Category: Faith

New Christian Art

My new art series ~ “Faith”

This is an oil painting on canvas called “Kitchen Devotions”.

I have a new camera!!! My videos look much better now. Please watch, only a few seconds of your time – worth it, I promise!

NEW! Art prints available for any of the art you see on this site – art gallery quality Giclee prints. 8 x 10s are $20 … they look very nice for framing. Other sizes available, cost will go up or down accordingly. Natalie’s Etsy store will be officially open soon, but for now you can order directly from her. (:::waving at you::: hey, it’s me, just shoot me an email if you want to order a print: ArtistNatalie@aol.com ~¬† I saw them and they are very nice, high quality)

Bacon and Pistachio

Natalie Buske Thomas donating books to Newburgh LibraryI’m back, BABY! We left Ireland two weeks ago as of yesterday, my desk is a cardboard box, and my bed is an air mattress on the floor, but that’s no excuse for sitting on the sidelines. I got up this morning, showered with my mini hotel soap and shampoo, attempted something with my hair, applied makeup, and went on my first cold call to a library in my new town.

It was with a bit of trepidation that I entered the Newburgh Public Library – what reception would I have? WOOT! Meeting with Diana was delightful. We had a fabulous chat! She has the same passion for events as I do. I babbled at her for probably a good half hour and I could’ve stayed longer. I look forward to doing events at Newburgh. Thank you for the best, warmest reception I’ve ever had from a library cold call!

Indiana is good to me already! And, there’s… BACON!!!

IMG_4042Sorry, Ireland, “rashers” are NOT bacon! Bacon, oh how I missed you! This was the first food purchase we made.

But Ireland does butter BETTER…. I’ll dearly miss it. I could cry just thinking about it. Marie got me hooked on it and now… WHAT? Is it true? KERRYGOLD right there at my local Wal-mart!!!! And now in my new kitchen, natch! ūüėÄ

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IMG_4037Our friends Walter and Miki Estep gifted us with all of these goodies from the local Farmer’s Market! I was ecstatic to see the huge fresh tomatoes!!! After a second or two, my heart skipped a beat… I said, “WE HAVE BACON!” So… well, naturally…

IMG_4040BLT baby! That’s how we do it here in America. ūüôā

IMG_4039I also put tomatoes on my homemade pizza… MMM!

IMG_4043IMG_4044IMG_4045IMG_4046Thank you for the dinner help, Walter and Miki!

Next, let’s go to their house…

IMG_4049The pretty home of Walter and Miki Estep

IMG_4053Fun times await! (Miki, me in the middle, Brent)

Visiting with friends helps with the transition period. We’ve had to accept Plan B in just about every area of our lives, including where Nicholas would attend his first year of college. You might recall that he’d received a scholarship for a computer major at world class university UCC in Ireland… but we couldn’t stay. Where would he go then?

IMG_4064Here’s Nicholas with Brent outside of Ivy Tech. Nicholas wants a rare niche major that few schools have. World-class UCC didn’t have it, as they are a university, not a tech school. But, even though Ivy Tech offers what he wants, when Nicholas signed up for his classes here, one of the admissions counselors had never heard of his major! No problem, someone else knew exactly what he was talking about, and even gave him kudos on his high SAT scores. ūüôā

Nicholas was easily accepted into Ivy Tech in “Linux Server Administration”. The names of his classes all sound like gibberish to me, but he’s excited for school to start in August. (click on the photo below to see it large enough so that you can read it)

IMG_4095 (2)IMG_4065When Nicholas said that he was looking into Ivy Tech (on his own initiative), we were still in Ireland at the time, but we knew that we had to look into State-side options. I asked him if he remembered that my dad used to teach at Ivy Tech (and loved it!). He said he didn’t remember. Maybe on some level he did remember, or maybe this is another one of those strange “coincidences”. Nicholas has always had a special connection to my dad, even though Dad passed away about 12 years before Nicholas was born. It’s uncanny how connected their lives are (this connection is the inspiration behind the Grandpa Smiles picture book).

IMG_4066After only two years, Nicholas will be Linux certified and could be head-hunted. He plans to continue on with a university education though… unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse. ūüôā¬† Which can happen… this kid is very, very good. Look at the photos below:

IMG_4076Can you guess what you’re looking at here?

IMG_4078He’s made vents for it…

IMG_4079Power supply sticking out of the box

IMG_4080All of the ports are conveniently accessible…

IMG_4077He’s borrowed a monitor from Miki to use with his desktop computer, that he brought to and from Ireland IN HIS CHECKED-IN BAGGAGE. He had taken his computer apart, wrapped all of the components in tin foil, and then reassembled it. He couldn’t keep the plastic casing, so he built a case out of LEGOs and it was fully awesome. I’m looking for the photo of it to share. That’s how his computer was cased while we lived in Ireland.

This time around, I suggested my cardboard vacuum cleaner box because our shipment won’t be coming for another couple of months (he has only a few LEGOs with him – just the stray ones that were almost left behind). The computer needed a few minor repairs while in Ireland – which Nicholas diagnosed for himself & he asked Brent to help him fix (required tedious soldering).

Anyway, any kid who can do this with computers, set up his own private server and home network, and -ahem- get us into trouble with Comcast for his hacking (<—he’s promised us not to do that again!), is a kid who is going places in the IT world. He’s taught himself coding and Japanese. I’m guessing there’s a reason for that, but maybe not.

Nicholas – we’re proud of you. It doesn’t matter to me where you go to school, only that you are able to pursue what you dream of doing, and that you are happily using the talents that God gave you. Congratulations on landing a grant! WOOT! Every bit helps!

So, we’re getting back on our feet again…

IMG_4091Miki couldn’t wait to give me the prize she won at the art store. All I need is a blank canvas and a brush – I don’t have to wait for my art supplies to come in from the shipment!

IMG_4089IMG_4087For now I’ve placed my new oil paints on the shelf (left in the house) with Marie’s bookmark.

Cassie found us a convention for October, so I better get busy if I want to display something new! And… she might have a job working for Apple! The Irish connection there has panned out after all (Apple Headquarters based in Cork). But we’re waiting to hear if she can still do this from the United States. It is a from-home customer service job, so it’s possible. Cross your fingers!

Brent is at yet another meeting with a school principal as I write this blog. He seems to have landed two part-time retail jobs to get through the summer. He’s still working on the teaching position, but we aren’t worried. There are many open positions and he’s interviewing well. It’s really all about which school is the right fit for him. I look forward to seeing where he lands. Finances will be tighter than a blood pressure cuff, but we’ll get through it.

And… our youngest child is happy… Her simple wish was to have a pet turtle. I’d told her that it would be a long while before we were back on our feet again and we couldn’t get a pet. Even if it was an outdoors turtle? Right, even then. Maybe someday….

Or, maybe God hears the secret longings of a young girl’s heart. Because, what do you think showed up at our door? Literally AT OUR DOOR!

IMG_4072Here’s “Pistachio”, Savannah’s pet turtle… who probably crept up to the house from the woods. This is the step off our kitchen, where we can watch him from the glass doors.

IMG_4073We’ve discovered that he’ll eat bananas. Now that he knows we’ll feed him, he comes to the step every day. I don’t know where he scoots off to when he’s not there. He’s surprisingly fast for a turtle. Savannah goes hunting for him.¬† Sometimes she finds him, sometimes she doesn’t. But so far, he always comes back.

IMG_4074Isn’t he beautiful? Savannah is enchanted by him. He’s exactly the pet she wanted! God moves in mysterious ways. It may feel like good things are moving as slow as a turtle, but when they arrive, they are beautiful… and sometimes turtles move surprisingly fast.

God bless & never give up – xoxoxo, Nat

 

 

Starting Over

IMG_4068Our new bedroom – sleeping on $8 air mattresses from Wal-mart until we can afford beds (which could be a few months at the rate we’re going!)
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Do you remember how we raised the money to move to Ireland? We sold about 80% of everything we had, including our house. This gave us the funds to move our family of five and a small household shipment thousands of miles away, where a fresh start was waiting for us.
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Then, when we had to come back, we let go of even more things. We now have about 10% of what we used to have. We are starting over.
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Before you feel too sorry for us, remember that we had AMAZING adventures of a lifetime in Ireland and we are VERY fortunate to have a house at all, let alone a nice one. Also, the air mattresses are surprisingly comfortable.¬† And…
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Ah, well… it still sucks to sleep on the floor.
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But before we dwell on that, let’s¬†review what Ireland did for us.
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1. Health Care: We¬†had affordable health insurance (around $257/month in Ireland instead of $1,200/month in the United States!). This was a blessed relief¬†after a nightmarish couple of years – see “Shingles” post.
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2. Cost of Living: Food! We were delighted by a bountiful harvest of affordable fresh food. We could buy large bags of frozen vegetables, huge sacks of potatoes, inexpensive meat, and more. Housing! We paid affordable rent for a fully furnished house (that’s how we were able to sell our stuff and move to Ireland). Recreation! We could also visit amazing places – with no cost to us other than petrol for the car.
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3. Freedom and Safety: We felt safe and relaxed. It was like going back in time to the 1980’s. Sure, there are drugs and criminal activities in the “bad” parts of the Irish cities, but crime is still a shocking event. There’s no such thing as an “active shooter drill” in Irish schools (our Irish friends were horrified to learn that this is regular practice in United States primary schools). The Irish kids roam freely in the streets without any supervision or fear. They walk to libraries and to the candy aisle of the local grocery stores, chatting happily without a care in the world. This was what it was like when I was in¬†school –¬†I walked to the downtown area after school activities let out. I’d go¬†to the public¬†library. I’d read Peanuts comics and wait for my dad to pick me up. No one ever thought that this was a dangerous thing to do, because it wasn’t.
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4. Peace: We didn’t have to parse our every word. We didn’t have to worry about what social issue was currently too hot to handle. We didn’t have to worry about which stores/restaurants/airports/roads were currently overtaken by protesters. The week before we left Minneapolis the airport was a hotbed of activity. The police were there in full riot gear because protesters had “shut down” part of the airport. The day before we left, flights were canceled due to a snowstorm. We feared snow much less than we feared potential violence due to protesters vs police. In stark contrast, both the Cork and Shannon airport were open and relaxed.
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Unfortunately, we can’t fix America. But leaving is no longer an option, as we can’t handle another international move. So we’ll have to figure out health insurance, jobs, and food here in our own country.
IMG_4067Our toothbrush holders, courtesy of Aldi
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In Ireland we existed on our dwindling savings, my book royalties,¬†and the kindness of friends who donated to Brent’s student teaching fundraiser. And we made it, whew! ūüôā We¬†were all set with housing, car, etc. We could also afford to get sick (not that we wanted to!), now that we were sporting new health insurance that actually COVERED medical costs!
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I made low budget meals that stretched into days of leftovers. We put a spending freeze on everything. We’d¬†muddle through until a teaching job came through for Brent…
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Except that it never would, not in Ireland. (where’s the AGONY emoticon?)
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As I mentioned in an earlier post, the immigration process had reached a critical point, as our original stamp had run out and we were living on an emergency second stamp — granted to us because Brent’s teaching council registration was still in progress. Proof of residency in Ireland was required to get the PPS number that the teaching council required. Teaching council registration was required before Brent could get a job and apply for a work visa. A work visa was required to get permission to remain in the country beyond our temporary 90 day stamp. The cat caught the mouse while the mouse caught the cat, but the dog was mixing things up by chasing them both… Bottom line, we had run out of time to get jobs in Ireland.
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Meanwhile, something strange and mysterious happened.
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I was teaching a German lesson in the dining room. Living in Ireland didn’t excuse Savannah from school. I’d shipped her textbooks to Ireland, even though it was hard to focus on her studies. Today was one of the rare occasions when we were actually getting things done. We were¬†working through a dialog via a German language program cassette¬†when Brent interrupted us.
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He stood in the dining room doorway with a blank look on his face. I waited for him to say something.
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Hesitation, followed by,¬† “I didn’t do it on purpose.”
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“What did you do?”
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He said that he didn’t work Plan B on purpose.
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To understand what he meant by this, I have to fill you in on our approach to our new life. When people work on Plan B, that’s what they get. We’d had a lifetime of Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and even the occasional Plan F. We agreed¬†that we wouldn’t¬†even IMAGINE¬†a Plan B unless it became absolutely certain that Plan A (living in Ireland) was impossible.
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But our Plan A philosophy weakened considerably after our second immigration appointment. I went to bed that night feeling hopeless. Brent couldn’t sleep.¬† He stayed up late, looking for answers via our slow satellite-based Internet (ping, ping, ping to space, then back again to rural Ireland off the boreen).
IMG_20160302_143358The boreen – only one car can fit at a time, especially on the very narrow parts (this is a wide area, believe it or not!). People move off the road to let people pass, when they can – parts of it are impassible due to steep drop offs on both sides. In that case, someone backs down the boreen until they can pull over… this can take a while, if the impassible area is in the walled section that is incredibly narrow with little room for error… backing up while winding around the worst of the boreen was Brent’s driving-on-the-left ultimate challenge. European driving extreme version!
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Back to Brent’s Internet search:
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Brent wondered how hard it would be to apply for a teaching license in Indiana. His Wisconsin license had finally come through. We didn’t want to move back to the same area that we’d worked so hard to break free from. Twenty years of living in the same general area had run its course, especially when winter temps dropped to -20 or lower! But how hard would it be to transfer his license to another state? Just in case… you know, in case of Plan B.
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Are you wondering, Why Indiana?
Brent is a true Hoosier, born and raised. Our firstborn daughter was also born in Indiana. My father lived and died in Indiana. Brent and I grew up there. Many of our childhood friends are still there. The cost of living is not as low as in Ireland, but lower than the upper Midwest (MN and WI). The weather is better. Fall and spring are longer. Winters are milder. Summers are incredibly hot and humid though. THAT I dread.
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I’m not a Hoosier — only those who are originally from Indiana can claim the title. My family is from upstate New York, near Syracuse and Oswego (Clay, Phoenix, Fulton, etc.). My dad was in the Air Force and moved away from NY when he was a young Airman.¬† After his first Vietnam War tour he was stationed at Grissom AFB near Peru/Kokomo, Indiana.
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We lived in base housing for a while, which I don’t remember much of. I do remember when my parents took me and my cousins to Santa Claus Land in Santa Claus, Indiana, where I danced with Rudolph and told Santa what I wanted for Christmas – in July. Remember this story – it’ll come up again later.
Santa Claus LandMe, dancing with Rudolph at Santa Claus Land – Santa Claus, Indiana
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After two¬†Vietnam War tours, Mom was done with the Air Force. She’d been through two babies with a husband overseas.¬†After what seems to¬†have been¬†an ultimatum, Dad¬†left¬†full-time active duty for part time Air National Guard.¬†We moved back to NY.
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A few years later Dad saw a job advertisement for Zimmer in Warsaw, Indiana. He¬†got the job and we moved to Indiana during a hot humid summer¬†shortly before my ninth birthday. I didn’t like being the new girl who talked funny and “wasn’t from around here”. I remember meeting another new girl. She was from Texas and she talked funny too. I never did like the Indiana heat, but I did warm up to the Indiana people and its transplants.
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Here’s a brief review of our life since, for those who don’t know me, and for those who’ve probably forgotten these details:
Prom Natalie and Brent
I met my husband Brent in high school, where we were high¬†school sweethearts, attended¬†our junior and senior proms together, and graduated high school together.¬†I went to Purdue University after high school. Brent joined the Army, where he was stationed in Germany. I left school at the¬†end of my freshman year because I got married and planned to move to Germany, which I did. We lived there for three years. The Gulf War happened, which extended Brent’s tour.¬†When¬†his tour ended¬†we moved back to Indiana. We lived in Muncie and attended Ball State University together. We graduated college and had our first baby – not in that order.
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After¬†Brent graduated college, the semester after I did, he landed a job in Minnesota. It was¬†the 43rd resume and the first one to say yes. Twenty years¬†later, we were still in the basic commuting area of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis/Saint Paul as of 2015. During those twenty years we’d lived in an apartment in Edina for a few months (too expensive, way our of our league), then we bought a house in North Minneapolis (big mistake, HIGH crime –¬†should have visited the house after¬†dark before buying!). We then settled in the small town Cannon Falls, Minnesota where we bought a cute little house–but filthy and a fixer!–and had two more children.
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We fixed up the little house, outgrew it, sold it for a profit, and moved to our beautiful hobby farm. The hobby farm was located between Cannon Falls and Red Wing, Minnesota. Our neighbor across the long gravel road became our children’s piano teacher. Our neighbors down the road (the house with the barn in the photo below) sent their children to my house, where I taught dance and theater from my home studio. They also had their own home business. Our one-lane gravel road was surprisingly active. Those were good years of raising¬†young children and enjoying a steady paycheck.
Walking to piano lessonsMy daughters walking to piano lessons, down our gravel drive, across the road and up the gravel drive to our neighbors’ house – near Vasa, MN
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And then it all crashed in on us…
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Brent’s job¬†suffered salary-freezes, pay-cuts,¬†buy-outs, lay-offs, and the beginning of the end. We suffered serious financial hardship after the first round of pay-offs. As luck would have it, the pay cut and salary freeze happened immediately after we accumulated more debt than we’d expected (we made a few mistakes in buying our hobby farm house, long story).
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When we knew that his current job was never going to rebound and he’d likely lose it altogether, the search for a new job was on. The search fell to me, as I have a knack for finding information and I’m also a writer. More importantly I was available and he wasn’t. That’s the problem with “working from home”, but also a blessing. When family needs arise I can take as much time off as needed. Of course if I don’t work I don’t get paid, so there’s that…
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Anyway, I searched high and low for a new job for Brent. I submitted his resume over and over again for federal vacancies. I put his hat in the ring for private sector jobs too. We heard crickets. There was absolutely no response from anything.
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Dozens and dozens of applications later, Brent finally got called for an interview – for a federal job that was closing/merging the very branch that was interviewing him! WHAT? Why interview someone when you know that the branch is closing? That’s the government for you. So that job went nowhere. He got a nibble on a Washington, D.C. based job. That too went nowhere (Thank God! I didn’t want to live in D.C.!). By now (after two years of steady applications) we’d had it with government jobs.
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Well, time had run out. Job or no job, we had to do SOMETHING. We’d had a brief glimpse of the good life, but living from paycheck-to-paycheck had quickly gone downhill.¬† We sold the hobby farm before we were in danger of losing it. We bought a smaller house over the border into Wisconsin. It was cheaper to buy than to rent. But oh how I hated to buy another house, knowing that I’d have to sell it in three to four years!
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For us the American Dream was simply out of reach. My attempts to find my own employment–beyond writing and art–had been met with a frustrating end (another long story). We needed a radical change… a new life.
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Brent went back to school to become a teacher and I spent my days selling my books, our possessions, and our house so that we could move on after graduation. Brent attended graduate school at the same time that our oldest child was also attending college. They  graduated at the same time too.
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With both Brent and Cassie in transition, life was temporarily paused. If we were ever going to make that radical change, the time was now. We may never get another chance. But moving on was far from a spontaneous idea. I’d anticipated¬†our window of opportunity long before.
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I’d been working toward the dream of a new life for the past eight years. My mom was dying, Brent’s job was dying, and my kids were fast becoming adults. Was I going to sit and watch everything slip away or was I going to fight?
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Well, you know how the rest of my story goes. I fought and I won! I did it! I really did move to Ireland. I spent more time with my children and husband in the past five months than I had in the past five years. I regret nothing.
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Brent’s unemployment could have been the straw that broke our family’s back, but it wasn’t. We didn’t sit around wringing our hands during those long months of waiting for his teaching license to come through. We were out collecting shells at the Celtic Sea coast, dancing at Mallow Castle, and seeing a dolphin in the wild. In the evenings, at home in our house on the boreen, we were nestled in the family room eating homemade pizza and watching TV.
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Now that you’re all caught up, I’ll bring you back to how we ended up in Indiana by way of Ireland:
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So, Brent didn’t mean to work on Plan B, but he accidentally landed an interview for a teaching job in Indiana. How does anyone accidentally get a job interview? I waited for the explanation.
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Brent said that he wanted to see what was required to teach in Indiana. He chose an “almost” random place – a city we’ve never been to, but where¬†one of our¬†childhood friends lives. He filled out the forms to see what questions he’d have to answer. He did NOT click the submit button. He did NOT apply. Honest.
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All he did is upload his documents and partially fill out the form. He went back into his account to see what happened… and he still can’t figure out how he got a job interview.
Here’s a screen shot of his application (note the words in red – not my addition, this is how it was in the screen shot):
 NotSubmitted
We’re thinking that the school was probably trolling through uploaded documents, but that’s a bit crazy, given how hard it is to get a job even when all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. Landing an interview from an unsubmitted application is nutty! This bizarre situation left us with a decision to make. Is it time to consider Plan B?
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When mysterious connections happen, such as landing a job interview for a job we never applied for… are we really prepared to reject the opportunity? Indiana was the likely answer to our prayers, darn it. I wanted God’s answer to be “Yes, you can live in Ireland happily ever after”.

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I don’t always get what I want.
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Plan B: I want what I get.
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Living in Ireland wasn’t perfect. We were under a great deal of stress. We couldn’t stay on the island forever–soon our money would be gone and we’d have no way of getting ourselves back to the United States. No, we had to face up to our problems. We had to go back home and deal with all of the things that we were running away from.¬† We had to start over, and we’d have to fight harder this time around.
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It is a fight we’ll win. When I feel discouraged, I cling to the bizarre twists of fate that give me hope, like when unexpected places from long ago resurface. Everything’s connected, isn’t it? Remember the story about my fond childhood memories of Santa Claus Land? I was startled to discover that we now live only a short distance away from it. The amusement park has been remade into “Holiday World”, but it’s still there, bigger than ever. After we get back on our feet we’ll go there. I’ll recreate one of my childhood pictures–over forty years later! And yes, there’s still a Santa Claus in Santa Claus, Indiana.
Santa Claus Land 2
¬†And now back to the present…
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The pressure cooker of life was squeezing me yesterday. Our rental car contract had been mistakenly left open even though the car had been returned. The rental car company was charging my near-the-limit credit card EVERY DAY for the past week for a car we don’t even have, eventually running the tab up past my limit. It’s been a nightmare trying to get the charges reversed and we’re still messing with that. In addition, there have been some snags with the house. That too is unresolved. And… The manual reel mower I bought doesn’t work – the settings won’t go up high enough to avoid scalping the lawn. We returned it, but the refund is not showing up in our bank account. If it doesn’t show up soon that will be yet another fight.¬† And meanwhile, the grass is growing.
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In other despairingly bleak news, Brent found a wood tick embedded in his skin this morning. He pulled it out while he was showering to prepare for his job interview. Now, of course I’m freaked out about ticks, the kids covered with ticks, the ticks infecting the whole family with Lyme disease, medical insurance, and the worst case scenario for everything.
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Here’s another thing: Our house is dirty. It’s been left vacant for two years, according to our new neighbor. That little tidbit wasn’t disclosed to us prior to moving in. We were also told that the sellers had no pets. They had a big dangerous dog, according to the meter reader who says he’s relieved that the dog is gone (he had to read the meter by using a scope from behind the safety of the fence).¬† We are allergic to anything with fur.¬† So, for reasons one and two above, I need to clean this house from top to bottom.¬† Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for our friends’ help in getting this house, VERY. This is a nice house. In a year or two I’ll look back on all of this and it will all have been worth it.¬† I’m just tired. The younger me would have had this house cleaned up already, with only the rudimentary supplies we have here and a toothbrush. The over-45 me is sitting at this computer telling you about the work I need to do and plotting to delegate some of this to my kids (not child labor, remember that my kids are teens and young adults).
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On a happier note, Brent has had several job interviews already. His prospects for landing a teaching position are highly encouraging – great contacts and connections all over the place! He’s an awesome person with an A average in grad school. The ink on his master’s degree isn’t even dry yet, especially since it’s still pending his final project in June. He’ll get a great job and the school will be lucky to have him. Unfortunately, he won’t start until the new school year begins in August.
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Meanwhile, he’s also applying for minimum wage jobs, and that’s where the fun stops. Indiana isn’t a state that instituted a higher minimum wage, which is possibly why there are so many job openings – business is booming. It’s wonderful to see so many “We’re hiring!” signs, but most of these jobs are part time, to avoid having to pay benefits, and are only offering between $9.00-$11.00/hour.
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He’s so far been offered a night shift at a pharmacy (literally all night). Since he intended to work the weekends for the first semester or so after he starts teaching, his hours would collide, meaning the potential of working 24 hours straight. He can’t function on no sleep! I told him to have faith that something better will be offered. Now I have to also have faith that I gave him the right advice. [Update: I gave him the right advice. He has another interview tomorrow for a different branch of the same pharmacy chain. This is only part time but it’s a day time position, which will work much better for him, even if he has to add a second part time job.]
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Brent was on a teaching interview this morning. I had no idea how it went because I don’t have a cell phone yet and we have no Internet service. We’d arranged to have it connected almost two weeks ago. The installer came out and said no-can-do. They need to trench so that the cables won’t be a tripping hazard around the back sidewalk area. This means that the utility company would have to come out and mark it (they have) and that a crew would come out and trench it (they haven’t). Only after that can the installer come back out and get our Internet service up and running. Until then, we’ll have to go to our local library for free wifi, or drive to the next town over to use our generous friends’ wifi.
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Update: His interview went well. Of course he always second-guesses himself, but overall he’s confident and impatient to get a job offer. This may be the one! If not, the next, the next.. when it’s the right time, he’ll get the right job.
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So what am I doing, besides cooking our family’s meals in the most frugal way possible and fretting about everything else? Why aren’t I applying for jobs? As for me, I want to keep the job that I already have. I worked too hard for too long to give up being an entrepreneur. Always in the past, if the family was in crisis I’d give up my career to do whatever needed to be done. As a result, I’ve not put in the amount of time and effort that’s necessary for rapid growth. And forget about putting money into advertising – something always comes up and my book royalty funds are spent on the family. I have no regrets. I’m just saying that I already have a job and if I work harder to grow my income I’ll succeed. I worked hard to build my career. I want to keep it.
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Naturally I was doubting my decision as soon as we hit the first series of obstacles. My resolve was weakening. Perhaps I’m delusional. Maybe I should listen to those who think I should get a “real” job. And then… my inbox messages reminded me of a different story. Some of the things I’ve worked on for years are finally starting to pay off! This is not the time to quit. This is the time to dig in my heels and fight harder.
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I can’t live on the island forever, and I can’t let myself be talked into quitting every time life gets hard. Did Ireland teach me nothing? I’m the author of 25 books and the artist of 30+ oil paintings. My career may not be enough (yet) to solely support a family of five with a mortgage, a car loan, and another child starting college this fall, but I have a real job. The bigger money will follow. I have a bright future ahead of me, as long as I have the courage to stick with it and the moxie to fight for it.
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So, that’s where we stand… starting over. We’ll make it. It won’t be easy, but we’ll do it. Our local friends are helping us. They’ve taken us out to dinner several times. They’ve loaned us camping chairs, a fan, a hand-held vacuum, a wrench, a computer monitor, and the list will grow.
IMG_4029Welcome basket of handcrafted soaps from Miki Estep, my childhood friend who is helping us – she also makes insect repellent (you can see it better in the shot below). I’ll have to ask her if it works against ticks.
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I hope that our sparkling wit and delightful conversation makes up for our freeloading. ūüôā
And when we’re back on our feet again, we’ll pay if forward, just like our friends are doing for us. I can’t promise that I won’t have a temper tantrum or two along the way. Just last night I completely forgot that I was in a public place, the library of all places, when I checked my credit card account and saw that the rental company had charged me AGAIN for the car we’d already returned. I uttered a four-letter word in a loud stage whisper. Someone smirked at me and I was jolted back to Earth. Did I really just swear aloud in the LIBRARY? I needed to get home and tuck myself into bed in my $8 air mattress.
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This morning has had its own challenges (like the tick discovery, shudder!). This time next year I’ll be happily promoting another new book and preparing for my own art show. But today… Today is anyone’s guess. If I hear any more frustrating news I’ll make sure I leave the library before I’m socially inappropriate.

Dream a New Dream

I’d originally written the “Ireland Forever!” post a few weeks ago, but I postponed finishing it until our plans fell into place. I didn’t expect it to take so long – wow, we were running out of time! I’m relieved to share that we will have a house in the States to live in. WHEW!

Friends are helping us with the house. It’s been stressful and exciting, waiting for things to play out. Last night we received the happy e-mail, “You got it!” So, I can now announce that we are headed back to the States very soon.

Wouldn’t you know it? God’s timing and all… the same day as our third (and final) immigration appointment, we found out that we were getting enough money back in taxes to pay for a flight home for all five of us! So, the worry about “how will we get back?” was immediately resolved. Oh… and the tickets were mysteriously, coincidentally, VERY discounted in a temporary flash sale that would expire within 24 hours! We didn’t hesitate.

I also worried about how we’d ship our household goods back. We trimmed the shipment down, keeping even less stuff. The guys said that they’d like to rebuild the TARDIS. They kept only the panels. They were willing to let it go, but they are on a quest to rebuild it and do it even better. Anyway, with that sacrifice the load was significantly smaller. I also let go of things I used for business. I believe those things will be replaced by something better. In the end, our shipment cost is much more reasonable. On the down side, it all fit into one room. On a positive note, I can start over. A fresh start is a good idea.

My other fears were also resolved:

Our property manager here was very understanding about the lease. We handled it with plenty of advance notice and all is well. We were able to sell the car back to the dealer. He was fully awesome! He said he’d be as fair to us as possible and we were relieved by the offer. With the money from selling the car we have the funds for the shipment and money toward the house. I mentioned before that our friends are helping us with the rest of what we need for the house.

Here we were, about to sign on to a very bad situation (a house across the road from a grain elevator that had water damage, a recent history of a squatter with dogs living in it for several months, many things wrong with it, in a high crime rate area). I’d even considered camping in a tent for the summer. You think I’m joking? No, I’m not.

Landlords want people to have JOBS. It doesn’t matter that we have good credit (we do, and that took time to achieve), or that we have had several successful mortgages (most of them fixers that we put many hours of sweat into), or that we are awesome people (and we are!) – nothing matters but employment.¬† People weren’t even answering my e-mails.

But cash on hand does help, and it helps to have fabulous friends who are successful and generous. I know people in high places. ūüôā So, we’ve got the house, a house far better than what I expected. I can’t wait to live there! The house is so pretty and I know that we’ll win the fight to get our lives back. It’s my dream house – I’m absolutely giddy!

And… Brent will have a job soon. He has already interviewed over the phone and he’ll meet in person shortly after he gets there. He’ll be fine. There are many openings in the area and he’s already been told he’s a strong candidate. Well, of course! He had an A average all through grad school, he’s a fantastic loyal worker, he has glowing references, and he’s a likeable guy. Sometimes he gets free stuff just for being Brent.

Money will be tight and our friends are going out on a limb for us, but I believe we can do it. We are bringing a part of Ireland back with us. We are strong. We are empowered. We can do anything that we set our minds to do. Of course if any of you want to help, I’m not too proud to reject your help. We’ll have no furniture to start with and plenty of bills to repay.¬† But of course I know that many of you have big needs of your own. That’s how it is with so many of us these days. With or without surprise generosity, we’ll make it. On that note, I have to say that we are blown away by our friends’ amazing offer to help us with the house. It’s not often I’m speechless… I literally couldn’t think of what to say. That’s a rare event for sure!

Other updates:

Nicholas has already been accepted into a tech school that offers the exact major he wanted. While UCC is a world class university, they didn’t offer the highly specific computer major he was hoping for. He has chosen to go into Systems Administration (Linux) – don’t ask me to explain it. After he finishes two years, he can apply his associates degree to a university transfer, where he would still like to add languages, especially Japanese.

It might be a tough road ahead for us as we adjust to our new lives, but I’m already looking for ways to have free adventures like we had in Ireland. I’ve found amazing natural parks and exciting places to explore, places I’ve never been and I’ve always wanted to go. We even have points to redeem for hotel stays or event tickets – our mileage from international travel counts for something!

I’m a different person going back to the States from the person I was when I left. I saw myself through my kids’ eyes and I liked the changes in me. They watch us more than we think they do. No matter what we say to them, they learn the most by watching how we LIVE. If I want them to be happy, fearless, faithful, and real, that’s who I have to be. Life is a whole lot easier when I let go.

These are some pictures that were on Savannah’s camera.

Natalie seeing Celtic Sea coast for first time

Me running ahead to see the Celtic Sea for the first timeNatalie Buske Thomas on coastal rockMe braving my fear of heights (not a phobia, just a fear of falling because my balance isn’t what it was when I was younger and in better fitness… but hey, look at me, getting back into shape!)Natalie Buske Thomas at Celtic Sea Coast

Me celebrating standing in the sea – I’m here in Ireland! I did it!Natalie at coast

Me looking back at Savannah – Let’s not wait for the guys, let’s GO on ahead!Natalie at coast 2I stopped only for the picture.

And… Cassie took these.

IMG_20160326_154358 IMG_20160326_154355 IMG_20160326_154343 IMG_20160326_154341 IMG_20160326_154339 IMG_20160326_154338 IMG_20160326_154336 IMG_20160326_154103 IMG_20160326_154054IMG_20160317_131255I’ve shown you this one just recently. I didn’t remember her taking this. It was at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cork.

And Nicholas took these wonderful pictures – all of which I’ve shown you before.

IMG_5188IMG_3872IMG_3870IMG_3705IMG_3691IMG_3675IMG_3399IMG_3493 IMG_3491Natalie Buske Thomas with husband Brent Thomas 28th wedding anniversay in Ireland Feb 2016I want to be this happy person that my kids are watching. I want them to believe that their dreams will come true – they can make them happen! I want them to believe that when one dream ends, it’s time to dream a new dream.

There’s no excuse to fall into a dull and miserable life. The adventures of the Thomas family will continue! We’ll just be somewhere new.¬† Life has only just begun!

Hmm, I bet you’re curious now, aren’t you? Where are we going?

I’ll show you our pretty new house, but that’s all I’m saying. I’m leaving you with a cliffhanger so you’ll have to return to my blog to find out. And I blurred out the house number – no spoilers. HA! HA!

House 2Isn’t this a gorgeous house though? I love it!!! I’ve never had a house this pretty. I really really can’t wait to live in it!

Please keep us in your hearts and prayers for our upcoming travel back to the United States. We’re coming home! And I’m starting a new series of blogging adventures – are you in???

 

 

Ireland Forever!

IMG_3991IMG_3992IMG_3993We can’t stay in Ireland.

But…

IMG_3910Forever in history, our family’s time here has been officially recorded in the Irish Census! Archived, searchable records will verify that Brent, Natalie, Cassandra, Nicholas and Savannah Thomas lived in Ireland in 2016.

IMG_3911Every five years,¬†anyone residing in Ireland on census day must take part in the census. It’s illegal not to do so, regardless of whether or not one is a citizen of Ireland. And we just happened to be living¬†in Ireland on census day, one specific day that happens only once¬†in five years.

I really do have the luck of the Irish! The odds of this happening were less than 1:1,500 (365 days a year, minus the¬†days we’ve been here,¬†and rounding¬†conservatively).¬†I’m probably¬†the only person¬†on this island who was absolutely thrilled to take part in the census.

¬†We’ve also made our mark in other ways. We’ve been fingerprinted extensively at the local Garda station, for example (for immigration purposes). And Brent is on record as having applied to the Irish Teaching Council.
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¬†Sadly, the Irish Teaching Council registration process is where¬†we’ve fallen apart. Thus begins a long blog post that I’ve procrastinated writing. I’ll fill you in on the short version (which is already too long) of why we can’t stay here, and then I’ll show you all the good things that have happened to us while we’ve been going through this uncertainty.
We can’t stay in Ireland because the progression toward getting a work visa has come to a halt.¬†The latest rejection of Brent’s application involves¬†the Garda (Irish police) vetting part of the registration process. They’ve returned his application because Brent signed his name with his middle initial included, which is his legal signature: Brent W. Thomas instead of Brent Thomas.
The area for printing his full name contained only two blanks, for first and last name only. Therefore¬†the “W.” wasn’t printed on the front of the form. He¬†now has to explain the W.¬† Each of these rejections/corrections goes back and forth via postal mail. The teaching council high-lights mistakes and scribbles notes with a pen. Then they stuff the papers back into an envelope and send the original documents back to us via Post.

The teaching council application required a PPS number that can only be obtained via residency.  The only way to get a teaching job is by first registering with the Irish Teaching Council. Therefore, an American who wants to teach in Ireland cannot secure a job offer before moving here, only AFTER, which is a big risk for us to have taken. But we did everything that the teaching council requested and Brent successfully obtained his PPS number, by first establishing residency and by proving it via utility bills.

Well, this was a huge shock and headache for¬†our immigration officer!¬†We weren’t supposed to get a PPS number until we had permission to remain in the country. The officer¬†was floored that a) the teaching council requested this number before a visa was obtained¬†and b) the number was granted to Brent based on the council’s application request. Neither should have happened, since he shouldn’t have been able to get that number as a non-EU person without a GNIB card or a work visa. Yi yi yi! The agencies really need to have a talk.

Bottom line… Brent and I are highly unlikely to get a work visa, even if we had more time to play with. This became clear the more we talked with people face-to-face.
We met an immigrant who¬†has a master’s degree in his home country, taught for several years there, and was firmly rejected by the Irish teaching council because they evaluated his (country’s) teaching license¬†as not up to the Irish standards– even though his credentials were considered high in his own country. His wife has a good job here and they have two Irish born children, so they’re staying for now. But they continue to struggle. He couldn’t get a teaching registration so he’s driving a taxi (something Brent can’t do because we have no permission to work at all). They also had problems getting an Irish passport for one of their children, even though¬†the¬†baby¬†was born here.
It seems that the immigration rules are all over the place, with different rules for different nationalities, with some rules followed and others not, and stories varying widely depending on when people arrived in Ireland and who they talked to. Some immigrants have refugee or other statuses that give them instant access to all the benefits that Irish citizens have, including the right to work and free health care. Others are denied the right to work or any other right, and are at risk of deportation within two weeks of the expiration of a card or stamp. This has happened to more than one American who had purchased a home here, lived and paid taxes for several years, etc. 2015-2016 has been a tough time for Americans who planned to live in Ireland on a path toward citizenship.
Some of this seems to be political. For example, the U.S. recently deported an Irish immigrant and shortly afterward an American was threatened with deportation in Ireland. Coincidence or tit for tat retaliation? The politics involved in immigration always affect real people. It’s too bad that the countries can’t work together on these issues.
Also, the Irish tell us that a post-Celtic Tiger post-economic crash Ireland doesn’t want foreigners coming in, taking jobs away from the Irish. So, there’s that too… These are issues that the United States also deals with.¬† Everyone has their own problems.
Regardless of what the reasons are for the stricter immigration laws, based on the research and correspondence we had before we moved to Ireland, getting permission to stay was quite possible. Brent needed to register for the teaching council and then apply for jobs. I found conflicting information about work visas, but I had reassurances from several reliable sources that these things get sorted upon arrival in the country. The general vibe was “just be a good citizen”. If you’re not a burden on the Irish government, you can stay. That’s how it used to be.
Unfortunately times have changed. Our immigration officer said that if we’d moved here five years ago, he could have done so much more for us. But since then, immigration laws have changed – any American who is not yet a citizen of Ireland¬†is at risk of having their visa/card renewals¬†denied. And if you’ve newly arrived, you’re too late to the party… be gone with ye. Your chances of getting a GNIB card are slimmer than a dollar menu hamburger.
There are several recent examples and articles about this, but I’ll let you find those for yourself if you’re interested (I don’t like to link to third party sites if I can avoid it).
The teaching council registration process has also changed very recently, with some rules going into effect for the first time in 2016. So, while Brent may have had an excellent chance of getting in (with persistence) years ago, Ireland is cracking down on any program that could take jobs away from Irish nationals. The latest rejection: the teaching council is now questioning Brent’s still-has-the-fresh-ink-smell Wisconsin license. Satisfying their request¬†would take even more time that we don’t have–IF we could succeed at all.
I could go on and on with this, as it’s been a battle we’ve been fighting for months. But, I think you get the idea. Basically, we don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to fight for this anymore. As we’ve seen our savings dwindle and our hopes fade, we’ve made peace with the realization that we can’t stay in Ireland.
In case you were wondering… The path¬†for me¬†to get¬†a work visa is even harder, next to impossible really. As a non-EU immigrant I’d need ‚ā¨50,000 ($55,000) provable annual income under the current standards. I’m an entrepreneur with a salary based on royalty checks and event sales, with no proof or guarantee of a consistent paycheck. But even if I could meet a regular proven/documented income standard, I’d still have to apply for an artists’ visa — and that process can take months, with no guarantee of acceptance. And meanwhile, neither of us can work in Ireland… at all.
Again, finding this information ahead of our move was virtually impossible – we were told over and over again to come over and give it a go… that there is “discretionary” leeway for immigration. That may have been true for many lucky people prior to 2011, but it’s not true anymore. 2016 is especially difficult for non-EU hopefuls who don’t qualify for refugee status or other special programs. I don’t fault anyone… everyone we talked to was rooting for us to stay. I don’t have any regrets, either. Moving here was the best thing we could have done – our family is stronger and better for it.
Nonetheless… it’s time to go. I’d expected that we’d have income within six months, tops. That’s not going to happen and we can’t extend our stay beyond this stamp. We need a work visa, GNIB card, and salaries… none of which is going to happen. With time running out, we have to use our remaining weeks here to reverse everything we’ve done to stay in Ireland: the lease on the house, the car we bought, health insurance that doesn’t cover the United States, and so much more.

card 1I fought so hard to get an Irish bank account. I was proud when my debit card came in the mail. Sigh… we’re now unraveling our standing orders and watching the account fade away.

card 3And here’s my Irish library card – It’s an awesome souvenir!

card 2My Irish health insurance card. WHAAA! This is something I’m truly upset about losing. We had struggled to find any affordable health insurance after we lost ours twice.
Brent ended up going to the VA (veteran’s administration clinics/hospitals) for his care. During this time, he fell down with a very serious case of shingles. He would have been to a doctor much sooner if he’d had his old insurance that included local, convenient clinics. He wouldn’t have had to wait until he could take time off from work and graduate school to go to the VA (nearest facility was out of town). We’ll never know if it would have made a difference if he’d come in sooner, but the VA doctor thought so. She said his case was so advanced by the time he was seen that he almost lost his eye. Over a year later, one side of his face still has no sensation – not in the skin, not inside the mouth, not even his gums. His teeth feel “wooden” on one side. He continues to suffer from the nerve damage to his face.
The opportunity to buy affordable private health insurance was one of the best benefits to moving to Ireland, and one of the top reasons why we chose to move here. We needed help and we got it. I’m grateful for the months of peace of mind while we had it. We’ll figure this out, but I’m upset. For those who said, “if you don’t like it [the Affordable Health Care Act], leave”, I have words for you. We left. We had wonderful coverage for a short blessed while. But we can’t stay. And when we return to OUR country, where we are CITIZENS, I will not put up with any of my fellow Americans telling me to leave if I don’t like what my country is doing to me and my family. Other countries don’t want us either. So, you’re stuck with us and I’m stuck with you. I hope we can get along better this time.
Also, we’ll have to figure out how to help Savannah with her chronic incurable eczema. She was HEALED, completely HEALED here in Ireland, as we’d hoped would happen. Due to the high humidity here, her hands are completely and absolutely normal for the first time in about eight years. She had immediate improvement upon arrival. She says that her skin healed the rest of the way after putting her hands in the Celtic Sea! ūüôā This is wonderful… I’m trying not to think about her having a regression when we return to the States.
And on that depressing note.. I don’t want to dwell too much on what we’ve lost, or what we stand to lose. Let’s talk about what we’ve gained by living here in Ireland.¬†Like this bit of goodness…
We have another lasting record of having lived here in Ireland. Savannah was in the Irish newspaper!
Mallow Star 2There she is, in the blue shirt (right), in the photo below:
Mallow Star 3 Knitting Group
Savannah¬†joined a knitting group at the library in Mallow, Co. Cork, Ireland. She, at age fourteen, is by far the youngest member of the group. But she’s been loving it!
She was befriended by the women I call “The Knitting Circle Ladies” (ladies is probably not the right word to use… some of those women are hilariously raunchy). Savannah has told us many stories. All I need to do is create a fictitious murder plot and this group could star in a mystery novel!
While some of the ladies come only for the craic  (pronounced /crack/, meaning fun conversation/party), the tea, and the biscuits (cookies), Savannah has knitted a gorgeous sweater!
She was working on a project before we left the States, I’ll show you that one first. She created her own pattern for this. It may be hard to read in the photo, but she’s knitted the word “hello” on it.
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She definitely doesn’t get¬†her¬†knitting talent¬†from me. I’m lucky if I can use school glue without making a mess of it.
As if¬†her designer original “hello” sweater wasn’t enough,¬†this beauty (in the photos below) is the original (no pattern) sweater that she knitted while at the library knitting group. Notice that she has added sleeves this time and a fancier stitch on the front. I don’t know what it’s called and Savannah is still sleeping this early morning, so those of you who knit will have to figure it out from the photo. ūüôā
I have to point out — the sweater looks tiny in the photos, but it’s actually an adult sized sweater that fits Savannah perfectly. I think it looks like a doll or baby sweater in the photo. I should have asked her to model it!
Her skills have soared while living here in Ireland, don’t you agree?
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 IMG_4011IMG_4012IMG_4013Yesterday she attended her last knitting group meeting at the Mallow library. It was definitely bittersweet. There was, of all things and bizarre timing, an American bluegrass group performing in the library on that same afternoon.
Some of you might recall that our family used to play bluegrass with a group, and also as a family at nursing homes, senior centers, church, etc. Savannah shared about that connection and she was also quite the star.
The ladies asked her to sign the books we’d given them. (Savannah’s Inky Imagination features her artwork and Savannah is a cartoon character in our Dramatic Mom comic. Both are available in paperback & ebook, FYI!)
And then, at the end, the ladies gathered around her and touched her shoulders, hugged her, said sweet farewells to her, and told her to send the library a Christmas card. Well, that was absolutely the most perfect thing to say! Savannah told me that she almost cried when they said goodbye to her, but when Savannah mentioned the Christmas card, her face lit up. She’ll enjoy making or choosing a card for these wonderful and wild Irish ladies.
It’s not a forever goodbye, but a forever connection.
I never forget who is kind to my children. {{{{Hugs and Gratitude to the Mallow Knitting Group}}}}
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¬†Next I’ll talk about Nicholas. Nicholas took a photography class through the UCC “Short Courses”. It was his first college course. He loved it! He came away from it with nifty skills, fabulous photos of our adventures here in Ireland, and a sparkling letter of recommendation for his application to UCC.
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¬†About UCC… Do you remember his excitement when he first saw the Harry-Potter-like campus? Well, he finally finished his essay, after many grueling weeks of procrastination and angst. Nicholas then applied for two programs (schools/majors): Computers and World Languages.
Nicholas¬†was accepted into BOTH!! UCC is in the top 2% of universities in the WORLD… Wow. I couldn’t be prouder of him! He was even offered a SCHOLARSHIP in the computer programme!!!
SCAN0022<<Subject: Congratulations on your offer of a place at University College Cork
Local Time: April 21, 2016 10:58 AM

Dear Nicholas,
Your application for the BSc (Hons) Computer Science in the College of Science, Engineering and Food Science at University College Cork has been reviewed and I am delighted to inform you that your application has been successful and that you have been accepted for a place on this programme.
I would be grateful if you could please indicate on our online application system your decision.  On receipt of your decision, I will send your official full offer letter to you by email before posting it to you.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Regards,
********
Non-EU Undergraduate Admissions Coordinator
UCC International Office

<<

Subject: Congratulations on your offer of a place in BA World Languages at University College Cork
Local Time: April 21, 2016 12:55 PM

Dear Nicholas,

Thank you for your application to University College Cork.

I am pleased to inform you that your application for the BA World Languages at University College Cork has been successful.

I note that you have also received an offer for the BSc Computer Science degree. I would be grateful if you could please let us know for which programme you wish to receive an official Letter of Acceptance by replying to this email. Once we receive this confirmation, we will prepare your relevant official Letter of Acceptance and send it to you by email.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,
******
Non-EU Undergraduate Admissions Coordinator
International Office, UCC

SCAN0019Again, it’s worth a second mention… Nicholas was offered a SCHOLARSHIP to the Computer Science programme – 25% off the tuition! What a thrill! Unfortunately the tuition is still out of reach if Nicholas has to also pay for room and board, instead of commuting from home as planned.
Nicholas is disappointed (I’m putting this gently. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster ride we’ve all been on) that he can’t go to UCC, but I’ll share his new plans soon in a blog post I’ve already started writing in my head called “Dream a New Dream”.¬† This kid is amazing and I know he’ll be successful wherever life takes him. I’m sure the journey will be full of magical surprises.
On to child 3… I’ve done this in reverse order this time, from youngest to eldest.
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Cassandra was the first one accepted into UCC, for graduate school. The process for getting into graduate school is a bit different and apparently faster. She was accepted right away, leaving us to wonder if poor Nicholas didn’t get in (I’m so glad he did — even though he can’t attend, it still matters greatly that he got in!).
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However, Cassie was more excited about three separate offers to submit her CV (resume) to Apple headquarters in Cork! She did that, all three times… She still hasn’t heard back. Perhaps she will yet. Apple has from-home opportunities that could supplement what Cassie will be doing State-side. But, the point is… she is eager to land her first job. She worked hard for her Magna Cum Laude honors and her Math degree. She’d like to put her skills to use to make money!
Meanwhile, Cassie is also an artist.¬†We have news to share on this front, but I have to explain it a little bit first. Cassie does freelance commission work on occasion. She’s worked for a few clients for several years now. Here’s an example of her work on the side of a van. If you live in Florida, you may have seen this superhero character of Cassie’s:
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2014vancrop
Cassie also has a series of graphic novels based on her KiLA iLo web comic. Well, the two worlds collided recently, and she’s had a flurry of commission work AND a surprising development: Cassie sold translation rights to her KiLA iLo book series! I can’t share details at this point, but… The first check has already arrived!
No, it’s not much, but for a recent college graduate with student loan bills looming, she’s much relieved that she will be able to pay her first installment and several months beyond. This happy news means that she can breathe a bit easier while applying for her first full time job.
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About Brent… he’s still applying for teaching positions, but now his focus is State-side. He’s done a couple of over-the-phone interviews and he’s made great connections, but he’s at the point now where he has to meet with head masters and panels in person. As soon as he’s able to function post jet lag, he’ll make appointments to follow up his interviews.¬† We feel confident about this. The hard part will be waiting for the salary to come in. This is his Go Fund Me campaign if you want to help.
IMG_20160317_131255About me…
I had an invitation and FREE tickets to the London Book Fair, but I couldn’t go. I couldn’t risk that¬†the rather flimsy stamp on my passport¬†was going to pose a problem getting back into Ireland – nor could I spend the travel money when I knew that we’d have to come up with $$$ to go back home.
IMG_4007IMG_4006
I also had to cancel my art show – remember that I was accepted to do an exhibit at Friars Gate Theatre in Co. Limerick, Ireland?
Unfortunately I couldn’t get¬†a show date¬†until February 2017 (it would have been a month long solo exhibit! WHAAAAAA!). So, to say that I’m disappointed would again be putting it mildly.
My library events hadn’t yet been scheduled (they wanted me for summer events), so there’s nothing to cancel on that front — I just won’t be here when they try to contact me. ūüôĀ
But, I’ve scattered my books across Ireland – in libraries, in the hands of people I’ve met, as a thank-you to the knitting group who was so kind to my Savannah, at Friar’s Gate Theatre, and to the church that was so welcoming to us. I’ve given away all the books I brought with me, and even ordered more.¬† Also, I painted an Irish landscape that I’m shipping back to the States.
I’m here, in Ireland. I’m making the most of it!
Our Irish adventures aren’t over yet… I’ve saved the best for last: our trip to Dingle, Ireland. The most magical experience happened – one that has had a profound effect on me. I will never look at life the same way again.
I’ve made the most of my time here. And isn’t that all any of us can do? All of life is an adventure. The best we can do is to make the most of our time.
Ireland forever!
[See update: Dream a New Dream]

Double Rainbows

By this time we knew that we were in trouble. Immigration appointments hadn’t gone well. Everything was starting to unravel.

What do we do now? Should we sit at home, defeated, waiting until the inevitable happens? My advice to my three kids- ranging in age from young teen, teen, and young adult -means absolutely nothing if I don’t live the words I say. I’ve told them “bad things happen that aren’t your choice, but your attitude is up to you“.

I could have stayed home, sulking and fretting. My attitude was my choice. But the Celtic Sea coast was sitting out there, sparkling and free, costing nothing but a little diesel to visit – just waiting for someone like me who, with a little faith and a little luck, may just find herself under a glorious double rainbow.

As the Mom of the house, my attitude can drag down or lift up the entire family. It’s a heavy responsibility sometimes. I’m glad I chose the sea.

These pictures were taken on March 13 and March 29, 2016. Both locations are a short drive from Cork, Ireland. I know that there are many photos here. It was hard to decide which ones to share!

IMG_2813That’s a lighthouse, on top of the faraway hill.

IMG_2994Another view that puts the lighthouse into perspective – it’s quite far away, but still visible from the coast

IMG_2996Hmm, I’m thinking that I’d like to go out on that ledge. It’s not that high really, right? No one is around to stop me.

IMG_2997See my husband Brent and daughter Savannah? They don’t know where I am. I’ll go for it.

IMG_2998This is a bit higher than I thought, and slippery too. The moss is wet. Of course I’m holding the camera and not always watching where I’m going. This adventure may not end well.

IMG_2999Ooh, this is what it looks like at the end of it. I wanted a closer view of the waves crashing on the rocks.

IMG_3000Hmm, looks like I was wrong about no one noticing where I was… Nicholas took pictures of me when I was up there!

IMG_2789IMG_2792I took great shots from that perspective.

IMG_3001 Brent and Savannah – shots taken from the ledge

IMG_3002Oh, they see me now. They’re probably waiting for disaster, but I didn’t fall!

IMG_3003Well, I’m getting a little too close to the edge now. I shouldn’t push my luck too far.

IMG_3004That moss is slick… I’m lucky I didn’t slide off the edge.

IMG_3005I feel proud of myself for doing this. Somehow over the last decade or so, I began to feel old. I developed a fear of heights – or maybe a fear of falling. But I conquered this wall of rocks. I’m capable of more than I think I am. And I’m not old. I never will be if I choose to be young.

IMG_3006Just think of the view I would have missed if I hadn’t climbed the ledge!

IMG_2802Me, proud of myself for taking on an adventure all by myself. I know, it’s not “that” high, but it was high enough to put me in a bad state if I’d fallen. And I didn’t fall!

IMG_3007Savannah walking along the beach. Plenty of Irish locals were out that day, when the sun was out. Mums were pushing babies in strollers across the sand. The wet sand is so dense and compacted that it’s like walking on a sidewalk. There’s such a wide area to walk – very good place to get some fresh air and exercise.

IMG_3008Savannah, eating her packed lunch… if we bring our own food, these trips cost us nothing but gas for the car.

IMG_3009Nicholas with camera in hand – his photography is awesome! He’s learned a lot from the photography class he was taking through UCC in Cork.

IMG_3010I love the natural things that drift ashore – the girls have had a ball looking for treasures

IMG_3016There’s the lighthouse again… this time with a gull in the shot

IMG_3020Savannah between the lighthouse and the gull, just because

IMG_3021What a tender age… Savannah turned 14 a couple weeks before we left for Ireland. She’s listening to music and growing up a little more even as I take this picture.

IMG_3029Every soul leaves its footprints

IMG_3038Nicholas, absorbed in his photography, quickly becoming a man. Where did my little boy go?

IMG_3047Aww, he’s still here! Me and my son Nicholas.

IMG_3049Cassie, looking for shells – That’s why she’s not in many of these photos. She’s off on a mission!

IMG_3052Savannah running on the beach, wild and free!

IMG_3055IMG_3056IMG_3057IMG_3058IMG_3059And THAT’s how we do it!

IMG_3060Time to say goodbye to March 13. Our March 29th trip is next – ooh, that’s glorious!!! Don’t stop reading yet!

IMG_3436I asked the kids what souvenirs they wanted from Ireland. The girls said that they wanted a sweatshirt. Nicholas said that our photos are souvenirs. For Easter we surprised them with Ireland sweatshirts, European candy (some if it is delicious, but some of it is quite nasty, LOL – that’s a story for a future post!), and a plan to take a family picture of us wearing the sweatshirts (we bought one for Brent and me too!). So, everyone got what they wanted – thanks to Aldi who had a “special buy” on these sweatshirts! WOOT!

IMG_3445Easter morning…

Now for our trip to the coast on March 29. I brought my tripod to take family pictures. Brent was kind enough to set it up for me. Then he was kind enough to climb back over the rocks and go back to the car when I wanted another family picture in a remote area. I hefted it back over the rocks though, and I didn’t fall. Anyway, we pulled it off! We got our special family picture!!! And… a perfectly magical day!!!IMG_3470

Thomas Family photo on the Celtic Sea coast Ireland March 29 2016I love this picture! I’ll definitely frame this one. We took it a few minutes after we arrived at the coast. The wind was brisk and we were freezing! It was hard to get a shot without our hair blowing in front of our faces.

IMG_3472That’s better – hat and jacket on!

IMG_3473Get ready for some truly breathtaking views!

IMG_3474IMG_3475IMG_3478IMG_3479Savannah, wearing my hoodie over her sweatshirt. She didn’t expect it to be this cold. It’s the wind! Yi yi yi…. but, wait a little while and the weather changes in Ireland. It calmed down and warmed up some after we’d been there a while. We also found a gorgeous remote sheltered area that we enjoyed all by ourselves! First we had to brave the chilly winds though… and Cassie decided to sit some of that time out in the car. I’m glad we didn’t give up… the rest of the day was beautiful! Wait and see…

IMG_3480IMG_3481tut tut, it looks like rain… will my camera lens handle it?

IMG_3482IMG_3483IMG_3484IMG_3485IMG_3486IMG_3487

Oh yes, it’s looking like a good shower…

IMG_3488IMG_3489IMG_3491IMG_3492This guy is enjoying the weather! Great windy day for lift off!

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See how changeable the weather is? Misty, rainy, sunny, windy… repeat…

IMG_3839 IMG_3838 IMG_3829 IMG_3828 IMG_3827 IMG_3816 IMG_3808 IMG_3801 IMG_3776 IMG_3729 IMG_3720 IMG_3719 IMG_3718 IMG_3708

I love these shots that Nicholas took of Brent and me when we didn’t know he was looking.

IMG_3705IMG_3706

IMG_3707¬†¬† This next batch is also from Nicholas’ camera:IMG_3703 IMG_3702 IMG_3701 IMG_3700 IMG_3698 IMG_3696 IMG_3691 IMG_3690 IMG_3679And now back to photos from my camera:

IMG_3496IMG_3497Nicholas – couldn’t be happier!

IMG_3498IMG_3499IMG_3500IMG_3501IMG_3502IMG_3503Sun is starting to peek through… look for rainbows!

IMG_3507IMG_3508No rainbows yet… more rain!

IMG_3509Should we pack it in? Cameras are getting wet…

IMG_3513What do you think, guys? Call it a day?

IMG_3514IMG_3515Well, maybe just a few more minutes…

IMG_3516IMG_3518

If we stay long enough…

IMG_3522IMG_3524IMG_3528

Maybe we’ll see something new… What’s over here?

IMG_3529IMG_3530IMG_3531

IMG_3533IMG_3535IMG_3536

If you wait in the rain long enough, you may just see…

IMG_3537IMG_3538IMG_3539Or…. maybe TWO!

It’s a double rainbow!

IMG_3540IMG_3541I’m calling Brent over – do you see it? Do you see it?!!?

IMG_3542IMG_3543IMG_3544

IMG_3550IMG_3551Me, running to catch the rainbow before it’s too late!

IMG_3552WHEE!!! I’m under a double rainbow in IRELAND!

Cassie didn’t see the rainbow from where she was sitting in the car, waiting out the cold/wind/rain. All she saw was me twirling in some sort of blissful state on the beach, LOL! To get an idea of what she saw, here are the photos Brent took in rapid succession. You have to imagine seeing all of this without knowing there’s a double rainbow in the sky!

The whole thing only took a few seconds, but… well, do the rainbow dance with me!

IMG_3553 IMG_3558 IMG_3557 IMG_3556 IMG_3555 IMG_3554Natalie under  rainbow on Celtic Sea coastDreams do come true!

Just like rainbows, some dreams appear only fleetingly… but they are glorious! And when the dream fades, it’s time to dream a new dream. Rebuilding is hard. But we are stronger than we think we are.

Shortly after the double rainbow, Nicholas disappeared around the bend, where those rocks were… Where did he go? What’s over there? I ventured over… and it was BEAUTIFUL! That’s when I begged for another round of family pictures!

IMG_3883IMG_3869

IMG_3868

The kids on Celtic Coast March 29, 2016IMG_3625IMG_3619IMG_3618IMG_3617

IMG_3629IMG_3624IMG_3623IMG_3622IMG_3621

IMG_3631 IMG_3630IMG_3870IMG_3871Nicholas takes over the shoot… why are we using the self timer when he’s standing right there with his own camera?

IMG_3877IMG_3876IMG_3874Except that he takes forever, fiddling with the lens… he makes us giggle… and that’s a wrap. ūüôā

IMG_3872

 

IMG_3616 IMG_3615

IMG_3816IMG_3827IMG_3838IMG_3839IMG_3857IMG_3858IMG_3859 IMG_3899 IMG_3898 IMG_3884  IMG_3881           IMG_3866 IMG_3860

IMG_3899IMG_3614 IMG_3613 IMG_3612 IMG_3611 IMG_3610 IMG_3609 IMG_3607 IMG_3606 IMG_3605 IMG_3604 IMG_3603 IMG_3602 IMG_3601 IMG_3600 IMG_3599 IMG_3598 IMG_3596 IMG_3595 IMG_3594 IMG_3593 IMG_3592 IMG_3591  IMG_3589 IMG_3588 IMG_3587 IMG_3586 IMG_3585 IMG_3584 IMG_3583 IMG_3582 IMG_3581 IMG_3580 IMG_3579 IMG_3578 IMG_3577 IMG_3576

IMG_3575 IMG_3574 IMG_3573 IMG_3572 IMG_3571 IMG_3570 IMG_3569 IMG_3568 IMG_3567 IMG_3566 IMG_3565 IMG_3564 IMG_3563 IMG_3562 IMG_3561I guess it’s time for this perfect day to end.

IMG_3675

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort Zone

Brent’s teaching journey will take several months to play out, and until it does, what can we do to prove that we have a purpose in Ireland? More specifically, what is my purpose for being in Ireland? It isn’t good enough for me to simply want to live here. I need to have a reason. Otherwise, my odds don’t look good for getting permission to stay here after our three month stamp runs out. It’s time to break out of my comfort zone and promote myself with everything I’ve got!

It’s interesting how “carrot and stick” motivation works for me. I’ve managed to get pretty far with the carrot (imagining success and working toward it), but it’s funny how much harder I’ll push myself if my back is against the wall and I’m desperate to avoid getting struck by a big, big stick–a stick with barbs on it. I wish I could have been this ambitious when I wasn’t running out of time and descending into chaos, but, hey, the stick is effective. My 2016-2017 calendar is already filling up! Ireland has to keep me now, right?

Here I am before meeting Caoimhe at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Co. Limerick (thank you for the contact, Marie O’Halloran!).

Natalie Buske Thomas before meeting in Co Limerick Feb 2016I’m happy to announce that I’m now scheduled for my own show at Friars’ Gate – a month long exhibit of my art in February 2017!

Friars Gate Theatre Brochure

But wait, there’s more! Library events are in the works, I have complimentary tickets to the London Book Fair, and… I’m just getting started! I won’t make the cut for all of the things I’ve put in for, but I’m confident I’ll have a few more wins that I’ll be able to announce soon. Some of these opportunities are located in beautiful coastal areas and I’d love the excuse to go!

To add to all of this, I might be starting up a book festival in the upcoming year. I’m good at starting new programs and events, and I’d love to help. The book festival idea came about during a conversation with Marie when we were sitting at the car dealership, eating biscuits (cookies) and drinking coffee (temporarily breaking my ban on coffee).

Well, one thing led to another and Marie invited three of her friends, all named Mary, to our house for a party… where I blind-sided them with my stack of flyers, my hyper-organization, and my rabid enthusiasm. If I haven’t scared them off, the book festival will go forward and I’ll have another event to add to my calendar!

I might have won them over with the absurd amount of food I made (six platters of three different kinds of baked fold-overs: BBQ beef, cheeseburger, and pizza — homemade) and my magical from-scratch chocolate cake.¬† Hopefully the food distracted them from the committee planning chart that cast a glaring light on how much work it is to host a festival. We shall see!

Here’s the cake I made for the book festival planning party:
Book Festival Cake

But… As exciting as these live in-person events are, I won’t get far if I don’t create new projects, if I don’t market my work, and if I don’t keep up with the administrative part of being an artist/author entrepreneur. So, I’m plugging away with all of that as well.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I’m working on my first Irish landscape called “Tree on Rock Hill”. This is what the oil painting looks like so far.

Natalie Buske Thomas art studio

Natalie Buske Thomas oil painting in progress Tree on Rock Hill

  • I finished the first chapter of Mol, the next book in the Serena Wilcox Mysteries spin-off saga (sequel to Fender). Little Free Library Tour Natalie Buske Thomas River Falls
  • I’m planning to start on Dramatic Mom 2 for March. I look forward to putting that together. Writing the silly poems is a fun break from the intense work I usually do.
  • I wrote the story for a new picture book featuring my oil paintings. The book is called Fred: The Real Life Adventures of a Little Girl with a Big Imagination, about my childhood. For the Fred project I’ll need to complete 19 separate paintings. This feels a bit overachieving, but I know I can do it. I plan to start the first painting for the Fred book project next week.

I tell you, my brain keeps me awake at night. The money will follow as long as I take one project at a time, one day at a time. When things happen slowly, I need to practice the art of patience, persistence, and tenacity. I need to dig in my heels. I need to be stubborn. I need to keep going, no matter what. Most of all, I need to fight! How bad do I want this? The future is mine, if I want it. No excuses!

If I put my whole heart out there, good things will happen. I’ve slowly come to the realization that stepping outside of my comfort zone isn’t enough. A life of quiet confidence, stepping out on faith, and believing that the right people will appreciate me, is my new normal. Promoting myself IS my comfort zone. Because if I’m not comfortable sharing my time, talent, and heart with people, what is my purpose for being here?

I should be UNcomfortable with playing it safe and keeping my thoughts close to the vest. I should be UNcomfortable with underachieving and allowing myself to be snubbed, overlooked or forgotten. The time for a new comfort zone is long overdue. From now on, I am comfortable being fearless, I am comfortable being bold. My new comfort zone is UNstoppable!

Why We are Here

We are here for many reasons, but I think you’ll agree that this is a very good one, perhaps the best one. We were seeking a miracle. Let me explain.

Ireland is a beautiful country. The people are warm and friendly. But there’s something else about Ireland that is important to why we are here: Ireland is wet. It rains every day. Sometimes the rain is just a “mist”, but it’ll do. We need this miracle of rain.

Our youngest child, Savannah, has an incurable skin condition that makes her hands look like she’s been in a fire. Prescription creams didn’t work, and no one could help her (we’d been to several doctors and I’d done my own research as well). She suffers from dry, itchy, rashes that bleed.

She’d developed the habit of wearing gloves or keeping her hands in her pockets when we go out. She wore long sleeve shirts even in the summer, insisting that she wasn’t hot (she had to have been!). We worried that people would think that she had a contagious rash – she did not. Eczema is not contagious! More info about severe eczema here: https://nationaleczema.org/living-with-eczema/ But you know, the fear of disease keeps people from being kind or rational sometimes, so I was very protective of my little girl.

I’d heard that moving to Ireland has really helped people who have issues with dry air, which is a big trigger for her severe eczema. We experimented with removing well-known allergens from our house and diet. Laundry and bath soaps were hypoallergenic, dye-free, fragrance free, etc. We couldn’t have any pets. We stopped eating pasta. We tried new moisturizers and creams. While her condition may have improved slightly, nothing cleared it up completely.

To be clear: <<Most types of eczema are not allergies. However, many people with eczema have flare-ups when they are exposed to allergens.>> So, eliminating allergens can help, but it cannot cure eczema, nor are allergens the cause of it. Eczema is a disease and, if it is a severe form, it can cause a lot of distress. It can be a chronic, daily, nightmare.

Here in Ireland, for the first time in about five years, Savannah’s hands and arms are clear! She has NO rashes on the tops of her hands!¬† Now she looks like a perfectly normal 14 year old! And this transformation happened *IMMEDIATELY* after we landed! The next day, Savannah showed us how improved her hands were. By the end of the first week, her rashes were gone! She has had no flare-ups since. And… she’s proud to show off her hands in public. She has joined a knitting circle! More about that later.

Eczema is connected to other health issues, such as asthma. Allergies and asthma are in the same family. More info here: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/treatment-11/eczema-allergies-link While eczema is not life threatening, asthma IS.

I have asthma, as do Cassie and Nicholas. Both had a mild form of eczema as babies. Neither have severe asthma. But I worry about Savannah. Because her eczema is a severe form and she has a parent who suffers from hay fever (Brent) and one with asthma (me), she is at a high risk for developing asthma. If we could find a way to control her eczema, isn’t it possible that we’ll also minimize her risk of developing asthma?

Well, guess what? NONE of us have had an asthma attack here in Ireland. We’ve been here for almost two months now and we’ve been exposed to the biggest triggers: cats and, to a lesser extent, dogs. Cats are definitely a BIG trigger for me and Cassie. I’ve had an attack just from being around someone who had cat hair on her sweater! And yet we spent all afternoon at someone’s house with a cat on the premises. Not just one cat, but TWO! And… there was a long haired dog as well. Eventually, Cassie ended up sneezing, but there was no danger of an asthma attack. This is probably the first time in my life that I’ve been in the presence of a cat without having an attack. Wow, if the Irish weather can do that for my asthma, there’s hope for Savannah!

She may never develop asthma, but if she does, may it be a mild form that is easy to control. One of my dear friends lost her son to asthma. It’s a serious disease.¬† If there’s anything we can do to help Savannah with her long-term health, we’ll do it. We’ll even move to Ireland, where I hope and pray they’ll let us stay.

A Light Lunch

Today we were invited to stay after church for a “light lunch”. This is Ireland. There’s no such thing as a light lunch!

American friends: doesn’t a light lunch suggest soup and salad, maybe some bread… possibly a tea sandwich and a cookie? Here in Cork, Ireland, the light lunch spread was this:

  • Lasagna – probably the best lasagna I’ve ever had
  • Meatballs – DEFINITELY the best I’ve ever had – what WAS that?
  • Fresh Salad
  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Soup
  • Chicken curry
  • Chili
  • Sausages
  • Potatoes (of course, right?)
  • Rice
  • Couscous
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Spicy chicken wings
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Dessert that was so awesome that I’m glad I made room for it! I think it was a torte? Homemade & *DELICIOUS*!

Well, all of this food has made me sleepy, but I’ll try to fill you in on our church story. I’ve lifted these photos of the church from the official website. The building is beautiful, agree?

TrinityPresbyterianAgain from the church website, this is the interior:

Trinity Front2sOur family has been sitting over there on the right hand side (not shown in this photo) every Sunday for the past four weeks.

Week one, we were late. It took Brent a while to find the place. But I was determined that our family would get ourselves to church, even if it meant being temporarily embarrassed about coming in late.

The service was exactly what we needed. It was simple. It was welcoming. It was peaceful. We had come to the right place.

Afterward, there was tea and biscuits (cookies). We stayed for that, because really, there was no escaping it anyway! Members of the church trapped us into the pews (seriously – the pews have only one way out and they were blocking it!), talking to us, shaking our hands, and welcoming us. Then, we were plied with tea, and when tea happens in Ireland, it’s best to go along with it. ūüôā

Well, we have been to many, many churches. Sometimes we dive right in and become active in the church. Sometimes we stay for years. We’ve been Sunday School teachers, Praise and Worship Team leaders, choir members, Power Point techs, musicians, theater directors, etc. We’ve also had long absences from church – in which we didn’t attend any church at all. These breaks can last for years.

Always when we take the plunge and return, we expect a certain amount of handshaking. We know we’ll have to explain who we are and why we’re there. It’s the part about being new to a church that I¬† dread. But this was different.

I don’t know if it’s because we are an American family, with a built-in excuse for why we are new, or if this church treats everyone this way, but instead of feeling as if we had to account for why we’d never been inside their church before, we were welcomed as if we were coming home for the first time. I tell you, it felt so good.

It was only days before when I told Brent, “I can’t do this anymore. I need help.” The constant fear that we won’t get jobs in time to get permission to stay in Ireland was weighing on me. What if we are deported after we’ve given up everything to be here? Of course I felt all of this (and still do), but I was fighting hard to stay positive and fight for our new life. My family though… they were hard to talk to. They were weary. Brent was defeated. No amount of coaching would pep them up. Instead, I was wearing down too.

I couldn’t build my family up anymore, not by myself. I was exhausted. I said that their negativity was overwhelming me. I couldn’t be positive enough for all five of us. It was time for reinforcements. Why not try the church that was mysteriously calling to me when I was sitting in a near-empty house looking at a silent computer screen, searching for answers?

I’d found their website, back when moving to Ireland felt like an impossible dream. I could imagine my family going to that church. I can’t explain it. I stared at the web page and it was as if I had a memory of having been there before. I don’t know how else to say it.¬† I looked at several other church websites, but I always went back to this one. Then, when it was time to consider giving church a try, this church was the only one that made sense. It was as if God was calling us to this church… which is interesting because…

The church body is startled by what God is doing to their Irish church. For reasons that no one has an explanation for, only half of their congregation is Irish! The other half is international. People from all over the world are arriving at their church.

I was asked why we chose their church. I babbled something about their web site, but the truth is… I don’t know! It drew me in. When it was time to go to church, it was the one I was sure of.

Here are some of the countries represented by people in this church:

  • South Africa
  • Korea
  • UK
  • Hungary
  • Ghana
  • United States

And others… I’m still new so I don’t know all of the countries represented by the surprisingly large international population at this relatively small protestant church in Cork, Ireland. I got the impression that the Irish reverend and congregation members are astonished by this… and they think it’s wonderful. As do I!

We felt completely at home here, in this diverse congregation. We truly gathered for one common purpose. It was as if the hour spent in that building was an hour bathed in Light and Love. There was no language barrier, no cultural barrier, and nothing really needed to be said.

But people spoke to us anyway. During the after-service tea, they asked us detailed questions. And then they did something unexpected. They didn’t offer to help us. They just DID. They helped us immediately and swiftly. I could barely keep up as my family members were being led away to speak to various people. My desperate plea had been heard! Reinforcements were on the way! I could feel myself relaxing for the first time in months.

Here are two examples:

  1. Cassie saw a job opening at Apple’s international headquarters in Cork. She would love to get in! Someone at church works there and offered to speak to her manager on her behalf.
  2. Nicholas wants to apply to UCC but he’s been dragging his feet. An IT major talked to Nicholas at length and answered all of his questions. This encouragement was just what Nicholas needed to finally finish his application essay!

Keep in mind, this is a small church. I think there were maybe only four or five young adults there. How is it that these highly specific connections were made? I had reached the end of what I could do for them. They needed connections of their own.

And what about my husband? He was so down and out, struggling with the emotions of being unemployed for the first time in his life. He has had a job ever since he was a kid. He had a paper route, he de-tassled corn, he worked in an auto parts store, and at nineteen years old he joined the Army. After serving in Germany and then in Iraq, he got out. Thereafter he always held down at least one job, sometimes several jobs at once.

While he had a salaried job as a commercial photographer for almost twenty years, he also did odd jobs to pay for braces for two daughters, medical bills, and other life expenses. He’s been a security guard (he was armed with only a whistle – something that still cracks me up), he’s fixed toilets (well, there was a flooding incident when he botched a plumbing job, but that was quickly taken care of), he milked dairy cows (no, his laundry was NOT fun to do!), and more. He’s had few vacations. He’s worked himself to beyond the point of exhaustion. And now… he’s had to tell people over and over again that he has no job. BTW: This is Brent’s Go Fund Me Page

I had to get our lease agreement based on my author/artist connections. I had to get an Irish bank account in my name only. All of this is absurd. Brent has been the primary source of income for our entire marriage. Twenty-eight years of supporting me suddenly didn’t matter. Now he can’t even rent a house. It was wearing on him. Sure, he had courageously gone back to school to become a teacher. And yes, he finished with an A average. But the path to become certified is long and windy. The jubilation over finishing school has long faded.

It will be weeks before his certification in the States goes through, and then he has to start the process with the Irish Teaching Council to get certified to teach in Ireland. There are connections he needs to make in person, so sitting back in the States wouldn’t have helped. For example, he had to apply for a government issued number in person. He needs that number to get Garda vetted for the Irish Teaching Council. He got that done last week. Anyway… it’s a tedious game of hurry up and wait. No one seems to care that while prospective teachers are going through this process they are unable to get a full time permanent position. I guess they expect teachers to be young, female, and supported by someone else? No wonder they get so few men into the teaching profession. They can’t afford it, especially if they are older and have families.

But back to Brent…

Not working is more exhausting than working. And I just couldn’t prop him up anymore. I needed help. I was wearing down myself. I’d gotten sick, very sick, for the first time in years. I’ve struggled to get myself back on track. I have to let go and let God. It’s time to admit that I can’t do this myself. I can’t fix these big unknown problems. I can’t be “everything” and “everyone” for my family. There’s a church for that. THIS church.

So, week one – there was instant relief! WHEW! It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to do this alone, and I didn’t have to lean too heavily on our Irish friends either — they’ve nearly adopted us! No, it was time that we plugged into the community and made our own way. We only had to get through one day at a time and then it would be Sunday again.

On week two we followed through on an after-church lunch invitation from the week before. Before we get to that though, I have to mention that there was an engaging guest speaker during the service who really captured my attention. I talked with him and bought his book during tea time. I’m reading his book now. This was an interesting connection because Cassie and Nicholas are studying Japanese and his book is about his years in Japan.

Back to week two and our lunch date:

We followed the couple to their home, which was on the other side of Cork, where we hadn’t yet been to before. It was a beautiful drive. At the time we had a small rental car, so we were unpleasantly squished, but it was well worth it.

“Lunch” was an elaborate meal (roasted chicken, vegetables, and potatoes) followed by tea and dessert (a large slab of apple pie with hot custard spooned over it). We were very full and it was late afternoon by the time we wrapped up Sunday feasting and conversation.

After lunch we were shown a beautiful HANDCRAFTED organ! WHAT?!!? Brent makes handcrafted musical instruments and Nicholas has been his apprentice, so this was right up their alley. I mean, seriously??? How did we end up with this perfect match? This organ is extraordinary! It’s mammoth, for one thing! And it was pure genius how this man built it – he’s an engineer by the way. He took keyboard keys from an inexpensive keyboard and laid them into a gorgeous wooden instrument. There’s a massive speaker built in that rattles the house! ūüôā

His wife gave us a delightful impromptu concert. She plays beautifully. It was fun to watch her hands move so fast across the keys. What was best of all is the obvious love between the pair of them. What a treat to spend time in their home!

On to week three…

On week three I was prepared to coast through the service. I was looking forward to singing the songs and sitting peacefully in the pew until tea time. There was no lunch date today and I was planning to go home without any excitement. I could shut my busy brain down. Or could I? The sermon had me with the opening statement. Oh dear, I didn’t expect to get emotional. I’m someone who rarely cries. I hate crying. I get mad if I’m tricked into watching a sad movie. I’m still mad at Disney/Pixar for making me cry during Toy Story 3. But there I was, trying to blink back the tears. Because the reverend was saying a few simple words that spoke directly to my heart:

God knows. God cares.

My best friend from school told me something similar: God sees. God loves you.

Some of you reading this are shaking your heads and thinking, “So what? That sounds like a common theme for a church.” Obviously I’ve heard it said that God loves me, that Jesus loves me. But what I needed to hear is that God knows what’s going on in my life, that He sees. That’s not a message I usually hear in church, even though it seems obvious. I’m a person who needs to be reminded that I matter. Maybe you feel the same.

Sometimes I feel invisible. No matter how hard I push, I’m often forgotten by people. Don’t you ever feel that way? I mean, weeks slip by and people are busy. Maybe months slip by. The next thing you know, years have passed. And… well, maybe by then we’ve given up on that person being in our lives. But God isn’t that way. He sees us always. We are never forgotten. And He’ll never slip out of our lives. And no matter how far from home we go, He’s there. He’s waiting for us on the other side. He’s already there, ahead of us.

I don’t know how to put this into words any more than I already have, other than to share a song with you that I played over and over again when I was feeling overwhelmed by the unknowns. In the weeks before our big move to Ireland, this song helped me get through the anxiety and the loneliness. I played it while I was painting. Pay attention to the lyrics: Already There by Casting Crowns

Bottom line, week three was spiritually personal for me, as if God was sending me a direct message. Brent was moved by the sermon too – a different part of it, having to do with faith and not worrying, staying strong, etc. He came away from it feeling positive.

And now we’re at week four, today.

Today they fed us a “light” lunch. It sure wasn’t light. But maybe it was Light? Is that what they meant? If so, they got it exactly right.

 

An Irish Welcome

[Read part one of my journey to Ireland here]

My family and I were welcomed into Ireland by our dear friends Marie and Johnny O’Halloran. We hadn’t yet met in person, but we already felt as close as family. Seeing them was one of the events that I was most looking forward to, and I thought of them whenever I felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of the transition and travel.

Our story is a long one, but I’ll give you the short(ish) version. Marie had learned about my Serena Wilcox Mysteries Pet Contest on Twitter. She entered the contest, which led to a series of e-mails between us. Her adorable Jack Russell “Roxy” won 3rd place and a mention in the next Serena Wilcox mystery novel. Part of Marie’s prize package included a free copy of the paperback when it was published. I sent the book to her, in Ireland.

Well, that was exciting! Ireland, wow. I had a lot of questions about Ireland and I was wistful when I saw her beautiful pictures. Marie insisted that one day I would come to Ireland and there would be a thousand welcomes waiting for me. Naturally, this sounded utterly impossible to my ears. My husband’s job was on the brink, as the company was in a tailspin. My own meager earnings as an artist and author couldn’t finance a trip to Ireland. No way!

We hadn’t been on a real vacation since 2008 when we’d saved every penny to take our family to Disney World. It had been seven long years of “staycations”. Ireland? No, I just couldn’t see it.

But Marie believed from day one that she’d see me in Ireland, and she never stopped believing. Eventually I began to believe it too.¬† And that’s a good thing because around this same time, Brent was talking about moving to Europe. It’s another long story to explain his/our many reasons for wanting a big change, so we’ll save that for another day. Let’s skip ahead to this part: We had loved our newlywed years in Germany, but why not try an English speaking country this time around, like Ireland?

Yes, why not Ireland? Lately I’d become closer to my late father’s sister, my aunt Ann. She had sent me a collection of photos of our Irish family. It seemed that everything was coming up Irish these days. More and more, it looked like we were meant to go.

I started selling anything and everything we didn’t absolutely need or didn’t passionately want. I had dozens of garage sales. I listed over a hundred items on Craigslist. My husband Brent and our three kids helped with these sales. It overtook our lives for over four years. But we were raising the money for a new life…hopefully in Ireland.

Meanwhile, Brent was ever closer to losing his job. He had enrolled in graduate school to change careers entirely, after seeing that his prospects of a job in his field were bleak. He plugged away at graduate school to become a teacher while I plugged away at increasing my artist/author income. All along, we were selling more and more of our possessions. Nothing we owned was worth much money. It was depressing really, seeing how shabby our things really were. But it’s amazing how much the “fish and loaves” could stretch. Why, we could raise thousands of dollars, one quarter at a time!

I became a most excellent salesman! I sold an opened bag of potting soil and a pretty rock I found on our old property. Brent didn’t think I could sell the dirt or the rock. I knew I could. And that’s how it went.

I marked items separately and put a tag on them. For example, I sold our tackle boxes empty. I grouped the tackle into separate baggies marked 25 cents, 50 cents, etc. People bought *ALL* of the tackle. In the end, I made much more from each tackle box than if I’d sold them with the tackle inside. This was a lot of work, as you can imagine. I did the same thing over and over–for years! There was an element of insanity in this.

All along, I felt as if I was meant to learn something. Perhaps if I believe I can, I can. If I believe it will happen, it will. Maybe there was something to Glinda’s words to Dorothy. She had the power all along. She could have gone home at any time, if only she had believed it was possible. The ruby red slippers were just a fashion statement. All she really needed was to believe.

But, despite my best self-coaching, and my unceasing prayers, it felt like this bizarre quest was never going to end. We’d be spinning our wheels without actually going anywhere, indefinitely. Through it all, Marie never wavered. She was completely confident that I’d be in Ireland, where I would see a dolphin in the wild, something I’d always longed to do. I always felt better after talking to Marie. She made me feel as if anything was possible, that Ireland was possible.

Then, I didn’t hear from her for a long stretch. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong. Marie’s story is her own, so I don’t want to tell too much of it here, but she was going through a surprise pregnancy after believing that she couldn’t have children…and to top it off, she was pregnant with twins! She and Johnny were over the moon. Sadly, her pregnancy was difficult and the boys were born very early. Lorcan and Cathal were micro preemies. Their proud parents loved both sons from before they were born, and they will love both boys always.

But dear Cathal lost his fight after a few short weeks here on Earth. I was heartbroken for Marie and I offered to help her through her grief journey. She had no pictures of her babies without tubes and medical equipment covering their tiny bodies. I wanted her to have an image of her precious children, whole and free from tubes. I suggested using Photoshop to create a photograph, or maybe I could paint them. Marie wanted a painting. Even when I felt nervous about getting it right, she insisted that Cathal would help me paint it.

Almost a year later, when Marie was ready, she gave me the images I needed to create a painting.  She told me that I could wait until I was in Ireland to paint the picture, but I started working on it right away without telling her. At this same time, without telling me, Marie was working on making a connection for me in Ireland to exhibit my art there. Our e-mails crossed at the same time, even though we were in different time zones (a six hour difference). She was telling me about the connection she made for me, at the same time that I was sending her the file of the painting.

Marie was confused at first, thinking that I was replying to the email she had just sent. But her email had somehow gone into her outgoing folder, and hadn’t gone through. No, this was an email from me about something else… about the painting that she didn’t know I had started on, let alone finished. It was a powerful experience for both of us. Describing these emotions would take many words, and even then I could not do it justice.

I brought the painting with me on the plane. I wanted it with me to give to her right away, as I knew that she would want to have it. This is the painting video. And here is the painting:

Oil painting Marie's Babies by Natalie Buske ThomasWhile I was preparing to bring her painting with me (I packed it in a cloth bag inside a plastic art portfolio case that I then packed tightly in my luggage with clothes protecting it), Marie and Johnny were busy helping me get a lease on the house we wanted. They acted as my representative. Marie made calls for me and Johnny visited the property to get the documents and keys. They surprised us with a video that Johnny made when he visited the house.

I couldn’t believe it… This would be our home! It didn’t seem real. And yet, there it was. We had raised the money to get ourselves to Ireland, for the deposit on the house, and we even had a small amount of savings to get through the next few months. It would be hard, as Brent was unemployed and waiting for his teaching certification to come through. But we’d face the same difficulty if we were waiting Stateside. Why stay there, muddling through these hardships in the frigid Midwest, feeling lonely and depressed, when we could go to Ireland? Why not try? At the worst, we’ll have spent the money we raised and have to return to the States¬† — AFTER living in Ireland! We had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The housing market in Ireland was not at all what I was expecting. I found it next to impossible to find a “fixer”. I wanted a low budget home. What I found was a variety of beautiful homes, for less rent than we found in our high cost of living area in the States! Well, gee, I guess you could talk me into it, if that’s really all there is…I still wondered if there was a catch. How could we be this lucky?

The days leading up to the big trip were stressful. There was too much to do. Suddenly all the “hurry up and wait” had become HURRY UP and GO! A snowstorm hit Minneapolis the day before we left and that threw everything into a big mess. The flight we would have been on was canceled. Not delayed, but canceled altogether! We feared that we wouldn’t get out of Minneapolis.

Of pressing concern, the condition of the roads was slowing us down. Brent had to finish the rest of our last-minute errands on his own because I had to stay in the house and try to get everything out. During the worst of it, I was breaking down because I lost the special locket that Aunt Ann had given me. It contained a picture of my great grandmother, Nellie Murphy, my Irish relative, but that’s not all.

IMG_2544The front of the locket had the initial “N”. When I first saw this locket, I initially thought that Aunt Ann had it monogrammed for me, Natalie. But the monogram looked old–a part of the antique jewelry. So, what was going on? Then I remembered that my great grandmother went by the nickname Nellie. N! We shared the same initial!

IMG_2549Here are the photos inside the locket… Nellie Murphy with her husband Thomas, my great grandfather. And yes, Thomas is also my (married) last name. Strange, huh? To make this more interesting, my Aunt Ann is also a Thomas by marriage (completely different families though).

IMG_2552The back of the locket had a shamrock on it. Isn’t this a beautiful piece of jewelry? I’m sure you understand my anguish in losing this locket just moments before leaving for the airport.

I’d been planning for years to wear it on the plane. I had set it on top of my traveling clothes, but Brent had moved my clothes when he stripped the mattress to donate it to a homeless family in need. The locket could be anywhere–maybe it was in the bag with the sheets in it. That bag was gone now and we didn’t have time to track it down.

The person who came to pick up our mattresses had been in a small truck with no bed on it. It was snowing and hard going. Well, that whole fiasco took much longer than expected, and Brent was late in getting out to donate a last-minute round of our possessions.  The kids helped me look for the locket, but we had too much to do. I told them to give up the search. I had to let go of it.

Meanwhile, WHERE WAS MY HUSBAND? We were supposed to head out to the airport in ten minutes and we weren’t ready! We still had stuff in the refrigerator! I tell you, I didn’t know if I would vomit or cry. Fortunately I did neither. I came close, and that’s bad enough. We ended up leaving in a mad rush, with the kids’ mattresses and other items to donate still sitting on the porch, waiting for the woman in the truck to make a second trip to pick them up. I hope she did. I never did hear what happened. Perhaps I will get a bill from the property manager!

Meanwhile, Marie and Johnny had arranged to be available to pick us up from the Cork airport and they were hoping to get word about how our flight was going. We couldn’t get anything through! Our Internet was cut off, we were running late, and Brent’s phone didn’t have an international plan. We’d have to focus on getting through baggage check in and airport security. I wanted to be at the airport three hours before the flight. We made it with two and a half hours before departure, which was still plenty of time. We were good! It would all be OK. Let’s calm down…

And then…

Baggage check in went sideways. We were overweight in our luggage, which led to a mad flurry of bailing things out. Regretfully my small cast iron skillet was thrown away in the airport bin. That was a tough loss, as it was my American made Lodge skillet that I’d meticulously seasoned and cared for, but… sacrifices must be made. We got that mess all figured out and paid a few hundred dollars more than we wanted to for the remaining overweight luggage, but we would soon be on our way.

Or would we?

There was a man at the counter who would not give us service. Now, I don’t want to get into it here, but let’s just say that I question his motive for sending us TWICE to a long line that we didn’t need to go to. It would be politically incorrect for me to spell it out to you here in this public blog. Think Minneapolis. Think of what is going on there. Think of possible bigotry toward a white Christian family. I don’t know… All I know is that we had to get the help of another employee because we were refused service. He said repeatedly that he could not do something that he obviously could do (and was forced to do when another employee got involved — all the while making it clear that he did not want to do it).

This whole affair took well over an hour. It felt hostile. It was unsettling. It was awful. But we are safe and that’s all that matters. We were able to finally move on to security.

And security in the Minneapolis airport was needlessly oppressive! It was a police state. My daughters were doing the best they could to comply. My fourteen year old Savannah was struggling to put her electronics into the bin, while her other things were also in separate bins, while taking off her shoes, etc. And I couldn’t help her because I was also doing the same thing, getting my laptop out, etc. We were trying to do as requested, as fast as we could. All the while, a female TSA agent was barking at my daughter like a drill Sergeant.¬† “You have to keep it moving!” and “Ma’am, you have to keep it moving!” OK, really? I know that Savannah looks older than her tender years, but “Ma’am”? She couldn’t tell she was a teenager? The giant plush giraffe and the way she was dressed didn’t give it away? I hate how this woman was harassing my daughter! I will never forget this!

And then we went through the rest of the ordeal… where Cassie was “felt up” – patted down over her bra, and Savannah’s hair was raked through because she was wearing something in her hair that apparently set off the metal detector.

I was selected for a TSA agent to go through my carry on bag, and that experience was wretched. The guy kept saying, “MA’AM, DON’T TOUCH THE BAG!” when I was merely trying to help, and I hadn’t touched anything. I was trying to tell him that I had forgotten that I had a pair of hair cutting scissors in the bag. I had packed it at the last minute, totally forgetting that I couldn’t bring them in a carry on. He wouldn’t listen! He kept talking over me.

He rummaged through everything that I’d carefully packed, leaving it in a mess. He skipped right over the scissors–which had likely set off the alarm, and instead found my kitchen set – utensils that Brent had gotten as a work anniversary present and are part of our set… the only set we had left. He removed our BUTTER knives and threw them away. Or whatever it is that they do with confiscated items…

I had the option to pay for them. I chose to let them go, as this trip was already too expensive. Now the butter knives from our set are gone. Needlessly.

The problem was the SCISSORS! As I had tried to tell him. (Well, no worries, I got caught with the scissors at the security line in the UK. The London airport figured it out. Lucky me, now my butter knives are gone AND my hair cutting scissors.)

After all of this, we got to the gate in Minneapolis only ten minutes before boarding. And that’s when they checked in my carry on bag, yes, the same one that was stripped of its butter knives. Freaking needlessly because the airline chose to check it in anyway!!!! And this is what happened, if you haven’t already read this part.

Anyway, well, you can see that we did not have a good experience. I could go on and on… it could have been worse. I’ve experienced worse, actually. But our three flights to get to Ireland can all be summed up by the final windy touchdown in Cork when Cassie hurled into a barf bag.

Ah, but we were on the ground! A thousand welcomes were waiting!

Our first welcome was at the immigration counter. The Irish agent was a jolly older fellow who was a bit like Santa. He chatted with me about our kids’ plans to visit universities in Ireland. Then he stamped our passports with the maximum 90 days without any more questions! It was the moment that could have gone wrong for us, and instead it went very very right! We now had the gift of 90 days in Ireland!!!

We have to get “permission to stay” if we wish to extend our visit beyond the 90 days. At that point, we can be granted a year. And each year it will go the same way, until about five years of residence–assuming that we are good citizens and can support ourselves. Then, we can apply for citizenship if we choose — Ireland allows dual citizenship, so we’d also be American citizens.

But, all of this is getting ahead of ourselves.¬† Brent has to get a job first. There’s a lot to do… I need to focus on the wins we’ve already had instead of immediately freaking out about the next step. We have a 90 day stamp. That’s something to celebrate!

Back to my travel story…

Marie and Johnny met us at the Cork airport when we arrived. I will never forget looking out the glass doors while exiting the baggage claim area and seeing Marie waving to us. I can’t describe how good that felt. It was like seeing a sister I never knew I had. And just like that, nothing else mattered.

Brent had booked a rental car, a “people carrier” (a small mini-van). It was the last car available, and more expensive than we’d hoped, but at least he was used to driving a mini van, so that was good. He got an automatic thrown in because they didn’t have any manual transmission vans left. This turned out to be a good thing because driving on the left was more of a challenge than Brent had anticipated. And it was a horrific nightmare for his passenger, WHOA!!!! Scary as hell!!!! Even though he followed Marie and Johnny’s car, he still blew through two red lights and hugged the left side of the road so precariously that I was convince we were gonna die!

But we made it… first to Dino’s, an Irish fast food restaurant that serves GIGANTIC fish fillets and delicious chips (fries). YUM! That was truly delicious and great fun. They still had Christmas decorations up, reminding us that it was December 30, not yet New Year’s Day. People were still on holiday.

Next, we followed Marie and Johnny to the house — which was way, way, in the middle of… nowhere. In the middle of a forest! Yes, there were other homes along the way, but which way was this….? There were no road signs. There was only an ever-narrowing one-lane road…

Savannah took these photos, with her iPod from the backseat:

Way home from airport 2

Way home from airportAnd then… there it was, just like we saw in the advertisement online, and in Johnny’s video. It was real, the house was real!

Our new homeOh MY MY MY! Our new home is gorgeous!!!!! Pinch me, I’m surely dreaming. [This photo was taken from the dirty backseat window with Savannah’s iPod, that’s why it’s so cloudy.]

IMG_2425I took this one later, with my nice camera – which the airline did not break! WOOT!

I’d been plunging toilets in a 100+ year old house, with drafty rooms in which I wore a jacket inside the house, and sometimes gloves (when typing at the keyboard my hands would get icy), and now I’d be living in this beautiful home! We went from a kitchen that was too small for our family — we had to take turns getting our food! — to a kitchen where all five of us can stand around chatting and snacking together all in one space. And when we want to sit for a meal, we can have dinner in a separate dining room! I could go on, but… you get the picture. The house is wonderful!

And guess what Marie and Johnny did? They surprised us with a kitchen food of food! Now, we knew that they were buying groceries for us, because she had asked me to email her a list. What she DIDN’T say was that she wouldn’t let me pay her for the groceries AND she would add extras! So, there was all of this waiting for us.

It was a joyful housewarming! I took pictures of the goodies, the extras….! And I’ll share those next.

But I didn’t take any photos of our time with Marie and Johnny – there will be plenty of photo opportunities later. Some moments are not meant to be photographed. Our time with them will hold a special place in my heart forever. The moment when I gave them the painting of their sons — the look on Marie’s face. I just… it plays over and over again in my mind and tears spring to my eyes every time. She cried. But it was that look when she first saw it, that look of recognition. I will never again doubt my talents. God did not give me the ability to paint for no purpose. What I do is meant to heal – it is meant to help others. I might not always know what to do, but if I am willing to do it, Someone will show me what to do – at the right time, for the right reason, for the right person. This was that time, that reason, and that person. I will never forget that moment.

Moving on and wrapping up this long blog post with something lighter — the treats! This was our Irish Welcome! (There were also bags of regular grocery times – we were well stocked!)

1These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…

IMG_2441Ha ha! Had to laugh at this. I’d asked Marie what a “mince pie” was. I saw that the McDonald’s in Ireland (on their website, when I was looking at it State side) was serving mince pies. I thought they were meat pies (called “mincemeat” afterall), but no, they are desserts. MMM! Cassie’s holding one up to show you:IMG_2443We tried them microwaved and baked — definitely better baked. MMM!

IMG_2446Here’s Nicholas enjoying his first mince pie:

IMG_2447

I also didn’t know what “Taytos” were. Marie had mentioned that she’ll have to lay off the Taytos when she prepares to run a 5K. I didn’t know what those were, although I did guess they were probably potato chips (crisps). But I was only partially right… they are IRISH crisps and they are very good. It’s important that I experience Taytos if I want to live in Ireland. ūüôā

IMG_2448They even have a Tayto Park! Maybe we’ll go…

IMG_2451Savannah cracked the toffee open for us. She loved this experience and she kept the little hammer as a keepsake.

IMG_2452

IMG_2455CHOCOLATE! Cadbury is big here. It was fun trying the different kinds.

IMG_2456I love cake. And I love Christmas. What could be better than a Christmas Cake? WOOT!

IMG_2458The Christmas Cake in all its glory! The ribbon is real – we removed it to find a cupcake-like liner. In fact, it was like a huge cupcake! The cake was heavy, sort of like a coffee cake. It served our family of five twice over!

IMG_2460

But the best, I mean the BEST, is this…Irish Creamery BUTTER!!! We just have to stay in Ireland, if only for the butter!!!!

IMG_2470And the meat… mmmmmmmm! I tell you, everything we’ve eaten here has been fresher and of better quality, for a better price, than what we used to get in the States. What’s going on, America? The food here is AMAZING!!!! And everything is clearly labeled. Allergens are marked in bold. This helps me tremendously because my girls are allergic to nuts, especially nut oils that can be found in pesto and can crop up unexpectedly in other places too.

IMG_2473Made this nutritious, simple, and DELICIOUS meal of tender seasoned steak on a variety of greens with fresh cheese, bread and Irish creamery butter. It doesn’t look like much food but it was so hearty that we only needed one plate to feel content, full even! Of course I do have a healthy slab of butter on my bread. ūüôā

Our Irish Welcome was absolutely wonderful! Thank you, Marie and Johnny — and Marie’s friend as well, who chipped in for the extras. We would have had a miserable experience without you. I don’t know how we would have even made it home from the Cork airport! Seeing your happy faces upon arrival meant more than you could ever know. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We look forward to many fun visits. xo xo xo, The Thomas Family

I’ll continue to update everyone on our Irish adventures. And please don’t forget about the book I’m writing, A Dolphin in the Wild: How God Sent me to Ireland. The story is still unfolding.¬† Oh, and the special locket I told you about? The one that I lost?

IMG_2544I had it with me the whole time! It was in the pocket of my personal bag — the only bag that was with me from the first leg of the journey until the end. I took these pictures of it today — as it sits on the dressing table in my new bedroom!

See, Dorothy, the ruby red slippers were on your feet the entire time. You needed to only believe that you could go home.