Yosemite!

“The snow is melting into music.”

John Muir

We spent two nights in Yosemite, and it was not enough. We had glorious weather, that begged we stay outside, so we did. We arrived in the early afternoon, and parked across the meadow from Yosemite Falls. We ate our lunch gazing across the dormant grasses at the series of falls, and craning up at the top edges of the hanging valleys all around. We walked to Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and halfway to Vernal Falls. Horsetail was, alas, dry, so no firefalls for us this year. Bob and Henry woke up early to climb up some part of Yosemite Falls, and saw a bobcat! A raccoon visited our balcony, and Grant attempted to let it in. All in all, it was an adventure. Selected pictures:

Grant enjoying the view. Yosemite falls in the background.

Marin Headlands/Muir Woods/Lodi

We drove out of San Francisco early and after driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, we quickly exited to get to Marin Headlands. The views were amazing! After a little running around there, we had to hustle to Muir Woods, because we had a reservation for parking. In the woods we went for a hike. Grant fell on the trail at one point and cut his palm. That really put a damper on his sails for awhile. After the majesty of the woods, we drove inland a bit to get to Lodi. We drove down Napa valley and ooohed and aahed at all the grape fields. In Lodi we went to a winery for a tasting, and planned ahead so we went to one with a playground. The kids had fun playing while Bob and I enjoyed some wine in the sun. We ate dinner at a winery in town, then headed to the hotel to sleep after a very packed day. Selected photos:

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The bridge from Marin Headlands.
The battery at the Headlands was otherworldly.
Climbing before the entrance to Muir Woods.
Checking their wingspan.
Important dates marked on the rings of a tree.
Bob, for scale.
Grant, going the wrong way.
Some of us had an easier time with being quiet.
Talk about your Rings in a tree.
Playing at the winery.
Relaxing at the winery.

Next up: Yosemite!

SF

We technically started our trip with an overnight in Atlanta, but we found we haven’t been counting that. Instead, we have been counting the beginning of our trip from when we touched down in San Jose.

We took a long drive up the coast on route 1, and found the twistiest road through the mountains to get there. Once to the coast, somewhere south of Half Moon Bay, and somewhere north of Pescadero, we meandered north into San Francisco.

We checked into our hotel (Zephyr), and walked around pier 39. The next day we relaxed, went to the Exploratorium, and explored more. Selected photos before.

Zephyr lobby
Flowers in the courtyard
Optimism.
Ping pong
Carousel!

Day 2:

In the foggy courtyard while waiting for brekkies.
I saw infinity!
We did this about a million times. We all liked this one best.
Fishermen’s Grotto. Fisherwomen can get bent, apparently.
I liked the post.
Top one taken the afternoon before. Bottom one in the morning.
Succulent seal.
Fog City.
Coupla twins
This mirror was mind bending.
Grant looked for fish in this thing that was not an aquarium.
Ancient courses of the Mississippi.
Bay bridge.
A display wall.
Grant loves making peace signs.
I think this is a vibe we can all strongly agree with.
This was about 10 feet tall.
This is made of toothpicks!
Lobster bisque in a sourdough bowl at fisherman’s wharf, and I took the least appetizing photo of it.
My big kids ❤️
We ended our adventures with some Ben & Jerry’s.

Working coffee

I usually don’t drink coffee during the day; I have tea instead. But lately I have been absolutely craving some excellent coffee. After getting frustrated with the offerings locally, I dusted off my grinder and chemex, ordered a goose-neck kettle and timer, and some fresh decaf beans from Stumptown. I also got a vacuum seal container for the beans.

Today Henry was sent home from school (for no good reason by the substitute nurse), so it happened to be a perfect opportunity to make some actual coffee.

So I get to sit at my dining room table, with the weak winter sun on me, and enjoy some really delectable coffee while finishing my work today. A quiet victory.

A different person

Mornings stress me out to no end. I panic at the thought of dropping the kids off at school before the bell. It’s never been a huge problem or anything (they aren’t tardy but once or twice a year max), but the time restriction plays havoc with my anxiety.

Combine that daily deadline with two “delay fish” twins and one small anarchist, and mornings are downright hellish.

Early in 2020, Henry took me by the hand, gazed up at me and said “Mom, sometimes it seems like you’re one person in the morning before school, and a totally different person after school. After school you’re nice, and before school you’re … anxious.”

I was so happy that he was able to articulate this, and express it so calmly. It is some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten. I told him I know what he’s talking about, and that I would work on it.

I started doing a bunch more prep at night. Yes, I’m exhausted at that time after a full day of work, homework with the twins, feeding everyone, chores, bedtimes, working out… but it makes the next day start off much better. The twins, in their turn, have quit delaying so much and have stepped up their morning responsibilities. I can now fully trust them to get dressed (I usually lay out their clothes, otherwise Eleanor would be in a tutu and Henry in shorts every day) and get their own breakfasts. Henry has become like a Morning Captain; he is usually walking around with his coat, shoes, and backpack on before I even get all the way downstairs with Grant. Eleanor has a much more relaxed approach to mornings, but to her unending credit, she’s seen how stressed these mornings were making me, so she has taken her own steps to be more on top of things in the morning. I usually only have to tell her once or twice to get her shoes or coat on. Grant continues to sow chaos with a heart full of joy. Bob has also taken on driving the kids to school, so he has to deal with the actual deadline, while I just manage the kids out of the door.

Henry and I had a check-in chat on how mornings were going recently. I asked him if he felt I was more “me” during mornings, and told him that I felt a lot better in the mornings. I got a good review! He was proud of how he could help contribute to my better morning attitude, and we agreed that mornings overall are more calm (Grant notwithstanding) and very smooth. The twins are used to filling out their reading logs every morning, getting me to sign them, and putting them back in their bags, get prepped to walk out the door, and clean up their breakfast messes, which is a huge improvement over the tornado that used to run through the kitchen. I personally feel that our mornings are under control (Grant notwithstanding), and they are no more stressful than any other part of my day now.

I can’t express how proud I am of Henry. I hope that he always talks to people about the things he observes with such compassion and care. I hope that I am always able to hear him (or anyone) when they have valuable feedback.

Feedback: engaging colleagues to nourish our perspective

I originally published this post on our internal leadership P2 here at Automattic in early December 2019. I’ve made some changes to reflect the broader audience. I decided to post this here at the prompting of one of the leads that I lead, because I am very susceptible to flattery.

At Automattic we say that communication is oxygen, and that feedback is fundamental to effective communication. Despite this, I still occasionally see peers reluctant to give feedback as their default. There could be all sorts of reasons behind that, but I’d like to share my perspective around feedback (and how feedback helps my perspective) in an effort to alleviate some of the concerns I think I see.

Refocus, enhance

In a company larger than a few hundred people, it is likely impossible for someone to be deeply knowledgeable about all areas of the company. They probably have deep knowledge in their chosen field, and detailed knowledge in other areas that are interesting or relevant to their role, but that’s it. At Automattic, it’s possible to follow every area of the company – we put everything on P2. Everything. Financials, project decisions, you name it. So the temptation to fall down rabbit holes is very real! But realistically, you can’t drink from the firehose forever; you must scale back with intention. When that happens, you naturally and normally become less tuned into the subtle evolutions that people working closely on a team experience every day. You’d need either time to deeply dive, or someone to take a few minutes to clue you in.

In many ways, providing someone with feedback is giving them a chance to get a better, more complete picture. Regardless of whether it’s individual feedback or feedback to another area of the company (acting as a representative), the same idea applies: feedback helps an idea, concept, the work (etc) become more clear. 

I’ve seen folks talk about a reluctance to give feedback because they feel they’ll get (themselves or someone else) in trouble for it, or that it won’t be taken seriously. To these specific concerns, my guidance would be the following: give feedback in good faith, and with an eye towards a productive outcome. Ask yourself what outcome you want and believe is reasonable. When I get feedback from someone else in Happiness, the most useful feedback focuses on observable behaviors, lets me understand the person’s point of view, and helps me see their desired outcome. That gives me what I need to ask more questions and begin to paint a clearer picture. Every piece of feedback is a chip of paint, it’s not a complete and finished painting.

Let’s enjoy a metaphor together. 

In this metaphor, there’s a complete painting. It’s very, very large, and we are all positioned in such a way that we can only see a small portion of the painting (the painting is Automattic — that’s the metaphor).

This is what I see:

Another person sees this:

A third person sees this:

A fourth person sees this:

I say “Hmm, this painting is a tree.”

And they say “I could see a tree, yeah. It’s a tree.”

And says “I don’t like this kind of tree, but it’s a tree nonetheless.”

And says “Yep. That’s a tree. We are looking at a painting of a tree.”

And so far, things are ok, because we can all agree on our painting — it’s a tree. Without feedback between us on what differences we can see and what we disagree about (and what we agree about!) that’s about as complete a picture as we can hope to get. Let’s assume that the four people who agree we see a tree continue to not give each other any feedback or communicate effectively further about the painting.

What happens when a fifth person sees this?

Do they need to speak up and tell the other people that they don’t see a tree? If they don’t, it’s unlikely the the other four people will realize that they’re not seeing the same tree. That’s this person’s advantage and their responsibility: they have the key to challenge assumptions the other four people had about their partial paintings. They need to go back to basics to explain what they see, which in turn gives more language to the other viewers as well. “I see broad horizontal strokes, with short vertical strokes, mostly in brown and other dark colors” says far more than “It’s (not) a tree.” This can help the other four observers say things like “my tree has sparse branches and the background is mostly blue.” Or, “the tree I see is sort of oval shaped and seems short.” Once the feedback door is open, dialogue can actually flow. When we come right down to it, feedback is dialogue; it’s an active exchange of thoughts and ideas.

By giving feedback (and asking questions in order to gather feedback), each viewer can change their perspective until they finally understand the entire painting (even if they don’t view all of it at once at any time).

Good feedback corrects, enhances, and improves. Bad feedback (which is either not productive or not existent) falsely reinforces misunderstandings (at a minimum).

Good feedback processes let you go from “it’s a tree” to “it’s a forest.”

Emily Carr, BC Forest 1932

See the image here

It’s very easy to be resistant to feedback! But part of all our jobs is to listen to feedback and evaluate it. If it’s not given very well, can we use that conversation to get a better idea of what the feedback is intended for? (We can.) We can also provide feedback on the gap between what the intention was and what the impact was, as a way for that other person to improve their own feedback-giving. 

Giving feedback can be particularly scary when you give feedback “up.” However, I balance that against the responsibility of helping someone else gain a clearer picture when I think there’s something missing from their view. I also use feedback to reinforce things that I think are helpful or otherwise useful or done well. Sometimes you may not have a different view of something, but you can always let someone know when they’ve described a section of painting particularly well. Sending appreciation and gratitude feedback can help establish connections with others across the company, and it can also help the other person feel good about the work they’re doing! At Automattic, we usually know these as Kudos, and most of us are comfortable sending these (though we may not always think to). Kudos are a way to directly send someone a compliment about their work that is logged on a P2 as well. Comfort with both congratulatory and clarification feedback makes for a more robust feedback process, however, rather than relying on just one or the other.

So in summary:

  • Don’t be afraid to describe your view of the painting
  • Ask if you don’t understand the description someone else has provided of the painting
  • Talk with other people about specifics about the painting
  • Remember that you’re all trying to get the most accurate picture, and actively listening and absorbing that information is crucial to getting to a shared understanding.

A busy night

Somehow, we ran out of Albuterol yesterday and didn’t realize it.

Around 11:00pm, I had finished up work and was getting ready to go to bed, only to find Grant in my bed. Wheezing. Badly. I went to get his nebulizer (we call it a woo-woo, like a train, but that’s not important to this story whatsoever) and discovered the awful lack of medicine. So I packed him up and off we went to the ER.

First, we got a private room in the ER. That part was boss. Second, it was incredibly quiet, so we got lots of attention — people can’t help but love Grant. Third, we were in and out in two hours or so. We got home around 1:30am.

Grant got oxygen first. He also had a chest x-ray, a rapid strep test, an RSV test, two rounds of nebulizer, and oral steroids. He didn’t have pneumonia, strep, RSV, or anything else worrying. He had a bad cough (leftover from a cold), restrictive airway disease (aka baby asthma), and was “a little tachycardic.”

As his breathing loosened up, his spirits correspondingly rose. He got one of those hospital single servings of apple juice and was very taken with that. He asked if we could get them for home (no we can’t!). He pretended there were bananas hidden all over the room and we guessed where they were. We sang songs and called each other silly. We laughed.

He had three nodes attached to his chest to track his heart, a finger monitor for his pulse ox, and a bracelet. He brought his bracelet home for dad. He asked me to interpret the monitor many many times. After getting the strep test (swab the back of the throat), he told me through his tears “I still love you mom,” which is grand because I didn’t administer the test.

He asked for Stitch so he could cuddle him. He asked if we could go to sleep (I said yes, but then he changed his mind). We waited to see how his pulse ox would do off the oxygen. We skipped out of the ER (after initially leaving then returning because I got lost in the hallway — I was tired).

When we got home he needed me to sit with him for about 40 minutes. We were both tired but Albuterol raises his heart rate, and he had back-to-back treatments, so settling ended up being hard, even at 2am.

Today he stayed home from daycare. He wasn’t ready to wake up for one thing. But for another, his breathing was still labored. After getting the twins ready and dropping them off, I picked up his prescriptions and came home and started administrating. I passed it off to Bob because I needed to get back into work.

After work today, he begged me to sit with him and watch Cars (his all-time favorite movie). So we cuddled and watched until it was time for me to go get the twins. Once they were home, he wanted to go to bed, so we got him up to his room, gave him his oral steroids, and got him Motrin, and started him on his nebulizer (all of which I then handed off to Bob, so I could feed the twins.)

Tomorrow’s a new day.

Bossy sickie

Grant got sent home sick yesterday from daycare, which means he couldn’t go back today. He’s got a fever and a runny nose and a cough, and the worst case of the bossies I’ve ever seen.

We have so far: played Legos, watched The Gruffalo’s Child, started the Lion King, read many stories, played with Spiderman and Black Panther, he’s taken a bath, eaten nearly all the grapes in the house, rejected blueberries, eaten half a peach yogurt, watched YouTube, and cuddled.

Consume

My favorite flower is the ranunculus. It’s right up there with peonies, which are second. They’re both big showy, many-petaled blooms, but the ranunculus keeps things tight while the peony is always on the verge of disaster. Ranunculus are tidy, controlled, elegant. Peonies are gregarious drunks, friends with everyone. Ranunculus grow on a tube stem (they’re part of the buttercup family), and don’t over-do it with the leaves. They’re the image of restraint. Peonies… well, peonies are blowsy. They are generous to a fault with frills, petals, leaves, stems going where you wouldn’t expect. They are joyful out loud.

Peonies photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash. Header image of ranunculus from here.

I want to eat them when I see them. Both ranunculus and peonies (and roses, truthfully). There’s something about the fat flower, the smooth velvety leaves that are so delicate and so profuse. The marvel to behold and to touch. They are seemingly so solid, plump and lush. Consumption seems to be the next logical step. I have not eaten one, but when I am lucky enough to be around them, I find myself holding them to my face. It was work to not eat my way through my wedding bouquet.

This is the same triggering as the cute aggression that I have around newborns. I want to eat them up. Cute aggression is being so overwhelmed by positive emotions (like a cute baby) that the only release is violent impulse (eating). Cute aggression (or dimorphous expression if you’re fancy) is normal, and a way for our bodies and brains to regulate, since excessive positive emotion is as damaging to our bodies as negative emotion. Essentially, we bring ourselves back to neutral by wanting to consume our babies (and flowers).

I think there’s more there, though. Fresh flowers make me happy, no question, in a way that my (many) office plants don’t. My office greenery contents me, and I enjoy tending them. I’m pleased when they thrive. I’m annoyed when they falter. But the luxury and transience of fresh flowers, the very decadence make them special. Their brevity is a gift, with their inevitable fall into decay as fascinating as their first unfurling. They bestow triumph in exchange for their lives. You could close your eyes and sink into the rapture of fresh flowers.

The idea of consumption in order to absorb qualities isn’t new. There are fables a-plenty about eating the innocent young in order to replicate youth (and it’s a plot point for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet). It’s so old it’s new; you can this very day buy powdered pearls on Amazon to become a pearl (I guess). You can eat gold without much effort. We especially love describing things we consume as “virgin” for reasons we don’t really need to guess at.

So the question that a more introspective and thoughtful person would ask herself would have to be along the lines of whether I want to eat these flowers to retain youth, to regulate my own emotions, or perhaps something darker.

Acrophobia is the fear of heights (not the same as vertigo, but they can occur together). Heights are terrifying not just because they’re high, but also because when you’re close to the edge the terror makes you almost want to fling yourself off, to just be done with it. There’s a recklessness rooted in deep panic. The riotous soar, the inescapable fall, the final end. Is it not a bit the life of a cut flower? Snipped short, in more ways than one, to live a brilliant life that is brought to a sudden, inglorious end.

Fortunately for me, I am not introspective enough to ask these questions. Instead, I will continue to deeply appreciate fresh flowers as they come to me (rarely, and the more precious for it), and to take some measure of pleasure from resisting leaving but a pile of stems and leaves in my wake.