Sunday, May 15, 2016

Smells, sights, and sounds of Minnesota May

I've been using this blog as a way to record my little experiments in happiness. It's been especially interesting for me to be aware of what makes me happy during these months in Minnesota, away from my home in Colorado.

The first two weeks here I had a cold, so I wasn't exercising much, but both last weekend and this weekend, I've been able to get outside and enjoy some long runs through beautiful scenery. I wish it were possible to record smells. The perfume of lilacs in bloom is something I look forward to every year at home. I was happily surprised to find the streets in this neighborhood are full of beautiful fragrant trees and lilac bushes. Just a mile away, the houses are like mansions with yards so big they look like parks! The house I'm living in is comparably small, and, I'm just renting a little room, but I'm surprised by how much I enjoy my morning commute each day, driving through this gorgeous area.

Today for my run, I decided to check out Normandale Lake one of Minnesota's many beautiful lakes. The trail around the lake was 2 miles, and I ran it 3 times, in preparation for upcoming Bolder Boulder.  Yesterday, (even though the weather was way too cold for May!) I was out with a group of Optum employees participating in a 5K Walk for Be the Match around Lake Harriet. So now I've seen two of the 10,000 lakes. Only 9998 to go! Both Normandale Lake and Lake Harriet had bandshells, and it sounds like there will be no shortage of summer music events... another thing I was feeling bad that I was missing in Colorado, but looks like I will get to experience here!

One more happy experience this week: Big Band music! Yes, I went to a Meetup Swing Dance event on Friday night! They announced 3 birthdays at the event of people who were 97, 94, and 93! Wow! I hope I'm still dancing in my 90's!
So am I missing home? I'm loving that I can Skype with my kids, and grand-kids and I've been keeping in touch with friends via email, text, phone calls, and social media. I'll be in Colorado from May 20-30, and will see a lot of people then. It actually may end up that I see some friends more than I usually see them, just because I'm making more of an effort.

But, I admit there are times when I feel a little lonely out here. Even though everyone is friendly and there is plenty to do, it takes time to make good friends. Honestly, I really enjoy exploring on my own -- I'm having fun finding all the shops and new little haunts. I suppose knowing that I'll only be here for 6 months also keeps me both from worrying about or trying to make deep connections. For now, I'm happy just enjoying each day and exploring all the smells, sights and sounds that the area has to offer.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Happy in Minnesota

This week, my "earth angel" - a relative stranger who was kind and generous to me - was Connie Carrino, the sister of my friend, Chris. She met me for Happy Hour and presented me with a thoughtful "Welcome to Minnesota" gift bag full of locally-made goodies such as 3-M notes (we Agilists love sticky notes!), wild rice, nuts, scotch tape, and (though not made in Minnesota, a must have) mosquito repellent. What a wonderful gift! And she invited me to the Kentucky Derby Party she and her husband, Jeff. hosted today.

This picture was taken during my lunch hour. I love my new job at Optum. The people are all nice and the work is interesting and there are walking paths right out the door with ponds and trails and these geese with their gosslings. The office building is really cool and modern, too..  The building uses an "open space" concept and people can sit in new spaces every day. I didn't take pictures in the building because I'm always cautious about confidentiality, but it's a beautiful campus.

This morning I toured the Minnesota Arboretum with a Meetup group and the flowers were absolutely gorgeous! I'd been feeling sad that I'd missed the tulips on Pearl Street in Boulder and then today I saw this! The trees were all flowering and as you can see the bulbs were all out in full color. May is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year! I love the colors and fragrances and the perfect weather. Though everyone says that Fall at the Arboretum is even better, so I'm going to be back!

Here I am at Connie and Jeff's fun Kentucky Derby party! Connie had invited me to the party even before we met, so I was able to get my pink hat (which, of course, doubled as my "girl's road trip hat") from a thrift store before leaving Colorado. I just love theme parties and Connie and Jeff went all out. We had mint juleps (I even got to play bartender for awhile) and a very classy Derby menu. There was betting and games and many friendly people.
Yup... I've already figured out that I like it here!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Big House on the Eden Prairie

When I arrived in Eden Prairie last week, I was happily surprised at how beautiful the home was of the airbnb that I was staying at. A young couple, Jeannie and Javen, and Jeannie's brother, Seth, were also living in the finished basement of the house, but the upstairs rooms were vacant. The house turned out to be wonderful - about a 10-minute commute to my new job at Optum, and an absolutely gorgeous neighborhood. Knowing a good thing when I saw it, I immediately asked if I might rent for the whole 6 months, but the owner, who was working on a long-term contract himself and wasn't quite sure when he'd be home, didn't feel comfortable with having long-term renters.

No problem! I had plenty of great options! My first choice was to find a room in a house rather than live alone in an apartment. I have two housemates at my house in Colorado and I love that arrangement. It's cheaper and so much less lonely when there are other people around. I figured I'd just be the tenant rather than the landlord.

I found a few possibilities that I was excited about, with the best one being perfect -- it was 5 minutes from Optum and was the whole finished basement with a private entrance, complete with a furnished kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.  However, just when I was ready to sign on the dotted line, the owner's current tenant decided to renew for a year.  The owner of my second choice option decided he really wanted to hold out for a year lease as well.

I spent all day Saturday touring apartments, sublet situations, and possibilities from Craigslist, but I came to realize that no one wants to rent to someone who's going to leave right when the weather gets cold.  Almost everyone wanted a year lease and those who would take a 6 month lease, weren't available until June at the earliest. Just when I was at my most discouraged, I got a call from Jeannie, who said that knowing I was having trouble finding a short-term rental, the owner had decided to let me rent a room in the house month-to-month after all. The only caveat was that if his contract were to end early, I would need to move out with very little notice.  Apparently, the chances of that are quite unlikely since the contract is scheduled to go until March, 2017.

I think Jeannie, Javen, and Seth had to convince the owner to let me stay, and I'm so grateful to them all. They've been so hospitable and friendly and their generosity is one of the reasons I'm glad to be staying in a home instead of an impersonal hotel room for 6 months.

I read a book once about "earth angels"--- people who you don't know well, but who do something kind and generous for you out of the goodness of their hearts. Last week, it was Kim who drove all the way to Minnesota with me. This week, it's Jeannie, Javen, and Seth, who helped convince the owner of this house to let me live here!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Goodbye Colorado, Hello Minnesota

What a week - Quite full of gratitude, and happiness for me!

Saying goodbye
Even though I'm only leaving for 6 months (and I'll even be coming back periodically during those 6 months), the last couple of weeks have reminded me how much I love my life, home, friends, and family in Colorado. I got a few more "Happy Clips" for a 3rd video, and I said several more goodbyes to friends who were camera-shy.

My daughter and her husband, at my urging, took a last-minute trip to Cancun, giving me the opportunity to get a full four days and nights of grand-parenting in before my trip.

And my house-mates, in their usual thoughtful way, made me a delicious going-away dinner and surprised me with a box full of snacks and goodies for the road.

ALS Never Surrender
Anyone who knows me, knows that my "Carpe Diem" way of living was influenced by my friend Craig Dunham, who lost his life to ALS in 2010. For the last couple of years, I've led Team Carpe Diem in the Walk to Defeat ALS. Last year, I met Steph Courdin at the Walk, who started the ALS Never Surrender Foundation. I'd been meaning to ask Steph how I could help, and last week we talked and it looks like I'll be able to do some blogging that will help the foundation.

Like Craig, Steph is not letting ALS stop him from continuing to live fully. Not only does he continue to live a full and productive life enjoying his family and photography, his foundation is actively working on an application that will help towards understanding the disease. I'm inspired and excited to be involved!

Road Trip
And finally, there's my move to Minnesota! A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post asking if anyone wanted to be my road trip buddy... and believe it or not, I got a taker! Kim and I worked together at Sun several years ago, and even though we've run into each other occasionally at an Agile event, we really were mostly "Facebook friends."

It was super-generous of Kim to offer to drive with me... in fact, she offered to drive the whole way! And that she did! We planned the trip using Agile techniques, with a "backlog" on Trello, and even though we were quite prepared to be entertained with music, audio books, games, and snacks, we spent the entire trip talking! Kim is both fun and funny -- what a great sense of humor -- and she was so open and authentic - she felt like another sister to me! The trip warrants a blog post all on its own, or maybe a private journal entry..  But I did want to publicly say that I so appreciate her willingness to give up her weekend to take this journey with me. I just love her attitude, spunk, and spontaneity and feel grateful to have shared this weekend with such a special person and earth angel!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What Makes My Colorado Friends Happy?

Today I created the second in my "What Makes You Happy?" video series. I've been asking friends all week to contribute and, though there were some who were video-shy, I ended up with ten little clips (well above my goal of 7 per week.. I'm such an over achiever!)

I really enjoy these little video clips because I'm reminded of the many wonderful things that make us happy. Though many people talk about the happiness they get from family, friends, and loved ones, I like that many people also mention the little moments of every day life.

This week in the videos, a few people mentioned how beautiful it was to live here in Colorado, and I have to agree. I especially love Colorado from April to October... the exact months I'll be in Minnesota... but, those are also the months that it will be milder in Minnesota and I hear it's beautiful there, too. Besides, I hope to come back to Colorado every month or so, and so it's actually a little silly for me to be making such a big deal of leaving.

On the other hand, leaving Colorado has given me more reason to take a serious look at all the people and places that I love here and recognize how lucky I am. What a beautiful state and what a diverse and talented group of friends I have.

I have one more week of saying my goodbyes and then on Friday, I leave for Minnesota!

Monday, April 11, 2016

What Makes You Happy?

I tried a little experiment last week by asking people what made them happy, with a goal of getting a short video clip from a new person each day. I actually averaged more than one a day (I got 9 in 5 days) but there was one day when I didn't get any.

Why did I do this?

1) I love seeing the natural smiles and body language from people when they're talking about something that makes them happy. I think it's a contagious feeling, so I feel happier when I watch this.
2) Part of "social connection" with people is talking to them about something that matters to them. What better way to find out what matters than to hear about what makes them happy?
3) I thought this would be a good way to practice getting out of my comfort zone and talking to new people since I'll be doing that a lot when I go to Minnesota. (More about this below)
4) I wanted to get diverse perspectives. I love that I was able to get a range of ages who participated.
5) I felt a little closer to everyone who participated... not just because I found out what made them happy, but because they were willing to be vulnerable enough and trust me to let me film them.
6) I'm very interested in how we form bonds. Do we need to be face-to-face or can we bond to someone by seeing them on a video? I have a particular interest in this for my work since I write and speak a lot about "virtual teaming." Though I think face-to-face is the best and a video won't allow for 2-way conversation, I feel like you can feel a bond when you see someone talking about something they're truly passionate about, especially if you're passionate about that thing, too.

Is it a good way to get to know someone new?

Every person who agreed to do the video was someone I knew personally. I taught a class last week in Philadelphia, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how this would work when I was in a new place.  The only person who did it in Philadelphia was my Aunt (and it was really cool that I got to visit her since I hadn't seen her in 27 years!)

I asked the people in the class if they'd be willing to do a clip, but didn't get any takers. I asked the man next to me on the plane if he might do it, and though we ended up talking for 4 hours about life and happiness, in the end, he didn't want to do it because he said he was not in a happy place in his life right now. He took my card and said that he would connect and send me a video clip when he had overcome the challenges in his life.

It will be interesting to try this maybe on the road trip or when I meet people in Minnesota, but it might be kind of intrusive for people who I don't know at all. I guess you have to build up a trust level with someone before you ask them to be on video...  On the other hand, it certainly worked at opening up a conversation with the man on the plane, and I feel like we did have a great conversation during that flight, even if we never see each other again.

How did people feel about doing the video?

A lot of people weren't comfortable being video'ed because they are self-conscious about how they will look or how they'll sound. I think some also may have worried that they needed to figure out the biggest thing that makes them happy or say something profound. And, of course, they may have been worried about what I'd do with the video. Many people don't mind talking about what makes them happy, but don't like being on Facebook or social media.

So...  even though I think these people are so beautiful and I'd love to publicly thank them and acknowledge my admiration for each of them, I'll resist the urge to mention any names to protect their privacy.  I'm very grateful to them for being my guinea pigs in this first video.

Will I keep doing this?

Yeah, I kind of would like to do a video every week. It may not always be the "What Makes You Happy?" question, but that is a good question for now. I also hope I'll get participation from remote people who could send me a video.  A couple of people told me about "vine" so I'm going to have to experiment with that.

Want to participate?

Send me a short video clip (I've been trying to keep them to 10 seconds) of what makes YOU happy!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Road Trip, Anyone?

I'm about to embark on a new adventure: I've accepted a 6-month contract in Minnetonka, Minnesota, where I know no one, starting April 25th. Moving to a new place can be both exciting and lonely.

For the past few years, I've been really interested in positive psychology and understanding what makes me happy. Basically, my life goal has become to maximize happiness and minimize stress. In my studies of happiness, I've heard over and over again that "social connections" are the key to happiness. If that's the case, is it crazy for me to move away from my home here in Colorado where I have so many strong connections, to a place where I have none? Even though it is only for 6 months, I've come to recognize that every minute of life is important. In fact, "Carpe Diem" and living life fully is kind of my mantra.  Would I move to Minnesota for 6 months if I only had a year to live? Probably not.  On the other hand, isn't experiencing new things part of what makes life so wonderful?

Well, my adventure in Minnetonka, making new friends, seeing new places, and still fostering my current relationships.. those will all be topics for future blog posts (at least that's the plan).  But for today, my first adventure in this new sub-chapter of my life is "the road trip." How can I take this road trip and maximize the happiness and minimize the stress?

I actually love road trips..  I love to explore places along the way.. stop and notice the different scenery and the locals. Try a new unique restaurant, use apps to find unusual sites and stops. I love to have long conversations with whomever is in the car with me, sing along to the radio or CD, or listen to entire audio books. The one thing I don't like to do is actually drive...

Yeah, driving is not my strong suit. I hate driving by big trucks that are going fast, and especially being trapped in the middle lane between two big trucks. Of course, driving in bad weather, in the dark, or on curvy one-lane roads in the mountains are also on my list of why I suffer from "Driveaphobia," and luckily none of those challenges are likely to happen on a spring Denver to Minnesota road trip (though April does often bring some pretty nasty snow storms, so I guess there is the possibility..)

In any case, my first challenge in my "Minnetonka Project" is to do this road trip and figure out how I'm going to maximize happiness and minimize stress.  Since I like road trips but hate to drive, here are some options:

1. Buy a self-driving car

OK, now let's move on to the realistic options.

2. Get a friend to go with me

This is my favorite option. And, by the way, I'm happy to pay all expenses, including hotel and flight back to Colorado. I'd even drive half the time (ok... so you'd have to risk your life with this, but it would be an adventure, right? Having me drive is purely optional depending on how much of an adrenaline rush you want on this journey.)  The only requirement to be eligible for this exciting once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is that you're already my friend. If you're not, but you still want to get to Minnesota from Denver for free, go to option 3.

3. Get a stranger to go with me

I could use Craigslist to advertise a Drive-share opportunity. This could be an opportunity to meet a new friend so it's intriguing. On the other hand, I don't know if I want to be stuck for that long with someone I don't know very well and I, personally, want to do this drive in two 7-hour driving days, rather than a 14-hour drive, so... then there would be the whole awkward conversation about getting a hotel..

4. Drive myself but enlist friends to be my "virtual road trip buddies"

This solution reminds me of my "virtual running buddy" plan I came up with when I ran the Disney Marathon in 2005.  I had friends call me every 10 minutes during the 26  mile run to cheer me on and help distract me from the pain of running... especially during those final miles.  It was awesome!

If I choose this option, I'd once again enlist friends and family to call me along the way with phone calls. We could sing, talk about some deep topic, or I could describe the driver of the car who's flipping me off because I'm talking on the phone and not paying attention to the road. It would be SO much easier than trying to talk and not pay attention to what I'm doing while running in a marathon! I really like this idea because it includes my idea of "staying socially connected" even though I'm heading out on a solo adventure.

So, if you're my friend, expect my invitation to be a virtual road trip buddy options 3 and 4 don't pan out. And in the mean time, let me know any great stops or tips you have for me to prepare. Songs? Audio books? Cool places to eat or stop along the way? Routes?

Let the adventure begin!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pi Sonnet

Last week I celebrated "Pi Day" (3/14) with Scotty who was home for Spring Break.  We did a variety of activities including entering this Pi Project Competition.  I shared the link and asked people to vote via Facebook, but it appears it's not very clear that there are multiple pages which is too bad because I'm most proud of my Pi Sonnet which is on the last page of the project. Right now there are only 25 entries and 26 prizes, so I (hopefully) will win a prize, even without the votes, but I wanted to take this opportunity to properly show off my Pi Sonnet. 

Definition: a poem of fourteen lines following the rhyming scheme: aaa.bccccbddddd; Typically a love poem.
Diameter, a straight and simple number
Alone and feeling down and umber
In boredom she would simply slumber
[Pointed pause]
But wait!
A number of a different sort
Up front, she finds he's rather short
Oh, but past the point, there's no report
of ever reaching an ending port.
It’s fate!
He’s different, yes, not Hex nor Bi.
This irrational number was her guy.
At last she'd found her Sweetie Pi.
And so, she proposed with an excited cry,
"Let's go full circle and multiply!"

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Week 8 - My Birthday!

Yesterday was my birthday and so I decided to host a theme party. It turns out that February 26th is World Pistachio Day which is a perfect theme for a nutty person like me! I love the creativity involved in trying to come up with decorations, food, costumes, crafts, words, and games related to a theme. Pistachios turned out to be an excellent theme for this time of year because there's a lot of green stuff out in party stores for St. Patrick's Day and kind of that Pistachio-green pastel colored Easter eggs that do resemble pistachio nuts! I even found these great plastic green egg containers at Dollar Tree (my favorite party store!) that were excellent for serving nuts or other party food.

There are also recipes, both savory and sweet, that feature pistachio nuts. Thanks to Pinterest it was easy to get plenty of ideas both in the food and craft department.  The easiest cake to make was something I didn't even have a recipe for, and I'm proud of myself for coming up with it.  I just made a white cake using a cake mix, but kept about a 3rd of the batter out and added some pistachio pudding mix.  Then I folded that into the cake and frosting to give it a little bit of that marbleized affect and pistachio flavor.

I also hid little packets of pistachio nuts around the house for an easy decorating idea and something guests could find and bring home at the end of the night..  Yeah, maybe more appropriate for a kid party, but I have to admit, I still enjoy kid games like that, despite my ever-increasing age.

One of the favorite parts of having a theme party for me is when my friends creatively participate.

Chris, an Ohio State Buckeye's Fan, was dressed creatively in pistachio green, along with a green beard, and buckeyes liberally placed on his costume.  His motto was,  "Pistachio's are cool, but Buckeyes rule." He also made some of the peanut-butter chocolate buckeye treats to share, some laced with chopped pistachios.

Heather came prepared in her pistachio-green attire (she researched to make sure she was wearing the exact right shade of green) with a mustachio and plenty of mustachio props for the "peanut gallery" to play along. (I stole the "peanut gallery" pun from party guest, Chip!)

Friends brought all kinds of pistachio-adorned dishes to share. Many of the cards I received were so perfect for pistachio-day.  I even got some remote participants, including the picture I included on this post from my sister.

Pistachio parties are perfect for a "roast" and I had planned to do some kind of "reverse roast," telling a story about each guest, but I settled on a kind of a party game that really had nothing to do with nuts.  I had a list of things that I'd done with friends like "Played ping-pong with this person," "Ran through mud with this person," etc. and the idea was to match up the list with party guests. As it turns out, I made it too difficult because all the guests had done multiple things with me, so I'm going to refine that game for my next party.

Though I'm usually stressed about hosting a party - I'm worried about people not showing up or having a bad time or thinking my little activities are childish - I have come away from this party recognizing a lot of things..

* I have a lot of friends who I'm so grateful for. Whether they want to "play" at my theme parties or not, they accept my silliness. And, luckily, enough play along that I'm having fun, which is really more important than having everyone participate.

* I'm so lucky to have a talented daughter who lives nearby and is my theme party hero! She's so talented with food art, creativity, and decorating, and she's always a big help and support to me, no matter what I try. I love that, despite her youth compared to all the other party-goers, she brings her family and participates in my games when she can.

* I'm grateful for all the people who helped both before and after the party, brought food and wine, flowers, cards, gifts, and themselves.  I'm especially grateful for Sue, who, despite recent surgery, came early on party day to help me with preparations.

* There are a lot of friends who can't come to my parties for a lot of other reasons - It has nothing to do with how much they "like" me.  I'm planning to get together with many of them one-on-one in the coming weeks which is often even better than a party because I get to spend quality time with them.

* Though I always consider my parties "open" if everyone showed up, I wouldn't have nearly enough room. It's fine and makes me happy to have all the birthday greetings on Facebook and that makes for a fun virtual party.

All-in-all, I realize, once again, on this day-after-my-birthday how blessed I am for all the love I have in my life.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Week 7: Valentines

Last week I sort of "cheated" on my resolution of blogging a "happiness blog post" every week. It was easy to just post a video of the Superbowl win and think I'd go back later and describe that happy moment..

This week, again, I'm posting a video of a happy moment. My grandchildren are really being extremely silly in this video... though not their normal super-adorable selves, I love that they're comfortable being so nonsensical and playful with me.

Valentine's Day isn't normally such a fun day for singles... it can be a reminder that we don't have any romantic love in our life. But on the years, like this year, that I'm not in a romantic relationship, I enjoy spending time with friends and family (like my grandchildren) and I'm reminded of how lucky I am for all the love I have in my life.