Guilty Spot = Best Gift

I found this guilty-looking puppy with a gift bow from google image!

This year, among all the wonderful gifts I received for my birthday, the most special one was a pre-natal massage gift certificate from my friend Vanessa. She was so thoughtful to come up with the idea, and took the effort to find EarthBody, a 5-star rating spa on yelp review that is conveniently located in my neighborhood.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience during my Christmas long weekend and felt very relaxed and pampered afterwards.

This whole experience reminded me of an article on the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago , called The Secret to the Best Gifts by Dan Ariely . (You can also read the same article on his personal blog here.)

The main point of the article is that "A good gift is something that someone really wants but feels guilty buying for themselves. This perspective is interesting because it suggests that the ideal gift is not something that the recipient can't afford or didn't know she wanted. It all comes down to alleviating guilt. "

In this pre-natal massage case, I am living proof of this theory. I certainly can afford that one hour massage; I obvious know that my 9-month pregnant body is in need of a massage. But, I just feel guilty about buying it for myself!

Thank you again, Vanessa. And I would actually recommend this to everyone who needs to buy a gift to an expecting mom, too!


What NOT to give in the Chinese culture

This holiday's cute clocks from www.WestElm.com

1. Clocks -- You should NEVER give a Chinese person a clock! In Chinese the word "clock" pronounced the same as "end". When you say "giving someone an end" it literally means "attending someone's funeral". So giving people clocks is like wishing them dead.

2. Green hats (for men) -- I don't know the reason, but when you say "give a man a green hat to wear" in Chinese, it means that the guy's wife has been unfaithful. Trust me, you don't want to give a Chinese guy a green hat, even if that thing is made of gold. I bet when they designed the costumes for Robin Hood or Peter Pan, nobody thought about this!

3. Books -- don't give any books to your Chinese friends who are superstitious and like to gamble. In Chinese, the word "book" is pronounced the same as the word "lose." You get the idea.

4. Knifes, scissors, or anything sharp -- I think this symbolizes that you want to "cut" or "disconnect" your friendship to each other. I once received a very cute Hello Kitty nail clipper from a friend and was asked to pay a quarter for it, so that it wasn't considered a gift.

5. Shoes -- This is a hard one to follow because beautiful shoes can make a woman so happy! I have heard that giving someone shoes means you want that person to "go away", which also means you want to end this friendship. Shown above is that famous pair of shoes in Sex And The City movie...

6. Chrysanthemums -- They are everywhere in the Chinese funerals and funeral is probably the sole usage of these big (mostly yellow and white) flowers. I personally think about funerals every time I see these flowers.

7. Small hand towels or handkerchiefs -- They indicate that you want your friends to wipe away their tears. When I was growing up, we always received these in paper boxes at funerals. Another thing that will trigger unhappy thoughts.

8. Umbrellas -- As practical as it is, giving a Chinese person an umbrella is commonly known as a bad idea. The pronunciation of "umbrella" sounds very similar to the word "separate", which has a bad indication that you might never see this friend again after this gathering.

If you search for this type of information online, you will find a lot more things to avoid. I personally only consider these 8 things my no-nos. If people give me any of these, I will pay them $1 just so that it wouldn't be considered a gift. That's the solution that is commonly practiced, so feel free to give beautiful shoes to the Chinese ladies you love. Just remember to ask for $1 back.

Happy gift-giving!


Nesting Instinct and Painting

The photo that I copied for my painting

This post is mainly to showoff and to document something that may never happen again. Also to all the pregnant women or moms out there who have similar experiences, you will know that you are not alone.

I have heard of this Nesting Instinct thing before, but didn’t think much about experiencing it myself. According to many websites, your nesting instincts start as early as month 5 into the pregnancy and everyone goes through it differently. Some people will rearrange all the furniture, some people will wash everything or throw away things and buy a lot of new things. I found myself obsessed with not cleaning, not cooking, not even buying anything for the baby, but with something I haven’t done since high school – painting.

It all started at my neighbor Gary’s party in mid September. Gary had a set of 4 paintings on his dining area wall that are 4 stretched canvases in 4 different colors. Simple, elegant, modern, and the coolest thing was that he actually painted them himself! I got inspired and wanted to create something for our new home that desperately needed to be decorated and furnished. Against Albert’s wish, and big thanks to my new good friend + neighbor Melissa, I started a 3-week journey of making my first “real” painting.

Melissa took me to a nearby art supplies store and here are the basic items I got.

As a “serious” beginner, I bought a canvas, and a box of paint with just a few basic colors. I also got a set of brushes for beginners, a palette for mixing and a color chart as a reminder -- the primary colors are blue, red, and yellow. They can be mixed into secondary colors: purple, green, and orange. By adding white, black, and gray, you can then adjust the darkness or lightness of the tone. All of these things cost about $60. They are not professional-grade products, but are certainly good enough to make me take this seriously.

After I got all the necessary equipment, I spent a lot of time deciding what to paint. This actually turned out to be the most important step of the whole creation. Not having used the acrylic paint before, I did a practice round to familiarize myself with the brush strokes and the effects I could make. The exercise immediately ruled out many ideas I had that were too complicated. No animals, no flowers, no cartoon characters; but instead, I should paint the ocean, sky and just walls. And they needed to be in primary or secondary colors.

So, I found a photo of one of the cities we visited last year in Santorini. It is colorful, meaningful and fits all the requirements. (the first picture of this post)

The process took about 12 hours in total. I probably spent 2 hours each night in 6 different nights. Here are some pictures showing the progress and the final result.

Started with the easy part -- sky and ocean

Added yellow and red

Added green and grey

I am very happy with the final result and will probably hang it in our guest bedroom. And I can’t wait to paint more little ones for the baby room. Hopefully my baby is benefitting from this artistic calmness that I experienced while I painted.

Lessons learned:

1. Invest in the equipment - get the best you can afford within your budget and consider your serious level

2. Have a strategy – do a test practice round, consider your capacity, and choose the right thing to paint

3. Find good partners – you want someone who has done this before, but is not too serious about you doing everything right. It is just much more fun when you can do this with a friend. (thank you, Melissa!) If you are considering taking painting even more seriously, finding a teacher/mentor would be important.

4. Don’t let other people’s negative comments stop you – even if they come from your significant other! Albert initially wanted me to promise that I will not hang my paintings in the apartment and told me that I needed to respect professional artists… blah blah blah. His attitude finally changed when I was half way done with the painting and started to say good things about my efforts. I think he either realized that I would not give up, or noticed that I do have some talent. Anyway, remember to enjoy it and have fun!

Important P.S. - Pregnant women should not be exposed to certain paints and their fumes. There are chemicals in the paints that might cause miscarriages or birth defects. I don’t even think the acrylic paint I use is 100% safe, so I kind of feel guilty about what I did. If you must paint during pregnancy, read the labels, ask your doctor, make sure the room is well-ventilated, and don’t eat or drink while you paint.

* Added in December 2010 --

Despite the guilty feeling about breathing paint fumes during the pregnancy, I still painted two more pieces after my original post. These two paintings represented my best wishes to two dear friends of mine who have been supporting me over the years and came over to visit me just recently.

We played music together in our college days. One was the bass player, and the other one played the keyboard. They both like this Paul Frank monkey very much, but ran out of time to visit the store in San Francisco during their October visit. These are very small gifts, but I was really thinking about them and our precious friendship over the years while I was painting these.

Here is a picture before I wrote something with their names on these, because my friends are quite private on the web.

The two paintings for my two musically talented friends who also like Paul Frank a lot, for their birthday. (Paul Frank, please don't sue me.)


A pregnant woman's closet

Yes, you see it here. This is not the right body, but the right underwear that I recommend mommies-to-be to wear! (photo from Victoria's Secret)

Two of my friends recently told me that they "might have seen me" on the street, but didn't come over to say hi. I know why they didn't -- because I looked very different from the usual me. It wasn't the big belly, because my belly didn't really show until after the 4th month. It was how ugly I dressed and looked.

It took me a long time to figure out how to adjust my closet so that I may dress properly and maybe even stylishly as I gain the 20~30 pounds needed to grow a baby. It is not easy to find information and places to buy things, either, especially when you are always tired or sick or need to lie down. Most important of all, you will care more about sleeping, and eating, then anything else that you used to care about.

Here are some tips I discovered along the way:

1. You will not be able to wear your normal pants starting at about week 10~12. Wear empire-waist dresses and stretchy skirts or pants instead. Wait until your are done with all the first trimester screenings and that you are sure about going through the whole pregnancy to spend money by taking the following steps.

2. Review your closet. A super skinny friend of mine who stays home most of the time told me that she did not buy any maternity clothes for her entire pregnancy. It was mostly summer time and she just wore her loose dresses. This didn't work for me, but not everyone needs to make adjustments to their wardrobes.

General rules: you want something that is stretchy, soft, comfortable, and easy to wash and dry. When in doubt, go with darker colors and stay away from T-shirts that tell people you are pregnant.

Put away these items for storage: anything tight, anything uncomfortable, anything with a belt, all of your belts, all the fitted pants and skirts, and maybe all of your high heels.

Keep these items: A-shape dresses, empire-waist dresses, long tops that cover your butt, long or short cardigans, big and long t-shirts or tops, and some of your sleeping or gym clothes.

3. Buy the necessary maternity clothes early. Because you will need them in the end anyway, you might as well buy them sooner to enjoy them early. All of the bottom items will need to be designed for pregnancy.

I love http://www.motherhood.com/ for basic items, and http://www.apeainthepod.com/ for fancy things. If you are lucky to be near their stores, you will enjoy shopping there and trying things on. I walked to A Pea In The Pod one day near work and tried on my very first pair of maternity pants and didn't take it off that whole night. (In fact, I recommend even non-pregnant people to try maternity pants. They are just so comfy.)

Other maternity clothing brands to consider are: Gap, Ann Taylor Loft, Target, Old Navy, but none of these brands have good selection in their stores and you really need to try them on most of the time before purchasing.

Maternity legging at motherhood.com
I cannot live without these!

You will need a pair of nice looking maternity jeans that fit you.
I got mine at A Pea In The Pod.

For work, I absolutely need these basic black pants. Good quality is important with these. You want them to be comfortable and can go from summer to winter, and are washer and dryer friendly. I got mine from A Pea In The Pod. Happy that their Petite xs is almost my size!

Super soft and stretchy skirt that goes with anything. I got mine from motherhood.com

You will also need some casual dresses. I have this one from motherhood.com and love it!

Depends on your needs, you might also want some more formal dresses. I bought this one because it looks like I can still wear it after the baby comes out.

I need some dresses for formal work events, so I got this one from gap maternity on sale last weekend.

Last but not least, there are a lot of non-maternity tops available and I strongly encourage buying normal clothes that you can still wear after the pregnancy. However, I still have a few maternity tops for work. These one give my belly more breathing space and have some unique designs on them, like this one in the picture.

4. Don't buy maternity clothes if you can find them at your normal favorite stores. If you have the energy, you can still shop at your usual stores. I am lucky because baggy sweaters and loose tops are popular this year. It wasn't too difficult to find pieces that I can wear, at least until I am into month 8 or 9.

Zara, H&M, Gap are the stores I go to. Their super long tank tops are good for layering. Make sure you try them on, because some pieces may look pregnancy-okay, but have tight linings inside or are hard to put on with a belly in the middle. Here are some of my purchases to give you some ideas --

From Gap. It's so chic and is on sale now!

I have 3 of these good quality, super long cardigans before I got pregnant. I still wear them ALL THE TIME.

Summer dresses that are bright and cheerful always get me into a good mood. (from gap)

5. Underwear for growing boobs and belly can be found at your normal shopping places. (This advice might only apply to petite women.) Some people recommend buying nursing bras early, but I found that some underwire-less soft cotton bras at Gap Body that are very nice. Make sure you bring more bigger sizes to the fitting room.

Aim for comfort and buy some bigger ones for the future! (from gap body)

As for panties, you just need something that sits well below your belly. For many reasons, pregnant women need to stay cool and dry there, so stay away from materials that are tight or non breathable. I found these super cute all-lace hipster panties at Victoria's Secret Pink line. They are usually on sale at $25 for 5.

The same pantie as in the first photo of this post. They come in different colors and are super cute.

6. Accessories -- I mentioned this in point #1 already -- don't wear high heels because your body will be going through some weight shifting and your reaction time will be slower. Just don't risk it. People also told me that my feet will be bigger into the later stage and I will not be able to tie my own shoelaces, either. So buy some flats that are easy to put on.

Also, try not to carry heavy things. You may want to choose a light bag for everyday use and carry water and healthy snacks with you at all time. (such as raisins, granola bars, pieces of fruit, crackers, etc)

I don't plan on buying any new winter coats for this winner, even though my belly will be really big in December and January. My plan is to wear my long cardigans, my trench coat, and use my large and chunky scarves to cover the middle where my coats can't close. (maybe this is a bad idea, but I want to see how it works out.) Big scarves are very useful in the beginning of your pregnancy, too, especially if you want to hide your belly.

7. Last but not least, whether if you believe this thing works or not, stretch mark prevention just sounds like a good idea. A dermatologist friend recommended this one to me -- Bella B Tummy Honey Butter. I have been using this once or twice a day since month 4, and so far so good.

Amazon seems to be the best place to buy this. Or just use baby oil or some heavy cream. Anything is better than nothing.

That's all I have to share for now. All the mommy readers out there, please leave comments if you have other tips or want to share your experience with us. Hope this helps!

* update on 11.9.2010 -- just bought this jacket from J Crew which fits my 8-month big belly perfectly! Just in time for the cold weather. It's on sale, too. I am sure I will be wearing it after the baby comes out as well.

This color is very popular this winter. Grab it if you see it in your size immediately!


Baby Talk

What is inside my belly... at week 12. It was only about 2.5 inch long.

During my hiatus from the blog, I was busy growing a baby inside me. The first 4 months of the pregnancy was hard. This thing took a lot of energy from me both emotionally and physically. I am happy to announce it here that we are having a baby who is due to come out next January!

Here are some humorous conversations I've had about the baby --

At our very first ultrasound exam...
Technician: Here is the fetus. Do you see that blinking spot?
Me: (very excited) Yes! Is the baby waving at us?
Technician: No, that's the heart beating.
Albert: (remained silent, but thought that my question might have been the dumbest ever.)

On the phone with my dad after my complaining about losing weight and appetite due to the all-day morning sickness...
My dad: You need to eat more. Don't starve your baby.
Me: You don't understand! I am not starving the baby. The baby is starving me!

One night at home with Albert...
Me: How come I don't feel the baby kicking yet? According to the book, I should be feeling it now already.
Albert: The baby is either polite like me and doesn't want to hurt or disturb you. Or he is lazy like you and doesn't like to move.

On the phone with my mom after finding out that it's a boy, not a girl...
Me: I am actually sad.
My mom: Well, even though a boy will not be as cute as a girl, but let me tell you -- girls are extremely difficult to deal with when they are older!
Me: Um... are you referring to me?

I am now in the second trimester and am feeling much better now. Will try to blog about this new experience more in the future. Just want to share the news with you!

Added in December 2010 --

12/8 morning: When the baby was non-stop kicking me, I asked Albert to sing a song to the baby. Without even thinking about it, he went, "baby baby, baby hit me one more time!" I was speechless because of his choice of Britney Spears and his horrible singing...

12/14 evening: The nursing bras I ordered online finally arrived. Albert asked me "What kind of bras are those?" I said, "Nursing bras for breast feeding." He then said, "How come nursing bras are not sexy?" (-_-) I slowly trurned around and shortened all the words I wanted to say to him into 3, "I hate you."

By the way, this is the "not-so-sexy"nursing bra I ordered.

Bravado's Body Silm Seamless Nursing Bra was highly recommended by many of my girlfriends. I ordered a small one and a medium just to be safe. They are on sale at Target.com now!

For gentle support during sleep (if your baby allows you to), you don't need a fancy bra. Something like this from Medela would be good.

PS: I sent this first baby picture to a friend of mine and he replied..
"Wow. This is the most perfect looking ultrasound I have ever seen. My father’s a gynecologist and I have seen a lot of ultrasounds, but this one may be the best. Great picture! Love it! "

I also really like this picture, too. Big belly and skinny legs, just like me now. : )