Friday, July 31, 2009

on this Friday at the end of July

I'm so excited about our trip to PEI tomorrow, and for so many reasons:
  • Nick and I get to go back to our very favorite place on earth
  • We can't wait to see Ellen, Pam and Howard and we're psyched to meet Joanne, Howard's fiancee
  • weather permitting we can ride
  • we'll see the work that's been done since we left; the dining room and all the guest rooms are finished (to see a before and after view of the master bedroom look at
  • we'll get away from the news bubble and spend a week outside the reach of birthers, bigots and beer
  • we won't hear about Glen Beck (heinous and either unstable or playing the role of someone unstable) or Lou Dobbs (he should be ashamed)
  • Holly will have her first kennel experience; Nick drops her off today at a place he's used before that he is very happy with. Lots of doggie play dates and they can start and sustain a barking chain (I still remember that phrase from the animated "101 Dalmatians"
  • we'll miss the insane Republican campaign to demonize Obama's health care plan -- the way they're stoking fear is both familiar and disturbing (the stuff about killing old people is just beyond the pale)
  • no makeup for a week
  • we have room enough for everyone and Susan did a spectacular job on the bedrooms (as she did with everything) and I'm really proud of the way everything looks
  • the most stressful thing we'll do is figure out what we're doing for dinner, and what our cycling route should be

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

cautionary tale -- one more detail

this is the group I was referring to:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The phantom tollbooth

Matt was here on Sunday night, briefly. He was accompanied by two friends from camp. The guy is clearly an English major -- made a beeline to the bookcases. We seem to have similar taste in books, and chatted about the linguistics books we've read. His girlfriend, Matt and I got into a discussion of the Phantom Tollbooth -- turns out its a favorite of all of ours. We talked about subtraction stew and division dumplings and the Lethargarians, about Alex, whose people are born at their eventual height and grow downwards, about Rhyme and Reason and the warring kingdoms of words and numbers. A completely fulfilling few minutes; wish it could have lasted. I'm so glad Matt is back -- the wonderful, sweet Matt I knew for so many years. He looks healthy and happy and engaged and resolved, and I couldn't be happier. Thanks, Milo.

Casting calls

Liv had her first one today. First one ever. She went to meet a casting director, which was arranged by Jen (thanks, Jen.) Not much detail -- they met, they talked, photos were taken. The woman thought Liv was adorable (Liv's reaction when we talked: is that good? Yes, I said, of course it's good.) More details as they become available. Maybe we've just started something.

a cautionary tale

I wasn't blogging last year when this happened, hence the delay. But I'll start with the warnings:
  • if you're ever referred in NY to an oral surgeon named William Weber, run the other way.
  • if you're ever told that the only solution to your problem is an apicoectomy, get another opinion.

Clearly I didn't know about either of these when I went to Weber to treat a massive infection, which he told me was the result of a failed root canal. No options were given and I was told that I had to have this procedure on an upper right molar. I was too out of it to ask questions, and besides, I assumed the guy knew what he was doing. Big fancy office, impressive practice, referred by my long-time dentist. (this alone demonstrates the problem with patient-generated referrals; we're just not knowledgable enough to evaluate doctors and use a set of metrics to judge docs that has little to do with their actual skill.)

He screwed up - created a hole between my mouth and my sinus. Technically it's called a "communication" which needless to say I found endlessly ironic. My amusement ended when I suddenly developed a severe sinus infection. I ended up in his office every day for a week, seeing whoever was available, and being told again and again that nothing was wrong. Finally, finally, finally one of them took a panoramic xray, saw that my sinuses were full and gave me antibiotics. For months I was constantly sick and constantly being treated. No one would tell me what was going on or what had happened (it wasn't until months later when a had a CT scan that the hole was seen and then known.)

When I decided that this now intractable problem needed to be treated by someone who actually knew what they were doing -- an ENT -- I asked the office to forward the films. Endless delays. Films were in Weber's office. They weren't accessible. But that was nothing. When I called again to ask the assistant one more time for the films he told me he needed to speak with Weber, and when he came back he told me this -- to me one of the most damning things of all: "Dr. Weber doesn't think you should see an ENT. He says you should come back to him and he'll treat you -- no charge."

Did he learn nothing from Watergate? It's not the crime, it's the cover-up. And that's exactly what it was. This same doc who did a procedure that shouldn't be done on a upper tooth because of proximity to the sinus, this same doc who never told me that there was an alternative -- pulling the tooth, this same doc who never told me that sinus involvement was a risk, this same doc who dodged and obfuscated and obstructed -- offered to treat me for free.

The eventual outcome was that after 6+ months of chronic, severe and intractable sinus infections I had to have sinus surgery last August. It helped. Problem isn't gone but it's better.

Why didn't I sue? Good question. I actually spoke with two different medical malpractice lawyers. The first problem was that this particular injury falls between the cracks of medical and dental malpractice; highly specialized and few were comfortable in this area. The second problem was about the eventual result. Both said the same thing -- that the negligence seemed clear and there was definitely fault. But that the eventual award wouldn't justify years of litigation.

So with few options available to me, all I can do is what I'm doing here -- getting this on record and warning anyone I can to avoid this doc and be skeptical about this procedure.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Unfinished business

A couple of things are still up in the air, or yet to happen, but here are the big ones:

1. finalize the divorce. Not up to us -- we've done our part and it's all filed. Now we wait as the divorce wends its way through the NY judicial system.

2. sell the house. I don't envy anyone trying to sell right now -- it's a bear. We get lots of traffic at the open houses, though much of it is unqualified. People see the signs and walk in off the street. We get a fair amount of "we love the house but can only afford fill-in-the-blank-amount" which is always far less than I can take. We've taken Judy's advice and made some changes to make the house show better. All the advice was great, and the house shows well. Now all we need are some more reasonable offers. I'd rather not wait this out but if I have to, I can. One unintended side effect of the process is that weekends without open houses -- like this one -- feel like a gift.

3. Fix my back. I moved the surgery up to 9/2 (I had delayed it a week because of a family party being planned for that week; when the party was canceled I was able to move the surgery.) As is my wont I research the surgery pretty thoroughly, but as is also my wont I'm far more interested in what happens after the surgery than I am in what happens during the surgery. I was hoping for a "what to expect when you're..." book or article, but haven't found one. No surprise -- tons of crap on line about this (as well as everything else) but I've found some worthwhile info.

We'll get there. All of these things will happen in the relative short term, and they're key to our ability to move on. They loom, though. I don't feel like I'm living under the sword of Damocles -- it's not that dire. But these things most definitely weigh on me, and I'll be relieved when I'm on the other side of this unholy trio of events.


Yesterday was a beautiful day to ride, and Nick took his new bike out for the first time. It's a hybrid so much lighter and nimbler than his old bike. For the first time he had no problem catching up with me and rode without the usual discomfort he feels in his hips and legs. Amazing what the right equipment can do. This time I didn't have to stop along the way to wait for him; he was right behind me every step of the way. And on the long straightaway where I like to pass the slower riders he more than kept up. A very nice ride -- about 18 miles at the beach with no real wind.

We were hoping to ride today but the weather seems uncooperative. In any case we feel ready for our cycling trip with the gang in PEI the week after next. And that trip should put us in good stead for the long (66 mile) ride in Montauk we signed up for in late August. That ride will be my last hurrah before the spine surgery.

Liv is home

We picked her up at the airport late Friday. She looked great -- happy, tanned and smiling if exhausted. When she came home from Ghana last summer she was also happy, but also bitten, bruised and scarred. She liked the trip, but clearly preferred the Ghana experience, where the kids really engaged with the people in the village, and they worked together. This trip was more of a tourist experience, though the places where they spent their time -- Oxford, Paris, Florence -- are pretty spectacular. This time she came home the same person she was when she left; she came back from Ghana changed. But it's so great to have her home. It took a while to get out of the airport for all the hugging -- every possible combination of the 30 or so kids had to hug or be hugged.

She brought us beautiful and thoughtful gifts -- wallets for me and Nick from the Florence market and beautiful teal gloves for me from Madova. She's still jet-lagged and on European time, and she and her Putney friends are planning immediate get-togethers for this week. She loved the people on this trip.

To me one of the oddest things about her return was the fact that all of her dirty clothes were neatly packed. We're talking about Olivia here; the same Olivia whose room is normally so toxic that only a HazMat team is trained enough to deal with. When I asked, she told me that a Japanese girl on the trip -- the one she described as the coolest kid in the whole group -- is a neat freak who insisted that Olivia get organized and helped her re-pack. Wish I could hire hire.

Welcome home, Liv!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Meet Tracy

Tracy is my Canadian bike. Not as light, fast or nimble as Ruby (the NY bike) but better for the Confederation Trail. Technically she's a cross bike. And no, I don't name all my possessions -- I'm not that weird (I prefer "quirky".) Ruby is the actual name of the Specialized women's road bike, and Tracy seemed a natural for a bike actually called TCX. No reflectors -- our friends at Smooth Cycle said high-end bikes don't have them (don't high-end bikes get ridden in the dark?) Reminds me of the time I bought a new bike and asked for a kickstand. The guys in the store are probably still laughing.

PEI Headlines of the day

Ghiz government expands the 'spin machine'

Kendra MacGillivray to head College of Piping

Swine flu blamed for crash in Japanese tourism

$13.3M in crab loans go to auditor for answers

Two more swine flu cases diagnosed on P.E.I.

on Scrabble

We play all the time, but the games and the tenor of the games has changed. When we began I was by leaps and bounds the superior player, and I played with relaxed arrogance -- multitasked when I played -- reading, TV, going on line etc. But Nick is a quick study and got better. Much better. He started out as many people do, mistaking what is really a math and strategy game for a word game. He played words he liked, with little regard for strategy. But that changed. He no longer plays words just because they're cool, he pays close attention to the board, anticipates what I'm going to do (and when he can he reads through the Scrabble dictionary for ideas.) And so he started to win. Not often, but occasionally, and the wins were squeakers. The games are tighter, faster and we're much closer. I still win most of the time, but his victories are no longer few and far between. When he wins it's usually by a hair but not always -- a few days ago I was humbled by his nearly 100-point win. I no longer do other things when we play -- I pay attention. And I take him much more seriously as an adversary. All of which combines to make the games much more fun.

I love it that he now effortlessly uses words like eth and von . He hates v's -- his least favorite letter. He also doesn't like having only one-point words (I don't mind -- when I do a seven-letter word it's usually made up of one pointers.

This weekend, part 2

other reasons why this will be a good weekend:

  • Sarah Palin steps down
  • We can track Bobby Jindal's breathtaking hypocrisy
  • more info will no doubt emerge about C Street, John Ensign and Mark Sanford
  • I can read more of my new book by Oliver Saks -- Musicophilia
  • scrabble (more on this in a separate post)
  • the NJ corruption scandal (I love a thumping good scandal)
  • we can plan for the 8/1 PEI trip with the guys

This weekend

It should be a good one. A couple of reasons why:

  • Liv comes home today
  • We're not having an open house this weekend
  • We both have a manageable but not overwhelming amount of work to do
  • Nick's going to take his new bike when we ride; it's a hybrid and much lighter, nimbler and faster than the sofa on wheels mountain bike now living in Canada
  • we're seeing Gena and Peter Saturday night
  • there will be plenty of time to relax, hang out, play games and read (and in my case write)


Olivia comes home today. I'm working from home this morning and in the early afternoon Nick and I will go pick her up from the airport. On Wednesday she called, weeping. She was pickpocketed on a public bus in Florence, and they got her cash and cards. She didn't even know it had happened, so clearly an expert job. For a few hours she was understandably upset, and told me that: 1. she was upset; 2. she didn't feel well; 3. she wanted to come home; 4. she wanted to come home NOW.

She calmed down over the next few hours. I canceled her cards and arranged for the leaders to lend her some cash. She didn't lose her passport, which saved us a world of trouble. But for the last couple of days of her trip she was a little bereft: no phone (that bit the dust early in the trip), no cash, no cards. But by the afternoon her messages changed, and she told me that she'd be singing at a coffee house that evening (need to get more details on that.)

And today the trip is over. It'll be great to have her home. Holly will explode with joy when she sees her.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sociology and the subway

I've stumbled onto what's turning out to be an interesting experiment in sociology: what happens on the subway when you're standing and use a cane? I've been taking the subway to work much more frequently, having grown impatient with the morning traffic. And so twice a day I get on the train -- the E, F, or V. It is rare to find a seat right away. Sometimes someone gets up right away, and it's as likely to be a woman as a man. Sometimes no one gets up, and I watch people studiously ignore me. Two days ago the experiment got even more interesting -- someone joined my experiment and added the element of shame. A man came over to me -- also standing -- and asked me in a voice louder than it needed to be how far I was going and was I trying to get a seat. As he talked to me he looked at the able-bodied people seated closest to us, and they buried themselves in whatever they were doing as though they wanted to sink into the train floor. But no one moved. A pregnant woman was standing next to me and no one moved for her either. Right now I'd say it's about 50/50. Half the time someone yields their seat to me, and half the time I stand the entire time. When I'm feeling charitable I count it as part of the experiment. When I'm feeling less charitable one thought consumes me: "I hope this person shows up at my shop for a job interview."

Starting next week I'm going to start taking note of the demographics of the people who yield so there's some data to enrich my experiment.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our house in winter

This was on our second trip to see houses; we came up here laser-focused on buying a different house. But things looked different on the return viewing; the original one somehow shrank in size and diminished in appeal. And the corollary was that this one grew not only in size but in its allure. And since I was less tired and mentally paralyzed this time (day one of house searching took us to over a dozen houses; we saw this one at day's end when I could barely remember my own name) , I could see this house for what it truly was (I think Nick knew all along.)

Olivia's birthday

this year it wasn't a party, and certainly not a Sweet 16. What it was instead was dinner at En Japanese (which calls itself a Japanese bistro) in the meatpacking district for Olivia and about 25 of her friends. Here she is with her best friend Beanee on their way out.

Nick's beautiful daughters

Aren't they gorgeous? Love them and want to spend much more time with them.

a little more Holly

the 24-hour news cycle

We are completely over-saturated, a pattern that began during the election which hasn't truly abated (though I've stopped checking Canada was an incredibly welcome and refreshing departure from the all news all the time groove in which we find ourselves. 2 newspapers a day, the Newshour on PBS, Rachel on MSN, Daily Show and Colbert, daily checks of the Politico, Huffington Post and Wonkette, less frequent but still present checks of Daily Beast and Daily Kos. Has to stop -- can't be healthy, this hyper-focused and almost fetishist obsessing about everything political, the endless punditry, the minor stories over-inflated to maintain the election intensity, the hardening of positions on both right and left. Everything is at fever pitch, and all the time. In Canada we got little news -- quick reads of the Times headlines on line, and whatever we could pick up on CBC radio (they've got a great public radio station broadcast from Moncton, NB.) It was a blessed relief. But of course when we returned home we picked up right where we left off. Hard habit to break. And that obsessing made it all the much harder to deal with the excessive and ridiculous Michael Jackson coverage, which was not only completely out of proportion but eclipsed the real news going on in Iran, in North Korea, and here at home. ok, venting complete.


More us

Nick and I last summer when we were at Ellen's house on the Jersey Shore. Great weekend. Ellen, Pam, Howard and his fiance will be spending a week with us cycling on PEI in less than two weeks. Can't wait!

More Holly

poor Holly -- under-represented here on the blog. So here are 2 photos. She's quite the hit wherever she goes and people fall madly in love with her. We thought of her as bold and brave and fearless but found she has feet (paws?) of clay -- she was completely spooked last PEI trip by a golden retriever named Haynes. As gentle as the cowardly lion, but she wouldn't go near him. Unlike the late great Stella though, she's not afraid of the things that terrified our courageous golden -- rain, lightning, thunder, wind and water.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


an older photo, this one from Montauk. Newer ones to follow. Lots to come from our cycling week upcoming.

Back surgery and books

ok, I'm nervous about going under the knife. Maybe because this time there is a knife; it's not endoscopic or arthoscopic or hell, microscopic. This is open surgery and from what I've been told the incision is between 3 and 6 inches. They call it "roto rooter" surgery, but the technical term is laminectomy. Removal of the lamina. They clear out the canal that's narrowed and impinges nerves, and they do it by removing bone and other tissue. As is typical for me, I'm researching the dickens out of it but tend to concentrate less on the actual surgery and (much) more on the recovery. Finding that info sparse and repetitive. What I was hoping for was a "what to expect when you're..." but can't find it.

In the meantime, I just started Oliver Sacks's new book "Musicophilia." Heard about it on the Daily Show. Interesting and very readable. That's my current NY book. My current Canadian book is "Third Reich at War" by Richard Evans. In between I just read the play "Joe Turner's Come and Gone", to keep alive what we felt when we saw the play a few weeks ago (and sat in the two seats directly behind where the Obamas sat one week earlier.) Nick is about to read a new book about the Bataan death march.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What matters

Among the more obvious:

1. my kids
2. Nick
3. my family
4. Holly
5. Nick's kids and all of his family
6. my friends
7. work
8. PEI
9. politics
10. the economy

Other things I find I care about, some of which are new and surprise me, some of which are enduring and familiar

1. weather
2. neuroscience
3. economics
4. the role of religion in history and in modern life
5. music
6. what's going on in Iran
7. a very clean and neat house
8. investigating the Bush administration for torture
9. the quality of my work and the contributions I can make
10. words and language

And a few more that I don't give a fig about, at least anymore
1. Michael Jackson
2. complexity
3. swine flu
4. our celebrity culture
5. missile defense systems
6. Antiques Roadshow
7. opera
8. the notion that everything happens for a reason
9. learning about gardening
10. being the smartest kid in the class

Things I thought I cared about

but as it turns out, not so much. Some I'm proud of, some I'm ashamed of.

1. climate change
2. name-brand colleges
3. office politics/internecine warfare/jockeying for position
4. getting and taking credit for things with which I'm involved
5. brand-name everything or in truth brand-name anything
6. whether I'm more successful than anyone else
7. variety in what I eat
8. avian flu
9. stuff
10. being right

2 more photos

one that Nick took on the road to Tignish, the other of Nick on a recent fishing trip. He tries to go fishing when I'm on business trips; this one was scheduled though my West Coast trip was canceled. And that's no fish story.

I love words

I love the way they bend and twist and breathe. I love the shape they take and the forms they create as they change over time and through use. I love how they steal (not borrow -- borrow implies that they are returned and once we steal a word from another language we never give it back: it's ours.) I love how they improve and love it just as much when they deteriorate. They are elegant and ugly and vulgar and exquisite; they don't just express thought -- they shape it. They are democratic;words stolen from one language are no better or worse than those stolen from others. The language we create in technology and in popular music is as valid as the oldest Latinate words. Middle and Old English are delicious and you can feel the weight of history they carry. Fluency is sexy and satisfying, and each new coinage is a birth and a wonder. I love the jargon that describes and differentiates fields and professions; its the code of a community that binds it together. I love crazy Scrabble words like aa, ai, oe, qi, za and zek (which we already knew thanks to Solzhenitsyn.) Great word books: Damp Squib, Alphabet Juice, anything by David Crystal.

Re-entry complete

Our return to the real world was abrupt; the glow is hard to sustain. We returned to the 24-hour news cycle, to the constant drumbeat -- Ensign, Sanford, Palin and the death spiral of Republican leaders, to the Sotomayor hearings -- reassuring in their dullness, to the spectacle of GOP governors who denigrated the stimulus now begging for it. We returned to work, which has its own satisfactions.

And to our rhythms, which include our cycling days, scrabble games, seeing friends, mojitos and Holly in the Hills. To enough time to read magazines but not books (I read David Kessler's new book while away; interesting and worthwhile.) To the demands of hosting open houses and keeping the house looking as though no one actually lives here, but is rather a well-maintained property owned by distant though caring and scrupulous owners. We're a good team and share the prep.


The name of John and Abigail Adams's home. It was Nick's idea to name our house Peacefield, after we watched the series and found ourselves so moved by their relationship. His dad made us this sign, which now graces the deck.

more house photos

the family room: where we are and where we began

Holly the fishing puppy

Here's Holly, chewing on her Nova Scotia lobster, completely bi-national and right at home.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Coming home by Rod Serling

Our return trip was one of the strangest ones I've ever had in decades of flying. The small plane (30 seats or so) was 1/3 filled and the flight itself was fine. It didn't get weird -- and I mean Twilight Zone weird -- until we landed at JFK. We were shuttled to another gate and met by the most confused passport control group I've ever seen. They were surprised to see us, completely disorganized and as it turns out had no idea this plane was landing. To a person everyone said that they weren't expecting the flight. Eerie, particularly since it suggests that air traffic might have been unaware of us as well. The confusion spread to immigration, baggage (lost and not returned till the next day) and every other interaction in the airport as we tried (and mostly succeeded) in staying calm, getting our stuff and getting the hell out of Kennedy. Odd, odd, odd.

Next time: Moncton (New Brunswick)

Now the best traveler among us -- Holly -- maintained her stride. Never whined, never messed, never made a peep until we were in the taxi. Ah, to be a Jack Russell. She was extremely happy to get home where she has run of the house (as opposed to the PEI house where I am preserving the rugs and furniture and therefore barring her from much of the place.)

Photos to come; will post this weekend.

post and pre PEI

Until we go back in a few weeks we stay in touch remotely. Nick checks in with Randy (caretaker), I check in with Susan (designer), and to fill in the gaps we check Charlottetown weather (about the same as NY), monitor the currency exchange (volatile), read the PEI news (much agri-news, some fishing, not much else) and listen to the Celtic music we grew so fond of the last time. Before we left I spent a little time with one of our neighbors, who volunteered info about his living (I didn't ask, somehow it doesn't seem Canadian), and he told me that he worked for McCain's (big agribusiness) and that more specifically he was in potatoes. I didn't probe to see exactly what he does with potatoes; it seemed too pushy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Country music and fishbowls

First - the neighbors. We're meeting many of them; they're warm but diffident (they all want to see what we've done with the house but won't ask outright to see it.) Many of them were talking yesterday about last night's big event -- a Tim McGraw concert. Much love of country music here. It's interesting, actually. We had dinner at a place last night with live music -- country -- and the singer/guitarist played country versions of what were actually songs by Canadians -- the Band, Neil Young -- but tried to sing them as though he were from West Virginia.

Dinner itself was noteworthy. We went to a place called the Island Stone Pub in Kensington; found it when we stopped for a drink after cycling yesterday. The place has only been around a few months, and when I ordered a drink there was much excitement and merriment. Nick and I were puzzled at all the brouhaha --- they said I was the first to order it.

Here's what happened: in my (typical) haste, I didn't bother to read the intro to the 3-drink menu -- the part that said each drink, for $30, was served in a fishbowl, included six shots and came with 4 or 5 straws. Everyone in the pub was looking and laughing, and I told the waitress that I'd broken one of the very few rules I have -- never order any embarassing food or drink. If nothing else I gave everyone at the place a big laugh, and for that alone it was worth it. Did my best to live up to expectations but barely made it through half the bowl. And I shudder to think about what happened to the fish.

Friday, July 10, 2009

PEI food

There's good news, and less good news. The good news is that the food is local and wonderful -- nearly everything comes from local farms: berries that burst with summer, incredible seafood, fresh dairy, just-picked vegetables (great potatoes, I'm told.) The less good news is that the cooked restaurant food isn't suited to me (yes, I know, much food isn't.) Everything is larded is pork, swimming in butter and oil. I think the belief is that everything's better with a little more cheese on it. For simple, grilled food we're on our own. We bought a grill and had it delivered today -- where there's a grill, there's hope. And the drinking -- my oh my -- quite a lot of drinking. Decent local wine (our favorite comes in a box from a store that says it's a "magasin de alcools."


Attended our first ceilidh last night, to which we were invited by our caretaker and his wife. Great fun. It was held in a women's club in Stanley Bridge, and was made up mostly of story telling, Irish and Scottish music. But the standout was Kate the fiddler. In her 20's, I'd say, and a spectacular musician. That's one of the things that strikes me most -- the island is brimming with music, and out in a tiny hall on a country road you can find a virtuosic musician and for $10 (Canadian) spend an entire evening listening to music that touches you to the core. The jokes and stories were long in the tooth, but contributed to a lovely evening. Intermission consisted of ice cream and berries (no, of course I didn't have any ice cream, and yes of course Nick did.)

I think we've caught the ceilidh bug. They're held all over the island nearly every night of the week, and we both plan to attend as many as we can. Nick overflows with the wonder of it all -- it shows on his face, particularly in his eyes. It's a never-ending adventure, and there's much to experience and almost too much to learn.

There were a few NY jokes sprinkled through the night, but Tom -- the ceilidh lead -- clearly stopped paying attention to the city after the 70's, and his jokes are all about the infestation of crime that plagued the town. The kids at the hall -- there were many of them -- laughed along. We tried to smile without cynicism.

More will than skill

2 injuries in the last 24 hours (the only ones on the trip, begorrah.) Both were worth it -- the first came yesterday when I dove to return one of Nick's ping-pong smashes. Worth it -- I made the save but lost the point, and in the process went flying (slow motion, as these things always happen) into the wall. Flew into the wall and evenly hit my elbow and my lower back (of course.) Bruised and banged up but fine.

And today I stopped too suddenly on our 36-kilometer ride (Kensington to Kinkorra) and fell off the bike. Landed mostly on my knee. More souvenirs of the trip. But we scouted a great portion of the trail for our friends arrival in a few weeks. I may be the only traveler in tomorrow's extreme heat wearing long sleeves and long pants to mask my injuries, but all in service of an excellent cause. I've always known that when it comes to things athletic I have more will than skill.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Getting ready

Much of this week was spent getting everything ready for when our cycling friends come early August. Pam, Ellen, Howard, his fiancee Joanne arrive a day or so after we land here, so much prep and things to be laid in. We're such novices here (around here people like us are called folks from away) and so much to explore that we'll be far from expert, and can discover together. Nick spent the afternoon doing things about the house -- hooks and rods, shower curtains and the new mailbox. While he worked I rested from the cycling morning reading a new history of the Third Reich. Game or two of Scrabble, some ping pong, visits from neighbors -- all lovely. Was planning to lunch with the designer but it was the first beautiful day here so far and had to be spent cycling. Want to maximize cycling both to prepare for a long ride in Montauk late August and to get in as much as I can before the September spinal surgery. Also scouted out places to take the kids when they arrive later in August.

Matt couldn't be happier in camp; Liv is leaving Oxford today and boarding a train for Paris.

We're quite swept up with this place -- the people (shockingly down to earth), the mix of cultures (Miqmaq -- the Indians, Acadian, Scottish, Irish, Canadian), the simplicity and beauty of this place. Someone here told me that the attitude of local government is that things don't need changing; they're fine the way they are. Nice contrast from the ever-forward, ever-upward nature of New York.

Highland Storm

Last night at the College of Piping (abbreviated, oddly, as COP) for opening night of their new production. Quite fantastic -- a Celtic carnival of dance, piping, drumming, fiddling and singing. 80% professional production; 20% school play (the youngest dancer -- 10 -- was the daughter of the man beside me.) In the words of my (very non-Celtic) people, he was kvelling. In an outdoor amphitheater and a tremendous night. Tomorrow night at 7 we go to our first ceilidh at Stanley Bridge. Will report post. Today cycling on the Confederation Trail for a few hours. New bike (nicknamed Tracy; official bike name TCX) very well-suited for the surface. Big day for Holly tomorrow -- the invisible fence lady comes to train her, and she'll find out what that collar is really about.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rethinking Brand Relationships -- Part 2

Rethinking Brand Relationships: Closing In
What it takes to build loyalty in today's marketplace
By Wendy Lurrie
Economic setbacks. Warp-speed technological change. Shifting consumer psychology. Demands for
results right now. Given the challenges we face today, reevaluating the ways we think as marketers
and engage with consumers is imperative to building lasting brand loyalty. Last month, my article
Rethinking Brand Relationships explored implications for brand relationships and brand experiences.
Here, I put the spotlight on the ways consumers interact with brands along the path to purchase.
Purchase Process: From Linear Path to Limitless Maze
As the power of peer-to-peer communication has joined forces with the flood of information available
to anyone with Internet access, the way consumers seek and source information, make decisions,
and move along continuum from awareness to purchase and beyond has radically changed.
Yesterday's comparatively orderly, linear path has become a complex, multidimensional maze. In
some categories, especially those popular with Gen Y and Millennial consumers, peer opinions now
have greater influence than virtually anything marketers or so-called "experts" say or do.
Drowning in Information, Paralyzed by Choice
But as side-to-side (peer-to-peer) influence replaces top-down communication between institutions
and individuals, consumers must cope with a distressing consequence: The quality of information
keeps degrading as the quantity of information grows. And, at this point, the flow of information —
good and bad — is a deluge.
The Problem with Self-Serve Expertise
When confronted with too many options, consumers tend to opt out. This tendency is encouraged by the fact that the burden for decisionmaking
— formerly handled by professionals and experts — has shifted to the buyer's shoulders. It's not just the number of decisions
required to purchase a premium cup of coffee or a hair care or toothpaste product. Travel planning, which once involved travel agents, is now
largely self-serve. Even complex businesses like insurance and financial services now invite consumers to figure out decisions as difficult as
retirement planning for themselves.
The net result: The explosion of information, choice, and options and the simultaneous erosion of confidence in institutions have created a
world where true expertise is often needed but not readily available. People literally do not know who or what to trust.
The Opportunity for Marketers: Become Part of the Solution
Any consumer problem as prevalent and serious as today's information overload creates opportunities for marketers with solutions. However,
before consumers will accept the solutions we offer, we need to rebuild trust. And the way to start is by getting close-in — close-in to the
consumer and also close-in to the transaction.
􀁺 Close-in to the consumer. It is typical in today's corporations for customer-facing activities like distribution and customer service to
be cordoned off inside the enterprise and managed by non-customer-facing professionals. That arrangement simply doesn't make
sense today. We need to tear down the walls and bring everyone in the organization closer-in to customers. Everyone needs to hear
what customers are worrying about and saying to one another about the company and its products and services. Everyone needs to
know what is and isn't working. Access is not the problem. We can easily listen to the conversations at customer service, in blogs,
wherever meaningful conversation is happening. This is the starting point that will allow us to constructively destroy the distance
between brands and consumers.
􀁺 Close-in to the transaction. Before we can solve a consumer's problem, we need to understand where the important action is with
the consumer and the brand. Is it really about initial awareness, or is it about giving consumers the value they demand? To find the
answers, we need to get close-in to the transaction. By studying the consumer's experience with the brand, we can learn what they
like and what their frustrations are.
Navigating with the Tools We Have While Developing New Ones:
It's true that unconventional wars require unconventional weapons. To have true insight into the consumer and the transaction, we need
innovative tools, models, and analytics for understanding relationships, measuring experience, benchmarking, planning, and optimizing.
However, the means for acquiring at least a basic understanding of the transactional experience are already at hand. Marketing activities that
drive sales and behavior and allow for tracking with accountability and attribution (direct marketing, digital marketing, targeted promotions,
experiential efforts, and retail programs) allow us to see what works and what doesn't, even if they don't tell us precisely why. They enable us
to sharpen program planning and optimization with data and analytics.
Needed: Better Questions
But the development and deployment of new tools and ways of working is the easy part. The harder part is stepping back from our basic
assumptions about the business we're in and questioning what we're solving for. As a starting point for more successful travels on today's
confusing purchase path, here are three areas to explore.
Question 1: What do consumers want to know? In this labyrinthine new world of decision-making, brands can distinguish themselves by
providing information that consumers need — things like:
Wendy Lurrie, President,
G2 Digital & Direct 7/1/2009
􀁺 expert advice
􀁺 easy-to-reach, well-trained and friendly customer service
􀁺 useful, credible, truth-vetted reviews and opinions
High-value information delivered at relevant junctures, combined with truly service-oriented customer service, builds trust — and trust builds
brands. As Tony Hsieh has proved with Zappos, great customer service can actually become the tie-breaker when consumers are faced with
choice. This neglected asset, which is so often outsourced and generally cordoned off from the rest of the company, can be the key to
persistent loyalty.
Question 2: How do our customers make decisions? As the people who buy our brands travel along on the new, maze-like purchase
path, what are they evaluating and where do we need to be to facilitate their research? How can we raise brands higher in the consideration
Question 3: How can we make the most of the point where expectation meets experience? Companies who align their organizations to
manage the intersection of experience and expectation create a reservoir of good will that serves them well when mistakes happen — which
they will. JetBlue and Apple are good examples. When JetBlue had its weather-related breakdown, when Apple irritated early-adopting
loyalists by reducing pricing on iPhones to attract newcomers, long-term customers ultimately were willing to cut them slack and offer
commercial forgiveness.
The Basic Criteria for Loyalty: Get Them Right!
To achieve the kind of loyalty marketers like Zappos, Apple and JetBlue enjoy, marketers must meet certain key conditions. Here are five of
the most important ones:
1. A deep understanding of customers' expectations and where the real-life experience intersects with those expectations
2. An established relationship built on utility and functionality
3. Communication — sometimes over-communication — about how the company is addressing problems
4. A peer-to-peer tone that demonstrates empathy and understanding of the bond between the organization and the individual
5. A commitment to meeting and exceeding expectations that flows through and informs all the business processes of the organization
— those that are directly customer-centric and those that are indirect but influential (pricing, distribution, customer service, etc.)
As our digital culture continues to grow and give birth to new ways to communicate, the consumer's decision-making style and progress on
the purchase path will almost certainly grow even more complex. So let's fasten our seatbelts, keep our minds wide open, and our eyes and
ears on the consumer.
Wendy Lurrie is president of G2 Digital & Direct, a global marketing services agency network dedicated to brand-building beyond advertising.
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Rethinking brand relationships -- Part 1

Rethinking Brand Relationships
Now is the time to cast a critical eye on the essential building blocks of your business to gain a
new understanding of where connections between consumers and brands really begin
By Wendy Lurrie
As White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously said to the New York Times last fall, "Never
waste a crisis." Inside every crisis is the seed of opportunity — the chance to think in new and different
ways, the chance to return to basics and especially to re-think the basics. The challenges we're facing
today give us both reason and opportunity to reconsider how we think and how we work as marketers,
how we act and how we engage with consumers.
While nearly everything can and perhaps should be rethought, I believe there are certain key
components that are most critical to success and in greatest need of reconsideration in marketing -- two
of which are relationships and experience — both of which are deeply, inextricably linked.
Relationships: Are Brand Relationships Really Like Human Ones?
Traditional relationship marketing (whether known as RM, CRM, direct marketing, customer-centrist marketing or some other descriptor)
holds that emotional and highly engaged connections between brand and consumer are the optimal end state. In any economy, but
particularly in this one, that premise deserves reconsideration. The question is, do brand relationships really adhere to the human pattern, in
which the best relationships are the most intimate, emotional, and engaged ones? Even if they do, does it really make sense to try to recreate
human-to-human relationships with brands?
Despite the best efforts of marketers, only a few brands currently enjoy a clear emotional connection with their consumers, with Apple
perhaps the most frequently cited example. The reasons why Apple enjoys its privileged status — from the exquisite design of its products to
the personal charisma of Steve Jobs — are complex and difficult for most brands to replicate. Far more attainable and potentially as
rewarding for consumer and brand are relationships based not on emotions but on satisfying transactions.
The truth is that for most brands — and, in certain circumstances, for all brands — the essence of the brand-consumer relationship is
transactional. Success is based on utility and performance and the meeting of expectations. What do people really want from their bank or
their breakfast cereal or their cable company? Are they truly seeking an emotional connection, or are they looking for a well-thought-through
and expertly managed transactional relationship where the brand consistently behaves and delivers in a way that is satisfying? Do
consumers change credit cards or cancel cable subscriptions or insurance providers or choose not to buy their next car from their old car
company because of what they see and hear in marketing communications? Or is it because of actions and issues at the transactional and
performance levels?
Just think about the difference between the transactional experience offered online by Netflix and the physical store experience provided by
companies that pioneered the movie rental category. Netflix is a business predicated on making life easier for customers. With its home
delivery and now streaming of videos, its no-late-fees policy, and a hassle-free online experience where even service cancellation is
streamlined, Netflix quickly overcame its late start and took control of a category once owned by less customer-focused competitors.
This is not to say that emotions are unimportant. We all know that establishing trust is absolutely critical in categories from food to finance —
particularly now. Brands like Zappos and Google demonstrate the loyalty-building power of the emotional delight consumers experience
when a brand delivers more than expected. We also know that badge brands succeed by making consumers feel more confident in
themselves and more connected to their tribe.
So the issue up for discussion is not whether emotions matter, but which comes first: Do emotional connections lead consumers to buy
brands, or do successful transactional experiences help create an emotional bond?
In these challenging, anxiety-ridden times, when people are returning to basics and challenging whether they need all the products and
services in their lives, transactional relationships based on brands delivering what they promise and giving the consumer no reason to look
elsewhere make intuitive sense. But the fact is, in any economy, the degree to which the consumer's expectation is matched by the product
or service experience either builds trust or damages it, either begins to create a reservoir of good will or triggers an attitude of skepticism.
The advantages of optimizing the transactional experience for both consumers and marketers are obvious:
 To the consumer, a successful transaction is a promise kept. Successful transactions are concrete, not ethereal or hypothetical. They
are proof that the marketer understands what consumers want and need. And they operate in the very emotional and important
dimension of delivering the value consumers expect for their money.
 For marketers, optimized transactional relationships help melt away the anxiety that surrounds a purchase. In addition, when a
company consistently keeps its promises, the consumer rewards it with loyalty, referral, and even advocacy, effectively creating a
consumer-brand partnership.
 When a brand unfailingly delivers on consumer expectations, it positions itself to generate word-of-mouth recommendations —
creating the spontaneous peer-to-peer connections that increase intimacy, relevance, and credibility. This is particularly important at
a time when top-down marketing approaches are increasingly irrelevant and, even worse, regarded with suspicion by consumers.
 Another benefit: The peer-to-peer process, in turn, gives the marketer valuable feedback about what qualities and actions actually
matter to their consumers.
Wendy Lurrie,
G2 Digital & Direct
Rethinking Brand Relationships Page 1 of 2 5/28/2009
For all of these reasons, we should honor and pursue the transactional bond, rather than denigrating or shying away it.
So we come to the second part of this equation — the brand experience.
Experience: Focus on the Experience and Deliver
In virtually every comparison of online shoe retailers, one name comes out on top: Zappos. As a reviewer for wrote, "Hands down,
my favorite online shoe store. Great selection, lightning-fast shipping, and fabulous customer service. I don't know what I did before"
Zappos, along with a handful of other smart marketers including Netflix, Apple, and, to some extent, Google, illustrate a core principle: The
degree to which the consumer's experience with a brand matches or exceeds their expectation determines customer loyalty and profitability.
This suggests a related principle: In a world where experience defines potential customer value, then the real play and opportunity exist in the
intersection of experience and expectation.
However, for marketers who believe that loyalty lives and dies less because of the power of marketing and marketing communications and
more because of the actual experience a customer has with a brand, the current corporate environment is frustrating. Within most companies
today, marketing communications has little influence over the actual product or service offering. Processes from the way new products are
developed to decisions about pricing and distribution to the consumer's experience at retail and in dealings with customer service are usually
outside marketers' purview or control. In many cases, they are managed through corporate operations, finance, and other departments that
do not even face the customer.
The result is, while advertising and other communications can promise whatever they want, they lack the power to deliver on their promises.
If you think about a cable company, you know that people base their satisfaction and loyalty on factors such as the ease or difficulty of
scheduling an appointment, whether the installation person is on time and responsive, and whether the service actually works well.
Advertising can get customers to call, but it cannot make them loyal and it cannot overcome negative comments from a customer's peers.
Hidden inside every problem is its solution, or at least the path to a solution. And that's true in this case. Today's crisis, which has only
heightened the ongoing marginalization of marketing, presents an opportunity to reevaluate marketers' relationships with consumers and also
their roles within their own organizations. It's time to rethink marketing, to recast it as the capability best suited to understanding and
managing the totality of touch points, intersections, and connections that constitute the complete consumer experience.
In a truly consumer-focused organization, marketing would have the power to help align the service experience to respond to customers' key
demands. Marketers and agency partners should have access to all the business processes, tools, and performance data that make it
possible to audit experience, identify the ruptures, and address the needs.
We particularly need new tools help us see, understand, and maximize the critical intersection where customers' expectations and
experiences meet. We need to hear consumer expectations clearly and to see with crystal clarity the experience we're actually delivering.
New tools for studying and benchmarking consumer expectations are also needed. We need to be able to measure not only what consumers
expect in functional benefits, but also what they demand of the experience. We need to separate what is important to consumers from what is
not. Urgently we need to know exactly how much tolerance they have for errors. It's worth noting that Zappos, Netflix, Google, and others in
the pantheon of today's most successful brands rely on the power of data and technology to continuously improve their process and
Once a marketer knows what the consumer's most important expectations are, and once all the best and worst aspects of the transactional
experience are exposed, the matter of what promises to make and, above all, which ones to keep become glaringly evident. This information
becomes a blueprint for improvement and optimization, ensuring that we make meaningful promises -- and don't create false expectations
with promises that cannot or will not be kept. It can help entire organizations learn to perform in ways that encourage consumer loyalty.
When marketers gain influence in the creation and management of the total experience several important changes will occur:
 The role of experience will be acknowledged and elevated within the corporation.
 People who are by definition customer-facing will be in charge of the customer experience.
 As new tools are developed and marketing takes on a more central role, marketers will finally be in a position to recalibrate and
reorient their organizations toward their primary goal — creating profitable customer engagements.
These anxious times present an ideal occasion for a thoughtful re-examination of conventional wisdom. This is the moment to cast a critical
eye on the essential building blocks of our business, challenge the fundamentals, and gain a new understanding of where connections
between consumers and brands really begin, what constitutes experience and how decisions are made in corporations. If we do that this
"crisis" will indeed not be wasted.
Wendy Lurrie is president of G2 Digital & Direct, a global marketing services agency network dedicated to brand-building beyond advertising.
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Rethinking Brand Relationships Page 2 of 2 5/28/2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ping Pong

ok, table tennis. Nick is building the table here from a kit that would have made IKEA proud (though it's better made, which isn't saying much.) But it's black! Odd, but suits this New Yorker well. I'd love to come recuperate from my surgery here, but it'll be too hard to manage. Photos to come.

What I'd like

to be here as much as possible, to steal away at any and every opportunity and be here with Nick in this beautiful house (made beautiful by Susan Snow) and do the things we love -- cycling (the Confederation Trail is deservedly known as one of the top cycling destinations in the world, reading, playing games, discovering PEI (which will take years, after which we'll explore the Cape Bretton Islands, New Brunwick, Nova Scotia, and eventually Newfoundland and Labrador), playing with Holly, getting all 4 of our kids up here, cooking, puttering about the house, writing, playing guitar. A magical place and there's nowhere on earth where we're happier (or as they say around here, nowhere we're more content.) Now if Joe would let me open up a Canadian branch of G2...

The road to Tignish

Much to be learned (learnt) here in Canada. Among our newest discoveries: 1. very dog-friendly place; Holly is a big hit (and has been variously described many ways, the most memorable of which is as a "very busy dog." 2. Canadian Tire is a great store, and to our surprise sells nearly everything, the least of which is tires. Tremendous alternative to the dread Wal-Mart. 3. A vigorously green province, PEI requires that trash be sorted four different ways. This to me is higher math and well beyond my ken. Falls squarely in Nick's sphere of influence. 4. Sunday dinner apparently takes place at 4:00, and it's not uncommon to be served the interesting combination of burgers and lobster. 5. Canadian Scrabble is identical to US Scrabble (we expected more u's.) 6. Setting up house is more and more like being a new bride, but a wiser one. 7. PEI is the most Scottish of all Canadian provinces, and we will honor the heritage this week by attending an event at the nearby College of Piping (contrary to my original thinking it has nothing to do with sewing, cake decorating or plumbing. It's all piping, all the time.) We've also been invited later in the week to a ceilidh. Report to follow.

Back surgery

What I'm not looking forward to: back surgery in September. Scheduled to deal with what apparently is spinal stenosis, plus a cyst. Somewhat nervewracking: open surgery (vs. the hip arthoscopy earlier this year.) Wish I could recup at PEI but probably not possible. Deciding if I want the scar vertical or horizontal (leaning horizontal because as everyone I work with knows I prefer the horizontal to the vertical. At least when it comes to organizational approach; will have to see if the same thinking applies to this vastly different situation. In the meantime trying to get as much activity (most cycling and general working out) under my belt before I surrender my body to the surgeon.


We're putting a hummingbird feeder in the backyard; need to find out how to fill it (sugar water, we think.) Trying to train the puppy on the invisible fence. Thinking about writing a book, using as a starting point the recently published ANA article.


At our new house on Prince Edward Island. Setting up house, which feels more like we're playing house, unladen with the responsibilities that ground us down back in the day. Susan did a spectacular job with the design, and we're doing fun stuff like setting up a ping pong table, exploring the island (today to Tignish), getting the house ready for early August when our cycling friends arrive. Reading the new book by David Kessler, former head of the FDA: The End of eating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Much on interest about neuroscience that may have applications for work; at least the part about how decisions are made.