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!

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.

My in-house editor

Sometimes when I am writing my blog or have my blog on the screen, my kids are interested in checking what I am writing or have written lately. 

My daughter likes to say: "Mom, this is not correct." She likes to correct mistakes I make. Usually they are minor mistakes that I think only native speakers would easily notice. 

Since English is not my native language, I don’t have a perfect natural feel for the language like the native speakers have. Native English speakers don’t necessarily have to learn grammar to use the language correctly. When they hear or read something, they can tell whether the words are used correctly or incorrectly based on how they sound like. 

Amy told me: "Mom, it’s not fried chickens. It’s fried chicken." She deleted the "s" from fried chickens in my post "KFC vs. McDonald’s in China." 

She added a "s" to "food scrap" I used in my post "Greening the workplace." 

Today Amy added a "s" to "getting on my nerve(s)" I had in my post "Parents, there is hope." 

I trust Amy’s judgment. Although she is only 10 years old, she is a native English speaker and a good reader, therefore has a better feel for the language. 

So I told her, "Go ahead and make changes if you find any mistakes I make." 

I like to have her read my writing and tell me what’s wrong. 

I hope someday Amy will be a writer and love to write like I do.

Parents, there is hope

My cubicle got a face lift today. It was painted fresh with a new color.

The painter is a nice guy, a grandpa with two grown up kids and two grandkids. I had a casual conversation with him, about kids.

I told him that my kids are getting on my nerves more than ever this year. They are 12 and 10 years old. They used to get along OK, they fought but not that much.

This year, things have changed for the worse. My son is getting very naughty. He likes to be sarcastic, say silly things to deliberately tease and annoy his sister, to make fun of her and provoke her. In his own word: "I like to torture her."

When I asked him, "Why do you do this to Amy? Do you behave like this with your friends?"

He said: "No, only with Amy, because we are family and she won’t mind."

My daughter is quick in response and action. When she gets annoyed and mad by Andy’s comments, which always happens, she reacts immediately and starts to chase him down and hit him. He let her hit, laughing or crying. 

I told Amy numerous times: "You do not need to react to his comments. The more you react, the more funny it is for him, and he will do more. If you ignore him, it won’t be fun for him and he will stop doing it." 

But my advise has fallen on deaf ears. 

Meanwhile, they are still fighting and chasing each other every day. 

It’s getting frustrating for me. 

Just last Sunday I told them when they were fighting in the car for no reason: "You guys provide the best entertainment. You don’t need TV or games at all. Just watching yourself fighting is more entertaining than anything on TV." Yelling won’t help. I tried to take it easy. 

Is this a teenage phenomenal? 

I asked the painter, "What about your kids?" His son and daughter are two years apart as well. 

He responded, "That happened to us. I remember a couple of times I had to pull the car over. I almost lost it. But don’t worry, there is hope. It will pass. When they get into high school, they will change. My kids are getting along just fine now." 

My brother witnessed my kids’ bad behaviour when we were in China recently. He said the same thing. "Don’t worry. They will stop fighting in a couple of years." 

I know I have hope. It’s just getting through it right now is not so fun and easy. 

Just like for my daughter, it’s hard not to react. 

I don’t remember ever fighting with my brother who is three years old than I. A few times my brother got into fights with boys in the neighborhood, and many times he got into trouble with our Dad who had a hot temper, but he never fought with me. We never fought for anything. We were pretty quiet kids. 

He told me recently: "I hit you twice when we were kids, because you cried and it annoyed me. I have regretted it ever since to this day." 

I would never know it had he not told me. 

Won’t it be nice if my kids were siblings like my brother and I?

One minute they were having fun playing together, laughing.


The next minute they were fighting like the worst enemies, punching and yelling at each other.

(Photos were taken 7/27/2010) 


A poet in the making

My daughter Amy prefers writing poems than doing the dishes or playing piano.

Today when I asked her to wash the dishes after dinner, she asked: "Can I write five poems instead of washing the dishes?"

She hadn’t written any poems lately. I would like to see her doing that again. So I said OK.

Later when she was playing piano, she asked: "Can I write 15 poems instead of playing piano?"

Again I said OK.

So she wrote over 10 poems today.

I am always amazed by how fast she can think of a poem. She definitely has a natural talent in writing poems.

Here are two of them: 


                                  Adventurous, fun

                           Intersting, exciting, inspiring

                         Words, pages, pencils, erasers

                          Drafting, editing, publishing

                                    Fun, awesome


I heard a ring

It was the phone

But I didn’t answer

Because I was home alone.

Some of her poems that won the 2009 Minnesota State Fair are available here.


I often tell my kids: “Get your homework done early. Don’t wait till the last minute.”

I wasn’t happy that my daughter Amy didn’t get her social studies homework done today. She had the weekend to do it, but she forgot. And worse, when she was ready to do the homework right before bedtime, she realized that she forgot the assignment sheet in her textbook at school and didn’t know for sure what needs to be done.

Amy asked me to wake her up tomorrow at 6:15 am to do homework.

Thank God, this kind of incidence doesn’t usually happen in my house. My kids are mostly responsible for their own school homework. If they forget something, they will get up early the next morning to finish it.

I don’t like the last minute hassle and stress, and prefer to get things done early and on time.

But truth be told, I don’t always follow my own advice. When it comes to things I don’t like to do, such as filing tax return, I tend to procrastinate a lot.

Every year, I wait till April, often right before April 15 to do my tax return. Every time I get it done, I feel such a relief as if a burden falls off my shoulder.

Logically I know I should get it done as soon as possible so I don’t have to feel burdened. But because I don’t like to do it, I procrastinate as much as I can.

In real life, people often behave irrationally. This is just an example. We wait till we can’t any more, knowing so well along the way that we are better off not to wait and procrastinate.

If I could do things I like to do and don’t have anything I don’t like to do, then I probably could say goodbye to procrastination.

Since this is unlikely in real life, I have to accept the fact that a certain degree of procrastination is a part of life. I am not perfect, and I can’t expect perfection from others either.

Good that I didn’t get too upset with my daughter today. I was pretty calm and didn’t yell at her. She has to take responsibility for her own action and learn from consequences.

Reading Rivalry at Middleton Elementary

Reading Rivalry Competition was held at Middleton Elementary School in Woodbury today. The 3rd, 4th and 5th graders had separate competition at the grade level. I watched my daughter’s 4th graders competing.

Amy’s team got the 3rd place. They lost the 2nd place to a boys’ team when they didn’t answer the 2nd tiebreaker question correctly.

Nice job, boys, for winning the reading competition. It shows you are not only good at sport (they were all wearing some kind of sport team shirts), but also at reading.

It was a fun and exciting event.

Each team had to read 12 books in order to participate in the competition. They had practiced with a parent coach since mid January. Amy was one of the few who read all 12 books.

Thanks Brenda Erikstrup for coaching Amy’s team! And thanks to all teachers and parents involved who made this event possible.  


DI Tournament and Award for Principal

My daughter Amy and I spent more than half of the day today at Harding High School in St. Paul for the 2010 Minnesota Destination ImagiNation East Metro Regional Tournament.

Destination ImagiNation is an after-school educational program for students from elementary school through college to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving.

Each team chooses a Team Challenge to work on. The team works together to create a solution and presents it on tournament day. The Team Challenge is the first part of the DI competition and is open to spectators.

The second part of the DI competition is the Instant Challenge. An Instant Challenge is an unknown challenge and is conducted in a private room with only one Team Manager for an audience.

The winning teams from the Regional competition are then eligible to compete at the affiliate-level "State" competition. Winners at the state level can compete at the Global Finals in May in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Amy was on one of the eight teams from Middleton Elementary School that participated in the event. The teams started practicing weekly since December 2009.

We left right after the Instant Challenge and before the award ceremony. So we don’t know the results yet.

Middleton teacher Mrs. Joan Hochman has organized and coordinated all the details around DI practices and competition for Middleton, with several parent volunteers as team coaches. My daughter’s team coach is Dana Millington. I want to thank them all for making the DI possible and successful at Middleton. I know they had put a lot of time and efforts into the program and tournament.

For more information on DI, visit the following websites:
Destination ImagiNation

Minnesota Destination ImagiNation

Wikipedia Article 

Speaking of Middleton, I got the following good “News from District 833” yesterday.

"Middleton Principal Julie Nielsen receives MESPA award
Congratulations to Julie Nielsen for being named the recipient of the 2010 Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association Division Leadership Achievement Award. MESPA members selected 12 of their peers to receive the 2010 MESPA Division Leadership Achievement Award. Principals are responsible for a school’s instructional, school culture, and resource leadership. The award honors principals whose exemplary leadership and sustained efforts have made noteworthy contributions to the operation of effective school learning programs – improving education, their communities, and their profession."

Congrats to Middleton and Principal Nielsen.

Don’t be intimidated

To teach my son financial responsibility, I helped him open a savings and a checking account over three years ago. So he could save his money in his bank account instead of keeping and spending all, and learn to use checks.

Mid November last year, Andy wanted to buy a school t-shirt, and he was willing to pay for it. So I wrote a check of $7 from his account to his Lake Middle School.

Unbeknownst to me at that time, his account would soon be closed by the bank due to six-month of inactivity.

The account was closed near the end of January 2010. The school didn’t cash the check until at the beginning of February. I don’t know why it took so long to cash the check. And I didn’t realize that I had the check still unpaid.

Last week I got a letter from a collection agency dated February 15. I was asked to pay $37.

I never had something like that happened to me. So I was not happy about it. A $7 t-shirt became an expensive $37 t-shirt.

But it was something I couldn’t blame anyone else for, I still had to pay.

Today I called the collection agency to pay the charges.

I pay everything with credit card. It’s just easy and convenient. So I asked the customer service rep if I could pay with my credit card. She told me I had to pay extra $12 for using credit card. Then I told her I would just send the payment with a check in the mail.

Then she started to intimidate me, saying if I didn’t pay right away with a credit card, I should mail the payment overnight. Sending the payment in the mail might be too late. The case could be referred to lawyer tomorrow and I could end up with expensive lawyer and court fees.

I asked for a timeline. I wanted to know when that would happen to avoid what she was telling me about dealing with lawyer and court. She couldn’t tell me. When I asked to talk to her supervisor or another person, she got upset, saying I would get the exact same answer. I didn’t buy it. She got inpatient and hung up the phone.

Having to pay extra $30 was enough for me. I didn’t want to pay another $12 unnecessarily. I certainly felt intimidated and threatened.

I would rather pay the school district the extra fee than the collection agency.

So I called the school district business office and told the woman on the line what happened.

She made a phone call to the collection agency. Then she called me right back and told me that what the rep did was not right. I don’t need to worry about being late. I have plenty of time to mail the payment in.

I was glad I didn’t give in to the intimidation.

This reminded me of another experience I had eight years ago with a doctor from Capitol Orthopedics.

My then three-year-old daughter suffered some fractures on her left elbow due to an accident. A local orthopedist threatened to turn me over to social workers because I didn’t want him to take an X-Ray of her elbow for the third time within a 10-day time period.

I felt the doctor was trying to manipulate and intimidate me. I never went back to him again. And my daughter turned out to be fine without that extra X-Ray.

I wrote about that experience in a Woodbury Bulletin article.

My point is, don’t let people in any kind of power or position intimidate you. Especially in the business world, people do certain things for their own best interest and benefit. If you feel intimidated, go to another source and get help from someone else.

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Reading biographies

My kids and I have always enjoyed reading and visiting library.

Since I announced incentives to my kids for reading nonfiction one month ago (see 1/31/10 post), visiting library has become a little bit more exciting.

They have been reading more biographies and have accumulated enough page numbers to be rewarded for an ice cream at every visit.

Now it has become a routine that we go to the library every Sunday afternoon to read and have ice cream. We stay for one to two hours till the library closes.

I check out lots of biographies about writers, artists, politicians, celebrities and historical figures and hope my kids will read them all.

My daughter reads some of them. She especially likes the “Who was …” series and has probably read most titles in the series.

But my son is not interested in the books I checked out for them. He reads almost only biographies about athletes whose names I do not recognize.

Since I don’t like books being checked out and returned without being read, I end up reading some of the books none of my kids wants to read.

As the result, I have been reading more biographies myself. It’s interesting to read about famous people or people I admire, William Shakespeare, Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa, Condoleezza Rice, J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, Kate DiCamillo, etc.

I wish I had read biographies years ago while growing up.

One common thread I find among the famous and successful people, especially writers, is that they love to read at a young age.

Today I read a biography about Oprah. Winfrey was born into poverty, but her grandma taught her to read before the age of three. I am sure that early reading and her life-long love to read played an important role in her success later in business and life.

Tha’t what I am trying to do with my kids. Instilling in them the love to read and helping them build a solid foundation for future success.