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.

Excessive blinking

My son Andy has been blinking his eyes

“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.

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.

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: 

The Tiger Mother and You
 
The Tiger Mom book controversy continues
 
“Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

Life Lessons – free eBook

In January I wrote a post titled 10+ life lessons I have learned.

I am happy to announce that my contribution was included in the newly published ebook Life Lessons—The Best Self-Reflections From 108 Bloggers by Abubakar Jamil and Farnoosh Brock.

Check it out and share what you think.

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.

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.

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.

ABC’s of Christianity

Pastor Al Gossan from Lighthouse Christian Fellowship Church in Holland, Michigan, whom I met two days ago at Spirit of Life Bible Church in Woodbury, created this wonderful ABC’s of Christianity bookmark and other materials that are available for free download on this website. Check it out.

Thanks for sharing.

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.

Watch Beth Moore video and TV shows online

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.
  • You can put a T-bone steak in a bowl of coke and it will be gone in two days.
  • To clean a toilet: Pour a can of Coca-Cola into the toilet bowl…Let the “real thing” sit for one hour, then flush clean.
  • The citric acid in Coke removes stains from vitreous china.
  • To remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers: Rub the bumper with a crumpled-up piece of Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil dipped in Coca-Cola.
  • To clean corrosion from car battery terminals: Pour a can of Coca-Cola over the terminals to bubble away the corrosion.
  • To loosen a rusted bolt: Applying a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola to the rusted bolt for several minutes.
  • To bake a moist ham: Empty a can of Coca-Cola into the baking pan; wrap the ham in aluminum foil, and bake. Thirty minutes before the ham is finished, remove the foil, allowing the drippings to mix with the Coke for a sumptuous brown gravy.
  • To remove grease from clothes: Empty a can of coke into a load of greasy clothes, add detergent, And run through a regular cycle. The Coca-Cola will help loosen grease stains. It will also clean road haze from your windshield.
  • The distributors of coke have been using it to clean the engines of their trucks for about 20 years! 
  • One can of Coke gives you 12 teaspoons of sugar, an addictive, deadly slow poison; plus caffeine, a faster addictive poison, plus its mystery ingredients; plus whatever aluminum is dissolved from the can by this highly corrosive liquid. Scientists questioning Alzheimer’s patients say they don’t remember how much cola they drank.
  • Think what coke and other soft drinks do to your teeth on a daily basis. A tooth will dissolve in a cup of coke in 24-48 hours. And that doesn’t count any aluminum you get from the cans. That also doesn’t count the effect that the 12 teaspoons of sugar you get with each can are going to do to your body.
  • When we get thirsty and turn to soda and coffee, it causes a net loss waterwise. This dehydrates our cells, weakening our immune system, setting up the stage for cancer, high blood pressure, and so on.

In summary, Coke is fine for cleaning toilets and car engines. Like other cleaners, it just should never be swallowed. As one author said in the following article, “Avoiding soda can be the best thing you can do for your teeth, your waistline, and your overall health.”

If you have to drink soda, drink it all at once, and not sip it all day long. Rinse your mouth with water immediately afterward.

There is a lot of information on the Internet about the effects of soda on your health. Here are just a couple of links. 

8 Reasons Why People Drink Soda & 16 Reasons To Give Up Soda Drinking

Why Drinking Soda Can Destroy Your Health

 

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 20: Have a Caffeine-Free Day

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I used to be a huge soda drinker when I was young. It wasn’t until several years ago that I decided to cut it out once and for all. And I’m glad I did that, because in retrospect I was taking in so much chemicals including caffeine into my body with every drink. Today, getting my fluid intake via water and natural fruits has really rejuvenated my life and my thinking.

I wrote about the negative effects of caffeine before in 5 Reasons TO Quit Drinking Soda Drinks and How To Do It

Quote:Caffeine… is a diuretic. A diuretic is a drug that speeds up the rate of urine production – meaning it removes water from your body. While you can get your thirst quenched when drinking Coke, you do not get as hydrated as compared to if you just drink pure water.

Not only that, Caffeine is also a psychoactive stimulant drug. What is a psychoactive stimulant drug?

Quote:…It affects the central nervous system and alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior. By increasing the levels of adrenaline (a stress hormone) in your body, you end off setting off feelings of anxiety and tension in your body. Instead of being able to operate as a fully conscious being, you end up having less control of your thoughts, emotions and behavior.

I noticed that whenever I do drink Coca-Cola or soda, my mental thinking is not as clear. It feels as though my thoughts become more rapid, jumbled and haphazard. Even though I’m supposedly more alert, I’m not fully in control of the higher faculties of my mind. It feels more like my mind is operating by itself and my conscious self is only allowed to observe in the background to give limited inputs. If this was in the past where I was drinking Coke every day, I would never have been able to make this observation. However, drinking Coke after being Coke/soda-free for many months made the contrast very stark to me.

While you may appreciate caffeine for keeping you awake for a particular morning meeting or presentation, bear in mind that the boost is only temporary and at the expense of the natural functions of your mind. While you may feel more alert after a dose of caffeine, it is just a stimulated feeling. Whenever I consume caffeine, I feel like my mind has been pried awake beyond its desires. Even though the lights are on in my brain, I can only perform low level tasks which do not require much thinking. Higher functions of my mind seem to be beyond me. I pretty much feel like a zombie walking around with limited mental capacities and a body heavy as lead.

To make things worse, after the initial effects wear off, I am left with a state of fatigue worse than before since I was denying your body of the rest it deserved. To quote Jacob Teitelbaum, “Caffeine is an energy loan shark. What it lends you in the morning it takes back with heavy interest in the afternoon.”

Not only that, most caffeine drinks are colored, which makes them stain your teeth too. Not exactly helpful if you’re trying to get pearly whites!

Hence for today, let’s go for a day without caffeine!

Common drinks with caffeine:

  1. Soda
  2. Coffee
  3. Tea
  4. Energy drinks
  5. Alcohol by itself does not have caffeine, but a lot of alcoholic drinks have it

After today, I challenge you to try going caffeine free from just a day to a week, and see how it feels. And from a week, to a month. In not drinking caffeine, you may find some new things about yourself that you didn’t notice from before.

Day 19 – Go Barefoot Walking

This is Day 19 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

This time of the year, it’s impossible for me to do this task, without running the risk of frostbite. I can’t even walk barefoot indoor, let along outdoor.

I probably have to wait 6 months before I can try this. We have accumulated so much snow, some snow banks are as tall as I am or taller than I am, it will take a long time to melt.

I rarely walk barefoot indoor or outdoor.

Inside the house, I wear socks and winter slippers when it’s cold. Since my feet always feel cold, I like to wear socks to bed as well.   

In summer, I wear slippers in the house most of the time, because the floor feels cold to me.

We always take shoes off at the door and change to slippers that are used indoor only.

A lot of things we do in daily life are just habits.

Occasionally when I walk barefoot in the house or outside on the grass in my yard in summer, I do feel more alive with sensations, more connection with the ground and with the nature.

I will try to walk barefoot more this summer.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 19: Go Barefoot Walking

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Today’s task is about barefoot walking. I wrote about Barefoot Running/Walking and 10 benefits of doing so in May last year. In the article, I shared the experience of my first barefoot walk:

First thing I felt when I stepped out of my house was how cooling and smooth the surface of the pavements were. I never realized this since I always wore shoes going out. I felt present and connected with every step as I walked over to the lift, stood around in the lobby and took the lift down to the ground level.

As I walked to the park, I walked on different surfaces, including concrete pavements, roads (asphalt concrete) and cemented ground. It was interesting feeling the different textures and temperatures of the grounds – definitely something I had not paid attention to with shoes on. Concrete pavements felt very cooling and smooth – as if you can just slide on them. Roads felt rough and grainy.. somewhat prickly too. Cemented grounds felt like an in-between of concrete and roads.

It was just 2 minutes walking to the path, and I already felt more mindful and present than my normal self when walking with shoes. I was aware of every step I take, how it felt and my connection with the ground whenever my foot touched base with it.

The thing about barefoot walking/running is that it has helped me feel more connected and more aware of the whole walking/running process. In the past when I run, I would just feel the cool air and soak in the sights of the sky/trees/stars while running. Walking/Running barefoot has added a new dimension – I feel a whole level of connectedness to the ground, and the universe itself. Every step I take, I’m aware. Every time my foot touches the ground, I can feel both the ground and my foot. During my walk/run, I am present, of myself, my posture, my surroundings, my environment.

Not only that, barefoot walking/running gives you stronger feet. Shoe wearing over the years has made our feet weak and soft. In fact, some of us wear poor-fitted shoes that cramp our toes/feet. Here’s an interesting excerpt from an article “Go Barefoot to Get Stronger“:

Quote:Through years of wearing shoes, our feet lose their tactile capacity, which is bad enough. But they also fail to develop to their proper size and shape. Tendons and ligaments shorten, muscles weaken, and the risk for foot and ankle injuries increases.

If it sounds like the ancient Chinese tradition of binding the feet, it kinda is. “It’s identical, but to a lesser degree,” Rooney says. “Shoes crush the foot into abnormal positions and you don’t get the movement the foot is designed for.”

Today, I’d like to invite you to barefoot walking. Not go to work barefoot (unless your office is cool with this sort of thing), but to just get outside for 10, 15 minutes today and walk without footwear. Do it during morning or evening when the ground is cool. You can do it while you’re out doing grocery shopping or simply walking/strolling around your neighborhood. If you run/jog, try running barefoot during your runs!

If there’s snow in your area (like for Matt and Xina), then don’t try the task just yet! You can do so when the snow clears up and winter is over.

Day 18 – Hug and Love Yourself

This is Day 18 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

It feels a little odd, but I did give myself a hug and told myself that: “I love you.”

What does “love yourself” mean?

To love yourself means to have self-acceptance, self-respect, self-esteem, self-confidence and a positive self-image. It means to accept yourself as who you are, with both strengths and weaknesses, to appreciate yourself for the unique talents and abilities you have, to believe in yourself that you can achieve greater things in life, and to know that you are worthy as a human being no matter what.

I know I am not perfect just like everyone else. There are a lot of things I do that are simply not lovable and I am not proud of. But I accept myself as I am, come to term with what I can’t change and try to improve what I can. 

How do you love yourself?

You love yourself by working on yourself and on becoming the best you possible.

When you love yourself, you take good care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You take time and make effort to nurture your body, mind and spirit. That’s what I am doing with this 21DHL challenge.

Your body needs proper nutrition, exercise and rest to function well. So eat well, exercise regularly and sleep adequately to keep your body in its top form and in good shape.

Your mind needs nourishment and exercise just like your body.  Learning new things to keep your mind active and function at an optimum level.

To live a balanced, fulfilled and meaningful life, you also need to take care of your spirit and soul. Forgive yourself as you should forgive others for mistakes and shortcomings. Connect with yourself, with your spirit and with the high power through meditation and silence.

Only when you can love yourself, you can then love others. Without loving yourself, you cannot love others.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 18 – Hug Yourself

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Image ©

Today, your task is to give yourself a hug. And live the day with love and joy.

For Dec ’10 30DLBLers, re-read what you wrote for Day 20′s task on loving yourself and ask yourself if you’ve been living true to that for the past 3 weeks since the Dec 30DLBL ended. If not, how can you live true to it moving forward from now on?

No matter who you are, what you do where you come from, know that you are loved, always. I’ll always love all of you. :hug:

Day 17 – Floss Your Teeth

This is Day 17 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

Flossing is one of those things that you don’t miss if you have never done it and don’t have the habit of doing it, but you don’t want to miss it once you have established the habit of doing it.

I started flossing  a few years ago after listening to my dentist telling me again and again at every teeth cleaning visit that I should floss and after hearing a coworker telling me that he couldn’t stand not flossing every night.

Now I floss every night after brushing. It has really helped improve the health of my teeth.

I used to have really bad gum disease. Growing up in China I never visited a dentist, at least I don’t remember I ever did. In China we only went to the hospital when we had a health problem. There was no preventive care. Gum disease was not considered a big problem. I remember whenever I brushed my teeth, my gum always bleed.

I had my first teeth cleaning in Germany when I was a student there in my early twenties. My gum disease was so bad, the dentist had to do deep cleaning for my teeth in several separate sessions. From then on, my gum disease was gradually cured.

After coming to the United States, I have been keeping up with the regular preventive and maintenance care of my teeth. I have my teeth cleaned twice a year as my insurance permits. Now my teeth are healthy, without gum disease and any cavities.

My dentist once made the comment: “I wish everyone has such nice teeth as you have.”

Keeping my teeth healthy is not only good for my overall health, it also saves money.

Today I took my daughter to the dentist to have one filling done. Just one filling cost me $144 out of my pocket. That’s after the insurance copay (60% coverage) and with $50 deductible. It was quite a surprise. The price was over $40 more than I expected because it had just been changed after January 1, 2011. I wish my salary would increase that fast.

So I advise everyone to take good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing every day for better health and saving money.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 17 – Floss Your Teeth

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Do any of you floss your teeth? I do – but I didn’t used to do this in the past. According to a 2008 survey, only 49% of Americans floss daily, and 10% never floss.That’s unfortunate because flossing is even more important than brushing in preventing gum disease and tooth loss. When I was younger I thought flossing is an unnecessary step in dental care. It was when I got braces (when I was in my early 20s) that I was more conscious about dental hygiene – and I realized that flossing is a very important step in properly cleaning your teeth.

From WebMD:

Quote:“There is no instant gratification with flossing — that’s the problem,” says Alla Wheeler, RDH, MPA, associate professor of the Dental Hygiene Program at the New York University School of Dentistry. “Patients don’t think it does anything.”

But flossing does about 40% of the work required to remove sticky bacteria, or plaque, from your teeth. Plaque generates acid, which can cause cavities, irritate the gums, and lead to gum disease. “Each tooth has five surfaces. If you don’t floss, you are leaving at least two of the surfaces unclean,”Wheeler explains. “Floss is the only thing that can really get into that space between the teeth and remove bacteria.”

If you experience bleeding during flossing, that’s an even clearer sign that you need to floss. The bleeding occurs because plaque has already built up in the area and would have continued to corrode your gums if you didn’t floss right there and then!

Today, let’s practice our best dental hygiene. Brush your teeth before you sleep/after you wake up. Rinse your mouth/brush your teeth in between your meals. For those of you who already floss, continue doing so! For those of you who don’t floss your teeth normally, let’s try flossing today!

Here’s a short 1:54 minute Youtube video on how to floss your teeth properly.

Day 15 & 16 – Meditate & Breathe

This is Day 15 & 16 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

Meditation and breathing usually go hand in hand. So I am combining both together.

I believe in the power and benefit of being still and meditating. But busyness of life and distractions in life often get in the way of doing what I would like to do.

Today after my kids went to bed, I did take some time to sit quietly in the yoga pose, had my eyes closed, doing nothing, just focused on breathing deeply and fully. I felt peaceful and relaxed after that.

In my workplace, we have weekly yoga provided by volunteer fellow employees and monthly relaxation/meditation session provided by Beth Freschi. I try to go whenever I can. Meditation and yoga, both incorporating deep breathing, are all great for relaxation and stress management.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 15 – Meditate

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Today’s task is on meditation. In Weeks 1-2, we focused on healthy living with regards to our diet and fitness. These are the physical aspects of a healthy life. However, there are other aspects that are equally important too. Healthy living also involves purity of our mind and our soul. With a mind of negative thoughts and emotions, it doesn’t matter how much healthy food and fitness we do. We’ll still be weighed down by the negative energy and baggage.

This is where meditation helps. Meditating helps us to lift the negative thoughts and baggage from our minds and souls. By itself, our body has the ability to cleanse itself from unwanted energies. It’s only because we’re constantly bombarded by stimuli and noise from our external environment that our self-recovery mechanisms become impended. However, when we spend just 10, 15 minutes a day sitting by ourselves, simply being an observer of reality, that’s when we find that our thoughts become clearer and lighter. Ideas flow easily and we become less disrupted.

(As meditation was also one of the daily tasks for 30DLBL, I’m pasting what I wrote for the September 30DLBL run. For those who have a copy of the 30DLBL Book, refer to the improved version of the task on Day 21)

I’ve written a lot already on my experience with meditation, how I got started and the benefits of meditation, which I invite you to read here first: 10 Reasons You Should Meditate

Whether you practice meditation in your daily routine or you only do it sporadically, meditation brings you increased clarity and centeredness within yourself. People who meditate regularly experience a huge slew of benefits, compared to those who don’t.

Let’s now take a breather through meditation.

Your Task: Meditate

  1. Clear your mind before you start. Take a few deep, slow breaths.
  2. Follow the 5 steps outlined in How To Meditate In 5 Easy Steps.
  3. Meditate for as long as you want, till you feel cleansed, purified, refreshed and good to go. I recommend 30 minutes to start off. If you want to meditate longer, that’s even better. (Back when I went for the Vipassana retreat, I underwent almost 100 hours of intense meditation, and processed a lot of latent memories and thoughts I didn’t know were there!)

Observe all the thoughts going through you meditate. Don’t engage in the thoughts; just sit and observe, as an external observer of reality would.

Some related articles I’ve written before on meditation for you to check out in your own time:

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Day 16 – Breathe

Today’s task is a natural step forward from yesterday’s task on meditation. It’s on what’s seemingly the most basic of human functions, yet something which most of us take for granted – Breathing.

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Breathing is the foundation of life. Do you know that most people don’t breathe properly? Majority of people in the world are shallow breathers. We only use only the top portion of our lungs for our breath, whereas a full breath is one where your lungs are completely filled, your abdomen expands and there’s minimum movement in your shoulders. An average person takes about 15 breaths every minute, for about 21,600 times a day. That’s a lot of goodness and air we’re depriving our body of with shallow breathing.

Why is breathing so important?From How Stuff Works:

Quote:Breathing oxygenates every cell of your body, from your brain to your vital organs. Without sufficient oxygen, your body becomes more susceptible to health problems. For example, in a study published in The Lancet, cardiac patients who took 12 to 14 shallow breaths per minute (six breaths per minute is considered optimal) were more likely to have low levels of blood oxygen, which “may impair skeletal muscle and metabolic function, and lead to muscle atrophy and exercise intolerance.”

In contrast, deep breathing raises levels of blood oxygen, promoting health in many ways — from stimulating the digestive process to improving fitness and mental performance.

All of us already know how to breathe properly – babies are known to have the most natural breathing in all our life stages. It’s because of all the stress, tension, external influences that cause our breathing to become incorrect.

Here’s a test to tell if you’re breathing correctly.

  1. Put your palms against your lower abdomen and blow out all the air.
  2. Now, take a big breath.
  3. What happens? Does/Do (a) your chest puff out, your shoulders rise and your stomach gets sucked in or (b) your chest, shoulders and stomach remain relatively still as air flow in deeply to the pit of your stomach?

If your answer is (b), you’re on the right track. If your answer is (a), you’re relying on your external body to breathe rather than using your diaphragm. Key reasons why we breathe this way include being in a constant state of tension (which causes light, shallow breathes), constantly “sucking” in our stomach to look like we have a tighter abdominal/smaller tummy, or possibly negative experiences from the past.

However, that’s a bad practice. Our abdominal area contains the most vital organs and it’s important to let it pulse. Tensing our stomach all the time like a perfect statue creates tension in our body instead. It is by practicing the proper breathing techniques that we automatically gain the right posture at the same time.

Today, our task is to breathe deeply and fully, throughout every moment of the day. With every breath you take, lower your diaphragm muscle and expand your abdomen. Breathe in deeply. Don’t use force – breathe naturally and with ease. Allow the fresh air to fill you from inside out. Visualize how you’re getting more power, vitality and goodness from the universe with every breath you take. Enjoy today with love, peace and harmony. :hug::heart::heart: Let’s all live healthily in life together.

Day 13 – Cleanse Your Kitchen

I was busy in the last few days and got behind with doing the daily challenge task. Now I am doing catch up.

This is Day 13 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

Cleaning kitchen is an ongoing task for me.

Every day after dinner, I make sure that dishes are washed, counters, stove surface and sink are wiped clean. 

I clean my fridge whenever is needed, usually when I notice some spills or stains. 

In terms of clutter, I know I have a lot of work to do. I have junk drawers and stuff in pantry that need better organization.

Clutter is a problem I cannot seem to eliminate from my life. I love to keep stuff and reuse as much as possible.    

When I visit American homes, I often get the impression that they don’t cook at home much or at all. Their stoves look spotless and clean.

In my home, we cook Chinese food every day which can get messy and greasy. I keep the kitchen as clean as possible. I know my kitchen will never be as clean and tidy as many American kitchens are. But that’s OK for me. I am not a perfectionist. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I would rather doing something else than trying to keep my house spotless and in perfect condition.

I don’t buy much unhealthy food in the first place. The groceries I buy every week are mostly veggies and fruit. So there is not much unhealthy food in the house. But since I am not the only one doing grocery shopping, it’s unavoidable we will have some unhealthy snacks that my kids love to eat.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 13 – Cleanse Your Kitchen

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Today’s task is to cleanse your kitchen! That includes:

  • Purging unhealthy food
  • Removing clutter (30DLBL Day 11)
  • Cleaning your kitchen
  • Cleaning your fridge
  • Stocking up on healthy food
  • etc

That’s because our environment plays an important role in the success of our goals. Having a positive environment that supports healthy living will no doubt support us in our journey to live a healthy life.

Below is an example of what I did when I first switched from an omnivore diet to a vegetarian diet:

Article: Using Your Environment to Achieve Your Goals Wrote:…. If you only planned to accomplish the 21 day program through sheer motivation, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you were unable to nail down the habit in those 21 days. Relying on the initial burst of motivation can only get you so far. You need to use that spike in the beginning to create the environment to ensure your success.

For example, when I wanted to try out being a vegetarian 2 years ago, I spent a few days setting up an environment that is conducive for my goals.

  • I went to buy a blender, so I could easily make my own fruit smoothies.
  • I went to the supermarket and stocked up on vegetarian food so I would have a constant food supply at home.
  • I did up a goal sheet for my vegetarian goal, writing out my motivations for trying out the vegetarian diet and plastering the sheet with pictures of nice, appetizing vegetarian food.
  • I set my desktop wallpaper with a picture of a whole variety of juicy, fresh fruits.
  • I told the people around me that I was going to try out vegetarianism for the next 1 month, so they would be walking reminders of my goal.
  • I joined vegetarian online communities to acquaint with like-minded folks.
  • I placed bookmarks of vegetarian sites in my browser.

All these were done so I would be able to stick to a vegetarian diet for the entire month. And because I created the right, conducive environment to achieve my goals, I was able to hit my goal, surprisingly easy. And I never looked back ever since.

Let’s do a kitchen cleanse today! And feel free to share before/after pictures when you’re done! 

Day 12 – Explore Your Relationship With Food

I was busy in the last few days and got behind with doing the daily challenge task. Now I am doing catch up.

This is Day 12 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

I think my relationship with food is mostly healthy and non emotional. I eat because that’s part of my daily routine. I eat when the clock tells me it’s time for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I usually eat less than full.

If I skip a meal or two, I don’t feel any physical discomfort like many people do. I can also eat more than I normally do if I want to.

I don’t think I eat for reasons such as feeling stressed, bored, frustrated, unhappy, guilty, or depressed.

I did grow up with the doctrine: “Don’t waste any food.” That’s the only emotional connection I can think of.

I can think of a few situations when I tend to either eat more or eat not so healthy food.

  • Go out to eat Chinese buffet. Read A love/hate relationship about eating buffet.
  • At parties and events where there is free food
  • Don’t want to leave food for the next day so I will eat everything even though I have eaten enough.
  • Don’t want to waste food so I will eat more than I need.
  • I tend to snack more at work than at home. When I sit in the office all day, I eat more snacks than I do at home.

Since I eat light and healthy most of the time, I don’t have big concerns about my relationship with food.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 12 – Explore Your Relationship With Food


Today’s task is about exploring our relationship with food.

Looking through everyone’s journals including mine, it’s interesting to see the words we use to describe food.

“I love steak. I’m never going to give it up.”
“I love cookies. They’re so delicious.”
“I have sinned because I ate that piece of cake.”
“I cheated on my diet.”
“I love this salad that I’m eating.”
“I feel like crap because I didn’t stick to my diet and ate cheese.”
“I feel so happy because I’m drinking my favorite smoothie now.”
“I feel guilty for for eating that chocolate just now.”
“I hate myself for overeating.”

It’s funny because all these are extremely strong words we’re using. Love. Hate. Sinned. Cheated. Crap. Guilty. All these are strong emotions that we’re evoking, all in the name of food. Yet is food a living thing? It’s not. Food is not alive. It’s dead. It’s a non-living thing that just sits there in the kitchen counter/fridge/container we’ve put it in whether we like it or not. No matter how much we love it or hate it, it’s not going to bounce out and hug us. It’s never going to return whatever emotions we hold for it.

Because this is a 1-way relationship that is never going to be reciprocated, the intense emotions we hold towards our food leads to an unhealthy, erratic eating behavior. From depriving ourselves of a certain food because we’ll feel guilty about eating it, to binging that exact same food the next moment. From feeling ecstatic about getting to eat our favorite food, to feeling upset and unhappy when we don’t have it. From rewarding ourselves for adhering to our diet, to beating ourselves up when we fall off our tiny wagon.

The emotions we created from food didn’t just appear out of nothing of course. They have been built since our childhood, from the advertisements we see of happy people eating a certain food (think fast food, like McDonald’s and KFC); from billboard pictures of food items; from situations we experience with food (e.g., celebrating an event such as a birthday with lots of food); from things people tell us about food (e.g., “If you eat this you’re a good child”).

For me, my relationship with food was one that was forged between my parents and love. When I was young, my parents, especially my mom, would buy a lot of food for me and my brother. For them, buying food for us is their way of expressing love. Hence, the link that eating/food = love became deeply embedded in my subconsciousness. As I grew up, eating became a natural reaction to situations I face, particularly frustration and stress. Whenever I’m working, I’ll feel like eating something, even if I just ate.

The key to addressing this isn’t to negate your existing emotions for food, but to understand where they stem from. For example, if I specifically my current love for smoothies and salads, it’s because of the vitality and high energy they bring me. Hence, it’s not the smoothies and the salads that I love – it’s the increased energy, which lets me feel more alive, hence experiencing life on a heightened scale. Knowing this helps me to unchain any unnecessary emotional links I have with the food itself, and connect with the underlying reason, so that I can then focus on living life with vitality vs. craving for smoothies/salads to do that.

Today, let us spend some time to explore our relationship with food as a whole, via our eating habits. The more conscious we are of our eating behaviors, the more it’ll help us develop healthy eating habits and live a healthy life.

1) What are your eating triggers?

In the ideal world, our relationship with food will be one where we eat only when we feel hungry and we stop eating immediately once we are full (vs. eating to finish the plate etc). We do not eat based on any extrinsic factors (such for as a celebration, or stress, work, boredom, to feed a feeling of depression, etc), but based purely on intrinsic factors (i.e. whether we’re hungry or not).

For many of us though, a lot of our eating/non-eating occurs outside of hunger. It’s because of this that there are problems such as obesity, underweight, anorexia and bulimia are prevalent in the society.

If you think about it, what are your triggers for eating/not eating? Below are some common examples:

  • Stress – Do you eat when you feel stressed / under pressure? While I don’t consider any of the work I do stressful at all, I do notice that I reach out for food whenever it’s time to work (even in the past, when I’m studying). In my mind, food is like a companion that gives me energy/ideas while I work.
  • Frustration – Do you reach out for food when you are frustrated? When something is not going the way you want? When you overate and you are beating yourself over it?
  • Boredom – Do you eat when you feel bored? When you are at a loss of what you should be doing?
  • Guilt – Is food an outlet to release your guilt? This is an area I fall under as well, though not to the same extent as my natural reaction to eat when I’m working. If I ever fall off track in my diet/plans, I’d forget it all and just binge for the whole day. After all, since I’ve already eaten that pastry, what does it matter if I eat everything else that’s there?
  • Happiness – Do you eat as a way to celebrate?
  • Depression – Do you eat when you feel down/unhappy/depressed?
  • Social – Do you eat when you’re out with friends, even though you don’t feel hungry?

2) Understand why you eat under those situations

Why do you eat during those situations you identified in #1? For the answer that comes up, continue to ask “Why” until you have arrived at the underlying root cause. This is also what I call as the digging exercise, as you’re literally “digging” to uncover the fundamental reason why you’re triggered to eat when you feel stressed/guilty/frustrated/bored/happy/etc.

For example, if I dig into why I eat when I’m working, these are the answers I get:

Why do I eat when I work, even though I’m not hungry?
- Because I need to eat while I’m working
Why?
- Because I can’t work without eating
Why?
- Because it’s my source of life
Why?
- Because food is like my companion. It accompanies me as I work.
Why?
- Because I feel empty without it.
Why?
- Because when I eat food, I feel love.
Why?
- Because food is a reward. Because when I was young, dad and mom would buy lots of food to show their love. They’ve always said it’s important to eat to stay alive and healthy. In chinese saying, 能吃是福, meaning it’s a blessing and gift to be able to eat.

Because of all the conditioning when I was young, I have developed the link that food = love. This is one of the answers that come up when I explore why I eat in the context of work. When I explore it in the context of guilt, a different set of answers come up, whereby I’m trying to punish myself by overeating.

Keep digging across the different contexts relevant for you and you may find some mind opening answers. The power of your realizations is dependent on how deeply you’re willing to dig. The deeper you dig, the more powerful your realizations will be. You know you have reached the underlying root cause when you get an a-ha moment and when you reach an incident(s) that led to the belief being formed vs. the belief itself.

3) What can you do to restore a healthy relationship with food?

Given your answers in #2, what can you do moving forward to develop a healthy relationship with food? List down your key action steps. The results may not be immediate, but this is the start of a journey to creating that healthy relationship with food, and to living a truly healthy lifestyle.

For me, my key steps are:
1) See food for what it is – something to sustain life vs. a companion or friend
2) Continue to build positive relationships with my parents
3) Do the digging exercise whenever I eat in spite of not feeling hungry
4) Continue to love myself more (Day 20 of
30DLBL)
5) Continue to eat a high raw food diet and transition to a raw diet in the long-term, which will help me become more conscious of my eating habits and develop a positive relationship with food.

The biggest speech of my life

If you ask my kids or anyone in my family whether I am funny and have a sense of humor, they will for sure say: “No.” They can’t picture me as being funny and humorous. And that’s true.

But somehow, some people at work think differently of me. They think I can entertain people and make people laugh. That’s why I was invited to speak at the farewell party for MnDOT Deputy Commissioner Khani Sahebjam today. He was roasted by several high profile speakers from the federal, state and city governments, from the state legislature and consulting firm. 

Being invited by the MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel to speak at the event was an honor for me. I was the only female on the panel and I am no body, i.e. not someone with an important title, but I sat among the others who all have impressive titles. It was truly an honor. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak. I made the biggest speech of my life in front of 100-200 people.

Don Theisen, Washington County Public Works Director and County Engineer was among the guest speakers. I didn’t know him at all, but I took the opportunity to thank him for the work his Dept. does. Thanks partly to the nice work the Washington County and Woodbury Public Works Departments do, Woodbury made it into several Best Places to Live lists in the last few years.

Woodury does feel like a better place to live, especially after a snow day.

After we had the biggest snow storm since 1991 on December 10-11, 2010, I was able to dig my car out of my garage and drive from Woodbury to work in St. Paul on Monday, but my coworkers who live in St. Paul were not so fortunate. They couldn’t go to work in St Paul, because their streets were not plowed for a couple of days.

I enjoyed the public speaking, something I just discovered recently. It was fun to make people laugh.

10+ life lessons I have learned

[The topic for this post was chosen for a reason. Since this is my 400th post on this blog. I decided to put a little bit more time and thoughts into it and have it posted on 1/11/11.]

Life is a journey. On this journey we learn many lessons. It’s a great idea for each of us to take a moment and reflect on what we have learned. We have learned a lot and we have a lot to share with each other. We still have a lot to learn. Sharing what we have learned so far and learning from others help us grow and live a better live.

I rarely read a book twice. One book I did read twice several years ago was Hal Urban’s “Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things that Matter.” I just love to read life lessons others have learned and to share.

Recently after reading 22 Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier In My Life by Abubakar Jamil and some other posts in his Life Lessons Series, I thought about some lessons I learned on my life’s journey. I was inspired to write this post.

Here are 10+ life lessons I have learned or I am still learning.  

  • Knowledge does not worth much if I just keep it in my mind and don’t put it in my action and apply it to my life. Doing is definitely a lot harder than knowing.
  • I am a spirit with a soul who is having a human experience. What I can see is temporary, but what I cannot see is eternal and more important.
  • We don’t need a lot in life. We don’t have to be perfectly made or perfectly looking. What we really need in life is to have a heart of contentment and gratitude, to know that we are wonderfully made and to find the purpose God has for us. Read Being content.
  • Life is more than success. Finding meaning in life is a life long learning and searching process.
  • Life is a balancing act. Finding balance in mind, body and spirit is vitally important to live a life of health and well-being.
  • If I pay attention and be mindful, I can learn important lessons in all circumstances, in successes or failures, or in simple daily activities such as gardening. Read Lessons, garden style.
  • Ask and you shall receive. I have done some fundraising in the last few years. I am often surprised by how easy it is to get what I ask for if I just take the time and have the courage to ask. 
  • Each of us speaks a certain language in order to understand and be understood. Each of us also has a love language. Learning the five love language is important in order to love and be loved the best we can.
  • There is power in the written word. Take the time to write a letter or note to express your gratitude, best wishes, regrets, forgiveness, etc.
  • Don’t blindly trust any doctor or financial advisor. Only you have your best interest in mind.
  • Everyone is normal till you get to know them. The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.
  • and more

More good news for Woodbury

Today I heard some more good news for Woodbury as one of the best places to live.

Walletpop.com listed Woodbury as No. 5 on its list of  10 Best Places to Buy a Home in 2011. It called Woodbury the best place to raise kids among its top-10 list unveiled Dec. 31, 2010. 

Last year Woodbury made it into Business Week’s 2010 Best Places to Raise Your Kids list.

Last year Woodbury was also selected by Money Magazine as one of the 100 best places to live in America. Woodbury ranked no. 13 on a list of 100 of America’s Best Small Cities.   

No wonder Woodbury is one of the fastest growing suburbs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Day 10 – Calculate Your Daily Energy Expenditure

This is Day 10 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge.

I am not really interested in doing today’s task, so I am not even going to try it.

I can add, subtract, multiply and divide pretty well. But that’s all the math I can handle. Anything beyond that gives me a headache.

I do not like to calculate, to measure, to do statistics or anything that has to do with numbers. That’s all very dead boring to me.

The most boring class and the most boring professor I had in my whole life was the statistics class and the professor who taught it during my graduate study at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. It was a total waste of my time.

BTW, even though I didn’t do exercise today, I still felt really good, because I was working on interesting things at work. It shows that mental health contributes greatly to a person’s total well being.

 

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 10 – Calculate Your Daily Energy Expenditure

If you have weight loss/weight gain goals which you’re serious about achieving, then you have to know your daily energy expenditure (Thanks HotChildInTheCity for introducing this term to me!). Total Daily Energy Expenditure (or TDEE) is the total number of calories you burn in an average day, including all the activities you do.

If you remember, during Day 2 we talked about your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR stands for the minimum caloric requirement to sustain life in an individual, and doesn’t account for the exercises/activities you do. TDEE, on the other hand, takes into account our activity level, and is a closer measure to the calories we burn on an average day. Basically

TDEE = BMR (Calories burned at rest) + Calories burned from activities (This is a calorie expenditure that occurs on top of your BMR)

Consuming lesser calories than TDEE will lead to a weight loss. On the other hand, consuming more calories will lead to a weight gain. Consuming the same calories will lead to maintenance of your current weight.

To figure out how many calories you should eat a day to achieve your weight goals, we need to first know your TDEE. Hence, today’s task is on calculating your TDEE!

Step 1: Calculate Your TDEE

There are 2 general methods to calculate your TDEE:

  1. The first method is to calculate an overall TDEE, based on your activity level throughout the week. You can use the TDEE calculator here. The figure you get represents your average TDEE every day. Mine is 1740 calories, meaning I burn 1740 calories every day.
  2. The second method is tedious but precise. Calculate your BMR first via the BMR counter. This represents your caloric requirements purely to sustain your body. Multiply it by 1.2, which will give you your caloric expenditure on a day with minimal activity. (Thanks Jade for highlighting this!) Then, for whatever fitness activity you undertake, use this activity counter to measure that. Sum up the 2 figures and you’ll get your TDEE for the day.
    For example, if your BMR is 1400 and you went jogging today and burned 300 calories, your total energy expenditure will be 1400×1.2 + 300=1680 + 300 = 1980 calories for the day.

Step 2: Calculate your calories intake per day to achieve your weight goal

To lose/gain weight, you’ve to consume lesser/more calories than your energy expended every day (or if you prefer to exercise, you need to burn x more calories that day). It’s generally recommended not to set a calories difference bigger than 500. So if your daily energy expenditure is 1700, you should have a calories intake of less than 1700, between 1200 to <1700 calories.

By setting your ideal weight and the date you want to achieve this ideal weight, you can then work backwards and calculate your calories intake a day.

  1. Calculate the difference between your ideal weight and current weight. If your ideal weight is 60kg and your current weight is 63kg, the difference is 3kg or 6.6lbs (1kg = 2.2lbs).
  2. To lose 1 lb, you need to have a calorie deficit of 3500 lbs. Multiply the difference between your ideal and current weight in lbs by 3500. Example: If you have a 6.6lbs difference, that will be 23100 calories.
  3. When do you want to achieve your ideal weight? Calculate the number of days between now and your ideal date. If you want to achieve your ideal weight by end of Feb (it’s Jan 10 now), that’s 50 days left.
  4. Last but not least, divide your total number of calories/deficit by total number of days. Example: 23100 / 50 = 462 calories per day. This means you need to eat 462 less calories or burn 462 more calories (vs. your TDEE) to achieve your ideal weight of 60kg by end Feb.

Step 3: Design your ideal healthy living plans to fit your daily caloric target

Now that you know your daily caloric target, what is your ideal healthy living plan (incorporating ideal meal plan (Day 3) and exercise) that will help you achieve this target, while meeting your nutritional needs? Design a few healthy living plans (one for each week, so you have variety) and then start following these plans from today onwards!

Day 9 – Understanding Your Trigger Foods

This is Day 9 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

When it comes to health, I consider myself as a lucky person. Not only do I have no big health concerns, I also have no big challenges and roadblocks.

I do not have trigger foods. I have no craving for sweets – candies, chocolates, ice cream, cakes, cookies or salty snacks – chips, pretzels, etc. They are not part of my daily diets.

As a kid, I rarely had sweets. So I never developed any sweet teeth.

When sweets and chips are available at parties or when people bring them to events in offices, I’ll eat some. Junk food do taste good, but they don’t trigger me to eat more or get my diet out of control. 

No trigger foods, lucky me.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 9 – Understanding Your Trigger Foods

[Image: trigger-food.jpg]
 
Do you know what your trigger foods are? Trigger foods are the food items that make you go berserk and binge like crazy after you eat them. Everyone’s trigger foods are different, but generally trigger foods are candy bars, chocolate, confectionery, chips, cookies, or anything with high level of refined sugar, salt, fat or flour. These foods cause a blood sugar imbalance, hence triggering one to eat more.

My trigger foods are pasta, noodles, cookies, bread, donuts, pastries, (anything made from dough for that matter), fries, chips, and anything that’s deep tried. In the past, whenever I have any one of these, I’d abandon my ideal diet and binge on anything and everything I could find.

Looking back, there were a few reasons. The first is an all-or-nothing mindset – Since I had already eaten something that was not part of my plan, I had “failed” and it didn’t matter even if I had stuck to it. Of course, that was a fallacy in thought. The second reason is because a lot of doughy foods are non-filling (at least, in my opinion). I never fill full from eating cookies. Hence, I would eat a lot of them, which made me feel worse about myself, which then caused me to eat more of them, hence creating a self-enforcing bingefest.

Being aware of my trigger foods really helped me to transition to my ideal eating habits. Rather than eat them and binge afterwards, I avoided these foods altogether. I became more conscious of my food choices. As I did that, my trigger foods stopped having a hold over me – for example, today I can eat just a cookie or bread without binging later. However I don’t eat them anymore as I prefer raw food now :D.

By knowing what your trigger foods are, you can then consciously avoid them in your diets, and move a step closer toward your ideal diets. Today, our task is to identify our trigger foods and remove them from our diet!

Step 1: List Your Trigger Foods (10 min)

  1. Think about the times when you veer off-track in your diet. What were you eating at the point when you decided you’re going to binge?
  2. What are the foods that make you go “crazy” and veer you off track in your diet?

As I mentioned above, trigger foods tend to be high in sugar – like candy bars, chocolate, confectionery, cakes, chips, cookies, or anything with high level of refined sugar, salt, fat or flour. My trigger foods tend to be doughy/breaded food and deep fried food. When I was younger, my trigger food was donuts – I could eat a lot of them at one go! Thinking back it’s quite gross and extremely unfulfilling.

Step 2: Remove them from your current diet

How can you remove the trigger foods from your diet today?

There were several things I did in the past to remove trigger foods. Firstly, my parents, particularly my mom, often bought bread, and fried finger food home. My dad would buy a lot of biscuits and cookies as snacks for the family. Every time I ate a trigger food, I’d end up binging. Eventually I asked my parents to stop buying these trigger foods home. A lot of times they would forget and buy them home anyway, or a variation of those items, so I kept telling them the same thing. Today they hardly buy them home anymore.

I also avoided my trigger foods altogether. In the past I would eat, say, a cookie or two, thinking that it would be okay. It didn’t work though – I would keep eating them since the first one never felt satisfying enough. So rather than just have one or two, I learned to say no to all my trigger foods.

I also stocked up my kitchen with healthy snacks. When I feel hungry, I would be able to eat these snacks rather than turn to trigger foods. It worked quite well.

How about you? What are your key action steps to remove your trigger foods from your diet and your life?

Day 8 – Get a Great Workout!

This is Day 8 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

I am a day behind with my post.

I checked out the aerobic video on Youtube mentioned below, followed the video and did some exercise right in front of my computer. I thought it was a great idea.

There are several thousands of aerobic videos on Youtube you can use. No need to buy videos or join a gym or even leave your house. You can exercise right at home, any day, anytime, any weather condition. How convenient is that? There is no more excuse that you can’t do exercise.   

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 8 – Get a Great Workout!

[Image: exercise.jpg]

Today is Day 8, and our task today is to get a great workout! :dance::dance::dance:

Just like our diet, exercising is a core aspect of living a healthy life. Even if you eat your healthiest diet and meditate regularly, you can’t hope to be truly healthy without exercise. There have been countless research that shows a clear link between increased activity in life and better health. Research has also shown that exercising daily brings tremendous benefits to our health, including increase of life span, lowering of risk of diseases, higher bone density and weight loss.

Hence today, let’s get out there and get a good workout! If you’re already exercising today as part of your 21-Day Action Plan, that’s fantastic!

Here are some tips to integrate exercise as part of your life:

  1. How can you increase your activity level on a daily basis? Besides the standard sports and running, exercise can also come in other forms, such as brisk walking and stretching. Choose walking over transport for close distances. Climb the stairs instead of taking the lift. Go for a walk in the park.
  2. Pick exercises you enjoy. When you enjoy your exercises, you’ll naturally want to do them. Exercise isn’t about suffering and pushing yourself; it’s about being healthy and having fun at the same time.
  3. Have a variety of exercises to choose from. Adding variation in your exercises will keep them interesting. Have in mind 3-4 exercises that you can do for your exercise sessions, and rotate across them to keep things fresh.
  4. Group exercises. Individual exercises are great but sometimes they might get a little stale. Pick some group exercises every once in a while and play with your friends. The fun will increase your enthusiasm by multiple folds and you’ll naturally give them your all.

Home Aerobics

I’ve had many times when my exercise plans get cancelled due to bad weather or other reasons, and it was very frustrating. Until I found a solution to the problem – Home Aerobics. It was a godsend. I’m now able to get my fill of 30 minutes of exercise whenever I need to, regardless of the weather! Simply load up 3 videos (each video is 10 minutes long), and get going with what the instructor in the video says! (Here’s a websitethat lets you download Youtube videos to your computer.

Here, I’m going to share an aerobic video, and feel free to get more videos here.

You can do home aerobics by yourself too! Set 30-40 minutes for yourself, play a few of these videos and follow what they’re doing! In fact nowadays, I prefer this to actual class aerobics now because it’s so convenient and you can do it in your room whenever you want to.

Continue this habit for the rest of 21DHL

Remember that exercise isn’t a 1-day thing – it’s a lifelong process! Add exercising into your 21-Day Action Plan (if it’s not there already) and follow up with your exercises when the day comes.

Day 7 – Review & Plan for Week 2

This is Day 7 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

I think I did OK in the first week of the 21DHL Challenge.

  • Diet – Tried to eat more raw food. Ate mostly as usual, and added more raw veggies.
  • Fitness – Tried to exercise more. Walked stairs, added two more rounds, but some days I was busy and didn’t have time to do it. 
  • Lifestyle – Tried to sleep more. I used to go to bed at 1 am or later. In the last week I went to bed at midnight on most nights.  

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 7 – Review & Plan for Week 2!

While our challenge is set for 21 days, healthy living is for life. It’s about creating this healthy lifestyle that will sustain itself in the long term, no matter what happens. 21DHL is meant as a trigger to help you jumpstart your healthy living goals, via a combined platform where different individuals all around the world get together to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

[Image: 21dhl-review.jpg]

Some people might face the problem where they face success with a renewed lifestyle for 1-2 days, then revert back to their old habits and behaviors after that. That’s because they see it as a short-term goal rather than a lifelong journey.

It’s normal to have disruptions in our diet, exercise and lifestyle goals. If you feel you have “fallen” off the wagon in the past few days, I want to let you know that it doesn’t matter. If you haven’t been able to catch up on some of the tasks, I want to let you know that it doesn’t matter either. Beating yourself up isn’t going to help you live a healthier life. The question isn’t about whether you met the target for the day or not. The question is whether you have learned from what happened so that you’ll get better at doing it. The question is whether you know what are the key actions to take to succeed in your plan moving forward.

So today, we’re going to review our past week of 21DHL and plan for week 2 ahead!

Step 1 – Fall in line with the 21DHL Tasks

Review our first 6 tasks for 21DHL. If there are any tasks you haven’t done yet, today’s the best time to catch up on them!

Step 2 – Review Your Past Week

Review your past week with the 21DHL challenge. Think about your experiences with your 21-day action plan, your intentions when you embarked on 21DHL and your status right now.

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with your health and fitness for the past week (including your diet, fitness and lifestyle goals)? Why?
  2. Were there any times where you fell off track in your healthy lifestyle goals?
    1. Diet
    2. Fitness
    3. Lifestyle (Waking/Sleeping times, Other habits like meditation)
  3. If so, what happened during those times that took you off track? What can you learn from the incidences?
  4. What can you do differently moving forward in living an even healthier life?

Step 3 – Set Your Week 2 Action Plan for 21DHL!

As we move into Week 2 of 21DHL (of 3 weeks), what are your key goals for the next week? Review your 21-Day Action Plan and add on/revise your tasks/goals for week 2 where needed. If your goals are the same, you can stick with what you’ve written.

Then, write down your key action steps that will enable you to accomplish all your week 2 targets. What are you going to do in preparation for Week 2 ahead? How can you make Week 2 even better than Week 1? :dance::dance:

Here are some of my action steps to create a successful Week 2 ahead:

  • Research on raw recipes
  • Work out a range of ideal meal plans for different weeks, so I can pick out whichever meal plan I want for the week
  • Go grocery shopping and expand my vegetables/fruit selection so I have even more variety
  • Stick to my exercise timings – Finish work on time so they don’t overrun into my exercise sessions.

How to stop eating after dinner

I mentioned in my ideal meal plan about eating nothing after dinner.

A reader asked: “Tell me, on not eating after dinner…are you simply satisfied or do you need to make a conscious decision every evening not to eat? I find evenings my hardest time of day to refrain from eating mindlessly, and I would love to know how you accomplish that. Thanks!”

After dinner around 5:30-6:00 pm, I usually don’t eat any more. I am just not hungry as I sit most of the time. Sometimes if there is leftover fruit I prepared for my kids, I will finish that, but nothing really sweet, like cake, cookies or ice cream.

The following ideas might help people stop eating after dinner:

  • Brush your teeth as soon as you finish dinner.
  • Don’t have the snacks in front of you or in the house to attempt you.
  • Keep yourself busy. People tend to eat when they get bored.  Instead of eating, go for a walk, read, or just do something you like that consumes your attention and energy to keep your mind occupied and off from food. If you watch TV aimlessly and mindlessly, you are more likely to eat snacks mindlessly at the same time. I am usually busy with kids or reading or blogging in the evening that I don’t have time to eat mindlessly.
  • Don’t mistake thirst for hunger. Instead of grabbing a snack, grab a water bottle. Drinking water might just help to curb your appetite a bit.
  • Chew sugar free gum.
  • If you do eat after dinner, at least have the healthy snack handy, such as fruit and raw veggies, and no junk food.

Have a full stomach when you go to bed is not a good and healthy thing. So remember:

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar!

Special deal on Pioneer Press

I subscribe to Woodbury Bulletin and Minneapolis Star Tribune (Sunday only). I always read the weekly Woodbury Bulletin from cover to cover, except the sports section, to get the local news. As for the Star Tribune, I do look through the Sunday ads, but I don’t read the whole paper, just some selected sections, because I don’t have time to read all. 

I had St. Paul Pioneer Press from time to time. I alternate between the two Twin Cities papers. Last summer I switched to Star Tribune. Since then I got marketing calls from Pioneer Press. I always said no. But last night when I got another call, I said yes, for two reasons.

One, it was a really good deal to which it’s hard to say no. For $0.25 a week or $13 a year, I get the Thursday, Friday and Sunday papers.  Two, my son likes the paper. He prefers Pioneer Press than Star Tribune. 

To get the special deal, I had to prepay the $13.00 for the 52 weeks. I put it on my credit card.

If anyone is interested in the deal, you can call A Market Resource at 651-255-5842.

Day 6 – Eat 5 Servings of Fruits/Vegetables

This is Day 6 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

Eating 5 servings of fruits/vegetables is not difficult for me. I can easily meet that requirement every day.

Today I had an orange, a pear, baby carrots, cauliflower, onion, and Chinese napa.

The challenge part is to get my kids to eat that amount of fruits/vegetables. At every dinner, I try my best to make them eat some vegetables and later some fruits as a snack.

I wrote about my daughter who is a picky eater. She only ate a banana a day. That was all the fruit she would eat. The good news is, starting with the New Year, she has been adding an apple to her fruit intake every day.  I am happy about that.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 6 – Eat 5 Servings of Fruits/Vegetables

Today is Day 6, and our task today is to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables! :dance:

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Do you know that it’s recommended that we have at least 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables EVERY DAY?

Here’s a quote from About.com site:

Many experts suggest we need from five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That is a total. Older or inactive women and smaller children need at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. Growing kids, teen girls, most men and active women would eat at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit everyday. Teen boys and active men should eat at least five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruit. Unfortunately many people fail to eat even five servings each day.

Unfortunately most people don’t even have at least 2 servings, much less 5-9! The health benefits of fruits and vegetables need no introduction. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals – they pretty much contain every single nutrient we need to live an extremely healthy life (with the exception of vitamin B12).

Hence for today’s task, we’re going to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables!

Knowing what’s a serving size

If you’re wondering what counts as a serving size, here are some examples:

Fruits

  • one banana
  • six strawberries
  • two plums
  • fifteen grapes
  • one apple
  • one peach
  • one half cup of orange or other fruit juice

Vegetables

  • five broccoli florets
  • ten baby carrots
  • one roma tomato
  • 3/4 cup tomato juice
  • half of a baked sweet potato
  • one ear of corn
  • four slices of an onion

Pick bright colored fruits/vegetables, in different colors

Fruits and vegetables with bright colors are usually high in anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are good for health because they remove free radicals in our body that damage our cells. So get your fill of fruits/vegetables of different colors:

  1. White: Bananas, Mushroom, Onion, Potatoes, White Corn, Sprouts
  2. Yellow: Pineapples, Mango, Yellow Pears, Starfruit
  3. Orange: Orange, Papaya, Cantaloupe, Apricots, Carrots, Grapefruit
  4. Red: Apple, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Watermelon
  5. Green: Guava, Avocados, Cucumber, Lettuce, Celery
  6. Purple/Blue: Blackberries, Eggplant, Prunes, Grapes, Blackcurrents

More examples of fruits/vegetables under the color wheel.

Different Ways of Meeting Your 5-9 Servings

If you are wondering how you can meet your 5-9 servings quota today, here are some tips:

  1. Mix them in a smoothie. This is the most effective method. You can easily take in 3-4 servings this way!
  2. Have a fruit with every meal. Having fruits for breakfast is a fantastic way to start off your day!
  3. Replace your daily snacks with fruits. Highly nutritious and low calories! What more can you ask for? :D

Day 5 – Go Grocery Shopping

This is Day 5 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

I didn’t go grocery shopping today. I did it yesterday, without knowing about today’s task.

I do not use grocery shopping list when I shop, just as I do not use recipes when I cook.

I buy what I need and normally use. For that, I do not need a list.

I always read the Sunday ads from the grocery stores and see what’s on sale for veggies and fruits. Then I bring the paper with me to remind me of buying those items on sale.   

I usually do grocery shopping on Fridays or weekends. But since last week was no school days and holidays, we were home and ate more. We were running low on veggies and fruits. So yesterday I went shopping. I bought oranges, tangerines, celery, asparagus, cauliflower, baby carrots, bags of frozen corn. At the checkout, the cashier made the comment: “You have loaded up with veggies today.”

That’s what I normally do when I go grocery shopping.

BTW, one thing I really liked about living in China, as I did last summer, was the neighborhood farmer’s markets. They are open all year round. They are both indoor and outdoor. They are right there where people live. My parents only need to walk about 3 minutes to reach the neighborhood farmer’s market and a grocery store.  

In China, when they build residential areas, apartment buildings or houses, they always include farmer’s markets, grocery stores, resaurants, schools and other services in the neighborhood. So you can take care of your basic needs within walking distance. I think that’s great.

 

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 5 – Go Grocery Shopping!

Today is Day 5, and we’re going grocery shopping!! :dance:

[Image: grocery-shopping.jpg]

Yesterday we had a test run of our ideal meal plan. While some of us may have carried it out with good success, sustaining our ideal diets in the long run requires us to do some shopping and preparation.

After I began doing my grocery shopping and preparing my meals with the start of 21DHL, I’m experiencing the joys and benefits of the whole exercise. For one, I get to control everything that I eat. No more subjecting myself to sub-standard, low nutritional food in my house. Two, no more trying to search for restaurants/eateries for things that I want to eat. (For a while last year, I had to keep hunting for salad bars because the salads sold in normal restaurants are not all that great.) Three, it has made it SO easy to follow my ideal meal plan. While previously I easily go off track within the 1st, 2nd days of trying to maintain a healthy diet, right now I’m on Day 5 and going stronger and ever. Absolutely enjoying my meals every minute of the day right now.

Now, let’s get started!

Step 1: Write out your standard grocery list

Think about how your ideal meals are like (you can refer to Day 3 too). What food items do you need to purchase for these meals? Write them down.

For me, since my ideal meal is a raw vegan meal, my key food items can be categorized into 4 segments – Veg, Fruits, Dressings and Nuts.

 

Step 2: Highlight the items which you need to purchase today

Some of the food items may already be present in your house, while some may not. Highlight the items which you need to purchase.

For me, the key items which I need to stock up on today are:

- Button mushrooms
- Bean sprouts (they perish very quickly, so I need to replenish every 3 days or so)
- Lettuce (only have 1 lettuce head left for my salad later)

The rest are good as I just did my grocery shopping 2 days ago.

Update: I’m also going to buy a slicer to slice my carrots so that’s going into my list too :D

Step 3: Go shopping!

Today, take some time to shop at the grocery shop or the supermarket. If you’re working, drop by the supermarket during lunch or after work. Take this list with you as you do that, and get the items you’ve highlighted in Step 2! At the same time, keep your eyes open for any healthy food items, and get them if they complement your ideal healthy diet! (For example, I never thought of having bean sprouts in my ideal meal plan until I saw them at the supermarket during my grocery shopping this week! I realized that sprouts would be a great addition, hence bought them and am loving them in my salads nowadays!)

Day 4 – Follow Your Ideal Meal Plan

This is Day 4 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

Yesterday I wrote down my ideal meal plan.

My ideal meal plan includes:

  1. Breakfast – mixed bean soup or oatmeal soup, smoothie
  2. Lunch -Salad of fresh garden vegetables with nuts and fruit, squash or brown rice or whole grain bread
  3. Snack – Veggie juice, nuts
  4. Dinner – Salad, wild rice soup or squash
  5. Nothing after dinner.

Today I am supposed to follow my ideal meal plan.

But you how things go. Between ideal and reality there is always a gap, more or less for everyone.

For various reasons, including both subjective and objective reasons, I didn’t follow my ideal meal plan. But I did eat mostly healthy:

  1. Breakfast – a sweet potatoes
  2. Lunch – mixed bean and rice soup with an egg
  3. Dinner - white rice with stir fried celery, carrots, tofu and pea pods.
  4. Snack – crackers
  5. Raw food - a pear, a tangerine, a few baby carrots, a dozen of almond nuts, a little bit of leftover of a smoothie with a banana and an apple that I made for my son

During our long and cold winter months in Minnesota, I eat less raw vegetables. I eat better in summer when I can pick fresh veggies from my own garden.

I did exercises. I walked up and down a 10-story stairway 5 times.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 4 – Follow Your Ideal Meal Plan

That means that your task today is to bring your ideal meal plan to life! :dance:

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Treat this as taking your ideal plan for a test drive! Firstly, you might find that there are other changes that can be made to your ideal meal after you try it out. Secondly, since this is your ideal meal that makes you feel 200% after you have it, we might as well make that happen, starting from now! That’s a lot more empowering than wait for X thing to happen and Y condition to fall into place. It’s food, and we have to eat every day, so we might as well start off with the best things we want to eat in life.

Some of you might not be able to adhere 100% to the ideal plan (e.g., an ingredient is needed which is not available in the supermarkets in your vicinity), and it’s okay! It’s about using your ideal plan as inspiration for everything you eat today. Your ideal plan isn’t just 1 menu – there can be different iterations (for example, my ideal meal plan includes eating lots of fruits, vegetables, salads and a raw meal. Within that frame work, I can come up with a large varieties of different meal plans. Stick to the framework of what you see as an ideal diet and follow that today.

Now, let’s get started!

Step 1: Write out your key action steps (10 min)

What do you need to do to make this happen? Do you need to visit a different eatery for healthier food options? Do you need to prepare and pack your lunch today? Do you need to visit the supermarket and buy some food stuffs during lunch? Do you need to whip up dishes different than what you usually prepare? What food items do you need to buy then? If your meals are intended to be self-made, do you need to do some research to learn how to do that?

Write them all down in your journal!

Step 2: Take action!

Then, take action on the steps you wrote in Step #2! Relish in the food items you have today as they’re healthier than ever. Improvise where necessarily. Remember it’s not about being precisely in line with your ideal meal plan as it’s about taking in your healthiest foods for your body.

Step 3: Review your ideal meal plan (15 min)

At the end of the day, review your meal plan. How do you feel following this today? Do you feel healthier? More energetic? More vitalized? Why?

Separately, are there any adjustments needed for this plan? If so, what are they? How can you improve on your ideal meal plan?

Step 4: Integrate this plan into your daily life (15 min)

Now that you have embarked on your ideal meal, now the question is to make this a part of your every day life. Think about the key action steps you need to take to continue with this ideal plan tomorrow, the day after, and after, the week, every week after that, and so on. Then, get started on these action steps.

Someday is today

I think ”someday” is a word I use quite often in my thinking and writing. 

“Someday I will do this or that.”

In fact, I just used this word in my previous post an hour ago.  I said I would love to try that diet someday.

Then I read the following sentence in an article: “There are seven days in a week and someday isn’t one of them!”

That’s a simple yet quite profound statement. It made me stop and think.

Someday is an easy excuse for not making the commitment and taking the action today. 

We all have heard the old saying about tomorrow: “Tomorrow is not guaranteed” or “Tomorrow never comes.” Someday is even more distant and exists only in our imagination.

If you talk about taking action “someday,” it probably will never happen and someday will never come.

If you seriously want to do something, you need to stop thinking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it, reading about it, watching others doing it, and putting things off till tomorrow or getting around to it someday.

If you seriously want to do something, you need to take action and do it today, this present time, now, instead of waiting for someday.

You can only take action today.

There is no someday, we only have today.

Day 3 – Create Your Ideal Meal Plan

This is Day 3 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

My ideal meal plan includes:

  1. Breakfast – mixed bean soup or oatmeal soup, smoothie
  2. Lunch -Salad of fresh garden vegetables with nuts and fruit, squash or brown rice or whole grain bread
  3. Snack – Veggie juice, nuts
  4. Dinner – Salad, wild rice soup or squash
  5. Nothing after dinner.

My ideal meal plan can also be The Hallelujah Diet. I would love to try that some day.

I eat more fresh vegetables in summer when I have them from my own garden.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 3 – Create Your Ideal Meal Plan

Today’s task is about creating your ideal meal plan. Writing out your ideal meal plan for the entire day – from breakfast, lunch, all the way to dinner.

[Image: salad.jpg]

Why is it important to have our ideal meal plan? The thing is, more of us probably eat based on what’s around us. Feeling hungry? Let’s see what’s there in the fridge. Want to grab a bite? Let’s head to the fast foods and get something quick. Is there food right there on the table? Let’s munch a little on it – it wouldn’t make a difference.

What we’re doing here isn’t eating based on what we truly want to eat, but merely eating because it’s convenient and accessible. And the thing is, this will keep happening all the time simply because we subject ourselves to what’s there in the environment. The pattern keeps looping over, and over, and over again, repeating and never stopping. The only time when it stops is when we put a stop to it. And for that to happen, we have to first be aware of what exactly we want to eat in our ideal diet. And that’s what we’re going to do today! :mrgreen:

Step 1: Write out your ideal meal plan for a normal day (10 min)

Imagine you are in your ideal day now. What’s your ideal meal like, the meal that will bring you to your highest pinnacle of health and wellness? What would you want to be eating when you wake up? What would you be drinking? What would you have for lunch? How about in between meals? What would you have for dinner? Lastly, would you be eating anything in the few hours before sleep? If so, what would that be?

Write down all the foods that you’ll be eating in your ideal meal plan, including serving sizes where possible. Keep working on it until you’re 110% happy with this meal and you know that this is a meal plan where you’ll absolutely feel the happiest, the healthiest and most vitalized.

Step 2: Do a nutritional check with your plan (15 min)

Here, we’ll be doing a quick check on the calories and nutrition level. Just like what you did yesterday (via the calorie counter sites in Day 2′s task), check on (a) Calorie count (Cal – 1 cal = 4.18 KJ) (b) Fat content, in grams © If you’d like to record other information in your list (such as protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc), feel free to do so!

Ensure that the calories and fat meet your nutritional requirements. Your calories should be in line with your BMR (or -/+ 500 calories lesser if you want to lose/gain weight, as recommended in the health industry). You should have a range of vitamins and minerals in your diet too. Click on this link and scroll down a little for a chart of important vitamins and minerals, and the role they play in your diet.

If you feel it doesn’t meet your nutritional requirements, go back and make adjustments to the plan until it does and you’re 110% happy with it.

Day 2 – Create a Calorie List

This is Day 2 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

The Day 2 task is a little too complicated and difficult for me to do. Here is why.

Three times a day, I eat home cooked food, made from scratch. I rarely eat from a can or a box, so there is no way I can read the label and count the calorie and fat content of the items I eat. And I have never done that.

To make things more complicated, I don’t measure how much I cook or eat.

Unlike in the Western countries where cookbooks and recipes are popular and widely used, most Chinese people don’t use cookbooks and recipes. We simply cook using what we have and by experience – taste as you go. I never follow any recipes or measure the ingredients I use.

I eat more if there is more or less if there is less. Sometimes I eat a few extra bites if there is leftover that I don’t want to leave it for the next day. I am a flexible person, it also applies to my meals and food intake.

Here is what I had for today:

  1. Breakfast – a bowl of thick rice soup made of rice, dried split green beans, and sweet potatoes, and a little bit of fermented bean curd. I usually have mixed dried beans and rice soup every morning.
  2. Lunch – Fried rice with rice, egg, peas, corn.
  3. Afternoon snack – Pieces of apples, oranges and pears.
  4. Dinner – Bread and baked squash left over from a couple of days ago;  stir fried eggplants and sweet peas; tofu, peanuts, soybeans, bamboo, tiny dried shrimp cooked in a salty black bean paste; chicken soup.

I usually don’t eat meat and deep fried items. So I don’t think I need to worry about the calorie and fat content. But one thing I know I need to be more careful about is that I tend to eat a little bit too salty. I like salty stuff such as salted vegetables and fermented bean curd.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 2 – Create a Calorie List

Today’s task is to create a calorie list. What’s a calorie list, you may ask? It’s a term I use to refer to a list of food items that we commonly eat, along with their respective calorie and nutritional information.

[Image: calorie-list.jpg]

Why is it important to have a calorie list? It’s not intended for us to count calories of every single thing we eat in an obsessed fashion. Not at all. I’ve tried counting calories for an extended period of time before (1 year actually) and it was quite tiring. I felt that I was on some kind of leash when it came to eating.

On the other hand, I gained important knowledge in the process. The process made me more aware of the calorie and nutritional level of the foods that I was eating. I realized some of my favorite foods that I’d eat a lot of, were not only high in calories, but extremely low in nutritional level. I also realized that there are many healthy food sources which are low(er) in calories and power packed with nutritions (vegetables for one, salads, fruits, sprouts).

It’s important to have a calorie list because it helps you to be aware of the calorie and nutrition level of what you consume. It helps you to be conscious of what you’re putting inside your body. Do you prefer to consume high calorie, low nutritional level food or healthy foods with high nutrition? Surprisingly, a lot of the foods we eat actually are much higher/lower in calories and nutrition than we realize. And it is through creating a calorie list that we can get clarity on that.

Hence for today, we’ll be creating our own calorie list!

Step 1: Write down a list of foods you commonly eat (5 min)

First, start an excel spreadsheet or create a table in word document. Think about all the foods that you typically eat and write them down. Be exhaustive. Your list should include:

  1. Foods you’ve been eating in the past week
  2. Foods you want to keep out of your diet but end up eating anyway
  3. Any food that you have an interest in eating

Be specific with your items. If you eat fruits, don’t just list “Fruits” since there are many different kinds of fruits and each have a different nutritional information. A good, specific list will be like the one below:

  1. Oranges
  2. Apples
  3. Walnut
  4. Green peas
  5. Brown rice
  6. Instant noodles
  7. Pasta (Penne)
  8. Dressing (Thousand Island)

Step 2: Record the calorie and fat content of the items (15 min)

Create 2 new columns beside the food items to record the (a) Calorie count (Cal – 1 cal = 4.18 KJ) (b) Fat content (g). We’re recording calories because it’s the overall measurement of energy. On the other hand, we’re recording fat because we’re in a society today where most of us have extremely high fat content in our diets without even knowing it (average American consumes nearly 50% of fat in their diet!!). High fat diets are slow contributors to many heart diseases and illnesses and it’s important to be conscious of the fat levels in our diets. On the other side of the spectrum, we may have people who may be eating little, but their fat intake may be way high! That’s extremely unhealthy as well. Calorie is merely one part of the equation in living a healthy life.

If you buy your food from the supermart, they usually have nutritional labels, so get the information directly from there. If you don’t have the labels – it’s okay! There are extremely useful calorie counters online that you can use!

  1. The Calorie Counter
  2. Calorie Count
  3. New Calorie Counter
  4. Live Strong (for common Singapore food items)
  5. Nutrition @ SG(for common Singaporee food items)
  6. Spark People (You’ve to sign up to get access to their counter – sign-up is free)
  7. Fitness Pal(Thanks participant clarkindee for the recommendation! You’ve to sign up to get access to their counter – sign-up is free)

Remember to record down the unit of the food for the respective calorie/fat (lbs, oz, pieces, slice, etc). Otherwise the numbers wouldn’t mean much by themselves!

If you’d like to record other information in your list (such as protein, carbs), feel free to do so! Just ensure that you record the calorie and fat.

Step 3: Track your food intake today

Now, as you progress through the day, record everything you eat and the unit sizes. Go about it as a usual day without intentionally trying to restrict yourself just because you’re tracking calories. The intent of this exercise is become aware of the amount of calories we take in every day with our typical eating habits. Are we overeating or under-eating every day? We’ll find out soon enough!

Since your calorie list is supposed to be a comprehensive list, it should include the foods you’re eating today. If not, add on to the list!

Step 4: Evaluate your calorie and fat intake (10 min)

At the end of the day (when you’ve finished eating), do a round-up of the calories and fat you’ve taken in for the day.

Your Calorie Count

  1. Calculate the total amount of calories you’ve taken in (Cal)
  2. Compare this with your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Is it higher, same or lower? If it’s not the same, how much higher or lower is it? (If you don’t know your BMR, use this BMR counter.)

Your Fat Count

  1. Calculate your total fat intake (g) today.
  2. Now, calculate the percentage of your fat intake relative to your total calories. 1g of fat = 9 calories.So if you took in 60g of fats today and consume 1,700 calories,
    - Calories by fat = 60g x 9 = 540 calories
    - Percentage of fat intake = 450 / 1,700 x 100% = 32%
    There are a lot of different takes on what is a healthy level of fat intake (ranging from 10-30%), but basically the general consensus is that anything 30% and above is too high. My personal target is 15%.
  3. How much is your fat intake? Is your diet high fat or low fat?

Step 5: Reflect on Today’s Exercise (10 min)

Looking at your calorie and fat intake today and taking into account the foods you’ve been eating in the past period…

  1. Are there any implications of your current diet on your health? If so, what are they?
  2. What should you do then?

For the next couple of days, continue to track your calories to get the hang of your calorie intake. Keep doing it until you have a strong feel of the right amount of food to meet your daily calorie target. We’ll continue to use your calorie list in a later exercise!

Published in The Dollar Stretcher

I subscribe to the online newsletter “The Dollar Stretcher: Living Better…For Less” and love to read frugal living tips. Occasionally I like to make a contribution by submitting a tip of my own.

My recent tip It Pays to Check Your Bills was published in the Volume 16, Number 1 (January 3, 2011) issue of The Dollar Stretcher.              

If you are interested in subscribing to the newsletter, send mail to: sub-dollar-stretcher@hub.thedollarstretcher.com or visit http://www.stretcher.com/menu/subscrib.cfm

It Pays to Check Your Bills

Checking your bills is important in this era of automatic bill pay

Ten-Second Summary

  • Most of my family’s bills are paid automatically either from our credit card or bank accounts.
  • For credit card statements, I cross check what’s on the statements with the receipts I have.
  • When I contact credit card companies for any of the problems, they are very good at helping me and getting the problems resolved.
  • I also look at my receipts when I do grocery shopping. Over-charging happens.
  • It pays to check bills and receipts, and take the time to ask if you notice any problems.

Most of my family’s bills are paid automatically either from our credit card or bank accounts. Whenever possible, I set up an automatic bill payment plan, using a credit card. For companies that don’t offer automatic bill pay plans, or charge extra fees for paying with credit cards, they can usually be paid automatically from our bank account.

This saves time and money. And I don’t have to worry about late payments and late fees. I only need to make sure that there is enough money in our bank account to cover the credit card bills and a few other bills.

I usually check all the bills I receive. I like to get a clear picture of what I am paying. For credit card statements, I cross check what’s on the statements with the receipts I have.

I found mistakes with double charges. I had charges made from an Arabic country on my statements that I didn’t recognize. I also disputed charges because of bad services or products. When I contact credit card companies for any of the problems, they are very good at helping me and getting the problems resolved.

I also look at my receipts when I do grocery shopping. Over-charging happens. At one oriental food market I frequently shop in St. Paul, the error rate was unusually high. I had to bring it to the manager’s attention.

Recently I received one subscription renewal notice from the local newspaper. When I put it in my file folder and took a look at last year’s notice, I noticed two things. First, this year’s renewal date is one month earlier than last year’s. Second, this year’s price has doubled from last year’s.

I had to call the paper to find out why. It turned out that the renewal date was indeed wrong. It was one month earlier than it should have been. I don’t know how it happened. I got an apology. I wonder how many customers have the same error on their renewal notices and how many people would even notice this.

When I was told that the subscription price has increased for all, I simply said I wanted to cancel the paper when the current subscription expires next month. The customer service representative said that she did not want to lose me as a customer and she wanted to check with her supervisor to see if she could offer me a better deal. Seconds later, she told me that I could keep last year’s rate. OK, then I’ll keep my paper. I felt like I was talking to a car sales person.

It took me a few minutes of time, but I think it definitely is worth it. It pays to check your bills and receipts, and take the time to ask if you notice any problems.


Qin Tang is a librarian and writer. She has a passion for healthy, green, simple, frugal, mindful and soulful living. Visit her blog at www.areavoices.com/onmymind.

“Time for Truth”

Today I finished reading Nick Bunick’s book Time for Truth that I recently found on the New Book Shelf at the local public library.

I never heard about Nick Bunick. He was the subject of the best-selling book “The Messagers” published in 1997.  

Time for Truth is definitely an interesting and mind-opening book. It will make you think of the Catholic Church and Christianity in a new or different way.

The author talks about several wrongdoings by the early Christian leaders, mostly to control the lives of their followers by instilling fear and guilt in them and to maintain their power and control:

  • Distort the teachings of Jesus and turn words of love into words of fear
  • Create the concept of original sins
  • Invent hell, Satan and sinners
  • Make believe that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus
  • Make believe that we are responsible for the death of Jesus and place the burden of guilt on God’ children, for we are all sinners
  • Remove writings about reincarnation from the Bible
  • Remove the important roles women played in the early church
  • Only men could hold positions of leadership and they must remain single and celibate

I am not in the position to judge the truthfulness of “Time for Truth.” But it certainly gave me something to think about and made me think things a little differently.

Day 1 – Drink 8 Glasses of Water

This is Day 1 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

This 1st day challenge is quite easy for me to do, as I already drink water every day. It’s basically all I drink. I occasionally drink a cup of juice or coffee at parties. And I don’t drink sodas at all.

When I go somewhere, I usually take a bottle of water with me. I have the habit of refilling my own water bottle. I like to reduce and recycle.

Drinking 8 glasses or 52 ounces of water comes easy on weekdays as I mostly sit all day in my office. But on weekends at home, I tend to drink less as I am more on the run. So I need to make a conscious effort to slow down and make sure that I don’t drink water until I feel really thirsty.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 1 – Drink 8 Glasses of Water

If you’ve read 45 Tips To Live a Healthy Life post on TPEB on Dec ’10, you’d have seen the first tip, which is to drink more water. Why? Because water is life. Water is essential for our body to function – Do you know over 60% of our body is made up of water? Water is needed to carry out our body functions, remove waste and carry nutrients and oxygen around our body. Since we lose water every day through urine, bowel movements, perspiration and breathing, we need to replenish our water intake.

[Image: water.jpg]

Furthermore, drinking more water alone actually aids in losing weight. A Health.com study carried out among overweight/obese people showed that water drinkers lose 4.5 more pounds than a control group. The researchers believe that it’s because drinking more water helps fill your stomach, making you less hungry and less likely to overeat. I agree with that, and I have an added take that your body tries to retain whatever water you take when you don’t take in enough water, leading to increase in weight. Whereas when you regularly drink water, your body knows that it’s going to get its supply of fluids, so it doesn’t try to retain more water.

Shockingly, most of us actually do not drink enough water. We only drink like 1-2 times a day, during the meal times, and we do not hydrate ourselves at all in the other times of the day. Hence, our first task of 21DHL is to drink water – specifically the right amount of water for our best health.

Step 1: Calculate the amount of water you need to drink

To estimate how much water you need to drink, use the method below.

  • Divide your weight (in pounds) by two. This is the amount of water intake (in ounces) you need in a day. (150lbs = 75 ounces/day) Or;
  • If you use the metric system, divide your weight (in kg) by 30. The answer is the amount of water intake (in liters) you need a day. (66kg = 2.2 liters/day)

Then, take the number and multiply it by 80%. Food intake contributes about 20% of our fluid intake, so this final number is the actual amount of water in fluid form that you need to drink. This is a rough estimate – if you’ve an active lifestyle, you live in a warm climate where you perspire a lot and/or you do high level of physical activity (sports), you can add about 5-20% more.

Remember, when in doubt, use your own body as a gauge. If your lips/throat feel dry, your lips look dry, and you feel dehydrated, that means you should be drinking more water.

Step 2: Drink this amount of water today

Make sure you drink this amount of water today (slightly more is okay too). Water here refers to pure water, NOT soda, coffee, tea (drinks with caffeine) or alcohol! These are diuretics – mean they cause a fluid outtake rather than intake when you consume them!

Don’t drink them all in one go because it’s not going to solve the issue! (We’re not a camel; our water isn’t going to distribute itself when needed) The point is to distribute our water intake throughout the day. The best times will be when we wake up (since we’ve been sleeping for some time), before/after our meals, while we’re working, and at night before we sleep.

If you’re not sure how much water fills a glass, simply use a soda can as estimation. A normal soda can is 330ml or about 12 oz. If you have a large glass that can contain all the water in a can, that means you’d need 8 glasses for 2.6-2.7 liters of water fluid intake.

Some tips to help you in this goal:

  1. Carry a water bottle – You never know when you’re going to get thirsty! This way you can drink wherever you are.
  2. Have a big drinking mug at your desk so you only have to refill once in a while
  3. Having a jar/flask of water right at your desk is really useful for the same reason as #2
  4. Buy a large flask and fill it in the morning with the amount of water intake you need for the day. Drink only from the flask the whole day so you can use it as your gauge. At the end of the day, it should be empty! If not, finish it up.
  5. Set reminders (either in your phone or computer) on a busy day so you don’t forget to drink (by participant Rohit)

Step 3: Continue this habit for the whole of 21DHL

After you’ve completed this habit, continue on for all the days of 21DHL! Create a tracking table with 21 columns that represent the 21 days of 21DHL. Mark a tick whenever you have finished drinking your required amount of fluid intake for the day. Mark a cross when you haven’t. At the end of 21DHL, you’ll be able to see how you fare in this area.

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“Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days” Challenge

Happy New Year to everyone! Wish you a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2011!

I have joined Celestine Chua’s ”Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days” Challenge which officially starts today!

The 21DHL Challenge was announced on Celes’ The Personal Excellence Blog a few days ago and daily posts with tips and discussions take place at the 21DHL Forums.

I am healthy and live a pretty healthy lifestyle. But I know I can do better, especially in terms of exercise.

My goals for the 21DHL Challenge are -

Eat better
Lose weight
Exercise more
Get more sleep
Be more patient
Be more mindful

Hope the Challenge will motivate me do more and do better.

Keep your private information private

Do you know how much information you think is private is actually public and can easily be accessed by anyone on the Internet using a simple search of your name?

Check out spokeo.com and you might be surprised by what people can find out about you in a few seconds – your home address, your marital status, religion, hobbies, names of friends and family members, personal photos you have posted on the Web, a satellite image of your home, your estimated income, home value, credit score and age.

Spokeo.comis basically an online USA phone book with personal information. It is a search engine that aggregates information pertaining to individual names, email addresses, and phone numbers from online public sources such as phone books, government records, plus profile entries from websites like Facebook, MySpace, Amazon.com, LinkedIn, Flickr, and many others (the Spokeo site lists upwards of 50 potential data sources).

The website does provide a form whereby you can delete your individual listing.

To your individual listing, search for yourself on spokeo.com to find the URL of your page, then go to the bottom of the page and click on the Privacy button to remove yourself.

But keep in mind: simply removing your search results from Spokeo.com doesn’t prevent anyone from accessing the same data by other means. It just makes it less convenient for others to find the information.

Check out the Wiki article for more information.

Year end goal accomplished

During my seven week trip in China this summer, I took several thousands of photos. I had always wanted to post the photos online to share with friends and to give other people a glimpse of what China looks like today. 

It was a time consuming process to go through the photos, select and upload them to my Facebook account. I didn’t do much until the year is almost over. I simply didn’t want to postpone the project till next year. 

So in the last few day, I was working hard to get it done.  It took me many hours, bit I am glad that I accomplished the goal before the year ends and it’s completed on this last day of the year. In total, I created 44 new folders that contains over 1500 photos. I was surprised that Facebook doesn’t set size limit on the individual account.

I admit that all my photos show the bright side of China. The places I visited are mostly tourist attractions and are beautiful. The people I met are mostly well off. Some of them are in better financial conditions than I am and made me feel like living in poverty :-)

I didn’t deliberately choose to tell only one side of the story through my photos. That’s just what I have to share. Sorry if my perspective is not very objective and broad. Hopefully the photos will inspire a few people to get interested in China and motivate them to go visit and experience China themselves.

Amazing carving artist

While visiting Tongli, a town near Suzhou, this summer, I met a mini carving artist. I was amazed by his skills. I asked him to carve the Lord’s Prayer and a cross on a stone that is the size of my thumb and isused as an pendant. On the other side is my name in Chinese and English along with the carving date and location. He did one for me and one each for my two children. They are my most treasured souvenirs from our 7 week China trip. 

Today I took a picture of that stone and added it to the previous post visiting Tongli

I also posted more photos on Facebook, including some from Beijing and my hometown Suzhou. The photos are on the following Facebook pages:

Modern matchmaking in China

Today I posted some photos taken in Beijing this summer on my Facebook page.

The photos brought back some wonderful or interesting memories. The one I would like to share here is about modern matchmaking in China.

I know matchmaking has a long tradition in China and other Asian countries. In the old days parents arranged marriages for their children. It’s not uncommon that husbands and wives met for the first time on their wedding days.

Matchmaking still exists in China today, not to that extreme as in the old days, but in some organized ways nevertheless. I didn’t realize that until I visited the famous Tiantan Park (literally The Temple of Heaven) in Beijing on June 18, 2010.

Tiantan Park is a very popular tourist attraction in Beijing. Like most parks in China, it is also a popular place for local residents to gather for exercises and networking. What impressed me the most was the number of local residents in the Park who were doing all sorts of exercises and practices - traditional or modern dancing, tai chi, Qigong, singing, playing instruments, chess and cards, or simply chatting, etc.

My cousin who took us to the Park goes there every day to practice a Chinese music instrument with an instructor and a group of students. I talked about her in a previous post - Best place to live for senior citizens.

As we were walking around the Park, I was curious to stop by here and there to watch different groups of people gathered together doing different things. 

Then in one place I saw people sitting on the curbs with a sheet of paper in front of them. I thought they were job seekers looking for employment. But to my surprise, my cousin said they were parents of singles trying to find the right match for their children.

Parents, sometimes without their adult children’s knowledge, put their children’s photos and personal information on display, in the hope that they can find a mate for their children. When I realized what they were doing, a sense of sadness came over me. I was also touched by the parents who will sacrifice everything for their children.

Because of the one child per family policy in China, kids are very spoiled in China. They are the princesses and princes in the families. They are pushed hard to do well in schools, sometimes at the expense of developing a well rounded person with good social and communications skills. Some become loners and are dependent on their parents for living, even though they are adults. They simply don’t have the skills and abilities to live on their own. Their parents will try everything they can to help their children find a mate.

Parents in China are very involved in their children’s lives. They do and sacrifice everything they can to help them find a mate, buy an apartment, take care of grandchildren, and more. Read more…

Dumpling Banquet in Xian

 

Today I undated and uploaded some more photos from Xian to my Facebook page, over 200 of them.

As a popular saying goes, to visit Xian without visiting the Terracotta Warrior and having a dumpling dinner means that you have not really been to Xian at all.

So we not only visited Xian’s ancient City Wall, Terracotta Warriors, Huaqin Hot Springs, Tang Paradise, and Mt. Huashan, we also had Dumpling Banquet in the most famous De Fa Chang Restaurant (德发长) in the city center of Xian.

Dumplings with various kinds of ingredients, fillings, shape and taste were served at the dinner. The banquet was a truly unique feast, not only for the taste but also for the eyes. It was amazing.

Be sure to take a look at the photos on my Facebook page, or you can also view some more beautiful photos on this website.

Photos from Xian

  Read more…

Christmas treasure hunt

Another Christmas, another treasure hunt.

I wrote about my Christmas treasure hunt exactly one year ago on this blog. As expected, my kids asked me for a Christmas treasure hunt again this year. I happily obligated. I buy my kids very little presents, I prefer to make something for them.

So yesterday I spent hours working on the treasure hunt, Christmas cards and Santa letters for my kids. I didn’t go to bed until almost 4 am this morning.

First I reviewed my calendar for the whole year and wrote down important events and accomplishments related to each of my kids. I used them as the year end review in my letters. In my letter I also attached the blog posts I wrote this year that are related to the kids. I had already picked them out a few days ago. So my letter this year was over 10 pages long.    

For the Christmas treasure hunt, I hid some candies in each room. I gave each room a number based on some facts, such as someone’s age, birthday, or a combination. The number of candies in each room is the same as the number I gave to the room. My kids had to tell me where the number comes from.

For example, number 16 is the total of my birth month and birth date plus the two numbers of my age. That was the hard one to figure out for my kids.

After they got the number right, I told them the clues of where to find the treats in the room.

They had fun with the treasure hunt as they did in the past 6 years.

I was glad that I could keep the Christmas treasure hunt tradition for 7 years now. I was afraid that I would run out of ideas of what to do, but I always got an idea at the last minute on Christmas eve. I was thankful that I could again make this Christmas fun for my kids.

I got handmade cards and books from my kids. They both spent hours working on their Christmas cards, books and poems in the last few days. They cut out old Christmas cards, wrapping papers and made a big mess in their room. But they created something new and beautiful.

I have a standard photocopy paper box full of cards we made for each other. They are a treasure for me.

Wish for good health

In my blog post from yesterday: “What would you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas?” I forgot an important aspect. I wish good health for everyone.

As someone who is over 40 year old, I have realized that I can no longer take my good health for granted. My eyes are getting blurry, my memory is not as good as it used to be. It is true, health starts to go down hill for people over 40.

So being healthy and keeping good health is on my wish list for Santa.

Here are a few healthy living tips that just came to my mind and I want to share.

  • Eat more living/whole food and less dead/processed food
  • Eat more veggies and fruit and less meat and white stuff (sugar, flour).
  • Eat less sweets for snacks and desserts.
  • Drink water and tea and no sodas.
  • Reduce stress through exercise, such as walking, meditation, yoga.
  • Walk the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  • Walk more, drive less.
  • Park far away and walk more
  • Read, learn and grow continuously and less TV.
  • Live simply, desire and consume less.
  • Be positive and thankful.
  • Do what you like and are passionate about instead of idling your life away in front of the TV

May Santa bring us all, young and old, rich and poor, good health in the new year.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and happy healthy living!

What would you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas?

I subscribe to a few blog updates. Every night I spend some time reading other blogs which I enjoy doing. When I am inspired, I will leave comments as well.

Today I read Arina’s Self Help Blog and she asked this interesting question in a recent post: “What would you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

I don’t have any tangible things I really want and desire. So my answer to the question is:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control for my family and for the world.

If you could ask for anything, what would you ask Santa to bring you for Christmas? Please share your Christmas wishes in the comment section.

Fun party game

Yesterday at our office holiday party, we played the White Elephant game. It was fun.

To play the game, every participant is asked to bring a wrapped gift in order to do a gift exchange. Gifts are usually inexpensive, unwanted new or used items from home. There are different variations and different ways to play the game.

Here is how we played.

Everyone who brought a gift was allowed to pick a gift from the pool of gifts. After we all unwrapped our gifts and showed them to each other, we took turn playing dice. Whoever got a double number could steal a gift he wanted from another person.

Our most sought after gift was a travel mug set. I got it twice, but someone stole it from met in the end. I ended up with a used DVD. Since I don’t watch DVDs, I gave it to someone else.

Our most humorous item was a necklace that is often found in the goody bags of children’s birthday parties. 

White elephant is a fun game for holiday parties. You get to exchange gifts, but without the pressure and expense to buy anything new.

I am nuts

 

The fruit plate contains pomegranates, grapes, cantaloupe, apple and orange.

The veggies plate contains baby carrots, broccoli, raddish, celery, napa, and califlower.

My son’s basketball coach Kevin coaches two of his sons’ teams. He  invited both teams to his house for pizza instead of having regular practice in the evening today. That was very nice of him to do. 

Everyone was asked to bring snacks or drinks to share with the team. My son Andy was excited to go to the party.

On my way home I stopped at the store to buy some fruit. I gave Andy two bags of oranges and a can of mixed nuts to bring to the party.

Andy was not happy. “Mooom! Do you think any kid will eat this stuff? No one will eat it.” He wanted to bring a bag of potato chips.

His attitude didn’t make me happy. I told him: “There will be other people who will bring potato chips. You don’t need another bag of potato chips, and the coach doesn’t need another bag of potato chips. If you kids don’t eat oranges and nuts, I am sure the coach and his family can eat them. If you don’t want to bring what I have for you, then you can stay home. It’s your choice.”

He had no choice but to take what I gave him. I knew he wasn’t happy about it. So I told him: “You can tell your coach that my mom made me to bring the oranges and nuts. I wanted to bring chips that everyone likes. But she won’t let me. So blame my mom if you don’t like this. Tell him that my mom is nuts.” 

Later after I picked up Andy from the party, I asked him if anyone ate the oranges and nuts. He said: “No. What do you think?”

That’s fine with me. I know they are not as popular as chips and ice cream. I also like to eat chips and other junk food at parties.  But I still want to offer a healthier choice. And I am sure someone will eat the oranges and nuts.

I didn’t bother asking Andy whether he told his coach or not that I am nuts. Sometimes it feels like I am nuts, because I don’t always do what others do or do what others don’t do. 

When we had our office holiday party today, we had more choices of desserts such as chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers, pies, bars than the hot and main dishes. We had more than 10 such desserts but only one choice of vegetables and one choice of fruit. 

When Chinese eat at home or have parties, we mostly have main dishes of meat, seafood and vegetables. Sweets are usually not part of the regular meal. Mostly we eat fruit and not the really sweet treats.

For the recent two office potluck, I brought veggies and fruit, see my photos above. As usual, veggies and fruit are not the most popular items. There were leftovers.

I think the American diet is really out of balance.  People eat so much processed food and so little unprocessed food. No wonder overweight is such a big problem in this country.

Photos from Hangzhou

We are in the middle of another winter snowstorm with 5 to 7 inches of snow forecasted from this afternoon till tomorrow morning.

Thanks to my neighbor Dave. He has already removed the snow in my driveway and sidewalk with his blower before dinner today. I feel very blessed to have Dave and Tracy living across the street from me. They are so nice and helpful. I hope there will not be too much snow accumulation over night.

My son’s math league practice after school was canceled due to the snowstorm. His coach also canceled the basketball practice in the evening. I felt relieved that we could relax in our comfort at home.

I took time to look through some photos taken during our summer travel in China and uploaded some photos from Hangzhou.

Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province.  The West Lake (Xī Hú, 西湖) in Hangzhou is famous for its beautiful natural scenery.

There is a popular saying in China: “Above there is heaven, below there are Hangzhou and Suzhou.” Suzhou is my home town. Both cities are well known for their ”heavenly” beauty.

We visited the West Lake on June 8, 2010. It was a chilly, cloudy and rainy day. But it was still beautiful to walk around the Lake, take a boat ride on the Lake, and listen to music from the music water fountain.  

On this cold snowy night, it’s nice to look at those photos and relive the wonderful time we had in China. Thinking about the hot summer and natural beauty makes this cold night go faster. 

I posted some photos on my Facebook account.

Gift from the heart

The following is a poem I wrote a few years ago. I thought it would be a good reminder of what’s important during this holiday seasons.

Gift from the Heart 

© Qin Tang

 

Don’t buy me flowers

On my birthday or any holidays

Out of obligation

Flowers wilt

And disappear without trace.

 

Don’t buy me gifts

Out of the pocket

Give me something

Out of yourself

From the heart.

 

Talk with me

Walk with me

Connect with me

Write a letter or a poem

Give me some of your time

Give me some of your attention

Those are gifts

You can not buy

And will not disappear

But they will stay in memory forever.

Dealing with negative emotions

I have to confess that I am not a person with patience, especially in my role as a mother. I am easily upset, annoyed, distressed by what my kids did or did not do. 

The problem is not that my kids have or cause any problems. They are actually good kids. The problem is I have high expectation, but low tolerance for bad behavior. And I don’t know how to be patient when my expectation is not met.

I know I inherited my temper from my father.

When my father was young, he was very short-tempered. Judging from today’s standards in this country, my father would be labeled as physically and emotionally abusive. Though he never hurt me, he did pass on some of his short temper in me that I have to deal with.

Sometimes I find myself feeling resentful, angry, sad towards people in my family because of past events. The negative emotions and the stories associated with them keep circulating in my mind. The past occupies my mind, while the present of the moment slips away.

Learning to be mindful and living in the present is something I need to work on. 

Mindfulness means our mind is focused on the present, not on the past or the future. Mindfulness is being in the present moment, having our mind and body in the same place at the same time. We live in the present without judgment and expectation, without being in the fight or flight, reactive mode which causes stress in life.

The Chinese character “nian” for mindfulness is composed of “jin” (now) and “xin” (heart, mind). It means to “reflect, think; to study, learn by heart, remember; recite, read” – to live in the now, with heart and mind.

I am reading the book “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness” by Susan Smalley and Diana Winston. The book has a chapter on dealing with negative emotions and the basics of working mindfully with emotions. It talks about a technique often taught in Buddhist meditation circles, with RAIN as its acronym, which stand sfor recognition, acceptance, investigation and non-identification.

R = Recognition is the first step to being mindful in the midst of your emotion. With recognition, you gently recognize and label your emotions. Labeling a feeling is a means of regulating it. In labeling your emotions, you begin to distance yourself from the emotions, step out and see what is happening.

A = Acceptance allows or acknowledges the emotions. From the perspective of mindfulness, whatever you are experiencing is okay. Emotions are natural, what you do with the emotions determines the result. Mindfulness encourages you to be present, without judgement, to what is truly happening.  Acceptance allows us to relax and be open to the facts.

I = Investigation of the emotions in your body. The key is not to keep dwelling on the story behind the emotions, but to feel the corresponding sensation of the emotions in your body. Become aware of emotions and see how they manifest through your body in the present moment.

N = Non-identification means not taking your emotions so personally, but having some space around them. Emotions come and go. Your emotions are not you. They are something that is just passing through you. Non-identification helps you see the changing nature of your emotions. You become able to reflect in the midst of an emotion and not react passively.

Practicing mindfulness with RAIN is a helpful tool in dealing with negative emotions.

Giant bus being built in China

Check out the following websites for more info about the giant bus being built in China.

“Straddling” bus–a cheaper, greener and faster alternative to commute

Giant bus which drives over cars planned in China

China Straddling Bus on YouTube

Above and Beyond Award

Today the Mn/DOT Health & Wellness Committee members received the “Above and Beyond” Award presented by Commissioner Tom Sorel.

Among all the Minnesota State agencies, Mn/DOT has the most active Health & Wellness Committee that offers a wide varieties of programs to employees, such as yoga, Tai Chi, relaxation, fitness boot camp, weight watchers, the biggest losers, brown bag learning series, annual walking and running events, etc. The work is done by volunteer employees, with no financial support from the agency. 

Thanks to the creative and hard work by the committee members, most Mn/DOT H&W programs are offered free to Mn/DOT and other state employees. Some are paid by participants themselves. Mn/DOT also has a fitness center that is solely supported by membership fees.   

Mn/DOT is leading the way in promoting healthy living among state employees. Some other state agencies look up to Mn/DOT for inspiration and support.

I have enjoyed working on several H&W projects – brown bag learning sessions, Minnesota State Capitol Run@Work Day 5K, etc. Most recently we organized our first Cafe Mn/DOT. We invited employees to show their talents. It was such a fun and community-building event. People loved it.

I am glad to be part of the Mn/DOT H&W Committee.  Today we were all very thankful that our Commissioner came to present the recognition award to us, along with the Human Resources Director Eric Davis and  Employee & Corporate ServicesDivision Director Pam Tschida.  

This is the first time that the H&W Committee members were recognized with the Above and Beyond Award. It really shows Sorel’s commitment and support for making Mn/DOT a workplace of choice.

Sorel has done a great job at Mn/DOT in the last two year. We are happy that he will stay for the next few years under the new governor Mark Dayton.

Highlight of the day

I was just checking my Facebook account in the evening and saw the following question posted by tinybuddha:

“Share your joy! What’s been the highlight of your day?”

In the comment line I wrote: “Spoke in front of a crowd and discovered that I have some sense of humor and can make people laugh.”

Today I did something out of ordinary, or out of my comfort zone, and in the process I discovered something new about myself.

I am an introvert. I grew up in a family where no one is very talkative.

My father is the best handyman I know in the world, but he is not a man of word. He is quiet and doesn’t talk much.

My mother is a math teacher at school. So she talks more than my father. But I don’t remember her being very talkative either.

My brother and I are more like my father. We are all introverts and quiet.     

None of us had any sense of humor. There were not much joking and laughter at home.

Since coming to the U.S. almost 20 years ago, I think I have changed a little. Though still an introvert at heart, I have picked up some extrovert traits. I am not as shy and quiet as I used to be. I feel comfortable talking to people, even strangers.   

But being humorous? Not me. Public speaking? Not me.

I am so much more comfortable with written words than spoken words.

Today we had a Library Grand Reopening Celebration at Mn/DOT Library where I work (More info is available in the Dec. 8, 2010 issue of Mn/DOT Newsline). We had invited guest speakers including 

  • Tom Sorel, MnDOT Commissioner
  • Bernie Arseneau, Division Director
  • Nick Thompson, Office Director
  • Linda Taylor, Research Services Director
  • Sheila Hatchell, Library Director

In the last few weeks and months the library staff had worked hard on the remodeling project and in preparation for this event.

Last night as I was laying in bed feeling excited about this big day ahead, I wondered what it would be like to speak in front of a crowd, standing next to the big guns in the organization. Would I have the courage to do it? 

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like that I could do it. At least I could give it a try.

So this morning before the event began, I talked to my supervisor Sheila and volunteered to present the prize drawing at the end of the formal speeches, which I did.

It turned out that I did a great job, to my surprise and probably everyone’s surprise. I brought people to laugh a lot.

Afterwards I got many positive comments, and a nice big hug from our great commissioner for a job well done.

My heart was filled with joy, because I did something I had never done before that brought joy and laughter to others.

This was the highlight of my day.  It could be the highlight of the week or month.

 

MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel at Library Grand Reopening Celebration. Dec. 15, 2010

Thankful for …

After the big snowstorm on the last weekend and a few very cold days, I feel very thankful for -

- The city of Woodbury and Mn/DOT for doing a good job with snowplowing. The streets in my neighborhood and the highways were plowed. I was able to go to work on Monday. Some of my colleagues from St. Paul were not so lucky. They couldn’t get their cars out. Their streets weren’t plowed.

- The South Washington County schools to stay open. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul public school districts canceled classes for two days in the row in the aftermath of the snow storm.  Even St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman criticized public school officials for closing schools for a second day. Considering the factor that schools in the U.S. already have very short school year and school days, I really don’t want to see any additional no school days.

- My vehicle to be working in this cold weather condition. My van is 11 years old. I am concerned that it will quit working on me some day without advance notice. Every day that it transports me and my kids safely to work or to activities, I feel very thankful and blessed.

The best birthday present

Yesterday was my daughter Amy’s 11th birthday. We didn’t do birthday party, but she did get presents from everyone in the family.

  • Money from paternal grandparents - They asked her how much she wanted for her birthday. They would give her any amount she asked for. She said she just wanted $20. I like her being modest.
  • Money and Sony e-reader from Dad - The Sony e-reader was re-gifted, very appropriate for Amy because she loves reading the best. 
  • Chocolate, hand-made card and picture book from brother – Brother Andy made a 12-page picture book using stickers he found at home for Amy’s birthday titled “The Bunny named Bunny.” He also created a treasure hunt. He placed a chocolate bar under the bed and made maps. Amy had 24 hours to find the treasure.
  • Books, a bunny cup with treats and a hand-made card from mom – Amy loves poetry. So I gave her a Shel Silverstein book “The Giving Tree,” a Bruce Lansky book “Kids Pick the Funniest Poems,” and a couple of other books, found at Half Price Book Store or other places. In the card I made, I highlighted a few important events and achievements of the year that I want her to remember. 

I had made an appointment for Amy to take a birthday picture on her birthday, but she didn’t want to do it. Instead she wanted to have more time for shopping. So we went to Woodbury Lakes to buy some clothes for her. This is my once a year special treat for her birthday.

We visited Aeropostale, Justice, Gap, and Children’s Place. She liked Aeropostale the best, so I bought some clothes for her. Amy was willing to pay half of the cost herself, but I decided that I would pay all as a gift from me and my parents in China.

On the way home, I asked Amy what her best present was among all she received for her birthday. I expected her to say either the Sony e-reader (she loves reading the best) or the clothes from Aeropostale (her favorite brand, I only bought her once a year so far).

But to my surprise, she said: “It was the book from Andy and the treasure hunt.”

Deep in my heart, I was not surprised, but I was surprised when it came out of the mouth of a 11-year older. I think I underestimated her maturity.

“Why?” I was interested in her response.

“Because he made it for me.”

I have to say that Andy’s picture book is very simple and not very sofisticated. It is a story most appropriate for a preschooler reader.  Nevertheless, he was creative and made it himself. He created the picture book based on the stickers he had at hand.

It didn’t cost Andy a penny to make the book, all it took was some time, some creativity, some effort and some love. But it was the best present in Amy’s eyes, it was more valuable than all the other presnts that are more expensive.

What does it tell us?

The most meaningful gift does not come from the store. It comes from the heart.

A kind neighbor

The big snowstorm that started on Friday night and stopped on Saturday night brought more than two feet of snow in front of my house.

My husband and I spent almost two hours shoveling snow this morning. It would have taken us longer, had we not got some help from our son and a nice neighbor.

We got to work right after breakfast.

The snow was so deep, I had to put a big trash bag over my boots and pants so my leg and feet won’t get wet.

When our neighbor Tracy saw us outside, she wanted to help us with her snow blower. She had already blowed her own driveway twice yesterday. The snow was cleared except the big pile that the city snowplower pushed into her driveway.

Well, it was so cold, her snow blower quit working. It won’t even start. So she had to use a shovel as well.

I was  fine with shoveling snow. I saw it as a good exercise. It got me outside and move.

After a while, I got so warmed up, I started to sweat. It felt good.

We worked our way from garage toward the street. We were done shoveling with most of the driveway and sidewalk, except the end of the driveway close to the street. We were facing the pile of snow that the street snowplow pushed to the driveway.

That’s when Tracy informed us that she had contacted a snowplower to come and help clear her driveway and ours. She said: “Wait, don’t try, you could get a heart attack.”

A few minutes later, a snowplow truck came. It took the snowplow only a few minutes and a few pushes to finish the job.

We would be fine doing the work ourselves. I don’t think heart attack would happen to me. I am still fit, have no pain or ache anywhere after this morning’s work, but I definitely appreciate my neighbor’s thoughtfulness and kindness. I felt she called in the snowplower mostly to help us instead of herself, because she had already finished shoveling her driveway. There was already a clear path for a car to go through. The snowplower just made her path wider, but helped us more by creating a path.

What a nice neighbor! Tracy’s husband and son were in Wisconsin for a swimming meet and couldn’t get back home, because the road was closed. She was home alone and was helping us. “My husband would have helped you, but he is not home.”

I really like this family. Too bad they are the renters, not the owners of the house and will not stay as my neighbor for long. 

I wish everyone is and has a kind neighbor like Tracy and her husband David.

I posted more photos on my Facebook account.

 

Snowed in and housebound

We are in the middle of the biggest snow for the Twin Cities since the Halloween Superstorm of 1991. There are reports of 3-6 foot drifts around the metro, the most snow on the ground in 19 years.

Thank goodness, the snowstorm didn’t start until Friday night, after we were back home from this year’s first Academic Triathlon meet in the evening.  

Today I am snowed in and house bound. I think I have 3 foot snow drifts in front of the door and garage. The bushes in the front yard are covered under the snow now.

From my window, I watched snow blowing sideways at a high speed instead of falling down on the ground. And I watched a couple of cars  struggling with the snow on the road, having troubles moving forward.

My kids’ basketball and swimming were all canceled for today. I won’t be able to go anyway.

My home church - Spirit of Life Bible Church - has canceled service for tomorrow due to the snow emergency. This is probably the first time ever happened in its history. Safety for members who come from Woodbury and surrounding areas including Wisconsin is more important.

I am glad this snowstorm happens on the weekend. Hope the snow will stop tomorrow and I can get out, take some photos and shovel the snow.

As I am sitting comfortably at home, I am thinking of the snow plowers from Mn/DOT and county and city public works who have to work in this harsh weather condition. Thank you all for plowing the roads and make them safe for driving.

Advice from one of America’s oldest men

What is the secret to a healthy and long life?

Bernando LaPallo, 109 years old and author of “Age Less, Live More,” offers some advice in this video.

The answer in a nutshell: RAW foods.

Bernando LaPallo’s diet consists of primarily raw foods. In fact, he has been eating raw foods for over 104 years! He doesn’t touch any processed foods.

The answer is quite easy and simple, yet it is difficult to follow in our everyday life.

We have moved so far away from the nature and the way God intended for us to live, now we are plagued by the modern-day diseases like heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Consuming less whole food and more processed food is happening not just in the US, but around the world.

When I was growing up in China, my mother did grocery shopping at farmer’s market every morning before work. Though we didn’t eat a lot of raw food, as it is not part of Chinese diet, we did eat mostly fresh, lightly cooked vegetables. We had home cooked meals three times a day, mostly made from scratch, more fresh vegetables than anything else. We hardly go out to eat. That was all common practice, not just my family. Even for big events such as holidays or wedding receptions, people cooked and served guests at home. There were no obese people back then, as far as I can remember.

How time has changed!

Now the better living standard in China has improved, people go out to eat a lot more. Many young people hardly cook at home. Now when families or friends get together, they usually meet in restaurants, not at home. McDonald’s and KFC are every where. As the results, obese people are everywhere as well, plagued by the modern-day diseases just as in the western countries.

It’s time to listen to the advice from people like Bernando LaPallo, eat more raw food and less processsed food.

Tom Sorel stays as MnDOT Commissioner

Today Governor-elect Mark Dayton announced that Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel will continue his post under his new administration.

This was not a surprise to me. I heard rumors before the official announcement that Sorel would stay. That’s what I hoped and expected.

As the MnDOT Commissioner since 2008, Sorel is well respected and liked by MnDOT employees and people in the transportation community.

Like some other MnDOT employees, I also sent my comment of support for Sorel to Mark Dayton via his website a couple of weeks ago.  

I was not surprised that Sorel was Dayton’s first appointment as governor-elect. I guess it was an easy decision. With strong support from inside and outside of the organization, from both parties, from public and private sectors, and from unions, Sorel was obviously the best choice.

When the announcement was made, I heard cheering from some co-workers.

Tom Sorel lives with his wife and son in Woodbury.

The following are two interviews I did with Sorel.

Interview with Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel (Feburary 2010)

Meet the new MnDOT commish (June 2008)

Don’t complain, be grateful

I have been living in the U.S. for almost 20 years. One thing about Americans that has always impressed me very much is their volunteering and giving spirit. Now with two school age kids involved in different academic and athletic activities, I have experienced more of this positive spirit.

I see teachers who offer students after school programs in art, music or others subject areas.

Every school has PTA or similar organization run by parents. They raise money and organize events and programs to benefit students or staff.

Individual parents volunteer their time and talents to run extra curricular programs, such as Academic Triathlon, Math Masters, Geography Bees, etc.

Whenever my kids’ schools offer extra curricular programs, I encourage them to participate. I am really touched by those parents who volunteer as coaches. Some not only give their time, but also offer transportation and bring snacks for kids.

The athletic programs in the community offered by the school affiliated athletic associations are mostly run by volunteers. The coaches of the teams are usually parents of one or two team members. My son’s current basketball coach coaches two teams this season. That’s a big commitment.

The U.S. is a better country because of this volunteering and giving spirit of its people.

However I witnessed something yesterday that is not what I normally experience.

My daughter had a choir concert at school gym yesterday evening. I got there early and took the last two seats at the end of the front row. There were less than 50 chairs set up. Then I stepped away from gym for a few minutes to use the restroom.

When I came back, I saw people were adding more chairs to the end of the rows and more rows in the back. Now two women were sitting next to me. One of them started complaining about the lack of chairs set up.

There were almost 100 kids performing, but less than 50 chairs were set up. Even if only one family member came to the concert, there had to be at least 100 chairs, not counting the other parent, siblings and grandparents …

The woman kept complaining. She said it not once or twice, but she seemed to repeat her story to every new comer she knew. It was so uncomfortable and annoying to me that I almost told her to stop complaining. But I didn’t have the courage to speak up. She looked unhappy anyway. I didn’t want to upset her more.

I did not understand what the problem was with helping set up some chairs. It takes a lot more time and effort for one school custodian to set up 200 or 300 hundred of chairs, comparing to having a group of parents help do it at the same time. More hands make work quick and effortless.

The problem is we tend to take good things for granted. Obviously the woman expected the chairs to be ready waiting for everyone to come. Because her expectation was not met, she had a reason to complain.

We forgot that the concert was extra work for the teachers, administrators, and custodians. If parents can help lighten their work load by setting up chairs before the event and folding them up after the event, that’s the least we can do. It’s something everyone can do.

Instead of complaining about the lack of chairs at this particular event, maybe we should learn to be more thankful when the chairs are all set up nicely at other school events, as it usually happens.

When we take things for granted, we lose the grateful heart and the giving spirit.

The Villages of Hallelujah Acres

If you ask me what place I would like to visit, or live in or maybe retire to some day, one that is on my wish list is the Villages of Hallelujah Acres.

The Villages of Hallelujah Acres is the nationa’s first master-planned healthy lifestyle community founded on the principles of health and wellness  in Shelby, North Carolina.

The Villages gives residents access to everything they need for healthy living in one development. It’s designed to foster a sense of community, respect for God’s creation, and optimal health. There are organic community gardens, lakes, walking trails, swimming pool, etc.

The man behind this project is Rev. George Malkmus, founder of Hallelujah Acres. I learned about him from reading one of his books titled The Hallelujah Diet several years ago and also reading his weekly Hallelujah Health Tip email newsletter. The Villages of Hallelujah Acres grew out of his passion for creating a community where healthy living is appreciated and practiced.

There are tons of testimonies sharing how the Hallelujah Diet - 85% raw, uncooked, and unprocessed plant-based food, and 15% cooked, plant-based food – has helped cure diseases and change people’s lives.

One of the things I would like to do is to listen to Rev. George Malkmus’s message of hope and healing, and take his health miniter training. He is close to 80 years old, but still full of energy and passion for what he does. His own life is a great testimony.

This I Believe

People have different beliefs and value sytems. Often times we don’t feel safe or comfortable to share what we believe in.

If you ever feel that way, let me share with you an organization that provides a safe and encouraging place for people to share their beliefs.

This I Believe is an international not-for-profit organization founded in 2004. Its purpose is to engage people from all walks of life in writing, sharing, and discussing essays about the core values that guide their daily lives. 

This I Believe website contains more than 90,000 of these essays. The essays can also be heard on public radio and are featured in weekly podcasts.

This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Teachers around the country—and around the world—have used This I Believe as an educational tool. They can download free educational curricula, posters, and brochures for using This I Believe in middle and high school classrooms and in college courses. These curricula help teachers guide students through exploring their beliefs and then composing personal essays about them. They help students understand the concept of belief, explore their own values, and craft them into a well-written essay.

I learned about ”This I believe” several years ago. Since then I have visited the website numerous times and enjoyed reading essays submitted by people around the world.

The following is an essay I myself submitted to This I Believe on October 18, 2005.

(Yes, I believe in many ideas and things, library is just one of them.)

This I believe

by Qin Tang

I can’t imagine what my life would be and what I would be doing today if there wasn’t a public library.

When I came to the United States in 1991 at the age of 27, I couldn’t understand and speak English well. I didn’t know what to do with my life at that time.

Fortunately I lived within the walking distance to the Madison Public Library in Madison, Wisconsin. I went to the Library several times a week and checked out one or two bags full of books every time, starting with books at the kindergarten level. I could read a few dozens a day. The more I read, the more I hungered for books and knowledge.

Growing up in China in the sixties and seventies, I never visited a public library. My hometown Suzhou is a medium sized city in China, but there was only one public library that was open to only a limited number of people. I didn’t read much as a child and had never experienced the enjoyment of visiting a library and reading.

After my English improved, I got a library page position at the Madison Public Library to check in books. As books passed through my hands, I found more interesting ones to read. Every workday I took a bag of finished books to work and at the end of the day my empty bag was again filled with books to take home.

As a library user and a part-time library worker, I grew to love library and reading. I dreamed of becoming a professional librarian and working full-time in the library. I went to the library school and got my master’s in library science at the university of Wisconsin-Madison. My dream became a reality.

Library was my heaven during the difficult times in my life when I didn’t know what to do and who I was. Library provided me books and knowledge, and nurtured my hungry and lonely soul. Now library is where I work for a living and visit with my two kids for adventures and enjoyment. Both of my kids got their own library card before they could talk well. I am glad my kids visit library more often than McDonald’s and they read more books than eat French fries. I am grateful they can grow up with lots of books and view library as part of their life.

As an immigrant, I have come to love my adopted country. For me, one of the nicest things of living in the United States is the easy and free access to the public library and the wonderful services it provides to everyone regardless of the age, background and social status. We are all equal in the library and knowledge is freely available to everyone who desires it.

I believe passionately in the public library and what it can do for people. It can change life. It changed my life.

Patch for community-specific news

Patch is a  community-specific news and information platform that serves as a local source for news, events, business listings, and discussion. It provides a new way to find out  about, and participate in, what’s going on near you, according to Patch’s website.

Patch allows you to

  • Keep up with news and events
  • Look at photos and videos from around town
  • Learn about local businesses
  • Participate in discussions
  • Submit your own announcements, photos, and reviews

At the present, Woodbury is one of the 10 communities in Minnesota that have their own Patch. For more information, visit Patch or Woodbury Patch.

What do you do?

As someone who likes to write and blog, I also enjoy reading other people’s blogs. Often times reading one blog can lead to another blog and then another.

It’s interesting to discover new blogs, find people who share some common interests, and read posts that gave you some food for thought.

Yesterday while browsing Scott Dinsmore’s blog Reading For Your Success, his latest post on conversation starter – “What do you do for work?” – got me think about it for a while.

Yes, when we ask people we meet for the first time: ”What do you do?” we are most interested in knowing what they do for living - their job titles and their positions. But we are so much more than what we do for work.  

If you really want to know someone, the better question to ask is: “What do you do for enjoyment?” You can’t know someone well unless you know his real passion and enjoyment.

Unfortunately, what a lot of people do for living and for enjoyment are two different things. We work to make a living, and we do others things to enjoy the living.

The idea life is to do what you love to do the most, so what you do for living and for enjoyment is the one and the same. When you do what you are most passionate about and enjoy your work to the fullest, work becomes fun and enjoyable. Then you are living your bliss.

So yesterday I thought about the two questions and my responses.

What do I do for work?

I am a librarian. I work at the Mn/DOT Library. Yes, I love to read and I love libraries, but honestly, dealing with technical reports and working on the technical aspects of the library is not my real passion. 

What do I do for enjoyment?

I enjoy reading, learning, writing, and blogging. That’s what I spend most of my free time at home for.

I also have a passion for personal growth, spirituality, healthy, green, simple, frugal, mindful and soulful living. Whatever I read, write and do, these are the subjects I am most interested in. 

The good thing about my current job is I can incorporate some of my passions into my work by doing special projects.

For this year, I got to interview senior managers in the organization, talk about books with them, write interview articles, help lead book discussions. It was just the most enjoyable thing I did for work.

I also help plan and organize brown bag learning events and other health & wellness related events. I enjoy doing that as well.

I know my work and life is not perfect, but I don’t have much to complain.

Now ask yourself the same two questions. If what you do for work and enjoyment are two separate things, move toward the goal of making work and enjoyment the same thing or as close as possible.

My Christmas wish list

My Christmas wish list is very short, and best of all, it doesn’t change from year to year. 
 
Ever since my kids were little, I have told them many times that I do not want them to buy me any presents for holidays or birthdays. If they want to give me something for any reason, write me a poem or letter, or make something for me. That means more to me than stuff they can buy at stores. 
 
The following three poems were written by my son and daughter for me for last Christmas. I am looking forward to receiving new poems this year.
 
 By now, they know my wish list well.
 

All I want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is
A house full of joy
Some happiness and love
And maybe one little toy.

 All I want for Christmas is
A lot of friends
And a loving kind family
That will be with you till it ends.

  

Christmas

 

The tree is up
The ornaments are there
The presents are coming
Christmas is here.

 

 

Santa

 

He slides down the chimneys

And gives presents to every girl and boy

But you never know because it might be coal

Or maybe a bunch of toys.

  

It might be a book

for you to read

Or maybe a bike

That was in your need.

  

So you better be good

If you want something

Because if you don’t

Coal is all Santa will bring.

The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents

The following post was written by Leo Babauta and posted on his blog zenhabits.  I can’t agree more with him. Hope people will read it before they go on their Christmas shopping frenzy.

The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents

 Post written by Leo Babauta, Dec. 1, 2010

I love Christmas. I love the snow-themed everything, even when I was living on tropical Guam, and Santa and elves and reindeer and snowmen and candy canes. Yes, I even love the non-stop playing of Christmas music for two months.

Most of all, I love getting together with my family — eating Christmas cookies, singing Christmas carols together, gossiping and laughing at each other. It’s tremendous fun.

I don’t love Christmas shopping, or the overconsumption, frenzied malls, consumer debt, environmental waste, wasted time wrapping, and over-accumulation of needless stuff that goes with it.

Bah humbug! I love Christmas, but the shopping has got to go. Here’s why. Warning: This will be a rant of near-epic proportions.

1. The focus is on buying, not on sharing. I love the idea of giving to people you love, but that idea has been twisted. Now people go out in a mad rush to shop, like ravenous vampires feasting on new blood. We shop for a month, rip apart the packaging one morning, and then forget about it the next day. Is this about giving, or buying?

2. Giving is great, but buying is not the solution. Again, I’m in love with giving … but do we need to buy to give? We seem to think that buying is the solution to any problem, but that has lead to a society that is deeply in debt and piled high with needless stuff. We can find other ways to give: bake cookies, wash someone’s car, babysit so they can go on a date night, create a photo album, be there when they need help moving.

3. The waste, oh the waste. Let’s start with packaging: the packaging for every toy is double the volume of the toy itself. From cardboard to plastic to metal twist-ties, it’s ridiculous. Then every item we buy must be brought home in bags. We often put everything in boxes. Then we buy wrapping paper and wrap it all up. All of this gets thrown away on Christmas day. Finally, there’s the gift itself — people get so much stuff they can’t possibly treasure everything. So it goes into the closet to be forgotten.

4. The sorrowful debt. Most people spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on gifts and wrapping. Not to mention all the money spent on gas, driving to different shopping places, and the money spent on fattening food at mall food courts. This goes on credit cards (and around our waistlines), and we then must pay for this — with high interest — during the year. Even if you don’t get into debt, you’re spending money earned from long hours of hard work — is this really how you want to spend your life, paying for needless stuff so corporations can get rich?

5. The horrendous, insipid, seizure-inducing advertising. I can’t stand advertising, and it only gets worse on Christmas. The ads pound on you relentlessly until you give in — and it works. That’s been proven — those ads are getting you to buy more, to want more, to lay down the credit card. I don’t watch TV, read newspapers or magazines, or allow ads in my browser (AdBlock) so that I don’t have to be subjected to this.

6. The fuel. If you drive all over the place to shop, you’re using lots of fuel. Even if you just order online, think of the fuel it takes to deliver these products (overnight!) to your home. And the fuel used to create the products, to get the raw materials to the factories, to cut down the raw materials, to ship the finished product to the stores or warehouses from around the world (most likely from China), not to mention all the fuel used to create and ship the packaging. It’s a few million metric craploads of fuel, wasted for giving some presents that will be forgotten.

7. There are still hungry people in the world. In the frenzy that is Christmas shopping, we spend ridiculous amounts of money that is pure waste. In other countries, people are struggling just to eat, or get medicine, or find shelter, or get clean drinking water. We spend so much in a show of consumerist greed, when that money could go to feed a few dozen families. If you have money to waste, consider donating it to an organization that is helping these types of families. I know this sounds preachy, but really, this kind of reminder is necessary in times like these.

8. The neverending clutter. What happens to all the gifts? They go on our shelves, in our closets, on the floor. We already have so much clutter — do we need more? We already have problems figuring out what to do with everything we own. Why do we want to clutter our homes even more? Why do we want to force clutter on our loved ones, oblige them to find a spot in their already cluttered homes for this gift we’ve given them, so they won’t offend us when we come to visit? Is this obligation really a gift?

Questions

Q: But what about the kids?
A: Kids love getting presents (I have six kids — I should know!). I sure did when I was a kid. Are we to rob them of this? It’s a difficult question, but another side of the equation to consider is what we are teaching the kids. They don’t just participate in the opening of presents — they see all the shopping too. They are being taught to shop, and to value material goods over anything else. Imagine their lives when they’re grown — a life of shopping and debt and waste, because that’s what’s important, right? So for the joy of opening a few presents for a couple hours on Christmas day, we’re imparting on them consumerist values that will last them a lifetime.

I think, instead, this can be a great opportunity to have an open discussion with kids about buying and spending and debt. Did you receive this kind of education when you were a kid? Would you have been better off if you had? This is also a great opportunity to teach kids about giving to others, about volunteering and helping the less fortunate, about finding other ways to spend time with loved ones that don’t require shopping. My kids do want presents — but I don’t want them to think that’s what Christmas is all about. We’ve been having this discussion and we will continue to this month.

Q: But what about family?
A: Family, believe it or not, will survive without a few presents from us. They can continue to shop and give presents, but you can simply tell them that you don’t want to participate this year. Send them a link to this article to explain why.

This is also a great opportunity (you see how I love turning problems into opportunities?) to create new traditions with your family — go caroling, string popcorn for the tree, make Christmas cookies, bake pies, play football outside, create Christmas scrapbooks, volunteer.

Q: But I love giving presents!
A: Sure, who doesn’t? And you might also love shopping. Shopping, for many people, is a pleasure like no other. This can be a problem, in my mind: you might be using shopping to give you temporary happiness, to fill a hole in your life, to make you happy when you’re depressed or stressed or lonely. I’m not saying you are, but many people do, and it’s good to take a look at these things. Richer happiness can be found in simpler things that don’t involve spending: being with loved ones, creating, reading, getting outside and doing something active.

Even if you aren’t addicted to shopping, you might just love giving presents. And that’s OK — but you might consider giving more meaningful presents that don’t require lots of shopping. Creating a photo album or scrapbook for someone takes time and thought, while laying down a credit card at Macy’s doesn’t.

Q: How do you convince a spouse who equates lavish gifts with love & appreciation?
A: This definitely isn’t easy. It’s an important discussion to have, however. You’ll need to do it without accusations, without resentment, without making the other person feel he’s under attack. Bring it up as an ongoing discussion about things you’re thinking about — maybe even point to this post as a starting point.

This is such an important discussion because so many couples get badly into debt for this reason — one partner has different values about material goods, shopping, debt, gifts, and so on, and the other partner hates to fight about it so doesn’t talk about it. Financial issues are also a big reason couples split up. So finding a healthy way to talk about values, about financial goals, about how you want to live your lives, is so crucial. Do it gently, with compassion, as a way to live together as a team rather than two people struggling against each other.

A good way to get started is to write a blog post or a letter to your spouse about your feelings — again, without being attacking. You might explain why you’re not into giving presents, that you still love your spouse but want to show it in non-consumerist ways, that there are other traditions the two of you could start together to share your love.

Alternatives to buying

There are so many good ideas, but a few:

  • Do other things with family, such as caroling, baking, watching It’s a Wonderful Life, playing football outside.
  • Volunteer as a family at a homeless shelter.
  • Ask people to donate to your favorite charity in lieu of gifts.
  • Make meaningful gifts.
  • Do a gift swap where you put a valued possession (that you already own) into the swap.
  • Bake gifts.
  • Have an experience instead of giving material goods: do something fun together, go to the beach or a lake.
  • Find hope. Christmas has so much potential to be about so much more than buying — it can be a season of hope, renewal, loved ones, inspiration, contemplation. Talk to your family about this — how can we find ways to be hopeful, thankful, cooperative? How can we be more present instead of worried about getting presents?
  • Get stuff at Goodwill. It’s recycled, and the money helps a good cause.

A poem a day

My 10 year old daughter Amy is very good at writing poems. That’s true, at least in this mom’s mind.

I think I am not exaggerating. She actually won the 1st place for her poetry collection at the Minnesota State Fair two years in the row, in 2009 and again this year,

Each time we selected 100 poems out of her 300-400 poems written during the year and made it into a poetry collection for the Minnesota State Fair contest.

The amazing thing about Amy is she can write poems really fast. It hardly take her any time to think. If she wants to, she can come up with a short poem in a minute or two.

But the problem is she doesn’t always want to write poems. She would rather read books.

For several months since this summer Amy didn’t write poems. I got concerned. I really wanted her to continue writing and practicing the art.

So at the beginning of last month in November, I made a suggestion to Amy. I asked her to write a poem every day and email it to me. She loves checking her email and thought it was a good idea.

The next day, she started sending me her poem via email, one every day.

It has been fun to receive her poem every day. It’s a daily ritual now between us.

We also created a blog for her to keep her poems. She just wanted to keep the blog private for herself. Hope some day she will feel comfortable to share it with others.

I want to share one poem she wrote last week that I thought was quite hilarious and funny. It made me laugh.

Santa Claus
by Amy Guo
 
On Christmas Eve
I saw a dude
Come into my house
And steal my food.
 
My mom put it on the table
I really don’t know why
But that fat guy stole it
And food costs money to buy.
 
He came down our chimney
And went back up that way
Next time he comes
He’s going to have to pay!

On leadership

Nowadays when I read books, I like to take notes so I can go back and review later. Even though I might forget what I read, my detailed notes can help refresh my memory if needed. 

As I am reading John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I am jogging down a lot of notes. 

In the section on what leadership is, the author mentioned several factors that determine your leadership ability: 

  • Character – Who you are, the inner person. People will only follow you if you are a man of character. 
  • Relationships – Who you know. Build relationships with the right people. You are a leader only if you have followers. 
  • Knowledge – What you know. Do your homework and know the facts. 
  • Intuition – What you feel. Have the ability to deal with intangibles (morale, energy, timing, etc.) 
  • Experience – Where you’ve been. The greater the challenge you faced and overcome in the past, the more likely people are to follow and trust you in the present.  
  • Past success – What you’ve done. If you have a positive track record, people are more likely to trust your leadership ability and follow you. 
  • Ability – What you can do. The bottom line for followers is what you can capable of.

On respect

My Internet connection at home is out of service today. I feel like out of touch with the world. So after my daughter’s swimming lesson, I stopped by at the local public library in order to get online to check email and blog.

Isn’t it great to have public libraries where we can get books to read and listen, movies to watch and go online? I am thankful for libraries.

No online access means more offline time to read. So I will be spending most of my evening time reading John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

There are some great ideas and quotes to share from the book.

One of the 21 laws John Maxwell talks about is the law of respect. I like what he says:

“When people respect you as a person, they admire you. When they respect you as a friend, they love you. When they respect you as a leader, they follow you.”

Are you respected as a person, as a friend and as a leader? It’s something to think about.

Crucial Conversations – book interview

I recently interviewed Khani Sahebjam, Mn/DOT Deputy Commissioner. We talked about the 9th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson.

Tang: Why did you pick this book? 

Sahebjam: Our success as an individual and as an organization depends a great deal on our ability to communication and handle crucial conversations well. You could have done great things and have good intention, but if you don’t know how to convey important messages to other people and how to deal with disagreements on important matters, then you are limited in what you can achieve. This book helps you to learn how to communicate best when it matters most.   

Crucial Conversations gives you some tools you need to step up to life’s most difficult and important conversations, say what’s on your mind, and get what you want, in a respectful and effective way. 

Tang:  For people who haven’t read the book, what is a crucial conversation? 

Sahebjam: The authors define crucial conversations as those discussions between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. 

Tang: How do we typically handle crucial conversations? 

Sahebjam: Basically we are all involved in crucial conversations, both at home and at work. But often times we are not aware of the dynamics at play and we are not skilled at handling crucial conversations.  

Typically we do one of the three things when we face crucial conversations: (1) avoid them and walk away, (2) face them and handle them poorly, and (3) face them and handle them well. For the first two choices, you suffer consequences, for the third choice, you can reap positive results – better relationships, career advancement, improved organizations, etc. 

Tang: What are some of the principles and skills we need to understand and master so we can respond well when we face crucial conversations?

Sahebjam: In the book the authors talked about seven principles. 

  1. Start with heart. Examine your goals and motives, focus on what you really want for yourself, for others and for the relationships, refuse the either/or, win/lose thinking. 
  2. Learn to look for when the conversation becomes crucial and for your own behaviors.
  3. Make it safe for everyone to share their opinions and feelings, seek mutual purpose and respect. 
  4. Master our stories. We add meaning, motives and judgment to what we observe, based on the stories we tell ourselves, which create feelings that lead to our actions. So it’s important to tell the right stories.
  5. STATE your path. Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others’ take on the facts and stories, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing. 
  6. Explore others’ paths. Understand where others come from. Agree when you can and build on the agreement. 
  7. Move to action. When making decision, ask who cares, who knows, who must agree and how many people need to be involved. To ensure that dialogues and decisions lead to positive action and results, ask who does what by when and how will you follow up.   

Tang: What are the most important skills we should remember? 

Sahebjam: The two most important things to learn and remember from the book are learn to look and make it safe. 

At the core of every successful conversation is the free flow of relevant information and meaning, also known as dialogue. Each of us enters a conversation with different opinions, feelings, experiences, ideas and theories about the topic being discussed. The key is being open and honest in sharing opinions and feelings. 

One critical skill required for ensuring the free flow of information and meaning is to make it safe for everyone to bring their inputs out into the open, into a shared pool. As the shared pool grows, people are exposed to more accurate and relevant information, as the result, they make better choices and decisions. 

Change doesn’t happen without an awareness of the need for change. 

That’s why we need to learn to look for when a conversation becomes crucial and look for safety problems. Becoming aware of the situation (Are you involved in a crucial conversation?) and becoming aware of your behavior (Are you playing the silent or violent games?) is the first step to bring positive change. 

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

Sahebjam: “The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel, and misrepresentation.” – C. Northcote Parkinson 

Tang: I know you are an immigrant from Iran. Tell us a little bit more about your background. 

Sahebjam: My parents were both from Iran. They met and got married in Germany while studying there. It was an arranged marriage as it was common in our culture. I was born in Germany. In 1969, when I was 10 years old, my mother and I went back to Iran. 

I graduated from high school in 1977. The following year I came to the U.S. to study civil engineering at the South Dakota State University. There I met my wife. We have two kids, a daughter who is a student at St. Thomas and a son who is in high school. 

Tang:  So you know three languages, German, Persian and English? Which one are you most comfortable with? 

Sahebjam: English is more natural for me now, then Persian (Farsi) and German. 

Tang: You have quite a cultural diversity in your family background. You experienced different cultures at a young age and have an interracial marriage. How has all this influenced you in your conversation style and handling crucial conversations?      

Sahebjam: There are definitely cultural differences. In some cultures or regions, people are generally more quiet and reserved, in other cultures or regions, people are more direct and open. 

When I meet with people, I like to use humor, often by making fun of myself, to get conversations going. I know what I want, I become aware of situations. When a conversation goes nowhere or goes in the wrong direction, I step back and assess if I am having the wrong conversation or the wrong presentation. If so, then I will approach the conversation from a different angle. The book validated how I have operated in my life.   

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

Sahebjam: I like to read books on history – American, European and Iranian history. I think you can learn a lot from history, including leadership skills. I read true stories about American civil wars. They are interesting. I also like Persian literature, especially Persian poetry. 

Tang: What do you think of the Commissioner’s Reading Corner? 

Sahebjam: I think Commissioner’s Reading Corner is a new, interesting and thought provoking program. I am happy to participate in the book discussion. It gets people involved in learning and gets conversation going which can make Mn/DOT a better place to work.

Why do I blog?

Today while reading a blog post by Abubakar Jamil on why he wanted to blog, I asked myself the same question - why do I want to blog? 

Before I answer that question, let me share why I get started blogging in the first place. 

On March 29, 2008, I created my first blog “On My Mind.”

At that time, I was writing a weekly column with the same title for my local newspaper Woodbury Bulletin. My column were freely available on its website for about two weeks after publication. After that they were archived and available only for a fee. 

The main reason I started my first blog was to have easy and free access to my own articles. I saw the blog as a convenient place where I could deposit my articles and retreive them anytime and anywhere I wanted. Therefore, I used that blog exclusively to post my columns, except for two posts in November 2009 where I shared the exciting news of my daughter who participated for the first time in the Minnesota State Fair and won first places for her poetry and drawings. 

So I started my first blog mostly for a selfish reason. And I didn’t tell people about my blog.   

In November 2009, after bouncing some ideas with the new Woodbury Bulletin editor Hank Long about starting some new writing for the paper, he suggested that I write a blog to be one of the voices in the local community and have it posted on the Woodbury Bulletin’s website. I liked the idea.

Soon we met in his office to set up my new blog account at areavoices.com. I created a simple profile and gave the blog the same title as my newspaper column and my first blog – On My Mind. I just love that title and the freedom to write whatever is on my mind.

The next day I started blogging and wrote my inaugural Post.

I haven’t stopped since. 

Unlike my first blog, this blog got started with a different purpose and reason. 

Now I love blogging and do it almost every day. 

Now here are my reasons why I blog and keep doing it every day: 

  • to share what’s on my mind, what I know and have learned
  • to express myself
  • to inform and inspire others
  • to connect with like-minded people
  • to hear and be heard
  • to learn from others
  • to grow through writing, reflection and learning from others
  • to journal my day and my life events
  • to preserve memory for my children
  • to practice writing
  • to cultivate creativity

I love writing. I think a lot of bloggers are writers who are lovers of words. We love to express, to share, to learn, to make friends with like-minded people whom we won’t meet otherwise, to grow together on this journey of life.

What are your reasons to blog or read blogs? Please share your thoughts. Thanks.

Is it “Black Friday” or “Buy Nothing Day”?

Today on Black Friday, I made the same choice as I did three years ago. I chose it to be the “Buy Nothing Day.” Read my article here.

I didn’t go shopping, instead I stayed home, relaxed, looked through some photos taken this year, and picked the ones I wanted for the holiday greeting card, uploaded them and sent them over the Internet to get printed.  

I had a peaceful day.

I want to share an article I read this week and liked: live more, need less by Leo Babauta.

 live more, need less

The more I focus on living, the less it seems I need.

What does it mean to focus on living? It’s a shift from caring about possessions and status and goals and beautiful things … to caring about actual life. Life includes: taking long walks, creating things, having conversations with friends, snuggling with my wife, playing with my kids, eating simple food, going outside and getting active.

That’s living. Not shopping, or watching TV, or eating loads of greasy and sweet food not for sustenance but pleasure, or being on the Internet, or ordering things online, or trying to get popular. Those things aren’t living – they’re consumerist pastimes that tend to get us caught up in overconsumption and mindlessness.

When I focus on living, all those other fake needs become less important. Why do I need television when I can go outside and explore, or get active, or take a walk with a friend? Why do I need to shop when I already have everything I need – I can spend time with someone or create, and I need very little to do that.

These things I do now — they require almost nothing. I can live, and need little.

And needing little but getting lots of satisfaction … that’s immensely rewarding. It’s an economy of resources that I’ve never experienced before.

These days, I need nothing but my loved ones, a text editor, a way to post what I create, a good book, simple plant-based food, a few clothes for warmth, and the outdoors.

Thankful for friends

On Thanksgiving, my family invited a few friends to our house for dinner. In addition to the Chinese food, we also had a whole turkey. This was the first Thanksgiving we had in our house that we had a turkey. So it’s quite remarkable.

The amazing thing was I didn’t have to do anything. The turkey was bought, prepared, baked and delivered to my house before the guests arrived, by a friend of mine, as a Thanksgiving gift to me.

My diet is mostly plant based. I don’t eat much meat. In my almost 20 years of living in the U.S., I have never bought a turkey. I have no interest in preparing a turkey. The rest of my family likes to eat other kinds of meat, e.g., chicken, pork, beef.

Last week, my friend told me that turkeys were on sale and asked if I wanted to buy one. I told her: “No, thanks. We don’t buy turkeys. They are not so tasty.”

Then she said that she prepared a turkey for last Thanksgiving for the first time and it turned out well. She offered to buy a turkey for me, thaw it and get it marinated for me so I only needed to put it in the oven and bake it.

It sounded a lot easier, so I said: “OK, please pick the smallest one for me. We don’t need a big one.”

A few days later, my friend called and said: “Since I have to bake my turkey anyway, do you want me to bake yours at the same time and deliver it to you on Thanksgiving?”

That sounded even better.

“Thanks. That would be great,” I said.

Wow, such a nice offer! I didn’t even have to bake it. I was glad I didn’t have to. In fact, I haven’t used my oven for years. If I want to bake a pizza or cake for the kids, I use a small portable oven. I don’t bake much and use the oven mostly as a storage space.

Now that we would have a turkey on Thanksgiving, we decided to have a few friends over for party.

Everyone loved the turkey. I tried s few bites and it was really good, tender and tasty.

One dinner guest told me that she doesn’t eat turkey at home that her husband prepares, but she did like my turkey and ate some.

A couple of days ago, when I expressed my gratitude to my friend for preparing the turkey for me, she responded: ”This is what friends are for, right?  And this is the least I can do for you…  Let me know if you like the turkey later, so I can be your turkey delivery person on every Thanksgiving day!”

What a great friend I have!

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I am especially thankful for my friends.

P.S. In my recent post on Living between two cultures, I mentioned holidays and turkeys. This year, for the first time my kids had a real American Thanksgiving dinner at home, with a turkey. They didn’t have to ask: “Why don’t we eat turkey on Thanksgiving like everyone else?” Is this coincidence?

Everyday Thanksgiving

Four years ago, I wrote this article titled Everyday Thanksgiving for my column in Woodbury Bulletin. It is still good to read four years later and be reminded that every day is a day of thanksgiving.

I also want to share this article 7 Simple Ways to Create Thanksgiving Every Day by Arvind Devalia.

Happy Thanksgiving, today and every day!

Live more organically

I try to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and doing exercises. A part of any healthy lifestyle should include eating and living organically.

Here is what I do:

  • I buy produces at the local farmer’s market whenever possible. That way I buy food grown locally and in season.
  • In summer I grow my own vegetables in the garden.
  • I do compost all year around. Composting kitchen waste and yard waste is a great way to reduce trash and produce rich soil that acts as a natural fertilizer for my homegrown organic garden.
  • I eat mostly home cooked meals. I rarely go out to eat.
  • When prices are compatible, I try to buy organic food.

Unfortunately, organic food is usually more expensive than conventional food. So most of the food I buy at grocery stores are nonorganic.

I just finished reading the book Organic Manifesto : How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe  by Maria Rodale. Maria Rodale’s grandfather was organic pioneer J.I. Rodale who founded the Rodale Institute in 1947.

The book talks about how chemical companies and chemical farming are destroying our health and our planet. It made me think about the importance of eating organic for my own health, my children’s health, the health of future generations , and for the health of the planet.

Yes, I do need to buy, eat and live more organically. I should at least start with the foods on the Dirty Dozen list.

The list shows which type of produce has the highest pesticide residues and which do not. It helps us prioritize our organic purchases.

12 Most Contaminated:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

12 Least Contaminated: 

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn (Frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya

Preventing and curing colds

Dr. Mercola’s article A Simple, Inexpensive Trick to Cure a Cold  has some sound advice for preventing and curing colds.

I agree with Dr. Mercola. For something like a common cold, let it run its natural course. Avoid taking over-the-counter cough and cold remedies or fever reducers as long as your temperature remains below 102 degrees and there is no serious complications.

In today’s world  where instant gratification is increasingly expected, people are overdosed and overly medicated. Whenever we have a health problem, we like to take a magic pill so we can get rid of the problem right away.

Most drugs and conventional treatment methods are overused. They don’t address the cause of the problem. They can do more harm than simply doing nothing ever would.

Nature runs its own course. Healing takes time. To get better, we need to be patient and work at the root cause. Don’t expect a magic pill to make you healthy. It might be able to make you feel better, but it cannot make you healthy in the long run.

Photos from Mount Putuo

Today I added some photos I took while visiting Putuoshan (Mount Putuo) in Zhejiang Province during my trip in China this summer. You can view my photos if you have a Facebook account.

Mount Putuo is one of the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism, the others being Mount Wutai, Mount Jiuhua, and Mount Emei. Most visitors are not Buddhists, but simply tourists like me.

You can find lots of images of Mount Putuo if you do a Google search.

So far I have posted about 1/3 of photos taken during my China trip on my Facebook. More to go.

 

Faithful Buddhist pilgrims kowtow once for every three steps during their journeys to the top of Mount Putuo.

 

Worship with incenses.

Live a Better Life in 30 Days – Ebook available

 In September I participated in Celes’ Live A Better Life in 30 Days Challenge. It was a great experience.

Today I ordered a copy of Celes’ ebook Live a Better Life in 30 Days. The materials in the ebook are based on the 30DLBL Challenge program, with new tasks added.

The 30DLBL ebook includes a comprehensive guidebook that will walk you through 30DLBL AND a workbook with detailed templates for activities.  Templates include the 30-day action plan, the life wheel, life map, action plan, values map, reflection logs, etc.

I would like to get the book, review the materials, take time and do the challenge again or update the tasks I did in September.

I don’t know if I made it into the first 20 people who pre-ordered the book. If yes, I will receive my copy before the official release date of Nov. 25, 2010.

Confused about i.e. and e.g.?

I often get confused about these two abbreviations, i.e. and e.g., and how to use them correctly. 

Yes, I have looked them up in the dictionary and figured out the difference, more than once, but I still manage to get confused after a while. I have a hard time remember which is which.

Today I read an article titled “Using i.e. and e.g.: ditch the Latin book and follow these tips” by Mignon Fogarty in the July 2010 Regan Report. With the tips I learned, I hope I can finally remember the difference between these two abbreviations and know how to use them correctly without having to consult any dictionary again.

I.e. and e.g. are both abbreviations for Latin terms.

I.e. stands for id est and means “that is.” Because i.e. starts with i, use ”in other words” as a memory trick. Or imagine that i.e. means “in essence.” I.e. is used to introduce a further clarification.

E.g. stands for exempli gratia and means “for example.” Because e.g. starts with e, use “for example” as a memory trick. Or imagine that e.g. sound like “egg sample.” E.g. is used to introduce an example.

I like card games, e.g., bridge and crazy eights. (It’s not a finite list of all card games I like; it;s just a few examples)

I like to play cards, i.e., bridge and crazy eights. (These are the only card games that I enjopy)

Use a comma after i.e. and e.g.

In a nutshell:

i.e.= in other words; in essence.

e.g. = example; egg sample,

The lighter side of librarianship

If you love library/librarian and humor (who doesn’t?), then you will also love Will Manley and his blog Will Unwound.

Will is a retired librarian and public administrator, and also a columnist. I have been reading his monthly column Will’s World in the American Library Association’s American Libraries Magazine for quite a few years. He has a great sense of humor. His writings on the lighter side of librarianship draw people to his columns and blog.

When I read his column or blog, I often find myself laugh or smile. I just read some of his newer posts, Greetings from Midway Airport, Male bonding, Copyright karma, etc. I couldn’t help but laugh again.

Check it out, if you are in need of some laugh.

Corrupt medical system

My Dad, 77 years old living in China, does not like to go to hospitals. He would rather suffer pain and discomfort than visit a doctor. He does not trust the corrupt medical system in China. Usually my mother goes to pharmacies and get some medications for him if needed.

But on Tuesday last week, my Dad had no choice but to go to the hospital. He experienced serious complications from his enlarged prostate (BPH). There was no way he could avoid a hospital visit.

He was immediately admitted to the hospital and had to stay there to do all kinds of tests. Finally this Monday, he went through the surgical treatment for several hours. The surgery was to remove the enlarged part of the prostate that constricts the urethra. Now he is still in the hospital recovering and likely will stay there for a few more days.

Like other patients in China, in addition to pay medical bills, my parents also have to worry about if and how they should hand a red envelop filled with money to the doctor in charge. My parents chose that hospital because a former student of my mother (My mother was a high school math teacher) is in charge of the department where my father seeks the treatment.

Doctors give patients expensive drugs because they can get a nice kickbacks. That’s nothing new and strange in China either.

It’s really an understatement that people in China are very frustrated with the whole medical system which is totally corrupt.

People in the U.S. also complain about the corrupt health care system in this country, but comparing to China, U.S. is in a much better shape. At least when we visit a doctor or go to a hospital, we never have to worry about bribe doctors and nurses, as it is common in China.

Picky eaters

I found it interesting and weird that people who grow up in the same family have totally different taste and preference for food.

My son Andy eats most of the food we prepare at home, vegetables and meat, except seafood. He loves and eats a lot of fruit, except banana from its original package, I mean peel.

My daughter, on the other hand, eats some seafood, but she does not like vegetables and fruit. There are only a few vegetables that she eats, and she eats vegetables only because she has to eat some no matter what. Normally we have two or three different kinds of vegetables on the dinner table, she eats only from one of them. She tries to eat as less as possible while I want her to eat as much as possible.

When it comes to fruit, Amy is even more picky. She only eats banana and doesn’t like anything else. Banana is all her fruit intake. She doesn’t even want to try other kinds of fruit. So one of my daily tasks is to make sure that she at least eats her banana every day.  That’s what she has been doing for her whole life (she is almost 11 now).

What’s weird is Amy likes her banana right out of its peel, unlike my son who hates banana out of the peel.

My son and daughter come from the same family background, yet have so totally different preferences. I don’t know why.  

I tried to think of some reasons that might have caused this difference, and look for something/someone to blame.

“What did I do wrong when they were babies?” 

“What was different when they were little?”

The only difference I could think of was my son was born in Chicago, Illinois and my daughter was born in Twin Cities, Minnesota.

Chinese people believe that kids become smarter when they eat more seafood. So when my son was born, I ate fish and had fish soup almost every day. The soup helped to increase the breast milk.

Chicago has Chinatown and it was easy to buy live fish. That’s what I had, a lot of fish and fish soup. I had more breast mild that my son could consume. I breastfed him for about 11 months.

My daughter was born after we moved to Twin Cities. I did not eat a lot of live fish and had fish soup when I breast fed her.  The breast milk fried out much faster. My daughter was on breastmild for almost 6 months. I remember I made my own baby food puree with carrots and other vegetables for her, as I did for my son. But my daughter definitely had more vegetables than seafood as a baby.

Could it be that when you eat too much of something as a baby, you develop a dislike for it when you grow up?

Is our preference for food something we were born with or is it determined by the environment?

Nature or nurture, which one is the determining factor?

I really don’t know the answer.

Lately I have been making smoothies for my kids every day. I use bananas, apples, strawberries or other fruit to make the smoothies. This way, my son gets to eat banana that he normally doesn’t eat and my daughter gets to eat fruit other than banana that she normally doesn’t eat. It’s a good solution. I am glad that Amy is willing to drink smoothies now. Before I made smoothies only for my son. Amy was never interested in it.

The only good thing about my kids’ picky eating behavior is that they never fight for food. They each can eat as much as veggies or fruit as they want, it doesn’t bother the other one, because they don’t like the same thing.

Candies and snacks are a different story though.

By the way, it turned out that my daughter is actually as smart as my son, if not smarter. So the Chinese saying that seafood makes people smarter has not proved to be true in our family.

The Things we believe in

Guest column by Gary Foreman

Aren’t you fascinated by the human mind. That we can think is truly amazing. The ability to evaluate the world around us and make decisions based on that input is a very important part of who we are.

Also curious is that sometimes we also have an ability to believe whatever we want despite the facts. Let’s take a look at some of the financial things that we might believe.

Bad things don’t happen to good people. We’d all like to believe it. Our car won’t break down. Others get sick, but not me. Therefore I don’t need an emergency fund or insurance. I can postpone the savings or insurance until I have more money. But, the truth is sobering. Every car will break down at some point. And almost all of us will spend some time in the hospital during our lives. Everyone needs a plan for handling the unexpected.

Because I did it before and didn’t get hurt, I can do it again. Just because you got away with a bad decision before doesn’t mean that you’ll continue to get by with it. Don’t automatically assume that you’ll be as fortunate next time.

Everybody’s doing it and so can I. It’s very rare that everyone is doing something dangerous. Usually it’s only a few people. And rarely do we know enough about their finances to know whether they’re really getting away with it. Even if they look prosperous, they may be getting calls from bill collectors and worry themselves to sleep each night.

Even if everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t mean that it’s smart for you. Several years ago, a lot of people were using variable mortgages to buy homes that they really couldn’t afford. Now we know that it wasn’t a good choice. Therefore, think through any move and how it might affect your personal finances.

I’m smart, so I’ll avoid problems. We’d all like to believe that we’re smarter than average. And, that our smarts make us less vulnerable to financial problems than the average guy. Sadly, our guard is down when we’re so sure of ourselves and we’re probably more likely to have problems. 

Decisions don’t have consequences. Many of us fail to see the connections between the problems that we’re having today and the decisions we made yesterday. We chose a new car instead of leaving the money in savings. Months later, the refrigerator breaks down and we don’t have the money to repair it. It’s the decision we made to take the money out of savings that caused the suffering today. To understand what went wrong, we often have to go beyond the first step. Sometimes the problem goes back a few steps.

Take a look at some of the things that you believe about your finances. You might just find that some of them simply aren’t true.
_______________

Gary Foreman is the editor of  The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletter. Would you like to be in control of your finances? Begin each day with Financial Independence, a free enewsletter designed to put you in charge of your finances!

Relaxed at the James J. Hill House

I had a rare opportunity to visit the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul Sunday afternoon (Nov. 14).

I attended a relaxation class with Beth Freschi, a life coach who teaches classes at Lauderdale Wellness Center. Throughout the year, Beth offers special events with a theme at the James J. Hill House. 

The relaxation class includes deep breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and the loving kindness meditation.

I have always enjoyed the relaxation class with Beth that she offers at Mn/DOT once a month. I feel very relaxed after each class. But this one is special, because it was held in the James J. Hill House, a building with historical significance. A few times I almost dosed off.

James J. Hill was the proud of St. Paul. His legacy in St. Paul includes not only the James J. Hill House, now part of the Minnesota Historical Society, but also the James Hill Reference Library in downtown St. Paul.

Snow is here, so is the challenge

Today we got the first snow of the season.

I woke to several inches of snow on the ground. It’s midnight now, still snowing.

My kids love snow. They were excited to go out to shovel the snow and play in the snow.

I, on the other hand, don’t like snow, for one reason. It makes driving so hard.

The place where I grew up in China is on the east coast near Shanghai. We didn’t have much snow. When we had snow, it didn’t stay on the ground for long. But here in Minnesota, the snow can stick around for months.

I learned driving after I came to the U.S. in 1991. I was in my late twenties. So both driving and driving on the slippery road do not feel natural to me, as it could be for someone who learned to drive in her teens and grew up in Minnesota.

What’s more, I was once involved in a fatal traffic accident in Germany. I was a passenger in a car. We were driving on the city street early in the morning on a weekend. There was hardly any traffic. A guy was crossing the street from the other side where there was no pedestrian crossing. We slowed down, but since he stopped in the middle island, we kept going. But suddenly he started walking again. He got hit by our car on the windshield and then landed on the ground. He was taken to the hospital and died. We were told that he was drunk. 

It wasn’t the driver’s fault, but still, the accident was a pretty dramatic experience for me as I was on the passenger side.

All these resulted in my dislike of driving. I avoid driving if I don’t have to. I am slow and careful when I drive.

I get really nervous when I have to drive on snowy days, especially when the road is slippery. A normal 20-minute drive to work can be a real challenge for me. It could take more than an hour or two.

The really scary experience occurs when you lose control of your car and it turns around by itself and you can’t do anything about it except feel your heart beat fast and say a quick prayer: “God, help!!!”

I don’t mind cold weather, as long as it doesn’t snow. In fact, super hot or super cold weather doesn’t bother me much.

I was accustomed to temperature changes while growing up. We didn’t have air conditioning and heating in the house at that time. No one else had either in our region.

During summer, the temperature could get to over 10o degree Fahrenheit. We slept on the wood floor or spent the night under the sky on a bamboo chair, with mosquitoes as our company.

During winter, the temperature gets down below freezing. We wore the same winter jacket inside the house and outside the house, and used hot water bottle to warm our bed and feet when we went to bed. The biggest challenge was to get out of the warm bed and get up to a cold temperature in the morning. But comparing to driving on the slippery road, that felt like a piece of cake now. At least my life was not in any danger.

Nowadays, life is really comfortable. There is always air conditioning or heating to make life comfortable. And we get quite spoiled. People often complain about too hot or too cold inside the building. Because we live in the controlled environment, we have less tolerance for any temperature change. That’s never a problem for me. I have a very high tolerance for temperature change, but a low tolerance for snow.

So far I have lived in three different states (Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota) in the U.S., all in the Midwest region. If I ever move away from the region, it’s most likely because I can’t stand the snow any more and the challenge to drive on snowy days and on slippery road is too much for me to bear.

Ask and you shall receive

I wrote a post titled “Ask and you shall receive” back in February. Something that happened to me today reminded me of this verse again.

I am pretty good at keeping my family’s finance balanced and organized. When I receive new bills, I enter them into my checkbook. I pay all bills on time. Most of them are paid automatically from band or credit card accounts. I only have to make sure that there is enough money in the bank account to cover all payments.

Normally I know when I need to transfer more money into my checking account to cover the expenses. But once in a blue while, I get so caught up in something, I would forget my financial responsibility of checking my account balance and replenishing it when the balance gets low.

In the last few days, I was spending more time on my writing life – blogging and visitng other blogs and websites, I totally neglected my financial life. When I checked my bank accounts today, I was surprised to find a negative number in red color in my checking account. And there was an overdrawn fee as well.

Oooops, I forgot I had a large credit card bill to pay. I didn’t enter it into my checkbook and I hadn’t checked my balance for a couple of weeks. So when the credit card bill went through last week, my balance went down to the negative.

I immediately transferred money into my checking account. Then I called my bank Hiway Federal Credit Union. I admitted that it was my fault and asked if they could reverse the fee.

I have been with the bank for about 10 years. It was probably the third or fourth time that incidents like this happened to me. Every time I called, I got what I asked for.

This time was no exception. They reversed the overdrawn charge for me once again.

I was grateful and glad that I asked, even though I was a little bit hesitant at the beginning.

“I am not the first time offender. They have already done that for me three times. They probably will say no this time.”  I thought.

But I went ahead and called anyway.

“Nothing to lose, just ask.” I told myself.

It took me only a phone call and a few minutes. But I got what I asked for. This experience simply reinforced my belief that “Ask and you shall receive.”

Live a life of significance

The Calling: Live a Life of Significance is a new book by Dr. Kurt Senske. It is also the title of a presentation by the author  at the Woodbury Lutheran Church tonight.

I have been in search of my calling and wondering how I can live a life of significance.

People often talk about success, because most people want to be successful in life, including me. But is success all I want? No. I am more interested in significance.

So what’s the difference between success and significance? How do you define success and significance?

Success is the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence. Success is attaining an external state of being. We associate success with fame, fortune, status, power, etc.

Significance is the quality of having great value or importance. Significance is a quality of being important, an internal state of  becoming.

Being significant is considerably different from being successful.

A successful person may achieve many things. When you are successful, you might be able to leave a big inheritance to your children.

But significant people serve. When you live a life of significance, you leave behind a legacy. Significance is all about relationships. The focus in not on wealth, but more on giving and generosity.

But how do you step from success to significance?

When I found out about today’s presentation on this topic via Woodbury Bulletin, I was really interested and wanted to go.

I was really glad that I went  and had a chance to meet the author and learn from him.

Dr. Kurt Senske serves as Chief Executive Officer of Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSS). He holds a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law, a BS in Business Administration from Valparaiso University, a master’s degree in International Relations from Schiller International University in Paris, France, and a PhD in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

In the presentation, Dr. Kurt Senske shared his journey and talked about strategies and ways of living out our calling and living a life of significance: make God the center of your live, simplifying your live, caring for yourself, serving our family, profession, community and church, among others.

Thanks to Dr. Kurt Senske for writing the book and for your presentation tonight. I am looking forward to reading your book.

You can watch Dr. Senske on YouTube.

What does it take to be happy?

I have a Twitter account that I opened a few years ago. I was curious to see what it was and how it worked. Then I signed up to follow a few people and got followed by a few. But the truth is, I am not an active participant and have not really used it. I don’t have time to play with it.

Today I got the idea to write a twitter style response to the question: “What does it take to be happy?” as posted on the Tiny Buddha website.

My first draft is:

To be happy has nothing to do with being rich and having money. It has everything to do with your attitude and your state of mind. If you can

  • be positive, content, thankful and humble
  • do what you love and are passionate about
  • live authentically in sync with your belief system and values
  • live a balanced life in mind, body and spirit
  • have meaning and purpose in life
  • work toward your dreams and goals
  • find your true love and soulmate
  • make a difference and leave the world in a better place

you will be happy.

I thought I was pretty concise and to the point. But when I did a word count in MS Word, I have 422 characters. That’s way more than allowed in Twitter. A  tweet can only contain up to 140 characters. I had to cut 2/3 of the characters. 

Here is what I ended up with after making some hard choices:

positive content thankful humble, do what you love, live authentically, balanced in mind body spirit, find love soulmate meaning purpose, give and make difference.

That’s exactly 140 characters based on the word count.

But when I pasted it into the Twitter entry box, I was still over the word limit. The hashtag is included in the counting. In the Twitter world, the space is also counted. I had to trim my answer further down to be accepted by Twitter.

Here is the final result:

#lifeshardestQs positive content thankful passionate authentic balanced mind body spirit love soulmate meaning purpose give make difference

I like the longer version better.

No wonder I am not actively using Twitter. Blogging is much more fun for me than Twitter.

Living between two cultures

As a first generation immigrant, I live in between two cultures (or sometimes no cultures). If it doesn’t make sense to you, let me share an example.

How about holidays?

In China, the biggest traditional holiday is the Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, which is celebrated sometime in January or February.

When I was growing up, the holiday was a huge deal. Every family spent several weeks shopping for food and at least one week preparing for the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. Kids got red envelops with lucky money, and wore some new clothes. At least once a year, we got to eat something or have something that we didn’t have regularly throughout the year. 

So the traditional Chinese New Year meant a great deal to me.

Since I left China in 1986, the holiday has slowly become a memory. Celebrating Chinese New Year outside of China is just not the same as in China.

In China people get a whole week off for the holiday. But it’s not a holiday in the U.S., so I don’t get a day off. There is just not the holiday atmosphere to celebrate it. The best I do is usually to get together with a few Chinese families and have a big dinner party.

When the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday comes in the U.S., the holiday atmosphere is there, and is everywhere, and I also get the day off, but I don’t feel emotionally so connected, because I didn’t grow up with the tradition.

So in the end, I celebrate both the most important Chinese holiday and also the most important American holiday. However, emotionally, I don’t feel I am deeply connected to either one.   

This “living between two cultures” phenomenon has also spilled over to my two children, even though they are both born in the U.S. They are suffering some consequences as being the second generation immigrants.

My two kids have asked questions such as:

“Why do I have to do so much homework while my friends are outside playing?”

The answer is because Chinese parents are more academically focused, are more demanding and have higher expectations of their kids. You should work hard and get all As at school.

“Why can’t I watch some TV and play some games like other kids do?”

Because you don’t have time for that. You have more important homework to do.

“Why do I have to do so much extra curricular activities, Chinese, math, piano, drawing, etc.?”

The answer is you should be thankful that you are not living in China. Your cousins in China are doing much more than you do here. 

“Why don’t we eat turkey on Thanksgiving like everyone else?”

Because your parents never ate turkeys until they come to the U.S. They prefer to eat chickens or ducks instead. Besides, they don’t know what to do with a big turkey.

When I think about it, it is really not just people like me, the first generation immigrants who live in between two cultures, but it also affects our kids, the second generation immigrants, or even the third generation.

That’s why it is hard sometimes for immigrants to find our identity.

Chicken McNuggets – what’s the scoop?

For people who eat McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, or chicken nuggets in general, I highly recommend that you read this article The chicken which should be banned by Dr. Mercola. And better yet, let your kids read it.

A few highlight from the article:

  • Only 50 percent of a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget is actually chicken. The other 50 percent includes corn derivatives, sugars, leavening agents and completely synthetic ingredients.
  • Chicken McNuggets, rather than being merely chicken fried in a pan, are a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook.
  • Wholesome, health-promoting food is “live” food, and the hallmark of live food is the fact that it will decompose. The fact that these burgers, buns, and fries do not decompose, even after a decade or two, is a clear sign that it’s just not real food, and should not be part of your diet.
  • Consume as much whole, raw, organic and/or locally grown foods as possible.

I bet the majority of people in the U.S., especially children, eat chicken nuggets. My kids love them too. Chicken nuggets are regularly served in school cafeterias.

Granted, you need to read everything online or in papers with a grain of salt, but I think it’s safe to say, chicken nuggets are not healthy food and should be avoided as much as possible.

I hardly take my kids to McDonald’s. They probably could count on the times they eat McDonald’s kids meal in a year on one hand. We mostly eat home cooked meals made from scratch.

When I was living in an apartment in St. Paul about 10 years ago, I had a neighbor who was an oncologist. His family of three rarely cooked at home. Several times a week they went to McDonald’s for breakfast, or lunch or dinner. Naturally, he was overweight.

I had always wondered why they consumed so much junk food. As a doctor, he should have known better.

My point in sharing this is, don’t trust your doctors blindly. They don’t necessarily know more than you do, or walk their talk, or have your best interest in mind. You need to take your health matter into your own hands. It really starts with getting better informed and living a healthier life with less processed/junk food.

After reading this article on Chicken McNuggets, I am considering banning this food from my kids’ meal.

Other related articles:

Eating This Just Twice a Week Can Make You Gain Ten Pounds…

Most of What You Eat is Not Real Food

Teaching my kids Chinese

My two kids were born in the U.S. English is their native language.

As an immigrant from China, I want my kids to know their heritage. So I try to teach my kids Chinese. It’s hard.

Once my son started daycare at age two and learned English, he speaks English most of the time, and exclusively with his younger sister. They only speak some Chinese then they have to with grandparents. When I speak to them in Chinese, they respond in English. They can understand Chinese, but they don’t like to speak the language. They find it hard to learn. It doesn’t come natural to them.

Both went to Saturday Chinese school since they were five years old. On Saturdays during the school year, they had two 50-minute lessons of Chinese.

But starting with this school year, they both quit going to the Saturday Chinese school, at age of 12 and 10.

First my carpool partner decided to quit for her two boys. After some consideration, we decided to quit as well and do homeschooling.

My kids didn’t like going to Chinese school and doing Chinese home work. And it was a big commitment for us parents to drive one hour back and forth on Saturdays to the Chinese school and wait for three hours (They had math in addition to Chinese). It was always a hassle to get them to finish their homework during the weekdays. It added more stress to life.

Since we quit going to Chinese School in September, our life has become a little more relaxed. Now they learn Chinese at home.

This summer when we were in China, I bought Han Zi Gong on 5 DVDs. Han Zi Gong has 720 lessons. Each 6-minute lesson teaches about 5  Chinese characters. The lessons with a teacher and two kids as students are really fun to watch. The teacher does a super job explaining the origin, meaning and pronounciation of each character. Han Zi Gong is really a simple, effective and enjoyable tool to learn Chinese. I enjoyed watching it myself and had so many “Aha!” moments after I learned something new. Even though I know most of the Chinese characters and how to use them, but I don’t necessarily know the orgin of each character.  Chinese language is a beautiful language. It’s really interesting to learn the story behind the characters.

Besides watching a few lessons of Han Zi Gong every day, my kids have to read 1-2 stories in Chinese to me. Because they don’t go to Chinese school any more, I feel more responsible for their Chinese learning. So I actually spend more time helping them with reading than I did before.

So far they are doing good. I think our current homeschooling is working better. They are learning more effectively and we are not as stressed as before.

Read An introduction to Chinese language

Discovering my true identity

Today I went to the “Girlfriends Morning Together” retreat at Woodbury Lutheran Church. One of the presentations I attended and really liked was on discovering our true identity. It got me think about what my true identity is.

“Who am I?”

“Who are you?”

When we hear this kind of question, our first thought usually is: “I am Qin Tang (or any name),” “I am a mom,” “I am a librarian,” “I am a writer,” etc. 

Do these answers describe my true identity? 

First let’s find out what the word “identity” mean. 

The Webster Dictionary defines identity as: 

  • sameness of essential or generic character in different instances; sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing
  • the distinguishing character or personality of an individual  

Based on this definition, my name, my relational title or my job title do not really describe what my true identity is. 

A person’s name can change. My current name is different than what’s on my birth certificate, because I changed my name when I started school. Many women in the western cultures change their names after marriage. We can change our names for no reason. 

A person’s relational title can change due to the changes in life circumstances. I only became a mom after my son was born 12 years ago. Life circumstances can change suddenly and unexpectedly. We can not hang our identity on life circumstances. 

A person’s job title can change any time. We find jobs, change jobs, lose jobs, find new jobs so often, they do not stay the same. 

So if my name, my relational title or my job title cannot really describe who I am, then what is that sameness, the oneness that does not change for me from birth to death that can describe what my true identity is? 

My true identity can be found in Jesus Christ:

  • I am made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)
  • I am chosen of God, holy and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12)
  • I am a child of God. God is my spiritual Father (John 1:12)
  • I am a friend of Jesus Christ (John 15:15)
  • I am blessed coming in and blessed going out (Deuteronomy 28:12)
  • I am God’s workmanship to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • I am the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • I am the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  • I am the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
  • I am an Heir of God and a Joint heir of Jesus (Romans 8:17)
  • I am being transformed by a renewed mind  (Romans 12:1, 2)
  • I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)

In summary, I am not who I say I am. I am not who others say I am. I am what God said I am. I can do what God said I can do. I can be what God want me to be. 

To live an effective life, a life of significance, we need to know our true identity.

The Power of a Praying Husband

As a librarian and avid reader, I love books. I also like to give books as gifts.

One of the books I am going to give as a wedding gift to a marrying couple is titled “The Power of a Praying Husband” by Stormie Omartian. She is the best selling author of “The Power of a Praying Wife.”

The Power of a Praying Husband is an easy to read and practical book. It touches on twenty different areas in which husbands should pray for their wives – her husband, spirit, emotions, motherhood, moods, marriage, submission, relationships, priorities, beauty, sexuality, fears, purpose, trust, protection, desires, work, deliverance, obedience and future. 

I took a quick read of the book and found it helpful. I think if every husband who desires a great marriage reads this book and follow the advice, he has a better chance of being a great husband and having a successful marriage.

Read local newspaper – to be informed and connected

When it comes to local news and events in Woodbury, I think I am pretty well informed.

Sometimes when I tell my friends about special events in the local community, they seem to be surprised by what I know and wonder how I know so much about what’s happening in the community.

Well, I don’t have any magic tricks or special connections. The only thing I have is Woodbury Bulletin which I read every week from cover to cover, except a few sections I am not interested in.

For the almost 10 years I have lived in Woodbury, I have never missed reading a single issue of this paper. Even though I was out of the country for seven weeks this summer, I still saved and read the paper after I came back. As a result, I stay informed about what’s happening with city government, schools, churches, library, businesses, etc. in the community.   

I read other newspapers too, but none of them is so dear and close to me than Woodbury Bulletin. I care more about it because I am part of this community. 

We all know that newspaper circulation has been in decline in the last few decades, especially since 1990′s. As national and world news become more readily available on TV and Internet, along with the continued trend of urban sprawl, national and metropolitan newspapers have lost much of their readership.  

However, many smaller newspapers with targeted readership are doing OK or thriving, especially the suburban newspapers which focus on local news. While you can easily get national and international news from CNN and Internet, nobody provides local news but the local newspapers. 

The local newspapers are where we find local news that is more relevant to our daily lives. These newspapers are dealing with the lives of the people we might know in the community. They play an important role in informing, creating and supporting their communities. With an emphasis on local issues and everyday events, the local newspapers become an integral part of the community. 

I go on the Internet for the major news stories of the day where I can find more up to date information than the newspapers. But for local news and events, I mostly rely on Woodbury Bulletin.

In this week’s Woodbury Bulletin, I found a couple of events that I am interested in attending, a women’s retreat “Girlfriends Morning Together“ (11/6/10) and author Kurt Senske speaking on “Living a life of significance,” (11/11/10), both events offered by Woodbury Lutheran Church.

I won’t have known about these events if I didn’t read the local paper.

If you want to keep up with what is happening in your community, if you want to get involved in community activities and events, then read your local newspaper. That’s what I do every week.

Blogs recommended

Internet is like a gold mine. When you look around and dig around, you will find treasures. The more you dig, the more you will find.

That’s how I feel when I come upon websites and blogs that interest me.

Today I discovered the following two blogs, by the same author Victorino Abrugar from Philippines. I really enjoyed reading his articles. Internet has made our world smaller. Now we can connect to people anywhere around the world. Geographic boundaries are no barriers any more.

If you are interested in personal development, check out the following two blogs.

SecretContents.com (The secrets to everything) is a personal, professional and spiritual development blog that banks every secret to success stories about life in general. Here, you will find fundamental and life-changing articles on topics about life, love, relationship, God, science, money, business, success, happiness, health, society, philosophy, self-improvement and just any topics related to our personal, physical, professional, spiritual, financial and entrepreneurial development. The site generally contains short but straightforward articles that offer a quick read which can be enjoyed by anyone in just a few minutes. Comprehensive and long articles are also occasionally published to enrich instructional and detailed topics such as “steps” and “list of” posts.

AmazingWisdom.com (Simple answers to life’s big questions) is a free web reference that answers life’s greatest and most controversial questions.  In facing our biggest questions, there can be no other knowledge or wisdom that can provide us the truest answers than the wisdom and knowledge of our Almighty God. The Wisdom and Spirit of God are in the Words. These Words are filled in the Holy Scriptures – the Holy Bible. The human knowledge or science provides us various theories and principles. However, up to this moment of time, most of these theories still need further scientific tests and experimentations to become facts and precisions. As new discoveries are found, many of these theories are proven to be blunders. But the Holy Bible, which is more than thousands of years old, has increased its credibility as years go by and as new discoveries our found. The roundness of Earth, the placement of Earth in an empty space, the multitude of the stars, the expanding of the Universe, and the form of the Universe like a scroll – these are only some of the true science that align to the Holy Scriptures.

Why is it so hard to apologize?

Just a few days ago, I wrote a post about the two magic words “Thank You” that can work wonders.

Today I kept thinking about the other magic words “I am sorry” that are as powerful as “Thank You” and can work wonders as well in a different way. And wondering why people don’t use them when they should.

Back in July, I paid and registered my son for the in-house basketball with a local athletic association. I never heard anything back from them after the registration.

Last year, my son had already started orientation at the end of October. But so far this year, nothing happened. So I got concerned.

Today I emailed the basketball program coordinators/directors of the athletic association to inquire about it and to find out when the in-house basketball would start.

To my surprise, I was told that the in-house basketball for my son’s grade level was canceled  in August due to low enrollment.  They tried contacting me back in August, but the email address and the phone number I gave them did not work.

Honestly, I was not happy to hear the news. We were looking forward to this basketball program to start. This is the only sport my son really likes and wants to do. I wanted him to get some exercises. I even tried to register him for SEMS swimming program two months ago, but there was no space available for his level. 

Now he couldn’t do basketball either.

I was more than not happy, I was a little upset.

Why didn’t they notify me earlier? How could both of my email address and phone number not work? I know both from the heart and won’t give them wrong information. They have my registration form with address too. How much effort did they put into contacting me?

There is really no excuse in my mind. In this day and age, finding someone is so easy and quick. I am in the local phonebook. I am also on the Internet. It won’t take much time and effort to find me and verify my contact information.

What upsets me more is the fact that I contacted the same people in September to cancel my daughter’s in-house basketball registration. And I told them I had to cancel one of my kids’ registrations because I could not drive them to their practices on the same date/time and at different schools. If they canceled my son’s program, they should have told me then when I contacted them. Now they are telling me that they couldn’t notify me about the cancellation because my contact info didn’t work. How should I think of that?

What upsets me even more is the fact that no one said a word of apology. How hard is it to simply say: “I am sorry for what happened.”

I understand that the athletic programs are mostly run by volunteers who have full time jobs and familes to take care of. I appreciate their sacrifice when they help with the programs and volunteer for the community. I know we are all humans which means we make mistakes. I do too. It’s all understandable.

But how hard is it for someone to say: “I am sorry?” That’s really all I wanted to hear. Even if they did everything right, and no mistake was made, it would still be a nice gesture to say: “I am sorry for any inconvenience this has caused for you.” Everything would be just fine.

But no such words. 

It hurts and saddens in some way.

To say these magic words, all it takes is a little bit of humility, responsibility and courage.

When we apologize sincerely, we can heal wounds, remove negative feelings such as frustration, resentment, anger, and transform our moods instantly.

Even my seven year old daughter seemed to understand that. You can read that story I shared in this article: The power of the written word

Pumpkin seeds

Just a couple of days ago, I mentioned that winter squash is my favorite food, especially the buttercup, butternut and acorn kinds. They are not only sweet, creamy and tasty, but also very nutritious and healthy food.

When I prepare winter squash, I always save the seeds. I roast and eat them when I have time.

Today I received the following article about the health benefits of pumpkin seeds in my email inbox. Good information to share here.

Pumpkin Seeds – Get Rid of Health Problems

Pumpkin seeds are one of nature’s almost perfect foods. They are a natural source of beneficial constituents such as carbohydrates, amino acids and unsaturated fatty acids. They contain most of the B vitamins, along with C, D, E, and K. They also have the minerals calcium, potassium, niacin, and phosphorous. Pumpkin seeds have mainly been used to treat prostate and bladder problems, but they have also been known to help with depression and learning disabilities.

Pumpkins are very high in potassium, and have good amounts of beta carotene and vitamin C. They are also a good source of calcium and fibre, and as well as other vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc and unsaturated fatty acids (good fats).

Fresh and cooked pumpkin is chock full of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, potassium, alpha-carotene, zinc, beta carotene, and lutein. It’s easy to add pumpkin to your favorite baked goods and dishes during the colder months, and the vitamins and minerals can help keep your health in tip-top shape during the winter. Pumpkin is rich, satisfying, and can be used in a number of recipes as a meal or in dessert; if you cook it in a healthy way, it might also give you an excuse to indulge in an extra slice of pumpkin pie this year! Still, eating pumpkin isn’t the only way to enjoy its natural benefits.

Nutritional Value of Pumpkin Seeds

Snacking on ¼-1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds can deliver the nutrients mentioned at the outset of this article, as well as calcium, vitamin K, protein and important omega-3 fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds can be eaten raw, baked, roasted or toasted.

Because pumpkin seeds and good health share such an important relationship, plan to make pumpkin seeds a regular part of your diet. Keep a supply on hand and store the seeds in a tightly sealed container in your fridge.

Pumpkin seeds and onions mixed together with a little soy milk make a great remedy for parasitic worms in the digestive tract. To make this remedy, liquefy three tablespoons of pumpkin seeds that have been soaked three hours, one-half of a small onion, one-half cup soy milk, and one teaspoon honey. Take this amount three times daily, three days in a row.

Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are flat, dark green seeds. Some are encased in a yellow-white husk, although some varieties of pumpkins produce seeds without shells. Like cantaloupe, cucumber, and squash, pumpkins and pumpkin seeds belong to the gourd or Cucurbitaceae family.

Nutty and salty with a crisp-chewy texture, pumpkin seeds make a nutritious and flavorful snack. Boiled, baked, or even raw, pumpkin seeds are packed full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Just one serving (about 1/4 cup) gives you almost half the recommended daily amounts of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper, vitamin K, and zinc. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein and monounsaturated fats.

Pumpkin seed oil has an excellent ratio of those Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Often flax and hemp oils are rated as the best with pumpkin seed also offering a great source of these valuable plant fats important for cellular function and many of the systems in the body. Basically keeps your coat glossy, skin clear and a puts a spring in your step.

Read more: http://www.articlesbase.com/health-articles/health-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds-get-rid-of-health-problems-395992.html#ixzz142KBdKpc
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

10 Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

This Halloween, don’t forget to save those pumpkin seeds after you scoop them out. Pumpkin seeds are not only delicious but also provide many health benefits. Here are ten:

Prostate Protection
They promote overall prostate health and alleviate the difficult urination associated with an enlarged prostate.

Improved Bladder Function
In some studies, pumpkin seed extracts improved bladder function in animals.

Depression Treatment
They contain L-tryptophan, a compound naturally effective against depression.

Prevention of Osteoporosis
Because they are high in zinc, pumpkin seeds are a natural protector against osteoporosis. Low intake of zinc is linked to higher rates of osteoporosis.

Natural Anti-Inflammatory
Pumpkin seeds effectively reduce inflammation without the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Prevention of Kidney Stones
They prevent calcium oxalate kidney stone formation, according to studies.

Treatment of Parasites
They are used in many cultures as a natural treatment for tapeworms and other parasites. Studies also show them to be effective against acute schistosomiasis, a parasite contracted from snails.

Great Source of Magnesium
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds contains 92% of your daily value of magnesium, a mineral in which most Americans are deficient.

Lower Cholesterol
Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols, compounds that that have been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.

Cancer Prevention
The same phytosterols that lower cholesterol also protect against many cancers.

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

When you’re carving your Halloween pumpkins, don’t throw away the seeds! 

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

1.  Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings. (This is easiest just after you’ve removed the seeds from the pumpkin, before the pulp has dried.)

2.  Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet, stirring to coat. If you prefer, omit the oil and coat with non-stick cooking spray.

3.  Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325 degrees F until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes.

4.   Let cool and store in an air-tight container.

How many trick-or-treaters did you get?

                                

Do you count how many kids come to your house on Halloween night to trick-or-treat?

I got about 60 trick-or-treaters tonight. They came around 6:30 pm, and by 7:30 pm it became very quiet again.

I had less than expected.

It feels like the current economic recession has an effect on everything. For many families, income is going down, buying power is going down. This year, the number of trick-or-treaters has gone done as well.

Don’t blame the weather, because the weather was not very cold today, no snow, no wind. My daughter wore only a long sleeve shirt and a thin witch costum. She didn’t even wear a sweater.  

Or maybe some kids in the neighborhood have grown up and are beyond the age of trick-or-treating.

Winter squash -my favorite food

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, there is hardly anything I don’t like. However, I do have some favorites.

This time of the year, in the fall, my favorite food is winter squash.

Winter squash come in all kinds of varieties, colors, shapes, and sizes. My favorite kinds include buttercup, butternut and acorn.

I have a vegetable garden, but my garden doesn’t produce enough for my family. Almost every week from June to November, I also shop at the Farmer’s Market to buy more vegetables.

When winter squash becomes available on the market in the fall, I start to buy them every week and eat them several times a week, almost every day. I buy extras to store for the winter.  Because they keep well in a cool dry spot, they are an ideal food to store over the winter months. The darker and thicker the skin of the squash, the longer they last.

Every fall, I probably buy 40 to 50 winter squash. I consume the majority. My kids don’t like any.

Winter squash are an ideal addition to a healthy diet. Research showed they have a protective effect against cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

I either cook or bake winter squash. That part is pretty easy. The hard part is the preparation - peeling and cutting them.  Sometimes I buy them already cut in a bag at St. Paul Farmer’s Market. 

Today I baked 5 squash and froze them in small bags. They are my convenient lunch in the coming months.

101 Important Questions To Ask Yourself in Life

101 Important Questions To Ask Yourself in Life

This is the title of another great article by Celes Chua posted on her Personal Excellence Blog.  

I think anyone who takes the time to answer these questions and then follow through will live a better and more meaningful life.

Halloween Bash at Middleton

My daughter wanted to go to the Halloween Bash at her school. So we went there after her swimming lesson.

Once we got there, she said: “Bye mom, see you later.” Off she went to be with her school friends.

While waiting for her, I played a few rounds of bingo game.

Almost an hour later, she showed up, and played bingo too.  

Before we left, she showed me the pumpkin patch that some of the fifth graders made. Kids used pumpkins to create a character, person, or object. They are really cute. I took pictures of some still left on display.

More photos are posted on my Facebook page.

       

Magic words work wonders

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the importance of saying the two magic words “Thank You” in our every day life.  Say “Thank You” to everyone who was kind to you, helped you, touched you in any way. It can work wonders.

Yesterday Caroline Lehman and Karen R. Hollingsworth from the EIGHT-HANDS Collaborative came to Mn/DOT and did a brown bag presentation for our employees (see my post from yesterday). They were so grateful  for the opportunity to present, they expressed their sincere Thank You before, during and after the presentation, orally and in writing.  

My colleagues and I were touched by their positive energy and warm heartedness. I told my colleague who helped set up equipments for the presentation: “Don’t you feel that they were so positive and appreciative that you want to do more with/for them? They are just great people to work with.”

She responded: “ABSOLUTELY!  Anything I can do to help let me know.”

My virtual friendship with Caroline Lehman started with a simple “Thank You” when she sent the following email to me in March 2007:

“Dear Qin: Thank you so very much for your thoughtful and insightful articles in the Woodbury Bulletin.  I truly look forward to reading your thoughts each week…..they always give me something wonderful to think about.  Today’s article was no exception …”
 

I loved hearing from readers of my newspaper columns and getting comments and feedback. Caroline’s “Thank You” note brought us together in a magic way. We won’t have known each other otherwise even though we both live in the same town, and not too far away.

Caroline’s interest and passion in Chinese ancient art Feng shui inspired me to write several articles on this topic, including an article about her.

When I started volunteering for the planning and coordinating of the brown bag learning series at Mn/DOT, I naturally thought about Caroline and what she has to offer. I invited her and her business partners to come and present at Mn/DOT.

They came once at the beginning of this year. They were great. They came back for the second time a month or two later. Yesterday was their third presentation.

Every time, they talk about a different topic.

Every time, they express their sincere Thank You for the opportunity to present. 

Every time, they make us feel very appreciated. And we make them feel welcomed and appreciated too. We truly appreciate them for what they do for us. They give us so much more than they can get back from us.

And ever time, we want to have them back again.

Yes, they will be back again in a few months. Three more presentations have already been scheduled for the next few months.

Every time, we look forward to their coming and sharing.

It has been a wonderful journey together. It all started with a simple “Thank You” – a “Thank You” to a total stranger. 

These two words are magic. They can work wonders in your life. Use them as much as you can every day!

Conquer closet chaos

Today I attended a presentation by Karen R. Hollingsworth and Caroline Lehman from the EIGHT-HANDS Collaborative on how to conquer the closet chaos and bring harmony to your closet and life. It was great. Below is the information from the handout.

What are Your Clothes Saying “TO” You?

No, we don’t mean …

“What are your clothes saying “ABOUT” you. 

Because it is your wardrobe’s “home,” the physical state of your closet is reflected in your own well being. 

To keep CHAOS out of your life, conquer it in your closet! 

The health of your closet is determined by…

  • the quality of its contents
  • your attitude towards those contents
  • your interactions with them 

Clothes are living beings, alive with CHI, vibrationally attached to everyone and everything with which they have come into contact. You must be aware of what’s in your closet and how you arrange it in order to optimize its impact on your life. 

Your wardrobe should be in ideal condition, if you expect your life to be! 

THE 9 SYMPTOMS OF CLOSET CHAOS!

1. The GAG REFLEX 

Also known as the “UGH Factor”, these are the clothes that you dread seeing. They are the wrong color, wrong shape, don’t fit, aren’t your “style”… are just plain depressing. Perhaps you haven’t even worn them in more than a year! Your clothes must be aligned with your personal energy and your life intentions. Clothes that empower you make you feel fabulous! Ask : Does it lift my energy or does my energy drop when I think about it, look at it, or put it on? 

If it doesn’t pass the test, it’s time to let it go! 

2. The FEAR FACTOR 

Do you have clothes that you keep “just in case”? You save everything because you might need it someday, even if it no longer fits or reflects who you are right NOW. At the heart of this is a fear that somehow you won’t have what you need when you really need it. Abundance thinking belongs in your closet too. So, clear unworn or excess clothes in small segments. 

Affirm that it is safe to let go, and then trust the process of life to bring you what you need. 

3. The COSMIC BLACK HOLE SYNDROME 

This closet has an astronomical problem…clothing keep coming in, but nothing ever leaves. The denser and darker the closet becomes, the harder it is to let anything go! The darkness spills out into your life. The more clothes you have, the more your energy is tied up in mundane matters. You feel as dark and tangled as your closet looks! Avoid “belongings buildup.” When new items come into your closet, old ones go out. 

Your energy will flow. AND you won’t be sucked into the Black Hole that used to be your closet! It is just that simple!

4. The TIME CAPSULE SCENARIO 

This closet is filled with the clothes of your very cool past … who you were, where you went, what you loved when you were hip, and why you think people should still dig you. You know who you are!!! These items have a powerful way of tying you to your past. They are fabric anchors that keep you from moving on in your life. Take a good look at what you are keeping, and if there are any “autobiographical” items in there, let them go. 

Keep your wardrobe in the NOW! 

5. CSI (or The Crime Scene Investigation) 

Filled with items that have lingered past their expiration date, this closet is, in effect, full of dead energy. Clothes, like food, lose chi when they are past their “use by” date. Whether they are worn out, in disrepair, ill-fitting or irrelevant to you and your goals, they are NOT healthy for your life. If your clothes do not fit, flatter, fulfill, function for your current lifestyle, or fortify you to realize your dreams it’s time to donate to someone whose life is more in alignment with their energies. 

Remember this: Stale clothes reflect, and create, stale lives! 

6. The GUILT VORTEX 

Why is it so difficult to say, “NO, thank you”? You probably still have the granny-square vest that your Aunt Olga crocheted for you in1971! In fact, you have every gift from every person in your life because you wouldn’t dream of letting it go. If you do not love and wear the items of clothing you are not fully honoring the giver. Rather than spin endlessly in this energy drain, consider returning or exchanging undesirable or unbearable gifts. Explain your intention to replace it with something more be fitting to your physique or style. 

Accept only hand-me-downs that mirror your energies and honor your good taste. 

7. The BARGAIN BASEMENT ADDICTION 

Is your closet filled with unworn “fabulous deals” that were too good to pass up at the time? Just think of the hundreds of dollars spent mindlessly every year simply because of that red-lined price tag! There is one rule to remember here: when you think you can’t afford NOT to buy something, DON’T! Price alone should never be the deciding factor. Never compromise your power to choose clothing that truly honors YOU. 

Say good-bye to good buys that don’t align with your personal clothing criteria. 

8. The “Call of the Mall” ZOMBIE 

Why do you buy clothes? Often it is simply a habit, or something you enjoy doing with friends. It could be exacerbated by peer pressure, fueled by bargain prices, or driven by plain old boredom. Whatever the reason, it is always good to stop and consider this…how many clothes do you really need? The answer to that question might surprise you! A well thought out wardrobe plan can save you hours of mall-hopping and keep your savings account intact. Investing in focused, quality goods will attract focused, quality energy into your life!

So think about what you need, and break the cycle of mindless buying. 

9. LOST … without a Clue! 

If you are standing in front of your closet and you don’t recognize yourself in your clothing, it could be that your life has moved on and your wardrobe has not kept pace. Most wardrobe issues arise when people are in transition. But change indicates that CHI is flowing. As the circumstances of your life evolve, so should your personal style. Allow your appearance to go with the flow of your life by keeping your closet current with the times.

It’s time to get your wardrobe and your life on the same track!

10th anniversary with Mn/DOT

Time surely flies by fast.  It’s been 10 years since I have worked at Mn/DOT Library.

When I moved from Chicago, Illinois to St. Paul, Minnesota in summer 1999, I was pregnant with my second child. Therefore I stayed home. My daughter was born in December.

At that time, my parents were here from China to help take care of the baby. After my daughter’s birth, they urged me to get a job and go back to work. I had been staying at home long enough, too long in their mind. You know, in China, most women work outside of home. It’s rare for young women, especially educated women, to stay home and take care of kids.

“You are wasting your college education and your life if you stay home to raise kids.” That is a comment you would get in China.  

I liked to get a job and work too.

Three months after my daughter’s birth, I found a job. I started working at Minitex located at University of Minnesota, as a contract cataloger for Mn/DOT Library. Two months later I was hired by Mn/DOT as a permanent employee. And I have been there ever since.

Today, my supervisor Sheila invited our office to celebrate my 10th anniversary with the state. She brought treats and shared nice comments.

Thank you Sheila for making this a special day for me.

 

I was presented with an anniversary gift by my supervisor Sheila. A celebration is not complete without gift, and …

  

some good photos like this one, here with my boss’s boss’s boss Nick,

  

some good laugh, 

and some junk food, because …

 everyone loves donuts, Judy too.

Goodbye, Stuff

I loved reading the following post by miss minimalist and would like to share it here.

Dear Stuff,

I’m not sure how to break this to you…but the time has come for us to part ways. Sure, we have a long history, but we simply can’t go on pretending that we’re still happy together.

It seems that after all these years, our relationship has lost its spark. I recall the magic of when we first met: how your shiny newness caught my eye, how I vowed to have you at any price, how excited I was to bring you home.

It didn’t take long, however, for the novelty to wear away. Maybe it was the thrill of the hunt, but once you were mine, you no longer seemed quite so attractive. In fact, much of the time, you just seemed to be in the way.

What’s more, you never really lived up to your promises or expectations: owning you didn’t make me any smarter, happier, cooler, or sexier. Instead, our relationship drained my energy and my wallet. I’ve spent untold hours (and dollars) keeping you looking nice and in good repair, protecting you from theft, and moving you around when I’ve had to relocate.

To be honest, though, your presence in my living room, bedroom, kitchen, and closets is stifling me. I can’t help but wonder how you’ve expanded so much over the years. I’m getting tired of stepping over you, cleaning around you, and generally wondering what to do with you. I need some space, some serenity, some room to breathe.

Of course, you’re not entirely to blame; I was no angel, either. Though I kept a roof over your head, I never really lavished you with attention. I shoved you away in boxes and closets, sometimes neglected to maintain you, and all too often simply ignored you.

Therefore, I think you’ll also be better off without me. You’ll have a happier life with someone else—someone who wants you, needs you, and appreciates you for what you are. And don’t worry, I won’t be so cruel as to leave you out on the curb. I’ll post flattering photos of you on Craigslist, sing your praises on Freecycle, and contact charitable organizations to find you that special someone.

So I guess this is goodbye…Let’s part without regrets, and look on this as a new beginning. I already feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I’m ready to embark on a new life—unencumbered, footloose, and full of possibility!

Yours Truly,

Miss M.

Clean eating

I know quite a lot what healthy eating is, but had no clear idea what clean eating is until I went to a workshop about it today.

Clean eating is consuming food in its most natural state – eating whole and natural foods and staying away from the junk foods as much as possible.

For more info and further reading on the topic, visit

Clean eating magazine

Clean eating club

Eating clean works

Basically, clean eating is healthy eating.

Here is to clean eating and living a clean life!

Gone with the wind

I have four trees in the front yard. They were planted in spring 2001 after the house was built. 

I bought two trees from a local tree farm, a maple tree and a crab apple tree, and carried both small trees home in the back trunk of a small car.  

At the suggestion of a tree man, I watered the trees diligently, especially in the first few years after planting them. At least weekly, I dumped buckets of water (rain or recycled water) on their roots to encourage them grow deeper into the ground.

Since I have watered my trees well, they grow fast and tall.

Like all the houses in the neighborhood, I have a sprinkler system to water the grass. A sprinkler system is not good for trees, because of its frequent and shallow watering, the roots of the trees don’t go deep. They go where the water is. 

My maple tree is so much bigger and taller than the same kind of tree across the street, because my neighbors do not water their trees the way I do. They are growing very slowly.

Just this past weekend I took some pictures of the maple tree when I was out raking the leaves with my kids. The leaves turned red. The tree looked gorgeous.

We had a rainy and windy day today. Sadly, the strong wind blew all the leaves away. Now they are all gone with the wind.

But I still have these pictures to remind me of the colorful leaves we had on this maple tree a few days ago.

I posted more photos on my Facebook page.

                           

Photos of bridges

In a previous blog post, I posted a few photos of bridges taken in Zhejiang, China.

Today I posted more bridge photos on my Facebook page. I took those photos in the afternoon on June 5 while on my way from Ningbo to Putuoshan (Mount Putuo) in Zhejiang Province.

Putuoshan is one of the 1000 islands of the Zhoushan Archipelago in the East China Sea. To get to Putuoshan Island, I had to pass through several bridges. These newly constructed long and beautiful bridges connect the islands and have made travel so much faster and smooth.

Little-known facts about GMOs

Yesterday at a dinner party, we were talking about genetically modified crops (often abbreviated as GMOs, i.e. genetically modified organism). A friend said GMO foods in the US have to be labeled which surprised me. That was not my understanding. 

So today I spent a considerable amount of time reading about GMO online to get myself more informed and educated and to share it with others. 

GMO crops are simply crops, whose genetical material has been modified using generic engineering techniques.  

The use of genetic engineering in agriculture is rather new. The first genetically modified food produced for mass production appeared in the U.S. in 1993.  

Some little-known facts about GMOs I found are: 

  • GMO ingredients are now present in 75 to 80 percent of conventional processed food in the U.S., according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
  • Mandatory labeling of GMOs in the U. S. has been proposed, but not enacted, at the national, state, and local levels.
  • The FDA does not require food with GMOs to be labeled as such.
  • Most people want to avoid GMOs but it is virtually impossible to do so, since the government prevents GMO labeling.
  • GMOs are banned or significantly restricted in 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the nations in the European Union.
  • Unfortunately, because of cross-contamination and pollen drift, very few products in the U.S. are completely free of GMOs.
  • The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by the US firm Monsanto, based in Creve Coeur, Missouri. As the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, Monsanto sells 90% of the world’s GE seeds.
  • This October is the first ever Non-GMO Month!

Here are some websites for further reading and information: 

Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods 

Truth about Genetically Modified Organisms 

This Toxic Food is BANNED in Europe 

How do You Know if Your Food is Genetically Modified?

Seeds of Deception  

 

Genetically Modified Ingredients Overview 

Institute for Responsible Technology  

Non-GMO Project 

Say No to GMOs 

Animals Avoid GM Soy And Corn
 

Fellowship

Tonight (Sat. 10/23) a few Chinese families in my neighborhood gathered together for a party. It was a farewell party for the parents of one family who will be returning to China after 4 month visit.

When Chinese families get together, there is always delicious food. Eat and drink, talk and laugh, we have a good time. But deep in my heart, I often feel something is missing.

Usually it’s talking about politics, current or past events, economy, and other topics. They don’t really interest and touch me in any special way.

So I suggested to the host family who are Christians, to make this party into a fellowship and a gathering with more meaning and purpose, instead of just eat and drink and chat. I hope some testimonies would help open some eyes and minds, and spread some seeds in hearts of non believers.

The host family gladly agreed. Half of the families invited are Christians, and half are not. This would be a great opportunity for fellowship and share some testimonies.

After the dinner we gathered in the living room. We sang hymns, some by Xiao Min, a farm girl from Mainland China and a high school dropout. With no music training, yet touched by the Holy Spirit, she has miraculously composed more than a thousand hymns. Her hymns have spread widely throughout China and overseas and have become the most popular hymns among Chinese Christians.

Between singing, we also heard a couple of testimonies. I don’t know how the non believers felt, but I felt good.

I love fellowship and sharing testimonies much better than a party of eat and drink.

Photos from Chiang Kai-shek’s birth place

I posted some photos taken at Chiang Kai-shek’s birth place on my Facebook page.

Chiang was born in Xikou, a town approximately 30 kilometers southwest of downtown Ningbo, in Fenghua, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.

We visited Xikou on June 5.

Book on simplicity

In a previous post about my favorite blogs, I talked about Leo Babauta, creator and writer of Zen Habitsmnmlist.com (on minimalism) and Write To Done (for writers and bloggers). 

Leo has just released a new book titled Focus: a Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distractions. Everything Leo writes on his blogs is of great interest to me, including simplicity. I’ll definitely check into the free version of the new book.

A burden lifted – procrastination

Today when I finished a project that I had been working on for more than a week and should have completed a few months ago, I felt like a burden was lifted from my shoulder. Finally I could cross it off from my mental to-do list.

The project was not difficult to do. It just required time, attention and detailed work. But I was not very motivated to do it. 

“I’ll do it later.” I kept thinking. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. I would rather do something else than working on the project, knowing well that I had to do it sooner or later.

I finally did it after I was asked about it. “What’s the status of the project? When will it be done?” 

I understand there are two main causes of procrastination – a lack of desire or a fear of something.

As I mentioned in a previous post on procrastination, I tend to procrastinate when I don’t feel like doing something, when I am not excited about what I need to do, such as filing tax return.

I know procrastination causes anxiety and burden. Whenever I put off something because I don’t feel like doing it but I know I have to do it, it feels like something is hanging over my head and it is constantly on my mind reminding me.

Understanding the drawbacks and the root causes of procrastination only solves half of the problem. The other half is to do something about it.

There are some ways to overcome procrastination – clarify and align yourself with your goals and values, prioritize, break big tasks into smaller tasks, delegate, have a buddy for accountability, etc.

In the end, the most practical advice is probably ”Just Do It!”

I really need to move from “Know how” to “Do now.”

Here is a 6-part series on How to Overcome Procrastination by Celestine Chua.

On autopilot

Today I did something unbelievable. Well, I really should use the word stupid here.  

I had a parent/teacher conference for my daughter at Middleton Elementary at 4 pm. I was rushing to get to school after work.

Apparently I was not thinking where I was going. I got off at Woodbury Drive as I do every day to get home. I turned left at Valley Creek and then right at Settlers Ridge to head to Liberty Ridge Elementary. I was only clear enough that I needed to go to school.

As I was approaching Liberty Ridge, it suddently dawned on me that my daughter is no longer at Liberty Ridge.

My kids went to Liberty Ridge from 2003 when it first opened till 2009. Last year as the result of school boundary change and school reconfiguration, my daughter moved to Middleton Elementary and my son graduated to Lake Middle School. This is already her second year at Middleton. Why did I go to Liberty Ridge? How could I make this mistake? What was I thinking on the road?

Clearly I was not thinking at all. I was on autopilot. Since we have a longer history with Liberty Ridge it became THE school for me in my subconscious mind.

I think everything happens for a reason. Even though I made a really stupid mistake today, but it also taught me a real lesson. It showed me the pitfall and danger of being on autopilot, going through the motions of activities without a clear mind and being present, living my life without destination and intention. I could end up in the wrong place, not only wasting my time but also my life. 

Luckily my mistake today didn’t do any harm. After taking the detour, I still got to Middleton on time for the teacher conference. I was grateful it taught me a valuable lesson.

Get a second opinion for health care

When we make purchases of big or small items, we often do comparison shopping to find the best deal. The same practice should apply when it comes to making health care decisions.

Because I have had unpleasant experiences with doctors and I like to read about the problems we have with the health care system, I am skeptical about what doctors tell me to do. I would like to get a second opinion if possible.

Recently my son’s dentist recommended a visit to an orthodontic specialist to get his teeth evaluated. His teeth are crowded together and two of the adult teeth need to be removed because they have no space to grow into.

We got a referral to an orthodontic specialist near Woodbury. I thought, great, it is pretty close to my house and I don’t have to drive far which is always a super plus for me.

So we went for the initial consultation last month. After a visual check and examing the x-ray copy I brought that was taken recently by the dentist, we were told what needed to be done immediately – schedule the next appointment with them to do the diagnostic records, take two teeth out, put in full braces, with an estimated cost of $5000-6000, not including removing the teeth.

The assistant was very nice in explaining things when I asked questions regarding how to defer payment if I wanted to take advantage of the health care spending account from next year. She was accomodating to my needs and wishes and wanted me to make the appointment.

But I had a different plan. I had scheduled with another orthodontist, Dr. Robert E. Eng on Ruth Street in St. Paul whom my son used a few years ago. He is a nice doctor  and I liked him. I wanted to hear his opinion.

We had our visit today. I was glad I did.

Dr. Eng recommended to have my son’s two teeth removed, but there is no rush to put in braces. We should wait and see. His remaining teeth are not prefect, but not in bad shape either.

When he told me we needed to come back to do the diagnostic records before the teeth can be removed, I asked him why. “Isn’t that already clear? Why do we need any more x-rays and diagnosis?”

He told me: “It is not necessary from my perspective, but that’s what’s required to do. I can’t tell your dentist to do something without providing the diagnositic records.”

He totally agreed with me. We are doing a lot of things that are not necessary but are required. That’s what drives our health care cost high.

Dr. Eng said he would make a recommendation to my son’s dentist to have his teeth removed. Maybe we can get by without more x-rays and diagnosis.

I really like this doctor for his honesty and integrity. I didn’t feel that he put his own interest ahead of his patient’s interest as I felt with some other doctors.

Even if we need to do the diagnostic records before removing the teeth, I am more than happy to go back to Dr. Eng, event though his location is not as convenient and his office is not as new as the other one, but that’s all fine with me.

I am really glad that I sought out the second opinion. It helps to make a wiser decision.

A health care skeptic’s thoughts

True health care

Photos from Xikou and Mount Xuedou Scenic Area

One of the most memorable places we visited during our 4-day stay (June 4-8) in Ningbo is the Xikou and Mount Xuedou Scenic Area.

The scenic area, one of the well-known scenic areas in Zhejiang Province for its serenity, seclusion, magnificence, and wonderfulness, is located  in the city of Fenghua, 37 km north from Ningbo city. It is composed of three scenic spots – Xikou Town, Mount Xuedou and Tingxia Lake. 

Xikou Town is the native place of Jiang Jie-shi (i.e. Chiang Kai-shek) and Jiang Jing-guo. It has been frequented by tourists at home and abroad.

Mount Xuedou is a place of natural beauty with unique cliffs, secluded valleys and waterfalls, deep streams. The major scenic spots include Xuedou Temple, Miaogao Terrace (Chiang Kai-shek and and his wife Soong Mei-ling‘s summer retreat) and Qianzhangyan Waterfalls.

More photos from our Xikou visit on June 5 were posted on my Facebook page.

Volunteering at Afton State Park

My kids and I spent two hours this morning at the Afton State Park to do some volunteer work. The event was organized by a state agency for the state employees. Four other state parks in Twin Cities also participated in the event.

There were about 40-50 volunteers at the Afton State Park. We were divided into different groups. Our group of seven helped with the buckthorn removal.

We were given a trail section. We cut down buckthorn on each side of the trail. The purpose of trimming the trails is to create wide open ski trails once the snow falls.

I heard about buckthorn before. It’s a very invasive specie and can take over natural areas and crowd out  native plants or other more desirable species. That’s why cities and counties often ask for volunteers to help remove bockthorn. But I had never participated before. So this was a first experience. Now I have first hand experience and know what’s that about.

After we finished the work, my kids and I hiked a little bit. I took a few photos of the St. Croix River. The view from the hiking trail over the St. Croix River was beautiful with the fall color.

It was a perfect day to be out in the nature today.

How Successful People Think – Book interview

I recently interviewed Tom Halverson, Mn/DOT Chief Financial Officer. We talked about the 8th book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by John  Maxwell.

 

Tang: You became the new chief financial officer at Mn/DOT in February 2010 after working in private industry for over 30 years? What brought you to Minnesota and to Mn/DOT? 

Halverson: Halverson:  I had lived away from family for many years and had set a goal to return when I had reached 50.  It has been an absolute delight to be back home. 

I was intrigued to Mn/DOT by the leadership style, vision, direction set forth by Commissioner Tom Sorel. I saw this as a great opportunity to learn something new and make a contribution. 

Tang: How has it been going for you? What is the biggest challenge you face on your job and see in the public sector? 

Halverson: It has been great working with the Commissioner’s staff and people at Mn/DOT. I would say the biggest challenge is the public sector investment decision making and internal control processes lack the rigor and accountability I have seen in the private sector.    

Tang: Now let’s get to the book. Why did you pick this book? 

Halverson: I think the essence of the book is about change leadership. Being aware of our thoughts and our thinking process is the first step for change. 

I like books that are concise and to the point, this little book fits my taste in both content and style. 

Tang: Why is it important to know and understand how successful people think? 

Halverson: How people think makes a difference in how successful they can become. Like the author says, “If you change your thinking, you can change your life.”   

Tang: What are the different aspects of good thinking that successful thinkers have? 

Halverson: In the book, Maxwell talks about the following eleven skills of thinking: big-picture thinking, focused thinking, creative thinking, realistic thinking, strategic thinking, possibility thinking, reflective thinking, popular thinking, shared thinking, unselfish thinking, and bottom-line thinking. 

Tang:  Which aspect of these eleven thinking is most important in your mind? 

Halverson: Good thinking embodies all these different thinking skills. However, the big-picture and strategic thinking are the most critical ones in my mind. 

To be leaders, you have to be a big-picture thinker who can see what others see and don’t see. They can think beyond their day to day activities, see different perspectives, and have the maturity to provide leadership direction in the organizations. 

Another important one for me is the unselfish thinking. Unselfish thinking brings personal fulfillment, adds value to others, makes you part of something greater than yourself, and creates a legacy. When you mentor someone, give yourself to someone, it’s like planting a seed. The rewards will be multiplied. If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, in the organization and in the world, be an unselfish thinker. 

Tang: Do you have to possess all these thinking skills to be a good leader? 

Halverson: No, no one is perfect or good at everything. That’s why it is important for a leader to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and be surrounded by people who have different skills that can both supplement and complement a leader’s weakness. 

Tang: What do you think is your weak area when you evaluate yourself based on these eleven thinking skills? 

Halverson: Probably the creative thinking aspect. As someone with a financial background, I tend to be stronger on the practical and analytical side. Sometimes I get these light bulb moments after someone said something and I think to myself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” 

Tang: What is your leadership style? And what is your strength? 

Halverson: When I was younger, I had more of a dictatorial style.  But after 13 years of being in senior executive change management roles, I have learned to listen and to value collaborative teamwork. 

I like to think of myself as a change leader. I am a big-picture person. I am passionate about making a difference.  I like to bring experience to play and challenge the status quo, and go into uncharted territory. There are no boundaries and limitation in the thinking process. I like to be out there meeting frontline people, at the grassroots levels who are the driving force of the success and failure of the organization. 

A fundamental principle in my leadership is to listen, learn and lead. 

Tang: What advice do you have for young aspiring leaders?       

Halverson: Become a rounded person; be open minded; get exposed to different ideas and people; be willing to put yourself in positions outside your comfort zone; have broad based interests and go beyond what you know; be willing to challenge status quo; challenge yourself to find better ways to do things; understand your internal and external customers and their wants and needs, and do your best to meet them. You can’t do everything yourself, so surround yourself with people who can do better than you. 

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

Halverson: “The joy is in creating, not maintaining.” (p. 23)

 “None of us is as smart as all of us.” (p. 93)

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

Halverson: I read everything that comes across my desk. But outside of work, I don’t do much reading. Regretfully reading is getting hard on my eyes.  Now my learning comes from interacting with other people. 

Tang: What do you love to do in your spare time? 

Halverson: I love to dance and golf. I love to be outdoors and do something with people. 

Tang: I heard you are very good at ballroom dancing. And thanks for being the first to sign up for Café Mn/DOT, a Mn/DOT version of “America’s Got Talent.” I am looking forward to your performance. Maybe you can teach some folds like me who don’t know how to dance.    

Halverson: I certainly can.

Get moving at work

Nowadays, more and more jobs are office work where people work on a computer and sit all day in the office. Then at home we sit more, either to watch TV or work more on a computer.

Our modern lifestyle of not exercising well and not eating healthy has caused a lot of problems in our society. We have more people with obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart failures, etc.

I am one of those who sit too much every day. I have an office job. My work requires me to sit and use a computer. At home I spend a few more hours on the computer to read and write.

Doing some exercise and eating healthy are important to keep me healthy and fit.

I try to include some physical activities into my daily routine.

I like to walk. I often walk during lunch time. If someone asks me to walk, I am a go.

I park my car farther away from my office building. Not only do I get free parking, I also get some walking exercise every day.

I go to yoga or relaxation classes at work whenever I can.

Last week during a presentation I learned a few new ideas to get moving at work.

If you have an informal small group meeting, instead of sitting in the conference room and talk, you can do a walk meeting. You walk and talk.

Remember to get up and stretch yourself every hour. When you are waiting for some documents or pictures to be uploaded or downloaded, get up and stretch a little bit.

Walk the stairs instead of taking the elevator. And walking the stairs up and down as a way to exercise and get your heart rate up.

I usually walk the stairs whenever I need instead of taking the elevator. Starting this week, I have been walking the 10 story high stairs at work for exercise.

So far I am walking only up and down once. My thighs have been sore this week. I plan to increase the amount as I get used to it.  

It doesn’t take much time, but is a really effective exercise.

————————

I posted an update to the 9/22/2010 post Advice from your future self

Photos from Ningbo – yummy Chinese food

For many Chinese living abroad, one of the things we miss the most about our home land is the authentic Chinese food. Going home to China means a much desired opportunity to feast on Chinese food – food we grew up with and love, and some we can’t find in the US.

During my trip this summer I finally got to eat some  seasonal vegetables and fruit that I hadn’t eaten for many years.

Food choices are so abundant in China, you won’t believe it without experiencing it yourself.

In some restaurants, you don’t order from a written menu. All the dishes, ingredients, sea food, etc. are displayed in the lobby for you to see. There are hundreds of them to choose from. All you need to do is to point at the dishes you want, the waiter enters the numbers into a handheld device and then the order goes to the kitchen. 

Hotels in China offer continental breakfast. There are chefs on site to take your order while you wait for a few seconds or minutes.

Today I uploaded a few photos to my Facebook page that were taken at the dinner party with some friends and at the breakfast in Marriott Hotel in Ningbo on June 4-5, 2010.  

Inspired by tinybuddha

Tonight while checking my Facebook page, I came across tinybuddha, a website/blog recommended by a Facebook friend.

Tinybuddha sends out daily wisdom quotes, shares tips and stories about applying wisdom to real life. You can follow Tinybuddha on Twitter or be a friend on Facebook.

After randomly reading several articles, I instantly became a fan.

One of the guest post titled 5 Ways to Create Random Acts of Love  by Alison Miller really touched me.

I made a comment after reading it: “What an inspiring story? I love it. Thanks for being such a compassionate human being. You changed the life of that man, and touched the heart of many more.”

When I saw the question on tinybuhhda’s Facebook, “Share your joy! Who inspired you today?” I had to respond: ” You insopired me through your writing and wisdom.”

It feels good to read someone’s writing that is inspiring and insightful. I am easily lost in time when I read online.

Woodbury Photo Contest – update

This is an update to the Woodbury Photo Contest I wrote about in a previous post.

The results have been published in the Oct. 2010 issue of Woodbury City Update, see below.

Here is one of the entries I submitted, taken from the deck of my house after a rain shower. It was not selected.  But I still think it’s a good one. So I want to share it here.

Judges select winners of 12th photo contest

The judging is complete and 29 photos were awarded prizes in the 12th annual “Focus on Woodbury” photo contest.

First place winners are Kimberly McDonough in the people category; Steven Shor, nature; Carolyn Leckey, pets; Kevin Wood, events and activities; and Cindy Lane Poch, landmarks.

Second place winners are Colleen Davis (people), Todd Sherrill (nature), Alyssa Anschutz (pets), Tom Dunn (events and activities) and John Mullally (landmarks). Taking third place honors are Sandra Stephens (people), Kerry Navara (nature), James Smith (pets), Mike Tuckner (events and activities) and Wendy Foslien Graber (landmarks).

All place winners will receive a gift certificate to a Woodbury restaurant or business.

In addition, judges awarded honorable mention to 14 photos. Winners include: Jeanne Berget, Dan Dawiedczyk, Jenna Guiton, Sue Hofacker, Ron Long, Fay Luthe, Judah Olive, Sameer Pai, Steve Saxe, Gloria Shaffer, Rajesh Singh, Joe Sobota, Doug Vetter and Mark Zitur.

This year’s contest, sponsored by Woodbury Magazine, drew 331 entries, the most ever received for the competition. Judges were Laura Haraldson, Bret Ryan and Karen Seashore. The winners will be recognized at the Oct. 13 City Council meeting.

Photos of Hangzhou Bay Bridge

 On June 4, we left my hometown Suzhou in Jiangsu Province to go to Ningbo in the neighboring Zhejiang Province. We traveled by car via the Hangzhou Bay Bridge (杭州湾大桥, also see Wikipedia).

The amazing Hangzhou Bay Bridge, opened to the public in May 2008, is the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world – 36 kilometres (22 mi) long. It took us about 30 minutes to cross the Bridge from the North shore to the South shore.

The Hangzhou Bay Bridge shortens the distance between Suzhou and Ningbo by at least 100 km (see the map) and reduce the travel time by more than an hour.

We had a smooth ride over the Bridge. However it didn’t come without cost. The toll fee is 80 yuan (ca $12) per vehicle. It is about one day’s income for a worker in China.

No wonder there were not many people driving over the Bridge.  

Photos of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge along with several other new bridges were posted in a previous blog post about toll roads in China.

Today I posted several photos of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge on my Facebook page.

A lot of images of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge are also available on google: http://www.google.com/images?rlz=1T4ADRA_enUS400US400&q=hangzhou+bay+bridge&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=n8uzTKjzKdOgnQet-eC_BA&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CB8QsAQwAA&biw=1259&bih=489

10.10.10

Just remember now that today is a special day, at least on the calendar.

It’s Sunday, October 10, 2010 – 2010.10.10.

Two years ago, China picked the date 08.08.08 and the time 8 minutes past 8 pm to start the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Did you do anything special today?

I wrote a thank you note to my pastor Frank Sanders and his wife Kathy from the Spirit of Life Bible Church. Pastor Frank is a great pastor. His sermons touch me week after week. He and his wife love people and serve God with their hearts.

I know I don’t thank them often enough. October is Pastor Appreciation Month. At least I wrote a thank you note and expressed my appreciation. I felt good doing it.

You can read more about Pastor Frank on my blog or on Wiki.

Only a couple of minutes left on this special day, 10.10.10. Hope you did something special and had a good one.  At least you were outside and enjoyed the beautiful autumn weather.

My girl

Last Friday my 10 year old girl Amy was invited to a birthday party by the daughter of a good friend of mine. A group of 6 girls went to Mall of America after school for fun rides and shopping.

Personally I don’t like to go to Mall of America. I haven’t been there for  a few years. Shopping is not my way of spending time and money.

I have a deal with my kids. If they want to go to birthday parties, they need to pay themselves for birthday presents. When they want to go to birthday parties, they are happy to obey and pay out of their own pocket.

So my girl paid for the birthday present. She made a birthday card and included cash. We thought cash is better than a gift card. You can spend it anyway and anywhere you want.

Amy also took $10 of her own money with her to Mall of America.

When she came home at night, I was eager to find out whether and how she spent her money, since it  was her first shopping trip without a family member.

“I didn’t spend any money.”

I was  surprised by her self-control.

Then she told me that one of her friends brought $40. Everyone bought something – silly bandz, perfume, etc. Everyone urged her to buy something as well.

“I wanted to buy the fragrence too, but they ran out of the flavor I wanted. Then I didn’t feel like buying anything. When I wanted to buy something, I thought of you. I didn’t want to make you mad.”

The word mad was a little harsh to hear for me. I won’t be mad in this case, even though I might not like what she bought. She already has enough silly bandz, she got more in her goody bag. She doesn’t need perfume or other cosmetic products at this age.

Yes, mostly times I don’t approve my kids’ request of purchase, even when they are willing to pay themselves.

“Mom, can I buy this?”

“Do you really need it?” is my usual response.

I was very proud of my daughter for having self-control and not giving in for any peer pressure.

That is my girl.

Photos from Li Garden in Wuxi

On June 3, after we visited the Lingshan Buddhist Scenic Spot, we stopped by at the Li Garden(Li Yuan Garden, 蠡园) in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. 
 
Li Garden is  a famous garden and a major Chinese tourist attraction, similar to those in Suzhou, my hometown. The two cities are very close, no more than an hour away from each other.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Photos from Lingshan in Wuxi

I posted over 40 photos taken at the Lingshan Buddhist Palace on my Facebook account. A few photos were also posted in a previous blog post.