Sunday, September 03, 2017

An App to Help Bring an End to ALS



I met Steph Courdin in the summer of 2015 at an Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and funds for ALS. I was dressed as “Super Carpe Diem Woman,” a goofy super-hero who’s ‘power’ is to live life fully. Steph, a photographer, was taking pictures of the event with a very fancy looking camera.  He was smiling as though he didn’t have a care in the world. The fact that Steph was in a wheelchair was my only clue that he might have ALS himself.

Though it’s easy to ‘live life fully’ when you have a fully functional body, I believe the real super-heroes are people like Steph who set that example, despite an ALS diagnosis. Steph doesn’t let the disease stop him from hitting the trails, traveling, and most recently, “rolling” his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, via a standing wheelchair.




ALS, a fatal, degenerative disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, gained national attention during the Summer 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge mania. Until then, it was a comparatively unknown disease with little progress made towards a cure. It’s encouraging that the money raised from the ice bucket challenges are making a difference, but the cure won’t come overnight. In the meantime, Steph had an idea to help.

In 2015, Steph, in addition to living a full and active family life, created the non-profit ALS Never Surrender Foundation aimed at helping with research and ultimately finding a cure for ALS.  Having a background and experience with data analytics, Steph had the idea of creating a mobile application that would collect data pertinent for ALS patients. By monitoring the progression of patients as well as their treatments, researchers and doctors can gain valuable knowledge and feedback about treatments that will slow or even stop the progression of symptoms.

Steph shared his idea with some contacts in San Diego and in the Fall of 2016, the designs and use-cases became a reality with the availability of a beta version of the ALS iNVOLVE application. In January of 2017, students from Georgia Southern University pitched in to finish the first version.  

To help fund this massive undertaking, Steph initiated ‘Art4the Cure’ – a group of 42 artists from 9 countries and 14 states who have donated art to help raise money for the cause. Additionally, Steph started a ‘Faces of ALS’ portrait series to feature and highlight others who are surviving and thriving despite ALS.

Steph’s courage, determination, and will to ‘never surrender’ are an inspiration. For those of us who are healthy, we are reminded not to take that health for granted. And for those who do have ALS, Steph is a reminder that living fully is always possible. He’s a leader who is not going to let ALS stop him from living his dreams and finding innovative ways to move the world closer to a cure for ALS. He is, in short, the super-hero who shows us all how to live life to the fullest.


Please help Steph and ALSNeverSurrender launch this life-saving application by donating at http://alsneversurrender.org/donate.  If you have ALS or know someone who does, get involved by using a beta version of the application.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

GISHWHES Must Continue!

I've been participating in the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (GISHWHES) for the past week and it has been a blast. Teams get a list of 198 'missions'to perform... each worth various points... No team has ever completed all of the missions... some of them are virtually impossible.. but with 198 to choose from, there are many that are very achievable. Some are silly, some will challenge your intellect or creativity, and many are heart-warming.

There are many things I love about GISHWHES, so I was really bummed out when I heard this was the last year it would be held. So... this blog post is my attempt to Save GISHWHES!!

Last year, GISHWHES started on the same day that I'd happened to be invited on a trip to the Great Northern Island in Minnesota with 11 other people. I told them about the hunt and we had so much fun that Chris, the island host, said that we could do the hunt every year on his island.



This year we had a blast, again! GISHWHES is the perfect thing to do when you get a bunch of friends together.

The missions we completed ranged from Tree Hugging,making a mosaic out of dog food, pancake art, and creating a hammock self-containment unit, complete with live entertainment, and a Romeo and Juliet sock puppet show.





There were missions aimed at understanding one another (giving flowers to someone practicing a religion different from your own) or meaningful (take your parent back to the place they were when they were 10) and life-changing (helping a dying woman with her final wish.)

Things I love about this hunt:
* The registration fee and many of the missions go to charitable causes.
* The hunt combines fun with helping humanity.
* The emails leading up to the hunt are full of humor.
* You join teammates from around the world.
* The missions tap into hidden talents and creativity. There's something for everyone.

This is definitely the type of activity that fits my motto: Carpe Diem! 

Though I don't think I could pull off a hunt of this magnitude, if GISHWHES dies, I'll try and pull of MOSH (My Own Scavenger Hunt) next year.  But I'm still rooting for GISHWHES to survive. Long live GISHWHES!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January, 2017 – Managing my resolutions with Agile

January is very motivating for me. I’m always excited about starting all my resolutions and this year was no different…  well, except maybe in my ‘methodology.’ I decided to use a lot of “Agile” techniques in ‘managing’ my resolutions this year. It’s been so successful that someday I may write a book about it… but for now, I’ll stick with a blog post.

Putting everything on a backlog
In Agile, we have the concept of a “product backlog.” In software development, a backlog would be a list of requirements or functions that need to be coded, but in my personal life, it’s basically a ‘to do’ list of things I want to do for the year.  

This backlog will never be complete even by the end of the year because I’ll keep adding more to it.  I also might change my mind about what’s most important for me to do this year. That should be a good thing..  After all, I can decide what I want to add to my list and since one of my mantras is to “life life fully” that means I always want a big backlog of fun and fulfilling things to do.  But, because I’m OCD when it comes to “todo” lists, I like the satisfaction of finishing things! Having a never-ending, ever-changing todo list can be stressful!

The sprint backlog is the week’s todo list
Enter the sprint backlog.  In Agile, we take a subset of the “backlog” and decide what we can do in a “sprint” (which, in my personal life, is 1 week). Every weekend, I had a little “sprint planning” session where I created a “sprint backlog,” taking high-priority items off of my long ‘product backlog’ and putting them into my sprint backlog.  Unlike the product backlog, the sprint backlog is something we commit to finishing during the sprint. This helps satisfy my OCD personality that wants to finish things. I feel so productive and I’m very motivated to finish the things on my list because they’re realistic.

How did it work?
This was the most productive January I’ve ever had! I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish for the month (these would equate to “features”) that I split into things I could accomplish in a week (equating to “user stories”). 

The 4th sprint ended on January 28th, and I decided I would take the final 3 days of the month to reflect and plan my February. (This is equivalent to the “Retrospective” or the “Innovation/Planning (IP Sprint)” in Agile.  One of the things I wanted to do during this 3-day period is write a blog post and post some of my favorite pictures from the month, so here goes!


Some favorite memories from January

  
We're a family of puzzlers!
I'm a lucky Grandma!

Meg introduced me to Aerial Yoga

I'm much more comfortable in an upright position!

Short road trip to Southern CO with Matt and Scotty with a stop at the Hercules Beetle..

and Bishop's Castle! Spectacular winter site!

Women's March was empowering and a true show of unity and democracy.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

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Here it is New Year's Eve and I'm home with my laptop sorting through my photos and preparing my lists of all the things I want to do in 2017. Though this may sound like a rather geeky thing to do on a night that's meant for champagne and midnight kisses, I really enjoy this tradition.

Going through all my photos reminds me of how blessed I've been. I guess I didn't blog weekly as planned, but I certainly did a lot to optimize my happiness, as was my original resolution for the year.

Since leaving Minnesota to head back home in late October, two big events happened: I "hosted" my first "Agile Retreat" via a Mediterranean Cruise in November and I went to Scotty's graduation from Purdue in December! At some point, I may blog about both those events, but for now, I'm just posting a few of the pictures, along with others for the year, in my annual photo slideshow.

It's been an awesome year and I have so much to be grateful for. I love my job at Optum and all the friends I made while I was in Minnesota. I was able to extend my contract at Optum and work from Colorado which is awesome. My family is all healthy and happy and I am so proud of them all. 

In 2017, I plan to continue my 'Happiness' theme and have my usual list of resolutions. My plan is to use Agile methods which means that rather than planning for a whole year, I'm only going to plan for a couple of weeks at a time...  No real blogging resolutions at this point, but since I don't have too many people who actively read my blog, I'm guessing that won't be too much of a problem.

So goodbye 2016. Thanks for all the memories!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Saddened and Shocked by the Trump Win

This year my blog has been primarily about happiness and positive psychology. I’ve remained happy throughout this election season despite all the negativity. Being neither Republican nor Democrat, I’ve always prided myself on being able to see all viewpoints. There are people who I love who range from far right to far left and I avoid voicing strong opinions myself, placing myself very firmly in the middle, and trusting in our elected leaders and our processes, recognizing that the diversity in viewpoints will help keep our country strong and balanced.

But Trump’s candidacy was not about policy. His campaign was so abusive and disrespectful that if he were working for any company, he surely would have been fired or sued for harassment and bigotry.  One thing’s for sure. If he were a leader in a company I worked for, I’d quit in a minute. I will not follow someone who I don’t respect and there’s no one I respect less than Donald Trump.

Speaking out against Trump has not been about denouncing the Republican party for me.  As we all know, even high powered Republicans spoke out against him.  Trump has no redeeming qualities. He’s incompetent as a government leader, unlikable, and downright scary. His campaign was so full of school-boy bullying with no real intelligence behind his statements that it was comical! This all felt like some kind of very weird satire that was so unbelievable it was laughable. I’ve seen junior high school students who are better on the debate stage than he is! He is (using one of the very few words he seems to know) a DISASTER!

And so, because of his arrogant, hateful, ridiculous speeches and rhetoric, I felt sure that he could never win. I was only afraid of the violent protests that might come post-election from the supporters who have had the example of using intimidation and bullying tactics to get what they want.

I was on a European Cruise during the election, but still watched from our room’s TV. When it was apparent that Trump was going to win, I cried. It was the saddest I’d felt in a very long time.

It’s five days later now and this feeling of sadness hasn’t stopped. I keep reminding myself how lucky I am and I’m trying to use all the ‘happiness exercises’ I’ve learned about ‘choosing to be happy.’ People are saying that I should trust the ‘system’ and our democracy to work as it’s supposed to.

But that is the problem. I no longer trust that the system works, because if it did, we wouldn’t have this hateful person as our President. A person who is so outwardly bigoted should have been disqualified from even running for Presidency. He is surrounding himself with people who’ve supported him throughout his candidacy. These are people who were too weak to stand up and say, “This is wrong!” Our culture depends on strong leadership who demonstrate our values.  What example are we showing our children? What are we showing the world? This is not the country I thought it was.

I'm not defending Hillary. Perhaps she should have been disqualified from running as well. Something is wrong with our system when the majority of a candidate's campaign is built on telling us how bad their opponent is. 


I can’t just sit back and watch America deteriorate and I know there are millions of others like me who feel the same way. Let’s not stoop to the immature name-calling that Trump demonstrates, but do our part in demonstrating the positive leadership qualities and values that we believe in: Love, kindness, compassion, and inclusiveness.   Even if we don’t trust in Trump’s character, let’s stand together in loving, peaceful protest when we see injustice or racism in our country and work towards helping those who are mistreated.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

ALS Non-Profit Creates ALS Monitoring App

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At the 2015 Rocky Mountain Walk to Defeat ALS, I met techie and photographer, Steph Courdin. I've admired how Steph, despite his ALS diagnosis is always positive and is working hard to find ways to improve the lives of those with ALS and to work towards finding a cure.

Steph founded a non-profit, ALS Never Surrender, with the goal of creating a mobile app which would monitor patient movement leading to a better understanding of the disease. In the same category as Fitbit, patient monitoring apps are game-changers in the health and fitness technology domain.

The foundation is currently seeking support, both in donations to help fund the development of the application or finding patients who wish to get early access.

The foundation is also hosting Art4theCure, a live and online auction, on November 19th.



Sunday, October 02, 2016

Move from Eden Prairie to Apple Valley and starting my Goodbyes

It's already October and that means I only have a few weeks left of my Minnesota adventure. I've been as busy as ever in the past couple of weeks. It turns out that the owner of the Big House in Eden Prairie came back from his contract unexpectedly early and so I had to say my first set of goodbyes. I really enjoyed the neighborhood, my cozy room, and the three young tenants, Jeannie, Javen, and Seth. They're about the same ages as my kids (also a girl and two boys) and so I've had a maternal fondness and admiration for these three since I arrived last April.

Jeannie, Javen, and Seth took me out to dinner last Monday to say 'Goodbye' and though I didn't want them to spend their hard-earned money, they insisted. I told them that one of the things I appreciated most about them is that despite the fact that we're a generation apart, they treat me as a friend. So often the Millennial crowd can treat those of us who are older as though we're invisible. But Jeannie, Javen, and Seth, always made me feel like they were happy to see me. I consider them the first of my Minnesota friends and I feel so lucky that I was able to share a home with them for 5 months.

Even luckier, is that my new BFF, Lisa had an extra room in her house in Apple Valley for me to move into for my final month in Minnesota. I just love living with Lisa. She has such a pretty home and the room she has for me is perfect! It's spacious and has a bathroom and living area that's decorated exactly to my taste...  And best of all, I get to live with the best friend I've made since coming to Minnesota! So while this unexpected move could have been a very expensive 4-week sterile hotel stay, instead it turned out to be an opportunity to enjoy the best kind of living experience ever... a beautiful home with a beautiful friend.

Lisa, Dennis, and Me at the Ren Fest last weekend
Lisa and I have been doing a lot together for the past few months -- She's introduced me to many of her friends and invited me along to many events and functions including the Aquatennial, a Polo Event, and a Wine Tasting Party, just to name a few. She's even going to be my Road Trip Buddy for my return trip home. I've met a lot of wonderful friends since coming out to Minnesota...more than I ever thought I would. But I didn't really expect to meet someone who would so be so generous with her time and even open up her home to me. 

Saying Goodbye to Brad - Amore in Uptown
Of course, the hard part about only living here for 6 months is having to say 'goodbye' to new friends. Besides Jeannie, Javan, and Seth, I also said goodbye to Brad last week. 

Brad is also someone who (I like to remind him) I beat at tennis, soon after I arrived. It was thanks to that win that I joined a tennis meetup which led to all kinds of friendships, including Lisa's. It's funny how one little event can change the course of your life. 

Brad is also relatively new to Minneapolis and shares my love of exploring new places and so we had fun checking out Minnehaha Falls and other sites and lakes earlier in the summer. When I mentioned I liked Disney musicals, Brad surprised me with tickets to the Lion King at the Orpheoum Theater... an amazing play and experience!

Yes, my time in Minnesota has been amazing... and I'll be leaving with lots of happy memories. 


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Walk to Defeat ALS with Marble's Marvels

One thing that positive psychology teaches us is that part of happiness comes from giving and from having passion about a cause. The primary reason I became interested in positive psychology at all was because I was so inspired by friend, Craig Dunham, who lived fully and happily, despite ALS.

Every year I join the Walk to Defeat ALS and send out the emails to all my friends asking for their support. I always worry that they will feel "spammed"...  It feels awkward to ask for money or ask for anything at all. I don't want my friends to feel put on the spot.

But then I remember how hard it must be for those who have ALS who need to ask for help with everything..  I also remember that many of us feel happy to be asked and want to help. In fact, giving or helping others, again, is something that makes us happy. So I really can look at it as I'm giving my friends an opportunity to be happier. You're welcome! ;-) (Just kidding about that. I hate it when people say that "You're welcome!" thing when no one actually says 'Thank you'!)

Yesterday, I was able to walk with Scott Marble and his huge team of supporters in St. Paul. I feel very grateful for those friends who sent in donations, who've walked with me, and support me constantly in this cause. I know there are friends back home in Colorado that walk with me every year and I feel bad that I'll miss that tradition this year, but lucky that I made some new friends to walk with and support me here in the Twin Cities.


Progress is being made..  Thanks to all the donations in these past few years (especially with all the money raised from the Ice Bucket Challenge), a gene has been isolated and a cure is on the way.

Many thoughts and wishes for happiness go out to Scott Marble and his friends and family as he continues to fight for a cure.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Minnesota Experiment a Big Success

When I headed out to Minnesota in April, I viewed it like an experiment in happiness. Knowing that connection was a key to happiness, and also realizing I knew no one here, I wondered how long it would take for me to feel "connected."

I feel like I hit the jackpot out here..  I love my job and the people I work with at Optum. I've also made friends from Meetups, tennis, and dancing, many of whom I'm sure will be friends for life.  I even found some friends to go on the Mediterranean cruise with me in November! 

Every weekend has been full of fun social activities with friends.  I don't have pictures of all the fun events I've done in the past few weeks, but here's a good sampling.


At a BBQ at the home of my very cool boss, Emran.

Boating on the Mississippi

Dancing 'crazy' to an oldies rock-n-roll band

Pat juggling at the Renaissance Festival

Lunch at Red Wing with Scott, Lisa, and Pat

Biking with Scott, Pat, and Lisa

At a Polo Match with Lisa

At a Hanger WWII Period Swing Dance with Pat

Walking Tour of St. Paul Mansions with Lisa and Dennis


Thursday, September 08, 2016

My Agile Role Models: Mike Cohn and Lisa Crispin


Two of the biggest names in the world of Agile software development are Mike Cohn and Lisa Crispin.  In fact Mike Cohn is listed as the #1 in the list of  "The Top 20 Most Influential Agile People." Lisa is best known for her work in quality and Agile testing, and if you're in this space, you'll recognize the book she co-authored with Janet Gregory, "Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams."

These two pundits have authored books, spoken at conferences, been active on social media, and have undoubtedly taught Agile skills to thousands of professionals.  I know if you're not in this field, you're probably thinking, 'And what exactly are "Agile skills"?'

Well... that's a long and complicated topic, but one "Agile skill" is "servant leadership." A servant leader does not lead by telling others what to do (that is so 'old school') but rather leads by supporting, and helping those around them succeed and grow. Mike and Lisa lead by example. They are wonderful teachers and mentors and never gloat about their high status nor are they condescending towards others. They don't act as though they know all the answers to every controversial topic, but rather encourage the discussion and debate, giving their insightful viewpoints.

I've been lucky that, as a writer in this industry, I've gotten to meet and interview many Agile leaders. Lisa and Mike, who both live in Colorado, have always been two of my favorites, and I've gotten to know them more personally through different work-related events. Mike even wrote me a referral for the contract I'm currently on at Optum saying (and I quote, because I'm saving this email forever!)

"I can definitely attest to Yvette’s professionalism and knowledge of all things agile."

Just to give you an idea of what that feel's like...  Substitute the word, "agile" with a skill you're passionate about. Now, think about the most well-known, respected person in that field writing a referral for you!  Definitely something for the career scrapbook!

Lisa, too, has befriended me, and even read and reviewed my book (a humor memoir about dating at an older age!) So much for my professional image! But I was SO flattered that one of my heroes took the time to do such a thing and to get to know me personally!

I know how busy both Mike and Lisa are... Besides their very active careers, they have families, and I know they don't have time to befriend all of their fans, so I try to be sensitive about not bugging them too much.

I do have to brag, though, that they both replied to me about my "Premier Agile Retreats" email that I sent out yesterday.  Even though they can't come this year, they both expressed interest in next year.




It's probably a good thing they aren't coming on the cruise this year because it might be embarrassing for them to be burdened by people who act like doting groupies whenever they're around...  This way I'll have time to perfect my, "Yeah, I'm cool,... Just hanging out with my Agile buddies, Mike Cohn and Lisa Crispin", pose for all the photo ops..