How to write a book in 30 days

Have you been struggling for years to complete a book? If so, don’t worry. This is a common problem that many writers face. Are you ready for the secret of how to write a book in 30 days? “Go Write and You Won’t Go Wrong. It’s that simple,” says Michael Ray King.

Michael has helped hundreds of writers get un-stuck and finish the books that have been in them for years. Here are some of the tips he recommends to his clients:

Find a good place to write.

Find a place that’s pleasing to you. It can change from day to day. When you purposely go to these places, you’re already starting. On your way there you start formulating things in our head. A lot of creative work is done before you even start writing.

“I like writing in a restaurant because it has a lot of white noise. I can’t write at home because there’s a lot of children noise I can’t ignore,” Michael says.

CartoonWritersBlockKing

Consider your sound environment.

Music is a good writing trigger, as long as you know what genre works best for you. “Music with words can be especially inspiring when you’re writing poetry. I get the melody and it helps me pick up meter. It’s a fun poetry exercise,” Michael says. “But if you listen to songs with music, be careful not to plagiarize.”

Stay with your passion.

This is the most vital aspect of writing any book. You have to love what you’re writing. You can’t do this if you’re questioning yourself all the time. It invites a critic and a judge. You may have to go back and review a few prior paragraphs to refresh where you are, but move on. You need to love your writing from the very beginning, from the first draft all the way through the marketing of it. 

The first draft doesn’t need to have good grammar and continuity. Some people don’t like chaos, but if you’re truly creating from the heart, your words will seem chaotic at first. The stuff you’re writing fresh off the cuff doesn’t match up with the edited stuff so if you try to edit when you write, it feels like there’s a bug in your writing. This can bring you to a halt. Save the editing for later.

Michael allows writers to talk about their issues. Lots of issues come down to the personal judge and critic. “Writers have set patterns like this and that’s exactly what they need to change,” Michael says. 

Use index cards.

“I press people to use index cards. Get a specific pen you identify with your writing,” Michael says. If you have something special you connect with your writing, such as a pen, a desk, or a set of index cards, it’s a trigger to start writing.

Too many people de-prioritize their writing. In order to get your writing done, you have to prioritize it. If not, everything else will take priority over it.

Begin with one card. Write the title of your book. Be creative. You can change it at any time. Working with index cards is an ongoing process. Make a card for each chapter and section of your book. You can continue adding and reorganizing the index cards the whole time you’re writing your book. You can continue to shift them around at any time. Interacting with the cards gives you a hands-on approach allowing you to tap into your internal creative nature.

“When you digitize things, you’re taking out the human element. By using cards, you’re stay in touch with your creativity. There are huge advantages with computers, but they can also distance you from your creativity,” Michael says.

MichaelRayKingIndexCards

Michael Ray King’s index cards for his book on How to Write a Book in 30 Days.

“I’ve had people do the cards in a different way, but that’s ok,” Michael says. He believes that if it works for you, then it’s right for you.

Lots of people take five or more years to write a book. You don’t need that much time to write most books. If you’re writing a historical fiction novel and have to do a lot of research, it’s going to take longer.

Write at least 750 words each day for 30 days.

“You have to get to the point where you want to write the book so much that you’re writing because you want to get your message out, not just because you want to meet your daily word count or complete an index card. For some it may feel somewhat of a selfish priority,” Michael says.

If you’re writing what you know, then you should be able to knock out a first draft quickly.Having a plan for completion is important. That’s one of the biggest benefits of deciding to write your book in 30 days. Michael holds classes and webinars on How to Write a book in 30 Days.

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Address the critic and the judge separately.

“That sentence isn’t constructed well,” you might be telling yourself. “Who are you to think you can write a book? Who would want to read this?”

“Put these voices in solitary confinement prison until you’re done with your first draft,” Michael says. “These voices just get in the way of creativity. Nuke them. Blow them up. You never need the internal judge. These critics will rob you of your book. If it’s happened to me, it’s happening to other people.”

“I had a coach who put me to the grindstone. I’m a totally different kind of coach,” Michael said. “You can throw everything into your book. Overwrite. If you think it’s cool or if it’s your truth, just put in in there. If you think it might tick someone off and you decide to leave it out, then you’re not writing properly.”

“There’s lots of diversity out there. Not everyone is going to agree with you. If you write vanilla, you won’t get anywhere. Howard Stern and Connie West don’t have filters, but we place filters on our views. Your views have more credence than these guys. Don’t censor yourself when you have truths to put out there. Don’t hold back,” Michael says.

Lots of writers tend to want to read over their stuff before moving on, but avoid it. New writing is going to be rocky at best. Wait until you rewrite and edit before you smooth it all out. 

Calliope - Muse of Epic Song: Writing Tablet

Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry

Welcome the muse.

Some writers say “my characters took over my book,” When this happens, it means there’s some mystical thing going on. “This means that you’ve allowed yourself to let your creativity run wild. When you can do this and maintain it, it works,” Michael says.  

Some writers say, “The book practically wrote itself.” When this happens, it means you’ve been able to get past the critic and let the book out. The muse is a special writing phenomenon. “I’ve even done this with sports or ballroom dancing,” Michael said. “You can get in a mode when you feel like your actions are being channeled. You don’t know where it’s coming from.”

“You can’t induce a muse. But when she shows up you better get to the computer and write because when she goes away, you might not see her again for a while. You can feel great about your writing, but that time with your muse is special. In 14 years of writing, I’ve never been able to force the muse to show up,” Michael says. 

Goodreads has hundreds of quotes from famous writers all the way back to Aristotle and up to modern day people. If you’re feeling stuck, read some qoutes from famous writers. It can help you get un-stuck.

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. E.L. Doctorow

“Don’t count on your muse. Even when she doesn’t show up, you need to get to the point where a day without writing is like a day without sunshine,” Michael says.

Don’t talk to non-writers about your book.

When you’re writing, especially a book, do not talk to non-writers about it. They will rob you of your zest. They won’t do it on purpose. If you give them a plot line, you beg the judge to come in. You might think, “that’s so much better than what I was thinking.” If they say “that’s been done before” then that will take the wind out of you. Tell people you’re writing a book, but don’t discuss the particulars of what it’s about. 

Find a trusted writers group.

Find a trusted writing support team with people who are actively writing. If you have synergy, it really helps. “That’s why my clients keep coming to class because it keeps them rolling,” Michael says. “It’s very motivational.”

“Lots of writing groups are social clubs. They’re not progressive. There’s often not enough encouragement to get your book out to market.” Michael says. “You have no business being in a critique group if you’re writing your first draft. If you do, it’s like asking the judge to destroy you. Most critique groups are nothing more than ego stroke groups. People will go in, read, and get feedback. It not only hinders the process time-wise, it handcuffs your creativity. It bottles you up. That’s what I’ve seen and learned. Let your horses run wild and then corral them. If you have a good editor later, that’s all you really need.”

Bridget Callaghan, Michael Ray King, Jeff Swesky and Nancy Quatrano at a Method Writers book launch event in Palm Coast, FL in October 2012

Bridget Callaghan, Michael Ray King, Jeff Swesky and Nancy Quatrano at a Method Writers book launch event in Palm Coast, FL in October 2012

Good writers groups encourage each other. “When I was a part of the Rogue Writers, the energy and synergy in those meetings were off the charts,” Michael said. “It’s a group that started in 2003. People in this group have written multiple books. When you’re around people who are really making it happen, you get caught up in it. That’s a good writing group.”

“You’re either a wanna be, a gonna be or an I am. There was a time when I was waffling between a wanna be and a gonna be. You want to get to that I am place. Write the book so you can say, I am an author. A good writers group will inspire this,” Michael says. “Being able to match personalities is critical. I hand picked people for the Rogue Writers. I wanted everyone to encourage each other and write books. We wrote together. Four of us wrote a novel together and a book of short stories.”

“You’ve got to be able to have fun together and still work. We’d play writing games. We’d laugh until we cried. Four people writing one novel is very interesting. You’ll sometimes see a collaboration of two people, but rarely four. We’d just sit there. We had a big timeline on the wall. If you make it too task oriented, there’s too much opportunity for friction and you squelch creativity,” Michael said. “Our meetings weren’t so much about sitting and writing. They were more about coming together to talk about what we had written.”

“I’m not a big fan of accountability to others. I think writers need to be accountable to themselves first. Set up a spreadsheet to track your word count toward the completion of your book,” Michael says. “I have a friend who posts her word count on Facebook. It’s her own accountability and can be inspiration to fellow writers at the same time. Word count isn’t the only measure, but it can be a barometer.”

Get a writing coach.

“I managed people for 20 years in retail. What I learned is that it’s a good thing to hire people better than me. I’m a big fan of personal coaches. A woman named Janice coached me in a business and personal way. We’d talk weekly to find a balance in life. She encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. The biggest thing she taught me was that you don’t have to know things intellectually. I know things from internal channels. When things line up, I know it’s right. I’m intuitive. Stop trying to force things and trust your instincts and move forward. When you have your internal talks, just started trusting yourself.  She took me out of programmed negativity and put me in positive state of mind,” Michael said.

“A book shouldn’t feel like a huge monstrosity. Most people can write their first draft in 30 days just by writing for about an hour a day,” Michael says. “It’s simple but not easy. It takes a lot of discipline. If you don’t finish it in 30 days and it takes 45 or 60, you’ll still be happy. I’ve found that about 20-25% of the people who take my class finish in 30 days. The bulk of the people finish in 45-60 days. Some take 90, and a few never finish at all,” Michael said.

After your book is written, it’s time to move on to the editing process.

How to write a book in 30 days: Write the draft before you edit

Michael Ray King is the author of Go Write and You Won’t Go Wrong: Write Your Book in 30 Days! He’s a five-time award winning author. In addition to conducting classes, he is also a personal writing coach. He lives in Palm Coast, Florida.




10 productivity tips for a smarter to do list

Do you have a to do list with hundreds of items you can’t seem to get done? Each time you add another item to your list you have good intentions. But at a subconscious level, you know you’re just adding one more thing to a growing list of things that don’t get done. If this sounds familiar, don’t despair. Here are ten tips that will help you check more things off your list each day:

  1. Choose an app you can access on multiple devices. I’m currently using Appigo Todo while my husband favors Todoist. If you partner a lot with friends or family to get things done, you’ll love the collaborative features in Wunderlist. Or perhaps you fancy something even more social like Listography? Whatever you do, be sure to choose a tool that has a user-friendly interface on your computer, smart phone and any other devices you use regularly.ListographyLogo
  2. Begin each item with one action word (a verb). This makes it easy to identify what you need to do: CALL to reschedule massage; TALK to a stranger; REPAIR flat tire on bike; LEARN how to make homemade sauerkraut.
  3. Break projects down into doable chunks of time. As an author, it doesn’t do me any good to have a task like “write eBook.” It makes much more sense to make this a project and then list the various tasks such as “write chapter 7” and other similar action items as subtasks of this project.
  4. Schedule time on your calendar to complete items with deadlines. If you have an important deadline, it’s ok to keep it visible on your to do list, but it’s even more important to make sure that you’ve blocked out ample time to complete it.
  5. Avoid duplication. It doesn’t make sense to put “unload dishwasher” on your to do list because you can see when the work needs to be done. The same rule applies to housework or email. When your bath mirror becomes spotted enough to bother you, clean it. If you have rules and features set up to manage your email effectively, then you’ll have visual cues in your inbox and folders to let you know when you need to work on replies.
  6. Tweak and customize your list until it works well for you. The best to do apps are full of features that allow you to filter and sort so that you see what you want to see when you need to see it. Adjust tabs, colors, priority levels, repeat functions and other tools regularly to be sure you’re seeing and doing the things that matter most.

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  7. Ignore your to do list one day a week. Putting things on your to do list can give you a peace of mind that you won’t forget to do important things. But it’s also crucial to give yourself time to do things spontaneously or choose to do things that aren’t on your list.
  8. Review your to do list once a week. Update tasks that are partially complete, add clarity to tasks you entered on the fly, re-prioritize most important tasks for the upcoming week, and delete as many tasks as possible that are least important.

    funny to do list make vanilla pudding

    don’t forget to add funny things to your to do list

  9. Evaluate your overall effectiveness and productivity every month. Some people have a tendency to be very focused in their work and social ventures while others have many interests and thrive on the stimulation of new ideas. If you have the feeling that you’re never getting enough done, it may mean that you need to find ways to simplify your life and stop doing some things that aren’t important to ensure that you have enough time to do the things that are most essential. Reflect on what old habits may be holding you back and what new habits you want to establish.

    list of things to start doing

    list of things to start doing

  10. Read your mission statement every morning and every evening. If you don’t already have a mission statement, begin by writing something simple. As a writer and continuous improvement expert, my mission is to provide tips to improve people’s lives. Although it’s common to hold a number of roles at any given time, it’s important to make sure that the things you put on your to do list support your main purpose and biggest responsibilities. Knowing that you’ve accomplished your most important tasks and projects allows you to rest well with a sense of fulfillment at the end of each day.

It’s time to change your personal policies and procedures

Looking for more ways to increase your productivity? Buy this terrific book by S.J. Scott now . . .




It’s time to change your personal policies and procedures

If you’ve ever worked for a company with established policies and procedures, you understand the concept of playing by the corporate rules and hidden commandments. These policies, procedures and unwritten rules are developed over time based on situations that come up in the normal course of business. Smart leaders know that if something frequently goes wrong at a particular point in the process, they need to change a policy or procedure to help ensure that the process flows better in the future.

cartoon 10 commandments

You can apply the same principle to your own life. In fact, you’ve already done so many times without thinking of it in these terms. As your personal life circumstances change, you make adjustments. And sometimes other people mold you to their ways, especially if you live or work with them.

You can probably recall a time not too long ago when either you or someone you know made a general statement about what they do or don’t do. Here are a few examples of personal policies or rules:

  • “I don’t eat bread,” says a celiac who knows it will make him sick.
  • “I always choose ground travel,” says the person who fears flying.
  • “I don’t eat meat,” says a vegetarian who feels more energetic when she avoids it.
  • “I can’t work until the kids start school,” says the mom who wants to stay at home with her children.
  • “I always wake up early,” says the person who works the early shift.

These are verbal declarations of informal policies that help you manage your life and keep it running as smoothly as possible. These policies give you a sense of control over your health, relationships and even your fears. Once you become conscious of your own personal rules or policies, you’ll start to notice them in others as well.

policies and procedures

Policies and procedures work together. If you decide to change one of the rules you live by, it’s likely to affect one or more of your procedures. If you’ve ever tried to change one of your rules, you may find it difficult to do so because you’re habitually conditioned to carry out procedures that support your unwritten policies.

If you know someone who has tried to quit smoking (incorporate a new life rule/policy), they’ll often say it’s hardest at specific times during the day (their normal procedures). Smokers take breaks together, have lunch together and have mini-processes in place to support their habit: purchasing cigarettes, stocking up to make sure they have enough with them for the day, bringing the right kind of outerwear to smoke outdoors and so on. Not only do they have to overcome the physical addiction, they also have to change their processes and possibly even face resistance from friends.

You have a series of mini-procedures you repeat on a regular basis. You may have a certain way of preparing your breakfast, getting ready for work, doing various tasks at work, doing the laundry, or relaxing in the evening.

Once you’ve fully adopted a procedure, you tend to go into “auto” mode. The good thing about this is that it allows you to effectively use your time. When you’re in “auto” mode, you can multitask by thinking or doing other things at the same time. It’s the same concept that people use to drive while talking on the phone or work while watching TV.

The not-so-good part about going into “auto” mode is that you can fall into repeating a procedure day after day even if it no longer serves you well. You start to do things automatically without considering whether or not you should continue doing the same things over and over again week after week.

If you’re happy with your life just as it is, keep doing what you’re doing. Chances are you’ll get the same results until circumstances change, and eventually they will. Just as there are no bad habits, there are no bad policies or procedures. They’re all effective in producing similar results as long as you’re somewhat consistent with them.

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Habits

Assuming you aren’t living in a constant state of bliss, you may want to make a conscious effort at evaluating some of the policies and procedures you’ve accumulated over your lifetime. Here are a few suggestions you may want to consider:

  • adjust your sleep time in order to have uninterrupted time to work on a goal
  • brainstorm ways to cut out time-consuming activities in your life such as social media or TV
  • upgrade and learn to use new tools that allow you to accomplish your work quicker and easier
  • schedule time in your days and weeks to complete your most important tasks
  • downsize your home to simplify your life
  • add more physical activities into your daily routine

Once you have this new awareness, you’re better positioned to evaluate which of your policies or procedures you want to modify. When is a good time to begin making these adjustments? The best time is now!

How to Get Happy Now Via Habits, Goals, and Resolutions

By now your inner voice is probably speaking to you . . . telling you what you need to change. What personal policy do you need to change? What procedure needs some editing? This might be the natural remedy you’ve been searching for. When you need some strength to work through adjustments, focus on the benefits you’ll gain after you make the change. Once you make a change, please come back and share your story.

If you’re not ready to edit your own life yet, begin by helping others who are eager to change.

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10 Tips from a Silicon Valley author in love with hiking

Do you hate to exercise? What if you could find a way to work out for four hours solid every week and not mind a bit?

Miriam Nuney, a transplant from the flat plains of Illinois, has lived in Silicon Valley for decades. Once the hiking bug bit her, she dragged her husband out with her, convinced the exercise would do them both good. After shedding many pounds and getting into the best shape of their lives, they started inviting people to join them to discover the joys of getting above the stresses that technology can’t cure, but nature still can. Here’s what she has to say about hiking:

Ever go hiking with a group of friends?  There’s nothing like chatting the hours away, huffing and puffing up the hills and skipping along the trails, breathing fresh air, and staying blessedly away from all those handy tech-gadgets and cell phones that seem to be running our lives instead of making them easier.

Hikers on bridge Miriam Nuney IMG_2235

Photo courtesy of hiker Joan Kushner.

You’ve probably even seen hiking venues along your commute route and not even been aware hidden paths are calling for you to tread on them next weekend. I should know. You were me.  And boy was I surprised to find dozens of parks and designated open space areas ribboned with public trails just waiting for me to explore. So I did.

After years of hiking in the hills above California’s famed Silicon Valley, where the burning desire to escape confining cubicles and intrusive technology reaches dire levels, I can assure you there is nothing better for your physical and mental health than escaping into tantalizing wilderness and letting your cares and worries drop away for a few hours.

Hiker in woods Miriam Nuney DSC_0221

Photo courtesy of hiker Denise Herbst.

I’ve hiked with people who’ve achieved significant weight loss (we’re talking forty+ pounds!), recovered from spinal and knee surgeries, reduced to the bare minimum medications for chronic asthma and diabetes, and recuperated from bike and running injuries.

All from simply putting one foot in front of the other–again and again.

Walking is a natural human activity, so . . . if you can walk, you can hike.

Hiking generally means getting out into a large park and walking on dirt trails, usually including climbing hills, and occasionally crossing streams and clambering over fallen tree limbs. Yes, nature has a way of reminding us it has an awesome power we can’t control, but hey–humility is good for the soul. Learning to let go of problems we can’t do anything about is one way to alleviate unnecessary stress.

Hikers crossing stream Miriam Nuney DSC_0352

Photo courtesy of hiker Denise Herbst.

And don’t make any excuses about being too old–or young.  I’ve hiked with 10-year old kids who had more energy than me at the end of the hike, and a frail-looking 72-year old Chinese woman who carried water from her wells at home to keep fit.

In fact, she had the last laugh on us on one of our more challenging hikes at the Pinnacles National Monument in central California. This hike includes clambering over incredibly steep steps carved into a sheer volcanic mountainside, fortunately with sturdy handrails for those of us with a fear of heights. Afraid she might fall and break her hip, we dogged her every stride despite her protests she was “quite capable, thank you.”  

2012-03-10 Miriam Hiking Pinnaccles 058

Photo courtesy of hiker Joan Kushner.

We made it safely back to the parking area for a picnic lunch, and wouldn’t you know it–the youngest in our group slipped on a quarter-inch of low-lying water on the pavement and went down on her hands and knees!

A few minutes later we squished together on a picnic bench. I perched next to her on the very end and crossed my legs, only to find myself teetering off bench and onto the ground. Our Chinese friend couldn’t stop laughing at me. Trail hazards be damned!  It was the modern conveniences that got the better of us.

HIkers checking the trails Miriam Nuney DSC_0322

Photo courtesy of hiker Denise Herbst.

Before you head off hiking, here are ten safety precautions you should follow:

  1. Check the park’s website for trail conditions, maps, and entrance fees.
  2. Bring one friend…or more!  It’s unwise to hike alone.
  3. Estimate your time on trail–generally you hike at half the speed you walk.
  4. Bring 16 oz of water per hour on trail, and bring snacks such as nuts, granola bars and fruit.
  5. Wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, sturdy shoes and socks (jacket and gloves as needed). 
  6. Pack a basic first aid kit with bandages, a pain reliever and any special meds you need.
  7. Hike in the daytime. Avoid hiking at dawn or dusk due to bugs and critters.
  8. Check weather forecasts and be prepared for even the slight possibility of bad weather. 
  9. Pack a spare change of clothes and extra water, and leave in the car.
  10. Anticipate making your way out on your own. Most trails do not have cell phone coverage, so don’t assume help is a quick phone call away. 

hiking cartoon

Don’t let the unknown outdoors stay unknown for long. Get out there and embrace it!  There is nothing more real than getting out into the hills and meeting head-on the challenges of nature and, best yet, overcoming them.

Hiking Group Picture--Miriam Nuney

Photo courtesy of hiker W. Douglas Lamb.

If you live in Silicon Valley or you’re planning a trip in the area, be sure to check out Miriam’s eBook, 101 Great Hikes Above Silicon Valley, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Smashwords. To join their hiking group at no charge, send an email to JohnMiriamNuney@aol.com. For comments or suggestions about this blog post or her ebook, email Miriam directly at MNuney@aol.com.

101 Great HIkes Above Silicon Valley by Miriam Nuney s260x420

Book cover photo by Robert L. McQueer.




How to make your vacation last a lifetime

Have you ever splurged on a vacation only to return home feeling remorse over how much money you spent? You try to convince yourself that it was worth it, but the hotel, restaurants or sites didn’t quite live up to your expectations. Or perhaps the weather wasn’t what you had hoped for. The time flew by and now all you have to show for it is a few tourist photos and a big credit card bill.

vacation beach picture cartoon PC Vey

“I just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime vacation,” my friend told me. “I’ll never go there again. It was a tourist trap!” RD

What if I told you there was a way you could avoid tourist traps and make your hard-earned vacation dollars last a lifetime?

Elley Ho showing Asante Africa students their pictures on the camera screen

Elley Ho showing Asante Africa students their pictures on the camera screen

Have you ever thought about donating your vacation to a cause? I recently met an amazing woman who not only thinks about it, but she actually does it. She’s the ultimate voluntourist who loves to travel to developing countries. Offering her photography and education skills, she volunteers her summers to reach out to help people in rural communities in countries like Peru, China, Nepal and Africa.

Here’s what Elley Ho said when I asked her about her recent trip to Africa:

Why do you choose to spend your vacation time volunteering?

I’ve always been fascinated about the worlds beyond where comfort is out of reach but I’m surrounded with plenty of simple beauty. Volunteering is the best way to enjoy this path less traveled. Whenever I give, I end up earning more and that fulfills my inner self.

Elley Ho preparing to shoot an interview with an Asante Africa teacher

Elley Ho spending time with Tanzanian students during filming at a local school

How did you apply your talents to help Asante Africa? 

With my previous volunteering experiences, photography skills and passion for education, I was invited by Art Director Heward Jue to pull together a project proposal for Asante Africa Foundation, a well established nonprofit based out of Oakland, CA. Subsequently, we were awarded the Getty Images Creative Grant of $20,000 which supports photographers who use imagery to promote positive change in the world. This grant helped us to actualize a film and print campaign for Asante Africa Foundation, showcasing how the work of the organization has profoundly transformed the lives of thousands of African children and their communities.

In July 2013, Heward and I went to Africa to film scenarios that highlight the transformations made possible through education. Thanks to the local Asante Africa staff in Kenya and Tanzania, we were able to locate the resources we needed to make the filming happen. They went out of their way to help us with our production. 

For example, one staff member from Asante Africa knew people who worked in the hospital, so we were able to do a shoot in the facility. The children featured in the film were also carefully selected by the staff who knew the potential of the students, all recipients of Asante Africa scholarships. 

Elley Ho and Heward Jue with Asante Africa students in Kenya

Elley Ho and Heward Jue with Asante Africa students in Kenya

What challenges did you encounter during the filming?

In one of the scenes we were looking for a rough neighborhood so we could portray the issue of child soldiers as a haunting reality in Africa. We felt uneasy about exposing ourselves and our equipment in the slum area while being barracaded by locals wondering what we were trying to accomplish there. Luckily, one of the staff members lived close by so he knew which people from the slum could help safeguard our visit.

When we were filming at a local village, one of the male villagers gave us a hard time because the school principal affiliated with Asante Africa reported him for marrying off his daughter at a young age. After hours of negotiation our local staff was able to come up with a solution with them and we got to accomplish what we needed to do. 

Behind the scene with Elley Ho filming at a slum in Narok Kenya

Behind the scene with Elley Ho filming at a slum in Narok Kenya

What did you learn about Asante Africa?

The thing that struck me the most about Asante Africa is that they have the best staff. The organization only hires local Africans. Their lives are empowered because of the job opportunities and training they’re given through Asante Africa. Not only are they super friendly, but these people are very dedicated to what they do. They aren’t afraid of trouble.

Asante Africa addresses needs at multiple levels to ensure the communities at large will grow as they open more doors for students to have the education and skills to become future leaders. Not only do they build infrastructure to improve the physical environment of the schools, they also look at other needs of the community at large. They provide training programs for students to become future leaders, and  programs to empower women to learn about women’s health, thus elevating their attendance in school. 

Elley Ho in Narok Kenya with a teacher and his family who volunteered to be actors

Elley Ho in Narok Kenya with a local teacher and his family who offered to be actors

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned that Africans are good problem solvers. They don’t get caught up in their emotions when dealing with hardships. They’re born into circumstances which teach them that life is difficult. They deal with what comes to them. They don’t give up easily.

We saw barefoot children walking miles back to home after school. As our car passed by them, they waved at us with big smiles. They didn’t ask if we could give them a lift. They know what they deal with is part of life and they accept the challenge.

Elley Ho shooting the local Maasai in Arusha Tanzania

Elley Ho shooting the local Maasai in Arusha Tanzania

What was one of the best things that happened during your stay in Africa?

We met a boy on the street in a rundown neighborhood in Arusha as we were scouting for a location for the filming. He kept waving at us with a million dollar smile on his face. We couldn’t resist but to walk over. It turned out that he spoke good English and was able to answer all the questions we asked. He told us that he lived with his aunt and sister. “My father died. He kept throwing up every time we saw him,” he told us. We asked him where he lived. He couldn’t give us an address, but he told us to turn this way and that way and walk straight and so on.

He said his favorite subjects were math and English and he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. He said it all with full confidence on his face. When I looked into his bright beautiful eyes I couldn’t resist to believe that with a little help he could become a pilot. We talked to Albert, our scholarship coordinator, who proceeded to ask the boy more questions. After all was said and done, I asked Albert if this eight-year-old would qualify for Asante’s help. He said the boy met all the criteria and he would return do a home visit to get more information.

This boy’s life may be forever changed, all because of his eagerness to give us a big smile.

African way of praying in school

African way of praying in school

What advice do you have for people thinking about donating their vacation time to a cause?

Go abroad and interact with the locals in their reality. Contribute what you can to the local communities. You’ll come back feeling you have done something way beyond what a typical beach resort vacation can offer.

Who knows, you may even change a life for the better?

Learn more about Elley’s experience from her perspective on her blog post: Getty Images Creative Grant 2013.

Ossob Mohamud warns that you shouldn’t do something like this unless you’re truly invested in helping beyond your vacation days. You need to be willing to “help address the root institutional and structural causes of the problem,” he says. Guardian Africa Network

Mike Carter is a board member of Asante Africa who helped out with Elley and Heward’s award-winning film project. If you’re like Mike, Elley and Heward and there’s a voice inside you telling you to go and make a difference, then do something about it.

Go Away! And Other Good Advice Parents Should Give Kids

Elley Ho teaching in Nepal through the Nepal Education Initiative Organization

Elley Ho teaching in Nepal through the Nepal Education Initiative Organization

The next time you’re planning a vacation, check out your options with Global Vision International, The International Ecotourism Society or another similar voluntourism organization which offers trips starting at 7-10 days. Elley is a board member of the Nepal Education Initiative Organization and she welcomes you to go to the rural villages in Nepal to help out. Wherever you decide to go, do your homework to make sure you sign up with a reputable organization that’s a good match with your talents or interests. Your next vacation can be one that you and the locals will never forget.

Who knows, it might even change your life for the better.

Take a Big Sip of Water and Speak Up a Little Louder

Asante Africa logo




Happy people stop working, but never retire or quit

Michiko Itosu has been running a rainwear shop in Okinawa, Japan, for the past 65 years. She has been working nearly every day from 8 am – 8 pm, taking vacation only during the New Year holiday. Her daughter and granddaughter also work in the shop, and the two of them speak fairly good English. When I stumbled upon their shop in downtown Naha, I discovered three friendly women eager to talk to me. Ironically, I was equally interested in learning longevity secrets from this 91 year-old shop owner.

Japanese 91 year old woman Michiko Itosu - Version 2When I asked her about her secret to good health, she said, “work every day and eat vegetables.” But I could tell by the look on her face that Michiko wasn’t really working. She enjoys helping people select rainwear. It’s not work to her. The smile that’s molded into her face is genuine. She helped me slip into several different raincoats, demonstrating the best way to snap and belt each one for the best look.

Do you spend the majority of your time on activities that you’d do regardless of whether or not you got paid?

For years, researchers and journalists have been curious about healthy old people in Okinawa. Reporters interview them for feature articles and longevity experts poke at them, literally, as they try to uncover the secrets to a long and healthy life. Some of the elderly seemed to be annoyed by Westerners like me walking around with a camera, while others were friendly.

Most of the exceptionally old people I interview say they enjoyed their work which they talk about as if they’re talking about a hobby they love. Whether farmers, teachers, doctors or artists, they’ve got a treasure chest full of stories. Most talk more about how they help people rather how much they earned. It doesn’t mean that they’re less motivated. In fact, they can accomplish more over their lifetime simply because they live longer. Turtles can win races against rabbits.

Do you love what you do enough to do it the rest of your life?

If not, consider putting a plan in place to change soon. When you do what you’re passionate about every day, not only will you enjoy life more, you’ll naturally reduce your stress. It’s so much easier to get up each morning when you love what you do.

Okinawans are known for living exceptionally long lives. Coincidently, the Japanese language has no word for retirement. If you visit the island, don’t be surprised if your taxi driver is in his 70s and the hotel concierge is in his 80s. That was the case for me. When I traveled to the island, I saw working elderly people in many places. When I asked their ages, most of them proudly told me. One taxi driver happily shared his age. At a red light, he pulled a case out of the center console showing his recognition medal of honor for more than 50 years of safe driving.

In the US, birthdays are happy celebrations up until the 21st. This celebration is the first legal toast with alcohol, the welcoming elixer to surviving the rat race. Many Westerners avoid talking about their age by the time they get to their 30s or 40s. When asked, they may pull out the “I’m 29 again” groaner to avoid revealing their age. If you took a poll on their favorite day of the week, more would say “Friday” than “Monday.” The US even has a restaurant in honor of the last day of the work week: TGI Fridays!

Short-sighted American companies often target “over the hill” people as the ones that need to be weeded out. This is justified, in part, due to the high cost of health care and the lower life expectancy of Americans compared to other first world countries. CIA Life Expectancy. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of great experience and wisdom getting extracted from organizations prematurely. Lots of great workers are put out to pasture, unwillingly, just as they’re reaching their prime.

IMG_8847 Okinawa rain wear shop owner (smaller)Even after 65 years of helping people in and out of raincoats, Michiko still likes to help people stay dry in the rain. “Years ago people bought more rainwear because they rode their bicycles,” she told me through her granddaughter who translated. Michiko, along with her daughter and granddaughter, work together selling rainwear 7 days a week.

“Today, lots of the young people go by car, so they only want umbrellas,” she told me. She has adjusted her inventory to meet their needs. Regardless of your age, you can make adjustments if you want to remain relevant in your field.

Many centenarians have habits that keep their minds sharp. They adopt new ways to remain proficient in their chosen field. Many centenarians in longevity hot spots never really retire from the work and activities they love. Although they may leave one employer or even close their business, they continue to share their talents and find ways to add value to society. They’re not quitters.

Have you mistakenly felt that you’re too young or old to be happy with your work? 

Centenarians didn’t get to their age by saying, “I’m too old to do this or that.” Many of them work well into their 80s or 90s doing what they enjoy. It keeps them alert and gives them a reason to get up and moving each day. Age itself is rarely the limiting factor in any country. Although there are laws which regulate minimum ages of doing things, there are very few things you can’t do because you’ve passed a legal maximum age.

Work satisfaction is one of the secrets of some of the world’s oldest people, and ironically, many are humble gardeners or laborers who are physically active every day.

Smart people sit at desks all day, while wise people get their hands dirty. Although educated women with desk jobs typically earn more money and have longer fingernails, they tend to lead more sedentary and shorter lives. Don’t be afraid of dirty short nails. If your work involves low-impact physical labor much of the day, you’ll probably be better off in the long run.

Whatever you do, don’t retire to a sluggish lifestyle. A sedentary retirement often leads to boredom, lethargy, depression, and a downturn in health. Even if your work is relatively sedentary, it still causes you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.

Do you leave work each day with a healthy sense of satisfaction and well-being?

Some jobs are better for your health than others. Jobs that expose you to toxins, or require you to do sporadic shift work, put you at high risk of injury, or require you to sit at a desk all day, are likely to have a negative affect on your health. If your job is causing too much stress, what good is it doing you or your loved ones? Resolve the issue or find a different job. You’ll be much better off in the long run.

Health is the greatest form of wealth, but unfortunately many people don’t realize it until they’re facing illness. Although your income can affect the range of options you have in life, your economic status is no guarantee of happiness or health.

If you have a full-time job, you probably spend about half of your waking time getting ready for work, thinking about work, commuting to or from work, and of course, working at work. You give your best energy each day to your employer or customers, and your family and friends get your leftovers at the end of the day. Does this routine sound familiar? Doesn’t it make good sense to use all this precious time, your life, contributing to a product or service you believe in?

Are you passionate about your work?

One of the greatest regrets many people have late in life is that they didn’t take more risks to do what they really wanted. You probably know a few people who found a way to turn their passion into their source of income. They don’t even think of their vocation as “work.” If you’re already doing work you love, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you’re not satisfied with your job, consider finding one or two mentors who love their occupation, and ask for their guidance as you transition into more fulfilling work.

Don’t stress too much over any particular job. Be creative and put together a plan for your future. One of the best ways to reduce your work pressure is to keep your living expenses as low as possible. Use your time off work for retraining or making other changes that will help you to reposition yourself, if necessary. Or volunteer or take on a part-time job doing what you love. This alone may open new doors for you.

Remain positive through transitions. Knowing that you’re working toward a better future should help to give you the extra energy you need to get there. You may not be able to make drastic changes quickly, but if you plan carefully, get training as needed, you can find a way to support yourself while expressing your talents and interests at the same time.

What’s the point of burning away your days doing things that feel meaningless? Doesn’t it make sense for you to enjoy your work, get along with your colleagues, and be in an environment that’s conducive to good health?

Do happy people tend to find ways to like their work, you may wonder? Or is it that people who do the work they love tend to be happier? What I’ve noticed is that happy people who live exceptionally long lives never really work, retire or quit. They wake up every day and do the things that bring them a lot of pleasure and just enough income to meet their modest needs.




Michael Mobbs offers 9 tips for a more sustainable home

Would you like to cut your living expenses in half without giving up modern luxuries? Me too. That’s why I wanted to meet Michael Mobbs and see his home that’s (almost) off the grid in the heart of a big city. On a recent trip to Sydney, I had the opportunity to meet with Mobbs and get a private tour of his Sustainable Home. Here’s what I learned . . .

SusHouseCover2print.inddSince 1996 Michael Mobbs has lived in a unique house in the center of Sydney, Australia. If you rode by on your bike, you wouldn’t notice anything different from the outside. Only a plumber or electrician working on the inside would know the difference. With three other house friends, Mobbs’ total annual water and energy bills are less than $300 AU or about $280 US. His three bedroom home is about a 40 minute walk from the Sydney Opera House.

He has solar panels on his roof. The electric company sends him a check to pay for the clean solar electricity he puts into their main grid lines.

In 1996 he disconnected the water and sewer. He uses rain water that falls on his roof in place of tap water. He treats his own water that flows from his toilets, washing machine and kitchen sink. The system recycles the water back into the house. He uses the recycled water to flush the toilets, wash clothes and hose his beautiful backyard garden. He doesn’t pay any water or sewer bills. In his book, he describes how the simple wastewater system works.

IMG_8787

Michael Mobbs Sustainable Home backyard water treatment garden

The house is still connected to gas. The annual bill is about $200 US.

“I’m not special, kinda short, have no handy skills and can barely drive a nail. If I can do it, you can too,” says Mobbs.

Even if you do own a home, you may not be ready to generate your own electricity and collect and process your own water. But you can begin with smaller projects. I asked Michael for some tips that almost anyone could apply regardless of where they live. Here are some of his recommendations on how to save money even if you’re renting an apartment.

1. When one of your lights goes out, replace it with an LED bulb. LED lights are much more efficient.

2. Paint interior walls shades of white. This also applies to outdoor areas, such as fences. White reflects light back into your rooms. Avoid dark carpet, walls or furniture. Black eats light while pale colors bounce it around.

Sustainable.House 039

Michael Mobbs Sustainable House

3. Install a water efficient shower head. You can take it with you if you move. It saves the energy that it takes to make the water hot and it also cuts down on your water usage. It can save over 15,000 gallons of water a year in a four-person household. This is especially important if you have one or more people in your household who take long showers. Even if you take short showers, you can relax knowing that the same amount of time will cost less.

4. Get a water and energy efficient dishwasher and washing machine. This can knock up to 50% off your energy and water bills. Efficient ones will use about 10-20% of what the standard guzzlers use.

Laundry Study Shows Americans Have Few Hangups

5. Get the most energy efficient refrigerator possible. It runs 24/7 and is typically the biggest energy-using appliance in your home.

6. Catch rain water if you can. You can use it to water your indoor and outdoor plants. You may be able to do this even if you’re in an apartment and only have access to a small balcony.

SusHouseCover2print.indd7. Grow food you can eat. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, you can grow mint, garlic, rosemary, lemongrass and other plants suitable for indoor environments or small spaces on balconies. Grow mung beans for your salads in a glass jar on your window sills. Get involved with a community garden if there’s one in your neighborhood. If you have too much of one type of food, swap surplus food with other gardeners.

8. Buy food from your local farmers markets. Fresh produce is always healthier and more nutritious than the store-bought refrigerated stuff.

9. Compost fruit and vegetable scraps to make soil for your pots and/or garden. Even if you don’t have a lot of space you can add worms to your compost and they will turn it into fertile black gold (dirt) in 1-3 months.

Mobbs says a modest meal which includes a small portion of meat puts a much greater strain on the environment than a meal that’s fully vegetarian. We need to think about our overall impact on the environment even outside our homes.

“The energy and water needed to keep me alive is about 20-40 times greater than the energy and water needed to run my house. Yes, my house saves over 100,000 liters (about 20,000 gallons) of dam water a year by harvesting the water which falls for free using the natural stormy energy of the skies. But in ten days of eating the typical Australian diet, there’s over 100,000 liters of water needed to grow, harvest, clean, store, package, transport and refrigerate my food. My little tummy uses far more water and energy than my house,” says Mobbs.

Michael Mobbs Sustainable House with Lorraine

Dr Lorraine Haataia with Michael Mobbs in front of his Sustainable House in Sydney, Australia

The costs, designs, products, materials, tragedies, mistakes, truths, and failures of his house and tummy are spelled out in his two books: Sustainable House and Sustainable Food.

“Plug the leaks in your home. When you take steps to reduce your living expenses and environmental impact, you may ultimately reduce your financial stress and have the chance to invest in new opportunities with the money you save,” Mobbs says.

A few years ago my husband and I traded in our big suburban home with a 3-car garage for smaller living quarters. This freed up both time and money giving us the opportunity travel to places like Sydney.

The next time you’re in Sydney, be sure to tour Michael Mobbs’ Sustainable House or see the scaled down version of his home at the Powerhouse Museum near Darling Harbour.

In the introduction of his Sustainable Homes book, Mobbs offers some of the key lessons he learned through the decisions he made with his own home. If you aspire to create a more sustainable home, look for others in your community who are making changes in their homes and lifestyles. You’ll get there much quicker if you share your challenges, successes and fears with them.

Steven Wright recently moved into an all electric house. One evening he forgot to turn off the lights before he went to sleep. When he woke up in the morning to let his dog out to pee, the front door wouldn’t work. 

Take a look at this candid interview with Mobbs as he explains how he handles some of the resistance he faces as a positive change-maker doing things that seem perfectly logical. His advises everyone to have the courage to say, “I can do this.”

It’s helpful when your cohorts share common factors such as weather, jurisdictions and local suppliers. And even better if they have some professional experience that might help to expedite projects. Mobbs happens to be an environmental lawyer by trade. In 2009, The (Sydney) Magazine listed Mobbs as one of Sydney’s 100 most influential people. See the About Michael page on the Sustainable House website to learn more about him.

 Build It Green logo

 




How to get happy now via habits, goals and resolutions

What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming week? Do you have any major goals you’re working toward? Whether I’m talking with an old friend or getting to know someone new, I like to ask these questions. It’s a good way to get to know people better.

The way they answer is a gauge of their current state of happiness. Some people light up and describe in vivid detail the vision they’re executing. Others hunch forward and tell stories about of how and why their happiness has been put on hold indefinitely, often because of the noble sacrifices they’re making for others.

When is the best time to do something that makes you happy? The best answer is “now,” and “today,” or “ASAP.” Now is the only time you have and this is true every single day. Your life is happening now right in front of your eyes. Look around. It’s passing by even when you aren’t paying attention.

collage habits

Molly Anthony has a habit of creating mixed media art to inspire others to be creative. Instagram@mkranthony

How about now?

Many people miss the power of the present moment because they’re too busy lamenting over the past or projecting into the future. The more you can discipline your mind to stay in the present, to take actions now to design the life you want, the more likely you are to smile more and complain less.

You may admire others who have more money than you, travel more than you do, have better jobs, more fame, or bigger or better whatever. You may think you want what they have, but you really don’t know until you take the opportunity to experience it personally. You don’t know how well it will fit until you try it on or walk in their footsteps. If you did, it might surprise you.

goals list cartoon

Lots of people take time to check in with Facebook, TripAdvisor, or Yelp, but forget to check in with themselves. When you feel your mood swinging up or down, make a conscious note of the trigger. Self Check-In. This is a good time to take a moment to reflect on what habits, goals or resolutions you need to make in order to create more emotional up-times in your life. You know you’re getting closer to happiness when you no longer notice the small things that are less relevant because you’re too busy doing what you love to do.


As you think of it, jot down what habits you need to focus on in order to pave the way to a better you


If you have time to slow down and reflect on Sundays, for example, you can reflect back on what went well the prior week and what you want to do different in the upcoming week. Are there new habits you need to put into practice? I love Google Keep for tracking habits or things to do. You can add photos that help you visualize what you want. And you can add checkboxes that you can reset every day, ever week, or whenever you want.

Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems

It can take about 21 days to acquire a new daily habit, so don’t give up if you miss a day. Just pick up where you left off on the next day. Over time your new habit becomes so engrained in your subconscious that you begin to do it automatically. And when you don’t do it, you miss out on the benefit it provides, which makes you want to go back to doing it. This is The Power of Habit.

Reflect on your smaller short-term goals each month. Are you doing what you need to do on a daily basis? The first day of the month is a good time to begin tracking your progress throughout the month. If it’s the 10th day of the month, then you know you’re about 33% there.

You can also use your birthday as a milestone instead of going with the first of the month. It feels a bit more personal, even though it can take a little longer to calculate progress. If your birthday falls is on the 29th, 30th, or 31st, you may need to use the last day of the month as the fall-back date for the months that don’t include your number.

What do you think you need to do to be happier? Try a 30 day challenge. Check out this clip by Google Webspam team member, Matt Cutts . . .

Some people like to set New Year’s Resolutions. But you shouldn’t wait for the New Year to come around to kickoff a big goal unless you’ve been preparing yourself for it throughout the prior year. Most people don’t keep their New Year’s Resolutions because they aren’t in the habit of setting small goals all year long. They don’t have the habit of making and keeping promises they make to themselves. If you don’t set and accomplish small goals throughout the year, you’re not likely to accomplish big goals that you blurt out once a year.

goals high-definition daydreams

The most common type of New Year’s Resolution in the US relates to losing weight, exercising more or getting healthier one way or another. Most people have a general idea of what they need to do to be happier, but don’t have the mental will-power to do the day-to-day mundane things that ultimately lead to big results over time. Happiness is as much about the journey as it is a destination.

Sick of diets? Film Diet Plan will help you escape the fat trap. 

One of the biggest problems with waiting until New Year’s Day to make a resolution is that it seems logical to set big goals knowing that you have the whole year to get it done. The year begins with a few procrastination jokes about why you can’t start yet. Your self-talk can go something like this, “I don’t have to do anything for the first month (or quarter) because there’s still plenty of year remaining.”

By the time the second and third quarter of the year roll around, the self-talk, however subtle, can turn into a self-defeating blame-game, “I can’t do this because of this or that family member,” or “I don’t have enough money,” or ” I’m too young or too old.” If you aren’t getting it done, you’ll find an excuse. This can lead to feelings of unworthiness. Psychology Today

Are you happy?

People who keep their New Year’s Resolutions tend to set smaller goals year-round and, more importantly, they keep them. Their smaller goals support their bigger vision. They write down their goals and schedule the daily and weekly activities that direct them toward their ultimate vision.


Every day is the first day of a new year.


Today is the first day of the upcoming 365 days. Consider birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. They can fall on any day of the year. When that day comes around the following year, it’s the beginning of a new year relative to that date. Every day is a good day to make adjustments to your habits and routines in order to create the relationships and environment that bring out the best in you. If something doesn’t go the way you want it to today, start over again as soon as the sun rises.

How to attain authentic happiness in 7 emails

It’s natural to want to move forward and experience life in a fuller way, whatever that means for you. It’s human nature to want expand your space, your influence, your desires and even your things. You can try to do this vicariously through TV, movies and even social media, but if you really want to make the most of your reality, you’ll reach your goals much quicker by spending less time wallowing in passive entertainment and more time taking action to help them to manifest in your life.

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Habits

If your current habits aren’t getting you where you want to go, start making changes today. Here are several things to consider as you make adjustments to your habits, goals and resolutions:

Tidy up to free up more time and space for what you want most.

People often set goals that are too time-consuming or disruptive to their current lives without deciding what no longer adds value. The hours of your days are already full, so you’ve got to let go of less important activities in exchange for the new. Tidying up, in itself, can often relieve you of financial and mental stress which may result in greater happiness.

Connect with others who share your driving interests.

Technology has made it easy to find people who share your passion. Search for clubs or MeetUps in your area so you can build friendships with like-minded friends.

Clarify your next actions.

Not knowing what to do next is like a having a clogged drain in your brain. You feel stuck, but can’t seem to get past it. When this happens, you may need to get advice from a mentor or someone who has already done what you want to do. I use Todoist to track my next actions and daily tasks. In his blockbusting bestseller on productivity, David Allen talks about the power of sorting things out based on the next action.

Negotiate small ongoing changes with others.

As you make changes to your life, you’ll often face resistance from those around you who don’t understand what’s going on. If you’re persistent about making adjustments on a regular basis, then people have time to adjust their own habits and attitudes as they see your progress.

Happiness is not accomplished by amassing a large number of things. If you’re passionate about gardening or animals, you may want to let go of some of the things you have in order to acquire some land. If you want to go off the grid, you may need to invest in a new home or a renovation to make this dream a reality. The same holds true for any passion you might have.

 

Let go of unnecessary possessions and self-defeating habits one by one in order to make more room for happiness. Don’t wait. Do it now. Once you awaken to the possibilities, you begin to realize that no one but you is holding you back.


 

 

 

 




WARNING: Old people and frogs may trigger culture shock

Eric Chen Lorraine Wei Eddie Toastmasters

Lorraine with Naigui Chen (wearing a tie)

When I first met Naigui Chen in China, he introduced himself to me with his English name, Eric. I was immediately impressed with his fluency in English, but even more so with his hospitality and kindness.

My husband and I had recently moved to Shenzhen and decided to join the nearest English-speaking Toastmasters club. Eric happened to be the president of this club, Eloquence of the Elites (EOE). My husband and I became good friends with Chen and many others in the club.

At the end of summer 2013, my husband and I moved back to the US and, coincidently, Chen moved to Indianapolis for the MBA program at Kelley School of Business.

A few days ago, I received this note from Chen . . .

Hi Lorraine, I went to a nursing home to help move someone to a different facility because his health is deteriorating. It was the first time I saw such a thing as nursing homes. It’s so sad. On the way back home in the car, I cried my heart out. And then I thought about the Chinese belief of children taking care of their old parents is a good thing. It’s such an emotional time for me. I don’t think I will ever forget it. I thought I might share this special experience with you.

Thank you so much for sharing this story with me Chen. It means a lot to me! It’s the American way. Many people have compartmentalized lives. Can you please tell me more about your experience?

old people

Absolutely. My friend is a hospice consultant and I went to help him move a patient from a nursing home to an assisted living community for Alzheimer patients. What really shocked me was the dining room full of patients, people at the end of their lives, away from their children and taken care of by staff. In China we don’t have many of these. The children are supposed to take care of their parents no matter what happens. Although nursing homes are starting to appear in China, most people don’t send their parents to those places because of the social stigma. Seeing all these patients was just too strong an emotional impact for me. The good news is when we got back today, there were volunteers coming in to teach songs. Music made most of the time a little more tolerable for me.

When I heard Chen’s reaction to American culture, I immediately thought about the Boiling Frog Syndrome.

If frogs can be content in hot water, can seniors be content in retirement homes, apart from their families? Turns out that many seniors in retirement homes are happy as long as they feel connected to other people, regardless of whether or not they’re family. Pets and even social media sites such as Facebook also provide a satisfying sense of connection. AARP

Another factor that affects happiness in old age is a person’s perception. People who are happier in their younger years are likely to become even happier as they age. People who are irritable in their younger years are more likely to become grumpy old people. The same applies to health. People who are lively or athletic at a younger age tend to be healthier as they age. Our characteristics tend to become more exaggerated over time. Wouldn’t it be it great to know now How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free?

One of the things I like most about Chinese culture is the sense of community. In the daytime, you see the elderly pushing their grandchildren in strollers. They park the buggies and congregate in parks to talk with friends as the toddlers play. As the kids get older, you see grandparents waiting for their grandkids outside schools at the end of the school day.

Go Away! And Other Good Advice Parents Should Give Kids

In the subways you see all ages, young and old, moving about together to their next destination. These grandparents aren’t in wheelchairs. They stay active because they have purpose. Many of them also do the shopping and prepare meals for three generations. This aspect of Chinese culture, some gerentologists say, is one of the reasons why Hong Kong (with similar traditions) touts the greatest percentage of centenarians in the world. China Daily

In the evenings you see the elderly dancing in the parks or walking arm in arm with their spouses or adult children. It’s common to see an old person hanging on to their adult child for support, but very rare to see anyone in a wheelchair.

Since returning to the US, this sense of community and connectedness is one of the things I miss most about Chinese culture. Although I wasn’t anyone’s child, parent or grandparent there, the people in my neighborhood who recognized me would smile at me every day, acknowledging my presence. I really like that about them.

But it was also shocking to me that Chinese women my age would choose to live with their in-laws and/or adult children and derail their careers while their husbands had the opportunity to advance in their jobs and, in some cases rumor has it, have affairs with younger women.

The Chinese ladies I befriended would twist their arms around mine when we walked together. And both males and female friends rub shoulders while eating a meal or talking together. Even as a foreigner with very limited language skills, I felt closely connected to many of my Chinese friends physically, mentally and even spiritually. Humans are humans in every race. I didn’t expect it, but the end of our going away party when we said goodbye to some of our closest Chinese friends, several of us fought back tears.

If you move a native Chinese senior to an American nursing home, he might fall into deep depression. Or if you told an American senior that she was responsible for taking care of her grandchildren and cooking for her adult children every day, she may feel cheated out of her restful retirement years. It all depends on the person and his or her expectations. You’re Only Old Once, so you might as well make the most of it.

Chen is an especially kind and sensitive man. I’m sure the elderly man sincerely appreciated Chen’s help with his move. If Chen were to ever to lead a retirement home in the US or China, it would be a wonderful place to live. Chen would make sure of that. I saw his leadership skills in action in one of the best Toastmasters clubs I’ve ever been involved with in the past decade. He has the good nature and wisdom to influence the people around him to bring out the best in everyone.

frog cartoonCulture brainwashes us to expect people around us to act a certain “normal” way. When we travel to other cultures, we see people acting “abnormally.” Sometimes it seems a little strange. Other times it’s so disgusting or delightful, so appalling or appealing that it causes us to experience culture shock. Ironically, you can find micro-cultures of people, even within your own country, who aren’t doing things the way you think they should.

Many people live like frogs in hot pots, on the edge of boiling point, knowing that something isn’t quite right, but too stifled by cultural or family pressures to do anything about it. They don’t care enough to take action until it’s too late.

You may not be able to change your culture or family, but I urge you to create happiness in your life sooner than later. Check your temperature.

Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems

What’s the one thing you need to do now to create more happiness in your life?

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Meditation: The answer to all your problems

Most of our daily lives are dominated by a busy outer world, much of which we can’t control. This causes us to miss what’s going on inside of us. We become disconnected with who we are and what makes us truly happy and fulfilled. Many people try to find prosperity in the outer world by striving for more and more things or experiences which only drains them even more.

Change begins from within. If you’re unhappy with some aspect of your life, you’ve probably been searching for the solution in the wrong places. Chances are, the answer has been within you all along, but you’ve never been taught how to get to it. When was the last time you thought about your thinking?

meditation meeting

Meditation is a simple mental technique from Hindu tradition. Here’s what you do. Get into a comfortable seated position. Then close your eyes and repeatedly think of a word, sound or phrase, your mantra. Many practitioners recommend that you do this twice a day for 15-30 minutes or more.

During this time you allow all thoughts and distractions to pass through your mind like clouds passing by in the sky. Let them flow without passing judgment or allowing them to destabilize your emotions or sense of balance. As you do this, you’re fully aware of your body and surroundings in the present moment, yet you let everything pass through you.

Meditation promotes deep relaxation resulting in greater inner awareness. Some people say it helps them to feel centered. David Lynch is film director, musician and actor who has been practicing meditation since 1973. He says that it’s like being in an elevator that takes him up.

“It has given me tremendous effortless access to unlimited reserves energy, creativity and happiness deep within.” says Lynch.

Not only does he get tremendous personal benefit from meditation, he saw how much it could help anyone regardless of their age or life circumstances. In 2005 he started the David Lynch Foundation for consciousness-based education and world peace. Today the foundation teaches meditation to children and adults in countries all over the world with sometimes astounding results.

You can meditate almost anywhere. The more you do it, the more creative you can become in finding new ways to incorporate it into your everyday life. Sogyal Rinpoche

Deep breathing can help to enhance your experience. When you become consciously aware of your breathing, it has an immediate calming affect.

You can also experiment with candles, incense, sunlight or other natural relaxants. Go out into nature whenever possible for even greater benefit. If you want to get some exercise at the same time, try meditating while breathwalking. Huffington Post

Some people incorporate yoga with meditation. When you begin by doing yoga to stretch out your body, it may help you to reach a more intense state of relaxation. Some people like to sit in a lotus position after stretching, while others prefer to lie down. It’s completely up to you. It’s best to do yoga on an empty stomach, so the combination of yoga and meditation can be a great way to begin and end your day.

Meditation has a way of removing filters, blocks, fears, doubts, torments and pains from within. Some say it helps to ward off their depression, anxiety, stress and more.

Meditation cartoon catsMeditation isn’t a religion, but it may help you to tap into your spirituality. Meditation isn’t a formal treatment, but it may improve your sense of well-being. Meditation isn’t a science, but you may get measurable results. BBC

Observe animals and toddlers. They live in the moment without passing judgment. Their bodies and minds are free. Meditation helps you free your body and mind as you move into a higher sensitivity to your surroundings. It recharges your mind and body in a powerful way that you can only discover over time.

Many people tout the benefits of meditation, saying that once they started, they wanted to continue every day. A surprising number of successful people practice meditation: Mahatma Ghandi (Indian nationalist leader), Rupert Murdoch (one of the richest people in the world, Dr Andrew Weil (holistic doctor, naturopath, author and professor), Dalai Lama (spiritual leader) and many other successful celebrities and executives. Business Insider

Russell Simmons - Transcendental Meditation

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons says that meditation promotes happiness. “It teaches you to appreciate now. It brings you close to your power. Meditation is for any one of us who want the cycle of good to happen, want to be optimistic, want to be an inspiration, want to make everybody else’s lives better so they can be better. Meditation promotes stillness. When you’re still is the only time you can think.” YouTube 4-minute clip.

Meditation “transformed me and many of my friends,” said Apple CEO, Steve Jobs. “It was profound.” In his younger years, he created a meditation space in his attic complete with Indian prints, candles and meditation cushions. He read books like Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (a book he read once a year ever since he was a teenager).

Challenges and difficulties can come at you at anytime day or night in the form of thoughts, physical symptoms, or other human or technological interventions. This sludge can cause you to lose clarity and focus. Meditation gives you a release valve to understand what’s most important now. That’s why companies like Google,  Twitter, Facebook and many others in Silicon Valley are also embracing Eastern traditions such as meditation. Wired

Meditation helps you to become more attached to the present moment, while become detached from worldly things and thoughts. Some find meditation so effective, even more powerful than the effect of drugs. It’s easy to get hooked on meditation because of its profound benefits. In the beginning, you might want to keep a journal to note your experience.

You can begin practicing meditation on your own now. If you’re looking for a layman’s guide to getting started, check out Meditation for Beginners 22-Day Course by Vern Lovic. He provides simple steps to calm the circus in your mind. I like this book because it’s a casual description of one man’s journey. Yours may be very different. 

As is true with any good habit, you get the most benefit with regular practice over time. You can’t expect meditation in itself to solve your problems right away. But it may become one of your most valuable habits in maintaining a more satisfying and balanced life.

Once you experience the benefits of meditation, you may want to get some training. Look for practitioners or a Meetup in your area. Some centers charge for their services, while others are nonprofit faith-based organizations. 

There are many different meditation techniques, so if you decide to get some instruction, don’t hesitate to experiment with different methods until you find one that’s right for you. David Wants to Fly

Are you ready to become an Urban Monk?

One day a student at the went to meditate with two monks as part of his education. They went to the opposite side of the lake from a monastery and were about to start their morning meditation when the first monk said, “oh no, I forgot my mat.” So he walked calmly across the surface of the water to the monastery and returned with his mat. Then the second monk said, “I forgot my sun hat,” so he ran across the surface of the water to the monastery and returned with his hat.

The student was astounded by this and at the end of the meditation he tried to walk across the water. He fell straight in and emerged soaking wet. The two monks watched his failed attempts for a while. The first monk said to the second, “do you think we should tell him where the stones are?” Metta

How to Live Forever: Laugh More, Eat Less

Please get back to me later to let me know what meditation is doing for you.
Telling someone about meditation is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
Pass it on.

Namaste

Art of LIving logo




It doesn’t take a PhD to see that DOE deserves a D in education

USDOE logoDear Mr. President,

I know you’re very busy trying to fix the deficit, the economy, the NSA and the ObamaCare website, but every good dad should have a few minutes to take a look at his kid’s report card. There’s something else you need to fix. Your child, Doe, isn’t doing very well in school. Here’s DOE’s report card.

Math & Science Scores – C

Among other countries, the US ranks 31st in math and 23rd in science. Students FirstThis puts US students in the “middle of the pack,” about the equivalent of a C. Huffington Post. This average score, however, has nothing to do with the number of qualified math teachers. They always multiply. PunOfTheDay 

School Lunches – F

Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. CDC. When kids walk through hallways to go to another class or to go eat their Monsanto lunch, they pass by vending machines filled with junk food. Huffington Post. Most people believe that school lunches play a big part in contributing to childhood obesity and that schools have a big influence on what kids eat. FreshBites. Overweight kids are more likely to face health issues that will shorten their lives and they add economic burden to all citizens. Some students are so fat, they can’t even jump to conclusions. JustOneLinersFood Matters!

Physical Education – D

Only six states require physical education classes. As school budgets have been tightening their belts, students have been letting theirs out. Physical education and other elective classes such as nutrition and health have been cut. This is further exacerbating the obesity issue. SPARK. Some young moms are so out of shape that they have trouble pulling shopping carts apart. AgelessFx

Graduation Rate – F

According to the OECD, the United States has a 76% graduation rate. The No Child Left Behind plan failed. The White House. Of the OECD countries, 20 of the 34 are doing better in providing a basic education to their citizens. I wasn’t a math major, but I think this means that the US ranks around 38%, equivalent to an F. We need more teachers like Erin Gruwell, who rallied up students to be Freedom Writers. Recently, a group of dropouts gathered at the front of a movie theatre for a noon matinee on a school day. They were all texting and one by one more kept showing up. As the crowd grew to more than a dozen teens, the manager stepped outside to ask what they were doing. One young man with oversize droopy pants spoke up said they were still waiting on a few more friends since the sign said that 17 and under were not admitted. Jeff Foxworthy

SAT & ACT Scores – D

Maybe students aren’t interested in studying at school and they’re picking up their reading and writing skills on social networking sites? Maybe not. SAT and ACT scores are generally on a downward trend. The Unsilenced Science. The DOE needs to invest more in high-tech teaching tools and less on high-tech security equipment, then these scores would be rising, not falling. “Our bombs are smarter than the average high school student. At least they can find Kuwait,” says A. Whitney Brown.

Teachers – D

Teacher job satisfaction is the lowest it has been in 25 years. If the teachers aren’t happy teaching, then students won’t be happy learners. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, says, “Teacher job satisfaction will continue to free fall as long as school budgets are slashed.” Huffington Post. Do we need more money or do we need more teachers like Jaime Escalante who are willing to Stand and Deliver?

Spending – D

If you’re thinking that we need to spend more money to solve the problem, consider this. The US already spends more on education than any other participating OECD country. NEA TodayIf I were a business consultant and found out that a company was spending more than any of their competitors to deliver their service, and customers and employees were unsatisfied, I’d give them a D with a warning that they better start doing their homework before they go out of business.

Schools – D

The education system is needs fixin’. It’s going to take a superhero to take care of all these issues! Fortunately, there are some superheros among us. Some kids have the good fortune of getting into KIPP schools. But we need more superheroes like SuperMike and SuperDave KIPPsters to figure out how to get all kids into successful schools. Watch Waiting for Superman free on Vimeo to see how KIPP schools have overcome these issues and found a way to successfully prepare their students for college. Check out the trailer. . .

By bringing Monsanto executives into your administration, you’ve been quite successful at destroying America’s food system and the health of American people. Occupy Monsanto. This leadership thing really seems to do the trick. By the way, was the tree in the DOE logo genetically modified too?

Stand Up For Kids“My school was so tough, the school newspaper had an obituary section,” says Norm CrosbyTake a look inside one of the country’s most dangerous schools on this ABC News report. “If you know any teenagers in prison, send them some candy to help them break out.” Jill Perlow

Today’s kids are generally worse off than their parents, mentally, physically and financially. I’m writing on behalf of all the kids who are suffering, getting left behind, sleeping in the streetsgetting locked up and dying for help. The kids are Waiting for Superman! Can you please hire some KIPP-like leaders to head up the DOE so that they can help all our young does and John Does succeed? Please call immediately to schedule a parent-teacher conference.

Go Away! And other good advice parents should give kids

KIPP Work hard. Be nice.




Go Away! And other good advice parents should give kids

A pilot made a very rough landing, skidding the plane on its belly across the runway. As part of his job he was required to stand at the terminal door and say goodbye to the passengers as they disembarked. He was afraid of what they might say about his landing. But nearly everyone passed by without saying a word until the last few people were exiting and one little boy asked, “Did we land, or were we shot down?” AJokeADay

Sum Ting Wong? Yes.

Ho Lee Fuk. What’s up?

Wi Tu Lo. Our scores need to go up.

The US spends more $15,000 per student annually. This is more per student than any other country. OECD.

Ho Lee Fuk.

And here’s what we get for our money . . .

How is it that something like this can make national news in America? Did you know that the US has been slipping behind in the global report card for years? Even smart people who work at places like news agencies can be duped by an intern or Dum Gai.

It doesn’t take a PhD to see the DOE deserves a D in education

According to the OECD, the US falls well below the global average for the percentage of students graduating from high school. The NO Child Left Behind policy obviously doesn’t apply to ALL children. If you want to increase your child’s chance of graduating from high school, you’re better off in Slovenia, Finland, Japan, Korea, the UK, or more than a dozen other countries that outperform the US.

Wi Tu Lo.

But if you have the money, you can move to an upscale suburban neighborhood where higher property taxes help to ensure that your child gets a better than average education.

Watch Waiting for ‘Superman’ to see if you have enough money to play education roulette with your kid’s future. I don’t cry easily, but this film had me sobbing over the fact that American leaders are neglecting the education of millions of children, instead choosing to imprison them as young adults, causing them to fall into a life of poverty where they scrape by in less than desirable neighborhoods. And become a financial burden to all Americans. The wrong people are going to jail in this case! Go KIPPsters!

Sum Ting Wong?

Apparently some children are more important than others.

Ho Lee Fuk.

Bang Ding Ow.

Do you believe everything you hear on the evening news? I don’t either and I urge you to start looking for second and third opinions elsewhere. And teach your kids to do the same. If you and your kids can get news in other languages, all the better. Languages act like firewalls. If you can’t speak a language, you miss out on a lot of information on the other side of the wall.

Powerful corporations act like firewalls too. A Canadian poll recently revealed that 90% of scientists are afraid to speak openly to the media about the work they do. Tyee. The survey also found that 24% were asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons and 37% were told not to respond to questions by the public or media. Media Matters! Watch the War on Whistleblowers to learn more about Hu Yu Hai Ding. PL

Big corporations buy out news organizations, politicians and scientists to ensure that we only hear what they want us to hear. And they pay off citizens to keep their mouths shut.

So Su Mi. GLP

Smart people with ethics don’t last long under these circumstances. They eventually lose something: their ethics, conscious, job, home, health or life.

Sum Ting Wong!

The Union of Concerned Scientists represent 400,000 scientists and citizens from all walks of life who believe that we should be making decisions based on science without obstructions from politics, the media or corporations. UCS is working on some of the world’s most daunting problems such as global warming, how to feed, power and transport the world’s growing population, and how to reduce the threat of catastrophic war.

Bang Ding Ow.

Watch Collapse to get an idea of how we got where we are and for tips on what you can do to help prepare for the future.

Survival of the fittest applies to both animals and people. The country with the smartest and healthiest people has the best chance of surviving. According to the OECD, Asian students make up 53% of foreign students enrolled in universities worldwide. The largest numbers of foreign students are from China, India and Korea, and these numbers continue to grow. Europe is the top destination for students enrolled in college outside their country of origin. Although foreigners are still enrolling in American universities, it’s on a downward trend. Wonder why?

Talk to Wi Tu Lo and Wi Tu Phat.

Yang Mythos France Eiffel Tower

Yang Mythos students from China sketching the Eiffel Tower

An American man struck up a conversation with a woman from Switzerland while on a Mediterranean cruise. They seemed to be hitting it off fairly well so he invited her to go for a dip in the sea followed by dinner when they docked in Rome.

“Can you speak Italian?” she asked.

“I’m American. I only speak English,” he responded.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I speak Italian, so I can order dinner for us.”

“Can you swim?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “but I can scream for help in six different languages.” HBBB

If you want your children or grandchildren to have a better understanding of the world, encourage them to travel and study abroad. There are so many things they’ll never see or comprehend if they never leave the country or learn another language.

You can’t see your country when you’re too busy driving between your home in the suburbs to your job, to strip malls scattered all over the place and to gas stations to keep filling up your tank. And the growing number of less fortunate who don’t have a car or home, are too busy trying to figure out how they can safely eat and sleep each day. Have you found your Escape from Suburbia yet?

Every good artist knows that you have to step back and look at your creation from a distance. Only then do you gain a true perspective on the whole.

This is when you gain new insights and come up with innovative ideas. That’s what a democracy is about, right? Education for all and freedom of speech for all. We educate our people so they have a fair shot at the American dream and a say in shaping our country, making it a better place for everyone.

A great time to live abroad is to take a year between high school and college or a year between a bachelor’s and master’s degree, or a year between completing a college degree and getting a job. If you’re like most people and don’t have the funds to lay on the beach for a year, look for a work opportunity in another country. You’ll learn a whole lot more that way any how and build a resume line that may help you for years to come. New York Times Gap Year

You don’t have to wait until your kids or grandkids are in college. Students can participate in exchange programs in middle school or high school. When I was living in Shenzhen, China, I had the opportunity to befriend and become language partners with Yang Mei Hong, the founder of Yang Mythos, of one of the most amazing intercultural schools I’ve ever seen.

Yang Mythos - Lorraine & Mei

Dr. Lorraine Haataia & Yang Mei Hong at Yang Mythos Center at Children’s Palace in Shenzhen, China

Yang Mythos Art Education Center isn’t only about art, fashion, dance and travel. It’s so much more. Students have the opportunity to attend local art classes with many talented foreign, bicultural or bilingual teachers as well as participate in international exchange programs. These real-life experiential programs give them hands-on opportunities to practice creativity, happiness, wisdom, enlightenment, and much more. The teachers, parents and students all have fun while building relationships and bridges among people and across cultures.

Yang Mythos has more than a dozen exchange centers throughout the world, in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Canada, France and Germany. And they just recently opened a new center in Washington, DC.

Yang Mythos Berlin WallThis Chinese boy is writing on the Berlin Wall. Who knows how this experience might affect his future? Perhaps he will tear down Nefarious walls and free people. The writing is on the wall.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the teacher.

“Possible,” said the boy.

“What do you mean by that?” the teacher asked.

“My mom keeps telling me I’m impossible. When I grow up, I want to be possible.” AHD

Don’t let money stop you. Look for funding through organizations like the Institute of International Education.

Just one international trip can change many lives forever. Take a look at the Touch A Life Foundation to see what one trip to Vietnam did for Pam and Randy Cope and the countless lives they’ve affected through this organization they founded.

When was the last time you told your kid to go away?

AFS Intercultural Programs