Saturday, October 30, 2021

This day, twenty years ago ...

Travis County Court House
30th October - it was a Tuesday, in 2001, Larry picked me up outside my office at 11.30 a.m. We drove to the Travis County Court House in Austin, about 6 miles. We parked and made our way through the metal detectors and followed the signs to the second floor, we took a number and waited in a totally empty room to be called - that didn't take too long. We had our IDs and that was all we needed apart from the fact that we swore we fulfilled all the requirements for common law marriage - which basically are 'swearing we fulfilled the requirements'.  We took our brown envelope containing the marriage certificate. I was back at my desk within the hour.

To be more precise, this website explains the law in Texas:

Common law marriage, also known as marriage without formalities or informal marriage, is a valid and legal way for a couple to marry in Texas. Texas law states that a common law marriage may be proved by evidence that the couple:

  • agreed to be married; and
  • after the agreement they lived together in this state as husband and wife; and they
  • represented to others that they were married
No one knew, well Larry and I knew of course, but no one else knew.  We had planned this only the day before, we said "let's get married, how does tomorrow sound?"  Or words to that effect. I did dress up a little, but because I had only been working at Newgistics a few months, it wasn't obvious that I was 'dressed up'.  At about four in the afternoon I emailed my manager and said "As I got married at lunch time, I think I will go home early". And I left. 

Today, twenty years later, I still think it was a very memorable day, and one I don't regret.  Oh sure, we have had our ups and downs like any married couple, but we have - so far - done really well at working through them. 

We remained happily married through more than eight years of my mother in law living with us. I worked from home all through the pandemic and then retired in May of this year (I constantly refer back to this post that explains why I retired), it was not entirely my choice. Larry was already retired. He had retired early to care for his mother (I also blogged about that here). Through those eighteen months of being housebound we got along fine; and we continue to remain happily married.

Here is to another twenty!





Wednesday, October 27, 2021

I do not like Medicare


Remember I said I didn't know anything about Medicare and I was worried about having to switch from a decent, employer supplied coverage when I was forced to retire? I was right to worry. It would appear that America cares little or nothing about its elderly. I also complained about the endless spam generated by Medicare.


I am sure everyone knows by now that Medicare doesn't cover vision or dental. There is a big fuss because there is a bill to include these in Medicare and all Republicans and some Democrats think that is a waste of money. 

So far what I have learned about Medicare is that even though you pay into it all your working life, you still have to pay for the coverage once you qualify for  it. What you pay is based on your previous year's salary. So, the first year of retirement you pay a relatively large monthly fee for the privilege of having very limited coverage you have already paid for while working. Everyone who is on a salary that is. Obviously the very rich who already escape paying much in the way of taxes probably don't pay much into Medicare either; I am not sure about that but it is an educated guess.

My guess is when they first came up with the idea of Medicare, the majority of old people had already lost all their teeth - so it was considered unnecessary to include dental care. As for vision, I can't think of a good excuse to not include that except that the majority of old people have bad eyesight and therefore it would be too expensive for them all to get subsidized vision cover. 

Therefore, if you have Medicare, and can afford it, you get a supplemental insurance cover - which they call Medicare Advantage - I guess the advantage is your teeth won't rot in your head and you will be able to get help to see sufficiently well to read, drive and watch TV. The advantage is specifically designed to fill the gaps in Medicare; naturally you pay for this also. I previously complained that the one and only medication I need to take regularly is not covered at all by either Medicare or the 'advantage' insurance. 

Today we discovered another way to sock it to old people. Allergy shots. I also wrote about the fact that, now we are vaccinated and boosted, we returned to the allergy clinic. Unfortunately we had to start all over again. Get tested then go through build up - for those of you who are not familiar with allergy shots, once they find out what you are allergic to, they concoct a mixture of precisely those items and, in order not to kill you with the first injection, you have to build up slowly to the full strength. That means forty shots, starting with a weak solution, increasing slowly to the maximum strength. After that you get a shot every few weeks. Our plan was to get four shots a week until we reached the full strength and then once a month thereafter.

Well, turns out our old people insurance cover will only allow us three shots in a seven day period. There we were thinking we would be up to full strength by Thanksgiving only to discover not only have we already broken the rule and will probably eventually receive a bill for all the 'extra' shots, but now we have to slow it down and it will be more like Christmas before we will be on the monthly shots. On top of that we have to do some minor math calculations before heading out for our shots to be sure we are within three per seven day schedule. 

What I find equally irritating is the fact that it took six weeks for the Allergy Clinic and the Insurance provider to communicate this fact. During that six week period we have been getting 4 shots per week. That is a big billing mess they will have to sort out.

The moral of this story is, actually there are a lot of lessons to be born in mind - don't retire if you have a choice. As I said, I had no choice. If you have to retire, don't live in the US. 

And finally - Vote! no matter how hard they make it for you to vote, vote! and I don't care who you vote for, but the small turnout of voters in the US never ceases to amaze me. If everyone who has a vote, exercised that vote, at least there would be a true representation and maybe something would get done. Maybe.




Monday, October 25, 2021

Remembering Odell

Ezra Odell Curtsinger was my father in law. He died on 25th October 2012 (link to his obit). It is hard to believe that he has been gone this long. I only knew him for eleven years but I am very glad that I had that opportunity. 

My husband and I, spent a lot of time with Mildred and Odell. For nine years we went out to dinner with them every weekend, taking it in turns to foot the bill. We spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with them most years, taking it in turns to host dinner. 

For the last two years of his life, Odell was in a memory care nursing home. My husband visited him twice a week, every week of those two years, bringing him his favorite milk shake on Wednesday on his way home from work, and on Saturday or Sunday I would go with him, in the morning at first; we brought him breakfast tacos. Later we moved to lunchtime and brought chicken nuggets or steak fingers with fries as these were easier for him to eat as his motor skills deteriorated. We would sit and chat with him, until Mildred arrived. She spent all day every day with him for those two years, so our visits gave her a short break.  

Shortly after Odell went into the nursing home we moved Mildred into our home. I covered that in a previous post. As a result, we could see up close, the toll it took on her. It was amazing to me that the few close friends they had left, completely abandoned them. The only regular visitors Odell ever had were Mildred, me and my husband, and my stepson when his work allowed.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know him. He was an incredibly hardworking man with a great sense of humor. I once told him that I considered him to be the epitome of a successful man. He was one of a large family, from rural Kentucky. Before retiring, he worked four jobs at the same time, owned his own home and had provided for his wife and two sons. Mildred never had to work and they enjoyed a full retirement, traveling the country in their RV. 

Of course, because Mildred lived with us for almost 9 years, I knew her very much better than I did Odell. Sadly, Mildred passed away in February of this year. My memories of her are much deeper, as this post covers. Nonetheless, I miss him and often think of him. I took that photograph of him during one of our earlier visits to the nursing home, Mildred often said it was a photo of his last smile. He stopped smiling as his condition deteriorated, and failed to recognize anyone but Mildred, Larry and I am glad to say, me.



Tuesday, October 19, 2021

I am an early bird

Which I suppose means I catch the worm? Sometimes that worm is best left to other birds. I was early for my first wedding. So early that we had to drive around the block three times. As I had a horse and carriage instead of a car, that was not thirty miles an hour. I was at least thirty minutes early.

Not the first and definitely not the last time I ever had to do that to avoid being rudely early. The marriage? Well, let's say I have made many mistakes in my life, this is one I can't regret, because I have my three wonderful children and I wouldn't change that for anything. And I did learn the lessons. Yes, there was more than one lesson to learn.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't like this. If I am not early, I consider that I am late and that really stresses me out.

The problem with being early for everything is, as people get to know you, they also consider you to be late if you don't turn up at least 15 minutes before the allotted time. Worse than that, they assume you are not coming at all, if you don't arrive on time. Of course, nine times out of ten, they would be correct. That tenth time I was delayed by something totally beyond my control.

And I don't mean things like punctures and getting lost, they are taken into account as likely events when planning my departure time, hence the need to to drive around the block a number of times, or sit outside waiting because I am aware that too early can often be much more inconvenient than too late.

You might think being early is good. The more I think about it, the more downsides I see. I waste a lot of time. Before driving anywhere I calculate how long it would take to cover that distance under normal circumstances. Then I add extra time for possible traffic delays; punctures - I can change a wheel myself without trouble or help, but it takes time. Then I have to add time for getting lost, because I do that all the time. I have no sense of direction. I am so used to getting lost, I don't panic, even in the days before GPS and Google, I just went around in ever increasing circles until I found myself again. But that takes time. Then I add a cushion for just in case.

Then, if none of those delays occur, I arrive way too early. I sit and waste that time. Going to the airport, particularly if I am the one traveling, is much worse. Most flights require you to be at the airport two hours before your flight. I usually add another two hours to that; and I have Clear, so I jump the line; and I have TSA Precheck, another line jumped. Plus I have Global Entry for International flight line jumping. I could probably arrive one hour before my flight and still have time to wait. I have never missed a flight yet, I have missed connections but there is no way that I can build in safety for that - I try by allowing a really long connection time when making reservations, again wasting time, but even that is not always enough. 

I have been getting my hair done by the same hair stylist for over 20 years, so you can imagine she knows I will turn up early and she is very tolerant of this annoyance. In fact, if I am not there on time she will call me - mostly with concern for me. I was on time once (as opposed to being early) due to a meeting at work that ran over. It swallowed up my puncture, traffic and circling back time, she called as I was just pulling in. The only other time she called, I had put the appointment in my calendar on the wrong day! That was only 6 months ago and I am still recovering from that.

And before you ask, yes I know I am OCD. I have written about it before. At least six times, possibly more. I won't bore you with links to all the previous posts on this subject, feel free to search my blog for OCD if you are really interested, yes, that is something I would probably do. Here is a link to the first post I published on the subject.




Saturday, October 16, 2021

Texas - a love hate relationship?

When I first arrived in Texas I was enthralled by it. I loved everything about it. The first year, in the early fall I was visiting friends. They lived in a small new age community. The entire neighborhood were having a cook out and hay ride. There must have been twenty of us on the hay trailer, and many more on foot. singing 'Deep in the Heart of Texas'. I felt that I had finally come home.

Now, twenty-seven years later, every time I turn my head I see beautiful rolling hills and the lake. I am sure most of you have see my conveyor belt of photos of the sun setting over the lake, or the fish we regularly catch either trolling slowly in a boat in the early morning, or fishing off the dock in the evening. 



I have seen fox, racoons and squirrels right outside my window, and of course the herds of small white tail deer who are never far from our back patio, and sometimes in the front also. There are so many different, beautiful birds. It is idyllic. 

How can a State filled with such beauty be also filled with such hatred, injustice and cruelty? The evil displayed every day by the State government is horrifying. The crooked practices being put in place to ensure that the current government remain in power is almost laughable. After all it appears that the only people who bother to vote are the very people who put them in the position of such power. 


To be fair, it isn't just Texas. All of the United States is filled with breathtaking beauty and breathtaking hatred, ignorance and cruelty. Perhaps there is the same degree of hatred in other countries, but it is not obvious and not acted upon as it is here.

It isn't easy being a foreigner in the US. It is sometimes very difficult and frustrating being a foreigner in Texas, and no doubt most of the Southern States. I did live in California for two of the twenty-seven years and that was a lot easier, in part because there are more foreigners there so the locals (Americans) were much more familiar with different accents, different colloquialisms and, to a certain extent, different cultures. Basically everyone is a foreigner to some extent.

I have blogged about the various issues I have faced living in Texas, but they pale in comparison to what is happening now. As I said, twenty-seven years ago I loved it here, I felt I had come home. I still love the beauty we are surrounded by, and I have many good friends here - admittedly, only a few of them are native Texans, but some are. But I am quickly learning to hate living here. While statistics show that the State is evenly split politically, it would appear that the only people who bother to vote are those that support Abbot and his crew of misogynistic crooks. Perhaps the gerrymandering put in place by the far right is also to blame.

I will be curious to see what happens next November in the midterm elections. I have only a very faint hope that anything will change for the better. Meanwhile, here are some of the posts that I have written over the years. To demonstrate some of the less political difficulties faced.

The first post I wrote, in October 2013. Actually, I wrote it at least 14 years earlier, but didn't post it to my blog until then. I started my blog in October 2013. This was one of my first posts and it dealt purely with the different words used and the problem being that most of the English speaking world know the Americanism, but Americans are unware of the differences and do not realize that different is not necessary wrong. And while I knew the different words and pronunciations, it is not easy to break a habit of a lifetime. The Language Barrier.

The second, in November 2013 deals not so much with language but food and is more about how people in the Southern States tend to have a very limited palate when it comes to what they like to eat. They feel very strongly about their preferences and are not very adventurous in this area. Not Just a Language Difference.

Then in January 2014, it was accents that caused me to ruminate. Specifically I got tripped up a few times by my mother in law's strong Kentucky accent. Will I Ever Speak Kentucky?

That was followed in March 2014 with some thought on the different sayings and ways of using the English language, between Ireland, England and the US. This one was sparked by an English teacher in France, whose understanding of English and the differences between the language across the various English speaking countries, was not very good. Definitely not as good as my eleven year old grandson's understanding, she was his English teacher unfortunately. Irish Sayings and the English Language.

Then again in June 2014 - that one was to do with TV programs. When I was growing up very few families in Ireland owned a TV. We didn't get one until I was at least eleven. And there was only a very limited number of US Shows available to us, my lack of familiarity with US TV programs of old would always come into question. I Didn't Grow Up Here.

It would appear that in October 2015 I became impatient with the Southerners lack of appreciate for other cultures, actually more that they seem to be unaware that other cultures exist. Apparently I observed someone expressing the assumption that Texas was no different to any other State in the Union. This I know to not be so as I have travelled to almost every State, despite not being an American - or maybe because I am not? Texas is very different to most States. Though recently, other states are rushing to be as misogynistic. Texas.

Finally, in November 2019, looks like I totally lost patience and just wanted to go home - though truth be told, I started thinking about going home in January 2017, when a wave of hatred surged in the US - and it still exists today; in fact today it is even worse. America is fast becoming a country where anyone who is 'different' is unwelcome and unsafe. A Foreigner in the World.

As I review these posts, in October 2021, I realize that none of that really matters. What matters now is that America has changed so drastically I feel that I am now in physical danger living here. And it is not just Texas, I don't think there is a State in the Union that is not being impacted by this virus of hatred.

I still feel like a foreigner after twenty-seven years, in fact more so. I wonder how much longer it will be possible for me to live happily in a country now so divided. A country filled with hatred and selfishness. It is not the country I 'escaped' to. Right now, I am kind of glad to feel different. 

Yes, I know - and I agree, there are some wonderful, good, kind and generous people here, my husband for one. And he points out that at least half of the country is still made up of good, caring people. He is the only reason I have not left. But I watch those good people being threatened, battered and beaten, not to mention many forced into poverty and out into the streets, and those living in the streets given no assistance or even a kind thought; with no strong leadership to fight for their rights - or with what leadership we have busy fighting among themselves, they have no chance. Peoples right to vote stripped away; women's rights reduced to what it was a century ago, by those very people who are supposed to be protecting us. So much more yet to happen.

I echo what I heard Fiona Hill say in an interview recently, something I have said many times in the last 5 years. This is not the America I came to. It is the America I would prefer not to live in any more.


 


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Memories from the late '50s

I have heard that as you get older long term memories become more vivid. Recently I was doing my laundry, a simple task these days, and I thought about Sundays when I was a kid. My mother worked full time. There were six of us kids;  I was the third.

Every Sunday she changed the sheets on all the beds, that's a lot of beds. Actually she changed the bottom sheet - fitted sheets had not yet been invented - and she put the top sheet on the bottom, and a clean sheet on top. Then she washed all of the family's clothes, including the sheets and towels. The washing machine was a heavy old agitator with a wringer. 

First she had to move the machine from the corner where it was stored while not in use, (it was not plumbed in of course), push it up to the kitchen sink and fill it by attaching rubber hoses to the kitchen taps and running the water into the machine drum, add the detergent and set the agitator going. It was not a timed wash, the agitator would continue swishing until it was manually switched off.  In between wash loads she cleaned the house. 

Once a wash load was ready, she filled the big kitchen sink with clean cold water. The next stage was to stop the agitator and pull the wet items out of the water with a wooden tongs, feeding them through the wringer, being very careful to not get fingers caught in the wringer, hence the tongs. The clothes dropped into the sink of clean water where they were rinsed off by hand, then sent back through the wringer - at this point she had replaced the lid on the machine to avoid the clothes dropping into the, now dirty, soapy water. Sometimes this rinsing process had to be repeated more than once, particularly for big items like sheets and towels. 

Finally, she set the machine to empty - through another rubber hose that hooked over the sink, while she took the clean, wet clothes outside into the back yard. There, she hung them on the clothes line, if the weather was good. 

As you can imagine, for a family of seven, we had more than one line in the yard.  We went out and checked the clothes regularly and as soon as they were dry enough we brought them in to make space for another load.

If the weather was not good enough for drying the clothes outdoors, they were hung on a wooden rack that extended the width of the kitchen. It was a big kitchen.

She usually had six or seven wash loads, so she had to refill, wash, wring, rinse, wring and hang that many times. It took hours. I often helped her hang clothes on the line while she worked on another load. I hated the indoor rack because when it was full of wet clothes it was really hard to pull it up to the ceiling, it was heavy! And of course the wringer was not very efficient so the clothes dripped water all over the floor. We placed layers of newspaper on the floor, under the rack to sop up the water.

In between doing all that, she found time to cook a big dinner for all of us. Sunday dinner was a ritual in Ireland back in those days. Roasted meat and potatoes and at least two vegetables and dessert. For a family the size of ours, it was usually a leg of lamb. Lamb was very cheap in Ireland. We didn't have a refrigerator, so the meat, purchased on Saturday, sat in the pantry overnight. 

One week the dog grabbed it and ran out to the back yard with it. We all chased her till we cornered her and got it back. My mother washed and trimmed it and went ahead and cooked dinner as usual. We survived. We survived a lot worse than that!

Looking back now, I don't know how she did it. Life was not easy! In the 60s she did start using a laundry service. A big bundle of dirty laundry was left in our front porch, the laundry service picked it up while at the same time dropping off a bundle of crisp, clean laundry from the week before. We also got a used refrigerator.


My mother would have loved smartphones and email. In the '80s she bought an Amstrad computer on which she spent hours digging into the OS and using the word processing to replace her typewriter - she had her landline hooked up to a fax machine. Of course, that was much later, not until the late 80s.


Her answering machine message would instruct people to leave a message or send a fax. When I first moved to the US we regularly communicated via fax. 







Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Medicare

Some of you may remember when I was whining about my upcoming retirement. I mentioned being wary of Medicare, mainly because I knew nothing about it, having grown up in a country where free medical care was available to all. But, having worked in the US for 27 years, paying into Medicare with every paycheck, I had hopes that it would be all I needed. Not so, apparently you need to buy insurance cover to fill in the gaps. Mainly, I think, dental and vision. I also mentioned that my husband was taking care of arranging that, as I fought my way through the misery of the last few months of the bullying that forced my decision to retire.

We were more than halfway through the Medicare year so settled for cover that looked like it would do while we got familiar with what was and was not available to us. It was okay, but coming up to the new Medicare year we have a better idea of what we need.

What I didn't realize was, after the 27 years of deductions from every paycheck, we still have to pay a monthly charge for Medicare coverage - it isn't huge, but it is still a payment I didn't expect. Add to that, the slightly larger payment for the separate coverage that is essential, and the fact that for some reason my one medication is not covered at all. That of course, is because I can't take the generic form and that is all they will pay for. 

It amazes me that a country that considers itself the leader of the Western World, doesn't have adequate health cover for its elderly, nor for the huge number of people living in poverty. OK, it has something called Medicaid which I understand is for those citizens who can't afford any sort of health care, depending on what state you live in. Said leader of the Western World also has a huge population living below the poverty line. According to this report:

"Official U.S. Census Bureau statistics estimate that 40 million persons, 12.3 percent of the total population, were poor in the United States in 2017"

You can bet that figure is way higher now, after the pandemic. 

But the most unexpected thing about Medicare is the incredible amount of spam it generates. If you live in the US you will notice a plethora of advertising around this time of year, and it will get worse between now and December. This is open enrollment and all of the insurance companies and supplemental plans are vying for what money the elderly have to spare. If you happen to already be on Medicare you are getting spam phone calls and emails - apparently the Do Not Call list doesn't apply to them - or so they think.

The elderly are not well cared for in the US. I remember a number of years ago, when I was doing my mother-in-law's taxes for her, how horrified I was that, despite having almost no income, she still owed the IRS. Her very small Social Security payment was taxed! Had she not been living with us she would have very quickly burned through the small savings her husband had left her with. How elderly people with no family to care for them manage is beyond me. I did write about that at the time.

It is bad enough that we have to put up with the aches and pains and all the other things that old age brings, now we have to put up with a whole new wave of spam. I am still hopeful that as I get more experience with this system, I will discover some more positive details. And at least we do have it.