Archive for March, 2016


March 21st, 2016

My husband and I were dining at the counter at a restaurant trying to watch the TV, but there was no sound and no closed captioning. "That's too bad," I muttered. "This looks interesting. I'd really like to know what they're saying."

Sometimes, when the topic of closed captioning comes up, it brings to mind a nine year old memory of ours of a ridiculously stupid episode of our lives.

You are adorable, and you took all my brain cells.

You are adorable, and you took all my brain cells.

It was 2007, and our baby was still under a year old. I was a hormonal, tired mess, and he was simply a tired mess. That's the prologue to our laughable story.


A friend, Dave, gave us a DVD to watch of a movie he really liked. It was called "Black," and he explained it's a 2005 Hindi film about a blind and deaf girl.

"This is amazing. It might seem a little weird at first but just stick with it," he insisted.

We went home that night and put it in the DVD player. It was in Hindi, which was weird that he wanted us to watch it, but since Dave said it would be worth it, we persisted.

For 122 minutes, we looked at a movie we couldn't understand. We thought it might be some kind of lesson in partly empathizing with the main character, who was deaf.

This might be about navigating a world you can't fully understand, we theorized. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Please don't punch holes in our hypothesis, which I can see now is half-witted, considering there are 1.3 billion people living in India who do speak Hindi.

Remember, this is a time of our lives in which our brains were muddled by the haze of sleeplessness, and clarity of thought felt like a far away memory.

Did we really just watch a movie we couldn't understand?

Did we really just watch a movie we couldn't understand?

Interestingly, we could follow the plot. We did get absorbed into the storyline, and enjoyed it.

We returned the DVD to Dave, and agreed it was a good movie - very touching.

"Did you like the part where she goes back to her teacher and teaches him to say 'water'?" he asked.

We looked at each other and then him. "Wait. You understood what they were saying?" we inquired, dumbfounded.

Now it was his turn to stare at us quizzically. "What do you mean? How did you watch it?"

We recounted what we did, which was pretty much stick it in and hit play, and then we revealed our stupendously existential theory about vicariously living her pain. I know, we're super deep.

Dave laughed. And laughed. And laughed. "You didn't know there were subtitles?!?!"

Apparently, we didn't. I wonder how much better the movie would have been if we had comprehended the actual dialogue.

Hawaii woman teaches peace through yoga

March 16th, 2016

When Amanda Webster first set foot on a yoga mat at the Kailua YMCA, she had no idea it would eventually become her life's work. No, more than that - her life's purpose.

Amanda Webster. Courtesy: Shivatree Yoga

Amanda Webster. Courtesy: Shivatree Yoga

It was 2008, and she had just given birth to her first child, Kaeden. She started attending yoga classes as a respite for her body and mind. Something resonated.

Drawn to the practice, she wanted to learn more, so she took a teacher training course in 2011. Down the rabbit hole she went, as she likes to say. The practice became a lifestyle. The lifestyle became a calling.

"Halfway through my training, I heard a voice in my head saying, 'You're going to teach.' I told it, 'No, I'm not.' It insisted, 'Yes, you are. You're going to teach, and you’re going to offer long-term programs to people really interested in the lifestyle of yoga.' It was very specific," she laughs.

"A voice?" I wonder aloud.

"A voice. Don't you hear voices in your head?" she responds.

"Um, not really. I don't hear voices," I tease. We have a humorous rapport.

"Yes, you do," says the woman who's known me now for five years. Casually, at first. In fact, I somewhat paralleled her own path towards teacher training.

I, too, found a yoga class at the Y. I, too, felt a familiar sensation with this ancient system of knowing the body and mind. I, too, tumbled down the rabbit hole after embarking on more classes, then retreats, then a year-long training program. It was she who was my teacher then, as now.

In 2011, she started Shivatree Yoga, a yoga school offering retreats, workshops, private lessons, and teacher training courses. I was part of her first teacher training class, which started in April 2015 and ended in March 2016.

Amanda Webster. Courtesy: Shivatree Yoga

Amanda Webster. Courtesy: Shivatree Yoga

Amanda named it Shivatree as a nod to a Hindu legend. Lord Shiva is one of the main deities of Hinduism, and one legend says that Lord Shiva opened his eyes after a long meditation directed towards the good of humanity, and he felt so fulfilled, he shed a tear. This single tear from Shiva's eye grew into the rudraksha tree which is known for its healing properties.

Teaching, at first, was "very hard. I don't like to speak in front of people. At all." The irony of a person who doesn't like heading a classroom, yet feels compelled to shine the light of yoga on the rest of the world.

Webster adjusting student Kazusa Flanagan's shoulder stand.

Webster adjusting student Kazusa Flanagan's shoulder stand.

She is, actually, a born leader. "I've always been involved in some kind of leadership role, even if I didn't seek it out. I taught Sunday School in my hometown of Indiana, I led a church youth group, and in every other job I've had, I've always been promoted to a management position," she tells me.

It's not surprising to her students. She has a light, a quiet strength, a peaceful glow that is magnetic. She is a beautiful woman, but so much of that beauty is amplified by her personality and her inner radiance. She inspires me.

Amanda juggles her role as mother of two boys (Connor was born in 2009) and a wife with her duties as a yoga teacher. Her formal background is in child development, and she worked for many years in Los Angeles and Honolulu as a behavioral therapist for autistic children.

In 2007, she moved to Kailua "on a lark" because she had fallen in love with Hawaii during a vacation, though last year she and her family moved to Mountain View on Hawaii Island to establish a better work-life balance.

Amanda Webster. Courtesy: Shivatree Yoga

Amanda Webster. Courtesy: Shivatree Yoga

Though she's spent the last five years as a yoga teacher, Amanda says she, too, keeps learning. "I'm more aware and more compassionate, and of course, through regular practice and study, my own skills evolve."

Webster leading a teacher training course.

Webster leading a teacher training course.

She enjoys creating yoga communities of like-minded people, and watching her students' evolutionary process. "I like giving them a practice they can turn to when they feel unsettled; something that will center them, ground them, give them perspective."

Student Nana Kawasaki-Jones

Student Nana Kawasaki-Jones

"Her Ayurvedic-based training is very different from anyone else's I've ever heard of. I'd never been exposed to that before and it's made a change in my life: How I eat, how I sleep, how I wake up, how I care for myself. I'm in balance," says Nana Kawasaki-Jones, a longtime student. "She made a big difference in my life."

Another faithful student, Debbie Miranda, adds, "I love her knowledge and everything she can share with us. Everything about her is special, totally special."

Student Debbie Miranda

Student Debbie Miranda

Yoga means "to yoke," and it was created by the ancients as a system of yoking the thoughts of the mind. The poses help still the body and prepare it for meditation.

For some, yoga's gift is the physical release. For others, it's the spiritual guidance. For Amanda, it's both, and she plans to continue helping others find what meaning it can bring to them.

Reach Amanda Webster at She leads monthly workshops and classes on Oahu and weekly classes on Hawaii Island. Group and 1:1 teacher trainings are available. You can still join the current 200-hour Oahu teacher training by emailing before April 15th! More retreats will be posted soon.

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The boss of me

March 14th, 2016

Our friends' cute, cute four year old boy was at our house with his dad while his sister played with Olivia. "Daddy, what are we doing when we get home?" asked Gabe.



"Whatever Mommy tells us to," answered his dad.

"But Mommy's not the boss of you," Gabe questioned.

"Oh, mommies are always the bosses of daddies," I interjected.

"Really?" he asked with his adorable innocence.

"Really," I confirmed.

"Are you the boss of Uncle Claus?" he wondered.

"Yes," I replied.

"But Mommy isn't always telling what Daddy to do," he quizzed.

"That's because we mommies train up the daddies to know what we want them to do," I explained.

He looked thoughtful and a little confused. "Just accept it now, don't fight it. It'll be much easier that way," I said.

His dad came out and caught the tail end of the conversation and laughed. "Yeah, and what I really hate is when the kids ask for my permission, I give it, and then they immediately look at their mother for confirmation," he complained.

I looked at him sympathetically.  "Just accept it now, don't fight it. It'll be much easier that way."

A personal link to Kalaupapa

March 11th, 2016

In 1866, the government sent a dozen people diagnosed with leprosy to live on Moloka`i's Kalaupapa peninsula, in an effort to isolate and contain the disease. They were the first of about 8,000 Hawaii residents relocated there - taken from their families for the rest of their lives.

Kalawao. Courtesy: Ryan Kawamoto

Kalawao. Courtesy: Ryan Kawamoto

First, they lived on the windward side of Kalawao, but later settled in Kalaupapa on the leeward side.

Kalaupapa Peninsula. Courtesy: Ryan Kawamoto

Kalaupapa Peninsula. Courtesy: Ryan Kawamoto

My family believes our Hawaiian matriarch, Helen Maliu, was one of them. According to my father Paul Ako, my great-grandmother was a full-Hawaiian woman who could often be found with the Royal Court at `Iolani Palace.

She was married to my great-grandfather, a Chinese man who emigrated from Canton. They had two girls and three boys- one of those was my grandfather, Paul Ako, Sr.

My great-grandfather's request to return to China, 1903.

My great-grandfather's request to return to China, 1903.

Between the immigration documents, my father, and my cousin (another Paul), it appears she contracted leprosy in the early 1900s when the children were young, and the State sent her to live in Kalaupapa. Great-grandfather raised the children by himself, returning for some years to China, presumably to get family help.

My great-uncle and my grandfather (bottom) Paul Ako

My great-uncle and my grandfather (bottom) Paul Ako

My grandfather and his siblings all returned to Hawaii after his mother died. He tells Immigration - as do all his siblings - they'd heard their mother died at Kalaupapa a year after being sent there, so about 1904.

Grandfather's Immigration letter

Grandfather's Immigration letter

We're unable to verify if she really died there, because a fire destroyed the hospital and its records.


Grandfather's Immigration testimony

Grandfather's Immigration testimony

Old Kalaupapa hospital

Burnt remains of old Kalaupapa hospital

I went to Moloka`i a couple years ago and realized Maliu is a large family on that island. I called a few names from the phone book, but I couldn't find a link to a Helen Maliu. Maybe it's a dead end.

The hike.

The hike.

I also hiked from Topside down to Kalaupapa, and took a tour of the peninsula. It's gorgeous and haunting, with majestic cliffs and sweeping views.

Me at the bottom of the hike.

Me at the bottom of the hike.

What resonates most for me, though, is the story of both tragedy and triumph- the pain of being ripped from one's family, yet the beauty of the community that formed in its stead. It's a reminder of what faith and love can do.

I look at Kalaupapa now and I think of my great-grandmother, wonder if she lived out her life there, and say a prayer.

My Ako-side cousins and me.

My Ako-side cousins and me. Paul: green shirt. (Not pictured: three more cousins.)


Me and Auntie Roz.

Auntie Roz and me.

With special thanks, again, to my cousin Paul and my aunts Polly and Roz for spending all that time in the archives!

Riding the Ewa train

March 9th, 2016

Can you imagine the locomotive as a key mode of transport in the Hawaiian Islands? It was, at the turn of last century.


The Oahu Railway and Land Company, or OR&L, served the ewa end of Oahu, opened in 1889, founded by businessman Benjamin Dillingham. At its peak, the line went from Ewa, over the ʻEwa plain, along the Waiʻanae coast, around Kaʻena Point , and to Haleiwa where Dillingham built a hotel. From there, it went past Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach to Kahuku and the Kahuku sugar mill.


The OR&L served several sugar mills and plantations, but it also carried finished products, equipment, and workers, in addition to freight, passengers, mail, and parcels. It served the major military bases: Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Barber's Point Naval Air Station, Schofield Barracks, and Wheeler Army Airfield. During World War II, it was key to wartime transportation. However, things declined after the war, and it finally went out of business in 1947.


The Hawaiian Railway Society (HRS) was formed in 1970 "dedicated to saving, restoring and protecting Hawaii's railroading history. We have the only historic railroad on the island of Oahu and the only operating railroad museum in the state," describes its website.


Today, it does that by offering 90 minute railroad tours from Ewa to Kahe Point in Nanakuli and back, at a leisurely 15 miles per hour pace. Along the way, guests hear the history of the railroad (I only gave you the condensed version above) and get to take in the new developments on the Ewa plain.


I've been meaning to take my daughter on this for - I'm almost embarrassed to say - four years, and I finally (finally!) made it. It was an enjoyable way to spend part of a Sunday, and I always like learning about Hawaii's past.

If you go, I recommend the winter or spring, when it's cooler. You sit in covered cars with the open air, and the sun shining in on half the car. For that matter, bring a cold beverage or buy one from the booth at the depot before you get on. If you have small children, their favorite snacks might be nice (again, there's a small selection at a little booth at the depot). Also, remind them to use the bathroom before they go. There is no bathroom on board.

All aboard!

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