Sunday, January 16, 2022

Pros and Cons of Retirement

Someone asked me recently how do I feel about retirement now, after 8 months. I have to admit, as I experience my first winter of retirement I dig deeper into my Pollyanna complex to find things to be glad about. 

I did write here about how winter is impacting my hobbies, at least no fishing and boating. Now I am at it again, inspecting the silver linings associated with retirement. Even if it was not what I wanted at the time. It is where I am now and I need to get on with it. I am definitely enjoying it, but like everything in life, there are pros and cons.

Pros

Time to workout

I don't like working out. Therefore, any excuse is a good one to stop. The only time in the day that I will even consider working out is early morning; giving myself no time to reconsider. When I was working I watched the clock and had no problem using it as an excuse to cut my workout short or just not bother at all. My workout was rarely longer than thirty minutes. Work came first. This was particularly true when I had to get into the office. I did become more consistent when working from home, just because I had more time. 

Now there is no excuse. For over a year I have been doing an hour a day, five days a week. Over Christmas I skipped a week while we were in Seattle. Now I am back on the treadmill, literally and figuratively, and I have increased to ninety minutes per day, because I can, and because I can't find a good excuse not to.

Time to Read

I love to read and the only time I had for that was when traveling. Now I read for ninety minutes a day, five days a week, while on the treadmill. Plus, if I want to I can sit quietly and read during the day. Of course, this comes with a price. I am completing approximately one book a week. I signed up for Kindle Unlimited, thinking it might prove to be slightly less expensive. I canceled it almost immediately. None of my favorite writers are available and the first book recommended is really not good. The David Wolf series by Jeff Carson. That is four books, I am struggling to complete the first book. I find myself scanning over large amounts of unnecessary filler.

Freedom

Freedom to travel mainly. But also, the freedom to make last minute plans.

Unfortunately, this advantage has yet to come into its own. With the pandemic we can't take advantage of the freedom to go where ever we want to, when ever we want to, for as long as we want to. We got a small taste of what this will be like when we went up to Seattle for Christmas but as cases spike again, we are once again locking ourselves down.

Escape from office politics

This is a wonderful relief. Office politics were not awful until the management chain was broken. Not awful, but difficult. Then my manager of four years moved on to bigger and better things leaving me exposed to an inexperienced bully. (See here for the sordid details). That was when the politics within the office blew up. And it is what pushed me to make the decision to retire. At least I did have that escape avenue open to me.

No need to maintain two vehicles

This is double edged. Both a pro and a con. But it is a big financial saving.  And, as mentioned before I can't justify us having two vehicles when one sits idle for weeks on end.



Hobbies

I have all the time I need to bake, cook and create embroidery patterns. I probably need to start making gifts for others as my closet is filled with t-shirts covered in smartass comments. 


Cons

Income, or lack thereof

I do miss the monthly refill of the bank account. It is more the sense of security it brings than anything else. I have been very fiscally responsible over the past 20 years and, given my late retirement, hopefully have enough to live on.


Innovating



I miss the challenge to continue innovating and streamlining our work and seeing the fruits of our labor.




Programming

Coding has been one of my favorite pass times ever since I first discovered it. I particularly loved coding in a QA environment because I could come up with my own projects. Obviously writing automated tests was the main requirement, but what and how was pretty much up to me. Better than that was identifying areas where manual tasks could be automated by creating tools—that was my passion. I miss that.

My team

I miss my team of amazing engineers. Of course, I do keep in touch with all of them but it is not the same as collaborating on a daily basis, learning from them and watching the team combine to overcome the challenges of being a small team with a huge work load and continue to succeed. I miss the satisfaction of leading them and watching them grow and surpass all expectations. I was very proud of that team of talented people. 



No need to maintain two vehicles

Did I mention, I miss my Lexus? and my independence, as explained in this post.

On balance I am in favor of retirement. I think there are just two reasons why I even question this. One is because it was such a difficult decision to retire. But being bullied and having that behavior condoned by Amazon did make it a whole lot easier. 

The second reason is that I retired in the middle of 2020. In the middle of the pandemic. Definitely clipped my wings. Finally I have the time and freedom to visit my family in Europe but no way will I even consider risking it, for their sakes as well as ours. If this pandemic is finally controlled I will discover that I suddenly have way too much to do and not enough time for all that fun!


Friday, January 14, 2022

The Writing Down Book

We had plans to spend our old age galloping across the Greek Islands, my sister and I. 

While it is still a possibility, it is highly unlikely that we will ever realize that dream. I am not sure we ever believed we would. But we loved those islands, in particular Zakynthos. And we enjoyed making those plans as we stretched out in the sun on the golden beaches. A week or two of escape from the struggle of being single, poor and approaching middle age beneath the grey skies of Ireland (for me) and England (for my sister).

Back in the late 1980's we were both free agents; single as I said, with grown up families. And for a few years we went on holiday together to Greece, the Greek Islands to be precise, the first year my sister's older daughter came too. Actually, they were going and when I heard I invited myself along. We laughed ourselves silly and had the most memorable times together; on a shoestring as neither of us had a lot of spare cash. We pooled what money we did have and my sister introduced me to the Writing Down Book, and budgeting. 

She divided up our funds so that we knew exactly how much we had to spend each day. Every penny spent was carefully recorded in the writing down book. We were as frugal as possible during the day, in order to be able to splurge in the evening. It was rare that we overspent but if we did, we had to adjust our allowance for the following day accordingly. At the end of each day my sister carefully balanced the book. 

Many years later I acquired another writing down book. This time, not to keep track of spending, to keep track of random thoughts and ideas. As mentioned before, after my retirement, because I was not at all ready to start doing nothing for the rest of my life, I signed up for Masterclass. My interest has always been writing. Every author I listened to recommended carrying a small notebook to jot down ideas, or overheard snippets of conversation, anything of interest and could be used in some future story went into the notebook. I bought myself a writing down book. I wanted something with substance so I found a leather bound book on Amazon. It was slightly larger than I wanted but so is my bag, it works—up to a point.

I think perhaps one of the mistakes I made was getting a notebook that was too big to fit in my back pocket. But then again, maybe not. I know for a fact that if I kept it there, it would be worse than useless because it would end up in the washing machine. Also, my notebook has an elastic loop to hold a pen. A notebook of any size is of no use without the pen, so I will persist with what I have.

I use my writing down book. At first I jotted down just a few words, knowing that would jog my memory and the story would flow. It didn't. Even just a few hours later I look at the words and have no clue what I was thinking at the time I wrote them. So, I became more detailed in what I write. Still from time to time, what I had thought at the time was worth recording means nothing to me when revisited. 

I continue to carry my notebook with me and continue to make notes. Each time going into more detail. I am hoping that sooner or later I will come up with a way to communicate with myself that makes sense, both with writing down and reading back later.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Driving Miss Daisy

I don't drive anymore. This is not a choice to not drive, nor an inability but an economic and practical decision to maintain only one vehicle. 

When COVID hit I was working from home and we only left the house to go to the grocery story—or fishing, which was outside and nowhere near other people and we have the golf cart for that. We only needed one vehicle and mine was sitting idle for six months so, we sold it. The logic behind our decision was that when we are both in the vehicle, Larry is the driver. 

I will not drive him, unless he is anesthetized, or still in recovery mode. Like most men, he thinks he has to teach me how to drive. He also feels very uncomfortable being a passenger no matter who is driving. It is a control thing, I think.

After driving for more than fifty years, I believe I am as good as I can get, and I don't think I am any less of a driver than he is. I just have more sense than to argue that point. But also, because I know that he is sitting there in critical judgement, I tend to make mistakes I would not normally make. So when we go anywhere together, he does the driving. I silently observe but keep my thoughts to myself. It is not just Larry, every man in my life has done the same to me, and most women I know experience similar.

When we sold my car, Larry bought a four wheel drive pickup truck. For the hilly roads around the lake, in case there is a freeze. I do not like driving pickup trucks. I am very short and have difficulty finding a vehicle that I feel comfortable driving, my view being restricted by my lack of height. A pickup truck is not designed with tiny people in mind. We agreed that once I returned to the office full time I would buy another car. Then of course, I was unexpectedly retired.

At first, as I said, we didn't go anywhere anyway, due to COVID. As the restrictions lifted and we were thrice vaccinated, a little bit of normality crept in. Dentist was the first. After two years of not going near a dentist I was keen to get a checkup. I love where we live but it is far away from everything. The nearest dentist office is about four miles away. Larry insisted that he didn't mind driving me and waiting. He really doesn't mind. I mind. Among other things, I hate losing my independence. Luckily, my teeth were all in good condition so the visit didn't take too long.

In part I may object to being driven everywhere because, for the last three years of my mother in law's life, her life with us that is, Mildred couldn't see well enough to drive. Larry quit work to be her care giver, book keeper and driver. He drove her to dentists, doctors (and she had a lot of them), nails and hair appointments. He waiting patiently outside each of them without complaint. But I don't like being treated like I am past it. And I can see to drive, in fact I can see better than Larry can. I no longer need glasses to drive since I had cataract surgery. I freely admit, I do not like giving up control either. I have no interest in controlling others, but I will not be controlled. 

I have stopped getting my nails and hair done, partly due to the continuing COVID spread, despite being vaccinated. But mainly because I don't enjoy it. I really didn't enjoy it anyway, making idle conversation was never my thing. But I don't enjoy being driving around and waited for. It takes any enjoyment out of the activities because I can't relax knowing Larry is just hanging around outside waiting. As he did the one time I went for a pedicure after being vaccinated. He also had to drive me to my physical therapy sessions twice a week for 8 weeks! And perhaps in some perverse way, the fact that he doesn't mind doing it is also a problem for me. I see it as some sort of a control thing.

I have always so far, been very healthy and see my doctor at most twice a year, once for my annual physical and maybe once for something minor such as a sinus infection. Some years it has just been the annual physical. I can tolerate being driven to that as there is no fun to be had there anyway, and certainly it is not relaxing.

Later this month Larry will be anesthetized (just for a short while), he has to have some work done on one of his eyes. I will be driving him home. I am not looking forward to that. Hopefully the anesthetic will not wear off too much before I get him home; and hopefully I will get him home safely. And next month he has another minor procedure, again I will be required to drive him home.

It is almost two years since I have driven anything other than our golf cart, and I have only driven that a few times. I hear that driving is like riding a bike, in so far as you just don't forget. Next week we will find a quite parking lot and I will find out. Find out if I can still remember how to drive, if I can see out of the truck in order to drive safely, and if I can remember to keep my mouth shut in the face of unwanted driving instruction.


The problem is, I still can't justify having two cars. We are retired. We rarely go anywhere, and even more rarely do we have a need to go alone, well, Larry can go without me, I can't go without him. I do miss my independence, and my hybrid Lexus.





Saturday, January 8, 2022

More writing and less complaining

New Year's Day in TX

Who would have thought that retirement is seasonal? I guess I should have known, but this is my first year being retired. It will be a year next May. I don't have grounds for complaint because up until just before New Year we were still fishing off the dock in the evenings and also taking the boat out on the lake occasionally. But since then the weather has been too cold and windy.


Of course I do have my indoor hobbies to keep me occupied. I am still writing and reading, plus I have my embroidery, though that is taking on a life of its own. I have way more t-shirts than anyone needs, all of them embroidered with amusing quotes both front and back. And let us not forget that we just returned from a week in Seattle. Well, not quite a week, six days and not quite Seattle, Bellevue. But the point is we could plan that trip with no consideration for vacation days. And the prospect of weather and cancelled flights was merely a possible inconvenience rather than a major issue. 

12/26 in WA


We were lucky, our flights were not cancelled and the heavy snow that fell on Christmas night didn't delay our travel though it did interfere with my plans to meet up with my old team. I will be back in the summer and I hope to see them then.

Flight home

I suppose it is normal for habits of a life time to linger. And, if the choice to retire had been mine it might be different. Well, of course the choice to retire was mine, I wasn't fired. However, I was put in an unbearable position and my working life became extremely unpleasant as my new manager did everything in her power to force me out. If you haven't read my previous blog on why I retired, see here. My choice to retire was the lesser of two evils but I have to admit, I am enjoying it. I still worry about being bored, particularly with this winter weather preventing me from fishing.

Some of the habits I still have difficult letting go of is that Sunday night/Monday morning feeling. I sit down after dinner on Sunday and get that feeling. You know? Am I ready for the week? Immediately I remember that everyday is the same now so yes, I am ready, as ready as I need to be. I suppose that is not so much a habit as an ingrained state of mind.

I do try to differentiate. I mean, I have my Monday to Thursday early morning workout, and again on Saturday. My Friday 'do nothing' day; that is, nothing planned of course. I would go mad if I had nothing at all to do. Then Sunday is almost a do nothing day, but I do take care of laundry—another throw back to my working weeks, I always like to start the week off with clean sheets, clean clothes and ready to go. I have finally broken the habit of doing the ironing on Sunday. Now I do it whenever it needs doing and if I feel like it. I do catch myself saying "I will do that over the weekend" but then I immediately remember I don't have to wait for the weekend.

I do sleep better now that the stress from work is removed; and though I don't get up as early as I used to, I still get up early. I used to get up at 2.30 a.m. in order to get my workout and get to the office by 4.30 a.m. With work from home I started getting up at 3.30 a.m. and was still at my desk by 4.30 a.m. Now I am usually up by 5 a.m. which means I can still workout before the day starts in earnest. But with this wintery weather, I am somewhat lost without my regular fishing outings. I think I need another indoor hobby to get me through the winter. I plan to extend my workout from sixty to eighty minutes. Apart from that I will just do more writing and less complaining. This is Texas, fishing weather will return any day now.


Thursday, January 6, 2022

Do-it-yourself divorce

In 1989 I was legally separated. That was about the only solution available at that time, in Ireland. Divorce had not yet been legalized and couples either lived together in misery, lived separately without any equitable settlement, or went through a legal separation. A legal separation resembled a divorce in every aspect, except that remarriage was not possible. Not a problem for me as the last thing I wanted at that stage, was more of the same.

All mutually owned property was either divided or sold and the proceeds divided. Any children were accounted for in every detail, custody, visitation, support. Everything was carefully recorded in the Separation Decree, which was then signed, witnessed and sealed.

That is the top level view. Under the covers, the usual pain and nastiness that typifies all human interaction of that type, is in full force of course. Each party retains a lawyer who will attempt to get the best deal possible for their client. Fees are usually standard, with extra charges for letters written, documents studied, and meetings attended. Therefore, it was in the financial interests of the lawyers, to prolong the agony. 

In my case, I wanted nothing, nothing but peace that is. My lawyer was confused by my refusal to fight, my disinterest in ‘taking him to the cleaners’. But after over twenty years, the only thing I wanted, was my life back and peace and quiet, and my children to suffer as little as possible in the process. Luckily, after a shaky start, we did manage to keep things simple and civilized, minimized the pain that was inevitable for all of us. 

The day that the documentation was finally signed, September 12th 1989, my lawyer and I turned up at the very plush offices of my soon to be ex-husband’s lawyer. We were ushered into a small meeting room where we sat making small talk. I expected that my husband and his lawyer would join us, but they didn’t. Instead, it became obvious that they were sitting in some other office, and a ‘go-between’ started to shuffle between the two offices, with instructions. Apparently it is usual that at the last minute, one or other of the parties decides to get nasty, or just plain demanding. This is the reason for keeping them separated, and for the ‘runner’ who carries messages between the lawyers, regarding last minute changes. I don’t know if they were relieved or disappointed that we had no changes. But still we were kept separate, and the documents were carried between meeting rooms to be signed in isolation. It all felt very sordid and very lonely.

Almost six years later, as a resident in Texas, I went through a very different experience to finally but an end to the marriage with a divorce. Divorce had still not become legal in Ireland, but as a legal resident of Texas, where divorce was recognized by the State, it would also be recognized by Ireland. A very useful loophole as my ex-husband was now living with his girlfriend and they had a son. If I was granted a divorce in Texas, they could legally wed in Ireland.

I started to investigate the possibility of a divorce and discovered that I could buy a ‘Do It Yourself Divorce’ book. Actually it was less a book, more a booklet. It had all the documents I needed, and very straightforward instructions on how to go about completing and filing these, and how to represent myself in court when the time came. My first task was to select the relevant documents and type them up. Fortunately, because my children were now all over eighteen, and my Irish Separation had disposed of and divided up all community property, the process was very simple. I filed the first document applying for the divorce, just before a trip back to Dublin. Next I typed up the Waiver that I needed to get my ex-husband to sign, to waive his rights to contest the divorce. Naturally this was something he was very happy to do. We did have to go together to a Notary and have this document notarized, but that was just a slight inconvenience, and small expense. I also had to supply my husband’s lawyer with a letter stating that I planned to remain as a resident of Texas, this was required before Irish law would accept the divorce.

Sixty days after filing my application for divorce, I put in my request for this to go before the courts. I filed the waiver at this point. Very soon after, I was given a court date. The normal process, my booklet had already explained to me, was for the non-contested cases to be heard at the beginning of the day, so my court time was 9 a.m. The day before, I advised my boss that I would be a little late for work the next morning, as I was going to get a divorce.

It is my custom to be early for everything, and this was no exception. I arrived at the Court House twenty minutes before it opened for business. I had spent hours each evening for the previous month, memorizing the words that I would have to recite to the Judge, in order to comply with the law. I am an introvert and was worried that I would get tongue tied having to speak in such a public arena. As soon as the doors opened I headed for the library and collected my file from the girl behind the counter, then I made my way to the Court Room indicated by her. It was a big room with a huge dais, almost like an alter, at one end. On either side of the Judge’s bench stood a large flag, one the Stars and Strips, and one the flag of Texas. Below the bench was a table with a book, which I had to sign in order for my case to be heard. I was the first to sign in, and I assumed that meant I would be the first called. This was not the case.

I waited and watched as the court room filled with people. Distracted looking legal types with files and books sat themselves at tables at the front of the room, an assortment of people started filling the seating behind. I had taken a seat close to the front, on the aisle, waiting with ever increasing nervousness. I was beginning to feel like a defendant in a major trial and was sure that Perry Mason would be there to cross examine me and I would find my case denied, with a loud hammering of the gavel.

I was slightly less worried when the Judge arrived and took his seat. He was not dressed in the stuffy clothes and wig of the British TV series I was used to watching. He looked quite human and pleasant. I was a bit confused when the first case was called and it was not my name. After two cases were heard, both uncontested divorces, I was relieved. I realized for the first time, exactly what the words I had been learning were all about. Each of the cases were represented by lawyers, and the lawyer asked a series of standard questions of their client, who answered either Yes or No, and these questions were what I had to recite as statements, to the effect that all property had been divided and any children were over eighteen etc. I also realized that I was going to be the last uncontested case to be heard, because I was the only one representing myself. That caused me to feel uncomfortable. It meant that instead of being heard in front of a fairly empty room, the room would be jam packed by the time my turn arrived. 

Finally, at about 9.40, it was my turn. I was right, the court was full. I walked up to my place in front of the Judge and started my recitation. Immediately the Judge’s face started to twitch, well actually it was his mouth that was twitching, and it became obvious that he was trying not to laugh. I had to concentrate hard to continue presenting my case. I wondered if he was laughing because I was representing myself, or because I was getting it all wrong. When I concluded it became clear that he was actually amused by my accent. To my extreme relief he banged his gavel and said “Divorce Granted”. To my embarrassment he then leant over the edge of the bench and said “what made you come to Texas?”  It had been difficult enough for me to speak in front of that packed court room when I was presenting my case, but to have to reply to the Judge’s questions and explain how I had won my Green Card and why the folklore of Texas had appealed to me was infinitely more difficult, particularly as my legs were shaking with the relief that Perry Mason had not appeared to subject me to a torturous cross questioning.


It was quite an anti-climax to have to go into the office. I felt there should have been something to mark the occasion. I had been married for half my life, finally I was single again. 

The following year Ireland voted to revoke the ban on divorce.


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

This year is 28 years since I first came to the US

Chapters thirteen and fourteen of Peeling the Onion. Edited as promised here. Chapter thirteen covers how I won, and qualified for a Green Card. Fourteen describes my first ever journey to the US.

I first heard about the Green Card Lottery in February 1993. My life had hit rock bottom. My job was dead ended. As a female, and over forty, I had no value in the job market in Ireland at that time and my manager had taken a dislike to me. I couldn't even get an interview, let alone another job. My marriage was over. My daughter had already moved to France and was independent. My two boys needed me to let them grow up and get on with their lives, and I knew I could never kick them out—so I decided it was time to kick myself out. 

Irish Intercontinental Bank became KBC
I was working in an investment bank. I had started as a typist, moved into a secretarial role and eventually talked my way into the newly created computer programming group. I was doing a computer science degree at night and my main job during the day was to support the secretaries as they struggled to move from typewriters to word processors. One of the secretaries called me because her printer was jammed. As I got it working, the page she had been attempting to print rolled into the tray. It was an application for a Green Card. She explained the lottery to me and showed me the notice in the newspaper. I made a note of the requirements and decided to apply.

Applications for the lottery that year had to be received between March 10th and March 30th—somewhere in West Virginia. I took great care in making sure that my application adhered to all the formatting rules. I carefully measured the envelope to be certain it was the exact size specified in the rules, and I went to a photographer who had past experience in taking the photographs exactly in accordance with the requirements. Finally I mailed my application off and prayed that it would arrive in the middle of the specified date range. Then I waited.

I waited impatiently for a few weeks, and slowly forgot about it, assuming that I had been unlucky. After all, this was my first application and I heard of so many people who had applied year after year, only to be unlucky.

I was stupefied with excitement when, early in July, I received a large brown envelope, containing a letter advising me that I had been drawn to receive a Green Card. Along with the letter was a frightening amount of paperwork to be completed. The instructions were very precise. I needed to gather together every piece of official documentation identifying me. Birth Certificate, Passport, Marriage Certificate and Separation Papers, divorce was not yet legal in Ireland—and every detail on each document must match exactly, the details on all the others. I also needed to get a police certificate, to confirm that I did not have a criminal record, and I needed a valid job offer. 

That year there were one hundred thousand applications from Ireland with only ten thousand Green Cards allotted. I had once emigrated to Canada with my first husband, when we first married, twenty-five years earlier. We only stayed six months because my husband couldn't hack it though I loved it there. Despite that, I had never considered going back, nor going anywhere else. Winning the Green Card was a sign to me that I needed to take control of my life and make it work.

In gathering the information required, and carefully inspecting it, I discovered for the first time, that my birth date was incorrectly noted on my marriage certificate. It took almost six weeks to have this corrected. What took the longest time, and caused me to almost give up, was the job offer. How do you get a valid job offer from a company in the US, when you have never been there and know no one there, and don't even know when, or if, you will be able to start work?  The job offer was not legally binding on either party, but no self-respecting American is going to get tangled up in immigration matters, particularly if they consider what they are being asked to do is somewhat shady; and I didn't know any Americans, self-respecting or otherwise.

Finally, just when I was about to despair, a friend worked a miracle for me. A friend of hers with a restaurant in New York agreed to give me a job offer. He was aware that I had no intention of living in New York. And I was aware that he didn't need his office computerized. But he was Irish so not afraid to take chances, and I had my precious job offer.

Once I had all my paperwork in order, then I had to send off my application to be interviewed for my Green Card. The police certificate needed to be obtained within three months of the interview, therefore it had to be left till almost last, what was last was the medical exam. I was required to have a full medical which included an X-ray for tuberculosis and a blood test for the HIV virus. The results of the medical were sent directly to the US Embassy, and the X-ray was handed to me—the instructions clearly stated that I must carry the X-ray negative with me for a full year after entering the US, as I could be required by immigration authorities, to produce it, any time during the first twelve months as a resident in the US.

The interview was scheduled for mid-April. I was both terrified and excited beyond description. The process was surprisingly simply and over before I realized it. All my papers were in order and the job offer passed muster. I handed over the two-hundred Irish pounds I had borrowed from a friend, and took possession of a large brown envelope, which had a dire warning in large black lettering, advising all that this envelope was to be opened only by the US Immigration authorities at the port of entry, and was only valid for four months from the date of issue. In other words, I needed to enter the US before the beginning of August that year—1994.

During the six months prior to my interview, following on a lead given to me by my sister, I had contacted, and been interviewed by, Camp America. This is an agency that match students with summer camps in the US. They supplied J-1 student visas, paid their return fare and packed them off to work in a Summer Camp somewhere in the US for a period of two months. For this they received pocket money, and had two months during which they could remain in the US and travel around. Because I was not a student, didn't require a visa and was not planning on using the return ticket, I was not sure that Camp America would be interested in finding me a position in a Summer Camp. But it seemed to me to be the ideal way to become acclimatized to my new home, and while I had a job offer, I did not yet have a job. My plan was to look for a real job once I got there. I need not have worried. Once Camp America heard that I was a qualified horseback riding instructor, they couldn't beam me over fast enough.

The Summer Camp opened on the 20th of June and so I made plans to leave Ireland on 14th June. I spent four days with my daughter in Toulouse, in the South of France and, from the limited ports of exit available for me to choose, from Camp America, I chose the closest to my daughter's home—Frankfurt. My son-in-law and daughter organized a train ticket for me to travel from Toulouse to Frankfurt, changing at Paris. My daughter gave me careful instructions on how to achieve this difficult transfer. I speak no French, and the idea of taking the metro across Paris, to get from the train station into which I would arrive, to the station from which the Frankfurt train departed, was quite challenging. 

Because I was emigrating, I had packed as much as I thought I could carry. This did mean that I left an awful lot of my belongings behind. I told my sons that they could have the furniture to do with as they wished. I packed clothes that I knew I would need at the summer camp, and that was about it. But that was quite a lot. I had purchased a large rucksack, believing that would be the easiest way to carry my belongings, plus I had a large sports bag, also packed to capacity.

Like a snail with his home on his back, I staggered from the train in Paris. I found the ticket desk for the Metro just as my daughter had described to me, and managed to purchase a ticket without too much difficulty. As I turned away from the ticket counter I dropped my Walkman. Without thinking of the consequences of such an act, I bent down to pick it up—to my horror I was instantly pinned in a squatting position on the floor of the station. My back pack, almost the same size and weight as myself, prevented me from standing up, and threatened to pin me flat to the floor if I gave in to its persistent pressure. 

The train station in Paris
My sense of humor is somewhat weird, and so I cannot blame the French people around me for backing away when I laughed out loud at my predicament. All they could see was a short, plumb, foreigner pinned to the floor by a large, bulging rucksack, laughing hysterically. The luck that stayed with me since I first decided to apply for the Green Card, didn't desert me then. A large luggage cart had been abandoned close to where I was squatting. I carefully inched towards it, still straining against the weight of the back pack. Once I got my hands on the cart I was able to haul myself to an upright position. Needless to say, I immediately removed the bag from my back. It had a handle on the side, so that it could be carried as a suitcase, the straps neatly folding away into a zipped pouch. 

I managed to negotiate the steps down to the platform, and get on the train with my bags. However, I had not bargained for the long, long walk from the platform the metro arrived at, to the platform from which the Frankfurt train departed—through tunnels, upstairs, down stairs—I thought, like Alice, that I was never going to find a way out of the warren of tunnels. The bags were becoming so heavy that I had resorted to dragging them—one in either hand. I was about to abandon one of them when a very kind woman offered to drag one for me. She could speak no English but I was able to gasp out Merci with feeling and I did get to the Frankfurt train, about twenty minutes before it departed, with both my bags, albeit somewhat the worse for wear—one of the bags had a hole worn in one corner.

Frankfurt train station
When I eventually arrived at Frankfurt station approximately four hours later, once again I had to drag my bags—they seemed to have become heavier and my muscles, already strained by my struggle through Paris, had begun to stiffen up. I had been warned that Frankfurt station was one of the most dangerous places in Europe and so I decided that I would take the first exit from the station and get a room for the night in the first hotel I came across. This turned out to be a most horrifically expensive hotel, but very luxurious and I felt the need for a bit of luxury at that stage. I was to meet with the Camp America representative in Frankfurt Airport at 6 a.m. the next morning, so I arranged for a taxi for 5 a.m. took a long bath and went to bed.

The next thirty-six hours were a blur. Taxi to the airport, I will add that my fondest memory of Frankfurt will forever be the hug goodbye, at 5.30 a.m., from the young taxi driving-alternative-medicine-student who gave me new faith in humanity. He spoke excellent English which he was happy to practice during the drive to the airport. Then a flight to London, where I had to make a twenty minute connection for a flight to Dulles Airport in Washington DC, well officially in Virginia, but 26 miles from Washington DC and referred to as Washington Dulles. With hindsight, it would have made more sense to fly from Toulouse to London and avoid the adventures in the wonderland of Paris train stations. However, at the time of booking my travel I had no idea that I would be flying out of London, I only discovered this when I met with the representative in Frankfurt airport. Also, that would not have made such an interesting story.

I arrived at Dulles at the same time as a number of flights carrying soccer supports in the US for the 1994 World Cup. It was packed! That is where the brown envelope with the dire warning was finally opened by the right people, my thumbprint was taken and I was issued with a temporary visa—the precious green card was to be mailed to me within six weeks. Because I had no clue where I would be at that time, I used the US address of a friend of a friend who lived in New Mexico and was willing to take possession and forward this to me when I had an address. He was also Irish.

At Dulles I had a four hour wait for a flight to Detroit, Michigan. I had been assigned to Camp Maplehurst, in Northern Michigan. I was met in Detroit, by a teenage girl, she was to be my assistant riding instructor at camp. We managed to squeeze my bags into her small sports car, already full to the brim with her own stuff for the two months at camp. We had a six hour drive to the tiny village of Kewadin, just outside Traverse City. Luckily we shared a love of Country Music and horses—so we had a fairly enjoyable drive. It was during this drive that I got my first whiff of skunk as we passed a freshly squished skunk on the highway. I was finally in America.


Monday, January 3, 2022

Role Models

This is an edited version of Chapter One of my book, Peeling The Onion.


As I get older and I start to look back at where I have been and what made me who I am, I become more aware of the powerful influence one person had on me. My maternal grandmother stands out above all others. She is the watermark on the paper of my life. She was an amazing woman.

My grandmother was born in France. Her father died when she was a very young baby and the family went to live with her mother's parents on the property where her mother grew up—a vineyard in Bordeaux. When she was four her grandmother died and she was sent to boarding school. The boarding school had a facility for destitute and orphaned children, but a very clear distinction was drawn between the fee-paying boarders and the unfortunate little girls. When Granny and the other rich kids got pain au chocolat the poor children would only get plain bread. She used to share her chocolate bread with an orphan if she happened to be sitting beside one. As cruel and Dickensian as the place was, and while she hated it and was bitterly unhappy there, she saw clearly that the world was made up of ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’, and she was a ‘Have’. She was there for three years before her mother removed her and boarded her with a family, as a paying guest

In one of these families, the father was a baker and she used to go with him and his kids on the horse and cart delivering the fresh bread, she loved that. Whenever her uncle, who was a naval engineer with the rank of admiral, was not at the base she stayed with that aunt and uncle. They had no children of their own, and they adored her. They had a huge influence on her upbringing—much more than her mother, who she didn't see very often. Aunt Mathilde had a third level education, which was almost unheard of for women in those days, and she was a real stickler for protocol. It was this upbringing that prepared Granny for her life in the diplomatic corps. 

Mathilde was a bit of a driven perfectionist, and could be very strict, but her uncle was very kind-hearted, except once. Granny was always dressed in exquisite clothes and in those days people would go on promenades to see and be seen. She was often the center of attention. One Sunday, on returning from such a promenade she went upstairs to look in the mirror to see what everyone was admiring so much. She spent so long studying herself in the mirror that her uncle began to get worried that her aunt and mother were turning her into a vain monster, so he blackened a cork and sooted her face with it, just putting a little here and there. The more she tried to wash it off the more it smeared everywhere and soon her whole face was black. She began to cry, thinking that she'd never get it off, and her aunt was furious with her uncle; he was very contrite. Whenever Granny recounted this story she laughed, she understood that he was acting out of what he thought was her best interests.

When Granny was about twelve years old she was sent to an exclusive boarding school in Paris. This was so her mother could see more of her, and so she would get the sort of polish that her mother and aunt thought desirable for a young lady of her social class. She soon got rid of her southern accent, and, in later years, whenever she imitated the way she spoke before her education in Paris she communicated the idea that it was hilarious that she used to talk like that. Her mother saw to it that Granny had exquisite clothes—she described dresses of beautiful fabrics with matching parasols, handmade lace trimmings, kid gloves and huge picture hats. Her mother visited her at the boarding school and brought her out to the Bois de Boulogne and wherever else it was fashionable to promenade, and to fancy tea rooms to show her off. She was unusually tall and strikingly good-looking, and very aware of how well she looked in her outfits.

At 16 she was sent to finishing school in London for two years. This was a convent in a neighborhood called Mill Hill and she often described those days as the happiest days of her life. She maintained a friendship with her two best friends from that period, Maggie and Rosine, until they died.

After that she did secretarial studies in Paris. In 1912 most females were not properly educated and it was extraordinary to have another language. Nowadays it's nothing to have secretarial training, but a century ago it was a woman's only access to the business world. For most females, even from very wealthy families, education stopped at 2nd level  Until then, that kind of support work in the business world had been done by men who were being prepared for higher posts.

Her first job was in an company called Lucille, one of the most prestigious fashion houses of the day. Equivalent to Armani or Versace today. Although it was a renowned French fashion house, it had been bought by a wealthy British woman, Lady Duff-Gordon. Later she became famous as the wife of the man who dressed up as a woman, to escape drowning on the Titanic. War was on the horizon and the directors thought it prudent to acquire the electronics company, Molyneux. Because an electronics company would surely survive the war better than a fashion house. This is how Granny met her husband Leopold, my grandfather. He was Irish and a senior accountant, involved in the acquisition of Molyneux.

Leopold was smitten and decided that he wanted to marry her, but was sure she would refuse. War was declared and all young men were conscripted. Leopold felt like the only young man in Paris who was not being called up. He bought a stout pair of boots and proposed to Granny with the expectation that she would refuse and he was going to join the French Foreign Legion. She always thought that was very funny—the boots and the assumption of a refusal.

She thought he was perfect, loved his idealism about his beleaguered nation and his pale skin and blue eyes.

After they were married she worked for an Armenian nationalist for some time, who was trying to lobby foreign governments' support for the Armenians against the Turks, much as the Irish were for the Irish against the English. But then she had to work for Sean T. O'Kelly ( later to become an important figure in Irish politics),  because of the highly classified nature of the work. She loved to recount how he said to her, hearing her dealing with a particular problem in French,  "Madame Kerney, you speak excellent French!" and when she told him that she was, in fact, French he was totally astounded because he had just assumed that she would be Irish, so he said "Well then you speak excellent English!"

Highly recommend this book
At that time Leopold was Honorary Consul (which meant he didn't get paid) so he continued to work in the public sector. He had lots of different projects going on—like selling cars on commission. The commission for one car could keep the family for months. Then there were all the political scenarios and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but that's another story—if you are interested you can read more about Leopold here. Or you can purchase Barry Whelan's book about him here.

I remember my grandmother now, as a soft, sweet smelling, gentle old lady. Stooped and lame, without a bit of fat on her. The grandmother of my childhood memories however, is a very tall, strict but loving, dark haired lady with fire in her eyes and iron in her soul.

She was lame, as a result of a dislocated hip and as far back as I can remember, she walked with the aid of a stick.

This lady was so impressive that when my 10 year old daughter was set an exercise at school, to write a story about someone who she really admired, she wrote about her great grandmother. The story was published in the school year book, much to my grandmother’s pride.

My memories of childhood are predominantly unpleasant. But almost every good memory I have can be directly attributed to my grandmother. Her home was a harbor of order, comfort and love. There were rules to be obeyed and the only punishment incurred for breaking those rules was the ‘Look’. It was all she had to do to stop us in our tracks. She would slightly widen her flashing eyes, and pierce our bodies with a stare, nothing more; a laser beam would have been less effective. Just one look and then she returned to the sweet Granny immediately. She never prolonged the punishment, nor even needed to lecture us. We behaved and she forgave and forgot.

Of all the memories that my grandmother created for us, Christmas has got to be the very best. For the first 9 years of my life, every Christmas day was spent in my grandparent’s house. My grandmother orchestrated the most amazing day each year, satisfying both children and adults alike. Used to managing large, elaborate, dinner parties during her years as the wife of the Irish Ambassador to Spain, Christmas day with 12 children and 10 or more adults was a breeze for her.

Our Christmas day started early. We had a strict hierarchy and my oldest brother assumed the right to be the first to inspect the toys around the Christmas tree, usually about 5 a.m. in the morning. He would then come and wake my older sister and escort her quietly to the living room and proudly show her our gifts, then they both came to get me and I was given the tour. As there was a 3 year gap between me and my younger sister, the three little ones were not included in this Christmas tradition, we were too afraid they would make noise and wake the house, or just wouldn’t be able to keep the knowledge to themselves. Instead, we would creep back to bed and go to sleep again, or lie awake, waiting for our mother to call us for breakfast, after which we would line up at the living room door, in order of age again, and marched in to claim our gifts. The three of us older children would put on a great pretense of surprise at our presents. No doubt our poor mother was so tired she didn’t notice the ham acting among the 6 excited children.

The next job was for us all to dress in our brand new Christmas outfits - we always got new clothes for Christmas and for Easter.

In the early years my father didn’t have a car, and my grandfather would come and collect us. He drove a big old black Chrysler - reminiscent of the gangster cars of the 1940’s. We all piled in and headed off to Granny’s house. When my father got his first car, he drove us.

As soon as we had piled our coats on the big, wrought iron coat rack in Granny’s hallway, she led us into her living room where it seemed that there were mountains of Christmas wrapped parcels under the tree. She handed us each the gifts with our name on and for a short while the only sound was tearing paper and gasping children. Once we had opened all our gifts, we surreptitiously eyed the packages that still remained under the tree, wondering what she had bought for our cousins who would not arrive until late afternoon. The adults all received a glass of sherry and the children were given red lemonade. Red lemonade was a soda specific to Ireland. It was made from a number of different fruits including lemons.

The next to arrive was my Uncle, my mother’s younger brother, with his wife and Aunty Dena. Aunty Dena was my grandfather’s brother’s widow. She had been born in Greece, but live in Ireland most of her life. We thought she must be about 100, but she was probably closer to 80. She lived in a retirement home and spent all of Christmas day sitting in my grandmother’s leather, winged armchair by the fire, smoking her home rolled cigarettes, which she held with a small metal pinchers and didn’t dispose of till the glowing red tip almost burnt her lips. Later my sister and I discussed the possibility that she was smoking something other than tobacco.

Granny always hired the same cook each year, to prepare dinner and tea. She also baked the cake and puddings in advance of Christmas day. Each year the unveiling of the cake was one of our special moments. Marguerite always decorated it with a complete theme. One year it had a ski slope, trees, reindeers and little, colorful figures on skis. Another year it was an Eskimo scene complete with polar bears, igloos and Eskimo figures. We were allowed to go into the kitchen to see the cake, but we had to wait till teatime before it was cut and then Granny would give each of us one of the figures to keep.

Marguerite brought an assistant with her, and they served the food as well as doing all the cooking and cleaning up. But Granny set the table. It was magnificent. Crystal glasses, real silver cutlery, china plates that all matched and had no chips, linen table cloth and napkins - each with a different colored napkin ring so we would know which was ours and use the same one for dinner and tea. The centerpiece was always two large silver deer, silver muscles strained, with large silver antlers, and two silver peacocks, tails down. There were candles and Christmas crackers and the table presents! I think we were more excited by the table presents than anything else on Christmas day. Just when we were beginning to feel the anticlimax of all the present opening being over, we got yet another gift. Our table presents were usually a book or jigsaw puzzle or coloring pencils, but the table present will always live in my memory. I carried that tradition through my own children’s childhood too.

Dinner was usually served at about 1.30. My grandfather sat at one end of the huge table, and my grandmother at the other end. With 5 places on either side of the table it was a very festive meal. At the end of the meal, the adults sat sipping brandy and my grandfather would light up a big fat cigar, the only cigar my grandmother allowed him to smoke in the year. He had a bad heart and smoking was prohibited. To this day, the smell of cigars conjures up memories of those wonderful Christmases of my childhood.

Once dinner was over, the cook and maid cleared the table and we played with our toys while the adults sat around and drank some more. Then our cousins and their parents would arrive. My mother’s older brother had 7 children. We watched as they went through the ritual of receiving their gifts, and we all settled down to inspect each other’s toys and discuss what we had received from Santa Clause.

It seemed that in no time at all the table was being set for tea. Frequently there would be one or two other guests invited for tea. Once again, all the china matched —Granny always brought out her best china for Christmas, the tea set was gleaming white with a thin gold trip around the outside rim.  The cake now sat in the middle of the table where the turkey had been at dinner time. There was sliced cold turkey and ham, and probably an assortment of salads though I don’t remember, and tea and the cake.

After tea, we gathered for the final ritual of the day. Each year my grandmother went to Woolworth’s and bought dozens of little cheap toys, which she hung on the Christmas tree among her delicate glass ornaments. She would sit all the children down in a circle around the tree. Then she removed one toy at a time and handed them out to us. We each got two or three items. One year I got a little pink, plastic rocking horse I had been coveting all day long, I was overjoyed and have never forgotten it, I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Once the tree had been denuded of all the toys, it was time to put on our coats and head into the cold night air and back to our cold dark home and to bed. Suddenly we were all very tired, our grumpiness was not entirely due to exhaustion, but also to the fact that another magical Christmas day was over and we had a whole, long year to wait for the next one.

I was 7 years old when my grandfather had his first major heart attack and two years later he was confined to bed permanently - in those days that was considered the only way to treat heart conditions. The living room was converted to a bedroom so that my grandmother would not have to climb the stairs all day long. For 9 years she nursed him, bringing his meals to him on a tray, set as perfectly as the Christmas table, with a linen cloth. I was always fascinated by his coffee pot because she put a cork in the spout to prevent the coffee from getting cold before he had finished it.

That was when Christmas with Granny stopped. We continued to visit her on Christmas day, and now we lived just around the corner, so we all walked around to exchange presents before walking home. My mother continued to match our Christmas day as closely as she could, but nothing could compare to Christmas in Granny’s house.

When I was 16 my grandfather died. He was 84 years old. My grandmother rented out the second story of her home and continued to live alone on the ground floor. We visited her frequently and had tea and toast with her and listened to her stories. But she was getting older and her arthritis was causing her considerable pain. My uncle and aunt had their garage converted into a small apartment and my grandmother moved in there. She continued to live there, as independently as ever, for many years. When she was 80 years old she had a hip replacement, unfortunately they could do nothing for her badly dislocated hip, but the good one had degenerated with arthritis and they did replace that. She was up and about in no time, recovering quickly. At 84 she had an appendicitis operation, once again recovering as quickly as someone half her age would be expected to. Until the day she died, at 96, she listened to both the French and Irish radio news and held very strong views on all she heard.

Despite no longer being able to do her weekly shopping trip, and despite the constant arthritic pain she suffered, she was always cheerful, interested and I cannot remember her ever feeling sorry for herself. She adored all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren and we all adored her.


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Getting published

I mentioned in a previous blog, that I had been indulging in Masterclasses. Indulging is the correct term, because I am loving it. I am only interested in the classes for writers, of which there are twenty. Of those one is poetry and not my thing. Of the remaining nineteen, a few are screenplay writing, but still of interest. Not that I plan to write a screenplay, but the development of character is similar.

I was a bit lost when I had completed all of the classes available. I was writing, but I kept returning to see if more writers had been added, but no. Finally I started repeating some of the classes. First was Judy Blume. I returned to her multiple times. Each time I found something new that I had missed in my previous sessions. That caused me to return to some of my more favorite writers and sure enough, each time I went through the classes, I picked up something I had missed the last time around. 

I also found that, as I was attempting to put into practice some of what I had learned, I had questions and these sent me back again to see if I could find answers. Now, what I would really love is, if Masterclass would set up some way to have my questions addressed directly. I don't expect them to have live sessions, though they did do that with Neil Gaiman recently. I mean, somehow allow students to send in questions and have these questions answered in a follow up class perhaps.

I think the most surprising of the lessons I have gleaned so far is how important the formatting of your manuscript is, if you wish to get published. I now look at my self published book and I have got to laugh at myself for considering that any self respecting publisher would even read it!. I had no idea that layout, format and correct punctuation, was so very important. For some reason I thought all you needed to do was spew out the words in your head, onto paper; edit for typos and then send it off to a publisher. Looking back now, I can't believe that I was so naïve. 

I also notice now, how critical I have become when reading books by published writers. I see every little thing the editors missed, and there are more than you would think. That sent me back to my own book and, oh dear, what mess! It is sad because I do love my stories, all true. But how badly they were presented is an embarrassment to me. I think I will probably go back and rewrite it. Or maybe rewrite each chapter and publish the edited versions here. After all, it is just a series of essays.

The final lesson is that what I really want to do is write short stories and essays. What I find interesting is that is not what I normally choose to read; but I have started. I now have a subscription to the New Yorker and I enjoy it, all of it. The essays, the short fiction and the reporting of current events. I like to read novels on long flights and when on the treadmill, because they relieve the boredom, but short fiction is ideal for places like the doctor or dentist waiting room, while waiting for a cake to bake or just to fill in time.

So I am currently working on a number of short stories; in between working on this blog, updating my book as an exercise in correct formatting; and returning to my more favorite Masterclasses. Judy Blume of course, David Baldacci, David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman and Amy Tan are top of my list at the moment. I have not given up hope that more writers will be added.



Saturday, January 1, 2022

Another walk back in time

A happy New Year to everyone. Typically we look back on the past year at this time. On this New Year's Day, I would rather forget the past two years. I prefer to think back to 1950s and early 1960s, in Ireland I should add. I have no idea what life was like in the US during that time, or anywhere else for that matter. My horizons didn't widen until the mid-60s when I moved to England.

I previously wrote about memories of my mother from the 1950s. I suppose that got me thinking and more snippets gurgled to the surface. It is said that as you get older while your short term memory becomes unreliable, your long term memory comes more into focus. Of course, the caveat is that for most of us, our memories are flawed. We all remember similar incidents completely differently, as I demonstrated here. Little things will spark a memory and like pulling a thread, a series of memories will unravel. I also wrote here, about how smells and sounds will trigger memories.

I remember my mother saying "Il faut souffrir pour être belle". As she pulled my hair tightly into the braids. You have to suffer to be beautiful. Why? I mean, either you are already beautiful or you are not. Braids are not going to make that much difference. Also, I am not quite sure what the payoff is either. We did suffer somewhat though. We wanted to be beautiful, and never believed that we were. 

After the braids, then there were the rollers! 

In order to achieve those crazy hairstyles. Because we, my sisters and I, didn't own a hair dryer, we washed our hair at night, wrapped it up tightly in rollers, held in place with long metal pins and yes, slept that way while it dried. Next morning, remove the rollers and backcomb and tease the hair into what we considered to be beautiful. If you think that sounds uncomfortable you are correct, it was. 
Add to that the fact that we lived in a large old house. There was no central heating and no insulation. Ireland rarely suffers weather extremes, but winter is long, cold and damp. We used to go to bed with a hot water bottle at our feet. At first this was too hot to touch, but quickly it cooled sufficiently for us to put our feet on it; finally, in the morning it was stone cold. If we woke during the night, the cold bottle got kicked out of the bed. 

We did have an open fireplace in each bedroom, however the work involved in lighting a fire and cleaning out the fireplace each day was something none of us had time for.

Eventually my mother bought paraffin heaters for each of our bedrooms. These contained a small tank to hold the fuel and a wick to burn it. They produced a good amount of heat and also strongly smelling fumes. We lit the heaters about an hour before bedtime and were supposed to put them out before getting into bed. I frequently left mine burning all night, waking with a headache. I was unaware that I was lucky to wake at all. I guess the open fireplace and draughty old house saved our lives.

Recently my husband remarked on the tan lines on my feet, created by a long hot summer of fishing while wearing flip flops. As soon as he drew my attention to it I immediately saw my 1950s foot, with a flower pattern created by the sun through the pattern on my sandals. Exactly like the sandals in the photo. Every Easter we got a new pair of these sandals. They quickly became scuffed across the toes and eventually we outgrew them, usually before the summer was over. Naturally we were not going to get another pair of sandals at that point, and we didn't get our winter shoes until it was time to go back to school in September. A strip of leather across the toes of the sandals would be cut out to allow our feet to continue growing for what was left of the summer. As the summer ended, our feet were stamped with the pattern from our sandals. We frequently had scabbing across the tip of our toes, where our feet had grown so much our toes were grazed on the ground. Through the winter we watched the tanned pattern fade away as the toes healed.

Another memory was triggered by my sister asking me if I remembered the name of the weekly comic she got as a child. Weekly comics are no longer sold in every newsagents, or on news stands. Those that survived are now part of a nerdy cult and sold only in comic shops. But when we were kids there were dozens of them, everyone had their favorite. We used to have one each, all six of us, and they were delivered to the house every week. New ones appeared regularly, old ones disappeared or were merged in with more popular versions. I guess they were the 'screen time' of the 50s and 60s. We didn't have a TV and smartphones and tablets were still way in the future. So we waited eagerly for our comic and later swapped with each other, and friends who got a different one.

Eagle, Girl, Swift, Robin, School Friend, Girls' Crystal, Bunty, Judy, Dandy, Beano, Topper, Beezer, the list is endless, and all were British comics. I doubt anyone in the US has heard of them. And then of course, there were the teen romance comics. After that I progressed to Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman. When I left home and moved to Canada I left behind a large box of my comics. I never saw them again. I often wonder what they would be worth now! If my mother had only known they might have been valuable some day, she might not have thrown them out.

Another throwback to the early 1960s was the headscarf, not just the headscarf but the way we wore it. Every teenage girl owned more than one headscarf, I had at least 4, in different colors. They were not just tied under the chin, but then wrapped around and tied again at the back of the neck, this ensured that our hair was kept in place and the scarf didn't fly off in the constant damp wind we grew up with; it also kept the neck warm.

Here is a photo of me way back then, wearing one of my scarves. This photo was taken in a photo booth, you can probably tell. And of course, the scarf did flatten the hair style a night of attempting to sleep in rollers helped to create.