Fijne feestdagen
(Holiday Greetings from Amsterdam)


Photo op at the Iamsterdam sign near our home

Sharene and Harrison’s 2017 Christmas Update

Last year we began our update with a short film, The Tale of Kat & Dog. (If you didn’t watch it last year, click the link — it’s a wonderful story that illustrates why we love living in Amsterdam.) But we have to be honest, life isn’t perfect here. (We hear the gasps!) This year, in a modest attempt to be “fair and balanced” about Dutch life, we start off with The Dark Side of Living in the Netherlands:

Five Years in Amsterdam

In October we celebrated our 5th anniversary of moving full-time to Amsterdam. While we will always treasure our years in Hawaii, these past five years have been the most extraordinary either one of us have ever had. The lifestyle, culture, values, physical surroundings, and of course the Dutch themselves — pretty much everything except the weather — are a perfect fit for us in this time of our lives.

Farewell (Tot Ziens) Hanneke

Hanneke van Mierlo

Hanneke van Mierlo

Hanneke van Mierlo was the very first person we met when we first came to Amsterdam in 2009. We had arranged to stay at the apartment of her friend (and now ours) Frank, and while Frank was hiking in India, Hanneke came to Schiphol Airport to welcome us to Amsterdam. She was a wonderful tour guide, and when we came back in 2011 for four months, and then moved here the following year, she became one of our best Dutch friends.

Hanneke was always in a good mood and loved living. Unfortunately, her body didn’t always cooperate, and she suffered from health problems for many years. She was diagnosed with cancer this past February and died 14 November at the age of 56. We’ll think of her often, especially at Christmas, because she gave us several beautiful, hand-stitched holiday cards, and when we have mussels, a favorite Dutch dish, because she taught us how to prepare them. Tot ziens to a lovely friend.

Aloha Hawaii

It was time to say goodbye to another part of life as well — our connection to Hawaii. When we moved to Amsterdam, we still owned three rental properties there and thought we might come back for a few months each year and use them. We realized within a short time that our focus was on Amsterdam and Europe, and traveling halfway around the world was not that appealing. The three properties served their purpose as excellent investments, but over the last few years, as the Hawaii real estate market improved, we knew it was time to sell them. So one by one, we have divested our ties there and continued the process of simplifying our lives.

In June, Harrison traveled to Honolulu and Maui to get the final two properties ready for new owners. While there, he was joined by our friend Els, a Dutch woman now living in Spain, who had never been to Hawaii before. We have spent so much time in Hawaii that we tend to notice the imperfections and miss “the good old days.” It was fun to show Hawaii to Els and see its still spectacular beauty through her eyes.

Our long journey that led us to this wonderful life in Amsterdam started almost 10 years ago in Hawaii with a decision to retire and reinvent ourselves, as we had done both separately and together several times before. We sold our home and vacation rental business first, and after we found the home in Amsterdam that we hope will be our last, we started eliminating other complications. We are very happy that by the end of 2017 we will be free of all business and rental real estate obligations. It’s a great feeling finally to have achieved that long-term goal.

Sharene’s Dutch Driver’s License

Last year we described Harrison’s ordeal to get his Dutch driver’s license, and this year was Sharene’s turn. It’s not easy here; 70% fail the written exam the first time, and then no matter how long you have been driving in another country (for Harrison it was over 50 years, for Sharene 47!), you must take driving lessons with an instructor. Sharene’s story:

Sharene Driving

Cool car compliments of our friend Monica… but the thumbs up and smile is because I passed!

“It was painful! After studying for six weeks, I failed the first written exam badly and barely passed on the second try. I thought that was the hard part, but no way. I had to take 22 hours of driving lessons with an instructor I didn’t get along with, and I was ready to give up. But I didn’t, and in all fairness, driving here is unlike anywhere else. There are cars, trucks, buses, trams, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians and tourists (a different sort of pedestrian!), and oh, about a billion bikes, all moving at the same time. And lots and lots of rules. So now after all that effort, time, and money, we can now both drive in the Netherlands. And we have, twice! End result: I’m happier on my bike!”

Driving Test

Who has priority?

Our American readers may have trouble understanding how a driver’s license exam could be so difficult, so here’s just one sample question from the study guide for the 40-question written exam (which requires 87.5% correct to pass). In the figure on the left, who has priority? (Priority is the European term for right-of-way.) In other words, what is the crossing order? This is important to know not only for the exam but also in real life; it’s a common intersection and you might be the man in blue or the woman with children trying to cross without getting hit! See if you’re surprised by the answer: 1. Red convertible; 2. Motorcycle and woman with children; 3. Car at stop sign; 4. Bicycle and man in blue.

Nearby Beauty

No, we’re not referring to the women in the Red Light District! Our Christmas letters tend to focus on people — house guests and other visitors, friends and family we see when we travel — but we also take a lot of photos of beautiful and interesting places we come across on our bike rides or walks. Here’s a sample (roll over photos for captions; click any photo for a slideshow):


We love Amsterdam so much that we hate to leave it, but we do from time to time! This year we traveled to a bunch of places, some together, some separately, some with friends. In addition to Harrison’s trip to Hawaii (mentioned above), after which he flew to Seattle for a few days, Sharene traveled to California for her annual “Girl’s Trip,” where she also saw her sister and brother-in-law. One or both of us also visited the Dutch island of Terschelling, Eindhoven (for a Barbershop singing competition), Vilnius in Lithuania (for a Tommy Emmanuel performance), Berlin, Sardinia, Maastricht (for a concert by Dutch favorite André Rieu), Barcelona, the French town of Uzès, and Herentals, Belgium (to visit a high-school classmate of Harrison’s). Some photo highlights:

People and Activities

You’ve probably heard anecdotes about people who retire, get bored, and die within six months. We’re in the other category of retired people who are so busy they don’t know how they ever had time for a job! Between activities in and around Amsterdam and time with local and visiting friends, our challenge is to find quiet time for ourselves. But we loved having all of our visitors and showing them around Holland.

Harrison’s Other Piano

A fun lost and found story. When we moved from Hawaii to Amsterdam, we shipped two pianos. One was the Baldwin baby grand that Harrison has had since 1974 and now graces our living area, but we also shipped the small Everett console piano that Harrison learned on and has been in his family since 1960. We didn’t have room for two pianos, but there was no market on the Big Island for used pianos so we thought it better to move both of them to Amsterdam and sell the Everett here. We consigned it to an Amsterdam piano dealer and he sold it for us in mid-2013.

HK Piano

Harrison’s other piano

Jump ahead four years to 2017. Amsterdam has a prominent music store called Concerto. We’ve passed by it regularly since way back in 2011 when it was close to one of the apartments we rented during our four months in Amsterdam, but for some reason, in all that time, we had never gone inside — until this past summer when Harrison was on a walk and noticed that Concerto served coffee. His story:

“I went inside and found a cute little area with tables and chairs, part of which was raised and could be cleared of the seating and used as a stage. Off to the side I saw a small upright piano. It had the same shape as my old Everett. And the same color. I moved closer. I saw the Everett label. Could it be? Then I saw the consigner’s logo sticker on the front. Yes! After four years, I had found my old piano. Perhaps only another musician can relate to my joy in discovering it, because of course I never expected to see it again.

“I told the Concerto staff my story, and they said that they have regular live performances in that space and my piano is used often. I sat down with my coffee while soaking in the ‘energy’ of a piano that had been a part of my life for over 50 years. I haven’t been back to hear it being played, but it’s nice to know where it wound up, and that it’s being used regularly by people who can actually play it well.”

Holiday Thoughts

SKHK 31 Years

Celebrating 31 years together

It’s hard to believe, but this month we celebrated the 31st anniversary of our first date back in 1986. We had no idea what adventures awaited us! We are grateful each and every day for our good health, the extraordinary life we have been able to enjoy, and the people who have touched us. If you’ve made it this far in our long update, then thank you, mahalo, and dankjewel for being a part of this magical journey. We wish you and your families fijne feestdagen (happy holidays) and an enchanting and interesting 2018.

Harrison and Sharene

Four Years in Amsterdam

Back in Switzerland for our 25th Wedding Anniversary

Back in Switzerland for our 25th Wedding Anniversary

Sharene and Harrison’s 2016 Christmas Update

We’ll start off this update with a home movie! (Well, it’s a movie about our home. Does that count?) The Holland Marketing Alliance has a very successful award-winning series of tourist videos called “Holland. The Original Cool.” The videos have been so successful that they are cutting back on promotion because there are too many tourists! But we want you to see one of the latest videos because it’s almost an allegory for our life in Amsterdam. We know nearly every place shown in this 18-minute film (we live close to many of them) and the sweet love story filled with magic isn’t that far from our own experience here.


It was a year of milestones: 30 years together, 25 years married, four years living in Amsterdam, and the most discouraging presidential election of our lives. But the big event for us was our long fall trip back to Hawaii. We visited four islands: Oahu, Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai. Our Dutch friend Martin was with us for part of the trip and it was fun to see Hawaii through the eyes of someone who had never been there. After so many years away, we had a fair amount of work to do at our rental condos in Honolulu and Maui, but we still had time to enjoy ourselves and of course appreciate the warm weather.

On the Big Island, we saw our former home, Hale Kakahi, and we were able to visit with quite a few friends, most at an open house we held at the home of one of our former vacation rental clients.

We had some more nice times with friends and family in Honolulu and on Maui. Sharene and her sister, Linda, have birthdays only two days apart in October, and the wedding anniversary of Linda and her husband, Ralph, is almost at the same time. It meant so much to us that they took the time and effort to come to Hawaii to celebrate these events with us. We had dinner with Steve and Iku; Steve was our business partner on the Big Island and now he and Iku are real estate agents in Honolulu who have been very helpful with our own properties there. Sharene learned that Dominic, her boss at WorldRes during the first dot-com boom in Silicon Valley in the 1990s, was visiting Honolulu while we were there, so we had breakfast with him. And on Maui, Sharene cooked dinner for Matt, the son of her best high school girlfriend, Linda. Linda owns a condo just down the street from ours and Matt and his girlfriend were staying there during our visit.

Our 1991 wedding took place at a home in Kona on the Big Island owned by Pat and Phil Bickel. We had met them two years before on our first trip to Hawaii together, and we liked them and their home so much that we asked to get married there on the day before a total eclipse of the sun was to occur. Because the eclipse was a big deal in Hawaii, Pat and Phil’s daughter, Lindsay, brought her two children, Noel (9) and Max (6), from their home on Kauai to see it. Since they were at the house for the eclipse, they attended our wedding as well. It was a very small wedding; there were only nine people including the minister and us, so Lindsay and the kids were a third of it! We later met Lindsay’s husband, Greg, and discovered we had a fascinating connection to him as well. We became and have remained friends, watched Noel and Max grow up, and mourned when Phil and then Pat passed away. We visited Lindsay and Greg in their elegant home on Kauai, and on Sharene’s birthday, when we were in Honolulu, we were given royal treatment by Max, who is now 31 and a skilled mixologist at Top of Waikiki, a rotating restaurant overlooking Honolulu.

Harrison hadn’t been back to the United States at all since we moved in 2012, and while Sharene had traveled to the U.S. several times, she hadn’t seen Hawaii for over three years. We feel extraordinarily fortunate to have grown up and lived most of our lives in the United States during what very well may have been its peak years. However, our time in Hawaii and on the mainland (Sharene also visited San Francisco and Harrison stopped in Seattle) just reinforced our decision to move to Amsterdam. We enjoyed seeing familiar places and visiting old friends, but it was crystal clear to us that our lives in Amsterdam are much happier, healthier, and just overall better than they would be in the United States.


We took another trip down memory lane for our 25th wedding anniversary in July. Way back in 1988 we took our first vacation to Switzerland together and visited Riederalp, a beautiful village in the Bernese Alps that Harrison’s mother read about in the San Diego newspaper. Many years later in 2009 on another trip to Switzerland, our “adopted daughter” Amelia took us to Ascona, a charming city in the Ticino, the Italian part of the country. We hadn’t been back to either place since, and they’re not too far apart, so we decided to visit both again for our anniversary. Riederalp sits near the top of a mountain at 1905 meters (6250 feet) and is car-free; you leave your car in the valley and take a 3000-meter-long (nearly two miles) aerial tram to the charming village. You keep going up, up, up, like Jack in the Beanstalk, until you’re in a different world and can’t even see the valley anymore. It’s primarily a skiing village, so when it’s quiet in the summer you can hike almost alone along the Aletsch glacier, an amazing alpine experience. The weather was spectacular, we got in some great hikes, and we took some fabulous photos (including the one at the top of the page).

After hiking in the Alps, we headed to Ascona. It’s only about 60 km (40 miles) away, but what complete cultural opposites! They speak Italian there, and you might as well be in Tuscany (except it’s Switzerland so everything is more efficient). Our dear friend Sarah (Amelia’s mother) joined us for this part of the trip (we were also in Switzerland with her five years ago for our 20th anniversary) and we walked through the hills, took a boat ride on Lago Maggiore, and had some nice meals together.

We visit Switzerland often but it’s usually to see Sarah or our “adopted daughters.” This was the first time we have played tourist there in quite a while and it was nice to be reminded what a gorgeous country it is. A great place to celebrate 25 years of marriage and the amazing love and life we have shared.


Once again our year has been full of visiting family and friends. We like to think they come just to see us, but we know that Amsterdam remains one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world so it all works out! (After watching Kat and Dog, how could you not want to come here?) Here are some of the highlights.


Sharene continued the long tradition of her annual Girls’ Trip with her three best girlfriends. This was their 21st year of traveling together — every year the place is different and of course so are their lives. This year they chose Martha’s Vineyard as a celebration of Cathy’s retirement from teaching, so now two out of the four have joined the big “R” club. Martha’s Vineyard was a perfect choice, and by coincidence Sharene could also see two more friends from our days in Hawaii — Linda and Ann — who just happened to be in Massachusetts at the same time. Once again Sharene feels very fortunate to have such beautiful women friends.


Another special moment came during the trip to Hawaii when we laid the ashes of our nephew’s husband to rest in front of Hale Kakahi. Junior’s wish was to be with his late husband, John, on the ocean, where years ago we created a little family memorial. On a more fun note, Sharene cheered up Jennie by throwing a Girls’ Party for her. (The slings were for Suzette who broke her arm and couldn’t make it.) And Martin and Sharene helped our friend Monica celebrate her husband’s 70th birthday at a ’70s Birthday Party. They really rocked it with their outfits!


One of the big reasons we moved to Amsterdam and love living here is that we don’t have to own a car. But that doesn’t mean we never want to drive. We can get pretty much everywhere we want to go in the Netherlands by foot, bike, tram, bus, or train, but every now and then a car would make it just a little bit easier. We could rent a car, but we couldn’t drive it, because under Dutch law, once you have lived here for six months, it’s illegal to drive here without a Dutch driver’s license — your foreign license is no longer valid. We can’t simply exchange our American licenses for Dutch ones, we have to start from scratch and pass both the theory and practical tests just as if we were learning to drive for the first time.

Harrison’s Driving Test

Passed the driving test and happy to be done with this ordeal!

At first we heard that the tests were given only in Dutch. Later we learned that you could pay a little extra and take the tests in English, but by then we were so busy enjoying life that it wasn’t until this summer that Harrison finally took the time to study for the tests. And study he did! You would think that someone who has driven safely for over 50 years and who graduated from two of the finest universities on the planet wouldn’t find a driving test much of a challenge, but you don’t know the Dutch driving test! It took almost three months of concentrated effort and 18 hours of driving lessons to prepare for the tests. Harrison is a licensed pilot and these tests were harder than the U.S. private pilot exams!

We have heard from many expats (and a lot of locals) that it took them multiple tries before they passed, so Harrison is pleased that he passed both tests the first time. Sharene, however, is not looking forward to the process herself! She’s still getting over the fact that she has had not one, but two bikes stolen since she’s lived here!


We never get over the extraordinary but approachable beauty of this city, our wonderful apartment, and the friends who embody the welcoming spirit that Amsterdam has shown throughout the city’s history. (We overlook the bike thieves!) Here are just a few more photos of some places we love and friends who deserve to be recognized for making our time in Amsterdam special.

Important note: If you’ve made it this far, you have read our letter and seen the small photos. But in case you haven’t already figured it out, you can roll your mouse over any photo to see the caption, or click on any photo for a slide show of full-size photos. (Some computers, tablets, and smartphones may operate differently.)


We end this year’s update with a bittersweet farewell to our dear friend Eva, who passed out of our lives earlier this year and moved on to new and exciting times. Eva, you were truly a gift and the amazing experiences we shared were high points of our lives. Love always and we wish you well.

With Eva and Bogi

With Eva and Bogi at the Bohém Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary


We have now lived in Amsterdam for four years. By the time we had been in Hawaii for four years, we had already begun to recognize the challenges and limits to a happy life there. Here, though, life remains just about perfect. Perhaps something surprising will happen to make us say, “We didn’t see that one coming,” but so far all the surprises have been positive and we can’t imagine where else in the world we would ever want to call home. We hope that wherever you call home, you find the joy that we have in Amsterdam.

Sharene Harrison Merry ChristmasDank je wel for taking the time to read our letter. We love hearing from the people who have touched our lives, and we appreciate your letters, photos, cards, or comments using the form on our website. Wishing our families and friends a very merry Christmas and a safe, healthy, and happy 2017.

Harrison and Sharene

Merry Christmas 2015

With Martin and Eva in the Garden

With Martin and Eva in the Garden

Sharene and Harrison’s Annual Update from Amsterdam

This year started out with a bang! The first week of January Sharene got hit in the head by a champagne bottle that came flying out of an overhead compartment on a flight home from Vienna. Ouch! But things went up from there and 2015 turned out to be another fabulous year — one of the best years of our lives.

We only had 16 sets of overnight guests this year — slow for us! — but all were fascinating in their very different ways. We got them on bikes and canal boats, took them to King’s Day celebrations, tulip fields, museums, concerts, and picnics, and we always dragged them outside to our new garden for a glass of wine! We had four sets of friends from Hawaii bring us lots of aloha. There were friends from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, California, and Washington, all with truly fascinating conversations. In October Harrison’s cousin and his wife from Iowa were here; it meant so much to us for them to make the trip.


All of our “Swiss family” — Sarah, Amelia, Isabel, and Hallie — came to see us (Sarah came twice!), which was the most special of all. We still wonder why they love us, but whatever the reason, we’ll take it! We will spend Christmas with them in Switzerland this year after hosting them in Amsterdam in 2014.


Sweden, Norway, Berlin, Vienna, Switzerland, England, with a “toe dip” into Hungary were all on our European itinerary this year. But the two travel highlights for Sharene were her annual Girls’ Trip with her three best friends — this year at a fabulous house on the coast of Maine — and a quick trip to Kansas City to see her brother and his family and her sister from California who met her there. The Kansas City Royals happened to be in the baseball playoffs that week, so having been away from the mainland USA for 15 years and having zero interest in sports, she felt a bit like a fish out of water. But seeing her family made up for it and Kansas City is gorgeous.


We try to support local musicians as much as we can. We’re often at the Concertgebouw near our home or at a little venue called the Pianola Museum, and we also hosted two Gypsy Jazz private home concerts this year with new friends we have met in the music community.


We continue to meet the most fascinating people here! After living here for three years we still marvel at our good fortune in finding a place that is such a perfect fit for us. We spend a lot of time with our two closest friends, Eva and Martin, and we have taken some fun trips together to one of the islands off the Dutch coast, several other charming places in Holland, and to Hungary. Of course Frank, Hanneke, and Tanja — friends we have known since the first day we arrived — are still very much in our lives. We continue to meet new friends all the time but we do our best to stay connected to those we have known for many years. (It’s true, Facebook helps!)


We had lots of dinner and garden parties. We redid our garden in the spring and we spend as much time out there as we can when the weather is nice — and when it’s not we tell our guests to put on a sweater! It stays light until 10 pm in the summer so it’s great to be outside. It’s not the 3-acre oceanfront garden we had in Hawaii but it’s much more manageable! And the scenic beauty we experience every day just by living here is extraordinary.

Important note: If you’ve made it this far, you have read our letter and seen the small photos. But in case you haven’t already figured it out, you can roll your mouse over any photo to see the caption, or click on any photo for a slide show of full-size photos. (Some computers, tablets, and smartphones may operate differently.)


Christmas Tree 2015Christmas Greetings 2015Our eclectic, well-dressed 2015 Christmas tree is a perfect reflection of our life in Amsterdam. We are truly grateful every single day for the healthy, happy, extraordinary life we have. Our wish for 2016 is that the people we love will know the same joy we have found.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas season and hoping you can create your own dream lives in 2016.

Harrison and Sharene

Christmas In Amsterdam 2014

Greetings from Amsterdam


Our second full year in Amsterdam was even better than our first, and we’re ending it on a high — our first Christmas in Amsterdam after spending the past three in Switzerland. This year we convinced most of our Swiss family to come here for the holidays. Sarah, Isabel, and Hallie will be here; unfortunately Amelia has commitments that tie her to Switzerland, but we have seen her several times this year so we forgive her!

Through the magic of Facebook, Skype, email, SMS, WhatsApp, and many personal visits, most of you already know we still love living in Amsterdam. Moving to Europe from half-way across the world in Hawaii wasn’t crazy after all — this is a perfect fit for our personalities. We are still pinching ourselves that we get to live in what is (in our humble opinion) the most interesting city in the world. We appreciate all the visits from our friends and family members — we have had over 60 people stay with us since we moved two years ago, not counting repeat guests! And we have met many more new European friends so our life is very full.

We are breaking from our annual tradition of writing a long newsy update and giving you a review in pictures of highlights from our past year. You can roll your mouse over any photo to get a caption, and click on any photo for a bigger version and a longer description. Or you can view the entire slide show by clicking on the first (or any) photo and using the arrows to cycle through all of them.

We are healthy and grateful every single day of the year. We wish you all a happy Christmas season filled with music, holiday decorations, good food, and lots of love. Our sincere best wishes for a healthy and happy 2015.

Harrison & Sharene


Our Third Swiss Christmas

Rijksmuseum Skating

Holiday skating in front of the Rijksmuseum near our home in Amsterdam


It’s Christmas 2013 and for the third year in a row we are in Switzerland with our Swiss family to celebrate the holidays—a wonderful new tradition for us. Unlike what you might expect of Switzerland, we are not having a white Christmas. The skies are blue, the sun is shining, the temperature is mild, and we have a great view of the snow-covered Alps so we can’t complain!

At the Rössli

Christmas dinner at the Rössli: Isabel, Hallie, Sharene, Harrison, Sarah, Griff, Amelia, Phil


Through the magic of Facebook, Skype, email, and because we have had so many visitors, many of you already know what a fairy-tale year we have had in 2013. Our move to Amsterdam has been positive in every imaginable way; in fact, it’s been positive in ways we could not imagine. We are more in love with this city than we were in 2011 when we  lived here for four months. There is a vibrant energy in every neighborhood, every event, and every street, and to us, the Dutch people are the most welcoming, nicest people we have ever met. Our new home is a dream come true; our remodeling was not stressful in any way, we worked with fabulous people, and it was fun to create a home out of a house.

At Home

In front of our new home… truly our dream house!



Best of all, we had many visitors this past year and we thank each one for taking the time to come and see us. Unlike in Hawaii where we were busy working all the time, we are now able to spend time with our guests, so we gave lots of tours and had many bike rides and picnics, and we also had many dinner parties with our new Dutch friends. Plus this year, Sharene’s annual girl’s trip occurred in Amsterdam; the 18th year of traveling together!

When we don’t have company, we fill our days with studying Dutch, going to movies, and working on other projects big and small. Harrison has been doing a lot of web work recently on our hotel websites ( and its sister sites) as well as our personal website Many of our friends who received the email newsletters we sent out during our “year of being homeless” in 2011 asked if we could make them available in blog form, so Harrison has been hard at work converting each of the over 52 weekly emails into blog posts (this post was originally an email as well).


We had some amazing experiences traveling to Berlin and Hungary this year, as well as an “interesting” (you can read between the lines on that one) bike and barge trip to France. One highlight (of many) during 2013 was our housewarming party in September. We had over 65 people there and all but two were new Dutch friends; the other two were our dear friends Jeanne and Mike who were visiting from California. It was a great party, complete with a boogie woogie piano player on Harrison’s newly refurbished Baldwin baby grand.


The second highlight was Sharene’s birthday—celebrated in the same apartment where she lived in the ’80s when she and Harrison were dating! Her best friend Cathy has been living there since then and hosted a fabulous girl’s party with six of her dearest friends and her sister Linda. It was a magical day.


We are so grateful for the life we are living and our good health. We could have moved (almost) anywhere, and we think Amsterdam is the best place in the world for us. And we are very happy that so many of our friends think so too, because the best lesson we have learned is how important it is to spend time with those you care about. We like to think our friends and family would visit us wherever we are, but it helps that we’re here!

We want to extend a warm, heartfelt greeting to each and every one of you and hope that good health and little bit of your own magic will be part of your 2014.

Fijne Feestdagen! (Happy Holidays!)

Harrison & Sharene

On the Herengracht

The Herengracht (Gentlemen’s Canal) during a bike ride

Merry Christmas from Amsterdam

Canal Skating

Source: Twitter

Sharene and Harrison’s 2012 Christmas Letter from Amsterdam

Aloha and Hallo!

We did it — we have really moved to Amsterdam. More on that below, but we’re ending up 2012 the same way we started it, by spending the holidays in Switzerland with Sarah and her family. We claim her three beautiful daughters — Amelia, Isabel and Hallie — as our hanai (“adopted”) daughters but deserve no credit for the incredible young women they are. But claim away we do and we cherish every moment we can spend with them.

By the time we left Switzerland last January, we had pretty much decided to make the move from Hawaii to Amsterdam, and we spent much of the year preparing for that move. But we still had lots of places to go; in between our two visits to Switzerland in January and December of this year, we stayed in 29 different places, some for a night or two, some for a month or several.

On January 3rd we flew from Zurich to Boston, picked up our car (which had been stored by a friend), and drove back to the West Coast via the southern route — down the East Coast to Florida, all the way across the continent to Los Angeles, and north from there, visiting more family and friends along the way. Harrison went on to Seattle, while Sharene spent time with her sister Linda in California.

By March we were back in Hawaii, a few weeks in Honolulu then several months in Hilo. We spent those months downsizing our two lifetimes of accumulated personal possessions by about 50%. When we finished we were down to one 10 x 15-foot storage unit, the amount that would fit into a single shipping container and that we hoped would fit into a much smaller space in Amsterdam than we have been used to in the U.S. It was a tough and humbling exercise as we realized that things with so much meaning to us had little value to anyone else (although we were able to send some heirloom furniture to one of Harrison’s relatives). But as painful as it was, we got ourselves organized for our move halfway around the world.

HKSK Banyan 2012

Sharene & Harrison at Coconut Island in Hilo

We celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary while we were in Hilo. We took this photo at the same spot where Harrison asked Sharene to marry him in 1989, long before we had any idea we would move to this part of Hawaii. It was a very special celebration knowing it might be the last time we were here.

We managed to play a little while we were in Hawaii. We saw lots of old friends and spent some time in Honolulu, Kauai, and Maui. One of the best times was when Amelia traveled all the way from Switzerland to spend 10 days with us; it was wonderful to have her to ourselves for so long.

SK Family 2012

Sharene’s family reunion

We also made two trips back to California, one for the beautiful wedding of the daughter of one of our best friends and one for a reunion of Sharene’s family. Spending time with close friends and family meant so much to us since our move to another continent was just around the corner. Sharene’s brother came out from Kansas City for the reunion on a picture perfect day at Linda’s gorgeous home.

Our New Life and Home in Amsterdam

We boarded our one-way flight to Amsterdam the last day of September and began our new adventure of living abroad! For those of you interested in the legal aspects of moving to another country, we are able to make our new home in the Netherlands thanks to the Dutch American Friendship Treaty.

We had been following the real estate market in Amsterdam for almost a year, so within 72 hours of landing, we were out looking at properties. We had some specific requirements that needed to be met, and although we had seen many hundreds of properties over the Internet, there were only two that met those requirements during the entire year. One of those, Nicolaas Maesstraat 69-HS, was still for sale, and better yet, the sellers had recently lowered the price! We made an offer, it was accepted, and on the 5th of December we became homeowners of a beautiful apartment in the center of Amsterdam! The sellers had a set of 360-degree photos taken; we will have different furniture but you can get an idea of what it looks like [sorry, photos no longer available]. Our new home is two blocks from the Museumplein, a park bordered by several famous museums and the world-renowned Concertgebouw concert hall. Everything is reachable by walking, bike or tram so we are very happy!
HK Container

Our lives in boxes bound for Amsterdam

In early December Harrison flew back to Hilo to organize our move; the container is now on its way here via Seoul, Korea, and with any luck will reach the port of Rotterdam sometime in February. In the meantime we have a little (but not much) work to do on the new house.

We will have a guest room and a private bath (almost unheard of here) for our guests so just as we have always done, we extend a sincere invitation to visit us! It will never be as warm as Hawaii (and as you can see from the photo at the top, it does snow and get cold enough here in the winter for the canals to freeze over) but spring through fall is nice and during the summer it stays light until 10PM!

We continue to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to be healthy and living such full and amazing lives. We do our best to keep in touch with our friends and family and are so grateful for the hospitality that has been extended to us over the years. We love hearing from each of you (even if it’s just during the holidays) and we hope a visit to Amsterdam will be in your future so we can continue the fun! In the meantime, we wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and a new year full of good health and interesting adventures!

Totdat we elkaar weer ontmoeten (until we meet again!)

Harrison and Sharene

From Hawaii to Amsterdam

Canal at Night

Tonight we leave Hawaii and head off on the next chapter of our lives in Amsterdam.

At Hale Kakahi

Reminiscing at Hale Kakahi earlier this year

A quick recap: we sold our beloved Hale Kakahi in early 2010 and then sold our business, Hawaii Holiday Vacation Rentals, later that year. By the end of January 2011 we had packed our belongings into two storage units near Hilo and embarked on a magical trip over the next 13 months. It was a mix of living in a few places (Seattle, Boston, Amsterdam) and traveling and sightseeing. We were exploring and also trying to decide where we wanted to live next. But also, by design, we planned the itineraries so we could see lots of old friends and family along the way. After spending seven months in the US and six months in Europe, it turned out to be one of the best years of our lives and, in the end, life-changing.

When we left Hawaii in February 2011, we thought Seattle would be the choice for the next phase of our lives, and indeed the three months we lived there was wonderful. But after we spent four months being seduced by enchanting Amsterdam, that city and the friends we made there won our hearts and we never wanted to leave! We did leave it, however, in November 2011; we had to because our visa was running out, but we also wanted to get some distance in order to figure out if this was true love or merely a summer fling. We spent another six weeks exploring other parts of Europe, including a lot of time with our adopted family in Switzerland. It was great to be so close to them after being far away for so long; living closer to them is certainly another advantage of our Amsterdam decision.

We left Europe in early January 2012 and made our way back to Hawaii over the next couple of months, landing back in Hilo last March. Our job since then has been to downsize, organize, sell, give away, donate, or otherwise dispose of most of our possessions in preparation for the move. Harrison also digitized all of his music, movies, and audio archives — no easy feat since he had thousands of recordings. Believe us, moving to a foreign country is not for wimps and certainly not for people who cannot let go of “stuff.” It took us five months but we are now down to only one storage unit, enough to fit into a single 20-foot shipping container and maybe even into a typical Amsterdam apartment! It was a long process, much of it painful — seeing how little a lifetime of things that mean so much to you are worth on the open market — but we were able to keep some beautiful family items in Harrison’s family by sending them to relatives on the mainland.

With Amelia

With Amelia at Volcanoes National Park

Even though it took us five months, we did have some fun. In between packing and organizing, we saw lots of our friends. Amelia, our hanai daughter from Switzerland, spent 10 days with us in Hilo. We made visits to California, Maui and Kauai, and we have spent the last month here in Honolulu where we still have a condo. Is it any wonder we’re sending this out? No one ever knows what time zone we’re in!

We know there will be some challenges ahead of us. We need to get our immigration papers approved (for those of you who are interested, we are immigrating to the Netherlands under provisions of the Dutch American Friendship Treaty). We’ll be looking for a home to buy in an expensive city where the euro is not in our favor. We’re getting there just as the weather is getting bad and days are getting short. And we need to learn Dutch! We might be crazy — it would have been so much easier to move to Seattle or stay in Hawaii. But we look at this move a little like we looked at the move to Hale Kakahi over a decade ago. We can do this and we want to do this, and if we don’t do this we will look back five years from now and say, “Why didn’t we move to Amsterdam when we had the chance?”

When we moved from California to Hawaii, it seemed like a dream come true. We invited everyone to come and visit, and come they did. The first year we were at Hale Kakahi we had 32 sets of houseguests! We’re making the same offer for Amsterdam, and in just our first two weeks we’ll be seeing two friends from California, so here we go! The offer is sincere; our first apartment will be temporary and the second bedroom has just a sofabed, but if you can handle that, come on over. But if you expect your own bathroom… HAH! Get over it; this is Europe!

So for the last time in quite a long while, we will say ALOHA and A HUI HOU (until we meet again),

Sharene and Harrison

We’re Done!!

We're Done

The End of Our Year

One year ago today we boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight (after being delayed for six hours by mechanical problems) and landed in Seattle where we battled colds and flu for the next month. Thanks to our dear friends Jim and Donna who let us stay in their gorgeous condo with views of Puget Sound, we were able to recuperate in style. That rough start was not an omen of things to come, though… the next 11 months were perfect in every way.

Over the last year, we

  • traveled to 8 countries
  • and 37 states
  • slept in 62 different beds
  • visited 157 old friends and family (or they visited us!)
  • made 28 new friends
  • drove 10,473 miles (our trusty Honda Element, above, has been great!)
  • flew 16,532 miles
  • and traveled on 18 European trains (so much more pleasant than flying!)

It’s Been A Magical Year…

We saw wonderful musical events, theaters, museums, art galleries, and more churches than we can count. We had fabulous dinner parties. Along the way we laughed, ate, walked, rode bikes, and learned a lot about the world and about ourselves. The best parts were the times we spent with people: family and old and new friends on two continents. Never in our dreams did we expect to have such extraordinary experiences each week, and it has been an honor and privilege for us to share them with each of you. The generosity extended to us throughout our year has been humbling.


Map Week 53This last week was a true highlight as we came full circle back to our former Northern California home, driving US 101 from LA to the Bay Area.

We visited Mike and Jeanne in Scotts Valley. We spent a few days in Sunnyvale with Fritz’s family and some of his best friends. We had a reunion with colleagues from our former companies and it was great to see everyone happy and doing so well.

Bill and Mary, who lived across from us when we lived in San Mateo, treated us to a special lunch at the Stanford Faculty Club; being back on campus reminded us of how impressive Stanford is and how fortunate Harrison was to attend business school there.

A visit to San Francisco to see Kate and Cathy is always on the agenda when visiting the Bay Area, and since Cathy lives in Sharene’s old apartment, it is a real homecoming! Harrison spent some time with Kevin at his Tiburon home that overlooks all three bridges in San Francisco Bay.

So many people to photograph in just our last week!



Ralph and Linda

Ralph, Linda, and Cody

Since we don’t have a “real” home (yet), the perfect way for us to officially end our “year of being homeless” was to come to the closest “home” we have: Sharene’s sister and her husband’s beautiful place in Stockton. We haven’t seen them in 14 months so it was a wonderful homecoming last night.


This Is Our Last Weekly Update

So what happens now?

From Stockton, we’ll make our way back to Seattle for a couple of weeks. We have some organizing to do of stuff we stored there last April. Then on March 1 we fly to Honolulu for 10 days to check up on our rental condos there and take care of some other business.

After that we finally head back to the Big Island after what will be an absence of 13-1/2 months. We have rented a condo right on Hilo Bay where we will spend the next few months deciding how to transition to our next life adventure. For those of you who have been following our newsletters closely, it will come as NO surprise that our first choice for a place to spend most of our time is Amsterdam. We’re not 100% positive we can make that happen, but we’re sure going to try! And as soon as we figure it out, we’ll let you know.


Harrison and ShareneSo this is it! We’ve had a once-in-a-lifetime experience this past year, and the fact that we could share it each Sunday with people who mean so much to us has made it even more special. These updates started out going to a few friends, and by the end we had a couple hundred people reading them.

We have tried to thank everyone along the way who played a role in our extraordinary year. We do want to say a special mahalo to Jim and Karen in Hawaii, the Kimes in Washington, Sarah and her family in Switzerland, and Frank in Amsterdam. Without these very special people, our year would have been much harder; with their help and friendship, it was amazing.

Thanks for sharing this year with us, and from our heart to yours,

Aloha, mahalo, and a hui hou!!!
Sharene and Harrison

The Grand Canyon…

At The Grand Canyon

Week 52 of 52!

There is nothing like this place on Earth!

Santa Fe Church

San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, the oldest church in the U.S.

After traveling through a 50-60 mph dust storm getting out of West Texas (called a haboob, no kidding!) and passing through some of the ugliest towns we’ve ever seen (sorry, Muleshoe), we landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, under sunny blue skies. We had high expectations for this city in the high desert and were happy to finally see it, but sadly most everything we wanted to see was closed for one reason or another the day we were there, and the city itself wasn’t nearly as picturesque as we had hoped.

But that was OK; we went to the movies instead and saw The Artist and The Descendants. We recommend both if you haven’t seen them. The Descendants was particularly fun for us because it was such a realistic depiction of life in Hawaii — the good and the bad. We knew most of the places shown in the film and all of the wonderful Hawaiian music, and we felt like we knew the people!


Then we went on to the Grand Canyon: it is awe-inspiring, dignified, eminent, excellent, fab, first-rate, glorious, grandiose, illustrious, imposing, magnificent, majestic, marvelous, monumental, noble, opulent, outstanding, regal, smashing, splendid, stately, striking, superb, unreal, OMG… what else can we say?

This was Sharene’s first time to the Canyon and Harrison had not seen it for many years. It completely lived up to the hype and we had the good fortune to see it on a picture-perfect day. Visiting in off-season meant there were few visitors and snow all around, which added to the contrast with the desert colors of the canyon.

The Grand Canyon should be on everyone’s “Bucket List” — truly one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. And what a fitting end as we come to the close of our adventurous year!


From the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, we drove south through Flagstaff, which, unlike Santa Fe, was a beautiful town that exceeded our expectations. We headed to Phoenix, where we stopped to visit old friends, and then on our way to Los Angeles we made a surprise stop to see another old friend. Collectively, we have known all these people for (yikes) over 100 years!!!


Marty has been Harrison’s friend since he met him at KING Radio in Seattle way back in 1974. Marty (whose KING friends will remember him as Joe Kelly) has the Voice of God, one of the greatest radio voices we’ve ever heard, as well as a larger-than-life personality. He has had a long career since then in Chicago, Milwaukee, and now Phoenix, doing voice work and producing music for radio stations. Take a listen to this recent Joe Kelly demo.

Sharene, Randy, and Lori go back to Sharene’s Bank of America days in the ’80s, but most of their memories are of trips they took together, many nights out on the town in San Francisco, and countless cribbage games and laughs along the way.

Another of Harrison’s KING radio friends from the ’70s is Laurie (known affectionately back then as Cheeks). Laurie and her very athletic husband, Joe, have started spending their winters away from Seattle in the warmer Southern California climate. Laurie is loving their gorgeous new sun-drenched home and Joe just finished a 75-mile bike ride that morning… wearing slightly different clothing than the bicyclists in Amsterdam!


Linda and SteveOur drive to LA ended at Beverly Hills 90212, just down the road from the famous 90210 zip code. Our dear friends (and former clients of Hawaii Holiday) Linda and Steve have an exquisite 1930s home within walking distance of famous Beverly Hills sites including Rodeo Drive. In fact, we did walk to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Year with a group of their long-time friends; it was so nice of them to include us in that fascinating group.

We’re in LA during one of the most beautiful times of year: clear skies, citrus trees bursting with fruit, flowers blooming; it’s the best of Southern California. And being with people we adore just makes it even more special, not to mention that they have a big teddy bear of a dog named Stockton to complete the picture.


Map Week 52

Our route this past week: Lubbock – Santa Fe – Grand Canyon – Phoenix – Beverly Hills

We had another amazing week! We have begun our last official week of “homelessness”; we left Hawaii on February 4, 2011, so this coming Saturday will mark the end of a full year away. We have another very busy, people-filled week coming up so we hope you’ll stick with us for just a little longer.

A hui hou!!!
Sharene and Harrison

Six States, Lots of Friends, Two Musical Legends, and Dogs!

Map Week 51

Week 51 of 52

Who knew part of Florida was in the Central Time Zone? When we showed up an hour early at Sharon and Tom’s home near Destin, a popular resort area on the Florida panhandle, we learned that, indeed, the western end of Florida is not on Eastern Time! But they welcomed us anyway into their beautiful waterfront home, complete with lighted dock and boat. Sharon ran Sharene’s company, Bed & Breakfast International, in the 1990s, and she went to work for Sharene at WorldRes after that. She and Tom then relocated to Hawaii and have recently moved to Florida where they are both in the real estate business with Keller Williams. Check out Next Stop Paradise for some great investment opportunities with true white sand beaches. As we learned on our beach walks, Hawaii might boast of beaches, but none of them have sand this gorgeous and not nearly this shade of white.

Interestingly enough, we had two connections in this same fairly obscure area. Harrison and Caroline went to the University of Minnesota elementary and high schools together from the third grade on and have kept in touch all these years. She and her partner Ben just moved from frigid Minneapolis to Navarre, Florida, just a few miles from Sharon and Tom. This is the first January Caroline has ever spent not shoveling snow. Instead, she and Ben are hitting that white sand beach!


Art Out Of Destruction

Art Out Of Destruction

Leaving Florida on our way to New Orleans, we drove through the southern tip of our next state, Alabama, but found nothing exciting to report. (Our apologies to John Dirgo of Hawaii Holiday who is from Alabama…) But passing through Biloxi, Mississippi, we traveled right along the gulf and saw both interesting and sad remnants of Hurricane Katrina.

On the left side of the road was the Gulf of Mexico and gorgeous beaches, with no sign of oil remaining from the Deepwater Horizon spill. In the median strip were beautiful carved wood statues of birds, fish, and other objects. After seeing so many, we realized these pieces of art were carved out of tree trunks left standing after the hurricane ripped them apart. For a quick slide show, see Biloxi’s Katrina Sculptures.

The right side of the street had a few glorious old mansions as well as some obviously new construction, interspersed with many empty lots in between. Even now, you can see foundations or an odd fireplace on lots where, before Katrina, stately southern homes stood with views of the gulf.


New Orleans may have been crushed by Katrina, but after spending two nights right in the heart of the French Quarter, we can tell you at least that part of town is pretty much fully recovered and as wild and crazy as ever! Music blasts from club after club, and although we were there during a very quiet time of year, there were still lots of people out enjoying the Big Easy.

Blues legend B. B. King happened to be in town our first night and we lucked into two seats that had just been released that morning. At age 86, his voice is still strong, his guitar, Lucille, still sounds as sweet as ever, and the touring schedule with his band would tire both of us out! He proved to us that The Thrill Is NOT Gone yet!


The highlight of the following day was a three-hour bus tour of New Orleans led by a knowledgeable, talented, and hilarious guide who sounded straight out of the Bayou. John gave a comprehensive introduction to the history, areas, and fascinating architecture of New Orleans and the devastating aftermath of Katrina. While some sections of the city, including many of the beautiful homes in the Garden District, were not badly flooded and appear much as they always have, the Ninth Ward, which we all saw in the Katrina news reports, is still struggling although almost seven years have passed. We saw several new housing developments, such as Musicians’ Village targeted to the many musicians who make New Orleans home and Make It Right, spearheaded by Brad Pitt, that features a number of interesting energy-efficient designs from a competition. But there are vast areas of empty lots, as well as many abandoned but still standing homes, such as the one pictured above that stands next to a rebuilt home. Many former residents have clearly moved elsewhere, and the long-term future of this area is very uncertain.


We left NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) and took the LONG trek to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. We weren’t on horses but our butts felt like it! We only know a few people in Texas, but two sets of friends not only live near one another, but also both work with dogs! How odd is that? So Sharene was in doggie heaven visiting these old (or should we say “long-time”) friends of Harrison’s.

Margaret was a broadcast engineer Harrison recruited in the early 1980s, and after a 30-year career in broadcasting, she left to start her own business in portrait photography of dogs and their owners. She turned out to be just as talented a photographer and businessperson as she was an engineer and has won a number of awards to prove it. We saw lots of works from her impressive collection; check out some of her wonderful photos at Bryant Dog Photography.

We had a great lunch of Texas-style barbeque with Margaret and her partner Teri, and then off we went to visit Catherine, a friend of Harrison’s from his Seattle days. Catherine is the General Manager of a high-end doggie hotel called Woodland Park Pet Resort where some of the pet “rooms” even come with TVs (no kidding)! Catherine has three English Labs herself, and after spending some time with her, we can see why she is in the perfect job!


We’re on our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and since it was too far to drive in a day we decided to stop in Lubbock, Texas, for the night and visit the Buddy Holly Center. Lubbock-raised Holly was one of the pioneers of rock ’n’ roll who died much too young in the infamous plane crash of February 1959. Although his career was short, he and his group, the Crickets, had a major influence on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Bob Dylan, and other future rock stars. West Texas is the home of many influential American musicians including Bob Wills, Leadbelly, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings and others, but Holly definitely put Lubbock on the map!


Texas DemocratWe leave the south behind and, as our Texas friends would say, “We’re fixin’ to head west for a spell.” But on our way out, we were happy to see this bumper sticker proving there is at least one Democrat (besides the ones we know personally!) living in the Lone Star State.

Oh, just to give you a head’s up, this weekly update is Week 51 of 52, but we won’t really be finished next week. We began our “year of being homeless” on February 4, 2011, and we sent our first weekly update shortly after we arrived. That first update was at the beginning of Week 1, so by the end of Week 52 we will be on the 53rd update. (Got that?) So our year of weekly updates will go to 53, possibly 54 weeks. We’re coming around the bend as fast as we can, but we’re not there yet!

A hui hou and Yee Haw!
Sharene and Harrison