Thursday, December 22, 2016

I'm getting too old for this...

I am beginning to see a theme on this blog. As I start to feel my age I am surprised by how surprised I am to experience the side effects of old age. I mentioned not so long ago (here), that I knew from observation what it was like to grow old, but I expected some sort of a flag that would signal to me that I am now old and should stop doing things that were perfectly manageable 30 years, or even 20 years, ago.

Recently I was very excited to sign up for a program that my employer offers every year coming up to Christmas. Santa's helpers. Our facilities become horribly busy and those of us in the office, particularly in engineering, are not so busy; so we can volunteer to help out at our local facility.

The newest facility in San Marcos is enormous. This photo taken before it was completed, gives a good idea of the size.

Thursday morning I set off at a ridiculously early hour; as is my normal habit no matter where I am going. Get ahead of the traffic and do not be late. That is my mantra. It was a seventy mile drive ten days before Christmas. Of course, I was going to give myself lots of time (I always do).

I left home at 6.30 a.m. and took the longer, less busy route. Traffic was heavy but not so heavy that it couldn't keep up a steady eighty miles per hour. Fifty miles of that, in the dark, was not fun. But I got to my destination safely and an hour early. As I waited for the rest of the team to arrive I had an opportunity to watch the facility at work.

Once my colleagues arrived we were given basic safety training, a tour of the facility and deposited on the loading dock. We were going to help load trucks. For some reason, I had expected to be doing something gentile, if somewhat boring, like Christmas wrapping. No, I was loading packages on to trucks. Seriously BIG containers approximately 40ft long x 8ft wide x 8ft 6in high, like this one:

Because I am not sure how much I can or cannot say about the inner workings of the facility, all I will say is that myself and one other of my fellow office workers spent the day with one of the facility workers. He showed us the correct way to stack packages to fit the most in, in the fastest possible time. Let me tell you, it was some sort of a workout! One thing for sure, I will be a lot more tolerant if I have a delayed delivery ever again.

Between the lifting and loading, and all the walking around that huge facility just to get anywhere, I was shattered by the end of the day. And before I could get to the end of the day I had that crazy long drive home.

The following day I was stiff and sore all over. I made a mental note to be very careful about volunteering in the future. On the other hand, I did have a feeling of satisfaction at a job very well done, despite my great age and I really did enjoy it. As I said goodbye to the nineteen year old facility worker who had so patiently tolerated my help, he told me that I was a very hard worker.

Someone please remind me, next time I think of doing something like this, I am no longer young. In fact, I am most definitely old - I will raise that flag myself, just as soon as my muscles stop aching.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

No Baggage Please

I came across this article and it started me thinking about the emotional baggage we all carry for varying reasons.

If you read my book, you will know that I was part of the online dating scene for a number of years. One of the things that I did pause and wonder about when reading the profiles and their requirements in a potential mate, was "no baggage please", this appeared over and over again.  As far as I am concerned, if you are on a dating website, you already have baggage. No one ends up there without having gone through some life experiences; most of which will have left bruises and scars - a.k.a baggage. So, how dare anyone set such a requirement? In fact, if you managed to reach adulthood, even if you are not on a dating website, you probably have some baggage.

Yes, I do agree that we should take steps to unpack our bags and try to travel light. Easier said than done. I think the important first step is to recognized that you have baggage, figure out why and be open about it, at least with those you are close to.

You will have baggage if you:
  • were raised in a strict home, as the article I mentioned above states.
  • were raised in a home where physical abuse was the norm.
  • were raised in a home where no one cared what you did, neglect.
  • have been married and divorced, no matter how 'easy' the break up was, there will be baggage to carry away from that experience.
  • have suffered abused of any sort, either as a child or an adult.
Even if you had a perfect family life growing up, there is a very good chance that school was not perfect. Either teaching staff or fellow students may have caused problems. I know that my school days were only slightly less traumatic than my home life as a child.

The common belief is that if you forgive and forget, you will let go and therefore not have baggage. There is a fine line between being smart enough to learn from experience and forgiving and forgetting. Even forgiving is a lot easier than forgetting. And my question is, is it smart to forget? All living creatures learn from experience, and the survival instinct is still strong; as it should be. A dog that has been abused will cringe if you raise your hand. Anyone who has been a victim of violence will have a similar reaction. Try it with me and you may well find yourself on the floor. It is survival. If you have been beaten or cheated on, is it really that smart to trust again?

Perhaps 'no baggage please' means you want someone who is naive enough to let you get away with whatever it is you want? But all you will get is either someone who has not even faced the fact that they have baggage and so have not tried to deal with it or someone who is prepared to lie, and in the latter case, more fool you to believe it could be possible. Of course, you are going to have baggage, and quite likely it is never going to get fully unpacked.

I found this article very disturbing. 'Violent homes have the same effect on brains of children as combat does on soldiers'.

In a domestic violence situation, the children and the battered adult will suffer not just physical damage, which hopefully will heal without scars, but also emotional damage, much more difficult to recover from. According to this article:
The long term effects of domestic violence have not begun to be fully documented. Battered women suffer physical and mental problems as a result of domestic violence. Battering is the single major cause of injury to women, more significant that auto accidents, rapes, or muggings. In fact, the emotional and psychological abuse inflicted by batterers may be more costly to treat in the short-run than physical injury.
That comes as no surprise, anyone who has watched even one episode of Cops surely has noticed the number of domestic violence calls there are.

This article highlights the fact that emotional abuse is as bad, or worse than physical abuse:
Emotional abuse is often more psychologically harmful than physical abuse, as victims are more likely to blame themselves The road to recovery from emotional abuse is a long one, but the first step is to recognize an emotionally abusive relationship, and get out.
I have experienced both emotional and physical abuse in past relationships, and I support the view that emotional abuse is far more damaging to an adult. I believe that part of the reason may be that it takes a very long time to realize that it is not right and not a healthy relationship; therefore the behavior is experienced for a long period and the damage goes way deeper.

With physical abuse, there is no doubt that it is wrong and the only reason to not get out immediately is the very real fear of retaliation in the way of more extreme violence. For me, it didn't take long for even that to be an insufficient reason. And the baggage I now carry as a result is most definitely a survival mechanism.

So, yes I carry a certain amount of baggage. I am lucky that I found someone who is prepared to help me unpack, and is also prepared to accept his own baggage and accept my help unpacking that.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Texas Conference for Women

I think I would have enjoyed this conference more had I not been to the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) just weeks before. However, despite that, I really did enjoy the Texas Conference for Women (TCW).

There were a number of obvious differences.  GHC was for Women in Technology. TCW as for Women. All Women, no matter what walk of life. GHC was attended by 15,000 people in an over 853,000-square-foot convention center in Houston TX. TCW was attended by 7,000 in a convention center that is 246,092-square-foot in Austin TX. The exhibition hall at GHC was all big, tech companies busy trying to recruit; the exhibition hall at TCW was mainly small companies selling jewelry, clothing or other female trinkets.

However, one of the attractions TCW had that GHC did not, was the authors' corner. There was an area selling books written by the various speakers at the conference, and between each session, a number of the speakers were available to sign their books.  Unfortunately, the time allotted to this process was way too short. There was a long line waiting to purchase books, and even longer lines for each of the authors.

The TCW conference was just a one-day event. I had no intention of driving downtown and fighting to find parking, not to mention the even more unpleasant drive back home, so I decided to take the commuter train - such a novelty to have public transport that was actually going from and to somewhere convenient for me.  The commuter train line runs from Leander, where I live, to directly outside the convention center where the conference was being held. I had never used the train before so was very excited to give it a try. And for $7 day ticket, well worth it. Parking would have been more than that.

I had been invited to a 'learning breakfast' at 7.15 a.m. by Accenture, a tech company. I wasn't sure why they invited me, but guessed it was something to do with the fact that I worked in the tech field. But I liked the idea and as I was planning to be downtown ahead of the crowds, it meant I had something to do while waiting for the conference to start. I caught a train at 5.55 a.m. and was at the conference center by 7 a.m.

Breakfast session
The breakfast was good and the speaker was impressive. Grace Killelea. She had worked for Comcast and was their first female VP. she is also the author of a book called The Confidence Factor. After hearing her speak I bought the book and later in the morning, lined up to have her sign it. Apart from her book, what I took away from her talk was "if you can't hide it, decorate it!" - a reference to not just accepting yourself as you are, but be proud of it.

Grace Killelea signing my book
Following the breakfast was the opening keynote session. The speakers were introduced by Terri Gruca a local Austin TV anchor and reporter. The first speaker was Nina Tassler, who had been president and chairwoman of CBS Entertainment, followed by Annie E. Clark, co-founder and executive director of End Rape On Campus and Abby Wambach, a retired forward of the 2015 Women's World Cup Champion US Soccer Team. All of the speakers were very powerful, but I was most impressed by Abby Wambach.

I also bought Nina Tasslerr's book, and had her sign it for me, well, for my daughter actually. It is called "What I Told My Daughter"; a compilation of wisdom from a wide variety of famous and powerful women. I am hoping that she applies some of that wisdom to her own daughter.

The huge hall where the Keynote was held

Nina Tassler

Abby Wambach
Terri Gruca

Annie E. Clark
Nina Tassler signing my book

After the keynote session, I took a quick look around the exhibition hall and established where the author signing was. Unfortunately, I was too late to get Abby's book as there was already a huge line and I needed to get to my first breakout session which was 'Redefining Leadership' a panel discussion which was extremely interesting. The panel was made up of 6 women from a variety of professions and industries, including Nina Tassler. Following this, I did manage to purchase Nina's book and got it signed. At the same time, I bought Grace's book as I knew that she would be signing after the next session. I was at the head of the line to get that one signed.

Diane von Furstenburg
Lunch was in the huge hall for the second Keynote session - this was what I had come for. The keynote speakers were: Diane von Furstenberg, a fashion designer I am sure everyone has heard of. Linda Cliatt-Wayman, a school principal from Philadelphia who has been featured in a number of TV shows as a result of the extraordinary success she has had, Carroll Bogert, president of The Marshall Project and of course, the speaker I came to hear, Amal Clooney, human rights lawyer and visiting professor at Columbia Law School.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman

Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Lunch was not great, but I didn't come to this conference to eat. Diane von Furstenburg was very impressive and a first class speaker. Linda Cliatt-Wayman is incredibly passionate and it was obvious how she managed to achieve so much in a low-income, high crime school. Here is a link to her TED talk.

Amal Clooney

But Amal Clooney was incredible. What an intelligent, elegant, articulate and unbelievably brave woman. She spoke about her fight to bring ISIS before the United Nations for International Human Rights Crimes. Following her talk, she was interviewed by Carroll Bogert, president of the Marshall Project.

Amal Clooney and Carroll Bogert

Lisa Nichols

With lunch and the Keynote session over, I could happily have headed home, but I decided to attend one more session. 'Transform Your Norm, Success lies outside your comfort zone'. I probably should have read the description more closely. Lisa is a motivational speaker. Definitely not on my most favorite list; I consider myself to be sufficient motivated. If anything I need to learn to relax and stop pushing myself. However I did enjoy her delivery.

Following this session, I headed for the train, foolishly thinking that a 4.19 p.m. train would not be too full. It was packed, there was no space to move, and only barely enough to breath, before it left the station. By the first stop, all of us standing were chatting like old friends. Well, when you are sandwiched up against people, it is hard to stay strangers.

What I took from this conference was lot of food for thought and a few memorable quotes, mentioned before:
 "if you can't hide it, decorate it!"
"Don't just say NO.  Say HELL NO!"
"There is no limit to what you can achieve if you don't care who gets the credit"

And this comment from a young lady in the train leaving the conference center:

"Amal Clooney is amazing! How was George Clooney lucky enough to get her!"

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Bucket List

I thought it was time to create a bucket list so I started googling for ideas. I found lots of them, and almost all were either things I had already done, or would never care to do, so I abandoned google and looked inside myself.  Then I thought, make a list of everything that would have been on my bucket list, had I made it 30 years ago.

It was an interesting exercise because I realize that I have done and seen almost everything I could have hoped to. So this exercise could be called counting my blessings.

Here is my bucket list not in any particular order other than I have listed those yet to achieve first and highlighted in green those I have done.

Retire while I still have the energy to enjoy it
Attend a live baseball game
Visit Alaska
Visit the Sphinx of Giza
Visit the Dead Sea
Win the lottery
Meet Willie Nelson
Learn to dance country western
Dance country western with a real cowboy.
Visit the Alamo
Meet my soul mate
See the Northern Lights
Visit Hawaii 
Visit the Grand Canyon
Go to Disney World
Visit the Painted Desert
Visit the Petrified Forest
Visit Monument Valley
Visit The Colosseum in Rome
See The Trevi Fountain in Rome
Climb The Spanish Steps in Rome
Visit India
Tour Paris on the back of a motorcycle
Visit Edith Piaf's grave
View Paris from the Eiffel Tower
Visit The Louvre in Paris
Visit Notre Dame in Paris
Visit The Tower of London
See Big Ben London
Visit Buckingham Palace London
See Westminster Abbey London
See Tower Bridge London
Visit Las Vegas
Visit The Greek Islands
Visit Yosemite
Visit the Space Center in Houston
See the biggest Redwood tree in California
See the Golden Gate Bridge
See Niagra Falls
Attend Willie Nelson's 4th July Picnic
Publish a book

Friday, October 28, 2016

Dealing with an abrasive personality

In my career, as a human being, I have had to deal with abrasive, arrogant and aggressive people in both my professional and my personal life. At no time was it easy, but I have to say that as I get older I get more capable of dealing with these people, of whom there really are far too many.

Really parents, what did you not notice about your overpoweringly rude and abrasive child that you let them grow into such unpleasant thorns in the side of humanity? You surely didn't do them any favors either.

I was the child of an aggressive father. I was the personal assistant to an extremely arrogant and abrasive man and in almost every job I have ever worked in, and many of my personal relationships, I have had to deal with people with varying levels of one or all of these extremely unpleasant traits. (read my book)

Some of the articles I have read, suggest that the abrasive or arrogant person is someone who feels inadequate and therefore compensates by being aggressive. Some suggest arrogance comes with confidence. My experience has been that it is purely a personality trait, whether is is a result of environment, childhood experience or just plain being over indulged is irrelevant. It usually accompanies a total lack of empathy.  That is the arrogant / abrasive person is incapable of putting themselves in another's shoes.  They have no way of understanding how others feel. Generally they all share the belief that they know everything about everything. And there's the rub, you can't change some of those traits - certainly you cannot teach someone with no empathy to feel another's pain, they are missing the essential gene. There is also a strong element of plain bad manners. And sadly their behavior was not corrected when it could and should have been.

Typically when we think of abrasive personalities we are talking about arrogant or aggressive people who seem to have no filter on either what they say or how they say it. In some cases the abrasive person might be a no-nonsense straight-shooter who is perceived as abrasive but who may be advantageous in an overly passive work environment.

On the other hand they may be control freaks with over inflated opinions of themselves and their abilities. In which case they are generally very arrogant and self-centered. Frequently they are also domineering and bullying, sometimes domineering to peers and subordinates, and fawning to superiors.

However, when an abrasive, arrogant individual is added to a group of self driven, active and experienced people, that is when the entire structure of the team is undermined. If that person is a key member of the team, the manager - assuming he/she knows of the behavior - may work with the employee to change it, but that is rarely successful and generally the final result is the loss of most, or all, of the rest of the team.

And yet, so many managers put far more value on the arrogant, abrasive personality than the more ignorant one. Ignorance is not necessarily an indication of lack of intelligence, and arrogance is not necessarily a sign of intelligence. It is all about confidence. Personally I will put my money on the ignorant, intelligent, willing to listen and learn person, than the arrogant, abrasive, overly confident know it all - the latter will learn so little and offend so many. Disruption in the workplace is invasive, just as bullying in the playground is.

But the title of this train of thought is directed at 'dealing' with that obnoxious person.. so how do you do it? That really depends on whether you are dealing with them in the workplace, socially or in the home. The easiest to solve is socially - just don't socialize with them. In the home in my opinion,, and experience, the best way to deal with them is to react as though their behavior is completely normal and acceptable. Do not react at all, unless of course you are the parent and you are dealing with your own child - definitely you want to correct this behavior.

I have used this tactic in the workplace also, where I have not had the authority to do anything about the situation. Some completely withdraw and do nothing, which is probably exactly what an arrogant person is trying to achieve, how else can you shine if your talents are limited? By shoving the competition into the shadows of course. Others fight back and get nowhere. Given the choice (and the authority) I would let that individual go, you cannot build a team around a bully. The alternative is to go yourself.

The older I get, the more I prefer to just remove myself from the environment completely, life is way to short to put up with assholes.

Some interesting reading:

Is it bullying or abrasive behavior?
The secret to being confident without being arrogant
7 Ways to tell the difference between being arrogant and being confident
Confidence -vs- arrogance
10 ways to tell if you are confident or arrogant
The abrasive personality

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GHC 2016

The Grace Hopper Celebration 2016

I really wanted to attend this conference, so when I received an email from our HR department confirming the date and time that registration would open I was on it.  The second registration opened I was clicking on the register button, nothing happened, I clicked and reloaded and clicked to no avail. Finally I got a message saying that the conference was sold out. To say I was surprised would be true, but I was also very disappointed. I responded to the HR email bemoaning the fact that I was unable to register. That was a lucky move, because some weeks later I was offered one of our org's places - someone had dropped out and did I want it?  Did I? you bet I did!

As luck would have it, I was booked to fly to Houston early afternoon on the same day that our internal Women in Engineering group were having a STEM (Science, technology, engineering & mathematics) event. We had 40 middle school children, mostly girls but some boys too, coming to the office for a series of presentations and I was on the career panel. Fortunately we arranged the panel for first thing in the morning and immediately following this I was heading to the airport.

The flight from Austin to Houston is only 50 minutes, it seemed no sooner had we reached cruising altitude we were preparing to land at Hobby Airport. Once on the ground I got an airport shuttle to my hotel. Houston is a huge city, the 4th largest city in the US and the largest in Texas with a population of almost 2.5 million within the city and over 6 million in the greater Houston metropolitan area. As a result, getting to anywhere from anywhere is slow going. Mid afternoon on a Tuesday, it took close to two hours to get to the hotel.

The conference had a fleet of coaches running between the official conference hotels, of which there were about 40, and the conference center. From the hotel to the conference center took between 45 minutes to an hour.

Getting our badges
Needless to say, I was at the conference center early the next morning. The keynote address was at 9 a.m. and I needed to get my badge before that. I didn't expect the badge process to be so very streamlined. It was incredible. I joined the end of a long snaking line and within minutes I was at one of the many desks and my badge was issued seconds later. Of course it helped that the organizers had emailed out a QR code which, when scanned, immediately issued the badge with the correct information printed on. I suppose, when you think about it, I should not have been surprised, after all this conference was run by, and for, women in technology.

Waiting in line at the Toyota Center

The Keynote Address was in the Toyota Center across the street. The size of the auditorium was impressive - and it filled up fast. The speakers were Anna Patterson, the winner of the Technical Leadership ABIE Award and Vice President of Engineering, Artificial Intelligence for Google. Latanya Sweeney, probably my favorite presentation, she is professor of government and technology at Harvard University and also Editor in Chief of Technology Science and director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab. Her talk on privacy in general, and in the health care area in particular was extremely interesting.

Starting to fill up
The other two speakers continued to hold my attention, Ginni Rometty, CEO and President of IBM. She continued the theme of Artificial Intelligence and specifically in the Healthcare arena, with a fascinating talk on Watson. The final speaker was Alyssia Jovellanos, the winner of the Woman of Vision ABIE (Anita Borg Institute of Engineering) award for Student of Vision. Alyssia is a Computer Science student at McMaster University but has already made a name for herself in the world of technology. At 17 she founded her own multimedia technology company which was funded by the Government of Ontario and Kevin O'Leary's Future Dragon Fund.

This was a name I recognized
Surprisingly in the presence of such incredible, powerful and successful women, I did not feel at all inadequate, in fact, though I arrived feeling like a worker ant of little significance, by the end of the first morning I was feeling empowered. Yes, I consider that I am not fully appreciated in my field, and I will certainly never be a CEO, or even a major Award winner (I have won minor awards in the various companies with whom I worked), but I am part of a movement, one of the growing number of women who have managed to break out of the traditional mold reserved for women, even more so when I was growing up.

I believe I was one of the older women present and I don't think there were many there who were even born in the same decade as I was. Quite something, when there were actually 15,000 people present, 14,000 of which were women.

 The conference center in Houston is enormous and the number of sessions planned were almost endless. The most difficult thing to do was select sessions, because I had to make a choice, many sessions I would have attended were being held at the same time.

The second problem was trying to figure out if a session was going to be worth attending, based on a very small description, or no description, just the title of the session.

A big challenge was the fact that there were over 83 different countries represented in that mixture of 14,000 women and 1,000 men - and some countries do not have the same respect of even understanding of 'orderly queues'. So while you might have arrived early for a particular session, and joined the growing line waiting, there were others who just ignored the line and joined at the head of the queue.

One particular session, titled 'Should I stay or should I go' was so popular that 30 minutes before it was due to start there was already a long line snaking around the corridors. With no conference staff there to control the enthusiastic line jumpers, it turned into a free for all. Finally one of the staff arrived and for whatever reason decided to split the line into two, the first line to get admission was mainly the late comers / line jumpers. Believe me there was rumblings of dissatisfaction in the second line, where I was crammed in the center. I think more people were turned away than actually got into that session. And there are now a large number still not sure whether they should stay or go. This was probably one of the very few times I saw bad organization.

The exhibition hall was huge and while there were casual sessions at various locations within the hall, mainly at the Anita Borg Stand, because of the noise in the area, these were not great - and one I attended was bottom of my list of favorites. Neither the content nor speaker were up to par. Sadly it was one of the few QA related sessions.

And of course there was an app for that which made selecting sessions and managing your schedule much easier - if only the app didn't keep crashing, somewhat embarrassing for a technology based conference.

Naturally I attended the Expo, and toured the floor a few times, picking up some very nice swag. In my career I have attended countless conferences and I have to say, this one had the best swag. But that was not what I was there for. It didn't take long to figure out that the Expo was a glorified job fair and I was not interested in being recruited so once I picked up my t-shirts, pens, water bottle and assorted USB expansion and extended life charger gadgets I headed for the first of my chosen sessions, after all not only was I not there for a job, I was not there for swag either. Luckily I had selected second and third choices from the long list of sessions available, because on more than one occasion I didn't get into my first choice, or my first choice was not what I expected so I left and headed to my second choice.

Apart from the Keynote, probably the session I enjoyed the most was 'Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Transform How We Work, Lead and Innovate' - a long title but leaving no doubt as to the content. This was a talk by Susan Cain, the bestselling author of 'Quiet' and the founder of the Quiet Revolution. I didn't need to take this quiz to know that I am an introvert.

Other sessions I attended were:

  • Rock Your Career: Core Skills for increased effectiveness
  • Powerful Body Language: Small Mannerisms with Big Impact
  • A Day in the Life of: Exploring Different Career Paths in Technology
  • Turning your Snakes into Ladders - A Career Exploration Journey
  • DevOps and the future of QA - what you need to know and how you can prepare

 Apart from those sessions, I also attended a number of talks at the Speaker's Corner, this was the noisy Anita Borg stand. The QA talk was 'QA in an Agile world. What's the difference from waterfall?' and as mentioned before, it was not very impressive nor was it useful, but it was QA.

So, what did I take away from the GHC 2016 Conference? Apart from the aforementioned swag, a heap more stickers for my laptop I gained a lot of knowledge.  I also have a sense of gratitude to my employer not just for funding my attendance, but also for supporting GHC and diversity. Most of all I have a renewed sense of pride in myself and my chosen career.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

America the Beautiful

Before I start let me say this is not intended to be a political statement. It is social statement. While I have strong views on religion, politics and many other things, this is an observation of man's greed, selfishness and intolerance more than anything else.

When I won a green card in the lottery in 1994, I was overwhelmed. I was given an opportunity to come and live and work, legally, in the land of the free, the land of opportunity, where all men (and women?) are equal, where religion, color and gender have no meaning. I grasped that opportunity with both hands and got here as fast as I could. Of course I knew that the streets were not paved with gold, but I knew life here could be so much better - and I was right. If you were prepared to work, the rewards were there. Naturally, as with everything, you have to make it happen, but you could in America! .. back then.

Now, 22 years later, it makes me sad. Why? Because I have watched women's rights shrink, the rights of minorities being chipped away - how the famous women of America who fought for women's rights would weep, Jane Addams and Lady Bird Johnson, to name but two of the myriad American women who would turn in their graves to see the rights they fought for being eroded, and what about the incredible African American women who fought for civil rights, Dorothy Height, Rosa Parks and what about Ruby Bridges? How would / do they feel about the indiscriminate killing of unarmed black people by those who are supposed to protect we the people, and enforce law and order!

The attempts to limit or abolish the right to abortion, birth control, lack of equal pay, restrictions on  the ability to vote for many - to name but a few backward slides. What is happening to my America.

Of course it is not just my America, but it was my escape to a better life and I am an American citizen, a fact I am still proud of because there are some amazing people here who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in - or remain seated for what they believe in. A right that was given to every US citizen. And as an American, I bear some of the responsibility for what is not right. I have a vote and believe me, I exercise that right. I am shocked at the number of people who don't bother to vote, who complain constantly but don't do the one thing they could do to effect change.

And it is made so very easy here - with early voting there is no excuse.

What happened to:  "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." or the First Amendment?

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights:
"...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government...."
If I had won that green card 22 years later I might not have considered coming to America. In every way, it would have appeared a worse decision than staying where I was, and believe me, where I was back then was not a good place to be -  for me. (Read my book). However, even knowing what I know now, perhaps I would do it all the same again. But that does not stop me from being sad.

Today's America is standing by while children starve, while unarmed men, women and even children are shot dead in the streets, while nothing is done to prevent mentally ill people from perpetrating mass shootings, and the only solution is to allow everyone, irrespective of their mental stability, to carry firearms? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We pour millions, billions of dollars into waging war in countries where we have no right to be; but our veterans are allowed to sleep under bridges and beg in the streets.

We no longer welcome refugees of those, or any other war. We don't even want to accept immigrants of any kind. Except those very few who were lucky enough to win a Green Card in the lottery. Why have most Americans forgotten that they were all once immigrants.

I applaud those who are prepared to take a stand, exercise the rights that every American has, in an effort to correct the wrongs that are being done. Colin Kaepernick has started a huge wave of courageous, totally personal and peaceful protest. Leilani Thomas has bravely drawn attention to the plight of the native Americans. And what about Madison Kimrey? at the age of 12 she was making her voice heard, and she is still doing so 3 years later.

America is beautiful, and I sincerely hope that we can correct the awful downward slide we appear to be on:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
What I wish for is tolerance. Tolerance of all religions, colors, cultures, genders and orientation. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Supplements anyone?

Supplements and vitamins are quite a controversial subject.  Some people swear by them, others have no time for them. Either way, they are a huge industry. According to this article in the Huffington Post, over $28 billion was spent in the US in 2010 alone, on vitamins and supplements.

My lasting memory on the subject was when I phoned my mother after she had a hip replacement operation. I was living in the US and she was in Ireland. It was probably unreasonable of me to call her just a day after her operation. She was still groggy and in pain, and no doubt doped up. But I was worried about her. When I asked her how she was she said "oh my dear, remember to take cod liver oil every day - this is very painful".  I replied "but you took cod liver oil every day!" and she said "oh yes, that is true". So much for that supplement.

She did. She took cod liver oil and Halibut Orange tablets every day as long as I could remember, she also fed them to us as we were growing up. She had osteoporosis and she died of cancer.

I have never been into pill popping of any sort. A headache would have to last at least three days before I even considered an aspirin. I was a teenager in the 60's - flower people and Woodstock - yet I never indulged in what was going around, seriously, I always had a tendency towards natural and away from chemical. Of course, many would argue that some of what was going around when I was a teenager was a lot more natural than the vitamins and supplements of today, and a lot healthier.

The upside of my abhorrence of pill popping was that the smallest amount of pain killer has immediate and positive effect on pain. I also deferred taking antibiotics unless I had no other option. And yet I developed an allergy to penicillin in my twenties.

Now, approaching my dotage and suffering with osteoporosis - well, not so much suffering, it doesn't bother me, but according to my doctor, the readings from my bone density tests show I have it, I am being encouraged to take massive amounts of calcium, multivitamins and other supplements.

I lean towards the belief that it is a load of codswallop.

I do believe that if you eat a balance diet - organic fruit and vegetables, and grass fed meats and fish that has not been spawned in waters mixed with nuclear waste, you really do not need to take supplements. However, the fish that we had as children may have been healthy eating, that day is long gone. We do buy grass fed beef and we buy organic fruit and vegetables; free range eggs and organic chicken. They definitely taste better, so I do hope that they don't have too much additives and chemicals, but with old age not only comes osteoporosis, but also cynicism, I know that just because it is labeled organic doesn't guarantee it is. This article supports the view that a healthy balanced diet is better than any supplements.

I fully accept that there are many valid arguments in favor of some supplements - 'D' for instance, in Ireland where people believe in the sun, in the same way they believe in God - they have never seen either but still they believe they exist.

Recently more research is reporting that supplements and vitamins are not the magic preventive medication we once were taught it was. Webmd reports on three such studies. This article is very interesting, reporting that some studies found various benefits while other studies were contradictory. All the articles I have read say the same thing - beware of overdosing on vitamins, there are some that are harmless but some recent studies have found a connection between high doses of some vitamins and cancer, and also heart disease (this article is particularly interesting).

I also never supported taking hormones in menopause - some might might say 'ha! but now you have osteoporosis' - my response is that my mother and my grandmother had it before me, I had little hope of escaping it. I chose to use exercise to keep my bones (and the rest of me) healthy, and I preferred to take my chances with osteoporosis than the risk of breast cancer that hormone supplements carries. There are arguments for and against almost every decision in life.

This Consumer Report explains clearly each of the main vitamins and supplements, their use, the evidence and possible risks. Here is one example:


Used for: Building healthy bone; preventing osteoporosis and fractures.
The evidence says: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there’s not enough evidence to show that calcium supplements prevent fractures in either premenopausal or postmenopausal women who take more than 1,000 milligrams per day.
Possible risks: Some evidence has linked a high intake of calcium to a greater risk of heart disease, but the findings have been inconsistent.
This is from

Do this:

  • Eat a healthy diet. There’s just no substitute for a balanced, nutritious diet that limits excess calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and dietary cholesterol. This approach has been shown to reduce coronary heart disease risk in healthy people and those with heart disease.
  • Patients with heart disease should consume about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids called EPA + DHA. This should ideally come from fish. This can be hard to get by diet alone, so a supplement could be needed. As always, consult with a physician first.
  • If you have elevated triglycerides, try to get 2 to 4 grams per day of EPA+DHA.

Don’t do this:

  • Don’t take antioxidant vitamin supplements such as A, C and E. Scientific evidence does not suggest these can eliminate the need to reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol or stop smoking.
  • Do not rely only on supplements. There isn’t sufficient data to suggest that healthy people benefit by taking certain vitamin or mineral supplements in excess of the daily recommended allowance. Some observational studies have suggested that using these can lower rates of cardiovascular disease and/or lower risk factor levels. However, it’s unclear in these studies whether supplements caused these improvements.
While there is so much conflicting evidence, and my instinct is to eat well, exercise and drink lots of water (though even water can be bad for you in excess!) - I think what sways my decision - apart from the inconvenience of having to take so many pills, is the fact that vitamins and supplements are big business, and where there is money to be made, the will also be fraud. We have no proof that the bottles of magical cure or prevention that we spend so much money on, contain anything more than chalk, particularly knowing that there is so much money to be made.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


I am just a little bit OCD, OK, maybe my husband, and some close friends, perhaps a few colleagues and some acquaintances will argue that point, some might say I am more than a little bit OCD. Here's the thing, I can't abide waste of time and I get horribly stressed if I even think I might be procrastinating, and if I observe others doing so, I have a very hard time keeping my mouth shut.

I guess all that makes me an ideal candidate for the job - what job? any job you care to mention that requires someone to volunteer to take it on, usually one no one else wants. My hand is stuck in the up position. I learned early on to count to 10 before shouting 'me', and as I get older, I pause a little bit longer before raising my hand, just to see if someone else is going to step forward, but if no one does,

I need to get on with it, stop wasting time, there it is, up goes my hand. At some point this becomes less than efficient as I run the risk of taking on more than I can handle.

Any research I do regarding this phenomenon, references volunteering to do good, to help those less fortunate; it doesn't deal with the case that generally applies to me, it is not that I don't do good - but the volunteering I am dealing with here is work related.

I seem to take on a lot of the dirty work, the work no one else will take on. And I do it because I can't stand to see things left undone. But I am only one person, there is a limit to how much I can undertake and still stay sane... well, as sane as I am ever likely to be, at some point I have to stop volunteering. Seems the more you volunteer, the more you are expected to do. Eventually that will introduce inefficiency.

This article gives 12 reasons by people volunteer.  Only some apply to what I am discussing here.

1 .There is a personal tie to the cause
It is not that I have any personal tie to the specific work that I have undertaken but I do have a personal tie to seeing things get done on time and with the most efficiency.
2. Volunteering is a great way to build a resume
I have to admit this one is somewhat relevant. Taking on the tasks that no one else wants to do does frequently give you something to add to your resume, and often opens up opportunities to learn new skills.
3. It's a good way to bridge the gap between yourself and others who may perceive you as different
Hmm m.  Well, I know what the article refers to here, but no matter what way you look at it, in the environment I am talking about, others are just relieved they didn't get landed with the task, and many see me as different anyway, especially as I have now undertaken yet another task no one in their right mind would want to do.
4. Volunteering sets a good example for others
Definitely it should, but I am certain that 3. above, is relevant in that everyone is just relieved they didn't get landed with the task.
5. Meeting like-minded, motivated, positive people is super easy
Nope, doesn't count here. Most of the tasks I have undertaken have been done alone, such as compiling reports and statistics. I am landed with them because there are no like-minded people around.
6. Volunteering can offer unique and exciting opportunities
Unique maybe, exciting, not in my case.
7. Doing good is important
I agree, it is. And doing a job well is important, however the volunteering I do at work, is just to get the job done, I guess the good I am doing is saving everyone else the pain of having to do it.
8. Volunteering creates empowerment
No, it doesn't. That has not been my experience.
9. Volunteering has never been easier
It has always been easy. Stick your hand up and say 'me'. Then immediately regret it.
10. Volunteering can help you get or stay healthy
Well, the jobs I have undertaken in the name of volunteering have probably helped to keep my brain exercised, so I suppose yes.
11. Volunteering gives greater perspective and self-awareness
Hmm m. I am still thinking about this one. I am aware that I am a sucker.
12. Volunteering is good for you
It might be good for me, in so far as it gives me something to write in my self assessment for that dreaded annual review, and I even managed to get a bit of blogging out of it.

Here is where writing it all down acts like a virtual psychotherapy session - now I have a horrible feeling that my need to volunteer stems from a need to please, and if that is the case, I need to get over that fast! Because I know that the only people it pleases are those who have dodged the bullet.

Is it too late to retrain myself to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut or turn my face to the wall?

See previous blogs referenced above:
I may be neurotic or maybe it is OCD
Annual Performance Reviews 
Writing as a Therapy
Blogging, why do I do it
This blog is not for you

Friday, June 24, 2016

Being happy in your own skin

Why on earth do people spend crazy amounts of money trying to turn back time? For one thing, anyone with any intelligence knows that it is not possible, secondly I have yet to see facial surgery make anyone look better, in every case that I am aware of they look, at best weird, and usually flat ugly, certainly unnatural - which to my mind is the same as ugly. That is, with the one exception - surgery to correct a birth defect such as a hair lip or an injury. I am talking about people who have face lifts because they are aging; or they don't like the shape of their noses; or they want Angelina lips. And once you do it, you can't revert the damage.

What started this rant? I met a friend recently who I hadn't seen in a long time, and was horrified at how awful she looked. It was like she had one of those face masks on - you know? the gel that is transparent as it dries and pulls your skin tight. Seriously, her face look plastic, and there was no definition around her eyes which were now round instead of almond shaped. One of the attributes I consider to be really beautiful is deep set eyes, eyes with a 'cavern' background. Like Cameron Diaz for instance. This person had deep set eyes before the knife got to her. What she looked like was Ms Potato Head, seriously, unnaturally smooth face with no character, two round holes from which eyes protruded, a nose and a mouth - no definition, no indication that she had lived or ever laughed. She used to be really pretty.

Aging gracefully is beautiful, dignified and natural. Resisting is futile and almost always results in a plastic ugly appearance which cannot be corrected and screams vanity (hence the term plastic surgery? OK I know it comes from the Greek plastikos - to mold). Spending that much money on vanity in this day and age is ludicrous - see Dr Nash's very wise blog here on the subject of saving money. One day that face will still age, but it is doubtful if it will age gracefully once the knife has done its damage, and then, unless you happen to be extremely wealthy, not only will you not be able to afford further damaging surgery, but you may seriously regret that you don't have the cash you foolishly forked out on the previous rounds of facial damage. Those that can afford it tend to continue to do more, and more damage to their faces. Like Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton.

And as for Botox. I don't know what to say - this description says it all - and people pay to have this stuff injected into their face! Small wonder they end up with fixed expressionless features:

There are dozens of celebrities who have ravaged their appearance in an attempt to turn back the clock - mentioned before, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. To my mind they were both incredibly good looking people. Their faces were not only good to look at, but they had character and personality. Not any more. Now they are flat ugly. Everyone knows they are aging, so they are fooling no one, but there is nothing left of the beauty which always remains in a face that is not ravaged by the knife, no personality shines through the plastic. I often wonder what they see when they look in the mirror. I know I would be absolutely horrified if I went through unnecessary surgery, at huge expense, and then saw a face like that in the mirror!

These celebrities definitely destroyed their looks and no doubt will continue to do so. Kenny Rogers was a good looking man, now he is almost scary. Dolly Parton was very pretty, now she looks like plastic and this photo doesn't show the extent of her surgery, she went on to have a lot more and she now looks quite deformed.

no words for Jocelyn Wildenstein

Michael Jackson - probably the most famous for appalling plastic surgery results. No picture needed for that but here is one anyway.

I have always loved Sophia Loren, and this quote from Goodreads resonates with me.

These celebrities did not destroy their looks in a wasted attempt at turning back time, and to my mind they are so much better looking that those who did. I am not saying they did not have work done to their faces, just that if they did, it was very little and does not show. The general belief of the media - those who will put you down in an instant, is that they did not. I think each and every one of them are very good to look at - and I do believe they are better looking now than they were when they were younger. I will definitely not be wasting my hard earned money on destroying my face. I will age as gracefully as I am capable of and accept the natural course. (See this blog).