Saturday morning has becoming basketball morning for Noah and I. This is his second year signed up in the beginning levels of our local basketball program. He’s always excited to go, and I’m excited to go with him. He’s always enjoyed being active and has been involved in soccer, basketball, and now karate as well. He tells me basketball is his favourite sport though. This came without any real pressure from me but it does make me happy. Growing up I was never involved with sports much. I watched lots of hockey on TV and was into baseball during the early 90’s when the Bluejays were doing really well, but only really played basketball.

Basketball seemed like an unlikely sport for me to play too as when I was growing up I was always the shortest in my class for a long time. Memories also go back to early elementary school where we first started learning basketball in gym class. At first it wasn’t fun because I was terrible. My coordination was way off and I couldn’t even dribble the ball without losing control. I can still recall the frustration of looking around and seeing so much of my class appearing to do so much better. With these things in mind I never ended up trying out for basketball teams or playing in any sort of organized way, but I still played.

At home I turned a section of our yard into my own personal basketball court. It ended up being essentially a piece of plywood with a basketball rim attached. This was somehow connected to a tree in our yard. The lawn in front of it quickly turned into a large dirt patch, or mud depending on the weather. There were tree roots sticking out which made it even harder to dribble than just the packed dirt. Air balls were never any fun as they could roll into the backyard, down the bank, and into the river that was behind our home. It was a race to chase after the ball and catch it before it made it that far.

Our neighbours I’m certain hated me. The sound of a basketball bouncing from early morning to late at night. The sound of it hitting the plywood backboard and shaking against the tree. Though I don’t recall any direct complaints from them, I do remember scoldings from my mother to not be out there so early.

Later on as a teenager I didn’t play much at home anymore. But being out with friends we would often head to the neighbourhood court and play three on three half court games. Not sure how I’m not injured as most of the time I’d play in flat deck shoes, if you can remember them. We would play for hours at a time. In high school when we moved away it didn’t take me a long time to find friends and get us all playing at a near by schools basketball court most of the summers. Looking back it helped me make more friends and kept me busy  so I didn’t get myself into more trouble than I did anyway. It gave me an outlet to let out some of my teenage anger and frustrations.

There was one winter where we didn’t want to stop playing. We ended up making arrangements where a small group of us rented the gym at the town hall one night a week. There were times we ended up getting large groups of people showing up to play with us.

When I first moved and after feeling fairly confident in my skills from playing so much I thought maybe I’d stand a chance to join the high school team. It was a new school, no one knew me, I could break out and be different than the person I was at my last school. First day of try outs I walked into the gym, I didn’t even get my new shoes which were purchased for just this reason. Watching everyone play and run through drills who had obviously been doing it for years showed how little I really knew. Even though I felt comfortable with my skills on the neighbourhood courts, this was a different level and I didn’t fit. I left before even lacing up or talking to anyone.

It excites me now watching Noah play. Having him enjoying it and building the skills and techniques now so that if he does decide to continue on he won’t have the same barrier to entry I did when I finally decided I would give it a try. Who knows maybe he’ll get bored of it in the next while and never want to join his high school or any other team. But he’s having fun now and I want to try to make it something we can do together.

Our yard makes it difficult to find a place to put a net, but if I could find away to have one in our yard when I was a kid, I’m sure I can figure something out now. I can already picture summer time out shooting and practicing together, or looking out my office window and seeing him out there shooting over and over again.

Automattic Dance Party

This Grand Meetup which I just returned from has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. Really my emotions leading up to it, while I was there, then coming home have had me all over the place. Realistically I’m still processing a lot of what I learned, what I’m going to take away, and how I’m going to incorporate these things into my daily life. There was one particular event that after talking to others and reading more thoughts I think really sums up what kind of environment Grand Meetup and Automattic is. That is the Automattic 10th Anniversary Party on the final night.

Honestly after dinner I was really thinking that it was going to be the end of my night. Before the party though I went and had a nice quiet conversation and coffee with a couple of co-workers. After talking with them I gave in and said I’d at least go give it a chance, I am so glad I did.

The party started with different groups of Automatticians taking the stage and rocking it hard. They only played together for a week and kept switching people up after each song. It really blew my mind. We are made up of such talented people in so many ways and this was just one of them. It really turned my mood around listening and watching these folks get up and perform for us. So I grabbed a drink and turned to party mode.

What happened later on still surprises me and shocked my wife, but I actually was up and dancing to our special guests The Jane Doze who flew in to take care of music for us. For many people this isn’t a big deal and something they do all the time, for me I haven’t done it since elementary school. That’s because at my first dance, where I thought I was with friends, I was laughed at and made fun of enough that it caused me to run away crying and leave. Since that time I haven’t danced ever except for a few slow songs which was basically just me moving in circles with someone else.

It would be pretty easy to simply thank the whisky I had been drinking for my new found bravery, but that isn’t it, at least not completely. Over my teenage years there were plenty of times that I was in the position to get up and dance being fully lubricated with alcohol but still didn’t. It also wasn’t only me. There are at least two other accounts that I’ve heard of where people got up and danced and it wasn’t something they normally do. In fact it was one of them who helped convince me to give it a try.

The real reason that I felt comfortable enough to do this was because of the atmosphere of acceptance and friendship I felt from everyone I encountered. It really felt like a safe, fun place to let my guard down. Chances are my dancing skills were every much as bad or worse than that time in grade school, but I never heard anyone laughing or pointing at me. That said, I still hope there isn’t any video evidence, but there very well could be.

Readers of this blog are likely getting sick of hearing me say things like this, but I’m so happy and thankful for the opportunity that I have to work at Automattic and with all the people who make it such a special company. That really starts right from the top with CEO Matt Mullenweg, right down to one of the newest members on my team Alicia Henry and really everyone in between who I was able to meet. So thank you to everyone! I haven’t listed all the names, but that could take me a long time and I don’t want to leave anyone out by mistake.

I’ll end this post with this pitch, if this sounds like the kind of place you want to be a part of, go to our work with us page and contact our obviously super human hiring team.

Remembering Melba Green

Much of my childhood was spent growing up in a trailer park in rural Nova Scotia. It was very much it’s own little community with all kinds of interesting characters, my family included.

One of our neighbors was Melba Green. In many ways she was a stereotypical stay off my lawn kind of seniors. At least I think she was a senior, I don’t think I ever really knew how old she was. For as long as I knew her she never worked and I assume it was old age pension that she lived on, but it very easily could have been a disability benefit.

She was single and I don’t believe she was ever married, she had a brother and sister in law who lived about an hour and a half away but visits between them were seldom.

She was quite overweight and had mobility issues. First using a cane but then eventually required a walker for most distances.

She would spend most of her days sitting watching TV or peering out the window waiting for us to do something that she could yell at us to stop.

When I was about about 12 years old I ended up doing odd jobs for Melba. With her mobility issues she had a hard time doing even simple tasks. One of the first things I started doing for her was grocery shopping.

Once a week we would hop in her old Chevrolet Chevette and drive to the grocery store. She couldn’t reach back to pull the seat belt across so usually she just drove without it. The drivers seat was broken and in fact the whole car leaned to the drivers side. Eventually we started taking a taxi as the car was too old and she really shouldn’t have been driving anyway.

We always drove past three or four stores to get to the one she liked as it was familiar and it had a little dining area where she could sit while I went around the store getting the things on her list.

When I was done I would bring the cart back so she could inspect everything and give me the money to go pay. She had little money so I really had to pay attention to what everything cost to make sure it for the budget.

Once I gained her trust with the grocery shopping she also had me start doing her banking. So we would stop at the bank and she would either sit in a waiting area or stay in the car. She had a different account for every bill so I would deposit her Government cheque and then transfer funds into each of the accounts so the bills could be paid. I would also get envelopes with cash in them for things like groceries and my pay.

House cleaning became another service I would do for her. Dishes, floors, bathrooms, and laundry. Like most of us she had a oil furnace for heat. There was something wrong with it as everything in her home was always covered in a black film of soot coming from it. It was very unhealthy but I knew she couldn’t afford to have it fixed. It was about this time that my feelings for Melba Green changed. It became obvious that my helping her was as much about companionship as it was anything else. I was someone to talk to, a break from obvious loneliness.

Her yelling out the window at us neighbourhood kids came from that boredom and loneliness. Even though she had family fairly close, they had their own lives and her finances made even that distance of travel difficult.
Instead of just going and doing my job I tried to have more conversations with her. We would every once in a while sit and have meals on TV trays while watching soap operas and chatting.
Melba taught me a number of things and looking back I can see them even more clearly. Not just the practical life skills but also perspective.

There are reasons people are how they are and it’s important to have empathy and try to see things from their perspective.

When she finally was moved to a nursing home I was happy for her. She wasn’t someone I worked for now, or the cranky old lady across the street, but a sort of friend. The environment was going to be much healthier without oil soot in the air. The food would be healthier and there would be people closer to her age for companionship.

Once she moved we only visited her a couple times, but she seemed so much happier and even started losing weight.
We lost touch when my family moved away as well, but I hope she knew that she had an effect on my life and I believe I’m a bit better of a person for having known her.

Raspberry Time Travel

There are not many things in this world that can immediately send me to another time and place. For some it is a song or a smell, but for me, just sometimes, when I place a freshly picked raspberry in my mouth my mind is flooded with memories from the past.

All of a sudden I’m a little boy again, parked in one of the rows of my Grandparents garden. The tall raspberry bushes hiding me from anyone who isn’t in my row. Allowing me to pick raspberry after raspberry until I could eat no more. There are few places which hold a sentimental place in my heart, usually that is reserved for people, but my Grandparents home will always be a special place to me.

We lived only a few hours away, but only visited a few times a year. Going to visit them was our family vacations and was something we all looked forward to. Their yard seemed like the biggest property I’d ever seen and was always kept neat and tidy. While we were there we were free to run and play anywhere on this grand estate. Maybe it was because I was young and small or maybe it was because we lived in a mobile home on a postage stamp sized lot. Whatever the case their yard was massive and I loved having the run of it.

Aerial view of my Grandparents home 1960.
Aerial view of my Grandparents home 1960.

The property ran from the main road all the way back to a beautiful river. On one side there was a farmers field on the other side a row of trees separated their yard from the neighbours. Along the fence between their yard and the farmers field there was a gooseberry bush. It still to this day is the only one I can recall ever seeing. It grew wild but the berries were a delightful sour. This reminds me that I should try to find a bush to plant in my own yard.

In the far left corner, close to the river, was an old shed which years ago was used for housing animals. It was since converted over to a kids play house. The toys still in there were from my Mothers generation and earlier so they seemed old to us but still fun to play with. The windows had curtains in them and besides the main door there was a small sliding door that was used to let the animals in and out, but if you could fit it made for a sneaky exit as well.

In the far right corner the neighbours had a small fish pond which they kept fully stocked. If you got close the fish would all start jumping looking for food. On occasion we would be able to help throw pellets to them and watch the scramble as the water erupted with what seemed like thousands of fish all trying to get the food.

Another place which was great to sit and relax was the two seat wooden glider swing. It didn’t matter if I was by myself or if we loaded both sides full of people, I could sit there and swing back and forth and let the time float by. As I got older I would sit out there reading and swinging.

If I decided to take a break from the swing there was a tree in between it and the house which was excellent for climbing. I recall sitting up there, out of sight, and spying on people coming in and out of the house without them ever knowing I was there.

My Grandmothers pride and joy, and my favourite place on their property, was her garden. To me it seemed like she could have fed the whole neighbourhood based on its size and everything growing in it. Apparently by the time I was around it had already shrunk in size compared to what it used to be.

She seemed to grow everything and there was nothing better than a meal from things that came out of her garden. Nothing except maybe just standing in the garden and eating peas right out of the pod, or beans freshly picked. My favourite though was certainly the raspberries.

My Grandfather past away while I was still quite young but my Grandmother stayed in the home almost until she past away in 2007.

Walking the property one last time before it was sold, it no longer seemed to be as big as it once did, but the memories were still there and always will be. Now I look forward to the times when that simple act of putting a berry in my mouth can transport me back to that yard.