Monday, November 22, 2021

Adventures in Management Land


Hire and Develop the Best is an Amazon Leadership Principle. Ah, but what happens when you make a mistake and hire someone who is 'less than the best'? Then you are attempting to develop someone who is not meeting the bar. There is a rule for that too. It isn't quite so public. Prune. That is, cut the lower branches, no matter how healthy or strong. 

Pruning is a sleazy management secret. Every team in Amazon must dispose of those on the team who are lowest scoring—even if that score is 99%, if the rest of the team is at 100% get rid of the ninety-nine percenters. 

I had been chugging along managing a team of driven, talented self starters. Yes, two of the team had been designated 'least effective' at some point, not by me but by other managers. I inherited both and within a short space of time they were as productive and valued as the rest of the team. It was just a matter of identifying their strengths and feeding them projects that exercised those strengths, while at the same time helping them to recognize and improve on the weaker areas. My theory is, if someone is displaying their talents and being successful, they are motivated to do more. 

One of my highest performing engineers performed herself into a development position, which she deserved and though I hated to lose her, I encouraged the move. That left me with an empty desk to fill and yet another round of interviewing; a task I never enjoyed and one that takes up so much time. I know now that I was in too much of a hurry to fill the position and get on with my work. It was a hard lesson. The internal transfer I hired looked great on paper and interviewed well, given that the interview was pretty much just a formality as he had already been working at Amazon for 3 years and therefore must have already proved himself? His current manager classified him as very highly valued so that must mean something? Not so. The Amazon interview process is extremely good. They rarely make mistakes hiring, but there is always the exception.

I was forced to learn a whole new set of Amazonian terminology and processes as I attempted to coach this under achiever in a vain effort to make him capable of doing more than 40% of a normal workload. My usual method failed because there were no obvious strengths to exercise and work from. Whenever I attempted to explain anything slightly technical to him, he stared at me with that deer in the headlights look and said, while demonstrating with a hand swipe across his head, "this is all going over my head". He was never going to succeed because he didn't believe he was capable.

He was not a ninety-nine percenter, not a strong lower branch. He was most definitely dead wood. As soon as he realized that he had been identified as in need of performance coaching he switched gear. No, he didn't suddenly start working harder and smarter, instead he started playing the system. He had been there before quite clearly. He told me that he already had an 'accommodation' in place that allowed him to work at a much slower pace than anyone else in his position. 

We were a very lean team. Had he told me that when I interviewed him there is no way he would have got the job but of course, he knew that. I contacted Human Resources and after much investigation they returned the verdict that no, he had no accommodation in place; yes, he had applied but was refused. So, he applied again.

In his application he called out every quality that is required for a QA Engineer and gave medical reasons why he could not be expected to display these qualities. In other words, he had medical proof that he was useless and couldn't do the job. Guess what? I already knew that. 

This accommodation process meant that he should be allowed to draw a healthy salary and use a desk for not just doing nothing, but even worse, doing just enough badly to cause everyone else twice as much work. If he had taken long term disability, at least I would not have to follow behind him and fix all his mistakes.

Don't get me wrong, I was not unsympathetic. It would have been so much easier for me had I not cared. I knew that he had a few issues, both physically and mentally. No one gets into their mid fifties without collecting baggage of one sort or another. We had discussed our individual experiences with psychotherapy—he knew that I understood and had personal experiences that matched his own. I also had a number of physical challenges, probably not quite matching his but like I said, no one gets into their fifties without that, and it was a long time since I had enjoyed my fifties. However, I was managing a team of engineers, while at the same time doing the same work they were because we were short staffed; and I had to go behind this particular engineer and clean up after him as he made the same mistakes over and over again. My belief was, if I could do it, so should he be able to.

I was bound by the archaic rules that Amazon had in place. (See this blog). I was obliged to either coach this person to prove he could raise the bar—not just meet it; or, prove conclusively that he could not. Of course he couldn't. The problem was that he was a very large, somewhat aggressive male and I am an extremely small female. There were occasions, during one on one meetings, when he stood over me yelling and waving his arms. It would have been quite terrifying if I had not already assessed him as a blustering coward; plus I had 4 years of aikido training behind me, a martial art that favors the smaller in a confrontation with a larger opponent. I was capable and prepared, to protect myself if necessary. As my assessment of him was correct, I never had to draw on my aikido skills.

I bent the rules to try to help him. I explained to him firstly, that I didn't believe he could meet the bar and second, that he would be far better advised to start looking for a job outside Amazon while he was still working. I pointed out that he was very good at interviews and with his resume he would have no problem getting another job. He was actually offended by everything I said and complained to HR about it.

Due to the various accommodations and legal implications, it took a full nine months of continuous coaching, yelling and other aggressive behavior (from him, not me); and worst of all, doing his job as well as my own (me, not him), before he finally left. Needless to say, it took me a long time to recover from that experience. Not only had I been dealing with an unhinged man feeling cornered, I was doing the work of two while also attempting to coach him. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. 

I must add that I received endless support from my HR representative, both moral and professional. I will be eternally grateful to that person, she helped to keep me sane through it all. However, that person was located in Seattle WA and I was in Austin TX. Physical support was not going to be forthcoming. But no, I didn't ask for an accommodation. I continued working until Amazon decided it no longer valued me and I was forced to retire. (See this blog for details). 

The good news is that I believe in silver linings and I am happy to report that I am now wallowing in my unexpected retirement.





 


Sunday, November 14, 2021

One year ago this month

My professional world started to crumble a year ago this month. That was when my manager of 4 years told me that he was moving to another team. 

What followed was 6 months of misery for me and for my team. During that time I felt that I understood how live bait felt, a hook piercing some part of their anatomy, struggling to find a way to escape; the stress of the situation so awful that the pain was unimportant. Now all that has faded

While I did attempt to follow all the apparent options available to me at work, to fix what I saw as a bad decision, destined to have equally bad repercussions, nothing worked. I had a remarkable team of extremely talented engineers. More than that, they were my team. We were a team. We balanced each other perfectly. Any one member jumping off would throw the entire team out of balance, eventually all of them would have to jump too. I warned my chain of command that this is what I predicted would happen. They didn't believe me, or if they did, they didn't care. 

After four months of fighting I looked beyond the career I was enjoying so much, and the people with whom I worked that were all my close friends; I looked at my alternatives and I considered giving up. I made the mistake of mentioning what I was considering and before I knew it, I was retired. The decision was pretty much taken out of my hands. I was making too much noise and being a nuisance. I had to go. I described that, and my eventual exit from Amazon, here

For my team, it doesn't give me any satisfaction to know that my predictions were correct. The team is no longer. I am very happy for each of the members of that small team, that they have almost all found positions where they can continue to grow and help make Amazon's customers happy. For those few that are left behind, I am sorry, but they are adults and I know they will be able to take care of themselves.

For Amazon, I have nothing but contempt for those people who refused to listen to me, refused to consider me of any value, but I have let it go for the most part. I do still smile with some amusement every time I hit a bug on the homepage and no, I don't report it - I have no responsibility now to do so. No doubt there will be more in the future. I don't really care. It is a release to not care.

For me, I am wallowing in a retirement that I probably would never have moved into without that rough shove from behind. At first I was worried that I would quickly become bored. That has not happened. My days are so full that things constantly spill over into the next and the next day, with no need to work late into the night, no pressure or stress to complete that chapter, that embroidery pattern, bake those cakes, catch those fish, and there is always tomorrow to take the boat out. 

To quote Marilyn Monroe "...sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."




Saturday, November 13, 2021

Respect for your elders


How many times I heard that when I was growing up. I was never quite sure why we were expected to respect our elders. I knew it was probably something to do with wisdom of age, and possibly because they had done stuff from which we benefited in some way and for which we should be grateful.

On the wisdom point, I didn't buy it. I knew a fair few elderly people and some definitely didn't display much wisdom, assuming wisdom equated with intelligence or common sense, or both. However, it is slightly more than that. It is described as  the combination of experience and knowledge, with the power of applying them or soundness of judgement in a person. Despite silently questioning the logic, I dutifully respected my elders, keeping my opinions to myself. I was brought up to value manners above all else. My grandmother was French and I have to tell you, the French have a lot of rules when it comes to manners.

Now that I am elderly I can see some arguments for demanding respect, at least for some of us. 

When you are young, and even into early middle age, minor injuries are an annoyance, and sometimes painful and temporarily debilitating. Aches and pains can usually be attributed to such minor injuries, and are almost always also temporary. Young people expect their pains to heal and disappear. 

You know you are old when you become aware that the pains are not only there to stay, they will continue to increase in intensity and location. You learn to live with them because there is only one alternative and you are working hard to delay that one. If you are not, you should be.

I know there are elderly people out there who whine and complain all the time. But for every one of them, there are myriad others who silently go about the remainder of their lives, silent with regard to the pain that is. Sometimes of course, there will be a uncontrolled grunt or groan. These are uncontrolled in the same way a sneeze is. If you are forewarned, you can stifle it, otherwise it will come out.

Contrary to what some people seem to believe, complaining about things does not make them easier to bear, and it certainly does not make the complainer easy to bear. While you might feel sympathetic at first, this particular emotion can quickly be worn thin. Just as the joints and cartilage between them wears thin and causes the pain. 

I have mentioned my mother in law a few times in blogs; one of the things I did admire about her was how little she complained about the pain she must surely have been experiencing. She had both knees replaced. We know that, while artificial joints help considerably, this is more to do with the ability to move rather than the removal of the pain. I am sure Mildred was in almost continuous pain but she almost never complained about it. Strangely, she found a lot of other less serious things to complain about; perhaps that was her secret, distraction.

So, respect your elders, at least those who don't complain about their aches and pains, because I guarantee you, they are in some degree of pain - continuously. Respect them for not whining about it.












Saturday, October 30, 2021

This day, twenty years ago ...

Travis County Court House
30th October - it was a Tuesday, in 2001, Larry picked me up outside my office at 11.30 a.m. We drove to the Travis County Court House in Austin, about 6 miles. We parked and made our way through the metal detectors and followed the signs to the second floor, we took a number and waited in a totally empty room to be called - that didn't take too long. We had our IDs and that was all we needed apart from the fact that we swore we fulfilled all the requirements for common law marriage - which basically are 'swearing we fulfilled the requirements'.  We took our brown envelope containing the marriage certificate. I was back at my desk within the hour.

To be more precise, this website explains the law in Texas:

Common law marriage, also known as marriage without formalities or informal marriage, is a valid and legal way for a couple to marry in Texas. Texas law states that a common law marriage may be proved by evidence that the couple:

  • agreed to be married; and
  • after the agreement they lived together in this state as husband and wife; and they
  • represented to others that they were married
No one knew, well Larry and I knew of course, but no one else knew.  We had planned this only the day before, we said "let's get married, how does tomorrow sound?"  Or words to that effect. I did dress up a little, but because I had only been working at Newgistics a few months, it wasn't obvious that I was 'dressed up'.  At about four in the afternoon I emailed my manager and said "As I got married at lunch time, I think I will go home early". And I left. 

Today, twenty years later, I still think it was a very memorable day, and one I don't regret.  Oh sure, we have had our ups and downs like any married couple, but we have - so far - done really well at working through them. 

We remained happily married through more than eight years of my mother in law living with us. I worked from home all through the pandemic and then retired in May of this year (I constantly refer back to this post that explains why I retired), it was not entirely my choice. Larry was already retired. He had retired early to care for his mother (I also blogged about that here). Through those eighteen months of being housebound we got along fine; and we continue to remain happily married.

Here is to another twenty!





Wednesday, October 27, 2021

I do not like Medicare


Remember I said I didn't know anything about Medicare and I was worried about having to switch from a decent, employer supplied coverage when I was forced to retire? I was right to worry. It would appear that America cares little or nothing about its elderly. I also complained about the endless spam generated by Medicare.


I am sure everyone knows by now that Medicare doesn't cover vision or dental. There is a big fuss because there is a bill to include these in Medicare and all Republicans and some Democrats think that is a waste of money. 

So far what I have learned about Medicare is that even though you pay into it all your working life, you still have to pay for the coverage once you qualify for  it. What you pay is based on your previous year's salary. So, the first year of retirement you pay a relatively large monthly fee for the privilege of having very limited coverage you have already paid for while working. Everyone who is on a salary that is. Obviously the very rich who already escape paying much in the way of taxes probably don't pay much into Medicare either; I am not sure about that but it is an educated guess.

My guess is when they first came up with the idea of Medicare, the majority of old people had already lost all their teeth - so it was considered unnecessary to include dental care. As for vision, I can't think of a good excuse to not include that except that the majority of old people have bad eyesight and therefore it would be too expensive for them all to get subsidized vision cover. 

Therefore, if you have Medicare, and can afford it, you get a supplemental insurance cover - which they call Medicare Advantage - I guess the advantage is your teeth won't rot in your head and you will be able to get help to see sufficiently well to read, drive and watch TV. The advantage is specifically designed to fill the gaps in Medicare; naturally you pay for this also. I previously complained that the one and only medication I need to take regularly is not covered at all by either Medicare or the 'advantage' insurance. 

Today we discovered another way to sock it to old people. Allergy shots. I also wrote about the fact that, now we are vaccinated and boosted, we returned to the allergy clinic. Unfortunately we had to start all over again. Get tested then go through build up - for those of you who are not familiar with allergy shots, once they find out what you are allergic to, they concoct a mixture of precisely those items and, in order not to kill you with the first injection, you have to build up slowly to the full strength. That means forty shots, starting with a weak solution, increasing slowly to the maximum strength. After that you get a shot every few weeks. Our plan was to get four shots a week until we reached the full strength and then once a month thereafter.

Well, turns out our old people insurance cover will only allow us three shots in a seven day period. There we were thinking we would be up to full strength by Thanksgiving only to discover not only have we already broken the rule and will probably eventually receive a bill for all the 'extra' shots, but now we have to slow it down and it will be more like Christmas before we will be on the monthly shots. On top of that we have to do some minor math calculations before heading out for our shots to be sure we are within three per seven day schedule. 

What I find equally irritating is the fact that it took six weeks for the Allergy Clinic and the Insurance provider to communicate this fact. During that six week period we have been getting 4 shots per week. That is a big billing mess they will have to sort out.

The moral of this story is, actually there are a lot of lessons to be born in mind - don't retire if you have a choice. As I said, I had no choice. If you have to retire, don't live in the US. 

And finally - Vote! no matter how hard they make it for you to vote, vote! and I don't care who you vote for, but the small turnout of voters in the US never ceases to amaze me. If everyone who has a vote, exercised that vote, at least there would be a true representation and maybe something would get done. Maybe.




Monday, October 25, 2021

Remembering Odell

Ezra Odell Curtsinger was my father in law. He died on 25th October 2012 (link to his obit). It is hard to believe that he has been gone this long. I only knew him for eleven years but I am very glad that I had that opportunity. 

My husband and I, spent a lot of time with Mildred and Odell. For nine years we went out to dinner with them every weekend, taking it in turns to foot the bill. We spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with them most years, taking it in turns to host dinner. 

For the last two years of his life, Odell was in a memory care nursing home. My husband visited him twice a week, every week of those two years, bringing him his favorite milk shake on Wednesday on his way home from work, and on Saturday or Sunday I would go with him, in the morning at first; we brought him breakfast tacos. Later we moved to lunchtime and brought chicken nuggets or steak fingers with fries as these were easier for him to eat as his motor skills deteriorated. We would sit and chat with him, until Mildred arrived. She spent all day every day with him for those two years, so our visits gave her a short break.  

Shortly after Odell went into the nursing home we moved Mildred into our home. I covered that in a previous post. As a result, we could see up close, the toll it took on her. It was amazing to me that the few close friends they had left, completely abandoned them. The only regular visitors Odell ever had were Mildred, me and my husband, and my stepson when his work allowed.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know him. He was an incredibly hardworking man with a great sense of humor. I once told him that I considered him to be the epitome of a successful man. He was one of a large family, from rural Kentucky. Before retiring, he worked four jobs at the same time, owned his own home and had provided for his wife and two sons. Mildred never had to work and they enjoyed a full retirement, traveling the country in their RV. 

Of course, because Mildred lived with us for almost 9 years, I knew her very much better than I did Odell. Sadly, Mildred passed away in February of this year. My memories of her are much deeper, as this post covers. Nonetheless, I miss him and often think of him. I took that photograph of him during one of our earlier visits to the nursing home, Mildred often said it was a photo of his last smile. He stopped smiling as his condition deteriorated, and failed to recognize anyone but Mildred, Larry and I am glad to say, me.



Tuesday, October 19, 2021

I am an early bird

Which I suppose means I catch the worm? Sometimes that worm is best left to other birds. I was early for my first wedding. So early that we had to drive around the block three times. As I had a horse and carriage instead of a car, that was not thirty miles an hour. I was at least thirty minutes early.

Not the first and definitely not the last time I ever had to do that to avoid being rudely early. The marriage? Well, let's say I have made many mistakes in my life, this is one I can't regret, because I have my three wonderful children and I wouldn't change that for anything. And I did learn the lessons. Yes, there was more than one lesson to learn.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't like this. If I am not early, I consider that I am late and that really stresses me out.

The problem with being early for everything is, as people get to know you, they also consider you to be late if you don't turn up at least 15 minutes before the allotted time. Worse than that, they assume you are not coming at all, if you don't arrive on time. Of course, nine times out of ten, they would be correct. That tenth time I was delayed by something totally beyond my control.

And I don't mean things like punctures and getting lost, they are taken into account as likely events when planning my departure time, hence the need to to drive around the block a number of times, or sit outside waiting because I am aware that too early can often be much more inconvenient than too late.

You might think being early is good. The more I think about it, the more downsides I see. I waste a lot of time. Before driving anywhere I calculate how long it would take to cover that distance under normal circumstances. Then I add extra time for possible traffic delays; punctures - I can change a wheel myself without trouble or help, but it takes time. Then I have to add time for getting lost, because I do that all the time. I have no sense of direction. I am so used to getting lost, I don't panic, even in the days before GPS and Google, I just went around in ever increasing circles until I found myself again. But that takes time. Then I add a cushion for just in case.

Then, if none of those delays occur, I arrive way too early. I sit and waste that time. Going to the airport, particularly if I am the one traveling, is much worse. Most flights require you to be at the airport two hours before your flight. I usually add another two hours to that; and I have Clear, so I jump the line; and I have TSA Precheck, another line jumped. Plus I have Global Entry for International flight line jumping. I could probably arrive one hour before my flight and still have time to wait. I have never missed a flight yet, I have missed connections but there is no way that I can build in safety for that - I try by allowing a really long connection time when making reservations, again wasting time, but even that is not always enough. 

I have been getting my hair done by the same hair stylist for over 20 years, so you can imagine she knows I will turn up early and she is very tolerant of this annoyance. In fact, if I am not there on time she will call me - mostly with concern for me. I was on time once (as opposed to being early) due to a meeting at work that ran over. It swallowed up my puncture, traffic and circling back time, she called as I was just pulling in. The only other time she called, I had put the appointment in my calendar on the wrong day! That was only 6 months ago and I am still recovering from that.

And before you ask, yes I know I am OCD. I have written about it before. At least six times, possibly more. I won't bore you with links to all the previous posts on this subject, feel free to search my blog for OCD if you are really interested, yes, that is something I would probably do. Here is a link to the first post I published on the subject.




Saturday, October 16, 2021

Texas - a love hate relationship?

When I first arrived in Texas I was enthralled by it. I loved everything about it. The first year, in the early fall I was visiting friends. They lived in a small new age community. The entire neighborhood were having a cook out and hay ride. There must have been twenty of us on the hay trailer, and many more on foot. singing 'Deep in the Heart of Texas'. I felt that I had finally come home.

Now, twenty-seven years later, every time I turn my head I see beautiful rolling hills and the lake. I am sure most of you have see my conveyor belt of photos of the sun setting over the lake, or the fish we regularly catch either trolling slowly in a boat in the early morning, or fishing off the dock in the evening. 



I have seen fox, racoons and squirrels right outside my window, and of course the herds of small white tail deer who are never far from our back patio, and sometimes in the front also. There are so many different, beautiful birds. It is idyllic. 

How can a State filled with such beauty be also filled with such hatred, injustice and cruelty? The evil displayed every day by the State government is horrifying. The crooked practices being put in place to ensure that the current government remain in power is almost laughable. After all it appears that the only people who bother to vote are the very people who put them in the position of such power. 


To be fair, it isn't just Texas. All of the United States is filled with breathtaking beauty and breathtaking hatred, ignorance and cruelty. Perhaps there is the same degree of hatred in other countries, but it is not obvious and not acted upon as it is here.

It isn't easy being a foreigner in the US. It is sometimes very difficult and frustrating being a foreigner in Texas, and no doubt most of the Southern States. I did live in California for two of the twenty-seven years and that was a lot easier, in part because there are more foreigners there so the locals (Americans) were much more familiar with different accents, different colloquialisms and, to a certain extent, different cultures. Basically everyone is a foreigner to some extent.

I have blogged about the various issues I have faced living in Texas, but they pale in comparison to what is happening now. As I said, twenty-seven years ago I loved it here, I felt I had come home. I still love the beauty we are surrounded by, and I have many good friends here - admittedly, only a few of them are native Texans, but some are. But I am quickly learning to hate living here. While statistics show that the State is evenly split politically, it would appear that the only people who bother to vote are those that support Abbot and his crew of misogynistic crooks. Perhaps the gerrymandering put in place by the far right is also to blame.

I will be curious to see what happens next November in the midterm elections. I have only a very faint hope that anything will change for the better. Meanwhile, here are some of the posts that I have written over the years. To demonstrate some of the less political difficulties faced.

The first post I wrote, in October 2013. Actually, I wrote it at least 14 years earlier, but didn't post it to my blog until then. I started my blog in October 2013. This was one of my first posts and it dealt purely with the different words used and the problem being that most of the English speaking world know the Americanism, but Americans are unware of the differences and do not realize that different is not necessary wrong. And while I knew the different words and pronunciations, it is not easy to break a habit of a lifetime. The Language Barrier.

The second, in November 2013 deals not so much with language but food and is more about how people in the Southern States tend to have a very limited palate when it comes to what they like to eat. They feel very strongly about their preferences and are not very adventurous in this area. Not Just a Language Difference.

Then in January 2014, it was accents that caused me to ruminate. Specifically I got tripped up a few times by my mother in law's strong Kentucky accent. Will I Ever Speak Kentucky?

That was followed in March 2014 with some thought on the different sayings and ways of using the English language, between Ireland, England and the US. This one was sparked by an English teacher in France, whose understanding of English and the differences between the language across the various English speaking countries, was not very good. Definitely not as good as my eleven year old grandson's understanding, she was his English teacher unfortunately. Irish Sayings and the English Language.

Then again in June 2014 - that one was to do with TV programs. When I was growing up very few families in Ireland owned a TV. We didn't get one until I was at least eleven. And there was only a very limited number of US Shows available to us, my lack of familiarity with US TV programs of old would always come into question. I Didn't Grow Up Here.

It would appear that in October 2015 I became impatient with the Southerners lack of appreciate for other cultures, actually more that they seem to be unaware that other cultures exist. Apparently I observed someone expressing the assumption that Texas was no different to any other State in the Union. This I know to not be so as I have travelled to almost every State, despite not being an American - or maybe because I am not? Texas is very different to most States. Though recently, other states are rushing to be as misogynistic. Texas.

Finally, in November 2019, looks like I totally lost patience and just wanted to go home - though truth be told, I started thinking about going home in January 2017, when a wave of hatred surged in the US - and it still exists today; in fact today it is even worse. America is fast becoming a country where anyone who is 'different' is unwelcome and unsafe. A Foreigner in the World.

As I review these posts, in October 2021, I realize that none of that really matters. What matters now is that America has changed so drastically I feel that I am now in physical danger living here. And it is not just Texas, I don't think there is a State in the Union that is not being impacted by this virus of hatred.

I still feel like a foreigner after twenty-seven years, in fact more so. I wonder how much longer it will be possible for me to live happily in a country now so divided. A country filled with hatred and selfishness. It is not the country I 'escaped' to. Right now, I am kind of glad to feel different. 

Yes, I know - and I agree, there are some wonderful, good, kind and generous people here, my husband for one. And he points out that at least half of the country is still made up of good, caring people. He is the only reason I have not left. But I watch those good people being threatened, battered and beaten, not to mention many forced into poverty and out into the streets, and those living in the streets given no assistance or even a kind thought; with no strong leadership to fight for their rights - or with what leadership we have busy fighting among themselves, they have no chance. Peoples right to vote stripped away; women's rights reduced to what it was a century ago, by those very people who are supposed to be protecting us. So much more yet to happen.

I echo what I heard Fiona Hill say in an interview recently, something I have said many times in the last 5 years. This is not the America I came to. It is the America I would prefer not to live in any more.


 


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Memories from the late '50s

I have heard that as you get older long term memories become more vivid. Recently I was doing my laundry, a simple task these days, and I thought about Sundays when I was a kid. My mother worked full time. There were six of us kids;  I was the third.

Every Sunday she changed the sheets on all the beds, that's a lot of beds. Actually she changed the bottom sheet - fitted sheets had not yet been invented - and she put the top sheet on the bottom, and a clean sheet on top. Then she washed all of the family's clothes, including the sheets and towels. The washing machine was a heavy old agitator with a wringer. 

First she had to move the machine from the corner where it was stored while not in use, (it was not plumbed in of course), push it up to the kitchen sink and fill it by attaching rubber hoses to the kitchen taps and running the water into the machine drum, add the detergent and set the agitator going. It was not a timed wash, the agitator would continue swishing until it was manually switched off.  In between wash loads she cleaned the house. 

Once a wash load was ready, she filled the big kitchen sink with clean cold water. The next stage was to stop the agitator and pull the wet items out of the water with a wooden tongs, feeding them through the wringer, being very careful to not get fingers caught in the wringer, hence the tongs. The clothes dropped into the sink of clean water where they were rinsed off by hand, then sent back through the wringer - at this point she had replaced the lid on the machine to avoid the clothes dropping into the, now dirty, soapy water. Sometimes this rinsing process had to be repeated more than once, particularly for big items like sheets and towels. 

Finally, she set the machine to empty - through another rubber hose that hooked over the sink, while she took the clean, wet clothes outside into the back yard. There, she hung them on the clothes line, if the weather was good. 

As you can imagine, for a family of seven, we had more than one line in the yard.  We went out and checked the clothes regularly and as soon as they were dry enough we brought them in to make space for another load.

If the weather was not good enough for drying the clothes outdoors, they were hung on a wooden rack that extended the width of the kitchen. It was a big kitchen.

She usually had six or seven wash loads, so she had to refill, wash, wring, rinse, wring and hang that many times. It took hours. I often helped her hang clothes on the line while she worked on another load. I hated the indoor rack because when it was full of wet clothes it was really hard to pull it up to the ceiling, it was heavy! And of course the wringer was not very efficient so the clothes dripped water all over the floor. We placed layers of newspaper on the floor, under the rack to sop up the water.

In between doing all that, she found time to cook a big dinner for all of us. Sunday dinner was a ritual in Ireland back in those days. Roasted meat and potatoes and at least two vegetables and dessert. For a family the size of ours, it was usually a leg of lamb. Lamb was very cheap in Ireland. We didn't have a refrigerator, so the meat, purchased on Saturday, sat in the pantry overnight. 

One week the dog grabbed it and ran out to the back yard with it. We all chased her till we cornered her and got it back. My mother washed and trimmed it and went ahead and cooked dinner as usual. We survived. We survived a lot worse than that!

Looking back now, I don't know how she did it. Life was not easy! In the 60s she did start using a laundry service. A big bundle of dirty laundry was left in our front porch, the laundry service picked it up while at the same time dropping off a bundle of crisp, clean laundry from the week before. We also got a used refrigerator.


My mother would have loved smartphones and email. In the '80s she bought an Amstrad computer on which she spent hours digging into the OS and using the word processing to replace her typewriter - she had her landline hooked up to a fax machine. Of course, that was much later, not until the late 80s.


Her answering machine message would instruct people to leave a message or send a fax. When I first moved to the US we regularly communicated via fax. 







Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Medicare

Some of you may remember when I was whining about my upcoming retirement. I mentioned being wary of Medicare, mainly because I knew nothing about it, having grown up in a country where free medical care was available to all. But, having worked in the US for 27 years, paying into Medicare with every paycheck, I had hopes that it would be all I needed. Not so, apparently you need to buy insurance cover to fill in the gaps. Mainly, I think, dental and vision. I also mentioned that my husband was taking care of arranging that, as I fought my way through the misery of the last few months of the bullying that forced my decision to retire.

We were more than halfway through the Medicare year so settled for cover that looked like it would do while we got familiar with what was and was not available to us. It was okay, but coming up to the new Medicare year we have a better idea of what we need.

What I didn't realize was, after the 27 years of deductions from every paycheck, we still have to pay a monthly charge for Medicare coverage - it isn't huge, but it is still a payment I didn't expect. Add to that, the slightly larger payment for the separate coverage that is essential, and the fact that for some reason my one medication is not covered at all. That of course, is because I can't take the generic form and that is all they will pay for. 

It amazes me that a country that considers itself the leader of the Western World, doesn't have adequate health cover for its elderly, nor for the huge number of people living in poverty. OK, it has something called Medicaid which I understand is for those citizens who can't afford any sort of health care, depending on what state you live in. Said leader of the Western World also has a huge population living below the poverty line. According to this report:

"Official U.S. Census Bureau statistics estimate that 40 million persons, 12.3 percent of the total population, were poor in the United States in 2017"

You can bet that figure is way higher now, after the pandemic. 

But the most unexpected thing about Medicare is the incredible amount of spam it generates. If you live in the US you will notice a plethora of advertising around this time of year, and it will get worse between now and December. This is open enrollment and all of the insurance companies and supplemental plans are vying for what money the elderly have to spare. If you happen to already be on Medicare you are getting spam phone calls and emails - apparently the Do Not Call list doesn't apply to them - or so they think.

The elderly are not well cared for in the US. I remember a number of years ago, when I was doing my mother-in-law's taxes for her, how horrified I was that, despite having almost no income, she still owed the IRS. Her very small Social Security payment was taxed! Had she not been living with us she would have very quickly burned through the small savings her husband had left her with. How elderly people with no family to care for them manage is beyond me. I did write about that at the time.

It is bad enough that we have to put up with the aches and pains and all the other things that old age brings, now we have to put up with a whole new wave of spam. I am still hopeful that as I get more experience with this system, I will discover some more positive details. And at least we do have it.


Thursday, September 30, 2021

Book Report: John Pavlovitz

I have frequently shared John's blog posts so you may be familiar with him, or at least with the fact that I follow his blog. I also follow him on Twitter, and on Amazon.

I love his writing style and his attitude. Up to now though, I have not purchased any of this books. The only reason being that I am not religious; his books are religious, though far more than that. I don't consider myself to be a Christian, although I was born into a Catholic family. I separated myself from religion and from Christianity fairly quickly. The nuns started the rot. I have written a couple of blogs about that! At first I tried. I read the Douai bible from cover to cover, I also read the King James bible - though to be fair it was a very old edition. I wrote a blog about that particular bible, nothing to do with religion, but a lot to do with the old family bible being returned to its home, mainly thanks to my son's detective work. I really liked that story. I was confirmed in both the Catholic and the Methodist churches before finally giving up.  

My observations of human 'kind' caused the rot to spread and the Christianity I discovered in the US cemented it (can you cement rot?). I firmly believe that people are inherently bad, the few like John Pavlovitz, are rare. I have been lucky enough to have met some, but they are still only a very small proportion compared to the many evil people I have known and observed. 

Too many people claim to be Christians and then proceed to display what I believed to be absolutely unchristian behavior; I have to pause and wonder, is my understanding of Christianity wrong, or has it changed. Love thy neighbor, to most Christians, appears to mean 'you love ME', but not the other way. I have met Atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews who show more humanity that so called Christians claim is part of their beliefs. Of course, that is not to say there are no evil people among every cross section of society - perhaps all religions have their version of the Taliban or White Supremacists. That is why I refuse to embrace religion. I believe that everyone is entitled to believe whatever they please, and practice whatever they believe so long as it doesn't hurt others. Just leave me out of it. Religion is just an excuse to be an asshole.

But this week I bought and read John's latest book. 'If God is Love, Don't be a Jerk'. I did so because John posted on Facebook that he was about to have brain surgery and would not be able to work on launching his new book. He asked his FB followers to buy it, review it and help get the word out there. So I did. As my review on Amazon states, I did skim over the sections that were just too much Jesus for me. But still, I enjoyed it. Of course, John's writing style and viewpoint makes it hard to not enjoy whatever he writes. and his sense of humor is always present. I also did not remove a star because I found the Jesus references too much, I was not being forced to read it and I respect his right to believe - as I already mentioned.

Here are some snippets I particularly liked.

"If you've evolved or matured or progressed in some fundamental way, you know that there's a grieving in that growing and outgrowing, in losing some of the old story, the security of that story, the sense of self that story gave you"

"It's never lost on me that the greatest resistance to the Black lives Matter movement and to LGBTQ equality and to so many other human rights movements comes from followers of Jesus"
"You can't preach an all-people gospel while despising refugees and foreigners and immigrants"
"You can't claim that 'all lives matter' while protecting only those who share your pigmentation"
"You cannot be fully pro-life and uphold your supremacy based on color, geography, or religion"
I particularly love in Chapter 9, he relates how he accidentally watched a 3-D movie wearing his sunglasses instead of the supplied 3-D glasses to demonstrated the idea "The lenses through which we view the world matter".

My main takeaway is that the author is experiencing enormous pain, emotional and intellectual. As am I. However we are experiencing it from opposite sides of the concept of Christianity. He believes in a god, he believes in Christ and he is a good person and his psyche is hurting because so many people who claim to believe as he does, who profess to be Christian, are destroying all that he loves and cherishes about Christianity. I look at these same people and see it as proof positive that I was right to turn my back on the doctrine that the nuns tried to brainwash me with, a doctrine that says we are right and everyone else is wrong. I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to believe whatever they wish. I also think these beliefs should be private. No one should have the right to force their beliefs on others. No one should be persecuted for their beliefs.

If you are a Christian, I highly recommend this book.




Tuesday, September 21, 2021

I admit it, I love being retired

And why wouldn't I? Why did it take me 16 weeks to come to this decision? Well, I was worried. Partly because I had not planned to retire quite so soon, I had expected another two years at work before that happened. I had also expected that my eventual retirement would not be me 'taking my ball and going home'. I had imagined it would be a farewell party of some proportion - that is not to say I didn't enjoy the wonderful sendoff I got from my own team and it was during a pandemic. (Read about it here). 

I think now the only thing that still stings a little is the fact that I was denied an exit interview. I loved my job, even though it was very stressful and I did work long hours. I loved the team I was working with, we all worked together (what a team does, or should do) and we had each other's backs. But retirement is good!


I have a bunch of hobbies and certainly I am never bored however, a few weeks ago my embroidery machine had a nervous breakdown and we had to bring it into the shop for a service. 'The shop' is Northwest Sewing Center, and that is located almost downtown; 35 miles away!.  We drove down there on a Thursday morning, dropped the machine off and came home. Two hours gone just like that. About the only downside to living by the lake. Small price to pay.

Two weeks later, back again to pick up the machine, another Thursday morning, another two hours. I was excited to get it back. I had missed it! When I started my next embroidery project I was pleased to hear how smooth it sounded. Then horror! It once again started stamping a hole in the fabric instead of continuing on its designed path. Now it was the weekend, so first thing Monday morning, back down we went. Well, actually not first thing as they don't open until 10 a.m. But by 9.30 we were out of the house. 

This time we stayed and the entire staff were extremely helpful. All that is, except the elderly grumpy man who ran the maintenance section. I am sure he was offended by my claim that the machine was still not fixed. I did try to be as non accusatory as possible. But he was not going to be friendly. Of course while old, he was also not retired.  Someone worked on the machine while we waited. While chatting to the rest of the staff I was introduced to some, much more suitable, stabilizer for my t-shirt projects and learned about their virtual embroidery classes. 

It was 12.30 by the time we got home - on a Monday lunchtime. That was three weekday mornings pretty much used up by my embroidery machine. I could not have done that had I still been working. Had I been working, I would have had to wait for the weekend each time.

I think I mentioned before, one of the side effects of being old that I enjoy, is the invisibility factor; seriously, people (those who are not old) don't actually see old people, we become invisible and there is a huge bonus that accompanies that new power. 

I stopped wearing makeup when I started working from home and wearing a mask when outside further eliminated the need - if you can call it a need. I will never go back to wearing makeup again, money saved, time saved and probably my skin is happier; I wear comfortable clothes, and spend most of the day barefoot or in flipflops.

Being retired takes the invisibility power and increases it by adding a cloak to it - a superpower. You are still invisible but if you have that cloak on, they know you are there but their attitude is "ah sure, god love her". Although I never was a talker, I know I mentioned that before; but now I pretty much say what I want to, when I want to. People either ignore me or look at me sympathetically. But I don't care, I am retired. If I don't feel like making conversation I don't; when I feel like it then I say whatever comes into my head.

If you turn up at a sewing machine service shop, on a Monday morning, with a sewing machine that they just serviced, and after an hour, it is established that there is really nothing wrong with the machine. You can see it in their faces "poor old thing". Then you go home with your machine and none of it really matters.

My manuscript is sitting on the desktop waiting for attention, whenever I feel like it - not to mention this blog. My embroidery machine is, apparently, perfectly fine and I can now generate more t-shirts with funny sayings and images on - for no obvious reason other than it amuses me; the boat sits patiently in the dock waiting for us, the fish are swimming around all over the lake and I can do whatever I please.

I can't wait to get the retirement effect on my travel. Just as soon as COVID-19 is fully under control, and all my grandchildren have been vaccinated - almost time for the under 12s!! I can decide when and for how long, and just go. That is going to be the icing on the cake!

So, I apologize for being such a wuss before, and making such a fuss about retiring. And once again I thank my small team who did give me a wonderful sendoff, even if Amazon leadership looked the other way. Who cares about them anyway? I am retired! And now I have found yet another interest - virtual embroidery classes!

Now, back to my embroidery with fingers crossed that the machine really is in perfect working order.