Tribute to My Parents

To my mother and father

Lately I have been wishing that I could remember more about both of you. Memories that used to be so fresh and reliable seem to be slipping away. And I am left with only sketchy recollections, diluted by time. The purpose of this tribute is to record some of my best childhood memories, before these recollections become too pale.

I think about the values that you taught me. You were skilled teachers, using the best teaching methods possible. I think about the lessons you passed on just by being yourselves, leading the lives you had been given.

I like to take these memories out and try to revisit them without the burden of teenage rebellion, peer pressure and hormones.

I remember mom, with her encouragement and humor. I remember dad, the visionary, the hero.

Dad, the Superhero

I don’t know who it was that put a chain drive mechanism on a tricycle, but the Patterson family, our neighbors on Longridge Road in Charleston, West Virginia, bought the trike and gave it to their girls to ride. That chain drive enabled the rider to develop unbelievable speed; the rider who could not balance well enough to ride even a bike with training wheels was wheeling up and down the street at high speed on a tricycle. It seemed to me that trike could go faster than a car on that West Virginia road.

The roads in West Virginia are many things. But no one would describe them as flat, straight, side-walked or wide-shouldered. In short, these were not good roads for kids on wheels. But there we were: my sister, Debby, and I, skating, running, and tricycling up and down the street. Fortunately, these were the days before working moms and two-car families. So we small-wheelers had the roads to ourselves most of the time.

One Saturday afternoon, Janie Patterson let me ride her chain driven tricycle. Janie was not frequently given to sharing, so I felt supremely honored.

I don’t remember much of the beginning or middle of the ride, but I remember vividly the end. I rode that trike off the road with no shoulder, off the road that was not flat, off the road and over the side and tumbled into the woods. I lay there, face in the dark dirt. Wondering what would happen next.

I did not have to wonder for long. Within the time it took me to realize what had happened and scream my well-practiced, little girl scream, my dad appeared from nowhere. He scooped me up in his arms and carried me back home, where mom worked herboo-boo magic.

There must have been other events like this one that I’ve long since forgotten, events that taught me that people are good, adults can be trusted, loving means caring. These were lessons that shaped my view of the Father God.

I’ll never know how he knew so well where I was, what I was doing, or how much I needed his rescue. I’ll forever believe that he was a super hero. Coming out of nowhere, at just the right time, just when I needed him most.

Dad, the Man of Vision

Dad had a way of talking about the future. He had a way of spending time with you, making you feel that you were the most important part of the world at that very moment. His actions and his manner communicated that you had great value. He saw not only your present usefulness, but your future value as well.

I remember dad as always having a bunch of projects going. He liked to build big structures, using stones, brick and concrete. We moved a lot. With every new house, dad saw a fresh opportunity to make a permanent structure. He built stone walls to hold back hills. He built brick walls to define flower beds. We always had the best sand pile in the neighborhood. Sometimes dad’s mortar hardened with plastic dinosaur heads sticking out of the walls.

Once, when he was finishing a wrought iron fence on top of one of his famous walls, dad let me hang around and help him with his work. He told me I had an important job to do. He gave me a small clean paint brush. He gave me an old coffee can filled with clear turpentine and told me it was primer. I had no idea what primer was but dad said the word with a very serious face. He gave me clear instructions to use the brush and “primer” to make the fence ready for the next coat of paint. This was an important job, I could tell just by the look in dad’s eyes. That look said that I was up to the job.

I felt like a skilled craftsman as I concentrated on my solemn duty. My dad trusts me. I can do this. I have value. Somewhere inside me, a sleeping artist/engineer began to awaken. Dad had set the alarm clock.

Dad had a way of talking about the future as though good things were already happening. “If” was not in his vocabulary. Dad always said “when.”

It seemed like at least once a year, we would visit dad’s Alma Mater, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, VPI it was called back then. Dad would walk around the grounds of the school, pointing out the academic buildings, saying “Viqui, here’s McBryde Hall, where you’ll take Math.” As we pass the quads, dad would point to the dormitory buildings, whispering “That’s Eggleston. It was a men’s dorm when I slept there but now it’s a women’s dorm where you’ll sleep.”

Again, I found myself believing, sharing the vision. I can do this. I’m already here. These were lessons that shaped my view of myself.

Mom, the Tolerant

In order to have an understanding of mom, at least the tolerant mom that I remember, you must first get an understanding of exactly how much there was to tolerate. You have to understand dad to understand mom.

Dad, ever the engineer, had a desire to do things bigger and stronger. This works great if you’re planning to build a wall or hang Christmas lights. This can create problems if you’re trying to plant a vegetable garden.

Dad’s garden plots got larger and larger every year. The idea was to till a larger area but plant the same amount of seedlings, so that the rows would be better spaced, more widely spaced, and easier to work.

But that big plot of freshly tilled earth was too much for my dad’s engineering brain to resist. After all that talk about not overplanting, my dad could not resist the temptation to plant more, more, more stuff in the garden.

Not only was the garden itself larger and more densely planted every year, but the vegetables themselves got larger and larger. Most of his vegetables looked like they had be grown near Three Mile Island.

The zucchini were as large as those self-lighting logs you can buy at Christmas. The yellow squash were the size of trumpets. The tomatoes busted their own skins and became food for the birds and deer.

Dad would bring the big produce into the kitchen, like the great buffalo hunter, presenting the prize tatonka to his squaw for skinning. Mom would smile, cook it for hours, and serve it to us with a proud statement about how the meal came fresh from dad’s garden.

During this whole time, mom offered very little criticism about the situation. If asked, mom would say that she wished that our father had picked the zucchini earlier, or that she wished that he had planted less densely. But she’d only say it once. She didn’t pretend, but she didn’t nag either.

Somehow mom was able to keep a balance between saying too much and not saying enough. She was the perfect example of saying what you mean, meaning what you say, but realizing that unity is more important than the size of the produce or the taste of the meal.

She was wise enough to know the difference between those things that must be accepted because they could not be changed and those things that were worth fighting for. Her words and deeds were completely in line with each other: she displayed integrity.

Without saying a word, she taught me that people are more important than things, that loving means putting up with something less (or in this case, more) than perfection. These were lessons that shaped my view of family and marriage.

Mom, the Great Audience

After dinner, the girls would spend time together in the kitchen. Dad was not expected to do kitchen work at that time. Mom could have escaped with him, and left the clean up to Debby and me. But she didn’t.

Mom stayed with us, in the kitchen, listening to our songs, laughing at our jokes, being a great audience. These endless hours were another way of telling us “I care what you think. I’m interested in the things that interest you.”

Frequently, our stories recounted funny things that had happened in our family:

  • The time that dad couldn’t ask for directions to the Botanical Gardens in Arizona because his Roanoke lips couldn’t say “Botanical.”
  • Our brother Eddie’s first joke about farts that went “Batman offered to Flatman and said ‘Pew.’”
  • Eddie’s emotional trip to the Hallmark store during one of dad’s many business trip seasons when his little heart cried for the “sad bug.”
  • Our own inability to stop giggling during a serious family dinner, especially if that dinner was preceded by an extended blessing prayer. We frequently had to eat dinner with our napkins covering our faces, so that we didn’t catch eyes again and burst into renewed laughter.
  • The grinch-like comments of an overnight baby-sitting shrew, “You girls still wear bibs?”

Mom was our co-conspirator, our confidant, our encourager, our audience. She taught us songs like “She has freckles on her BUTT she is pretty” and helped us pen the famous “Tongue is on the Floor” ballad which we wrote during an especially lengthy car ride to Watoga State Park in West Virginia.

The song lyrics go something like this:

Drivin’ down the highway
Doin’ 94
I looked at my mother,
She was hanging out the door.
I said “Oh, mother dear
Why don’t you come back here?”
She said “I cannot daughter
‘Cause my tongue is on the floor.”

Oh, her tongue is on the floor
Her tongue is on the floor
She cannot come back here because
Her tongue is on the floor

Well, maybe you had to have been there. It was really funny.

Mom’s life spoke many important messages. Messages that life is to be enjoyed, family times are good times, loving means sharing, laughing together makes us strong. These were lessons that shape my view of life.

Looking Back

As I write this, I look back on the family of my childhood. Our numbers have grown from the original five members to eight, not counting pets. I have lost a dad, I have gained sisters-in-law, I have substituted one husband for another, I have been blessed with a son. And yet, so much remains the same. The lessons taught us by mom and dad about God, about ourselves, about love and about life will live on. They will live on in the hearts of those remaining and in the lives of people we touch.

Thank you, Mom and Dad for caring enough to carry the message. I love you very much.

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My journey to appreciate neurodiversity

When my son was first diagnosed with Autism, I remember thinking of the condition as my greatest enemy. I devoted every waking moment to combatting and conquering it, shedding tears, saying prayers, and spending my retirement savings on therapies and treatments.

Now that my son is an adult, my view has changed. I now see Autism as just another characteristic that makes Jim uniquely Jim. Like his thick curly hair and his deep baritone voice, Jim owns his Autism and uses it to his advantage. I have learned to appreciate the neurodiversity in our home.

Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

Now let me explain that I am glad that we did invest so much time, energy, and money in the interventions that allowed our son to get along in a neurotypical world. We began with weekly speech therapy that improved his verbal skills and reduced emotional outbursts when he couldn’t make himself understood. We took occupational therapy to help him find satisfying ways to get proprioceptive stimulation, eliminating the hand flapping that made him look strange. We experimented with a controversial allergy treatment that improved his behavior by improving how he felt inside. We invested in another controversial treatment that adjusted his overly sensitive hearing that allowed him to start using his hearing normally and be more in tune with the world around him. We homeschooled throughout all of middle school, breaking the cycle of fight or flight that had plagued his previous school years. All of these interventions brought him closer to our world and helped him enjoy being a part of it.

On the other hand, some of the Autistic characteristics have turned out to be assets. Jim has an ability to concentrate and focus that is unmatched. This comes in handy in a musical home and he is able to go about his business despite the loud rehearsal that is happening in the basement. The social detachment that comes with Autism keeps Jim’s life drama free. He never gets in a twist about what someone says or what someone thinks about him. He just lets it go in a way we all wish we could.

And best of all, the repetitive behaviors that doctors label “perseveration” make Jim a fantastic percussionist. Jim picked up his drumming technique in a single lesson back in 2004 and has been drumming with our family band ever since. He is able to make the same repetitive motions for hours during a gig, singing at the same time, without skipping a beat or varying tempo. He is also a strong rhythm guitar player for the same reason.

Come see for yourself. The Dill Pickers will be performing on the main stage at Apple Blossom on May 3. Come sing along, dance in the street and say hi to our neurodiverse family.

Below. the Dill Pickers first gig at the 2004 Balloon Festival at Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Boyce, Virginia.
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The Dill Pickers perform on the main stage at the 2018 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. Left to right, Keith Dill on Stratocaster and vocals, Jim Dill on djembe and vocals, Viqui Dill on bass and vocals.
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“How Far I’ll Go”

My family is so talented. Check out this pop/punk version of “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana by my brother’s family. Sweet!

Whiskar Wilde

Well, apparently I’ll go all the way to WordPress, since Facebook won’t let me post audio files! But if you’re a Disney fan, maybe you’ll like this homegrown pop/punk version of “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana. Enjoy!

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Rah! Rah! Rah! Training is more like cheerleading than coaching

I wrote this post for InSync Training’s blog. It posted July 25th. Woo hoo! Check out the great stuff they have to offer.


Some folks talk about training as “coaching”. I think they have the metaphor wrong. Coaching means developing skills within a team by repetitive drilling and motivating them using a combination of respect and fear. Real training is nothing like that. Real training is more like cheerleading than coaching.

Engage the players (students)

So I’m standing in a conference room with my trusty slide deck and handouts, looking out at the other folks in the room for my training. My position looks like it’s up front but really I’m on the sidelines. The real action will be with those students.

The students are the real players, the real action in the game. The students are going to make or break the training. If they’re tired or bored, they won’t engage and they won’t learn. We don’t have a lot of time here and this training session is costing the company a boatload. When you count up all the hours of preparation, then the total hours for all the bodies here in the room, then measure the slow climb up the learning curve for the students, you know there’s a lot riding on this training. These students are going to make the difference in whether the investment will pay off. I know I’ve got to engage them in the short time we have together.

So we start off with an icebreaker, the part of the game when the team leaves the field house and comes running on to the field. And I’m cheering like crazy, trying to call the players by name and praising their ability to answer the icebreaker quiz questions. It’s exhausting but it pays off bigly if the students are energized and engaged by the interaction.

Then we start training the content. My favorite training sessions are the ones where we all work together, ditching the PowerPoint slides for real hands-on learning. First I give a short demo, then the real players do their magic. I shout “Hit ’em again, hit ’em again! Harder! Harder!” and they do. If I’ve done my job, the process is easy once you know how. The students pick up the skill and the underlying technology or the system it runs on. They carry the ball down the field. “This isn’t so hard. I can do this on my own next time.”

The last part of the session will tell how well we’ve done. We review what we learned, review expectations and collect feedback from the training. If things went well, the feedback will be upbeat and energizing. If things didn’t go well, the team will wander back to the locker room and leave the champagne corked for another time. Negative feedback is sometimes tough to hear but it does let us know how to make the next session better.

But let’s go back to what happens when we win. At the end of the winning game successful training, the players leave the room feeling like winners. They have learned some new skills and have confidence they can do it on their own, and maybe even show the new skills to their coworkers.

Engage the crowd (user community)

Another function of cheerleaders is to engage the crowd and get them cheering. In the training world, this means inspiring the user community so that they will see the trainees as rising system experts. The more that the user community recognizes local system experts, the less work for you as the trainer. Everyone prefers asking a coworker for help over having to search for an answer in the online help or opening a customer support ticket. If you can get the user community to see each other as the system experts, you will have fewer questions to answer and fewer customer support calls to take. It’s a win for the home team and a big win for you.

When the cheering stops

After the game, when the team and spectators have gone home, we celebrate the win or mourn the loss. If we’ve done a good job, the whole organization benefits. The students go back to work confidently using the system to accomplish their goals. Their goals are not to be a great system user. Their goals are to be a great doctor, lawyer, or indian chief who happens to use the system. They become great clients, providers, and colleagues. They make the world a better place, thanks to you and your effective training.

Let’s cheer about that!

Summit Sketch Notes by Elizabeth Alley

This is one in a series posted in the STC Notebook blog of sketch notes taken at the 2017 Summit by STC Senior Member Elizabeth Alley. I am super tickled that Elizabeth included my session in her sketches and I’m even more delighted that it was posted in the Notebook. It could have a lot to do with the fact that I’m sharing the slot with #TechComm legend, Leah Guren.

Relive the magic of the Summit in a unique and dynamic way through Elizabeth’s sketches! You can see more of Elizabeth’s work at elizabethalley.com.

You can see more about this presentation and review the slides in this post.

Here’s that amazing sketch:
OnTrackSketches

On track! Running an effective meeting is more than the agenda – Summit version

Here’s me adulting at #STC17.

I had a blast, mostly because the attendees to my spotlight talk were so smart and engaging. I talked about a pretty dry subject, meeting management, and how to make your meetings go better by collecting expectations and gathering feedback. Thanks everyone for being such a great crowd.

Here are my slides.

Yeah, we all know meetings are a necessary evil. Managing them better can build a stronger team that gets more done in less time.

2011: my personal #ACA (Obamacare) story

This is my personal #ACA (Obamacare) story. It happened in 2011. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) saved our family a $5000 out of pocket payment to Montgomery Regional Hospital near Virginia Tech while my son was a student.

Coverage for adult children through age 26

One of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act is (was?) that parents can keep their adult offspring on their employer-sourced health care plan until age 26. In 2011, my 22 year old son was covered by both my insurance plan through my employer and the student health plan provided through Virginia Tech.

As a full time student, my son’s health care was covered at Schiffert Health Center, the on-campus health center which was stated to be a turn key health care facility, providing everything that a student would need. All of that was covered in the student’s health care fee included in their tuition. Having read that statement, I would not have enrolled my son in additional health care insurance.

One problem: the student health plan only covered services rendered at the on-campus health care facility. Luckily, the ACA provided coverage for my son in my employer’s health care program.

An ambulance ride and a visit to the ER

When my son went to the student health center with chest pains in March of 2011, he was informed that the center did not cover treatment for chest pain. They called an ambulance and my son was transported to Montgomery Regional Hospital.

The hospital performed the usual battery of tests for coronary trouble, determined that he was not having a coronary, and released him.

Having chest pain? You’re okay. Now walk home.

I’m going to go off topic here for a minute. The way that the hospital released my son really made me angry. Having determined that my son was not having a life threatening emergency, the hospital released him with no other diagnosis, no treatment plan, and no ride home.

Really? You’re treating a patient for a stressful, painful episode and when you realize that he’s not going to die on you, you boot him out with no ride home? Stressed out young people don’t realize that there are resources for finding a ride, at least not at first when they are scared and in pain. Shame on you, Montgomery Hospital. Eventually, my son did realize he could call a cab and only walked part of the 4 mile trip.

Mama gets the bill some time later

My son did not tell me about this incident at first. He knew that mama would not have been happy.

In April of 2011, I received a letter thanking me for choosing Montgomery Regional Hospital and a bill for $5000 for the ER visit and tests. Surprise!

So I called my son, got the whole story, and sent the bill to our family health insurance. They covered everything but the deductible, saving our family the $5000 out of pocket cost.

Thank you Obamacare!

Thank you Obamacare! Thank you President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senator Tim Kaine, and Senator Mark Warner! You provided my family with a safety net when we needed it most.

And thank you American Woodmark for providing me and my family a health care plan that covered everything we needed in 2011.

To quote Vice President Joe Biden on March 23, 2010, “This is a big f—ing deal.”

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1978: my personal harassment story

This is my personal sexual harassment story. It began in 1978 and continued through 1981, when I was working as an engineering co-op at the Union Carbide plant in Bound Brook, NJ. The harassment was both open and subtle and came from many sides: my coworkers, my management, the industry, and even my fellow working women.

Open harassment

Some of the harassment was out in the open and visible. None of it was aimed directly at me so at the time, I tried to just ignore it.

My coworkers: free calendars

In many of the work areas, it was common to see photos of half-naked women hanging on the wall. Calendars featuring these images were given out by tool companies for free. Here’s one from Snap-on Tools, circa 1974.

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I don’t think my coworkers were out to get me or shame me. I think it was a free calendar . So what the heck, hang up the free calendar. Messages like these were common in the day and folks didn’t think much of it at the time. But as a 19 year old, working in a man’s field, I felt “other” and vulnerable. And as a 19 year old newcomer, I knew I was powerless to do anything about it so I pretended it wasn’t there.

But there it was. Every. Damn. Day.

My management: names and job scope

Harassment from management came in two forms.

The first was the simple way they referred to the other women in the office as “The Girls”. We had a fairly large staff of secretaries who did all the typing, filing, scheduling, and generally kept things running so that “The Men” could get on with the business of engineering and management.

I know it’s a simple thing to refer to grown up women as children but it did send a message of not being on the same level. And if anyone had referred to a group of males as “The Boys”, we would have known even at that time that it was racist. But in 1978, sexism was allowed even though racism was not.

The second form of harassment was in the type of work I was given. There were other college students at my location studying engineering and working in the co-op program. They were all males.

The males worked side by side with the engineers, doing analysis and designing studies for the company. I was sent to the library to do research. And I was great at it, finding obscure publications written in German but understandable because of the technical terms, charts, and diagrams. I found answers to problems they had been trying to solve with all that analysis and design, and saved them weeks of study and evaluation.

Eventually I earned their respect and was given other things to do. Which brings us to the subtle harassment.

Subtle harassment

Much of my feeling “other” and reinforcing my role as an outsider was subtle. It was more about the environment and the attitude than about things you could see or hear.

The industry: tools and equipment

My first job was to diagnose and repair a machine that fed fiberglass into a plasticating extruder. It was hot and itchy. Other than that, it was no problem.

One of the next jobs was to work on a crew making insulated wiring using a plasticating extruder. The machine was big and clunky. There was a 3″ screw running down the center which we installed and removed using a honking three foot long pipe-wrench. Here’s a schematic of the extruder.

figure-1-schematic-diagram-of-a-plasticating-extruder-showing-the-components-of-the

This equipment and the tools we used to work on it were designed by men for men. The upper body strength, the grip strength, and even the hand size were all beyond me. Still I persevered and kept up with my coworkers, using my knowledge of physics and mechanics to get the most out of any force I was able to apply. Eventually all of that effort took its toll and I injured my wrist permanently. It still bothers me today and occasionally it swells.

My fellow working women: denial

The surprising source of harassment, and a big reason I felt vulnerable, was my fellow pioneers, the other working women.

The message was simple. Don’t screw this up. If you screw this up, they’ll kick you out and they’ll never let any of the rest of us in. The future of working women rests on your ability to tough this out. So I did.

So I couldn’t even think about the differences or speak up for myself. There was nobody to talk to about it and it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Talking and thinking were not going to solve this. So I didn’t talk or think.

We’ve come a long way, baby

So now the calendars are gone. The name calling is pretty much gone, but mostly because we don’t have secretarial pools any more. The overt symbols of harassment have disappeared. The subtle things are still around. Job assignments and salaries are still a challenge. The attitude of my fellow working women still makes me feel alone and vulnerable.

But it is better for me than it was for my mother. And much better for me than it was for my grandmother. So here’s hoping that my granddaughter will some day read this and think it’s funny and quaint.

Honey, if you’re reading this, kick some misogynist ass for your granny.

Hot Flash Band: Electric Guitar/Venus youtube video

Video

Hey friends! I want to share this video project I got to participate in thanks to the superpowers of Steve Pendlebury Media Services. Check out the Hot Flash Band as we perform a medley of Patrice Moerman’s song “Electric Guitar” and Shocking Blue’s “Venus.”

Find Hot Flash on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HotFlashBand
Contact Patrice at: http://www.patricemoerman.com

Music video produced by Steve Pendlebury Media Services. http://www.stevependlebury.com.

#STC16 – From Fred Flintstone to George Jetson: Creating Tension in Training Increases Adoption

The objective of a good training program is adoption and excellent field execution. This presentation is about how to use a combination of traditional training deliverables and old school psychology to gain user buy-in and achieve a successful launch. We’ll talk about how my company uses cartoons and countdowns to ensure that users seek out training and have a stake in adoption and field execution excellence.  

Whether we create video, user assistance, classroom training, or documentation, what we really want is a group of folks who use the product to do an excellent job with little or no effort and make no mistakes. Creating good training is less about the deliverable and more about building the right relationship.

Here are the slides from my presentation for #STC16 about a project that went really well.

Many thanks to Rachel Houghton for catching a photo of me #adulting.

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