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PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions

PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions About the Good Life

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Life often feels like a maze. An English major with no business expertise, Meryl Natchez started as a technical writer in the early 1980s. Thirty years later, by a series of unexpected turns, she transformed her company, TechProse, from a one-woman technical writing and training enterprise into a $17 million change management consulting firm.

Then looking for a path to retirement, she used the profits of the company to sell it to her employees over five years. Now she has the luxury of channeling her creative energy and passion into Dactyls & Drakes, (http://www.dactyls-and-drakes.com/ )an eclectic mix of the literary, culinary and horticultural.  Each day, Meryl shares her adventures in “labyrinthine” living (including an herb and flower labyrinth in her front yard) and takes readers on a journey through poetry, literature and unexpected new pastimes that include beekeeping. And of course, there’s food (look for her fresh pea soup recipe – it’s divine). We checked in with Meryl to learn more:

ANNB: Tell us a little about the labyrinthine life.
MN: For so long, my time was completely taken up with the many obligations of family and work—what Nietzsche calls “the camel years.” Now I wake up each morning to whatever the day has to offer—I have time to read, to think, to play. Each day is an adventure.

ANNB: How did you come up with the idea to create Dactyls & Drakes?
MN: As I retired, I was able to devote some serious time and energy to writing poetry. I’ve published two books, but sending out my poems to magazines I don’t read seemed too much like what I had done to promote my business and I was so done with that. I decided to create something for the sole purpose of pleasing myself. If others enjoy it, so much the better.

ANNB: You’ve been writing your whole life and spent the last 30 years writing for business. Has it been difficult to switch gears from a writing perspective?
MN: No. I’ve always felt that technical writing was like the compulsory skating exercises in the Olympics. You have to be able to do the perfect figure eight before you do the free skate. I’ve done and redone my figure eights; now I am glorying in the free skate.

ANNB: Tell us about your poetry and prose writing styles and what influences the way you write.
MN: As a technical writer, I had to learn to be brief, to cut to the essential. All the marvelous poets I read, alive and dead, influence me every day, and not just my writing. I talk about this in the blog section “Poems by heart.”

ANNB: How are poetry and prose relevant to everyday life?
MN: Literature helps me articulate the swirl of confusion that arises from my daily confrontation with life. Being able to express a feeling helps chart a path that makes sense, helps navigate a course through the confusion with few regrets.

ANNB: How do you envision readers using your blog?
MN:  I don’t think much about this. Paul Celan said that poems can be like a message in a bottle. It’s like that for me—I just fill the bottle of the blog with whatever is meaningful to me at the moment. I guess my hope is that it will bump up against someone who will enjoy what’s in there. Maybe they’ll go to the library to look for one of the poets whose work I sample or make roasted garlic and cauliflower soup or plant peas on the patio.

ANNB: Can you recommend a few poets or books that can help people get into poetry and prose?
MN: Robert Hass published two books of his weekly newspaper column on poetry: Poet’s Choice, and Now and Then. These contain poems, but also some context and explanation. I’ve used his approach as a model for the poems I put on the blog. Edward Hirsch also published a book with the same title, Poet’s Choice, along the same lines. For someone who’s never read poetry at all, his book How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry might be a good start. For literature, I’d recommend starting with short stories. Tobias Wolff, Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories, and Julie Orringer, How to Breathe Under Water, are two excellent ones currently in print.

ANNB: How are the bees doing? Tell us about your new experiences with beekeeping.
MN: Bees take care of themselves; they only need a home. The Haengekorb, I call it the bee egg, came to me by surprise—I hadn’t planned on bees. The whole story, complete with cow manure, is in my blog.

ANNB: Who is Larry?
MN: I’ve been trying to figure that out for the almost 42 years we’ve been living together.

ANNB: What’s for dinner tonight? Do you have a recipe to share?
MN: Last night, rabbit stew. Tonight—not sure. I have some beautiful tiny eggplants, fresh spring onions, and tomatoes from the farmer’s market. I will probably scoop out the eggplants, sauté the pulp with onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh oregano and basil, and bake them with a little parmesan on top. In my refrigerator right now there are lamb bacon and goat stew meat to sample later this week—I’m sure that will go onto the blog.--GG

Last Updated (Wednesday, 06 July 2011 21:49)


PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions With Yosemite Author

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UPDATE: Johanson will sign books from 1 to 2 p.m. Sat. June 4 at the Castro Valley Library, 3600 Norbridge Ave. in Castro Valley.

Summer is coming and that means vacation. Yosemite is a favorite place of many Bay Area folks, including high school teacher Matt Johanson, who wrote "Yosemite Epics: Tales of Adventure from America's Greatest Playground."  Twenty five well-known Sierra Adventurers share some of the most exciting and scariest true stories from their escapades.  Johanson interviewed these outdoor adventure icons about their most exciting and challenging trials in Yosemite National Park and elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada, then crafted these suspenseful tales in the adventurers' own words. All the stories are original and previously unpublished, and unlike some adventures, all have happy endings---nobody dies.

Here is more:

ANNB: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing?

MJ: I liked writing for my high school newspaper so I pursued it in college and beyond. I enjoy the opportunities it provides to travel and meet interesting people. Now that I teach high school journalism and social studies for a living, I limit my writing to assignments that sound fun.

ANNB:What is your earliest memory of Yosemite National Park?

MJ: I visited with my family when I was young but the first trip I remember was shortly after I finished college. I was working at a nearby newspaper and drove in to visit a friend who worked there. The beauty of the peaks, the granite walls and the waterfalls astounded me. I learned how to climb that year and became hooked for life.

ANNB: What is your favorite memory of Yosemite?

MJ: That’s hard because I have lots of good ones, but I’d have to say the trans-Sierra ski trek I completed with two good friends in 2002. We skied 35 miles from Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley over five perfect days in April. The snow-covered high country was exquisite and almost totally deserted. We had the mountains all to ourselves and felt like kings of the world. 

ANNB: By our count, there are about two dozen "tales of adventure" in your book. How did you go about deciding which to include?

MJ: I looked for stories that reflect the spirit of adventure and also that ended more or less successfully. I didn’t want any rescues or tragedies. I also tried to highlight the lessons learned to make the stories instructive to readers. Finally, I stayed away from well-known stories that were already published elsewhere because I wanted the book to be fresh and original.

ANNB: What advice do you have for someone who has never been to Yosemite?

MJ: Go! There’s no better place to enjoy the outdoors and almost no bad time to visit.

ANNB: What advice do you have for someone who has been to Yosemite, but wants to see something off the beaten track?

Almost all visitors go to the valley, which is incredible, but there’s quite a bit more to the park than that. I’d suggest visiting Tuolumne Meadows and coming in the off-season, which is anytime except summer. No matter when they visit, people can almost always separate themselves from the valley crowds by picking a trail and hiking a short distance.

ANNB: Was there one "tale" in your book that really blew your mind when you first read it?

MJ: Quite a few! If I had to pick one, it would be Noah Kaufman’s story, “Miracle.” His climbing partner fell and snapped his rope halfway up El Capitan. By all rights, he should have died, but miraculously he landed on a ledge unharmed. That alone would be a fascinating story, and Noah’s perspective on what the experience taught him make it even better. 

ANNB: What is the most adventurous thing you have done in the park?

MJ: Compared to the stories in the book, my adventures are small time. I’ve spent a few cold nights on rock ledges without a jacket or sleeping bag. I was part of a group that had a hard night out in the snow without a tent or much overnight gear. But those were all accidents. My best adventure that went to plan was climbing the East Buttress of El Capitan. That was thrilling and a good achievement for a climber in my league.

ANNB: You have written other books. Tell us a little about them.
MJ: The first was “Giants, Where Have You Gone?” I did it with an old college friend, Wylie Wong. It’s a collection of “where are they now” stories about old San Francisco Giants players who did interesting things after retiring from baseball. The second is “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants,” a collection of players’ favorite games and team highlights.

ANNB: What's next for you?
MJ: As the Giants won the World Series, I’m updating “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” to include the 2010 season. The new edition will come out this fall. After that, I hope to write another book but haven’t decided what about yet. It may be on the Giants or Yosemite or maybe on something else entirely. --KB

To learn more or buy the book, go to www.yosemitebook.com.


Last Updated (Wednesday, 11 May 2011 21:18)


PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions with LuvemOrleavem.com Advice Maven

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Looking for love? Need some advice? Maybe the website luvemOrleavem.com can help you. We have an interview with Tina Tobin, AKA Advice Maven, a relationship writer, blogger and the real live person behind LuvemOrLeavem.com,  a site where women can get advice, give advice and have fun. Here it is:  

ANNB: What is the history of Luvemorleavem.com? How did you get started with the site?

TT: Because my husband’s job has moved us all over the country, I wanted to start a business that was portable.  I knew I wanted to create a website long before I knew exactly what type of site I would launch.  The longer I’m married, the more I find that friends and acquaintances have asked for relationship advice, so I decided that the site could be centered around relationships.  Most of the relationship problems that women posed to me were about whether they should stay in their relationships or move on.  I decided that focusing on women who were at this crossroads between choosing whether to love or leave the man in their lives would be my niche within relationships.

ANNB: Tell us why you think the site works? 

TT: I think that we have a nice balance between our users having the benefit of getting advice from our entire community of women as well as being able to connect with me directly though our relationship blog and our video blog.  Many sites either offer the chance to get advice from a community at large or to get advice only from the person who is running the site.  I love the being able to offer women the chance to connect both on a community level and on a personal level within the same site.

 ANNB: What are some of the more common questions/situations? 

TT: By far, the most common question that we receive can be summed up as “Will he ever marry me?”  There are many women out there that have been dating their boyfriend for years and years.  They’ve invested so much time and energy into the relationship, that they don’t want to leave, yet they suspect that the relationship will never result in marriage.  We’ve received so many  stories and comments about these men who won’t marry their long term girlfriends, that I’ve been able to pull out certain trends among these stories that I’ve shared on the LuvemOrLeavem blog, like “5 Signs That He Doesn’t Plan To Marry You.”  We receive so many comments from women who read these posts and tell us that they see their own situation described in what I’ve written, so it’s nice to be able to reach out to the women who may not have posted a “Love Dilemma” but are still seeking some guidance.

 ANNB: What is one really unique question or situation you've come across?

TT: One dilemma that has really stayed with me we received from a woman who was engaged and went to get a prong fixed on her ring only to be informed by the jeweler that the diamond was a fake.  Aside from total embarrassment, it also left her wondering what else in their relationship was fake.  Our voters voted 80 percent “Leave."  We didn’t receive an update from her, so I’m not sure what her final decision was. One thing that I have learned about “unusual” questions is that many times once they are posted the floodgates are open and we discover that there are many more women in this situation than we would have guessed.  Many women are embarrassed to admit certain things about their relationship even when they are posting anonymously, but once someone has the guts to post their dilemma they realize that they are not alone and everyone starts posting.

 ANNB: Are there questions/situations that censored or removed?

TT: The only questions that I have had to remove were posted by a cyber stalker that hounded us non stop for about 2 days before getting bored.  After that we put in additional filters and controls to keep these kinds of posts from getting through.  Aside from that, I am always very impressed by how well people stick to our posting guidelines.

  ANNB: Tell us a little about yourself?

TT: In December I celebrated my seventeenth wedding anniversary.  My husband and I have two boys ages 12 and 13.  My husband’s job has relocated all across the U.S. and in the years we’ve been married we’ve lived in 5 different states. My background as an undergrad is in communications, which I guess is why I enjoy writing blogs and articles so much.  My MBA is in marketing with quite a bit of statistics, so I think that why I’m always looking for trends and patterns across the love dilemmas on my site.  The main thing that I do try to let other women know is that I started LuvemOrLeavem when I turned 40, after staying home with my boys for 10 years.  I always try to find time for stay at home moms who are hoping to start working again by starting a web based business.  Many of them are in their 30’s and tell me that they fear they are “too old” to start something new, so they like hearing that I got a late start at being an entrepreneur.

 ANNB: Do you have some really active users who give good advice all the time? 

TT: We have quite a few users who give good advice all the time, but I should note that nobody can give good advice about every topic.  I notice that our users will often give advice on one dilemma and then skip over many other questions before posting advice on a question that they are comfortable answering.

ANNB: Do you have some really active users who miss the mark a lot? 

TT: I really can’t think of any regulars who miss the mark.  They really do put an awful lot of time into not only answering, but in finding dilemmas that they feel that they can contribute to in a meaningful way.

ANNB:  What kind of feedback do you get from people who post their questions? 

TT: I love when we get feedback.  Sometimes women will tell us exactly how they handled their situation, and some will even post a new dilemma with the updated status of what has happened since they posted last.  One of the most common types of feedback that we get is from women who say that they answers they received reflected what they already knew in their heart, but that they felt validated by hearing that other women agreed with them. One thing that we are working on as an upgrade is to have dilemmas and updates on those dilemmas consolidated together so that users can follow the status even if the update includes posting an additional dilemma for that same situation.

 ANNB: Who should use luvemorleavem? 

TT: We have 2 main categories of users.  First, the women who post dilemmas and are looking for advice from other women but do not want to share the details of their problem with their friends and family. Second, are all the women who love advice columns and read the answers while thinking “I could give advice like that.”  We’ve received a lot of feedback from women who grew up reading Dear Abby, and they love having a chance to be “Abby.” --KB


Last Updated (Tuesday, 15 February 2011 05:06)


PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions With Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus Authors

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We recently checked in with authors Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill, who are from two different generations, but got together and wrote "Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees." Here is what they had to say:

1. ANNB: Tell us how you got the idea to write "Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus"?
It was actually very serendipitous. Ken wrote a 1,500-word article for a trade publicaion on how to prepare your workplace for the Boomer exodus. When it was published he sent it to a former colleague in book publishing, who in turn sent it to a fellow acquisitions editor at Cengage. It was pretty amazing. The Cengage editor got in touch with Ken and asked him if he would consider writing a book on the topic. We decided to join forces.

2. ANNB: Who is this book for? This book is for leaders, managers and supervisors who want to retain knowledge in their workplaces. While the book’s title makes it sound as if it’s all about Boomers getting away, in reality, people of all ages regularly transition out of jobs and leave the workplace. When they do, whether they are Boomers or Gen X or Gen Y, they take their knowledge with them. Managers that build a knowledge culture in their workplace – where knowledge is freely shared – find they can maintain continuity when employees start moving around. 

3. ANNB: Let's hear a little about the authors. Gina is a San Francisco native and went to journalism school at San Francisco State and U.C. Berkeley. I’ve been writing about anything and everything for the last 10 years. I covered business and that’s where I first heard about the problem companies could face if a large number of experienced workers left the workplace all at once.

Ken became interested in the subject of Baby Boomers a few years ago when I, a Boomer, started to follow stories about how Boomers are changing their headlong march into “graying” in a profoundly different way from preceding generations. The interest in knowledge capture and transfer came out of some of the disciplines at TechProse, the consulting firm, where Gina and I are employee owners. Initial research confirmed that many companies, while perhaps recognizing that a portion of their staff could be leaving due to retirement over the next few years, were not taking proactive steps to be creative about retaining key talent or ensuring that valuable corporate knowledge would not walk out the door with them.

4. ANNB: How do you envision companies using this book? Ken and I wanted to create something that is very practical, with plenty of examples, tips and templates readers could use, and I think we’ve done that. I think companies can benefit from this book on many different levels. If they’re looking for a process, or if they want examples of how other companies have designed their knowledge retention programs, they will find it here. There’s also a discussion on how the generations are distinct and what we all have in common. You can read this book from cover-to-cover or start with the chapter that addresses your  issue.

5. ANNB: Does the book apply to all industries? When you consider that knowledge transfer happens in all industries, yes. But there are some industries that may feel the pain to a greater degree – utilities, oil and gas, manufacturing, education, and health care are good examples. Each of these industries employs a high percentage of Boomer workers – some have been working at their jobs for years and have a tremendous amount of knowledge that keeps the business moving forward. Sometimes, losing just one key employee to retirement or job change can be problematic to a company.

6. ANNB: What was the greatest challenge in writing the book? Having enough time! I thought about the book, researched, interviewed and worked on the chapters night and day for nine months straight. Once we got the go-ahead from the publisher, we didn’t stop until we were finished.

7. ANNB: How did you know you had a market for this book? We figured that with 76 million Boomers moving toward retirement age, plenty of organizations would be thinking about how to hang on to their expertise and knowledge. We also heard stories of managers who had to call retired workers back to help them keep the business running. And, Bureau of Labor Statistics data can be a real eye-opener. Boomers have a big presence in just about every part of the business world.

8. ANNB: What do you expect will be the biggest/most important/greatest thing readers will learn from this book? Transferring knowledge takes time. I was involved in a knowledge transfer project when I first arrived at TechProse nearly four years ago. Meryl Natchez, the company’s founder and CEO was retiring and needed someone to take over writing responsibilities. It took me nearly 18 months to learn everything Meryl had to teach me and demonstrate that I could do the work on my own.

9. ANNB: What's your next project? I’m superstitious. If I talk about it I’ll jinx it.

10. ANNB: Any parting thoughts? Enjoy the book! It’s an easy read with lots of examples, so dig in and use your imagination in your own workplace. --KB

Last Updated (Tuesday, 08 February 2011 19:34)


PostHeaderIcon Ironman has Tips for a Fit New Year

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This story orginally ran last March but bears another run as we head into 2011 and New Year's Resolutions, especially those that involve losing weight and getting in shape. Enjoy!  

If you want to get back outside and need a little motivation, check out the Forward Motion Race Club in Danville. We talked with president Chris McCrary and found out 10 things you need to know about the club and its prez.

ANNB: You are the president of the Forward Motion Race Club, tell us about your athletic background.
CM: I grew up participating in the usual sports - basketball, baseball, football. I did ski racing (giant slalom and slalom) my first few years in college and also took up mountain biking, which was the spring board for me in to cycling, running and all things multisport. Now I focus most of my time on the sport of triathlon, running and cycling but recently got back in to mountain bike racing and absolutely love it.

ANNB: What is your proudest athletic accomplishment?
CM: That's a difficult question to answer but most recently I would say it was Ironman Canada in 2005. It was only my second Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run)  but (finished in) 10 hours, 24 minutes and pulled myself out of some very "dark" places during the marathon portion of the race. I went out way too fast and paid dearly at mile 19 on the run. I recovered and still finished around the top 100 out of 2,500 participants. I was racing with many of my closest friends which also made it a memorable experience for me.

ANNB: How and when did the Forward Motion Race Club (FMRC) start?
CM: The Forward Motion Race Club of today looks much different than it did 10 years ago. Marty Breen, the owner of Forward Motion Sports initially started a "race club" but there were only a handful of members, no official leadership or board of directors and no by-laws. When I first got exposed to the FMRC I knew it could be something so much more than what it was - it just needed someone to take the initiative to drive it. That was back in 2000/2001. Ten years later we're approaching 300 members and we're a well-oiled running, biking, swimming machine.

ANNB: Isn't there a Wednesday Night Run at Forward Motion Sports in Danville? What's that
all about? Is it connected to the club?
CM: Marty Breen has been hosting a group run on Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. at Forward Motion Sports for more than 15 years. It is the longest running, consistent organized group run in the nation - we run rain or shine - every Wednesday night of the year. The run is not formerly affiliated with the race club but as you can imagine we have lots of our members who make it to the run every single week. Marty is the main sponsor of the race club so they kind of go hand in hand.

ANNB: Why should someone join the FMRC?
CM: There are so many runners and triathletes out there who train alone. Our goal is to create a welcoming environment for every skill level, every age group - no matter if you are a runner or a triathlete. We've got group training opportunities throughout the week that people can get involved with and enjoy the company of others - again we have beginners to ex-olympians on our team so everyone is welcome.

ANNB: What do people who are in the club like most about it?
CM: Just having other people with similar interests and goals makes FMRC appealing to our members. We train together, we race together and we enjoy sharing our cummulative knowledge with others who are just starting out. The weekly group training and the social events are also appealing to our members.

ANNB: What's been the growth of the club since it started?
CM: Back in the late 90's there was literally only about 20-30 people who would call themselves "race club members." That number has grown by about 100 percent.
ANNB: I'm just a 10-minute a mile runner, a decent biker and fair
swimmer. Can I still join the FMRC ?
CM: ABSOLUTELY! As I mentioned previously, we are a club for everyone regardless of your athletic ability or age. Last year we started our "newbie tri group" and successfully lead 18 members through triathlon training and completion of their first triathlon. Some of those members had never swam or biked before. It was a highlight of our year and really showed what FMRC is all about - giving back.

ANNB: What is the average age of club members and do they come from all
over the East Bay?
CM: We've never done a survey but I would guess that our average age is mid 30's. Our members come from all corners of the East Bay - from Martinez down south to Livermore and Pleasanton. But in general, I'd say that the majority of our membership resides somewhere between Pleasant Hill and Pleasanton - up and down the 680 corridor.

ANNB: How much does it cost and what kinds of discounts do I get after I join ?
CM: Membership is only $60 per year. The discounts you get are incredible. The biggest one being 15 percent off at Forward Motion Sports. We also have a sponsorship with Avia shoes - so if a member joins, buys a pair of Avia shoes at Forward Motion, they receive a free cycling/running jacket and gloves or vest and arm warmers. You also get a $5 in store race credit for every race you do throughout the year. We have many other sponsors that provide team members with discounts like Livermore Cyclery in Dublin and Livermore.--KB

Last Updated (Monday, 03 January 2011 23:52)

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