Archive for December, 2015

Emmy-winning Hawaii filmmaker releases new music documentary

December 30th, 2015

Emmy-winning Hawaii filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo returns to Hawaii after four years to present a special sneak peek of her latest documentary, "Thomas Chapin, Night Bird Song," a music documentary. The sneak peek will feature a Q&A with Castillo and the showing of selected segments of her two hour and 30 minute film.

Stephanie J. Castillo. Courtesy: Stephanie J. Castillo

Stephanie J. Castillo. Courtesy: Stephanie J. Castillo

Her epic tale explores the life and music of the late jazz musician Thomas Chapin, a master alto sax and flute player who performed in both the traditional and avant garde worlds of jazz in New York City, Connecticut, and Europe in the 80’s and 90’s. "Thomas Chapin, Night Bird Song" draws an intimate portrait of this music explorer who pushed and transcended the boundaries of jazz and dissolved the distinctions between sound and music. Because of this moving and engrossing film, he will no longer be only a footnote in jazz. His indelible mark will be known and revealed to the world. Chapin left a music legacy that is still being discovered.

The Thomas Chapin Trio performed at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Theater on April 11, 1993. In this performance, the trio included bassist Mario Pavone and drummer Michael Sarin. The late James Delano of Lion Coffee was one of the event’s sponsors.

Chapin's ties to Hawaii also include his wife; he was married to New Yorker and Kauai native Terri Castillo, the filmmaker’s sister.

Chapin was nearing the pinnacle of his meteoric rise when leukemia took him in 1998 at the age of 40. He started his career as band manger and lead alto sax for big band leader Lionel Hampton, and then went on to form his own trio. Fame and world recognition elude him despite the enduring mark he left on jazz in the '80s and '90s, but his passionate life and incandescent music remain unforgettable to fans who knew him, and musicians who played with him. Today, his music is inspiring a new generation of artists and musicians who have discovered him.

The schedule is as follows:

Monday, January 4, 2016
7 p.m. Dinner Theater by Don Brown, Q and A session to follow
Please call Don Brown at (808) 436-4326 to find out where the venue is.

Friday, January 8, 2016
7-9:30 p.m. “God-led Filmmaking:” An Evening with Stephanie J. Castillo, including Q and A session
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 4364 Hardy St, Lihue
Free will offering
For more, call (808) 245-3796 or 647-4346

For more on the film, log onto

Castillo plans to finish the film in Hawaii. The Kauai native is working with local video and sound editors to put the final touches on her 10th documentary. Dean Sensui, executive director of Hawaii Productions Associates and Hawaii Goes Fishing fame, is handling the final edit. Gaylord Holomalia, studio manager of Island Sound Studios, will be orchestrating the sound design and stereo sound production.

Castillo was formerly a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter in the 1980’s, and became an Emmy-winning filmmaker with her first documentary, Simple Courage, which was co-produced with Hawaii Public Television.

She continues to seek funds needed to pay for rights and acquisition of the visual images, to acquire copyrighted music used in the film, and to launch her promotional efforts. To support the film, donations can be made by logging on to

Chinese cookies

December 28th, 2015

I was in my kitchen when the mail lady drove up. My Danish houseguest, Jul, said, "I want to give Susan something. Hand me one of those Chinese cookies," and he pointed to a pile of small blue tins.


"What Chinese cookies?" I asked, looking for fortune cookies or Chinese pretzels.

"Those," and he waved his finger urgently as Susan turned on the engine to drive to the next house.


"These? How are these Chinese cookies?" I quizzed, passing him a tin of Danish butter cookies. I'm know I'm half the time out of it, but am I that bad?!

He disdainfully explained they're made in China, by CVS. In no way are they Danish anymore. "They aren't as buttery as the ones in Denmark," he sniffed. My husband has echoed a similar sentiment in previous conversations.

Royal Dansk butter cookies were popular in Denmark in the '80s, he said, but they're out of vogue now. "Now Danes want to make their own cookies and put their own trendy things in it. Beets, kale, Stone Age foods- until it no longer tastes like a cookie," he joked. He is always surprised they're still popular in the US.

We still like those Chinese cookies.


What's your favorite thing about Christmas?

December 25th, 2015

What do you like about Christmas? Food? Family? Shopping? Travel? Gifts? Quiet time? Spirituality?

For me, my daughter has been a game-changer. What I appreciate about the holiday completely changed after I became a mother.

I like taking stock of what Olivia likes in the months ahead, then buying her the presents I know she'll love. I like making a family event out of putting up the tree. I like figuring out how to keep the Santa myth alive and the funny stories that come out of it (Why does Santa use our gift wrap? Why is this gift tag from Santa in your handwriting?) I like helping her choose gifts for her friends and helping her wrap it.

I also really love the downtime the day brings. The world feels quiet and reflective. I wish we had more of that in our society. More family time, more interpersonal connection. The planet could use more of that. There is a richness of spirit around the 24th and 25th.

I asked a handful of nice folks the same question, and here's what they said:

Lindsay Davenport, former top-ranked women's tennis player:


"I have four young children - ages eight, six, four, and two - so I like the excitement, waking up early. My husband and I come from large families and they all live within 30 minutes of us, but it always seems hard to get everyone together at certain times of the year. It's always great for us; we host Christmas Eve and to have both sides of the family and 50 or 60 people in our house, all the presents- it's always my favorite night of the whole year. I like seeing everyone, my kids' anticipation towards Santa Claus, reading stories, and all the little family stuff that goes with it."

Wally Amos, gourmet cookie baker and owner of The Cookie Kahuna:


"The rest! I don't have to do interviews, demos, Costco. Things just settle down. Right at Christmas I have all four, maybe eight cylinders! I appreciate the opportunity to do nothing."

Jai Cunningham, KHON2 Wake Up 2Day Early Edition anchor:


"Watching the kids open presents! I also love my youngest daughter's detailed wish list and how much information she puts about each desired object. She spells it out so it's very clear what she wants. I get a good laugh out of that."

Jordan Segundo, singer and entertainer:


"I like a lot of things about Christmas. I like shopping for gifts, getting people the perfect gift, wrapping it, and cooking! I do a good pumpkin crunch. That's my go-to recipe. But I tried a new one this Thanksgiving that I'll probably do for Christmas- buttermilk pie."

Jake Shimabukuro, musician:


"Just watching my children, three year old Chase and seven month old Cole, enjoy the holiday and all the family coming over. My greatest fear is failing to wake up at 3 a.m. to stuff the stockings. Hasn't happened yet though, so it's good!"

Chelsea Hardin, Miss Hawaii USA 2016:


"The feeling in the air. You can feel it. It might not be cold or a white Christmas here, but it's the holiday spirit. I love it, I embrace it. Everyone's so happy. You know it's Christmas time."

Thomas Q. Jones, actor and former NFL player:


"The whole family energy and Christmas music. Christmas music makes me think of good times, puts me in a good place. I don't see my family much at Christmas anymore because I'm always traveling, but I think family and Christmas music go hand in hand at this time."

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

Makeup artist provides beauty more than skin deep

December 23rd, 2015

Honolulu makeup artist Jonathan Freitas spends his days making people feel beautiful - inside and out. He's been practicing his craft for 13 years, always as a representative for the makeup line Motives.

Jon and me

Jon and me

Freitas's days are a mixture of meeting clients, teaching new Motives reps, and doing makeup. He has a small studio in The Co-op in Ward Warehouse where he does some of this, and he goes out to provide makeup for events, weddings, photo shoots, television tapings, special effects needs, and lately, Halloween costumes.

Today, he's an established industry professional. Sometimes, he says, it's a surprise to him where he landed in life.

Ooh, all the pretty colors!

Ooh, all the pretty colors!

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, he studied psychology and sociology at Seattle University. Freitas has always liked children - absolutely evident by the way mine quickly takes to him - and decided the best combination of his talents and interests would be to work as a Kamehameha Schools dorm advisor. "I could interact with the kids, but not in a clinical setting of a therapist's office," he explains.

He moved back to the Islands in 1993 as an advisor for the boys at Iolani Dorm. He married his college sweetheart and found himself a father shortly thereafter. His three children are 21 year old Janya, 18 year old Chrislyn, and 13 year old Ethan. It was an ideal job that let him spend a lot of time with the kids.

It was a fun period- young children, the early blush of marriage, a rewarding job. Then things started to dissolve in the early 2000s, reaching a low with his divorce in 2007. He got full custody of the children, which was fulfilling but extremely draining.

Freitas says he hit rock bottom for five years. "I was a single dad. I was exhausted. I felt angry that my wife just left the picture. I stuffed my emotions until it ate me alive."

Additionally, near the end of this very difficult period, he started questioning his identity as a straight man. "I met a new friend, Shawn, at volleyball. We became good friends, but then I felt something else going on. I denied it to myself at first because I thought it wasn't acceptable to have feelings for a man. It was a big struggle to accept my homosexuality, and a slow coming out," Freitas recalls.

In the end, it was a talk with his mother that helped nudge him into his new life. "My work with Motives was taking off. I really enjoyed it and saw this as my new career. I had come out as gay. I wanted a change, and decided to quit my job at Kamehameha and move into my own place for the first time!"

A story from his parent's life inspired him to take the plunge. "After my dad retired from the Air Force in North Dakota, my parents wanted to start a new chapter of life. They knew they wanted to move to Washington State, but weren't sure which city. They just packed up the car and drove west until they hit I-5 and the road forked. Should they go north or south? They took a guess and ended up driving to Tacoma, where life worked out wonderfully for the next two decades," Freitas recounts.

His dad found a job with Boeing, and his mother went to college to become an RN. "Have faith. Take risks. Just know things will be OK" are the lessons he takes out of this story.

In 2013, he took his own risk by quitting the dorm advisor job, having faith that full time work as a makeup artist in Hawaii would pay the bills, and not hiding his sexuality from society. He and Shawn moved into a house in Aiea.

It's worked out better than he ever expected. "To think, I worried about so much, and for nothing. Fear of the unknown is worse than reality."

Jon and Trini Kaopuiki in Halloween Week costume for KHON2's Living 808. Courtesy: Jon Freitas

Jon and Trini Kaopuiki in Halloween Week costume for KHON2's Living 808. Courtesy: Jon Freitas

Freitas loves his work. "I'm paid to help people feel beautiful!" It's taken on a life of its own, with recent higher profile clients who include Jourdan Miller , winner of CW reality show America's Next Top Model; Keke Lindgard, the current face of Ralph Lauren; Emma Wo, Miss Hawaii USA 2015; and Trini Kaopuiki, host of KHON2's Living 808. He and his team also secured work for the Kaypee Soh Spring 2016 ready-to-wear fashion show, and Honolulu Fashion Week (Motives was the official cosmetic line.)

Gratitude, positive thinking, and self-care are a big part of Freitas' daily routine. Every day, he makes sure to spend time with positive thoughts that could include meditation, readings, audio tapes or podcasts, or videos like TEDTalks. "It helps ground me and keep me positive. I still get set back by negative interactions, but the disappointment lasts for minutes, rather than hours or a whole day."

Freitas also wants to spread this positive energy. "It's my personal mission to make everyone I meet, every single day, feel better about themselves. When I give people makeup lessons, especially at schools, I ask the kids, 'You can learn to put on cosmetic makeup, but what about your personal make up- that which makes you up inside? How can we make that or keep that beautiful?"

It's a question he asks - and strives to answer - for himself every day.

Oahu's anchialine ponds host `opae ula

December 21st, 2015

It's a little refuge in the middle of encroaching development: the Kalaeloa unit of the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. This 37 acre parcel of land is the only refuge in the state dedicated to the preservation of plants, not animals. The other two units are wetlands set aside for protecting birds.


I was lucky enough to get a tour from Annette Tagawa and Lorena Iwada, who work together- a joint effort between state and federal agencies- to maintain and protect the land and the Hawaiian life on it.


It was a beautiful day - overcast and not too hot, with light winds stirring the broad, flat plains near the ocean. The green mountains in the distance, the bright blue ocean just yards away. Here, in what felt like the middle of nearly-nowhere, it was easy to imagine pre-contact times, despite the occasional sound of plane engines overhead and the ugly sight of a refinery if one looked too far west.

Iwada explained to us two guests that day - David Yoshishige from the Honolulu Aquarium Society (a group of aquarium hobbyists) and me - about how she was part of a move to engage the community to help restore and maintain the land. It's far too large for the government to manage on its own.

In 2006 the feds reached out to schools and colleges. The group worked hard to clear kiawe and reforest it with native vegetation like ewa hinahina and akoko - plants that are part of a dry land ecosystem.

To make sure it was all done with cultural sensitivity, they enlisted a Native Hawaiian advisor who has ancestral ties to the land. Kahu Glen Kila told them to build an ahu - a shrine to invite water - and to have each new visitor add a rock to the shrine as a symbol of the team effort.

They completed the shrine in September. David and I are some of the first visitors!

Because this is federally protected land, nothing can be imported or exported, so the rocks are actually coral from the beach nearby. "It actually keeps with the theme," Iwada elaborated. "The coral is the first animal created in the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation chant), and here, we're trying to return to our Hawaiian roots."

She directed us to set an intention for how we would take responsibility for this mission, and place the offering on the ahu. I thought it was a beautiful expression- so meaningful. I'm so glad to be a part of this in some way.


Iwada moved our tour along towards a space closer to the ocean. In 2003, workers discovered one anchialine pond (a landlocked body of water with a subterranean connection to the ocean) while working in this area. Tagawa fill in the timeline: "Three experimental pools were excavated in 2005 to see if water would infiltrate into the holes and recruit any ‘opae ‘ula.  One of these pools was excavated deep enough for water to infiltrate and nine months later the first ‘opae ‘ula were seen in this hole.  The other two weren’t successful and were backfilled."

"After the success of the first restored hole, 12 additional holes were excavated and successfully restored between 2006 and 2008, creating the biggest complex of anchialine pools - a total of 14- found on Oahu."

There are other anchialine pools on Oahu, but Kalaeloa has the biggest group of pools in one location on this island.


The feds alerted the state, which came, restored the ponds, and stabilized the population of the little `opae ula that live in them. There are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 shrimp living in there, but it's actually a rough guess, since the shrimp live in fissures underground, and they can pond-jump since some of the pools are connected.

The red along the rock walls are the shrimp.

The red along the rock walls are the shrimp.

Biologists who study these shrimp found there are two distinct lineages of `opae in these Ewa ponds, called the Ewa and the Waianae lineage. The two are genetically different enough, separated by a five percent mitochondrial difference, such that they're very close to being officially declared two different subspecies.

Red shimp along rock walls.

Red shimp along rock walls.

Interestingly, one out of every ten shrimp sampled for DNA turn out to be from Waianae, and Tagawa was surprised to learn they do not interbreed; they do not hybridize!

It was quite delightful for me to see the creatures in their natural habitat. I've never seen them in the wild, and I liked furthering my understanding of the species I keep as pets.

What they're working on now is to figure out why they have never seen berried females in the ponds. They've seen pregnant females from other species of shrimp, but not the Halocaridina rubra - the `opae ula of pet store fame. (The ones I'm keenly interested in and keep forcing you to read about.)

They have figured out why there are no babies in the ponds; the salinity changes every 24 hours with the ocean tides, and the babies are too sensitive to the osmotic pressure, so they hide underground where it's more stable.


The experiment now is measure the ‘opae ‘ula is to determine if they breed all year long or if there is any seasonality with regard to reproducing. Tagawa brought some instruments of science with her and let us watch as she caught and measured some shrimp. This was the first day of her hypothesis.

Tagawa measuring shrimp.

Tagawa measuring shrimp.

What's so important about these little shrimp? Why all this effort for some little critters that we don't even consider people food?


"The `opae ula are extremely hardy, and by monitoring the stability of their population, we can spot any broader problems in the environment. If they are starting to struggle, it could mean we will start to struggle. It's a bit of a canary in a coal mine effect," explains Iwada.

"In the broader picture, it's important to take care of this land. By learning from our past, we can prepare for the future. It's the beauty of the management of time. What we had, what has changed, and what comes tomorrow. We can determine value and make decisions on what we will give up today for tomorrow," as she gestures in the distance towards the big malls that have risen up in the recent past.

Tagawa adds, "They are endemic to Hawaii; found here and nowhere else in the world, and part of Hawaii’s natural history and heritage."

It's pretty here in a stark way. I'm sure it's pretty here in a hot way on most days. It's a lovely idea, finding a delicate balance between nature and modernization. The land holds ancient wisdom that can still carry us forward into a better future.

I don't want to give this up for more concrete. I want this just like this, a sacred reminder of who we were, and who we can still be. And it's an intriguing thought that the smallest of creatures, a ten millimeter shrimp, can be part of that process.

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