Month: May 2014

Travels: Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns: Located in Virginia, Luray Caverns is said to be the largest natural structure in the Eastern coast. It was discovered in the 1800s and the entire stretch of the tour inside the caves is over 1 mile. Photos cannot capture the experience of viewing these caves. We did get dripped on by cave water, but fortunately it wasn’t very cold. The ticket includes admission to their museum, which has some nice historical artifacts. We advise against The Garden Maze (additional fee) – it is not worth the frustration on a hot afternoon.

Mimslyn Inn: We dined here for lunch. An amazingly elegant atmosphere. But more importantly, delicious food!!! Nhi has never liked French onion soup, until now. The food came in big portions and were reasonably priced. The service (albeit slow) was pleasant and thick with Southern hospitality.

Shenandoah Skyline Drive: The view was so underwhelming that Nhi lowered her car seat and napped halfway through the drive. It felt like we were trapped on an endless, drab course with no end in sight. (It didn’t help that we lost phone signal for much of the drive and literally had no idea where we were and how much longer we had to go until we could escape). Don’t waste your time, gas, and $15. Countless highway routes are more awe-inspiring. What’s more? They’re absolutely free. We were particularly disappointed since we had a breathtaking experience in Upper Michigan with the scenic drive of Sleeping Bear Dunes. We recommend that in a heartbeat.

We Say
A staycation is great for short, budget-friendly travels. We recommend a visit to DC and the additional ~2 hours to Luray, VA. Our visit was trimmed short due to Nhi’s work schedule, but we read great reviews about the historical sites in Luray as well as Shenandoah Valley. Perhaps our travels will lead us back to this region one day.

Modern Family’s Wedding Event

Modern Family showcases a very unconventional extended family, but truly at its core, the show embodies traditionalism… in the sense of values and ideals of love and family. After 5 years, Cam and Mitchell joined the “married” ranks with the other main couples of Modern Family. Of course, not before some hilarious chaos ensued…

He Said
When Modern Family premiered in 2010, it was a refreshing and rather ingenious take on the “family sitcom” genre that was all the rage of former decades (such as Full House, The Brady Bunch, and Growing Pains). With a snappy pace and clever jokes, Modern Family was a hilarious comedy with a great cast. Modern Family has won the Emmy for “Outstanding Comedy Series” every year since its inception, but my love for the series waned over the years. I felt the show was growing tired, with forced, uninteresting plots and cheap jokes. There were too many “misses” in later seasons compared with “hits” and I felt it lost the freshness and wit I so enjoyed… I eventually just stopped caring to watch this season. The season 5 finale (“The Wedding” Parts 1 & 2) is reminiscent of the “magic” Modern Family used to have on a consistent basis, blending witty comedy with a meaningful undercurrent.

She Said
I must admit my puzzlement that Modern Family‘s season 5 finale is considered a historical television event (as it featured a gay wedding on primetime TV on a broadcast network). I’m baffled that marriage equality isn’t considered commonsense and its acceptance needed to wait this long. Love is love. Cam and Mitchell are arguably the strongest couple on the show. They have consistently shown resilience, understanding, and growth. Their wedding, with its untimely and hysterical out-of-this-world obstacles, only strengthened their strong commitment toward love and family. I applaud the writers for a beautiful and comical finale.

We Say
Hands down the best writing of the season. (But Nhi is still pulling for The Big Bang Theory to win at the Emmy’s.) Instead of being background noise to our dinner, Modern Family‘s season finale grabbed and held our attention from the start. The writing was crisp and the acting spot on.

Movie Review: Brave

Title: Brave
Directors: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 93 minutes
Accolades: Oscar & Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature
Purchase Brave: DVD

Plot
Brave attempts to examine the relationship between a mother and daughter within the context of traditionalism, individuality, and feminism.

He Said
Pixar is known for its emotionally riveting stories that can make grown men cry (ala Toy Story 3) and entertain audience of all ages with laughter, suspense, amazement, and tears. Something went awry with Brave. I’m not sure if it was because having a female lead was too “foreign” for Pixar, but the movie not only lacked heart, but it was downright a boring drag. There were a few good moments (such as Merida’s bonding moments with her mom as a bear), but overall Brave is forgettable.

She Said
The message of writing your own destiny can be delivered in a more effective manner and with more charming characters. Merida was, for the majority of the movie, a spoiled brat – hence extremely unlikable. A good chunk of the movie was wasted with filler scenes that delivered no significance and did not contribute to the plot. Overall, Brave was not a bad movie, but certainly not one to be remembered.

We Say
We are baffled that Brave won Best Animation at both the Oscar’s and Golden Globe. The movie has the polished and well-produced “look” expected of a Pixar movie, but lacks the core that makes it a great movie. There are a few noteworthy moments, but the movie as a whole is excessively drab with unlikable characters.

Grey’s Anatomy: Farewell Cristina Yang

A decade in the making… one of the most powerful and unique characters in TV history has left. Grey’s Anatomy bid adieu to another original five M.A.G.I.C.

He Said
The problem with truly saying “goodbye” is that there’s never a “good time”. Perhaps this is why the writers tried to distract viewers with a too-busy and yet disengaging “terrorist” plot for the bulk of the season 10 finale. There was too much going on and yet not enough at the same time. For the most part, I felt like the episode was cold and boring (save for a few scenes). The final minutes do pick up and offer some intriguing story lines for next season.

Cristina Yang’s season-long exit has been crafted in a way that was almost too overly sped up and contrived. While I found the Meredith vs. Cristina “fight” in the first half of the season interesting and rather realistic, I believe it was too quickly resolved (albeit more believably than Callie & Arizona’s reconciliation) to pave the way for Cristina’s exit in a way that’s both meaningful and fitting for the character. As a whole, the writers stayed true to the character and offered Cristina a very nice “ending” and provided as much closure as they could. Her final scene dancing with Meredith was a nice call-back to the glory days of Grey’s Anatomy‘s past. I appreciate that for the first time in the history of the show, a character was not written out with death or vanished [i.e. into a parking lot]. Cristina truly got a very happy “ending”.

She Said
There were moments when it all felt very anticlimactic (terrorism plot = half-baked drama). The goodbye, the journey’s end felt contrived. The finale gave the impression that Sandra Oh needed to leave, not Cristina Yang. And yet, the season’s penultimate episode made me thrilled for Yang’s journey ahead. So what went wrong tonight? Too many distractions and too little “feels”. Even the best relationship on the show, namely the twisted sisters, gave a torpid dance party. I admit I teared up a little – but only because I was reminiscing their past memories, not because the goodbye was in anyway heartfelt. Perhaps this was purposeful for Grey stressed this isn’t the end. It is merely an exit. Indeed, the finale left the door wide ajar for Yang’s return when the time comes for the show to end. To be sure, the show has no plan on ending soon. They made that point clear when the finale left enough time to create a new plot twist and give MerDer their habitual conflict. However, this could very well be the end of the show for us. While I had appreciated Season 10’s focus on research, the show’s heart relies on drama and angst. Unfortunately, Yang’s exit also signaled the end of a very witty and brilliant era that balanced angst. While I used to attribute all those positive traits to Bailey, she has slowly become a shadow of herself. Aside from the twisted sisters, I am not invested in any other relationship on the show. It would have been wonderful if season 10 is indeed Grey’s last before this drama inevitably dies as it struggles in its new time slot against The Big Bang Theory.

We Say
Sandra Oh, a five-time Emmy nominee, gave a splendid and consistent performance throughout her 10 years with Grey’s Anatomy. She brought Yang to life – with all her quirks, arrogance, and charm. We wish her the very best in her next venture into live theatre!

Insanity Workout

Purchase INSANITY

Whereas the P90X family of exercise touts “muscle confusion”, Shaun T‘s Insanity promotes “high-intensity interval training” as the selling point. Like P90 and similarly popular, the Insanity workout has roots in infomercial and also comes from the Beachbody LLC.

Insanity is an “Extreme Home Workout DVD” with the following tag line: The Hardest Workout Ever Put on DVD

The marketing scared me from attempting Insanity for 2 years as I didn’t believe I was physically fit enough for it. Finally, after completing Power 90 and P90 Masters, I was ready for Insanity. I am definitely glad I waited!

Insanity is a grueling, no-nonsense, mostly non-stop 30-60 minutes of hard work and sweat with an emphasis on burning fat through extreme cardio, plyometrics, and some strength training (primarily in the form of push-ups) over the course of 60 days. As with the P90 series, you work out 6 days a week (following a set schedule) with 1 much-needed rest day. The basic concept of “high-intensity interval training” is a cyclic phase of hard moves followed by a brief rest. The goal is to maximize your heart rate to enhance athletic performance and fat burning/weight loss. Insanity is said to pack a “year’s worth of gym” into 2 months.

I never sweated or worked as hard for any workout like I did with Insanity. Insanity made my previous P90 workouts (note: does NOT include P90X) seem like a joke. While I still credit P90 for the most of my weight loss, I honestly had reached a plateau with it. Insanity took my fitness to a level I never imagined capable. No, I never could keep up 100% with the entire workout, but that’s not the point. Insanity encourages you to push yourself to the limit (and then some) and do the best you can for that day.

As for results… They were apparent after 1 week, which shocked me. I definitely burned a lot of fat thanks to Insanity and become much leaner. At the end of 60 days, I found that my body became conditioned to doing higher levels of physical activity in my everyday life and I can say that I am the most physically fit I’ve ever been in my whole life.

Insanity is one of the best at-home workouts available for people looking to improve cardiovascular health and burn fat. It’s not for people who are looking to build muscle; Insanity mostly tones. Unlike other workouts, no exercise equipment or weights are needed; you just need to bring your body and lots of water. It is an extremely demanding workout that’s probably not for everyone. However, don’t shy away from it. It is doable as long as you stick with it… but no, it does not ever get “easy”. Try the “Fit Test” first and see how you do. If you stick through the 60 days, you will look and feel “crazy” good!

Don’t Follow Your Passion

Do you have a career idol whose success holds you both in awe and envy? Are you someone struggling to find a career niche? Have you been told to “follow your passion” and are clueless as to what your passion is? The truth is… You’ve been lied to.

You’re not born with a pre-existing mission. You create your mission.

The notion that we have a pre-existing passion has more negative implications than good. I struggled throughout high school (and college) regarding my career choice. I was waiting for my life’s calling to beckon me. Essentially, I was waiting for my life to be discovered instead of creating my own path. Don’t waste life chasing after an elusive abstract.

“The road to success is not a path you find, but a trail you blaze.” – Robert Brault

You can cultivate passion.
Often, we view passion as an intense hobby, in fields such as music, theater, and arts. We juxtapose it with more viable career paths that are thought of as mundane nine-to-fivers. While this may be true, it doesn’t have to be. At its core, passion reflects mastery. When we’re good at something, we’re motivated to keep refining our craft, which feeds our passion for achieving new heights. This mastery leads to success.

How to Achieve Success by Not Following Your Passion:
1) Identify what you’re good at. Make deliberate effort to improve this skill.
2) Savor your sense of accomplishment. Bask in the impact of your work. This will cultivate passion.
3) Work hard and work frequently at your craft. There is no shortcut to success. The good news is that success doesn’t bring happiness; happiness leads to success. Therefore, #2 is crucial.

Already employed in a good job but haven’t found the passion to work hard everyday? If you’re unfulfilled in your current position, start by asking how you can become more valuable. Identify a rare and valuable skill to develop. Then, follow the three simple steps above. You will be well on your way to cultivating not only a satisfying career, but a new, rarer kind of practical passion built on commitment, mastery, and pride.

We Say
Don’t make your passion your career. Make your career your passion. Your job doesn’t have to just be what pays the bills so you can pursue and sustain your other interests. At the same time, your job shouldn’t simply make ends meet and cause financial stress because your chosen passion has a poor job market.

Don’t set out to discover passion. Instead, set out to develop it. This path might be longer and more complicated than what most upbeat career guides might preach, but it’s a path much more likely to lead you somewhere worth going.

If I Knew Then: Credit Cards

Buy now, pay later! No interest for 12 months! 0% interest is a very typical promotional tactic that credit card companies use to entice new customers. Deferred interest is awesome, but this “scheme” leads far too many people into debt… myself included.

If only I knew then…

Credit Cards: Not Free Money
Credit cards take away the physical aspect of spending money, turning the act almost into an abstract. It is harder to fully grasp the magnitude of how much you spend. It is far too easy to swipe a plastic card without fully considering whether one can truly afford the purchase. The situation worsens with the false security of deferred interest for many months. The future is again an abstract that often comes faster than one realizes.

12 months is not long, especially if you carry a high balance and only make the minimum payment. It is extremely easy to overspend when you think “the bill” won’t come for a “long time”.

Balance Transfers: Shifting, not Eliminating
The other big tactic in the credit card companies’ arsenal is balance transfers, which offer deferred interest for many months for a “low” transaction fee. Some people consider balance transfers as a way to buy them more time to pay off an overwhelming amount of debt. Sadly some wind up in a vicious cycle of balance transfers. Transferring a balance is not the same as paying it off. The debt is still very much there and has actually increased due to the balance transfer fee.

My Debt Story
I sadly was prey to both traps. I got caught like a fly on a spider’s web from all of the 0% interest credit cards I accumulated. I spent far more lavishly than I should have, again all because I thought I could pay it all off before the promotional period was up. Because I didn’t budget or keep track of my spendings, I ended up having high balances which I then resorted to balance transfers to avoid interest. I couldn’t believe I had become a statistic, part of the bunch with poor financial planning. It took quite some time, but after budgeting and planning, I was finally able to come out from under.

We Say
Do not become another victim for credit card companies to feast on. They bet against you, hoping to collect interest and fees. Always carefully consider any purchase, regardless of whether you pay cash or credit. Don’t spend more now thinking you can pay for it far later. You will end up paying much more!