We went to the (free!) art museum Crawford Art Gallery Cork on March 15, 2016. I also took pictures of parts of the downtown area.
Outside of the art museum (above photo)
In photo below – a man playing the violin outside the gallery… wonderful talent!
This next series of photos were taken inside the museum
The photo below is my personal favorite. I love how we share a common bond with humans from the past. Love transcends time, place, and culture – we love our babies, our families.
Savannah admiring the stained glass art
Brent and Cassie enjoying an exhibit
This painting appeals to me… Love and joy leaps off the canvas. The filtered sunlight as the seasons change and the children grow, the way that the mother looks on – her childhood long past, now feeling bittersweet about the passage of time. The children are so much work and worry, but she doesn’t want them to grow up. There is light and there are shadows in this piece, but you can almost hear the happy voices and laughter of the children… and that’s what makes this moment beautiful.
This is just cool… looks capable of time travel
There was a set of ornate gates at the exit/entrance of the gallery
And there was a small garden area (photos below)
Savannah, Brent and Nicholas in the garden area at the Crawford Art Gallery Cork, Ireland
I think Brent is sending his Minnesota friend Paul a photo via his phone. Nicholas is enjoying himself. He loves downtown Cork!
Nicholas headed the wrong way. He has sadly inherited my sense of direction. 🙁 Savannah, on the other hand, can find her way around anywhere.
Nicholas in downtown Cork, Ireland on a beautiful sunny day!
One of the main Irish newspapers – The Irish Examiner
Headed back home – we live out past Blarney. We take the N20 all the way to Grenagh. This has been an exciting adventure, our new life in Ireland! Not sure what the future holds. Stay with me — one thing I know for sure, it won’t be boring!
Today we were invited to stay after church for a “light lunch”. This is Ireland. There’s no such thing as a light lunch!
American friends: doesn’t a light lunch suggest soup and salad, maybe some bread… possibly a tea sandwich and a cookie? Here in Cork, Ireland, the light lunch spread was this:
Lasagna – probably the best lasagna I’ve ever had
Meatballs – DEFINITELY the best I’ve ever had – what WAS that?
Potatoes (of course, right?)
Spicy chicken wings
Dessert that was so awesome that I’m glad I made room for it! I think it was a torte? Homemade & *DELICIOUS*!
Well, all of this food has made me sleepy, but I’ll try to fill you in on our church story. I’ve lifted these photos of the church from the official website. The building is beautiful, agree?
Again from the church website, this is the interior:
Our family has been sitting over there on the right hand side (not shown in this photo) every Sunday for the past four weeks.
Week one, we were late. It took Brent a while to find the place. But I was determined that our family would get ourselves to church, even if it meant being temporarily embarrassed about coming in late.
The service was exactly what we needed. It was simple. It was welcoming. It was peaceful. We had come to the right place.
Afterward, there was tea and biscuits (cookies). We stayed for that, because really, there was no escaping it anyway! Members of the church trapped us into the pews (seriously – the pews have only one way out and they were blocking it!), talking to us, shaking our hands, and welcoming us. Then, we were plied with tea, and when tea happens in Ireland, it’s best to go along with it. 🙂
Well, we have been to many, many churches. Sometimes we dive right in and become active in the church. Sometimes we stay for years. We’ve been Sunday School teachers, Praise and Worship Team leaders, choir members, Power Point techs, musicians, theater directors, etc. We’ve also had long absences from church – in which we didn’t attend any church at all. These breaks can last for years.
Always when we take the plunge and return, we expect a certain amount of handshaking. We know we’ll have to explain who we are and why we’re there. It’s the part about being new to a church that I dread. But this was different.
I don’t know if it’s because we are an American family, with a built-in excuse for why we are new, or if this church treats everyone this way, but instead of feeling as if we had to account for why we’d never been inside their church before, we were welcomed as if we were coming home for the first time. I tell you, it felt so good.
It was only days before when I told Brent, “I can’t do this anymore. I need help.” The constant fear that we won’t get jobs in time to get permission to stay in Ireland was weighing on me. What if we are deported after we’ve given up everything to be here? Of course I felt all of this (and still do), but I was fighting hard to stay positive and fight for our new life. My family though… they were hard to talk to. They were weary. Brent was defeated. No amount of coaching would pep them up. Instead, I was wearing down too.
I couldn’t build my family up anymore, not by myself. I was exhausted. I said that their negativity was overwhelming me. I couldn’t be positive enough for all five of us. It was time for reinforcements. Why not try the church that was mysteriously calling to me when I was sitting in a near-empty house looking at a silent computer screen, searching for answers?
I’d found their website, back when moving to Ireland felt like an impossible dream. I could imagine my family going to that church. I can’t explain it. I stared at the web page and it was as if I had a memory of having been there before. I don’t know how else to say it. I looked at several other church websites, but I always went back to this one. Then, when it was time to consider giving church a try, this church was the only one that made sense. It was as if God was calling us to this church… which is interesting because…
The church body is startled by what God is doing to their Irish church. For reasons that no one has an explanation for, only half of their congregation is Irish! The other half is international. People from all over the world are arriving at their church.
I was asked why we chose their church. I babbled something about their web site, but the truth is… I don’t know! It drew me in. When it was time to go to church, it was the one I was sure of.
Here are some of the countries represented by people in this church:
And others… I’m still new so I don’t know all of the countries represented by the surprisingly large international population at this relatively small protestant church in Cork, Ireland. I got the impression that the Irish reverend and congregation members are astonished by this… and they think it’s wonderful. As do I!
We felt completely at home here, in this diverse congregation. We truly gathered for one common purpose. It was as if the hour spent in that building was an hour bathed in Light and Love. There was no language barrier, no cultural barrier, and nothing really needed to be said.
But people spoke to us anyway. During the after-service tea, they asked us detailed questions. And then they did something unexpected. They didn’t offer to help us. They just DID. They helped us immediately and swiftly. I could barely keep up as my family members were being led away to speak to various people. My desperate plea had been heard! Reinforcements were on the way! I could feel myself relaxing for the first time in months.
Here are two examples:
Cassie saw a job opening at Apple’s international headquarters in Cork. She would love to get in! Someone at church works there and offered to speak to her manager on her behalf.
Nicholas wants to apply to UCC but he’s been dragging his feet. An IT major talked to Nicholas at length and answered all of his questions. This encouragement was just what Nicholas needed to finally finish his application essay!
Keep in mind, this is a small church. I think there were maybe only four or five young adults there. How is it that these highly specific connections were made? I had reached the end of what I could do for them. They needed connections of their own.
And what about my husband? He was so down and out, struggling with the emotions of being unemployed for the first time in his life. He has had a job ever since he was a kid. He had a paper route, he de-tassled corn, he worked in an auto parts store, and at nineteen years old he joined the Army. After serving in Germany and then in Iraq, he got out. Thereafter he always held down at least one job, sometimes several jobs at once.
While he had a salaried job as a commercial photographer for almost twenty years, he also did odd jobs to pay for braces for two daughters, medical bills, and other life expenses. He’s been a security guard (he was armed with only a whistle – something that still cracks me up), he’s fixed toilets (well, there was a flooding incident when he botched a plumbing job, but that was quickly taken care of), he milked dairy cows (no, his laundry was NOT fun to do!), and more. He’s had few vacations. He’s worked himself to beyond the point of exhaustion. And now… he’s had to tell people over and over again that he has no job. BTW: This is Brent’s Go Fund Me Page
I had to get our lease agreement based on my author/artist connections. I had to get an Irish bank account in my name only. All of this is absurd. Brent has been the primary source of income for our entire marriage. Twenty-eight years of supporting me suddenly didn’t matter. Now he can’t even rent a house. It was wearing on him. Sure, he had courageously gone back to school to become a teacher. And yes, he finished with an A average. But the path to become certified is long and windy. The jubilation over finishing school has long faded.
It will be weeks before his certification in the States goes through, and then he has to start the process with the Irish Teaching Council to get certified to teach in Ireland. There are connections he needs to make in person, so sitting back in the States wouldn’t have helped. For example, he had to apply for a government issued number in person. He needs that number to get Garda vetted for the Irish Teaching Council. He got that done last week. Anyway… it’s a tedious game of hurry up and wait. No one seems to care that while prospective teachers are going through this process they are unable to get a full time permanent position. I guess they expect teachers to be young, female, and supported by someone else? No wonder they get so few men into the teaching profession. They can’t afford it, especially if they are older and have families.
But back to Brent…
Not working is more exhausting than working. And I just couldn’t prop him up anymore. I needed help. I was wearing down myself. I’d gotten sick, very sick, for the first time in years. I’ve struggled to get myself back on track. I have to let go and let God. It’s time to admit that I can’t do this myself. I can’t fix these big unknown problems. I can’t be “everything” and “everyone” for my family. There’s a church for that. THIS church.
So, week one – there was instant relief! WHEW! It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to do this alone, and I didn’t have to lean too heavily on our Irish friends either — they’ve nearly adopted us! No, it was time that we plugged into the community and made our own way. We only had to get through one day at a time and then it would be Sunday again.
On week two we followed through on an after-church lunch invitation from the week before. Before we get to that though, I have to mention that there was an engaging guest speaker during the service who really captured my attention. I talked with him and bought his book during tea time. I’m reading his book now. This was an interesting connection because Cassie and Nicholas are studying Japanese and his book is about his years in Japan.
Back to week two and our lunch date:
We followed the couple to their home, which was on the other side of Cork, where we hadn’t yet been to before. It was a beautiful drive. At the time we had a small rental car, so we were unpleasantly squished, but it was well worth it.
“Lunch” was an elaborate meal (roasted chicken, vegetables, and potatoes) followed by tea and dessert (a large slab of apple pie with hot custard spooned over it). We were very full and it was late afternoon by the time we wrapped up Sunday feasting and conversation.
After lunch we were shown a beautiful HANDCRAFTED organ! WHAT?!!? Brent makes handcrafted musical instruments and Nicholas has been his apprentice, so this was right up their alley. I mean, seriously??? How did we end up with this perfect match? This organ is extraordinary! It’s mammoth, for one thing! And it was pure genius how this man built it – he’s an engineer by the way. He took keyboard keys from an inexpensive keyboard and laid them into a gorgeous wooden instrument. There’s a massive speaker built in that rattles the house! 🙂
His wife gave us a delightful impromptu concert. She plays beautifully. It was fun to watch her hands move so fast across the keys. What was best of all is the obvious love between the pair of them. What a treat to spend time in their home!
On to week three…
On week three I was prepared to coast through the service. I was looking forward to singing the songs and sitting peacefully in the pew until tea time. There was no lunch date today and I was planning to go home without any excitement. I could shut my busy brain down. Or could I? The sermon had me with the opening statement. Oh dear, I didn’t expect to get emotional. I’m someone who rarely cries. I hate crying. I get mad if I’m tricked into watching a sad movie. I’m still mad at Disney/Pixar for making me cry during Toy Story 3. But there I was, trying to blink back the tears. Because the reverend was saying a few simple words that spoke directly to my heart:
God knows. God cares.
My best friend from school told me something similar: God sees. God loves you.
Some of you reading this are shaking your heads and thinking, “So what? That sounds like a common theme for a church.” Obviously I’ve heard it said that God loves me, that Jesus loves me. But what I needed to hear is that God knows what’s going on in my life, that He sees. That’s not a message I usually hear in church, even though it seems obvious. I’m a person who needs to be reminded that I matter. Maybe you feel the same.
Sometimes I feel invisible. No matter how hard I push, I’m often forgotten by people. Don’t you ever feel that way? I mean, weeks slip by and people are busy. Maybe months slip by. The next thing you know, years have passed. And… well, maybe by then we’ve given up on that person being in our lives. But God isn’t that way. He sees us always. We are never forgotten. And He’ll never slip out of our lives. And no matter how far from home we go, He’s there. He’s waiting for us on the other side. He’s already there, ahead of us.
I don’t know how to put this into words any more than I already have, other than to share a song with you that I played over and over again when I was feeling overwhelmed by the unknowns. In the weeks before our big move to Ireland, this song helped me get through the anxiety and the loneliness. I played it while I was painting. Pay attention to the lyrics: Already There by Casting Crowns
Bottom line, week three was spiritually personal for me, as if God was sending me a direct message. Brent was moved by the sermon too – a different part of it, having to do with faith and not worrying, staying strong, etc. He came away from it feeling positive.
And now we’re at week four, today.
Today they fed us a “light” lunch. It sure wasn’t light. But maybe it was Light? Is that what they meant? If so, they got it exactly right.
*Did you miss the previous posts about our move to Ireland? Start here.
One of our purposes for being in Ireland is for our college age children to go to school here. Cassie has already graduated college, but if she pursues graduate school, UCC (University College Cork, Ireland) is her college of choice. Notice I said “if”. Since we’ve been here, she’s been tempted by tantalizing job opportunities for Math majors. She’d love to work for Apple–she’s applied for multiple positions there, located near Cork. She has also applied for a position at Aldi. She’s networking in these areas and making progress. (I’m rooting for whatever makes her happy!)
But, little brother Nicholas will be starting his Freshman year – with or without big sister on campus to lean on.
FYI: For those of you who are curious about how the tuition compares to U.S. schools, it’s comparable to out of state tuition for a state school, which is what we’d have to do if we wanted to move outside of the area anyway. UCC is on the list of schools eligible for federal student loans, which was how Brent and I got through school, and how Cassie did too. *SIGH* I would have loved to have paid their way, but we are doing what we can by providing food, lodging, and a warm smile every day… Anyway, it’s all up to him how he handles the tuition. We got him to Ireland – now he can take it from here. I believe in him. He can do anything he sets his heart to do!
But… How does he feel about going to college? Here’s our son Nicholas, visiting the UCC campus…not saying much…just walking.
The campus sure is beautiful! Even on a dark rainy day, in the dead of winter, the grounds are impressive…very! I saw Nicholas studying every tree, every building. Hmm… is he inspired to go to school? Will he finally finish the essay for his application?
Meanwhile, I left him alone and enjoyed the campus… Beautiful! I can’t believe that flowers are growing in JANUARY! The patch that isn’t blooming yet is a rose garden. I look forward to seeing the roses this spring (see the optimism in what I said? I’m assuming we get permission to stay beyond our 90 day stamp).
Look how gorgeous the colors are! IN JANUARY! I’m in Heaven!
This is classic Nicholas, waving whenever he sees me taking a picture of him. He looks like my little boy here – is he really ready for college? Let’s give him more time to look around…
I can’t believe we’re really here! This campus existed only through photos on the school website, and now it’s REAL!
WOW, just WOW! What does Nicholas think now? Doesn’t it remind you of a scene from Harry Potter? Pure magic.
I love this series of photos I took from afar. There’s my son, staring at the quad area of the UCC campus, all alone…looking so small in such a great space. It was a big moment for him. And as I tried to capture it, I felt like I was letting him go. (I will not cry, this will not be like the sand in our eyes when Brent and I watched Toy Story 3!)
And, the moment was over…. He was quickly joined by other visitors on campus. The spell had been cast – he was now a future college student!
He looks quite natural walking on campus, doesn’t he?
I love this shot! Nicholas was amused by something a student penned on that banner. I don’t remember now what it was, but he agreed with the sentiment of the poster and the added graffiti. I say he’s ready for college!
LOVE this one – father and son visiting campus for the first time. I’m noticing how much bigger my son is and how much smaller my husband is. Look at them, they have the same walk. We girls notice this all the time – it’s funny, and it’s nice. Nicholas may wear a bigger shoe size than Brent now, but he still walks in his Daddy’s footsteps – except now they walk together.
Just a reminder that this school is in IRELAND – the green, oh the green! Even in JANUARY!
Aww, this shot makes me tear up a little… there’s baby girl, the little sister – not saying much. She’s not ready for big brother to go to school.
I pointed out all of the sign posts and I took a picture of the campus map to help Nicholas find his way. That pretty much sums up how I’ve been as his mother all along – I give him the road map. It’s up to him to decide which path to take.
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:
While 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.
The 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!
Here 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).
The 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…
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:
And then… there it was, just like we saw in the advertisement online, and in Johnny’s video. It was real, the house was real!
Oh 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.]
I 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!)
These are the extras that Marie surprised us with…
Ha 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:We tried them microwaved and baked — definitely better baked. MMM!
Here’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. 🙂
They even have a Tayto Park! Maybe we’ll go…
Savannah cracked the toffee open for us. She loved this experience and she kept the little hammer as a keepsake.
CHOCOLATE! Cadbury is big here. It was fun trying the different kinds.
I love cake. And I love Christmas. What could be better than a Christmas Cake? WOOT!
The 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!!!!
And 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.
Made 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?
I 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.
See those ruby red slippers? Maybe if I click my heels…
Then, suddenly… the big day was coming up FAST!
On the way to the Minneapolis – Saint Paul International airport!
December 29th 2015 – the day has finally arrived!
We 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 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!!!
The 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.
Leaving snowy Minnesota & Western Wisconsin (above photo)!
Brent 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.
Flying into Chicago
Nearing Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Landing in Chicago!
Arrived 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!
Me in the red coat, Cassie in the green – getting ready to board our flight to LONDON! Woot!
We’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.
As you can see, it’s dark now. We’ll try to get some sleep on this overnight flight to London.
Traveling 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!
This 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.
Our first view of Ireland as we descend into Cork
It’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)
It’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.