What I learned turning 39


I had it all planned out.

My birthday happened to fall on a Thursday when I had no plans. None. I couldn’t believe my luck!

So I decided to actually spend a day doing everything I loved to: surf in the morning, breakfast with the guys I surf with, hike Makapuu with my dogs, maybe relax on the beach with a book, then hit the surf for an evening session and eat somewhere with great food. I wasn’t going to check e-mail or do any work of any kind. It was my birthday — and my last in the 30s — and I was going to spend it the way I had wanted, dammit.

But like most things in life, they don’t always turn out the way you expect — or want.

I did manage to catch a few waves in the early morning, but that’s about the only thing on my list that actually happened according to plan.

I should have known when I stepped on something sharp and hard on the way back to my car that this wasn’t going to be my favorite day.

The “Check Engine Soon” light flickered on while I was driving down to the beach. And when I was about to head home, it started making a clunking noise, one that my mechanic said could be bad, really bad, like, tow-the-car-to-my-shop bad. And the bottom of my foot, where the shard was lodged, was starting to ache.

I had to skip on breakfast at Rainbow Drive-In and spend the morning, instead, sitting outside my mechanic’s shop in Kakaako until my mom came to pick me up.

So we grabbed breakfast at Pancakes and Waffles Hawaii in Kalihi (photo at top), where we gorged on honey butter chicken, mini waffles, buttermilk pancakes and vinha d’alhos (Portuguese pickled pork). It wasn’t on my to-do list, but I wasn’t complaining, either.

I wasn’t sure when the car would be ready that day — or if it would even be ready that day — so I couldn’t do much of anything. I stayed home, watched Netflix, took a nap, walked the dogs and did nothing much remarkable.

IMG_1939I wasn’t in the mood to surf that night, and I didn’t feel like sitting in a bustling restaurant, ordering dishes I couldn’t pronounce. So I made comfort food bentos — Spam musubis, shoyu hot dogs, shoyu eggs — and headed to Waikiki to watch the sunset. Bubbies was my dessert. No singing “Happy Birthday” necessary.

My day didn’t turn out much like anything I had originally planned — and I learned a few things with that experience.

You can’t control everything. No matter how much you want to, you really can’t. So much in life isn’t determined by you and you have to learn to just go with it. It’s not the easiest thing, especially when your plans are derailed; it’s frustrating. But it’s important to realize the only thing you can control is how you deal with these situations, not the situations themselves.

Sometimes the surprises are better than your plans. I hadn’t planned on eating breakfast with my mom — and because my car broke down, I was able to. And that was one of the highlights of my birthday.

Doing nothing can be a good thing. I’m not one of those people who enjoy lounging around the house, doing nothing. I don’t sit in front of the TV for hours or even take naps. But sometimes it’s a good thing to recharge and unwind. It’s a lesson I haven’t quite learned yet, but I’m starting to.

There’s always tomorrow. Sure, Thursday was my birthday, but that’s just an arbitrary date. All the things I wanted to do — I can do today. Or tomorrow. And even over the weekend. I can’t worry about not accomplishing everything today, right now. I have to learn to let go and realize the surf will be there in the morning. It’s all good.

Thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes via the blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, e-mail, text message and every other way technology has allowed us to stay in touch. I appreciate all the love!

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16 Responses to “What I learned turning 39”

  1. The Chicago Cuz March 28, 2014 at 6:52 am #


    Your point about not controlling everything is such a major one, and one I am learning myself right now…. I want to wish you a Happy 39! And I know you are going to have an awesome year ahead of you.

    Sending Best Wishes from Chi-Town!

    The Chicago Cuz

  2. vern March 28, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    The unexpected things create very special moments, ones that we all cherish. Happy Birthday…your column is the bestest!

  3. Surfing at Sixty March 28, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    Happy Birthday Cat. Thanks for sharing what happened to you on your 39th Birthday. Most of us are too shy. One of the best truisms in life is to count your blessings and make lemon aide out of lemons. Today will be a great day. Pray for surf!

  4. M March 28, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    Hello Cat!
    Happy Birthday again!

    The only thing you can control is you, yourself, you can’t control what others say or do. Everything happens for a reason, it my not be what you wanted or planned but it always works out in the end.

  5. Annoddah Dave March 28, 2014 at 7:26 am #

    Cat: Wait until you retire, having a plan seems ridiculous. As they say “Sh..t Happens!”

  6. carolina March 28, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    Yes, as I approach 39, I, too, am starting to reflect on life lessons and one of them being I cannot control everything! Happy belated b-day!

  7. Sandy Hu March 28, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    A very well-written and thoughtful piece. Wisdom has come with age. : )

  8. Gloria Abaya March 28, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Sounds like a perfect unexpected day! =) Be grateful for the things you have, good people and li’l ones that surround you. I also know for a fact as you get older you take less B.S, Happy Birthday, Love.

    btw 40 is around the corner for me too!

  9. DIO March 28, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    Happy Belated Birthday.

  10. turkfontaine March 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    tuck this away for next year: ‘as forty is the old age of youth, so is forty the youth of old age.’ so, the take away will be: you’re starting out young again.

  11. snow March 28, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Sometimes the best things in life are unplanned. Happy Birthday!

  12. Dennis March 31, 2014 at 6:38 am #

    Happy belated birthday! I’ve had 71 of them and celebrated each one like you did- doing nothing. Some times that’s the best ones till next year. I stopped counting after 60. Have a great week!

  13. lance March 31, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    GOOD ONE!!!! “you can control how you deal with these situations, not the situations themselves.” Belated Happy Birthday!!!!!

  14. WildeOscar April 1, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.” One of my yoga instructors begins each practice with a quote, and this was what she offered the class on Sunday. You’re definitely a grown-up person, and I’m pleased to read here on your blog of your adventures, musings, and insightful observations about life.

    May this birthday mark the beginning of the best year yet in your life.

  15. Kehau April 2, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    Belated Hau’oli La Hanau! 3/27 born? I’m 3/26! Close to 20 years older than you, but still learning through my grandchildren (just told a friend that I don’t remember my kids being as funny as my grandkids!). I celebrated with going for a spontaneous haircut, which was long overdue, and which then led to getting my grandson’s hair cut, too. One of my best friends, whom I met as a teen, but who lives on a different island now, called and we talked for an hour. Another good friend called to take me for yogurt, which made the hair cut possible as I had my 4-yr-old grandson and 9-month-old granddaughter with me and the friend watched them as I got the haircut. All in all, a quiet, but good fun day.
    My b’day advice/wish to you: the mindset that 1) things could be worse (so rejoice that they aren’t) and 2) laugh – when faced with adversity, one can either lament or laugh, because there is always something funny to be found in adversity; laugh – when faced with smooth sailing, because it won’t always be so!
    Love the life lessons you have learned and shared!

  16. rayboyjr April 2, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Hey Cat … Happy Belated Birthday!!! … yes, I agree that nothing is a good thing …

    What I learned turning 39? … that the nicest, most thoughtful, respectful, considerate and responsible people are all still older than me …

    … and sadly … that the next generations have a long, long way to go to catch up …

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