Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Yep - I'm still alive

I know, I have been very quiet recently. I have been writing, just not here. I actually started a new blog, in preparation for my first novel. It is my author page, here.

Apart from that, I have been querying agents in an effort to get traditionally published. That's hard. I mean, yes it is hard to get traditionally published, but even more difficult is the querying part. First, you have to get a list of agents who are open to submissions, and who are interested in your genre. Then you have to write a killer query letter. There is quite a bit of information on the internet, on how to do this, but no one can actually write your query letter for you. That is something you have to do for yourself. It is easier to write an entire novel. 

So, I have been sending off between two and five queries every other day, while at the same time working on the second novel. I have been slowly getting back some rejections, which is better than the alternative which is total silence. I try not to dream of that one request for a full manuscript. Apart from the disappointment of not actually getting that, there is still the distinct possibility that once they read a full manuscript, they will still reject it.

I decided that I would send out queries to my entire list of agents, then wait four to six weeks. If I don't get an offer of representation at that stage, I will self publish. With that in mind I have already formatted my manuscript for publication on Amazon, well, KDP to be correct and I have created a cover for it. I am fairly sure the cover will change because I am not completely satisfied with it, but I wanted to get to a point where I was comfortable using the KDP site. Things there have changed a lot since I published Peeling The Onion.

So yes, I have been busy. 

When I thought I had completed the first manuscript, I sent it off to a number of beta readers. Based on their feedback I made a number of changes. Then I left it sit on the back shelf while I tried to forget it and worked on number two. A couple of months later, I picked the first one up again and realized it needed some drastic changes. The opening pages changed completely and I added a whole new plot twise and almost twenty thousand words. Of course, that all meant I needed to go back into revision mode. But the end result I believe, is a lot better.

My next task is to get beta readers for my second novel. Please excuse me if I go silent again. This writing thing has me hooked.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Back again with another random thought

Yeah, I've been quiet for a while. Several of my followers have asked me if I have stopped blogging. The answer is, only temporarily. I have been writing, just not here. Actually, that is not exactly correct. I have a couple of blog posts started, mainly to remind myself of some random thought I might want to expand on later. I realized I was using my blog to procrastinate. Convincing myself that it was writing practice. And yes, while that is true, it was stopping me from completing my book. 

Writing the first draft is exciting and fun. Each new revision is a little less fun. Imagine reading the same book repeatedly? It is no wonder it becomes very boring. It is hard to believe anyone would be interested in reading it. I now have a novel almost ready to query. I sent out a few queries to agents already, mainly to get some practice in that diabolical exercise. 

Querying agents is a whole other skill and very scary. Not what I expected. The hardest part is pushing that send/submit button. Because as sure as eggs...Oh, there is a saying we used when I was growing up that I am betting no one uses in the US. So many of them! I tire of seeing glazed eyes and saying, "you don't say that here, do you?" I blogged about that here.  

See Power Thesaurus 

But of course, I digress. As sure as eggs is eggs, I will have forgotten some important detail and once you hit that submit button, the query is on its way, there is no changing it. Hence the idea of getting in some practice. Part of the problem is that they all want queries presented in slightly different ways, email, through an online form, first chapter, first ten pages, first twenty pages. 

I selected about 150 agents. Divided them into three groups and then selected ten from group three. Those least likely to want to even read my query, let alone my book, to use as practice. Meanwhile, I sent my query package — that is, my query letter, synopsis and first twenty pages, to an editor to get some professional feedback and, hopefully, help to polish it. So I am not querying my top choice agents. I will wait for her response before getting serious with the queries. To keep myself busy, I started on my second novel. 

Of course, being me, I sent the query package off to the editor early, and she is a professional. She sticks to her very precise schedule. I expect to get her feedback and suggested edits in about two weeks' time. 

It took me over a year to write the first book, mainly because of multiple false starts. In three months, I had completed the second one. The first draft of the second book, that is. Yes, there'll be a bunch of revisions and editing to do now, but I'm happier with the first draft this time and hopefully I've picked up some skills along the way. I am still following classes and webinars online, hoping to do just that.

It surprised me to get several rejections back in response to my test queries. Not surprised at the rejection, amazed that I got any response at all. A few of those rejections were very kind, personalized notes; rather than a standard form letter.

There are so many 'helpful' hints online on how to write a good query letter, one that will lift you above the rest of the slush pile. Things like, say something personal about why you area querying that specific agent. Eh...because she is on the list of agents accepting unsolicited queries in my genre? What else can I say? Only one agent I researched mentioned her favorite books, and one was a book I had also read. Most represent authors I have never heard of. So the suggestion of 'I am querying you because you represent [some author]' doesn't work. I guess I could say that, but it would not be true so no, I won't.

If the query letter isn't so boring that they continue on to read the synopsis, and if that catches their attention, they will read the first how many pages they asked for, varies between ten and fifty, then it has to be good enough for them to want to read more. 

So, having sent my query package to a professional editor, and having paid the first half of a reasonably large fee. Sent out some practice queries to the bottom of the list choices of agents. I suddenly realized that my first page will hook no one, particularly not someone who spends their working day reading boring queries and even more boring first pages. I rewrote the opening ten pages. Now, I am happier with it, but still not sure it is good enough. But I know for a fact that every writer feels the same about their writing. I have to stop second guessing myself, wait for the feedback and then look at it again.

What I find confusing is that, of all of my alpha and beta readers, only one hinted that the opening pages were boring, and I took that advice and updated them. Just not enough. My critique partner was definitely the one who I would have expected to have pointed it out to me. She got the updated version. But then she really didn't give me much in the way of valuable feedback on anything, come to think of it. I wrote about that here. After reading her manuscript and supplying what I thought was fairly detailed feedback, I had to chase her down for just a response. Then, what I got was a couple of generalized comments, which did help, but clearly not nearly enough. In fact, I got better feedback from my beta readers. But, when it comes down to it, it is my job to get it right. 

Now, with two completed novels, I am still not sure if I am good enough to be published. Yes, I could self publish, and if I send out queries to all of those agents on my list, and no one wants to represent me, I probably will end up self publishing. I just know that I won't do any marketing. That is definitely not something I have any interest in doing. So, my novels will disappear into the abyss to join my first book, a memoir: Peeling the Onion.

I wrote Peeling the Onion as a therapy. (See post here). And I only self-published it because my son and my husband both nagged me into it. I knew it would never sell to an agent and didn't even try. But now it is out there. And, even without marketing, a few copies sold. I even got some nice reviews on Amazon. And one not so nice review, but at least that reader took the time to review it. And for that, I am very grateful. In fact, I blogged about that too, here. Since then, I have learned a lot about writing.

Now I have some extra tools to help me. I have installed the Speechify extension in my browser. I load my manuscript to Google Docs and let Speechify read it out loud to me. That picks up a lot of typos and other errors. Apart from Grammerly, I also have the ProWritingAid app. These work in the browser, in Word and in my editor of choice, Scrivener—this is an editor specifically for writers. It is a bit of a learning curve but powerful. ProWritingAid picks up way more than Grammerly. The beauty of these tools is that as they correct me, they are also teaching me. Of course, I am still avidly following each new webinar on The Writing Mastery Academy. And repeating many of their classes, all of which are great.

So, on to book number three. In theory, I should improve with each book. And even if I don't, I have got to keep writing. For one thing, I absolutely love it. And for another, what else would I do? It is the only thing that has kept me sane since I retired. Particularly this year. The first half of the year, when the weather was ideal for boating and fishing, my husband was not well enough to do either. Now, as his health improves, the weather is way too hot to spend any time outside. Thankfully, I have my writing. How do retired people survive without something to fill their days?

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The difference between a scorpion and a spider

Or a worm and a snake. Okay, I know the obvious differences. And I read up here on the arachnids.

From the Univeristy of California website.

But why do spiders creep me out, but scorpions don't? I don't exactly cuddle with a scorpion if I see one, I do know that is not a good idea. While we are on the subject, tarantulas also do not creep me out. I will tell you that anything with more than four legs is gross, and I guess tarantulas and scorpions are a bit gross; just not in the same way spiders are. The only explanation I can come up with is that I didn't grow up with them, nor even with anyone who did. I grew up in Ireland and about the most dangerous insect we had was wasps, and even they were way smaller than what Texans call a wasp. And no, we didn't have snakes either. According to legend, St. Patrick chased them all out of Ireland.

My only exposure to any of these creatures was in the movies. Growing up my favorite movies were the Wild West. I devoured them. And given that I hated school and so never went. Oh I was enrolled, I just didn't go. I was delivered to the front door by my father, along with my two sisters. Went in the front door and immediately slipped out the back door and found a cinema to hide in. One that was showing a Western movie. There I saw my fill of snakes, tarantulas and most of all, scorpions. They were movie stars. And my heros were not afraid of them. I wanted to be a cowboy too and so I could not be afraid.

To be fair, I was never afraid of worms, but they are a bit gross and way too close to maggots which I think are possibly the grossest things on the planet. Of course, while scorpions and tarantulas are the same family as our average house spider, snakes are not the same family as worms. Just similar in appearance unless you look closely and find that face. And I know worms are also not related to maggots.

What started this train of thought? This morning I found a scorpion in my bathroom. This is the third scorpion I have discovered in the house, this year. The first one was in the waste basket in the bathroom. I found him when I was emptying it. He was in the bottom of a plastic bag with an assortment of kleenex, q-tips and an empty toothpaste tube. Too difficult to remove him so he went out with the garbage. The second I found on my shoulder. I was in the kitchen. My husband believed he came from the downstairs bathroom also and had hitched a ride on my shoulder, somewhat like a parrot? I flicked him off into the kitchen sink and managed to coax him into a plastic cup. He was released into the wild. This photo is the one that sat on my shoulder.

This third one, was the biggest, he was about two inches long, making his way along the baseboard between the vanity unit and the door to the toilet. I think we spotted each other at the same moment, because for a second neither of us moved. It was four thirty in the morning, that is the time I usually get up. I was about to head to the garage where my treadmill lives. The reason I use this particular bathroom is because of my crazy habit of getting up early and working out. I don't want to disturb my husband. Anyway, back to the moment we saw each other. 

My first thought was I have to take a photo of this guy. That thought was followed immediately by a swear word because my phone was still upstairs on charge. It sits overnight in a PhoneSoap that charges and cleans it (I have mentioned before that I am a germaphobe). So, my third thought was if I can scoop this creature into a cup or bag, I can do the photo shoot and then release him. I grabbed a sheet of paper and a plastic bag, but I had to move to do that and as soon as I moved he did a one-eighty and headed into the corner between the baseboard and the vanity kick board. I lay down on the floor to see if I could see him. Nope. Gone. There was the smallest crack between the wall, the baseboard and the kick board through which he disappeared. 

I had a flash of his point of view. He must have crawled up the waste pipe, hidden between the vanity unit shelving and the floor of the bathroom, behind the kickboard. Probably wandered around in the dark and dusty space. I wonder if there were small insects there to feed him? We have pest control come spray the house inside and out regularly, but their spray would not penetrate under the vanity. Then I arrived and turned on the light. He must have seen a ray of light come through the crack. Perhaps he thought he was heading towards heaven, or maybe he expected to arrive outside. Either way, his adventure was short lived.

Now we have to get our pest control company out to do another spray and then I plan to fill in that crack and hopefully that will eliminate scorpions from indoors permanently.

And what about snakes? Well, I haven't found any in the house, with the exception of the tiny little worm like snakes. They are the reason I compared snakes to worms. At first I thought I had found a worm on the floor, in the hall, but looking closer, it had a head and eyes. Not what worms have. So I googled it and discovered it really was a tiny snake. It was dead, probably came in on the sole of someone's shoe.

Like I said, I like snakes. I also have a healthy respect for them because I am aware that many can be deadly. Again, I don't know why I like them but it is probably also connected to my love of the Wild West lore and cowboys who constantly battled with rattle snakes. 

My therapist once asked me what was my favorite snake. I don't remember how the subject of snakes ever came up but that is therapy, anyway once it was mentioned he asked me and I said cobras. Then he asked me why. I had no answer but felt obliged to say something. So I told him it was because they warn before they strike. I have no idea where that came from, but my guess is it doesn't matter. That is how therapy works after all—right? you say the first thing that comes into your head and god alone knows what the therapist makes of it. That was a long time ago, but I still miss my therapist, Dick. I wrote about him here. He didn't tell me what he thought of my response but no doubt it would have been interesting. But it is true that they are my favorite snake. I actually have a tattoo of one on my back. 

Anyway, I decided to fill in the crack through which I assumed the scorpion had managed to squeeze himself. Pest control was scheduled for the following week and I didn't want to wait that long. When I lay flat on the bathroom floor again, I noticed it was more than a crack, the top corner of the kick board was cut away, a small square was missing. I know the scorpions didn't do that! At least I hope they don't have power tools under there. So with great difficulty I filled that gap and the crack between the baseboard and the vanity unit, with caulk. It wasn't easy because there is a slight overhang from the vanity unit and the caulking gun was too big to bend around it, but with the help of a flat paint brush I managed to fill the hole with the stuff. Next I researched and found a spray foam. It is an aerosol with a long straw like nozzle. The foam dries solid. That I am going to buy for any future holes and cracks I discover. After all, if a scorpion can crawl through into my bathroom, so could a spider! Thank God I haven't seen one of them for a long time, at least not in the house. We see them on the dock and on the boat, but that is their domain that we are invading. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

And just like that...

...another year has zipped by. Just over a week to the second anniversary of my retirement.

As you all know by now—I do go on about it way more than I should—I reluctantly retired on 31st May 2021. Appropriately, Memorial Day; not to take any glory away from our Vets of course, their memories are far more significant, but it was a memorable day for me nonetheless. I am getting over the hurt...I know, slowly but I am doing my was my decision, but those who worked with me will agree, I was given very little choice. Or, the choice I was given was just not an option I could possibly accept or live with. See here if you don't already know the story.

So how is retirement going I hear you ask (I don't—hear you that is—but I imagine you would ask). A year ago I published this post. Reading it a year later, apparently I whined a lot!. Now, not so much. Yes I am old and actually a full year older but I am doing okay. On balance I am enjoying being retired. I enjoy not having to work, though I still miss the actual work, the coding, the challenge and of course, the people I worked with. And the feeling of pride when everything works as it should; and it usually did. But I have got to admit it is nice to be able to just do whatever I want, whenever I want. Like the surprise trip to Florida in February. Even grocery shopping, doesn't have to be the weekend, doesn't have to any specific day, just whenever I choose. The down side is that I do get bored from time to time. I was aware this would be the case and planned hobbies and activities to keep me occupied and, more important, keep my brain exercised.

The second year of retirement went fairly well. I wore out Masterclass writing sessions and no new ones appeared. After hunting around I finally discovered The Writing Master Academy (WMA), an amazing community of writers and an endless supply of courses and webinars. I had joined Nanowrimo the previous year but did nothing there. Last year I signed up and completed the November challenge, writing 50,000 words in just under a month, they call it 'winning' and I did feel victorious even if that was also the only prize. Between those two sites I also completed the first draft of my novel and that was the trophy. That was also the easy part.

I am now on the tenth draft. The first five were just fixing typos and grammar, expanding on descriptions and generally filling in the obvious blanks. Then I passed it to my alpha readers, yes two of them. Following feedback I cut 5,000 words of unnecessary backstory, no longer novel length I returned to filling in blanks by expanding the plot. Next step was two early beta readers and a couple of weeks of virtual nail biting as I tried to convince myself that they wouldn't hate it. Surprisingly, they didn't, and they did come back with some really useful feedback. 

Next I found a critique partner (CP) on WMA, another writer to get a writer's perspective, unlike beta readers who give a reader's perspective. Of course, all of this feedback is just that, feedback. It is up to me how much of it I want to implement and how much I don't agree with. To be fair, almost all of it was valid and useful. So far, no one has actually told me the story sucks and most of the time I feel good about that, just sometimes I think they are just being kind.

A critique partner is a reciprocal arrangement. I read and thoroughly enjoyed her book and supplied my feedback within ten days. Then I headed off to my surprise Florida trip—a short break away from writing and reading. I planned to start working on my CP's feedback as soon as I returned. Best laid plans. I didn't receive any feedback. I waited a week and then moved on to my next stage, on the assumption that my CP hated my story so much she didn't want to respond. I had a book club waiting in the wings for my draft to beta read. I sent it along to them, a little late so now I had another month to wait as they had already selected their book for April. I spent the next week wondering if I should contact my CP or just let her be. Finally, one month after I sent her the manuscript, I send a reminder email. Two days later I got a response, apologizing and sending me feedback. It was a shame I didn't get this before sending my draft to my beta reader book club, but I immediately started working on yet another draft, incorporating much of the feedback. 

My word count was now back up to 54,000. I am hopeful I can pad it out some more as I start working on my beta readers feedback, but if not it is still a valid count for a novel. The most difficult part of the writing process is the constant fear that my story is boring and my writing is bad. The most difficult part of the revision process is that I know the story, the back story and the characters so well, I fear I am not sharing enough of that information with my readers. So this next draft will be dedicated to ensuring valuable insights are on the page, not just in my head. 

While I waited for the book club feedback, I started working on a draft of my submission package—that is a query letter that will go out to potential agents, arguably more important than the book to get this right. It should contain a synopsis of the book and the first ten pages. I also started outlining my second book. I have kept myself busy.

Obviously the submission package can't be completed until the feedback from my beta book club is reviewed and incorporated, which is what I am currently working on. Then the first ten pages will be polished and put into the query letter. Once that is completed I have a professional, freelance editor lined up to review it and give me feedback. That is when another bout of hard work begins. Selecting potential agents and matching my submission to their specific requirements and send it off...and waiting, listening to the deafening silence from that abyss.

In answer to your question, the second year of retirement has gone fairly well. I have remained active both physically and mentally. And who knows, I would probably have been laid off by now anyway—though at least that would have come with a severance package, instead of just the feeling of being put out to pasture with the door slammed in my face.

I have had periods of extreme boredom but these have been short and only because I find television boring and my husband loves it and will watch anything. I love my husband and so I do spend some time each day with him, watching television but only after I have completed my writing hours—the fun stuff. All that, I hope, explains why I have been ignoring my blog for so long. I have been writing, just not here. I will of course, let y'all know when my novel is finally published. If that sounds overly confident, it isn't. I will try to publish the conventional way but if I fail to attract an agent I will self publish. Watch this space as they say...whoever they are.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Stepping back

For some time I have been noticing advertisements for shampoo in a bar. I didn't really take a lot of notice, mainly because I tend to ignore ads. Yeah, I know I just said I noticed them, but it was more like glancing at the headline and immediately switching off when it was obviously an ad. If I want to buy something, or find out if what I have in mind actually exists, I will ask Google, or search on Amazon.

Recently my friend Shelly came by with her massage chair. I have mentioned her before (see here). When we lived in Leander, with Mildred. Shelly used to come out fairly regularly and all three of us indulged in the magic of a chair massage. With Covid, like so many other things, that came to an abrupt halt. When it was finally safe to mingle, we were living at the lake and I was hesitant to drag Shelly out here, an extra 30 minutes on her drive. However, she insisted that she didn't mind the longer drive and so we are once again indulging ourselves.

If anyone would like her contact information, she will bring her chair to your office and spend a few hours there reducing the stress for you and your colleagues. For a very reasonable cost you can have a fifteen or thirty minute massage without leaving the office and without removing your clothes. That is actually how I first met her. Once a week she came to our office and there were always between four and six people lined up to be de-stressed. 

Anyway, I digress. Shelly told me that she had tried a shampoo bar and was thrilled with the results, not just the fact that she was reducing the plastic waste associated with shampoo and conditioner bottle and tubes, but also her hair was much healthier and easier to manage. 

I decided to give it a try—the bar shampoo, I was already sold on the chair massage. I got a shampoo and a conditioner bar, I prefer to not do the combined. I was amazed. Not just at how easy it was to apply, but how much better my hair felt. Literally a few strokes of the bar over my wet hair and presto, a really good lather. The conditioner bar doesn't lather, something I am happy about because I see no reason why it should. It is equally easy to apply and the results are amazing. 

There were a couple of unexpected side effects of this. Apart from helping to reduce the plastic waste of course and the satisfactory results, I was transported back in time to when I was a kid and a bar of soap was normal. Just holding the bar of soap in my hand felt so good. Stepping back in time felt even better—current times being what they are. I decided that I had to eliminate all plastic from my shower and bought a bar of hand soap as well. Obviously a decent bar of Olay. 

That reminded me of the Lux soap bar that my mother used to purchase. I searched and sure enough, I found it.Lux is still available on Amazon—I am not sure if it is the same Lux we got when I was a kid but Lux just the same. Maybe I will buy some to transport me further back in time. Meanwhile, my shower is very much tidier, minimalistic you could say. And the trash can will be a little less full.



The purpose of this post is to encourage you to try bar shampoo and conditioner to help save the planet and your hair, and if you are in the Austin area, consider having Shelly come to your office with her chair and save the sanity of you and your colleagues. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


There is something seriously wrong with the health care system in this country. For one thing everything costs a fortune, secondly despite the existance of Medicare for the elderly, that too costs money. Not only do you pay into it from every paycheck when you are working, but once you retire you continue to pay into Medicare from your social scurity, as well as paying for Medicare Advantage if you want to be able to see and have teeth—for readers who don't know, Medicare doesn't cover dental or vision. And the care is most definitely not as good as private health care, even with the same doctor. I noticed a big difference in the attention I got since I retired. Of course, I am judging this in comparison with health care in Europe which has it's own problems, but at least it is readily available to everyone.

But what I find the most frustrating is the total lack of interest in a patient's mental state. I used to have a doctor who not only listened to what you said, he listened between the lines to what you didn't say. I firmly believe that a large majority of minor disorders could be cured by just talking about what is bothering you, rather than a battery of expensive tests and a slew of unnecessary supplements and prescriptions. How many times have you felt better just because you went to the doctor? Not because of anything he said or did, but the stess had somehow been relieved.

A few months ago my husband had some medical issues. He was submitted to a number of tests the last, and most significant test had a very long waiting time. As a result we were left dangling, not knowing what to expect—I found myself literally holding my breath. It felt like the awful few months in Amazon while I was fighting for my career and finally decided to throw in the towel and retire. (See post here). Unfortunately this time there was nothing to do but wait. And try to remember to breath. 

The constant anxiety finally got the better of me. I guess I am not good at managing my stress, I just pretend that I am. I started getting palpitations. At least, I guessed that is what it was, I never had them before. I got good at recognizing the signals and warding them off with deep slow breathing. It didn't happen very often and usually only lasted less than a minute, but after one somewhat prolonged episode while grocery shopping, I decided I better talk to my doctor. I knew it was anxiety and assumed he could give me something to make it go away, or at least calm me down; better yet, do something to reduce the wait for my husband's appointment. 

My own doctor was not available so I went to see my second choice. A man with a dismal personality, a lousy bedside manner, but an extremly good doctor, or I thought so. Of course, he wasn't in the least bit interested in my personal woes, so maybe not so good after all. If the truth be known, he probably wasn't very interested in my health, just doing the clinical CYA steps. After conducting a EKG in the office, the result of which was perfectly normal, he referred me to a heart specialist. 

Now, for my age I am remarkably healthy. my cholesterol is on the high side of normal, blood pressure has always been good, yes I am overweight mainly due to a thyroid that is lazy, but other than that I am good. I workout regularly, eat sensibly and oh yeah...I drink red wine—it is good for you, right?

Anyway, the worst part about the heart specialist is that he was a full hour drive from where we live.  The heart doctor sent me home with a heart monitor stuck to my chest. I was to wear that for two weeks and if I experienced palpitations I had instructions to tap it and fill in a diary listing exactly what I was doing at the time. Diary was also supplied.

He also referred me for a CAT scan, a treadmill stress test—don't be fooled by the picture, the treadmill I was on was set at a very steep slope—and an echocardiogram, which I have to say was fascinating! Both the stress test and the echo were at his office, so at least two more, two hour round trips in our future. But first, the two weeks with the thing stuck to my chest recording every heartbeat. I was so relieved when I was finally able to remove it, pack it in it's box and send it back. 

Before each visit I was required to sign a document stating that if Medicare refused to pay for the procedure I would pay. Leading me to belive that happens quite a lot.

Sample echocardiogram

Funny thing, the day after his nurse stuck the thing on me, I had the worst, longest episode of palpitations I had ever experienced. It lasted a full twenty minutes. So I tapped the device and when the flashing lights behind my eyes stopped and my heart beat returned to normal, I filled in the diary: Just had my shower and sat down at my computer. The instructions were 'write down what you were doing', not what you were thinking. Perhaps that would have been a better clue. I had been thinking about my husband and how long we had to wait for his next procedure, and oh yeah, the stupid monitor stuck to my chest. The good news is that since then, six weeks ago, I have not had another episode.

All of the test results were normal. I did tell him on my first visit that I believed I was wasting his time but he had to go through the motions I suppose. Though I never did get any results from the heart monitor readings. I guess that means I will eventually have to return yet again to hear him recite those findings.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Surprise trip

First, let me explain my silence. I have been concentrating on writing my first novel. Yes, I wrote and self published Peeling the Onion, but that was not a novel. I am sure you have heard that writing a novel is difficult. It isn't, It is very nearly impossible! Anyway, that is why I have not posted here for some considerable time. In between bouts of writing, I have been following courses on the Writing Mastery Academy and following up on early beta readers' feedback. I have now sent my draft off to a book club for a full beta reader experience, so back to blogging.

As I have mentioned before, I frequently write as a form of therapy, to calm anxiety. This post is no different. I have written before about my 'travel mode'. I love to travel, but I get very anxious; thinking of all the things that could go wrong. See here for the previous post. The day before my trip to Florida—two weeks ago— was no different, well actually, it was a bit different. I was more anxious that I have every been. Perhaps in part, due to the fact that I have not done a lot of traveling in the past three years. Once up to Seattle, with my husband, to visit my son and his family there. And once last August to finally get to see my all of family again, where I got COVID and spent a week in isolation, but still managing to spread the germs to my sister and her daughter. This trip, tomorrow as I write, but it will be over by the time I publish this, is to be a big surprise for my son and his family, therefore by the time you read this post, the trip will be over—obviously or the surprise might be ruined. 

At Christmas my son, the one who lives in the north of England, and his family received an amazing gift from his mother in law. She had booked to bring her children, their spouses and their children to Disney in Florida for a week, followed by a week at St Pete Beach just outside Tampa. She contacted me with a plan to surprise my son by arranging for me to join them at St Pete Beach for a few days.

I have been to Florida before; back when I was doing a lot of travel for work I attended a conference in Disney, in Orlando. Because it was a State I had never visited, and because it was Disney, I was very excited to go. Since then I have felt absolutely no inclination to return. Oh of course Disney was fun, but there is one in Paris and another in California (and my roller coaster days are over), and there is no other reason to go to Florida, and lots of reasons not to. Yes, the weather is amazing but it is pretty okay in Texas too. To see any of my children, I would travel to the moon, so I arranged to go to Florida.

Amazingly my co-conspirator and I managed to keep it a secret. That was not easy I can tell you. The plan was for me to join them for dinner their first evening there. They were coaching from Orlando to arrive in the late afternoon and I was flying in from Texas the same afternoon.

The day before my flights I was in full on travel mode. Worst case I have ever experienced. I was packed and all my electronics were charged and ready. I checked in online and all I wanted to do was head to the airport and wait there. The smell of aviation fuel calms me. I managed to get through the day, because I had no choice; and because I started writing this post—you know, therapy. Next morning I was up at 2.45 a.m. The shuttle was due to pick me up just before 4 a.m. So plenty of time to have coffee and get myself ready. At 3.45 a.m. I was outside on the sidewalk with my suitcase waiting.

My flight to Atlanta was uneventful and with two hours to make my connection there was no problems there. I took a Lyft from Tampa airport to St Pete Beach. I was staying at the Postcard Inn. A fascinating motel. Very eclectic. When I walked in I felt like I had gone back in time and not because it was old fashioned, more that it was like one of those fun surfer hangouts in sixties movies. I had to wait about an hour for my room to be ready, so I sat at the bar and chatted with the girl who served me a healthy pour of wine, and people watched while I waited.

Once in my room I had a four hour wait before heading to the restaurant, which was a five minute walk, almost next door to my hotel. I unpacked and showered and then got on my laptop to burn up the time. Finally I headed to the Rumfish resort restaurant. Yes, naturally I was early. I always am. I wandered around the shop, through which you had to walk to get to the restaurant, and waited. At twenty past eight—the table was booked for eight thirty—I talked to the hostess and explained that I was with a party of eleven, booked for eight thirty and was hoping to be seated first as I was a surprise guest. Our table was not ready but she went off to check on it. While she was doing that I got a text from my co-conspirator to say they would be delayed by about ten minutes and could I tell the restaurant. I think they were glad because they clearly were having problems getting rid of the party at our table.

I found a seat in a corner of the shop and waited. Finally I saw my son's mother in law come in and waved to her. She said the others were just behind her and the table was not yet ready. A couple of minutes later my son, his wife and their two children stood in front of me and their faces were priceless. Dinner was amazing and I highly recommend the Rumfish if you ever happen to be in St Pete Beach. The next two days went by way too fast. 

An added bonus for me was that my husband's cousin and her partner—they live in Sarasota, about 35 miles south of St Pete Beach—made the trek, over an hour's drive, to meet us for lunch the day before I was due to leave. 

St Pete Beach is one of the barrier islands inTampa Bay. Everywhere is literally on the beach. In the early morning each day I was there, I walked down the silvery sand, soaking in the sun and the sound of the waves. The beach was empty except for the birds who took absolutely no notice of me. And naturally, the sunsets there were amazing.

Early Friday morning I was once again in travel mode waiting outside the Postcard Inn for my Lyft back to Tampa airport. I only had one hour for my connection at Atlanta and my flight out of Tampa took off twenty minutes late but I made it! 

Monday, January 2, 2023

Great Expectations

A lesson I learned a long time ago, actually on my fourteenth birthday, is the higher your expectations the greater your disappointment is likely to be. I do think that is a somewhat negative lesson, but it does apply nonetheless. As I mentioned in a previous post here, the main lesson I learned on that birthday was that we are responsible for our own responses to disappointment, and for creating our own happiness.

Like birthdays, Christmas is another occasion that I, like so many others, look forward to with mounting excitement. Admittedly, since coming to America, I have had much lower expectations than previously. I quickly discovered that Thanksgiving is a far more significant holiday here. Not surprising, given the much greater diversity in the US population than exists in Ireland, where I grew up. And, contrary to what many Americans I have met think, Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter. It is an American holiday, Canadians have their own Thanksgiving. 

I wrote about my childhood Christmas experiences almost exactly a year ago, here.  My grandmother created such a magical day, year after year, that I can never approach the holiday without the feeling of excitement and anticipation those early holidays bred in me. As I said, when I came to America I knew that I could expect nothing from the holiday that I didn't create for myself. I was alone, I had no family on this side of the Atlantic, and had only just started making friends. 

I arrived at the end of August 1994. I found temporary work with a small, one man company where I managed the office, alone almost all day, every day. I did finally start a permanent job with a larger software company in December that year. A week before my first Christmas in the US. My strongest memory of that Christmas was working on Christmas Eve, everyone had their own private office back then and as the newest employee I had a tiny interior office. I mentioned before that I am very shy. Add to that, the fact that was 'just off the boat' in a very strange (for me) environment, a foreigner in a foreign land. I was not wandering the halls talking to people. 

In my experience, working in both Ireland and in England. Christmas Eve at work was a day for partying and not much work was expected, nor performed. My new office was strangely quiet. At one point during the morning I went to the kitchen for coffee and noticed people working in their separate offices. There was not much interaction going on, so I went back to my little office and continued working. Obviously, as it was my first week, I was not actually doing anything useful. I was getting familiar with the network setup and the test framework I would be working with. I had lunch alone at my desk and continued my learning process. At about four in the afternoon I headed back to the kitchen. All the offices I passed were now empty. The kitchen was empty. I went looking for my manager to see if it was okay for me to go home early. He had already left. In fact, a search of the entire floor convinced me, I was the only person in the office. I headed back to the large home where I was house sitting. My guess was no one would know or care if I left the office early, in fact I was apparently leaving the office late. 

The following Christmas, the entire office partied. I made sure of that, I also made Irish Coffees for everyone and we had a Secret Santa—Kris Kindle.

After that things did get better. I did make friends and for the first few years I returned home to Ireland for Christmas. Then I met and married my husband and we enjoyed holidays together.

This year my son, who is now living in Seattle, and his wife and son were coming to us for Christmas. I was excitedly planning and looking forward to it. Well, as everyone knows, this Christmas was the year of the bomb cyclone. Texas was not nearly as badly hit by this weather than the rest of the US, in fact the Seattle Area escaped the worst of it too. But across most of the country there was bedlam. People stuck in airports for days on end, through out the Christmas holiday. Suitcases filled with gifts for families going astray and family plans for reunions and festivities totally destroyed, just the tip of the iceberg of human misery. Pun intended. 

My son should have been able to make it to us. He was flying Alaska Air, so a good, reliable airline. He had followed recommendations and booked the early morning flight, less chance of delays elsewhere impacting him. Best laid plans. As they arrived at the airport there was a 'minor security incident' and the airport was thrown into chaos. It took ninety minutes to check in their bags, and another two and a half hours before they got through security. So yes, the flight took off without them. What I am still amazed by is the fact that it took off with their bags. I have frequently been on flights that were delayed because a passenger with checked bags had not turned up and the bags had to be located and removed from the plane. This didn't happen, and I still feel that was a security risk.

Anyway, another two hours of lining up at the ticket counter resulted in nothing. There was no alternative. Two days before Christmas they headed home and had to rush around planning their unexpected Christmas at home, while their bags filled with their son's Christmas gifts sat in Austin Airport. To be fair to Alaska, they got those bags back to them on Christmas Day. 

We were lucky. They were not half way to somewhere, stranded in a strange airport. They were a short drive to their home. It was disappointing for sure, but how on earth could we complain as we watched the news and saw so many people so much worse off. I am glad I remembered those lessons learned.

Here are some more that I often have to remind myself of.