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I was asked, for the third year now, to participate in this year’s Pixel Project Father’s Day Campaign.  It’s an important campaign but I hadn’t been able to verbalize my thoughts the last couple of years.  I’m happy to announce that this is no longer the case and my short interview is now up on their blog 🙂

You can find the full piece on their site: The Pixel Project Blog

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Team Goals, Rules, and Strategies

Welcome to the third of three posts on Team Engagement.  Here’s where we Sharpen the Saw (as Stephen Covey would say) in regards to keeping Teams focused and productive.

Let’s say you’ve managed to Engage your Team, and worked on making them more Effective, how do you ensure that they stay on track?  I find the following are important behaviours to keep in mind and keep us focused:

  • “Team Time”  As teams strengthen, it’s only natural that some members will build their own relationships.  Be aware of how members naturally congregate and see how that strengthens their work. Use “team” time (electronic or in person) to encourage members to share their knowledge and experiences.  Encourage their group discussions and delegate resolutions (or solutions) to them. If anyone feels left out (or you notice that they aren’t as engaged) remind them of how everyone’s contribution, skills, and thoughts work together to reach the team (and company) goals. You should always be in a position to connect the work being done by the team to the impact on the company’s success.
  • Team Goals.  Speaking of goals, it’s extremely important that the team understands what those are and where they stand in relation to company goals.  Items of note in regards to success:
    • Teamwork.  Together, the boat rows faster.  Address any roadblocks be they process, technical, or people. The same point I made regarding not letting minor disputes linger applies here. If something is tripping up the team, clear it up.
    • Performance. What does “success” mean to the team? Discuss everyone’s opinion on “Team Success” and establish an evaluation criteria together.
    • Challenges. Are there outside influences impacting the team? Every team has some members who seem to be regularly pulled into other emergencies.  Make sure interruptions and the impacts of those interruptions are understood by all stakeholders. Your schedule will suffer and your stress level increased if it’s not handled properly.
    • Clarity of Solution. Is the team clear on what needs to be accomplished and how success will be measured or what timeframes are important?  It’s sometimes easy to be bogged down by trying to get the “perfect” solution, but not at the expense of hitting milestones. The better the focus on the goalpost, the clearer the road to get there.
    • Clarity of Members. Does everyone know their roles and responsibilities? When it comes to a team, your official title does not denote your only responsibilities. Everyone on the team should understand what is expected of them. For example, who completes the documentation? Who reviews it? Who is responsible for external communication? Who gives the final sign-off on a process or a delivery? Don’t let assumptions ruin a team’s cohesion.
  • Team Rules. By the same token of setting boundaries between the leader and the members, boundaries should exist within the team as well. Make sure everyone is aware of them, accepts them, and commits to them.  Some sample rules could include:
    • Time. Start meetings on time, end meetings 5 minutes prior to the end. No one, and I really do mean no one, should be forced to wait for meetings to start. The reason we all deal with agendas and schedules is to ensure everyone is available when they are needed. If you can’t make it, don’t accept.  If you accept, be there on time. By extension, don’t wait until the very last minute of the meeting to end it. Everyone should be allowed 5 minutes (or even 10 depending on how long the actual meeting is) to get to their next meeting or at least go for a bio-break.
    • Respect. Everyone should get a chance to speak or have an opinion. No one should be talking over anyone else.  If necessary, ensure each meeting has a moderator.
    • Agreements. How does the team reach consensus on actions? This is where a moderator (if it is not you) is important to gather opinions.
    • Debate. How long can we discuss until we either vote on an action or agree to push forward? Does everyone need a voice (although as a leader, you should encourage feedback). Is further information required? Can the decision wait until a follow-up meeting?  Or is an answer required at that moment? Was the decision coercion or consensus? Agreeing to disagree is ok and does sometimes happen, but everyone should understand the implications of the decisions (both business and project-wise).

In summary, I would have to say these are my top 5 strategies for Teams:

  1. Get to know them – who they are, how they like to work, what challenges them.
  2. Engage them: Give them what they like to do and the leeway to do it (whenever possible).
  3. Focus them: Make sure they know what needs to be done and why.
  4. Get buy-in: Prove they have a voice and that everyone’s opinion is respected.
  5. Communicate: this is the clincher. Keep them in the loop. Explain decisions. Update them when something changes. Share knowledge. Share expectations. Get them working and thinking as a cohesive unit and not just individuals. Teach them to play ideas against each other to find the right solution.

Obviously, what works for me doesn’t always work for everyone else. After all, every team has its own restrictions and challenges. Either way, I hope these last few articles have given you ideas to try out or at least hope that building effective and engaged teams is possible!

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona recently underwent Starfleet Academy Training and was confirmed as being able to join the Communications team due to his near-perfect score.  Considering the amount of articles and discussions he’s had on the importance of Communication, he found that extremely appropriate, especially in relation to his love of languages.  His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead. Qapla’!)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Tips to Building an Effective Team

To continue from my previous post on A Quick Intro to Team Engagement, here are some of the tips I like to share with new Managers. These are as valid for a team that you are leading as much as they are for teams you are a part of.

Everyone knows that the old saying that there’s “never a second chance to make a first impression” is quite true.  This is also a true and important reminder for teams.  Building, or coming into a new team, requires a clear sense of who you are as a leader.

It’s been said that the best team leaders build a relationship with their direct reports through trust and loyalty. Another important item is staying consistent in your approach. The best way to ensure this is to set and realize that boundaries do exist when it comes to your words and actions. Your role as the “parental” figure is to protect your team, not scare them into submission. Prove to them that you can be relied on at the same time that you show your trust in them.

Some specific points to keep in mind when working with your team, in no particular order, are:

  • Every opinion matters.  If someone is made to feel that what they say is as valuable as anyone else, they will be more prone to participating in working sessions, brainstorming, etc. Being part of the discussion and agreements is a sure way to get buy-in for the path to take. This can’t happen without the team feeling that they can share their opinions.
  • What’s not being said is as important as what is.  Empathic listening is being engaged in a discussion to the point that you can see if someone is holding something back. Look for clues in body language and make yourself be open with your team and sensitive to their moods and feelings. The more you get to know your individual members, the more you will be able to see and gauge their impressions and reactions towards what the team is planning.
  • Mediate.  Don’t let minor disputes linger.  Remind the team of their goals. They have been put together for a reason, and working together is how it will happen. Anything that gets in the way of that collaboration has to be resolved.
  • Communicate.  Clearly. And often.  There shouldn’t be any confusion as to what’s expected of your team.  Similarly, they should not be kept in the dark as to what’s going on around them.  This does not mean holding constant meetings, but rather in finding a way to share information (especially important information!) with them, be it through IM Chat Groups, Emails, or impromptu stand-ups.

As you can see, and as I continue to stress, Communication is always at the heart of employee engagement and is vital to successful teams. In my next post, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on Team Engagement by sharing tips on Team Behaviours.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona believes that the road to greatness is built by a heavy dose of information (communication) that leads to successful collaboration. This, not only for development teams and business, but for relationships as well! His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

A Quick Intro to Team Engagement

I have found that when it comes to Teams, the best way to approach them is like an extended family.  If you’re lucky enough to be the one pulling in or creating a team, you can pretty much ensure that (depending on how well you interview) you’re getting a group of people who share your values, drive, or maybe even sensitivity.  When I speak about treating team members like family, I’m not talking about inviting them into your home and sharing all your deep, dark secrets.  Instead, I’m talking about some basic, intrinsic values such as:

  •        Benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume something they do is purposefully negative. If an action or behaviour makes you step back and wonder what happened, don’t go on the attack. Get to the root or the why and understand the situation.  Accidents happen and sometimes bad judgement calls are made. Don’t immediately believe it is malicious.  Share your expectations and explain why you felt it wasn’t right.  Offer training and guidance.
  •        Listen, with your ears AND eyes. Get to know who they are by learning how they respond and interact, not just to the words they say but “how” in speech and in body language. Does the tone they use in speaking with you match their pose?  Are they hiding anger, regret, or resentment? Getting to know an employee and their strengths means you can get more accomplished by focusing on their positives.
  •        Trust them. You hired them for a purpose. Trust that they will do what is required.  It may not be the way you would do it yourself, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful.  If something doesn’t work, go back to the first item on this list and discover where the problem may be stemming from.  Is it lack of understanding?  Not being aware of how their individual positions and work enhance the group and team dynamics?  Again, offer training and guidance either in reviewing operating procedures or working with an established “buddy” that can share knowledge.

Building a team and allowing the members to reach their potential is an ongoing process that will result in a strong and cohesive unit. They not only share expectations for accomplishing tasks, but trust and support one another. A team takes on a life of its own and you have to regularly nurture and maintain it, just as you do for individual employees. Using the “Family” analogy, think of what happens when a child brings home a significant other who joins the family, or, alternatively, if one leaves the “nest”. They dynamics will change and the team will adapt to the new group – hopefully in a positive way. I’ll share some thoughts on keeping the team cohesive in my follow-up post.

With a strong team and good team-building skills, employees are united around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Without good practices, the team is limited to the effort each individual can make alone. In other words:

“Individuals Play the Game, but Teams win Championships.” – Source Unknown

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona may not have built many sports teams, but he has definitely been lucky enough to build a number of excellent Development and Support teams! Although tackle football is still frowned upon in most offices, he’s glad that at least morning scrums have caught on. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

The votes were tallied and I came in second for the Morning Rain Publishing 2015 Holiday Flash Fiction challenge :)

Thank you to everyone who voted for me!  You can also participate in the event as you now have the chance to read the story :)

Head over to their page to read: Stakeout and please make sure to let me know what you thought!

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Holiday Flash Fiction

I have to admit that out of all the writing I do, Flash Fiction is the most fun. I still love the challenge of creating a story within the boundaries of Fast Fiction (200 words or less) but having the space to breathe gives Flash pieces more wiggle-room to be silly when I need to be.

Of course, with all the other things on my plate short pieces allow me to create without needing to spend a lot of time on it – which works just fine for my sanity :)

This year, I thought I’d share my Holiday Flash Fiction in a different way and sent it in to Morning Rain Publishing for their holiday challenge. They thought it was good enough to make their top 5 and are now letting the public get a vote on the submitted stories.  So, if you would be so kind as to head on over to the Morning Rain Flash Fiction Contest Page and read snippets of the entries, perhaps you’ll also decide that my story (Stakeout) is worthy of winning :)

Thank you, as always, for your kind words.  You are free to keep any evil ones to yourself 😉

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

50% off Sale at Kobo!

If you don’t already know, my Mysterious Minute-Men books are available on the Kobo platform:

Mike Aragona’s Mysterious Minute-Men

There are a couple of days left on the Kobo international sale that is currently running. Customers are able to redeem 50% off of select titles, including mine, using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times.The sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code so make sure you’re using the right one!

Canada
October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE

United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th
Promo Code: GET50SALE

United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd
Promo Code: UK50SALE

Simply add the books you want to your cart and upon checkout add the code for your territory and the 50% will apply.  Happy reading!

(Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice.)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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Work’s a Journey, Not a Destination

After 40 years of working at the same company, a friend of mine retired recently. During her farewell party, she commented how she felt like she was, “…watching my life be dismantled piece by piece…” during the transition phase leading up to her last day.

This reminded me of a similar feeling I had many years ago when I was moving to a new company and was hearing from friends how many of the systems I had put in place during my tenure were being retired for newer ones. The sense of pride I felt having taken that company’s fledgling network and boosted/ grown it over the five years I was there was turning into sadness that this “upstart” who was hired to replace me was suddenly veering into (in my opinion) the wrong direction.

He wasn’t the guy who nurtured those systems, who understood what was needed to keep it stable, who worked for years in actually stabilizing it, who took care and maintained it.  He was just some “new” guy with ideas of grandeur who was coming in to make his mark. And worst of all he wasn’t going to be sticking around!

It was then that I realized that my career was not about creating anything solid or long-lasting like houses or buildings, but that I was dealing with what I can only refer to as “VaporWare”.  I was building or creating technology systems and/or working with teams developing software that could only last a few years.  That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to technology. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t care about what they’re delivering, though.

Knowing that something won’t last means that you should accept the transient nature of the work.  Build the best thing you can without it consuming you or aiming for absolute perfection. Release it to the wild with the understanding that you will (and should) continue to tweak it, monitor it, boost it up, and make it better a bit at a time.  When the time comes that your system needs to be decommissioned, let it go. There will be other projects, other challenges, other teams.

In other words, build the best thing you can, but not at the expense of others.

The most important thing to remember is that the people you work with along the way, and how you treat them, will be what really continues to exist after the work is done. Those relationships you forged, or the ego battles you fought, will continue past the project and the company. The people you work with are what make your day and the time you spend at work bearable. Because of that, the best you should hope for is to make a positive impact in someone’s life.

I find the concept of “empire building” quite funny. I hear from people in various companies about some of the practices they have to put up with and I shake my head and snicker. It always amazes me when I hear of how one person is trying to push something through, or working to remove someone from their team, or trying to “amass power” in a way to move up in a company. Why go through all that effort?  Why dispense so much negative energy? Remember, Collaboration is the key to success.

Life is too short to spend your days arguing about things that will not stand the test of time. Those “empires” or victories will not keep you warm at night nor visit you when you’re on your deathbed.  And when the time comes, they will not raise a glass to your memory, either.

As a parting thought, I leave you with the conclusion to my friend’s speech.  She finished by saying, “…I realize now that it wasn’t about the work, it was all about you!”  Her daily work is over, but our friendships, memories, and new stories will continue. She couldn’t take her work with her now that she’s retiring, but she can definitely take our friendship. That’s exactly what I took with me when I left the company we were both working at, five years ago.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona still has a way to go before being able to retire, but when he does, he’s sure you’ll be able to read all about it… His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead. (and  at last check, more than 50% of the companies he worked or consulted at are now dead!))

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

I have always been a voracious reader, and by extension I guess I also spend a lot of time thinking. Most times, I think about ways experiences can be improved. It’s a simple motto of looking at any situation and asking the question of “what can we do that would make this better?”

When I was first starting out my career and had taken “ownership” for the local area network of the company I was at, I thought it would be really cool if the users logging in were greeted with a friendly message and/ or perhaps a little word of wisdom.  I went searching for quotes everywhere I could (not as easy as it is today) and started to incorporate them within the network login scripts.

I was quite proud of this accomplishment – even though today’s technology makes it all child’s play. At any rate, I used to get a big kick out of seeing those messages appear and the users loved it as well.

One morning, a few weeks later, I came across a message that was sent to my boss from a new employee extolling his wisdom at such a young age for being able to present such pearls of wisdom to everyone every morning. In his reply, he simply thanked her, and made no mention of my contribution or the fact that it was all my doing.  I was crestfallen.

This was my first experience with someone else taking credit for something I had done and it took my breath away like a powerhouse punch to the gut.

Why didn’t my boss say anything? Why is it not inherent in people to direct praise to those who specifically earned it? Forget not being fair, that was just downright wrong! My young self could not believe what had happened.

I have often said that one of my reasons for wanting to become a leader was to ensure that anyone reporting to me would be treated the way *I* wanted to be treated and this was definitely one of those defining moments.

The quickest way to lose employee engagement is to hold back the kudos they deserve for good work, especially if the praise comes from a third party. That is partially why I always make sure my employees know exactly how I feel about the great work they do. The other reason is actually quite simple: because they deserve to know when they’ve made a positive impact in the lives of others! They should know that their work matters!

No one is more willing to invest time and effort into something than when they know they are appreciated.

As for me, it wasn’t too long after that experience that the login greeting scripts I had created were slowly dismantled. It just wasn’t worth my time and effort to keep doing something that wasn’t strictly necessary, especially considering all my other work. Network logins went back to being what they were because no one else had the time to maintain it and I filed the experience away. Eventually, I did polish it off and reinstitute it again. At a new company, of course.


(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona fondly remembers those old Bulletin Board Systems and CompuServe Forums, but can’t deny the better on-line world of today. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Every year, August slowly brings back that crisp morning air and the sense that Autumn is just around the corner.  With it, of course, comes the beautiful transformation of nature as we (at least here in Canada) begin to prepare for the coming winter. It is always during this point in time that I begin to reflect on my own transformation.  What has changed since the year began? Where do I need to adjust my course? Are the waters up ahead calm or am I headed for a storm?

I’m not a believer of “new year resolutions” but I am very much a believer of naturally taking stock of where you are and where you’re going, both in a personal and a professional way. And just as the new school year arrives every September offering new challenges and opportunities for learning to students, I try to peek around the corner and figure out “the shape of things to come” in my own life. It’s just an instinctive reaction I have to the changing of this season.

A few years ago, I was asked to go on camera and record my thoughts on what I thought about Transformation in business and the challenges that come with change. Never one to shy away from (a) sharing my thoughts or (b) being on camera, I readily agreed. The memory of the video came back to me recently while discussing Clifton StrengthsFinder with a friend and my approach to using it.

Change for change’s sake doesn’t work for me. If you’re going to invest time, money, and energy into something, it should be for a positive and rewarding experience. Often, just looking at a situation differently is enough to spark a change.  For example, I used to carry my personal motto with me to every meeting I went to.  A simple note of “Make it Happen” reminded me that nothing happens without someone to put things in motion. When I was given my first team, I made a small change to my saying and shared it with the team.  It became: “Make IT Happen”.  As Information Technologists, our job was to support our colleagues, our clients, and our company. There was no reason that we couldn’t do whatever it took. We just needed to take full ownership and get the job done.

Simplistic?  Yes.  Difficult?  Sometimes, yes, it was. When you are working in an environment that doesn’t empower employees to challenge the status quo, it’s easy to fall into a routine. Deciding that you will and CAN get the job done (and that you have the support to do so) changes the way you approach a problem. And when you’re working in a cohesive team, there are ample ideas to help you out if you get stuck.

As is the case with any new direction, not everyone bought in on the changes. Eventually, though, once the benefits started to materialize and people noticed the positive and impactful changes we had introduced, it became second nature. I’m proud to say that those employees quickly earned a reputation for being knowledgeable, trustworthy, efficient, and most importantly, dependable. They became known for getting IT done.

Let me wrap up this post by sharing the transcript of my recorded interview:

“Personally, there is a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes that sums up my feelings about Transformation. It is this: ‘We must sail sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it, but sail we must and not drift nor lie at anchor’.

The point, for me, is that we need to keep moving, keep adapting, keep looking for newer and better ways to use our skills, our talents, our people, in ways that empower them, make them accountable and get them energized by the possibilities that new ventures can bring us.

Transformation is all about taking a look at where we are and what is to come and finding ways to synergize the best of both worlds, keep us heading in the direction we need to go to reach our goals and just learn to steer our ship with more eloquence and speed with the whole team working together towards those goals.

It’s not about forgetting the old and blindly embracing the new, but about accepting, not resisting, what is to come and seeing how it can fit with what already is.

In other words, to use another quote, it’s about building a better tomorrow, today.”

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona’s top Strength is Strategy, but he never imagined he would one day quote Monster’s Inc. during an interview on Business Transformation, even though that movie’s theme (now that he thinks about it) is all about changing a business model to survive!! His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Hiring for Passion, Leading by Trust

My wife forwarded me an awesome quote from Stephen R. Covey that went, “If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. Their fire comes from within, not from without. Their motivation is internal, not external.”

This struck a chord with me because I have often made a similar statement during recruitment drives around hiring candidates.  My point was always, “Give me a candidate with the right attitude and the desire to learn, rather than a candidate who just has the skills.” Learning, after all, is a great motivator. From my experience, workers shouldn’t want a job just to clock some hours, pull in a paycheque, and go home.  Sure, there are plenty that might fall into that mindset, but they’re not the ones who will become engaged employees or thrive in an environment of collaboration such as the one I choose to foster.

In other words, I want to work with employees that are excited by the possibilities of what we can accomplish together. That drive, that passion, energizes me and by extension it energizes their colleagues.  A group of collaborators working together to resolve issues or deliver solutions is an amazing force. And when they have reached a level of cooperation that allows them to literally hum with “power” it becomes a force to be reckoned with.  The team is able to motivate each other not just to keep going, keep building, but also to lend support and encouragement when a wall suddenly pops up in front of them.

It takes a lot of trust on the behalf of a Leader to help a team become self-motivating and self-sustaining, and it’s not one that comes easily to most. The fear of losing control is the biggest hindrance most Managers have in nurturing the right ember to get it to a full-blown fire. And yet, that’s what we want.  A fire that burns from within to motivate employees into giving their best. No, not just giving their best, but WANTING to give their best.

I’ve heard the comments so many times over the years that you can almost feel a mantra being built up around it:

  • “If I don’t track their hours, how do I know they’re actually working the amount of hours they’re supposed to?”
  • “If I don’t see them at their desk or in the office, how do I know they’re actually working from home/remotely and not just goofing off?”
  • “If I don’t tell them what to do, they’ll just work on the wrong priorities!”

I could go on, but why bother? I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this.  Fear of losing control brings on this huge lack of trust. If you meet with your team regularly enough, or even just communicate with them often enough (through whatever means, physical or electronic), then they should definitely know what’s important for you, your department, your business unit, your company.  You hired them to do a job, and your job is to ensure they’re on the right path, but you have got to give them the leeway to actually DO their jobs.

Here are questions to ask yourself: What’s more important to you/ your Business Unit/ your Company? The number of hours employees are AT work, or the amount of work that gets delivered?  One does not equal the other.  If I force my employee to commute 3 hours a day because I can’t allow them to work remotely on “bad” days (traffic, weather, health), then how effective will they be in the office? How much of those hours sitting at their desk will they be able to deliver anything?  Instead, how much more could they do if those 3 hours were used in an environment where they’re not feeling stressed about what they have to go through to get to the office?  How much more could they accomplish?

In the end, what matters is the quality of your offering. If your employees are engaged and have the drive to work collaboratively, they can deliver some pretty amazing things. Your leadership and trust will keep them focused on their target. They will strive to deliver their best because they have a passion for it, not because they were micromanaged into accounting for their time and presence.  To put it another way, as Dominic Covvey, a Professor of Health Informatics said to me last year during a lecture, “It doesn’t matter if you’re on time or on budget if you’re producing garbage.”

 

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona has a Passion for Trust and Collaboration and an absolute hatred of traffic. He skipped the classes on “Management by Walking Around” but jumped right into “Let’s Be Great Together!” His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

In the last few months, I found myself in a number of conversations with friends about what point is a non-negotiable must-have when it comes to their working for a company. A few of my friends have even called it their non-starter point on the topic of interviews. In other words, if the job is below a certain pay grade, or has expectations of a high percentage of travel (for example) then they weren’t going to waste their time going in for a formal interview because they would not (or could not) accept any offers.

This had me thinking about my own non-negotiables and wondering how (or if) that list has changed throughout the years.

When I finished college and started pounding the pavement looking for work in the “Computer Science” industry, it felt like trying to scale Mount Everest. The company I worked my Stage in were happy to keep me on, they just couldn’t pay me. Sadly, the prospects I came up against weren’t much better. One day, I received a call from IBM and immediately lined up an interview. They weren’t looking for a Programmer but I was open the idea of being an Operator for them. At least it was a position in IT!

I thought the interview went great and, in fact, the hiring manager and I hit it off so well that our conversation veered off when he learned about my interests in reading and writing. He told me of his favourite author (Spider Robinson) and shared what he liked so much about his work. I talked of the stuff I was creating and what I spent my time reading. Soon, the 30 minute interview went well into the hour range and upon realizing that, he stood up and gave me a tour of their server rooms and explained a bit more about the job.

Everything seemed good until he pointed out that his immediate need was for a Night Operator and that meant my shift would be something around supper time to early morning. Suddenly, I learned that I had a non-starter, non-negotiable item. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the idea of working a night shift that got to me, but the realization that if I took that job, I would no longer be able to have supper with my parents for the foreseeable future. This may seem strange for a young man in his early twenties to think about, but knowing that the day would come that “family time” would be over didn’t mean I was in a rush to make it happen. I also knew I didn’t have to sacrifice that “core” rule in order to get a good job.

In the end, I did not go further with the posting, but I did learn a very valuable lesson. One, I realized how much family really meant to me and that I was unwilling to do anything to impact it. Two, I found out how much I loved Spider Robinson’s work and became a big fan of his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series!

A few months later I did get a job which started my journey to the career I’m living today. Also, because of my other passion, I got to meet and hang out with Spider Robinson numerous times a few years later due to a mutual friend. Spider definitely got a huge kick from my story about how I got exposed to his work and his laughter at my re-telling is a memory I cherish.

For me, the old adage was definitely true. You never know what the future will bring, but if you stick with your beliefs and core values, you can help shape where it will take you. Understanding the emotional consequence of any decision is just as important as calculating financial and social impacts and each should be weighed accordingly. Only you know what’s truly important to what you want to do, and where you want to go. Your non-starters are not there to prevent you from getting a job. They are there to ensure that you will be able to give your best to the one you do get. There are enough challenges in the work day without your regret at your own compromises being one of them.

(Disclaimer: Mike Aragona found himself in Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and learned that Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy Increased. He also knows how easy it is to give fully to a company that matches your shared beliefs. His thoughts and opinions are his alone and do not reflect any person or company associated with him, alive or dead.)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

As a Writer, one of the biggest points brought about by Publishers and Editors is to Know Your Market.  After all, if you’re going to be spending time crafting a book for adults but your market is children, you’re going to find yourself with a lot of unsold books. I have found that the same focus is true/ required in the business world.

One of the biggest chasms that I’ve seen in my career is the one that divided the IT and Business teams.  IT generally expected the Business to be as up to date in Technology as they were, and the Business generally expected IT to understand exactly what the Business did and needed! Meetings often became mini Towers-of-Babel filled with IT folks not getting why the Business couldn’t use the technology as developed and the Business not getting why IT couldn’t see how the Business really worked!

Needless to say, an IT-to-Business Rosetta Stone would have made all the difference. Alternatively, just exercising Empathic Listening and attempting to understand what the other person is saying (and needs) could have made the experience more enjoyable and mutually beneficial.

Basically, here is what I suggest:

1- Leave the Ego at the door.  Don’t go into this thinking you know more than anyone else.  Go into the meeting certain that you don’t know the whole story.

2- Know your audience. If you don’t think you need to know all the tax laws by heart, then don’t expect them to know the latest core build or even the difference between right-and-left mouse clicks! (Yes, seriously.)

Of course, the point is not to speak to each other like children, but rather to remember why you are supposed to work together/ what you’re trying to solve. Technology alone can’t solve everything without understanding the process flow that makes up your Business Partner’s day. Collaboration begins with first understanding what the current process is, and then trying to understand what the “perfect end state” should be.  This is not a question of “what are you trying to DO?” but more a perfecting of “what are you trying to achieve?”

I explain it this way:  The Business is very unhappy with their coffee.  The IT Team comes up with all these awesome solutions around automated delivery of coffee that is triggered when the Business Partner sits at their desk, or a point-click-order system right off their monitor screen. The Business doesn’t understand why they have to invest in the time and money to put this new system in place and argue against it. “What if I don’t want a coffee when I sit down? What if my Monitor is not a touch-screen?”

Back and forth it goes, both sides getting more frustrated as one side tries to “sell” their vision to the other.  In the meantime, no one has gotten to the point of the meeting: what does the Business really want/ need to do?  If they had, perhaps they would have realized that it wasn’t the coffee that was the problem, or even the delivery system, but that nine times out of ten the fridge was out of milk!

This seems like a simplistic “problem” that I made up for the purposes of this post.  However, change the coffee for an Inventory Management system and milk for Excel and you might get closer to truth of where this story came from.

In the end, it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about coming together to build a better mousetrap. And unless you are tasked with building a mousetrap to capture a bear, remember what I said in a previous post: if you want successful collaboration, it begins with communication. Listen to what your partners need, and explain your vision to them in a language they understand.  Respect each other’s opinions and try to see from what position they’re coming to you for help. When blocking points happen, it’s okay to take a break and meet again later.  You’re all in the same boat rowing to your destination. You’ll get there a lot faster if you row together.

 

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

If there was ever one truth about myself which pretty much drove all my career decisions, it was the need to know everything about what I was involved in. “Do this because I say so” has never been my style in either side (as a worker, or as a manager). I didn’t accept it, and I don’t deliver it. I find buy-in to be the biggest motivation. I want to do work because I believe in it, not because I was told to do it, and I want those who report to me to feel the same way.

If you invest in your work you become a much bigger part of the solution.

That bit of true-ism made all the difference to me when it came to delivering solutions.  Obviously I understood the need to “do my job” but I never considered myself a cog in a machine just playing my part.  I wanted to know how I fit into the big picture.  I wanted to understand how others could be helped by what I was doing. If I could “see” what we were trying to build/ deliver, it would help make decisions a lot easier.

It took over twenty years before I understood that this trait – which seemed to be one of the things that differentiated me from many others – was called Connectedness.  I need to feel connected to what I’m doing.  I need to understand the whole flow of what we’re building and this helps me easily see how each piece feeds the whole. That knowledge allows me to share a complete vision with everyone involved and brings about the best team discussions since we’re all “rowing together” towards the same destination.

If I apply this trait to my “natural” state of Agile, it would be akin to having a fully defined User Story.

For those who don’t know what a User Story is, there are plenty of definitions on the web.  Just Google “Define User Stories” and you’ll see what I mean. The way I summarize it is that a User Story defines what a “user” wants or needs, and why. The general statement I use follows this format:

As a PERSONA <client, user, etc.>, I want to <vision, idea> so that <business value>

In my experience, many teams tend to leave out the ‘business value’ of the statement because they want to focus on what they need to build. However, if you look at it logically, that ‘business value’ is the driving force and gives everyone a clear understanding of WHY something needs to be delivered. This value can then be compared against other deliverables in order to better prioritize what needs to be done first.

Going back to what I was saying at the beginning of this post, letting me in on why something is required allows me to understand and appreciate the importance and value of the solution. With this information, it is a lot easier to get buy-in from the team tasked to delivering it. Finally, sharing that information with the team allows them to feel connected to the whole process and makes them feel valued and valuable to the process.

The result? Constant communication around delivering the right solution the best way possible.  And if you have a strong trust level in the team, that communication and sharing / challenging of ideas will bring about true collaboration.

Remember, “because I say so” will never get you the kind of results a true collaborative effort will. Explain what needs to be done, share the information you have, don’t be afraid to be challenged, and learn to listen to the opinions of others (especially if they are experienced in the matters at hand!). Make your team feel like they are part of the whole solution, and not just another widget-maker. You’ll be amazed at the magic that will come out of your sessions.

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Recently, I came to the realization that I have less years left to work (before getting to the “official” retirement age), than I have already worked in my life! Although I plan to still be working (in one way or another) after age 65, this bit of news made me pause for a number of reasons. Most of these all took second place to a trip through my memories as I remembered all the jobs I held through the years and all the companies I worked for.

Basically, I was trying to understand how I got to be where I currently am.  Was there a specific point or path I was on that led me from being a programmer laying out ALGOL or Clipper code to a Manager of Development and Operations? Where did I go from wanting to create programs myself to wanting to lead a team of diverse individuals to create systems together?

Also, in an attempt to look towards the future, I was trying (or rather, am still trying) to understand where I want to go, or what I want to accomplish in the next few years. I don’t really see this as a “career mid-life crisis” since I never looked at the work I’ve done as being a career! I worked at a company because 1) I liked what I did, 2) who I worked with, and 3) believed in what the company was trying to do. When two of those three points would no longer be true, I packed my bags and went looking for a new company to hopefully set down roots.

Three simple points, but they served me well.  Any one alone could have a huge impact on my morale and attitude if it was negative, but mixed with a second negative one, it was a deal breaker.  Simply put:

  1. If I didn’t like what I was doing, I could drudge through it for a while (provided it was temporary)
  2. If I didn’t like the people I was working with OR working for, I could contain my exposure to them (to a certain degree)
  3. If I felt the company was no longer “helping” people or bringing value to everyday citizens, or focused purely on profits… well, that was the toughest one to ride through and usually caused me to start planning a move.

Yes, there have been times when I have been unemployed because I stuck to my personal rules. Those times were tough but making myself miserable and continuing to work in a toxic environment was worse.  How do these three points stack up to engagement?  Easily:

  1. Liking my work = feeling valued and appreciated.  Getting to work each day should not be a chore.  If I’m happy, I’m providing value and will constantly bring my “A” game.
  2. Working with strong and intelligent co-workers drives us individually and as a team which ultimately leads us to create great things together. Successful Collaboration = high output.
  3. Companies need to make money to stay in business, that’s a fact.  But that can still be done while holding onto moral values of bettering the lives of those we serve. Keeping a sense of community allows us to thrive because of the trust and respect of our customers, not in spite of them! Proud of your company = proud of the work you do/ feeling like you’re making a true difference.

The beauty of these points is that, on a specific level, I treat my employees the same way.  I want them to like what they do, learn to collaborate effectively, and be proud of their contributions! In other words, we work together to be engaged. There’s my truth for a high-performing team!

As I continue to reflect upon my past, I’ll use the opportunity to jot some of the bigger “aha!” moments down.  Considering I find myself regularly sharing tidbits of knowledge and management styles with newer managers, this might make it easier for me to have a list of pieces I can direct them to.

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Agile is…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Agile and what it means in my world of Development. Now, I have to state “in my world” because I realize, after years of living Agile and talking about it with so many others in the industry, that what passes for Agile in my world isn’t necessarily reflective of what others say Agile is (or should be) for them.

So, in the fairness of my personal motto that Agile is not a process or checklist of things that MUST be followed, but rather a template of skills and scenarios that SHOULD be followed, I accept the reality of what-works-for-me-might-not-work-for-you (and vice-versa). Now, with that out of the way, let me share some thoughts:

Agile is the Ability to Move Quickly and Easily:

  • Every day we’re challenged in some way. There are roadblocks that literally pop up from the ground in the form of failed tests, persistent bugs, missing team members (due to illness or vacation), etc. With time-boxed iterations, every day represents a virtual geiger counter on what your team’s burn chart looks like. Every day is precious to keeping the momentum going so when something unexpected happens, the team should be able to move around it (or mitigate or solve it) without a great deal of effort. In other words, it should not be a momentous task (like fighting red tape) to navigate stormy waters and keep the cadence going. A well-oiled, independent, and empowered team would not trip themselves up so easily.

Agile is to have the Power to move with the Changing Currents of Priorities:

  • Yes, I was going for a Boating analogy here. In fact, I had also thought of the phrase “Agile is the Ability to Match the Shifting Tide of Reality”. The reason is that I definitely do see Priorities ebb and flow like the tide on a regular basis. This could be due to the nature of the industry you’re in, or external factors that a strategic team is focused on, or even Customer Requests that may seem critical one minute and less urgent the next (once information is passed along to them). The point is, whatever flavor of Agile you’re working in, are you “stuck” or do you have the power to stop a sprint or reprioritize without wasting time (with red tape or a mindset that says “no, we have to finish this first!”)? Again, empowered teams with a strong relationship with the business or customers goes a long way in the trust that we’re all working together for similar goals.

Agile is the Ability to Challenge, Adapt, and Re-Focus:

  • Change for change’s sake is never good. It’s wasteful in both time and resources. Just because you’re agile and can be nimble in changing priorities, it doesn’t mean that you automatically accept every change thrown your way! In a relationship built on trust, the Team should be able to challenge the PM, or SM, or BU if they feel the request being made doesn’t make sense (and vice-versa of course). I usually see a challenge as a request for more information (as opposed to an argument) because it’s in the discussion that the true need comes out and which a brainstorming session will help guide the next steps. Afterwards, if the change does get accepted, then it becomes a matter of adapting what needs to be done and to re-focus on the priorities.

Is that all there is to Agile? No, of course not. There’s definitely a lot more to it, but as I was in the process of preparing some presentation material, I had this tangential thought about what “The Agile” is and thought I’d use this forum to write out some of the thoughts currently in my head. It seems there are actually quite a lot of these “thoughts” bouncing around in there (as anyone who’s spoken with me at conferences can attest to) so it may indeed be possible that I will share a few more of them here. I’ll have to see where the tide takes me :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Agile is…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Agile and what it means in my world of Development. Now, I have to state “in my world” because I realize, after years of living Agile and talking about it with so many others in the industry, that what passes for Agile in my world isn’t necessarily reflective of what others say Agile is (or should be) for them.

So, in the fairness of my personal motto that Agile is not a process or checklist of things that MUST be followed, but rather a template of skills and scenarios that SHOULD be followed, I accept the reality of what-works-for-me-might-not-work-for-you (and vice-versa). Now, with that out of the way, let me share some thoughts:

Agile is the Ability to Move Quickly and Easily:

  • Every day we’re challenged in some way. There are roadblocks that literally pop up from the ground in the form of failed tests, persistent bugs, missing team members (due to illness or vacation), etc. With time-boxed iterations, every day represents a virtual geiger counter on what your team’s burn chart looks like. Every day is precious to keeping the momentum going so when something unexpected happens, the team should be able to move around it (or mitigate or solve it) without a great deal of effort. In other words, it should not be a momentous task (like fighting red tape) to navigate stormy waters and keep the cadence going. A well-oiled, independent, and empowered team would not trip themselves up so easily.

Agile is to have the Power to move with the Changing Currents of Priorities:

  • Yes, I was going for a Boating analogy here. In fact, I had also thought of the phrase “Agile is the Ability to Match the Shifting Tide of Reality”. The reason is that I definitely do see Priorities ebb and flow like the tide on a regular basis. This could be due to the nature of the industry you’re in, or external factors that a strategic team is focused on, or even Customer Requests that may seem critical one minute and less urgent the next (once information is passed along to them). The point is, whatever flavor of Agile you’re working in, are you “stuck” or do you have the power to stop a sprint or reprioritize without wasting time (with red tape or a mindset that says “no, we have to finish this first!”)? Again, empowered teams with a strong relationship with the business or customers goes a long way in the trust that we’re all working together for similar goals.

Agile is the Ability to Challenge, Adapt, and Re-Focus:

  • Change for change’s sake is never good. It’s wasteful in both time and resources. Just because you’re agile and can be nimble in changing priorities, it doesn’t mean that you automatically accept every change thrown your way! In a relationship built on trust, the Team should be able to challenge the PM, or SM, or BU if they feel the request being made doesn’t make sense (and vice-versa of course). I usually see a challenge as a request for more information (as opposed to an argument) because it’s in the discussion that the true need comes out and which a brainstorming session will help guide the next steps. Afterwards, if the change does get accepted, then it becomes a matter of adapting what needs to be done and to re-focus on the priorities.

Is that all there is to Agile? No, of course not. There’s definitely a lot more to it, but as I was in the process of preparing some presentation material, I had this tangential thought about what “The Agile” is and thought I’d use this forum to write out some of the thoughts currently in my head. It seems there are actually quite a lot of these “thoughts” bouncing around in there (as anyone who’s spoken with me at conferences can attest to) so it may indeed be possible that I will share a few more of them here. I’ll have to see where the tide takes me :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

One Mad Night

It’s kind of hard to avoid thinking of Halloween when it becomes so prevalent this time of year :)  Plus, I keep remembering to oh-so-many-years-ago when I decided to run a slew of Fast Fictions during Halloween week (way before it became vogue to do so :) ).  Anyhow, I was kicking around the idea that I should put up a Flash Fiction (at 568 words, it doesn’t fall under my category of Fast Fiction which is 200 words or less) piece this year simply because it’s been so long. I initially wanted to run a new “My Eyes Burn” pieces… but decided I couldn’t just put one of those up as they tend to run in series.

I decided, instead, that for this year, I would just write a short/ cute little story. Nothing horrific, nothing bloody, just something that could make my wife smile :)  Of course, as she sat across from me doing her own work and saw me smiling to myself, she asked what I was up to.  I told her I was simply writing her something and she immediately wanted to know if I was writing about Gnomes.  Or Bunnies.  Or Gnomes with Bunnies.  Damn it.  Now I *have* to do that.  But before I get to that, let me at least share this quick piece with everyone :)


[Flash Fiction: One Mad Night - October 30, 2013]
“Come on, I dare ya!”

Mickey tried to be brave as Frank kept badgering him.

“I bet ya can’t do it! I bet ya can’t!” he kept repeating, literally turning it into a chant.

“I can, too!” said Mickey, sounding braver than he felt.

It was the same thing every year. October 30. Mad Night. The eve of Halloween, when all the so-called ‘bad boys’ come out to play.

Mickey wasn’t really a bad boy. Truth was, he never got into any trouble. Not because he was afraid of causing any, but just because he tended to not see the entertainment value that others, like Frank, did.

This year, however, he knew he couldn’t walk away. He was eleven years old now and in Junior High School. If he didn’t prove he could handle a little trouble, his next five years of school would be a nightmare.

“Watch. I’ll show you what I can do,” he finally blurted out as he screwed up his courage and lunged for the gate in front of him.

Frank ducked back onto the street and hid behind a parked car while Mickey crossed the walkway and made his way to the door of Old Man Boris’ house. This was it. No turning back now. He would ring that doorbell and take off before anything could happen to him. All that talk about giant spiders was just talk. No one kept pets like that! He’d show Frank that he wasn’t afraid.

As he got to the door, he took one quick look behind him to ensure Frank was watching him. If he was going to go through with this, he needed a witness. He saw Frank hiding but before Mickey could turn back to the door, Frank suddenly yelled out and ran away screaming.

Mickey whipped his head around and a yell escaped from him as he came face to chest with the monstrous Boris.

“Good evening,” he said, with a voice that sounded like heavy rocks sliding down the surface of a mountain. “How may I help you?” he asked.

Mickey, mouth agape and eyes bulging out, just stood there, literally shaking with fear.

“Yesss?” drawled Boris as he leaned forward and downwards, putting his face a few inches from Mickey’s.

Mickey tried to get his mouth to work but the only sounds coming out were little gasps and wheezes as he tried to get his breathing under control and slow the crazy beating of his heart.

Boris tilted his head and furrowed his brow at this strange boy standing before him. “Are you unwell?” he asked slowly.

Mickey finally managed to snap himself out of his stupor and in a surge of adrenaline he pounded his chest, took something out of his jacket pocket, and yelled, “TAG! YOU’RE IT!” In one quick motion he slapped Boris on the forehead and took off before Boris could react. Mickey kept running at top speed, never looking back, as Boris blinked in surprise and straightened up. He reached up, removed the sticker from his forehead, and looked at it blankly. It was a black cartoon bomb with the word “boom!” written on it in yellow. From behind him, inside the house, he heard laughter.

“He did it! He really finally did it!” laughed Frank hysterically.

“You have some very strange friends, son,” said Boris as he walked inside and closed the door behind him.

[Story (c) Mike Aragona]
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
[Alternate Ending: "Please be sure to invite him over tomorrow night. It would be nice to have him for supper..."]

Sorry, I couldn’t resist :)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Time Enough for Good-Bye

Last month, a friend of my parents had been admitted to the hospital to undergo surgery.  The docs opened him up… and then closed him back again.  There was nothing they could do to save him.  Afterwards, they told him he had only a couple of weeks left to live.

I can’t imagine what went through his or his family’s heads at that point, nor, if I can be honest, would I ever want to.  If one were to think of life as a game, it seems a little cruel to imagine that the “reward” for living/ playing the game would be death. My own beliefs are completely against that simply for the fact that I can not believe that the beauty of life (from the natural world around us, to the beautiful moments of living and loving) could be “wiped away” with something as natural as expiring without it being more than just “death”. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyhow, one of the things he did do as part of preparing for the end was to take the time to reach out to everyone he had known to just say good-bye, to thank others for the times they spent together, and just basically have one final discussion.

I will say that my parents were both extremely touched and grateful to have been given that chance to speak to him before he passed on.  They were obviously very sad to learn of his imminent death but for the length of that phone call, they were all able to reminisce, laugh, and be grateful together for the times they spent together and the things they all did for each other over the years. I think it was a beautiful way to leave behind the right memories because as they think about him from now on, just as they did when he finally passed away 2 weeks later, it will always be about that phone call and not about anything negative in the “I wish I had told him…” way.

I was saddened to hear that he had passed on as I both knew and liked him.  But my esteem of him was definitely raised when my parents related the story of his good-bye.  It made me wonder – which is usually the case when death stops in for a visit – if I’m living the kind of life where it would be okay for me to pass on.  You know, the whole “live every day as if it were your last because one day you’ll be right” mantra.

Now, I know the kind of life I’ve lived, and the “type” of person I’ve been over my last 40+ years, and I have come to terms with many of my “stupidities of youth” which I sometimes feel lasted for many, many years :)  And I can say that I’ve reconciled or accepted how things are with everyone I’ve ever needed to (apologizing where appropriate) except for perhaps 2 people in varying degrees in my more recent past.

If I were to die today, I know how everyone would/could remember me and know that there isn’t anything important that is “unsaid” and there is a certain peace that comes with that. Those who know me, know how I feel about them, and that is a comforting feeling.  For the two I mentioned above, well, I know they come around here every now and then so there is still a chance they will read what I’m writing now and know that one day I will reach out again.

I guess the main point I’m trying to make is to remind everyone, again, that life is way too short.  That is true if you’ve lived 5, 10, or 500 years.  When you’re at the end of it, it’s all a blur. You could be standing there regretting that you never climbed Everest (which is something I’ll never understand because you don’t need to go that high up to see the beauty of the world unfolding before you) but you should, but you shouldn’t be regretting not having said something important to someone you know and love.  As another reminder, the truth can be said for the reverse as well.  Don’t wait for someone to be gone to miss them and regret words you should have said.

The people you see each day frame the kind of life you live.  Make sure you surround yourselves with the right ones who will bring light to your soul and not the ones that will suck the light out of your soul and leave darkness behind. A smile is much more powerful than a frown if you know how to use it right.

Peace.

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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Celebrating 10 Years…

Today, August 30, 2013, marks 10 years that Chantale and I have been married.  10 years of wedded bliss and also (from back in May) 10 years of living in our first home.  As anniversaries go, it’s both such a big and little number.  Considering we expect to be married (on earth) ’till death do us part’ it’s a small number.  Comparing it to so many other things in life, it’s pretty big.

Every year, we celebrate this day as a family, especially since 6 years ago also marked Charlize’s re-birth at the repair of her heart.  This year, I had originally wanted to do something “bigger” and had been kicking around the idea of taking Chantale back to Paris for a non-rushed vacation.  But then, several months ago, we started thinking about everything we’ve lived through and where we’re at in our lives and decided that instead of spending money on a lavish vacation, we would reorganize our finances and invest into our home.  True enough, with all the saving and planning we’d been doing these last 10 years, we were able to make this new dream possible and completely revamped our backyard.

The first step of committing to purchasing a spa gave us the oomph to tackle this project. Taking inspiration from the many “Decking” shows we’ve been immersed in for the last couple of months, we went ahead and designed the kind of deck we wanted to have.  And then, all the special tweaks and specific items we wanted incorporated!

What began as a great idea took shape during August in amazing fashion!  Chantale’s design ideas were fantastic and we now have an absolutely stunning 3-level deck with some pretty cool triangular gazebos, with a spa as a nice separator :)  We also (finally) installed a large shed in the yard so we can get stuff out of garage and store it there (leaving more space for the car in the winter!).  And, with the small crack in the foundation fixed just last week, it’s clear to say that we’re good and ready to enjoy our backyard again!

Not only have we reclaimed the yard, but we feel we’ve extending our living space (in a way) because it “draws” us outside now and is comfortable to be on :)  We’ve all gotten more reasons to go outside now, especially with Kyle getting that Basketball net he wanted for his birthday, and Charlize getting swings like she wanted :)  So, you see, 10 years is definitely a big deal and I love that we’ve been able to celebrate it in such a way as to last many more years (as opposed to a trip that, however nice, would still only last in memories after a short period).

So, best friends for over 15 years, dating for over 13, living together for over 12, and now married for 10 years!  What a wonderful, wonderful, life!  I’m so blessed and grateful for the beauty of it all :)

Happy, happy, anniversary, my love!  To the future! :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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Start A New Ending

There’s this great quote I came across last month from Maria Robinson.  She states, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

It’s such a profound, yet simple, quote that I actually printed it up and have a copy of it hanging on my wall at work.  I did this for a number of reasons. At the most basic level, it’s a reminder that nothing goes exactly the way we wish or hope it does.  Sometimes, things muck up, or even start in a bad way.  That doesn’t mean it will always have to BE that way, so why not leave the past in the past and move on?  Aim towards the new or better ending.

The image attached to the quote is one of a tree at sunset. It reminded me of Rafiki trying to give little Simba a lesson about growing up (for those of you who’ve seen The Lion King). Things in the past can still hurt, but we shouldn’t dwell on them. Instead, we should just face forward. Let bygones be bygones, or leave the past in the past, or today is the first day of the rest of your life. Whichever way you want to take it, the lesson is that negative actions of the past can only drag you back, keep you down. Either forgive and move on, or forget and move on, if you can’t forgive and forget.

This kind of thinking comes up in my day-job as well. With Development, bugs happen, or scope changes, or whatever. Some frustration is bound to come up, but the best approach is to simply say, “Ok, what have we learned from this, how do we resolve it, and ensure it doesn’t happen again?”.  It’s not the way you wish the work had started, but it’s now up to you to look at it with eyes towards getting a better ending.

See? That’s the beauty in the simplicity of “LifeTruths”. They can apply across the board, so long as you’re willing to step outside yourself sometimes and see things in a new light.  I apply it to everything from work, to home, to trying to keep a regular blog going… :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

A Question of Choices

I find myself thinking about all the projects I’ve been constantly juggling over the course of many, many years and how much my priorities have changed.

After the zaniness of the ’90s, I made a conscious decision to focus primarily on my family. This meant that outside of some very specific/ big projects, my writing was going to take a backseat.  Obviously I understood what it meant (and what it still means) in terms of everything from building an audience to keeping momentum going.  However, I felt and still feel that it is more important to be there for my wife and kids than anything else. Family is my priority.

What made me realize (today) how different my thinking and priorities are came from the fact that there are a lot of “local” events this weekend that I would love to attend, yet they can’t ever be considered important enough to battle over which one wins.

The Comic creator and fan in me would love to be in Toronto for the Toronto Comic Art Festival. The media fan and writer in me would love to be in Ottawa for the Ottawa ComicCon.  What seems to have been “forgotten” is that Sunday is Mother’s Day!  A day to honor my wife for being an incredible mother to my four children.  A day to remember my own mother for all the things she’s done for me my whole life. Putting all that side-by-side is really a no-contest event.

Of course, if my wife had wanted to go to any of these events, I would gladly have taken her :) . The point is the same, though. She takes precedence!

 

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Death Musings

Death has been on my mind recently.  Whether it be because I’ve been watching too many violent television shows, or that I’m going to be celebrating another birthday next week, or that I recently heard of an ex-colleague’s passing, I can’t escape the fact that it has come into bouncing into my head.  So, as a means of moving beyond it, I’m going to fall back on writing therapy :)

There’s a scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where Harry (Billy Crystal’s character) is discussing death with Sally (Meg Ryan’s character) and boasting how he had spent “weeks, months” thinking about death and that it made him ready for the day whenever it happened.

It’s an interesting discussion point because it’s almost impossible to consider.  How can you be ready for something that takes you away from your loved ones?  Granted death is just the end of the road for our mortal coils and we all have to accept it and accept that those who live on will mourn our passing, but that doesn’t mean we can all feel that we’ve wrapped up everything we needed to and can move on.

Personally, I’m not afraid of death.  I don’t believe everything just ends there.  I see it as the “start” of a new journey.  Who’s to say that our dying in this world/ life isn’t a childbirth into another life?  If every physical object in our universe does not disappear but simply changes or transforms (like paper burns into ashes, for a quick example) why should who we are cease to exist? Why can’t we transform into something or someone else?  That, however, is a discussion for another day.  All I wanted to say is that for me, it’s not the end.  It’s like moving to another country with no communications protocol (be it telephone or internet) back to where you were.

When you take away the “fear” of death, then you have nothing to fear from dying.  But my not fearing death does not make me ready for it.  Besides the truth that I don’t want to leave my family behind, that I don’t want them to go through the emotional turmoil of carrying on without me, I don’t want to die just yet.  I love my life and everything around me.  My family, my home, my career.  It’s probably one of the best “time” in my life at the moment – where we’re able to actually enjoy the fruits of our very hard labor of the last few years.  We still have so much more love to give and laughs to live for.  Who would want to leave when there is so much happiness all around us?

When the time does come, sure, I’ll be “ready” in the sense that I won’t have a choice.  Looking at it today, however, I hope that time doesn’t come for a long, long, time!

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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Music adds to the Writing Madness

I realized (again) that I hadn’t posted of any of the events that were planned and executed upon in the last couple of months.  January had the Family Disney Trip, February had me returning to Emeryville for a week followed by a weekend jaunt to Chicago to visit my extended family and led into Chantale’s birthday celebrations (yes, multiple :) ) and then Melyssa’s birthday celebrations (also multiple!) :)

So, there were a lot of emotions and thoughts running through my head these last couple of months about getting older (and now actually looking back on old photos of me as a child with true nostalgia, almost seeing them in a completely new light) as well as doing “more” of the things I love.

As much as I want to share further on what’s bouncing around my head in regards to getting older (more those around me than myself), I think what’s pushing me a lot lately has been creativity and the need to create.

Back in January, a friend of mine sent me his new CD (“Lucky Drive” by OceanRoyal) and then afterwards, talking to him about it (the making of it, the difference with the first CD, playing gigs, studio collaboration, etc) made me really miss that period of my life.  However, no longer being part of a band makes it harder to re-live :)  Of course, being a writer with manuscripts to polish off and set free, that’s where I can put energy towards.

The same feelings hit me when I went to see Serena Ryder in concert and got to hang out at the foot of the stage.  Watching her up there and grooving with the music, getting caught up in the energy of the band made me want to get my own stage and rock out… But, again, no longer having a band puts a curve on that rush, so the next best thing is writing.

See, for the last year or so, I’ve had to focus on “bringing home the bacon” and taking care of my family.  Having devoted all my available time to carving out a new career, there was very little time to think about my own creativity.  Whatever small time I could find went to help out my fellow writers as I worked on collaborations and did a lot of copy editing and proof reading. It was enough to make me feel connected while I helped roll out a huge and very satisfying project to Canada.

Now, however… blame it on Spring, or on things moving along at an even pace, or that I’ve just been filled with external creativity and energy… but it’s not enough.  I *need* to get some words down.  I need to see those scenes in my head played out “on paper”.  I need to share the discussions and situations characters are going through.

This means, of course, that unless I can make time for myself to sit down and write creatively again… I’m just going to explode.  And that won’t be pretty :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

As I listened to Kyle cough away last night – counting the time between coughs – I had to reflect on the fact that even with all the experience we have with dealing with Asthma emergencies with children, it’s never cut-and-dried.  The 9 years we lived through emergencies with Melyssa were nowhere near as critical and panic-inducing as the 7 years with Kyle (although there was definitely that ONE night where the 9-1-1 ambulances arrived at the nick of time) and taken together, there are a heck of a lot of stories there.

The truth, then, is that what I tried to summarize back in this story (http://cowbird.com/story/21903/The_Fear_Of_Coughing/) on Cowbird still holds true.  The moment Kyle starts coughing and it sounds different than a regular cough, our “antennae” goes up and our sense of hearing becomes more acute.

Every situation is either slightly different, requiring a minor approach tweak, or different enough to revisit all past situations to come up with the best solution.  Last night felt exactly like that.  Here he was, coughing away at a regular enough interval to be concerning, but not wheezing or rasping, or anything that we’re used to seeing when he’s in a “usual” crisis.

For example, there have been incidents where he’s letting out a cough every minute (when he’s gone to bed/ attempting to sleep), and after a few minutes it’ll start to stretch out. A cough every 5 minutes.  Then, 7… 10… 20… and eventually asleep.  For him to be consistent at every 4 minutes or so was peculiar.  He has been fighting a bit of a cold, which never helps, especially when you consider he’s prone to viral-induced asthma attacks.

At one point I had to look at my wife and basically ask what the hell was going on with my internal turmoil. We’ve been fighting asthma attacks for 16 years now (not counting my wife’s own personal issues when she was younger).  We’ve got so many varied experiences with asthma from allergy-induced, to various medications, to “homegrown” techniques to get out of crisis, etc. We’re Asthma Ambassadors for Asthma Canada and part of the National Asthma Patient Alliance (NAPA) supported by Asthma Canada. Heck, she’s on the Board of Directors as well!

And yet…

…And yet when that coughing begins it’s like a Primal instinct to want to do the right thing without overreacting and trying to come to the best solution (which doesn’t always involve spending 3 to 8 hours in the asthma ward hoping to not catch anything else especially during high flu season).

I guess, in a way, the battle will always continue.  After all, as it has been often stated, Asthma can only be controlled and cannot be cured (at least at the moment). You know, I just realized something else – something that does make us valuable NAPA members. This feeling of fear (or maybe controlled fear) that we still go through with when it comes to our children? It doesn’t go away. So when it comes to speaking with other families trying to handle the stress of asthma issues, we can definitely relate with them.  And the sharing of these events always helps everyone to remember that they’re not alone and that help does exist.

Every crisis is like a mini-badge (or scar!) that we have to wear and carry with us as we walk through our lives.

After Kyle finally fell asleep, my brain continued to go through scenarios, almost refusing to settle down enough for me to sleep. Eventually I did, and the first instinct I had when I awoke this morning was to strain my ears to ensure he wasn’t coughing. The silence was both deafening and frightening. After a couple of hours he woke up and came down for breakfast. He still has his cough, but it’s nothing like yesterday. Regular doses of his inhaler along with rest and keeping his nose “empty” have been very beneficial. His afternoon nap was also restful.

So, we continue with our treatment as per our Asthma Action Plan, and add some “cold fighting” elements to it as well (like ensuring he gets plenty of Vitamin C) and continue to keep an “ear” out on him.  Winters are tough, and with the temperature drop of 2 nights ago (going from 4 degrees Celsius to -15 degrees Celsius) we were already on guard.  But never “on guard” enough to take things fully in stride.

Here’s hoping it clears up completely by tonight/ tomorrow morning…

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Keep on Truckin’

When this year started, I noticed that the drive into work wasn’t as tough or congested as it had been in the previous month.  At first, I thought that perhaps folks were still on vacation but seeing as we’re in the 3rd week of January and everyone is back in school and/ or work, that wasn’t really flying any more.  Heck, at one point I was honestly starting to wonder if there had been a mass exodus of folks out of quebec because they had finally had enough of the political quagmire we so often find ourselves in.

Turns out, I have to thank the opening of the new Highway 30 extension for this reduced traffic on the 20 westbound!  What an absolutely pleasant surprise! No more wondering if it’ll take me 30 minutes or 90 minutes to get home or to work!  No more trying to figure out the ideal moment to leave the house and avoid the rushes.  I have left at different times both to/from work and I have consistently had a good 35 minute drive!

I feel like I’ve regained days back in my weeks.  It’s unbelievable.  I honestly have more energy in the mornings AND the evenings now – as opposed to coming home completely wiped from sitting in traffic.

I always knew this 30 extension was going to be a good and viable thing (for congestion, for business, for the area I live in) but I definitely didn’t expect to directly benefit from it the way I am now!  Here’s hoping it’ll last a long, long, time! :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Mapping the Year

I don’t remember the last time I “stood” at the beginning of a new year and looked “forward” through the calendar positively thinking about the high-level plans/ thoughts/ wishes/ hopes that the upcoming days/ weeks/ months will bring.

Although there were a couple of moments in past years, there was usually enough apprehension edging around the corners that all I could hope for was a good/ proper ‘next couple of weeks’.

The interesting thing is that it’s not just a matter of enjoying the moment and hoping that the future will be good (as used to be the case). It’s more of enjoying the moment and reveling in the knowledge that the future will be good. There is something “good” coming up on a both personal and professional basis throughout the year!  I look at my calendar and see all these little points of sunlight where an activity or a celebration will take place and it makes me smile.  So much to look forward to, so much to do, to share, to experience.  I can’t say if it’s more or less than last year, but I can definitely say that being home at least ensures that I get to definitely experience more with those I love.

I’m not trying to be cryptic by not talking about specifics.  It’s just that I’d rather live through them first and speak of them afterwards – or just before in some cases ;) .  Like, the fact that we’re heading to DisneyWorld next week. It’s been years since our first visit and we’ve been hoping to go back for so long… until Chantale finally said, “we can do this now!” and we made all the arrangements.  I booked the flights, she booked the lodgings and experiences. It’s going to be awesome :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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Before jumping into 2013, I realized that there was one thing from 2012 that although mentioned on Facebook, I never cross-posted or discussed here.

Those who’ve known me for a while know that I spent 9 months living in Emeryville, California (away from my family) while my team and I immersed ourselves in the RelayHealth product used in the US for clinical connectivity.  Our job was to understand the product and modify it so that it can be used in Canada.  One of the big things was that we came in at the same time as a process change was being introduced in how Agile was done.  Because of my experience and knowledge, I helped with the move from Scrum to Kanban and built a process centering around knowledge sharing through VersionOne. The new Kanban process was shared with the whole company and rolled out during 2011.

After 9 months, my team and I came back to Canada and launched RelayHealth.ca – suddenly, Canada had a solution for clinical connectivity! Although the best benefits will be found when physicians connect with you through the system, a patient can still benefit from managing their own data, right now, with a free and secure account.  I’ve posted the links before… but here’s the video overview again:

http://youtu.be/IeXzhbS3axI

So, what’s all this to do with me wanting to take one last note here?  Simple.  I wanted to point out (or boast if you will, but boast out of being very proud more than anything), that all the hard work was very much appreciated and recognized!  A few months ago I was flown to Austin, Texas and presented with a very prestigious award from McKesson: the 2012 Chairman Award for Innovation and Collaboration!  This huge award (clocking at 25lbs!) finally came in and I took a photo of it along with another award from the Product Development team.  It is that photo I wanted to share :)  So, here it is:

2012 McKesson Chairman Award for Innovation and Collaboration

2012 McKesson Chairman Award for Innovation and Collaboration

It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, leaving my family behind.  But it was all done in order to bring to Canada something my family and I truly believed in.  And now, here it is.  You know what’s allso really great?  Agile made this :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Testing one, two…

So. Has the Christmas season felt like Xmas this year? Kind of hard to say, really. Sure, there were plenty of family visits and way too much food to eat and tons of presents… but it also felt like *something* was missing. Peace, perhaps? Tranquility? The ability to sit for more than 5 minutes without needing to rush to do this or that? Was it all about responsibility and very little joy?

I’m sitting here, on my bed, testing out my new bluetooth keyboard and pretty much digging it.  Size-wise, it all feels like my Netbook which is quite nice and compact, but it has the benefit of not being SO bloody slow. I know that whenever I spend a bit of time writing/ working on my netbook, I recall how much I enjoy it, but the time it takes to get it booted up and loaded just takes away so much from that feeling that I rarely take it out any more. Maybe the best thing to do with that little toy is to strip everything out of it, completely. But to do that, I need a replacement system for my ginormous iTunes library and photos.  Shrug. In the meantime, this new setup of keyboard and iPad is great.

Now, to get back on topic, what I was trying to say is that I’m sitting here typing away while outside a huge snowstorm is raging. It looks beautiful, as long as you don’t need to go out anywhere! In truth, this is the kind of weather I love to watch happen, snuggled at home with the Xmas lights on, the fireplace sending out heat, a nice vegetable soup bubbling away on the stove… maybe a movie on to keep the kiddies entertained interspersed with some time for reading or playing games.

I guess, to me, that’s what some peaceful time at home entails. The chance to spend time both alone and as a family throughout the day. I’ve got everyone at home today except for Melyssa. I was supposed to pick her up today but the weather is not going to make it possible.  I guess it will have to be tomorrow. In the meantime, lounging around the house is going to continue as I’m off from work for a few more days :)

The new year is shaping up to be interesting, but I’ll leave the details of that to another day….

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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Say what? How long?

Okay, so it seems that it’s not just my personal schedule that changes every 3 months or so, but my posting habits as well! :)  I can hardly believe it’s been over 3 months since I last logged on here and posted (although I do still log on and read!) but there you go.  Can’t argue with the posting dates.

I think the hardest part of coming back to posting after such an absence is that it’s almost impossible to write an update that can properly cover all that has happened in the interim. 3 months might not sound like much, but it is, and a lot can and does happen.

I remember at one time writing about how when we moved to our new location at work that I would potentially have a few minutes in the mornings to post a little something before starting my day.  And yet the reality is that because of other schedule changes, that hasn’t been possible.  So much for that.  Now, with Xmas around the corner, I believe I may have found a way to do it!

See, when I leave for the day, I don’t really touch my computers much at home (except to perhaps watch a show or movie).  The one gadget I do carry around in the evenings is my iPad – usually to read comics but lately more to play games :)  What I always thought I could do was also use it to post or write more.  But, guess what?  I hate the keyboard interface and two-finger touch-typing on the device.  So, I asked Santa to get me a bluetooth keyboard that I can use with it!  Yay!  Real typing! :)

Will this make me post or write more?  Maybe.  But what it will definitely do is make it easier for me to do so!  That means the final edits on the re-release of The Anti-Bodies can be possible, along with more creative work!  That’s a good thing :)  Writing blog posts… I miss it.  I do.  As cute as it may sometimes be to tweet little zingers or update FB with family pics, I do miss being able to spill out my thoughts on these blogs and “leave a little something behind” for my kids to read in the future and know a bit more about me.

So, as we get to winding down the year, and surviving the silly panic of our so-called day-of-doom, I just wanted to pop in here and say hello.  If I don’t make it back before next week, then I send out well wishes and hopes for Happy Holidays to everyone!  May your heart always smile!

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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New Puppy

It’s crazy how things can change from one day to the next.  Almost every single day for the last month now I’ve been wanting to write, share, type, get stuff off my chest and out of my mind… but just unable to do so.  Just.  So.  BUSY.

Today is not any different, to be honest, but I’m forcing myself to take the 3 minutes I need to at least write these words here.

Casey’s been gone for a few months now and we’ve always known we were going to get another dog.  It’s just been very difficult because we were looking for a new companion but couldn’t really do so without thinking/ comparing it to our beloved pooch.  In fact, Casey’s loss and my last post here was also something that weighed heavily on my sharing stuff on the blog.  Everything else after that event just seemed… insignificant in some ways.  It was hard to go from that to a rant on traffic or thoughts on digital comics or anything, actually.

But now, to get the next chapter of our lives started, I’m very happy to announce that we did get ourselves a faithful new companion this weekend :)  What started as a momentary “check-in” at a not-so-local pet store on our way to picking up James for his early birthday gift (Star Wars Identities exhibition at the old port) turned into a “there she is!” moment when we laid eyes on this little pooch.

Before we knew it, papers were signed, monies exchanged, a promise to return early Sunday morning to pick her up was arranged.  This did indeed happen yesterday morning and the rest of the day was spent marveling at this little fluff ball and all the adventures that await us :)  Already, in just a short day, she managed to thoroughly impress us – having immediately understood the concept of asking for the door to go do her business in the back yard :)  So, we know there’s plenty more to come!

For now, though, my 3 minutes are up.  I’ve already posted a lot of photos on Facebook and figure I’ll send up another one here before I share it there ;)  Say hello to Cleo (short for Cleopatra) – the latest little Queen to join the family :)

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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I Lost my Puppy

As a kid growing up, I had a lot of pets. I think I can remember something like 5 dogs, dozens of cats, and various birds, hamsters, fish. I would mourn when they “disappeared” but we were never without furry companionship for long. Outside of a few that were lost to accidents (traffic) or illnesses, many simply were not there from one day to the next. My mom would tell me that they were too nice a pet and some mean people had taken them away. So, you can imagine that I grew up not liking my neighborhood very much because I thought it was populated with pet “stealers”.

From the time I left home at 25 I wanted a pet but couldn’t for various reasons due to allergies of the people around me. I had pretty much given up until I was about 36 years old and my wife and I got our little Bichon Frise, Casey. I’m sure I wrote all about it back in 2003/4 as it led to a lot of … “fun” times in some cases. The point, though, was that we had our first new family member (after having gotten our first car and home together and gotten married). Cassiopeia, named after the constellation of course, was known only as Casey to everyone else. She fit in with us so wonderfully and grew to be an incredibly intelligent dog. Her patience with the children was beautiful and we never worried about her.

As she got older, she became more assertive in the sense that she demanded (such as it were :) ) to be trusted to handle herself and soon enough she had free reign of the house even when we weren’t home. True enough, there were no “accidents”. In the last couple of years, she still pushed the boundaries on certain points (like trying to jump on the couch or sleep on our beds) but she also understood that it was a privilege for her to share those spaces with us :)  When she did, she was quite happy, of course.

One interesting thing about her was how she seemed to have been prone to issues throughout her life which always seemed just a little bit out of the norm and which were always resolved thanks to my wife’s diligent search for answers – from the skin rashes she had as a pup to the weird crystals in her urine to treating a herniated disk with acupuncture! You know, when you think about it carefully, she was almost helping us prove that we could handle anything that came our way and that we could beat it together – which is pretty much what you could say about Kyle’s extreme asthma (and allergies) and Charlize’s open-heart surgery.

But, as I wrote a few weeks back, things turned for the worse again and the medication given us had horrible side effects. What I didn’t write after that was how we had blood work done on her and it came back that she had extreme iron deficiency which could have been caused by one of three things, two of which were terminal (leukemia or a bone marrow disease), one of which was degenerative (AHIA). We put her on prednisone and changed her food and within a week all the weight she had lost was regained (no food was denied her and she ate like a queen!). She was still a little lethargic but in good spirits. We took another urine test and all was good. We had another blood test scheduled for this week. But we never made it.

Last week, things began to degenerate again. By Friday, she was having trouble going up stairs and not eating. On Saturday, it got worse. She was no longer going up stairs, she shuffled a lot more, she looked miserable, and her weight had dropped even lower than before. She hadn’t eaten in two days and then… her stool went liquid and bloody. Her body was breaking down and there was nothing left we could do that wouldn’t require lots of invasive procedures and thousands of dollars.

It was an excruciating day to get through but as the evening started rolling in and she started whimpering in pain, we knew it was it. We had made a promise that we would not let her suffer and she was now at that state. This was the one “issue” we could not come back from. All the research we did about showed that she literally should have died 3 weeks ago when the symptoms first showed themselves. We gained those extra weeks by our efforts but now it was the end.

I can’t quite put it into words, although it’s a simple enough task. Maybe I don’t want to put it into words because it’s so painful to write about. Just thinking about that weekend I can see everything unraveling before me like a movie and I can’t sit back like a viewer because the size of the emotional hurt is something I never expected in my life. We were saying good-bye to a member of the family, handing her over to the doctors and knowing they couldn’t “fix” her. Walking into a clinic with arms full and leaving with an empty blanket. Watching her slowly “fade” away while always looking straight into our eyes… the pain of the truth that she was more than just a “dog” and that she was truly part of the family… it was unbearable.

We had been mourning her for a long time already – if not specifically these last 3 weeks. Every day we saw her, thinking that this could be “it” was painful. Sharing the news with Kyle and Charlize was very hard, especially Charlize.  Her casually asking a few days later if Casey would still be there for her when she was bigger was just as hard. Trying to plan and execute a pre-birthday party for Kyle all the while seeing this little pooch just lying nearby, knowing we couldn’t ease her pain was too much. Finally saying good-bye… was heart-wrenching.

Going back  home and confirming with the kids that she was gone was not easy. Going through Kyle’s birthday was not easy – especially as this was the first birthday she missed. And that’s where I really started feeling her absence.  James and Melyssa couldn’t be here for Kyle’s birthday, so although we missed them, since they’re not always here you don’t get a sense of a “piece” missing. Casey… well Casey was supposed to be here!  Casey has always been there to greet in the morning and trip over in the evening. This time she wasn’t. And bit by bit, it was like more little stab wounds hit us as the lack of her presence was felt. The door chime is usually followed by a bark… not any more. Walking through the door always meant a white fluffy face looking up at you or jumping on your legs… not any more. Getting dressed in the morning always meant a yawning stretching dog rubbing its nose on the carpet… not any more.

And then, yesterday, when James and Melyssa finally got home from their trip, I went to see them after work to (a) tell them the news, and (b) take them to the movies.  Breaking the news to them was just as hard as 2 weeks ago telling them how sick she was. All I could think of was my telling them at that time that “it doesn’t mean she’ll be gone while you’re on your trip” and that being the trigger for them to break down… and now the reality that that’s exactly what had happened was being revealed.

We honestly thought she was going to pull through from this. At worst, we expected that we were going to have to be giving her a pill every day for the rest of her life – almost like a lot of people have to do! Maybe we were trying not to think of the alternative, maybe we were conning ourselves… but I think it’s more to the point that she had regained her weight that first week and had shown some sparks of who she was…. Now that everyone in the family knows, perhaps we could heal.  I’m sitting here typing this and all I can think of is how she should be at my feet right now keeping me company… but she’s not… and my feet are cold… and I’m out of tissue.

I can (and will one day) replace the family pet, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop missing my Puppy.  :(

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

And then there’s soccer…

The kids’ soccer season has been a little bizarre this year.  Where Kyle (being in U7) only plays once a week, Charlize (in U5) plays twice a week.  Actually, now that I write it out like this, I realize that it’s almost the same but that Charlize has more practice time.  See, Kyle’s games are 1 hour long and we usually meet 30 minutes prior to get some warm-up and training done.  Charlize usually has about 45 minutes of training and a 15 minute game Mondays and Wednesday. Considering the age groups, this makes sense.  Teach the younger ones the basics and throw in some game play.  Expand the older ones’ knowledge and give them game time.

Anyhow, that’s not where I was going with this entry :)  What I was trying to get at was that Kyle’s first 4 games were all held on Saturdays at 7am. The reason for this was that school was still in session so this was how it was planned out.  During those 4 games, Chantale and I watched the games by the sidelines, a little… perturbed at some of the things being taught and confused as to how the goalie was always completely ignored.  After 2 games, we moved forward to offer help and coaching (considering how much time Chantale played in days gone by).  This offer was quickly accepted and Chantale was happy to be able to train and guide the kids while the other guy managed them.

But then, school ended and the games started falling on Mondays. The coach could no longer make it and we slowly ended up taking on more of the coaching/ managing of the team.  Actually, Chantale took over and I became more an ‘assistant’ who warmed up the team and coached the goalies.  The problem with all this was that all WE had was the duffle bag with the spare balls!  We had no coaching tools like the game sheets, or the practice cones, or the goalie gloves or the goalie shirt! Heck, apparently there was a huge rule book in there as well that was not passed along!

This went on for quite a number of games and then yesterday, when Chantale could not make the 6pm practice, I went there and started warming them up and she showed up before the match started.  Of course, this time the Ref wanted all the things no other Ref asked for before! The Game Sheet, the Goalie wearing a different shirt, etc.  We explained our situation and we managed to get another coach to loan us the sheets and, luckily, the commission office was close by so we got in touch with them.

During the game, the commissioners came out and told us that the game rules had changed and we could not play with 7 players on the field but 5 (this was also told to the other 2 games going on so it seemed like news to everyone – although why these kind of rule changes came in mid-season is beyond me). But the best part of it was that they heard our dilemma and got us set up with all the stuff we needed (except for the rule book). At least we felt better as a team! And we felt better as coaches, too, as a number of players’ parents have been telling us how much their kids enjoy playing now.  Heck, I love that there is so much participation in that our team always had at least 3 players in reserve for every game, and this during the games we played 7-on with! :)

With less than a month worth of games left, it’ll be a good, fun, ride to the end of the season now :)  As for next season… well, who knows.  But, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves doing the same thing again, but this time doing it right from the get-go. Time will tell for sure.

But considering how I’ve even started getting involved in Charlize’s games in order to keep the girls there more focused (the coach is busy on the field so he has no time for the bench or the goalie), I see continued participation in our futures… 😉

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Beginning a new Routine

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it seems like any routine (or schedule) we get into only really lasts for a couple of months before things change and we have to update it :)  For example, I got home from Emeryville at the end of February.  We got into a specific routine for a few months (as I adjusted to working locally) and then tweaked it when school let out.

Today, however, with Chantale starting her new job, we’re back to facing questions that we haven’t had to in almost 2 years! Lol!  Back then, I was heavily restricted by hours of children pickup/ drop off because of the different places each child went to AND the insane commute I was putting myself through.  Now, and for the next couple of years starting in September, really, both kids will be going to the same school. That means one place and time for both! And, with Chantale and I basically working 1km from each other, it also means either one of us can do the picking up or dropping off and on the rare occasions that either one of us have to be out of town, we’re both capable of doing both without impacting our work schedules! That’s quite the relief :)

(and I can’t even describe how wonderful it feels that Chantale will be close enough that we can head out to lunch every now and again! I love having my best friend within walking distance! Another huge benefit (or long-term gain) being derived from the short-term pain of me working in the US for 9 months)

So, with all the proper harmonizing of our family schedules, all that’s missing is for me to carve out some time that I can devote to writing so I can finally bring some of those projects to fruition a little faster than the current timetable! :)

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

Where’s the “Off” Switch?

Lately, I’ve come to a rather disturbing conclusion in that I find it impossible to do “nothing”.  The one thing that so many people long for seems to be something I can not accomplish.  I know I used to be able to do this without effort, which is why this bit of news is so disturbing to me.

I’ve tried.  Many, many times, have I tried.  Especially on weekends.  I start each Saturday or Sunday with the best intentions of just getting up, grabbing a toast and coffee, and then sitting down and just reading (that’s truly my definition of doing “nothing” – not having any pressing matters to allow myself the luxury to just “read”).  At most, I can get in about an hour’s worth. While also making breakfast for the kids. While also doing some minor kitchen chores. So, in effect, it’s “interrupted” time.

Then, when I get to the bottom of my coffee mug, I suddenly (instinctively?) feel that my time of leisure is up and I have to get cracking on taking care of the household weekend chores (you know the kind). Even when there isn’t anything that requires my immediate attention, I feel guilty about taking any further time to myself. After all, there just aren’t that many hours in a weekend and shouldn’t I be doing something more important with my time?  You know, like playing with the kids, or getting outdoors, tackling some renovation chores, maybe groceries, etc, etc?

It’s a little insane if you ask me.  The entire work week is so jam-packed that everything happens in that manner: one to-do item after an another being handled, taken care of, rescheduled, or added. Going full-tilt like that from the moment I walk in until the  moment I leave (which does not take into account the rushing to get in and the rushing to get home). Heck, just today I walked into my team area and stated how surprised I was to see so many people there during the lunch hour. I was quickly informed that lunch was an hour ago and my brain almost shut down at the fact that 6 hours had already passed since I walked in.

I guess another thing that doesn’t really help is that the evenings fly just as fast. From walking through the door to getting through supper and whatever comes next (twice a week now being soccer for the kids) followed by bath and bedtime, it’s a quick blink of anywhere between 2 and 3 hours. That just doesn’t feel like quality enough time to spend with your family. You see why I’m looking for the Off switch?  So we could all just stop (or at least slow down enough) and enjoy the moments that are all too short in life…

Is it any wonder that the best part of our family vacations (that we try hard to ensure we have every year) involve us heading into the “woods” somewhere and spending a long weekend removed from everyday life (including the internet, television, and all those trappings!) so we can recharge ourselves and our family with just a log cabin and our thoughts for company?  Whatever the cost, those moments are just priceless…

Now, I just have to hang on for another month before we can enjoy this year’s outing…

 

Originally published at The New Floodgates of the Mind. You can comment here or there.

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