Friday, April 30, 2021


A few months ago I responded to a request to take part in market research for a Fitbit - I tend to do a lot of beta testing because quality assurance is not just my job, it is my passion; and while market research is slightly different the big temptation with this particular program was the fact that I got a free Fitbit, yes, I get to keep it, bonus because I would never buy one again.

When the Fitbit first hit the market both my husband and I got one. After a few months we gave up on them, actually they gave up on us and the company who then owned them refused to even respond to our call for help, that is we contacted their customer support and basically they said they could do nothing for us. As a result I was dubious but hoping that over the years they had improved.  It looked exactly the same as the one I had years ago with the exception of the buckle on the strap, but it definitely had a lot more functionality plus the phone app which makes it much easier to set up and interact with.

At first I was really pleased with it. The phone app made it possible to easily view my stats and I have got to admit that I really liked the report on my quality of sleep each night.  Of course I did realize that it was a little bit silly to be so delighted when the app agreed with me that I had woken multiple times during the night - very normal for any post menopausal female. I did wonder why my 4 miles on the treadmill each morning was not registered, yet all other steps taken were, it did measure my heart rate while on the treadmill, just not the steps. I was able to register the time and distance in the app, and then it calculated the number of steps I had taken during my exercise, not exactly high tech I think? The battery was good and only needed to be recharged once a week, fully charging within a couple of hours. I even enjoyed the resulting celebratory vibration when I achieved greater than ten thousand steps. For five weeks I enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction as my Fitbit cheered my achievements, more than ten thousand steps per day, 5 days a week and while it constantly encouraged me to consider going for the premium package I resisted. So glad that I did!

At the end of the 5 weeks, after a particularly bad night with almost no sleep, I consulted the app to get some consolation and discovered that my night must have totally confused it because it reported it as three separate nights  As the market research program lasted only two weeks, at this stage I was on my own.

These are the stages it reports

The image below is a screen shot of my Sunday night report. First of all, the bottom graph is way off. On Sunday night I actually went to bed at 7.20, as the middle graph reports that I fell asleep at 7.22 p.m.  According to the app, it needs more than three hours sleep to reliably report the stages, therefore the middle graph is what it terms 'basic' sleep pattern and so is the top. My assumption was that because I was awake so much during the night, it assumed two separate nights of less than 3 hours sleep and so reported the two upper graphs as basic sleep; I have no idea where it got the bottom graph from and my suspicion was it was secretly tracking my husband though he sleeps in later than 4.48 a.m.! or it pulled it from the previous week as some sort of consolation. And, just in case you are wondering why on earth I get up at 2.13 a.m. Well, there are a number of reasons, after a night of constantly waking it is almost a relief to get up at that hour. I have never set an alarm because I always wake early, I usually get up between 2.15 and 3.15 so that I can workout for an hour, and still be at my desk for 4.30 a.m. my normal start time. You see, part of my team is located in India and I like to be able to overlap with their normal working day so 4.30 works for that. That early rising time also explains the unusually early bed time.

This was what it thought of Sunday night

However, the following night, actually Monday night, it recorded nothing. The app suggested I wear my Fitbit to bed in order to record my sleep patterns. I googled "why did my Fitbit fail to record my sleep" and found this link, a Fitbit Community all experiencing the same issue. Turns out I was lucky to get five full weeks before it gave up on me. Many of the people reported that a reboot of the device fixed the issue. I tried that suggestion and sure enough, on Tuesday night it recorded my sleep again.

Something else I discovered in my google search was that the sleep tracking starts when the wearable no longer detects movement. What that suggests to me is it assumes movement during sleep represents waking? Now, I know that I am a very restless sleeper; I have restless leg syndrome, I have had it for so long that it only wakes me when it is really bad, the rest of the time I actually remain asleep and thrash around a bit to relieve it. If this is how the device figures out waking periods, then perhaps I don't wake up as often as it thinks. This suspicion led me to google again, where I found an interesting page of Fitbit help subjects and according to that, the device uses movement and heart rate to make an educated guess as to what stage of sleep I am in. 

The following night, Wednesday, once again no report at all. I rebooted the device and having read through the help page, discovered that it might fail to record sleep if it is too loose or in a position where it can't track heart rate. Given that it tracked without missing a night for five weeks, and so many other people reported the same issue as I was having, I find it hard to believe that is why my Fitbit is no longer interested in my sleep patterns, but I decided to try one more time. Thursday night I made sure the device was snugly fitted and the requisite distance from my wrist. Next morning I was actually surprised to discover that I got another valid report of my night's sleep:

The jury is still out but for the moment I will continue to wear my Fitbit although I am not really clear as to what value it adds. I do know that I am very glad that I didn't shell out $141 of my own money for it. However, the fact that I didn't pay for it makes me question my dedication to actually figuring out all of the functionality. Perhaps I will make an effort to learn more about what it has to offer and report back at a later date.

This is an interesting read, if slightly out of date.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Book report

I used to travel a lot before Covid-19. At least one transatlantic trip every year, with multiple hops between Ireland, England and France; and a trip to Seattle at least once every six weeks for work. I love to read and that was when I did most of my reading, sitting in airports and during the long tedious flights. The rest of my time was filled with work, working from home resulted in even longer hours at my desk and I found I was accumulating a number of books but with no time to read. I have a habit of buying books I would like to read, as I come across them; this is so much easier with e-books of course, which is what I prefer.

I fixed this problem by increasing my daily treadmill walk from 30 minutes to 1 hour during which time I read while at the same time counteracting the long periods of sitting at my desk. In the past month I completed Mary Trump's book and will finish reading Michael Cohen's book this week. Both books, I am sure you are aware, are about Donald Trump; they come at him from completely different angles. Mary Trump's describes his formative years and the dysfunctional family that created him. Michael Cohen gives insight into how he managed to suck otherwise intelligent people into his cult.

My impression was that Mary wrote her book as a form of therapy, in the same way that I wrote mine. She was after all, part of that dysfunctional family. Obviously her tragedy was far greater than mine and it was impressive how she managed to remove herself from it; however I found it slightly irritating that, as a psychologist, she made so many excuses for her own father, Donald Trump's older brother, who could not remove himself. Perhaps it is because she is a psychologist that she excused him. It frustrated me that he managed to separate himself from his family for long enough to built the possibility of a decent life for his wife and children, but his self destruct button was way too big and he could not sustain his independence; and while the toxic family interactions caused Trump to turn into the self serving and very dangerous narcissist - because he was already a person without empathy, his older brother was clearly a very sensitive soul and was in turn destroyed for his virtues. Very sad. On the other hand, I admire the way Mary related her story without any indication of self pity or bitterness, despite how badly she was treated by that family. I highly recommend the book.

Michael Cohen's book on the other hand, comes across as alternately confession and excuses; constantly referring to the cult like atmosphere around Trump that kept him and so many other, apparently intelligent, people not just closely bound to Trump, but prepared to do anything to please him - or more correctly, avoid incurring his displeasure, no matter how demeaning, illegal or cruel, or all three. It amazes me that people who are rich and powerful in their own right, become so dazzled by a man who I see as fat, ugly, stupid, a liar, a racist, a narcissist (confirmed by his psychologist niece), totally lacking in empathy and filled with so many other vile human failings with no redeeming qualities. I can only conclude that despite being relatively intelligent, they don't have sufficient belief in themselves and so they need to hitch their wagon to someone who firmly believes the most amazingly obvious lies he tells himself and others in order to appear better than everyone else. Or, perhaps they are basically bad people from the start and just needed someone to make them feel it was OK to be that way.

The term 'cult' has a number of differing but similar definitions:

  • a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
  • a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
  • a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.

It doesn't surprise me that the term cult is associated with religion. As I see it, it appeals to the herd instinct in the same way a religion does; where religion uses the need to believe in a greater power, unseen but apparently real, to control large crowds of people (and also to separate them from their money) so does a cult, though in many cases with cults, the greater power is actually right there for all to see their lack of any qualities worth following. 

According to this link, therapist Rachel Bernstein, who specializes in treating cult survivors said her former cult member patients often tell her they would've never joined the cult if they weren't going through a difficult life event at the time they were approached to join. As I dug deeper into the Google vault to try to understand the mentality of anyone who would get sucked into a cult I started to understand why I found it so hard to understand.

This link states:

"Folks who long for greater human connection may also be more likely to fall victim to a cult. Close relationships are a human need. By capitalizing on this proclivity, cults can be that much more insidious."

I don't long for greater human connection, I don't need someone to tell me what to do and how to think, in fact I strongly object to that; hence I am not religious and while I understand people who are religious, I have no understanding of people who join cults of any kind. I never will. Therefore my final conclusion of Michael Cohen's book is, while it is an interesting read because it gives insight into the horribly corrupt cult of Trump, it is basically Michael Cohen trying to excuse himself for being part of it and for being eventually abandoned and cast aside by his orange leader.

Both books are easy reads and I recommend them, unless you are a staunch, unquestioning Trump supporter that is, because if you are you will not enjoy them.

Finally, if you want more information on cults, this is a fascinating website and in particular this article is worth a read.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Impending doom or a whole new lease on life?

Only time will tell. This is a typical case of be careful what you wish for. Back in December 2019, I published a blog entry about the fact that I would love to retire but would never be able to afford to, and how lucky I was to work for a company who valued me despite my age... famous last words?

With five weeks left to my retirement date I spend a lot of time worrying about exactly how it will pan out. You see, I didn't plan to retire quite so soon, if ever. I know, "soon?" you will say, given that I am already way past any normal person's retirement age. But I also didn't have an opportunity to start preparing for retirement financially until almost at a normal person's retirement age. No, due to circumstances beyond my control I was put in a position where I had no option but to retire. The details of this are not important to my current discussion, this is all about the impending inevitability of retirement and how I am going to deal with it.

Naturally, I asked my friend Google for advice. One of the links I followed had some interesting quotes on preparing for retirement:

"My recommendation to my clients is this: As you plan for retirement, think about what it looks like. Talk to your friends. Write about it. Create a storyboard. Be imaginative. Your financial plans and your day-to-day retirement plan should go hand in hand. This is your retirement identity." Financial advisor Diane M. Manuel

So, following that advice, here I am writing about it. Given what it was like dealing with fighting off the boredom that accompanied the Covid-19 lockdown - and that was while being employed full time, I was worried about more of the same. On the other hand, the idea of every day being a Saturday except for Sunday, with time to workout without watching the clock, time to cool down after a workout before having to shower. Time to write as and when the inspiration arises, and to fish during the week when the lake is quiet, grocery shop mid week when the stores are quiet and time to do my embroidery. Yes, it did seem appealing.

During the 2020 lockdown I rediscovered my love of jigsaw puzzles and must have completed at least 20, however this hobby is not sustainable on a regular basis in retirement, the cost would be prohibitive at between $15 - 25 per jigsaw puzzle. Also, during that same period there was the crazy presidential election campaign and all the theatrics that came with it, not to mention the unbelievable follow up events when Trump was declared the loser; all of this made television very much more appealing that it usually is - now it has returned to being very boring.

Another quote from the link mentioned above:

"Life is not measured by the number in your bank account, but the memories you create. Therefore, focus on how your finances can maximize your life, not the other way around," Cooper Mitchell, financial advisor

At first I was quite distressed at the idea of retiring so much sooner than originally planned, mainly due to financial reasons, slowly this gave way to a feeling of impending freedom, followed by a feeling of impending doom. Now I have no idea what to think or expect. I know that it is necessary to have a schedule even in retirement. Fortunately I already have an exercise schedule to which I adhere strictly - I have to otherwise I will have no problem finding excuses for skipping my workout, something I only do for my health and absolutely do not enjoy.

I am an early riser and while I will no longer have to be at my desk by 4.30 a.m. I anticipate that I will maintain the same early mornings I currently do at weekends, when I usually wake sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. This may change as I attempt to stay up later in the evenings, that remains to be seen. The workout schedule will remain almost the same with the addition of a cool down period before showering; I will set aside the rest of my early mornings for writing. That just leaves the entire rest of the day! Luckily we are living by the lake and we both love fishing, so hopefully that will fill a large part of the days during the week - when the weather allows. No doubt I will adjust with time.

One of the things that did come to mind as I tried to anticipate what life would be like after retirement is the isolation. I am by nature an introvert. I really don't enjoy the social aspect of work; that is I do like chatting with those I am closer to at work, but I do not like the 'happy hours' and group lunches. In my previous job I had an office to myself, I could emerge any time I needed to interact with others, which was rare, and those I was more friendly with would drop in occasionally for a chat, but overall, I like to keep to myself. The job I am about to retire from is all open plan and was shoulder to shoulder until Covid-19 had us all working from home. At least that was good practice for retirement.

However, there is a difference between keeping to yourself by choice amidst a large group of familiar faces and being totally removed from other people. Thankfully I will have my husband at home also and we are good friends as well as being married. But, will that be enough? With the continued Covid-19 restrictions and the fact that we will be suddenly on a very fixed budget, mixing with strangers or getting involved in activities to enable me to meet new people is out of the question, even if the idea appealed to me.

So why retire? I hear you ask. As I said at the beginning of this article, I was given very little choice, the alternative was far less attractive than the anticipated problems fast approaching.

Here are some of the links I found discussing the problem and giving some sound advice:


Psychology Today

Very well mind

Cuna Mutual

And in preparation I bought this book from Amazon, I will report back on it once I have read it:

Monday, April 19, 2021

Reflecting on things we cannot change

Last week we attended the funeral for my mother in law. It was a bitterly cold day, unusual for Texas in the middle of April, but appropriate. I was fighting my own feelings of bitterness.

After living with us for eight years, I had not seen nor heard from my mother in law in over a year when she died. My husband had visited her a number of times in the assisted living center she had moved to with almost no notice to us. Each time  he visited she was cold and distant and he returned home hurt and confused. We had no idea why she suddenly turned against us. After that the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place and he could no longer visit, he called her multiple times but she didn't pick up or call back.

To go back to the beginning, or the beginning of this episode in my life. My father in law was moved to a memory care facility and my mother in law was driving a thirty mile round trip every day to visit him, then returning to an empty house. We worried about her and after some discussion, we decided that we should have her come live with us. When we approached the subject with her, she refused immediately, but after some discussion she said she would consider it if we could get a house where she could have a large master suite on the ground floor as she couldn't manage climbing stairs and while my little house had no stairs, it didn't have the master suite she required.

It took us six months to find a house that would  be close enough to the memory care home, have the facilities my mother in law wanted and still work for us. It wasn't ideal for us, as we also would have preferred no stairs, but we could make it work. We had to spend time and money renovating and making a master suite upstairs for us, by combining two bedrooms with an existing double bathroom; eventually we all moved in together. Mildred's drive to the home was reduced to about six miles and our commutes to work had seven miles added to them. This was a fair price to pay. 

This arrangement worked well for five years however, when Mildred's sight became so bad that she could no longer drive we had to again make some hard decisions. We decided that my husband would quit his job and stay home to take care of her. She was still able to do all of the personal things, but she needed someone to drive her to her many doctor, dentist and optometrist appointments, not to mention getting to her regular manicure, pedicure and hair appointments. For three years Larry did these tasks and I continued to work to support the three of us and pay the bills. After the first year of Larry's early 'retirement' Mildred started having difficulty dealing with sales people, mainly due to her failing sight, she was unable to see to pay, but also she tended to get confused easily, particularly when dealing with unfamiliar accents; I started attending the nail salon with her in order to act as interpreter and general assistant, paying for her and making her follow up appointments.

During the eight years that she lived with us, Mildred accompanied us everywhere, she came to dinner with us every weekend, for Valentine's Day and our anniversary dinner, we never had a real 'date night' during that time. She even accompanied us on our occasional weekend visits to the casinos in Shreveport, where we made sure to get two connecting rooms so we were readily available to her if she needed anything, leaving the adjoining door ajar to ensure her easy access, with one notable exception.

On that one occasion, for our wedding anniversary, Larry booked tickets to see my favorite C&W singer. Gene Watson, in Shreveport. He arranged for his niece, Mildred's grand daughter, to stay with her for the two nights we would be gone. This was the first time we were leaving her and we were nervous about it but she assured us that she would be fine with her grand daughter and we called her a few times over the weekend to check on her. When we returned all was well except for one thing, I realized that they had both lied and Katie had not stayed overnight - the bed was not slept in and the towels I had laid out on the bed were unused and still on the bed. 

The last year that Mildred lived with us we purchased a three bedroom condo in Lago Vista, right on Lake Travis; our plan was to use it for weekends and eventually retire there. We decorated it and allocated a bedroom for Mildred. At first she happily joined us there for weekends, spending hours sitting in her recliner looking out at the lake, or reading, though at this point it was listening rather than reading as her eyesight was so bad I had set up her Kindle to read to her. We did buy her an Echo to read, play music and turn on and off lights, but she was not so comfortable with that. After a while she decided she didn't want to come to the lake any more at weekends and I said in that case we would not go overnight and leave her. She insisted that she would be perfectly fine and the condo was only 30 minutes away from the house. I was still uncomfortable about it so we reduced our visits and Larry returned to check on her in the evening if we were staying overnight, and we always returned early the following morning, we also invested in an emergency service for her. She was somewhat impatient with us for making this extra fuss, saying it was unnecessary and she was fine.

Despite the fact that Larry's brother and his son lived close by they rarely saw Mildred. They arranged to go out to eat with her if one of them had a birthday, and they had her over for Christmas and Thanksgiving most years, at first these visits were all afternoon and dinner, later they were at most two hours total and finally became a quick lunch. This lack of attention to Mildred and assistance to us was the main reason I was surprised to discover in early December of 2019 that she had been conspiring with them to get her moved into assisted living and within 2 weeks, one week before Christmas, they moved her out one day while I was at work. That was the last I saw of her and she didn't even say goodbye. Less upsetting was the fact that she took some pieces of furniture that she had previously given to us. We didn't really care about that so much as the entire thing was so very unexpected and without obvious reason.

To be fair, over the previous year or so, we had noticed that her behavior had become somewhat odd; there were signs that she was beginning to 'lose her edge'. She would suddenly trail off in mid sentence or completely change the subject half way through a sentence; she was also given to sharp outbursts of temper for no obvious reason and had completely lost her sense of humor, she almost never smiled or laughed any more. So I try to console myself that perhaps dementia was to blame, but it didn't help to ease the hurt that I felt then and still feel now. I wish that she would have talked to us about it, more importantly it would have really helped if Larry's brother had talked to us about it. Wishing doesn't make it so and looking backwards never solved anything.