Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20th: Love Your Body Day

Do you love what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? I do!

Yes, I do see the imperfections and sometimes I can't help but point out the blemishes, but for the most part, I have come to accept my body and appearances. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a well-balanced young woman with high goals and aspirations, someone who is beautiful in her own way and of course with a really good figure! (I'd like to add for my own vanity).

In celebration of this holiday, I just want to take a moment and say--- "Hey body! Thanks for all of your hard work over the years!!!!"

20 Ways To Love Your Body (Compiled by Margo Maine, Ph.D.)

1. Think of your body as the vehicle to your dreams. Honor it. Respect it. Fuel it.
2. Create a list of all the things your body lets you do. Read it and add to it often.
3. Become aware of what your body can do each day. Remember it is the instrument of your life, not just an ornament.
4. Create a list of people you admire: people who have contributed to your life, your community, or the
world. Consider whether their appearance was important to their success and accomplishments.
5. Walk with your head held high, supported by pride and confidence in yourself as a person.
6. Don’t let your weight or shape keep you from activities that you enjoy.
7. Wear comfortable clothes that you like, that express your personal style, and that feel good to your
8. Count your blessings, not your blemishes.
9. Think about all the things you could accomplish with the time and energy you currently spend
worrying about your body and appearance. Try one!
10. Be your body’s friend and supporter, not its enemy.
11. Consider this: your skin replaces itself once a month, your stomach lining every five days, your liver every six weeks, and your skeleton every three months. Your body is extraordinary--begin to respect and appreciate it.
12. Every morning when you wake up, thank your body for resting and rejuvenating itself so you can
enjoy the day.
13. Every evening when you go to bed, tell your body how much you appreciate what it has allowed you to do throughout the day.
14. Find a method of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly. Don’t exercise to lose weight or to fight your body. Do it to make your body healthy and strong and because it makes you feel good. Exercise for the Three F’s: Fun, Fitness, and Friendship.
15. Think back to a time in your life when you felt good about your body. Tell yourself you can feel like that again, even in this body at this age.
16. Keep a list of 10 positive things about yourself--without mentioning your appearance. Add to it!
17. Put a sign on each of your mirrors saying, “I’m beautiful inside and out.”
18. Choose to find the beauty in the world and in yourself.
19. Start saying to yourself, “Life is too short to waste my time hating my body this way.”
20. Eat when you are hungry. Rest when you are tired. Surround yourself with people that remind you of your inner strength and beauty.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I miss Him

I don't like to talk to other people about God, because I don't know how. Sometimes I feel like I don't even talk to God enough so it makes me feel weird to talk about Him to other people. It's kind of like the idea of gossiping. If I don't even talk to that person, is it alright for me to talk about that person?

There are so many things I miss about Boston, about MIT. I miss my ABSK brothers and sisters. No, they are not perfect, but when I was with them, I was close to God. Everyday, no matter where I was, what I was doing, God was in my action, in my thought and in my heart. He is real to me and I felt comfort and hope. When God led me away from ABSK and BBC into another state and town, He graciously put me in the presence of a Christian sister who became my roommate and one of my best friends. Through her, He taught me to make faith my own, to not compare other's gifts with my weaknesses, to be happy with who I am. Yet along the way, I lost my way. Away from my Christian brothers and sisters, I don't know how to behave anymore. With no one to set the bar for me, I find myself unsure of what I want and what I should look for in others. I want Him back in my drivers seat and take me where He wants me to go. I want to trust Him to make a masterpiece on my canvas of life. I want Him back in my life. I want peace in my heart. I miss Him.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Curbing Cravings

How to have a healthy lifestyle will differ from person to person. Over the years, I've read numerous accounts and tried to follow different dietary plans, all for the sake of leading a healthier lifestyle. I've found, however, that it is IMPOSSIBLE to follow any particular plan to the letter, because let's face it, cultural differences and food preferences will push us toward certain food items and not others. Maybe you can relate? Here I'd like to talk about an uncontrollable craving of mine and how I learned to deal with this gnawing irritation. Maybe it will prove helpful for you as well!

As some of you know might have picked up from my previous posts on desserts, you'll know that I have a sweet tooth. I love desserts, chocolate, candy, everything! Walking into a candy store is like a dream come true. Spending the day in a chocolate factory in Switzerland is like heaven. Over the years I've learned some tricks and know how to control my cravings a little bit better. Here's what worked for me.

My Sweet Tooth Solution
  1. Restriction. This is the worst part and also the hardest to enforce. The trick is to limit yourself access to the object of your craving. How? There are many ways--including practicing a little self-discipline, asking someone to be your enforcer, convincing yourself to stop due to health reasons, imagining some future pain like visiting the dentists due to toothaches, etc.
  2. Don't buy any snacks, especially not in bulk or large packages. Having food readily available in the cupboard is a sure disaster for self discipline and control. By not having the food or snack in your direct line of vision, you'd be forced to deal with your cravings in other ways, rather than immediately satisfying these desires on the spot.
  3. Express your craving. In other words, never suppress or ignore it, because it will always bite you in the end. This could be one reason why some people can follow a diet to the letter but later binge and end up worse than where they started. If you are craving something, express it, either in words, in writing or over the Internet (using Twitter, Facebook or Blogging, etc.) For those of you who read my tweets, you will remember that I have cravings all the time. The verbalization and actually seeing the pictures of the food that I crave can lessen the strength of that craving a whole lot. Sometimes we put things into our mouth by habit. Often when we express the things that we desire, half of the thrill will have been consumed by the efforts we put into expressing that desire, and consequently the urgency to consume now decreases.
  4. If a particular craving persists, satisfy it. I think it'd be abusive if you were to deny yourself all the pleasures in life, especially something that you love. So if you find that even after writing down or verbalizing your cravings, it persists, then the right way of action is to satisfy yourself. 
  5. Plan and anticipate. By making a plan and giving yourself plenty of time to anticipate it will increase the amount of satisfaction you will derive from the entire experience. A concrete example of this is when I had a huge craving for a delicious home-made cupcake--especially the kind found at Crumbs Baked Goods. I tweeted and tweeted but alas I could not get the image of a sumptuous cupcake out of my mind, so finally I made a plan. I will go to a Crumbs store and get that cupcake! I checked the website and read reviews, finally, I planned that I will get the Caramel Apple cupcake. Because I have a concrete plan of when I plan to satisfy this craving, all other encounters of sweets and desserts were not able to tempt me to deviate from my plan (i.e. I didn't want any other cupcake except the one that I had planned on getting!) I was able to stave myself off by telling myself that the best is yet to come. Finally, when I got to enjoy my delicious Crumbs cupcake, it was the most delicious moment, I felt so satisfied afterward and really didn't have any more intense cravings of cupcakes or any other sweets at least five days later.
The important thing is to live like there is no tomorrow, but eat like the more delicious food is yet to come. So don't sell yourself short by putting any sweets or craving into your mouth, pick and choose the one that you want, then plan and consume it with the gusto and anticipation that it deserves to receive. Not only will you be happier, your body will thank you in the long run!

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Sunday Reflections: Thought Question #3

    One thing I really miss is my childhood-- those carefree times when I really didn't have responsibilities nor any real pressure to be one way or another. I regret not living my childhood to the fullest. While growing up, I remembered that I spent the majority of my time worrying about the future or being upset that I wasn't this or that. Why couldn't I have just lived my life more like how a young child should?-- full of wonders and pursuing simple pleasures?

    When I close my eyes and think of my (very short but normal at this time) childhood, I think of Jerry and Mary. They are brother and sister who live next door to us in Ridgewood, NJ where I grew up. The four of us (including my younger sister), we'd play together everyday. We built time capsules, created project adventure courses, made magic spells and tried to cast them on another neighbor, did science experiments on our pavements, sold vegetables that we took out from our fridge... There was not a worry in the world, we just played from sunrise to sundown, and it was the most amazing time I've lived through. That changed when Jerry and Mary's parents had to move out of state to Pennsylvania and I was left with no neighbors to play with.

    The thing with childhood is that the possibilities are endless and I have the time to pursue anything that I possibly wanted to do. I remember taken the SAT for the first time in 7th grade and receiving an award that basically told my parents that I was intellectually advanced and talented for my age, as a result, I was invited to attend some college courses with other geeky kids my age. Since I was young and my parents were still clueless, I just picked a class that I was interested in. In retrospect, I wish I had picked a more technical course like graphic design or computer programming, but at the time, I cannot tell you how happy I was to take an English Literature class. Let's just say that this was one of the last time that I took a real literature class, not counting mandatory English courses in school.

    About two years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in NYC perusing a magazine, I came across an article that provided advice on how one should live. There was one piece of advice that really caught my eye. It said:
     "Seize each day. Live each day as if it's your last. Leave the past behind and do not anticipate the future. Be present and enjoy the moment."
     I guess it's one thing that we look back into our life and realized the many things we miss, but it's another to live everyday in regret. We can't change our past nor have the time to around regretting our decisions, but we can choose how we live today.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    French Pastries

    When I was living in France, I supported a pastry-a-day addiction. It’s a wonder I didn’t come back to the States 20 pounds heavier (Thank God for my subsequent travels to China where I endured more than bearable hot days, sweating off calories and staving off hunger).

     With delicious patisseries beckoning me around every corner in Paris, it was just too hard to resist not getting my daily fix for a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth delicious pastry. I loved to pick out a new treat every day and take it to a neighboring cafe and eat it while I sipped my cappuccino. For those not familiar with the many varieties of pastries, I have compiled a comprehensive list of my favorite types of pastries found in France. While all patisseries will have their own variations and unique creations, there is definitely a standard array of flaky, buttery treats you are sure to find at most pastry shops around France. I would also highly recommend asking the patissier which pastry he or she thinks is best that day–as sometimes different specialties are made on different days of the week. 

    My Favorite French Pastries

    Here is a list of some of my favorite pastries and those most commonly found at patisseries across France. The list is comprehensive, but not exhaustive, as the French have about as many types of pastries as the Eskimos have for the word snow.

    Croissant: The old standard, you can never go wrong with this crescent shaped, buttery and flaky pastry. The perfect balance of sweetness and puffiness, crispiness and softness, a well made croissant will melt in your mouth and have you craving another as soon as you finish the first. The original French pastry, it is rumored the croissant first appeared in French cuisine after the Muslim defeat by the French at the Battle of Tours in 732. The pastry was given its shape to represent the Islamic crescent.

    Pain au Chocolat: Cousin to the croissant and my personal favorite French pastry, a pain au chocolat is basically a croissant-type puff pastry containing strips of chocolate (usually dark chocolate). Literally translated as “chocolate bread” pains aux chocolates are a favorite in France and are best when served hot with the chocolate melting into the pastry in the middle. Just imagining the chocolate  oozy from the butter, flaky pastry makes me swoon. Yum.

    Éclair: A variant from the donut type dough used in many American versions of this French favorite, éclairs are a long, thin pastry made from choux pastry (which literally translates as “cabbage” pastry because of its appearance when made) and is filled with cream and topped with icing (usually chocolate). In France, éclairs are made by baking the oblong choux until crisp and hollow and then filling it with coffee or chocolate flavored pastry cream. Other favorite fillings are custard or freshly whipped cream, rum-flavored custard (my favorite), almond or chestnut puree or fruit fillings. Éclairs will vary from patisserie to patisserie, but are almost always delicious.

    Profiterole (aka a Cream Puff): Choux pastry is baked into small round puffs, which when cooled become hollow in the middle and are served with whipped cream or custard in the center. You will commonly see this garnished with a hardened caramel sauce (my favorite). Stacked profiteroles called croquenbouche are often served at weddings in France.

    Beignet: The French version of a doughnut, beignets are a deep-fried pastry often served garnished with powdered sugar. In France, beignet is an umbrella term for a variety of different pastries that can be either sweet or savory. In fact, you will sometimes find beignets filled with potatoes, mushroom or meat. Unlike American doughnuts, however, beignets tend to be very light and airy and are often hollow in the center. They are of course best when served hot.

    Mille-feuille (My favorite of the favorites!!!): This pastry’s name literally translates as “thousand sheets” and is a pastry made from several layers of puff pastry alternating with a sweet filling (usually pastry cream, whipped cream or custard). Every patisserie in France will have its own version of this pastry, including differently flavored creams and topped with different icings. You will typically find mille-feuilles topped with drizzles of chocolate and a light vanilla icing.

    Tarte: The French answer to American pies, you will find a huge variety of tartes in all shapes and size with all kinds of fillings. They are usually made with a thin, flat layer of puff pastry and then are topped with fruit. You will sometimes see a layer of custard in between the pastry and the fruit, but French tartes are always open faced. One of my personal favorite is an apple tart, which usually manages to have the finest slices of apples layer over the pastry. You will find tartes of all sizes and fillings and you can almost never go wrong with a well made tarte.

    Brioche: Although more of a bread than a pastry, because of its sometimes sweet flavor, I’ll put brioche on this list. Brioche is a bread made with high butter and egg content, which gives it a sweet, rich flavor and tender consistency. It is often topped with an egg wash before baking, giving it a flaky, deep golden crust. A brioche a tete, which translates as “brioche with head” (as pictured) adds a small roll of the dough on top and are baked in muffin-like tins to achieve their small, rounded shape.

    Madeleines: These little cakes have a distinctive shell-like shape and have the consistency of a very light pound cake. They often also have a pronounced butter and lemon taste and are often made with almonds as well. You will find these little cake-like cookies across France and they are a favorite treat among children.

    Palmiers: Another one of my favorites (yes, I have a lot of favorite pastries), palmiers are crispy and delicate leaf-shaped cookies made from puff pastry. They are made by rolling out pastry dough, sprinkling it with sugar and then folding it several times. The two sides of the pastry are then rolled inwards to meet at the center and the cookie is baked until crispy and caramelized. These are the perfect balance of crispy and flaky and always see to be just sweet enough.

    Langues de Chat: This simple, yet delicious cookie which translates literally as “Cat’s tongues” was another standard treat of my childhood. They are a simple cookie made from butter, sugar, flour and eggs and have a light yet crispy texture. They get their name for their long , tongue-like shape. They are a classic French cookie and another treat popular among children.

    Macarons: These delightful little cookies from northeastern France are not much like their American cousin the Macaroon, which are dense cookies made with coconut. The cookie is made from egg whites, almond powder and icing sugar. They are sandwich-like pastries made with two thin cookies with a thin layer of flavored icing in the center, making a hamburger shaped result. Macarons are delicately crunchy on the outside and are moist, chewy and flavorful on the inside. They are very light and come in every flavor under the sun. If you find yourself in Paris, you should not resist the temptation to get a bag of macarons where they were first invented at the Ladurée pastry shop on the Champs Elysées, where 15,000 of these delightful little cookies are sold each day.

    Delicious Shrimp Dishes

    I am a huge fan of seafood, especially shrimp. So here, I'll list a few of favorite shrimp dishes:

    Cocktail shrimp. The first time I had cocktail shrimp, it gave me a stomachache, but subsequent eating of this dish makes it a very simple and delicious snack.
    Spicy Shrimp Lettuce Wrap: Asian-style lettuce wraps filled with a sweet and spicy mixture of shrimp, cabbage, carrots and red bell pepper. So delicious!

    Stir fry shrimp. This is one of the first dish I learned how to make. When this dish is stir fryed in a wok, the taste is even more delicious!
    I wouldn't consider myself an Indian food fan, unless we are talking about shrimp curry, then I'm all in.

    Shrimp tempura role is one of my sushi favorites. The crunchy bite and the delicious combination of cucumbers and avocado can be super delicious!

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Thought Question #2

    I spend the majority of MY money (as opposed to what my parents spend on me)-- on traveling and it adds up very quickly. If you were to take a look at my traveling habits, you'd realize that I seldom scrimp on traveling expenses, because I usually prefer the most comfortable option. For health reasons, I've cut down on the number of cab rides in the city, but when given the option, I'd choose that any day over the metro. My longest cab ride was when I "stupidly" took a cab from Boston to Newark International Airport (because I didn't realize that there was a thing called Amtrak train which can directly take me there). My most expensive cab ride though was when I took a cab from London to a very small town 2.5 hours away, called Cromer--maybe the cab driver had X-Ray vision and saw the newly exchanged pounds in my pocketbook. When I was in Beijing, I took cabs was so cheap comparatively, and as a result, never rode in the subway which I heard from various people that it's wonderful.

    When traveling by train, especially over long distance, I like to travel by 软卧, soft beds for sleeping. In the morning, there are also "room service" available, serving fresh fruits and omelets. Actually this summer when I went to Xi'An, it was my first time traveling by 硬座, hard seats (it was pretty awful)-- 12 hours ride just sitting in one place, surrounded by people who didn't even have seats, yep it was a first time experience. When I was in Mexico City and traveled to a small town (was it 6 hours away?), I took a bus--except this was a super cool bus, it had only 8 passengers and the entire experience felt like a spa treatment because in addition to someone on the bus serving fresh food, there were also masseuses. I got a nice cucumber facial which promptly gave me a rash that lasted two days. :(

    I guess I'm supposed to be thoughtful here... so let me take a step back and think about the essence of this question. Now, how one person spends money is indicative and can provide a vast amount of information about that person's personality, values and habits. I think if I were an outsider looking into my personal life, that person (if he does not know me) might think that I am spoiled or has lived a life in luxury. One can say that, perhaps, though that statement is not entirely true. To understand my money spending preferences, I think we should take a look at my mindset.

    To be honest, it's a little bit strange analyzing how I think, but when I take a step back and think about finances and money in general, I admit that my thoughts are a little bit different from that of the average person. For instance, I strongly adhere to the personal finance advice learned long time ago: pay yourself first. To pay yourself first means simply this: Before you pay your bills, before you buy groceries, before you do anything else, set aside a portion of your income to yourself. The first bill you pay each month should be to yourself. I may have mistook this rule a bit out of context since the goal is to save money, not find creative ways to spend money, but I'm a strong believer of giving oneself the best treatment (before paying anyone else, especially the IRS--more on this later).

    The second principal that I abide by is that I am always time conscious. If there's one thing I hate in life, then it's I hate wasting time. I'm always thinking about opportunity costs and efficiency. If it's a choice between something more expensive but more efficient, I'd go with that option over something cheaper but less efficient. Perhaps, this is the training I received in college (the whole idea that we must produce A LOT under a short amount of time). Though over the last few months, I've been trying to tamper this spirit and force myself to be more observant of the present and take time to smell the roses (even though that's an inefficient time to spend 2 minutes!)

    I admit that I probably don't have the best grasp on my finances as I should, especially given my finance background. So, in thinking about and writing this post, I've decided to track my personal spending a little bit more and start developing a strong personal financial habits. Apparently, is a good site to look into.

    Now, it's your turn, don't just read my posts and leave! Leave me your thoughts and questions! How do you spend the majority of YOUR money? And what life principals do you live by?

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    The future? Bank on U.S. Shale

    US shale resources are exciting. My friends and acquaintances can attest, I get overly excited about the potential of US shale.

    Marcellus, Haynesville, Barnett, Fayetteville, Woodford, Utica, Eagle Ford, Bakken -- they are on the tip of my tongue and the forefront of my mind (and those of investors).

    US shale gas resources are huge! Trillions and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas -- right under our feet. That means energy independence. That means jobs right here in the US, lots and lots of jobs related to drilling, producing, transporting, processing and exporting domestic natural gas. That means billions of dollars to help our economy and bolster local, state and federal government. That mean gas-generated power plants galore.

    While prices for natural gas aren't the best on the Henry Hub today, companies are still investing in US shale and in natural gas in general. (Think of the billions of dollars being invested in Western Australia's massive LNG projects, like Gorgon, Wheatstone, Bonaparte, Ichthys and Gladstone.) To me, that says, they know something laymen don't. (After all, they've got analysts and economists and mathematicians and industry experts ... who study these things for a living.)

    In fact, Wood Mackenzie just reported that in the first half of 2010 alone US shale gas expenditure has reached $21 billion. That's a lot of money to change hands, and they predict that the mergers and acquisitions market will continue its hot streak.

    Translation: Natural gas is going to pay off, and prices are going to climb.

    Ol' T. Boone Pickens is on to something, and natural gas-fueled cars may be just around the corner if he has anything to do with it.

    In fact the US may very well become the largest exporter of clean energy because of our natural gas resources. Three LNG import terminals have started the ball rolling on switching on being export teminals, and pipelines have begun the process of both building and becoming bi-directional.

    Natural gas is clean-burning. It's domestic, and it's plentiful. Jump on the natural gas/shale bandwagon with me. It's taking off around the corner!