Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween and I did not get off to a good start together.

I think we were supposed to wear a costume to kindergarten for Halloween, so my mom and I stood in the grocery store aisle to survey the options. I don’t remember what the other choices were, but I was excited to get to dress up for the first time. We settled upon – no wisecracks, please – an angel outfit. In retrospect, it was a flimsy white nightgown, but what made it special was a sprinkling of silver glitter and a silver halo that in my memory’s eye I see were fancy pipe cleaners. I admired it each day as it hung in the closet as Halloween drew closer.

But the next thing I remember was sitting with my mom for a long afternoon in my doctor’s office. When I asked her why we couldn’t go home, she said we had to wait for my dad to come from his office. Now I was worried. Was I in trouble? How come Dad had to leave work?

The doctor showed Dad something on a screen that he told me were pictures of my lungs. He said he knew it was hard for me to breathe, that they were going to make it easier for me to breathe, and that Dad was going to take me to the hospital. I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but I got the picture that both Mom and Dad were worried and nothing about this hospital business was sounding like any fun.

When I was older I learned that I was hospitalized for a week with pneumonia and was out of school for several more weeks after that. When my mom broke the news to me that I couldn’t go home in time for Halloween, I was crushed. I wasn’t so disappointed about not trick-or-treating, but I cried that I wasn’t going to get to wear my pretty angel costume.

In those days, parents had limited visiting hours in the early evening. One night Mom said she could bring my costume and the nurses would let me wear it on Halloween night. I should have been more excited, but some nurse and not my mom put it on me, the halo got nixed, and they didn’t let me out of bed. I could hear and catch glimpses of other kids trick-or-treating up and down the hospital halls, but I was quarantined – I’m not sure whether I was supposed to stay away from them or whether they were supposed to stay away from me. Dad came and carried me to the window so I could see more, but it was all underwhelming and I realized that I really didn’t feel up to it, besides.

So when Akemi came along, I tried to Halloween another chance. Each year, she and I figured out what she was going to be, and I had fun making a number of her costumes. One of our favorites was her Dalmatian costume when she was three. Here she is with the dog bowl borrowed from Greg and Antoinette.

Although Dentist Bing detested the idea of passing out candy (we gave out toothpaste samples one year), we had a nice tradition for years with some favorite families of having a Halloween dinner, usually on the Saturday or Sunday night closest to Halloween. It gave the kids a chance to wear their costumes on a non-school night and us a chance to get together. We potlucked some hearty soup, usually made in pumpkin shell, baked homemade bread in the shape of a spider with poppy seeds covering its arachnid legs, got carrots and olives into the non-salad-eating kids, and for dessert, constructed “ghosts in the graveyard”: “dirt” of chocolate cookie crumbs covering a base of chocolate pudding, “ghosts” of Cool Whip with mini-chocolate chip eyes, “tombstones” of Milano Mint cookies decorated with “RIP,” and candy pumpkins completing the cemetery d├ęcor.

With the kids now mostly in college, Halloween has reverted to my childhood assessment of being just another night. But maybe the time will come again when another batch of kids will want to design costumes and eat “ghosts in the graveyard,” and I’ll give Halloween a third chance.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My parents were worried about our new neighborhood when we moved into this Howard Street house. Admittedly, our part of town was considered “transitional” in real estate agent parlance. Standing outside of our house the afternoon of their first visit, my mother looked in askance as some of our more. . .uh. . .colorful. . .neighbors passed by. My dad did not notice them. Instead, he was sizing up our next-door neighbor’s mature persimmon tree with covetous eyes.

Kaki – persimmons – took on mythic significance for my dad. He planted one kaki tree in Peralta Hills, and then another, and then another. At some point, he had such a large crop he decided to dry them to produce his own hoshigaki, considered an expensive delicacy in Japan.

They’re an expensive delicacy because to make them right is a non-commercial, very labor-intensive process. To start with, you have to pick them when they are orange but still firm; not too soon, not too late. And you can’t just pull them down with a fruit picker. Oh, no. You must cut the stem of each one so the cap remains attached, leaving a small “T” of stem on top. You just can’t drop them to the ground, as they might bruise or split, so my dad atop the ladder would drop them down to me. I would catch each one like pop flys in the infield, never missing.

After wiping them clean, then we’d peel them all and tie them by those “T’s” with little loop of string to laundry racks to dry in their screened-in patio. Then for several weeks, he would massage each one each day (yes, you heard me right) as they dried so they would stay soft and succulent. Bing irreverently said they looked like miniature pumpkins becoming shrunken heads. Great vigilance is required. If the weather is too hot and dry, they become tough and hard; if the weather is too cool and damp, they mold. Tricky business, this kaki drying stage.

But if the kaki gods were with us, they would “sugar up,” as my dad called it, developing a powdery-white coat, becoming as sweet as candy. After my dad flattened and straightened them up, he’d wrap them individually and package them. And then off they went, shipped as holiday presents to Japan, Australia, back east, and elsewhere, and given to whomever made the gift list cut.

As we got to know our neighbors that first year, my dad talked with Greg about how he could dry his persimmons; my dad would teach him. So the next October, me very pregnant with Akemi, we were all out in front, picking, peeling, and hanging Greg’s persimmons. Greg called my dad “kaki sensei” – persimmon master.

When Akemi was born, Greg and Antoinette gave us our own persimmon tree to plant. Along the way, they relandscaped their front yard, and their persimmon tree became history. Ours has flourished and grown for almost exactly 21 years. My landscape designer recommended taking our tree down, too, but I refused.

I’ve been monitoring the color of my kaki and decided that today most of them were the right shade of orange to pick. Standing in the tree, I really missed my dad. Our good friend Helen has taken over picking my dad’s trees and shepherding his fruit through the hoshigaki process. She has become a worthy disciple – her hoshigaki are beautiful, and she tells my mother that Hiroshi would be happy.

I know better than to try to dry them myself. In fact, one year when my parents left on a trip as the kaki were drying, Dad left Bing and me on kaki duty. Big mistake. An hour’s drive away, we didn’t get to Anaheim often enough to stay on top of our charges. We got fired from further kaki responsibility. We should have been ashamed, but we actually were relieved – we had pressure enough in life.

Instead I’ll eat this year’s crop as snacks, put them in salads, and make persimmon bread and cookies. Maybe I’ll try some chutney or jam this year. I’ll give many of them away to others who similarly have their favorite persimmon pudding and other recipes. Like our neighborhood, this kaki tree has mellowed and grown gracefully with character.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I’ve been a party girl this week.

The USC Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) Program planned its 25th anniversary celebration for Tuesday night to take advantage of many alumni coming to town for the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting. Over 300 MRED alumni joined faculty, current students, and program supporters in USC’s Town and Gown, complete with a small unit of the Trojan Marching Band.

Usually members of “the Trojan family” follow the band as if it were the Pied Piper and event organizers can count on the band leading the guests to go where they should go – in this case, inside the dining room to sit down. Not networking, deal-making, gregarious MREDs. They all were too busy greeting classmates and meeting alumni from other classes. The decibel level of all the animated talking matched that of the band. In the meantime, I flew from hug to hug.

I put heart-and-soul into the MRED Program from the beginning of its second year, so I admit to ground-floor-up pride in how quickly the program became prestigious and how it has remained so. The remarks of the alumni speakers touched me, and being acknowledged (and cheered for) in the program was very, very gratifying.

My students were eager to show me photos of their children, introduce me to their spouses, hand me their business cards. Most of them were incredulous that Akemi is in college; many asked about Bing, not knowing. A few said they look forward to my holiday card each year and that they missed hearing from me this past December. Those were the ones to whom I explained why I didn’t muster a card last year, and gave them a preview of what will be in this year’s card. I’m now used to people being shocked, but am always glad for the second hug they then give me, even tighter.

Some alumni reminisced about their experiences on one of my MRED international study tours to Sydney, Hong Kong, and the Ruhrgebiet/Berlin. Others said they regretted not having gone on those trips. Here we are on our first day in Hong Kong on March 7, 1998. Akemi was in the first grade. It’s too bad Bing isn’t in this picture, because he is the one who took it.

My “high” from Monday and Tuesday nights got prolonged by a nice long talk over breakfast Wednesday morning with another ULI friend. With all the fun, I almost didn’t mind finding out Wednesday night that my doctor wants me to continue chemo through next August. And after all the fun, today I had to buckle down and concentrate on untangling some budget quagmires and dealing with students who don’t have the MRED drive to succeed. But not even the “downers” of more chemo, our business office, and “phone-it-in” students could take away from the good times I’ve had this week.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Six years ago this evening, I was sunburned and exhilarated, but not exactly relaxed. Donald, Chris, and I had pulled off a great golf tournament that day, an energetic “pre-event” to the 2005 ULI Fall Meeting in Los Angeles. As the executive director for the ULI district council hosting 6,000+ real estate professionals from around the world, I felt the responsibility of throwing a week of memorable gatherings. My committees really delivered.

A couple of LA deputy mayors gave ULI leadership special access to the Bradley Room atop City Hall for the kick-off party that night, and the rest of the week at the Los Angeles Convention Center was a blur of special programs, receptions, and mobile tours – all for which the sponsorship committee and I raised over a million dollars. That week’s highlight, though, had to be the chance to perform with Akemi at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the ULI Trustees Dinner.

ULI has returned to LA for this year’s Fall Meeting, and this time I got to be a guest at tonight’s leadership party hosted by Rick Caruso at his Americana project. Long-time ULI pals were coming up to me tonight to say how they still remember Akemi’s performance as their favorite part of the 2005 Fall Meeting.

This isn’t the best photo, but it contains some of my best friends in the world: Donald, Sandra, Ron, and Doug. They also happen to be among the best real estate minds in the world, literally, with decades of experience among them developing projects from Shanghai to Moscow, Mexico City to Lagos. It was wonderful to have the ULI roads lead to Glendale tonight.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My mom left a small-box surprise on my desk one afternoon my seventh grade year. Inside was an ivory piano key, hand-painted with a scene of fall foliage, mounted on a stand-up picture frame. A gift store find, Mom got it for me because she thought I’d like the piano key.

That the miniature oil painting depicted my idea of fall was a bonus. I don’t think she knew how much, even then, I fantasized about real autumnal colors from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and other childhood favorites. Fall weather, I concluded, should be cool and crisp as befits pumpkin displays, sweaters, and glowing fireplaces, not the Southern Californian version with 90°+ temperatures, desert Santa Ana winds, and wildfire alerts.

So I was delighted a couple of years ago when Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs announced it would host the October 2011 conference for graduate liberal studies program directors. I rested up carefully last week to be able to make the trip as I planned – I was not going to miss my first chance to experience upstate New York at the height of fall colors, chemo schedule notwithstanding.

A change in my board meeting time truncated what I allotted as a full day in Palmyra into a whirlwind early morning. Not exactly a contemplative pace, but amazingly, I was spared the company of tourist busloads. From this bench in the Sacred Grove, I got to ponder in solitude the significance of what took place at the various historic sites. Re-reading Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling is on my to-do list, now that I’ve made it to both Palmyra and Nauvoo this year.

Walking through the Saratoga Springs forests surrounding the Gideon Putnam Hotel in light rain made for the most pleasant way to end one of the conference days. When many female colleagues hit the famous mineral spring spa Friday afternoon, I ventured out to the historic Congress Park, which bears the tell-tale hand of my landscape design hero, Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of New York’s Central Park. Despite making a board presentation, conducting a workshop, and giving a business meeting report, this trip seemed delightfully vacation-like, and I was fine until flight delays derailed my trip home.

My little piano key painting did not set me up for disappointment. Rather, it offered me a romantic promise all these years, now fulfilled. Even so, as I look at it now, it beckons me to return for more “real” fall experiences, with enduring hope that I shall.