Most of my childhood memories of my dad are around our weekly routine. Riding with him to school in the morning, reciting poetry or quizzing him on I-ching hexagrams. Hearing the garage door open at 7pm, signaling dinnertime. Hanging out on the couch together for a bit while he read his newspaper and listened to me read Chinese before he went back to doing some work on the computer (It used to be a terminal. A real terminal.). On Saturdays we’d go hiking in the morning and have dim sum afterwards. On Sundays I’d typically accompany him to his office at Caltech. The afternoons would pass slowly, as I wanted to go home. Oftentimes I would be encouraged to work on math problems or sent to the campus library to confirm bibliographic references (physically going between the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors of the Millikan Library to look up journal article authors, volume numbers, and page numbers). Highlights of the long day would be lunch at Carl’s Jr. and half an hour of kicking a soccer ball around at the athletic fields.
But all of that comes from my memories, and these ones are the strongest because they were enforced week after week. I’m not sure what my dad was like when I was a baby but I got some clues this past year. When Camille cried, he recited Chinese poetry for her enjoyment. He mentioned being more interested in hanging out with her once she’s developed some abstract reasoning powers so that he can teach her math. He didn’t change any of her diapers.
The word routine has all sorts of negative connotations, but ours rejuvenates me. Every morning when Camille wakes up, I am the first person that she sees. I’m not sure which one of us is more excited to be there – her because she can be liberated from her crib or me because she is ready to hang out again. And then there’s the hour or so at the end of the day where we eat a leisurely dinner (Camille doesn’t dine any other way due to her small mouth and passable motor skills), romp around the family room, and read a story together.
The routine is punctuated by exhilarating miniature milestones. Yesterday Camille stood up once while she was trying to get out of my lap. I didn’t think much of it because I don’t really count something as a milestone until she is able to do it repeatedly and deliberately. Today, she kept standing up on the bed (and throwing herself backwards and forwards – we’ll have to talk to her about that), and it was awesome. We didn’t even know this was a milestone; people usually just ask “Is she walking? Is she talking?” No one mentioned the standing, but of course it makes sense in retrospect.
When my parents came to visit over the holidays, we spent an afternoon in Half Moon Bay. Camille and my dad were on the same nap schedule so we left them in the car together while my mom, Wing Ning, Cameron, and I went for a walk. After a while we got an anxious call from my dad. I heard Camille bawling in the background, undoubtedly hungry. I hurried back to the car. When I got there, my dad was holding Camille tight, expertly soothing her, and she was no longer sad.
My dad always knows a bit more than he lets on. I can imagine myself in Camille’s place in his arms over 30 years ago.
As some of you know my sister has totally one-upped me in the kitchen by attending culinary school. She’s starting posting some of her class writing assignments on her blog. I’m hoping to pick up some good tips at home over the holidays.
Thanksgiving really is the best holiday – totally focused on the most important things in life: family, friends, and food. We decided to stick around here for the holiday; Ellen and Will came up with their dogs to celebrate with us.
I’m still in a food coma so I’m going to keep this short. The menu:
Roasted salted turkey with gravy: Not bad, but not quite as moist as I expected after reading about it. I may give it another shot some time. It was pretty good though, better than the pre-brined turkey I got last year but it sounds like it didn’t match the brined turkey from a few years back.
Mashed potatoes ATK make-ahead recipe, only required 15 minutes in the microwave today.
Stuffing with fennel and sausage: “Tastes kind of like your croutons,” according to Jen. I’ll take that as a compliment. Needed more fennel-y taste.
Salad: Red leaf lettuce, Granny Smith apple slices, plumped-up raisins, toasted almonds, with an creamy apple cider vinaigrette. I discovered the raisins at the farmer’s market. They’re amazing.
Picked cucumbers: Jen’s mom made some Asian pickled cucumbers.
Bread: Plain ol’ white bread.
Maple pecan pie: I always find this pie to be too sweet but the Liaos love their pecan pie so I can’t show up without it. This version of it has no corn syrup, which is great (just one cup of maple syrup instead).
Apple pie: brought by Ellen and Will.
My sister and I are separated by six years. Growing up I played the older-brother-as-caretaker role. Since our parents both worked, the two of us spent a lot of time together after school. I nudged her towards sharing some of my interests, like playing video games and basketball and taking care of rabbits. From an early age it was clear that she was a lot more talented artistically (musically and visually) than me; fortunately I was able to maintain my size advantage. We got along well throughout the years, only fighting occasionally.
It’s been hard for me to stop thinking of my little sister as little. A few milestones, like high school and college graduation, have helped me to shift my perspective. When I started at Endeca in 2007, I realized that some of my co-workers, fresh out of college, were exactly my sister’s age. That felt like a big deal.
* * *
Big brothers are supposed to look out for their little sisters, especially when it comes to boyfriends. I think it was less important for me to get involved since my sister is 3-4″ taller than Cameron and can almost certainly keep him in line. Too bad he doesn’t have an older brother to help him out. My dad vouches for the fact that Cameron is a math genius, which is a nice bonus. It’s been great getting to know him and his family over the past few years. The Taketas are a sweet, loving, and generous family.
* * *
Unfortunately, a huge storm swept through Honolulu on Friday night and lingered through Saturday morning. The wedding ceremony was moved indoors.
The Yungs, while not really known for their fashion sense (except for maybe Mom), clean up well. Wing Ning looked amazing in her dress and make-up (and without her glasses). It was amusing to tag along with the photographers, who posed the happy couple in all sorts of cheesy ways. The reception was full of personal touches – mini Rubik’s cubes as gifts, modular origami centerpieces, a wedding pie with a Lego wedding scene on top, and pi-decorated programs (all consistent with their wedding website). I was really impressed by the creativity and amount of work that they put into it – I’ve made a few of the origami balls and they take a hell of a long time (especially the one that consists of five intersecting tetrahedrons). Cameron’s hilarious Aunt Gwen mc’ed and repeatedly brought attention to the fact that most of the bridal party was single (and geeky).
My mom painted a picture, my dad picked out a Chinese poem to go along with it (and gave the commentary as part of his toast), and I put together a slideshow (they approved my selection of Weird Al’s White ‘n’ Nerdy for part of it). Each member of the bridal party made a toast with common themes around eating and playing board games.
* * *
After the wedding, we went to the beach and had dinner. Wing Ning was back in her t-shirt and jeans, but wore a green orchid in her hair for the rest of the day. Every time I looked at it I thought to myself, “Oh right, she’s married now.”
I just passed over the 5-month anniversary of my move to California. Here’s what I’ve liked so far:
Closer to home. I’ve been down to Los Angeles four times since we moved here. That’s like 4 years worth of family visits! It’s also been great to see Jen’s family on a more regular basis.
Our friends. We’re lucky to have people from all over (high school, college, work, grad school) converge in the Bay Area. Of course we really miss everyone in Boston, especially our friends’ children.
Weather. I kind of miss the snow and I may be sad this fall, but it’s also been great to enjoy outdoor activities during the winter. I’ve received 5 Somerville snow emergency emails in the past few months.
No second car. Between walking and the Caltrain, things have worked out well. It’s nice to have some reading/nap time and physical activity built into my daily schedule.
Within walking distance of groceries. This made me way happier than I thought it would. The Sunday market and Trader Joe’s are an 8-minute walk away, which means that I don’t really have to plan meals for the week. When I was working from home half-time, I’d walk over there at least 2-3x a week.
Year-round farmer’s market. Fresh produce all year round! Our market has fish and meat as well.
New job. This was one of the last pieces to fall into place. I love Endeca (everything – the company, product, and team), but working remote over the past few months has been quite lonely. Started at Yelp last week.
goofing off at the dinner table
In my life I’ve seen several different kinds of Thanksgivings. Growing up my mom would cook a ridiculous amount of food to feed 20-30 Chinese graduate students from Caltech. In college I’d head down to NYC where my aunts and cousins would host all-day eating affairs. Most recently we’ve been going to NYC to meet up with Jen’s family for the holiday (though in 2005 they came to Boston). This year we stopped by Jen’s for dinner and mah-jongg last night and got on the road at 6am this morning to come home to Los Angeles, my first time here for the holiday since 1996. Ellen, Will, and Wilson joined us for the feast, so I pretty much had all of my favorite Southern Californians at the dinner table.
The cooking was pretty low-stress since I did the baking yesterday. The menu:
Bread with roasted garlic
Spinach salad with orange dressing
Roasted turkey with gravy
Mashed sweet potatoes (made by Jen (!!!))
Mashed potatoes with turkey and corn (brought by Wilson)
Sticky rice with mushrooms and sweet Chinese sausage (made by Mom)
Pecan Pie & Apple Pie, with vanilla ice cream
The food turned out pretty well. Very happy to be home again. Missed you, Nimes – we’ll cook up a storm at Christmas this year.
I’ve never been into Twitter, though I recognize its appeal as a communication medium. It’s quick and convenient; a good place to share a transient thought and to record every freaking thing you’re up to.
My protest is against my wife’s usage of Twitter as a substitute for blogging. Some people should not be reduced to expressing their thoughts in 140 characters. It’s deprived me of one of the great joys of my life – reading my wife’s beautiful prose. Consider the following examples of words that would have gone unwritten and unread:
And Grant’s favorite (which I just spent some time hunting down):
For those of you who don’t know, Jen has started a new blog but thinks that no one is going to read it. Please give her some encouragement.
jcliao, consider yourself called-out.
This past weekend I took a few of my coworkers for a long overdue tour of the Harvard campus. It was nice to give everything a last once-over before leaving.
My experience at Harvard was on the atypical side. While everyone else was loading up on extracurriculars, I spent a good amount of time on my own doing problem sets, hanging out with roommates, or wandering around Harvard Square. I probably should have been more social, but fortunately I still made some very good friends (and found a wife!). I have a lot of trouble generalizing what Harvard students are like, but the cross-section that I encountered contained a lot of remarkable, interesting, good-hearted people.
Living in Dunster House for three years was fantastic – some of the rooms I lived in have gorgeous views of the river. The large central courtyard, great for tossing frisbees and roasting goats, faces the Charles River. The majestic red-topped clocktower makes an appearance in a lot of postcards (and makes for a welcome sight after spending a night in the computer lab). Unfortunately, the small grassy area with the footpath leading back to Dunster is now occupied by a shiny new building, which is a shame.
I’ve walked along the charming one-way streets many times, but as a creature of habit, I only have a few regular haunts in the Square. I’ve browsed many books at the Coop and Harvard Bookstore, enjoyed a lot of sunshine JFK Park, nursed a good number of beers at Charlie’s (at least in my younger days), and eaten a ridiculous number of slices and sandwiches at Pinocchio’s.
I have a deep emotional connection Harvard. It was the first place I lived where I was really on my own (well, almost – our family friends, the Shias, would always pitch in to help me move). I met many of my best friends here. And there is something very special about passing by our wedding sites on a regular basis. It makes it really easy to re-live some of the memories, like taking a group picture on the Memorial Church steps, attracting tons of attention in the Yard and the Square, and enjoying a post-wedding picnic on a beautiful Spring day in JFK Park – with an open tab at Pinocchio’s for our guests.
wedding day / sneaking back into the church
A week after going to Palo Alto for Feng and Grant’s wedding, it was off to New York to celebrate with Ellen and Will.
They had a distinctly New York wedding. I ended up being a gopher for both the bridesmaids and groomsmen, so I went from our hotel across the street from Bryant Park down 5th Avenue to Ellen’s old apartment building. A Central Park fountain provided a beautiful backdrop for photos. They had their ceremony at the Marble Collegiate Church, and the reception down the street at Cipriani. The food was outstanding. It was great to hang out with Jen’s family again. Jen delivered an amazing toast that had most of the room alternating between chuckles and tears.
From a Friendster testimonial, dated 7/4/2003: Hearing her cheerful “Hi Wingerz!” always brings a smile to my face. Whether we’re in Saratoga, San Francisco, Boston, or New York, she’s always up for a good meal and some dessert. Likes: sushi, Serendipity (the dessert place with the $12 sundaes, not the movie), working out, reading, swing dancing, oatmeal raisin cookies, travelling, and her sister. Dislikes: I’m not really sure since she’s always in such a good mood. She’s like an older sister to me. Two wonderful girls in the same family – it must be the genes. :) A few of the tastes have changed but she’s still her same ol’ cheerful self and we love her for it.
We’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with the newlyweds this past year. They have always been fantastic, generous hosts when we come to visit New York. Will also cooked Thanksgiving dinner for us and came out to California for Christmas. It’s been good to welcome another guy into the Liao family; we’re no longer outnumbered, but somehow the girls will probably still get their way.
making her getaway
While I am here braving yet another Boston winter, the wife is off in South America, making the news.
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