380. Practicing Hospitality


I was on the elliptical bike at Ai Ai and Tim’s (bc I am a good girl) and I caught a glimpse of the pool through the wooden slats of the blinds in front of me. A lump rose to my throat at the sight of the brightly colored inner tubes and extra fun noodles they had thrown into the water for the benefit of the bunch of guests (including kids) scheduled to arrive in the afternoon for a Memorial Day cookout and pool party. I wondered why the fun noodles made me want to cry – I felt silly. But then I realized that it was what the pool toys represented – warm hospitality floating in cooling water – that made me proud to be a part of this family even though I felt a pang of regret that I can’t practice it individually at present.

Timmy purchased some new flowers etc. that morning and planted them around the pool to freshen the ambiance. Boo Boo was busy cooking things and put watermelon and guacamole (we all learned to make guac from Mommy and we all love it) under some pretty nets on the patio so hungry swimmers could have a snack. When the guests arrived there were seven extra children to splash in the pool and be fed. It was great fun.

The food Tim grilled and Ai Ai served was grouped in aesthetically pleasing tableaux. And as I soaked it all in I realized that yes, of course some folks are simply born with the ability to create an inviting atmosphere, but the idea of hospitality itself is often a learned behavior. My sister and I learned it from Mommy, and I’m sure Ruthie must have learned it from her mom. A few months ago we showed up at E&R’s on a night when they had guests over for dinner. I looked with wide-eyed wonder at the beautiful white platters piled high with good things to eat. It was a relatively simple meal, served in a non-fussy, non-intimidating way, but everything looked pretty and everything was piping hot. I have no idea how Ruthie got everything to be hot at the same time. I never mastered that skill.

When I started eating fish again I only ate it if my brother cooked it. He buys amazingly fresh fillets from his local fishmonger and grills them to perfection. The night they had guests over he grilled scallops with bacon. Welcome to Ernie’s world. It’s a fun place. So yeah – all my siblings understand this concept. I was a very happy guest at both of my in-laws’ homes when we were growing up so I know that their POVs on hospitality was shaped by what they saw their parents doing. I would also like to state for the record that during one of those visits I beat both Timmy and his younger brother at Knockout Kings on the Playstation multiple times.

Baker Smurf demonstrates "abundance"

Baker Smurf demonstrates “abundance”

To be clear, if you lack the innate ability to put things together in a pretty way please do not let this discourage you from opening your home. When visual elegance is beyond reach I always go for the groaning sideboard effect. There is something to be said for abundance. But if you can only offer something you’re afraid might look meagre what’s really important (regardless of food and ambience) is that you serve whatever you have on hand with a smile and a welcoming spirit that lets your guests know that you invited them bc you truly want to see them, you’ve made an effort to make them feel special, and are interested in what’s going on in their lives.  My siblings and I were blessed to grow up with that behavior modeled for us but it’s completely possible to become hospitable even if the concept is new to you – just make your guests comfy by doing what would make you comfortable.     Hospitality is something you practice at – and it’s a skill one can develop. I’m trying really hard to regain my skills and hopefully develop them more with time. We’ll see how that pans out. But it is definitely a skill worth cultivating bc it’s one of the hallmarks of how we care for one another.

370. Sizing Up the Competition


Ezra is a fierce competitor.  He loved Joe Joe my "Tackle Buddy" - and you see how that ended.

Ezra is a fierce competitor. He “loved” Joe Joe my Tackle Buddy – and you see how that ended.


As a player in any market you have to know your competitors and their capabilities. As a classy operator you should know how to talk about the competition appropriately. This ability stems from how you speak of others in your larger life – in general the safest rule of thumb is that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you’re selling something you don’t say how bad the other guy’s product is, you say how fantastic yours is. If you speak about rivals in your field, please do so in a way that shows that you’re a professional, not in a way that puffs you up at the expense of others.

204..  (FFT 2) Who are your Competitors and why is your offering superior?

204. (FFT part 2) Who are your Competitors and why is your offering superior?

360.  Postcards

360. Postcards

I’m writing this post bc I have been “phone-screening” candidates for Team Tanimal since I’ve been plotting how to continue my heightened AlterG usage at home. I am extremely happy with my existing members. CMD was so pleased she called Mommy upon receiving my postcard saying I’m doing my duty. I’ve started to notice more pain and some loss of control on my left side so I think it’s time to go back to acupuncture. Trainer D has been busily fabricating reasons to make me go outside since it’s now warm. I’m adamant about staying within a climate-controlled environment but if he is willing to carry my parasol we can talk. Otherwise we’ll see who wins this battle of the wills. I’m looking forward to seeing Coach R again and running on the AlterG there – I have to remember to tell him, though, that if he could just move the practice near my house and purchase a set of parallel bars that would be really great for me.

I’ve been phone-screening candidates since I see Coach R once a week but was hoping to find somewhere else (kind of) closer to home to add to my regimen. I had high hopes for one place that also does sports massage but it didn’t work out. The lady who helped me on the phone, though, was super-nice. Bonus points!! She was willing to work with me and was patient and very accommodating. My speech and hearing deficits are mild enough to often go undetected but they can make administrative phone calls a nightmare. I had to tell her I’ve had hearing loss and ask if she could just give me a Yes or No answer to one question I posed. Sigh. That’s what my life is like now.

Side note: I am not part of the target market this practice has identified as its niche. It’s a pretty safe bet that this lady was not used to interacting with brain injury survivors so her customer service skills must have stemmed from a basic level of human compassion. Sadly, I have discovered that some places with “Neuro” in the clinic’s name can employ people who seem to be surprised that they have to interact with people with brain injuries. Sorry, I’m being facetious. They’re probably not really surprised – they just act like they’re not used to interacting with people with deficits.


147.  Ed's Career Advice

147. Ed’s Career Advice

My interaction with her did not involve any discussion of the competition – I have just learned that the level of consideration she showed is not the norm even though I persist in hoping it is. When I called another place, though, I got an earful of unsolicited advice replete with some colorful commentary on the competition. Mm hmm. FYI I didn’t offer a detailed medical history or anything that would invite deep conversation – I was just looking to get specific questions answered. Thankfully no one has ever said anything about specific people I work with. Comments regarding places are bad enough. I DARE you to say something about a member of Team Tanimal. I will not deal with you myself. Their skills speak for themselves, but for my own amusement I will tell Boo Boo or Timmy and they will call you. Take my word for it. You do not want that to happen.

In a way I proliferated the conversation. I’m just too nice on the phone – although part of it was that I was “yessing” him to death so I could hang up ASAP. I just want to point out, however, that whether or not your opinions of the competition are valid your word choice in sharing these opinions tell me more about the level of professionalism you operate on than the skills of those you are speaking about. If I get a less than stellar impression from your presentation I will assume that the level of service you are capable of providing is similarly uninspiring. This could be a faulty assumption, but I have no desire to see you in person to verify it “live”. You just lost my business.

Not that my business is some highly sought-after thing you should prize. I’m saying that a potential customer’s business – whether you’re selling widgets or offering physical therapy – is valuable. So if you feel utterly compelled to size up the competition verbally for others, do so in a way that brings you credibility instead of depleting it – and you’d better be able to back up your assertions with mad skills of your own.



156. Why you should be nice to your Administrative Assistant

Why you should be nice to your Administrative Assistant || Ann Ning Learning How

Happy Administrative Professionals’ Day!  About 10 years ago (WOW – I can’t believe it’s been ten) I got my first job.  I was an Admin Assistant for a group of Real Estate professionals at a company in D.C.  I loved it.  And I have to say, I was a good assistant.  And I also want to be clear that all my managers were nice to me.  That fact made me want to help their day go smoother in any way I could.

Even though my Admin days are long gone, it still bothers me to hear someone say, blah blah blah he/she’s just an assistant.  Just?  Umm…FYI, assistants do a lot of the groundwork to make their managers’ day possible.  That’s just a fact.  I know because I did it.  And I have compiled a short list of “Why you should be nice to your Administrative Assistant” in case you need elaboration…and in case anyone wants to share this with his/her boss (You didn’t say it – I did.)

1)    You wanna eat lunch?  Your assistant will often be the one to coordinate lunch orders for a working meeting that happens at noon.  If the meeting is small enough, (s)he might even go pick it up in person.  You want your assistant to have every reason to remember your food allergies/preferences, especially if you forget to specify what you want for lunch.  (S)he will be more likely to do this if you are a nice person.  You will also be happier since you will not have to eat a turkey sandwich you despise 3x+ times a month.

2)    Remember who your gatekeeper is.  Answering the phone at work was one of the hardest things for me to learn.  When it rang I’d jump like it was going to bite me.  But after a while I got used to it and I knew how to prioritize certain calls and wait on others.  If your assistant answers your phone, (s)he is the first person your clients talk to.  Set the tone in the office so it’s natural for your assistant to make a good impression for you.  You also want to remember who your gatekeeper is since calls from your spouse/kids will often have to be routed here, first, and you don’t want any delays.

3)    Heavy lifting often requires backupOne of my Admin friends told me her boss would occasionally come in with a giant cinnamon bun from the bakery next door, put the paper bag on her desk and say cryptically, “You’re gonna need this today.”  It was his way of saying that he’d need her to bring her A-game and go all out because he really wanted to get something done that day.  The fact that he communicated this through baked goods was funny and sweet.  He acknowledged he needed her help to get some heavy lifting done, and the way he did it was the perfect balance of asking for help, informing her that the day might be rugged, and sweetening the deal. 

4)    Those pens you like don’t magically appear on your desk (PS.  Your desk got moved to the boiler room).  Depending on the liberty you have in ordering your own office supplies, your assistant might be in charge of keeping your desk stocked with the pens you like, the folders you favor etc.  You want the boxes of pens to just appear – you don’t want the assistant to roll his/her eyes and tell you that using a ballpoint really isn’t that hard.  Also, if you have an office move, or at least switch some cubicles around, it’s possible your assistant might have a role in the space planning.  If you enjoy natural sunlight in your current location you do NOT want to be moved to the boiler room – minimize the chance of there ever being a debate about this.

5)    Stack the cards in favor of you having a great day.  I will always be grateful for my time as an Administrative Assistant because it taught me the definition of customer service.  My bosses were my customers and I understood I was there because they had clients of their own to serve, and I was going to help them.  Some assistants, however, seem to be there so the boss has someone to take his/her feelings out on if (s)he has a bad meeting.  It’s natural to have a bad day sometimes, but if this is a pattern the only thing the boss is doing is making the assistant feel sorry for the family the boss goes home to at the end of the day.  So don’t make anyone feel sorry for your family.  Treat your assistant right so (s)he is more likely to view his/her job as helping to make your day go as smoothly as possible. 

This is a fun look into my life as an Admin:



147. Ed’s Career Advice: 3 Tips for Professional Success

You can take the girl out of corporate America…

Ed has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to model some of the birthday presents he received from friends and loved ones.  That’s right, people – some of you actually sent him stuff (thank you xoxoxxo) – I didn’t go and buy these things myself, although I have thought about it.

Finding a job was a hugely stressful component of Business School.  Here are some of the things I learned there and in the working/rehab world.

(1) Keep your resume updated.  Even if you’re not in the job market, the bullet points you come up with will be a huge help at performance review time.  Also, if you force yourself to distill your job into a few bullet points you’ll figure out what you’re really spending your time on which will help you decide whether you’re devoting yourself to the right things.  (I googled “resume writing” – and ale.org popped up with this handy word list.)

Resume Action Words | Ann Ning Learning How

(2) Dress for success.  When I worked for a corporate real estate company in D.C. I knew a young broker who showed warehouse space in Annandale wearing wearing meticulously ironed shirts with cufflinks.  Looking respectable and “together” inspires confidence.

Ed is a retired banker.  Banking was more of a gentlemanly pursuit than a profession since he is independently wealthy, but that’s neither here nor there.  He got this new tie as a gift.  Don’t you like the stripes?  And then he was THRILLED to receive the chef’s outfit since it helps him look the part of his true calling:  being the Next Food Network Star.

Dress for Success || Ann Ning Learning How

(3)  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  I have bean treated by many medical professionals during my adventures in RecoveryLand.  I’ve also interacted with many customer service/administrative professionals (e.g. from the credit card company, the DMV) when my parents let me (sometimes they don’t because they want to shield me from stress or are afraid of what I might say – this latter reason was more of a problem when I refused to think anything happening was real).  Out of the army of people I’ve met, I’ve only encountered a couple of folks I wasn’t a huge fan of.  I think this is a pretty good track record.  But even 1 or 2 people is 1 or 2 too many.  I have enough reasons to feel bad or unsure about myself – I don’t need anyone else to make me feel stupid (even if unintentionally).  I honestly don’t think I’m over-sensitive, but even if I were I’ve heard other disabled/brain injury patients talk about similar incidents that left them reeling.  So I’m not the only one this happens to.  I am the only one in my family who deals with situations like these, and I am careful about if/how/when I talk about things like this that hurt my feelings since my family members do NOT tolerate even a hint of ill or sub-par treatment of one of their own, and the air around my house is generally litigious (be forewarned).

So whether or not your job requires you to interact with disabled people, the rule of thumb is simple:  Do unto others…  C’mon – show us that your parents raised you right and that you know how to treat other people with respect and kindness.  It’s quite possible that you did not have the opportunity to see this sort of good behavior modeled for you as a child, so show us you know what the right thing to do is anyway because you picked it up on your own.

Working with Disabled  / Brain Injury Patients | Ann Ning Learning How

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140. Airport Wheelchair Service

Airport Wheelchair Service

When we went to Florida recently I managed to get off of the plane on my own steam in Orlando.  I congratulated myself on being so amazingly mobile and then promptly fell against the wall outside the plane door.  “Just kidding, just kidding!” I told the couple of wheelchair handlers who were waiting on the walkway’s platform (or maybe they had just dropped people off).  The consensus between them and my parents was that I should be seated immediately, so I meekly parked myself in the nearest wheelchair (secretly relieved).  We then zoomed around the airport, got our bags and rental car, and chatted with our chair handler, who was very nice and also knowledgeable about the town (he’s studying Hospitality in college).  I peered at someone in front of us who was wheeling two (occupied) chairs simultaneously.  I was impressed at this level of skill and asked my handler if they had received training in this sort of thing.  No, he replied, you learn most things on the job.

I shouldn’t be too surprised at that, but then again, I think one could be confronted with lots of safety scenarios in the airport wheelchair corps, and it would be great to have some training under your belt to deal with them well and keep clients from harm.  I’ve encountered only nice/helpful handlers but I know one story that makes my blood boil, so let me take a moment to help crew members out and clue them in (in case they received no or inadequate sensitivity training on the subject):  If someone is in a wheelchair, it is the safest and most advisable assumption that (s)he is not sitting in it by choice.  You should always have an air transport chair (the skinny chair on wheels that fits up the aisle) around and should know how to use it properly (don’t wing it).  In the absence of a transport chair, it will do no good to ask someone who is unable to walk, to walk (even just a few steps) to their seat.

Pfewf.  Glad I got that off my chest.  Grrrr.  On to happier thoughts.  As I said before, I have only encountered nice and helpful wheelchair handlers at the airport.  If I had any concerns about the service I received they were based on systemic failures not personnel.  For example, it might take eons for a request for chair service to make it from the aircraft to the terminal’s office, also, a terminal might be laid out so that you have to go to level 2 then level 1 then level 2 again to reach your destination.  These things make air travel even more grueling for someone like me.  So based on my post AVM flight history, I’m rating airport wheelchair service.  Please note that my ratings are highly subjective and may also be influenced by where our gate was.  Had we been flying from a different gate navigating the floorplan might have been easier.

Airport Wheelchair Service

If you’d like to volunteer your six sigma services, email info@CLTairport.com.  You will be responded to during normal business hours.  (Please be properly certified and “belted” – don’t just make stuff up like I do.)

Ed has a question:

Ed re. Air Travel || Ann Ning Learning How

Also, here’s an interesting article on appropriate tipping behavior for wheelchair assistance at the airport.

128. Parking 101


This is ridiculous that I’m writing about how to park a car, but since I can’t park a car at all now I have plenty of oppty to evaluate the performance of others, so here we go.  In case you’ve never been a passenger with me let me give some context:  When I left my first job I stopped by the parking garage office on Pennsylvania Avenue to drop off some treats for the guys (they were all guys) since they helped me out.  They were used to seeing me in a moving vehicle so when I first walked into the office they looked at me a little blankly.  But then I was like, “I’m the girl who drives the blank Honda who can’t park.”  Ooooooh – they all chorused.  They knew me immediately.

I still can’t park, but now I understand it better.  The attributes to be concerned with are (1) Form, e.g. are you in the lines, and (2) Legality, e.g. are you in a handicapped spot w/out being disabled and having the proper tags, have you checked the signs to make sure you’re not in a snow route?

In the picture above, we all want to be in quadrant 1: the parking sweet spot.  When I could drive I must confess I was often in Q4:  parked legally, but probably not very well.  I blame my lack of depth perception.  Yeah.  Let’s go with that.

Also, just so you know, I have seriously considered starting an Instagram feed with pictures of people illegally parked in handicapped spots.  Before you do it, just remember that someone else might need that spot more than you.  Same goes for the spots shopping centers reserve for Expecting Mothers or Moms with Little Kids.  You do NOT want to be on my fictional Instagram feed.  And FYI, that diagonal-lined box next to a handicapped spot isn’t a place to park your mini/motorbike/golf cart.  It’s for people in wheelchairs to get in and out of their van.  It’s also very helpful to me to have some extra space to get in and out of a car since my balance is not good and I like to open the door as wide as possible but have a mortal fear of dinging the car next to me.  So please don’t park in this non-spot, either.


Mom and Ai Ai have had to stop me from getting out of the car to “talk” to illegal parkers, even though I insist I’m going to be polite.  My unfiltered state is extremely intolerant of poor behavior like this.  But if you know what I was like pre-injury, you can go ahead and laugh at the idea of me initiating a confrontational conversation like this.  Maybe the passive-aggressive Instagram feed is the way to go after all.

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