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

1, Jan 31, 2009

Worst Economic Time = Best Educational Time

Filed under: Economy,Education — admin @ 8:38 am

Undoubtedly, this is the worst economic times that we ever face since the time at least I can remember. It is so bad that nearly everybody lost something in the process, either your job or the value of your savings, or even the dear lives as we see an increase in suicide cases. Some of our investments have been cut by half — big ugh. It hurt so much that I don’t even want to think about it. Yet, a smart move should be trying to salvage something out of the worst turn, transforming bad into something good by making it the best time for needed education on financial discipline and consumer-driven economic model, etc.

In the past, my children could not fully appreciate some of the practice in our family, that is, no Christmas presents, no allowances, no pay for doing household work, always putting part of paychecks in savings, etc. One of my children kept comparing our expenses to those of her classmates. They used to think like average Americans, that is, you are rich only when you drive, dress and house like a millionaire, regardless how deeply indebted you are.

Now they understand that you are rich only you have savings because paycheck can be cut off at any time beyond your control. Without savings, you are rendered penniless upon receipt of pink slip. At difficult moments, it is better to have savings in reserve than all the useless junks that they once so much desire but have not needed. They understand why some people become homeless instantly once they become employed. “Don’t they have some saving?” No, they don’t.

In the past, they were told by society that they would be good citizens until they become good consumers, the more money pouring into the market, the better to our economy, as our GDP is largely driven by consumer spending. Savings mean contraction, hurting economy. Now, they know the first responsible thing to do is taking care of themselves financially.

They used to talk about what they would buy when they had money — big house, fancy car, the most luxurious furniture, more than celebrity style of living. Now they learn what should be taken care of first. My daughter told me she would spend what she desired until she had enough savings. Before that, she only spends what she really needs for a living.

To be sure, children’s appreciation of a toy never lasts longer than a week or so. It is the parents who should be wise enough to put a brake to any unreasonable demand that the children might raise. The wise parents should know what is really good to the children. It is so easy to turn your hard-earned money into some kind of junks, but totally impossible to transform it back.

Recently my daughter and I talked tremendously on this topic, so much so that I am deeply convinced that the current economic crisis will leave an indelible mark in her memory and will definitely influence her in many ways.

Well, think of the loss in stock market as your tuition in economics 101.

1, Jan 30, 2009

An idiot’s Dream–Californian Model

Filed under: American Culture,Economy — admin @ 9:13 am

The state of California faces a projected deficit of nearly $42 billion by the middle of next year. To save money, its governer issued an executive order requiring 238,000 state employees take two days off without pay each month. A Sacramento state court judge orders officials to immediately implement this plan. This equals to a 9% pay cut and a saving of $1.3 billion for the state through June 30 next year.

Instead of giving out money for more spending, this is taking away so that they don’t have anything to spend. Of course, less consumer spending will cause contraction. But why spending on borrowed money?

This is the brightest idea and a very courageous act that I have heard of so far since the nation’s economic crisis, even at the risk of his political career. It is like a political suicide to even mention it because people hate to the guts even the idea of a penny cut from their paycheck. When I talked to the monitor about this yesterday, he thought American would never accept this. Personal sacrifice like this simply runs against the cultural gene.

The United States would be immensely better off if we had a revolutionary president like this governer. Imagine how much saving it would mean to the federal government if all federal employees could take the similar action! Well, another idiot’s dream.

Yesterday, I learned of two suicide cases happened in Los Angeles, both committed by unemployed fathers. In one case of an Indian family, the father took away the lives of three children, his wife, mother-in-law before he ended his own. In another, also a minority family, the father finished the lives of his five children, his wife and his own. There are many cases of individual suicide lately, but it is too tragic to take the whole family.

These crazy family killings must have sent a scary message to the children. My daughter said jokingly to me, “Don’t kill me if either of you loss your job. I still want to live.” She has learned the company was going to lay off people soon. I told her not to worry because we can manage over 2 years in case the paychecks were cut, without touching our retirement funds.

So much for an American dream or the end of it for those Dear Departed. Should we call it an idiot’s dream?

1, Jan 29, 2009

Teach Our Children on Economic Discipline

Filed under: Economy,Education — admin @ 9:21 am

Why do I dwell so much on money and economics and won’t move on to something more cheerful than this? The recent sharp economic downturn comes at the time when my children are mature enough to understand and learn something. I want to nail this experience in their heads so that they could learn a lesson from this crisis.

At the recent annual World Economic Forum in Davos, the world politicians and business leaders used this opportunity to throw blames at each other. Not long ago, the newly-employed US Treasury Secretary blamed China for “currency manipulation” that led to high US trade deficits and contributed to the current economic crisis. I have never known China has become so powerful that she can create such a hell of luck for the US. How we wish the problem were this simple!

The Davos gathering provided Chinese leader a chance to have China’s voice heard. The Chinese Premier, in his first appearance at Davos, sent back the blame for the crisis squarely on the US authorities. The crisis was caused by US “inappropriate macro-economic policies of some economies and their unsustainable model of development,” a model of high spending, low savings, living on credit, without economic discipline, that is, “the failure of financial supervision and regulation”.

Russia Prime Minister, if anything, is more frank and challenging. He blamed American “poor quality regulation” and the world’s dependence on the dollar as the only reserve currency.

To be sure, financial supervision and regulation are beyond individual’s control. The only thing we can do is not following the failed spend-more-than-your-earning model. Go the other directions — spend-less-than-your-earnings. A strict financial discipline needs to be in place so that we can squirrel away enough acorns for extreme weathers and live as decently as our dearest neighbor — the squirrel family.

1, Jan 28, 2009

Why Is Money Important? What does money means?

Filed under: Money — admin @ 8:49 am

Here’s some random thought on the role of money in our lives and why we need to think twice before spending. We all know that money is not everything but nothing can be done without it. It cannot make one happy but one cannot be happy without it. Not so hard to figure that out, right? Here’s the twisted way of thinking about money or not that twisting.

(1) Money = time.
If you have money, you can choose between working and not working, between working full-time and working part-time. You certainly have more time for yourself if you choose not to work or work part-time. You can choose to spend time watching bird or waiting for a dog’s smile if you can afford that time. Or like the 25-year-old relative of ours, you can retire at age 40. If that’s the case and if you live up to 100 years, you have 60 years at your own disposal. More money = more time for you.

(2) Money = freedom.
If you have money, you have the freedom to choose where to live and where to work, like my children who are so eager to move to places like New York City, Boston, or anywhere that millionaires like to gather around. Or if you don’t like your job, you are free to leave and can afford to land any job you wish if you still want a job.

(3) Money = health
With money, you can afford to build a swimming pool in your backyard or basement and take a dive any time you want. Or enjoy a deluxe fitness club. Or have a personal fitness trainer to make your workout more fun and tolerable. I learned that some unemployed people have to give up some medically necessary tests and procedures for lacking of money. And it is a known fact that people at lower social level suffer from a large share of cancer morbidity and mortality.

(4) Money = comfort
With money, you can live in a spacious house and hire someone for your backbreaking cleaning and cooking needs. Or dine out anytime you please.

(5) Money = entertainment.
With money, you can travel anywhere you like, if that entertains you. Or drive a fancy car without worrying about gas price.

… and many many more possibilities …

Have you done exercise like this? A = B = C = D, if S = A, then we can say S = B = C = D. I know how preposterous it may appear. Try this exercise next time you want to exchange your money with some stuff in the store —

Known: money = time, freedom, health, comfort, and entertainment, therefore, the stuff you want to buy also = time, freedom, health, comfort, and entertainment. Ask yourself: is it as valuable as your time, freedom, health, comfort, and entertainment?

It is not just a penny saved = a penny earned, but = a fraction of time saved. That may be too much a challenge to some people’s imagination. At least we have some idea of the important role that money plays in our lives and give it a second thought when you are going to spend your hard-earned money.

1, Jan 27, 2009

The Announcement of Job Cut Throughout Sprint Nextel Campus

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 9:22 am

The announcement is once again echoed on Monday throughout Sprint Nextel headquarter — “Sprint Nextel Corp. will cut a total of about 8,000 jobs by March 31.” The news once again throws many people into a period of worries, fear and instant panic. Indeed, panic is the first reaction upon job loss. That’s why the first advice that is often handed out to the unfortunate is “Don’t panic.”

This piece of news coincided with some observations and a book that I am reading at the moment. I observe some people that I know of drive BMW and dress rich. You may be dazzled by the display of wealth and find it hard to tell “the difference between wealth and pretend-wealth.” Only their retirement fund or savings in reserve and their attitude toward event like job cuts can reveal this difference. These observations remind me of the book by Lee Eisenberg, The Number, A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life.

He uses a term which can be applied to some folks that I know of, the faux millionaires, that is millionaires in appearance only without anything salted away. It is these people that are panic-prone upon the sound of job cut.

The author classifies people into four personality types. According to him, none of these types are perfect, but the last one is obviously the better of the three. For me, having a plan is always better than not having and you won’t go terribly wrong if you have both action and a feasible plan.

(1) Procrastinators – without any plan, or any sense of the Number.
(2) Pluckers – having a vague plan and an arbitrary Number.
(3) Plotters – having a plan and a Number but no purpose.
(4) Probers – having a plan and a Number that is centered on what would really make a difference in their life in retirement.

I wish my children could read this book, learn lessons from other people’s unpleasant experience and accept “the premise that saving money comes before spending it” so that they won’t join the army of panic in case they happen to find themselves in that situation.

1, Jan 26, 2009

Happy 2009 Chinese New Year — the Year of Ox

Filed under: Holiday — admin @ 11:42 am

Today is Chinese New Year. The little nephew asked me to do something special on this day. He must be thinking of the Spring Festival in China. “Not a holiday not in US. We only have day off on holidays defined here, like Thanksgiving, Xmas, US Labor Day, US National Day, etc. We have to do in Rome as Romans do.” I explained to him. My children all grew up here without experiencing any Spring Festival celebrations, a part of Chinese culture that they had missed.

In fact, the bi-cultural children miss more than this. We do not celebrate the traditional holidays that average Americans entertain, like Thanksgiving and Xmas, even though we have day off on these occasions. Yet we cannot celebrate Chinese holidays when we have to work and kids have to go to school. On the invite-grandparent-to-school day, my children could only see other people’s grandparents but never their own. My daughter used to ask me for grandparents. “They are all in China, if they are still alive.” Yes, they grew up with only two parents and no aunts and uncles and grands, so much deprived in term of relatives.

After my son left for college, he made friends with some Asian students there and started enjoying those Chinese holidays there with these friends, having much more fun there than at home. I am glad he is bilingual in term of speaking and listening, which facilitate his interactions with other Chinese at school. It would comfort me a lot if this might compensate to some extent for whatever missed in his childhood at home.

1, Jan 25, 2009

Decapitated by a Chinese Student at Virginia Tech

Filed under: Crime — admin @ 3:06 pm

“How many families are happy when how many families are sad”–a line from an old Chinese poem entered my mind on the eve before 2009 Chinese New Year. I saw the picture of the decapitated 22-year-old Chinese student, Xin Yang, from Beijing and could not wipe out the sadness from my heart. My son described the crime as “gruesome.” I cannot imagine how her parents can deal with this tragic blow right now. They just sent their daughter to Virginia Tech on January 18 of this year and learned of her death on January 21.

I may not know the reason of the murder but I can never in my life understand how such abhorring atrocity could be ever carried out. Indeed, murders like this forever perplexes the minds of thousands of kind-hearted people. This time I am more than overcome by total astonishment. I am consumed with deep fear and concern. In fact, we all should be for the safety of our daughters.

For many Chinese parents, personal safety, self-defense and self-protection have never been ranked as important as academic achievements. Since we cannot minimize the risk factors in society and cannot prevent their venturing out, we have to prepare our daughters for the adventure.

But how can we prevent unexpected event like this? I talked to my son and found myself grabbing for words, trying to warn him of anything of this kind, but failed to utter anything specific. I wish I knew better as a parent.

1, Jan 24, 2009

An Old-Fashioned Saying: A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Filed under: Money — admin @ 12:07 am

I explained to my child about the dire situation our economy is in on our way home yesterday. By the end of our conversation, she came to understand why creditor nations have to keep US economy alive by constantly lending tons of money to us. She knew how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place, that is, Bush’s favorites — the two wars which both parties supported but neither realized the burdens of wars.

There is an interesting site that gives a running dollar costs of Bush War. Do a google search with this, costofwar_home and watch the cost being building up every second as I am writing, — rushing quickly to reach $600,000,000,000 and up and up.

I remember during my first year of English study I read something like this from a book on Ben Franklin, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Yes, I feel so stupid and sound so much like a person in your history book when I quote something like saving a penny while I am witnessing billions of dollars dumping into a bottomless sea every second and non-stop, and knowing the wise politicians are talking about borrowing more without any intention of stopping this dumping.

1, Jan 23, 2009

Perpetuating the Cycle of Borrowing and Consuming

Filed under: American Culture,Economy — admin @ 9:55 am

The president asked the nation to make sacrifice. In what way? What kind? Driving less? Eating out less? Live in a smaller house? Consume less? Change of lifestyle to more saving? None of the above.

What he actually plans to offer is this: we government borrow trillions of dollars and create jobs so that you consumers can make money and further consume to boost up GDP, because consuming spending makes up over 70% of our GDP and large part of that spending is on housing. In essence, this is the same thing as I borrow money via credit cards to maintain my consuming spree and go on like this as long as I have places to borrow.

But who are actually paying for this? Who are in reality making sacrifice? Not Americans, as far as we can see. Well, do we care to know who are supporting the government and our consuming habit? No, we are not that sophisticated to care about that. We are far more cheerful than this.

In summary, smart solution to recession: borrowing from creditor countries and going deeper and deeper in debt. Consume and forget “trillion dolloar deficits for years to come” as the president told the nation. How smart can we be?

With job loss everywhere and economy going downhill, how can we pay back the long overdue ancient debts, not to speak of the mountainous new debts? Well, we don’t and the creditor countries have to make real sacrifice by keeping lending.

What can parents tell their children about our dear president’s call for sacrifice? I am speechless.

1, Jan 22, 2009

Compete or Perish in the Heated Global Competition

Filed under: Economy — admin @ 11:22 am

I just learned last week that the Circuit City, the 60-year-old grandfather electronics chain was going to liquidate its whatever unsold goods it still has, then close all 567 stores. No doubt there will be a large army of layoffs, at least 30K as I learned later.

It was pretty sad seeing my favorite hangout is going to close. This is actually expected. I like the store because there are not many customers, to be exact, having more well-dressed and well-groomed sales boys than customers, because the price is never competitive, though the service is of good quality. It is kind of natural to see the store with least ability to compete in today’s market going out of business first. Only good quality won’t keep the store alive. So sad!

The Circuit City store also reveals the consumption behavior of US government and a typical American family — spending beyond its means and living off borrowed money — the practice stands in sharp contrast to China who has tries to save and lend out money to countries like USA.

From the demise of Circuit City, I would think in today’s global economy, no ability to compete is the sure ticket to exit out of the scene, regardless of where you are and what you engage. Relentless but true. What shall we say to our children? “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…” It’s better to leave the question to our readers.

1, Jan 21, 2009

What A Mom Wants To Give to Her Children Part 4

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 8:34 am

Chinese parents have this well-known saying, “Looking forward to the day when the child becomes famous.” If I interpret it literally, it goes like this — look forward to the son becoming a dragon. What a magnificent dream! But how many of us are aware of the fact that we cannot go higher than our thoughts?

True, thought precedes action and can condition us and channel our desire and directions. See all those TV commercials with tons of money throwing there? They all serve to cultivate and channel your desires to their products, stimulating you to buy till your last penny.

Imagine when our minds are thoroughly buried in minute trivialities, busy fighting over these details, and cannot think anything better than our daily engagements, where else do we expect to end up? No where. We don’t “become dragon” by accident. The desire and the thought must come ahead of everything.

Therefore, this desire and the thought are the gifts that I want to give to my children so that their minds are nurtured with great thoughts, which will hopefully generate great actions someday. Also, when the goings go tough on their life’s journey, they will have the backing of these positive thinking to tide them over. Ideally, once these positive thoughts take root in them, they will guide their life through all weathers.

Yes, a mom must be able to think way down the road, sixty or seventy years ahead, if they make it that long, hopefully. Because you don’t want to see your child ending up like the son of Daedalus who flew too close to the sun, ruined his waxed wings and dropped into the sea. Well, on the other hand, the story also emphasizes the limitation of a parent’s word or advice. Daedalus did warn his son not to fly close to the sun but the boy forgot it all. So probably will be gone to the winds my words to my children. At least we have tried.

How to instill some lofty ideas into their heads? By reading books on great people and providing them with the virtues, achievements, and stories of these people, constantly chatting with them about dreams and ideals that they should have.

Remember a boy will never become a dragon without his thinking and dreaming of becoming one. You are the one who first impregnate this dream.

1, Jan 20, 2009

Survive Negative Forces in Our Daily Lives

Filed under: Health,Random Thoughts — admin @ 8:36 am

Surviving through each day with a big smile on your face can be a challenge on some day at least. Seeing occasional clouds on people’s face, or being exposed to disrespectful behavior or hearing grumpy noises of discontent or complaints or being yelled at by a 10-year-old, feeling annoyed or irritated, or being stressed out or consumed with too much worries — don’t we once in a while have days like this? Lucky you if you don’t. I do. More than this, I have to deal with a crying boy almost on daily basis. Yes, you are right. I just had one of those days.

I have tried to think positively, trying to transform a whining cry or raucous exchanges into a beautiful serenade. Nice wish. I got it as long as the tune stay singing. I find it extremely important to stay positive for myself, my sanity, and those I care. I cannot allow myself to be bogged down mentally and physically by whatever negativities I happen to exposed.

I write this down especially for my children because I am sure they will be experiencing some degree of negative factors in the years to come, though not of the same nature. I am sure there are numerous writings and programs helping people to think positive. If self-directed mind-conditioning do not work, seek outside help. Mao Zedong once said, “Reactionaries will not go away by themselves. You have to wipe them out like you wipe away the dust.” Neither will be any negative forces. He did have some wise sayings.

Yet, it is so difficult for the sun to burst out when thick clouds amass their forces trying to block its light, so challenging for an angel staying angelic when being overwhelmed by devils or for a devil being devilish when being surrounded by angels. Your environment is very crucial in shaping you and influencing your mood. You have to stick to your goal if you cannot escape from your environment.

So far, by keeping my eyes on my goal and the big picture, I have pretty much preserved my sanity and insulated myself from negative forces surrounding me, well, most of the time at least.

The worst nightmare is to see oneself dragged down to the same level of the negative factors and chain oneself down there forever. The fear of that also motivates me to rise above and keep buoyant and cheerful. It can be an uphill battle, yet, keeping your silly smile and your humor, it is a hopeful one as long as we can fix our eyes on some positive image in our minds or the ideal self that we have for ourselves. It does work. Try it.

1, Jan 19, 2009

I Have a Dream–Cut Down the Cost of Inauguration 2009

Filed under: Presidents — admin @ 9:57 am

I read this piece of news today. “As the recession continues to wreak havoc on the U.S. economy and inauguration celebrations ramp up, a lot of people are asking: ‘How much will this shindig cost?’ The short answer? Likely more than $150 million — and yep, that could be the most expensive ever.”

Why cost so much? Because according to one spokeswoman in charge of inauguration occasion, “we’re sending a message to the entire world about our peaceful transition of power, and you don’t want it to look like a schlock affair. It needs to be appropriate to the magnitude of events that it is.” Vanity of the highest degree! As if the world had not known how heavily the nation is in debt domestically and internationally! You certainly send one clear message to the world of how excellent you are at spending money, so far. What good does it do to the millions of unemployed and to the recession-tortured nation?

I also just read about the nation’s severe job situation. The unemployment rate is as high as 9.6% in Michigan, followed by Rhode Island, California, South Carolina, Oregan, District of Columbia, and Nevada ranging from 9.3 to 8%. The nation has a total of over 12 million unemployed. What a shame to spend so much in face of a national recession on this large scale!

On this day of Martin Luther King, Jr, I also have a dream. I wish the president-elect could set an example for the nation of extravagance. Have a small-scale party and let people watch the event from their home TV, instead of having everybody flying from all corners of the nation gathering in DC for the ceremony, creating traffic jam, polluting the air with overcrowded airplanes. Use just one fraction of this money on this occasion and have this money go to the rescue of millions of unemployed. Instead of sending millions of balloons to the sky, send much-needed checks to millions in need. Well, readers might ask me, “Are you talking to Jesus Christ or what?”

The dream remains real as long as you don’t wake up. Happy dreaming on this “I have a dream” day.

1, Jan 18, 2009

Happiness, Friends or Family?

Filed under: Friend — admin @ 10:51 am

Referring to my last posting — “A Close Friend Might Save One’s Life,” I talked to my daughter about that posting on the way back home from art class yesterday morning. I told her that I was surprised to learn of this research result on Psychology Today. She thought it was obvious, next she provided some of her insights on the topic, from a teenager’s perspective.

First, you don’t have the same kind of responsibilities when you are with friends as when you are with your spouse or child. You are happier when you don’t have responsibilities. Good point! In other words, you are least happy when you are most responsible. I would think responsibility must be a burden, with which you cannot relax and be happy.

Second, you meet your friend once in a while. But you are with your spouse and children everyday, like it or not. Very much true. You have a sense of freshness which you don’t have with your family members. She kept on giving more explanations, but I was driving and not able to catch them all. She surprises again and again by the insights that she provides on my writings.

Finally, I remember the Greek philosopher Epicurus believed one of the conditions of being happy was being surrounded by friends, not by one’s family. What can you say about happiness, family or friends?

1, Jan 17, 2009

A Close Friend Might Save One’s Life

Filed under: Friend — admin @ 9:41 am

Weekend started on Friday evening at least for my children when they need me to take them out. Yesterday my daughter asked me to take her and her friend to Town Center, where they could go shopping and I could wait at Barnes & Noble’s bookstore. So I did. When I was outside, wet and cold, how I wish I were lounging on a couch with a blanket over me reading by myself in a warm corner.

At Barnes & Noble’s, I grabbed some books with interesting titles and started reading. Here’s an interesting discovery, though I don’t remember the title of the book. The book cited a cover story in Psychology Today magazine. The main idea is a research carried out by the magazine reveals that people experience a higher degree of joy and happiness when spending time with their friends than while being with their spouses and child.

I didn’t realize it until that moment. This is both interesting and unbelievable. Yet, on second thought, this must be very much true in a society where rugged individualism is over-emphasized, so much so that people want to appear strong and independent, cheerful and worry-free, not needing and desperate. This often results in feeling isolated and “lonely in a crowd.” Sometimes, so lonely that they can hardly bear it and naturally they are hurt so much by their own loneliness that they have to seek therapy, which is costly and never get to the root of the problem. Or, in the tragedy of the 13-year-old suicide posted on 1/15/2009, the boy appeared so sweet and ready for smile to everyone, yet a close friend might have stopped him from triggering the gun at himself. I hoped.

From this perspective, for some people at some points of their lives, friendship is more valuable than money and therapy. At some critical moment, close friend might save one’s life.

From my own observation, I have already realized how happy my children are when they are with their friends. I wish they can treasure, preserve and benefit from these childhood friendship in the long years to come.

1, Jan 16, 2009

What A Mom Wants To Give to Her Children Part 3

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 9:32 am

It is true that very often money, in whatever form it may take, is the focus of what is desired by the children and what shall be passed on to the children, if there are some. For me, the teaching of money and life is one of the most valuable gifts that I would like to give to my children, priceless though the cheapest one.

There are tons of stuffs written on money, that money being a good servant but bad master, etc. Or money is not everything but nothing can be done without it. Money cannot make you happy but you won’t be happy without it. It is even mentioned in bible, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

I want my children to be aware of the relationship between money and their lives. While our life energy and time is limited, money is unlimited. There is no end of human desire for more and more because there are indeed more and more money and wealth if you strive for it, the more you make, the more you spend. But can you strive for more and more time and energy out of your limited span of life? No. Have you heard this, “Our span on earth is short.”

When we have to work for money, well, to make a living if you don’t have a large inheritance, we are in essence doing nothing short of exchanging our life energy and time for money, a limited for an unlimited and an unbalanced exchange, which we want to terminate as soon as possible so that we can enjoy our limited life by doing whatever we enjoy. Ideally retire at age 40.

Such a nice dream or perfect plan! Too bad not many of us can afford it! I remember a friend of mine told me, “When I was young, I wanted to retire at age 50 and start enjoying life …” Well, he is just like an Energizer Bunny, not that cute though, forever running, no where near retirement. Some friends of mine started having children after age 40 and will have to work their heads off to fulfill their financial responsibility for the youngsters.

Now what, after we know this relationship? Well, my advice for my children is like this. No paycheck, no matter where it comes from, can make you rich quickly and allows you to retire that early.

One of the legal ways to get rich this quick is investment — invest wisely and do it as early as possible, better starting it from your first paycheck. Yes, you got to leave some extra each month to invest. Saving needs self-discipline. You need to discipline yourself to put aside at least 15% of your income and invest wisely.

e.g. if your average annual investment is $15,000, after 25 years, with average 9% annual interest rate, interests compound monthly, the future value is about $1.4 million. If you start working right after college and can retire after 25 years, living comfortably with this saving. Of course, the more you make and invest, the less time it will take to reach your financial goal and then retire.

I told my children, “You will never have money for investment if you are like average Americans, living from paycheck to paycheck by spending every penny they make, when still not enough, start borrowing and finding themselves in heavy debt for the rest of their lives and finally never have a second to enjoy the most precious life on this earth!” I have learned many of my co-workers don’t even have money left for their company-matching retirement savings. Many of them started working in their teens and have to work till they drop dead!

A sad yet heavy lesson that I hope my children will learn as early in their lives as possible — get rich quick and enjoy life early. You cannot enjoy life if you are rich in money but poor in time.

One last thing — retirement does not mean stop working or doing nothing. It only means doing whatever we enjoy without having to worry about paycheck.

1, Jan 15, 2009

A 8th Grader Took His Own Dear Life

Filed under: American Culture,Education — admin @ 9:01 am

Yesterday as soon as my daughter got on the car, she told me she had a very sad day, which was rather alarming to me because she had never sounded like this before. A 8th-grade boy took his own life at home and she knew this boy. “He looked fine yesterday and did not seem to have anything wrong. Nobody knows why.” she said. Many students was shocked and cried over his death. As they found it hard to handle it, the school set up a councillor in library for them.

I did not know the dead, but my mind ran through many things, a 13-year-old suicide, his family, teenager suicide, his little sister, what was going on, teenager problem, conflict, etc. It is shocking and indeed very hard to accept the fact that such a young life was here yesterday, gone forever today. Suicide for any age group is awful; for young life like this, it is exceptionally sad and tragic, hard to comprehend and accept.

I learned that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24 and the 2nd among college students. This incident should be enough to alarm the parents of the special needs during teenager years.

We know adolescence period is the most volatile one of all, changing physically, psychologically and emotionally, feeling of isolation, unable to communicate how they feel and to handle their own emotions, an experience that is too painful to go through — leading some to seek the seemingly simple solution — suicide.

Without even learning the whole story about his death, I still assume his family is mainly culpable for his death. Family should be a safe harbor for children of this tender age, where parents are expected to be wise enough to identify and catch any early signs of problem that led to this end. How could they have such a tragedy happen under their roof? Why? Lack of communication? Or because of bad communication? Fight with parents? Bad match in personality? We might not know the whole truth about his death, yet we parents should have known better now. At least I have.

1, Jan 14, 2009

What A Mom Wants To Give to Her Children Part 2

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 8:25 am

Nearly without any exceptions, all moms want to make their children happy by providing what they want, such as cooking their favorite food and allow them to do what they enjoy. But a wise and really good mom knows what is really good for the benefit of her children in the long run.

I have observed a rather unhealthy lifestyle in some children. Such as the 25-year-old boy living in my house is disproportionally in favor of meat, especially frying steak, hot and spicy, large and tender, averting vegetable as much as he can, to the extent that he suffered from stomach ulcer and bleeding at age of 14, and suffers from hyperlipidemia and high urine protein at young age. His uncle blamed his mother for this eating habit, “My sister often cooks large chunk of meat for him just because he loves it.”

I have also observed many children demonstrating unhealthy lifestyle — unbalanced food and lack of activity, which result in high hyperlipidemia, childhood overweight and even early onset diabetes.

I have long before realized that many diseases are caused by unhealthy lifestyles. Yet, not until I observed these lifestyles demonstrated in some children did I fully understand that a mom plays an extremely important role in shaping and forming a healthy lifestyle in her children. To be sure, a mom is definitely responsible for children with weight problem. Such as, my children love fresh and delicious donuts and cheesecakes. I would encourage them to gain unnecessary weight if I provide them with it every time they ask.

Yes, you can see a healthy lifestyle is one of the best gifts that a mom can give to her children. This lifestyle includes balanced and nutritious food, no drug and smoke, and the love of outdoor activities, anything that is opposite to laziness and greediness. True, it is easy to say but difficult to promote and cultivate this lifestyle over a long period of time. It takes tremendous persistence, patience and a lot of talking and nagging to plant a healthy eating habit. A really good mom will try to do the right thing by giving her children what is beneficial to their long-coming life, regardless of what.

1, Jan 13, 2009

A Grandma’s Story on the Power Of Purpose

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:13 am

I want to share with my children and the reader this story told by the grandma. A primary teacher took a student for a walk around their school campus. They talkd while walking, drifting rather aimlessly around campus. It took them 15 minutes for them to complete their first circle. On the second circle, it took them 10 minutes. On the third circle, it took them less than 5 minutes to finish the same route. Why? Because the teacher told the student before the second circle, “This building is our destination.” They knew where they were going on the second time. “Let’s see who can get there faster,” said the teacher on their last run. This time the student had a goal and was also motivated by the desire to be the first one to reach it.

Don’t we have similar experience in our lives? We work in a more efficient manner when we are aware of a deadline or plunge more energy when we know where our efforts will lead to. Such a simple truth — work can be completed faster if we have a definite goal — can be applied to all parts of our lives. Many thanks to old grandma’s wisdom.

1, Jan 12, 2009

A Mom’s Saturday Work

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 8:50 am

I always have this or that plan for weekend, but never have it my way. I woke up before 6 AM on Saturday, trying to fix some breakfast for my daughter who needed to get school at 7 AM for science olympia competition. She would take school bus there and have the competition somewhere north of Missouri River.

I started working on applying for visa extension for the 10-year-old at my house. The boy woke up early today probably because of the noise created by my daughter’s early activity. As soon as he got up, he started chatting with his family over the internet. The loud noise from the conversation made me want to go out, but I had to get his application ready for delivery today. This I did.

I sped up and reached post office before it closed at noon, then to the bank, the library, and finally I did some grocery shopping.

Too many things that cried for my attention so that I found it hard to follow my original plan for my weekend — the 25-year-old nephew is in China but has to register for something like internship to keep his student status here. School has started there and we got to think of a way to pay for him. Sprint has just announced its plan for further reduction in force, in other word, layoff of people. Another one in the house needs to get ready for a trip to China, air ticket and purchase to name the least. My daughter keeps asking for skiing lessons and I needed to call around to find such lesson for her. The 10-year-old won’t quit crying for mama.

My daughter came home around 5 PM, indicating she wanted to go to Border’s. Great idea. So we went. And finally I got to sit down and rest a little bit at Border’s. Nothing extraordinary and nothing big accomplished. Still, I feel blessed for being around and able to do something for the children. I can’t imagine how dreadful it will be when I find myself nothing to do, all by myself.

1, Jan 11, 2009

What A Mom Wants To Give to Her Children Part 1

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 10:07 am

Mao Zedong once said “we communists are like seeds while people are like earth. Wherever we go, we must integrate ourselves with people. We will take root and blossom out among people.”

A mom’s worries go beyond a child’s years at home and follow her child wherever he/she goes. I had anticipated the time when my son would be far away. So, even before he left, I kept showing him this quote from Mao Zedong. “No matter where you go, the only way to be happy is make efforts to be part of the group, instead of isolating yourself.” It is not money, not any short-lived tangible property that I want to pass to my children but advices like this.

I feel this strongly at office, I meet as many different types of monitors as birds in forests. Some are cheerful, friendly and helpful; some are not. Some frank and straightforward, some just the opposite. Some leave smiles and good feelings behind while some others, make you want to say “What a good riddance” when they have left. They travel and meet strangers all the time. It is their attitudes that determine how they themselves feel wherever they go.

My son joined the college fraternity and was surrounded by friends soon after he left home. In fact, he has merged so well that he has found his home-away-from-home among his friends and has never suffered from home-sickness. He does not call home as frequently as some college kids, which is a thing good if you take it as his quick adjustment to the new environment. Isn’t that the way every mom wants her child to feel when her child is away from home?

By the way, one of my children once commented that if you failed to merge into the group and isolated yourself, it was your own choice and you were the one who suffered and the group would not be negatively impacted by this. I think it will take toll on both parties — the isolated individual and the group.

Note, in an attempt to become integrated, we need to avoid getting ourselves lost in the group. 1/21/09.

1, Jan 10, 2009

Random Thoughts on Motherhood

Filed under: Mother — admin @ 9:12 am

For the first time, I am thinking of writing about mom, yes, as if I had never done so before. Many thoughts rushed into my head as I hit the topic. The thoughts streamed in totally haphazardly. Let me count how many ways motherhood is defined and described. I am not sure if these are descriptions or expectations, ideal or reality, or combination of both, or surrealistical.

(1) responsibility — cannot shake this off her shoulder once she brought into the world a brand new life, too bad there are too many irresponsible moms, well, not as many as dads of this kind,
(2) love and care, total, unconditional and unselfish so that she should not expect any return when she gives, not like investment into stocks, as if she were real angel,
(3) privilege, indeed, but only to those who can recognize it,
(4) having the fortitude and courage, no matter how physically fragile she is, like a pillar of steel, shouldering the weight of the whole family. Have you ever felt this way? Me too. Isn’t that fair enough?
(5) having tolerance and flexibility, adapting your expectations to reality, relaxing your authority towards your teens,
(6) having patience and firmness, with terrible two-year-old and even terrible-two’s dad with temper greater than his weight,
(7) wise and knowledgeable, ready to answer whatever questions the children might come up with, wise enough to know when she should let go of control,
(8) here’s a catch-all phrase — demanding all the best qualities that we expect from a decent human soul so that a mother can bring out the similar best qualities in the children.

To me, on top of it all, it has meant all of the following:
total devotion,
no time-off duty,
never-failed dependability,
a guide or councilor when a need arises,
providing home in both physical and psychological, emotional sense,
sunny and cheerful when the children need you to cheer them up,
her responsibility for her offspring being as long and important as her life,
strong and optimistic when they need your shoulder to cry over or to lean on.

At some times, your healthy presence is all they need. Imagine how strong you must be for your youngsters, before you can rest your head on their shoulders if you can keep your head that long, not physically.

Mother should be a glorious title. No doubt it is arduous and laborious at time — education of the soul is never easy. Yet it can be a purifying, heart-warming, and rewarding experience.

In reality, we see moms from one extreme like Susan Smith murdering her children to another sacrificing her life for her child exemplified in China’s 2008 Sichuan earthquake, from restrict to indulgent type, from let-go to over-protective ones, from love with wisdom to love without … Just like seeing all kinds of birds in forests, we see all kinds of moms in real life…

For an ordinary mom like me, I feel there are so many things that I want to do for my children or want to pass on to them but never have enough time and energy. I wish I were as strong as a decade ago and could keep up with my youngsters in either walking or jogging. Gone are those days. Now, more than ever before, I am keenly aware of the fact that when a mom has a good health, she and her children have everything. Nothing matters as much as a mom’s health, not even money. A surprised discovery today!

1, Jan 9, 2009

“The word impossible is not in my dictionary”

Filed under: Education — admin @ 8:49 am

Now that my son has left, every detail of the conversation that I had with him came back to me, leaving me to regurigitate like a camel.

When I expressed the intention of changing my cell phone but keeping my old phone number, someone in the house said it was absolutely impossible and told me not even to ask the store about it. I went to Sprint phone store and was told, “No problem. Just bring in your new phone and we will make the switch.”

While taking a walk, my son told me a friend of his had this attitude — believing something was impossible without even trying it. This attitude firmly defines his range of activities and possibility, and will greatly restrict his future. You will not give your best if you believe it is impossible and allow yourself to be defeated by your own attitude.

A famous quote of Napoleon Bonaparte, “The word impossible is not in my dictionary.” Worse than this, he also said, “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.” How could he ever sweep across European continent and go down in history without this strong belief? Do we want to be thought of as fools?

1, Jan 8, 2009

Choosing the Right Major — A Tough Decision

Filed under: Education — admin @ 12:28 am

During this winter break, the topic that my son and I talked about most was his major. He considered majors from computer science to mathematics, finance, and politics. And he had ample explanations for each of his choices. I could not give him anything specific.

I realize college education is, among others, the process of getting to know yourself, discovering where your interest is and where your strength is, etc. It can be a difficult decision because for most of people it will determine what a person will do for a living for the large part of his/her life.

On the one hand, you want to do what you are interested in; on the other hand, you want to make sure you can land on a job upon graduation and move on your life with some financial foothold. Nobody can last long playing the guitar merrily, the sky being the roof with no food or drink. For this, you have to reach an acceptable compromise between job market need and your interest.

College is also the place with endless possibilities; and college education gives you a nearly once-in-lifetime chance for career advancement. After all, you are young and fresh from college only once in your life, which is perceived as uniquely valuable to many people. This is especially true with good-brand universities where recruiters from big companies are eager to attract the young and talented.

Here are what I have to in mind:
(1) You major does not have to determine your future. You can be happy and successful no matter what your major is.
(2) A major does not clamp you down in one place, doing one thing all your life. You forever have your choice.
(3) You are still in the process of learning and discovering yourself even beyond your college life.
(4) An opportunity, once lost, will not come around again. Therefore, take full advantage of whatever opportunities that are given to you at this point of life and move on with full speed.
(5) The first job is meant to be a platform for you to advance your career. Even if you have got the best possible job, you still need to have your own agenda and follow your own set path. After you have enriched yourself with some real-work experience and have a better understanding of yourself, you can always make a career change. I myself have changed careers half a dozen times, and not all willingly though.

1, Jan 7, 2009

Instead of Cursing the Darkness, Light a Candle

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:15 am

Okay, I confess a feeling of guilt when I gave such a lengthy description of a 10-year-old boy’s lack of self-control in yesterday’s posting, as if I took great delight in airing his dirty linen to the public. Such a mean entertainment! How could I write non-stop when it comes to other people’s weakness? Perhaps I was too upset being waken up and unable to get back to sleep that night. I have promised myself not to devote my posting to such mean-spirited engagement any more, no matter what.

As the old saying goes, “instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.” If I do not have the match to light the candle or if the candle refuses to be lit, say nothing and live with the darkness or illuminate the night with your own light. It never helps if all I can do is to complain or curse whatever darkness I have in mind.

The key is paying no attention to whatever impudent behavior or brazen disrespect that is rontinely exhibited by the 10-year-old. It is simply not nice to focus on any undesirable behavior for too long. Even toxic to the mind. Besides, a person will lose the sight of the big picture when his mind is grounded to such granular details. This seems the real catastrophe to me. Luckily, this is not my style.

The world is so diverse and so not-ideal, well, if we cannot make a change, at least, be on guard so that we ourselves will not be unfavorably changed as the result. This posting is written for my children — aren’t you proud of your old fashioned mom?

1, Jan 6, 2009

Tough Experience on The First Day of School

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 8:46 am

Yesterday was the first day of school, also marked the end of winter break for most of the children. To be sure, kids need some adjustment from total relaxation to school routine. Normally, children can pack their backpacks and get ready for school without any fuss, even though they preferred not getting up so early everyday. But the 10-year-old boy cried mostly heartily the day before school started, that is, on Sunday evening. He could not go to bed until very late.

On Monday morning, he got up crying bitterly again at the prospective of having to go to school. When reminding him of his being a student and taking care of his responsibilities as thus, “I know it, but still … ” Still, he could not control his tears. I wish he would improve the next day.

1, Jan 5, 2009

Conflict Management–A Failure and Its Cost

Filed under: International — admin @ 8:28 am

With 5 days away from the New Year comes over 500 Palistinian death. The year 2009 started with Israeli air attacks on Gaza, causing the loss of lives, bringing out a large-scaled protest and passion for revenge in the Middle East and throughout the world among Islamists, and further escalating the conflict between the two peoples.  I am sure the peace-loving Israeli had all the good intention of maintaining peace, only accidentally resulting in mass-killing.

Events like this always provides loads of food for thought. Can we overpower people with advanced military technologies and the support of the most powerful country in the world. Can we make ourselves accepted and well-liked by using threat and gunpowder?  When dealing with strong-minded normal IQ folks, I am not sure how much we can achieve with force. Of course, I am not the first one to discover this ancient truth, as I remember a saying from Sun Zi military book that the best way to conquer a city is through conquering the heart, not with gunpowder.

You cannot dissolve a conflict even with a rising tone, let alone air attack. On the contrary, soft-tone with firm voice and skilled diplomatics works better than what the powerful party often practises.

From the perspective of people living in that part of the world, peace has been so precious, yet has been so hard to obtain and maintain. It is getting harder to obtain with the loss of so many lives and sowing of so deep hatred among the living.

So much can be learned from this, sadly to say at the cost of so many lives!

1, Jan 4, 2009

How I Wish I Could Turn Clock Back

Filed under: Parenting 101 — admin @ 10:53 pm

W.B. Yeats’ often-quoted poem “The Second Coming” — “Things fall apart; The Centre Cannot Hold… ” This also accurately describes the feeling that a parent might experience when her/his children leave home. How you wish you could turn clock back. The cure is to laugh at yourself out and loud while keeping yourself busy.

Indeed, wasn’t I busy enough? After we got back from the airport, the girl got on the phone chatting away with her friend while I started cleaning the room till I cleaned everything out of my mind, as if I could. Then, the girl asked if her friend could come over. Sure, I could even go and fetch her. This I did. We later ended up in Border’s bookstore and spent the afternoon there. I had a stack of books by my side, which functions like a system of central support so that things would not fall apart.

My son called when he arrived in Cleveland, later called again when he emerged from the plane in Boston. Finally he called from his room at Fraternity house. It was after 6 PM. After that, each of us diligently went to attend our own business, though being far apart from each other. The nest won’t be empty or we won’t feel the emptiness if we could all be well-behaved like this. What a nice dream!

1, Jan 3, 2009

A Return to “Normalcy” After My Son Leaves

Filed under: children — admin @ 11:30 pm

My son will be leaving for college tomorrow, the thought of which filled my mind with an instant emptiness. This will be the fourth time that he leaves home and I should have got used to life without. Still, this unspeakable meaninglessness won’t go away with the passing of time. Helping him packing has proved to be more than a physical challenge. Talk about endless motherhood! It is when I sent my own child away that I came to understand how my mother felt when I left her over two decades ago.

On the plus side, he has been home for nearly two weeks, better than nothing. We had many talks on as many topics as we could think of, leaving me so much to think about. And he has made efforts spending as much time with the family as possible, enough to stop any whining from me. Indeed, what else should a mother expect? I need to regain control as soon as possible so that life will return to “normalcy,” as President Warren Harding promised to the nation during his presidential campaign, though not with the same degree of terrible Harding dullness.

1, Jan 2, 2009

“Nothing can be more joyful than having friends coming from afar”

Filed under: Friend — admin @ 1:24 am

A family of ours came over yesterday, the New Year’s Day. We have known the family since we were in Ohio back in early 1990s, their daughter is about the same age as mine.  They came to Kansas a few years before we did. 

Most of the Chinese here don’t have any relatives in US. During holiday seasons, when being far from home, I appreciate greatly this saying by Confucius, “Nothing can be more joyful than having friends coming from afar.” They brought their specialty while we made extra efforts at kitchen to entertain friends. We made dumplings together, drinking red wine, chatting while eating.

Visits by and to friends’ house also made up some rare happy moments in kids’ childhood. These friends of ours literally watched my son grow up. Last Christmas when they invited us over to their house, my son helped Auntie Chen with her web page.

As always, the children had a good time, with my son chatting with Uncle and Auntie and the girls enjoying each other. I felt tired yet once again experienced Confucius’ saying on friends’ coming over from afar.

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