It’s less than two weeks before Christmas and I’ve haven’t touched my Christmas list. I am apart of the exclusive club of  “Last-Minute Shoppers” that retail companies despise. Oops.

In the midst of my last minute research, I compiled a mini-list of favorite items to give this season.

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1. Christmas cards! A handwritten and thoughtful card can be best gift to give and receive. Before you rush out to buy Christmas cards at your local big retailer, consider buying from a local small business based in Orange County. Stress Less Press cards are ideal for the yogis in your life. The cards have cute characters illustrating peace and tranquility in various yoga poses. These cards are guarantee to give an instant smile to a yoga enthusiast because it’s not too often you will find a ‘yoga-inspired’ holiday card in your mailbox!

2.  Moleskines are the Holy Grail to notebooks/journals/planners! I’ve have purchased my fair share of notebooks over the years and Moleskines remain my favorite for jotting down ideas or sketching out photo shoots. It’s one of my favorite things to give people who enjoy drawing or writing! Yes, it’s a very hipster item but the quality of Moleskines are hard to match!

3.  Share a good book! I know it’s pretty silly to have books on a wish list in this day and age. However, I still think books still have a place in our digital society. The words can’t be deleted or edited, it’s there forever!

(I didn’t want to divulge too much since some of my gift recipients read my blog)

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I met Lidi several years ago. We instantly clicked over our interests. We are both Asian American women with a strong interest in photography and food. The thing is – Lidi and I have never met in real life. Lidi lives in Massachusetts and I live in California.  A majority of our conversations happened over Facebook and occasional on Google+ hangout. We’ve always talked about meeting some day but it was uncertain when that day would come.

One thing lead to another, Lidi was on her way to Southern California for a relative’s wedding. Miraculously, we found a way of meeting up (thanks to Emilee). I planned an afternoon trip into the heart of Los Angeles. I am terrified of driving in Los Angeles. The unprotected left turns during peak hours, impatient drivers, parallel parking, mind-numbing traffic at random hours of the day, and lack of familiarity scare me.

I found the courage (somewhere in my back pocket) and drove us into DTLA. Luckily, there was very little traffic in the afternoon. We enjoyed lunch at Urth Caffe and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Los Angeles through our camera lens. It was a  nice treat to stroll the streets without feeling rushed and bothered by crowds. I hope to have another blog entitled, “When Los Angeles Meets Boston” because Lidi describes Boston as a city worth visiting. (Boston Marathon anyone?)

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3/100

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This question often meant life or death in my old neighborhood. It was a question that came before a ‘jumping‘ or a shoot-out.

You never wanted to be caught saying the wrong thing.

No-Where.

When the street lights came on, you can hear the popping sounds of guns going in the distance. Sometimes they were illegal fireworks and sometimes they were gunfire. For the latter, the sirens from firetrucks and ambulances would follow if the bullets landed in their intended ‘ targets.’  It was normal.

For a long time, gang violence puzzled me. I never understood what could compel a young man/woman to take part in such heinous crimes and activities. When I moved away for college, I spent a great deal of time researching Southeast Asian gangs. I read graduate theses, watched documentaries, and interviewed former gang members.

In my findings I discovered a common word, survival. 

They needed each other to navigate a world of disadvantages: poverty, poor education, and lack of parental guidance.

Whenever I ask: Would you become a gang member if you can do it all over again? Most responded with regret and shared their childhood dreams.

It was water under the bridge for most former gang members who turned their life around after their teenage years.

(This is a small snippet is from my ongoing project addressing the phrase: Where Are You From?)

Photo taken: Battambong, Cambodia, May 2013

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My engagement and promise ring. Credit: Jeannie Mutrais 

2/100

More than a year ago, I accepted my boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Like any newly engaged woman, I hopped onto Pinterest and started creating boards for my dream wedding (mason jars, burlap, lace, chalkboard, DIYs, flower arrangements, and the list goes on). I watched every imagined wedding show/movie offered on Netflix.  I spent most of my college years (prior to the engagement) window shopping on bridal websites like, StyleMePretty, TheKnot, and so much more! I even went to great lengths to research and contact “culturally friendly” reception venues.

Then it dawned on me.

We needed to get our priorities straight. I was so wrapped up on creating and planning this fantasy wedding that I ignored the biggest aspect of getting married, a solid foundation. We’ve been in a committed monogamous relationship for over 6 years now.

That’s not our issue. A solid foundation for us is having stability and balance between our work and private life.  I am not a relationship specialist of any sorts but when sh*t hits the fans, I want to be ready for it. I think a ‘longer engagement’ would benefit us in the long run.

The Mister brought up a great point,  “We should enjoy this new stage in our relationship as long as we can.” It totally clicked – despite my incessant need to get married, this will be the only time in our lives we can truly enjoy ourselves, without a mortgage or children.

So we’re taking our sweet time with this stage. Don’t get me wrong, we are still getting married! Just not in the immediate future.

(Still available for a bridesmaid  position until then!)

10/05/2014

1/100

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Several months ago, my friends went on a ‘100 days of happiness‘ challenge. I loved the idea but I could never commit to something like that. I still have that issue with managing countdowns for social media. I decided to do a countdown until my 25th birthday. No, I don’t celebrate my birthday for an entire month. I  find the idea of scheduling lunch/dinner outings a bit tedious? I rather have everyone over for old fashion BBQ and a good board game. OR I can run another half-marathon for my birthday… That’s my fun for you. My 100 day challenge is to finish what I started:

1. Writing out a 5-year Business Plan

2. Writing out a 5-year Life Plan (Career, Wedding, Pregnancy – all in that particular order)

3. Pitching my ideas to magazines/online publications that I’ve dreamed of

4. Re-doing my portfolios (writing and photography)

5. Hanging out with people I’ve lost contact with

6. Running faster and stronger than ever

7. Getting into crow pose (life goal)

8. Writing every single day in whatever form (digital or print)

9. Spending quality time with my loved ones

10. Thanking people who have supported me 110% through my identity crisis (seriously, who AM I?)

I’ve been in this weird funk lately and I am hoping to get my act together in the next 100 days.  Scary.

I am a data junkie! I want to know the stats, trends, and frequencies of everything I am doing – including my fitness routines! I decided to invest in a heart rate monitor after learning how inaccurate my calories “burned” really was on exercise equipment. polar_ft40_2 Prior to purchasing a Polar FT40 Heart Rate Monitor (HRM), I had an iPod Nano and iPhone with the Nike+ app installed. In general, I really enjoyed using the app for my runs and half-marathon training. I was able to sync my runs online and see a chart of how my runs were progressing. The technology remains exceptional in my book. However it lacked one major feature – a heart rate monitor.

Why does it matter?
For folks who are trying to lose weight regardless of the amount, the rule of thumb is that you would need to have a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 lb. of body fat. It’s a lot trickier than it seems. Depending on your body type, age, and gender, you will need to adjust your weight loss methods to meet your goals. The watch will offer some insight to how many calories you burn during a particular workout. We naturally burn and metabolize calories throughout the day so it goes beyond your workout session! polar_ft40 Why I chose to buy a HRM?
I really debated my choice for several months before hitting the “Add to Cart” button. My other choice was a Garmin GPS watch with a HRM because I used to run 3-4 times a week outdoors. However, the watch was outside of my post-grad budget. It’s nice to have but my iPhone can do the GPS part. I sacrifice the fancy gadget and went with the bare essential Polar HRM that I can use for different workouts beyond running.

The neat thing is that a lot of local gyms have equipment that uses Polar synchronization. Just hop on a Polar integrated equipment and the display will link up with your watch! I have worn this watch out during my runs and even at my half-marathon in January. I burned about 1920 calories in 3 hours (warm-up, half-marathon, and cool-down)! I enjoyed comparing effective calorie burning vs. fat burning exercises! I found out that yoga burns more fat than running despite the low “calories burned!”

Buy the watch if you:
a) Enjoy making personal challenges to meet your health/fitness goals
b) Plan to wear the watch when you exercise
c) Need motivation to get off the couch
d) Are a fellow fitness data junkie

Don’t buy this watch if you:
a) Are a minimalistic gym goer/athlete
b) Are forgetful when it comes to bringing gear to the gym (i.e. headphones and/or iPod)
c) Are not calories conscious

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My earliest memory of my childhood was sitting beside my mother as she recited a story that she knew by heart, her life in Cambodia. Everything about it fascinated me. I wanted to know more about the life she left. She willingly told me the grave details of her family’s survival and their journey to America.

Last year, my mother and I visited her hometown in Central Cambodia. My mother had not seen her village since she escaped from Cambodia during the 1970s. The feeling was so surreal. It finally hit me that I was visiting the location of where most of my mother’s stories took place.

Cambodia_May2013-11My uncle drove us in his pick-up truck to a remote village far from the main road and into a desolate region with a few homes and neglected rice paddies. The spot where my mother’s childhood home once stood, now lay barren with sparse patches of grass and a tree that my grandfather planted nearly six decades ago.

We hopped out of the truck and took a moment to reflect on the journey that our family took since leaving this small village. In that moment, I felt that I connected with my family’s history and discovered the root to my passion.

I discovered that I’ve been given this ability to document and share my family’s history with future generations in more ways than one. It’s a powerful gift that continues to give beyond my family. I hope to share more stories with you all in the future.

Sincerely,
Malissa

Ensenada_2Three months ago, I emptied my bank account and started a small multimedia company with me as the owner, president, head of operations, and main boss lady. My decision came after years of deliberation with my loved ones. I admit, this experience hasn’t been the easiest transition into entrepreneurship. There are plenty of things I am still figuring out. I am just excited that I am doing things that make me happy.

I remember reading inspirational quotes on happiness and often thinking,

“well that would be a great dream, but who the heck will pay my bills?”

The looming threat of poverty still plagues my thoughts; I don’t want to subject my family to another lifetime of crippling stress and worry.

When I was younger, I saw people work jobs that made them unhappy every single workday just to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. For a long time, I thought that was what being an adult meant. You have a job but you probably hate it.  It’s normal, right?

When I graduated from college, I was excited to finally apply for the dream jobs. At least, I thought I would apply for those types of jobs.  On most days, I found myself riddled with anxiety after clicking on a lengthy job description for a reporter or journalist position at a local newspaper. In my head, I would never be good enough to cover stories for so-and-so publication on an everyday basis.

That was my problem. The whole anxiety issue of deeming yourself “not-good-enough” was poison to my happiness. Even with launching this blog, I wrote a handful of drafts that I deemed not good enough.

I realize that this mindset needed to change, especially as a business owner. It’s more than flipping a switch and being completely happy. It’s changing your thoughts and actions to become your source of happiness.

Every day is another day in the pursuit of happiness.

 

“Mak, are you having a boy or girl baby?”

The rumble of my dad’s old Mercedes-Benz turbo diesel drowned out my 4-year old voice. My mom, little brother, and I sat in the back of the car as my dad drove us towards our weekly grocery trip. I repeated it more than once, “Mommy, are you having a boy or girl baby?” My mom replied with a smile, “You’re going to have a sister.

I remember the day when we brought my sister home. Our family packed ourselves in my mom’s light blue Dodge Caravan and we drove back to our apartment. My dad carried my sister in her car seat upstairs and placed her in the living room. I sat beside her as my mom began to unpack the hospital bag. I peered into the car seat and took a big whiff of my sister’s “new baby” scent. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

To my surprise it wasn’t the “new baby” smell, but the smell of McDonald’s French fries. It was that fragrant smell of fried starch and salt being shuffled into the iconic red French fry carton. Being a 4-year old, I didn’t know any better. I begged my dad to take us to McDonald’s for some French fries. Despite my pleas and persuasiveness, I sat there “French fry” less next to a baby who made my yearn for crispy fries.

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Joking aside, I am incredibly grateful to have my little-french-fry-smelling-sister in my life. She has grown up into a young independent, hard-working, smart, and humble woman.

Here’s to another alcohol-less year of life, happy 20th birthday, my dear!

06/09/2014

The Perfect Timing

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“I will launch my ___________ in the next few days, weeks, months, or years.”

I’ve been watching the days go by, waiting for everything to be perfect. Nothing has happened, and nothing has been done. I’ve been sitting on my hands worried on how I start this new entry on this exciting yet scary adventure that I am now embarking.

To be honest, I’ve drafted a few different versions of this “Letter of Intent” – the basic introduction to this crazy life that I am now adopting as my own. As I become older, I realize the more fearful I become. The sudden leaps towards the unknown – plain out worry me. I blame it on this emphasis on financial success. I am almost in my mid-20s and I have graduated from a pretty decent university. Everyone, including myself, has this expectation that I will be closer to middle-class by the time I am almost 30. Maybe it will happen, but right now I am okay with exploring my options.

However, I am throwing in the towel and calling it quits on the waiting, there is no better time than the present. Allow me this time to introduce to you, the owner and mastermind behind this blog, me!

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I decided to get serious with my photography AND writing. The core of my passion(s) is storytelling. There are so many artists, creators, and/or makers who are trying to express themselves through their craft. I face the reality that I am not ever going to be a medical professional, lawyer, politician, or some rich start-up developer; I am okay with it. I am happiest when I am capturing a story right before my eyes, even if the story does not have words or images.

I invite you on this journey because I decided that today will be perfect timing.