the same island!

  2. Fran

    I’ve moved, at last count, 18 times in my life. Some moves were tougher, some eagerly anticipated. I loved Philadelphia and Ft. Myers, FL., but despised Lenexa, KS and couldn’t wait to leave. However, in Kansas, I finally learned this lesson: if you can find a way to be happy wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you will always be happy. For me, I went full tilt into volunteer work in Kansas, becoming Chair of GE’s volunteer Board of Directors for the region. It was life-changing and kept me sane. When we moved to California, it felt like Nirvana, and still does after 12 years. I’m glad you’re not far away, and in an area of California I particularly love. I hope you’ll find many places and people you love nearly as much as Maui, and I’m sure we’ll catch up soon.

    • Toby

      I look forward to getting together with you and Bill on your next trip to wine country! thanks, Fran!

  3. Geneva Parrish Stokes

    Your blog made me think of the theme song to the “Mary Tyler Moore” show.

    Enjoy your adventure!! Love the pictures.
    Warm wishes from Florida!

  4. Ashlee

    Good luck on this journey!! As a military family we move a lot, and even when I was a kid we were always on the move. This last one marked somewhere above my 25th move in my 34 years of living. Every move is a bit hard. Picking up your life, walking into the unknown, and having to resettle always brings a touch of anxiety, but so far we have always come out ahead. The good news is this house should be it for 10 years, and will be the longest I have ever lived in one house (previously the longest I lived in one house was 6 years when we were stationed in OH). I am looking forward to it!

    • Toby

      I moved A LOT growing up, back and forth to California and Hawaii, and then a good deal as a young married…but we were in our home for 17 years on Maui, and so I was out of practice! Plus, I live in heaven! LOL. But I’m enjoying “Playa Verde” already. Thanks for visiting the blog, Ashlee!

  5. Tina Paley

    My first BIG move was when I was 5 when my parents and older brother moved/immigrated from Germany to Montreal, Canada. We had to learn BOTH English and French, which at my age was fairly easy. A couple of years later we, with a new brother (6 months old) in tow, moved permanently to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Having to make new friends all over again at aged 8 and adjusting to (at that time) all 5 of us loving in one bedroom at a relatives’ apartment until we could afford a place of our own was interesting to say the least. Fast forward to today, had the move from Germany never happened, I would have never found my amazing husband of 35 years this August, been given 3 beautiful daughters, living such a Blessed life and enjoying the privileges and traveling that comes with hard work and determination. Changes are what life is all about.
    I wish you good luck with this new adventure you and Mike are now on and much love to you MIL on her journey of grief.

    • Toby

      Wonderful story of love and the courage of immigration. I, too, live a blessed life wherever I am!

  6. Delayne Romson

    Life takes us in interesting directions sometimes. Bless you for supporting your partner in this move to be with his mom. We did just the opposite. My husband grew up on Maui from the age of 8. We did much the same, flying in and staying a little as well as sharing the trips with his brother. When we had to move her to Hale Makua, my husband moved into the Ohana on her property. I started the process to bring out dog to Maui. More than anything, my husband was so glad we did this as he was able to see her daily and those last 9 months are irreplaceable. We decided to stay in Maui and I so love it here.
    The Russian river is a beautiful area. So if you are in Cali, that is the best place to be. I have no doubt that, at some point, you will be back on the islands. My last 20 years were living in Silicon Valley (crazy place) and then Washington State by the Oregon border.
    Congratulations on the move….but come back at some point. I don’t think there is anywhere I’d rather be than Maui. It wasn’t even a thought in our heads to move here before this time.

    • Toby

      I can’t believe we never met in person, Delayne, while I was there! Will have to rectify that on my next trip back! Thanks for the thoughtful share. xo

  7. Karen M Owen

    Oh Toby. I can relate in so many ways. Time and reflection for your “new normal” may you come to enjoy your time. My heart so understands. Home maybe where you hand your hat, but it also a feeling that takes time to settle in.

    • Toby

      Yes. I felt like God gave me the phrase, “Keep flexible and your heart open” and that’s what I’m trying to do…along with meeting someone new every day. 🙂

  8. Rick Fugitt

    Aloha Toby,
    So sorry to hear about you guys leaving Maui for a little bit. Maui is a special place. Last June, I moved to Oklahoma in order to split my time with my grandkids and oldest daughter (in Oklahoma ) and Maui, where my youngest daughter, age 17, lives. I plan to return to Maui for the month of June. While I am there in June, I plan to set up more permanent lodging and transportation for my return to Maui every year for several months between Jan & July. I’m sure it will go EZ for me as I am so excited to live in the best of all worlds. Along these lines, I want to ask you if you know of anyone, on Maui, who may have an ohana or studio for rent for the upcoming month of June. And do you know of anyone who would want to rent their car during month of June? Well, it seems many of us are still migrating here and there living life itself as the greatest adventure. As always, I wish you and Mike the very best. It will be EZ for you, I am sure. Mahalo

    • Toby

      Hi Rick, yes, things are EZ when we let go and let God! I will email you about our house, we are sharing/renting to friends and family to keep the boat afloat!

  9. Greg

    Islands are great – so are rivers. We live on an island with a river outside our door – best of both. Thanks for the blog post. We travelled up the Russian River about 45 years ago and loved it – beautiful place. I thought you and Mike might like this song – we do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsePPvjqAks

  10. Kristy

    Thank you SO much for sharing! I was crying by the end as I, too, am leaving Maui, my home for 39 years. I just can’t swing it financially, being solo, plus I’m leaving a relationship that needs distance. I’m terrified as I don’t even know where I’m going! But, I’m going to hold Mike’s words in my heart: one last Great Adventure🙏🏼

    • Toby

      One last big adventure! I’m so sorry you’re being uprooted too…it’s so challenging. I’ve got a word of wisdom I’m holding in my heart for those angry/sad/scared moments: “stay flexible, heart open.” On the “other side” of being here, it’s a little easier. I think it will be for you too. BUt not gonna lie, I cried every day for two months until I finally got on that plane.
      Even knowing I’d be back someday…”stay flexible, heart open.”

  11. Susan

    In the early seventies, my ex, our three young boys, an olde English sheepdog, a couple of Siamese cats, and 26 house plants set out from Newport, Rhode Island for Monterey, CA pulling a large travel trailer. The further west we traveled, the more I loved the land. In Monterey, I first saw the Pacific Ocean. I loved the colorful Victorian houses of Pacific Grove, the Spanish architecture of Monterey, the wild coastline of Big Sur. We could camp in Yosemite in the high Sierras or drive down to Carmel for the day. I was captivated by the celebrations of Mexican holidays and loved authentic Mexican food. The children and I stayed for seventeen years. Life in a new location is always an adventure. Enjoy yours.

    • Toby

      Wonderful story, Susan! I love it. And Monterey and Carmel and that whole stretch of coast are lovely. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Laurie

    Hi Toby,
    We met once when you were visiting San Francisco. It was great to read about your heartfelt decision to support your husband, and also how you are digging in with gusto to the Russian River area. It is a beautiful spot, and you will discover some little hidden, wild beaches along that coast where you can camp overnight and dive for abalone (if you get a license). Your so smart to stay away from the artisanal quinoa and all that goes with it 😉 Happy Trails, Laurie

    • Toby

      Of course I remember, and hope we meet again! Thanks for the well wishes. It’s been fun to see your books’ success!

  13. Molly

    Toby, if you have to leave Maui, the Russian River Valley is a good place to be. Your open heart and adventurous soul must have been ready for such a transition, and it’s inspiring to hear about how you’ve re-committed to a new life. It’s shocking how often life can ask us to do things we never thought were necessary … and how unbelievably beautiful the gifts are when we just go with it. I’m hoping your new surroundings are inspiring and loving to you, and I’m sure that your connection to this new place will serve your island ohana well, no matter when you return. Much love and aloha to you!

    • Toby

      Molly, beautifully expressed as a writer can do. Thanks and your aloha is a warm sendoff. I’ll be back!

  14. Brent maither

    Say Hi to Pat Goldcoastcoffee Duncan Mills…..Say Brent sent ya…..If I ever had to leave Hawaii I would go back there ……hangout bodega bay and town of bodega too…say hi to Bob surf shack……such an awesome area…..nicest people I ever knew…..miss them all soo much

    • Toby

      I sure will. Have already had coffee there. Love Bodega too. Glad you know it well, I’m looking forward to becoming familiar!

  15. Suzanne

    Best wishes for a smooth transition and a lovely time in CA! As for the steelhead, they are very much real, just elusive. 😉
    I hope we get a chance to visit this summer, whether you make it to Humboldt, or on one of my passes through Sonoma.

  16. Denise

    First, I want to thank you again for the signed copy of Wired In. I am sure you will enjoy California living.

    I grew up in the Bay Area, Walnut Creek and Concord. I graduated from High School with people I had known since Kindergarten and all of my family were in the area. In fact, my mom had been born there and lived all her life in the same area.

    In 1992, after the end of a long relationship, I was offered the chance to move to the Phoenix area with my company. I was ready for a new start, but it was really hard to leave my friends and family. I would only know a few people in Arizona, all from work, so it was a scary thought.

    Now, I see it was the best thing I could have done. The first couple of years was a challenge and I questioned my decision more than once. If I had not made the move, though, I probably would not have gone back to school, and I definitely would not have met my husband. I am pretty sure I would not have a Master’s Degree or be working as a Counselor. Looking back, I can see that everything works how it is supposed to and I was meant to be here. The funny thing is that most of my family is now living in Arizona. Who would have thought!

    I hope you are able to settle in and enjoy the life in that part of California. It is very beautiful and there is always something new to discover.

  17. Jennifer J. Chow

    Oh, hugs to you, Toby. Wishing you a smooth adjustment and the best to you and your family. And what a beautiful testament of your marriage together (congrats on the anniversary!).

  18. Mary

    Thanks for taking me along on your change of venue. I’m in the process of selling my house, purging years of STUFF and hopefully, all the baggage that comes with it all. Unlike you, my move is leaving a place that hasn’t given me the best memories, to a place that I hope will give me a good kick start and onto something more positive. One thing I can say for you. No matter how crazy the last few weeks of the move have been, you’ve still managed to write beautiful and amazing words! Good on you and good luck in your new place. It looks lovely!

    • Toby

      I write to know what I know and figure it out. I write to live more fully. Thanks, Mary, you are a special and incredibly talented person. Xo

  19. Holly Robinson

    I can’t wait to see your new digs, Toby–and your new life. I love how you’ve embraced the changes as an adventure together. The thing that has always gotten me through a move is knowing that my true home is where my heart is, and that’s always with my family. Maui will be there when you’re ready to go back.

    • Toby

      Yes, I know, and yes, it will. And I can’t wait to see you two!

  20. Bonnie T.

    I’ve also moved several times. I remember one time being particularly sad and depressed about living so far from friends and family (even, at one point, sitting in the back of a closet and crying). I thought I had made a huge mistake, uprooting my little family for that move. One day, I took a big yellow pad out and listed all (well, most) of the dumb decisions I’d made in my life. To the right of that list, I was able to list some quite wonderful things that had happened to me because of most of those dumb decisions. (New friends, new career, new adventures.) One thing I’ve learned: “Don’t cry because it’s over; Smile because it happened. ” Dr. Seuss. Love you, enjoy another ‘great adventure’.

  21. Bill Kasal

    Another grand adventure. Do you need me to tie you some fishing flies?

    Best of luck to you and your hubby!

  22. J.H. Moncrieff

    Oh Toby, I’m so sorry to hear about your father-in-law. Please pass on my condolences to Mike as well. I’m sure it was a huge decision, with a ton of considerations and adjustments, to make this move, even temporarily. Feel free to send me the info about your home too. I don’t know if I can squeeze in another writing event this year or not, but it would definitely make a nice retreat if you have a window between housesitters and boarders.

    As for moves, I wasn’t at all sure about moving for love when I was 17. I’d grown up in a close-knit Northern community and I was moving to yet another, one where I didn’t know any a soul but my psychotic boyfriend and his psychotic family. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last, but that year taught me a lot about survival and I met some amazing people.


  23. Skip Thomsen

    Aloha, Toby!
    I just read your story about relocating to the Russian River and I had to respond. First, I’m one of your biggest fans and have read every Lei Series book, now into Paradise Crime Series and am always awaiting the next one. Please never stop writing based-in-Hawaii mysteries! Your stories are intriguing, exiting, always new but with that character and place familiarity I love in my reading. Plus the stories all take me back to my beloved Hawaii, which brings me around to why I’m responding!

    My lovely bride and I used to live in Hawaii. We were there, we thought, forever, with no intention of ever leaving. We lived in Puna and then in the hills of Hilo for 19 years and loved every instant of our lives there. We loved everything about living in Hawaii; the culture, the weather, the lifestyle, the fact that on the Big Island everybody’s a minority, the several picture-perfect beach parks within ten minutes of home, riding my Harley in the warm sun, the wonderful and emotional Hawaiian cultural and music events, Pidgin, those 7-for-a-dollar papayas at the Hilo Farmers’ Market . . .

    But then along came grandkids. On the Mainland. They started growing up and we saw them seldom. We used to listed to others with this same story and just kind of thought, hey, let the kids and grandkids come to you instead of you uprooting your lives and moving away from Hawaii.

    Right. So after a few years of soul-searching, we made the oh-so-difficult decision to move back to the California we had worked long and hard to hard to escape. Our kids all lived in the Bay Area, and there was no way we were going to move into or even close to San Francisco. So we looked around for a year with many house-hunting visits and finally discovered . . . the Russian River! Only 15 minutes to a doable-sized city, less than two hours to the kids’ homes, but we could be out in a beautiful redwood forest close to the river and only 20 minutes from the ocean. We have to be close to the ocean!

    We made out last flight out of Hawaii with teary eyes a little over five years ago. We miss Hawaii each and every day, we seriously do not enjoy being so cold in the winters or living in triple-digit summers, but as in your story, it’s a workable compromise.

    I know exactly where your cabin is there in “Playa Verde,” and you’ve come to one of the best spots in Northern California. Great people, a lot of Aloha here, and hey, the river really doesn’t look like that all year! Right near our home in Forestville (we’re only two minutes from the river), there are several beaches where we used to take our granddaughters when they were younger. The summer water is almost crystal clear and fun for them to play in.

    OK, I’ve got to get back to Wired Hard!

    Best to you in your new (for now) home!

    • Toby

      Oh my, what a SMALL world! How lovely to hear from you, and for sure with Forestville so close by, we have to have a coffee in Guerneville or something! Thanks so much for the kind aloha welcome! Appreciate the folks here so much already.

  24. Nancy

    No stories about big moves, as the few moves I’ve made have been within 120 miles of each other. This is a breathtaking picture of one of life’s many unexpected journeys that you’ve painted here, and I just wanted to tell you so.

  25. R.E. Donald

    So sorry to hear about the upheaval but I’m sure you will be successful and happy, no matter where you are. We exchanged an email or two when you were in B.C., which you might not recall. I live on a ranch near Lone Butte, just SW of 100 Mile House in the Cariboo.

    I wondered why I didn’t see your name on the list of writers attending Left Coast Crime in Honolulu. I assumed you would be there and was looking forward to meeting you, thinking we might even have been on the same panel (Police Procedurals), if you were .

    Even though you left Hawaii (at least temporarily), you have moved to another version of paradise. Best of luck!