Friday, June 27, 2008

This What It's All About

This is what WHAT'S all about, you ask?


All of it. Everything of any real importance, when it comes to international relations. This reminds me of the Dalai Lama's visit to Seattle in April, when he was asked what he would do to bring about world peace. He said he'd just put all the leaders of all the countries together on an island to vacation together and have fun as individuals and families, insisting that once they got to know each other in that way, working together as a community of individuals, they'd be much more willing and likely to work together as politicians and countries when faced with political crises.

This video exemplifies the same spirit of individual and communal unity that is so incredibly powerful. Really, it's the politics and the politicians that divide us, I decided. Hell, the PEOPLE are...

...the people are... Well, just watch.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

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Things on My Mind

I can't seem to write one decent cohesive post these days, so here's a smattering of my thoughts...

  1. My mother would have been 81 today. Next week, when we go back for the second annual family trip to Howard Prairie Lake, I'll bring her ashes home with me. (Dad and Lou bought a new house and... well, I offered to take Mom's ashes. Dad accepted.) In what might be the "schnapsidee" ("schnappsidee?!") of the century, I had the idea of tackling my fear of heights while scattering Mom's ashes over her heimat, near Traunstein, Bavaria. There's a hang gliding launching pad at the top of the Raushberg in Ruhpolding, where she used to hike and sky in her youth. If I were really brave -- in so many different ways -- I'd strap into a hang glider up there (with assistance, of course), take a running leap of faith off that mountain, and release Mom's ashes over the land that she loved so much.
  2. My kids and their friends occasionally smoke hooka. On the one hand, this really upsets me because shisha (the stuff they actually smoke) is made from tobacco. On the other hand, they don't do it often, it's purely a social thing, and at least it's not full of nicotine. Still, I can't help but cringe when they all sit around blowing those smoke rings. We've been known to hang out as a family, sipping beer -- so it's not like I'm clueless. But I have this thing about drugs (pretty much any drugs)... I just don't like them. It comes from growing up in Berkeley in the 60's and reacting to that, I think. Our kids are incredibly open about what they do and don't indulge in (they do a few very limited things and don't do most things), so there's no mystery whatsoever and they have no qualms about sharing with us. But I don't understand the allure of any of it -- hooka, alcohol, weed, whatever. I mean, why? I'll just never get it -- and they know exactly how I feel.
  3. I'm writing this from a picnic bench at Marymoor Park where, thanks to Mr Gates, there's free internet access. It's about 80 degrees, "the Mountain" (Rainier) is "out," and the work week is over! Directly in front of me is the park's huge climbing structure, to my right is Rainier, looking like you could just reach out and touch it, to my left is the Velodrome with the region's dedicated cyclists practicing for some big race, and all around are dogs with their humans, heading to the off-leash area -- or "bark park," as Shasta knows it. What a glorious Seattle day! It almost makes all those cloudy days worth it. Almost, but not quite.
  4. I'm gonna head from here to my favorite craft store to try to get creative enough to think of something to make my dad for his 80th birthday. It might take a while, being Friday. My previous jobs have all been highly creative and on Friday, I'd try to turn off that part of my brain and just cruise kinda numbly through the weekend. But this job has pretty much ZERO creativity to it, so by Friday afternoon, I'm both craving and feeling estranged from creativity. After Ben Franklin (the craft store), I think I'll call Tom to meet me in town for a date. I have never loved Fridays quite this much! It's not that I don't like my job; I actually DO. It's that, by Friday, my brain feels fried and completely depleted... even as my in-box continues to fill with fires and floods and lightning and thunder from every which way. As it is now, as I write this. Yup, there's a work e-mail coming in. And, oh look (no don't!) another. And lookie there -- yet another...

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Monday, June 23, 2008

In Which I Describe the Similarities Between a Harbor Master and a Project Manager

Last month, when Tom and I took the day off to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we had lunch at a restaurant on the Seattle waterfront. As we enjoyed our meal and chatted about everything and nothing, we noticed that a large ship was being led into the harbor by a small, yet incredibly strong tugboat. The ship was no longer being commanded by its own captain, Tom (who grew up in the California harbor town of San Pedro) told me; instead, a "pilot" was bringing the ship into the Seattle harbor and, once safely in the harbor, the harbor master would determine when and how the ship's cargo would be off-loaded, and would manage the process of sending the cargo on its way to its final destination.

Although I didn't grow up in a harbor town and know little about the workings of a major world port like Seattle's, something about the whole process seemed very familiar to me. Someone has to know what ships are coming in to the harbor from where, when they're arriving, what's on board, where the cargo needs to go -- and somehow time everything so that the whole process runs smoothly and efficiently and everyone gets what they need when they need it.

Now why did this all seem so familiar to me? I'm obviously not a harbor master, but as I watched ships come into the harbor and leave from the harbor, and as I watched the huge orange cranes unload the cargo from ships, I felt an odd affinity with the whole process. I knew that directing that "dance" took massive amounts of organization, that someone was keeping many balls in the air (or ships in the water) at once, knowing exactly how and when to bring ships into the harbor, how and when to off-load them, where to send every single piece of cargo from every single ship, and how to keep the whole process running smoothly.

I knew that as smooth at it all looked, collisions were always just a heartbeat away and that, while one snap decision might keep the whole process running smoothly, another might cause calamity on the high seas, with shipload upon shipload of destruction.

And as I sat there, watching the whole process, I realized that I do exactly with my projects (technical, educational, marketing, etc.) what the Port of Seattle harbor master does with ships and cargo: I greet each "ship" (project) as it arrives under my jurisdiction, guide it into gently, but quickly into the harbor, on its own path, careful to avoid a collision course with other "ships." Then I "off-load" it, careful to manage each piece of cargo (project component) individually, and then I determine where each item needs to go, when it needs to be there, and how to best get it there.

If one part of the intricate process is ignored or if I fail to take the correct action at the right time, the whole delicate system can get wildly screwed up, with a ripple effect that could lead to massive back-ups and destruction of "precious cargo." That would not be a pretty picture, so I am forever maneuvering and re-arranging and forestalling and hurrying so the pieces fit and the whole "harbor of my professional life" (oh, baaaad!) runs smoothly.

Does that fact that THIS is what I thought about as I looked onto the Seattle harbor on my day off mean that maybe I need to visit a small, serene mountain lake?

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Shhhh! Don't Tell Kat!

This will be waiting for her when she gets home from work tonight:

Aleks has already seen it (and, being a guy, he's kinda ho-hum about it all, anyway), so he won't be surprised when I finish his book... um, maybe tonight. Or in the wee hours of the morning. Or tomorrow sometime.

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A (Planned) Weekend in the Life

I'm bound and determined to relax this weekend and not work at all until 9 PM on Sunday night (the official beginning of my work week, since it's morning in Mumbai, India).

Specifically, I intend to:

Read a book.

Finish the "surprise" scrapbooks for Aleks' and Kat's graduations.

Write. Not just blog, but write. Finally.

Watch some movies. From my bed. During the day.

Pamper myself with smelly girly stuff.

Sip cappuccino.

And, if I really can't bear not to be productive in that achieve something way, I guess I might consider:

Summer-izing the deck -- as in, power-washing the winter's moss growth off the wood, bringing out and setting up the patio set, and tidying/throwing away a winter's worth of "just-toss-it-onto-the-deck-for-now" junk.

Gardening. If I f***'in feel like it! (Being flipped off by one's gardening tools is just downright morally degrading!)

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Friday, June 20, 2008

A Day in the Life

Are you wondering where I've been? Or, if not where I've been, at least why I've stopped writing? Yeah, me too.

Suffice it to say that it's the end of June, which is the end of Microsoft's fiscal year -- which means that, come July, any project money they budgeted but haven't spent often disappears. So those of us who work indirectly for Microsoft (that is, a "solutions providers" for them) are working like crazy people right about now. I have four umbrella projects, which includes thirty-some inclusive projects, each with its own specs, timeline and deliverables. So yeah -- that's where I've been.

Yesterday went something like this:

6:00 AM: wake-up. Stumble into my office. Check e-mail. (I should mention here that we are a global company with teams both in Washington and India, so while we sleep, our friends -- and I DO mean friends... god, I love these guys! -- work. Think The Elves and the Shoemaker, except with technical and marketing projects!) I'm greeted by multiple deliverables that need vetting and distributing. I start in on the process.

8:00 AM: This is when I should stop working so that I can shower, dress, do make-up and hair, and commute to -- well, to WORK. But there's no time to get ready for work because there's too much work! I IM my boss and tell him I'm running late.

9:30 AM: I still haven't taken a break since stumbling into my office at 6 AM. I need coffee! I grab some and get back to the tasks (and there are always many simultaneous tasks) at hand. I still intend to head to the office once the current crises are behind me. This is the time of day, though, when the team in India and I can work together in real-time. So we do. They fix glitches, re-send, I review... You can feel the buzz of our worker-energy over the earth! We are crankin'!

10:00 AM: This is when I should be in the office, dressed and made-up. I haven't even brushed my teeth! I IM my boss again: "Maybe 11. I'm working here. No time to head to WORK!"

11:15 AM: I finally get into the shower. Out of the blue, there's blood all over my arm. No idea where it came from! What is going on? Yuuuuuuk! I realize that a mole (or something!) has exploded! ( I'm nothing, if not dramatic!) As you might remember, I had three moles removed from my back a few weeks ago, and two of them were found to be "troublesome," so they went back in last week and dug deeper, leaving gaping holes on my back (but perhaps warding off cancer!). Those Band-aids are still on... but here, my ARM was bleeding? And I mean BLEEDING! What gives?! So I called the doctor and they asked me to be there at 1:00. Riiiiiight! Hey, bub, I'm a busy worker-bee, I don't have time to...

"I'll be there."

1:00 PM: Doc took one look and said, "This one's gotta go too." So they numbed me up and sliced into me again, this time on my arm, leaving what will surely be a scar to mess up my summertime bare arm look. But hey, I'm happy to get sliced into at this point.

2:30 PM: My boss no longer expects to see me in the office. I've barely showered, have no make-up on, my hair is a mess, and I have a bandage on my arm. But I have brushed my teeth. I drive straight home and by 2:45 I'm back at work, playing harbor master. (Did I tell you abou
t my theory about project management being like running a major harbor?! I will... eventually!)

3:00 PM: Work, work, work.

5:30 PM: Kat, who is now on vacation, chastises me for working "24/7" and demands I take a break. Smart girl! I IM Tom and suggest that we go out for dinner. Tell him I do not have the brain capacity to even boil water at that point.

6:30 PM: Aleks, Kat and I meet Tom at the local Red Robin for dinner. I eat way too
many fries.

7:30 PM: We stop at the lake and park that's no more than a half-mile from our house, yet we too rarely go there. In fact, although I drive BY the lake daily, this is the first time in YEARS that I actually parked and walked around it, reminding me that I REALLY NEED TO STOP AND FEED THE DUCKS (and take pictures) MORE OFTEN!

9:30 PM: I get back online with my friends/co-workers in India. The conversation turns out to be about 20% work-related and 80% social. Having wonderful, dedicated and amazingly smart new friends in India is just about the best perk of this job, and the part I thought I'd like least about it (the dual-shore schedule) is probably what I like most about it!

But it's almost 9:00 AM now and I really can't dilly-dally because I need to shower, dress, do the hair and make-up thing, and get to the office -- because there is work to be done!

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Super Cool

I'll be project managing the production of a short video next month (ahhhhh, finally --familiar territory!), so I contacted someone with whom I worked closely when I was the Executive Producer of FUEL and CHILL. He's now in LA and works with the woman who produced this little ditty, which kept me chuckling for an hour:

OK, so now I definitely want to work with her! (And I'm realizing how much I miss being creative...)

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Kayaking the Seattle Arboretum

Last night, before I fell into bed exhausted from a wonderful day filled with more Seattle sights and activities than I'd ever experienced in one day before, I mentioned that one of the clues in Elisabeth's unique Seattle scavenger hunt was a stop at the Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club. Because renting a kayak there and paddling around Portage Bay and the Seattle Arboretum was such an incredible treat, I promised to devote an entire post to the experience. Here ya go!

First, let it be known that the correct way to do this whole Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club thing is to treat yourself to both the food ("cafe") and the kayaking ("paddling"). I've been to the Agua Verde Cafe before (no, Rachel Ray wasn't there that day -- but she she does love the place!) and I can attest to the fabulous food there. The tacos are unique and out-of-this-world delicious, and the atmosphere is... well, duh -- it's right on the water, it's at a major university, and there are docks a'buzzin' with boating activity within almost an arm's reach!

I'm not going to bore you with a long, wordy narrative. Instead, I'll set you free to enjoy the experience, just like they did with us, asking you to notice three things in particular:

  1. Houseboats a la Sleepless in Seattle
  2. The fact that an expansive nature reserve that's teeming with wildlife is located a literal stone's throw from one of the busiest freeway interchanges in the Pacific Northwest. In some photos you can see both peaceful, beautiful birds -- herons, ducks -- and turtles, and a busy freeway at rush hour!
  3. The SUN! This was the very first sunshine over Seattle in all of June. There'd been twelve solid days of gray gunk UNTIL these two hours! And believe it or not, the clouds began to roll right back in within an hour of our coming ashore.

This post is dedicated to Sophia, with whom we plan to replicate this adventure right around...oh -- JULY 24th or so! (Wink, wink!)

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Unique Seattle Scavenger Hunt

Well over 24 hours ago, Aleks and Kat officially graduated from high school. When their classmates boarded a bus, headed for their grad night celebration (after a full day of senior activities, from the "moving Up" assembly to senior breakfast to the graduation ceremony at UW), Aleks and Kat went with us for a Mystery Day in Seattle.

Both Elisabeth and Peter had "warned" Aleks and Kat about grad night -- that, while it was fun, it was also very, very restrictive (no chapstick, no cell phones, no wallets, not even any tampons allowed!) and after the full senior graduation day, it was just too much. So, weeks ago, Aleks and Kat asked us if WE could do something fun instead. Give me an opportunity to plan "something fun," and I am all over it! I made a reservation at the Marrakesh Moroccan restaurant (which we had to cancel because the grad ceremony lasted longer than expected; we went to Bucco di Beppo's instead) and at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle, where we all fell deep asleep after the very, very long day.

While my plan was to treat Aleks and Kat to a fun day in Seattle, Elisabeth's knew how to REALLY make a day in Seattle memorable and her gift to Aleks and Kat has us all still reeling!

When the kids were little, Elisabeth loved to organize scavenger hunts for her younger siblings. A birthday party? Leave it to eight-year-old Elisabeth to plan and execute a full-blown scavenger hunt for 20 four-year-olds. Clues would be hidden under a teeter-totter and in the sandbox and in the dog's house, culminating in party bags and happy children.

All that practice culminated in Elisabeth's Scavenger Hunt of Life for Aleks and Kat, days in the making and executed to a tee. It began with a knock on the hotel room door and the delivery (by the bellman) of the first clue:

Good Morning High School Graduates! Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life. Today will be a day of adventure and fun. And just as in the game of life, there are a few rules:

1. You must bring your graduation cap with you to each place we go.

2. You must take at least one picture that includes both of you at each destination.

3. It is up to YOU to find your path. You will have to work together and think through the guidance we give you to arrive at each experience.

4. Enjoy each step of the journey thoroughly! Live in the moment!

The first two rules went out the window real fast. In fact, I don't think there's a single picture of Aleks and Kat with their grad hats on!

So here's a picture chronology of the day. We had to skip a few clues in the interest of time (at 1 PM we were just on the second clue!), but I'll list them all here, just for fun. (Unfortunately, Peter and Danelle had finals and couldn't join us. And Aleks faded completely just before the paddle boats, opting to hop on a bus home and sleep while the rest of us continued on. The constant activity of the last two days had just been too much for us and he wished us well, but I think he was perfectly happy to get some sleep in his own room. So here we go!)

For our first stop, let’s start by talking about life’s little challenges. Sometimes finding your way back home won’t be easy. Sometimes you’ll have to swim upstream. Sometimes you’ll even have to make giant leaps of faith. You may decide you’ve had enough of that salty water, and it’s time for the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. The tides may change. The water level may rise. But if you persevere, if you sail your ship through the challenges across which you come, you’ll find your way through

Welcome to the Ballard Locks! Remember coming here as a kid?

And speaking of being a kid, remember how everything felt larger than life back then? Remember feeling like you could accomplish anything with your imagination, maybe even picking up an entire car? Never lose that confidence in yourself! And never forget to appreciate all the ways that you’ve been lucky in your life. Even when you feel like the grass is greener on the other side of the bridge, know that you have a unique combination of abilities and talents that will get you exactly where you want to go if you can stand tall and proud, even in the face of a giant.

Welcome to the Fremont Troll Under the Bridge!

Let’s get out from under this dark place and talk about bright horizons. What an amazing place to be in your life! This is the point at which you have as many choices and opportunities ahead of you, as well as things to learn and discover, as there are grains of sand on the shore. You can now breathe a sign of relief and wave goodbye to the confines of high school life and look forward to the multitude of Golden opportunities that await you. Make sure to sample many of the different experiences from life’s Garden of choices!

Welcome to Golden Gardens Beach!
(We ran out of time and decided not to include this.)

This, of all places, should remind you that there are some sweet pleasures in life. So let’s get a little mushy-gushy for a second and talk about the ones we call members of the opposite sex. Aren’t they great? And doncha just wish you could sample them all? But unfortunately, as I know you are both upstanding people, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Except at that one place… Mmmmmm.
(Yes, we're a weird family... and this is a delightfully weird...)

Welcome to the Erotic Bakery! Hungry?

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a bit about teamwork. Luckily, you guys are great at the teamwork thing already. Being twins, you have learned to support each other so that neither of you is ever up a creek without a paddle. And although at times, each of you may be green with envy, disagreements are water under the bridge when you truly need each other. You can translate this to mean that, whatever language you describe your relationship in, be it English, Spanish, German, or Pig Latin, the two of you will always come out on top if you collaborate.

Welcome to the Agua Verde CafĂ© and Paddle Club! Let’s go exploring! (This is when Aleks headed home to sleep. He missed quite the expedition! The sun even came out for the first time in June -- just as we paddled into Seattle's beautiful Arboretum -- which deserves its own post... maybe tomorrow. Yes, in that photo above you DO, in fact, see a wild heron, turtles -- and a crowded freeway at rush hour, all in the same photo. Where, but Seattle?!)

This seems to be a good time to talk about road blocks in life. Luckily, kayaking is free of barricades, detours, and wrong way signs. Wouldn’t it be nice if life were a little more like kayaking and a little less like driving around the city in rush hour traffic? Unfortunately, it may often seem like you’re hitting some red lights in life. But sometimes you may in fact be able to Capitolize on these roadblocks. If you fee like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle, perhaps this juncture is a sheep in wolf’s clothing?

Welcome to Red Light on Capitol Hill! (Aleks would have been bored here anyway...)

This is a good place in Seattle (and in life) to try on lots of different hats. Play some different roles. Figure out what you’re most comfortable in. (Remember, you can always find the “dressing room” of life and change it up a bit.) How do you want the Public to see you? How would you like to be remembered in the history books? Remember that it’s more fun to try lots of different costumes rather than just sticking with one. And that’s what’s great about life.

Welcome to Seattle Public Library!
(We ran out of time and couldn't include this.)

This place is a startling reminder of how much information is out there for us all still to learn! It’s hard to know where to start. As in life, the best way might just be to pick up something that looks interesting to you and Pier inside. Of the more than 54 gazillion choices, it may be difficult to choose just a couple. Let your Olde Curiosity get the better of you and Shop around!

Welcome to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop!
(We ran out of time and couldn't include this.)

We’re nearing the end of our adventure, so here are some last tips from our friends in the big blue:

-Make friends, not anemones.

-Don’t sweat the small stuff when you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

-It’s okay if you’re not always tide-y.
-It’s also okay to be crabby sometimes.

-No one is the salmon everyone is unique.
-Never be afraid to ask for kelp.

-You otter live life to the fullest, every chance you get.

The Prize!!
Welcome to the Aquarium! (We ran out of time and couldn't include this.)

You’ve survived the day. You’ve survived my corny jokes and pun-y advice. Now it’s time to rise to one of the biggest, wettest challenges life can throw at you: We’re going XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXXX!! (I'm leaving this for Elisabeth to reveal to Aleks and Kat, since we never got to the last clue -- and the Grand Prize!)

Pretty cool, eh? Elisabeth has really outdone herself lately with meaningful and creative gifts!

After dinner at Julia's on Capital Hill, the last event of the evening (and this was part of my original plan) was an evening at "Lease," Seattle's Own Rock Opera. It's both improv (for Aleks... who was home, sleeping) and a musical (for Kat, who was fading fast!), playing at the Historic University Theater. It was the perfect finishing touch to a day of unique sight seeing and scavenger hunting in Seattle!

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