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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!)
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.
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.
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…
Ah, well… it still sucks to sleep on the floor.
But before we dwell on that, let’s review what Ireland did for us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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…
Except that it never would, not in Ireland. (where’s the AGONY emoticon?)
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.
Meanwhile, something strange and mysterious happened.
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.
He stood in the dining room doorway with a blank look on his face. I waited for him to say something.
Hesitation, followed by,  “I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“What did you do?”
He said that he didn’t work Plan B on purpose.
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.
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!
Back to Brent’s Internet search:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
And then it all crashed in on us…
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).
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Now that you’re all caught up, I’ll bring you back to how we ended up in Indiana by way of Ireland:
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.
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.
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):
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?

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 don’t always get what I want.
Plan B: I want what I get.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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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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?


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!


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

IMG_3839 IMG_3838 IMG_3829 IMG_3828 IMG_3827 IMG_3816 IMG_3808 IMG_3801 IMG_3776 IMG_3729 IMG_3720 IMG_3719 IMG_3718 IMG_3708

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


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…


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…

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?!!?


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!



The kids on Celtic Coast March 29, 2016IMG_3625IMG_3619IMG_3618IMG_3617


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. 🙂



IMG_3616 IMG_3615

IMG_3816IMG_3827IMG_3838IMG_3839IMG_3857IMG_3858IMG_3859 IMG_3899 IMG_3898 IMG_3884  IMG_3881           IMG_3866 IMG_3860

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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My Blarney Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2774 IMG_2775 IMG_2776 IMG_2777 IMG_2778 IMG_2779 IMG_2780 IMG_2781 IMG_2782

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

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


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

IMG_2786  IMG_2788 IMG_2790

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

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

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

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

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

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Clowning around with my Family

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

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

024My husband after he lost to me… hee hee

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

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

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

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


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Seeing Butterflies

1 houseYesterday 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].

1 butterfly garden6 black eye susans
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.

5 colorful butterfly 4 colorful butterfly 3 colorful butterfly 2 white butterfly 1 white butterfly
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…

7 house

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On the Market!

Home for sale icon

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.



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27th Anniversary

Flowers oil painting by Natalie Buske Thomas
Flowers oil painting for Nana Plays book project


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!



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Valentine’s Flop

Broken heartWell, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The electrolyte drink:

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

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

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

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

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

Medicine Station:

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Station:

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

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


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

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

Shingles Phase 1 (the “warning” phase):

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

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

Shingles Phase 2 (hell):

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

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

Shingles Phase 3 (“crusting” and recovery):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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