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Happiness is a Choice

Well, our first visit to immigration didn’t go the way we’d hoped. We have another appointment in about two weeks. We might be able to extend our stay here, but we might have to go back to the States. We might lose everything we’ve put into this leap of faith move to Ireland. We just don’t know.

But what we do know is that happiness is a choice. We could sit at home wringing our hands, turning on each other, and escaping each other through our computers, phones, etc. We could react to stress by wasting our time here in Ireland. Or, we can let go and trust that we’ll be OK, no matter what happens. We can resent that Brent is between jobs, or we can appreciate that he has time for us, and that all five of us are together.

We have had our bad moments, and our reaction to stress hasn’t always been pretty. There have been plenty of tantrums (mine). But after we calmed down we got it right. The coast is free to visit. There’s no excuse for missing out on the beauty of Ireland. We’re HERE! If we miss it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We get one life, just one. We choose happiness!

Here we are in Ballinspittle, at Garrettstown Beach, Ireland on Friday, March 11, 2016.

IMG_2824Savannah was thrilled to see the Irish coast! We all were! SO BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so excited to finally make it to the sea!!!

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IMG_2830Cassie admiring the breathtaking view – yes it was raining – it’s Ireland 🙂

IMG_2851I’m so happy to be here!!!! (that’s rain on the lens, not snow!)IMG_2852

I’ve lost another button off my trench coat… oh well, no worries.

Natalie Buske Thomas in Ireland March 2016Rain is letting up! It comes and goes – misty. The air is so fresh. I was running in the sand, racing to get to the next view. It was like my eyes were thirsty and I couldn’t drink it in fast enough.

IMG_2854My daughter Savannah and husband Brent

IMG_2856I love this feminine picture of my sweet daughter Savannah, who is growing up into a beautiful young lady – too fast! Can we slow these days down?

IMG_2857Brent took off his shoes. 🙂

IMG_2859Love the sound of the waves, love everything!

IMG_2861Rain on the lens, but still captured this moment – Savannah running in the sand

IMG_2863Brent laughing – I think he got a little too close to the tide coming in

IMG_2865Love this shot of Cassie – her reflection is in the sand

IMG_2867Savannah couldn’t be happier to be at the beach!

IMG_2868IMG_2875IMG_2876IMG_2878IMG_2879IMG_2883Savannah found a heart shaped rock – what a treasure!

IMG_2884IMG_2885My husband Brent and son Nicholas

IMG_2887Nicholas, having a ball! He is taking a photography short course through UCC. He’s been snapping hundreds of photos. We have to watch out for him because he’ll lag behind or wander off, lost in his photography.

IMG_2888Happy, happy! My kids have been through a lot. They helped take care of my mother when she was dying. It was a hard life that we went through. It’s so good to see the big smiles and my kids being kids, making up for some lost childhood.

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IMG_2891The girls are looking for treasures. Nicholas has his eyeball on his camera.

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Stunning views! And we had the coast all to ourselves!

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IMG_2939Savannah and Nicholas exploring the coast

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IMG_2949Brent and Nicholas, Savannah on the end

IMG_2950So many beautiful rocks and shells to sift through

IMG_2951IMG_2952IMG_2953BEAUTIFUL! Ooh, this is the Ireland I longed to see!

IMG_2954Nicholas going as far as he can without falling in – I loved watching my kids exploring as if they were little again. Of course I was doing the same thing. 🙂

IMG_2956Pretty shells… still in use so I better not take them!

IMG_2959IMG_2960There were many striped rocks. They looked like someone drizzled icing over them.

IMG_2965IMG_2966My husband Brent and me (Nicholas took this for us)

Natalie Buske Thomas with husband Brent in Ireland March 2016Keep an eye on the tide rolling in while Nicholas is trying to figure out why my camera won’t focus (lens was wet & giving an error)

IMG_2969Are you watching that tide?

IMG_2971Keep watching…

IMG_2972Wait for it…

IMG_2973Water is already on our shoes/boots…more water coming

IMG_2974RUN!!! Yeah, my legs got soaked.

IMG_2975Cassie with her bag of treasures, admiring the view

IMG_2976IMG_2977Savannah enjoyed running barefoot on the sand

IMG_2978I didn’t know that Nicholas was collecting rocks. He put those in his pocket…I took them out for him later when it was time to toss his jacket in the washer. It was like he was a little boy again!

IMG_2979It’s about time to go, but everyone’s dawdling a bit

IMG_2980This is the view on the way back to the car

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IMG_2989Some of Cassie’s treasures, so pretty! She wants to make jewelry.

Well, our immigration problems are still complicated. Our odds of staying here are probably 50/50. Our finances are still stretched. But we have health insurance now (we had lost ours TWICE in the States and couldn’t afford it)! It feels so good to have that security back! We’re renting a wonderful house, we have a car again, the kids have both finished their applications for UCC, and Brent’s application has been received by the Irish Teaching Council. The food here is less expensive and absolutely delicious!

It’s really up to us whether or not we focus on the negatives or the positives. It’s up to us whether or not we give in to fear and stress, or look for treasures instead. Not everything comes easily and some things can never be ours. We can’t always get what we want, but there are some things that are entirely up to us.

It’s up to us to choose happiness.

 

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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!

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My Blarney Valentine

We’re giving our new life everything we’ve got, so that means skipping holidays that don’t really matter, like Valentine’s Day and an “off year” wedding anniversary (our 28th on February 20th). But we’re in Ireland, and we can get out and see plenty of things for free, right?

Yes and no… it turns out that it’s no longer free to visit the grounds by the Blarney Castle. There’s always been a charge to go inside the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone, etc., but it used to be free to view the outside of it. I planned to take pictures of the castle. I didn’t want to go inside it anyway, as it is very tight in there and I hate closed in spaces. Anyway, bummer, the castle grounds cost the same fee as the inside-castle ticket price. It would have cost us more than $60 for our family to see the castle. No thanks… We saw a bit of it through the fence. So now what?

On to Blarney Woollen Mills, another tourist attraction. The Woollen Mills is free to enter, but very expensive to shop in so I didn’t expect to buy anything. It was fun to see all of the creations though. The clothing was beautiful! (you can shop online, or browse the Irish gifts and/or clothes)

It was a pretty area, downtown Blarney. And I found something I really, really wanted in the Woollen Mills lobby for only 5 Euro! It was something that Brent had given me for Christmas a couple years ago. He found it in an Irish store in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and had to pay much more for it in the States.

I was thrilled to find it and I basically said it’s mine, buy it for me. He called it a Valentine’s Day present. I said, “No it doesn’t count since I called it for myself.” And then I counted it for an anniversary present. See, I’m fair that way. 🙂

Scroll through our Blarney pictures to find out what this mystery present is. Can you guess?

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I took the photo below for you, Aunt Ann! 🙂 Here’s to the Murphy ancestors! I don’t know how I can ever find them though… with a name like Patrick Murphy! That’s probably the most common Irish name, ever.

IMG_2784 IMG_2785Ooh, aren’t these Irish sweaters pretty? (photo below) No, I didn’t get one of those…

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OK, this is it… THIS, I want THIS! (photo below)

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Happy Anniversary to me! Or Happy Valentine’s Day… whichever gets me the truffles! I like chocolate, I like whiskey. It’s a no brainer really. (These are already gone, by the way)

Nicholas took this picture of Brent and I (photo below). We’re squinting because it was a GLORIOUSLY sunny day. The sun is reflecting off my box of chocolates, creating a magical glow, which is how my eyes saw them even without the sun shining on them!

Natalie Buske Thomas with husband Brent Thomas 28th wedding anniversay in Ireland Feb 2016

IMG_2791 IMG_2792 IMG_2794 IMG_2795 IMG_2797 IMG_2798 Savannah bought a postcard to send to her friend Lucy. Yes, those are medical symbols on her tights. Savannah wants to be a nurse, specifically a midwife. At least that’s the plan at age fourteen… however she’s been saying this since she was twelve so it might be for keeps.

Ah, what a beautiful day in Blarney, Ireland! There was sunshine, flowers, and my family having fun. So we had to skip the castle, no biggie. We had a great time anyway. And wow, what a difference a year makes. This was where we stood last year: Valentine’s Day and Anniversary. Besides, someone got Irish Whiskey truffles. What could be better?

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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.

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Mallow and Grenagh

This is downtown Mallow, Ireland, a good sized town (or small city). It is located in Co. Cork.  I took these pictures in January and early February. This is the bank where I opened an Irish bank account after jumping through a few hoops. We’ve seen a lot of this building over the past couple of months. IMG_2560 IMG_25593Directly across from the bank are familiar golden arches (photo below). Yes, of course we had to try the Irish McDonald’s. It was quite good! It reminded me of McDonald’s in the 1980’s before the burgers became smaller and of questionable flavor/texture.  There are a few differences in the menu. For the holiday season they offered mince pie. But mostly, the Irish McDonald’s is the same fast food chain as the United States version. So, if we ever miss home too much, we can always go to McDonald’s and it’ll feel like we’ve never left… sort of. We’ll still have to pay in Euro and it’s a good thing that we’ve learned how to navigate the Irish accent. 🙂IMG_2558

Other shots of downtown Mallow:IMG_2557 IMG_2556My son Nicholas in the photo below, in downtown Mallow. He loves thrift shops and finds one in every town.

IMG_2756 IMG_2755 IMG_2754This church in Mallow is gorgeous (photo below). We walk by it every time we go to the bank.

IMG_2753 IMG_27524 5There are gates in front of the church. I wish I’d taken another photograph that shows the fence and gate. I’m sure I looked like a tourist taking these pictures, but I just had to share a picture of this beautiful church! The courtyard is so pretty… I’ll have to look later this spring to see if there are flowers in there.

IMG_2751 IMG_2750 IMG_2749 IMG_2748 IMG_2747I need to get a better photograph of this statue (in the photo below)… but it’s tricky to get a shot of it because it’s in the middle of a busy street.

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The Market Square (photo below) is on top of a hill. I forgot to take pictures that really show it off…. maybe next time! We enjoy that area. It’s a contemporary cobble stone type space with flower beds. There’s a coffee shop, a Dunnes Store (large department store + grocery), and a parking garage (we park there because parking is free – the street parking is paid parking and hard to squeeze into). We walk through the large stone gate and down to the city blocks below to do our banking and other errands. This is good exercise, especially when it’s time to go back UP.IMG_2745 IMG_2744 IMG_2743Here are some photos outside the village of Grenagh, in a rural area near our house:IMG_2543 IMG_2537 IMG_2536 IMG_2535 IMG_2534 IMG_2525 IMG_2524 IMG_2523IMG_2740 IMG_2739

My husband Brent in photo above… another rainbow in photo below. We see rainbows every week, double ones too!IMG_2738 IMG_2737 IMG_2736 IMG_2732 IMG_2730

Savannah likes to do rock art. She has an engraving pen that she uses to make designs on rocks. She was happy with some great finds on the boreen.IMG_2729 IMG_2728 IMG_2727 IMG_2726 IMG_2725 IMG_2723 IMG_2722 IMG_2721 IMG_2720 IMG_2719 IMG_2718
You never know when and where you’ll make friends here in Ireland. I was out taking pictures for oil painting inspiration and I ran into a couple of guys who are often working on the side of the road, clearing brush and cleaning up the area where one of them plans to build a house (currently there is an old shack on the land). They stopped me for a long chat. When Brent caught up to me, I turned the conversation over to them while I took the rest of my pictures. They were STILL talking about half an hour later!

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Brent and his new friends… The guy in the middle is Timmy. The other day Brent took Savannah out to find a newspaper (the reason why will come up in a future blog post). Timmy flagged Brent down to talk to him. Savannah timed their conversation to exactly 45 minutes. Good thing she thought that Timmy was hilarious. It made the wait to get home worth it. 🙂

2More pictures of the road near our house:

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I was trying to show you how tall these trees are.  To put this into scale, the weeds on the side of the road are almost as tall as I am.  This is the forest we live in. IMG_2680 IMG_2679 IMG_2678 IMG_2677 IMG_2676 IMG_2675 IMG_2674 IMG_2672 IMG_2671 IMG_2670 IMG_2669 IMG_2668

I was enchanted by flowers growing in the dead of winter!IMG_2667 IMG_2666 IMG_2665 IMG_2664 IMG_2663 IMG_2662 IMG_2661 IMG_2660 IMG_2659 IMG_2658 IMG_2657 IMG_2655

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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. 🙂

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! 🙂

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.

 

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Help, Hugs and a Car

Visiting Marie and Johnny 3My husband Brent, Johnny O’Halloran holding their beautiful son Lorcan, Marie O’Halloran, and me, with a cameo appearance by Roxy, the contest-winning dog who is responsible for this friendship! (Story here, if you missed it) at the O’Halloran’s home in Munster, Ireland

Visiting Marie and Johnny 1I love the candid moments… here we are getting ready to take the group photo. I don’t know what Marie and I are trying to do here.

Visiting Marie and Johnny 2The four of us were chatting pretty much non-stop. The time flew and it was hard to stop to take a picture – it was even harder to wrap up the visit and go home.

We had a ball visiting Johnny, Marie, and Lorcan. It was our first time seeing Lorcan and it was all I could do not to rush over to him and squeeze him! I waited until he was warmed up to me – which was right away! Then I swooped him up. He is an adorable and happy little boy who stole our hearts.

A baby in the house, tea and pie served, stories about faerie rings, serious heart-to-heart talks as well as silliness- and plenty of hugs – it was a wonderful first visit in the O’Halloran’s home.

But… it wasn’t a “just for fun” visit. Marie and Johnny were helping us shop for a car. This was all part of our settling in experience. It was one.more.thing to add to a long list of stressful things. We couldn’t keep renting a temporary car. It was too expensive, for starters. We’d quickly go broke. Beyond that, renting means a lack of commitment. As scary as it was, we needed to buy a car.

The first step was to find a car that we liked. Marie offered to help us find a car, and to help us negotiate a fair price. We took her up on this offer and shopped for cars in her neck of the woods. Marie and Johnny live about forty-five minutes’ drive from our house. Given all of the driving and commuting Brent did in the States, this is a relatively small distance between us. I love that we live close to our dear friends! We were grateful for their help in making such a nerve-wracking decision.

Fortunately, I had laser focus that day. I’d prayed for God to give us a car. Sure, I didn’t expect the car to be literally given to us, but I fully expected that a car would show itself to us – that it would be clear which one was ours. That happened. We were looking for a “7 seater”, which is a small version of a typical mini-van, but sportier and classier. I love it! It is large enough to fit our adult-sized family of five, plus there’s a bit of room for hauling books and art to events. Perfect! Grocery bags are a breeze too.

It’s odd how Nicholas has to get into the car. Folding down one of the seats in the middle row (where the girls sit) is awkward and frustrating so I suggested that he hop into the back. It works! He opens the “boot” (trunk) door and climbs into his seat in the back (we keep the second back seat permanently folded down). Of course he could sit in the middle row of three seats, thigh-to-thigh with his sisters. Ha! Anyway, the 7-seater is AWESOME! But… getting the car was not awesome.

Brent doesn’t have a job here yet and I’m on an author/artist income that’s largely inconsistent–banks don’t like that. In addition, we’d only been in the country for a few weeks. It was a humbling experience to go to my new Irish bank and beg for a loan. I dressed up and gave my best speech, but we were denied.

So, we approached our bank in the U.S. After all, we’d had three consecutive successful home mortgages that made the bank a lot of money in interest over the past twenty years. Surely they’d loan us the money. No, no, they would not. Apparently our wonderful history with them meant very little. The only way they’d loan us the money is via a secured personal loan that would freeze what was left of the money we’d saved to live on while Brent is unemployed. Oh, and also, they required a co-signer.

I won’t get into the specifics of what all of this meant, and how incredibly frustrating it was, or what was involved with the baggage of the co-signer. I’ll have to leave that here. To put it simply: we had to make difficult unwanted decisions.

It was taxing logistics wise too. Why oh why in the year 2016 did we need to send actual hard-copies for a relatively small loan? We had to ship papers express to the United States from Ireland. Later, when all of this was done, we had to pay $75 for a wire transfer to get the funds to our account. The only saving grace in all of this is that the person who serviced our loan is someone who knew us, and she was very helpful.

I could go on with this, but I think you get the picture. Buying a car was terribly stressful and it meant freezing our savings. Life was suddenly a whole lot harder!

But in the end, we had our car. Our salesperson at the dealership was absolutely wonderful! He had offered to hold the car for us (with a deposit) for as long as we needed. It ended up being about three weeks of back and forth before we could pick up the car. Through it all, he was bright and friendly. He even offered to help us make networking connections for our daughter. We knew we were true friends though when he left us a note on the gas cap “for the Yank”, reminding Brent to use diesel instead of petrol .  🙂

Well, from what I’ve said here, you can probably imagine how tightly wound Brent and I have been. The car is only one issue of many that we’ve been dealing with. It felt so good to be with friends! Having Johnny and Marie with us at the dealership made all the difference. And then, when we picked up the car, it was Johnny who drove us from the rental drop off (Cork airport) to the dealership. We needed help from friends, and we got it.

I’ll forever remember how hard it was to be new in this country, and how humbling it was to be rejected for a simple loan. We were afraid when we realized that it wouldn’t be easy to get a car. The anxiety continued when we couldn’t find anyone who would insure us.

In the end, it all fell into place, even if it didn’t happen the way that we wanted it to. We got the car, apple pie with our Irish friends, and a hug from a baby. Life is grand!

New Car in IrelandOur first car in Ireland! 2013 Citroen Picasso, silver, 7-seater

 

 

 

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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?

 

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Our first weeks in Ireland

We arrived in Ireland on December 30, 2015, which meant that our first weeks in Ireland were in the dead of winter. We left our typical snow, ice, and deep freeze conditions back in the States for a delightful spring-like season in Ireland.

We experienced one bizarre Irish snow event in which snow swirled around like the fake fluff in a musical glass-domed snow globe for about ten minutes (I took pictures, I’ll show you those later). This enchanted “snow” melted before it hit the ground. And, that’s it. The next hour the sun came out. Then I think it rained. And then the sun came back out. Then, there was probably another rainbow. That’s how it goes around here. Rain, sun, rainbow. Rinse, repeat.

The Irish snow was a freak event and it was rather hilarious from my perspective, as someone who spent the last twenty years living within commuting distance from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesotan weather this winter included a day when it was actually warmer in ANTARCTICA than in Minnesota! And of course they were buried in snow by multiple “snow events” and a blizzard.

But for mysterious unknown reasons, the Irish often complain about the weather! Everywhere we go, they say things like, “How do you like it, aside from the weather?” Or, “You could enjoy the sights today, if not for the weather.” Or, “It rains too much. We have too much rain this year.” And so on. The weather here is highly changeable. No matter how much it rains, the sun comes out every day and it’s glorious. I don’t mind a bit of rain if it means rainbows and sunshine afterward. The Irish would never last a Minnesota winter!

Highlights from January 2016

Our shipment arrived from the United States on January 7 — well, eventually. The drivers were from Belfast and they couldn’t find our house. Brent was only newly familiar with these roads himself, and his driving-on-the-left skills were still a bit scary.

So, it was dark comedy when the men from Belfast wanted Brent to meet them in the village (Grenagh) so that they could follow him back here. Brent had only successfully made it to the village centre once, and he had taken a wrong turn heading back. This could be interesting!

Also, we live on a boreen. My friend Marie had warned me that living on a boreen might be a problem, and that this house was “very” rural. (Yes, I had to look it up too: What is a “boreen”?)

Well, it turns out that the boreen where we live is so narrow that the brambles hit the car on both sides at certain points. In one dreadful stretch there are high walls that create a tunnel-like effect. That part freaks Brent out, as it is a tight squeeze and only one car can go through at a time. I’m OK with that section. It’s the extremely narrow part with the ditches on both sides that horrifies me! The road is crumbling away on the sides due to minor flooding. Water runs on the edges, which drop off sharply. Brent flinches where there’s a pothole on his side, and veers to the other side, and I swear we’re going to topple into the ditch. We haven’t. We probably won’t. But I caught myself doing my Lamaze breathing exercises when he drove through the ditch-lined parts of the boreen.

I mentioned that there’s room for only one vehicle at a time on the boreen, so what happens when we meet up with another car coming at us from the opposite direction? Well, the first time that happened Brent panicked and drove like an American. He zipped the rental mini-van (a “people carrier” as they call it here) into reverse and backed up onto the right hand side of the road.  The Irish gent in his truck calmly waited for the whole affair to come to an embarrassing end. Then Brent pulled up alongside him, to warn our Irish neighbor about a tree that was down (blocking part of the boreen). The gent wasn’t concerned about the tree, but he appeared to be quite concerned about how Brent was faring in his people carrier.  🙂

Anyway, back to the story about the drivers from Belfast… Brent asked them if they could get the truck to fit on the narrow roads. They didn’t know for sure, so one of them took a second smaller truck and followed Brent back to the house for a test drive. Brent did fine – no American driving, and he didn’t get lost!

The driver declared it to be OK for the bigger truck and said he’d seen worse. I could barely watch as they tried to get the truck through the stone gate, but they made it! Here they are, with one of them ground-guiding the other through the gate to our driveway.

IMG_2475

Rivendell_07YEA! Our shipment is here! Most of it made it to Ireland without damage. We had a few losses, but nothing that can’t be repaired or let go of. The drivers were gracious, careful with our things, and even helped us unpack. We couldn’t understand much of what the one man said. His accent was so heavy that his partner had to translate for us. Both men were friendly and easy to work with. It was good to see people after spending several days alone in the house.

The shipment contained a small amount of things compared to all that we sold or gave away, but I’m grateful for what we were able to keep. It’s amazing to have our possessions here in Ireland! It felt so good to see our familiar things again. We were able to keep our family photo albums, our home videos, the kids’ old toys, and our special Christmas decorations. We also held on to our musical instruments, a few household items, my art supplies, paintings, etc. And, the TARDIS console that we were crazy enough to ship… We had enough stuff — everything else could be replaced (or forgotten!).

IMG_2477How exciting, seeing that shipping label! My art was sent from New York City to Ireland, possibly on the same general route that my Irish ancestors took when they came over from Ireland to NY.

BTW: The shippers totally ignored my “up” arrows, but all of the paintings made it through just fine.

IMG_2476I’m ready for gallery showings and events! No excuses!

IMG_2478See that red filing cabinet? It was my parents’. They used it for paperwork, scissors, rubber bands, stamps, etc. It’s too small for full sized paper, so I never quite understood why Mom wouldn’t part with it. But when I saw the back of the cabinet, I understood why. I asked Brent to leave that part alone when he painted the cabinet red for me.

IMG_2482I’m so happy that this cabinet made it to Ireland! It is the perfect size for my paints and I use it all the time. Knowing that my dad’s doodle love note to my mom is on the back… well, that’s priceless. The cabinet is metal so I can put magnets on it too. I don’t want to think about how much it cost to ship this basically worthless old metal cabinet.

I sold many “valuable” things so that we could afford to ship our treasures. All of us feel good about what we let go of and what we kept. Whether we shipped a stuffed animal or a beaten up toolbox, a guitar or a dog-eared book… we all shipped things that make our new place feel like home. No regrets. And wow do we ever appreciate what we have!

Oh, as a side note – after the shipment reached port I got a message that customs needed clarification: Were the “stuffed animals” plush toys or hunting trophies? I assured them that they were toys, whew! We almost got flagged…. illegal hunting of exotic animals? Yi, yi, yi! That was a close call, but all was easily resolved and our shipment sailed through customs.

Here are pictures of that changeable weather I was talking about. Ireland in January:  IMG_2512 IMG_2510 IMG_2509  IMG_2507 IMG_2506 IMG_2505Brent (from inside the house) took this picture of me. It’s good to be back up to my old tricks – I used to love taking weather pictures. I haven’t been myself in a long time, as this move to Ireland took over my life for the past few years. I’m glad to be “back”!

Rivendell_17IMG_2504  IMG_2499    IMG_2487  IMG_2485 IMG_2484IMG_2535IMG_2656

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Visiting UCC

Nicholas visiting UCC 1 blog Natalie Buske ThomasUCC campus, Cork, Ireland

*Did you miss the previous posts about our move to Ireland? Start here.

One of our purposes for being in Ireland is for our college age children to go to school here. Cassie has already graduated college, but if she pursues graduate school, UCC (University College Cork, Ireland) is her college of choice. Notice I said “if”. Since we’ve been here, she’s been tempted by tantalizing job opportunities for Math majors. She’d love to work for Apple–she’s applied for multiple positions there, located near Cork. She has also applied for a position at Aldi. She’s networking in these areas and making progress. (I’m rooting for whatever makes her happy!)

But, little brother Nicholas will be starting his Freshman year – with or without big sister on campus to lean on.

FYI: For those of you who are curious about how the tuition compares to U.S. schools, it’s comparable to out of state tuition for a state school, which is what we’d have to do if we wanted to move outside of the area anyway. UCC is on the list of schools eligible for federal student loans, which was how Brent and I got through school, and how Cassie did too. *SIGH* I would have loved to have paid their way, but we are doing what we can by providing food, lodging, and a warm smile every day… Anyway, it’s all up to him how he handles the tuition. We got him to Ireland – now he can take it from here. I believe in him. He can do anything he sets his heart to do!

But… How does he feel about going to college? Here’s our son Nicholas, visiting the UCC campus…not saying much…just walking.

Nicholas visiting UCC 2 blog Natalie Buske ThomasThe campus sure is beautiful! Even on a dark rainy day, in the dead of winter, the grounds are impressive…very! I saw Nicholas studying every tree, every building. Hmm… is he inspired to go to school? Will he finally finish the essay for his application?

Nicholas visiting UCC 4 blog Natalie Buske ThomasMeanwhile, I left him alone and enjoyed the campus… Beautiful! I can’t believe that flowers are growing in JANUARY! The patch that isn’t blooming yet is a rose garden. I look forward to seeing the roses this spring (see the optimism in what I said? I’m assuming we get permission to stay beyond our 90 day stamp).

Nicholas visiting UCC 5 blog Natalie Buske ThomasLook how gorgeous the colors are! IN JANUARY! I’m in Heaven!

Nicholas visiting UCC 6 blog Natalie Buske ThomasThis is classic Nicholas, waving whenever he sees me taking a picture of him. He looks like my little boy here – is he really ready for college? Let’s give him more time to look around…

Nicholas visiting UCC 8 blog Natalie Buske ThomasI can’t believe we’re really here! This campus existed only through photos on the school website, and now it’s REAL!

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 blog Natalie Buske ThomasWOW, just WOW! What does Nicholas think now? Doesn’t it remind you of a scene from Harry Potter? Pure magic.

I love this series of photos I took from afar. There’s my son, staring at the quad area of the UCC campus, all alone…looking so small in such a great space. It was a big moment for him. And as I tried to capture it, I felt like I was letting him go. (I will not cry, this will not be like the sand in our eyes when Brent and I watched Toy Story 3!)

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 b blog Natalie Buske Thomas

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 c blog Natalie Buske Thomas

Nicholas visiting UCC blog 9 d Natalie Buske ThomasAnd, the moment was over…. He was quickly joined by other visitors on campus. The spell had been cast – he was now a future college student!

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 e blog Natalie Buske ThomasHe looks quite natural walking on campus, doesn’t he?

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 g blog Natalie Buske ThomasI love this shot! Nicholas was amused by something a student penned on that banner. I don’t remember now what it was, but he agreed with the sentiment of the poster and the added graffiti. I say he’s ready for college!

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 f blog Natalie Buske ThomasLOVE this one – father and son visiting campus for the first time. I’m noticing how much bigger my son is and how much smaller my husband is. Look at them, they have the same walk. We girls notice this all the time – it’s funny, and it’s nice. Nicholas may wear a bigger shoe size than Brent now, but he still walks in his Daddy’s footsteps – except now they walk together.

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 h blog Natalie Buske ThomasJust a reminder that this school is in IRELAND – the green, oh the green! Even in JANUARY!

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 i blog Natalie Buske ThomasAww, this shot makes me tear up a little… there’s baby girl, the little sister – not saying much. She’s not ready for big brother to go to school.

UCC Campus MapI pointed out all of the sign posts and I took a picture of the campus map to help Nicholas find his way. That pretty much sums up how I’ve been as his mother all along – I give him the road map. It’s up to him to decide which path to take.