My folks arrived just days before my trip to Beverly Hills for this year’s Macula Society meeting. After groceries, dim sum, and a quick orientation for our new childcare routine, we celebrated the Year of the Dog with an attempt at a tea ceremony and a hearty “gung hay fat choy” from Westley. I arrived in LAX Wednesday morning and headed directly to Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles. Not knowing the difference with their annex across the street, I did a quick web search and opted for the heartier tsukemen at the annex. But the salty broth was overpowering and I made the mistake (again) of paying an extra buck for the large size that left me uncomfortable stuff on the way to the hotel. The poolside reception after the first conference session included the usual suspects from the retina world, and I went to bed rehearsing my talk. The next day, I left the meeting early and enjoyed springy noodles and a rich, nutty broth at Tentenyu Ramen. I tried to let it digest during the new member reception before having dinner with my friend Raj at Gwen. The overpriced Blackstone Wagyu flat iron steak at this manly restaurant/butcher shop however left me reminiscing about Matsusaka marbling. On Friday, the meeting ran later than expected, and I once again braved the agonizing LA traffic for french bistro fare at Ludo Lefebvre’s Petit Trois. The soft, cuddly omelette and scrumptious escargot were to die for, although the onion soup felt a bit undersalted and underflavored, but enough to keep me satisfied until our gala banquet. I was coming down with a cough by the last day of the meeting, but managed to get through my talk and met my friend Jeff for lunch over bacon-wrapped dates and a delicious Spanish fried chicken and cornmeal waffle at A.O.C.. I was ecstatic to see Melody bring Westley and my parents to pick me up from the airport, and we indulged in a lavish meal of fresh abalone, peking duck, and conch before returning home. With Melody leaving again soon for her conference, we took advantage of some Mondavi Center tickets from a colleague to enjoy a little alone time without the baby on Sunday.
Turning 39 wasn’t really something I felt like celebrating, so I took up an offer for an advisory board in Phoenix just 2 days before my birthday. We spent Sunday at the Norcal Home & Landscape Expo to scout landscape designers, then dined on hearty HK cuisine to ease our cold symptoms. My lab made a bigger deal of my birthday when I got back with a beautiful red velvet cake, and my clinic staff extended the celebration further on Wednesday. The following weekend got swept away by a day-long faculty retreat that began with a cult-themed Escape Room experience, followed by grueling but unproductive discussions about education, research, and clinics at a country club. For Westley’s birthday, we delayed the celebration until Sunday for a dim sum party at Yue Huang, followed by unpacking of presents, whacking of balloons, eating of cake, assembly of Duplo pieces, and jumping on an inflatable trampoline that got him bouncing in and out like a ninja warrior. His new-found assertiveness led to some roughhousing at school, leaving him disfigured as he transitioned to the Beginner’s 2 class. For us, his growing energy also meant forgoing any hope for vegging out to watch the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and instead filling our weekends with playground visits and outings to keep the little guy busy. Surprisingly, he handled his first dental cleaning with flying colors last week. And since he still maintains a 7pm bedtime, we were able to finish up Dishonored 2 and prepare for our next guilty gaming pleasure. With impending tariffs on clean energy, we are also beginning to invite solar salesmen to our house to torture us with their infomercial sales pitch. With my parents coming in just one week, we hope to maintain our sanity just a bit longer before reinforcements arrive.
After the relative success of our New York trip, we decided to take Westley to North Bay for the long weekend. With a short stop for Westley’s first McDonald’s hashbrown, we settled into our beautiful AirBnB private retreat stocked with Magna-Tiles, toy trains, Lego, and books galore. After sharing some camerones empanizados and pollo al horno at Sol Food, we returned to the house in post-prandial haze for Westley’s nap. We spent the afternoon touring the interactive exhibits at the Bay Area Discovery Museum by the Golden Gate Bridge, ending with an early fireside dinner of chowder, fish and chips, and scrumptious warm buttered crab roll at Fish. We visited Muir Woods the next morning, sticking to the main trail and thankful for the more rugged stroller we borrowed from our hosts as we soaked in the quiet and majesty of the redwoods amidst Westley’s intermittent shouts of “eat,” “no daddy,” and “up-a-now”. He fell asleep on the way to lunch, so we tried to nap in the car with him. Once we carb-loaded at Piazza D’Angelo, we hit up local playgrounds like Boyle Park and Sycamore Park, enjoying sandboxes, intercoms, and catkins. Dinner at Sammy Hagar’s El Paseo consisted of spicy deep fried quail, mushroom risotto, and black cod in coconut milk which were solid across the board. With my persistent back pain and Melody’s sore throat, we took a leisurely stroll around Sausalito Monday morning before capping it with good chickpea soup and poached eggs in mushroom broth at Cibo. A final nap proved fruitless, so we packed up and headed out, stopping for CB2 and CB outlet shopping, and dined on Korean food at Pacific East Mall before returning home. We’ll have to see what other road trips we can do now that Westley’s nearly two.
We rang in the new year with lots of family time and a gift membership to the California State Railroad Museum. On Saturday, after visiting the Yolo County Library to get Westley’s first library card, we drove to Old Sac to check out the highly-rated museum. Westley enjoyed wandering between locomotives and exploring the dining and sleeping cars. But he was most excited by the toy train exhibit and play area. After parallel play with Brio, Melissa and Doug, and Thomas the Tank trains amidst other rowdy toddlers, we strolled around Old Sac and snacked on mini donuts before heading home. We spent New Year’s Eve feasting at our favorite local Chinese joint, but Melody fell asleep before the televised ball drop. We spent New Year’s Day exploring the playgrounds of Davis – Rainbow City, Willow Creek Park, and Playfields Park, where Westley climbed, swung, and slid on various play structures. With his new ability to awkwardly smile on command, I was awarded with plenty of photo ops and lots of daddy pride. We also returned to PC gaming with Dishonored 2. Playing this time as the deposed empress Emily Kaldwin, we returned to first-person stealth action through the steampunk sequel, and basked in the warmth generated by my desktop computer.
After our packed NYC trip, we decided to relax at home for the rest of our Christmas break. To prepare, we stocked up on groceries, and brought leftovers home from Asian Pearl, including a variety of new foods for Westley to try like conch, geoduck, and frog – just in time for him to start forming 2-word sentences like “more…conch” and “more…seaweed”. On Friday, we took him to the local Explorit science center, which kept even us adults entertained with interactive hands-on exhibits like wind tunnels, rotating tables, ferromagnetic liquids, and nanotube models. The trip left Westley tired enough to resume his usual sleep schedule, and we were able to embark on a mini-marathon of Big Little Lies over steaming bowls of bun rieu. Despite the soap-opera feel of the HBO show, the excellent acting and deep dive into issues of domestic violence kept us engrossed throughout. We invited the in-laws over on Saturday for board games, video games, and Japanese take-out, then took a trip down to Stockton on Sunday for dim sum with the grandparents. Westley woke up on Christmas day to a new Radio Flyer wagon and a Mr. Potato Head, along with other goodies from Hape, Brio, and Melissa & Doug. Still recovering from our recent cold, we spent Christmas weekend mostly binge-watching the second season of Stranger Things and gearing up to finally rescue princess Zelda (after clocking more than 150 hours). Despite spending nearly a week vegging out at home, it’ll still be difficult to return to work this week.
It did not bode well that all three of us came down with a sore throat a week before our trip to New York for the holidays. We had made the daring decision to take a red-eye for Westley’s first flight, so we were ready for the worst. Annoyingly, the flight kept getting delayed and ultimately got canceled. So we were forced to bring the baby back home after getting him all prepared in his sleep sack and car seat at the airport terminal. After regrouping for the daytime flight, Westley did surprisingly well on the plane, and we landed at JFK just in time for dinner and bedtime. On Sunday, we met up with my college friends and their kids for brunch at their upper-east-side apartment, then returned for a family reunion with my cousins over a Chinese banquet-style seafood dinner. The next morning, we awoke to dim sum and a visit to my parents’ senior center, before taking Westley on his first subway ride into the city. We walked along the High Line through SoHo, met my friend John for lunch with matzo ball soup, then stopped by Murray’s for a grilled cheese for the subway ride home. In the evening, we left Westley with my parents to enjoy a movie and dinner date. After watching The Last Jedi from our reserved recliner seats, we went to Le Bernardin for Eric Ripert’s tasting menu, which featured fluke, langoustine, monkfish, snapper, and meluza – all cooked to utter perfection in classic French-style, drenched in their respective sauces, and served in a newly-renovated dining room that evoked fish scales and ocean waves. After dinner, we walked past bustling Time Square to the iconic Rockefeller Center, where the Christmas tree was unfortunately unlit. We spent our last morning checking out the popular Holiday Train Show at the NYBG with Westley, then headed to Flushing’s New World Mall for lunch, where the Siblings potato noodles outshone the beef noodles from Lan Zhou Noodles, the duck noodles from Yoz Shanghai, or the cold noodles from Old Luoyang. We also got some dumplings from Golden Shopping Mall for the return flight, but Westley had a rough time on the flight back, even though we tried to keep him on West coast time throughout. Luckily, we have a week to recover from our action-packed trip!
We spent Thanksgiving this year relaxing at home with Westley and the in-laws. With the weather getting colder, we opted for hot pot over traditional Thanksgiving fare, followed by adventuring through Hyrule to discover new shrines and hunt more lynels. Holiday shopping continues to begin earlier each year, so I went to Target after dinner to get in on some of the doorbuster deals. The next morning, we took advantage of Westley’s early wake time to partake in Black Friday in Vacaville. The crowds seemed more manageable this year, probably due to many shopping online, but our loot was equally underwhelming. Melody focused on cooking instead, preparing an alternative Thanksgiving meal for a lab party at my house. She spent Saturday preparing a charcuterie and cheese platter with homemade cranberry apple relish, hummus, candied pecans, egg salad, creamed corn with gorgonzola cheese, and roasted carrot white bean dip, along with a wild mushroom bread pudding, kale and turnip gratin, sweet potato tots, and an impressive braised turkey dish. The nerds of the group, including my wife and I, embarked on a Ticket to Ride, while Westley chose to hang out with my lab technician instead of his biological parents. I burned off the calories over the following week running busy clinics, preparing a grant, submitting several ARVO abstracts, and surviving our first round of residency interviews. On Saturday, we danced the night away with my new labmates at our department’s holiday party, which left us with little energy on Sunday to enjoy the weather at Pioneer Park or more holiday shopping in Roseville. With my new foam slippers, a new batch of marzipan, and more hot chocolate, I feel like I’m ready to hibernate for the holiday season.
Our annual AAO meeting returned to New Orleans this year, but the visit was longer than I’d like, having committed myself to three courses, two advisory boards, and a podium talk. So while I was unable to spend time with my family, I was determined to eat to my heart’s content at the very least. After an early morning flight and checking into my hotel, I quickly took a Lyft ride to Willie Mae’s Scotch House for fried chicken. Being solo, I skipped the line outside, but could hardly recognize the inside as the wait staff took my orders on fancy tablets with trendy music blasting in the background. The chicken was not as sublime as I remembered, but still hit the spot. After a Zeiss advisory board meeting, I joined Genentech folks for oysters Rockefeller and gumbo at Antoine’s, then shared sweetbreads and BBQ lobster with Duke co-fellows at Brennan’s. I didn’t recognize anyone at the Cornea Society party, so I called it an early night to make the 6am advisory board with Alimera the next morning. Afterwards, I stayed at the conference to check out portable fundus cameras before lunch at Cochon, where the fried alligator and pork cheek appetizers overshadowed the salty louisiana cochon entree. For dinner, I mooched off cajun-styled receptions with Allergan and MEEI, then socialized at the Beats by the Bayou party at House of Blues. On Sunday, I taught my laser retinopexy course, shared coffee and beignets with my fellow Parisa at Cafe du Monde, then joined my roommate Dan for a “Peacemaker” po-boy at Acme Oyster House, before returning to the conference to teach my OCT course. I filled up on Galatoire’s goute and shrimp etouffee on the way to our department reception, then socialized more at the YO party. With all the talking over loud music, I had to recover my voice on Monday. So after morning meetings with Iridex and Clearside, and lunch with UCD fellows over Mr. B’s BBQ shrimp, I relaxed in my hotel room until the CAOS dinner. Despite the high cost and bad food due to lack of corporate sponsorship, the event was well attended, and I got to sit next to Ralph Eagle and rub elbows with several Chinese-American leaders in our field. I was glad that my voice had recovered by Tuesday for my podium talk, although our inaugural intraoperative OCT course had fewer attendees than instructors. Nevertheless, I was just glad that the long trip was over, as I took my last bite of delicious gumbo and fried chicken from Dooky Chase before my flight home.
We took Westley out to the Sacramento Reptile Show and Grandpa’s Barn earlier this month, where he continued to demonstrate his affinity for animals, but only if viewed safely from a distance. My parents also visited us to help with the baby. Fortunately, we got our renovations completed in time for their arrival, and they were able to enjoy the new guest bathroom, as we transitioned Westley to his new bathroom at the same time. Melody was out of town for two conferences, so they got to bond with him – blowing bubbles, exploring nearby parks, teaching him Cantonese, and watching Planet Earth II together. They also helped with pick-up and drop-off at daycare, watched him pick his first pumpkin, and joined his school’s Fall Festival parade. Meanwhile, Melody and I were able to take some breaks over more Zelda and another season of Game of Thrones. We even got to dine out at new restaurants like Sarang Bang and Localis, where we enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and creative cooking from bar seats overlooking the open kitchen. Last week, while wildfires were consuming parts of nearby Napa valley, Westley had a bout of fevers which made him more irritable. Fortunately, his symptoms abated by Halloween, and we were able to send him back to daycare in his monkey costume. With my parents manning candy duty at home, we took him on a tricycle ride around the neighborhood to visit our friends. At this age, Westley is really peaking on the “cuteness”-meter now.
Our bathroom remodel continued to drag on, as the whole project began to feel as if it were cursed. With our bathtub cracked on delivery, a medicine cabinet that could not be installed, vanity handles with the wrong length, scratches on our marble counter, crooked bathroom mirror, and many, many delays from the contractors, it felt like everything was going wrong. Half of our home remained covered with plastic sheets and we had not had our house cleaned in almost 3 months, which further aggravated the dirt and chaos generated by our 19-month old. Last week, after helping to organize a site visit from the NEI director, my wife and I took a short trip to San Jose to attend my fellow Parisa’s wedding. We would’ve liked to see more of our first Persian wedding, but the sun was shining directly into our eyes. Dinner was an interesting introduction to Persian cuisine and music, but we left early to relieve my in-laws back home. This weekend, we took Westley out to the Farm to Fork Festival, where we checked out the various booths and food trucks, and snacked on grilled oysters, blueberry gelato, and an “OG” burger with pork belly, fried egg, and kale chips. Westley enjoyed all the samples, especially the goat milk, but was more tentative with the goat petting. Back home, we watched the premiere of the new Star Trek Discovery, a prequel to the original series featuring a new cast, new ships, new races, and a whole new look that got us plenty excited.