Saturday, July 31, 2021

What day is it!!??

It matters. And yes this retirement thing is messing up my internal calendar. Is there such a thing? I googled it and got no results, well, no results related to what I meant by it.

Last Sunday I woke up at my normal time, 4.30 a.m. - as it was Sunday, one of the two days in the week that I don't work out, I decided to have an extra thirty minutes - the laundry could wait. The laundry! I never put the hamper outside the bedroom door last night, I will have to remember to get it when I get up and bring it down with me. Just before 5 a.m. I got up, took the clothes hamper from the closet as quietly as I could and went downstairs. I left the hamper at the door to the laundry room and carried on down to the bathroom that I normally use, in order to avoid waking my husband at that ungodly hour.

When I started brushing my hair I was a bit perturbed to notice that it really needed a wash - normally on my non workout days, Friday and Sunday, I don't wash my hair and it looks fine. Oh no! is it not Sunday!? I looked out of the bathroom into the bedroom that serves as my office / sewing room; there I have an atomic clock (I mentioned before I am obsessed with time) - it told me that today is Saturday!!! 

I can't explain how much that disturbed me. I really need to know what day it is; now that I am retired, it is somehow even more important. 

I tried to suck it up, got into my workout clothes and hit the treadmill 30 minutes later than normal. I am retired so what should that matter? For the rest of the morning I was just not myself, not exactly in a bad mood - but I felt like I got out of the bed on the wrong side - or on the wrong day!

Now I am trying to think of a way to find a solution to this problem. I could work out every morning but that won't help me know what day it is; perhaps I could stop being quite so OCD and deal with it? I searched online for clocks that project the day of the week on the ceiling, the way my clock projects the time but couldn't find any. I am not sure how much information my husband would tolerate being projected onto the ceiling before he found it irritating; he is patient but everyone has a limit.

I decided to try the trick I used when I was advised not to sleep on my right side while my shoulder was healing. I repeated in my head as I was going to sleep - "don't roll over onto your right side" - it worked up to a point. On the few occasions that I did roll over I woke up immediately, not because it hurt but because my brain washing technique woke me up. When I was working, on weekdays I woke up at 2.15 a.m. like clockwork, without ever setting an alarm, other than the one inside my heard. That gave me time to workout and be at my desk by 4.30.  Since retiring, I wake up at 4.30 like clockwork - because that is when I want to get up. 

I decided to test that internal clock to see if it had a calendar attached. I repeat "tomorrow is [whatever day it is going to be]" as I am going to sleep, I will wake up knowing and not have to worry. So far that is working for me. 

I did some research to see if I could find the good, the bad and the ugly of suffering from OCD. I found a lot of stuff on the advantages. Had to share this one blog because it referred to silver linings. And this one listed four advantages, each of which I believe helped me to be a better Quality Assurance Engineer and Manager.
  •   Heightened Creativity 
  •   Detail-Oriented 
  •   Driven 
  •   Greater Empathy
And yes, I know I am more that a little bit peculiar - Amazon used to admire that quality. And naturally, I have blogged before about my possible neurotic tendencies. I guess just being aware that I am OCD and concentrating on the advantages is enough? Besides, I don't think I want to 'fix' it, I like me the way I am.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Tear along the dotted line

If you know me at all, you know that I am a bit of a Pollyanna, I will always look for the silver lining and I will keep looking until I find it.

Growing old is inevitable, and while some of it is not much fun, there is a whole lot to be glad about. Regular medication is not one of them.

It is very rare to reach old age and not have to take some medications on a regular basis. Some people take a bunch of different pills daily. I believe I mentioned before that my husband was care giver for his mother when she started losing her eyesight. He took over sorting her pills for her when he discovered she was getting them mixed up and taking incorrect doses. He used to spent about two hours once every month, just sorting out her pills into daily containers. He sat at the kitchen table surrounded in pill bottles like a pharmacist. She took pills for her heart, her blood pressure, cholesterol, thyroid, kidney, eyes, osteoporosis, blood thinners and anti histamine for her allergies, pills to counteract the side effects of the pills she needed to take.  I am very lucky that I only have to take one pill a day, for thyroid. 

My husband searched for an alternative way to manage his mother's medication and found it in PillPack - now owned by Amazon. It is a fully licensed Pharmacy and they pack your pills (as the name would suggest) in little paper packages, in a roll. Each package is marked with the day, date and time to be consumed, and the medications it contains. Brilliant! He arranged for his mother's and his own medications to go through PillPack. I only take one pill a day as I said, and I saw no reason to change - to be honest I felt it would be embarrassing to have a roll of one pill a day packages neatly marked with the time, day and date. But my husband thought it was a good idea and eventually I gave in. I pick my fights and this was not worth fighting over.

I do have an objection to the child proof pill bottles supplied by most pharmacies; yes they are child proof, but they are also arthritic proof and while I don't need medication other than the occasional Ibuprofen for pain, my hands are not strong. I did have constant pain in my left hand, then I submitted to LRTI surgery which eliminated the pain completely but the Fiddler's fee was Viking's disease. Better known as Dupuytren's disease. One of the less pleasant symptoms of this is trigger finger which I don't have, however my thumb is useless.

This apparently is hereditary and if you were unlucky enough to have that inheritance in your portfolio, it can be triggered (no pun intended) by surgery - according to my surgeon any surgery, not just hand surgery. The result is that the thumb on my left hand is pretty much useless as the Carpometacarpal joint is seized up, just won't work at all and that hand is very weak. Fortunately my right hand does not suffer any pain and didn't need surgery, but it is still a lot weaker than it used to be.

I do understand perfectly well how to open the damn bottle, my hands just won't cooperate. I really think they should have a way to let you ask for 'old people with no children' bottles. And I do understand that once you manage to get it open, you can switch the cap around to make it easier. It is that first time that infuriated me.

So as I said, I went with PillPack. I actually did think that opening a paper package would be easier anyway. I was wrong. 

It is more plastic than paper, it has a perforated line between each package. Yeah, tear along the dotted line. I try. The only thing that happens is that I get really frustrated because I can't open it, and even on the rare occasion that the dotted line gives in to my frantic pulling, all I have is a sealed package, separated from the roll - the next instruction is to tear down the side - it says 'open here'. It doesn't give in to my attempts and I eventually resort to a scissors. I guess you can't use a scissors on a pill bottle, so that is still better. An interesting thought about this is that I very much doubt a small child would have a problem getting into the PillPack packages.

yeah, it was St. Patrick's day
I feel you want me to tell you where the hell the silver lining is in all of this? There are many. One that I most enjoy is the freedom old age brings. You realize that no one is looking at you - they don't see you; they are way to busy worrying about people looking at them. That gives you the freedom to be yourself and say exactly what you think. I wish I had known that when I was a teenager. Another for me is literally silver. After my hand surgery and the resulting useless thumb, I went to a hand specialist who recommended a splint to help my thumb work - not your ordinary splint, this one is like a piece of elaborate jewelry - and it really works too. On the inside of the thumb, there is an extra piece that works like a lever, putting pressure against the joint that really does encourage it to work at least a little bit. Enough to make it more useful and by making it work, it also strengthens it

Another silver lining is retirement! I know, it took me a while to stop complaining about that but I as I get more practice I am beginning to enjoy it.

I have blogged before about pharmacies, and about 'easy to open' items. To be fair, PillPack is a great idea. Your pills arrive in the mail, you can manage deliveries online if you need them earlier - for instance if you are traveling and won't have enough medication to get you through till you return. It definitely made my husband's life a little easier when he was caring for his mother.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Stress, anxiety and my cure

Finally I am coming to the end of my Physical Therapy. Twice a week for 8 weeks - that was double the anticipated treatment. Just one more visit to go.

I know I have mentioned before that I suffered a rotator cuff injury, stupidly as a result of stress incurred during the last few months of my employment with Amazon. Prior to my retirement which was not entirely of my own choosing - OK, I chose to retire but only because the alternative was unthinkable

Now, two months later, I believe more firmly that I was pushed out - either due to age or because someone in greater favor wanted to take over my extremely successful, high performing team. She took them over alright and is now driving them into the ground or out of Amazon. I won't go into that here.

Stress is insidious. You may be well aware that you are going through something that is unpleasant or upsetting, but you won't necessarily notice how you are reacting physically, or even mentally. I googled symptoms and found a huge list, here are a subset that I know I suffer from:

  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Insomnia
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
  • Constant worrying
  • Changes in appetite -- either not eating or eating too much
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes

The problem is that the impact of these symptoms creeps up on you, there is no smell and pain like gangrene or outward sign such as the discoloration and numbness of frostbite. Suddenly I am 10 pounds heavier - due in part to the increased amount of wine I was slugging down; thankfully I have cut that out now. I was also tired and tense from lack of sleep, teeth and jaw aching from clenching and grinding; and my shoulder and upper arm aching constantly - adding to the lack of sleep as I toss and turn and try to find a comfortable position.

Eventually I went to my doctor with my shoulder - well, I took my entire body, but my shoulder was my one complaint. He sent me to an orthopedic specialist who took X-Rays and decided the rotator cuff was not torn, just sprained and recommended physical therapy. I chose a PT office close to home and was lucky enough to pick one that was first class. Not only do they know what they are doing, the atmosphere there is friendly and fun. I actually enjoyed my visits, despite not being a social being. 

The original assessment suggested 4 weeks, twice a week. I schedule appointments for Monday and Thursday and got started. After 4 weeks I was still in a lot of pain and my therapist turned into a detective, quizzing me on my daily routine and habits. She suggested some changes (all too boring to go into - things like ensuring I swing my right arm loosely as I walk) and it worked! Another 4 weeks and I am about to graduate, finally pain free.

So, how to prevent this? I resist taking any medication, for stress, anxiety or sleep - I just won't do it. I do constantly extoll the virtues of writing as a therapy. So now I am wondering if maintaining a journal, writing every day would help to make you more aware of the onset of stress situations before the silent symptoms become expensive medical conditions. 

I don't mean writing random thoughts such as this blog - though it does help. I mean each day write something that illustrates how your day went; no matter how you think it went. Write the good things, the things that piss you off or upset you - especially those things you don't want to write about; then as soon as you notice stress rearing its ugly head - expand on the situation. Tell yourself how you feel and why. This allows you to 'get in touch with your feelings' - seriously, not in a new age way, but to understand what is bothering you and rationalize your reaction so that you can let it go - or at least understand it better. I think of it as a bit like looking under the bed as a child - nothing, no boogie man. Just the fear inside my head. It is as scary to look inside your head as it is to look under the bed, when you are sure the boogie man will be looking back at you and grab your ankles; but it does help to face the issue and deal with it.

Not only did Amazon put me in a position where I felt I had no alternative but to retire before I felt ready, reducing my income considerably; they also were partly responsible for a somewhat expensive series of treatments to correct the stress related issues incurred. I say partly because I accept responsibility for my reaction to how other's behave. How they behaved was their responsibility - and I believe it was a disgrace - but how I reacted was my responsibility. Bottom line is, my treatment was caused indirectly by some very unpleasant, unprofessional people, they just happened to work for Amazon and Amazon didn't have a process that allowed me to even be heard. in fact the process they had in place ensured that I was silenced - I was not high enough in the hierarchy to qualify for a hearing or for consideration. All they did was a quick CYA report to have in case I sued. I did not.

But, as always, silver linings abound. I am now retired. I am thoroughly enjoying my retirement and I know that I would not have taken the plunge if I had not been pushed into it. I was enjoying my job too much, and felt a responsibility to my team. I still feel I let them down, but life teaches you, you have a responsibility to take care of yourself first. And my shoulder is better!

OK, I know this image is not really anything to do with the silver linings I am talking about, but who doesn't enjoy a photo of Bradley Cooper? Even just half of one.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The piper or the fiddler?

Which is best? or do we really have that sort of choice when it comes to life's decisions? I don't think so, I don't really think we consider all of the pros and cons, we don't actually know them. They unfold along the way. You pay the piper up front, then tell him what to play; the fiddler is a different story; the only choice you have is to invite him in. He plays the tune and then demands payment. I don't think much in life is the piper.

Leaving home is definitely the fiddler, you know it comes with a price you can never anticipate in advance and you pay in installments. I mean leaving your home country, not just a house you grew up in, but like everything in life, if you look you will find the silver lining. Building a whole new life and hopefully grasping new opportunities. There are a lot of things you give up at the same time, some things you don't realize you are sacrificing until it hits you. In the back of the neck, or in the solar plexus perhaps.

Long before I left home and discovered the price, my siblings experienced it. Of the six of us, my younger brother and I were the only two living in Ireland, the other four were spread between Canada and the US. When my brother was involved in a car crash I wanted to let them know immediately. He was in ICU and I felt they needed to know to be prepared in case he didn't recover. My mother was determined that he would recover and didn't want to tell them until she could also tell them he was recovering. He didn't. And so the first they heard of it was that he had died. They were justifiably hurt and angry to not have been told immediately. I am quite sure they experienced other moments when the fiddler collected his installments.

For me the first, and biggest installment was when my mother died. I knew she was dying, I had been home just three months earlier and could see she was not at all well, after I returned to the US she was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live. I phoned home regularly and felt very guilty that my two sisters were sharing the load of caring for her, as they watched her fade away while I did nothing to help. Then, at the end of April I set out with a U-Haul to drive from Texas to the San Francisco Bay Area to start a new job. That was before cell phones were a thing and smart phones had not happened. For 4 days I was on the road and out of touch. 

As soon as I got moved into my apartment in Atherton and started my new job, I called my sisters. My mother had slipped into a coma, it was just a matter of time. I called again a few days later, Thursday in the late morning to be told that she had died during the night. I was shocked. I mean, I knew she was dying as I said, but no one bothered to tell me she had actually died. I wonder still, if I had not phoned, would someone have called me eventually? Of course they would, but probably not in time for me to make it to the funeral - as it was I almost didn't make it. I scrambled to book flights and clear leave of absence with my boss of 4 days. I managed to get a massively expensive flight early next morning which would get me to Dublin with about an hour to spare before the funeral, Saturday morning. (More detailed description in Peeling The Onion Chapter 23).  

I arrived in Dublin a little later than expected after almost 23 hours of travel, so without time to change into my carefully packed black pant suit, I stood by the coffin, already closed, in blue jeans and denim jacket, complete with cowboy boots, beside my two sisters in their crisp black outfits. I was most definitely an outsider.

Following that there were many events I missed. Family gatherings; news of pregnancies were delayed; the news of the arrival of babies and the illness and departures of elderly relatives was always slow to reach me. I feel very much like, out of sight, out of mind. 

Other simple things like change of address. I eventually discovered that someone within my family circle had moved, some of them I don't have addresses for, and others could have moved, I just don't know. Admittedly, change of address is no longer as important now as change of email address, and change of cell phone number almost never happens.

So many times I reminded myself that when the Irish first started leaving home to come to America, they left everything behind, often never to be heard of again. Letters took months to reach their destination, if they ever did, so any news that was received was already months old. Plus, I was the one who made the decision to leave and separate myself from the life that continued there without me.

Strangely enough, the pandemic and virtual communication, even within families living in the same city, actually reduced this feeling of isolation. At least, it meant that family gatherings were held virtually and I could join and was just like everyone else, a picture on the screen. 

What was very odd about that is once we all signed off, I was left with an empty feeling; I still didn't belong, snippets of conversation make no sense as they were probably a continuation of something I wasn't part of some other time. Silly I know but unexpected. As I said, you never really know what you are giving up until you discover it is gone.

Of course, there are always silver linings to every situation. For 27 years I have been removed from the sibling squabbles and demands. I get to go home to visit (or at least I did before the pandemic) and get treated like a welcome visitor. Though I know I do disrupt their normal routine, they make a space for me. Some have tried to tell me I was lucky to have been so far removed when my mother was dying; that was not a silver lining, I can never think of it as anything but a loss. I wish I could have been there to help my sisters care for my mother. But selfishly, I wish I could have been there to get those last weeks and moments with my mother.

It is called paying the fiddler. I made my choices and I would do the same again because it is a path that brought me to where I am now. It is true that nothing in this life is free.

"Everything has a price. It's just what your willing to pay for it.  - Anne Bishop

Thursday, July 22, 2021


It is probably fairly obvious at this stage, I love to write. I wasn't one of those children who was always writing, or inventing stories, but I did love to read. I would often read though the night. The Bobbsey Twins, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Chalet School, Nancy Drew and finally I got my hands on my older brother's books and read all of the Biggles series.  One summer my mother forbade me to read during the day, because she couldn't get me to go outside to play. I was always very pale and I suppose she thought it was unhealthy for me to be inside all day. She was probably correct though I used that paleness to my advantage to get off school quite frequently.

In my teens I did enjoy writing letters, I had two pen friends and wrote to them regularly - I wish I had those letters now! that would be fascinating. Somewhere around 10 or 12 years old, I did start a sort of journalistic writing. Looking back now, I know it was the start of using writing as a therapy. We (my siblings and I) were subjected to increasingly more regular violent incidents perpetrated by my father. After each episode, when he had run out of steam and stormed out of the house, I sat down and wrote a full, blow by blow account of it. I always gave these to my mother and I know she put them in a file - now that would be something to have today. Today they would probably be sufficient evidence for divorce and even criminal charges. Back then in Ireland, there was no divorce and a man could pretty much do what he wanted with his wife and children. Mind you, he never lifted a hand to my mother - he was too afraid of her mother. Or, that is what we thought anyway.

Since then I have always written as a therapy - a perfect example of the fact I still do it is this blog. Take for instance this entry

I did write and publish a compilation of that therapy. See Peeling The Onion. But, I have always wanted to do more than that, to write a novel. So here I am, still scribbling in my blog to avoid doing more work on my novel.

First I did every Masterclass on writing; then I blogged about that. Finally, I did start on my book. At least, I wrote what I considered to be an outline. I am very lucky that my sister is a writer. She was a story teller for as long as I can remember. Our younger brother suffered from continuous ear infections and she would sit with him and tell him stories to distract him from his pain. I sat and listened enthralled. She made them up as she went along, apparently with no effort. She had a short story published in a magazine, it was a writing competition and she was a winner. During her working life she wrote for magazines and worked as an advertising copywriter for a large cosmetics company, actually they sold more than cosmetics. She is also a first class editor and about the only person I know that I would be prepared to give a first draft of a first outline to and ask for feedback. She pointed me in the right direction and I was off! No, seriously, I am writing my novel at the same time as playing on my blog.

My daughter in law is also a writer, she writes screenplays and she also has a blog; she is incredibly talented. In particular, as you would expect from a screenplay writer, she excels at character development. I am hoping that I have enough of my revised outline completed to take advantage of her upcoming visit to get her expert input also.

While both of my parents were writers, they were not that kind of writer - I mean, they didn't write fiction. They were both academics on the staff of University College Dublin. My mother's books were readable, she was an historian. But they were most definitely academic; her lectures were captivating, she brought historical characters back to life. I used to say she lived in the past and just made short trips back to the present when essential. 

My father used pencil and paper; my mother used a typewriter. My father's books where - well, I couldn't read them, some were in the Irish language which I never mastered and others dealt with his second love which was phonetics. 

When my children were little I used to earn extra money typing theses for masters students and once did one for a girl doing her masters in phonetics - it was incredibly boring! Anyway, as I was saying, both my parents were writers, they were always sitting at a desk (in their separate homes eventually) covered in papers. So, writing was a very normal occupation to all of us. I don't use a typewriter nor pen (or pencil) and paper. I use my computer - which comes with all of it's associated distractions.

Now, I really must get back to my novel!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

It's not over yet

That is, the pandemic is not over. Those of us who are vaccinated are starting to behave as though it is over, those who are not vaccinated continue to behave as though it never happened. 

It is not over and it appears to be making a comeback; due no doubt, to those who refuse to get vaccinated. I have continued to wear a mask while indoors in public places and so has my husband. Because we knew that unvaccinated people would not wear masks. If a 74 year old retired QA engineer knew that, wouldn't you think the CDC would have a clue?

I do feel the CDC removed that recommendation way too soon. It was a signal for those unbelievers to remove their masks and catch the virus; and then spread it around a bit.

From the WHO

I find it confusing that wearing a face mask has become so political. Long before the virus we often saw people on news reports from places like Tokyo or Beijing wearing face masks to protect themselves from the pollution. In fact, the year before COVID-19 appeared, my mother in law started wearing a face mask to block all of the pollens that started up her allergies. No one considered that to be offensive.

I noticed recently that I, and others, refer to 'before the pandemic'- like 'before the flood' or 'before Christ' as in BP - AP. But after - AP - hasn't happened yet! 

I have eight grandchildren, four of them are under 12. That is one of the reasons why the pandemic is still very real to me.  

Two of the over 12 grandsons have a mother who is anti-vax. They are both old enough to decide for themselves fortunately, and even more fortunate is that they are both intelligent and understand the science behind vaccines. 

What I have a very hard time understanding is, the adult population who can get a free vaccination to not only protect themselves from this lethal virus, but would also help to protect those under twelves who can't get the vaccine, but can get the virus. It is not just stupid and ignorant, it is selfish and irresponsible and it is dangerous. 

In particular I would have expected the US to be on top of this. Instead a large proportion are making a global pandemic political??!! I find that really unbelievable. But I suppose, if they make religion and ethnicity political, why not pandemics and death - and vaccinations that save lives?

And while I am on my soap box, this lame excuse to party and drop the precautions, claiming 'COVID fatigue' is another sign of being totally self centered. In my opinion, the only people who can claim COVID fatigue are those who are slowly recovering from the virus, and the medical staff who have been working grueling hours to care for them.

Before I came to the US I thought of it as a very advanced country. A leader in the advancement of science. When I was growing up, a doctor who had studied or worked in the US was thought to be so much better than any other doctor. FFS - they landed a man on the moon - and brought him back home safely! Yet they can't understand that a vaccine is safer than a lethal virus? OK, I know some of them understand - it is the large number of people, including those in positions of power, who appear to miss this important point that astound, and infuriate me.

Admittedly the majority of the non-believers are in mainly red States that support the incredible racist, mysogynistic views that appear to be the new Republican mantra. I don't know how long I can continue to live here and watch a country I was so happy, and proud to adopt as my second home, become an absolute horror story. It is turning into Bizzaro world! And it seems to be getting worse.

And before you say it, I know it is not just a US thing - all over the world there are nutcases claiming the virus doesn't exist, or the vaccination is a plot by Bill Gates to do something... not quite sure what but quite clearly something he would not do because he is a fairly intelligent human being and this is NOT Bizzaro world yet, nor is it some crazy SiFi movie. I just thought the US was smarter than that. I thought the human race was smarter than that.

It is not like we have not had previous experience of the power of vaccination to fight epidemics, and in this case a pandemic. When I was a child polio was still very real, I had a friend who was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of it. My cousin walked with a stick and with great difficulty - he was lucky to be able to walk at all. I remember getting the polio vaccine when I was about 9 years old. Polio is still around in some countries but has been almost eradicated due to vaccinations!

My sister had tuberculosis when she was a teenager, and was in a sanitorium for 6 months. We were all vaccinated when she was diagnosed; I have no idea why we were not vaccinated before that. Tuberculosis was a thing in Ireland back then; it no longer is because of vaccinations, however it has still not been eradicated completely. WHO report.

Anti-Vaxxers are responsible for the resurgence in measles. In December of 2019, according to the WHO, almost 140,000 people had died worldwide from measles. I would be willing to bet that the majority of the anti-vaxxers received those childhood vaccinations themselves, but for some reason do not want their children to be equally protected - OK, I know the theory but if they themselves were vaccinated, and they do not have autism .. just saying! I would also like to point out that this crazy belief was pushed by a discredited doctor who presented fake evidence to support his search for fame, and a Playboy nude model among others!

That is so utterly unbelievable given the huge efforts put into finding vaccines and making them available. In particular the COVID-19 Vaccines! That was an amazing feat. But apparently, the speed with which it was developed is one of the things the anti-vaxxers are complaining about - never mind that it was Trump's initiative in the first place - 'Warp Speed' - the name was a mistake of course.

Sometime way in the future I hope we will be able to say AP but it is still very much with us and is still killing people every day. It is very difficult to stop myself from wishing those people who refuse to get vaccinated should suffer the consequences. After all, the more unvaccinated people who pass away from COVID, the higher percentage of vaccination we will have - eventually, and the greater protection we will have for the younger children. 

I do hope they approve the vaccine for under 12 sooner rather than later. When that happens perhaps I will be able to show a modicum of sympathy as the unvaccinated continue to get sick and die; though my heart goes out to the medical profession, at least those who got vaccinated. Perhaps there should be a rule that only unvaccinated doctors and nurses should care for unvaccinated COVID patients? Seems fair to me. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Unexpected grieving

I am no stranger to grief. You don't get to your seventies without having suffered loss more than once. I am well aware that after the initial grieving, there will be waves sometimes for years, with time these waves are easier to ride, but nonetheless they don't ever go away; nor would I want them to. Those I have lost are too important to ever want to stop missing them. However, grief is very much self centered - we are sorry for our loss.

What surprises me is the occasional reminder of my mother in law that causes me to feel a wave of sadness. This is more compassion than grief. I feel sorry, not for myself, but for her. Not now, now she feels nothing; during her life, which I think was so much less than it could have been, at least towards the end. After her funeral I wrote this blog entry, which gives some background. One of the things that saddens me is that she was not aware how much we cared about her, and her well being. The reason I don't feel grief is because she never really allowed us to get close to her and finally, she rejected us completely. In fact, I feel more grief at the rejection that I do the loss - you can't lose something you never really had.

Perhaps our emphasis on her wellbeing was what pissed her off. 

Naturally, she was not aware that she was losing her edge. Neither was the rest of her family. Those who lived close by spent so little time with her they wouldn't notice the little signs. The extended family were many states away. I once suggested to her that we take a trip to Kentucky to visit relatives and where she grew up. She said she had no interest in going back.

We probably came across as being overly interfering, fussing over her, going behind her and turning off the stove, or closing the refrigerator door which she frequently left open. Not to mention suggesting (probably way too often) that it would be good for her to get more exercise.

When she suddenly took a dislike to vegetables and refused to eat any, other than raw in a salad, we started eating a lot of salads. I also started adding pureed vegetables to my bolognese sauce and chili. I used to do that when my younger son wouldn't eat any veggies. I got away with it for a while, but then she started to taste the vegetables, or perhaps she discovered what I was doing, either way, she refused to eat it. 

Little, unexpected, things bring her to mind; when I make a meal that she used to particularly enjoy, like baked fish or panko chicken, I think of  her. 

What makes me most sad is thinking of her in isolation in the retirement home for the little over a year before she died. She used to love to sit and listen to audio books on her kindle. In the retirement home she had no internet connectivity, so no kindle. Her eyesight was way too bad to read. She could no longer go out to eat, she so enjoyed our Friday, and sometimes also Saturday, night dinners at Logan's; though she always got annoyed when I took a photograph of her to post for her family in Kentucky and Florida, so they could see how well she was doing. My own family in Europe were also happy to see her doing well. 

Logan's didn't survive the pandemic either.

It was her choice to leave, not only did she not talk to us about it, she gave us almost no warning. I guess she just didn't realize what she would have to give up. 

When she was living with us I used to take her to Kohl's every couple of months and help her find and buy the underwear she liked. My husband took her out to the huge HEB store every week, while she thought she was shopping, the main objective was to ensure she got some exercise as she walked up and down the aisles. She did buy a few things, personal care products and those awful prepackaged cakes that have an indefinite shelf life. Sometimes she bought weird grocery items, I say weird because they were random things we either already had or would never use. She put them in the pantry and when the 'use by' date was past I threw them away.

Due to the pandemic she could not leave the retirement home to go out shopping or anywhere else. 

Recently I was thinking about when her lung collapsed; we thought she would not survive that. Early one Saturday morning, September 7th 2019, she called up the stairs to us that she needed to go to the hospital. We came rushing down - rushing is probably not exactly the right word to describe how two elderly people with bad knees attempted to hurry down the stairs, we did hurry. She had chest pains and she had been suffering all night. We drove her to the emergency room and sat with her for about 6 hours while they took X-Rays and blood tests; finally inflating her lung. Then she was admitted to hospital 'overnight', this became two nights.

As soon as she was settled we headed back to the house to put together a bag of all the things she would need. When we returned her younger son and his wife were there (my husband had called his brother to let him know, naturally). They were seated in the only two visitors seats. I gave her the bag of necessities she had requested and retreated to the back of the room to prop myself up against the wall beside my husband - we were exhausted and hungry at this stage. As my younger brother in law was not about to give up his chair for me, we finally left and got something to eat. 

The following day we returned and the chairs were vacant so I was able to sit down. We took her home on Monday. She never recovered fully, requiring oxygen from then on. Apart from the large oxygen tanks for use at home, my husband bought her a small, over the shoulder oxygen tank that would do her for going to Logan's or to the store.

Life continued as usual for just a few months before she suddenly moved out without warning that December, just before Christmas (see blog). 

We had set up a bedroom for her at our lake house. My treadmill is in that bedroom now; every morning when I workout I see her recliner in the corner by the window, where she could have spent her last days listening to her books and looking out at the lake. It is hard not to be reminded, not to feel sad. 

Possibly the saddest thing of all, is that the photo of her in her obituary is one I took, it was a photo I took of her after she got a new hair style that she was very pleased with. Apparently her younger son who took care of the obituary, and everything else after she moved out of our home, didn't have any photos of her and took one of mine from Facebook. 

There is something quite heart wrenching about that. 

Considering that she lived with us for eight years, I am sure that these memories, and others will continue to surface and make me sad, sad for her, for what she had and failed to appreciate or enjoy, and what she gave up and eventually lost. And while I worry that her last year was lonely and boring, I do hope she found some joy in it.

Perhaps after all, she was just happy to be away from us. 

Friday, July 16, 2021


Psychotherapy, not physical therapy which is what I am currently experiencing. almost thirty years ago I underwent psychotherapy for a period of months. I say underwent because it was like a surgery, but so worth the pain. For anyone suffering emotionally, and I am sure many people are after the past eighteen months of pandemic, I highly recommend it. This was chapter eleven in my book.


The dentist chair conjures up feelings of horror, pain and trauma.  We each deal with this inevitable terror in different ways. Some will opt for laughing gas, others for Novocain, and a few will tough it out in the vain hope that they will be able to tolerate the intolerable, in order to avoid the after effects.

Not so with therapy.  The experience is similar to having teeth pulled with nothing to dull the pain.  There is no laughing gas, there is no Novocain, there is just pain.  The purpose is the same, remove decay, fill in the holes created by that decay, straighten what has been growing crooked, file rough edges and clean off the buildup of plaque that affects the general health of the entire body.

Though there are many people who steadfastly avoid visiting the dentist, and eventually suffer the irreversible consequences, more people will look after their oral health than will care for their emotional health. I cannot believe that there is any adult alive, who has not suffered sufficient emotional bruising that they would not benefit from the amazing value to be gained from psychotherapy.  I suggest that every human being could, not just benefit, but get great personal value from therapy.

Of course, there are, as always, caveats.  The most important is that you have got to be ready to cooperate fully.  You have to 'submit' - and that is the only word I can think of to describe the horribly, humiliating, feeling that precedes the huge release that can be achieved.  If this all sounds very overpowering and exaggerated, then let me put it in perspective by describing my own experience.

I had been married for almost half of my life.  I was 43 when my marriage finally ended.  I had expected to feel relief, peace and the return of the technicolor optimism of youth.  It didn't happen.  I found myself in a monochrome world, alone and lonely.  After 20 years of being tightly controlled in every area of my life, I was lost and rudderless.  I slipped into a depression that threatened to take over my life, and that of my three teenage children.  Fate stepped in.

Sometimes we need a smack in the face, or a good shaking, to make us see reality.  I got a blow to the back of the neck.  My guardian angel took the form of a large black Mercedes, which hurtled into the back of my brother's car one wet evening.  My brother and his family had met me from the train station on my return from a business trip.  Instead of spending the evening at home with my children, I spent it in the Emergency Room, flat on my back on a stretcher, in a tiny curtained cubicle.  I was left there alone for what seemed like hours.  I couldn't even make a phone call to let my children know where I was.  I felt isolated and forgotten. I had time to think and I realized that if I didn't do something about it, I would feel that way for the rest of my life.

Luckily, the injury was not too serious (and my brother and his family were also uninjured).  I suffered severe whiplash, but I was released from the ER later that night and was finally able to call my sons who came rushing to my rescue and brought me home.  With the encouragement of a close friend, I decided it was time to take control of myself and get help.

My sister's husband was a therapist, so I asked her to recommend someone who might suit my needs.  She gave me the name of a woman who she felt would be ideal.  It took me a few weeks to get the courage to actually make an appointment.  Nine o'clock in the morning, I was in the waiting room, the only thing that differentiated it from a dental appointment was the lack of that chemical scent and the absence of the background sound of the drill.  The fear was every bit as strong.

I was called into the therapist's room.  There was the inevitable couch, with a winged armchair to one side. It was as scary a sight as that hydraulic chair with the angled lamp and dangling drill hanging above it.  My stomach was a tight knot and the only reason I was able to sit on the couch was because my knees gave way and I couldn't remain standing.  But lie down I could not do.  I could not make myself so vulnerable, so exposed, and yes, look foolish.

So, I sat there waiting for some indication of what was expected of me.  After all, I had no previous experience.  I only knew what I had seen in the movies, and that might not be the reality.  I fully expected some sort of instruction from the therapist, as to what she expected of me.  I hoped for a soft, sympathetic voice to say something like "please lie down on the couch and tell me all about your childhood…" or something that would help to get me started.  To be perfectly honest, I really had no idea why I was there.  I knew that I needed help, but I didn't know why I needed it.  I assumed that was what the therapist would tell me.

My mother had instilled in me a strong belief that both whining and boasting were equally abhorrent, and being an analytical and introverted child I probably took these lessons to extremes.  This was something I had to come to terms with before therapy could commence.  How could I open up to a complete stranger about my life, without either whining or boasting, or both?

The silence continued, and of course, the longer it lasted the harder it became to break it.  The therapist's half smile, which, in my very stressed state, I interpreted as a sneer, didn't help.  I think I probably sat there for 15 minutes until, in desperation, I jumped to my feet and ran out the door.

It was 6 weeks before I regained enough courage to try again.  Once again, I asked my sister to recommend someone.  She came up with another name, and I made another appointment.  This time I had a better idea of what to expect.  I could expect nothing, no words of encouragement, no help at all.  I was going to have to do this on my own.

Dick, turned out to be the most wonderful man.  I will remember him forever, as the savior of my sanity.  On our first meeting, I did lie on the couch, I did not relax.  I was so tense I was almost hovering above the couch.  But I didn't pause to draw breath, but started talking.  On my way to his rooms I had practiced what I was going to say.  I started by telling him of my previous traumatic attempt at therapy.  To my relief he didn't smile and he did respond.  However, that was all I could think of to say.

I met with Dick twice a week for the next year.   At first I would lie on the couch and say almost nothing. Slowly I started opening up.  I spent the days between meetings, trying to think of ways to start the conversation.  I found that if I was able to start talking before any silence occurred, I was usually able to keep going.  Sometimes I spent more than half of the 40 minutes in silence, cursing myself for the waste of money and time, but nothing came into my mind that I could put in words.

One day, after about 3 months. I didn't lie down. I told Dick that I felt foolish lying on my back and that I believed I would be able to talk more freely if I were sitting upright. Dick went along with me, though he was not totally in agreement. In fact, I am sure he broke a lot of the normal 'rules'. He did respond, he did ask questions, and though he never made judgments, he frequently expressed sympathy.

I talked my way through my childhood, the savage beatings I and my siblings experienced; the fact that I felt unlovable, that I believed neither of my parents loved, or even wanted me.  That I believed my sisters to be so much better than me; I talked about my marriage, and sometimes I just talked about problems I was having at work that day.  It was a long time before I understood that it didn't matter what I talked about, the important thing was to speak about what was on my mind.  Because I was in need of help, if I talked, my very skillful therapist would listen and hear things that I was not necessarily saying.  With minimum influence, and maximum effect, he would make suggestions, which would set my mind in a direction, which frequently surprised me, and often with traumatic, but rewarding results.

The most extraordinary thing about therapy, is the way in which each session continues to work away inside, for two or three days.  It reminds me of the method of slow cooking.  Using an iron pot, long after the heat is turned off, the food continues to cook.  My sessions with Dick would turn the heat on, and over the next day or two, memories of experiences and feelings continued to bubble to the surface

Every few months, I had what Dick called a breakthrough.  I could usually feel it approaching and, once or twice, tried to sidestep it without success.  The strange thing about these breakthroughs is that they often revolved around some event that I believed I had 'dealt with'. Suddenly things would take on a whole new meaning and I would really deal with the situation, and for the last time. So many times I spent much of the session crying so hard I couldn't talk. And, so many times, I wanted to give up.

Dick walked with me, back to my early childhood, through my marriage and through my divorce.  He was there when my father died and he supported me through the victimization I was experiencing at work.  I did eventually say goodbye to Dick, not because I felt I no longer needed therapy, but because I was heading to a new life in America, and he supported me in that decision too.  In fact, some months before I left, I told him that I could no longer afford to see him twice a week and asked to reduce my sessions to once a week. He felt very strongly that the benefit lost would be far greater than 50% cost saved, and he urged me to keep up the twice-weekly sessions saying that he would take no payment, that I could pay him back when I got settled in America.

Six months after I arrived in the U.S., I wrote to Dick telling him of my adventures thus far and enclosed a check to repay him for those extra sessions.  He responded to my letter at length with compliments I never expected, his letter is one of my most cherished possessions.  A couple of years later I was returning to Dublin on vacation with plans to visit Dick when I heard of his death the previous month from cancer.

I am quite certain that I would not now be married to a most wonderful man, if I had not put myself through the pain of psychotherapy, just as surely as I know I can now smile without embarrassment, because I put myself through the pain of dental surgery.


My therapist, Dick that was his real name, was an American; a New Englander from Vermont. He was also the first person in Ireland to be granted a divorce. As soon as divorce was finally legalize in Ireland. Wikipedia reports his divorce was granted so that he could marry his new partner:

"... the first divorce was granted on 17 January 1997, based solely on the constitutional amendment, to a dying man who wanted urgently to marry his new partner."

In fact they had been living together for years. His partner was the first therapist I visited, the woman I could not speak to.

If you are interested, here is an article from the New York Times: Looking for Evidence that Therapy Works



Friday, July 9, 2021


If you follow my blog you will already know a few things about me, one is that I blog about everything and anything, if it rattles around in my head for too long, it will get passed along to you. Another is that I am recently retired and currently wallowing in the fascinating pleasure of absorbing information from courses on creative writing. 

I am about to start my 14th class, though some have not specifically been on creative writing, they are all by renowned writers in some genre. 

At about number five I started to worry that I was becoming obsessed with taking the classes and needed to stop learning and start writing. I did start writing, but then went back for more and I am glad I did. The more varied authors I listen to the more I realize that what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. But wait, there's more - they contradict each other!

One author will be absolutely adamant that you have to follow his rules, and another, equally famous and successful author, will contradict those rules. For instance, Dan Brown feels very strongly that you must get every detail correct. He recommended not just Google and library research but also traveling to locations and ensuring that descriptions are exact. James Patterson, equally famous, considers this a waste of time; he believes that all you need is the internet and imagination. I tend to agree with the latter, when I was reading Inferno I found myself skipping the descriptive paragraphs in order to get back to the story.  I wonder if the cost of travel could be claimed against your taxes if it were for research purposes, hmmm. Of course, in order to pay taxes you would first need to publish and sell.

Dan Brown said in his Masterclass that he believed readers needed these to give them a rest from the cliff hangers or fast pace of the story. Many of those skipped paragraphs contained the detail gathered from the authors trips to the location. Perhaps some readers enjoyed it, for me it was an irritant, I would have been happy with "it was beautiful" now lets get on with the chase.

Those I have completed so far include writers of every genre - thrillers, comics, romance, historic, mystery, humor, children and young adult stories, screenplays, social issues and more. They are all successful writers and they all had valuable information to share. Most I had heard of and read, some I had never heard of but, after the class, I bought at least one of their books to see their lessons put into practice.

It is hard to say which were my favorites, I learned something useful from all of them. There were a few hints that were common to all. 

  • If you want to be a writer, then you are a writer you just got to write
  • Keep a notebook at all times and write down everything you see and hear that you feel might be useful
  • Read your story aloud
  • Write, review, edit, repeat
  • If it is superfluous to your story, cut it out
  • The opening line, sentence, paragraph is all important but don't sweat over it, what you originally start with will change as the story develops. 
  • The ending is equally important, don't sweat over it for the same reasons. 
  • The title is important. 
  • The cover is important. 
  • Finally, writer's block doesn't exist - just write!

Through all of this I have discovered what it is that is holding me back. Not lack of imagination, not writer's block, not time, it is a deep rooted aversion to lying! All of the writers appear to agree that it is necessary to draw on your own experiences, whatever research the story requires, and then let your imagination fly with it. But as I deviate from the facts within my own experience my nose grows! I feel that I am lying. I do think (hope?) now that I have found the root cause, I can overcome it.

Of all of the classes I have taken so far, Judy Blume is probably my favorite, and I am currently reading her book 'In the Unlikely Event' which I am totally engrossed in - it is another one to keep me on the treadmill. After her, Amy Tan and Phil Sedaris with a special mention for Roxane Gay. I have to say I loved them all and I have learned a lot from each one of them, even if what I learned was to unlearn something from the previous class!

Monday, July 5, 2021

I have something more to tell you about 'I have something to tell you'

I enjoyed this book way more than I expected to. I wrote about it here, before I finished the first chapter. It also gave me a new way of describing a book I enjoyed - "it kept me on the treadmill". I read while working out. I aim to do 4 miles a day, 5 days a week. I do not enjoy it. I do it for my health. If I have a good book to read that will ensure that I don't look for reasons to skip, or shorten, my workout. This was one of those books, in fact I frequently went beyond the 4 mile mark just to get to the end of a chapter. I couldn't wait to get back to it.

I love Chasten's writing style, it is honest and humorous. I also got some insight into how very painful it must be to be openly gay amidst the awful prejudice and hatred that appears to be growing rather than diminishing. And possibly even more difficult to not be open and deny who you really are. He recounted what was clearly a painful time as a teenager without self pity and with no blame. Through it all, his achievements are impressive.

The idea that someone might not be 'gay enough' reminded me of the exposure I had to the trans community in the Bay Area when my then boyfriend told me he wanted to become my girlfriend. (Read here). I frequently heard him say that other members of the support group we attended were somehow not as truly trans as (s)he was. I am surprised that anyone with similar difficult experiences would be less than supportive. 

I was fascinated by his experience supporting his husband in the presidential primaries. He managed to give a very clear insight into how grueling life in politics is. In particular he described so perfectly the balance of disappointment and relief when finally pulling out of the race. I always wondered how that would feel; I know that I was very disappointed when Peter threw in the towel.

Chasten clearly has only touched on the surface of his talents and I am looking forward to seeing what he does in the future. I was disappointed when I came to the end of the book and wait impatiently for the next installment. I am quite sure that Chasten and Peter are destined for an interesting future and I do hope they find the time to start their family.

I highly recommend this book.