‘O Captain’ taught me to seize the day

robin-williams1

It was 1989.

I was a freshman at Roosevelt High School, full of idealism and hope, all tempered by the usual fears and insecurities of any teenager.

I had just entered a public high school after spending nine years at a small Catholic school with a graduating class of less than 25 students. (And I was valedictorian. Go figure.)

I had big plans — to write the Great American Novel, to get a Ph.D., to save the world. I carried around an anthology of great poetry, from Walt Whitman to Stephen Crane to e.e. cummings, inspired by the way they viewed the world.

And then came “Dead Poets Society.”

This film, directed by Peter Weir, starred a Robin Williams I had never seen before. Prior to that, Williams was that lovable martian who came to Earth from the planet Ork in an egg-shaped spaceship. I couldn’t imagine him as an English teacher who inspires the students of a conservative and aristocratic prep school in Vermont.

And yet, there was he, this comic genius in a role that literally changed my life.

Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the movie.

The poem, “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” inspired me — and many — to live for the day. (In fact, the poem’s first line, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” was my senior dedication in our school’s yearbook.) “Carpe Diem” has become such a cliche because of that movie, but the sentiment will never get old. It should never get old. It’s one of the most important lessons you can learn in life, period.

So imagine my utter shock when this man who made me laugh hysterically, who was as kind as he was funny, who taught me this one important life lesson, died yesterday in his Northern California home in an apparent suicide. He was just 63.

And the most shocking? He suffered from severe depression.

How is that possible?

This man, who made the universe laugh. How could he be depressed?

Depression is a strange thing. It can strangle even the strongest person. And people who cope with depression often find ways to mask it, to hide those dark feelings from the world.

It seems Williams was a master at that.

I wish he could see how much he was loved and cherished. I wonder if that would have changed his mind at the moment he decided to take his life.

It was really too soon.

I remember walking out of the theater moved and shaken. I suddenly felt vulnerable yet alive, the world spread out before me. I could do anything and be anything — and it was terrifying.

It was a movie I thought about often throughout my life. What was my purpose? Where was I going? What would happen to me? And, most importantly, what was worth standing up for — on the top of my desk in a grand gesture of defiance and loyalty with the words, “O captain, my captain”? What was I willing to risk?

I will never forget when Williams’ character, John Keating, explains the meaning of Walt Whitman’s “Oh Me! O Life!”

“O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Williams knew what his verse was. And he lived it well.

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My dad and the hurricane

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As the Islands prepare for the first hurricane to hit the state in 22 years, my dad goes fishing.

This may seem odd for someone who’s not only Portuguese — it’s an ethnic trait to panic — but a closet prepper. I mean, my parents could probably open a small convenience store in their living room with the amount of toilet paper, canned goods and bottled water they have stocked up at home.

But in every storm, every tsunami warning, every hurricane that’s threatened to hit Hawai‘i, my dad has been pretty calm and collected, as far as I could tell. If he freaked out, I never saw it.

In fact, I remember when Hurricane ‘Iwa hit back in November 1982. It devastated Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau and parts of O‘ahu with wind gusts exceeding 100 miles per hour and waves reaching 30 feet in height. More than 500 people were homeless as the hurricane destroyed some 2,400 buildings and nearly 2,000 homes across the state. One person died, and another three deaths were indirectly related to the hurricane’s aftermath.

Do you know what I remember?

I was 7 years old, huddled with my siblings in blankets and playing cards by candlelit in our parents’ living room. It was actually fun.

My dad turns 70 today, on the day Hurricane Iselle is poised to hit the Islands with winds exceeding 80 miles per hour and another, stronger hurricane, Julio, right on its tail. It’s the first time since ‘Iniki in 1992 that a hurricane warning has caused such a panic. There are lines at gas stations, runs on bottled water and toilet paper, and people hunkering down at home waiting for the impending storm.

This morning the government announced that all state offices and schools were going to be closed tomorrow and a price freeze on commodities would go into effect through Aug. 15.

This is serious.

And my dad and mom are going out to find okazuya somewhere and eat in a park, probably.

Oh, they’re prepared, I’m sure of it. But my dad will stay cool, like always, and tell me not to worry.

I mean, after 70 years, I think he’s got this whole life thing figured out.

Happy Birthday, Pops!

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#NewEats: The Nook Neighborhood Bistro

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I had meant to write a review of a new brunch spot in Puck’s Alley weeks ago — but I kept going back to eat there.

I guess that’s a good sign.

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The Nook Neighborhood Bistro opened earlier this summer in the former space of Southern eatery Kiss My Grits in Puck’s Alley near the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa campus. I had heard about it through, of all things, Instagram. A friend who follows me saw my recent posts about two other brunch spots, Koko Head Cafe in Kaimukī and Tucker & Bevvy in Kapahulu. He told me about The Nook and I promised to go.

I went — then I went two more times.

The menu here features breakfast and brunch items all day, using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients like local eggs, produce, milk and meats. The 700-square-foot restaurant is run by childhood friends Hailey Berkey and Anicea Campanale — both 27 and from California. They both come from families who run their own businesses, so entrepreneurship was in their blood.

In order to raise money to open the restaurant, they used the crowd-funding platform Foodstart, which helps restaurants and food trucks to raise capital online in small amounts. The pair was able to raise more than $12,000.

So why brunch?

“Over the last few years, we have seen the burgeoning brunch scene on O‘ahu,” says Berkey, a self-trained cook, “and we saw the opportunity to bring some new flavors and combinations to standard breakfast here.”

Like the popular kale Benedict ($10) with poached eggs and sautéed kale atop an English muffin and hollandaise sauce. Or the haupia oatmeal ($6) with coconut milk rolled oats, apple bananas and coco nibs. Or — my favorite — the Asian pear grilled cheese ($9) with sharp cheddar cheese, Asian pear and caramelized onions on ciabatta.

“The Nook menu is all your favorite breakfast, brunch and lunch with a modern twist,” Berkey says. “The atmosphere in the restaurant is modern yet cozy, and the menu reflects the feeling you get when you walk inside the front door.”

If you can find it. It’s hidden inside Puck’s Alley with no street frontage. You won’t know it’s there unless you literally drive in and look for it.

“At first when we saw that this space was available, we were concerned that it was tucked away from street view,” she says. “However, it wasn’t long before we embraced the quaintness and hidden qualities and imagined the perfect name for it — the Nook.”

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Here’s the the BLT ($13.50), with a fried pork belly under micro greens, local tomatoes and spicy avocado on an open-faced baguette. These two know how to prepare pork, let me tell you.

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This it the malasada sandwich ($6.50), with a house-made sausage and fried egg on a split malasada. It’s small but tasty.

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While the menu features a variety of brunch options, it’s also got a few salads. This one is my favorite: the kobocha spinach salad ($9) with roasted pumpkin, baby spinach, lehua honey-glazed pecans and sweet ‘Ewa onions with a miso vinaigrette.

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And here’s one of the most popular dishes at Nook: the mochiko chicken and mochi waffles ($12.50), mochi buttermilk waffles paired with mochiko chicken and a bacon maple syrup. I haven’t been there without seeing just about every table order this dish. It’s THAT popular.

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In addition to full plates of food, the Nook also serves freshly made scones and a nice selection of teas.

Stay tuned: the restaurant is planning to expand its lunch offerings, add more daily specials and — wait for it — get a liquor license.

It will only get better!

The Nook Neighborhood Bistro, Puck’s Alley, 1035 University Ave. Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily except Mondays. Phone: 808-942-2222.

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The chicken saga continues

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It’s Sunday night.

One of our chickens, ‘Elua, has been hospitalized at Feather and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua since Friday night.

First, the sanctuary. Now, this. It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster for me with these hens!

When we had brought her back home last week, we noticed she was a little lethargic and bloated. Turns out, ‘Elua was egg bound; meaning, she has an egg inside her that she can’t expel. To make matters worse, the egg, which wasn’t quite calcified, missed the fallopian tube and her belly was filled with fluid, making it difficult for her to breathe. We took her to the hospital on Friday night, where she was promptly drained of the fluid and put in an incubator (shown above), where she’s been recovering. She also has an infection, which requires daily antibiotics.

All this for a chicken that cost $2.

I feel badly for ‘Elua, like I should have realized her discomfort weeks ago. Early detection would have likely improved her chances of survival. Now, we’re not sure if she’ll make it through the week. But I don’t know much about chickens; this is my first time raising hens, and I didn’t even know they could be egg bound, which, as it turns out, isn’t that uncommon, especially for older birds.

It’s interesting how attached you can get to a chicken. I didn’t realize they had much in the way of a personality — but they do. ‘Elua is feisty, independent and ready for anything. She’s not timid or gentle like some others. She’s got a lot of gumption that makes me feel pretty confident if any bird was going to make it through this ordeal, it would be her.

So we’ll see.

I’ll find out more tomorrow and will keep you all posted.

Cross your fingers, paws and feet, please!

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The tale of two chickens

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When I first moved in with my now husband, I knew it was already going to be a full house.

He had one dog, Opae, and I had my two.

But I didn’t realize the family was actually a lot larger than I had originally thought.

About three years ago, he got two tiny brown layer chicks from the family-run Asagi Hatchery in Kalihi, one of the first and only commercial chicken hatcheries in the state. He gently hand-raised the two — named ‘Ekahi and ‘Elua (Hawaiian for one and two) — and built them a pen outside, spacious enough for 12, under strawberry guava, banana and ‘ulu (breadfruit) trees. It’s a nice, serene retreat for any animal, and these chickens are living the life.

The two pullets started producing eggs in about five months, laying about one a day. And since I’ve moved in, I’ve only bought eggs from a grocery store once. It’s been awesome.

Since my husband took a new job, which required an hour-long commute every morning, the feeding duties fell to me. I would wake up and, after turning on the Keurig, head outside to feed the hens. I was hesitant to pet them — chickens do peck, after all! — but over time, we both got more comfortable with each other, and our relationship took flight.

I’d save up scraps from dinner — they love cucumbers! — and give it to them as snacks. Even the dogs got curious, sometimes joining me inside the pen as I fed them.

They were clearly a part of our family.

IMG_3259But as it happens, the hens started slowing down. They stopped laying one a day, and eventually, they stopped producing any at all. We had been anticipating this day for awhile and figured we’d find a no-kill shelter for them.

But we didn’t expect it to happen this soon.

My mother-in-law found a chicken sanctuary in ‘Aiea that would take the hens, no problem. So we scheduled a time to drop off the chickens and a bag of feed. We felt good about the idea that ‘Ekahi and ‘Elua would live out their last years in a safe, tranquil place.

Of course, this was before we got there.

Tranquil isn’t the word I’d used to describe the sanctuary. In fact, sanctuary isn’t a word I’d use, either. It was an open dirt lot surrounded by trees with a gate that didn’t close and wild chickens wandering around everywhere. On the side was a cage with small, angry dogs and a gaggle of geese. Separated, of course.

While the chickens there looked happy and healthy, our two were shell-shocked. They stood there, their beaks open, stunned and scared.

My husband urged them to drink water and walk around, but to no avail. The hens weren’t happy.

With tears in my eyes, I drove away, telling myself it would be OK. Why in the world am I crying over two chickens? This is crazy!

Turns out, my husband was a bit choked up, too. He didn’t feel good about leaving the chickens at this makeshift sanctuary, clearly unhappy and scared. He felt it was his responsibility to take care of them to the end, that they had given us eggs every day for almost three years. The least we can do is provide them a safe and happy environment to live out their last few years.

So we turned around, found the birds, and brought them home. Where they belonged.

I realized this is why I love my husband so much: his compassion overflows and inspires me to be a better person. I mean, who goes back and picks up chickens — after dropping them off! — that don’t lay eggs anymore?

He does.

And you know what?

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They started laying again!

I debate about whether to eat them or not. I mean, we did stress the poor hens. Then again, my mom said I should crack them open and see if there are golden coins in there.

In the end, we did the right thing — what felt right to us, anyway. And I’m happy the hens are back. Sure, they will eventually stop laying eggs, but they’ll always be part of our family.

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