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Tybee Island

Tybee Island GA

Ooh, adventure awaits us at Tybee Island, GA!

Tybee Island GA May 2017

I can hardly wait! THIS is what all of the work was about – a spectacular life!

Tybee Island GA

It’s a beautiful sunny day – hot, but not too hot… PERFECT!

There’s my girl, excited for our first day on the beach in our new home!

Tybee Island

Well, come on! Let’s get in the water!

Tybee Island, GA

While I wait for the rest of the family to catch up (I ran on ahead), I’ll take a few pictures… ooh, a flock of pelicans! (or pelican-like birds, I don’t know)

Ah, here they are… the rest of the family is here.

With my husband Brent and daughter Cassie here to oversee our beach towels, yes… get in the water, Nicholas and Savannah! WOOT!

Son Nicholas…. wearing his Doctor Who T-shirt over his white Irish skin. Smart idea, sounds like he listened to his mom.

Ah, my son and my youngest daughter Savannah… she’s been waiting for beach day – hard to believe she will be 16 this year. UGH – boys STAY AWAY! (that’s the age I was when I met my husband!!!!)

Pure joy!

I love this shot! Their body language speaks for itself – it’s like I can hear their voices when I see this picture. Savannah giving a whoop, Nicholas chuckling.

What fun! There’s nothing like God’s oceans to bring absolute overwhelming delight. Everything we went through to get to our new life… all the detours and failures… this moment reminds me why it was all worth it.

My husband Brent (apparently taking a picture of me? Probably forever lost on his phone) and daughter Cassie (collecting shells). So… can you keep my camera for me? I want to get in the water! Why am I still standing on the beach???

Brent took this wonderful photo of Cassie… when I asked him to keep my camera, he decided to use it. 🙂

From left to right… Savannah (head barely above water), me (arms stretched out for reasons unknown), Nicholas…. Cassie picking up shells

Savannah, me in the middle, Nicholas – oh WOW this was sooooooo much fun!!!!! I can’t wait to go back!!!!!!

Natalie Buske Thomas with husband Brent on Tybee Island GA

Me and my husband ~ Looks like we made it! Coming up on 30 years of marriage next year

Miss Cassandra and me… yeah, I’m the shortest one in my family. At least there are plenty of roommates to reach the top shelves for me.

I love when I capture a father-son moment… don’t know what they’re talking about here, just love that they enjoy talking to each other.

Savannah built a sand castle while we waited to dry off some before leaving the island

Aww, our day at the beach is over… we are some of the whitest people on the planet. Even with sunscreen we have to limit our time in the sun. Well, that’s OK, we’ll come back soon!

The family, walking slowly… tired from our day at the beach

Our first day at Tybee Island is over, but before we go… let’s grab a bite to eat at The Crab Shack! We’ll feed ourselves AND the alligators. Yep… real ones. I’ve only seen them at zoos. This will be interesting!

The day at the beach cost us only $4 for parking. My aunt Ann had sent us money for our anniversary this past February. She prefers that we spend it on dinners out instead of bills or errands. I saved it for a special occasion. And here we are! Her gift will cover the Crab Shack and part of another meal out too!

So, onward to The Crab Shack!

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Nashville, Baby!

Nashville (1)THIS is what I was looking forward to from the first day when I realized that we were moving to Indiana by way of Ireland… NASHVILLE, baby! The appeal of living near the Indiana state border is that we can drive to several other states in two hours or less. Kentucky is just a stone’s throw away (perhaps literally, if standing in the Ohio river, where the border lies), and beyond Kentucky is Tennessee. It only takes 2.5 hours to drive to Nashville from our home in Newburgh, near Evansville, Indiana. We can also visit St. Louis, MO in about 2.5 hours’ drive. Southern Illinois is also an easy drive. If willing to add a bit more drive time… it’s about 3.5 to Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m absolutely thrilled to have so many interesting places to visit without having to travel far to get there – these are all inexpensive day trips! I’ll be photographing and blogging – come with me! 🙂

Today’s trip – NASHVILLE! This was a gorgeous sunny day on June 7. We’d had a highly stressful week and today was no exception. The air conditioning unit had stopped working, Brent found out that he didn’t get a job he’d interviewed for, and… well, I won’t share all the miserable details, but we had a choice to make. Do we sit at home and sulk, waiting for the A/C guy to call? Or do we make a different choice?

Well, I know what “Irish Natalie” would have done! I would have packed the family up for a trip to the coast. Now, we can’t do that here… the Celtic Sea may be calling me, but it’s too far away now. That doesn’t mean that we should resign ourselves to our former vacation-less adventure-less life of waiting, waiting, waiting, for permission to LIVE. I found plenty of free things to do in Nashville. All we needed was gas for the car.

Nashville (4)We crossed the Indiana state border within minutes… We were soon in Kentucky.

Nashville (5)WOOT! It didn’t take long to reach Tennessee! I couldn’t believe it! I’d never been to Nashville before. I’d been using the anticipation of this day as an incentive whenever I felt upset about leaving Ireland. I promised myself that we’d go to Nashville as soon as we could. Just because we were living Plan B, it doesn’t mean that everything I’d worked for was gone. My family was still together. What will we do with this time? Everyone had already gotten into a habit of squirreling away with their various gadgets – online talking to others while in the same house with the people we love. Lightning-fast Internet made that possible. Gone was the unreliable and worthlessly slow satellite connection we had in Ireland. In its place was fabulous speed to connect, connect, connect – with everyone but each other. Well, well… let’s unplug, shall we?

Irish Natalie is also a bit more… assertive…. passionate… and VOCAL than the old me. I had a proper meltdown and off we went. Some things are worth fighting for. As matriarch of the family I need to recognize when it’s time to get up in everyone’s grill. Oh, they were all smiles before we were even halfway into the trip. See? 🙂

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Nashville (7)Brent was feeling too tired… but look at him here, having fun already. He pushes himself to do work related things. Sometimes we have to push ourselves to do what’s even more important. Work and errands… who remembers what happens on a regular day? But when will we forget our first trip to Nashville? NEVER.

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Apparently we’ve reached “The Gateway to the New South”. Hmm, the more you know…

Nashville (9)It sure is a pretty drive through Tennessee!

Nashville (10)Almost there!

Nashville (15)WHEE! It’s NASHVILLE!!!! What a feeling, to see a place I’ve always heard about but have never been to. It’s like when I saw Tinkerbell at Disney World. Fairies DO exist! Wow.

Nashville (18)Oh yeah, it’s Nashville!

Nashville (19)We have arrived at our destination! It’s right up there… See the brown sign?

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Nashville (175)Nashville (176)There, you can see it now – Centennial Park… and YES, we are definitely seeing the Parthenon! This is supposedly the only real Parthenon in the world… (Why does it exist, and why is it in Nashville?) I’m excited about immersing myself in the beauty of this park. There are gardens to explore and the weather couldn’t be more gorgeous!

Nashville (21)First, let’s go on an adventure! The Parthenon awaits!

Nashville (23)Nashville (24)Nashville (25)Isn’t it magnificent? Let’s get closer, shall we?

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This is a photo op if I ever saw one…

Nashville (30)Oh dear, my legs are whiter than the concrete. And ditto for Cassie’s legs… sitting on the right. Hey, we fit right in when we lived in Ireland. Now I’m back to blinding people.

Nashville (34)Ooh, there it is!

Nashville (36)The art on the building is just amazing!

Nashville (40)This really IS Nashville! Ran into a young hopeful staging a photo shoot at the Parthenon… She plans to shoot me her promo details so I can give her a plug (I invited her to). Sweet girl, and certainly beautiful – I wish her all the best!

Nashville (41)Ooh, now this appeals to me! I wonder how many movies have been filmed here…

Nashville (42)Look at the ceilings! This is still outside the building. There are (paid) tours of the interior, but we didn’t plan to do that, which is good because we’d arrived after it closed anyway.

Nashville (43)Beautiful! I love these colors together.

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Nashville (47)Aww, me with my best friend… husband Brent Thomas. Our 30th wedding anniversary is coming up in February 2018. I’m planning to throw myself a party. I expect him to come as my date. 🙂

Nashville (49)Another picture of me with my husband… Notice my necklace? Those are shells from Ireland. I picked them up at the beach in Dingle and near Cork. The earrings are a gift from my daughter Cassandra, I think from last Christmas. Thank you, Savannah for taking these wonderful photos of us parents!

Nashville (51)Meanwhile, our regular photographer can’t be bothered… Nicholas is busy taking pictures of…

Nashville (52)Well, of course… it makes sense that if you are in Nashville, Tennessee for the first time in your life, and standing directly across from a Parthenon, the most compelling thing to photograph extensively is the skid loader at the construction area. His comment? “It won’t be there tomorrow.” That kid fascinates me.

Nashville (54)My two girls…. Savannah and Cassandra

Nashville (59)I love this shot!!! I should frame it.

Nashville (178)Savannah, your smile always makes me happy!

Nashville (62)Oh there’s the boy… I guess he’s finally decided to visit the Parthenon!

I’m ready to see the gardens…

Nashville (69)Oooh, ahhh! The flowers reinvigorate my soul!

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Nashville (73)I want to drink it all in!

Nashville (72)Everything is so beautiful! I’m going nuts with my camera… I had to wade through hundreds of photos to pare them down to a reasonable stash for the blog!

Nashville (83)Do they pay the ducks to amuse the tourists?

Nashville (84)Pretty!!!

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Nashville (88)Cassie enjoying the beautiful Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville (89)Brent and Savannah looking at the water… we saw a variety of critters: turtles, ducks, pigeons, swans, fish

Nashville (90)Passing by the Parthenon from the other side

Nashville (91)Nashville (92)Brent and Savannah leaving waterside area… our day trip is ending… but we haven’t seen the gardens yet

Nashville (94)Ooh, swans! (pretty, but I’m glad they’re staying over THERE… me and swans have a history…)

Nashville (95)Glad to see he’s enjoying himself… Just after he took these shots he spent a great deal of time photographing a squirrel.

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I’m rather proud of that shot, with the bird perfectly framed inside the tree branch.

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I love how the sun has cast shafts of light in front of the bridge.

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Nashville (103)Back to the water front…

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Nashville (110)This bird wasn’t cooperating with me… I was trying to capture the shimmery colorful area on the back of his neck.

Nashville (111)It was so bright and beautiful… had to wear sunglasses most of the time, and even then it was hard to take it all in

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Nashville (115)Savannah shares my love for flowers… she can’t resist photographing them.

Nashville (116)Wow, she looks so much like me here.

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Nashville (118)Happiness is seeing a single delicate rose, perfect in every way… knowing how hostile the environment can be and how greatly the odds are stacked against it surviving… Shouldn’t it have a torn petal, a stripped stalk, or a pitted leaf? Yet there it is, a beauty for us to discover. This pink flower lives by rising above the thorns, reaching for the sun.

Ah… getting out for the day was a very good idea! What a difference perspective makes!

Nashville (121)Be the roses.

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Nashville (126)There’s my Cassie girl! She’s always loved a swing.

Nashville (127)Brent sneaking in a phone call… so busted.

Nashville (128)LOVE!!!!!! This beauty will get me through the whole rest of the month!

Nashville (130)OH MY! I’ve landed in Munchkinland! I’m half expecting adorable townspeople to come out and sing to me. Where’s my big lollipop?

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Nashville (133)OK, this is getting outrageous! So much color!

Nashville (143)LOVE

Nashville (146)A bird flying over a perfectly idyllic scene

Nashville (150)Well, it just lacked a little something before…. Why not add a butterfly?

Nashville (157)Don’t keep your eyes on the ground…. remember to look UP too. This beauty is in a tree.

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Can you tell that the sun is lower in the sky? We better wrap things up.

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We can’t see it all… We never even made it over to the art gallery, or to the other side of the park! We’ll have to come back again a different day.

Nashville (170)One last lingering look…

Nashville (173)Goodbye, Nashville, we love you! We’ll see you again soon!

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A Dolphin in the Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5081IMG_3724IMG_3728Getting close to that lighthouse now!

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

IMG_3723IMG_3805bIMG_3806IMG_3734IMG_3735Still no dolphin… beautiful sights though

IMG_3736IMG_3737Praying to see the dolphin – still seeing nothing…

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

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

IMG_3739Oh my, he’s coming right to me!

IMG_3739bI see him, I see him!

IMG_3740Aww, he’s going away already?

IMG_3741IMG_3742I see him! He’s coming back!

IMG_3743He’s right there, I know it!


IMG_3745Oooh, I see more of him now!

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

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

IMG_3747IMG_3748He’s back!!!!

IMG_3749He’s there…

IMG_3750Just need a little patience…

IMG_3751IMG_3752IMG_3753THERE HE IS!!!!!!

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

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

IMG_3760IMG_3764IMG_3765IMG_3766Brent and Natalie in Dingle Ireland

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

Brent and Natalie in Dingle Ireland

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

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

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

IMG_3788IMG_3789Hi Fungie! You make me so happy!

IMG_3789bIMG_3790IMG_3790bIMG_3791IMG_3792You have to be patient… he’s there!

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

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

IMG_3795bIMG_3796IMG_3796bIMG_3797I LOVE YOU FUNGIE!!!!!

IMG_3797bHe says “I love you too”!

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

IMG_3800One last wave!!!!

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

IMG_3802And then, he was gone.


Brent took these pictures from his phone:


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

IMG_5209IMG_5211IMG_5212IMG_5213IMG_5220IMG_5221IMG_5222I love this shot that Nicholas captured!

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

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

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

IMG_3824Brent and Cassie on dolphin tour boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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










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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. 🙂



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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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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


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?


The rain didn’t stop the kiddie train.



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:



IMG_3344 (2)

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.

IMG_3496 (134)IMG_3497 (135)

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!


IMG_3379IMG_3380IMG_3381Cassie at the castle!

IMG_3382IMG_3383IMG_3384Brent at the castle

IMG_3385Nicholas and Brent


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


Some of Nicholas’ castle photos:

IMG_3348 IMG_3347 IMG_3346

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


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



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

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (3)

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

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (15)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (16)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (17)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (18)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (19)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (20)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (21)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (22)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (23)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (24)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (25)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (26)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (27)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (28)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (29)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (30)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (31)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (32)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (33)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (34)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (35)Ah, there’s my handsome husband!

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (36)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (37)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (38)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (39)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (40)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (41)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (42)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (43)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (44)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (45)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (46)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (47)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (48)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (49)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (50)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (51)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (52)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (53)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (54)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (55)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (56) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (58)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (57) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (59)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (60)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (61)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (62)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (63)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (64)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (65)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (66)

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 🙂

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (70)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (71)

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (72)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (73)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (74)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (75)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (76)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (77)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (78)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (79)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (80)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (81)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (82)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (83)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (84)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (85)

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

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (96)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (97)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (98)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (99)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (100)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (101)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (102)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (103)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (104)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (105)

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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 (118)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (119)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (120)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (121) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (124) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (123) St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (122)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (125)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (126)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (127)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (128)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (129)St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (130)

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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)

St Patricks Day Grand Parade Cork Ireland 2016 (155)

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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Mallow and Grenagh

This is downtown Mallow, Ireland, a good sized town (or small city). It is located in Co. Cork.  I took these pictures in January and early February. This is the bank where I opened an Irish bank account after jumping through a few hoops. We’ve seen a lot of this building over the past couple of months. IMG_2560 IMG_25593Directly across from the bank are familiar golden arches (photo below). Yes, of course we had to try the Irish McDonald’s. It was quite good! It reminded me of McDonald’s in the 1980’s before the burgers became smaller and of questionable flavor/texture.  There are a few differences in the menu. For the holiday season they offered mince pie. But mostly, the Irish McDonald’s is the same fast food chain as the United States version. So, if we ever miss home too much, we can always go to McDonald’s and it’ll feel like we’ve never left… sort of. We’ll still have to pay in Euro and it’s a good thing that we’ve learned how to navigate the Irish accent. 🙂IMG_2558

Other shots of downtown Mallow:IMG_2557 IMG_2556My son Nicholas in the photo below, in downtown Mallow. He loves thrift shops and finds one in every town.

IMG_2756 IMG_2755 IMG_2754This church in Mallow is gorgeous (photo below). We walk by it every time we go to the bank.

IMG_2753 IMG_27524 5There are gates in front of the church. I wish I’d taken another photograph that shows the fence and gate. I’m sure I looked like a tourist taking these pictures, but I just had to share a picture of this beautiful church! The courtyard is so pretty… I’ll have to look later this spring to see if there are flowers in there.

IMG_2751 IMG_2750 IMG_2749 IMG_2748 IMG_2747I need to get a better photograph of this statue (in the photo below)… but it’s tricky to get a shot of it because it’s in the middle of a busy street.


The Market Square (photo below) is on top of a hill. I forgot to take pictures that really show it off…. maybe next time! We enjoy that area. It’s a contemporary cobble stone type space with flower beds. There’s a coffee shop, a Dunnes Store (large department store + grocery), and a parking garage (we park there because parking is free – the street parking is paid parking and hard to squeeze into). We walk through the large stone gate and down to the city blocks below to do our banking and other errands. This is good exercise, especially when it’s time to go back UP.IMG_2745 IMG_2744 IMG_2743Here are some photos outside the village of Grenagh, in a rural area near our house:IMG_2543 IMG_2537 IMG_2536 IMG_2535 IMG_2534 IMG_2525 IMG_2524 IMG_2523IMG_2740 IMG_2739

My husband Brent in photo above… another rainbow in photo below. We see rainbows every week, double ones too!IMG_2738 IMG_2737 IMG_2736 IMG_2732 IMG_2730

Savannah likes to do rock art. She has an engraving pen that she uses to make designs on rocks. She was happy with some great finds on the boreen.IMG_2729 IMG_2728 IMG_2727 IMG_2726 IMG_2725 IMG_2723 IMG_2722 IMG_2721 IMG_2720 IMG_2719 IMG_2718
You never know when and where you’ll make friends here in Ireland. I was out taking pictures for oil painting inspiration and I ran into a couple of guys who are often working on the side of the road, clearing brush and cleaning up the area where one of them plans to build a house (currently there is an old shack on the land). They stopped me for a long chat. When Brent caught up to me, I turned the conversation over to them while I took the rest of my pictures. They were STILL talking about half an hour later!

Brent and his new friends… The guy in the middle is Timmy. The other day Brent took Savannah out to find a newspaper (the reason why will come up in a future blog post). Timmy flagged Brent down to talk to him. Savannah timed their conversation to exactly 45 minutes. Good thing she thought that Timmy was hilarious. It made the wait to get home worth it. 🙂

2More pictures of the road near our house:

IMG_2717 IMG_2716 IMG_2715 IMG_2714 IMG_2713 IMG_2712 IMG_2711 IMG_2697 IMG_2696 IMG_2695 IMG_2694 IMG_2693 IMG_2691 IMG_2690 IMG_2688 IMG_2687 IMG_2686 IMG_2685 IMG_2684 IMG_2683 IMG_2682 IMG_2681

I was trying to show you how tall these trees are.  To put this into scale, the weeds on the side of the road are almost as tall as I am.  This is the forest we live in. IMG_2680 IMG_2679 IMG_2678 IMG_2677 IMG_2676 IMG_2675 IMG_2674 IMG_2672 IMG_2671 IMG_2670 IMG_2669 IMG_2668

I was enchanted by flowers growing in the dead of winter!IMG_2667 IMG_2666 IMG_2665 IMG_2664 IMG_2663 IMG_2662 IMG_2661 IMG_2660 IMG_2659 IMG_2658 IMG_2657 IMG_2655

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An Irish Welcome

[Read part one of my journey to Ireland here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

Or would we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my travel story…

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

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

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

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

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

Way home from airport 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…

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

IMG_2446Here’s Nicholas enjoying his first mince pie:


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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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!


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…


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


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!


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!


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


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!

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LARK Toys!

I asked my three kids – two are college age and one is almost fourteen years old – if they could choose anywhere to visit one last time before we move to Ireland, what would it be? They were unanimous. They could have chosen Mall of America, any of the numerous museums they’ve enjoyed, either of the two zoos, or anywhere else… I left the question entirely open ended. They chose Lark Toys.

I love Lark Toys, so this made me happy! I selected it as our “final destination” for my Little Free Library Book Tour.  Before I share our special day with you, I want to take a trip down memory lane. Here’s my family at Lark Toys in 2004. Sorry for the strange gray blobs in the photo – this picture was taken when we were standing with a field trip group. I removed all but my own family, as it would have been confusing otherwise. From left to right: Brent holding baby Savannah, Cassie, little Nicholas wearing a pirate hat for some reason (I don’t remember this at all!), and me on the end.

LARK Toys field trip 2004

Nicholas on carouselThis was taken on the same day. Nicholas is having a blast on the carousel. Remember this little face – you’ll see him on this same carousel further down this page, now that he’s 18 and ready for college!

100_4629Here we are a few years later… This is Savannah on the carousel.

100_4640This is later that same day. Cassie and Savannah are dancing after putting a couple of coins into the jukebox.

I could keep going with this old family photos – we’ve been to Lark Toys many times throughout the years. We have truly loved it! It is a magical and special place that we’ll always treasure in our hearts. It was a bittersweet experience, visiting Lark Toys one last time before we leave the United States for Ireland in December. But we had a wonderful time and I even got to meet the owner of Lark Toys, Ron Gray. I was able to tell him how much his place has meant to our family.

100_3136Natalie Buske Thomas and Ron Gray, owner of Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota

Of course I gave him some books from my Little Free Library Book Tour!

Here’s how our wonderful day was at Lark Toys. Try to visit Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota. It truly is a special place!

100_3108Nicholas is signing us into the big book

100_3110It’ll be hard to get pictures today, everyone’s on the move!

100_3109I got a kick out of seeing Nicholas run like this! Is he the little boy in the pirate hat again?

100_3112Here’s the map of Lark Toys visitors. I was delighted to find this… (scroll down to the next photo)

100_3111There’s a pin directly on Cork, Ireland! Somehow it feels better knowing that someone in Cork has been to Lark Toys. We’ll be among friends. 🙂

20151115_160936OH WOW! They have a new attraction! This was definitely not at Lark Toys the last time we were there. I guess it landed while we were busy with our own TARDIS adventure. Well, if you’ve been following our family, you’ll know that we were excited to find a Doctor Who presence at Lark Toys! This was must unexpected!

Natalie Buske Thomas at TARDIS at LARK Toys 2015Does the Doctor need a companion? I have experience!





100_3132These are DALEKS from Doctor Who, but speaking of robots, my son Nicholas used to have this white and black contemporary robot toy (on the far right in the photo below). It had a “dancing” mode that was hilarious.



Cassie pointed out the pregnant Barbie doll. I noticed the vintage Sesame Street characters. I so love Sesame Street! I had a View Master. I never liked those. They were always disappointing. I guess I wanted it to do something more. It was hard to click through the slides without the card getting stuck. Or maybe that’s just me…

100_3122Who from Gen X didn’t have Lincoln Logs? In my opinion, those were another disappointing toy. We could only build log cabins with them.  Nonetheless, I wish I had a set now! I’d make a cabin. They weren’t much good at anything else. Remember the red plastic triangle roof pieces? Memories! LEGOs changed everything… that was my son’s world (and still is!).

100_3123Ah, the old erector set. Brent had one and he thought Nicholas might like it, but like I said before… LEGOs were invented.

100_3124I love looking at these strange vintage metal toys. I’m sorry for so many blurry photos. My awesome camera DIED right before we got to Lark Toys, ugh! We think it might just be the lens – I hope! Some shots are better than others. I also copied some that the kids took.

100_3125I remember that Bambi book! I loved it because it was shaped like Bambi’s head. The pages were surprisingly fragile and soft, which fascinated me. I also remember playing with that Fisher Price school house but I don’t think it was mine. It may have belonged to my dear cousin Jennifer. Jennifer passed away in her sleep from diabetic complications when she was thirty years old. Oh how I miss her! I have fond memories of playing together when we were kids. See what I mean? Lark Toys is a magical place. It brings us back to when we were young, we see toys that our parents and grandparents had, and those of us with children relive the happy memories of when our own kids were little. We think about those we miss, we remember days gone by… and by taking the journey backward, we have renewed strength to go forward.

100_3126I had the wooden blocks and the magnetic letters – did you? I think the wooden doll was before my time.

100_3127I had Bobbsey Twins books

100_3155Savannah and Nicholas want to go on the carousel. I remember that (then Governor of Minnesota) Jesse Ventura rode the carousel – he sat on the bench, not on one of the animals.


LARK Toys carousel tokenSavannah has her carousel token!


100_3156The carousel is fabulous – the animals are original handcrafted works of art! I tried to capture all of them, but I was using my inferior camera since my good one died while I was taking pictures of Lake Pepin on the way up.

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100_3147 100_3146

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100_3164100_3163And here are two of my kids on the carousel… let’s compare… Nicholas then (in pirate hat)

Nicholas on carouselAnd Nicholas now, age 18 (I didn’t tell him to wave, LOL)

100_3180 100_3178 Instead of the bunny he chose the gnome & dragon. Instead of a black pirate hat he’s wearing a black guitar shirt. But, it’s the same kid – same smile, same wave to Mommy. Aww, see why we love Lark Toys?

100_4628Savannah then…  and now:



100_3189I had a love-hate relationship with this nerve wracking game!

100_3188I didn’t have this one… but it reminds me of something my friend Kelly said. Happy Days was playing in the background while she was cleaning and she heard that it was Howard Cunningham’s birthday. Howard was turning the same age as Kelly. Kelly shared the miserable knowledge that those of us who are Class of ’87 are now the same age as Richie Cunningham’s PARENTS.

Career Game for GirlsHa ha! This is a game called “The Exciting Game of Career Girls” from 1966. The choices were limited (stewardess, ballerina, etc.), and the bad luck cards included things like “You are overweight” or “You are clumsy”. The cards went on to helpfully point out which careers these unfortunate traits would be bad for. There were good cards to, that rewarded for learning how to apply make-up or for being pretty. Wow, Just wow. My girls were transfixed (and horrified!). Note: my college daughter is graduating with a Math degree, with honors. Take that, Career Girls!

20151115_161042He always reminded me of my grandfather…

20151115_161056Not only are the toy collections fascinating (from all eras), but there are creative original attractions sprinkled all over the place too. Some you have to look UP to see.

20151115_16172120151115_16172920151115_160839I had a record player similar to this one. My favorite song was “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Brent has the full sized album and Nicholas digitized the song for me. I want to frame the original vintage record cover and put it in my new work space in Ireland. The girl who longed to live near the sea (like the boy and his dragon) will be living near the sea!!! Funny – my brother’s favorite record was “Rhinestone Cowboy” and they were playing it while we were at Lark Toys. I can still hear him playing that song… over and over… and over

20151115_164522My son took this photo. He had die cast vehicles that he forgot to put in the shipment to Ireland. I think he plans to cram them inside his clothes in his luggage, a few of them anyway.

20151115_161739My grandpa used to make little wooden toys for the great grandkids. I was already too old by the time he started doing this. I was the first granddaughter. My grandparents still had kids living at home when I was born. I mostly got the coffee can full of broken crayons to play with. 🙂 There was an odds and ends box with strange little toys and animals. It was great fun digging through it to see if anything good was in there. I usually found a treasure if I had enough patience to keep digging…. but I had to get past the smell of crayons. To this day, I hate the smell of crayons.

20151115_161337Oh dear… my Savannah has changed.



LARK Toys Santas

LARK Toys Santa 220151115_15554220151115_155607Oh… this reminds me of when I was wearing my beautiful white “fur” coat to school. Mom had given me red Kool Aid for breakfast. Or maybe it was Hi-C. I can’t stand either. Anyway, well. I was nauseous from the bus ride, or I was sick… doesn’t matter. The story ends with red vomit all over my favorite coat. I’ve never forgotten that pretty coat and I’ve never forgiven the red “juice” that ruined my coat!

20151115_155452See? You have to look UP and down and all around, or you’ll miss something. I’m sure I missed something…

20151115_160946100_3250 100_3249Ooh, there’s one of those creepy porcelain dolls with the cracked face. I used to play with those at my grandmother’s house. I was told to be very careful and I never quite understood why. The face was already cracked and broken – what difference did it make? But I was gentle. I didn’t play with dolls long. I preferred the Noah’s Ark set.



100_3245Funny mirrors, always good for a laugh

Ooh, I like these butterflies!             100_3222    100_3218 100_3217  100_3215Someone found the LEGOs!

How appropriate for a book tour to end up at a beautiful book store! This area of Lark Toys has always been one of our favorite parts — the books and educational section. And this is usually where our kids found something to buy… This time it was Savannah who found something too exciting to resist.


100_3212 100_3211 Savannah wants to be a midwife. She’s been studying biology, nursing and psychology. She thinks this visible woman is amazing…you have to build it yourself – even paint it – and it comes with a fetus to place inside the uterus. She’d learn the body parts and the organs. It’s educational… so you see.. well, here she is at the checkout counter with Daddy’s wallet open. 🙂


Now get good grades, Savannah. We got you that “Visible Woman” from Lark Toys so you should be all set now. 🙂

100_3244Note: She opened it up as soon as we got home. She LOVES this kit! It is very involved so she’ll be able to enjoy it for weeks. VERY pleased! She’s going to take it apart so that it fits in a small bag so that she can bring it to Ireland in her suitcase.


100_3199I love this book tree idea (below)


100_3196I see “A Wrinkle in Time” is at the top – one of my all time favorite books!

The Doctor Who section

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Brent is razzing me about the ant farm. I did NOT enjoy that experience when Cassie wanted to do the ant farm. Let’s just say that I didn’t read the directions where is said that you should put the ants in the fridge first so that they are “inactive”. I dumped the vial and the ants marched right UP my arm, all over me… and well, I freaked and killed the ants. Cassie made a Dramatic Mom comic about it.

Comic Ants100_3170

Toys and candy go well together!



100_3171Lark Toys is getting ready to close for the day… I guess it’s time to go…





Leaving Lark Toys in Kellogg, MN…and when I get home, I’ll take a closer look at this –!


Hmm… I saw Brent with this bag in one of the gift shops. I think I might know what he bought me. I’m not sure. He says he’ll save it for Christmas. But he really shouldn’t be leaving it around. Stay tuned – I’ll update this when I find out what it is!

Well, it was a beautiful, wonderful, magical day. I was sorry to see it end. But all good stories must come to an end. And today we lived “Happily Ever After”! Thank you, Lark Toys, for bringing your love and vision to this special place where families like mine can enjoy your fabulous things, and each other. We’ve watched our kids grow up at Lark. It was the perfect “last place” to visit. Thank you!