Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 72 - Blue Spruce

Thought of the day: In a couple of hours, we're ringing in another new year.  This new year, just like every other new years in the past, still shrouded in its infancy as a landscape shrouded in a mist, offers hope and elicits excitement.  What is this new year going to bring?  Will I be able to bring about change?  The answer is probably no.  There are always reasons for things to be what they're.  No amount of resolution can bring about real changes unless you know what the reasons are and take steps to address them.  More often than not, the reasons are related to who you are.  So the real changes often have to come from within.  In a society overfilled with I-am-never-at-fault and can-do attitudes, it's so much easier to focus on addressing external issues and then lament about the lack of real, long lasting changes.  There will be a few issues I need to work on this year and, unfortunately, these are the same issues I have been working on in the past years and, most likely, in the future years as well!

Photo of the day:

Blue Spruce in the backyard through a misty window.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Week 8, 9, 10

OK, it has been a while, but it's the holiday season and I did make some donations in the past few weeks that would hopefully make meaningful differences in the lives of a few.

One charity that I'd like to mention is a very special charity I just discovered this year: Children of Vietnam.  COV provides care for the poor, sometimes poor and disabled, children of Vietnam.  I really like the approach they take to help these children.  Their field staff and volunteers evaluate the situation of individual families and create a care plan tailored for their specific needs.  The care plan is pretty comprehensive, covering everything from nutrition, medicare procedure, family housing, to access to micro-loans and education.  Their goal is to help these families get out of the cycle of poverty and provide a brighter future to these children.  Our donation to COV this year will help provide access to education for some of these kids.

Day 71 - Snowy Day

Thought of the day:  Finally we got some real snow.  Perfect day to snuggle up in front of a fireplace and watch a movie with the family - and that's exactly what we did.

Photo of the day:

Snowy day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 70 - Lamp

Thought of the day:  Lila is starting preschool next week.  I am filled with uncertainty and sadness.  To me, she seems too little and too "clueless" for school, even for a preschool.  I have sent her to a drop-in daycare a couple of times in the past and had little problem with it, but this feels more permanent.  From this point on, I will be giving her up more and more to the outside world, where she rightfully belongs, but knowing that doesn't make the process any easier for me.  Of course, looking at the bright side, I will be getting more time back, which I really missed too.  In a way, this is like taking a journey from one place to another, the feeling of uncertainly and sadness on departure is mixed with anticipation and excitement of going someplace new.  There will be many journeys like this.  The key thing is to go with the flow and be happy anywhere I go.

Photo of the day:
Lamp, home and holiday lights.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 69 - Lila and Me

Thought of the day: We just finished watching The Pacific, a HBO miniseries based on the stories of three Americans fought in the pacific theater during World War II.  It's very intense.  One of the men, John Basilone, fought valiantly in the battle field until he was killed in Iwo Jima.  After the movie, we checked him out, fully expecting that the movie exaggerated in his unthinkable, heroic acts.  We were in for a surprise - this guy not only did all that, he did more.  We can't help but are in awe of his bravery and sacrifice.  People like him, tens of millions of them in the world, fought alongside in the war and made real sacrifices so now we can live in peace and prosperity.  There's nothing like watching, or reading, history to make one realize how much others had sacrificed for us, and how petty our daily worries really are.  The best way to pay our respect is to live our life with gratitude and openmindedness and live it to the fullest.

Photo of the day:

Lila getting on her K'Boom skis.  She has no fear!  (This is a Droid FxCamera photo.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 68: Holiday Lights

Thought of the day:  Colorful lights are as indispensable to holiday festiveness as the holiday music.  And with LED lights, you can get festive without the guilt of using too much resources.  We have been putting up a lot of LED lights inside and out for a couple of years now.  It uses less than 100w altogether (remember those 100w incandescent light bulbs that we used to use?) and it lasts forever - we didn't have to replace a single strand so far despite the sometimes brutal Colorado winter weather.   In a long or even a near term, it's definitely more cost effective than incandescent holiday lights and it's just as pretty.

Photo of the day:
Holiday lights outside of our house.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 67: Railroad Museum

Thought of the day:  We spent a delightful afternoon in Golden's Colorado Railroad Museum today.  It's definitely one of the most photogenic places I have been to in Colorado.  There are dozens of locomotives on the outdoor display tracks.  A lot of railroad equipments are on display as well.  There were no running trains today but kids had fun going up and down the engines and carts.  I took lots of pictures: the unusual objects, late afternoon light and the historic Table Mountain in the background made interesting images.  And the museum served its purpose well - it made me really want to learn something about the railroad history in this country.  Unfortunately people don't travel by train much any more in the US, even though trains are still popular and practical in other parts of the world.  China depends on the railroads to move people around, especially around holidays.  In college, I used to ride a steam engine train to travel between Beijing and Fuzhou twice a year.  It took two days each way and it was a grueling journey sitting on a hard bench all the way.  Now you can do it in less than a day and probably much more comfortably too.  With China's heavy investments in High Speed Rail infrastructure, perhaps you can do it in only a couple of hours in the near future!  The Swiss use their trains a lot too.  Swiss trains are usually quiet, comfortable and equipped with large view windows.  No matter which part of the world you are in, part of the fun traveling by train should be the journey itself as you get to relax and enjoy the sights along the way.  I hope there will be a revival of rail travel in the US.  It will be good for us and good for the environment.

Photo of the day:
A steam locomotive in Colorado Railroad Museum.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 66: Panda's Gift

Thought of the day: Christmas is a good time to think about what makes one happy.  As I heard, one side effect of the recession was that it may have changed gift making in some subtle ways.  Instead of a lot of material gifts, people are giving more time to their family.  I think this will make people on both the giving and receiving ends happier.  My favorite gift this year was a story written by Jasmine for me.  It was inspired by a story called Quiltmaker's Gift that her teacher read in school.  Here is Jasmine's story: Panda's Gift.  True happiness comes from giving, from family intimacy and from within, and not from material wealth or the pursuing of it.

Photo of the day:
Jasmine's Christmas gift for me.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 65 - Piano Duet

Thought of the day: Merry Christmas!

Photo of the day:
Christmas piano duet...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 64 - Pizza Oven

Thought of the day:  There is something about the holidays.  Maybe it's the music, maybe it's the lights, maybe it's the food, but everything seems to be tinged with a certain joviality.  Even the most mundane tasks like cleaning the house or doing the laundry seems a little different.  And the kids, with little or nothing to worry about, are basking in pure joy.  Yes, every day should be a holiday.  I shall spend the remaining days of the year to figure out how.

Photo of the day:
Pizza oven at Laudisio Restaurant.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 63 - Skiing Snowman

Thought of the day: It was a perfect day to spend at Eldora, our local ski resort.  It was sunny, warm, and the snow was great.  Lila loved her k'boom strap on skis and learned to slide down a small slope on her own.  At the same time last year, we could make her stay on the skis for only a few minutes.  What a difference a year made!  Lila is fearless and eager to try out new things.  Her favorite sentence at this moment is "Let meeeee try!!!"  I like her spirit but it's a good thing that we didn't give in every time, otherwise she would probably have been in a lot more accidents than she has now.

Photo of the day:
Lila peeking into the kids's training area at Eldora - she is still too young to be admitted (cell phone photo).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 62 - Ice Rink

Thought of the day: We are having a stay-cation.  It's a good time of the year to do something local, like skating at One Boulder Plaza or skiing at Eldora.  It's a good time of the year to finish things up so that we can start the new year with a clean, or at least a cleaner, slate.  It's a good time of the year to take a break from work and travel.  It's a good time of the year for reflection and stay-cation.

Photo of the day:
Ice Rink at One Boulder Plaza in downtown.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 61 - Red

Thought of the day:  In the past years, we have, miraculously, managed to produce a lengthy letter at the end of every year.  It's a nice way to summarize and reflect upon the passing year.  As I worked towards the end of the letter, I was usually overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude - gratitude for the experiences we had, gratitude for the people who enriched our life, gratitude for all the precious moments that gave our life meaning.  Now it's time, or rather, past time, to make a letter for this year.  I know I will make one.  And I know it will be shorter, but not less meaningful.

Photo of the day:
Lila wearing a costume - with the lack of snow here, red is definitely the color of the season.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 60 - Crayons

Thought of the day: My mom got a little emotional when we left this morning.  It's always more difficult for those who are left behind - especially for the moms.  In high school, I took it hard whenever my brother had to return to college after a break.  I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it will be when my girls have to leave home someday.  Every day I get to spend with them is priceless as I know that they will eventually be on their own.

Photo of the day:

Crayons kept Lila busy, at least for a short time, during the flight home.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 59 - Dad

Thought of the day:  A week in the bay area flew by - we're leaving again tomorrow but it feels as if we just landed no more than a couple of hours ago.  My travel always seems to unfold like this: in the beginning, I am excited and in shock at how different everything is; and then at some point, it seems as if I had been there forever and that's how everything was supposed to be; and when it's about time to leave, all the previous emotions of excitement, shock, acceptance, and sometimes resignation are replaced by a singular emotion of longing to stay.  I am lucky to be able to travel and stay in different places, sometimes in different cultures, once in a while.  I feel like someone who lives on several threads of parallel lives and switches between them whenever opportunity arises.  It's challenging at times but mostly I enjoy it.

Photo of the day:
This is a chore-filled I'm shopping for a fireplace for my parents.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 58 - Lila and Grandma

Thought of the day: Listening to my mom playing piano today, I was struck by a sudden but not unfamiliar longing for my piano.  It has been a while since I last practiced.  As much as I love hanging around with Lila, I look forward to having some free time again when she starts preschool next year.

Photo of the day:
Lila and grandma.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 57 - Red Leaf

Thought of the day:  I wonder if the day time is especially short in California - it seems to be the case for me as I find it challenging to take good photos or record interesting thoughts whenever I am here.  Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's being with the parents, maybe it's the lack of a routine, I have a hard time to get a creative process going.  Come to think of it, I feel more comfortable in California but more alive in Colorado.  I think Colorado is good for me.

Photo of the day:

When we were walking in Terman Park this morning, we saw some fall colors. It was good to get out today and record the beautiful colors before they're gone.  Yes, Christmas is almost here and it's time for winter to come to the trees - at least  to some of them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 56 - Chef Chu's

Thought of the day: We walked to Chef Chu's Restaurant in Los Altos for dinner tonight.  It was a gently moonlit evening, a perfect one to spend with the family.

Photo of the day:
Lila waiting with grandma in Chef Chu's for our table to be ready.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 55 - Leaf and Lamps

Thought of the day:  Today I saw some fall colors again - in California.  I also met a man in wheelchair who had lost his limbs to a disease.  He was upbeat and full of energy.  He wheels around the block and goes the gym every day.  He is definitely an inspiration for the neighborhood.

Photo of the day:
Two lamps and a ginkgo leaf in Palo Alto.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 54 - Bronze Statues

Thought of the day: I had brunch with a new friend today.  She was a photographer and used to work on media production and now her top priority is to raise her little boy.  It was interesting talking to her while Lila had fun playing with her boy.  It was good to "venture out" and meet some new people once in a while.

Photo of the day:
Two of the seven bronze statues in Boulder's Dushanbee Teahouse, where we had brunch this morning.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 53 - Cheerful Hat

Thought of the day: Lila was sick earlier this morning and recovered happily after a long nap.  Tonight it was Jasmine's turn to get sick with a bad headache.  I know she will be well again tomorrow, but how can a parent not have this heart in the throat, momentarily lost and very scared feeling when a child suddenly throws up or screams in pain, no matter how many times this may have happened before?  Yes, you know that your child will be OK, but deep in the heart the worst fear is always lurking.  We can be so easily carried away by fears that may sometimes be legitimate but are oftentimes irrational, fears that you don't want to face or admit but can never escape from.  Being human is like taking a ride on a roller coaster of emotions - a ride for the life time - and the more people you're deeply attached to, the more intense the ride is going to feel.  This is also a moment when I really sympathize with the single parents.  Being with a sick child alone must be very scary, bonding but very scary.  I hope they all have a support network which they can rely on and get reassurance from.

Photo of the day:
Jasmine loves her new, bright, cheerful knitted hat.  She asked me to take a picture of her with the hat this morning, when she was still as happy and bubbly as can be.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 52 - Game Time

Thought of the day:  Today we got our Christmas tree - healthy, locally grown, and pesticide-free.  In the past years, we just grabbed the best looking trees we happened upon, sometimes in a store, sometimes in a roadside tent.  We never thought about asking questions.  But of course this year is different.  A little bit of research showed me that most of the 25 million Christmas trees sold every year in this country were sprayed with pesticides at some point.  Some were even sprayed with colorants to look good.  Doesn't that dampen the holiday spirit a little to know that the centerpiece in your home may be loaded with chemicals, some of which may not even be approved for residential use, if the approval stamp means anything in the first place?  I called a few well known stores and found out that none of them carried untainted trees.  One of them was very proud to carry trees "trucked in from Washington and Oregon refrigerated".  Well, there goes the energy savings of all the LED lights.  Luckily, I called a local tree farm and finally found our Christmas tree - healthy, locally grown, and pesticide-free.

Photo of the day:

Game time, game time...  Will there be a game under the Christmas tree this time?  I wonder, i wonder...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 51 - Sunrise Reflection

Thought of the day: Today I was greeted by a magnificent sunrise in the Millennium Hotel.  Our room facing west on the 5th floor was perfect for watching the sunrise.  And then I spent a relaxed morning in Table Mesa area with dear friends.  In the evening we had a dinner party at the Med (Mediterranean Restaurant) - festive crowd, good food, good company.  All in all, another great day in heaven.  (This was written a day later.  I was actually planning to write something else but one extra day was enough to filter out all little things and leave me with what really mattered.)

Photo of the day:

Magnificent sunrise viewed from our room in Boulder's Millennium Hotel.

Week 7 - Beyond Pesticides

This week I decided to make donations to support Beyond Pesticides.  This is a not-for-profit working towards a world free of toxic chemicals.  They take a two-pronged approach to the pesticide problem by identifying the risks of conventional pest management practices and promoting non-chemical and least-hazardous alternatives.  They provide very useful information on their web site.  They responded quickly and helpfully to my urgent request for help after our pesticide exposure earlier this week.  We need more public awareness and policy changes that can be promoted by an organization like this.  I am so glad to be supporting them now instead of our former pest management company.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 50 - Knitted Bear

Thought of the day:  We became the environmental refugees from our home, at least for one night.  Our doctor confirmed that both girls showed signs of inflammations, probably due to the exposure to pesticides sprayed in our home two days ago.  I wish I took them to the doctor earlier, and stayed away from our home sooner.  But at this point I have stopped asking whys and what ifs.  I really want to focus on what is happening to us and what we can do.  What can we do so we can undo, as much as possible, what has been done to us? What can we do so we won't compromise our health further by future exposures? What can we do so this won't happen to others routinely, sometimes unknowingly?  It is challenging, however, when bad practices are already common practices.  You know it goes too far when a prominent local hotel offers "hypoallergenic" rooms that had just been sprayed with toxic chemicals.  I am not able to cheer people up with many positive thoughts today.  I will count on the happy bear to do the job for me.

Photo of the day:
I did run into some pretty generous people today.  This morning the guy at Brewing Market Coffee gave me a mug bearing their logo.  It's not a super fancy mug but I really appreciated the gesture.  And then the Children's Alley gave everybody a bag of hand knitted winter necessities - scarfs, mittens, hats, sweaters, and happy bears!  Apparently it was done by a group of community knitters for the children.  I feel like an imposter receiving such generous gifts when we already have everything we need.  I will give back to them somehow.  Between the guilt of receiving and the pleasure of giving, it's not hard to decide which one to choose!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 49 - Recycle

Thought of the day:  A friend of mine writes a journal for her little girl to read when she is old enough.  Recently she wrote: "If you ever feel like you don't have a purpose, please remember that it is not the great things we do in life that matter.  It is the small ways we affect the lives of the people we know, and the small ways that they affect ours.  That is why we all matter so very much."  It's very well said indeed.  Reading it made me really emotional today because of the context of the message.  I love you, my friend.  And you are making a difference, every day.

Photo of the day:
Recycle your coffee sleeve - a small thing that matters.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 48 - Red Note

Thought of the day:  It was indeed a sad day today.  I discovered that our pest control company, which we have been using for years, was spraying bad chemicals in the house.  We were not notified in advance, and the spray was totally unnecessary.  I fired them immediately, but how much damage has already been done?  We have two innocent, unsuspecting kids growing up in a house that had, most likely, been sprayed in the past.  I have betrayed their trust and have put their health in danger and that makes me overwhelmingly, unspeakably sad.  Companies, in spite of their efforts in building a trustworthy image, can not be trusted to watch out for your benefit.  Not at all. No matter how many years they have been there.  No matter how many households they serve.  No matter what they claim.  Your health, and your kids' health, are solely on your own hands.  I have learned this in a hard way.  And I hope I will never forget this again.

Photo of the day:
In the studio of Jasmine's piano teacher, a note and a handsome boot hung on the door to collect EFAA donations in lieu of gifts for the teacher.  This demonstration of generosity and holiday spirit definitely brightened up my day more than anything else.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 47 - Portrait

Thought of the day:  I had many happy surprises today.  On the way out this morning, I was greeted by the view of a very unusual, painting-like cloud floating high above Broadway.  Surely it's not just a random formation of water droplets or ice crystals as they say, someone must have just painted that on the blue sky with bold brush strokes.  Later in the morning, I had the pleasure of photographing some sweet little kids. And then, unexpectedly,  I received a can of nice tea from a friend and a book with beautiful rhymes from another.  As if that was not enough, I got another surprise in the afternoon.  Jasmine's piano teacher asked her students, if they wish, to give a donation to EFAA in lieu of a holiday gift for her.  And she will match the donation 100%.  What a thoughtful and noble thing for her to do! EFAA has seen its caseload skyrocketing this year and it doesn't have enough to meet all the needs in the community.  Her gift will, for sure, make a difference in someone else's holiday.  All these happy surprises put me on a pretty good mood for the rest of the day, which should not come as a surprise at all.

Photo of the day:
Portrait of a little girl.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 46 - Holiday Tea

Thought of the day:  This morning I read a touching story about a couple displaced by the Fourmile Canyon Fire donating Christmas gifts to three needy boys.  When people are in need themselves, they tend to be more acutely aware of the real sufferings of others.  Their own difficult situations make them more aware and compassionate and thus kindle their generous giving spirit which, I believe, lies in the heart of every human being.  On the other side, when you are rich and live comfortably for too long, you may loose touch with reality and the real people.  Your fire of generosity may become dormant.  I wonder if that explains why, statistically speaking, the poorer you are, the more generous you tend to be.  Coloradans earn more than national average, but they give less;  Boulderites earn even more than state average, but they give even less.  I wonder what it will take for the spirit of generosity to be rekindled in people.  Maybe the Fourmile Fire was one such extraordinary event and the statistics for 2010 will be different from the past?  Maybe more people will realize that giving is not only a blessing for those who receive, it's even a greater blessing for those who give, as it can open up your mind and heart, put your own life into perspective, and give you real peace and happiness.

Photo of the day:
Hotel Boulderado's Storytime Tea, a benefit for the Parenting Place.  'Tis the season...a season of sweets, a season of celebration and a season of giving.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 45 - Bird of Prey

Thought of the day:  This morning we watched a falcon working on its prey in the backyard of Trident Cafe.  It was a pretty unusual scene in a city and you could tell that from the attention it commanded from the patrons of the cafe.  Could it be a Peregrine Falcon?  It used to be an endangered species due to the use of pesticides including DDT.  As Peregrine Falcon sits high up on the food chain, it got accumulated, large doses of pesticide exposures which affected its reproduction.  Luckily, its population recovered after the worldwide ban of DDT.  It took a Silence Spring and the ensuing environmental movement for that to happen.  That makes me wonder, what will it take for us to realize that we're becoming an endangered species ourselves, by what we are doing to ourselves and to the environment?  That also gives me hope: if we can be motivated enough to save a bird and actually pull it off, perhaps we can be motivated enough to save ourselves and pull it off, too.  Only the future will tell.

Photo of the day:
A falcon working on its prey in the backyard of Trident Cafe.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 44 - Wild Hair

Thought of the day: Today was a perfect winter day to take a stroll with a friend on the 29th Street Mall.  Albeit a little windy, it was perfectly sunny and warm.  The colorful holiday decorations and the Christmas tree outside of Macy's added a festive air to the open air mall.  Shopping didn't even cross our minds.  There's nothing like watching your kids running around wild and happy to make you forget about all your worries, todo lists and, if you try hard enough, your lack of sleep.

Photo of the day:
Izzy's hair ran wild in the wind.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Week 6 - Community Cycles

Community Cycles is a local not-for-profit that promotes cycling as a sustainable means of transportation and recreation.  One thing they do is to give out refurbished bikes to low income families every December.  It's definitely a good cause to support.  This week I made a donation to help a couple of kids get their bikes.  It makes me happy just to imagine the excitement of these kids getting on their bikes this month, possibly the very first ones they can call their own.

Day 43 - Reading Books

Thought of the day:  The rewards of parenthood often show up when you're not expecting them.  When I was showing and singing to Lila some songs in a lullaby book, she suddenly decided to sing along with me.  We have "read" the book many times before in that manner but usually she would just sit and listen quietly.  Tonight I discovered that she could sing most of the songs in tune.  What a surprise!  That reminded me of Jasmine when she was a toddler: one day when I was reading One More Bunny to her for the sextillionth time, she decided to break her silence and finish every sentence in the book for me.  These are the moments when you realize that your kids take everything in like a sponge, no matter they're showing it or not, and whatever you do for them have a meaning.  These are the emotional moments that all parents live for.

Photo of the day:
Lila flipping through a book.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 42 - Church Reflection

Thought of the day:  Today I was photographing buildings and patterns in Boulder downtown.  I found that the most interesting buildings to photograph were almost all church buildings.  I haven't noticed this before but it's hardly surprising: churches are built to be awe inspiring and they often have distinctive roof lines and intricate window designs which make them really interesting to photograph, especially on a clear and sun filled day like today.

Photo of the day:
Reflection of another church on a church window in Boulder Downtown.