Posted on

Scooby Doo Gang

Halloween 2016

IMG_4866Me as Scooby Doo with the rest of the gang (my husband and kids)

IMG_4870My son Nicholas does a great Shaggy impression (the walk)






We went to Krispy Kreme for a free doughnut! MMMM!







Brent got a “salted caramel” doughnut. The rest of us got the filled kind. Mine had both chocolate and vanilla filling, apparently I got the “zombie” one (I didn’t know that, I just picked it for the cute face!). It was delicious! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


Posted on

Irish Life

From the American perspective, Ireland is a foreign country and a magical island, but it’s not another planet. Both are Western cultures that share the same language (sort of), the same technological advances (sort of) and the same products (sort of). So, you’d think that there would be few (if any) misunderstandings.  But if you know our history of misadventures, you won’t be surprised to hear that some Americans living in Ireland are easily confused… and potentially stinky.

IMG_3656My husband Brent bought the product on the left “Comfort”, 42 loads of sunshiny days. I looked at it and I was immediately suspicious. “Are you sure that this is laundry detergent?” The liquid was so watery. Hmm. He was confident. Meanwhile, I suspected that Comfort might be fabric softener, not detergent with softening agents. So after we bought laundry pods, I switched to that… while the rest of the family trusted Comfort and used it until it was almost gone.IMG_3658

After a few weeks, my family had begun to smell. Brent noticed that his clothes weren’t “getting clean enough”, but when he got a whiff of our 18 year old son, he realized that he should probably take a closer look at Comfort… which was fabric softener, not soap. They’d been washing their clothes with nothing but water and fabric softener for over a month! I could have said “I told you so” but it’s more fun to remember this forever and bring it up at random. 🙂

IMG_3666All right, I’ve picked on them enough. It’s my turn. These are “digestives” or “digestive biscuits“. I know that these are cookies, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. What did they mean by “digestive”? How do these cookies aid in digestion? Will those of us who need no added help end up with, uh, problems? Was there a laxative effect to these so-called cookies? My daughter Cassie still mocks me for this one. They are just cookies – no hidden laxatives. Although I suppose if you ate too many of them you’d be in trouble, the reason why they are called digestives is because it is thought that food made with baking soda is good for the digestion.

And apparently there’s even a proper way to eat them.

IMG_3667IMG_3668Chocolate is on the top right? No, I guess they say it’s on the bottom.

IMG_3669This is the top, where the logo is. Seems odd to eat it that way – chocolate half definitely seems like the top!

IMG_3670These biscuits are not the same thing as American cookies. They’re like the “cookie” layer of a Twix bar. They are very inexpensive to buy, less than 1€ for a whole roll, and are a staple when serving tea.

IMG_3671I mentioned baking soda earlier. It took me a while to find it when I wanted to bake from scratch. Sometimes it’s called “Bread Soda”.

FrytexI also had trouble finding shortening. We asked at the Tesco grocery store and they had no idea what I was talking about. I had to describe it and what it’s used for. It was a funny conversation. Finally they understood what it was and they led me to the refrigerated section.  In the U.S., shortening is typically sold in a can and is found on a shelf near baking supplies, vegetable oil, etc. Here, they sell shortening in blocks that look like butter, and they keep it in the refrigerated section.

IMG_3675See? I wasn’t crazy when I thought that mince pie was made of meat. They call their ground beef “beef mince”.

IMG_3676This (above photo) is not to be confused with this:

IMG_2446IMG_2443IMG_2441Remember the story of my Irish friend Marie surprising us with a big Irish welcome? She was amused that I thought that a mince pie was a meat pie.

But I was off by only one letter! There’s “mince” pie and there’s “minced” pie.  Look at this Irish specialty:

IMG_3699IMG_3700This was very good – really rich, so you’d want to go easy on it and have only once in a while, but yes, it was yummy!

IMG_3701We thought both meat pies tasted pretty much the same, and I can’t remember which one was which. Both were good and I’ll probably make something like this from scratch next winter. It’s a comfort food meal that’s perfect for a chilly day.

IMG_3702There’s never a shortage of potatoes here! These are called “salad potatoes”. I mixed them with vegetables in my favorite cast iron skillet that I shipped from the United States. I know, I know… it’s expensive to do that. But those of you who cook with cast iron will understand. I had it perfectly seasoned and it’s an American made Lodge. Besides, it’s a good thing that I did this… Brent threw my smaller skillet into the trash at the airport because our suitcases were over the weight limit. I bring that up to him on occasion. :-/

IMG_3708A lot of people have an electric large capacity kettle, for making loads and loads of tea! I brought a very small kettle with me. I thought Marie was going to break out laughing when she saw the size of it. 🙂 And now we’re spoiled. We like the fast electric kettle that heats up enough water for all of us in a couple minutes.

IMG_3706Speaking of heating up water… this is our immersion shower. I hate it. I really, really, hate it. Most of my showers here have been frigid, either from start to finish, or after I’ve had a short while with some heat. I tell you, if there’s no hot water in that thing it’s like doing the Polar Plunge in reverse. I’ve learned that if I skip shaving my legs it’s no big hairy deal.

IMG_3707There’s a gadget in the attic to boost our cell phone signal. Way out here in rural and remote Ireland, we can’t get any cell phone signal unless we are standing right here in this hallway. And even then, the call could cut out without warning. Hello? Hello? Hello? That’s a lot of fun when on hold with a customer service call or when conducing an over-the-phone interview! :-O

IMG_3648I tried to explain to Marie what a “tater tot hot dish” (a Minnesotan thing) or “tater tot casserole” (other American states) is. She has never had a tater tot! She thought maybe it is the same thing as a “potato croquette”, which is a mashed potato that is shaped into pieces, breaded, and deep fried. Uh, no… but now I was intrigued!

IMG_3650IMG_3685These are much longer than tater tots.

IMG_3686Yep, that’s a stick of mashed potatoes… breaded, deep fried, frozen, then baked in my oven. Hmm… Well, those were weird. The texture was hard to get used to. These are definitely not tater tots. Marie, tater tots are crispy, greasy, and salty – like french fries (or “chips”).

IMG_3687The Irish may not know their tater tots, but they sure do know their banking technology. We held up many a line because we had our inferior lame-o swipe credit cards (that some had never seen before and had no machine to swipe them with!). We finally got new cards, but even now that we have the new ones that have a chip in them, our American cards apparently still respond a bit differently because there’s a moment of befuddlement and then a scramble to find a pen because, unlike the Irish, we have to sign a real slip of paper… and the cashier often doesn’t know which copy we keep. Speaking of pens…They sure don’t have many pens around here. No one seems to have one available when we have to sign something. Nope, all paperless here. The bank even gave me this gadget (in the photo above) to do online banking transactions that are made easier by inserting my debit card. Except that our Internet connection is crap (via satellite, very slow, very unstable, data capped—we always go over!–and expensive), so we can’t get it to work. The bank knows us. We’re the Yanks.

IMG_3679But hey, they seem to like our mustard. There are several products that are labeled “American Style”, like pancakes and BBQ sauce. Some name brand American foods are expensive to buy here. Old El Paso brand seems popular here, along with Kellogg’s and a few others. Some things the Americans just do better… like chocolate chips.

IMG_3674Oh dear, the size of the bag is a bit worrisome! Can I make chocolate chip cookies with this tiny amount of chips? Yes, they turned out fine. But I’m not one for using a whole bag of morsels for one batch – I routinely use only half of a regular sized bag. Those of you Americans (most of you!) who use the whole bag would definitely need to buy two of these to make a single batch of cookies.

IMG_3682Americans – what do you think these taste like? I was thinking Skittles or fruity Tic Tacs. No…

IMG_3683These are kind of like Wonka Nerds… I guess – Nerds that have somehow “gone off”. I thought these were horrible! I gave mine to Nicholas. A while later, Cassie gave hers to Nicholas. He ended up with at least three… I think Brent may have caved and given his up too.

IMG_3652We liked these. They remind me a little of a Caramello bar, except it has a cookie (“biscuit”) base like a Twix.


IMG_3678The fish here is really good & fresh, even when buying frozen from the grocery store.

IMG_3681Speaking of fresh… they sell a LOT of eggs here… a LOT. They are everywhere–even outside of stores in sort of a vending machine! They don’t refrigerate the eggs, but we pop them in the fridge as soon as we get home because we are Americans and can’t bear to see eggs at room temperature (especially Brent who got salmonella from under-cooked eggs while in the Army). The eggs are brown (haven’t seen any white eggs so far) and are delicious. I’ve made eggs for meals much more often since moving to Ireland. Great source of protein, inexpensive, and keeps the five of us fed!

We also love the Irish sausages, although they are quite rich compared to the American version. The “Full Irish” is a huge breakfast platter, and I do mean HUGE. It can be shared by two or more people. Ours had eggs, toast, sausage (delicious and very different from American or German sausage), rashers (like bacon, but unfortunately not the same at all), blood pudding (breaded and fried with seasonings), potato cake (like a McDonald’s hashbrown), and… I want to say something else… maybe ham? I think there were baked beans and fried mushrooms too. I tell you, there was a LOT of food on that platter! Brent and I had been doing errands and wanted to try the Full Irish. We had no idea that it would be such a feast! Had we known, we would have picked one up for the whole family.

IMG_3680Well, they can’t do cheese like Wisconsin, but they have good cheese. They have even better BUTTER…. Remember me mentioning Kerrygold?

IMG_2470IMG_3677Here’s another thing the Irish do better than us Americans – they offer huge quantities of vegetables at low prices! Look at the size of that bag compared to my hand. Fresh vegetables are less expensive too. The local Aldi (I know, German owned, but they carry a lot of Irish locally grown/produced food) has a special section called Super 6 for “fruit and veg” deals. This week we picked up a large container of fresh mushrooms for only 39 cents!

IMG_3659Oh but here’s where we long for an American product! See that dryer on the left? It is the bane of my existence! In fact the “!£#! chime is going off right now.

IMG_3660See the open door on the bottom? That plastic jug/tray has to be emptied… often.

IMG_3662IMG_3664IMG_3665IMG_3661It takes hours to dry the clothes, sometimes ALL DAY. Now I know why hanging clothes on a line is so popular here.

IMG_3709Jelly Babies are a British invention, not Irish, but Ireland is a great place for finding specialty items from all over Europe. We get our pasta from Italy (MMM!) and Kinder Eggs from Germany (fun!).

Jelly Babies were featured in Doctor Who. Our son Nicholas is a Doctor Who fan who built a TARDIS console with his father and played guitar at the Minneapolis Doctor Who convention. So, when I saw Jelly Babies, I just HAD to get them!

IMG_3711But… these are absolutely REVOLTING, lol! I can barely stand to touch them, let alone eat them. They have a slippery coating of powdery sugar over a solid gummy exterior that holds a gooey gummy interior. The red ones taste good, but it’s hard to get past the bizarre texture. It’s the slippery powder that gets me.

IMG_3712There’s the red one. It’s tolerable because the flavor is good and it’s sort of like a jelly bean. But… the other flavors aren’t as easy to handle. If you get one that you don’t like, getting past the slippery powder is like eating a slug… or something. It’s in a class of its own, the Jelly Baby. :::shiver:::

It’s been great fun trying all of these foods, products, and candies!

Along with eating new foods, we’ve had to learn the local language. When I first met Marie, she said, “Shall I put the kettle on?” I couldn’t understand her Irish accent at all. I stared at her, blinking. She said it three or four times. Only when she picked up the kettle did I finally get it. To my ears it sounded like this: “ShallIputthe (<–so fast that it sounded like gibberish) keh-hill un”.

Since then, we’ve adapted and can usually understand even the thickest of Cork accents. We’ve also picked up on things that people say all the time, and what they probably really mean.

“Thanks a million!” – What they often really mean is, “I’m done with you, please go.” 🙂

“sorted” – Anything taken care of is sorted. Need paperwork? “Get that sorted.” Done with shopping? “That’s Christmas sorted.”

“No bother.” – Something people say even when what they’re doing is just an expected part of their job. I get the impression that they don’t like to be bothered, so they’re really saying the opposite when they say “No bother”.

A “cowboy” job/company/etc. – Shoddy work, shady

“Yanks” – Americans from anywhere in the United States, even if you’ve never stepped foot in NY or the East Coast.

“Brilliant” – Used to describe something or someone that is impressive, but not reserved for only the best… even only mildly interesting or entertaining things/people can be brilliant. Adequate customer service replies might be “brilliant”, bland and expected responses to standard questions might be “brilliant”, getting one’s own way is especially “brilliant”. So, when people have called me, or something I said, “brilliant”, it probably wasn’t as good as I thought it was. I may have been marginally interesting. :-/

Well, I’ve found the Irish to be more than brilliant, as they are certainly an interesting lot (“lot” = group of people).  We almost speak the same language, but not quite. I look Irish, so no one knows that I’m an American until I open my mouth. And then the grins appear, especially if I don’t say “Thanks a million”, but instead, in my typically American accent say, “Thanks a lot”. I don’t know why, but I’ve nearly cracked the Irish up by saying this.

So, thanks a lot for reading my blog, and thanks a million. 😉







Posted on

Settling In

When we meet new people, they ask us how we’re settling in. Hmm… I’m sure they don’t want to hear the full story. I just say “fine” and “We love it here, we love Ireland!” But the truth is much more complicated.

Our friends Marie and Johnny made sure that we had food in the house before they left us on our own. Food doesn’t last long with a family of five, so it was important that we visit a grocery store before we completely ran out of food. My plan was to go to the nearest Aldi, as we’d been shopping at Aldi in the States for the past five years. We knew that store inside and out. At least grocery shopping would be familiar, after we made it there in one piece of course.

Well, that plan went awry. Brent found the Aldi without any trouble. Thank God for the Internet! We didn’t have Google when Brent and I lived in Germany from 1988-1990. I don’t know how we managed. This time around, living in Europe, we Google everything! But not everything is on the Internet. Sometimes we have to figure out things for ourselves.

Let’s back up to something important to this story. We flew out from Minneapolis on December 29, just four days after Christmas.  The kids couldn’t fit much in their luggage, so we were limited in what we could give them. I came up with the perfect solution – cash in EUROS! Naturally, we waited too late to actually get the Euros. We had to drive to multiple banks to find one that had them on hand (we didn’t have time to order them, as it was Christmas Eve!). It was also snowing, of course. So here we were, driving to the big Wells Fargo, the only bank in the area that had Euros. Sure, it was dicey coming back home, with cars in the ditch and the snow accumulating, but Santa would deliver!  IMG_2284

We separated the denominations, put them into separate bags, and then tied the three bags together with ribbon – 100€ for each of our three kids. Now they could buy what they needed to settle in! Sure, it couldn’t replace everything they had to give up, but they’d be able to get something nice. It was fun money, at the very least. I couldn’t wait to see their faces!IMG_2285 IMG_2286  IMG_2288 IMG_2289 IMG_2383   IMG_2386 IMG_2387  IMG_2389  They weren’t expecting to get much this year, so this was a big surprise!IMG_2391  IMG_2393 IMG_2394So… THEY had money.

But WE didn’t. We didn’t think to get Euros for ourselves. DOH!

And guess what? Aldi doesn’t accept our American credit card because it doesn’t have a chip on it. We had already checked out and people were waiting. Fortunately Savannah, our youngest, was with us. And she had her Christmas money…

Well, that was the first IOU. Santa giveth and taketh away… (Before I get hate mail, we paid her back with interest!)

After that, we realized we needed to find a store that would accept our credit cards–at least until we figured out how to keep enough cash on hand. At this point we didn’t have an Irish bank account (and that’s another long story!). Anyway, we had to venture out past our comfort zone. What other store could we try?

IMG_2561Americans – don’t you think this looks like a gas station? Nope. Tesco is a grocery store.

IMG_2562Look at how tightly packed the cars are. The parking lot is challenging. This is the norm for parking in Ireland. Whether driving in or backing in, parking generally involves several attempts to “straighten up” the car. Sometimes the space is so tight that Brent drops me off before he parks – because I won’t be able to open the door otherwise. And forget parallel parking for now! The last time he attempted it, he ended up temporarily on the curb to squeeze us into the space. It’s crazy – people often drive up on the curb in tight spaces, such as when driving on a busy narrow street where cars are also parked and only one car can pass through at a time! Anyway, back to the Tesco parking lot situation..

IMG_2565Fortunately there are giant arrows that tell drivers which way to go. Unfortunately, Brent didn’t notice the arrows. Ah, but we survived!

BTW: Brent is an excellent driver. I am a horrible driver – there is no way I’d be able to do any of this!!! I’m impressed (but not surprised) at how fast he’s learned how to drive on the left and navigate the narrow spaces. Oh and the jay walking! Pedestrians just sort of walk whenever and wherever they want to… yi yi yi! It’s like we’re playing a video game – trying to drive around crazy obstacles like people, stray dogs that jump out of no where, and cars that can’t fit on the same road…! Brent has even mastered the round a bouts.

IMG_2566 There’s Savannah, our shopping buddy! She was happy we didn’t need to bum cash off of her. She was having a ball buying candy and oddball treats that she’s never had before – or has had rarely.  One of the first things she bought was a Kinderegg from Germany. It had been years since we’d had one. She was generous enough to buy one for every member of the family.IMG_2563

Notice that the shrubs are in bloom – in JANUARY! These shrubs are in the Tesco parking lot. Yes, I’m the crazy American taking pictures outside the grocery store.

Tesco is very nice, by the way. We enjoy shopping there. I appreciate the “any 3 for 10€” meat deals. I’ve managed to cut our grocery bills in HALF compared to what we spent in the States! The food is fresh everywhere and DELICIOUS! But it’s not always easy to get in the store.

Here’s a little learning curve… there are few free parking areas in Ireland, and the parking spaces are tiny.

At Tesco, you pay at this machine. If you spend enough in the store you get money back. We were pleased to figure this one out right away, by reading the signs. Sadly, we did this for the first time on a Sunday – the day when parking is FREE. So we still managed to look like idiots… we asked for parking validation when we didn’t need to pay! (For the record, I noticed that no one else had a parking slip in their car, but did Brent listen?)IMG_2564   So much of this Irish adventure is about stumbling and bumbling around, finding our way through trial, error, dumb luck, and the kids’ Euros we found after driving an hour in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Oh yes, the “kids'” Euros… it wasn’t just Savannah’s cash we borrowed. We needed Cassie’s and Nicholas’ too. That’s another thing about Ireland – there are plenty of times when cash (and ONLY cash) is accepted… like parking, garbage drop-off (“rubbish”), grocery cart (“trolly”), and more.

But now I have an Irish bank account and access to cash. The only problem of course is that I need more money in the account… Sigh, isn’t that how life goes?


Posted on

LARK Toys!

I asked my three kids – two are college age and one is almost fourteen years old – if they could choose anywhere to visit one last time before we move to Ireland, what would it be? They were unanimous. They could have chosen Mall of America, any of the numerous museums they’ve enjoyed, either of the two zoos, or anywhere else… I left the question entirely open ended. They chose Lark Toys.

I love Lark Toys, so this made me happy! I selected it as our “final destination” for my Little Free Library Book Tour.  Before I share our special day with you, I want to take a trip down memory lane. Here’s my family at Lark Toys in 2004. Sorry for the strange gray blobs in the photo – this picture was taken when we were standing with a field trip group. I removed all but my own family, as it would have been confusing otherwise. From left to right: Brent holding baby Savannah, Cassie, little Nicholas wearing a pirate hat for some reason (I don’t remember this at all!), and me on the end.

LARK Toys field trip 2004

Nicholas on carouselThis was taken on the same day. Nicholas is having a blast on the carousel. Remember this little face – you’ll see him on this same carousel further down this page, now that he’s 18 and ready for college!

100_4629Here we are a few years later… This is Savannah on the carousel.

100_4640This is later that same day. Cassie and Savannah are dancing after putting a couple of coins into the jukebox.

I could keep going with this old family photos – we’ve been to Lark Toys many times throughout the years. We have truly loved it! It is a magical and special place that we’ll always treasure in our hearts. It was a bittersweet experience, visiting Lark Toys one last time before we leave the United States for Ireland in December. But we had a wonderful time and I even got to meet the owner of Lark Toys, Ron Gray. I was able to tell him how much his place has meant to our family.

100_3136Natalie Buske Thomas and Ron Gray, owner of Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota

Of course I gave him some books from my Little Free Library Book Tour!

Here’s how our wonderful day was at Lark Toys. Try to visit Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota. It truly is a special place!

100_3108Nicholas is signing us into the big book

100_3110It’ll be hard to get pictures today, everyone’s on the move!

100_3109I got a kick out of seeing Nicholas run like this! Is he the little boy in the pirate hat again?

100_3112Here’s the map of Lark Toys visitors. I was delighted to find this… (scroll down to the next photo)

100_3111There’s a pin directly on Cork, Ireland! Somehow it feels better knowing that someone in Cork has been to Lark Toys. We’ll be among friends. 🙂

20151115_160936OH WOW! They have a new attraction! This was definitely not at Lark Toys the last time we were there. I guess it landed while we were busy with our own TARDIS adventure. Well, if you’ve been following our family, you’ll know that we were excited to find a Doctor Who presence at Lark Toys! This was must unexpected!

Natalie Buske Thomas at TARDIS at LARK Toys 2015Does the Doctor need a companion? I have experience!





100_3132These are DALEKS from Doctor Who, but speaking of robots, my son Nicholas used to have this white and black contemporary robot toy (on the far right in the photo below). It had a “dancing” mode that was hilarious.



Cassie pointed out the pregnant Barbie doll. I noticed the vintage Sesame Street characters. I so love Sesame Street! I had a View Master. I never liked those. They were always disappointing. I guess I wanted it to do something more. It was hard to click through the slides without the card getting stuck. Or maybe that’s just me…

100_3122Who from Gen X didn’t have Lincoln Logs? In my opinion, those were another disappointing toy. We could only build log cabins with them.  Nonetheless, I wish I had a set now! I’d make a cabin. They weren’t much good at anything else. Remember the red plastic triangle roof pieces? Memories! LEGOs changed everything… that was my son’s world (and still is!).

100_3123Ah, the old erector set. Brent had one and he thought Nicholas might like it, but like I said before… LEGOs were invented.

100_3124I love looking at these strange vintage metal toys. I’m sorry for so many blurry photos. My awesome camera DIED right before we got to Lark Toys, ugh! We think it might just be the lens – I hope! Some shots are better than others. I also copied some that the kids took.

100_3125I remember that Bambi book! I loved it because it was shaped like Bambi’s head. The pages were surprisingly fragile and soft, which fascinated me. I also remember playing with that Fisher Price school house but I don’t think it was mine. It may have belonged to my dear cousin Jennifer. Jennifer passed away in her sleep from diabetic complications when she was thirty years old. Oh how I miss her! I have fond memories of playing together when we were kids. See what I mean? Lark Toys is a magical place. It brings us back to when we were young, we see toys that our parents and grandparents had, and those of us with children relive the happy memories of when our own kids were little. We think about those we miss, we remember days gone by… and by taking the journey backward, we have renewed strength to go forward.

100_3126I had the wooden blocks and the magnetic letters – did you? I think the wooden doll was before my time.

100_3127I had Bobbsey Twins books

100_3155Savannah and Nicholas want to go on the carousel. I remember that (then Governor of Minnesota) Jesse Ventura rode the carousel – he sat on the bench, not on one of the animals.


LARK Toys carousel tokenSavannah has her carousel token!


100_3156The carousel is fabulous – the animals are original handcrafted works of art! I tried to capture all of them, but I was using my inferior camera since my good one died while I was taking pictures of Lake Pepin on the way up.

100_3145 100_3154 100_3153 100_3152 100_3151 100_3150 100_3149 100_3148

100_3147 100_3146

100_3160 100_3159




100_3164100_3163And here are two of my kids on the carousel… let’s compare… Nicholas then (in pirate hat)

Nicholas on carouselAnd Nicholas now, age 18 (I didn’t tell him to wave, LOL)

100_3180 100_3178 Instead of the bunny he chose the gnome & dragon. Instead of a black pirate hat he’s wearing a black guitar shirt. But, it’s the same kid – same smile, same wave to Mommy. Aww, see why we love Lark Toys?

100_4628Savannah then…  and now:



100_3189I had a love-hate relationship with this nerve wracking game!

100_3188I didn’t have this one… but it reminds me of something my friend Kelly said. Happy Days was playing in the background while she was cleaning and she heard that it was Howard Cunningham’s birthday. Howard was turning the same age as Kelly. Kelly shared the miserable knowledge that those of us who are Class of ’87 are now the same age as Richie Cunningham’s PARENTS.

Career Game for GirlsHa ha! This is a game called “The Exciting Game of Career Girls” from 1966. The choices were limited (stewardess, ballerina, etc.), and the bad luck cards included things like “You are overweight” or “You are clumsy”. The cards went on to helpfully point out which careers these unfortunate traits would be bad for. There were good cards to, that rewarded for learning how to apply make-up or for being pretty. Wow, Just wow. My girls were transfixed (and horrified!). Note: my college daughter is graduating with a Math degree, with honors. Take that, Career Girls!

20151115_161042He always reminded me of my grandfather…

20151115_161056Not only are the toy collections fascinating (from all eras), but there are creative original attractions sprinkled all over the place too. Some you have to look UP to see.

20151115_16172120151115_16172920151115_160839I had a record player similar to this one. My favorite song was “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Brent has the full sized album and Nicholas digitized the song for me. I want to frame the original vintage record cover and put it in my new work space in Ireland. The girl who longed to live near the sea (like the boy and his dragon) will be living near the sea!!! Funny – my brother’s favorite record was “Rhinestone Cowboy” and they were playing it while we were at Lark Toys. I can still hear him playing that song… over and over… and over

20151115_164522My son took this photo. He had die cast vehicles that he forgot to put in the shipment to Ireland. I think he plans to cram them inside his clothes in his luggage, a few of them anyway.

20151115_161739My grandpa used to make little wooden toys for the great grandkids. I was already too old by the time he started doing this. I was the first granddaughter. My grandparents still had kids living at home when I was born. I mostly got the coffee can full of broken crayons to play with. 🙂 There was an odds and ends box with strange little toys and animals. It was great fun digging through it to see if anything good was in there. I usually found a treasure if I had enough patience to keep digging…. but I had to get past the smell of crayons. To this day, I hate the smell of crayons.

20151115_161337Oh dear… my Savannah has changed.



LARK Toys Santas

LARK Toys Santa 220151115_15554220151115_155607Oh… this reminds me of when I was wearing my beautiful white “fur” coat to school. Mom had given me red Kool Aid for breakfast. Or maybe it was Hi-C. I can’t stand either. Anyway, well. I was nauseous from the bus ride, or I was sick… doesn’t matter. The story ends with red vomit all over my favorite coat. I’ve never forgotten that pretty coat and I’ve never forgiven the red “juice” that ruined my coat!

20151115_155452See? You have to look UP and down and all around, or you’ll miss something. I’m sure I missed something…

20151115_160946100_3250 100_3249Ooh, there’s one of those creepy porcelain dolls with the cracked face. I used to play with those at my grandmother’s house. I was told to be very careful and I never quite understood why. The face was already cracked and broken – what difference did it make? But I was gentle. I didn’t play with dolls long. I preferred the Noah’s Ark set.



100_3245Funny mirrors, always good for a laugh

Ooh, I like these butterflies!             100_3222    100_3218 100_3217  100_3215Someone found the LEGOs!

How appropriate for a book tour to end up at a beautiful book store! This area of Lark Toys has always been one of our favorite parts — the books and educational section. And this is usually where our kids found something to buy… This time it was Savannah who found something too exciting to resist.


100_3212 100_3211 Savannah wants to be a midwife. She’s been studying biology, nursing and psychology. She thinks this visible woman is amazing…you have to build it yourself – even paint it – and it comes with a fetus to place inside the uterus. She’d learn the body parts and the organs. It’s educational… so you see.. well, here she is at the checkout counter with Daddy’s wallet open. 🙂


Now get good grades, Savannah. We got you that “Visible Woman” from Lark Toys so you should be all set now. 🙂

100_3244Note: She opened it up as soon as we got home. She LOVES this kit! It is very involved so she’ll be able to enjoy it for weeks. VERY pleased! She’s going to take it apart so that it fits in a small bag so that she can bring it to Ireland in her suitcase.


100_3199I love this book tree idea (below)


100_3196I see “A Wrinkle in Time” is at the top – one of my all time favorite books!

The Doctor Who section

100_3193 100_3192 100_3191



Brent is razzing me about the ant farm. I did NOT enjoy that experience when Cassie wanted to do the ant farm. Let’s just say that I didn’t read the directions where is said that you should put the ants in the fridge first so that they are “inactive”. I dumped the vial and the ants marched right UP my arm, all over me… and well, I freaked and killed the ants. Cassie made a Dramatic Mom comic about it.

Comic Ants100_3170

Toys and candy go well together!



100_3171Lark Toys is getting ready to close for the day… I guess it’s time to go…





Leaving Lark Toys in Kellogg, MN…and when I get home, I’ll take a closer look at this –!


Hmm… I saw Brent with this bag in one of the gift shops. I think I might know what he bought me. I’m not sure. He says he’ll save it for Christmas. But he really shouldn’t be leaving it around. Stay tuned – I’ll update this when I find out what it is!

Well, it was a beautiful, wonderful, magical day. I was sorry to see it end. But all good stories must come to an end. And today we lived “Happily Ever After”! Thank you, Lark Toys, for bringing your love and vision to this special place where families like mine can enjoy your fabulous things, and each other. We’ve watched our kids grow up at Lark. It was the perfect “last place” to visit. Thank you!






Posted on

The Dreaded SAT!

A Tale of Two Watches, Green Tea, and the SAT

October started off with a nail-biting weekend when our son Nicholas took his SAT test. To tell this story I have to back up to our first experience with a child taking the SAT test. Those of you who have heard this many times, please bear with me, and I’m afraid you’ll have to hear yet another brag about it.

When our daughter Cassie took the SAT almost five years ago, I had no idea what to expect. She had never spent a day in school and had never taken a formal standardized test. I didn’t know if my homeschooling style was going to translate well for the SAT. But when we picked Cassie up after the test she had a cat-ate-the-canary grin on her face. I asked her how she did and she said that she aced the reading section of the test.

Oh really? NO ONE does that, no one in my world anyway. I couldn’t believe it when we got her test scores back, she DID ace it! I screamed and screamed! She got a perfect score on two sections of the SAT (800 out of 800 on Critical Reading and 80 out of 80 for Writing Multiple Choice section). And even her math score, that she had been concerned about going into the test, was a respectable number at 640.

Cassandra Thomas KiLA iLO artist newspaper clipping web

Now, fast forward to this month. Our son Nicholas is not his sister. He’s not a rabid reader or a competitive academic. Oh no. He’s our mellow musician, our dreamy inventor, and computer programmer. He has a great laugh and charisma. He’s brilliant, in his own way. He taught himself Japanese, and he’s more proficient in it than Cassie, who is taking a college Japanese course. He’s taught himself how to play many different types of instruments. He’s amazing in so many ways, but none of them bode well for taking a standardized test.

He’s always struggled to do simple tasks, like write his own name. Even now, he struggles to write in a normal way. He had great difficulty learning his letters. For the longest time he argued with me that the letter A was a triangle.


Finally, I looked at the letter A from his perspective and indeed it did have a triangle in it. Of course, it did. Why had it taken me so long to make that connection?  I said, “Yes, Nicholas, the letter A does have a triangle, but it’s a letter. It stands for a sound.” That seemed to satisfy him because he stopped fighting me. He submitted to calling the letter A an A, not a triangle.

Dramatic Mom comic by Natalie Buske Thomas and Cassandra Thomas
Nicholas as a character in DRAMATIC MOM, “cleaning his room”

And so it began… the realization that teaching him would not be an easy task. Nonetheless, we plowed through and somehow he grew from the little boy in a Superman costume to a young man of eighteen. And suddenly the moment of truth was fast upon us: the dreaded SAT test.

I worried that Nicholas might feel intimidated by his sister’s success. After all, a perfect score is hard to compete with! But no, I needn’t have worried, not about that. Nicholas’ attitude toward the SAT was relaxed, I’d even say “chill”. He cheerfully reported that he’d  looked up what the average SAT score was and thought he had a good shot of hitting that. He figured he might come close to average at least.

Cassie was kind enough to find SAT practice books at the library. They were larger than phone books, and heavier too! I wasn’t feeling optimistic about the odds that Nicholas would read those books.

Lo and behold, that kid surprised me! He approached the task in a no-nonsense way. He read the first book from cover to cover, doing every exercise precisely as instructed. He was so studious and determined that it looked like the SAT test might go well for him. And then things took a turn…

Nicholas finished (sort of) the practice test from the book. Unfortunately, the result was just as I’d feared. He couldn’t finish it on time. He wasn’t even close! He failed the practice SAT!

Nicholas had always been a plodder. Rushing him had been disastrous. After much frustration, I eventually learned to let him be. Oh, from time to time I cracked the whip, but only when it was really important. Sure, I coached him, but I didn’t try to change who he is. I backed off and let him work things out for himself. Given enough time and space, he was (usually) able to accomplish amazing things.

But, had I made a mistake? What if he couldn’t handle the SAT test? Had I crippled the boy? Images of him living in our basement flashed through my mind. This was no time to be pessimistic though. Nicholas needed confidence, and fast! Thankfully, he got it, thanks to his can-do spirit.

He tackled that mammoth SAT guide book again. Then he took the practice test a second time, and this time he did a decent job. His score wasn’t great, but he did hit that “average” score he’d aimed for. It was time to prepare for the real thing, and I thought that Nicholas was ready. His backpack was packed. But the night before the SAT test he told me that he couldn’t find a watch with a working battery. He needed a watch to time his math problems during the test (as the book had suggested).

Instead of buying him a new battery, we took him to the store to pick out a special watch. This would be his gift from us for working so hard to prepare for the SAT test. I told him that he was getting a celebration gift before the test because it’s not about the score. It’s about the effort that he put into it, and we appreciate how hard he’s worked. I don’t think I’ve seen that child work so hard on anything in his life (except for when he was working on the TARDIS console for the Doctor Who convention, but I’m sure you’ll agree that that’s different).

Nicholas found a gold plated watch that was delightfully marked down in a clearance sale. He was pleased with his choice and he put it on before we’d even pulled out of the parking lot. Everything was perfect, happy kid, proud parents! But when we got home, we realized that his special gift was problematic. It made electronic noises, which is a big problem during the SAT test.

If a gadget goes off during the test, the student will be kicked out! Nicholas was anxious about this. His was a new watch that he was unfamiliar with. What if he accidentally turned the sound on? Of course it didn’t help that I was pondering– aloud –what could happen (i.e. he could accidentally hit a button while filling in the bubbles on the answer sheet). After some dithering, he decided that it wasn’t worth taking the risk, but he still needed a watch.

We could have exchanged the watch, but it was already special to him. So we went back to the store and bought him a second (cheaper, also on clearance) watch for the test. That wasn’t the ideal way to spend the night before taking the SAT, but oh well, what can I say? We got the job done in the end, the frazzled end.

I have a patient husband, by the way. In case you were wondering how all of this played out, Brent did what he usually does. He stayed out of it and then drove us (back) to the store. Ours was a quiet “frazzle”. We kept a cool head and simply bought a second watch.  It began to look like we could handle this SAT thing, no problem.

The next morning I was worried about how Nicholas would deal with waking up so early for the test. All I usually have to do to get him up in the morning is make him breakfast. I open his door and say, “There’s food.” Then I leave. Within two minutes he always turns up in the kitchen. It’s quite magical! Fortunately that magic held up for SAT test day, whew!

Normally Nicholas makes himself a large tumbler of green tea in the morning. He wondered if he should have tea before the SAT test. I weighed the pros and cons in my mind. If he didn’t have his typical tea he might feel out of sorts, even more so than the nerves were already doing to him. I assured him that there was plenty of time to go to the restroom before the test. I said the fateful words “Go ahead and have your tea”. (Are you saying “uh oh”? Well, everything seems obvious after the fact…)

We were in great shape time-wise. He was ready. He had his ID, his crumpled and stained SAT ticket (sigh!), and his backpack full of snacks. Off we went. It was a good drive to get there, about forty-five minutes or so. We dropped him off for his four hour testing experience, not knowing how he’d handle sitting in a chair for that long, how he’d deal with the pressure, or how he’d manage even navigating the building. But, there wasn’t anything we could do but hope for the best–and pray!

Brent and I didn’t want to go all the way home, so we had a rare “date” morning. It was too early for anything to be open at first. We went to McDonald’s. Or at least I think that’s where we ended up. Good grief, my mind is already fuzzy on that. Did we actually go, or did we just talk about going? I think we went. I think I got hashbrowns. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. But, yeah, I’m remembering hashbrowns. Then we went window shopping, where I tried on many pairs of shoes and bought none.

We finished our date at Cracker Barrel, which we hadn’t been to in years. It’s usually a place we go to while on vacation. Vacation time is the ideal time to go to Cracker Barrel. SAT test day is not. Every time a baby screamed I thought my nerves would snap. The touristy restaurant was so noisy that we had to speak loudly to hear each other.

We ordered too much food for our fluttery stomachs. I gave half my meal to Brent. When I’m anxious I can’t eat. When he’s anxious he eats everything. We’re a good pair! Meanwhile, the clock moved slowly. Brent kept saying that we could “head back over there”. I reminded him that sitting in the parking lot for over an hour wasn’t going to help.

After we ate, we scouted the gift shop area. I found a flavor of Jelly Belly candy that Nicholas had never had (pancakes and maple syrup flavored). Wow, that’s a treasure! I looked forward to the glee in his eyes when we’d give it to him after his test.

Jelly Belly Pancakes and Maple Syrup


Armed with the Jelly Belly surprise, we were ready to pick him up, even though his test wouldn’t be over for another half hour. We waited in the van for about five minutes before Brent said he’d get out and just “go see” if Nicholas might be done. Brent found the classroom where the test was being conducted. The test was still in full swing. He came back to the van. About ten minutes later, he went back into the building.  He lingered in the hall and was there when the doors were finally flung open. Nicholas came loping out like a puppy.

When I saw them coming out of the school, I was much relieved to see a grin on his face. I took pictures of him as he neared the van. It was a beautiful sunny day and his future was bright!

Nicholas Thomas after taking SAT test

He was absolutely confident that he’d done well on the test. He was jolly and talkative (for him), meaning that he chatted with us for almost five minutes. He told us a harrowing tale about how his morning green tea had kicked in (had you forgotten about the green tea?).

During a break between sections he was in the restroom a bit too long. He was late for the next round of testing! The proctor had already finished the section instructions. When he entered the room she was saying,  “Open your test booklet and begin.” That’s when Nicholas plopped into his chair, grabbed his pencil, and opened the book; as if he’d been sitting there all along. The proctor said, “Good Lord.”

Oh, that’s my son. God must have answered my prayers because I’d feared that something like this would happen and he’d get locked out of the room, kicked out of the test, or something bad, bad, bad. I think this was a small miracle. Without my prayers, I bet he would have been locked out, I just know it. A mother’s prayers make the difference, surely.

I was grateful that Nicholas had a good testing experience, despite the nearly-disastrous green-tea-related incident. I told him how proud I was of him for working hard to prepare, for holding up well for the test, etc. But… What if that test score told him a different story? What if hard work doesn’t matter, a positive attitude doesn’t matter, and a good heart matters even less? What had come so easily for his sister didn’t come easily for him, and maybe, just maybe I had gotten this wrong as a parent. Maybe I should have pushed him more.

A week went by. I tried to put the SAT test scores out of my mind, but it was always there, lurking. I nagged Nicholas to check the college board site even though it was still too early. But then, something happened that made me forget all about the SAT scores (see “shipping” story). I was so distracted that when the date finally arrived, I had forgotten all about it! I was startled when Nicholas woke up early and made a beeline for my laptop.

He said, “The scores should be in.” How could I have forgotten? He sat in my chair and signed into his college board account. My stomach was in knots. The scores were in.

I blinked my eyes.

Was this his score?

Was I seeing the right numbers?

How could this be possible?

ALL THREE SCORES were over 600!

His writing score was in the 93rd percentile!

Had he scored better on the (political question, hmm) essay portion he would have been in the top 2 or 3 percent in the nation for writing! That’s my boy!


I couldn’t believe it! I jumped around, screaming and screaming. Nicholas and Savannah looked at me like I’d lost my mind. When I stopped, I started again. I was like a crazy troll or a drunken elf — screaming and jumping, jumping and screaming…. clapping my hands, jumping in circles… all while wearing my ridiculously large zip-up red fleece robe. All I needed was a pointy hat and I’d have been a theater act. This went on for several minutes.

Then the texting began.

I took a picture of Nicholas giving us the thumb-up sign and sent it to both Brent and Cassie with the words “SAT test scores in!”. I let them stew for a bit.

They both replied at the same second.

Our whole family could breathe again! Nicholas somehow pulled it off against all odds — he not only conformed to a strict test taking regime, but he succeeded! He did it! WOW. Whew…!

Apparently he wasn’t harmed by all of those frustrating teaching sessions that had ended in tantrums (mine), and my eventual letting go to the point of him (mostly) schooling himself. Whew, whew, whew! And the decision to let him build and program a TARDIS console for the Doctor Who convention instead of doing regular high school work was not a problem…

I’m a confident parent 99% of the time, but there’s that 1% that is scared witless when it’s SAT testing day. Can I tell you again how thrilled I am that Nicholas scored high on his SAT test? I looked it up and his overall score is considered “Excellent”. He won’t have to take the test again, which is most excellent because I can’t take another Cracker Barrel nail-biting lunch!

Posted on

Clowning around with my Family

Natalie Buske Thomas clowning aroundSeriously, when I say “clowning around” I mean it!

We enjoyed a costume bowling event on Sunday, October 25. I won the second game we bowled, by the way… Not that how many strikes and spares I got matters… it’s really all about fun (and it’s fun to WIN, HA HA! 🙂 )

024My husband after he lost to me… hee hee

019My youngest child sure looks creepy, yi yi! Excellent job with your makeup, Savannah! Savannah is an artist too… Savannah’s Inky Imagination features her art, which sometimes leans on the dark, mysterious, and edgy side… moohoohaha!

Natalie Buske Thomas and husband BrentHusband Brent Thomas and me ~ a marriage of comedy and tragedy 🙂

Thomas Family Artists clowning around October 2015The whole family! (from left to right) Savannah, Natalie, Nicholas, Brent, Cassie

I’m adding the rest of our clown event pictures to our family site. If you want to see more of our clown photos, visit


Posted on



Shingles FaceWeek two (no photo taken during week one, when his face was completely disfigured and swollen beyond recognition!)

My husband has shingles–bad! If you’ve never experienced shingles, you can learn all you ever wanted to know about this revolting illness by doing a quick Internet search. Basically, you can get shingles if you’ve ever had the chicken pox. There is a vaccine against shingles, but it is generally restricted to people over 50, and most insurance companies will balk unless you are over 60. Those of us who are under 50 who have had chicken pox are left to play shingles roulette. And believe me, you do NOT want shingles!

Some people get a mild case of it. Shingles happens on only one side of the body. Most people (I read about 60%) get the shingles rash near their waist. Some are unlucky enough to get shingles on one side of their face, like my husband. When this happens the eye is at risk. I know of someone who had minimal damage to the eye and another person who lost eyesight completely in the affected eye. My husband is at risk for eye damage but he is on anti-viral medication so hopefully he will be just fine. He had the shingles rash on his head, his forehead, his cheeks, his nose, his eye and his lips. The rash was inside his nose, inside his mouth, and in his throat.

Now let me explain what I mean by the shingles “rash”. Oh this isn’t a cute little strawberry patch. The shingles rash starts out red and painful. There can be a sharp jabbing intermittent pain like being shocked. There can be numbness and creepy sensations. Then the blisters form. Oh, the blisters! At this point it is clear that something is seriously messed up and the shingles diagnoses is obvious. Even people who have little awareness of shingles will probably say, “Is this shingles? I think this is shingles…” And then the adventure begins.

The blisters will eventually erupt. They will ooze. There can be a great deal of swelling of the face when the blisters are active. When my husband was in this phase he said, “I feel like the Elephant Man”. I was thinking more like the villains from the Indiana Jones movie, when their faces were melting in the fire. His face looked like it was divided neatly in half. If he showed me his profile, he looked completely normal on the left side. The right side was a different story. His face looked like it was made of wax, and it was melting. He was two-faced. He mused that shingles may have inspired the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. I thought of the Batman villain Two-face. To cheer him up I decorated his food plates with “shingle faces” on them — a lopsided mouth and eyes.

Beyond the grotesque appearance and the oozing, there’s the pain, oh the pain! He also vomited impressively, frequently, and with a noise that reminded me of a cow baying while in heat. This lasted about a day and a half. This was when I was the most worried about him because I feared that he would become dehydrated, a serious emergency condition that would require hospitalization.

He has a history of dehydrating easily so I was rather panicked–on the inside. Outside, I was in my cool, calm, and collected nurse mode. I looked up ways to make homemade electrolyte drinks. I kept them coming. I was a pushy bartender. I kept the drinks flowing and I made sure that he kept drinking.

At one point he groggily announced that he hadn’t peed in two hours. I was horrified when he said this! He complained that his stomach was a hard ball and that he was too full to drink another drop. I insisted. He alternated between sipping water and the electrolyte drink. We were going to get ahead of the dehydrating effects from the bouts of vomiting!

The electrolyte drink:

  • orange juice I squeezed from a small fresh orange
  • lemon juice we had on hand in the fridge
  • a few shakes of salt
  • a serving of frozen mixed fruit; melons, pineapples and strawberries that I had partially thawed and smashed with a potato masher then strained the juice into the glass
  • plenty of ice
  • the all-important straw

I was proud of myself for coming up with that resourceful recipe. I had looked on the Internet for ideas and I had to modify the recipe to match what I had on hand. It ended up fairly close to what I saw and I was confident that it would work.

We survived that horrible night and the next day without any need for hospitalization. He not only pulled through it, but he also managed to vomit into the toilet bowl each and every time. Bravo, husband! I thought that I’d be doing clean-up duty and I’m ever so grateful that there was no need for that!

He perked up after he made it through the vomiting and fever phase, but it was short-lived. Next, the “crusting” of the blisters began and fatigue set in. He slept most of the day. He was depressed. He was agitated. By this point I was exhausted from playing nurse and I was getting cranky. Marriages are tested during times like these. Thank God I hadn’t given him a bell to ring!

Fortunately I had the foresight to set up a couple of self-care stations. The first station is on the kitchen table, where I leave a light on at all times. My daughter had made a chart for tracking the times he took his medications.

Medicine Station:

  • a chart to track the time he took his medicine
  • a pencil
  • all of his medicines
  • the information that came with the prescriptions

This was very helpful when he was getting up in the night to take medicine. I knew that he was barely lucid so I’d wake up when I heard him shuffling around in the kitchen to check on him. I’d ask him how he was feeling and he’d give me a thumbs-up. Then he’d go back to bed.

But one time I caught him going for Sudafed, which was outside of his safe medical station and inside the pantry. He’d also had a sinus infection, which is probably how he got shingles (his immune system was already low with an active infection in the very location where the shingles took over) so he had it into his head that the pain would be helped by taking something for his sinuses. I talked him out of taking the Sudafed because I knew it wasn’t wise to add that to his cocktail without any thought whatsoever! After he got through the first week he was able to make rational decisions and stay on track with his medications without me looking over his shoulder.

By the way, shingles can cause blood pressure to run high. Those who already have issues with high blood pressure should monitor it more closely and might have to take more medicine to keep it down to safe levels. The elevated blood pressure can linger long after the shingles pass too, so it’s important to keep an eye on it. Even people who previously had no history of high blood pressure can develop high blood pressure due to shingles.

The second station was in the bathroom. This was probably more important than the medicine station because I shouldn’t be handling anything that he uses on his blisters. It’s rare to get shingles from someone who has shingles, but it’s possible to get chicken pox from direct contact with the blisters of someone who has shingles. The kids have all been vaccinated against chicken pox and I had had chicken pox as a child. Nonetheless, it is also possible to catch chicken pox a second time even though most people don’t think that’s possible. It’s rare, but it does happen, and it did happen to my sister in law. So, anyway, it’s best not to handle the tissues, cloths, and mess from shingles care.

Self-Care Station:

3-4 small clean plastic food storage containers without lids for the following:

  • a clean washcloth
  • oatmeal bath (can apply to skin without taking a bath)
  • ointment such as bacitracin and Vaseline


  • a box of tissues
  • a large trash can
  • bottle of calamine lotion

I’ve been sleeping on the loveseat in the living room. I can hear him when he gets up to take medicine so this has worked out well. He has taken over the whole bed for his shingles adventure. On my half of the bed rests a wooden laptop desk. I serve his snacks and meals on that desk. Now that he’s feeling better he has his laptop on it. He is still spending most of his time in bed, during Phase 3 of shingles, but I’m not doing much hospitality service now that he can get up and eat his meals in the kitchen.

Shingles Phase 1 (the “warning” phase):

Strange sensations are felt where the shingles rash will eventually appear. These sensations might include:

  • stabbing nerve pain
  • numbness
  • itchy, uncomfortable, odd tingling
  • nothing at all (rare)

Shingles Phase 2 (hell):

These symptoms may or may not occur. A lot of this depends on where the shingles are located and whether or not the shingles is mild, moderate, or severe.

  • vomiting
  • vomiting as an extreme sport
  • pain
  • PAIN
  • numbness
  • monkey-drool numbness (face)
  • swelling
  • Elephant Man swelling (face)
  • eye swollen
  • eye swollen shut
  • fever
  • loopiness

Shingles Phase 3 (“crusting” and recovery):

When the blisters crust over they will dry out. The scabs/crusts will fall off. Shingles are gone at this point and the patient is not likely to be contagious anymore. These symptoms may or may not occur.

  • looking like an extra for The Walking Dead (crusts are on face)
  • burn-like appearance to skin
  • pain
  • PAIN
  • itching
  • tingling
  • electric shock sensations
  • fatigue
  • extreme fatigue
  • skin still swollen
  • numbness
  • biting tongue or cheek due to numbness/swelling (face)
  • depression
  • venturing outside cues the soundtrack to 2001 A Space Odyssey

I know a lot more about shingles than I ever wanted to know. I asked a lot of questions when we went to the clinic. I read about shingles on hospital websites, patient information sites, and more. I read about shingles on alternative medicine sites. I read about shingles from personal comments, forums, and blogs. All of this helped me come up with ideas that worked for our situation. I’m grateful for the generosity of sharing and this blog article is my way of “paying it forward”.

My husband is kicking this shingles thing. He’s going to attempt to go to work on Monday. We’ll find out Tuesday if his eye was damaged by shingles. We’ll also have a better idea of how he’s doing in general.  He’s still in a recuperating phase so I’m still sleeping on the loveseat in the living room. I’d say it’s better than staying in a bad hotel, but I’ll be glad to have my side of the bed back!

Overall, I’m grateful that this shingles adventure wasn’t worse. I’m proud of how we navigated this crisis. We’re not strangers to adversity, but every time one of life’s surprises takes the wind out of our sails it’s always an opportunity to rise to the challenge–or not. We shingled in the new year. With this start to 2015 it can only get better from here, right?

***UPDATE 1/26/2015: Well, it’s been a rough recovery and it’s not over yet. He’s had severe “crawling” sensations in his face. It feels like worms are under his skin and it drives him CRAZY! When this happens in the middle of the night he’s extremely agitated, grabbing at his face, pacing, etc… It’s scary to witness because it looks like he’s having some kind of schizophrenic episode.  This “itching/crawling” stage has been worse than most of the active stages of shingles. Vitamin E oil has helped some, but pain meds don’t do much for the hideous beyond-itchy sensation that is also accompanied by pain and discomfort, intermittently. When the itching is under his eye he can’t put any skin cream on or near it.  Sometimes it feels like he’s been shocked – like an electrical shock. He had a few bad nights recently and I felt DONE with this whole adventure. I was sleep deprived and weary of sleeping on the small loveseat, waking up when he does, worrying, etc. Then of course I felt guilty because he’s the one suffering… that’s how it goes when marriage is “for better and for worse”. Thank God he had a good night last night. We both got some sleep! He had almost fallen asleep behind the wheel when he was on his commute home from work (he went back to work last week–he is not contagious anymore and he’s burned through all of his sick days). Anyway, this shingles thing is still a big issue for our family. Oh, I have an update on his eye: he was prescribed eye drops. The eye was inflamed but it looks like there is no nerve damage—whew! Let’s hope he gets the all-clear on his next appointment (next week). Shingles is not behind us yet, but at least we can see the light at the end of the blistery tunnel.  By the way, some of you were rather horrified that I posted his picture–HE took the photo! He sent this selfie to his co-workers (Can you imagine receiving this in your inbox if you worked with him? Yes, many of them got the shingles vaccine after seeing this photo!). Later, he offered his photo for my blog. It wouldn’t have mattered who took the picture though, he pretty much lets me do whatever I want. That’s probably the secret to our almost-27 years of marriage! Our anniversary is on February 20. Hopefully he’ll be feelin’ fine by then and he can take a shingles-free selfie of both of us.

***UPDATE 3/24/2015: Would you believe that he’s still miserable? He’s doing much better but he’s not 100%, not even close. Intermittent pain in his face feels like his nose hairs are being pulled out (his description). He also suffers from extreme itching under his skin, inside his nose, and behind his eye. Between the itching and the stabbing nerve pain, he’s *frustrated!*.

Posted on

Awkward Family Photos

Everyone loves awkward family photos. Here are mine – We’ll call this the “Christmas Edition” because, yeah, there will be more of these in the future.

NOTE: Click on the images to see them full screen.

#1: Photo Session with a New Baby – These aren’t really awkward, just funny. Anyone who’s ever tried to take a family picture with a baby can relate.

Can we get him to smile?
Can we get him to smile?
Try talking to him, honey…
She’s trying, and trying… (I didn’t post ALL of the attempts!)
She has given up…. Look at him now.


Sometimes smiling for the camera isn’t as good as capturing a real life moment!

788b99bIt was a lot easier when we just let him play with the present! Good luck to all of you who are trying to take family portraits with babies.


#2: Outdoor Photo Session – Probably shouldn’t do this if you live in Minnesota

This looks sweet upon first glance, but we took several shots… and upon closer inspection… I think we have frozen the kids.
This looks sweet upon first glance, but we took several shots… and upon closer inspection… I think we have frozen the kids.
It may be time to stop when the kids start turning blue and their expressions haven’t changed in a while…


#3: Santa Portraits – We waited for over two hours to see the Mall of America Santa. The experience was AMAZING! But the Santa at the grocery store is just as good, right?

The Mall of America Santa is in the first photo… the second one is the grocery store Santa. He gets high marks for product placement.

1 Mall of America Santa2 Grocery Store Santa

#4: Awkward Family Photos

Hey kids, gather around the S’more.

smoresmore1smore2I feel pained too, my son. Hey, at least he’s not heavily pregnant with a pinwheel stuck in his pocket (look again at that first picture).

What do you think we’re expecting for Christmas?img012


Take a closer look at the baby. What? She was only a few hours old here. Well, this is freaky. Hey, to you too!


And this was our Christmas card that year… oh dear. Seemed cute at the time.


#5: O Christmas Tree!

One of our favorite holiday activities is going to a Christmas tree farm. If you own one of these farms, please know that it isn’t your fault that our family took these tacky photos. Your place was very lovely. We loved it. Having said that… well…

123Hmm, not so sure about that elf.

And nothing says Christmas like plastic reindeer in the parking lot.


Others bring gold, frankincense or myrrh. We take a selfie.


So, why not do it ourselves this year? I mean, we have trees, right? We can cut down one of our own! How exciting!

The thing about tree farms is that they have a great little tag on them that says how tall they are. Or there’s a stick marking off certain areas. I mean, you’re going to know that the tree won’t fit on the roof of your car.  But when you cut down a tree in your yard, no one’s there to say, “Hey, did you mean to go with a tree that BIG?”

uh no…

no, we did not.

Yet there was no one to stop us.


19Hmm, it looks bigger inside the house than it did when it was in the yard.


    Maybe a ladder would help…

Sharp needles. Notice my daughter is wearing mittens.


a short while later

the tree fell.

Here it is, resurrected.44

Our son scraped sap from his hands while my husband came up with a plan for how to stabilize the tree.


Our youngest child had given up.


And… we just left it like that.

We named it The Monster Tree. It “ruined” the kids’ presents by coating them in heavy sap. We bought an artificial tree the next year.

#6: Family Portraits with Pets

First, let me explain that this was when we lived on a hobby farm and we were very excited about our life there.  How could we not fall in love with George and Harry? (Named after the brothers in “It’s a Wonderful Life”)


So was it really so crazy to want our Christmas card picture to include them? I’m not sure what our “real farming” neighbors thought of us taking selfies in the pasture for a good hour or so…

Thomas2008_09  Thomas2008_08 Thomas2008_07 Thomas2008_06 Thomas2008_03 Thomas2008_02 Thomas2008_01

Close enough!


#7: Family Portraits that Fail


This is sweet and rather perfect, but I like the one that “failed” better. This next shot happened when we had the setting on rapid self-timer and the camera was still taking pictures when we were busting a gut laughing over something stupid I accidentally said. This is one of my favorite pictures and it’s on our living room all. This is who we really are – this is what it’s all about. It’s not the perfect picture that matters. It’s the one that captures a moment in time when the only thing that matters is the people who love us.

Christmas Laugh 2010