March 31, 2013 Comments Off
You get used to a pretty busy schedule of meetings at Microsoft. Either you let it get to you, or you adapt. I had adapted quite well. I had a full slate for the week, with a fairly important release coming up the next week, and meetings stacked up on most of my days. I had a late call for a “Skip-Level” or a meeting with my bosses’ boss. This wasn’t all that uncommon, and usually involved a bit of outreach from the higher management, a bit of chit-chat, and back to work you go.
So I completed my round of meetings in the morning, had the release drop prepped for a review later, and made my way over to the big bosses’ office. There was someone already in there, so I waited outside. After a bit, she opened the door, and asked me inside.
“Mark, thanks for coming. This is to inform you that your position has been eliminated at the company, and as of this moment your duties are finished.”
I was laid off.
I held the packet of severance information in my hand as I walked out. I was actually one of the lucky ones, I had two months for internal job search before I was terminated. But I was still in shock. I headed home. Then I had the pleasure of telling my wife that I no longer had a job. The look on her face made me want to cry.
Fortunately, and frankly accidentally, I had been prepared for this. I was not prepared to go out and market myself, I had a stale resume, and I don’t interview very well. I’m nervous talking in front of people, and twice as nervous talking about myself. But I had two things going for me.
First, my job for almost thirteen years has been about firefighting hot issues. Website failures, system failures, publishing failures. Big, high-visibility, high-pressure issues where vice-presidents were breathing down my neck and thousands of dollars were lost every minute. I could buckle-down and ride this kind of stress with no problem. I instinctively knew to hunker down and focus on working the issues. No blame, no anger, just resolve the problem at hand.
Second, I had my health. This might seem like an irrelevant thing, or something silly, but at the time if felt critical. From my weightlifting and kettlebell work, I knew that I was capable of pushing through personal suffering and short term pain for a goal.
It may sound silly, but knowing that I could focus and survive making 100 Kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes told myself that I could dive and survive interviews. No ifs, ands or buts. Most of physical exertion is mental at root. I knew that I could tap that experience and use it to my advantage.
I had to focus on the process forward, not blame backward. This meant casting aside the immediate self doubt that was creeping in, and focusing on what I knew I did right. I knew my job, I knew I was good at it. Now I needed to get out there and ignore the potential for failure to sell myself.
I was given access to a placement resource, and they offered classes on things like networking and negotiation. I attended everything I could. I cast a wide net on the internal search tools, and started contacting individuals on the teams that were up. I fixed my resume and sample works so folks could see what I did.
I ended up getting an offer from the first group that I met with. Lots was happening in parallel, but the first contact made me an offer. In the end, it will be a great advantage to move to this new team. But the path here was rocky, to say the least.
Our professional world draws on the personal, just as much as the opposite. A solid personal foundation serves us all well, and can’t be ignored. Physical exertion lays a foundation that can be called when you need it most. And in many ways, our mental state calls on the physical abilities that we have grown.
I landed well, but that outcome was not set in stone. It was earned. I have the support of many, including my wife, family and friends. I have the support of my co-workers, but I also have invisible support from my network of trainers and friends. Solid physical health gave me an edge on mental health. I can draw on all that when needed, and this was one of those needs.
Now I’m excited to move on to my new work, and thankful to all those who gave me a helping hand, whether they know it or not.
October 19, 2012 Comments Off
I fear Cancer. I had the distinct displeasure of watching my good friend Chuck slowly waste away and succumb to cancer, for no particularly good reason. My Father and Uncle both survived. My Mother-in-Law is a Stage 4 survivor.
I fear Alzheimer’s. For a time my grandmother thought that I was my father, and that My father was her husband. I got to see the confusion on her face and the pain in my father’s face. She was taken from us ten years before she died.
I fear Diabetes, joint failure, injury and sickness. We all see friends and family suffering from one thing or another. It is truly a rare occurrence to know of someone who is free from all disease or condition than the opposite.
But I don’t fear dying young. I have said before, and I think it is still true, that with the state of today’s medicine, it is very unlikely that Most of us alive today will die before our mind or bodies wear out.
That is perhaps the greatest thing to fear.
Think for a moment what that implies. Get a disease? There’s a drug for that. Failing organ? There’s a drug for that. Chronic Pain? There’s a drug for that. Clogged arteries? There’s a drug for that. You aren’t healthy but we aren’t sure why? There’s a drug for that. Potentially fatal drug interaction? There’s a –oh wait, shit.
Smash yourself up and we can sew you up. Things that would have killed us 20 years ago are routine to survive now.
But surviving isn’t living.
While nothing can guarantee a long healthy life, I look at my health like a game of poker. Every day, I have to push all-in. We all do, we have no choice. We put our lives on the line all day by crossing the street, stepping outside, picking up a trash can, everything. Hell, some folks bite it taking a dump.
We don’t control our bets, and we sure don’t control the cards on the table, so that just leaves the cards in our hand, our “hole” cards. And in that case, we have some options.
In real poker, I want aces. If I have a crappy hand, like 2-7 off suit, I won’t play. In life, we get to pick our “hole” cards.
We can choose to be active, strong and healthy. We control what we eat. While most everyone our in the world will argue about what the “perfect” diet or exercise might be, we all know what the worst is. We know that the standard, American, processed, sugary diet is killing us. The lazy, tired, sedentary life is killing us. We probably don’t need to be “perfect” but even being pretty good gives us all a fighting chance.
We hear in virtually every study that obesity is the primary marker for almost every disease of civilization. Eat natural food. Do some walking. Your weight will come down.
Congrats, you have pocket tens.
Start experimenting with your diet and find if you need lower carb or higher protein. Try different workouts. Build some muscle. Take some vitamins. Eat some Kale.
Push for Jacks or Queens.
If we are willing to give ourselves a shot, the benefit of the doubts, then we have a better chance of avoiding disease, cancer or injury. We have a better shot at healing faster when we do get ill or injured. There are not guarantees, the best we can do is improve our odds.
I’m pushing for aces myself.
September 15, 2012 Comments Off
It has struck me recently, how a diminishing resource in our world has begun to seriously impact our lives. Everything runs through shortages at some point, perhaps with the shortage increasing the value in the short term, but as I have seen the value of this seems to be lessened as well.
The resource that I am talking about is compassion.
I have really felt over the last few years how it seems that people have hardened against each other. Cynicism is running rampant, and the bitter, dog-eat-dog nature of the corners of our souls has crept out into the light. This isn’t to say that the world has turned into the Lord of The Flies all of the sudden, but attitudes seem to be harder now.
I can’t blame most people for being more defensive of their well being. The world is a less stable place in general. So many people who just a few years ago who were doing well are now down on their luck. Families have lost their homes, people have lost their jobs, and even those who have avoided direct hardship have sat through layoffs and the pain of watching neighbors and friends get struck with tragedy.
It is unsettling to many to be suddenly exposed to the reality that the gap between a good life, and losing everything is far, far smaller than they ever realized.
A few hers back, when my workplace was going through layoffs, your yearly bonus was keeping your job. There were multiple rounds of layoffs, and when the time for the rounds occurred, everyone hid in their office. You sat and tapped away at your keyboard, looking busy and hoping that management peeked into the office next to yours for a quick chat. You could hear the crying through the walls.
At the end of the day, it was the mid level manager who was shaken the most. Upper management didn’t get their hands dirty, that task was on someone else’s plate. All you could do was offer support to them, sometimes in the form of a bottle, and a taxi ride home.
Many of them couldn’t stay after all was done. They just couldn’t look anyone in the eye anymore.
From something like that you can walk away and say, “Better you than me!” In truth or in defensive jest. But it eats you up a bit inside.
After that stopped, things became a little more competitive. A little more vicious. You just knew that your teammate was judged against you, and it might not be for a few percentage points of a bonus, it might be your job. It might be your house. It might be your family.
It isn’t a good feeling to live with, and it doesn’t leave you right away. You look at the world with colder eyes, and meet the cold eyes of those outside who have had their own experiences much the same. Or perhaps far worse.
Recently, we have had to deal with the impact in our life of some, in positions of power, who saw their status as a way to push or hold others down, justly or unjustly, it didn’t matter. Something had happened in their life, and embittered, they wanted to pass this along to the next person.
That person was us.
With newly added stress and expense, do we pass it on? Do we break the cycle? Can we break the cycle?
When you meet the eyes of those less fortunate than you, after you have been wronged, do you take solace in their misfortune, or do you want to give the compassion that they were denied, even if it was not offered to you? Do you need to offer it first to receive it? Might you not receive payback for some time?
Does it matter?
Even now, looking across a world of hardened hearts, I still see compassion as a renewable resource. But I know that the return on investment isn’t immediate, at least in any direct sense. Treating others with dignity and respect, and trying to make their lives better does not mean that you will get the same treatment, at least not in the short term. That isn’t the reward for behaving ethically.
Compassion is it’s own reward, if you choose to receive it. And you must choose.
Perhaps if we all choose so more often, then we will get the return that we so hope for.
September 2, 2012 Comments Off
For our last day in California, we decided to skip the wineries and spend the day in San Francisco. We were only about 50 miles away, so it was pretty easy drive into town. The Golden Gate was blanketed in fog as we rolled into town, but it cleared out as we entered the city. We drove straight along Lombard, and followed the street off the arterial so we could drive the car down the crooked section. Its fun to weave down the hill with the gaggle of tourists snapping your picture.
We parked the car for the day near the waterfront, and took a walk around town. We had plans for the evening, as Sasha had one of her friends who also happened to be in San Fran, and they were going to meet for dinner. But for the daytime we just planned to walk about and see what was up.
We started in Ghiradelli Square, since is was early enough in the day we were actually able to get into the little Malt shop they have there. usually, the line heads out the door to get in. We grabbed a couple of espressos and Sasha got a vanilla shake. The shop was very cute, with a display of traditional chocolate making in the back. It was fun to watch the machines churn chocolate while we waited for our drinks. Once done, we headed down the waterfront.
We really had no specific goal, but set our destination for Pier 1, which was the converted Ferry Terminal. Last time we were in San Francisco it had a great series of little shops and restaurants, and seemed like a smart lunch destination.
We just took our time to walk the piers, it was nice to see the various shops, fish-vendors, bakeries, etc. We checked out the marina behind the Aquarium, and I found a Carver Mariner like ours moored there. it was a newer model, and rigged for live-aboards. They had a new top on their boat that I was very jealous of. Ours is out of date and a bit trashed. We kept moving and continued our walk down the Embarcadero.
It was a longer walk than we remembered, and we were overheated and beat by the time we reached the pier. We immediately hid out in a nice cafe and had a full lunch. The place made a fantastic Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, and goat cheese. We each had a fresh fish dish, and you could appreciate how fresh everything was. We have noticed this all over California. The freshness of food in general is a big difference. I’m sure that being here at the end of summer when lots of this is picked fresh is having an impact, but it is striking when you compare it to regular food quality. I wish we could eat this fresh all the time. (We actually joined one of the CSA type vegetable delivery things, so having them deliver seasonal veggies may help us to do this more this year, we shall see.)
Once we are and rested, we checked out the shops and headed across to the end of the California street Cable Car line. we caught one as we walked up the hill, and took it to the transfer over to the Powell street line. Sasha’s friend was staying at the same hotel we stayed at on our last trip, so we walked around the hotel area for a bit, and sat in the park for some coffee and to relax before meeting up at the hotel.
Once Sasha went with her friend, Yulia and I caught the Cable Car back to Ghiradelli. It really is a cool way to travel across town. We passed the Lombard Hill on the way, and had a great view of Coit Tower. Once at the end of the line, we found a nice restaurant on the waterfront to relax at, with some live jazz playing. We just hung out until it was time to get Sasha, then we headed back across the Golden Gate.
We had a big drive home in the morning, so we didn’t want to be too late at night. Yulia managed to get a Skype call to her brother as we drove, and they exchanged video of Moscow and San Francisco sites as we headed out.
It was a fun end to a long trip. Time to head home.
August 31, 2012 Comments Off
We have loved the food everywhere in California. We found a little breakfast place just south of our hotel, called the Redwood cafe. It was right in the center of Cotati, and had a great selection of organic foods, juices, and some pretty darn good espresso.
Of course, like the rest of California, they keep saying “eXpresso” it’s driving me nuts. oh well.
We ordered a big breakfast, with fresh made vegetable juice, and two cups of coffee each, sitting on a little table on the sidewalk. A great start to any day.
The big plan for the day was having diner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, so we planned on spending lunch at the hotel in the pool. Or at least Yulia and Sasha did. I had plans to meet my buddy Peter Rogers.
If you know of my movie from High School, “Aerobic Boy” then you know of Peter. He was the writer/director, and I hadn’t seen him since we graduated. We managed to connect on Facebook earlier in the year, and he had apparently moved to Santa Rosa.
We met for lunch at a little diner. You would think it might take a minute to recognize someone after 20+ years. But Pete looked almost the same.
I, on the other hand, am bald as hell.
For whatever reason he was able to recognize me, and I walked up to him and said, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”
Pete looked at me for just a second, “Brushing after every meal helps prevent tooth decay!”
These were the code phrases from our characters in our high school film in 1987. Some things you never forget.
We were able to have a quick lunch after all this time. We were both drama nerds, with he working in Insurance now and I’m a computer geek. Pete is hoping to find his remaining copy of our film so we can convert it to digital and put up to Vimeo or something. He hopes to come to Seattle around christmas, some maybe we can connect again. Sometimes it’s great to talk about nothing at all. Even after 20 years.
Back at the hotel, we dressed up and got ready for Bouchon. We had originally thought about hitting the French Laundry while here, but the waiting list was crazy. Also, a bistro setting can be much more family friendly.
We let the GPS direct us over to the Napa side of the valley, and again we got turned onto a tiny, winding mountain road. We almost got directed onto a single lane road, but I figured out that things war mis-marked and backed down and got us back on track before things got too ugly.
Once we were out of the mountains, we took a walk through Yountville. Honestly, this is where we should have stayed. It is small, walkable, and amazing. The galleries and shops are fantastic.
Dinner at Bouchon was amazing. We were a bit early for our reservation, and had a bit of coffee from the Bouchon bakery. Once we were seated, it was an amazing diner. Great service, fantastic food, and wonderful wine. Not cheap by any measure, but worth it for a vacation meal.
Looks like I need to re-read that Thomas Keller book that my brother gave me. Amazing.
August 28, 2012 Comments Off
I love walking through the hotel in nothing but a robe and underpants. It makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.
One of the goals of our trip this time was to avoid the madcap drive from winery to winery. We wanted to pick fewer destinations, but make them count. Coppola Vineyards was one of those picks.
The interesting thing about the Coppola Winery is that it is not just a celebrity winery. When Francis Ford Coppola opened it, he wanted to recreate the feel of a resort of his youth (or so he says), so the winery has a resort pool, with rentable cabines, all done in an 1940′s motif. The winery also has a full-service restaurant, and a museum of movie paraphernalia.
We rented a cabin for the day, and lounged out by the pool. The previous day was fairly overcast, and we had some worries that we would get the same today as well.
We stopped on the drive from our hotel to the winery for coffee and breakfast in Healdsburg. We found a fantastic Espresso joint just off the main street. The pool at the winery didn’t open until 11:00, so we tok some extra time checking out the town a bit.
Healdsburg downtown was a very cool collection of old architecture, galleries, and shops. It didn’t take long for the skies to clear, and the weather started getting warm pretty quick. Looked like we we were in luck.
We headed out and pulled into the Coppola Winery. A fine gentleman pointed us to the right parking lot, and we checked in for the day. The place was fantastic. We toured around the main building, Each Cabine had a little flag on top flapping in the breeze. Behind the pool was the bandstand from the Godfather. Inside the building was two floors of memorabilia, with a wall of awards and oscars, props from Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, an original Tucker Torpedo car, and countless other items. It was really stunning. It was more like being in someone’s home than in a winery or museum. A strange feeling really.
The plan was just to swim and relax. Which was all we did for a few hours. We did a wine tasting later on, and had planned on staying the day and having dinner in the restaurant in the evening. Once it really started getting hot, we changed plans. We just got cooked right out of the pool.
Since we were fairly north in the valley, we decided to cut across into Calistoga to check out Old Faithful. We had originally planned to do this the next day, but things worked out in our favor.
The geyser is off the main highway. it kind of lept out with a big gate that looked like it was built in the late 70′s. The building inside seemed to date from the 50′s. We paid and sat on picnic benches to wait. It was hot. The whole space around the pond and rocks was surrounded by tall bamboo. It had a very surreal feeling to it. It wasn’t too long of a wait before the rocks started steaming, then bubbling. We waited a few more minutes, then water shot up a few feet and stopped.
We thought that was gong to be it when the whole place exploded with water. It shot out and just kept going. Yulia and Sasha ran around into the spray, and I could feel the minerals in the spray of the water. It had the smell of a natural spring, just like in Ashland and Bath, England. I love that smell. The water almost feels magical as it soaks into your skin.
After a few minutes it finally died down. We could understand why people have come here for years. We even got to feed some Goats and bighorn sheep next door.
On the drive down the valley, we pulled into a Tuscan Castle. It was stunning, a full stone castle. Apparently the builder wanted it to be authentic looking inside and out. It had elements that looked like damage, rebuilding, remodeling, everything. It was beautiful. The wine they made wan’t too bad either. Sasha was pretty pleased as they also had animals, and she got to pet some sheep. Sasha loves her animals, and they love her in return.
Really an amazing day.
August 26, 2012 Comments Off
We are back in wine country again.
This is our third trip here, and we are staying on the Sonoma side again. Yulia found us a great hotel on a golf course south of Santa Rosa, and having a big place to relax in is really the way to go.
We started the day in downtown Santa Rosa, which frankly is a bit worse for wear. A lot of the Napa and Sonoma valleys date back to the late 1800′s. Downtown Santa Rosa has some pretty col historical buildings, but just doesn’t have the cool kitschy feeling you want in wine countrySo we set the GPS to Sonoma, and headed across the hills.
We hit Glen Ellen after some beautiful but windy roads, and found the wine country we wanted to hit. The whole central Sonoma Valley has the old, country feel, with little storefronts and fruit markets between the wineries, with signposts on the way, pointing to each of the wineries, in all directions.
We hit a little market to pick up some fruit and chocolate. headed into downtown Sonoma to walk inside the shops and parks. it is an amazing city center, with shops, historical architecture, and history all rolled together. We wandered the streets, and the courtyard and alleyway shops. The whole town was amazing. Napa, in comparison is much newer and not nearly as walkable.
We went from there to three of our favorite wineries. First was Cline, which has amazing gardens and pools. THey have a bird collection i the gardens, and Sasha took time to have a conversation with several of the birds. She went over to the turtle pool while we tasted a few wines.
We next went across to the Jacuzzi winery, and since the crowd was too big to do wine tasting, we did an olive oil tasting instead. it was really fantastic stuff, and you really appreciate how fresh and crisp oil can be.
After that, we went to Viansa, which we have visited on every trip to Napa. They have an outdoor pizza oven, and an amazing little store. We got some wine and food for the evening, and headed back to the hotel.
We had a normal room when we checked in, but Yulia worked her magic, (and used some Hilton Honors magic as well) and we were upgraded to a Junior Suite. The staff moved our luggage while we were away, and we cam back to a top floor room of about triple the size.
It’s nice to order room service, hit the pool for a bit and just relax. We should do this more.
August 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
Our final days in Disneyland were a blast. Taking a whole week really means that you can take a lot more time doing nothing instead of rushing the parks like a military assault.
We took a full day just to do shows. Being i the Hotel, we got special priority passes for the Aladdin Musical, and got front row center seats. They re so worth it for this show. you have performers, anamatrionic camels and elephants walking around the theater, and they come right up and interact with you. The singing and jokes in the show are fantastic, and as always, Genie steals the show. It is so worth the wait to see.
We also saw World of Color for the second time, and then ran across both parks to see Fantasmic in Disneyland. You can get Fastpasses for World of Color, but you have to pay for good seats to Fantasmic. Unless you know to go to the restaurant just above the river, and get food before the show. Then you can sit in the patio with a great view of the show for the cost of a sundae.
I managed to see all of World of color this time, as the first time I kept turning to get reaction shots of Yulia and Sasha and missed the whole Pirates part (fire makes it good). It really is an amazing show.
We saw Fantasmic years ago, and they have upgraded the whole production this year. The fire, pirate attack, and dragon are all bigger, and worth the time to see it. The sundae at the shop isn’t bad either.
At the boardwalk in California Adventure, Sasha was desperate to win a Dumbo at one of the Carnival Games. Naturally, I had little chance of doing this as most of them are pretty tough to win, but I tried to do it with one of the squirt-gun-target lineups. A family of four girls was against me in the competition, and luckily they were all bad shots. So I won, Sasha got her elephant, and I only had to crush the dreams of four little girls to do it.
Of course, Sasha had never seen Dumbo, and had no idea who he was. She just loves elephants. So I picked up the DVD from the lobby.
I love the fact that we took extra time in Disneyland to relax and not rush all the rides. We had time to really play and enjoy the new parts of the parks, the architecture, music, and fantasy of it all.
The Dumbo DVD made a great thing to watch on our drive up to Sonoma. We decided to take 101 instead of I-5, which might be a little slower, but it is such a better drive. We had a chance to see Santa Barbra, which was THE soap opera in Moscow, and we got to stop on the beach near the pier and marina to lounge about for a bit.
the rest of the drive through farms, silicon valley, and San Francisco, ending with a drive across the Golden Gate was fantastic.
Now for a few relaxing days swimming and tasting wine.
August 22, 2012 Comments Off
Sitting in our room, we wait for the fireworks to start over the park. Our window has the perfect view of Anaheim and the Disneyland park including the full evening fireworks show.
But tonight, high winds end up canceling the show at the last second. We imagine the frustration and screams of those who have been waiting in the park for hours to get the perfect seats. With sleepy children no sadly walking back to their respective shuttles to their hotels.
Staying in the Disneyland Hotel has it’s advantages.
We have been here since – well I’m not sure exactly. There was a lot of squealing and happy chatter, and several roller coasters since then, so I’m not entirely sure. Mai Tais may also be involved, we can’t be sure.
The whole Disney resort has been remodeled, The Hotels, the parks, everything. I’m sure that those who don’t come often might not be able to tell, but we have been often enough that it really shows. So far, we are spending mornings in the park, coming back to the pool for the afternoon, then picking up again in the evening.
When you give yourself enough time, there really isn’t so much pressure to get everything in at once.
This gave us some time to find the ever so slightly hidden Tiki Bar behind the pool. So far, it has proven popular. That, napping at the pool, and trying to catch as many of the shows has been the bulk of our time.
Today also included a trip out to Universal Studios. We got the Front-of-line pass, which is about the only way to see the whole place in one day. All of it is great. Touring the studios I feel a bit guilty as it is hard today for someone like Sasha or Yulia to get exposed to a lot of the films and directors that are classic in a place like Universal. Looks like we have a big rental list coming.
It’s the same problem we have at Disney trying to explain “Song of the South” or “Wind in the Willows” Splash Mountain and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride don’t make sense without these films.
But that’s small potatoes. We are really just enjoying our time, loving the shows, and relaxing.
And laughing at the dorks in the shuttle queue.