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One more month of being 30

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I don’t know what it is about turning 40 that has me, well, quietly freaking out.

I think it has less to do with actually aging — I feel 28 and eat like a teenager — and more to do with one simple fact: I like being in my 30s.

I was 25 when I got my first “real” job, one that utilized my college degree and gave me health benefits. I walked — OK, stormed — into the newsroom full of ideas and enthusiasm, exactly what you’d expect from a recent college grad in her 20s.

And while my effervescent personality was mostly embraced by my coworkers, I was still considered a kid in the field. My age — and perhaps my eating habits — kept me in the “Oh, she’s just a baby” category, and I felt like I always had to prove myself to the office veterans.

Fast forward to 30, though, and things suddenly changed.

While my metabolism slowed down — honestly, it felt like my body completely shut down on my birthday — my self-confidence grew. I felt competent and appropriately cynical, still idealistic and hopeful but more honest and grounded. I found a depth in life I didn’t realize was there when I was younger. The way I viewed people, their actions, the world — that all changed. It was a paradigm shift in many ways — and I liked it.

Turning 30 wasn’t a big deal at all. In fact, I actually looked forward to it. I wouldn’t be dismissed as some young kid with no experience and no idea what life was really about anymore. I would be 30 — and I would have arrived.

(Except, to be honest, I had the stomach flu on my birthday and all I remember was throwing up the cheesecake my mom made for me in my parent’s bathroom. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.)

But in a month I’ll be 40 — and it’s not sitting well with me.

I don’t want to be 25 again. (Thanks, it was fun, but I’m over it.) And screw going back to high school. But 30 — that was a great decade.

I worked in a lively newsroom with talented writers, many of whom are still my close friends. I fought for sustainable fishing practices as part of a marine conservation campaign with The Nature Conservancy. I taught journalism, developed products for Rainbow Drive-In, traveled around the world, grew plants, killed plants, wrote more stories about native birds than I ever thought possible, got married, got divorced, got married again, acquired three dogs and five chickens and a baby goat. It’s been quite a whirlwind.

People who are beyond 30 have told me the 40s are the best. But I’m skeptical.

The 30s were great. Did you read that list? How can you beat that?

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Why I love my Fitbit Charge —  but stopped using it

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I don’t have any good reason to get a pedometer or an activity tracking device.

I just wanted one.

Especially after talking with my friend, Brian, who could have been a spokesperson for the Fitbit Charge, an advanced activity wristband that tracks your steps, calories burned, floors climbed and even your sleep pattern.

Why I wanted one… It’s hard to explain.

I was definitely intrigued with the option to track my sleep, which this device does automatically. (Some others require you to switch to sleep mode. Which I would likely never remember to do.) It figures out, based on your lack of movement, when you’re actually asleep, how many times you wake up in the middle of slumber, and how restless you are. Pretty interesting data.

But I was also curious about how many steps I take in a day — and what that translated to in terms of distance and calories.

See, I think I’m a pretty active person, in general. I walk the dogs twice a day, often for miles. I hike at least once a week. And since I tend to forget things at home — iPhone, keys, the garbage I’m supposed to take out — I tend to walk up and down my front stairs a lot.

But I wanted to know just how active I was. And whether being that active meant anything.

So I logged onto Amazon to see what my options were.

The San Franciso-based Fitbit has been around since 2007. Its original tracker — now called the Fitbit Classic — had all the basics, tracking steps, distance, calories and sleep. The Ultra came out next, adding an altimeter (tracks elevation), stairs and a stopwatch to time activities.

In order to compete with other tech-based fitness devices — namely, Garmin, Jawbone and Nike — Fitbit added different styles to its lineup, including the One and Zip models, which you clip on. They were the first to sync wirelessly using Bluetooth. Then it introduced the Flex, which you could wear around your wrist.

And then there came the Charge.

Sleek, nondescript, functional, easy to use, full of features including caller ID and the ability to link up with friends — and just $124. I was sold.

My goal, as is most users’ goal, was to hit 10,000 steps in a single day.

So what’s the magic of 10,000 steps?

It’s a rough equivalent to 30 minutes of activity, which is recommended by the Surgeon General. And the step count is approximately — very approximately — five miles.

I decided to get one for my husband and mom, too. (Husband hasn’t even charged his Fitbit yet; Mom uses it every day.) I wanted to gauge my fitness level with others.

Turns out, I’m pretty fit. I often hit 8,000 steps by 10 a.m., thanks to daily morning walks or hikes with the dogs. I figured out that if I walk the dogs in the morning, then go about my daily activities, and walk or run in the afternoon, I’ll hit, if not exceed, 10,000 steps.

There are some days when I surpass 20,000 steps. (Amazingly, my mom sometimes doesn’t even break 4,000 steps. She’s loving the retired life!)

And that’s why I stopped using it.

I love the Fitbit, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve got everything I need out of it. I’m not tracking my eating habits or water intake. I’m not trying to lose weight with it. I just wanted to know how active I was — and that’s pretty much it.

Here’s what I like about this device:

• It easily syncs with my iPhone (Androids, too) and laptop, on which I can see my progress. The charts are visually informative and easy to read.
• The sleep function is interesting. I found out that all I need is seven hours of fairly restful sleep to feel good.
• It’s smaller and sleeker than a watch, so wearing it isn’t awkward. The wristband is comfy, too.
• It charges super quickly — just 20 minutes for a full charge. And it lasts about a week on a single charge.
• Seeing how many steps I had taken motivates me to reach 10,000 every day. If I see that I’m at 8,000, I’ll go for a walk or run — just to hit that number. So that’s good.
• I actually like the caller ID function. Since I keep my phone on vibrate mode — and, I’ll be honest, I’m always misplacing it — it’s nice to get a buzz on my wrist with the caller’s name to let me know someone is trying to reach me.
• The alarms are helpful, especially if you set it to buzz after a few hours to remind you to get up from your desk and walk around.

What I didn’t like — and this list is way shorter:

• The Fitbit is NOT water resistant, which doesn’t work for me. I’m active in the water, so this device can’t track that activity — and I keep forgetting to take it off. (It will survive rain, sweat and the occasional shower.)
• The wristband is comfortable, but the snap-fast clasp has a tendency to unfasten on its own.
• It’s pricey, especially if, like me, you only need it for a month to gauge your fitness.

So that’s my take on it.

Do I regret buying it? No. I learned a lot about my activity habits and sleep patterns.

But I wish I could’ve just rented it, instead.

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Yes, I do work — from home

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It’s the most common question I get asked:

“So… do you actually have a job…?”

Yes, I do.

I write for a living.

I know that may seem like a strange career — I mean, who writes and gets paid these days? — but it’s true.

But I don’t just write fun nonfiction pieces for newspapers and magazines. (Now that would be a glamorous life!) I supplement my income by writing advertising copy and website content, and once in awhile, I’ll even help with social media strategies for businesses.

While I don’t make a ton of money — the most I’ve ever made in salary was when I was 28 years old — there is one big perk of my job: I get to work from home.

Now, working from home doesn’t come without its downsides. I’ve had friends who left offices to work at home only to return to the cubicle, citing reasons like there was no separation between work and home and the distractions — laundry, TV, Facebook — were too great. They preferred using office supplies, utilities, Internet and air-conditioning paid for by someone else, too.

For me, though, I love it.

But it did take an adjustment.

I first started working from home back when I was a reporter at The Honolulu Advertiser. A handful of us — we were called “MoJos” or mobile journalists — were sent home to work, covering our neighborhoods are our beats. We were set up with a laptop, video equipment and Intranet access to file our stories. We had a system where we checked in with our editor in the morning, gave him the rundown of our schedule that day, then worked for about eight hours before clocking out.

Of course, that was the ideal plan.

It really worked out like this: I got up at 4 a.m., checked my email and sent my daily schedule to my editor. Then I surfed for about an hour or so, came home and resumed working. My editor, who was slightly paranoid about handling several reporters who were never in the office, kept close tabs on us, checking in just about every hour by phone. (This was particularly difficult when we were in the middle of interviews or writing.) Then, as much as I wanted to shut off my computer, I couldn’t. I would check my email and work on stories well into the night, often waking up in the middle of slumber to fix a sentence in my story.

This wasn’t working out.

It took me awhile to figure out how to stop working at home.

Like, years.

A few years ago, when I started teaching full time at Kapi‘olani Community College, I did my freelance writing at home, after work hours, in between grading papers. The lines between work and home had blurred so much, I should have just ditched my rental and lived in my campus office.

It wasn’t until I really left the full-time office gig and worked solely from home that I figured out how to make it work.

There are five rules I live by:

1. Stick to a schedule, one that includes breaks: I work regular business hours, usually from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That means, I try to schedule interviews and meetings and do most of my writing during those times. And most of the “fun” stuff I do, I still do before or after work. All the hiking, surfing, swimming, running happens before I start my workday or after I clock out. But, as we would in an office, I do allow myself breaks during my work hours. It’s just that I can do different things, more productive things, than had I been in the office. I can walk the dogs around the neighborhood, putter in my garden, do laundry, wash dishes, cook dinner, vacuum, run errands, read a book, or sit in front of the TV for a good hour and veg.

2. Set up a comfortable work area: This one is a work-in-progress for me. Right now, I’m set up in the living room, on a small, expandable table facing our avocado trees outside. (You need a view.) But I’m also facing our big-screen TV, which is almost always turned on to the Food Network. That can be distracting. And the chair I’m using is painfully uncomfortable. The trick is to set up in an area where there are minimal distractions, with access to tools — books, files, printer, Diet Coke — and a view that will revitalize your spirits while you’re working. And you need a good chair, one with adequate back support that’s not so comfortable you’ll use it for naps. That’s key.

3. Stay organized: If you’re not self-displcined or organized, working from home can be tough. You can easily get distracted and lose track of what you’re supposed to be doing every day (especially if you’re like me and have no whip-cracking boss standing over you). So I make sure my iCal is up-to-date — and always on; I check this at soon as I wake up in the morning to make sure I won’t forget an interview, meeting or deadline. I keep a writing pad next to my computer so I can make notes of things that come up. And I have a to-do list for each day. (Some people keep an hourly one. I can’t.)

4. Get out of your house: I’m a big fan of the coffice — where people with no physical office work out of coffee shops or co-working spaces. It’s great to get out of your pajamas and don real clothes, sit in a new — and, hopefully, stimulating — environment (with free WiFi) and work. The distractions are different here — people, conversations, the smell of freshly roasted coffee — but it’s nice. It’s also important to schedule meetings and, in my case, interviews outside the home office, too. Get out. It’s good to feel like a normal, working person sometimes. (Plus, talking to your dogs all day can get a bit dull.)

5. Focus. This may sound a lot like No. 3, but here’s the difference: you can be organized and prepared for the work day ahead. But if you’re easily distracted, it will never work. While I’m able to work with a lot of noise around me — credit my 10 years in a newsroom — I turn off the TV and refrain from checking Facebook and Instagram when I really need to focus. I’ve learned this from my freelancer friend on Kaua‘i, who also works from home: she sets her timer to 45 minutes and works straight through. When the timer goes off, she takes a 15-minute break, doing whatever she wants. Then she goes back to work for another 45 minutes. I do the same, even setting deadline times with a reward. For example, if I can finish my story by noon, I’m free to do whatever I want after that. It gives me incentive to really buckle down and work.

So this is what I do. This is how I’m able to get my work done and still have time to walk the dogs up the Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail and get in an early-morning surf session.

Like I said, I don’t get paid much. But I’m doing what I love, I have a lot of flexible time, I can tend to my vegetable garden in the middle of a workday, and I can still pay my bills. What else do I need — besides a comfortable chair?

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5 Qs with Black Seed Bagel’s Dianna Daoheung

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Growing up in Hawai‘i, I wouldn’t say we’re a bagel culture.

Sure, there’s This Is It in Kaka‘ako and Lox of Bagels in Kalihi. But by and large, we’re not like some cities on the Mainland — often near Jewish neighborhoods — where bagels are like glazed donuts or malasadas here. Every bakery makes ‘em — and some are better than others.

That was never more evident than when I lived in Chicago. Bagels and schmear (Yiddish for “cheese” and refers to whatever you spread on a bagel) was my go-to breakfast. Baked fresh at a shop near my apartment, these bagels were fluffy and dense at the same time. I had never had anything like it before.

And I’ve been a bagel dreamer ever since.

So when I got a phone call from Melanie Kosaka of CookSpace Hawai‘i, telling me that New York-based chef Dianna Daoheung of the renowned Black Seed Bagels — it’s literally got a cult following — was coming to Honolulu to offer two master bagel-making classes, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

Not that I wanted to learn how to make bagels. I mean, sure, that’s interesting. But I was going to be able to eat one of her hand-rolled, wood-fired bagels — a Montreal style — so famous and sought-after there are still lines forming outside the Nolita bakery. (Here’s a peek at last year’s menu.)

“We are super surprised and continue to be flattered by people’s reaction,” Daoheung says. “It’s been an amazing year for us. To be recognized for something so iconic is amazing because there are so many opinions and when the majority of them are positive, it’s a great feeling.”

Daoheung, a first-generation Laotian-Thai American, garnered her skills and love for cooking at home, being forced to prep and assist her mom in the kitchen. After graduating from college with a degree in social behaviors and business management, she moved to New York City to work in advertising. That lasted about four years before Daoheung was back in the kitchen, doing what she loved.

She studied at the French Culinary Institute in Pastry Arts, worked as a line cook, dabbled in pastry in San Francisco, and worked as a sous chef in Brooklyn. But it wasn’t until Black Seed Bagels started that Daoheung found her calling: bread.

And now she’s sharing what she’s learned — including the hand-rolling technique that makes Black Seed Bagels so unique — with avid bakers in Honolulu with two classes on Saturday, Feb. 28 at CookSpace at Ward Warehouse. (Both of her classes are already sold out.)

We caught up with Daoheung, en route to Honolulu, to find out what makes Black Seed’s bagels so awesome and what she’s planning to do while she’s here.

1. What’s a Montreal bagel, exactly?

The best way to answer this question is with a comparison. The Montreal bagel is different than a New York bagel because of the following: it’s smaller in size, denser, sweeter, cooked in honey water, and made in a wood oven.

2. How difficult is it to create the perfect bagel?

It’s not difficult as long as you know the basic principles of bread-making. Also, everyone has an idea of what a perfect bagel is and it may not be what the person next to you thinks is a perfect bagel. So if you know how to adjust the water, the yeast and the cooking method, you can make your perfect bagel.

3. What is it about the bagel, anyway? What does it have such staying power?

The bagel has been around forever and is such a nostalgic food for many. It’s also a food that is affordable for the masses and is a versatile product that can satisfy almost any craving — sweet, savory, salty.

4. What’s your favorite kind of bagel?

My favorite kind is the plain bagel. Yes, it sound boring at first, but this is the only bagel where you get to taste the depth of the dough’s flavor. When you cover up the dough with seeds, you get mainly the taste of the seeds. I literally eat a plain bagel every day to make sure the dough is spot on.

5. First time to O‘ahu? What are you most looking forward to doing while you’re in town?

I have never been and I’m so excited to bring our bagels to you guys. I’m extremely excited to eat the local foods and see the nature that O‘ahu has to offer.

For more information about the classes, visit CookSpace Hawai‘i or call (808) 695-2205. Follow Daoheung on Instagram @dough_eung.

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I’m a mom — to chickens

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When I met my husband, he already had chickens. They were about three years old by the time I moved in. The coop was already built, and he had figured out, some of it by trial-and-error, how to raise these hens.

I, on the other hand, had never handled a live chicken in my life.

Suffice to say, it was quite an experience to care for these feisty hens.

One was skittish, another a bully, and the third an independent soul. And over the first few months of feeding them and cleaning their pen, I had come to learn their quirks and unique traits.

I had no idea how different each hen could be, how much personality they have, and how quickly I could get attached.

Last year one of our beloved hens passed away. (Read about her here.) And it was so hard watching her suffer. I didn’t think I wanted to do that again.

And then we got the call.

Maxie Asagi from Asagi Hatchery, a family-run hatchery — and the only chicken hatcher in Hawai‘i — in Kalihi, called. She said they had just had a hatch of brown layers, a very prolific breed that will lay an egg a day for years. (Our other chickens are brown layers, too.) If I wanted some, she’d hold them for me.

I hesitated. I wasn’t sure we were ready — and willing — to take on another brood of chickens. Our other two, already five years old, had stopped laying eggs for months. It would be nice to get fresh eggs again. But the commitment, the cost, the attachment — were we ready?

My husband was. He told me to call Maxie and tell her we wanted three baby chicks.

So I did.

IMG_5675Maxie had put aside three baby chicks for us. By the time we were able to pick them up, they were already a week old. And boy, did they come with personalities!

One is big and bossy; she squawks whenever I pick her up. The other is sweet and loving; she settles right into your hand. And then there’s the third one, a darker brown chick that pretty much does whatever she wants. While the others are drinking water, she’ll wander over to the food bowl. When they’re standing next to the heat lamp, she tries to fly out of the plastic bin. She’s definitely her own chicken already.

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I don’t know much about raising chickens, just whatever my husband told me. So I went online, reading through forums on BackYard Chickens Community, an online resource started in 1999 and managed by Rob Ludlow, co-author of “Raising Chickens for Dummies” and “Building Chicken Coops for Dummies.” I learned about the importance of proper chick feed and how using dry newspapers to line the crate can cause something called spraddle leg, a deformity of the legs that makes walking difficult, if not impossible.

Spraddle leg? Who knew!

So several times a day, I go downstairs into our covered garage to check on the chicks. I change their dry bedding, adjust the heat, and add more water and feed. I carry each of them to get them used to my touch. And I let them walk — OK, saunter — around. They’re so curious and interested in everything, it’s fun to just sit back and watch them.

I never imagined I would be raising chickens. Never. Then again, I never thought I would be bottle-feeding a baby goat, either.

So stay tuned for more about this new adventure of mine. (I still need to name them and figure out a good hashtag.) I’ll be posting photos on Instagram, so follow me @catherinetoth.

And if you have advice, post it here.

I’ll need all the help I can get!

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