Monday, September 30, 2019

Week 39: Roadside Altars

One of my favorite TED talks is this one that describes the language of experience. In it, Poet Ali, very effectively describes the language of a fat kid, the language of watching a loved one battle cancer, the language of 9/11/2001, and the language of being a minority.

There are some experiences that are impossible to truly understand unless you've also had that experience.

Do you speak this language?

You get a phone call and your life will never be the same.  Someone you love, someone full of life, someone who was just laughing with you, someone who is much too young, is no longer alive. It seems impossible that the world is still operating as though nothing happened, that people are still talking about trivial matters, that life is going on for the rest of us.

When my brother, Chris, died in a car accident in 1997, someone told me I'd joined "the death club." It's a club that understands deep grief.  You exit the innocent world in which we all are going to live very long, healthy, happy lives, to one in which we realize that we all could die at any moment. We face our own mortality and the mortality of everyone we love. We experience a grief so deep that we don't think we can ever be happy again.

Time goes on and we are happy again, but not in the same way. We don't take life for granted. When there is a death, we have more compassion than we once had. We understand the "language of grief." We question, more than ever, the meaning of life. We want, more than ever, to spend our precious time wisely.

My friend, Rebecca, is one who also understands grief. She used to have a Website, "Altared Spaces," in which she described sacred spaces that we make to bring comfort and joy to ourselves or to others.

About ten years ago, Rebecca and I spoke often, and we talked about visiting roadside altars..  we knew that the families who created the memorials were others who understood and spoke the language of deep grief.

This year, when I put together my list of 60 goals I knew I wanted to finally fulfill that goal of visiting those altars. Number 37 from my list of 60 was:

Do a roadside altar road trip with Rebecca M.

What better time to do the trip than Chris's birthday, September 28th? Rebecca, who lives in Mesa, Colorado, had already scouted out several roadside memorials.  We made plans to meet, visit the roadside altars, and then go on to Moab, Utah, to hike in beautiful Arches National Park.

Rebecca was an awesome hostess throughout this memorable weekend. She is a friend that not only understands the language of deep grief, but the language of deep friendship.

I was so touched at the end of the day, after a delicious dinner that she'd prepared, Rebecca read out loud the book, "On the Day You Were Born" in Chris's honor.

Gazing out at the beautiful surroundings, remembering Chris, feeling the loving generosity from my friend, feeling empathy for the families of those who grieve..  all of these fill me with emotions that bring tears to my eyes.

I was at a memorial service recently for a man I used to work with. His son-in-law said he'd heard this quote about grief:

Grief is like glitter; No matter how much you try and tidy it up you’re never going to get rid of it all. You’re always going to find bits of it.
When grief is new, it's hard to find anything 'sparkly' about it. But now, when I think of Chris, or the other people I've lost, they are sparkly like glitter, reminding me to love deeply and live fully. It might seem cliche, but when you speak the language of deep grief, you understand.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Week 38: Memorize and "Perform" Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat on the Piano

I've been working on Goal #20 on my 60-week-goal-list for the past couple of months:

Practice the piano and be able to play some of the pieces I used to play well along with some new pieces.

This Chopin Nocturne in E flat is one of the 'signature pieces' that I knew as a kid. So I tuned up my old piano (the same piano I played when I was a kid which was passed down from a great aunt), got out the music, and started playing the piano again!

My piano getting tuned

Surprisingly, it didn't take me long to relearn the nocturne. I also learned "Beauty and the Beast" (which I've been playing as a duet with Megan on the clarinet). 

So, technically, I could have considered this goal complete a couple of months ago. However, I decided to make it more of a challenge, I wanted to memorize the Chopin Nocturne and play it for an 'audience.'  Now THAT was much harder than expected!

Memorizing music is much more difficult than I remember it being! My poor housemates must be SO sick of hearing this Chapin Nocturne, but finally, this week, I had the whole thing memorized!

Now, for the even bigger challenge: Play for an audience!

There's a little, blue piano (that has a very muffled sound) in the Flatirons Mall.  Even though I would have preferred to have my big debut on a higher-quality piano, I decided, that I'd play my newly memorized Chopin Nocturne there with the "audience" being whoever was roaming the mall.

I admit, this is kind of 'cheating' since it's not nearly as intimidating as playing for an audience who is intently listening, sitting there expecting to be 'entertained' by my piano playing.  On top of that, I made a LOT of mistakes in this 'performance.' I'm not very pleased with it, and I wasn't sure whether or not I should keep this goal 'open' until I had a better performance.

However, I got a big surprise! Someone left me a $5 Tip!!  Hooray! I certainly didn't expect any tips and I didn't even see the person who left the money! He apparently just left the tip on the piano as he was passing by!

So, despite the fact that I made a lot of mistakes, I did have at least one "audience" member who thought it was worth a $5 tip and that's pretty exciting!

I still plan to keep practicing so I can commit this piece to my long-term memory. I'm really kind of fascinated by memory and think it's really interesting how eventually, it feels like your fingers just know where to go on the keyboard without my brain actively needing to remember..  But, I probably will need to play that piece many more times (sorry John and Mari!) before I'll be able to play it flawlessly without music.

What worked well:

  • It felt great to be playing the piano again! There had been too many years that my piano had just been gathering dust!
  • The piano tuning went much better this time than the last time (about 7 years ago) when I'd gotten my piano tuned. This tuner was much more optimistic about how long my piano would be 'playable.'
  • I was surprised at how easily I was able to relearn that Nocturne which is a pretty advanced piece.
  • Really fun to play the Beauty & The Beast with Megan on the clarinet (we're going to 'perform' at Thanksgiving, so maybe I'll add a video of that performance, though Megan is not crazy about being recorded.)
  • Proud of myself for sticking with the memorization, even though it was difficult.
  • Very excited to get a $5 tip!!!! That's the first (and probably only) time I earned money for a 'performance'!
What could have been better:
  • I made a lot of mistakes in my "performance."
  • The sound quality of the mall piano was really poor.
I'm really happy to have re-discovered the piano and even though I don't really have the natural talent of my much-more musically-inclined friends, I want to keep playing and find some fun new pieces to learn.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Week 37: Thanking Work Mentors

Taking Emran, a great leader at Optum, out to breakfast

I never thought about leadership too much until I was promoted to management in 1999 at Sun Microsystems. I'd been a geeky, introverted software developer for the first 17 years of my career and was nervous about getting into a role where "people skills" were so important.

However, now, as I reflect back on my career, I realize how much of a turning point that was for me and how much I've learned about people and relationships since that time.  These lessons in leadership not only helped me in my career, they've helped me in every aspect of my life.

As I was planning my goal list for my 60 until 60 project, I wanted to have a goal that would allow me to personally thank someone from my career who was a role model and so Goal #8 on my list of 60 is:

 Take a work mentor to dinner

This turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought it'd be! I made a list of those managers and leaders who took an interest in my career and influenced me the most. Surprisingly, out of nine people, the only one who now lives in Colorado is Mike Cohn! And while he IS my hero, I know he's on the road constantly, so I really wouldn't want to impose on his personal time when he's home.

I was going to change this goal to "Write a Thank You note" to my work mentors, but then I realized I'd have the opportunity to see Emran, my boss at Optum, when I was visiting MN in August. Emran is so friendly and even had a BBQ at his home when I worked for him, so it didn't feel too awkward to invite him for dinner (though we did end up going to breakfast instead, because of schedules.) It was awesome to catch up with him and get a chance to thank him in person!

I still liked the idea of writing thank you notes to all nine of my mentors... the old fashioned snail mail kind of thank you notes.. but I don't have physical addresses for most of them. At least I have Facebook and LinkedIn connections to them all!

Even though I've only taken Emran out (so far!) I'd like to thank them all here publicly! I hope some day I'll get a chance to see them again and thank them in person. The offer to treat them to a meal is an open invitation and if I can get their addresses, I'll be sending them personal thank you letters!

I wouldn't be the person I am today without the support I felt from each of these leaders. They were people who truly cared about my growth, my career, and me personally. I'm so grateful for them and the role they played in my life.

I know it might seem weird to use the "L" for work people, but you know what? One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that the best leaders are those who lead with love. And we love them back.  I get that warm, fuzzy, heart-is-full-of-gratitude feeling when I think about them. So, yes, I LOVE these people!

Hans Bauman - Hans hired me and was my first manager at Sun Microsystems in 1999. At my first review, he gave me one of the best reviews I've ever gotten in my career and promoted me into management. I wasn't sure I'd have the skills to be a good manager, but Hans believed in me.  He was a wonderful role model and I thrived under his leadership. As I said above, this was a turning point in my career.

Ann Bischoff - Ann was my manager during the years I was a QA Manager at Sun. The team of about 20 people I led during those years was probably the closest team I've ever had the pleasure of working with and I'm still good friends with many of them. I give Ann credit for giving me so much autonomy and support every step of the way and guiding me in how to be a strong leader for this high-performing team.

Paul Clip - I wrote about Paul once before on my Happier at Work blog. Paul was a very senior leader at McKesson when I asked him to be my official "mentor."  He helped me through the most difficult time of my career. I'll always remember how he surprised me with flowers and a spa gift certificate at an event that I was facilitating.  He even once surprised me by sending me a phone battery backup when he'd seen that I was without one. I respect his intelligence and his deep caring for others.

Lisa Crispin - I'd been familiar with Lisa Crispin's work before I met her because she literally wrote THE BOOK on Agile Testing! It turned out that Lisa lived in Colorado (she has since moved) and once I became immersed in the world of QA and Agile, I'd see her at several events and user group meetings. I had the pleasure of bringing her on as a contributor at SearchSoftwareQuality, where I was the site editor.  I've always been impressed with how friendly, down-to-earth and humble Lisa is. I blogged about how much I admire her and my next mentor, Mike Cohn, once before.

Mike Cohn - Like Lisa, Mike Cohn lives in Colorado, has written several books and is very well-known in the Agile Community.  He was even named #1 in the list of Most Influential Agile People! In the world of Agile, Mike is FAMOUS! I first got to know Mike personally because I asked for his help when I was writing a guide about User Stories - a topic in which Mike is the ultimate guru. He liked the article and asked if I'd write for his Front Row Agile blog! Wow! What an honor! Since then, we've become Facebook friends and I love Mike's wit and humor. Like Lisa, he is humble and down-to-earth, despite his industry fame.

Emran Bhojowala - Emran (pictured above) was my very cool boss for most of the time I worked at Optum in 2016. Emran has a huge thirst for knowledge and is continually learning. I've always been impressed with Emran's natural friendliness and his authenticity. His big bear hugs when he embraces a friend and the silly songs he sings in the office are just a couple of things that I find so endearing. He has just that right balance of authority and openness to be a respected and strong leader.

Sally Elatta - Sally is another well-known thought-leader who is doing big things in the Agile community. Her company, Agile Transformations, is growing so fast, and she has so much on her plate! However, somehow, she makes time to make every person that she interacts with feel special. I thank my lucky stars for the day she called me personally and asked if I'd be interested in working with ATI on a contract at Mutual of Omaha. Sally leads with love in her heart and exudes warmth and grace.

Beth Schmidt - I feel so lucky that I was able to work under Beth during most of my contract at Mutual of Omaha. I love Beth's sense of spirit and the fun ideas she has to foster great teamwork. As soon as I met her, I felt a kindred connection and I appreciated that she treated me not only like a colleague, but like a friend, from Day 1.

Ryan Fullmer - Ryan and I have worked together as Agile coaches for the past few years. He is very experienced and I continue to learn a lot from him. I admire Ryan's many talents..  his insights and his ability to help others strategize and discover their own answers. We've had many deep discussions and I love that I can debate and look at things from all angles with Ryan. He's a trusted friend and mentor.

My career is winding down, but the lessons I've learned from these people will stay with me throughout the rest of my life.  I want them to know they made a difference. I've often thought about writing a book about Agile leadership... If I do, I ll be writing a lot about what I learned from watching the examples from these people who lead from the heart.

What worked well about this goal:
  • So glad that I was able to physically meet up with Emran to thank him in person
  • It felt good to reflect on my career and to recognize the significance of the people who influenced my career and life
  • This exercise has helped me realize that all the people I most admire and respect are those who lead from the heart -- a concept that I often teach, and feel grateful that I've been able to experience first hand 
  • I love that social media allows me to keep in touch with my mentors!
What could have been better: 
  • I would have preferred to send a personal old-fashioned thank you to everyone individually, rather than a public blog post.  Hopefully, I'll still get a chance to do that!

Monday, September 09, 2019

Week 36: Celebrations Slideshow Part 3

People are sometimes confused by my 60 until 60 project.  What? Me? Confusing?

OK. I admit, it's ever-evolving (as a good Agile project would be!) I'd also say some of the confusion comes about because I'm not only trying to accomplish 60 goals, I'm also doing a whole bunch of one-on-one celebrations!

I figured that I'd have a 60-week birthday party and celebrate individually with friends and family! Since 60 weeks will cover their birthday, too, even better if we can do the celebration around their birthday and I like to treat them to something they like to do.  At a big party,  I wouldn't be able to lavish my loved one with the individual attention they deserve, so I'm enjoying these individual 'parties' even more than a traditional big party.

The celebrations have been really fun! A few of them were planned before I started my project and made it to my goal list, while others have been more impromptu.

I knew I'd want lasting memories of my celebrations, so Goal #27 on my list is:

Create slideshows of the celebrations I have throughout my 60-week ‘party’

Even though I didn't specifically state that I wanted to have 60 celebrations, I'm shooting for that many (keeping with the 60 theme!) and I also have a little set of guidelines I've been using for these celebrations and the resulting slideshow:
  • I like to have a one-on-one celebration
  • I like the first picture of the slideshow to be a selfie with the background showing what we're doing together
  • I ask the other person to pick a song and I use about a 30-second clip of the song to play in the background of the segment in which they're featured
  • We pick out an activity that's either a passion for the other person (and maybe they teach me about it!) or do something we both enjoy. 
Here's a little log of my celebrations for "Part 3" of my celebrations:

  • 0:0 #22. Ursula - Keystone - Ursula is an old friend who worked with me at Sun and she invited me for a Keystone retreat! Even though it was snowing in May, the scenery was beautiful and we had a wonderful time hiking, talking, and relaxing.
  • 0:48 #24. Diego  - Video Game Shopping - I took my grandson, Diego, shopping for his birthday and let him pick out anything from Gamestop. We had lunch at the mall, getting one of his favorite meals, Hawaiian pizza and then went back to his house to play his game (and even I did pretty well!)
  • 1:08 #25. Sandy - Krav Maga (and since I lost the video of me learning Krav Maga, substituted Sandy doing 'Karate Form-Basai Dai - slow speed.) Sandy is a friend from the Grey Wolves Meetup group. I really enjoy the celebrations where I get exposed to a new skill. I had no idea what Krav Maga was all about until Sandy taught me and now I feel a little better prepared to defend myself!
  • 1:33 #26. Isaac - Photography of Insects - Isaac is probably the most creative (and youngest!) friend I ever met from an online dating site four or five years ago. His profile was hilarious and said he was willing to meet anyone of any age. Even though he's about 20 years younger than me, I wanted to meet this witty fellow and we became friends. He's quite the nomad, so when he was in town this summer, I let him stay at my place and he showed me his latest hobby: Photographing insects! It was quite fascinating!
  • 1:59 #27. Dave O - Breakfast at Walnut Cafe and Coalton Trail Hike - Dave is a friend who I met when I took the Rebuilding seminars (for divorce recovery) in 2005. I really appreciate how Dave keeps in touch and we get together for lunch every few months and catch up. Dave recently retired and actually is busier than ever, but we were able to enjoy a delicious breakfast and hike on a summer morning.
  • 2:26 #28. Reneya - Beauty and the Beast at Boulder Dinner Theater - My granddaughter and I both love Beauty and the Beast. She's such a wonderful performer herself and taking her to the Boulder Dinner Theater was a big treat for both of us!
  • 3:28 #30. Lisa M - Pedicure - Lisa and I became "BFFs" in 2016 when I worked in Minnesota on a contract at Optum. She even let me live in her spare room for the last month I worked in Eden Prairie and I'm always amazed at what good friends we became in such a short time frame. She's like another sister! Though our celebration this year was getting pedicures together, we went to the Bahamas together last year, so we know how to celebrate!
  • 3:55 #31. Nancy B - Wine Making - I met Nancy because she's the girlfriend of Chris, the host of the annual Minnesota Island adventures! When I was in Minnesota last month, Nancy took a day to celebrate with me by teaching me more about viticulture and share with me her own beautiful vineyard and gardens! Very impressive! We, of course, enjoyed wine (sticking with the theme) at a beautiful, historic restaurant, W.A. Frost.
  • 4:22 #32. Mike M. - Brian Setzer Concert - Mike is responsible for introducing me to Rockabilly and one of my favorite artists, Brian Setzer. When I heard that Brian Setzer was coming to Chautauqua, I knew that would be the perfect celebration to have with Mike. I worked with Mike at McKesson and even though we'd vowed to be "Life and Death Buddies," I hadn't seen him for the past few years, so I was very excited to reconnect with him for this concert!
  • 4:47 #33. Becky - Tubing - Becky is a new friend, but someone I already feel very close to. I met her in June at a Meetup and I found out she was visiting from Sarasota. Since Sarasota is one of my snowbird spots, and Becky visits the Boulder area frequently, we agreed to house each other when visiting! Becky and her cute dogs are perfect house guests. When Becky suggested Tubing as her choice of celebrations, I was a little iffy about the whole thing because of my Tube to Work Day experience. However, this was the easy 'lazy river' kind of experience that turned out to be perfect for a summer day.

Having these one-on-one celebrations has been one of my favorite parts of my 60 until 60 project. However, creating the slideshows is not so fun! I've been using an old laptop that's extremely slow because it has MovieMaker on it and I haven't found comparable free software on the Mac.  

If you're curious about the first 21 celebrations, here are the Part 1 and Part 2 slideshows:

What's working well
  • I love having an intentional private celebration with a friend or family member so I can really focus on my relationship with that person.
  • It's been a fun way to get to know new friends or reconnect with friends I don't see often.
  • I love the variety of outings and music that are picked.
  • I love that some of these celebrations are with people I just met and some are with very old friends and family members. They're all different ages from all walks of life.
  • Even though making the slideshow is kind of a pain, I feel lucky that I'm able to get the music and that MovieMaker lets me include both video and photos and mix with audio.  There are a lot of cool features.
What could be better
  • A lot of the people in my life are very busy and I don't want them to feel pressured about this.
  • The photographs and slideshows are very amateurish and probably boring for everyone but me and my fellow 'partier.'
  • I'd love to do full blog posts about each of my celebrations - I really appreciate everyone who does one with me. But I also worry that they won't like the pictures or that they won't want to be on my blog for privacy reasons, so I keep it pretty short.
  • Somehow I lost the videos I took for Sandy's and Diego's celebrations.
  • Despite my many requests, Isaac has yet to give me his 'song.' I tried using Kodachrome as background music and that ended up causing me copyright issues. Switching out songs turned out to be a pain.. I just ended up using one of the sound clips from a different celebration..
  • I've been doing a lot of fun events that don't make it on my slideshow because they aren't planned by me.  For example, I just went to my friend, Samar's, beautiful wedding last weekend!  It feels like I should include these, so maybe those will be added in my final slideshow.