Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No one here gets out alive

Death is the great equalizer. Everyone dies. You can't sing, dance, paint, sculpt, write, negotiate, discover, you can't even buy your way out. Nope. The world has lost four giants in the last few weeks. The latest are two members of one of America's most important families - Eunice Kennedy Shriver and last night, Senator Edward Kennedy. Huge losses on a global scale.

CBS lost two of its own legends. Don Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes, and Walter Cronkite, arguably the best newsman of the 20th century.

I used to work for CBS News. Twice. First in 1971 and again in 1978. (Yeah, I'm THAT old.) In '71, I worked down the hall from 60 Minutes and often saw Don Hewitt, knew him only well enough to say, "hello." He was kinda scary. Small guy. But still, kinda scary. I think it was because he was so smart and so good at what he did.

I knew Walter Cronkite only slightly better. But he made a huge impression on me. He was a great newsman. He was also a prince. I would often see him walking down "Executive Row" (the long hallway that led from the 57th St. and Tenth Ave. entrance back to the newsroom and the Evening News studio) and he would peek his head into every office and greet every secretary, every mailroom guy, anyone he encountered along the way. In 1976, I was an Associate Director in the radio division. It was a pretty easy gig and an enjoyable one, too. One afternoon, I came in for my shift and noticed I was scheduled for Walter's (he insisted that everyone, including us plebes call him "Walter") radio show. I was kinda freaked out and figured well, he doesn't really need direction. I'll just show up in the control room and he'll do the rest. Wrong. We introduced ourselves, shook hands, he took his place in front of the microphone and I took mine in the control room. And there he sat. Finally, he turned on his mike and said to me, "Aren't you going to cue me?" I was frozen. And he, obviously, realized I was awestruck, too. He very kindly - and with a big smile on his face - said, "Bonnie, you have your job and I have mine. And until you do yours, I can't do mine." I did...and he did and although it's such a tiny thing, I will never forget it. Classy, classy, classy.

In my office, I have a big black and white framed poster of him from a 1985 seminar series. He's in profile, left hand to his chin, in a very pensive pose at his newsdesk. And although faded, the inscription reads, "For Bonnie, For that's the way it is. Walter Cronkite."

Monday, August 24, 2009


After eight long years, my friends (and client) D.K. and Lori Kodama finished building and moved into their GORGEOUS new Honolulu home. I had the pleasure of attending their housewarming this past weekend. I really wanted to 1)see them and their children, 2)see D.K.'s wonderful dad who I hadn't seen since D.K.'s mom died almost a year ago, 3)see the rest of the Kodama clan, 4)see the Honolulu Sansei/d.k Steak House contingent, and 5)because when the host of the party owns several of the best and most popular restaurants in Hawai'i, you know how good - and plentiful - the food and drink is going to be. Mission accomplished on all fronts.

One of the cutest and quirkiest things about this branch of the Kodama family is that they named all three of their children after cheese. Yes, you heard me. Cheese. So along with all the fruit, marinated vegetables, crackers, and miscellaneous other nibbles at the "station" near the bar were three cheese displays. There was Brie, Chevre, and Cashel Bleu...with a beautiful photo of the respectively-named child attached to a little dowel stuck into each one. Obviously, I'm trying to get a photo. But for now, picture it. It was THAT adorable.

And here's the most important thing about the house and the party. There were many, many people there - more than a hundred, I'm sure. There were dozens of children. All over the place. Running around. With crayons and markers and every kind of toy. (Lori and I were walking through one of the hallways and I felt something beneath my foot. "Oh, you just stepped on some broccoli," she said laughing as I picked up the molded rubber floret and tossed it back into one of the children's rooms.) The house is magnificent. But it is NOT a museum. It was designed with family and friends and children and fun and big gatherings in mind. And that is what makes it the very best kind of house there is. A house that is most definitely a home.

Congratulations D.K. and Lori. May you have many happy, healthy, prosperous years and lots of fantastic parties in your new home.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

When Peers Pass Away

I do not like that phrase - pass away. People die. Old, young, everybody. As we age and more and more of our contemporaries die, it gets us to thinking. Or it should. My friend Tom Olds died last month. He was 55. Younger than I. A few days earlier, Julie Holmes died. She was less than 90 days older than I. Late last week Lisa Josephson died. She was 60. Two years older than I.

A few words about Julie and Lisa (there's a post below about Tom). I didn't know Julie, I only knew of her. Many of my friends knew her, some knew her well. I know she was lovely and good and did good works for her life's work. Lisa was an acquaintance and professional colleague. She was a PR person, too. And a good one. More important, as my friend and her good friend Wayne Harada pointed out to me, she was Hawai'i's biggest booster of the performing arts. She fought an extraordinarily valiant two-and-a-half year battle with cancer. She will be greatly missed by Hawai'i's PR and arts communities, among others.

So since these "peer deaths" happened in rapid succession (bad things come in threes? do good things come in threes, too?), I've been thinking a lot about life...and death. What's it all about, Alfie? And all the other cliches (again). What does it take - and how much of it does it take - to make us humans realize that this is it. This is all we get and we had better make the most of it, whatever that is. Tom and Julie and Lisa all got some time and with some time, you can finish up. Or finish up some. I can count too many friends and relatives who didn't get any time at all. That's the thing. We don't have much - any? - control. So maybe we (I) better just do it (whatever your/my it is). Today.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Only in Hawai'i

Needed a house blessing gift and went directly to Native Intelligence, a beautiful shop that, happily, is around the corner from my office. Walking in the door is as calming as a short vacation. You find yourself naturally slowing down among the hula implements, clothing, handcrafted wood boxes and albums, photographs, fantastic selection of books, fresh lei...and owner Kapono'ai. Always smiling, filled with aloha, he somehow focuses in like a laser on a subject that will interest each individual customer. I'm sure he'd object to the term "customer." "Guest" is probably better and after a while, 'ohana (family). So, of course, I found the perfect gift. And I left with a gift of my own as did everyone else in the store. Hawai'i oranges which Kapono'ai recommended be combined with iced tea. "'Ono (delicious)" he said. Native Intellingence is 'ono, too.

Old Friends

I was so happy and pleasantly surprised when my friend Connie Sutherland asked me to join her, her daughter Leslie and son-in-law Nelson for her birthday dinner last Friday night. She turned 72 - hard to believe when you see her and experience her energy.

Connie was, literally, the first person I met when I moved to Maui more than 27 years ago. I think she's probably getting tired of being introduced that way! She and her husband Chuck - a lovely man and wonderful artist who, sadly, died a number of years ago - owned and operated The Whaler, Ltd. a shop on Front St. specializing in all things nautical - no touristy kitsch here, beautiful and well-crafted work. For whatever reason, we took to each other right away. As the years went by - and I moved from the west side to the south side to upcountry hither and yon trying to find my place in this place - we simply didn't see each other as often as we did in the early days.

A few years ago, we got back into close touch - I can't even remember how that happened - and we now get together often. If more than a couple of weeks pass, we at least talk on the phone. Connie has had more than her share of tragedy over these last few years. But I've yet to see her without a smile on her face, moving forward.

When we picked up Leslie and Nelson last Friday night on our way to Sansei Kapalua, Leslie said she thought the last time she and I had seen each other was more than TWENTY years NEW YORK. I hoped she was wrong then and I still hope she's wrong now. I'm still wracking my brain trying to figure out how that could be possible. I reminded Nelson he sold me my first "Maui cruiser" - a white Datsun (not Nissan) station wagon that hauled tons and tons and tons of food when I had my catering company back in the mid-80s. Reminiscing often does and should lead to laughter.

We had a great dinner and then moved on to Roy's Kahana. Connie's gorgeous 24-year-old grandson Russell (if you think I'm kidding, see his photo above - he's on the far right) works there and was waiting with fabulous chocolate cocktails - that he had invented himself for the occasion - and pretty much every dessert in the place. I'm not sure I had ever even met him before. Maybe when he was a toddler.

The moral of the story is embrace old friends. And family. Make the time. What could be more important than the important people in your life?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aloha to Tom

On Saturday, a group of family and friends said "Aloha 'oe" to Tom Olds who died late last month at the age of 55. Far, far, far too young. He was very sick so there was a lot of "he's at peace now," "he's out of pain now," and all the other appropriate cliches. Cliches become such because they are true and every one of them was certainly true in this case. However, what is also true is that he isn't here anymore. For his friends, that will become easier to deal with over time; for his mother Beverly, his sister Cate, his wife Linda - with whom I have been friends for more than two decades - it will take much, much, much longer for it to become easier. But it will...

Having said that, Tom was a fantastic, quirky, eccentric artist and his work remains, not the least of which is the house he built with his own hands and all the fantastic, quirky, eccentric things in, on, and around it. At the gathering there after his memorial, some of his and Linda's friends - including me - got to meet other friends from other "circles of friends" who had never met or at least never spent any real time together or hadn't lately. That, I think, is what the cliche about the something good coming out of someone's death might have been about in this particular case. Everyone ate and drank and talked and laughed and reminisced and was grateful for the simple things, which when you take a good hard look, are the important things.

The movie

Yes, "Julie & Julia" is as wonderful as all the pre-opening publicity promised. I'm sure all my "foodie" (I HATE that word) friends have already seen it. If you haven't seen it - and even if you're not food-obsessed - you should. It's a joy, perfect summer entertainment. Plan to have a meal afterwards; you will definitely be hungry. I live in a place without the wisp of a hope of finding Boeuf a La Bourguignon, which is what you will be hungry Roy's Szechuan Ribs - and lots more of his good food - proved an excellent substitute.

Not to brag - okay, to brag a tiny bit - I did receive a note from Julia Child 15 years ago. I had invited her to "A Taste of Lahaina" back in the day that I was the event publicist. What a thrill to get this in the mail! It's framed now and defininitely a prized possession.

So, anyway I did pull out my old, battered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I got home Friday night. It's an original 1961 edition and look what I found stuck in the front cover!

I did partake many years ago - I'm not a aficionado so I don't remember anything other than that it was very, very good. I do remember it was served by an old friend who'd been holding on to it for years and thought that a very casual gathering of friends over bowls of humble spaghetti and meatballs was occasion enough to open it.

Okay, so back to the book. I've been re-reading it and may attempt Julia's Tarte Tatin.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Joyful Noise

Punana Leo o Maui - our Hawaiian language immersion preschool - is back in session. And that means back to school for me, too. For a couple of hours a week, I help out by taking a bit of pressure off the dedicated kumu (teachers) who, like teachers everywhere are overworked and underpaid. With 30 pre-schoolers, there's always something for a willing volunteer to do. Mostly I help get the schoolroom set up for lunch, help serve, and clean up the kitchen afterwards. Some days there's time to interact with the keiki (children) during a ha'awina (lesson) or a hana no'eau (arts & craft) project. Since all communication is in Hawaiian and my Hawaiian language skills are at roughly the same level as these three, four, and five-year-olds, works out just fine. My own skills do actually improve over the school year - if only slightly - since I have to talk to teachers and staff, too. It is thrilling to to watch as these babies absorb Hawaiian language - and Hawaiian ways - like little sponges. It is the way that this culture is perpetuated. And the biggest reward is doing something - a very small something though it may be - for my community. We are all busy, too busy. We are all dealing with our own personal, daily crises - economic and otherwise. And there is always someone or someones or something with greater needs than our own. There's a preschool - or a health clinic or a group home or a hospice or a food bank or a something - in your neighborhood that needs you. Please go find it and spend even ONE hour a week helping out. Yes you can.

Sign of the Times

To be honest, I thought more Maui restaurants would have succumbed to the recession than actually have. Good news for us. But one that I thought could surely weather the storm is closing at the end of the month - Roy's Kihei. It's a South Shore favorite of mine - such a pleasant and delicious restaurant and an especially fine place to sit at the bar, munch on pupu, and savor a couple of glasses of wine. So, in what we think is an especially appropriate way to bid the place "aloha 'oe," after "Julie & Julia" tomorrow friend Charlene and I will wend our way to Kihei, grab a couple of stools at the bar, and bid a fond farewell to one of Maui's best restaurants. Sigh...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Happy Medium

One drawback of living on an island in the middle of the Pacific - especially if you're really a city girl - is having to wait for movies to "open wide" and sometimes even longer than that. My friend Charlene and I are positively giddy with anticipation about "Julie & Julia" which plenty of my friends have seen in previews. We have planned our whole week around playing hooky from work Friday afternoon and going to the first show. I don't know WHAT we'll do if it doesn't open this week.

There has been an extraordinary amount of publicity for this movie - food columnists in every city and town have written about it, there have been numerous interviews with everyone involved from Meryl Streep to Nora Ephron to the food stylist, restaurants are already offering "Julie & Julia" menus.

There is one article that uses the movie - really uses Julia Child's incredible influence on home cooks of her era - as its jumping off point and I suspect it might be the one Mrs. Child herself would have enjoyed most. It's by Michael Pollan - he of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," etc. - and it was the cover story in last Sunday's New York Times magazine - If you haven't read it, I recommend it.

It made me think about happy mediums. Few people I know have the time, the desire, maybe even the skills to cook the way Mrs. Child did. But I bet everyone who loves to prepare and eat good food could probably cook more than he or she does now.

And here's one way to start that has really helped me. Read Mark Bittman's articles and blog posts. I adore his work! His blog is called Bitten - and he regularly writes articles for the Times' Dining & Wine section. Check the archives for his 101 lists. If you love food, you will love his suggestions...and you WILL cook.