Monday, August 23, 2021

Retirement - week 12

Clearly retirement is going very well, now that I got the hang of it. I can't believe that only two weeks ago I was wondering if I would ever be really comfortable with it.

What do I miss?

I miss my team. Not just the people, of course I miss them - but I am still in touch with them and it saddens me to know how badly they are now being treated. I couldn't have prevented that, I did try. I miss working with them. Our meetings where we constantly worked together coming up with innovative processes to streamline our work. Our team was always too small for the amount of work we had to get done; but we had a secret weapon. Well, it shouldn't have been a secret but Amazon's leadership principles do not foster true team spirit. 

When you put 7 extremely talented engineers together you can either end up with amazing achievements, innovation and success or you will end up with a huge waste of money and time as they all fight to be the best, or at least avoid being the worst. It all depends on whether or not you work as a team. As a team we achieved so much because we supported each other, allowed everyone a voice. We found so many ways to automate time consuming, repetitive tasks. I miss watching those incredible people excel and grow as engineers and human beings.

I miss my car. I know, that is silly. About half way through the 2020 work from home year, we realized my car had been in the garage for 6 months and was likely to stay there for another 6 before I had any need to drive myself anywhere. We sold it. During that year there was nowhere to go, certainly nowhere I needed to go on my own; I was working from home. I wasn't going near hair salon, nail salon, dentist etc. Whenever we went out, we went together. Of course I could buy myself another car. But I can't justify it. The very few occasions now that I need to go somewhere on my own, my husband is happy to act as chauffeur. While I miss my independence, and I doubt I will ever feel comfortable having my husband drive me around as though I was incapable, I can't justify the expense, so far. I don't bother getting my nails done anymore and may even give up on my hair, currently I am getting it cut every three months. That just leaves the dentist.

I miss the healthy pay check
each month and I miss the 20 shares I walked away from. I am grateful that I had the good sense to plan financially for retirement, even if I hadn't planned for it to be quite so soon as it was. I had also planned for it to be an occasion for celebration.

Best laid plans as they say.

I miss being someone. That is even sillier than the car. But as the manager of a successful and talented group of engineers, for a company like Amazon, I felt a pride in what we accomplished. Not just for ourselves, not just for Amazon, but for our customers. Yes, no doubt you have come across bugs on Amazon's web site, no doubt some of you have been hit with the 'dog page'. But you have no idea how many more times that would have happened if it were not for our team, and we were only responsible for one page; of course, it was the homepage - the first page you see. An important page. Even outside of work, I was a someone who worked for Amazon. Now I am just another retired old lady. Of course there are silver linings and of course I don't dwell on the negative.

What do I enjoy?

I love that Sunday is a day to relax with no dread of another stressful week. I love that Monday is just another day.

I love that I don't have to worry about being at my desk at a specific time. Yes, I am fairly predictable; up at much the same time each morning, but I don't have to be. If by chance I sleep in for any extra 30 minutes, it doesn't mean I have to miss my workout, it just means that starts a little later. 

I love that I don't have to wait for the weekend to take care of some task, I have time to do whatever I want, whenever I want.

I love that
I do not have to deal with the bullying tyrants that drove me out of Amazon. That stress has lifted completely. My shoulder is repaired and almost pain free and I finally sleep well.

And now?

I no longer forget what day it is. I am working on my book, it is slow going but I am making progress. Every so often I return to one, or more, of the Masterclasses just to make sure I am on the right path. When I am not actually writing, my mind is still working on the story. I was beginning to feel guilty about not working on it enough. All of my Masterclass authors specified how important it is to treat it like a job then I realized, it is their job; it is not mine. For me writing is a hobby. I don't expect to be famous or make a fortune. I just want to write. Therefore, it should be on my terms. Once I realized that, the story started to flow more easily. But I only sit down and write when I feel like it. After all, I am retired!

At least twice a week we go out in the boat in the early morning. Most evenings we fish off the dock and watch the sun set over the lake. Occasionally I work on my embroidery in the afternoon - and of course I punctuate my week with indulging myself with my blog.

Going forward?

That all depends on COVID19. My son and his family managed to visit us, from Seattle, for a long weekend. The first time I had seen them in 18 months. That was so incredible. We are all vaccinated and we took extreme precautions and all was well. 

When my husband and I got vaccinated we planned a few days in Las Vegas in September. I was really looking forward to that. This week we canceled it due to the rising alarm with the Delta variant and concern at the low vaccination numbers. We decided it just wasn't worth the risk. We are hoping to go to Seattle for Christmas, but we are holding off booking until we see which way the virus jumps next.

It is now two years since I have seem the rest of my family, spread across Ireland, England and France. Looks like it is going to be another year before I do see them. While Ireland is doing well fighting the virus, France and England are not doing as well. And Texas is one of the worst States in the US when it comes to being safe; vaccination rate is low and way too many people are not masked. I certainly do not want to put my family at risk so I will wait till next year and hopefully things will be under control by then. I do miss them. In the 27 years that I have been in the US this is the longest I have gone without a visit home and time spent with all of my family.

Sadly, I suspect the anti-vaxxers will all have to get the virus and pass away in order to make the world a safe place, or relatively safe again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

When does free range parenting become neglect?

I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s. Free range describes fairly well how I and my siblings grew up. I can remember walking home from school when I was 5, the walk was probably only half a mile but it was alone or with my 7 year old sister. It also required crossing at least one road. At age 7, I can remember roaming the neighborhood and surrounding fields with a group of kids around my own age or just a little older. Climbing trees and catching frogs. I can remember at 10, playing along the canal or in the local park with other kids but no adult supervision - we even played on construction sites. You could argue that back then it was safer for kids to be free range; and to a point I agree. If you tell me there were no pedophiles back then I will just laugh, without any amusement. My sisters and I frequently were accosted by men, young and old, exposing themselves, most often in the park, but also on the streets. We thought it was mildly amusing. We were lucky, that was all we were exposed to.

There was very little traffic compared to now, but it only takes one car to kill a child. Of course, we did know how to cross the street and I can't ever remember not following the rules we were taught almost as soon as we could walk. There were most definitely accidents. One kid had his eye taken out by a homemade arrow. One broke a leg falling out of a tree.

My own children had slightly less freedom; but still were pretty close to free range, except when very young. That was in part due to the fact that everything had grown bigger. More traffic, further distances from home to school and shops, but also people grew more aware of the dangers - I suppose these were magnified by the growth in population and changes in laws governing what constituted child neglect. 

Imagine my concern when I recently observed a small boy, I am guessing around the age of 7 if that, wandering off along the lake shore, alone. We were at the fishing well and sticking to the outside dock, away from the somewhat rowdy family inside the covered well. Covid-19 and the Delta variant were alive and well and kicking Texas' ass; while we were vaccinated we were also very cautious. The people inside the well were not masked so we stayed outside and clear of them. Among their party was the aforementioned 7 year old, his parents and a group of teenagers. The 7 year old, no mask and no life preserver, wandered out with a fishing pole and headed down the dock walkway towards the shore. He started casting at that point, but couldn't stay still. He moved about 10 foot along the bank and cast again, repeating this as he got further and further away. His father followed him down the walkway - I was relieved because I thought he was going to keep a close eye on his son; instead he climbed into his truck and drove off. 

The red arrow points to the marina in the distance
At this point I was no longer interesting in fishing. I was watching the child disappear through a clump of tall weeds and head up the hill towards a marina in the distance. I expected his mother to come out of the covered area looking for him and so kept him in my sight for as long as I could. He disappeared over the hill and I was in a quandary. In Texas you have to be very careful how you approach total strangers. While they can be extremely friendly, pointing out to them that their child has wandered off and you believe they are in danger, could get you shot. I decided to keep tabs on where the child was and be prepared to risk getting shot if he fell in the lake or otherwise needed assistance, or if the parents suddenly decided to care about where he was, at least I could tell them. 

It was another 20 minutes before the mother emerged and I was relieved, thinking she would gather up the child. Instead she got in her car and drove off! I could see the kid coming back along the shore, still casting every 10 feet or so. My guess is that if he fell in the lake he would do just fine, probably could swim like a fish if his casting skills were anything to go by. He would most like get out and continue fishing. 

Finally, he headed back over the hill and down towards the fishing well. As he reached the walkway, his mother returned and told him that it would soon be time to go as tomorrow was the first day of school. It was now approaching 8.30 in the evening. 

I was left wondering exactly where the line between raising kids to be independent and plain neglect, is drawn, and where does it cross the legal line? I do believe that kids should be raised to be able to take care of themselves, to fight back against bullies and generally be prepared for the harsh reality of being an adult. But there is definitely a line beyond which we move into a area where the risk to their safety far outweighs the benefits of independence.

It appears, as with everything else in the US, the laws vary by State. This is an interesting article on the subject. It seems that most laws specify leaving a child alone at home, or in a car. There is some mention of 'abandonment' which I suppose could apply here. I was also interested to discover a recent movement of Free Range Parenting which does seem to be getting some parents into problems with the law. There is even a Facebook page for the concept. Don't get me wrong, I am equally strongly against 'mollycoddling' which can do as much harm. I don't know where I stand other than to say I couldn't take my eyes off that little boy as he wandered along the lake shore. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

I never had any interest in politics

One of the side effects of the bizarre, Eastern European style administration that the US suffered from during the past four years, was that I was forced out of my sheltered, apolitical and self indulgent cocoon. Part of my lack of interest came from a belief that no one in politics can be trusted. They are there for the power, fame and what money they can make out of it.

Back before I came to the US, as soon as I turned 18 I did vote in every election. I believed it was my civic duty and I understood what women had endured to give me that right. But my vote was very much a 'stick the tail on the donkey' - I suppose in every sense come to think of it. 

When I first came to the States - back in the days when there were still land lines and every house had a telephone; I answered the phone one evening to be asked by the voice on the other end "Do you consider yourself to be a Democrat or a Republican?" I paused for a moment and then said "I have no idea, I will have to find out" and hung up. For younger reader - hanging up the phone means replacing the receiver (the piece you put to your ear and talk into), back on the button(s) that disconnects the call. I thought that if I was to become an American I was going to have to learn what these political parties stood for, if anything, and decide which I was going to vote for when the time came. If this sounds familiar to you, (it started sounding familiar to me) - that is because I wrote about it back in November 2019.

Starting immediately I quizzed every person I met. I wanted to know what their opinions were of both parties. I wanted to find out what each party stood for. I was starting from a point of absolute ignorance. In Ireland at that time there were 4 parties of any significance, and then of course there was the Green Party. However, I didn't really know what any of them actually stood for, if anything at all. Or, what they pretended to stand for. In America it was, and still is, just two parties - I know, there are others but really they don't count for anything. 

In my previous blog I said that I came down on the side of empathy - but that is not actually a political party; it should be. I was then swayed one way and then another, by the people around me whose leanings I knew and whose attitude and beliefs I did, or did not agree with; in fact some I strongly disagreed with. I settled for democrat because I had enough time to observe that the alternative did not display empathy for anyone but fat, rich, white men. I am a little bit fat and a whiteish pink color but neither rich nor male. Plus I am cursed with more than my fair share of compassion. My heart breaks for everyone. I know it is a curse because when I was in therapy, a long time ago, my therapist told me that one of my problems was too much compassion! I didn't realize that was a thing.

When my mother in law used to live with us, I refused to watch the news with her and my husband. They were, and still would be if she were alive, on different sides of the political aisle. Both stubborn, with strongly held views. The news was a catalyst for some very unpleasant interchanges; I preferred to not be involved. Now, the news is all I watch. And I probably shouldn't. I know that journalists make a living by reporting the big story, and when there is no big story, they report small stories with a 'big' slant. That is their job. It scares the shit out of me. But I don't need journalists to do that. America of today is doing a great job of it. I was so relieved when Trump lost the election. I knew the white supremists who had crawled out from under their rocks and slithered out of their swamps, would still remain vocal and dangerous but I had high hopes that wrongs would be put right. I believed that America would return to the civilized country I had been so happy to adopt.

I see it continuing to deteriorate.  It looks like we, that is anyone who is not a fat, white, rich man (FWRM), will be chaining ourselves to railings soon, fighting for the right to vote, the right to live, the right to drive while black, the right to choose. No one explained to democrats that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them and, if necessary, punch them hard where it hurts. And the problem is that those FWRM have a following of fools who can't see that there is absolutely nothing in it for them, other than the fact that they do not have to hide their craziness, they are just tools. They are like a virus, once you release them you can't reverse the damage. They are out there and continue to mutate. In the past two days I saw two news reports that horrified me. A Q follower murdered his own two toddlers because he thought they would become monsters (like him?) and a school in Atlanta that has implemented segregation!!

The US is retreating into the dark ages and that was not what I came here for.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Getting to know new people

I have always been shy. Up until I was about 17 years old it was almost a disease, I had the hardest time speaking, even to people I knew. I did get past that stage, with difficulty and by deliberately putting myself out there; but I am still shy and find it painful meeting new people, particularly in a social setting. Small talk is not my thing. If you have this problem, The Tiny Buddha has some recommendations.

I was surprised to discover that this trait makes writing fiction just a little bit uncomfortable; if getting to know real people is difficult, imagine getting to know people who don't actually exist? Exactly - you have to imagine it. 

I mentioned before that I took a number of Masterclasses in writing. All of the incredible authors I listed to said it was necessary to get to know your characters. I didn't fully understand that concept until I finally put away the distractions and started writing (yeah, I know, this blog is also a distraction). I took the advice of one of the authors, James Patterson I believe; also advice my sister gave me. I wrote an outline, concentrating on each of my characters and giving them a background and physical appearance. Then I started writing.

I found it really difficult at first. I kept going back to my outline and tweaking it because some trait didn't work or a new trait occurred to me. Finally I got moving with my first two characters and after a couple of false starts the story started to move forward. Then, enter a new character and I was back in a corner, sixteen years old, trying to make conversation with a stranger. "That's what they meant about getting to know your characters!" It dawned on me. I just have to do like we used to do with our bendy toys when I was a child, you have to move their arms and legs to make them demonstrate actions; you have to give them a voice. How nice it would be if you could do that with real people sometimes. I do know some arms and legs I might bend into impossible positions, so perhaps just as well not.

Give them a voice, that was another thing my Masterclass authors kept saying, without fully explaining what they meant. Now I believe I have figured it out. "Hello Mr. Zebra" in a squeaky voice; "Hello Mr. Leopard" in a deep voice - just like we did as kids. Make up a conversation and like a bad ventriloquist, 'give them a voice'. Not so much the physical sound, but the words and the thoughts and the intentions behind those words.

One of my most favorite authors Judy Blume, said that your characters would sometimes surprise you with the things they said. When I first heard that I thought she was probably just a little lost in a world of her own imagination. But no, it is true, once you create a character, bend their arms and legs a few times, put thoughts in their heads, make words come out of their mouths, before you know it, they have become 'characters'. 

Either that, or I have also slipped into an imaginary world; Alice in Wonderland was, and still is, one of my favorite books; so perhaps I could deal with it. Given what is going on in the real world right now, perhaps an imaginary world would be a relief.

Friday, August 6, 2021

10 Weeks on

On Monday, or maybe today, Friday, it will be 10 weeks since I retired. The confusion is that when I gave my notice to retire I gave Monday 31st as my last day, however that was a holiday, so Friday was my last working day. I expected to be in a position to get into the office over that weekend in case there was anything last minute to return to the office, or retrieve from the office. Amazon decided, but forgot to tell me, that Friday would be my cut off. So while still employed, in theory, I was 'discontinued'. My login no longer worked on Saturday morning, and I had no access to all things Amazon Internal - including the office. What I had left in the office were two cell phones and one Android tablet which I had loaned to the mobile testing effort, and a mini fridge. Of course I could have arranged for one of my team to meet me there and let me in - definitely not worth it in those days of COVID-19, plus it was way too much trouble. Luckily for Amazon they have now acquired these items and I had already returned all the equipment that belonged to them. 

So, as I said, 10 weeks. That doesn't sound like a lot, does it? 70 days. I think being retired is like any other habit, it takes time to form - that is, to feel comfortable doing it without considering other options. Like my 4 miles on the treadmill 5 days a week. It took me about a year to make that so automatic that I no longer even consider skipping a day; it is one of the reasons that knowing what day it is becomes important. I don't workout on Friday or Sunday but every other day I do it without thinking, now. 

"Researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; furthermore, individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days." - Research Article.

For almost a year I did sometimes try to convince myself that I would just skip today and workout on Friday to make up. Luckily I forced myself and now the only question in my mind is what day is it and I think I have mastered that too. So far, before I go to sleep, repeating what day it will be when I wake up, is working (yes, I already admitted I am nuts).

Some of the stuff I read online references quitting smoking; I don't consider that in the same light. It took me about 2 hours to form that habit and a lifetime to quit. I mean I quit years ago, but I am fully aware that one cigarette would lock me in again. It doesn't really qualify as a habit, it is an addiction. I am not sure I would like to be addicted to my treadmill habit; if I was, I would have withdrawal while on vacation and that would be no fun.

I definitely don't have this retirement habit down quite yet. In the back of my mind I still expect it to end as you would a vacation. I still occasionally dream I am back at work, though not as often as I used to; it is still exhausting, writing code or running tests all night long. Or fighting with an irrational bitch, as was the case for the last few months prior to retirement. (Sorry, but sometimes strong language is unavoidable, required even).

We do go out on the boat frequently, but not regularly as that is governed by the weather. The weather in Texas this year has been weird. A lot more rain and storms than I remember as being usual, interspersed by way hotter, humid days. Plus my twice weekly physical therapy interfered up to last week when that ended. We also frequently, spend the last of the day fishing off the dock and (as you probably know) I take photos of the beautiful view from the dock, of the sun setting over the lake - enjoying that view will never become a habit. 

I have completed every Masterclass on writing, some I have returned to for specific classes more than once. In particular for character building as I write my book. Yes, I am now writing my book. So far, it is slow going but I am hopeful that too will become a habit as I get stuck into it. Of course, I continue to write this blog because that is my therapy and my writing practice, and my way to communicate. I have also returned to my embroidery. 

My most recent t-shirts

I generally write in the early mornings at my desk; and throughout the day in my head of course. I create embroidery patterns and do initial test runs in the afternoon, creating the final article the following afternoon, or next afternoon that is free. Some afternoons I cook or bake, also something I love to do. If we go out in the boat, that will reduce my writing time, and in that case I will write in the afternoon instead of embroidery. The majority of my reading is done on the treadmill, but also occasionally in the evening when TV is just too boring to tolerate. I sit in front of it, but read rather than watch it.

Yes, I am enjoying my retirement; but it is still enjoyable like a long vacation, where an end is expected though not necessarily looked forward to. I am never bored, there is no reason to be, I have so many things I can do why would I be? If there is ever a risk of being bored, strangely enough it would be at the weekends. The lake is way too crowded to go out in the boat, but I still have my reading, writing, embroidery, cooking, baking etc. to turn to. 

So, not yet a habit. Perhaps it is supposed to always feel like a vacation? I will report back in a few more weeks - I think the winter will be interesting. I retired at the end of May, so let's see how I get through a winter of retirement, without discontent.

Monday, August 2, 2021

This one is boring - unless you have a blister on your toe

The holes were not in the right location 
I fully understand you if you don't want to read it. However, there just might be someone out there who could benefit from this snippet of information. Actually a couple of snippets.

What seems like a long time ago, 8 years, I had bunionectomy and hammer toe surgery on my right foot. The bunion was not giving me any problems, the hammer toe was. The surgery for the toe entailed removing the deformed joint completely and allowing the toe to heal straight by inserting a pin through the center of the bone, the full length of the toe. 

I later developed two more hammer toes on the same foot and had them corrected also, actually you can see them starting to form in this image. The first toe healed well, but slightly twisted and longer than it had been. That is, it ended up a little longer than the big toe, and the top was turned slightly towards the big toe, you can see from the photos below, before, after surgery and after healing. 

As you can see, the toe was very deformed

Here we have the toe with the pin inserted, it was totally painless having it removed

And almost complete healed but now longer

This one shows just how long the pin was

The impact this had was, depending on my footwear, the repaired toe tended to rub against the end of my shoes; in particular I wear rubber crocs on the dock, and on the boat and these eventually caused a large blister on the tip of my toe, in that fleshy part to the right of the nail. I didn't realize it was the crocs until the blister healed - that took a couple of weeks, and a second one in the same spot appeared.

It was painful! I put a plaster on it but that really didn't help much. I decided that perhaps a corn pad would cushion it, and while searching for something like that I discovered these! 

Amazon of course

They work really well - as soon as I put one on my toe it reduced any pressure and I was almost pain free. It is washable - just a quick squish under the tap with hand soap and it is clean.

I do need a pedicure

I won't bother getting new larger, crocs as I can just cut a small hole in the toe (of the crocs, not my foot!) where it rubs. Crocs have holes all over them anyway (see image at top of page) so that won't be an issue - besides, there are not exactly expensive fashion items.

blister after two days wearing the sleeve, pain gone.

As for the surgery - I highly recommend it. If you have a bunionectomy be prepared for a long recovery period. It sounds like it should be simple but it really is not. The hammer toe surgery is much more simple surprisingly. I did have the added issue that it was my right foot so driving in a big boot was not an option. But still worth it in the long run.