Sunday, February 28, 2010

And while we’re focusing on all this “fresh beginnings” stuff…

I did it.  I signed up AND PRE-PAID FOR (the key for me…) a gym membership and a personal trainer, beginning at 7:00 AM on March 8th because…

personal trainer

I am the quintessential project manger… except, for some reason, when it comes to my own health and fitness. 

It is now time.  I no longer have to get up at 6 AM, work all morning, then work all day, and then be back online and working all evening.  I finally have the time to commit  to my health.  This is no longer optional; it is a necessity if I want to enjoy my life, my family, my career, and my future grandchildren.

Please remind me that I can do this! 

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Creating new spaces (physically and emotionally)

This is my new office with my clean, spacious workspace and room to breathe. It reflects my new ability to breathe as I settle into a job that is so right with people who are wonderful at an institute that is helping people in amazingly positive ways.  Schmaltzy as it sounds, I feel like I have found the exact right place to settle in for the rest of my career (if I should be so lucky).


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Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Beautiful Seattle weekend (posted 4 days late)

Last weekend, Tom and I attended the Gottman Institute's Couples’ Workshop at Seattle Center which, as I wrote in my previous post, was amazing.  What I didn’t write about was the glorious Seattle weather last weekend.  It’s raining again now, but last weekend was one of those times when everyone in Seattle was out playing and no one wanted to live anywhere else on earth.  (Why yes, I am indeed being presumptuous and speaking for all Seattleites!)

Elisabeth and CJ are still house-sitting on Queen Anne which is just a 2-minute walk to Seattle Center where the conference was held, so we stayed at “the Villa” on Saturday night…

IMG_3324 IMG_3326

…and of course, I could hardly stop snapping pictures from the house…

 IMG_3349SI IMG_3351SI

…and at Seattle Center on our conference breaks:


The Pacific Science Center


The view of the Olympic Mountains from Seattle Center


The tree says Winter but the sky says Spring!

IMG_3340 International Fountain


Hangin’ with whales

We “double dated” with Elisabeth and CJ at Wild Ginger, an amazing Seattle restaurant with incredible Asian fare and passed the camera around.


Awwww – a cute, normal couple!

And then there’s the pictorial story of what 27 years of marriage (and a really cool marriage workshop) does to a couple:

IMG_3308  IMG_3312 IMG_3314 IMG_3315

When did we age?  When did that happen?!

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gottman’s 7 Principles of making relationships work – at home AND at work

The day I accepted the position of Director of Professional Development at the Gottman Institute late last month, I gave two weeks’ notice at the Microsoft agency where I had been a Senior Project Manager for the past two years and anxiously awaited my Gottman start date of February 22nd.  That date coincidentally came the day after a weekend couples workshop presented by Drs John and Julie Gottman, which I had wanted to attend for years, and to which Tom and I were now graciously invited to attend.

I had heard for years that the couples workshop, called The Art and Science of Love (so called because it’s based solidly on scientific research by Dr. John Gottman) was life altering -- or at least relationship altering -- and I was excited to now have the opportunity to experience it for ourselves. 

It’s true.  By the end of the second day we had been given both the tools and the vocabulary to strengthen our relationship in the most profoundly simple, yet absolutely effective ways. 

Dr. Gottman speaks of seven principles that can be used to strengthen relationships.  Taken together, he calls these principles “The Sound Relationship House,” and this theory forms the basis of the Gottman Approach.  Briefly, the seven principles, which are not independent, but rather, which build sequentially on one another to form a strong relationship, are (in Dr. Gottman’s words):

  1. Build Love Maps. The foundation of the house, The Love Map, is a road map of one's partner's inner psychological world. The fundamental process is asking open-ended questions. It involves the couple knowing one another and periodically updating this knowledge. The Sound Relationship House
  2. Share Fondness & Admiration. The second story of the house is The Fondness & Admiration System, which is the antidote for contempt. The fundamental process is changing a habit of mind from scanning the environment for people's mistakes and then correcting them to scanning the environment for what one's partner is doing right and building a culture of appreciation, fondness, affection, and respect. 
  3. Turn Towards. Turning towards your partner involves bids for emotional connection. The fundamental process is building awareness of how one's partner asks for connection and expresses emotional needs, and deciding to turn toward these bids rather than turning away or against them. (The movie "Sliding Doors" is about how small choices can hugely affect the course of a couple's life. Life is full of these "sliding door" moments, which are opportunities to turn toward one's partner.)
  4. The Positive Perspective. These three stories build the fourth story, which is basically a free add-on when the other layers are strong. If the first three levels of the Sound Relationship House are not working, then even neutral or positive messages are perceived as negative and the person is hyper-vigilant for negativity. (There is a "chip on the shoulder.")
  5. Manage Conflict. The next story of the house consists of two parts of conflict regulation. Couples need to identify the core issues and the anatomy of repeating negative cycles in their relationship. Couples need help to understand what triggers escalation (e.g., defensiveness, criticism, contempt, belligerence), and what the story is of these triggers in each person's past history (either within the relationship or not). Conflicts are one of two types.
  6. For couple problems that are resolvable, there are Four Parts of Effective Problem Solving. These are Softened Startup, Accepting Influence, Repair and De-escalation (including physiological soothing), and Compromise.

    For couple problems that are perpetual and probably not resolvable, in order to avoid couple "gridlock," it is necessary that the couple establish what we call a "dialogue" with the perpetual problem. This involves a great deal of positive affect (interest, affection, humor, empathy, excitement, softening) even when discussing a disagreement.  There needs to be a ratio of 5 to 1 positive-to-negative affect for this to be really effective.

  7. Make Life Dreams and Aspirations Come True. What is the basis of a continued positive emotional connection even during conflict? Therapists once believed that if conflicts were resolved, positive affects or feelings of all types would rush into the couple's world by themselves, like air rushes into a vacuum. Not true. Positive affect systems need to be built intentionally. This includes play, fun, and exploration/adventure. This level of the Sound Relationship House is also about helping one's partner realize important life dreams and making the relationship, in general, effective at Making Dreams and Aspirations Come True. This aspect of relationship is the basis of unlocking conflict gridlock, in which the couple's values within a position in the gridlocked conflict are explored and understood.
  8. Create Shared Meaning. Finally, we have "the attic" of the house, where people either intentionally create, or do not create, a sense of shared meaning in their life together. A relationship involves building a life together, and that life is full of meaning. In the way the couple moves through time together, in how they prioritize their time, and their resources, in the stories they tell one another about their lives, their ancestors, their culture, their beliefs, and their legacy, in the way they decide to have things and events in their lives have meaning, they create this shared meaning system.

Pretty cool, eh?  It’s amazing how powerful it is to have the vocabulary and the tools to make simple adjustments to how we approach each other and how we deal with conflict.  Tom and I have  had a relatively strong relationship for30 years, but had we known back then what we learned this weekend, we could have gone into our marriage having the tools to deal with conflict much better.  

With the impact of the weekend couples workshop still fresh and strong, I arrived at my the Gottman Institute offices yesterday for my first day of work, absolutely honored and thrilled to be there.  During the one-on-one morning orientation with the wonderful operations manager, I was given a document which began with “we are a team, working together towards a common goal.”  If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that this is exactly how I feel a work environment and work relationships should be approached, so you can imagine how reading these words made me feel.

Schmaltzy as it sounds, I immediately felt that I had found exactly what I’ve been looking for!  I immediately felt at home.

The document went on to explain that Dr. Gottman’s seven principles of a strong relationship apply to our work relationships and environment as well and that we practice what we preach.  Specifically, we are encouraged at work to:

  1. Build awareness (building maps) of what is happening in our co-workers’ worlds.  This basically comes down to (my read on it, anyway) caring about those you work with, not just as co-workers, but as people.
  2. Demonstrate appreciation (admiration) for our co-workers’ contributions, accomplishments, efforts, talents, etc., and letting them know. This is so important at work, especially between strata of a hierarchy!
  3. Pay attention and initiating contact (turning towards) to strengthen work relationships beyond simply accomplishing tasks together.  My favorite line here is “this could be spending an extra couple of minutes at the beginning of a business conversation to check in with one another or express appreciation.”  This effort and this time is anything but wasted!
  4. Understand that a positive perspective helps in every aspect of our work lives and work relationship.  How can it not?!
  5. Use the same principles of managing conflict the Dr. Gottman speaks of to couples -- softened start-up (in other words, being gentle and kind with each other), accepting influence, effective repairs, and respecting perspective reality – to manage conflict in the work place when (not if) it occurs.
  6. The document states here simply that “in the big picture, our organizational mission is to better the human condition by helping people strengthen their relationships through improved skills.  On a small-picture basis, this translates into working together…”  This is a huge “DUH” that I believe so many companies, big and small, don’t pay enough attention to!
  7. Create shared meaning at work by supporting each team member’s individual positive contributions (creative and task-oriented) and understanding that all of our contributions support both each other and the organizational mission.

So everything that we learned over the weekend about strengthening personal relationships applies as well to strengthening work relationships and thus the influence and impact we have as an organization.  It’s such an obvious connection, but one that I think far too few businesses really get!

Don’t worry – this won’t now become a “Gottman Blog.”  But I did want to write about my “lessons learned” both at the couples workshop and on my first day of employment there!  It is truly an extraordinary organization filled with  extraordinary people!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

FAFSA wants YOU to be on time, but it is BEHIND the times!!

I just had this conversation with a customer service agent at the “FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help”:

New party ('Carol ') has joined the session:
Welcome to FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help!
system: agent will be with you shortly ...

New party ('Edgar Marquez') has joined the session:
Edgar Marquez: Thank you for contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center.  How may I help you today?

Carol: Hi!  I'm encountering a "browser not supported" on both Firefox and IE. This is a new PC with Win 7, bought last week...

Edgar Marquez: that is the problem Windows 7 is not compatible with our system, you have to use XP or Vista.

Carol: Seriously??  I don't have XP or Vista... as, I assume, many students don't.

Carol : When will Win 7 be supported?

Edgar Marquez: that I don't know, in your case you will need to find another computer with XP or Vista, you can go to a public library or your college.

Edgar Marquez: Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Carol: No thanks.

Edgar Marquez: Thank you for contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center. Please contact us again if you have further questions. Our hours are Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to midnight (eastern), Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Party ('Edgar Marquez') has left the session.
Party ('Carol ') has left the session.
Live Help was finished


Guess I’ll go dig up one of those old PCs I just put in the garage to sell at our next yard sale. 

Wow – I am just floored.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Awwww… Twin love!

Feb 2010

(Or, considering they were in Canada when this picture was taken last weekend, twin inebriation?!)

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Toyota recall: a personal pit-in-my-stomach story

Tom’s father, Pete -- “Papa” to our kids -- was killed in a single-car accident in November, 2001. 


Pete (“Papa”), his grandson and namesake, Peter, and his son, Tom (1987)

The car was a Toyota Avalon, a 2000 or 2001 model, driven on a clear day and on an open road by Tom’s mother as they headed from San Marcos, California to their desert house in Scottsdale, Arizona.  No one knows exactly what happened, but we do know that Pete and Rose were driving in the left lane when something (what?) caused Rose to lose control and the car flipped multiple times before coming to a stop at the side of the road.  Pete, who had been napping in the passenger seat (and was, of course, wearing a seat belt)died on the scene of head injuries.  Rose was airlifted to San Diego, where she remained in the hospital for a few days. 

For the past nine years, Rose has talked about a “racing engine,” remembering that even after the car came to a stop, the engine remained revving.  I’d assumed that she was confused and that the traumatic circumstances (she was told at the scene by a paramedic that her husband was dead) had impacted her memory. 

But now? 

In light of the Toyota recall, I’m not sure Rose was remembering things wrong at all.  Could it be that, on this open road in clear weather, the accelerator did stick?  Could it be that her memory is correct and that this accident that killed our beloved father and Papa could have been avoided?

Scan229, March 04, 2006

Papa and Elisabeth, 1985

Every time I think about it, I feel socked in the gut and helpless.  I am an action-oriented project manager, but this petrifies and paralyzes me – and I can only imagine how it makes Tom and his mother and siblings feel!

NanaPapaKatAlex Nana and Papa with Aleks and Kat, 1990


Tom and his parents, 2000

Papa was a quiet and gentle soul, someone who loved deeply and appreciated life fully.  We miss him tremendously -- even now, nine years after his death.  We can never bring him back, but perhaps some closure can be brought to his still guilt-ridden and still  distraught widow who continues to blame herself for Papa’s death.

Sniders 13 1999

Papa surrounded by his loving family, 1999

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day! And now let’s play “What’s in the box?”!

I just wrapped Tom’s Valentine’s Day present.


Can you guess what’s in the box?

Did you guess this?

manly tool

Or this?

hawaiian things

Or maybe this?


(Isn’t this little tongue adorable?)

puppy tongue

Well, you’d be wrong.

I got Tom something he seems to really want, something he’s talked about for a while, something that he thinks would be really cool to have. 


I got him one of these:


I think I’ll ask for  fluffy from-scratch pancakes for my Valentine’s Day breakfast!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Celebrating my absinthe

So my co-workers threw me two farewell celebrations yesterday – a formal management-sponsored lunch and then a completely informal co-worker-sponsored evening party where Morgan, this blog’s biggest fan (c’mon Morgan, you know you secretly love my blog!) treated me to the ceremonial tradition of absinthe:


Tamei, Morgan’s lovely wife, is a culinary genius! I can’t tell you what any of this is called, but I can tell you that it was fabulous! IMG_3173

(And thanks to Morgan and Tamei’s constant raving about their KitchenMaid mixer, I have a feeling we might be seeing one of those grace our kitchen counter in a matter of, oh… days.)




Rebekah and I didn’t have this much fun sharing an office at work. Than again, we also didn’t have bottomless glasses of wine at work.


Rebekah’s grin is the result of a much-needed glass of wine because she’s way overworked these days. My grin, on the other hand, is the result of having been overworked for two years and now having no work at all!

I’m actually gonna miss these guys!


Laid back? Yeah, Patricia actually is laid back – is spite of an insane workload.


I’ll miss Elmer. That guy is always happy and always laughing, no matter how insane work gets. There’s a lesson there, ya know! We can all learn from him…

So now it’s on to new adventures with a new team.

But first, a week off to rejuvenate and clear my head… as well as to clean a few rooms and maybe even install some carpet. (Netflix numbness? I have a feeling NOT!)

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Friday, February 12, 2010

I know I said I’d disconnect, but that was before I found THIS:


vaio front Vaio top Even though I won’t begin my new job for another week, my new boss encouraged to pick out a laptop and “make it mine” now so I can jump right in on my first day at work. Geek that I am, I was shopping for a new machine within an hour of bequeathing mine to the new project manager who has been hired in my place.

So far I’m loving this "espresso" Vaio! It’s fast and sleek and very friendly. I especially like the button just above the keyboard that allows me to just turn off the display. No “start/sleep,” just press and it’s done. There’s also a “web”button that allows super-fast access to a browser. And thank goodness, there are no pesky ports on the front of the machine that get in the way of my docking station. It’s the little things like that endear me to a laptop.

My only complaint so far is a very faint pulsing noise in the fan, but I have a feeling that will become one of those things that becomes un-noticeable over time. Either that or it will drive me completely bonkers and I’ll end up returning the thing!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

See you on the other side!

So I’m turning in this laptop to my current employer tomorrow morning and I won’t have a new laptop through my new employer until next week sometime at the earliest.  While we do have an old laptop around here somewhere, I am going to use this opportunity to attempt to disconnect, at least to some degree, during my week off.


Yeah, I know…

You know me well enough to know that there’s no way in hell I’ll be able to fully disconnect and that the ol’ beat up laptop will start looking pretty good to me around – oh, Sunday morning.

And you’re probably right.

As soon as I install Live Writer on that thing, you know I’ll be back!

But still… see you on the other side. The sane side.  The real side.  The living and breathing side.

I can hardly wait!

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(It feels so right.)

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lest you think I’ll be lazing around on my week off…

The coming Friday is my last day at my current job.  It has been a frenetic and intense two years of 12 to 16-hour days managing at least 100 Microsoft marketing projects, each with up to 50 individual components, across at least 25 different Microsoft business units for clients who ranged from reasonable and friendly to unreasonable and unfriendly and I am weary, burned-out, and bone-tired.  It is only fair to both myself and to my new employer to take a week out to clear my head, rejuvenate my spirit, and focus in a whole new direction before jumping into my first day of work later this month.

While figuratively purging the Microsoft-induced mess from my head during my week off, I will be literally purging some messes around the house.  Normally I give the garage a good cleaning about once a year, but last year both my broken ankle and my brutal job kept me from doing much maintenance around the house.

So next week I plan to be busy taking care of a few things around here:

Bills need to be paid…


…a thick file of paperwork, bills, and insurance documents related to my broken ankle need to be organized and (hallelujah!) filed away…


…and two years worth of bills and paperwork (yes, those three boxes are all filled with to-be-filed paperwork) need to be filed into the physical cabinet.  I know… it’s the German in me that makes me hold onto and file physical documents when I know quite well that I probably don’t need to hold on to 90% of this stuff.


Then of course, there’s these important things that need to be done ASAP:


(Seriously, does anyone really feel this way about taxes?!)

And this, times three:


Once I finish all that paperwork and filing, there’s a garage that desperately needs attention – especially after three kids came home from college for the summer and left furniture and household items here after moving to the Greek system or moving into houses with friends.  Oh lordy, lordy – look what awaits me:




My blood pressure rises just looking at that mess… and then falls again at the thought of it cleaned, purged, and organized (and no, I do not want the kids’ “help” doing this stuff!)!

Then there are a few closets in the house that need attention…



…and some bedrooms that, with a little consolidating and spiffing, could pretty easily be made guest-ready:

IMG_3131 IMG_3132

Then there’s a deck that needs replacing…


…and a roof that I might as well just say is one of those “green” roofs because -- well, it is!  Ah, life in the Pacific Northwest…


Actually, just kidding on those last two, which are definitely out of my realm and into Tom’s.  Or maybe they’re into the realm of we-pay-someone-to-do-it-and-thereby-get-it-done-in-a-fraction-of-the-time.  Yeah, I think that’s the ticket on the deck and the roof!

Tom’s plenty busy doing stuff like this, replacing the track lighting in the living room with fraction-of-the-cost LED lights that I like a fraction-of-the-amount that I like the “normal” lights that were there.


So that’s my to-do list for next week.  Do me a favor and keep after me, because you know what I’ll want to do all week? 



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