2011: my personal #ACA (Obamacare) story

This is my personal #ACA (Obamacare) story. It happened in 2011. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) saved our family a $5000 out of pocket payment to Montgomery Regional Hospital near Virginia Tech while my son was a student.

Coverage for adult children through age 26

One of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act is (was?) that parents can keep their adult offspring on their employer-sourced health care plan until age 26. In 2011, my 22 year old son was covered by both my insurance plan through my employer and the student health plan provided through Virginia Tech.

As a full time student, my son’s health care was covered at Schiffert Health Center, the on-campus health center which was stated to be a turn key health care facility, providing everything that a student would need. All of that was covered in the student’s health care fee included in their tuition. Having read that statement, I would not have enrolled my son in additional health care insurance.

One problem: the student health plan only covered services rendered at the on-campus health care facility. Luckily, the ACA provided coverage for my son in my employer’s health care program.

An ambulance ride and a visit to the ER

When my son went to the student health center with chest pains in March of 2011, he was informed that the center did not cover treatment for chest pain. They called an ambulance and my son was transported to Montgomery Regional Hospital.

The hospital performed the usual battery of tests for coronary trouble, determined that he was not having a coronary, and released him.

Having chest pain? You’re okay. Now walk home.

I’m going to go off topic here for a minute. The way that the hospital released my son really made me angry. Having determined that my son was not having a life threatening emergency, the hospital released him with no other diagnosis, no treatment plan, and no ride home.

Really? You’re treating a patient for a stressful, painful episode and when you realize that he’s not going to die on you, you boot him out with no ride home? Stressed out young people don’t realize that there are resources for finding a ride, at least not at first when they are scared and in pain. Shame on you, Montgomery Hospital. Eventually, my son did realize he could call a cab and only walked part of the 4 mile trip.

Mama gets the bill some time later

My son did not tell me about this incident at first. He knew that mama would not have been happy.

In April of 2011, I received a letter thanking me for choosing Montgomery Regional Hospital and a bill for $5000 for the ER visit and tests. Surprise!

So I called my son, got the whole story, and sent the bill to our family health insurance. They covered everything but the deductible, saving our family the $5000 out of pocket cost.

Thank you Obamacare!

Thank you Obamacare! Thank you President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senator Tim Kaine, and Senator Mark Warner! You provided my family with a safety net when we needed it most.

And thank you American Woodmark for providing me and my family a health care plan that covered everything we needed in 2011.

To quote Vice President Joe Biden on March 23, 2010, “This is a big f—ing deal.”



1978: my personal harassment story

This is my personal sexual harassment story. It began in 1978 and continued through 1981, when I was working as an engineering co-op at the Union Carbide plant in Bound Brook, NJ. The harassment was both open and subtle and came from many sides: my coworkers, my management, the industry, and even my fellow working women.

Open harassment

Some of the harassment was out in the open and visible. None of it was aimed directly at me so at the time, I tried to just ignore it.

My coworkers: free calendars

In many of the work areas, it was common to see photos of half-naked women hanging on the wall. Calendars featuring these images were given out by tool companies for free. Here’s one from Snap-on Tools, circa 1974.


I don’t think my coworkers were out to get me or shame me. I think it was a free calendar . So what the heck, hang up the free calendar. Messages like these were common in the day and folks didn’t think much of it at the time. But as a 19 year old, working in a man’s field, I felt “other” and vulnerable. And as a 19 year old newcomer, I knew I was powerless to do anything about it so I pretended it wasn’t there.

But there it was. Every. Damn. Day.

My management: names and job scope

Harassment from management came in two forms.

The first was the simple way they referred to the other women in the office as “The Girls”. We had a fairly large staff of secretaries who did all the typing, filing, scheduling, and generally kept things running so that “The Men” could get on with the business of engineering and management.

I know it’s a simple thing to refer to grown up women as children but it did send a message of not being on the same level. And if anyone had referred to a group of males as “The Boys”, we would have known even at that time that it was racist. But in 1978, sexism was allowed even though racism was not.

The second form of harassment was in the type of work I was given. There were other college students at my location studying engineering and working in the co-op program. They were all males.

The males worked side by side with the engineers, doing analysis and designing studies for the company. I was sent to the library to do research. And I was great at it, finding obscure publications written in German but understandable because of the technical terms, charts, and diagrams. I found answers to problems they had been trying to solve with all that analysis and design, and saved them weeks of study and evaluation.

Eventually I earned their respect and was given other things to do. Which brings us to the subtle harassment.

Subtle harassment

Much of my feeling “other” and reinforcing my role as an outsider was subtle. It was more about the environment and the attitude than about things you could see or hear.

The industry: tools and equipment

My first job was to diagnose and repair a machine that fed fiberglass into a plasticating extruder. It was hot and itchy. Other than that, it was no problem.

One of the next jobs was to work on a crew making insulated wiring using a plasticating extruder. The machine was big and clunky. There was a 3″ screw running down the center which we installed and removed using a honking three foot long pipe-wrench. Here’s a schematic of the extruder.


This equipment and the tools we used to work on it were designed by men for men. The upper body strength, the grip strength, and even the hand size were all beyond me. Still I persevered and kept up with my coworkers, using my knowledge of physics and mechanics to get the most out of any force I was able to apply. Eventually all of that effort took its toll and I injured my wrist permanently. It still bothers me today and occasionally it swells.

My fellow working women: denial

The surprising source of harassment, and a big reason I felt vulnerable, was my fellow pioneers, the other working women.

The message was simple. Don’t screw this up. If you screw this up, they’ll kick you out and they’ll never let any of the rest of us in. The future of working women rests on your ability to tough this out. So I did.

So I couldn’t even think about the differences or speak up for myself. There was nobody to talk to about it and it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Talking and thinking were not going to solve this. So I didn’t talk or think.

We’ve come a long way, baby

So now the calendars are gone. The name calling is pretty much gone, but mostly because we don’t have secretarial pools any more. The overt symbols of harassment have disappeared. The subtle things are still around. Job assignments and salaries are still a challenge. The attitude of my fellow working women still makes me feel alone and vulnerable.

But it is better for me than it was for my mother. And much better for me than it was for my grandmother. So here’s hoping that my granddaughter will some day read this and think it’s funny and quaint.

Honey, if you’re reading this, kick some misogynist ass for your granny.

Do not feed the monster

Another fine post from a fine writer.

Hire this guy!

James Dill's Public Opinions

Hatred was a game that generated a lot of controversy. Controversial games that put the artistic merit of the entire medium into question are anything but new, this has been happening since the first Mortal Kombat, but what I thought was interesting about the controversy surrounding Hatred was an unusual amount of it came from gamers themselves.

I recently watch Total Buiscutte’s let’s play of Hatred. I have to say that I was underwhelmed about the whole affair. The game is pretty tame compared to comparible AAA M rated titles. There were lots of titles that contained a lot more gore and violence, God of War, Gears of War, Mortal Kombat, Prototype, lots of examples that were bloodier and gorier that didn’t generate nearly as much contraversy as Hatred did, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the level of violence in Hatred was on par with…

View original post 505 more words

Legitimization through violence

Check out this thoughtful blog post by my son, Jim Dill.

James Dill's Public Opinions

I remember having a conversation with my mother where we discussed ISIS and what they were doing, specifically, them kidnapping news reporters and holding them for ransom. She asked me “should the government have ransomed those reporters?” I said no. she asked me “but what about the reporter?” I told her “to pay the ransom money would enable ISIS to go out and kidnap more reporters, ISIS wins. On the other hand, to try to break them out would be to acknowledge that ISIS is a threat worth responding to, ISIS wins. To fight them is to legitimize them so the worse thing the government could do to them is ignore them.”

I bring this up because something mildly interesting has recently been brought to my attention. Yet another cartoonist has been violently attacked by Islamic extremists. the extremists attacked newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 10 of the staff and…

View original post 172 more words

Letter to myself in 1997

December 19, 1996

Hi honey, it’s yourself, 18 years in the future.

I’m writing you this letter on your son’s 9th birthday to let you know that everything is going to be all right and to show you a picture.

Graduation 2014

Look what happens 18 years from today. Your baby boy is a Virginia Tech grad. Can you believe it?

I know right now, you can’t believe it. Things are not going well on the motherhood front.

Your biggest fear right now is that the grad in the photo is headed for trouble, real trouble. Your days are busy chasing interventions, therapies, special diets, and programs that may turn things around. You have no dreams of graduation. You have dreams of avoiding jail. Life is scary right now.

But look at how far you’ve come already. Since the first diagnosis of autism at age three, your baby has learned to talk, read, write, and tolerate new situations. He’s going to move on and make the honor roll soon. He will eventually break out of that fight-or-flight reaction and learn to manage his stress well enough to really enjoy high school. His college entrance essay will make you cry.

And as you can see in the photo, he’s going to be a Virginia Tech graduate, just like the grandfather for whom he is named.

So hang in there, mama. Trust your gut. You have the stuff, girlfriend.

Love you,


Hot Flash: Rock n Roll Mama

The very first video from my mamaband, Hot Flash.

Many thanks to Steve Pendlebury for his mad production skills. Props to Brian Johnson for the audio. Applause to Patrice Moerman for creating this awesome song. And hats off to Katy Johnson for her rhythm, vocals, and set decoration.

See it on youTube at http://youtu.be/Fq9Zu5KiJ8A

InterChangeNE: Day Four – SightSeeing in the Rain

On March 29th and 30th, I attended InterChange 2014, STC New England’s annual conference at the UMass Lowell conference center in Lowell, Massachusetts. After the conference was over, we hung around town to take in some of the sights and history.

This post is about Day Four. You might also enjoy reading Day One, Day Two, and Day Three.

Snowing? Seriously?

Snow on the way

I can’t believe it’s March 31st and it’s snowing

You may recall from Cindy Currie-Clifford’s keynote speech on Day One that it’s an InterChangeNE tradition that it snows during the conference.

So it didn’t exactly snow, it sleeted and iced instead.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a real wussy about driving in snow or ice.

Dang. What to do?

Rick Lippincott to the rescue! Über conference planner and veteran snow driver, Rick Lippincott volunteered to drive us around in his rugged jeep. I volunteered to sit in the back and pretend it’s just rainy. Jimmy Dill volunteered to ride shotgun and watch videos on his iPhone.

 Sight #1: OmniView

The OmniView® Gantry Cargo Inspection System is a Monster X-Ray that can see through a truck and into the cargo bay

The OmniView® Gantry Cargo Inspection System is a Monster X-Ray that can see through a truck and into the cargo bay

Our first stop is a drive-by of the awesome OmniView® Gantry
Cargo Inspection System.

While the rest of us technical communicators are writing “Click OK to continue”, Rick is writing about this bad boy.

We are at AS&E, American Science & Engineering, in Billerica. The security gate is open and we can look in. I hand my iPhone up to the front seat for a quick picture.


The headstone of Louisa May Alcott, where visitors leave tokens like flowers, notes, and writing implements

The headstone of Louisa May Alcott, where visitors leave tokens like flowers, notes, and writing implements

In Concord, we visit the Concord Museum, Louisa May Alcott’s orchard house, Author’s Ridge in the Sleepy Hollow cemetary, and the famous Old North Bridge.

At Author’s Ridge, I was touched by the little tokens left by visitors to Louisa May Alcott’s grave. Many of the visitors left pens as a tribute to her writing. She inspired many so many of us, especially young women.

At the Old North Bridge, we are accompanied by a busload of middle school students and their chaperons. It was fun to hear their happy chatter as we trudged toward the Minuteman statue in the cold rain.

Back to Lowell for more sushi

Lowell canals

A view down one of the many canals in Lowell Massachusetts

By the time we saw the sights in Concord, it was time for lunch and our thoughts returned to sushi. On a cold damp day, nothing warms you up inside like a nice carafe of sake.

Yep, we had sushi at Etsogo Sushi and Asian Restaurant. Again. Yum.

I made a little Instagram collage of our day.

Instagram collage of the rainy day after InterChangeNE: Rick's workplace, selfie of us, Alcott's grave, the minuteman, and more food!

Instagram collage of the rainy day after InterChangeNE: Rick’s workplace, selfie of us, Alcott’s grave, the minuteman, and more food!

Say good-bye to InterChangeNE

So as we prepare to head back to Winchester Virginia after the InterChangeNE conference, I am super pumped up about all things #TechComm and looking forward to next year.

Many thanks to the New England STC chapter and all the folks who put in so many hours to make this local conference a success and a blessing.

Don’t forget to visit Rick Lippincott’s photostream of the event.

See you in Phoenix!

InterChangeNE: Day Three – Naked Chris and other Social Media Success Stories

On March 29th and 30th, I attended InterChange 2014, STC New England’s annual conference at the UMass Lowell conference center in Lowell, Massachusetts. It’s my first time presenting at a local chapter conference and I’m so excited about the opportunity. My goal for the day is to break as few things as possible and impersonate a grownup.

This post is about Day Three. You might also enjoy reading Day One and Day Two.

Getting Ready

Instagram collage of me getting ready for the presentation: making coffee, ironing my shirt, putting on make up, and setting up the computer

Instagram collage of me getting ready for the presentation: making coffee, ironing my shirt, putting on make up, and setting up the computer

I’m so excited about the day, I even found the iron in the closet of my room at the Conference Center.

I ironed my shirt and drank all the self-serve coffee in the room. Then I went out in the lobby for more coffee. Thank you to UMass for all this awesome coffee.

I found makeup in my purse and put some on my face, mostly hitting the target, but very out of practice.

The wonderful UMass conference center staff were in the room bright and early and let me use the remote control for the laptop. It has a laser pointer on top, which I thought was just too cool.

Social Media Success Stories!

Viqui at the podium

Here I am at the podium as I begin the presentation about Social Media success stories
Photo by Rick Lippincott https://www.flickr.com/photos/rjl6955

The talk begins and I’m having fun. Social media is one of my favorite topics and the story we’re telling today has a happy ending as I used some fun graphics and memes in Facebook to spread the word about an event for my church.

We start out with a serious discussion about EdgeRank, the algorithm Facebook uses to figure out what it will show and what it will hide in your NewsFeed. We start out all brainy, defining parameters and using big math concepts long dormant to discuss how to use the process to our advantage.

Viqui Presents Naked Chris

Viqui shows the top reaching slide of the Naked Chris meme to the attendees at InterChangeNE
Photo by Rick Lippincott https://www.flickr.com/photos/rjl6955

Then the fun begins and we look at the silly graphics and memes.

You can check them out on Facebook here and here if you want to see the originals. While you’re there, you can like them (please) and maybe leave a comment (please please please).

Lots of nice folks showed up for the presentation. These folks are so smart and asked great questions. Some of them told great stories about their own social media journey.

When the presentation was just about over, we gathered for a group photo as a way of saying thanks to Adobe for their generous sponsorship of the conference.

Thank you Adobe

After the presentation, we gather up front for a group photo to say
“Thank you” to Adobe and STC New England
Photo by Rick Lippincott https://www.flickr.com/photos/rjl6955


Many thanks to Rick Lippincott for all the photos of the conference. Be sure to check out his flickr photostream.

And I didn’t break anything. Goal accomplished!

I posted the slides online, so have a look for yourself.

Communicating with the Audiences of the Future

Steve Jong brought us a brilliant analysis of how different generations think, act, communicate, and feel. Steve’s slides are on slideshare. Check them out.

Creating Accessible Documents with Microsoft Word

Brenda Huettner, Cindy Currie-Clifford, Char James-Tanney, and me

Here I am with some technical communications superstars: Brenda Huettner, Cindy Currie-Clifford, and Char James-Tanney

Char James-Tanny is one of my tech comm heros. I am so star struck when I’m around her. She spoke about accessibility, specifically relating to Word, and also in general everyday life. She is knowledgeable and generous with her knowledge. She is well respected in our field. She has purple hair. I ask for a picture of us together.

We are pictured here with Brenda Huettner and Cindy Currie-Clifford, two of my other tech comm heros. And the photo is taken by Ed Marshall, another superstar and an amazing bass player.

Closing Speech & Raffle

At the end of the conference, we all gathered for a closing speech by Rick Lippincott about “Looking Backward” and gave a fun history of technical communication throughout history. Rick, if you’re reading this, please share your slides. I want to steal some of your ideas.

Then STC New England chapter president Emily Alfson and VP Nancy Allison draw tickets for the raffle. I didn’t win but it was fun to be a part of seeing others win.

Sushi #2

We did not start out to eat sushi again after the conference. We tried to go to several other places but none of them were open on a Sunday afternoon. I was secretly hoping that we could have sushi. The conference center did not start serving dinner until 4:30 and we were hungry at 3:30. I was secretly hoping that we could have sushi. The Irish Pub was closed. I was secretly hoping that we could have sushi. Another pub down the street was also closed. Dunkin Donuts was open. I was secretly hoping that we could have sushi.

We had dinner at Etsogo Sushi and Asian Restaurant. Again. Yay.

The conference is over but we’re staying in town for a day of site seeing. More about that on Day Four.

InterChangeNE: Day Two – Seven awesome presentations

On March 29th and 30th, I attended InterChange 2014, STC New England’s annual conference at the UMass Lowell conference center in Lowell, Massachusetts. The conference is well planned and well attended. Local conferences have an advantage over the international Summit conference because they are shorter and cost less for the travel, room and board, and the shorter length keeps you from wandering around on the fifth day sleep deprived and overloaded. The smaller size allows you to recognize faces and develop real relationships with your fellow technical communicators.

This post is about Day Two. You might also enjoy reading Day One.

Day Two: Say hello to InterChangeNE


Signage at the conference makes it easy to find the right room

On March 29th, seven terrific speakers will give presentations. All of us will have breakfast together, then attend the keynote speech, then choose three of the six presentations on the program.

It’s hard to choose and I’m wishing for a time machine.

During breakfast, I meet Karen Smith and Patricia Gale from Autodesk and make a note to attend their presentation about agile documentation. Karen and Patty will be previewing their Summit presentation here for us at InterChangeNE. Since their presentation is at the exact same time as my Lightning Talk, I’m glad to see it today.


Cindy Currie-Clifford delivers the keynote speech to open the conference. She talks about the history of the InterChange conference. The New England chapter has a rich history, spanning decades, transitioning organizations, and partnering with industry and academia. I was both impressed and overwhelmed with the scope of Cindy’s talk.

Mostly what I remember about Cindy’s talk is that it snows during the conference. It snows a lot. Cindy had photos of huge mountains of snow.

Social Me: Taking Control of Your Online Image

Social Me: Taking Control of Your Online Image Brenda Huettner

Social Me: Taking Control of Your Online Image
Brenda Huettner

Brenda Huettner brings us a grab bag of social media savvy and gives us permission to google ourselves.

Brenda is funny and engaging and taught me a thing or two about interacting with the web.

In this photo, Brenda explains how our kids are blocking us in Facebook without us even knowing it.

While Brenda was talking, some of us took photos of her and posted them to Facebook. Brenda opens up her Facebook newsfeed and sees herself on the screen. Awesome!

Happy Hour

InterChangeNE Happy Hour

InterChangeNE Happy Hour photo by Rick Lippincott https://www.flickr.com/photos/rjl6955

Thank you Global Vision, Inc. for sponsoring our happy hour at the Old Court Restaurant and Pub.

Here’s a photo of me, Cindy Currie and Anna Pratt (left to right) taken by conference chair Rick Lippincott. Rick is a talented and prolific photographer and took a bazillion awesome photos of the event. Check them out on his flickr photostream.

Happy hour is a fun way to unwind after the presentations of the first day and the rain falling outside just makes it feel warmer and friendlier inside this local Irish pub.

Sushi #1

Instagram collage of the food on Saturday

Instagram collage of the food on Saturday: Jim and me, sushi, sake, and hot and sour soup

We had dinner at Etsogo Sushi and Asian Restaurant.

I really should say “We had our first of several dinners at Etsogo.”

We really like this place. It has a family atmosphere and Rick Lippincott knows the staff.

The sushi was amazing with lots of choices for American tastes with cooked fish and shellfish, wrapped in layers of avocado and covered with sauce.

Go there if you’re anywhere near Lowell and tell Irene “Hi y’all” from me.

Now to go to bed so I can be well rested for Day Three.



InterChangeNE: Day One – 500 miles from the Shenandoah to the Merrimack

On March 29th and 30th, I attended InterChange 2014, STC New England’s annual conference at the UMass Lowell conference center in Lowell, Massachusetts. This was my first local chapter conference although I have attended many of the summit conferences held by the STC mothership. I was really impressed. The local conferences are typically smaller and shorter, eliminating the sleep deprivation and overwhelming size of the summit, while offering many opportunities to learn, share, and eat with other technical communicators.

But I get ahead of myself. First, I have to get there.

Day One: Say good-bye to Winchester

I left this out of office sign for any visitors to my cube

I left this out of office sign for any visitors to my cube

Before any of us goes out of town, we have to leave an out-of-office message. My email message said

Howdy! Thanks for your email.

I will be out of the office until Wednesday April 2nd, with some limited access to email. My cell is 540.303.0323. Don’t be shy about calling or texting if you need me.


Viqui Dill

I also left a note on my keyboard for anyone dropping by on foot. What do you think of my self portrait?

Last grocery run before the trip: Milk, creamer, and crackers I won't be home to eat

Last grocery run before the trip: Milk, creamer, and crackers I won’t be home to eat

And I knew I’d be in the doghouse if I left the house empty of food, so I made a last minute run to Food Lion.

I’d be gone for four whole days, during which time I’m pretty sure the grocery store must have been closed because I returned to a house that was once again empty of food.

Okay, I know this is not the same as leaving frozen versions of home made gourmet meals in the fridge.

So we’ve taken care of the office and we’ve taken care of the home place.

Time to get on the road.

Our book on audio, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wesley Crusher, keeps us entertained on the trip

Our book on audio, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wesley Crusher, keeps us entertained on the trip

We like to have a good book with us when we travel.

This trip we take along a book about the future in which life is so bad and resources are so scarce, people have chosen to live out their lives inside a video game.

The book is nice and long, 17 hours total dedication to epilogue, so we have plenty of entertainment as we go.

Can’t tell you how it ends because we aren’t finished yet. Perhaps another long road trip is in our future.

And now, I’m saying “we” instead of “me” referring to the travelers.

I forgot to tell you that my favorite son, Jim Dill, is along for the trip.

Smile, You're in Pennsylvania

The sign at the rest area says “Smile, you’re in Pennsylvania”

We make great time up until we hit traffic on I 84 in Hartford Connecticut.

Going the speed limit through Pennsylvania.

Stopping and almost every rest area.

Somebody always has to “rest” on a long trip.

We passed through a town called “Frackville” where you could buy coal at the local gas station but you could not buy gas there because the tanks were empty.

We eventually found a station with gas left in the tank, checked in on Foursquare, and got back on the road.

Traffic on I 84 in Hartford

We made good time until we hit traffic on I 84 in Hartford Connecticut

And then we hit a wall of traffic at Hartford.

Jim decides this is a good time for a nap and when he wakes up he has to take a wicked pissa.

We are downtown, stopped in traffic, and far from an exit. We talk about going by the side of the road but decide to tough it out.

We make a note of the traffic and our location and make plans to stop way ahead of Hartford on the way home.

Nobody peed in the car nor by the side of the road but somebody came close that day.

UMass Lowell at last

UMass Inn and Conference Center, as seen from my parking space

UMass Inn and Conference Center, as seen from my parking space

Navigating in Boston in the dark was a little tricky and we ended up doing 6 leaves of a cloverleaf intersection so we could have a second chance of making the right ramp onto the Lowell Connector. Very confusing.

The conference center is lovely.

Check-in was a breeze.

The staff is fantastic.

My friends greeted me with hugs and an invitation to join them at the bar.

We’re not in the car now, after 12 hours of travel.

Life is good.

Instagram of our Friday night arrival celebration: steak, crab cakes, Jim Dill, Viqui Dill, Rick Lippincott, and  Brenda Huettner

Instagram of our Friday night arrival celebration: steak, crab cakes, Jim Dill, Viqui Dill, Rick Lippincott, and Brenda Huettner

The food is spectacular.

We order a steak and the crab cakes.

Our new best friend, bartender Amy, takes a photo of us relaxing by the fireplace. We instagram with the conference hashtag #InterChangeNE.

We leave a big tip and retire early so we can have an awesome day two at the conference.

I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

Stay tuned for Day Two.