Christmas in Hawaii

We spent Christmas in Hawaii this year as a more pleasant alternative to being the mole family.  And it was so much fun that we are seriously considering making this an annual tradition.  It was 80 degrees every day with occasional rain (but who cares about 10 minutes of rain when it’s 80 degrees outside?).  And there were rainbows, and often double rainbows almost every day as a result of the rain.

double rainbow in Oahu

The kids took surfing lessons every day and loved it–they definitely have turned into a surfer dude and dudette.  We saw several sea turtles as we swam in the ocean.  They are enormous and still manage to move effortlessly and surprisingly gracefully through the water.

Other highlights include the Honolulu Zoo and the Honolulu Aquarium, a special exhibit on ancient Chinese landscape paintings at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Bishop Museum, and the Polynesian Cultural Center.  Oh, and building sandcastles, of course.


Food highlights include dinners at Alan Wong’s (see earlier entry), Sushi Sasabune, Kaneke’s Plate Lunches, and shave ice.

In spite of the fact that you are dealing with airlines and inexperienced travelers when traveling over the holidays (and I always think checking baggage is like playing Russian roulette), going the week before Christmas has its advantages.  The plane fares are cheaper, and the crowds are significantly smaller than after Christmas.  And it’s especially nice to enjoy the holidays with such a friendly and warm culture.  The Hawaiians are happy people, and you can see why, given the weather and the scenery.  Not to mention that Christmas breakfast eaten with a view of the Pacific Ocean and Diamondhead is about as close to Heaven as you can get.

view from Halekulani

I also especially like the multi-racial aspect of Hawaii.  Just about everyone is a blend of various Asian and Polynesian cultures with European and African ethnicities thrown in for some variation.  It is so lovely to be in a place where our kids are boringly biracial.  And the McDonald’s in Hawaii serves saimin, a kind of ramen.  How much better can it get?

Alan Wong’s in Honolulu

I’ll be describing our lovely Christmas in Hawaii later, once I get some photos uploaded.  But I did want to talk about one of the best meals we had while we were there, at Alan Wong’s.  He does a lovely East-West Hawaii-style cuisine, and it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had.  Thanks to the app, Evernote Food, there are some nice photos of some of our dishes:

To the left is an appetizer called “Poki-Pines”–a riff off both the animal (porcupine) and the traditional Hawaiian dish, poke, made up of raw tuna and spices.  To the right is an appetizer called Korean “chicken salad” made of cubes of chicken done Asian style (with skin and cut directly off the bone) accompanied by kimchee.

Poki-PinesKorean "chicken salad"

For the main dishes, to the left is “tilapia jun,” done in the traditional Korean style with egg batter, to the right is short ribs with gingered shrimp, and at the bottom is steamed shrimp and clams with penne in a chili black bean sauce.

tilapia junshort ribs with gingered shrimpPenne with shrimp & clams in black bean sauce

We ordered dessert as well, but I have no beautiful photos of the desserts because we ate them before I remembered to take pictures!  Every dish was delicious, but my personal favorites were the poki-pines and the penne.  Reasonable minds can differ, however.


Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice was formed in 1991 and is the only libertarian public interest law firm in the country.  The organization engages in litigation on behalf of those individuals whose most basic rights—the right to earn a leaving, the right to own property, and the right to free speech—are denied by the government.  IJ’s mission is to advance the rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society.

Jim has been on the board of IJ for over 15 years, and we have gotten to know the organization and the lawyers and staff who make up the organization very well during that time.  I can’t tell you how impressed I am by the people of IJ.  These are folks who could make ten times what they make at IJ at a law firm, but they are willing to make the economic sacrifice in defense of individuals who suffer from the denial of their individual rights and liberties by federal, state, or local governments.  IJ’s lawyers and staff are tremendously talented individuals who engage in cutting edge litigation for individual liberties and have a surprisingly fun time doing it.

Given the economic volatility in recent years, it has become increasingly important to ensure that the government doesn’t stifle free enterprise and free speech in an attempt to regulate its way out of the economic doldrums.  IJ stands at the vanguard of those who protect these very American rights to the benefit of all who live in this country.  You can find out more at

YMCA – Fairfax County

The YMCA – Fairfax County is part of the metropolitan DC area set of YMCAs.  Its mission is to build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities.  While Fairfax County one of the most affluent counties in Virginia, the resulting high cost of living makes it difficult for those of more modest incomes to make ends meet.  The working poor are particularly hard hit—those who make enough not to qualify for financial assistance available for the poor but who do not make enough to afford the cost of living in Fairfax County.  In 2010, the Fairfax County branch gave more than $300,000 in financial scholarships to kids and their families, primarily for child care and summer camp.

I have been on the Board of YMCA – Fairfax County for almost 10 years.  What I like about the Y is that it is community based and reaches out to the local businesses and communities to make our region more welcoming and more livable for everyone.  I also like the emphasis on kids’ health.  The earlier you can teach a child about the benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise, the better off that child is for the rest of his/her life.  And the working poor are too often neglected.  These are families who are doing all the right things, often holding down multiple jobs, to try and carve a better life out for their children.  The safety net is not set up to help families like these, and the Y is an organization that can step in and ease the burden.  You can find out more about the Y at (click on “Locations” and then “Fairfax County Reston” to find out more about this particular branch).

US-Japan Leadership Program

The US-Japan Leadership Program is a cross-cultural program for young leaders (defined as 28-42 years old) where 20 Japanese and 20 Americans spend a week together, alternating between Seattle and Japan, learning about each other’s culture.  The hope is that the bonds of friendship forged over the 2 weeks (each delegate commits to both the Seattle and the Japan weeks) will come in handy in the event that official channels of communication ever break down.  And, of course, the hope is that official channels never break down if there are leaders in both countries with experience and understanding of the other country’s culture and thinking.  I have been co-chair of the USJLP executive committee and am currently co-chair of the capital campaign.

This has been an interesting program for me.  As someone whose family on both sides fled the Japanese invasion of China and suffered considerable hardship as a result of that invasion, there are cultural and historical difficulties in a relationship with the Japanese.  This is especially true when there are Japanese who deny the atrocities committed during their invasion and occupation of China.  (There are actually Japanese in the program who fall in that group.)  But, in the end, the Japanese in the program are overwhelmingly global in their approach and sophisticated in their thinking, and it has been a great opportunity for me to learn more about their mindset.  In addition, Japanese women, in particular, have great admiration and envy of American women who can successfully (relatively speaking) juggle marriage, children, and a career.  The vast majority of Japanese women give up their career upon marriage and certainly do so after having children.  Whatever the obstacles American women encounter with our juggling act of family and career, it is nothing compared to the struggles of Japanese women, and their outlook upon their own culture is refreshingly candid.  As I tell the Japanese women in the program, I look forward to their revolutionizing Japanese society in the coming years!  You can find out more at

Children’s Chorus of Washington

The Children’s Chorus of Washington is a co-ed children’s chorus based in Washington, DC.  Its mission is to bring together children of different ages and backgrounds through song.  CCW has been nationally recognized for its program and artistic excellence.  It comprises 4 performing ensembles and has over 100 singers, representing over 90 public and private schools in the Washington, DC area.

Choral music is not a genre I have much experience with, but what impresses me about CCW is the passion and dedication the staff and choristers have in striving to give the best performance that they can.  It is also impressive to see these children, generally ranging in age from 9-18, from very diverse backgrounds finding common ground with each other and with their audiences through their music.

I am on the Board of Directors and Treasurer of CCW.  The organization has evolved tremendously in the past several years from a mom-and-pop choral arts organization to one that is more professional and polished than ever before.  At a time when people have committed many of their charitable dollars to organizations that can put food on the table of vulnerable families, it is all the more impressive that CCW has continued its tradition of artistic excellence and succeeded against considerable odds in building a strong foundation for the organization.  You can learn more about CCW at

Epilepsy Therapy Project

The Epilepsy Therapy Project was founded in 2002 by 3 parents of children with epilepsy, and its mission is to accelerate ideas into therapies for people living with epilepsy and seizures.  About 1% of the population suffers from epilepsy and about 40% of that population cannot control their seizures with existing treatments.  Many others suffer from significant side effects with the drugs they are taking to control their seizures.  ETP is addressing the funding gap that exists between the development of promising ideas in the laboratory and the funding of clinical trials of successful therapies.  ETP provides not only financial assistance for researchers and startups with possible new treatments for epilepsy but, with the able assistance of its Scientific Advisory Board and Business Advisory Board, provides scientific and business advice to those organizations as well.

I was Executive Director of ETP for almost 3 years and am now on its Board of Directors.  I have an uncle who suffers from epilepsy, and the “cone of silence” that surrounds people suffering from epilepsy and their families makes the disease even more hurtful.

In today’s regulatory environment, it has become increasingly difficult to have any new therapies approved for any disease.  It is all the more important for organizations such as ETP to champion the continuing research for new and better treatments for those suffering from this debilitating disease.  See and for more information.

The Mole Family

I am digressing from describing our charitable organizations to say that we will be living in our basement for the next few months as our house is being renovated.  (“Few months” is set at 3 by our contractor and 6 by us.)  My theory is that we will either become incredibly tight as a family or 3 of us will be dead (I am not commenting on which 3 family members it might be).  Our contractor, Mr. Le, is doing an absolutely amazing job to ensure that the stay in our basement is as comfortable as possible.  And I think our house will be really amazing once the renovations are done.  In the interim, however, I’ll be giving periodic updates on how our existence as moles is going.  (Although, really, when you think about it, the fact that the 4 of us are sharing one bathroom is how most of us grew up.  Not to mention that the basement is larger than most apartments in New York City, let alone the rest of the world, so it’s not like we’re really slumming it.)

We’ve also had some concerned questions about whether Santa will find us since our physical location does not include a chimney, but that concern seems to be addressed.  Other than that, the first week has gone surprisingly smoothly.  Let’s hope it stays that way!

Children’s Law Center

The Children’s Law Center is the largest legal services organization in the District of Columbia and the only one that represents children, our most vulnerable population.  CLC represents children and their families in guardian ad litem, custody, adoption, and foster parent cases.  In addition, it partners with Children’s National Medical Center to provide representation to children whose health is adversely affected by other factors in their environment (e.g. substandard housing, lack of special education assistance, etc.).  I serve on the Board of Directors and am also Treasurer for CLC.  What I find challenging about CLC is that there are so many more children in need of help than CLC can assist, even with innovative partnering relationships with law firms to provide pro bono attorneys.  What I find inspirational about CLC is the dedication of the staff to ensure the best possible outcome for the children and families whom CLC does help.  And to see a family turn its life and future around because it has finally gotten the support it needs, well, it doesn’t get much better than that.  To find out more, see