My New Camera

If you’ve got kids, you got to have a camera.  There’s something about the insatiable need to capture every moment of your children’s lives. If it’s not captured on film, it is gone forever.

My desire for a better camera grew once I became a mom.  I was content with my old compact point and shoot back in days of BC (Before Children).  Sure it has a slow shutter speed and inadequate image stabilization; I didn’t need them much.  I barely used the device and when I did I mostly shot scenes.  Three months into Ravi’s life, I was finally fed up.  It was time to take on something with a little more fire power.

I knew I was going to need a higher resolution and a faster lens, but I also knew that I needed something simple enough for an amateur to handle.  After comparing dozens of cameras, we selected the Canon PowerShot SX200IS.  One thing that set it above the rest is the lens.  It has a bigger lens compared to the traditional point and shoot.  This resulted in a 12x optical zoom, which was rare three years ago, and a faster shutter speed, since the larger lens allowed more light to pass through. It also operates much like  more expensive SLR cameras, which allows a user to set shutter speed and configure settings such as ISO.  Most of the pictures on this blog were shot using this camera.  The PowerShot served us for three years and we were very happy with it.

Several weeks ago, there was an incident in our household.  Our PowerShot fell into the toilet.  I don’t know how or why that happened, but I wasn’t all that surprised given all the chaos going on in our household.  I wasn’t home at the time, but when I got there I found a PowerShot with water trapped between lenses.  Needless to say, we were once again in the market for a new camera.  This time around I wanted even more fire power.

Three years of playing around with PowerShot gave me a good idea as to what I wanted from a camera.  I have played with my dad’s Canon 40D; I loved the image quality and flexibility, but hated the size.  There’s no way I could handle this camera and the kids at the same time.  One day, I stumbled onto a website that introduced me to the Panasonic DMC-GF3.  It opened my eyes to a new class of cameras, the compact SLR.  It felt like a new world opened up to me.  I loved its price, size, capability, and flexibility.  The cool thing about this camera is that it can be used with the Panasonic Lumix Vario X HD lens (14-42mm), which is an ultra compact lens with lots of zoom.  This combination is so compact that it is not much bigger than my old PowerShot.  But after much research, I found out about the “double imaging” issue potentially due to its stabilization mechanism.  I was heart broken… but not for long.  The search for another compact SLR led me to my true love, the Sony NEX C3 with 18-55mm zoom lens bundle.  Sony of course is an electronic power house and makes fantastic CMOS image sensors.  At some point they acquired Minolta, which was a  fantastic optical company (lens maker).  This marriage ensured that my new camera was going to be top notch.

Once my new camera arrived, I immediately took some test shots.  Oh boy is it sexy!  The feel of it is wonderful.  It is just heavy enough to feel significant, big enough to fit comfortably in my small hands, and the whole thing fits into such a small bag.  HD video, tiltable 3 inch LCD screen, nice zoom and shutter speed with the 18-55mm lens…  The pictures look fantastic even under low lights conditions.  I am in love and this is my soul mate… for the next three years anyway.  Here’s a picture of my darling.  Doesn’t it look sexy?!  Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

Sony NEX C3 with 18-55mm lens

This is certainly a new beginning for me.  This camera has reinvigorated my desire to learn more about photography and to begin other projects that I have been thinking about doing.  The sky is the limit, and you are going to help me get there.

-Flo.

Picture of Max at 5 Months

Here’s a picture of my beautiful Maxie at 5 months.  He is certainly a handful, from his bad sleeping patterns at night to having to be carried all day, he is truly a very demanding baby.  In the months since his birth, he made me struggle and really feel my age.  I have to admit that I am too old to raise babies, but one look at him made it all worth it.  You can say I am indeed deeply in love with Maxie.  I love the sparkle in his eyes and the funny things he does.  To me, everything about him is magical, from the wiggles of his toes to slobbers of his drool.  My love for him is like a drug, it makes me forget my age, my tiredness, and any other trouble on my mind.  All I want to do is to be with him and grab onto every precious moment I can.  He reminds me everyday that I am lucky to be me.

Max at 5 months

-Flo.

Ravi vs. Swing

As an infant, Ravi disliked the swing.  We realized this when we first put him in a hand-me-down, and not even a minute later he started to cry furiously.  So we didn’t bother openning the brand new super-duper swing with multiple modes of functions that I received from my baby shower.  We thought we would save that for our next kid, who may appreciate cool gadgets more.  During the first four months of his life, Ravi’s swing sat sadly in the corner of his room gathering dust. 

When Ravi started day care at four months of age, the care lady often put him in a swing even though I have told her repeatly that Ravi disliks it.  She probably didn’t care, especially after I walked out of the door each morning.  She kept putting Ravi in it.  In her mind, she was probably thinking: “I’ll use this swing like a chair, because I am too cheap to put batteries in it.  This little kid can just sit in it and be happy that he’s ignored.”  It was a miracle that Ravi didn’t cry himself hoarse each day.  I think Ravi was just too happy to watch older kids playing around him and quickly forgotten he was in a swing.  One night when I walked in to pick up Ravi, he was happily swinging back and forth in that batteryless swing by shifting his weight back and forth!  When he saw me, he was so proud and gave me a big smile and a giggle.  It was just the most hillarious thing I saw and I wish I had recorded it on video.  I had hope, maybe this kid will grow up to like swing.

When Ravi was old enough to go to the park, we often ask him if he would like to try the swing.  The answer was always no.  We thought, maybe the image of him swinging himself on that batteryless swing endlessly has caused semi-permanent damage to his head.  So we didn’t push him and let him be.  When we moved to our new home and enrolled Ravi to a new school, his classroom’s play yard has a long row of swings.  Each morning when we drop Ravi off, it was always fully occupied with couple of kids waiting to get on.  We’ve always hoped that Ravi would be interested in trying again, but he never did.  We thought, what a waste, he is such a natural when it comes swinging himself.

So these days when we visit the neighborhood park, we don’t bother asking him again about the swing anymore.  Untill last weekend… As we walked by the swings, Ravi wanted to get on.  I first pointed to the little kiddie ones that’s in the shape of a bucket with holes cut out for legs.  But no, he wanted to try the big kid swing!  He got on happily like he has done it dozens of times before, and kept asking me to push him higher.  Cautiously, I pushed him, while watched him closely in case he changes his mind.  A few minutes later, he was still going strong.  He even started to chat with the little girl on the next swing, and checking out if he was swinging higher.  He kept telling me to push him harder till he was finally going higher.  Ten minutes later, he didn’t want to stop. Twenty minutes later, still going strong.  Thirty minutes later, still giggling… He was on that swing for over fourty minutes before he finally got off!  My poor back was hurting form bending while pushing him.  Could you belive he went from zero to fourty minutes on something he disliked for the last two years?  Go figure, that’s Ravi for you.

So I wonder what’s going to happen now.  Is he now a fan of the swing?  Or was that day an isolated incident?  Only time will tell. 

-Flo.

Ravi’s Eating Habit is Finally Improving…

Since Ravi was born, I have been obsessed with the amount of food he eats because he has always eaten very little and has been under weight since a few months old.  I used to get so upset when he refused to eat the food I spent hours cooking for him.  Sometimes I would even try to force feed him, only to realize later how wrong I was.  Eating time was always the most depressing and frustrating time for me (and probably for Ravi).  Despite all my struggles, Ravi remains a healthy and happy boy; it is as if the lack of food has had nothing to do with his well being.  So at the beginning of this year, I decided to stop obsessing and let Ravi be his own boss in the food department.  If he wants to eat, he eats; if not, he can go hungry.

Throughout the last two years, my favorite conversation topic with other moms was eating habits of underweight kids.  I am so thankful that I have such a strong support group of experienced moms to rely on.  Their feedback has helped me tremendously.  What I realized is that Ravi’s weight does not fall into the severe case.  My friend Han-Ching’s girl was so skinny during the first few years of her life that she dropped off the weight chart!  Talk about stress.  Other moms who shared similar weight problem with me pointed out the obvious, that Asians are in general skinnier than the rest of the population in this country that we are being compared to.  This is so true!  Mario and I were both skinny to the bones as little kids.  Ravi is probably doing better than we did.  My sister gave me some great insight as well.  She mentioned that force feeding may have resulted in Ravi’s adverse reaction to eating, and eating chocolate (which Ravi loves) may have resulted in loss of appetite.

I’ve done much research on line on this topic.  I read somewhere that by controlling what kids can or cannot eat often lead to bad eating habits later in life.  For example, when french fries were restricted in a household, the kids are more likely to hoard and overeat them when they finally have access to them.  So I also decided to give up some control over Ravi’s snacks.  If he wanted some chocolate after dinner, he can have some, but never too much so he won’t eat the next meal.

Two weeks ago we began to send Ravi to a new daycare facility near our new home.  Prior to that, Ravi has been at the same in-home daycare since he was four months old.  While we liked the low price and convenience, we also realized there were many disadvantages.  For example, their tiny living room where the daycare is being operated does not allow much room for exercising or engaging in creativity.  Another issue was the lack of control in food as the lady feeds whatever and whenever she wants to the kids, sometimes including cup of noodle and boxed mac and cheese.  She also feeds multiple kids at the same time with the same spoon.  Most of the nights when Ravi comes home he would not want to eat dinner.  Little of what he would eat were grind up or processed baby food, and he showed no interest in what we would eat for dinner.  While we were there, I turned a blind eye because I felt so incapable of feeding Ravi.  Unknowingly, I let things get worse and worse.

I dreaded sending Ravi to the new daycare because I had to provide his lunches.  His first week there also coincided with the chaos of our move, as the result he ate every little at lunch.  But he always came home hungry and wanted to eat something like crackers and bread.  By the second week, I started to get a better handle on his food.  Ravi also became more interested in our dinner.  One night, Mario and I had pork chops for dinner.  I was so surprise that Ravi came by and wanted a bite from his daddy’s plate.  He never liked meat before, and would always turn his nose away when we tried to give him any.  This time however, he came back again and again asking for more.  By the time he finished, he had eaten about a dozen little bits equal to 1 square inch by half inch in volume.  That was the most incredible thing!  The next night I especially made turkey patties and he gobbled down more than one of those 2 inch round by quarter of inch thick patties!  Then we had noodles and he ate some of that with his hand…  Suddenly he changed!  He now likes grapes, fish sticks, apples, or whatever we are eating.

How incredible!  I am just overwhelmed by the change of events.  I now look forward to dinner time and cooking something new to feed Ravi.  I still give him chocolate and sweets, but only after dinner and never too much.  Mario and I have also established a no milk right before dinner rule so he would eat more for dinner.  The biggest thing we are doing now is to allow him to eat by himself.  Sure this can get messy, but he loves to get his hands on the food and shove into his month.  When I see him get all happy and dirty at dinner time, I am filled with joy.  I now know that we are on the right path and Ravi is going to be okay.

-Flo.

Pomelo

Pomelo, aka Chinese grapefruit, is not a common fruit here in the states and it is rarely seen even in Asian supermarkets.  Its taste and look varies from variety to variety, some are round and some are elongated.  According to my parents the best variety in the world (we are biased) comes from a small area in Szechuan province of China.  Why would they know?  They are crazy about that stuff!  Apparently I was a huge fan also when I was a little kid running around in the small village in China.  Every year around the ripening season, farmers would carry these pomelos around in large bamboo buckets on either side of a thick bamboo stick across their shoulders, going from village to village to sell these fruits.  I was told that I would look forward to this time every year as a child.  When the time comes, my mom would take me shopping for these fruits.  Back then, it was customary for customer to request a taste.  If it tasted right, my mom would buy dozens of these things and store them up.  It sounds like a lot, but she told me that I was so obsessed with the fruit that I would forgo my meals and eat at least two each day and complain why I couldn’t have more.  So a dozen goes fast for me and we were constantly looking for the good stuff and storing up before the end of the pomelo season.

Its been years since I’ve tasted a pomelo and my taste bud has been dormant.  My obsession for pomelo has become a distance memory and I couldn’t tell if I still like it anymore.  This past Chinese New Year, however, has brought some of these fruit to my parents’ local super market.  When they saw them on display, they immediately know from their shape that these are the variety that we used to buy.  So without looking at the price or bother to do any further shopping, they loaded up their shopping cart with as much as they could pick out, checked out immediately and went home to get a taste.  I happened to be with them that weekend.  When they peeled the fruit open and handed me a piece, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to taste it.  Sure the stories of my childhood is real, but its been so long.  But all it took was one bite and I was instantly in love with it again.  I LOVE POMELO!!!

These odd shaped pomelo are the best variety.

Unfortunately the supermarket sold out and we couldn’t find anymore pomelo.  My parents have been looking for more in dozens of supermarkets across their neighborhood, but none was found.  One day my dad told me he saw a pomelo tree in the neighborhood full of these fruit that are the exact same shape.  I guess he’s been wanting to talk to the owner about getting a branch of seed or something to plant, but was too shy to do so.  So all he could do was to walk by and admire it.  About two weekends ago when I got home, my dad happily announced that he has finally acquired a really good pomelo tree from a specialty Asian nursery.  It was one of their more expensive trees but money was on object.  The owner guaranteed him that it is exactly the same variety that he was looking for and he was over the moon!  He planned the tree into the ground within a week and it has been growing beautifully.  Every time we come out to the backyard we look at this tree and admire it, hoping it will grow fast and strong, and produce lots of fruits next year.

My parents new pomelo tree

I can’t wait to taste its fruits!  If it produces indeed the right variety, I would go and buy the same one to plan in my new garden too, so I would always have my own supply of pomelo for the rest of my life.  Pomelo, I would never let you out of my life again!

-Flo.

Chocolate Monster

For valentines day I got a box of really good chocolate to share with Mario.  I kn0w Ravi loves chocolate too so I got a few extra small pieces so he can share with us.  But I didn’t know how much Ravi would LOOOVVEE these chocolates.  His eyes lit up once he saw the box open with all those beautiful chocolate truffles inside, then instead of going after the small pieces which will fit into his hands and mouth, he immediately grab the biggest pieces he saw, one in each hand and quickly tried to shove them into his month.  Since the truffles were quite big, he couldn’t swallow them whole but only a bit at a time.  Before Mario and I had a chance to finish one for ourselves, he came back for the next two and left the reminder of the first ones on the table.  So the next five minutes went by with Mario and I eating his leftovers and Ravi keeps grabbing new ones.  The next time I peeked into the box I was surprised how few pieces were left.  So I packed up the rest and saved them for the next day, of course not without much protest from Ravi.  He kicked and screamed wanting to get his chocolate back.

Ravi and his chocolate

My beloved little chocolate monster… Mommy loves you!

Flo.

p.s.  Ravi didn’t become a chocolate monster over night.  Here’s a picture of him from weeks ago while eating chocolate.

Stick to A-Pa like Glue

I can only guess that Ravi looks forward to visiting his grandpa every weekends, since he couldn’t really tell me yet.  I am guessing this because he calls out “A-Pa” (Ravi’s name for grandpa) all the time when he practices his “talking.”  Every Saturday morning when I finally pull into my parents’ driveway, Ravi would get really excited, especially when he sees grandpa coming out to greet him.  He literally couldn’t contain his excitement, giggles and wiggles in his seat till A-Pa comes and “rescue” him.  Then he would spend the next half an hour lay motionless on top of A-Pa’s shoulder while A-Pa walks him around.  If anyone comes near him, he would try to slap them away.  It is his way of saying: A-Pa is mine, hands off!

Ravi at A-Pa's shoulder

Mind you, A-Pa is approaching seventy years old.  Holding a twenty-five pound kid for long durations is some serious exercise for him.  I worry all the time if he could really hold Ravi for that long and not damage his back, but he has never refused Ravi’s request to be held.

When the curiosity bug bits Ravi and he finally decent from A-Pa’s shoulder, he generally opt to do something dangerous or mischievous, like climbing up to places too high for him to be, or playing with something he has no business playing with.  A-Pa always stays not more than an inch away to make sure he’s not harmed.  So the weekend goes on with Ravi constantly calls out to his A-Pa, running and giggling, following by A-Pa close behind.

I hope someday when Ravi is older he would still remember the joy and love of his early relationship with his A-Pa.

-Flo.

Flo’s Day Off

One of the challenges with being a mom is finding time for myself.  It feels like I’ve spent every single waking moment with Ravi, with the exception of when I am working.  From waking up with him every morning to getting him ready for bed at night, every single day of my life is about him.  If I am not spending time with him while he’s awake, then I would be cooking or cleaning while he’s asleep.  I love being a mom, but sometimes I just want to escape for a few moments.

So I took a Friday off to spend it all by myself.  I got up in the morning as usually, woke up Ravi and got him dressed, cleaned, packed, and ready to go.  Since Mario has to go to work he dropped off Ravi at the daycare.

So Flo’s day off began.  I immediately brewed a cup of tea with REAL tea leafs (not those crappy on-the-go tea bags).  This used to be my favorite thing to do before Ravi was born, I would rate the success of the weekend based on number of cups I drink.  It feels like its been years since I could do it without any rush.  It feels soooo good… I spent the morning reading my favorite blogs, and I let the dirty dishes sit in the sink (though I gave them my evil stares every time I walked by).  Haven’t you heard?  I am on vacation!  I dug out frozen food for lunch.  It wasn’t spectacular, but hey, I am still in my pajamas!  I attempted to nap, but unsuccessful.  Well, that’s just a hint that I should spend more time shopping.

I spent the afternoon going in and out of stores I haven’t visited on my own for what seems like years.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but ended up with a nice pair of earring for myself.  I also couldn’t help but bought some stuff for the baby.  When 5PM rolled around, I was relaxed, but relieved that my day off is finally over.  I missed Ravi so much, and he has been on the back of my mine the whole day!  I rushed over to picked up my favorite little boy, and went home to live happily ever after.

What a day, what a wonderful day!  I hope I will get to do it again soon.

-Flo.

How does one understand history as it unfolds today?

I’ve always been fascinated with history. In high school, it was my favorite subject. I loved learning about complex historical situations and the men and women involved in them. They always had to make a decision of utmost importance sometimes with limited information. The pivotal moment or decision had the potential to determine human history and shape our world for years to come. The Declaration of Independence, the Rise of Hitler, the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius at Issus, the conquests of Napolean, etc. all have pivotal moments that changed the shape and flow of human history. These moments have always attracted my attention.

When I was younger and more direct I found historic battles and military issues the easiest to digest. Historic battles are relatively simple; there are two opponents with different armies, strategies, and tactics that usually ends in a clear winner and loser. The decisions made in the battle have as great or greater impact than the forces used. This helps to quantify the brilliance of the generals and has clear concepts to learn. It also spurred my interests in games and game theory, which has eaten a lot of my hobby time. After starting the MBA program, I was introduced to the case study analysis approach. A case study is just a historic collection of a business situation that the student has to analyze to determine the best possible course of action. The situations are much more subtle and nuanced. Oftentimes the company makes an incorrect analysis or situation and the business suffers for it. Sometimes, though, the business does make the correct decision and things still end up badly for them. The potential for chance to determine the outcome of a business situation is reflected in the case studies I see. This isn’t the case for history books. History books have a clear and definitive purpose; they are there as a catalog of events, peoples, and situations. There is a clear difference between the two settings. Case studies have a bit of chance, variability, and unknown in them, while history is determined and structured.

This brings me to my latest question? When does present day events ossify into history? How can we be sufficiently removed from present events to understand the situation clearly that we can then document the situation? I’ll give an example of a current situation and a historical one that might, or might not, be similar. Currently we are in one of the greatest contractions in employment for this country. The last time we’ve seen such a contraction in business similar to our current situation was the great depression of 1929. There have been many articles comparing and contrasting today and 1929. Both sides seem to shill that their view is correct, while the other side is completely wrong. There will be large amounts of money to be made and lost on the revelation that today is similar to the Great Depression or isn’t. With so much money at stake, how does one determine how to judge the situation correctly? Do we need to be unbiased as possible? Are we to follow an inspirational leader and great motivator that will be able to determine history (like great men of history)? Is there a method or model to help us determine the most likely outcome? How do we understand history as it unfolds today?

I’ll be the first to admit that I have no clear answer to that question. I’ll also admit that I’m immensely intrigued in determining how to understand the situation. I’m very interested in the determining clear metrics or quantities that will help determine the present situation and developing a model that will help determine the most likely outcome. While the situation I picked is global and financial in nature, the analytic process, if it can be developed, has applications in many different areas. Hopefully there is an answer to this question. If there is, it’d be great to help determine a model or process that will do this.

Mario.

The Tree

My parents lived in West Lake Village and Thousand Oaks area for nearly 8 years.  For those that never visited there,  it is 40 miles outside of downtown LA, located right behind the Santa Monica Mountains about 15 minutes drive from the coastal area of Malibu.

Life is slower there.  Gigantic trees lined the wide and spotless streets.  People often walk on the side of the street and say hi to you as you pass.  Neighborhoods are tightly knitted, where everyone calls you by your first name and send you fresh cut produce from their garden.  This may sound normal to many of you, but for someone who lives in city for years, it is like a scene straight out of a movie.

So why move away from such an idyllic neighborhood?  Well, my family loves good Chinese food and shopping at Chinese stores.  We used to drive 100 mile round trips on the weekends to our regular Chinese hangouts to satisfy our cravings.  The older my parents become, the more they realized that they just can’t keep doing this anymore.  So they bought a home in Walnut, which has more Chinese stores and restaurants than they ever imagined, and they absolutely love the new neighborhood!

After what seemed like years in escrow and remodeling, they finally moved out of their Thousand Oaks home.  I took a day off to help them move.  Early in the morning before the mover arrived, my mom and I took one last walk in the neighborhood.  We both knew we will likely never return to this place again.  I brought along a camera because I wanted to take a picture of one object that I so loved in the neighborhood.

It is this tree.  This giant, old, and gnarly tree.  Its branches bent and broken, like its been carrying the weight of time from all the years passed.  Still, it stands tall and proud.  I looked forward to seeing this tree every time I come home to see my parents and every time I leave.  It is to me the symbol of my parents’ home.  Earlier this year when all the other trees grew new leaves, it was still bare.  I honestly worried about it and hope it survived the winter despite its age; I was glad to see new leaves on it a few weeks later.

Years from now when I think about Thousand Oaks again, there will probably be nothing left in my memory except this old tree.  It will be permanently carved into my mind and I will think of it often, hoping it will survive yet another winter.

-Flo.