Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Fall Girlfriend Getaway

The last few days I've been enjoying a girlfriend getaway up at my friend, Jill's, beautiful home in the Red Feather Lakes area, a couple of hours northwest of my house.  What a treat!  Cathy and I drove up together and spent luxurious days, hiking, eating, drinking, talking, and enjoying each other's company!  I feel so grateful for my generous and loving friends!

Wrap around porches and lovely views

Jill and Cathy in this spacious sunshiny retreat

Getting my 10,000 steps in new beautiful surroundings!

Every meal was a feast with friends

Short hike around scenic Dowdy Lake

Cathy (my mentor!) and I (the newbie) giving Jill a little ukulele concert 

Tarot Readings!

Cow Crossing

Gnomes were plentiful on Elf Lane

Even a flamingo among this pink gnome section

The gnome villages went on and on with wooded beauty in the background

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Home From Louisiana

In my last post, I wrote about my deployment to Louisiana. I had one day in Houma (pronounced “Home-a”), immediately got sick, and ended up in New Orleans, isolating while waiting for results from a Covid Test.

When the results came up negative for Covid (Yay!) I was put to work on the night shift (7pm-7am) at a New Orleans shelter for the remainder of my deployment.

This experience brought up a range of emotions..  It was much harder work than I’d imagined it would be and I’m still exhausted. I’m also inspired by the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Louisiana as well as the compassion and generosity of so many Red Cross volunteers.

My favorite part of this experience was making friends with the “clients” at the shelter. (I love that they’re called “clients” and not “victims”).

I ask myself whether or not this experience made me “happy”..  After all, my “Carpe Diem” mission has been all about optimizing happiness and minimizing stress.  There was a lot of stress, hardship, and frustration at things that I have no control over.  But there also was happiness I felt and I’ll highlight some of those happy moments below.

Happy Moments:

  • Exploring the streets of New Orleans and Woldenberg Park which was walking distance from my hotel.

  • Getting a pep talk from Malcolm Woldenberg
  • My new friends who I met at the shelter, especially Teddy, who spent hours in the middle of the night playing cards and talking with me.

  • Hearing the stories of life on the bayou. I couldn’t really understand the thick Cajun accents, but saw the pride in the faces of the people describing their lives and families.

  • The Mississippi River

Is that an alligator?

  • Making friends with the volunteers and hearing all their stories and experiences about past deployments.

My Night Shift Partner, "Guy"

  • Being called “Baby Girl” by the clients (those southerners and their endearments!)

  • Seeing the clients care for one another, checking up especially on those who were sick or needed help with wheelchairs.

  • Colorful shoes in the streets of New Orleans

  • Having dinner with one of my “Houmie” friends, Tracy, when she came up to New Orleans on her day off.

  • Getting a text from Teddy today, thanking me for my friendship.

Like most challenges, the harder it is while you’re going through it, the more proud you feel when it's over. And each day got easier as I got to know the people and the routine.

Mostly, I feel gratitude for all I’ve been blessed with. I’ll never take a warm, comfortable bed for granted again.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Deploying to Louisiana with the Red Cross

One of my "bucket list adventures" for 2021 has been to deploy with the Red Cross.  Most of my "adventures" have been pleasure trips..  maybe getting out of my comfort zone to do something fun or challenging.  Rarely has my "adventure" really helped someone else, so I'd been looking forward to doing a volunteer trip.

The volunteering I'd done with the Red Cross had been virtual because of Covid, and, like the rest of the world, I was itching to get back to working with people "in real life."  After getting the vaccine, I did all the training for "Mass Sheltering" and marked myself "available" knowing there was a lot of need right now with fires and hurricanes.

I was very excited to be called to help at a shelter in Louisiana! I was called on a Tuesday and by Thursday morning I was on a plane landing in Baton Rouge.  Typically, volunteers fly out the next day, but I asked for an extra day to prepare. I had to review all the processes and guidelines, but was quite amazed at how quickly I was able to get my flight, "mission card" (on which I could charge approved expenses), and instructions on what to do upon arrival.

Arriving at headquarters

Another volunteer met me at the airport and we shared a ride to American Red Cross Headquarters in Baton Rouge.

After checking in, I went to a big conference room where there were groups of people organizing all the sheltering sites, figuring out how they would be staffed.

Flip charts with lots of sticky notes was a very familiar sight for me, an Agile coach. These are typical planning tools in Agile environments. Agile is all about planning for the unknown and adaptability, with lots of last minute updates.  There certainly is a lot of that going on here!  They even have twice daily "stand-up" meetings, so I felt certain this was an Agile environment, but when I asked someone, he had no idea what I was talking about, so..  while I'm sure many of the practices here were influenced from Agile, it's not so prevalent that volunteers are familiar with the frameworks.

Anyway, it did bring back the excitement I used to feel back when I worked in mission critical situations at work (these were mostly due to computer outages). 

I was very impressed with all the operations that were going on throughout the building.  There was a cafeteria that cooked up hot meals for everyone working in the building and any volunteers who were there, so the night of my arrival, I was treated to delicious jambalaya! Yum!

There was also a transportation department to help coordinate and shuttle all of us volunteers to the various locations and shelters.   That first night, I met a few others who had just arrived and we were shuttled to a local hotel and then back to headquarters in the morning.

Setting up a staff shelter in Houma, Louisiana

The next morning, a group of 6 of us drove in two vans from the Baton Rouge Headquarters to Houma, Louisiana with the task of setting up a new "staff shelter."  A "staff" shelter is a shelter that will house volunteers.  There are already some other client shelters in operation in Houma, a place that was hit very hard by Hurricane Ida.  There's work being done to consolidate and close some shelters and open others.

We arrived at this empty warehouse and unloaded supplies and set up the cots to provide a facility for the volunteers in the area.

When you sign up for Mass Sheltering you can pick to either work the day shift (7am - 7pm) or the night shift (7pm - 7am). I chose day shift, of course and was relieved when that was quickly accepted.  During your shift, you go to the client shelters to help those who have been displaced with whatever they need.  

There was a new client shelter being set up as well that we went and visited, as well as a client shelter that was very full and busy. (I didn't take any pictures because I want to respect the privacy of the clients.)

Seeing the devastation in the area was shocking and sobering.  The seasoned volunteers talk about hearing the stories from the locals and the bonds that form from listening.  I'm looking forward to working at a client site and hoping I can help.  I haven't gotten to do that yet, because...  I got sick. :-(

Covid concerns

I'm really impressed at how safety-conscious the Red Cross is and how strict they are with safety protocol around Covid.  Regardless of vaccination status, we all are reminded that we must wear our masks over nose and mouth at all times and socially distance.

I started feeling those initial sore throat tickles as soon as I boarded the plane. 

"I'm just being paranoid" I thought. It's so typical that I feel sick whenever I'm nervous about getting sick!

But by Saturday morning, there was no denying it, I had a bad cold. 

I told my staff supervisor and I was able to get a quick test which came up negative, so I felt optimistic but the resident nurse said a PCR test was necessary, which would take a few days to process.

The nurse came to pick me up in Houma and drove all the way to New Orleans where I've been isolating in a comfortable hotel. She also drove me to the Walgreens pharmacy to get the test and we'll have the results by Tuesday afternoon. 

I've been feeling guilty for sleeping in a hotel while the rest of the team has been working long days, sleeping in the shelter at night.  The people I met on that first day have been calling and checking on me, telling me the stories of working in the field.

I was hoping I might be able to do some virtual work while I was isolating, but still waiting on both getting new logins and having anyone who needs help.  I know from my career in IT.. sometimes explaining a task to a short-term newbie is more trouble than just doing the work.

The good news for me is that other than a cold, I'm not very sick. I don't have a fever and I've been careful about masking up, so I had felt quite certain I would be Covid-free.  However, this morning I got an email letting me know that one of my friends who I'd had dinner with last week had tested positive, so...  now I'm not so sure.  Until I get the results back, I'm glad Red Cross is treating it seriously and treating me very well.

In usual Agile fashion, here's what's gone well, what could be better, and what I might do differently:

What went well:

* Volunteers: Every single Red Cross volunteer I have met is AMAZING! This is such a generous, kind-hearted tribe! You don't hear a single complaint from anyone!  This is so different than the stereotypical entitled traveler who needs to have everything quite perfect.  These people are adaptable and patient and do what needs to be done. I'm inspired by the givers, the leaders, and the teamwork.

* Leadership: There's a 15-minute virtual "daily standup" on Microsoft Teams every day at 8am and 6pm. These meetings are very organized where the leaders give updates and pass along documents with phone numbers listing the current set of supervisors.  I'm truly impressed with the leadership and the organization of the massive efforts going on, primarily run by volunteers.

* Being cared for: I am so moved at the care and thoughtfulness with which I'm being treated despite really feeling embarrassed about being sick. I came here to help and right away, I'm the one who is getting cared for. Everyone from the people I shared rides with, sheltered with, to the nurse who shuttled me around.. have wished me a quick recovery. Even though I'm embarrassed about not working, they are thanking me for speaking up and getting tested. I so appreciate that.  And I am SO grateful to be able to sleep in a warm bed while I'm recovering.

* Just doing one deployment is wonderful training. Being a newbie, I'm learning all the acronyms and terminology, inspired by the long-timers and regulars.  Even though I've listened to and read everything from the videos, power point presentations, and documentation, actually experiencing it is where the real training lies.

What could be better:

Sleeping for one night in a shelter helped me have a new appreciation for all those clients who don't have the luxury of having a home.  Since this was a brand new shelter, we didn't have pillows yet and the lights were left on all night so people wouldn't trip.   Because of my cold, my nose was really stuffy and I was trying hard to stifle coughing so that I wouldn't keep people awake.  Having to wear the mask while I tried to sleep was necessary, but very uncomfortable.  I was so cold and couldn't sleep at all.  

What I'd do differently

* Well.. I hope the test will come back negative and I'll be able to actually work at the client shelters as planned..  Then I'll have a better idea of what I'd pack differently or do differently for another deployment. I bought some Nyquil so that should help me sleep.  And, hopefully, we'll have some pillows and I may stop at Walmart for a soft blanket!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Ultimate Adventure Awaits

At 88, Dee has had many an adventure. She's traveled the world, raised 5 children, and now, as she sits regally and perfectly groomed in the comfy chair in her room at the assisted living facility, she's a bit impatient.

"The doctor said I had 2 months to live and it's been 2 months and 3 weeks. I'm past my expiration date!" 

Her quips about dying don't stop there. "I let Robi cut in line, but I'm next!" she says. Her sister, Robi, died recently, just 3 weeks after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Dee had been on advanced hospice and hadn't expected to outlive Robi. 

Dee has lost 3 of her 5 children, a husband, and a second long-term partner. She has been through more grief than anyone should have to endure. 

She wants to be next.

As I sit and talk to this spunky woman, the woman who hosted my wedding reception,  the woman who always called herself my "fairy Godmother," the woman who I've known and loved for close to 50 years, it's hard to imagine life without her.  She's so full of life even now, during these final days.

Three months ago, the doctors told her that her heart and kidneys are failing her and there was nothing more they can do.  Her reaction to that? "Sounds about right."

I marvel at her sense of humor. She's joking about dying and doesn't seem the slightest bit scared, sick or in pain. She doesn't even seem old! She sounds exactly like the articulate, educated, irreverent, opinionated, vivacious delightful woman I've always known! How could she possibly be dying? 

I imagine myself being told these are my final days and I'd be petrified. 

I happen to know that Dee prays a lot and I think her faith is playing a part in her acceptance of her imminent death,

"How are you so calm, Dee? Is it because of your faith?" I ask her.

"Oh, no. How can any of us be so bold as to claim we know what happens after we die. I don't believe in Heaven and Hell. They would both be so overcrowded," she jokes.

I pressed on. I wanted to understand this lack of fear so that maybe I could be as calm when my turn comes.

"You aren't at all afraid?" I asked.

"Afraid? My dear! It's a new adventure! It's the ULTIMATE adventure!"

And then a lightbulb clicked on for me! I get it now! Dee is not afraid because she loves new adventures. She's not afraid of the unknown. She's excited about finally unraveling the mystery of what happens after we die!

Unfortunately, I'm not like that.  I'll undoubtedly be scared to death (and of death) when I'm dying. But I will remember this conversation with Dee. And I'll think: "Yeah, thinking of death as an adventure is not working for me." 

Dee.. you're still on this earth and I can't imagine it without you, but I know you will be amazing as you embark on that next ultimate adventure.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Happiness Happens: Reflecting on a Happy Month

Happy Times in August

I'm the kind of person who likes challenges and goals.  This year, I've been setting monthly challenges for myself and then at the end of the month, I reflect on what went well, what could have been better, and what I might want to change.

My goal for August was to blog daily with a theme of "Happiness Happens" in honor of Happiness Happens month. Last year, I was honored to interview the founder of Happiness Happens Month, Happiness Hero, Pamela Gail Johnson, for my podcast.

Having a daily blog post in which I wrote about something that made me happy each day, really made a difference in my overall mood. It was much like a daily gratitude journal, but it went a step above as I searched for words and pictures to describe these experiences. I became much more aware of my emotions and the things that would trigger those happy feelings.

Sure, the news constantly reminds us, very sad things are going on in our world and I don't want to minimize those. However, this daily practice really reminded me of the plethora of wonderful things in my life - simple things, that I often take for granted.. and big things, like the people I love who care about me.

I remember a day earlier this month when I had some personal disappointments.  I had 3 bad things in a row happen.. not big things, but big enough to make me feel moody and irritable.  Then I reminded myself about all my Happiness Happens moments that I'd been writing about. I stopped the downward spiral that was happening in my head and was able to turn it around.

I'd read a wonderful article by another Happiness Hero and "Joyful" author Ingrid Fetell Lee: The Power of Upward Spiral that describes this very phenomenon.

As I've learned by this practice of recognizing all the little things that bring me joy and happiness, that happiness starts with gratitude and mindfulness.  Even being mindful about things that bring negative emotions has been a positive experience.  I can think more deeply and ask myself, Why is this triggering me? Do I need to be angry? Do I need to be hurt?  Almost always, the answer is No..  I can let that go. 

There are times when I have to accept things that are out of my control. And there are times when I'm sad or worried or scared. I am so grateful that I have people in my life who will listen and help me process those emotions and maybe come up with some things that I can do to be less sad, worried, or scared.

In the "Could Have Been Better" category, I did not improve my blogging skills and only earned 1 cent on Adsense (still 44 cents away from getting my $100 payout after 15 years of blogging.)

However, as I browse over all my Happiness Happens posts for the month, capturing the precious moments and memories, the happiness I feel is absolutely priceless.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Happiness Happens: Uke Jamming at Superior Community Center


I've wanted to learn how to play the ukulele for awhile now. My friend, Cathy, is one of the musicians who played at yesterday's performance and she's been super generous about teaching me the basics and even loaning me one of her ukuleles.

When I saw that the new Superior Community Center (that's only a 10 minute walk from my house) had free Ukulele Jam sessions on Monday nights, I asked Cathy if she'd want to go, and she accepted the invitation.

I was a little timid about joining in, seeing as I'd had the equivalent of one lesson with no practicing, but the group was welcoming and it turns out I was able to strum those C chords like a pro!

Even though I know I have a long way to go before I'm able to play well, I had fun singing and playing with the group.  It's pretty easy to blend in with a big group and only play the single-finger chords.  And, just like yesterday, I realize that music is a huge mood booster!  How fun to be part of making that music!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Happiness Happens: Musician Friends Playing in the Park


One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to listen to live music in the park. Today was extra special because the people playing the live music were my friends!

That's right! Many of my friends are musicians! I'm in such awe of their talent. 

From noon until about 6pm today I enjoyed a beautiful day listening to a variety of music, mostly from the 70's, 80's,  but some more current and some original! The final song was Mustang Sally. Many of us sang along, dancing holding our umbrellas to shade us from the sun. 

How lucky for me that I was able to attend this great event with plenty of friends both in the audience and on stage! Pure joy!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Happiness Happens: Reneya's 1:1 Birthday Celebration

Earlier this month, I celebrated my grandson, Diego's birthday. Well, today it was my granddaughter, Reneya's turn. She's turning big double-digits 10 tomorrow!

I love having this one-on-one time with my beautiful granddaughter!

We started with lunch at Einstein Bagels, followed by a shopping spree at Flatirons Mall.

Reneya has this wonderful ability to get excited about just about anything! She loves trendy clothes, stylish shoes, sparkly accessories, furry stuffed animals, and dangly earrings.

We haven't really established the "rules" for this birthday extravaganza (other than that I'm treating, of course!) Reneya was concerned about prices and wanted to be sensitive about not picking out too many things.  She was trying to only pick clothes on clearance or items that weren't over-priced.

It was nice that she was so cost-conscious and fun for me to be able to just buy everything she wanted and not have to limit her.  

After we got back to her house, we had a Facebook Messenger video call with her Uncle Scotty and added the fun birthday filter.  It even let her blow the candles out! Technology's so cool!

Here's a little haiku that I was challenged to write in my Carpe Diem book:

Reneya turns ten
No longer a little girl
A beautiful tween

Friday, August 27, 2021

Happiness Happens: Great Scotts Eatery


Today my Happiness Happens experience was eating at Great Scotts Eatery in Broomfield with my friend, David.

I've seen the sign for Great Scotts for years and, of course, I always think of my son, Scotty! I can't believe he and I never went there ourselves, but it's definitely on my list to do with him next time he's home for a visit.

The restaurant has a cool, retro vibe, with lots of decor of juke boxes, 50's icons, and soda fountains. The menu had a big variety of options from the classic burgers to healthy soups and salads. 

The music that was playing fit with the theme..  rock-a-billy! I was ready for a sock hop!

Now I know where to go next time I want to Rock around the Clock: Great Scotts!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Happiness Happens: Celebrating Birthdays and 1/2 Birthdays

Michael doing Kilroy impression

August 26 is a big day! It's my half-birthday! It's also my friend Michael's full birthday! That's him, up top, doing a Kilroy (not to be confused with Kiljoy) impression.

When I first met Michael, he didn't even like to celebrate birthdays! Can you believe it? What a travesty! However, it turns out he's a master at celebrating MY birthday! 

For the past few years, I've gotten spoiled by all the fun gifts and attention I've gotten from Michael. I finally was able to talk him into letting me celebrate HIS birthday by reminding him that it's my 1/2 birthday!

Besides giving him less than half the gifts with less than half the value that he gives me, I also do a half-bad-a$$ job of giving him birthday attention.

One shout-out I have to give is to Blue Mountain for their creative eCards! You can customize many of their eCards in a variety of fun ways. Here's the Talking Mona Lisa card I sent to Michael this morning and he replied that it was the coolest eCard he'd ever received.

One other reason today stands out? It's the day my Dad died 11 years ago.  I'm glad that rather than feeling sad, I can be celebrating life, memories, and all the many ways that happiness happens.