Day 29 – Take the day off

Today is Day 29 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 29 is about giving yourself a break, to reward yourself, to relax and recharge.

I didn’t expect this as today’s task, but I certainly like it.

I took the time to explore the new The Personal Excellence Forums(TPEF) that Celes just created today in response to the interest in building an online community and providing a place for the 30DLBL challenge participants and like-minded people to stay connected.

An organized life

The following article of mine was published in the e-newsletter “Dollar Stretcher Tips”  on June 14, 2010 [Volume 15, Number 24]. It’s available on the Dollarstretcher.com website.

Keeping an organized life with three-ring binders

I love three-ring binders. They are a lifesaver for me. I use them to keep an organized life. I also use them to help my kids keep an organized life.

I use three-ring binders and sheet protectors to keep related items together. For example:

  • My published articles in newspapers or magazines
  • All the appliance manuals
  • Retirement and financial statements
  • Recipes

For each of my two children, I gave them a three-ring binder with plastic sleeves when they were born. I have been building a portfolio for each of them.

Each binder contains important documents from the birth to present, such as birth certificate, graduation certificate, school report cards, test results, yearbooks, awards, letters from teachers, etc.

My son’s first binder was full when he finished fifth grade at age 11. So when he started sixth grade last year, I gave him a new binder. The transition from elementary to middle school was the perfect time to start a new binder.

I have a few binders that contain all of their birthday or school pictures. Another binder contains all current information about their after school activities, practice and game schedules for sport. The binder keeps all papers in one place and is handy when I need to know quickly when and what about their activities.

When my kids grow up and leave home, each will have a portfolio to take with them. Their life will be summarized in a few binders, neatly and orderly.


Qin Tang is a librarian and writer (columnist, blogger). She has a passion for healthy, green, simple, frugal, mindful and soulful living.

Day 27 – Letting go

Today is Day 27 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 27 is about letting go. If we want to live better lives, we need to let go of things that are holding us back and limiting us before we can move on, receive and embrace new things. When we let go of the past and the old baggage, we open the door for the new possibilities to enter into our life.

This is a great task. It is an important step in our journey of personal growth. 

We all have something we need to let go. I need to let go a lot of physical stuff in the house, and regrets, hurts, pain, resentment, and anger in my mind.

From my experience, it’s easier said than done. It’s easier to know and understand than to act. Letting go requires a great deal of soul searching, a willingness and determination to change for the better.

Ultimately, letting go, forgetting and forgiving benefits ourselves more than anyone else. It is one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves.

Day 26 – Create your bucket list

Today is Day 26 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 26 is about creating your bucket list.

Celes explains well what a bucket list is: It is a wish list of all the goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to fulfill and life-experiences you desire to experience before you die. Having a bucket list reminds you of what’s really important so you can act on them. 

Now what are the things I want to achieve, do, see, feel and experience in life before I die, if I have unlimited time, money and resources?

  1. Be generous to others and to myself
  2. Establish a scholarship, in honor of my favorite high school teacher
  3. See my family members embark their spiritual jouneys 
  4. See my kids grow up and live a happy and successful live
  5. Take writing classes
  6. Write and publish a book 
  7. On the bestseller list
  8. Publish in Newsweek
  9. Join a writers club
  10. Keep journaling every day
  11. Write every day
  12. Interview anyone I want to (mostly authors and leaders)
  13. Help and encourage my daughter to become a writer
  14. Join a book club again
  15. More all the books I want to read
  16. Develop better public speaking skills
  17. Live a simple life
  18. Become a minimalist
  19. Downsize and declutter
  20. Grow in my faith
  21. Read through the Bible
  22. Speak in tongues
  23. Meet some soul friends
  24. Visit Germany again
  25. Pick up my German language skills again
  26. Develop psychic ability
  27. Learn more about energy healing
  28. Holistic approach to health
  29. Start doing yoga and meditation regularly
  30. Go on a meditation retreat 
  31. Create an inspirational space for myself
  32. Go on a spiritual woman’s retreat
  33. Be an inspiration for others
  34. Help someone in need
  35. Eat more organic food
  36. Go on a cruise
  37. Play a musical instrument
  38. Take up dancing
  39. Walk more every day
  40. Bike again
  41. Be a better swimmer
  42. Connect more with Mother Nature
  43. Camp out in the wilds
  44. Learn to bake better
  45. Become a vegan
  46. Juicing for better health [That’s for today, one for every year of my life. I am sure I can add more to make it to 101 when I have more time to think about it.]
  47. Write a letter to my kids (every year)
  48. Say an encouraging word to someone or send a positive comment to someone I know or don’t know at least once a day

Day 25 – Meditation

Today is Day 25 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

Day 25 is about meditation. One of my life goals I wrote for Day 6 is learning to meditate.  So today’s task is just what I need.

I read the following articles by Celes:

  • Part 1: 10 Reasons You Should Meditate
  • Part 2: How To Meditate In 5 Easy Steps
  • Part 3: Vipassana Meditation 10-Day Course
  • 21 Days To Cultivate Life Transforming Habits
  • Celes shared many benefits of meditation – clearing out mental clutter, purifying our mind and body, raising our consciousness, increasing concentration ability, being present to the moment, healing, visualizing the future, communicating with our subconsciousness, inner calmness and peace.

    I will definitely try meditation so I can experience the wonderful benefits.

    Day 24 – Uncovering your beliefs

    Today is Day 24 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 24 is about examining our beliefs and understanding how they came about.

    Our beliefs came from our past experiences. The inner dialogue we have are rooted in our beliefs. If we want to eliminate our negative self talk, we need to uncover and uproot the beliefs that give rise to those negative thoughts.

    What are some of my beliefs that I need to clear out of my mind?

    One that comes to my mind quickly is this – I have to keep everything. Almost everything can be used or reused.  Getting rid of stuff is a waste of money. It makes me feel guilty. This belief leads to accumulation and clutter.

    Why do I think this way? Where does the belief come from?

    • Poverty during childhood
    • Difficulty with letting things go
    • My wish to be resourceful, frugal and responsible

    I know it is not good to hold on to this belief. My new belief should be:

    Every item serves a purpose. If it’s no longer useful to me, I should let it go. Holding on to it will only cause more clutter and stress. 

    I’ll think more about it when I have time.

    This belief

    Day 23 – Inner dialogue

    Today is Day 23 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 23 is about examining our self-talk, the inner conversation we have with ourselves that is running inside our heads all the time. Doing so will help us become aware and conscious of both the positive and negative thoughts. By uncovering and addressing our negative thoughts and increasing positive thoughts, we can do better and live better lives.

    Why is it important to have positive thoughts? Here is the answer:

    “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.

    Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.

    Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.

    Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.

    Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

     Author unknown

    I think I am more on the porsitive side as a whole. My self talk is probably about 60/40 on positive and negative sides. Some days, when I feel good, I have more positive thoughts. Other days,  when I am down, I have more negative thoughts.

    This is an excellent exercise to do. If we take the time to uncover and write down all of our negative thoughts, especially those that are deep rooted and keep coming up in our heads, we can release them and let them go. Once we have decluttered our mind, we can have more space to embrace the positive thoughts. That’s when our mind will become more clear and our creativity will flourish.

    This exercise reminds me of the morning pages I did while reading “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron four years ago. It was very help. It changed my life in some way. 

    Day 22 – Advice from your future self

    Today is Day 22 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 22 is about getting the best advice on how to live your best life from someone who knows you the best, Your Future Self.

    I like what Celes said: “The reason why I love this exercise is because it takes you out of the present-situation perspective, and puts you in the role of the mentor, the adviser, someone who is supposed to know the answers. And you do know the answers. You know all the answers you seek. If you allow yourself to fill that capacity, if you learn to tap into that source in you, you can get all the answers you want, and achieve everything you want to achieve.”

    I heard about this kind of exercise, but have never done it. It will take me some time and thoughts to do it.

    10/14/2010 update

    I have been thinking about this in the last 2-3 weeks. Finally I came to the answer  I was looking for when I was reading about John Maxwell’s new book ” Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently” and came upon this phrase: “Connectors inspire people to move from ‘know how’ to ‘do now.’

    Move from “know how” to “do now” to “wow.”

    That is probably the best advise my future self can give me. And if I take it to heart and follow it, I will live a better life as the result.

    As someone who loves to read, learn and grow, I find myself pretty knowledgeable about a lot of things – what I should do, how I should do it. But knowing more doesn’t necessarily make me a wiser person. If I don’t put what I know into practice, if I only keep knowledge in my head and don’t show it in my action, what good is the knowledge?

    I know my life would be far better if I do what I know I should do. If I can move from “know how” to “do now,” my life would result in “Wow! what a wonderful life!”

    It’s all up to myself to break through and move forward, instead of being stuck in the “know how” stage.

    Day 21 – An act of kindness

    Today is Day 21 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 21 is about doing acts of kindness to others. How can we extend a helping hand to someone in need or simply offer an expression of love/kindness/gratitude to others.

    I usually write my blog and check Celes’ blog late at night after my kids go to bed. So I don’t see the 30DLBL challenge tasks until the day is almost over (I know that’s not the ideal timing).  

    Today’s task is to do an act of kindness to 5 People. It’s too late to do anything new now, but reflecting back on my day, here are five acts of kindness I did.

    • I am part of the planning committee that organized the 2nd Annual Minnesota State Capitol Run @ Work Day 5K event last Friday. Today we had a post event evaluation meeting.  At the meeting we expressed our appreciation for the leadership that our committee chair demonstrated. Afterwards I emailed her and told her: “You really deserve a lot of credit and praise.” She responded with: “Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.” (Carl Jung) Thank you for being my friend.”
    • I nominated Celes Chua, the person behind the 30DLBL Challenge and the Personal Excellence Blog, to be one of the world’s top 30 coaching gurus on this coaching gurus website, also linked with this leadership gurus website. I think some day she will be on the same stage/page with John Maxwell, Stephen Covery, etc.
    • A friend has a family emergency and will be out of the country for 10 days. He asked for help. I will drive his daughter home after school because she has no bus service. I offered to do more, to have his kids eat dinner at my house, to drive them to their activities if needed. But he said just driving his daughter home from school is a big help. I was really glad I can help him in times of need.
    • I am organizing a private art class for my kids and kids of some friends. Over the last 10 days, I emailed people I know, asking for recommendations, I found the teacher, did all the emails back and forth with him, set up the time and tuition, contacted parents who are interested. Tonight I am still working on finalizing the schedule and payment. It took me a fare amount of time and effort to get this all organized. I did this for my kids, but also for other kids, so they can also benefit.
    • I called my parents in China to wish them a Happy Moon Festival (on 9/22/2010). I also let them know that a friend’s father passed away today and asked them to call to express their condolence.      

    That was my list of 5.

    In January 2010 I did the 29-Day Giving Challenge after I read the book titled “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change your Life.” Every day during the month, I tried to do an act of kindness.

    Now I keep doing it consciously or unconsciously.

    Day 20 – Make a new friend

    Today is Day 20 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 20 is about making new friends while yesterday’s task was about (re)connecting with old friends. New or old, friendships and relationships can enrish our lives.

    In the morning I had a meeting with Linda who is a business manager at Mn/DOT for over a year. I didn’t know her at all. When her name was first mentioned to me, I thought of another Linda, someone I knew. 

    Linda initiated the meeting to give me some feedback regarding an application I submitted (see Update to Day 13). A god-sent to fulfilling my Day 13 task of getting feedback from others! I was excited.   

    Linda gave me great ideas and suggestions on how to improve my application. My mistake was I did my application in a very non-personal way. It’s all too short and too general. From what I wrote, people can’t tell who the applicant really is. There is no personality and individuality shining through and standing out. No wonder, even though I got excellent recommendations from my supervisor and our Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, my application was not selected.

    Getting the feedback was great. I was very grateful for Linda and  Commissioner to take the initiatives to give me feedbacks. 

    During our conversation, I found out that Linda and I both love books and reading. This brought us closer and gave us more to talk about.

    I felt I made a new friend today, before I even read today’s challenge task – make a new friend.

    What an easy task! I have already finished this task without even knowing the task in advance

    I saw synchronicity at work again today.

    Day 19 – Connect with friends

    Today is Day 19 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 19 is about connecting or reconnecting with friends and building relationships which can nourish our emotions and our soul.

    It just so happened (talking about synchronicity) that today I met with a good friend whom I asked for feedback on Day 13. She wanted to have a face to face meeting instead of writing or calling to share her thoughts. We took a long walk after dinner.  

    It was refreshing to have a heart to heart conversation, a conversation on a meaningful level.

    Most of our daily conversations are on a very superficial level. They are about facts and opinions.

    A heart-to-heart conversation goes on a deeper level of intimacy. It goes beyond facts and opinions. It’s about opening our hearts, sharing our hopes and dreams, our deep feelings, and our fears and failures.  

    My friend and I had such a deep and meaningful conversation. It’s a blessing to have such a friend with whom you feel safe and comfortable to share your true thoughts and feelings.  It definitely nourishes our souls and warms our hearts.

    Day 18 – Create Your Inspirational Room

    Today is Day 18 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 18 is about creating an environment that is inspiring and creative.

    My inspirational room would be a room with less furniture (more empty space), some bookshelves, plants and photos.

    Right now I don’t have a room that is inspirational. All the rooms are pretty cluttered.    

    So this is a task that I need to work on with intention. It will not only take a lot of time and effort, but also a lot of determination which is lacking now.

    Soy – good or bad?

    When it comes to health and nutrition, we often get confusing and conflicting information.

    Take soy for example. Some say it is a miracle health food, while others say it is dangerous.  

    When I first read about the dark side and the sad story of soy some time ago, I was really surprised. I always thought of soy as a healthy food.

    I eat tofu as a side dish about once a week. I also eat fermented bean curd in very small amount (because it’s very salty) a couple of times a week when I eat rice soup for breakfast.

    In China and other Asian countries, people have been eating soy and various soy products (there are countless varieties) for thousand of years. Tofu is one of the popular food items in China.

    In the U.S., soy has been marketed as a healthy food not too many years ago.

    Today I read another article by Dr. Mercola on the danger of soy. The article along with the references and comments make me think again about the topic.

    I don’t eat a lot of soy products to be too worried about its effect on my health. But I certainly like to recommend this article to readers who may have health problems due to their consumption of soy and don’t know about it.

    Day 17 – Be an early riser

    Today is Day 17 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 17 is about cultivating the good habit of being an early riser. 

    I believe there is a connection between waking up early and having success in life.

    When I read self help books or books about successful people, I noticed that successful people are early risers. 

    One of the life goals I set for myself on Day 6 is “Be an early riser, even on weekend (I tend to sleep in on weekends)”

    I get up early on weekdays to go to work early and beat the rush hour traffic. But on weekend, I turn off the alarm. I give myself a break and sleep until I wake up naturally, usually around 8 – 9 am.

    On weekdays I have to use the alarm clock on my cellphone to wake me up. I know this is not good. It means I don’t get enough sleep.

    The ideal would be to wake up naturally, without any external intervention. When you have enough sleep, you wake up naturally. If you need an alarm to wake you up,  it means, you need more time to sleep.

    I spend my late evenings doing blogging, writing, reading and Internet surfing. Time flies by really fast when I do something I enjoy. It’s so easy to stay up past mid night.

    I think because I get good quality of sleep every night, I can get by with less hours of sleep.  

    Do you want to be healthy, wealthy and wise? Then listen to Benjamin Franklin’s word of wisdom: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.

    This is a quote that I often say to my kids.

    Update to Day 13

    Today I bumped into Tom Sorel, our Minnesota Dept. of Transportation Commissioner. He is a leader I really respect. I have worked on some projects with him/his commissioner’s staff.

    Commissioner Sorel recently wrote a nice recommendation for me for my application to the Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute. My application was approved by Mn/DOT, but was not approved by the selection committee due to the high volume of applications received this year.

    I was very confident that I would get into the program, naturally I was disappointed by the news, but it really didn’t hurt me in any way. I took it well and forgot about it.

    For me, learning opportunities are everywhere. There is always another time, another chance, another opportunity waiting for me somewhere. This Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge is just one such example.

    Well, Commissioner Sorel said to me today as he passed by: “Qin, I’ll ask Linda (his business manager) to set up an appointment with you to give you some feedback.”

    Wow, that’s just what I need. I was so happy and thankful that I will get some feedback, without my asking. I never thought about asking him. But knowing that he is a good mentor to people around him, I really should not be surprised by his action.

    Now I feel really excited about it and am looking forward to a feedback session.

    Isn’t it called “synchronicity?”

    And I am still waiting for feedback from the people I asked for on Day 13.

    Day 16 – Creating life handbook

    Today is Day 16 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 16 is about creating  a personal handbook – your manual, your life’s blueprint, your guiding point to live your best life.

    Life handbook is a term Celes created:

    “A life handbook, to put it simply, is your manual that contains anything and everything important in living your life, from your life purpose, adages, life learnings, long-term goals, short-term goals, strategies, plans, right down to your daily tasks. Just like you need a driving manual to learn driving, your life handbook is your manual to progress in life. Just as the Bible is the guidebook that reflects the doctrine and creed of Christianity, your life handbook is your map towards living your best possible life.”

    In her article Create Your Life Handbook, Celes says your life handbook should include the following sections:

  • Life purpose/vision/mission
  • Values
  • Strengths and improvement areas
  • Life adages
  • Vision board (visual representation of what you want in life)
  • Life goals: Long-term (5, 3, 1 year) and short-term (monthly) goals
  • Plans to achieve your goals
  • My overall life purpose/vision
  • My life-long goals
    • 5/3/1 year goals
    • My 1 year goals, break down into months
  • Below is a partial outline of Celes’ handbook:

  • My vision board
  • My values
  • My overall life adages based on what I have learned in life
  • My strengths; My improvement areas and blind spots
  • Things that motivate me in life
  • My strategies, plans and tracking for my goals
  • Daily to-do list (Updated on ongoing basis)
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Reflections I get every year
  • Miscellaneous information which I access frequently: My finances, my credit card info, grocery lists, etc.
  • Life handbook is such a great idea! I am excited to create my life handbook.

    The good news is I don’t have to do everything from scratch, I can do some copy and paste from what I have already created.

    The tasks I did in the last 15 days for this Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge can form the base of my life handbook. In addition I would like to add the following sections/lists:

    • Biographical data
    • Family history data 
    • Education background (graduation certificates)
    • Employment history
    • Awards and achievements
    • Important dates and events every year
    • Will/living will (if I can get to it)
    • and some more

    My life handbook will surely be a treasure for my children when I pass away, maybe more valuable and important than leaving them some money, hopefully.

    I plan to create my life handbook in Word, with folders and subfolders for better organization.

    You can also use a three-ring binder. With a three-ring binder, you can easily add and remove pages or change orders of the pages/sections.

    A soft copy is easy to edit and update. But it’s not so convenient to look at and review.

    I know the three things that we should do after we created our life handbook will be a little challenging for me:

    • Look at your handbook every morning before you start your day.
    • Refer to it through the day to remind yourself of what you want.
    • Update it constantly. 

    Day 15 – Gratitude

    Today is Day 15 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 15 is about giving thanks to what we have. This is one of my favorite topics.

    There is so much to be thankful for. The list is endless.

    I am grateful for

    • God for my perfect body and good health, for opening my mind, and giving me hope;
    • my family, friends, coworkers;
    • my high school English teacher who was the most selfless person I have ever know. I was grateful that I told him many times before he passed away that I was grateful for what he had done for me;
    • my pastor and church family
    • having financial security and freedom;
    • having peace and contentment;
    • the house I have to live in;
    • the country I live in;
    • the food, fresh air, water, sun … that sustain my life;
    • books that enriches my life;
    • my love for writing and reading
    • a job that allows me to do what I like to do;
    • Celes for this challenge, for her wisdom, blog and excellent articles, for her generous and gentle soul;
    • the blogging friends who share and encourage each other;
    • the technology (computer and Internet) that made our vitual community and online learning possible;
    • lots more

    Day 14 – Reflecting on life

    Today is Day 14 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 14 is about reflecting on our whole life and seeing how far we have come in life.

    1. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with where you are today in life?

    I would say 6-7/10. I am very satisfied in some aspects, but not so in other aspects. There are many things I need to improve to be able to live the best life possible. I am far away from the ideal life.

    2. Some of my biggest milestones that I am most proud of are:

    • Passed the national college entrance exam with a high score despite the fact that I didn’t have a head start and went to one of the best universities in China.
    • Received a German government scholarship and studied 5 years in Germany
    • Received my second master’s degree in the U.S., three years after I came to the U.S., considering my English was initially at the pre-school level.
    • Became a columnist for Woodbury Bulletin.
    • Started a book club at work and interviewed most senior managers in the organization.
    • Writing professionally and personally (Blogging). Had ca. 150 articles published in books, magazines, newspapers, newsletters and and e-zines.
    • Raised two great young readers (my son and my daughter who love to read)
    • Actively involved in different projects and events in the community (started a new Chinese school in 2007) and at work (CRC, Brown Bag learning, http://www.active.com/running/st-paul-mn/minnesota-state-capitol-run-work-day-5k-2010) that have made a difference.

    3. What are the significant events that have shaped you to become who you are today?

    • Grew up in extreme poverty in China.
    • Met some Christians and became a Christian in the U.S.

    4. What are the realizations you got in each event that helped you become who you are?

    • To be grateful and content with what I have. I want only what I need.
    • There is more to life than what I can see and touch physically. There is life after death. There need to be a balance in life, body, mind, spirit.

    5. What are the biggest things you’ve learned about yourself, looking back in the past X years?

    • Knowing is easier than doing. Putting what I know into practice is one of the biggest challenges for me.

    I have to think more about the answer.

    Day 13 – Getting feedback from others

    Today is Day 13 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 13 is about getting feedback from others for some external perspectives and to uncover our blind spots, so we gain new levels of knowledge/awareness about ourselves.

    The task is not about pinpointing faults or pulling someone down; it’s about being a better person and being the best we can be. Others’ feedback is meant to be an agent to help us improve and grow.

    The more we know about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the better we can be.

    What a great idea, I thought. 

    “But this is hard to do.” Here came my second thought right after.

    Whom should I ask? Who will share honest, objective feedback and not sugar coated one? Do I put myself and other people in an awkward position?

    Questions like that were popping up in my mind.

    I could feel some resistance and fear.

    I am not afraid of hearing negative feedback about myself. In fact I always welcome negative comments if they are offered in a constructive manner and with good intention.

    I guess I am just a little bit uncomfortable bringing the topic up, opening up myself more, and putting people in an umcomfortable position.

    I think I am an extrovert when it comes to talking with strangers or people who are not close to me.

    Yesterday the weather was perfect. I took a walk around the lake in Wedgewood Park. I saw quite a few women walking alone. Since I like to talk and get to know people, I initiated a conversation with a middle aged woman. I found out that she works at 3M and just came back from her trip to Shanghai. We talked about the Shanghai Expo. We had a great time talking and walking together, for a very short time.

    After she left and during my second round of walking, I initiated a conversation with another woman who was listening to her music. I found out that she works for the school district, so we talked about different schools in Woodbury. Obviously the woman enjoyed our talk as well, because she walked some extra distance than she planned. It was so much more interesting when you have someone to talk with while walking.

    I could struck a conversation with people at the airport, in the airplane, in the checkout line, at parties. I am not shy in that aspect.

    We live in a society that is dominated by shallow conversations. At least that’s how I feel.

    We talk a lot, but mostly about not so important stuff, even among family members and good friends.

    I grew up in a family where we didn’t talk a lot. My father is the best handyman I know. He can do and fix almost anything in the house. But he is not a man of word. Growing up, I was definitely an introvert.

    I am still an introvert when it comes to talking about feelings and inner most thoughts. Writing comes so much easier for me. The hard part is not keeping such conversation going after someone takes the initial step, the hard part is for me to take the first step.

    Asking for feedback requires some time and thinking on the other party. Nowadays everyone is so busy. It also requires courage and trust to say the truth. I feel hesitant to ask for such a favor tht’s not so easy to do. 

    But I believe this task of getting feedback is an important one. I will overcome any resistance and do it. Ideally, this should be something I do regularly as Celes does.

    I so admire her wisdom and passion in becoming the best she can be.

    I just sent out my request to a few people via email. Now it’s time (1 am 9/14/2010) for bed. I am already feeling better and energized for having overcome my initial resistence.

    Day 12 – Declutter

    Today is Day 12 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 12 is about decluttering. This is a topic that is both easy and difficult for me.

    I say easy because I think I know all the what/why/how. I have always liked to read books/articles/e-newsletters on decluttering and getting organized. I have written articles about it myself. So it’s something I am very familiar with.

    On the other hand, it’s also something difficult for me, because I struggle with putting what I know into action.

    Among the 9 areas suggested for decluttering by Celes, email is the easiest one for me to tackle. So today I spent most of my time clearing my cluttered email inbox.

    I subscribe to numerous e-newsletters and blog updates. As the result, I get quite a few emails every day. Since my 7-week vacation in China, I have accumulated a lot of emails.

    Today I deleted more than 100 emails from my inbox. But I still have almost 500 emails to go through that I will either delete or file away in folders.

    It’s a start.

    Armless pianist

    A 23-year-old man from China has made headlines after he appeared on China’s Got Talent show last month. He played “Mariage D’amour” with his toes, and he made beautiful music. 

    Liu Wei lost both of his arms to amputation after a childhood accident. He uses his feet to do pretty much everything, including brushing his teeth. He started playing piano with his feet at age 19. 

    It’s an incredible and inspiring story. 

    You can view Liu Wei’s performance on Youtube.

    My favorite blogs

    If you have time to read only one or two blogs, what would that be? In another word, what is your absolutely favorite blog(s)?

    My answer today is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta, creator and writer of not only Zen Habits, but also mnmlist.com (on minimalism) and Write To Done (for writers and bloggers).  Zen Habits is one of the Top 25 blogs in the world, with about 200K readers. It is on the Best Blogs of 2010 list.

    Babauta’s blogs cover topic such as simple living, frugal living, health and wellness, vegan, writing, blogging, books, creativity, finance, productivity, etc., all favorite subjects of mine.

    And what I also love about this guy is his sharing spirit. He writes in Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content that he grants full permission to use any of his content on his blogs or in his ebook, in any way you like. He releases his copyright on all content.

    I spent some time today reading Babauta’s blogs. What he writes resonates deeply with me. It doesn’t take long to win me over as a fan. I signed up for updates. I am going to spend more time reading his articles.

    For me it is something very exciting when I find like-minded people in the blogsphere.

    Babauta is also the author of The Power of Less.

    My another favorite blog is The Personal Excellence by Celestine Chua. I wrote about that here.

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    BFSU anniversary celebration

    From 1981 to 1985 I went to the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) to study German. Today I received an email invitation from the university’s German Department for its 60th anniversary celebration in October.

    I would love to go back and meet my college classmates. There were about 40 of us in two classes. We studied together and lived together on campus dorms for 4 years. It was definitely one of the most important time in my life. But too bad I can’t go back for the anniversary celebration.

    We had our first and last class reunion in Beijing in Aug. 2005 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our graduation. I went back for that purpose. Most of our 40 some classmates attended the reunion. It was great to meet friends again after so many years. Some didn’t change much, some changed more due to added extra weight.     

    This summer when I went back to China, I met a few classmates again in Beijing, but not a lot. Most of us are now scattered around the globe, some living in different cities in China, some in Germany and other German speaking European countries, one in Canada and one in the US. It’s hard to get together.

    I certainly wish BFSU a great anniversary celebration and those who can attend a great time.

    Art teacher needed

    I am looking for an art teacher who teaches private or small group art lessons to elementary and middle school age students.

    If you know an art teacher or artist in Woodbury who can teach private lessons on weekends, please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email.

    Thanks a lot.

    Photos from Shanghai Expo

    I took about 5000 photos during my trip in China this summer. I am going to share some of them when I have time.

    I visited the Shanghai Expo on July 2, see my blog post here.

     

    We were following the tour guide and waiting with a huge crowd of people to get into the Expo.

     At the security checkpoint.

    The line at the US Pavilion was so long it would take about 4 hours to get in. And this was not even the most popular Pavilion. The most popular one is Saudi Arabia which could take up to eight hours in the waiting line. I didn’t even bother to check it out. So I had no photos. Recently I heard that people are not standing in the line, they are laying on the ground in the line. Crazy!

    We waited for half an hour at the Canadian Pavilion, the longest time we were willing to take. 

     

    The only goody my kids got at this huge Expo was this paper Canadian flag.

      

    We couldn’t get into the China, US and Germany Pavilions as we would like to, but at least I took this photo in front of the China Pavilion. 

    In the 10 pavilions we visited, we mostly saw pictures …

      Or TV screens like this. 

     

    I liked the fense made with the plants.

     My brother went with us.

    Days 9-11 – Catch up days

    Today is Day 9 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 9-Day 11 are set aside as catch-up days due to the fact that many people have fallen behind with their tasks.

    I have completed the previous 8 days’ tasks. However, on some days, I didn’t do a complete job. But still, they consumed most of my free time at night. So it’s good to have a break.

    Maybe I will have time to post something else.

    Day 8 – Creating your 80/20 To Do list

    Today is Day 8 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 8 is about how to spend your time wisely and prioritize your daily activities.

    Today’s post and tasks are a good reminder of the 80/20 principle and the 4 Quadrants time management matrix (see Putting First Things First). 

    When creating your to-do list, focus on the 20% tasks that have 80% value and impact. And focus on Quadrant 2 (Quadrant of Quality and Personal Leadership) tasks, things that are not urgent but important.

    I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First by Stephen R. Covey several years ago. They are excellent and highly recommended. I should reread them when I have time.

    Day 7 – Creating your action plan

    Today is Day 7 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 7 is about creating a plan to achieve the goals you have set for your life.  Your action plan is like a guide which brings you from where you are to where you want to be.

    Following Celes’s instruction and steps for creating the action plan, I came up with the following example of an action plan:

    Pick my goal:

    One of my goals I wrote yesterday but has been on my mind for at least more than a year is to help my daughter get her poems published.

    Set my project title: “Aspiring  Young Poet”

    Establish my goal:

    What and why of the goal? My 10 year old daughter has written several hundreds of poems in the last two years. She won the 1st place for her poem collection twice in the row in the last two years at the Minnesota State Fair. I was so proud of her. Her ability to write poems is quite amazing to me. As an aspiring writer myself whose biggest dream is to be an author, I definitely would like my daughter to become a writer and author too. I know she has great potential. I want to get her poems published to encourage her in her writing and to prove that she is good at writing poems and she will be an author someday.

    How will I feel? I would feel even more happy and proud of my daughter if I can help get her poems published. It’s a dream come true for her and more importantly for me.

    Strategy

    Obstacles: Rejection from agents and publishers will happen.

    Be prepared for that. Don’t get discouraged and quit. Remember most authors get rejected many times before they become successful. Persistence is the key.

    Understand that publishing is a very tough business. The market for poetry is even more tough. Most agents and publishers are not interested in poetry because it is not profitable.

    I will explore the commercial publishing, but also see self-publishing as an alternative. 

    Resources: Books and Internet.

    Planning

    Sept.-Dec. 2010 – 

    • Read books and surf Internet to find potential agents and publishers who are interested in poetry.
    • Learn to write query letters.
    • Learn more about self publishing.
    • Help my daughter pick the best poems and more editing

    Jan. 2011 or earlier if I am ready –

    • Contact agents and publishers

     2012 –

    • Book published
    • Create a website for Amy and her book
    • Selling copies at school fundraising events and donate some profits to school

    Day 6 – Setting life goals

    Today is Day 6 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 6 is about setting your life goals. What do you want to achieve in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years? What are your goals in life?

    Setting goals is planning for your future.

    Alan Lakein, a well-known personal time management guru, author of  How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, said the following:

    “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

    “In all planing you make a list and you set priorities.”

    “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

    Alan Lakein’s three questions for setting goals are:

    1. What are your lifetime goals?
    2. What are your goals for the next 3 years?
    3. If you knew now you would be struck by lightning six months from today, how would you live until then?

    Now how do you set goals?

    The short answer is think SMART.

    • S = Specific
    • M = Measurable
    • A = Attainable
    • R = Realistic
    • T = Timely

    For some more explanation, please visit Arina’s Goal setting guide website.

    I have not created a detailed list of my personal goals for 1, 3 and 5 years. I am just throwing out a few that come easily to my mind. Excuse me that I am not doing it in the SMART way.

    Career:

    • Finish a project that I started a few months ago but have kept putting off.
    • Continue working on the book club (Commissioner’s Reading Corner) and interview every senior manager at Mn/DOT (I am more than half way through)
    • Get my position reclassified (The request was submitted a few months ago, but it got stuck somewhere)
    • Publish at least one book, a bestseller is the dream (I have a couple of books with my name in them, but I am not the sole author)
    • Publish more articles in magazines/newspapers   

    Finance/wealth:

    • Get my mortgage paid off earlier and be debt-free
    • Buy a newer van to replace my current 10 year old van
    • Get a raise

    Social/Friends:

    • Take time to write letters/notes to people (I often think of some people but fail to express it)
    • Get together (in face or virtually) with like-minded people and develop more friendships
    • Keep in touch with old friends more often

    Family:

    • Be more patient and loving with my kids (I demand a lot from them and get inpatient when they don’t follow my instruction and meet my expectations)
    • Show more love and respect for people in my life and family (I tend to be more critical and less tolerant with people around me)
    • Help my daughter get her poems published (She won the 1st place for her poem collection twice in the row in the last two years at the Minnesota State Fair. I want to get her poems published to encourage her in her writing)

    Contribution:

    • Keep volunteering for different committees and events at work (Health & Wellness, Run @ Work Day, Brown Bag Learning) and in my community (Woodbury Days, Writing this Areavoices blog)

    Personal growth:

    • Continue working on the 30DLBL challenge even after it’s over (catch up on unfinished tasks, review and revise)
    • Continue read books and articles on personal development
    • Take workshops and classes on topics of interest (writing)

    Health/fitness:

    • Be an early riser, even on weekend (I tend to sleep in on weekends)
    • Do walking, yoga or other activities daily (It’s hard to keep doing these important, but not urgent things. Other urgent tasks tend to grasp my time and attention) 
    • Go from current 90% vegetarian to 100% vegetarian (I mostly gave up on meat, but still like to eat seafood occasionally) 

    Spiritual:

    • Read Bible daily (again, important, but not urgent things get pushed aside)
    • Learn to meditate

    Day 5 – Identifying your values

     Today is Day 5 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 5 is about identifying your values.

    What values/qualities are important for you in life?  What are the traits you want to embody? What kind of person do you want to be?

    I came up with a list of about 40 that are important to me.

    I narrowed my list down to the following five values/categories:

    • Authenticity – Passion, creativity, mindfulness, consciousness, confidence, honesty, truthfulness, integrity 
    • Diligence – Responsibility, Discipline, self-control, resilience, perseverance, independent
    • Contentment – God, faith, love, kindness, gratitude, thankfulness, generosity, abundance, compassion, giving, simplicity, resourcefulness, frugality 
    • Open-mindedness – Positive, optimistic, diversity
    • Humility – Wisdom, knowledge, life-long learning, growth, self-improvement, inspiration, encouragement

    I have to confess that valuing something and having it on my list of values does not mean that is already what I am or what I do well. No, it is something I value and strive for. I am a work in progress. I can always do better.

    Working on the life wheel, goals, vision board, mission statement and values in the last few days was a lot of work of thinking and soul searching, but it was fun. And it was great.

    Today after dinner and after I finished my task early in the day (instead of at midnight as usual), I went out for a walk. I felt clarity in my mind, joy in my heart, lightness in my steps and more energy radiating from me. The world around me looked more beautiful.

    BTW, If you need some ideas to help you identify your values, you can check out the list of values available on Steve Pavlina’s personal development website. I found it pretty comprehensive.

    Day 4 – Mission statement

    Today is Day 4 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 4 is about creating your mission statement that answers the question: “What is my objective and purpose of life?” or “Why am I here for?”

    I created a mission statement last year when I went to a personal/leadership development workshop. I am ashamed to say that I have never looked at it again after I wrote it.

    When I can dig it out, I will compare it to what I write today. My guess is they are pretty close.

    Here is my mission statement. Now I want to share it with the world and keep it open, not hidden again somewhere.

    • To learn and grow
    • To inform and inspire
    • To love and give
    • To live an authentic and purposeful life

    Day 3 – Vision board

     Today is Day 3 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 3 is about making your dreams, your wishes, your ideals, your deepest hopes and desires, your truest passions in life come alive visually.

    Using pictures to visually represent your goals, to serve as an immediate reminder of what you want , is a powerful driving force in reaching your goals.

    The pictures below represent some of my passions that I shared yesterday. This is my vision board.

    Day 2 – What I am passionate about

    Today is Day 2 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge.

    Day 2 is about living your ideal life. What are your dreams, your wishes, your ideals, your deepest hopes and desires, your truest passions in life?

    I want to share a few things that I feel passionate about.

    • Writing – Writing is the thing that makes me forget time and everything.
    • Reading – Reading gives me joy. It is the best entertainment, free for all.
    • Library – I love libraries. Libraries are the best place to go and visit. There is no other place like library.
    • Lifelong learning – Learning is a lifelong process. It should never stop as long as we are alive.
    • Personal growth – We may stop growing physically, but we should not stop growing intellectually, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
    • Green living – Being resourceful and protecting the environment is our human responsibility.
    • Frugal living – Living below our means will bring financial security.
    • Voluntary simplicity – I choose to live simple, not because I have to, but because I want to.
    • Healthy living – Health is a choice. I choose to eat healhty and live a healthy lifestyle.
    • Financial freedom – Financial freedom allows me to pursue my interests and passions.
    • Gardening – Gardening brings me joy, in addition to fresh food.
    • Volunteering – Sharing your time, talent and treasure will multiply what you have to give.
    • Spirituality – We are more than our body. There is more to life than what we can see. Finding balance in body, mind and spirit is important.

    Day 1 – Life wheel assessment

    Today is Day 1 of Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge. If you have not signed up for the challenge, you can still do so at the Personal Excellence Blog website.

    The first task in today’s challenge is to assess where you are using the life wheel. The purpose of the task is to become aware and be clear about where you are in life now.

    I have to say it is not easy to score myself. While I do OK or well in some segments, my scores are very low in other segments.

    But no matter how terribly we fail and feel today, knowing where we are and where we want to go is the first step in the right direction.

    Middle school challenge

    Lake Middle School had open house at 4-6 pm. I went with my kids after work.

    Andy didn’t want to go at all. He said he had already been to Back to School kick off last Thursday, “Why do I have to go again? It’s a waste of time.”

    I had to talk him into going, so we could meet his new teachers.

    We listened to a brief presentation by a group of his core subject teachers. I still don’t remember who is who, but at least I have met them.

    I filled out the emergency card and Andy bought a Lake t-shirt and shorts for his gym class.

    That’s all we did.

    After three months of break, Andy is not looking forward to school. I would be very excited to going back to school and learn new things, but he is not. That’s a concern.

    I do hope that after he gets back to the routine of school life in a few days, he will like school and have a wonderful and successful school year ahead of him.

    I think the middle school (or high school) environment in the US can be challenging for some young kids. They no longer have a home room where they take the same classes with the same group of students all the time, as it is in elementary schools. Now each student has his own schedule. He goes to different classes, his classmates are different in each subject class.

    While there are advantages in individualizing every student’s schedule, I think there are also some disadvantages. One of them is lack of bonding between students.

    From elementary school all the way through college in China, I had fixed classrooms with classroom teachers and the same classmates for each class. 

    Even at college, most of my lessons at that time were in small classes with about 20 students. Over the four years of studying together and living in the same dorm together, we got to know each other really well and built a strong bond. We stay in touch long after graduation.

    When I went to universities in Germany and the US, I had to select and take classes by myself. I lived off the campus and was a come-and-go student. I didn’t get to know any classmates who were different from class to class.    

    Having no relationship with any classmates or teachers at either universities I went to in Germany and the US, I don’t feel any strong connection with either institutions.

    When I think of my middle school and college in China, I feel a stronger connection, because I had a closer relationship with some classmates and teachers. Better connecting and bonding with people lead to closer association and bonding with institutions.

    Our middle schools did try to create a more intimate environment by dividing students in each grade into two smaller houses, so they don’t feel totally lost and alone. It’s good to see some familiar faces wherever you go.

    That’s the comment I heard a couple of time today. “Oh, good, our kids are in the same house. At least they know someone.”