Aunty Nona’s Kalo Farm: Meaningful, Mindful, and Muddy

IMG_5612On a cool, breezy day, under the beautiful blue Hale’iwa sky, the 4th grade class of my son’s elementary school presented an ‘oli (chant) to humbly request Aunty Nona, Kumu Mokihana, Aunty Lisa, as well as, spiritual ancestors to share knowledge with them.

E hō mai ka ‘ike mai luna mai ē                                                                                                             (Grant us knowledge from above)

O nā mea huna no‘eau o nā mele ē
(The things of wisdom hidden in the chants)

E hō mai, e hō mai, e hō mai ē
(Grant it to us, grant it to us, grant it to us)

-Anake Edith Kanakaole


Winona Pihana-Chaney, 83, also known as, Aunty Nona – is the daughter of the late Mary K. Kelii Pihana who was the Hawaiian Studies kupuna at Wahiawa Elementary School. Since 1993, Aunty Nona has continued the work of her mother by bringing children to her taro farm where they learn, through hands-on activities, about kuleana – responsibility, and to mãlama ‘āina – protect the land, all while getting dirty, eating ono taro and crafting with lauhala.

The children are immediately put into three rotating groups. Our group’s first activity was to make a lauhala bracelet. As the chaperone, I helped pass out bracelets that were already started and ready to be woven while Aunty Nona instructed them on a simple checkerboard weave pattern. I too was given a bracelet to weave and Aunty Nona began to talk story, “You know, I was an accountant and I hated arts and crafts.” Having worked in accounting for 10 years myself, we immediately hit it off. She continued to tell me how she started educating student at her farm, “One day a principal came to me and said, ‘I want to bring my students to your farm,’ and I said, ‘Reeeaaaally?!’ I was surprised.” Soon, it became a place of learning and fun for many children that would come from all over the island. Aunty Nona praises Governor George Ariyoshi for prioritizing Hawaiian Studies education. She returned her attention to the children, “Oh, you have to redo yours, make the weave tighter,” and “Oh, you get an A+,” she said as she walked around guiding them on getting a perfect tight weave on their lauhala bracelets.

After their bracelets were completed and labeled with their names on strips of masking tape, we moved our group to Aunty Lisa’s outdoor kitchen. Aunty Lisa is the daughter-in-law of Aunty Nona. She taught us about taro and demonstrated the mashing of taro to make pa’i ‘ai. Aunty Lisa’s poi pounder is about 80 years old – made by her husband’s grandfather. Pounders required a lot of labor back then. They were formed by pounding two other stones to shape it, and smoothing the surface with sand. We all became hungry while she told us all the different dishes made from taro that she makes like mashed taro with butter and garlic, and fresh mango pa’i ‘ai bread! Mmmmm! It was almost lunch time too!

Keeping the taro in the middle of the board was a little challenging for my son! After mashing and bagging their taro to take with them, students got to taste some of what they made. They were responsible for cleaning up and setting up for the next group to participate.

Next, we moved down to the taro patch and Kumu Mokihana – Aunty Nona’s son and Aunty Lisa’s husband – taught us how to play ‘ulu maika (a hawaiian game where you role a disc between to sticks several feet away).

Lastly, it was time to jump get dirty and jump into the lo’i. Kumu Mokihana taught us how taro is sturdy enough to survive floods and droughts. In 2008 there was a big flood, many farms in Waialua lost their crops but the kalo (taro plant) survived. Having the children play in the lo’i is helpful in tilling the soil between harvests. It is good to move the nutrients around before planting the next crop. I had my sneakers on in the lo’i, moving slowly, pulling my shoes out of the mud with each step. Everything was squishy, squishy, squishy. The color of the mud is rich like dark chocolate and feels smooth in the hands like soft serve ice cream. As I watched my child swim and play in the mud, I thought a little about my anticipated laundry situation.

As we rode back on the bus, I thought of the precious ‘āina as our beautiful playground that provides us with everything we need to sustain life – air, food, and water. It’s important to give back and take care of our land because it takes care of us. Aunty Nona and her ohana opens their hearts and their homes to provide a truly fun and meaningful experience for all.

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Earth Day Field Trip: The Lyon Arboretum

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Recently, on a day off, my kids asked to go on a hike. Having lived here all my life, for some reason, I have never visited the Lyon Arboretum in Manoa. It was the first time visiting for all of us. It’s a wonderful hike if you have elementary and middle school children. There is an app with an audio tour and information about the various gardens and trails. There are also signs that give valuable information on the various plants. They even mark the ones that are endangered. The kids love to follow the map, identifying the markers along the main trail up to the ‘Aihualama Falls. Here’s some information about the arboretum to help prepare you for this fun educational field trip.

Where is it?
The arboretum is hiding behind Treetops Restaurant at Paradise Park. Just drive past the Mānoa Falls parking lot and trailhead. At first it doesn’t look like there is anything beyond the Mānoa Falls parking lot as the road starts to narrow, but keep going and soon you will see the parking lot for the Lyon Arboretum visitors. You can get driving directions and transit options on their website.

History
“In 1919, HSPA(Hawai’i Sugar Plantation Association) purchased 124 acres in upper Mānoa to serve as a test site to evaluate trees that could be used for reforestation throughout the islands, and to test sugarcane seedlings.  The test site became the basis of the Manoa Arboretum.  Planting began in 1920, and was essentially completed by 1945. In the late 1940’s HSPA had achieved their reforestation research objectives and no longer needed the site.  Dr. Lyon strongly believed that Hawai‘i needed a botanical garden and saw this as an opportunity for the state of Hawai`i. In 1953 the Board of Regents of the University of Hawai‘i accepted the land from HSPA for fee of $1.00. The deed stipulated that the University ‘…use, maintain and preserve the granted premises as an arboretum and botanical garden only.’  Lyon used his own money to fund Arboretum operations. When Dr. Lyon died in 1957, he left part of his estate in trust, to help fund the Arboretum in perpetuity.  Seven days later, the University of Hawai`i Board of Regents renamed the Manoa Arboretum the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum.  A plaque located along the main trail commemorates the many contributions of Dr. Lyon.” (Lyon Arboretum website)

Before you go
First, check out their website – it has a huge wealth of information. Everything from the history, visiting hours, tour times, calendar of events, information about research, how to volunteer, safety guides, and more. They offer events such as Mindful Hike and Yoga, Botanical Jewelry Workshop, and Plant Sales.
Download the Lyon Arboretum app. The app has an audio tour that you and your kids can play while exploring the gardens. The audio tour is a great way to learn about Hawaiian history and the indigenous plants, as well as, their usefulness and importance to the environment.

What to expect
Once you get there, you will see the visitors center. A volunteer is there to greet you. There is a place to sign in and a donation box ($5 recommended). Free maps are available and you can buy snacks, water, souvenirs, seeds, plants, and handcrafted items. If it’s rainy, there are umbrellas for visitors to borrow.

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Daily guided one-hour tours are offered Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. for $10 per person. Space is limited, so it is recommended that you call 24 hours in advance to reserve a space. Walk-ins are accommodated if there are spaces available.
My boys and I wandered around some of the various gardens before heading onto the main trial toward the ‘Aihualama Falls. The trail is safe for most children. We saw children as young as about 5 years old on the trail. It took us about 45 minutes to leisurely get to the falls. Mānoa is typically damp and prone to mosquitoes, so applying some sort of repellant and sunscreen is recommended.
A little less than half way up the main trail is the Hawaiian Section – a large area consisting entirely of native Hawaiian plants. This also, served as a nice spot to rest and drink some water before continuing on to the falls.


Be sure to bring your camera, if you’re like me, you’ll want to take photos of the many plants every 2 to 3 feet!


When we got up to the falls, it was pretty dry. You’ll be able to view a photo-perfect waterfall if you go right after a recent rainfall.

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Kids’ assessment
When I asked my kids (Gavin, 11 and Cameron, 9) for feedback, here’s how it went.

Me: Gavin, how did you like the arboretum?
Gavin: It was fun.
Me: Cameron, would you go again?
Cameron: Sure

So, there you have it, simply stated.

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Spring Break Amnesia

My beloved eldest 11 year old son has just informed me that he has a science project due in a couple of days. About nine days ago, at the beginning of Spring Break, I asked my two young boys what assignments they had over the break. They said they had their usual independent reading, computer work, and that they needed to practice their instruments for band. Just to make extra sure I asked, “Is that all, no one has projects or anything that needs to be worked on?”

A definite, “Nope,” was their reply. I even asked them to check their school planners to make extra sure, warning them to keep the “Crazy Lady” from emerging from the dark depths of my insides.

Now, we have two days left until school starts up again. Today, after picking up my son from his late morning private drum lesson, he announces, “Uh, Mom, I forgot that I have a science project.” (Oh man, I can feel “her” emerging.) “I have to make a car that runs out of recycled items we have around the house.”

“WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!” The Crazy Lady has been unleashed! I became possessed by the Crazy Lady. My head probably did that Exorcist thing where it turns completely around before vomiting. Out it came, “OHMYGAAAWWWD!DIDINOTASKYOUATTHEBEGINNINGOFBREAKIF YOU! HAD! HOMEWORK?!”

“Uh, yeah, but I forgot.”

“AGAAAIIIIIN?!” I know that getting like this doesn’t help my son, but, it feels like it helps me. The thing is, I am well aware of where this gene comes from. I was the master of procrastination. Even in high school, I fell asleep on the bathroom floor painting my design on my kimono project for Asian Arts my senior year. I had weeks to work on it, but ended up working on it all day and night the day before it was due. It comes from my dad, he’s a CPA, and the nature of his job is to meet deadlines. He has proven, for the longest time, that his motivation kicks in on April 14th until the very last second on April 15th. I don’t know why I thought this procrastination gene wouldn’t pass down to my children. I still have the hope that they will be great planners and learn the importance of rewarding their future selves! Oh, and the impatience gene comes from my mother’s side. Even I, at 43, still struggle with this, but, I am determined that my children will be different!

My son, explains to me – as if he is the parent, “Mom, when you freak out, nag, or yell at me, it doesn’t motivate me. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It makes me feel bad and makes me NOT want to do it EVEN MORE.” I become emotionally confused. He’s trying to manipulate me, right? The Crazy Lady doesn’t know what to do! So many times, when my parents yelled at me, I wanted to say the very same thing! Whether he was trying to manipulate me or not, he knew how to make the Crazy Lady retreat. Out came the Good Listener.

“So Gavin, if yelling doesn’t help, what should I do instead?” asked the (suspicious) Good Listener.

“You should be patient and encourage me. That will help me want to do my project.” While the Good Listener is buying this, the Crazy Lady is on the side rolling her eyes.

“Okay, fair enough. However, you need to acknowledge the fact that you could have prepared better.” We agreed that we both had things to work on.

Despite still being suspicious, he was right. Encouragement helps us all do better. Impatience and criticism makes us feel less worthy and incapable. It’s not just the parents who guide the kids. In this case I was taught patience and compassion. 

So the next time we have Spring, Fall, or Winter Break amnesia, I hope we will have the wisdom to be compassionate good listeners, and remember to DO OUR HOMEWORK!!

Gavin’s Guide to Being a Man

Mom’s notes:  I love that my son likes to journal.  Here is a fun one he shared with me.  With his permission, he allowed me to post it on my blog site.  Please enjoy these words of wisdom on becoming a man from the perspective of an 11 year old.

by Guest Blogger, Gavin (my son)

  1.  When you are like me, there is some stuff to know, okay?  So, some people say I’m going through puberty which is kind of weird, but, we gotta go through it sometime! LOL!
  2. So, first thing’s first. Sexy time.  So you are probably asking yourself, “Do I like boobs?” Well, okay then, but, you must really focus on her personality and brains.  Look, if you’re 11 years old and up, you’re probably like me.  I focus on if she’s nice and smart and stuff, and, trust me, this is really harder than it looks to get a girlfriend.  Also, I like to help my brother get a girlfriend and, of course, he likes someone, but, I can’t make fun of him because I’ve been crushing on girls since kindergarten.
  3. Put deodorant on after exercising because you start developing odors.
  4. When you get hairy, don’t freak out, be happy, because you’re manly now! Just remember to be yourself. Don’t let anyone pull you back from your goal.
  5. Exercise a lot so you are not out of shape like my friend.
  6. Also, don’t shave so much unless you’re a GIRL!

These are tips from a PROMAN *ahem* (Gavin)

 

We Got Called To The Principal’s Office Because Our Son Was a Biter

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We never thought that would be us. We are good parents with well behaved children. So when we got a note from Cameron’s teacher reporting some aggressive behavior, we were shocked at what was in that note. We already knew at age 2 to 3 Cameron would express himself physically because he didn’t use words much. The teacher reported that he bit someone on the lip after he was pushed and that on a separate occasion he twisted someones eyelid. I felt like I didn’t know who this kid was and then I felt like a bad mother. Where did he learn to do this? We don’t allow the kids to watch anything violent and no one in our family behaves this way. My husband Alex and I agreed we had to act fast! The Principal also wanted to see us about Cameron.

At our meeting with the principal, we talked about ways to help Cameron in a positive way. I eventually came up with making Cameron a star chart to carry back and forth to school. The teachers were very cooperative and liked the idea. So, I made a card that said, “Cameron’s Super Hand’s.” We traced his hands with colorful markers on the cover. On the inside, it read, ” Cameron has SUPER HANDS, Hands that paint, hands that write, hands that hug, they can do lots of SUPER things and never hurt anyone or anything.” We read this to him everyday before school and told him that when he earned 10 stars, we would take him to buy something special from Toys R’ Us.
After a week, there was still no star, he was still getting in trouble for using his hands in a hurtful way. I felt so bad that other children may get hurt, although the teachers had been keeping a close eye on him and intercepting the attack always before anyone got hurt. We thought our plan was not working. Then, the next day, he got a star! Finally! “Keep it up Cameron!” we encouraged him and the next day he got another star! He continued until he filled up his star chart. Whew! Mission accomplished.  Along with the star chart, we encouraged Cameron to use words to say how he was feeling.  With persistent love and encouragement, we never scolded Cameron because we knew that he just needed to be taught to use his words.

Today, Cameron is 7 years old and is the sweetest, most thoughtful child I know. He gives the best hugs complete with this twinkle fingers thing he does when he’s hugging. When I pick him up from school, he runs to the front of the school to pick up the nicest freshly fallen plumeria flower for me to put in my hair. He is also the protector of friends and family and says he will be a firefighter one day.