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Blogging Again

After a long absence from blogging – I’m back! The featured image was taken by my youngest daughter this past Thanksgiving weekend (two days ago). My husband Brent’s hair is wild, looking like Christopher Walken here! Normally he looks like he’s still in the Army, but he’s overdo for a haircut. I’ve been his barber for our whole marriage and sometimes I procrastinate cutting his hair. I expect he’ll drop heavy hints about a hair cut as soon as he has a bit of free time.

We were at the beach at Tybee Island, one of my favorite places in all the world. That includes my travels in Germany and Ireland. I’ll share more pictures I took this weekend, and my art inspired by Tybee. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen these before, but maybe not. Sometimes my positive real-life news is immediately cluttered over by my political tweets.

It’s also not easy to be seen on Twitter, or any of the social media platforms. I’m not active on any other platforms, other than Twitter (new account after dumping my old one), but I’m heavily censored there too. My blog has become important to me again. I’m also open to writing letters and mailing them. Carrier pigeon may be my next option.

I’m often distracted by things happening in the news, as are you, as is everyone. How can we not be, when propaganda and events directly affect us? So, I’ll blog about what I see world event wise, but I’ll also share uplifting content like oil paintings, photos, and personal stories. Hopefully my depressing, infuriating, and defeating blogs will be out-shined by my encouraging blogs, but I make no promises. I blog honestly.

~ Tybee! And ramblings ~

It was a beautiful day. A little cool – no swimmers today. If you noticed that what I’m wearing in the featured photo is the same red trench coat and hat (turned around backwards) that I wore often in the Ireland blog pics – good eye. Trenchcoat is missing a few buttons, but it’s still such an awesome coat. It’s designed for travel, with many pockets. I saved money for each of us to have a coat or jacket from ScottEVest, to hold our passports and other essentials physically on us, without carrying a bag.

I usually buy my clothes at thrift stores, so this was a huge expense for me. I’ll probably wear this coat for the next twenty years! It happens to be on sale today, for CyberMonday, if you want to check it out. I recall getting it on sale when I bought it, but even so… way out of my price range normally. I usually don’t spend more than $20 per item on my clothes. I’ve gotten some shirts for only 39 cents each! Sometimes they still have the price tags on. Other people’s wastefulness is my family’s good fortune! Anyway… here are the Tybee pics and oil paintings:

I made these animations from photos I took at Tybee Island, Georgia on Saturday.

Some of my oil paintings inspired by Tybee

This one was inspired by a sunny day, when we were greeted by delightful graffiti. Watch me paint this. I want to eventually pay for an add-on that will allow me to host videos through my website, but for now I’m embedding videos I’ve uploaded to YouTube or BitChute, which isn’t ideal because they can change their services at any time.

I have several Tybee paintings, but I’m getting tired and I have to move on to other things, so I’ll just share one more. I love sharing this one, because it has special meaning for me. Most of you have probably already heard my stories about my father, who died from cancer at age 37. I was 16. Sharing my life stories often comes back to my parents, as that’s where we all begin, but I also do it as a community service, to help others.

I have lost many people I’ve loved – both parents, my grandparents, my dear cousin, uncle. I have no extended family who visits me, who is close to me. So, I do understand. And I hope that I can help. Those who are suffering through raw grief need encouragement that the pain softens… each day gets better. The sharpness that takes your breath away? It fades. One day, you can laugh again.

You can honor your loved one by being happy, living your best life, doing something good. And… by allowing their life to inspire yours. This brings me to my purpose in saying all of this, how it connects to the lighthouse painting.

My father was active duty Air Force, then later in the Air National Guard, while also a manager for a mid-sized company. While not an artist by trade, he liked to doodle. He made a cartoon booklet for work – it was part of an official management training guide (comic relief illustrations throughout the manual). He also painted a few custom signs. Beyond this, he did art as a hobby- like the Nativity set that I was inspired to paint. [store pages: Nativity cards or ornament]

He also painted a few watercolor sketches, when he was a young man. Mom had saved his sketchbook. He’d done a rough draft of a lighthouse, that one always caught my eye. About 30 years later, I painted a lighthouse too, this one, on Tybee Island (watch me paint it here). I thought of Dad, and knew he’d be happy about this. His life inspired mine. I want my life to inspire others.

I like the way the video of my painting session turned out. The melancholic music suits the mood that I often have when I think about the things happening in the United States and the world today. There’s a profound sadness, yet hope. Darkness, yet Light. It’s a wild time in history – as mysterious and deep as the ocean, as chaotic and frightening as a storm, and yet… it’s like a soft beam from a lighthouse, calling us home. We’ll be OK, America. We really will.

Well, I guess that’s all I have to say for now. I appreciate all of you who made the trip to my blog. I hope you will stay and chat. I believe we need to expand how we use the Internet to connect with each other. The power to shut down our voices rests in the hands of the elite. We can’t expect fairness or kindness. We need to make our own way.

I plan to blog often. If it works well, I might be helped by having my own store links always present. It would be nice to be less dependent on Twitter. But, if I find that I’m talking to myself like a crazy person, I will lose interest in blogging. For now, I’m committed to blogging regularly.

See you again soon ~ please feel free to chat with me via comments, or privately through my email contact. Thank you for connecting with me. God bless you and your family. xoxo

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Easter Festival at Mallow Castle

The Easter Festival in Mallow, Ireland was held at the Mallow Castle. There was a castle bouncy house with an ACTUAL castle in the background. There was live music, face painting, and of course the castle itself. Unfortunately the event had a low turnout due to the near constant rain… but we had a ball. We had a private concert on the castle lawn! I danced & coerced the family to dance with me. It was one of the best days of my life! Many photos to share:

Mallow Castle, Ireland

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We don’t know if we can stay here in Ireland. Was this all a big mistake? If we had known then how hard it would be, would we have gone? If we had known long ago how many things would be painful, would we have done it? It’s hard to keep it together, given all that we’re going through (and another appointment with immigration looming). But we went to this Easter festival, determined to enjoy it. As we were walking in, live music was in full swing. A familiar song was just starting– as if it was playing just for us.

It’s a long song… and we were walking closer to it as we entered the castle grounds. My eyes were a little misty or was that the rain?

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The rain didn’t stop the kiddie train.

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IMG_3331IMG_3333Nicholas, Cassie, and Brent taking pictures. Savannah just finished taking a picture… and obviously I’m taking a picture right now. 🙂

IMG_3329IMG_3465 (103)OOH, so that’s where the music is coming from! See all that grassy lawn in front of the tent? Of course my immediate thought is “I see a DANCE FLOOR… at a castle in Ireland!!!! Oh yes!”

IMG_3470At first we started off slow, with county music and line dancing (me and Savannah). When we stopped, the singer said, “Where’s our line dancers?” So, naturally I took that as an invitation to return to the dance floor… and soon things got wild!

This is the song that got us moving:

Savannah and me, dancing to Uptown Funk! WOOT!!!

IMG_3349IMG_3351IMG_3352IMG_3353And… we moved right into this song:

Both of my daughters joined me for Happy!

IMG_3354IMG_3355I don’t remember which song this was… Savannah and me:

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When the rain came down heavily we ducked under a big tree.

IMG_3480We didn’t have to stop dancing though… And one song we just had to SING LOUDLY from our tree

 

They performed “Sweet Caroline” and I thought of my friend Jay Lehman who sings that song at piano bars. When they played a second Neil Diamond song, Brent was my dancing partner. Nicholas took these photos for us.

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IMG_3500 (138)IMG_3503 (141)IMG_3358Had to thank the talent for giving us such a fabulous time & priceless family memories!  IMG_3356

Time to check out the castle!

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IMG_3379IMG_3380IMG_3381Cassie at the castle!

IMG_3382IMG_3383IMG_3384Brent at the castle

IMG_3385Nicholas and Brent

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IMG_3389IMG_3390IMG_3391My three kids! I love all of these shots of them, so I’ll put them all in!

IMG_3392IMG_3393Somebody asked if they could join in the picture, LOL! I guess they didn’t mean it though (this time)

IMG_3394IMG_3395IMG_3396Savannah girl, my youngest

IMG_3399Me & my husband Brent in the Mallow Castle

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Some of Nicholas’ castle photos:

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IMG_3552 (190)IMG_3558IMG_3551 (189)IMG_3548 (186)IMG_3574 (212)IMG_3400IMG_3404Savannah wanted to visit the face painting booth.

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She looks so happy – what does it look like? I want to see!!!

IMG_3409 OOH!!!!!!!

IMG_3411So pretty, Savannah!

IMG_3407Thought this ice cream truck was funny

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IMG_3415IMG_3416Leaving the Easter festival…. on the way back to the car park, had to stop to take a closer look at this grotto. A dove flew into it right as I took the picture! It doesn’t show up very well, but you can see it on the left, near the top:

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St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day Grand Parade in Cork, Ireland – This was an absolute ball! We thoroughly enjoyed it even though it was quite chilly. I have many photos to share!

NOTE: Click on the photos if you want to see them full sized – The dancers/floats/etc. are AMAZING! You’ll want to get a better look!

Enjoying St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016Ready for the parade! My husband Brent, daughter Cassie (looking over Brent’s shoulder), me in the shamrock hat, daughter Savannah — son Nicholas took this picture for us.

Here are the many photos I took — scroll down to see a fabulous parade in Cork, Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day 2016!

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (1)Ooh, the anticipation builds as the crowd gathers for the parade!

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (2)It was fun to see all of the face paint, hats, headbands, flags, and green

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St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (4) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (12) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (11) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (10) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (9) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (8) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (7) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (6) The parade was just getting started at this point… when there was a long lull… and a plane flew overhead (advertising)

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (13)

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (14)

Here’s Cassie enjoying the parade

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The next group of photos is of police officers from the U.S.  – People applauded them as they went by.

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (67)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (68)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (69)

The next batch is of the Irish Redhead Convention 🙂

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St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (86)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (87)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (88)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (89)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (90)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (91)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (92)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (93)It was fun to see the kids recognize their classmates in the school groups who danced, twirled, etc. in the parade. This little girl has many friends. 🙂

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (94)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (95)This was a crazy thing operated by a team of guys pulling levers

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St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (113)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (114)This was really cool! I’ve never seen anything like this.

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St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (151)

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (152)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (153)The man above, carrying the blue bag, gave these little books out to the crowd (and to me!)

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (156)They were reciting the prayers from the book as they walked (the Saint Patrick group)

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St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (154)

Aren’t these amazing human-operated floats (in the photos below)? So cool!

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (157) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (158)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (159) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (160)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (161)  St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (162)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (163)We loved the Grand Parade in Cork!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Ireland!

 

 

 

 

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My Blarney Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Settling In

When we meet new people, they ask us how we’re settling in. Hmm… I’m sure they don’t want to hear the full story. I just say “fine” and “We love it here, we love Ireland!” But the truth is much more complicated.

Our friends Marie and Johnny made sure that we had food in the house before they left us on our own. Food doesn’t last long with a family of five, so it was important that we visit a grocery store before we completely ran out of food. My plan was to go to the nearest Aldi, as we’d been shopping at Aldi in the States for the past five years. We knew that store inside and out. At least grocery shopping would be familiar, after we made it there in one piece of course.

Well, that plan went awry. Brent found the Aldi without any trouble. Thank God for the Internet! We didn’t have Google when Brent and I lived in Germany from 1988-1990. I don’t know how we managed. This time around, living in Europe, we Google everything! But not everything is on the Internet. Sometimes we have to figure out things for ourselves.

Let’s back up to something important to this story. We flew out from Minneapolis on December 29, just four days after Christmas.  The kids couldn’t fit much in their luggage, so we were limited in what we could give them. I came up with the perfect solution – cash in EUROS! Naturally, we waited too late to actually get the Euros. We had to drive to multiple banks to find one that had them on hand (we didn’t have time to order them, as it was Christmas Eve!). It was also snowing, of course. So here we were, driving to the big Wells Fargo, the only bank in the area that had Euros. Sure, it was dicey coming back home, with cars in the ditch and the snow accumulating, but Santa would deliver!  IMG_2284

We separated the denominations, put them into separate bags, and then tied the three bags together with ribbon – 100€ for each of our three kids. Now they could buy what they needed to settle in! Sure, it couldn’t replace everything they had to give up, but they’d be able to get something nice. It was fun money, at the very least. I couldn’t wait to see their faces!IMG_2285 IMG_2286  IMG_2288 IMG_2289 IMG_2383   IMG_2386 IMG_2387  IMG_2389  They weren’t expecting to get much this year, so this was a big surprise!IMG_2391  IMG_2393 IMG_2394So… THEY had money.

But WE didn’t. We didn’t think to get Euros for ourselves. DOH!

And guess what? Aldi doesn’t accept our American credit card because it doesn’t have a chip on it. We had already checked out and people were waiting. Fortunately Savannah, our youngest, was with us. And she had her Christmas money…

Well, that was the first IOU. Santa giveth and taketh away… (Before I get hate mail, we paid her back with interest!)

After that, we realized we needed to find a store that would accept our credit cards–at least until we figured out how to keep enough cash on hand. At this point we didn’t have an Irish bank account (and that’s another long story!). Anyway, we had to venture out past our comfort zone. What other store could we try?

IMG_2561Americans – don’t you think this looks like a gas station? Nope. Tesco is a grocery store.

IMG_2562Look at how tightly packed the cars are. The parking lot is challenging. This is the norm for parking in Ireland. Whether driving in or backing in, parking generally involves several attempts to “straighten up” the car. Sometimes the space is so tight that Brent drops me off before he parks – because I won’t be able to open the door otherwise. And forget parallel parking for now! The last time he attempted it, he ended up temporarily on the curb to squeeze us into the space. It’s crazy – people often drive up on the curb in tight spaces, such as when driving on a busy narrow street where cars are also parked and only one car can pass through at a time! Anyway, back to the Tesco parking lot situation..

IMG_2565Fortunately there are giant arrows that tell drivers which way to go. Unfortunately, Brent didn’t notice the arrows. Ah, but we survived!

BTW: Brent is an excellent driver. I am a horrible driver – there is no way I’d be able to do any of this!!! I’m impressed (but not surprised) at how fast he’s learned how to drive on the left and navigate the narrow spaces. Oh and the jay walking! Pedestrians just sort of walk whenever and wherever they want to… yi yi yi! It’s like we’re playing a video game – trying to drive around crazy obstacles like people, stray dogs that jump out of no where, and cars that can’t fit on the same road…! Brent has even mastered the round a bouts.

IMG_2566 There’s Savannah, our shopping buddy! She was happy we didn’t need to bum cash off of her. She was having a ball buying candy and oddball treats that she’s never had before – or has had rarely.  One of the first things she bought was a Kinderegg from Germany. It had been years since we’d had one. She was generous enough to buy one for every member of the family.IMG_2563

Notice that the shrubs are in bloom – in JANUARY! These shrubs are in the Tesco parking lot. Yes, I’m the crazy American taking pictures outside the grocery store.

Tesco is very nice, by the way. We enjoy shopping there. I appreciate the “any 3 for 10€” meat deals. I’ve managed to cut our grocery bills in HALF compared to what we spent in the States! The food is fresh everywhere and DELICIOUS! But it’s not always easy to get in the store.

Here’s a little learning curve… there are few free parking areas in Ireland, and the parking spaces are tiny.

At Tesco, you pay at this machine. If you spend enough in the store you get money back. We were pleased to figure this one out right away, by reading the signs. Sadly, we did this for the first time on a Sunday – the day when parking is FREE. So we still managed to look like idiots… we asked for parking validation when we didn’t need to pay! (For the record, I noticed that no one else had a parking slip in their car, but did Brent listen?)IMG_2564   So much of this Irish adventure is about stumbling and bumbling around, finding our way through trial, error, dumb luck, and the kids’ Euros we found after driving an hour in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Oh yes, the “kids'” Euros… it wasn’t just Savannah’s cash we borrowed. We needed Cassie’s and Nicholas’ too. That’s another thing about Ireland – there are plenty of times when cash (and ONLY cash) is accepted… like parking, garbage drop-off (“rubbish”), grocery cart (“trolly”), and more.

But now I have an Irish bank account and access to cash. The only problem of course is that I need more money in the account… Sigh, isn’t that how life goes?

 

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Visiting UCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 b blog Natalie Buske Thomas

Nicholas visiting UCC 9 c blog Natalie Buske Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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An Irish Welcome

[Read part one of my journey to Ireland here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

Or would we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my travel story…

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

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

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

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

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

Way home from airport 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…

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

IMG_2446Here’s Nicholas enjoying his first mince pie:

IMG_2447

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

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

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

IMG_2452

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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GRADUATION!

EPSON MFP image

My firstborn child has GRADUATED from COLLEGE!

Cassandra Thomas College Graduate UW 2015

Cassandra Thomas graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in Math and a minor in Biology. She wore so many honors cords that I’m surprised she could still hold her head up! We are SO PROUD OF HER! Woot!

Pictures taken before, during, and after the graduation ceremony on Saturday, December 19:

Cassandra Thomas at home before the graduation ceremony

At home…it’s almost time!

007

008Time to go!

Brent Thomas with daughter Cassandra Thomas before graduation ceremony UW-RFMy husband Brent Thomas with Cassie

Brent Thomas with daughter Cassandra Thomas before graduation ceremony UW-RF

Aww, Daddy & Cassie – I love this picture!

Oh my, are we ready for this? Here we are… waiting for the graduates to arrive…

017

018Here they come! Cassie is the fourth one in this line…she doesn’t know where we are, or that we can see her

021The graduates are filing in…Cassie is now way over on the other side, in that first row

022They’ve called her name!

GraduationUWRF20156Cassie has just walked up the white ramp and is now shaking the first set of hands

GraduationUWRF20159It’s time!

Cassandra Thomas getting her diploma from UW-RF

GraduationUWRF201510After she got her diploma, she stopped at the photo area…

037Cassandra Thomas graduate UW-RFCassandra Thomas showing off her diploma from UW-RF

GraduationUWRF201511

She sees us taking pictures – I was waving wildly! This is what she looked like when she realized it was us (picture below):

GraduationUWRF201512All done! She’s a GRADUATE!

GraduationUWRF201513After the ceremony it was a madhouse! Where was she??? It took us a while, but…

GraduationUWRF201515FOUND her!

GraduationUWRF201516

GraduationUWRF201518In these I’m wearing Cassie’s hair, LOL! I look a bit like Cruella DeVille in this next one!

GraduationUWRF201519Brent had gone looking for her and he spotted us… I love these shots he took of us in the crowd!

This next one is when we’ve decided we’re done with this… let’s go home! She’s done! WOOT!

GraduationUWRF201520

And of course presents are waiting! SURPRISE!

GraduationUWRF201521Reading the card that we all signed for her

GraduationUWRF201523Nicholas wrote something for her in Japanese

Awww, love from the sibs! Nicholas & Savannah crush Cassie

GraduationUWRF201524044050CHOCOLATE!

GraduationUWRF201526A two year planner with European pictures on it

GraduationUWRF201530And, now… what’s this?

GraduationUWRF201531The perfect gift for a Math major… infinity!

Graduation Present infinity necklace053CONGRATULATIONS, my daughter! We couldn’t be prouder!