Archive for January 2013

School fundraising while we shop

January 29, 2013

It’s the start of the new year, and possibly a new round of fundraisers for parents. By the end of the school year, most of us are worn out from ticket sales, donations, and volunteering. But there are a few painless ways to raise money for our schools.

Here are nine ways to help your local school, just by buying the products you usually buy:

1. Recycling: drink it up! Donate your aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles to your local school. In Hawaii, they’re worth 5 cents per container.

2. BoxTops4Education: clip box tops! Earn cash for your local school by clipping Box Tops labels from participating products. Get the kids involved with cutting and taping the labels on the sheets. You can earn even more cash for your school by shopping online. Each Box Top is worth 10 cents.

3. eScrip at Safeway: buy groceries! Register your Safeway or Pak ‘n Save loyalty card and they will contribute up to 4% of the purchases you make to your local school. And when you shop at the eScrip Online Mall, you can earn up to 10% more. 

4. Give with Target: click to vote! Between July and September, vote weekly for your favorite school online. Schools receive a $25 Target gift card for every 25 votes received, up to $10,000 in gift cards. No purchase is necessary; the campaign ends when in September or when $2.5 million in Target gift cards have been awarded.

5. Labels for Education: clip labels! Earn educational merchandise for your school, such as computers, software, sports equipment, musical instruments, and library books, when you redeem Labels for Education UPCs and beverage caps. Labels for Education are worth 1 point (except for specially-marked packages). You can also shop online at participating retailers to earn even more points.

6. MyCokeRewards: enter codes! Donate your MyCokeRewards points to your local school and help them get things like athletic equipment, classroom supplies, learning aids and more. The kids can enter the codes online. Most codes are worth 3 points; codes on multi-packs may be worth 6-25 points.

7. Shop and Score at Times Supermarket: buy groceries! Between August and October, when you buy participating products at Times Supermarket, you can earn points for Hawaii high school athletes. Times is giving away $250,000 in Adidas uniforms. 

8. Help Literacy in Hawaii Shine with Longs and Kraft: buy groceries! Between February 3 and March 2, 2013, when you shop at Longs Drugs, 10¢ for every participating Kraft product you buy will be donated to the Friends of the Library of Hawaii (up to $10,000).

9. Shop for Higher Education at Foodland: buy groceries! Between February and March, you can earn points for participating high schools by shopping at Foodland and Sack N Save stores. Foodland awards $200,000 in college scholarships to 100 Hawaii high school students.

It’s a great feeling to help local schools just by buying the things we usually buy.

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Healthful foods from the plantation

January 22, 2013

My husband is a fantastic cook, and we’ve collected a lot of cookbooks over the years. Every now and then I browse the pages of a cookbook, looking for a recipe that I, with my limited skills and my preference for using as few ingredients and utensils as possible, could make.

“The Second Plantation Village Cookbook” (1987), compiled by the Friends of Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, is a local cookbook that gives readers a glimpse of plantation life through anecdotes and historic photos. The recipes come from Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican cultures, along with a Cosmopolitan section.

But what caught my attention, tucked between recipes for ginger chicken, pork adobo, luau stew, tsukemono, kook soo, and pasteles, were interesting tidbits about the medicinal use of some of the plants used in those recipes.

The cookbook cautions: The passages on the medicinal use of certain plants are included for their historic interest and your entertainment. They should not be considered as suggestions for medicinal remedies or as a substitute for medical advice.

Here are some of the “natural” remedies that the contributors suggested. Maybe some of them are familiar to you.

Achiote (Bixa orellana): the seeds can be made into a dye that is anthelmintic, or capable of expelling intestinal worms; and is used in treating certain types of skin disease. The seeds themselves are useful as an antidote for tapioca poisoning.

Coconut: the milk was used to prevent dehydration from diarrhea and for constipation and urinary problems. Oil obtained from the meat was applied locally to itchy scalps and could be used as a skin moisturizer.

Gandule (pigeon pea): the seeds may be used as poultice for wounds and bruises.

Ginseng, Sansam variety: it is purported to treat alcohol in the blood, regulate blood pressure, reduce fevers, and act as a stimulant and recuperative agent in helping the body recover from fatigue.

Guava shoot: the young shoots can be chewed to treat diarrhea (you only have to use it once).

Ha‘uowi: used as a tea, it can treat high blood pressure. The leaves, when crushed with a little Hawaiian salt, can be applied to rashes and sores.

Lin sai: the plant can be used for diabetes, by boiling it in water and drinking it as a tea (not more than three times a week).

Lychee: the fruit is said to be good for all forms of glandular enlargements. Its seed is soothing for pains and nerve disorders. A tea made from the leather-like skin is used to treat distress caused by smallpox eruptions. Even the flowers, bark, and root may be used in tea form to treat inflammations of the throat. Beware, however, as overeating of the fruit is said to cause fever and nosebleed!

Malung-gay (horseradish tree): the roots, when specially prepared and brewed as tea, can treat asthma, gout, rheumatism, and internal inflammations. The brew can be used as a gargle and mouthwash. When chewed, the roots are applied to snake bites to prevent the poison from spreading.

Onion: its juice is used in treating diarrhea, earaches, and headaches. Eaten regularly, the onion is said to lower cholesterol levels.

Pohe kula: the leaves can be used to make a tea for an upset stomach.

Saluyot: the seeds, when ground and mixed with ginger and honey, can be used as a remedy for diarrhea.

Sweet potato (kamote): the young shoots are said to be good for diabetes.

Taro: when sliced, the raw root was used to stop bleeding on open wounds; and poi was used as a poultice on sores.

White lady slipper: the ripe seed is good to take down fish bone in the throat. When boiled, the seeds can help flush out the kidneys.

Do you use medicinal plants today? Are there go-to family recipes that you use for colds and minor ailments? Do you believe that remedies based on natural plants and foods are just as effective as pharmaceuticals?

Looking back at 2012 Hawaii legislation

January 15, 2013

January 16 is the opening day of the 2013 Hawaii Legislative Session. Before we start talking about upcoming session, let’s take a look back at what our legislatures accomplished in 2012.

In Hawaii, 329 bills became law in 2012. These bills have passed both houses of the Legislature, and were enrolled, certified, signed or unchallenged by the governor, and published.

Here are some of the major bills that affect us, for better or worse. I tried to read the bill summaries carefully, and added some comments. If I missed something important, please let me know!

Bill that affects employers, employees, and the unemployed:
* HB2096 HD1 sets the maximum weekly benefit amount at 75% of the average weekly wage from April 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012; increases the employment and training assessment in increments of .01% retroactive to January 1, 2012 for payments of interest on federal loans for unemployment insurance benefits. My main concern is the retroactiveassessment, which seems unfair.

Bill that affects parents with young children:
* SB2545 SD2 HD2 CD1 repeals junior kindergarten programs at the end of the 2013-2014 school year and requires students to be at least five years of age on July 31 of the school year in order to attend kindergarten. This could increase childcare costs for parents. It may benefit “late-born” children who are not ready for school (preventing them from repeating kindergarten).

Bill that affects condo owners:
* HB1746 HD1 requires for separate utility metering of nonresidential and residential condominium units, regardless of when constructed. This could increase maintenance fees for condo owners.

Bills that affect health care:
* HB1964 HD2 limits out-of-pocket costs for cancer treatment under health insurance plans. This could save cancer patients money, but increase health insurance premiums for everyone.
* SB2798 SD1 HD1 requires all private health insurers to share their membership list with the Department of Human Services for Medicaid eligibility determination. This seems to infringe on members’ privacy.
* HB 2275 HD2 SD2 CD1 establishes a hospital sustainability fee. The Department of Human Services will charge and collect a provider fee on health care items or services provided by hospitals from July 1, 2012 and repealed on June 30, 2013. This could increase hospital costs and may conflict with federal hospital fees set by the Affordable Health Care for America Act.
* SB2825 SD1 HD1 CD1 allows health insurers limited access to the Hawaii immunization registry. I question the need for a registry, except for medical providers and first responders; and I don’t understand why health insurers need access to it.

Bill relating to Native Hawaiians:
* SB2386 SD2 HD2 requires the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission to verify documents from individuals seeking to be included in the roll of qualified Native Hawaiians, and prohibits the release of any verification documents. What is a “qualified” Native Hawaiian? Why can’t the Commission release verification documents with the individual’s approval?

Bill that increases utility costs:
* SB2752 SD1 allows electric utility companies to recover all power purchase costs that have been approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Electric companies are guaranteed to break even.

Bills that could boost our economy (and boost us into outer space):
* SB112 SD1 HD1 CD1 authorizes the application of a spaceport license from the Federal Aviation Administration to establish space tourism in Hawaii. What an exciting opportunity!
* HB2873 HD2 SD2 CD1 establishes a board of directors for the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) and transfers oversight to the Office of Aerospace Development. Seems like a change in housekeeping, from research (University of Hawaii) to development (Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism). On an unrelated note, how long did it take them to come up with the acronym?

Bills that authorize special purpose revenue bonds:
* There are eight special purpose revenue bond bills. 1. Dams and Reservoirs (HB2595 HD2 SD2 CD1); 2. Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HB2127); 3. Seawater Air Conditioning Projects (SB745 SD2 HD2); 4. St. Francis Healthcare System and Hawaii Medical Center East (SB2939 SD1 HD1 CD1); 5. The Queen’s Health Systems (SB2383 SD1 HD1 CD1); 6. Le Jardin Academy (SB2952 SD2); 7. Clearcom, Inc. and Hawaii Broadband Initiative (SB2236 HD2 CD1); and 8. Hawaii Pacific University (HB2248 HD2 SD2 CD1). Special purpose revenue bonds are not supposed to cost Hawaii taxpayers anything, but they do give preferential treatment to some companies, choosing “winners” and “losers.”

Bill that may inhibit free speech:
* HB2751 HD2 SD1 makes the disrespect of a house of the legislature into a petty misdemeanor offense. Under the guise of “decorum,” this may stifle spirited debate and instill a fear of speaking out. What’s wrong with arguing with passion, expressing enthusiasm or outrage?

How would you grade the Hawaii Legislature in 2012? How do these new laws affect you?

We can create beautiful communities

January 8, 2013

In San Luis Obispo, California in 1949, junior college art teacher Margaret Maxwell asked her students to look at the downtown and propose ideas where art could be used to beautify the city. Thinking beyond landscaping and art, two students came up with the radical idea to close Monterey Street in front of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and turn it into a public park. They faced opposition from influential officials and businesspeople, but the community supported the idea and eventually created Mission Plaza. Now the project is hailed as “an outstanding example of how communities can achieve multiple planning objectives through environmental design.”

I read about this bit of history in “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” (2010) by author and National Geographic Society researcher Dan Buettner, who uses this story as an example of how we can create happy communities.

I’d like to extend this challenge to everyone. How can we beautify Hawaii? Look around your neighborhood and your downtown.

Here are a few ideas to make Hawaii more beautiful:

* Beautify our highways. Instead of bare concrete walls, we could paint murals that reflect the community and history of the neighborhoods through which the highway runs. In areas safely away from the road, we could ask local children to paint pictures and designs. We could add unique signs at each off-ramp that proudly proclaim the neighborhood.

* Beautify our playgrounds and parks. We need playgrounds that reflect the community and Hawaii’s culture, such as native plants and animals, outrigger canoes, and even opportunities to play native games like ‘ulumaika (rolling stones) or kokane (similar to checkers). We need parks that celebrate local artists, such as a wall designated for kids artwork (bring your own crayons and markers), a graffiti wall (keep it rated G), or park buildings tiled with artwork done by kids in the community. Whenever a sidewalk in the park needs to be repaved, we could invite residents to come and write their names or press their handprints along the edges of the sidewalk.

* Beautify our schools. In most schools, the buildings square and functional, painted a solid color, and only the doors give the buildings some character. But like our parks, I our schools should reflect the community. We could have art walls to show off student work and school gardens. We could build schools with unique architecture and Hawaiian motifs. We could create courtyards for student gatherings.

* Beautify our bus stops. Most of our bus stops are functional, rather than comfortable. We could plant shady trees near bus stops that lack roofs or benches. We could create larger, more artistic bus stop signs with artwork or neighborhood maps.

* Beautify Chinatown in Honolulu. We’ve already closed Hotel Street to cars, and maybe we need to close it to public buses too. We could widen the sidewalks and add shaded outdoor seating, restroom facilities, and landscaping to the former street. We could install trash and recycling containers on side-streets to keep the sidewalks clean.

How can we make our communities more pleasant and welcoming? What changes would inspire you to linger in your neighborhood?

“Great by Choice” by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen

January 5, 2013

Great by Choice

Life – and business – is uncertain, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. So why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and other do not?

That’s the burning question asked by “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All” (2011). The book was written by author, teacher, and researcher Jim Collins and author and management professor Morten T. Hansen. It’s research-driven and thought-provoking, concluding with the insight that greatness is “first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline” (page 182).

The authors searched for companies that thrived in chaos from the 1960s through 2002, when this research project was started. There were three criteria: the company achieved at least 15 years of spectacular performance; the environment was particularly turbulent; and the company rose to greatness from a position of vulnerability. They identified seven “10X” companies – Amagen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, and Stryker – and analyzed the traits the companies shared in common.

They discovered that these seven companies displayed three core behaviors that distinguished them from their direct competition: 1. Fanatic discipline (they acted with extreme consistency – sticking with their values, goals, performance standards, and methods); 2. Empirical creativity (they relied on direct observation, practical experimentation, and direct engagement instead of gut instincts or hunches); and 3. Productive paranoia (they maintained hypervigilance, staying highly attuned to threats and changes in their environment, even when – especially when – things were going well).

And underlying the three core behaviors is a motivating force: a passion and ambition for a cause or company larger than themselves.

For a more dramatic comparison between success and failure, the authors discussed the 1911 race to the South Pole by expedition leaders Roald Amundsen, who planted his flag and returned home; and Robert Falcon Scott, who perished with his team. In near identical circumstances, it was Amundsen’s preparation, discipline, and paranoia that led to triumph.

One of the most interesting and helpful ideas in the book is that we often have the wrong idea about success. Collins and Hansen highlight five myths about successful companies:

Myth #1: Successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries.
Reality: They were more disciplined, empirical, and paranoid.

Myth #2: Innovation distinguishes 10X companies in a fast-moving, uncertain, and chaotic world.
Reality: More important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline.

Myth #3: A thread-filled world favors the speedy.
Reality: 10X leaders figure out when to go fast, and when not to.

Myth #4: Radical change on the outside requires radical change on the inside.
Reality: 10X companies changed less in reaction to the changing world.

Myth #5: Great enterprises with 10X success have more good luck.
Reality: The critical question is what you do with the luck you get.

The authors warn entrepreneurs that “Pioneering innovation is good for society but statistically lethal for the individual pioneers” (page 72). They also offer great practical advice product development: Fire bullets, then fire cannonballs. A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction test or experiment; a cannonball is a big bet with empirical validation.

“Great by Choice” is methodical and careful, full of anecdotes, specific examples of business decisions, and useful chapter summaries. Research foundations and notes are included at the end, so the book doesn’t get bogged down in details. It is a good starting point so that we can better react to economic uncertainty and cope with our own successes. We should all remember: “We cannot predict the future. But we can create it.”

Four years, four bookprints

January 1, 2013

Like footprints in the sand, a Bookprint is the mark that a book leaves on your life. The “You Are What You Read” campaign encourages readers to share our Bookprints, the five books that most influenced our lives. I felt overwhelmed when I tried to choose the books that have had a big impact on my entire life, so I decided to start with the books that have only recently changed my life.

I’d like to share four books that have inspired me over the past four years:

* “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations” (2008) by Alex Harris and Brett Harris.
Before I even started this blog, I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone by 19-year old twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris in their book, “Do Hard Things.” They encourage teenagers and everyone to do hard things instead of just getting by; and the first suggestion they make is to do hard things that take you out of your comfort zone. I wasn’t ready for a blog just yet, but they threw down the challenge. I submitted ideas to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s 2009 “DOE Trim the Fat” contest – and won second place for ideas to improve our public libraries. Last year, I headed a school fundraiser and joined the board of my homeowners association.

* “Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone” (2009) by Mitch Joel.
It really started with GoodReads.com, because they sent me this book. I was a little overwhelmed, but one line jumped out at me: “Start your own blog – now” (page 262). Just five words, practical and blunt, words I’ve heard before and an idea I’ve thought of before, coming at the right time – a time when I wanted to be heard, and WordPress gave me a voice. The first “Better Hawaii” post was published on January 2, 2010.

* “Start Something That Matters” (2011) by Blake Mycoskie.
Mycoskie challenges us to redefine capitalism and find solutions through entrepreneurship, not charity.  As Mycoskie’s story unfolds, you can see his shift from making money to helping people to inspiring people to help others. DonorsChoose.org was only briefly mentioned in the book, but its mission stuck with me: to help people donate to classrooms in need. My first donation was to a classroom in Kea‘au, Hawaii, where my mother was born, to help students learn about marine science. Though the book is not about education, I also started reading a lot more about public education and what makes great teachers, because parents and teachers have the opportunity to inspire children every single day. We don’t all have to start something new – we can start doing things that matter.

* “Living Artfully: A Heart-full Guide of Ideas and Inspirations That Celebrate Life, Love, and Moments That Matter” (2006) by Sandra Magsamen.
“To live artfully is to live life fully, with meaning and a purpose – to bring beauty into being” (page 4), Magsamen says passionately. Just reading the first chapter inspired me: instead of buying holiday decorations, I made my own cardboard cut-outs of Santa, a reindeer, a gingerbread man, and a surfing menehune (elf) using pens, paints, and a utility knife. I signed up for a ceramics class at a community center, throwing my first pots and hand-making leaf and fish plates.

What books have inspired you? What books have left their bookprints on your life?