Ode to our air filter

This post is from 2011 (hanging out in unfinished drafts)– Our Austin air filter is still going strong, though we’ve had to replace the actual filters several times.  Austin Air has no idea that we exist.  Also, 2011 was 10 years ago– there are a lot more good options for air filters than there used to be.  Here are wirecutter’s recommendations (their upgrade pick is only $300 and is a Blueair purifier, which they like better than the Austin filter because it is less expensive, prettier, and quieter).

I am allergic to almost everything that grows– grasses, most trees, and all the stuff that normal people are allergic to like ragweed and goldenrod and mold spores.  I’m also highly allergic to a lot of crawly things like dust-mites and *shudder* cockroaches and so on.  (Also mildly allergic to cats, though I’m more allergic to some cats than others.)  I can’t do much about the things that give me hives, but I can do something about the allergens that make my nose drip or that clog up my sinuses.

Back in 2011 I bought an Austin Air Filter for around $500.  There are now more options and they range from $750-$1000.  Not cheap!  The replacement filters are also not cheap– you could get a new Blueair purifier for about the same price these days.

For me, it was Worth Every Penny.  Having a good air filter on high in a room is better than most anti-histamines (though Zyrtec is still my new best friend).  It just clears everything up.

Here’s a post from Schlock Mercenary describing the experience of filtering out a room for the first time (back in 2007).  It’s what convinced me to get a super expensive air filter instead of the cheap small walmart/target ones we’d had before.

*heart emojis*

Do you have an air filter?  What kind do you use?  How much do allergies suck?  How do you deal with allergies? 

Passion Planner review

Over the past few months, I’ve taken my daily planning systems and to-do lists and consolidated them all into a single Moleskine notebook plus a small weekly calendar (which is technically a planner, but I don’t think of it as such as I only put appointments and deadlines in it).

I really love the Moleskine, but I wish I didn’t have to write out the times each week.  I explored washi tapes and stickers and stamps, but nothing seemed right.  And there are a ton of planners that have the times already listed out.

So I read a whole bunch of planner reviews on the internets and looked at a whole lot of different blank spreads and decided that the Passion Planner (not affiliate), weekly, Monday Start, was the best match for my current planning setup.  I wanted something that had the times laid out, but also had space for my to-do list post-it and my projects post-it and just space around for other things.  And I wanted a little space for deadlines above the hourly set.  I was also looking forward to having monthly calendars in the same planner as the weekly calendars instead of (alas, I will likely still be printing out google calendars and stapling them together :( )

There’s a bunch of passion concept map stuff that I will generally be ignoring.  I love the major weekly project goals, but otherwise I don’t have much use for reflection, at least not the monthly reflection the book has space for.

Weekly spread

Weekly spread with identifying information craftily obscured by two of DH’s fountain pens.

Things I like:

The weekly spread is great– exactly what I wanted.

The paper is REALLY nice.  The mokeskine has a thick creamy paper that is prone to feathering, so I love using my small tipped Clenas on it.  But the PP has a smooth bright white paper that LOVES a fountain pen.  There was something sensual about borrowing DH’s fountain pen with his fancy sparkly J Herbin ink and moving over regular appointments for the first time.  I *almost* want to get my own fountain pen, but… like a swimming pool, I’d rather have someone else own it and do the maintenance on it so I’ll likely borrow DH’s from time to time and otherwise use gel pens.

It has an elastic strap to keep it closed just like the Moleskine.

There’s free pages at the back that I will be able to use to take notes at meetings.

Monthly calendar

The month of August (anonymized with DH’s vanishing point fountain pen).

Things I don’t like:

I didn’t realize it was soft cover instead of hard cover.  It looks nice and it’s probably lighter with the soft cover, but I just prefer the Moleskine hardback.  This reason by itself is not enough for me to seek out other planners.

Instead of having all of the monthly calendars together at the beginning of the planner, as I assumed they would, instead each month starts with the monthly calendar for that month followed by the weekly planner pages.  I don’t plan by the month so this is not helpful for me– I need to see what’s happening a few weeks in the future at any point in time or else I get surprised by deadlines or mess up homework assignments for the students.  I do plan by the week, so the weekly spreads work.  But I also plan by the semester, not the month, so having those months separated by 4 weeks of weekly spreads is just irritating and I probably just won’t use them.  Another possibility is that I will print out their monthly spreads from their webpage and paste them in over the used weekly spreads once I’ve finished with August.  Or I might get small tabs that make it easy to flip to month spreads. We will see.  This problem won’t stop me from using the planner the entire year, but next year when summer rolls around I will be looking to see if there’s another planner out there that better suits my needs.  Maybe I’ll pick something less pretty that has rings so I can move pages.  (Or maybe I’ll try the Jibun Techo though I suspect it doesn’t have enough space for me.)

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how this works for me once school starts!

I already asked you all about your preferred planning systems so… um… I have no questions?  But feel free to comment anyway!  Or tell me about your preferred planning systems if you didn’t last time.  It’s all good!

Kahootie academic planner (for school kids) review

I got these undated academic planners from Kahootie for my kids at Target, but sadly Target seems to be out of stock.  Amazon does carry them though (affiliate link).  Kahootie doesn’t know we exist.

In any case, they are PERFECT for what my kids needed this summer and I’m hoping they will work well in the fall too (though I have some doubts about DC1 remembering to write down things like assignments).

They’re a weekly spread across two pages, which I like.  What’s even better is that they have a column for school stuff and then a column for *after school* stuff (something DC1 frequently forgets!).  And there’s a daily chores tracker on the right that they can check off.  DC2 loves the little space under the chores tracker and fills it up with pictures from books zie is reading or lists of pokemon zie caught that week etc.  Saturday and Sunday have smaller spaces, but that works too.

Week of DC2's planner with camps and chores listed.

One week of DC2’s planner.

DC2 has really gotten into hirs.  Zie updates it on Sunday or Monday morning.  Zie excitedly checks off chores.  Sometimes zie puts down weekly goals (“learn how to lightening strike a pig in educational minecraft”) and the weekends usually say what baked good DC2 is going to make that week.  More recently, zie has moved the two evening Minecraft dates and one piano lesson to the “After School” column.

DC1's much sparser planner

DC1’s planner. Pen obscures a password.

DC1 is getting less use out of hirs.  Zie actually *has* done the daily chores, zie just doesn’t check them off.  Zie doesn’t put in assignments (that blue in on Sunday is my writing…) or really use it for planning at all.  The class times are in the planner, but they’re also in Google calendar.  We’re hoping that a combination of the two systems (electronic and paper) will help DC1 remember to TURN IN COMPLETED ASSIGNMENTS and GO TO AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES once school is back in session, but it’s not looking hopeful.  Maybe being a year older will be enough.

I didn’t get much use out of paper planners in middle school or high school either.  I’m not sure how I remembered to get things done in high school (in middle school I just finished all my work in class so it was irrelevant).  I guess I just had a separate notebook for each class and a binder and checked those daily.  I started using a weekly planner (similar to the small weekly Moleskines, but with nursing branding on the front) in college some time when DH gave me one that his mom didn’t want.  Then I got free branded econ ones. Then I started having to buy my own Moleskines (or rather, I started having to ask for a small Moleskine planner for Christmas, which is an excellent thing to put on the Amazon wishlist for the in-laws who aren’t sure what to get you).  Along with those small weekly planners with meetings and deadlines listed, I had lots of loose leaf to-do lists.  These Kahootie planners look like they should have enough space for middle and high school to-dos, but I guess we will find out next semester!

Did you use a planner as a kid?  (If applicable) Do your kids use planners?  Have your planning needs changed over time?

Crucial Conversations: A Book Review

Someone somewhere recommended that someone read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and we thought that was a good idea, so one of us checked it out from the library.  She had to recall it, and it has been recalled on her, so up on her Amazon wishlist it goes.

We think this is a great book, and wish everybody would read it.  As #1 was reading it, she thought back to previous crucial conversations and how the ones that went well tended to follow their advice and the ones that went off the rails really could have benefited.

The basic premise of the book is that if you pretend to (or actually believe in) give (ing) the benefit of the doubt to people and keep your thoughts focused on the end goals with that in mind, attacking problems instead of people, you’re more likely to get what you really want, make good decisions, foster a positive environment, deescalate potentially fraught situations, and get a reputation for being professional and reasonable that will help you in the future.

They summarize their technique with the following steps:

1. Start with heart. Focus on what you really want, and what you really don’t want.
2. Learn to look. Pay attention to emotions, problems, silencing, and the conversation no longer feeling safe for at least one party.
3. Make it safe. Fix misunderstandings, apologize as necessary. (I’ve found this step incredibly helpful in blaming things on miscommunications and going back to the big goal– what we both want– really does seem to defuse situations.)
4. Master my story. Separate facts from narrative– know which is which. State the facts.  Choose a good narrative. (This is where you give the best possible story behind the other person’s actions rather than the one that may actually be true. I have found that occasionally when I ascribe positive motives to people, they tend to start believing those motives themselves.)
5. STATE my path. Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for other’s paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing. These are all things a good leader will do– you’re more likely to accept a decision you don’t agree with if you trust the process that came to it. (The difference between our provost saying, “I’m the decider” and a better communication of, “Here are the pros and cons of each choice. These are the reasons I made this choice over the other choice.” I really wanted to send hir a copy of this book. BTW, hir decision was terrible and has already had some pretty nasty consequences.)
6. Explore other’s paths. Ask. Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime. Agree. Build. Compare. These are ways of talking about alternative views and coming to the best decision for your main goal while making people with other views feel validated and focused on their main goals.
7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide. Document decisions and follow up. (A meeting in which you discuss, come to an agreement and then don’t do action items is a waste of time.)

They share a lot of really helpful language along with their process.  While reading the book, I thought back to good bosses I’ve had and bad bosses I’ve had, and the good bosses almost instinctively use these techniques.  Heck, my father-in-law uses these techniques.  It’s been helping me a lot with some of the dramatic fall-out of the provost’s bad decision.

It’s not a perfect book– it almost seems like there’s some victim-blaming in the middle, and it isn’t until very near the end of the book that the book specifies that no, a woman does not have to put up with sexual harassment on her own.  This is a shame because some of the examples they use are very close to sexual harassment, and although the actions they suggest are appropriate, they come too close on the heels of admonitions to accept the role you had in whatever tragedy is going on.  Their example seems to suggest that muggings are the only crimes in which the victim is not at fault.  Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault, and they would do well to point that out far earlier.

The book doesn’t separate by gender.  It tells everybody to use some of the softening language that Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office tells women to avoid, which may be problematic.  We know that people have different reactions to male and female managers saying the same thing in the same way– are the suggestions in this book truly gender neutral?  We don’t really know.

An interesting thing to note– in the back of the book one of the authors mentions that they get fan mail from people who have only read the introduction and the first chapter.  Apparently those first ideas of just giving people the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the big goals make a huge difference for some people.  We do think the rest of the book is worth reading through because it gives helpful language that does deescalate situations.

Also:  We’ve posted this on a Monday because it’s about work and career, but many of these techniques also work well in personal relationships.  They also give examples from marriages and dealing with teenagers.

What do you find works for dealing with other people at work?  Do you have recommendations for books on communication or otherwise dealing with coworkers?  Have you read this one?

What are we reading: special edition

I read this book, and it is so great: Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled, by Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell.  Authors’ page for the book here, where you can read the preface and a sample chapter.

One thing I love about this book is the authors’ voices.  The two authors are long-time collaborators, and their friendship comes through in the writing.  The cover is kind of dumb, but ignore that — this isn’t a romance book or even necessarily about romantic relationships (though they are in there).

The idea behind this book is to look at how we fool ourselves, in all sorts of relationships, into being unaware of the bad things we “should” know are going on.  This includes spouses not knowing their partners are cheating on them, but it also includes employees not being aware of how badly their companies are screwing over the employees legally and financially (see: Enron).  Through easy-to-read, nonacademic summaries of science and also through numerous personal stories, the authors lay out many situations in which it is adaptive and necessary for people to be unaware of being cheated: to be blind to betrayal.  The tone has a lot of sympathy for people who find themselves struggling to explain this situation in themselves, and even includes some of the authors’ own experiences.  This book sheds a light on what we can do as individuals who are dependent on institutions (marriages, governments, workplaces) that may not act in our best interests.  I appreciate the hopeful ending.

You should really read this book, and tell your friends.  It’s very readable and would even make a good gift.  It’s available on kindle and audible too.  Check it out of the library, buy it, ILL it.

Try reading the samples and tell us what you think in the comments?

What the Most Successful People do at Work: A Book Review

Laura Vanderkam sent us her new e-book, “What the most successful people do at work.”

As with all of Ms. Vanderkam’s writing, this was a very easy read.  She’s got the Malcolm Gladwell thing down.  (Well, maybe not Malcolm Gladwell… there’s not quite as much suspense, but she has breezy edutainment down cold.)

The book touches upon a number of topics about productivity.  Unfortunately, it just touches upon them, giving a vivid example from a single case study for each idea, and maybe another from her own life, but in most cases not going into any depth about how universal each of these ideas is.  And it turns out there’s a lot of research out there on psychology.

Early on, she talks about getting in the zone.  There’s been books written on how to get there and what it means to get there, only instead of calling it “in the zone,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term, “flow.”  Laura V. is a far better writer than Mihaly C., and we’d love to see her do his material justice.

(#2 thinks C. is a fine writer!  #1 had a hard time with one of them– the other was easier, but not what one would call fun.  V. books are actually fun.)

Understanding sunk costs is a basic concept of productivity from economics– don’t throw good money (or time!) after bad.  Understanding them can also help productivity by keeping you from lingering emotionally.

The idea of a planning period also has research and randomized controlled trials to back it up.  Our favorite productivity researcher, Robert Boice, talks about the importance of planning and schedules and routines or habits.  And, of course, there’s the new best-selling book on The Power of Habit out there.  Something that should be noted that isn’t included in the research… whenever you’re working with other people, they will often drop the ball.  So it’s important to have secondary plans.

One chapter that’s completely missing from this ebook is the research on creativity:  the need for regular breaks to allow your subconscious to puzzle things out.  The breaks may be mentioned, but there’s hard science and reasons why, and not just about Willpower (another recent best seller) or energy levels.

The chapter on meetings had good ideas, but was a little disorganized.

I am reminded that I should do more networking.

The book’s discussion of progress on a goal brought to mind Virginia Valian’s solving a work problem.  (And, of course, there’s a huge dry psychology literature on goal setting, that we bet Laura Vanderkam could sex up.)

The book ends suddenly– a page or even a paragraph summing things up would make it seem longer!

Overall, I felt like this book was only the article portion of something that could be a real book.  It felt a lot like the book prospectuses I occasionally review for publishers.  It left me wanting Ms. Vanderkam to write a real book on productivity.  Something that ties all the research out there together into one magnum opus, but an opus no longer or more difficult to read than say, NurtureShock, with a chapter dedicated to each idea.

Such a book will require research.  And there’s a lot of research on productivity out there.  Best-selling recent books on Habit and Willpower are only the tip of the iceberg.

As she says, it’s priced at ebook novelette price, not full book price.  But I think she’s got a $24.95  (or $13.95 if you buy from Amazon) book in there that isn’t just a “What the most successful people” compilation.  So, yes, it’s well worth $3.99 (Buy it!), but it will leave you wanting something more substantial.   And I do think she’s the right person to give us that more substantial best-selling book on productivity.

Would you buy an in-depth book on productivity by Laura Vanderkam?  One that translates the academic research into real action items you can use?

Book Review: The Zebra Said Shhh…

The Easter Bunny brought DC2 a paperback copy of Wandering Scientist’s The Zebra Said Shhh.  I figured I’d review it here.

The quality of the book itself is quite good.  The paper is thick and better suited to destructive little hands and mouths than most non-boardbook children’s books.  Well worth $11.25 (or $9 if it’s on sale).

The pictures are quite nice and are similar to several of our other children’s books.  I think this style that looks like cutouts was popularized by Eric Carle, though these are not as sparse and come with full backgrounds.   I especially like the parrot.  Lots of bold bright colors.

As for the story, it has a pleasant repetition and simple concepts for its target audience.  It holds the same wish fulfillment for adults that Go the F**k to Sleep does, only without the profanity.  If only saying “Shhh” worked on small human children.  There’s always the hope that books like these will build that connection.

After the excitement of breaking open plastic Easter eggs and scattering their contents (raisins) over the floor waned, DC2 was immediately drawn to the book.  Ze opened it, folded over the cover, chewed on the inside a bit (another note:  the book itself was not made in China), and generally seemed to enjoy it.  Miraculously, the book is still in really good shape.

When DC1 (age 6) woke up and started going through DC2’s loot, hir attention was arrested by the book and ze immediately read through it.  Later I noticed hir reading it out loud to DC2.  So that passed some sort of test.

In any case, I recommend purchasing this book.  It’s a good solid children’s book in every respect.  And we own a lot of children’s books.  Hat-tip to both Wandering Scientist and to X-ist publishing.

Motherhood Online: A book review

We  were sent Motherhood Online by the editor, Michelle Moravec.

This book is a scholarly academic tome, but even given that, there are only two articles in it that I would call inaccessible to non-academic readers.  (And those two articles are both short and probably inaccessible to most academic readers as well.)  Non-academic readers will find the first section just as amusing and the second and third sections just as interesting as this academic reader.

The book starts out with case studies that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a pregnancy or mothering forum.  It does seem that if you’ve been on one of these forums, you’ve really been on all of the forums, for all the differences we perceive between the mothering.coms and the babycenters of the world, the dynamics are not that much different, even across forums from different countries.  Oddly, this section is titled “Theoretical perspectives” but is, for the most part, a-theoretical and, for the most part, focuses on each author’s own experiences with an online parenting community.

The second section… titled, “Case studies” includes articles with a broader theory base, more formal qualitative methods, and comparisons across different cases.  This second section focuses on communities that many of us have had less experience with, but are interesting in their own rights.  I especially enjoyed the studies of teenage mothers, autistic parents, port-wine stain, stay-at-home dads, and really most of the articles in this section.  I felt like I learned something reading many of these articles.

The last section focuses on blogs and community, with the stand-out piece being one on the community of people from developed countries who use (employ?) Indian women as surrogate mothers.

Although the introduction focuses on the positives to these online communities, the articles themselves are even-handed with both the positives (community building, information sharing, support) and the negatives (conflict, incorrect information, rationalization, etc.)  The authors come from a number of different disciplines, including communication, sociology, public health, anthropology, history and others.  These different disciplinary paths and perspectives come across in the methodology and writing.  Obviously we feel more comfortable with the social scientist methodologies, but other disciplines provide for entertaining reading and discussion.

Is this worth reading?  Sure!  Especially if you’re into non-fiction and would like to think a bit about they dynamics of online communities.  The book includes a nice collection of articles that, should, for the most part, be as easy to read as a Malcolm Gladwell book, but with perhaps a few more citations included.