Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Beethoven In Trance - Episode 66

2015 Annual Letter

and today is 04/27/2016.

2015 feels mushy to me at the moment, largely because we are in the middle of an unexpected immigration visa process for my parents. This process didn’t go as we planned, and I will include the details in the next annual letter.

2015 is relatively quite. We still considering relocating to Seattle, but haven’t  taken any action. Our excuse is that we are not ready, career wise. I was just promoted to a manager position in late 2014 and I thought some experiences in the role would help during my future job hunting in Seattle. My wife also switched to another group to learn more about data science. So no major step made towards that goal, but this might have just changed, considering the unexpected immigration visa issue we are facing. The only project I completed is painting the garage ceiling. I still have the study room to work on this year.

In 2015, I made two business trip. One to Asia, one to Texas. The Asia tour includes Thailand, China, and Vietnam. It was a good trip. I was able to go back and spent two nights at home. Coincidently, another classmate from secondary school who currently live in NY, was visiting Shanghai as well. We had dinner with some old friends and it was fun. I went to Texas for training and met another classmate from Case. She got married after graduation and moved to LA, then Dallas. I had dinner with her family and learned about the local job market and growing Chinese population there. My impression of the city is dry, and still developing. It does have big Chinese grocery stores that rival the ones in Seattle. Considering the underdeveloped transportation system, Dallas is not ideal for my parents, although the local housing and job outlook sounds good.

We finally got our citizenship in 2015. My wife was naturalized in Dec, and me in Jan, 2016. It was a milestone for both of us, and we need to move onto the next one. In preparation for the next move, I have tried to give away cookware stuff to friends and family throughout the year. At the same time, I have been getting new upgrades. For example, I bought a few carbon steel French frying pans, and spent a fortune on kitchen knives. My knife collection expands into German style knife which I wasn’t keen on before. My taste of kitchen knife has changed. I have acquired knifes from the big three: Henckels, Wusthof, and Messermeister, and have been enjoying them. I started to appreciate more about the fit and finish of the knife, and chase less after the steel of the blade or the HRC (like Japanese knife). Knife sharpening has become a hobby to me. I have learned to control my hand motion better during knife sharpening, and I don’t mind working on knife from time to time to keep them sharp. Therefore, high HRC doesn’t seem to be as import to me as before.

D3 continues to cost me significant amount of time, but it starts to taper off in 2016. I really don’t understand why the company keeps upgrading the game for free, but it’s indeed addictive. I finished Last of Us and Far Cry on PS4. Those are good games. I bought a few more games but haven’t got the chance to play them.

Alice turned 5, and we haven’t started her with the piano lesson. She gets home around 6:15pm, and we need to get her to finish dinner, and homework, then go to bed by 8pm. Not much time. We signed her up for a Chinese poem reading competition and she got a 2nd place. It took many days of practice, and she cried in the first rehearsal because she forgot the line. I am glad to see she feels bad for the poor performance.

We went to Atlantis, Bahamas for vacation last year. It was our first “all inclusive vacation” experience. It was a relaxing vacation, only that I was pretty sick the week before the trip. The hotel was a huge compound and all the entertainments are onsite. Wife and kid had a great time. We loaded up on food in a local supermarket before we went into the hotel. I also went to a local market to get some local specialty food, and it was good. We also ordered Chinese takeout for the very first time. The quality is merely acceptable, but it’s more reasonable priced comparing to the food offering in the hotel. This is a better choice for me than the cruse we did last year.

In 2015, I stopped going to CSH board meetings. It was not very productive and I was getting lazy. I admit.

Our investment didn’t outperform the market, in fact a few of my selections tanked significantly. We moved our portfolio to Vanguard because we started to move to a “fund based” portfolio for stability.

I haven’t done much running in 2015, mostly just swimming in the gym. In the later part of the year, I got tired of glass and contacts and decided to go through the Lasik surgery. Early 2016, I went through a successful surgery that correct the vision on both eyes to 20/20. My vision is still stabilizing as of this writing. But early indication per Dr. is very good.

I also found a new dentist in 2015 per a recommendation form a coworker. He is not the closest to where I live, but I can’t complain about the quality of the work. So I will stick to him for now. Alice also went to a dentist for the first time. She did well, thanks to the TV in the room.

My wife still dance for various Chinese festivals and participate the MaDaCol, the performance designed by Case dance school graduates. We still have after performance party with them.


“Mad Max” tops the most memorable cinema chart in 2015. Raw, focused, and emotional. I liked it very much. Oscar nominee “Joy” was also good, but not great. The much anticipated “Star Wars” was a disappointment. Animation movie “Inside Out” was a disappointment at first watch, because I was comparing it to “Up”. But soon, I realized that it was an important movie, and I watched it the second time with Alice, and thought it was good. “Jurassic World” was entertaining, did its job. The “Big Short” was very interesting, as well as “Steve Job”. “Terminator Genisys” was a disaster. Furious 7 is ok, not as good as “Mission Impossible Rogue Nation”. 

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Friday, January 02, 2015

Beethoven In Trance - Episode 65

2014, what a year.

When I said "we started the new year with a bang" in my last annual letter. I didn't realize it might become a theme. 

One Wednesday afternoon in Feb, I received a phone call from the contractor who had been working on the drywall in the Mayfield house. He told me the house is completely flooded. As he was describing over the phone, I pictured the basement is filled with water and he needed to dive into the water to shut down the water. Well, fortunately, it wasn't the case, as I found out soon after I arrive. The water pipe was burst due to the abnormal cold weather. The pipe under the sink and the one in the second floor attic. The water floods from the 2nd floor to the 1st, then the basement. My neighbor dropped by and looked the situation, he suggested to handle this situation ourselves. I thought about it and decided to submit the claim for it because it's too large of a project to handle myself. That was the right call, but my next one is not. After talking with my neighbor, I decided to give the project to him, he claimed to be experienced and he could take care of the situation immediately. Considering that he knows the house and he could use the project for some extra money, I said yes. In the next 3 to 4 months, I gradually realized that I made a mistake. I summarized the learning to: 1) always agree on and write down the job, time frame of the project before the project start, 2) always demand receipt, 3) always put friendship aside whenever in a business transaction. The decision to give him the project costed me, but I learned the lesson. We finally finished the project in June, and put the house on the market right away. I really didn't feel to talk to the neighbor any more after that. We didn't have good luck with selling the house, there were two offers, and we turned down the first one because we thought it was a low ball. The second one didn't go through because the house inspection wasn't to buyer's satisfaction. The house inspection report claimed house having major issues and the buyer got scared and backed out. Then came the 3rd offer, lowest of all, and the only catch is that the buyer waived the house inspection. We finally decided to sell because my wife couldn't keep checking the house every week after work. We sold the house bargain basement price, and we closed the deal in October. 

This transaction also got me thinking about the value of paying down the house. We paid down that house, and it ended up to be a big loss. If we didn't pay down the house, we won't be fully penalized by the housing market condition. I think we will stick with 30 years in the future, unless we are in a growing housing market. 

The house selling takes us all the way past the Summer. My parents have been with us since April so they experienced some of it too. I decided to take the family to Seattle for vacation in September. I thought it would be a good place to explore to see if it could be our future destination. I got this idea after I moved to the new house. Moving to the new house was expensive but worth the cost, so why stop? If Seattle is a better choice, then we should move again. We had a great time in Seattle, one of our good friend also recently moved to Seattle. We met our friends, listened to their experience. We were sold after this trip, we started to talking about the plan to move to Seattle. It was a very important trip, because we felt we found our dream again. This is the first time we had that feeling since we graduate. We are excited about the new adventure to Seattle. We didn't know where it would lead us but we are willing to find out. We are hitting 40, I feel we need to reinvent ourselves again. In 2015, we will dedicate time to research and explore opportunities in that area.

2014 was also a good year for my career. I got promoted when I was on vacation in Seattle, with a salary bump. That gives me leverage for my future adventure in Seattle I think. My wife still does well at work, she has hit the ceiling in terms of level. She has some thinking to do for her next step in Seattle.

My wife started to get into dance performance last year. She joined classes and performed in a show hosted at Case. Alice went with me and enjoyed the show. She also performed in a private party for a girl's birthday party. She enlisted for some Chinese dance performances in the next year and has been actively practicing for it. She was in a dragon boat race this Summer, her team didn't win but she had fun. I like that she explores new opportunities and fun activities. She rented a small space in community garden this year for the vegetables as we don't have the space in the back yard. I trimmed the bushes and trees just weeks ago. We will have a better looking Summer next year.    

Alice turned four last year. She is drama queen and stubborn as always. She started to like playing in the swimming pool. She had great time in Seattle hotel swimming pool. We moved her into a different daycare because I didn't like the last one. The teacher didn't seem very excited about their job and some of the parents there didn't have good influence on the children, hence not an overall good environment. We moved her to the most expensive daycare in the area and she loved it. I liked the new daycare better too. Environment is indeed important.

We spent the Thanksgiving on a Cruise ship with my in laws last year. The trip was fine, but I don't think I would do it again. The fun activities are on the island and it was too short. I got sea sick on the fourth day due to the rough sea. We ate way too much on the boat as well. On the bright side, I did rock wall climbing on the ship, it was fun. I reached to the top while Alice was cheering below. I also had a great time snorkeling with my swimming gargle in Cozmel, the sea water was so clear I could see all the fishes and reef. I could spend the whole day doing that.

We did all right this year in investment. The market wasn't doing well early in the year but rebounded in the last quarter. We are not feeling the pinch in any way, but I like to have a good cushion when we move to Seattle, as the house there is 2 times more expensive.

Interstella is the movie of the year, I watched alone in xD and it was the best $14 I spent on movie. I recommended my wife to go, and she brought her parents with. They watched in a local theater with only three of them in the show. She was able to explain the move to her parents without worrying about other audiences.

As for sound, I am pleasantly surprised by Jennifer Warnes. Her song "Come to me", and "I'm restless" are exceptional. Horowitz playing Chopin Ballad No. 1 is a masterpiece. Martha Argerich playing Chopin preludes is in shipment. I also like Olga Kern's performance of Rach No. 3, better than Wang Yujia's. Wang is very talent, but she tends to run fast and furious.

 I bought a PS4 this Christmas, it was the first PS I ever own. I bought it on promotion, package deal with the game "last of us" and "far cry 4". I haven't spent too much time on it, but I look forward to it.  Another good buy is the Sony blue ray player. It's small and it plays media files on a USB hard drive. I don't need a computer hook up to the TV any more. I have watched couple TV shows and movies that way, it worked like a charm.

I am looking forward to see what I am going to write in my next annual letter.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Beethoven In Trance - Episode 64

2013 was a good year.

The year started with a bang. I left Progressive and joined the new company in January. The frustration and anger was gone once I made the decision of leaving. So far so good working in the new company. There were some adjustments during the first month, but that was it. It's certainly a different circle of people here, I feel learning different things from them, which is good.

As I mentioned in the last annual letter, I started researching car before moving to the new company since we both needed to drive separately to work. Then one thing led to another, I started to look into our finance. To put things into perspective, I started to review our life goals and planning. One idea hit me, moving home.

The new company is in Solon, a great school district and is expensive too. It has a large Chinese community and there are a lot of Chinese Progressive employees living there. We didn't consider Solon when we bought our first house because we thought Solon was too expensive and we didn't want to pay for the empty space either. We had different needs now. Moving to Solon would give us a bigger space, and good school district, and a big Chinese community for Alice to grow up in. Plus, the mortgage rate is lower this year and it's attempting to take this advantage. So, I ran some extensive analysis and concluded that it made sense to take on mortgage again and move to Solon.

So I started to fix around the house and we started looking for houses in July. We got an agent referral from a former Progressive coworker. and the Agent proved to be a worthy company in our house hunting. He is very knowledgeable of the local market and rehab cost. He is miles better than the one we used for the first house (which was also a friend referral). I said multiple times that the agent was better than the first one we had and how dumb we used the first one and got ripped off. So, we spent the summer looking the houses. It was not easy to find a house we both like. I need a big kitchen and she needs privacy. We made our first offer the second day looking houses on the first house we looked. We have seen the house online many times, so we had some ideas about it already. Coming up with a bid is the challenging part, and we were glad the agent is there to help. He came up with a bid that is lower than our expectation and he said the house was way overpriced. We ended up not getting the house because of the low bid, we adjusted the bid but still not enough. So we moved on to the next one. We actually bought a house at a price lower than our current house which was on state sales. The owner passed away, and the house was put on to sales by the children. We thought we could do a whole house renovation because of the low price tag. The agent did some bargain and got us the house. We talked to our parents that night, and my parents were strongly against it. They didn't like the house whose owner passed away and was left empty. Considering eventually my parents will move in with us, I called the agent right away, and fortunately, we were not on contract because the seller hasn't sent it over, we were able to back out of the deal that day. We got the house and we backed out of it on the same day.

Summer passed by fast, we saw a listing online on the labor day that looks promising and we scheduled a viewing the next day. I knew it's gonna be a house that people fought for since there were not many inventory on the market this year. I was ready to go into a bid war. We looked at the house the next day and we learned that there were multiple offers already. We listened to the agent's advice and went all out on the bid for the house that afternoon. That night, we got the house.

I was relieved and anxious at the same time when the agent called for the good news. We paid more than we liked for the house, but we got the house. The house has a few area that we don't like but overall, we are happy with it. I wasn't sure whether I made the right decision or not when I got the phone call, but looking back now, I am happy with my decision.

While we are house hunting, we packed and moved some stuff into a self storage unit for a few months. At the same time, I was patching the basement and paint the walls with waterproofing paint. Getting a house ready to sell is not an easy job I realized. Especially for an old house like ours, there are so many updates need to do. I asked some contractor, who is a friend of my neighbor to do the dry wall work. He is good, but he is just slow. He is still working the project at this writing. We hope to get the house cleaned up and updated as soon as possible to put on the market. It's been half year already, we will have to get it ready by March before the peak season.

We got the key to the new house in October, and we didn't move in till before Christmas. I painted almost the whole house. We used about 15 gallon of paints and 16 different colors. It was a lot painting, and it saved us thousands. I learned free hand cut in eventually but it was late in the process when there were not much left. Those days I closed my eyes at night and I saw loaded brushes.

I used all kinds of paint, Behr Ultra, Glidden Duo, Vasper Premium, Sherwin Williams Cashmere, Benjamin Moore Aura Spa, and Benjamin Moore UltraSpec 500. Of all the paints, I liked Vasper the least. followed by Sherwin Williams. I like Benjam Moore the most, and Behr Ultra the next. Glidden Duo is on par with Behr. For the brushes, Purdy 3" Flat head is awesome.

Other than painting, we paid the contractor to run the gas line and install a kitchen range hood. It proved to be an extensive project, it took about a month to complete because of vent needs to routed to a different room. But the new range is kick ass. I am very happy about the heat output. The hood is installed at 24 inch above the range. I felt it could be a little higher because that might have the hood more coverage of the cooking area. But it's too late, oh well, anyway.

We also got some furniture from Ikea. Bed, sofa, chairs, and a kitchen island (an as-is item). One foot board of the bed is damaged, and we are in the process of replacing it. I have to tell you it's not an easy process so far we haven't got another reply from the company yet. We couldn't get it from the store because it was the last one. Lesson learned, don't buy the last item in the store!

Now we have both houses in a mess. We haven't unpacked in the new house, and we haven't cleaned up the old house. To keep it tidy, we bought a few vacuums. One steam vac for the carpet, one for the basement, and we use the old one for the general rooms. We also got a spray mop to keep the kitchen clean.

I also installed to kitchen base cabinet pull out draws. Those are pain in the ass to install. I had to cut extra wood piece to secure it to the cabinet to make it sturdy. It would be destroyed if I load it with my pots and pans unless I do so.

We have been spending major $$ in Homedepot, Lowes, and Ikea. That leads to my believe that these stores stocks will get better in the coming years when housing market picks up. Speaking of stocks, I was fortunate to add MasterCard (MA) in my portfolio this year. It performed beyond my expectation. The other ones I picked in the 3rd Quarter didn't perform that well at all. It was the peak of the year, and I loose money on most of them. Overall however, our portfolio performed within my expectation. Our 529 play performs above my expectation as well. I think we are on the right track financially.

Alice has been doing well. She is still kicking and screaming every chance she got. She is loud, but also very fun when she is not fussy. She doesn't like to speak Chinese much, English by default. We are working hard to make her speak Chinese at home.

Jessica applied new jobs in the company, it's time for her to change as well. She tried and failed the first one. I wasn't surprised and didn't feel sorry. It was not a good fit and I didn't like her boss that much either. She tried another one and got it just now. She will start the new job this month. She said yes before the manager finalized the salary, a move that I don't recommend. I think it's a game that she should play. There is no benefit to give up the advantage in the negotiation. Well, hope the manger comes back with good news.

I haven't done much exercising in 2013. Since I moved to the new company, I have been busy with house hunting and projects. I would love to get back to running and swimming soon. Solon has a community rec center. it's much expensive than Mayfield. This is where Progressive + Mayfield wins. Well, you just can't win it all I guess.

I have watched a lot of movies in xD theater this year with my friend Ankur. Pretty much all the Summer Blockbusters. Gravity is a great one, followed by Pacific Rim (for 3D presentation). Other movies are ok. Superman is a big downer. Too loud and too much fighting. "Croods" is a cute animation movie, and "Wreck it Ralph" is another good one, unfortunately it didn't win the Oscar, which is surprising to me. "Now you see me" is a refreshing thriller.

Walking Dead and Game of Thrones became 2013 favorites. Even the Walking Dead game is a lot of fun. My game of the year has to be Tomb Raider. A great reboot of the series. I also revisited Battlefield 3 with game pad, that was actually fun. I think game pad has a future for FPS. The new COD Ghost requires Win8 64bit now, I had to install it on one of my hard drive to play it. It was an ok game, I wasn't too impressed. I haven't got the Battlefield 4 yet. Too much projects to do around the house, the basement is not yet in shape to be the man cave.

"The way we were" is a hunting melody. I got it couple month ago and didn't get to listen to it till recently, and it's been in the "corner of my mind".

Food. Not much going on, saw king crab in Costco the other day and didn't bite the bullet. Will do that when more people around I guess. Tried king crab legs though. It was good, but not worth the extra $$. The dungeon crab in Chinatown still the best buy.

I installed the WeChat since I came back from China last December. I have been keeping in touch with friends back home the whole year. Good app, it has potential.

We didn't do any travelling in 2013. Too much was going on. We planned to do some vacation next year when our parents are over. It will be two trips, one with my parents, one with in-laws. We also want to visit South Africa in the next 3 years. My friend Aimee Kuhl is there working on her Ph.D. And we like to visit home again when we are 40.

It's getting difficult to write everything happened in a year into one letter. I think I need to do more writing throughout the year.

2013 is a good year, moving seems to be the main theme, moving to a better place to be exact. It also leads me thinking of my parents future here. They are motivated now to move over (luckily we have the room for them now) since my cousins parents moved to New York couple month ago. I have told them to get ready before but they weren't paying attention. Now they are. It's going to be interesting.

I look forward to 2014, as we settle in the new house, there will be new things, new people, new life. We already received a season's greeting card from a Chinese family living in the neighborhood. How did they get our names and address? That was my first question, I am feeling they are church people reaching out...


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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Beethoven In Trance - Episode 63

2012 Annual Report.
 And it's April, 2013. 2012 is an important year. It's like a slow pace action movie, twists and turns along the way and reached the peak at the end. 2012 is a turning point for my career.
After 7 years of service to Progressive Insurance, I decided to leave the company. It was not an easy decision, it was a month long process to think through things. In the last quarter of 2012, I was really not happy at work. Search Engine Marketing is a cool job, and it's in hot demand. However, the pay is really not to my satisfaction. The work I do is important, but not on the priority list. Therefore, there is not much career advancement, and career advancement is really not on my manager's priority list either. I didn't feel like do any other jobs in the company, so I inclined to look for opportunities outside of the company. At the same time, a formal Progressive reached out to me and asked me if I was interested in joining him. At first glance, I wasn't impressed. It's a much smaller company, and I will not be doing paid search. Instead, I will be in pricing and market research team. However, the company is a global company, and there are many potential opportunities. I realized that I needed a change in my career and I told myself that it was an opportunity that knocked on the door, and most importantly, it's an opportunity that I can only be given, but not asked for. I finally said farewell to Progressive and started new in a new industry. I did interviewed another paid search job in NJ, but the pay wasn't competitive enough and neither me or Jessica is ready for the move. So I had to turn it down. Before I turned in my resignation, I took 3 weeks to visit home in Shanghai. I was tired and mentally drained by the career transition and I thought I needed a break. The visit was the best decision I made in 2012. It was a great visit that brought my strength back and reminded me who I was. I made a decision to come to US, and I took actions. I tried, and I succeeded. The visit also reviewed the career distance between me and my friends. Most of them are at manager level or even higher. While I am very happy to see them doing well in their career, I can't help thinking how mine turned out so far. After I came back from the trip, I listed three goals that I want to achieve in my career life: 1. Work in a global company. 2. Lead a team. 3. Have a company of my own. And I don't need to achieve them all at the same time. I like the goals. It was time for me to try different things. The only failure is the failure to try.

Setting career aside, my health in the second half of the year wasn't pristine. There is a tumor growing between my left ear lobe and jaw bone. I had a tunnel vision one day on my left eye, and it lasted a minute, after I got my vision back, I found out the lump. I went to the doctor for the eyes and I was told there was no problem. I then thought it was lymph node, but the ENT specialist couldn't confirm. I was asked to have CT-Scan and then suggested an operation to surgical remove it. I opposed the idea of surgical removal, so I put it off, and hoped it would get better. Well, it didn't get better, or worse, and I talked to a Chinese doctor when I was at home in China, and I was given some Chines medicine for it. I paid over $100 for it and have been using it for month, nothing happened. I finally went to another ENT specialist when I was back in the states, and did a MRI. It revealed the lump and I was given the option to remove it surgically. I have scheduled the operation in the next month. Another problem the MRI revealed is something called 'venous angioma", a predominant blood vessel at left front lobe of the brain. I will need to talk to a neurosurgeon about that. I look forward to get it resolved as soon as possible.

We did two vacation in 2012 with my mother, one trip to a water front rental house close by. one trip to Kentucky, visiting mammoth cave national park. It was our first field trip with Alice and we rent a house instead of hotel for both trips. We had great experience in both stays. The money is well spent. I have to say the stay at the rental cabin in Kentucky is pretty intense. The cabin is beautiful and new, but it IS in the middle of nowhere. It IS pretty scary at night. The rental house at the water front is a nice little house. Both Jessica and my mom had a great time swimming in the lake in front of the house.

Financial wise, nothing special, we funded Alice's 529 plan and it's doing ok. After tax investment account is doing all right as well. I don't monitor it very often, only once or twice a year. We have been funding our retirement accounts to the max and we are not feeling the pinch financially especially after we paid out the mortgage, but that could also be the fact we have developed the habit of not splurging. 

Speaking of spending money, I certainly invested a lump sum to upgrade my wardrobe for my new job. I also upgraded my gamer PC this year, along with monitor, TV, etc. I got a new car, a used car from Craiglist. A Toyota minivan with 100K miles on it. I did extensive research for buying the car, and I thought I would get a SUV, but the SUV was so overpriced due to the demand. I felt being ripped off every time I sat down with the dealer so I started to explore minivan. I finally found one candidate on Craiglist and called the seller. The seller said someone already put down the deposit the day he listed the vehicle. Bummer. The second day, he reached out again saying the buyer backed out. I immediately schedule the test drive that night. I put down the deposit that night after test drive and told him that I would buy it if it passes the mechanics check the next morning. It did, with some minor issues. I called and negotiated price and bought the car the next day. We went to bank for the transaction and the bank clerk did the title transfer wrong. I didn't find it out till I went to the title agency. I called the seller again and we met at the title agency and sort out the whole thing. I drove the car back after 8pm that night. So far we like the minivan, it's much easier to get Alice on and off and it's a much more comfortable ride for the parents. For the money I paid for the minivan, I am not complaining.

My wife also started to go beyond her organic realm. She started to explore organic shampoo, soup, house cleaning products. A perfect wholefoods target customer. I bet wholefoods has getting bigger and bigger share of our wallet. I don't expect we will do much travel this year because I don't really have much vacation time in the new company but I do plan to go to Germany and South Africa in the next few years. Alice is getting bigger, and I feel that we are ready to go through the list of places we want to visit now. Some memorable movies: 1. The Best Exotic Marygold Hotel 2. Prometheus (watched in 3D XD, it's awesome) CD: Balance 019 Henry Saiz.

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Beethoven In Trance - Episode 62

2011 Annual report

Another good year.

Early 2010, Jessica applied a job in emarketing and didn't get it because she was overqualified. Early 2011, I applied the same job in emarketing and got it because I was qualified and was lucky enough to know the hiring manager. It was a same level transfer between the two departments and I even got a small raise for it. I was pretty happy about that when I got the job.

The job is a demanding one. It changed the way I do things a bit and gave me a new look of the job in the company. I can't think of anything else in the company I want to do, and I can say it's the best job I have in the company so far. The job opens up a brand new area to me, and I like the prospect of it in terms of future career outside of the company. I wish it pays better comparing to the same level jobs in the other area. I am working on getting a promotion with my manager right now. He has been a tough nut to crack and I am targeting to get to the next level in 2012.

Jessica is still very busy at work. Alice has not been an easy baby to take care of, therefore, it adds more pressure to our relationship. After my parents went back home in China, taking care of the baby and work has becoming challenging. We finally decided to make some purchases to make our lives easier. We bought a chest freezer and put it in the basement so that we can alleviate the stress of stuffing the frig in the kitchen. This has been very helpful since we make our own baby food for Alice. We bought a steam mop base on her brother's recommendation, and I have to admit, it works pretty well. I finally decided to use the dish washer because spending 2 hours everyday after work to wash dishes is not funny at all.

We also bought a Ipad in part because I hope this purchase will land me one of the mobile account at work. We both love it. I can use it as phone and call and text for free. We can even use it to make video call to home in Shanghai. My experience with it makes me believe mobile computing is the future.

Alice has not been an easy baby to take care of. She is loud and demanding. Preparing her food daily is also time consuming and energy draining. She just started to work last week (at 15 month old). She is often fussy about the lunch we prepare for her and she always gives her teacher hard time.

There are a few more changes in the last year. I started to have lunch out more than ever in the new job. It's difficult to turn down boss and coworker's invitation. I also started to experience beer and wine. I have about 3 cases of wine downstairs right now and I don't think I can finish them all before I bring in more. I've learned to appreciate the taste of wine and grown to have a bottle almost once a week.

Our patronage to WholeFoods has been steadily increasing since Alice was born. Our food expense has increased year over year(though I don't have an exact number). We spend more on trying new things and healthy alternatives to what we used to eat. I expect our expense will continue to rise in the future, but probably not over 5%. Speaking of finance, 2011 sucked. Our 401K account dropped 3% and 5% respectively. Other after tax accounts also performed poorly after mid year. This is a good time to buy. I am transferring money between bank accounts to fund our retirement accounts. We also opened a 529 plan for Alice. We want to add more fund as soon as our bank accounts are linked.

Another major purchase I made this year is chef knife. I have spent hundreds to upgrade my kitchen knife. My knife collection now is almost exclusive Japanese knives. They are made from hard steel and sharpen easily. To keep those knives in their top conditions, I purchased several different grits for sharpening stones. I also bumped into some cheap sharpening stones in Chinese stores in downtown. Those are very low grits coarse stones, and they actually work pretty well. While I was there, I also bought another flat bottom carbon steel saute pan for $8.99. You just can't beat that price. I got the sense that the store is getting rid of those oldies but goodies and replacing them with nonstick shit, well, that's too bad.

I found the turkey frier is very useful to cater party this year. I borrowed one from my neighbor and hooked it up with a propane tank. It becomes a mobile cooking station and it cooks fast, very good for deep frying anything. I would have got one for myself if I didn't get one from my neighbor.

One major accomplishment this year is that I finally completed a full marathon this year. 26.2 miles. It was a perfect season. It all started with an idea at the beginning of the year to see how much I have recovered since 2008 when I injured myself in my first marathon. After several running sessions, I have decided to try a full marathon. I did get injured again month before the race, and I went to the massage therapies on campus weekly. I was trying everything and anything to get myself ready for the race and eventually, I went to the event and finished without any injury. Jessica and Alice were waiting for me at the finish line and I carried Alice through the finish line after over 6 hours of journey in the national park. It was a great day. To top it off, I didn't have to pay for the race because our company is a sponsor of the event.

There is one movie I watched in 2011 that stuck in my mind. It was a Korean movie called "Sunny". It got me think a lot about what life is all about, which is a topic that has been in my mind recently. We both feel that we are waiting for our next big dream, and we haven't yet found it.

It's Chinese New Year today and we are taking tomorrow off.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Beethoven In Trance - Episode 61

2010 was a good year.

First, the year started out with Jessica transferring to another department. She first interviewed for a job @ eMarketing, but didn't get it because she was overqualified. Right after she got turned down, another job opened up (and actually a better one), she applied and got it. She even got a small raise for the same level job transfer.

Second, Alice Ai Liang was born on 09/08/2010 at 10:36am. She is healthy, loud and cute.

Third, we both got the green card.

To welcome Alice, I did couple home projects. I rent a carpet cleaner and cleaned the basement and upstairs. Completely cleaned my study room and moved my computer down to the basement. Reorganized the basement so that it's not longer a storage room. I rewired the speakers with the 16 gauge wire and mounted the speakers on the wall. It's my new entertainment room. The old study room is Alice's room now. She has her own wardrobe, and a bed, and a sofa. Jessica spends a lot of time in there.

We also changed the layout in the dining room. We went to Ikea and bought a dinner table, it's narrower than the previous one, which saves us more space. It can be extended out to fit more people though. We moved the old table to the basement. We also moved the dinner plate cabinet to another corner of the dining room. It opens up more space in the dining room which is a high traffic area. With the baby around, space is becoming an issue.

The living room is also reorganized. I bought a set of used speakers from Craiglist (after bought and returned a set from Amazon.com). It was my first purchase from craiglist and the visit to the seller was pleasant. The test CD performed very well, so I didn't get any chance to negotiate the price. Come to think of it now, I might overpaid the center speaker a bit, but oh well. I bought the receiver and subwoofer from amazon.com and a blue ray player from bestbuy. All in all, it costed me about $600, plus speaker wires. It's certainly a learning experience to build the system from the pieces and connect all of them together, calibrate them to maximize its performance. The placement of the speaker is not ideal due to the shape of our living room (and I don't have any space and budget for a rear set either), I will have to live with it. I got a storage rack from Costco to put the TV, receiver, blu-ray and center speaker. It worked well, and it costed only $34.

My first Hi-Fi system performs well to my taste, very bright, suitable for the materials I listen to. Jazz and Classical and vocal come to live with the speakers. The speakers are about 10 years old, but still kicking. The new system also broadened my collection in Jazz and Classical. Pop music doesn't sound impressive in these speakers, but then again, what are you looking for in pop song? There is a huge different between vocal performance and pop song.

To back up all the CDs, I found a new software called EAC, Exact Audio Copy. It works like charm. I went through 100 CD spindle quickly. With the new system, my taste to the music also changed. Classical had a big come back when Alice was born, and I started to explore jazz vocal. So far I came across some favorite artists: Eva Casidy, Melody Gardot, Marelyn Payroux, Stacy Kent, and Shelby Lynne.

For Alice, I also bought a used camera, Canon XT, with a 50mm f1.8 lens. It's a fast lens. After my research of getting better pictures in low light condition, I picked up this one because it's more cost effective for the time. It performs well to the purpose. I brought it to the delivery room, and it took sharp pictures of the baby. With the growing need for space to store pictures and audio, I bought two 1TB harddrive, and gave away the 500G external to my neighbor. I also got a 320G external from my dad.

In 2010, I volunteered to be a board member for the Asian Employee Resource Group in our company. It's been an interesting experience working with other Asians (mainly indians from IT group) in the company. Like any new machine, we didn't start working smoothly, but we are getting better. Also, I went back to Steiner House to be on the board member, and got involved with the house issues again. It's fun to listen to all the old storied again.

We didn't do a good job tracking our finance in 2010. Jessica basically dropped the task because she is busy with the baby. I didn't want to pick up the task, so we left with nothing in the accounting book. I only know that we did all right in the stock market and in our retirement account for the year.

As of this writing, it's July 6th already. I am really late for publishing the annual report.

Last but not least, a list of memorable visuals and sounds:
Top 3 Album: Shelby Lynne: Just a little lovin', Melody Gardot: My one and only thrill, Stacy Kent: Raconte Moi
Top Movie: Up

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beethoven In Trance - Episode 60

Last week when I first started to write this annual report, I found myself out of topics very shortly. There was not much going on, I thought. I only remembered the vacation in CA with my parents, and the family vision statement that we made a few weeks ago. So I decided to check my blog in 2009 to see if anything I can add and soon I realized I have a lot to talk about in 2009.
2009 is the year of living, as I mentioned in the last annual letter. I think it's an accurate statement.
We have undergone some great changes in 2009, as you will soon witness. We are moving away from the 'settle in' phase, and into a time of 'better living'. We start to know better of this country and governing system through a list of documentaries, and change our mind set and modify our life style accordingly.
We challenge ourselves to find a better place than Cleveland for living. We paid off our mortgage to save on interest this year. We try to liquidate our asset and limit our purchase for the house to make future transition easier. We wrote our family vision statement as a guide to our future planning and career development. Meanwhile, we felt compelled to preserve our tradition and culture after 9 years staying here in US.
So, 2009 is in a sense building a sustainable model for the future.

Healthy Living
Food
We continued our request for a better dietary plan since the last writing (2008 annual report). We eliminated unhealthy food snacks, and discarded industrialized sauces at home. We have developed the new habit to read food product labels. The long list of corn based preservatives and additives always bring me laugh.
We also made a series changes to our daily food choices. We are moving away from heavy animal protein to increasing variety of substitutes. We cut meat in smaller size and stocking up different vegetables and grains. We have fish every week, and recently have started to have one 'vegetable dinner night' every week. We are trading in quantity for quality.
Our food vendor mix in 2009 has changed to accommodate our shifting needs for healthy food. We have increased our visits to Wholefoods, and opened to sources that we previously ignored due to the higher price point. I researched our local grocery stores and compared their offerings base on quality then price. We have stopped purchasing chicken from Costco because they were fat and industrialized (meaning big breast, soft bone, and loose joint - which indicates they don't move much, and are raised to increase the meat output). We found a good replacement in Giant Eagle, a regional grocery store which offers 'frying chicken' (from Delaware) at a comparable price that is less commercial. Plus we can just buy one instead of two in a pack at Costco. There is also Amish county chicken in the local stores with doubled price, we will try it next to see if the quality lives up to its price.

For pork, we have more choices. The pork in Giant Eagle is from Kansas farms, and the quality seems to meet the standard. We have bought pork rib ends from Heinens (from North Carolina) and have had good experience with them. D.W.Whitaker at the Westside market offers Ohio raised pork. I always get the rib tips from them as it's the best bargain. We used the pork rib end bones in a stock from Miles Market (from Ohio) last week, and we were happy with the result. We recently started to talk to a local farmer regarding buying a pasture-raised pig for 2010. It will be twice expensive but we are willing to give it a try to see if it's worth it. We will buy less pork from Costco that's for sure.
We don’t consume much beef, therefore, I don't plan to spend too much time to compare offerings like what we did with pork. Heinens offers beef shank at a good price. Wholefoods sometimes have sales on beef steak. Miles market has various cuts of black angus beef. I think we have enough to choose from for our needs.
We harvested some vegetables from our garden last year and we will continue work on our garden this year. We are planning to join a CSA program this year to accommodate our increasing need for farm fresh vegetables.
While eating healthier, we strive to move our food expenses to local markets. As suggested in the documentaries that we have watched this year "Food.Inc", "The future of food", we are exercising choices every time we walk into the store. We are moving to a new food standard while helping the local agriculture.

Mindset
When research on healthy diet, we have become more and more aware of the environment impact of what we do on the planet. This is a direct result of a list of documentaries that we have watched: 'Addicted to plastic", "Who killed the electric car', "The end of surburbia", and "Collapse". We were introduced to the new concepts such as 'peak oil', 'the clash between infinite growth and finite resource', and ‘local agriculture’. We were watching in awe how the plastic got recycled in the wasteland in India so we stopped using plastic spoon and fork in the office for lunch and bring in our own stainless steel ones. Our thermostat is kept at 50F this winter although it's mainly due to the high cost. We will buy a hybrid car instead of a regular 'fueled' car in the future. We still need to digest the concept of 'peak oil' and see how we can prepare for the collapse and become less dependent on oil.
After 8 years staying in US, I found my feelings for and attitude towards home shifting gradually. Few years ago, I won't even bother knowing the happenings in Shanghai, but now I am more open to them. We watch Shanghai local news every night. This Christmas, we have both noticed an emergent need to preserve our culture and our language. We wrote our first weekly menu in Chinese last week with the help of dictionary and we will continue to refresh our Chinese writing skills. It will be sad to lose our own language because it's one of the most important part of the culture. We agreed to have days off in our Chinese new year to celebrate the tradition.

Home Projects
We have accomplished two major projects this year, the garden and the bathroom remodeling.
We started our garden project in early spring. We roller tilted the garden we put down last year, and the flower garden that we hadn't been taking care of. We added another flower bed next to the maple tree at front. My wife had developed a strong interest in gardening so she wanted another garden for the additional vegetables. We took a day off and put down another garden in the backyard. We spent a few hundred dollars on soil, seeds, flower and herbs for the projects. All tools are borrowed from our neighbor. Happily, the flowers came out well later on. We also had more vegetables this year. We planted some heirloom tomatoes and they came out well, they were the best tasting tomato. The roman tomato is tasteless, but very productive. I bet it's an industrial specie. We had squash, green beans, tomato, fava bean, long string bean, bochoy, and different herbs. We still have rosemary and tarragon indoor now.
At the meantime, my wife has been working on the garden compose and we had so far almost 3 whole big boxes of decomposed 'stuff' for our garden next year. We have moved them into garage in the winter afraid plastic cracking in the cold weather.
We didn't do anything for the lawn in 2009, except our parents have been pulling out dandelions since they arrived here. We aero gated the lawn before the winter, and didn't seed. We will see what happens next year.
Around June, we started to work on our bathroom. Our initial budget was $700, and soon it span into $2000. We took down and reinstalled 4 wall panels, painted the whole room, retiled the bathtub, have someone refinished the bathtub, and changed fixture. Our neighbor has been the project leader and I was there helping out. The cost is half of the quoted price if I decide to hire someone to complete it, and that makes me feel better. Our bathroom was reopened in mid August when we expected our parents coming for visit.
One side project our neighbor did for us when we were vacationing in CA in October is the electric switch for the heating cables outside of the house. We left him the key just in case when we were gone, but he went in and re-wired the switch. Now we have a dedicated switch for the heating cables outside.
As of this writing, we just added another project for 2010. Our roof has been leaking water during snowy days since we moved in. This winter seemed to be particularly harsh on the roof and we had a lot of water leaking in. The ceiling under the roof has taken some water damage and leaking down to the room. We noticed the water drop last night, and traced it to the attic, then found a pool of water there. 10pm at night we were crouching in the attic and trying to soak up the water with newspaper. The next thing I knew was that my right foot was through the ceiling. It's just like in the comedy movie we saw before, only this time it's not that funny because I need to fix it. We will have to fix the hole on the ceiling, and fix the leaking roof in 2010. Plus, we need to better position our heating cable to let it drop down to the down spout so that the water won't back into the house dripping all over from the top frame of the windows in the living room like a water fall. Can't wait to see the winter end.


Entertainment
Since my last injury back in Shanghai running the half marathon in 2008, I haven't been able to get back to running. I joined the gym early in 2009 so that I can have some alternative exercise. One class has become my weekly routine - Yoga. It helps with stretching my body which I hope will speed up my recovery. At one point I was so tired of being injured and I went to have my leg check up, I went to a recommended sports doctor, and I didn't get much back from the visit. It was a very expensive visit as well, even with the insurance. It's one of the financial mistakes that I made in the year.
Other than running, I got the chance to play basketball a few times with colleagues this summer. Games took place at an outdoor half court and I had a good time. My leg injury was there, and I wasn't able to do my best. But it's great to get back to the game.
We did watch some good movies this year, below is a list of my picks.
Best drama: The curious case of Benjamin Button
Best Animation: Up
Best TV series: Dexter
Best Chinese movie: A night at the supermarket
Best Sci-Fi: District 9
Best Action: Terminator 4
Importantly, We watched a series of documentaries including: "The future of food", "Food.Inc", "The end of surburbia", "Who killed electric car", "Addicted to plastic", "Collapse", 'I.O.USA', 'The business of being born', "Sicko", "Guns in America", "World's most dangerous gang", "Bowling for Columbine" that cover a wide range of subjects. The future depicted from them was not bright. Most of them are trying to reach out and raise awareness for social responsibility. We have been acting on the ideas that are promoted ever since such as stopped using plastic spoons in the office, change our diet plan, and choose local food over national chain. We consider those viewings good learning. There is still much to do and we are still trying to chew them and digest piece by piece.
We are glad to watch a few good Chinese movies this year. "A night at the supermarket" is an entertaining movie. Yes, one can argue that the movie copied many ideas from other movies, but I say it serves the purpose and has enough originality to stand on its own. On the other hand, "Crazy Stone" wasn't that impressive for me. "Red Cliff" was a well directed movie, and I found it enjoyable to watch. The most disappointing TV series this year is "Heroes", it's been dragging since the last season and I think the show has lost its way. The best TV series is "Dexter" due to its gripping story development in the consecutive 4 seasons.

I continued my music journey in Progressive House this year. Trance has been commercialized too much that I have lost taste to it.
As for video game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare2 is the best of the year.

Finance
Our IRA investment in 2009 has delivered good result. I made the decision to divert our portfolio at the beginning of 2009 to take on some high growth and riskier stocks. The decision has paid off. My IRA has grown 27%, while hers has gone up 30% since inception.
Our after-tax investment account on the other hand only went up 4% because we set up the account at the peak of the market and soon the market went under. Even after I tried to infuse new growth oriented stocks into the mix, the account hasn't been able to fully recover from the market downturn. In 2010, we will continue to invest this account with new stock selections, and possibly a monthly or quarterly contribution instead of a lump sum deposit.
Another much smaller after-tax account that we had was still in the negative growth area. I bite the bullet and sold some underperformance funds before the year end in exchange for some promising stocks. I look forward to see its result in 2010. For the losses that I had, I will use it in the tax return this year.
Both of our 401K account started to climb out of valley in 2009, but we are still not able to shake off the losses incurred in 2008. We can only hope we can go back to the positive growth in this year.
We opened a few new bank accounts this year in pursuit of higher interest rate and opening account bonus. One bank account is actually a good choice because it has the ATM onsite in the company. That makes money withdraw safe and convenient.
We had a car accident in 2009, which put a dent on our insurance premium. We haven't changed our insurer due to its low cost, but we will be reviewing our policy this year and looking for alternatives and better home insurance coverage.
On the expense side, I bought six pairs of shoes this year. Patagoia (my current favorite brand) Balsam, Drifter, Vasque Blurr, Vasque waters shoes and Salomon Xt Wings from Sierra Trading Post at good prices. I also bought Rockport travel shoes (which is a mistake) from amazon.com. and finally a pair of Salomon XA Comps at Marshalls for $15. I am happy to report that my hunting for a fitting shoe has finally concluded. They are all great shoes. I am also happy that my parents can bring back home some of my shoes (wrongfully bought because they were cheap at the time) and give them away to relatives.
We purchased a few pieces cookware in 2009. Some of them are for resell over amazon.com and two pieces ($29) are for my cooking pleasure. I was able to sold two pieces (Kitchenaid 12qt. stock pot and Marco Pierre White oval fry pan) at very good prices. I lost money and product over a 14” fry pan transaction because the customer didn’t return the pan and amazon.com refunded the product due to the damage during the shipping. Another good financial lesson learned.
The current concept in managing our asset is 'liquidity'. We know the current house is not our home for long and we want to keep everything 'liquid' so we can have an easier transition in the future. We will limit our purchase and sell or donate anything that we won't carry over to the next home.
Due to the market downturn and Fed's rate cut, mortgage rate has been dropping through the year. We analyzed our situation at the time, and decided to refinance the mortgage. However, after we paid our application fee, we did another round of calculation and found a better option - pay off the mortgage totally. We cancelled the refinancing and lost the application fee during this process. It was very expensive lesson.
To keep a record of mistakes we made so that we can remember, here are the top financial mistakes in 2009:
1. Application fee for refinancing the house
2. Buying airline tickets for my parents from David Wang, higher price than in China, and can't use Credit Card to accumulate points.
3. Go to sports doctor for leg injury, high x-ray fees which is not necessary.
4. Didn't completely stop at the red light on E71. and Chester when turning right.
5. Bought a salad without thinking how to avoid heavy weight items.
6. Lost money and product over amazon.com during a transaction.
Other fun facts, we both saved on hair cut in 2009. I started to cut my hair since early spring and stopped going to saloon. My wife stopped going to saloon and let her hair grow.

Career
Not till later in the year I started to make moves to prepare for the next step in my career. The business my group manages did well in 2009 and we are on our way to meet the target for the first time. It will be unwise to miss this accomplishment. Therefore, I will stay put and see it through. On the other hand, I have talked to other department to see if there is any fun project to work on, and there is. My manager will make some arrangement this year to fill my time with work from both sides.
While I am writing this, my wife is preparing for an interview for a position in eMarketing in our company. It's a new field for her and she is interested. She is good at her job and she has good chance, and I can't wait to celebrating her getting the job.
We are still working on our long term career plan. Recently we had a meeting to talk about our life goals and city preference. We wrote a family vision statement in the meeting to guide our future planning. We will continue our research on our career and city preference in the new year focusing on what industry and type of job we like.

Travel
Earlier of the year, I traveled to L.A for the first time on a business trip with my manager and another colleague. CA was still like what it was when I left there 4 years ago, sunshine, hippies, girls showing skin, and the whole 'California' attitude. After our meeting with the client, we went to a local museum which is very nice. It was my Nikon D60's first field trip. I was able to snap a few good shots there.
We had two long vacations a short one after that. One with my in laws in DC, NY, MD, and one in CA with my parents.
We went to NY because my wife needed to renew her passport in NY. So we decided to take her parents along and did a tour in DC as well. It was about 7.5 hour's drive to DC. The train system in DC is well built and we had not much difficulty to get around. The Holiday Inn hotel we stayed in Greenbelt VA is decent and inexpensive. We walked around the town taking pictures at different sites and museums. The next day we left the DC and dropped by MD, then went on to NY. We stayed at Newark as the hotel was less expensive. We sent her parents on a city one day tour in the morning and we then waited in the chilling wind in front of the Chinese embassy. We got in and soon we found we were missing some documents (which were not required according to its website). The copy machine wasn't working, which wasted me four or five coins. Eventually, we got it renewed and we needed to pick it up a few days later. Fortunately, we bumped into a couple who worked in the same company and they were doing the same thing. They had a cousin lived in NY and their cousin can pick the passport up for us. We left the embassy and walked around the city and window shopped some food stores of our interest. There was one very expensive store (something ducas) I remember. We bought a bread in a store where my wife said Wholefoods sources its bread from, the bread is expensive, and the store cashier is nice and friendly.
We then shopped at Fairways. The array of olive oil in that store is impressive. There was a young guy with a back pack looking like a college student stormed into the aisle and started to sample each olive oil with the bread. The watching old Chinese lady next to him was laughing. The young man turned around and said 'trying different oils'. Well, he looks more like 'stuffing myself up before walking into the classroom'. Poor kid. My wife also got a comment from another old guy who was trying to walk pass her 'get outta here' in the store. She was not happy about it and before I found out that guy disappeared already. When we were done with the shopping and walked to the register, we didn't notice we cut off people accidently and we were 'reminded' by the people behind us right away. Finally we left the store and we saw the old guy who was previously rude to my wife, and I wanted to confront him, my wife stopped me and that guy sneaked back into the store again. Overall, Fairway is a nice store with great product, but I just can't stand the people there.
Then we went to a 'legendary' local restaurant to check out their corn beef sandwich, we found it was way too expensive and left there. We walked into a Wholefoods and were not that impressed by its cashier (in terms of friendliness).

Before I concluded that NY city is not a friendly city, I would have to point out that I have a few friendly encounters when I was asking directions in the morning. All the people I asked responded kindly and they all tried to help. I guess I have got used to the customer service standard here in Cleveland Ohio.
As soon as my parents arrived in early September, We drove them to the Niagra Falls where they had a great time appreciating the grand view of the falls. One bummer is that the picture card somehow stopped function and we lost some family pictures.
CA vacation in October was a nice, but short one. We travelled to Montery Bay Aquarium, Big Sur State Parks, Yosemite, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon. The sites are wonderful, but we found we need more time to rest between place to place as our parents can't handle tiring commute. We did plan our food well, and cost was controlled and in line with our budget. We took thousands pictures and I found shooting Grand Canyon and Yosemite were very challenging because it was easy to get overwhelmed and carried away by the beauty and missed focus in the picture. At about the middle of the trip, my mom got sick and we had to slow down our pace and luckily still were able to finish the trip as planned. I will go back to Yosemite again, and when I do, I will spend a whole week there in a better hotel.

Events
We had a tragic event this year. We were expecting in August and when my wife went back for the second check in September, we heard the bad news. We lost a twin due to chromosome defect. It was a sad day. We soon found out both of our family have a history of miscarriage. Our doctor said there was nothing we could have done to prevent that, though parents from both families have different theories.
Jill and her children came to visit us in October. Sadie and Doug are big kids now, we enjoy the time they staying with us.
Other news
Nikil married with Joan in India
Santosh left US due to his visa problem
Anita and Mukesh got married in India
Ankur and Swat got married in India
Veronica got married here in US.

One guy in the office has been bothering me for a while. He chews ice nonstop from 8am to 5pm. The noise is annoying and distractive.

I expect to see great improvements in our career, and refined life style in 2010. We feel we are ready to move on to another level. So I would like to call 2010 the year of ‘龙腾虎跃’ .

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Beethoven in Trance - Episode 59

2009 California Trip Report
Day 1 - Arrive SFO, took the BART from the airport to our base in Oakland, rest for the night.
Day 2 - Monterey Bay Aquarium, Big Sur
We started around 8am, traffic in San Jose wasn't too good. Fortunately, we could use the car pool lane, which was much better. We reached the Aquarium around 10:00am. Parking is $5 (we later found parking on the street between lover's point and aquarium is free). We spent about 3 hours in the aquarium (which is not enough in my opinion, I was busy taking pictures and forgot exploring the amazing world underwater). We drove to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park on the highway 1. , then come back in the evening, dropped by Carmel River State Beach and the Safeway close to Roi road, got some food, checked in hotel Best Western Crest Park, and rested for the night (it was a nice and clean hotel).
Day 3 - Point Lobos State Reserve, San Juan Bautista, Yosemite
Drove to Point Lobos State Reserve in the morning around 8am. It was a great place to hike, taking pictures and picnic. We left there around noon, and drove to Yosemite afterward. We stopped at San Juan Bautista for some pictures (nice little town and buildings), then continued to Yosemite. By the time we arrived Oakhurst, it was almost evening. We stopped by the Vons in town, had some food. Drove up to the mountains. Driving at night into Yosemite was an experience. We arrived Curry Village after 2 hours driving, parked the car (worrying about bears gonna attack our car because we just had fried chicken in the car for dinner). Went into the tent and slept. Woke in the early morning because it was really damn cold even with two blankets.
Day 4 - Yosemite Falls
We didn't realize it was gonna take us one day to hike Yosemite Falls and upper Yosemite Falls but it did. Bumped into a bear drinking water, took some pictures. We came back down and went for pizza in the curry village. Worst experience ever in there, 40 minutes of waiting and i asked the guy over the counter twice, first time he said I needed to wait, second time he said it wasn't ready and walked away. I went to another guy over the counter and complained about it, then finally, he came out with the pizza and apologized. Very bad experience with them, never go back again. Pizza is ok, nothing special.
Day 5 - Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Miror Lake
Since we missed the tunnel view when we came in, we went back in the morning, taking pictures, then went up to glacier piont, bumped into another bear, took more pictures, then came back to curry village. We stopped by some other areas for picnic as well, I don't remember the names though. We refreshed up, went out to mirror lake. We took the bus, hiked the trial. It was a great place to see, the water is low though, couldn't really take any pictures of the reflection. We went to the food court in the Yosemite Lodge for dinner. The beef stew soup was superb. Fast service and low price, thumbs up.
Day 6 - Giant Sequoia, back to base in Oakland
Drive out of the park, took some more pictures in tunnel view, then headed to the 'Groove with giant trees'. Amazing. By noon, we left the park, drove back to Oakland.
Day 7 - Las Vegas, Grand Canyon
Took the plane to Vegas in the morning, got the rental, and drove to Grand Canyon. It was about 5 hours drive, with stop for food. Checked into the hotel, Yavapai lodge. There was a general store next to the lodge which is essentially a supermarket, with everything you need. Nice. We didn't go anything that day, just went to bed and sleep.
Day 8 - Grand Canyon Hike
We hiked the South Kabib trail in the morning. We made it to the half of distance, then came back. Took us about 3 and half hours. Took the bus back. Drove to Desert view next, then dropped by the ruin. It was about sunset time, and we didn't make it to the red line bus, so we have to watch the sunset in Matte point. It was not impressive.
Day 9 - Left the Grand Canyon and drove back to Vegas
Went to M resort and casino for dinner buffet. It was a Thursday, so nothing really special, but for the price, it was ok.
Day 10 - Vegas
Vegas is still Vegas, I have been there 3 times, and it didn't change much. We went to the buffet at Bellagio for dinner, but we weren't impressive (maybe that's because we just had one the night before)...
Day 11 - Red eye fly back to home

Overall, it was a wonderful trip but it was an exhausting trip. If I could do it again, I would skip Grand Canyon, it was great, but I was more impressed by Yosemite, and I felt I wanted to see more of it. One week in Yosemite is called 'vacation', two days is called 'travel to'. Big sur is also nice, but I was rushed, and didn't have time to let the moment sink in. Point Lobos is geat, don't miss it. Aquarium is also fun, I wish have 5 hours to spend in there. I was busy taking pictures.
We travelled with two seniors this time, and it was a mistake to pack everything into the schedule. One of them got sick on day 7 when we drove to Grand Canyon. The tent cabin in Curry Village in Yosemite is a little too cold for them as well (in mid October).

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