Dogs, responsibility, and aging

Posted June 20, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Family

Tags: , , ,

Usually parents buy children a pet, and it becomes the parents’ pet. In our case, our dog has become our son’s dog – or rather, our son has become our dog’s boy.

When my son was young, our yellow lab was a very patient companion. She let him pull her tail without whining and try to ride her like a pony without growling. She would gently nose his cheek when he fell asleep on the couch.

Now that my son is 10 years old, he takes more responsibility for our dog. He gets her water, feeds her, and helps take her on walks. He is learning to take responsibility for someone else.

But a funny thing happened. Whenever our dog wants something – food, water, a walk – she doesn’t come to us anymore. Instead, she goes to our boy (her boy?) and noses him when he is trying to read, play games, or do homework. She barks a warning-bark and then pay-attention bark. Our dog, once so patient with our son, has become more demanding.

As I age, I hope that I show more restraint and understanding when my son is caught up with his own life, and I look for a measure of his attention. It’s always hard when we need to keep up with changes in our relationships – when our children need us less and when we need them more.

This post did not turn out the way I expected it to. I started off writing about responsibility and the changing relationship between our dog and our son, and it has turned ended with a glimpse of the future, when a care-giver may become a dependent.

Did you have a childhood pet? If yes, who really took care of your pet? And why do the words “caregiver” and “caretaker” mean the same thing – someone who takes care of another?

A two minimum wage proposal

Posted June 13, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business, Economy

Tags: , ,

Minimum wage, the lowest wage that hourly employees earn, is a controversial issue. Supporters of minimum wage laws believe that it helps lift people out of poverty and reduce income inequality (the gap between higher-income and lower-income people). Opponents of minimum wage laws believe that it reduces the number of new jobs and raises prices, as businesses adjust for higher labor and payroll costs.

Rather than debating the value of the minimum wage, I would like to propose that we create two categories of wages: minimum wages and minimum living wages.

The minimum wage would be the lowest wage that entry-level, unskilled employees earn. It means that businesses could limit their up-front investment in an employee who will only be temporary.

The minimum living wage would be the lowest wage for more experienced, skilled employees who have worked part-time or full-time for an business for over one year. It would put into law the current practice of offering employees raises during annual performance reviews.

Businesses take most of the risks when hiring entry-level employees, so it makes sense to offer a lower minimum wage. Businesses must conduct interviews, offer job training, fill out employment paperwork, trust employees to show up on time and do the job.

Of course, new employees take risks as well – that the paperwork will be correct and that they will get paid – but there is less uncertainty in accepting the job, especially if a business has been around for a few years. Employees have the reassurance of visiting the business and seeing how it works before accepting the job.

After one year on the job, wages could be increased to the minimum living wage, a higher wage that is closer to what employees need to live and work in the area. The minimum living wage could also be tied to increased benefits, such as additional vacation time, family leave, retirement plans, or continuing education subsidies.

This one-year minimum living wage probation allows businesses to evaluate the employee’s skills and fit with the company. It also allows employees to decide whether they want to keep working for the company and gives them job experience if they decide to look for a new job.

A good business with sound finances will voluntarily offer raises the employees who show up and work hard, even if they can’t offer raises every year. While there is always the risk that an unscrupulous or poorly-managed business will fire employees before the one-year mark to avoid paying a higher wage, those businesses would suffer from higher job turnover, constant training, and poor reputation.

Do you think that two minimum wages would be an effective compromise between employees and businesses? What do you think of minimum wage laws?

Looking back at fifth grade

Posted June 6, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Education

Tags: , , , , ,

It was a bittersweet day when my son finished fifth grade at a Honolulu public elementary school. He really enjoyed his fourth and fifth grade years, and he didn’t want to say goodbye to his wonderful teachers and friends. I encouraged him to keep in touch with them, and also look forward to all of the new teachers and friends he will meet in sixth grade.

Students today have greater opportunities for academics and community service, and higher expectations overall. This year, there was a stronger emphasis on computer work, with online activities and Google Drive, and public speaking. There was a focus on collaborative projects, teamwork, and presentations.

I’d like to share our fifth grade school year experience.

One day of articulation classes. For the second year, all of the articulation classes (Art, Computer, Hawaiian, Library, Mandarin, Music, and PE) were scheduled on the same day. It is a winning change. Parents knew what to expect on articulation day, and teachers had more time to collaborate with other teachers.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Exhibition. The highlight of the year was the fifth grade Exhibition project. For the “Sharing the Planet” unit, each team of 2-4 students chose a project, conducted background research, contacted an expert, prepared a presentation, and constructed a community action plan. Everything culminated in Exhibition Night, when the students presented their project in two sessions. Projects ranged from endangered species, overfishing, and the environment, to crime, rail, and human welfare. Community outreach included a food drive, clothes collection, recycling, and sign-waving. At the end of the unit, students wrote Reflections on what they learned and how they could improve. It was my son’s favorite project of the year, and an impressive accomplishment.

Personally, one of my favorite IB units was “How We Express Ourselves,” in which students wrote narrative fiction using figurative language. Many assignments during the year were expository and fact-based, so this was a chance for students to showcase their inventive and ingenious imagination (alliteration) in a thousand different ways (hyperbole).

Online and on-task. In past years, students practiced math online using iXL, and reading and writing online using Achieve3000. Both websites track students’ assignments and achievements. This year, fifth graders also used Google Drive to complete assignments, communicate with teachers, and collaborate with team members. Students still had a good amount of workbooks and worksheets, but the online drive made it easier to edit papers and slides – and let parents peek at their homework when they weren’t around (was I not supposed to admit that?).

Speech festival. At my son’s school, Speech Tech Club is open to third, fourth, and fifth graders. Students audition for the club and commit to weekly meetings and a lot of practice, either solo or in a group. Students performed in front of other classes and at the third quarter assembly, and finally performed at the Honolulu District Speech Festival in front of five judges. At this stage, it’s not competitive, but the judges write feedback about each speaker. There’s a nice ceremony at the end, where the participants receive a medal. The confidence that students gain from public speaking will definitely help them as they get older.

The Friends. We were fortunate to have energetic and organized Friends (the school’s parent group) to coordinate fundraisers, community events, and Teacher Appreciation Week. They were welcoming and helped to make the school feel like a community. My son says that the last movie night was the best day of his life (I hope it’s an exaggeration, but I’m glad he enjoyed it).

“It was very hard for me to say goodbye to all my friends and classmates,” my son wrote in his journal at the end of the year. It is hard for me to say goodbye to this amazing elementary school too.

Do you have school-age children? How does your elementary school experience compare with theirs?

“Presence” by Amy Cuddy

Posted June 3, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews, Business

Tags: , , , ,

When the movie “Iron Man 3” was released in 2013, my then 6-year old son loved to imitate Iron Man’s pose: standing straight, arms loose, shoulders back, chest out to display the unibeam (the arc reactor in the center of his chest). Whether his confidence grew out of strong body language or just something he was born with, he has very little fear about public speaking and voicing his opinions. He was learning about the power of presence.

Presence is “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential,” according to “Presence: Bringing Your BOLDEST SELF to Your BIGGEST CHALLENGES” (2016) by Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy. It is letting go of fear and being comfortable in your own skin.

The foundation of presence is personal power, which Cuddy discusses through anecdotes and research summaries. She declares that exhibit presence when we feel relaxed and powerful. Powerlessness makes us avoid; it impairs thought and makes us self-absorbed. In contrast, power makes us approach; it gives us confidence, lets us trust ourselves, protects us from negative emotions, and helps us connect to others.

We can all gain confidence through small self-nudges, small tweaks in our body language and mind-set. “Expanding your body language, through posture, movement, and speech makes you feel more confident and powerful, less anxious and self-absorbed, and generally more positive,” Cuddy writes.

The book offers encouraging and practical advice to follow before tests, meetings, negotiations, performances, or events. Here are some power nudges that work in Western cultures:

  • Empower your mindset: Take a few minutes to remember and reflect on a time when you felt personally powerful.
  • Straighten your posture: Adopt an open, comfortable posture. Take up your fair share of space. Imagine yourself standing like Wonder Woman or Superman.
  • Change your stride: Walk confidently, with longer strides and more arm movement.
  • Take your time while speaking: Speak slowly without rushing and make eye contact.
  • Be aware of your breathing: Breathe slowly and regularly through your nose.
  • Reframe anxiety as excitement: When you feel anxious, tell yourself to “get excited.”

My son is growing his personal power. He has run for class representative and participated in the speech club. He even did an “Iron Man” monologue for an audition piece. One morning before a performance, when he was feeling a little anxious, I gave him a “Presence” nudge: I told him that the fluttery feeling in his stomach was excitement. I wish I could tell that to myself and believe it, but I’m working on it.

For more stories about presence, visit Amy Cuddy’s website at http://amycuddy.com/stories/.

Do you have innate presence, or do you have to practice it? In your life, who has a commanding or compelling presence?

Build a better world with 2017 summer reading programs

Posted May 30, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Books

Tags: , , , , , , ,

School may be out, but books are always in. Hawaii residents are lucky to participate in two long-time summer reading programs.

For readers of all ages, the Hawaii Public Libraries is sponsoring a summer reading program from June 4 to July 15, 2017 for children, teens, and adults. For the first time readers can register online using Beanstack, where you can earn badges and set reading goals. This year’s theme is “Build a Better World” Each library has different activities and prizes, but you need a valid library card to participate.

During the 2014 summer reading program the most recent library data I could find, 29,847 participants read 358,660 books. Wouldn’t it be amazing if 100,000 readers signed up this year?

In addition to reading books, you can also support your local library by volunteering with the Friends of the Library of Hawaii. Help out during the summer reading program and throughout the year – such as shelving books, selling used books, counting visitors, or donning a costume to delight the kids. Contact your local branch to ask how you can help build a better local library.

Students in grades 1-6 can also join the Barnes and Noble summer reading program, from May 16 to September 5, 2017. Students can read any eight books this summer and record them in the Summer Reading Journal, along with a note about your favorite part, and you can earn a FREE book from the book list on the back of the journal. There are two Barnes and Noble stores in Hawaii, in Honolulu, Oahu and Lahaina, Maui.

 

Mahalo to Hawaii Public Libraries and Barnes and Noble, for encouraging readers, discovery, and imagination.

What books will you read this summer? What does building a better world mean to you?

Comments on the draft O‘ahu General Plan

Posted May 23, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Government

Tags: , ,

The Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) for the City and County of Honolulu is currently revising the 2002 General Plan that has been guiding O‘ahu’s long-range objectives and policies. The General Plan addresses the critical issues of growth, development, and quality of life that island residents are most concerned about, including regional population, economic health, affordable housing, and sustainability.

The O‘ahu General Plan covers 11 subject areas: Population, the Economy, Natural Environment and Resource Stewardship, Housing and Communities, Transportation and Utilities, Energy, Physical Development and Urban Design, Public Safety and Community Resilience, Health and Education, Culture and Recreation, and Government Operations and Fiscal Management. The objectives and policies are all based on the principle of sustainability in three key areas: environmental protection, economic health, and social equity.

The first public review draft was published in November 2012, after background research and community input. The second public review draft was released in February 2017.

I couldn’t make it to the public meeting on March 7, 2017 at McKinley High School. I didn’t have time to review the Oahu General Plan by the deadline to submit written testimony on May 8, 2017. I wish we had a just a little more time to submit comments, but I missed the deadline, so I thought I would share my comments here.

A removed Economy policy that we should keep:
Economy, Objective B, Deleted Policy 4: “Prohibit further growth in the permitted number of hotel and resort condominium units in Waikiki.” I believe this should remain a part of the General Plan. Waikiki is already at over-capacity, with overpowering hotels and condominiums, diminishing beaches, a lack of parking, and regular closures for parades and events. I think that further growth and expanded renovations are unsustainable.

A Housing policy that should be re-written:
Housing and Communities, Objective A, Policy 1: “Support programs, policies, and strategies which will provide decent homes for local residents at the least possible cost.” I object to “the least possible cost” stipulation because quality materials and craftsmanship are not cheap.

A Housing policy that needs a prerequisite:
Housing and Communities, Objective A, Policy 12: “Promote higher-density, mixed use development, including transit oriented-development.” RELATED – Physical Development and Urban Design, Objective A, Policy 4: “Facilitate and encourage compact, higher-density development in urban areas designated for such uses.” I think that we need to add a stipulation that infrastructure, utilities, schools, and open spaces can support higher-density developments. By open spaces, we need to think both horizontally (parks and landscaping) and vertically (open sky).

An Education policy that needs a broader definition of employment:
Health and Education, Objective B, Policy 1: “Support education programs that encourage the development of employable skills.” I think that public education has three broad goals: to get a job, to start a business, and to serve the community. To encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, this policy should be expanded to include self-employable skills and public service.

A Culture objective that is divisive:
Culture and Recreation, Objective A: “To foster the multiethnic culture of Hawai‘i and respect the host culture of the Native Hawaiian people.” and Policy 1: “Encourage the recognition of the Native Hawaiian host culture…” I think that the term “host culture” is divisive. If Native Hawaiians are hosts, then every immigrant and late-comer is a “guest,” invited or not, who may overstay their welcome.

A new Government Operations policy that we should consider:
Government Operations and Fiscal Management, Objective B, (new) Policy 4: “Provide for remedies/penalties for mismanagement and gross negligence of government programs.” While there is a nod to accountability in Objective B, Policy 3, the policy lacks power. Government officials need to be held liable for their actions  and inactions, beyond shuffling department heads or buying out contracts.

Ironically, Government Operations and Fiscal Management has the fewest number of policies (just eight, even with two new policies added).

What is your opinion of the revised O‘ahu General Plan draft? Which policies and objectives should be changed, added, or removed?

Benefits of joining a nonprofit board

Posted May 16, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business, Community

Tags: , , ,

There are so many ways to give back to the community, from fundraisers and clean-ups to volunteering, walking for charity, and cash donations. But few of us consider volunteering for as a board member. Maybe it seems like too much responsibility. Maybe we’re afraid to ask other people for donations. Maybe we think that we need to be wealthy or have a network of wealthy friends.

Nonprofit boards need more than just money to be successful. They need people with passion, commitment, and a vision for how the nonprofit can continue.

I’ve seen first-hand that if you can find a cause that you are passionate about and nonprofit board that is right for you, it’s a worthwhile commitment – not just for the nonprofit, but for you as well. I’ve been privileged to be part of small Hawaii nonprofit boards, as a member and as support staff, and I think that I am more confident in myself and feel more connected with the community.

Here are four benefits to joining a nonprofit board with a cause you truly believe in:

  1. Build relationships with people who share your passion. Joining a board helps you meet new people from different backgrounds who you might never have met before, and work together on a common cause. You could get to know your neighbors, meeting other community advocates, and form lasting friendships with other board members.
  2. Gain leadership experience. By participating in board meetings and committees, you can help make decisions that will affect the organization. Your “day job” may not give you many opportunities to be a leader and shape the future of an organization. The decisions you make on a board can lead to increased confidence at work and during business negotiations.
  3. Learn more about a cause or industry that you are already passionate about. As a board member, you will have opportunities to learn about running efficient meetings, creating effective programs, dealing with legal issues, and approving budgets, as well as gaining inside-information about statistics, trends, challenges, and opportunities about your chosen cause. Your expertise can make you an even stronger and more convincing advocate for your cause.
  4. Share your skills. You may have “hidden strengths” that are unrelated to your current job or may have big ideas that don’t fit with your current job position, boss, or company. By volunteering for committees and programs, you have more opportunities to share your skills or explore new talents. Board experience can make a difference to the community and your career too.

What causes are you passionate about? Have you ever volunteered as a board member? If yes, what has been your experience? If no, what would make you volunteer?