Weekend in Michigan

Weekend in Michigan

So this weekend past was my first time to visit Michigan and to stay at my parents in law with Leanne, her parents and her sister Melissa. It’s the first time we have been together since our wedding back in December and even though it’s for a somber occasion it’s good to spend time with my in laws.

They are really good people and my new mother in law, Terri, recently lost her mother and the funeral was this weekend. I was honoured to be able to give my support to my new family at this sad time, especially Leanne as she mourned her grandmother.

This post is a gallery of images that I took over the weekend, from the time we boarded our flight in Atlanta on Thursday to our return flight on Sunday. I have included images from our flights, the house in Oscoda, MI, a couple from the funeral as well as some from our activities over the weekend. Michigan is very different to Georgia especially the area around Flint and up towards Oscoda by way of Saginaw. It’s very flat and and the roads seem to go on forever. One thing I did notice is the amount of US flags outside houses and businesses.I hope you enjoy the gallery of images and all photos were taken with my smartphone but in July I will be back in Michigan and will have my trusty Canon DSLR with me.

Driving me around the bend

Driving me around the bend

I know I have commented on this before ( Driving Post ), but driving in Atlanta can be one hell of an experience. Some drivers think they are invincible, or invisible, I am not sure which. Car manufacturers went to great lengths to place indicators on cars, but a note of safety should be placed on the dash board of cars. Putting on an indicator doesn’t mean you just fly across 4 lanes of traffic at 70mph. If you do that you are a complete gobshite and nothing else.

I have driven down 285 twice in the last 2 days and both days had 20-25 minute delays due to gobshites not knowing how to drive crashing into the side of another car while changing lanes. No sign of them indicating, looking, checking and then going. It’s indicate, put on invincible cloak and go for it.

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Approaching Atlanta on busy highway

I enjoy driving, and delays don’t bother me to much as they are part and parcel of driving in a big city. The open roads here are great but once you get close to the city you need to have your wits about you. I have to concentrate nearly at full level while driving in the city . I have to make sure I am in the right lane, making lane changes in plenty of time and safely, and just be aware of traffic on all sides moving quickly.

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Concentration levels are high (Oh and I was stopped)

Driving in Atlanta, and probably anywhere in the USA is the same, and Dublin doesn’t get off scott free either as it has it’s fair share of gobshites in cars too. How about instead of pointless driving tests, all drivers should do an aptitude awareness test first. Not everyone can use a computer, or tools, or fly a plane but we give everyone a car!

Moving along nicely and reinventing myself

Moving along nicely and reinventing myself

Over the last couple of weeks I have received the paperwork required to work legally in the USA while my application for full permanent residencey is awaiting approval. I have also got permission to travel outside of the US but that card has run into a glitch but will be sorted over the coming weeks. The travel isn’t that important but it is good to have just in case I have to head home to Ireland for any emergencies.

Work though is vital. I have never been out of a job or with something to do for this long. I do manage to keep myself occupied by walking the dogs, keeping the garden tidy, sorting my website and doing research about what I hope will be my photography business going forward.

As the title of this post implies, don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. When I think back to where I was a couple of years ago to where I am now, the change is immense. I was working shift work in Dublin Airport and didn’t really have much or time for a social life. Having a proper conversation with an adult at times was impossible as getting up for work at 2.30am doesn’t really allow for meeting up with people. In the last few months I am meeting people, having conversations and socializing a lot more. Sometimes I can be shy and not socializing a lot only makes that worse. But mixing with more people has helped me blend into my new life here.

New clothes, new hairstyle and new outlook as well as being happy in my newly married life are just some of the things that help overcome any loneliness I may feel. I would love to be starting a job soon too as I feel that would be like the icing on the cake after nearly 6 months of being in the USA.

Moving country isn’t easy but with the support of everyone, both here in the USA and back home in Ireland, I feel I am over the worst of the ‘missing home’. I have noticed recently that I don’t compare things here to things back in Ireland as much as I did when I first arrived. Ireland will always be my country of birth, will probably always be my ‘home country’ but the USA is now home, Georgia is now my home state and Decatur, outside Atlanta is now my home city.

Irish Proclamation

The Proclamation of the Irish Republic 1916

Shortly after 12 noon on Monday the 24th April 1916 Padraig Pearse stood beneath the pillars of the GPO and in the company of other members of the provisional Government, James Connolly, Joseph Plunket, Tom Clark, and Sean Mac Diarmada, read the Proclamation of The Irish Republic to the People Of Ireland. A Green Flag Bearing the inscription “Irish Republic” was raised at the corner of the GPO and Princes Street, and the Tricolour of green, white, and orange was hoisted shortly afterwards.

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Proclamation from Easter 1916

The Reading of the Proclamation signalled the start of the Easter Rising in Dublin 1916, and set in motion a chain of events that would eventually lead to Irish Independence in 1922.

From my point of view the language of the Proclamation is still valid today. As an Irish immigrant in the USA I hold onto my ‘Irishness’ but can see the resemblance of the 1916 Irish Proclamation with the USA Declaration of Independence.

Trailing Spouse…..kind of!

This post is the full interview I posted a link to back in March. The interview was done for another blog about Trailing Spouses and my story gave a different aspect to the other stories that the site contains.

The Male Trailing Spouse Series: Billy in Atlanta

Welcome to another post in my series on male trailing spouses. This post is a little different from my others as Billy (who blogs at St Pats to Spartans) isn’t really accompanying his partner so much as joining her. But nevertheless as an Irish expat in the US, he finds himself in a position very familiar to many of us: starting again from scratch with finding work, friends, a routine….all the while his partner’s life carries on more or less as before. Added to this, Billy and his wife Leanne had the extra stress of needing to sort out a visa for Billy before he was able to join her. All in all, I think Billy’s story adds another very interesting dimension to this series.

We got engaged in Ireland and visited Ardagh for some photos together

Thank you for being part of this series Billy. First of all please tell me a little about yourself and your partner.

I am a male trailing spouse from Ireland who came over to the USA on a k1 fiancée visa in December 2015 to marry my wife.

I am from Ireland and I met my partner, Leanne, in 2001 while here visiting Savannah for St Patricks Day. We remained friends for a long time before, in 2014, we had a chat about the possibility of our lives being together rather than an ocean apart. Thing then started to move quite quickly as we arranged visits to both the USA for me and Ireland for Leanne.

It was during my visit to Atlanta in February 2015 that we decided that we wanted to be together and get married. Of course the visa process isn’t for the faint hearted but we got started on the paperwork right away. We filed everything with USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services) in April, got approval at the end of June and visa was in hand mid September for me to be able to travel over to live with Leanne and finalise our wedding plans for December 2015.

My trailing is not for work, it’s not following my spouse to her new role, but it is for love. My wife has a job with Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic and is well respected in her role there.

As a male trailing spouse, how did you feel when you first arrived in your new country?

I was nervous stepping onto the plane in November 2015, I was leaving my life of 48 years behind, I was leaving my 17-year-old son, my elderly parents and all my friends. I knew Leanne had a broad circle of friends and I had met most of them at least once but now I would be starting all over again.

Leanne met my son pictured left while she was visiting Ireland and he was present when we got engaged

I was a bit apprehensive about finding my own friends rather than my wife’s friends just adopting me. But they have all been so kind and nice and welcomed me with open arms. I am making friends with them all and have started to make contacts outside of my wife’s circle of friends in other things.

I have joined a photography club and in April I will start back playing football, soccer. These activities will allow me to broaden my horizon and meet new people. Friends to me is an important thing, it’s nice to be able to chat to people and not just my pet dogs.

Have you had to give up a job/career and if so how did you feel about this?

Not really a career, I had already retired from a career in the military after 23 years’ service and had a job in Dublin Airport but that is all it was, a job, not a career. But leaving the military put me in a much better place in my life so when we had the chat about being together I was able to make the choice I did.

I am not able to work here in the USA yet as I am awaiting permission from USCIS and that is quite difficult as I have been employed since I was 17. Add in the fact that I am in a new country and that can make it more difficult, but I find things to do during the day and being a house husband for now is a good thing as it is allowing me get used to the cultural differences in the way things are done here in the US rather than Ireland

Wedding photo of the 2 of us outside the courthouse in Decatur after our wedding in Dec 2015

Have you found it easy to fit in and make friends? Have you met other men accompanying their partners or are you a rare species? If you have met others where and how have you met them?

As I said my wife has a broad circle of friends and every one of them has been so nice. A few have offered to join me for lunch just so I can have some company during the day. Again something important when I am only settling into life here is help from others and I am never afraid to take whatever help is offered, even if it is only company walking the dogs.

I do have an Irish neighbour who is also married to an American girl and we have got together to watch a rugby match and it’s good to chat to him. He has lived beside my wife for over 2 years but it was only when I arrived and he seen the Irish flag outside the house did he knock in and say hi. I don’t really know any other trailing spouses locally but I do have 2 military friends who live in Massachusetts with their American partners and they were a great help as I was preparing to move over.

Our wedding rehearsal was done with Leanne wearing her mothers wedding dress and I was wearing a kilt the as i was wearing when I met Leanne

Do you think it is harder for men than women to accompany their partners abroad – and if so, why?

I don’t think in this day and age it is any harder, the problems will be more or less the same, especially if not working. It helps that I didn’t follow my wife to a new job for her. She was already living in Atlanta for nearly 20 years and had a firm base and life here. She plays tennis so there is a circle of friends there, she has a good core group of friends and they socialise a lot together and now we are part of the ‘couples’ group which also helps. The loneliness of being at home all day would the same for either of us and it helps to have a plan of something to do every day.

Have you got any particular stories or incidents to do with being a male TS? Either positive or negative.

I moved for love, we knew each other for 14 years before we finally were able to become a couple in the same country. I am here and starting a whole new chapter in my life, I have to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, figure out US supermarkets, try not say awesome and figure out sports here too. I wouldn’t change a single thing but if I could it would be that I wish we could have done this a lot sooner on our lives. But it wasn’t to be.

What would you say to another man considering accompanying their partner overseas?

Do it, embrace it, have a vague plan of something to do but overall embrace the whole idea. Don’t be a loner, try find something you like to do and go do it. Support your spouse as much as you can as they too will be having certain difficulties and its only together that those difficulties will be kept minor and not ruin the experience. If you are used to or have a need to be the main bread winner, just park that notion and embrace the new opportunity that being a trailing spouse has offered up to you.

Billy and Leanne with my family in Ireland

What more do you think could be done to help male expat partners?

Don’t really have anything here, but as an Irishman in Atlanta I have reached out to organisations from Ireland based here in Georgia and they are a great help.

Some other stuff: I came over on a K1 visa and we are still in a visa application process. The application process for the K1 can be stressful and we were separated by the ocean so our support for each other was done via phone calls, emails and cards. Patience was key but in the end we got our visa and now we are just started the next step. The next step is ok as we are now together and we can support each other while being together. Why am I adding this in? Well it emphasizes the point of supporting each other, as a trailing spouse its important you support our spouse as they adjust as well as you do. We still have a few more steps in the whole visa, green card and citizenship journey, but we will do them together.

You can view the full series of articles at Male Trailing Spouse

 

Biscuits, cookies, scones, crisps and chips

Biscuits, cookies, scones, crisps and chips

So there are some huge cultural differences between Ireland and the USA, we say things differently and spell certain words differently and there is a huge difference in what is a biscuit and what is a cookie.

So let me explain where I stand on this. A biscuit (Ireland) is a cookie (USA), a scone (Ireland) is a biscuit (USA), a crisp (Ireland) is a chip (USA) and French fries (USA) are chips (Ireland).

A few pictures may help show the differences and similarities and how it can be confusing for an Irishman trying to figure out some of the simple things.

Let’s start with the whole biscuit, cookie, scone scenario.

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Irish Biscuits
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American Cookies
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American Biscuits
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Irish Scones

So does all that make sense now? We may have scones with jam, oh wait, it’s jelly here but would you ever have scones (American Biscuit) with gravy? Well here in Atlanta Biscuits with gravy is quite popular. All as clear as mud but I will move onto crisps, chips and French fries.

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Irish Crisps
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Irish Chips
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French Fries
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American Chips

Now this one is slightly easier due to the French fries and US restaurants making it big in Ireland but the chips v crisps debate is a whole different thing. In Ireland crisps, like Tayto or King are exactly that, crisps. But here in the USA, crisps are called chips. Again due to tortilla chips and dips back in Ireland this one is slightly easier to understand.

Another step on the journey

Another step on the journey

The content of today’s post literally changed as I was about to start writing. As regular followers will know I am in the middle of the immigration process in the USA and this morning another step on that journey was completed. Authorisation to start working arrived and so after 5 months it’s time to apply for a job. With the work authorisation came a document allowing me to travel home to Ireland in case of any emergencies while my application for full permanent residencey is completed later this year.

This is a huge step and it comes nearly exactly 1 year after we first started the K1 visa process. The visa journey isn’t for those lacking patience and we have been extremely lucky as we both support each other through the various stages. 

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Card Approval

Anyway back to what today’s post was supposed to be about. Last night my wife had arranged a surprise night out for herself and me. I had no idea where we were off to as we set off at 6.30pn yesterday evening. Even as we got the train into Atlanta and got off at the Philips Arena station did I know what was happening. It was only as we walked into the Arena and Leanne produced two tickets see the Atlanta Hawks NBA did I realize we were going to a basketball match.

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At the Hawks game

I have only seen one basketball game in my life and that was in 2000 when I went to see the Boston Celtics while over on a trip for St. Patrick’s Day. I had totally forgotten about that game until I was reminded this morning. But last night was my first proper experience of a basketball game as we were seated about 6 rows from the court and we able to have a beer and food in our seats while enjoying the game.

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Scoreboard showing the Hawks down early in the game

Just a quick note on those beers and food, I am well used to being overcharged at events in Ireland, but I have to give the concession stands in the Philips Arena the gold medal for overcharging. $9 for a beer and $10 for a few chicken tenders is a bit steep to say the least. I would hate to see how much a t-shirt or a cap was. But it was a special night so we had a few beers and a bite to eat.

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2 beers cost $18

Onto the game itself, it was fun with the Hawks coming back from a 14 point deficit to win by 13 with a brilliant second half. I had to keep asking Leanne some rules as I know the basics but that’s about all. The while staging of the game is professional and good. With pregame entertainment involves cheerleaders and music and the music continues all the way through the game. We even had some soccer style chanting from a group of fans close to us. As the game wore on and the Hawks were staging their comeback the crowd really got behind them, the $9 beers starting to take effect I think.

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Atlanta Hawks score a free throw

As a surprise night out it was an excellent choice. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that last night was the first time since I arrived here last November that I have heard the US National anthem sung live. Like all national anthems it was great to see it respected and some day in my future it will be my anthem alongside my Irish one.

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Atlanta Hawks 103 Phoenix Suns 90 FT

So a lovely evening ended with the Hawks winning and a trip home via MARTA, the rail system for Metro Atlanta. I love MARTA, and it’s a lot like the DART back home but more efficient and covers a much larger area. The Philips Arena emptied and people were on trains in a few minutes. Looking forward to my next visit to a American sporting event, Baseball, NFL, College Football or soccer, I am sure it will be equally as good as last night.

5 Months

5 Months

Just as the title suggests, today marks the day that I left Ireland and traveled to the USA 5 short months ago. I had an idea that life here would be better than back home, for starters I would be sharing it with the love of my life and my then wife to be. 5 months later and we are over 3 months married and having fun together.

So today’s post will be a little recap on the first five months of my life here in the USA. It has been good but has taken a fair bit of readjusting and even though there are some similarities between Ireland and the USA, it’s quite obvious we are 2 distinct cultures. When people here say customer service, about 90% of the time they mean good service because that’s what is expected and received. Now only if Ireland could get that memo and even though you work in a service industry, there is no need to be a grumpy fecker. If you are one of those people that hate your job, hate people coming into your shop or business, well then leave the job rather than take it out on the customer. It wouldn’t be tolerated over here by customers for a minute.

Onto driving, at first that scared the hell out of me. Driving my first day part of the way from Orlando to Atlanta was probably the least confident I was in a car since my very first lesson back in 1990. In 5 short months it has got better, even though I do still use GPS and ask Leanne to just confirm I am in the right lane.

I have had interesting conversations with people as a lot of people just know Ireland from movies or photos or visiting as a tourist and not seeing the ‘real’ Ireland. I do my best to tell them about the real Ireland, like how it’s ok for us to hate U2 and to slate them, but not for them to slate them. They are ours so even though we slate them at home, we will defend them across the globe. It’s an Irish thing. One thing I have noted and maybe Guinness should make a note of this too, bar staff cannot pull a pint of Guinness. I have been served some nice tasting Guinness, but it is basically just poured like a beer. Please bar staff, stop it or join those grumpy feckers in a new career. Some of the enjoyment in a Guinness is waiting and watching it settle before it’s topped off.

Now food, wow how much choice do people want. You can have a simple burger done about 100 different ways in 1000’s of places. And then what is on the menu is changed by people saying they want a particular burger but with something either added or taken out. If you are lover of salads, well then the USA is the place for you. I am not a salad eater for main meal, it belongs between two slices of bread in a sandwich as far as I am concerned, but some of the salads served look fantastic and come with foods I never heard off.

And finally onto family and friends. I done a few posts the other day about family and the pets as well as Robert, my son. I will reiterate that now, I am a lucky guy because my family and my newly extended family have been wonderful in their support for my move here and helping me settle in. My friends back in Ireland send me messages via Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp, and every single message is greatly appreciated.

This is probably the only post that doesn’t have any pictures except for the header photo. That is a deliberate choice as I wanted the words I am writing to stand on their own and to share my thanks to everyone who has been part of this journey so far. There is lots more to come so keep in touch and drop me a message anytime.

To wrap up it wouldn’t right of me not to mention the one person who helped to make my journey here possible, my darling wife, Leanne. We met in 2001, waited 13 years before having a conversation about our future together and here we are now, a happily newly wed couple. To Leanne I say Thank you for starting that conversation, thank you for the last 5 months and thank you for making me so happy.

My Son and My Pal; Robert

My Son and My Pal; Robert

Well I said the other day I would write a post about my son and give him a post to himself. Robert is now nearly 18, born on July 25th,1998, just 2 days after my own birthday. It’s hard being 4000 miles away from him, especially this year as it is his final year in secondary school,  which is equivalent to high school, and is doing his Leaving Cert exams in June.

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Robert when he started school

I got separated from Robert’s Mam when he was only 4 and it was quite difficult but we managed to do a good job and raise a very level headed, polite and good young man. As he has grown up he has become accustomed to me living elsewhere but moving to the States was always going to be different so along with the support of my parents, having Robert on board from early in the process was very important. Robert got to chat to Leanne on the the phone before she visited in July and Robert was with us when we done the official engagement.

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The 2 of Us

We used to go to the football a lot together and watch St Patrick’s Athletic, well Robert would watch as I took photos. To be able to share football matches with Robert is something I miss a lot. It was our thing. Well that and trains. One of our best memories together was when we got to go to the Isle of Man for 10 days in 2011 and went on the trams and steam trains nearly every day. That’s a memory I will hold onto forever as it was the only holiday out of Ireland that we took together. Robert has been to America before, but it’s unlikely he remembers as he was only 8 months old when we visited Martha’s Vineyard.

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We got to hold the FAI Cup together

It’s funny that I waited my whole life to see St Patrick’s Athletic win the FAI Cup and the year before I left Ireland they managed to win it, and we managed to get a photo taken with it during the year. All these are memories that I will cherish. Hopefully this July Robert will make the trip across the Atlantic and we will get to spend 6 weeks together and catch up properly. We do chat on the phone regularly and it’s great having Skype and being able to do video calls.

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Robert as a young lad outside my little house in Dublin

I miss my son lots and can’t wait to see him in July this year. It’s a big year for him with his exams coming up and hopefully a college place next September. He is doing the work so I hope it works out for him and he gets the course he really wants.

Little bit of Family

Little bit of Family

Well when I started this blog the intention was to have it tell the story of some of my life in Ireland, how I came to the USA, the continuing story of Leanne and I, the cultural differences I have encountered and really anything else that just popped into my head. As the blog evolves some things will change and as with my life that’s a good thing. Today though I am going to talk about my family, not only my own direct family but the family here who have been so kind since my arrival.

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My Family, including my sister and her husband and 2 children, my brother, my Mam, Leanne and I. Left to Right :John (Brother), Billy, Leanne, Mam, Sister (Anna) Paul (Sister's Husband) Sean and Hannah (Sister's Children in Front)

Above is a picture of my family taken when Leanne was over to visit Ireland in July 2015. We managed to get nearly everyone together so we definitely had to get a photo. Missing from the photo is my son Robert, my Dad and my brothers wife, Jane. We are a relatively close family but we are all also quite stubborn and independent. Like all families we disagree but we know we only have to pick up the phone and call if we need help, even if we are to stubborn to call at times. I do miss my family and it probably was one of the hardest things to do was say goodbye to my Mam and Dad.

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My Mam and Robert just before I left a Ireland

My Dad is in a care home since late 2014 with Alzhemiers and it’s very hard on my Mam. For 6 weeks before I left I lived with my Mam and it was nice to be able to share that time with her. She is doing great but she does miss her husband and partner and it can be difficult at times. They have both supported me through the difficult times I encountered during the 2000’s and my Mam supported my choice to move to the States. This support was very important because we are both fully aware that one of these days I will be saying goodbye to fly back to the USA and it could be the last time we see each other. That is hard but my Mam told me to go and be happy and love the girl I was to marry always. She seen how happy Leanne made me so she was right behind our decision to marry and be together.

Moving stateside and getting married meant I would have new in laws. I had spoken to Bob and Terri (Leanne’s parents) on the phone and we kept in touch via email, and we still do as they live up in Michigan. My very first conversation with my future parents in law was a little over a year ago and it was to ask their permission to marry Leanne. It obviously went well as 9 months later we got married. That being the first call kind of set a trend, as my first time to meet Bob and Terri was on the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving in Atlanta airport when I had to collect them on my own as Leanne had to work. I then had to drive from the airport back to our house in Friday traffic which in Atlanta is crazy and I was only driving 2 weeks in the USA. Again it must have went well as the wedding wasn’t called off and I am still here.

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Bob and Terri with us at our rehearsal for the wedding

Leanne’s parents, just like my own, have been fantastic all the way through this process. From that first phone call a year ago to today they have taken me to their hearts and I am eternally grateful for everything they have done for me and us. Of course getting married extends your family as I now have a sister in law. I met Melissa just before the wedding last December and even though we had exchanged an email or 2 you never know how it’s going to go when you meet the sister of your bride to be. I need not have worried as Melissa also has been fantastic, and in my speech at the wedding I mentioned I had a new sister, and I echo that today. The in law bit can be removed as not only have Bob and Terri become family, so has Melissa.

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My newly extended family, Bob and Terri, Billy and Leanne, and Melissa with her fiancée Mickey

I haven’t mentioned my son a lot in this post because he deserves a post all of his own and I hope to write that in the coming days. Family means a lot to me, and I probably don’t tell them often enough, but they are my family and I love every one of them. I look forward to seeing my Irish family when we return there in December and to seeing my new American family when we visit Michigan in July with Robert.