Archive for June, 2016

Maui: Assistance Dogs of Maui changes lives

June 22nd, 2016

The woman sitting in the motorized wheelchair drops her cell phone on the floor, to the side of the wheelchair. Nani, the yellow Labrador at her feet picks it up, walks around to the front of the chair, steps up onto the footrest, and places the phone back on the woman's lap.

Vezuete and Nani

Vanessa Vezuete and Nani

The woman's left arm falls off the armrest. Nani puts her snout under the arm and places it back on the armrest.

Then, the woman clicks her tongue, making a sound like a gecko. The dog's ears prick up and it starts barking, louder and louder, until she gets a command to stop.

The woman is trainer Vanessa Vezuete at Assistance Dogs of Maui, and Nani is being readied for a life of service with a woman with ALS,  a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

"Nani can save her owner's life," Vezuete says of the barking command. "If this client's breathing tube falls out, the only sound she can make is clicking. Nani is trained to bark until her husband comes in the room."

16-4-21 Maui_Assistance Dogs_puppy

Each year, Assistance Dogs of Maui places eight to ten service dogs with owners around the state. This training is intensive; the puppies start training at two weeks old. It will take the dog 12 to 18 months to learn 90 basic commands (like turning on the light and opening the door) before being matched with a specific client.

"We spend significant time matching the animal to the person. We consider the person's gender, age, and how fast they walk," details Vezuete. "It's important to get it right because the owner so heavily relies on his or her dog for independence, convenience, and sometimes, survival."

Me with a puppy

Me with a puppy

After the dog and person are matched, more training takes place to customize the dog's skill set - as illustrated in the above example of Nani's preparation to live with an ALS patient.

With all this time and care dedicated to training a guide dog, many are surprised to hear that Assistance Dogs of Maui doesn't charge for the dog. It estimates the value of the dog at $25,000.

Mo Maurer and Nani

Mo Maurer and Nani

Assistance Dogs of Hawaii has been helping people unleash their abilities since 2000, when Will and Maureen "Mo" Maurer founded the non-profit. It's known across the state - and actually, the world - for providing service dogs to children and adults, particularly for people with physical disabilities.

Part of the campus of Assistance Dogs of Hawaii

Part of the campus of Assistance Dogs of Hawaii

It's located on three acres in Kula, Maui. Mo is a whirlwind of energy, always pushing forward to see how she can make a difference in people's lives. In the last half of this year, she reveals, the program will be expanding to the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

16-4-21 Maui_Assistance Dogs_Olivia trail

Furthermore, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is working with the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific on a groundbreaking study involving medical scent detection dogs. "Our dogs have been taught to detect the early stages of melanoma with extremely high accuracy," previews Mo. She tells me they're also working with Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children to train dogs to detect bacterial infections.

Just last month, many statewide news outlets including KHON2 shared the news of Ollie, a courthouse dog who joined the Kauai Office of the Prosecuting Attorney with Deputy Prosecutor Joanne Sheng as his handler. The Labrador Retriever provides emotional support for victims and witnesses in the courtroom. Ollie can offer support by resting his head on a person’s lap and putting his paw on their leg.



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Maui: the community of Keokea

June 20th, 2016

This spring, I learned my great-grandmother, a full-Hawaiian woman named Helen Maliu, was born in Keokea. I don't know when, but when she married my full-Chinese great-grandfather, they moved to Papakolea on Oahu.

I've driven through Keokea before, but this time I wanted to revisit it with this new knowledge that I have ancestral ties to the area. It's a very small town; the 2010 US Census Bureau report puts the population at just over 1,600.

Sleepy Keokea

Sleepy Keokea

According to genealogy documents, one or two of Great-grandmother Maliu's five children (original last name Ako, but would have changed through marriage for the women) settled in Kula themselves.

Ironically, it's a full Hawaiian woman who is my link, though this community was originally settled by Chinese immigrants. I learned China's hero and first president, Sun Yat-Sen, briefly lived in Keokea in 1911.


There's a small park built in his honor. Also, Sun Yat-Sen's brother, Sun Mei, made his home in Keokea in the early 20th century.


It's well-maintained, with a few pretty paths and a couple of picnic benches. Most of the time, it's the feral chickens who seem to be enjoying the park the most.

IMG_5752 IMG_5756

Another well-known Chinese landmark is the Kwock Hing Temple on Middle Road. I happened to see it as we were driving by, and spun around to check it out.


Olivia and I walked up the stairs and peeked around the locked building. I was about to be satisfied with that, but a man peered around from the back and asked if we needed help.

With Nelson S. N. Chung

With Nelson S. N. Chung

How fortunate we were able to meet Nelson S. N. Chung, one of the members who helps care for the building. It's usually locked, but he let us peek inside.

He said it was built in 1907 and was the first two story structure in Kula. Over time, it's been renovated and moved about 200 feet south to its present site. The Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places added it to their lists in 1982.

The building's original purpose was to provide services to immigrant Chinese workers, who the sugarcane plantations started hiring in 1852. In fact, there were so many Chinese immigrants, at one time there were six such halls - all helping the men with religious, political, and moral support- even funeral benefits. Now there are only two halls left.

First floor,

First floor, Kwock Hing Society Hall


Photos on the first floor

The bottom floor has old photos of Chinese immigrants. The top floor is an incredibly tiny worship hall for Buddhists. Probably like, three Buddhists at a time.

Second floor, Kwock Hing Society Hall

Second floor, Kwock Hing Society Hall

Side note: It's interesting to be inside a building built before codes standardized measurements. The steps were so small - about six inches wide!

Lastly, we wanted to end our little tour with lunch. Chung gave us directions and told us to pay attention because if you blink, you miss it.

The main strip in Keokea

The main strip in Keokea

The "town" consists of four businesses: Henry S. Fong Store (which Chung says used to have a companion movie theater from the 1930s to the mid-1950s), Keokea Gallery featuring local artists' work, Chevron K.S. Ching Store, and Grandma's Coffee House. Henry S. Fong and Mrs. K. S. Ching, by the way, were brother and sister.

Fong Store

Fong Store

Fong Store

Fong Store

Grandma's Coffee House is the only place to sit down and eat, and it was pretty busy. It has fresh baked goods and roasts its own coffee.

Grandma's Coffee House

Grandma's Coffee House

According to its website, "Grandma began roasting and blending Maui organic coffee in 1918. It wasn't long before Grandma's house became the place to go for a cup of coffee and to 'talk story.' It is now four generations later and coffee is still in our family."

Can I haz a cheeseburger?

Can I haz a cheeseburger?

The web story explains how it went from cafe to restaurant: "Years ago, we decided to incorporate Grandma's original homemade recipes and our exclusive organic coffee into Grandma's Coffee House."


It was a nice way to pass a couple hours in Keokea. Now I try to imagine my own great-grandmother living in this town, and feel I know her just a little bit better. What a beautiful community to have called home.

Father's Day reflections: Dad's best lesson to you?

June 17th, 2016

The best lessons my father taught me were how to be fearless and independent. Through our interaction, I learned almost nothing is insurmountable, and if you stare fear in the face, it's not as scary as you imagined it. You are stronger than you know, and when you call upon that inner reserve, it'll be there for you.

Living in Rocky Hill, CT

Living in Rocky Hill, CT

On a less philosophical note, Dad instilled in me an enjoyment of classical music (particularly piano, since he's an incredibly skilled pianist), and a predisposition to be an aquatic hobbyist and a home gardener.

Road trip to Vermont

Road trip to Vermont

I grew up with a dozen fishtanks in the house (some, 200 gallons), and my version of an aquatic hobby is breeding shrimp. I'm pretty into my decapods.

He, like his mother, loves to putter in the yard. I like that, too. I'm a pretty good gardener and I find spending a couple hours in the yard meditative and grounding.

My husband, Claus, is a great father - the best, I think. Our kid's lucky to have him. He's totally there for her every step of the way, and incredibly involved in her daily life.

Back Camera

I asked our nine year old daughter what is the best lesson her dad taught her. Without hesitation, Olivia replied, "Swimming, because I love to be in the water and I won't drown."

Here's how some friends answered that question:



Mahealani Richardson- Shriners Hospitals for Children spokesperson

"My dad taught me how to have fun. He used to just play with us at birthday parties and that sort of thing, you know, where you do the three-legged race and the donut eating contest. That's important today. Often, parents are disengaged from their kids. He was really engaged! That's the greatest lesson from my dad."



Sean Olanui Robbins- musician

"Just to have fun and do what you love to do. When I was growing up, he always worked for himself, so he chose his own hours. He made it work. He was successful and still got to do what he wanted to do, and he loved life. Now I'm doing that; I love to play music!"


Maui: Thompson Ranch & Riding Stables

June 15th, 2016

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." That could not feel more true than during a lovely late morning horseback ride up the lush Kula mountainside with Thompson Ranch & Riding Stables.


My horse for the day, Wrangler, followed trail he knew by heart, in a small queue behind my daughter's filly, Akamai. Ranch owner Jerry Thompson led us, and his friend Pete Feliciano brought up the rear. Thompson's three dogs dash after us joyfully, and stay with us the whole time.


The four of us (or seven, if you count doggies) trudged up the slopes, horses meandering through green pastures dotted with silver eucalyptus tree groves and pretty little wild raspberry-looking bushes. Thompson calls them a strawberry-raspberry hybrid.


Because Olivia and I are curious, he stops, gets off his horse, and picks us some to try. They are delicious.


After an hour, we finally reach our destination: a cabin he and Feliciano constructed by hand, high up on the mountain at about 5,000 feet. It's a guy's retreat, that's for sure. Painted green with a white trim, it's sparse on the inside - just four bunks for some cowboys to hunker down for the night.

Pete the paniolo

Paniolo Pete

The horses rest, and Thompson brings out some snacks and juice for us to rejuvenate. Riding, apparently, is hard work for the uninitiated.

Mommy and Olivia

Mommy and Olivia

We are not equestrians by any stretch, and Olivia and I noticed our legs were a little sore by the midpoint of the ride. I feel like a wuss saying this, because imagine what the horses are feeling.


We sit outside the cabin at his fire pit. It's a nice chance to breath in the crisp air and take in the breathtaking view of the island below- Keokea in the foreground, Makena in the distance, and the sparkling blue Pacific beyond. I don't know why more tourists don't visit Upcountry, but it's a good thing because it's unspoiled and relatively quiet.


After this little break, it's time to get back in the saddle and head back down. Thompson leads us back a different way, so this time we pass his cattle, who look blankly at us. Our presence also scares off a deer, an owl, and a pheasant.

It's hypnotic, riding through this countryside, high up on this powerful beast. I'm not the one doing the walking, but I still feel a soul-cleansing and a connectedness with nature.

Jerry Thompson

Jerry Thompson

This is what Thompson does maybe once a day. This is primarily a real ranch, with real cowboys that do real work with their hands. When the horses aren't lugging tourists around, they're helping him so he can herd his animals, fix fences, cut firewood (yes! This exists in Hawaii!), and do other cowboy stuff.

It's been a family owned and operated business since 1902, though it hasn't always been in this location. Thompson moved to this current space after Oprah bought his property in 2003. So there is a Thompson Ranch Road in Maui, but it's now the address for Ms. Winfrey.



He's happy, though. He's got his 13 horses, 80 goats, and 50 cows. Further down, he and his family live with their personal barnyard animals that provide food for them: turkeys, chickens, goats, and a wild boar named Pig.


Why does Thompson offer horseback rides? "It's a nice way to share the culture and the lifestyle," he says.

He smiles at me, skin tanned, hands weathered, and blue eyes vibrant from a lifetime of ranch work. "I love it. There's nothing else I'd rather do," he declares. Join him for a couple hours and you'll understand why.

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Maui: Surfing Goat Dairy

June 13th, 2016

Goats have those weird rectangular pupils because it allows them to see 320 degrees from front to back, so they can beware of predators. They love routine and feel upset without it. And it takes one buck 24 hours to impregnate 80 females.


Those are some of the interesting facts Olivia and I learned at Surfing Goat Dairy's "Evening Chores and Milking Tour," offered six days a week at the Kula farm.

Ten days old!

Ten days old!

Near the front entrance, there's a pen with all the newborn goats - so your kids can pet their kids while you wait for the tour to start. There were some that were only ten days old. The CUTEST!


All the goats are bottle fed from birth, so they're very friendly. Some are sold to people (they make good pets since they're so social), and some are kept to be milked. When they're too old to produce milk for commercial purposes, they're humanely allowed to roam the rest of their lives on the Golden Girls pasture.

The tour takes us to see goats just a month or two old. We learn about disbudding, castration, and get to feed them alfalfa. It happens to be raining so we also learn goats don't like to get wet.


It meanders along the dusty path to the pen with all the pregnant females. We learn their pregnancy lasts five months, the first birth is usually one kid, and the subsequent litters can be up to six kids. They only have two udders, so... I feel sorry for the does. I've been a nursing mom.


Then, we see the milking station, where the does are cramming their head through the fence to be next in line to get milked. They're fed while they're being milked, so they like both the food and the relief from the pressure of a full udder.


They actually love routine, and they have a pecking order, so they line themselves up and fall into place rather robotically, without any chaos. It's pretty amazing to see. They're so orderly.


Our tour guide offers our group the chance to milk the goats, so those of us who wanted to sanitized our hands first and then gave it a go. I thought I'd be better at it than I was, and to my surprise, Olivia was kind of a natural!

This was the second time in my life I've milked a farm animal (the first was a cow during elementary school) and it sure is interesting. Olivia liked it more than she expected.


A goat produces 3.5 - 4.5 quarts of milk a day, and there are 120 milk-producing goats on the 42 acre farm at any given time. The staff stagger the pregnancies so that there will be milking goats year round.


We passed the production room where all the cheese is processed into chèvre, quark, or aged cheese. There was another primer on how that stuff is made but my head was full by then. It was interesting to know, but I didn't retain any of that information.

Lastly, we sat in the gazebo for a tasting of all that yummy stuff we've just learned about. Our guide brought us samples of the cheeses for sale, which were all very tasty. Goat cheese is so versatile!


It's good for lactose-intolerant people (like me) because it has a small protein chain. That small protein chain is also why it's fine to freeze and unfreeze goat cheese as much as you like and it won't change the flavor (as long as you keep it cold.)


The dairy is proud to tell its visitors that its product is served in many fine hotels and restaurants, including at President Obama's inaugural dinner. No kidding! (Get it? Kid? LOL)

You can get reasonably priced cheese, or you can opt for the extremely fancy variety. The "Shark Bite" line of gourmet cheeses include Oyster (smoked oyster with chèvre), Perigord (black truffles and chèvre), and Midas Touch (23k gold in the chèvre).

Goat eating my hair!

Goat eating my hair!

As for us? We went for the goat cheese gelato, which is made with quark and flavored with strawberry. There's a lilikoi version as well but that's offered somewhere else in town.


It was flavorful - not 100% ice cream or gelato tasting, but very good in its own rich way. We ate it while sitting by the baby goat pen. It was our last tour of the day. Not a baaad way to spend part of an afternoon in Maui.

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