Some random thoughts of an Irish Ex-Pat living in the USA

Some random thoughts of an Irish Ex-Pat living in the USA

So 13 months ago I stepped onto an Aer Lingus plane and headed to Orlando on my way to my new life here in Atlanta. What brought me to make that trip came from a conversation with my now wife 18 months previous. So here I am, 49, married to the most wonderful woman, working away, enjoying life and immensely happy. 

But, and seldom there are times there is a but, I have missed my family and friends back home, missed going for a pint and talking about the latest football match, miss sharing things regularly with my son, seeing my Mam on a near daily basis, having some good fun with my workmates in Dublin Airport. These are just a few things I miss but the biggest thing over the last year was my Dad’s funeral in July.  The decision not to travel home wasn’t taken lightly and it wasn’t easy to make but I know it was the right one at that particular time. 

Being an Ex-Pat living away from home comes with some distinct advantages and some other distinct disadvantages. Missing family and friends as well as family events, like funerals are hard. Learning to fit into a new society, new friends and just general life in my new country was hard at the beginning but it gets easier with time if you allow yourself embrace the new life. Getting a decent cup of tea is near impossible but it can be overcome, again by embracing a new way. And no I don’t mean coffee, but a new blend of tea even though I do love the fact I still have 450 tea bags from Ireland left. Some of the advantages are that people are genuinely interested in what life in Ireland is like, so I do get to talk about Ireland a good bit. Of course I have to remember not to talk to fast or no one will understand me. 

The flip side to missing family and friends back home and missing out on family occasions in Ireland, is that now I have a whole other extended family and circle of friends and I have been able to attend family weddings and some funerals too. Not quite 4 weddings and a funeral but more like 2 weddings and 6 funerals. 

And so onto something I am really looking forward to. On December 16th we will fly to Dublin to spend Christmas with my family. I will actually miss my American family and friends as they have taken me into their hearts and group and made me very welcome. But I will see my Mam, sister, brother and son as well as friends over our 2 week visit. I left looking forward to a whole new life with Leanne, some nervous anticipation about how that life would shape up, well let me tell you, it has worked out fantastically well.

In 13 months I have experienced 2 Thanksgiving holidays, various other USA holidays, spent Memorial Day in Florida, spent a week in Michigan, a weekend in Pittsburgh, a couple of weekends in Blue Ridge, Georgia, a few days in Charleston, a day visit to Savannah to go to the place where myself and Leanne met, drove from Atlanta to Detroit, the longest drive I have ever done in my life, seen Broadway shows in the Fox Theater, fireworks for July 4th, a US Presidential election and so many other wonderful things. 

Over the last 2 and a half years I have shared my life and experiences on social media a lot, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and this blog. I hope people enjoy the posts and I do hope to keep it up into 2017. 

Life is good and I am going to take this opportunity to wish everyone a good Christmas and a safe 2017. I will try post before I head to Ireland and when I am there but otherwise it will be January before I get to post again. 

Life carries on…… 

So here I am working away and enjoying my new life here in the USA, having fun having Robert visiting from Ireland, keeping in touch with family back home, married to my best friend and my fledgling photography business making small headway. 

I am still figuring out things after the passing of my Dad on July 21st and I am not sure in myself if I have properly felt the pain of grief yet. Yes, there has been tears, I said my goodbyes last November before I left Ireland and when I make the return trip in December it will probably hit me more as I won’t be able to visit my Dad in the care home or see him alive again. 

Our plans for a return to Ireland in December have firmed up and I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, especially my Mam. Next week Robert travels back to Ireland and starts on an exciting new chapter of his life, college. Of course he has to get his results first but hopefully he gets enough points to get the course he wants. Robert has explained the system of doing the Leaving Cert, getting results and points, receiving college offer and accepting place and going to college to so many people here over the last few weeks. Once back in Ireland, Robert will get his results on Wednesday, college offer on Friday and will have his first day in college about 4 weeks later. So much different to here in the USA, and it’s mind blowing to some of my friends here how the Irish system can work. But it does work, with some glitches, but overall it works. 

As I said in the title of this post, Life goes on. I am working, Robert is getting ready for college, we are planning a return to Ireland and Leanne and I have family weddings here in the USA to attend. Even though life does go on, every day I think of my Dad and how his passing, even though a blessing, is hard on my Mam and the rest of my family. 

Another step!

Another step!

So today after a little over 6 months and a small wait while the Georgia Drivers services figured out I was entitled to a drivers license I finally got to do my driving test. My last test was back in 1991 in Ireland and then I was the young person and the tester was the older person, well not today. Today after I got checked in and a small mishap with not having insurance card with me, I was all set. When my name was called I was greeted by a 20 something year old! After a quick introduction and another check of paperwork we were on our way. Even though I can drive and am a tidy driver with 25 years experience I was quite nervous, especially for the parking, emergency stop parts. Making sure I indicated and looked all the way around, even though normally most people here think indicators are Christmas lights, only to be used in December!

And so out of the parking lot and onto the real test, the driving on the public highway. This was the easy part, stop at stop signs, count to 3 before even attempting to move, indicating all the time, keeping speed below the limit, watching all the time. We got back to the parking lot and the young man told me I had passed but he had to tally the score! So on the road test I scored 100 and on the technical skills I scored 100, it seemed kinda easy to tally that score 🙂 But I suppose he had to do it officially and after a minute or so I was sitting in my car with the official document, 100 score and passed!

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I got my Georgia Drivers License

The drivers license here is as important as your social security number and probably as important as a passport so it was vital as I still job hunt to get that done and out of the way as soon as paperwork allowed. It was good to be able to drive for a few months to get the practice as it did prove invaluable. Sure even this past weekend I drove over 12 hours for our Memorial weekend trip to Florida and back.

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On the Beach in Florida

The weekend away in Florida was fantastic and it was great to be able to share the time with Leanne and some fantastic people who have now become my friends too. We sat on the beach, bobbed about in the sea and drank some beers, overall a brilliant time. I alluded to Memorial Day in my post last week and it struck me on the drive home from Florida yesterday the amount of USA flags that were flying outside houses, business and even some cars. This is something that I would love to see copied back home in Ireland but unfortunately the only time flags will be flying outside houses or cars will be if some sports team or person does well. Politically it would be nearly impossible to place flags in cemeteries due to the connotation it would have to the Troubles and republicanism, but maybe as a country, Ireland is growing up a bit more and the events of 2016 will allow more national pride in the Defence Forces, its veterans and those who have given their lives in service to Ireland and peace throughout the world without it being overshadowed by political point scoring.

Anyway, all that is for other blogs to debate and I do have my thoughts on it but here isn’t the time or place.As each step on this journey is taken I am ticking them off, I have my legal residence status approval, drivers license, green card is on its way and soon a job. All these things are part of my journey in my new life here in the USA and I couldn’t have taken one of these steps without my wife by my side, her support is unwavering and gratefully appreciated. Between this blog and my personal FB page I have been doing nearly a running commentary on my life now for 18 months and I do enjoy sharing various milestones with people, especially friends and family both here in the USA and back home in Ireland.

I just want to thank everyone who has followed this journey so far, there are still a good few episodes and milestones to go so please keep following, liking and even sharing across social media.

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Bringing my dog to America

Bringing my dog to America

Continuing the trend of posts about family it wouldn’t be right of me not to include Lassie, my 5 year old Border Collie. I first met Lassie when she was born but it was 6 weeks later when Robert was with me that he picked the same dog from the bunch amd gave her the name Lassie. She was born in Co Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland and made the journey back to Dublin with me just before Christmas 2010 in a small box that I had till I left Ireland.

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I got Lassie just after I retired from the Defence Forces and she became my constant companion as I went to college and started work in the airport. My last pet was actually my sisters dog so Lassie was the first pet I owned myself. For the next 4 and a bit years long walks down the park were a daily part of my routine. I met some wonderful people while walking in the park and Lassie met some great doggie pals. I am still in touch with them and they regularly ask how Lassie is doing.

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One of Lassies best pals is a little terrier called Pippa, they were neighbors and went everywhere together. Luckily when I was working shift my neighbour would bring Lassie and Pippa to the park and let them have a run around. It is the one thing Lassie misses, being able to get off her leash and run with her pals. But she does have a new pal now, her adopted brother, Bozley. Ever since we arrived in America Lassie and Bozley have got on great. Of course getting a dog to the USA isn’t just a case of arriving at the airport, like everything else it took advance planning. I started the planning in August for a November flight, getting Lassie rabies shots, blood tests, buying a crate and booking place on flight.

Lassie always either slept on the bed or on the floor so the crate was just a piece of furniture until the day of the flight. Unfortunately dogs travel cargo so I had to let Lassie go with the airline early. In fairness Aer Lingus were superb, even coming up to me on the plane before take off to let me know Lassie was on board and looking good. With the stress of me emigrating it was nice of the airline to do that for me.

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I love my dogs, it’s not just Lassie but Bozley as well now. We go on walks everyday and generally have fun. The 2 dogs follow me everywhere, and I mean everywhere! I wouldn’t have it any other way as they are both part of the family, are loved by us both and well looked after. Next week will be a challenge for Bozley as he goes in for an operation to have his leg removed but with Lassie there to help him and our love he will be in good hands.

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I make no apologies but I am a dog person and there were times when things didn’t look so good that Lassie would come over, just lie beside me, rest her head on my leg and look up at me and then I would know everything was going to be ok.

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Have a great weekend folks and have fun. It’s time for me to go and enjoy some time with my wife and dogs. I will be back on Monday with an update on how my return to playing football after nearly 20 years away from playing.

Patience and Process

Well this blog is about my journey to the USA and one of the most important aspects of the journey was the Visa process. Once we decided to become engaged and get married we knew it was going to involve a visa application so I could come and become a legal permanent resident of the USA, so in April 2015 we submitted our paperwork for a K1 Visa, more commonly known as a Fiancée Visa.

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Mailing the package is just one step in a journey that would ultimately end with me travelling to the USA in November 2015 and marrying my sweetheart in December 2015.  In this post I will try explain the process and the nervous moments, the patience required and the elation/relief that approval brought.

The K1 visa process isn’t for the light hearted, the amount of paperwork we had to fill in, evidence of bona fide relationship and waiting, was draining on our patience and emotions. But as a couple we supported each other and remained patient and confident we would be successful and be able to follow our dream of being together.

We were running out of patience when we caught a break in late June 2015 after what seemed like forever. A phone call from a friend and suddenly instead of not knowing and waiting we were approved. Another small step taken. The fact the approval notice came into our phones at late in the evening US time, and very early in the morning Irish time as I was on the phone to Leanne on my way to work made the moment more special.

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Next step was to wait for the paperwork to make it to Dublin via the National Visa Center and arrange a medical and interview at the embassy. As we had approval to arrange the next step and Leanne’s visit to Ireland was upcoming we were both very happy. It was early August when I had my medical and early September when I attended the US embassy in Dublin for interview.

Before the interview I had to make sure our now very big file was all present and correct, tax documents, birth certs, discharge papers from military and lots more relationship evidence. Attending the interview was nerve wrecking, everything we had dreamt about and hoped for relied on this. The worry was for nothing as after a brief interview the consulate official said the words I wanted to hear, your K1 is granted and approved, best of luck. Even now I get goosebumps just thinking of that moment.

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I couldn’t wait to ring Leanne, but I had to wait to collect my phone from security, more waiting. As I said, patience is really needed in this process. It took about ten days for the visa to actually arrive but our waiting was over for now. I packed up my house, got everything ready and on November 5th 2015 I moved to the USA.

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On December 20th 2015 at the Old Courthouse in Decatur we got married and our dream had come true. We got to relax for a few weeks before the next file of paperwork had to be submitted to the kind people at USCIS. We are now in a new process that will take a few more months, but at least now we are together and can support each other side by side as we wait again.

Irish bars or Not!

One of the things I particularly don’t like is the ‘fake’ Irish bar, its annoying, commercial and mainly either English or just plastic. Old wood and Guinness doesn’t make your bar Irish, no matter how many road signs from Ireland you stick on the wall. As a marketing tool and a way of getting customers in the door I have no problem with it, everyone wants to make a few dollars here and there.

I am lucky here to have a found a few good Irish bars, one not so great but passable due to its fantastic breakfast and another I still have to try. My favourite has to be Mac Magees on the Square in Decatur. Since I walked in randomly last February it has kind of become my local, and yes its a bit like Cheers theme tune, it is nice when you walk in for the barman to say Hi to you by name, or maybe that means I am there to often. The Guinness is nice and the bar is cosy but not to small. the food is Irish(ish)and tasty. If you like Whiskey, well then it is certainly the place to go to. With the added bonus of actual Irish staff I always feel at home and welcome.

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Pint of Guinness on the counter in Mac McGee, Decatur

Mac Mcgees has become our ‘go to’ place at times and it was here last Feb that we had a very memorable evening so it holds a special place in our hearts. After our rehearsal dinner we even went to the bar for a few beers and after our wedding Leanne got to pull me my first pint of Guinness as a married couple. I have ventured into Fados in Buckhead a few times and I am not overly impressed but on a Saturday morning it does open early for sports and serves a wonderful breakfast. It is possibly one of the more popular Irish bars in Atlanta and I wouldn’t be totally against going there, but it falls into the bracket of wood and Irish signs and expensive beers. Oh and it charges $20 when the Six Nations Rugby is on TV so I don’t bother and I reckon on St Patrick’s Day it is one of the most popular spots to go for a beer in Atlanta.

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Pint of Guinness on the counter in Mac McGee, Decatur

Last night I had a pleasure of going to the Olde Blind Dog pub in Brookhaven. As soon as we walked in we were met by a friendly kilt wearing barman who pulled 2 lovely pints of Guinness and they tasted just like home. That was me sold on the place but then we ordered food, again it was excellent and plentiful. |So far so good, it had music playing and he wasn’t just playing Irish stuff but mixing it up a bit, there were only 2 TV’s that I could see, so it was a good spot. The decor was OK, all dark wood and glass with walls decorated to look look like streets in Dublin, no plastic road signs to make the place look Irish here, paint a whole wall like Dublin, good move.

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Cheers and drink responsibly! 

There are still a few other Irish bars i have to try, Rí Rá in Atlanta is one of my places to visit, even though they do have an English soccer jersey in the window, the place comes recommended by a fellow Irishman. We have been in the Marlay in Decatur just once so it would be a bit unfair to comment but it was nice and had a few GAA flags flying. But overall though the Irish bars aren’t bad and over the next few months I hope to visit a few more and see what they are like

 

See if what we think is there is really there

One year ago, Feb 11th 2015, I was on a plane from Dublin to Atlanta via Chicago to see Leanne. Today I will give a brief over view of our story and how we got together and how our journey has reached today. We met on St Patrick’s Day (March 17th) 2001 in Savannah, GA while Leanne was there with friends for the celebrations and I was there with the Irish Air Corps Pipe Band to take part in the parade and other celebrations. We had an instant connection and had great fun together.

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Savannah Parade Logo

We kept in touch via email, remember this was before smartphones, Facebook etc so email was really our only option besides cards at Christmas and birthdays. Our friendship blossomed even with the Atlantic in the way and in 2002 I returned to Atlanta to visit Leanne for 4/5 days before a trip to Boston with the band. Over the years we remained good friends and our lives took differing paths. In Feb 2014, notice a trend here with February, My phone made a funny notification sound I didn’t recognise, it was this thing called Google Hangouts, and it was Leanne asking did it work. We had a cheap and easy way to keep in contact.

We messaged daily, we chatted via video a lot of the time too and generally just kept in touch. But we had a few serious conversations and one of them was the ‘Us’ conversation. We both knew what we wanted, we were both on the same page but we knew there was complications, namely a visa and an ocean! We decided that I would travel over to visit in February 2015 and that brings me to the title of today’s post. It really was to see if what we thought was there was really there.

As I flew across the Atlantic my mind was racing, this could be a life changing trip, what if we were wrong and more importantly, what if we were correct? What would be next? How would we get on? How much had we changed in the 13 years we hadn’t seen each other? These questions and probably a few hundred more flew around my mind.

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Crossing the Atlantic with Aer Lingus

So at approx 9 pm on February 11th 2015 I landed in Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport after a long day travelling from Dublin. I was still a bit nervous and on the way over I had met an Irish woman who had lived in Decatur for 30 years and she gave me the correction pronunciation of Decatur, I was saying it wrong all this time! As I waited on my bag to arrive I seen Leanne, she had changed and was looking stunning…as always. When we met we did have an awkward moment, hug, kiss…we didn’t know what to do but our instant chemistry that we thought was there was definitely there.

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Our very first bad selfie

We spent a wonderful 18 days together, made our plans for the future and it was soon time to depart for Ireland. That was the hardest goodbye I have ever done, even now after leaving Ireland and coming to live here, that goodbye to Leanne last Feb 28th was the hardest. We parted as a couple who had decided to get married and live our lives together. Now it was a matter of filling in the required paperwork, getting Leanne’s Dads permission to officially ask Leanne to be my wife and wrapping up 47 years of my life in Ireland. On April 20th I made my first ever phone call to Leanne’s parents to ask their permission to marry their eldest daughter. It was my first time to talk to them and I had to be very conscious to not talk as fast as I normally do, this was an important call. Thankfully Bob and Terri were delighted and gave us their blessing to get married and continue our journey through life together.

With our paperwork for our Visa with USCIS we awaited their decision and on June 29th 2015 we got approval for our application for a K1 fiancee visa. With Leanne about to come visit Ireland in July it was perfect timing. Leanne arrived on July 22nd and the following day while visiting the Long Room Library in Trinity College I officially proposed and put an engagement ring on Leanne’s finger. A journey that had started 14 years previous as friends had taken a huge step forward.

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Just after the Proposal

Our wedding plans were already in motion but now we could make them certain and it was nearly time for me to pick a date to leave Ireland and move to Atlanta. November 5th was the date chosen and I had lots to do. Move out of my rented house that had been my home for 12 years, sell my car, spend as much time as I could with my son, wrap up work, say goodbye to friends and family and figure out how much stuff i could actually transport trans Atlantic. I will end this post here but i will come back to our story soon.