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An Irish Welcome

[Read part one of my journey to Ireland here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

Or would we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my travel story…

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

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

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

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

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

Way home from airport 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…

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

IMG_2446Here’s Nicholas enjoying his first mince pie:


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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I’m Home in IRELAND!

It felt like the day would never come!

100_3313Luggage was packed weeks ahead of time.

IMG_2066See those ruby red slippers? Maybe if I click my heels…

100_3315Then, suddenly… the big day was coming up FAST!

On the way to Minneapolis airportOn the way to the Minneapolis – Saint Paul International airport!

Minneapolis Saint Paul AirportDecember 29th 2015 – the day has finally arrived!

1We are on the plane! The first leg of our journey is from Minneapolis to Chicago on a small cramped plane. My carefully packed “carry on” luggage was checked in at the last minute. My laptop was in it. (Can you guess what happened? Click here to find out.)

View of Minneapolis from planeView from plane window – Leaving Minneapolis! So thrilled to leave! The airport experience with TSA security was HORRIFIC, as was our experience with luggage check in. It took us hours to get through … we arrived at our gate only 10 minutes before boarding! I have much more to say about this… I resent that my two daughters were selected for extra scrutiny. One was “felt up” over the bra, the other had someone touching her hair. I was selected for a complete rummage of my “carry on” that ended up NOT carried on, but checked in! Also, he took the butter knives that went to our special set. Gone forever. 🙁 BUTTER knives. OK, I will stop here because this is a long story that deserves its own blog post. Let’s just say that our trip was not off to a good start. Between the snow storm the day before that carried over until morning, the frazzle of getting out of the house and donating our mattresses at the last minute, and the fiasco of airport check-in/security… we were DONE before we even began!!!

View of Minneapolis from plane 2The Minneapolis airport is fading from view… The anger and frustration from how we were treated at the airport feels less intense now that we’re leaving it all behind.

View of leaving MN from airplaneLeaving snowy Minnesota & Western Wisconsin (above photo)!

3Brent took this photo. See how small the plane is? That space between Cassie and me is an AISLE! That’s Nicholas looking out the window. Brent is next to me, taking the photo. So… we’re missing one. Where’s Savannah? She’s sitting far away from us, several seats ahead! She’s newly fourteen years old, on her own… Well, this is a bizarre story but… there was a remarkably handsome man who looked like… well, he looked like Jesus… I saw him in the airport and I was taken aback. Later, Savannah told me that she was sitting by a man who looked like Jesus… yes, that was the one. She said, “He wasn’t in the right seat”. She had seen his boarding pass and the number didn’t match. She was surprised when he sat down and stayed there, in the seat next to her (full plane, overbooked, so how did this happen?). I… well, I have no explanation for this! But it made us both feel better. If Jesus was sitting next to my baby girl she was in good hands, right? She made it through that unpleasant first flight with Someone watching over her.

View of Chicago from plane 1Flying into Chicago

View of Chicago from plane 2Nearing Chicago O’Hare International Airport

View of Chicago from planeLanding in Chicago!

2Arrived safely in Chicago, a place I’ve been to many times. My aunt Barb and her family live in the ‘burbs. I would visit them on the way to or from Indiana. When I was a kid my family would go to Chicago to see Aunt Barb. We’d visit the Sears Tower, the museums, etc. Sometimes my grandparents and aunts would also come with us. Those were good times. But I can’t say I’m fond of Chicago… especially not the area where Brent’s crappy car broke down on the move to Minneapolis from Muncie, Indiana (Ball State University). Ah, memories!

Natalie Buske Thomas and Cassie in airport going to LondonMe in the red coat, Cassie in the green – getting ready to board our flight to LONDON! Woot!

100_3319We’re on the LONG flight now, the one from Chicago to London. Savannah is sitting with the family now, whew! Nicholas, Cassie and Savannah are in the middle row. I’m sitting across the aisle from Savannah (taking this photo). Brent is on the other side of me, near the window.

100_3318As you can see, it’s dark now.  We’ll try to get some sleep on this overnight flight to London.

100_3317Traveling in Coach sucks. Even on the International flight we had very little leg room. I’m not even 5 feet two, and I found it to be miserably cramped. I really feel for the tall people – how did they manage? It was awful. It was hard to put the tray table down because I had a coat on my lap. Seriously, it was THAT tight. M-I-S-E-R-Y! Of course we had to walk through first class to get to Coach… ugh. But, hey, this was still a much easier experience than my ancestors had when they came over from Ireland. They were likely in “steerage class” in the bellows of a ship, for months. Surely we could manage one day/night!

The next morning we boarded our last flight… it was time to go home, to IRELAND!

In airplaneThis is one of many photos that Savannah took from the plane. I wasn’t seated near a window so I didn’t get to take any. Savannah wasn’t on the right side of the plane to capture what Brent and I saw… We saw a double rainbow on our flight into Ireland! It was a complete circle. I’ve never seen a rainbow from a plane before. It took my breath away. I felt such joy and hope. I knew we were in the right place. And then… there it was.

View of Ireland from planeOur first view of Ireland as we descend into Cork

View of Ireland from plane 3It’s so GREEN, even on December 30! (We lost a day – it was December 29 when we left Minneapolis and then jumped ahead six hours to December 30 during the flight to London)

View of Ireland from plane 2It’s IRELAND! It’s really, really IRELAND! After five years of hoping, praying, and working for the goal, we were HERE! Everything we’d been through, everything we’d given up… none of it mattered. We were HOME.

[Read Part 2 of my journey to Ireland story HERE]









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Our Stuff is on its Way to Ireland (photos)

Shipment to Ireland 001

The shippers have arrived! Here they are, unloading their cardboard boxes and packing supplies. It’s getting real!

Shipment to Ireland 002Isn’t that lift cool beans? The shippers have now officially landed.

Shipment to Ireland 003That’s my artist easel. The next time I use it I’ll be painting in IRELAND!

Shipment to Ireland 004Paintings (to exhibit in Ireland!), canvas, and instruments

Shipment to Ireland 006Can you guess what that is?

Shipment to Ireland 007My mom’s hutch ~ she’d be floored to know that it’s being shipped to Ireland! (but not surprised, she always expected me to do crazy things)

Shipment to Ireland 008Pieces of the TARDIS console are ready to go! This was displayed at the Doctor Who convention in Minneapolis this year. We plan to show it at events in Ireland, and possibly the UK!

Shipment to Ireland 010One of the big pieces of the TARDIS console

Shipment to Ireland 014I bet they’ve never shipped a TARDIS before

Shipment to Ireland 017The TARDIS console “time rotor” is on the truck. Now we’re done!

Shipment to Ireland 019Rolling out…

Shipment to Ireland 020Next time we see our things, it will be in IRELAND!




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Our Stuff is on its Way to IRELAND!

Let me begin by saying that this turn of events took me by surprise. I’d been having trouble finding a shipping company to send a small amount of household goods + our event props/supplies/instruments/paintings/etc. to Ireland. I was raising funds all summer, but our savings are earmarked for renting on a house in Ireland (hoping to find something soon!), immigration fees, etc. We couldn’t waste all of our  savings on shipping our stuff. I’ve read that other Americans who shipped too many things immediately regretted it. Their advice is to ship as little as possible and spend more on a house, car, utilities, etc.

In a horrible real-life version of the game “Would You Rather”, I asked the kids if they’d rather keep 100% of their possessions and stay here, or give up 80% of everything they own and move to Ireland. They chose Ireland without hesitation. So, with the clock ticking, I finally found a shipper I felt we could trust.

I contacted them, thinking that we couldn’t ship the goods until we were already living in Ireland – because that’s the information I found elsewhere on various sites. Well, that’s not exactly true! We have to be living there when the goods ARRIVE, but not when they ship. It takes months for the household goods to be shipped and if we want them to arrive shortly after we do, we should aim for January. I was thrilled at the idea that we wouldn’t have to pay to store our things and that we’d have them very soon after our arrival on December 30.

So I asked when we should ship them out if we wanted a January date. He said the last week in October should be good. Uh… I had to think twice. Wasn’t it October now? As in, today? Yes, indeedy. Egads! It was time to make a commitment or risk shipping our goods late, which would cost us money. The less we have to buy new, the better. I was cramming silverware, pots and pans, and all of the most necessary things into any leftover space I had in our bins. If the shipment was there fast enough, we’d save money. If not, we’d be stuck buying things that we shouldn’t have had to buy if I’d planned the move better. Well, you see where this is going. We had to act FAST!

We had only a few days from when I agreed to the contract, to when the goods would be shipped out. Fortunately I was on the ball and already had most of the pile gathered. Nicholas and I used tape and chalk to map out the cubic feet goal. We did a great job of containing our shipment to the goal box, until we added in the large TARDIS console pieces. That put us over. Oh dear.

We had a serious talk about whether or not to bring the TARDIS. Brent had sold his power tools and there was no realistic expectation that he and Nicholas would rebuild anything close to that, not in the near future anyway. Also, we’d promised many people at the Doctor Who convention that the console was headed to Ireland. And if we didn’t have it, we couldn’t do events in Ireland with it, where we know it will be popular. Sure seems a shame to that it was only used for one event. After much deliberation we decided to bring it. We couldn’t stop now! This had become a quest!

We took a few things out of the shipment to make up for some of the space that the TARDIS console was taking. In the end, we had everything we considered most important to us. It has been an interesting experiment, finding out what’s dear to our hearts. You know the party game that goes, “What would you save if there was a fire?” or some variation of that? We got to play the real version. We could only bring what could fit in the small rectangle on the garage floor.

This garage is only a single car garage and it’s so small that our minivan won’t fit in it! The ceiling is too short and the garage is narrow. To help you visualize the space, the rectangle we marked on the floor is about the size of a (generous) walk-in closet, or roughly 500 cubic feet.

Because we’ll rent a furnished house we didn’t have to take much furniture. That was a big help. It meant that there was more room for the little things that matter most: photographs and memories. There’s the box with my wedding dress in it — the girls want a piece of it to incorporate into their own dresses. There’s the box of the kids’ layette clothes and keepsakes. And the boxes of old toys to save for future grandkids. Stuff like that…

We kept some functional things that we use all the time, while letting go of most of it. I made sure that my cast iron skillet made it. I finally got it perfectly seasoned and I’d be heartbroken to give it up! I also kept my “gingerbread boys” pan because I don’t know if I can find one like that again and we love our family tradition (individual gingerbread cakes that I serve warm with whipped topping at Christmas). This whole experience is teaching us what is important to our family; the thought of letting go of the gingerbread boy pan did not go over well with the kids! And we had the opposite hold true for other things; things that I thought would be important really weren’t, when it came right down to it.

gingerbread boy cake pan
Cake pan, for making 6 individual gingerbread boy cakes
Gingerbread cake, served hot from oven
Gingerbread cake, served hot from oven

I didn’t bother to take any of our plates, glasses, etc. None of it is in good shape and all of it was either purchased cheaply or bought used. I sold the Christmas plates that are in the picture – we’d had our use out of them. Don’t worry, we’re adding a set of our flat Corningware indestructible plates to our luggage so we’ll have something to eat off of. Ditto for a couple of basic things to cook with (one small skillet, one small saucepan, and my mom’s spaghetti pot + strainer). With those I can cook just about anything. I’m not bringing cookie sheets or anything like that. Mine aren’t that great so it’s not worth the $ space.

Well, that’s how the thought process went. What do we keep? What do we let go of? We had to repeat this process for each and every item we own! We’ve (by “we” I mean mostly me) gone through this during spring cleaning, our many previous moves, etc., but this is by far the most we’ve ever had to let go of.

The surprise? Letting go was easier than I thought it would be. I guess that means that we were ready.

We still managed to take a lot of things that we wanted. Brent added his toolbox and his hand weights (good thing the shipment is charged by space and not by weight!). We crammed my mom’s hutch with things that I didn’t want to pay extra to ship because they’re pretty much worthless–like well loved stuffed animals and Savannah’s creepy “lost four” clown dolls… one drawer is full of free candles that Brent got from his old job. “Free” candles would be very expensive if they were in their own box, but they hitched a ride in a hutch drawer so they’re still free! The bottom of the hutch is stuffed with old board games. Some of them we still play and some of them had too many memories to let go of. In the end, it was all about family memories and keeping a life that we want… like playing games and playing music.

Every family member was willing to let go of clothes, shoes, gadgets, knickknacks, and all sorts of things, but their instruments were first on the stack! Cassie’s pink electric guitar and her handcrafted ukulele that Brent made – both are in the shipment. Brent kept his mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and ukulele. Savannah kept two violins, her dulcimer, ukulele, and a guitar that she shares with Nicholas. Nicholas packed multiple guitars, his harmonica collection, banjolele, and probably something else I forgot about. I kept my mountain dulcimer but more importantly, my DRUMS! Woot! I was afraid I’d have to sell them, but the family wanted me to keep them (really, they did). Of course I wore my sad puppy eyes and said that I didn’t want to become a person who didn’t play the drums anymore, so maybe I influenced their opinion. These are electric (can connect via computer, no need to worry about differences in electricity) drums that break down and fit into a box, so don’t worry, I’m not totally nuts. But even so, if you saw how small the pile was, of everything in the world that we will own (except for what we cram into our luggage), you might shake your head that so much of that tiny space was taken up by instruments!

Our shipment might seem ridiculous (three bins of LEGOs!), but to us it is insurance that we will keep what we most treasure: who we are. We’ll have our family history, and we’ll have what we need to continue the way of life that makes us happy. We’ll have our home movies on all of their various original outdated formats (spanning over the lifetime of three or four generations of video cameras), plus saved copies on CD. We’ll have the nativity set my dad painted, and our most special Christmas decorations. We’ll have everything we need to start a new life, while keeping the best of the old.

Nativity set that my dad painted
Nativity set that my dad painted
Nativity set with lights on
Nativity set with lights on
Telling the Nativity story with my kids
Telling the Nativity story with my kids
My son's turn to read the Nativity story
My son’s turn to read the Nativity story

The shippers kept referring to ours as a “small” shipment and in the section for high end items, there were block letters that said NONE. Many of our things included the note “well worn”, “broken latch”, or something similar. This was not offensive, it was a simple recording of what we were shipping.

It’s the truth: our little shipment is a bit shabby, especially if you look at “Flag”, a raggedy Andy doll that Nicholas carried around with him until it practically fell apart. Or how about the tiny, scruffy, and threadbare Superman costume that Nicholas had worn daily? Or Savannah’s dolls with the balding heads and dirty cloth bodies are a sight to behold? Cassie’s book collection includes old paperbacks that would probably only fetch 50 cents at a garage sale. Brent included tiny treasures that the kids had made for him, and several hand written cards. I did the same. Probably half of my personal belongings are handmade gifts from the kids and Brent. And of course we kept my dad’s Bible. Where our hearts are, that’s where our treasure is.

Our shipment is special, and now it’s on it’s way to Ireland! (Actually it’s probably sitting in a warehouse in Hastings, Minnesota at the moment) I’ll keep you updated where our shipment – and the TARDIS console -are as the weeks go by… We can track our shipment. That will be exciting!

Well, there’s no turning back now. Our stuff is already on its way to Ireland! WE will be next! Just two more months left. Today is October 29 and we leave on December 29. Wow, it’s really hitting me.            —> Check out the photos of the big day!<—–

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Sweet September

Life is a giftWhat a difference a few weeks can make! When I wrote August’s blog post I was struggling to feel positive. I have to admit that I didn’t always keep my cool. At one point I yelled, “I just want ONE day without drama!” That’s a lie. I’d like all of my days to be drama free. Wouldn’t you?

But when life’s bumps in the road start to feel like we’re driving on railroad tracks it’s time to hold on tight. Let go, have patience… have a little faith… believe that things will get better… and… at the right time, if the right time comes… things will get better!

At the right time, things got better. And wow, did they ever! I hardly know where to begin…

I finally started a special project that I’d been wanting to do for months. I started it, kept working on it, and saw it through to the finished art. There’s a much longer story behind my new painting, but I want to share this with you right away so I’ll give you the short version. First, here it is… this is the video of me painting “Marie’s Babies”. Below the video is the description. Please read the description before watching the video.

“Marie’s Babies” oil painting, video description:

This oil painting tells Marie and John’s story of the two journeys of their beautiful twin boys, Cathal and Lorcan. The babies were born very premature. They could fit entirely in their parents’ hands; every day was a fight to survive. Sadly, one of their precious babies slipped away after about a month of loving him here on Earth. Marie has no pictures of Cathal without tubes and machines covering up much of his tiny body. I offered to help her create an image of him as a whole baby, free from the medical chains. I didn’t know how to go about doing this exactly, but I prayed my way through the experience. The symbolism in the painting seems to evolve. You might see this painting differently, depending on what you feel when you view the art. One way to see it is that Lorcan is sheltered by God’s love here on Earth, as represented by the flower. Cathal has been carried gently away by God’s spirit, as represented by the butterfly. But I only paint the pictures, after that, my art doesn’t belong to me. This painting belongs to the O’Halloran family of Ireland. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this powerful and life-changing experience. I didn’t paint this alone, I had divine intervention the whole time. God bless the O’Halloran family, and thank you for sharing your beautiful babies with me, and with the world. Peace be with you.

*Note: the tiny babies in the painting are very close to life-sized…notice how small they are compared to my hands…I was shocked when I saw the photograph of Marie touching Cathal, when I saw the size comparison between her hands and his tiny body

Marie will share her story, and when she does I’ll link to it. It’s her story to tell, not mine. We have become very close over the past two years. When all of this was happening to her, my heart was breaking.  Marie is my Irish friend who is helping us move to Ireland. And on that note, I have another announcement to make. While I was painting “Marie’s Babies”, Marie had no idea that I’d started the project or that I was actually finishing it… but meanwhile she was doing something significant to help me!

At the same time that I was sending her an email with an attachment to view the photo of the finished painting, Marie was drafting an email to tell me about the connections she’s made for me in Ireland. I’ll announce something more specific later but I will be doing exhibits and events in Ireland! It’s shaping up to be a bit of a tour spanning across at least two counties, County Cork and County Limerick.  I’d like to hold off saying anything more because things are still shaping up, but this is incredibly exciting and beyond my wildest dreams!

Permission to stay in Ireland may be possible if we have a strong purpose for being there. Hopefully we’ll be granted enough time that Brent will be able to get his teaching certification finalized and transferred into the Irish system, land an interview, land a job, and get a work visa before we have to leave. It’s a lot to expect, especially when jobs are highly competitive, and as an American he’d have to prove that he’s better than all of the other qualified applicants, but with faith and determination anything is possible. And… we’ll keep an open mind that something we aren’t expecting is just around the corner. We need to let things develop as they are meant to. Have a little faith, right?

For now, I’ll celebrate that our dream to live in Ireland is coming true! How long we get to live there remains to be seen, but look how far we’ve come. I’m guessing we can get permission to stay for at least six months, perhaps a year! The harder we work to raise funds, the easier it will be to get permission to stay for a longer period of time (the Irish government wants to see a full bank account, with proof that we can afford to live there for the amount of time that we request). With a little faith… well, there’s always a way.

I’m working on it! I’m about 1/5 of the way through the last Serena Wilcox mystery (#12 in the series) and about 1/5 through a new book I’m writing about our dream to move to Ireland. Not only am I busy with two new books, but I’m also busy with these events:

  • Minneapolis Comic Con! In October I’ll be representing the writing half of the “Dramatic Mom” team. My illustrator daughter Cassandra Thomas was invited to attend the Minneapolis Comic Con, with a free table for her and for her guest (me). She’ll be promoting her KiLA iLO series while I show off our Dramatic Mom series.
  • Guest speaker, Journey House, University of Wisconsin – RF: I’ve been invited to speak again in November. This will be my third public speaking event for the campus organization. I greatly look forward to it. I’m kind of sad to know that this is my last time there, as we’ll be moving in December…and more importantly, Cassie graduates from college! Our connection to UW-RF will end. I’m happy that I get one last opportunity to be a part of Journey House’s inspirational speaker series, their “This I Believe” luncheons.
  • Little Free Library book tour – more about that later~! [it’s “later”, here’s the update! My Little Free Library Tour … Destination #1]

I need to wrap up this blog post even though I have so much more to say. Wow, what a difference in my attitude and outlook from August to Sweet September! There’s so much going on now, and all of it is looking up, up, up! Pay attention to this space, God is doing amazing things for me and my family.

Speaking of family, that’s where most of my time and energy goes. It’s hard to keep up with all of the things they are doing. Nicholas is studying for the SAT test, looming next Saturday already. Cassie is preparing to order her cap and gown–she found out that she will graduate Magna Cum Laude! She will soon have a Math degree, and is planning to apply to graduate school in Cork, Ireland. Nicholas wants to go into IT and also plans to apply for college in Ireland, but he has to struggle through the SAT test first and I’m nervous for him. And then there’s baby girl Savannah who is thirteen going on thirty. She already has her whole life planned out… she wants to be a midwife. It’ll be an adventure, seeing what God has in store for these three.

Two of my children are now adults, and our last child is almost an adult in her mind. I’d love to bottle them up and not let them get a day older, but I can’t do that. So here I am, trying to keep up, and saving up all the memories that I can. Meanwhile, Brent has been keeping me on my toes because he’s been sick with something serious at least once a year for the past three years. He’s better now, but he was out of commission for about two weeks. Two. Very. Long. Weeks. But hey, August is over and Sweet September rolled in with beautiful sunny skies and wonderful new opportunities. See, if we wait long enough, the weather does change.