Greetings from China

From my hometown Suzhou, China, I would like wish my family and your family in the US  M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S !!!

I am in China for three weeks. I made the unplanned trip to visit my mom who was in the hospital for almost one month. She was in critical condition with heart and kidney failure due to complications from diabetics, high blood pressure and low heart beat.

My 78 year old father took care of my mother day and night in the hospital, with help from my brother. It was hard for me to be far away from my parents and felt helpless.

My mother was discharged from the hospital one day before I arrived home on Dec. 8. She is recovering well.

Even though I wished I had come home a little earlier to be a help for my parents while help was most needed, I am glad I can be home now. I treasure the quiet time I get to spend with my parents.

Every day I am with my parents is an ordinary day. I am living in a slow motion mode here. My day usually goes like this – Get up, breakfast, grocery shopping, lunch, dinner, go online checking emails, and then go to bed.

No stress, no driving, no snow. Good food, better health. Life is quiet, peaceful and good for now.

But life is getting harder for my parents as they get older.

They are glad to have me home for three weeks. This is the longest time I get to spend with them alone since I left China for Germany 25 years ago in 1986. I know it will be hard for them to see me leave again in a few days. And it will be hard for me to leave them behind, not knowing when we will see each other again.

China is 14 hours ahead of US (CT). Christmas is over. We don’t celebrate Christmas here. But for me, this is one of my most memorable Christmas. Having the opportunity and time to be with my parents is my best Christmas present this year.

I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones.

A true leader and public servant

I know leadership is not about position or title. It’s not about power or authority. It’s not about status or wealth. Leadership is about character, competency, and credibility. It’s about influence and relationships.  But none of these statements was so convincing to me until I met Lynn Wehrman and had a chance to work with her at MnDOT on some projects in the last couple of years.

Wehrman had no title, no official position and no power at MnDOT, but she was one of the best leaders I personally know, respect and admire. She has the character, competency, and credibility. She is one of the most skilled, talented and competent employees I have known. She can get things done efficiently and effectively that might take a few people to do. She had passion and worked with enthusiasm on projects on her job and outside of
her normal job. Her influence and relationship touched people beyond MnDOT to
other state agencies and positively impacted people’s lives. She was a great
public servant who puts the public interests at the front.

Sadly, Wehrman left her 6 year career at MnDOT last week to pursuit a more fulfilling career on her own.  Before Wehrman left her job, I had a chance to interview her and talk with her about leadership.

Tang: Whom do you admire as a leader, and why?

Wehrman: My former boss at Norwest Bank who empowered me and gave me autonomy to do my job. When I started my job there, the first thing he told me was: “I don’t know how to do your job. You are the expert in your area. My job is to support you so you can do your job and do it well.” He is the boss by which all other bosses are measured. He doesn’t even know he had such an influence on me, because I never told him.

Tang: This is a good example of a leadership moment that can happen anywhere, anytime and to anyone, sometimes people don’t even realize it but its effect can be felt years later. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned as a leader and employee?

Wehrman: A leader who doesn’t appreciate and support his/her people can kill their enthusiasm and take their enthusiasm and engagement and turn it into disillusionment and despair.

Tang: What are the most critical attributes to successful  leadership?

Wehrman: As the leader, you are the glue that meshes together the talents and skills and brings people and things together. You are the facilitator. You must work harder than anyone else. You have to give recognition when credit is due and take responsibilities when something is wrong. You are the servant. Leadership is humility, not glamorous.  You make people feel included and appreciated. You believe something should be done and then do it, not do it with selfish expectation, because what you can get out of it and what’s in it for you.

The by-product of being a good and effective leader is recognition, respect, satisfaction. But they are not the primary purpose and motive in the first place.

Tang: What is the hardest part of becoming a leader?

Wehrman: Not micromanaging people, being open to other ideas and opinions, looking at yourself first before pointing fingers at others, keeping expectations out of the game, letting go of the need to feel right and to feel you are the smartest one.

Tang: What challenges do you see that leaders face in government?

Wehrman: Incentive to be complacent and corrupt, little support in creating things that benefit the public.

Tang: In what ways have you seen people in non-leadership positions use power and influence?

Wehrman: Being persistent and patient is important. Ask and educate are the keys to achieve what you want.

Last week I received the following good-bye email from Wehrman that she sent to a few friends.

“Today has been my last day as a State of Minnesota employee.  I will be leaving to a new venture and am content about the work I was privileged to accomplish, and the people I got to know, as a public servant.

I just wanted to say thank you for working with me, beside me and for allowing me in your life for the past 6 years.  I will carry the memory of you, and what we shared as coworkers and volunteers, in my heart as I move into the next exciting phase.”

As I read it, I felt a great loss for myself and for MnDOT and for the State of Minnesota, for losing a good friend, a talented employee and a great public servant. On the other hand, I am happy for her to have successfully started her own company WeCO in providing website accessibility and become her own boss. I am convinced that she will be successful in her new venture.

“From Silver to Gold”

The autobiography by my pastor at Spirit of Life Bible Church, From Silver to Gold : One Man’s Pursuit of the Ultimate Prize, written by Pastor Frank Sanders and a fellow church member Tony Ducklow, is finished and just published.

A book buying and signing session will be held after church service on Sunday, December 11 at Spirit of Life Bible Church.

To learn more about the book and to purchase a copy online, go to www.fromsilvertogold.com.

Read my previous posts about Pastor Frank Sanders:

Pray for Paster Frank Sanders’ healing

Poor in wealth, rich in love

Thankful for friends

In my last year’s Thanksgiving post Thankful for friends, I talked about my Thanksgiving party and the turkey that a friend of mine prepared for me and delivered to my house for the party.

This year, my friend performed the same act of kindness. She bought,  prepared, baked and delivered a turkey to my house, along with mashed potatoes, cranberries and also meatballs. My family had the yummy turkey for lunch.

I told my friend we got catering service without paying a dime.

Later we went to another friend’s house for turkey dinner. My Chinese friend married an American guy who is good at making traditional turkey dinner.

So we had turkeys twice on Thanksgiving. I feel blessed and I am really thankful for the friends I have. I am grateful for their kindness, generosity and friendship.

I hope you also had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday with your families and friends.

Thankful for my kids

My son Andy is doing well at school. At teacher’s conferences, I always get good comments about him being a good student. I usually don’t have to worry about him doing his homework on his own, completing school work on time and bringing home a good report card every time one is issued. He had all As on his last report card.

Band is Andy’s least favorite subject. He doesn’t like playing his instrument. So this is the only subject I have to remind him every so often. Lately I noticed that Andy had not been practicing his clarinet at home as he should have. I was concerned and nagged him every day to practice and finish his assignments on time so he doesn’t get a bad score on band.

One day after Andy finished a band assignment on Smart Music, I asked him what the computer score was when he submitted the assignment. Then I criticized him for not spending more time practicing, not putting in more effort and not getting a higher score above 90. He broke down and said: “Mom, This is hard for me. I tried my best. Even when I get a higher score, you will still not be happy. I am never good enough for you.”

Obviously Andy was frustrated and venting. But Andy’s reaction hit me.

I don’t think of myself as a Tiger Mom. I am usually happy with his report card. Even when he got a B, I wasn’t hard on him. But like many Chinese parents, we tend to have a very high expectations of our kids. The joke among us parents is (actually someone was talking about it last night at a friend’s party), when our kids get a score of 99, instead of simply saying: “Nice job. I am proud of you,” we often focus on the missing point and ask: “Why didn’t you get a 100% perfect score?”

My kids once told me what ABC on the report card means for American kids and for Chinese kids.

The ABC on report card –

For American kids, A is for Excellent, B is for good, C is for average.

For Chinese kids, A is for Average, B is for Bad, C is for Crushed.

I laughed when my daughter first told me about it. I thought it was funny and on the point.

I had to apologize to my son when I saw him crying and realized how my high expectations and negative comments were hurting him. I should have known that you can’t motivate someone with negative comments.

I asked Andy what he wanted to hear more, he said: “You did a nice job, but there is still room for improvement.” That’s very fair.

In this quiet early hour on Thanksgiving Day, as I reflect on the recent incident with my son, I am filled with gratitude for my kids. I am thankful for them, for who they are and for how well they are doing. I should never take them for granted. I should always encourage them more with positive comments rather than discouraging them with negative comments.

Today, when my son wakes up, I am going to tell him: “Thanks for being a good kid and thanks for doing a nice job with your school work, just remember, there is still room for improvement.”

Power and leadership

Stephanie McGovern, leadership consultant and coach, owner of High Performance Systems, was the presenter at my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) training on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.

In her presentation titled “Achieving results through personal power and leadership,” McGovern talked about some basic principles of power and influence, what is power (Energy + focus = power), the different kinds of powers and power sources. Some of the topics she covered include:

Three categories of power:

  1. Coercive power (Power over) – To force, pressure, comel or threaten someone to act in a certain way to achieve a goal.
  2. Covert power (Power under) – To control a situation behind the scene to achieve your desired outcome.
  3. Collaborative power (Power with) – To work together using each other’s individual power to achieve something greater than one person can achieve alone.

Three arenas of power:

  1. Personal power (relationship with self) – the ability to achieve desired outcome; act in alignment with your strengths, skills, purpose, values, beliefs; and have confidence and trust in yourself.
  2. Interpersonal power (relationship with others) –  the ability to influence others to do what you want without use of formal authority or positional power. It requires an ability to understand what others want and need and to help them get it as well as a willingness to pursue what you want and need. Interpersonal power creates collaboration, trust, alignment with common goals.
  3. Organizational power (relationship to the environment and the system) – the ability to work within an oprganization to create outcomes that supports the needs of the individuals in the organization and the overall goals of the organization.

Personal power base – the 4 P’s:

  1. Purpose – What is my outcome?
  2. Passion – What do I really care about?
  3. Personal responsibility -What’s my part?
  4. Possibilities – What could I do?

The blame game:

  1. Blaming – disowning problems
  2. Fixing – owning others’ problems
  3. Complaining – dwelling on problems

The winner’s game:

  1. Reframing – move from blaming to responsibility
  2. Coaching – move from fixing to encouraging others
  3. Problem solving – move from complaining to positive solutions

Reasons for resistance:

  1. I don’t understand it.
  2. I don’t like it.
  3. I don’t like/trust you.

Dealing with resistance:

  1. Listen
  2. Make it easy to understand
  3. Make it safe to change
  4. Identify and understand underlying needs
  5. Find a common goal
  6. Invite joint problem solving

The all-day training was a mixture of PowerPoint presentation, group discussions, partnership work, and games. It was informative, interesting and engaging.

The 5 languages of appreciation in China

Dr. Paul White, who co-authored with Dr. Gary ChapmanThe 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People,” left a comment on my post about the book. He asked about the cross-cultural applicability of the 5 Languages.

I would like to respond and say a few words here. Since I am more familiar with China where I grew up, I will use China as an example.

I think human beings have the same needs and wants no matter where they are from and where they live. Everyone desires to be loved and to be appreciated by others, and desires to love and appreciate others, expressed in these 5 languages. So the 5 languages of love and appreciation concept should be applicable in all cultures.

But cultural differences do affect how the 5 languages are played out in life.

In China, position and power dominate the relationships in the workplace. The concept of servant leadership is non existing. Whoever has a higher position has power over the people below him. Employees are to serve the people in power who don’t see a need to appreciate their employees. The attitude of most leaders/managers/business owners is “You should be thankful that you have a job and work here.” In most cases, you need to know someone, bribe someone in order to get a good job.

So in terms of showing appreciation in the workplace, it’s not managers/supervisors, but employees who need to express appreciation to the people in power in order to get a better job, get a promotion, and to win favors.

As my brother recently told me: “If my boss asks me (not someone else) to do something, especially something personal for his family, I feel appreciative because I have a chance to serve him and I feel trusted.”

While I see a good balance of using all the 5 languages in the US (except physical touch in the workplace), that’s not the case in China.

The predominant language of love and appreciation is tangible gifts. People love to give gifts, or to be more accurate, they feel obligated to give gifts. They feel obligated to give gifts (often times cash, gift cards) to people in power, to teachers, to doctors, and others in order to win favors.

Chinese people are not huggers and are not physically and emotionally expressive aspeople in the western culture. So physical touch is not a primary language in the Chinese culture. Family members don’t usually hug each other, let along in the workplace. A handshake is what most people do.

Words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service are not as important as tangible gifts, but used more than physical touch.

I don’t think people in China write thank-you cards as they do in the US. They express their love and appreciation (whether out of heart or oblication) through tangible gifts. Usually no words need to be said.

Sad news

A phone call with my brother in China changed my mood totally and left me sleepless. It’s 3 am now, but I am as wake as can be.

As usual, I called my parents in China on Friday evening. My brother picked up the phone. He was trying to reach me at the same time.

Mother is in hospital since Thursday, Nov. 10. She fell about a week ago and suffered bruises. A few days later, she couldn’t get out of bed. My mother has diabetics and low heart beat. Now she can’t walk and has troubles with breathing. She is in intensive care. Doctors said she needs a pacemaker.

Being so far away, I am no help for my parents.

Unlike here in the US, visiting doctors and going to hospitals are quite an ordeal in China. It’s not as simple as making an appointment and showing up for the appointment. You have to go through a lot more hassles and deal with some issues. You better have connection and know someone in the hospital.

So in the last few hours I was trying to reach someone who might know someone in the hospital where my mother is now.

I contacted a friend via email and phone. He is a heart doctor and a pioneer in his field. So he is known among colleagues. He just got off the plane and responded to my plea for help with a couple of short sentences: “Contact the head of the Department and tell him that I referred you. Let me know if you have problems.”

In China, the most important thing is connection. To do anything important, you need to find some connection. Connection makes a big difference. Now I feel better. Even though I can’t be with my mother and help her directly. I am glad that I was able to help her a little bit indirectly.

My brother also shared with me another sad news, a real tragedy that just happened to a high ranking leader in his organization. According to my brother, that individual is a very respected leader and person. He once helped my brother switch a job and get a better job, even though my brother didn’t work for him. He was just being very kind.

His only son died in a car crash on Nov. 6, along with another Chinese student at the University of Dayton in Ohio. I searched the news with the last name only and found it online, including this University of Dayton student newspaper article. Both victims’ families are now in the US.

It’s hard to imagine what those two families are going through. Any life lost at such a young age is very sad. Now I feel some connection with one of the families, the sadness feels a little stronger.

I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and think about life and how fragile life is. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. We are quite helpless on our own.

A good friend of mine left for China last week because her brother-in-law in his fifties died suddenly while riding on motorcycle. It was a very unexpected event. She told me after she received the sad news that her only regret was that she didn’t share the Gospel with her brother-in-law. Now it’s too late.

It’s a lesson she was trying to share with me which I should take into heart.

The 5 languages of appreciation

Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of the bestselling book “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” (see my previous article The Five Love Languages). Recently he co-authored with Dr. Paul White a new book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace applies the 5 love language concept to the workplace.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation are:

  • Words of affirmation – use words to communicate a positive message to another person: praise for accomplishments, affirmation for positive character and personality traits. It can be done in private one-on-one, or publicly in front of others. It can be verbal or written.
  • Quality time – give individual time and undivided attention to another person: quality conversation, shared experiences, small group dialogue, working closely together, having fun together.
  • Acts of service – do something for another person. “Don’t tell me you care, show me.”
  • Tangible gifts – give the right gift to a person who truly appreciates it.
  • Physical touch – communicates a variety of positive messages
    in relationships – a sense of trust, closeness, connectedness and caring: handshake, high five, pat on the back, hug.

People in the workplace need to feel appreciated in order to enjoy their job, do their best work, and continue working over the long haul.

As a supervisor or manager, you need to communicate appreciation, encouragement and support for your employees whenever possible. If you want your employees to feel appreciated and valued, you must speak their primary appreciation language and encourage them in ways that are meaningful to them.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace helps you discover your and your coworkers’ primary appreciation language – the language that speaks most deeply to you emotionally, and your least valued language of appreciation – your potential blind spot.

When supervisors and managers can effectively communicate appreciation and encouragement to their employees, the following results can happen:

  • higher levels of job satisfaction
  • decreased cases of burnout
  • reductions in employee turnover
  • healthier relationships between managers and employees
  • improved attendance, performance and productivity
  • greater customer satisfaction
  • a more positive corporate culture and work environment.

Motivating by appreciation

One of the best ways to motivate people is by expressing your appreciation. Making people feel appreciated is what a great leader does. It is listed on the top of the 5 leadership principles by Jack Myrick.

In his book The Shipbuilder: Five Ancient Principles of Leadership, Jack Myrick talks about the following five leadership principles:

  1. Make them feel appreciated
  2. See their potential, not their flaws
  3. Lead with authority, not power
  4. Love them first
  5. Make them feel they are part of something special

If you want to know more about motivating by appreciation, I would highly recommend the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace:Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

I will talk more about the book in the next post.

Three motivational theories

Leadership and motivation go hand in hand. A great leader is usually also a great motivator. Part of becoming a leader is to learn what motivates people and where motivation comes from.

There are various motivational theories. Listed below are three popular ones.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs presents different motivations at different levels. The hierarchy of needs, listed from basic (lowest) to most complex (highest) are as follows:

  1. Level 1: Physiology – need for food, shelter, health
  2. Level 2: Safety and Security – need to feel safe
  3. Level 3: Social – need to belong (belongingness, love, friendship)
  4. Level 4: Self-esteem – need to be recognized for accomplishments
  5. Level 5: Self actualization – need to find meaning

According to Maslow, a need motivates us as long as it is not satisfied. When your need at any one level is satisfied, the needs of the next level become more critical.

First, people are motivated to fulfill basic biological needs for food and shelter, as well as those of safety, love and esteem. Once the lower level needs have been met, the primary motivator becomes the need for self-actualization, or the desire to fulfill one’s individual potential, find meaning and purpose.

Frederick Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory

Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory, a.k.a. intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, concludes that certain factors in the workplace result in job satisfaction.

He defined two basic categories that impact motivation.

  1. Motivators (the job itself) which give positive satisfaction – challenging work, increased responsibility, growth and development, achievement, recognition for accomplishments.
  2. Hygiene factors (environment) that do not motivate if present, but, if absent, result in demotivation – salary, status, job security, fringe benefits. The name “Hygiene factors” is used because, like hygiene, the presence will not make you healthier, but absence can cause health deterioration. Hygiene factors, when satisfied, tend to eliminate dissatisfaction, but they do little to motivate an individual to superior performance or increased capacity.

David McClelland’s motivation theory

David McClelland (1917-98) developed achievement-based motivational theory. In his book “The Achieving Society,” McClelland defined three types of motivational need:

Achievement motivation

The “achievement motivated” person seeks out challenging or competitive goals and advancement in the job. There is a strong need for feedback as to achievement and progress, and a need for a sense of accomplishment.

Authority/power/influence motivation  

The “authority motivated” person has a need to be influential, effective, to lead and to make an impact, and is concerned about how he is perceived by others. There is also a  need towards increasing personal status and prestige.

Affiliation motivation

The “affiliation motivated” person has a need for friendly relationships, to be liked and held in popular regard, and is motivated towards interaction with other people. These people are team players.

Related posts:

  1. Situational leadership styles
  2. Managerial skills
  3. Feedback skills
  4. The 12 blocks to listening

The 12 blocks to listening

To be an effective leader, you have to have effective communication skills. An important part of developing effective communication skills is to develop effective listening skills.

The first step in developing effective listening skills is to be aware of the barriers to effective listening, and to understand and eliminate those barriers that block effective communications.

There are 12 commonly known blocks to listening.

1. Comparing – Comparing makes it hard to listen because you are too busy trying to compare one person with another.

2. Mind Reading – Instead of paying attention to what is said, you try to figure out what the other person is really thinking and feeling in an effort to see through to the truth.

3. Rehearsing – You do not have time to listen or pay attention to listening when you are
rehearsing what to say. Your whole attention is on the preparation and crafting of your next comment.

4. Filtering – When you filter, you listen to some things and not to others. You hear what you want to hear, and avoid what you don’t want to hear and let your mind wander.

5. Judging (prejudging)

If you prejudge someone or label someone negatively, you do not pay much attention to what he says.

6. Dreaming

You are half-listening, and something the person says suddenly triggers a chain
of private associations. You are more prone to dreaming when you feel bored or anxious.

7. Identifying

You take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your own
experience. Everything you hear reminds you of something that you have felt,
done, or suffered. You launch into your story before they can finish theirs.

8. Advising

You are the great problem-solver, ready with help and suggestions. You do not have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice.

9. Sparring

Your focus is on finding things to disagree with. The way to avoid sparring is
to repeat back and acknowledge what you have heard. Look for one thing you
might agree with.

One subtype of sparring is the put-down. You use sarcastic remarks to dismiss
the other person’s point of view. A second type of sparring is discounting.
Discounting is for people who cannot stand compliments.

10. Being Right

You will go to any lengths to avoid being wrong. You cannot listen to criticism, you cannot be corrected, and you cannot take suggestions to change.

11. Derailing

You change the subject suddenly. You derail the train of conversation when you get bored or uncomfortable with a topic.

12. Placating

You want to be nice, pleasant, and supportive. You want people to like you – so you agree with everything. You half-listen, but you are not really involved.

Related posts:

  1. Situational leadership styles
  2. Managerial skills
  3. Feedback skills

 

Feedback skills

Giving and receiving feedback are important skills to have for everyone, especially for supervisors and leaders. Leaders who provide effective feedback can direct, engage, motivate, inspire and empower others in a very powerful way.

While positive feedback is a great motivation, critical feedback provides greater opportunities to grow and develop. Learning how to use positive feedback to praise and critical feedback to correct effectively can improve communication and relationship. You become a better leader if you can master the skills of giving and receiving feedback.

In her book Feedback Skills for Leaders: Building Constructive Communication Skills Up and Down the Ladder (2006), a revised edition of Giving and Receiving Feedback (1998), author Patti Hathaway talks about how to deal with critical feedback and give constructive feedback.

There are three types of critical feedback – valid, unjustified and vague critical feedback.

1. Valid Critical Feedback – The feedback is based on facts and truth.

2. Unjustified Critical Feedback- often expressed in broad, general terms that are unrealistic, untrue, and may be spoken in anger. It can be a result from a difference of opinion, of not living up to someone else’s expectation. It may come from the critic’s feelings such as jealousy, fear, insecurity, or arrogance. This type of critical feedback may say more about the critic than it does about the person being criticized.

3. Vague Critical Feedback – People often do not communicate their expectations clearly. For critical feedback to be genuinely helpful, it must be expressed in specific, concrete terms, so that others can understand the expectations and take appropriate action if needed.

There are three stages of response to critical feedback.

1. Awareness – When we are being criticized, our natural instinct and response are counterattacking, becoming defensive or becoming a silent victim. These responses of putting critic down or passive reaction do not promote a climate for dialogue and to build a relationship. The right approach to handling critical feedback is to be aware of the critical feedback and then move quickly to assessing its merit.

2. AssessmentAssess whether the critical feedback is valid, how the feedback was
delivered, and the intention of the critic.

To determine whether critical feedback is valid or invalid, ask yourself several questions:

  • Do I hear the same feedback from more than one person?
  • Does the critic know a great deal about the subject?
  • Are the critic’s standards known and reasonable?
  • Is the critical feedback really about me? Or is the critic
    merely having a bad day or upset about something else?
  • How important is it for me to respond to the critical
    feedback?

If you respond positively to most of the questions, the critical feedback may be valid. If you respond negatively to most of the questions, the feedback is likely to be invalid.

3. ActionIt’s important to check the facts and consider your response carefully. Remember – do not react!

Here are some action strategies for dealing with critical feedback.

Fogging – When faced with unjustified critical feedback, avoid counterattacks. Keep your self confidence and self-esteem, and don’t take the critical feedback personally. Acknowledge the possibility that there may be some truth to the critical feedback, but do not become irrational. Uses active listening skills to paraphrase the critical feedback while adding a fogging statement. Another approach is to disagree politely.

Admitting the Truth - For handling valid feedback, the first thing we
must do is accept it as valid. Accept your mistakes and faults. Thank your critic
for bringing the problem to your attention. Say what you will do to correct the
mistakes. Ask your critic for suggestions.

Requesting Specific Feedback – Requesting specific feedback is the most effective technique in handling critical feedback, especially feedback that is vague.

To give constructive feedback, remember to set realistic goals and expectations, research
the facts, choose your timing, and most importantly, be specific – using the
DASR method.

Describe -

  • Describe the behavior and action, not the “motive.”
  • Describe teh situation and outcomes you want.
  • Describe a specified time, place, and action.
  • Use concrete terms.

Acknowledge -

  • Acknowledge and express your negative feelings calmly.

Specify -

  • Ask for a change in behavior.
  • Specify the concrete actions you want stopped or performed.

Reaffirm -

  • Reaffirm the other’s ability to make the change.
  • End on a positive note.

Giving and receiving feedback is a gift for leaders and will help you become more effective.

Related posts:

  1. Situational leadership styles
  2. Managerial skills

Managerial skills

In 1955 Prof. Robert Katz developed the three managerial skill model.

According to Katz, there are three managerial skills that every manager needs.
These are:

  1. Technical Skills –  the ability to perform the given job. The lower-level managers require more technical skills.
  2. Human Relations (Interpersonal) Skills – the ability to understand, communicate  and work with people. Human relations skills are required by all managers at all levels of management. The reason for that is all managers have to interact and work with people.
  3. Conceptual Skills – the ability to see the big picture, to visualise the organisation as a whole. It includes analytical, creative, problem-solving skills. The top-level managers require more conceptual skills and less technical skills.

Managers working at different levels of management require different levels of skills. The level of importance of each skill set is directly correlated with the management level that the person has in the organization. As managers moves up in the organization, they need more conceptual skills and less technical skills.

Related posts:

  1. Situational leadership styles

Situational leadership styles

Marilyn J. Corrigan, Leadership and Communications Consultant from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, was one of the two presenters at my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) training on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011.

In her 4 1/2 hour presentation titled “Dynamic Leadership,” Corrigan covered a lot of topics including characteristics of effective leadership, difference between effectiveness and success, good to great leadership (5 levels of leadership), managerial skills, situational leadership styles, DASR feedback methods, motivational theories, and effective listening skills.

Below and in the next few posts, I will share more details about some of these topics. I will start with  situational leadership styles.

The situational leadership model was developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in
1969. In 1985 Blanchard refined the model and it was named The Situational Leadership II (SLII) model. It is one of the most well known models in leadership theory.

The Situational Leadership Model has two components – the Leadership Style and Development Level.

According to the situational leadership model, there is no one best leadership style. Effective leaders are the ones who are able to adapt their leadership style according to the situation – match the appropriate leadership style to the individual’s or group’s development level.

Leadership Style

Leadership style is explained in two different kinds of behavior: Supportive behavior and Directive Behavior.

  1. Supportive Behavior – This people-oriented behavior involves two way communication and focuses mainly on emotional and social support.
  2. Directive Behavior – This task-oriented behavior focuses on goals to be achieved and actions to be taken.

The leadership styles can be classified in four groups:

  1. Directing style/S1 – High directive, low supportive.
  2. Coaching style/S2 – High directive, high supportive.
  3. Supporting style/S3 – Low directive, high supportive.
  4. Delegating (Empowering) style/S4 – Low directive, low supportive.

Development Level

Development level refers to the follower’s degree of competence and commitment. The four levels describe several combinations on competence and commitment.

  1. D1 – Low competence, high commitment (don’t know what they don’t know).  Start with Directing Style (high directive, low supportive)
  2. D2 – Some competence, shaky commitment (overwhelmed by what they don’t know). Go to Coaching Style (High directive, high supportive)
  3. D3 – Moderate competence, moderate commitment (knowledgeable but not too motivated). Move to Supporting Style (low directive, high supportive)
  4. D4 – High competence, high commitment ((knowledgeable and motivated). Move to Delegating Style (low directive, low supportive).

Effective leadership lies in matching the appropriate leadership style to the development level. Otherwise there will be problems and conflicts.

Becoming Extraordinary Leaders

“Becoming Extraordinary Leaders” was the title of the presentation by Jack Zenger at my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) training on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011.

The presentation was based on his research and book The Extraordinary Leader : Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders.

Using “The Leadership Tent” as the conceptual framework, Zenger talked about the following five elements of a great leader:

1. Character – The center pole represents the personal character of an individual. It is the core of all leadership effectiveness. A great leader must display integrity and honesty.

2. Personal Capability- This tent pole describes the intellectual, emotional, and skill makeup of the individual. It includes technical and professional expertise, analytical and problem-solving capabilities, ability to create a clear vision and sense of purpose for the organization, and self-development.

3. Focus on Results – This tent pole describes the ability to have an impact on the organization. It means being capable of getting things done, taking initiatives and driving for results.

4. Interpersonal Skills – This tent pole includes all the interpersonal and people skills, such as communicating, inspiring and motivating others to high performance, building relationships, developing others, collaboration and teamwork.

 5. Leading Change – This final tent  pole focuses on an individual’s ability to produce change within an  organization.

Zenger also talked about 10 fatal flaws that consistently lead to leadership failure:

  1. Not inspiring due to a lack of energy and enthusiasm
  2. Accepting mediocre performance in place of excellent results
  3. Lack of clear vision and direction
  4. Loss of trust stemming from perceived bad judgment and poor decisions
  5. Not a collaborative team player
  6. Not a good role model (failure to walk the talk)
  7. No self-development and learning from mistakes
  8. Lacking interpersonal skills
  9. Resistant to new ideas, thus did not lead change or innovate
  10. Focus is on self, not the development of others

Showing my pastor appreciation

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Have you done something special for your pastor to express your love and appreciation?

Last Sunday at Spirit of Life Bible Church, my pastor Frank Sanders and his wife Kathy was showered with hugs and cards by the congregation. As the couple stood by the alter, families lined up on both sides. One by one, they went to the alter and expressed their love and appreciation to the Pastor couple. It was very moving to see the impact  Pastor Frank and his wife have on the church and its people.

I gave my pastor and his wife a handwritten thank-you note along with a gift card. I also praised my pastor publicly on  Faith Radio and entered him into the Clergy Appreciation Month drawing.

Today I learned from a church member that I won two books because I entered my pastor into the pastor appreciation drawing. She heard the news on the radio this morning. So that’s cool. I hope he will like these two books.

October is almost over. But there is still time to do something for your pastor. And you don’t have to do it in October. You can show appreciation any time, any day and any month.

Everyone likes to be appreciated. Pastors, who are often overworked and underpaid, deserve more appreciation and encouragement than anyone.

My doctor visit and recommendations

This week I had a doctor visit at the HealthPartner Clinic for the annual physical exam. And I learned something new.

At the check-in, I was given a brochure by the receptionist. I didn’t pay attention to it because I found some more interesting materials to read in the waiting room.

After I was called in by the nurse and after she was finished with the initial exam, I was left alone in the room to change and to wait for my doctor.

It was a long wait. I had finished reading the whole magazine and the doctor still didn’t show up. Not knowing what’s going on, I got inpatient.

Dressed in my hospital gown, I opened the door, stuck my head out and asked the nurse standing in the hallway where the doctor was.

A few minutes later, my doctor finally came. She apologized for the delay because she had to do something for the other patient. That’s OK with me as long as I was told what’s going on.

The doctor did a few manual exams here and there on my body. She asked if I had any concerns. I did.

I have had shoulder, neck and back pain on and off. They come and go. So I asked the doctor about it. She advised me to take Ibuprofen whenever I have the pain. I said I was not interested in the pain medication. I was not concerned about the pain, but I was concerned about the cause of the pain. I didn’t want to take pain medication to not feel the pain. Pain medication doesn’t solve the problem for me, it only covers it up. Then my doctor said I should do physical therapy. She didn’t say anything about what I could do to prevent shoulder, neck and back pain.

I also asked the doctor about any effective treatment for nail fungus that doesn’t have any side effects like the oral medication has. She mentioned laser treatment. Then she left the room to let me change.

After I finished changing and while I was waiting for the doctor to come up, I picked up the brochure to read because I had nothing else to do. I was glad I did.

The brochure was about preventive care visits and billing. It says when patients come in for the annual preventive care visit, if they also discuss with their physician a medical issue unrelated to their annual exam and the physician spends extra time to talk about and assess other concerns, it is considered as two distinct services in one visit and as the result the physician will bill twice, one for the routine preventive care visit and one for the illness related office visit. The process is known as split billing. In this situation, the patient is responsible for paying a copay and/or deductible related to the “non-preventive” portion of the visit.

Immediately, this raised a red flag in my mind. Because I did ask my doctor about two concerns unrelated to the preventive care, I could be billed for it and have to pay copay and deductible.

When my doctor came back, I asked her about the billing. She hesitated a little bit and said she won’t do split billing because she didn’t spend a lot of extra time.

I wondered whether the result would be different if I had not asked her about the billing and if I had not waited for her for a long time. The time I spent waiting for her was a lot longer than the time she spent with me for the visit.

So here is the new thing I learned.

During the annual physical visit, when the doctor asks what concerns I have. I am supposed to keep my mouth shut and not discuss any concerns I might have.

My question is, why do physicians ask patients about their concerns? They should stop asking: “Do you have any concerns?” It feels like a set up now.

I have been thinking about changing my doctor since this last doctor visit. I wanted to find someone who

  • doesn’t rush in and out the room,
  • is interested in dealing with the causes of any issues I have than just prescribing medications to deal with the symptoms,
  • is more knowledgeable about alternative medicine,
  • does a better job caring for the patients.

Today I paid a visit to Weili Shen’s Acupuncture Woodbury. I had always wanted to try acupuncture, but never did before.

My first acupuncture visit was great. I will definitely go back and intend to continue in the years to come.

I believe acupuncture will do a better job in preventing and healing a lot of medical concerns. Even if you don’t have any concerns, acupuncture can still be good for your overall health and well-being. Any it doesn’t have any side effects.

BTW, if anyone has a recommendation for any good family doctor in Woodbury, please let me know.

If anyone needs a recommendation for an acupuncturist or orthodontist, I would recommend the following:

Weili Shen – Acupuncture Woodbury

She started practice in Woodbury only four years ago, but has already gained loyalty of  patients some of whom have to pay out of their own pockets to visit her.

Read a related article about her and acupuncture.

Dr. Robert E. Eng – Mendota Heights Orthodontics

He is my son’s orthodontist with offices in Mendota Heights and St. Paul. He has the honesty, integrity and trustworthiness that I often don’t feel in other doctors.

Last week I visited Dr. Eng with my son who the dentist said needed braces. After the visual exam, Dr. Eng told me, my son could benefit from braces, but he doesn’t necessarily have to have braces. It was up to me to decide. I like him for putting patient’s interest first instead of his own interest.

I mentioned Dr. Eng in a previous article.

14 traits of a great place to work

In the article “Discover the secrets of becoming a great place to work” by Patti Lee-Hoffmann (Leader To Leader Journal, No.61, Summer 2011), the author talked about 14 traits of a great place to work.

The 14 traits are:

  1. Artwork, Music, and Performance - Great companies encourage employees to express themselves in a variety of ways, including through art, music, and performance.
  2. Everyone a Leader – Great companies build leadership from within the organization—from top to bottom, as well as across departmental boundaries.
  3. Firing Customers and Clients - Great companies are not afraid to fire a customer when ethical, financial, legal, or other considerations require it.
  4. Company and Community Are One – Many great companies have become an integral part of the communities in which they are located. They contribute to their communities in many ways—far beyond just providing jobs and paychecks.
  5. Company-Wide Meetings – While most companies have meetings, a much smaller number have company-wide meetings that involve everyone in the organization at the same time or place—either in person or virtually by computer link for building communication, relationships, knowledge, and trust.
  6. Focusing on the Environment and Sustainability - Great companies have a focus on sustainability and the environment.
  7. Constantly Challenging the Status Quo – Great companies focus on continuous improvement that results in reduced waste, improved product quality, reduced rework time, faster response times, lowered costs, and the development of more innovative products and services.
  8. Egoless Leadership – Leaders of great companies remember that they do not work alone—it takes the active support and engagement of employees at all levels of an organization to create a business that is built to last.
  9. Future Focus – The leaders of great companies keep an eye on the future. They are constantly exploring new product and service offerings and new ways of doing business.
  10. A Truth-Telling Culture – Great companies practice management honesty and transparency—treating their employees as partners instead of hired help.
  11. Ignoring the Conventional Wisdom -Great companies lead their industries instead of following them—they break new ground and take risks that more conservative organizations are unwilling to chance.
  12. Employees First - Great companies put employees first. In doing so, they build employee engagement and loyalty.
  13. Storytelling – Great companies do a great job of telling employees, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders about the good work they’re doing, and the positive impact they are having on their communities and the world around them.
  14. Action, Not Talk – Becoming great requires not just talk, but action—a lot of action.

The 7 E’s of mentor leadership

I am currently reading Tony Dungy’s latest book The MentorLeader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently, co-authored with Nathan Whitaker.

I am not a fan of any sport. I only knew Tony Dungy from the interviews I heard on radios over the years.  He wrote three books. This is the first book I read by him.

Among the leadership books I have read, this book is one of my favorites. I like the writing style, the contents, and the approach to the subject.

Here I am sharing a very small part from the book on the 7 E’s of mentor leadership.

“I cannot move the ball forward with positive, nurturing leadership until I engage with those I am blessed to lead. Once I’ve engaged with them, I am able to educate and equip. Throughout the process, it is essential to encourage, empower, and energize in order to finally elevate the people around me.”

Engage – It’s impossible to mentor from a distance. Without engagement, you cannot lead effectively. A true open-door policy is a matter of attitude and approachability, not just whether the office door is propped open.

Educate – Education is an essential building block of mentor leadership. Because mentor leadership is all about helping others become the best they can be, it is built on a foundation of teaching, helping, and guiding. Mentor leaders must take a hands-on, one-on-one approach to mentoring individual lives.

Equip -Mentor leaders create an environment in which others can be productive and excel. They provide the tools and equipment needed for everyone to be successful in their assignment and to ultimately accomplish their mission. In essence, they strive to furnish what is needed for the task – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and to accomplish the mission. Educating and equipping go hand in hand. 

Encourage – Encouragement is the fuel that powers our efforts to engage, educate, and equip.Mentor leaders care, lift others up and encourage. People need affirmation and encouragement. 

Empower – True empowerment is preparation followed by appropriate freedom. At some point, a mentor leader must turn others loose to do their jobs. 

Energize – Great leaders energize, motivate and inspire those they lead. They do this intentionally. 

Elevate – The ultimate goal of every mentor leader is to build and grow other leaders for long-term, sustainable success. The regenerative idea that leaders produce leaders, who in turn produce leaders – is a powerful concept for mentor leaders and their organizations. At the heart of this regeneration is the principle of elevation – raising people up. Raising up leaders is the truly selfless goal of every mentor leader, the culmination of focusing on others. To elevate your followers means to help them reach their God-given potential, even if it means preparing them to replace you. As a mentor leader, the success of the people you’ve elevated is what you like to see. You want the organization to continue to thrive after you are gone, to be in better shape when you leave than when you got there. It’s not about getting the credit; it’s about helping the organization, and everyone in it, be the best they can be. An organization that remains totally dependent on a particular personality is one that has not been properly led. 

These 7 E’s describe a progression of steps that will help you mentor others while you lead them to reach their potential. They are the methods of a mentor leader for maximizing the potential of any individual and organization for ultimate success and significance.

Leadership and ethics

Leadership and ethics are the main topics on Day 3 of my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) training on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.

Carolyn Trevis, Assistant State Negotiator with Minnesota Management and Budget talked about the Code of Ethics for Employees in the Executive Branch.

Dr. David Schultz, a Professor at Hamline Unversity and an expert in government, nonprofit, and business ethics, led the discussion on ethics and values, the relationship between personal and workplace ethics, the differences in ethics across sectors – private, non-profit, public sectors and in personal life.

When I had the interview with Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens on Monday, we touched upon this topic of ethics. I was surprised to hear that not only the Mayor doesn’t make a living wage, but she also has to pay for all expenses herself when she attends community events – buy her own event tickets and pay for her own transportation. Being a Mayor is like a full time job, but there is hardly any financial reward.

I knew there is a high ethical standard for the government officials and employees in the United States, but I didn’t realize it is so strict.

There is a popular (ironic) saying in China that the best place to be a government official is China. Being government officials and employees bring enormous financial rewards, directly through salary and benefits, but mostly indirectly through gifts and bribery.  The higher the position, the more power and rewards you enjoy.

If I tell average citizens in China what government officials and employees in the US can and can’t do, they would laugh and would not believe me. It’s unheard for them in China. Ethics as we know here hardly exist in real life in China.

When it comes to ethics in the public sector, the US and China are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Woodbury photo contest winners awarded

The winning photo with my daughter in the front yard of our house.

Accepting the certificate from Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens. Thanks Kris Janisch from Woodbury Patch for the photo.

Yesterday evening I went to the Woodbury City Council meeting to receive the award for my photo “The Wonder of Autumn Leaves” that won honorable mention in the People category in the 13th annual Focus on Woodbury photo contest, sponsored by Woodbury Magazine.

First, second and third place winners in five categories, 8 honorable mentions and readers choice were awarded. The Readers’ Choice winner was selected by online voters.

Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and Debbie Musser, editor of Woodbury Magazine, awarded the prizes at the beginning of the City Council meeting.

I would like to thank Woodbury Magazine for sponsoring the event and making it an easy process, and thanks also to City of Woodbury for their support.

The 2011 Focus on Woodbury Photo Contest Results are posted on Woodbury :

Reader’s Choice: Mother Fox and Kissing Cub by Beth A. Kuehlwein (61 votes)

Landmarks: 1. Woodbury Heritage House by Michael Dupont; 2. Country Sunset by the Oehlke Barn by Colleen Davis

Activities: 1. Little League Slide by Dianne Towalski; 2. Cricket-winning Moment by Nancy Pretty Sargunam; 3. Pitcher Perfect by Shannon Rode

Pets: 1. Explorations! by Janet Hartje; 2. Koi by Steven Shor; 3. Puppy BFF by Jessica Lloyd; Honorable Mention 1. Fascinating Red by Ilya Kravchik

People: 1. Watch Out by Sandra Stephens; 2. A Girl and a Flower by Cala Iverson; 3. Puppy Kisses by Kathy Weigelt; Honorable Mention 1. The Wonder of Autumn Leaves by Qin Tang; Honorable Mention 2. Brotherly Love by Amy Curnow; Honorable Mention 3. A Rainy Day by Cala Iverson

Nature: 1. Daybreak by Ben Ricker; 2. April Snow at the Wood Duck House by Tom Ziegler; 3. Ojibway Park Chorus Frog by Megan Jones; Honorable Mention 1. Coming in for a Landing by Nancy Ribeiro Miller; Honorable Mention 2. Purple People Pleasers by Shannon Rode; Honorable Mention 3. Reflections by Alison Schneider; Honorable Mention 4. Beetle Mania by Ron Long

Leadership interview – Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens

This is the second in a series of interviews I am doing with established and respected leaders on the topic of leadership as part of my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) assignments.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting with Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens who became the new mayor of Woodbury on January 12, 2011 — the 1st woman and the 5th in the city’s history.

Being a resident of Woodbury for over 10 years and being a loyal reader of the local newspaper, Woodbury Bulletin, for the same amount of time, I am familiar with the names of people who are active in the community – from city and county governments, school district and non-profit organizations to local businesses. I knew Mayor Stephens from a distance, through newspapers, but had never met her in person. So I was glad to have a chance to meet and chat with her in Central Park this morning.

Stephens is a lawyer by trade. She wanted to be a lawyer when she was in high school. But in her heart, she is also a volunteer, a community leader and a public servant.

Stephens’ leadership role started when she was at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. She was involved in the Student bar Association.

During her 26 years of living in Woodbury, Stephens has been very active in serving the community through various organizations – Woodbury Jaycees, Woodbury Athletic Association, Woodbury Soccer Board, New Life Educational Foundation, Woodbury Prayer Breakfast, Woodbury City Council, Woodbury Community Foundation, etc.

Stephens’ life experience is a testimony of a servant leader.

When I asked her what the most critical attributes are to successful leadership, I was not surprised by her response: “Servant, humility and empowerment. Many leaders are driven and task-oriented. But relationships and being people-oriented are more important to successful leadership.”

I asked Mayor Stephens whom she admires as a leader, and why, she said her father and her husband.

“My father is an cardiologist and my husband is a lawyer. They both have successful careers and competency. But more importantly, they have characters and high integrity. They are trustworthy, authentic and likable. They act the way they are inside. They communicate well. They always want to do better, be better and learn more. They know how to set the priorities right – faith, family and work – and have a balance in life. My husband likes to read, write and teach about leadership skills. He is writing books on leadership.”

Stephens agreed with my comment wholeheartedly when I told her: “You are so blessed in every aspect of your life.”

“Yes, I feel very blessed and thank God every day. I have a very loving and supportive husband. He is behind me in everything I do – resigning from my partnership to spend more time with our children, running for the Woodbury City Council and Mayor. He provides the financial means for me to do what I love to do. I have two wonderful children. Now I have a grandchild and another one on the way. I love the job as the Mayor and serving the community. I am truly blessed.”

The Stephens worship at the Eagle Brook Church which just opened a Woodbury Campus at East Ridge High School last month.

“What are the hardest part of becoming a leader?” I asked her.

“Making and acknowledging mistakes. Being accountable for what you do. I know I don’t know everything and I am not good at everything. But I am surrounded by smart people. I make sure that I am open to other people’s opinion and learn from them.”

A word of wisdom from Mayor Stephens:

“Don’t let the low points in life frustrate you and discourage you from trying again. Don’t let the high points cause you to rest on your laurels and stop you from reaching higher.”

As I left our meeting, I couldn’t help but thinking that if everyone could set priorities right in life, his or her life would be really blessed, just as Mayor Stephens and her family have experienced in their lives.

Leadership interview – Commissioner Spencer Cronk, part 2

For part 1 of the interview, check the previous post here.

February 8, 2011, the newly elected Governor Dayton appointed Spencer Cronk as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration. So Cronk is on the job as the Admin Commissioner for less than 8 months when we met for the interview on Monday, Oct. 3.

I was interested in getting to know some leaders in the state and local governments and learning some leadership lessons from them.

I did prepare in advance a list of questions I wanted to ask Commissioner Cronk. But we ended up having a very casual and free flowing conversation. Our conversation on leadership was mostly centered around the topic of what leaders do to connect with and engage their employees in their organizations.

I shared what Commissioner Tom Sorel has been doing at MnDOT in the last 3 years to engage and empower employees, based on my observations and experiences. Then as I was listening to Commissioner Cronk talking about what he had done or is doing at Admin, it became clear to me that he had already made some positive impact within his organization in the 8 months he has been on the job.

We came to the conclusion that to connect with and engage employees, the key ingredients to success are visibility, communication, participation and appreciation. A great leader is someone who is visible and approachable, who communicates effectively and keeps communication open, encourages participation and shows appreciation.

Let me share some examples Commissioner Cronk did to illustrate the points.

As a state agency, Admin provides a broad range of business management, administrative and  professional services and a variety of resources to other state agencies, local governments and to the public. Among its responsibilities, the department maintains 22 state-owned buildings, including the State Capitol. Admin has about 500 employees.  Some janitors work the night shift. Commissioner Cronk made the effort to visit those employees who worked the night shift in other buildings. He was surprised by the feedback he received doing little things like this.

Once a month, Cronk offers the opportunity of having “Coffee with Commissioner” to employees who have birthdays on that month. That’s a great opportunity for him to have some face-to-face time with employees and hear their concerns and feedback. Employees have a chance to meet, talk and connect with their Commissioner. They feel heard and appreciated. It’s a win win for both sides.

Cronk sends out emails to keep employees updated regularly. Employees really appreciate his open and regular communication. It builds transparency and trust.

In the process of revising the mission statement, he sought employees’ input and involvement. Through participating in the process, employees feel valued and engaged. They are more likely to be committed to their work and working harder.

Commissioner Cronk’s leadership philosophy is servant leadership. He sees his job and his agency’s job as being a servant to others.

Our meeting time was up before we could get into the questions I prepared. Commissioner Cronk graciously agreed to get back to me with the Q&A. So more to come…

Leadership interview – Commissioner Spencer Cronk, part 1

This is the first in a series of interviews I will be doing with established and respected leaders on the topic of leadership as part of my Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) assignments.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting with Minnesota Dept. of Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk.

I first met Commissioner Cronk at the ELI opening ceremony at the Minnesota State Capitol on Sept. 15. He was one of the invited guest speakers. He appeared to me as both an emerging leader (judging from his youthful look) and an established leader (from his experiences and positions). I was impressed and intrigued. I wanted to know where he comes from and how he got where he is now. He is the first one I asked for an interview. I was glad he accepted my request. We met today in his office.

When I walked into his office, the first thing I noticed was how organized, tidy and uncluttered everything looked. I had never seen anyone’s office so nice and clean. When I made the comment and compliment about it, Commissioner Cronk jokingly said since he is only 8 months on the job, it is easier to keep things uncluttered. He challenged me to visit him again in a year to reevaluate the situation.

He did agree with my comment. He said he likes to keep everything organized and clean from clutter. He cleans up his email inbox and his desk every day before he leaves work.

What a nice trait to have as a person and especially as a leader! Being organized is the first step to being efficient. I know Commissioner Cronk is big on finding efficiencies in large organizations, creating a leaner, more cost-effective government that can do more with less, and developing more efficient processes that deliver better results for the public.

In today’s economy, citizens are living with less. The government should do the same.

I asked Commissioner Cronk about his background and life experiences. What he shared was very interesting.

Cronk grew up in Hopkins, Minnesota and went to Hopkins High School. His mother is from Jordan, Minnesota, and his father is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. So he is deeply rooted in Minnesota.

He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor’s degree in rural sociology with honors in 2002. In 2000, he spent his junior year studying and researching in Kenya, Africa. It was an eye-opening and life-changing experience for him. The experience in Africa taught him to look at the life and the world from a broader perspective. He also learned to appreciate more of what we have in life in the US.

After graduation, Cronk worked in Oakland, California for the National Community Development Institute. He was a Public Affairs Fellow with the Coro New York Leadership Center. While serving as Executive Director of Organizational Development and Senior Advisor for the Department of Small Business Services for the City of New York under Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration, Cronk also completed the Harvard University’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program.

After Cronk left his job with the City of New York in 2009, he spent a couple of months in Argentina traveling.

In July 2010, Cronk came back to Minnesota, to his roots. He felt he could make a bigger impact in his home state.

Cronk supported Mark Dayton in his campaign for governor. He believed in Dayton as a better leader for the state.

When Dayton won the election, he appointed Cronk to be the Admin Commissioner. Cronk brought fresh ideas and new energy into Dayton’s new administration.

Talents  and timing, preparation and opportunity all worked together in Cronk’s favor.

In a future post, I will share some of my questions and answers from Commissioner Cronk on leadership.

Limit school lunch spending and waste

I once talked about school lunch, food waste in schools and limiting my kids’
spending on their school lunch in the article titled “More
healthy lunch, less messy lunchroom
.”

My kids knew they should not buy extras including desserts and soft drinks at
school. If they do that, I will simply put a limit on their account so they
can’t spend more than the amount for their regular lunch.

Yesterday I found out that my daughter has “forgotten” the rule. Since she
has just transitioned from elementary school to middle school, there was no
limit set on her account to prevent her from breaking the rule. She purchased
soft drinks and cookies several times in the last couple of weeks, because some
of her friends did that too.

When I called and talked to the cashier at school to set a limit on my
daughter’s lunch account, she said: “Good for you.”

I don’t like wasting food. I found the wasteful behavior in the school
lunchrooms terrible. Some kids don’t finish their lunch and throw a lot away.
They buy more what they like and throw away the stuff (mostly veggies and fruit)
they don’t like.

I know if I allow my kids unlimitd spending, they will buy more junk food and
waste more healthier food.

I don’t tolerate my kids’ wasteful behavior. At home, I make sure that they
eat everything they have on their plates. But I can’t control what they do at
school. However, through setting a spending limit on their account, I can
control their spending and thus preventing them from buying unhealthy food.

It’s important for me to teach my kids to be resourceful with our food and
money, and to be mindful with our environment. I want to do what I can to help
them build healthy eating habits and to keep the lunchroom from becoming a waste
site.

10 unhealthy thinking patterns

What comes first, thinking or feeling?

What we think affects how we feel. If we have healthy thinking, we feel better. If we have negative thinking and self-talk, we will have negative emotions.

In a recent study on resilience, I learned about the following 10 unhealthy thinking patterns or thinking distortions. The research was pioneered by Dr. Aaron Beck, widely regarded as the father of cognitive therapy. It was later popularized by Dr. David Bums in his book “The feeling good handbook.”

  1. Extreme thinking (All-or-nothing thinking) – Thinking in absolute terms, like “always” and “never.”
  2. Overgeneralization – Taking isolated cases and using them to make generalization.
  3. Mental filter – Focusing on negative aspects of an event while ignoring the positive.
  4. Disqualifying the positive – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary reasons.
  5. Jumping to conclusions – Based on little or no evidence, mind-reading (assuming special knowledge of the intentions or thoughts of others), fortune telling (predicting without special knowledge).
  6. Magnification and minimization – Distorted thinking that twists facts, exaggerating the positive traits of others and magnifying your own negatives.
  7. Emotional reasoning – Decisions based on intuitions or personal feelings rather than on objective facts and evidence.
  8. Should statements – Thoughts focused on “should” or “ought to be” rather than reality, having rigid rules which “always apply” no matter what.
  9. Labeling and mislabeling – Explaining by naming with “absolute labels  (loser, bossy, shy, perfect, cheater, wishy-washy.)
  10. Personalization – Assuming responsibility foe events over which you have no control, magical thinking.

If we pay attention to what we think and how we self talk, we can recognize the unhealthy thinking that’s going on inside of us which affects how we feel.

If we want to feel better, we need to think better by making true and fair statements to ourselves to replace untrue or unfair statements.

 

 

Governor Dayton’s puppy on Facebook

I am not a fan of animals, never a lover of animals, because I didn’t grew up with any animals in my family. Actually I get nervous around any living creatures that are not human beings. So I am not usually interested in animal related subjects.

But yesterday when I read in the newspaper about Governor Dayton getting a new puppy and the “Guess the Puppy’s Name” contest, I thought it was interesting.

Today I visited Governor Dayton’s Facebook page and also his existing puppy Mingo’s Facebook page. I found Mingo’s Facebook page more interesting and humorous.

Creating a Facebook page for their pets is a clever use of social networking tools for the elected officials. It adds a human dimension to the non human side of politics. It creates a bond between people from all walks of life, regardless of what position you have.

I had to “like” Mingo’s Facebook page even though I don’t really like animals. I even suggested the name “Paulo” for the new puppy.

Whoever maintains Mingo’s page does a great job.

Updates on 9/26/11:

The “Guess the Puppy’s Name” contest was over on the first day. Emily from Duluth correctly guessed the name of Governor Dayton’s new puppy – Itasca. She won a dinner with the Governor at the restaurant in Minneapolis owned by his two sons.

Here is the comment I left on Mingo’s Facebook page:

“I beg to differ. Itasca sounds girlish and a little long and hard to pronounce. I like “Paulo” better. The contest was a great idea. I wish your Dad had let the public suggest a name and then he would pick his favorite one from the ones suggested. A naming contest would be even more fun. The contest and the fun wouldn’t be over so quickly.”

I think Mingo’s website and the contest are not only fun ways to engage the public, but they are also great PR ideas. I wonder how many people like Governor Dayton more because they are animal lovers and like the puppies he has.

Mingo and Itasca might even win some extra votes for Governor Dayton if he runs for any position in the future.

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Living the traditional way

I did laundry today – 3 short sleeve shirts, 5 long sleeve shirts, 2 pants and 1 skirt.

I know you are thinking, what’s so interesting to write about doing laundry? A lot of people do laundries on weekends.

You are right. Doing laundry is a boring job. There is nothing interesting about it.

But as I was washing my clothes this afternoon, it dawned on me that the way I am doing it is something interesting and special, at least it’s not conventional – I hand washed my clothes and let them air dry.

I don’t hand wash all my clothes, only the ones that are more delicate or I like and want to keep them for longer time.

When I grew up, we didn’t have any electronics at home – no wash machine, no dryer, no microwave, no TV, no refrigerator. The only thing we had was a radio.

I remember we had to wash clothes in the river that was by our house, or drew water from the well to wash clothes.

Last year when I visited my hometown Suzhou, a very modern and prosperous city in China, I was surprised to see a couple of people still washing their clothes in the river (see the picture I took last year). What’s changed is the water is cleaner now that it used to be, and there are cars parked by the river.

I bought my mother a wash machine in 1989 when I returned to China for a visit from Germany. It was a rare commodity at that time. I needed a special ticket to buy it at a designated store in Shanghai. And the tickets to buy electronics such as TVs, wash machines, and refrigerators were only given to people who returned to China from overseas. The ticket itself could be sold for a lot of money.

To this day, my mother still likes to hand wash her clothes, usually small items. She uses the wash machine only for heavy and big items. What’s why the wash machine I bought her 22 years ago is still in good working condition.

Like my mother, I also like to hand wash some of my clothes. I don’t use dryer for most of my clothes. Especially in summer, I usually use clothesline and let everything air dry naturally.

I found that most clothes are not worn-out, but washed-out or dried-out, i.e., they are kaput because of using the wash machine and dryer.

I have clothes that I wear at work and clothes that I wear at home. When I get home from work, the first thing I usually do is to change my clothes. Because I take good care of my clothes, I don’t have to wash them all the time. When I wash the delicate and favorite ones, I do it by hand. As the result, my clothes always last a long time.

And I don’t watch TV. I also cook my meals from scratch every day.

So to some degree, I am still living the traditional way. That’s my choice. I like it.

EXCO – new fall classes

EXCO: Where anyone can take or teach a class and all the classes are FREE!

What is EXCO? It stands for Experimental College. I wrote about it in a previous post.

Visit http://www.excotc.org for full class listings and to register, or click on the link from each class below.  Most classes will begin in late September.

Politics and Organizing
Questioning   Ourselves
Making Headlines, Making Change: Media Work for Social   Justice Activists
World War II: A Rich Source of Metaphor for our Time

Economics
Money, Society and the Spirit: Becoming Conscious About Money

Arts
Writing and Performing Political Theatre

How to Listen to and Appreciate Classical Music
Experiment in Collaborative Creativity.

Dance
House Dance Nation (Youth Only)

Belly Dancing

Building an   Earth Oven
Religion
Queer Theory and the Hebrew Bible

Philosophy
Introduction to Marxist Theory

Health and Wellness
Mind-Body Meditation

Expressions for Wellness & Effectiveness (EWE) Workshops

Gourmet Vegetarian: The Diet of Sustainability
Good Vibes: Energy Healing & Increasing Bliss
Languages
Kiswahili Discussion Circle

Navigating American Sign Language Access in Your   Activism
Bikes
Commuting by Bicycle at Sibley Bike Depot

Complete Bicycle Overhaul at Sibley Bike Depot   (September)
Humanities and Cultural Studies
Radical Parenting Art & Discussion Workshops

The Movies: Cultural Enrichment or Co-Dependence?
Indigenous Imperative: Native Thought and its Implications for Our Future

 

Honorable mention

Today I received an email from Debbie Musser, editor of Woodbury Magazine, informing me that my photo – The Wonder of Autumn Leaves – received honorable mention in the People category in the 13th annual Focus on Woodbury photo contest.

This year, a total of 267 entries in the five categories were submitted for the contest which is sponsored by Woodbury Magazine.

First, second and third place winners in each category and 8 honorable mentions were selected, and online voters will select a Readers’ Choice winner. To vote, go to the website.

Prizes will be awarded at the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens will be awarding the prizes at the beginning of the meeting.

I was happy to receive the honorable mention. Even if I don’t win anything, I am still glad I participated. My interest and participation in the annual Woodbury Photo Contest dated back to 2005 when my picture of my son won the first place.

I am not a photographer or even an amateur photographer. I only use a so called idiot camera to point and shoot pictures. But I like participating in this community event. Being a winner of any kind is just an added bonus to the fun.

Learning about Minnesota

Here is a summary of Day 2 at the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.

Annette Atkins, professor of history at Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Collegeville, spoke on Minnesota history. In her presentation “Minnesota: a historical perspective,” Atkins made history quite interesting and alive, instead of just presenting data and facts. Atkins authored three books, one of them is Creating Minnesota: A History From the Inside Out (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007).

Tom Gillaspy has served as the Minnesota State Demographer in the Minnesota Department of Administration  since 1979. He presented on “Demographic change and Minnesota state government.” According to Gillaspy, Minnesota has been very successful in economic and population growth. Minnesota has one of the lowest poverty rate in the nation, and has higher income and higher home ownership. Minnesotans are highly educated.

Two past legislators, Dean Johnson and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, talked about leadership from their own experiences.

Dean Johnson is a former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and a former member, majority leader and minority leader of the Minnesota Senate. He is the only Minnesota Senator to have led both caucuses in that chamber, and one of only two to serve as both Minority and Majority Leader. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and also a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher is a former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. She served as the Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2007-2011. She was the DFL-endorsed candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial election, the first woman to earn major-party endorsement for a gubernatorial election in Minnesota.

Bill Landherr, Enterprise Learning & Development Manager at Minnesota Management & Budget, gave an overview of the 360 degree feedback assessment. Each ELI participant will do the assessment sometime in October.

 

ELI at Minnesota State Capitol

The opening ceremony of the 2011-2012 Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) took place in the Capitol Rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol this afternoon.

The event started with welcome and opening remarks by Brenda Norman, Division Director of Minnesota Management & Budget (MMB), Lynn Anderson, Deputy Commissioner of MMB, Spencer Cronk, Commissioner of the Dept. of Administration, Cheryl Hennen, past ELI participant from Dept. of Human Services, and Bill Landherr, Traning Director of MMB.

Roseville High School Choir performed a few songs during the opening ceremony. We had a class photo taken afterwards.

Then our group of 30 participants were divided into two small groups for the first meeting. We introduced ourselves and talked about the purposes and goals of the program.

We ended the first day with a tour of the magnificent capitol building.

To view some photos, go to my Facebook.

 

The brighter side of life

This morning as I was leaving for work, I found out that my 10 year-old garage door quit working. It could only go up about 10 inches high.

I tried to manually open it, but the double door was so heavy, I couldn’t lift a thing. I didn’t know what’s wrong and how to fix it.

Fortunately, I have a neighbor I can count on when I need help. I dialed Tracy and Dave’s phone number right away. Dave came over from his shower. He told me that one of the springs broke. He lifted the garage door up for me so I could get my car out and then let it down.

Tracy gave me the phone number for a local company that fixes garage doors. Later around dinner time, the repair man came. It took him 20 minutes to replace both springs. Now the garage door is back to work.

Thanks God that the garage door didn’t break at night or in winter. And thank God for having a wonderful neighbor who is always willing and happy to help.

Just a few weeks ago, Dave and Tracy helped my son get the lawn mower started and back to the working condition.

I am so thankful for having this wonderful couple live next door.

When life throws little or big things at me – broken garage door, having to buy a new instrument, problems at home and work, etc. – worries, anxiety, sadness creep in. Life gets weary and heavy. It’s the small acts of kindness from neighbors, coworkers and friends that can lift me up and make my life a little more lighter and enjoyable.

On a brighter side, I had a wonderful opportunity today at work to meet with three other 2011-2012 Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) participants and three past participants from MnDOT. MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, who is a strong believer and supporter for leadership and personal development, invited us to the meeting to get to know each other and send us off to the leadership and personal development journey that will start tomorrow with ELI. I am so looking forward to starting the program tomorrow.

Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival

 

Tonight, if you look up at the sky, you can see a full moon.

Today is the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival in China. It is a popular lunar harvest festival celebrated in China and around the world where Chinese live.

The festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar.

In  2008  the Chinese government declared this traditional holiday as a public holiday.

You can’t have a Moon Festival without mooncakes. Like the moon, mooncakes are round and they are also sweet. They symbolize togetherness and happiness. Families get together to celebrate the festival, enjoying the full moon and eating mooncakes.

Yesterday I had a potluck with a few Chinese friends. We saw each other in the church in the morning and decided on the spot to have a potluck to celebrate the Moon Festival together in the evening. Then we went straight to an Asian grocery store in St. Paul to buy mooncakes.

Our potluck celebration in Woodbury was not as festival as it would have been if we were in China, but we had the authentic mooncakes. And we enjoyed each other’s company and food.

Reader’s choice for Woodbury Photo Contest

Submissions for the 2011 “Focus on Woodbury” Photo Contest are closed. Now it’s time to vote for your favorites. One photo will be selected as Readers’ Choice.

Voting goes from Sept. 9th – 30th.  You may vote for as many photos as you like once every day till Sept 30th.

I submitted three photos for fun.

As a contest participant, I have prejudice and wanted to vote for myself. But there are a lot of other photos I like too. It’s fun to look at all the photos submitted and vote for the favorite ones.

I really like this new process and format of submitting, viewing and selecting photos for the contest.

A few years ago, the Woodbury Photo Contest was mainly sponsored by the City of Woodbury. To participte in the contest, I had to get the photos printed, framed and delivered to the Woodbury City Hall. Winning photos were displayed in the Central Park. Selected photos were also published in Woodbury Magazine. But I couldn’t see all the photos submitted.

Now thanks to the technology and sponsorship by Woodbury Magazine, I could just sit at my home computer, select my photos, submitted them online, view all submissions and even vote for the Reader’s Choice photo.

That’s is quite an improvement. And it’s also more fun to participate.

Woodbury Days Appreciation Party

The Woodbury Days Volunteer Appreciation Party took place this evening (Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011) at Carver Lake Park in Woodbury.

It was a party to celebrate the success of Woodbury Days (Aug. 26-28, 2011) and to thank Woodbury Days Council and board members and 160 volunteers who worked together to make Woodbury Days a success.

Photographer Tom Dunn took pictures at the Appreciation party as well as during the three day long Woodbury Days event. As a tradition, a group picture of volunteers was taken.

I hope to get a group photo from Tom and post it on this page in a few days.

Getting rid of ants naturally

Every year in the spring or summer, some ants show up in my house uninvited, from nowhere. I usually spread some baking soda along the edge of the wall where ants are found. After a while they disappear. The trick works, easy and inexpensive.

Today I found some more tips on how to get rid of ants in the house naturally on the Dollar Stretcher website. I want to share the information and save the link for future reference.

 

First school day photos

I like to take some photos of my kids on their first day of school. I think I have done it every year.

Today I got home earlier so I could surprise my kids and take a few photos when they got off the school bus.

To my dismay, they ran faster than I could point and click. They ran away from me and into the house before I could take any good photos.

I was not going to give up. I had to command them to come out of the house so I could take photos. They finally did, but they were not so happy to have photos taken, especially my son.

It’s getting harder to make them do things as they get older. But I will not give up taking their first school day photos. I plan to keep doing this ritual till they graduate from high school in a few short years.

Looking through the first school day photos and watching them grow over the years from kindergarten to high school in a few photos would be a nice thing to do later in life.

 

Back to school, back to busyness

Tomorrow, the Tuesday after the Labor Day, is the first day of school in our South Washington Country School District 833. I am glad my kids will be going back to school, after three long months of summer break. So I am looking forward to it.

But back to school could also means back to busy activities and crazy schedule. Extra-curriculum activities and church activities resume after school starts. It could be hectic if I have to drive my son to one activity and my daughter to another in the same evening.

I try to schedule my kids for activities for which I can share carpooling with friends, so we can help each other if needed.

Our back to school craziness started today when my daughter felt she didn’t have what she needed for school tomorrow – a different violin or violin accessories. And she couldn’t find her violin book she used in last school year. She was really in a bad mood for not being ready with orchestra supplies. She said she told me about her violin needing some work, but I didn’t know it was urgent and didn’t take action. Now she was frantic.

I didn’t feel like going shopping for a new violin in the last minute and with my daughter in bad mood. But I did spent a lot of time reading online about buying violins and checking local music stores. I also talked to friends who know more about violins than I do.

Fortunately, we will be able to borrow one from a friend whose daughter is in the same grade/school as my daughter. Now she will at least have a different violin to use in the first few days of school until I figure out what to buy for her.

Today I felt that the busyness and craziness have already started even before school officially starts.

Surprised and humbled

As I mentioned in my post Why do I blog?, part of the reasons why I blog are to express myself, to journal my day and my life events, to preserve memory for my children, and to share what’s on my mind.

So I  will write regardless if anyone else is interested in reading my blog. In fact I hardly know people who read my blog.

Certainly, it would be nice to have a big number of followers who subscribe to and regularly read my blog, or to have a lot of comments and feedback to my posts. But it doesn’t bother me if that doesn’t happen, because I know there are too many excellent blogs out there and I am in no position to compete with them for readers.

As long as my daughter reads my posts, I am happy.

Today when I clicked a referrer link, I was surprised to find my blog listed on a page that also includes blogs by those big name bloggers whom I recognize and admire, whose blogs I subscribe to and read regularly – Will Unwound, zen habits, The Personal Excellence Blog, Prolific Living, Tiny Buddha, etc.

The page titled Motivation, inspiration, productivity, minimalism, etc. is “the best collection of many famous and some less-known blogs on motivation, inspiration, personal development, productivity, life coaching, positivity, simplicity, minimalism, frugality, entrepreneurship, healthy living, blogging, etc.” I don’t know how my blog got on that page and who the creator Nishant Mishra is. His profile is in the Arabic language and I couldn’t understand a word.

It feels strange to see my blog listed in such a place. But I do feel honored and humbled to be on the same page with the other well-known bloggers. I don’t feel I deserve such an honor.

And I am thankful for Nishant Mishra who created the page. I love it. It includes my favorite blogs and covers all the topics I am very interested in myself.

I think this is a perfect opportunity to send my “A thank-you a day” note which I haven’t done yet for today.

Wealth divides familes

Last night when I called my parents in Suzhou, China, a cousin from Shanghai happened to be visiting. I don’t even remember how long I haven’t seen him in person, it could be 30 years or more. I never met his wife. Now their daughter is expecting a baby. How time flies.

We chatted for more than an hour on the phone. It was mostly about families and relatives and the problems they are experiencing as the result of the housing situation in Shanghai.

My father, the youngest in the family, had four brothers and one sister (only one brother and one sister-in-law are still alive). They all had big families with 3-5 children. In our family, I only have one surviving older brother. But I have a lot of cousins in Shanghai.

The housing situation in Shanghai is very tough.  Often times three generations and married siblings live together under the same roof in a place that belongs to the parents, as it was the case with some of my cousins. Housing is so expensive, ordinary folks can’t afford to buy anything. It costs more to buy a house or an apartment unit in Shanghai than in most places in the US.

If you happen to live in an old crowded neighborhood that the government wants to redevelop, then you hit the jackpot.

The government pays you to move to the new apartment buildings. The units and the size you get in exchange for the old one depend on how many people are living in the old residence or registered on the old residence record. If you happen to have your name registered on the old residence record, then you are qualified to get a new apartment unit or the equivalent amount of money. In Shanghai it usually means you become a millionaire overnight.

Three of my father’s siblings used to live in the same old neighborhood that was redeveloped in the last few years. Some of their children (my cousins) were lucky to be living with their parents, because they all got new apartments or lots of money, while others who didn’t live with their parents got nothing or very little. Favoritism by parents and unfair treatment of siblings created such a tension between parents and children, and between siblings. Parents and children, brothers and sisters are deeply divided, some even stop talking to each other.

Because housing is so expensive, relocation is often your only chance to move to something better. Everyone is fighting for survival and for himself. I was told nearly all families who had to relocate experience similar problems. It happens in Shanghai, and all over China right now.

It’s a sad situation. But I think in the foreseeable future, things will get better, because there will be no more siblings to fight with each other. With only one child in most families in urban areas in China, they basically get everything from their parents.

However, China is also facing another big problem. It will be for a long time. The younger generation is so spoiled by their parents, they are very dependent.

My cousin told me that her adult daughter and her husband both work for the airline industry and make very good income. When they got married, both sides of parents paid for their housing, car, furniture, the expensive wedding and everything else to start the new life and family. Now the young couple can’t cook. They either go out to eat or go to parents homes to eat. They bring their laundry for their parents to wash, even though they have wash machine at home. My cousin and his wife go to his daughter’s apartment regularly to do cleaning for her.

I had heard enough of this kind of stories, I was not totally surprised, yet I was still surprised. I didn’t know what to think. A lot of weired and unbelievable things are happening in China. I was just concerned about the next generation and China’s future.

A Thank-You a day

Today I went to Borders Bookstore to kill some time I had between dropping off and picking up a friend’s child for gymnastics. I knew Borders is closing the store in Woodbury and everything is on sale. I just wanted to look around and check it out.

I saw a book titled 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude
Changed My Life
 by John Kralik. The author tells how writing a thank-you note a day changed his life.

It’s a simple idea and can be easily practiced. So I thought why not do it myself, starting today.

I had just visited Lake Middle School for the parent information night and met  some teachers for my two kids for the first time. Writing a thank-you note to the teachers is a good thing to do.

So that’s what I did after I got home from Borders.

I sent thank-you notes to three of teachers I met today, two for the first time.

As I am writing this post and thinking about writing thank-you notes now, I realized that I had already sent thank-you/congrats/best wishes kind of notes today and the day before. Actually I have done it regularly, if not daily, without thinking about it.

But starting today, I will definitely be doing it daily and more intentionally.

I know it’s good for our soul to be appreciative and have an attitude of gratitude.

 

2011 Woodbury photo contest

Today I submitted three photos to the 2011 Woodbury photo contest.

The 13th annual “Focus on Woodbury” photo contest runs Aug 1-31. Entries are due by tomorrow, Aug. 31.

Woodbury Magazine is accepting submissions in the five contest categories: People, Nature, Pets, Events and Activities, and City Landmarks.

The contest is open to people who live, work or go to school in Woodbury. Entries are limited to three per person.

Winning photos will receive gift certificates to Woodbury restaurants and businesses, as well as the chance to be published in the Woodbury Magazine or city materials.

Residents also have a chance to view the photos online September 10–30 to vote for a favorite photo to be dubbed Readers’ Choice.

According to Woodbury Magazine, more than 330 photos were entered into the contest last year.

Winning at 2011 Minnesota State Fair

I am not a fan of the Minnesota State Fair and the famous fair food, but I go to the Fair almost every year since I came to Minnesota in 1999.

In the first couple of years I went because it was new for me. And I lived in an apartment on Energy Park Drive in St. Paul, not too far from the Fair. I could get on a shuttle bus right across the street from my apartment.

In the next few years I went to the Fair to take my kids and parents there.

In the last few years I went to the Fair to volunteer at MnDOT booth and to check out my kids’ winning works on display in Education Building.

This year all four items they submitted won a prize. I was surprised that my daughter won the 1st place in needlework, 2nd place in poems and 3rd place in report. I was hoping that she would win the 1st place again in poems as she did in the last two years. But instead she won the 1st place in needlework she did at school.

My son won the 3rd place in poems.

It was fun to enter the State Fair competition. I just wanted to encourage my kids to develop some skills in creative arts, work harder and do their best by entering the State Fair competition and hopefully winning something.

Time to volunteer

This week I will be busy with volunteering.

Last night I  attended the Woodbury Days’ Volunteer Meeting at Eagle Valley Golf Club House to receive my volunteer T-shirt and instructions.

Today I helped at my kids’ Lake Middle School during the Back to School event.

Tomorrow I will be at Minnesota State Fair and volunteer at the MnDOT booth.

On Saturday I will be at Woodbury Days and help at the Information Booth.

I have been volunteering at Minnesota State Fair and Woodbury Days for several years and enjoy doing it.

I like meeting new people and talking with people. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to go out and be somewhere with others. I often feel I receive more than I give when I volunteer.

 

Are all produce at Farmers’ Markets grown locally ?

I love Farmers’ Market. In summer I often buy vegetables from the Farmers’ Markets in St. Paul or Woodbury to supplement what I have from my own garden.

According to the St. Paul Farmers’ Market website, “All produce must be locally grown. Value added products must be produced locally using local products. You are not allowed to buy and re-sell produce at any of our locations.”

But I have alwasy wondered about whether all produce are really locally grown. I saw vendors selling produce from neatly stacked cases in June when they are still in early growing season in Minnesota.

A few days ago I talked to the owner of a wholesale store in St. Paul. He told me he sells produce to vendors for resale at Farmers’ Markets, because our growing season is too short in MN.

I am not sure where the owner of the wholesale store gets his produce. I think it’s very likely that not all of the produce he sells are grown locally.

So if he sells his produce to the vendors for resale at Farmers’ Markets, it’s safe to say that not all produce are home grown by the vendors themselves. It’s possible that not all of the produce sold at Farmers’ Markets are locally grown.    

I don’t know the answer for sure. I am still wondering “Are all produce at Farmers’ Markets grown locally as required?”

 

 

 

A wish came true

On Aug. 11, I was notified that my application to the 2011-2012 State of Minnesota Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) was approved. I am one of the 30 state employees and emerging leaders from across state government who were selected to participate in this leadership development program, designed to help participants become successful and effective in the workplace.

Today I received the confirmation and welcome letter. The first session and opening ceremony will be on September 15th at the State Capitol Rotunda.

I feel very grateful for being accepted into the program. I am so looking forward to this great learning and networking opportunity.

Retreat at Mount Carmel

Over this weekend (Aug. 19-21) I attended the Evangelical Fall Retreat sponsored by the Minnesota Faith Chinese Lutheran Church in St. Paul.

The retreat took place at Mount Carmel in Alexandria , MN. From Woodbury, it is 2 1/2 to 3 hours of driving. Mount Carmel is a great place for church retreats, family reunions and other events.

Our invited speaker is Dr. William Ho from Seattle. He talked about the signs of the end time and how to be a good father. He is the father of 4 amazing children who all entered university by the age of 14 or younger (one at the age of 10).

This was my first time to be at a retreat. I really enjoyed everything.

  • The nature – Mt. Carmel is a place with beauty, so peaceful and refreshing. It gives people a taste of heaven as Pastor Johan Hinderlie from Mount Carmel Ministries said.
  • The presentations by Dr. Ho – He is 72 years old, but his energy was amazing. He still travels on mission trips to China and around the world to preach.
  • The fellowship with Chinese friends – I got to know some people better. The testimonies were encouraging.
  • The church service – Pastor Johan Hinderlie’s sermont on Romans 12 titled New heart for new commands or “Donuts (Do not) and buts” was short but powerful and memorable. He used a box of donuts to illustrate his points.
  • The boat ride – Pastor Johan Hinderlie gave us a boat ride on Lake Carlos.
  • The food – was tasty and healthy, with lots of salads and fruits. You get hot water, coffee, tea milk anytime you want. 
  • The convenience – Everything is close and within short walking distance.
  • The weather – It was perfect.

I posted more photos on my Facebook page.

For more info about Mount Carmel, contact (320) 846-2744 or info@MountCarmelMinistries.com.

Tracking your flight status – live and free

If you are picking up someone from the airport and want to know the status of the flight – whether it has arrived or not – you can simply enter the airline and flight number in the Google search box.

For example, entering “Delta 1668″ will bring you the status information of the flight. 

But if you want to keep track of your flight – where it is at any given moment, FlightAware is the best website to use.

FlightAware can quickly and easily track a flight. It tells where in the air the plane is. The only information you need to do so is the airline name and flight number or the departure and arrival cities.

FlightAware provides live flight data, airport information, weather maps, flight planning, and navigation charts, as well as aviation news and photos. 

With FlightAware, you will never have to wonder when your expected flight will arrive. 

Faith is …

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” — Hebrews 11:1

Pastor James Baker, senior pastor of Peace Church Ministries in Mesquite, Texas, is the guest speaker at the Family Conference at Spirit of Life Bible Church this weekend. It was a great conference.

Today morning he talked about what faith is.

Faith is —

  • believing when I don’t see it
  • obeying when I don’t understand it
  • giving when I don’t have it
  • persisting when I don’t feel like it
  • thanking God before I receive it
  • trusting even if I don’t get it

 

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Become a future ready leader

My article Become a future ready leader (see below) was posted on the SLA (Special Libraries Association) future ready 365 blog.

Become a future ready leader

In the last few years, I have learned a great deal about what makes a great leader through intensive reading on leadership, attending workshops, interviewing leaders and witnessing a true leader in action. That leader is – Tom Sorel, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, where I serve as a librarian. I would like to share a few things I have learned.

Let’s start with the basics of what leadership is about.

In Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner say leadership is not about position or title, power or authority, status or wealth, being a CEO, president or a hero. Leadership is about relationships. It is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. It’s about character and what you do.

The fact is, everyone can be a leader. You are a leader in some way even if you don’t hold an official title in the organization. You are the most important leader in your organization, in your family and your life. Learning leadership skills is everyone’s business. Leadership opportunities are everywhere.

To be a better leader and a future ready leader, we need to move away from the traditional leadership styles that are individual-centered and to a more relationally oriented style – transformational leadership, democratic leadership, servant leadership and collaborative leadership.

This new approach to leadership means rather than having a hero who tells us what to do, we need a servant who inspires us, empowers us and helps us do the work ourselves. Leadership is shifted from “power over” to “power with.”

A true leader is a transformational leader, not a transactional manager. A transformational leader helps his or her followers become self-empowered leaders and change agents. Transformational leaders can articulate vision and values clearly so their followers, the new self-empowered leaders, know where to go and what to do.

In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John Maxwell says: “To lead tomorrow, learn today. Leadership doesn’t develop in a day. It takes a lifetime.”

Starting today, cultivate the following characteristics of great leaders:

  • Characters – “Leadership is character in action.” – James Hunter
  • Competence – Your emotional intelligence is as important as your IQ, if not more important. Hire people who are competent and smarter than you. “Competence is doing the right thing, the right way at the right time.” -Sheila Murray Bethel
  • Collaboration – Seek to forge alliances both inside and outside of the organization. “Including colleagues and constituents in decision-making and problem solving strengthens organizations and builds participants’ commitment.” – David D. Chrislip
  • Compassion – Create a caring, respectful, people-centered culture within your organization. “Take care of your people and they will take care of your business, not just because they have to, but because they want to.” – Lee Cockerell
  • Connection – Connect with yourself, connect with others personally, and connect to the world. Forging the bond between people can strengthen teamwork. “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.” – John Maxwell
  • Continued learning – All great leaders are lifelong learners.
  • Empowerment – “Only secure leaders give power to others. Leading well is not about enriching yourself, it’s about empowering others. Believe in people and give your power away.”  – John Maxwell
  • Humility –Have a humble spirit. Admit mistakes and learn from them. To be the best leader is to be the best servant. Choose service to others over self-interest.
  • Humor and fun – Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself so others will laugh with you. Celebrate and make work fun.
  • Inspiring and motivational – “Leaders are to influence people and inspire people to act.” – James Hunter
  • Mentoring and legacy – “When you invest in others, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you. The best leaders lead today with tomorrow in mind by making sure they invest in leaders who will carry their legacy forward.” – John Maxwell
  • Openness and transparency – Openness in mind, heart, policies and dealings encourages curiosity, creativity and innovation.
  • Trust – Character and competence are the foundations of trust; trust is the foundation of leadership. When you believe in people, they will believe in themselves and rise to greatness.
  • Vision, purpose and values – “Leadership is getting people to want to do what you want them to do because they share your purpose, vision and values.” – Kevin Freiberg

Along the leadership development journey and in your practice as a leader, pay attention to the following pitfalls:

  • Having tunnel vision
  • Micromanaging
  • Demanding perfection
  • 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 others’ successes
  • Making assumptions without fact-checking
  • Reacting negatively to criticism.
  • Showing favoritism
  • Being rules-oriented rather than people-oriented

Learning about leadership skills from reading and attending classes is important; learning from other leaders is equally as important. Both good and bad examples can teach us valuable lessons.

But what’s even more important in this process is application and practice. We become better leaders by applying our learning, knowledge and experience to our everyday lives. To become better leaders, we must be willing to change and grow.

Wherever you are in your organization and in your life, start the leadership journey today with the first step. Be the leader you were created to be and be future ready.

Qin Tang is a librarian at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. After graduating from college in China, she studied in Germany for five years on a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service  receiving her MA in German. She came to the U.S. in 1991 and fell in love with libraries as she spent countless hours reading and using the Madison Public Library to learn English. She received her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1994. Qin has worked in public, academic, corporate and government libraries. She was profiled in the March 2007 issue of Information Outlook - “A roundabout route to Minnesota”.  Qin is also a writer and blogger. Read her article “There is no place like the library” and connect with her via LinkedIn or Twitter @TangQin.

The Healing Power of Water

My article The Healing Power of Water was published online in the August edition of The Edge.  A previous article on green living was published in the April 2010 edition.

The Edge is a monthly magazine published in Twin Cities that explores all aspects of
holistic living – the experience of living authentically, the integrative
approaches of complementary healing, eating consciously, the arts, metaphysics
and the intuitive arts, our integral connection with nature, spirituality and
the mysteries beyond.

I enjoy reading this magazine.

Here is my Aug. 2011 article in The Edge:

Every morning, the first thing I do, or before I eat anything, is to drink a glass of water. Ever since I read the book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, by Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, several years ago, I make sure that I drink lots of water to avoid dehydration and to stay healthy.

Our body needs water to flush out toxins as well as to keep the system flexible, lubricated and running smoothly. But on some days when I am very busy, I either forget or don’t take time to drink enough water. The busyness of life gets in the way of doing what is good.

Getting my two kids to drink water is also a challenge.

“I am not thirsty,” they often respond to my request of drinking water, though I can tell from their dry mouth and dark colored urine that they clearly are dehydrated.

There are so many choices of drinks out there. Soda, juice or sugar drinks are all so much more attractive for kids than plain water.

I see dehydration as a common thread to our health problems as the result of our busy life and modern lifestyle.

Dehydration is mainly caused by not drinking enough water to replenish liquids lost from breathing, sweating and urination. Vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss and other illnesses and diseases can also cause dehydration.

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration? Thirst, dry mouth, dark colored urine, dry skin, skin flushing, fatigue or weakness are some of the initial signs and symptoms of mild dehydration, when the body has lost about 2 percent of its total fluid. When the total fluid loss reaches 5 percent, the following signs and symptoms of dehydration can appear: decreased urination, increased heart rate, increased
body temperature, extreme fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, tingling
of the limbs, etc. When the body reaches 10 percent fluid loss, it can cause severe dehydration with symptoms such as muscle spasms, racing pulse, dim vision,
painful urination, confusion, difficulty breathing, seizures, chest and abdominal pain and unconsciousness. Ten percent fluid loss and above can be fatal.

The average person loses between two and three liters of water a day through breath, perspiration and urine. For our body to function properly, we ought to drink at least eight glasses of water.

Don’t wait till you feel thirsty to drink water. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

According to Dr. Batmaghelidj, a dry mouth is not a reliable indicator of dehydration. The body signals its water shortage by producing pain. Dehydration actually produces pain and many degenerative diseases, including asthma, arthritis, hypertension, angina, adult-onset diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

If you suffer pain or other illness due to dehydration, don’t expect your doctors to find the cause. What doctors usually do is to give you medication to kill the pain and treat the symptoms, not to find the cause of the problem and eliminate it.

Dr. Batmaghelidj’s message to the world is, “You are not sick, you are thirsty. Don’t treat thirst with medication.”

Healthy living starts with something as simple as drinking enough water. Our health is dependent on the quality and quantity of the water we drink.

Water has the power to heal the body and to sustain life.

Please do not let the busyness of life and the modern lifestyle get in your way of tapping into the healing and life-sustaining power of water every day.

Peace come from…

Peace is a precious gift. It’s priceless. You cannot buy it. Whether you have it or not does not depend on your social and economic status.

Where do peace come from? How do you stay calm and have peace in your heart and mind when facing troubles, trials, tribulations and tragedies that life inevitably throw at us?

In the book Listen to the Heart, author Bobbie Reed talks about the fruit of the spirit and where peace comes from.

Peace comes from

  • believing in God
  • staying close to God
  • doing good
  • knowing you’re where you’re supposed to be
  • letting go of fear
  • never giving up hope

Peace comes through trust.

Peace comes with forgiveness.

Peace is a choice.

Peace can be made.

Peace is experienced in the present.

I am so thankful for the peace I have. I don’t lose sleep over government shutdown, layoff, stock market crash, getting old, having troubles at home or at work. I have peace.

What a precious gift it is to have that peace of mind and heart!

May you have peace, have peace of mind, no matter what your life circumstances are and how big troubles, trials, tribulations and tragedies you are facing in life.

 

101 ways to be a better person

If you are interested in becoming a better person, check out the Personal Excellence Blog by Celes and her post “How to be a better person: 101 ways.”  

Celes is also starting a new  “Be a Better Me in 30 Days” (30BBM) August 2011 Challenge.

Personal development is a life long pursuit. We should never stop working on ourselves, instead we should commit ourselves to working on getting better every day.

The magic of face to face conversation

Nowadays email has become such a popular communications tool in the office, we talk less and less with our coworkers face to face.

More and more of our working time is spent on emails. We constantly write emails and respond to emails. We even email people who sit right next to us and can easily talk to. We can sit all day in front of the computer taking care of business via emails.

At the same time, our office phones are getting very quiet. When we call someone, there is often no response. The person we try to reach can be either out of office or busy and doesn’t want to answer the phone right now. Sometimes we can even get a response quicker when we communicate via email than via phone.        

Today I had to take care of some business at work that involves people in different offices. I needed quick response and quick action.

Normally I would use emails to communicate, but I didn’t want to email back and forth and wait for responses. When my calling didn’t get answered, I simply walked to a different floor and talked to the person face to face. We were able to get things clarified, questions answered, apointment scheduled and actions taken right on the spot within a few minutes. It was quick and efficient.

Afterwards I had a sudden revelation that face-to-face talk is still the most effective and efficient communications tool. How sad that we don’t do that more and instead let email become the dominant communications tool.

I am not against email. It is really effective in some situations, such as communicating with more than one person at the same time. All I want to point out is  don’t overuse email and don’t forget face-to-face conversation.

There is magic in the direct human contact.

Raising sons

In the same book I talked about yesterday, “Selected Studies from Proverbs” by Charles Swindoll of the Insight for Living Ministry, there is also chapter on “You and Your Son.”

Charles Swindoll describes 5 areas of teaching that are essential if our sons are to grow up to be honorable men of God.

Here is a summary of the chapter.

1. Teach him to stand alone

  • Teach him the importance of having biblical conviction and being willing to stand up for them – even when that means standing alone.  
  • Teach him what a good friend really is.
  • Teach him the consequences of wrong.

2. Teach him to be open to God’s counsel

  • Teach him to respond to our counsel. If he treasures our counsel as a child, then treasuring God’s counsel in his adulthood will be an easy transition.
  • Help him see the value of other people’s correction. If he learns to respect the correction of his teachers, coaches, grandparents and friends, it won’t be so difficult to respond to God’s discipline later in his life.
  • Share the experiences of our life with him.
  • Spend sufficient time counseling him. Our presence and availability will shape his personality and his future.

3. Teach him how to deal with temptation

  • Sexual temptation. 
  • Temptation to overindulging in food and alcohol.

4. Teach him how to handle money and the 4 basic areas of financial responsibility 

  • Giving – to God and to the poor. 
  • Earning – Learn a skill and make a living.
  • Spending – Spend and invest wisely.
  • Saving – Learn the importance of delayed gratification. 

5. Teach him the value of hard work

  • It’s a mistake to give to a child without allowing him to experience the value and reward of hard, diligent work.
  • Give him specific jobs to do around the home.
  • Help him find ways of earning money and sharing in the expenses of his education.
  • Help prepare him for living on his own.

I think most of these ideas also apply to raising girls.

Two additional ingredients mentioned in the chapter are constant delight and constant discipline. Our kids need to know that their parents care and delight in them so they won’t be discouraged by constant discipline.

Today I was listening to Dr. David Jeremiah‘s Turning Point Radio Broadcast from July 23, 2011 titled Children Need Cheerleaders from the series The Joy of Encouragement, he talked about 4 ways how parents can be better cheerleaders of their children, get off their back and get on their team.

  • Encourage them with focused attention.
  • Encourage them with individual affirmation.
  • Encourage them with genuine appreciation. 
  • Encourage them with physical affection. 

 

Raising daughters

Raising kids is hard work.

Some parents say it’s easier to raise boys than girls, or vice verse.

For me, my daughter was easier when she was little. Unlike my son who cried a lot as a baby and always wanted to be held, my daughter was happy and content. She didn’t cry when she was put to sleep or woke up like my son did. What a relief for me.

But as Andy and Amy got older, both are teenagers now, I found my girl is harder to raise than my boy.

Andy is more mellow in his personality. When I ask him to do something, he often says: “Yes, Mom.” It’s easier to talk him into doing something.

Amy, on the other hand, is very strong-willed. When I ask her to do something, she often says: “Wait!” or “Later!” which can take hours, or worse, nothing will be done. She has been butting heads with me more which is frustrating for me.

Yesterday I asked Amy to clean up her room and put stuff away before she left for a trip. She refused to do it and was upset because I didn’t give her iPad back for recharging as she wanted. She cried and cried, and then cried herself to sleep before lunch time.

After lunch, she did pick up her stuff, but did so with an attitude, an attitude she often displays when I ask her to do something.

“Why do I have to do it?”

“Why, I have already done it.”  

If obeying your parents means do it right away, do it completely and do it with a good attitude, it means my kids have a long way to go to become obedient and I have a lot to learn as a parent to teach them obedience.   

If it takes a village to raise a child, I am one of the many who influence her life.

I so want my daughter to grow into a godly woman.

Today I was reading the book “Selected Studies from Proverbs” by Charles Swindoll of the Insight for Living Ministry. The book is also available on CD.

In the chapter on “You and Your Daughter,” Charles Swindoll describes what a godly woman is using comparison and contrast from Proverbs –

The wise woman vs. the foolish woman

The wise woman is constructive instead of being destructive.  

The gracious woman vs. the contentious woman

The gracious woman is accepting, appreciative, thoughtful, considerate, kind, compassionate, and loving.

The  virtuous woman vs. the sensual woman

The  virtuous woman has character and integrity, is trustworthy, diligent, committed, prudent, generous, strong, capable, excellent, and efficient.

The godly woman vs. the indiscreet woman

The godly woman fears the Lord, cultivates an inner beauty that’s eternal and not external, and has a gentle spirit.  

As a parents, I need to help my daughter realize the value of being wise, develop in her a caring spirit, cultivate the skills of her hand, teach her how to handle money and open her eyes to the blessings of hard work.

As a parent, I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities in raising my kids and inadequate in my abilities to do the parenting job. I do have a lot to learn and grow.

In my next post, I will talk about raising boys and share the tips from the same book by Swindoll.

System glitch causes display problems

Dear Readers,

Lately due to a system glitch, this blog has experienced problems with correctly displaying the contents. I have notified Forum Communications – the company who owns the website Areavoices.com. Hopefully the problems will be fixed soon.

Thanks for your patience.

First day back to work at MnDOT

After 20 days of the Minnesota government shutdown, I was contacted by my supervisor yesterday afternoon (July 20) to go back to work today.

The shutdown was over. The waiting was over. The anxiety was over. So was my homecation. I was happy to go back to work today. I got up early and left for work a few minutes early.

At the entrance of the Transportation building, I was, like every other employee walking in, warmly greeted by our MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and his management team with a cheerful “Welcome back!” and a handshake or a hug. They had been waiting at different entrances shortly before 7 am when employees started to come in.

Coffee and donuts were available which added some bitter-sweet touch to the event.

Reporters from media were on site to report the event and interview people. Check out this MinnPost article MnDOT workers get a warm ‘Welcome back!’

Our office managers also handed out a hand written note from Commissioner Sorel to every employee. In the note, Sorel extended a personal welcome back and thank-you. He ended the note with “We are MnDOT!!” – a slogan and an initiative his management team created in the last couple of years.

“We are MnDOT”expresses the pride of being a MnDOT employee. “We are MnDOT” videos share stories about who we are, what we do, and what makes MnDOT great.

Later in the morning we had an office meeting to go through the checklist that the management team had worked on in the last couple of days to help employees ease back to work. Our office managers also expressed their personal welcome back and thank you.

Around 8 am, Governor Dayton stopped by at the Transportation Building to greet returning employees. At noon, he sent a thank-you note via email to all state employees.

In the afternoon at 2 pm, Commissioner Sorel and Deputy Commissioner Bernie Arseneau conducted a web cast for all employees. The web cast started with a “We are MnDOT” video. Then both leaders again welcomed everyone back to work. They shared what happened during the shutdown, talked about return to work checklists and resources, and how to resume business.

It sure felt good to be welcomed back at work and to be valued.

Thanks to Commissioner Sorel and his management team, I feel proud to be working for MnDOT and being a part of “We are MnDOT.”

A time of rest and renewal

It’s the 19th day of the Minnesota government shutdown. Without doubt, the shutdownis a bummer to my pocketbook. It hurts financially. But to be fair, the forced time off is good for the body, mind and spirit. In our over worked, overwhelmed, and over-committed society, having the time of rest is a blessing. Instead of alarm clock, driving and traffic, staring at the computer all day long, to do list, deadline,stress, pressure, I can get up late,go with the flow, work in the garden, eat whenever I want, read, relax and take it easy. However, by the end of the day, I do feel a little bit guilty. The day goes by so fast,it feels likeI haven’t get anything done. Yesterday (07/18/2011) I heard Chip Ingram from Living on the Edge talking aboutGod’s Boundaries for Abundant Living. In his daily broadcast, he talked about silence, solitude and sabbath and why having Sabbath, a time of rest is good for us – so we can be spiritually refreshed, physically renewed, emotionally charged. A time of rest can protect our body from wearing out, give us time to slow down, to think and reflect, to recharge and recreate. It looks like today might be the last day of the shutdown. Gov. Dayton has called the Legislature into a special session at 3 p.m. today. Once the bills are approved and signed by Gov. Dayton,state employees will be called back to work. There will be some mixed feelings on the first day of back to work.

A true leader shines in times of crisis

One fortunate result of the very tragic event of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007 was the leadership change at MnDOT.

Tom Sorel became the new MnDOT Commissioner in April 2008, replacing Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau who was removed from her position as Transportation Commissioner by the State Senate in February 2008.

A true leader is often born in times of crisis. A true leader always shines in times of crisis.

Tom Sorel became the new leader at MnDOT during the crisis of the I-35W bridge collapse. Now he shines again during the current government shutdown crisis.

MnDOT has had three commissioners since I started working there in 2000 – Elwyn Tinklenberg, Carol Molnau, and Tom Sorel. I have nothing to say about the first two commissioners, because I rarely saw them and hardly knew them. I was never impressed by anything they said or did.

But the current Commissioner Sorel stood out in times of peace, and especially in times of crisis.

I have been impressed by a lot of things he did within the agency in the last 3 years. He is a servant leader who has humility and character.

The first thing Sorel did as the MnDOT Commissioner that impressed me was to change the org chart. In all the previous MnDOT org charts, Commissioner was at the top of the chart. But he added Minnesota citizens and then the Governor above his name as the Commissioner.

He is a leader who genuinely cares about employees. I was surprised, as everyone else at MnDOT, to receive a personal Happy Birthday message from Commissioner Sorel. Yes,the note was computer generated and he really didn’t write every single note to every employee. Nevertheless, his idea and thought touched people.

Last Friday Commissioner Sorel sent an email to all employees and encouraged all to write letters to him to express their thoughts about the shutdown and recovery to begin the healing process.

He is a leader who treats employees with respect. He always says that all MnDOT employees are leaders and ambassadors for the agency. And he truly encourage employees to be leaders.

He is a leader who connects and communicates well with employees. He joins employees in the annual Twins baseball game. He participates in meetings and events and makes himself visible and approachable. Before the shutdown, he made an effort to do webcasts or send emails regularly to give updates on the contingency planning.

He is a leader who inspires employees to be their best. He is not a micromanager. He trusts people and gives people confidence to do their jobs.

Servant leadership is Commissioner Sorel’s leadership philosophy and style. He has walked the talk and really set an example as a true servant leader.

Even though we are still in the shutdown crisis and there is a lot of personal and organizational challenges and work ahead, I am confident, we will recover quickly as an agency under Commissioner Sorel’s wise leadership.

MnDOT is better because we have a true leader who can lead not only in times of peace, but also in times of crisis.

Shutdown frustration

The Minnesota state government shutdown is ending its second week tomorrow with no resolution in sight. It’s getting increasingly frustrating for everyone effected, especially the state employees. We didn’t expect the shutdown would last longer than two weeks. I started worrying about the financial consequences of the layoff. In the next few months I need to pay back money borrowed from a relative to buy the current house 10 years ago because she is in the process of buying a house herself. My van is over 10 years old. I just spent $300 for repairlast week and I need to save morefor a replacement in the next year or so. I have a coworker whose spouse also works for the state. Now they are both laid off. They are worried about mortgage, child support, etc. I even worry about the plants I left in the office. They will surely die if not watered after two weeks. I had them for years. They are part of my life. I don’t want to lose them. Adding to the frustration is the process of applying for the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance. The UI website is not a user friendly site, to say the least. Everyone of my coworkers reported problems and expressed frustration with the application process. We are information professionals and we used to help people find information. Now we need help to complete our UI application. I started my online application in June before I left for a trip, to get a head start. I even talked to a UI representative and was ok’ed to do so. Last week I was told that it was wrong and I had to changeit. But I couldn’tmake the simple change myself, they had to do it for me. A coworker checked a wrong box in his application, he couldn’t go back to uncheck it. The UI staff had to deletehis account and start fresh for him. This morning I logged in to my accountto request benefit payment. I had trouble completing it. I couldn’t even find my employer -State of Minnesotaon the employer list. When I called the UI for help, I got hung up 5 times with the message: “You needa touch tone phone to use the system” even though I do have a touch tone phone and I just used it last week to call.Finally I tried my cell phone andI got talk to a live person after two attempts. Since I applied for UI in June, I got close to 10noticesfrom the UI. I was told that they were system generated and I should just ignore and discard most of them. This was just a small example of the waste and the loss of resources as the result of the government shutdown. Think about the local restaurantsand other type of small businesses in St Paul or other locations that lost a lot of customers who are state employees. I read the other day in the paper that the Farmer’s Market in downtown St. Paul lost a great deal of business due to the shutdown. Think about the contractors and vendors who depend on state businesses. In this shutdown game, everyone loses and no one wins. Our elected officials need to work together, stop being childish and silly, give up some of their own agendas in order to reach the compromise and gain the result forthe common good. The news about our government shutdown was reported in the local newspaper in my hometown in China. A few days ago when I called and talked with my brother, he laughed with unbelief about what’s happening here in the US. He couldn’t imagine that any government in China would shut down like this.

A bullying experience

During the school year, the topic of bullying comes up quite often in emails from schools or school district, or in projects my kids do for class. I never paid much attention to it. Because in my mind, it’s not something I need to worry about. Whenever I ask my kids whether they are bullied by others at school, they always say no. My kids are good students. They have never caused any trouble at schools. Their teachers always comment that they are great students to have in class. So I never thought they would bully others. But on Monday I witnessed something that made me pause and think about bullying from a new perspective. On Monday my kids started a middle school camp provided by our school district. There is bus pick up and drop off at Middleton Elementary School. Because of the state government shutdown, I am out of work and am able to drive my kids to and from school for the camp every day. I also provide rides to two other friends’ kids. On the first day as we were leaving the school parking lot for home, the boys noticed that one of the campers they knew from previous class was riding home on his bike. They called his name from the van and started laughing at him. That made me uncomfortable. Suddenly I realized that it was a kind of bullying, even though they didn’t do or say any nasty things. But what they did could make the boy feel uncomfortable. “Stop it, boys!” I told the laughing boys immediately, “This is bullying. You are making him uncomfortable. Instead of laughing at him, you need to respect him more for what he is doing. He takes care of himself and is more independent and courageous than you are.” And they stopped their laughing right away. Honestly I respect the boy more for his independence and courage to take care of himself without relying on his parents providing transportation. It doesn’t matter whether he chose to bike willingly or had to bike because his parents couldn’t drive him. Learning to be independent and responsible at an earlier age help build character and develop resilience. Back at home, I reminded my son again that it was wrong to laugh at the boy. He said he didn’t start it, but it didn’t matter. Even if he didn’t start it, it was still wrong to be a willing participant or a spectator who did nothing to stop bullying. I realized through this experience that bullying among kids are more common than I thought. I should pay attention to not only whether my kids are victims of bullying but also whether they bully others. Yes, I knew my two kids fight with each other and bully each other often at home, but I didn’t realize that they could be bullies at school as well. It’s a wake up call.

Unwarranted complaint

The other dayI felt very embarrassed by making an unwarranted assumption and complaint. I receive quite a few emails every day, including several e-newsletters and blog posts.Usually I don’t have time to read them all. Based on the subject headings, I open and read some of the messages and ignore the rest and leave them unopened. While I was on vacation in San Diego, I received an email notice from WAA regarding the WAA basketball registration for the 2011-2012 season dated June 28. I didn’t give it much thought and attention at that time. Last week as I went through some of my old emails, I reread the WAA message. To my dismay, I noticed that”Fees increase on July 1, 2011.” Because I didn’t receive any previous notice regarding the basketball registration date and fee increase, and the June 28 notice didn’t indicate that this was the 2nd or 3rd or final reminder, I assumed that it was the only notice sent out by WAA. I was not too happy about the short notice. I wish I could have more than two days of advance notice to register. As someone who is not shy of making comments and giving feedback, I sent a quick reply email to WAA without much thought: “You didn’t give us much time to register before the fee increase.Basically only two days of advance notice. Sorry I was out of town and missed it.” After I hit the send key, I felt uneasy. I wish I had not sent it or at least said it in a nicer way, not so accusatory. The next day I got the response from WAA: “There were six weeks to register, that email was the third notice sent.” Now I felt really embarrassed for making assumptions and unwarranted complaint. Just because I didn’t receive the previous notices didn’t mean that they didn’t exist. I shouldn’t have made the assumption and judgment so quickly. I had to apologize with a follow-up email. I wish this email exchange never happened. ButI learned a valuable lesson. Before I criticize or complain about anyone or anything, I need to check the facts, and not make assumptions based on my own observation and limited knowledge. Otherwise I will make a fool of myself.

Motivated by competition

In summer 2005, my 7 year old son Andy started selling golf balls inour backyard facing the Eagle Valley Golf Course. He did that in the following summers as well. At the beginning, Andy was excited of selling golf balls and making some money. He could make a few hundreds a summer. But every year, he gets less motivated. Last year, he only did it a few times thatI could count on one hand. I always ask Andy to divide the money he earned and save part of it for college, put some in the savings account, leave some for giving, and have the rest for spending. He said because I didn’t let him buy whatever he wanted, he was not interested in selling any more. That could be part of the reason. But in my opinion,that’s not the main reason. I think he gets bored of doing it as he gets older. This year, half of the summer is over and he hadn’t shown any interest in his old business until yesterday when he saw three neighbor boys had a golf ball stand in our backyard and were playing and selling golf balls. This morning Andy went to the basement and got his golf balls organized. Afterward he resumed his business. I think my son is certainly motivated by competition. I was reminded of an incident a few summers ago. Andy hadn’t been interested in doing business for a while. Then one day when we got home and he saw a neighbor girl was selling golf balls in her backyard facing ours, he got excited. He run to the basement and set his golf ball stand out on the opposite side of the girl’s stand. He thought it was fun. To his surprise, our neighbor family was not amused and happy by his action.They moved her stand a few steps ahead of his. Later in the evening, the girl and her mom knocked on our door. We didn’t have contact as neighbors, so I was surprised to see mother and daughter at our front door. The mother complained about my son’s action.She told me that it was not fair that my son took his stand out when her daughter was already out there with her stand. He shouldn’t have competed with her daughter. I wasn’t sure what to say. I apologized. Later that evening, I wrote a long letter to the mother. First I apologized for what happened. I promised her that we would honor her request and my son would not sell golf balls again whenever her daughter is out there selling her golf balls. But I also pointed out that she needed to face the reality of competition. Competition is part of life. It is motivational for some people. In the letter I also pointed out that she really had no right to tell us what we could do or not doin our backyard. My son could sell golf balls whenever he wanted on our property, regardless of who else was also doing it. I welcomed her daughter joining my son selling golf balls at the same time if she wanted to. I didn’t think that parents should get involved in the business of their kids. They are doing it for some fun and making some money. It’s fun to have company and some competition. It’s motivational. Why should parents get involved and make it so seriously? My son hasn’t been very interested in his golf balls business again. As promised, he never takes his stand out whenever the neighbor girl is out there. That was an interesting experience. Today on his first day of business this summer,Andy made over$20. He was promised that he can spend his money in China when he goes on the trip in a couple of weeks.

Societal evolution

I have been reading a book on leadership titled “A new breed of leader: 8 leadership qualities that matter most in the real world” by Sheila Murray Bethel. In a section about wisdon from the past, the author talks about John Alexander Tyler who wrote about democratic societies’ evolution in the mid-1800s. I found the following description on societal evolution very interesting. SOCIETAL EVOLUTION The average longevity of formerly great civilizations was about 200 years… and each of them passed through the following evolution: From bondage to spiritual faith, From spiritual faith to great courage, From courage to liberty, From liberty to abundance, From abundance to selfishness From selfishness to complacency, From complacency to apathy, From apathy to dependency, From dependency right back to the bondage where it all started. How far along this cycle have we moved? Are we somewhere in the abundance-selfishness-complacency-apathy phase? What do you think?

My trip to San Diego and Las Vegas

I have been living in the US for 20 years and traveled to both east and west coast states, but never been to San Diego and Las Vegas. So it was nice that my family got an opportunity to travel and spend 10 days in both places. To summary the trip – I really like San Diego, but not Las Vegas. If I have to rate both cities as the best/worst place for living,on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best), I would give San Diego a “9” and Las Vegas a “2.” San Diego is a beautiful city with perfect weather. Every day it started cool in the morning and ended cool in the evening, but the sun always shined brightly during the day. It didn’t feel hot, but surprisingly my kids got sunburns. In San Diego, we visited Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village, USS Midway Museum, Coronado Island and the famous Del Hotel, Balboa Park (my favorite), Zoo, andSea World. Balboa Park is a must-see San Diego attraction.The Park is the nation’s largest urban cultural park. It’s home to 15 major museums, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo. The gardens in Balboa Park are my favorites.I visited about 10 gardens – Alcazar Garden Botanical Building Cactus Garden Casa del Rey Moro Garden Desert Garden Marston House Garden Palm Canyon Rose Garden San Diego Zoo Botanical Collection Zoro Garden The Spanish Village Art Centeris also very unique and beautiful.Over 30 artists have their studios in one location. You can talk to the artists and see their works. I talked tothe Chinese painter Lucy Wang (Studio 4) and sand artist Mary Renner (Studio 16A). Watching artists at work was eye opening. From San Diegowe drove to LA to visit a friend and stayed overnight. The next morning we drove to Las Vegas. I found Las Vegas kind of boring and soulless. However, the hotels and casinos were interesting to visit. They are big and unique. To get discount show tickets, we went toa time share presentation.It was interesting to see how sales people trying to sell time share and to learn a few new things, such asRCI -the world’s largest timeshare vacation exchange network. I posted some photos from the trip on my Facebook.

Generosity begets generosity

I just came home from a 10-day vacation to San Diego with a side road trip to Los Angles and Las Vegas. On my flight home from San Diego on the 4th of July, I had a really brief and insignificant conversation with a Delta flight attendant. But somehow it taught me a lesson and stuck in my mind. So I would like to share. On my Delta flight to San Diego 10 days ago,guests were asked and given the choice of either having a tiny pack of peanuts (weight 0.42 oz.) or a pack of Biscoff (two small cookies). But on my flight back, I noticed that the flight attendant didn’t ask anyone for his/her choice. He automatically passed out three items to everyone – peanuts, Biscoff and mini pretzels. I was impressed by this male flight attendant’s generosity, or Delta’s generosity on this 4th of July holiday. So when he came to my seat, I had to make a compliment. I said: “Thank you for being so generous today!” He was surprised by my compliment. So I explained why I said so. He told me that on their morning flight, they give out less because they have to save for the afternoon return flight. Now he had a lot left. “Heck, why shouldn’t I give out more? I hate it when someone asks to have both peanuts and cookies and a flight attendant says no.” I said “Thank you” again. Before he turned away from me to serve the next customer, he asked me:”Would you like to keep this can of tomato juice?” Nowadays whenflight attendants serve drinks, they usually pour you a small cup, but not give you a whole can. I guess my compliment of his being generous prompted him to be more generous. Isn’t thata simple example of what it means”Generosity begets generosity?” When you do something for another person who expresses appreciation in return, you will want to domore for him.

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Talking to strangers

“Don’t talk to strangers!”

This is a phrase that’s often heard in our society. We tell our kids not to talk to strangers for safety concerns. As adults, we usually don’t talk to strangers because we are conditioned not to talk to strangers except for “Hi” and “Bye,” or we do so for privacy concerns. As a kid I was very shy. I didn’t talk much, even at home. My father is a man with few words. I probably never talked to strangers. But somehow things have changed over the years. I can’t pinpoint to what caused the change. I just noticed in the last few years that I enjoy talking to people, even strangers. I have an inquisitive mind and like to know what people do and think. It doesn’t feel so natural and comfortable to me to be around people in close proximity and people don’t talk to each other. I often take the initiative to start a conversation. On a recent flight to San Diego, I sat next to a man in his sixties. He came on board the last minute. I jokingly said to him when he walked toward his seat next to me: “You are a last minute person.” He didn’t say anything, maybe he didn’t hear me well. He started dosing off after he took the seat. I was quite disappointed to have a seatmate who was not talktive. So I focused my attention on reading the travel book about San Diego I had with me. Half way through the flight and after a drink and pretzel snack for refreshment, my seatmate finall awoke and became fully alive. He asked me what I would be doingin San Diego. I was happy to talk. So we chatted. He told me his son is a Delta pilot, that’s why he can fly for free, often boarding the plane at the last minute when there are free seats left. When he said he is a coach and speaks at Christian camps around the country, my interest peaked. Questions started flooding my mind. I learned that he is Len Marinello, Coachfor Christ. He speaks at Camps Farthest Out.He just finished a camp meeting in Iowa. Camps Farthest Outstarted in 1930 by Glenn Clark, a coach and professor at Macalester College in St. Paul. Now it’s an international organization with camps around the world. In addition to faith, Camps Farthest Out, we also talked about books,kids, San Diego, etc. Time flies by really fast when you enjoy a conversation. Before we departed, Len prayed for me. He also gave me a booklet “The Lord’s Prayer” by Glenn Clark. He said he would take me sight seeing in San Diego had he not have to leave the town again the same evening or early next morning for another camp meeting. I was so glad I talked to a stranger. Yesterday eveningas I was walking along the Harbor Island Drive enjoying San Diego at dawn, I talked to a guy who was video recording the San Diego downtown scene. He is from San Jose. He told me about his Youtube videos of San Diego sunsets, pointed out the landmarks in the area and recommended his favorite local seafood restaurant. A few minutes down the road, I talked to a couple who a few months ago sold everything they owned including the house and moved to San Diego to live on the boat. I asked them how it was to live on water. We enjoyed a nice conversation about living and life. When I walk away from conversations with total strangers, I often feel happier and inspired, because I always learn something new from people. I for sure am not afraid of talking to strangers and I will not stop talking to strangers. Check out another realted post: Privacy for a price

Home exchange for low cost traveling

With a potential Minnesota state government shutdown, state employees are thinking of ways to cut down cost and use the extra free time wisely. A colleague shared with me a website she has signed up for home exchange and low-cost traveling. HomeExchange.com is an online tool for home swap. It provides an opportunity to “make yourself at home… anywhere in the world” and to “live like a local, not a tourist.” Currently there are 40,000+ listings in 142 countries. HomeExchange.com is not a free service. Paid membership is required for listing. There is a$9.95 monthly fee. Exchange is guaranteed or your 2nd year is free. If you enjoy traveling and like to travel a lot. It might be beneficial to join.

Yahoo your writing

I have been using Yahoo for my private email for more than 10 years. I found I can not only use Yahoo to send and receive emails, I can also use my Yahoo e-mail account as a quick and convenient writing tool. When I have notes to write down, when I want to copy something from the Internet and save it for future use, when I want to keep a list of e-mail addresses or useful websites, I compose a message in Yahoo and save it as a draft. I keep some messages permanently in the draft folder, because they contain information I use regularly. Others are deleted when I no longer need them. I can access my Yahoo account and the information I saved wherever I am as long as I have Internet access — at home, in my office, in libraries, at conferences, etc. It’s more convenient than having the information saved on any computer’s hard drive. I also have a Google Gmail account,but since I started with Yahoo email first, I use it exclusively. For the tips I am sharing here, Google Gmail works too. Whether you Yahoo or Google your writing, it works the same way.

Morning walk, nature talk

On days I don’t go to work, I enjoy taking a walk in my backyard when I have time.

I always start with walking a circle around my veggie garden to check how things are growing. 

My Chinese chives come out every year in spring and are always the first thing ready for the dinner table. Romaine salads grow pretty fast and are usually ready for consumption in a month. My zucchinis are still in baby stage. But they grow fast and can change size day by day. However, with the cold and rainy weather lately, things can slow down. 

After my walk around the garden, I take a little walk around the golf course.

Walking and immersing in nature, looking at the greenery and flowers, hearing birds singing, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the breeze of wind and the positive energy, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The beauty, peace and serenity can’t be put into words.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” So I posted here some pictures from my morning walk to share with you. Let your mind take you for a nature walk.

More photos can be viewed on my Facebook page.

Learning about miniature gardening

I love gardening. So when I saw a gardening demonstration and swap event announcement in the local newspaper, I wanted to go.  I didn’t even pay attention to the specific topic. 

The event, held on Saturday, June 18 at the R.H. Stafford Branch Library, was really interesting. I didn’t know what to expect, but was happily surprised to see three miniature or fairy gardens on display when I walked into the room.

Ginny from the Library demonstrated how to create miniature gardens including a Japanese Zen garden.

Attendees brought plants divided from their own gardens, gardening books and magazines, and other gardening related materials to swap.

I went home not only with some new knowledge about gardening, but also with a few plants for my garden.

I wish I had brought my camera to take some photos of the miniature gardens on display.

If you want to see what miniature gardens look like, check out this blog post 20 outstanding miniature gardens.

More photos of miniature gardensfairy gardens or Japanese Zen gardens can be found on Google images website.

Ginny is starting an email distribution list for garden enthusiasts for future gardening events and swaps. If you are interested in sharing gardening ideas and plants, let me know, or simply leave a comment here.

Minnesota women legislators

If you ever need information on Minnesota women legislators or Minnesota state laws affecting women since 1920, a new website with the Minnesota Women’s Legislative Timeline and Minnesota women Legislators Past & Present can be very handy.

The interactive online tool was created by the Legislative Reference Library of the State of Minnesota and the Office on the Economic Status of Women, funded by a grant from the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grants Program.

The timeline features  state laws that were significant milestones for women in the state of Minnesota and shows the legislative progression of women’s rights in Minnesota since women earned the right to vote.

For more info, check out the press release or contact Robbie LaFleur, Director of the Legislative Reference Library,  at robbiel@lrl.leg.mn or 651-296-8310.

 

 

Closed during shutdown

There are 15 days left to a possible state government shutdown in Minnesota.

Today Gov. Mark Dayton filed a petition in Ramsey County court with his recommendation of what to keep open and what to close if state government shuts down on July 1.

Gov. Dayton suggested that 13,250 people, about one third of state employees, remain on the job in a government shutdown to provide critical services, such as police and prison guards, disaster and public health response, medical assistance and tax collection.

The petition recommends that 29 state agencies retain minimal staffing while 46 close entirely. Agencies that would keep the most workers in a shutdown are Human Services, Corrections, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs.

As for the Department of Transportation where I work, only 217 workers out of more than 5000 employees will keep their jobs, according to the recommendation. They work in areas of emergency highway repair, aeronautic navigation, emergency communication networks, and truck permitting.

The other services performed by over 4000 employees are deemed non critical.

When you travel on Minnesota highways during the shutdown, be prepared that the rest areas on highways will be closed. Remember to bring your own device or find a restaurant to do your business when nature calls.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Highway construction projects will be put on hold.

Sorry for the inconvenience. 

Let’s hope that no tragedies, big or small, will happen during the shutdown.

Sorry we are closed for business.

Hopefully our governor and the Republican legislative leaders have  worked out a budget deal by June 30 to prevent any inconvenience, tragedies and hardships from happening to anyone.

For more info on what Gov. Dayton wants to keep open and close in a shutdown, visit this post by Don Davis.

The heavy cost and burden of a government shutdown

Last Saturday I got my layoff notice from the Minnesota Management & Budget dated June 10, 2011.

I am just one of about 42,000 state workers who got the letter in the mail with the bad news of the impending shutdown effective July 1, 2011.

But the effect of a possible shutdown reaches far beyond the 42,000 state workers.

I heard that just from MnDOT alone, over 6,000 certified letters were mailed out to contractors and vendors to inform them about the possible shutdown. (The number increases to over 10, 000 in the next week)

Yesterday I was talking with someone from my church about the government shutdown. She told me that her business that provides technical training has already seen the negative effect of the possible shutdown because no new students are enrolling in the program due to the uncertainty with the state aid situation.

I know managers at state agencies have been heavily involved in contingency planning in the last few weeks. State workers are worried about their jobs, insurance, payments, etc. The uncertainty has caused anxiety and low productivity.  

The cost of preparing for a possible government shutdown, both visible and invisible, is hard ot measure. For sure, it is a costly process.

It seems like a waste of money at a time when we should be more resourceful.

In preparation for the layoff, I applied for unemployment benefit today as suggested by the union. I hope I do not have to use it.

Whatever happens in July is out of my control. I can’t do anything about it, so I won’t lose any sleep over it.  

I am glad that I have lived my life with the principle of  saving for rainy days so I don’t live from pay check to pay check. If I have to depend on my biweekly check to survive, then I would be in panic mode now.

But I do worry about my family’s health insurance. Without my job, we will have no health insurance.

I can feel the heavy burden that a possible shutdown has on people and see the Domino effect it has on businesses.

I support Governor Dayton’s balanced, compromise plan which protects our families and communities from devastating cuts.

I hope our Democratic Gov. Dayton and the Republicans who control the state House and Senate can reach an agreement before July 1 to avoid a shutdown. Each party has to give up something and make some compromise in order to get the budget resolved.  

My way or highway is no way to go.

Fresh from the garden

  

Saturday was a perfect day for gardening and weeding.

The soil was still soft from the rain, the temperature was cool and there was no hot sun beaming down in the morning.

Working in the garden, weeding, transplanting and picking fresh salads, and working on the flower beds in the front yard was what I did in the morning.

Gardening is relaxing and therapeutic for me. I could spend all day doing it, without getting bored. Only my back won’t like it so much.

After a few hours of work, I rewarded myself with a big bowl of Romaine salad and cilantro. It was great to be able to pick my own veggie from the garden and eat it whenever I want.

The following two articles are from my Woodbury Bulletin columns.

The joy of gardening  

Lessons, garden style

5th grade recognition at Middleton

My daughter is graduating from the Middleton Elementary School.

The 5th Grade Recognition ceremony took place at school this afternoon. I was glad I was able to attend, having to skip the afternoon part of an all day conference I attended.

Middleton Principle Julie Nielsen welcomed everyone. My daughter along with several other 5th graders performed the song “Fireworks” by Kate Perry.

Students who participated in extracurricular activities during the school year were recognized and stood up.

Each 5th grade student was called by the classroom teacher and presented with a recognition certificate by the Principal.

Then we watched a DVD presentation of photos of the graduating classes. Each student will receive a copy to keep.

The event ended with a closing remark by my daughter’s teacher Ms. Angie Schock. She is the funnest teacher we ever had. Everyone loves her.

PTA provided refreshments following the ceremony.

It was a great and memorable event.

Memorable birthday cards

When my kids have birthdays, I always make my own cards for them. Likewise, they always make their own cards for me as well. We love doing that.

For my son’s last birthday in May, I made one that includes:

  • A photo of the birthday child and a happy birthday picture cut out from a used birthday card on the cover.
  • “Celebrating 13 years of life” along with some important data on page 2 – exact birthday place and time, the home address at the time of birth and the current address, birth weight and height, the current weight and height for a comparison, the name of the doctor. I really had to dig for the information.
  • A handwritten message and an inspiratinal quote cut out from a used birthday card on page 3.
  • What we did to celebrate the birthday on page 4.

Making my own cards takes time and some effort. But I like to make each card unique and interesting.

Today I happened to read two interesting stories about birthday cards and would  like to share.

A Star Tribune article titled “Once a joke, boomerang birthday card now tradition” (June 4, 2011, available online for a limited time) tells the story of two sisters who have been sending the same birthday card back and forth since 1975. The same card has made 73 trips through the U.S. mail.

Why not? I am all for reuse and recycle. These two sisters are way ahead of the green living movement.

Suzanne Beecher shared in her Dear Reader column on May 31, 2011 (Yes, I am always days or even years behind in my reading) a unique birthday card “What I Know About Grandma” from her two grandchildren. I had a good laugh.

WHAT I KNOW ABOUT GRANDMA

What is your Grandma’s name?
Paul: Suzanne James: Grandma

How old is she?
Paul: I don’t know.
James: Three.

What does she do?
Paul: Grandma plays with me. And Grandma likes to do the sprinkler with me.
James: She goes like this…(and then he dances).

What’s her favorite food?
Paul: Soup James: Candy

What’s her favorite color?
Paul: Pink James: Purple

What’s her favorite movie?
Paul: “Dinosaur Train”
James: “Dora the Explorer”

What does she like to sing?
Paul: Classical James: ABCs

Where does she take you for fun?
Paul: Dr. Al. He pushes on Grandma back.
James: The circus.

What is the best thing about Grandma?
Paul: Grandma loves me and she bakes with me.
James: I love Grandma.

Won’t every grandma love to receive such a unique birthday card?

VBS options around Woodbury

Every year I compile a list of VBS offered by local churches that I am aware of, with registration and contact information, VBS date, theme, age and fee requirements.

Below is the 2011 list. I hope this list will make it easier for you to choose a VBS for your kids.

Please check the church websites or contact the churches for more information.

Christ Episcopal Church
7305 Afton Road, Woodbury, MN 55125
http://www.christchurch-woodbury.org
Register no later than Friday, July 1
651-735-8790
 
Monday – Thursday, July 18 – 21, 9:00 – 11:30 am
“Hometown Nazareth”
Family Night Potluck Picnic Thursday, July 21 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m
Age 3 – 9
$30/child with a $75 cap per family

Grace of God Lutheran Church
420 Hayward Ave, Oakdale, MN 55128
Register online at www.graceofgodlutheran.com
651-730-4900 or email grace@graceofgodlutheran.com
 
Monday – Friday, July 11 – 15, 9:00 – 11:30 am
“Hometown Nazareth”
4 years – 6th grade
$15 per child (suggested donation)

Guardian Angels Catholic Church
8260 4th Street N, Oakdale, MN 55128  
http://www.guardian-angels.org/education/childrenyouth/vbs/
651-738-2223

Monday-Friday, July 25- 29, 9:00 -12:00
“Inside Out & Upside Down on Main Street”
Ages 4-12
$30

King of Kings Lutheran Church
1583 Radio Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125
http://www.kingofkingswoodburymn.org/children___youth_
Check the summer programs for more information about VBS and other camps http://o.b5z.net/i/u/6123671/f/2011campbrochure.pdf
Phone: 651-738-3110
Email: office@kingofkingswoodburymn.org
 
Vacation Bible School
Ages 3 (by 9-1-10) through completed 3rd grade
June 20-24
(Morning Session): 9:00-11:30 a.m.
(Afternoon Session) 1:00-3:30 p.m.
Cost: $30 per child (includes t-shirt and CD) 

Resurrection Lutheran Church
9925 Bailey Road, Woodbury MN 55129
651-730-1000
 
Monday – Thursday, June 20-23, 9:30-Noon
 “PandaMania – Where God is Wild About You!”
Age 3 – 4th grade (completed)
Family fun night  at 6:30 p.m. Thursday
$30 per child ($35 after May 31, maximum $75 per family)
 
Monday–Friday, July 11 -15, 9 – 12:00
“CampServe”
4th – 6th grade (completed)
$99.00
Further info at www.campserve.org
 
 
Saint Peter Lutheran Church
880 Neal Ave. S., Afton, MN 55001
http://www.stpeterafton.org
Contact Shannon Hecksel at shecksel@stpeterafton.org or 651-436-3357
 
Monday – Friday, June 20 – 24, 9:00 am – noon
“Big Jungle Adventure: a Faith Journey with Jesus”
Preschool – 4th grade
Free (lunch included)

Spirit of Life Bible Church
690 Commerce Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125
Register online at http://www.spiritoflifebiblechurch.org/VBS_6b97249b6493b74a.html
651-731-1900
 
Tuesday-Friday, July 26-29, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
“Hometown Nazareth — Where Jesus Was a Kid”
Program and picnic @ Noon Friday, July 29
K – Grade 6 (grade child is entering in 2011-2012 school year) 
Free

Woodbury Baptist Church
6695 Upper Afton Road , Woodbury , MN 55125
http://www.woodburybaptist.org/
651-738-7700
 
Sunday-Thursday, Jul. 24-28, 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm
“PandaMania – Where God is Wild About You!”
Each evening will begin at 5:30 pm with a supper. 
Age 4 – 5th grade 
Free

Woodbury Church of Christ
4920 Woodbury Drive, Woodbury MN 55129
Register online at http://www.woodburychurch.org
651-459-1869
 
Monday-Friday, June 20-24, 9:00-12:00
“PandaMania – Where God is Wild About You!”
4 years – 6th grade
Free

Woodbury Community Church
2975 Pioneer Drive, Woodbury 55125
Register online at http://www.wccmn.org
Email: wccoffice@wccmn.org
Phone: 651/739-1427
Registration Deadline: June 20, 2011
Monday-Friday, June 20-24, 2011, 9:00-12:00
“PandaMania – Where God is Wild About You!”         
Preschool – 4th Grade
Free 

 Woodbury Lutheran Church
7380 Afton Road, Woodbury, MN 55125
Register online at http://www.woodburylutheran.org/ministries/childrenyouth/children/summer/
651-739-5144
 
Monday–Thursday, June 20-23
Choose between morning session 9:30 – 12:00 or afternoon session (12:30 – 3:00)
 “Big Jungle Adventure” (preschool)
For ages 3 – current Kindergarten (Must be 3 years old by 9/1/2010)
Free
 
Monday–Thursday, July 11 -14, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00
“SportsLife Camp” (elementary)
1st – 5th grade (completed June 2011)
$35.00 ($45.00 after June 1st)
 
Monday–Friday, Aug. 1 – 5, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
“Art Camp” (elementary)
2nd – 5th grade (completed June 2011)
$15.00

Woodbury/Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church
7465 Steepleview Road, Woodbury, MN 55125
http://www.woodburyumc.org
Check out summer camps brochure online for info about other camps
http://www.wumc-pgumc.org/uploads/Summer_Camps_Booklet_2011.pdf
Contact Jan Slagter 651-738-0305 or jslagter@wumc-pgumc.org

Monday-Friday, June 20-24, 9:00 – Noon
“Shake It Up Cafe”   
Age 3 – 5th Grade
$50

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  http://onmymind.areavoices.com

 



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.
BioLawn
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:

Repair
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 http://www.wordle.net.

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.

Sweet Misery

My daughter likes candies. And that’s a concern and problem for me.

I don’t buy a lot of candies for her, only occasionally for holidays or as a reward. Since candies are her favorite thing, she asks for candies as a reward for good works or achievements.

I try to monitor and control how many candies she eats. So I take her candies away and give her a couple or less than a handful of pieces a week. If I don’t watch over her, she could eat a bag of candies  in two days. 

She still eats more candies than I give her. She gets candies from school or other people. I often find candy wraps here and there.

When it comes to candies, my daughter lacks some self-control. 

I often tell her about the harm candies can do to her health. Her teeth have cavities. Long term affects of eating too much candies can be worse than bad teeth.

I often tell her that she can eat all the fruits she wants every day, without limitation, but candies have to be limited to the minimum. But she is not interested in fruits. She only likes banana. I can have all kinds of fruits on the table, she won’t touch it at all.

Lately I have been doing smoothies and make her eat that, so at least she is getting a little more than just a banana on most days. And that was a great progress for her. For years, she only ate a banana a day, no other fruits.

Yesterday I asked her to watch a documentary film about Aspartame titled Sweet Misery.  Aspartame is in a lot of candies, sodas, yogurts, and snacks.

You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.

I hope someday my daughter will come to her own realization and stop her “candy addiction.” I can’t police her all the time. She has to take the responsibility and have more self-control.  

Other food related films I have watched and would like to watch are Supersize me and Food, Inc.

Breast cancer do’s and don’ts

 My families on both my mother’s side and my father’s side do not have a history of breast cancer. So I am not concerned about it myself.

In fact, I have never done a mammogram in my whole life. Even when I pass the 50 mark in a few years, I do not plan to do it.

However, I often hear about other women having breast cancer. The situation is getting worse.

Recently I read a few articles on breast cancer. If you are interested in the topic, check out the following links. I know there are tons of information out there on the Internet. There is a lot more I can read.  

Do’s and don’ts to prevent breast cancer

Breast Cancer Breakthrough – Cut Your Risk of Death in Half (Also read some comments)

Avoid Routine Mammograms if You are Under 50

NEW Studies Reveal Alarming Hidden Cause of Breast Cancer

The power of social media

Today I attended a presentation at Mn/DOT on social media by Lee Aase, Director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. He shared how Mayo Clinic used social media as an effective and inexpensive marketing tool to promote its services, win new patients and stay connected with its customers.

Lee Aase also shared some examples of using social media to garner national attention.

A fun example was about an old couple in their 90’s playing piano at Mayo Clinic. The video posted on Youtube generated 7 million hits. The couple ended up being interviewed on Good Morning America.

Another well known case involved United Airlines breaking Canadian musician David Carroll’s guitar and didn’t take responsibility for it. After several months of going nowhere with United Airlines, David Carroll posted a song titled “United Breaks Guitars” on Youtube which became a hit. So far it has generated 10 million hits. He had posted two more songs – United Breaks Guitars Song 2 and United Breaks Guitars Song 3. United Airlines gave in and offered to compensate him for the damage.

The story was widely covered in news media. I remember reading it. It even has a Wikipedia article.

You can read Lee Aase’s 35 Social Media Theses on the SMUG website. SMUG stands for Social Media University, Global. Aase created it for the purpose of learning and sharing social media. Check it out. You can learn a lot there, without paying a tuition.

Yes, social media tools such as blog, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc. are powerful. Use them to benefit your personal and professional life.

33 simple tips for a good night’s sleep

I feel fortunate that I do not have a sleeping problem. But I know many people do. Some have to depend on sleeping bills to help them fall asleep.

My parents both have insomnia, which is largely caused by their constant worries about me and my brother, about what will happen in the future and what happened in the past, and everything else their minds can think of.

My Mom uses sleeping bills in recent years, but my Dad doesn’t like take medicine, so he toughs it out every night on about 3 hours of sleep. As the result, he often gets tired and weak during the day, especially when it’s hot.

I know my parents are not alone. Insomnia is a common problem among elderly people.

Recently I read the article Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep by Dr. Mercola. I thought it’s good to share.

  1. Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible.
  2. Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F.
  3. Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs).
  4. Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed.
  5. Avoid using loud alarm clocks.
  6. Reserve your bed for sleeping.
  7. Consider separate bedrooms.
  8. Get to bed as early as possible.
  9. Don’t change your bedtime.
  10. Establish a bedtime routine.
  11. Don’t drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed.
  12. Go to the bathroom right before bed.
  13. Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed.
  14. Also eat a small piece of fruit.
  15. Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars.
  16. Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed.
  17. Wear socks to bed.
  18. Wear an eye mask to block out light.
  19. Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more).
  20. No TV right before bed.
  21. Listen to relaxation CDs.
  22. Read something spiritual or uplifting.
  23. Journaling.
  24. Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible.
  25. Avoid caffeine.
  26. Avoid alcohol.
  27. Make certain you are exercising regularly.
  28. Lose excess weight.
  29. Avoid foods you may be sensitive to.
  30. Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician.
  31. If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician.
  32. Practice Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
  33. Increase your melatonin.

For read the full article, click Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep.

Beginning of my gardening season

Yesterday was a perfect day for me to work in the garden.

No snow, no rain. It was cool and not cold. The soil was not very dry so when I tilled the soil, it didn’t fly all over me.

This year I started my garden work one month later comparing to last year. We had a long and snowy winter this year.

I did the first half of the work on April 11. Then we had unexpected snow again. Yesterday I was able to finish the second half of the work.

My gardening season always starts with tilling the soil and composting in the spring.

Since I started the vegetable garden in the backyard in 2001, I have been doing composting all year around.

During spring, summer and fall (2/3 of the year in Minnesota), I do composting by simply digging a hole in the garden and mixing in food scraps under the ground, or dumping the food scraps in the trench in the middle of the garden and cover it with some soil on the top.

During the winter months (4-5 months) when the ground is frozen, I just leave the food scraps in plastic bags under the deck. I compost them all when the weather gets warmer. 

When spring comes and the ground has thawed, I till the soil and mix under the ground all the food scraps that has been accumulated during the last few months.

Yesterday I asked my son to help me till the soil while I did the compost thing, he helped for only a few minutes and then run away. He said it looked so disgusting.

Not for me, I love doing it. It’s quite magic. I mix in the yucky food scraps and soon it will turn into black soil.

I feel good that I am able to garden organically using soils enriched with my own compost. It also makes me feel good to reduce trash and help protect the environment.

I worked several hours yesterday and on April 11 and got the garden prep work done – soil tilled and food scraps composted. I felt good.

Then I planted some seeds for lettuces, cilantro and a Chinese vegetable.

Hopefully I can harvest something early June.

Spirit Baptism – what, who, why & how?

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on Water Baptism.

The following summary on Spirit Baptism was  created by Gina Parker for the new members class on foundational Christian beliefs at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury.

What is it?

Ezekiel 36:27              God’s spirit inside a person

Joel 2:28                      God’s spirit poured out on people

Matthew 3:11              something Jesus baptizes you with

Mark 1:8                      something Jesus baptizes you with

Luke 3:16                     something Jesus baptizes you with

John 1:29-34               something Jesus baptizes you with (33)

John 3:5                       being born of the spirit

John 7:37-39               rivers of living water (38)

                                       something those that believe on Him can receive (39)

John 14:15-21              comforter (16)

                                       spirit of truth that can be in a person (17)

                                        Jesus (18, 20)

John 16:13                    spirit of truth

Acts 2:38                      gift

Acts 10:45                    gift

Romans 8:11                 spirit of God in a person

Galatians 4:1-7             spirit of Christ (6)

Colossians 1:24-27       Christ in a person (27)

I Timothy 4:14              gift

Who is it for?

Joel 2:28                       everyone

John 7:37-39                anyone who is thirsty (37)

                                       those who believe on Christ (39)

Acts 2:38-39                everyone (39)

Why would one want and need it?

John 3:5                        enter into the kingdom of God

John 14:25-27              receive teaching (26)

John 16:12-15              be guided into all truth (13)

Acts 1:8                         receive power

Acts 2:38-39                 it’s promised (39)

Romans 5:1-5                love of God (5)

Romans 8:9-17              be Christ’s (9)

                                         the ability for your mortal body to be quickened (11)

                                        adopted by God as His son (15)

                                        children of God (16)

                                        heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (17)

Romans 14:17               righteousness, peace, joy

I Corinthians 12:1-11     spiritual gifts     3 categories:     1)  power to “know” supernaturally

                                                                                                      – “word of wisdom”

                                                                                                      – “word of knowledge”

                                                                                                      – discerning of spirits

                                                                                                 2)  power to “act” supernaturally

                                                                                                       – faith

                                                                                                       – working of miracles

                                                                                                       – gifts of healing

                                                                                          3)  power to “speak” supernaturally

                                                                                          – prophecy (forthtelling and foretelling)

                                                                                           – diverse kinds of tongues

                                                                                            – interpretation of tongues

How does one receive this gift?

Isaiah 28:11                  foretold that people would speak in tongues

Acts 2:1-4                     spoke with other tongues (4)

Acts 8:9-25*                after they received the Word of God (14)

                                      when they had Peter and John pray for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost (15)

                                      after they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (16)

                                      with the laying on of hands (17)

Acts 10:44-46            after they hear the Word (44)

                                     spoke with tongues (46)

Acts 19:1-7                  after they believe (2)

                                      after they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (5)

                                     with the laying on of hands (6)

                                      spoke with tongues (6)

What is “speaking in tongues?” (Definition:  speaking in a language not naturally acquired)

*It does not explicitly say they spoke in tongues here when they received the Holy Spirit, but if you look closely at the story, it makes a strong argument for the case that something outward happens when people receive the Holy Spirit.  What did Simon see?  What happened when people received the Holy Spirit that Simon wanted to buy because he called it “powerful?”

Why do people speak in tongues after they receive the Holy Spirit?

I Corinthians 14:2          speak to God supernaturally

I Corinthians 14:4          self-edification

I Corinthians 14:14        so your spirit can pray

I Corinthians 14:22        sign to unbelievers

I Corinthians 14:26        to strengthen the church

Water Baptism – what, when, why & how?

Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury offers new members a class on fundational Christian beliefs. I have attended one of those class in the past. 

Church member Gina Parker teaches two sessions of the class, one on water baptism and one on spirit baptism. She has done a lot of study on those subjects and did a great job with her presentation and handouts.

She has generously allowed me to post the summaries she created for the class here to share with anyone interested. Thanks Gina for sharing your knowledge with others.

Hope you will find them helpful.

I will post the summary on water baptism today and the summary on spirit baptism tomorrow.

——————————

Where did the water baptism concept come from?

Judaism

What is water baptism?

Command of Jesus (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16)
Remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16
Command of Paul (Acts 10:47-48)
Washing away sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Revelation 1:5)
Identify with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4)
Put on Christ (Galatians 3:27)
Rebirth (a part of salvation) (Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:20-21)
Answer of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:20-21)
Circumcision of the heart (Colossians 2:11-12)

When should someone be baptized in water?
When they’re a…

Disciple (follower) of Christ (Matthew 28:19)
Believer (Mark 16:16, Acts 8:12, Acts 8:37-38, Acts 18:8)
Repentant person (Acts 2:38)
Receiver of the word (Acts 2:41)

Why would someone want and need to be baptized in water?

Obey Jesus (Matthew 28:19)
Salvation (Mark 16:16)
Enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5)
Remission of sins (Acts 2:38)
Wash away sins (Acts 22:14-16)
Walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4)
Put on Christ (Galatians 3:27)
Rebirth (Titus 3:5)
Answer/response of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:20-21)

How is baptism in water done?
Baptize = immerse

Where there is much water (John 3:23)
Go down into the water (Acts 8:38)
Come up out of the water (Acts 8:39)
Buried with Christ (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12)
In the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5, Colossians 3:17)

Gitmomer on trust

In the last few days I have been reading 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. I like the following quotes from the book.

Without trust there is low morale

Without trust there is low productivity

Without trust there is poor service

Without trust there is strict policy

Without trust there is high turnover 

Without trust rumors are rampant

Without trust there is no open communication

Without trust there is doubt and disappointment

Trust is not a request. Trust is earned

Trust is not spoken. Trust is a feeling

You don’t get respect, you earn it.

Breaking Free with Beth Moore

 

On January 29, the Women’s Ministry at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury started an 11-week Bible study based on Beth Moore‘s popular Bible study Breaking Free: The Journey, The Stories.

Last Saturday, we completed the Bible study. I never missed a single session.

When I found out that my daughter’s MMTA piano exam fell on Saturday morning during my last Bible study session, I asked the piano teacher to reschedule the exam time. I ended up having to pay a rescheduling fee. I just didn’t want to miss my study.

Beth Moore is a very gifted Bible teacher. About a year ago I did my first Beth Moore Bible study “Living beyond yourself: exploring the fruit of the spirit.” and I really enjoyed both Bible studies with Beth Moore.

Beth Moore leads participants “through a study of the Scriptures to discover the transforming power of freedom in Jesus Christ. Themes for this study come from Isaiah, a book about the captivity of God’s children, the faithfulness of God, and the road to freedom.”

Below are some notes from the book to refresh my own memory and to share with others interested.

What leads to captivity and keep us in captivity? What hinders us to live a life in freedom? 

  • Unbelief
  • Pride – Pride puts ourselves at the center of our universe.
  • Idolatry – Anything we try to put in a place where God belongs is an idol.
  • Prayerlessness
  • Legalism – Legalism happens when regulations replace relationship, microscopes replace mirrors, performance replaces passion.

 5 primary benefits of a relationship with God

  • To know God and believe Him
  • To glorify God
  • To find satisfaction in God
  • To experience God’s peace – Peace is the fruit of an obedient and prayerful life.
  • To enjoy God’s presence

5 step process from captivity to freedom

  • Recognize the captor, the lies
  • Stand in agreement with God
  • Tear down the lies
  • Put up the truth
  • Take thoughts captive

Lie or lay?

There are some words in the English language that are confusing not only to non-native speakers like me, but also to many native speakers. 

An example I mentioned in a previous post is about i.e. and e.g

Today I did some research and reading on lie and lay. I would like to share what I read and learned. 

1. Understand the definition –  

Lay means to put something [or someone] down. Lay is a transitive verb and requires a direct object

Lie means to rest or recline. Lie is an intransitive verb, so no direct object will follow. 

2. Know the correct verb form –  

The following table is helpful in choosing the correct verb form: 

Infinitive Definition Simple Present Simple Past Past Participle Present Participle
to lay to put something down lay(s) laid laid laying
to lie to rest or recline lie(s) lay lain lying

What makes things more confusing and complicated is that “Lie” also has a different meaning – A false statement deliberately presented as being true. In this case “lie” also has different verb forms – to lie, lies, lied, lied, lying.

If I can remember these two important points, I will no longer be confused and should be able to use lie and lay correctly.

3. Examples –

Lie

Present tense: I lie down on my bed to rest my weary bones.
Past tense: Yesterday, I lay there thinking about what I had to do during the day.
Past participle: But I remembered that I had lain there all morning one day last week.

Lay

Present tense: As I walk past, I lay the tools on the workbench.
Past tense: As I walked past, I laid the tools on the workbench. 
Past participle: . . . I had laid the tools on the workbench.

After I “lay” something down, it’s just “lying” there. It’s not doing anything to anyone or anything. 

For more information, visit the following websites: 

Today is the day -

that many people dread – the last day to file tax returns.

Like many procrastinators, I waited till the last day to finally finish everything.

After I dropped off my tax return in the mail box, I felt relieved. like a burden was lifted from my shoulder.

As I talked about in the previous posts A burden lifted – procrastination and procrastination, I know in my rational mind that it’s better not to procrastinate and do it early, but I couldn’t make myself motivated to act. I don’t enjoy doing it. Lack of desire is one of the main reasons that people procrastinate.

Many people have accountants do their taxes. I have always done taxes myself except once. I hired an accountant to do my tax many years ago. I didn’t think he did a good job, so I never hired anyone else again and have done it myself since. I like to take financial matters into my own hand and know how and what to do.   

Today I was reading my Sunday newspapers. There was an article by Kara McGuire: Plan now for fewer tax-time tears in Star Tribune (4/17/2011). I agree with her, filing taxes is much easier if you don’t wait to get organized. I do some of the things she recommended.

The most simple and helpful tip is to keep a folder where you save all tax related documents accumulated over the year. When tax time arrives, you don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for those documents.

I am glad the deadline is behind me now.

Volunteering at library book sale

Since 2006, I have been volunteering at the annual book sale of Wasnington County Library, R. H. Stafford Branch Library in Woodbury.

In a Woodbury Bulletin column dated April 4, 2007, I talked about becoming a volunteer and volunteering for the library book sale. I have enjoyed doing it every year with my two children.

Today was the last day of the 2011 Big Book Sales at the  R. H. Stafford Branch Library in Woodbury. I went with my kids again.

As a tradition, there was the bag sale on the last day of the sale that started on Friday. For $4 a bag, you can buy as many items as they can fit in the bag. It was a good deal. So we had a good turnout.

My job at the book sale was really easy. I was the cashier. I didn’t even have to count and charge by the items, just buy the bags.   

When my shift was over, I took time to browse and pick some books I like. I went home with free books for me and my kids.

Like I said in my column, “I went home not only with a good feeling in my heart, but also with some good books in my hand. I also felt I got more back than I gave of my time and effort.”

I definitely got a lot more back than I gave.

By the way, I was so focused on the event today, I totally forgot my daughter’s piano lesson. I got a call from the piano teacher and asked me where I was. I had to leave quickly. Luckily, we were done picking books and was about to leave. I just couldn’t believe I forgot it. This never happened before.

The incident just shows a book lover can easily get lost in books and forgets everything else.

Simple diabetes risk measurement

My mother has diabetes. She was diagnosed over 10 years ago after she suffered a minor stroke. 

Several relatives on my mother’s side of family had diabestes and/or heart disease. One of my mother’s aunts died during a small surgery not knowing before the surgery that she had diabetes. My grandfather was quite big in size and very likely had diabetes, but we never know for sure because he didn’t like to go to hospital or take medication. I have uncle and cousin who went through bypass surgeries.

So with that family history, I know I am at risk of  having diabetes. But I also know that the deciding factor of my health is not my genetics and my family medical history, but my own lifestyle. I am not helpless and at the mercy of my genetics and family history. I can take responsibility and change the course of my life.

I try to eat healthy and live healthy. Every time I had my routine physical exam, my results are normal.

Today I read a simple tip on how to measure your diabetes risk by Dr. Mercola. For the full article, click here.

Many of you may not realize this, but one of the most powerful tools available to determine your risk of diabetes is a simple tape measure. Your total body fat and overall level of fitness are not the best indicators of insulin sensitivity, your waist size is. Studies clearly show that measuring your waist size is one of the best ways to predict your risk for diabetes.

Determining your waist size is easy. With a tape measure, figure the distance around the smallest area of your abdomen below your rib cage, above your belly button.

If you’re male, these guidelines apply:

  • Ideal waist measurement: between 31 and 36 inches
  • Overweight: between 36 and 40 inches
  • Obese: over 40 inches

For women:

  • Ideal waist measurement: between 28 and 33 inches
  • Overweight: between 33 and 37 inches
  • Obese: over 37 inches 

This is simple enough for me and for everyone to do. I took out a tape measure and measured my waist. It falls within the ideal range for women. So far so good. 

I will work on keeping my waist stay within the ideal range.

 

Learning about Autism

I don’t have anyone in my family or know anyone in my circle of friends who has Autism, so I had not paid attention to it.

Yesterday Mn/DOT offered a brown bag presentation about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Mn/DOT’s Affirmative Action Office partnered with the Autism Society of Minnesota to raise awareness of ASD and to educate people about working with ASD. 

I went to the session, presented by Sherrie Kenny, CEO/Executive Director of Autism Society of Minnesota, and Larry Moody, a retired engineer with ASD. I found the presentation very informative and interesting. I learned a lot.

I was glad I had the opportunity to learn about ASD. As more and more kids are diagnosed with ASD and more families are affected by ASD, it’s good to be informed and educated about it so we can better recognize, deal with and help people who have ASD.  

April is National Autism Awareness Month. 

Be sure to visit Autism Society of Minnesota. Get in touch with them if you need help with your family or if you are looking for educational resources for your organizations. There is also a lot of information out there on the Internet. 

Be informed, prepared and involved. You never know when ASD will hit someone you know.

Below is a handout from the presentation provided by Autism Society of Minnesota.

Autism is a puzzling neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to:

  • Communicate
  • Socially interact
  • Learn in a conventional manner

 Social Interactions:

  • Difficulty reading nonverbal cues
  • Less likely to look at other people’s faces
  • Difficulty initiating and maintaining interaction
  • Difficulty maintaining joint attention
  • Difficulty repairing social breakdowns

 

Difficulty with Communication:

 

  • Delay in development of speech
  • Lack of functional speech
  • Echolalia
  • Unusual rhythm, pitch, or other voice qualities
  • Limited functions of language
  • Poor ability to initiate and maintain conversation
  • Difficulty with gestures
  • Difficulty with pretense or speculation
  • Concrete or idiosyncratic language
  • Lack or inappropriate emotional expression

 Resistance to change:

  • Insistence on specific routines
  • Everything in its place
  • Difficulty coping with uncertainty
  • Unwillingness to engage in others interest or activities
  • Unusual knowledge about a limited topic
  •  Sensory Processing Abnormalities 

Selected resources: 

  • Developing Talents by Dr. Temple Grandin
  • The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships by Dr. Temple Grandin
  • Business for Aspies by Ashley Stanford
  • Asperger Syndrome and Employmen: What People with Asperger Syndrome Really, Really Want by Sarah Hendrickx
  • Asperger Syndrome and Employment: Adults Speak Out about Asperger Syndrome by Genevieve Edmonds
  • Asperger Syndrome and Employment: A Personal Guide to Succeeding at Work – DVD by Nick Dubin
  • Asperger’s on the Job by Rudy Simone
  • How to Find Work that Works for People with Asperger Syndrome by Gail Hawkins
  • Job Success for Persons with Developmental Disabilities by David Wiegan
  • Managing with Asperger Syndrome by Malcolm Johnson
  • Temple Grandin, HBO movie
  • The Way I See It by Dr. Temple Grandin

MN Arts Count

MNArtsCount logo

Since I received the following information from two separate sources in my email today, I thought it’s important enough to pass it on and share with others.

The Minnesota State Arts Board is conducting a census in order to find out how many Minnesotans are involved in the arts! All individuals and organizations that engage in, support, or facilitate creative expression in Minnesota are invited to BE COUNTED!

Please take a few minutes to fill out the survey. The survey should take no more than three to five minutes to complete.  

Make sure you are counted! And also pass it on to your fellow musicians, writers, artists, etc.  

For more information, keep reading the following, or Click Here.     

What is the MN Arts Count?

 The MN Arts Count is a census for individuals who engage in creative expression and for businesses, facilities, and organizations that promote and support creative expression. 

From backyard painters to professional musicians—and everyone in between—all Minnesota artists need to be counted. 

As part of dedicating funding to the arts from Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment, the state legislature has called for the Minnesota State Arts Board to conduct a census of artists and artistic organizations. 

Who should participate in the MN Arts Count?

Individuals: Anyone who, professionally or personally, likes to sing, act, dance, write, draw, paint, sculpt, illustrate, photograph, film, knit, weave, direct, play an instrument, compose, share stories, design, or any other form of creative expression. 

Organizations: Any business, facility, agency, or organization that promotes or supports creative expression. 

Why should I participate?

 For the arts to count for something in Minnesota, we need to count the individuals and businesses, agencies, and organizations who participate in and support all forms of creative expression. 

By particpating in the MN Arts Count, individuals and organizations can help demonstrate the many ways Minnesotans participate in the arts and the importance of supporting the arts. 

How can I participate?

It’s easy! On-line: go to MNArtsCount.com and complete the census

The MN Arts Count survey will conclude April 30, 2011. 

Act today. If you are lucky, you might win a a gift card.

 

Eyeballs Out – book interview

I recently interviewed Rebecca Fabunmi, Mn/DOT Special Assistant to Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. We talked about the 11th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive by Donna Sturgess.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?

Fabunmi: I wanted to select a book that is relatively new. Initially I was interested in a book on social media and leadership, but it has not been published yet. Then I looked at several choices in the bookstore and decided on this one because I was intrigued by the book’s title and table of contents. In addition, we are under a very tight schedule for the next CRC book discussion, so I wanted a book that is short, easy read. This one stood out for me.   

Tang: What is the book about?

Fabunmi: The author Donna Sturgess, a business leader and senior marketer, shared her experience aboard the state-of-the-art US aircraft carrier – the USS John C. Stennis out in the Pacific and the new insights she discovered from that immersion experience. The book is about harnessing the power of immersion experiences to stimulate new ideas and innovation, and to make your business thrive.

Tang: What do you like about this book?

Fabunmi: I really enjoyed reading the book myself. It’s small and easy to read. I don’t have any family background in military, so reading about the military life on the USS Stennis as it relates to a thriving business was fascinating for me. I like the way the author weaves the different concepts into her story. The concepts such as sacrifice, pride, recognition, excellence, faith, fun at work are not new, however, when you put them in the context in a story, they become alive.

Tang: What are some ideas from the book that you would like to try if you have the power to do so? 

Fabunmi: Some of the ideas from the book are really interesting for the workplace of choice initiative I am working with others on.

In chapter 4 on faith at work, the author talks about building a more compassionate culture and a better kind of business through military and corporate chaplains and other spiritual advisors. It’s important to capture the heart, mind and soul of employees and care for the whole person – physical and mental health as well as social and spiritual health.

In chapter 6 on badge power, the author talks about the power of a badge that comes from its ability to unite people and influence behavior. A public badge system can inspire individuals and companies to participate in a cause by making their dedication and sacrifice visible, and to honor them publicly. 

In chapter 7 on happy moments, the author talks about small moments of pleasure, laughter and humor that can reduce stress and anxiety. They can also help forge the bond between people, connect people personally, and strengthen good teamwork in the workplace.

The USS Stennis had a “Fun Boss” who wore a T-shirt that read in large, bold letters across the chest “FUN BOSS.” His role is to create innovative recreation activities while at sea and on shore. I like the idea of having a “Fun Boss” in every organization.

My favorite is creating a virtual game specific to ones organization for real time strategic planning, risk management and optimal decisions.

Tang:  The author talks about immersion experiences or spectacular moments that can bring out new ideas through immersion in an unfamiliar world of new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. Have you had any immersion experiences in your work or personal life that brought fresh insights, new ideas, and amazing revelations to you that you would like to share?

Fabunmi: When I was about 16, I walked on the side a cliff with a 16-inch path at least twenty feet above jagged rocks to get to a special beach. I was also carrying something very precious in my arm. It was very scary, but I wanted to do it and I did. In my early twenties, I travelled to Cuba legally as a student with a group of people I barely knew and had a wonderful time. Last year, I went to Germany with a group of students as part of my MBA study, we had difficulties getting back to the US because of the airport closure due to volcanic ash. In every of those immersion experiences which where intense, I was fully engaged and totally focused physically and mentally. They opened up a new world for me. I learned something new about myself, other people and other places.  

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

Fabunmi: I have quite a few quotes to share. Here are just some of them:

“You have to be curious enough and passionate enough and brave enough to make the time and effort to pursue big ideas.” — p. 4

“Pride typically has more motivational power than money does … pride serves as an incentive to persevere with a task despite initial setbacks… Companies all over the world can instill this kind of pride in their people by linking to a cause for the greater good.” — p. 37-39

“For some companies, managing the whole person is seen as a way to build a more compassionate culture and a better kind of business.” — p. 44

“… embrace strategy as an interactive activity rather than an annual planning one.” — p. 89

“The secret to discovery is to never believe existing facts.” — p. 91

“Fully immersing yourself in an experience illuminates new ideas.” — p. 96

“…employees at all levels must be responsible for excellence in their own performance.” — p. 120

“Human energy is the most important resource in business today… The maximum energy level of 100 percent is achieved when everyone in the organization is fully engaged” — p. 124-125

Tang: You are part of the CRC team from the beginning. You are the go to person who holds everything together. Looking back and forward, do you have any thoughts to share?

Fabunmi: I have loved working with everyone on this project. It is a great example of collaboration between various offices – library, communication and technology. We got a great team working together. 

5 ingredients to avoid

When I do grocery shopping, I mostly stay in the produce area and buy fresh vegetables and fruit. I don’t buy much processed food. If I do buy processed food, I try to read the labels and avoid certain unhealthy ingredients.

There are two principles to keep in mind when reading food labels. 

The shorter the list of ingredients, the better.

An easy example is buying peanut butter. Some brands have 2-3 ingredients, but most have a lot more ingredients on the label. Choose the one with the short list.

The more recognizable the ingredients are and the easier you can pronounce the ingredient, the better. 

If you don’t recognize something, if you feel like you need a science degree to pronounce it properly, there is a good chance the ingredient is a man-made chemical. 

If I do buy processed food (anything packaged), I try to avoid those products that contain the following ingredients. They are some of the most unhealthy of all ingredients.

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
  • Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans-fats)
  • Artificial Colors
  • Artificial Flavorings
  • Artificial Sweeteners (such as Aspartame)

Today I read this article by Dr. Mercola on Aspartame. I recommend everyone to read the article and also read some of the hundreds of comments.

“Heroes of MnDOT” honored at the State Capitol

Today MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton honored seven individuals, MnDOT’s Critical Incident Stress Management team and all 1,800 MnDOT Snow Fighters at the award ceremony of “Heroes of MnDOT,” held at the State Capitol Rotunda at 10 AM.

“The purpose of this inaugural program is to acknowledge employees who acted courageously or provided meritorious service in response to extraordinary or dangerous circumstances. I believe it is important to have such a program to recognize when our employees carry out these extraordinary acts and pause to honor their fortitude and commitment.”

2011 Heroes of Mn/DOT include:

Donald Machacek -For his selfless and quick action that saved the lives of a mother and her two children in July of 2010.

Thomas Shields – For his selfless and quick action that saved the life of an infant in December of 2006.

Julie TodoraFor her quick response that saved the life of a heart attack victim in December of 2010.

Judy Jacobs – For her extraordinary support of the City of Wadena following the June 2010 tornado.

Kristine Hernandez and Jessica WiensFor their extraordinary support of Wabasha County during the September 2010 flood relief effort.

Jolyn CrumFor her selfless and quick action that saved the life of a Mn/DOT co-worker in January of 2011.

Critical Incident Stress Management Team(DeLorah Curry, Desiree Doud, Garland Jackson , Tony Kilpela, Jason Penaz, Brad Powers, Bob Wryk, Larry Quade) – For their extraordinary support of MnDOT employees and staff during critical incidents.

Snow FightersFor their extraordinary service during the snow and ice season of 2010-2011 and for keeping the citizens of Minnesota safe.

Since Sorel became the MnDOT Commissioner in April 2008, he has proved himself as a great leader. In my eyes, he is small in stature, yet giant in character, wisdom and leadership.

Sorel has done great work at MnDOT to improve morale, team work, commitment, trust and transparency. He advocated continuously for servant leadership.

When Mark Dayton became the new governor of Minnesota, Tom Sorel was the first commissioner to be reappointed in the new administration. MnDOT employees were happy to keep him as their commissioner.

“Heroes of MnDOT” is another program Sorel initiated to show his recognition and appreciation for employees who go above and beyond their duties.

 “It always will be my honor to pay them tribute,” Sorel said.

“All Things New” Easter Special

Tonight I went to the North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills with my daughter and other friends to watch the 2011 Easter show “All Things New” about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.   

It was quite a big production for a church, featuring a cast and crew of over 300 people, live animals and a flying angel.

I was very impressed by the scale of the production, and by the talents and dedication of the people involved. They are volunteers and not professional actors, but they have done a great job.  

Everything went smoothly. There were even volunteers directing traffic in the parking lot.

The show will continue on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays till April 23.

What kind of sleeper are you?

Normal sleeper, deprived sleeper or short sleeper?

In an interesting Wall Street Journal article (WSJ 4/5/2011) – “The Sleepless Elite: Why Some People Can Run on Little Sleep and Get So Much Done” by Health Journal columnist Melinda Beck – the author talks about the different sleepers and explains why for a small number of people getting a full night of sleep is a waste of time and the reasons behind it.

Normal Sleeper – Most adults have normal sleep needs, functioning best with 7 to 9 hours of sleep, and about two-thirds of Americans regularly get it. Children fare better with 8 to 12 hours, and elderly people may need only 6 to 7.

Deprived Sleeper/Wannabe Short Sleeper – One-third of Americans are sleep-deprived, regularly getting less than 7 hours a night, which puts them at higher risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other health problems.

Short Sleeper – Short sleepers, about 1% to 3% of the population, function well on less than 6 hours of sleep without being tired during the day. They tend to be unusually energetic and outgoing. Geneticists who spotted a gene variation in short sleepers were able to replicate it in mice—which needed less sleep than usual, too.

I would agree with the research findings. Short sleepers are energetic, outgoing, optimistic, very upbeat and ambitious. They are usually high achievers, because they do have more time in the day to do things and keep finding more interesting things to do than sleep. They’re thinner than average (I am sure they eat healthier than the average), even though sleep deprivation usually raises the risk of obesity. They also seem to have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.

Some examples of short sleepers are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo da Vinci. They were too busy to sleep much.

According to the research in the article, out of every 100 people who believe they only need five or six hours of sleep a night, only about five people really do. The rest end up chronically sleep deprived.

One-third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.

The article didn’t mention anything about diet. I think your diet also affects your sleep. If you eat light and healthy, you need less sleep. If you eat heavy and junky food, you are more easily get tired and need more sleep.

People who go on a vegan diet or do fasting often report that they need less sleep afterwards and feel more energetic.

I agree sleeping longer than 8 hours for adults is a waste of time. But some people may be wired differently and need more sleep than the average population.

My kids are normal or maybe “long sleepers.” On weekends, they can sleep past 9 or 10 o’clock if allowed. I can get inpatient if they don’t get up by 9 am. It does feel like a waste of time for me to sleep the morning away. 

I thought I am a short sleeper. I am a night owl and a not-so-natural early bird. I don’t go to bed until after midnight, sometimes well past midnight. I don’t take naps or load up on caffeine to get me through the day. I rarely get tired on 6 hours of sleep.

But after reading the article, I have to say I am not a natural short sleeper, for two reasons. On weekends, I tend to sleep a little longer since I don’t use an alarm clock to get me up. And on weekdays, I need an alarm to wake me up in the morning.

If I could put things into numbers and categories, I guess I am a 80% short sleeper and 20% deprived sleeper, that’s my own rough estimation :-)

Are you a short sleeper?

To find out if you are a natural short sleeper, ask this question that is more revealing than anything else: When you do have a chance to sleep longer, on weekends or vacation, do you still sleep only five or six hours a night?

And I would add another question: Do you need an alarm to wake you up every day?

What I wish every city would have

A coworker of mine living in St. Paul often sends her son to low cost or no cost camps in St. Paul when there is no school. A friend of mine who is a teacher in St. Paul public school told me that families with school age kids have a lot more such opportunities in St. Paul than we have in Woodbury. 

Now St. Paul has a new website called Sprockets. It is a one-stop shop and a network dedicated to the after-school and summer programs for kids and teens in Saint Paul. It’s a collaboration of community organizations, the City of Saint Paul and Saint Paul Public Schools.

I wish every city would have something like this. It would make parents very happy and make their job of finding after-school, out-of-school and summer programs so much easier. 

There is one summer camp – Eagle Summer Camp- in St. Paul that even Woodbury students in grades 5-8 can attend. 

Here is more info about the Eagle Summer Camp. It’s a very popular summer camp and fills up quickly. If you are interested, register early.

The Eagles Summer Camp is being held the week of Monday, July 25th through Friday, July 29th.  Hours are from 8am to 3pm.  The camp is funded by 3M in partnership with the Roseville Area School, South Washington County Schools, and the Saint Paul Public Schools; priority in registration is given to students from these districts through April.  Transportation to and from the camp is provided to students from these three districts with funding from the state through its Equity and Integration Program funds.

A published poet

[I am writing this post at midnight on April, 1. This is not a April Fool’s joke :-)]

Today my son received his copy of “A Celebration of Poets” (Fall 2010), published by Creative Communication. He had his first poem published in that collection.

When I said to my son: “Andy, you are a published poet now.” He didn’t seem to be as excited and proud as I was. 

Last September my son and daughter each entered a poem to the poetry contest by Creative Communication. To my surprise my son’s poem was accepted for publication, but not my daughter’s poem. I thought my daughter’s poem is a great one. 

Later I found out why. The reason of rejection was she used the word suicide in her poem. There are certain words they don’t want to have in all the poems they accept, suicide being one of them. It doesn’t matter that my daughter used the word in a funny way.

I was disappointed as well as my daughter, but I could understand the reason behind. I thought the editor was very responsible and responsive.

Here are my son’s published poem and my daughter’s unpublished poem, well both are published here now :-)  to kick off the “April is National Poetry Month!”

Green

 by Andy, 12
 
Green is grass, plants and trees
Green is the taste of mints
Green smells like parsleys and limes
Green is the sound of breeziness and quietness
Green is calm, bright and energetic 
Green is money
Green is growing and prospering
Green makes me feel happy
Green is the nature outside
Green is everywhere …
 
 

The opposite

by Amy, 11
 
I am Sally Sue, and I will do
The exact opposite of what you tell me to.
If you say sit, I will stand.
Tell me orchestra, I will join band.
If anyone tells me to go to bed,
I will be lying there wide awake instead.
Tell me to walk, and I will run.
Give me chores, I will have some fun.
If anyone tells me to flee,
Standing right there I will be.
Because I do the exact opposite as you can see.
If you get sick of me, tell me to live.
And I will die, just by committing suicide.
 
Time to write some more poems.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

Sidewalk Poetry Contest

If you have ever walked in St. Paul, you might have seen sidewalks paved with poetry.

I saw them and walked on them. I thought it was a very cool idea.

If you are interested in writing everyday poems for city sidewalk, you can enter the 2011  Sidewalk Poetry Contest for a chance to win one of the five prizes of $150 and citywide honor! Winning poems will be permanently published in city sidewalks.

Sorry you have to be a St. Paul resident to be eligible. I wish we could have this in Woodbury too.

Even though Woodbury residents can’t enter the contest, we can still write poems.

Yes, there is a poet in each of us.

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 www.minnesotago.org 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 publicworks@ci.woodbury.mn.us. 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 mnovak@ci.woodbury.mn.us.  

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?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12735023

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12725646

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12709850

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12724473

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.

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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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

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

Wikipedia:Public domain image resources

Public domain images

Public domain pictures

Public domain photos

MorgueFile (no credit needed and it’s free)

Flickr Creative Commons (credit the photographer on the page where you use the photo and give a link back to their Flickr page)

Stock.xchng (give a credit link)

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? 

Acceleration 

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. 

Flexibility 

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

Cell phone danger

My 12 and 11 year old kids have asked me at least a couple of times for a cell phone, my response was simply “No. You don’t need it.” In my mind, they are too young to have cell phones.

Yes, some of their friends have cell phones. But it doesn’t mean they should have it too. 

There has been so much information on the Internet about the danger of cell phones, especially for children, that I want to delay my kids’ owning and using cell phones as long as possible.

What age do you think is appropriate for kids to have their own cell phones? At what age did you or will you let you kids have their own cell phones? 

As for myself, I don’t use my cell phone a lot. I don’t use it for any long period of time and to chitchat. I don’t call when I drive.

I used to keep my cell phone close to my body, but now I mostly leave it in my purse or bag.

There are a few simple things you can do to avoid cell phone dangers. Read How to Avoid Cell Phone Dangers.

Time Magazine lists five simple ways to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation:

Use a wired headset

This keeps the antenna far away from your skull.

Get used to texting

Texting also keeps the handset away from your brain, reducing the radiation risk.

Don’t use your cell phone as an alarm clock

If you use your phone as your wake-up call, you’ll likely need to keep it close to your head; there’s still radiation being emitted even when it’s not taking calls.

Don’t carry your phone in your pocket

There’s preliminary research to indicate that men who carry a phone in their pocket all day could be putting their fertility at risk, and women who carry their phones in their bra could be increasing their risk of breast cancer.

Use a radiation-blocking case

These can reduce cell phone radiation by two-thirds.

Dr. Mercola has the following  advice:

Children Should Always Avoid Using Cell Phones: Barring a life-threatening emergency, children should not use a cell phone, or a wireless device of any type. Children are far more vulnerable to cell phone radiation than adults, because of their thinner skull bones.

Reduce Your Cell Phone Use: Turn your cell phone off more often. Reserve it for emergencies or important matters. As long as your cell phone is on, it emits radiation intermittently, even when you are not actually making a call.

Use a Land Line at Home and at Work: Although more and more people are switching to using cell phones as their exclusive phone contact, it is a dangerous trend and you can choose to opt out of the madness.

Reduce or Eliminate Your Use of Other Wireless Devices: You would be wise to cut down your use of these devices. Just as with cell phones, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you really need to use them every single time.

If you must use a portable home phone, use the older kind that operates at 900 MHz. They are no safer during calls, but at least many of them do not broadcast constantly even when no call is being made.

Note the only way to truly be sure if there is an exposure from your cordless phone is to measure with an electrosmog meter, and it must be one that goes up to the frequency of your portable phone (so old meters won’t help much). As many portable phones are 5.8 Gigahertz, we recommend you look for RF meters that go up to 8 Gigahertz, the highest range now available in a meter suitable for consumers.

Alternatively you can be very careful with the base station placement as that causes the bulk of the problem since it transmits signals 24/7, even when you aren’t talking. So if you can keep the base station at least three rooms away from where you spend most of your time, and especially your bedroom, they may not be as damaging to your health. Another option is to just simply turn the portable phone off, only using it when you specifically need the convenience of moving about while on a call.

Ideally it would be helpful to turn off your base station every night before you go to bed.

You can find RF meters as well as remediation supplies at www.emfsafetystore.com. But you can pretty much be sure your portable phone is a problem if the technology is DECT, or digitally enhanced cordless technology.

Use Your Cell Phone Only Where Reception is Good: The weaker the reception, the more power your phone must use to transmit, and the more power it uses, the more radiation it emits, and the deeper the dangerous radio waves penetrate into your body. Ideally, you should only use your phone with full bars and good reception.

Also seek to avoid carrying your phone on your body as that merely maximizes any potential exposure. Ideally put it in your purse or carrying bag. Placing a cell phone in a shirt pocket over the heart is asking for trouble, as is placing it in a man’s pocket if he seeks to preserve his fertility.(See ElectromagneticHealth.org’s Letter to Parents on Fertility and Other Risks to Children from Wireless Technologies)

Don’t Assume One Cell Phone is Safer Than Another.There’s no such thing as a “safe” cell phone.

Keep Your Cell Phone Away From Your Body When it is On: The most dangerous place to be, in terms of radiation exposure, is within about six inches of the emitting antenna. You do not want any part of your body within that area.

Respect Others Who are More Sensitive: Some people who have become sensitive can feel the effects of others’ cell phones in the same room, even when it is on but not being used.

If you are in a meeting, on public transportation, in a courtroom or other public places, such as a doctor’s office, keep your cell phone turned off out of consideration for the ‘second hand radiation’ effects. Children are also more vulnerable, so please avoid using your cell phone near children.

Use Safer Headset Technology: Wired headsets will certainly allow you to keep the cell phone farther away from your body. However, if a wired headset is not well-shielded — and most of them are not — the wire itself acts as an antenna attracting ambient information carrying radio waves and transmitting radiation directly to your brain.

Make sure that the wire used to transmit the signal to your ear is shielded.

The best kind of headset to use is a combination shielded wire and air-tube headset. These operate like a stethoscope, transmitting the information to your head as an actual sound wave; although there are wires that still must be shielded, there is no wire that goes all the way up to your head.

 

Social networking tools – a blessing in times of need

Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are wonderful and powerful tools for keeping people connected in their personal and professional lives. But I didn’t realize that social networking tools can be such a blessing in times of need until recently.

When my pastor at Spirit of Life Bible Church, Frank Sanders, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last month, his family created a CaringBridge site to help keep family and friends informed about Frank’s treatment.

In the last 40 days since the CaringBridge site was created, there were 37 journal entries from his family to update on his status, 590 guestbook entries from friends around the country to share their prayers, support and encouragement, and about 10,500 visits from family and friends to the site.

What an amazing tool the CaringBridge site is! It is a real blessing for everyone.

Without it, family and friends won’t be kept up to date so easily. Without it, Frank won’t hear from so many people and be so encouraged by so many prayers and kind words. Without it, his friends, many of them don’t know each other, won’t feel so touched by each other’s sharing.

The CaringBridge site has become a wonderful and powerful testimony to what a great man Pastor Frank is and how many lives he has touched.

Another website that has been very helpful for the family in this time of need is MealTrain.com. It simplifies the process of giving and receiving meals and makes meal scheduling easier.

Are you an Innie or an Outie?

Are you an Innie or an Outie, Introvert or Extrovert?

Introversion or extroversion is a type of temperament, a central dimension of human personality. It is innate and not something you can change.

Martin Olsen Laney in her book “The Introvert Advantage” talks about the following three characteristic differences between introverts and extroverts.

1. How they recharge their batteries – energy creation

The primary difference between introverts and extroverts and the strongest distinguishing characteristic is their energy source.

Introverts are energized by the internal world – by ideas, thoughts, emotions, and impressions. They are more concerned with the inner life of the mind and enjoy solitary activities. They need their alone time and just to bethemselves. They can be easily overstimulated by the external world. Introverts have the ability to to think independently, focus deeply, and work creatively.

Extroverts are energized by the external world – by activities, people, places, and things. They like to be with people, engage in activities outside and do things. They enjoy crowds and action. Extroverts can express themselves easily and concentrate on getting results.

Extroverts can refresh themselves easily by doing something in the outer world. Their focus is outside themselves.

2. How they experience and response to external stimulation

Extroverts like to experience a lot, and introverts like to know a lot about what they experience. Extroverts thrive on a variety of stimuli, whereas introverts can find it too much.

3. How they approach knowledge and experience – breadth and depth

Generally speaking, extroverts like breadth – lots of friends and experiences, knowing a little bit about everything, being a generalist. Variety is simulating and energizing.

Introverts like depth and will limit their experiences but feel each of them deeply. Usually they have fewer friends but more intimacy. They like to delve deeply into topics and look for richness more than muchness. They absorb information from the outside environment and then reflect on it and expand it.

Finding jobs that match your personality

Introverts tend to be in the “advisor class” – people who work independently. They are creative, imaginative, intelligent, and thoughtful. They are observers.

Many artists, writers, librarians, researchers, therapists, historians, teachers, ministers, IT professionals, accountants, auditors, personal financial advisors, and civil engineers are introverts.

Extroverts tend to be in the “warrior class” – the doers of the world. They need counsel from the advisors, and the advisors need warriors to take action and make things happen.

Introverts make up just a quarter of the general population. Many theorists think that is because fewer advisors are needed.  

We can’t change our personality, but we can learn to work with it, not against it.

I knew I am an introvert. From the little bit I have read so far in the book and shared here, it just totally confirmed what I knew.

I am a librarian and writer. I am more comfortable with writing than speaking in public. I think more than I do. I know more than I do. I prefer small gatherings with few friends, in deeper conversations and in more intimate relationships than big parties with lots of people, in general superficial conversations.

I will share more after I finish reading the book.

Good customer services

I have done a few posts about not so pleasant shopping experiences with overcharging. I don’t want to leave the impression that it’s all bad customer services out there.

No. Actually I think most stores have great customer services. They go above and beyond to make customers happy.

So in this post I would like to share some good customer services I have experienced.

My favorite good customer service experience happened at Sam’s Club in Woodbury.

Last year I went shopping at Sam’s Club for an office event. When I walked to my van, I noticed that the box of 1000 ct. foam cups I just paid for was no longer under the cart. Some how the box disappeared within the short distance from the checkout line to the van in the parking lot. I didn’t left the cart unattended. The only thing I could think of was the strong wind blew the box away from underneath the cart and I didn’t notice it.

I went back to the store and explained to the customer service rep. She helped me look for it and checked my van. We couldn’t find it any where in the store or in the paring lot. So she gave me a replacement box. That was very nice.

Last December I printed 100 photo greeting cards at Sam’s Club. When I designed it at home, it looked fine on my screen. But when I got the photos, someone’s hair was partially cut off. Sam’s Club reprinted the photos for me, even though it’s not their fault. It was a problem with the design. I should have left more space around the edge. I felt bad about having everything reprinted, but I was certainly grateful that Sam’s Club did it.

Any time I am not satisfied with the photo prints, for whatever reason, Sam’s Club always reprints for me, without any question.

Not long ago, I went to Kohl’s to buy clothes for my daughter. I had a 30% off coupon to use, but I left it in my car. I asked the cashier if I should go back to get my coupon, she said it was not necessary. She simply took 30% off from my purchase. I thought that was nice.

Recently I bought a wok at Bed Bath & Beyond. I asked the cashier if they had those coupons sent to local residents’ homes. I wished I had checked and printed one from the Internet. She told me I could go back anytime to get the discount price if I receive the coupon in the mail. I thought that was nice.

One day last year I was in Target with my daughter. Suddenly the power went out and it was pitch dark. It took a few minutes for Target to get their own power going. At the checkout, I was giving $3 store credit for the inconvenience. I thought that was nice. The power outage was area wide, it was not just in Target. Target didn’t do anything wrong to cause the outage. 

Last December I bought a set of flannel bed sheet on sale at Herberger’s. I asked for their store return policy and was told I can return anytime with the receipt, the same policy Macy’s has. I haven’t used the set and intend to either exchange it to a bigger size or return it. It’s great customer service to offer such generous return policy.

Speaking of return policy, I think almost all stores here in this country have return policy and allow items to be returned, even when the packages are opened and items are used ( for certain electronic items a fee will apply). Some thrift stores are exceptions.

I am not sure about other countries, but I know in China, you can’t return items once you bought them.

It’s fortunate that here we can buy and return stuff very easily and with no hassle, for any reason or no reason. In a way, it encourages mindless and careless buying.

Overall, I have more positive shopping experiences than negative ones. We have good customer services and consumer protection in the US.

Ways to protect yourself as a consumer

A reader left a comment to my post Overcharged at the grocery store and shared some of her bad experiences and frustrations as a consumer with being charged incorrectly, with automatic charge on credit cards, with rebates, coupons, etc.

I have had all those bad experience. I learned a few things to protect myself as a consumer.

The first line of protection is to know what I buy and what I pay for. Some people just grab things they want and never pay attention to the prices. But I do. I look at the prices for the items I buy. I may not remember the exact price for everything I buy, but I have a pretty good idea.

At the checkout, I usually look at the screen when items are scanned. If the cashier enters the wrong code, I will notice right away and have it corrected.

After I get my receipt, I quickly glance over it and check the price for the sales items.  If I find any errors, I can get them resolved on the spot. I always save my  receipts.

Every month when I get my bank and credit card statements, I verify all the charges against my receipts.

Nowadays I use my credit card for all purchases whenever I can, for three reasons.

First, it’s very convenient. I don’t need to carry much cash. 

Second, with my Upromise credit card, I can earn 1% cash back for my kids’ college education. Every year I can get at least a couple of hundred dollars back and it’s automatically invested into my kids’ 529 college savings plan.

Third, credit card gives me protection that cash or check can’t provide. 

Whenever I have a problem with any charge and it can’t get resolved directly with the merchant, I contact the credit card company to dispute the charge. I always get the money back. I found the credit card companies are very good at helping me get money back.

I remember a few instances when I had to contact credit card companies to get money back.

Unauthorized charges from an Arabian country in small amounts ($20) over a period of time.

Continuous charges from a telephone company even though I had canceled the service.

Disputed charge from a hotel that provided bad service and no hot water.

Double charges from the same place on the same day.

Here is my favorite story to share.

Many years ago I was living in Madison, Wisconsin. One day I purchased some broccoli on sale. When I got home and looked at my receipt, I noticed that I didn’t get the sales price for the broccoli. So during my next shopping trip, I went to the customer service desk and asked about the incorrect charge.

I had the receipt. But the customer service person said I needed to bring the broccoli back in order for him to figure out the price difference. I was surprised.

How hard was it to figure that out? We knew the price and the weight of the item.

I went home and wrote a letter to the store manager. I explained what happened and said I didn’t need to get the money back, but they should keep it to provide their employees better training.

A few days later, I heard a knock on the door. When I opened it, a guy delivered a nice fruit basket to me from the store as an apology.

Then I wrote a second letter to thank the store manager for the gift. This time I was really impressed by their customer service.

Overall I have to say, yes, I have been overcharged or wrongly charged many times, but they usually get resolved in my favor. That’s probably why I don’t get frustrated about it much.

Staying connected through Facebook

Lucia, her sister and me in an undated photo over 30 years ago

 

Now Lucia is a mother of two teenage boys

————————————————-

My cousin Lucia lives in Budapest, Hungary. I haven’t seen her for about 30 years.

We grew up in the same city in China. She lived with my grandma and grandpa at that time whom I visited often with my parents.

Today I found out through Facebook that it’s her birthday.  “Today is her birthday” appeard under her name when I clicked on her latest post. And there are some Happy Birthday wishes from her friends.

I didn’t know it’s her birthday. Well, thanks to Facebook, I found that out and was able to send her a Happy Birthday wish as well. 

On Facebook, of course.

I love Facebook and other social networking tools.

Through Facebook, blogs, and other tools we can get back in touch with old friends, keep each other informed about our lives, no matter where we live, whether we are neighbors or far apart across the world. We can share pictures, chat, and stay connected closely.

Facebook also allows us to make new friends whom we will not be able to meet physically.

It’s easy, fast and convenient.

Quick to listen, slow to speak

Quite contrary to what the Bible teaches: quick to listen, slow to speak, I often find myself in the opposite position.

I am slow to listen, quick to speak, especially in dealing with my own family members.

I want to be the person in control. I want to show that I am right. I like to tell people what to do and how to do it. If they don’t do it the way I want, I am quick to speak and criticise.

Today while reading fellow blogger Arina’s post 10 Steps to Expressing Constructive Criticism and to Being Heard, I was reminded that criticism is an art. Even if I am right and there is a good reason for me to criticise someone, there is a better way to do it.  Arina offered some really good advice on how to express constructive criticism in her article.

Finding the good in the bad weather

We are in the middle of another snowstorm in Minnesota.

Snow started falling quickly this Sunday morning and will end Monday afternoon. Much of the metro area could see between 12 and 15 inches of snow on the ground by the time the snow stops Monday afternoon, forecasters said.

If so, it would make this winter the second-snowiest to date in the Twin Cities, and push it into the top 10 snowiest entire winters.

The good thing is this snowstorm is happening on the weekend and on Monday -President’s Day that is a holiday for many people. All city, county, state and federal government offices, schools, post offices, libraries, financial market will be closed. The Monday commuting won’t be as bad as it could be if it were a normal working day.

If you look at the pictures below some of which show snow in Russia, you will feel fortunate that we don’t have it so bad here. It could be a lot worse than what we are getting. It’s all about perspective.

Divine appointment

I experienced a divine appointment today. I don’t know what to call it otherwise. This is probably the first time in my life that I felt that way.

I went to my church – Spirit of Life Bible Church – to attend the marriage seminar with guest speaker Senior Pastor Al Gossan from Lighthouse Christian Fellowship Church in Holland, Michigan.

When I walked in the Church, the seminar had just started. I went straight to the area where I normally sit every Sunday. Almost half of the people in attendance today were from other sister churches in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They came for this special event.

I took a seat next to a Hmong looking woman without any thought.

But after I sat down, I felt a sense of regret. I didn’t know this person sitting next to me. I wished I had took the seat in the next row and sat by someone I know from the Church and who is also a co-worker. We could have chatted during breaks about our workplace as we sometimes do.

But it was too late to change. So I sat there listening to the speakers and without saying a word to my neighbor.

After lunch we came back to continue the seminar. My neighbor, whose name is Sandie, took the initiative and introduced herself. We exchanged a few words. I felt a little embarrassed that I didn’t take the initiative to say “hi” to her first and to welcome her to our Church.

When the seminar ended, Sandie handed me a piece of paper with her name and contact info to keep in touch with each other. She said: “I have a story to tell you.”

Then she proceeded to share her testimony of how she was saved recently and how her husband was also saved and miraculously recovered from alcohol as the result of her prayer.

We stayed for quite a long time and talked.

Her words and story were something I needed to hear. She really lifted my spirit up. I felt encouraged.

I had the strong feeling that my meeting with Sandie and her husband was not a coincidence, but a divine appointment inspired and led by God.

In addition to experiencing the divine appointment, I also enjoyed the teachings by Pastor Al Gossan.

Later I read Pastor Al Gossan’s supernatural conversion testimony online. Reading about his life and conversion was also inspiring for me. 

I was glad that I went to the seminar and had a spirit-filled day.

A portrait of love

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post about Dr. David Jeremiah‘s book The Signs of Life.

I would like to share a portrait of love, as described by Dr. David Jeremiah in the book.

Words of love -

Words can build up as well as tear down. That’s very true. I once wrote an article titled “The power of the written word.”

We shall remember the advice from reformer Martin Luther: “When I have nothing more to say, I stop talking,” or the advice from our mothers: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Even if  you have to confront someone, make sure you speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)

Deeds of love -

Love is both a noun and a verb. While words of love are important, if they are not supported by deeds of love, they will in time sound hallow.

Thoughts of love -

As we think in our hearts, so we become (Proverbs 23:7) Our private thoughts are the building blocks of the people we become. Our thoughts determine our action.

Gifts of love -

God has given to every person three things to manage: time, talent and treasure. It’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). A synonym for love is give.

Steps of love -

Every step we take in this life is taken in pursuit of something. Everywhere we go, we are following someone or something. It’s not wrong if we pursue things for ourselves, but if we are only following our own dreams, our life becomes self-centered instead of God-centered. Pursuing something higher than the things of this world.

Today I heard on KTIS AM 900 Faith Radio an interview with Matthew Barnett, founder of the Dream Center and author of THE CAUSE WITHIN YOU. Matthew Barnett’s life is an excellent example of how he gave up his own dream and by doing so found God’s dream for his life, which is much bigger than his own dream.

Purposeful love -

God’s love is purposeful.

In terms of loving God, it means obeying Him. Jesus said: “If you love me, keep my commandments … If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”

In terms of loving others, it means noticing, discovering, and meeting people’s needs.

Obey God fully and serve others purposefully.

Selfless love -

God’s love is selfless, and that’s in sharp contrast to mere human love.

When God’s love fills our hearts, we begin loving with divine dimensions of love. We become more and more concerned about others – and less and less worried about our own needs.

In our humanness, we can’t be kind to those who are unkind to us. But when we have God’s love in us, He loves people through us. When we love someone unlovable, we show that we are that we are learning the brushstrokes of God’s love.

Unconditional love -

God’s love is unconditional. He loves us without strings.

Sacrificial love -

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Earthly currency vs. heavenly currency

I love listening to KTIS AM 900 Faith Radio. I listen to the station every day wherever I am and whenever I can – in the car or by the desk.

One of my favorite programs is Turning Point by Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church. He offers great messages. And his voice is pleasant to listen to.

Recently he did a series on the signs of life, based on his book with the same title. I liked it even though I only heard a little bit of it on the radio. So I got his book to read.

Here is something from the book that I would like to share.

Dr. David Jeremiah talks about the two currencies – the earthly currency and the heavenly currency in regard to wealth and money.

What we think of as money, the paper currency we all use, is nothing more than a man-made means of exchange. The pieces of paper have no real value, it’s the goods that have value. Money is the currency of this world and is temporal in nature.

The problem comes when we try to use temporal currency (money) as a medium of exchange in the eternal kingdom. As citizens of an eternal kingdom, we need an eternal currency. We use money to do business in the world’s temporal kingdom. It makes sense that we need an eternal currency to do business in an eternal kingdom.

The currencies in the kingdom of God are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And they come only from God.

To do business in the world, we need money. To do business with God, we need a heart full of love, joy, peace … the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we confuse currencies and try to purchase love, joy, and peace with money, when we seek eternal things with temporal means, we are bound to be disappointed and dissatisfied.

Money is amoral – neither good nor bad. It is not money that is the root of evil. It is the love of money, as the Bible says.

I like the terms Dr. Jeremiah used – the earthly currency and the heavenly currency. Now I will think of money and the fruit of the Spirit in a new way.

Suzanne’s Online PJ Party

If you have any interesting pajama stories to share or are interested in reading others’ PJ stories, you might want to check out Suzanne’s Online PJ Party.

I receive a daily email from Suzanne’s Book Club that contains a  5-minute excerpt from a book. I don’t actually read that part, but I do enjoy reading Suzanne’s Dear Reader column included in each email.

Recently Suzanne organized an online pj party. The responses from the readers have been overwhelming. I joined the fun and submitted my entry, as I like to share my thoughts with others.

Here is what I wrote:

Suzanne,

I didn’t grow up with pajamas and don’t wear ps now. I read the pj stories your readers shared with interest, and didn’t plan to write. But your last call for submission and the chance to win some cool gifts prompted me to share some thoughts.

I was born in the 1960’s and grew up in poverty in China. It was during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and life was extremely hard, worse than the Great Depression in the U.S. In those days, people mostly made their own clothes. My grandma and mother made everything for us kids, from underwear to winter coat, from hat to shoes. There was not much to buy in the store anyway.

Usually we wore hand me downs and clothes that had been mended again and again. Once a year during the Chinese New Year, we got some new clothes.

Since everything was handmade, we didn’t have many varieties and choices. We could and had to fit everything we had in small storage space. There were no such closets like we see today. We didn’t have pajamas just for use at bed time. We wore the same undergarment underneath during the day and then in bed at night. Everything served multiple purposes.

Nowadays, I can certainly afford buying pajamas, but I don’t need them. Being a green and resourceful person, I just use some old t-shirts in summer and old sweaters in winter if I am cold as my pj. I don’t see any need to buy something just for bedtime when I have plenty of clothes I can use. Who cares if I wear an old t-shirt or a fancy pj?

Some people said they buy a new pj every year. It’s a nice family tradition, but I question the necessity. Is this really necessary?

One thing is for sure, the more we buy, the more cluttered we are. Clutter has become a big issue for many people in our abundant society, We have so much more than we really need in life.

It’s fun reading with friends like you. Thanks for what you do every day.

Blessings, Qin

Books – buy vs. borrow

The idea for this post came from yesterday when I wrote about Borders’ bankruptcy and the reasons why I don’t buy books but borrow books for my own reading.

I know there are plenty of people who love buying their own books instead of borrowing books, though they might not buy books in the brick and mortar bookstore such as Borders any more. They have plenty of choices to buy books that are cheaper or more convenient.

You can buy books online from Amazon or other online retail stores, or buy directory from a publisher or even an author’s website. 

A strong case can be made for both buying and borrowing books. I think it’s just a personal preference.

The following are some reasons why people prefer one over another choice.

Why buying books

  • The feelings of owing something is satisfying and rewarding.
  • The convenience of ordering books online and getting them delivered right to your door is appealing.
  • The convenience of reading your own books whenever and wherever and taking as long as you need to read is important.
  • You own them and can do whatever you want to with them – making notes, highlighting or underlining words/paragraphs, reread them, lending them to friends, donating to charities, spilling on them, trashing them.
  • For currently popular and bestselling books, there is usually a long waiting list at the library. You don’t have to wait to buy and read your own copies.
  • No worry about the due date. No time constraint or deadline on reading and returning books when you own them.
  • No worry about the late fee if books are returned late.
  • No worry about losing books and being charged for them.
  • Build a book collection
  • Support the authors and book industry

Why borrowing books

  • Save money on buying books
  • Save shelf space for keeping books
  • Save time of maintaining a book collection
  • Save the headache of disposing books down the road
  • Visiting a library is a wonderful experience for the young and old and everyone in between.
  • Visiting your local library gives you a chance to meet people and builds community.
  • Borrowing books encourages more reading – While at the library, you will find and check out books you might not otherwise.  
  • Show support for your local library
  • Support recycling – Libraries have the best recycling program.
  • Reduce consumption – The less we buy, the better for the environment.

I think a good compromise or middle ground of buying vs. borrowing books would be to borrow the books you want to read from the library first. If you really like them, then go ahead and buy a copy, or better, buy a used copy online or at the used bookstores for yourself. This way you get some benefits on both sides. And you will not end up with books on your shelf that you regret of buying.

Readers, what do you prefer? Can you think of any additional reasons why you buy or borrow books? Thanks for your feedback.

Sad news for book lovers

Today is Valentine’s Day.

For everyone who loves books, or to be exact, loves book stores, there is a piece of sad news in the media today.

Borders, the third largest bookstore chain in the US, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The rising popularity of e-books and the stiff competition from online retailers like Amazon are some of the causes for the declining annual revenues for Borders.

The news saddened me. At the same time, I also felt a little guilty. Consumers like me also contributed to the dismal revenue performance of bookstores around the country.

You know I have not visited Borders bookstore for years, even though we have one conveniently located on Radio Drive and Tamarack.

I read every day, but I hardly buy any books.

I am a librarian and deal with books on my job. I have plenty of books to read from my own library or from the local public library. If I read or hear about a book that interests me, I can simply get it from the libraries. No need to buy books at all.

Another reason I stay away from buying books is I usually do not read books I own. I have shelves of books I bought but have never got around to read yet.

Why? They are my own books. I can read them “some day” or “any day” when I have time.

Meanwhile, that “some day” or “any day” never comes. I never find time to read them. Instead I always find other interesting books to read. Since they are borrowed from the library, I have to read them and return them under a deadline. My own books just have to keep waiting. I don’t know if I will ever get around to read them.

So for me, there is no point of buying books if I can get them for free and if I don’t use them. It’s just a waste of money to spend $10-20 on a book. That’s why I do not go to Borders and buy books for myself any more.

The truth is I do not buy any new books except Bible study books, but occasionally I buy used books if I see something I like, at used bookstores, thrift stores or garage sales. If a book I like costs only a dollar or less, there is not much to lose even if I buy it and don’t read it. Hopefully my kids will read the books I have accumulated. If not, they can be donated. I don’t feel too much waste since I didn’t spend too much money on them anyway.

I know I am not a good consumer for business. Whether we have a Borders or not, it doesn’t affect me personally, But I do feel sorry and sad for Borders employees who will lose their jobs or customers who love visiting and browsing bookstores.

Poems by Mother Teresa

Today I read a couple of poems written by Mother Teresa, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient. Mother Teresa is such an inspiring person, so are her poems.

Life

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable,
illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

 

Generational characteristics

In the last few weeks I have been reading “The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman.

The following are some notes from my reading about the generational characteristics.

Traditionalists (born before 1945)

Major events/influences: Great Depression, WWI and II, Korean War.

  • Loyal
  • Patriotic
  • Disciplined and work ethics
  • Deferred gratification – Waste not, want not
  • One company career
  • Respect for authority
  • Top down approach

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

Major events/influences: Cold War, Vietnam, human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, drugs, sex and Rock ‘n Roll, Suburbia, TV.

  • Idealistic
  • Optimistic
  • Competitive
  • Question authority
  • Big brands

Generation X (born 1965-1980)

Major events/influences: Both parents working, home alone, latch-key children, high divorce rate, Sesame street, MTV, Game Boy, PC.

  • Entrepreneurial spirit and creative
  • Self-reliant
  • Work well individually
  • Instant gratification
  • Flexible
  • Skeptic
  • Highly adaptive to change and technology
  • Unimpressed by status
  • Work-life balance
  • Not one job with one company
  • Practical
  • Fun
  • Accepting different lifestyles, roles and cultures
  • Anti-brands

Generation Y / Millennials (Born 1981-2000)

Major events/influences: expanded technology, social media,  diversity, globalization, grow up in a very child-focued, structured and over planned world, single parenting.

  • Close relationship with parents
  • Collaborative and team oriented
  • Globally concerned
  • Environmentally sensitive
  • Realistic
  • Tech-savvy, creative and innovative
  • Multi-tasking
  • Instant communication and feedback
  • Can-do attitude
  • Self-indulgent, entitled
  • Personal fulfillment
  • Diverse and inclusive
  • Used to have a voice and a choice
  • Create your own brand

The Less You Need/Want, the More You Have

Here are a few quotes from the post The Less You Need, the More You Have on the scarcity mentality and the abundance mentality that I really like. After reading this, I have to say, I have a really abundant life. I think I already knew it. But it’s good to be reminded from timt to time.

When I finally realized that the things I actually needed were incredibly minimal, I began to see how amazingly abundant my life was.

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

To me, the biggest difference between the scarcity mentality and the abundance mentality is that the scarcity mentality cares what other people have, while the abundance mentality doesn’t.

The abundance mentality finds value in what one already has, while the scarcity mentality is always seeking more.

Step back and look at your life. Remove just what you need from that picture – water, basic food, a few changes of basic clothing, minimal shelter. Look at all that’s left – all of the possessions, relationships, experiences, thoughts, and other things. That’s an abundance, one that can provide you with more than you can ever explore and enjoy.

Nine Lessons in Wealth-Building from The Millionaire Next Door

The Millionaire Next Door

Years ago I read the book  The Millionaire Next Door: Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy (1996) by marketing professors William Danko and Thomas Stanley. It was during a time period when I read all interesting books I could find in the library on personal finance.

Today I saw a blog post by Robert Brokamp titled “Nine Lessons in Wealth-Building from The Millionaire Next Door” I think it’s worth reviewing the lessons from the book and sharing with readers.

Here is a summary of Robert Brokamp’s post. For the complete article, please click here.

Lesson #1: Income Does Not Equal Wealth

Lesson #2: Work That Budget

Lesson #3: Know Where Your Dough Doth Go

Lesson #4: Know Where You Want Your Dough to Go

Lesson #5: Time Is Money

Lesson #6: Love the Home You’re With

Lesson #7: Love the Spouse You’re With

Lesson #8: Don’t Drive Away Your Wealth

Lesson #9: The Rich Are Different — They’re Happier

The main premise of the book is that people who look rich may not actually be rich; they overspend — often on symbols of wealth — but actually have modest portfolios and, sometimes, big debts. On the other hand, actual millionaires tend to live in middle-income neighborhoods, drive economical cars, wear simple watches, and buy suits off the rack.

Overcharged at the grocery store

Something happened to me today at the Cub Foods that is a good illustration of what I talked about in my previous post It pays to check your bills.

On my way home I went to the Cub Foods at Sun Ray shoping mall to pick up a couple of items. I rarely go there shopping, but since I drove right by today, it was convenient for me to stop by.  

As I walked by the organic section, I noticed that the organic baby carrots were on sale, $3 for 2 bags. So I picked two bags.

After I went through the check-out line, I took a look at my receipt as I uaually do. I noticed that the baby carrots were charged full price at $1.99 each. So I went to the customer service desk to verify the price. The clerk said he would refund the overcharge to me.

I thought Cub Foods and some other grocery stores have the policy that if an item is charged incorrectly, i.e. the price on the receipt does not match the sales price, the customer will get the item for free.

So I asked the clerk about the policy. He wasn’t surprised. I think he already knew it. He refunded me the full price for the two bags of baby carrots instead of just the overcharge.

I know plenty of people don’t bother with checking receipts or using coupons. They don’t care about saving a dollar here or being overcharged a dollar there. It’s not worth for them. But I love saving money, even if it’s just a dollar.

I got two free bags of organic baby carrots by being attentive and asking. It’s a good deal for me.

Kindness returned thousandfold

During one of my recent phone calls to my parents in China to ask about their Chinese New Year happenings, my mother mentioned that she visited a middle school teacher of hers.

My mother is 77 years old. Her teacher is already in her 90s. How many people will  still visit their teachers at that age?

Here is the story my mother told me as why she visits her teacher every year during the Chinese New Year to bring her some gifts and to show her respect and appreciation.

My mother came from a poor family in the country with three brothers and two sisters. My grandfather had a fabric store. It was burned down and they were left penniless. My mother’s little sister was sold at a young age to another family because they couldn’t afford to feed everyone.

One by one they left the country to go to the city for a better life. My mother first lived with a relative as a maid attending their garden and helping with the chores. She never had enough to eat.  Later my grandmother and my mother sold food on the street for a while.

In those old days, girls were considered the second class citizen. She wanted to go to school, but didn’t have a chance.

My grandfather thought only sons needed to go to school. Girls would be married out of the family anyway. Besides their family didn’t have money to send kids to school. So my mother never went to school as a kid.

After the Communist Party came to power in 1949, free public education became available. My mother took the opportunity to go to school part-time, for a couple of hours in the afternoon, against my grandfather’s will.

Mother had to work extra hard to catch up, because she never went to school as a kid. She secretly sold blood to make money and to help her parents support the family.

When the middle school teacher heard about my mother selling blood, she paid a house visit. She thought my mother was a good student and wanted to encourage her to attend more school. There she found out about the financial situation in my mother’s family. She helped my mother get more financial assistance from school, raising her stipendium from 4 RMB to 8 RMB (ca. half a dollar to a dollar) per month.

That was an important moment in my mother’s life. She never forgot the kindness of that teacher.

After my mother finished middle school, she went on to go to a two-year pedagogical college to become a teacher. She chose that kind of college because no expenses for the students were needed. In addition, students got monthly allowance from the school. My mother used the money to support the family.

My mother became a math teacher and taught at a high school in our neighborhood for many years.

To this day, my mother still visits her middle school teacher at least once a year. She said she will remember the kindness from the teacher for the rest of her life.

One simple act of kindness has been returned thousandfold. And it is still reaping reward after so many years and several decades.

Guest post

My post on print book vs. e-book is the guest post #24 on Will Manley’s popular blog Will Unwound for librarians. Librarians are very engaging readers. They always have a lot to say in their comments. 

I got invited to write an article on this topic by the editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly. This must be an interesting subject for people.

Family Fitness Fest

The first-ever South Washington County Family Fitness Fest took place at East Ridge High School this evening at 6:30-8:30 pm. I wanted to go when I first heard about it in an email I received from school and had it marked on my calendar.

My kids were not as enthusiastic as I was, but I talked them into going together. We also invited one of my son’s friend to go with us.

Shortly after we arrived, I was stopped by one of the event coordinators. She saw me with a bunch of kids and asked me if the reporter for Woodbury Patch, Jolie Mouton, could do a short interview with me on why I came to the event. Being a writer myself, I wanted to fully support what other writers do. So I had a brief conversation with Jolie. I told her I am on the Health & Wellness Committee at work and I am interested in anything related to health and wellness.

When Jolie wanted to take a picture of me and my kids, they run away and didn’t want to participate. So I ended up being by myself in the picture. I am not so excited about that picture.

I didn’t get to the mini yoga session as I wanted to. But I listened to the motivational message by Carrie Tollefson, Olympian runner. 

I really liked the healthy snack – build your own yogurt parfait. We mixed yogurt with several different fruit. Yummy!

As a bonus, my daughter also won a door prize – a gift card.

It was certainly a fun event for us. We were glad we went.

Thanks to all the organizers, volunteers and sponsors. It takes a lot of work to make it happen.

Websites worth bookmarking

In this post I want to share a few websites I bookmarked lately and visited today. I plan to add more from my list of favorites on my computer.

BibleGateway.com is a searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 35 languages.

The Bible on One Page:

BibleStudyTools.com is the largest free online Bible website for verse search and in-depth studies. The online library includes 39 versions of the Bible, parallel Bible, Bible verses by topic, commentaries, concordances, Bible dictionaries, Biblical encyclopedias, historical Christian and church books, Bible reading plans, etc.

CaringBridge.org is a website that connects people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends around the world. It offers a personal and private space to communicate. Authors add health updates and photos to share their story while visitors leave messages of love, hope and compassion to show support in the guestbook.

MealTrain.com helps organize meals for a friend after the birth of a new baby, surgery or illness. It simplifies the process of giving and receiving meals and makes meal scheduling easier.

Dumbing us down – John Taylor Gatto on public education

Friday evening I went to a presentation by John Taylor Gatto at Macalester College.

Gatto’s presentation, sponsored by the Institute of Theological & Interdisciplinary Studies, was thought provoking. So are his books.

John Taylor Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. In 1991, he quit because he no longer wished to “hurt kids to make a living.” He then began a public speaking and writing career.

Gatto is the author of the following books:

In his article “Against School: How public education cripples our kids, and why (2001), Gatto says: “Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.”

Gatto promotes homeschooling. He thinks compulsory schooling cripples children’s imagination and discourage critical thinking.

Efe Agbamu – Minnesota’s Secondary Principal of the Year

Efe Agbamu, principal of Park High School in Cottage Grove, resident of Oakdale and a fellow church member of Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury, has been awarded the 2011 “Minnesota’s Secondary Principal of the Year,”  an honor given by the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. Agbamu will now compete to become the national secondary principal of the year. That winner will be named in September.

According to the Star Tribune article “Park High School principal wins state award” on January 30, 2011, “The award for middle and high school principals recognized Agbamu for her ability to achieve academic and community goals, for improving teaching and learning and encouraging a positive school environment for staff and students. Agbamu, who has been at the school for four years, instituted an International Baccalaureate (IB) program at the school in 2009. IB programs generally involve more challenging courses and make students internationally competitive.”

Establishing the International Baccalaureate program was Agbamu’s greatest achievement at Park High School. It is a program that is benchmarked against international standards. It is taught around the world.

The Minnesota Department of Education describes the International Baccalaureate education as a “superior education.”

With the IB program, students are taking much more challenging classes. This year, the number of students who take AP and honors classes at Park has almost doubled the number from last year.

For more info about IB at Park High School, click here.

Agbamu is well educated herself and has three degrees – one from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, a doctorate degree from Hamline University and the superintendent’s license from Minnesota State University Mankato.

Agbamu moved to the United States from her native Nigeria in 1992. She is married with three children and lives in Oakdale.

The Year of the Rabbit

Happy Chinese New Year to all who celebrate this special festival!

2011 is the Year of the Rabbit.

In China, today is the first day of the Chinese New Year in the lunar calendar, but here in the U.S., today is still the New Year’s eve, due to the 14 hours of time zone difference (US Central Time).

My daughter was born in the year of the Rabbit 12 years ago. And my son was born in the year of the Tiger 13 years ago. They each have their animal as their middle name – Bunny and Tiger.

Please read the year of Tiger for more info about the Chinese New Year tradition.

The most important things that happen during the CNY are:

  • Having the family reunion dinner (really a feast) on the eve of CNY. People often travel far away to go home for the reunion dinner.
  • Visiting familes, relatives and friends during during the first couple of days of the CNY.
  • Giving  children (usually also young people who are not married yet) lucky money in the red envelops, as a form of blessing.

I called my parents and my brother yesterday and today to see what they were doing and wish them Happy New Year. I wish I could be home with them for the reunion dinner.

Fasting experiment

I wrote about my day of fasting yesterday. Today Celes Chua had an interesting article on the same topic on her Personal Excellence Blog. She is doing “A 3-Day fasting experiment” (Feb. 7-10, 2011)

Here is Celes’ article. Please visit her forum if you want to follow her experiment.

A 3-Day Fasting Experiment (7 Feb – 10 Feb)

by Celes Chua

Fasting Experiment
Image ©

In the past couple of days I’ve been reading up about fasting, specifically water fasting, with much interest. I intend to try a water fasting experiment myself next week and will be updating daily with a journal of my experience.

What’s Water Fasting?

Fasting is the process where you abstain from food and/or water for a set period of time. In water fasting, you don’t get to eat but you are free to drink as much water as you want. A popular form of fasting is juice fasting, where you consume nothing but juices (greens or fruit juice).

Fasting shouldn’t be confused with starving, where one suffers from severe lack of nutrition, vitamins and minerals. During fasting, your body burns your fat reserves (adipose) for energy. The person does not suffer any deficiency of protein, vitamins, minerals or fatty acids. Starving happens when a body has no reserve fat fuels to burn (happens for anyone with body fat from 5-10%) and starts eating into its own muscles and organs for energy instead. Carrington (Physical Culture, 1915) put it well in these words:

“Fasting is a scientific method of ridding the system of diseased tissue, and morbid matter, and is invariably accompanied by beneficial results. Starving is the deprivation of the tissues from nutriment which they require, and is invariably accompanied by disastrous consequences.”

Starving happens when fasting ends. The amount of time one can fast without going into starvation mode depends from individual to individual, such as the fat %, body weight, body condition and so on, but the average person can actually last 40 days just drinking water alone (with proper supervision of course; please do not attempt to do this yourself without doing due research first). According to A. J. Carlson, Professor of Physiology, University of Chicago, he states that a healthy, well-nourished man can live from 50 to 75 days without food, provided he is not exposed to harsh elements or emotional stress. Loren Lockman, the founder of a fasting center, has been supervising people through pasts in the past 10 years from fasts as short as a few days to as long as 10 weeks. If you do a simple search on Youtube for “fasting”, you’ll find vlogs of different people doing 10-day, 25-day and 40-day fasts.

Why Fast?

Why fast? That’s a perfectly valid question. I first heard about fasting when I was young, in primary school. At a certain point in the year, there would be references to people who were fasting. For example, during PE classes, the teachers would exempt certain students from doing sports because they were fasting. Most Malay students would also not eat during recess breaks. I later found out that this was a practice followed by Muslims, whereby they would refrain from eating and drinking (from sunrise to sunset) for one month (Ramadan). This would happen every year.

At that time I never thought much about it. I thought it must be an act that required a lot of discipline and self-control, so I was respectful of those who followed that. I didn’t think I would be able to get through a day, from morning to night, without food. I’d probably die or become nutritionally deprived.

Fast forward to today, and things have changed .

Natural Way To Heal

In the past few days, I’ve been reading up about fasting. I’m quite intrigued to learn about the practice and the many purported benefits of fasting. Apparently, there is a small, but actively growing, interest in fasting as a holistic form of therapy and wellness. I won’t turn this article into a fasting literature, but suffice to say there have been many accounts on how fasting is the natural way for the body to heal. (I’ll include links and resources at the end of this post where you can check out) When left on its own, our body is actually capable of healing itself through many ailments and illnesses. Eating and taking medication interfere with our body’s natural ability to heal. This is why we rarely have appetites when we’re sick, because the body does not want to ingest anything and wants to go through the self-healing process. Check this excerpt by Loren:

…Virtually all symptoms that we experience are evidence that the body is attempting to heal itself. Sinus congestion, fever, swelling, even pain, are created by the body on purpose, and are nothing more than evidence that the body is working to address some problem and restore balance, or homeostasis. When the body is given an opportunity to cleanse and heal, all manner of symptoms may arise, and they often do.

Sometimes, those who don’t understand this will believe that the fast has made them sick. In fact, by ceasing to squander the body’s energy on unnecessary activities (including, temporarily, eating!), much more energy is available to cleanse and heal. The appearance of symptoms simply indicates that these processes have begun. It is always the body that heals itself. Remedies of all kinds generally treat symptoms, not causes, and it is only by eliminating the cause of a problem that we can expect to solve the problem.

Taking a decongestant may relieve the discomfort, but it does nothing to eliminate the actual problem, which was a toxic substance in the body. With its means of elimination paralyzed by the drug, the body is forced to store these toxins, furthering the body’s build-up of them, and eventually creating chronic disease.

If you’ve been eating a Standard American Diet for 20, 30, 40 years or more, your body probably has a lot of stored debris. Additionally, as the body becomes overburdened with the toxins brought in from outside (exogenous) sources from our diet, water, and the environment, it’s also becoming overburdened with toxins created inside the body (endogenous). These endogenous toxins are the waste products of cellular metabolism. When a system is heavily burdened, it’s unable to process and eliminate the cellular wastes quickly enough, and these wastes build up.

These very same toxins are kept in our fat cells, or our adipose tissues. Since we’re constantly eating every day, we provide our bodies with a ready stream of energy (food is converted to glucogen through glycogenolysis), which leaves our bodies with little reason to break down our adipose tissues. Glucose is our body’s immediate preferred fuel. Only by cutting out our glucose source (by not eating or by reducing our caloric intake) will our body turn to our fat reserves for energy (this process is called catabolism). This is when the toxins finally get processed, broken down and released, resulting in a physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthier you.

Immense Benefits of Fasting: Mental Clarity, Increased Creativity, etc

My interest in taking on fasting is multiple-fold. Firstly, I’m very curious about the many benefits I’m reading about fasting and would like to test it out for myself to see if they’re true. I’ve been reading accounts of how people feel heightened levels of mental clarity, significantly increased creative output, inner calmness, a new-found relationship with themselves, supremely vivid dreams, and so on during their fasts. These tend to happy from Day 3 onwards of their fast. One of the big reasons is because since there’s nothing to digest, our body stops diverting energy to our digestive systems and instead directs them to our brain, leading to higher level output (i.e. thinking and creative work).

In particular, I’m quite keen about the whole benefit of “increased creative output” :D. I’ve been experiencing increased bouts of creativity and “flow” with the raw food diet, so I can imagine how much stronger it’d be during a water or juice fast (where the body doesn’t need to digest the food).

Emotional Purging

Secondly, I’m also quite keen about the whole emotional and physical purging process. I can imagine my body has lots of toxins piled up from all the years of eating meat products (before I turned vegetarian), and then all the cooked/fried stuff I ate (before I turned to a raw diet). It’d be nice to do some major cleansing in my system through this fast, kind of like a system reboot.

When I first went on a 21-day raw-food trial back in 2009, I went through a phase in the middle where I had a sudden craving for meat. That was immensely bizarre because I had totally no desire whatsoever to eat meat ever since I switched to a vegetarian diet in Jan ’08! In my mind I was going “What the f* is this about?!” After pushing past it, that craving suddenly disappeared totally and in its place were anger and latent memories of a past experience (which I subsequently processed and would eventually blog about here). This was one of the first times when I realized that many physical sensations  (including hunger, cravings, ailments) are actually unprocessed emotional and mental baggage that manifest themselves on a physical level. Given that food is something that we ingest daily to become part of our body, and that food/eating is commonly advertised as a synonym for happiness/love, it’s not surprising that a lot of our issues get buried in food/eating as well. So I’m really quite curious to see what comes out of experiment this time with fasting, where I’m not going to get to eat at all.

Weight Loss?

Weight loss is obviously something one would experience during a fast since you’re not eating anything. I’m not really looking at this as a benefit to get out of fasting since majority of the accounts I read mentioned that they regained most of the weight after reverting to their regular diet. If I get to keep the weight off that’s nice, otherwise I figure the raw diet is already helping me lose weight (vs. my previous diet) as it is.

Enabling Others To Learn and Grow

The third reason is that I’m always looking to explore new territories of growth and to share them here so others can learn from my experiences. By taking on the fast and publicly sharing them here at TPEB, I can imagine that this will be a helpful resource to those who might be interested to try this for themselves in the future. I know I’ve found Steve Pavlina’s raw food journals helpful in my foray into raw foodism, so I believe that these fasting journals will be helpful for others in time to come.

Building a New Relationship With Food

And fourthly (somewhat related to the 2nd reason), I’m interested to build a new relationship with food. After moving into raw foods, it made me see food in a whole new light and made me realize how much I was using food as an emotional outlet (even more so than I realized). It also made me understand on a whole new level what it really feels to be hungry and require food, vs. when it’s just a desire to eat and fill out an emotion. The answer is that probably 99.9% of the time it’s the latter and not the former. The fact that pretty much all processed foods and cooked foods include sugar, salt and additives in one way or another and they affect our sense of true hunger, which aggravates emotional eating problems.

I read with interest of Frederick (a raw vegan expert)’s 23-day fasting account, where  he lost the physical sensation of hunger after the first 3 days. For the remaining 20 days, he literally stopped feeling hungry for food. I thought that must be a really interesting state to be in – it basically rips apart everything we hear about food and eating today, where we need to have 3 meals a day, that skipping a meal is bad for health, and so on and so forth.

Fasting, not eating food, will probably make me see food in a different light than how I’m seeing it now. The people who’ve undergone fasting talked about how they felt hunger in the first 1-3 days and stopped feeling any physical hunger after that. It also made them realize what true hunger really felt like (hint – it’s not what we’d think it is). Someone who has a true ideal relationship with food and his/her body will eat only when required, stop when body is full, not experience any sudden cravings or desire to eat, and will be in a healthy body weight and fat percentage, because the body has no use for any excess fat whatsoever (unless you live in an extremely cold climate like Antarctica).

My Experiment

I intend to fast for 3 days, starting from next Mon, 9am (7 Feb) to Thu, 9am (10 Feb). I’ll not eat anything in these 3 days and will only drink water. I guess that means eating while I can during Chinese New Year tomorrow and the day after . If everything goes well, I might continue on the fast to 5 days or even 7 days. I don’t intend to go anywhere beyond 7 days, though I’ll see how it goes.

I just posted about my fasting experiment in the forums yesterday and so far a few members have expressed interest in joining in. If you’re interested to participate (even if for a day), feel free to join us in the forums. Even if you’re not, you are still invited to join in the discussions. Note that isn’t meant as a big scale challenge like 30DLBL or 21DHL but a personal experiment that I’m sharing with everyone at the blog. Join in if you want to; otherwise you can just watch if you prefer. Either way I’ll be doing the fasting experiment and sharing it with you guys.

I intend to post about my fasting experience via daily logs at TPEB. During this experiment, I’ll share what I’m going through as transparently as I can, from the pros to the cons. I intend for the journals to be helpful to those who are curious about fasting or who intend to try out fasting themselves in the future.

Safety?

Most reactions surrounding a fasting decision will probably be rooted in fear. I know because I can imagine myself reacting that way if someone tells me that he/she wants to fast.”What? You want to fast? No! It’s dangerous! You’ll die! It’s not good to go hungry!

As I’ve mentioned above, our body has sufficient fat reserves to last us for 40 days, with some even stretching as long as 10 weeks. Our body will not burn muscle as an act of natural preservation. By default, our body follows this set process to get energy:

1) Glycogenolysis (Normal eating – Energy from glucose)-> 2) Catabolism (Fasting – Energy from fat storage) -> 3) Starvation Mode (Starvation – Energy from muscles)

Each pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so that’s quite a lot of calories for the body to burn during the fast before it’ll ever resort to burning from muscles. Only when there are no more fat reserves left (less than 7% or 10% body fat for males and females respectively – Wiki), will the body then turn to burning muscles and organs for energy (which is starvation and highly dangerous – most fasting should end well before this)

I’m well in the acceptable weight range with sufficient body fat that can be burned before I enter starvation mode. Girls tend to have higher fat reserves than guys, though it’s really a case-by-case scenario based on your weight, fat percentage and physical condition.

Of course, I’m also not going to press-on and force myself not to eat if I’m convulsing and suffering some averse bodily reactions or anything like that. I’ll stop if I think something seems amiss. After all, disciplining myself is really not my forte at all!

From what I’ve read, the first 1-3 days are the hardest because that’s when your body adjusts to not getting energy from glucose. After the initial adjustment is done, the physical sensation of hunger disappears. The days beyond should be progressively easy, as long as I keep my activity level light. Since the body is in a fat-burning metabolism (vs. a glucose-burning metabolism), my energy is best conserved for brain work. I might go for light strolls, but otherwise that’s about it.

If you’re interested to join in the fast, do spend some time to read up (I’ve provided resources below) and proceed at your own risk. It goes without saying that fasting is notfor pregnant ladies, thin/extremely thin people who have limited fat reserves, people taking heavy medication, people with severe illnesses and conditions, etc. When in doubt, consult a medical healthcare expert!

Preparation

As preparation for my fast next Monday, I intend to eat minimal fruits and juice over the weekends. This will help me ease into the 3-day fast or however long it’s going to be. As mental preparation, I’ve been trying out a light fast on just oranges and apples today and it’s going well so far.

At the end of the fast, I’ll slowly break out of it by first taking in fruit juices, and later on fruit. Eventually I’ll resume with regular raw meals after 1-2 days. Basically you should consume things that are easiest on your digestive system as it eases back into regular mode. So juices -> fruits -> vegetables -> cooked food -> diary -> meat-based food (if you eat meat).

Some Fasting Resources

If you’re interested to read more about fasting, here are some additional resources:

That’s it for now! If you’ve anything to share in the topic, join us in the forums to continue the discussions!

A day of fasting

Today (Monday, 1/31/11) I joined other members at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury in a day of prayer and fasting, to pray for our Pastor Frank’s healing and recovery. He was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

My 24 hour fasting started last night and ended tonight. I didn’t eat anything for 24 hours except drinking water.

This was the first time I ever fasted. I felt OK, no fatigue. My stomach didn’t make any noisy protests. Only my head felt a little bit heavy in the late afternoon.

The concept of Biblical fasting refers to the denial of the needs of the flesh in order to enhance our spirit and get closer to God. Fasting allows us to focus on spiritual growth.

Fasting is not only good for the soul, but it is also good for the body and mind.

Fasting gives the body a rest. It allows the digestive system to rest and heal itself. It allows the body to eliminate toxins. Fasting helps to clarfy the mind.

God is the best healer and the greatest physician. He can heal anyone and do miracles. I turst He will heal Pastor Frank.

Pray for Pastor Frank Sanders’ healing

My pastor at Spirit of Life Bible Church, Frank Sanders, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on January 21, 2011. He shared the shocking news with the congregation the next day at the church thanksgiving dinner.

Please stand with Spirit of Life Bible Church with prayer and fasting for Pastor Frank’s healing and recovery.

The Sanders family has created a CaringBridge site to help keep their family and friends informed throughout Frank’s treatment.

I love my pastor. He is a great preacher and a great man.

Here is an article I wrote about Pastor Frank that was originally published in Woodbury Bulletin on 8/30/2006.

Living the Spirit of Life with Passion

Anyone who visits Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury and hears Pastor Frank Sander’s messages is most likely impressed by what he/she sees and hears. Pastor Sanders is a man of stature, and more importantly, he is a man of passion.

At least that is how I feel as a former Chinese atheist, now a Christian and a new member of Spirit of Life.

I went to Spirit of Life in September 2004 because the Church was offering an 8 week study on “The 40 Days of Purpose.” I stayed with Spirit of Life because of Pastor Sanders. As a seek of many years, I have visited quite a few churches in my life before I came to Spirit of Life, but no other pastors have ever made a more powerful impression on me than Pastor Sanders.

At 6 feet 3 inches, Pastor Sanders is a tall man. He had a career as a professional hockey player and played hockey for over 20 years. His athletic talent, his passion, and hard work led him to the pinnacle of his dreams as an athlete on the 1972 USA hockey team when it captured the Olympic Silver Medal in Sapporo, Japan. He played one year professionally with the Minnesota Fighting Saints.

Yet the success in his professional life didn’t bring the fulfillment and happiness he was looking for. Even though he reached the mountaintop and experienced great success, he still felt emptiness in his life. What he had achieved was not satisfying. He walked away from the worldly pursuit of success and happiness, and turned his life in a new direction.

At the age of 25, he committed his life to serve the Lord. He went to seminary and became a youth pastor. He worked with young people for almost 20 years and was an associate minister for several years after that.

Then another change happened that brought his faith and passion for Christ to a new level.

In 2001, Sanders and 13 other people started Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury. It was a big step of faith for him and all the members, but their strong faith in God helped them take the risk and face the challenge.

Sander’s teaching and messages are always based on the truth from the Bible. They are practical and challenging. One thing is for sure. People do not feel bored when listening to his messages. His passion and excitement for God will infect, inspire and impress everyone around him.

His passion for Christ shows especially during his Sunday sermons. Psalm 100 says to “Shout for joy to the Lord” and that’s the way Sanders preaches – he literally makes a lot of joyful noises when he preaches. He can be as excited and passionate about Jesus as a sport fan is excited about watching his favorite team winning the Olympics.

A major focus of the church’s activities is the Children’s Program that includes the weekly Sunday School classes and fun activities throughout the year: monthly Children’s Church services, Cub Scouts, VBS, an annual picnic, Fall Harvest party and Christmas Program.

My two children love to go to Sunday school at Spirit of Life. They love the small class size and the dedicated Sunday school teachers.

In the four plus years since the Church started, God has blessed it tremendously and membership has grown exponentially. The current church facility at Wooddale Drive is getting too small.

With the big population growth in Woodbury, the congregation saw the need for a bigger church facility to accommodate the growth. “There is a hunger for God in this community. We see a big opportunity and a huge responsibility ahead of us.“ Sanders went on to say, “Moving into a new facility is another big step of faith, but we know that God will supply our needs. We are doing this for God’s glory. He will bless us again as He did over the last few years.”

The new church facility at 690 Commerce Drive is near Sam’s Club. First service will take place Sunday, September 3, 10 am. Everyone is welcome. For more information and to request a DVD about SOL, visit www.SpiritOfLifeBibleChurch.org, or call 651-731-1900.

Breaking Free with Beth Moore

Starting today, the Women’s Ministry at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury is doing a 10-week Bible study based on Beth Moore‘s popular Bible study Breaking Free: The Journey, The Stories.

Beth Moore leads participants “through a study of the Scriptures to discover the transforming power of freedom in Jesus Christ. Themes for this study come from Isaiah, a book about the captivity of God’s children, the faithfulness of God, and the road to freedom.”

Beth Moore is a great Bible teacher. About a year ago I did my first Beth Moore Bible study “Living beyond yourself: exploring the fruit of the spirit” and I really enjoyed it. So I am looking forward to the next 10 weeks of studying and Breaking Free with Beth Moore.

The Tiger Mother and You

More articles, blogs, comments, interviews, talks, discussions about Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” She has definately spurred a national debate about how to raise our kids and touched a nerve with not only parents, but also people in all walks of life – education, finance, etc.

No matter whether one agrees or disagrees with Chua’s parenting methods, likes or dislikes the book,  one thing is for sure, it is a very successful book. I have never seen a book causing this kind of reaction and debate before.

Here is an article to share:

The Tiger Mother and You: Are We Preparing Our Kids for a Better Financial Future?

The Simplest Diet for Lean Fitness

The following post on diet was written by Leo Babauta. It’s worth sharing.

My own diet is pretty close to his. I eat beans, veggies, fruits, and nuts every day.

The Simplest Diet for Lean Fitness

Leo Babauta

Posted: 27 Jan 2011

I’m in the best shape in my life.

I’m incredibly happy to say that. For years (as many of you know) I was in terrible health — I was overweight and sedentary and addicted to junk food and a smoker and overworked.

Today after more than five years of living healthy I am about 65 pounds lighter. I’m leaner than I’ve been since probably high school with the same pants size as I had in high school (32) — while being much stronger than I was back then. More importantly I am fitter: I can run and play sports and hike and do activities of all kinds better than ever before.

How have I achieved all of this? Slow change. I’ve done no fad diets or quick weight loss. I’ve done nothing extreme. Everything is about living healthier and eating whole foods and being active most days. And about enjoying the journey.

Today I thought I’d share a bit about how I eat. It’s not meant to be copied exactly but to inform others trying to make a similar journey. Next week I’ll talk about my exercise.

Overall philosophy

My general philosophy of eating:

  • I don’t go for anything extreme. I’ve made small changes to my diet over the years and have found this works best: if you try for drastic changes you’ll hate it and won’t stick to it for long. But add a few extra fruits and veggies and it’s not hard. Change soda to water next month and it’s not deprivation.
  • I eat slowly. OK … not always but most of the time. Eating slowly allows me to fully savor the taste of the healthy food I eat and at the same time eat less while still feeling satiated (not stuffed).
  • I eat real foods. I try for veggies and fruits and raw nuts and seeds and beans and some whole grains. Sometimes my food is processed but mostly it’s just the stuff you’ll find in the produce and bulk sections of a supermarket (or farmer’s market).
  • I eat plants. I do that mostly for reasons of compassion (killing animals for pleasure doesn’t feel right to me) but I’ve found it’s also an extremely healthy way to eat. Sure it’s possible to be vegan and unhealthy (eat processed fake meats and sweets) but if you’re a whole-food vegan it’s hard to go wrong. And yes it’s easy to get protein as a vegan.
  • I enjoy myself. I look for healthy foods I love — berries for example — and savor them. I’ll eat sweets now and then but in small portions and truly enjoy the few bites I have. I have red wine and love it. I drink beer sometimes and it’s wonderful. I have pizza about once a week and it’s delicious. Eating healthy isn’t about deprivation but about finding ways to enjoy yourself while living a healthy life.

My Diet

This month I’ve cut my less healthy choices down to Saturdays — as inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Body. That means I only eat pasta and pizza and sweets and beer and French fries on Saturdays. This has gotten me even leaner and I recommend this way of living.

The rest of the week I eat my own version of Tim’s Slow Carb Diet — the Leo version. That means I eat a little fruit and a few whole grains and I don’t eat the meat. I don’t eat fried foods or drink calories (other than red wine at dinner) or eat white carbs (pasta bread rice potatoes pizza).

What I eat:

  • Beans – lentils and black beans and kidney beans and pintos and soybeans.
  • Nuts and seeds – raw almonds and walnuts and seeds and olive oil and avocadoes.
  • Veggies – lots of greens like kale and spinach and chard and broccoli. Carrots and various bell peppers and sprouts and so on.
  • Fruits – berries and apples and oranges and a little dried fruits like raisins. In moderation.
  • Whole grains – steel-cut oats and Ezekiel flourless sprouted-grains bread and quinoa (not technically a grain). That’s about it — I don’t eat pastas or whole-grain muffins or the like.

My Meals

My typical day usually goes like this:

  • Breakfast: Every day I eat steel-cut oats for breakfast late in the morning (usually between 10:30 and 11:30). I cook it and then mix it with flaxseeds and cinnamon and blueberries and raw almonds and a few raisins and maybe a small amount of banana or raspberries.
  • Lunch: Typically a big-ass salad with kale and spinach and sprouts and avocados and beans and raw nuts and a little fruit with balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I’ll eat a tofu stir-fry with greens.
  • Snack: If I’m hungry in the afternoon I’ll eat some raw nuts and dried fruit or veggies and hummus.
  • Dinner: Beans and veggies or a tofu-stir fry or veggie chili with beans. This meal varies. Sometimes the beans will be Indian style or Mexican style. Usually the veggies will be greens like kale or broccoli or chard. Sometimes I’ll have quinoa. Red wine with dinner.

And that’s about it. Over time I’ve found I need less food than I used to. Eat slowly and you’ll find yourself full on less food.

The Results

I used to spread my “cheats” throughout the week — a whole-grain muffin here and some pizza there and beer more than I’d like to admit. But putting everything on Saturdays has helped me be honest the rest of the week.

I honestly enjoy eating whole foods. I enjoy being lighter and leaner. I’ve gained muscle eating these foods though I might focus on building more muscle later in the year.

I run faster than ever. I can do more intense workouts than ever before. I was tested for various health indicators recently and everything was perfect. Eating this way has absolutely changed my life.

Notes

A couple notes to answer potential questions:

  • Soy is not unhealthy. You might have read various scare articles on the Internet about soy (usually based on misleading articles from the Weston A. Price Foundation) but they’re misinterpretations of science. I eat soy in moderation and try for whole soy in natural forms (tofu, tempeh, edamame, some natural soy milk). I don’t have man boobs and I’m absolutely healthy. Instead of pointing to “scientific” explanations of why soy is unhealthy show me the actual peer-reviewed studies that show that moderate amounts of natural soy (not soy protein isolate) have caused health problems.
  • You can absolutely get enough protein and calcium and iron on a vegan diet if you eat whole foods and not junk.
  • Sugar is junk and that includes white flour pasta and breads and French fries. It’s worthless calories. Whole grains in moderation provide nutrients and fiber.
  • A little meat in moderation is not unhealthy — especially if you choose grain fed and free range. Most people eat unhealthy amounts of meat and eggs and dairy. Those foods in any amount are unethical in my opinion — even if they’re grass fed and free range. Exploitation of animals as objects and their suffering for our pleasure is not compassionate. We don’t need animal products to live healthy lives — as my example shows — so the only reason to eat them is for our pleasure (we like the taste).

The Tiger Mom book controversy continues

                  

Here is an update to my post “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (1/24/11)

The debate over Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has spilled over into China and intensified as the Chinese-language version of the book hit the shelves in Beijing.

The Chinese edition’s title translates to “Being a Mom in America,” or “Being an American Mum.”

The cover of the Chinese edition of the book is substantially different from the original, featuring a photo of a smiling Amy Chua standing against a red, white and blue map of the United States.

You can read more about it in the article “Amy Chua an ‘American Mom’ in China” on WSJ.com.

Parenting books are very popular in China, especially those on how to raise smart and gifted kids. No doubt, Amy Chua’s book will be a bestseller in China, just as its English version is in the US now. As of today, the English version is number three on Amazon’s bestseller list. It’s very likely that it will take the top spot soon.

LaLanneisms

Jack LaLanne strikes a muscular pose.

As an immigrant who came to the US in my late twenties, I have a huge gap in my knowledge of the American culture. When a coworker mentions something or someone’s name from the past that is well known for the general population, I often have to ask: “What/Who is that?”

Yesterday I got the following email about Jack LaLanne, a name I had never heard before and didn’t know who he was.

After reading about him on NPR, I realized he was a great American icon. He was “The Godfather of Fitness.” 

For me the interesting thing about him in the NPR article was on how he changed his life around at age 15:

“Until his life changed at 15, he was miserable. He says he was a sugarholic who even considered suicide.

“[I] tried to kill my brother, had an uncontrollable temper, set the house on fire,” LaLanne says. “I can’t believe it. I was a maniac. I was a psycho. Had these headaches all the day, couldn’t stand the pain. All from sugar, sugar, sugar.”

When he was 15, LaLanne attended a lecture by a health nutritionist who told audience members they could be born again if they obeyed nature’s laws: exercise and eat proper food. Young, impressionable Jack was hooked. The next day, he says, he stopped eating sugar, became a vegetarian and joined the YMCA in Berkeley, Calif.”

Jake died on Jan. 23, 2011 at the age of 96.

I really like what he practiced and preached his whole life. So I am sharing some of his wisdom here. 

LaLanneisms

Jack LaLanne fervently believed every human being can attain maximum body health and fitness if they will practice moderation, eat the most natural foods, and exercise on a regular basis. Over the years on national television, radio talk shows and in feature stories written about Jack, certain ideas stated by Jack have become little gems known as “LaLanneisms”

Here are a few of Jack’s words of wisdom:

  • Anything in life is possible if you make it happen.
  • Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen.
  • Your waistline is your lifeline.
  • Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
  • Don’t exceed the feed limit.
  • The food you eat today is walking and talking tomorrow.
  • Ten seconds on the lips and a lifetime on the hips.
  • Better to wear out than rust out
  • Do – don’t stew.
  • People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.
  • First we inspire them, then we perspire them.
  • You eat everyday, you sleep everyday, and your body was made to exercise everyday.
  • Work at living and you don’t have to die tomorrow.
  • I can’t die, it would ruin my image.
  • If man makes it, don’t eat it.
  • If it tastes good, spit it out.
  • What’s it doing for me?
  • Your health account is like your bank account: The more you put in, the more you can take out.
  • If one apple is good, you wouldn’t eat 100.
  • It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts.
  • Make haste slowly.
  • Eat right and you can’t go wrong. The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.

“Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

The recent article in Wall Street Journal (1/8/11) titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” contains an essay excerpted from “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School. It has caused quite a controversy in the Chinese-American community and among the parents and readers in America in the last two weeks. There are more than 7000 comments to that WSJ article.  

The book was just published on 1/11/11 and there are already over 200 reviews on Amazon.

This is a book that people either like or hate.

I haven’t read the book itself. I only read the WSJ article and some reviews. I can see why Amy Chua’s extreme parenting methods have caused so much negative reaction.

I am a Chinese mother with two kids. I consider myself pretty strict. If you ask my kids, they will certainly agree with that. But comparing to Amy Chua, I am way too soft. I have allowed my kids to do all the following that her kids are not allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play (None of my kids like to be in play though)
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin (my son plays clarinet now in the school band)
  • not play the piano or violin (My son quit piano after about 5 years)

This book reminds me of another book – autobiography by Lang Lang, “Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story” ((Random House, 2008). I wrote about it in Life is more than success.

Success is more than just academic excellence, musical mastery and professional success. The author focuses too much on those aspects of success. Chinese parents in general do tend to emphasize education over anything else. But Amy Chua is too extreme even for the Chinese parents. She is not representative of the Chinese mothers. That’s why many people in the Chinese American community reacted negatively to the book.

To watch an interview with Amy Chua, visit Today Show and click here.

Print book vs. e-book

Recently I needed to read a book for a work assignment. I checked out an e-reader device – Kindle from my library that has the book downloaded on it.

I would prefer the print book, but it was not available yet. With an e-book, you can purchase it online with a credit card and it is available on your Kindle in a few minutes. But with a print book, it takes a few days to arrive.

Half way through the e-book, I abandoned it and changed to the print book that finally arrived. I had to reread the print book from the beginning.   

When I read, I love to flip back and forth between the table of contents and the pages, to go back and review what I read before, to make notes. I am a visual person. I find it very difficult to do that with the e-book. I easily feel lost, not knowing where I am in the book. The e-book tells me the percentage of the contents I have read, but that is not as helpful as flipping through the pages, see the actual page numbers, to see where I am according to the table of contents.

E-books are not for me, but I know there are people who love e-books. Both formats have advantages and disadvantages. And people love each format for different reasons.

Print book advantages:

  • People love the feeling of actually holding the book in their hands and turning the pages.
  • People love reading at night in bed. It’s more comfortable to cuddle up with a book. It’s just not the same feeling to cuddle up with an e-reader. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book.
  • You can touch and flip between the pages and see more at once.
  • Quality hardcover books are still the easiest on the eyes.
  • Book cover/book jacket has its appeal that is lost in the e-book.
  • It is more reliable. Print book can be used anywhere. E-book is subject to power shortage, hardware malfunctioning and software glitch. If the hard drive is damaged or wiped out, the books are gone. E-reader also needs recharging or boot time.
  • Real ownership – Once you purchased the print book, you own it. You can sell it, loan it and give it away. But with e-book, you don’t really own the book. You are granted the right to read an e-book, but no right to resell it or even share it with a friend.

E-book advantages:

  • Instant gratification and speedy access – buying an e-book is easy and instant. You don’t have have to wait and don’t have to go somewhere to get it. It’s easier to download a book than to go buy or borrow one.
  • Convenience, flexibility and portability – the e-reader is light and easier to carry around and pack for travel. You can read it on your phone, Kindle, desktop and laptop.
  • Better price – digital editions are cheaper than their print edition counterparts, though you can buy used print books very cheaply at shrift stores and garage sales, but e-books are not resellable.
  • Space saver – the e-reader can hold thousands of books and doesn’t take any shelf space.
  • Free books – classics and books that are in the public domain can be downloaded for free.
  • More privacy – with e-books, no one can see what you’re reading. Others can’t see your book cover.
  • Being green – e-books can save trees.

In the Aug. 9, 2010 issue of Newsweek, an article on print books vs. e-books shared some interesting facts:

  • Average production cost  is $4.05 for a $26 hardcover vs. $0.50 for a $9.99 download.
  • Average author royalty is $3.90 per book vs. $2.12 per download.
  • Carbon emissions required to make 40-50 books equals to make one e-reader.
  • Walking to the library is still the most ecofriendly way to read.
  • 2009 publisher sales totals is $249.2 million for books vs. $29.3 m. for e-books.

While e-books are certainly gaining in overall market share and becoming more mainstream as time passes, the print book industry is still the dominant player. I don’t think print books will ever go away. As long as there are people like me, the print books will never become extinct.

Day 21- Review & Your Best Health Ahead

This is Day 21 and the final day of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

My goals for the 21DHL Challenge were –

Eat better
Lose weight
Exercise more
Get more sleep
Be more patient
Be more mindful

I’ll give myself a 7 score on this challenge. I didn’t put enough time and effort into several tasks. However, the challenge does affirm me that I am on the right track.

The challenge has inspired me to eat more raw food. Going 100% vegetarian and all raw diet is something to think about down the road.   

My challenges and goals for the future are still pretty much the same – go to bed early to get more rest, find time to exercise/meditate, lose a few pounds and maintain the weight, etc.

In addition I also need to reduce online time and increase quiet reading time. Over time my quiet reading time has given away more and more to online time (emailing, writing, web browsing & reading). It takes me longer to finish a book. So I need to reclaim the time for reading.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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This is Day 21 and the last day of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you’re new, learn more about 21DHL. Check out the latest Tweets on #21DHL. Subscribe to the free newsletter for lifetime access of personal development articles and future challenge announcements like this one.

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Welcome – today is Day 21 and the final day of 21DHL Challenge :hug::hug:glompglomp

I congratulate you for getting to this day and going through the whole 21-day challenge. No matter what happened in the process, whether there was a day when you felt you slipped up, whether you didn’t follow to your plan to the extent you envisioned, or whether you didn’t stick to a habit as much as you wanted, YOU are already a winner. Because you are in a better place today than if you completely did not sign-up or take part in 21DHL at all. You are already more aware of your own health/fitness needs, of what it takes to become a healthier, better person, of how it’s like to eat properly/work out properly, and how good it feels when you stick to your health goals/plans. All these are the very important seeds that have been planted through the challenge, seeds that will now on germinate, grow and create huge changes in your life.

I started 21DHL because I saw health and fitness as an important priority in our life that should not be neglected. I know many of you are truly serious about your growth and what it really takes is some form of platform, a catalyst, a trigger point so we can get to act on our health and fitness goals proper. And we have. Like all of you, I joined in 21DHL with my own health and fitness goals. In the end, I gained so much in the past 21 days for my health/fitness than I could ever imagine. I have:

  1. Overcame a bingeing problem that had been in my life for the past 7 years or so
  2. Successfully transitioned to an all raw diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, -permanently-. Unlike in the past 2 raw trials I’d been on, I have absolutely zero interest in returning to cooked food after this. Zero. They simply do not appeal to me anymore.
  3. Developed a truly, truly ideal and healthy relationship with food. After so many years, I now finally see food as what it is – something that gives us energy to live. I no longer have an entangled love-hate relationship with food like I used to have, no any cravings whatsoever, no inclinations to eat beyond physical hunger, no binge attacks, nor any desire or wish to eat something is not the best for my body. Before, I would have never thought such a state even existed. I feel incredibly liberated.
  4. Experienced huge, *huge* changes in my health, vitality and wellness (and it’s just been 6 days into my all-raw diet)
  5. Learned to prepare my own meals that I truly love
  6. Learned how to sustain on my raw diet permanently in the long-term
  7. Learned more about my body’s nutritional needs and my ideal meal plans that perfectly meet these needs
  8. Increased my activity level daily and made exercising fun for myself such that I want to do it regularly
  9. Made incredible new friends and connections who are passionate about living their best life and having their best health as well
  10. Got to know all of you, whom I’ve never got a chance to know personally, thanks to you being part of the community

I believe I’ve also lost a good amount of weight since moving to all-raw 6 days ago. I can already see that I’m visibly thinner in my face and body (in a good way) – I haven’t looked like this since I was 21-22? I’m not jumping on the weighing scales yet as the number is not important to me. It is the knowingness that I’m on the healthiest diet I can ever have for myself that is the most important thing to me, and knowing that every day as I’m consuming these healthy foods, my own health and wellness is increasing dramatically. My skin is dramatically better – I used to have fairly oily/combination skin and now it’s not that way anymore. My pores have dramatically reduced. I would have occasional zits/pimples and breakouts every now and then, and I can see all of them clearing up right now. I feel that I now look better than I have ever looked and I look a lot younger than I did before going raw this year. Besides that, my energy and mental clarity are at their highest ever. It’s like we’ve always had all these energy, power and vitality and sub-par diets have been suppressing them all along. And that’s just 6 days on the all-raw diet so far. I’ve no doubt that the positive changes will continue to come as I continue on the diet.

(For those who are interested to read/learn more about raw foodism, I’ll continue to write more about it at TPEB in the future)

As today is the last day for 21DHL, let us now take a step back and review our past 21 days. This is not the last official post for 21DHL – tomorrow, I’ll create a 21DHL Round-Up post to get all of your feedback – how your 21DHL experience has been, what you’ve gotten out of these 21 days, what was the best thing you liked about the entire challenge, and what you’d like to see moving forward. Stay tuned for this tomorrow!

21DHL Final Day – Review & Your Best Health Ahead

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1) Finish Up All 21-Day Tasks Before Continuing On

The 21DHL experience is about *both* completing our 21-day action plan as well as discovering new things about our health & our self through the 21-day tasks specially set aside for all of you. There are new things to be learned about us with each task, however small they seem. Have you completed all tasks for the 21 days? If not, fall in line with them now.

2) Reflect on Your Past 21 Days

For the next few minutes, think about how the past 21 days has been for you, in the area of your health and fitness. Think about your experiences with your 21-day action plan, your intentions when you started this challenge and your status right now.

  1. On a scale of 1-10, give yourself an overall score on how you’ve done for the past 21-days. Why did you give that score?
  2. What have you accomplished/achieved for yourself in the past 21 days in the challenge?
  3. What are the biggest things you have learned about yourself and about living a healthier life in the past 21-days?

3) Your Healthy Living Plan Ahead

During 21DHL, we had our 21-Day Action Plans to guide us. Now moving forward, let’s now plan for our health & fitness ahead.

  1. What are your key goals for your health and fitness moving forward? You can list down overall goals or break them down into the 3 key areas of (a) Diet (b) Fitness © Lifestyle
  2. What are your key action steps to 100% ensure that you’ll achieve these goals? I.e. HOW are you going to achieve the goals you wrote in #1? Look back at what you’ve done/learned from the past 31 days and apply them as much as possible.

Help from Woodbury Community Services

Today I was reminded once again how fortunate I am to live in Woodbury.

I locked my key in the vehicle and someone from the  Woodbury Police Department’s Community Services came to my rescue.

After my daughter finished swimming at Woodbury High School, we went grocery shopping at the nearby Rainbow. Then I planned to stop by at Kohl’s to check on something I need. When I shut the trunk door after loading the grocery bags, I realized that my key was left in the trunk along with the bags.

I went to Kohl’s and asked for help. A cashier found me a non-emergency phone number for the Woodbury Police Department. I called the number (651) 439-9381 and provided the information about myself and the location of my vehicle.

Less than 10 minutes later, a vehicle with the Woodbury Community Services on it came. It took the officer a couple of minutes to unlock the vehicle.

I was thankful. I know you can’t expect the same kind of services in places like St. Paul. The officer said: “Yes, it’s nice to live in Woodbury.”   

I totally agree.

In addition to unlocking vehicles, the Woodbury Community Services also help with the following:

For more information, visit Woodbury Police Department website

Why volunteering?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity.

During the current season of my life, I spend a lot of time on my two kids. On most afternoons or evenings they have activities for which I am the dedicated chauffeur. I don’t have much time left to pursue other interests besides reading and writing.

One thing I would like to do is to volunteer. I have volunteered to do fundraising for non-profit organizations, to help with library book sale in the community and with health & wellness related causes in my workplace.

I would like to do more when I have more time in the future.

Last week I went to a presentation on volunteering by Sue Moyer of the Greater Twin Cities United Way Caring Connection to learn more about volunteering. Sue Moyer shared the following interesting facts about volunteering.

According to University of Minnesota Psychologist Mark Snyder, PhD, who studies volunteerism, 45% of adults in US volunteer. The # 1 reason for volunteering is a matter of values. Concern for others, altruism – part of being human is helping others.

Dr. Snyder identified five primary motivations for volunteering.

(1) Values. Volunteering to satisfy personal values or humanitarian concerns.  For some people, it’s an expression of faith – desire to serve and give back.

(2) Community concern. Volunteering to help a particular community, such as a neighborhood or group, to which you feel attached.

(3) Esteem enhancement. Volunteering to feel better about oneself, or escape other pressures.

(4) Understanding. Volunteering to gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.

(5) Personal development. Volunteering to challenge yourself, meet new people and make new friends, or acquire new skills and further one’s career. Unemployed wants to work for a nonprofit to enhance her resume and gain experience. Volunteering can lead to full-time employment.

There are many benefits of volunteering. In addition to what’s mentioned above, volunteering can improve personal health and wellness.

Survey done by UnitedHealth Group and Volunteer Match in March 2010 (4582 respondents) shows:

  • 41 % of the people they surveyed had volunteered in the past year
  • 52% of those reported volunteering on a regular basis
  • 45% of the volunteers donated 50 hours or more a year (the mean was 120 hours)

Most popular volunteer activities reported in this study were:

  • Fundraising (26%)
  • Collections, preparation, distribution or serving of food (21%)
  • Tutoring or teaching (20%)
  • Provide professional or management assistance, including serving on a board or committee (18%)

The following are a few things to consider when you think about volunteering:

  • Why? What’s the motivation? – what do you want out of it? Meet new people, learn new skill, expression of faith, desire to give back?
  • What? What issues interest you? – What are you passionate about? hunger, homelessness, literacy, animal, children?
  • How? What are your skill sets? – technical, musical or learn a new skill
  • When? What’s your time frame? – how much time, time of day and day of week, ongoing or one-time commitment, etc. 
  • Where? What location? – close to home or work

How can you find volunteer opportunities?

Use United Way Caring Connection. It’s a searchable database with several parameters:

  • interest area
  • by agency
  • projects good for – groups, teens – find an activity for your family, kids or 55+
  • distance from your zip code

Remember, helping others can enrich your life and make your community a better place to live.

Day 20 – No soda and coffee

 This is Day 20 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

Today’s task is super easy for me. I don’t drink coffee, soda or alcohol anyway. I never had the habit of drinking these. I usually just drink water. Only on rare occassions I try a little bit of coffee at parties.

Speaking of soda, I would like to share the following info I got a long time ago. I am not sure who wrote it, maybe it’s from Wayne Green, an interesting guy I heard on Coast2Coast AM Radio.  And I am not sure how true it is. But I think there is a lot of truth in it. It seems that Coke serves better as a cleaning product than a drink. I hope after you read it, you will consider quitting your soda habit.  At least it will make you think twice before you drink coke next time.

  • The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. It’s pH is 2.8. It will dissolve a nail in about 4 days.
  • To carry Coca Cola syrup (the concentrate) the commercial truck must use the Hazardous material cards reserved for Highly Corrosive materials.
  • In many states the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the trunk to remove blood from the highway after a car accident.