Why We Didn’t Throw a Birthday Party for #Babyfox

By December 13, 2017 #BabyFox

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with motherhood.

We’re expected to do it all, be Super Mom, memorize parenting books, start a blog, breastfeed no matter what.

And that’s just in the first month!

As my child approached his first birthday, I was faced with yet another must-do: throw a huge party.

In Hawai‘i, baby first birthdays are a thing. Like, a huge, expensive thing. These baby lūʻau (as we call them) can be the size of weddings: hundreds of guests, pricey centerpieces, favors for everyone. It’s intense.

I’ve been to parties held in cavernous hotel ballrooms, one with a casino and fortune tellers, another with a live band whose name I actually knew.

My family threw us birthday parties, too, but small ones, just at the house and just with family, nothing fancy. We had a homemade cake, some presents, I was dressed in a kimono. Not that I remember anything, of course.

We decided pretty early on that we weren’t going to do anything more than lunch with our families for Landon’s birthday. When we ran the numbers — just for fun, really — our guest list was well over 200. Conservatively. With catered food, favors and a venue big enough to accommodate that many people, this party would cost us easily more than $10,000. It just didn’t seem reasonable — or responsible. It’s not like we had an extra $10,000 hidden under the mattress. And honestly, I’d rather just give Landon that money, put it toward the college tuition that we’ll never be able to afford.

But my husband had an even better idea.

In the Hawaiian culture, traditionally, when a baby is born, the family would plant an ʻulu (breadfruit) tree. In theory, the tree would provide a lifetime of food for this child.

When Landon was born, we had planted a Samoan coconut tree in our front yard. We already had a very prolific ʻulu tree and didn’t want to plant another. (As it is now, we already freeze or give away most of the fruit.)

But my husband was thinking bigger than just our backyard. He wanted to plant a lot of ʻulu trees, trees that would feed a community, not just our son. Our mutual friend — and one of the guys responsible for setting us up four years ago — is the executive director of the nonprofit Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi in Heʻeia, which grows kalo (taro) and other crops for the community, and he wanted to support the great work he does.

So, instead of planting a tree just for Landon, we planted trees for the nonprofit, trees that would provide food for an entire community for generations.

If I could afford it, I would have wanted to throw Landon the biggest, baddest party of all time. He’s the best kid — I know, I’m biased — and I wanted to do something super special. Because he’s special. But we just couldn’t swing it. And that’s OK. We did the best we could — and no matter what, it was going to turn out great. It had to. We had all the right intentions, as every parent does, and it really didn’t matter what we did. At the end of the day, it’s just about celebrating our awesome son.

So, on Landon’s birthday last month, we got up early and drove to the farm in Heʻeia to plant two ʻulu trees in its orchard. It was just a small donation — we could only find two of the Hawaiian variety to plant — but we’ll continue to plant more trees every year. We want Landon to learn that giving is way more important — and fun — than receiving.

With cake after, of course.

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It’s Not Always Easy To Be Grateful

By November 23, 2017 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

We all have those days. When nothing seems to go your way. When you feel like you’re in a hole/ditch/closet/swamp/jam/hell/parking garage you can’t find your way out of.

I’ve had months like that. Long stretches of bad situations, little things strung together. When you’ve come to terms with one, there’s another. And another. I would tell myself, “OK, this is the last bad thing. There can’t be anymore!”

I learned to never tell myself that anymore.

These are the hardest times to feel gratitude. In fact, I honestly couldn’t do it. I couldn’t appreciate my health or a full fridge or the fact I don’t live in an abandoned airplane somewhere at the South Pole. (I had a dream about that last night.)

I remember being so annoyed whenever my mom would say, “You should be thankful for your two legs and your two arms.” I would roll my eyes. “Everyone has those,” I’d think (but not dare say).

Truth is, some people don’t. Some people can’t get around as easily as me. Some people spend months in hospitals, hooked up to machines. Some people don’t have warms beds or access to education or a car that starts without having to hot wire it. I’m even sure someone has lived in an abandoned plane at the South Pole.

I’ve never been much of a Thanksgiving person, except that it’s the only time I can, without embarrassment or judgement, eat an entire box of Stovetop stuffing. But this year, I feel differently.

This year, despite the dark clouds still circling, I can finally see the light. The light that was always there. The light that’s been my son, my husband, my dogs, my friends and family, my health, the opportunity to do what I love for a living, the fact that my fridge is always fully stocked. It can be incredibly hard to find the simple, small, seemingly inconsequential things to be thankful for, but those are actually the stuff that’s most important.

So, hoping you all find your moments of gratitude today.

And there’s no shame in Stovetop stuffing.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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What ‘Live Life to the Fullest’ Means To Me

By October 17, 2017 Musings, The Daily Dish

You hear it all the time.

You gotta live life to the fullest!

Live like there’s no tomorrow!

Life is short!

Live your best life!

Be in the moment!

Carpe diem!

YOLO!

But what does this all really mean?

I used to think living your best life meant checking items off the proverbial bucket list, finishing personal projects, learning new things, eating the entire cake. Because why not! We only live once!

But, especially after this weekend, my perspective on this way of thinking suddenly seems flawed.

Sunday was the memorial service of Gilbert “Soyu” Kawamoto, a 74-year-old surfer whom I met 15 years ago in the water. He surfed every morning, rarely missing a session. Even in the blustering winds at Diamond Head, even in small, sometimes non-existent surf. It didn’t matter. He paddled out — and enjoyed himself. I can’t recall a morning when he complained about the conditions, no matter how awful. It was always fun, good to be out, he would say.

He died suddenly last month. Got sick, went to the hospital, died. Just like that. We didn’t have time to say goodbye.

When I told my husband about Soyu’s passing, he said something that stuck with me for a few days: “He lived a really good life. That’s the way to go, surfing every day.”

Soyu never wasted a moment. That’s how we should live our lives, I thought. To the fullest.

But here’s the thing: I thought that living life to the fullest meant surfing every morning — or whatever it is that you love. Could be hiking or traveling or getting massages. Whatever you love to do, whatever you’re passionate about, do it. Do it all the time. Whenever you can.

But I don’t think that’s actually what it means. Or, maybe, should mean.

All these things — surfing, traveling — are mostly selfish endeavors. These are things that only matter to you, that only benefit you.

And most of us have to work or can’t afford to travel to far-off places. Many of us have kids or families we can’t up and ditch. A lot of us just don’t have the time or money — or both.

So does that mean we can never live our lives to the fullest? We can’t YOLO?

On Sunday, the family held a memorial service for Soyu at the Elks Club in Waikīkī. It was a glorious send-off, with his friends playing Hawaiian music, food catered by Rainbow Drive-In, tons of photos of Soyu surfing and laughing.

It didn’t feel like a funeral at all. It was a party, with beer and poke and live music. It was exactly the kind of party Soyu would have loved. I could imagine him sitting in the back with his friends, a cold Big Swell IPA in his hand, cracking jokes and kicking back like he always did.

But talking with his family, namely his daughter, Malie, I realized something else: Soyu spent a lot of time with his family, coaching baseball, teaching his kids how to surf, playing Nintendo at home. Everyone who knew him would say that Soyu would help anyone out, he was generous and willing to pitch in, he showed up, he always did the right thing.

That’s when it hit me: Living your life to the fullest shouldn’t be selfish. In fact, it shouldn’t be about you at all. Living a full life means carving out time to spend with the important people in your life, even when you’re busy. It means supporting causes and charities that mean something to you. It means stopping to give someone a hug for no reason. It means telling your mom or brother or husband or kid or dog that you love them. It means not waiting, not hesitating, not saying, “Ah, I’ll do it later.” Because, as Malie knows, later may never come.

I can’t travel the way I used to. I can’t surf every morning anymore. But that doesn’t mean my life is any less valuable or important. And it doesn’t mean I can’t find pleasure in the simpler things, like watching my son laugh so hard he falls over or snuggling with my husband in bed with three dogs and watching “The Avengers.” These are the moments that I’ll remember.

But I might start planning more massages, too.

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I Really Do Eat For a Living

By October 5, 2017 Food

One Friday in August, I found myself in a froyo shop in ‘Aiea eating yogurt served in a watermelon.

That’s when I realized, “I really do eat for a living.”

I’m not going to lie: I had my reservations about being a full-time, full-on food writer. When I took the job as food editor at HONOLULU Magazine two years ago, I wondered if this was really the right fit for me. I don’t consider myself a foodie, I don’t cook Instagrammable meals, I have no professional kitchen experience. I don’t even care for truffles. (The fungus, not the chocolate.)

I get asked all the time: How did you become a food writer? And the answer always surprises people.

I actually started out as a sportswriter, working as a sports clerk for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, fully intending to be the third (at the time) female sportswriter in Hawai‘i.

After getting my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, I returned to the Islands with a job offer from the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser — as an entertainment reporter. That was not nearly as fun as that may sound.

After a couple of years writing features — which I grew to love — I, along with five other reporters, were tasked with the job of writing a blog. Everyone else had a topic — parenting, politics, college football — except for me. My only directive? Blog about something the others weren’t blogging about. Yeah, thanks, helpful.

The paper launched The Daily Dish, the original name of my blog, and I started writing about whatever — dating, reality TV, my dog. Then, one Friday, I posted some photos of what I ate for lunch. Nothing special. It wasn’t from a new restaurant. It wasn’t something I hadn’t eaten before. It was literally my lunch.

This was back before Yelp, Facebook, Instagram. There weren’t a lot of food bloggers and only a handful locally. And it was the first time a daily newspaper in Hawai‘i ran a blog about food.

It was a huge hit. Instantly.

I told one of my editors the food writer needed to launch a blog. People love the food blogs! They can’t get enough! And I have no idea what I was doing! I’m not a food writer! This isn’t my zone of genius!

But no one wanted to take on the task — and I was left to keep posting bad photos of my mediocre lunch every Friday.

That’s how it all started.

Now, here I am, more than a decade later, and I’m the food editor and blogger for a city magazine. It doesn’t even make sense to me!

I literally get paid to eat. It’s my actual JOB. I could think of worse things to do for a living.

But what I love about my job isn’t eating whatever I want. (Though, yes, it’s a perk.) It’s about writing the stories behind the food, it’s about discovering new things, it’s about meeting creative and passionate people in the community.

I’ve blogged about restaurants opening, restaurants closing, chefs taking risks, farmers following dreams. I’ve learned about finger limes, tried Safeway’s delivery service and figured out how to pronounce, “kouign amann.”

I got to find out what drives Christopher Sy to make labor-intensive artisanal breads at his shop, Breadshop, in Kaimukī. He read an essay back in college in Smithsonian Magazine by Rudolph Chelminski on the legendary Parisian baker Lionel Piolane, who crafted bread the old-fashioned way. Something about it stuck, he told me. And now he’s crafting some of the best bread in the country.


Christopher Sy, the bread master. Photo courtesy of Richard Walker.

I met Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn who asked the guests at their wedding at Kualoa Ranch to help them fund their restaurant dream. Seven years later, the couple opened Over Easy, now one of the most popular brunch spots on O‘ahu. I still think about the Potato N’ Eggs dish there.


Jennifer and Nik Lobendahn, owners of Over Easy in Kailua.


The Potato N’ Eggs dish has thick-cut French bread stuffed with a sweet tomato jam, then draped in a creamy potato purée and topped with bacon crumbles and a 7-minute local egg. It’s seriously addictive.

Then, there’s Robynne Mai‘i and Chuck Bussler, a couple who moved to Kaimukī with plans to open a restaurant. They came with impressive experience and local ties — Mai‘i hails from O‘ahu — but not many people knew who they were. Until now. They’re the owners behind the award-winning Fête in Chinatown. I met with them at a small coffee shop in Downtown — thanks to chef Chris Kajioka — and found out I’m practically related to Mai‘i.


Robynne Mai‘i and Chuck Bussler, owners of Fête. Photo courtesy of Robynne Mai‘i.

I got to tell the stories behind the fluffy, crispy malaasadas at Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery in Kaimukī, the wildly popular poi mochi doughnuts at Liliha Bakery and the first locally grown acai bowl at Kahuku Farm.


Kahuku Farms figured out how to grow and process acai berries to make what’s likely the first locally grown acai bowls in Hawai‘i.

I may not be a foodie or a professional cook. But I’m a writer who loves to tell stories. And, at the end of the day, that’s what my job really is all about. I could be writing about doorknobs or dogs and it would still be the same: I’d write the stories behind the subject.

It’s just the food is way more interesting (and beneficial to me, personally) than doorknobs.

Read my food blogs at Biting Commentary at HONOLULU Magazine.

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Remembering a Guy Named Soyu

By September 15, 2017 Musings


The last photo we took together, at my baby shower. I’ve saved this on my phone since then.

You never know how you’re going to react when you hear the news.

And it’s never news you want to hear.

I got a text on Wednesday morning, on my way to the bus stop, that read, “Soyu passed away this morning.”

I froze and stared at my phone.

Wait… what? But I just saw him!

Soyu — or, Gilbert Kawamoto — is the guy we all thought would live forever.

Though 74, he surfed every morning — and on a shortboard sometimes barely taller than him. He was one of the guys who started the garden up at the Diamond Head lookout, tidying up the area, watering the plants and cutting grass. Longtime friends with the family who owns Rainbow Drive-In, he often cut the grass there, too, in exchange for a Slush Float. He helped at most of the events the drive-in catered, unloading the van or serving chili and rice at surf contests at the beach.

I’ve known Soyu for years, back when I was in my 20s and started surfing at Queen’s regularly. While he mostly surfed at Diamond Head — even in my definition of hurricane-force winds — he would occasionally paddle out in Waikīkī during a good-size south swell, opting to sit on the inside and heckle. The heckling (he would never let you live down a wipeout) was one of the best parts about surfing with him.

Everyone, it seems, knows Soyu. A fixture in Hawai‘i’s surf community for decades, he’s competed in contests and surfed with the world’s best. His best friend growing up was famed shaper Donald Takayama. He’s even been in legendary surf films, including — his claim to fame — a quick cameo of him surfing at Bowl’s in the 1966 surf classic “Endless Summer.” Don’t blink, though, or you’ll miss it.

But there’s so much more to Soyu than surfing.

He was a husband, a father of two and grandfather of adoring grandkids. He worked at his father’s shop, Kawamoto Radio & TV on King Street, until it closed. He served in the Army and was stationed for a year in Germany, a time he fondly reflected on. He worked for a few years at Rainbow’s, doing odd jobs. Even in “retirement,” he still helped out at catering events and made the Slush Float Freeze (which I used to make) the drive-in sells in its retail store.

He loved Christmas, so much so he would plan how he would help decorate Rainbow’s during the holidays. Down to finding deals in the stores months before December.

He also loved going to Vegas —— though he always seemed more interested in visiting some magical hardware store than gambling or going to Trader Joe’s. A few years ago, on a trip there, we planned a trek to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a 10-foot-wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the canyon. He refused to go. He said he had already watched a documentary on it — and on a big TV, too — so he saw it already. And he insisted what he saw would be better than the real thing, so he stayed behind.

That was Soyu.


Soyu was the guy you could always count on to help out. Always.

He was one of my favorite people, and I think he knew it. He was the strangest, quirkiest, most interesting person, and he always did or said something that made me laugh, often for days. He was super meticulous about his car, a black Scion. He had a strict ritual for getting ready to surf. He was particular about the thermos he used for his coffee. He preferred his Spam and bacon extra crispy. He always had surf wax on hand, and didn’t mind parting with it since he usually got it for free at surf meets. He had his own logic about things, sometimes hilarious, often genius (though we’d never admit that). He argued the best way to remedy a box jellyfish sting was to put a hot frying pan on it, for example.

Once, we thought he was starting to lose his hearing. He would take calls on his fancy new phone — not a smart one, just a regular one — and walk away because he couldn’t hear the caller. He strained to hear the person on the other line. Turns out, he had inadvertently turned down the volume on his phone. This had gone on for months.

Then there are the stories — or maybe it’s advice — that have stuck with me for years, advice that now makes so much more sense as I’ve gotten older.

He told me when he became a dad, he completely quit surfing. He didn’t get in the water for 20 years, opting to be his son’s coach or just a present dad. You have to sacrifice, he explained to me. Your life changes.

I remember asking him why he started shortboarding, a relatively new thing for the longtime longboarder. You gotta change it up, he said. Otherwise, you going get bored.

After I had my baby last November, I didn’t come around as often. I couldn’t meet the guys in the surf at dawn or for breakfast afterward. But I always made a point to drive by Diamond Head after walking the dogs, just to honk my horn at Soyu, just to hear him yell at me and wave.

There’s no one left who knows why he was nicknamed Soyu. (And it’s S-O-Y-U, not Shoyu.) He wouldn’t tell anyone the story. And now we’ll never know.

No matter, though.

I’m just glad I knew him. I just wish we had a little more time.

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