Category Archives: communication

The Couple That Hangs Together…


You know that saying that goes, “If you really want to get to know someone, travel with them?” I’ve got a new one for you: “If you really want to know the state of your relationship, wallpaper a bathroom together.”

I know, your first question is probably, “Wallpaper? Isn’t that completely out of style?” Well, actually no. Wallpaper is enjoying a moment right now and there are a lot of very cool patterns available.

Our house was built in 1950 and at that time there was such a building boom that tile manufacturers couldn’t keep up with production. Instead, they made “tiles” out of the new wonder substance called plastic (also in horrid colors but that’s another story). When we bought the house the bathroom walls were green plastic tiles halfway up and the rest painted yellow. Obviously that had to go. So, when I was pregnant with our second child, I popped off those awful tiles and scraped off thick layers of mastic as best as I could, which left the walls a bit of a mess. They either had to be wallpapered, drywalled over or have a skim coat of plaster applied. Wallpaper was the cheapest option.

I put up a beautiful striped wallpaper with a border at the top that went with the rest of the house at the time. That was 25 years ago and the wallpaper no longer goes with the rest of the house. Plus, I was sick of it.

So, thinking that I still remembered how to hang wallpaper, I found about five patterns that I liked and C and I agreed on one called solitude.

I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the pattern on the paper was an offset pattern (meaning that you will waste a good deal of paper making the pattern match). C removed all the cabinets (which I painted) and hardware from the room and I scraped off the old wallpaper and conditioned the walls for the new paper.

We knew that when you hang wallpaper the first piece you hang should be on the wall that is the most seen and completely plumb. This we did perfectly. Then we began hanging the rest of the room and got about halfway around and realized that we probably also needed to restart on the panel next to the first one and proceed the other way so that the end of the project (where there is always a mismatch of pattern) would be over the door and hardly noticed.

If you’ve never hung wallpaper I will tell you NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER attempt to wallpaper a bathroom for your first wallpaper job. It’s just too difficult. Besides the fact that bathrooms are generally small, they also have lots of things to maneuver around. Add to that walls that are completely out of plumb and you get THE TOUGHEST WALLPAPER JOB YOU WILL EVER ENCOUNTER. And that is why all the wallpaperers I called wanted $1,000 or more to do the job.

But I thought that since I had done this once before that I would be fine. And we mostly were, except for places where we weren’t and I’m not going to point them out because when you come to our house you’ll just look for them.

In a rush to finish, I decided to cut the last four panels for the job all at once. I thought I was meticulous at cutting them because they all matched, except I measured the length of them perfectly but didn’t measure the proper length from where the pattern matched so they were all a foot too long at the top and too short at the bottom. We had to shut down work until another roll of wallpaper arrived.

The new roll of wallpaper arrived and C cut it all because he knows how to be patient with cutting and not mess it all up. He drew the plumb line so I could keep the paper straight in spite of an inside corner that was over 1” out of wack and I hung the rest of the panels.

So the wallpapering is all done, but I still have some painting and fine fixing to do, but the bathroom is usable and the house is less of a mess.

Here’s the point: though working in a space so small we were almost on top of each other, making mistakes, having issues with hinges and hardware, shelves, medicine cabinet and the new light, not to mention the mess that extended into three other rooms of the house we did not scream or threaten, insult, scowl or threaten to divorce. In short, we just forged ahead and figured out how to make it work. Together.

To me, it is absolutely a testimony to us as a team. Clearly it would have been a lot easier to hire someone to do this work, but doing it ourselves made for a much better life experience. And now we have another $1,000 for a well-deserved vacation.

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Filed under advice, communication, family, house, manners, marriage, renovation

Speak to Me

i have discovered another new pleasure. i’m probably one of the last people to have actually begun listening regularly to audio books, but i find that i have quickly become addicted. our daughter, e, has been listening to audio books for quite some time – she is a person who has spent a lot of time touring on busses while performing in drum corps or more recently, driving to and from her job so audio books are a godsend. she actually bought the subscription service because it is immensely more cost effective than paying for individual books. i’m not quite there yet, and i have to admit that there is a part of me that still feels obliged to make sure authors are compensated.

i started listening to audio books by accident when i was downloading the brief and wonderous life of oscar wao by junot diaz and i clicked on the option for the ebook and audio book combination instead of just the ebook. i could have cancelled the transaction, but i thought i would read some of the book and then listen to some of the book just to see if i like it. well, i was so enraptured with the audio version of the book that i never went back to reading the text of the book.

i’m glad this was the first novel i listened to because diaz’s writing is so lyrical and story so startling that it transports you sometimes to a place you want to go and sometimes to a place from which you want to quickly escape. on more than one day i had to take a pause and clear the story out of my head before i got out of the car.

sadly, i finished the book and went on an all-out search for another. it was hard to imagine how some of the bestsellers would sound compared to diaz’s writing so i decided to search for another literary book. i’m not a really fast reader of literary books since i tend to mull over words and sentence construction and ponder a bit. i looked at a lot of classics and as tempting as they were, the reviews of the narration were often bad. there’s some kind of crime in hiring an unskilled actor read extraordinary writing.

i finally decided to download wise blood by flannery o’conner. i always loved flannery o’conner’s writing but hearing it read is equally as satisfying, maybe even moreso because this narrator is very good.

to spend my drive time being submerged in the story and the language and vivid description contained in these kinds of books is extraordinary. i find myself repeating some of the most exquisite lines out loud. by the time i get to work or home from work, i feel as though i’m in an entirely new world, on in which the ordinariness of just another day has been transformed.

i also find myself positively influenced in other ways like using a broader vocabulary, an enhanced descriptive ability and suddenly being able to notice more interesting characters around me than just mundane stereotypes.

trust me, i’m still reading books – often two at a time – but listening to a book, especially and wonderfully written book, has been a transformative experience for me.

it’s commonly said that “you are what you eat”, and i believe the same is true for what we listen to and watch. well, I still watch some junk tv but the balance has been tipped.

fyi, the app i’m using is audible
but i know that books are also available on itunes.

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Filed under books, communication, technology

Longing for BC

sometimes i’d like to go back to a time bc. nope, not a time of dinosaurs or tribal rule or the beginnings of pottery or farming, hunting and gathering. some days i’d like to go back to pre-computer days – especially when my computer takes a dive.

remember when you didn’t have to think about protecting a piece of equipment from malicious intruders? remember when you didn’t have to download updates, recharge batteries, unplug in thunderstorms, backup drives, add memory, delete old files, etc., etc., etc.… on top of all the other life stuff you had to think about?

if you’re as old as me, you do. most of the time i think very little about my home computer, mostly because i use my ipad at home (unfortunately i am the tech person at work so i spend my days dealing with computer issues).

for no particular reason, my laptop decided to brick itself. it turned on and booted up but refused to do anything more than just that. i wasn’t too worried because i don’t use that computer for a whole lot and everything on it is backed up via a cloud based backup service and the files are also backed up on flash drives. still, the taxes were done and sitting on that computer waiting for me to file. i figured i was willing to pay about $200 to fix the issue and if that wouldn’t fix it, i’d just download the tax software again on another computer and pull in the file from the cloud backup then shop for a new laptop.

so, off to the computer repair place around the corner late saturday afternoon. after hearing my description of the issue, the guy assures me that they can clean up the problem and it will be ready by monday. he also gives me a price of $150 – $180. i tell him fine.

monday comes and goes and no phone call from the computer place. most of tuesday comes and goes and no phone call from the computer place. i call them. good news: there was nothing malicious in the system, just an issue with some corruption in the windows 7 operating system. they’ll wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system and i’ll be good to go by wednesday morning. but they’re only open from 9 – 5 so i can’t pick it up until late friday or saturday.

turns out c is leaving work early on thursday so he’ll pick up the computer on the way home. i call the computer place and let them know that he’s coming to pick up the computer and to please allow him to take it (because i think maybe they would be concerned about security and liability and all that). they’re not terrible concerned.

then they tell me the price for the work is $489. um, what?! no, no, no. we talked about $150 – $180. computer guy starts to argue with me and i argue back. he says he’ll call me back. when he calls back he tries to tell me that he talked to c about the price and i tell him that he’s full of shit since the only phone number they had is my cell phone #, which is with me all day.

half hour later, a different computer guy calls me back and he’s got a head of steam on him. he launches into recounting the conversation we had and how i talked about all the extra work i wanted done and how i gave him the go ahead and… i stop the guy and repeat that we never had a conversation because if we had, i would have told him that i would never have paid $489 for repair work and instead gone out and bought a new laptop.

a series of phone calls and conversations later, it turns out that the computer boys were talking to another woman with my same first name, my same laptop with the same windows 7 operating system issue plus plenty more issues. and she needed them to do a whole lot more set-up work than i needed. she was going to pay $489. or, she would have paid $489 but she had taken her laptop to a different computer place altogether on the same street (there are 3). yep. so they did more work on my laptop than authorized or necessary based on someone else’s say so.

they apologized profusely but then danced around telling me how they did all this work on my computer and it was a lot of time and… basically, they kind of wanted me to pay a higher price. you can imagine how that went over.

after some negotiating, we struck a deal that i would pay a little bit more for a small amount of extra work and they would stay open late for c to pick up the laptop.

computer guy said he had never had anything like that happen in the 20 years he’d been in business. i recommended that he institute some kind of receipt of ticket system rather than his current system of only taking down a name and phone number. funny thing to have to recommend to a guy who’s in the information technology business.

still, i’m thinking about sending the bill to microsoft for payment since i’m pretty sure that their operating system update caused the problem to begin with. i’ve even got evidence of another hp laptop with windows 7 that experienced the same problem at the same time. .. if only i could track down that other marge with the hp laptop.

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Filed under advice, communication, computers

The Democratization of Fact

now that this newfangled internet thing has been around awhile, we’ve all gotten pretty used to reading our journals and magazines on-line. you might even read the comments at the end of the article. and that’s when you’ll find the same old diatribes, same old screeds, same old trolls commenting with the same old stuff. Now, we’re all free to avoid the comment section, but the question is: does it change your perception of the information in the article?

if it’s an opinion piece, comments are probably part of a lively debate, but when the article is publishing results of a scientifically conducted study, do comments matter?

that’s what university of wisconsin – madison science communication researcher dominique brossard decided to study.

according to the report of the study published in university of wisconsin-madison news, “the study, now in press at the journal of computer mediated communication, was supported by the national science foundation. it sampled a representative cross section of 2,338 americans in an online experiment, where the civility of blog comments was manipulated. for example, introducing name calling into commentary tacked onto an otherwise balanced newspaper blog post, the study showed, could elicit either lower or higher perceptions of risk, depending on one’s predisposition to the science of nanotechnology.”

brossard reported that “the results of a study showing the tone of blog comments alone can influence the perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scales.”

so, what does it matter?

according to brossard, an estimated 60 percent of the americans seeking information about specific scientific matters say the internet is their primary source of information — ranking it higher than any other news source. for on-line news outlets or journals, comments have been an issue for quite some time, mainly because of trolls.

some sites, wishing to extricate from the intensive process of policing comments, have employed various strategies, most popularly, forcing the commenter to connect through their facebook or twitter account. the thinking is that lack of anonymity will encourage more civil behavior. well, maybe. Others have tried to solve the problem in another way by moving comments to a completely separate section of the site in addition to requiring a login. this blogger has some interesting thoughts on the topic, not the least of which is the misperception that people go to news sites to feel like a part of a community. it would be safe to assume that people visit news sites to read the news. Shocking, I know. We may be able to extrapolate the same of people who visit an on-line science site.

but the bigger question is whether comments are necessary at all in the context of a science journal.

for this, and many other reasons to be sure, popular science is ending comments in its on-line format. jacob ward, editor and chief of “popular science” magazine says “we had three deciding factors that it came down to. one is the rise of trolls, which is a pretty well-understood term these days – basically, people who come into a comment section of a website to be abusive or unpleasant. second, we had bumped into on our own site, and then had seen it sort of confirmed in other places – and seen, also, studies about this – we discovered that troll behavior – that being unpleasant, being uncivil, sort being really fractious in a debate – can cause readers to actually misunderstand things that are scientifically validated.”

There is, and has long been a long-standing war on actual science in lieu of ideological belief or agenda and this, even in the context of free speech, is not servicing anyone.

“when people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment,” explains ashley anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the center for climate change communication at george mason university and the lead author of the upcoming study in the journal of computer mediated communication.

again, why does it matter? it matters because in our ability to access vast amounts of unfiltered information, we are losing the ability to access the validity of the information and in so doing, we fall back on our lizard brains.

You might be able to think of some current day examples of this. Fact is, when lizard brains are allowed to rule, we all lose.

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Filed under communication, politics, religion, science

20 Important Rules for a Successful Marriage

I’m not an expert on marriage, but since C and I have been married for 29 years this month, I think I’m qualified to have a learned opinion.

So, here, in no particular order, is some of what I’ve learned about marriage:

1. Marry the right person. Character counts. There are things you need to talk about, honestly and in-depth before you marry someone. But before you do that, you need to be honest and in-depth with yourself about who you are.

2. Listen. Try to spend more time listening than talking. You might be surprised by what you learn.

3. Talk. Don’t be a martyr. Say what you need to say when you need to say it. Important word here is “need”.

4. Be polite. I’m always amazed at how many couples don’t say the simple words “please” and “thank you” to one another. If you would say it to a guest in your home, you need to say it to the person with whom you share your life.

5. No name calling. Not even if it’s a “joke”. Words hurt and they stick long after the flash of anger or annoyance has passed. Also, name calling is just a bad habit and it should be reserved for use on politicians and criminals.

6. Neatness counts. Messy living goes hand in hand with messy thinking which goes hand in hand with messy being. Honestly, it’s just an irritant, so grow up.

7. Enjoy each other’s company. Your spouse should be your best friend and the one with whom you look forward to spending time.

8. Make and keep good friends. You need a variety of people in your life and sometimes you need time away from your spouse.

9. Get rid of dumbass friends. They are never worth the time or energy. Especially the ones who denigrate your marriage because theirs is crappy.

10. Honesty is your friend. We all need some secrets, but ultimately the level of trust between the two of you should be so solid that you are able to fess up to stuff. It makes your relationship stronger and makes you a better person. Isn’t that part of the reason you chose a life partner?

11. Be a team. Life has ups and downs. Stop keeping score and stop competing with one another. Sometimes one or the other of you has to put your needs second for the short term so that everyone is better off in the long term. Negotiate the terms. Then renegotiate and renegotiate again and again as often as needed. You should have learned and changed some over the years and so should your relationship.

12. Don’t be a jerk. We can all be jerks and we can also do the best we can to not be jerks. Pay attention to when you’re being a jerk and stop it.

13. No cheating. Ever. None. Not at all. Does this even need to be said? You made a commitment and if there comes a point when you can no longer adhere to it, be honest with yourself and your partner. But be honest before you act out.

14. Really think of the money as “ours” no matter who earns it. The way you handle money as a couple can predict a lot about your relationship. Get on the same page with how to handle money.

15. Divide and conquer. No matter what you are doing or how you are living, a division of labor makes everyone’s life easier. Stick to gender rolls if it works for you, if not, figure out how each of you is going to learn a non-gender specific skill that will benefit the household.

16. Learn to pivot. Routine is great, but shit happens. Learn to be adaptable and you just may create good laughs and good fun.

17. Actions speak louder than words. Prefer to be and be with someone who acts lovingly toward you instead of just saying “I love you”. The behavior is the sustenance, the words are dessert.

18. His family is his, your family is yours. I’m sure you love your in-laws, but each of you needs to handle your own family issues yourself. Your spouse is there to help you through the issue, but you have to take the lead with your family.

19. Sex is not a chore. This one should actually be first but I didn’t want our kids to get the wrong impression. On the other hand, how do they think they got here? I’m shocked to find out that most married couples don’t enjoy an active sex life. You can’t have an intimate emotional life together if you don’t have an emotion-filled, satisfying sexual life together.

20. Laugh often . This is the great tonic of life.

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Go Forth and Do but Keep Up the Do Be Do Be Do

ahhhh it’s the time of year for graduations. and with graduations come commencement speeches. quick! who was your high school commencement speaker and what did they talk about? how about your college speaker? thought so. unless you went to a prestigious college where celebrities want to speak, your college speaker was someone you don’t remember. i think mine was a poet. maybe. probably.

the only reason i remember by high school commencement speaker is because i was the high school commencement speaker. even i don’t remember what i talked about but it was most probably lame. surely i had no insight to offer anyone else at the age of 18, except that life is ahead, bla, bla, bla.

what i remember from my college commencement is more what was told to me by my good friend who was graduating too. she even had portraits taken. i never bothered. but her portraits came in handy because she was able to tell me what color our caps and gowns were. i didn’t even remember that we wore caps and gowns, but i do remember the dress i wore.

L spoke at her high school graduation, so i remember that and bill cosby spoke at her college graduation so i remember that too. i have no idea who spoke at e’s high school graduation, but since e was graduating from the business school, her speaker was some big wig from cigna (i think). he talked about sticking with your morals in business and this was after the financial meltdown. it was a short speech.

so recently c played a “song” that was actually the text from a column by mary schmich published in the chicago tribune on june 1, 1997. the title of the column was “advice like youth probably wasted on the young” and the title of the “song” by baz luhrmann “everyone is free (to wear sunscreen)”. the column was wrongly attributed to kurt vonnegut, an error that persists today.

mary’s advice is spot on. i can imagine that graduates hearing the speech would not get it, but i’ve got a lot of years on me now, so i thoroughly get it.

i also thoroughly get steve jobs’ speech from 2005. and though it’s mostly about his history and journey, which is interesting to hear about anyway, it’s the last part of the speech that gets me. that’s where he talks about knowing that he’s dying and making decisions based on that knowledge.

it’s hard, if not nearly impossible, to think about the concept of dying when you’re young, but as you get older, and friends your age start dying off, that’s when it all becomes very real. and the fact that you will be gone should make you want to do everything right now. i know that a lot of people figure it’s too late to start anything new or learn anything new, but i figure it’s probably the perfect time. whatever was holding you back before is probably gone now, or no longer worth caring about.

steve jobs put it best:
“your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. they somehow already know what you truly want to become. everything else is secondary.”

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Filed under advice, age, communication, graduation

Say what?

ever feel like you’re having a completely different conversation with someone than they think they’re having with you?

question: “is it the red one or the blue one?”
answer: “yes”

you know, that kind of thing.

the worst example is politi-speak.

question: “can you cite the source for your accusation that this is a $4 billion-dollar-a-year presidency?”
answer: “i’m trying to get answers on benghazi!”

avoid answering the question about some lie you told earlier and use the occasion of being asked a question to say what you wanted to say in the first place.

apparently we’re all using politi-speak now, but unlike politicians, some of us are actually trying to get things done.

maybe it’s the influence of texting and facebooking and tweeting. before all that we could have one conversation at a time, but now it seems that we’re compelled to have at least two conversations at a time, sometimes more.

could be. or, could be that we’ve just gotten dumber. when we feel dumber, we think that using big words and lots of words makes us sound smarter. of course, we still don’t know what we’re talking about and we still haven’t made the point that needs to be made or even gotten to the heart of the matter, but we’re sure using up a whole lot of words.

maybe. or, maybe we’re just not paying attention. afterall, there are a lot of shiny things in the world.

or, if it’s circular communication at work, it’s because we’re all covering our ass.

regardless of the reason, the continued rise of babble-speak is hindering the process of clear communication and it’s making my blood boil. the more words the other person uses without making any more sense, the more i feel my blood pressure rising.

i have had to find techniques to calm myself down, like gently trying to move the exchange to the point, or giving up hope and just counting the number of words that are used before the speaker gets anywhere near the point.

what works best is just picturing myself stabbing them in the neck with a pen.

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Filed under communication