Monday, September 28, 2009

In The Wilderness With 54 Kids

My son started third grade this fall and one of the most exciting events for 3rd graders at his school is that they get to go on a 2 night camping trip with the entire 3rd grade class. For some students, this will be their very first camping trip ever... very exciting indeed... for the students anyway. For the parents, preparations for this trip was the source of greater than usual malay in seeking out and packing all the necessary gear and much anxiety as for many of us, this is the first time that our (now 7 and 8 year old) babies will truly be away from home... much anxiety indeed. ;-p Some of the girls' in his class even exchanged sleepovers leading up to the trip to help them prepare for being away from home.

As soon as the trip was announced to the students, my son campaigned for me to go as a chaperon. This was no surprise to me as every time he has had a class field trip in the past, he has always asked for me to go. I'm not always able to go, but I always try. But this trip presented a greater problem for me as I would have to somehow find childcare for his sister, who usually just hangs out with me and comes with me to all of my appointments during the day, not to mention all of the other projects that I've been trying to juggle lately. So I put the thought of chaperoning on the back burner. Besides, I was sure that some of the other parents in his class would volunteer to go. In every class, there are always a few "uber parents" (you know who you/they are) that have very demanding full time jobs yet are always miraculously available whenever there is a need in class. I've always admired them yet only dare to aspire to be a small fraction of the parent that they are. Surely, at least one among them would be signing up as a chaperon for this trip.

Days before the trip, I received a message from a parent implying that no one from our class has volunteered to chaperon and claimed that she had heard that "I" had agreed to go. This was news to me! I decided that if there really was no parent from our class that could/would go, then I would indeed go as a chaperon. The next day, at a birthday party that most of the kids and parents in the class attended, I took a poll and discovered that only 1 lonely dad , who was not one of the usual "uber parents", volunteered. Relieved, I silently decided that I would not go as I also had a responsibility to my younger child (even though technically, each class is supposed to have 2 parent volunteers). However, I was still curious as to why none of the usual "uber parents" were volunteering this time. So I found one them and inquired. This particular mom then proceeded to explain to me that she was fully prepared to go, but her daughter actually asked her not to go as she wanted to express her independence. My heart instantly sank as I realized that soon, my son will also be asking me NOT to go with him, NOT to be near him, be seen with him, etc., etc., etc. At that moment, I decided that I'd better go, as it may very well be the last time that I'll actually be "wanted" by my son.

On the morning of the trip, I was greeted by many very grateful parents, who also told me that I was crazy for going, but that they were grateful and relieved nonetheless as most of the kids in class know me and are very comfortable with me (and were not nearly as familiar with the other volunteer parents). So off I went, with 54 screaming, yes screaming 3rd graders. I instantly developed an even deeper appreciation for the commitment, dedication, and insane willingness to subject their ears to daily punishment, that our teachers posses. Thank God for teachers!

The trip was for the most part, exactly what I expected it would be. There was a constant and consistent supply of kids having meltdowns for various reasons ranging from my best friend just hurt my feelings, to some other kid snatched my ball, to the world as we know it is about to come to an end because I cannot open my water bottle or my zipper is stuck, to I want my mommy because I'm tired and this is no longer fun... Although the kids were mostly thrilled to be able to hang out with their friends in tents and play with flashlights, for the adults, the tents were well... tents, and the ground that we had to sleep on was well... hard and rather uncomfortable. The lunch provided by the camp guides which consisted of salame, bread and butter, Ritz crackers, Pringles, cheese and water was... unappetizing (although the kids didn't seem to mind at all). Even the weather was a little on the too chilly to be comfortable side. The one thing that surprised me, was how happy my son appeared to be throughout the entire trip to have me there. He asked to sit next to me each time we got on the bus even though he had various friends asking to sit next to him. He would approach me out of the blue just to hold my hand and walk a little with me. He even leaned in to give me a kiss every now and then without a single worry that he might be teased by his friends (which fortunately did not happen as I'm sure it would have otherwise been my last public kiss for a very long time). Although he is generally very sweet and affectionate with me at home and away from school, I was almost moved to tears several times at his sincere and genuine unabashed sweetness towards me in front of all of his buddies. He even went out of his way on his own accord to gather souvenirs to give to his sister. If only he could stay like this and never grow up...

Once back to civilization and more importantly, within cell phone range, my phone started buzzing and ringing off the hook with calls, messages, texts and emails from concerned parents. Amazingly, none of the kids from our class appeared to suffer from homesickness. Most of the melt downs came from the other 2 classes. As it turned out, all of the concerned parents in our class had nothing to worry about and much to be proud of. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the same grateful parents who were happy to see that I survived and appeared to have taken bets out on whether I would make it back in one piece or not. ;-p One of the parents again reminded me that I must have a few screws loose for agreeing to go on this trip. Another parent, after seeing how visibly exhausted I looked, asked if I would ever be willing to do something like this again. The honest answer is NO! I scored my brownie point and I'm done! ;-) However, I really would suffer it all again if I could only experience that same sweet little guy who actually still wants his mom around. After all, this is exactly why I left my corporate job, so that I could do crazy things like chaperon school camping trips.

But now, I have to work on getting my daughter to forgive me for ditching her for 3 days! A mother's work is never done...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Uninsured Motorists

Today, I had the misfortune of getting rear-ended by an uninsured and unlicensed motorist. Of course this couldn't have happened 6 weeks ago while I was still driving my old Jag (which the government calls a clunker). It had to happen in my brand new Highlander!

My poor new truck has already been off to such a rough start. In addition to the large amount of miles I've put on it right out of the dealer's parking lot (which is very uncharacteristic compared to my usual driving habits) it received it's first ding at about 3 weeks old thanks to my mother opening the passenger door, and with great force (especially considering her petite size) into a concrete wall. Now, at only 6 weeks old, I can already check off it's first collision. :-(

The good news is, no one was hurt and the uninsured, unlicensed driver didn't run. He pulled over, was very apologetic, seemed to feel badly that both my kids were in the car to witness this collision, asked me again and again not to call the 5-0 (police), and promised to make payments towards getting the damage repaired. I guess I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best... I mean, what else am I supposed to do?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Paging Doctor Mom

I was just finishing up a conference call when I heard my kids come back in with my sister from walking her chocolate lab one last time before she headed on the road back home to LA. I heard the sound of the front door flying open and then... the sound of the "death cry"! Every parent knows the "death cry". It's distinctly different from the sound of the "I'm upset because someone took my toy cry" or the "I'm grumpy because I'm tired or hungry cry" or the "my brother or sister is picking on me cry". It's the cry that sounds like the world as we know it is going to end! ;-p

From upstairs, I could already tell that it's my 3 year old sobbing (and not her brother). So I head down to investigate and discover that she somehow managed to get a large (1/2 inch or so) splinter wedged deep into her hand. Although the splinter was rather large and rather deep into her skin, there was no bleeding and it really didn't look so bad. However, my poor 3 year old was sobbing hysterically as if the sky had just fallen. This was not the first time that I, Doctor Mom, have had to surgically excise a large and deep splinter from a tiny little hand so I felt well prepared for the task. ;-)

Step 1: A big hug to calm her down and a slow and careful explanation of what I'm going to do to make everything all better again.

Step 2: The surgery - careful removal of the splinter using a needle to dislodge the splinter from the skin and then a tweezer to remove it, all while wiping up tears, convincing her that she needs to stop crying so that she can stay still and allow me to "fix her ouchy", and reassuring her that everything will be just fine.

Step 3: The application of the Bactine/Neosporin etc. and the colorful cartoon character band-aid that always brings a big smile.

Step 4: Another big hug and lots of praise to the little one for being so brave followed by washing the little face clean of all the tears and slobber.

And all of this was finished just in time for us all to send my sister and her dog off on their drive back home, get my son started on finishing his summer homework (due on the first day of school, this Thursday), and put on Sesame Street for my newly bandaged up daughter. I even managed to take my next scheduled call right on time.

Another typical day in the life of a modern, working mom..... :-)

Cars Are Made To Be Driven

For the past four years, I put an average of only around 7,000 miles per year on my old Jag (now reclassified as a "clunker"). However, because of my aunties visiting from Taiwan, I put nearly 2,000 miles on my new Highlander in the last 3 weeks! The best part is, I've only owned it for 3 weeks! In an instant, my new Highlander has practically lost half it's value thanks mostly to the many, many round trips from Palo Alto to Pleasanton to pick up the aunties, to San Francisco and various other Bay Area attractions, back to Pleasanton to drop off the aunties and then back home to Palo Alto. Why my uncle insisted that the aunties stay with him way the heck out in the middle-of-nowhere-Pleasanton is a mystery. But I suppose from his perspective the answer would be "why not?" as he's not the one that has to suffer for it, I am!

As I lamented over the literally instantaneous and drastic depreciation of my new Highlander, my dear sister reminded me that cars are not meant to be investments, "cars are made to be driven". The good news is, the aunties had a fabulous time visiting with us all in California and we all have wonderful memories to treasure because of it. Now that I've delivered the aunties safely back on their flight back home to Taiwan, I can go back to my normal driving habits and the insanity of all the back to school activities for my son who starts 3rd grade this Thursday. What a fun, eventful and memorable summer it has been!

The San Francisco City Pass is a super deal for anyone wishing to spend some time visiting the cultural attractions in SF! For only $59 when purchased from (or $50 if you don't feel the need to actually visit Alcatraz and a regular boat tour/cruise of the Bay will do when purchased through the Entertainment Book), you get a round trip cruise and self guided audio tour of Alcatraz, unlimited Cable Car and bus rides within SF, and admission to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39, the SFMOMA and the DeYoung Museum + Legion of Honor or the Exploratorium. The cost of the Bay Cruise and admission to the Academy of Sciences alone already add up to the price of of the City Pass.

I'll probably buy the City Pass again next summer even if we're not hosting out of town visitors as it's totally worth it just to take the kids to all of those museums again. They had just as much fun at the Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium and the Aquarium of the Bay as they would have had at any random amusement park and it's much more meaningful and shhhhhh... educational! Plus they would love another trip to Alcatraz and would ride the Cable Cars back and forth all day long if they could! It's fun to be a tourist in your own back yard!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Success!

I swore to myself years ago, after splurging on my Honda S2000, that I would never, ever buy a brand new vehicle again. It simply does not make good financial sense. Purchasing a 3 to 5 year old new used vehicle is much, much smarter. But when Obama came out with the Cash For Clunkers program, suddenly, purchasing a brand new vehicle was no longer such a terrible idea.

Funny enough, it was my mother, who barely speaks English, who first heard about the program on the Chinese language news and then subsequently insisted on a daily basis that I take advantage of the incentive. I did indeed need a larger vehicle to haul all of my inventory and gear around for my trunk shows and fashion shows. Until now, I've been making do with my old 97 Jaguar XJ6 L. (It was a beautiful sedan which I bought used for a really good deal. I managed to score the L model with the longer wheel base which made it even more sleek looking and very comfortable in the back seat.) It was quite the challenge, but miraculously, I was able to make it work as long as I didn't have my kids with me and stripped the back seat of their car seats. But lately, many of the features of my Jaguar have been malfunctioning. The driver's side door wouldn't open unless I rolled down the window and reached over to open it from the outside (quite comical that I had to let myself out of my car that way considering that it's a "Jaguar"). The headliner has been sagging quite terribly and most recently, the steering column, which is supposed to automatically retract into the dash so that it's easier to get in and out of the vehicle, would retract and extend repeatedly nonstop after I shut down the engine, plus the alarm started to just go off spontaneously. In short, my beautiful XJ6 had turned into a CLUNKER!

Of course, my mother's ultimate goal was for me to trade-in the very last semblance of my youth - my S2000. I first fell in love with it at the Auto Show in SF in 1999. I admired it from the turn table at the show and watched how beautiful it looked under the fancy spotlights and then found myself at the Honda dealership shortly after it first became available in 2000. It was my one big splurge. Carrie Bradshaw splurges on Manolo Blahniks, I spluged on a sports car! It was the original, made-in-Japan model, before they toned down the engine and made it more pedestrian. I couldn't bring myself to let go of it, even after I had my second child, so I bought the used Jag to transport the family. Even though I haven't been able to drive the S2000 much lately, the rare opportunities where I found myself kid-free and having the privilege to drive my little red roadster were like sheer bliss! I would put the top down, have the wind in my hair, pass up all of the soccer moms in their SUVs and minivans and pretend to be 25 again! My mother on the other hand, saw my S2000 as a needless, frivolous waste and couldn't wait to have me get rid of it.

Spurred by my mother's insistence, I went online to search for the most economical 7 passenger vehicle that would qualify under the CARS program. As it turns out, the Toyota Highlander was the only vehicle that would qualify given my clunker (Jaguar) trade-in. I compared the fixed pricing for the Highlander on the Costco Auto Buying Program, AAA Auto program and in the end, found that the best price for this particular vehicle was offered by the American Express Auto Buying Program. The Amex program led me to Hayward Toyota which quoted the best price of all of the participating dealerships in the greater SF Bay Area. But I didn't stop there. The thorough researcher that I am, I decided to call all of the dealers in the area to see who had the Highlander with all of my features (or rather, lack of features as I didn't want to pay the premium for the built-in navigation or dvd/rear entertainment system and for whatever reason, most Highlanders in this area seem to have at least one or both of those features) in stock and then to find out if they would be willing to match the pricing that my Amex auto program offered. That's when I discovered that Hayward Toyota not only offered the best pricing, but also the best service.

Most of the so called auto sales "professionals" that I spoke with knew far less about the Highlanders than I did. Most of them were very nice but couldn't answer my basic questions and forgot to call me back when they said they would. I do understand that they were all swamped and overwhelmed with the demand generated by the cash for clunkers program. However, regardless of how busy Jeff Hershman from Hayward Toyota was, he always remembered to call me back and follow-up on every item. Jeff was fantastic! He was very thorough, very patient and took the time to answer all of my questions (and I had a lot of questions). He was very considerate and understood that buying a car is a big decision and not one that should be rushed into. He also tried his best to help make sure that all of the paperwork was finished as quickly as possible. After the purchase, Jeff continued to be very thorough and even called to follow up and make sure that I was enjoying my new Highlander.

Although my son (who had previously decided that he should inherit the S2000) and I are still in mourning over the loss of my roadster (and even my old XJ6) and will continue to mourn for some time to come, I am happy to say that my mother is very pleased to finally be rid of what's left of my youth and what she felt was a needless waste of space in our driveway. She is especially happy that I managed to come home with the new family-mobile just in time to chauffeur her and her four sisters, who just arrived for a 3 week visit from Taiwan, around town. Even though I can no longer deny that I too am in fact a "soccer mom" as I join their ranks in my snazzy new Highlander, I must admit that I am enjoying the nifty modern features of a brand new car, especially the integrated Bluetooth. ;-p

Alls well that ends well!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Makeup Tips: Mascara Trials, Errors and Successes

I must admit that I never thought I would ever be dispensing any advice on makeup! I often get asked by my friends about all things related to having kids – pregnancy, potty-training, discipline, diet… And of course I’m sought out often for style tips. But makeup?

Up until just a couple of months ago (just after the IN STYLE Palo Alto fashion show when my mother “suggested” that I learn to apply makeup the way the professionals did it that day – see my previous post) my entire makeup regimen consisted of face powder, lip gloss and sometimes lip liner. That was the extent of my knowledge on makeup.

Sure I experimented with a little too much black eyeliner (as was the trend back then) in my early 20’s. But not only was it soooooo NOT a good look for me, the older I got, the lazier I got when it came to playing with makeup. And of course having kids was the end of all makeup experimentation altogether… until my mother reminded me that I’m not improving with age! ;-)

Spurred by my mother’s “encouragement”, I rediscovered the fun that is Sephora! They really are fabulous! Pretty much everything is available for you to try and play with. They have a fantastic customer service policy (I’ll never buy makeup from Saks, Neiman’s or Macy’s again unless it’s absolutely not available at either Nordstrom or Sephora) and the best part is, they actually train their sales associates! Every time I walk into a Sephora, someone super friendly and super knowledgeable offers their assistance. And if I ask a question that stumps them, they’re always happy to find someone else for me who might have a more educated answer. For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to start with my eyes. Doing up my eyes has always been a weakness of mine. I simply don’t know how. Plus I have a pair of small, very Asian eyes that even most makeup artists have a tough time with. I have absolutely no eyelashes… well, they’re there, kind of… they’re just super short and super sparse that you can’t see them at all without a magnifying glass. So I decided that a great entry point for my new found makeup discovery phase would be… drum roll please… mascara!

I had caught a portion of a segment on the TODAY Show on mascaras a while back where they were recommending a Japanese mascara called Fiberwig by Imju. It has these tiny little fibers mixed into the mascara (I’ve also heard them referred to or called “tubes”) that will actually adhere to your lashes and extend them. Supposedly, the more you apply, the longer your lashes look. Well I loved it! It really did make my lashes look longer and even did a decent job holding a curl. Although I discovered that the more I applied, the clumpier my lashes got and that it really did take quite a bit of skill and practice to actually, gently make the lashes get longer and longer. The best part was, absolutely no smudging – not even on my ridiculously oily eyelids and the area just under my bottom eyelashes. I remembered from my previous and very short-lived makeup experimentation phase in my early 20s that I was never able to find a mascara that did not smudge under my bottom eyelashes after a couple of hours and always ended the evening looking like a raccoon. Thrilled with my new smudge-proof mascara discovery, I applied it every chance I got (i.e. whenever I had a few extra minutes without my kids climbing all over me before we had to leave the house)… until one day, I found myself having one of those heart-felt, tear jerker conversations with a good friend. Suddenly, not only did I find myself with severe raccoon eyes, but I also had clumps of black fibers running down my face! Not a good thing! As much as I loved this mascara, I learned that I needed to find something waterproof – and Fiberwig is unfortunately so very, very not waterproof.

As luck would have it, I managed to catch another makeup segment on the TODAY Show. This time, they recommended the DiorShow mascara… which is available in waterproof! Back to Sephora I went, marched myself straight to their Dior section and bought myself the highly rated DiorShow mascara in the waterproof version. I LOVED it! It really did volumize even my skimpy lashes and it did a decent job lengthening as well. My favorite part was how it curled and kept the curl up all day and all night. It was amazing how it opened up my tiny, very Asian looking eyes. Then, a couple of hours later, the smudging began. I was walking around with raccoon eyes again!

Not to be discouraged, I marched myself back to Sephora again and again in search of the ultimate mascara that would curl, volumize and lengthen even the skimpiest of lashes, my lashes AND would not smudge on even the oiliest of skin types, my skin. It’s a tall order, I know, but I was determined to find the ultimate mascara! I consulted with a Sephora makeup professional each time, and each time, followed their recommendations and found myself trying: Chanel’s Inimitable mascara (great at separating lashes, not bad at lengthening and being smudge resistant but just didn’t volumize and curl quite as well as DiorShow Waterproof and is not waterproof), BADgal Lash Mascara by Benefit (wax based, not waterproof but definitely tear resistant, which is all I really need, but not as great at curling and not completely smudge proof), DiorShow Iconic Waterproof mascara (still smudges, although not quite as much, but doesn’t curl or volumize nearly as well as the original DiorShow Waterproof), Lash DNA by Smashbox which is not available in waterproof but is supposed to be smudge proof so I tried it anyway because I was fascinated with the spiral brush (not too bad at being smudge resistant but couldn’t really curl at all and of course, is not waterproof). Finally, MAKE UP FOR EVER came out with a waterproof version of their Smoky Lash mascara which had already been highly recommended to me by a Sephora makeup professional but I didn’t try it because it wasn’t waterproof at the time. I like it. It does a decent job volumizing and lengthening and is totally smudge proof and waterproof. In fact, it’s so waterproof that you definitely need to get yourself a good eye makeup remover to use with it. (I recommend Lancome’s Bi-Facil or, for those of you with kids and no time like me and need a quick, all-in-one solution, I highly recommend Clean & Clear’s new oil free “Makeup Dissolving Foaming Cleanser”. Not quite as quick and effective as Bi-Facil but not bad, especially for the $4.99ish price and easy, one-step all inclusive process.) However, it still did not curl as well as the DiorShow Waterproof and could not hold the curl for very long either. So what’s a girl to do? Exhausted with my mascara experimentation, I’m now using MAKE UP FOR EVER’s Smoky Lash Waterproof mascara on my lower lashes as it volumizes and is completely smudge proof and waterproof, and the original DiorShow Waterproof mascara on my top lashes as it really is second to none when it comes to the combination of being able to curl, volumize, lengthen and last for hours and hours and hours. On very special occasions, when I actually have extra time to get ready, I’ll also use Imju’s Fiberwig mascara on top of both the DiorShow Waterproof on my top lashes and the Smoky Lash Waterproof on my bottom lashes for extra length.

I can’t handle anymore mascara experimentation! I’m sure one day somebody will invent the truly perfect and ultimate mascara for us all. But for now at least, I am very happy to have finally found the perfect combination of mascaras for me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Natalie Morales in Far East Living

Fresh off of my emotional high from dressing Julie Haener for the 3rd year in a row, I was lucky enough to be invited to by Natalie Morales, TODAY Show Co-Host and National Correspondent for NBC, to come show her some samples! I got in touch with Natalie last May when I was trying to pitch the TODAY Show to have their anchors wear Far East Living items during the Olympics in China. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a single reply from their producers but I did manage build a nice relationship with Natalie Morales, who was pregnant at the time. I had sent her some pictures. She expressed that she loves the Asian/fusion look. And now I get to go meet her in person while visiting my girlfriend who is now pregnant with her second child!

Too bad my girlfriend Chris was not able to come too as I wasn’t able to get any shots of my fitting with Natalie. I did however manage to get a short, behind-the-scenes video of me waiting in the green room at the TODAY Show alongside Suze Orman and Michelle Borba!

Suze Orman, whom I’m a great admirer of to begin with, was very complimentary of my collection and said that she will plan on stopping by next time she’s on the West Coast. Natalie did end up picking up a few items including our classic Cashmere Mandarin Coat with handmade spiral accent Chinese frog closures, our Tweed Coat embellished with an ornate, oversized frog closure that was first braided using matching yarn and then applied by hand, and our very popular Silk Mandarin Jacket in a plum cherry blossom brocade featuring an exaggerated Mandarin collar and shoulderless sleeve styling dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Natalie is seriously even more gorgeous in person than on TV and so incredibly nice! I’m just beside myself with excitement in knowing that she’ll be walking around Manhattan in Far East Living!