The Evolution of the Hilo Sampan

When I first arrived in Hilo in l962 it was on a sailboat. We lived on the boat for a few weeks–the only boat in Reed’s Bay. We had no means of transportation other than walking which became a burdensome chore when grocery shopping or looking for boat parts, etc. To the rescue came the Hilo Sampan.  The original sampan was built in 1922 by Mr. Kurumoto who at the time was a taxi driver. He was distraught over the increasing fares for taxis so decided to build a small bus-style vehicle that would seat up to 8 people. This was in 1922 and he used a model A Ford for his first Sampan. The car was cut just behind the drivers seat, the back was rebuilt with wooden seats along both sides. As his friends thought he was nuts, they decided not to go into the venture so Mr. Kurumoto was the only owner of the Hilo Sampan Co.  The fare for the ride into town from the pier or airport was 5-10 cents.  In 1962 the fare was still 5-10 cents, but by now there were about 200 sampan on the island, mostly in the bay front town of Hilo on the island of Hawai’i, affectionately called “The Big Island”. The Sampans were so much fun to ride. They were open-air jitneys and reminded me of a “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” though they frequently had surfboards on top. The drivers knew more about the town than anyone. They would point out all the places of interest…the clock that stopped when the 1960 tidal wave hit, the old historic buildings. They would “wala’au” just talk story with you. And, once they got to know us they would pick us up at Reed’s Bay. Talk about service!  Unfortunately, when Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, etc. started building buses that were air-conditioned, had padded seats and big windows, the Sampans started losing favor among the tourists. Slowly the fleet started dwindling. It became more difficult to find parts for the old vehicles and in t976 the last Sampan roamed the town of Hilo.

From Car Connection
From Car Connection


From Pacific Business News
From Pacific Business News

Hoppa On- Hoppa Off Bus

Years later in 1994 there was a revival of the Sampan and three of them once again chugged along the streets of Hilo, but costs of re-fitting the cars, and a lack of interest on the part of tourists, once again the Sampans were out of business.

However, recently I have seen a bus that has the old Sampan flavor about it. It is brightly colored, has big windows with a little surrey type awning above them. It offers trips around to all the points of interest all day for $15. The bus is called Hoppa On-Hoppa Off Bus. It was parked just up the street from my house in Hawaiian Paradise Park. There it sat for a couple of months. I was to understand that permits for passengers were pending. But, lately, I’ve seen the jitney picking up passengers from the cruise ships. Most of them open the windows to enjoy the Hilo breezes. I’m quite sure they are getting a talk-story session from the driver. It might not be as fancy as the newer air-conditioned buses, but the fare is right, it has a lot more personality and I hope he stays in business for years to come. Maybe this is a “great grandchild” of the original Sampan.

Pele & Poliahu–Fire & Ice

I recently made this hula pa’u for my Etsy shop. It somehow captured my heart. I love the colors bleeding from a bright yellow to a vibrant red. At first I found the white to be shocking. In my mind I saw it as black, but now I’m glad I had imagined it wrong as I think, if black, it would have been much too dark. There are many legends about the rivalry between Pele, the goddess of the volcanoes and Poli’ahu, the snow goddess of Mauna Kea. But, I think in this pattern, the two find a common ground. I think this pa’u will be filled with mana. The woman who bought the pa’u feels it. I think she will be inspired to dance like never before.

A beautiful hula pa'u from my Etsy of my very favorites.
A beautiful hula pa’u from my Etsy shop…one of my very favorites.

What? Another birthday, already?

I must admit I always look forward to my birthday. I don’t really mind aging that much though I definitely don’t want to get OLD.  I don’t really like the fact that 68 is so close to 70 and of some reason 70 sounds old. But, I think when I turn 69, 70 won’t seem that old. Remember when you were 17 and old 30 sounded? I no longer expect a cake and presents and all the hoopla surrounding a birthday. When I was a young girl my mother would always bake a banana cake for my birthday. NOT banana bread, but a four-layer cake with banana on each layer and covered in whipped cream. It was the highlight of my birthday and one of the things I missed the most when I left home and my parents went cruising around the world on their sailboat.  The things I want most of all on my birthday is for my sons to call (they both did) and to wake in the morning to Keith’s “Happy Birthday, Sweetheart”. Those two things always make my day.  When I was, say 20, I wanted to live forever. Now, I’m not so sure. I have really good health, I’m active, I work at things I love. I have love in my life. But, I don’t know that I want to live forever if any of this is taken away. I’ve had a full life and if God chooses to call me now, I’m okay with that. I certainly want to live a lot of quality years yet, but if for some reason the quantity outweighs the quality, then I’m ready.

Tonight, Keith made a duck dinner for my birthday. It was sooooo delicious! It was tender and moist, non-greasy and had a marvelous orange sauce to dip into. Along with the star was a supporting cast of sliced roasted golden potatoes in clarified butter, creamed spinach (from the garden) with pine nuts, a bottle of Merlot. How perfect is that? We ate on the lanai as the day was starting to fade with a linen tablecloth, cloth napkins, candles and wine in actual wine glasses. It just doesn’t get much better than this. I feel loved, I feel nurtured and want my birthday to last forever.

From Monsters to Monstera

I have a really nice rock wall at the road side of my property. I have some nice trees, some nice plants, but I also had a climbing vine that I’ve been wrestling with for some time now. It climbs everything, chocking plants out. Although, it has pretty bright yellow flowers, I decided to do away with it which has not been easy! For a few weeks now I’ve been clipping, cutting, lopping, pulling. But, after most of it was gone I had a large bare space and needed something to fill the area. We decided on a plant with large leaves-Monstera- that didn’t require a lot of work. so, we call the local nursery and were told a 4″ pot was $4.00. We figured we needed at least 10-15 plants. Still deciding, Keith checks out Craig’s list. Now, as everyone knows, you can find anything on Craig’s List. And, we did! There was a man on the other side of the island about 110 miles away that was selling a truck load for $50.00. Whoo-hoo!! We did not, however, need a truck load so we called and asked how much a trunk load of a small car would be. He replied, “cheap”.  Keith was having to go to Kona on business anyway, so on the way back he stopped by and picked up a trunk load for…FREE! Now that’s what I call cheap. We knew it would take some stabilization of sand, etc. so we put them into a few buckets of water to keep them moist while we checked out the sand/gravel companies.

A huge leaf "air plant" that doesn't require anything but water.
A huge leaf “air plant” that doesn’t require anything but water.

We discovered Sanford’s Sand which is outside of the little town of Pahoa. It wasn’t far and only $20.00 for a ton of sandy gravel. Now we needed a truck. We called a neighbor who graciously loaned us his little one ton pickup and away we went. We drove places I’ve never seen in my 38 years on the Big Island. We drove through magnificent groves of  ‘Ohi’a trees, giant lava rocks covered with a soft greenish gray moss. Up and up we drove through a graveyard of old dead machinery…trucks, loaders, bulldozers. We arrived at the scale and were greeted by a sweetheart named Lee but is called Grandma by everyone. We are weighed and away we go to the quarry where we are greeted by the biggest piece of machinery I’ve ever seen. One scoop with this machine and we had a ton of gravel/sand.

The wheels alone are about 8 ft high!
The wheels alone are about 8 ft high!
I didn't realize sand could come in so many sizes.
I didn’t realize sand could come in so many sizes.



So, we are off to the house with our load of sand (as it turned out we needed two loads, but who’s counting?). With a lot of shovel work, mostly by Keith we planted all our beautiful Monstera into all the puka (holes), between the rocks and build little sand mountains to poke them into. I’m now happy with the front yard and can’t wait for next year when all the leaves will be sturdy plants, spreading and filling in the entire area.


starting the planting
starting the planting
Done for now.
Done for now.





What do I do…literally?

When I started this blog it was to be a “business blog”, but it seems the business end of it has taken a back seat to my personal life and the amazing island I live on.  Since the name of the blog is Sew Me Hawaii, people probably wonder what that’s all about…or not.

I love to sew. I love sewing for hula halau and I love making items using the beautiful Hawaiian print fabrics. Today I spent a couple of hours making an adorable little dress for my shop. I then posted a picture of the little dress to Facebook, to my Pinterest board, to my Etsy shop, but I hadn’t even thought of posting a picture in my blog.  My little “sewing studio” is not far from the cottage. It’s  9×11 ft. and is crammed to the gills with sewing supplies, fabric, finished skirts, dress, tops, gifts, etc.  My cutting table shown is always piled with fabric, pins, an iron. A large box of fabric takes up one end. My sewing table is a little less crowded. A sewing machine, a serger, and my CD player/radio, oh and a tower fan.  Since my cottage is only 400 sq. ft. there was no way for me to set up an area within the house, so we were lucky to have this little storage building.

This is all of 9x11 ft. Perfect.
This is all of 9×11 ft. Perfect.

organized mess


Our "just right for us" cottage

There is nothing like living in Hawai’i so I’m sure my journey through these amazing islands will continue, however, now and again, I will drop a new shop item into my posts…like this sweet little dress.












To Love or Be Loved, or Not…

Yesterday, my best friend lost her mother. She was 95 years old and had not been enjoying a normal life for some time. She and Teresa were not close. Teresa was with me when she received a call from her son. At the time she just told me she was relieved. Her emotions were more tied to the reactions of her son than of her own feelings and her son had seen his Grandmother just a few weeks before so wasn’t surprised at her passing. He was handling things well. There were no tears. We continued practicing hula for a performance the next day.

This morning when I saw Teresa I saw she looked tired and was having a difficult time holding tears in check. Trying to comfort her, I told her that I guess no matter what was in the past, when you lost your mother, no matter the relationship, you have to honor the fact that without her you would not be here. She looked at me with a sadness in her eyes and said, “No, the sadness is not from the loss of my mother, but a sadness of knowing that during my entire life I was never loved by her.

I knew she had endured a tumultuous life, was frequently beaten,  locked in closets, pushed down stairs, screamed at, told she should never have been born. So, having this childhood it was no wonder she was ready to marry at age 17 where she received the love she so longed for. Unfortunately, her husband died after only a couple of years and she was left alone to raise her son. She did this with a lot of love and devotion, something she had not felt from her family. And, she didn’t begrudge her son a relationship with the grandmother that adored him.

This got me to thinking about feeling loved. I grew up in a family where I felt loved every day. I had the idyllic childhood of the 50’s. My father worked, my mom was a housewife and spent a great deal of time playing with my sister and I. She played jacks with us, did cartwheels with us, made paper dolls, taught us to dance and to sew. We were not held to a very high standard when it came to school grades so I, therefore, was not a great student, more of a social butterfly, which seemed be the standard I was held to. As long as I was pretty and popular I would do fine. I was never spanked, never yelled at and never expected to do anything like cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing, etc. This was my mom’s “poi bowl” and we were not to encroach on her territory. I was terribly unprepared for being on my own, but managed. But, I always felt loved. I can’t even imagine how my life would have turned out had I had a childhood like Teresa’s. Would I have had the fortitude to get past my past? Would I have even known how to love? I like to think I would have, that somehow love would find a way in as it did into Teresa’s heart.