Mark Noguchi: Life Inspired By Hula

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Hawaii
Photo: Ethann Oki

Photo: Ethann Oki

“Educate and Inspire.”

Those were the words that Nālani Kanaka‘ole, kumu hula (hula teacher) of Hālau O Kekuhi, rooted within Mark Noguchi nearly 20 years ago.  “The hālau gave me life,” says Mark, chef and co-founder of Pili Group, a culinary catering company focused on inspiring the community through education and food.  He paused and looked down trying to find the words to describe his enduring gratitude.  Tears began rolling down his face.  “I don’t know where I would be right now if I didn’t have hula in my life.  I owe everything to Aunty Nālani.”

It is difficult to capture the essence of being part of a hālau hula (hula school) family if you have never been part of one.  Training is rigorous and turnover is high.  Words such as rigid, tradition, legacy, respect, and loyalty are commonly used when describing a hālau hula.  “I quickly discovered that it wasn’t about me.  It’s always about the larger cause.  Every activity we did, like making a hau skirt or lei, contributed to something bigger.  Every action had protocol.  Each movement was meaningful.  This was discipline,” Mark explains.  “I strive for excellence in everything I do.”

Mark, or “Gooch”, as family and friends call him, was born and raised on the island of Oahu and grew up in a musical family.  Every family member played an instrument except for him.  Instead, he wanted to dance hula but his Father didn’t support this interest.  Mark’s passion for the beautiful art form and culturally significant practice eventually led him to find his purpose.  During his early 20’s, Mark was living in Hilo and enjoying the slower pace of Hawaiʻi Island.  While attending college, his Hawaiian studies professor encouraged him to join Hālau O Kekuhi.  “They were taking new students and so I checked them out,” says the former chef and partner of Heʻeia Kea Pier, General Store and Deli.  The next six years were significant.  He was traveling the world with his hālau telling stories of tradition and beliefs through hula.  Most importantly, he was gaining core values and guiding principles that will forever shape his life.  “What I say, believe in, and how I view food stems from hula.”

Photo: Grant Shindo

Photo: Grant Shindo

Respect, especially for our land is another value he acquired.  Mark learned to give more of himself.   “When you are preparing food and gathering lāʻau (products of the earth) with your hālau, you take only what is necessary.  Gossip and swearing are not tolerated during this process.  Every person that works for me must practice this unfailingly,” he says.  Coincidently, a prior employee of Pili Group joined us during this part of the interview and he was unaware of Mark’s tie to hula.  “Mark taught me to become more aware of my surroundings,” says Adam Locke, the former General Manager of Taste Table, a restaurant incubator project co-launched by Pili Group that ended in December 2013.  “This helped me become more responsible in caring for our land.”

When dancing with Hālau O Kekuhi ended, it was difficult for Mark to identify his next steps.  He didn’t think he could be passionate about anything else.  A chance meeting with a friend during a college conference lead him to enroll at the Kapiolani Community College culinary arts program.  The rest is history!  He continued on to become a graduate of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific and the Culinary Institute of America in New York.  Along side his wife, Amanda Corby, he launched Pili Group in 2012.  This became a vessel in leading Hawaiʻi’s sustainable food movement.

Mark’s other notable business ventures include Lunchbox, a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines providing its employees with healthy and locally sourced meals at its corporate office.  His second restaurant, Mission Social Hall and Café, is a tucked away gem located in the historic Hawaiian Mission Houses Museum.  It features healthy grab-n-go choices such as sandwiches, salads, and soups along with contemporary Hawaiian food inspired by dishes of the 19th-century missionary era.

I have been a faithful supporter of Mark and Amanda’s work.  I appreciate their efforts in making every detail meaningful.  It is this thoughtfulness for our local culture, needs, and community that gains such a loyal following.

Mark is the proud father of one year old daughter Eleanor and considers himself blessed to be surrounded with people that hold similar values as him.  He strives to be a good husband, a good father, and a contributing community member.  How does he want to leave a legacy?  Mark wants the people he touches to practice the values he learned from hula.  “I’ve been tapped to continue Aunty Nālani’s family legacy.  I’m honored to pass this on.”

Follow The Pili Group on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Alice Inoue: Define, Align, and Balance

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Hawaii

Photo: Eric Miyasato

Alice Inoue has been on an inspiring path for nearly fifteen years and leads a life most of wish we had the courage to live.  She wakes up every morning with so much excitement and joy.  “I call this internal expression divine inspiration,” says the University of California alumna.  “I love what I do.”

Inspiring others towards seeing new possibilities is a mission Alice and I share.  Alice is a Life Guide and a household name in Hawaiʻi.  Her expertise in astrology, feng shui, and life guidance is recognized worldwide.  In 2013, she expanded her consultancy to include Happiness U, a school for adults in Honolulu that provides advice and inspiration about life and happiness.  I spent some time with Alice in her serene downtown office to gain insight on how she maintains the energy to continually provide inspired life guidance.

“It’s learning how to align and balance yourself,” says the Chief Happiness Officer of Alice Inoue Life Guidance, LLC.  Navigating through life came with more ease when her path became clear to her.  This included figuring out her purpose, realizing her gifts to give, and knowing how she wants to be remembered.  It takes time and work but she believes this clarity provides you with a more centered life.  Alice explains that you will outgrow people during this process.  “Not everyone will align with you and that’s okay.  You cannot please everyone.  If you are not there for them, someone else will be.  Acceptance of yourself and others is essential.”

She reads her purpose statement daily to remind herself what her primary purpose is: to be a master life guide. “I write, speak, create, and share my unique brand of guidance through my books, classes, consultations, presentations, and all forms of media.  I am here to create a culture of influence unique to my purpose and essence.  In this lifetime as Alice Inoue, my ultimate goal is to make a local, national and global mark on this planet through Happiness U.  I do this by sharing without compromise the greatest wisdom, most heartfelt love and most powerful principles of life with the greatest number of people.”  Anything that aligns with her purpose gives her energy.

Knowing how to go with the flow is also crucial.  When there is resistance, energy is lost.  “We tend to see things as either good or bad,” says Alice, who is a regular columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  There needs to be an understanding that every positive has a negative and vice versa.  “We also need to learn to give and receive.  It’s an even exchange of energy.  Life is balanced.  It’s our perspective that is out of balance.”

The idea of establishing Happiness U was not embraced by business advisors and banks.  It was an enormous financial risk and Alice’s friends didn’t want to see her fail.  It was suggested that she build her business on-line but she didn’t listen to them.  She strongly believed in her vision of having a school that helped people find meaning in their lives – creating a space where people can connect without measuring self-worth by the number of followers and likes.  When faced with a challenge, Alice finds her balance to overcome it.  She steps back from the situation and commits time to finding the benefits. “Ask yourself ‘How is this benefiting me?’ instead of ‘Why is this happening to me?”, she says.  In this case, she appreciated how difficult it was for people to start a business; learned to be more creative; and felt supported by those who believed in her.  Alice eventually obtained some of the funding needed and supplemented the rest with her life savings.  Happiness U has welcomed more than 2,000 people since opening its doors.

When asked how she wants to leave a legacy, she responded by showing me her obituary.  “If you don’t know how you want to be remembered, then how do you know where to go?”  This guides the choices she makes daily.  How does Alice want to be remembered?

“Always seen with a smile on her face, she was considered a leading force on the world stage of self-growth, and spent the latter part of her life helping others find inspiration by changing their perspectives.  She has had a global impact on spiritual consciousness, given people hope, happiness and inspiration, and left her mark on the hearts of many.”

Alice truly knows who she is.  This clarity inspired me to fine-tune my purpose in life and how I want to make my mark on this world.  She encouraged me to “Make what is valuable to you your focus, and give yourself permission to shine.”

Follow Alice and Happiness U on social media: Facebook Twitter Instagram

Summer Shiigi: The Power of Collaboration

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Hawaii

Photo: Eric Miyasato

Summer Shiigi learned early in life that the achievement of your goal is assured the moment you commit 100% of yourself to it.  She watched her parents become successful business owners and experts in their respective fields.  “Whenever I walk through downtown, I would meet people who know my Dad and they would share with me how much they admire him.  That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave,” says the Mid-Pacific Institute graduate and USC alumna.

She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in psychology however the time she spent living in Los Angeles exposed her to the fashion industry and she immediately fell in love with it.  “I was a theatre geek,” Summer laughs.  “My creativity stemmed from my stage play performances during elementary and high school.  I view fashion as another platform to show my creative side.”

When Summer returned home to Honolulu in 2007, she wanted to bring back a touch of LA through the luxury of personal styling and shopping, an untapped opportunity for entrepreneurs such as herself.   She managed a locally owned clothing boutique before launching her personal styling business, Summer Style Hawaii, in 2011.  The relationships she nurtured with local jewelry and apparel designers, models, and shoppers made this career transition seamless.  “I quit my jobs and committed to starting my own business.  This included extensive research, taking business classes, and expanding my network.  Relationships are everything in Hawaiʻi.   I gained the trust of everyone I partnered with while I was at the boutique so they didn’t hesitate to work with me when I went on my own,” Summer explains.  The business expanded her work to include editorial designs, fashion look books, style photo books, and fashion shows.  Along with her retail and buying experience and strong work ethic, she garnered national attention from brands such as Calypso St. Barth and 7 For All Mankind.

The demand for her business services grew quickly and she needed office space.  It was during this time that she befriended Allison Izu Song, owner and designer of Allison Izu, a brand focused on clothing for petite women.  They were familiar with each other’s work and when they learned that they had a common need for work space, they also discovered their shared passion for uplifting and growing the fashion industry in Hawaiʻi.  In 2013, The Cut Collective was born.

Allison Izu Song, Summer, Rumi Murakami

Allison Izu Song, Summer, Rumi Murakami

“Our Aloha for each other is what makes Hawaiʻi special.  It’s collaboration instead of competition.  Helping one another to succeed will provide us a stronger voice in this industry,” says Summer.  She and Allison have become best friends and share willingly what they know about the fashion business.  The purpose of The Cut Collective is to be a resource and support system for local designers.  Situated within the Mānoa Innovation Center, this fashion incubator/factory hybrid assists independent designers in whatever phase they are at, managing projects from start to finish.  This includes everything from costing the project out and developing samples to ordering fabrics and working with the manufacturer to provide a high quality product.  Most notably, Summer and Allison provide guidance and mentorship.  “I don’t want to be a solo show.  I want to share my success,” says Summer.  Four local fashion brands are produced through The Cut Collective: Allison Izu, Love & Aloha, Rumi Murakami, and Ten Tomorrow.

Summer loves going to the office.  “I get to be surrounded with incredibly talented women who constantly uplift and inspire me,” says Summer.  It was Allison who encouraged her to create her own clothing label, Ten Tomorrow, a modern women’s ready-to-wear line with hints of retro inspired styles.  “It’s a language for women to use when they want to express a certain feeling.”

What’s on the horizon for Summer?  She will be launching her Spring 2015 collection in mid-February.  I got a sneak peek of her new romper – it’s a must-have!  I love all my pieces from her clothing line so I cannot wait to view the entire collection.  In addition, The Cut Collective was recently contracted to provide female uniforms for the Four Seasons Resort Maui front of house staff.  They are also working with three up-and-coming designers in developing their clothing lines.

Summer’s commitment to helping others succeed inspires us to do more.  She encourages everyone to “Take risks. Be patient and follow your dreams. ”

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Get the latest on Summer here: Facebook  Instagram  Twitter

Follow The Cut Collective on Social Media: Facebook  Twitter

Lena’s Story: Letting The Chapter End

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Hawaii

Photo: Eric Miyasato

For some of us, our early childhood hold memories of an intact family – attending family functions together, camping, vacationing Lake Tahoe, making ono (delicious) dishes in the family kitchen, and going to the beach.  For Lena Hanson, these are her childhood memories.  “I loved being with my family”, says the successful Hawaiʻi make-up artist.  Having a routine and just knowing that her family was there gave Lena comfort.  However, her parents separated soon after she graduated high school.  “I just moved to San Diego when my Dad called to give me the news and I remember being upset at him, blaming him for not being there for my Mom,” explains Lena.  “My Mom felt alone and maybe I was afraid of feeling alone too.”

Dad and Lena sonThough her parents didn’t stay together in Lena’s ideal way, her Dad continued to support and love her unconditionally.  “He walked me down the aisle during my first wedding, baby-sat my son, Victor, when I needed him, provided me money, and always gave me sound advice.  We could say anything to each other.  I miss that,”  recalls Lena as tears ran down her face.  “If I could have one minute with him, I would thank him for always loving and supporting me.  If he could respond, he would say how proud he is of me for raising a good kid and for being an independent woman.”

Lena’s Dad passed away four years ago from emphysema.  It was a blur from the time he was diagnosed with the disease to his admittance into hospice.  “My Dad would call asking to see me or bring some food so we could talk story,” says Lena.  Tears started rolling down her cheeks again.  Wiping away some tears, Lena softly continued, “I just didn’t think he would pass away.  I knew he was sick but the thought of him dying was not real to me.  I was selfish and took my Dad for granted by not stopping by daily.”  Though she visited him at least four times a week, guilt continues to haunt her daily.  She believes she could have done more while he was here.  “But with this experience, my Dad taught me to maximize my time with the people I love.  Seize the moment,” says the single mother.  She tries to practice this daily.  “My Dad always made me feel loved but I never told him this.  So I always make sure I tell Victor and my Mom how much I love them on a daily basis.”

SusiThe recent passing of her loyal dog companion, Sushi, helped Lena relive the loss of her Dad.  “Sushi was family.  He was always there for me and my son, loving us unconditionally,” she says.  “I lost two loved ones.  I’m not going to lie, it hurts.”  Lena’s tattoo sleeve and fearless expression conveys a tough exterior but she holds a softer side.  Like many of us, she desires to be loved and cared for and to share her greatest moments with someone special.  To lose someone who provided all of this can be devastating.  So how do we fill this void?  For Lena, she puts things in perspective and reminds herself that she is surrounded by people who love her.  She admits that she has her days of curling up in a ball and shutting the world out but for the most part, she gets up every day to try again at living life.  “I get out of bed each day to make sure my son is loved and taken care of.  My son, Mom, and friends count on me and I don’t like letting people down,” Lena explains.  Her Dad reminds her to make each day count and she does.  She is a successful business owner, an avid fitness enthusiast, a true friend, a loving daughter, and an amazing  mother.  Lena’s strong will and perseverance are inspiring and her core values of reliability and excellence will lead her through yet another life challenge.

My interview with Lena ended on a beautiful night in Maui.  We were enjoying the last concert of Jason Mraz’s “Yes!” tour – singing our hearts out, laughing, and of course taking selfies.  But there was also a sense of gratitude.  We were thankful for not only what we had at the moment, but thankful to know we had someone to share it with.

“There are three things I do when my life falls apart.  Number one I cry my eyes out and dry up my heart.  Not until I do this will my new life start.  So that’s the first thing that I do when my life falls apart. Oh, the second thing I do is I close both of my eyes.  And say my thank-yous to each and every moment of my life. I go where I know the love is and let it fill me up inside.  Gathering new strength from sorrow, I’m glad to be alive. Things are looking up I know above the clouds the sun is shining.  Things are looking up.  Love is still the answer I’m relying On Three little things Things are looking up. The third thing that I do now when my world caves in, is I pause, I take a breath, and bow and I let that chapter end. I design my future bright not by where my life has been. And I try, try, try, try, try again. Yes I try, try, try, try, try again.”

Lyrics by Jason Mraz

For more information about Lena Hanson, please go here.  Connect with her on Twitter

Wally Amos: Living In The Moment

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Hawaii

Photo: Eric Miyasato

There I was looking up into the magnificent evening skies with wonderment.  I lost myself to the stars.  There were no thoughts of the past and no dreaming of a future.  I was being present.  I was sharing these moments with someone I deeply care for in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the island of Hawaiʻi.   Each day, the island provided us with opportunities to connect with the ʻāina (land) and with each other.  Our senses were heightened by the sweet fragrance of awapuhi (wild ginger), the beauty of the island’s majestic landscape, and the Aloha spirit of its people.  This surreal experience was significant.  We were living in the moment.

Most of our time is spent on thinking about what “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” and worrying or planning for the future but rarely do we surrender ourselves to the freedom and peace of the now.   Wally Amos embraces this practice and during my interview with him, he shares how living moment-to-moment provides him with a joyful life.

“The only time is now”, says Amos.  “Over the years, I have built a stronger sense of spirituality.  It has helped me become more aware of my feelings and thoughts, giving me a better chance of remaining in the here and now.”

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Photo: Eric Miyasato

Amos is an iconic figure in American culture, known as the father of the gourmet cookie industry and for creating the “Famous Amos” cookie empire.  He is friendly and very personable, always wearing his signature smile and colorful watermelon hat.  When reading his biography, you learn about his most positive and challenging milestones but what you don’t know is his belief system on living life.

He is transparent about his personal life, sharing his experiences with four failed marriages and admitting to not having a close relationship with his children.  There is also no hesitation in talking about the collapse of his prior business endeavors.  What makes Amos courageous is that he doesn’t use these experiences as excuses to hang onto yesterday.  He doesn’t live in the past.   Instead, he says “Let’s see what tomorrow brings.  Until then, let’s enjoy the now.”  Each of us defines success in many ways and for Amos, it’s being able to live in the moment.   This realization didn’t happen overnight.  It takes practice and after twenty years, it’s become an innate way of living.  As a result, “I live a joyful life.  I am at peace with myself.”

Amos is also passionate about bringing joy to others through his love of cookies.  His childhood experience of being raised by his Aunt Della made a lasting impression.  Amos says she gave him “recipes for life”.  He returned to his roots and is selling handmade cookies again with his latest business venture, The Cookie Kahuna.   The memories of his Aunt Della along with the cookies she made brought comfort to Amos.  If making these cookies will bring the same type of positive feelings and memories to others, then he believes that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the cookie.

I grew up on the crunchy and mass-produced “Famous Amos” cookies so when I bit into his handmade cookies, it was a different experience.   The cookie was softer, made with whole ingredients, and I craved for a glass of milk – like when I was a little kid.  This was the taste that made him famous!  All his cookies are made by hand and baked in Hawaiʻi.

There was an instant connection when he first stepped foot onto the island of Oahu.  He knew this was where he was supposed to be.  “Everything that happens is connected with meaning,” Amos explains.  He has made Hawaiʻi home since 1977.  Amos is truly living moment-to-moment.  He doesn’t hold onto to the fear, shame, disappointment, and pain of the past.  My time with Amos taught me that we donʻt have to hurt.  When we become more aware of ourselves and quiet our mind, “we let things be exactly as they are,” he says.  “It is what it is.”  Giving up control is challenging because we fear the unknown.  “Let yourself go to experience the freedom and wonder of the present.  You don’t know how long you are going to be lost,” says Amos.  “And that’s okay.”

For more information about Wally Amos, please go to TheCookieKahuna.com.  Connect with him on Twitter Facebook Instagram

My Vision Board – Dreams With Deadlines

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Philadelphia

LaToya Little

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of the year to visit family.  There’s something comforting about being surrounded with winter and holiday decor and sharing home cooked meals with family.  It’s tradition for my sister and I to take our Mom to New York City and watch a Broadway play.  And my friend LaToya Little and I do our best to spend “girl time” together.

LaToya and I were high school classmates during our sophomore and junior year but we didn’t graduate together due to her relocation to Philadelphia.  During that short time, we became best friends and distance never grew us apart.  LaToya’s friendship is one of the few things consistent in my life.  She is my cheerleader, always there when I need her, and she provides me with great insight and guidance.  She knows how to make me laugh, when to push me, and how to manage me when I become stubborn and upset.  I trust her.  LaToya is my life coach.

Last November, LaToya drove up to my parents’ house and spent Thanksgiving weekend with me and my family.  I expected to do the usual during the first night – dinner and shopping.  “Let’s do a vision board,” she said with excitement.  I responded with a confused look because 1) I never did a vision board and 2) sounds boring! Of course I never shared those thoughts aloud but she knew what I was thinking and she laughed at me.  She explained how it may benefit me and we soon found ourselves purchasing magazines, glue, colored post-its, foam boards, and scissors.  I had some anxiety that evening because I needed to figure out what I wanted to accomplish in 2014.  I needed to identify goals.  I needed to know what success looks like for me. OMG!

“A vision board is a powerful tool to inspire you to live the life you want today.  Not everyone has a good support system and a vision board can provide the encouragement and inspiration you need,” LaToya passionately explained. “You start by putting your goals out there.  Goals are dreams with deadlines.  When you see your vision board and acknowledge what you have accomplished, you feel good about yourself and have a sense of confidence.  Confidence is the best outfit you can wear.”

LaToya's 5 year vision board

LaToya’s 5 year vision board

After her divorce in 2007 and becoming a single mother, LaToya lost confidence in herself.  She gained weight, became depressed, and felt very lonely.  She looked the way she felt and didn’t like what she saw.  LaToya told herself she didn’t want to live this life anymore and after five years of feeling boxed-in by negative thoughts, she made a choice to finally take control.  She pursued her passion of life coaching and created a five-year vision board.  “I can be the woman I envision myself to be – starting today,” LaToya said.  Since 2012, she has accomplished all of her goals with the exception of two but she is confident that she will accomplish these by 2017.  LaToya’s accomplishments so far include: purchased a designer messenger bag; obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and graduated with honors; and hired a personal trainer to improve her diet and exercise regimen.

During my process, I realized that looking for symbols to place on my vision board became easier when no boundaries were placed.  I have this need for certainty before moving forward with something and I was frustrating myself by looking for the “perfect” pictures and words to capture my partially thought out goals and accomplishments.  “Just cut out things that you like, that resonate or intrigue you,” said LaToya.  “It will make sense soon.  You’ll figure it out.”  She was right.  I cut out pictures and wrote words that made my heart sing!  Then I placed the ones that I truly wanted to do onto the white foam board.  LaToya also encouraged me to be creative and to stretch myself.

Vision Board

Our 2014 Vision Boards

Within 24 hours, we created a vision board for 2014.  The year is now coming to an end and we are proud to say that we have accomplished nearly all of our goals and working on completing the remaining goals by year’s end.  Looking at my vision board now, I am amazed on how much was accomplished: I bought a new car, created a blog, and traveled to Japan.  Pausing for a moment to reflect on what you achieved is a powerful motivator and confidence booster.  I am grateful to LaToya for introducing me to this amazing tool.  It helped me define my own success and because of this, I can truly say that I love the life I am living.

Many of us set goals in our mind but a vision board is a nice way to organize them and map it out.  When you see it, it reminds you to make it happen.  “There are no boundaries or limits to what you want to achieve,” says LaToya.  “I encourage everyone to do a vision board.  You don’t necessarily know how you’re going to accomplish the goals (big or small) you set out.  What matters is that you know you’re going to accomplish them.”

Vision Board Tips