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November 19, 2010

44 easy asks (part III)

...and now, the final installment.

31. When you're not convinced by a charge, bill total, line item, explanation for service/treatment, etc.

"I noticed there's a 2% convenience charge on my bill. We didn't talk about that before the oil change. What's this for?" (Next: move to strike.)
"Hi, I'm a little confused. Why is the total $84? Maybe I didn't add it up right?"
"Would you mind talking me through this bill? I'm not understanding how the services break down."

You won't look like a miser for making sure you're not being overcharged. Moreover, you have every right to know where your dollars are going. For some reason, it took me a while to get over this. Now I ask whenever I have doubts.

32. When something is fishy or concerning:

"Did you lose something?" (To the man looking through your neighbor's rose bushes -- inspired by a true story!)
"Excuse me, can you tell me where the highway is?" (To the woman with an Alzheimer's ID necklace crossing the street alone, to make sure she knows where she is or prep an offer to help.)

33. When someone around you is being mistreated:

"Could you be more gentle? My daughter's arms are very tender from all the blood samples and IVs."
"You keep yelling at everyone. Do you need some time to yourself?"
"Do you think it's ok to sell people chairs that fall apart after the first day? My husband works hard for every dollar and when he pays $40 for a chair, he hopes it will last at least a week."

Asking, here, is a gentler way to address a problem than pointing a finger and accusing someone. I'm not saying it's the only way, or appropriate if something awful is unfolding before your eyes. But it's one more option, and a potentially lighter touch that can also be effective.

34. When someone around you is struggling:

"How can I help?"

35. When asking would make your life easier and not cost the other party anything:

"Do you have Verizon? Great! Could I use yours for a quick call to my sister, who's on Verizon, so she can pick me up, nice stranger on bus?"

36. When it would make your life easier (or someone else's) even if it's inconvenient for the other party:

"Can we meet tomorrow instead?"
"Can you open another checkout stand?"
"Can your store assemble this for us?"
"Could you please not speak so loudly?"
"Can you please bring some cups to the party?"
"Can you mark things more clearly so others don't make the same detour?"

Asking can clarify a lot of confusions, since maybe the other part doesn't mind accommodating you in the least. This is valuable in both retail and non-retail contexts.

36. When something is really annoying you:

"Do you think you could stop talking so loudly/drumming your fingers/leaving your laptop that loud? Everyone else is trying to sleep. I don't mean to be 'that crazy uptight lady,' but we're all just exhausted."

If you're nice and not demeaning, chance are the other person didn't realize she was being offensive. And if she did realize it, your friendly attitude will make it easier for her to withdraw while saving face, instead of digging her heels in.

37. Whenever you can swing a (humorous?) customized discount:

"Could I get an end of the day discount?"
"Grad student overdraft fee forgiveness program?" 
"Do you have an 'I love your chairs but I can't afford them' sale?"
Basically, this involves reading the situation and making a sweet/amusing request for a better price.

38. When you're a regular:

Nonchalant:  "Malissah, hey! So you got those new scarves in? Loooove 'em, girl! So, give me the dirty truth: What's the best price you can give me? You know I never pay retail here. Hahaha!"

Candid: "Sam, I've been coming here for years and you know more about my finances and sex life than my sister does at this point, so I have to ask you something: Can you give me a break on highlights for a while? I just can't afford $80 every six weeks, ever since I started working part time.." [Perhaps Sam would rather keep you at $50 than lose your business entirely, hoping you'll stick with him when your budget is better.]

39. When you've really hit it off with the salesperson:

"Hey there. Welcome to Magical Mittens!"
"Hi! How long have you guys been open on Saturday mornings?"
"We just opened last weekend."
"Really? Congrats! It's such a smart move, since I'm always walking by on weekends. I'm going to tell all my friends."
"Awesome, thanks!"
"Oh, these gloves are adorable. What are the chances you'd let me have them for $30?"

40. When you can turn the salesperson into an ally:

"I need to find a wedding present for my boss, and I have $100 to spend, I know most of the things in your gorgeous store cost more, but this is her favorite boutique. Maybe I could get her two smaller things, or... what do you think? I'd appreciate any suggestions."
"What colors does she like? What's her home style like?"
"She's always wearing blue, and her husband-to-be is a sailor."
"We just got in the cutest blue candlesticks, shaped like anchors. I bet they'd love them. They're over $100, but I'll see what I can do about the price. We have a sale starting tomorrow -- let me check if these are included."
41. When you can offer something in exchange: 

"Any way you can help bring this price down? I'd love to tell my Facebook friends or tweet about you or whatever, to say thanks." (disclaimer: I have never offered blog publicity in exchange for a discount. I have offered to spread the word to friends or Yelp if someone is generous.)

42. When you really, really need something and money (or access or ability or permission) is an obstacle:

(This is different from having a discretionary budget. This is about urgent needs.)
"I need to get back inside the terminal. I left my ID inside the plane. Please let me in, or send someone for it? Is there anything you can do?"
"I'm sorry but TSA regulations stipulate --"
"I'm about to give birth! And my car just drove itself into a hydrant! And my house is on fire! This is urgent!
"Ok, come this way."
The bottom line is this: if something needs to happen, asking is a smart place to start.

43. When the other party has nothing to lose:

"You quit? Congratulations!"
"F*ck this joint."
"Totally. So listen, I can finally ask you for this favor. Tell me how much Frank earns, please!? You have access to the payroll data, don't you?"

44. When the other party has something to gain:

"I really love this car, and you are $4,000 away from breaking the record for a Sunday night. How about you sell it to me for $4,001. Hell, $4,002. And then we can both go home satisfied?"

The list has grown since I started:

45. When you're dealing with an aggressive asker:

"Can you bring me a coke?"
"Can you move the car?"
"Can you give me $100?"
"Can you listen to me complain about my job for 2 hours?" 

If someone else asks you for things repeatedly, it's only fair to reciprocate. :)

46. When you've been asked:

"I can't lower the price to $200, but how about I give you free delivery?"
"I can't drive you after home after Thanksgiving, but can I give you Rupert's number? She's lives that way."
"Why do you think this desk is worth less than $50?, even if it is Craigslist."

47. When you're asking for someone else:

"My mom would love a table by the fireplace."

48. When you're buying any kind of package:

"Let's see, so for the consultation and plan you're charging $200, the project management is $200, your time and labor after that is $1200. That's $1600. I need you to give me a better price."

49. When you've seen others asking for the same thing, even if you hesitate for some reason:

"Can we get an extra chair for our purses?"
"Can I take off the Friday after Thanksgiving?"
(If other patrons, or your friends, or coworkers, ask for something, why shouldn't you?)

50. When you have the hunch that it just can't hurt to try:

Sometimes an issue seems complicated, but it's so, so, so simple. Just go for it!

"Can I ask you a question?..."
"Is there anything you can do to lower this price?"
"Any chance x could become y?"
"Would you mind if I...?"


These can and should be combined! Read people, read situations, get context, get experience, and get creative.

I left out "please" and "thank you," but these are a must. I'm not just talking about old fashioned courtesy (which is underrated) but also genuine appreciation. If someone goes out of his or her way for me, I'm grateful and I show it.

Remember that the other party can always say no, so leave the guilt at the door. (If you think that's not the case, and you're in a position of power or at an unfair advantage, skip asking.)

Many of these methods require some discernment. For example, taking advantage of a going-out-of-business warehouse sale when the owner is desperate to make ends meet and pay his mortgage, versus getting a great discount from a powerhouse liquidator who's jacking up prices preemptively and putting people out of work. Use your judgment, savvy reader. Ask responsibly.

And remember: You're worth it!!! Ask away!!

In too many cases, there's no good reason not to.

And if you're not getting enough rejections, you're probably not reaching far enough.

November 18, 2010

44 easy asks (part II)

...continued from yesterday. Final installment coming tomorrow:

16. When you're buying the floor model:

"If I get the floor model, what kind of discount could you give me?"
"I'm on a budget, but I'd be willing to buy the floor model if you gave me a better deal." (Show you're giving something up -- deliverance from hundreds of fingerprints -- for a better price.)
17. When the number is easily down-roundable.

Farmer's market peaches, $2.12: "Can we make it $2?"
Used bookstore, four books, $22.99 total: "Would you accept an even $20?"
Adorable coral colored sandals at a small boutique, $74: "How about $70?"
(Less likely to work at big box or department stores, but far from impossible at boutiques, smaller stores.)

18. When you're paying cash:

Vague: "Could we do a cash discount?"
Specific: "Argh, I only have $32. Would that be ok?"

(At the start of the Daily Asker experiment, I sometimes used the cash line to avoid paying sales tax, which can certainly add up on bigger ticket items: "Can you skip the sales tax? I can pay cash if that makes it easier." But I've stopped. I live in California, where the budget is in such a shambles it feels kind of dirty to skip out -- especially since the state,  unlike a merchant, isn't standing at the cash register and able to make a counteroffer when I ask for no tax.)

19. When you're buying on Craigslist:

"Since this is Craigslist, would you take $80?"
(I usually offer 20 to 25 percent less than the asking price.)

20. When a sale just ended or is about to start:

Apologetic: "I just found out your sale/monthly special/2-for-1 dinner promo ended Wednesday but I totally thought it was still going on! I looooove this divan/salon/restaurant but I was really drawn to the discounted price. Is there anything you can do?"

Forward thinking: "I love this table, but I was wondering, do you think I could get the sale price already? I'm not going to be in town next weekend and I'd love to buy this now."

21.  When the askee has a supervisor:

"Could you give me yesterday's sale price, today?"
"I'm sorry, but the sale is over."
"Would you mind asking your manager? You can tell her I'm really interested in this table, I don't need delivery and I'd be really grateful!"

"Could I have free text messaging for the next six months, since you guys overcharged me for the new line I added?"
"I can't, I'm sorry. Once we removed the mistaken charge, there's nothing more I'm authorized to do."
"I see. Well, could I ask your supervisor? Not to complain about you, don't worry -- I'm just a big believer in asking!"

22. When a product has been sitting on a shelf so long there's a blanket of dust around it:

"Wow! I've seen these earrings here since last winter! Is that the same pair? I tried them on right before Christmas. Don't you want to finally get rid of them? I can't afford $400, but if you can work with my budget I'll walk out with them today."

23. When they roll out new merchandise (or discontinue an old product):

"Your new cameras are in! Perfect! So would does than mean you're dropping the price of old models by half?"
"Um, no."
"How about 20 percent?"

"How sad you're closing. I loved Circuit City. [small talk, then ask:] Could I have these shelves for $50 -- two for one?" (Beware that some liquidators drive hard bargains -- so talk to the manager or combine with other techniques. Don't give up. Let your inner asker roar.)

24. When demand is generally low and/or supply is high:

Examples: a garage sale where nothing has sold for hours (and you know since you drove by that morning); a craigslist item, from a mirror to an apartment, that has been posted and reposted; a late model car when new inventory has rolled in. No need to say anything explicit about the high supply, though you can.

"Hmm, this belt piqued my curiosity, but I can't decide if I just want it or truly need it [targeting seller's desire to finally land a buyer]... Do you think you could drop the price to $20?"

25. When they're out of a product you want:

"I'd like the grilled salmon/maserati/queen master suite/merlot/toshiba."
"I'm sorry, we're sold out of that."
"Oh noooo! I love that salmon/car/room/wine/gadget. Hmm... Let me see your other options... do you think I could get this instead?"
"Of course."
"For the same price?"

26. When there's a special occasion:

"It's our anniversary. Do you have any special discounts or perks to help us celebrate?"

27. When you have an expired coupon:

"I realize this just expired -- but can you still apply it, please?"

28. When the merchant might have a coupon you don't:

"Do you have any coupons behind the counter you could apply? Anything to help get the price down a little?"

29. When you're buying two (or more) items at a huge price differential.

"Since I'm getting this laptop, printer and desk chair, would you throw in a cartridge for free?"

30. When you're the first customer of the day, in China (so I've heard):

Sorry, I don't speak Chinese.

Part three, here.

image credit:

November 17, 2010

44 easy asks

If you're not comfortable asking, or interested in getting started but unsure how/when/where, here are 44 easy opportunities for asking, which crop up on a day to day basis. If you have your eyes open, that is. I've provided an example for each.

Here are the first 15. The rest, tomorrow and Friday.

1. When something goes wrong, ask for vague compensation:

"I talked to four customer service agents and none of them was able to fix my problem. Now you finally tell me it's a computer glitch, after I spend two hours to try to fix this. Is there anything you can do to take away the sting?"

2. When something goes wrong, ask for specific compensation:

"It took the waiter 20 minutes to take our orders and then he brought us the wrong food. While we're waiting for the right dishes, how about you throw in a round of drinks?"

3. At the end of any transaction, open-ended question:

"Anything you can do bring this price down a little?"

4. At the end of any transaction, specific question:

"Could you knock off 10 percent?"

5. When you have a bank fee, a late fee, a service charge. Repeat after me:

"I know I made a booboo/I know it's part of the terms/I understand that's your policy, but could you please just knock off the fee as a courtesy? I would be incredibly grateful." (Nevermind that "convenience fees," "service charges" and their ilk are shameless consumer ripoffs. That doesn't stop me from disingenuous ass kissing if it 23 words will save $35.)

6. When you're buying more than the typical minimum:

"Since I'm buying 3/staying for a week/bringing the whole family, can you come down on the price?"

7. When you're buying a ton in the merchant's eyes:

"Can you do a bulk discount?" For example, for my fiance's birthday, two years in a row I negotiated a discount since I bought so much takeout: "I'd like you to cater my boyfriend's surprise party. I'm interested in ordering food and dessert for 12, but before I do I want to know if you can work with me on the price." This strategy probably won't work with a big-time caterer.

8. When you have a vague budget:

"I love it, but it's more than I can afford. Is there any flexibility on the price?"

9. When you have a specific budget:

"I love it, but I promised myself I wouldn't spend more than $20. Can you knock off that extra buck?"

10. When a product is cheaper elsewhere (or online):

"I saw the same lawnmower in a Home Depot ad for $249, but I love Ace Hardware. Can you give it to me for the lower price?" (Last minute price checks on a smartphone can come in hand here.)

11. When you're generally shopping around:

"I'm interested in buying a lawnmower and comparing options. I've seen something at Target and on Craigslist, but if you make me a good deal I'd love to conclude this today."

12. When the merchant's website has cheaper prices:

"Before you ring me up do you mind seeing if it's cheaper on your website? I know you guys honor your online price, which is an awesome policy."

13. Whenever there's no price tag:

"How much would you like for this armoire?"
"Would you take $600?"
(Note: This is old news, but remember to let the seller make the first move.)

14. When you've done your homework:

"How much would you like for this armoire?"
"Really?! But that's an imitation built no earlier than 1952, which merely looks like the older 1920s model you seem to be passing it for. Look at this red marking -- made in China. So really, it's worth around $200. Would you give it to me for that?"
"$200 is too little. Look at the quality."
"Imitation quality -- but it is an attractive piece. Let's meet in the middle, since it's hardwood but still a knockoff. How about $450?"

15. When you merely appear to have a good reason to lower the price:

"How much for this armoire?"
"$800. Hmm... the problem is that I like the look, but but it's not all hardwood... Would you be willing to drop the price and make the decision easier for me?" [when in fact nothing in your home is hardwood, but the seller doesn't know you're not hung up on that. You've identified a believable flaw and that's a good enough bargaining chip.]

On to Part Two.

[image credit:]

November 15, 2010

10 questions every patient advocate should ask during a loved one's hospital stay

I didn't intend this to be a medical blog, and if my reports about asking in a hospital context aren't your cup of coffee, please accept my apologies and check back later. My hope is that writing about my experiences here may help others, if and when they or their loved ones go through something like this.

Today we found out more bad news. Tata has congestive heart failure, one of a series of complications that will keep him in the hospital longer than expected. From what I understand, this means his heart is swollen and weakened. I don't know what the implications are.

I asked the nurse for details. I asked for an explanation. I asked for treatment options and finally I braced myself and asked what "failure" means. "Are we talking a week, six months? Please don't spare my feelings. I need to know."

"Please can live with with this for 20 years!" the nurse tried to reassure me.

Unconvinced, La Sorella and I took off from the hospital for a breather and we called our mother.

You may think I'm a bold or thoughtful asker, but my mama is the paragon of inquisitive acuity.

After reading Women Don't Ask and starting this blog, I told her how exciting asking can be. "Of course," she answered, as if I'd just informed her humans breathe oxygen.

When my grandmother was in the hospital for heart surgery two years ago, my mom kept tabs on every lab test, every exam, every clinical consultation. Today, my grandma is strong as an ox. Well, a petite ox-ette with big brown eyes and superhuman luck at bingo. I consider this a miracle, since she was teetering on the precipice of death in that hospital room, and I hold my mom largely responsible. My grandmother too, of course, for wanting to live with every ounce of her tiny body. But without mom's attention and zealous case management, who knows what the outcome would have been.

Here is what she told me.

1. Get a Baseline

At the start of the stay, ask for a copy of the results of baseline labwork: lipid panel, blood sugar, hemoglobin, x-rays, ct scan, vitals, and/or whatever is relevant to establish the patient's state at admission. This is both for your information and to make sure they're performing these critical initial tests.

2. Daily Documentation

Every day you should ask for a copy of all the patient's labs, all tests, all medications, input and output, temperature, medications, everything that's being tracked. Next of kin are entitled to these printouts, and you need to be reviewing new information before every doctor's meeting. Store these in a folder.

3. Procedures and Exams

Operation or exam? Learn what anesthetic will be used and why this was chosen over another one; learn what will be done and why, what organs and systems are involved, what the potential complications are, how this fits in the treatment plan and what next the course of action is. For every test, find out who assigned it and who's interpreting it.

4. What's Abnormal?

Whenever you get a new lab or exam result, ask the nurse or physician to point out what values are abnormal and keep a log. Also ask for context, explanations, course of action: How much out of the ordinary? Why did this happen? What could this be signalling? Is this concerning? How do we approach this? And ask about patterns -- getting worse or better? Maybe it's nothing to worry about -- but if it is, you should know.

5. Prescription Explanations?

Ask "why?" for every medication (or change in dosage). Jot that down.

6.  Turn to the Internet

Ask google books for info. For every diagnosis, investigate the differential diagnosis (what the feasible alternatives are). For every chosen treatment, find out what other choices are out there. For every prescription, learn the side effects. For every procedure, learn about post-op healing and complications. (Some websites are useful, but be careful what the source is and how reliable it is. I think medical textbooks are more reliable.

7. Diet and Physical Therapy

Ask the food staff what kind of diet the patient is on, and make sure it's consistent with the patient profile. Heart surgery? Low sodium. Diabetic? Low sugar. Weak lungs? Ask the physical therapist how the patient is breathing during the exercise sessions.

8. Doctors' Rounds

During meetings with doctors ask for explanations when you don't understand something. Ask for context with answers seem unidimensional. Seek to understand the big and little picture. And ask how every step is fitting into the overall treatment plan.

9. Dig Deeper

If you get a qualitative answer, ask for context:
"He's doing great." "Better than yesterday? Better than others with this condition?"
"His physical therapy didn't go so well." "Worse than yesterday? Worse given his new medication, which should have helped his circulation?"

If you get a vague answer, ask for specifics.
"It's very common." "What percent of people who had this operation get this complication?"
"You shouldn't worry, it's at the beginning stages." "What are the stages, and where does he fall?"
"We're monitoring it." "What are you looking for? What are your alarm signals?"

10. Ask the Patient!

This is the most important one, and something that overrides everything here. Unless the patient can't communicate or think for him or herself, remember that it's not your call. I found myself talking about "him" -- my dad -- right in front of my dad! It's so easy to see someone weak and vulnerable and want to step in and make decisions. To be helpful and competent. Many times, it's valuable to intervene. But no matter what, the patient needs to be involved in that conversation. Ask him how he feels -- that simple question can lead to valuable insights. And remember that ultimately the patient is the one who decides if he can handle the next level of physical therapy, wants another painkiller, will or won't go through with surgery, or prefers vanilla or chocolate pudding.

Closing thoughts:

Perhaps some readers in the medical profession will consider these questions inconvenient. "All these sisters and wives and fathers think they're doctors now that they have google. Second guessing, making me waste my time with elementary definitions." There is some truth to that. Trying to prove your expertise or acting like the medical staff are pulling a fast one on you isn't the way to go. But seeking information, showing you're aware at every juncture and making sure that all parts of the very complex medical organism treating your beloved patient are communicating and doing their best -- is.

When I got back to the hospital, I requested my dad's case history. The nurse said I need to go through the medical records office, which opens tomorrow at 8. And then he said, "When I was in the hospital, I asked a ton of questions. Why are you doing this? What is that medicine for? People around here don't do a lot of asking. They're trained to think of medical professionals as gods. It's great you're asking. It's so important."

[image credit:]

November 11, 2010

Is there anything I can do to help?

A few years ago, a friend's mother died. She was not just the mom of a friend, though, but a sweet, kind old woman who I had dinner with a handful of times, during a summer I spent in Seattle.

When she died, I froze. I waited a few days, to give my friend some space. They were so close, and they'd spent so much time together near the end; and we weren't such tight friends that I felt it would be right to call immediately. She was surely talking with family and her closest friends, making arrangements, mourning.

I waited another day or two, remembering how little I wanted to hear from others in the weeks after my grandmother died. Every time they offered their sympathies on the phone I started crying again.

And then, I started worrying: "Days have passed and I haven't called or said anything. Email is cold. A phone call is too invasive. The best thing to do, now, would be to send a card."

I bought a card, and then I looked at it for a long time.

I didn't know what to say.

I still haven't sent that card.

I have never forgiven myself for that.

Today, thanks to the kindness and wisdom of those around me in this difficult week, I know what to say, next time someone has a trying experience, falls ill, or dies:

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

My dad is doing a lot better. We're hoping he'll come home in a few days, and I am grateful for every minute that I still have both parents on this earth. Thank you for your stories and encouraging words. I read them and reread them at dark moments and they gave me hope. Thank you.

This whole week, I've gotten phone calls, texts and emails from people who shared similar stories and asked a version of this question.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

It was so good to know people from the west coast to Eastern Europe were thinking about him and offering support. I didn't feel people were imposing or bothering me -- as I had worried my friend might feel, if I called. I didn't find the emails impersonal or not "meaningful" enough given the severity of the situation. Every new message from someone who cared was a caress.

And now I know what to say, next time something sad happens to someone whose pain I could alleviate.

"Let me share a story with you. And is there anything I can do to help?"

November 05, 2010

Screw policy: Let us into his ICU room?

Ten feet from the pale green plastic reclineable armchair in which I write, my father is asleep.

Machines are helping his lungs breathe and his heart pump.

Familiar liquids seep through strange tubes, while the regular suck and blow of the respirator does the work his excavated body cannot.

It's been 18 hours since his heart attack, 8 hours since I landed in McAllen, Texas, to be with him.

He had two blocked arteries, which called for two surgeries. One open-heart: triple bypass.

I got to see to him before the second surgery. "It took a heart attack," he teased limply when he saw me. I held his air-conditioned hand, rubbed his back, and we talked about what he'd dream when he goes under. Greece. He went to Greece on vacation, last year, and calls the cliffside temple at Sounion the most sacred and beautiful place on the planet.

"The same wind that beats those rocks blew on the Greeks as they built this temple. You go there and time stops," he told me.

I answered with stories from recent travels and bribed him with the promise of grandchildren.

"Be strong, Tata."


Four hours later, the heart surgeon came out, looked me right in the eyes and nodded.

"No complications."

"We'll have him awake in the morning."

"I was actually surprised at how good his heart looked."

"All that smoking."

"Make sure he does his physical therapy and he should be able to leave in 5 days."

My eyes fell on the surgeon's hands. They moved subtly, efficiently, as he punctuated his message with minute gestures. But there was also something loose and soft about those movements, and it occurred to me that his control over his instruments is more precise and more nuanced than anything you or I could imagine. I wanted to kiss his hands.

The only problem, all things considered, is that the nurse in the ICU didn't want to let us into the room, saying that on the first night visitors are not allowed. My stepmother and I were there, and my sister is arriving in a few hours.

"You can stay for a minute. The first night is critical, so we want to be able to monitor him with no one in the room."

"I know the first night is critical, and he is extremely important to me, so that's why I want to be here."

"I know he's very important to you, and I'm sorry. We'll take good care of him. We'll wake him up tomorrow morning, so you can come back around 8."

That is when I told her his cardiologist and his heart surgeon gave the OK for an overnight stay, and we will stay out of the way, in that corner over there. If two or three people are too many, we'll take turns because we don't want to make their job hard. We simply want to be there, just in case.

I didn't say this, but here's what else I meant: I will stay in the room, because you don't fly 8 hours and watch your father get wheeled away on a gurney for his second heart surgery in 24 hours so you can then lie awake in a bed 2 miles from his hospital room and trust others to take very good care of him, hoping no one is under the weather that night, talking on a cell phone while changing an IV drip, coughing into a glove, getting distracted while adding a decimal point, pumping him with heavy sedatives if he starts walking up before 'schedule' or giving anything less than their live-giving best.

"That's our policy. Let me get the charge nurse so she can explain."

She left.

I picked up my cell phone and called his cardiologist, who had given me his cell number.

"Dr. S____? It's Roxana. I'm sorry to bother you, but you said I could call if I had any questions. The nurse is saying we can't stay in the room. You told me we could stay overnight, and I want to be there, especially because it's his first night after surgery, but she's saying that's against the hospital's policy. Can you please talk to her?"

I was flustered. He thought I was someone else. He asked me to repeat myself, which I did, more calmly. Then he asked me to put the charge nurse on the phone. She talked for a minute in hushed tones, then told me it was fine. We can stay.

So here I am. Ten feet from my sleeping, sedated daddy. Now I'm not sure what else to do but wait, hope, write.

[image source]

November 04, 2010

Wedding Priorities

Five things are non-negotiable:

1. The bride and groom.
2. The guests. We're not the kind of people to cut the wedding list in half so everyone coming can get nicer favors. Once we decided we'd only invite family and close friends, that means there is no room or desire to trim.

3. The budget.
4. The decision to get married in a church, especially since our families desire that.

5. Our compulsive desire party late into the night. We met at tango, we're both nightowls, and we both happen to have this vision of an espresso cart rolling in around 1 a.m., fueling a frenzied second wind...

Everything else -- the food, the music, the location, the season, the dress, the flowers, the presence or absence of a gypsy violinist to serenade the guests they imbibe a custom or non-custom cocktail -- is up for discussion. Not to say we don't have preferences (some of them strong), but as long as we consider every other element of the wedding as optional, we'll a) have more bargaining power and b) not make decisions that push us beyond our budget, regardless of that bargaining.

Next: The budget!

The Wedding Asking Challenge

In a few months, I will take the hand of Mr. A and not release it until either of us passes to the great beyond.

And that calls for a party!

I've heard that wedding planning is a minefield. Vendors jack up the price the second you say "family dinner on a Saturday" and everyone seems to have an opinion about what you should and shouldn't do, serve, write, stay, wear.

Fortunately, I'm used to pretending to carefully listen to opinions I don't agree with and then totally disregarding them. Growing up with a dad who has a drastically different political persuasion from my own has been perfect training. ;)

And fortunately, by now I'd consider myself a fairly experienced asker in the retail and service realms.

With this in mind, here I am going to outline a new project.

The Wedding Asking Challenge

1. Mr A and I will make a list of priorities and we will plan the wedding so those are met.  (DONE)
2. Mr. A and I will make a budget and do our best to adhere to it. (DONE)
3. I will try to negotiate every single item on that budget list, from wedding dress to ceremony music. Either I will bring down the dollar value or build more value into goods and services where the price stays the same.
4. I will make exceptions for vendors who are providing exceptional value. The point is not to extract money just because, but to get a non-inflated, non-wedding price for goods and services.
5. Every dollar that falls below the budgeted amount will go into an investment account which we'll use for a house down payment or another similar goal.
6. Along the way, I'll voice record some interactions and save all emails, so anyone planning a wedding (or similar endeavor) in the future can benefit from my experiences.

Ready? Set? GO!

November 02, 2010

How are you voting on Prop 19?

Last night Mr. A and I went to Jem and K-meister's house for vanilla bourbon tea.

A conversation about wedding planning took a sharp turn about an hour in, when we starting talking about project management of all things. Another hour later (it's a hot topic, what can I say) the evening was dying down -- it was past 11 after long days at work for everyone -- when I asked something out of the blue:

"How are you guys voting on Prop 19?" (Legalizing pot)

This was a leading question, since I could have guessed how they would vote the next day.

But that started a conversation that took us through various propositions, political ideals, budget concerns, social priorities. Democracy in action... Voters weighing the issues that mattered to them... Disagreeing, persuading, questioning, considering, arguing, listening, participating... It was a blast.

And now, before I get all misty eyed, let me wish all U.S. readers a happy election day!

[image source]

November 01, 2010

And all she had to do was ask


Today, at approximately 7:10 p.m., I did something not so nice.

I was at Trader Joe's and I had a small basket of items, and there was an abandoned cart full of stuff, hovering by the checkout line. The guy in front of it was paying, so I waited a bit longer and when no one showed up, I moved forward and prepared to unload my stuff.

When from behind me, I heard a shrill voice.

"Well GEE, that was nice!"

I turned around and saw a woman looking at me like I was the cheerleader who had stolen her boyfriend, the roommate who stealth snacked on her ice cream, the grad student who just 'borrowed' a few ideas from a labmate's email and put her name on the presentation.

A thief.

I had stolen her spot, while she was picking up a few items she'd forgotten.

It took me a second to react, because -- small world -- I thought I recognized her! Surprised, I took a closer look and saw it wasn't my old boss, but wow -- the resemblance was uncanny. And by the time I snapped out of it and started to move, she was gone, muttering something.
Yes, I cut.

No, I didn't get out of the way instantly.

But what if she'd said:

"Hey, thanks for watching my stuff -- can I hop back in now?"

"Excuse me, I was here before and I ran to get these lentils."

"Hi. Can I get back in line?"

"Are you in a rush? [No.] Then can I go? I've had a long day."

"The cashier didn't tell you? I asked him to hold my spot while I grabbed these."

Instead, she yelled and was sarcastic and I, surprised, didn't rush to oblige. She huffed away and I felt slimy.

What if she'd assumed we weren't antagonists (and recognized her cart at the front of the line was not a sacrosanct placeholder). What if she made it easy to resolve the situation in her favor?

I guess the lesson of sorts I'm extracting from this situation is what to do when someone pulls a fast one on me -- cuts me in line, gives me the wrong change, forgets (or "forgets") to follow up on something, does something jerky (or seemingly jerky). Sometimes I need to stick up for myself and shout GEE! But other times giving them an out, letting them save face, assuming they didn't mean to hurt me, asking for the desired outcome rather than threatening or demanding it, and generally making it easy rather than hard (emotionally, socially, physically, who knows how else?) to reach a positive resolution may be the best course of action.