Category: Travel

Home in Georgia!

On the road to our new life!

We’ve finally made it to Georgia by way of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ireland, and Indiana! We went through Kentucky and Tennessee (Hello, Nashville!) to the Georgia state line… but we’d have several hours’ more driving left… including driving through Atlanta just after rush hour.

Signs I thought were worthy of a blog mention:

I don’t think they meant for those two signs to go together, but… interesting, huh? Trust Him from the mountaintop?

As you see, we’re coming into Atlanta now… I hope it’s not too crazy. Last time we were here it was a hideous din, like a million bees buzzing. The cars were swinging across several lanes of traffic from both sides, all at the same time… reminded me of motorcycles in a cage at a circus. This time, it was nothing like that. It was fairly easy. We stayed in the fabulous carpool “diamond” lane and sailed through!

Atlanta!

More Atlanta…

Here’s another billboard for you…

I thought that was a cool vintage looking sign

This amused me to see Trump on a tower

Ah, we’re almost in Macon, whew! We have hotel reservations there. We’re sick of being on the road. Everyone’s ready to get out of the van.

Our hotel is behind the Outback Steakhouse. Glad to be calling it a night.

Yea, it’s the morning of our move to the new house! We’ve left Macon for the Savannah area… Port Wentworth. I took this picture for Marie. Look, Marie, I’ve gone back to Ireland!

LOL, figured you’d get a kick out of seeing this. Well, no, I’m not back in Ireland, but I’m back at the coast, near an island and dolphins! Oh, and one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world, huge love for the Irish in Savannah.

What would Georgia be without peaches?

Ooh, look, we’re getting close!

Not long now!

I’m getting nervous butterflies!

HOME!

 

 

Beautiful flowers by driveway, walkway

 

Look, sand! Sand in the backyard! (Hey do you like my cute sandals? Seriously cheap from Kmart!)

AND… wow, totally didn’t know about this! There’s a lagoon at the end of the property, just yards from our patio door! That’s a crane. I took many pictures of it. Figured you only needed to see one, LOL. There’s fish in the lagoon and we’re allowed to fish! There are turtles too. Savannah is on cloud 9. She spent hours out there… did not have sunscreen on. Yep. (Oh, if you are new to my blog, my youngest daughter is named Savannah… coincidence, nothing to do with GA. She was named after the adorable child character in Savannah Smiles, a movie. But… my Savannah LOVES that people don’t get her name wrong anymore, and she’s loving seeing her name on everything. Already bought a hat with Savannah on it.)

I’ll end our moving day with this closeup of the gorgeous flowers I showed you earlier. Welcome to the South. I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

Flowers in Port Wentworth GA

 

 

 

Driving Home

The Philadelphia airport was a fun place! We enjoyed all the movie posters featuring movies filmed in Philadelphia. I was sorely tempted to buy a Rocky doll, LOL! We almost got the famous Philly sandwich, but chose the food court instead. Savannah and I ate our go-to comfort food – American cheeseburgers and fries (Wendy’s). Cassie and Nicholas chose Chinese food. Brent got a salad. It was a long layover of 4+ hours, but it went by fast. It felt so good to be off the plane.  But there’s one more flight left.

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I won’t make you take this next flight with us, even though Nicholas took some great shots from the air. The flight was uneventful and relatively short. Nicholas and I got off the plane first. We waited for the rest of the family to join us.

IMG_6349IMG_6350There’s Savannah girl!

IMG_6351Next, Brent…

IMG_6352Happy to be on the ground!

Can you guess what airport this is?

IMG_6353Race cars on display… that’s a pretty big clue.

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The answer will be clear soon enough… here we are on the way to the hotel.

IMG_6364IMG_6366Hotel shuttle service

IMG_6367Yes, Nicholas and I helped… it’s just a bit of lag time, not wanting to crowd that guy’s space.

IMG_6369IMG_6370Leaving the hotel the next morning, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

IMG_6379Now you know where we are! Brent was born and raised a Hoosier. He’s already happier now that he’s HOME, even though we aren’t living in the same area where we used to live.

IMG_6397IMG_6430IMG_6433Southern Indiana is so beautiful!

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And further proof that we’re back in Indiana – our house has one of these:

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Homeward Bound!

IMG_5950All was quiet at the Shannon airport. In the morning we’d leave Ireland for the United States.

IMG_5975IMG_5985Morning has risen! Time to go.

IMG_5986IMG_5989IMG_5990IMG_5994The Shannon airport isn’t exactly a happenin’ place! The State-side airports would be teaming with noise, people, courtesy cars blitzing by, neon lights, fast food restaurants, and even vendors hawking their samples and frequent flyer offers. Yes, it would soon be a carnival of travel madness. But this morning’s airport was nearly desolate.

IMG_5995Nicholas, Savannah and Cassie (seated) – me standing, messing with my jacket

IMG_5997IMG_6001Cassie watching all of our bags at the Shannon, Ireland airport

IMG_6004Brent, getting antsy for the international flight

IMG_6024Wow! Where IS everybody?

IMG_6034IMG_6036They told us we could move around to any seat we wanted! Our family spread out so that we each had a row to ourselves. WOOT!!!! Oh how I hate, hate, hate to fly… I didn’t expect THIS! I squealed and said, “This never happens to us!” YIPPEEEEEE! The long flight that I dreaded and never wanted to face again was made infinitely easier by having all of this space!

I don’t fear flying. I hate being TRAPPED! I’m easily claustrophobic and I hate sitting in one place for too long. Because I had a whole row to myself I was able to change seats as often as I wanted to.

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IMG_6053I see Aer Lingus over there… that’s the airline we flew in on from London to Cork. It’s a pretty plane, they have that going for them. Notice that we didn’t choose to fly that airline again. I’ll leave it at that.

Seeing that plane reminded me of our horrible experience flying from Minneapolis to Chicago, then from Chicago to London, and then finally on to our windy and turbulent (WE’RE GONNA DIE!) landing in Cork, Ireland. At this point I’m sitting in my comfy seat on American Airlines, happy that I’ve made a different choice this time around. We eliminated the third flight altogether. We’re avoiding London and going straight home to the United States, where we are CITIZENS, free to move around without passports! From our first airport we’ll move on to a second, and that’s where we’ll stop. We’ll stay in a hotel and DRIVE the rest of the way to our final destination. Two flights, not three. It should help with the jet lag, it should cut down on the security/customs/etc. stress, it’s somewhat less expensive, it should shorten travel time so that we can manage sleep better…. That was my thinking…  And I was right! 🙂

IMG_6040I guess it’s time to go… he’s giving the signal!

IMG_6059I sat in the window seat when I wanted to look out or try to sleep. I put my stuff in the middle. I sat in the aisle seat when I wanted to watch the in-flight movies. The first movie was really interesting, about a self made millionairess named Joy (which is my late mom’s name so I felt that was a sign I was being watched over on the flight… I also hoped that it was lucky, meaning that I’d soon have greater success in my own entrepreneurial ventures). Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.

They also showed us new TV shows that NBC was promoting. I’d like to see more of Superstore – hilarious! It stars actors from Drop Dead Diva and Ugly Betty. Funny stuff, pretty clean. I see that the episodes are available for streaming online. We’ll watch it for family TV nights (we have teen and young adult kids though, so don’t go by me if you are looking for shows for younger audiences — also, I tend to be fairly liberal with entertainment).

They also showed the modern Karate Kid movie, starring Will Smith’s son. Hmm, well, I watched bits of it, but I decided to try to sleep during that one. My daughter Savannah was jazzed by this selection though. I’m glad that this movie was shown.

American Airlines kept feeding us! I have NEVER had that happen on a flight before – they actually gave us so much food that I was getting too full to eat! And… the food was GOOD!!! Our whole family liked it. AA had great entertainment, comfortable (compared to other coach seats that are much worse) seats, fast and efficient service, and overall just a pleasant experience for our very long flight back to the United States. I wish we’d flown American the first time around. If we have to fly in the future, I’ll choose American Airlines again! This is high praise because I truly hate to fly. Of course, the flight had a lot of empty seats which helped greatly, so keep that in mind.

Well, we’re off – AIR BORNE! Nicholas took all of these amazing photos. He actually took many, many more – I had to choose from hundreds of from-the-plane photos to share!

IMG_6086IMG_6087Leaving Ireland…

IMG_6088IMG_6089IMG_6090IMG_6091IMG_6092Ireland is already far away.

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Nicholas must have taken these at a different time from when the light was hitting the wall on the right. Near the ceiling, in the aisle, the light cast on the wall in such a way as to make a gorgeous cross. I mean, it was so vivid, it looked like something you’d see in a church. It wasn’t real – it was an illusion brought on by how the light hit the wall, but it sure looked like I could reach out and touch it. It stayed on the wall for about two hours. I found it comforting. We’d be ok, one way or another… I figured we were going to Heaven or we were going home. Nothing to fear either way, right? And aren’t those kind of the same thing, Home and Heaven…? Ah, well, I was jet lagged already and I hate to fly. What kinds of thoughts do you think I’d be having? Fortunately I was kept distracted by the in-flight entertainment and the food they kept giving us!

IMG_6117IMG_6118It’s about a seven hour flight – a bit shorter than the route we took on the way to Ireland… we’re appreciative of the faster flight time – AND the pilot was ahead of schedule! We’d arrive early… Meanwhile, there were fabulous views. Reminder: you can click on pictures you want to see bigger.

IMG_6126We were flying lower sometimes and could see glorious landscapes, mostly coastal.

IMG_6132IMG_6133IMG_6135IMG_6140Notice that plane in the distance? Nicholas managed to capture a shot of ANOTHER plane flying alongside us!

IMG_6145Don’t worry, it wasn’t close… but it’s not something we’d expected to see.

IMG_6154Looks like we’re in outer space here… or time traveling, like in my fictional detective series!

IMG_6158Someone said this is Cape Cod, I think…

IMG_6159IMG_6160IMG_6162IMG_6164IMG_6165IMG_6168IMG_6170IMG_6183IMG_6194IMG_6199Look at that, he captured a SHIP on the ocean from the plane!

IMG_6200Oh, going back up… well, that was a teaser! When I saw all of the landscape I thought our flight was ending already.  No, not yet, but we were getting closer.

IMG_6202IMG_6231Ooh, AMERICA! There we are…! Soon we’ll be landing in the United States!

IMG_6232IMG_6233IMG_6234IMG_6235Are you looking for clues? Anyone know where this is yet?

IMG_6236IMG_6237IMG_6238IMG_6239IMG_6240IMG_6241IMG_6242IMG_6243Don’t have it yet? Keep looking, soon it will be obvious…

IMG_6244IMG_6245IMG_6246IMG_6247IMG_6248IMG_6249IMG_6250IMG_6251IMG_6252IMG_6253IMG_6254IMG_6255The girls said that they knew it was America when they saw baseball diamonds!

IMG_6256Know this city yet?

IMG_6257IMG_6258IMG_6259IMG_6260IMG_6261IMG_6263IMG_6264IMG_6266IMG_6267IMG_6268IMG_6269IMG_6270IMG_6271IMG_6272IMG_6273IMG_6274OK, this next one will give it away

IMG_6275IMG_6276IMG_6277IMG_6278IMG_6279Uh, I don’t know what this is about… perhaps they didn’t expect someone to take photos of it via an air plane… probably nothing to see here folks, right? National Guard station maybe?

IMG_6280IMG_6281IMG_6282IMG_6283Ah, we’re landing now. WHEW! The long international flight is over!!! We’re back in the United States!

IMG_6284IMG_6285IMG_6286IMG_6287IMG_6288IMG_6296Hmm, I hope our luggage makes it to the next flight and all arrives OK… [This is what’s known in the literary biz as “foreshadowing“]

IMG_6298IMG_6299IMG_6300We’ve landed! That’s me in the front (red blur) and Cassie behind me in the green trench coat, coming off the plane. Just one more flight to go!

NEXT POST: Driving Home!

 

Leaving Ireland

Taking pictures was the last thing on my mind on May 11, the day we left our home in Ireland for the hotel at the Shannon airport. I only managed to take a few pictures here and there. But my son Nicholas put his photography class to good use and chronicled the whole journey. Thank you, Nicholas, for taking so many  fantastic shots! *Remember you can click on any photos that you’d like to see bigger
IMG_5773Goodbye, Rivendell House in Grenagh, Co. Cork, Ireland
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It took two trips to get our family of five and our large pieces of luggage to Shannon, which was an hour and forty-five minute drive each way (passing through Limerick, where Brent had threatened to tell limericks). On the first trip, Brent and I brought the luggage to the hotel. Next, Brent dropped me off in Charleville for a goodbye visit with Marie O’Halloran and sweet baby Lorcan (he returned to Grenagh to pick up the rest of our family; he picked me up when he drove through Charleville on the way back to Shannon).
My visit with Marie was bittersweet. I gave her some of my personal belongings that I wanted her to have. Of special interest are two pretty stepping stones that were the last gifts my mother gave me. She said they were for my flowers, as I loved my gardens. But we were moving from our hobby farm and the next eight years were in transition. Even so, I kept the stones. Both have beautiful sentiments and designs on them. They have picture hanging brackets on the backs, so they can be used indoors or out. I meant to at least hang them up, but something always kept me from following through. Instead, I kept them in new condition, boxed up.
I brought them from house to house, and even shipped them to Ireland, where I felt certain they were meant to stay. Once settled in the house in Grenagh, I finally took them out of their boxes and displayed them under a glass table in my art studio space. There they sat, untouched. When it was time to pack up for the United States, I hesitated when I saw the stepping stones. It struck me that the reason why these stones were kept new all these years is because I was saving them for someone else.
These stones belong in Marie’s butterfly garden, in memorial and celebration of the life of her beloved baby Cathal, Lorcan’s brother and twin. One of the stones even has a butterfly on it, which means something significant (personal and spiritual) to Marie and her husband Johnny. My mom would have liked this, as she probably would have thought of it herself and would have prompted me to give Marie the stones — even if they were already in my own garden! If these stepping stones help Marie follow through on her butterfly garden plans, I’m honored to have been a part of it. I know the garden will be healing for the whole family.
Marie had meaningful gifts waiting for me as well. She gave me a beautiful bookmark that has a real clover embedded in the charm and the word “Ireland” etched into the base. Marie didn’t realize this when she gave it to me, but the bookmark matches Savannah’s special necklace that she bought in Dingle, on the day that we saw the dolphin. I couldn’t believe it when I saw this – I wondered if she had done it on purpose — how did this happen? Of all the gifts she could have selected, Marie was drawn to the exact same company/brand and jewelry line as Savannah’s necklace! The thing is, I’d admired Savannah’s necklace but there was only one left in the store, so we couldn’t have matching ones. This bookmark is perfectly right. I will treasure it! I already do!
IMG_4082IMG_4083IMG_4084It’s hard to read the Ireland inscription… also, the handle is shiny and bright but it looks sort of splotchy in the photo. I think you can imagine how pretty this looks in person.
Marie also gave me a special candle from her son Cathal’s table. I’m no stranger to grief, but I’ve never lost a child. I cannot imagine the depths of her loss. I’m privileged to be allowed into her precious private world, in which the boundaries of the spiritual realm and the earthly realm blur. It is her private space where pain meets joy, where she sees her beautiful baby in her heart and dreams.
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 I’m impatient to receive our shipment from Ireland. I intend to place Cathal’s candle in my mom’s hutch. I believe that there is power in the belongings left behind by people we love, there is a special hold over things that we give symbolic meaning to, and there is a protection granted to those who believe. On that note, I believe in all sorts of mysterious phenomena – some of which I’ve experienced personally. I believe that God hasn’t limited our knowledge to only what religious scholars preach; there’s so much more to discover. I believe in science and that which transcends it. We’ll never comprehend it all; logic and love co-exist beyond our understanding. But we don’t need to understand it. Peace, healing, and power beyond our imagination is ours, when we are free to let go.
The day we left our home in Ireland was emotional, but there were plenty of distractions to keep our minds occupied. You’ll see for yourself from the pictures that we encountered a lot of construction on the route. I have to say, I don’t know how the Irish handle their workflow. During the nearly five months that we lived in Ireland, the road from Mallow to Charleville was under perpetual construction. It began before we arrived, and apparently it will continue long after we left. I’m reminded of the endless tea party that the Mad Hatter hosted.
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We were also kept occupied by random sightings of historic buildings, ruins, and even a castle. There were sheep and lambs along the way, bizarre road signs (is it really necessary to forbid horse and buggies on the highway? I haven’t seen a single one during our entire stay here!), and a tunnel.
IMG_5810IMG_5811IMG_5812IMG_5814IMG_5815IMG_5817IMG_5821IMG_5822IMG_5827IMG_5828This is the downtown Charleville library – an old church that was converted into a public library. My books are in this library. 🙂
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Also, see that bus sign? When we sold our car back to the dealer we went to Lucey Motors on Limerick Road in Charleville. Our wonderful salesperson Joey Shire gave us a lift to the bus stop here in front of the library (he was a big help to us when we bought the car and then again when we sold it – he had great patience waiting for our wire transfer from the States to get sorted out – highly recommend Lucey Motors in Charleville, Ireland!). We took the bus to the Shannon airport where we hired a car. We then returned the car when we settled into the airport hotel the following week.
IMG_5830IMG_5831IMG_5833IMG_5860IMG_5879IMG_5880IMG_5881There’s the “no horse and buggy” sign I was telling you about
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 This wasn’t the route we’d taken to the coast – if it was, I would’ve tried to capture the memorable road sign that warned of a dangerous bend… although it was too dangerous to stop there for a picture. What makes that bend so startling is that immediately after the “dangerous bend” warning, there is a second sign with a life-sized picture of Jesus on it – just Jesus’s face, with no explanation. The Jesus sign flashes before your eyes because the speed and angle on that sharp turn allows only a glimpse of anything other than the spiraling barely-one-lane road spinning ahead. Egads! Is Jesus the destination for drivers who don’t heed the dangerous bend warning?
IMG_5801This familiar sticker is a feature in Enterprise’s rental cars.
Brent doesn’t get easily rattled by driving, even when he was learning to drive on the left, but that hairpin turn on the steep narrow coastal road gave him white knuckles at the wheel.
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 Finally we were in Shannon, where we first stopped at Lidl (a German owned grocery store similar to Aldi) to buy our supper. We found packaged salads, lunch meat, bread, and single servings of juice that come with tiny plastic straws that are meant to puncture an impossibly slippery pouch. I’m sure you too are familiar with the torture of trying to get the straw into the pouch when someone is tired, crabby, and thirsty. The crabby ones used to be my young children, but that day the crabby one was me. My daughter Cassie opened my juice for me. Funny how it all goes full circle…
My family was disappointed that we’d forgotten the pie that Marie had boxed up for us to take back with us to the hotel. There was a bit of a blame-game about who was supposed to put it into the car. I’d already had my pie while visiting with Marie, so I kept my mouth shut.  The important thing is that we were at the airport – our hotel was just a few yards away from the departure gates.
IMG_5925IMG_5927IMG_5928IMG_5929IMG_5935IMG_5937IMG_5940Isn’t this a snazzy rental car? Nicholas was impressed by this one. But we’d arrived and it was time to return it.
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We didn’t have time to settle into the hotel. We were on to the next task: weighing our luggage to see if any of us had gone overweight. Bags weighing more than 50 pounds incur an overweight fee of $100. On the way to Ireland ALL of our luggage was overweight, all. And Nicholas’ bag was so heavy that it went into the NEXT weight tier, costing $200! We bailed out of one suitcase before checking the bags, which is how my small cast iron skillet got thrown away in the Minneapolis airport. But we just couldn’t reduce the rest. This was everything we’d have on us until our household shipment would arrive, including Nicholas’ entire desktop computer (albeit in pieces) and our laptops – mine didn’t make it. 🙁
Anyway, on the journey to Ireland, we swallowed the cost of our overweight luggage. On the way back, we couldn’t do that! These bags HAD to be under 50 pounds – ALL of them!
We spent a few Euros weighing our bags on the coin operated scale in the hotel lobby. We quickly ran out of coins. Since our bags were still overweight, we had to keep trying. We chucked a few things out, but most of our overflow landed in Savannah’s suitcase. Savannah is the heroine of this story. She had put all of her heaviest belongings in her personal bag that she bravely carried on her back! We didn’t know that she had weighed herself down with such a heavy burden until after one of the straps on her bag broke and she was struggling. Well, anyway, back to the luggage fiasco. Without the means to put more and more Euros into the hotel scale (which was listed as a service for this hotel so we thought it was complimentary, grr, as with many things in Europe -such as most parking- it was not free), we decided to haul our luggage across the parking lot to the airport. The airport was practically deserted and they didn’t mind us weighing our luggage at the counter, on our own.
Getting the luggage to the airport was a bit of an adventure. The parking lot was uneven. On the slopes it was hard not to lose control of the luggage cart (Brent and Nicholas had full luggage carts to push) or the luggage itself (we girls rolled luggage separately). We had to avoid hitting parked cars and other obstacles. But when we finally made it to the airport we could weigh our bags and re-pack them as many times as necessary to get the bags to fall under the 50 pound weight limit. We finally did it! And when we did, it felt like we should have won a trophy.
The airport was surreal, so quiet and empty. Few employees were there. The last flight out of Ireland had long gone, even though it was still fairly early in the evening. We anticipated a rather uneventful check-in experience in the morning. And we were right. It was subdued until we hit the TSA. We had to go through security twice, as this airport as a pre-flight customs arrangement with the United States.
The Irish part of it was simple. We didn’t have to remove our shoes. I misunderstood about taking my laptop out of my bag, but no one jumped down my throat. An employee simply asked me to remove it for a scan. The security line moved smoothly and quietly. And then we had to do the whole thing all over again in an isolated area on the top floor (the second story in a two-floor airport). This time it was for the Americans.
And no, they weren’t friendly. The treatment wasn’t as severe as what we went through in Minneapolis – that still makes my blood boil when I think about it! – but it wasn’t pleasant. Cassie got patted down again. WTH??? We had to remove our shoes of course. Everything had to come out. It was tedious, stressful, and oppressive. Welcome back to the United States… and we hadn’t even left Ireland yet. All of the old anger and resentment was starting to emerge (our lost medical insurance, Brent’s job of almost 20 years gone to Canada, and more), but I was homesick too.
Mixed feelings, bittersweet emotions, hotel-room sleeping, and a day of international travel is a cocktail destined for a nasty hangover. But it was time to get this over with. The sooner we were on the first flight, the sooner we’d be on the second one, and then the long car ride the next day headed to our new home.

Dream a New Dream

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

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

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

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

My other fears were also resolved:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other updates:

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

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

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

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

Natalie seeing Celtic Sea coast for first time

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

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

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

And… Cassie took these.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Settling In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Irish Welcome

[Read part one of my journey to Ireland here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

Or would we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my travel story…

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

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

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

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

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

Way home from airport 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…

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

IMG_2446Here’s Nicholas enjoying his first mince pie:

IMG_2447

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Home in IRELAND!

It felt like the day would never come!

100_3313Luggage was packed weeks ahead of time.

IMG_2066See those ruby red slippers? Maybe if I click my heels…

100_3315Then, suddenly… the big day was coming up FAST!

On the way to Minneapolis airportOn the way to the Minneapolis – Saint Paul International airport!

Minneapolis Saint Paul AirportDecember 29th 2015 – the day has finally arrived!

1We are on the plane! The first leg of our journey is from Minneapolis to Chicago on a small cramped plane. My carefully packed “carry on” luggage was checked in at the last minute. My laptop was in it. (Can you guess what happened? Click here to find out.)

View of Minneapolis from planeView from plane window – Leaving Minneapolis! So thrilled to leave! The airport experience with TSA security was HORRIFIC, as was our experience with luggage check in. It took us hours to get through … we arrived at our gate only 10 minutes before boarding! I have much more to say about this… I resent that my two daughters were selected for extra scrutiny. One was “felt up” over the bra, the other had someone touching her hair. I was selected for a complete rummage of my “carry on” that ended up NOT carried on, but checked in! Also, he took the butter knives that went to our special set. Gone forever. 🙁 BUTTER knives. OK, I will stop here because this is a long story that deserves its own blog post. Let’s just say that our trip was not off to a good start. Between the snow storm the day before that carried over until morning, the frazzle of getting out of the house and donating our mattresses at the last minute, and the fiasco of airport check-in/security… we were DONE before we even began!!!

View of Minneapolis from plane 2The Minneapolis airport is fading from view… The anger and frustration from how we were treated at the airport feels less intense now that we’re leaving it all behind.

View of leaving MN from airplaneLeaving snowy Minnesota & Western Wisconsin (above photo)!

3Brent took this photo. See how small the plane is? That space between Cassie and me is an AISLE! That’s Nicholas looking out the window. Brent is next to me, taking the photo. So… we’re missing one. Where’s Savannah? She’s sitting far away from us, several seats ahead! She’s newly fourteen years old, on her own… Well, this is a bizarre story but… there was a remarkably handsome man who looked like… well, he looked like Jesus… I saw him in the airport and I was taken aback. Later, Savannah told me that she was sitting by a man who looked like Jesus… yes, that was the one. She said, “He wasn’t in the right seat”. She had seen his boarding pass and the number didn’t match. She was surprised when he sat down and stayed there, in the seat next to her (full plane, overbooked, so how did this happen?). I… well, I have no explanation for this! But it made us both feel better. If Jesus was sitting next to my baby girl she was in good hands, right? She made it through that unpleasant first flight with Someone watching over her.

View of Chicago from plane 1Flying into Chicago

View of Chicago from plane 2Nearing Chicago O’Hare International Airport

View of Chicago from planeLanding in Chicago!

2Arrived safely in Chicago, a place I’ve been to many times. My aunt Barb and her family live in the ‘burbs. I would visit them on the way to or from Indiana. When I was a kid my family would go to Chicago to see Aunt Barb. We’d visit the Sears Tower, the museums, etc. Sometimes my grandparents and aunts would also come with us. Those were good times. But I can’t say I’m fond of Chicago… especially not the area where Brent’s crappy car broke down on the move to Minneapolis from Muncie, Indiana (Ball State University). Ah, memories!

Natalie Buske Thomas and Cassie in airport going to LondonMe in the red coat, Cassie in the green – getting ready to board our flight to LONDON! Woot!

100_3319We’re on the LONG flight now, the one from Chicago to London. Savannah is sitting with the family now, whew! Nicholas, Cassie and Savannah are in the middle row. I’m sitting across the aisle from Savannah (taking this photo). Brent is on the other side of me, near the window.

100_3318As you can see, it’s dark now.  We’ll try to get some sleep on this overnight flight to London.

100_3317Traveling in Coach sucks. Even on the International flight we had very little leg room. I’m not even 5 feet two, and I found it to be miserably cramped. I really feel for the tall people – how did they manage? It was awful. It was hard to put the tray table down because I had a coat on my lap. Seriously, it was THAT tight. M-I-S-E-R-Y! Of course we had to walk through first class to get to Coach… ugh. But, hey, this was still a much easier experience than my ancestors had when they came over from Ireland. They were likely in “steerage class” in the bellows of a ship, for months. Surely we could manage one day/night!

The next morning we boarded our last flight… it was time to go home, to IRELAND!

In airplaneThis is one of many photos that Savannah took from the plane. I wasn’t seated near a window so I didn’t get to take any. Savannah wasn’t on the right side of the plane to capture what Brent and I saw… We saw a double rainbow on our flight into Ireland! It was a complete circle. I’ve never seen a rainbow from a plane before. It took my breath away. I felt such joy and hope. I knew we were in the right place. And then… there it was.

View of Ireland from planeOur first view of Ireland as we descend into Cork

View of Ireland from plane 3It’s so GREEN, even on December 30! (We lost a day – it was December 29 when we left Minneapolis and then jumped ahead six hours to December 30 during the flight to London)

View of Ireland from plane 2It’s IRELAND! It’s really, really IRELAND! After five years of hoping, praying, and working for the goal, we were HERE! Everything we’d been through, everything we’d given up… none of it mattered. We were HOME.

[Read Part 2 of my journey to Ireland story HERE]