Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The devil you know

"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know" This was a saying my mother used a lot; at least, I remember her saying it to me, a lot. I don't remember her living by that saying. And I certainly don't, nor did I ever.

She used it, to emphasize her recommendation to stay in a job I didn't like, rather than move to a new one. 

Another of her sayings meant pretty much the same thing, "Out of the frying pan into the fire." Essentially a warning to be cautious. There are many other sayings along the same vein. 

She was selective in her use, I know this because she didn't trot these sayings out when I told her I was going to work in London, I was eighteen years old. I don't know how she felt about it, but she drove me to the boat, gave me ten Irish pounds and waved goodbye. She didn't say it years later, when I told her I was breaking up with my then husband. I suspect she wondered why I stayed so long in that particular frying pan. 

She didn't say it when I decided, in my late forties, to emigrate to the USA. I suspect she believed it was a mistake on my part and I would return quickly. Probably, at that stage in her life, having raised six children and spent the best years of her life battling her own disastrous marriage, she had decided we should be left to make our own decisions. Or perhaps she agreed with me that there was no reason for me to stay in Ireland at that point. And, at the time, it was the right decision. Almost twenty-nine years later there are so many things I regret about leaving, but I would do it again, even with all that hindsight. There is always a price to pay. Some things are worth the price.

If I could change anything it would be to have been able to achieve all that I did in the last 28 years, without leaving Ireland—but then I remember, the weather. I chose to come to Texas to escape the constant gray skies, perpetual drizzling rain and, though it was rarely freezing cold, it was equally rarely very warm. To quote my husband's favorite saying, "wish in one hand..."

So, no regrets

Of these five, I can honestly say I don't entertain any of them. I stayed in touch with the friends who mattered to me. And I worked hard for a number of years, by choice, to achieve the life I now enjoy. And by facing the devil I didn't know—and jumping out of the frying pan, I achieved 1, 3 and 5. I know that I would not have otherwise. My advice to myself, and anyone who cares to listen  has always been, "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained". It still is.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Beta Readers and Code Reviews

When I retired, at the end of May 2021, I was very nervous about be set adrift. My entire professional life was a series of unreasonable deadlines, and working crazy hours to meet them. I had been attempting to keep writing during my free time, but free time was pretty much a pipe dream, especially while working for Amazon. It was not unusual to work seventy hour weeks, between unreasonable deadlines, insufficient staffing, last minute changes in requirements and of course, the dreaded on-call rotation. Despite complaining about these demands, I was aware that I thrived in achieving all this and then some. I believe I mentioned before that I am very competitive. I saw each challenge as a test to be overcome and achieved. But I had little or no time to pursue my own interests. What little time I had was spent with family, naturally.

So, with retirement looming I had to make plans to fill those seventy hours per week with something, other than watching television, which I can't stand, or playing solitaire or candy crush, or reading which I do love, but I can never relax for long and usually read while on the treadmill. 

I had my embroidery, and I quickly discovered that a woman can have way too many t-shirts with smart ass comments on (mentioned in a previous blog post); and I had my writing. I would finally have the time to write my book. Yes, once upon a time I self published a book. A memoir. That was a number of essays, written over a period of about 13 years, as a therapy rather than a writing exercise. It certainly wasn't a best seller, nor was it ever expected to be. I gave a number of copies out as gifts and made zero attempt to market it; mainly because I didn't expect anyone to be interested in reading it. Surprisingly a few people did purchase it and I got some good feedback. 

This time my plan was to write a novel. I spent the first few months writing blog posts. Partly as a distraction, partly as a therapy—the circumstances of my retirement were quite traumatic; but mainly to get my brain in gear and get some writing practice. Over the first year I had a series of failed attempts at the novel. I discovered that I had a major hurdle to cross. If I made up a fictional story, I felt that I was telling lies. I mean, it wasn't true so therefore it was a lie, right? I struggled with that for a while and finally was able to let it go, after all, a painting is not a photograph, but it can still be a work of art...I think.

A few more attempts left me with a number of mediocre short stories, one of which I actually tried to publish—sending it out into the world to be met with a resounding silence, when I eventually did receive a response, a rejection but nonetheless a response, I can't tell you how excited I was. Finally, I hit on an idea that just might lend itself to more than three thousand words. During this time I had signed up for Masterclass and had listened to every writer class multiple times. As no new writer classes were added I searched for some other way to hone a skill I was still not sure I had in the first place. I found one website that was extremely proud of itself, charging up to four figures for the occasional courses offered. I didn't indulge myself there. 

In October 2021 I stumbled across NaNoWriMo and signed up. I didn't attempt to compete that year but promised myself that in 2022, I would be ready. I continued fiddling with my story idea, writing five chapters before asking my alpha reading to give it a once over. Reading between the lines of her extremely thoughtful and very kind response, I realized that what I had written was the backstory for my novel. I wasn't exactly back to square one, because the backstory is essential, just not part of the front story. I started again. 

I returned to NaNoWriMo and on that website I found a discounted, membership to The Writing Mastery Academy (WMA)—a website doing exactly what the name suggests. I signed up, even without the discount it was reasonably priced. I discovered a massive amount of courses, webinars and a community of supportive writers in various stages of perfecting their craft. I also signed up for NaNoWriMo 2022 along with a large number of the writers in the WMA community. A daunting task, committing myself to writing approximately two thousand words per day for thirty days; one thousand six hundred and sixty seven words per day to be exact. I did it. on 27th November I hit the fifty-thousand word mark. 

During the first week of December I read my 'novel' and deleted at least five thousand words. I went back and in the course of completing my first real draft, as opposed to madly writing whatever crap came into my head to fill the word count, I added back almost five thousand words. Still not exactly enough to make a novel, but enough to send to my alpha reader. After all, if she says it is mostly crap or backstory, I am going to have to start again anyway. However, I am hopeful that won't happen. I already have two definite beta readers lined up. My hope is that my alpha reader will give me enough feedback to direct me to where I can actually increase my word count. I already know that I have a tendency to be short on descriptions of locations and characters; this is because I have read some great stories where I skim over pages of flowery descriptions to get to the meat of the story. I am fairly sure this has made me hesitant to bore my potential readers in the same way, erring on the side of not enough as a result.

The beauty of having been a programmer in my previous profession, the idea of a beta reader doesn't intimidate me in the least. As a programmer, your code is subjected to review by your peers. That is, at least one other coder combs through your work and points out flaws in logic, areas for improvement and generally helps to make sure your program is the best it can be. 

I fully expect at least two months of work to incorporate my alpha reader's comments and suggestions, my first draft will be hitting her desk tomorrow and I plan to concentrate on family, Christmas and my blog until it comes back to me, hopefully sometime in early January. If this is the case, my beta readers should get hit with their drafts at the beginning of March. The hardest part of that wait is going to be avoiding making any changes to the draft. Already I am thinking of places where I can, and should, fill in gaps; already I have possibly another three thousand words in my head, to add. I am making notes of these but I am determined to not change the draft in any way until I get my alpha feedback.

So, when will you be able to buy it. Ha! that is the big question.

I do plan to attempt to find an agent. Here again, WMA has a number of helpful courses on how to go about that. Naturally, the book has to be good enough, and I have to hit the right agent, but assuming that all falls into place, my understanding is it might be up to two years before the book is sold to a publisher, revised and ready for the market. I have yet to decide how long I will tolerate silence and, or rejections before looking at self publishing. Rest assured, you will all hear about it as it unfolds.

For now, I am still trying to come up with a decent title. Perhaps my beta readers will be able to help there, once they read the story.

Below are websites I referenced, in case you are interested.



Writing Mastery Academy

Alpha Readers

Beta Readers

Previous blogs: 



Why I chose to retire 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

A just like that November is over

It is December and with it NaNoWriMo comes to a close. For the entire month I ignored this blog, something I have done before but for different reasons, and not very often. During November I concentrated on drafting my novel—and ensuring that I wrote more than 1667 words per day, every day. That is the requirement to be a winner in the eyes of NaNoWriMo. And, if you are among the probably tens of thousands of winners, you can buy a t-shirt that declares you a winner. Actually, you can also buy that t-shirt if you are not a winner, probably even if you are not a writer. But that isn't the point besides I do not need any more t-shirts! While I have ignored my other hobby, embroidery throughout November, that can only be considered a good thing. I have way too many shirts with smart ass comments on.

The point of the event is for writers to write. And believe me, that is not as easy as it sounds. All the while you are sitting alone, always the best start if you want to get anything done, but with so many distractions there are some days I will write half a dozen words and with deep focus play dozens of games of Solitaire or even Candy Crush! Convincing myself that I am thinking about my story. To be fair, I am thinking about it, all the time. I even dream about it but I was not writing it down, well—not much anyway. Put a competition in front of me however and I am pulling on the bit. I have mentioned in a couple of other posts, I am very competitive. I am not a bad loser but I am a very good winner. And so, yes I can declare myself a NaNoWriMo winner. On 27th November I surpassed 50K words. I freely admit many of those words will have to be deleted during the editing phase, but more will be added...I hope.

When I started the story, actually I started it multiple times. In fact, I wrote at least three mediocre short stories before finally getting the germ of an idea that might be able to grow into a novel. I mentioned in my last post, announcing my intention to do NaNoWriMo, that I had already written a five chapter back story. That was helpful in so far as I had started to get to know my characters fairly well. It was difficult to accept that most of what I had written would never be in the final draft, but it was very necessary for me to have the information in my head, as I discovered when I started writing in earnest on November 1st. At first I thought that my idea was dumb and no one would like it. As I got into the story however, I started to enjoy it. 

I mentioned before that I had been doing Masterclasses on writing. Many of the writers I listened to talked about their characters as though they were real people, even going so far as to say they did and said things that surprised the author—their creator, the person who was actually writing the surprising words and actions. I thought that was a bit far fetched when I heard it but then it started happening to me. Another thing that happened was new people, a.k.a characters, arrived. I seriously was not expecting them and I had to get to know them. I don't think I would have experienced that had I not been frantically writing in order to win. If you are old enough you will remember the slogan, Let Your Fingers do the Walking. Same thing, well kind of. I pretty much let my fingers do the typing and let the words spill out. As I said, much of it will have to go but I do have more than the bare bones of a story I like and that is a start.

What next? Well, 50K words do not a novel make. So I have to expand that somewhat. As I read through and clean up I am removing much of the drivel, but so far I have added more than I have removed so I am hopeful. Next I will have to go through it and edit the hell out of it. Then I need some good friends to be Beta Readers. I already have my very first one lined up and willing. I have a few more in mind and have yet to approach them. I do know of some writers who asked for review and feedback only to get offended when they got it. So, what they were asking for was not feedback nor review, they were looking for praise and admiration

"A beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing, who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author. A beta reader provides advice and comments in the opinions of an average reader." - Wiki

It feels like such an imposition. Asking someone to read a novel, that is not yet a novel, that takes up a lot of time, but then ask that they read it with a critical eye, and finally that they give you a fair and thoughtful critique of that novel. To many, that is like asking them to tell you if your baby is ugly. They just won't do it. Of course they can't be sure you really mean, tell the truth. I am not looking for praise at this point, I do want to make it better. Better is good. Naturally, you can't make an ugly baby beautiful, but with help, you can make a good, bad or indifferent novel better, with the right feedback and before publication.

And there is the big hurdle. Publication. I have decided that I will try to find an agent, and if I am lucky enough to find one, then I will attempt to be published the traditional way. If this effort fails, I will go ahead and self publish. Many writers have gone this route and had great success. But those writers have also put a lot of money and effort into marketing that book, and themselves. Not something I have the  skillset, nor the inclination for. So, if I don't find an agent and do go the self publishing route, I will post on Facebook and give gifts of my book to many of my family and friends and let it go at that. I am not looking for fame and fortune. I just like to write.

First on the agenda is at least another 20K words that make sense and improve the story. Thankfully I am retired and I don't have to squeeze my writing time into a working day. 

By the way, sorry for complaining so much about being retired, I wrote many posts on that subject. I do still miss work, and more especially coding and my wonderful team mates, but I am not bored.

Links to posts I referenced above 

I will ban bossy - mentions my competitive nature

Online Dating - ditto 

My First NaNoWriMo - the title gives it away

Why I chose to retire  - retirement

Getting used to retirement - ditto

Retirement week 12 - ditto

...and many more on retirement that I won't bore you with.

Friday, November 4, 2022

My first NaNoWriMo

I am embarrassed to say that for over a year, ever since I retired, I have been trying to write a novel. It isn't that I didn't write anything. I did. I wrote a couple of short stories. That is, I started what I thought would be a novel and it fizzled out. One I polished up—apparently not quite enough—and submitted to a few magazines. Six months later I was so excited to receive a rejection I wonder how I would react if something was actually accepted, and printed! I felt the third short story was possibly something I could grow into a novel. I played around with it a bit and eventually I had five chapters and a three month writers block. I sent the five chapters to my sister (an extremely accomplished writer and editor). She read it and sent me valuable, if overly kind, feedback. That is when I realized I had a decent idea but was not utilizing it correctly. She didn't say that, but that is the realization I came to. What I had was a back story. That was a good start.

As many of you know, I have been wallowing in all of the writer Masterclasses, repeating most of them multiple times. Last year I even signed up for NaNoWriMo. Well, I created an account and had a poke around. That was it. This year I did some more poking around and discovered a link with a discount membership to The Writing Mastery Academy (WMA). What annoyed me a bit about Masterclass is that it has only a limited amount of writer classes, albeit really great ones, and no place for Q&A or FAQ. WMA is dedicated to writers. It not only has a large number of detailed courses, but also a stack of Webinars and a FAQ section. I was in hog heaven. Not only did I have hours more distraction disguised as preparing to write, I did finally get a burst of motivation. I signed up to do NaNoWriMo 2022. I knew that I needed a deadline. On top of that, armed with what I had learned from the courses I had already completed at WMA I went back to my book idea and tore it asunder, keeping just the bare bones of the idea.

I created a Beat Sheet—Save the Cat Writes a Novel term—for my story and started my prep work to be as ready as possible for November and the 50,000 word challenge. I should have mentioned earlier that I had already researched and purchased a writers software package. Yes, of course you can use MS Word to write, or even a pen and paper. But Scrivener is designed with the writer in mind, I guess you could say so is pen and paper but this is so much better. I opened up Scrivener and created the bones of my novel. That is I created empty chapters and scenes. I was armed and ready for the challenge.

The night of the 31st October I had a trail of vivid dreams, nothing to do with Halloween, or wine or anything else other than anticipation for my November of writing. 1st November was a Tuesday. The busiest day of my week. We do our grocery shopping on Tuesday, then I wash all the fruit and prepare a fruit salad which usually lasts us into the weekend. And, of course, I work out in the early morning five days of the week. An hour on the treadmill and 30 minutes of yoga, usually I am on the treadmill by 4.30 a.m. and follow that immediately with my Hatha Yoga session. And no, I had no plan to skip either. So, Tuesday the 1st November I got up a little earlier than usual. Got my workout out of the way and still managed to do two hours of writing before it was time to head to the grocery store. 2,312 words under my belt and updated in the NaNo tracker. I was on my way.

On Wednesday I managed 1,778 words. Not quite as good but still on track. Our cleaners come on the first Thursday of every month. Mentioned before here. So, there is some work to be done preparing for them, for the cleaners. Then we vacate the house while they are there to give them a clear run and because moving around to get out of their way is not much fun. So Thursday 3rd November I got up earlier than usual again. Completed my workout and still had two hours to write. 1,977 words. Still on track. I fitted in a second session, not quite so good, just over 300 words, as I am infinitely more productive in the early morning than any other time of day.

I knew that as the month progressed I would lose steam, just hope it doesn't continue to drop. I was determined to be optimistic and put it down to my busy Tuesday and the cleaners. Friday should be better. After all, it is one of the two days in the week I don't workout so in theory, I should be back over the 2K count. I just have to remember not to open my browser until I have finished at least 2K words.

And, if you are still reading, I do realize this is incredibly boring. I am writing it more to cheer myself on than for any other reason. Therefore, I will stop here. I will return with a final update after NaNo is over.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Growing Pains

I recently wrote about how important it is to be aware of what you say to children, or more importantly how they react to what you say. I am now adding that perhaps there are also times when it is good to shut up and listen. Really listen, because if you don't they will just stop talking to you.

When I was a child it was very common to hear adults, particularly older ones and specifically my grandmother, complaining about rheumatism. We were left in no doubt that it was painful and apparently had something to do with the weather. In Ireland the weather was then, and is now, unpredictable and mainly damp and cool. My grandmother blamed the damp for her rheumatic pains. 

I can remember getting a nagging ache in my wrists and ankles, telling my mother that I had rheumatism, after all it was raining. She laughed at me and told me that children don't get rheumatism and I was just suffering from growing pains. I was very offended. As a child I was constantly offended by adults treating children as though they were not real people. I was sure that growing pains were not actually a thing and as small I as was, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't even notice any growing I might be doing. Little did I know that rheumatism was not even a real thing either, but was used to describe just about any pain that was not actually a head ache.

According to Medical News Today, Rheumatism is not a medical term. 

Of course headaches were another pain adults often complained about. I also got a lot of headaches. That is, my head hurt, which to me was the only qualifying symptom to be a headache. But, apparently children don't get headaches either. Also not true. The headaches I get now, as an adult, are exactly the same as those I got as a child. Mostly due to stress or sinus congestion—also something associated with cold damn weather. Of course, probably as likely to be caused by an allergic reaction to mold. Since coming to the US I have discovered that I am extremely allergic to mold of any type and when living in Ireland I was rarely without a sinus infection.

I suppose I should be thankful that I didn't argue with my mother that of course I had a headache, and that it was probably due to stress. She would just have offended me even more by saying children don't get stressed. I can remember being very stressed as a child. Having an abusive father and a 'mother's help' who was a sadistic, bitter woman taking care of us most of the time while my mother worked, was reason enough to be very stressed. Add to that the fact that our parents fought all the time. I was most definitely stressed.

Looking back, I know that whatever aches and pains I had were not serious, and I did have a reputation for being a hypochondriac—I wasn't, but I had discovered that I could make myself go a greenish color and look really ill to get out of school, so understandable they thought that I enjoyed being ill. 

I was of the generation of children that roamed the countryside from morning to night with no supervision. I climbed trees and played around the canal. I was pretty good at climbing but couldn't swim a stroke. Luckily I never fell from a tree nor into the canal. But those were distinct possibilities. I remember a kid down the street lost an eye because a group of boys were playing with home made bow and arrows. So clearly, parents of that generation were not going to pay much attention to complaints of rheumatism or headaches.

I know now that I did get 'rheumatism', that is I had joint pain. And I did get headaches. Perhaps I did have growing pains, but if so they were for no obvious reason as I didn't actually grow very much at all; besides, according to this web page, growing pains do not involve joints. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The importance of reading the small print

Twenty-six years ago I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism; underactive thyroid. This, apparently is common in menopause and while it is relatively easy to treat, with synthetic thyroid hormone; the difficult part is to get the correct dosage and monitor the levels and adjust accordingly.

The Mayo Clinic lists a bunch of possible symptoms of under active thyroid. Of those listed I experienced the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
  • Thinning hair
  • Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)

I finally learned that if any of these symptoms change, it is time to talk to my doctor to make sure that the thyroid levels remain within the appropriate range. it is also important to closely follow the instructions for how and when to take the medication. First thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. I didn't learn that for a number of years after I started taking it. In fact, my mother-in-law was taking the same medication and she only discovered it should be taken on an empty stomach when she was in hospital—just a few years before she died.

Do not eat anything for at least one hour after taking, and there are a large number of medications to avoid taking within four hours of taking Synthroid. Among them are antacid, calcium and iron; not medications you would expect to be a problem but all of which impact how efficiently the Synthroid works. The sad thing is that I only became aware of some of these rules quite recently.

One of the biggest problems I encountered was a continuous fluctuation in my symptoms. Insurance Companies, for purely financial reasons, will not cover non-generic medications without a determined effort on the part of the doctor. I eventually had to find an endocrinologist who explained to me that generic medications do not always have similar potency and pharmacies constantly change their generic suppliers, again for financial reasons; they buy from the cheapest understandably. She gave me a prescription specifying NOT generic. After that my thyroid settled down and all was well up to this year. Though, unfortunately when I retired and switched to Medicare I discovered that they don't care how much you, or your doctor, stress the importance of using non-generic, they refuse to cover it. (I whined about Medicare here previously.) Only one of the many indications I have had that this country doesn't care about the elderly. Odd when you look at the average age of those people in the Congress and Senate who have the power to improve this. Of course, they also have enough money that they don't suffer, and to be fair they are also still working despite their age, with good health insurance cover.

I was very surprised at the beginning of this year, when my annual physical blood work indicated that my thyroid levels had suddenly jumped. Why, after being on the dole for twenty-six years, did my thyroid suddenly decide to work again? I do admit that I had started to enjoy no longer feeling cold all the time but didn't associate that with a change in thyroid levels.

It took six months of trying a reduced dose for 6 weeks and then having more lab work done, and repeat, to finally find the correct dose. I went from 88 MCG to 50 MCG, slowly in stages, to finally level out. During this time, apart from no longer being cold all the time, I noticed that my hair was getting much thicker and the aches and pains I accepted as normal, had reduced. Unfortunately I was still struggling with my weight. 

Interestingly enough, while my thyroid levels are now holding at an acceptable level, I am still enjoying being comfortably warm, my hair is not falling out and aches and pains are holding at what I consider to be normal for my age and stage in life. Fatigue is one of those things that is kicked, pushed and pulled depending on so many other variables, but I don't feel it is out of control either.

I have made a mental note to ask my doctor next time I see him, why would my thyroid suddenly start working again? My guess is that he doesn't know either. All Google does when I ask him, is list all the possible diseases that might prompt this to happen. 

One theory I have is that I did become much more consistent about how I took my medication. Working from home, and then being retired, my daily schedule was...well, I developed a schedule. For over a year I took my one little pill at the same time every day, before I hit the treadmill, and because I spend an hour on the treadmill, the only thing I imbibe during that hour after taking the pill is water, which is allowed. Perhaps the medical profession should make it a lot clearer the importance of this. And yes, the blurb that the pharmacy gives you with your medication does list most of the rules of engagement, but with no sense of urgency, nor with any dire warnings related to not taking these rules seriously. Plus, who reads all the small print? I agree we should but I know that I didn't. 

Finally, here is an interesting article about just that, the Patient Information Leaflet.

RTFM and one of our favorite shows, The IT Crowd

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Birthdays and other days

I have often thought that birthdays should be something a mother celebrates, the day she welcomed a child into her life and ended the nine months of discomfort carrying that child. Not to mention the actual delivery. I know that is what I think of while still celebrating with my children on each of their birthdays.

For many years, I got more and more excited as my birthday approached. It took me a very long time to accept that it really was just another day—to everyone except me and perhaps my mother. Though after six children I am guessing my mother had quite enough of birthdays. But, every birthday I was bitterly disappointed because it was never the earth shattering day I expected. 

My fourteenth birthday was the one I remember as being the very worst. I blamed that on the fact that it was a Sunday and everyone in our house had something else to do on Sunday, other than stick around and make me feel special. I spent the morning alone wondering if perhaps everyone would suddenly appear to surprise me. They didn't. I lay on my bed and cried for what felt like a very long time, of course I was fourteen years old and female, so hormones probably came into play as I wallowed in self pity. Then I decided if the day was going to be special I would have to make that happen on my own.

I took a bus into the city center and spent an hour in one of the amusement arcades on O'Connell Street. I don't know if it was legal even back then, 1960, but we kids often played the slot machines without any problems. And they were cash machines. I actually did win more than I lost.

After that I went to a movie and lost myself in The Crowded Sky. I often went to the cinema on my own, and the year following my fourteenth birthday I saw seventy-five movies—I saved the ticket stubs for years, so I know the number. All of them when I should have been at school. I hated school and by the time I was fourteen I had figured out how to just not go and, more importantly, not get caught.

I think, that birthday was when I started to understand that I was in charge of my own life and my own happiness. It was many years later that I finally, fully comprehended that lesson. Seven years ago I published a post (here) listing some of the lessons I did learn and wished I could have told my younger self. But, I guess you have to learn the lesson for yourself.

That year, I decided my birthday was miserable and lonely because it was a Sunday. It was some time before I finally accepted that my birthday was really only of importance to me and I should not expect anyone else to care about it.

This year my birthday fell on a Sunday again. My husband bought me flowers earlier in the week, and it seemed there was a trail of flower deliveries to my door on the Friday. On Sunday, Social Media came alive with birthday messages and friends from all over the world send me messages, both publicly and privately. 

My flowers:

Perhaps if there had been an Internet and Social Media back in 1960, my fourteenth birthday would have been better—ah but then I would not have learned that very important lesson: Design your own dream. 

Here is a collage I put together on this theme, while teaching Arts & Crafts in Summer Camp back in 1994, (See this post).

And, continuing the theme of celebrating motherhood with a birthday, I made my mother's sherry trifle instead of a birthday cake. I will get back on my diet tomorrow!

Friday, September 2, 2022

Amazon Saga - The End...I hope

Just in case all of you out there are waiting on tenterhooks, to see 'does our heroine get her account back?' I am here to tell you I did. Also, to be fair to Amazon. I feel I need to confirm I did finally get some Customer Support. Still pretty disgusted at how bad it was overall.

It only took a full month and seven calls to Customer Support—one of those representatives hung up on me, the rest promised I would hear within 24 hours. On one occasion I received an email advising me I would hear within 24 to 48 hours—I did not. As you know from my previous post here, after each call I waited the full 48 hours and called again. Still nothing.

That seventh call was the charm. within the 24 hours I received this email:

Note the last sentence? I did have a Prime account and fortunately, when I logged in—yes, I was finally able to do that—I was still a Prime member. So that warning was unnecessary, fortunately. It was enough trouble to reregister and rename my Echo devices. 

The second last sentence was also misplaced. I had not been patient nor do I believe I should have been—oh, I was polite to the CS reps, I know it is not their fault but it was clearly a breakdown in communication between the front and back end. I still believe this was extremely bad customer service, in fact just bad service period.

So. The end result is that I have removed Amazon ads from my websites—part of being an Affiliate member; I still have Prime and my Echo devices are re-registered, plus my Kindles are also up and running. I didn't spend any money on Amazon for an entire month. That has to be a record, for me it is. All this just in time for my next subscribe and save shipment. 

But, to the Kindle bug. Well one of them. I mentioned I came across a few. I didn't exploit them though I probably could have. When my account was placed on hold or frozen or whatever the terminology was, my Kindles were disconnected and reset. The next time I fired up my Kindle it suggested I connect back to my account to access my content, At this point I couldn't even play any of the mindless video games I had downloaded because they connect back to my account at the Amazon App Store—this I discovered when I was persona non grata. As the device clearly wanted to connect to my account I agreed, assuming that it would fail due to being locked out. It didn't fail. Not only did it connect but it allowed me to download one of the books I had previously purchased. I didn't try to buy anymore believing that the less I rocked the boat the better at that point. But, I probably could have.

What I have learned is that I should never leave any payment method set up in my account. That way no unauthorized purchases can be made, at least not using my cash. It will be time consuming to keep adding the payment method for a purchase and then immediately removing it. But I think that will also slow down my spending which can't be bad.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Amazon Saga continues...

Last week I posted about the issues I was having with my Amazon account, foolishly thinking they were about to be solved. This post contains a summary of the previous one so you don't need to go back and read that.

In total I have made five separate calls to Customer Support and my account remains on hold. On the first call I reported unauthorized activity on my account. I was told to have my Credit Card Company reverse the charge. 

This was obviously the wrong advice and resulting in four weeks of calls, emails and lack of resolution. As soon as the charge was reversed I received this email—this was a full week after I had reported the unauthorized transaction to Amazon. Clearly their internal communication sucks:

The email continued, essentially holding my account to ransom. Either I paid them $500 or I could do the other thing. At the time I was traveling in Europe and a call to Customer Support was a roaming international call. Not cheap. I was told to follow a link provided in email to complete a form to receive assistance. That link required me to login and as the issue in question is that I am unable to login due to the account being on hold, that didn't work. 

The item in question was a $500 Apple gift card. It was sent to me via email. I didn't want it. I have no use for Apple products, and as far as I am aware, $500 wouldn't buy much from them anyway. I had not activated the card and had no intention of doing so. Why could Amazon just not cancel the card and get the value of it back from Apple, surely between them, these huge, presumably tech savvy companies could establish that the card had not been used?

I responded to the email above explaining that I followed instructions from the Customer Support to reverse the charge. I received this email and thought it had been resolved, after all that is what the email says, right?:

I tried to login to my account and this is all I got:

Another call resulted in me being told to wait for twenty four hours and an account representative would contact me. Two days later I had still heard nothing. I called back and got a representative who was extremely difficult to understand as she had a strong accent and spoke very fast. When I asked her to speak more slowly she hung up on me. I called back and this time the representative sounded like he actually knew what he was talking about. He said he would fill in the form on my behalf and I would hear back in twenty four hours. I was not hopeful but yes, within the twenty four hours I received this:

Bear in mind, this was now four weeks since the charge hit my account and the first time I spoke to Customer Support. I received that email early on Saturday morning. While I was working for Amazon, weekends were still business hours—we worked all hours—but not officially. So I counted off forty-eight business hours. What a surprise! Not a word via email or any other form of communication.

I am a Prime member, an Affiliate member and a Kindle publisher. I have a number of items on Subscribe and Save. I am a PillPack customer. And I have multiple Echo devices, now useless. And a Kindle Fire owner. Not only that, I had already purchased a number of e-books from Amazon and these had been downloaded to my Kindle. When the account was frozen my Kindle was reset. I lost those books. 

Will they continue to sell my books and just keep the income, or do I still get my royalties? Will my prescriptions just cease? Will the Amazon Ads on my blog and website continue to generate traffic and possibly new customers for Amazon? Do I have to return to reading paper books while I workout. I have to admit that a Kindle is so much easier to manage on the treadmill, not to mention while traveling.

The injustice, the long delay and bad customer support experience, not to mention the inconvenience drove me to make the decision to break my Amazon habit once and for all.

I discovered that Barnes & Noble have an alternative ereader and they sell e-books cheaper than Amazon does. Before Amazon I bought all my books from Barnes & Noble and loved browsing through the real live books back then.

I was never very sold on PillPack. Great if you have a number of prescriptions. I have one prescription, just one pill per day. Using PillPack for that is overkill. I won't miss that.

I do not care if I no longer display Amazon ads on my websites. No loss to me and Google is far superior when it comes to that anyway.

Almost all of the retail purchasing I do on Amazon I could do at Walmart, Target or any of the large department stores. All of which have an online presence. Plus I save the cost of Prime which will help offset the many other expenses I have incurred due to this problem. 

Self publishing. KDP doesn't own this market either. Yes they are the biggest name, but I discovered a better option here. At first glance it does appear to be better than Kindle. 

Finally, my subscribe and save items are readily available in the supermarket. The only reason I got these from Amazon was because I could. It was convenient but no more convenient than picking them up when grocery shopping.

What happened to Amazon's Customer Support boast? What happened to their 'superior' security? After all, I do not share my account with anyone else, I regularly change my login credentials so how did an unauthorized charge hit my account? And if it takes over a month, five customer support calls, one of them an international call, and one where their rep hung up on me—then why would I want to continue to use them? Particularly as this issue is still not resolved and I still cannot login to my account.

During the course of this last month I have identified at least six major bugs, many of them in the Kindle technology. Previously I would have reported these. The QA Engineer in me still lives large and seven years of working hard to ensure Amazon presented customers with a first class experience is hard to forget. However, it appears they no longer care about customer experience and I certainly no longer care about Amazon.

To add insult to injury they are still spamming me with Treasure Truck text messages, touting deals that I cannot purchase even if I wanted to.

I am still going to continue to fight because this is just flat wrong.

Friday, August 19, 2022


Recently my husband suggested I try CBD oil. It is legal in Texas as it is almost everywhere else to my knowledge; and is being hyped by our supplemental health care as a magical cure-all, of course it is over the counter so that saves them money. I have very little respect for health care providers, particularly when it comes to the elderly. Anyway, Larry had tried  it and discovered that it really helped the pain in his knees where nothing else had worked, including the hemp based cream I have been using.

I don't know much about Cannabis or its associated extracts but I was tired and didn't feel like arguing my point so I tried it. Apparently the instructions are to place an entire dropper full of the oil  (1 ml) under your tongue and hold it there for one minute. Oh dear lord it tasted vile. I told my husband that it tasted like furniture polish and was disgusting! 

"How do you know what furniture polish tastes like?" he asked me.

That got me thinking. How do I know? The same way I know how many other things, normally not recommended for ingestion, taste. I was a thumb sucker. Not just as a baby, not just as a toddler. My mother used to tell me that I would walk down the aisle with my thumb in my mouth. I didn't, but only because by that time I didn't suck my thumb in public—and my hands were full carrying my bouquet.

I didn't quit sucking it until I was fifty years old. I often wonder, why then? Menopause? or perhaps a considerable amount of dental work I had done that year? Probably the latter. Or maybe, whatever emotional disturbance that had caused me to be so dependent on that comfort, had finally been mitigated? Makes you think, instead of constantly berating a child for the habit, it might be a good idea to consider why the child needs to self comfort and address that.

I wonder how many 'not for human consumption' items I sucked off my thumb in the course of fifty years—obvious not enough to prove fatal. I know that I swallowed a lot of bitter aloes. My grandmother covered my thumbs—I didn't discriminate between left and right and happily sucked either—with this old fashioned remedy. I stayed with her for a period of time in order for her to correct my habit which upset the adults for some reason I couldn't fully understand. I sucked the nasty stuff off my thumbs and then continued; as determined as any addict might be. On another occasion she stitched small, cloth bags to the end of my pajama sleeves. I sucked my thumb through the cloth.

Why is it that adults are so against thumb sucking? OK, I know that it does mean that the perpetrator is constantly ingesting trace elements that may not be very healthy, but lets face it, kids are doing that all the time. I do think that pacifiers are worse and at least thumbs don't cost anything. I was told regularly that my teeth would stick out and I did consider this to be something I would prefer to not happen. However when a 'friend' of the family—a man I disliked intensely—told me that a thumb would grow down the back of my throat I decided that it was all lies and determinedly stuck my thumb back in my mouth. 

Despite sucking my thumb for fifty years, I didn't grow a thumb down the back of my throat, nor did my teeth protrude. I do know what a lot of odd items taste like. Including furniture polish, which I don't recommend.

Back to the CBD oil that started this train of thought. Apart from the awful taste, and despite it, I nodded off in the armchair shortly after taking it. I can't be sure if that was because of the oil or because I was still recovering from jet lag. Probably a bit of both. I slept reasonably well that night and I have to admit my usual aches and pains appeared to be reduced next morning. But...that vile taste of furniture polish was still strong and was accompanied by a stickiness in my mouth, which was almost as unpleasant and we won't even talk about the digestive reaction. 

I think I will stick to Ibuprofen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Another one bites the dust

There I was feeling very self satisfied. I had survived over two years of COVID without even getting a cold. It is dangerous to get complacent. Mind you, I didn't really. I didn't drop my guard. We always wear masks in public, and we are rarely in public.

This month I finally got to visit my family in Ireland for the first time in three years. I masked in the shuttle to the airport, though the driver was not masked and I was the only passenger. I masked in all three airports; Austin, Atlanta and Dublin. You can't get more public than that, and almost no one was masked, including airline staff. I was masked on the two flights; again, almost no one was masked, including cabin crew and the flights were full. Of course, I took my mask off to eat/drink, so that was a risk area. The food was so awful it was a very short space of time maskless, and I understand that planes do have HEPA ventilation. 

I was staying with my sister and we had a large family reunion which was almost entirely outdoors, as Dublin was enjoying unusually good weather. Though yes, there was a lot of hugging, and no, there were no masks. And yes, a lot of young children.

Two days after the family gathering I woke up with a vile sore throat. As mentioned, I was staying with my sister. I messaged her, across the hall and told her to stay away from me and asked her to get me a rapid test kit. She dropped that outside the bedroom door. Sure enough, positive without a doubt. What a huge disappointment, and embarrassment. What if I infected my family? Wait, who did I contact it from? Of course no way of knowing and really, it didn't matter at this point. I was more concerned about who I had infected. My plans to meet up with old friends over the course of the next week were immediately canceled.

All that day and the next, my sister deposited trays of food and drink outside the bedroom door; for good measure I had the bedroom window open all the time and wore an N95 mask when opening the door to pick up the tray. To no avail. on the third day my sister tested positive. At least I was able to join her downstairs but that was small compensation.

Luckily I had nine days before my flight home and with luck would test negative two days before that. I was counting on it because a quick search online revealed that there were almost no alternative flights for the week following my departure date. Also luckily, I had been vaccinated and double boosted so my symptoms were mild and what I experienced was similar to a mild cold. Silver linings to be sure. The best of all was that my sister and I spent an entire week relaxing and catching up. Digging up memories from our childhood and laughing together like the children we still felt we were inside these old bodies.

And at least I had loaded my Kindle with books for the trip. I am never bored when I have my Kindle. Except when Amazon fails miserably to supply decent customer support see this post which describes how my Amazon account was frozen, resulting in my Kindle being deregistered and unusable. My sister purchased me a book that she had read and highly recommended. I can't remember when I read a real, paper book. I am looking forward to this one.

Perhaps I will be cured of my dependency on the Kindle and even Amazon; that would definitely save some money.

It was with considerable apprehension I tested two days before my flight. As expected, and hoped, the test was negative and I was ready to pack my bags and bid farewell to my home country and my sister. 

One final negative test the day of my flight and I was good to go. 

Until the next time. Trip that is! Not COVID! I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. The sore throat and nasal congestion was similar to a head cold, even the slight cough was not worth complaining about. Stomach issues were inconvenient but so too is COVID. It is the head fog that is truly horrible, and you don't realize it is there until it finally lifts and you can think and feel human again. 

When I say I don't wish it on my worst enemy I have to say that anyone stupid enough to not get vaccinated deserves it. That may sound callous but how to we eradicate this awful disease when there are so many people aiding and abetting its tenure?

Saturday, August 13, 2022

I hate inefficiency

I hate inefficiency and I really hate bad customer support.

When I was working for Amazon, and after I retired—right up until this week—I had great admiration for their Customer Support (CS), second only to Zappos. The only issue I had with it was the difficulty in actually finding the link buried on the website. This week that changed. 

A week before I was due to fly to Ireland (from Texas) our credit card (CC) was hit with a $500 charge from Amazon. I had not purchased anything and neither had my husband, in fact neither of us had even been logged into Amazon for a few days. When I checked my account I had a surge of generosity apparently, and sent myself a $500 gift card; I guess I could say I played a bad joke on  myself because it was an Apple gift card. I disklike Apple products. The thing is, I didn't make the purchase, after all who in their right mind would bother to buy themselves a gift card? If I really wanted to buy something from Apple, why not just do that?

Naturally I dug into the bowels of the Amazon website and located the hidden CS link and  eventually spoke with a support person. He questioned me on other possible users of my account: none. He suggested I did it by accident? Not possible and I wasn't logged in at the time. He said he would mark the purchase as invalid—or some such word—but I would have to ask my CC company to reverse the charge. As I had not activated the gift card I found this unusual but agreed to go ahead and do that. I really didn't have much choice as he said that was all he could do for me.

The CC company were also not very efficient. Their CS person told me he was working from home and having internet problems but he would help. Eventually, after he had finally established that he was looking at the wrong customer account and found mine, he suggested the quickest way to deal with this was to report the transaction as fraudulent and they would cancel our cards and issue new cards which they would fast track as I was traveling in a few days. I thought that was the end of it. More fool me.

I packed my bags and flew to Dublin. One week later, I received an email from Amazon informing me that my account was frozen and demanding that I pay the $500 charge which my CC company had reversed. I responded to that email, explaining the steps I had already taken regarding this. I got no response. The biggest inconvenience here was that I rely heavily on my Kindle at all times, but especially when traveling. I love to read and had loaded the device with books for the two weeks. My Kindle had been frozen too naturally, it is directly connected to my Amazon account.

I connected with AmazonHelp on Twitter. They were sympathetic but said they couldn't help me, I understood that, Twitter was not exactly a secure venue for exchanging sensitive account information but I hoped they could get in touch with the right people who could help me. All they did was direct me to a link where I would find a phone number to call. Being in Dublin, that meant an international call on my cell phone. I decided it was worth it and bit the bullet.

As we all know, most of the time on a call to CS anywhere is spent listening to electronic music. This was no different. Eventually I spoke to a human being who said she would send me a link to a form I could fill in to declare unauthorized use of my account. I had told her all the details, including that my account was now frozen. I breathed a sigh of relief, this would soon be solved and I could get on with my visit home. No such luck. The link required that I login to my Amazon account to access the form. Return to GO and do not collect $200.

I contacted AmazonHelp again, on Twitter and told them the problem. They repeated they could not help me. I am wondering why AmazonHelp is on Twitter if they are no help?

I decided there was nothing more I could do from here. My alternative was to go back to paper books for my travel and decide what to do without an Amazon account going forward. Perhaps register my Kindle on my husband's account? Seems like that should just not be necessary.

Next day I finally received a response from the original email thread with the chargeback@Amazon, no apology just stating that they had informed my CC that they had 'ruled in my favor' and reversed the charge. I guess I rattled their cage loudly enough despite being in international waters.

As an ex Quality Assurance Engineer with Amazon, I am disgusted on so many levels at the deterioration in the quality of customer service, the slow reaction to the problem, the lack of an apology and the sheer inefficiency of it.

I restarted my Kindle and still had to reregister it and of course it reset and all the books I had downloaded previously had to be downloaded again. An inconvenience that I consider a bug on the Kindle group's part but at least I had access to my books. 

I truly hate inefficiency! And despite the awful treatment I received from Amazon, forcing my retirement, I was still a fan of the company. Not any more. 

Update: I should have tried logging into my account before posting this. Didn't occur to me once my Kindle was working. When I tried logging in I got a message to watch for more information in email. No email. Again, serious inefficiencies. So very sad.

No next steps supplied and I am going to wait to contact them further until I get back Stateside. I have incurred enough expense over this.