Bon Voyage, Borders

Two days ago I received an email from announcing that the company is shutting down, and I’m completely bummed. I bought several used books there a couple of months ago and I got them all at reasonable prices, in good condition and in a timely manner.

In the email from Borders CEO Mike Edwards, one of the reasons given for the company going out of business is because of the whole eReader revolution. I guess it’s become tough to compete with technology like the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and eBooks on Apple Devices. The company did have an eReader called the Kobo, but it looks like it wasn’t enough to save Borders from closing its doors.

While Barnes & Noble continues to flourish, it’s sad to see Borders go. It’s always great having another store to go to for books.


Hardships Can be a Good Thing

There was an insightful article about parenting published in the latest issue of “The Atlantic” called “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” written by Lori Gottlieb. She wrote about how when parents try to raise their kids’ self esteem and do whatever is necessary to make them happy, they may actually be doing the opposite.

Parents want what’s best for their kids, and a lot of times it seems like they’re willing to sacrifice an arm and a leg to make sure the kids are happy, even if it means protecting them from the hardships that could pose challenges while they’re growing up.

There was one example given in the article about two children fighting over a toy, and one of the kids’ mother swoops in to make sure her son got to play with it because he got it first. Instead of letting her son resolve the little conflict, she solved it for him.

Of course parents want their kids to be happy and pampered. It feels nice to see bright smiles emerge on their faces when they’re given what they want. It can feel good to know that you’ve stepped in to help them solve their dilemmas, and maybe it’s partly because it feels good to know they depend on you.

The thing is, rejection and hardships are inevitable. It’s a part of life and no matter how much parents try to protect their kids from bullying peers and negative feedback, they’ll eventually get a dose of it. And if they’re constantly reassured “it’s not you, it’s the people around you,” how are they supposed to deal with it later when mom and dad aren’t there to tell them that they’re great?

The case of the two children fighting over the toy is an easily resolvable squabble that the kids could figure out on their own. It’s fine to let kids work out their own problems. Mom and dad can be there for advice, but they shouldn’t always be there to fix things. Unless the problem is something way out of hand, it’s probably fine not to step in and just let children fix the problems themselves.

There’s this cliche saying about “learning the hard way,” and while it’s probably a last resort for a lot of parents, it’s a saying that exists because people do tend to learn the hard way. When people endure hardships, they learn because those kinds of experiences stick. If someone were to become so broke that they had to live out on the streets, they’d learn how to fend for themselves and remember how difficult it is to live without a roof over their head. And if the time came that the person eventually got to live in a house or apartment, they’d likely to be smart about their money in fear of living out on the streets again.

Foothill Resident Stands Amidst the Clouds

July 14, 2011

La Crescenta resident Gary Nelson is at the top of Mount Everest on May 19. (Photo courtesy of Gary Nelson)
In May, Gary Nelson stood more than 29,000 feet above sea level. After days of trekking through snow-covered mountains in Nepal, he made it to the top of the world’s highest peak: Mount Everest.

“I’d been thinking about [climbing Everest] for a long time,” Nelson said. “A year ago I realized, given how old I was and the fact I fall out of shape so fast … that it was either now or I probably wasn’t going to do it.”

At 52, Nelson, a lawyer specializing in trademarks, is an avid climber.

“He climbs mountains because with every climb, there is a goal which is to reach the top,” his wife Sherrie said. “The satisfaction of reaching the top is what drives him to climb more mountains.”

In addition to Mount Everest, Nelson has tackled Mount Kilmanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa; Denali in Alaska; Aconcagua in South America; and Mount Elbrus in Russia.

The La Crescenta resident began preparing for the climb last summer when he scaled Mount Baldy. He also worked out regularly on a stepmaster.

Nelson’s ascension to the peak of Mount Everest involved going up the mountain and coming back down three times to help his body acclimate to the change in altitude. There were a total of five camps where trekkers would rest before continuing their way upward.

He reached the top of Mount Everest at 7:45 a.m. on May 19, beginning his final ascension at 9:45 p.m. the previous day.

Gary Nelson stands in front of prayer flags at Mount Everest.

“Summit day was pretty fun. [It] was pretty spectacular,” he said. “It felt great. The weather was perfect. There was no wind, and it can get vicious up there.”

Although Nelson was physically fit enough for the climb, he developed a mild case of pulmonary edema, a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs. The buildup in Nelson’s lungs was due to the rising altitudes. He had to see a few doctors, but the damage wasn’t permanent.

“What [the pulmonary edema] does do is probably make me more susceptible to it [in the future], should I go up that high again. And so it’s something I have to worry about now if I ever climb [Everest] again,” he said.

He added that he didn’t observe symptoms of the condition unless he was higher than around 23,000 feet. He does intend to take precautions for future climbs by bringing medication along.

Scaling up thousands of feet in the snowy slopes of Nepal where temperatures dipped below freezing required Nelson to wear a special suit that weighed five pounds. And while ascending with the extra weight posed a challenge, he found going back down more difficult.

“Coming down you have more opportunity to fall,” he said. “That’s why it’s easier to get hurt.”

In fact, during the climb Nelson fell into an ice crack covered by snow, causing his left knee to twist. He also banged the same knee against the Hilary Step, a rock face well known to climbers near the top of the mountain. Yet despite this injury and the pulmonary edema, he successfully made it to the top of the mountain, back down and returned home in mid-June.

“Once he made the decision to take on this climbing challenge, I knew very little would prevent him from achieving this goal of summitting Everest,” Sherrie said. “He doesn’t back down from anything in life unless there is a really good reason.”

Making it to an altitude of more than 29,000 feet may seem a daunting goal, but for Nelson, it serves as a useful reminder.

“I need to constantly remind myself that I can do things that I don’t necessarily think I can do when I first think about it,” he said. “Climbing … eliminates your excuses of why you can’t do things.”

Former GCC Softball Player Pursues R&B Career

June 8, 2011

Jamie Avancena

She’s a descendant of a former Philippine president, but that’s not how Jamie Avanceña wants to be labeled.

“I want people to know me for me, [not as the great granddaughter of former President Jose Laurel],” the San Marino resident said.

Avanceña, 23, is initially shy when it comes to meeting people. It’s not an expected personality trait of athletes or aspiring artists, but she is: an athlete, an aspiring artist, and, at first encounter, she’s a bit shy.

It is clear from her activities that Avanceña has a knack for sports. At the age of 4 she began playing golf, and at the same time she took ballet, tap, and hip-hop dance lessons. She began playing softball when she was 7 years old, and continued playing the sport in middle school and high school. In 2001 and 2003 the teams she played for won the Little League World Series, and beat Arizona in the 2002 USA Nationals.

Avanceña attended GCC from 2006 to 2008 and was nominated softball team captain in the 2007-08 school year. During her attendance at Glendale, she ranked in the Western State Conference.

“She was probably one of the hardest workers and one of the finest kids we had as a leader,” softball coach Dave Wilder said. “[She was] absolutely the greatest kid … [she was] a very, very good student. [She] worked hard, never talked back and was always there for everybody.”

In the time she played softball, Avanceña received the recognition typical of star athletes. But that type of attention wasn’t something she sought.

“The only reason people knew me was because of sports,” she said. Beyond that, people didn’t know much about her and she even felt invisible.

Avanceña was offered a full scholarship to the University of the Philippines for her achievements in softball, and she attended college there for a year. Yet despite where her athletic talent landed her, she relinquished her scholarship and came back to California.

While her mom wanted her to play softball, she didn’t know for sure if playing for the national softball team of the Philippines was her dream, or if it was her mom’s.

“I grew up with a family where I felt like I couldn’t be myself,” she said. “I felt like I was in their shadow.”

Other members of the aspiring artist’s family were active in Philippine politics. The sons of former President Laurel became vice president, senators, and congressmen. Some other relatives include a former Minister of Labor of the Philippines and a current justice in Makati City.

She doesn’t intend to follow in her relatives’ political footsteps, but Avanceña sticks closer to the path of her uncle, Cocoy Laurel, an artist who has performed on Broadway.

Last summer she released her first album containing four R&B tracks. She co-wrote the fourth song on the album, “It’s My Time,” which is about her breaking out of her shell.

While Avanceña is pursuing a career in music, she admits to not always having had the qualities of a singer.

“The funny part is, growing up I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, I had no tone, no beat,” she said. Despite this, she said singing has always been her passion.

Avanceña first got into music when her grandmother, who she calls Lola Julie, encouraged her to sing karaoke when she was younger. The first song she learned to sing in tune was “Always and Forever” by the funk/disco band Heatwave.

Because she was close to her grandmother, Lola Julie’s death in 2005 presented a difficult time for the then-San Marino High School student. After getting through it, she decided to take a risk and see where her R&B music career would go.

“To this day whenever I sing I make sure to [also] sing for my other grandmother, my Mama Rose [who recently passed away],” she said. “I really sing for them and I got closer to God because of my grandmother Rose because she was in the Catholic Womens League.”

In the Philippines, Avanceña became a song leader in church because of her Mama Rose’s involvement there.

The stepping stone for the aspiring artist was when she auditioned for Tawag Ng Tanghalan, a singing competition, in 2008. The contest was held at the LA Convention Center, and she brought a CD that was incompatible with the player. She was left with no choice but to sing a capella, and she still managed to win third place.

“That’s when I realized to really believe in myself,” she said. “It gave me that confidence. I thought, ‘If the judges see something in me that I don’t see in myself, maybe I’m really meant to do this.'”

She is currently working on her next album with music producer and artist Big Rod from Fun Factory. Big Rod has worked with big names in the music industry including the Backstreet Boys and music manager Johnny Wright.

While Avanceña continues overcoming her shyness and trying to let loose, the music producer said the aspiring artist has a personality that’s easy to work with.

“She’s been an athlete all her life so she’s used to taking critique and then adjusting her game to it, and that’s what she does with her vocals also,” he said. “If I have a problem, I let her know, and she fixes it.”

Another positive aspect Big Rod highlighted about the singer is the unique vocal quality she possesses.

“Her voice is kind of a shape shifter,” the music producer said. “She can make her voice do what it wants to do. She has power … but she can bring it down and sing nice and mellow.”

The Filipina singer is wrapping up her second semester at Pasadena City College and preparing for her upcoming album. She has been listening to dance tracks and ballads, as these are the types of songs scheduled to be featured on her new record. She’ll also be moving to the Philippines during the summer to further her music career.

Despite having faced a lot of uncertainty before finally deciding to pursue a performance career, Avanceña recognizes the hurdles she’s faced as ones that have shaped her character.

“Everything that’s happened in the past has built me into the person I am today,” she said.

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

What do you want to be when you grow up?

We’ve all been asked this question at some point in our lives, usually when we were children. But how many people actually end up doing what they wanted to do when they were younger?

I wanted to be an artist, and although I’m not pursuing this career path (mostly because my artistic abilities are limited to splatter painting and drawing stick figures), one of the bigger issues was what kind of job I’d be able to get. How would I financially sustain myself as an artist?

My family suggested I start a business after college.

Or become a doctor.

Or a nurse.

Or a lawyer.

None of these jobs sounded appealing to me, and the main aspect they have in common is that they pay well. Of course going into the medical field is respectable, and if I were to succeed in putting up a business I’d be financially stable. Generally, it seems the goal is to find a job that pays well because we need money to survive.

I recently told an acquaintance that I’m a double major in journalism and political science, and he quickly advised me to consider nursing because that’s where all the jobs are. And I realized he had a point. Journalism is a risky field to get into: the pay isn’t so great, and the continuous cutbacks on major publications (like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times) are definitely saying something about job stability in the field.

But sometimes you don’t do things for the money.

Businessman Herman Cain said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

While the constraints of finances never seem to go away, it’s refreshing to ponder about what we’d do if money wasn’t a factor. If all your necessities were going to be provided, what career would you like to or have liked to pursue? If you had everything you needed, how would you spend your days? And while it might seem impossible to survive in this day in age doing what we desire, it’s helpful to refer to another saying: “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

We Can’t All Be Rich

A few semesters ago a teacher asked the class, “How many of you want to be rich?” Nearly half of all the people sitting in the room raised their hands.

With a huge grin on his face, he said, “It’s not gonna happen.”

Naturally, many of those who raised their hands became slightly upset. Why would a teacher shoot down the aspirations of students like that?

The thing is, my teacher had a very valid point. There’s a certain amount of money in circulation, and that money doesn’t really grow except for inflation. So with the number of people wanting to make lots of money, there’s a bigger picture: The more people who work, the smaller each person’s piece of the pie becomes. If there’s $100 billion in circulation, for example, and 100 people work, assuming each person gets an equal share of the money, each person gets $1 billion. But if 200 people work, each person gets $500 million. And as the number of people working increases, the amount of money each person gets decreases.

This isn’t something that’s really emphasized in society. Most of the time what we hear is that if we work hard, we’ll become rich. But with so many people wanting to make loads of money, how is this really possible? Despite how horrible this may sound, not everyone is going to make it big. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing because we don’t really require lots of money to attain happiness – it’s just something we’ve come to believe because it’s what we’re told over and over again.

The feeling a person might get after buying a new car or computer might make him or her happy, but isn’t there always at least the tiniest feeling of remorse over the money that has been poured into these things?

Sometimes I like to revisit my past, and I’ve found that my fondest memories are very simple (like learning how to ride a bike) and usually involve experiences with friends and family. Those tend to be the ones that stand out over buying or receiving expensive things.

Money Doesn’t Always Buy Happiness

My friend’s cousin has it all.Or at least she seems to.She lives in a beautiful mansion in Oceanside. She and her husband are both nurses so they make a six-digit annual household income. She and her husband own BMW cars. She also has a baby.

But she’s not happy.

Despite all these luxurious material possessions, she isn’t satisfied. As a nurse she works overtime and doesn’t get the opportunity to enjoy the material possessions she’s been able to purchase. After years of hard work and dedication to school, she finds herself stuck with an overwhelming work schedule that limits the time she gets to spend at home with her child.

We live in a consumer culture that tells us that we need to have ‘things,’ like big houses and fancy cell phones, to be happy.

In the end, though, do these things really make us happy? Does owning a huge house with giant plasma screen televisions make us happy? When a person gets to the point that they can afford expensive items, they’re probably like my friend’s cousin, who doesn’t have the time to take advantage of these things. And if they do have the time to sit at home and watch movies, and really enjoy what the huge house has to offer, is that really the way a person wants to spend their life? At home, if not working?

While this isn’t the case for everyone, it seems like it for a lot of people: come home from work and enjoy life inside the house.

Instead of our aiming to buy luxurious items, it might be a better investment to spend on experiences, like traveling and seeing the rest of the world. Unlike material possessions, those can’t be taken away from people. Helping other people who need it is also another way to go, and the good feeling that comes from helping others is another thing that can’t be taken away.

There’s No Difference – The Rewards Are the Same

Last week I visited Bank of America to refill my very empty wallet, and the teller I approached began talking to me and eventually got around to asking if I wanted to apply for a Cash Rewards credit card.

‘Well,’ I figured, ‘Why not?’

In a couple of minutes I was seated with a banker who pulled out a three-fold brochure comparing the types of credit cards Bank of America offers. The first two were the Power Rewards card and the Cash Rewards card. I examined the comparison charts trying to figure out how one might be better than the other.

For the Power Rewards card, you earn one point for every dollar spent. (Right now there’s a promotion where customers get up to five times as many points up until the end of June.) There are a number of options to choose from in redeeming rewards, but redemption starts at 2,500 points, which gets you $25. (Assuming you’re not using the card during any promotional period, you have to spend $2,500 before getting $25).

The Cash Rewards card gives customers cash back on every purchase. For the first few months you get 3% cash back, and after that you get 1% cash back. As an incentive, if you earn $300 in cash back before you start redeeming the cash rewards, you get an extra $25.

If someone were to spend $100 using the Cash Rewards card, that person would get $1 in cash back. If a person spent $2,500, they would get $25. Before ever getting around to acquiring $300 in cash back, a person would have to spend $30,000. (A person working at minimum wage doesn’t even make that much money a year!)

With the unique promotions of each card aside, both credit cards yield the exact same cash rewards, and even before a person can qualify for money back, the person has to spend 100 times more.

It’s Not So Bad Living with Mom and Dad

For years, moving out of the house by the time we turn 18 has generally been an expected chapter in every American’s life. At 18, an American is recognized as an adult, legally responsible for his or her actions. With that given, it only seems fitting that by then, an 18-year-old lives away from Mom and Dad.

Today, this seems less true.

In one of her class sessions, Melissa Wall, a journalism instructor at Cal State Northridge, said it’s becoming more accepted by society that college students, even those at the age of 20 and older, live with their parents.

One of my classmates in my first semester of college, Josh, was 25. He had lived on his own for a couple of years, but then moved back in with his parents. He previously held a job where he got paid $2,500 biweekly. But, he admitted to being young and reckless, and he ended up blowing off all his money without really saving anything. In 2008 he was living with his parents and helping pay for utilities and rent.

A current classmate, who’s a senior, said he might have to move back in with his parents if he wanted to do what he’s planning to do career-wise after graduating this semester.

Another case is my cousin, who just finished his term in the Navy and decided to go to college. Because of limited finances, he’s moved back in. Sometimes, it seems like he’s embarrassed about living at home again, but there’s really no reason for him to feel that way.

On the flip side, there are people like Ian, a guy in one of my journalism classes last semester. He lives on his own and receives no financial support from his parents, and he’s not on good terms with them. Last semester he was working fulltime, taking 16 units, and sleeping past midnight because he was only able to do homework after coming home from work. He also trained with the hockey team every morning at 7 a.m. He lives with some other roommates and said his share of the rent comes out to around $600 per month, and that he lives off of fast food for the most part since he’s always on the go.

A studio apartment in Northridge ranges around $700 per month. Utilities, cable, Internet, phone, and food are other expenses not included in this monthly bill. Let’s just say all the other monthly expenses come out to an additional $300, putting the total cost of living independently at $1,000. Somebody working fulltime at minimum wage makes a gross income of $1,280 each month, so that would leave around $200 for other necessities like tuition, books, and transportation.

There’s also the option to bunk with roommates, but since everyone has different ways of living and doing things, that may pose another problem.

Living at home isn’t really that bad of an option. Of course cases differ based on each person’s situation, but generally, staying with mom and dad should provide a platform for better financial stability. Chances are parents won’t charge for rent and food. And if they do, then it’s because college students are supposed to be transitioning into adulthood, and need to be more independent and responsible. Also, if mom and dad do ask for rent, it’s probably going to be minimal. That way, students can focus on school and on activities needed to further their academic and post-academic careers instead of working long hours to financially support themselves.

By living at home, students also have the opportunity to save whatever income they might be earning at work or receiving from scholarships. By saving money this way, students can secure finances for when they decide to move out, whether it’s during or after college.

Credit Unions Offer Alternative to Banks

May 11, 2011

GIVE THEM SOME CREDIT: The mission of credit unions is to serve their community members. Because they're not-for-profit institutions, community members will typically receive better rates and service than those at banks. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Money just seems to be getting tighter and tighter these days, and for most people, there’s no choice but to live on a strict budget. Whether your money is in a savings account or locked in a time deposit, you’re really not seeing any more than chump change added to what you’ve got in the bank.

Credit unions offer a viable alternative to the for-profit model of banking institutions, and are able to offer a number of benefits to students based on their strucure:

1. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions

The main difference between banks and credit unions is that banks are for-profit institutions, while credit unions are not-for-profit institutions. This means that they are tax exempt and are there to serve the needs of members of the community.

Unlike banks, where customers don’t have a say in who runs the institution, credit unions are governed by a board of directors elected by their members. Board members are volunteers who don’t get paid.

2. At a credit union, you’re considered a shareholder

“When you open an account, technically you become a shareholder of the credit union,” Stuart Perlitsh, CEO of the Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union (GASFCU), said. “You then own a share of the credit union.”

As a shareholder you have a voice in who sits on the board of directors, and you even have the right to run for a position on board if you’d like.

3. You’ll get better rates

Since the goal of credit unions isn’t to profit, members reap the benefits if there’s any extra income.

“The more members we have, the stronger we become,” Carolynn Lyons, business development director of the Glendale City Federal Credit Union (GCFCU), said.

Benefits may come in the form of higher dividends on savings accounts and/or time deposits, and reduced interest rates on credit cards.

4. More than 28,000 ATMs

One common myth about credit unions is that there is a lack of accessible ATMs, but there are actually thousands available throughout the United States. Both the area schools and city federal credit unions are part of an ATM network consisting of more than 28,000 fee-free ATMs. This outnumbers the roughly 18,000 Bank of America ATMs and 12,000 Wells Fargo ATMs throughout the nation. An added convenience, Perlitsh said, is that there is no fee for withdrawing cash at any 7-Eleven.

Credit unions also typically provide locators on their websites so it’s easier to find an ATM close to you.

5. Your money is insured

Similarly to how money in a bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), funds at credit unions are also secure. Federal agencies like the National Credit Union Administration and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund typically cover $250,000 per account, just like the FDIC does for banks.

6. It’s easy to join!

If you live in a certain city, chances are you’ll be eligible for membership at a credit union. For instance, Burbank Community Federal Credit Union simply requires that a person lives, works, attends school, volunteers, worships, or belongs to an association in Burbank for membership eligibility. Similarly, the GASFCU only requires that a member is a student, faculty, or staff at GCC to open an account.

Most membership requirements can be found on the websites of the credit unions and by calling the institutions.

Other credit unions, like the GCFCU, have more specific requirements, such as being employed by the City of Glendale.

Even if you fall short of these requirements, the Glendale Area Schools credit union has partnered up with the city’s parent teacher association, while the Glendale City union has partnered up with and Friends of the Library. The unions will pay the fee for your membership in these city organizations, so that you are eligible to become part of the credit union.

Money might be getting tighter these days but there are credit unions around to genuinely help you make the most of what you’ve got.

Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union
1800 Broadview Drive
Glendale, CA 91208
(818) 248-7425 or (800) 844-5363

Glendale City Employees Federal Credit Union
517 E. Wilson Ave., Suite 102
Glendale, CA 91206
(818) 548-3976