Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for several reasons:
- I get to share my best cooking with family and friends. Our Thanksgiving dinner menu was planned about a week in advance. Alton Brown’s Food Network turkey recipe is the best! My most reliable dish is a wild rice with mushrooms side that is a recipe from my mother-in-law Mary Lou's cookbook (she actually hand-made a cookbook for each of her children by typing recipes using her typewriter and carbon paper!) Every year I experiment with a Brussels sprouts or a green beans side dish with different recipes. Instead of mashed potatoes, I baked sweet potatoes. I added Pillsbury flaky biscuits this year, but for other years I’ve tried crescents rolls. Sharing my best creations with family and friends gives me joy and appreciation for abundance of food. After a turkey dinner with a nice wine, I enjoyed listening to the kids playing piano while others played ping pong, as everyone headed off the tryptophan.
- I get to avoid stress about shopping for gifts. Unlike Christmas, I don't get stressed out about shopping for the right gifts right now. I never get up early to go to the malls on Black Friday perhaps because I am not a morning person and the deals are just as good when I shop online and skip the crowds. My rule for shopping on Black Friday is to save at least 50% for clothes and shoes by shopping online and I use EBATES to get cash back (www.ebates.com).
- I have extra time off to reflect what I am thankful for. The year is ending soon and this is the perfect time to slow down a little bit and just reflect:
My wealth management business is growing and now I manage over $70 million for 55 households, better than I expected when I first started my own company in March 2015. I feel appreciated by my clients as I help them make smart decisions about money to achieve their goals. This year I have four households retiring (having achieved financial independence!) after working with me for the past few years to plan for this special day! It feels great to get up in the morning and say to myself "I'm destined to do great things, starting now."
- I have freedom to pursue various hobbies such as travel, playing piano and ballroom dancing to enrich my life.
- Piano. About 16 years ago, when my mother made her first visit to the U.S. to see me, I had planned a trip to bring her to New York, arriving on September 10, 2001, to enjoy the same sights that my husband Dan and I enjoyed while visiting New York a year earlier. I don't know why I changed my mind, but two weeks before we were to leave I decided we would visit Washington, DC instead. If I hadn't changed my plan, we would have been visiting the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, just as my husband and I had done on our first visit to New York. I still remember how Dan and I were standing in line in the big hallway in front of the first floor elevator after taking a picture outside against the backdrop of the Twin Towers.
After realizing how I had just escaped a potential disaster by pure luck, I had a conversation with Dan starting with the question "What activities would you like to do now if you knew you would have only one year to live?" I started by saying that I would like to learn how to play piano. I always wanted to learn piano but my family did not have the money to buy a piano when we lived in China. Following that conversation, we decided to visit a piano showroom, where we bought a beautiful Yamaha full upright piano and I started taking piano lessons weekly from my friend Miroslava Kisilevitch. Miroslava, an immigrant herself, came from Ukraine and worked at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. Miroslava and I became close friends even though I had to stop lessons about six years ago and then she and her family moved to Santa Barbara.
A year ago, however, I started taking lessons from a local piano teacher in Plymouth, Juin Wang-Lin, together with my daughter Nina. It has been an exciting experience to rediscover how much I like playing some classical pieces ("Arabesque" by Burgmuller) and some modern pieces ("River Flows in You", by Yiruma). I have set a goal to take the level four piano skills exam next spring and that motivates me to practice 30 minutes per day. As I have only performed twice in front of an audience outside of my home, I need more performance opportunities to get over the stage fright, which is more daunting than I thought it would be!
- Ballroom dancing. I discovered competitive ballroom dancing around 1996 when my colleague Shannon Yee invited me to watch her compete at the Twin Cities Open with her teacher/partner. I was amazed by how many dances she's learned in her spare time, but I didn't take any action until 2004 when I took some Salsa classes at the Social Dance Studio. After Nina was born in June of 2005, I needed to work out to get back into my professional wardrobe, so I decided to start taking ballroom and Latin dance lessons. I got back to my old size within 12 months and started competing in the Pro-am Beginner category with my teacher/partner Jay Larson at the 2007 Twin Cities Open. I danced five Latin dances (Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive) as a newbie, but my dance picture made the cover of a local dance magazine - looking like a real dancer!
Over the past decade, I have learned all four styles of dances that are common in ballroom dance competitions: American Smooth (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz), American Rhythm (Cha Cha, Rumba, Bolero, Mambo and Swing), International Ballroom (Slow Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep), and International Latin (Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive). I've competed in various competitions across the country and made some great friends who enjoy the same hobby. I love ballroom dancing because it's totally different than what I do professionally and it's a perfect combination of sports and music. Reacting quickly to my partner's movements and memorizing difficult routines requires your brain to work hard. Recent studies have shown that dancing is one of the best exercises to delay aging in the brain, even more effective than swimming, running and biking.
Right now I focus on International Ballroom and International Latin (a total of ten dances at the Silver Level) and dance every Saturday for 45 minutes with my teacher Gene Bersten who owns the studio Dance With Us America located in Southdale Mall.
Watching "Dancing with The Stars" TV show with my family weekly has become more fun since Alan Bersten (Gene's younger brother) became a pro on the show starting with season 25. I've known Alan for almost a decade, watching him teach the kids' class (Nina was there for two years) at the studio on Saturdays before he got on the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance" a few years ago. Last week, I won the "Dancing with The Stars" pool in my office by naming the winner (Jordan Fisher) and 2nd place (Lindsey Stirling) correctly. We wrote down the names of dancers remaining for each week after watching just one dance in the week one performance. Tyler Lodahl in my office won the game twice in a row in the two previous seasons without taking ANY dance lessons!
- Health. As I make travel plans for me and my family to see the world next year, I am so thankful for the fact that everyone in my family has no restrictions on mobility right now. Year 2016 was a tough year for me and my family as Dan had a stroke in March and was hospitalized for 23 days and could not even walk at all for the first week. He is gradually getting back to normal activities but still not running yet. Because of this unexpected event, I have new found appreciation for mobility, freedom to dance and to run a 5k race. I also tell my clients to buy long term care insurance when they are still healthy and want to preserve their dignity by receiving the best care possible.
- New Family Member. I am also thankful for our first puppy as a family: Luna is a petite golden doodle with a wavy soft white coat and black spots. Just like Dan, she was born in Wisconsin and moved to Minnesota. I never had a pet growing up in apartments in Southern China and I had resisted Nina's begging for a puppy for almost five years because this is unknown territory for me. Finally I started doing some research about what breed would be the best fit for us, by reading a lot online and asking people, and I determined the ideal breed: a mixed doodle that is less than 30 pounds. Doodles are very intelligent and do not shed. Golden retrievers are famous for being friendly. So Luna has the best combinations of the two and we all adore her! Nina chose this puppy online by looking at the two available puppies' pictures and then she chose the beautiful name Luna (moon in Spanish). She is 7.5 months old now and weighs 15 pounds.
- Charitable Giving. Lastly I am thankful for being able to continue gifting annually to Winona State University for the Echo Huang College of Business Scholarship for International Students so that it will benefit one international student like me who wants to pursue further education in business. International Village Clinic, Doctors without Borders, Minnesota Public Radio and my church are also on my annual giving list.
- Making Sound Money Decisions. You work hard to earn money, save and invest for a better future. Periodically we take stock of what we have and what we want to achieve in life. Clarifying each goal helps save more money towards each goal. As you work on your spending plan, focus on spending on the things or experiences you value the most and cut back on the things you do not care as much about. For example, as I enjoy travel very much, I save money for at least two long trips per year. I set a budget for this goal and monitor the progress. For your retirement goal, maximize 401(k) and IRA contributions every year regardless of good or bad stock markets. I generally do not spend much money on cars. After I test drove a Tesla Model S that was about $90,000 in 2016, I resisted the urge to buy it on the spot because I knew the Model 3 would be coming out at $35,000 to $45,000. Now I'm in line to get my Model 3 in the fall of 2018. I feel good about this decision as I am still driving my 2009 Toyota Prius and use the money saved on the car buying decision to plan for two family trips next year including a European river cruise to see five countries.
During this holiday season, what are you thankful for? As you are reflecting, share your thoughts with the ones you love and care about.