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”.
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!
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.
Me running ahead to see the Celtic Sea for the first timeMe 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!)
And… Cassie took these.
I’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.
I 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!
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???
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!
I 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.
Savannah 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.
Nicholas with camera in hand – his photography is awesome! He’s learned a lot from the photography class he was taking through UCC in Cork.
I 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!
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!!!
I 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.
Savannah, 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…
Oh yes, it’s looking like a good shower…
See how changeable the weather is? Misty, rainy, sunny, windy… repeat…
I love these shots that Nicholas took of Brent and me when we didn’t know he was looking.
If we stay long enough…
Maybe we’ll see something new… What’s over here?
If you wait in the rain long enough, you may just see…
It’s a double rainbow!
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!
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!
We’re giving our new life everything we’ve got, so that means skipping holidays that don’t really matter, like Valentine’s Day and an “off year” wedding anniversary (our 28th on February 20th). But we’re in Ireland, and we can get out and see plenty of things for free, right?
Yes and no… it turns out that it’s no longer free to visit the grounds by the Blarney Castle. There’s always been a charge to go inside the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone, etc., but it used to be free to view the outside of it. I planned to take pictures of the castle. I didn’t want to go inside it anyway, as it is very tight in there and I hate closed in spaces. Anyway, bummer, the castle grounds cost the same fee as the inside-castle ticket price. It would have cost us more than $60 for our family to see the castle. No thanks… We saw a bit of it through the fence. So now what?
On to Blarney Woollen Mills, another tourist attraction. The Woollen Mills is free to enter, but very expensive to shop in so I didn’t expect to buy anything. It was fun to see all of the creations though. The clothing was beautiful! (you can shop online, or browse the Irish gifts and/or clothes)
It was a pretty area, downtown Blarney. And I found something I really, really wanted in the Woollen Mills lobby for only 5 Euro! It was something that Brent had given me for Christmas a couple years ago. He found it in an Irish store in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and had to pay much more for it in the States.
I was thrilled to find it and I basically said it’s mine, buy it for me. He called it a Valentine’s Day present. I said, “No it doesn’t count since I called it for myself.” And then I counted it for an anniversary present. See, I’m fair that way. 🙂
Scroll through our Blarney pictures to find out what this mystery present is. Can you guess?
I took the photo below for you, Aunt Ann! 🙂 Here’s to the Murphy ancestors! I don’t know how I can ever find them though… with a name like Patrick Murphy! That’s probably the most common Irish name, ever.
OK, this is it… THIS, I want THIS! (photo below)
Happy Anniversary to me! Or Happy Valentine’s Day… whichever gets me the truffles! I like chocolate, I like whiskey. It’s a no brainer really. (These are already gone, by the way)
Nicholas took this picture of Brent and I (photo below). We’re squinting because it was a GLORIOUSLY sunny day. The sun is reflecting off my box of chocolates, creating a magical glow, which is how my eyes saw them even without the sun shining on them!
Savannah bought a postcard to send to her friend Lucy. Yes, those are medical symbols on her tights. Savannah wants to be a nurse, specifically a midwife. At least that’s the plan at age fourteen… however she’s been saying this since she was twelve so it might be for keeps.
Ah, what a beautiful day in Blarney, Ireland! There was sunshine, flowers, and my family having fun. So we had to skip the castle, no biggie. We had a great time anyway. And wow, what a difference a year makes. This was where we stood last year: Valentine’s Day and Anniversary. Besides, someone got Irish Whiskey truffles. What could be better?
We enjoyed a costume bowling event on Sunday, October 25. I won the second game we bowled, by the way… Not that how many strikes and spares I got matters… it’s really all about fun (and it’s fun to WIN, HA HA! 🙂 )
My youngest child sure looks creepy, yi yi! Excellent job with your makeup, Savannah! Savannah is an artist too… Savannah’s Inky Imagination features her art, which sometimes leans on the dark, mysterious, and edgy side… moohoohaha!
Husband Brent Thomas and me ~ a marriage of comedy and tragedy 🙂
I’m adding the rest of our clown event pictures to our family site. If you want to see more of our clown photos, visit http://thomasfamilyartists.com/clowning-around/
Yesterday I was prepared to write a blog post about the 100+ year old house that we’re renting. The post would have been joyful, inspirational even. I was planning to include pictures of the butterfly garden near the front porch, like the ones you see here [taken a few days ago at our new-to-us house].
Those of you who have known me for a while know that butterfly gardens hold a special meaning for me—my husband Brent had planted one when we were blessed to have a hobby farm. Those were some of the happiest years of my life, when my children were little and we were living in a beautiful place.
My butterfly garden and my youngest child were the inspiration for my first oil painting, “Savannah Reading in the Butterfly Garden”. I submitted it to EASEL and the painting was accepted for a 14 month tour. It was the beginning of my career as an oil painter.
Becoming an artist changed my life. It was one of many transitions. Mom died, my dance school ended, we moved away from the hobby farm and my kids were no longer little. Some seasons move slowly, with no big changes from month to month. Others are a blur, with so much to process that it’s hard to keep my head above water. Eventually though, I accept my new normal. Life moves forward.
It has been over four years since I’ve enjoyed a butterfly garden. I was distracted when we first looked at this house and I didn’t realize that the flowers behind the white picket fence were the same varieties from “my” butterfly garden. Nor did I remember that I’d always wanted to live in an old house with a white picket fence. No, all I thought about was how desperate we were to find a rental that would allow us to sign a short term lease. Would anyone? Only one property was offered to us under those terms. Would we take it?
What choice did we have really—we sold our house! Did it really matter if I liked the house or not? It would only be for a few months. I could handle anything as long as I knew what I was in for; especially if I knew that it would be only for a short while.
But it does matter if I like living here or not. Every day matters. None of us knows how many days we have here on Earth—isn’t that a truth that I understand by now? When I finally gave myself permission to look at the flowers I understood that I’ve been given a piece of happiness back. Yesterday may be gone and tomorrow may feel uncertain, but I have today.
That’s when I looked for the butterflies, and I found them. I saw a gorgeous Monarch with a wingspan that took my breath away. I saw white butterflies and colorful ones. I enjoyed bumblebees too, from a safe distance. What a precious gift this was! Surely this was a sign that life was going our way.
And then… well, then came today. It’s been a horrible day full of stress and bad news. Brent’s unemployment benefits are messed up. Somehow the government doesn’t have any record of his almost 19 years of employment. His account is going through an audit and there will be no payments until this is resolved—which will take at least a month, if not longer—and we don’t know if the result will be retroactive or if he simply won’t get any benefits for this first month of unemployment. We are living on a prayer.
I didn’t find out about this until the last few hours of an excruciatingly long day that I’d spent cleaning the house we’re closing on. I also found out, just when I felt that I couldn’t go on, that we have to be out sooner than I’d expected because the buyers want to do work on the house for two days, and they also want a final walk-through. That means that the house will be occupied for part of the day for the next three days before the closing. This is very short notice. I know that this is how things happen sometimes when selling a house, but the stress is getting to me.
I was blindsided by the abrupt change in plans. I felt kicked out of our own house, the house that we have paid to live in! We are temporarily paying for both this rental and the mortgage on the house. I also found out today that the dryer that doesn’t work at this rental requires a part (a fuse) that won’t come in until at least Friday. I’d planned on using the nice washer and dryer that we’d bought and paid for, in the house that we’ve paid to live in, up until the close. But now knowing that the house will be a hub of construction, I don’t want our laundry in progress. No, it’s time to move out completely even if it means that our laundry piles up. Well, I could go on here. The day really was THAT bad. I admit that I lost my cool more than once.
I thought about cancelling my blog post. I don’t have time for it anyway. Then I thought about how quickly my grateful “butterfly attitude” turned ugly. My new butterfly garden is shared with my now-teen baby girl, Savannah. Yesterday she was faster than I was to get out her camera and take pictures. And this same sweet girl was with me today at the house we’re closing on, cleaning at least as well as I can. She may be passing me by.
Isn’t it a test of my character if I can manage to deliver my happy post about the rental house and butterfly garden when it’s not easy to do so? Of course I can write a cheery post when I’m having a good day, but could I remain positive when I’m having a bad day? What kind of inspiration am I if I only post positive things when I’m feeling positive? Why do we need faith if every day is a butterfly day?
Isn’t faith about believing in good things to come even when everything is falling apart? Today I felt as if the world is against us. Today I felt as if nothing would ever change. I’d always be that sad little girl, no matter how hard I tried to rise about my circumstances. But yesterday I saw butterflies when I chose to look. I saw my life and the people I love—and I embraced the changes. Have I really forgotten that lesson already?
I was so certain. I knew that life was good. I knew that I was loved by God, and that I’m special. Nothing has changed between yesterday and today—nothing important. So, I’m sending you my beautiful pictures because life is good. God bless, and may every day be a butterfly day… whether you see one, or are peacefully waiting…
Our house has a new addition to the front yard, a “FOR SALE” sign. My feelings about this are all over the map. So much has happened over the past few weeks. Where do I begin?
Well, I guess it all goes back to about seven years ago, when the company that my husband Brent works for was laying people off. There were multiple buy-outs, pay-cuts, and of course the dreaded downsizing, downsizing, downsizing. The writing was on the wall. There was no future for Brent at that company. He had dodged several rounds of lay-offs, but pay cuts and salary freezes had squeezed us beyond return. We had to make tough decisions before things went from bad to worse.
We sold the hobby farm that we had worked so hard to build. We sold the animals, our personal property, and eventually the house. I especially mourned the loss of my beautiful downstairs studio space where I had taught not only my own children, but dozens of students as well. Brent had installed the flooring himself and had handcrafted the wooden dance barres. He’d put in cabinets and a sink. It was the perfect space for art, dance, theater, and more. We had done everything on a shoestring budget, but we still owed too much money.
I was never going to make enough income from teaching Ladybug Arts for the financial investment to pay off, but the investment I was making was in people, not money. There are more important things than money, right? I believed that everything would work out, right up until the day when I realized that it wouldn’t.
I ended Ladybug Arts prior to putting the house on the market, for many reasons. But the decision was quickly validated when my mom’s health took a sudden sharp decline. I became her caregiver, while also preparing to sell the hobby farm. My heart was numb. Everything was ending all at once.
Mom was dying. My job was gone. My firstborn was leaving for college. There was no time to process what was happening. From there, the hardships snowballed. Mom passed away in August. Our daughter started school in September. We sold our house in October. The smell of fall leaves and the hauntingly beautiful breeze that carries the colors away take me back to that time. Colors change, then fade, then die.
Never again would I see my kids bouncing down the halls, riding their bicycles on the long gravel driveway, or running with the miniature sheep in the pasture. All of it was gone, including the kids. They weren’t little anymore. None of them would “bounce” down a hall with their wispy hair flying in the breeze. Clomping, shuffling, or bounding–that they could do. No, we didn’t have Santa Claus believers or Tooth Fairy wishers in our family anymore. Life was changing, whether I liked it or not.
We moved into a small house in a town about an hour away from our hobby farm. Here, where we are now. The treeless leaves were soon snow-covered. And after a long winter, spring came. The trees were green and full of life again. Yes, they were different trees, in a different place, but life began again.
It’s pleasant here. The neighborhood is pretty and nearly perfect. It’s a nice place to live. But it’s not our place. Four years after moving in, the house is on the market.
During our four years here, Brent went back to school. He received his graduate degree in Education last month, May 2015. He has one final semester before getting his teaching certification, the student teaching semester. Teaching full time without pay, while also paying tuition? He has to quit his day job? Isn’t there some other way? No, there’s not. He worked too hard to get this far only to give up now. Things at his current job aren’t improving. He had no luck getting a new job in his field. It was definitely the smart play to go back to school and start a new career. But at least he still had his job…
And then we found out that after years of crying wolf, the wolf was finally actually undeniably at our door. Brent was told that his position will be eliminated in August. He is getting laid off. Well, there goes the safety net! This student teaching semester was going to happen, whether we had cold feet or not. At least he’ll be able to draw unemployment benefits, for a while anyway. Looking at the positive was what we tried to do, but nothing can take the fear away completely. Brent has had a job since he was a teenager. He had never been laid off. He had never been unemployed. He had always, always worked.
And I had always, always, been underemployed. My primary focus was on my family. I built my artistic career around our lifestyle. My husband’s job always came first, the kids next, and my job was dead last. Jump-starting my career was what I’d attempted to do ever since my oldest went off to college. I’ve made progress, but not enough progress. Here we are again, needing to sell our house.
We’ll rent something cheaper than our mortgage until Brent’s student teaching semester ends. Then, he’ll be certified to teach and our plans are to move to Ireland against all odds. We still have those nonrefundable plane tickets that we’d bought with money raised from my side job as a garage sale maven. Oh yes, we’re doing this thing.
So, the house is on the market. The pain and loss from selling our hobby farm, and everything that meant, is complicating my feelings toward selling our house in Pleasantville (not the real name of the town, I’m being facetious). I never wanted this pleasant house in this pleasant neighborhood. I wanted MY house, the one we raised our kids in. I wanted that life back, but the past isn’t mine to have, except in my memories.
The past is safer, because it is over. I know how the story ends. The future is scary. Who knows what hardships and disappointments lie ahead! What if there is grief lurking around the corner, a sorrow that runs deeper than losing my parents, a heartache more profound than I can imagine?
But what if there’s something wonderful ahead? What if the future sparkles brighter than I could ever imagine? And what if my hope in the future is a self fulfilling prophesy?
Some things in life are beyond my control, but I can always choose my attitude toward what is happening to me. I can choose to be grateful for the past, hopeful toward the the future, and content with the present.
Today, this moment, is all I’m guaranteed. And at this moment, I hear my children’s voices in the kitchen. They’re laughing. They’re happy that it’s Friday and that there are molasses cookies on the counter. The house is on the market. But this moment, spent in a pleasant house with my kids’ laughter in my ears, this moment is not for sale.
Wow, we’ve been married for twenty-seven years. I don’t feel that old. Of course, we married young. We were high school sweethearts and best friends. We went to two proms, watched M-TV when it was still cool, and we saw every John Hughes movie.
We’re still best friends, but the 1980’s were a long time ago, in more ways than just the passage of time. We didn’t realize then how innocent those years would be when viewed through the lenses of 2015.
So here we are. Who are we now?
My last blog post was about our Valentine’s Day flop. What a disappointing day of unexpected bills and frustrations. But at least Brent was recovering from his scary battle with shingles. January was a horrifying month for us both. It felt wrong to complain about trivial things like bills. Nonetheless, what a difference a week can make!
When our anniversary rolled around on February 20th we discovered that we were getting a big tax refund! My husband’s deductions had gotten messed up. They had been taking more out of his paycheck than they should have been… and now we were getting that money back! Also, the medical bills and college tuition that had been dogging us were helping us at tax time. The refund will help us finance the final phase of Brent’s graduate school.
The refund is more than enough to make up for the financial setback from Valentine’s Day week. Last week’s discouragement was quickly reversed. We are back on track, baby! We have our eyes set on our next fundraising goal. We’re really going to do this thing! I feel the pressure of our “nonrefundable faith” every day, but I know that this is the journey we are meant to be on.
The next bit of encouragement came from my herculean efforts to accelerate my career goals:
1. I finished a major project that had been stressing me out for months.
The flowers oil painting at the top of this post is from my new book Nana Plays. Nana Plays is a project that I’d struggled to finish. It is a picture book illustrated by my oil paintings. It’s about caregiving from the perspective of my youngest daughter. I found it harder than I’d expected to go back to “that place”, when I was taking care of my mom. The project dragged on and on. Finally I asked Brent to help me finish it. I wanted him to help me photograph the art and put the pages together. He did. Now, it wasn’t easy to work together, I can’t say that it was. But we got through it and in the end I was enormously relieved to have the project off my plate.
The project is a beautiful legacy for my mom and for my kindhearted daughter too. I’m proud to have been able to provide this for them. And for me, it is closure. I’m also hoping to further my career. I’m pushing myself as hard as I can to raise money for our new life in Ireland.
2. I finished new projects too!
I published the next book in my inspirational series “Thriving in a Hateful World”. I also published the first book in my new YA “10 Chapters” series, Fender. This was particularly exciting because it’s a new direction for me.
While announcing these new books I rummaged through my saved e-mails for promotional opportunities I’ve been solicited for. I’d saved one that seemed promising. It was! I followed up on it and I don’t regret it. I absolutely loved creating a Booktrack for my new YA book Fender.
Booktrack offers up a free movie-like experience for books. Yes, it means that I’m giving my book away, but most readers are reluctant to read books by someone they’ve never heard of. I find the best way to gain new readers is to let them try my books for free. Besides, I love new techie projects and I had a ball putting my Booktrack together! I was definitely willing to do it for free.
But… the point I was trying to make is that new projects led to new opportunities. I’m optimistic that new opportunities will lead to meeting my financial goals. Hey, it sure looks better this week than it did last week!
So, I’ll put my Valentine’s flop behind me and focus on what we’re working so hard for, the dream... the longing… the hoping… the wishing… It’s all about the big picture. On December 29th we’ll be on a plane headed to Ireland. I just know it!
Well, the day started off with a trip to the shop for our one and only vehicle, an older Dodge Caravan. What we thought was going to be a simple brake pad replacement has spiraled into a $900 bill. Of course other things were wrong with it, things that involved safety issues. Naturally these things needed to be repaired right away.
Next up, I have an eye doctor appointment this afternoon because I’m on my last pair of contact lenses and I have no renewals left on my prescription. That will be another bill. I’d consider wearing my glasses full time but I get a headache when I wear them for longer than a couple of hours.
Yesterday we got Brent’s bill from the VA. It was higher than we thought it would be, for his visits to the Minneapolis clinic to check on his eye while he had shingles (the blistery seeping rash was on his face, including near his eye). Ah, life’s little surprises are joyful, agree?
We aren’t off to a great start if we want to feel reassured that we did the right thing when we bought our nonrefundable plane tickets for our move to Ireland! How can we save for the move at this rate? Yi, yi, yi!
But, hey, this is life. I’m grateful that Brent is past the worst of the shingles adventure. Here it is about six weeks later, and he still has a lingering rash on his face! His eye continues to itch and he’s rubbed half of his eyebrow bare from all of his scratching.
At least he’s shaving again. He was well on his way to looking like a werewolf in transition. It was the first time he’d ever had a beard. It looked good at first, except for the odd coloring. Brent still has a full head of dark blonde hair so it was startling when a shock of gray beard came in. And then the rest of the hair filled in. The whiskers were red and dark, dark brown.
Then the beard grew to a scruffy tipping point. His facial hair filled in the sides of his face. I kept a wary eye on him and let him decide when it was time to shave. I waited and waited. He was nervous that there were bumpy “shingles leftovers” underneath the hair.
Finally I decided a tough love approach was best. I knew he’d feel better if he shaved. I even offered to do it for him, because I’m nice like that. It was time to either groom it or remove it. People were starting to keep their distance from him. He’d gone from my clean-shaven Boy Scout husband to “creepy guy” in a matter of a few weeks.
I was right about the shaving. As the whiskers fell, Brent shaved off the years that shingles had added to his life. He’s still looking rougher and older, but I’m hoping that he’ll shake the rest of that rash soon and get even more of his face back.
We aren’t old. We are as young as we want to be. And these financial setbacks are only setbacks, not a final destiny or a condemnation of our hopes and dreams. We’ll succeed if we don’t give up. We’ll get where we want to go if we are open to possibilities. Obstacles and challenges happen. These events aren’t a “sign” that we can’t make it. These events are merely a challenge. Well, life, I say “bring it”! Game on!
*If you want to help, my son has an indigogo fundraiser (crowdfunding) to hire Air Animal to safely transport his (our) dog Duncan from Minneapolis to Ireland. He and my daughter are offering cute and fun backer rewards that you should check out. Please send the link to your family & friends. This expense was much greater than we had expected, but I promised him that he wouldn’t have to give up his dog.
WE’VE BEEN SHINGLED!
My husband has shingles–bad! If you’ve never experienced shingles, you can learn all you ever wanted to know about this revolting illness by doing a quick Internet search. Basically, you can get shingles if you’ve ever had the chicken pox. There is a vaccine against shingles, but it is generally restricted to people over 50, and most insurance companies will balk unless you are over 60. Those of us who are under 50 who have had chicken pox are left to play shingles roulette. And believe me, you do NOT want shingles!
Some people get a mild case of it. Shingles happens on only one side of the body. Most people (I read about 60%) get the shingles rash near their waist. Some are unlucky enough to get shingles on one side of their face, like my husband. When this happens the eye is at risk. I know of someone who had minimal damage to the eye and another person who lost eyesight completely in the affected eye. My husband is at risk for eye damage but he is on anti-viral medication so hopefully he will be just fine. He had the shingles rash on his head, his forehead, his cheeks, his nose, his eye and his lips. The rash was inside his nose, inside his mouth, and in his throat.
Now let me explain what I mean by the shingles “rash”. Oh this isn’t a cute little strawberry patch. The shingles rash starts out red and painful. There can be a sharp jabbing intermittent pain like being shocked. There can be numbness and creepy sensations. Then the blisters form. Oh, the blisters! At this point it is clear that something is seriously messed up and the shingles diagnoses is obvious. Even people who have little awareness of shingles will probably say, “Is this shingles? I think this is shingles…” And then the adventure begins.
The blisters will eventually erupt. They will ooze. There can be a great deal of swelling of the face when the blisters are active. When my husband was in this phase he said, “I feel like the Elephant Man”. I was thinking more like the villains from the Indiana Jones movie, when their faces were melting in the fire. His face looked like it was divided neatly in half. If he showed me his profile, he looked completely normal on the left side. The right side was a different story. His face looked like it was made of wax, and it was melting. He was two-faced. He mused that shingles may have inspired the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. I thought of the Batman villain Two-face. To cheer him up I decorated his food plates with “shingle faces” on them — a lopsided mouth and eyes.
Beyond the grotesque appearance and the oozing, there’s the pain, oh the pain! He also vomited impressively, frequently, and with a noise that reminded me of a cow baying while in heat. This lasted about a day and a half. This was when I was the most worried about him because I feared that he would become dehydrated, a serious emergency condition that would require hospitalization.
He has a history of dehydrating easily so I was rather panicked–on the inside. Outside, I was in my cool, calm, and collected nurse mode. I looked up ways to make homemade electrolyte drinks. I kept them coming. I was a pushy bartender. I kept the drinks flowing and I made sure that he kept drinking.
At one point he groggily announced that he hadn’t peed in two hours. I was horrified when he said this! He complained that his stomach was a hard ball and that he was too full to drink another drop. I insisted. He alternated between sipping water and the electrolyte drink. We were going to get ahead of the dehydrating effects from the bouts of vomiting!
The electrolyte drink:
- orange juice I squeezed from a small fresh orange
- lemon juice we had on hand in the fridge
- a few shakes of salt
- a serving of frozen mixed fruit; melons, pineapples and strawberries that I had partially thawed and smashed with a potato masher then strained the juice into the glass
- plenty of ice
- the all-important straw
I was proud of myself for coming up with that resourceful recipe. I had looked on the Internet for ideas and I had to modify the recipe to match what I had on hand. It ended up fairly close to what I saw and I was confident that it would work.
We survived that horrible night and the next day without any need for hospitalization. He not only pulled through it, but he also managed to vomit into the toilet bowl each and every time. Bravo, husband! I thought that I’d be doing clean-up duty and I’m ever so grateful that there was no need for that!
He perked up after he made it through the vomiting and fever phase, but it was short-lived. Next, the “crusting” of the blisters began and fatigue set in. He slept most of the day. He was depressed. He was agitated. By this point I was exhausted from playing nurse and I was getting cranky. Marriages are tested during times like these. Thank God I hadn’t given him a bell to ring!
Fortunately I had the foresight to set up a couple of self-care stations. The first station is on the kitchen table, where I leave a light on at all times. My daughter had made a chart for tracking the times he took his medications.
- a chart to track the time he took his medicine
- a pencil
- all of his medicines
- the information that came with the prescriptions
This was very helpful when he was getting up in the night to take medicine. I knew that he was barely lucid so I’d wake up when I heard him shuffling around in the kitchen to check on him. I’d ask him how he was feeling and he’d give me a thumbs-up. Then he’d go back to bed.
But one time I caught him going for Sudafed, which was outside of his safe medical station and inside the pantry. He’d also had a sinus infection, which is probably how he got shingles (his immune system was already low with an active infection in the very location where the shingles took over) so he had it into his head that the pain would be helped by taking something for his sinuses. I talked him out of taking the Sudafed because I knew it wasn’t wise to add that to his cocktail without any thought whatsoever! After he got through the first week he was able to make rational decisions and stay on track with his medications without me looking over his shoulder.
By the way, shingles can cause blood pressure to run high. Those who already have issues with high blood pressure should monitor it more closely and might have to take more medicine to keep it down to safe levels. The elevated blood pressure can linger long after the shingles pass too, so it’s important to keep an eye on it. Even people who previously had no history of high blood pressure can develop high blood pressure due to shingles.
The second station was in the bathroom. This was probably more important than the medicine station because I shouldn’t be handling anything that he uses on his blisters. It’s rare to get shingles from someone who has shingles, but it’s possible to get chicken pox from direct contact with the blisters of someone who has shingles. The kids have all been vaccinated against chicken pox and I had had chicken pox as a child. Nonetheless, it is also possible to catch chicken pox a second time even though most people don’t think that’s possible. It’s rare, but it does happen, and it did happen to my sister in law. So, anyway, it’s best not to handle the tissues, cloths, and mess from shingles care.
3-4 small clean plastic food storage containers without lids for the following:
- a clean washcloth
- oatmeal bath (can apply to skin without taking a bath)
- ointment such as bacitracin and Vaseline
- a box of tissues
- a large trash can
- bottle of calamine lotion
I’ve been sleeping on the loveseat in the living room. I can hear him when he gets up to take medicine so this has worked out well. He has taken over the whole bed for his shingles adventure. On my half of the bed rests a wooden laptop desk. I serve his snacks and meals on that desk. Now that he’s feeling better he has his laptop on it. He is still spending most of his time in bed, during Phase 3 of shingles, but I’m not doing much hospitality service now that he can get up and eat his meals in the kitchen.
Shingles Phase 1 (the “warning” phase):
Strange sensations are felt where the shingles rash will eventually appear. These sensations might include:
- stabbing nerve pain
- itchy, uncomfortable, odd tingling
- nothing at all (rare)
Shingles Phase 2 (hell):
These symptoms may or may not occur. A lot of this depends on where the shingles are located and whether or not the shingles is mild, moderate, or severe.
- vomiting as an extreme sport
- monkey-drool numbness (face)
- Elephant Man swelling (face)
- eye swollen
- eye swollen shut
Shingles Phase 3 (“crusting” and recovery):
When the blisters crust over they will dry out. The scabs/crusts will fall off. Shingles are gone at this point and the patient is not likely to be contagious anymore. These symptoms may or may not occur.
- looking like an extra for The Walking Dead (crusts are on face)
- burn-like appearance to skin
- electric shock sensations
- extreme fatigue
- skin still swollen
- biting tongue or cheek due to numbness/swelling (face)
- venturing outside cues the soundtrack to 2001 A Space Odyssey
I know a lot more about shingles than I ever wanted to know. I asked a lot of questions when we went to the clinic. I read about shingles on hospital websites, patient information sites, and more. I read about shingles on alternative medicine sites. I read about shingles from personal comments, forums, and blogs. All of this helped me come up with ideas that worked for our situation. I’m grateful for the generosity of sharing and this blog article is my way of “paying it forward”.
My husband is kicking this shingles thing. He’s going to attempt to go to work on Monday. We’ll find out Tuesday if his eye was damaged by shingles. We’ll also have a better idea of how he’s doing in general. He’s still in a recuperating phase so I’m still sleeping on the loveseat in the living room. I’d say it’s better than staying in a bad hotel, but I’ll be glad to have my side of the bed back!
Overall, I’m grateful that this shingles adventure wasn’t worse. I’m proud of how we navigated this crisis. We’re not strangers to adversity, but every time one of life’s surprises takes the wind out of our sails it’s always an opportunity to rise to the challenge–or not. We shingled in the new year. With this start to 2015 it can only get better from here, right?
***UPDATE 1/26/2015: Well, it’s been a rough recovery and it’s not over yet. He’s had severe “crawling” sensations in his face. It feels like worms are under his skin and it drives him CRAZY! When this happens in the middle of the night he’s extremely agitated, grabbing at his face, pacing, etc… It’s scary to witness because it looks like he’s having some kind of schizophrenic episode. This “itching/crawling” stage has been worse than most of the active stages of shingles. Vitamin E oil has helped some, but pain meds don’t do much for the hideous beyond-itchy sensation that is also accompanied by pain and discomfort, intermittently. When the itching is under his eye he can’t put any skin cream on or near it. Sometimes it feels like he’s been shocked – like an electrical shock. He had a few bad nights recently and I felt DONE with this whole adventure. I was sleep deprived and weary of sleeping on the small loveseat, waking up when he does, worrying, etc. Then of course I felt guilty because he’s the one suffering… that’s how it goes when marriage is “for better and for worse”. Thank God he had a good night last night. We both got some sleep! He had almost fallen asleep behind the wheel when he was on his commute home from work (he went back to work last week–he is not contagious anymore and he’s burned through all of his sick days). Anyway, this shingles thing is still a big issue for our family. Oh, I have an update on his eye: he was prescribed eye drops. The eye was inflamed but it looks like there is no nerve damage—whew! Let’s hope he gets the all-clear on his next appointment (next week). Shingles is not behind us yet, but at least we can see the light at the end of the blistery tunnel. By the way, some of you were rather horrified that I posted his picture–HE took the photo! He sent this selfie to his co-workers (Can you imagine receiving this in your inbox if you worked with him? Yes, many of them got the shingles vaccine after seeing this photo!). Later, he offered his photo for my blog. It wouldn’t have mattered who took the picture though, he pretty much lets me do whatever I want. That’s probably the secret to our almost-27 years of marriage! Our anniversary is on February 20. Hopefully he’ll be feelin’ fine by then and he can take a shingles-free selfie of both of us.
***UPDATE 3/24/2015: Would you believe that he’s still miserable? He’s doing much better but he’s not 100%, not even close. Intermittent pain in his face feels like his nose hairs are being pulled out (his description). He also suffers from extreme itching under his skin, inside his nose, and behind his eye. Between the itching and the stabbing nerve pain, he’s *frustrated!*.