Category Archives: Random

Therapy animals bring joy and comfort to Maui’s elderly and disabled

Shannon Dominguez works at least 70 hours per week at Upcountry Maui’s Haku Baldwin Center.She directs a popular community program called Animal-Assisted Therapy. Several times per week, she loads up her truck with a menagerie of well-trained animals–including dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks & chickens–and visits people who are elderly, infirmed or disabled. Her therapy animals bring comfort to about 400 people per month on Maui.

I tagged along with Dominguez and her crew, and in about three hours we visited nearly 65 elderly and disabled people. Here’s how a typical animal-assisted therapy visit works. Residents of a skilled nursing facility gather in the activities’ room. Some have just come from physical therapy, dialysis or a visit with their doctor; others have gotten out of bed for the first time that day. Most sit in wheelchairs. I walked with a certified therapy dog around to each resident and asked if he or she would like to meet a nice dog. Some people don’t like dogs, and we moved on. But many love animals and did their best to pet the dog with knotted hands. Faces light up, and for a few moments, pain melts away. Some residents remained focused on the animal for the entire visit, while others after a minute or two started chatting with me. One elderly woman patted the dogs head and then showed me the newspaper she was holding. She was reading her eldest son’s obituary.

There is more demand on Maui for animal-assisted therapy than she can meet, explained Dominguez. For example, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) might benefit from animal-assisted therapy, but in order to serve them, Dominguez would have to double the size of her operation. It’s a problem that many small non-profit organizations face: a larger operation would mean a much greater administrative paperwork burden and less time doing the work. That’s not likely to happen any time soon, given Dominguez’s dedication to the programs she runs matched by existing funding for the Haku Baldwin Center and the AAT program comes from a private endowment. But Dominguez added that private donations are always welcome.

Hale Makua resident enjoys time with therapy rabbit, Koa


Purely Hawaiian Liquor, ‘Okolehao

Native Hawaiians use ti plants for more than scaring away evil spirits. They also make a potent spirit of their own, a distillation of ti root called ‘Okolehao (prn OH-koh-lay-how). Haleakala Distillers, located Upcountry Maui, starting brewing their own 80-proof version in December 2009. The formula calls for a mash of roughly 25 percent ti root, 20 percent rice and 55 percent cane sugar, all grown in Hawai’i, according the the company’s website. The flavor has been described as a cross between rum and sipping tequila, with a hint of coconut and florals unique to the islands.

There’s been a lot of coverage in the news about this local liquor (see links below), but the real proof is in the drinking. Here’s a recipe for an ‘okolehau cocktail perfect for a hot summer afternoon that I’ve adapted from another regional liquor, pisco:

‘Okolehao Sour

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar

2 shots ‘Okolehao

Shake over ice and serve with a dollop of whipped egg white and a sprinkling of li hin mui powder

Makes 2-4 drinks, depending how strong you like it

Roundup of news coverage of ‘Okolehao liquor:

Two free real estate tools dish the data

If you’re looking to buy a house, rent in a new area or just want to know more about a neighborhood, I’ve found two online tools that provide a wealth of data for free: and

At, you input a US address, and their alogrithm calculates how walkable it is on a scale from 1 to 100, where 1 is out in the middle of nowhere and 100 is mid-town Manhattan. The site takes into account proximity to public transportation, grocery stores, parks, schools, churches, bars and even fitness clubs, and returns a score accordingly. I entered my new address, and my current neighborhood scored a solid walkscore of 78, which just about matches the amount of walking I do for my day-to-day activities.

My second new favorite real estate tool is the MLS powerhouse site . It provides all the information a real estate agent should provide a prospective buyer and more. After signing up for a free account, you can browse listings by MLS number, address, neighborhood, or city. You can refine a search by a dozen or more parameters, such as price, number of bedrooms or even year built. Search results return photos, maps, descriptions and comps. It’s even possible to compare neighborhoods side by side on this site, useful for instance, if you’re relocating to a new area and want to see how it compares to your current one.

For example, I compared my former zip code with my new one. They are very similar, perhaps not so surprising, in terms of safety and demographics. The main differences are density, age and wealth. My new area is 100 times more dense, slightly older, much whiter, and more affluent than my former area, according to The catch to use is that the site makes money when you to use their real estate agents, who’s services are available for a discounted fee. But so far there are no limits on browsing.