Today I Learn… I make a point of learning something new everyday. This is what I learn each day

1, Dec 31, 2008

Last Day of Year 2008

Filed under: Random Thoughts — admin @ 9:04 am

Yes, the end comes sooner than we thought. It is always this way if you don’t have the end in mind when you begin. Now looking back, you might be going through a whole spectrum of feelings —
–excitement over your achievements,
–frustration or despair over lack of it,
–sense of fulfillment for time worthily spent or
–feeling of guilt for letting another year gone by without any changes,
–a nightmare-like feeling toward an end,
–feeling like headless flies, being non-stop, non-productively busy,
–feeling of regret for not having done what you had long planned to do,
–counting your blessings for having been intact by economic downturn, or for having kept fit,…
Of course, some people might not feel anything at all, which is also excellent, because no feeling means no suffering, no experience and then no life.

Tomorrow is the beginning of another year.  To my children and to all youngsters with whatever goals they may aspire but often not strong on self-discipline to move toward them, I am going to say the same thing as I did this time last year — first and foremost, zero in on our New Year Resolutions, setting goals and new promises for the coming year.

Next, work out a detailed action plan to implement whatever you promise to accomplish. No concrete action plan often means empty promises and remain unchanged with each passing days and years until white hair sneak out, which we are all guilty of sometimes in our lives and don’t know how to be better than this.

The main reason for failure to materialize whatever we have promised is lack of self-control and self-discipline. Well, one step back, in reality, there are too many things — dreams, goals, ideal — that we failed to materialize as we grow old and sad. Hopefully, a plan and a monthly or quarterly check may work as a self-control mechanism.

My children know how nasty I could be when I am on their backs about writing their New Year’s Resolution.

So much for this joyful New Year’s Eve. Here’s my last statement for this year 2008

Happy New Year!

1, Dec 30, 2008

Parents Enforcing Rules of Behavior in a Family

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 9:18 am

I have been hesitating in talking about rules to some children in my family. Why am I so hesitating? The answer is simple — I have not thought of a better way of communicating them to him.

If the rules are too generous, they won’t work. It only serves to feed into his head a disrespect of rules and those who make the rules.

Rules are preventive, restraining, and aiming at regulating our behavior. It is an exercise of authority over a minor or anyone below you in power or position. They are made for enforcement.  It is better not to have any rules that are not enforceable.

The assumption behind a rule is this — I cannot trust you to behave well by yourself, so I have to exercise some authority by enforcing some rules upon you, like an invisible chain limiting you from undesirable behavior.  Would you like this chain? Not really.

Even when I was in primary school, I was always a maverick, somewhat resentful when teachers set some rules on us students and when I saw teacher doing something that we were not allowed to do according to their rules.  I could sense a degree of unfairness. As a growup, I became more sensitive toward any hint of rules upon me. I feel it difficult to make myself accept disrespect and distrust. I know how bad I can be.

Ideally, if children could do the right thing by themselves and had the logical thinking ability to follow the right path like my children, I am better off without ever thinking about any rules.

1, Dec 29, 2008

Setting Rules for Children in Our House

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 10:21 am

I am going to be very frank and serious with the children in my house. These are the rules that I set for them and expect them to follow+
(1) Absolutely no violence of any kind. If you violate this rule, send back home immediately.
(2) Absolutely no visit to pornography sites on the Internet. If you violate this rule, send back home immediately.
(3) No cursing and disrespectful words to anybody in the house.
(4) No running in the house.

I wrote the above and showed it to my son. He told me not to talk to the child now.  “Wait till next time he does something wrong.  Because children tended to have short-term memory.  It is more effective if we talk to him right after he commits a wrong,” he said. 

Surely enough, the little one will challenge me with a series of questions like these, “What do you mean? Why do you set these rules?  Do you mean I am violent? Do you mean I ever visit porn sites?”

I am still contemplating when and how to talk to the child about these rules.  Not a piece of cake.  I feel challenged even by a 10-year-old.

1, Dec 28, 2008

Chinese Parents’ Tendency to Belittle Their Children

Filed under: China,Parenting 101 — admin @ 11:45 am

I have found this issue rather deep-rooted in psyche of some Chinese parents — the tendency to talk negatively about their own children in front of their friends. I pointed it out before to the other responsible adult in the family, but it cropped out again during yesterday’s gathering with friends. I tried to make him stop, to no avail. This morning, while the children were still sleeping upstairs, I reminded him again of not bad-mouthing the children to others, either in front of the children or behind their backs. Find something else to talk about.

It is not because our children are so great and flawless that we have nothing bad to say about them. Nor is it because we should try to cover up their flaws. The bottom line is respect. Children are individuals, no matter how small they are, deserving no less respect than us adults. It is not fair to them if we treat them like pets, as if they cannot understand or do not care what others say or think about them. It is sometimes frustrating to me that some people simply don’t get this point.

In Chinese language, there is a rather self-depreciating way of referring to one’s own son — quan zi. I even feel uncomfortable translating it into English, but I have to.  It means “son of a dog.” How I dislike it!  

Don’t take it as these people are really playing down themselves by using the phrase quan zi. They just try to be modest. Or rather, they think they are supposed to be modest and thus act out modesty. Either way, I am fed up with the inconsistency between what is modestly said and what is thought inside. Well, I found myself in a not-so-nice mood when it comes to inconsistency.

Back to my topic, sometimes the need to keep a modest appearance might overwork itself when some Chinese parents feel the urge to belittle their children in front of their friends. Such a heavy topic on this sunny winter Sunday.

1, Dec 27, 2008

Teenager Acts Out Maturity

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 11:04 pm

No art class and tennis lesson on this Saturday. A nice break for me. Yet, I was more engaged today than normal Saturday.  More house cleaning and cooking than my back could tolerate.

A family of five came over in the late afternoon today.  They often asked about my son. When my son came home last Sunday, I thought it better to have them come over. Beside, their daughter and mine are friends. Their daughter is about my daughter’s age, a happy teenager or not. When I asked the mother if her daughter showed any sign of teenager rebellion, she did not answer my question directly. Instead she said it was always the parents’ fault when a conflict occurred between a teenager and the parents. She did not detail what kind of conflict that involved her daughter. I could see things were not rosy from their conversation.

Other people commented that her daughter was mature for her age. Yet, as far as I observed, she has exhibited a different kind of maturity or even immaturity. To be exact, she actually acts out her maturity or tried to give the impression of her being a mature adult and should be treated like an adult, which in itself is the sign of immaturity.

I am sure the 14-year-old will grow out of this stage years later. I would very much like to see people, small or big, act naturally. Yes, I am glad to see my children behaving humbly in front of people of their senior. Hopefully they will remain this humble even after they have surpassed us in their career.

Shopping Spree on The Day after Christmas

Filed under: American Culture,Economy — admin @ 1:36 am

Friday evening is always busier than other weekday evening. Yesterday was  day after Christmas when many stores normally offer deep discount on that day. The two youngest ones in my family have been looking forward to shopping today. The little boy has been asking for an MP3 player ever since he saw many of his classmates having them at school. I promised him I would buy one for him right after Christmas.

The girl asked her brother to take her to Town Center as she believed she could get some good deal for her clothes. Too bad my son did not have the car key to drive them around. They waited for me to get back from work.

I took them out immediately I got back before 4 PM. The boy got what he wanted and the girl did not find any good deal but asked to go to Border’s. So I dropped her there and got back home with the 10-year-old and my son.

My son had a dinner gathering with his friends and then they went to one of his friends’ house and stayed there till a little after midnight.

Seeing them so eager to buy and spend, I found it highly necessary to share with them my thought on the plight of the couple that we met at Christmas dinner. My son told me not to worry about him, while my daughter shrugged it off as if the topic were so irrelevant. I surely hope they will eventually truely understand why we need to save while we have instead of spending it all.  Right now, they remind me so much of the couple we met at Christmas dinner.  Only they are a lot younger.

1, Dec 26, 2008

A Could-Be Happy Christmas Story

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 9:04 am

We were invited by a neighbor for Christmas’ dinner, where we became acquainted with a couple who came from the same city as our neighbors’.  The plight of the couple is so dire that I kept thinking about them afterwards.  It provides a sharp contrast to the happy mood of the season.

The couple became jobless lately, living pretty much on money from the man’s relative. In an attempt to save money, they set temperature at 50 degrees at their house, so cold that the husband, in his mid-40th, got sick and now both of them lived in our neighbor’s house. Fortunately, they don’t have any children.

On the one hand, our neighbor has demonstrated real Christmas spirit in extending kindness and a warm dwelling to them. On the other hand, both of them used to work and make decent income before. Why didn’t them save some for time like this?

Their current plight was brought about partially by their irresponsible and carefree lifestyle. They used to “get drunk today while there is wine” and let tomorrow take care of itself. Also, the wife, a Ph.D holder, used to live in Japan and can speak Japanese but failed to make necessary adjustment here so that she could live and work here instead of relying on her husband’s income.

“Money cannot make you happy but you cannot be happy without it” — this quote came to my mind especially at this moment. How much self-respect can you maintain when you find yourself in this situation? I want my children to remember this lesson and really learn something from this. Unfortunately, this is a sad Christmas story on this Christmas day. It could be a happy one if …

1, Dec 25, 2008

Parents and Their Responsibilities

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 4:09 pm

It is a bright sunny Christmas.  I am not sure how this is related to Christmas.  I write it down because it has been sitting heavily on my mind ever since I discovered it.  Something very disturbing or rather alarming happened yesterday, something potentially scary.  

The adults went to work in the morning, leaving three children at home. One adult went back home at noon, hoping to take the kids to a bookstore. But the youngest one, 10-year-old, was very adamant in staying home.  So he did.

When I got home in the afternoon, I found him on the Internet.  He shut down the IE browser immediately when he saw me in. He was not supposed to play game as his mother instructed. So I checked Internet Explorer’s browsing history.  I was very disturbed to find that a few pornographic sites were visited during the period when he was home alone.  The page was so obscene that I dared not even open it in front of my children for fear of corrupting their minds.

The matter is too important to dismiss as being trivial. I am not sure if this is the first time that the boy visited porn sites or if this is the reason he does not want to go to bookstore with his cousins, but I felt the burden of responsibility and the urgent need to apply a sharp brake on this.

When confronting this, the boy was very uneasy and was very desperate on self-defense, denying he knew anything about it.  If he has not done anything wrong, he should have nothing to fear. But he does fear tremendously by the manner he talked to me.

I am going to have a serious talk with him and lay out some rules for him for the coming year. If he cannot follow these rules, I will have to send him home.

1, Dec 24, 2008

Christmas Gift Suggestions

Filed under: Holiday — admin @ 2:12 pm

Call me hopelessly optimistic or idealistic if you will.  How I hate myself for sounding so corny.  Besides, my memory might fail me occasionally when I quote from that part of my brain.  Still, I cannot help sharing this Christmas gift suggestions with the readers. 
To your enemy, your forgiveness.
To an opponent, your tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, your service.
To all, your charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect. 
             -Oren Arnold

To my readers, much more than the sum of all the above…

In Line With Holiday Spirit

Filed under: Education,Miscellaneous — admin @ 9:23 am

I have long made my stand clear to my children that Xmas is the season of giving, enjoying and reflecting the meaning of the season, not spending, expecting, over-indulging in food, and ending up with holiday stress, financially and physically.

The children grow up here and cannot be totally immuned from the influence and activities that were hustling around. Yesterday, my son announced that he was going to buy some gifts for the family. I reminded him that we did not have this tradition of unnecessary spending during holiday. He said, “Mom, I want to buy something for everybody just to keep up the holiday spirit.” I told him I did not need anything and the air ticket for him to fly home was my gift to him, and he only needed to get something for the little cousin and his sister.  I really live up to my reputation as a stingy mom.  Some people never change.

That he did yesterday evening. The little cousin huddled his new toy and kept shouting to his big cousin, “I love you.” I agreed it will help making the season more joyful, and putting smile on people’s face if they receive something during holiday.

Yet, I was a little bit concerned. Right now, my son spends parents’ money to buy gifts for everybody. I know he would borrow money from others if I said no. I wish in the future he is capable of boosting holiday mood with his own money instead of borrowing from others.

Living on borrowed money is really not in line with what I have taught him so far. Well, considering his good intention, I make an exception for him, also in line with holiday spirit.

1, Dec 23, 2008

The Power of Sincerity and Kindness

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 12:03 pm

I found following posted in the kitchen section in our clinic.  I think it too good not to be shared.  Plus, it is very much in sync with the holiday season and of course days and years beyond.  It makes me think of all people that have come into my life and reflect critically upon my interactions with them. 

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Embrace all equally!”

Holiday Season and Expression of Good Wish

Filed under: Holiday — admin @ 10:58 am

It is holiday season now with talks about presents and shopping all the time in the office. Although I do not go with the flow, I am not a party-pooper either.  Plus, I would not want to miss this chance to express good wishes.

Therefore, I gave some Xmas colors self-made origami products to some people in other department whom I see on daily basis. I distributed a bottle of chocolate candies to those whom I have contact with, not a regular chocolates but a rather deluxe ones.  Not too much but a little gesture.

I have found this practice of giving away a little something since I came to this company. People never give anything big or expensive.  It would make your look like a fool if you give lavishly.

I gave one colleague a Xmas card with a cloisonne-lid mirror, although I doubt if she understands what art it is involved in the making.  I feel like “Do in Rome as Romans do,” on the surface, though.

1, Dec 22, 2008

The First Encounter Between The Two Cousins

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 9:02 am

The 10-year-old boy in my house had heard so much about his big cousin and had been looking forward to seeing him with awe and tremendous good feeling, while my son also has learned about this younger cousin from his sister and others, not without preparation either.

The first encounter has been more successful than we ever expected. The 19-year-old treated the little one nicely and politely. He gave the little one a long-sleeve sweat shirt from MIT, but the little one does not know the word on the shirt. Neither does he know what MIT means and thus really he could not appreciate it.

When the 19-year-old could not understand some Chinese words that the little one said, the little one said, “What? How can you not know this simple word? I cannot believe it.” The big one admitted his Chinese was not so good and asked the little one to teach him.

Thus started a seemingly non-stop conversation with the little one asking his big cousin, “Do you know how to say … in Chinese?” The big boy behaved like a great man with a humble mind, glad to find a willing teacher, open, frank, and ready to learn and to enrich.

The first evening went sweetly without any friction with the little one who kept challenging his big cousin and felt on top of the world. My son has been nice, humble but not without a safe distance from his little cousin.

My son’s coming home provided a sharp contrast when we think of the arrival of the 25-year-old cousin who often finds himself wallowed in noisy fights with his two younger cousins.  We all agreed that my son’s calmness and maturity have tamed whatever wildness that the little one is likely to relish. To be honest, I found him getting more mature each time he got back.

Indeed, happy hours for us all.

1, Dec 21, 2008

No Break in Winter 2008

Filed under: children — admin @ 10:15 pm

My son was supposed to be home yesterday, but the flight was delayed for departure in Boston, consequently he missed the transfer in Cleveland and had to stay overnight in Cleveland. Luckily I have a friend there, who picked him from Cleveland airport at 9 PM yesterday and sent him to the airport around 10 AM today. He finally arrived home safe and sound around 2 PM today. The whole family went to fetch him at the airport.

This is how my children feel about any break, a break from school but not from their goals and plans.  I feel like a real mean mom again.  I told him we would work on three things during this winter break — finishing one Chinese book, writing New Year Resolution, helping me with this site.  I am not sure what help that I need but I know he can tell me what is needed to get some traffic.

1, Dec 20, 2008

No Rewards No Efforts

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:05 pm

The child living with us is indeed one of a kind. He resisted strongly any efforts to make him open an English book, even a picture one. In an attempt to promote a love for reading and to enlarge his English vocabulary, I proposed a reward system, that is, $10 reward for completing one English book.  A few weeks passed without his ever openning one book. He once even told me, “I would rather not have this money than read a book.”

Last week, I proposed to raise the reward to $15. He still thought it not enough to motivate him. Then, I said, “Fine, no money at all.  It is up to you.” He quickly accept the raise, but still would not open his book by himself. “I am waiting for my mom to be online and study with me,” came the answer every time I asked him to read. For about two days he did not do anything because the electricity was off in the building where his mother lives.

My child would appreciate it tremendously if I did the same thing with her. But being stingy as I am, I have not given her any reward like this.

Lately I taught him the word kind and kindness, its meaning, examples of kind words, actions, and persons and their opposites. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling when I felt so hopeful at teaching and dreaming of the beautiful consequence.

1, Dec 19, 2008

First Day of Winter Break

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 1:39 pm

Today is the first day of their winter break. I feel rather uneasy leaving the 10-year-old boy and the 13-year-old girl home by themselves, as I am not sure if a fight could break out. I told the girl of my apprehension. She assured me not to worry my head off as she considered it “too small to be noticed.”

She reported to me that she had practiced violin in the morning and studied Chinese by herself. She went to Border’s in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the boy prefers staying home, having all the computers to himself.  Peace prevails.

Greed goes before a fall–A lesson For All

Filed under: Crime,Education — admin @ 9:07 am

“Greed goes before a fall” — revised version of “Pride goes before a fall.” This is what I finally learn from Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme fraud, the largest of its kind in history. Greed, greed, greed everywhere, on the part of Madoff, and also on the part of some of those being swindled by Madoff.  It was estimated that US government might probably lose as much as $17 billion in lost tax revenue. I am sure many books will be written on this fraud and I can’t wait to read them.

In the process of this, he has succeeded in ruining many people’s lives by hoaxing away millions of dollars from them. The 70-year-old Madoff could not have broken Guinness World Records in the scale of money-swindling without an excellent teamwork of like-minded culprits. It was said that his son turned him in for “a giant Ponzi scheme.” Hopefully, this is not part of another scheme to save his sons, who have a longer road to go than a 70-year-old.

As a parent, I am more interested in the lessons that we can  draw from this economic crime. What is unfolded before us are enormous greed, irresponsibility, audacity, hard-boiled crulty, carefully engineered violation of laws, and insatiable desire for more and more until the criminal gets caught and receives what he desires in the end and go down the history as the biggest money swindler.

When we are free from hunger, disease, cold and worries, with blue sky and under a sunny day, the life is so beautiful as it is. The bottom line is anything is better than knowingly doing what is wrong and eventually, fall eternally and most disgracefully.

One last note, for ordinary folks, be very cautious and do not allow greed to take you to any big or small get-rich-quick scheme.

1, Dec 18, 2008

Procrastination, Time Management and Self-Control

Filed under: children,Education — admin @ 9:05 am

Yesterday evening my daughter said to me, “I bet you $10 if I don’t get my homework done by 8 PM.” I accepted the bet and wished her good luck.

I was thinking she must have assessed her homework and known she could get it done in that time frame. Also she must know that she could procrastinate until after 11 PM if she did not implement some rule or constraint on herself. She actually used this bet to force herself to focus on task on hand.  Good try.

This exercise of self-control will make every parent smile like a baby. Things did not go as smoothly as we thought, though. She thought her algebra homework was posted on teacher’s website like it was used to be, but not yesterday. So she got on the internet, saying “I need to send an email to my classmate, asking her about our homework today.” And then she was on internet doing something else, waiting for email reply, with no idea of how long that waiting would be. At this moment, she asked for an extension as she had some legitimate reason. I told her to call instead of waiting for email reply. This she did and got what she needed to get work done. By the time she started doing the real work, it was a quarter till 8 PM.

What happened was she did not start doing homework immediately after dinner. If she started earlier she still had time to check with her classmate and found out any problem that might unexpectedly crop up.  Instead, she thought she could get the work done in less than an hour and was puttering away her time on the internet or something not related to homework until after 7 PM.

I gave her 30 minutes extension, but told her, “You would not be able to get any extension if it were real work.”  Still, I take it as a good beginning to the long battle against procrastination and a good effort in self-control and time management.

1, Dec 17, 2008

“It always takes two palms to slap a sound”

Filed under: American Culture — admin @ 10:08 am

I have found it a huge waste of time flipping through Pete Navarro’s book, but I did flip and for this time wasting, I have to waste more time to make me feel better.

The author’s intention is too glaring to the eye — that is, the book serves as a battle cry to rally forces around the world to send the dragon to sleep or whatever worse than this. Sadly to say, before you reach your set goal, you destroy its credibility with your bias and thus the book itself. A question naturally arises in readers’ mind — why is love so much absent for ordinary people living in China who need to make a living, the kind of love shown in the form of constructive suggestions and genuine concern for majority of people living there?  When your mind is too full for negative thoughts, it is left no room for anything else, isn’t it?  You torture yourself with these negative thoughts before you ever torture others.

A Chinese saying goes, “It always takes two palms to slap a sound.” This wise saying recognizes  interactions between two parties for anything to ever happen, especially it is true with demand and supply rule regulating world market. Sadly to say, Pete Navarro so woefully fails to understand this when he attributes many of US economic problems to “China price.”

If nobody buys from China, China has no place to export and will cease manufacturing whatever US wants.  Who ever asked the buyer to come to the door of the seller? If you think it ridiculous to blame seller for buyer’s problem, congratulate yourself because you are in your right mind, unlike Pete Navarro.

You have the choice as what to buy and what not to. If you cannot control the seller, you can control what to import and what you can buy or can boycott.  Why blame China?

Indeed, it is really a huge comfort to the feeble-minded who can do nothing with their own problems but easily shifting blame unto others. I certainly would not want to see this in my children. Thanks for being an excellent negative example.

1, Dec 16, 2008

Huge Waste during Christmas Spending

Filed under: American Culture — admin @ 9:07 am

Yesterday morning, the 25-year-old nephew left for China. This Saturday, 12/20, my son will be back home for winter break to add to the joy of holiday.

Yesterday at office I heard people talking about Xmas gifts. One person asked for ideas on gift to the parents. “He doesn’t need anything. I mean he has everything. I don’t know what to buy for him.” Buy nothing, unless your parents want you to waste money on something they don’t need. It is just this simple. I am totally down to earth and against the tide and trend.

This is what I practice to my children and to my parent. I don’t give in to this commercialization of a religious holiday or any holiday or encourage any expectation of anything extra when nothing is lacking.  Bottom line is I do not agree with wasting.

Talk about the waste. How much money people dissipate on things they don’t really need during this religious holiday in this country. Look at the spoil child who only knows counting his/her presents but not his/her blessings. Does this what Jesus taught people to do? Preaching one thing, practising another. You can define what Hypocrite means.

Yes, I do give money to my daughter, only for her to drop in Salvation Army’s bucket. Not much but better than nothing.

1, Dec 15, 2008

Send the Waking Dragon Back to Eternal Sleep

Filed under: Reading — admin @ 10:06 am

I was reading a book called Waking Dragon: The Emerging Chinese Economy and Its Impact on the World, written By Peter Navarro. As far as I understand, the sole purpose of the author is to condemn China to the utmost of Pete’s wit and ability, even to the point of distorting fact and history. Normally, I dismiss books like this, realizing that there are always two opposing stands to any rising phenomenon. Not this time.

Fallacy number one, China has never known how to live in harmony with nature. China only intents on destroying nature for profit. China has no historical and cultural relationship wtih nature and environment. China has no sense of stewardship of the planet. China is so money-driven and territory-occupying that she never loves and cares for nature.

Do Chinese buy this statement? Who is the biggest waste producer in the world? Not China. Who uses most of the world resource, oil and fresh water? Not China, even though China has the largest population.

Last time I went back to China, I learned, in an effort to reduce plastic waste, Chinese customers must pay for their grocery bags if they do not have their own bags. How many cities in the world that enforce this practice. China has the largest recycle industry, not for profit but for the love of nature, when most of developed countries have this capacity but find it not profitable to engage, for fear of wasting their dear dollars at the cost of polluting the not-so-dear environment.

This morning I learned that China is making history in car industry. A Chinese auto maker BYD introduces China’s First homemade Electric Car, F3DM for the mass market, which at least a year ahead of similar efforts around the world. Huge effort to reduce gas emission and pollution from gas-feed cars.

It is so typical of some humans to see everything black if they believe it is black, white if they believe it is white. This absolute way of thinking explains why the author paints a hopelessly pitch dark picture of China. Is China that bad? Don’t we hope we could administer a heavy dose of sedative-hypnotic drugs, strong enough to send the dragon back to an eternal sleep, so that the rest of the world can live happily forever, only if we could turn back the clock. Happy or sad?

I only hope my children can be free from this extreme absolute way of thinking, not to speak of maximizing its damage via writing.

1, Dec 14, 2008

Procrastination — A Learned Behavior

Filed under: Education,Reading — admin @ 10:15 am

I read a magazine yesterday at Border’s, Scientific American Mind, Dec 2008 issue. The cover article is “Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit?” By Trisha Gura.  I thought the topic is a timely reminder to my son who is almost famous for putting things off till last second. 

The article does not actually provide any feasible method of getting rid of this habit. Instead it tells us something we already know, well, not as exactly as the author, though — “Almost everyone occasionally procrastinates, but a worrisome 15 to 20 percent of adults routinely put off activities that would be better accomplished right away.” Nice to be told again, right?  I hope we do not belong to that group of adults.

The bad part is the foot-draggers have to face some undesirable consequences for procrastination –financial, physical, relationship, and even professional. I know a friend of mine who always postpones filing tax return to last second and never fails to file for an extension.

Procrastination is a learned behavior. The article traces back to early human history for its root, provides a brief nature-and-nurture argument, and goes through a lengthy explanation on people’s penchant for task aversiveness and pain avoidance.

You may think it is so easy to say, “Do what you should do first regardless of what.” Indeed, how complicated can it be?  No legitimate excuse whatsoever for failing your task.

I would think if procrastination is a learned behavior, like drinking and smoking and even overeating, it is only a matter of human will over human addiction or behavior.  The stronger one will prevail over the weak one.  You will be tragically defeated by your own addiction if your addiction proves stronger over your will and you willingly subject yourself to the control of whatever habit you may have acquired.  The toll is too heavy for life if you thus let go of control.

1, Dec 13, 2008

A Reward System To Put a Brake on Teen’s Expense

Filed under: children,Economy — admin @ 5:18 pm

My daughter had two art classes in the morning, one of them was a makeup for last week’s.  This is the first art class that she attended since I got back from China. Saturday morning was spent chatting with friends and reading magazine and books at a church.  It was such a pleasant escape.  It almost gives headache when I think of a house with three kids and the amount of household work that is waiting for me. Yes, I am so selfish.

As you may have guessed, the word of the day for the 10-year-old yesterday was grateful , yes, as grateful as our closest friend — dog. I explained the word to him and shared with him the story of a grateful dog. He understands that it is very very bad to “bite the hand that feeds you” and we humans should learn from the dogs who return loyalty to the hands that feed them. I feel so hopeful, well, also a little bit too idealistic.

In the afternoon, the boy had tennis lesson at 2 PM and the girl had a birthday party at 3 PM, with me being the full-time driver.

A friend of mine recommended me a reward system as the mechanism to curtail the unsatiated demand for clothes and other expenses.  I used to practise it when my son was at elementary school, like 1$ for each 100 score that he made either on his homework or on test.  But I ceased doing that when he showed the tendency of requesting for return for whatever he did.  I found the system containing a flaw that cultivated this tendency.  That is, the child got the idea that he only did something when there was reward. The eventual fallout for the system was it was difficult to make him do anything for nothing.

What about responsibility, volunteering, and the love and care that parents have shone on their youngsters unconditionally? Getting good grades only means taking care of their responsibility, just as we parents take care of ours. A reward should be given for exceeding the expectation not simply for meeting it.

Yes, I do need to put a reasonable brake to the uncontrolled expense.  In the afternoon before my daughter’s birthday party, she asked to buy an additional gift for her friend. I vetoed the suggestion and reminded her that I had spent over $25 on her friend’s gifts. I knew she would eventually override my veto, still I raised it so that she would feel the constraint and tried to reach the point of mutual satisfaction in the end.

At this point I brought up the topic of budgeting and constraint, fiscal responsibility, the idea of living on borrowed money and going bankrupt when you have no place to borrow, etc.  After a brief lecturing, I asked, “How about this? Starting from next year, I give you a card with a total of $500 for your total yearly expense on your clothes and any other minor indulgences that you would want?”  I thought she would think it not enough and ask for more, but guess what? she asked me, “What if I have some money left by the end of the year? Can I keep them?” “Of course, you can keep them and you can deposit into your account if you have more money,” said I.  At this point both of us are as happy as we can be.

I feel like celebrating the triumph of reasoning, understanding, and compromise over everything opposite to these. On top of this, I am grateful to my friend who first gave me this suggestion.

1, Dec 12, 2008

Reflection on the Gratefulness and Loyalty in Dogs

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:54 am

The winter break is coming soon. I have talked to my two children my plan for this two weeks. Yes, by now they have got used to my asking them to set a goal and lay off a plan so that they can make good use of their time.

My plan is for them to have a crash course on Chinese. Specifically, I will ask them to find a Chinese book and finish reading it in two weeks, which includes learning whatever new characters that they see and need to memorize.

A few days ago I was looking for such a book and found many animal story books. Many fine characters found in animals are very much talked about and celebrated, such as loyalty in dogs and touching loving relationships between animal parents and their cubs.

This is the first time that I asked myself why dogs are so famous for their loyalty. I don’t think there is anything hereditary here. It is a conditioned and an acquired behavior. A dog treats its master well only because he has been well treated. If anything, I would say a dog is very grateful for the food and well-care that is given to it. It cherishes and values whatever good and attention it receives from its master, a much better company than some of the humans.

I would think a dog would behave differently if it were maltreated or abused. So is it true with human relations. Don’t blame me for being too optimistic. I believe if a child is well-treated, there will be desirable results, though not the same degree of gratefulness and abiding loyalty we see in animals. As the rule, good deed should yield good return.  We know that won’t happen always, given the fact that humans are a lot more cunning, crafty, capricious and complicated than any living beings. Still,  I am looking at the bright side and believe things will turn out well if we humans seriously learn something from our nearest friends.

1, Dec 11, 2008

Word of the Day — Peace For All

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:38 am

Word of the day for the 10-year-old — Peace, which means no fight, no violence, no shouting, no hot temper, no weapon, solve problem with peace, live in peace. I feel like talking in dream again. When being asked if he liked peace, he said “Of course.” Only he needs to be reminded of practicing peace, for all.

“Laid off. Anything help” written on a board carried by a middle-aged man standing in bitter coldness just off 430 highway. The man looked so familiar that I thought hard and remembered he once worked at Prairie Life Fitness Center. There were many cars waiting off highway, yet no one offered him anything. Such a sad sight in this brightly lit holiday season. I could not imagine what was going in his mind at this moment — sad, helpless, shame, anger because of no help from anyone …

I was thinking of sharing this encounter with my daughter but I held back, because she was in a good mood to share a piece of good news with me. The news was she had achieved a very high score in a math test, higher than she did before and higher than some of the assumed-smart kids in her class. I told her she was so lucky to have a good brain because I knew she did not work hard and still got decent grades. That is a real blessing.

Some of the blessings are like air that we live with and enjoy daily, yet we seldom notice its presence until it ceases to be present.  Actually, a lot more blessings if you asked people like Helen Kelly.

1, Dec 10, 2008

One Concept Per Day

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:30 am

A quick update on the missed flight yesterday morning.  I called the agency that issued the ticket. Luckily, they could soon find a seat for next Monday, for additional $500.  I picked up the bill and made the change immediately.  Thus gone $500, so easily and gracefully for me on this holiday season.

I have been tortured with irritating cough and insomnia since I came back from China, and on top of this, feeling the pressures from both sides regarding the 10-year-old in my house — on the one hand, the one witnessing him waving kitchen chopper insisted on his leaving; on the other hand, pressue from his mother whose intention on his stay was clear as daylight.  Finally things let down a little bit for me now.

I talked with San Yi, my youngest sister at home over the phone on Monday and Tuesday evening. It turned out both San Yi and Grandma were very much worried about me.  They were also concerned about the tension brought upon my family here by the arrival of the 10-year-old.

My youngest sister advised me not to sweat too much over the education of the boy as it was not originally intented this way.  I perceive myself playing the role of fire-extinguisher first, then that of an educator of soul and a care-taker, not the imparter of knowledge.  As long as I can keep under control his wanton temper, I am a happy being. Yes, “wanton” is the exact term that my child described him while I was in China.

I am keenly aware how much it takes to raise a decent kid. Each of us is strictly limited in our ability to do what we want. I can do only this tiny bit and I don’t expect I will make big difference.  If anything I want to get out of my effort, that is, I want him to be a better person first, then a useful one later.  I would rather him to be a useless good person than the otherwise.

As a Chinese saying goes, a journey of a thousand li starts from the first step. This first step for me is to introduce one concept per day, starting last Sunday, with the purpose of teaching both English words and the rules of behavior.  If I keep it up, he will be a lot richer and nicer after one year with 365 nice words.  So far, I have covered responsibility, respect, and trust. He understands the concept after my explanation, yet still having a real hard time memorizing these words.

Here’s a short list of words that I have planned to drill into his head: peace, peaceful, kind, kindness, friendly, volunteer, love, loving, care, caring, Jesus, take care of, giving, humble, modesty, hard work, polite, nonviolence, goal, civil, gentle, thrift, bless, blessing, honest, fair, fairness, truth, true, honor, courage, help, helpful, courtesy, responsible, respectful, grateful, etc. A good plan, I know. It only needs to be religiously implemented.  Again, wish me good luck.

I record all this experience so that my children will have a place to look for answer if they have questions on this matter in the future.  I wish I had some more cheerful topics to write on than this one.

I am hopelessly optimistic, because that is the only way to feel good and to look at the future.  The spirit of Ah-Q revives in me again.

1, Dec 9, 2008

The Happiness Equation: The Negative Factors

Filed under: Health,Reading — admin @ 8:50 am

Yesterday evening the 25-year-old in the family came back from school.  He was supposed to go back to China this morning, but missed the flight, because the other adult in the house did not get up until 4:40 AM, arriving at the airport at 5:20 AM, too late for 5:40 AM flight.  I will need to call the agency to change the flight, if any available.

Negative factors that we should avoid if we want to be happy.
depression – 5  (get of out it if you are in)
negative emotions – 5   (add positive one to offset it)
too much choices – 5
worrying – 5   (too active in over-thinking)
comparing yourself to others – 5
lack of exercise – 5
binge drinking – 5
recreational drugs – 5
widowhood – 5
pessimism – 4
stress – 4
poor time management – 1
unhappy ending – 2
fixed mindset – 2
lack of confidence – 1
powerlessness – 3
watching TV – 4
insomnia – 4
materialism – 4
divorce – 4
unhappily married – 4  (worse than being single)
being single – 1
famiy fights – 1
broken family – 1
conflict at work – 1
umemployment – 2
lack of self-discipline – 2
job insecurity – 1
unhealthy foods – 2
workaholic – 1
celebrity worship – 2

1, Dec 8, 2008

The Happiness Equation: Positive and Negative Factors

Filed under: Health,Reading — admin @ 8:29 am

I feel forever grateful to my children who insist on going to bookstore on weekend, leaving me no choice but grab-a-book-and-read, which is better than doing household chores. The immediate benefit is reading always leaves me in a good mood. Today I went to Barnes & Noble’s bookstore and happened to find an interesting small book entitled, The Happiness Equation: 100 Factors That Can Add To or Subtract From Your Happiness by Bridget Grenville-Cleave, Ilona Boniwell, and Tina B. Tessina, 2008.  

The title of the book is very much self-explanatory — we + positive factors – negative factors = our happiness, assuming we share the same definition of happiness. Basically, we should develop more positive factors and limit or do away with negative ones, if we want to be happy. I would not want to miss sharing this equation. I only list part of the 100 factors, already too long for one posting.  Below are the positive factors. The negative ones will be posted tomorrow.  See how many points you can get for your positive happy factors.

extrovert + 1
sunshine + 0.5
community spirit + 0.5
contact with nature + 0.5 
adaptation + 2
feeling good + 5  (even after you flunk a major test)
vitality + 1
positive illusions + 2    (dream on positively)
curiosity + 1
luck + 1
humility + 1
optimism + 5  (keep real sunny face)
resilience + 4  (bounce back after each stumble)
acceptance + 1
gratitude + 5    (count your blessings, always)
forgiveness + 2  (don’t roll up your sleeve and show your ancient scar all the time)
coping well + 2  (similar to resilience)
positive time perceptions + 3
finding the flow + 5  (if there is one)
dancing + 3   (with a wolf if you cannot find a better partner)
gardening + 3  ( be an amateur farmer)
having a hobby + 4    (like gardening, whenever you have time)
visiting an art gallery + 3
making music + 2  (as if you were Mozart)
playing + 2  (play safely)
smiling + 4   (in moderation)
keeping a diary + 5  (so many points to gain for your daily scribbling)
savoring + 5   (slow down and take time to smell the rose)
laughter + 4    (at yourself if you find nothing to laugh at)
getting things done + 2
love + 5
successful marriage + 5  (imagine one if you don’t already have it)
close friends + 5   (open yourself to one if you don’t have any)
acts of kindness + 5  (a kind heart is the prerequisite)
going to church + 2
owning a pet + 2
emotional intelligence + 1
sharing good news + 1  (don’t keep the secret if you win a lottery)
having goals + 5  (good and realistic ones)
education + 1    (who pay for it?)
self-esteem + 2   (high one, of course)
appreciating excellence + 2 
job satisfaction + 2
gender (f) + 0.5
personal growth + 3
money + 0.5
feeling healthy + 2
using your strength + 5
creativity + 1
good nutrition + 2
vocation + 2
beauty + 0.5  (having it, if you are one of the lucky ones)
having children + 3  (one is not enough to get 3 points)
religion + 5  (any belief is better than none)
mental well-being + 1
hope + 3
volunteering + 2
meditation + 5
matching values and actions + 2  (no double-face)
finding meaning + 5   
lifelong learning + 1   (same as education)

1, Dec 7, 2008

Small World Yet So Far and Cold

Filed under: Miscellaneous — admin @ 10:27 pm

Yesterday morning, I was at SM East High, waiting for my daughter who was taking SAT. There were other Chinese parents waiting, too.  I saw one Chinese couple and had sensed they would rather be left alone, still I brazened out, trying to strike a conversation with them.  I kept asking them questions. They have two boys, the 20-year-old in Stanford and the 12-year-old in 7th grade, participating in Duke’s TIP. The older boy graduated from Blue Valley Northwest in 2006. The mention of BVNW reminded me of a boy, JM, who often played tennis with my son.  It turned out they knew JM and his family very well.

I further asked some more questions and found out they were not as unfamiliar as I initially thought. They never talked without being asked. I knew one of the couple. Their boy was even sitting next to my child during the exam. Yet, it was interesting to feel the distance when we were facing each other. Small world, far and cold.

1, Dec 5, 2008

Bitches and Witches at Work

Filed under: work — admin @ 11:15 am

Robert Sutton suggests in his book that that sometimes you just have to go with the flow and practice “indifference and emotional detachment.” “Just rely on your life vest and float with your feet out in front of you.”

It is so easy to say this when we are a bit distance away from the event. Now I can laugh at many unpleasant things that happened to me in the past, yet the hard part is to be able to put things in perspective when you are directly facing the event.
I feel sorry for those who have to work with either bitchy, aggressive or downright unreasonable people. There is no universal cure to this problem. It all depends on the kind of people you are dealing with and the kind of person you are and the amount of tolerance you can put up, and the amount of psychological and emotional damages you can stand by bitching back, and how much you are willing to give up.

The real sad part is you don’t have many legitimate choices in dealing with bitches at work. See if you can do better than this.
(1) Confront the bitch or the aggressor.
(2) suck it up
(3) inform the management
(4) pack up and go
At any rate, I have found none of the above works for me.  Well, I did confront but not aggressive enough.  I think it extremely important not to let the bitch turn you into one of them, that is, if you are not already one.  This is what I have to say to my children — always comport yourself with the full dignity and integrity befitting the standards and principles that you have been adhering to.  So much for the Friday.

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