Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A Year of Happiness

One of my New Year's traditions is to create a SmileBox photo album of the "old year" (in this case, 2015) to share with family and friends. However, I'm a bit overwhelmed with all the photos I took because for most of the year, I was taking daily photos.

Taking an interest in Positive Psychology, I did various projects aimed at increasing happiness, including #100HappyDays, snapping a photo each day for 100 days.  I actually did this twice, so I have 200 Happy Day pictures (on top of hundreds more) for 2015.

As I sort through my plethora of pictures from 2015, here are some of my thoughts:

* I really need to learn better photography skills.
* I have a truly blessed life.
* I have many people who I love and who love me.
* I have the best "job" ever now - I became an independent consultant in April and I travel all over the country to teach classes in "Agile Software Development." It's like getting paid to be on vacation.
* My family is super-awesome and I feel so thankful that they are all happy and healthy.
* I experience so much beauty every day.

I am so grateful for this life and all the beautiful people that I have the privilege of sharing it with.

One thing I learned from doing my happiness photos is that there are often happy moments or revelations that I can't photograph because they're feelings. There are so many special moments -- when a friend laughs at a joke, when you overcome a hardship, when you hear gorgeous music -- these are just a few examples of times that you can't take a picture to capture those feelings of joy.

But there's one thing that I'm certain of as I look over my stash of low-quality photographs..  I have a wonderful life full of beauty, love, and abundant happiness. This is one of those moments that I can't take a picture but it is one of pure happiness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Meeting Hannah - The woman behind "Scrum Your Wedding"

Today I met Hannah Kane, an enterprising young woman, who has projects that mix many of my favorite things: Scrum, Event Planning, Theme Parties, Scavenger Hunts and Happiness!

I first learned of Hannah through one of her business projects, Scrum Your Wedding, where she uses Scrum (a project management framework that I teach) in wedding planning. It's a very unique and creative use of the framework, so I wrote about it in an article that was published today for TechBeacon: Personal scrum - Using agile techniques to manage your life,

In doing a little digging, I found that ScrumYourWedding was  part of Everybody's Invited, another project that Hannah co-founded. Everybody's Invited is all about creating fun and memorable events through surprise, play, and adventure. There's even a free "Good Life Guide" eBook that's available from the site that is wonderful!

I am so impressed with the Good Life Guide and the ScrumYourWedding Guide... not only is the content right on the money, the eBooks are formatted so professionally and are really of a higher quality than I typically see -- and I see a lot!

Now, I travel quite a bit for my new consulting role, and I always try and meet up with someone whenever I'm visiting a new place.  This is almost like my own little "scavenger hunt" to meet like-minded people.  Well, it just so happened that Hannah is from Portland, Oregon... the very place I was headed to teach my next class.  How cool is that?

So today Hannah (who works full time at Mozilla) took time out of her busy schedule to meet with me in person.

It was awesome to meet the person behind the words and ideas that I'd been reading about. I just love it when social media and technology put us in touch with someone who then we can meet "in real life."

Hannah and I talked for a long time about our backgrounds and plans for the future. I'm so impressed with Hannah's drive and wisdom at such a young age.

One of my many ideas for a book is to have a collection of profiles of people who write about Happiness and I'd like to start with Hannah...  Stay tuned. This woman is going places!

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Join Team Carpe Diem 2015 - Let's Defeat ALS!

In 2014, in memory and in honor of my friend, Craig Dunham, I had a personal goal to be the top fund-raiser in the Denver Walk to Defeat ALS.  Thanks to the generous support of so many people, I made it!

I was so proud to have met that goal and it felt awesome to have raised so much money for a cause that means so much to me.  It was also super-cool that I had a team of 31, dressed up in our home-made Carpe Diem Super Hero costumes.  (By the way, I think having "CDs" as part of the emblem was super-cool because CD stands for both Carpe Diem and Craig Dunham and it looks like a effervescent space-agey super-hero type of thing!)

I decided that I needed to make this event an annual tradition. It's tough to ask for money when I know all my friends have been inundated with requests from so many charities.  But then I remember how lucky I am to have my health. The discomfort of sending an email is nothing compared to the discomfort those suffering with ALS struggle with every minute of every day.

So every year I hope to be coming back again and proudly leading Team Carpe Diem in the Walk to Defeat ALS.

This year, my goal is to still make it into the VIP section with the biggest team. I already have a reporter lined up to write a story about Team Carpe Diem and I've pre-announced that it will be the biggest and most-spirited team.

The Walk to Defeat ALS is a literal "walk in the park" and free to join. Even though it's not a big sacrifice or training effort for people who do the walk (like running a marathon or shaving your head...) they keep it easy so that anyone... even those who are in wheelchairs... can do it.

Rather than donating under my name, join Team Carpe Diem and donate under your own name. Be part of creating a world without ALS.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Don't Fly Spirit Airlines!

I love good deals, just like the next person. But sometimes something you think is a good deal, ends up costing you a lot more.  I'm sorry to say that I was lured in by Spirit's so-called "cheaper prices," but never again! Don't be fooled when you do a comparison of Spirit to other airlines.  Spirit charges unsuspecting customers for everything from an undersized carry-on bag to printing boarding passes. The next thing you know, they will be charging for going to the bathroom!

And it's not just the ridiculous charges that are infuriating, but their customer service is non-existent! All of this will end up costing you MORE.  Let's hope these unethical and deceptive practices don't cause other airlines to follow suit.

Yesterday, after a 4-hour delay in my flight, I go to pick up my bag (which was only checked because Spirit's "definition of a carry-on bag" is different from every other airline) and the flight was not listed anywhere on the arrival screens, so I didn't know which carousel to go to.  I followed signs to the Spirit carousel, but the flight listed on that carousel did not include my flight, so I went to seek out someone who could tell me which carousel would have my baggage.

I finally found someone who told me that all Spirit flights unloaded at carousel 5, but that carousel was empty by this time.  There were no Spirit representatives in sight on the baggage level, and I was told to go up to Spirit's ticket counter to find out about bags.

I didn't want to cut into the very long ticket line, but I wasn't about to wait in another long line when I wasn't even sure if this was the right line..  There were no signs anywhere that indicated where to go for baggage issues.  When I did finally talk to the ticket agent, he told me the bags probably hadn't arrived yet and to go back to Carousel 5 to wait for 15 minutes and if my bags didn't show up, to come back up.

Another couple who also were missing their bags went down with me, but it was very clear to us that no bags from our flight were going to show up.  On the second trip up, I described my bag, but the ticket agent said he couldn't find the guy who was supposed to handle bag issues.

Finally, after over an hour of trying to find someone who could tell me anything about missing bags, I did find the "bag guy" who said my bag was in the back.  The couple who had lost their bags weren't as lucky, and were writing a description of their bags on a piece of paper.  No forms or process for this airline...   Apparently, Spirit is too cheap to invest in any of that.

In the end, I was lucky to get my bag and only got home about 5 hours later than originally planned, so not a big deal for me.  But what was more incredible to me is that Spirit Airlines could get away with this type of service.  Do I really want to trust my life to fly on an airline like this? If they can't figure out how to display the Arrival information on the monitors, what else is missing? Safety checks?

And with such poor customer service, their poor staff is invariably taking the brunt from dissatisfied customers.  I know I had trouble keeping my temper in check when I had to keep interrupting the harried guy at the ticket counter who was undoubtedly having to deal with angry flyers finding out that their so-called "cheap" flight was costing a lot more than they'd bargained for.  It's just a matter of time before these employees go postal...

When I went to write this blog post, I googled "I Hate Spirit Airlines" to find an image and found that this sediment is so popular that even Spirit has made it into a marketing ploy! They put out a video mocking Spirit hate tweets and offer up 8000 Spirit points for your airline hate story.  Don't do it, people.  Using Spirit points would mean flying on Spirit, and that will end up costing you, not only in money, but in frustration.  I'd estimate 8000 Spirit points is worth about -$200 to the consumer.  But worse, it will keep this sleazy airline in business.

It's amazing to me that any business with such poor customer service can be profitable, but, apparently, Spirit airlines is making money from their deceptive marketing and cheap practices. I was pleased to see that there are already groups that are working at spreading the word, letting people know what to do to help shut down Spirit.

Check out
and this Facebook Page to Boycott Spirit:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Uber: The Frugal Traveler's Taxi

Being a Techy "TAiT" (my acronym for Travel Agent in Training), I've been on the lookout for cool travel apps. I'm also one of those people who loves to get a good deal, so it's an especially happy day to discover something that satisfies my inner geek, traveler and thrifty tendencies, all at the same time.  Uber is such an app.

Before I go much further, let me tell you that Uber also offers a referral bonus - a free ride, both to any new users I refer and to me, so if you try it out based on this post, please use referral code: yvettef39, so we can both get the free ride!

I'd heard about Uber from a couple of my friends...  "Uber is excellent! It's a great way to get home from a party if you've been drinking." "I'll just use Uber to pick up my daughter from the concert."...  I imagined it was just a local way to get a quick ride, but since I rarely need quick rides, I didn't even think to check it out or download the app as something I'd use when traveling.

Then last weekend I decided to take advantage of a cheap fare to Miami to escape the cold.  The one-way ticket from Denver was only $39! (It did mean taking the red-eye, but I'm not complaining! I arrived for a gorgeous sunrise over Miami Beach!) However, the taxi ride from the airport to the resort cost $55 before tip... more than the airline ticket!

The next day when South Beach was on the itinerary, someone at the hotel suggested Uber rather than a taxi.  I downloaded the app, pressed a button, and, as if by magic, suddenly "Hans" was at the hotel with a BMW ready to be my chauffeur.  It reminded me of one of those commercials where the Allstate agent suddenly appears like a genie to get you out of a rough situation.

Hans, our driver and a 4th year med student, was extremely friendly and we chatted the whole way to South Beach. After a fun afternoon in South Beach, I used the app again, and this time a Mercedes appeared in less than a minute, with friendly J.J. who drove us back to the hotel, raving the whole time about Uber and how he'd found his calling.

When it was time to get back to the airport, I used the app for a 3rd time, and this time, the fare (before tip) was $26.10, less than half of what the taxi fare was.  I'm sold!

All that being said, there are a few tips that new users should be aware of to optimize your dollars if you're on a budget.

  • There are car types such as UberX and UberSelect that you can set using a slider bar at the bottom of the screen when you sign into the app.  UberSelect is the most expensive and was the default setting when I first used the app.  With this setting you get rides in the fancier cars (BMWs, Mercedes), but at about twice the price of the cheaper option, so not really that much savings over a taxi. It wasn't until the ride back to the airport that I discovered how to set my option to UberX, to get the best deal.
  • When you set up your account, you have to tie it to either a credit card or a PayPal account.  This is convenient because you don't have to worry about having the cash on you, like you do with a taxi, but I'm always a little leary of having an app directly linked to one of my accounts.
  • The tip is not included in the fare that is pulled out of your account so you still need to have some cash on you to tip your driver.  If the drivers are friendly, as all of ours were, it's nice to be able to pass along some of the savings from not using a taxi along to them in the form of a good tip. Be aware, though, that they don't seem to carry change, so it's good to be prepared with the bills you'll need. 
  • Remember that the fare is pulled directly from your account and let any of your travel companions know that.  On our way to the airport, my companion hadn't realized that the fare was already being pulled from my account, so gave the driver the amount of the fare plus the tip and the driver ended up getting  a very big tip! (When we discovered the mistake, we both agreed that he deserved the good tip.)
  • There's a promotional code you can use ("AppStore") that I discovered on my iPhone to get $10 off, but it's only good the first time you use Uber.  I tried to use it on my 3rd time, but it was too late.  However, remember you (and I) can get a totally free first trip if you use my referral code: yvettef39.
  • The rates change depending on demand, time of day, etc. so check the fare estimator to get an idea of how much a ride is going to cost you.  
  • I've only used the service 3 times in Miami and I imagine there are a variety of experiences depending on what driver you get, where you are, etc.  I've only heard positive things about the app and the service, though, so I'm guessing this is the way of the future!  Next time you need a ride, give it a try!