Communicating with my Hands

While at lunch with a friend recently, he pointed out that I tend to be very deliberate in my hand movements when I talk.  He suspected that I know some sign language.  He isn’t far off with that.

Learning Sign Language

When I was very young, I had a cousin who was a few years younger than me who had Down’s Syndrome.  I can remember Maureen quite well – very much a happy little girl, ornery too!  She knew a few signs, and there’s one to this day that makes me think of her – the sign for “cookie”.

Because of her, I was intrigued by sign language.  My Girl Scout handbook  had the sign language alphabet, and since I loved reading and spelling, I picked up the letters to get by, in case I couldn’t pick up other signs.

1986 Junior Girl Scout Handbook

In high school, I had the privilege to be a camp counselor at a summer camp that included people with disabilities.  One of my fellow counselors was deaf, and he helped me learn a few more signs.  I can get out a “sorry“, “thank you“, and “my name is…” confidently.

So I have a handful of phrases and an alphabet at my disposal whenever I truly need to use signs.

Using Sign Language

I never realized though how much I trusted my signing abilities until one day, while shopping at Marc’s, I noticed a deaf gentleman walk in, signing with someone else as they were crossing paths.  While I was waiting in line to check out, I noticed him towards the back of the line.  The cashier had stepped away to get change for her drawer, and the gentleman was noticeably frustrated – he didn’t know what was the hold up but he also didn’t have his friend with him to help translate.  Standing towards the back of the line, there weren’t people ahead facing him that he could lip read. I caught his attention and then signed c-h-a-n-g-e.  He perked up – someone could possibly understand him!  He was patient with my finger spelling and was thankful that I was able to tell him what was going on.  When I left the store, I realized that I used this skill when needed without hesitation and with confidence.

Using my Hands in General

Most of my gestures are more supporting roles than actual sign language signs.  One of the most common gestures I do is like squeezing an invisible ball. That gesture comes out if I’m wrapping my head around a concept while fighting a headache or some other distraction.  I also tend to gesture for tracking lists and reaching out to a crowd.  This video from my presentation at Strangeloop 2013 – on stage in front of about 600 people at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, MO – really captured how I use my hands in presentations.  It didn’t help that my voice was strained that day from early symptoms of viral laryngitis – by the end of the talk, my voice was showing that it was on its way out.  When I know I’m getting quieter, I tend to rely on my hands to help convey my message.

So if you talk with me and see my hands in motion, they’re typically there as support for whatever point I’m trying to make.

Adventures at Cleveland GiveCamp 2012

This past weekend, I had the fun experience of participating in Cleveland GiveCamp.  This was my 5th GiveCamp overall, 3rd in Cleveland, and 2nd as a project manager.

Why I Love Cleveland GiveCamp

Growing up, my parents raised me to put my skills to work and help others when I can.  Besides being able to put my developer skills to use, I can also take advantage of my abilities to translate tech into plain English by taking on a project manager role, which I enjoy a lot more than developing because it has me dealing with the client more.  While I like writing code, I get more satisfaction in knowing that the big picture is taken care of and that the client’s needs are getting met.  What I love most about Cleveland GiveCamp is that it’s here in Cleveland, my hometown.  It takes place both on a boat and in an airport – no other GiveCamp can claim that.  (Special thanks to LeanDog and Burke Lakefront Airport for giving us space to work.)  The last thing I truly love seeing is that the non-profits here are extremely appreciative of the work and some come back and pay it forward.

Paying It Forward

I have to admit it – I love when previous years’ non-profit representatives come back and volunteer at GiveCamp.  In 2011, we had Sherrie Zagorc from Kiddie City (my project from 2010) helping with the food.  This year, we had three different non-profits from last year come help this year – Tim Smith of Community Greenhouse Partners and Kathy & Rich Wickens of Euclid Beach Park Now and Cleveland’s Euclid Beach Carousel Society.  For non-profit reps to  come back and help out – this is a great thing!  It’s good to see that they not only appreciate the work that was done for them while at the GiveCamp but they remember what was done and come out a year later to again show their appreciation.  I love that they come back like that!

My Team – New Avenues to Independence/Buckeye Industries

I had the privilege of being the project manager for 1 project this year – Buckeye Industries, a business enterprise of New Avenues to Independence, Inc.  They needed a website and were on a Microsoft-based host.

After getting our team together on Friday, we talked about what was out there.  I had recommended that the team get WebMatrix to see what options are out there.  We originally were considering either mojoPortal or Orchard, as that’s what a couple of us on the team were familiar with.  However, since we needed to set up a storefront and wanted something easy to work with, we ended up using DotNetNuke with the NBStore module.  We also used the helferlein_Form extension for creating contact forms.  I’ll update this post with our final site once DNS propagates.  Special thanks to Joe Brinkman for getting us set up with Applied Innovations hosting.  Here’s our team:


Buckeye Industries - Cleveland GiveCamp 2012

Etsuko Dunham, Ryan Marinoff, Karen Knavel (our non-profit contact), me, Matt Lucas, and Toby MacKenzie

This team worked really hard and put together an amazing site over the weekend!  I’m proud to have worked with such a talented team!

The Recap Video

Once again, my awesome husband Kevin volunteered at GiveCamp and took pictures.  You can see most of his pictures on the Cleveland GiveCamp Facebook page.  He also created another recap video.  Check it out:

If the video doesn’t appear above, check it out on YouTube.


I had a wonderful time at GiveCamp this weekend – working with a talented team and helping such a wonderful non-profit.  While it’s an exhausting weekend, it was also quite enjoyable!  I look forward to Cleveland GiveCamp 2013!

Video Games Retro Flashback

Yesterday, on Twitter, I mentioned that my baby brother was complaining about Wiz Khalifa using a Chrono Trigger song as his background for “Never Been (Part 2)”.  Then, someone asked what Chrono Trigger was, and that inspired this post.  These are some of my favorite video games from my past.

Chrono Trigger (SNES)

File:Chrono Trigger.jpg

How many times did my brothers & sister ask me to save my game so that they could take their turns with the Super Nintendo?  I definitely lost count, as I spent many hours playing as Chrono and friends, travelling through time to meet various characters in the timeline of present, past, and future, solving their problems and defeating the evil Lavos at the end.  The game itself has over 13 different endings.  The soundtrack is great, one I enjoy listening to even to this day.  At the end of the day, Squaresoft put out a great RPG, which took up plenty of my time when I was younger.  You can read more about Chrono Trigger on Wikipedia.

Dragon Warrior IV (NES)

Dragon Warrior IV Box

Before Chrono Trigger, Dragon Warrior IV was my RPG of choice.  Walking between towns, defeating slimes, Ragnar had to save the kingdom of Burland.  This was a 5 chapter RPG, part of the Dragon Quest series. 

Burger Time (Intellivision)

BurgerTime Intellivision Title screen

This was probably my first video game addiction.  Yes, I know I was only 2 years old at that copyright date.  However, my dad got me into console gaming at a very young age.  He taught me other games on Intellivision, but BurgerTime! was my favorite hands down.  Apparently, I liked making hamburgers while avoiding evil eggs, sausages, and pickles!

Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Super Mario Bros. box.png

When I was old enough to play console games without Dad’s help, I fell for the Super Mario Brothers series.  While I didn’t like Super Mario 2 (as it didn’t seem to follow the original Super Mario), I did enjoy Super Mario 3 and a bunch of other Mario games while I could.  From NES to SNES to N64, I enjoyed a variety of Mario games.  I loved playing Mario and trying to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser (King of the Koopas), defeating Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and various baddies along the way.

My love for Mario Brothers games still sits with me today.  When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to do a Super Mario Brothers themed nursery.  And boy was I thrilled when my husband agreed to it!  Below is a sneak peek of some of the Marios in the nursery:



These are a tiny glimpse of the games I used to play.  Mind you, RPGs and  puzzles are my favorites, but I also played other games as well, especially sports games like Double Dribble, Arch Rivals, Blades of Steel, and Tecmo Bowl.  I’ve definitely been a gamer of some sort for most of my life, feeding into my competitive nature.  Don’t be surprised if a random video game reference makes an appearance; you never know which game I’ll reference next!