A Quaker Journey

I was raised Catholic in the USA. I had never thought of the Quakers as anything other than the graphic on the cardboard tub of oats.

At some point, as I was gaining awareness of the world, I grew apart from the Catholic church of my youth. I went along with friends to their own churches on Sundays. I attended Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, and Messianic Jewish services. My closest friends were atheist, pagan, and Muslim. I joined a mission trip with the Methodists, helping re-roof a house of a parishioner from a sister church in the south of the US and absolutely loved the community spirit and the coming-together — but I still didn’t feel like I belonged.

I didn’t believe in the Christian God as I was taught about in Sunday school. I believed that “God” was a metaphor, a way of understanding the universe and its mysteries. The word “God”, to me, meant the personification of the sum of all things. I felt like I could call myself agnostic, atheist, pantheist, or even pagan, and felt like I could say that I led a life of Christ — but I still didn’t feel like any of those labels quite fit.

I took philosophy classes and an ethics class in college. I spent a lot of time thinking about my own beliefs and looking at those of others. When I moved to the UK for university, I continued trying to find a church that felt like “home” in the same way as my friends felt at home in their churches, with a community who felt how I did rather than seeing me as someone who needed to be “brought in to the bosom”, an outsider.

I attended Catholic services, Anglican services, a Church of Scotland service, and then found the Humanists when I moved to Cambridge. I felt at home with the Humanists there and enjoyed a Sunday brunch where we’d discuss ethics and philosophy and “goodness” and such things. When I moved back to Scotland, though, the Humanists didn’t meet at a café, they met at the pub, and they would still discuss ethics and philosophy but it didn’t feel the same, it didn’t feel like “home”.

I had children and started getting involved with the new-parent community. I met a mum at the train station in Edinburgh who had a lovely carrier and I’d invited her along to a baby sling group that I organised in Falkirk — and she came! We became close friends and, when conversation turned to ethics and philosophy and “goodness”, she said she was raised a Quaker but her life had gotten busy and she hadn’t attended in a long time. She said that my own philosophy of “God” wasn’t at all dissimilar to her own, and that the community was absolutely like the community I had lamented not finding. She found a Meeting that was close to where I lived and we attended together with another close parent-friend.

I’ve found the community feeling that I had been searching for and I do feel completely at home with the Friends that I have met. My husband, a “devout atheist” also feels comfortable at Meetings, and my children absolutely adore attending. I still feel like I’m settling in and feeling my way around, but I do absolutely feel like I’m at home.

Denise User Guide (TL;DR Edition)

A work friend was toying with the idea of doing a team activity, writing up our personal User Guides. She found the idea when she was reading through different Atlassian playbooks (it’s this one here: https://www.atlassian.com/team-playbook/plays/my-user-manual).

I’d seen this particular playbook before, when I’d been searching for ways of making retrospectives a bit more fun for our family meetings, and I’d wanted to try it then but it just didn’t make it onto the priority list.

So when she suggested that we might do it as a team, I happily went through the Atlassian template and started filling it in. We didn’t end up doing it as a team, in the end, but I’m still really glad I went through it — IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!

I was trying to work out why I was enjoying it so much. It can’t JUST be because I’m a technical writer and user guides are my bread and butter — it’s not really a technical manual at all! After a bit of navel-gazing, I realised it’s because I’ve done A LOT of navel-gazing over the last year of pandemic isolation. This User Guide has provided a really fantastic template for putting some of it down into writing. And I do love filling in an outline!

I can’t help but feel that it won’t be “productive” time wasted, given that I start a new job on Monday! I’m actually looking forward to sharing this with my new boss, I expect that he’ll have a good laugh!

So, for your reading pleasure:

Denise User Guide (PDF)

Agile@Home

At home, we went agile — inspired by the TED talk “Agile Programming for your family“. We’ve found that using Agile at home has made our domestic lives immeasurably better, because of the constant communication and pressure-release of retrospectives. It’s allowed us to genuinely say to each other “ok, we can try it for a week”!

I gave a talk at the NCR Edinburgh Agile Guild last year about Agile@Home and how we’ve implemented with our young family. I’ve recently updated the presentation to give at my company’s weekly “Dips and Discussions” townhall as a (hopefully inspirational) last note before I depart for adventures new.

I’m sharing here, now, in hopes of helping anyone else who might be struggling through this uncertain world.

Quarterly Goals

We’ve got young kids so we need to be pretty flexible with anything weschedule but we are currently trying out “seasonal goals”. We listed out the activities we wanted to do and separated them out into the season in which they make the most sense to do them. Within the seasons, we could then prioritise what we want to get done. This past summer our activities mostly revolved around getting the garden sorted — something that can be done outside in the nice weather than didn’t involve leaving home. Most important was planting vegetables which the children most wanted to do, then came re-finishing the wooden patio furniture that couldn’t be put off for another year. This winter, not being up to going out into the freezing rain, our priority has been minimising clutter in our house, starting with the kitchen and then the children’s room.

So far, the seasonal goals are working well, as it has helped motivate us to tackle bigger projects knowing that we will keep coming back to them through the season. Though, it has come up that it would be more helpful to have the goals written up on the wall for the kids to see them.

The Daily Scrum

At the end of the day we have a family dinner — given that I am NOT a morning person, and that snack and lunchtimes can be a bit manic, dinner is the only time that we’re all guaranteed to be sitting at the table together.

It’s not your traditional software scrum — it looks like a “normal” dinnertime conversation — but it functions as a mini-retro and a discussion of plans and blockers for the next day’s “work”.

If conversation doesn’t organically answer the following questions, either my partner or I will prompt to ensure that they’re asked before the kids are finished eating and too restless to stay at the table with us:

  1. What was your favourite thing about today?
  2. What didn’t you like about today?
  3. What are we doing tomorrow?

We use these stop/start/continue style questions not only to encourage the kids to stay at the table a little while longer, but to gauge how our kids are feeling about their worlds. Quite often, the first two questions can inform what the answer to the third question is — if my 6-year-old is totally fed up with the way that online schooling went and the 3-year-old really enjoyed colouring, I’ll make sure I make time for crafts the next day.

Retros and Planning

In some ways, we’re more scrumban than Agile scrum. We have meetings as required and will often have one meeting which functions as both retro and planning. Our sprint is, broadly, a week. At some dinner over the weekend, we update our family calendar on the wall with any appointments we’ve got, meal plan for the week, and any holidays that we might be celebrating.

At that dinner, we discuss any tasks that we want to get done that align with our seasonal goals and try to work out when we can fit them in. We’ll ask the kids what their favourite thing was that they did over the week and if there’s anything else that they want to “schedule” into the calendar.

During our daily scrums, we usually mention something new that we want to try so that the next day is better — we will bring up these things while we’re updating our calendar, to decide if there’s something we can do regularly to improve our week.

The family calendar came out of a family meeting a couple years ago, now. Our eldest, then about 4 years old, wanted to know what we were doing over the week. We put the calendar on the wall and drew pictures for the different activities that were coming up. It’s been honed over the years to address issues that have come up during retros:

  • It now shows two weekend blocks which allows us to update it on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday without losing anything.
  • It forces us to sync up my paper bullet journal calendar, my husband’s digital calendar, the school calendar, and my eldest’s UK and US holidays calendar at least once a week. We MUST update it before the end of the weekend.
  • We MUST plan meals in advance, solving the problem of not knowing answers to “what are we having for dinner tonight?” and “what do we need to pick up from the shops?”

Summary

So, that’s how we’re doing agile at home. It’s been pretty great! It’s allowed us to roll with whatever life throws at us (pandemics, redundancies, you name it). There’s no one silver bullet for peaceful domestic living but the closest we’ve found has been learning to say “ok, we’ll try that for a week” and genuinely be open to trying.

Prioritisation with ADHD and the Eisenhower Method

I was on Twitter the other day and happened upon a conversation about the Eisenhower Method.

I had, in fact, heard of the Eisenhower Matrix before and had used it at many points over the years, often during planning meetings with colleagues. The fact that I was doing this with colleagues helped me immensely because I really struggled to categorise Urgent-Important and Urgent-NotImportant — I often couldn’t see past the urgency.

It was one particularly wonderful colleague I had who really helped me make the connection between Important and Not-Important as it related to urgency by verbalising “if it doesn’t help you work towards your goals, it’s not important. You need to prioritise your goals, first, before you can compare the importance of things.”

Until that comment, I’d been trying to order my tasks by Urgency-then-Priority rather than by Priority-then-Urgency. And it’s not uncommon for everything to be urgent to me because of the previously aforementioned “everything is either Now or Not-Now”” time sense of ADHD. And, when everything is Urgent, I would forget about the priority in my panic and end up tackling urgent tasks in the order of whatever looked the most interesting. Needless to say, occasionally some more-important things would get missed due to time constraints.

Actually, that’s why my colleague highlighted the goals to me — our team were in an agile retrospective and we were all very candid about what we were struggling with and what we saw each other struggling with. I said I was struggling with prioritisation so we all talked through what we thought the priorities were and why we thought that. The comment came out of that really productive conversation.

Since then, I’ve started writing out, in my bullet journal, the “Quarterly Goals” that our team agree to ensure that we are all on the same page when it comes to prioritising work. We then have sprint planning wherein we prioritise the work for the next two weeks based on those quarterly goals, the capacity for the next sprint, the urgency of goal-related work versus support tasks that have arisen, et cetera. For awhile I was working scrumban and relied heavily on those quarterly goals to prioritise my work as there was little else to impact the order in which we selected tasks to work on.

It’s been a long while since that comment was made — so long, now, that I’d completely forgotten it until I saw that Tweet. I’m pleased that, though I’ve been working as a technical writer for over a decade, I’m still learning new things and developing new strategies for getting things done.

I am ADHD

I’ve recently joined the Association of Speakers Clubs and have decided that my A1 assignment (introductory speech) will be on a topic near and dear to my heart, ADHD. I’ll be delivering my speech next week and have, by some miracle, finished writing it already! I’m crossing my fingers and toes that I’ll find enough focus to write out cards and practice between now and the next meeting!


Title: I am ADHD (A1 speech)

Everyone has heard those letters, A-D-H-D.
It’s something that boys get labeled with just for being boys.
It’s kids just running around and yelling and having fun
It’s kids with lazy parents who want to drug them into being quiet and obedient.
It’s kids who mouth off, don’t sit still, don’t pay attention
It’s kids who are lazy; they’re just not trying hard enough.

But I, an adult, am ADHD.
It affects every aspect of who I am.
What I do, what I say, how I think, how I feel.
And it has since I was a kid; since I was born, actually.

I am Attention Deficit Hyperactive.
I don’t *have* ADHD because that sounds like it’s something I keep in my pocket and can take out and leave it at home on a Saturday.
Or like it’s a cold that I’ll get over and be fine next week.
That’s not how it works.

I find myself telling a really quite hilarious story about my period…
To my manager…
Who’s a bloke.
And as I’m nearing the punchline I can see the discomfort on his face.
I realise that I’m oversharing again.
I want to stop but the impulse to tell the punchline is overwhelming.
I finish telling my story, try to laugh it off, then spend the next few days obsessing over my embarrassment.
I convince myself that my inability to constrain myself is off-putting.
No one wants to be around someone who blurts out the wrong things at all the wrong times, all the time.
No one could ever like someone like me, I’m unbearably irritating!
I’ve tried again, and again, and every time I fail.
I’ll never be loved, no one loves a failure.
ADHD just an excuse for disorganisation and laziness, after all.
I’m just not trying hard enough.

Everyone reassures me that I am loveable.
I’m doing fine and everyone loses their keys.
Everyone has been late to an appointment.
Everyone has walked into a room and forgotten why they’re there.
Everyone has forgotten a birthday.
But, for me, well….

There are 365 — no, 366 — mornings for me to wake up and panic that yesterday was a friend’s birthday.
And I’ve forgotten it again.
And it’s now the third year in a row.

Clearly, CLEARLY I just need to be more organised.
I just need a system.
I just need to remember to set an alarm.
I just need to write it all down — and remember to write it all down.
I just need to remember to bring the notebook along with me.

The word “just” has become the bane of my existence.
I can’t “just” change my biology!

You see, the root of ADHD is not a lack of discipline.
The lack of discipline is a symptom.
ADHD is a lack of dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical in the brain — a rather fundamental one, too.
It’s often called the “reward neurotransmitter” because you get a burst of dopamine when you do something you like.
You’ve been hungry and just eaten something *BURST* Dopamine
You’ve finished washing the dishes that needed to get washed *BURST* Dopamine
You’ve just crossed something off your to-do list *BURST* Dopamine

But it’s also the motivation neurotransmitter — and if we don’t have enough, then we’re not motivated.
It’s almost like the very thought of doing something that will end with a reward gives us a taster of that reward to inspire us to get started —
But I don’t get enough of that reward kicker to get started.
I’m really hungry, but I don’t have enough dopamine to get up and make food. So I’m now hungry AND cross at myself.
But I’m still not cooking.
The dishes are piling up and I know I need to wash them.
I WANT to wash the dishes but I can’t.
I stare at the to-do list….
It’s like my brain is waiting for something, patiently waiting for inspiration.
I think to myself “I should really do this” but I don’t.
Sometimes I luck out and I get a dopamine inspiration hit to do things that I find fun or novel.
But then there’s not enough dopamine to inspire me to do anything else.
That’s where the “attention deficit” term comes from, because we can’t shift our attention to other ‘important’ things.

But I’ve asked around and we ADHDers are pretty amazing when there’s a deadline.
The adrenaline of a quickly-approaching deadline gets us over that motivational hump.
Imagine me at university.
I’ve got a project for class and, if I don’t do it, then I fail the whole degree!
I SWEAR that THIS TIME I’ll get it written early.
I write a vague outline within a day of it being assigned and I do some background reading…
But the weeks go by and I just don’t manage anything else.
And now it’s due in tomorrow. *BURST* HAVE SOME ADRENALINE!
And I get it done! An all-nighter and ten cups of coffee later…

In this way, it affects our sense of time — because either something is NOW or it’s NOT NOW.
If it’s NOT NOW then I don’t need to think about it, so it’s promptly dumped from my mind.
If it’s NOW then adrenaline gets it done or thought about NOW with an insane amount of urgency.
It makes it hard to prioritise things, though.
There’s a bunch of things that need to get done NOW — but they ALL need to get done NOW.
It’s pretty impossible to remember to do preparatory steps in advance for a NOT NOW thing when there are so many NOW things in my brain.

So we rely heavily on workarounds, tricks for our brain, whether or not we take medication to help.
I use checklists and calendars and reminder alarms to make sure I don’t completely forget about NOT NOW things.
I use timers and alarms to simulate urgent deadlines for most tasks in a day.

This speech was prepared by giving myself many artificial deadlines to work towards.
I offered to talk a month ago —
one week to write the speech, one week to practice in the mirror, one week to write the cards, and one week padding because artificial deadlines don’t always do the trick.

Of course, the most important workaround for me is to surround myself with understanding people — and if they don’t understand then I give a talk like this to explain.

ADHD is not just misbehaving children.
It’s a very real disorder which affects people of all ages, in all places, and it’s not a matter of “just” doing something.
When I was a kid I was physically and mentally hyperactive but, like so many female children and most adults with ADHD, I’m not really physically hyperactive.
My mind is still hyperactive, though, wading through a relentless stream of thoughts and feelings that want to be dealt with NOW.
I look like I’m neurotypical but I can assure you that I’m not.

But it’s not all bad.
In the paraphrased words of Winnie the Pooh:
“The gift of being a very forgetful bear is that every day is a new surprise.”

THE WORLD IS ON FIRE

Everyone wants to save the world. We’re doing things like reducing single-use coffee cups by bringing our own travel cup with us, refilling water bottles, washing our laundry at lower temperatures, recycling more and buying less. Everyone is becoming more acutely aware of the problems with plastic straws and carrier bags, being shown pictures regularly of injured sea life and mountains of waste plastics. We’re now also starting to notice the change in the climate, even here in the Northern reaches; summers are hotter, winters are wetter, and there are far more disastrous storms in the news.

There’s a zero waste movement and a buy local movement and a slow fashion movement and a…. lots of movements all addressing the same concern: “The Environment”.

Unfortunately, the more I try to help reduce my negative impact on the planet, the more I learn about problems with what I’m doing.

Having thought about it long and hard, I’ve realised that there’s two separate problems whose solutions are often at odds with each other:
* The Plastics Problem
* The Climate Crisis

I’d heard these terms frequently but hadn’t given much thought to how they’re interrelated.

Consider, if you will:

If I want to reduce my consumption of single-use plastics, I should buy ketchup in a glass bottle instead of a plastic bottle. BUT glass containers are thicker than plastic and glass weighs more than plastic which means that it takes more fuel to transport the same volume of ketchup. I’m reducing my plastics usage but I’m increasing my carbon footprint.

Lots of fruit and veg is packaged in single-use plastic to reduce spoilage which would create methane, a greenhouse gas known to make the climate crisis worse.

If I want to buy not-in-season produce, I could still buy local in an effort to reduce my carbon footprint BUT the carbon footprint of keeping that produce chilled locally to increase its lifespan likely has a higher footprint than shipping it fresh from across the world where it’s currently in-season. [source]

So what are we meant to do about it?

We need to work out the priorities:
1) The climate crisis will result in wholesale destruction of the Earths biomes as they currently exist, rendering extinct vast numbers of species (possibly including mankind).
2) Plastics are injuring vasts numbers of species in all of Earth’s biomes. Ther will likely be some extinction associated with plastics due to the decimations of local populations injured by the plastics.

This leads me to the conclusion that, where packaging-free is not an option, I should choose to use plastic, as it’s helping minimise the climate issues. It feels wrong endorsing the use of plastic but it DOES have its place. I just need to work on reducing my impact with regards to BOTH my plastics consumption AND my climate impact, but focus on lowering my climate impact where I can.

The most important thing that I need to do is consume less. Reduce the amount of everything that we buy, from clothes to veg. “Make Do and Mend” and “Dig for Victory” come to mind.

The long arm of the IRS

I’ve found myself recommending things and sending links to stuff I’ve bought on Amazon A LOT lately — so my other half suggested I look into Amazon affiliate links.

While registering for the Affiliate Program for Amazon UK, I’m asked if I’m American — because, despite being resident in the UK for the last 13 years and paying taxes here, I’m still expected to report all income to the IRS back in the States.

It still baffles me, the long arm of the IRS. Surely it should be INTERNAL and they shouldn’t be bothering me given that I’m now EXTERNAL to the country!?

And now I’m wondering if I ought to bother at all, if it’s going to make filling in my annual US taxes more complicated.

Estimated time of arrival

I’m early to just about everything. It’s compensatory from *knowing* I would be late! I am aware of what time I need to be somewhere, rely on my SatNav to give me a estimate of how long it will take, then give myself an extra 15-30 minutes to get distracted or lost.

My husband does the same but almost absent-mindedly, and he doesn’t require a third party (the SatNav) to tell him how long it’ll take.

I guess it’s like he’s memorised the times tables so he already knows 3*2 is 6 automatically but I’m counting 3 and 3 on my fingers.

When it comes to time, it’s like he processes it without having to consciously note it.

Time blindness sucks.

Slow Fashion

Let’s talk SLOW FASHION!

Everyone has heard of “fast fashion” but I’m sure you’re all familiar with slow fashion, too, if not by that name. Hand-me-downs, secondhand, pre-owned, pre-loved!

Today I went shopping for slow fashion, some retail therapy at the charity shops in the town centre — and I found loads! For £24.20 at three different shops, I got 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of workout bottoms, a dress, a skirt, a jacket, a t-shirt, and 3 kerchiefs (which I am intending to use as gift wrapping). I also collected a parcel of a pre-loved shirt that I bought online!

This is not to say that you can’t buy new to be a part of the slow fashion movement — I also stopped into TKMaxx and picked up 4 pairs of amazing, quality pyjamas that I’ve set aside for my kids for when the weather gets colder and I know they’ll be loved again after my kids have outgrown them!

When I was growing up, we did a lot of shopping at consignment shops and I got a lot of hand-me-downs from cousins. It was frugal for my parents but it gave me the opportunity to play with different styles; to this day, I have such an eclectic mix of things and, despite being in my thirties, I still love “playing dress-up” in the mirror!

Consciously Tidying

It’s no secret that I’m ADHD and I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to work out exactly how to explain it to people.

I was discussing with my husband a couple weeks ago that I’m not naturally tidy. Where he’ll pour water for tea then put the kettle back on the stand without even thinking about it, I have to CONSCIOUSLY put the kettle back on the stand rather than just put it down on the nearest cleared space to the cups. I used to get annoyed that I didn’t know where the kettle was because sometimes it was on a different counter, sometimes only an inch away from the stand. I now make a conscious effort to put it back, sometimes with a few seconds (or minutes) delay as I realise that I’d set it down in the wrong place (again).