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.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Unexpected after effects of the pandemic

After effects other than the obvious—the devastating loss of life and, for many, income. And yes, I do know that it is not over yet.

I have been very fortunate that no one close to me suffered the worst of the impact. All have been vaccinated and while most did contract COVID, that was after vaccination and therefore, not severe. What I found interesting was that most of them contacted the virus through school going kids. So no, kids were not as badly impacted as the adults, their parents were.

After over two years of remaining as isolated as possible I have noticed a number of changes in the way I live my life now. Of course, some of that could be attributed to being retired, but I do believe most of it is lack of human interaction aka lockdown. I also believe this will be the new norm.

In March 2020, as the pandemic took hold, Larry and I decided to isolate ourselves in our condo in Lago Vista. Mildred had already moved out of the house we bought when she moved in with us, we sold it. For the next fourteen months I worked from home. I retired from Amazon in May 2021, over a year ago. Not much changed, the main difference was that I sat at my desk all day doing my own thing, and not Amazon's.

Our condo is in a small gated community of mostly weekenders. Weekenders that is, during the summer months. From October to April it is extremely quiet; only a very few live here full time. We rarely interact with them and luckily, we never were party animals so, no great loss. We took the pandemic very seriously. It was serious, even if most of Texas seemed to not believe in it. We stayed home, did curbside shopping for groceries and online for everything else and wore masks where ever we went which was almost nowhere as I said. 

We did that for over a year, until we got both shots. After that we continued to wear masks and still do when in public. We kept our human interaction to a minimum. Stayed away from the dentist and stopped our allergy shots. If we needed to visit the doctor we did telemedicine where possible. It is not possible to social distance and get your hair or nails done. So I stopped these habits also. In fact, going for our first COVID vaccine was somewhat overwhelming, we were just not used to being around so many people.

If you know me, you probably know that I have the mouth of a sailor. I had to have some restraint when I was working, in the office. After over two years of speaking to almost no one but Larry—he is even more 'sailor fluent' than I am—I have lost that restraint. This is something I will need to work on reverting back to more socially acceptable behavior.

I have not worn make up since March 2020. What make up I had back then is most likely unusable at this point, it was already well aged. I have no intention of ever going back to wearing it. The time and money saved is only part of the reason. I just don't see any point in painting my face, for what? To pretend I am not old? That won't work! I am too far gone there.

The result is that my hair has grown longer than it has been since I was a child and wore it in braids; and my nails are now short but much stronger. I tie my hair up in a pony tail and regularly file my nails. The savings here are even more than for the make up I no longer buy. An educated guess is that I save over $2K per year on just hair, nails and make up. That is just the monetary savings. The amount of time saved is quite staggered too. If you take into account travel time to and from the various appointments, plus applying and then removing makeup.

We almost never go out to eat anymore. Prior to the pandemic we used to eat out at least one evening per week, frequently two, plus we often went out for breakfast on Saturdays. That stopped completely and we somehow broke the habit. Now we just don't even think about it.

Add no commute time to all the rest of the time I have saved—not to mention all that gas money, I now have time to give to my treadmill and yoga practice. With the drastic reduction in social contact, my natural introvert tendencies have flourished and I am very comfortable spending long hours with my computer and / or my husband; avoiding all other human beings. All that has now become the new norm and I have no plans to return to previous habits.

We had booked a trip to Vegas for our joint birthday celebration in September of 2021, thinking that fully vaccinated and with the virus appearing to wane, we would be OK to do that. However, when September came around things were not looking good and new strains of the virus were being reported so we cancelled Vegas. We did get a few days in Seattle for Christmas 2021, I was nervous about that but all went well and we got to finally see some of my family. We tested when we got home and all was well.

How many other people have had the same, or similar changes? There is an impact. I know I am just one person, but if I have dropped all that superfluous spending, how many others have too? All those businesses who had to shut their doors during the worst of the pandemic and are now trying to rebuild, they have lost customers who will never return. 

Finally I am heading to Ireland soon to see the rest of my family. I have not seen them in over three years and this is the longest I have gone without a visit home since 1994 when I first came to the US. Again, I am very nervous about it, I will wear a mask traveling; I don't care what the rules are, I will do what I can to protect not just myself, but also my family. 

Hopefully the mask will muffle any foul language that might slip out, or perhaps it will also remind me to keep my mouth shut.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Change is good

I have never been afraid of change. I have learned over the years that change is inevitable, and is good, well mostly good but definitely inevitable. What I was reminded of two weeks ago, is that change is happening all the time. Not just around us, but inside us, even if we are not aware.

When I first arrived in the US, I had absolutely no spare cash, so a gym membership was out of the question. There was a park next to my apartment. That park had a running track which I used regularly. Later I did join a gym and, because it was expensive, I went every morning before work for over a year. After that I purchased a treadmill and some weights and worked out at home. Sometimes I kept up a workout routine for months. Sadly there were also months of not working out. The one thing that has been consistent is that I do not enjoy working out; I do it for my health, in particular it helps to strengthen old bones and we all know, a body in motion stays in motion.

I used to run because it was the exercise I disliked least. I can't do that anymore due to a knee injury resulting in arthritis. My knee refuses to hold me up if I attempt to run, so I don't. In the last two years I have been working out diligently, one hour per day, five days a week, walking on the treadmill. A few months ago I added 30 minutes of yoga to that. I don't even think about it anymore. As soon as I wake up I am already heading for the treadmill, in both body and mind. I waited to develop a love for it but only found a tolerance and blind acceptance that it was worth it.

Two weeks ago I stubbed my toe. The toe in question, the second toe on my right foot, is slightly deformed as a result of surgery to correct a hammer toe, three actually plus a bunion. The surgery removed the hammered joints and fused the toes. However, during the healing process the toe turned slightly.

Demonstrated in these before and after photos:

When fully healed and the pin was removed, it was apparent that the toe was slightly longer than it had been. Well, obviously it was longer because it was no longer curled up with the hammered joint, but it was also longer than it was before the hammering issue, longer than the equivalent toe on the other foot. The change was fractional and not enough to require going up a shoe size. The biggest impact this had—apart from no longer being able to curl my toes—where the top of my toe would have been protected by the nail, because of the very slight twist in the toe, the nail only partially did it's job. Also, stubbing the toes on that foot meant stubbing that longer toe first and hardest.

The stubbing of the toe, that same deformed one, caused a slight inflammation, which in turn caused a small amount of swelling. Just enough for said toe to rub against my sneakers as I walked. So, an hour of walking every morning was a lot of rubbing on the already injured toe. Not only did a blister form on the soft skin that was now where the nail should have been, but the side of the nail was also taking some of the pressure. The nail quickly turned purple, well to be exact, the skin under the nail turned purple. I knew the nail was going to grow off at that point. The biggest problem was that the toe was very painful and continued to rub against the top of my sneakers. It looked absolutely gross also, and even worse in this photo where it is finally healing but the nail is beginning to lift.

I tried a few things in an effort to work around this. I tried wearing hiking sandals. They were uncomfortable and the straps rubbed my foot. I still had an old pair of sneakers—I never throw anything away if I can avoid it. I cut a hole in the top of the sneaker, where the toe was rubbing. That helped but the toe was not healing. Finally I decided I would have to rest it completely.

That was Tuesday, after my workout. I figured if I didn't workout at all for the rest of the week, perhaps it would heal by Monday. That is what I did. And it did heal. 

All that to explain what change I had discovered happening within. That week of not working out, resting my foot was an eye opener. My joints were stiff and I felt sluggish. I also felt guilty because I was being lazy. I realized that not only did that regular workout drastically improve my mobility and my emotional well being, I was actually missing it.

I might like working out! Who would have thought? I wonder how long that has been going on!? Or, if I don't enjoy the act of working out, I do love the benefits, now that I am aware of them. The end definitely justifies the means.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Toilet Paper Origami

 I kid you not, that is a real thing!

We are all familiar with the folded point on a toilet roll in hotel bathrooms. I assumed that was done to convince you that the place had been cleaned. I never really saw the point because the first person to use the paper certainly doesn't replace the point before leaving the bathroom. I know I don't have time to waste on such a pointless exercise.

I consider it a waste of time, but never really felt very strongly about it until now. We gave up telling our cleaners that it was an unnecessary task and we didn't expect it. They still did it anyway and it didn't cost us extra, nor did it inconvenience us.

This week I was astounded when I saw what the cleaners had done. Bear in mind that we have three full bathrooms and one half bath, so four toilet rolls in operation, or at least at the ready at all times. We also have three paper towel dispensers in the kitchen. No, it isn't a huge kitchen; in fact it is relatively small, but we are kind of obsessed with paper towel. I believe I mentioned before that I am a bit of a germaphobe. Paper towel instead of cloth wipes in the kitchen strikes me as being a lot cleaner. Okay, I know it is not very environmentally friendly, but I compensate for that by being overly friendly in other areas.

As I was saying, what the cleaners did this last week was beyond comprehension. One of the bathrooms was spared the worst, it just had the usual folded point. The other three had this incredibly pretty, but totally unnecessary creation.

If you look closely, you can see the center of the flower is what holds the entire thing together. The cleaners had just left when we got home, so I was able to see that this center was wet. Not just the flower, but the wet patch went at least an inch into the toilet roll, plus that wet patch was subjected to considerable pressure, this meshes the wet paper into a tight wad. Once dried, the paper becomes much harder than it was—so unnecessary!

One of the things that worried me was the that I didn't know where the water, and the pressure, came from. I couldn't be certain it was clean. I mean, what if they dipped the end of the mop handle into the bucket of water they had just washed the floors with? Applying toilet paper treated in this way, to the more private and sensitive parts of the body didn't seem like a good idea to me. And, as I said, this water, and pressure wad, went at least one inch into the roll. 

They didn't just do this to the toilet paper, they also did it to the paper towels, all three had a wet, deep, indentation—no flower, but the same degree of damage.

I might add, the paper napkins on the dining room table were not ignored, they were decorated with a bow, thankfully no water was applied there. Three boxes of tissues in various parts of the house also received a bow, again no water.

Consider how surprised I was, though I should not have been, when I googled 'toilet paper art'. I immediately found a book available on Amazon, Toilet Paper Origami. Searching further I found dozens of YouTube videos carefully detailing how to do this to your (or your client's) toilet paper. 

Fortunately, the YouTube video I watched (yes, I admit I watched it), did show how the water and pressure was applied. This made me feel a little better about the cleanliness, just a little.

I intend to request that the cleaners cease and desist from practicing their arts and crafts on my toilet paper. For some reason I find it extremely unsettling. The waste of time is not what bothers me most. I mean, it shouldn't because we don't pay by the hour, so it is not my dime, but it is my toilet paper. The amount of paper wasted on the flowers and the bows is not the issue, it is minimal. It is water and deep impression forcing the wet paper together that I do object to.

So, if you have an interest in wasting time and toilet paper, here are a couple of YouTube videos, and the book I mentioned is referenced above.

And here is just a little of what a Google search turns up:

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Interesting question...

"How are you enjoying retirement?" 

I get asked that a lot, for obvious reasons, I retired just under a year ago. If you follow this blog, you will be aware of that, and the fact that I have been sort of obsessed with it—mainly because it was not planned. I was afraid that I would be bored and, as a result, I put a lot of effort into making sure that didn't happen.

Of course, working from home for a year before retirement helped a lot. I had an home office set up and as mentioned before more than once, I have a number of hobbies. Machine embroidery, fishing and writing—not just this blog, but also I am working on a novel—my god that is not easy! But then, neither was my job when I was working. Of course I also spend time on my continued education, Masterclass being my main source. I can't get enough of it, in particular the writing classes of course, but there are others that are interesting.

Some weeks I can't stop writing, that is usually blogging. Blogging, as I think I mentioned before too, is my therapy. Some weeks I don't blog at all; that is usually when I am working on my novel. When I am fishing I spend a lot of time thinking about my stories. Multi tasking!. I have not done any embroidery in a while, because I have more t-shirts with smart-ass expressions on, than anyone needs; besides it is more of a winter occupation, when I can't fish I can embroider. 

I do workout, but that is for health and most definitely not enjoyment. I reward myself for staying on the treadmill by reading; a good book will keep me walking for miles. Recently I added yoga to my workout routine. I wanted something that would help with strength and balance. I found it, and it is definitely challenging. 

Part of the challenge is working around the various inconveniences of old age. I injured my right knee a long time ago—possibly had I been born in the US I would have sued; it seems everyone here sues for the least little thing. I tripped at work. Coming out of the exercise room there was a long, narrow corridor, badly lit with an uneven floor. I caught my foot on one of the lumps of uneven concrete and twisted by knee in a way it was never designed to twist. Now, twenty five years on, it is proving to be challenging. I also have the left hand that was already weakened by arthritis and since has developed Dupuytren's Contracture, this prevents my hand from resting flat on any surface For yoga that surface is the ground, well, the yoga mat, but that is on the ground. Then I have this stupid shoulder. 

I have whined quite a bit about the shoulder. A rotator cuff related issue, which causes the long head bicep tendon to pop it's groove. Seriously, that is a thing. And I assure you, it is painful. Two separate rounds of Physical Therapy, twice a week for eight weeks each time, helped. But really what helped most was the PT physically manipulated my arm and shoulder to put the tendon back in it's groove. Towards the end of my last Physical Therapy treatment, she actually showed me how to manipulate the tendon back myself. It is not quite so dramatic as Riggs relocating his shoulder in the Lethal Weapon movies, but brings every bit as much relief. It also means that I do not have to return to PT if it pops out again, which it has done more than once. Each time I have been able to coax it back into it's groove. However, this ongoing problem and not only the pain associated with it, but the constant risk of popping the tendon again, makes some yoga positions, such as downward facing dog, seriously challenging. 

Finally, I had surgery on my right foot about fifteen years ago, to correct three hammer toes and a bunion. Hammer toe surgery requires removing the joint in the toe and fusing the bone, hence no more bending of the toes. Yes, you can bend at the joint where the toe meets the foot, but that middle joint that allows you to curl your toes—not happening, gone. Stubbing your toe is painful as everyone knows. Stubbing it when it has no joint is most definitely an added level of pain, but any exercises requiring bending of the toes, while not a non-starter without joints, is uncomfortable, so some of the yoga exercises have to be adjusted to take that into account.

To work around these various disabilities I have yoga blocks for my hand, I use hemp cream for my knee and shoulder and I bought a hand massager that does absolute wonders for my hands and a heating pad for my shoulder.

So, the answer to the question is: "I enjoy not working." The jury is still out on the retirement thing. I guess like every other condition, there are pros and cons and as always silver linings abound. 

I think it is not retirement that I get frustrated with, it is old age. Just as youth is wasted on the young, retirement is wasted on the elderly. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Edith Piaf

One of the many tips I picked up from my hours of listening to Masterclasses on writing, was the idea of listening to music while writing. The theory is that once you start the music it reproduces the state of mind you were last in when writing. My music of choice covers a very wide variety. I love Country & Western, in particular the classic C&W, I also like some show music, such as Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera, and of course the music of my teen years, late 1950s and early 1960s. But after some thought, I decided that Edith Piaf was the music I would be most likely to write to.

I shared a love of Edith Piaf with my mother. So it is appropriate that today, as I sit down to write, I plug into my Edith Piaf playlist. Today is Mother's Day in the US. It is also the 25th anniversary of my mother's death. 

I find it hard to decide which is my favorite. I think perhaps "Non, je ne regrette rien", No regrets. A close second is "La Vie En Rose", which essentially means looking at life through rose colored glasses: "Rosey Life".

My mother's favorite was "Milord"

About 30 years ago I was going to visit my daughter in France and spent a day in Paris catching up with an old friend there. He brought me to visit Père Lachaise Cemetery. I would highly recommend a visit if you are ever in Paris. Of course it was interesting to see Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde's graves but to stand beside Edith Piaf's grave, in the knowledge that she was born just a short distance from that spot, that was something I will never forget.

Mother's Day