The world is filled with economic uncertainty, health crises, and pain due to injustices, but there are many things I am grateful for during these critical and historic times. They calm souls, energize, and give hopes.
A few weeks ago, I attended a Commonwealth Club meeting by Valerie Moselle who wrote the book Breathwork: A 3-Week Breathing Program to Gain Clarity, Calm, and Better Health. Tow things I learned, I immediately put into practice.
First is the concept of “Resistance Breathing” – passing air with resistance through the throat, like singing “ha” when you breathe in (lung expanding – a few practices would make this much easier) and breathe out (lung collapsing). As I practice this, I can feel my breath become slower and fuller. What is the benefit of this? Slow, deep, full breathing helps to moderate the stress response in our body. The more oxygen you can give to your body and cells, the healthier they can be. I found the best time to practice this – before I close my eyes in the bed. The practice of resistance breathing completely makes me sleepy, and I can easily fall asleep.
Second is the importance of the hormone, oxytocin (the bliss hormone, the hormone of well-being), which increases when you slow down your breath. Often, people confuse dopamine with oxytocin, with the former giving pleasure but not providing well-being, which to me is more important for health.
What are the activities that release more oxytocin?
- getting a massage
- giving someone’s a hug for 30 seconds
- playing with pets
- singing in groups
- eating chocolate
One time, I hurt my ankle pretty badly and was limping. Once I attended the community choir and sang with a big group, I not only could stand for hours, but my pain was gone, and I could walk again. Such was the power of Oxytocin!
To aid my practice of breathing, I have begun using the Balance app, which provides personalized meditation with the help of a “personal” coach. The app is really beautiful and clean and clearly engages you. The foundation course is about breath control. There are tracks for you to adapt to your needs such as “energize”, “wind-down”, “anxiety”, “relax”, “sleep”, “commute”, which appear to be all free. Many users have commented that many meditation apps do not stick, but this one does. I tend to agree.
Most Scenic Restaurants in the U.S.
Based on the Open Table user survey for 2018 for the most scenic restaurants in the U.S., Travel and Leisure sorted the list by alphabetical order. California receives the top votes with 28 restaurants (4 alone in San Francisco), followed by Florida, 13, and New York, 7.
I personally would add Top of the Mark Restaurant and Bar located in the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. The sunset view during the cocktail hours is unbelievable.
Great restaurants need to have good food quality, ambiance, and a message to the customers that they are truly welcomed. A great view certainly helps!
From the Travel and Leisure/Open Table List:
100 Most Scenic Restaurants
Altius – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Bay House – Naples, Florida
Beachcomber Cafe – Crystal Cove – Newport Coast, California
Bertrand at Mister A’s – San Diego, California
The Bistro at Gervasi Vineyard – Canton, Ohio
Black Bass Hotel – Lumberville, Pennsylvania
Blue Moon Fish Co. – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Blue Ridge – Asheville, North Carolina
The Boathouse – Lake Buena Vista, Florida
The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing – Richmond, Virginia
Boat House Waterfront Dining – Tiverton, Rhode Island
Boatyard – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Carrol’s Creek Cafe – Annapolis, Maryland
Catch LA – West Hollywood, California
Chart House Restaurant – Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Chart House Restaurant – Weehawken, New Jersey
Chicago Cut Steakhouse – Chicago, Illinois
Clinkerdagger – Spokane, Washington
Columbia Restaurant – SandKey – Clearwater, Florida
Dauphin’s – Mobile, Alabama
Different Pointe of View – Phoenix, Arizona
Duke’s – San Diego, California
Duke’s – Malibu, California
Eiffel Tower – Las Vegas, Nevada
El Five – Denver, Colorado
Elements at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort – Paradise Valley, Arizona
EPIC Steak – San Francisco, California
Farmhouse at Rogers Gardens – Corona Del Mar, California
Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck – Dallas, Texas
Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar – Charleston, South Carolina
Four Winds Steakhouse – Wills Point, Texas
Gaonnuri – New York, New York
Geoffrey’s Restaurant – Malibu, California
George’s Ocean Terrace – San Diego, California
The Grand Marlin of Pensacola Beach – Pensacola, Florida
Greens Restaurant – San Francisco, California
Harbor House – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Honu Seafood and Pizza – Lahaina, Hawaii
Il Fornaio – Coronado, California
Iridescence – Detroit, Michigan
Island Prime – San Diego, California
Jake’s Del Mar – Del Mar, California
Joe Muer Seafood – Detroit, Michigan
Kaluz Restaurant – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The Lakehouse – Bay Shore, New York
La Mar by Gaston Acurio – Miami, Florida
Latitudes on Sunset Key – Key West, Florida
Legal Harborside – Floor 1 Restaurant and Market – Boston, Massachusetts
The Lobster – Santa Monica, California
Lobster Shop South – Tacoma, Washington
Lone Eagle Grille – Incline Village, Nevada
Mama’s Fish House – Paia, Hawaii
The Marine Room – San Diego, California
Mariposa – Sedona, Arizona
Mastro’s Ocean Club – Newport Beach, California
Mastro’s Ocean Club – Malibu, California
The Mill House – Waikapu, Hawaii
Mon Ami Gabi – Las Vegas – Main Dining Room – Las Vegas, Nevada
Monterey Bay Fish Grotto – Mt. Washington – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Mooring Restaurant – Newport, Rhode Island
The Ocean House Restaurant – Cape Cod – Dennis Port, Massachusetts
Ophelia’s on the Bay – Sarasota, Florida
Orchids at Halekulani – Honolulu, Hawaii
Oyster Loft – Pismo Beach, California
Pacific Coast Grill – Cardiff – Cardiff–By–The–Sea, California
Parc – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Perch LA – Los Angeles, California
Peter Shields Inn – Cape May, New Jersey
Pier W – Cleveland, Ohio
The Pink Door – Seattle, Washington
Portland City Grill – Portland, Oregon
Primavista – Cincinnati, Ohio
Prime – Huntington, New York
Poseidon – Del Mar, California
Rats Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture – Hamilton, New Jersey
Ray’s Boathouse – Seattle, Washington
River Cafe – Brooklyn, New York
RiverPark – New York, New York
Robert – New York, New York
The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus – San Francisco, California
Simon Pearce Restaurant – Quechee, Vermont
Spinners Rooftop Revolving Bistro & Lounge @ Grand Plaza Hotel – St. Pete Beach, Florida
Splashes at Surf and Sand Resort – Laguna Beach, California
The Strand House – Manhattan Beach, California
Summit House – Fullerton – Fullerton, California
Sunset Terrace – Omni Grove Park Inn – Asheville, North Carolina
Tidepools – Poipu, Hawaii
Tom Hams Lighthouse – San Diego, California
Top of the Hub – Boston, Massachusetts
Top of the World Restaurant – Stratosphere Hotel – Las Vegas, Nevada
Trattoria Lisina – Driftwood, Texas
The Turtle Club – Naples – Naples, Florida
The Twisted Olive – Green, Ohio
Ulele – Tampa, Florida
Vast – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Ventana Grill – St. Pismo, California
Vivace Restaurant – Tucson, Arizona
Waterbar – San Francisco, California
X2O Xaviars on the Hudson – Yonkers, New York
A day-by-day well-being guide – kicking off 2019
January 2019 Happiness Calendar from the Greater Good Science Centre to kick off the New Year! Click on each day of the link above to see what is in store. Spread the word!
Napa Trip this Christmas
I haven’t visited Napa for years despite being in the Bay Area. Napa not only has experienced serious flooding but also roaring fire in recent years – it has not been easy. But Napa is still Napa; it attracts all sorts of tourists to visit. Just this year, it has been named by USA Today amongst the most expensive tourist destinations in the U.S.
A search for the various vineyards tasting fee showed that many require a tasting fee of at least $30 (without tours, not counted towards purchase) while it is not uncommon to see a $70 tasting fee with a tour. Certainly, the place is even more commercialized than what I remember.
Therefore I decided to look for ways to enjoy Napa on a 2-day trip that did not set us back too much.
Here are our itineraries:
- Drive from the Bay Area to Napa for an early lunch at Heritage Eats which offers really fresh locally-sourced ethnic (Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican) wrap or bowl. So delicious and convenient.
- Head to Calistoga’s famous Castello di Amorosa (Tuscany-style castle) for the sceneries and wine tasting, paired with chocolates. Their La Fantasia (Rose style) is their most popular wine and is very pleasant. A private tour is recommended because the history of the place is very interesting and 2/3 of the estate is underground. Tour is around 2 hours. In fact, Calistoga and its hot springs and mud bath, as well as the Sterling Vineyards, are worthwhile places to visit if one has more time.
- On the way back to Napa, stop by Yao Family Wines to learn about this celebrity’s wines, which have received critical acclaims ever since their first release in 2011. The lady there was friendly and could allow you to sip their wines (e.g. Cab) for a little bit for free!
- Then, head to The Hess Collection Winery especially for their modern art museum which is open to the public. Tips: do go during the daytime as you will be driving through narrow mountainous roads. Their garden, visitor center, and art museum are very nice. Worth a visit.
- Dine at Kitchen Door at the Oxbow Public Market – a unique experience dining in the middle of a public market – good food and reasonable prices!
- Buy some groceries at the nearby Safeway for next morning’s breakfast.
- Stay at the beautiful one bedroom suite at Vino Bello Resort via my timeshare. This resort is part of the Meritage Group and rests at the southern end of Napa in a very peaceful area, about 10 minutes from Napa downtown. The good thing is that The Meritage has built a new resort called Vista Collina opposite to Vino Bello. The new resort contains The Village which has 9 wine tasting rooms, and you can easily get 2 for 1 tasting coupons.
- After cooking own breakfast, take a morning stroll to the Fivetown Grocery at The Village and zip tea or coffee and pick up any favourite eateries.
- Then head to the Howell Mountain at the Carneros Region to taste red wines and champagne. The 2 stops can be Cade Winery, which has one of the best Napa wines and great views and right opposite to Cade, the magnificent Domaine Carneros, which has recently opened its restaurant. Brunching at the restaurant is a great way to taste its wines and delicious food and enjoy the fantastic views of the rolling vineyards.
So here are the 1.5 days of itinerary without breaking the bank. On the way back to San Francisco, we took Highway 101 and stopped by Sausalito for a cup of hot tea and tea cake and take in the beautiful San Francisco skyline. Then head to San Francisco’s Cafe Bastille at the Belden Place for a lovely French dinner. A pleasant way to complete a short but wonderful get-away.
Thankful for this Trip
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things in life – my family’s health and smile, my friends, my supportive community, my interesting job, and decent health and good spirit, to highlight a few.
Most recently, I am very thankful for going on a birthplace (my Dad’s) revisit trip with my Dad in southern China. My Dad was born in a village near Chaozhou City (潮洲市) in the 1930’s and due to the Chinese civil war and his illness, he caught one of the last flights out of China to Hong Kong where he subsequently got treatment and settled down. After 70 years of being away from his birthplace, and thanks to the opening of the High Speed Railway station in HK, he decided that he wanted to visit his birthplace in Chaozhou. I happened to visit HK and so I raised my hands to join him. So off the two of us went on a 2-day exploration trip.
Chaozhou, Shantou, and Jieyang comprise the Chaoshan region, and Chaozhou is in the easternmost of the Guangdong province. It is a historic and highly cultural city with its distinctive dialect, which is part of Southern Min, cuisine, music/opera, handicraft including wood carving and pottery, and tea culture, the Gongfu tea, or the “skilled” tea, that is bitter and strong.
There is an old saying:
If you haven’t come to Chaozhou, you haven’t really come to Guangdong.
Chaozhou is not a noisy or very commercialized city, and the Chaozhou culture permeates throughout the daily life of the local people. There are countless tea shops; each shop owner has a tea set at the store for her to zip tea while waiting for customers, and people generally are friendly, relaxed, and serve their customers with care and patience.
People walk, bike, and scoot everywhere, and they are in pretty good shape.
We visited the famous Zhongshan Park and walked along the harbour front in Shantou and stayed at the West Lake in Chaozhou, which is 15 minutes from the city centre by foot. Chaozhou is mountainous and so we took a hike in the mountain next to the West Lake one morning and discovered hidden paths, lots of interesting stone formation, a children’s fairground, and plenty of pavilions for resting and one that leads to the high point to view the entire city of Chaozhou.
The High Speed Railway system in China is very impressive – not just it connects every major city including HK, but operates on time, is clean, and is pleasant to ride. It feels like riding on a plane except popular routes operate every 10- 15 minutes. The HK-Chaoshan direct train took 3 hours and was comfortable and not packed. For visitors, the High Speed Rail is a must-use transport system that takes you to where you want to go relatively hassle-free.
Here are a few memorable scenic spots: