Pokémon Go is a Pokémon No to me

By July 22, 2016 Musings, The Daily Dish

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The other day, on my way to work, three teenage girls in graphic tees and glasses walked right into me outside a 7-Eleven.

It was clear from the iPhones in their hands and that strange swiping motion they were making they were playing Pokémon Go.

For those of you who aren’t one of the millions of people who have downloaded the free app already, Pokémon Go is a hugely popular augmented reality game where users “capture” virtual creatures — Pokémon — on their phones and wage war against each other. It boasts more than 30 million downloads and $35 million in revenues so far and is the first mobile game to surpass 10 million downloads in a week.

Despite its popularity in about 20 countries, the game was just released in Japan — the origin of Pokémon — today, with more than 1.3 million downloads in just the first three hours of its release.

In just two weeks, this game has become a global phenomenon.

And I’m not into it.

I had a debate with a coworker the other day about the game. He says it’s getting people out and about, tricking users into exercising when they likely would be sitting behind a game console. Isn’t that a good thing?

Uh, not when they’re walking into me at 7-Eleven!

I’ve seen people armed with iPhones wandering into our cul-de-sac — even in our driveway! — chasing virtual Pikachus and Jigglypuffs. That’s not cool. They walk in the middle of streets, wander grocery stores and public parks like zombies. It’s a bit annoying, to be honest.

We live in a beautiful place, designed with trees and blue skies and rainbows. How could an augmented reality be better? Look up from your iPhone or you’ll miss it.

And yet, people would rather live in an artificial world chasing virtual monsters. It’s just strange and sad to me. (Not to mention — and cue the conspiracy theorists — who knows who’s mining your phone for data on you!)

The game is already being blamed for accidents, crimes and injuries. (Japan’s government has warned players not to enter dangerous places, wander into obstacles or ride bicycles while playing the game. West Japan Railway banned it from train platforms.)

A man crashed his vehicle into a police car in Baltimore while using the app. (The entire thing was capture on police video.) In Delaware, a group of people assaulted and robbed a 20-year-old user. (The assailants, who stole cash and a gold chain, were playing the game, too.) And a registered sex offender in Indiana was caught playing the game with a 16-year-old boy, violating his probation.

I’m not anti-game. In fact, I had every game console every created. (I don’t think that’s entirely true, but it did start with an Atari and I was a bit obsessed with a Super NES and GameBoy for much of my teen years.) But I’ve resisted video games since college and have never played a single smartphone game — no Bejeweled or Angry Birds or Candy Crush — ever. Not one.

The reason is simple: There’s so much more to do than sit and matching lemon drops. (Though, I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted.) I’d rather surf or hike or walk my dogs — or even purge my closet — than waste time on an iPhone that I already feel I’m tethered to.

Not to judge anyone who downloads Pokémon Go and finds entertainment in capturing Mews and Muks. Really, I shouldn’t care what people do in their spare time. But just don’t wander into my driveway or run into me while I’m drinking a Slurpee. I’d like to stay out of your augmented reality, thanks.

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No, I didn’t have a huge breakfast

By July 14, 2016 Musings, The Daily Dish

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Some of you have guessed it. Others have wondered. And still others thought maybe I was enjoying my job as a food editor too much.

But the truth is…

I’m (finally) pregnant!

It’s been a long time coming — and honestly, I couldn’t hide it anymore, figuratively or literally. I officially can’t fit my jeans and the only thing I want for dinner is a Slurpee.

We haven’t shared the news with many people, mostly because we’ve had at least two miscarriages last year and we felt like everyone who was so excited for us suffered the loss, too.

I’m into my fifth month, with a delivery date sometime around the holidays. I know at 41 and having miscarried in the past, I’m not out of the woods yet. And, as we’ve heard from many couples, you can lose your baby at any stage of pregnancy. So we’re cautiously optimistic — but more optimistic every day.

Let me tell you, getting pregnant was NOT easy.

It involved way more than just a bottle of wine and a back rub.

We had tried for a couple of years, first on our own and then with the help of over-the-counter ovulation kits, online message boards, ovulation tracking apps on my iPhone and fertility specialists. I’ve had long conversations with other women — you’d be surprised how many! — who have struggled with infertility. Some never got pregnant, even with costly IVF (in vitro fertilization). Some are young, not even 30, and having trouble getting pregnant naturally. Some have had too many miscarriages to want to try again.

And then there were the ones who got pregnant after years of trying, the ones who kept with IVF and got pregnant, the ones who saw this as an opportunity to change their diet and lifestyle, the ones who decided to adopt, even the ones who never got pregnant but accepted it and have fulfilling lives without children.

All this gave me hope, that even if my husband and I never got pregnant, it would be OK. We have each other, three dogs, a great family and circle of friends, our health and the ability to live in a place where we can surf before work and hike whenever we want. It’s not a bad life, really.

To be honest, though, I knew getting pregnant in my late 30s would be challenging. But I didn’t know just how challenging.

You spend most your young adult life trying not to get pregnant, thinking it’s so easy. The reality is human reproduction isn’t that efficient, even when you’re young. There’s only one week in your cycle during which your odds are favorable — and who’s tracking that at 25?

Enter the 40s and your chances of getting pregnant — with or without help — are greatly diminished.

And that’s the truth. Even though people would say to me, with all the right intentions, “Oh, you’re still young, you still look good,” I’m reproductively old. I have fewer eggs and the quality of those eggs aren’t getting any better.

I knew all this — and yet, despite everything I had read and heard, I thought getting pregnant wouldn’t take two years, dozens of blood tests and urine samples, and multiple visits to the hospital.

We tried everything.

I downloaded two ovulation trackers on my iPhone — Period Tracker Lite and Glow (both free) — and carefully tracked every indicator of ovulation, from the length of my period to the stickiness of my cervical mucus. (Yes, I did that, too.)

I saw fertility specialists. I attended an IVF seminar. I read books and articles online. I took Clomid to stimulate my ovaries for a few menstrual cycles. I took prenatal vitamins and baby aspirin. We tried a couple of rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination) that’s colloquially called the “turkey baster method.” I even spent $300 to see a qi gong master who unlocked the negative energy that was hindering me from carrying a baby.

And still, nothing.

We got pregnant, but I couldn’t maintain the pregnancy.

Still, I didn’t give up hope. Not yet.

At some point, I knew I would have to stop trying. The process of just trying to get pregnant can take over your life. If you’re not waiting for an LH surge indicating your ovulation, you’re waiting for a positive (or negative) pregnancy test. All this waiting — particularly for an impatient Aries like me — is sheer agony. I couldn’t do this for much longer.

Luckily for me, I have a very patient and understanding husband who kept me calm throughout the entire process. He knew I was trying, he knew this was difficult, he knew I was riding an emotional roller coaster and we couldn’t do this forever.

Then, in April, on our trip to New Zealand, we found out we were pregnant.

We were happy, of course, but like any couple who’s suffered miscarriages, we were very cautious about that enthusiasm. I’ve miscarried just three days after finding out I was pregnant. So anything could happen.

I was 41. That meant 90 percent of my eggs were chromosomally abnormal, the leading cause of miscarriages within the first trimester. My uterine lining was thinning and the blood supply to it decreasing — thanks to age — making it more difficult for any egg to implant. I had a 5 to 8 percent chance of getting pregnant and a 50 percent of losing the embryo. These were not good odds.

And yet, every week, I was still pregnant. That gave me hope.

Then, at Week 6, I got an ultrasound and saw the little blob on the screen. “You’re definitely pregnant,” the nurse told me, beaming. I was still skeptical.

But weeks went on, and soon we heard a heartbeat, I started throwing up constantly, I hated the smell of smoked meat and fried chicken, and we saw something on the ultrasound that looked more like a human baby than a squid.

And it began to really sink in: I’m pregnant. I’m actually, really pregnant.

For now. I’m forever the realist. But I’m enjoying every painful twinge, every visit to the bathroom, every Slurpee I can get my hands on.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Promise, you’ll hear more soon.

***
Thanks to everyone who wrote, posted and shared their experiences about miscarriage with me, both publicly on the blog or social media or privately through emails and texts. It’s been so touching and inspiring.

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A behind-the-scene look at “Family Ingredients”

By June 22, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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“This is our first soba encounter!”

That’s how we started the first morning of shooting “Family Ingredients” in the first soba shop in Okinawa last April.

Chef Ed Kenney, the playful host of the half-hour series that debuts 7:30 p.m. tonight on PBS Hawai‘i, couldn’t have been more excited to eat one of the most iconic dishes in Okinawa — soki soba — or Okinawan soba — which, by the way has nothing to do with the Japanese buckwheat noodles with the same name. Not at all.

This noodle dish features thick wheat noodles in a clear dashi (broth) made from pork or bonito fish flakes — or a blend of both. The chewy noodles are always thick and sometimes flat or wavy. It all depends on region and preference.

And we were here, in the southernmost prefecture of Japan, to eat a lot of it.

The Emmy Award-winning show, which aired nationally on PBS on June 16, traces the origins of local dishes to their roots around the world. Pipi kaula to California, gandule rice to Puerto Rico, poisson cru to Tahiti. Soki soba to Okinawa. Every dish has a story. That’s the premise of the show.

We were here with Hisae Uki, the daughter of the owners of Sun Noodle, a Hawai‘i-based noodle manufacturer and, incidentally, the only company in the U.S. that makes authentic Okinawan-style soba noodles.

Hisae is an old friend, someone I had met through the local Cherry Blossom Festival. When the producers came to me for suggestions for an Okinawan subject for one of the episodes, Hisae popped into my head. Not only is she half Okinawan — her mom is from the island — but her family business makes soba. Perfect!

Hisae Uki and Ed Kenney at the Honolulu International Airport last April, getting ready for our flight to Okinawa.

Hisae Uki and Ed Kenney at the Honolulu International Airport last April, getting ready for our flight to Okinawa.

And this wasn't even ALL of our luggage!

And this wasn’t even ALL of our luggage!

It was going to be a whirlwind of a trip, eating at several soki soba shops in Okinawa, visiting landmarks, touring a noodle manufacturer, walking through markets, interviewing people, finding co-producer Dan Nakasone’s long-lost uncle — all in five days.

And while we were here, I had freelance work to finish, Hisae was managing her company’s LA office and Ed was finalizing the menu — and a million other things — for a new restaurant he was opening, Mud Hen Water, in Kaimukī. (Okinawan soba wound up on the menu there. Of course.)

Oh, and the rest of the crew was working nonstop, editing photos, prepping gear, planning shoots and making sure everyone was on time and on task. It was truly a working trip. No vacation here.

Co-producer and veteran filmmaker Heather Haunani Giugni with director Ty Sanga — working, of course.

Co-producer and veteran filmmaker Heather Haunani Giugni with director Ty Sanga — working, of course.

Someone grabbed my camera during a crew meeting and got this shot of me. I was working, too!

Someone grabbed my camera during a crew meeting and got this shot of me. I was working, too!

I can’t complain, though.

With the help of Chizu Inoue, an editor of a local magazine and our interpreter for the trip, we ate at several of the best soba shops in Okinawa. One that specialized in tonkotsu soba and yushi dōfu (soft tofu), another that featured thin Yaeyama-type noodles run by women, another that was all about the Okinawan soki (pork). And to be honest, I didn’t get tired of eating it, either.

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Okinawan soki soba — why we were here!

Okinawan soki soba — why we were here!

Here’s how it went down: The camera crew went into a shop to set up. The producers met quickly with the restaurant owners, letting them know what we were going to do, what we needed, what to expect. I waited outside, out of the way. Hisae and Ed got prepped. The shot was set. The cameras were on. Action!

Hisae served as translator during the shoots, which was helpful since Ed was deficient in that area. The rest of us stood nearby, snapping photos and staying as quiet as possible. Once the shot was done, everyone grabbed bowls and chopsticks and dug in. It was like that at every shop.

What’s amazing is how generous and friendly people were in Okinawa. We were disruptive and intrusive, with bulky camera gear that needed a lot of space. But no one complained. They smiled, shared their seats, helped us open doors, told us stories. The outpouring was incredible.

We even got to spend some time with Hisae’s mother’s family in Okinawa. What a treat! The family made us its special version of soki soba — among many, many other things — and that was one of our favorite nights together. We all ate and drank and ate more and drank more. It didn’t matter that most of us didn’t speak Japanese (or Okinawan) — we all laughed and hugged and felt that family connection, regardless of language differences.

Ed making himself at home at Hisae's family's house.

Ed making himself at home at Hisae’s family’s house.

It was a privilege to be part of this production. Truly. The crew is hard-working, slightly insane, but kind and fun and giving. Some of my best memories are in the van, driving to locations and just talking and laughing. (Ed really hated my playlist and Heather can fall asleep in two seconds.)

You won’t see all of our behind-the-scenes shenanigans, but I’m sure you can sense the camaraderie and closeness everyone shares. Because you can’t hide it. And I think that’s what makes this series so special.

***

“Family Ingredients” premieres on PBS Hawai‘i at 7:30 p.m. tonight. It repeats at 11:30 p.m. tonight and at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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My tribute to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

By June 17, 2016 #40trails, #CatTravels, Musings, The Daily Dish

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I was eight years old when lava fountains from Kīlauea Volcano began building a cinder and spatter cone hundreds of feet high, spewing thick, chunky lava that later wiped out the towns of Kalapana and Kaimū on Hawaiʻi Island. More than 100 homes, a church and a store were buried beneath 50 to 80 feet of cooled lava.

The images that flashed on TV during the local newscast back then were both frightening and mesmerizing. I couldn’t tell you anything else that happened in 1983.

A decade later, I found myself standing on a rocky ledge above the Pacific Ocean, under a canopy of stars, the soles of my hiking boots tacky from the heat of the lava surging beneath us. You could taste the thick, sulfuric heat. The only light illuminating our dangerous trek came through the cracks in the ground, the incandescent orange glow of lava flowing from Pu‘u ʻŌʻō vent, under this crust of harden lava, toward the ocean.

I stood there, watching 2,100-degree molten lava flow into the churning ocean, sending steam plumes into the dark sky. I was witnessing the birth of land, the physical growing of the island where my mother was born. Here was the newest landmass in a solar system that’s more than 4 billion years old. It was as humbling as it was surreal.

At the time, I was attending the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, schizophrenically majoring in both English and geology. It felt like dating two guys who have nothing in common: I was committed to the preppy path of nonfiction prose and composition pedagogy, but I was completely smitten by the rugged allure of planetary volcanism and plate tectonics. While I spent most of my time in college penning critical analyses of important literary works, I snuck out on weekends to hike around craters and through lava fields. Books ignited my imagination, but geology made it all tangible and real.

I was chaperoning a Geology 101 weekend field trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, a 323,431-acre expanse of land that spans various climates and encompasses two active volcanoes, including Kīlauea, the world’s most active. Like the National Park Service, this national park, one of five on Hawai‘i Island alone, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Six of us had decided to meet after dinner, “borrow” the rental van, and hike across a lava field at the end of Chain of Craters Road, where we knew lava was pouring into the ocean. We had grabbed a bottle of whiskey and picked some ‘ohelo berries to offer to Pele, the volcano deity who resides in Halema‘uma‘u Crater, you know, just in case.

We chatted excitedly on the drive there, the adrenaline coursing. We had just snuck out of the dorms at the Kīlauea Military Camp with backpacks stocked with water, extra jackets, gloves, flashlights, snacks and Band-Aids. Seeing the lava flow at night would be an unforgettable experience—and we weren’t going to miss it.

The hike to the flow was treacherous, even with headlamps and flashlights. The landscape, desolate and wild during the day, was even more barren at night. We walked to the rhythmic sound of harden lava crunched with each step, trying to avoid the deep crevices that often occur as lava cools. It was like walking on glass.

The heat was heavy and palpable, rising from the cracks beneath us. I could feel the warmth and intensity through the thick soles of my hiking boots. I wondered how close the lava was to the surface of rock I was walking across—and whether we should have listened to our geology professors and stayed in bed.

We walked for miles, now in silence as we struggled to steady our footing and navigate our way to the ocean. We could only hear the gentle crashing of the waves somewhere off in the pervasive dark.

After what seemed like hours of walking, we stopped at a ledge and just gazed, completely enthralled, at a steady flow of lava cascading into the ocean below. The crackling of fire, the glowing red waves, a sky blanketed in twinkling specks of light—these remain some of the most indelible images I have in my mind. It was a quiet drive back to the camp.

Though I have hiked through the park dozens of time since then, I have never returned at night. It’s a gift to see the lava in such a peaceful and personal way. And one gift like that is enough for a lifetime.

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Wishing pets lived forever

By June 14, 2016 Musings, The Daily Dish

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Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my first dog, Joey, a black-and-white papillon.

Every time I visit my parents, I expect to see his nose under the front gate or run toward me once I swing the garage door open.

But he’s not there. And it’s been eight years since he died.

I think about that a lot, now that I’m the proud owner of three pooches. Opae, Sunny and Indy are still young — 7, 6 and 5, respectively — but I know there will be a time when we have to say goodbye. And I really, really, really don’t want to.

How it is that these we bond so fiercely with these furry creatures? I’ve lost my grandparents, but I don’t expect my Grandma Ann to greet me at the door whenever I go home for Sunday dinner.

I try not to think about “that day,” though I worry every time we have to take one of the dogs to the vet with something — an upset stomach, lethargy, a strange lump — and I can’t imagine I’ll be able to deal with the loss of these dogs.

My dear girlfriend, a fellow dog lover, just lost her beloved chihuahua after 14.5 years. Sam was sick, though the vet said he was putting on a convincing act that he was OK. He wasn’t. And in just two short weeks, his health drastically declined and my friend had to make the tough decision to put him down.

Just thinking about it makes me well with tears.

The animal-human bond is incredibly strong. There have been studies done — including a 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling — that show our connection is often closer than with other humans. Thirty-eight percent of people surveyed said their dogs were closer to them than their closest family member.

And grieving over the death of pets is comparable to that of losing a family member or close friend. Sometimes it’s far more intense.

So what do we do? We can’t stop life — meaning death — from happening. All we can do is love our pets, appreciate every moment we have with them, feed them well, exercise them often, hug and play with them as much as possible.

I know the day will come, and I’ll never be ready for it. But at least I know our three dogs lived a full life. I guess that’s all we can hope for.

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