The top 20 bad leadership traits

The leadership books I have read in the last couple of years mostly focus on the top leadership qualities or traits of great leaders. Some examples are:

  • Personal characters (honesty, integrity, trustworthy, humility, etc.)
  • Clear vision and purpose
  • Strategic thinking
  • Passion for what you do
  • Competence (intellectual and emotional)
  • Openness and risk-taking
  • Collaboration
  • Accountability, admitting mistakes and learning from them
  • Leading by example
  • Interpersonal and communication skills
  • Continued learning and growing
  • Inspiring and empowering
  • Hiring people who are competent

Lately I have been thinking about what makes bad leaders. Just as there are many qualities or traits that make good leaders, there are many qualities or traits that make bad leaders or bad managers.

Here is a list of the top 20 bad leadership traits I came up with. I welcome your additions and comments.

  • Having tunnel vision
  • Micromanaging
  • Being incompetent
  • Being rules oriented and not people oriented
  • Demanding perfection
  • Having fear and doubts regarding employees’ competence
  • Having low self-esteem and confidence
  • Having emotional insecurity and immaturity
  • Making decisions based on emotions
  • Acting as a roadblock between upper managers and employees
  • Acting differently in front of their superiors and subordinates
  • Blaming others for failures and taking credit for successes
  • Showing favoritism
  • Reacting negatively to criticism
  • Making assumptions without fact checking
  • Not willing or not able to change and adapt
  • Not willing to learn and grow
  • Not taking no for an answer
  • Not listening
  • Not caring about how their actions impact others

MnDOT Commissioner’s Reading Corner

My article about MnDOT Commissioner’s Reading Corner (CRC) was published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Special Libraries Association/Minnesota Chapter’s newsletter and posted online.

This article provides some background info about the CRC. Most of my CRC book interview articles have been posted on this blog.

I have been working on this project since 2009. Doing book interviews has become the most interesting part of my job now.

Through my work on CRC and other projects, I got to meet Commissioner Sorel and know him a little bit. All I can say is he is a  great leader – trusting, inspiring and enpowering. He is the best leader I personally know.

Grateful for libraries

A few times a month I take my kids to the local public library to return/check out books. We have done so since they were toddlers. And they both got their own library cards before they could even read themselves.

I enjoy visiting library and I am excited when I find interesting books to read.

Going to library is fun and convenient. 

When I was living in Madison, Wis. and Oak Park, ILL., the local public libraries were within walking distance. I could walk to the libraries and I often did so.

Now living in Woodbury, a newer and suburban city, I can’t walk to the library any more, but it’s still very close. It takes about 5 minutes of driving.

I am so used to visiting libraries, using libraries and working in libraries that I don’t think much of it any more. In fact, I take libraries for granted.

But once in a while, something happens. It makes me pause for a moment and think about how great libraries are and how grateful I am for them.

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a college classmate living in Beijing. I asked her if she uses public libraries in Beijing. She said no. She has to buy books for her children or borrow books from the library at the German school her kids go to.

I was surprised and wished her answer would be different.

China has changed so much in the last 20-30 years in transportation, infrastructure, education and society in general, but not much has changed in terms of public libraries and the use of public libraries. Libraries in China are not as accessible to the public as it is in the US.

Beijing, the capital of China, has a population of 22.5 million people. It has 24 public libraries including 4 children’s libraries. Among them, the Capital Library is the largest.

The National Library of China is also located in Beijing.

For comparison, let’s take a look at New York, the most populous city in the United States, with a population of 8.1 million in 2010.

New York Public Library is the largest public library in the US and consists of 87 libraries. 

So there are 87 public libraries in New York serving 8.1 million people and 25 public  libraries in Beijing serving 22.5 million people.

Remember Beijing is the capital of China and most likely has more libraries than any other cities in China.

No wonder public libraries are not so acceccible in China. My friend said it’s not worth to use the public library in Beijing. Considering the travel time and cost, it’s cheaper and much more convenient to buy books.

That’s why people in China generally buy their own books instead of borrowing books from the public libraries. Bookstores are very popular and busy. People sometimes stay in  bookstores for hours, not to buy books, but also to read books.

After my phone call with my friend, I felt really grateful for having easy access to public libraries in the US.

National Library of China 

Listing of Public Libraries in China

A book inspired by the gardens of China

I came from China. My hometown Suzhou is a well known ancient city in China with a history of 2500 years. The city is renowned for its beautiful classical gardens, pagodas, stone bridges and rivers around the city. It is, therefore, a great tourist attraction. The city has been called the “Paradise on Earth” since ancient times and is also known as the “Venice of the East.”

From ancient times to the present, Suzhou gardens have inspired countless poets and writers to write their poems, articles and books. Their beauty and inspiration are timeless.

What a happy surprise for me to find out that someone from Woodbury who lived thousands of miles away from Suzhou, was so inspired by the Suzhou gardens during her first and only trip to Suzhou that she wrote a book on Fengshui titled “Trough the Moon Gate : Five-Element Perspectives on Environmental Energy : the C. L. E. A. R. approach to Fengshui inspired by the gardens of China.” The book was designed by Karen Hollingsworth with artwork by Jeannine Zumbach Ohora.


I first met Caroline Lehman through my column writing for Woodbury Bulletin. I got to know her more after she did a few brown bag presentations at Mn/DOT.

You can read a sample chapter of the book on Caroline Lehman’s website. 

To view some pictures of Suzhou gardens, visit my Facebook page where I posted the pictures I took from my last China trip in 2010 (Humble Administrator’s Garden
and Tiger Hill Garden) and also the following websites:

Feeling down and sad?

Some day when I am feeling down and sad, I try to look for things that are positive and lighten up my mood. If I stop and look, I do find them.

Yesterday I was feeling very down, as I look back, I see clearly several things happened that warmed my heart, brought smile to my face and really brought my mood up again.

The day before yesterday I sent a thank-you note to someone at work for a job well done and I cc’ed his big boss. He emailed me back yesterday to thank me for the nice note. A thank-you note always makes people happy.

I was able to go to a yoga class. I haven’t had time to do yoga lately. It made me feel good to stretch and relax my body and mind.

When I got home from work, my daughter said: “Mom, guess what I got for my MAP math test?” She got 264, a big 18 point jump from her last MAP test. I was happy for her and proud of her.

In the evening I got a phone call from an elderly lady in Woodbury. I recognized her voice. She used to read my columns in Woodbury Bulletin and love my articles. We had lunch together once. She said she meant to send me a Christmas card, but she had health issues and wasn’t able to. She has been thinking of me and missed my columns (I stopped writing for the paper two years ago). When her family got together lately, they still talked about my articles. She apologized for not sending me the Christmas card and for calling me, but I really appreciated her surprising phone call. I needed that encouragement.

Later in the evening I received an email from another former Woodbury Bulletin column  reader whom I got to know a little better and have had more contact. She asked me a Chinese related question. I did some research on the Internet and responded to her question. She is such a kind and gentle person with positive energy and a very appreciative attitude. I love helping her and being in contact with her.

I remember I once received the following message as a forward. It’s a good reminder that things happen for a reason.

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON…It is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually. They may seem like a Godsend and they are! They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part, or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. Sometimes they die. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled, their work is done. Your need has been answered, and now it is time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON…It is because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Walk around the capitol

Here are some photos I took while walking around the Minnesota State Capitol today. It was a gorgeous day with perfect weather for the annual walk.

Blue sky, just right temperature, greenery, blooming trees, monuments on the mall, walkers, kids on field trips, buses … everything looks beautiful.

When we look around and look up instead of always looking down, we will find that God’s beauty is all around us.

I posted about 70 photos on my Facebook

My profile in MARC record

In my professional life as a librarian, I have cataloged thousands of items – books, journals, VHSs, CDs, DVDs, websites and Kindles – on all kinds of subjects.

Biographies? yes, but I have never cataloged a person directly.

Today I read about other librarians’ cataloging of weird things, a couple of them talking about cataloging babies and sending birth announcement on a library catalog card. I thought that was a very creative idea.  

Just for fun, I have created a catalog record for myself.

For people who are not familiar with cataloging and MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging Records) coding, this doesn’t make much sense. But Librarians will understand. 

Hope you get a laugh out of this.

100 0  God.

245 10 Qin Tang / created by God and produced by Faxin Tang and Xuezhen Bian.

246 13  Zhenfang Tang, 1964-1970

250    3rd ed.

260    Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China : The Fourth People’s Hospital, 1964 at 12:55 a.m.–

300    1 child (7 pounds 4 oz) : black hair black eyes ; [18?] cm.

500    Includes body, mind and spirit.

500    Weight and height change over time.

500    Exact birth date not given for security reason.

500    Certain names changed for privacy concern.

500    Sequel to: Guangming Tang and Guangling Tang.

600 10 Tang, Qin, 1964-

600 30 Tang family.

655  4 Child of God.

655  4 Librarians.

655  4 Writers.
655  4 Bloggers.

655  4 Chinese Americans.  

700 1  Tang, Faxing, 1933-

700 1  Bian, Xuezhen, 1934-

700 1  Tang, Guangming, 1957-1958.

700 1 Tang, Guangling, 1961-

700 1  Tang, Andrew.

700 1  Tang, Amy.

785 01 Andy Tang.

785 01 Amy Tang.

856 4


Natural lawn care service recommended

After several days of rain, the dandelions are popping up everywhere in our yard.
Personally, I don’t care if we have dandelions or not. It’s not important for me to have a perfect green, weed-free lawn. But when our yard is the only one in the neighborhood with the yellow flowers, it stands out. I think the yellow flowers look pretty, but I don’t think our neighbors will like that.
My husband got tired of taking care of the weed problem. This year he decided that he is done with it and we need to get someone else to do the job.
So I contacted a few companies to find one who will take over our lawn care/weed control job.
After some comparison shopping, we chose BioLawn in Oakdale, for two reasons – it’s natural lawn care and it’s a good deal.
If you are interested, check this company out.
575 Schommer Dr, Suite B
Hudson, WI 54016
Phone: 1.888.BIOLAWN (1.888.246.5296)
According to its website, BioLawn uses all natural and organic products whenever possible. I like that. I want to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
And I think I also got a good deal.
They offer the first treatment free, up to $69. During this week only, they offer $20 discount for customers if they are willing to start the lawn care program right away without waiting first for the onsite analysis because with the current higher demand, it will take a few days to do that and they don’t want to lose potential customers. And if you prepay for the season, you get 5% off as well.
Our yard is big, almost 12000 square feet. And our regular price per application is $82. Now after the discounts, we pay $243 for 4 treatments, better than the other offers I got.
From the phone contact I had so far with one of the owners and another person who handled the payment, I found them to be very nice.  I felt good about my choice.
At this time, I can’t say anything about their products and end results. But I am very hopeful.
If anyone has any negative experiences with BioLwan, please share in the comments.
In the past, when I recommend any local businesses (I did a couple of times) on this blog, I did so because I really liked their services. And I did not personally benefit from the recommendation in any way.
This time, there is an incentive for me to recommend and refer people to BioLawn. As I was told, they offer a referral reward. If any reader decides to use BioLawn, and tells them that I referred you, I get a referral reward. I just want to be honest and up front with you.
Please know that I won’t recomment the business and refer people to it if I don’t personally believe in its value and if I don’t think it’s a good deal.  

Hot pot dinner

A friend called me Friday afternoon and asked: “Would you like to come to my house this evening and have hot pot dinner together? I just thought about this.”

That’s what we did. My family of four went over to her house after work and had hot pot dinner with her family. The kids played together while we adults sat and talked. 

Hot pot dinners are popular in China, especially in winter. It’s an easy way to get together with friends and have a meal together – no advance cooking is necessary. You only need to prepare some meat and vegetables.

My friend prepared some raw thin slices of beef, fish, shrimps, meatballs made with pork, shrimp and tofu, mushrooms, seaweeds, tofu, and bean thread noodles.

I brought some vegetables – squash, spinach, lettuce, Napa cabbage, Bok Choy and cilantro.

As the dipping sauce, we used soy sauce, sesame paste, chili oil and fermented bean curd.

My friend set two pots filled with boiling broth on the dinner table – one pot with spicy ingredients for adults and another one without for kids. 

With the hot pot, each person dips and cooks his own food in the hot pot briefly or picks whatever he wants from the pot.

Hot pot meals are easy, tasty and convenient. It’s a great way to get together with friends and enjoy a meal and conversation.

We thought it was just past 10 pm when we left my friend’s house, but her clock was running more than an hour behind. When we got home, it was almost midnight.

Time flies by so fast when you enjoy your time with friends.

One-pot meals

Do you ever feel stressed out by the thought or question – “What’s for dinner?”

What do you do if you have less than an hour to prepare a nutritious and home-cooked meal?

I have a solution for you – one-pot meals.

Lately I have been trying to simplify my family meals during the weekdays. Instead of cooking rice, 2-3 vegetables and a soup separately, then washing several pans and pots every evening, I just make one-pot meals. I cook everything in one pot.

I no longer stir fry vegetables separately every day, instead I add them in one pot along with some meat for the kids.The meat is usually already cooked ahead of time on the weekend. I cook a pot of rice once or twice a week. Basically what I need to do every day is just to wash and cut the vegetables and put everything in a pot. This way I can make a meal in half an hour. 

Cooking Chinese food can be messy for the kitchen. But making one-pot meals is no fuss and no mess.  Cleaning-up is relatively quick and easy. Now I have less plates, bowls, pans and pots to wash.

With my daughter doing swimming three evenings a week that starts before 6 pm, I have less than an hour to cook dinners. One-pot meals are a perfect solution for having a stress-free, home-made meal without spending too much time in the kitchen. They are not only easy, but also tasty.

The following pictures show several one-pot meals I made lately. Please don’t ask me for the recipes, because I don’t use any recipes and I don’t measure anything when I cook. I simply use whatever I have at hand. So I don’t cook the exact same meal twice. Either the ingredients will be different, or the taste will be different.

You can find a lot of one-pot recipes on the Internet if you need some ideas.

  Cauliflower, zucchini, eggs, meatballs, carrots

Tofu, broccoli, carrots, beans, chicken, black mushroom

Rice, potatoes, carrots, peas, corns, chicken

Vegetables and rice

Being resourceful

Today while I was in the lady’s room washing my hands, a coworker made a comment after she noticed the way I did it.

“Thanks for reminding me not to waste water.” Then we got into a little conversation on ways to save water. 

Here is how I wash my hands, whether at home or at work – I lift up the handle to get my hands wet, push it down to stop the water and get soap to rub my hands, then turn on the water again to rinse my hands – I do it without thinking, because it is a habit.

I often remind my kids to not let the water running constantly while washing hands and brushing teeth.

I know not everyone appreciate the way I do things.  I have heard sarcastic comments such as: “How much water are you saving?” or “How much does the water cost?”

Yes, in the grand scale of the universe I am not saving much water, maybe just a drop of it. But in my mind, every drop counts, the oceans, the rivers and the lakes are made of little drops.

Yes, water doesn’t cost much, especially in the United States where natural resources are bountiful. I can certainly afford to pay for as much water as I would possibly use. But that’s not the whole point.

The point is, I do not want to waste resources unnecessarily. It doesn’t matter whether I can pay for it or not, whether I can make a big difference or not.

Joyful, prayerful and thankful

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (New International Version, ©2011)

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (New King James Version)

I didn’t grow up with any religion in China.

My parents don’t believe in God or any religion. My grandmother was a Buddhist. But it didn’t have any effect on me.

I didn’t lay my hand on a Bible until I was in my 20’s, when I was a student studying in Heidelberg, Germany.

One day a Christian named Christian Schlicksupp spoke to me on the street and invited me to his New Apostolic Church. He followed me to where I lived. Later he visited me and  gave me a German Bible and other reading materials.

That’s how I began to visit his church with him.

But I didn’t read the Bible. It was hard for me to understand and make sense of it. It was hard because I didn’t understand the background. It read more like a fiction than real to me.

Over the years, as I visited church and listened to sermons more often, I started to understand more. And I can understand the Bible better now.

However I confess I am not good at reading the Bible regularly as I should do, and I am not good at memorizing any Bible verses. As one gets older, the mind doesn’t retain new things so easily. Many verses sound familiar to me when others speak about them, but I can’t tell which book they are from and what chapters and verses they are, except for very few ones I can know by heart, such John 3:16.

So when I heard about the book “100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart” by Robert Morgan, I was interested in reading it. I would like to memorize more Bible verses.

I have been reading Morgan’s book in the last few days. Today I read about the above quoted three verses from the first book of Thessalonians. Morgan’s explanation does help me in understanding and memorization.

The three verses comprise one of the shortest paragraphs of the Bible, yet they are very powerful.

Rejoice always – “As biblical joy pervades one’s personality, it puts a smile on the face, a sparkle in the eye, a bounce in the step, a warmth in the voice, a confidence in the heart, and a composure in the demeanor.” Don’t you want to be someone like that?

Pray constantly – Prayer is a practice to cultivate and a presence to enjoy. Pray anywhere and everywhere, without ceasing.

Give thanks in everything – We can’t always give thanks FOR everything, but we can always give thanks IN everything.” — Ruth Bell Graham.

These three Bible verses tell us to be joyful, prayerful and thankful. 

Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. Always, Constantly. Everything.

These three verses, when memorized and practiced, can alter our attitude at any given time.

It’s not too hard to memorize these few words, I can and I have. The hard part now is to put them into action.

Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Parade

We had a beautiful sunny Saturday in Twin Cities. It felt like summer. 

It was a perfect day for being outside enjoying the nice weather.

I went to the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Parade in St. Paul with a friend and our kids. The Parade startet shortly after 10 am. It begun at Plato and Wabasha, and then went down Cesar Chavez Street, ending at Cesar Chavez and Ada.

This was my first time going to the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Parade.

Actually I was more interested in the Living Green Expo at the State Fair ground than the Parade, and intended to go after the Parade, but the kids were hot and tired from walking. We ended up going back home after the Parade.

Here are some photos from the parade. My favorite ones are the library bookmobile and Cub Foods shopping cart.

Little Teal Book of Trust – book interview

I recently interviewed Kevin Gutknecht, Mn/DOT Communications Director. We talked about the 12th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Teal Book of Trust: How to Earn It, Grow It, and Keep It to Become a Trusted Advisor in Sales, Business and Life.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Gutknecht: I like the color teal. But seriously, I think trust is an important issue in today’s society. It is a foundation for everything we do at work and in life. It is at the foundation of every relationship. We have to trust that people will get the work done, that they will keep their word and keep confidential information entrusted to them. Without trust, there won’t be strong relationships and success.

Tang: What do you like the best about the book?

Gutknecht: I like the author’s optimistic approach and outlook. For example, he says you trust others until they give you reasons not to do so. I agree with that approach. He has a lot of experiences in sales and his examples are based on his experiences. The book is practical and offers common sense advice. It’s simple and easy to read.

Tang: Is there anything new you learned from the book that is profound for you?

Gutknecht: I didn’t really find anything in this book that is new, that most people don’t already know. It’s all common sense. It’s just easy to lose track of common sense in our daily lives. This is a good book to re-read periodically to remind ourselves of that common sense.

Tang: Please share an example of what you found is a good common sense reminder for you.

Gutknecht: Trust yourself. You can’t trust others until you trust yourself. When you are in a decision-making job, it’s important to trust yourself once you have done your work. Trust your judgments, instincts, abilities, wisdom and actions. Don’t second guess yourself. Second-guessing can make you lose confidence in yourself.

Tang: In the book the author talks about the ultimate role that one can achieve with respect to trust – a trusted advisor. Trusted advisor status is about people seeking and taking your advice both as a counselor and a confidante. Being a trusted advisor is not simply a responsibility, it’s an honor! It’s not something that you force on someone, it’s something that must be earned. It’s not a title, it’s an earned designation. Can you think of someone in your work or personal life that served as a trusted advisor for you? What characteristics does he/she have?

Gutknecht: Over the years I have a number of people in my military and professional lives who have been and are trusted advisors to me.

They all have a wealth of common sense. They are experts in areas I am looking to them for advice. I have known them for awhile, know who they are and know their families. We have established a bond together.

Tang: I think the topic of the book is very fitting for you as Mn/DOT’s Communications Director. You came to the position more than a year after the I-35W Bridge collapsed, during the time when the public trust in Mn/DOT was at one of the lowest points in history. What have you or what has Mn/DOT done in the last three years to rebuild the trust with the public and also the trust with the employees? How successful is the effort so far?

Gutknecht: We have worked on several key components in rebuilding trust. First, it’s transparency – tell facts and truth. The best policy I know for meeting the public’s right and need to know and also to build trust with employees is “Maximum disclosure with minimum delay.” We need to think ahead and plan well when we communicate about what we are doing as an agency. We have worked hard to accommodate any requests from the media and public, answer their inquiries quickly in ways they can understand and not in too technical of terms. Listening is another important component. We show others that we care through active listening. And we make changes as we can.

Success is difficult to measure this soon after the collapse. Trust and credibility have to be earned. We will continue to work hard at earning public trust by being transparent and responsive.

Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you.

Gutknecht: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” – Back of the book cover.

“You can’t trust others until you trust yourself.”– P. 18

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Gutknecht: I was a reader as a kid, My parents and schools encouraged me to read. I remember my elementary school did reading contests to see who read the most books. I participated in those contest and counted my books.

In 2007-2008, when I was doing an online graduate program at the US Army War College, I read a lot of books on military history, foreign policy, and leadership.

Outside of work, I enjoy reading fiction, especially science fiction and military history for entertainment. I just finished reading Stieg Larsson’s Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Tang: Any other thoughts regarding the book, Commissioner’s Reading Corner or reading in general?

Gutknecht: The book is worth reading and rereading periodically to remind ourselves of the importance of trust and credibility.

I think the Commissioner’s Reading Corner is an excellent idea. It gives us an opportunity to step back and look at things from a different perspective, to improve our communication and leadership skills.

Financial freedom

What brought me to this topic today?

A blog comment I made yesterday and a blog post I read today.

Yesterday while I was reading someone’s blog, I made a comment of what financial freedom means to me personally.

I said  for me, financial freedom doesn’t mean to have all the money I want and be able to buy everything I want. It means not to be a slave of money and possessions, to be free from the desires of wanting more and better. Be content.

In my article Financial sense can lead to security I shared how you can achieve financial security and freedom.

Today I just read a post by Leo Babauta titled Breaking Free From Consumerist Chains. I really like it because it speaks to me.

Here is the full article:

Breaking Free From Consumerist ChainsPosted: 25 Apr 2011 06:00 AM PDT

‘Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.’ ~Henry David Thoreau

Post written by Leo Babauta.

We are not consumers. We are people.

We are not living lives meant to earn money in order to support a shopping habit, or a large home and two cars, or lives of luxury eating and entertainment.

We are not living to support the corporations. And yet, if you were to take an objective, outsider look at our society, it would seem that we are.

We spend our childhoods — precious years that are far too fleeting — in schools geared to give us the best chance at getting a job. We then graduate and are highly pressured to go to college (getting into large debt in the process) so we can have the best chance at getting a good paying job. Then we claw at each other for the coveted but limited good paying jobs, and the winners are rewarded with big homes and SUVs and nice clothes (and lots of debt to go with all that). The losers are stuck in menial jobs they hate, envious of others they see on TV with luxury lives, eating cheap fast food and consigned to shopping at bargain outlets.

Either way, we find our path as consumers. And everything is solved by consumption — when we’re stressed, we shop. When we want to be entertained, we buy the entertainment. We buy our food in packages, we fix our failing health by buying exercise clothes and equipment. We fix our debt by buying personal finance books and taking out a second mortgage.

Our lives are beholden to our shopping habits. We are slaves to corporations, doing work we loathe for stuff we don’t need.

What if we could break out of it?

What’s the alternative?

The funny thing is, there are millions of alternatives. But we’ve been so trained to believe there is only one way, that we can barely imagine something different.

What would life be like without advertising, shopping malls, online shopping, working for large corporations, wearing large logos all over our clothing, having Apple logos over every device we own, watching movies and television shows developed by large corporations and made for the masses?

It would be quieter, maybe, with more free time. Without having to buy so much, we would work less. What a revolutionary concept! And yet it is: developments in technology have not resulted in less work, but more (a must read: Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness).

It would be more focused on people instead of stuff. It would be healthier, as we would (likely) move more, get outdoors more, eat less fast food and more real food.

That’s all idealizing, of course, but it’s an alternative I could see happening. We’d have to break free of the consumerist mindset first.

Steps to Freedom

We must first become more aware of what has been done to our minds. When we watch an ad on TV, in a movie, on the web, what urges does this bring up in us? Why are we watching the ad in the first place? Can we avoid it?

Watch less TV. Avoid malls and shopping. Block ads on the web (and yes, I’ve heard the arguments about stealing money from content producers, and I’m not convinced — I make money without ads).

Buy less. When you have urges to buy, consider whether it’s a true need or just a desire. Learn to be content with life as it is, rather than wanting to buy things to make it better.

If there’s something you truly need, consider borrowing it, or making it yourself, or finding it used. If you buy it new, try to buy it from a real person rather than a corporation — a small businessperson or craftsperson. It might be more expensive but cheap turns out to be the most costly of all.

Get creative. Find free forms of entertainment. Form a cooperative of creatives and workers rather than a corporation. Pool resources, form libraries for everything.

Learn to build things and sew things and cook and grow. It’s ancient technology, but it still works. It’s simple and it’s all we need.

Eschew the values of the corporations, of consumption and desire.

Become free. You deserve it.

‘There must be more to life than having everything!’ ~Maurice Sendak

Eight R’s for a greener earth – Repair

In an article I wrote three years ago titled “Eight R’s for a greener earth,” I talked about repair as one of the eight Rs for a greener earth.

Here is what I wrote:

This is probably the toughest one to do in the U.S.

We live in the culture and society with a throw-away and disposable mentality. If something breaks or simply doesn’t look good any more, out it goes and we have to buy a new one. A big reason is it’s often more expensive and troublesome to repair it than buy a new one. Besides, we don’t have the time, knowledge and skills to do it like our parents’ generation has done.

My dad is the best handyman I know. He fixed everything in our home when I grew up. He could make a lot of things himself, from big items such as furniture to small items like keys. He fixed bicycles, shoes, pots and pants. Whatever broke, he could fix it and do it himself.

But people in my generation are very different now. Life has become so busy and complicated, often times we only know how to buy which was made very easy with the invention of credit cards instead of how to repair.

When I visited my parents in China last year, one of the things I noticed and liked over there is you can walk in their neighborhood and find people that do all kinds of repair work – tailors who make, repair, and alter garments, shops that fix bicycles and motorcycles, electronics, changes watch batteries, make keys, etc., all within walking distance.

But when I visited the newer development areas in town, the living conditions are more like that in the US. There are nicer apartment buildings and more beautiful surroundings, but less stores and services are within walking distance.

Anyway, what brought me to this topic today is my eye glasses I have been wearing for more than 7 years.

A few years after I bought the pair of glasses in Jan. 2004, the frame broke (I forgot what the cause was). As I was shopping around for a new pair, I asked at the stores I visited whether they could fix my old pair of glasses, no one said it was possible.

Finally one of the sales women at the last store I visited gave me the contact info for Kent Optical (phone number 651- 451-6011, 1000 Robert St, Saint Paul, MN 55118) and said to try my luck there.

I was glad I didn’t buy a new pair. It turned out that Kent Christy, the owner of Kent Optical, was able to repair my eyeglass frame using what I think is the method of welding. I paid about $20 for the repair. It’s less than 10 % of what I would have paid for a new pair.

My repaired glasses lasted a few more years until last weekend. While I was removing it with one hand (I should have done it with both hands), it broke again in the same spot. Today I went back to Kent. He fixed the frame again for me, without charge.

What great customer services!

I asked Kent how his indepentently owned business is doing and how he survives in this economy with so much competition from national chain stores. He said he has been in his business for over 20 years and gets repeat customers and new customers by word of mouth. He doesn’t use a computer, let alone a website.

Kent showed me a copy of the Twin Cities Consumers’ CHECKBOOK. I think he has the highest rating in the Opticians/Eyeglasses category. I found that he got good reviews online as well.

I was not surprised by the excellent consumer report and online reviews. I couldn’t be more happier with his services myself. I will definitely give him the highest/best rating.

I know eventually I will have to buy a new pair of glasses. But as long as my old one still works, I will keep using it. Even when I buy a new pair, it can still be used as a spare one.

I just like to use things up until nothing is left or it’s totally broken, before I buy a new one. The less I throw away, the better for the environment; the less I spend, the more I keep. That makes me feel good.

Summer camps

Every year South Washington County School District offers some free summer programs through its Office of Equity and Integration.

My two kids have participated in the Valley Branch Nature Camp and Eagle Camp in the past. This year they both are old enough to participate in the GAAP Middle School Program and the Eagle Camp.

I am excited to have these summer opportunities and looking forward to sending them off to the camps, taking a trip and spending some relaxed time at home during the three month summer break.

For more info about the summer programs, visit the South Washington County School District website.

Turning words into pictures

If you have time and want to do something fun and creative, you can play with Wordle.

Wordle is a visual way of displaying text. It’s a tool for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. They are customizable by color, shape, and prominence.

The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

You can enter text or a website/blog url on the “Create” page, and Wordle will make a design with the most frequent words in the text, ignoring filler words like “and” or “the.”

Wordle is free and easy to use. 

Wordle is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license and can be shared and remixed.

For more information on Wordle, and to create your own word clouds, visit

I created the word cloud image shown at the top of the post using mostly the words from my blog post 100 blog posts, 100 words.

Here are a couple of examples I found on the Internet that I think are pretty cool.