Trading Fashion Gowns For Farm Living
Fashion icons Eric Chandler and Takeo Kobayashi have discovered that people can achieve a more meaningful and lasting happiness when they learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
The former Hawaii residents jokingly liken their move to the Pacific Northwest to the 1960s sitcom Green Acres.
“We went from caviar dreams to pilgrim-like daily living,” chuckles Eric, who now lives in his renovated 100-year-old family barn situated in the small town of Buckley, Wash. — population 4,393. “When we lived in Hawaii, it was typical of us to attend multiple fine-dining events per day or mayoral inaugurations or state of the city speaches (Eric was clearly my loudest booster). Our life in Washington is farm-oriented. It’s about the milk, the cows and eggs from your neighbor’s chicken coop.”
Eric and Takeo left their fast-paced, stressful careers in the world of beauty pageants, special events and the fashion design industry back in April. Their move to retirement was prompted by a stroke that nearly cost Takeo his life after he underwent six bypasses during open-heart surgery. Because of the stroke and the fragile nature of Takeo’s health, doctors had to operate on his beating heart, which was skillfully done by surgeons at The Queen’s Medical Center.
Eric had to push Takeo around in a wheelchair for awhile, until his friend learned how to walk on his own again with a walker.
“Takeo and I went from business partners to each other’s caregivers. Caregiving is excruciating,” he adds.
Three years following Takeo’s stroke, it was Takeo’s turn to return the favor to Eric, who suffered from congestive heart failure. Because of his irregular heartbeat, Eric has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) and a pacemaker. When his defibrillator detects that his heartbeats are too fast, it sends an electric shock, which stops his heart from beating at an unnaturally high rate.
“Our health put a tremendous strain on our Hawaii business, and we didn’t have the same energy as before because we were both so sick,” explains Eric. “Our actual move to retirement nearly killed us, but now that we are here, we are healthier and happier than we have ever been.”
Takeo emails daily inspirational messages to more than 300 people globally because he believes that every minute of every day is worth celebrating. His dog Chibi serves as his secretary, often helping with the keyboard while sitting on his master’s lap. The artist spent much of the early part of the fall gardening and planting perennial flowers and plants, such as noble fir trees, blue spruce and hydrangea flowers of every color. This summer, Takeo experimented with full-size bonsai trees, and planted lavender, pansies and exotic grasses. Now that it is 20 degrees, gardening has been curtailed, so Takeo has shifted to photographing leaves, trees and landscapes that will surely be woven into the tapestry of his upcoming artwork to be showcased in a museum next spring.
Over the past five months, Eric has been harvesting Buckley Giant apples and a variety of other apples from his farm. His newest prized possessions are antique trees that bear purple apples.
“We also have translucent apples, Gravenstein and we have 13 unnamed historic full-sized apple trees. I can make a variety of applesauce. Apples with cranberries, with raspberries, with hazelnuts, with chestnuts, with orange peel, with lemon peel, etc. I mix apples with just about everything,” says Eric, who delivers his creations all over the community — to the local bank president, their dog’s groomer and to the owner of the largest nursery in town. Eric also has joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He already has addressed several congregations and with his artistic ability, the church has tapped him to head a major project.
“We are doing a Christmas presentation with the Mormon Church involving 700 volunteers. The three-day event will be held at the Maple Valley Stake,” he said.
Eric and Takeo also will be directing a charity fashion show called Reineir Couture, featuring a clothing bank at one of the seven schools in Buckley to benefit students who can’t afford prom dresses.
“It will be country-western themed, with their signature 2Couture fashion and Judy Garland style. Our ramp will be filled with hay and plywood. Hey, we’re in the boonies,” Eric laughs. Far cry from their usual extravagant 2Couture Miss Hawaii USA fashion. I am certain it will be a grand production despite their project’s humble budget. These two just have a special way of making potato sack cloths look glamorous.
Eric and Takeo plan to roast a big bird from a neighboring turkey farmer on Thanksgiving.
“If one doesn’t wake up in the morning being thankful every day, than you have completely missed the true meaning of Thanksgiving. A joyous, humble heart is the best thing that you can take with you to a Thanksgiving dinner this year,” says Eric.
It’s no wonder they made it a point to take the time to pick the apples and smell the hydrangeas this fall. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, long live Eric and Takeo, who have brought much joy and happiness to a lot of folks wherever they reside.