Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

One of the most gratifying aspects about my role as the director of the USC Master of Liberal Students Program is to help my students identify the topic of great personal interest to them on which they will write their thesis.  Then comes shepherding the team effort with the program faculty in supporting them as they research and produce their thesis.  The graduating students present a summary of their projects at a colloquium right before graduation to an audience of our faculty, students, alumni, their family, and friends.  The colloquium always is a great celebration which tees up Commencement Day.

Students who have completed their theses and those who have made substantial progress on theirs have the additional opportunity to submit abstracts for consideration for presentation at an annual summer symposium.   This annual symposium, international in scope, is really a wonderful thing.  Six other directors of graduate liberal studies programs and I have worked together for seven years to give our students the chance to experience what it is like to convert a large work into an abstract for submission, and then, if selected, into a 20-minute presentation to the students, alumni, and faculty attending from all the participating programs. 

It’s an honor to be selected – not every submission is – and over the years, my students have come to see the benefit of putting in the extra work to prepare their submission and then prepare for their presentation.  Once Commencement is over, we turn our attention to practice sessions to get the timing down and the Powerpoint finessed. 

This year, I had six students submit and be selected, our largest USC contingency ever.  So this past weekend, we all traveled to the site of this year’s symposium, the charmingly beautiful campus of Dominican University of California in Marin County, right across the Golden Gate and Richmond bridges from San Francisco.  I couldn’t be prouder of the great jobs which each of them did.

Us directors also feel our symposium is important in giving all of our students and alumni the chance to experience being part of a larger academic community and get to know colleagues from institutions such as Reed College, Stanford, and Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  Us directors also have become good friends over the years and truly look forward to our time together.  As the symposium location has rotated around, from Palo Alto to Portland to Vancouver, down to LA last year when I was the host, and this year back to the Bay area, we have thoroughly enjoyed one another’s campuses and hospitality.  Us directors also are proud of the fact that we do this symposium as an informal consortium on a financial shoestring, which I think accounts for why we have been able to keep it going for a good stretch. 

I know my students are relieved to have their presentations behind them now.  I’ll be encouraging a few of them to push their presentations into the next iteration to submit for publication in a journal.  As one of my law professors said about making law review, it’s rewarding hard work with more hard work.  In a way, I’m sorry to have this year’s symposium over: there’s so much anticipation, and it seems our lovely weekend, even when I was the one worrying about AV and the lunch delivery last year, is over all too quickly. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday, June 7, 2013

One of my favorite memories of being little in the Downey house was all four of us piling onto our parent’s bed on Saturday morning.  Sometimes my dad would say, “Who wants to walk over to Winchell’s with me to pick out a box of doughnuts?” To which we would start chanting, “doan-doans, doan-doans!” (pronounced with long “o’s”, a verbal concoction of my brother Bob’s that stuck in the family), and which would motivate us to start getting dressed and out the door to the intersection of Paramount and Florence.

My dad liked doughnuts enough that later in his life, my mom managed his diabetic diet so that he could occasionally have a plain cake doughnut.  But in those days, we were talking the full array that Winchell’s had to offer.  I know Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts have their fans, but I guess your tastes get formed by what you grow up with, and I remain Winchell’s loyalist.  When Bing and I made a bold real estate move to buy a house in Northeast Pasadena in the late 1980s, I reassured myself that we could believe in a neighborhood that had a Winchell’s.

So over our years passing through the intersection of Orange Grove and Los Robles, we have stopped in at that Winchell’s for the “Saturday morning on the way to Colburn” doughnut, for the “zero-dark-thirty on the way to Long Beach for the Beach-to-Bay regatta” doughnut, for the “keep the Elders Quorum happy on a service project” box, and for “treats for USC students on a field trip” box.  During the time my hair dresser was at a salon near the intersection of Lake and California, Akemi and I had a little tradition after we had our hair cuts that she could choose an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins or a doughnut at that Winchell’s.  “Doan-doans” often won out.

Having professed Winchell’s loyalty, I have to say, though, that the very best doughnut I have ever had was made by a bakery in Barnstable on Cape Cod which the place we were staying at served in the lobby in the early morning.  When I was in Portland, Oregon last fall, my conference host said we must walk over to the nearby Voodoo Doughnut, nationally famous for its, uhh, imaginative flavors and decorations. I was happy with my selection of a Mexican chocolate doughnut from among the family-rated options.

These days, “doan-doans” aren’t on the diet, but in observance of National Doughnut Day today and the fact that I was at the office at such an early hour having taken Akemi to the airport for her return to Boston, I decided a doughnut was in order.  The doughnut shop a block away from campus is pretty modest, but certainly they can handle a chocolate cake with sprinkles.   

So happy Doughnut Day!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

If the theme for our Hilo-area stay was relaxation, our motto on the Kohala side was “action.”  We were rested up for all that the Mauna Lani as our home base had to offer.

Let’s see: we biked to the Pu’ako petroglyphs and kayaked in the bay.  We walked the trails north to the Mauna Kea Resort in search of my 43-year-old memories of our stay there, and south to 49 Black Sand Beach.  On the road, we visited Kealakekua Bay to see the Captain Cook Monument from afar and Pu’ahonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, AKA Place of Refuge, where you can get a real feel for the life of Hawaiian royalty.  The king had the best cove in which only he could land his canoe.  Now that’s what I call reserved parking. 

A real highlight among the highlights was our trip up to the summit of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea.  The only feasible and safe way to get up to the 14,000-foot summit if you are not connected with one of the observatories is by guided tour.  We ascended from the “Gold Coast” hotel area at sea level to 9,000 feet in about 90 minutes.  To allow us to acclimate to the altitude, we were offered a dinner set up in an abandoned sheep shearing station – from my LA perspective, we could have been behind the scenes on a movie set. 

We were issued arctic parkas, climbed back aboard our four-wheel drive vehicle, and rumbled and rattled our way over a gravel road above the clouds for the remaining 5,000 feet to the summit in time to watch the sun set.  The sight more amazing to me than the sunset, though, was seeing the collection of telescopes and observatories set among the barren volcanic landscape.  I felt I was on top of the world and on the moon at the same time.  I could have never imagined seeing such a sight with my own eyes – no, this was not a scene from a movie! A real “bucket list” item.

In the darkness of night – and without light pollution, this would have been true darkness but for the full moon – we descended for a road-side telescope opportunity to see the rings of Saturn and many constellations, and a pit stop at the visitor information station, staffed by young people who surely must have been grad students making a few extra bucks to sell us tourists some science trinkets and tee-shirts.  My show of solidarity was to get a magnet in the shape of the Big Island for the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory.    

We weren’t without good food here on this side of the island, either: incredibly delicious burgers and parmesan fries at Village Burger in the Parker Ranch area of Waimea (another solid recommendation from the Bradfords – seriously, we owe them some chocolate macadamia nuts or something), memorable sushi at Chef DK Kodama’s restaurant Sansei in Waikoloa (my brother John’s recommendation), bento on our balcony, and our “celebration” sunset dinner at the Mauna Lani’s renowned CanoeHouse.  Good thing we were getting all that exercise. 

Some omiyage shopping, Sunday in the Kona Second Ward, Tropical Dreams ice cream at the Kona airport, and regrettably we were flying into Honolulu city lights and on our way back to LAX. 

Why did it take me 43 years to come back?  Action item: come back again.  Soon. 

P.S. Yes, I actually have a mu’umu’u in my closet, which I got for the closing dinner of the ULI Trustees retreat on the beach at the Grand Wailea on Maui.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

Akemi met up with “wintry mix” her freshman year in Boston.  For all the wonderful aspects she was enjoying about living for the first time where the weather changed, “wintry mix” was not making the hit parade.  One miserable day when she arrived at NEC soaking wet cold from the freezing wind, sleet, and damp snow, she texted me that “this is how pilgrims died.”

So when she opened up her computer in the NEC cafeteria on another wintry mix day this  March, nothing dispelled the gray gloom better than my e-mail to her with the subject line “Big Island!”  On the recommendation of the Bradfords and in a carpe diem mood, I decisively had booked a vacation rental home outside of Hilo and a few days at the Mauna Lani Bay resort in Kohala for as soon as I could get out of Dodge after USC Commencement.   The promise of aloha everything – the weather, the scenery, the activities, the food – kept us both going through the rest of our respective spring semesters.

The amazing feature of the place where we stayed in the Kapoho tidepool area was the ability to swam and snorkel in our own lava pool with volcanically-warmed water.  This house served as our home base as we hiked through the Akaka Falls and volcano areas, bought our apple bananas, pineapple, and vegetables at the Hilo Farmers Market, and toured the nearby Mauna Loa macadamia farms and candy factory.  At night we traded our new ‘ukelele between us and read our pile of books. 

In retrospect, a lot of what drove our Hilo-area agenda was food:  banana-mac nut-chocolate chip pancakes and a green-onion-and-Portuguese sausage omelette at Ken’s House of Pancakes, loco moco and bento at CafĂ© 100, and “house cake noodle” at Leung’s Chop Suey House.  A couple of local folk insisted we try Leung’s – I thought this place which looked frozen in time from the 1960s would be dubious, like Bing’s Cathay Kitchen in Riverside we just had to visit one night when Bing was in his residency in Loma Linda.  Let’s just say it was entertaining. . .very entertaining.

Mostly we loved the constant warm trade winds.  Songs are rightfully written about this caressing sea breeze.  It flowed through the house, along with the loud croaking of the coqui frogs and chirping of the geckos.  It brought late afternoon and evening rain and rosy sunrises.  And it constantly reminded us that we were far, far away in body and spirit from wintry mix and our regular routine.  

P.S. Here's Akemi in photographic action as we hiked the Kilauea Iki Crater trail.