Two Trips in One Week

Last week, I took two trips, which turned into unforgettable vacations. When my niece told me that she, her dad, and her brother were taking a short trip to Wildwood, I asked if I could join them. I haven’t seen them in a long time; therefore, it was a perfect opportunity to spend some time with them. I am glad that they let me crash their party. We biked on the boardwalk, visited the casinos, dined in various restaurants, drank a few cocktails, and took many trips down memory lane.

Time had flown by so fast. It felt like yesterday, my niece and nephew were my kids’ age now, but they had grown into adults. Samantha finished college and spent her time teaching kids English in Taiwan. Eric will start Drexel in December. I am so proud of the fine young woman and man they are becoming. I also had a chance to reconnect with their dad. No matter what happened, he is still my brother-in-law and I have nothing but love and respect for him. Although the trip was only from Sunday to Tuesday, it gave me just enough time to spend with them. I am glad that I invited myself to the trip.

I spent most of last Wednesday packing for the camping trip in First Landing with other Scouts’ parents. Since it was our first time, I didn’t know what to expect. We brought two tents: one for my wife, Vương, Xuân, and me and one for Đạo and Đán. We brought some instant noodles and food. I brought two cases of beer to share with everyone. It turned out that one of the leader’s wife brought Phở, grilled beef, and pork for all the family. I had so much respect and admiration for her. We didn’t have to worry about food from Thursday to Sunday morning. We spent time on the beach, drank beers to keep us hydrated, and ate whenever the meals were ready. It was like living in paradise on budget. The campsite was affordable and the food was free. I wanted to chip in for the food, but she didn’t take it. All I could do was show my appreciation for her generosity.

Because of the extremely hot weather, we (mostly the men) drank cases after cases of beers. I have been quite reckless with my gout, but somehow I am not getting attacked yet. I got a mild case a few weeks ago and two pills of Aleve knocked it right out. The kids had their own fun and I was surprised how well they played together. There were no conflicts nor fights. They played in the water, ate, and watched movies together. They enjoyed catching crabs and fish at night. The men drank and talked until 2 am in the morning. Maybe it was the Scout spirit that drew us closer together. I felt like we were a big family. We put our differences (mostly politics) aside and just enjoyed our companies. We had a fantastic time with our own little family as well as the extended friends.

I am so glad for these two trips. They were my much-needed breaks to clear my mind as I am dealing with some personal dramas. I still need a lot of work to repair the damages. I am thankful for my wife for keeping it real with me as I sort out my issues.

Personel Changes

My supervisor’s position has been filled. I am so happy that one of our colleagues has stepped up to replace our previous boss. She is the new Assistant Dean for Library & Technology. She is young, flexible, and understandable. I have had a great working relationship with her; therefore, my position won’t change much.

My Web Content Specialist is moving on. I had a feeling that she wouldn’t stay long, but everyone loved her. Fortunately, I was able to reach out to the candidate that I wanted to hire and make the offer. She accepted the position. Unfortunately the Web Content Specialist position might vanish in the future.

We’re going through changes and turnovers. For now, I am still part of the Library and Technology group. I hope it will stay that way, but I am just a small fish in the pond. I don’t know where I will be moved next. I am not going to stress over it though. I’ll adapt or move on if necessary. Once the kids all grow up, I’ll have more options since I wouldn’t need the flexibility anymore.

The Law School, the Library and Technology group in particular, is still a fantastic place to work and raise my family. At this point of my life, my only concern and responsibility are my family. My career takes a backseat in term of trying to move upward. I am content where I am at.

From GoDaddy to CloudFlare

On a whim, I transferred all my domains from GoDaddy to CloudFlare. I should have made the move a long time ago, but I was afraid I might screw up my domains. It turned out the the process was so darn easy because I have been using CloudFlare free services including SSL certificates, security measures, and speed benefits. All I needed to do was to select the domains and to get the authorizations from GoDaddy. CloudFlare takes care of the rest.

I registered all my domains with GoDaddy since 2003. While GoDaddy has been reliable, I wanted to support CloudFlare for the great services it offered for free for many years. CloudFlare has been a trustworthy tech company. It definitely helps making my websites more secure and faster.

Now that all of domains are all under CloudFlare, I couldn’t be happier. It is much easier to have everything in one place. I hope that CloudFlare won’t turn evil in the future.

Ngọc Lan Sang in English

Ngọc Lan was a multilingual musician. In addition to her native language, she could sing French, English, and even Chinese. Her Vietnamese was impeccable. She knew that the diacritics were as essential as the letters in a tonal language; therefore, she made a clear distinction between her hook above and her tilde in her phrasing. Her effortlessness on accenting the tilde, in particular, was unmistakable. She also articulated her “tr” and her “ch” with distinguishable nuances.

For Chinese, she only recorded a few songs; therefore, I won’t get into that. Besides, I don’t know Chinese. As for French, she had been praised for singing with fluency. My French is very limited; therefore, I’ll leave that one out too. Since I know English and love my second language as much as my first, I would like to focus on her English singing, which fascinated me.

I have spent years listening to jazz legends, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, and Lena Horne, as well as modern jazz vocalists, such as Tierney Sutton, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot, Sophie Milman, and Diana Krall. I love them all, but one particular singer has me hanging onto her every word is Stacey Kent. I adore the way she enunciate each syllable. I could listen to her records all day just to learn English. Similar to Ngọc Lan, Stacey Kent can sing French fluently. If you want some relaxing French jazz ballads, check out Stacey Kent’s Reconte-Moi.

When I wanted to put together a collection of Ngọc Lan’s English recordings, I had trouble finding them. Fortunately, Ngọc Lan still has many devoted fans who know her repertoire inside out. One of them is Nguyễn Quốc Anh who I had reached out through I Love Ngoc Lan Facebook Page and he provided me with a list of sixteen songs recorded in English and Vietnamese. Although incomplete, the list gives me enough materials to pore over.

I was not impressed with her early English works, particularly her new wave covers. From John Christian’s “Ebony Eyes” to Optimal’s “Kimi Ga Suki” to John Farrar’s “Magic,” the uptempo productions drowned out her soft voice. With Brenda K. Starr’s “I Still Believe,” the bass-pounding r&b beat overpowered her vocals. I could barely make out what she was singing in English. With Bertie Higgins’s “Casablanca,” she mispronounced the lyrics quite a bit. When I heard her sing, “Popcorn and Cokes beneath the stars,” I almost fell out of my chair. I had to repeat it several times to make sure I didn’t mishear the word Cokes. The mispronunciation was just hilarious, but it might make sense with, “Making love on a long hot summer’s night.” I am kidding.

Fortunately, Ngọc Lan’s English improved tremendously in her later works, starting when began recording for Mây Productions. Her rendition of Alan Nguyễn’s “Whenever You Come to Me” was damn-near perfect. I love the way she enunciated truth in these bars: “It’s time to tell the truth, please tell me what to do / Someday I’ll find the way to get to you.” Her cover of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” would have been excellent if she adhered to the original pronoun. Changing from “she” to “he,” she lost that sweet s sound: “Why she had to go? I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.”

Her interpretation of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” worked surprisingly well. She kicked off the tune in Vietnamese and she sounded lovely. Saxophonist Thanh Lâm played a soulful solo at the break. Ngọc Lan picked up the second half in English: “Woah, my love, my darling / I’ve hungered for your touch.” I love how she ended the word touch. She pulled off the high note, “Are you still mine?,” with ease and wisely departed from the famous climax, “I need your love.”

Although her accent had not completely gone, she had proved that she can adapt and adjust to English. As someone who still struggles to learn English after 30 years living in the United States, I admire how quickly she picked up a new language. At first I was not impressed, but I found her accent to be charming and intoxicating. Her take on Paul Anka’s “Diana” puts a smile on me every time I hear her sing:

I’m so young and you’re so old
This, my darling, I’ve been told
I don’t care just what they say
’Cause forever I will pray
You and I will be as free
As the birds up in the trees

Yes, fly freely my love.

Replacing Outdoor Spigots

Ever since we moved into our house, I never gave a thought about winterizing our spigots because I had no idea I need to do that. Last winter, I didn’t even disconnect the hose from the spigot. When we were driving back from skiing on a snowy day, my wife told me about it, she made me worried. I was praying the pipes wouldn’t bust. I disconnected the hose from the spigot the next day. Fortunately, we didn’t have any issue and I started looking into winterizing out spigots.

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law noticed that the spigot in front of the house started to leak. Although tightened up the screw stopped the leak, it was time to replace the old spigots with the hose bibb round wheel handles with the ball valves. I called my handyman Ricardo.

I watched him replacing the spigots and learned so I could be more confidence if I have to replace them on my own. When he cut up the ceiling for the back spigot, we discovered a shut-off valve to winterize the spigot. I asked him to replace the valve as well. Even though we didn’t discover a shut-off valve for the front spigot, I asked him to put one in as well just to make sure we won’t have any issue in the winter.

While I had him in the house on Monday, I asked him to replace the shut-off valves for the kitchen faucet. I could have replaced them myself, but I rather had the professional taking care of them for now. He recommended Sharkbite technology for the plumbing works even though he could also do the soldering. I now have a peace of mind knowing where all the pipes are and how to fix them.

Here are the products we used:

The labor was $400. He also fixed the leaking PVC pipe that drains from our half bath. I forgot what the part called.

No Motivation

I haven’t stepped into an ice rink for at least three weeks. I guess I am taking a break from ice skating. I don’t when I am going to pick it up again. I am stuck at the loop and flip jumps.

I only rollerblade for half an hour each day. I am not learning anything new. I just keep doing the same things over and over again. I am not making any progress at all. I am losing my passion for rollerblading as well. I felt intimidated when I met much better aggressive skaters. I used to be the only rollerblader at the parks, but now there seems to be more. They were super friendly, but I just felt embarrassed.

I am not sure where I am heading with these sports. I guess I am showing my age after all. I still want to skate recreationally though.

Covid is Still Not Over

Last Sunday my colleague whose office is next door to mine tested positive for Covid. I took a test on Wednesday and the result came back negative. My niece who flew back from Taiwan tested positive yesterday. My cousins and nephews tested positive after taking a vacation. My wife’s sister and her family tested positive a month ago and we had always been in close contact with them.

Our little family and my mother-in-law who is living with us haven’t caught the virus yet. How have we dodged it thus far? I could only think of three reasons. One, we have been extremely lucky. Two, I believe my mother has been protecting us from afar. Three, masking works.

With the way Covid continues to spread, it seems inevitable that the virus will eventually catch up to us. I hope our luck won’t run out. I pray that my mother continues to watch over us. We continue to mask up. It is not over yet, please don’t let down your guard.

Cristela Alonzo: Middle Classy

I didn’t realize that I had watched Cristela Alonzo’s previous special in 2017 until I looked up my blog archive. Follow up with Lower Classy, Ms. Alonzo named her latest Netflix Special Middle Classy. As a Mexican-American comic, she has made it to the point where she has health insurance, and no more Vicks for everything. She shared her experience of getting a checkup for the first time in her viginia. Her materials were consistent the whole way through. Recommended streaming.

My Lively Đán

I love all my sons, but I worry about Đán the most. He always occupies my mind. As my wife and I have decided to give the kids a break from their digital devices for the summer, Đán is not coping too well without his PC. While Đạo, Xuân, and Vương find something else to play, he finds ways to get under their skin. Without video games, he plays the piano really fast or just slamming the keys at maximum volume to drive everyone nuts. When he is not irritating his brothers or getting on our nerves, he just withdraws and thinks about video games. He doesn’t want to do anything else. No skating. No rollerblading. No reading. None.

He has all the behaviors of ADHD. He also has some serious skin issues. Vitiligo seems to affect his confidence. He wears long sleeves and pants to cover his body even in the summer heat. We try to get him to wear short sleeves and shorts, but then again, he should wear long clothes to protect his skin. Like me, he is a keloid former and he already has a thick one on his elbow when he scraped himself from rollerblading. He is only ten years old and already developing keloids. That’s not a good sign at such an early age. He could get worse if he is not being careful with his skin. Any cuts or scratches could lead into keloids. That was part of the reason I was blowing up when his cousin scratched him. I hope those scratches won’t turn into keloids.

He is still a fun, silly kid and full of life. I hope he continues to play the piano to keep himself focused. I know he will turn out OK, but I just can’t help worrying about him. The hardest part about being a parent is that you have the responsibility of another human being.

Life’s a Beast

Once in a while, the beast in me came out. I burned bridges and destroyed relationships, but I couldn’t tame the beast. I rather let it all out than keep holding on to it. Once I get it out of my system, I can move on. Do I regret it? No. Should I have handled the situation differently? Probably.

How do I avoid future conflicts and confrontations? I don’t know. I don’t want to keep things inside my head; therefore, I speak my mind. It is easier to just let it out on the page like this or to the people I never have to deal with again. It is much harder when I have to to face the people days in and days out. I am stuck inside the bubbles and they will pop eventually. I need to get my head out of the bubbles.

Is life complicated or am I making myself complicated as I grow old and grumpy? Maybe it’s the latter. Maybe it was overblown. Whatever the case, the beast is already out and I can’t take it back. I just need to get past it and move forward. Life’s a beast and I can’t hide it. I have go face it straight on.