Haole Girl

I’m on my second tour of duty dealing with middle school, and if there’s one thing I know for sure, middle schoolers can be some of the meanest humans on the face of the earth.

Emery’s in her last year of middle school, and I was worried about her transition from Washington to Hawai’i.  It seemed to be going okay until she came into the house one day upset because one of the boys in the neighborhood yelled at her, “You’re nothing but a stupid haole! You always have been and you always will be!”

After a bit, I discovered it wasn’t the first time someone had said something to her. It’s happened twice in the neighborhood and once at school. And it’s always an angry teenage boy.

I reminded her that while she doesn’t have Hawaiian blood, her roots here run deep. Her great-great grandparents came to Hawai’i from Okinawa in the early 1900’s. She’s the fourth generation to live in Hawai’i and our family tree is wide AND deep. Yes, she was born and raised on the Mainland, but she was surrounded by locals and her stepfather is a Kalihi boy (and you can’t get more local than that). She’s danced hula for ten years, she’s paddled and she can play a little bit of ukulele. And ironically, she knows more of the  Hawaiian language than the three boys that tried to crush her with their English words wrapped around one Hawaiian word used with hate.

But even with all that, the truth is, she is an outsider. And that’s okay. Boys can call her names all they want because she will stand tall knowing that their words don’t matter. She has a huge heart, she’s smart (4.0 GPA), she’s talented, and what middle school boys think doesn’t make a difference in the long run. This hapa haole girl will show you what “aloha” really means. Just watch.






A late post, but heartfelt nonetheless. Unfortunately, when you’re the youngest, and your mom has too many balls in the air, your birthday post is delayed.

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Photo by Emery Lemos for Life N Light Photo

The Baby turned 9 in January (she doesn’t like that we still refer to her “the Baby”, but she’s learned to live with it).

At 9-years old, she’s still a mystery to me that continues to reveal itself as time goes by. When she was a toddler, and her personality started to emerge, I was completely stumped. Her two older siblings are wired like me, so I “get” them. She, on the other hand, was/is different. She’s wise beyond her years, holds things inside, thinks before she acts and doesn’t like cheese. My other two children are like me: they live in the moment, wear their emotions on their sleeves, are often impulsive and share my love of cheese. The three of us have often found ourselves amazed at her little nuggets of wisdom. Since the moment she came home from the hospital, she’s added a new dimension to our family.

Happy (belated) birthday Kahealani! We love you and your quirkiness. Don’t ever change.

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The birthday girl with her two older siblings

I’ve been gone for a while on purpose.

I struggled with some severe homesickness, and at one point I had my bags packed and was ready to take the first flight back to Seattle.

Living in Paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

A new job has made things better. Life is manageable, although not as perfect as I’d like it to be.

My refuge is the beach. Without it, I would be a train wreck. I stare at the waves,  I pray and I wait for answers. God has made it clear to me in so many ways that this is where I’m supposed to be, but I still don’t feel “at home”. It’s unsettling.


Hello, it’s me

Fighting to be (part) Filipina

Did you know I am part Filipina?

I am, and I have the family tree to prove it.

Even though I grew up in a very ethnically diverse neighborhood in Los Angeles, I was always asked “What are you?” When I moved to the Pacific Northwest as a teenager, I stuck out like a sore thumb at my Junior High school in the suburbs of Portland. I was the short brown girl amidst a sea of tall Caucasian kids. I would answer “What are you?” with a mind-boggling list of my many ethnicities that would leave people stunned. For the record, my mother is Filipina, Irish, French and Spanish. My father was Japanese, Okinawan and Scot.

I am multi-racial.

A mixed plate.

Hapa haole.

Heinz 57.

My children and I have been described as looking “ethnically ambiguous”. We simultaneously look like every race and no one race at all.


The faces of “ethnic ambiguity” aka being part-Filipino. Photo credit: Life N Light Photography


Growing up multi-racial often comes with the feeling that you don’t really “fit in” anywhere, but I identified with the Filipino side of the family because I was raised by my maternal grandparents. My grandfather came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1932. He landed in Seattle and took a train across the country to Boston where he worked for a few years before enlisting in the Army during WWII.  My grandmother was an Irish/French beauty from New Orleans. Because my grandmother was Caucasian, I didn’t get the full Filipino “immersion experience”. For instance, my mother, aunt and I don’t know any words in any Filipino dialects. When we would express an interest in learning, my grandfather would always say, “We live in America. We speak English in this house.” Ironically, it never stopped him from speaking to my great-grandfather or his friends in “code”, and he never lost his accent.


My grandfather in Boston in the 1930’s.

I got tidbits of the culture mostly through extended family and the universal language of food. In fact, the only Filipino words that my mother, aunt and I know are the names of dishes we love like pancit, adobo, bibingka, lechon, lumpia and conversely, the ones that make us cringe like balut, dinuguan and pinapaitan.

Did you know I am part Filipina?

I am, and I have the last name to prove it.


I married the love of my life at Kaka’ako Park in 2015. His last name is 10-letters long. I still haven’t perfected my signature and we’ve been married for over a year.

Fast-forward to my 50’s and I’m married to a Hawaiian/Filipino/Portuguese/Puerto Rican man with a big Filipino last name and I’m living on O’ahu. Within two weeks of moving on to the island, all the Filipina aunties are quick to point out that I’m not Filipina enough.

In the store I heard:

Aunty: Your pirst name?
Me: Brigette. B…
Aunty: P ass en Paul?
Me: No, B…
Aunty: B ass en Boy?
Me: Yes. [I continue to spell the rest of my first name]
Aunty: Your last name?
Me: [in my best Filipino accent I say my last name]
Aunty: Dat es a Pilipino last name you know…
Me: Um, yes. I know…
Aunty: I can spell dat. Dat es Pilipino. [pause as she studies my face] But, you do not look Pilipino.

Over the phone I heard:

Aunty: Dat es a Pilipino last name.
Me: Yes, I know.
Aunty: Oh, but you do not sound Pilipina!
Me: Um, I guess not. I was born and raised on the Mainland.
Aunty: Ohhhh, you are not Filipina…

In my head I would answer, Yes I am, dammit.

Soon after these two encounters, I came across this shirt at Savers and knew I had to buy it.


Did you know I am part Filipina?

I am, and I have the shirt to prove it.

What do I need to look and sound like? Am I too dark? Too light? Does my slightly pointy nose give away my tablespoon of European blood? Do I need to buy the Tagalog version of Rosetta Stone? Am I just a Pinay “wanna-be” ?

That childhood feeling of not belonging started to hang heavy on my heart. Back home in Washington we have Filipino friends, most of whom are from the hālau our family has danced with for ten years. The majority of them are from Hawai’i. I felt Filipina around them, so did I incorrectly assume that I could “pass” here?


I was raised by and surrounded by Filipinos for most of my life. Filipino blood runs through my veins. It was the country where my grandfather was born. Through him I learned about things like work ethic, humility, love of family and Jesus, that showing up three hours late to a party can be forgiven if you bring a big pan of pancit or lumpia, and that every family should have a machete. Obviously, that’s not a comprehensive list of lessons learned, but I believe I learned culture through his heart, the values he modeled and in the simplicity in which he lived his life. I married a man with way more Filipino blood than me who embodies all those same values/qualities/sensibilities, including machete ownership (which ironically was handed down from his Filipino grandfather).

My self-doubt began again when I spelled my (married) last name to older Filipina women. Frustrated, I told my father-in-law about the conversations that were clearly bothering me. He listened as I vented, paused for a moment and said, “You are Filipina enough. Don’t let them tell you any different.”


My father-in-law is one smart man.

Did you know I am part Filipina?

I am.

Author’s note: October is Filipino American History Month. Today (10/6/16) is the 14th anniversary of the passing of my grandfather. I wanted to write about my experience being part Filipina, and often being labeled “not Filipina enough”, and encourage others to write their stories as well. Our stories are powerful and run the full spectrum from hilarious to tragic. What’s yours?





And then 14 happened

The minute I found out I was going to have a girl, I was terrified. I only knew how to be the mom of a boy, and the thought of having to raise a girl was overwhelming. Easton, who was 6-years old at the time, was at the ultrasound anxiously awaiting the announcement of a little brother. He saw my eyes fill up with tears and said, “It’s ok Momma, maybe she’ll turn into a boy before she’s born.”

She didn’t.

She arrived without incident on September 19th (2 weeks early) and gave me a run for my money until she was about 4-years old when we finally figured out that her constant tantrums were due to tonsils the size of overgrown tomatoes. With her tonsils out, she became a reasonable human being overnight, literally.

She is the most challenging out of my three biological children for one very complicated reason: She’s the one that’s most like me yet she’s not like me at all.

She gets upset with the same things as I do. She has the same insecurities as I did. And she argues just like me. At times, it’s exhausting parenting my mini-me. But here’s where I catch a break: I was rotten as a pre-teen, teen and well into my 20’s, and at 14-years old she’s an amazingly great kid. She’s a good student, a loyal friend, the best daughter/sister, and a Jesus-lover.

Everyone who knows Emery will agree on one thing: Emery has a HUGE heart. She will always see the good in people, no matter how deeply they hurt her. It’s both a blessing and a curse for her, but it’s a lesson for the rest of us, especially me. Everyone always says how beautiful she is, but it’s the beauty of her heart that is overwhelming.

Hau’oli la hanau Emery! You are loved by many forever and always.


A very little Emery with her light hair, big hoop earrings and squeezable cheeks.



At the top of Koko Head Crater still looking fresh after climbing 1000+ steps straight up.






Two minutes in my head

Sometimes my mind rambles, like my mouth. Here are a few completely random observations after living here for two months.

Food, Water and the Lack of a Decent Taco Truck

Hawaiians carry around HydroFlasks like Seattleites carry latte cups. They’re so popular here, they launch new colors in Hawai’i and then roll it out to the rest of the US.


This island could use an authentic taco truck or Mexican restaurant. Hawai’i is notorious for less than stellar Mexican food. The trade off? There’s fresh poi and poke around the corner.

Milk isn’t $10/gallon. It’s only $5.49. That’s still painful. I’m glad Kahea is the only milk drinker in the house.

Water straight from the tap isn’t cold like it is Washington, but you can drink it without a filter.

If you see someone selling poi mochi at an event, buy it right away. Every time I wait, it’s sold out.


The minute I realized that Hawai’i doesn’t have a Trader’s Joes, I started to miss Cookie Butter.

Local Living

Don’t go into a Walmart in Hawai’i unless you are patient. Very patient. It has to be one of the busiest in the country.

I love Waimanalo Beach, but I want to know why there are so many pieces of blue plastic in the sand and where it comes from.

I don’t mind geckos, but I wish they were litter box trained or at least had the decency to poop outside and not on my kitchen counters. I’m currently in love with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.

I practice my Pidgin accent on the checkers at the grocery store and people at the swap meet when Ric’s not around. Either I’m doing ok, or they’re laughing at me when I walk away.

Country music is gaining in popularity in Hawai’i, but there’s still only one country music station.

I hear roosters in the morning and I wonder if someone is raising chickens for meat/eggs or raising roosters for cock fights.

The first time we went to church, the Guest Speaker was the pastor from Ric’s church in Kaua’i and then we found out that the Campus Pastor used to be the pastor at the New Hope in Shoreline (WA). We took that as a sign that we had found our home church.



Mauka, Makai, Ewa, Hawai’i Kai loosely replace North, South, East and West. That only works if you know where those are in the first place.



When I was a kid in Los Angeles, you could ride in the back of a pickup truck. You can do that here if all the seats are taken in the cab and you’re over 13.

Hawaiians rule at backing in big trucks into impossibly small parking spaces.

I’ve accidentally turned into the US Pacific Fleet Commanders Headquarters several times. Once you turn in, you need an escort to get out. It’s slightly embarrassing.

I cry in the car during my commute at least once a week. Either because I’m completely frustrated by traffic or that I can’t make a left turn in town, or because I’m homesick.

There’s no parking here. None. That makes me cry, too.

Tears due to traffic frustration and homesickness aside, I look mauka at 6 PM for my daily rainbow or up at the clouds rolling by at night and I know that my roots will grow deep into the red dirt. I just need time.









HI Drivers > WA Drivers

I’ve got to hand it to the commuters of O’ahu, if awards were handed out for freeway driving, they would win for “Most Courteous Merge” and “Most Consistent Use of the Wave/Shaka”.

The good people of this island have let me slide across three lanes of traffic to get in the right hand lane when I realized that I couldn’t make a left turn (hint: do NOT use Siri to navigate your way in Honolulu, aka The Land of No Left Turn) and had to employ the “three rights make a left” method.

More than once, the traffic on H-1 has moved me to tears, so when I can be a courteous driver and let someone into my lane (and possibly save them from having an emotional breakdown), I do, and I get “the wave” or a shaka from the local braddahs every time.

I can’t say the same for the drivers of Western Washington.

Try to merge on to any of the highways or freeways in the Pacific Northwest and undoubtedly, someone will speed up (instead of maintaining their speed like they learned in driver’s ed), causing you make some quick life or death decisions while spewing expletives.

Back home, I’ve let people into my lane, waited for the wave, and when it didn’t come, I’d think to myself, “Where the heck is the wave? I didn’t have to let you in! I could have been a typical PNW driver and sped up so I could drive right next to you when I saw your turn signal on, but I didn’t. I let you in and you can’t even acknowledge that with a simple wave?”

But here, it’s different.

Maybe it’s because O’ahu drivers know that if they get into an accident, they could potentially be the cause of the freeway shutting down for hours while HPD investigates, therefore extending the already LONG commute of thousands of drivers. That guilt alone would be enough for any driver to be as courteous and safe as possible.

Maybe it’s because in the back of our minds we know that if we’re a complete jerk  to someone (on the freeway or off) that there’s a good chance that it’s your aunty’s second cousin’s first wife that makes the really good butter mochi. You just can’t burn a bridge here, this island is way too small.

Or maybe it’s the Aloha Spirit that emerges when you look over at your fellow commuter and think, “We’re all in this together.” We work, we commute and while we’re all miserable sitting in the traffic, bottom line is we know we’re blessed to have jobs and even more blessed to live here.

Yes, that must be it.


The dreaded H1.

When Twinkle, Twinkle goes horribly wrong

Have you heard Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”? The first time I heard it was when I purchased IZ in Concert: The Man and His Music in 1999. I loved the sweetness of the mele (song), and learned how to sing the hui (chorus) of Ahi Wela, the song that it is intertwined with.

I played that CD a lot when I was pregnant with Emery. After she was born in 2002, I would sing Ahi Wela/Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to her when she was fussy (and she was fussy a lot). It always seemed to calm her down.

It wasn’t until years later when I was taking hula and discovered Huapala: Hawaiian Music and Hula Archives that I bothered to look up the translation to Ahi Wela (written in 1891 by Lizzie Doirin and Mary Beckley) .


Ahi wela mai nei loko
I ka hana a ke aloha
E lalawe nei kuʻu kino
Konikoni lua i ka puʻuwai


Like a hot fire inside
The action of love

Going through my entire body
And throbbing in my heart 

Um, oops.

I know that my daughter didn’t suffer any emotional damage from hearing a provocative song sung to her repeatedly in Hawaiian, but it was still a facepalm moment. We’ve been involved with a hula hālau since Emery was 2, so I have a much better grasp on a big handful of Hawaiian words and I lean on my kumu hula and Huapala for song translations. Maybe it’s time to seriously study ‘ōleo Hawai’i so I know what I’m singing the next time I need to calm a fussy baby.

Or maybe I should just stick to humming.



The Milky Way at Rialto Beach, Washington | Photo: Easton Lemos | Instagram: @eastonlemos





And then he turned 21.

When we lived on the Mainland, the last week of August/first week of September was one of the busiest weeks of the year. We had the fair, the halau performance at the fair, back-to-school  shopping, and Easton’s birthday.

The move to Hawai’i meant no state fair, a back-to-school start date of August 1st, and that I wouldn’t be able to take Easton out for a drink for his 21st birthday (which is today, September 8th), or at the very least, send him down to Fred Meyer to buy a bottle of wine, a 30-pack of Busch Light and his own Hard Cider, legally.

I hate not being there for this milestone.

I could bore you with his birth story, or how we came up with his name, or how he was a vegetarian until he was 15 months old and his dad blew it by letting him eat a Happy Meal, but instead I will tell you that I blinked and he turned 21. He’s a pretty awesome human being that is getting a handle on “adulting”.  He’s living the dream, doing what he loves, and  I am proud of him every single day.

If you see him this month, give him a hug, tell him his Mom misses him, and then force him to take a selfie with you and post it to my Facebook page, please. He may be 21, but he’s still my baby and I’d love my Village to surround him so that he knows his family is sending all their Aloha from 2701 miles away!

Hau’oli lā hānau Easton! We love you and miss you and can’t wait for you to come visit!


Image by Life N Light Photo.

“Maka got out.”

Over the last two years, when I hear these three words here’s what happens to me:

I burst into tears.

I get a huge pit in my stomach.

I drop to my knees and pray for his safe return.

And then I go into Super Dog Mom mode to find him.

Oh, this dog!

On the way home from dinner with our hula ‘ohana last night, Ric checked messages and discovered that our neighbor Mano (the super amazing neighbor that gave the girls bikes and boogie boards) called us to let us know that Maka got out. He and his son looked for him for an hour, but couldn’t find him. This was two days before Maka’s 2nd birthday.

My heart sank.

Ric built Maka a deluxe size kennel in the garage. We have a fan on him, open the windows and crack the garage door for maximum airflow. Before we left, Emery argued that the garage door was too high. I knew Kahea couldn’t fit underneath (that’s our test), but what if I had misjudged? What if in the excitement of seeing my hula ‘ohana I forgot to lock his kennel? My heart sank when I realized this was all my fault. Whenever Maka and Bella escaped, I had four local networks on Facebook that I could post on. I don’t have that here.

Now what?

Kahea was crying hysterically in the back seat. “Mom, it’s late and it’s dark. He doesn’t know anyone here and the hurricane is coming. He’s going to be wet and scared, Mom. We have to find him!”

“Yes Baby Girl, we do. The best thing we can do right now is pray.”

And so we did. One of the things that I learned at The Rock Church (our home church in Washington), was to be very specific and intentional with my prayers, so I choked back my tears and kept it simple: Dear Jesus, please protect Maka and bring him safely home to us.

Maka’s never ran more than 1.5 miles away from home, but he’s never been missing for more than an hour, either. The worrisome part is less than a mile away is Kamehameha Hwy/Pearl Harbor on one side and Aloha Stadium on the other. All we had was prayer.

Ric and I had driven separately, so we drove through different areas of our neighborhood with no luck.

We arrived home at same time, opened the garage door and this is what we saw.

Maka was safe in his kennel the whole time.

What the…?

That is one AMAZING answer to prayer.

When we talked to Mano, he said that he was doing his dishes and heard the distinctive jingle of Maka’s collar. He went outside to wrangle him and saw a white dog run out of the culdesac. As the dog turned left, he heard every dog down the street start barking as the white dog ran past. He was certain it was him. “I’ve lived here 16 years and I’ve never seen a big white dog like Maka running loose in this neighborhood.”  Where that dog came from is a mystery.

All I know is that I’m thankful Maka didn’t pull one of his amazing Houdini moves and escape. I’m thankful that I have a caring neighbor that looked for a dog that he was sure was ours. And I’m praying that the phantom white dog found his people last night.

I am glad (and somewhat amazed) that this dog made it to his 2nd birthday, which is today (9/4). After all the surgeries, the swallowing of foreign objects, the escapes from our backyard in Monroe, and the journey to Hawai’i, I often wondered if he’d make it this far. We are thankful for this blue-eyed beast that keeps us on our toes yet somehow remains the calming force in The Caba Hale.

Hau’oli lā hānau Makapolūnani!

I think know you’re the reason I have gray hair.


Makapolunani (beautiful blue eyes) as a puppy, before the “fun” began.