First sunrise of 2018

Posted January 9, 2018 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family

Tags: , , ,

Instead of staying up late to watch fireworks or writing New Year’s Resolutions that would be broken, we got up early on New Year’s Day and walked the First Day Hike up the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail.

I wanted to start the new year with something we could do as a family, something we had never done before, and something that we could also share with other people. A hike, even an easy one on a paved road with a gradual ascent, seemed like the perfect way to start the new year: a little bit of effort, clean air, and gorgeous views of the Kaiwi coast.

With jackets, flashlights, and water bottles, we walked up the clean road, stopping at the lookout points to peer down at the ocean. The near-full moon was a bright disk over Koko Crater, giving us enough light on the first part of the hike. The wind was cool and temperate; no sudden gusts pushed us towards the edge of the trail or seeped through our warm clothes. Above us, people ghosted across the mountain on smaller trails. Like mountain goats, people sat on the slope below the Point and made themselves comfortable.

I sat cross-legged on a rock wall at one of the Makapu‘u Point lookouts, before the top of the trail. I closed my eyes and could hear the waves crashing against the rocks, the murmur of voices in the early dawn. The dark gray clouds slowly lighted from cobalt to blush to orange crème.

Facing the sun, we couldn’t see any lights from homes or the highway. We were in a private family circle, part of the community.

At sunrise we walked up to the Point and listened to the pu, the oli, the bagpipes, and taiko drums welcome the new year.

The hike down the trail was quicker in the morning light. Energetic runners jogged past us on their return trip. A boy sat on a rock facing the ocean. A woman danced on a boulder.

It wasn’t even 8 am yet, and we had the whole day ahead of us, the whole year ahead of us.

How did you celebrate the new year? What do you look forward to in 2018?


“Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson et. al.

Posted January 6, 2018 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews

Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t like confrontation. I have never asked for a raise – not because I think I don’t deserve one, but because I’m uncomfortable bringing up the subject. And I have never bought a car on my own – not because I don’t know which car I want, but because I’m not comfortable negotiating for it. I’m usually the peacemaker in my family and at work, too.

So I was very interested in reading “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” Second Edition (2012) by the co-founders of VitalSmarts, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. I wanted to learn how to handle risky situations, like asking for a raise, suggesting a change at work, or talking with a family member.

“Crucial Conversations” is a practical, easy to read handbook to help people identify and initiate crucial conversations, those day-to-day conversations that have a big impact on your life, where there are opposing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions.

The book is based on two beliefs: first, the only person we can change is ourselves; and second, we create our own emotions. In effect, we are the ones who make ourselves angry, insulted, or uncomfortable, and we have the power to change how we feel.

With examples and scenarios, the authors lead us through a 7-step plan so that we can keep calm, keep others calm, and have successful crucial conversations.

  1. Start with heart: focus on what you really want. Don’t get distracted by winning an argument, punishing someone who disagrees, or keeping the peace. Look at challenges and skepticism as opportunities to convince others.
  2. Look for the moment a conversation becomes crucial. Lean to pay attention to your own physical, emotional, and behavioral signals, and watch for times when people react with aggression or silence.
  3. Make it safe to talk. When we react with aggression or silence, it is a sign that we feel unsafe. We can make people feel safe by apologizing when appropriate; using contracting don’t/do statements, like “I don’t want to suggest that the problem is yours. I do think it’s our problem;” and asking “Why do you want to do that?” to find the real reason why the two of you disagree.
  4. Separate fact from story. We tell ourselves stories about other people’s actions, often turning ourselves into victims (“It’s not my fault”), others into villains (“It’s all your fault”), or believing ourselves to be helpless (“There’s nothing else I can do”). Instead, stick to the facts and ask, “Why would a reasonable, decent person do what they are doing?” Then focus on what you really want and ask, “What would I do right now if I really wanted those results?”
  5. STATE your facts. Facts provide a safe beginning and are the more persuasive and less threatening than opinions.
  6. Explore others’ paths by asking what other people want. Use four listening tools: ask (“What do you mean? I’d really like to hear your opinion on this”), mirror (“You say you’re okay, but by the tone of your voice you seem upset” or “You look nervous. Are you sure?”), paraphrase (“Let me see if I have this right”), and, as a last resort, prime (“Are you thinking that maybe…?”).
  7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide (command, consult, vote, or consensus); assign specific tasks and deadlines, including what you don’t want; document decisions; and then follow up.

The sample scripts are really helpful and made me feel more prepared for stressful moments. For example, in response to criticism or negative feedback, you might say, “You know what? We need to talk about this. I’m glad you asked the question. Thank you for taking that risk. I appreciate the trust it shows in me.” Or when talking with an unenthusiastic patient or client, you might say “It sounds like you had a problem of some kind. Is that right?” Or when you disagree with someone else, you might say, “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”

There are also links to online videos and exclusive content, including Style Under Stress test (I scored about what I expected: high on silence, low on violence). The book ends with 17 tough cases and ways to change our reactions to those situations.

So far, I’ve had two chances to practice crucial conversations techniques. At work I suggested a business change and at home I attempted to mediate between two arguing relatives. Neither conversations turned out as I hoped (one was interrupted and the other was hijacked by the need to repeat their opinions), but I’m working on it. I just need to practice more crucial conversations skills.

Looking back at 2017

Posted January 2, 2018 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community


This year, we are embarking on the ninth year of Better Hawai’i. I would like to thank all of you, Better Hawai’i readers, for following my blog or just stopping by now and again to read or post a comment. I know that there are so many other things you could be doing, and I appreciate any time you spend thinking about making Hawai‘i and ourselves better.

Looking back on 2017, here are five posts about the local issues and ideas that affected me.

Health. “Full circle about single-payer health insurance” (February 21, 2017)
I was beguiled by the idea of single-payer health insurance, until I realized that the single-payer would be a government payer. I’ve come full circle, skeptical that single-payer health insurance would be an improvement over our current healthcare system.

Community. “Benefits of joining a nonprofit board” (May 16, 2017)
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.

Economy. “A two minimum wage proposal” (June 13, 2017)
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.

 Government. “Reimagining the Neighborhood Board” (August 15, 2017)
…What I strongly support is the monthly neighborhood meetings, rather than the Neighborhood Board itself… We could change the focus from a “Board” to a “Forum” completely. We could keep the monthly “Town Hall” meetings with City Councilmembers, State Senators, State Representatives, and representatives from the Mayor’s Office, Police Department, and Fire Department, but instead of Board members, elect “Community Coordinators” who would organize and run meetings.

 Education. “Success and the well-balanced student” (October 10, 2017)
It’s the kid, not the school. Success is not a straight line, from grade school to college to a good job to happiness, Dr. Pope declared. Attending a “good” school and getting a “good” job will not guarantee happiness or success. Rather, success is a meandering path, with unexpected turns and setbacks, and there is no one path to success that fits everyone. So we need to redefine what success means.

 What are your highlights from 2017? What local issues and ideas affected you last year, and what do you hope to focus on this year?


Clipart courtesy of

Mahalo in 2017

Posted December 26, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Mahalo

Tags: ,

Happy New Year, Better Hawaii readers! Let’s all take a moment to thank the people and organizations that have made our lives brighter and strengthened our community in 2017. Here is my mahalo list:

Mahalo to our teachers, Kelsie in fifth grade, who led students to create impressive and inspiring Exhibition projects; Speech festival advisors Terrie and Leslie, who gave students good feedback and helped them build confidence; Zachary in band at summer school, who made learning the alto sax fun; and Bob and Valerie in sixth grade, who created an amazing Underground Railroad experience for their students. Mahalo to instructor Jessie and all the volunteers at the UH Manoa Saturday Gene-ius Day Program, who volunteered their Saturdays to make science entertaining, and coordinated a fantastic graduation extravaganza.

Mahalo to our neighborhood parks, museums, libraries, and volunteer groups: Koko Head District Park for their ceramics studio; our neighborhood public libraries for Free Comic Book Day, summer reading programs (the online reading log was easy to use and I liked the reading challenge), and special events (we appreciated author Stan Yogi’s presentation about Fred Korematsu).

Mahalo to the thoughtful clinician at the Kaiser Permanente Honolulu clinic who makes hair scrunchies for women getting mammograms (I wish I knew her name).

Mahalo for family-friendly events: Home Depot’s Kids Workshop, where my son’s last project was a Valentine’s Day box; YMCA Healthy Kids Day at the Bishop Museum, where my son enjoyed the obstacle course and fitness cubes; the Mauka to Makai Expo at the Waikiki Aquarium, which taught me that the City will recycle SPAM cans; University of Hawaii at Manoa Institute of Astronomy Open House, where my son learned a little about spectroscopy and launched a bottle rocket; the Ellison Onizuka Day of Exploration, where my son had a blast at the Rockin’ Robots workshop with Lego, Vex, and Dash.

Mahalo for generous giveaways: free yogurt on International Frozen Yogurt Day from Yogurtland; free Slurpees from 7-Eleven on July 11; a free kids meal during Family Fun Day at Panda Express; a free cookie for my son’s birthday at Barnes & Noble; and free French fries and Icees for a $1 donation to the BK Scholars fundraiser from Burger King.

Mahalo to the Hawaii Council on Economic Education and HawaiiUSA for sponsoring a calendar contest that energizes students to learn about economics and encourages creativity.

Mahalo to Rock-a-Hula for an energetic, exciting, and memorable evening of hula, song, dance, pearl divers and beach balls – and for their $6 kama‘aina tickets. On the spur-of-the-moment, we finished work, packed up my son’s homework, and headed for Waikiki.

Mahalo for giveaways that introduced me to new authors and exciting movies. I was lucky to win “The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2015” edited by Paula Guran from Worldbuilders and “The Space Between the Stars” by Anne Corlett from Berkley Publishing and Mahalo for free tickets to “Justice League” to celebrate DTRIC Insurance’s 25th anniversary.

And thank you, Better Hawaii readers, for thinking about ways to make Hawaii better.

Who has made a positive impact in your life? Which events and celebrations did you enjoy this year?

Best books of 2017

Posted December 19, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Books



I made it a priority to read more books. Reading is a priority because I’m busy, not despite being busy. It’s a small but important difference.

Most of the books I’ve been drawn to this year have strong female characters – they make mistakes, they doubt themselves, and they forge ahead to save themselves – and everyone around them. And I’ve been reading more young adult fiction, because I’m curious about the books this generation of teenagers is growing up reading. The outlier is Stan Lee, because his autobiography is just that entertaining.

Here are eight of the best books that I’ve read in 2017.

Best young adult dystopian fantasy with otherworldly magic, hounds, and epic battles:
“Elite” by Mercedes Lackey – about social media, celebrity culture, and fan service; the illusion of safety; taking action despite fear; and believing that you can continue to learn

Best ‘weakest character is sometimes the strongest’ urban fantasy:
“Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs – about the bonds between people; personal power vs. the power of relationships; the power of belief; and coping with trauma

Best murder investigation by the last unaugmented human in town dystopian science fiction novel:
“Company Town” by Madeline Ashby – about being seen as you really are, accepting who you are, wanting a better life, justice, friendship, seeing reality vs. filtering reality, and one person changing the future

Best young adult interstellar search for meaning romantic science fiction:
“Defy the Stars” by Claudia Gray – about the line between human and machine, the temptation and terror of free will, the search for meaning in faith, and self-sacrifice for a cause

Best romantic science fiction novel with sentient ships and alien alliances:
“Dark Horse” by Michelle Diener – about trust; keeping your word; surviving by adapting to new situations; taking responsibility to end slavery; and music that brings joy and inspiration

Best off-the-grid FBI agent investigates a conspiracy thriller:
“The Silent Corner” by Dean Koontz – about justice, people mattering more than ideas, recognizing the humanity in others, and the danger of absolute power

Best lessons from military leaders account:
“The Courage to Take Command: Leadership Lessons from a Military Trailblazer” (2015) by Jill Morgenthaler – about overcoming obstacles; standing up for yourself; bringing out the best in your team; and speaking out against injustice

Best real life turned comic book adventure autobiography:
“Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir” (2015) by Stan Lee with Peter David and art by Colleen Doran – with creativity (he has conversations with his younger self), sly humor, humility unwillingness to make personal attacks, and tact

What book themes resonate with you? What have you been reading lately?

Planning a benefit concert on a budget

Posted December 12, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business, Community

Tags: , , ,

Earlier this year, I helped plan a benefit concert. It was a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, and in the beginning it seemed like a straight-forward event. We had a dedicated volunteer with a lot of energy and drive. We had performers. We had a venue. We even had a grant to cover concert expenses, like the invitations, program, security, and parking attendants.

In the end, we pulled off a successful event. We had a respectable number of attendees for a stormy night. The attendees, performers, organization staff, and venue staff were pleased. We raised more money than we expected. There were no problems or “uh-oh” moments.

It’s the middle part of event planning that was stressful. There’s more involved to planning a successful fundraising event than sending out invitations and waiting for people to show up.

You can find comprehensive fundraising checklists and event plans online, but here are a few insights that I learned from planning a benefit concert on a small budget.

* Build a trifecta of partners. For a well-planned event on a budget, you really need a trifecta of strategic partners: an expert (someone with knowledge, talent, content, or connections), a venue (someone with a good location), and a media outlet (someone with print, radio, television, or website reach). A donor or sponsor (someone with money) is nice to have, and can let you expand the event; but without the three key partners, it’s hard to keep to a modest budget.

* Budget more time than you think you’ll need — you’ll need that extra time. Event planning consumed a lot more time than I expected. Even adding extra days to our timeline wasn’t enough; we were constantly running behind, because we can’t control how other people use their time.

* Show them a glimpse of what’s to come. Share a short rehearsal video online to encourage people to attend the concert, inspire volunteers, and energize performers. It doesn’t have to be polished – in fact, releasing a candid, behind-the-scenes video can give acquaintances the feeling of being insiders.

* Find volunteers – early. I waited until the last weeks before the event to look for volunteers, and it was a scramble to assign tasks. You can learn from my mistake, and ask for volunteers early on. In fact, over the last few weeks before the event, you can email weekly updates to keep concert performers, staff, and board members informed and excited.

* Add something unexpected. Show your appreciation for concert attendees, as our volunteer organizer did when he created a songbook to give to attendees after the event. And show your appreciation for event volunteers, before, during, and after the event. Our volunteer organizer shared his enthusiasm through a songbook that was given to attendees after the concert. You probably can’t afford an honorarium, but if you have a hobby (like knitting, pottery, or jewelry-making), you could create small, hand-made gifts that have more meaning than a store-bought gift. Plus, you can spend time doing something you enjoy.

One final thought: People attend benefit concerts for many reasons. They may simply enjoy music, or want to spend time with other people, or know the performers, or feel loyalty to your organization. But the most important reason is to support the children, individuals, and families who need a helping hand.

Which events or fundraisers impressed you with something well-coordinated or surprising (in a good way)? Have you ever planned a corporate event or fundraiser? If yes, what worked well – and what do you wish you had known?



Artwork courtesy of

No fancy toys for the holidays

Posted December 5, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Family

Tags: , ,

My son has assembled and destroyed a lot of LEGO® in his life – from buckets of multi-colored bricks that gave him the freedom to build anything to kits where each brick matters.

Today, almost everything he built is dismantled, disassembled, and torn apart now, scattered bits and broken pieces, a small multi-colored plastic fortune, ignored.

I totally understand the temptation to use the Kragle.

But here’s a secret: I recently caught him playing with a small LEGO® airplane he built. It wasn’t part of a kit and it there were no fancy pieces. It was just a few rectangle bricks in the shape of a “u.” It was symmetrical but the colors didn’t even match. My son lay on his bed, zooming that simple airplane (space ship?) around with sound effects.

That moment really opened my eyes. The expensive toys and play sets gave him a boost of excitement in the beginning, but he enjoyed the basic airplane made with random pieces that he made himself more.

Sometimes we forget that kids can have more fun using their imagination, than following instructions from someone else’s imagination. A cardboard box can turn into a helmet. A yardstick can turn into a lightsaber. And leftover bricks can turn into an airplane.

We don’t need to buy fancy gifts for the holidays. Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best – like time spent together.

What is the most memorable gift that you received as a child? Do you buy gifts for yourself?