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Starting Over

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

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

IMG_6507We’re HOME!
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I couldn’t wait to see our new house! Our friends Walter and Miki Estep were our representatives in getting us this house. Miki and I have known each other since we were ten years old and in the same dance class together. We also went to the same school, the same theater group, and speech team. She beat me in the radio broadcasting competition, but I won more trophies in dance. We were very different girls, but we came from the same place. She was at my dad’s memorial service. She knows my secrets and she’ll never tell. She’s that kind of friend – she’s family.
So when Walter and Miki spoke to the agent and basically dismissed our original home choice that was in a bad part of town, in bad shape, and just plain BAD, I believed them. They offered us this home instead, and generously insisted that they loan us the money for the much larger deposit required for this house, in this beautiful quiet neighborhood. Miki said that she wouldn’t let us buy the bad house I’d originally chosen. Nor would she let me live in a tent, which was my Plan B. Seriously, I’d looked into camping for a month or two. I realize that it wasn’t a realistic option for our family of five who doesn’t camp, but what choice did we have if no one would rent to us?
Walter and Miki’s help was an offer we couldn’t refuse, and I’m delighted that we didn’t!
IMG_6509That’s me in the plum shirt. Cassie is next. Miki is the one in the purple. Savannah is next, Brent last.
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Here I am, excited about something (photo below)… I think I was saying that I couldn’t believe this is our house.
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In the photos above and below, Walter is the man in the gray shirt
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I see that I’ve disappeared from view. I must have already gone in the house. I was impatient to see our new home!
It will be a tough climb for us to get our lives back. We are truly starting over (more about this in my next blog). I don’t have an Internet connection at our new house yet, so it’s slow going in getting my blog updated. But if you want our address, shoot me an e-mail at NatalieBuske@aol.com. I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
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Dream a New Dream

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

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

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

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

My other fears were also resolved:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other updates:

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

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

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

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

Natalie seeing Celtic Sea coast for first time

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

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

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

And… Cassie took these.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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A Dolphin in the Wild

Back when Ireland was just a dream, when it was a faraway fantasy world of rainbows and leprechauns, when it wasn’t a real place… when it was a mythical magical island that only existed in fairy tales… well, back then, I met Marie O’Halloran. She lives here. She could confirm that Ireland is a real place.

As if that didn’t rock my world enough, when I mentioned that I’d never seen a dolphin in the wild, Marie said that I must go to Ireland, where I will surely see a real dolphin in a real sea. In fact, I must go to Dingle, where I will meet Fungie, a very special dolphin who loves to chase boats.

It took me years to get here, years of hoping and planning, years of selling our possessions and saving whatever we could. I wanted a better life for me and my family. And… if God wasn’t too busy, I’d really like to see a dolphin in the wild. Just once. That’s all I ask.

Whenever this journey felt impossible, whenever life was too hard, whenever I felt defeated, I thought of the dolphin. I will see him, I will. For inspiration, my daughter Savannah gave me a beautiful dolphin necklace. I tucked that special jewelry away, and I’d look at it from time to time. I saved it, but didn’t wear it. I brought it with me to Ireland, and I put it out where I could see it every day.

Finally, I wore the necklace. It was April 19, 2016 – the day I saw a dolphin in the wild. My life will never be the same, because I now I know the truth. Dreams do come true, and when they do, it’s worth all of the effort, the heartbreak, and the fear.

IMG_3713I can’t believe we’re actually here in Dingle, Ireland. This is the day I was waiting for all of these years!

IMG_3716We’ve booked the dolphin tour.  As you can see, the tours are inexpensive. Because Fungie is a wild animal, they can’t guarantee that we’ll see him. If he doesn’t show up, there’s a refund policy. But, we’ve come all the way from America, and at this point, I know that I’m leaving Ireland and may never make it back. I may never get another chance! No, that’s unacceptable. I won’t take no for an answer.

I’d call the dolphin to me with my positive thinking – oh, you may laugh, but I have a magical way with animals. Even though I’m allergic to anything with fur, animals are drawn to me. They stare at me and come right to me. This happens in zoos, in parks, and in backyards. Sometimes this attention from the animal world is unwelcome, but other times I’m blissfully like Snow White and all the beautiful little birdies and rabbits and butterflies gather round me.

Would this mysterious phenomena work on a dolphin? Possibly. But I left nothing to chance. I prayed. I prayed for God to show Himself to me. Send me the dolphin. Let me see him. Please… I’ve come so far. I’ve had faith. And here I am. Just as You’ve asked. Am I going back home without even seeing a dolphin? After all that we’ve been through to get here? No, no, no! You have to send him to me.

Well… you’ll see for yourself. Fungie not only appeared, but he stayed by my side, even when I went to a different section of the boat! There was a boat full of people he could have chosen, and yet, he went right to me.  Cassie was amazed. She liked standing wherever I was because Fungie would soon appear.

Funny thing, it’s like I knew where he was even when he was far away from the boat, deep under the water. I’d look in the exact spot where soon a fin would appear above the surface. The sightings were fleeting – if my camera wasn’t trained on the water where he’d pop up, I’d miss him. But I somehow knew where he was.

Nicholas stood near me and trained his camera in the same location. We have many, many gorgeous photos of this most beautiful and amazing creature. I can’t begin to describe how deliriously happy I felt when I saw him. It took my breath away.

IMG_5047Our boat – love the name! Reminds me of Doctor Who

IMG_5042IMG_5046We’re waiting for everyone in my family to use the restroom. I’m restless and impatient. We can’t miss the boat! I’m staring down at the boat, wishing I was on it already.

IMG_3719We’ve left the dock! It’s beautiful! It’s everything I’ve dreamed of!

IMG_5081IMG_3724IMG_3728Getting close to that lighthouse now!

IMG_3732Near the lighthouse there is also a part of a castle wall or some other ruin. Brent would know… he was listening to the tour. I was too busy taking pictures and looking for the dolphin. No sign of him yet…

IMG_3723IMG_3805bIMG_3806IMG_3734IMG_3735Still no dolphin… beautiful sights though

IMG_3736IMG_3737Praying to see the dolphin – still seeing nothing…

IMG_3738WAIT!!!! Look out there! See it? See it? I do!!!!

IMG_3738bA DOLPHIN IN THE WILD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IMG_3739Oh my, he’s coming right to me!

IMG_3739bI see him, I see him!

IMG_3740Aww, he’s going away already?

IMG_3741IMG_3742I see him! He’s coming back!

IMG_3743He’s right there, I know it!

IMG_3744THERE HE IS!!!!

IMG_3745Oooh, I see more of him now!

IMG_3745bI can barely contain myself!!!! This is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IMG_3746And back out he goes… he’s very fast!

IMG_3747IMG_3748He’s back!!!!

IMG_3749He’s there…

IMG_3750Just need a little patience…

IMG_3751IMG_3752IMG_3753THERE HE IS!!!!!!

IMG_3754IMG_3754bIMG_3755IMG_3756IMG_3756bIMG_3757IMG_5142IMG_5143IMG_5146IMG_5147Ooh, look at his sweet little face!!!!!

IMG_5148IMG_5149IMG_5167IMG_5168IMG_5169IMG_5170IMG_3758IMG_3759The tour guide warns us that he’s a wild dolphin and he might not be back to play. She distracts us by showing us beautiful places, but I’m still keeping an eye out for the dolphin to return.

IMG_3760IMG_3764IMG_3765IMG_3766Brent and Natalie in Dingle Ireland

In between dolphin sightings… my husband Brent and me… one of the happiest days of my life!!!!!

Brent and Natalie in Dingle Ireland

IMG_3767IMG_3772IMG_3773IMG_3774IMG_3777IMG_3779Ooh! Got up close to the Sea Arch – STUNNING!

But I haven’t forgotten about the dolphin, nice try Sea Arch…

IMG_3781IMG_3784IMG_3786IMG_3787Look who’s back!!!! I knew he’d come back, I knew it! OK, so I didn’t, but I’m thrilled he did!!!! WOOT!!!!

IMG_3788IMG_3789Hi Fungie! You make me so happy!

IMG_3789bIMG_3790IMG_3790bIMG_3791IMG_3792You have to be patient… he’s there!

IMG_3793IMG_3794He’s smiling! He’s happy to see me too!

IMG_3794bIMG_3794cIMG_3795OOH! He’s jumping! He’s really playing now!

IMG_3795bIMG_3796IMG_3796bIMG_3797I LOVE YOU FUNGIE!!!!!

IMG_3797bHe says “I love you too”!

IMG_3798IMG_3799Ah, we’re both getting exhausted… it’s time for the final goodbye I think…

IMG_3800One last wave!!!!

IMG_3801I’ll miss you! Thank you for letting me see you!

IMG_3802And then, he was gone.

IMG_3803DolphinTourVideo

Brent took these pictures from his phone:

DolphinTour1DolphinTour2DolphinTour3DolphinTour4DolphinTour5

DolphinTour6DolphinTour7And here are the pictures that Nicholas took of Fungie – he got some great shots!

IMG_5209IMG_5211IMG_5212IMG_5213IMG_5220IMG_5221IMG_5222I love this shot that Nicholas captured!

IMG_5223IMG_5231This is my favorite. I will miss you so much, Fungie. You will stay in our hearts forever!

Well, back to the beautiful scenery… Fungie is tired, and so are we!

IMG_3803IMG_3807IMG_3817See my red purse? I hung it there and almost forgot about it. That’s where I was standing most of the time, but I moved around the boat some.

IMG_3824Brent and Cassie on dolphin tour boat

IMG_3820IMG_3820bIMG_3821IMG_3816IMG_3830IMG_3831IMG_3832Well, we are sad to be back on land, but it was the most exhilarating, amazing, and beautiful experience! I feel so loved by that dolphin. I can’t explain it. I had heard that it is magical to see a dolphin in the wild, but I didn’t expect to feel that way for real. I thought it was an exaggeration… it wasn’t. Wow… I just… I’m blessed.

And now it’s time to explore Dingle. Marie had told us about Murphy’s ice cream. It’s been on our list for years – it was second to the dolphin of course! But now that we’ve crossed something off my bucket list, it’s time for ice cream! (My family is enjoying my bucket list – the girls have tried to add something to it, LOL!)

IMG_3835IMG_3835bIMG_3837 - CopyYou probably noticed that it’s chilly. I’m wearing three layers (a heavy sweatshirt, my hoodie that’s crammed with stuff in the pockets–that’s why I look oddly lumpy, LOL!–and my trenchcoat). But… we have to try the ice cream. And besides, the sun is shining in Ireland! What a truly gorgeous day we’ve had!!!!

IMG_3838I chose one scoop of Dingle Sea Salt — made right there from the sea!!!! And one scoop of Irish Coffee. Oh yeah!

IMG_3839I asked Nicholas what he got and he had the most cheesy grin. He got the Dingle GIN! He reminded me that the legal drinking age is 18 in Ireland.

IMG_3842IMG_3843IMG_3840This one’s mine – Dingle Sea Salt and Irish Coffee – MMMM!

IMG_3841IMG_3844IMG_3845Time to go shopping! This is our last Irish adventure… We’ll be headed home soon. I said I’d get a dolphin souvenir if I saw a dolphin, but I’d go home empty handed if I didn’t… I also said that I’d know my special dolphin keepsake when I saw it. Wouldn’t you know, the very first shop window had my dolphin in it??? It was FUNGIE himself, complete with the scar on his fin! And it’s beautiful. Want to see????

IMG_20160419_143901Can you see him in the store window? He’s above the teddy bear and the mug… he’s to the left of the big green mug, hiding behind the little shamrock jar. I saw that as soon as we started walking past Murphy’s ice cream. There it was! That’s my dolphin!

But could we afford it? We’d been doing everything on a very low budget. Most of what we do is FREE. Dingle was a bit more for us, but not that much. We had to budget for the special ice cream and the boat tour. That didn’t leave much for trinkets. Well, if it was too much I wouldn’t get it. Then I saw the sign – Everything 50% off! WHAT? Was this one of those magic stores that will disappear as soon as our family leaves Dingle?

My beautiful dolphin was only about $8 and he’s such a treasure! I plan to display him in our home forever! Do you notice the little notch on his fin? That’s what identifies him as Fungie.

IMG_3903Here’s what he looks like when the sun from the window hits him… I didn’t know that this would happen. He’s even MORE beautiful than I thought.

IMG_3907I have this beautiful keepsake wrapped in bubble wrap, in a cardboard box, wrapped in my clothes… it’s in my carry-on bag, all ready to go home with me to the United States.

OK, back to Dingle, where shopping was in progress. My girl Savannah found a precious necklace… from the same mysteriously inexpensive gift shop where everything was 50% off. We said YES to the pretty necklace. She hasn’t taken it off since!

IMG_3846Nicholas also found a couple of treasures. He had his own money and he bought two interesting figurines – small, they can fit in his pocket. Cassie found a Murphy’s Ice Cream pencil. Brent said he didn’t need a souvenir. Besides, he’ll see my dolphin forever, and he’ll likely build a shelf for it… I’m finally understanding that he is happy when I’m happy. Life doesn’t need to be complicated. He likes to build things. I like what he builds.

IMG_3847This guy had a bird on top of a dog on top of a donkey.

IMG_3848Can you see the green bird there on the dog? I missed it when he was walking on his back, doing tricks I think. A crowd was gathered around so it was hard to see.

IMG_3849Stopping to take pictures along the scenic coastal drive… we’re headed to the beach – our last Dingle event before we head back

IMG_3850IMG_3851

IMG_3854IMG_3857IMG_3858IMG_3860IMG_3861IMG_3862IMG_3863IMG_3864IMG_3866IMG_3867IMG_3868IMG_3869IMG_3871IMG_3872IMG_3873 IMG_3882 IMG_3881 IMG_3880 IMG_3879 IMG_3878 IMG_3877 IMG_3876 IMG_3875 IMG_3874IMG_3885Cassie identified this shark egg

IMG_3883I found a shell that I want to make a necklace out of. It has a hole on the top.

IMG_3884

IMG_3886 IMG_3891 IMG_3890 IMG_3889 IMG_3888 IMG_3887IMG_3893 IMG_3898 IMG_3897 IMG_3896 IMG_3895 IMG_3894Aww, our day in Dingle is coming to an end. We have one last stop through Killarney… where they have another Murphy’s Ice Cream! Here, we have to try the Sticky Toffee Pudding – Brent’s teacher friend Jen recommended it. She was student teaching here in Ireland. We were able to visit with Jen and her husband when they came through Cork and made the long detour to our remote house in rural Grenagh.

IMG_3900IMG_3899Sticky Toffee Pudding is.. hmmm… it’s like a soft cake type of thing with toffee bits in it, with a creamy ice cream on the top, with a syrup? Not sure if I described it well, but it was sweet and delicious. I’m glad we got a chance to try it!

I’ll wrap up my Dingle story with this beautiful picture of the three shells that Cassie found. They are tiny and fragile – see them compared to drops of water. She wanted one for each of us girls… She gifted the large reddish orange one to me, saying that the one with the “blush of color” seemed like me. She chose the smallest one for Savannah, and kept the third for herself. She wrapped them up delicately to bring home. I hope they make it! Surely we can glue them if broken? I thought of butterfly wings. Cassie thought of angels. They’re both!

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Ireland Forever!

IMG_3991IMG_3992IMG_3993We can’t stay in Ireland.

But…

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

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

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

 We’ve also made our mark in other ways. We’ve been fingerprinted extensively at the local Garda station, for example (for immigration purposes). And Brent is on record as having applied to the Irish Teaching Council.
IMG_3996
 Sadly, the Irish Teaching Council registration process is where we’ve fallen apart. Thus begins a long blog post that I’ve procrastinated writing. I’ll fill you in on the short version (which is already too long) of why we can’t stay here, and then I’ll show you all the good things that have happened to us while we’ve been going through this uncertainty.
We can’t stay in Ireland because the progression toward getting a work visa has come to a halt. The latest rejection of Brent’s application involves the Garda (Irish police) vetting part of the registration process. They’ve returned his application because Brent signed his name with his middle initial included, which is his legal signature: Brent W. Thomas instead of Brent Thomas.
The area for printing his full name contained only two blanks, for first and last name only. Therefore the “W.” wasn’t printed on the front of the form. He now has to explain the W.  Each of these rejections/corrections goes back and forth via postal mail. The teaching council high-lights mistakes and scribbles notes with a pen. Then they stuff the papers back into an envelope and send the original documents back to us via Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<<

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

Dear Nicholas,

Thank you for your application to University College Cork.

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

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

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

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

SCAN0019Again, it’s worth a second mention… Nicholas was offered a SCHOLARSHIP to the Computer Science programme – 25% off the tuition! What a thrill! Unfortunately the tuition is still out of reach if Nicholas has to also pay for room and board, instead of commuting from home as planned.
Nicholas is disappointed (I’m putting this gently. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster ride we’ve all been on) that he can’t go to UCC, but I’ll share his new plans soon in a blog post I’ve already started writing in my head called “Dream a New Dream”.  This kid is amazing and I know he’ll be successful wherever life takes him. I’m sure the journey will be full of magical surprises.
On to child 3… I’ve done this in reverse order this time, from youngest to eldest.
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Cassandra was the first one accepted into UCC, for graduate school. The process for getting into graduate school is a bit different and apparently faster. She was accepted right away, leaving us to wonder if poor Nicholas didn’t get in (I’m so glad he did — even though he can’t attend, it still matters greatly that he got in!).
SCAN0020
However, Cassie was more excited about three separate offers to submit her CV (resume) to Apple headquarters in Cork! She did that, all three times… She still hasn’t heard back. Perhaps she will yet. Apple has from-home opportunities that could supplement what Cassie will be doing State-side. But, the point is… she is eager to land her first job. She worked hard for her Magna Cum Laude honors and her Math degree. She’d like to put her skills to use to make money!
Meanwhile, Cassie is also an artist. We have news to share on this front, but I have to explain it a little bit first. Cassie does freelance commission work on occasion. She’s worked for a few clients for several years now. Here’s an example of her work on the side of a van. If you live in Florida, you may have seen this superhero character of Cassie’s:
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Cassie also has a series of graphic novels based on her KiLA iLo web comic. Well, the two worlds collided recently, and she’s had a flurry of commission work AND a surprising development: Cassie sold translation rights to her KiLA iLo book series! I can’t share details at this point, but… The first check has already arrived!
No, it’s not much, but for a recent college graduate with student loan bills looming, she’s much relieved that she will be able to pay her first installment and several months beyond. This happy news means that she can breathe a bit easier while applying for her first full time job.
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About Brent… he’s still applying for teaching positions, but now his focus is State-side. He’s done a couple of over-the-phone interviews and he’s made great connections, but he’s at the point now where he has to meet with head masters and panels in person. As soon as he’s able to function post jet lag, he’ll make appointments to follow up his interviews.  We feel confident about this. The hard part will be waiting for the salary to come in. This is his Go Fund Me campaign if you want to help.
IMG_20160317_131255About me…
I had an invitation and FREE tickets to the London Book Fair, but I couldn’t go. I couldn’t risk that the rather flimsy stamp on my passport was going to pose a problem getting back into Ireland – nor could I spend the travel money when I knew that we’d have to come up with $$$ to go back home.
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I also had to cancel my art show – remember that I was accepted to do an exhibit at Friars Gate Theatre in Co. Limerick, Ireland?
Unfortunately I couldn’t get a show date until February 2017 (it would have been a month long solo exhibit! WHAAAAAA!). So, to say that I’m disappointed would again be putting it mildly.
My library events hadn’t yet been scheduled (they wanted me for summer events), so there’s nothing to cancel on that front — I just won’t be here when they try to contact me. 🙁
But, I’ve scattered my books across Ireland – in libraries, in the hands of people I’ve met, as a thank-you to the knitting group who was so kind to my Savannah, at Friar’s Gate Theatre, and to the church that was so welcoming to us. I’ve given away all the books I brought with me, and even ordered more.  Also, I painted an Irish landscape that I’m shipping back to the States.
I’m here, in Ireland. I’m making the most of it!
Our Irish adventures aren’t over yet… I’ve saved the best for last: our trip to Dingle, Ireland. The most magical experience happened – one that has had a profound effect on me. I will never look at life the same way again.
I’ve made the most of my time here. And isn’t that all any of us can do? All of life is an adventure. The best we can do is to make the most of our time.
Ireland forever!
[See update: Dream a New Dream]
Posted on

Irish Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3650IMG_3685These are much longer than tater tots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Double Rainbows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2789IMG_2792I took great shots from that perspective.

IMG_3001 Brent and Savannah – shots taken from the ledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3020Savannah between the lighthouse and the gull, just because

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

IMG_3029Every soul leaves its footprints

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

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

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

IMG_3052Savannah running on the beach, wild and free!

IMG_3055IMG_3056IMG_3057IMG_3058IMG_3059And THAT’s how we do it!

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

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

IMG_3445Easter morning…

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

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

IMG_3472That’s better – hat and jacket on!

IMG_3473Get ready for some truly breathtaking views!

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

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

IMG_3482IMG_3483IMG_3484IMG_3485IMG_3486IMG_3487

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3496IMG_3497Nicholas – couldn’t be happier!

IMG_3498IMG_3499IMG_3500IMG_3501IMG_3502IMG_3503Sun is starting to peek through… look for rainbows!

IMG_3507IMG_3508No rainbows yet… more rain!

IMG_3509Should we pack it in? Cameras are getting wet…

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

IMG_3514IMG_3515Well, maybe just a few more minutes…

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If we stay long enough…

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

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

IMG_3537IMG_3538IMG_3539Or…. maybe TWO!

It’s a double rainbow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The kids on Celtic Coast March 29, 2016IMG_3625IMG_3619IMG_3618IMG_3617

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

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

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

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

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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?