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..

Monday, August 29, 2016

Steph Courdin - Fighting ALS and Living with a Purpose

Help Steph get to MedicineX conference
We're in the midst of what I call "Carpe Diem Season"... when I clog up all of my friends inboxes and Facebook feeds with requests for donations or to join me in the Walk to Defeat ALS. This cause is so near to my heart...  I do this in honor and in memory of my friend Craig Dunham. It's thanks to him, that I'm so much more aware of what it really means to live fully, and how important it is for us to rid the world of this awful disease.

At last year's Denver Walk, I met Steph Courdin, who you see pictured here. Steph, founder of the non-profit, ALSNeverSurrender Foundation, is working on the game-changing technology which will gather the analytics to help measure muscle movement in ALS patients, providing valuable data for those working towards a cure.

I'm so proud to know Steph and to support him in his venture. It's inspiring to see that ALS is not stopping him from courageously moving forward with gaining support for his app at the MedicineX conference in mid-September at Stanford University.

One thing I've learned from all my happiness studies is that giving makes us happier than receiving. If you want to get a little happier and be part of finding a cure, then there are lots of opportunities to help the fight against ALS:

Art4TheCure   (Attend the Nov.18 Art Auction in Denver)

Let's help Steph get out and change the world and find a cure!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spending time with the kids

It's been awhile since I've written here and that's because I've been having a wonderful fun-filled few weeks and just haven't taken the time to blog.  The highlight has been all the time I've gotten to spend with my kids and grandkids, both in Minnesota and in Colorado.

The first weekend in August, Matt, Stella, and Scotty flew into Minneapolis and stayed with me at the house I'm renting in Eden Prairie. We toured all over the place - First I went to Valley Fair amusement park with Scotty, who'd arrived Friday night. We rode the teacup ride with our makeshift "costumes" (me as a teabag and he was a spoon) since it was one of the challenges and the final day if GISHWHES.

Then we picked Matt and Stella up at the airport and enjoyed the Uptown Art FairComo Park Conservatory and Zoo and ended the evening at the Horse Races at Canterbury Park, giving Scotty his first legal-aged gambling experience.

The next couple of days we enjoyed more sights, including Lake Harriet and the Rose Garden, the Guthrie Theater, Anthony Falls Bridge, and Betty Danger's Restaurant where we drank margaritas and ate tacos on a 20-minute ferris wheel  ride with a view of the Minneapolis skyline!

 The kids introduced me to "Pokeman Go," apparently the most downloaded app EVER. (Scotty told me this at least 3 times, wanting to be sure I recognized the significance of him making me aware of something so prevalent in today's world culture.) Surprisingly, though I enjoyed finding the pokeman creatures that were in all the spots we were walking, I wasn't nearly as enamored with the "game" as they all seemed to be. I put "game" in quotes, because there really didn't seem to be much strategy involved other than capturing pokemen, but I did have fun getting Pokemen in the photos with the augmented reality feature.

The following weekend I flew back to Colorado and had another week of visiting with Scotty before he flew out to finish his final semester at Purdue and also had a fun visit with Meg, Chris, Diego, and Reneya. Diego's 7th birthday was July 28 and Reneya's 5th will be August 29. Since I was visiting right in between, I had a joint little family birthday party for them both at my house. They are so full of energy and giggles and just seeing them play brings so much joy to my heart.

I'm so proud of my children and feel lucky that they've grown into such thoughtful and independent young adults. But I admit to feeling a little melancholy that they're all grown up and don't really need me any more. I know there are a lot of parents who can't wait to be in the place I'm in now and I don't take it for granted. It's every parent's dream to see their children happily independent, so I'm going to savor that my biggest goal... to raise my kids.. has been accomplished. Now I just get to sit back and enjoy them and their growing families!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

GISHWHES on the Great Northern Island

This is my entry for GISHWHES Item #117:
Gishwhes has conquered the Great Wall, South American waterfalls, the Champs-Élysées, and even SPACE! Help gishwhes conquer new territory— take gishwhes somewhere epic that it’s never been before:

This is my first year of being part of this week-long international scavenger hunt and I have been stoked about playing, but had no idea what to expect! The outrageous list of challenges was to be announced on July 30th and, as it turns out, that was the same day that I was to be on an EPIC Island Adventure at the Great Northern Island by Alexandria, MN! This isn't just any island... it's privately owned with some beautifully decorated cabins - the theme being "The Great Northern Railway" with Rocky the mountain goat as the island's mascot.

I was extremely lucky to have met the generous owner of this island, Chris, a few weeks ago when playing tennis, and he invited me to join him and several of his friends on an island retreat for the weekend of July 30-31. Knowing there would be no Internet service, I warned my GISHWHES team-mates that I might not be able to participate until Monday.

Still, being curious about what items would be on the list, I called my son, also on our team, to get the low-down. As Scotty started rattling off the list which was even more outrageous than expected, he came across this one:

Green Eggs and Ham. Sam does not like green eggs and ham. Not on a boat, not with a goat. Show us yourself enjoying green eggs and ham (sunny-side up) on a boat with a goat.

A boat? A goat? Would I could I eat green eggs and ham with a boat and with a goat? Absolutely!

*  I can't share the video or photos until after the hunt is over!

Let me tell you, it wasn't easy to get that goat on that boat. It took four big guys to get him there, but... how often are you able to really be on a boat with a goat and eat green (with salsa verde) eggs and ham? I bet not even Sam I Am ever got around to actually doing it!

And that's not all! The group of people on this island were even able to help me accomplish two other difficult challenges:

 Celebrate the Olympic Summer games by running a 40-meter, 30-legged dash.

*  I can't share the video or photos until after the hunt is over!

This one, we even used Brooke, Chris' adorable dog to get us to 30 legs. You can't really see from this video, but Nancy, one of my new friends, had marked all of our legs 1 through 30!

Couch surfing. Really. Real couch, real surf in ocean water. Make it happen.

I'm sharing this video because after I got home, I discovered that they took this off the list! Oh dear! I'm glad we didn't really sacrifice the couch to the "ocean"! But we had so much fun doing this that I'm really glad it was on the list to start with and that I can freely share it! That's Lisa, Susan, and me singing, and I loved their spirit! We're ready for this video to go viral!

I'm back home from this fabulous weekend adventure, checking the very, very long GISHWHES list for what else I can help accomplish this week. Seeing as we signed up to be on a non-competitive team, I'm pretty sure we won't win this competition, but I'm having lots of fun trying.

I was SO impressed and happy at how willing the other people on the island were to help organize and participate in these challenges. Usually, I have to twist arms, beg, and cajole to get my friends to do this kind of stuff with me. These were people who hardly knew me and they were willing to play! I just love that! And they were ALL IN! In fact, Chris even said that next year he'd host another island retreat for GISHWHES 2017!

And, as I scanned the list and found #117: take gishwhes somewhere epic that it’s never been before... I thought: YES! GISHWHES made it someplace very rare and special indeed: To the Great Northern Island!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You know it's a good summer when...

.. you're in Minneapolis for the Aquatennial fireworks!
Last night I saw the most spectacular display of fireworks ever. Touted as one of the five best in the nation (I'll have to find out where the other four are!), it's an annual event in Minneapolis, sponsored by Target which is headquartered out here. I felt particularly lucky to have experienced this with new friends and with perfect weather! This event hadn't even been on my radar until my new friend, Lisa, invited me to join her and a group of her friends. Having been caught earlier in the day in a downpour with more rain predicted throughout the evening and feeling a little tired, I almost said, 'no', but remembering my "Carpe Diem" mantra, I figured the worst that could happen would be we'd get rained on and the fireworks would be cancelled.  And, as it turns out, it couldn't have been more gorgeous. I also felt so lucky to have had the opportunity to not be going alone (worst) or tagging along with a meetup group (better), but to be invited to go by Lisa and to be introduced to her friends. Sipping Pinot Grigio, munching on a variety of shared finger foods, and taking in the city scenery added to making it a blissful evening!

I missed doing my weekly blog post last weekend and I have so many pictures and "happy" experiences I'd like to add.  Even though I'm too busy to write blog posts daily, I've been doing this exercise with my Colorado friend: We've been exchanging texts with different endings to the sentence.. "You know it's a good summer when..." so I'll put a few of my favorites on the end of this post. It won't capture all the great experiences I've been having because you can't always take pictures of things like.. ".. when someone pours water down your back after an extremely hot tennis game." Not only is it hard to capture that with a camera, but I refuse to have pictures posted of me with my sweaty face.  And then, of course, there's the issue that my photography skills leave something to be desired. (That fireworks photograph is from this Minneapolis Happenings site.)

I've been wondering how long it would take me to feel "at home" here. Today is my 3 month Anniversary... the half-way point of my contract.. and I do feel more at home. I love my job and I'm more comfortable with all the tools and processes and people. I'm making friends and next weekend I even got invited to go with a group to a cabin on an island! I even feel like I know the Minneapolis area more and getting around without constant need of consulting my GPS. I wouldn't want to move here because of the brutal cold winters.. and, of course, because I miss all I have in Colorado, but..

You know it's a good summer (in Minnesota!) when...

..  you teach the class you've been developing for the past two months and you nail it!

... you enjoy a dinner cruise on the St. Croix river with new friends serenaded by dixie-land jazz musicians

... you sip mimosas and sample braised pork huevos rancheros at brunch with a girlfriend on the patio of a Kenwood restaurant

... you see the bright kayaks and canoes on sparkling Lake of the Isles, one of the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis

...  you finish an invigorating set of tennis, look out at Round Lake to see the sunset and then see the huge full moon coming up on your way home, with the sky still pink in your rear view mirror.. and it's 9pm!

...  a Beatles Tribute band is playing for free at Staring Park, 10 minutes from where you live in Eden Prairie, with the audience singing, little kids dancing, and the summer night cooling as the sun sets

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Making Friends

When I moved out here to Minnesota, one of the questions I pondered was: How long will it take for me to make friends? I had these grand plans to make "a friend a day" which quickly turned into "a friend a week" which eventually turned into "at least one friend."  Well, that's a little bit of an exaggeration. I actually found the people here very friendly but it's hard to go beyond the small talk and make a deeper connection.

This weekend I was feeling particularly lonely since the 5-day visit from my friend from Colorado was over and I realized that I had no weekend plans. However, it ended up being the most social weekend since I've been out here and I met three people who I had long conversations with -- three new friends.

1) Paula

The picture in this post is of Paula sitting on a park swing observing the wildlife, taken before I met her. I was geocaching in this park (by the way, I didn't find the geocache, but I did find a deer in exactly the spot of the geocache). Anyway, as I saw Paula (whose name I didn't know yet) sitting there, I thought, as I've thought on several other occasions, "Maybe I should go talk to her." Usually, I just smile and say 'hi,' and go on my merry way, but this time when I said, 'hi,' Paula invited me to sit down and chat.

Before long, Paula and I were chatting as though we'd been old friends. We found we had a common interest in psychology and relationships. I lost track of the time, but we must have talked for over two hours, and at the end of our conversation, we exchanged numbers and became Facebook friends.

2) Jim

Jim is someone I met swing dancing Friday night. I'd actually met him the first time I went dancing here in Minnesota. He's an excellent dancer and we had a lot of fun. He invited me to go out to Excelsior on Saturday night to listen to some live music. As it turned out, we roamed around the quaint city by foot, ending up watching the sunset and boats on Lake Minnetonka, sipping on margaritas and hearing rock'n'roll in the background. It was a beautiful summer night, and again, we found we had common interest in psychology and coaching.

3) Scott + a bunch of other people

Saturday morning I went out to St. Paul to play tennis at a Recreational Tennis meetup event. The people were so friendly, and once we were finished playing, I chatted enough with Scott to realize we had a similar work history and that we both started our careers with IBM internships.

Scott told me that some other people were going to be playing tennis on Sunday and asked me if I wanted to join for that and then go on to his house for Happy Hour with his wife and other friends. I was so impressed that he would invite someone he just met to his home! Even though it was a bit of a drive, I showed up at the appointed time of 1:00, played tennis, and then after a quick Cub Foods run, headed to Scott's house.

There was plenty of wine and Happy Hour fixings (including cute little drink umbrellas). Even though I don't think Scott intended all of us to stay so late, we ended up feasting on home-made lasagna and key lime pie. DELICIOUS!

Through Scott, I met about 5 other people who I'm making other plans with. I may have even found my roommate for my cruise!

I'm not sure why I had such success this weekend with my friend-making challenges when I wasn't having much luck before. Maybe I was trying a little hard to "put myself out there." Or maybe I was just lucky in meeting people who I seemed to click with.

In all cases -- Paula, Jim, Scott (as well as Scott's wife and friends), were just so inviting and generous in opening their hearts. They made me feel welcomed to do the same. Though it will take more than one conversation to become deep friends, I at least have made some connections that I feel could grow into lasting friendships.

In any case, I think my lonely days are over, and I'm feeling re-energized about my stay here!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Exploring Brooklyn Park

This weekend has been another one of exploring the many parks and lakes and beautiful Minnesota scenery. The highlight of my week, however, was meeting Scott Marble from Brooklyn Park. I'd been introduced to Scott through another friend, Steph Courdin. Both Scott and Steph are working hard to find ways to put an end to ALS -- a disease they both have.

Steph has created the ALS Never Surrender foundation - a non-profit organization aimed at creating the first ALS BioMetric and Telemetry Patient Application by collecting real time data that will help in better understanding the disease. Scott, along with his husband and care-giver, Shaun, are advocates for those with ALS, attending events such as their recent trip to Washington DC last month to lobby for legislature that will help ALS patients.

All my friends will undoubtedly be hearing more from me as we begin what I think of as "Carpe Diem Season" and I start my fund-raising efforts. For now, I just wanted to meet Scott and Shaun and get myself invited onto their Minneapolis walk team, Marble's Marvels!

As is my weekly tradition, I'll keep this short and sweet and just end with some of my photos from the week.
Wearing quilled earrings I'd bought from the Edina Art Fair.

Hanging out with a "Tater" at the Brooklyn Park Tater Days Festival

Checking out the Mississippi River!

Meeting Scott Marble

Dancing to Music by Boogie Wonderland

Lake Bryant

Riley Lake - Also played tennis at the park here!