Archive for December 2013

Best books of 2013

December 31, 2013

Best Books of 2013

Sometimes all we need are loving family, good friends, great books, and chocolate. I can at least help with the “great books” part!

This year has been filled with hilarious children’s books and amazing novels. Here are some of the best books I’ve read this year:

Best weird and hilarious children’s books (grades 1-3):
* “My Weird School” series by Dan Gutman and illustrated by Jim Paillot – about a boy who hates school and has to cope with a know-it-all girl, a teacher who doesn’t know anything, and an accident-prone principal (my 6 year old son loves this series, which continues in the “My Weird School Daze” and “My Weirder School” series; librarians everywhere will love Mrs. Roopy!)

Best “I will survive” young adult fantasy:
* “Vessel” by Sarah Beth Durst – about the greater good, trust, and self-determination

Best innocence-charms-the-predators urban fantasy:
* “Written in Red” by Anne Bishop – about inner strength, freedom, experiencing the world, and family, in a world where “Human Law Does Not Apply”

Best deeply emotional, runs with Death and madness werewolf fantasy:
* Silver” by Rhiannon Held – about descending into madness to cope with trauma, seeing someone as they are, and true leadership

Best choose adjectives high-octane, sword-wielding, crazy dangerous fantasy:
* “The Third Kingdom” by Terry Goodkind – about the reason vs. slavery, free will vs. prophecy, the balance of life and death, and choosing your future

Best dystopian, dark side of superheroes science fiction adventure:
* “Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson – about absolute power corrupting absolutely, the price of fighting for freedom, and finding a purpose

Best sword-wielding, demon mask influencing urban and historical fantasy:
* “Year of the Demon” by Steve Bein – about duty vs. honor, choosing the hard path, committing to a course of action (vs. over-thinking), and justice vs. the law

Best hilarious father-and-son Star Wars graphic comic:
* “Darth Vader and Son” by Jeffrey Brown – about fatherhood, frustration, and 4-year old boys

Best glimpse into an elementary school classroom in Hawaii:
* “Teacher, You Look Like a Horse! Lessons From the Classroom” (2003) by Frances H. Kakugawa – about a love of children, reading, and poetry

Best up-beat and down-to-earth guide to life:
* “You’re Only Human: A Guide to Life” (2013) written and illustrated by The Gecko – about money, work, manners, pie and chips, and the secrets of the universe

Have a Happy New Year and remember to make books a part of every day!

A year’s worth of mahalo

December 24, 2013

Mahalo in 2013

2013 has been filled with helpful people, businesses that give back to the community and volunteers who become friends. We remember to thank our family and friends, but I’d like to take a moment to thank some of the people and businesses that have touched our lives.

Mahalo to our neighborhood parks and volunteer groups at Koko Head District Park for their Easter Egg-stravaganza. Mahalo to our neighborhood libraries for special events, movies, Free Comic Book Day, Star Wars Reads Day (my son won cool Star Wars wall decals!), and Christmas ornaments.

Mahalo to our public school teachers, Karen in first grade and Jackie in second grade. Mahalo to Hawaii Kai Youth Baseball and the volunteer coaches, Chelsea and Justin, and the parent supporters on my son’s baseball team this summer. I really appreciate their time and patience!

Mahalo to local charging station companies Volta and the now-closed Better Place (and the shopping malls that made room for them) for our electric vehicle (we really appreciate the free miles when we run errands far from home).

Mahalo to home improvement stores The Home Depot and Lowe’s for their free monthly kids workshops, teaching them to follow directions and take pride in something they built (my son’s favorite projects were a football goal post game and a race car).

Mahalo to our local shopping centers: Salt Lake Shopping Center for the Easter Egg-stravanganza and Storybook Halloween; Hawaii Kai Towne Center for the Halloween Spooktacular; and Koko Marina Shopping Center for the Halloween Trick-or-Treat and Christmas Carnival.

Mahalo to our local museums and theatres: Bishop Museum for their Xtreme Bugs, giving us a new and up-close perspective of tiny creatures; the Hawaii State Art Museum for their free Second Saturday (we got to paint watercolor notecards with the Hawaii Watercolor Society); the Honolulu Museum of Art and Bank of Hawaii for their free Family Sundays (we had fun with the photo booth during their “Picture This” event); Spauling House for ArtSpree (we enjoyed making clay ornaments with the Hawaii Potter’s Guild); and the Hawaii Opera Theatre for their free Family Day (we learned about state lighting and got to watch the excellent “The Curse of Lou-Ling”).

Mahalo to our local companies who sponsored charity programs: Ala Moana Center for donating $20 on my behalf to DonorsChoose.org (and letting me choose the classroom project); Foodland for donating $350,000 to local schools and non-profits through Give Aloha, a community matching campaign; and the 5210 Let’s Go! Keiki Run (formerly the Keiki Great Aloha Run) and Honolulu 5k For Kids, which donated portions of their registration fees to local schools (my son raced ahead of me!).

Mahalo to our local companies: 7-Eleven for free slurpies on July 11; the Children’s Discovery Center for hosting a keiki swap meet (my son enjoyed selling his toys, meeting customers, and earning money); Panda Express, which gave away free Samurai Surf-and-Turf in April and free honey sesame chicken in October; Watanabe Floral for their Easter coloring contest and Easter Egg Hunt (I was so proud that my son won third place in the coloring contest!); and Central Pacific Bank for free chow mein and crispy gau gee during the holidays. And I can’t forget Costco for their free samples!

Mahalo to family-friendly local community events: Night in Chinatown, the YMCA Healthy Kids Day, the University of Hawaii Astronomy Open House, Independence Day at Maunalua Bay, Children and Youth Day, the Hawaii Fishing and Seafood Festival, the Leeward Discovery Fair, and the Festival of Lights Boat Parade.

What are you thankful for? Who will you thank today?

Fill your bucket with achievements and kindness

December 17, 2013

On Hawaii radio, there’s a commercial from Hospice Hawaii that talks about living our last days with dignity and purpose, and asking what’s on our bucket list (#BucketListHI). It reminds us to live each day to the fullest and live without regrets.

There are other websites that help you create and track your life goals, such as BucketList.org, where you can also read others’ success stories; and BucketList.net, where you can also swap services and thank people who have helped you. And if you need a gift for someone who is working on their bucket list, get inspired by Bucket List Journey’s “12 Unique & Practical Gifts for the Bucket List Traveler.”

While this bucket is filled with things you want to achieve, there is another bucket that may be even more important, and what matters is how you fill it every day – not just at the end of your days. When you’re thinking about all the things you wish you had done, think about all the things that you have done – and that people have done for you.

A few months ago, my 7-year old son and I read “How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids” by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer. It’s the story of a boy named Felix, whose grandfather teaches him that everyone has an invisible bucket of water over their heads. It can be filled by kind actions and reduced by mean actions.

I asked my son to write about how full his bucket is in his daily journal. He was a little skeptical about the invisible buckets, but he took the time to think about how he felt each day, and why. Some days he doesn’t offer an explanation for his (arbitrary) measurement, but when he does, it makes me smile.

My bucket was infinity% full

Good food, good health, and playing games (on screen and with others) seem to make him happy. Here are some of his journal bucket entries:

* “My bucket was 49% full. Today we had no P.E.”
* “My bucket was infinity% full because I got tons of candy when I went trick or treating!” [Halloween]
* “My bucket is 59% full because I got glow sticks from the Fall Festival and I played sword fight with (my friend).”
* “My bucket is 32% full. Today I was kind of sick. I sneezed 30 times.”
* “My bucket is 66% full because on Minion Rush I unlocked Minion Grandpa and got more wood on Minecraft.”
* “My bucket is 99% full because I loved the fried rice that Dad made for lunch, I got a whole bag of Recess, Kit Kats, and M&Ms, Dad made awesome chow mein, and I had fun with (my cousins).” [Thanksgiving]

When was the last time your bucket was 100% full? Or 110% full? Is your bucket filled with kindness or filled with things you wish you could do?

The doctrine of shopping carts

December 10, 2013

Shopping Cart

All of the recent attention about shopping carts – who owns them, how to get them off the streets, how we treat people who keep their belongings in them – made me think about how much we rely on shopping carts.

Some people walk into a store and automatically grab a shopping cart, whether or not they need one. I’ve seen people leave their purses in a shopping cart, and then browse nearby shelves. I’ve seen people pushing carts with only one small item at the check-out line.

Whether it’s a grocery store, a drug store, a department store, or a big box store, shopping carts encourage us to buy more and spend more time in the store. It means that stores must design wider aisles and factor in the cost of shopping carts into their pricing. It means that we are tempted to buy things in bulk that we may not need.

I think we could all use shopping carts less, and be more considerate when we do use them. For shoppers who are healthy, able, and don’t plan to buy a lot, I’d like to share my three doctrines for using shopping carts:

Shopping cart doctrine #1: Buy only what you can carry. For me, this means about 5 items that I can comfortably carry (I once carried five two-liter soda bottles in my arms, but that’s my limit). This helps me spend less, spend less time shopping, and resist unplanned purchases.

Shopping cart doctrine #2: Take a basket (if one is offered). Carrying a basket helps me spend less and resist unplanned purchases, and also gives me the option of putting the basket down if I want to look at something more carefully. By avoiding a shopping cart, I can navigate aisles easier, without worrying about bumping anyone or running over someone’s toes.

Shopping cart doctrine #3: Be a courteous carter. If you must take a cart (you’re purchasing a lot of things, buying a large item, or just have a young child who loves riding in race car carts), be courteous to other shoppers. Do practice safe driving. Do not put pets in the cart. Do return carts to the store or a shopping cart return. Do not leave carts between parking stalls, where they can bump other cars. Do ask permission if you must take it home, and return it when you are finished. Do not abandon carts on the street.

Do you rely on shopping carts too much? Do you tend to spend a little more when you use a shopping cart? Are you a courteous carter?

“The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker

December 7, 2013

The Gift of Fear

Fear is a gift that can save our lives, according to security and violent behavior expert Gavin De Becker. In his book, “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence” (1997), De Becker insists that we are all experts at predicting violent behavior, and shows us that violence has patterns and warning signs – and that fear can save our lives. “Precautions are constructive, whereas remaining in a state of fear is destructive” (page 279).

“The Gift of Fear” is a compelling and empowering book about trusting our intuition to keep us safe and predict violence. It’s written mainly for women, since women are more often victims of violence. It’s filled with conversations, cases, scenarios, and insights into human behavior. It gives us strong, confident ways to respond to threats.

De Becker warns that “We tend to give our full attention to risks that are beyond our control (air crashes, nuclear-plant disasters) while ignoring those we feel in charge of (dying from smoking, poor diet, car accidents), even though the latter are far more likely to harm us” (page 32). He points out, “Why does America have thousands of suicide prevention centers and not one homicide prevention center?” (page 33).

Instead, we need to start listening to our fear. We need to believe that we or someone we care for will be a victim at some time. We need to realize that we are responsible for our own safety and that we must trust our intuition/gut feeling.

De Becker outlines 7 basic “survival signals” to watch for when dealing with strangers. By identifies these techniques, we can learn to evaluate the potential for danger in every situation.

1. Forced teaming (they project a shared purpose or experience, such as “both of us”). Response: refuse the partnership (“I didn’t ask for your help and I don’t want it”).
2. Charm and niceness. Response: remember that niceness does not equal goodness.
3. Too many details. Response: think about context (would a stranger share these details?).
4. Typecasting (they make criticism that can be disproved by doing what they want, such as “Don’t be too proud to accept help”). Response: silence.
5. Loan sharking (they offer to help to create a sense of obligation). Response: there is no debt.
6. Unsolicited promises (they make a promise you didn’t ask for). Response: skepticism.
7. Discounting “no” (they over-ride your objections). Response: “I said ‘No.’”

De Becker also offers practical advice for responding to violence and threats of violence:
* When receiving threats of violence (meant to cause anxiety and uncertainty): Do not show fear. Keep calm. Answer the question: “Am I in immediate danger?”
* When receiving threats of extortion: Disclose the harmful information yourself. Make them state the threat explicitly by saying, “I don’t understand what you’re getting at” or “What do you mean by that?”
* When dealing with persistent, unwanted attention: Ignore it. Do not engage.
* When dealing with a confrontational, problem employee: Fire them as soon as possible. Executives need to let managers know that they should put safety first and communicate their concerns, instead of worrying that they are over-reacting or can’t manage their people.
* When firing a problem employee: Treat them with dignity, make the termination complete, do not negotiate, only discuss the future (do not rehash the past), be direct, cite general rather than specific issues, time it right (at the end of the day on the last day of the week). If they make threats, give them a way out, like “I understand you are upset, but the things you are talking about are not your style” or “We all say things when we react emotionally. Let’s just forget about it. I know you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
* When you are leaving an abusive relationship: Take actions that make you unavailable to your pursuer. Go to an at-risk women’s shelter. Get away safely.
* When dealing with a stalker/unwanted suitor: “No” is a complete sentence. Do not negotiate. Do not explain. Give one explicit rejection, like “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you” and then stop all contact.
* When dealing with assassins and stalkers who are determined to kill you:  Limit the likelihood of an unwanted encounter and take reasonable precautions.
* Reporting an act of violence: The media, including bloggers, should focus on law enforcement and downplay the criminal’s ability and glamour. Be warned that after a widely publicized attack, the risk of other attacks goes up dramatically.

Woven through the chapters is the idea that women are socialized to be victims – we are taught to compromise, to be peace-makers, to nurture, to avoid hurting others’ feelings, and to be less certain than men. De Becker also suggests that all high school should offer a class called “Getting Rid of Mr. Wrong,” which would teach young women that it’s all right to explicitly reject a man; and teach young men how to hear “no.”

This isn’t a handbook for victims of abuse; it is meant to teach regular people, who haven’t experienced violent situations, to turn fear into awareness and vigilance. One of the most important lessons I learned is that “No” is a complete sentence. It taught me that I have more control over interactions with strangers than I thought.

Though this book was written over 15 years ago, the strategies for evaluating and responding danger are just as timely. Find out more about Gavin De Becker on his website at http://gavindebecker.com.

Holiday selling, giving, and thankfulness

December 3, 2013

I am trying to teach my 7-year old son that the holidays are about more than just buying and receiving gifts. I want him to appreciate what he has, not focus on what he doesn’t have. I want him to think about the gifts he really wants, not just the gifts he wants right now.

This year, we tried three new Thanksgiving traditions to get the holidays off to a better start:

* Selling with a smile. My son set up a table at the Keiki Swap Meet, hosted by the Children’s DiscoveryCenter. On a Saturday morning, my son sold his gently-used books, DVDs, puzzles, toys, and games. Not only did this reduce my son’s clutter and make room for holiday gifts, it taught him to evaluate the toys he really wants – and gave him some spending money for Christmas gifts. He greeted customers, suggested toys, added up sales, and made change. He also learned about treating customers well – whenever someone made a purchase, he offered them a free “prize” (a pencil, stickers, a tattoo). He didn’t try to hold on to toys that he no longer played with, and was happy to meet some of the kids who bought his toys.

Tip #1: Practice being friendly. My son to practiced saying “Hi” and “Welcome to my store” with eye contact and a smile. I reminded him to thank everyone who stopped by, even if they were just looking.

Tip #2: Collect “freebies.” Whenever my son gets free stickers, tattoos, pencils, and other trinkets, we put the things he doesn’t want into a small box. We had a nice assortment of “prizes” to give away.

* Giving to others. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, my son and I put together two shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. My son chose two of his new, unopened toys for boys aged 5-9. To each box, we added toothbrushes, toothpaste, pencils, erasers, stickers, toy cars, a book, and other small toys. It gave us a nice feeling to prepare a Christmas gift for a child somewhere in the world, who might not get a Christmas present. When he pointed out that Santa gives every kid a present, I answered that sometimes Santa needs our help (he accepted that, but rejected the idea that Santa goes on vacation in Hawaii, because “he has too many toys to make”). During National Collection Week, we dropped off our shoeboxes, complete with gift wrap and labels, and learned that our gifts will be sent to Nepal.

Tip: Set gifts aside year-round. If my son receives too many birthday or holiday presents, I usually set aside some of them, and bring them out throughout the year. So we already had a stash of small toys and games that we could share, without having to spend extra money.

* Sharing our thankfulness. On Thanksgiving Day, in addition to a lovely dinner, we created a “Thankful Pumpkin Patch.” We gave everyone a pumpkin cut-out, asked them to write something they are thankful for, and added it to our thankful patch. We could just go around the dinner table and share our thanks, but I like the idea of writing things down; there’s less pressure to come up with something witty or eloquent, and it gives everyone a chance to read each other’s responses.

Tip: Thankfulness as art. Some ideas to turn your thanks into year-round art: write your thanks on a “Thankful Tree” (fall leaves), a “Thankful Patch” (pumpkins), a “Thankful Turkey” (feathers), or “Thankful Stones” (stones or pebbles).

How do you balance giving and receiving during the holidays? What do the holidays mean to you?