Kyle, Michelle, Jason & Alex Treat us for Dinner at the Award Winning Monkey Pod Kitchen

The Monkey Pod tree was the inspiration for Chef Peter Merriman’s Monkey-Pod Kitchen restaurant in Wailea and more recently at its new location at the newly renovated Whaler’s Village on Kaanapali Beach. 

Cecile and I, Michelle and Kyle and Jason and Alex had Margherita pizza, oven charred Brussel Sprouts with peppers and onions, Freshly caught Fish Tacos, Fresh Mahi-Mahi Fish and Chips, Avocado Cucumber salad, Fresh Organic Herbs Kale Salad and Fresh Gnocchi with Sausage made with fresh ricotta and vine-ripened tomatoes. 

The Monkey-pod tree known as a “Rain-tree” around the globe is a species of a flowering tree from the pea family and was said to have been naturalized in Hawaii where it was grown from a seed in 1847. It has also been reported to have been planted on the Big Island by Mark Twain in 1866. The Monkey tree which is cherished by Hawaiians has a single stalk with branches the spread into a huge canopy. Unlike other trees that kill the grass beneath it, the grass is always greener under the monkey-pod tree because it releases nitrogen which fertilizers the soil beneath it.

The Monkey Tree historically got its name from some countries where monkeys are found of the licorice tasting pods and sit in the trees eating them. Modern research has shown the Monkey Pod tree has antibacterial and anti fungal qualities. In the West Indies the leaves are chewed to relieve toothaches and in the Philippines the leaves are used in an infusion for constipation and stomach aches. During the holidays 8 miles of lights are strung on the Monkey pods at the Grand Wailea Resort. 

Unlike the old Rusty Harpoon, Cane and Taro, Maui Fish & Pasta that have failed at this location, it looks like Monkey Pod Kitchen “where the grass is always greener”is here to stay, and we’ll be back.

To cap off the evening we enjoyed dessert at the new Ono Gelato, next door to the restaurant. The flavors were amazing and the portions were generous and satisfied our sweet tooth.

Dining Al-Fresco with the Kids at Relish Oceanside Restaurant in Maui

"Good food in a magical setting is all the more sweeter when shared with family and friends."

Kyle and Michelle, and Jason and Alex recently arrived on Maui. Cecile and I invited them to be our guests for dinner at Relish Oceanside at the Westin.
Set amidst tropical greenery back lit by flickering tiki torches and serenaded by cascading waterfalls, the sophisticated yet casual setting couldn’t have been more intimate. It was the perfect place to unwind and relax with one of the best island tropical inspired Mai Tai’s on Kaanapali Beach.

For appetizers, we shared tapas style Ahi Poke tostadas, Taro Focaccia with Kimchee butter and shallot and garlic oil, Miso Yakitori chicken skewers, Toybox Tomato and Burrata with upcountry baby greens, Chaioga Beets and Fantasia goat cheese.
For the dinner we had Lobster Mac & Cheese, Blue Crab and Macadamian nut Mahi-Mahi, Hawaii Rib Eye Fillet, Crispy Japanese style Hibachi Salmon and Hawaiian Style BBQ Ribs.

The word Relish is defined by taking pleasure in, rejoicing, and to appreciate and savor, and the general consensus at our table is that the Relish Oceanside Restaurant lived up to its name.

 

Overwhelmed by the Enchantment of Kaanapali Beach in Maui

“Hawaii is paradise. It sounds cheesy to say it, but there is music in the air there.”—Bruno Mars

Cecile and I have been coming to Maui since the late 70s. The magic of this enchanted island has never wavered for us. After almost a week in Wailea, we are now at our home resort at the Maui Marriott Ocean Club, Lahaina Tower.

The Lei garland that welcomes one to the islands are so deeply cherished that each year there is a “Lei Day Holiday,” to celebrate the Aloha spirit which we embrace.

The radiant beauty of sunrise, sunsets, rainbows and misty rainfalls are some of the best in the world. We love the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) sway of the majestic palm trees and lapis colored ocean that appears outside our 5th floor window and lanai. We are captivated by the esthetic beauty of the orchids, and ever-present hibiscus flowers including the yellow hibiscus, Hawaii’s State flower that represents beauty, unity and peace.

The fresh heavenly fragrance of plumeria, tuberose, and gardenia and the sound of cascading waterfalls and the crashing of waves from the Pacific Ocean fills the air. The colorful large koi in the waterlily filled lagoons and ponds at the Westin converge together just beneath the surface, especially during feeding times.

The elegant white swans float along the water with such grace and beauty, and at times enjoying the spray from the waterfall to cool themselves off on a hot day. They are connected to the sun and symbolize light and all that is good. In some cultures they represent the connection between the material and spiritual world, able to reside in both due to their connection to air and water.

I never tire of visiting the museum quality statutes of neighboring hotels on both sides of the island represent Hawaiian cultures and Southeast Asia.
We find the flickering tiki torches lighting up the paths and entrances of the local restaurants with sounds of the ukulele’s lolling strings peaceful and relaxing. The Zen-like awareness of the here and now overcomes us like no other convergence of sounds and sights around the world. It is the Maui we have come know and love.

Photo of the Bronze Hawaiian dancers and mermaid statues were taken in Wailea

My Coincidental Encounter with Jack Kornfield, one of the most Influential Mindfulness Meditation Teachers of our Time

“When you live your life with an appreciation of coincidences you connect with the underlying field of infinite possibilities.”
—Deepak Chopra

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted Jack Kornfield near the pool at the Wailea Beach Resort. I had recently purchased a copy of his latest book: “No Time Like the Present, Finding Freedom and Joy Right Where You Are."
I first met Jack in the dining room of the Sedona Hotel in Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar) in 2009. I was planning to participate in a three week meditation retreat at a monastery overlooking the great Irrawaddy River that welcomed westerners (Photos). 

I was having breakfast with Crystal who was also attending the retreat. We had met at the airport for the first time and I arranged for my friend Maybelle, a native of Myanmar to offer her a ride with us to the Hotel, where some attendees like myself were staying prior to the retreat. It was Crystal’s first time in Burma and my 4th. I looked up from our table, and caught a glimpse of a familiar face walking towards us. I realized it was Jack Kornfield. I have to admit I was a bit star struck. Anyone familiar with the practice of mindfulness meditation called Vipassana has heard the name. For those who haven’t, he is a former Peace Corp. volunteer who later trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India. He is an author, activist, psychologist and a cofounder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in West Marin County. Spirit Rock is a 411 acre secluded retreat center that provides a supportive environment to quiet the mind, soften the heart and see life in a more skillful and peaceful way. 

I got up, walked toward the former monk as if I was meeting a longtime friend and said: “Jack?” I introduced myself, and told him I was attending the meditation retreat. He had invited a group of generous donors from the United States including some of his students, to visit local monasteries, Pagodas, schools, hospitals, to serve those in need through their financial contributions, in a country of limited resources that given him so much in his early years.

I asked him if we could take a photo together and he said, “Sure!” I asked Crystal if she would take the photo. What impressed me was when the soft spoken teacher and scholar said, “Why don’t we have someone take the photo so Crystal can join us.” It was a skillful, kind, and inclusive gesture. 

Here we were, many years later, at the Wailea Beach Resort and I found myself being part of a repeat performance—a synchronicity in the making. Jack was seated at a table near the pool reading his emails. I approached him as he was getting up and once again said: “Jack?” He looked at me inquisitively as I introduced myself. I reminded him when we first met in Burma eight years ago and we took a photo together with Crystal. I introduced him to my wife Cecile who was laying on a lounge chair overlooking the pool. “Cecile, this is Jack Kornfield,” I said with a hint of excitement. I was going to have her take a photo of Jack and I when in true form, he suggested we all take a “selfie” together. As the great Yogi Berra once said: “It was like De Ja Vu all over again.” 

Postscript: Kornfield was one of the presenters at the 10th Anniversary “Open Your Heart in Paradise,” with friends of spiritual teacher Ram Das at the Napili Kai Beach Resort on the other side of Maui. He was spending a couple of days at the Wailea Beach Resort with his wife before heading back to California when we reconnected.

Photo of the Pagoda of my and abbot, the late Sayadaw Lakkhana as seen in the meditation hall and from my hut at sunrise during the retreat in 2009.

Photo of my friend Maybelle and Crystal having lunch prior to the retreat.

https://jackkornfield.com/

A Sunset Ceremony from our Lanai in Wailea: A Way to Reflect Upon the Day both Here and at Home

“Sunsets are proof that not matter what happens, every day can end beautifully”
—Kristen Butler

From the comfort of our lanai, Cecile and I viewed another sunset last evening. Others were gathering from their lanai’s as well as at the water's edge to view this wonderful phenomenon most of us don’t often think about in out every day lives. It was like a living watercolor painting that gradually changed its shape and form as the sun approached the ocean, kissing it good night. All too often we only stop to appreciate the beauty and majesty of a sunset when we are on vacation, but the sun sets every day. I decided some time ago to make it part of my practice to enjoy a sunset on a regular basis. I am happy to report it has resulted in my feeling a deeper sense of gratitude for life.

In the Hawaiian tradition, the Sunset Ceremony begins with the sounding of the conch shell to gather up all the mana (energy) from the four corners, from one’s ancestors and from one’s self. It is a time to reflect upon your day and say Mahalo (thank you) for another day in a life. The beat of the pahu (the sacred drum) symbolizes the heartbeat of the day’s light and the chant puts the day to rest.

As the sun gradually disappears from view, one lets go of all preoccupations, worries and concerns of the day, so you can create space to greet a new day in the making. The thought of letting go of the day as the sun sinks below the horizon invokes a sense of peace, compassion and relaxation. Making the intention to punctuate our day with a moment of reflection whereby we let go of any regrets, disappointments and or shortcomings each evening allows us to begin the next day with a fresh slate.

 

Letting Another Day Unfold at the Wailea Beach Resort as Gale Force Winds Hit the island

“If the ocean can calm itself, so can you. We are both salt water mixed with air.”
—nayyirah waheed

After an early breakfast of pancakes and white egg omelette, Cecile and I took a gentle Ocean Flow Yoga class on the lawn overlooking the beautiful and vast Pacific Ocean. 21 people were in attendance. I also did some solitary high lunge side twists and Warrior III poses after class. The palm trees swayed overhead and the tropical breeze filled our lungs as we inhaled deep and exhaled long into each pose. Yoga trains the mind to be calm and still. When the mind is tame, you can see things more clearly. Like anything else worth doing, it requires practice. Doing yoga outdoors intensifies the experience and increases one’s awareness. It cultivates a connection with nature and the environment and to each other. It makes you feel alert and more energetic and sets the mood and tone for the entire day. 

We took our walk, spent time at the pool when gale force winds gradually overtook this side of the island. Speaking of gale force winds, I’m seated on top a large boulder in front of a palm tree in a cross-legged position. During the raging storm of Hurricane Iwa in 1982, it was thrust onto to this very spot by a mighty wave. Fortunately, Maui sustained minor damages compared to other islands. The rest of the photos were taken on the fly throughout the day and evening. By the time we had dinner and browsed the Wailea Shops within walking distance of our resort the gale force winds that had hit a high of 50 MPH had calmed.

 

Enjoying our First Day at the Transformed Wailea Beach Resort on Maui After its $100 Million Transformation

"While you can't buy happiness, you can buy a ticket to Maui, and that's pretty much the same thing," read the T-Shirt of a visiting tourist."

When the Uber driver arrived at 6:15 AM to take Cecile and I to SF Airport for our annual vacation on Maui, the remnants of the Super Moon or Cold Moon from the day before were still in play. 8 hours later we were in paradise where the Pacific greets its guests with its seductive charm the moment you arrive. We checked in to the the Wailea Beach Resort, the area’s first resort, and now its newest We enjoyed island fresh fish tacos and Kula Farm salad at Kapa’s overloking one of several pools and the ocean, and settled in. From our lanai we caught our first magical sunset of our stay while the Luau next door was just getting started. 
We are looking forward to eating at Humble Market Kitchin (no typo) in the coming days. It was recently opened by celebrated chef Roy Yamaguchi that offers inside and outside dining. Over the years we have eaten at some of his restaurants and he never disappoints.
As we toured the property earlier we chuckled at seeing the new “Mo Bettah" food truck service serving up local favorites. There are new pools that have ocean-front cabanas. There is also the Maluhia Serentity Pool for adults only, with an infinity pool and multi-level pool decks. So nice to be back. The Marriott Vacation Club organization has come a long way from its humble beginnings and we have enjoyed the ride.

 

Surprise Birthday Brunch for Michelle at Don Pistos in the Heart of San Francisco

“Life goes by in the blink of an eye, so be sure to be grateful for the moments of celebration with family and friends that help make your life complete.” 

Kyle arranged for a delightful birthday Brunch in honor of our daughter Michelle at Don Pistos on Union and Grant in the North Beach area of the city. Guests included Kyle’s mom, Kim and Al, Cecile and myself, and good friends Kacy and Noel, Julia and Asher, Nicole and Pat and their precious baby Braden. You would never know from the outside that Don Pistos ranks #226 out of 5,825 restaurants in SF. First off, it has no outdoor sign making it one of the best undercover Mexican style food experience in the city. 

The dishes were served tapas style. The ingredients in the food servings were fresh and expertly prepared. The guacomole was served in a stone bowl and the tortilla chips with tangy tomatillo salsa were amazingly tasty and light. We had platters of fish tacos that included fresh flounder, arbol and avocado salsa and onion slaw, Cerviche Camarones (Sautéed shrimp, garlic and red onion), Huevos Rancheros, Salmon Ceviche (for me since I’m allergic to shellfish). The flour tortillas were hand made. The bottomless Margaritas and Sangria kept flowing until we told the waiter: “no mas!” The service in the charming brick covered wall dining room was friendly, efficient and memorable. If your looking for a quiet intimate place to eat, this fun, bustling place is not for you. But for a group party it was ideal. For dessert, Kyle brought homemade cannolis recommended by a good friend. Afterwards, Michelle blew out her birthday candle and opened her presents. 

After brunch, we headed to the cosmopolitan Buena Vista at Beach and Hyde overlooking the Bay and trolley car turnaround for their world famous Irish Coffee. We were lucky to find a table. It was massively busy and a fabulous place for people watching. The recipe was concocted in the early 1950s by then owner Jack Koeppler, and international travel writer Stanton Delaplane and modeled after the “Irish Coffee” served at Shannon Airport in Ireland using perfect tasting Irish Whiskey. 

In a quiet moment of reflection in the midst of the buzz of conversation emanating from the crowd I felt a special moment of gratitude that Michelle and Kyle moved back to California from NYC two years ago and are living happily ever after in San Mateo to the sheer delight of their family and friends. Happy 31st Birthday, Michelle we love you, and "you too" Kyle.❤️

 

Dining with Friends at The Blue Door Restaurant: Greek Inspired Touch on American Classics Cuisine

“We believe that all of one’s senses must feel the soul of the restaurant in order to capture its essence.”—Pete and Sylvia Foundas

When the Blue Door replaced the Chevy’s at Westgate Center in San Jose in the winter of 2016, I thought it was just another sports bar and never gave it a chance. “What’s with the blue” I thought? Hooking up with our neighbors and friends, Susan and Nelson Bye, I was about to find out. But first things first—the incredible food.

The four of us ordered the following from an extensive array of menu offerings:
Mediterranean Platter: hummus, eggplant, tzatziki and grilled Chicken Kebab; Curry Chicken Mac: with roasted chicken, sweet peppers, carrots, green onions, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and Thai basil; Pastichio: Greek Lasagna layered with seasoned beef, béchamel and elbow pasta and Lamb Sliders: with feta cheese, garlic-oregano aioli, pickled cucumbers and red onion. For dessert we shared a Berry Crisp with vanilla ice cream and Pistachio Creme Brulee that was recommended by our waiter Pedro. The food did not disappoint, the service was excellent and the ambiance was beyond what I expected. Yes, there is a sports bar in a separate section that offers early bird specials at great savings. They also serve breakfast and lunch.

In designing the 7500 square foot Blue Door, Pete and Sylvia Foundas, first-generation Greek Americans had a goal in mind: To create a comfortable, hospitable and joyful environment inspired by Costa Navarino, one of their favorite resorts in southern Greece.

As far as the significance of Blue” in the name "Blue Door," it is part of Greek folklore dating back over 5000 years. Greece is surrounded by a sea of blue and is also represented in it’s flag. In Greek mythology, blue is the color that wards off the “Nazar” or the “Evil Eye,” from someone who secretely wishes you ill-will due to jealously or envy. Its also been said that Greek wives would paint their front doors blue when their fishermen-husbands went off to sea, believing it would protect them from harm. People would also carry, wear, or pin a glass blue eyed charm on a baby’s clothing to keep them safe. I totally identified with this custom, since my grandfather was fisherman in Sicily, and the Evil Eye there is called (Malocchio). It was common for many Italians to wear a gold or silver colored horn on a necklace resembling a chili pepper to protect them from the evil spirits. In my younger years I used to wear one on Italian 18 karat chain. See photo with the evil eye painting between the nutcracker soldiers!

Photo Credit of Blue door in Greece: Stevetopper.com

Photographing Line-Shaped Aircraft Vapor Clouds & Remembering The Skywriting Event of all Time

"Yoko Ono's loving birthday message to John Lennon and son Sean in 1980 gained worldwide media attention."

While driving to the Bay Club Courtside for a steam sauna, I noticed the sun beaming and two long, thick streaks of smoke trailing across a blue sky. After the storm clouds and rain we had over the last few days, it was a welcome sight. I decided to stop my car to take these photos. 

As a kid growing up in Hoboken, NJ, I remember laying on the lawn of Stevens Institute of Technology looking at airplanes leaving a white streak above the NYC skyline. It was both joyful and mesmerizing. After a period of time it began to fade and disappear into thin air. I always wondered WOW! How do they do that? The answer to this question went unanswered for many years.

I was further mesmerized in 1980 when Yoko Ono hired skywriter pilot Wayne Mansfield to write a surprise birthday message in the sky over the Dakota at Central Park West in celebration of John Lennon's 40th and son Sean's 5th birthday that read "Happy Birthday John and Sean—Love Yoko." The pilot used a computerized technique called sky-typing that emits a series of dot-like bursts. Again, I wondered how do they do that?

One day, I spoke to a retired airline pilot about this phenomenon. He called these white streaks “artificial clouds" or “contrails” which is short for “condensation trail.” Commercial airplane engines produce an exhaust just like automobile engines. The hot exhaust gases escape into the atmosphere and the water vapor in the fumes hits the cold air causing it to condense. During this process the vapor gases turns into tiny water droplets or crystals before evaporating and creating the cloud-like white streaks we see in the sky. Think of the misty cloud your hot breath forms on a cold winter day!

However, this is different from the trail of smoke created by skywriters who use smaller aircraft at lower altitudes that are equipped with a special smoke machine and fly in a special pattern to create readable written messages—that can be seen from the ground. It is used in advertising, marriage proposals, celebrations like John Lennon’s Birthday mentioned above, and in one case, insulting the then candidate, Donald Trump with a series of messages including “Anybody but Trump” during the 2015 Rose Bowl Parade. Skywriting dates back to the early 1900s. Lincoln Beachey, a pioneer American aviator and barnstormer, who was referred by his peers as “The Man Who Owns the Sky” and “The Master Birdman” was also a skywriter who ended his stunts by writing “Good Night,” until his death in 1915.

The technique of using skywriting for advertising was pioneered by an English aviator named J.C. Savage in 1922. Engine heat is used to turn specially treated paraffin oil into white smoke that is discharged under pressure at heights between 10,000 to 17,000 feet. However, commercial skywriting in the United States wasn’t developed until the early 1930s by Sid Pike, President of the Skywriting Corporation of America. Pepsi-Cola was one of their major clients. These days skywriting has become more sophisticated. Satellite navigation is utilized to program more accurate messages before a flight. 

Postscript: "They say it's your birthday, we're gonna have a good time..." Written my McCartney and Lennon who would have been 77 last month.

Image credits: 
https:www.wondropolis.org
https:www.theskywriters.com
https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/skywriting.html
http://beatlephotoblog.com/happy-birthday-john

The French Connection: Martinis Rouge, Hors d'oeuvres with Friends, & How we Created our own Destiny

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

The invitation: “Would you like some fresh oranges and lemons," our host, neighbor and friend, Gretchen Sand-Preville asked? "Stop by with Cecile and Bruce could slice an orange and make us a few Martinis Rouge…just like at Deux Magots,” she added. As a representative of Rinconada Hills, Gretchen gave us a welcome package when we first moved into this gated community over two years ago. She and her husband Bruce live at the other end of the cul-de-sac from us. 

Les Deux Magots (i.e.“two Chinese figurines”) is a famous cafe’ in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of Paris. Cecile and I had been there several times while staying at the Hotel Lutetia back in 2006. Back in the day it was an old hangout of artists and writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, James Joyce, Ernest Hemmingway, and Pablo Picasso. Gretchen and Bruce sat at the Les Deux Magots and enjoyed martinis during a month long trip to Spain and France. They wanted to relive that experience with us and we were more than willing.

At 5 PM we walked down to Gretchen and Bruce’s cozy home with the colorful bougainvillea out front. Bruce made us Martinis Rouge. I remember the taste. Growing up my parents used to serve guests Martini and Rossi vermouth (Martinis Rouge) on ice followed by a cup of espresso. The Preville's also offered Pellegrino and had a coffee table set up of Hors d’oeuveres, including sugar peas, white fish dip with capers and crackers, assorted nuts, and chocolate covered almonds.

The invitation came after Gretchen read a recent story I posted on my blog site: enjoyyourlifenow.net that triggered a childhood memory that had changed the course of her life. While at her computer, she could see their naval orange tree out her window, a reminder of her Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill’s visit from California to her home town of Flint, Michigan when she was a young girl. They showed her a photograph taken front of an orange tree in their back yard in Campbell, CA. At that moment she decided that she would live in California some day, and in 1973, with a “well used Schwinn 3 speed, a thousand bucks and two suitcases,” she made the courageous decision to move out west. Since then she has planted several oranges and lemons trees to “keep the joy and discovery of that moment” when she created her own destiny.

I forgot to tell Gretchen and Bruce, that I too have a connection to orange and lemon trees. During an exploratory trip to San Jose in 1975 we discovered an old ranch house on a corner lot. The side yard contained orange, lemon and grapefruit trees. It reminded me of the stories about my late mom, Maria who grew up in Sicily and used to get up at 3 AM each day to make her way to the orchards with my grandparents to pick oranges and lemons so that they could put food on their table. This is where Cecile and I decided to live and set up my practice specializing in podiatric medicine and foot surgery which would late become the Park Avenue Foot Clinic. The citrus fruits would always be a reminder of my humble roots.

Inevitably, if you share your personal history long enough with people, you will always find some things you have in common. Bruce and I discovered we both took the EST [Latin for “it is,”] a six day training course founded by Werner Erhard in 1971, that offered entrants in the human potential movement a path to personal transformation. We also were Guest Seminar Leaders for EST. Two hours whizzed by, and in that time we discovered many other lines of connection between us including gratitude for what we have and living in a community of nature, a lake, waterfalls, cascading ponds, wildlife of all kinds and walking trails. Thanks to our hosts for the bag of lemons and orange and a little touch of Paris!

Photo credit for Les Deux Magots: Wikipedia

A Feast of Plenty at Kim and Al Chien's Home for a Warm and Rich Day of Thanksgiving

“With appreciation and gratitude, we open our heart and let the blessings in life touch us.”—James Baraz

Aside from the calming presence of the meditative water fountain to the left of the entrance, the first thing that caught my eye when my wife Cecile, our son Jason and I enter Kim and Al’s beautiful home for a day of Thanksgiving, was the elegant main dining table lined with beautiful white flowers and an array of different sized candles and ornate place holders with our names on them. There was also an impressive holiday spread of side dishes, appetizers and a sumptuous table of wonderful desserts, luminous flower vases, fall decorations, including glass blown pumpkins, and other accent pieces. It has Kim’s signature touches written all over them that says: “Welcome, we love you and we are happy you are all are here.”
We started with drinks, clam dip and chips and Michelle’s bean dip and pomegranate on crackers. We leisurely mingled with each other while the Turkey was being basted and the marshmallow with sweet potatoes were being baked.
Kyle and Michelle, Al’s parents Dana and Jack, his brother Rich, wife Lisa, their adorable girls Alivia and Simone, Lisa’s dad Percy in from Pembroke Massachusetts, a solid guy who I have gotten to know from the last two Thanksgiving celebrations, Kyle’s charming brother Chip in from NYC, and our son Jason. Alex had family plans but was able to join us for a drink. BTW, check out Chip laying flat to the floor with first Simone then little Alivia standing on his back giving him a massage. I guess stirring the gravy really tuckered the poor guy out🙂.

Before we were called to the dinner table I was honored to be asked to deliver the blessing before our meal.
I opened with a poem by the late Ralph Waldo Emerson whose focus was about being grateful for what we have:

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love [family] and friends,
For everything...goodness [brings].”

I finished with an offering of my own:

As we eat this food, let us be grateful to those unseen and unknown who planted the crops, cultivated the fields, and reaped the harvest; For the plants and animals who have given themselves so that we may enjoy this meal together; to those who brought a dish to share, and to Kim and Al who prepared the main meal, and provided the warm hospitality and comfort of their beautiful home. Cecile and I are so happy to call them our friends.❤️🙏

To all our family and friends during this holiday season and beyond:

May you be happy
May you be peaceful
May you be safe
May you be free

 

 

Reuniting with a Childhood Friend in Hoboken NJ after 50 Years

“There are things about your childhood you hold onto because they were so much a part of you. The places you went, the people you knew.”
—The Wonder Years

Jerry Gustoso, Sr, and I go back some 50 plus years. We knew each other since we were teenagers, but hung out in different neighborhoods. His family used to operate Gustoso's Bakery on 4th and Adam Street. My parents bought Italian bread there. As a tribute to the family that served the city of Hoboken for 75 years, the area was designated “Gustoso’s Bread Way.”

Jerry and I grew up at a time when Hoboken was a very tough town. There were a plenty of bars, liquor stores, pizza joints, pool halls and bookies making the rounds and taking bets. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, we could have never imagined the beautiful waterfront development of condos, apartments, and Frank Sinatra Park that replaced the abandoned warehouses and shipyards. Oh, we always had the stellar view of NY City, but the waterfront itself was grimey, damp, smelly and dangerous—especially after midnight. 

Over the last year or two, Jerry and I reconnected on Facebook. When he saw I was in town visiting my 100 year old dad he wrote, “it would be great to see you before you leave.” I suggested coffee one morning and we settled for 11 AM at the First Street Barber Shop where he works part time. “I have to open up the shop and we could go to the coffee shop next door and talk,” he said.

I loved the funky ambience of the barber shop that had three classic barber chairs. Jerry invited me to sit in one of the unused chairs. There were two clients waiting and another walk-in. Before I knew it Jerry began talking to his customers, and I gradually became part of the conversation. We shared stories of Hoboken to his younger patrons. It was fun. I also enjoyed watching Jerry doing his thing—cutting hair. He was clipping away as if his hands were scissors like the 1990 film "Edward Scissor-hands," starring Johnny Depp. In between conversations, I admired some of the decorations that Nancy G., the owner of the shop had on display: An old shipping trunk, facing the bay window, a black old-fashioned rotary phone, photos of the late Joan Rivers, David Bowie, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, a nude Marilyn Monroe, a 24K gold plated limited edition record of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” and a framed NY Daily News cover with the headline JFK Assassinated.

Jerry came out of retirement a few years back to keep busy. Staying at home getting bored wasn’t for him. After he was done with his customers, we went to the coffee shop next door. He treated me to a chai latte while he had his coffee fix. We continued our conversation about the old days. I always liked Jerry. He was always respectful of my parents. For years, he used to see my dad sitting on the front stoop of his five flat greeting and being greeted by passersby. Jerry was a handsome young man who had a reputation for being one of the best dressers in town. 

We both had a rebellious streak and flirted with high risk behavior. Fortunately, we lived to tell about. That’s the way it was for many of us kids who hung out on the street corners—especially in the 60s. I asked Jerry how he got into cutting hair. “I cut my older brother’s hair once. My father asked him where did you get your haircut?” His brother said, “Jerry cut it!" His dad was surprised but asked Jerry, “How about giving me a trim?” Afterwards he asked, “You like doing this?” Jerry said, “yes.” Impressed with the spark of passion he saw, his dad encouraged him to go to school to train as a stylist and the rest is history. Jerry went on to work at the legendary hair salon of Paul McGregor’s and other salons honing his skills, while I pursued a career as a podiatrist in California. Here we were coming full circle—like two kids hanging out again—hopefully a little smarter and a little wiser.

Dinner at Ubu Japanese Korean Restaurant: A Diamond in the Rough

“Forget sushi, forget sashimi, forget tempura or yakitori. I prefer ramen.” —Anthony Bourdain

I have had some of the best sushi both here and in Japan but like Anthony Bourdain of CNN’s parts unknown, my favorite Japanese food is Ramen Noodles.

It was cold blustery evening and I was in the mood for ramen noodle soup. Fortunately, we found the perfect place near our hotel off the beaten path on Hudson Street in Hoboken, NJ. The quiet, cozy, L-shaped restaurant wasn’t very busy. There was one other couple. We were greeted by a smiling Korean man, we presumed to be the owner. He handed us a menu. There was a sushi chef behind the counter. Had we known it was BYOB we would may have brought some wine.

I ordered Ubu Chicken Ramen and was hoping for the best. Cecile ordered a rice bowl with fresh slices of avocado and seasonal herbs. We also decided to share an order of edamame. I was brought a starter salad and a side of rice and Cecile was served a small cup of miso soup that came with our entree. We were also given a complimentary dish of tofu and rice roll which and a big cup of traditional Japanese Tea.

When our main dish arrived, I secured a pair of chopsticks and began slurping away which is the common way to eat ramen noodles which is the most popular fast food item in Japan. In order to eat ramen without burning yourself, slurping simultaneously cools the noodles while driving them down your throat. My bowl also contained tender chicken and a partially submerged boiled egg that was cut in half. The broth was a thick milky miso based chicken broth stock. The food was fresh, tasty, fragrant and the service understatedly phenomenal. Two more couples walked in for dinner, but for the most part Cecile and I felt like we had the restaurant all to ourselves.

When I scooped up the last of my broth and drank it, our waiter served us complimentary round puffed pastry balls filled with ice cream.

We felt fully satisfied, happy we had chosen the right place. It was one of the best tasting meals we had during our stay. We paid our reasonably priced bill, and the same Korean man who greeted us with a smile upon our arrival now stood patiently waiting at the door to thank us and bid us a good night. His name was Gang Kim. We told him how wonderful the food was and that we would be back and the next evening we returned for a repeat performance.

The Justice League

Though it was a difficult audition, my wife Cecile and I landed a super hero role in the Justice League, coming to a theater near you—NOT—just having a little fun. Many of us fantasize being super hero. But, sometimes being your own super hero means living with purpose and conviction and helping others. As Mother Theresa once said: Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you," and "Not all of us can do great things. But, we can do small things with great love."

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Visiting Dad at my Childhood Home a Stone's Throw from Church Square Park

Dear Subscribers:

This is part two of a similar post I did of visiting my dad in Hoboken NJ that was posted on Hoboken Facebook Group. Though there is some overlap, I have included some other reflections that came to mind and some new photos. Thanks for indulging me in this matter.

My wife Cecile and I are staying at the W Hotel overlooking Manhattan. I shot these photos of the Empire State Building last evening after dinner and early this morning. We’re here primarily to visit with my dad Frank Augustine and my siblings Michael, Stephen, Josie and other family members and catching up with some childhood friends.

My favorite place of refuge while in town is “Devotion Yoga” on the Hudson, down the street from the hotel. After class I met my sister and my wife at my dad’s apartment at 156 5th Street where I grew up. Unable to move about like he used to, we brought in take out food from “Its Greek to Me.” Dad joined us, and right after lunch a volunteer named Donna came by to administer the Communion wafer, a compassionate service provided by local Catholic Church volunteers for people who are confined to their homes. We are so happy that dad has been able to stay in the apartment where his dedicated caregiver Marcelle has been looking after him. 

Over the years I have told my California friends that Hoboken, founded in 1630 has a colorful history. Back in the day, the Lenni Lenape Native Americans camped out here. They called the land, “Hopoghan Hackingh,” which means “Land of the Tobacco Pipe.” 

The first steam-powered ferryboat began running between Hoboken and Manhattan in 1811.
In 1846, the first baseball game was played featuring the New York Nine versus the Knicker-boxers.

However, I will always remember Hoboken as the place the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra was born in 1915, two years before my dad. It is also the place where the iconic mob crime drama, “On the Waterfront” was filmed in 1954, featuring Marlon Brando, Lee Cobb, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint. 

In later years, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana played at Maxwells Tavern, Justin Timberlake did a commercial there as well, and Eli Manning, the gifted quarterback for the NY Giants lives in a 3000 foot condo in the Hudson Tea Building, a short drive from the Met-life Stadium in East Rutherford where the Giants play their home games.

It's always fun coming home again. This city has taught me a great deal. The street smarts I learned in my youth has served me well and for this I will always be grateful.

As I walked passed the old neon sign of the now defunct Clam Broth House, I recalled that it was here that dad got his first job as a cook. After serving his country in the US Army, he worked 15 years at the Janssan's Dairy and 25 years at Maxwell House Coffee. But, his toughest job to date is living life as a centenarian, which he does with courage and dignity.

Visiting Dad in my hometown of Hoboken, NJ on the Waterfront Overlooking the NYC Skyline

Cecile and I are staying at the W Hotel overlooking Manhattan. I shot these photos of the Empire State Building last evening after dinner and early this morning. We’re here primarily to visit with my dad.

My favorite place of refuge while in town is “Devotion Yoga” on the Hudson, down the street from the hotel. The teacher, Meghan did a free flow gentle yoga class. A new addition to the Devotion yoga staff, she did a great job leading the class.

Afterwards, I met my sister and Cecile at my dad’s house. Unable to move about like he used to, we brought in take out food from “Its Greek to Me.” Dad joined us, and right after lunch a volunteer named Donna came by to administer the Holy Communion wafer, a compassionate service provided by the local Catholic Churches for people who are confined to their homes. We are so happy that dad has been able to stay in the apartment I grew up in, that is housed in a five unit building that he owns where his dedicated caregiver Marcelle has been looking after him.

Hoboken, which was founded in 1630, has a very rich history. The first ever steam-powered ferryboat began running between Hoboken and Manhattan in 1811. “The Miracle Mile,” as it's called has Native American roots. Back in the day, the Lenni Lenape Native Americans camped out here. They called the land, “Hopoghan Hackingh,” which means “Land of the Tobacco Pipe.” In 1846, the first baseball game was played featuring the New York Nine versus the Knicker-boxers. 

However, I will always remember Hoboken as the place the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra was born in 1915, two years before my dad. It is also the place where the iconic mob crime drama, “On the Waterfront” was filmed in 1954, featuring Marlon Brando, Lee Cobb, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint. The movie won an Academy Award.

In later years, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana played at Maxwells Tavern, Justin Timberlake did a commercial there as well, and Eli Manning, the quarterback for the NY Giants lives in a 3000 foot condo in the Hudson Tea Building right on the Hudson River, a short drive from the Met-life Stadium in East Rutherford where the Giants play their home games.

 

Festive Dinner at La Rinconda Hills Country Club with the Chiens

Festive Dinner at La Rinconda Hills Country Club with the Chiens

When Aizen, a fictional Japanese computer animated character was asked how many times a year do you celebrate your birthday, he said: “Ten times. One for each day of the week, and then four times on the exact birthday."
Though Cecile doesn’t resemble the manipulative, animated figure, she has had quite a run on birthday celebrations lately: five dinner parties with friends and family and two birthday luncheons with long time friends. This time dinner in her honor was at La Rinconada Country Club, hosted by our son in law Kyle’s mom, Kim and AL Chien who couldn't make Cecile's original b-day dinner held over a week ago. Friendship is a priceless gift and the fact that it happens to be with a family that our daughter Michelle has married into, makes it extra special. The ease and fun of being together, letting our hair down with people who enjoy celebrating life and family—as much as we do—has been an unexpected blessing.

After cocktails, AL ordered a bottle of Nickel and Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicious full-full body velvety wine. My first name is actually derived from Dionysis, the Greek god of wine and festivity, and I guess you can say that I have been living up to the habits of my namesake—with moderation of course.🙂

For openers, we had minestrone soup, endive salad with candied walnuts and blue cheese, gnocci with mushrooms, and a grilled octopus. My late grandfather who was a fisherman in a small Sicilian village my late mom grew up in, used to catch them as did I during my summer visits there. For our entrees we enjoyed Alaskan Halibut and Salmon, and for dessert, Apple Fritters with ice cream and Butter Pecan with Bourbon as pictured here. 

Cecile is wearing a warm and cuddly white sweater, a gift from Kim and AL which will come in handy for our upcoming trip to New Jersey to visit my dad and the rest of my family. Thank you guys for a wonderful evening, for your generosity, and your friendship.

Proud to Recognize My Dad, Frank Augustine, one of the Oldest Living Veterans in the USA for his Service

.."Whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all...our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country." —Sen. John Kerry

I also want to recognize our fellow citizens who continue to serve our country, and family members like my late uncle Joseph Augustine, my late uncle and godfather, Anthony Augustine and my nephew Andrew Augustine representing the new generation, who has served his country in the US Air Force for 8 years. He will be doing a stint in Portugal soon followed by two years in Japan. 

Three years ago today, my dad Frank Augustine who is nearing 101 years of age was the recipient of two Hudson County Military Service Medals and a Citation Certificate by Hudson County NJ Executive, Thomas A. DeGise, the Office of Veteran Affairs, Anthony Romano and the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Jennifer Gattino, representing the former mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer for his seven years of service in the US Maritime Service, the US Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Walter Reed National Medical Center as head cook and personal aide to his mentor and friend, Army Chaplain, Capt. William Walsh. He is one of the country's oldest living veterans. 

By Proclamation from our President, this year has been designated National Veterans and Military Families Month. For 98 years, Americans have remembered those who served our country in uniform on 11 November – first as Armistice Day, and then, since 1954 as Veterans Day. In this 99th year of commemoration, the Department of Veterans Affairs is broadening that tradition of observance and appreciation to include both Veterans and Military Families for the entire month of November.

A Nightmare Becomes a Blessing in Disguise

I was fortunate enough to have my story: "A Nightmare Becomes A Blessing in Disguise" published on gratefulness.org on November 1, a few days after its 91 year old founder, Br. David Stendl-Rast appeared on Super Soul Sunday on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the scholar, author and Benedictine monk whose body of work has inspired generations at Esalen Institute in Big Sur while on retreat. My favorite quote of Br. David is: "Joy is the happiness that doesn't depend on what happens." To read my short story click the title directly below.

A Nightmare Becomes A Blessing in Disguise - Gratefulness.org

As a board-certified foot doctor specializing in outpatient minimally invasive foot surgery at the Park Avenue Foot Clinic in Silicon Valley that I founded in 1975, I felt like a man in control of his destiny. I…

GRATEFULNESS.ORG

Photos:

1-Performing Laser surgery  

2-Training Dr. Michael Reddy from Tasmania  

3-Performing a Gait Analysis  

4-Being Interviewed by a SF Bay Area News Reporter