Living the Dream

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How to improve your communication skills: be an effective listener March 8, 2009

Listening seems easy enough, but actually it’s an art that requires much time and practice to master. We’ve all encountered situations in which we’ve misinterpreted or made assumptions about what somebody said, only to lead to massive misunderstanding and possibly arguments! This is why it’s critical to be an active listener. When you are in the listener role, your job is to support the person who is speaking. You are not going to get very far if you just sit there and let their words go in one ear and out the other. If you care about the speaker, let them know through active listening.

Ways to respond while your partner is speaking:

  1. Show that you understand your partner’s statements and accept his/her right to have those thoughts and feelings, even if you disagree with their content. Let him/her speak for some time before interjecting with your own speech. When you do pipe up, reflect and summarize your partner’s most important feelings, desires, conflicts, and thoughts. Especially focus on feelings, as this is often what can deepen the conversation and lead to a deeper level of understanding. This means you’ll be doing some guesswork regarding what your partner is really trying to say- it’s trial and error. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, sometimes you’ll be right on target. With practice, you’re going to improve.
  2. Demonstrate this acceptance through your tone of voice, facial expressions, and posture.
  3. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and look at the situation from his/her perspective, in order to determine how s/he feels and thinks about the issue. If there’s a problem at stake, your partner already has the solution. Thing is, s/he may not be aware of it due to confusion or emotional overload. That’s where your critical role as the listener comes in. The listener’s job is to do some detective work and help the speaker come to peace with the topic at hand. As mentioned in #1, you must try to peel back the layers of what your partner has said and figure out what is going on underneath. Focus on feelings, try to guess what is at stake for your partner. Use your partner’s words– there’s no better way to make a person feel validated than by using their language.

While you are the listener, DO NOT:

  1. Express your own opinion or perspective.
  2. Think about how your partner’s words affect you– your job is to be helping them when you are in the listener role. You will get your turn as the speaker.
  3. Offer solutions or attempt to solve a problem without being asked.
  4. Make judgments or evaluate what your partner said.


With these skills, we hope you will become a better, more active listener!


How To Throw a Successful Surprise Party October 18, 2007

So we can’t all be party planners, or so you think … but it’s much easier than you think! Mammie has put together a few successful surprise parties, and it’s super easy! Surprise parties are a great way to make your loved ones feel special. Surprise parties aren’t always an expensive ordeal either… Here’s your quick guide on “HOW TO THROW A SUCCESSFUL SURPRISE PARTY”

1. Find yourself an accomplice. The middle person who is going to find out information, and help plan the event.

2. Plan a date- Make sure the special boy/ girl is available on the date. Easiest way to find out – ask your accomplice to see if the special person is free on a specific day… Have the accomplice make plans with the special person . For example: When Mammie threw her best friend a surprise birthday party, Mammie had Mammy (accomplice) make plans with her best friend on the day of the party. That way – best friend would never expect anything other than her ‘plans’ with Mammy (accomplice). You don’t want to plan the event too far in advance because the special person may find it suspicious. Ideally try to plan it 2-3 weeks in advance.

3. Pick a venue- Once your accomplice has secured a date- figure out a venue. Easiest way is to have your accomplice plan something where he/she can either take the special person to. For example: Mammy made plans with best friend to hang out during the day and then head home to get ready for dinner. Surprise! happened when they came home. Another example: Have accomplice make dinner plans with special person- and have everyone at that location at least 45 min before. (Saying 45 min will translate to people getting there just on time)

4. Send out the invitations- Best way to send an invitation is via phone. Phone calls will not leak to the special person. However, sometimes we don’t always have their phone numbers. If you don’t have everyone’s phone number- get their email. Best electronic way of sending out invitations are through evites. Go to and you can create your own evite. If you aren’t close friends with special person’s friends- find a trust worthy person to be a middle person. For example: When Mammie threw a surprise party for her brother, she had his roommate forward all the evites. This way, you don’t have to worry about forgetting someone. ***MAKE SURE YOU EMPHASIZE THE *SURPRISE* ASPECT***

5. Follow up- Follow up with the accomplice. Follow up with your guests. A week before your event- send out a follow up email. A few days before your event- get a final count. Make sure the plans are still in effect with accomplice and special person. Confirm reservations or accommodations for event night.

6. Day of event: Set everything up with extra time. When you are planning something like this – you want to make sure you give yourself an extra 45 min-1.5 hours- just in case. If you having the event at your residence, or at a residence, make sure you are completely ready before the guests arrive. If you are having the party at a restaurant – try to arrive early enough for decorations. Most restaurants will allow large parties to sit when 1/2 the party is present so make sure you get some people there on time.

7. Right before the accomplice and special person arrive: make sure everyone is in their place. Last thing you want is a straggler to be wandering, or making excessive noise that will ruin the surprise. Have the accomplice text, or call you right before they arrive. That way you can make sure you have people in place.

8. SURPRISE!!!!! Try to have someone there to capture the moment.

*Keep in mind* A surprise party is an event to remember. Make sure you have a camera to capture all the moments. Try to decorate the venue so that your special person will have no doubt in their mind that this was a planned event. Get a blank scrapbook, color pens, and have your guests write a little message while they wait for the big surprise.

The above 8 steps should be able to aid you in planning a surprise party. The key is to have enough time to plan, set up and execute your party. A surprise party is such a heart warming experience. Go the extra mile and get people together and share a special night with those you love. Good luck!


Top 10 things to do on girls’ nights (mostly in) October 9, 2007

Filed under: Archives,Friendship,Top Ten — mammyflop @ 12:19 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Planning a girls’ night in? These are some ideas to do with your girlfriends. Mix and match a few ideas into one carefree evening with your ladies!

For larger groups: 

1. Themed pot lucks

For example, everyone brings: something red, a dessert, an appetizer, some kind of food that starts with a <you pick the letter>, etc.

2. Game night

Board games, Madlibs (check out naughty variations), or nonboard interpersonal games like “psychiatrist”, “mafia”, and “murder”. Or even this: Everyone pick a *choice* word or phrase, and each get a sheet of paper. The best words are inside jokes or other words meaningful to your group in some other way. Each person writes a sentence (for best results, write about mutual friends/romantic partners) with their respective word, and passes their sheet of paper around so that everyone writes sentences with their word on each paper. Read each sheet aloud when you’re finished. Hilarious!

3. Book club

If you can organize this with a group, it’ll be good times. Foster intellectual growth in yourself and in your friend group, and have a group of people who, literally, are on the same page as you with regard to at least one area of your life!

4. Ice cream sundae party

Everyone bring their favorite topping! 

For any size group:

5. Slide show of old pictures

Warn the neighbors about possible outbursts of screeching, hooting, and laughter.

6. Jacuzzi

Nobody to judge, no insecurities. Just sit back and relaaaax.

7. Dinner and a movie

Go out, cook a meal together, order in, rent or visit a theatre – mix it up to suit your mood! 

8. Go for a brisk walk

Meander through a park if the weather permits (I’m envisioning fall leaves and a the dry, cool air of a crisp fall evening at dusk), or to a vista where you can watch the sunset.

9. Wine & cheese

Enough said.

10. Pampering spa night

Everyone brings spa treatment items such as facial masks, cooling cucumber eye patches, parrafin treatment, manicure supplies, etc.

11. Baking extravaganza

Bake a fabulous cake, or some other creation! If you’re a spaz in the kitchen, consider inviting your culinarily inclined girlfriends…and pick a recipe that seems too complicated to make by yourself! Teamwork!

Girls just wanna have fun!


How to improve your communication skills: Problem solving October 6, 2007

So you’re ticked off at your intimate partner for something….maybe it’s a familiar problem rearing its ugly head once again, or perhaps it’s a new issue that just surfaced. Regardless of what it is or how often it happens, trying to find a solution can be difficult and stressful, and sometimes can even lead to additional problems. Sometimes just the thought of broaching the issue is tough. The Dream Team is here to help. Below are some guidelines for solving problems with your romantic partner. These may extend to other types of relationships as well.

1. Define and specify

Phrase the issue in terms of behaviors that are currently occurring or not occurring, or in terms of what needs to be decided.

Break down large, complex problems into several smaller & more manageable problems. Deal with each of these one at a time.

Make certain that both you and your parter agree on the statement of the problem, and are willing to discuss it.

2. Importance

Explain why the issue is important to you, and what you perceive the issues involved to be.

Explain what your needs are and that you would like to see them taken into account in the solution. DO NOT offer speicific solutions at this time.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions

Time to get creative! Brainstorm every possible solution, no matter how extreme, that you can think of. *Write them down on a piece of paper.* Each solution should be concrete and specificy the behaviors involved.

4. Decide on a solution

You and your partner should independently rate each solution from 1-3 in terms of how much you favor it (1=favor very much, 2=neutral/willing to try but skeptical, 3=dislike). Cross off solutions that both of you gave a 3, since these won’t work for either of you. If there are solutions that both of you rated a “1”, focus on these. Otherwise focus on solutions that one of you rated a “1” and the other rated a “2”. The best solutions will take both partners’ needs and preferences into account, and will be focused on the present and the futue. Do not focus on solutions that meet only your needs, even if your partner is willing to accept them. This could lead to resentment and/or withdrawal by your partner down the line. Do not dwell on the past – the solution should move your relationship forward. Do not accept solutions that you do not intend to follow through with, or one that will make you angry or resentful.

Once you have selected a solution, write it in clear, specific behavioral terms (if this has not already been done). Both you and your partner should verbally restate the solution in your own words to ensure that you each understand it in the same way.

5. Trial

Select a time frame during which to implement the solution on a trial basis. Both you and your partner should mark you calendars for the date when this trial period ends. Allow for several attempts at the new solution. Review the solution at the end of the trial period. If needed, revise the solution, taking into account what you learned during the trial.

All content from:

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., & LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.


How to improve your communication skills: Speaking October 5, 2007


Interested in improving your communication skills? Most people can stand to improve in this department. The great thing about improving these skills is that they’re applicable to any relationship- friends, romantic partners, parents, kids, coworkers. Have you ever gotten caught up in the heat of the moment, and lashed out at your friend, partner, parent, or child? Maybe things even escalated into a full-blown fight. Afterwards, everyone probably felt bad… You can avoid this trap by following the guidelines for effective communication below.

The example situation that will be referenced throughout the post: You and a close friend had made plans to have dinner together last Friday. She called you an hour before you had planned to meet and cancelled because she wanted to go to a concert with a new guy she’s seeing.

  1. State your views subjectively – as your own feelings and thoughts, not as absolute truths. Use “I” statements to avoid your listener feeling as if they’re being verbally attacked (“I’m angry with you because we didn’t get to hang out last Friday like we had planned to do” vs. “It pisses me off that you flaked on me”).
  2. Speak for yourself. State what you think and feel, NOT what you think your listener thinks and feels (“I’m feeling hurt that we didn’t get to spend time together, and angry that you called me an hour before we were supposed to meet” instead of “Clearly, I’m not a priority to you”).
  3. Express your emotions and feelings, not just your ideas (“I’m feeling hurt that we didn’t get to hang out” instead of “We didn’t get to hang out”).
  4. When talking about your listener, state your feelings about her/him, not just about a certain event or situation (“I’m angry with you” instead of “I’m angry that we didn’t get to hang out”).
  5. When expressing negative emotions or concerns, also include positive feelings you have about the person or situation. (“I was really excited to see you because you’re one of my closest friends, and I got very disappointed when you called to cancel” instead of “I’m feeling angry, hurt, and disappointed”)
  6. Make your statements as specific as possible. Identify a single situation or topic that’s bothering you and prompting you to share (Your friend flaked on you last Friday when you had dinner plans , instead of Your friend flakes on you all the time). Avoid making global attributions about your listener (“You called me an hour before we were supposed to meet last Friday” instead of “You always flake on me”). Also be specific in terms of your emotions and thoughts. (“I’m feeling angry and hurt” instead of “I’m feeling bad”).
  7. Speak in “paragraphs”. Express a main idea with some elaboration and allow your listener to respond. Speaking for a long time without a break makes it difficult for your listener to listen.
  8. Use appropriate tact and timing, so that your listener can hear what you’re saying without becoming defensive. Monitor the tone of your voice so that you can have a constructive problem-solving conversation instead of one in which you and your listener tear each other down. Select a time to bring up the topic in advance, when both you and your listener have a block of time and will be able to attend fully to the conversation. Right before work, bed, or other plans is not a good time.

All content from:

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.


The Ultimate Girly Movie Collection October 2, 2007

Having a girls’ night in with your girlfriends, or just by yourself? Get into your most comfy PJs, grab your fave movie-night snack, and pop in one of these from the new generation of chick-flicks:
  • The Sweetest Thing  sweetestthing
  • Crossroads  crossroads
  • Heartbreakers  heartbreakers
  • Legally Blonde  blonde
  • Clueless  clueless
  • Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunionromymichelle
  • 13 Going On 30  13goingon30
  • The Devil Wears Prada  devil
  • Mean Girls  meangirls
  • Love Actually  loveactually
  • The Holiday theholiday
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days  howtoloseaguy
  • Failure to Launch  failuretolaunch
  • A Walk to Remember   walktoremember

Frenemies September 26, 2007

Filed under: Archives,Friendship — mammyflop @ 7:51 pm
Tags: , , , ,


We’ve all got them. Acquaintances, typically of the female variety, who go from friend to enemy in 4 seconds flat. Ok, sometimes the shift isn’t so abrupt- there are certainly various Frenemy types. However, Frenemy’s disregard for your feelings is usually directly proportional to the closeness of your relationship with her. We originally decided to blog this because we had to vent about a few real Frenemies in our lives. We cherish our Frenemy relationships, but at times they’re really frustrating and we don’t know how to deal! We hope to provide comfort to those of you who can relate to us on this. We’d also like to hear about your experiences with Frenemies, and how you deal with them. Please vent here with us!

The flip flopper

I’m really irritated with Frenemy M. One day she’s complaining, bitching, and moaning about mutual friend S. She’s telling me all these horrible things about S that frankly I don’t want to hear about. It drags me down to hear crap-talking, especially about somebody with whom I’m close. But I do want to be a source of support for M, an active listener. Arg, I’ve made my bed and now I lie restlessly in it. It sucks because I really don’t want to hear about the beef M has with S! I ain’t got beef with S, and I’d rather not let M’s beef influence how I perceive S. My usual solution is trying to get M to focus on discussing how she feels rather than on specific details about S’s transgressions and character flaws. Doesn’t always work. As I’ve harped about, the situation is super uncomfortable for me. My discomfort morphs into straight annoyance when-Today I call M and she’s hanging out with S as if no beef ever existed. Yep, that’s right, all is fine- peaches in fact!! It’s like M & S are in some kind of sorority, operating under the pretense that there was never a conflict and everyone gets along famously all the time. The conflict that created such discomfort for M and for me has been power vac-ed up and rocketed off to the Andromeda Galaxy. Did they have a discussion about their conflicts? Nope. Does M ever address with me the fact that she’s gone from verbally crucifying S to being besties with her? Of course not. I’m confused. How does M flip flop with such ease?!?Bottom line: people don’t like conflict. Instead of addressing issues directly and assertively, “passive-aggressive” interactional patterns frequently emerge to the detriment of many friendships. Please don’t be a flip-flopper- if you’ve got beef, evaluate your reasons and if worthy, address them with the person directly. Venting can be tremendously helpful in dealing with frustration, but try to restrict your venting to unaffiliated third parties.


How about the friend who just about requires you to send her a singing telegram to maintain her friendship? She makes you feel guilty for things and you never know why. God I get so effing annoyed with S. I call her, and she doesn’t call me back. Then she complains to mutual friends that I don’t call her! I imagine her sitting next to the phone, screening my call, and then turning her nose up when she sees my name on her caller ID. She chooses not to answer, gets upset with me, and then goes and complains about me to mutuals. Why? I haven’t an effing clue!! It’s really frustrating!! I feel like I can’t do enough to try to be her friend. I really think that she wants me to chase her, like she’s playing hard to get or something. Sorry S, I’m not trying to date you. And it’s no coincidence that you have never been in a relationship if you expect pursuers to run a frickin marathon to get you. I get tired! We all do! I’m not the type to badger a friend into answering my calls. I’ll call once or twice, and wait for a return call. I don’t have many friends who won’t call back. Yet..Frenemy S insists on ignoring me. And her stony silence is quite effective in communicating to me that I’ve done something wrong. She must be mad at me, or she would call me back. Ohhh the silent treatment, so cold. The conclusion of this is generally that I end up eventually running into S, and she behaves as if there are no hurt feelings. I joke that she hasn’t called me back, and I get the standard “I’ve been meaning to but I’ve been so busy” speech. Throw me a freaking bone here S. At least have the decency to explain your reasoning behind not returning my calls. The worst part about the situation is that S is a super fun girl and I truly enjoy her company. If only she could find it in herself to be assertive and to discuss conflicts with me. Sigh. Bottom line- see above.

The guilt-tripper

Frenemy Y only calls you when it’s to return one of your calls. There’s never a spontaneous call. And related to spending time together, she has her entire calendar booked except she graciously offers to squeeze you in for 22 minutes in between her dog’s nail appointment, coffee with friend #31, dinner with grandma, and going to the mall with friend #18. Don’t you feel special that such an in-demand person is taking the time to fit you into her overbooked sched? The worst part about L is that she ½-jokingly scolds you for not calling her! And regardless of what you say, your excuse is never valid in her eyes. Here’s some shocking news: the door swings both ways, Y. Oh, and what’s that other idiom? Oh yeah, the phone works both ways. Apparently clichés are (sometimes) applicable to life.

Got a frenemy of your own to vent about? Mammies certainly constitute an unaffiliated 3rd party. Comment here!