Stay interview – what, why and how

I know what a “job interview” or an “exit interview” is, but I had never heard the term “stay interview” until I read the article “Stay interview: the leader’s role in engaging and retaining talent” by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans today.

It is an interesting term for a concept that makes total sense for me. I wondered why I had not heard about it earlier and why it is not practiced widely.

We always do job interviews before hiring someone. Periodically we do performance reviews when we evaluate employees. And occasionally, we do exit interviews when an employee decides to leave.

But we rarely interview employees who are just staying.

Conducting a stay interview is a fairly new trend. After reading about it, I think stay interview is a great tool to retain valued employees and to avoid exit interview down the road.

Conducting a stay interview allows you to assess what’s working and what’s not, make your employees feel valued and heard, and build better relationships.

Stay interview questions could include:

  • Why do you stay with us?
  • What is it that keeps you here?
  • What might entice you away?
  • What are the things you like about your work?
  • What do you like best/least?
  • Are we fully unilizing your talents?
  • What makes for a great day at work?
  • What is it that keeps you motivated?
  • What is something new you would like to learn this year?
  • What can we do differently to best assist you?
  • Is there anything you’d like to change about your job?
  • Are there things you would like to change about your team or department?
  • Has something caused you to consider leaving? Has it been resolved?
  • What’s your dream job, and what can we do to support your progress toward it?
  • What is one thing that would make your job more satisfying and rewarding?
  • Do you feel supported in your career goals?
  • Do you feel we recognize you?
  • What kind of recognition would be meaningful for you?

Some people are concerned with “what if” fears. What if I can’t give what they want?  What if they don’t trust you enough to answer honestly? 

Be hones and admit that you can’t provide for your employees everything they want, but you can listen to them, hear their concerns, validate their feelings, reviewing their feedback, express your support and assure them that you will do what you can to explore options.

Whatever you do, be sure to follow up, and by all means, keep your promises!

Now take the time and ask your employees – “Why do you stay?” – before it’s too late.

Losing weight the natural way

If you need to lose weight or are thinking about losing weight, (who doesn’t in this day and age?), the following 10 tips from Dr. Mercola’s article What are the 10 Things that Can Pack on Pounds? will for sure help you achieve what you want, in the most natural way possible.

#1: To Lose Weight You MUST Eliminate Fructose from Your Diet

# 2 You MUST Plan Your Meals

#3 Avoid All Sodas, and Especially Diet Soda

#4 Be Sure to Eat PLENTY of Organic Vegetables

#5 Make Sure You Do Peak 8 Exercises Once or Twice a Week

#6 Avoid Drinking Fruit Juice

#7 Eating Outside of Your Home

#8 Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption

#9 Avoid Consuming Fast- or Processed Foods

#10 Avoid Condiments and Idle Snacks

Academic Triathlon Awards Ceremony

The 2010-2011 U.S. Academic Triathlon Awards Ceremony of School District 833 was held today at Cottage Grove Middle School at 7 pm.

The cafeteria at Cottage Grove Middle School was packed with USAT participants and their families. Principals or their representatives from participating elementary and middle schools were present to honor the students from their own schools.

Academic Triathlon is an after school enrichment program offered to 5th graders and higher through the District’s Gifted & Talented Office. Nancy Vague, Coordinator of Gifted and Talented Services, presided over the awards ceremony. Superintendent Mark Porter was also present to offer his congratulations and to hand out medals to each student. 

Every USAT participant received a customized medal. It has “2010-11 USAT” on the front and participant’s name and school on the back of the medal.

This year, District 833 had 26 grade 5-6 teams and 7 grade 7-8 teams with 172 students participating in the USAT.

There were 56 coaches who helped the teams practice weekly and organize the meets, they certainly deserve a lot of recognition. Without these parents serving as volunteer coaches, the program would not be possible.   

Thanks to all the coaches, including my son’s coaches Todd Nelson, Jim Fenner and my daughter’s coach Tonya Dolezal for your hard work and efforts. Thanks also to Nancy Vague and Laura Vogel from District G&T Services for coordinating the USAT program, and to all educators for your support.

Is your glass half full or half empty?

I like to be around people who are positive and encouraging,  who emanates positive energy and have a can-do attitude, who see glass half full rather than half empty.

Who likes to be around people who complain, criticize and put others down all the time? Probably no one. But we all know people around us who are complainers and whiners.

While we all have negative feelings and complain at one time or another, some people are down right negative and chronic complainers. No matter what you do and say, those who see the glass half empty can always find something wrong and complain. 

It doesn’t feel good to be around them. They suck energy out of us and make us feel down and drained.

While I am not a chronic complainer and negative person, I know at times and in certain situations, I do complain and think negatively.

Let the following words of wisdom serve as a reminder to myself and everyone reading to think positive and be positive.

“You are what you think; you are your thoughts.” – Earl Nightingale

“People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  —  Abraham Lincoln

“We become what we think about all day long.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” —  William Shakespeare

“As you think, so shall you be.” — Bible

Pay attention to what you think and say. Be around people who are positive and optimistic. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, or at least say it in a positive way.

Remember, a glass half empty cannot become full by complaining. Positive change cannot be brought about by negative thinking.

Poor in wealth, rich in love

Today I went to my Pastor Frank Sanders’ retirement and Frank & Kathy’s 42nd anniversary celebration at Lake Elmo Inn and Event Center, sponsored by AmeriPride Services, a company where Frank has worked for 43 years.

It was a wonderful celebration.

Hundreds of people came, his families, friends, and coworkers. Some came out of town and had to drive a few hours. The parking lot was so packed I couldn’t get out. I had to ask someone working at the Lake Elmo Inn to help drive my van out of the parking spot. There were too many cars parked too close.

My friend Bobbie and I sat together and talked about Pastor Frank.

Pastor Frank is authentic and down to earth. He is caring and compassionate for people. He is passionate about God. He has a loving family with three wonderful kids all serving in churches in different capacities. He is loved by many friends. We were touched by such a great turnout and the great impact he has had on many people’s lives. 

Pastor Frank might not be rich in wealth and earthly goods, but he is definitely rich in love and friendships. He is a blessed man who has blessed others. He really made us think what’s important and how we should live this earthly life.

Pastor Frank started the Sprit of Life Bible Churchin Woodbury in 2001 with a dozen of people. Now the Church has grown to a couple of hundreds of people.

He was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and went through chemo and radiation treatments at Mayo Clinic. Please pray for his total healing.

The food was great, especially the cakes. I heard that the desserts from the Lake Elmo Inn Restaurant are the best in the Twin Cities. That’s probably true. The ones I tried were very yummy, not too sweet. I really liked it.

Minnesota transportation funding

A reader raised a question in responding to yesterday’s post Let your voice be heard – Minnesota GO: “How can MN build infrastructure with a $5 billion deficit?”

I think Minnesota, or  the US in general, cannot afford not to build a better infrastructure. Even public transportation in China is much more advanced than in the US. Here is a post I wrote on this topic after my trip to China last summer.

Yes, Minnesota has an estimated $5.03 billion two-year budget deficit. But Mn/DOT’s funding comes mostly from designated sources, almost half of its funding comes from the fuel tax. Approximately 80 percent of Mn/DOT funds are appropriated by the legislature and 20 percent is statutorily appropriated.

The following charts show where Minnesota’s transportation funding comes from and where it goes (for fiscal Year 2010)

Sources of Minnesota state transportation funds

Uses of Minnesota state transportation funds

Mn/DOT is a multi-modal agency. Its activities include transit; aeronautics; freight and commercial vehicles; construction; maintenance; and operation of 12,000 miles of state highways. Approximately 30 percent of Mn/DOT’s appropriations are state aid to local governments for road and bridge projects and other activities.

*Source of information: Mn/DOT Funding and Finances

Let your voice be heard – Minnesota GO

What’s your vision for the transportation system in Minnesota for the next 50 years? What’s your expectations for transportation today as well as for the next generation?

Mn/DOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) wants to hear from you – citizens of Minnesota.

On March 24, Mn/DOT launched Minnesota GO. Through Minnesota GO, Mn/DOT is engaging Minnesotans from all walks of life in both online and in-person activities to help craft a transportation vision for today and for generations to come.

From now until August 2011, Minnesotans have the opportunity to get involved through online activities, advisory groups, public workshops, hearings and other targeted outreach.

Please check out to participate and also for updates, discussion questions, surveys, and videotaped interviews on a range of topics. You can watch a short video about Minnesota GO.

A 29-member steering committee representing public agencies and community organizations will help review public comments, advisory group discussions, and quality of life research. The group will then draft and recommend a vision statement and set of objectives for Mn/DOT senior leadership to adopt.

At the end of the process, your vision will be incorporated into the updated statewide multimodal transportation plan and other investments and plans for roads, rails, transit, airports, ports and trails. Your input will help Mn/DOT prioritize among the multiple goals, objectives and expectations and help create a transportation system that will sustain and connect a vital economy, healthy environment and strong communities.

You can help shape Minnesota’s transportation system.

Let your voice be heard through Minnesota GO. You can also connect via Facebook.

Go natural

It seems like human nature that we always want something we don’t have, and desire to be different or look differently than we are natually.

I am not someone who likes to follow the latest fashion trend in any way. Today I happened to catch the headline of an article titled The Taming of the Curl published in the Wall Street Journal on March 23, 2011. I was quite surprised to find out that women would spend that amount of time and effort to straighten their curly hair.

I have thin and straight hair. Yes, I wish I had thick and curly hair, because curly hair looks pretty to me. However, I am not willing to spend the time and money necessary to curl my hair, and to have it chemically treated on a regular basis and to risk the damage to my hair. So go natural is my solution and in my mind, the easiest and best thing to do.

I don’t care now whether my hair is curly or straight. I don’t care whether other people have curly or straight hair. I never pay attention to that. I don’t think other people care what my hair looks like either.

In China, people think lighter skin color is more desirable and beautiful. So in summer when it’s very sunny, a lot of people, especially women, use umbrellas to keep the sunlight away to prevent their skin color from getting dark.

But here in the US, some people with light skin tone go tanning to get their skin color darkened under the sun or in the tanning salons. They think darker tone looks better and healthy.

Isn’t that interesting?

If we can be happy with what nature gives us – our looks, our hairs, our colors, etc. and be content with what we have, life would be a lot easier.

Don’t let any companies or marketers tell you how you should do your hair to look more professional. You can’t go wrong with going natural.

Pothole Repair – Who’s Responsible?

An old joke says that there are two seasons in Minnesota – Winter and Road Construction. 

Maybe we should add another season – pothole season.  

Right now we are in the pothole season. The potholes can be quite annoying.   

Last week after I stopped at the Sam’s Club gas station, I took the road between Sam’s Club and Staples on the right side and Caribou Coffee and M&I Bank on the left side toward Commerce Drive. That road through the parking lot is very short, but full of big potholes, with gravel spreading everywhere.   

I didn’t dare to drive through. I had to zigzag to parking lot on the right and left to avoid the potholes. Otherwise I was afraid my tires would be damaged.   

As I was driving, I was thinking: “They better fix these potholes quickly.”   

But who are they?  Is the city of Woodbury responsible or are the businesses (or the property owner) in the area responsible? Honestly, I was not 100% sure.    

Later I found out from the City that Woodbury is responsible for all publicly owned city streets. But for the privately owned properties including the commercial properties such the Sam’s Club, Tamarack or Woodbury Lake shopping malls, the property owners are responsible. If you find potholes in their parking lots, the property owners need to be contacted.

You can find the contact information from the City. They will also contact the property owners on your behalf directly.  

For your reference, I listed below the contact information for reporting potholes in Minnesota.  

For city streets in Woodbury –

Call the Woodbury Public Works Department at (651) 714-3720 or send an e-mail to For more information, visit the website.

For privately owned properties in Woodbury –

You can use the general contact information for the City of Woodbury as listed above. Or you can also contact Matt Novak, Code Enforcement Officer in the City’s Inspections Division, at (651) 714-3543 or  

For Washington County State Aid Highways / Washington County Roads –  

Call the Washington County Public Works Department at (651)-430-4300.     

These roads have signs that look like this: 


For Interstate and State highways –  

Contact Mn/DOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) using this Pothole Reporting Form. This website also contains links to the county and city websites.  

Interstate and state trunk highways such as I-94 and MN-36 have signs that look like this: 


Unimaginable tragedy

An unimaginable tragedy happened to a friend of mine 5 years ago that I just found out today. 

For about two years (1999-2001), my family lived in a Burlington apartment on Energy Park Drive in St. Paul, Minnesota.

One of our neighbors in the apartment building is a Chinese from Shanghai. Qinuo was married to a jewish doctor named Edward Van Dyk. Their boy Carl was the same age as my son. So they played together. When Qinuo’s mother came to visit from Shanghai, she became friends with my parents who were visiting as well. 

After the Van Dyks moved to Dartmouth College around 2000, we lost contact.

Today I talked to Qinuo’s mother in Shanghai on the phone and heard the horrible tragedy that happened to her daughter. She was surprised that I didn’t know about it, because the news not only appeared in the US, but also in Shanghai.  

Thanks to Internet, a quick Google search brought up the sad story that happened on Sat., May 27, 2006. Apparently, it was a big news and reported by the news media including AP, CBS, Fox, etc.

Even if I heard about it at the time, I probably won’t have made the personal connection. 

Edward Van Dyk killed his two young sons, Spencer, 4, and Carl, 8, by throwing them off the 15th floor of a luxury South Miami Beach hotel before leaping to his death, while the couple was on vacation to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.

The full story can be found here:

Man who killed his sons, self left no note (USA Today)

The Miami Herald

This is an unimaginable tragedy no matter whom it happened to. But when it happens to someone you personally know, it becomes even more tragic and unimaginable.

I can’t imagine what my friend has gone through in the last 5 years. I am praying for her. May God bring her peace, comfort and strength as she faces every day and rebuilds her life.

I also pray for her mother. She said she still cries and can’t sleep whenever she thinks about it. She worries about her daughter. A tragedy like this will break every mother’s heart.

God bless the mother and daughter.

Wasteful health care

One year ago, I wrote a post about my experience of forced x-ray during a dental visit:  Tough love or over the boundary?

Today I had another dental visit for regular maintenance care of teeth cleaning. The same thing happened again.

After my name was called, I followed the dental hygienist in. She directed me right to the place where she would take a full mouth x-ray of me. I refused.

I said I had just had an x-ray not long ago. I didn’t want to do it again. She said it would be a different kind of x-ray. I was ordered to do it. If I don’t do it, they could refuse to see me as a patient.

So I had a talk with the dentist. I shared my two reasons for not wanting to do an x-ray.

First, I think I have healthy teeth and I don’t need x-ray. I don’t want to be exposed to unnecessary radiation.

Second, I want to contribute to keeping the health care cost down in this country by doing only the procedure and treatment that is necessary.

I said I am an adult and can take full responsibility of my health. I won’t hold them responsible if there are problems with my teeth that can’t be detected without the x-ray they wanted to take.

This male dentist was nice enough to let me go this time.

Now I dread to visit the dentist office. Every time I visit the dentist office, I feel like I have to fight the same battle.

Nuclear Power Plants in Minnesota and around the world

The Japan earthquake/tsunami and the resulting crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant brought much attention to the dangers of nuclear power plants. I wondered how many nuclear power plants we have in Minnesota, in the US and around the world.

According to the World Nuclear Association, the United States has 104 nuclear reactors in 31 states, operated by 30 different power companies, and the world has 440 commercial nuclear power reactors. Here are some facts from the World Nuclear Association.

  • The USA is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. 
  • The country’s 104 nuclear reactors produced 799 billion kWh in 2009, over 20% of total electrical output. 
  • Following a 30-year period in which few new reactors were built, it is expected that 4-6 new units may come on line by 2018, the first of those resulting from 16 licence applications to build 24 new nuclear reactors made since mid-2007. 
  • Government policy changes since the late 1990s have helped pave the way for significant growth in nuclear capacity. Government and industry are working closely on expedited approval for construction and new plant designs. 
  • The first commercial nuclear power stations started operation in the 1950s. 
  • There are now over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries, with 377,000 MWe of total capacity. 
  • They provide about 14% of the world’s electricity as continuous, reliable base-load power, and their efficiency is increasing. 
  • 56 countries operate a total of about 250 research reactors and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines. 

Here’s a list of all the nuclear reactors of the world, sorted by country.

Minnesota has two nuclear power plants, both are in Southern Minnesota along the Mississippi River: the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant in Welch (near Red Wing) and the Monticello Nuclear plant in Monticello. Both are owned by Xcel Energy. 

Woodbury is about 50 miles away from Red Wing. It feels like a nuclear plant is right in my backyard. And it’s an unsettling feeling.

Where are your treasures?

Watching the following videoes about the Japan earthquake/tsunami was terrifying. It was also very humbling.

Against the powerful and mighty nature, human beings looked so helpless. Everything man created looked so small. Buildings, ships and vehicles were swamped away by gushing water in seconds, like pieces of little toys.

As I was watching the tragic event in Japan unfold in these videos, the thought that came to my mind again and again was the Bible verse Matthew 6:19-21:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The treasures we store on earth, our houses, cars, and items that might worth thousands and millions of dollars, can be totally destroyed in seconds. They can be gone without any traces. 

The things we can see in this world are really just temporary, but the things we can’t see are eternal. 

This is something to think about. Where am I storing my treasures, on earth or in heaven?

Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away

When I got home from work today, I found one of the front tires of my van was making a noise like air was leaking from it. I could hear “Hiss” loud and clear. A few minutes later when I checked back, the tire was flat.

I felt helpless. My husband was not home. I don’t know how to change tires.

I called a Chinese friend who lives in the neighborhood. I know Tom is a handyman. He does a lot of maintenance work for his own cars. I just wanted to see if Tom could change the spare tire for me so I can drive to Sam’s Club tomorrow morning to get the tire fixed.

Tom came over late in the evening. He removed the flat tire and found a piece of metal stuck in it. He said he would fix the tire instead of just changing the spare tire for me.

He went home and brought all kinds of tools with him, including a work light with stand to brighten the garage, an air compressor, and others.

After Tom finished fixing the leak, he spinkled some water on the surface to check the result. He found another leak. The same metal piece caused two leaks. So he had to fix the second leak. It took him more than an hour from beginning to the end. He even checked and pumped air for the other three ties for me and also my kids’ bike tires. 

I was so grateful for Tom’s help. He saved me money, time and trouble. I don’t need to go to a repair shop any more. 

In response to my appreciation, Tom said humbly using an often quoted Chinese proverb : “Close neighbors are more important than distant relatives.” 

That’s so true. The same thing is also said in the Bible: “Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.” 

I am just thankful for having a few great neighbors.

Mixed feelings about the Tiger Mother book

I finally read the controversial book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua.

Actually my daughter was very interested in reading the book after she heard about it. I borrowed the book for her to read during the coming spring break.

Last Friday when I got the book, my son was sick and laying on the couch doing nothing. So I just read the book to him and my daughter. It was nice we could read the book together.

Since my kids became independent readers in their first grade or so, I don’t usually read to them except Bible stories sometimes at bed time. But I was eager to read this book to them, for a very selfish reason.

My kids think of me as a strict mother. Comparing to many American mothers, I probably am strict. But comparing to Amy Chua, well, there is no comparison. I hope they would change their mind about me being strict to them after reading the book.   

The book is definitely very interesting. It’s an easy read with 4-6 page long chapters. We finished it in three days. When I wanted to take a break, my son kept saying: “Please continue.”

The book is a memoir and not a parenting advice book. It’s about Chua’s parenting journey and her transformation. Many people have formed their opinions and made harsh comments based on the Wall Street Journal excerpt titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior“ (1/8/11), without having read the whole book.

I have mixed feelings about the book or Chua’s parenting.

Coming from China myself, I have a little better understanding of where Chua’s parenting style comes from. Things that Chinese parents do out of love for their kids might be viewed and interpreted as mental and emotional abuse by Western parents.  

So I didn’t react as shocked as most readers do. However, I still find her too harsh with her kids, such as forcing them practicing piano or violin for hours day after day without break, even during vacations. Several times my daughter commented while I was reading: “That’s so mean.”

I found her being judgemental and narrow focused. She aimed for academic success and musical achievement for her kids. I think that shouldn’t be the whole purpose of life. How could her kids live a balanced life of mind, body and spirit? Aiming for greatness should be an important aspect of parenting.

Like her own daughters said in the book, I felt Chua liked to show off, which is a turn off for me.

Chua probably exaggrated a little bit in her writing to have the dramatic effect.

On the other hand, I admired Chua’s hard work, persistence, dedication and commitment to her kids. She gave herself sacrificially. I can’t imagine driving two hours one way every week for a music lesson. It made me feel kind of inadequate that I am not doing much and doing enough for my kids.

I also give her credit for being honest. I am sure she knew something she did and said would cause controversy and negative reactions, but she shared anyway.

Amy Chua herself is a high achiever with tremendous talents and energy. Her expectation for her kids is beyond normal standards, and her means to achieve the result are also beyond normal understanding.  

Related posts: 


Survey Monkey

I needed to do a survey. Today with the help of a coworker who has used Survey Monkey, we created the survey on Survey Monkey.

I have to say Survey Monkey is really an easy-to-use web-based survey tool. I was quite impressed by how easy and how fast it is to create an account and to create a survey.

For a basic free account, you can do surveys with 10 questions and 100 responses per survey. For personal or small business use, a free account might be good enough.  

If you are working on a project and want to get some feedback, if you are a small business or non-profit organization and want to survey your customers, or if you are a teacher and want to survey your students or parents, Survey Monkey is a nice tool to use.

And the price is just right.

What do you hate about your job?

I know it’s not correct to use the word “hate” here. “Dislike” is probably a better choice. 

Personally, I don’t hate my job. There are just certain tasks I don’t like or care much but I have to do. If I had really hated my job, I would have quit already.

But for the sake of sharing an opinion and feeling, I ask this question: What do you hate about your job? “Hate” simply sounds better here than “dislike.”

For me, the number one thing I hate about my job is doing statistics.

I don’t like numbers and anything that has to do with numbers and abstract ideas. When I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, one of the required courses was statistics. That was the most boring class I have ever had in my entire life. Needless to say, the professor who taught that class was the most boring professor I ever knew. Even though I did well in all classes, I don’t think I learned anything in that class. I don’t remember what was taught at all. It was a total waste of my time. I wished I had taken a class in writing instead.

Now on my job, I have to do statistics every month. I don’t like it, but I have to do it. I always end up being the last person to complete it.

Not surprised. We tend to procrastinate and put off things we don’t want to do.

I don’t like doing statistics. Some of the reasons I can think of are:

  • I don’t like math. It’s plain boring.
  • Doing statistics takes time. It can take a lot of time. You have to keep track of things you do. Then you have to compiling them by adding the numbers together.
  • Depending on how you do statistics, the numbers may not match, maybe incorrect or misleading.
  • I know there is value in statistics. But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
  • There is the quantity vs. quality question. Someone could do 10 things poorly or do two things very well in a day. If we focus on numbers too much, we can compromise quality.

Every time I finish doing my statistics, I feel relieved.

Right now, I also dread doing my taxes. That’s another thing I hate. I am not looking forward to the April 15 deadline.

Please share with me what you hate about your job by leaving a comment.

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Teach simplified Chinese at schools

Yesterday an article in the WoodburyPatch Daily Newsletter – A World Experience Brought to Woodbury caught my attention.

Actually it was the photo that caught my attention first. The photo showed the familiar Tiger Hill Garden from my hometown in Suzhou, China.

I read the article with great interest. It talked about a recent visit to China by East Ridge High School Principal Aaron Harper, District 833 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Rick Spicuzza and district Chinese teacher Elsa.

Five of 14 elementary schools, all four middle schools and both East Ridge and Woodbury high schools in the South Washington County School District teach Mandarin Chinese. There are 11 educators teaching Chinese to about 3,800 students in the district

This is all great news. I was glad the our school administrators and teachers had a chance to visit China to get a sense of the culture and educational system in my native country.

It is wonderful that schools at all levels in our district are offering Chinese now. As a parent, I appreciate our school district’s effort in providing our kids with this opportunity to learn a different language and culture. 

But the article also reminded me of some concerns I had with the Chinese taught at our schools. 

One of the concerns many Chinese families in the community have is that our schools are still teaching the traditional Chinese as used in Taiwan and not the simplified Chinese as used in China.  

Simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China and other countries, while people in Taiwan are still using the traditional Chinese. 

Simplified Chinese is not only much more widely used, but also much easier to learn and write. So it makes so much more sense to learn the simplified Chinese and not the traditional Chinese. 

My kids quit Chinese at schools for two reasons. First, they already know some Chinese and what the schools teach is too simple for them. Second, the traditional Chinese taught at schools caused confusing, as they learned the simplified Chinese.

I shared this concern with the Director of Curriculum and world language manager at the time when the Chinese pilot program first started several years ago, but didn’t get any responses.

I think all schools in our district that offer Chinese should teach the simplified Chinese.  

For people who want to know a little more about the Chinese language, check out this article An introduction to Chinese language.

Free images to use on your blog

I like to read “Questions & Quandaries” by Writer’s Digest columnist and blogger Brian A. Klems. In his column in the print magazine and in his blog, he answers readers’ questions related to the usage of English language and also shares very helpful and practical tips related to writing in general.

Today he shared a tip on where to find free images to use on your blog which I think is very useful for other bloggers.

Most images available online are copyrighted. You need permission to use them. But there are plenty of images online for free use. You can find websites with free images by searching “public domain images.”

Here are some examples of the websites that offer free images:

Wikimedia Commons

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The sorry state of gifted education

Today I went to a parent meeting on gifted education at my son’s school.

We learned about what school is doing for the gifted and talented students. Then the parents were asked to participate in a survey. The main question is: “Do you think your kids are challenged and their needs are met and supported at school?”

Many parents think our kids are not challenged enough and the learning pace is too slow.

Personally I agree with that.

Four years ago I wrote an article titled the sorry state of gifted education. I don’t think things have changed a lot or fast enough since then.

If I compare the G&T education or education in general in the US and in China, there is a huge difference. They are at two opposite ends of the scale. 

In China, students are grouped based on their abilities in schools, in grade levels and in classes. They can get into better schools and better classes if they have better scores. From better schools they have a better chance to get into better colleges. The competition is fierce. So students, parents, teachers and schools all work hard to get better grades, to get a better education, to get a good reputation, and to get ahead. Students are overly challenged by their parents and teachers, and are pretty stressed out.

Many kids in China start taking private lessons in various subjects at an early age even before they start school. Their school year and school day are longer. They have to do school homework for several hours every day. It’s common in China that kids have to do homework for several hours every day till late at night. 

Here is an example to show how busy kids in China are. I don’t think this is common even in China, but it’s something I witnessed while I was visiting my parents in China last summer.

One of my cousins has a daughter in high school. Every day my cousin drives to school to bring her daughter home cooked meal for lunch. Then late afternoon she drives to school to pick her daughter up. The girl eats her dinner in the car to save time. So once she gets home, she can focus on doing her homework for several hours. No time is wasted on eating dinner at home.

For Americans, this may sound like crazy, because here we are living in a totally different culture.

My kids don’t have much homework to do. When I ask them: “Do you have homework today?” Most times their response is either: “No” or “Yes, but I have already finished it in school.”

What an easy school life they have here.

I wish there is a middle ground between these two sides of spectrum. American schools need to be more challenging, especially for the G&T kids, while in China, they need to loose up a little bit and give kids some room for breathing.

Below is an article I wrote for my Woodbury Bulletin column in 2007.

The sorry state of gifted education

Recently I became interested in learning about gifted education. What I have read so far was surprising, partly because I didn’t grow up here and am not familiar with America’s education system. I feel dismayed by what Jan & Bob Davidson called “the sorry state of gifted education.”

According to their book “Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds,” America spends 143 times more on special education than gifted education.

Two reasons cause this situation. 

First, America is a country that prides itself on being an equalitarian nation. Our school teaches to the middle. Teachers tend to adapt instruction to the average ability of their classes. 

Emphasis is on special education to raise the bar for those on the lower end of the achievement ladder. The fact that gifted children on the higher end of the ladder also have special needs is often ignored. 

Second, America has also become an anti-intellectual nation. If you walk into any American high school, the trophies displayed in the hall case are more likely to be related to athletic competitions. We build better stadiums while libraries have to be closed or cut hours. 

The result is universities and businesses have shortage of scientists and highly skilled workers. Many of them are now imported from abroad. 

I believe every child should receive an appropriate education and be challenged to the extent of his ability. Every child should be taught at his ability and pace. Equality should really mean equal opportunity to learn and to excel according to everyone’s ability. 

Two things that have happened this school year are very encouraging to me. 

At the School District 833 level, thanks to the great effort of Marcia Dolezal, District’s Gifted & Talented Coordinator for K-6, and the support of School Board, a GT program called Gateway was launched for the school year 2006-07 at the Royal Oaks Elementary School. 

Approximately 45 students in grades 3-6 from the top 1 percent of classes throughout the District participate in the program. 3-4 graders are grouped in one classroom and 5-6 graders are grouped in another classroom. 

At the Liberty Ridge Elementary School level, we have a new enrichment teacher Tina Van Erp who demonstrates a passion for gifted education. In November 2006 she started a parent community group for parents with gifted children at Liberty Ridge. The purpose of the monthly meeting is to share information and support each other.    

I am glad that our District, School Board and schools have recognized the importance of gifted education and are doing something to better serve the special needs of the gifted students. 

In comparison to other school districts in Minnesota, our District has really done a good job providing gifted education. In addition to the new Gateway Program, there is the Cluster Classroom Program that exists at all District 833 elementary schools in grades 3-6.    

But still more can be done. 

A successful gifted program should include a variety of elements. 

Ability grouping 

The new Gateway program is an example of ability grouping. Highly gifted students are grouped together in the self-contained classes within the school. But only a very small group of students can benefit from it. 

Stillwater District provides ability grouping for reading. Students in the same grade are divided into several reading groups according to their levels. Each teacher has a group of students with the same reading level. Can we do something like this in our schools? 


What gifted students truly need is the accelerated curriculum, not just a few hours a week of enrichment activities that happens in some schools. 

Acceleration includes such practices as early entrance into kindergarten and grade skipping. Students may be accelerated in one discipline or across disciplines. 

I wish our District would make it easier for early entrance to kindergarten. If a child demonstrates he is gifted, he should be eligible for early entrance. It should be the school’s responsibility to test and evaluate the child for eligibility for a small fee. 

Acceleration allows the gifted students to learn and progress at an appropriate pace and depth which is compatible with their ability. Acceleration allows them to develop advanced skills in reading, math, writing, etc. 

If a 1st grader needs 2nd grade work to be adequately challenged, the school should make it happen. As long as the student meets the criteria and passes standards for a certain level, he should be able to move to the next level. He should not have to relearn what he already knows. 

Differentiated instruction 

It would be nice for the teachers to provide differentiated instruction. But I think it’s hard for one teacher to meet the needs of over 20 students in her class whose abilities and levels are miles apart. For this reason, I personally prefer ability grouping and acceleration. 

Early start of gifted education 

Many children show their giftedness before they enter kindergarten. The identification process should start as early as possible. Schools should screen students for giftedness and lower the age of identification to include kindergarten. Gifted education shouldn’t begin until 3rd grade, as it is now in our District. 


Recognize that tests are not the only mean to identify gifted children. Individual giftedness and certain talents may not be revealed by general intelligence tests. Some children do not exhibit extreme intellectual giftedness on a group intelligence test, but they demonstrate exceptional achievement and superior performance in special areas of their interests and talents. 

Schools should have the flexibility to meet all children’s needs. 

American’s education should be reformed to offer gifted children an appropriate education. It should challenge the gifted and talented to make the most of their abilities, to provide them the opportunity to develop to their maximum potential. The society should demonstrate through actions that we recognize and reward excellence. 

My interest in learning about gifted education comes from my concern for my 1st grade daughter. She said many times: “I hate school. School is very boring, because it is too easy.”

If my daughter brings home math work with 100% correct all the time, it’s not really a good thing. It can mean it’s too easy for her and she is not learning and being challenged. 

Both my daughter’s teacher and her school are doing their best to help meeting her needs. I hope our District and schools in general can do more for students like her. We don’t want to see smart students become underachievers. 

The gifted students deserve a meaningful, challenging and rewarding school learning experience just as the special needs children. They deserve the same kind of support and protection for an appropriate education that special needs children are entitled to. 

Until the gifted education can get more attention and support, until every child can be challenged to the extent of his ability, America can’t claim it’s leaving no child behind.

Toxic food dyes

Do you know what Blue #1, Red #3 or yellow #6 on the food labels mean?

Food dyes are in all kinds of processed food, beverages, and consumer products, such as candies, cereal, baked goods, ice creams, drugs, cosmetics, etc. They are one of the most widely used and dangerous additives.

For more info about food dyes and their dangerous effects on health, please check out the following websites:

Food coloring laws

Are You or Your Family Eating Toxic Food Dyes? 

Food dyes: the toxic situation

12 Dangerous Food Additives: The Dirty Dozen Food Additives You Really Need to be Aware Of

Reconnected with my host family in Germany

From 1986 to 1991, I was a student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. I received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) via the Chinese government.

During my 5 years in Heidelberg, I lived with a German family – Helmut and Dörte Klages on Bergstrasse, within walking distance from the campus. They were really nice people. They treated me like part of the family, invited me to meals with them and sometimes took me to events with them. They never raised my rent which was already low to begin with. We had enjoyed good relationship.

It has been 20 years since I left Germany for the US in 1991. I often think of the Klages family, but haven’t kept in touch except sending them Christmas cards.  I haven’t been back to Germany to visit either.

Last week on my birthday I received a phone call from a friend in Heidelberg. He forwarded greetings from the Klages to me. I said I would call them.

Today I finally made the call.

I didn’t have the correct phone number, so I looked them up on the Internet. Fortunately, I was able to find their contact information very easily, and I also found both of their pictures on the Internet.       

Professor Helmut Klages (see English translation) is a sociologist and management scientist. He retired in 2001. Now in his eighties, he is still active and publishing. In May 2009, he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit, officially Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany)

Interestingly, his wife was also awarded with the Bundesverdienstkreuz, but a few years earlier.

Dörte Klages was a stay home mom. After her kids were grown up, she founded an organization – OBDACH eV – out of her house in 1987, to help homeless people find jobs and housing. That was during the time when I was living with them in their house. I witnessed her dedication and sacrificial service to the less fortunate people. She was so heavily involved in her volunteer work, it was more than a full time job. She worked day and night. I nominated her for the Budesverdienstkreuz before I left Heidelberg. She received the award in 1995.

It was so nice talking with both of them today on the phone. They were also happy to receive my call. I forgot most of my German in the last 20 years, so I had to speak in English. Fortunately, they can speak English as well, so we hardly had problem communicating.

I was so glad to get in touch with my host family in Germany via the phone. I often think of them in the last 20 years. I am always thankful for their love and kindness showed to me during my 5 years of living with them.

After I got off the phone, I sent them an email with some photos. We will stay in touch better now.

Isn’t Internet great? It makes getting and staying in touch with people around the world not only possible, but also quick and easy.

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Reading Rivalry and AT competitions

I went to my daughter’s 5th grader Reading Rivalry Competition at Middleton Elementary School today. It’s an annual event. Last year Amy participated and her team got the 3rd place.

This year, her team did better and won the first place. She was very happy about it.

This morning right before school, she was still re-reading one of the 12 books each team had to read for the competition.

Reading Rivalry Competition is a readingprogram that encourages kids to read. Amy loves to read and doesn’t need any outside motivation or incentives for reading. But the competition was still a great motivation for her to read with a clear purpose and goal. She read all 12 books  (and reread some of them) which was not required for individual participant, but she did it. So she could help answer all questions.

Later after school my son had Academic Triathlon regional meet at Woodbury Middle School. His team got the 3rd place in the group and didn’t make it to the state meet.

I like my kids to participate in all kinds of school activities. Whatever programs their schools offer, I encourage them to participate – Math League, Math Masters, Academic Triathlon, Geo Bee, Spelling Bee, etc. But they only want to participate in some of the programs they think they are good at.  For me, they all provide good learning opportunities.

I love to see my kids participating in school programs and actively doing something, instead of watching TV or playing games. I am sorry to see the programs come to an end, but on the other hand, there is also a relief that it’s over and I don’t need to pick them up from school or drive them somewhere any more.

Thanks to all parent volunteers who have given themselves generously and coached the teams. Without you, these programs won’t be possible.


Another year, another birthday

My kids love birthdays. They look forward to their birthdays every year, often counting the days before the big day arrives.

For me now, birthday is neither so exciting as in a child’s mind nor to be dreaded. Birthday is simply a reminder that another year has passed, and I am one year older. As I get older, time seems to fly by faster and faster every year.

For my birthday today, my kids gave me a card containing 47 poems. They have worked hard in the last few days, writing poems, making and decorating the card. They collaborated and worked together as a team. They are millennials and are good at collaboration and team work, as I learned recently.

I love to see my kids writing poems and receive their poems as presents. They know what I like. So they gave me what I want. They gift means more to me than anything they can buy.

When I was a kids, our traditional Chinese way of celebrating a birthday was to eat a bowl of noodles. Long noodles symbolize a long life. There was no cake or gift. Now I don’t care much about birthday cake or gift or even noodles.

When I called my mother in China yesterday, she wished me a happy birthday and said: “We ate noodles for your birthday today.” 

A mother always cares about her children no matter how old they are and how far away they are.  

As I get older, I am getting more visible gray hair. A friend of mine told me a few times to dye my hair to look younger. Last year, she actually had me in her house, had everything set up and dyed my hair herself. She likes to cut people’s hair and dye hair.

It was nice. But I don’t want to do it again and especially don’t want to do it on a regular basis. I just don’t want to be bothered with that kind of chore. It’s OK that I have gray hair now. And it’s OK if that makes me look older.

I also noticed in the last couple of years that my memory is not as good as it used to be. I easily forget things or can’t remember things. When I take away my kids’ electronic toys, I often can’t remember where I put them. My daughter had an ipod Nano, I took it away and now I can’t find it any more.

That’s life. While I could dye my hair to look younger, I can’t turn back or stop the time. I can’t be as fit and sharp as a twenty year old.

I am OK to take life as it is and accept myself as it is.

When work is no longer work

I had a great day at work today, doing something I really enjoy.

We celebrated the one year anniversary of the Commissioner’s Reading Corner at Minnesota Dept. of Transportation. We kicked off the first book discussion of the second season with Commissioner Tom Sorel leading the discussion on The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace. One of the authors, Lynne Lancaster joined us remotely from California in the live discussion.

For the first time, we hosted the event in the newly remodeled Library that had its grand reopening last December. With the more accessible and inviting space, we had the largest turnout of participation ever.

I felt excited about the event because I helped make it happen and helped facilitate the discussion. 

When you do something you love, it doesn’t feel work any more.

Food label

In the US, organically grown foods are labeled. Since organic food is healthier and more expensive, every producer will make sure that their organic produces are clearly labeled as such.

But it is a different story with genetically modified food. Genetically modified food is not labeled. It is not required to be labeled. Since the safety of the genetically modified food is questionable, people will likely stay away from it if it is clearly labeled.

How can you tell whether the food you buy from the store is conventionally grown, genetically modified or organically grown?

Yes, you can tell the difference by looking at its PLU code.

What is a PLU code? 

PLU stands for price look-up code. PLUs are used on items that are sold loose or bunched, by weight or by each (i.e. an individual apple or bunch of greens). A PLU code contains 4-5 digits total. The PLU is key-entered at point of sale in order to obtain the price.  

How is organically grown produce coded on a PLU label?

The number 9 is added to the front of the regular four digit PLU code. (e.g. an organically grown banana would be 94011)

How is genetically engineered produce coded on a PLU label?

The number 8 is added in front of the regular four digit PLU code. (e.g. a genetically engineered vine ripe tomato would be 84805)

Here is a comparison chart:


Conventionally Grown Organically Grown Genetically Modified
4-digit code 5-digits starting with # 9 5-digits starting with # 8
Ex: Conventionally grown banana: 4011 Ex: Organically grown banana: 94011 Ex: GM banana: 84011