Thursday, September 11, 2014


It's after Labor Day, but for us here in the bay, summer's just about to hit its stride. Perfect time to get Huelan more comfortable in the water. 

She's spent a fair amount of time in the pool up to now- pool parties, Uncle Tom's house, Ba Noi's house, etc- but she's never been comfortable taking the next step beyond her floaty vest. Efforts at getting her to blow bubbles or put her head under water have been met with significant resistance. And some frustration on both sides. 

So we decided to bring in some pros, and lo-and-behold she takes to it like, well, a fish to water. (Kind of on the nose, I know, but I couldn't resist.) Dunk your head? Ok! Blow bubbles? Yeah! Float on your back? Sure!

She's has two lessons thus far and she's having a great time.  Though when I ask her what her favorite part is, she tells me that it's the dried mango snacks they hand out after class.  Yes, they are professionals. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Preschool Big Kid

Just before the start of school in the fall, Huelan's preschool has a little ceremony for the kids who will be moving on to kindergarten in the following weeks.  It's a pot luck held in the evening at a local park, so it makes it easy for the parents of all the kids to attend, not just the kids who are moving on.  Part of the ceremony is something that all the kids work on leading up the ceremony- leading a song.  It's not worked out ahead of time who's going to lead which song, and not everyone has to do it if they don't want to.  Of course not participating is not an option for Huelan.  And of course she picks the longest song the class knows, in order to maximize her song-leading time.

So the 5+ year olds move on, leaving a void of Big Kids that the slightly younger kids have to fill.  I wonder who's going to enjoy stepping into that spot...?

Sunday, August 17, 2014


It's now the late middle of August, and so far this month has been awesome.  Instead of cheaping out and doing another bullet-point post, I am going to try and do a few honest ones all in one mega-post.  To me, it's better than trying to do a bunch of separate posts because then the blog timeline gets all screwed up and I get vertigo.  Since a lot has happened and I have a lot to share, here's a table of contents so that you can skip to relevant sections and find your way back later should you need to grab a beverage (or do some work) and come back later:

1. Anh's birthday ribs and blue cake
2. Toscanini quick visit
3. Lake Tahoe family trip
4. Sir Paul McCartney closes down Candlestick
5. Vansen walking all over the place
6. Rundown of Vansen's first words

1. Anh's birthday ribs and blue cake

Anh's birthday is July 2, but since he and Patty were off gallivanting in southern Europe around that time, on the second honeymoon (???), we finally got together sometime in late July (or was it early Aug?  kind of a blur).  35!  I have a little brother who is 35 years old, jeez.  Liz and Huelan made a chocolate cake with Dodger Blue-ish icing, and I smoked a few racks of ribs.  Vansen's even got his first taste of baby backs, which you can see had him gnawing at the bone for more.

2. Toscanini quick visit

Shortly after that, Gerardo and Loni stopped by on their way down from Seattle with their kids Francisco and Marco.  Fun loving kids!  Loni was outstanding with all the kids and Huelan was sorry to see them leave after spending just one night.  Vansen got along great with Francisco, who was sport enough to let Vansen tackle him repeatedly.  A little Zachary's pizza, and the kids went to bed while Gerardo and I partook ofa few bourbon nightcaps on the deck.

Liz missed them because on Friday night, she got on a flight to Vegas right after work for Vern's bachelorette party.  So a great weekend was had by all.

More Toscanini Visit Pics

3. Lake Tahoe family trip

                                                   (Photo credit: Sophia Lee)

For more than three decades, Liz's family has spent some portion of their summer in the same neighborhood in North Lake Tahoe called Agate Bay.  It's a short walk from the lake, a community pool, and pee-wee golf.

We set up the trip in a kind of unusual way.  We had the house from Saturday to Saturday, and since Liz was in Vegas for the first weekend and I had both kids, Laurie and Sophia picked up Huelan on Saturday morning for the trip, which she was super excited about and helped me out tremendously.  Liz came back on Sunday evening and she packed up her gear that night so that she and Vansen could hit the road Monday morning.  I finally joined them Wednesday morning.

I did have Vansen for one day & night when it was night just us boys. We hit up Little Farm in Berkeley and went for some soft tofu at PyongChang. The kid can eat, and I'll not talking about the goats. 

So, if you're doing the math, I had two nights all alone in the house all by myself.  This is not a common occurrence.  So what was I going to do?  The possibilities were endless.  Play golf?  Pub crawl? Projects around the house?  Nothing nearly so exciting- I worked a few extra hours since I was going to be gone the rest of the week, did some laundry and packed, and watched movie on Netflix.  Two things I did that I am kind of proud of- checked out a new "restaurant" and finally stopped in at the bar at the bottom of the hill, Monaghan's on the Hill, which has outstanding happy-hour specials and was hoppin at 4:30 on a Tuesday.  And it's within stumbling distance (if you want to burn about 1500 calories stumbling up the hill).

The reason I put quotes around "restaurant" is because it's more of a storefront.  Not fast food, they make everything to order.  But everything they make is fried.  Here's one picture of the menu and another of the clientele.

The Chinese proprietors spoke barely enough English to take my order.  Since everything is fried to order, there's a 15min-or-so wait.  There entire time that I was there, every customer who came in was black.  So here's a serious question- based on those two observations, does it make me racist to believe that this is going to be the best fried catfish this side of NOLA?  Or does it just make me prejudiced?  Or does it make me racist to think that that might make me racist?  Keep in mind that the best seafood I've had in NOLA was at a fish market run by Vietnamese whose clientele was almost all black.  I'll suffer your judgement in the comments section. My verdict on the food: top notch, if you're looking for deep fried foods with a slice of bread and a side of fried rice.  I had the catfish and wings, though I heard a lot of people order the prawns and I love oysters, so I might have to make another visit before I submit my judge's card.

Other than those brief variances from the usual, it was pretty tame.  I watched World War Z and finished the Cosmos series, neither of which Liz would be down to watch with me for different reasons.

Without Liz and the kids home, it felt the weirdest after dinner.  The weeknight program we've developed (I decline to say routine, which has a connotation of boring, or rote) is effective and efficient, and we rarely deviate from it more than 15 minutes.  Being in the house, but not implementing the program, was a little surreal.  Like the last day on the playa without the man- you kind of lose your bearings and don't really know where you are or what time it is.  The markers that indicate the night progressing all disappeared and I was left kind of floating untethered through the evening until I finally got into bed (too late) in an eerily quiet house. No one to clean up after, no one check on, no one tuck in.  Like people who live near Niagra Falls, the constant background noise and activity becomes second nature and it's totally internalized.  Without it, you just don't feel like yourself.

Back to the Tahoe trip.  The first few days they were there, they had to endure some freaky thunderstorms and rain.  Some parts of the Sierras saw torrents of rain and hail, so I guess they could have had it worse. But was it was, they were confined to the house for almost two solid days.  By the time I got there, the weather, though humid still, was really nice- perfect for horseshoe tossing in the yard, BBQing (I probably ate seven hot dogs, the large Costco ones), swimming, and of course pee-wee golf.  Huelan loved all the activities.  At the community pool, they have been doing the same kids games for decades.  The days we went were Bingo and something called the Penny Dive.  During the Penny Dive, the staff throws hundreds of pennies into the pool and the kids dive down to retrieve them.  Huelan calls it the Coin Festival. There are a few special coins, ones with holes drilled in them, that can be exchanged for an ice cream sundae at the snack bar.  Oh man, Huelan talked about that for days leading up to the Coin Festival.  Sadly, she didn't get a special coin, but she did manage to collect 23 pennies (which they kindly exchanged for a quarter), and, in a move that surprised no one, Grandma bought her a treat from the snack bar.

Here are a few thoughts on Little Kids and Money.  Little Kids don't know jack about Money.  Not that we're trying to teach her to be frugal (yet), just what the different coins mean and how many of these make up one of those.  Case in point- the arcade at the pee-wee golf course (growing up, we called it miniature golf, but I'll make this concession).  Her favorite game was the Candy Crane, which advertises that you can "Play Til You Win."  Which means you pay TWO QUARTERS, and you get to send the claw over to grab some candy, like so:

So for a half  of a dollar, she gets one mini-pack of Starburst (which consists of two pieces).  One time she "really won" and got a mini-pack of skittles and a roll of Sweeties.  Jackpot! We put five bucks in that machine and ended up with a handful of candy left over from last Halloween.  But she loved it, so what are you gonna do?  There was only one other "game" that came close to the Candy Crane in her heart.  I say "game" because it was really just the array of dispensers that spit out Chinese-made junk toys in little hard-shell plastic bubbles.  But, she'd put her (my) quarters in, crank that little silver dial, and I'll-be-darned if she didn't win every single time.  Can't argue with success.  Or that triumphant smile of hers.

Pics from Late July and Tahoe- I'll be adding some more as soon as I get them tidied up.

4. Sir Paul McCartney closes down Candlestick
I'll finish the remaining chapters of this mega-post later this week, but for now here is a teaser pic of from the concert and a Slo-Mo video of Vansen walking:

Ok I'm back, and I’m picking up the Paul McCartney thread.  Many people do not know that I really love the Beatles.  As a teen, I had most of their records and would play them on a plastic Aiwa stereo with little, tinny speakers.  Those records, along with a near-complete Led Zeppelin collection, melted in the garage shortly after I left for Cal. But long before all that vinyl went Dali, those tracks carved deep grooves in my musical identity.  

Robin Williams described Beatles music as, "Part of our genetic material." My dad, whose English was extremely limited when I was young, actually could approximate quite a few Beatles lyrics he heard in Viet Nam. Hearing him sing Besame Mucho, an early Beatles cover, was just awesome, and it still echos in my head occasionally now.

When Liz and I met, I was rocking this leather Beatles wallet.  It was vintage-y to begin with, but I had been tucking it in my back pocket for probably ten years, so it was well-broken in. This was the pic on it:

It was a billfold, and the half of it that faced the outside of the pocket was so worn that Ringo and Paul's faces were just about erased.  I had used superglue on it at least a dozen times at the seams, but it finally gave up the ghost probably about six years ago.

I'm not a superfan- the kind that collect memorabilia and knows every tour stop, but the music just has a place in my heart. And So after having missed Paul last year at Outside Lands (I didn't even know he was playing), I was determined to go to this concert at Candlestick.  If either he or I was to die without me hearing and feeling those songs come out of his mouth and off his guitar live, I would consider that a great heartbreak. Bucketlist kind of stuff.

And I am glad to say that the show did not disappoint.  Even though I hear that he played the same set list as most of the other venues on this tour, even told many of the same jokes, that makes not one iota of difference.  Even though getting in and out of Candlestick was an epic cluster, I'd happily pay to do it again this weekend if I could.

Today is Monday, the concert was last Thursday.  I'm still kind of kind of floating on air, and that's no small feat.  I've been watching YouTube clips of the concert for days, and am actually watching footage from the entire Tokyo concert as I write this.  It's actually kind of nice that the setlist doesn't vary much because watching this vid takes me right back.  And I could use the memory nudge because I don't quite remember all of the discrete moments, but I do remember the big ones, and I definitely recall the excitement and near-euphoria,.  Also, it was the tightest Liz and I had hugged and danced and shouted lyrics in a long time (I smuggled in a liter box of wine).  We danced to a Beatles song the first time we were introduced as a married couple.  

It was a rockin, boppin, joyous concert, and though the old man's voice is showing some age, he can still rock that guitar and piano (and crowd) like a Beatle should, for nearly three hours. 72 years young! “When you've got a job to do, you got to do it well….” 

Here's her standing on the grass at Candlestick, cheering on the beginning of Hey Jude:

Taking another break now- will be back to tell you all about Vansen walking and climbing all over like he owns the place.

5.  Vansen gettin to steppin

The difference between him in this vid vs. the Slo-Mo vid higher up the post is significant, and they're only three days apart.  He's discovered that he likes being bipedal and he's not going back. Kids learning to walk look a lot like orangutans- with a lot of side to side sway (swag?) and wobbles. This vid documents his personal record (at the time) for upright distance, and he even throws in a little change of direction for style.  Points deducted for bumper-carring off the door, but he covered it up well.  

There's basically no going back from here.  We've been slowly raising things off the floor that we don't want him to get into, but now there's no place left for us to keep stuff. He's into all of the top drawers, and it didn't take him very long to figure out that he can push stuff around the house and stand on it in order to increase his reach.

He even discovered that instead of being put down for a nap against his will, he can just crawl down from my lap and stroll out of the room. We are officially In For It.

6. Rundown of Vansen's first words

He's been talking for a while now.  If memory serves us, we don't think he's quite as talkative as Huelan was at his age, which is pretty common for boys. Besides, Huelan is a chatterbox and we can't have two of those or we'd go nuts.  

We think his first word, officially, was, "Uh-oh."  And he used it properly- every time he'd drop something off of his highchair tray, it was, "Uh-oh," and a laugh.  He'd see us drop something, and it was, "Uh-oh."  This went on for weeks, before his second word, which was, "Da-Da."  He definitely called me Da-Da, but then that kind of went away, and he started calling everyone Ma-Ma.  We actually surmised that Ma-Ma wasn't a person, but rather it's what he says when he wants to get picked up.

Now, his favorite word is, "More," as in More Food.

This is also a gem:

I know that it's impossible to decipher the syllable soup that parents have with their kids, but let me assure you, he's saying, "Cheers."  He's 1/4 Irish.  We're so proud.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Summer Catchup

In the interest of catching up, here are a few bullet points from the last few weeks:

  • Greaves Family Reunion.  Liz's cousin Andrew organized a family reunion for the Greaves side (Liz's Mom's mom was a Greaves, who married a Sullivan.  The generation of Greaves that started this part of the family tree all females, so their names all changed as they married and what not, and there aren't actually a ton of Greaves left.).  84 people showed up to the Aguilar compound and we had a blast.  Here's the family group pic, courtesy of Eva (not pictured). That's about four generations worth.

  • The next weekend, we got the immediate family together again for Sophia'ls birthday down at Tom and Adrienne's place in sunny San Jose.  Sweet 16!!!  Swimming, tons of food, games, and family all made for a super birthday party.  Vansen's second time in a swimming pool (the first was last weekend at the reunion). I forgot my camera that day, but Eva took some pics that you can see here
  • This weekend is another whirlwind- we're headed up to Lake Tahoe (in stages, I'll explain later) for a week!  I'll catch up again after we're back.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


He's been watching us tend to the deck garden all spring and summer, so naturally as soon as we let him roam free on the deck he went to the watering can, put it up to the spigot, and tried to turn it on. 

He spills most of the water dragging the can to the pots, but he manages to have enough to get some into the soil. Drought be damned. 

He can pretty much stand in one place until he gets bored of standing, and I've heard reports of several un-assisted steps, but I have seen for myself anything that would qualify as walking. So far the interest just hasn't been there, partly because he's so quick and efficient with his crawl and tripod gait. But I think it's just a matter of days...

Thursday, July 17, 2014


From the stories I hear, Liz used to mercilessly tickle Tommy when they were young.  Then, unexpectedly, Tommy got bigger than Liz and the tables turned.

I suspect that we're seeing that begin to play out here.  Along with a little regression on Liz's part.

Lindsay Wildlife

There's a place in Walnut Creek that is part animal hospital, interactive learning center, and museum called the Lindsay Wildlife Museum.  They are the largest raptor hospital in the country, treating over 5000 injured birds a year.  Some of them are not able to be released back into the wild for various reasons, so they have a permanent home at the museum, where they regularly bathe and exercise  them.  The day they were there, they had out a couple of different kinds of hawks, turkey vultures, a great grey owl (that was huge and awesome) and barn owls (Huelan's favorite-their faces were snow-white and heart-shaped).  And she got to pet a gopher snake and a guinea pig.  My favorite was the live bee hive, which they had sandwiched in between two sheets of plexiglass with a tunnel that led to the outside.

I thought that she had a pretty good time.  She even caught a feather that was just floating through the air. But the next day she told me the museum was boring.

Friday, July 11, 2014


The kids have birthdays very close to six months apart- Huelan's is Dec 27 and Vansen's is July 3. Perhaps more significantly though, their birthdays are both very close to major holidays. The effect is that they both have birthday parties that last over a week long. 

Though we had a big blowout for Vansen the weekend before his birthday, this year, on his actual birthday, Vansen got to celebrate with a full-on street parade. We invited ourselves to celebrate with the Reichards in Benecia (the one time capitol of California!) where they have an old-timey 4th of July parade down Main St. (on July 3). 

Going to downtown Benecia is like stepping into 1954- the kitschy, Back to the Future parts (complete with a DeLorean!), not the bad segregation and McCarthyism parts.  There were community floats, classic cars, and a Boy Scouts color guard, but the highlight had to be Stella's preschool "float." Vivien pulled a wagon with three preschoolers in it, and when they came by our spot, they wrangled Huelan and Liz to join them. Not that it was difficult to get Huelan into the action- she sprinted into the thick of the parade, enthusiastically patriotic,waiving her mini-flag and grinning ear to ear. Huelan. In a parade. She was unstoppable.

When we caught up to Liz and Viv at the end of the route, however, everyone was wiped out. But a couple of corn dogs and masubis perked them up a bit. 

The next day, Independence Day proper, the Lee clan come to the house for some smoked tri tip. Laurie made some kind of deliciously magical berry trifle for dessert. And Vansen finally got his cake, and we got the obligatorily adorable frosting face photos. 

I recall that we were in a much more reflective mood when Huelan turned one; as we're finding with a lot of things, the second time around affords a little less time for reflection. Nevertheless, One is definitely a milestone, and as always, it feels like it's gone by super quickly.  Though that feeling is kind of confused with the sense that he's been with us for much longer than a year. All of a sudden he's one, but at the same time, it doesn't seem possible that just 12 months ago he wasn't part of our family. I guess it's all part of the weird warping of time and perception that happens as we grow older ourselves.  

Some pics from the long weekend: Pics here

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Party Time

Boy, kids like pinatas.  Though most of them couldn't put a solid swing on it, the few who managed to make solid contact did some damage.  Candy rained down multiple times, as the pinata fought hard to hang on to its contents through several different hackers, and every time it brought on a swarm of frenzied kids diving and jockeying to fill  their hands with the sweet, sweet loot.  And we only had one kid got grilled with the bat, so that's a success.

We celebrated Vansen's birthday a few days early, staking out a large spot at one of the local parks on a sunny Saturday.  We're of the opinion that good food & drink are crucial ingredients to a successful gathering, mainly because that's the best way to get the Ly Family & Friends to show up.  We did our best with trays of rotisserie chicken and a whole suckling pig, and you all certainly held up your end of the bargain.  It was great to see share Vansen's first birthday with so many people, and to have soooooo many of those people be little kids.  The littlest kid award goes to Finley, at just three weeks, though if the timing were slightly differently it may have gone to Boris/Natasha, the Zatulovsky baby, who was already tardy as of partytime.  Both mamas are champs!

Besides, who are we kidding?  A one-year old can't even appreciate his own party.  These parties are for the grownups, so that we can catch up with one another on a sunny day and enjoy some food and drink while the kids run around and wear themselves out.  Even if the conversation topics occasionally drift to potty training and pre-schools, getting in some grown up stories and laughs helps us strengthen our sometimes tenuous tether to the outside world.

Here are some pics from the party and the latter half of June, including Nhuanh's 30th (!) birthday at Lake Merritt and Vansen's first haircut.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


There was a time when being on the other side of the country, attending a big meeting, or doing some mentoring was glamorous. That time has passed. Though I still managed to make the best of being in DC for the week, I left my heart in Oakland, and it's easy to see why. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fathers Day

I like my holidays low key, so we decided to go with a hike and a picnic to celebrate Fathers Day this year. There are about 25 miles of hiking trails whose the trail head is less than a block from our house. It's taken us two years, but we finally walked across the street and started exploring them this week. 

This particular hike was a short one- a little more than and mile if you include the part of the path that we doubled because  I took us down a wrong fork. But it was great to get out and just cruise around among the trees. There's even a large picnic area with a fire pit we hope to make use of before summer's out. 

Ba Gia

Means old lady in Vietnamese. Our sister joined those ranks today, celebrating her 30th year with a Ly Family Taco bbq at Lake Merrit. A twist on Dad's legendary maridade, Anh and I rolled out both BBQs lakeside and threw down some meat and some fixins Bi chose - pate, quayle eggs, pickled everything- into some corn tortillas. Oakland fusion. 

You can tell from these pics that it went from sunny to breezy to downright cold in about 2.5 hours. Even the weather wanted to be Oakland fusion. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I have no idea how people are able to get those perfectly posed professional photos of their kids.  Their kids are not like our kids.  Getting one kid to look at the camera and deliver a natural-looking smile is a near impossible task for us.  Getting both kids to do it simultaneously without at least one parent trying to adjust a dresses or collar or wipe some drool is something I just can't even imagine.

We had the photographer for an hour, at the park across the street from our house.  I even baited Huelan with a tadpole catching session immediately after the photo shoot if she would cooperate.  That's a biiiiig incentive.  That wasn't fully effective.  I'm admittedly overly critical with these sorts of things, so while we did end up with a few pretty good ones, immediately after the shoot I was pretty frustrated.  I've taken enough pictures to know what it feels like to potentially have some great shots, and this did not feel like that. At least we got one of the four of us that will work, which honestly was more of a relief than anything. It was the first time we'd brought in a pro photographer and I was hoping for some magic.  Oh well. Huelan wins this round, but I want a rematch.

Here's a pic of her after she scooped up some tadpoles.  She even managed to snag a baby frog. Strictly catch-and-release. At least we had one good smile out of her that day!


Another 13 weeks comes to a close and the ballet/tap class is back at it- the session end recital.  They've added a few things to their repertoire, which admittedly wasn't vast to begin with, but their increased comfort is evident.  I would prefer her have a tough-ass, french speaking ballet instructor who speaks with a Russian accent and walks with a cane, but Huelan and the other girls seem to like Ms. Ariel quite well.

This time we brought Vansen, who was pretty enthralled by the whole thing, and Sophia, who has a few days between the end of school and the beginning of tennis.  Seeing all the girls dressed up and wearing extra-wide grins in front of their parents and grandparents is just as cute as you would imagine. For 10 girls, there are about 45 cameras in the audience.  We had three.  Maybe four.  The fawning families and the beaming girls made for an outstanding show, and what they lacked in precision and grace was well compensated for with enthusiasm. I love the leap she does in the middle of the first embedded video- reminds me of Sister Mary Catherine Gallagher from SNL.

One of the funny things is that for their last number, the teacher just said eff it and had all the girls sing "Let It Go" and run around in circles while she cleaned up and got ready for the next class.

There are nine videos.  I'm embedding a couple and will leave links to the rest.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Video 5

Video 6

Video 7

Video 8

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Last weekend I hooked up a hammock on the deck. 

Not much else got done.