It’s Hard To Say Goodbye—So I Won’t

By January 29, 2021 Musings, The Daily Dish
Leilani and me, younger, kid-less and without white hairs.

Dear Leilani,

The night before you died, I had a dream about you.

We were lounging on the floor in a large room, surrounded by blankets and pillows, kids running around. It was early evening. You were relaxing, propped up by pillows; I was right next to you, my son curled up by my legs sleeping. (That’s how you know this was a dream.) We were watching some movie, I don’t remember, chatting, laughing, like old times. When I woke up, I felt like I had spent an entire evening hanging out with you. It was so comforting—and so real. I had to text you about it, remember?

You responded: “I love and miss you cat. These messages bring me so much joy.”

Exactly 16 hours later to the minute, I received another text—this time from your husband, Kory. You were gone.

Not many people knew you were sick. Though you were always on social—I know because of the likes and comments—you rarely posted about yourself. (We call people like you lurkers, you know. LOL.) Which, I suppose, makes sense. You were always very private.

Which made that ONE Facebook post back on July 18, 2019 so shocking.

It was a photo of you, your head wrapped in what would probably be an Hermès scarf—Is that right? You know I don’t know these things!—with your family at ʻIolani School. You mentioned spending three months in a hospital and rehab, missing your home and bed, and working hard in therapy to get a “day pass” to see your daughter’s performance of “The Jungle Book” at school that day. In true Leilani form, you thanked all the people who helped you get to that point in your recovery—including God—and urged everyone to live with no regrets.

Of course, you failed to mention WHY you were in the hospital for seven weeks. (Cancer, yes. But you also broke your back, which is why the long recovery. And you had short hair not because of chemo but because of a knot in your hair that you couldn’t get out without practically shaving your head. But no one knew that yet.) My phone blew up.

We were talking about it one night when I had visited you at St. Francis.

“People are asking me. What should I tell them?”

“Tell them to text me. I mean, I posted it on Facebook. It’s not a secret.”

Some did. Others didn’t. I get it. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have. But that’s the thing about you: There’s no such thing as an uncomfortable conversation with you.

Our friend, Neysa, summed it up best in her perfectly penned, heartbreaking Facebook tribute to you: “She was so honest to a fault, I loved her ability to talk crap about me to my face while simultaneously caring for me so I wouldn’t wear that hideous top again. That’s what love is.”

It’s funny. I can’t really pinpoint what, exactly, we had in common. We first met in college. It was our very first class of our very first year at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. English 100, 7:45 a.m. You were the coolest weirdo I had ever met. We reconnected years later, when I participated in the Cherry Blossom Festival and you, former Narcissus Queen, volunteered at our events. We adopted you—or maybe it was the other way around.

That led to late nights at Kampai, tossing back Hello Kitty shots and taking an abnormal amount of photos where we’re posing like K-pop stars. Why did we do that…?

And even later nights, just talking about whatever. The latest Apple products. “Days of Our Lives.” Singapore. Books. Kids. What matching Disney outfits you had planned for your family to wear on your upcoming trip to Disneyland. The State of the World. Animal Crossing and why I should do it. (I’m still not convinced.)

When I think about our years—wait, decades—together, a flood of memories overcome me:

You were the first (and maybe the only) person who subscribed to the RSS feed for my blog back when I was blogging for The Honolulu Advertiser. And you emailed me often about posts I wrote—with your very strong opinions. (I have emails from you dating back more than 10 years.)

That time we were at Kapono’s. The music was so loud, we were practically yelling at each other. This is when you told me about Kory and how much he changed your life. You were just dating back then. You said he made you feel comfortable just being you, that nerd I first met back in college. You could just be yourself, and that’s what you said you hoped I’d find, too. Someone who just accepts you for you.

Your wedding. I had never seen you happier.

Oscar. I remember when you saw him at the pet store and you had to go back to get him. You were in love.

How you used an app on your iPhone to get pregnant. I mean, you literally OCD-ed your pregnancy.

How you secured your daughter’s Gmail account before she was even born. (I did the same for my son, I’m not going to lie.)

You on a headset at Festival Ball.

Kara, Kory and Leilani.

You wanted us to live with no regrets. And I’ve tried to do that. I used to feel bad at how relentlessly I would text you about your health, your organs—literally, I texted, “How are your organs?”—but I’m extremely glad I did.

(Also, I figured if you really wanted me to stop, you would’ve just said so.)

We last saw each other on Dec. 6, 2019. You were working part-time, COVID-19 hadn’t happened yet (at least here). You were still hopeful to celebrate your 10th wedding anniversary in Singapore the following year. We met at Liliha Bakery on a Friday morning after you dropped Kara off at school. I don’t remember what we ate, but it didn’t matter. It was great to catch up—in person, which is why I won’t do Animal Crossing!—and I figured we’d do it again soon enough.

Then COVID came. You had to self-isolate. All we had was texting.

And then, you were gone.

I had a dream about you last night again. The memory of it is already slipping away, as dreams often do. I was looking for you. I went to see our friend Dennis at his salon; you weren’t there. I went to a gym; why I would expect to see you there is still a mystery. Then I found Kory standing in the lobby of a nondescript office building. He was looking for you, too. We grabbed lunch and sat together. He was distraught, his thoughts far away. I told him I kept hearing you tell me something, it was barely a whisper. “It was too much. It broke me.”

Even now, as I sit here in my darkened living room, lit only by the soft light of an almost-full moon, I can hear your voice. “It broke me.”

Are you talking to me? Maybe. Or maybe I’m still trying to process the fact that you’re gone.

But if you are trying to communicate, just shoot me a text. You can do that from heaven, right?

If not, I’m sure you’ll talk to someone up there about that.

(P.S. Don’t judge my spelling, grammar and punctuation right now. Because I know you! It’s early. I’m tired. I’ll reread this later.)

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Was 2020 Really That Bad?

By December 31, 2020 Musings, The Daily Dish

(Editor’s Note: I’ve been drinking since 5 p.m., so ignore the typos and ramblings. It’s been a rough year.)

The world seems to be waiting for 2020 to be over.

Me, too.

It’s been a crazy, tumultuous year, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we work and live in ways unthinkable. No more traveling. No more potlucks at work. No more weekends spent with friends.

Some of my favorite restaurants have shuttered permanently. I spent four months trying to homeschool my preschool-aged son. And I’ve never hiked so much in my life. (It was one of the few things we could do.)

Add to that pay cuts, higher expenses, working from home, a shortage of flour and toilet paper, fear and stress and the challenge of wearing a mask all the time. (It took some getting used to, for sure.)

It’s easy—and warranted—to want this year to be over.

Yes, millions of people got sick, hundreds of thousands died, people were separated from loved ones, jobs lost, weddings cancelled. But I think there has been a lot of good in 2020, too. (Just go with me here.)

Now I can only speak from experience—and honestly, much of my year sucked. Really sucked. But here’s what else happened:

I started Zooming with a group of friends I had only seen once a year. It started on a Thursday afternoon in early March—and we haven’t missed a week since. I’ve never felt so connected to this group of friends before, and we can thank COVID-19 for that.

The early days of Zooming.

I’m working from home—and loving it. It allowed me to homeschool my son without taking time off from work and I was able to get way more done than I could at the office. (I could also do laundry on my lunch breaks. Bonus!)

I spent SO MUCH TIME with my son and husband, more time than I probably wanted, but time that I would have never had before—and time that I completely appreciate now. Yes, there were times I wanted to ask for a refund on my husband. But the pandemic—OK, the stay-at-home orders—forced us to talk, coordinate schedules, share the workload at home. Now he cooks and cleans the house once a week. And I’m not complaining.

We hiked and swam and surfed more than ever before—as a family. It was all we could do, really, since most businesses and restaurants were closed, and we didn’t feel like being around a lot of people. During the pandemic, my then-3-year-old son summited at least four state-run trails—and in impressive time. He learned to bodyboard (with help), dive underwater and can name at least six native plants he sees on trails. All because we had the time to do it.

We spent a lot of time on trails and at the beach.

I read a lot, cleaned a lot, gardened a lot. We binge-watched a bunch of Netflix shows and listened to podcasts. We walked our neighborhood every day, getting to know our neighbors (and postal workers) better. We discovered Fresca and Truly and made a lot of bread. I wore pajamas for about nine months straight.

To have something taken away can often become a gift. I couldn’t see my parents during the pandemic, so when I stopped by to drop off food or groceries, I treasured the moment. When my son’s preschool reopened, I appreciated everything the teachers did to educate our kids while keeping them safe. When I could see my friends IRL (in real life), I was completely overjoyed. Small things, huge impact.

I know people who, during the pandemic, wrote books, got pregnant, had babies, started books, changed careers, fought illnesses, took up new hobbies, got married, LIVED. THRIVED. It was inspiring.

Was 2020 great? Hardly. But great things did happen. (There was a presidential election after all.) And I’m sure 2021 will only be better.

It has to, right?

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Here’s What Happened To My Dog Indy

By December 10, 2020 Musings

It’s the blog I’ve been dreading to write.

Indy, the day we rehomed him.

Today is Indy’s birthday. He’s 10.

And I’m not with him this year to celebrate.

Here’s what happened.

A lot of people have been asking me—mostly leaving comments on Instagram or Facebook—about Indy. Where is he? How come you’re not posting photos of him anymore?

For years, my smiley shih tzu-silky terrier mix, found in a cardboard box at the Hawaiʻi Kai Dog Park, was a social media star. He was beyond adorable, with those bright eyes, floppy ears and wild tongue. Instagram gold.

He was my faithful companion, shadowing me wherever I went. When I cooked, he was nesting between my feet. When I showered, he was waiting patiently outside the tub. I was almost never without Indy by my side.

Indy, when he was just a few months old.

Then I got married, moved into a new home with a new dog (my husband’s), got pregnant and had a baby.

Things changed—and things with Indy changed, too.

He became very protective of me, more than usual. He didn’t like my husband getting close to me at all. Several times he lunged at him, growling and clenching his underbite. Seconds later, though, Indy would be apologetic, almost crawling toward my husband with his tail between his legs and licking his face. It was strange—and stressful.

We lived like this for years, always mindful of how we interacted around Indy, always worried he would become aggressive. It was rare—but it still happened.

Once the baby came, though, I knew I had to get serious about this. The deal was if Indy ever got aggressive with our son, I would need to find a new home for him. And that, at the time, was not an option to me. I was going to do everything, try anything to make this work.

And I did.

I hired dog trainers. I exercised him more. I gave him CBD-infused treats. I read everything I could online and talked to other dog owners will similar situations. He was what’s called “resource-guarding” me, the way some dogs growl or snap when you get too close to something they consider valuable—rawhide, bones, food and, yes, even a person.

I talked to vets, to more dog trainers, to more dog owners, to friends. We separated him from the family, keeping him in one room while we were in another. I couldn’t risk anything happening to my son. But I hated seeing Indy gaze at us from behind a closed gate, wishing he could be near us. It broke my heart, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And then it happened.

Landon walked over to hug me while I was sitting on the couch in our living room. Indy had been lying on the couch near me. It all happened so quickly. Indy darted toward my son, growling and baring his teeth when my husband grabbed Landon and pushed Indy away.

Of course, Indy felt horrible about what happened. But my husband was done.

That night, I frantically texted a friend of mine who had been dealing with the same resource-guarding issues as me. I explained to her what happened and that I needed to rehome my dog. I was devastated. She empathized.

But she also had an idea.

Her neighbors were looking for an older rescue dog to take in. In fact, the woman had taken off from work that week to browse the local shelter for a dog. And she had a thing for silky terriers.

It was perfect.

The couple came over to meet Indy. Indy took to them right away. The deal was made: I would drop him off on a Wednesday for a week. Just to see how it would go.

That was back in February.

The last photo of Indy and me.

I can’t even write this without crying uncontrollably. I miss him every single day. I hate that I’m one of those pet owners who had to rehome her dog. (About 6 percent of households rehome their pets, mostly due to behavior and aggression.) It’s embarrassing. I thought I could figure out what to do, how to fix this, make it work for my family. And I couldn’t. No matter what anyone tells me, what experts say, what I’ve been told by vets and what I’ve read online, I feel like a failure. I failed Indy.

I wonder if he misses me. I hope he doesn’t think I abandoned him, that I don’t love him. I wish I could have explained to him what was going on. I dropped him off one morning, watched him run into the backyard and drove away. I cried all the way to work that morning—and have cried every day since.

But I couldn’t have found a more perfect family. I know he’s loved and take care of. They walk him for miles every day, dote on him, play with him. He’s even acclimated to their chickens. And the new owners created an Instagram account, where they post photos and videos of Indy regularly. So I still get to “see” him whenever I want.

But I miss him so much. I still think he’s going to greet me at the door. I wait for his happy barks and his pawing at my legs. Sunny, my other dog who has been with Indy from the day I brought him home, still comes to the front door every morning to see if Indy is back. And Landon often asks about him. (He think he’s helping the couple exercise. That’s what I told him, anyway.)

Tonight, in fact, Landon asked me about Indy. “I’m never going to see him again,” he said. I just teared up. I hope that’s not true, but I couldn’t promise him anything, either.

He’s safe, he’s happy and he’s well cared for. He’s in a home that’s full of love and happiness. I love him enough to know that this is the best I could do for him, that his happiness is far more important than my own. But it still hurts every time I think about it.

I know I did the right thing—for my family, for Indy—and I know he’s in the right home for him. I hope that someday I’ll come to peace with my decision, that I’ll stop crying and feel OK about it.

Maybe in 2021.

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I Did Noom For a Month and Here’s What Happened

By October 7, 2020 Musings
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

You’ve seen the commercials.

Normal-looking people—not particularly thin or in shape—talking about how this thing called “Noom” has changed their life.

“I feel like I’ve been on a diet my entire life,” says one women, “and then I tried Noom.”

So WTF is this Noom magic and how does it work?

Well, that’s the part. Noom’s marketing efforts—on TV ads, on social media—are incredibly (and likely purposefully) vague. This is what it says on its Instagram profile: “Start today and lead a healthier life!”

Start what?

I had to find out.

To be honest, I could stand to lose a few pounds. (Or, like, 10.) I’m not a dieter. I have never signed up for any meal plans or calorie-counting program. I’ve managed my weight through regular exercise and a lot of small meals throughout the day. But since many of those “meals” consisted primarily of Sun Chips and Slurpees, I’ve put on a few extra pounds that I can’t seem to run/hike/swim/surf away.

So my nagging curiosity combined with a need to lose weight and guess what? I signed up for Noom.

Simply put, Noom is an app on your phone that helps you track your weight, monitor what you eat and provides information about how to make better choices and lead a healthier life. It also connects you with a community of people in similar situations with the hopes that the social aspect—meaning, the accountability—will keep you motivated.

There’s nothing earth-shattering about Noom. You won’t get a secret formula for weight loss and it doesn’t believe in the elimination method, where you basically deny yourself that cake or fried chicken (or bag of Sun Chips). On Noom, you can literally eat whatever you want—just in moderation.

You don’t even need to exercise, though it’s suggested. It’s really up to you.

Here’s how it works: You sign up on Noom.com, then download the app to your phone. You have to take a very short personality quiz, likely to match you for members of your support group and figure out how long it may take you to lose the number of pounds you indicate you want gone. (It said it would take me about six weeks to lose 10 pounds.)

Graphic: Noom

All you have to do then is open the app every day—whenever you want—and enter your weight, log your meals and complete your daily tasks, which are usually just short (and fun and informative) articles to read or quizzes to take.

I know what you’re thinking: Who’s got time for reading and quizzes?

I thought the same. But these “tasks” take between 5 and 10 minutes a day, and I’d usually complete them when I was walking the dogs in the morning. And the articles were actually interesting. Like how some foods have a higher caloric density than others—you want to eat foods with a lower calorie density, FYI—and how your environment (office, kitchen, car) can influence what and how often you eat.

Graphic: Noom

No foods are off limits on Noom. But they are categorized—green (eat as much as you like), yellow (eat in moderation) and red (watch your intake)—and the app breaks down what you’re eating into these categories for you, so you can see the food choices you’re making throughout the day. (Side note: I found it strange that hummus was categorized as a “red” food, but Leonard’s malasadas—yes, that was on the list!— was classified as “yellow.” I mean, I’m not complaining. Just thought that was odd.)

The idea is to change your behavior when it comes to food. No diet plan or gym membership is going to work unless you realize what you’re doing and, maybe more importantly, why you’re doing it. Yeah, it gets deep.

The first two weeks are free. After that, it’s about $59 a month (depending on your plan) and you have access to an online support group of users who are on similar weight-loss journeys are you. (You can also access a professional support specialist, though I never did.) In my group, there were about 25 of us, mostly from the U.S. (though we had at least one Canadian). Most were women around my age, many with kids, many who had done other weight-loss programs. It’s up to you how much you want to engage in this community. (I tried to post once a day and read what others had posted. I learned that you can dust grapes with Jell-O powder, for example. I still need to try that.)

The two things that I found super useful and the key to weight loss are really what makes up Noom: daily weigh-ins and food logging. The “tasks” keep you engaged in the app, which means you’re often thinking about what you’re eating. You know you have to log your afternoon snack, so do you really want to eat that bag of frosted animal cookies?

And getting on the scale every day—not the best start to a Monday, for sure—is keeping you focused on your goal that day: to make better choices. And, when you see your weight dropping, it can be a powerful motivator.

Noom has one of the better food-logging interfaces I’ve seen/used. It’s really easy to input what you’ve eaten, and the app has a ton of restaurant and pre-packaged foods in its database. You can even scan the barcode on most food items and it will call up their nutritional information. I mean, Zippy’s chili was in there!

So did it work?

I stuck it out for about a month, then canceled my subscription and now only use the app to log my weight and meals. In that month—and I didn’t feel like I was doing anything differently—I wound up losing about five pounds. I still ate doughnuts and malasadas—you see my Instagram feed!—but knowing I had to log them down did make me pause. I did eat better—more veggies and fruits—and was more motivated to hit my daily step goal. (The more you exercise, the more calories Noom gives you to consume.)

So would I recommend it? Yes, but you have to be self-disciplined, committed and honest. There are no shortcuts with Noom. You actually have to do the work.

Can you lie about your food intake, about your weight? Sure! But then it won’t work—and you’ll be out $59 that month. That’s a lot of doughnuts!

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What Preschool is Like During a Pandemic

By August 31, 2020 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish

This summer Landon completed his first year of preschool—and man it was interesting.

Not the first part, of course. Up until February 2020, things were fairly typical. He never cried about going to preschool; in fact, his teachers often had to remind him to say goodbye to me. He loved everything about preschool—his awesome teachers (below), the learning, his friends, the playground. Sure, he had his struggles—using an unfamiliar potty, for one, and napping in a room full of kids and other distractions—but for the most part, he thrived. My curly-haired toddler with squeezable cheeks was turning into an actual kid. And though I was thrilled with his growth, I found myself surprisingly sad about seeing my little guy, the one I swaddled and toting around in an Ergo, growing up so fast.

Then March happened.

The spread of COVID-19 forced the closure of our entire state, preschools included. Parents suddenly turned into teachers, and working moms like me turned into crazy people.

I spent the next three months preparing lesson plans and other activities to keep my very active 3-year-old busy from the moment he woke up—5:30 a.m.—until he went to bed at 7 p.m. I spent a lot of money on Amazon and Target, stocking up on crayons, glue sticks, construction paper and something called “dot markers.” I was grossly underprepared. I didn’t have proper kid-friendly scissors or enough stickers to keep him occupied. I needed more of everything—more books, more washable paints, more Play-Doh, more Lego, more puzzles, more snacks, more underwear. It was overwhelming.

What didn’t help was his inability to focus on anything longer than five minutes. I had to plan the day in 10-minute increments. Ride the tricycle, hop on a scooter, write letters to his friends, help me wash dishes, work on the alphabet, play with Manga Tiles—and it would only be 8 a.m.

And somehow, between cutting up PB&J sandwiches, building spaceships with Lego and bribing him to sit on the potty, I had to work. A regular, 40-hour-a-week job. A job that required Zoom meetings and phone interviews and dedicated blocks of writing and editing time.

OMG.

The only way I could get everything done was to wake up an hour earlier than I normally did—that means 4 a.m.—and working at night after the kid went to bed until my eyes crossed at around 11 p.m.

I did this for months. Even on the weekends. I was at my breaking point.

Thankfully, coronavirus cases in Hawaiʻi, at the time, started to stabilize, enough that preschools reopened for summer. And even that was interesting: Kids had to wear masks, parents had to pack home lunches, teachers had to sterilize everything all the time. The focus was specifically on keeping kids—and teachers—safe. But somehow, our preschool did it—and then some. Landon loved going to school, despite having to wear a mask and try to stay six feet apart from his friends. I honestly don’t even think he noticed the stricter rules. And the teachers managed to make the whole experience fun and enriching. He loved picking out his snacks for his home lunch, he brought home the most amazing artwork, and he often requested to wear his mask at home. I was blown away!

It proved what I’ve always heard about kids: They are resilient—and they’re way more accepting of change than adults are. It’s something we can all learn from.

But here we are, late August, and preschool was supposed to start this week. The first day of school has been postponed because new coronavirus cases are surging in Hawaiʻi with triple-digit cases being reported every day. The state issued its second shutdown since March, with non-essential businesses forced to close again and schools ordered to teach remotely.

And here I am (again), coming up with lesson plans and searching the Internet for free worksheets, dance lessons and activities I can do with a kid who won’t sit still, like, ever.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: If this kid can do it—and with a smile on his face—then I should be able to do it, too.

Too bad he can’t edit stories. Maybe that’ll be the lesson plan for Thursday.

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