Sunday, January 30, 2022

Two weddings.

I have been married twice, my first marriage lasted 21 years. My second marriage is in its 21st year as I write this. While it is easy to say I wish the first one had never happened, I won't say that. For one thing I would not have my three wonderful children, secondly, everything that happened to me up to now has led me to exactly where I am today. Changing anything would change everything. Besides, there are lessons to be learned from every experience in life. Plus, I just published a post about not looking back with regret.

With my mother and grandmother
I was twenty-two years, one month and one day old when I got married for the first time.  It was the day of the first Civil Rights March in Northern Ireland, heralding thirty years of bitter strife. It was also the start of the Mexico Olympics

My uncle, my mother's younger brother, was giving me away, my father was on sabbatical in Harvard University. Both my sisters were living in Canada. Of my three brothers, the older refused to attend the church on religious grounds—he was then agnostic, or atheist, or both. The two younger ones planned to attend, but the older of the two slept late and missed the ceremony. The groom's family lived in London and the only representative from there was the best man, a college friend of the groom. The entire wedding party was about forty people; we took up the first two rows of pews in a beautiful old granite church that could have seated close to a thousand.  

Beechwood Avenue Church
There was one other ‘guest’ on the groom’s side. An amateur opera singer, a business acquaintance. We had not planned on inviting him to the wedding, but he decided that he would sing for us.  Nothing we could say would dissuade him. And so, in the almost empty church, with the small wedding party clustered around the alter, our uninvited guest sang from the choir gallery, at the opposite end of the church. I do not remember what he sang.

We were having the reception in a function room at the Airport restaurant,. We were booked on a flight to London, departing at 4 p.m. There we had planned a second, dinner reception, for my new husband’s family.

the island of Jersey, off the coast of France
When we arrived at our hotel in London, my new in-laws were already gathered, thirty minutes early. We had hoped to be able to freshen up before dinner.  Instead we had to rush up to our room, drag our wedding outfits from our bags and jump into them. We had promised the family that much. The next morning we flew to Jersey in the British Channel Islands.

The rest of our two weeks went fairly well, apart from a bout of food poisoning that I suffered and many bouts of sickness my husband suffered, due to the fact that he sat up almost all night, every night, watching the Olympics live from Mexico, drinking the duty free alcohol in the tiny bar of our bed and breakfast hotel. That should have been a sign to me, as to how the rest of the marriage would pan out.

That marriage lasted almost twenty-one years, despite the fact that I was miserable for the last fifteen of those years I really did try to keep it together, until I didn't. I had promised myself that my children would not grow up in a broken home, as I had. I am still not sure if I did them any favors by sticking to that promise. I did learn a few lessons along the way. Do not tolerate control freaks was the main one. Mental abuse is still abuse was the second one. Watch out for gaslighting. Finally, love cannot exist without trust and respect. You can read here about my somewhat unusual divorce.

My second wedding, twelve years later, was a whole lot different, and a lot more unconventional. If this sounds familiar, I touched on it here in a previous blog. Fortunately, the marriage was also a whole lot different.

I had only known Larry for four months and eighteen days, but I had fallen in love with him the first time we spoke on the phone, before ever meeting. We first met on a dating website. Within a few weeks Larry had moved into my home. Then unexpectedly, he lost his job. He was not just without income, he was without health insurance. The company I was working for at that time did not offer cover from domestic partners, only for a spouse. We talked about it for a few weeks and as his job search was proving fruitless, we decided the answer was that we should get married. 

Travis County Court House
One weekend in late October 2001, we agreed that Monday or Tuesday of that week would be good.  We settled for the Tuesday and that day I took an early lunch.  Larry picked me up from the office and we went to the Travis Country Court House and got married, well, it was officially an 'informal' marriage, that is, we legally signed the Common Law Marriage Certificate. 

It was lovely in a crazy sort of way, it appealed to my sense of the ridiculous.  

yes, this is the actual number

We arrived at the Court House, got through the security, tightened since 9/11, the previous month. We headed up the elevator to the second floor.  There we found the room for marriages.  It was similar to a post office, or driving test center.  We took a number and waited to be called by one of the clerks behind the counter.  We didn’t have to wait more than ten minutes.  There were no guests, no witnesses, just us.  We presented our picture id, completed and signed the forms we were given, paid our $30 and that was it. We even got a fancy certificate in a large brown envelope.  As we left the building the security guards congratulated us, and I realized the brown envelope was a dead give-away.

Larry drove me back to my office. I even managed to do some work that afternoon, but my head was filled with the events of the day, or at least the events of my lunch hour.  Shortly after 4 p.m. I emailed to my boss, saying something to the effect  “I got married at lunch time, so I think I will leave early and spend some time with my husband”.  And I left. The next morning the news was out, many of my colleagues came by my desk to congratulate me and question me.  Most of the men said “the next time I get married, that is the way I will do it”.  

There were no photographs of the wedding, as I said there was no one there but us. Selfies were not yet a thing neither were smartphones. But here is one from our honeymoon 6 months after we got married we went to Port Aransas. 

As I mentioned, my second marriage is heading into its 21st year, and I am happy to report that it is still as strong as ever. I got this one right. But the lesson is, for a marriage to last, both parties need to work at it. It takes two.

Friday, January 28, 2022


I recently felt a wave of nostalgia for our home in Leander. 

We moved to the lake two years ago. After my mother in law Mildred, moved out, it made no sense to maintain a house already too big even for the three of us. But I loved that house. Probably because it reminded me of the house I grew up in. It was a big rambling red brick house with six bedrooms. The red brick and the number of bedrooms was a link between the two. 

The house in Dublin was actually a five bedroom home, my parents had one of the very large bedrooms partitioned to make two smaller rooms. We were a large family. The house in Leander was a six bedroom home and we knocked two bedrooms into one to form an upstairs master suite by incorporating an existing bathroom into the new bedroom. It worked well. Mildred had the original master suite on the ground floor.

The nostalgia started with a memory of the few times we, Larry and I, slipped out in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and had a drink sitting at the bar less than a mile from the house. It was one of the very rare occasions when we got to be alone together and just talk. As mentioned before, Mildred was normally with us wherever we went. At the time I did enjoy the break from the normal, just the two of us relaxing and the feeling of some stolen moments of enjoyment. I didn't consider that we were creating memories. Looking back, I feel I didn't enjoy the moment as much as I should have. I didn't consider that it was something I would feel nostalgic about. I suppose the COVID restrictions make it that bit more nostalgic.

Of course, we are all constantly looking over our shoulders at the past, or forward into the future. Always missing the here and now, soon to become another memory of a moment not fully appreciated at the time.

I made a mental note to try to enjoy the present in the knowledge that it would soon be a past memory. Almost immediately I caught myself once again looking backwards to summer fishing and boating; and forwards to next summer, wishing away the present. 

Looking back on the past with nostalgia or with regret. Worrying about what might never happen in the future. These are just ways to miss what is happening in the present. 

This is going to take some practice but I plan to try to enjoy the moment as it is happening.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Yoga follow up

As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to start doing yoga, partly to fill the space left by the absence of decent fishing and boating weather, but also to try to encourage my aging body to be stronger and more flexible. A couple of people were interested to hear more, so this is for you.

I ordered a yoga mat and some knee pads and found some videos on YouTube. The course I plan to follow is a thirty day course. I also have a backup just in case it proves too demanding to start out with. The backup is the same instructor, Adriene, but is yoga for seniors, possibly more suitable. I also found her yoga for beginners which I will save just in case.

While waiting for the yoga mat to arrive I decided to do a test, of myself more than the yoga course. I used a couple of small floor mats, not nearly as spongy as a yoga mat, but all I had. The first time I managed about fifteen minutes. That was when I ordered the knee pads. I have arthritis in my knees, most of my joints actually. These pads should make it easier. Despite my knees, and only doing fifteen minutes, I was surprised to notice that I felt very much better than usual, the joint pains were improved and I was moving with more energy.

The second day I didn't get much further than the 15 minutes, but I did establish that my hands and wrists might not allow me to fully cooperate with some of the movements. I have arthritis in both but the main issue is my left hand. I had surgery on that a number of years ago, LRTI or to be exact ligament reconstruction and tendon interposition. 

Silver ring splint
I developed Dupuytren's contracture after surgery. As a result I can't flatten the palm. This due to the thickening bands under the skin which restrict the movement of the fingers. In fact, the little finger is being curled into the palm and no longer straightens. The impact is that my hand has lost all muscle and the thumb joint is seized and no longer works. I normally wear a splint on my thumb, this helps to compensate for the useless, seized up joint and does also improve my grip, slightly. But, it would be even more painful to try to do yoga while wearing it.

from this website

All this to explain why any exercise that requires putting weight on my hands, such as downward dog, is not just difficult, but it is also painful. My hope is that if I persist, my hands just might get better, better than they are anyway. It certainly won't stop me because I do know that forcing my hand to stretch is good for it.

mat and knee pads

Finally, my yoga mat and knee pads arrived. The third day. This was my first day to attempt to do the complete session. I nearly did. I had to take a couple of short rests, partly to take the pressure of my hand but mainly because my upper body muscles were surprised to discover that they had not been retired. This session was a whole lot of downward dog and plank exercises, but I did complete it. The pads helped my knees, but it was still very hard on them. However, the reward was worth it. I definitely feel better, muscles and joints feel like they have been brought out of retirement and are at least halfway, willing to cooperate. The physical energy is also noticeable and welcome.

My intention is to repeat the Day 1 session until I can complete it without taking a break and then move onto Day 2. I still have the yoga for seniors on standby but I am not ready to give in yet.

Sunday, January 23, 2022


Okay, yoga may not be the perfect alternative to fishing, but it is one alternative. Plus, the bonus is that I just might improve my flexibility and balance. Not that I am immobile, but I am old. And while my regular treadmill activity keeps me fit, it is a losing battle with aging muscles and arthritic joints. I know that the answer is to work the muscles to strengthen them, this in turn eases the strain on the worn out joints. At least, that is the theory. And I plan to test it.

I wrote about the boredom associated with winter retirement here. And of course, why I retired in the first place here. I guess, when you think about it, winter is boring for everyone, especially those with outdoor hobbies. I shouldn't complain as I do have both indoor and outdoor hobbies. But something needed to fill in for fishing and boating. I decided to consider yoga, after being inspired by a good friend posting her journey on FB. It will fill the gap until fishing weather returns, and who knows? Perhaps I will enjoy it enough to continue with it. 

Naturally I am not going to sign up for yoga classes. Firstly, I am still avoiding people as much as possible due to COVID and secondly, as mentioned in a previous post, I no longer have my own car. There is no way I am going to have Larry drive me and wait around—that would be worse than when he had to do that for my physical therapy. 

I have done yoga before, using the Wii Fit balance board—we don't have that anymore. I wasn't very good at it but I got better with practice. I don't even have my yoga mat anymore, I abandoned that in our last move. It was very old. I ordered a new yoga mat on Amazon and searched on YouTube and found some good classes.

My plan is to add thirty minutes of yoga to my ninety minute treadmill workout. This will double as cool down and stretching, while at the same time, I hope, strengthen my aging musculature. I might even enjoy it.

The reason why I am boring you with this is in order to solidify my commitment. This is something I would very easily find reasons to avoid if I didn't already put it out there for the world to see me fail.

While I wait for my mat to arrive, I am watching the videos so that I will be more familiar with the exercises. I will start on Wednesday. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Online Dating

I arrived in the US in June 1994. Towards the end of August, after a summer working as a counselor at Camp Maplehurst in Northern Michigan, I moved to Austin Texas. Once I was settled in my new home and started work, I decided to be proactive in trying to build a life. It was a few months before I had built up a circle of friends, mainly people I worked with. But the social life associated with this circle extended only as far as Friday evening after work drinks or the occasional working lunch.

I wanted to find someone I could go out to dinner with, or to the movies, or dancing. I was not looking for anything serious and certainly not marriage. I was in my late forties, newly arrived from Ireland and it is difficult to meet people and make friends at that age, when you know no one in the country, let alone the city. 

Internet dating was in its infancy but seemed like a good place to start, so after testing out a few of the available sites, I signed up with, mainly because it was segmented into areas—it was possible to view the profiles of all members, but easy to stay within a specific location.

Because I didn’t know what I was looking for I had some very strange encounters. I list just a few here.

One of the first dates I had, I was inexperienced enough to allow the man to pick me up from my home. This is a no-no on a first encounter in the world of internet dating. I was fortunate that he was harmless. However, he did arrive in a Winnebago, which I found somewhat disconcerting. He had an involved story about a flat tire on his car as I followed him to his vehicle, in a vapor trail of an assortment of well-aged colognes and aftershaves, a cocktail that was somewhat pungent, to say the least. Needless to say, this man did not make my top ten. We didn’t meet again.

Then there was Peter. His profile was a litany of lies, he claimed to be an executive —he was a traveling salesman, Austin (supposedly his home) was just another port of call. He actually lived in North Carolina and visited Austin twice a week. His profile read: height 5’ 8” - 5’ 10” and 'average' as body type.  He was five foot, name a direction—horizontal, vertical, diagonal, five foot in every direction.  He clearly had not touched a female in a long time because at the bar, he was finding any excuse to brush against me and he actually grabbed my hand and asked me where I got my nail polish!  I have a problem with men who assume that, if you agree to meet them, that means they can paw you. 

I will always remember the turn of the millennium, as I am sure everyone else who lived then will. I am fortunate that I am blessed with a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. Driving for hours on twisting country roads, totally lost, as the century turned and the fireworks in the distance lit the sky struck me as being incredibly funny. My poor date was distraught. Honestly, the fiasco of that New Year’s Eve date was not the reason that I decided to not meet him again we were just not in any way compatible. We had agreed to meet and go to the Y2K street party. It was going to be a terrific night. We headed into Austin early to get something to eat, and wandered around the blocks that had been cordoned off. Pretty soon the crowds started to swell. At about 9.30 my date suggested going to a club to hear live music. He had noticed that a good friend of his would be appearing. I had been looking forward to the big party, but the idea of live country music appealed to me too. So off we headed. It took a while but we did finally find the club. It was not close to the city, it was actually in the boonies out past the airport. A large young woman was murdering a perfectly innocent song at the microphone. We found a seat and John went to ask when his friend, Joe Smith, would be appearing.  He was told that is Jo Smith up there now.

It was 11.30 p.m. We climbed into his truck to head back to the Y2K party. I was having a very hard time keeping a straight face and poor John was so embarrassed. The new century arrived before we got close enough to Austin to properly appreciate the fireworks that we could see in the distance. 

Not all my encounters were one-date disasters. At least two were disasters that spanned a number of dates, even months. Fred was a man of few words. I have been shy all my life and it took me a long time to master the art of simple conversation. I can now maintain a conversation comfortably, but only if the responses I get are somewhat more conversational than one-syllable grunts.

I dated Fred for about 3 months. Our schedules were such that we frequently didn’t see each other for over a week. This was probably the reason it lasted as long as it did. I finally realized that we were totally incompatible when we spent a weekend together. We decided to go hiking in the hill country. I chose to go in my car because I could do the driving and hopefully that would eliminate, or at least minimize the road rage from which he suffered.

We got to our destination at mid-day, found parking and swapped our sneakers for hiking boots and headed up the rocky slope. Fred picked the most difficult ascent and set off at a fast pace. He was extremely proud of his level of fitness, he worked out every day, and he was unreasonably proud of his body—which was only slightly above average. I was also relatively fit, but I was ten years older than he was, and twelve inches shorter.

It appeared to me that he needed to prove, perhaps just to himself, that he could climb this mountain faster and better than I could, this fact was not in dispute in my mind. However, I do have a somewhat competitive spirit myself, and I didn't want to appear to be inept, so I kept up with him. Finally I called for a stop as one of my boots was causing some discomfort. On inspection, I had a huge blister forming on the back of my heel. We were almost at the summit, so I told Fred to carry on to the top and I would head back to the car, he could catch up with me on the way down. He headed off—clearly quite happy to have established his superiority.

Next morning, we found a place to have breakfast. Fred bought a Sunday paper. We ate breakfast in silence as he read the paper. That was when I became aware that I needed to adjust my perception of what I was really looking for. I didn’t date for a number of months after that, but eventually I found my way back to the web sites and started my search again. I was still not looking for what I really wanted. I still didn’t know what I really wanted.

Another mistake was Sam. We dated for almost six months and we had some really good times. We also had some really bad times. When I met Sam he was on the rebound. I was aware that he was totally obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, but I convinced myself that as our relationship developed, he would forget her. The strange thing is that he was not really terribly interested in me while we were dating. He actually told me that I could never live up to his previous girlfriend, whom he still loved. 

He was a retired Army officer, of independent means, youthful, active and great fun. A man of honor, he frequently told me. I did start to worry when he told me that he had been watching his ex-girlfriend’s house, and had taken photographs of the license plates on her visitors’ cars. Later looking them up on the Internet, not very honorable behavior. He spent a lot of time on the internet—frequently as many as eight hours a day, tracking down as much information as he could on the ex-girlfriend and anyone who came in contact with her. I just hoped that he would get over it.

He didn't. The end came when he told me that he had been by his ex-girlfriend's house one night, and noticing that the next day was garbage day, he threw two big black plastic bags from outside her house, into his truck.  He took those bags home, emptied them out on his kitchen floor and spent the entire night sifting through them.  It really scared me to discover that he found telephone bills, from which he tracked down all the people she called, again using the Internet. He made copious notes about her lifestyle, noting what she was eating, where she was shopping, buying her gas, and many other details—all from her garbage. That day I said goodbye to him and I bought a cross-shredder. Since then I have shredded everything that will fit through it. I was relieved that at least he did not ‘love’ me. I would not be subjected to such attention. 

For a few weeks I heard nothing more of him. Then he started phoning and emailing me.  At first I chatted casually with him, but I began to realize that he was angling to get back together, and so I avoided contact with him totally. That is when he started phoning me in the early hours of the morning, leaving drunken, abusive messages on my answering machine. Sending me abusive emails.  I continued to ignore him, thinking he would get bored. I was wrong. Things got very unpleasant. One Thursday evening, I headed off for a long weekend of seminars being held in a hotel just outside town. My friend, Kimberly, was staying in my house while I was gone. She had been visiting from California and was happy to look after the house for me.

I got settled in my hotel room by about 9.30 p.m., when my mobile phone rang and, without thinking, I answered it to hear Sam’s voice—I hung up immediately. At about 10.30 Kimberly called me to say that Sam had called the house and been abusive on the phone to her. She said that she told him that she was not surprised that I didn’t want to talk to him again. He called her back a few moments later and told her that he would report her to the local police. That was when she called me— she was very nervous at that stage. I calmed her down as best I could, saying that there would be no point in him calling the local police. What could he say to them?  She had done nothing wrong after all. As we spoke on the phone, I could hear a pounding on my front door—it was now after 11 p.m. Kimberly was terrified. With me still at the other end of the phone, she answered the door. It was the local police—and they had woken the entire neighborhood. They asked Kimberly if she were me, and she agreed that she was. Fortunately they didn’t ask for identification. They said that my ex-boyfriend had called them and asked them to come to my home, as he feared that I was in danger from my house guest. Kimberly managed to convince the police that she was fine and they left. Immediately, Kimberly packed her bags and headed back to California.

I was furious and as soon I hung up the phone, I dialed Sam’s number and let him have it. I told him that I never wanted to see him again, nor speak to him again. That if he ever came near me, I would report him to the police as a stalker. I thought that would be the end of it.

A number of weeks went by and I heard no more from Sam. Then a mutual friend told me that Sam had been watching me, and had told her that he "knew my every move." I realized that I was being subjected to yet another form of abuse, and I reported him to the local police, reminding them of the false report he had called into them previously. They made a note and told me to keep a log of any further contact. 

He did contact me again, sometime after that, but luckily I had finally found a man who was honest and good, who really did love me. Larry warned Sam off and I have heard nothing more from him since.


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.


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 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.


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. 


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.


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


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.