Category Archives: Personal Stuff

Adventures of an Academic Acolyte Or How I Now Know What I Don’t Know

A little over a year ago I received a phone call from a Red Cross friend and colleague, Dr. Suzanne Horsley, asking if I would be interested in joining her in applying for a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for integrity in public communication. This particular grant takes the bold approach of pairing public relations practitioners with public relations academics. It is a great way to bring real world experience and research science together.

While I didn’t have much experience in academic research—my only brush with it was as an interviewer for the famous Middletown Studies in the late 80s—I figured I could learn “on the job.” Fortunately I consider myself an eager student, because academia had a few lessons to teach me. Namely, that there are hoops to jump through and hurdles to jump over before you run around willy nilly interviewing subjects. So here are the lighthearted, but hard-won, lessons learned during my first foray into academic research:

  1. First off, I found out that collegiate researchers answer to an institutional review board (IRB) that makes sure that their research is ethical and that humans are protected from physical or psychological harm while being studied. This seemed like a good thing to me and I was happy to have this type of oversight to ensure that we didn’t somehow slip into a dystopian research scheme.
  2. Thanks to direction from the IRB at the University of Alabama, I had the privilege of taking, and passing, a National Institute of Health online training course where I learned the many ways I could inadvertently cause harm while researching humans. Fortunately, our research method was participatory interviews, so there was little or no chance that I could cause any kind of harm to humans…or animals.
  3. Because I chose to focus my portion of the research on two disaster events I had personally participated in, I smugly assumed that I would be able to find a multitude of participating communications professionals who would be willing, eager even, to talk to me about their experiences. Initially I reached out to former Red Cross colleagues with great success. Several were happy to schedule a time to talk with me!
  4. Then I sent them the pre-interview questionnaire. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I have spent hundreds of hours helping my clients procure testimonials from their customers. We’ve found people love to talk about how great you are, but when it comes to writing it down…crickets. I understand all the reasons for this; writing is drilled into us at school as something that must be perfect before it can be released into the wild. If you are a communications professional you suffer from this belief to the tenth power. So I knew I was asking a lot of those brave souls who had agreed to be interviewed by me.
  5. There is no doubt though, that those questionnaires were incredibly useful. They led to additional questions and insights that would most likely have not been uncovered if the exercise of filling them out hadn’t given interview subjects the time and space to consider those details. I know, because I filled one out myself on the theory that I shouldn’t ask someone to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.
  6. Then there was the passage of time, for example one of the disasters I researched was the Oklahoma City Bombing which took place more than 22 years ago. At this point in my life, remembering what I did last week is a challenge, asking people to recount information about events so far removed is a serious test of recall.
  7. The other issue with the amount of years that had passed was the difficulty in finding additional subjects to interview. I tried a variety of sources and used many resources to track down people who had served as communicators during those two tragedies. I was ignored, rebuffed (albeit nicely) and stymied at nearly every turn. I also discovered that there were far fewer professional communicators in the disaster field 22 years ago. Many potential subjects had died, others proved impossible to locate. I learned that being an academic-type researcher means having a tenacious ability to keeping going moving forward even after rejection after rejection. I have to admit, even after conducting exhaustive research (I have the spreadsheets to prove it!), I felt like a failure for not being able to find more people to interview.
  8. Fortunately, after several months of silent suffering, I admitted to my research partner and friend that I wasn’t achieving the glorious results I had expected. She then told me several stories of her own lack of success in finding and procuring interview subjects. Sadly, this cheered me to no end to know that even with her superior research skills and years of experience, she too, sometimes hit roadblocks.

In the end, the insights and ideas that I collected from those that I did interview were profound and illuminating. As they say, it is the journey that matters and I now understand that many of the lessons I learned during the research process were impactful and applicable to my own life. My appreciation of the many academic researchers who spend countless years investigating this amazing world is truly unparalleled.

This project was supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from The Arthur W. Page Center at the Penn State College of Communications under Page Legacy Scholar Grant. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pennsylvania State University.



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Hate Exercise? Me Too! How I Accidentally got into Exercise

I absolutely HATE to exercise. I find going to the gym to be generally torturous and can no sooner imagine partaking in an exercise class than trekking to the North Pole. (If you love these things, this article is not for you, quit reading now, really, it’s not going to speak to you at all!)

However, as I’ve gotten older (which is a huge goal, to get older instead of not) I’ve had to acknowledge that maybe a little extra work is needed to keep my weight at a steady number. But I HATE exercise, so there was a built-in problem in losing or even maintaining weight.

I finally resolved the issue by tapping into my personality type–I am Goal Driven! But I really like short, sweet goals that I can see easily–which is why I love polishing silver, instant pay-off! It seems to be critical to my success that I accomplish something every.single.time. I exercise. But anyone who has tried to lose weight or gain strength or reduce body fat can tell you that results simply won’t show up the same day. So what to do?

I accidentally stumbled on the solution a couple of years ago. I had a letter that needed to be mailed the same day, but the mail had already been picked up from our house. Normally I’d hope in the car to drive the mile and a half over to the Post Office to make the 5:30 pm mail, but that day I had a mad thought, “What if I walked over to the Post Office?”

Side note here: I live in a suburban area where everyone runs errands in their cars. If you live in a more dense urban area, you are not going to find this post very inspiring because this is actually how you live your life already. To the rest of us though, it is life-changing!

And so I did. That first time was a bit of an epic journey as I wasn’t regularly walking more than a mile at a time with my dog and I also accidentally took the long way there, so I probably had a three and a half mile round trip. But the important thing was that I got exercise AND I accomplished something right away (mailing my letter)!

Soon enough I found myself walking all over town to return library books, pick up prescriptions and go out to dinner–anything that had a achievable task (even something like picking up paint color samples) was fair game and I was putting on walking shoes and heading out the door.

By that summer I had declared that if I had any event downtown, no matter the weather, I had to walk. Not only was I getting much needed exercise, I was also significantly reducing my “run-around-town” mileage on my car. You’d be surprised how fast that added up into significant savings.

Of course there were a few challenges to overcome along the way. For example, the shoes you typically walk in are not usually business appropriate or even very cute, so I figured out how to carry a change of shoes in my bag. I eventually stumbled (I do love puns!) on the fact that Sketchers makes sandals that are very walkable and look fairly “summer casual” professional (you can see some here, I have the Rumblers) which was even better than carrying an extra pair of shoes. I also didn’t like showing up a sweaty mess at various business functions, so I allowed more time for a slightly slower walking pace and took deodorant and wipes to help me maintain that “I just stepped out of an air conditioned car” look.

Now this mindset is so entrenched in our brains, that we don’t even consider taking the car to go to a movie at the local theatre or, better yet, have a drink at our favorite watering hole (There is something extra special about having a glass of wine that you feel like you “earned” by walking a mile into town to drink), we just dress for the weather and head down the sidewalk.

The bigger win however, is that I’ve hit some long-term goals without even trying too hard. My weight is lower (as is my body fat), I have killer calfs and I can now easily walk 5 or more miles in a day, a feat that would have had me whining about my blisters a few short years ago.

So tell me, how do you get your Accidental Exercise?

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A Family Affair–Tips for for Dealing with Hospitalization

Long-time blogger and friend, Duane Hallock, recently wrote a post with ideas for blog topics to help get folks jump-started.  I accepted his challenge and paired it with some Facebook posts that a friend is sharing about her father’s illness plus a healthy dash of “I’ve been there myself” to create this list of tips for coping with a family member’s hospitalization.

In the past 5 years I have had close family members undergo no less than a dozen surgeries, one DSCN1441coma and countless doctor visits, chemo and radiation appointments.  The remarkable thing is that for the most part, before 2008 I would have told you that we were a fairly healthy bunch, rarely even sick.  It made me realize for the first time that you can’t necessarily depend on having endless health, what a wake-up call!

Here are a few things I’ve learned about having a family member hospitalized:

  • Information Management:  Pick one person to manage the information about their care.  This includes keeping track of reports and tests and notifying their doctors of any updates in their care. Put all that info in a notebook that you take with you.
  • Advocate! Someone needs to be the patient’s advocate, this needs to be a person who can be polite but firm.  You want the very best for your loved one and charming the medical staff with kindness will go further than throwing a temper tantrum.
  • ASK QUESTIONS!  Don’t accept whatever anyone says at face value.  Make it a point to really understand what medical professionals are saying about your family member’s condition.
  • Know your Players: Although doctors are an important part of your loved one’s recovery, daily caregivers–nurses, case assistants, therapists–are the ones who will be implementing the care, so make sure that you have good rapport with them and do what you can to assist and thank them.
  • Research!  The internet can really be your friend for finding out about your loved one’s condition.  I recommend sticking to reputable sources like webmd and Mayo Clinic to make sure you are getting accurate info.
  • Accept Support: You aren’t the first family to go through this and since so many folks have been in your shoes, they frequently are willing to help out with everything from running errands to sitting with your loved one so you can get a break.  Say Yes!  You are giving them a huge blessing by allowing them to give of themselves.
  • Spread out the Assistance: If you are part of a large group of siblings or extended family, consider tag-teaming your visits/assistance so that everyone is not at the hospital at the same time.  This is a marathon, not a sprint and help may be needed for months to come.  I have seen this implemented beautifully by both sides of my family–with each sibling or cousin taking a week or more to stay with the loved one while they are healing, then handing the reins off to the next person (this is where the medical notebook becomes invaluable).
  • Share: An important part of your loved one’s recovery is the love and support from others.  But you have to let folks know that there is a need.  Share with family and friends, via email or social media updates on the patient’s recovery.  Be sure your patient feels comfortable with the level of information you are sharing before sending anything out.  Print out anything you send and put it in the back of the medical notebook so that you can share it with your family member after they recover.  Frequently they don’t remember much afterwards and this gives them some insight into what was happening.

If you have parents or other older relatives who depend on you, consider getting some of this completed before they are hospitalized.

  • Get a complete list of their doctors and their medications, it will put you ahead of the game.
  • With current HIPPA regulations, you will need to be added to your family member’s medical consent forms with each doctor in order to be able to contact them.
  • Go with them to each of their doctors at least once.  It helps to meet these professionals when you are not under extreme stress.
  • If you live far away from your family members, ask for the name, number and email address of a couple of their close friends who you can call on if needed.

As I mentioned, I have several friends and family who have been through these situations as well.  I would love any ideas or comments that you have to share!


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Why I was Happy to have Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and How the Red Cross is to Blame

Two weeks ago I was at my family’s annual five-day love fest hanging out with family and friends-who-have-become-family.  It was a gorgeous day and the weather was perfect.  I had just finished having lunch with some just-passing-thru family and was in the kitchen doing a little dinner prep and chatting with an Aunt.

One of the younger cousins came to get my Aunt, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it.  A few minutes later that changed dramatically.

My Aunt came running into the main room of the lodge holding a toddler and yelling, “He’s not breathing and I can’t get his mouth open.”  I dropped what I was doing and rushed over to help.

Even as I was moving toward her I could feel my Red Cross training kick into gear.  I noted that she was struggling to hold the child and that she was trying to get his mouth open, I evaluated his age to be between one and two years old and I remembered that the most common issue at that age is choking on something they’ve put in their mouth.

I took him from my aunt, carefully positioned him over my arm as trained to do and performed the infant Heimlich maneuver on him one time. I could feel his chest shudder as he finally took a breath and then he began moaning. I laid him tummy side down on a high table so I could check his mouth for an object and that’s when I found his teeth clenched shut–he was having a seizure.

I rubbed his back, checking for breathing (as long as he was moaning he was breathing) and watched him until the seizure had subsided and that point handed him back to his mother.  While I was doing this, another family member was already on the phone to 911.

He was transported with his mother to the hospital where they did a battery of tests and couldn’t find an exact cause for the high fever.  They released him and, with both his mother and father, he returned to the lodge and spent the night.  On the doctor’s orders he was given some over-the-counter medications to keep his fever in check and he ran around and played all evening like nothing had happened. It was truly a joy to see how much fun he was having!

It wasn’t until several days later, after we had all dispersed, that we discovered what had caused his high temperature–Hand, Foot and Mouth disease–a disease that typically affects children under five year of age with awful blistering around the, you guessed it, hands, feet and mouth (sometimes in the mouth).  Every single family member was exposed.

But we are a hardy bunch, and there had been only one other child under five at the reunion.  That blissful ignorance lasted until the next day when a nine-year-old (who I had spent the entire previous day with) came down with a high fever.  But Sunday evening I, too, was well on my way to 101 degrees.

As miserable as I felt for a few days, I don’t begrudge one minute of it.  I would gladly trade a little illness for a healthy, happy toddler running around and having fun. And so I blame the Red Cross, only in jest, because who can say what the outcome would have been without that training?

Reunion Emergency Tips

Because we average one person per year going to the emergency room during our reunion (we aren’t dangerous I promise, there are just a lot of people having fun), I thought I would share a couple of tips that our family has picked up over the last few years:

  • Have one person (preferably an adult with good hearing) call 911. Have them stay on the phone as long as possible so you can report any changes in the patient’s status.
  • If you are camping or are in a vacation area that doesn’t have a regular address, send someone up to the main entrance to meet the ambulance, it can really save time.
  • Frequently when you are vacation, playthings and toys are scattered along the pathway, make sure it is clear. Open up the doors and make sure the rescue workers can easily access the patient.
  • Have one person get the purse/wallet of both the patient and their caregiver and prepare to follow the ambulance to the hospital to provide support. Make sure that they have an extra charger or cell phone. This is the person who will be called for updates and will relay any additional needs.
  • We’ve learned through experience not to overwhelm the hospital waiting area.  If appropriate we may send another person or two in shifts, but we do not help by showing up en mass.
  • Last, but surely the most important, make sure you have at least three people trained in CPR and First Aid at your next family reunion.  If that seems excessive, consider this,  emergencies can happen anywhere, out on the water, down the hiking trail or in the lodge. The more trained people you have, the better the chance that someone will be in the right place at the right time.  With the Red Cross online courses, it doesn’t even take much time to become trained.  Check it out here:
    Red Cross CPR

May your reunion end happily!Another Happy Reunion!

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Accidental Exercise

Some of my most popular postings have been my “Life Hacks”, the systems or shortcuts I use to make my life more manageable, easier and overall better.  If I look at my Facebook feed, I appear to be the only one of my friends who isn’t entered in a 5K, practicing for a triathlon or climbing a mountain this summer.  To be honest, I really don’t like to exercise at all. I was a runner all through high school and I have worked out in the gym with the best of them, but…I still don’t like it.

A number of years ago I joined Weight Watchers just to support a family member (because, they were overweight, not me, yeah right!) and suddenly realized that I needed to somehow burn more calories in order to indulge in ice cream and cookie dough, I decided I’d better get back on the exercise treadmill (pun intended).  But I still didn’t like it and it felt like a waste of time.  No matter what I said or did, it was plain unfun.



Then I discovered that Weight Watchers let you count everyday household chores for activity points–OK then, game on!  We suddenly had the cleanest carpets and the most dusted furniture in town.  And I realized that if I could exercise in the course of my regular week AND get things done that need doing, I felt a lot more fulfilled. Plus it didn’t take away from my reading time because I was doing things that I needed to do anyway.

So I created a list of ways that I could add accidental exercise to my day without adding a lot of extra time.  Here are a few:

  • Park your car at the furthest spot from the door when you go to the store. Bonus: you’ll save time not driving up and down parking aisles and your car is less likely to get dings or even hit.  I find that my stress level is better too, because I didn’t have to wait for people to get out of my way or try to park in a tight spot.
  • Keep your ice cream in the basement freezer. This assumes you have a basement or a freezer there, but I’ve found I have to consciously think about how much I want ice cream (or any other fabulous snack) if I keep it in the basement and then have to return the carton or box to the basement immediately after dishing up a serving.  If I want a second serving, back to the basement I go burning calories on the way!
  • Take your spouse and your dog for a walk.  This is the very best time to catch up on what’s been going on at work, brainstorm new ideas and talk about serious stuff like  the budget.  The dog needs walking, so make a point of doing it together and gain extra time to work on your relationship.  Bonus: It is easier to talk about difficult subjects because you are both facing forward, the walk relieves stress and you are in public, so generally no yelling or crying. Extra Bonus: If you don’t have a spouse, a kid or a friend is an excellent substitute.
  • Fidget.  While you are watching TV or sitting at your computer desk at work, bouncing your leg, tapping your foot or any other fidgeting behavior will help you use up calories and keep your metabolism moving.  Word of Caution: Try not to do this around other people, it is annoying and disruptive.
  • March. I hate waiting for even five minutes for things to cook but if I walk into another room I am sure to burn the food because I will forget about it.  So to combat food waste (and that awful burnt smell) I often march in place while waiting for the pot to boil or the meat to brown. Bonus: Use this technique while brushing you teeth for 3 minutes. You will fit in some extra exercise and your teeth will be super sparkly.

These are just a few of the ways that I cram exercise into my everyday life.  While I am not winning any marathons (because I haven’t signed up for them), I do maintain my healthy weight and am still able to enjoy the foods I love.  Next time I’ll share accidental exercise ideas for when you travel.

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Growing Your Own Economy

WARNING: As with the previous post “Don’t like this Economy? Create Your Own“, I continue to veer off my “normal” business-related path.  Do not be alarmed, I shall return to it shortly.

In the previous post I went over a couple of ways that we create our own personal economy so we aren’t tossed around in the seas of economic unrest.  I promised you a few more ideas, so here they are.

Veggy Gardening: Full disclosure, we also garden Hostas and flowers, but while they are pretty to look at, they put nothing on the table.

Fresh greens from the garden topped with pickled beets from last year's garden.  Can you say, "MMMMMmmmmm!"

Fresh greens from the garden topped with pickled beets from last year’s garden. Can you say, “MMMMMmmmmm!”

Vegetables on the other hand…they provide fresh organic produce for us June-November and then transition into winter via canning and freezing.  We have our own home-grown food year around.  Not only does this mean fewer trips to the grocery store in the summer, but it also means we control the pesticides and other chemicals that we consume.

I’m not gonna lie, gardening can be hot, buggy and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be.  When we lived in a townhouse with a six-foot square patio, we still gardened successfully, we just did it in containers and rarely had enough left over to can or freeze.  Regardless, we still made an impact on our summer food bill and I discovered that pulling weeds, pruning plants and other garden chores were the perfect antidote to my stressful job.

Trade with Friends: Not at all like “Words with Friends”, this can apply to all sorts of things–children’s clothing, furniture or even services.  While I am lucky to be fairly competent in basic home repairs and my husband is even more so, not everyone has those skills.  So instead of hiring someone to do something like replace a door, consider asking around and seeing if you have a friend you could trade services with.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  I have a friend who is an amazing cook.  I happen to know that my husband would jump through hoops to get her pan-seared scallops, so having him make a minor repair around her house is a win-win for both of them (and me, I like to provide supervision and moral support).  This can also extend to computer repairs and other items.  My husband spent an hour fixing a friend’s computer, but two weeks earlier that friend had stopped by and mowed our front yard while our mower was on the fritz.

Recycle:  I’m not just talking about hauling a bin out to the curb every week, although we found when we started seeing how much packaging we

I painted my patio chairs this fabulous retro color and it's like having a whole new set of furniture for the cost of four cans of spray paint (about $12)!

I painted my patio chairs this fabulous retro color and it’s like having a whole new set of furniture for the cost of four cans of spray paint (about $12)!

threw away each week, we became more careful about what we buy.  What I am actually talking about is thinking about how you can reuse items you already have instead of going out and buying new ones.  If you have patio furniture that you like, but hate the color, paint it!

If you want new pillows on your couch, can you swap out others from a different room or make new pillow covers from some leftover fabric?  I even swap out indoor and outdoor items, bringing inside plants stands (with a little new paint) and taking out wrought iron candle holders.  I like changing things up and it makes me feel good without spending a lot of money (although I do use a lot of paint!).

Obviously, not all of these ideas are a good fit for everyone, but if you even apply one, you are taking control of your own economy!

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Don’t like this Economy? Create Your Own

WARNING: The post veers off my usual business-related postings path.

After our family reunion this past summer, my husband was recounting a conversation he’d had with another family member about the economy.  This particular relative was bemoaning the government, big banks and variety of other sources for destroying the economy. To be fair, he is a highly skilled craftsman who has been unemployed or underemployed ever since the economy took a dive.  In an effort to cheer him up, my husband had discussed a number of successful strategies that we use to “create our own economy.” Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears and I suspect both of them walked away from the conversation frustrated.

To be honest, I had never really considered what we do unusual, just necessary. I certainly hadn’t thought about it the context of creating our own economy, but the more I contemplated it, the more I saw the my husband was correct–we do control our own personal economy.  Here’s a few of the ways that we do it:

No car payments: Everyone knows that as an investment, cars are losing proposition, so we don’t want to spend one dime more that we have to.

1966 Caddy like ours--with a much better paint job and without the HUGE dent in the driver's door.

1966 Caddy like ours–with a much better paint job and without the HUGE dent in the driver’s door.

that means we are not going to finance a car and pay the interest on something that is depreciating as we own it.  Our last car payment was in 2003 and I haven’t missed them one bit.  I will say however, we had a period of several months when our sole working vehicle was a $350, 1966 Cadillac with a perfect electric pole dent in the driver’s door (They don’t make ’em like they used to, the window still worked and wasn’t even cracked).  To be clear, this car was a year older than I was and this was in the 2000s.  There was absolutely no way to make it cool.  It was also not particularly highway worthy, so I left an hour early for far-away meetings to take surface streets and parked as far away as I could so no one would see what I was driving.  You know what?  It was worth it, because in my 20s I had car payments that I nearly couldn’t pay some months.  I’ll take the stress of looking uncool over the stress of not paying my bills every time.

One income: Since I am self-employed and my husband works for a municipality, we know that my income contributions vary widely and any chance of a raise on his part will usually not even cover the cost on living, so we have made it our goal to live on one income–sometimes it’s mine and sometimes it is his, but regardless we stick to it.  If there is excess or a windfall, it is stashed in a separate account for emergencies or big-ticket purchases (we paid cash for our last two cars and, no, neither was the 66 Caddy).  Most of my husband’s raises have gone straight into the retirement account.  We are used to living without that money, so we don’t miss it a bit.

Hire others: This probably seems counter intuitive, so bear with me.  A few years ago we visited Costa Rica–a beautiful, amazing, gorgeous

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, where we discovered three people can do a better job than one.

country where 96% of the population is literate.  We began joking that Ticos (Costa Ricans’ name for themselves) never had one person do a job, if three could do it better.  The system worked something like this: We hired a tour guide to take us somewhere and paid $50 per person per day.  He then hired a driver to drive all of us and a trained on-site guide to take us through a specific attraction. All this for only $50, we didn’t have to pay anything extra. Why does this help you?  The tour guide has now employed two additional people, so three people make some money and he has provided us with a MUCH better experience, because while the driver was driving safely the tour guide was able to talk to us and share info about the area we were driving through and answer all of our questions. When we got to the attraction, the on-site guide was exceptionally knowledgeable and had special equipment that let us see even more amazing sights.  Not only have we have told everyone in the free world about our great trip and tour guide, but that tour guide is also assured that those two individuals will be looking out for him in the future.

So if you are making $30 bucks an hour and can pick up a few more hours at work once in a while, it just makes sense to hire someone to mow your 1/2 acre yard for $8-10 bucks an hour when you can’t. You could be helping out someone who needs a few extra bucks for their family or a youngster who needs some work experience, it doesn’t matter. In your own personal economy you can choose to invest in others, knowing that someday, they may invest in you.

Those are just three of our strategies for creating our own economy.  I’ll share more in future posts.

What are your strategies for creating your own economy?

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